HERFAST known to the Normans as Arfast (d. 1084?), chancellor and bishop, was probably of Norman birth, though in all likelihood, as his name suggests, of Teutonic extraction. Modern authorities describe him, on insufficient evidence, as a monk in early life of the abbey of Bec. The first fully authenticated mention of him is as chaplain to William of Normandy, several years before the duke came to England. According to William of Malmesbury he was a man of slender ability and moderate learning, but there are difficulties about the story that when, as the duke's chaplain, he rode in high state to the monastic school of Bec he exposed himself by his ignorance and arrogance to the open scorn of Lanfranc, and that he consequently prejudiced his master against Lanfranc. Herfast followed William to England in 1066, and not later than 1068 William, as king of England, appointed Herfast to the office of chancellor; it is Herfast's distinction to be reckoned the first that held that office. In 1070 he became bishop of Elmham, and resigned the chancellorship. His consecration must have speedily followed his nomination, for he officiated at Lanfranc's consecration to the archbishopric of Canterbury in August of the same year. William of Malmesbury states that the prognostic given him when—as bishops entering on their consecration were wont to do—he sought for such from the gospels was ‘not this man, but Barabbas;’ but the chronicler would seem to have been glad to think evil of Herfast.
In accordance with the decisions of the council of the church that met at London in 1075, Herfast, in 1078, shifted his see from Elmham to Thetford, and thus took the first step towards its permanent establishment at Norwich [see Losinga, Herbert]. Resolved to defeat the claims to exemption from episcopal jurisdiction advanced by the monastic bodies, Herfast engaged in an obstinate and prolonged conflict with Baldwin, abbot of St. Edmundsbury. In the course of the dispute he is said to have threatened to fix his see at Bury. King William, Lanfranc, and Pope Gregory himself were gradually drawn into the quarrel; and it was not composed till the pope, who sided with the abbot, had expressed himself sternly against Herfast in a peremptory letter to Lanfranc. Lanfranc, who had at first shown a leaning towards the bishop's side, lectured him sharply on his conduct, and the king is said—though the statement is doubtful—to have given judgment against him. It would appear from Lanfranc's letters during the business that the bishop was reputed a man of somewhat unclerical laxity of life, though no distinct immorality is laid to his charge. Even the son Richard whom he is said to have made heir need not, considering the frequency of clerical marriages in Herfast's younger days, be taken to have been born out of wedlock. Herfast is usually stated to have died in 1084. A successor in his bishopric was appointed in 1086.
[Will of Malm., De Gest. Pont. pp. 150–2; Flor. of Worc., Mon. Hist. Brit. p. 599; Wharton's Anglia Sacra, pp. 80, 294, 406; Memorials of St. Edmund's Abbey (Rolls Ser.), vol. i. 1890; Stubbs's Reg. Sacr. Angl. p. 21; Freeman's Norman Conquest, iii. 104, iv. 411, 421; Blomefield's Hist. of Norfolk, iii. 463; Jessopp's Dioc. Hist. of Norwich, pp. 41–6; Foss's Biographia Juridica.]