Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Theobald (d.1161)
THEOBALD or TEDBALDUS (d. 1161), archbishop of Canterbury, came of a Norman family of knightly rank, settled near Thierceville, in the neighbourhood of Bec Hellouin. He became a monk of Bec between 1093 and 1124, was made prior in 1127, and elected abbot in 1137. Difficulties with respect to the rights of the archbishop of Rouen delayed his benediction for fourteen months; they were finally settled through the mediation of Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny, and Theodore received the benediction from the archbishop (Vita Theobaldi). The see of Canterbury having been vacant since the death of William of Corbeil [q. v.] in 1136, the prior of Christ Church and a deputation of monks were summoned before King Stephen [q. v.] and the legate Alberic, and on 24 Dec. 1138 elected Theobald archbishop. Henry of Blois (d. 1171) [q. v.], bishop of Winchester, desired the primacy for himself, but Stephen and his queen Matilda (1103?–1152) [q. v.] had arranged the election of Theobald, who was consecrated at Canterbury by the legate on 8 Jan. 1139. Before the end of the month he left for Rome, received the pall from Innocent II, was present at the Lateran council in April, and then returned to Canterbury (Gervase, i. 107–9, ii. 384; Cont. Flor. Wig. ii. 114–15). Innocent, however, did not renew to him the legatine commission held by his predecessor, but gave it to the bishop of Winchester. This was a slight on the archbishop, and an injury to the see of Canterbury. Theobald did not press his rights at the time; he probably thought it best to wait; for a legation of this kind expired on the death of the pope who granted it. He attended the legatine council held by Bishop Henry at Winchester on 29 Aug., and joined with him in entreating the king not to quarrel with the clergy (Historia Novella, ii. c. 477). Although he was inclined to the side of the empress, he was not forgetful of the ties that bound him to the king. When Bishop Henry received the empress at Winchester in March 1141, he pressed the primate to acknowledge her. Theobald hesitated, and, when he met her by arrangement at Wilton, declined to do her homage until he had received the king's permission, on the ground that it was not lawful for him to withdraw his fealty from a king who had been acknowledged by the Roman church (Historia Pontificalis, c. 2; Cont. Flor. Wig. ii. 130; Round, Geoffrey de Mandeville, pp. 65, 260). He therefore proceeded to Bristol, where the king was imprisoned. On 7 April, however, he attended the council at Winchester at which Matilda was elected. Having avowedly joined the side of the empress, he was with her at Oxford on 25 July and at Winchester a few days later, and shared in her hasty flight from that city on 13 Sept., reaching a place of safety after considerable danger, and perhaps some loss (Gesta Stephani, p. 85). On Stephen's release on 1 Nov., Theobald returned to his allegiance. It is asserted that sentence of banishment was pronounced against him (‘proscriptus’); but if so, it did not come into effect (Historia Pontificalis, c. 15), and he was present at the council held by the legate on 7 Dec. at which Bishop Henry declared his brother king. At Christmas he received the king and queen at Canterbury, and placed the crown on the king's head in his cathedral church (Gervase, i. 123; Geoffrey de Mandeville, pp. 137–8).
Theobald attached to his household many young men of legal and political talent, and made his palace the training college and home ‘of a new generation of English scholars and English statesmen’ (Norgate, Angevin Kings, i. 352). Chief among them were Roger of Pont l'Evêque [q. v.], afterwards archbishop of York, John Belmeis [q. v.], afterwards archbishop of Lyons, and Thomas (Becket) [q. v.], his successor at Canterbury, who entered his service in 1143 or 1144. On all matters Theobald consulted with one or other of these three, and chiefly with Thomas (William of Canterbury, ap. Becket Materials, i. 4). It is interesting to find that the former abbot of Lanfranc's house established a law school at Canterbury, and was the first to introduce the study of civil law into England. Possibly before 1144 Theobald sent for a famous jurist, Vacarius of Mantua, to come and lecture on civil law at Canterbury [see Vacarius]. Vacarius became the archbishop's advocate, and must have been of great use to him in his correspondence with the Roman court, which was of unusual importance, for the appointment of Bishop Henry as legate caused a division of authority in the church of England, and brought Theobald much trouble. Bishop Henry pushed his authority as legate to the utmost; he tried to persuade Innocent to make his see an archbishopric, and it was believed that the pope had even sent him a pall (Annales Winton. ii. 53; Diceto, i. 255).
