Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Criminal Churchmen in the Age of Edward III: The Case of Bishop Thomas De Lisle

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Criminal Churchmen in the Age of Edward III: The Case of Bishop Thomas De Lisle

Article excerpt

Criminal Churchmen in the Age of Edward II: The Case of Bishop Thomas de Lisle. By John Aberth. (University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press. 1996. Pp. xxiv, 280. $45.00.)

Thomas de Lisle, a Dominican friar, was appointed bishop of Ely by Pope Clement VI in 1345. His officials-and by implication and accusation the bishop-embarked on something like a local reign of terror, involving arson, intimidation, theft, and murder. The resultant legal actions dragged in King Edward III, who took the dispute and the law into his own hands. His temporalities confiscated, de Lisle fled to Avignon, invoking papal support and political theory in an ineffective search for reinstatement. The pope's interference resuited in harassment of the English clerics who obeyed his mandates, and a strong assertion of royal authority over the English church.

The story is a good one. John Aberth's analysis of the bishop's activities considers his alleged criminality without quite prejudging his role as medieval Godfather; although he clearly thinks de Lisle guilty, driven by financial problems caused by maintaining a lavish lifestyle when his revenues were declining after the Black Death. Others may feel that reasonable doubts remain to challenge the verdict.

This is not a straightforward episcopal biography. Apart from finding the motivation for de Lisle's actions in his financial problems, and his exploitation of his household and administration to create a gang, his episcopal status seems secondary. Diocesan rule and estate administration receive only brief consideration. The legal history holds center stage, locating events in a broader debate on criminality in fourteenth-century England, and about Edward III's own responsibility for the breakdown in law and order. …

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