Bishops and Bankers

Chapter 1
Bishops and Bankers*

Olivia Robinson

The Questions

The origin of this chapter is in my curiosity about some borrowing by “my” bishop, and its implications.1 Now, bishops, like other men, needed money. But bishops, like other mediaeval great men, kings, princes, magnates, prelates, and lords, mostly lived off their own; in other words, they mostly lived off the fruits of their manors. And the bishop of Exeter held some 24 manors; he was not as rich as Winchester, but he was not poor. For example, Bronescombe’s next-butone successor, Bishop Bytton, could afford to give a regular £124–18s–8d p.a. to the cathedral Fabric Fund, doubling the dean and chapter’s contribution of half their prebendal salaries—£62–9s–4d p.a.2 Yet Bytton died with a reasonable credit balance; the dean and chapter, his residuary legatees, received some £600, after generous obit payments, etc.3 However, we do know that Bronescombe inherited significant debts from his predecessor (26).4

What then did the bishop want money for? And the answer I came to is that it was frequently for expenses at the curia romana. These were not the only cash outlays needed, for attendance at the Court of Arches might also need money up front, and there were also taxes both papal and royal, but the requirements of the curia seem to have been dominant. What is marked, in Bronescombe’s and other contemporary registers, is the correlation between procurators appointed to the curia romana, and procurators authorized to borrow money from Italian merchants.

What sort of expenses?—legal fees, and also sweeteners. Admittedly two centuries later—but the pace of change was slow—we hear of a canon of Lübeck who in 1462 spent six months at the curia (including a move to Viterbo for the summer) at a cost of nearly 1,000 ducats, of which some 135 was spent on taxes and fees, and more than 350 on tips and gifts.5 At a more mundane level, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries at the court of the Sacred Rota, we find an apparently standard fine of one ducat for the absolution of litigants, or their representatives, from canonical censure for procedural lapses.6

From whom did a bishop borrow? Italian merchants, as we shall see, and probably particularly those classed as followers of the papal court, campsores camere.

In what court would he be liable on these debts?—properly an ecclesiastical court. Celestine III (1191–1198) laid down that clergy should not be haled before lay courts.7 The tone of papal legislation was much firmer by the end of the thirteenth century, as with Boniface VIII (1294–1303):8 “Secular judges, although they have no jurisdiction in this matter, compel with damnable presumption ecclesiastical persons to pay debts, concerning which letters are shown or other proofs led before these judges against such persons; we decree that they be restrained from such rash conduct by ecclesiastical censure through the local ordinaries [the bishops].” We see some debts being duly enforced among lesser folk. For example, in 1258 Bronescombe wrote a letter from Paris “arousing, warning and threatening,” addressed to the archdeacon of Totnes on behalf of John, tailor of Paris, against John, rector of Widdecombe, on account of 18 marks borrowed in Paris 12 years before (61). In 1279 Archbishop Pecham wrote to Bishop Sutton of Lincoln to enforce the payment, despite his frivolous excuses, of William de Segrave’s debt to Sir Henry de Nottingham; he also authorized the excommunication of certain executors for not paying a debt of 13 marks due to one Chino, citizen and merchant of Florence.9 For prelates’ debts, however, the problems were on a different, and larger, scale; the bishop himself was properly the judge ordinary, and could hardly be judge in his own cause. (Further, the oddity here seems the extreme unlikelihood of actually using legal process. So why the renunciation of defences and privileges? And the answer is probably that it was a game, though a seriously played game. As I concluded in Index [1994] due process was not necessarily used to solve legal problems if there was another dimension.) On the other hand, and contrary to canon law, we find in 1294 the writ precipimus addressed to the sheriff of Herefordshire to have Bishop Richard de Swinfield summoned before the Barons of the Exchequer to answer for a debt of 30 marks owed to a Florentine merchant.10 We shall come back to the question of forum.

The References to Loans and Procuratorships in Bronescombe’s Register

So I shall proceed to a rapid survey of the texts in Bronescombe’s register which have led me to these conclusions. (There are not many for a period of more than 20 years, but there is no good reason to suppose that the register in its random way mentioned them all.) Here then is a list of Bronescombe’s borrowings and appointments of procurators.