Theobald opposed the wishes of the king and Bishop Henry with reference to the election of their nephew, William of Thwayt [see Fitzherbert, William] to the archbishopric of York, and steadily refused to consecrate him. Bishop Henry, however, consecrated him on 26 Sept. 1143, without the archbishop's sanction (Gervase, i. 123). The supersession of the archbishop encouraged resistance to his authority. Hugh, abbot of St. Augustine's at Canterbury, claiming that his house was under the immediate jurisdiction of Rome, appealed to the pope against a citation from the archbishop. The pope took his side, and finally ordered that the matter should be heard before the legate. At a council held by the legate at Winchester a composition was arranged which did not satisfy the archbishop. Theobald was thwarted by the legate even in his own monastery. He found that Jeremiah, the prior of Christ Church, was setting aside his jurisdiction; a quarrel ensued, and Jeremiah appealed to Rome, almost certainly with the legate's approval, and went thither himself. Theobald deposed him, and appointed another prior. Jeremiah, however, gained his cause, and on his return was reinstated by the legate. On this Theobald withdrew his favour from the convent, and vowed that he would never celebrate in the church so long as Jeremiah remained prior (ib. pp. 74, 127).
The death of Innocent II on 24 Sept. 1143 put an end to the legatine authority of Bishop Henry, and he was no longer able to supersede Theobald in his own province. In November, Theobald went to Rome accompanied by Thomas of London; Bishop Henry also went thither, hoping for a renewal of his commission, but the new pope, Celestine II, deprived him of the legation, though he does not appear to have granted it to the archbishop (ib. ii. 384). Celestine was strongly in favour of the Angevin cause, and is said to have ordered Theobald to allow no new arrangement to be made as to the English crown, as the matter was contentious, thereby guarding against any settlement to the prejudice of the Angevin claim (Hist. Pontif. c. 41). Lucius II, who succeeded Celestine on 12 March 1144, also refused the legation to Bishop Henry (John of Hexham, c. 17). While Theobald was in Rome Lucius heard the case between him and St. Augustine's, and the archbishop's claims were fully satisfied (on the whole case see Thorn, cols. 1800–6; Elmham, pp. 369–81, 390–1). Theobald then left Rome, and on 11 June was present at the consecration of the new church of St. Denis in France (Recueil des Historiens, xiv. 316). He returned to England without a rival in his province, and Jeremiah consequently resigned the priorate of Christ Church. In this year a cardinal named Hicmar arrived in England as legate, but his coming does not appear to have affected Theobald; he returned on the death of Lucius in February 1145. The new pope, Eugenius III, was favourably inclined to Theobald through the influence of his great adviser, Bernard of Clairvaux, who described Theobald as a man of piety and acceptable opinions, and expressed a hope that the pope would reward him (S. Bernard, Ep. 238). It might be expected that some notice should occur of a grant of a legatine commission by Eugenius to Theobald as a consequence of this letter, but, in default of finding him described as legate before 1150, good modern authorities have given that year as the date of the grant (Stubbs, Constitutional History, iii. 299; Norgate, Angevin Kings, i. 364). Nevertheless, the historian of St. Augustine's Abbey speaks of him as papal legate in 1148 (Thorn, col. 1807). Against this must be set that he is not so called in any bull of Eugenius known to have been sent to him before 1150, and that the ‘Historia Pontificalis’ is equally silent on the matter. Thorn, who was not earlier than the fourteenth century, may have merely been mistaken, or he may have been swayed by a desire to make an excuse for the monks of his house (see below). He says that when they disobeyed Theobald in 1148, they did not know that he had legatine authority; and an eminent scholar suggests that this story and the position of affairs at the time being taken into consideration, ‘it is possible, if not actually probable,’ that there was a secret commission to Theobald. A suit was instituted in the papal court against Theobald in 1147 by Bernard, bishop of St. David's, who sought to obtain the recognition of his see as metropolitical. The pope appointed a day for the hearing of the case; but Bernard died before the date fixed, and the suit dropped (Gir. Cambr. iii. 51, 168, 180). On 14 March 1148 Theobald consecrated to the see of Rochester his brother Walter, whom he had previously made archdeacon of Canterbury.
