Christopher Harper-Bill, ed. Norwich 1244-1266. English Episcopal Acta Series. London: Oxford University Press, 2008. Illustrations. 354 pp. $90.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-726417-1.
Reviewed by Phyllis E. Pobst
Published on H-Albion (April, 2010)
Commissioned by Margaret McGlynn (University of Western Ontario)
Acts of the Bishops of Norwich, 1244-1266
Medievalists will be familiar with the English Episcopal Acta (EEA) series, produced by the British Academy under general editors David M. Smith and, since 2003, Philippa M. Hoskin, both of the Borthwick Institute at the University of York. Since 1980, the EEA has published the work of English bishops’ chanceries from the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries, with a solid reputation for scholarship of the highest quality. This addition to the series was edited by Christopher Harper-Bill, whose distinguished bibliography includes many important editions. With this volume, Harper-Bill is extending his previous contributions to the EEA, Norwich 1070-1214 (volume 6) (1990) and Norwich 1215-1243 (volume 21) (2000).
This third Norwich edition covers the episcopates of Walter Suffield (1244-57) and Simon Walton (1257-66). Harper-Bill’s earlier article on Suffield will have prepared the reader to find this bishop a hardworking pastoral peacemaker, earnest in his efforts to put good ministers into parish churches. Suffield’s remarkable will (document 138) not only shows his commitment to the hospital of St. Giles, which he had founded, but also shows his household by way of bequests to servants, from the menial kitchen staff to his familiar clerks and chaplains. Many bequests point to his concern for the most vulnerable, such as lepers and the poor.
Bishop Walton was a royal clerk and lawyer: a royal justice in eyre and justice of the bench at Westminster (1246-57) before being nominated by Henry III to succeed Suffield in Norwich. He was very much the king’s man in the crisis of the late 1250s to the early 1260s, but holed up at Bury St. Edmunds in 1262 during the antiroyalist reaction, and stayed out of the events of 1265. He seems not to have left the diocese after August 1264, and in September the pope ordered Cardinal Ottobuon to give him a coadjutor because of age and infirmity. Harper-Bill has only faint praise for him: “despite the political pressures on him, there is no calendar year in which he was totally absent from his diocese” (p. xli).
As is common in the EEA series, the introduction is a master work in its own right, and ranges over many aspects of episcopal administration. Prosopographers will want to consult the very thorough accounts of the careers of the bishops’ officials, the archdeacons, and other members of the familia. The documents edited here are originals in most cases, found in archives all over the British Isles and in France (as well as Rome and California). All surviving documents are published in full, unless they were published already in another EEA volume. The description of lost acta known to have existed is given as well. For the benefit of the reader, the acts issued under each of the two bishops are alphabetized by beneficiary or addressee, or the person or corporation principally affected; under each party, the documents are arranged by date, given in modern style.
There are 198 documents for the two bishops, beginning with Suffield’s profession of obedience to Archbishop-elect Boniface of Canterbury, in February 1245, and ending with Walton’s will (not extant, but known to have been executed in early 1266). All entries have a full and clear precis in English. Most also include very useful narrative notes, explaining the background and relevant subsequent developments that bear on the actum. Those that are extant in more than one copy have an apparatus for the collation.
The contents fall into eleven categories, discussed in detail in the introduction. “Confirmations” provides information on the possessions of religious houses and officers (some in Normandy), including several confirmations by inspeximus, one confirmation for a charter of Henry II, and documents issued by other prelates and lay lords. The next section focuses on “Grants,” including a grant to the burgesses of Lynn (now King’s Lynn), of the right to elect their mayor. “New Foundations” covers the nuns of Martham and Flixton, and especially Suffield’s own foundation of St. Giles Hospital in Norwich. The hospital was designed as a retirement home for poor, elderly, or bedridden priests; a nursing home and infirmary for poor sick layfolk; an almonry for other poor; and a dining hall for seven poor students on school days. A community of clerks and nursing sisters was to provide care for bodies and souls. The building of the hospital began with a series of land transfers given here.
The next category examines “Licences” for chapels in religious houses, on the manors of monastic estates, and in the homes of leading lay persons. “Appropriations” of parishes to support religious institutions, such as St. Giles, the cathedral priory, and other houses that usually already held the parishes for their own use, is the subject of the next section. Detailed settlements of the rectory lands, buildings, and incomes were individually tailored. The commonest reason given for these appropriations was the provision of alms and hospitality by the religious, which may have been more formulaic than informative. While a few appropriated parishes were to be served by chaplains appointed by the religious houses in their role as rectors, most appropriations were to be “Vicarages,” the next category. Suffield received permission from Innocent IV (given in appendix 2.1) to regularize the situation in Norwich diocese with a taxed vicarage to balance the needs of the religious and the vicar.
