Matthew the Archdeacon of Bath, 1333-1342
Niall C. E. J. O’Brien
In the first half of the fourteenth century a person called William de Valencenis served for a time as archdeacon of Bath in the Diocese of Bath and Wells. Little is known of the early life of Matthew de Valencenis. He was considered a Frenchman with possible connections to the Earls of Pembroke by some historians. There is as yet no clear evidence of any connection with the Earls apart from comparing their two surnames. The Earls of Pembroke up to 1324 had the surname of de Valence and were French. But they came from central France whereas Matthew de Valencenis came from modern north-east France which in medieval times was not France. Thus Matthew de Valencenis may not have seen himself as pure French because he came from the County of Hainault.
Matthew de Valencenis took his name from the town of Valenciennes which lies in north-east France on the Scheldt River. From 1070 it was situated in the County of Hainault. In 1299 John II, Count of Hainaut, succeeded to the County of Holland and the two places were joined under the Avesnes dynasty until 1345 when the male line died out and the area became part of the Holy Roman Empire.
In 1326 Philippa of Hainault, daughter of Count William I of Hainault was promised in marriage to Edward, Duke of Guyenne, and son of King Edward I of England. They were first married by proxy in her home town of Valenciennes in October 1327 and married in person at York Minster in January 1328. It is possible that Matthew de Valencenis came to England with the young queen.
Matthew de Valencenis in England and Scotland
Matthew de Valencenis first appears in the record books in 1330 when he was connected with the court of Princess Joan of Scotland. In 1330 Matthew de Valencenis had the sponsorship of Joan, Queen of Scotland for a church position in England. He is described as her clerk. Queen Joan was the daughter of King Edward II of England and his wife, Isabella, daughter of King Philip IV of France. She was born in the summer of 1321 in the Tower of London.
Following the coup by Queen Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer, Joan was offered to the Scots as part of a peace treaty. Her husband to be was the four year old David, son of King Robert the Bruce. In July 1327 she passed into Scotland. Although Joan is described as Queen of Scotland in the papal letters of 1330 she was not actually crowned queen until 24th November 1331.
Matthew de Valencenis arrives in the Diocese of Bath and Wells
On 8th November 1330 de Valencenis got a papal mandate to receive a canonry at Wells with the reservation of a prebend in the Diocese of Bath and Wells. The Abbot of Dunfermline, the Prior of Newburgh, and Master Richard de Erjum, canon of York, were to make good the provision. It seems that Matthew de Valencenis did get the canonry but not the prebend.
Another cleric to get a papal mandate in the same November was Soerus de Valencenis who was almoner to Queen Joan. By her sponsorship he was granted a canonry and prebend in the Diocese of Salisbury. This connection with Salisbury would help give comfort to Matthew de Valencenis many years later when his time in the Diocese of Bath and Wells came to an end. We have no notice of the activities, if any, of Matthew de Valencenis as a canon in Wells cathedral.
In the summer of 1333 Matthew’s anonymous career came to an end as he entered the full light of the record books. His exposure was not in Wells cathedral but in the sister cathedral of the diocese at Bath. In mid-September 1333 Ralph de Shrewsbury, Bishop of Bath and Wells, visited the cathedral church of Bath. There he met the prior and monks of the monastery before moving on to Keynsham Abbey the following day. Although Thomas, Prior of Bath, had received mandates from Bishop Ralph we have no indication that the position of Archdeacon of Bath formed part of these instructions.
Yet there was much activity around the archdeaconry between mid-June and mid-September. Henry de Sandwich was appointed Archdeacon of Bath in February 1309, earlier in the episcopate of Bishop John de Drokensford. It appears that Henry de Sandwich held the position until his death or shortly before his death. By 14th June 1333 the archdeaconry was vacant while on 5th July 1333 de Sandwich is described as lately deceased.
Matthew de Valencenis becomes Archdeacon of Bath
Shortly after the archdeaconry became vacant Matthew de Valencenis stepped into the position on the basis that the position would satisfy his papal mandate to receive a prebend. De Valencenis was only given a canonry at Wells cathedral up until that time. Bishop Ralph objected to this move and ordered Matthew de Valencenis to desist from the occupation of the archdeaconry of Bath.
With no time wasted Matthew de Valencenis appealed to the Canterbury and the archbishop’s court. On 12th September 1333 the official of the court wrote to Bishop Ralph that he was to desist from any moves against Matthew de Valencenis pending the appeal. Bishop Ralph was further ordered to appear before the Canterbury court in early November.
Before the bishop appeared at court Matthew de Valencenis had withdrawn his appeal. The reason for the withdrawal is not given. A letter from the official of the Canterbury court to Bishop Ralph on 15th November 1333 dismissed the bishop from appearing at court.
source = cplondon.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/the_history_behind_bath_abbey
Improved relations between the Bishop and the Archdeacon
Relations between Bishop Ralph and Matthew de Valencenis appear to have improved over the following months and years yet no formal collation of the archdeaconry to Matthew appears to have been made. In August 1334 Bishop Ralph wrote to the Archdeacon of Bath to execute an order from Edward III for an enquiry of any ecclesiastical benefices occupied by aliens. This also included non-English people if no outer worldly aliens could be found. Similar letters were sent to the Archdeacons of Taunton and Wells.
