Theobald of Bec bigraphy, stories - Abbot of Bec; Archbishop of Canterbury

Theobald of Bec : biography

- 18 April 1161

Theobald (sometimes Tedbald; c. 1090 – 18 April 1161) was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1139 to 1161. He was a Norman; his exact birth date is unknown. Some time in the late 11th or early 12th century Theobald became a monk at the Abbey of Bec, rising to the position of abbot in 1137. King Stephen of England chose him to be Archbishop of Canterbury in 1138. Canterbury's claim to primacy over the Welsh ecclesiastics was resolved during Theobald's term of office when Pope Eugene III decided in 1148 in Canterbury's favour. Theobald faced challenges to his authority from a subordinate bishop, Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester and King Stephen's younger brother, and his relationship with King Stephen was turbulent. On one occasion Stephen forbade him from attending a papal council, but Theobald defied the king, which resulted in the confiscation of his property and temporary exile. Theobald's relations with his cathedral clergy and the monastic houses in his archdiocese were also difficult.

Serving during the disorders of Stephen's reign, Theobald succeeded in forcing peace on the king by refusing to consecrate Stephen's son and heir, Eustace. After Eustace's death in 1153, Stephen recognised his rival Henry of Anjou as his heir, and later Theobald was named regent of the kingdom after Stephen's death. After a long illness, Theobald died in 1161, following which unsuccessful efforts were made to have him canonised as a saint.

Theobald was the patron of his successor Thomas Becket, and a number of other future bishops and archbishops served as his clerks. During his time as archbishop Theobald augmented the rights of his see, or bishopric. Historians of his time and later were divided on his character and he is often overlooked in the historical record, mainly because of the fame of his successor.


Early years

Theobald was consecrated on 8 January 1139 by the legate, Alberic of Ostia. He went to Rome for his pallium and took part in the Second Lateran Council.Barlow English Church 1066–1154 pp. 110–112 As archbishop his behaviour was less political in comparison to that of his main rival, Henry of Blois. Henry was appointed a papal legate on 1 March 1139,Greenway which meant that Henry could now call church councils in England and had power equal to or exceeding that of Theobald.Saltman Theobald pp. 15–16 Theobald swore fealty to Stephen upon his election to Canterbury, recognising Stephen as the king of England.

Soon after his election Theobald selected his brother Walter to be archdeacon of Canterbury, and in 1148 promoted him to be Bishop of Rochester.Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings p. 411 Theobald attended the council held by Stephen in June 1139 that deprived Roger of Salisbury, Bishop of Salisbury, and his nephews Nigel, Bishop of Ely, and Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln, of their castles.Appleby Troubled Reign of King Stephen p. 72 According to most historians, Theobald took little part in the controversy that followed the council, which eventually ended with Roger's death in 1139 and Nigel and Alexander's restoration to favour.Bollerman and Nederman "King Stephen, the English Church, and a Female Mystic" Journal of Medieval History pp. 441–442 Recently however, that view has been challenged by two historians who argue that Theobald took a more active role in the council. They base their view on a Vita, or Life of the 12th-century mystic Christina of Markyate, which narrates the events and gives a more central role to Theobald, instead of Henry of Blois, in challenging Stephen's arrest of the three bishops.

Civil war

Theobald's actions in the next few years are intertwined with the history of Stephen's ascension to the throne. Following King Henry I's death in 1135 the succession was disputed between the king's nephews—Stephen and his elder brother, Theobald II, Count of Champagne—and Henry's surviving legitimate child Matilda, usually known as the Empress Matilda because of her first marriage to the German Emperor, Henry V. King Henry's only legitimate son, William, had died in 1120. After Matilda was widowed in 1125, she returned to her father, who married her to Geoffrey, Count of Anjou. All the magnates of England and Normandy were required to declare fealty to Matilda as Henry's heir, but when Henry I died, Stephen rushed to England and had himself crowned before either Theobald II or Matilda could react. The Norman barons accepted Stephen as Duke of Normandy, and Theobald II contented himself with his possessions in France. But Matilda was not resigned to the loss, and secured the support of the Scottish king, David, her maternal uncle, and in 1138 the support of her half-brother, Robert, Earl of Gloucester, an illegitimate son of Henry I.Huscroft Ruling England pp. 71–73

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