Ralph [Ralph Nowell or Nouell]
- Alice M. Cooke
- , revised by Barbara E. Crawford
Ralph [Ralph Nowell or Nouell] (d. in or after 1151), bishop of Orkney, was a native of York, where he became a priest. York writers state that he was elected by 'men of Orkney' to the bishopric of Orkney (between June 1109 and February 1114) in the church of St Peter at York, and he was consecrated by Thomas (d. 1114), archbishop of York, to whom he made his formal profession. He is the third bishop known to have been formally consecrated by York to the see, which had been established by Earl Thorfinn c.1050. These appointments, however, were in opposition to those consecrated by authority of the archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen, and it is doubtful whether any of the three had full possession. The support registered for Ralph by 'men of Orkney' probably reflects the political disputes within the earldom at this date, and suggests that he was favoured by Magnus Erlendsson's party. After Earl Magnus's murder about 1115 Ralph must have faced increasing difficulty in getting possession, as is clearly perceived in the letter of 20 November 1119 from Calixtus II to the Norwegian kings Sigurd (r. 1103–30) and Eystein (r. 1103–23) requesting them to see that he remained in peaceable possession, and in that from Calixtus's successor, Honorius II, to King Sigurd in 1128, in which an intruder into the see is mentioned and the statement made that there can be only one bishop in possession. This must refer to the strong position of Bishop William (d. 1168) in the islands, and from this date onwards Ralph is active as a suffragan of York.
Ralph had already supported Thurstan (d. 1140), archbishop-elect of York, in the latter's struggle for the independence of the see of York against the claims of Canterbury, visiting him during his exile in France and being present at the archbishop's consecration at Rheims on 19 October 1119. He alone of the English and Norman bishops dared to take his seat beside the metropolitan for the opening next day of the general council at Rheims, and Thurstan must have secured the first papal bull on Ralph's behalf at this time. For his open support of the archbishop Ralph incurred the wrath of Henry I. In 1128 he assisted at the consecration of Robert (d. 1159), bishop of St Andrews, by Archbishop Thurstan; the chronicler of the occasion explains that he was assistant to the bishop of Durham and the archbishop of York because of his unacceptability to the people of his diocese, having been chosen by neither clergy, nor people, nor princeps terrae. Ralph represented the aged archbishop at the battle of the Standard, near Northallerton, on 22 August 1138. He played an active role in exhorting and absolving the English host, although he was probably not responsible for the speech ascribed to him by some authorities (but to Walter Espec by Ailred of Rievaulx). In 1143 he acted as suffragan of William de Ste Barbe (d. 1152), bishop of Durham, and represented him at the consecration of William Fitzherbert as archbishop of York in Winchester. Some time before this (1133–40) his sons ( (Paulinus filius Rad. Orcadensis ep.) being named) were granted the land of Garmondsway, co. Durham, by Bishop Geoffrey Rufus. Ralph is last recorded in 1151; it is not known when he died.
- B. E. Crawford, ‘Bishops of Orkney in the eleventh and twelfth centuries: bibliography and biographical list’, Innes Review, 47 (1996), 1–13
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