Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thurstan

THURSTAN or TURSTIN (d. 1140), archbishop of York, was son of Anger or Auger, prebendary of St. Paul's, London, by his wife Popelina. His brother Audoen succeeded to his father's prebend, was bishop of Evreux, and died in 1139. Thurstan was a native of Bayeux, and a prebendary of St. Paul's (John of Hexham ap. Sym. Dunelm ii. 30; Newcourt, Repertorium, i. 141, 169; Gallia Christiana, xi. 573; Orderic, col. 858). He was a clerk in the household and a favourite of William Rufus, became the secretary of Henry I, was much trusted by him, and, among other duties, was specially employed in entertaining the king's ecclesiastical guests (Hugh the Chantor). The see of York being vacant by the death of Archbishop Thomas (d. 1114) [q. v.], the king nominated Thurstan as his successor—it is said with the approval of Ralph d'Escures (d. 1122) [q. v.], archbishop of Canterbury—and he was elected at Winchester on 15 Aug. 1114, being then in subdeacon's orders (Eadmer, Historia Novorum, col. 496; Flor. Wig. sub an.)

Thurstan at once spoke to the king about the profession of obedience to the archbishop of Canterbury, and the king did not command him to make it. After being ordained deacon by the bishop of Winchester, he was enthroned at York, visited Durham, where he had an interview with Turgot [q. v.], bishop of St. Andrews, who was then dying, and the church of Hexham, and then returned to his own diocese. Two summonses came to him from Archbishop Ralph bidding him come to Canterbury to be ordained priest and consecrated bishop. Thurstan asked the advice of his chapter about the profession; they declared that they would leave the matter to him, and would uphold him if he refused it. He said that he would go to Rome, and would act as the pope might direct. Having, though still unconsecrated, received a promise of obedience from his clergy, he went to the king at Rouen, arriving there at Christmas, and asked leave to go to Rome. Archbishop Ralph, however, had already talked with the king, and Henry refused to let him go. Conon, the cardinal-bishop of Præneste, was then acting as legate in Normandy, and Henry consulted him as to what should be done, as Ralph refused to consecrate Thurstan without the profession. Conon advised that he should at once be ordained priest, and then sent to Rome for consecration. He received priest's orders from Ranulf Flambard [q. v.], bishop of Durham, at Bayeux, but was not allowed to go to Rome, and after Whitsuntide 1115 returned to England. However, both he and the York chapter sent messengers to the pope requesting that he might be freed from the profession. In a great council held by the king at Michaelmas Thurstan complained of the delay of his consecration, and Henry bade him request Ralph to consecrate him in the presence of competent witnesses. Accordingly, taking with him the archbishop of Rouen, the bishops of Lisieux and Durham, and others, Thurstan made his request to Ralph, who answered that he would do so willingly if he would make the profession, but this Thurstan refused. About that time Ivo, bishop of Chartres, who had a great regard for Thurstan (Ep. 215), wrote to Paschal II, praying him to put an end to the dispute by sanctioning Thurstan's refusal (Ep. 276). In January 1116 Paschal replied to an application from the York chapter confirming their election, forbidding the profession, and ordering that, if Ralph refused to consecrate Thurstan, the rite should be performed by suffragan-bishops of York. When the king heard that the pope's interference had been invoked without his consent, he was very wroth, and at the great council held at Salisbury in March sent the Count of Meulan and others to Thurstan bidding him make the profession. He refused, and was summoned before the king, who told him that he must either obey or resign, whereupon, placing his hand on that of the king, he resigned the archbishopric, declaring that he would never seek it again (Hugh; Eadmer, cols. 496–7; Flor. Wig. sub an.) Nevertheless, he soon repented of his determination, and after Easter accompanied the king to Normandy, repeating his request to be allowed to go to Rome. His resignation, though operative as regards his right to the temporalities, did not annul his election. The king therefore did not order another election, but refused his request; for he knew that if he let him go he would be consecrated by the pope. Thurstan remained with the court in Normandy. He was supported in 1117 by a deputation from the York chapter, and the king, on a renewal of Thurstan's request, replied that he would do nothing until the archbishop of Canterbury should return from Rome, whither he had gone on this matter with the king's consent. Ralph returned without having met with success. The York chapter sent another letter to the pope on Thurstan's behalf, complaining that, through the instrumentality of Ralph and his suffragans, he had been kept in exile from his church for a year and a half. In consequence of this the legate Anselm received a letter from Paschal to the king directing him to restore Thurstan to his church, and promising to adjudicate upon the dispute. Another letter was directed to Ralph, ordering him to consecrate without the profession. Henry restored Thurstan, who returned to York.

