'Upwardly Mobile in the 13th Century' A talk by Clive Wilkins-Jones

 

It never ceases to amaze me what a little research can achieve in this 21st. century computer age. This came to light most vividly in a lecture given by our guest speaker in February, Clive Wilkins-Jones. Clive is a Librarian and his subject was entitled "Upwardly Mobile in the 13th Century", West Dereham to Magna Carta.

The Norman conquest was over 100 years in the past and Richard I was on the throne of England. Richard was a French speaking King and spent a lot of time abroad fighting in the Crusades. His right hand man at that time was of course our own Archbishop Hubert Walter. At this point there emerges another person who had similar humble beginnings who became known as Master Elias of Dereham at a time when it was considered a sin to be ambitious.

He was born in about 1160 during the reign of Henry II and raised in the village although it is unlikely that he was from a Serf family. There is some evidence to suggest he was from the household of Ranulf de Glanvill who was Hubert Walters Uncle, married to his Mothers sister, Bertha. Elias was certainly known to Hubert Walter and by 1188 was part of his household at Canterbury in the capacity of a Steward. Elias clearly had talent although there is nothing about him having any sort of formal education.. Walter was himself without a University education, his grasp of Latin was poor but this did not mean he was illiterate, the medieval writer, Gerald of Wales said of Walter that the Exchequer was his school.

His work for the Archbishop would involve dealing with property and the day to day administration relating to this.


On Hubert Walters death in July 1205 he was the executor of his estate however by this time Richard I had died (1199) and his younger brother John was on the throne.

He promptly confiscated all Walters bequests and Matthew Paris the medieval chronicler retold the story that when John heard of Walters death exclaimed "Now for the first time I am king of England". Walter died in July 1205 after a long illness and was buried in the Trinity Chapel next to St. Thomas Becket

A period of unrest and war with his own Barons and the Church which eventually lead to Magna Carta and his own death in 1216.

John was in some ways an unstable character who was always on the move. He feared his Barons and used to insist on having some of their children at his court. He was accused of dishonour on one occasion over the death of a nephew and one wife actually refused to place her children at the court. He had her taken and imprisoned where he ordered her to be starved to death. It has been suggested that the Maid Marion of Robin Hood (Robert of Locksley) fame may have suffered a similar fate.

John chose John De Grey, Bishop of Norwich as his successor to Hubert Walter while some of the younger monks elected Reginald, the subprior of Christ Church, Canterbury. Both elections were quashed on appeal to Rome and a new election was to proceed in the presence of the Pope Innocent III. Stephen Langton emerged as the winner and was consecrated by the Pope in June 1207. Stephen was born in Lincolnshire near Wragby and had two brothers one of whom, Simon, served his brother as Archdeacon of Canterbury in 1227.

Stephen had studied at the University of Paris and lectured there on theology until 1206. He formed a friendship with Pope Innocent III while in Paris and he called him to Rome and made him a Cardinal Priest. His piety and learning had already won him prebends (stipend or tithe income) at Paris and York and he was recognised as the foremost English churchman.

There followed a hard political struggle between John of England and Pope Innocent III. The King proclaimed as a public enemy anyone who recognised Stephen as Archbishop, expelled the Canterbury monks who were now unanimous in support of Stephen and seized the Canterbury estates. This prompted a papal interdict and at the close of 1212 after repeated negotiations had failed passed sentence of disposition against John. In May 1213 John yielded and Stephen, who since his consecration had lived at Pontigny Abbey in Burgundy, along with his fellow exiles returned to England in July. Stephen now became a leader in the struggle against King John. At a council of churchmen at Westminster in August 1213 to which certain lay Barons were invited he read the text of the charter of Henry II and called for its renewal. As a result of Stephens energetic leadership and the Barons military strength they forced John to sign the Magna Carta on 15th July 1215.

In the meantime what of Master Elias, well from 1208 until 1213 he seems to have been in exile along with Stephen in France but appears again as Surveyor to Archbishop Jocelin of Bath & Wells who was in France with him. Archbishop Stephen Langton appointed him his Stewart and Elias certainly accompanied him to Runneymede on 15th June. He was also entrusted with several copies of the Magna Carta.

For Stephen another period of suspension for refusing to published the excommunication of the Barons he appealed to the Pope in person who released him from suspension on condition he kept out of England until peace was restored and he remained abroad until May 1218. In the meantime both Pope Innocent and King John had died and all parties in England rallied to the support of Henry III John's son who was only 9 years of age. Stephen died in July 1228 and was buried in open ground beside the south transept of Canterbury Cathedral. This was later built over, St. Michaels Chapel where his tomb projects into the east side under the altar with his feet outside it.

In 1219 Master Elias is still working for Stephen Langton and has shown talent at building design and stone carving. He worked on the tomb of Hubert Walter and carved some of the decoration. During the period 1233 to 36 he was supervising the repair of damage at Winchester Castle which occurred during 1216 and the Barons struggle with King John. Elias craved the stone for the gatehouse windows.

Here he worked closely with Bishop Peter De Roches who was a favourite of King John. Elias moved on to Salisbury where he became a Canon in about 1238 and would oversee the construction of the Cathedral. Displayed in the chapter house is an original copy of the Magna Carta which was one of the copies entrusted to Elias after his presence at Runnymede. Some scholars believe has was in fact the Architect of Salisbury Cathedral, the writings of Matthew Paris are but one example.

Elias died in 1245 although other accounts suggest 1246,he was buried in the Canons graveyard to the south east of the Cathedral.

So Elias worked with both Archbishops, Walter and Langton, whereas Walter worked closely with both Richard and John, Langton opposed much of Johns draconian rule and worked hard to reinstate the freedoms of the Henry II charter with the backing of the Barons which resulted in Magna Carta and the rights of man. He was also a voluminous writer and it was he who divided the Bible into the standard modern arrangement of books and chapters.

Richard C French