A summons having been sent to the English prelates to attend the council that Eugenius held at Rheims on the 21st, Stephen refused to allow Theobald or the prelates generally to leave the kingdom. Knowing that Theobald was determined to go, he ordered various seaports to be watched lest he should get away secretly, and declared that if he went he should be banished. Theobald, after obtaining leave to send some of his clerks to the council to make his excuses, secretly embarked in a crazy boat, crossed the Channel at great risk, and presented himself at the council. He was received with much rejoicing, the pope welcoming him as one who, for the honour of St. Peter, had crossed the sea rather by swimming than sailing (Gervase, i. 134, ii. 386; Hist. Pontif. c. 2; St. Thomas, Ep. 250 ap. Materials, vi. 57–8). When, on the last day of the council, Eugenius was about to excommunicate Stephen, Theobald earnestly begged him to forbear; the pope granted the king a respite of three months, and on leaving Rheims committed the case of the English bishops whom he had suspended to Theobald's management. On the archbishop's return to Canterbury the king ordered him to quit the kingdom; his revenues were seized and he hastily returned to France. He sent messengers to acquaint the pope with his exile; they overtook Eugenius at Brescia, and he wrote to the English bishops, ordering them to bid the king recall the archbishop and restore his possessions, threatening an interdict, and at Michaelmas to excommunicate Stephen. Theodore published the interdict; but, as the bishops were generally on the king's side, it was not observed except in Kent, and a party among the monks of St. Augustine's, led by their prior Silvester and the sacristan, disregarded it. Queen Matilda, anxious for a reconciliation with Theobald, with the help of William of Ypres [q. v.] persuaded him to remove to St. Omer, where negotiations might be carried on more easily. Constant communication was carried on between the English clergy and laity and the archbishop, whose dignified behaviour, gentleness, and liberality to the poor excited much admiration (ib. i. 123; Hist. Pontif. c. 15). While at St. Omer he, on 5 Sept., with the assistance of some French bishops, consecrated Gilbert Foliot [q. v.] to the see of Hereford, and when Henry [see Henry II], duke of Normandy, complained that the new bishop had broken his promise to him by swearing fealty to Stephen, he appeased him by representing that it would have been schismatical to withdraw obedience from a king that had been recognised by the Roman church. Before long Theobald returned to England; he sailed from Gravelines, landed at Gosford in the territories of Hugh Bigod (d. 1176 or 1177) [q. v.], and was hospitably entertained by the earl at Framlingham in Suffolk, where three bishops and many nobles visited him. The king was reconciled to him, and he took off the interdict; he received the submission of the bishops and removed the sentence of suspension, but had no power to deal with the case of Bishop Henry, though personally Theobald was reconciled to him (John of Hexham, c. 19). He was brought to Canterbury with rejoicing. In the following spring the monks of St. Augustine's made submission to him; they had appealed to the pope, and it is alleged in their excuse that, though Theobald had published the interdict in virtue of his legatine authority, they did not know that he was legate, and thought that he was acting simply as ordinary (Thorn, u.s.). Eugenius decided against them. The prior and sacristan were absolved after receiving a flogging, and the convent was also absolved by the archbishop after a period of suspension of divine service in their church.
While Theobald was at Rheims he must have met with John of Salisbury [q. v.], who, in or about 1150, came to him with a letter of introduction from Bernard of Clairvaux (Ep. 361); he became the archbishop's secretary, and transacted his official business. As Ireland was without any real archiepiscopal authority, Irish bishops-elect sometimes sought consecration from the archbishops of Canterbury, who claimed that Ireland was under their primatial jurisdiction, and in 1140 Theobald consecrated and received the profession of a bishop of Limerick. In 1152, however, Armagh was made the primatial see of Ireland—a step which was held in England to be a diminution of the rights of Canterbury (John of Hexham, c. 24; Hoveden, i. 212; Annals of Waverley, ii. 234; Stokes, Ireland and the Celtic Church, pp. 317, 319, 325, 345–7). In Lent 1151 Theobald, as papal legate, held a council in London, at which many appeals were made to Rome (Hen. Hunt. viii. c. 31). A new attempt was made by the monks of St. Augustine's to shake off the archbishop's authority after the death of Abbot Hugh. The prior, Silvester, was chosen to succeed him. Theobald objected to the election, and refused Silvester's demand that the benediction should be given him in the church of his monastery as contrary to the rights of Christ Church. Silvester went to Rome, and returned with an order for his benediction by the archbishop in St. Augustine's. Theobald, while going to the abbey as though to perform the ceremony, was met, it is said by arrangement, by the prior of Christ Church, who forbade him to give the benediction except in Christ Church, and appealed to Rome. In July 1152 Eugenius ordered that the archbishop should give the benediction in St. Augustine's without requiring a profession of obedience. Theobald complied with this order, but made further appeals, and the matter was settled later (Thorn, cols. 1810–14; Elmham, pp. 400–1, 404–6; Gervase, i. 76, 147–8). Meanwhile he had a quarrel with the monks of Christ Church. As the convent was in pecuniary difficulties, he had at their request taken the administration of their revenues into his own hands. When, however, he began to insist on retrenchments, the monks declared that he was using their revenues for the support of his own household, and had broken the agreement made with them. The dispute waxed hot; Theobald imprisoned two monks sent by the convent to appeal to the pope, suspended the performance of divine service in the convent church, and set guards to keep the gates of the house shut. Finally he deposed the prior, Walter the Little, and sent him under a guard to the abbey of Gloucester, bidding the abbot keep him safely; so he was kept there until Theobald's death, and a worthier prior was chosen in his place (ib. i. 143–6, ii. 386–8, must be read as a violent ex parte statement on the convent's side).
