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Marleberge, Thomas de (DNB00)


MARLEBERGE, THOMAS de (d. 1236), abbot of Evesham, was probably, as his name suggests, a native of Marlborough. He had a uterine brother (Chronicon Abbatiæ de Evesham, ed. Macray, p. 232), and appears to have been educated at Paris. Richard Poore, afterwards bishop of Salisbury, was, he tells us, his fellow-pupil under Stephen Langton (ib. p. 232), who lectured in that university (ib. p. xxi). He also speaks of three clerks of Archbishop Hubert, J. de Tynemouth, S. de Suuelle (sic), and Honorius, as 'magistri mei in scholis' (ib. p. 126). He was learned in canon and civil law, taught at Oxford, and his biographer adds at Exeter also, but the likeness between the words 'Oxoniam' and ' Exoniam ' may have led to a confusion (ib. p. xxi, note). Marleberge did not become a monk of Evesham till 1199 or 1200 (ib. p. 264), but as he says that he had personal knowledge of Adam, abbot of Evesnam, who died in 1 191, he probably underwent a long novitiate. When he entered the monastery he brought with him a considerable number of books on canon and civil law and medicine, a book of Democritus, three works of Cicero, a Lucan and a Juvenal, with many volumes of theological and grammatical notes. Hostility to the abbot, Roger Norreys, who succeeded Abbot Adam, and was according to Marleberge notoriously profligate, seems to have-delayed his promotion. But when in 1202 Maugere or Malgere [q. v.], bishop of Worcester, on the plea that the abbot s conduct needed examination, formally visited the abbey, which claimed to be an exempt monastery (i.e. subject to the pope, and free from diocesan control), Marleberge acted as spokesman of a committee of twelve monks who were appointed to explain to the bishop the grounds of their resistance to the visitation. The bishop replied by suspending all the monks for contumacy, and excommunicated them. There upon Archbishop Hubert, at Marleberge's request, hM an inquiry respecting the bishop's claim at London, but the result was indecisive, and the matter was referred to the papal delegates, the abbots of Malmesbury, Abingdon, and Eynsham. As they were not impartial judges of episcopal rights, this step forced the bishop to appeal to Rome.

Meanwhile the monks continued to suffer at the hands of their abbot, who farmed out lands without the consent of the convent. In 1203 Marleberge went to conciliate the king and archbishop, whose interests had suffered by the abbot's treatment of the property. He was refused an interview with John, and met with contumely in the king's court, but after he had explained to the archbishop the real state of affairs, Hubert, as papal legate and legitimate visitor of the abbey, held a visitation, but refused to give sentence on the evidence before him, and ordered the abbot and convent to elect arbitrators. The archbishop's death rendered the visitation abortive, but it was decided that the monk? had gone beyond their rights in trying to recover lands alienated by the abbot, and Marleberge, with three others, was banished for a fortnight from the house. He was recalled to carry on the case against the Bishop of Worcester. Marleberge pleaded the case in the presence of the papal commissioners, 1204-5. Their judgment gave the bishop temporary possession of the right to visit the monastery, but no right to visit the churches of the vale of Evesham, which the monastery protested were included in its papal privileges. Before formal judgment was delivered Marleberge hastened to Rome to get an early interview with the pope, Innocent III, but the pope evinced little interest.

The abbot arrived at Rome in March 1205, and Marleberge, who had spent the interval at Piacenzaand Pavia, met him there, although they were still personally very hostile to one another. On 19 April 1205 Marleberge retired to Bologna, where he spent six months attending daily lectures on canon and civil law, on the advice of Cardinal Hugulini, afterwards bishop of Ostia. In October 1205, when the abbot had returned to England, Marleberge pleaded the abbey's cause at Rome. The bishop had secured the best possible advocates, but after the abbey's records of privileges were found to be genuine the monastery was declared exempt. Marleberge fainted in court when he heard the favourable verdict, 24 Dec. 1205. The question of the bishop's jurisdiction over the churches of the vale of Evesham was, however, referred, on the ground that neither party produced sufficient evidence, to the bishops of Ely and Rochester, who gave sentence for the bishop. The decisions are extant in the decretals of Gregory IX (ib. p. xxviii), but all the letters and bulls of Innocent III are wanting during the period of the trial (ib. p. xxix). Marleberge had borrowed money to pay for legal advice during the litigation, and a bond for one of his loans from Peter Malialard, a Roman merchant, is extant (ib. p. xxvi). The Bishop of Worcester had meanwhile inquired into Abbot Norreys's conduct, and forwarded to Rome an adverse report ; but Marleberge, who was undesirous of the abbot's deposition, hushed the matter up, and succeeded in leaving Rome secretly in order to avoid making the usual presents to the pope and cardinals, and perhaps also to escape his creditors, in whose hands he was obliged to leave the much valued privileges of the abbey. The abbey, careful to preserve what rights still remained, decided to appoint a secular dean to superintend the churches of the vale, and Marleberge was appointed to the office. He held it till he became abbot.

