Andrew Barrell

title.none: Snape, ed., English Episcopal Acta (Andrew Barrell)

identifier.other: baj9928.0212.013 02.12.13

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Andrew Barrell,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Snape, M. G., ed. English Episcopal Acta: Durham 1153-1195. Series: English Episcopal Acta, vol. 24. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Pp. lxxvi, 185. $70.00 0-19-726234-1. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.12.13

Snape, M. G., ed. English Episcopal Acta: Durham 1153-1195. Series: English Episcopal Acta, vol. 24. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Pp. lxxvi, 185. $70.00 0-19-726234-1. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Andrew Barrell

This recent addition to the British Academy's well-established and prestigious series of English episcopal Acta covers the lengthy tenure of the see of Durham by Hugh of Le Puiset. It is the first in a pair of volumes by the same editor, and the introduction relates to both, with comparable attention given to the activities and households of subsequent bishops of Durham up to 1237. A set of appendices includes some additions and corrections to H.S. Offler's edition of Durham episcopal charters before 1152, published by the Surtees Society in 1968.

Quite apart from the need to adhere to series conventions, the introduction to such a volume as this is difficult to write. Ideally it should be more than a descriptive commentary on the documents, but space prevents the editor from using the collection of source material for a full analysis of diocesan administration and episcopal patronage during the period in question. In this case, there is already a full study of Bishop Hugh of Le Puiset by G.V. Scammell, and this may explain a certain thinness to Snape's account of his activities. But the similarly brief treatment of Hugh's successors, whose Acta do not appear in this volume, seems of limited relevance. While the introduction makes some interesting points of detail, it lacks the depth and range to elucidate the role of the see of Durham in ecclesiastical and secular government in northern England in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. It is, for instance, hardly surprising that there was little continuity between the households of successive bishops, given the sometimes lengthy vacancies and understandable desire of new incumbents to be accompanied by their existing staff. But can we learn anything more about the functions and career paths of the bishop's servants? How successful was Hugh in governing a diocese which at the start of his episcopate was still partly under the control of the Scottish king? To what extent did his administration mirror the broader developments introduced elsewhere in England by Henry II? A more trenchant analysis might have given readers food for thought on these and other issues.

The Acta themselves are largely unremarkable. Hugh of Le Puiset was the nephew of King Stephen, and owed his promotion to the Blois connection. Unsurprisingly, he played a limited political role under Henry II, and so most of his Acta are of local rather than national concern. As is appropriate for the holder of a great secular lordship with extensive jurisdictional privileges, many of Hugh's recorded activities concern the bishop's temporalities, and the volume includes two charters issued in his capacity as earl of Northumberland, a title that he purchased from Richard I in 1189. There are also a few Acta which relate to his work as a papal judge-delegate.

Like many medieval bishops of Durham, Hugh had a stormy relationship with the cathedral priory. On his deathbed at Howden in 1195 he issued a number of generous charters in favour of the convent, attested by an impressive series of witnesses. Such documents and others involving the priory (and indeed those benefiting other religious houses) are more likely to have survived than those issued to laymen, and so our picture of Hugh's lordship is inevitably distorted.

The practice of listing the Acta in alphabetical order of beneficiary (or sometimes subject or recipient) does not facilitate a study of how Hugh's work as bishop developed over time, although unavoidable dating problems would make any other order highly speculative. He was, however, active in the promotion of hospitals: Kepier, first founded by Bishop Ranulf Flambard in 1112, was re-established in a different location following a fire; and the leper-house at Sherburn was set up in the 1180s. Hugh also confirmed the privileges of the burgesses of Gateshead and Wearmouth, and tried to resolve some of the outstanding difficulties with St Albans abbey over Tynemouth, but attempts to establish Augustinian canons at Haswell and then Baxterwood failed, and the endowment passed to Durham priory's cell at Finchale.

Despite the localised significance of much of the material, this is nonetheless an extremely valuable collection of Acta dating from Hugh of Le Puiset's episcopate. It is drawn from a wide range of archives and includes several previously unprinted documents. The relatively large number of surviving originals permits a full discussion of their diplomatic and seals. The appendix of additions to Offler's collection is very useful, and includes discussion of a fifteenth-century record of the supposed profession to York of Ranulf Flambard, which is broadened to incorporate comments on the accompanying professions said to have been made by Scottish bishops. Scholars will appreciate having full texts of so many documents conveniently gathered into a single volume, and will be grateful to M.G. Snape for this impressive addition to an important series.