In the spring of 1152 Stephen held a great council in London, at which, the earls and barons having sworn fealty to his son Eustace, he called upon Theobald and the bishops to crown his son king. Theobald had procured a letter from Eugenius forbidding the coronation, and thus repeating the prohibitions of his predecessors Celestine and Lucius. Theobald therefore refused the king's demand. Stephen and his son shut him and his suffragans up in a house together, and tried to intimidate them. Theobald remained firm, though some of his suffragans withdrew their support from him; he escaped down the Thames in a boat, sailed to Dover, and thence crossed over to Flanders. The king seized the lands of the archbishopric. Eugenius ordered the English bishops to excommunicate him and lay the kingdom under an interdict. On this Stephen recalled the archbishop, who returned to Canterbury before 28 Sept. (ib. i. 151, ii. 76; Becket, Ep. 250; Hen. Hunt. viii. c. 32; Vita Theobaldi, p. 338). When Henry, duke of Normandy, was in England in 1153, Theobald laboured to bring about a peace between him and the king. He was successful, and the treaty between the king and the duke was proclaimed at Westminster before Christmas at a great council which Theobald attended. In Lent 1154 he received the king and the duke at Canterbury. He secured the election of Roger of Pont l'Evêque, archdeacon of Canterbury, to the see of York, and in consecrating him on 10 Oct. acted as legate, so that Roger was not required to make a profession of obedience (Diceto, i. 298; Will. Newb. i. c. 32). He appointed Thomas of London to succeed Roger as archdeacon and as provost of Beverley. On the death of Stephen on the 25th, Theobald, in conjunction with the other magnates of the realm, sent to Henry, who was then in Normandy, to call him back to England, and during the six weeks that elapsed before his return maintained peace and order in the kingdom, in spite of the large number of Flemish mercenaries that were in the country (Gervase, i. 159).
On Sunday, 19 Dec., Theobald crowned Henry and his queen at Westminster. The coronation seemed the sign of the fulfilment of his long-cherished hopes. The policy of the Roman see with respect to the crown that he had so faithfully and fearlessly carried out had been brought to a successful issue. Nevertheless he evidently felt no small anxiety as to the future. During the reign of Stephen the church had become far more powerful at home than it had been since the Conquest, and at the same time had been more strongly bound to the Roman see by ties of dependence; Theobald was anxious that it should maintain its position, and knew that it was likely to be endangered by the accession of a king of Henry's disposition and hereditary anti-clerical feelings. He hoped to insure the maintenance of his ecclesiastical policy by securing power for men whom he trusted, and shortly after Henry's accession recommended the Archdeacon Thomas to the king as chancellor (Auct. Anon. i. iv. 11, 12; John of Salisbury, ii. 304 ap. Becket Materials; Gervase, i. 160; Radford, Thomas of London, pp. 58–62). As chancellor, Thomas disappointed his hopes.
The closing years of Theobald's life were full of administrative activity exercised through John of Salisbury, for after Thomas had left him for the king's service John became his chief adviser and official (Stubbs, Lectures, p. 346). He appears to have disliked the tax levied under the name of scutage in 1156 on the lands of prelates holding in chief of the crown (John of Salisbury, Ep. 128). Nor was he at one with the crown in the case of Battle Abbey [see under Hilary, d. 1169)]. He attended the hearing of the case before the king at Colchester in May 1157, and vainly tried to persuade the king to allow him to deal with it according to ecclesiastical law (Chronicon Monasterii de Bello, pp. 72–104). In July he attended the council at Northampton, when the long dispute between him and the abbot of St. Augustine's was terminated in his favour, and, in pursuance of the decision of Hadrian IV, abbot Silvester made profession to him (Gervase, i. 76–7, 163–5). A disputed election having been made to the papacy in 1159, he wrote to the king requesting his direction as to which of the two rivals should be acknowledged by the church of England (John of Salisbury, Ep. 44). Having received from Arnulf, bishop of Lisieux, a statement of the claim of Alexander III, he wrote again to Henry recommending him to acknowledge Alexander. This Henry did, and accordingly he was at the archbishop's bidding acknowledged by a council of bishops and clergy of the whole kingdom that Theobald called to meet in London (ib. Epp. 48, 59, 64, 65; Foliot, Ep. 148).