Very few “Institutions” survive, most of them to new vicarages or in churches where a change had been made in the terms for the religious patrons. The extant documents in this section imply that written institution letters were normal practice by the 1240s. Some of the surviving entries relate to papal involvement, such as pensions to be paid to papal chaplains. “Settlements” focuses on the twelve disputes over ecclesiastical rights to parishes or incomes; plus six other settlements of long-standing disputes, sealed by the bishop at the request of the parties. The commonest source of conflict was tithes. “Indulgences” for pious works in support of St. Giles and five other causes from Suffield as well as for St. Giles and two other causes from Walton are included the following section.
“Significations of excommunication” is the largest group of documents in the volume. Requesting the king’s government to arrest excommunicants was standard practice by the mid-1200s; Norwich “significations” began probably in 1245, and there are forty-two in this collection (others are certainly missing). A total of ninety-five persons, including a “wholesale excommunication” of thirteen laymen from one parish, and twenty-one of religious or clerks are named; only four of the excommunicants were women (pp. lvii-lviii). Unfortunately, only one of these documents gives the reason for excommunication. Finally, “Taxation” examines the taxation of the clergy for the crusade of Henry III (originally planned to reach the Holy Land but diverted to Sicily), along with appointment of deputies-commissioners for lands beyond England, and assessment and collection of documents for some English religious houses and rural deans. This group is fragmentary, giving only a hint of the great number of documents that once must have existed.
Harper-Bill gives a full description of the diplomatic aspects of these acta: formulae, titles, inscriptions, salutations, arengae, notifications, and so forth show the balance between increasing standardization of documents and personalized material. He finds an increase in the number of documents that threaten or impose excommunication, compared to earlier episcopates, and a greater use of the seal. Forty-five documents have witness lists.
There are five valuable appendixes. Appendix 1 gives nineteen additional acta for the bishops of Norwich who reigned from 1070 to 1243, to supplement volumes 6 and 21 in the EEA series. Appendix 2 gives forty-six instances of acts, private deeds, and use of the bishops’ seal, which may not have generated acta. Appendix 3 is a calendar of ten fines before the king’s justices, in which either Suffield or Walton was a party; these are taken from the National Archives. Appendix 4 lists thirty-eight royal presentations to benefices in Norwich Diocese, which probably led to episcopal action; found in the Calendar of Patent Rolls. Appendix 5 provides the two bishops’ itineraries. Finally, the book includes an index of names, and another of subjects.
The scholarship is clear, thorough, and impeccable. Those who consult this volume will find it so useful and reliable that they will probably forget to be grateful to Harper-Bill, who has now given us nearly two hundred years of the Norwich chancery’s work in so handsome and accessible a form. Users will need to keep a pencil handy, however, to correct and annotate the indexes. Checking the indexing of several pages of the introduction, I found three mistaken page numbers listed, and ten names omitted; one hopes the acta themselves were more carefully indexed. With this infinitesimal exception, the third volume of Norwich acta is a credit to Harper-Bill, the EEA, and Oxford University Press.
.For example, Christopher Harper-Bill, ed., The Register of John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1486-1500, 3 vols. (Leeds: Privately printed for the Canterbury and York Society, 1987-2000); Christopher Harper-Bill, ed., Anglo-Norman Studies XVIII: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1995 (Rochester: Boydell Press, 1996); Christopher Harper-Bill, ed., Anglo-Norman Studies XX: Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1997 (Rochester: Boydell Press, 1998); Christopher Harper-Bill and M. J. Franklin, eds., Medieval Ecclesiastical Studies in Honour of Dorothy M. Owen (Rochester: Boydell Press, 1995); several volumes of the proceedings of the Strawberry Hill conferences on medieval knighthood (since 1986); and a number of works in the very fine Suffolk Charters series.
. “‘Above All These Charity’: The Career of Walter Suffield, Bishop of Norwich, 1244-57,” in The Foundations of Medieval English Ecclesiastical History: Studies Presented to David Smith, ed. Philippa Hoskin, Christopher Brooke, and Barrie Dobson (Rochester: Boydell Press, 2005).
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Phyllis E. Pobst. Review of Harper-Bill, Christopher, ed., Norwich 1244-1266.
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