Stephen Meddles in Church Affairs

As already noted in previous blog entries Stephen’s actions toward the clergy in England had dire consequences for his kingship particularly his treatment of Roger, Bishop of Salisbury in the year 1139. In addition, his appointment of Theobald of Bec as Archbishop of Canterbury caused further ill feeling between the king and his brother, Bishop Henry. We also know that the last few years of Stephen’s reign were dominated by his unsuccessful attempts to have his son Eustace crowned his in own lifetime.

Two letters, one written by Bernard of Clairvaux in about 1140 and one by Pope Eugene III in 1147, provide further evidence of Stephen’s sometimes awkward handling of church affairs. Both letters were addressed to his Queen, Matilda of Bolougne, and both requested her intervention with the King.

The first letter concerned the appointment of William Fitzherbert to the See of York. He was a relative of Stephen’s and the King had not only suggested his appointment but invested him after an election which was fiercely contested. This caused a dispute that continued for six years and during this episode Bernard also wrote a strongly worded letter to Stephen which appears to have gone unheeded.

The subject of the second letter was in regard to the episcopacy of London. Matilda, The Empress, had selected Robert de Sigillo and he had been canonically elected in 1141. After Stephen had been restored to his position as king he demanded an oath of fealty from Robert which he refused to give. Stephen persecuted him and in his letter the Pope urged the Queen to intervene and persuade the King to accept a promise instead of the oath.

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