In May 1258, two months after his consecration, the bishop received a loan of 50 marks from Sir Mauger de St Aubyn (37); a month later, on June 23, he borrowed 16 and one-half marks from Girardus Ricchobaldi—apparently an Italian merchant—to be repaid at the feast of the Assumption, which he paid as a procuration for M. Arlotus, the papal nuncio (49), and he admitted on the same day that he had also borrowed 100 marks from the same Girard, to be repaid in London on the feast of St Peter ad Vincula (51).11 Also in June, in an appointment dated from London, Bartholomew de Lardario was appointed the bishop’s procurator-general; the appointment was twice repeated, dated from Paris, a couple of weeks later (57, 59–60). Nothing was said about money, nor indeed about where he was to exercise this power. On July 31, 1258 in Paris William de Capella, the bishop’s confidant,12 received letters of credit for 100 marks from the Florentine merchants to be paid at the curia romana (62); he also received a procuratorship for borrowing up to 50 marks (63), and another for borrowing 40 marks—these were returned a year later to the bishop in London (64). On the same day William was made the bishop’s procurator “ad impetrandum, contradicendum et substituendum in curia romana” (65). On September 8, 1258 the bishop gave a bond for 40 marks borrowed from William de Petersfield to be repaid at Easter (67), and on November 1, he gave one William, quite likely the same man, letters patent about 40 marks due on the feast of the Purification (172).

On August 29, 1259 a procuratorship at the curia was issued to Richard de Honiton and Robert de Albo Monasterio through the hands of the Florentine merchants (120). Luke de Paignton and Richard de Honiton, again, were appointed the bishop’s procurators at the curia in November 1259 (180); no mention of money was made. Richard de Honiton was still resident at the curia in March 1261, because he was then given powers to collate benefices there on the bishop’s behalf (296–297). Other loans are recorded: on July 24, 1260 the bishop issued a bond for the payment of £15 at Lyons to the nephew of the archbishop of Tarentaise—Peter de Vienne—at the hands of the Florentine merchants; otherwise his caution to the London branch was to be returned and the £15 was to be paid there on All Saints (249). On May 21, 1261 Master Bartholomew de Lardario was made procurator for conferring benefices within the bishop’s collation at the curia that might fall vacant while he was there (323); on the same day Bartholomew had letters for receiving at the curia 100 marks paid in London, and another 100 marks lent in London (324), and also power to borrow 50 marks at the curia, and a procuratorship “ad impetrandum et contradicendum” (325).

In December 1266 Richard de Honiton again received an appointment as the bishop’s procurator at the curia, with powers to appoint or substitute other procurators (645). It is, of course, possible that he was a professional lawyer who had been there all the time, but in these sealed letters he was told to take the advice of MM. Berardus of Naples, papal chaplain and notary, and Philip de Cancellis, papal subdeacon and chaplain, and to fix a salary for such a procurator or procurators, in accordance with the customs of the court. When, on February 5, 1270, Nicholas de Honiton was made the bishop’s procurator at the curia, the power of borrowing was specifically withheld (802). In April 1271 M. Alured, son of Milo, was made procurator at the curia, and also given power to contract a loan of up to £100 there from any merchants whomsoever, as long as it was with the advice of John of Toledo and the ex-legate Cardinal Ottobuono (855–856).

In October 1273, when the bishop was in Bayonne—he seems to have stayed in France until after the Second Council of Lyons, which he attended—William de Capella was made his procurator anywhere in the province of Canterbury (958). Presumably in relation to this, he received a letter of credit for 40/-, at need, from the Florentines based in Paris (963). In November, still in Bayonne, the bishop wrote to Nicholas Bonivicini and James Bonacursi, citizens and merchants of Florence based in Paris, appointing Peter de Montagu his procurator for borrowing from them 115 marks and Robert de la Hallelond procurator for £50 (964–965); these loans were presumably for the bishop’s own use in France. At the end of December 1273 the bishop was in Bordeaux. There he made M. Richard de Carswell his procurator at the curia, for ordinary legal business, and also for claiming and receiving from the executors of M. Alured, formerly the bishop’s procurator, any debts, obligations, contracts with merchants, etc., and also for recovering from Philip Rodulphi and his partners, Florentine merchants, up to 20 marks from the money which had been paid them by M. Alured (968–970). Three months later, on March 18, 1274, Richard de Carswell and Philip de Exeter were appointed to receive on the bishop’s behalf and for his business at the curia 30 marks from John Gerardini and Philip Spina of Pistoia (973).13 In Paris on April 7, the bishop acknowledged receipt of 790 marks from various merchants of Florence (975).14 On May 11, by this time in Lyons, the bishop made Nicholas de Honiton and Philip de Exeter his procurators at the curia for the case pending between himself and Thomas de Carvenal (976). In July, still in Lyons, the bishop made Edmund de Warefeld (clearly a professional canonist) his procurator at the curia, revoking all other appointments (982).

