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Aigueblanche, Peter d' [Peter de Aqua Blanca]locked

(d. 1268)
  • Nicholas Vincent

Peter d' Aigueblanche (d. 1268)

tomb effigy

by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Hereford Cathedral

Aigueblanche, Peter d' [Peter de Aqua Blanca] (d. 1268), bishop of Hereford and royal councillor, was descended from the family of Briançon, holders of the lordship of Aigueblanche (Savoie) in the Tarentaise or valley of the upper Isère, dependants of the counts of Savoy.

Early career in England, 1237–1244

The names of Aigueblanche's father and mother are unknown, and he himself is unrecorded before his appearance in 1237 as a clerk, possibly the treasurer of William of Savoy, bishop-elect of Valence and uncle of Queen Eleanor of Provence. In March 1238 he was presented by the king to the church of St Michael-on-Wyre in Lancashire, and following the death of his patron, William of Savoy, in 1239, he took up permanent residence in England. In April 1240 he was in receipt of an annual fee from the king of £20, and from July he served as keeper of the king's wardrobe.

Having in July 1240 been granted a prebend at Hereford, on 24 August Aigueblanche was elected bishop, a promotion at Hereford due entirely to royal favour. However, since Hereford was not a wealthy see, later that year the king attempted unsuccessfully to have him elected to the far richer bishopric of Durham. On 23 December 1240 he was consecrated bishop of Hereford at St Paul's Cathedral in London, by the archbishop of York and the bishop of Worcester acting in the presence of the papal legate Otto. The king supplied him with many precious gifts, including use of the archbishop of Canterbury's house at Lambeth for the feast of his consecration, a jewelled mitre valued at £82, venison and victuals for his feast, game and rabbits with which to stock his episcopal estates, and a loan of £300. Over the next few months, moreover, Bishop Peter received a series of royal charters, awarding him market privileges, rights of free warren, and timber within the king's forests. Although he had relinquished his position as keeper of the king's wardrobe, he remained active in royal service, and in August 1241 accompanied the court to Shrewsbury, where he participated in a peace settlement with the Welsh. That autumn the king failed once again to have him translated to a richer see, this time that of London.

In November 1241 Aigueblanche was involved as papal judge-delegate in the king's dispute with the bishop of Bath and Wells over the patronage of Glastonbury Abbey, and in March 1242 he was sent overseas, at first to Poitou, to prepare for the king's proposed expedition there, and then to Provence, where in July 1242, at Tarascon, he sealed the marriage treaty for an alliance between Richard of Cornwall, Henry III's brother, and Sanchia, a daughter of the count of Provence and sister of Queen Eleanor. By August he was once again in Poitou with the king. As a Savoyard he was inevitably brought into contact with the king's uncle, Boniface of Savoy, elected archbishop of Canterbury in February 1241, but absent and unconsecrated for several years thereafter. By 1243 Aigueblanche was acting as chief agent of the absentee archbishop-elect. At Easter 1244 he was summoned to Dover to greet Boniface on his arrival in England, charged by the pope with the duty of delivering the archbishop's pallium and with receiving Boniface's oath of fealty.

Servant of king and archbishop, 1244–1253

Throughout this period Aigueblanche was frequently commissioned by Pope Innocent IV to grant benefices to favoured alien and royal clerks, and to act as papal spokesman to the king. As a result he became embroiled in a long-standing dispute between the pope and Henry III over the king's harsh treatment of William of Raleigh, bishop of Winchester. At Reading in the spring of 1244, and again at Westminster, he is said to have delivered stern rebukes to Henry, demanding a reconciliation with Raleigh, and threatening a sentence of interdict against the king's private chapel. In the summer of 1245 he attended the general council held by Innocent IV at Lyons, while by the early months of 1246 he was in Savoy, acting as an agent of Henry III in the process by which Count Amadeus was persuaded to render homage to the king for various of his alpine lordships. Thereafter he returned to England, where he had been charged by the pope with a commission to collect the first fruits of vacant churches on behalf of the financially embarrassed archbishop, an unprecedented tax which stirred up resentment against both Boniface and Peter. Until Boniface's return to England in 1249 Peter continued to serve as his principal deputy, with a supervisory role over the Canterbury estates.

For much of 1246 Aigueblanche was active in the diocese of Hereford, securing the return of manors and churches alienated by his predecessors, serving as papal commissioner in the collection of subsidies for the forthcoming crusade, and issuing a series of statutes enforcing residence upon the clergy of prebendal churches. In September 1247, and again in November 1249, he went on missions to France, and on the latter occasion he travelled on to the papal court, to serve as royal proctor in matters touching the crusade. Aigueblanche himself took the cross at about this time, probably early in 1250. He appears to have spent much of the next two years with the pope or in affairs overseas, including a prolonged series of hearings, completed at Sens in 1251, intended to clarify the circumstances of Henry III's marriage to Eleanor of Provence, by proving the irregularity of an earlier contract of marriage which had been negotiated but not finalized between Henry and Jeanne, the heir of Ponthieu, before 1236. Since Jeanne had later married Alfonso, king of Castile, it may well be that these hearings were intended to ease the way for a marriage between Henry's and Eleanor's son Edward, and a Castilian princess, duly negotiated by Aigueblanche at Toledo in a series of embassies between 1253 and the spring of 1254.