Ralph's return, however, was delayed, and in January 1118 Paschal died. The new pope, Gelasius II, was warmly on Thurstan's side. He wrote to Henry bidding him send both Ralph and Thurstan to him, and sent summonses to both of them to come to him. Thurstan was anxious to press his cause, and, as he had not the king's leave to cross the sea, embarked at Dover in disguise, and went to Henry at Rouen about Christmastide. He complained that Ralph was keeping away from England in order to avoid consecrating him. He met Ralph and gave him the pope's letter. Hearing that Gelasius had appointed to meet the French king at Tours, he asked the king to allow him to go thither, and was refused. He obtained the good will of Louis VI, who was ready to take any opportunity of embarrassing Henry. In January 1119 Gelasius died. He was succeeded by Calixtus II, who espoused Thurstan's cause as strongly as his predecessor had done, while Louis and Fulk, count of Anjou, also did what they could for him by refusing to allow Ralph to pass through their dominions to go to the pope. Henry, finding that Thurstan's cause was supported by his enemies, tried in Lent to persuade him to return to England, but he refused; and the king then asked him to promise to go after Easter, but he answered evasively and stayed on in Normandy. The pope summoned him to attend the council to be held at Rheims, and Henry allowed him to go on his promising that he would not on any account receive consecration from the pope (Eadmer, col. 503). He met the pope at Tours on 22 Sept., and in his company visited Blois and Paris, being received cordially by the magnates of France. During the pope's stay at these places he was twice solicited by a deputation from the York chapter to consecrate Thurstan; and, though he had promised Henry that he would not do so, he nevertheless consecrated Thurstan at Rheims on Sunday, 20 Oct., the day before the council was to open, many French bishops assisting at the rite, though the archbishop of Lyons refused to obey the pope's order that he should be present; for he held that a wrong was done to the see of Canterbury. John, the archdeacon of Canterbury, who was with the pope, loudly protested in the presence of the assembled bishops against the consecration (ib. col. 504; Hugh). The English and Norman bishops, who arrived the next day, bitterly reproached Thurstan for his deceitful conduct, would not hold any intercourse with him, and in the king's name forbad him to enter any of Henry's dominions. Henry declared that he should never set foot in England until he had made the profession. On 1 Nov. he received the pall from the pope, who bade him keep the grant secret for the present.

In order to pave the way for a reconciliation with Henry, Thurstan busied himself in attempts to arrange a peace between the kings of England and France. At a meeting between Henry and the pope at Gisors Calixtus begged the king to allow Thurstan to occupy his see in peace; but Henry would not yield, and on his return to England disseised the archbishop of his estates. Thurstan remained with the pope. He was treated with great consideration by the cardinals and others of the papal court, took part in deliberations and judicial proceedings as though he had been a cardinal, and assisted the pope in the dedications of altars and churches. While he was with the pope at Gap, on Ash Wednesday 1120, it was decided that the church of York should be freed from the profession, and a bull was issued to that effect. At Thurstan's request the pope gave him some relics for his church and some holy oil, and granted him leave to use the pall while he was in exile. Thurstan then took his leave, being escorted on the first stage of his journey by a number of cardinals and bishops. He visited Adela, countess of Blois, and her son Theobald, and was hospitably entertained at Rheims by Ralph (d. 1124), the archbishop of that see. At Soissons he met the legate Conon, and, after consulting with him, judged it well to abstain from attending the court which Louis was about to hold at Senlis, and again visited the Countess of Blois, celebrating mass with his pall on Easter day at Coulommiers, and going with the countess to Marcigny, where she took the veil. Meanwhile the pope pressed Henry on Thurstan's behalf, and an interview took place between the king and the legate Conon at Château Landon, near Nemours, on the Sunday after Ascension day, Thurstan, at Henry's request, being near at hand. The king was finding the archbishop extremely useful to him in negotiating with France, and was therefore inclined in his favour (Symeon, Historia Regum, c. 199). During the discussion Conon brought Thurstan to Henry, who reinvested him with the archbishopric, and gave him leave to enter Normandy on his promising that he would keep out of England until Michaelmas, when the king proposed to come to a final settlement. At Michaelmas Thurstan could not be spared to return to England, as he was engaged on the king's business. He attended the council that the legate held at Beauvais in October, and at its close Henry, in an interview with Conon at Gisors, promised that he would obey the pope's wishes with respect to him, saying that he would rather have lost five hundred marks than have been without him. Thurstan hoped to have crossed with the king in November; but Henry bade him stay until after Christmas, that he might take advice with his council (ib.), and he therefore visited Chartres. At Christmas Henry summoned Archbishop Ralph and the bishops to a council, and caused to be read to them a letter from Calixtus directed to him and Ralph, in which the pope threatened to lay England under an interdict unless Thurstan was restored to his church without making profession, and appears also to have laid the matter before the magnates of the kingdom generally. It was unanimously decided that he should be recalled, though, it is said, on the condition that he was to celebrate no divine office outside his diocese until he had satisfied the church of Canterbury (ib.; Hugh; Eadmer, cols. 515–516). The messenger bearing his recall found him at Rouen. He crossed on 30 Jan., went to the king and queen at Windsor, was well received, and shortly afterwards proceeded to York, where he was met by a great procession of men of all orders, lay and clerical, and was welcomed with much rejoicing.