In 1206 Marleberge was again at Eves- ham. The papal legate soon afterwards began a visitation, but left its completion to two abbots who ordered no reforms. The abbot had provided himself with papal indulgences at Rome, and claimed new powers under them. By their authority he expelled Marleberge and his friend Thomas de Northwich, but thirty monks accompanied them into banishment as a protest. The abbot pursued them with an armed company, but they successfully beat off the attack and compelled the abbot to withdraw his claim to expel brethren on his own authority. In 1213, when the Roman creditors arrived to claim the sums owed to them by the abbey, Marleberge was sent as a proctor to York, Northampton, and London, to extricate the convent from its financial embarrassments. At Wallingford it was proposed to liquidate the debt on payment of five hundred marks, but the abbot refused to agree, as he held that Marleberge alone was responsible. Marleberge thereupon urged Pandu If, the legate, to depose the abbot. An inquiry followed in which Marleberge gave important testimony, and on 22 Nov. Norreys was deposed. The monks neglected to choose a new abbot, and the legate appointed Randulf prior of Worcester. Marleberge worked with him harmoniously, the creditors were paid, and in 1215 he accompanied him to Rome to get the book of the abbey's customs confirmed. Marleberge was made sacrist in 1217 and prior in 1218.

On the death of Randulf in 1229 he was elected abbot. He was consecrated at Chester by the Bishop of Coventry 12 July 1230; temporalities were restored 10 Sept., and he was installed 20 Sept. He set to work to clear off the debt which still oppressed the abbey, and although mainly occupied with finance found time to carve monuments for himself and for his two predecessors, Norreys and Randulf. He represented himself and them in full pontifical robes, the right to wear which Norreys had basely surrendered as a bribe to the Bishop of Worcester. On 16 April 1233 Marleberge made a formal act of submission for himself and the abbey to the visitatorial authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury (Tanner MS. 223, Bodl. Libr. ; Chron. Abb. p. xxxii). He died in 1230.

Marleberge was an architect and a good mechanical workman. As sacrist he made a reading-desk, and this is possibly still in existence (Archæologia, xvii. 278 ; Mat, in his History of Evesham, p. 57, ed. 1845, inclines to ascribe it to an earlier date) ; he made the fireplace in the church, and a pedestal to the clock (? cum pede horologii) ; he repaired all the glass windows, broken by a fall of the tower, mended and made shrines, and added new slabs to the altar. He strengthened the five arches of the presbytery, and one at the entrance to the crypt. When he became prior lie collected money to rebuild the tower, repaired the walls of the presbytery in modum pinnaculorum, and the words of his biographer seem to imply that he made a triforium which did not exist in the monastery before. The throne for the shrine of St. Egwin was his work. He arranged that the shrines of the principal saints should be placed before the altar on their feast days. He improved the seating of the choir, and procured new stone tombs for two of his predecessors. He repaired the stained-glass window at the east end, and added two others at the west end. While abbot he made a new altar, adorned it with a marble slab, and erected above it a splendid cross with the images of St. Mary and St. John. He enlarged the abbot's dwelling, and improved the vaulted roofing in various parts of the house. His stables were burned down, but in a year's time he had built others three times finer than those he had lost. He improved the abbatial residences on several Evesham manors. In 1233 a new infirmary chapel was dedicated. He also painted the chapter-house, and was very skilful with the needle. He presented the church with albs and copes which he had made and ornamented with gold work, and gave the refectory a wheel surrounded by little bells attached to it by chains. His donations are recorded not only in the 'Chronicle,' but also in miscellaneous deeds in Cott. MS. Nero, D. iii. When dean of the vale and prior he arranged that every tenant in the vale who paid heriot according to the custom of the manor, as specified in the abbot's customary book, should pay a heriot to the abbot of the best animal of his live stock (sheep excepted), and if he had none living, then the best dead animal; the second best should go to the sacrist as a mortuary fee (f. 245, printed in Stevens's Monisticon, Appendix, p. 135).

As prior he abbreviated the life of St. Egwin, and wrote the life of St. Wistan, both at the request of the brethren. He copied Haymo's commentary on the Revelation of St. John, and bound up in the same volume his own 'Chronicon Abbatis de Evesham' from its foundation to 1214. This is extant (Rawlinson MS. A. 287), but another copy in a separate volume which he wrote is lost. Besides these he wrote several liturgical books for the church.

[Marleburge's Chronicle of the Abbots of Evesham to 1214 contains an autobiography of the writer. A continuation in a fifteenth-century hand records his benefactions. The whole was published as Chronicon Abbatiæ de Evesham, edited by W. D. Macray (Rolls Ser.) See also Stevens's Monasticon Anglicanum. Appendix. No. cxxxvi.]

M. B.