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Ernulf [Arnulf]locked

  • Peter Cramer

Ernulf [Arnulf] (1039/40–1124), bishop of Rochester, was of French birth, according to William of Malmesbury, and probably from the region of Beauvais, where he was later a monk. His reported age at death indicates that he was born in 1039 or 1040. He entered the abbey of Bec in Normandy early in the 1060s, and made his profession soon afterwards. Here he would have been instructed by Lanfranc (d. 1089) in the liberal arts, and perhaps in the study of the fathers, elements that appear in his surviving work. After some years at Bec, he moved to the Benedictine house of St Symphorien in Beauvais. Here Ernulf was occupied as schoolmaster, apparently in a school for external pupils attached to the monastery. At a time after 1070 and before 1077, distracted by some 'insolent business' (Patrologia Latina, 162.100) beyond his control—no doubt the bitter conflict between bishop and citizens in Beauvais—Ernulf, invited by Lanfranc (now archbishop), and encouraged by Anselm (d. 1109) to abandon teaching for a more enclosed monastic life, left for Christ Church, Canterbury. He is known to have taught grammar there, but in 1096, or shortly after, Anselm, now himself archbishop, made Ernulf his prior. The letters Anselm wrote from exile in the period that followed express deep confidence in Ernulf's judgement, but the strain created by the primate's absence shows through when Ernulf, in a letter printed with Anselm's letters, and incorporated anonymously by Eadmer in his Historia novorum, reproaches Anselm for abandoning his pastoral duty by failing to agree terms with the king and return to England. None of this prevented Ernulf from pulling down Lanfranc's choir at Christ Church, and beginning the building of a new choir (its glass, marble paving, and its paintings were admired by William of Malmesbury) and a new crypt. He also did much to stimulate the development of the monastic scriptorium at Canterbury.

It was at Canterbury, probably in 1097 or 1098, that Ernulf wrote his letter De incestis coniugiis, which continues in his written discussion with Walkelin, bishop of Winchester (d. 1098), on a case of incest between stepmother and stepson. In giving his reasons for disagreeing with Walkelin's judgment, Ernulf, with elaborate rhetoric, unfolds his argument from the axiom that no biblical statement, correctly handled, will conflict with subsequent pronouncements of the historical church. For the construction of the argument Ernulf used as his reference book one of the recently made, systematic, collections of canon law. It is unidentified, but must have been near in structure to the Decretum of the great canonist Ivo of Chartres, who had also been at Beauvais in the early 1070s, and may have known Ernulf before this at Bec.

Ernulf's obvious familiarity with a collection of this type, as well as the attention he gives to legal method, makes him witness to the earliest development in England of the new canon law which would achieve its accomplished form in the Decretum of Gratian (c.1140), but was to have little impact in England until the 1150s. Another letter, written in or after 1095, answers questions put to Ernulf by Lambert, abbot of St Bertin, arising chiefly from the recent controversy over the eucharist. It offers a loyal defence of Lanfranc's teaching on the change in the substantia of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. In an interesting passage, the division of the host into three parts by the priest is explained by association with the three orders of society: nobility, priesthood, and married laity, the implication being that the presence of Christ in the sacrament has a political dimension. These two letters are printed by d'Achery, Spicilegium, 3.464–70 (to Walkelin), and 470–74 (to Lambert).

In 1107 Ernulf succeeded to the abbacy of Peterborough. The abbey had been held vacant for four years, but under Ernulf numbers swelled and new buildings were begun. The monks 'wept tears and then more tears' (Hugh Candidus, 96), when in 1114 Henry I, overriding the custom that allowed the archbishop of Canterbury to make appointments to Rochester without royal consultation, 'forced on [Ernulf] the bishopric of Rochester, and the archbishops and bishops, and the nobility that was in England, supported the king; and he long withstood, but it did him no good' (ASC, s.a. 1113-15). He was invested by Archbishop Ralph on 28 September 1114, installed at Rochester on 10 October, and consecrated on 26 December. At Rochester he built again—a refectory, a cloister, and a dorter. A series of disputes with Ralph the Clerk, that ended only when Ralph surrendered lands that had apparently once formed part of the episcopal estate, also shows Ernulf protecting his own position as bishop. But his most lasting monuments were the Textus Roffensis, and the organization of the library.