Theobald was then very ill, and his death was expected. He wrote to the chancellor, then absent with the king in Normandy, that he had determined to reform certain abuses in his diocese, and specially to abolish a payment called ‘second aids’ made to the archdeacon, and instituted by his brother Walter, and he spoke of his sorrow at not being able to see the chancellor, who still retained the archdeaconry (John of Salisbury, Ep. 48). In 1161 he was present at the consecration of Richard Peche [q. v.] to the see of Lichfield, but could not officiate himself (Gervase, i. 168). During his illness he wrote several letters to the king, commending his clerks, and, specially John of Salisbury, to his favour, begging him to uphold the authority and welfare of the church, and praying that Henry might return to England so that he might behold his son, the Lord's anointed, before he died (John of Salisbury, Epp. 54, 63, 64 ter). Very earnestly, too, but in vain, he begged that the king would spare Thomas, his archdeacon, to visit him (ib. Ep. 70, 71, 78). Theobald hoped that the chancellor would succeed him at Canterbury (ib. v. 280). Theobald made a will leaving his goods to the poor (ib. Ep. 57), and took an affectionate farewell of John of Salisbury, who was with him to the end (Ep. 256). He died on 18 April 1161, and was buried in his cathedral church. Eighteen years afterwards, during the repairs of the church after the fire of 1174, his marble tomb was opened, and his body was found entire; it was exhibited to the convent, and, the news being spread, many people spoke of him as ‘Saint Theobald.’ The body was translated and buried before the altar of St. Mary in the nave, according to a desire which he is said to have expressed in his lifetime (Gervase, i. 26). His coffin was opened in 1787, and his remains were identified by an inscription on a piece of lead (Hook).
Theobald, as may be gathered from the letters he wrote during his illness, was a man of deep religious feeling. He was charitable to the poor and liberal in all things (Becket Materials, ii. 307; Monasticon, iv. 363). He loved learning, and took care to be surrounded by learned men. In manner he was gracious, and in temperament gentle, affectionate, and placable. While calm and patient, he was also firm and courageous. As a ruler he was wise and able; he was highly respected by the leaders of the religious movement of which St. Bernard was the head, and by relying on the help of the Roman see, and taking advantage of the civil disorder of Stephen's reign, he succeeded in raising the church of England to a position of great power. In his ordinary administration he promoted worthy and capable men; he may be said to have been the founder of canonical jurisprudence in England, and through John of Salisbury introduced system and regularity into the working of the ecclesiastical courts. Though himself a Benedictine, he wisely did all he could to check the efforts made by monasteries to rid themselves of episcopal control. In secular matters he acted with loyalty and skill; he remained faithful to Stephen as the king recognised by the Roman see, though he did not shrink from opposing him whenever he tried to override the will of the church or use it as a mere political instrument. At the same time he worked steadily to secure the succession for the house of Anjou. His character, the success of his work, and the means by which he accomplished it entitle him to a place among the best and ablest archbishops of Canterbury.
[Gervase of Cant., Will. of Malmesbury, Hist. Nov., John of Hexham ap. Opp. Sym. Dunelm. II., Becket Materials, Hen. Hunt., R. de Diceto, Ann. de Winton, ap. Ann. Monast. p. 11, Giraldus Cambr., Elmham (all Rolls Ser.); Hist. Pontif. ap. Rer. Germ. SS. ed. Pertz vol. xx.; Vita Theobaldi ap. Opp. Lanfranci I, John of Salisbury's Polycraticus and Epp., G. Foliot's Epp. (all three ed. Giles); Cont. Flor. Wig., Gesta Stephani, Will. Newb. (all three Engl. Hist. Soc.); Thorn, ed. Twisden; Chron. Monast. de Bello (Angl. Christ. Soc.); Bishop Stubbs's Lectures and Const. Hist.; Round's Geoffrey de Mandeville; Norgate's Angevin Kings; Radford's Thomas of London (Cambr. Hist. Essays, vii.); Hook's Archbishops of Canterbury.]