Thurstan celebrated his return by remitting certain fees paid by the churches of his diocese for the consecrated chrism, and strictly forbade his clergy to demand payment for burials, extreme unction, and baptism. At Michaelmas Henry called on him to make profession to Ralph personally, but on his producing the privilege granted by Calixtus the matter was dropped. Thurstan was himself vainly demanding a profession from John, ordained bishop of Glasgow by Paschal in 1115, and in 1122 excommunicated him. John appealed to the pope, was unsuccessful, but nevertheless did not profess. Thurstan requested the king to allow him to attend the council summoned by Calixtus, and was bidden to wait until the new archbishop of Canterbury should also go to Rome. William of Corbeil [see Corbeil] having been elected archbishop, Thurstan proposed to consecrate him, but objected to acknowledge him as primate of all England, and William was therefore consecrated by his suffragans on 18 Feb. 1123 (Symeon, c. 206). Both the archbishops went to Rome; Thurstan arrived there first, and when William came he found that serious objections were raised against granting the pall. The York historian (Hugh) asserts that it was only through Thurstan's intercession that he received it, but that need not be believed (ib. c. 208). William, having received the pall, complained to the pope of the injury done to his see in the York matter. Thurstan said that he could not make answer because he had not brought the muniments of his church with him, and it is asserted, on the other hand, that the Canterbury people could not give a satisfactory account of their privileges. The pope bade them both exhibit their privileges in a council to be held in England before papal legates. Nothing, however, appears to have been settled as regards their dispute during the legation of John of Crema in 1125, and both archbishops again visited Rome. Before Thurstan left, the king bade him put the two sees in the same position as in his father's day, and met with a refusal. Thurstan travelled with his brother, Bishop Audoen, and the legate, and, as John of Crema was taking much money to Rome and had many enemies, they took a route different from that by which the English usually travelled, and met with much inconvenience and delay, so that they did not reach Rome until three weeks after Archbishop William. Honorius II gave William a legatine commission, and the York account represents Thurstan as advocating this measure in obedience to the king's order. No agreement was made with reference to the old dispute; and the grant of the legation to William put Thurstan in a worse position. While he was in Rome he found John, bishop of Glasgow, at the papal court, and laid a complaint against him and against the bishops of Scotland generally, for they, in conjunction with David I [q. v.], were desirous of getting rid of the claims of the see of York and making their church dependent only on Rome. A day was appointed for hearing the suit against Bishop John; it was afterwards put off to a later date, and John seems never to have acknowledged the authority of York.