The Textus Roffensis, which can be dated to the end of Ernulf's episcopate (1122 or 1123), was originally in two parts, the first a collection mainly of Anglo-Saxon law codes, running from the Kentish laws of the seventh century (extant only here) to the coronation charter of Henry I, the second a cartulary of the church at Rochester. It was attributed to Ernulf by an entry on the flyleaf in the late thirteenth century, and although he was not its author in the modern sense, his hand in it can be guessed at. The collecting and ordering of the laws of the Anglo-Saxons recall his methodical approach in ecclesiastical law; and the care with which the old English laws were set down, and in their own language, is marked by the appearance in another field of law of the stress on (usus et antiquitas'ancient usage and long standing') in the letter to Walkelin, in other words on the idea that a ruling in law accumulates authority with reiteration through time.

The contents of the library at Rochester, much of which was copied during Ernulf's residence there, show a taste for the historical, and included, besides volumes of ecclesiastical history, the History of the Britons attributed to Nennius, and the lives of the English saints Aelfheah (d. 1012) and Dunstan (d. 988). Ernulf's interest in the Anglo-Saxon past, perhaps more natural in a Frenchman than a Norman, was no backwater antiquarianism. The notion that law was custom—and therefore historical in content—which was embedded in both the letter to Walkelin and the Textus Roffensis, was an important aspect of the attempt made by the Normans to rule at least partly through the instruments of government taken over from those they had supplanted. All this helps explain why King Henry sent his writ to Ernulf in 1114 and made him bishop. Although at first glance a figure difficult to discern from the shadow of his friend Archbishop Anselm, Ernulf is on scrutiny a man 'of probity and prudence' (De gestis pontificum, 138), whose high reputation in his own day was by no means mere eulogy. He died at Rochester on 15 March 1124, at the age of eighty-four.


  • ‘Epistolae Anselmi’, ed. F. S. Schmitt, S. Anselmi Cantuariensis archiepiscopi opera omnia, 3–5 (1938–61), esp. epp. 38, 64, 74, 310 (from Ernulf), 311
  • Willelmi Malmesbiriensis monachi de gestis pontificum Anglorum libri quinque, ed. N. E. S. A. Hamilton, Rolls Series, 52 (1870), 137–8
  • P. Sawyer, ed., Textus Roffensis: Rochester Cathedral Library manuscript A.3.5, 2 vols. (1957–62)
  • ASC, s.a. 1113–15 [texts E, H]; s.a. 1124–5 [text E]
  • Eadmeri historia novorum in Anglia, ed. M. Rule, Rolls Series, 81 (1884), 197, 225–6, 236
  • ‘Epistolae’, Patrologia Latina, 162 (1854), 100 [letter 78]
  • The chronicle of Hugh Candidus, a monk of Peterborough, ed. W. T. Mellows (1949), 90, 96
  • F. Liebermann, ‘Raginald von Canterbury’, Neues Archiv, 13 (1888), 537–40 [repr. as Raginald von Canterbury (Hannover, 1888)]
  • The historical works of Gervase of Canterbury, ed. W. Stubbs, 2 vols., Rolls Series, 73 (1879–80)
  • P. Cramer, ‘Ernulf of Rochester and early Anglo-Norman canon law’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 40 (1989), 483–510
  • M. P. Richards, Texts and their traditions in the medieval library of Rochester Cathedral priory (1988), 1–60
  • K. Waller, ‘Rochester Cathedral Library: an English book collection based on Norman models’, Les mutations socio-culturelles au tournant des XIe–XIIe siècles: études anselmiennes [Le Bec-Hellouin 1982], ed. R. Foreville (Paris, 1984), 237–50
  • Ernulf, ‘Ernulfi Rossens. episcopi, qua variis Lamberti quaestionibus respondet’, in L. d'Achery, Spicilegium, sive, Collectio veterum aliquot scriptorum qui in Galliae bibliothecis detiluerant, 3 (1723), 470–74
  • Ernulf, ‘Tomellus, sive, epistola Ernulfi ex monacho benedictino episcopi Roffensis, de incestis conjugiis’, in L. d'Achery, Spicilegium, sive, Collectio veterum aliquot scriptorum qui in Galliae bibliothecis detiluerant, 3 (1723), 464–70
  • M. Brett, The English church under Henry I (1975)
  • P. Collinson, P. N. Ramsay, and M. Sparks, eds., A history of Canterbury Cathedral (1995)
D. Whitelock, D. C. Douglas, & S. I. Tucker, eds. and trans., (1961)