curious arts

Gerard (Archbishop of York)

Gerard (died 21 May 1108) was an English clergyman who became Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of England. He was a member of the cathedral clergy at Rouen before becoming a royal clerk under King William I of England and his son King William II Rufus. William I named him Chancellor, and he continued in that office under Rufus. Rufus rewarded him by naming him Bishop of Hereford in 1096. Possibly he was with the king's hunting party when the king was killed, and Gerard certainly witnessed the first charter issued by the new king, Henry I of England. Soon after Henry's coronation, Gerard was named to the newly vacant see of York.

As archbishop, Gerard became embroiled in the long running dispute between York and the see of Canterbury over which archbishopric had the primacy over England. As part of that dispute, Gerard secured papal recognition of York's claim to jurisdiction over the church in Scotland. In the Investiture Controversy, Gerard worked towards securing a compromise between the claims of the king and the claims of Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury, which was finally agreed to in 1107. Gerard was known for his patronage of learning, even urging one of his clergy to study the Hebrew language. He also studied astrology, which led to popular rumours that he studied magic. He died suddenly in 1108, and because of the rumours of being a sorcerer, as well as his attempts to reform his cathedral clergy, he was initially refused burial in York Minster, although later his remains were interred there.

Early life and chancellor

He was the nephew of Walkelin, Bishop of Winchester, and Simon, Abbot of Ely. His parents were Osbert and Anna, and his brother Peter was also a royal clerk. Where he was born and raised is not known, but he was recorded as a precentor in Rouen cathedral, of which he had become archdeacon by 1091. He served in the royal chancery under successive kings of England, King William I and King William II Rufus.

Bishop of Hereford

He served as Lord Chancellor from 1085 to 1092 and was present at William I's deathbed. He continued as Chancellor to William Rufus until 1092, but it is unclear what caused his loss of office. He retained the king's trust, for Rufus employed him in 1095 along with William Warelwast on a diplomatic mission to Pope Urban II regarding Archbishop Anselm receiving the pallium, the sign of an archbishop's authority. Rufus offered to recognise Urban as pope rather than Antipope Clement III in return for delivering Anselm's pallium into Rufus' custody, to dispose as he saw fit, as well as securing the deposition of Anselm by the pope. The embassy departed for the pope in February 1095 and returned by Whitsun, with a papal legate, Walter cardinal bishop of Albano, who had Anselm's pallium. The legate secured Rufus' recognition of Urban, but afterwards refused to consider the deposition of Anselm. Rufus then dropped the idea of having Anselm deposed, and at the king's court at Windsor, Rufus consented to Anselm receiving the pallium.

Gerard was rewarded with the Bishopric of Hereford, and he was consecrated by Archbishop Anselm on 8 June 1096. His ordination as a deacon and priest had taken place the previous day. He assisted at the consecration of St Paul's Cathedral in London on 9 June 1096. He may have been present with the hunting party in the New Forest on the day of Rufus' death, for Gerard witnessed the coronation charter of King Henry I issued three days after Rufus' death. Gerard also was present at Henry's coronation on 5 August 1100, along with Maurice, Bishop of London. Henry probably was crowned by Maurice, but the medieval chronicler Walter Map states that Gerard crowned Henry, in return for the promise of the first vacant archbishopric. Gerard probably assisted Maurice in the coronation ceremony.


In December 1100, Gerard was made Archbishop of York. No source mentions Gerard being invested by the king, and as Anselm urged Pope Paschal II to give Gerard his pallium, it is difficult to see Anselm doing so if Gerard had been invested by Henry. At Whitsun in 1101 King Henry I, with Anselm's support, deprived Ranulf Flambard, the bishop of Durham, of the lands of the see of Durham, because Ranulf had defected to Henry's brother Robert Curthose. Gerard then deposed Ranulf from his bishopric. Soon after his translation to York, Gerard began a long contest with Anselm, in which he claimed equal primacy with Canterbury and refused to make a profession of canonical obedience to Anselm. At the Council of Westminster in 1102, Gerard is reported to have kicked over the smaller chair that was provided for him as Archbishop of York, and refused to be seated until he was provided with a chair as large as Anselm's. When he travelled to Rome in 1102, to receive his pallium, he also presented the king's side against Anselm in the controversy surrounding investitures. The pope decided against the king, but Gerard and two other bishops claimed that the pope had assured them that the decrees would not be enforced. That was denied by Anselm's representatives, and the pope, who excommunicated Gerard until he recanted the statement.

Gerard had also secured from the pope a recognition that York was the metropolitan see for the Scots. Later, Gerard consecrated Roger as bishop of Orkney, but refused to consecrate Thurgot to the see of St Andrews because Thurgot would not recognise the primacy of York. Gerard attempted to reform his cathedral clergy by forcing them to give up their wives and concubines, and become ordained priests. He also gave generously to the monasteries of his diocese; the medieval chronicler Hugh the Chantor stated that Thomas II, Gerard's successor, accused Gerard of having dissipated the diocese's endowment. King Olaf I of Man and Isles wrote to "G", archbishop of York, asking for the consecration of "our bishop" by York, but that consecration does not appear to have taken place under Gerard or his successor.

During the first four years of Henry's reign, Gerard was one of the king's chief advisors, along with Robert of Meulan, count of Meulan in Normandy and later Earl of Leicester. Gerard was one of Henry's greatest supporters among the bishops over the Investiture Crisis. After Gerard's return from Rome, he restored Ranulf Flambard to the see of Durham. In 1102, after Anselm had refused to consecrate three bishops, two of whom had received investiture from the king, Gerard offered to consecrate them, but two refused. After 1105, Gerard slowly began to support the papal position on investiture of bishops, and withdrew from court to care for his diocese. Towards the end of 1105, Gerard attempted to join Bohemond of Antioch who was assembling a crusading force in France, but it appears that King Henry prevented Gerard's departure. Gerard then worked to craft a compromise in the Investiture Crisis, and by 1107, King Henry and Anselm had reached an agreement.

Gerard then agreed to a compromise on the matter of obedience to Anselm. King Henry proposed that Anselm accept a witnessed oath from Gerard that his profession made to Anselm when he was consecrated Bishop of Hereford would continue in force. Gerard did so at the Council of Westminster in 1107. It was a victory for Canterbury, but not a complete one, as Gerard avoided making a written profession, and it was specific to Gerard, not to his office. Gerard continued to oppose Anselm's attempts to assert Canterbury's primacy, but the two were reconciled before Anselm's death.

Death and legacy

The medieval chronicler William of Malmesbury charged Gerard with immorality, avarice, and the practice of magic. Gerard was associated with the author of the Quadripartitus and the Leges Henrici Primi, two 12th-century law books. He also encouraged at least one of his clergy to study Hebrew which was not a language normally studied at the time. Some chroniclers considered his ownership of a Hebrew psalter to be disturbing, seeing this as a sign of heresy or secret Judaism. Among the sins that William of Malmesbury imputed to him was the study of Julius Firmicus Maternus every morning, which to Malmesbury meant that Gerard was a sorcerer. William of Malmesbury also held that Gerard was "lewd and lustful". In Gerard's favor, Anselm regarded him as learned and very intelligent.

Gerard died suddenly on 21 May 1108, at Southwell, on his way to London to attend a council. His body was found in an orchard, next to a book of "curious arts", his copy of Julius Firmicus. His canons refused to allow his burial within his cathedral, but their hostility probably owed more to Gerard's attempts to reform their lifestyle than to his alleged interest in sorcery. Gerard was at first buried beside the porch at York Minster, but his successor, Thomas, moved the remains inside the cathedral church.




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Further reading

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