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Climping, John oflocked

(d. 1262)
  • Michael Ray

Climping, John of (d. 1262), bishop of Chichester, is of unknown origins. His surname is also recorded as Arundel, Bishop, and Clipping, and the predominant use of Climping may have resulted from his having been rector of Climping, about 10 miles east of Chichester, no later than April 1222. However, it was as Master John of Arundel that he made his first documented appearance in the diocese of Chichester, witnessing an ordination by Bishop Ranulf of Wareham on 21 November 1219. A year later he was recorded as Wareham's clerk. John's being styled magister indicates attendance at a university, possibly Oxford, and suggests that he was then at least in his twenties. He is said to have built all but the tower of the fine parish church at Climping. If he was indeed the builder, he must have had wealth derived from more than his living. His university training equipped him for ecclesiastical administration. By November 1231 he was a cathedral canon, with an unidentified prebend, and was also Bishop Ralph Neville's official; by December 1242 he was archdeacon of Chichester, and by July 1247 he had become chancellor of the diocese, appointed by Bishop Richard Wyche.

Wyche died at Dover on 2 April 1253. Whereas his own installation as bishop had been stormy and prolonged, that of his successor could hardly have gone more smoothly. The positions he had held, and the experience he had acquired, in the service of three consecutive bishops probably made Climping an attractive, uncontroversial, perhaps even inevitable, candidate to succeed Wyche, in a diocese where over thirty years of service must have made him very well known. Licence to elect was requested from Henry III on 9 April, and granted five days later. On 21 May the cathedral canons asked for royal assent to Climping's election, and received it just two days later, while the temporalities were restored on 27 May.

Climping was seldom involved in public affairs. Soon after he became bishop, in May 1254, he was appointed one of three collectors of the ecclesiastical tenth granted for Henry III's projected crusade, responsible for the dioceses of Canterbury, Rochester, Chichester, and Winchester, with 200 marks a year in expenses. He seems to have been conscientious in meeting his responsibilities during the three years he held this position. Climping witnessed no royal charters and received no royal gifts, but it would probably be wrong to assume that he was either unknown at court or persona non grata there. In 1255 he was among the prelates invited to celebrate the translation of St Edward the Confessor on 13 October, one of the major festivals in Henry III's liturgical year, and on 30 September 1258 he was one of the bishops who attended the dedication of Salisbury Cathedral in the presence of the king and queen. But Matthew Paris was probably in error to record that earlier that year Climping and three other bishops were deputed to discuss the state of the church at a gathering of prelates summoned to Oxford following the dramatic showdown between Henry and the magnates; no other source mentions this assembly.

Climping's absence from curial circles is doubtless principally attributable to his evident concern to foster the well-being of his diocese. His predecessor had been a notable reforming bishop as well as a man of holy life. Wyche's biographer, Ralph Bocking, leaves no doubt that the campaign for Richard's canonization was launched by his successor and the cathedral chapter. It enjoyed the enthusiastic support of the king and nobility, and was so effectively promoted at the papal curia that Richard of Chichester was formally proclaimed a saint less than nine years after his death, on 22 January 1262. The new saint's cult made Chichester Cathedral a centre of pilgrimage and enhanced its position as the focus for the diocese's spiritual life. Climping followed in Wyche's footsteps as a diocesan, showing himself concerned to provide pastoral care, not least by ensuring that churches and their incumbents were adequately endowed. He also fostered the hospital of St Edmund for retired priests at Wyndham in Shermanbury, founded by St Richard, to the extent that he was himself recognized as its co-founder. One of the properties he bought for the hospital cost him 55 marks.

Climping was active in the land market, in ways beneficial both to the diocese and to its religious houses. His most important acquisition enabled him to endow the episcopal estate with the manor of Drungewick (near Loxwood), which he also stocked with cattle; the manor later became one of the principal residences of his successors. He also continued his predecessors' policy of enclosing and building on former pasture at Pubhurst, in the manor of Wisborough Green, and commuted to yearly cash payments the services due to his court at Bexhill from tenants of Battle Abbey. While still chancellor he had sold property to the dean and chapter; after becoming bishop he made them grants that included a knight's fee at Ilsham in Climping itself, and rents totalling £13 18s. He had earlier given four plots in Chichester to St Mary's Hospital there. As bishop he licensed the Norman abbey of Sées to appropriate the rectory of Yapton (while reserving to himself the right to nominate the vicar), gave the abbey lands that he had received from Tortington Priory, and issued an inspeximus of a charter by the dean and chapter of Hereford granting Sées an annual pension (he did the same with charters for Sele Priory and Robertsbridge Abbey).

Climping died about 18 May 1262 and was buried before the high altar of the cathedral. His possible grave slab was moved with four others to the east end of the nave in 1731, when the choir was paved in marble, but has since been returned to the choir. His will does not survive, but he is known to have left £8 per annum to fund prayers for his soul at the altars of St Katherine, St Margaret, and St Agatha in the cathedral. In 1265 the Augustinian priory of Shulbrede (or Wolinchmere) also undertook to offer prayers for the late bishop's soul. One of his executors was Simon of Climping, archdeacon of Lewes, a possible relative whose career he may have fostered, along with that of Thomas of Climping, rector of Poling by 1248. There is no reason to believe that either man was unworthy of preferment.

Writing of Climping's election as bishop, the chronicler Thomas Wykes described him as (vir mirae simplicitatis et innocentiaeAnn. mon., 4.103). This might be translated as 'a man of wonderful simplicity and innocence', with simplicity implying honesty, straightforwardness, guilelessness, rather than stupidity. Climping's actions show that he was more effective than this description implies. He dedicated himself to his diocese and was careful of its needs. Early in his career he showed determination in becoming involved in litigation with the locally powerful Savary de Bohun, later on he was no less resolute in pursuing Bishop Richard's canonization. But overall he seems to have been a peacemaker. In 1255 he negotiated a settlement with Battle Abbey of a number of disputed issues, including the bishop's jurisdiction and rights of visitation. The records of his episcopate, which were often witnessed by two or three cathedral dignitaries and a number of canons, suggest that he was careful to associate his chapter with his activities. Climping is undeniably overshadowed by his two predecessors as bishop, Ralph Neville, chancellor of England, and St Richard Wyche, and also by his successor Stephen Bersted, the strenuous ally of Simon de Montfort. None the less, he is entitled to be regarded as a good pastor, and servant, of the diocese of Chichester.


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  • D. Jones, ed., Saint Richard of Chichester: the sources for his life, Sussex RS, 79 (1995)


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