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Encyclopedia > Roger of Salisbury

Roger (d. 1139), bishop of Salisbury, was originally priest of a small chapel near Caen. The future King Henry I, who happened to hear mass there one day, was impressed by the speed with which Roger read the service and enrolled him in his own service.

Roger, though uneducated, showed great talent for business. On coming to the throne, Henry almost immediately made him chancellor (1101). Soon after Roger received the bishopric of Salisbury. In the Investitures controversy he skilfully managed to keep the favour of both the king and Anselm. Roger devoted himself to administrative business, and remodelled it completely. He created the exchequer system, which was managed by him and his family for more than a century, and he used his position to heap up power and riches. He became the first man in England after the king, and was in office, if not in title, justiciar.

He ruled England while Henry was in Normandy, and succeeded in obtaining the see of Canterbury for his nominee, William de Corbeil. Duke Robert seems to have been put into his custody after Tinchebrai. Though Roger had sworn allegiance to Matilda, he disliked the Angevin connection, and went over to Stephen, carrying with him the royal treasure and administrative system (1135). Stephen placed great reliance on him, on his nephews, the bishops of Ely and Lincoln, and on his son Roger, who was treasurer.

The king declared that if Roger demanded half of the kingdom he should have it, but chafed against the overwhelming influence of the official clique whom Roger represented. Roger himself had built at Devizes the most splendid castle in Christendom. He and his nephews seem to have secured a number of castles outside their own dioceses, and the old bishop behaved as if he were an equal of the king. At a council held in June 1139, Stephen found a pretext for demanding a surrender of their castles, and on their refusal they were arrested. After a short struggle all Roger's great castles were sequestrated. But Henry of Winchester demanded the restoration of the bishop.

The king was considered to have committed an almost unpardonable crime in offering violence to members of the church, in defiance of the scriptural command, "Touch not mine anointed." Stephen took up a defiant attitude, and the question remained unsettled. This quarrel with the church, which immediately preceded the landing of the empress, had a serious effect on Stephen's fortunes. The moment that the fortune of war declared against him, the clergy acknowledged Matilda. Bishop Roger, however, did not live to see himself avenged. He died at Salisbury in December 1139. He was a great bureaucrat, and a builder whose taste was in advance of his age. But his contemporaries were probably justified in regarding him as the type of the bishop immersed in worldly affairs, ambitious, avaricious, unfettered by any high standard of personal morality.

Roger's nephew Alexander (d. 1148), who became bishop of Lincoln in 1123, was a typical secular ecclesiastic of the middle ages, wealthy, proud, ambitious and ostentatious. He founded monasteries, built castles at Newark, Sleaford and Banbury, and restored his cathedral at Lincoln after the fire of 1145. He followed the policy of Roger, whose imprisonment he shared, and died after a visit to Pope Eugenius III at Auxerre, early in 1148.

See Sir J Ramsay's Foundations of England, vol. ii., and JH Round's Geoffrey de Mandeville.

This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopędia Britannica.



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