When Thurstan went to the assembly that the king held at Westminster at Christmas 1126 [see under Henry I], he was informed by Henry that the archbishop of Canterbury would not allow him to have his cross borne erect or to take part in placing the crown on the king's head, and was forced to submit. In 1127 he was summoned by William to a council that he held as legate; he did not attend, but sent a sufficient excuse (Cont. Flor. Wig. sub an.) In compliance with the request of the king of Scotland he in 1128 consecrated Robert (d. 1159) [q. v.], a canon of York, as bishop of St. Andrews, without requiring from him any profession of obedience. As John of Glasgow assisted at the coronation, it may be supposed that Thurstan and he had made up their quarrel. On 1 Aug. 1129 Thurstan attended the council that Archbishop William held at London (Hen. Hunt. sub an.) He was consulted by Richard [see under Richard d. 1139], then prior of St. Mary's at York, in 1132, and in consequence visited that house, removed from it Richard and his twelve friends, who were anxious to lead a stricter life, gave them a piece of land on which they settled, and where they founded the Cistercian abbey of Fountains. He received the thanks of St. Bernard for his kindness to these monks. In 1133 he gained a new suffragan by the creation of the see of Carlisle, to which, on 6 Aug., he consecrated Aldulf, prior of Nostell, near Wakefield, as the first bishop. He did not take part in the coronation of Stephen (Will. Malm. Historia Novella, i. c. 461), but attended his court at Easter 1136. A fire did some damage to his cathedral church on 8 June 1137. As David of Scotland was in that year preparing to invade England, Thurstan, though much weakened by age, met him at Roxburgh, and prevailed on him to agree to a truce until Stephen's return from Normandy in December. The see of Canterbury being then vacant, he presided over the prelates at a council that the king held at Northampton on 10 April 1138 (Cont. Flor. Wig.) When, for the second time in that year, the Scots invaded the north of England, and, having overrun the bishopric of Durham, appeared in Yorkshire, Thurstan met the lords of the shire at York, and, finding them discouraged because the king could give them no help, animated them by his counsel to resist the invaders, promised that the parish priests of the diocese should lead their parishioners to battle, said that he hoped himself to be in the fight, and gave the coming campaign the character of a crusade. In obedience to his counsel the forces of the shire gathered at York, where, after a three days' fast, he gave them absolution and his benediction. He wished to be carried in his litter with the host, for he was too weak to ride, but the lords persuaded him to stay at home and pray for their success, so he gave them his cross and the banner of St. Peter of York to carry with them, sent his men with the army along with Ralph (d. 1144?) [q. v.], bishop of Orkney, and remained at York, while the army that he had gathered routed the Scots at the battle of the Standard on 22 Aug. 1138.

Anselm, abbot of St. Edmunds, having been elected to the see of London, Thurstan upheld the party among the canons opposed to him, and, being requested by the pope to say what he thought of him, wrote that he was more fit to be deprived of his abbacy than promoted to a see (Diceto, i. 250). He was prevented by infirmity from attending the council held by the legate Alberic on 6 Dec., and sent the dean of York to represent him. He desired in 1139 to resign his see, and, it is said, to secure his brother Audoen as his successor, and for this purpose, as well as to excuse his non-attendance at the pope's council, sent Richard, abbot of Fountains, to Rome. Audoen, however, died in this year at Merton priory in Surrey, where he had assumed the habit of a canon. St. Bernard wrote to Thurstan dissuading him from his idea of resignation, and advising him while retaining his see to live an ascetic life (Opera, i. 297). A compiled account of him records that he made a pilgrimage to Palestine, but the assertion lacks confirmation, is probably based on a misreading, and cannot in any case be true of a time when he was worn out by age (Vita apud Historians of York, ii. 267). Finding that his end was near, Thurstan called to remembrance a vow that he had made in his youth at Cluny to enter the Cluniac order; having called the clergy of his church together into his chapel, he made solemn confession before them, and received the discipline from them, and after this set out, in company with the elder clergy and many laymen, for the Cluniac priory at Pontefract, where, on 26 Jan. 1140, he was admitted into the convent and received the monastic habit. On 6 Feb. he felt himself dying, and, in the presence of the elder clergy, who seem to have remained with him, and the monks, he caused the vigils for the dead to be performed, as though he already lay dead, himself taking the ninth lectio, and reciting the versicle ‘Dies iræ, dies illa.’ When lauds were ended he died while the assembled monks were praying (John of Hexham). He was buried before the high altar of the priory church. Some days afterwards Geoffrey Turcople or Trocope, archdeacon of Nottingham, beheld him in a vision, and received from him the assurance of his well-being. A year later his body was found undecayed.

