Ranulf Flambard - Under Henry I

Under Henry I

At the succession of King Henry I, the new king imprisoned Ranulf in the Tower of London on 15 August 1100 on charges of embezzlement. His custodian, William de Mandeville, allowed the bishop to escape on 3 February 1101. Flambard was not only the first inmate of the prison, but also the first person to escape from it. A popular legend represents the bishop as descending from the window of his cell by a rope which friends had smuggled to him in a flagon of wine. Ranulf gave the wine to his guards, and after they were drunk and asleep, climbed down the rope to escape. His friends had arranged a ship to transport Ranulf, some of the bishop's treasure, and the bishop's elderly mother to Normandy. He took refuge across the English Channel with Henry's brother Robert Curthose, where he became one of the duke's principal advisors. King Henry dispossessed Ranulf of his lands at Whitsun in 1101, and the new Archbishop of York Gerard deposed him from his bishopric. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Anselm arranged for Flambard's trial in a papal court for simony, and a papal decree was issued against Ranulf.

As Robert's advisor, he pressed the duke to dispute Henry's claim to the crown of England. The historian David Crouch says that Ranulf "had to provide the strategic vision and energy that Duke Robert lacked", and other historians have agreed that Ranulf's arrival was the catalyst to Curthose's ability to mount an invasion. Ranulf was in charge of organizing transport for the duke's invasion of England, and also secured the defection of some of Henry's ships, thus allowing the fleet to land safely. Robert invaded England in July 1101 along with Ranulf, but Robert agreed at the Treaty of Alton on 2 August 1101 to renounce his claim to the English throne. Although no chronicler mentions Ranulf being present at Alton, he probably was there. Ranulf was pardoned in the treaty and restored to his bishopric, but he chose to stay with Robert for five more years. Some historians, including C. W. Hollister, see the treaty as mainly Ranulf's work, as mainly an attempt to salvage his ecclesiastical career in England, along with a displacement of Ranulf from being the chief councillor of Curthose to merely being one of many.

Robert rewarded Ranulf for his advice during the invasion by entrusting him with the administration of the see of Lisieux. After Robert's defeat by Henry at Tinchebray in 1106, the bishop was among the first to make his peace with Henry, and returned to Durham. He retired from political life. Henry had already replaced him with Roger of Salisbury an able financier who was infinitely more acceptable to the nation. Although some historians have theorized that Ranulf's time in Normandy was as an agent of Henry, it appears that Ranulf was mainly looking out for his own interests and those of his family.

In 1108, Ranulf was dragged into the middle of the ongoing dispute between Archbishop Anselm and the newly appointed Archbishop of York, Thomas over whether or not Thomas should profess obedience to Anselm. Because Anselm refused to consecrate Thomas without a profession, and Thomas refused to profess, Thomas was unable to consecrate bishops himself. Ranulf wrote to Anselm, asking that he might act as Thomas' surrogate and consecrate Thurgot as Bishop of St Andrew's. In September 1108, Anselm wrote to Ranulf forbidding anyone but Thomas or Anselm himself to consecrate Thurgot or any other bishops. Later, Ranulf tried to bribe King Henry to take Thomas' side. Thurgot had been prior of the cathedral chapter at Durham, but had disagreed with Ranulf, who arranged for him to be elected to St Andrew's as a solution to the quarrel.

It was Ranulf who ordained Thurstan, the archbishop-elect of York, as a priest in 1115, although Thurstan had to wait for consecration as bishop for another four years. Ranulf attended the Council of Reims in 1119 held by Pope Callixtus II. In 1125 John of Crema, the papal legate to England, visited Durham to investigate charges against the bishop. Medieval chroniclers told the story that the legate was much taken with Ranulf's niece, and after sleeping with the girl, took no action on the charges against Ranulf. The story is unlikely to be true.

Read more about this topic:  Ranulf Flambard

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