In his absences overseas Aigueblanche appointed proctors to administer the diocese of Hereford, including an alien named Bernard, prior of Campagne in Gascony. This foreign domination of his see appears to have been bitterly resented, and in the course of a long-standing dispute between the bishop and chapter of Hereford over their respective temporalities, eventually settled in the chapter's favour, the summer of 1252 witnessed a serious outbreak of violence in Herefordshire, in which Aigueblanche's own life was threatened, his and his supporters' barns were burned, and Prior Bernard was murdered before the high altar of Hereford Cathedral. In February 1253, to protect him from further attacks, Aigueblanche was promised access to the royal castle at Hereford whenever he should ask for it. In the same year he was among the bishops and magnates who sealed a solemn sentence upholding Magna Carta, and at much the same time is said to have unsuccessfully petitioned the English clergy to grant an aid to the king.

‘The Sicilian business’, 1253–1258

In June 1253 Aigueblanche accompanied Henry III's expedition to Gascony, and from there headed embassies to Castile to arrange for the marriage of the future king, Edward I. In October 1253 it was Peter who solemnly held the king's hand as Henry III swore an oath to confer Gascony upon his eldest son. In the following month he received royal letters of safe conduct as envoy to the papal court, and he seems to have remained with the new pope, Alexander IV, at Naples, for much of the spring of 1255. There he negotiated a notorious arrangement whereby the pope confirmed a grant of the kingdom of Sicily to Henry III, originally made by Innocent IV in 1254, to serve as an apanage for Henry's younger son Edmund. In return, Henry was not only to conquer Sicily and to eject its ruler, King Manfred, but also to repay all the expenses already incurred by the papacy in warfare against Manfred, estimated at the huge sum of 135,000 marks of silver.

To cover the costs of his embassy, and to begin the payment of the enormous debt now owed to the pope, Aigueblanche raised loans at the papal curia from the merchants of Florence and Siena, against which, as security for repayment, he pledged the future proceeds of a tax of a tenth imposed by the pope upon the English church since 1252. In so doing, and to the great outrage of the English clergy, he employed a series of blank schedules that had been sealed by the clergy and handed to him to use in his negotiations with the pope, but whose contents were left to Peter to complete according to his own discretion. Monastic chroniclers are unanimous in their assertion that the signatories to these letters had received no warning that their letters would be used to raise loans, let alone to raise loans for such a doomed venture as the conquest of Sicily. This, more than anything, was to mark out Peter as the most hated alien bishop in England. Something of the extravagance of his arrangements can be gauged from a bond, issued at Naples in April 1255, by which the merchants of Siena accepted 10,000 marks of gold from Peter in return for their surrender of a crown, regalia, and various jewels previously pawned to them by Frederick II. All told, ‘the Sicilian business’, was to bankrupt Henry III, and to stir up a storm of protest from his English subjects.

Aigueblanche must take at least part of the blame for this fiasco, although it should be noted that he was acting merely as an agent of the king, that the bishops and clergy had freely agreed to seal the blank charters that he was later accused of misusing, and that his pledging of future tax revenues merely imitated an arrangement of September 1254, whereby the king had financed Peter's own expenses at the papal court by raising loans from the merchants of Florence secured against the proceeds of the clerical tenth within the sees of Hereford and Worcester. On his return to England in 1255 he found himself an object of hatred among bishops and barons alike. Despite his own attempts and those of the papal envoy Rostand to collect the tenth in England and Ireland, resistance was widespread and impassioned. Aigueblanche returned to the papal court as the king's envoy in November 1255, and in September 1256 was once again sent to Gascony. There, in April 1257, he was empowered to conduct negotiations over breaches of the Anglo-French truce. When the archbishop of Bordeaux fell ill that same year, Aigueblanche is said to have made no secret of his desire to succeed him, but, like an earlier request from the king in 1254 that Peter be translated from Hereford to Lincoln, this came to nothing. By 1257 Aigueblanche was suffering severe discomfort from a polypus in his nose, for the treatment of which he is said to have travelled to Montpellier, home to a major medical school.

Enemy of the barons, 1258–1267

With the outbreak of baronial rebellion, in the early summer of 1258, Aigueblanche's manor of Lydbury was attacked by the bailiffs of John (II) Fitzalan of Clun. As chief author of ‘the Sicilian business’, he was not surprisingly excluded from royal counsels, and between July and November 1258 was summoned to render accounts for his receipts from the papal tax. Pleading illness, he failed to cross to England, but he had returned to England by June 1259, and in that month and again in November was engaged in peace negotiations with the Welsh. In November 1261, with the resurgence in the king's personal power, he was appointed one of three royalist representatives set to adjudicate on the baronial programme of reform, and in the following year, together with Leonardo, precentor of Messina, he was appointed by the pope to resume the collection of money still owing from the Sicilian affair.

