Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066-1300: Volume 7, Bath and Wells. Originally published by Institute of Historical Research, London, 2001.
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TWO ALLEGED CHARTERS OF BISHOP ROBERT
Some commentary is required on two charters that purport to have been given by bishop Robert at the beginning of his episcopate - one in favour of the prior and monks of Bath and the other in favour of the church of Wells (EEA X nos. 10, 46). Both record the detailed and formal assignment of contested estates which must have been the product of years rather than months of negotiation and settlement. Neither charter can be accepted as genuine as it stands.
The charter for Bath (no. 10), which survives only in cartulary copies, is dated '1135', 'anno episcopatus mei primo'. A date between c. 22 and 24 March 1136 is indicated, a clear impossibility, and even Dr Ramsey's interpretation of this to cover the whole of Robert's first year, c. 22 March 1136 × c. 22 March 1137, is implausible, as the assignment of estates is highly complex and contentious and could not have been achieved by an incoming bishop in so short a time. It looks as if the monks created this charter some years later, and wrote in the early date in order to suggest that the division of estates was already in force at bishop Robert's accession, and thus in effect immemorial and incapable of renegotiation. (fn. 1)
The witness-clause of the Bath charter, however, has no internal discrepancies: all the witnesses could well have appeared together on a single occasion. The list seems to have been taken from a genuine charter. (fn. 2) The occasion on which the witnesses appeared together was not, however, so early as 1136. Their names, accompanied by brief notes on their earliest occurrences, are as follows:
Simon, abbot of Athelney. As Simon Crassus, sacrist of Abingdon abbey, he was a party to an incident described in the Abingdon chronicle concerning William of Ypres. Simon revealed to the king the presence in the abbey of a large sum of money, which was then taken by William of Ypres, acting on King Stephen's orders: this must have occurred before 1144, probably at the end of 1142 or early in 1143. (fn. 3) According to the same text, it was not long after this incident that the king appointed Simon to the abbacy of Athelney, where he died in his third year, which was probably therefore no later than 1147. (fn. 4) The only surviving document issued by Simon as abbot of Athelney is undated (Cart. Athelney no. 65). (fn. 5) His successor as abbot, Benedict I, occurs first on 4 Nov. 1159 (EEA X no. 50).
Ivo, dean of Wells. The deanery was set up in the 'ordinance' discussed below (printed ibid. X no. 46). An unnamed dean occurs June/July 1141 × c. 1142 (ibid. no. 21). Ivo's first certain occurrence as dean belongs to 1146/7 (ibid. no. 24). See above, list 3.
Eustace, Martin and Hugh archdeacons [of Wells, Bath and Taunton]. The three archdeacons occur first and together with the unnamed dean June/July 1141 × c. 1142 (ibid. no. 21; cf. ibid. no. 20). They also appear together with dean Ivo in 1146/7 (ibid. no. 24). See above, lists 10, 11, 12.
Martin, prior of Glastonbury. His only other occurrence is in a charter of Henry bishop of Winchester and abbot of Glastonbury, c. 1136 × 1148 (ibid. VIII no. 42). (fn. 6) William, another prior of Glastonbury, presumably Martin's successor, occurs 1143 × 48 (ibid. no. 44). Robert, presumably William's successor as prior, first occurs on 4 Nov. 1159 (ibid. X no. 50).
William, prior of Taunton. He occurs on 14 June 1133 (ibid. XI no. 18), and in the early 1130s, before March 1136 (ibid. X no. 7, for which see above, n. 2). Stephen, presumably his successor as prior, first occurs on 11 Oct. 1158 (ibid. VIII no. 113).
Stephen, canon of Wells, kinsman (cognatus) of bishop Robert. His other appearances belong to any date before c. 1153 (ibid. X no. 32), and before 4 Nov. 1159 (ibid. no. 11). See above, list 67.
Hamo, brother of bishop Robert. His only other occurrence is after 1163 (ibid. no. 30).
Richard, brother of bishop Robert. Not otherwise known.
Robert de Fluri, knight of bishop Robert. He occurs in 1166 holding 3 knights' fees of the bishop of Winchester (Red Book of Exchequer, ed. H. Hall (3 vols., RS xcix, 1896) I 205). Ranulph de Fluri, presumably a descendant, occurs in a Wells charter 6 Oct. 1174 × c. Michaelmas 1175 (EEA VIII no. 186).
Ivo, knight of bishop Robert. His only other occurrence is in a Bath charter of before 4 Nov. 1159 (ibid. X no. 11).
The witness-list of the Bath charter is therefore consistent with a date of c. 1143 × 1147, and may well have been taken from a genuine document with those limits.
The text of the charter for Wells (no. 46), like that for Bath, survives only in cartulary copies. In form it is akin to an ordinance or statute, but uses a narrative style, with verbs such as ordinavimus, distribuimus, fecimus, assignavimus, statuimus. It is said to have been enacted in the presence of Henry bishop of Winchester, and is attested by the two archbishops and nine other bishops: nine of these twelve witnessed the king's charter for bishop Robert at the Easter court at Westminster in 1136 (Regesta III no. 46). The last possible date is given by the death of archbishop William of Canterbury, which occurred on 21 Nov. 1136. The witness-list clearly gives the 'ordinance' the appearance of having been issued at the very beginning of Robert's pontificate, and Dr Ramsey assigns it to 'Westminster, c. 22 March 1136'. (fn. 7)
As in the case of the Bath charter discussed above, it is not possible to accept so early a date. J. Armitage Robinson's criticism of the document (SHE pp. 56-61) carries more weight than its recent editor has been prepared to allow (see Dr Ramsey's note, EEA X 36). To adopt the early dating, in Armitage Robinson's words, 'would require us to compress what in the most favourable circumstances must have been the labour of years into the brief and troubled period of Bishop Robert's first six months'. The abolition of the provostry, the establishment and endowment of the deanery, precentory and subdeanery, and the division of the common estates into individual prebends cannot have been achieved at a stroke. As Armitage Robinson suggested, the document may have been drawn up somewhat on the model of the 'autobiography' of bishop Giso. As a result of the work of Professor Simon Keynes, we may now be fairly sure that Giso's 'autobiography' was fabricated at Wells in the twelfth century, probably between the 1140s and 1174, after which date it was incorporated into the Historiola (Keynes, 'Giso' pp. 213-26). It is not impossible that the two documents, 'ordinance' and 'autobiography', belong to the same enterprise, designed to protect the property rights of the canons of Wells by furnishing documentary foundation for existing arrangements.
That bishop Robert was indeed responsible for the acts recorded in the 'ordinance' we can have no doubt. Most of the provisions of the document can be supported by the evidence of other charters, as is clear from the notes given at the head of the lists of dignitaries and prebendaries above. The terms of the 'ordinance' are therefore cited above, in the confidence that they record arrangements made by bishop Robert, not in the first year, or all at once, but in stages during his thirty-year pontificate.