Thurstan was a man of deep piety and of monastic aceticism, being extremely sparing in eating and drinking, wearing a hair-shirt, and otherwise mortifying his flesh. His character was probably emotional, for he was endowed with ‘the grace of tears’ specially when celebrating the mass, and he exercised a strong influence on ladies, many of high rank, as the Countess of Blois, being his affectionate and obedient disciples (John of Hexham). To the poor he was pitiful and liberal. That he was remarkably courageous and persevering is shown in his long conflict with the see of Canterbury, supported by the royal authority. The independence of his see was an object worthy of the sacrifices he made to gain it, specially if the struggle is regarded in the light of the time; the exile, loss of wealth, and other troubles that he manfully endured in the cause, and the success that crowned his efforts, as well as his personal character, justly endeared him to the people of the north, and gave him a position of extraordinary influence among them. He used that influence on a memorable occasion to arouse a patriotic sentiment and deliver the north from a cruel invasion. Yet in the progress of his struggle with Canterbury he certainly did not scruple to ally himself with the enemies of his own king, and he was guilty of a breach of faith in receiving consecration from Calixtus. He was a generous benefactor to the churches and clergy of his diocese, to York, Hexham, Ripon, Beverley, and Southwell, and founded new prebends in the last-named three churches, and he was careful in the selection of his clergy (ib.) and in the promotion of their interests (Historians of York, ii. 386). In the troubles that soon followed his death men looked back with regret to the peace and prosperity enjoyed by the clergy and tenants of the see during his episcopate. For the clergy were not the only recipients of privileges from him; his charter to the rising town of Beverley was based on that granted by Henry to York; it confirmed the customs of the burghers and granted them a hans-house and exemption from toll (Stubbs, Select Charters, p. 105). He was largely concerned in the growth of monasticism in the north during his episcopate, and is said to have founded eight religious houses (Historians of York, ii. 267), though this is probably an exaggeration. He certainly founded the nunnery of Clementhorp, near York (Monasticon, iv. 323), and may perhaps be said to have founded Fountains Abbey. The foundation of St. Leonard's Hospital at York has been ascribed to him (Gervase, i. 100), but it existed as St. Peter's Hospital before his time; he obtained grants to it from Henry I; it was burnt in the fire of 1137; and was rebuilt by Stephen with a dedication to St. Leonard (Monasticon, vi. 609). His influence, however, was great with Walter Espec [q. v.], William Paganel [see under Paganel, Ralph], and other founders of monasteries in the north.

The works attributed to Thurstan by Bale (Cent. ii. 185) are: 1. ‘De origine Fontanensis cœnobii’ (either a mistake for the work of Hugh of Kirkstall; see Monasticon, v. 293, and fully in Memorials of Fountains Abbey, edited by Raine; or else is identical with Thurstan's long and interesting letter to William, archbishop of Canterbury, on the subject printed in the same book). 2. ‘De suo primatu ad Calixtum,’ a matter on which he doubtless wrote much to that pope. 3. ‘Contra juniorem Anselmum,’ probably a reference to the extract from a letter preserved by Diceto and noticed above. Bale adds, ‘Et quædam alia,’ of which nothing is known. A constitution of his ‘De debitis defunctorum Clericorum’ is printed in Wilkins's ‘Concilia’ (i. 412).

[A full life of Thurstan is given in Raine's Fasti Ebor.; it is written with some bias in his favour and on the York side in the dispute with the see of Canterbury, being founded on the life by Hugh the Chantor, or precentor, and archdeacon of York, a contemporary of Thurstan, which is printed in Historians of York, vol. ii. (Rolls Ser.) In the same volume are a letter from Archbishop Ralph to Calixtus complaining of Thurstan, also printed by Twysden; a short life of Thurstan, made up partly of verses by Hugh of Pontefract and Geoffrey Turcople, and partly of prose by a late writer, and of little value, and a chronicle of the Archbishops of York, also printed by Twysden as the work of T. Stubbs, and, so far as Thurstan is concerned, mainly founded on the life by Hugh the Chantor. Also on the York side are Richard of Hexham, ed. Twysden, and John of Hexham, ed. Twysden, and ap. Opp. Symeonis Dunelm. (Rolls Ser.), both also in Raine's Hexham Priory (Surtees Soc. pp. 44, 46). The Canterbury side is represented in Eadmer's Hist. Nov. ed. Migne; see also Chron. Mailros, ed. Gale; Flor. Wig. with Cont. (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Sym. Dunelm. Will. of Malmesbury's Gesta Pontiff. Hen. Huntingdon, Gervase of Cant., R. de Diceto (all Rolls Ser); S. Bernardi Opp. ed. 1690; Ailred's De Bello Standardi, ed. Twysden; Walbran's Memorials of Fountains (Surtees Soc. pp 42, 67). There is a life of Thurstan in C. Henriquez's Phœnix Reviviscens (1626).]

W. H.