With the drift towards civil war Aigueblanche was singled out as a target for baronial reprisals. His houses, parks, and warrens were attacked before February 1262, and for a time he was himself barricaded within the city walls of Hereford. In the same year he was active against the Welsh, and wrote to the king of his inability to prevent attacks. In February 1263 he was asked to surrender Hereford Castle to a new royalist constable. In the same month he was expected to attend Henry III in Paris. On 7 June 1263 he was forcibly seized in Hereford Cathedral by Roger of Leybourne, Roger de Clifford, John Giffard, and other marcher lords. From there he was carried off, with various of his canons and clergy, to imprisonment at Walter de Baskerville's castle of Eardisley. The temporalities of his see were plundered by the barons. The date of his capture was later accepted at court as the official commencement of civil war. Aigueblanche himself was released following representations to the parliament of September 1263, although not until Archbishop Boniface had absolved the barons from any guilt in the affair.

In September, Aigueblanche crossed with Henry III to Amiens, where he is said to have been instrumental in stirring up French indignation against the barons, and where in January 1264 he witnessed the judgment issued by Louis IX, entirely quashing the baronial programme of reform. Thereafter he remained overseas throughout the period of civil war. His lands remained in baronial hands, and in June 1265 he was sent a fierce rebuke, no doubt dictated by the barons, demanding that he return to his diocese on pain of the sequestration of his temporalities. In August, following the royalist victory at Evesham, he and his canons received letters of protection, and he was subsequently promised the repayment of money seized by the previous custodians of his lands. None the less, various of his manors, including Bishops Castle and Lydbury North, continued to be withheld by the royalist John Fitzalan, while others were effectively detached by the Welsh. In February 1267 he received further letters of protection, presumably to go overseas to Savoy, where he is found at Aiguebelle in April.

Death and legacy

The final months of Aigueblanche's life are shrouded in obscurity, but his will, drawn up at Sugwas in Herefordshire on 26 November 1268, demonstrates that his death, on 27 November, took place in England. Despite the terms of his will, requesting burial at Aiguebelle in Savoy, the bishop's body was buried in Hereford Cathedral, beneath a magnificent carved tomb and effigy, perhaps of foreign workmanship, from which it was exhumed in 1925. The canons of Aiguebelle later exhibited a rival tomb, with a fifteenth-century bronze effigy which was destroyed at the Revolution. But there can be little doubt that this monument was the result of later wishful thinking. His will, which survives, assigns most of his estate to the collegiate church at Aiguebelle which he had founded in the 1250s, and to which, on 21 April 1267, he had granted statutes modelled upon those of Hereford Cathedral. It also reveals the extent of his property holding in France. Until 1254 he had held the small Cluniac priory of Innimont in the diocese of Belley, perhaps through the influence of Archbishop Boniface. In 1254 Aigueblanche had exchanged Innimont for the priory of Ste Hélène-du-Lac in his native Tarentaise, augmented by Boniface in September 1255 with an assignment of the castle and lordship of Ste Hélène-des-Millères. In 1267 these secular rights were willed to Peter's nephew and namesake, the lord of Briançon. In addition Aigueblanche disposed of houses in Lyons and Paris, and willed property and money in France to various hospitals and monasteries in the Tarentaise. His glossed Bible was to be sold to clothe the poor, while his obituary was celebrated as far afield as Geneva.

During Aigueblanche's lifetime, as early as 1252, he had assigned the Hereford churches of All Saints and St Martin to the hospital of St Anthony at Vienne near Lyons. Many of his nephews and kinsmen had already obtained prebends and offices within Hereford Cathedral, where they continued to form an identifiable Savoyard faction as late as the 1290s. Matthew Paris, one of his sternest critics, accuses Aigueblanche of 'fox-like cunning', claiming that 'his memory exudes a sulphurous stench' (Paris, Chron., 5.510). In reality, despite his supposed inability to speak the English language, Peter was a reasonably conscientious bishop and diocesan, who rebuilt and enriched the temporalities of his see, confirmed churches to the religious, and enforced residence upon the canons of his cathedral. His gifts to the chapter included part of the manor of Holme Lacy and the church of Bockleton, while throughout his episcopate he obtained regular gifts of timber from the king, used in an ambitious programme of new building at Hereford Cathedral, in the completion of the presbytery and a new north transept. Neither his property disputes with his chapter, nor his nepotistic advancement of his own kinsmen were in any way exceptional by the standards of the time. Less defensible is Aigueblanche's political career, where he undoubtedly played a part in widening the breach between king and barons, and where his negotiations over Sicily can be regarded as at best foolhardy and at worst thoroughly dishonest.


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Canterbury and York Society
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W. H. Bliss, C. Johnson, & J. Twemlow, eds., (1893–)
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