Biographical Register of the English Cathedral Priories of the Province of Canterbury, c. 1066-1540

By Joan Greatrex | Go to book overview

BATH CATHEDRAL PRIORY

INTRODUCTION

The cathedral church of St Peter, Bath, was one of two monasticcathedral chapters in England that shared their bishop with a chapter of secularcanons.1 From 1245 by papal decree the diocese and its ruler were to have thedouble-barrelled appellation Bath and Wells', but the harmonious relationship between the twochapters which this implied was achieved only after a prolonged period offriction and bitter controversy.2 Prior to this date the bishopric underwent severalchanges in its location and jurisdiction, while monks and canons became involved not only inthe practical problems concerning their mutual relations but also in thoseconcerning their respecitive positions under a diocesan who, in the case of Bath, was alsotitular abbot.

For the purposes of this Register our history begins c. 1090 withthe episcopate of John de Villula or Tours (1088-1122), who was a skilled medicalpractitioner. Soon after his appointment as bishop of Wells by William Rufus hetransferred his see to the more important centre of Bath and proceeded to convert thethree-centuries-old abbey into a cathedral priory.3 This elevation in rank,however, was accompanied by the confiscaton of most of the monastic estates held before theConquest. The new, foreign abbot/bishop, according to William of Malmesbury,introduced monks of his own choosing into the priory while at the same time encouraginglearning in the cloister, where, on his arrival, he had found ignorance andbarbarity.4 Prosperity and prestige ensued after bishop John restored the chapter estates, addedendowments of his own, and undertook to rebuild and enlarge the monastic church onsuch a grand scale that the lenght of its nave was exceeded only by Winchester, Ely,and Norwich.

The early priors, of whom the first recorded is John [I], q.v.,c. 1106, were appointed by the bishop who also had (and retained until the end) the rightof collation to the offices of sacrist and precentor. Free election of priors wasgranted in 1261 by bishop William Bitton I after the death of prior Thomas [I] , q.v., asthe Priory Register records in some detail.5 It was during Thomas's lengthy rule(1223-1261) that the dispute over the procedures to be followed in episcopal elections was finallysettled between the Bath and Wells chapters after several earlier unsuccessfulattempts to resolve their rival claims. In 1173, for example, conflict arose when both chaptersacted independently but, fortunately, both concurred in their choice of ReginaldFitzjocelin; not surprisingly the papal confirmation was accompanied by a recommendationthat in futur

____________________
1
According to Dugdale, as early as the time of prior Robert deBath [I], q.v., c. 1198-1223, its dedication also included St Paul, Monasticon, ii, 258.
2
See below; and see also the Introduction to the Coventrysection, p. 000 for an account of a similar situation and outcome there.
3
For a brief study of this bishop see R. A. L. Smith, 'John of Tours, Bishop of Bath, 1088-1122', in his Collected Papers ( London, 1947), 74-82.
4
Malmesbury, Gest. Pont., 195. See also L. Cochrane, Adelard ofBath, the first English Scientist ( London, 1994), 1-10.
5
Item numbers 251-259 (Ms pp. 75-76) are some of the officialinstruments relating to the election of Walter de Anno, q.v.

-1-

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