A later appointment as procurator at need for the Court of Arches was issued to Richard Paz (1017). Other procuratorships for the court of Canterbury were issued in October 1275 to Richard de Kingston and Ralph de la Pole—again, with no mention of money (1113); others were issued to Nicholas de Musele in February 1276 (1149) and in August 1276 to Richard Paz (1181). Ralph de la Pole was still, or again, the bishop’s procurator in January 1278 (1243–1244). I guess that it was also for Canterbury that Ralph de la Pole and William de Essex were made the bishop’s procurators “in all causes howsoever touching our person” (1306), but they may have been the bishop’s personal law agents.

In October 1276 Edmund de Warefeld, Nicholas de Honiton and Richard Carswell were all made the bishop’s procurators at the curia (1197). In January 1277 the bishop made John de Pontissara and Richard de Carswell his procurators at the curia for his dispute with the abbot of Ford; this appointment also mentioned the existence of M. Mathias de Thiatynus as his permanent defensor at the papal court (1215); again, no money was mentioned. This appointment was revoked as far as Richard de Carswell was concerned in January 1278 (1245); on the same day, those of Edmund de Warefield and Nicholas de Honiton were renewed (1246). Just over a week later the bishop was acknowledging a loan to himself and his church of 100 marks from Duracius Huberti and Jacobus Scoldi and their Florentine partners; he promised to repay the money in London on June 5 (1247). It was presumably the same Duracius who was made the bishop’s attorney to receive £100 in reparation from the earl of Cornwall, in accordance with the settlement brought about by the Queen and Robert Burnell, bishop of Bath and Wells (1414).15

Loans and Procuratorships in Some Other Registers16

Now, by no means all appointments of procurators are linked to borrowing money, but the majority of loans are linked to procuratorships. There are, in Bronescombe’s Register, slightly more than half as many references to loans and letters of credit than there are appointments. We may compare briefly with some contemporary bishops.

In Pecham’s register M. Richard de Needham, who was clearly a permanent procurator at the curia, was appointed in May 1278 to borrow 400 marks from Peppo of the Florentine Pulci; a year later he was to borrow what he needed from any merchants; and in 1280 he was to borrow £40 for the archbishop’s business at the curia from merchants based there or elsewhere.17 In 1281 M. Reynerius de Vichio, a Florentine and canon of Lichfield, had been appointed the archbishop’s procurator at the curia; in 1288 he borrowed 40 marks from merchants of Pistoia for the archbishop’s business at the curia.18 In 1282 M. Anselm de Estria, who was Pecham’s procurator for dealing with Kilwardby’s estate, was authorized to borrow up to £20 from any merchants.19 On the other hand we learn of no borrowing by Philip de Pomonte and James de Trebys, the archbishop’s resident procurators at the curia, nor by Pontissara, then still archdeacon of Exeter, who was also resident there.20 In 1283 John de Beckingham and M. William de Sardinia were procurators at the curia, given authority to borrow respectively £40 and 40 marks.21

Bishop Sutton of Lincoln in February 1297 borrowed £100 from Lapo Bonichi and his fellow merchants of the società of the Amantini [Amannati] at Pistoia, promising to repay by the following Easter.22 In July of that year Sutton appointed a procurator to the curia, with powers inter alia to borrow £40.23 In the register of Bishop Reynolds of Worcester, the only listed procuratorship to Rome (in July 1313) includes powers to borrow.24

The Nature of Expenses at the Curia

I think the link between procuratorships to the curia and the need for money has been established. And our second question concerns the nature of the bishop’s expenses at the curia. We get no hard information from Bronescombe’s register, although it seems highly unlikely that Berardus of Naples and Philip de Cancellis would give their advice for nothing (645), any more than the cardinals John of Toledo and Ottobuono (855–856). But a glance at a few contemporaries of Bronescombe is suggestive. Godfrey Giffard, bishop of Worcester, received a detailed list of expenses from his procurator at the curia in 1286: to the mercatores “for exchange,” 15 marks; to the English cardinal who spoke to the pope, 30 marks; to Berard de Neapoli, 100/-; to Bernard, secretary of the pope, a black palfrey worth 12 marks and an orphrey of 30/-value; to Galgano, the pope’s writer, three gold florins; further, there were the living expenses of the procurator and his household, and things given to the doorkeeper, and others.25

Thomas Cantilupe of Hereford was heavily involved in costly litigation at the papal court, as we learn from his register, where his editor remarks that such expenses were a constant drain.26

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