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Clerks and Commissioners: The Role of Bishops in the Government of England, c. 1050-1087

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Bishops played a crucial part in the government of England and in the consolidation of the Anglo-Norman regime after 1066. Frank Barlow and H. R. Loyn, among others, highlighted the close relationship between William I and his prelates and yet, in spite of their fundamental importance, many of the Conqueror's bishops remain shadowy figures, especially those who began their careers as secular clerks rather than monks. This thesis re-evaluates the political and administrative activities of the Anglo-Norman episcopate, setting them within a longer tradition of episcopal involvement in lay administration and in a wider European context. In particular, it analyses the contribution made by bishops to the Domesday survey, especially in the south-western dioceses, and asks what their involvement reveals about the wider political role of the episcopate in late eleventh-century England.
Employing evidence drawn from royal and episcopal acta, from Great Domesday Book, and especially from the Exon Domesday manuscript — newly digitised, edited and translated as part of the AHRC-funded project, 'Exon: The Domesday Survey of South-West England' (grant number: AH/L013975/1, dir. J. C. Crick, S. Baxter and P. Stokes) — it argues that bishops helped to shape the Domesday process at every stage, and that their involvement at a provincial level can be detected in the text of Exon Domesday itself. It reconsiders the transformation of the English episcopate in the 1070s and 1080s, suggesting that the replacement of native bishops by men from the continent may have been a symptom of the administrative challenges faced by the new Norman regime, as much as the product of ecclesiastical reform. These conclusions are set against the backdrop of a flexible and pragmatic system of local government in the shires, where bishops played a significant and lasting role, and a royal chapel which effectively prepared clerks and chaplains for episcopal office.
Original languageEnglish
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Award date2018

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