In February 1335 a letter to Bishop Ralph from the papal nuncio, Bernard Sistre stated that the Archdeacon of Bath owed £15 for the Peter Pence collection in the benefices within the archdeaconry. Matthew de Valencenis was not alone in his late return as the Dean of Wells owed £100.
In July 1335 Master John de Everdon, Canon of Wells died and his prebend of Combe Two became thus vacant. By standard practice those canons without a prebend but who had letters granting them a prebend were offered the vacant prebend. Bishop Ralph wrote to the official of the deanery of Wells that papal letters of Pope John XXII were issued, at various times, to Sir Matthew de Valencenis, Master Thomas de Aungeruill, Benedict Boni of Florence, Thomas de Cruce, William de Nueport, Thomas de Honsyngore, William de Colby, Master John de Ildeslegh and Master Philip de Daventre to have a canonry and prebend at Wells but none accepted the vacant prebend.
The official of Wells was instructed to cite Matthew de Valencenis and the other eight to appear in the chapel of the Blessed Mary near the cloister of Wells cathedral on Saturday after the Nativity of the Blessed Mary (8th September) to show their right to the prebend. It is not recorded if any of the named people turned up or who eventually got the prebend. The prebend of Combe Two was valued at ten marks of which the vicar received two marks.
In November 1336 Master John de Bokelonde, official of the Archdeacon of Bath made an oath that he would satisfy William Cammel for five marks from the next issues of the Archdeaconry of Bath.
In September 1337 the king ordered the Bishop of Bath and Wells to convene a conference at Wells of all the prelates and clergy of the diocese to discuss the expenses for restraining the French King and the Scots. The Archdeacon of Bath was to bring all the abbots, priors, rectors and others beneficed in his archdeaconry to Wells for mid-September. Mathew de Valencenis was also to appear at the conference.
Early in 1338 the Archdeacon of Bath was instructed to induct Aylmer le Botiler to the church of Kingston Seymour. This seems a normal activity for the Archdeacon, who was by the late 1330s accepted as archdeacon, even if Bishop Ralph and others were unhappy with the office holder. But the dark clouds of trouble were beginning to come.
The beginnings of trouble for Matthew de Valencenis
In July 1339 a royal writ was issued to Bishop Ralph of Bath and Wells to cause Matthew de Valencenis, Archdeacon of Bath, to come before the royal justices to answer a debt to Robert de Tonge, clerk, for £100. Nothing further happened with this writ until September. At Wookey in that month Matthew de Valencenis swore to preserve Bishop Ralph from any loss. No mention was made of settling the debt. On 23rd October another writ was sent by John de Stonor to Bishop Ralph to cause Matthew de Valencenis to appear concerning the £100 of debt which was still outstanding.
As no further writs were issued for the £100 it would seem that the matter was settled. Yet the affair had reawakened old tensions between Bishop Ralph and Matthew de Valencenis. Over the winter months questions were raised about the legality of Matthew’s position as Archdeacon of Bath. Unrecorded arguments were made with both sides battling for position. On 25th January 1340 Bishop Ralph conceded defeat by getting his official to write to Matthew de Valencenis. The letter allowed Matthew to excise the position of archdeacon by himself or through a deputy in the manner accustomed. Although the letter gave Matthew formal authority as archdeacon, Bishop Ralph reserved the authority to make future changes.
Matthew comes under pressure as Archdeacon of Bath
After January 1340 Matthew de Valencenis should have finally settled down to the good life. But it appears he went over the top with enjoyment and his enemies saw blood. On 17th January 1341 Matthew de Valencenis appeared before the bishop’s official at the bishop’s manor of Blakeford. He was charged with the crime of incontinency with Matilda Vakerel for which he pleaded guilty. As punishment he was to abstain from the office of archdeacon of Bath for one year and pay a fine of 100 marks towards the fabric fund of Wells Cathedral. One of those present at the hearing was William Cammel, public notary, and one of Matthew’s creditors in 1336 as noted above.
Announcing punishment was one thing; implementation was another. We are told that Matthew de Valencenis could not execute the office of archdeacon for one year yet in early July he was still in office and his presence was accepted. In that month he presented Stephen Sage to the vicarage of Staunton Drew, a parish in the gift of the archdeacon. This appointment was accepted by Bishop Ralph without any notified objections and Stephen Sage became vicar.
As in earlier occasions, Matthew de Valencenis was slow in paying his debts. A warning letter was issued on 2nd July 1341 giving Matthew ten days to pay the 100 marks to Stephen Tripp, proctor of the dean and chapter of Wells. Shortly after, Matthew de Valencenis came to the church at Chyw where he answered that he would pay the money. But no money followed the promise. On 17th July Stephen Tripp reported to Master John de Middleton, commissary for Bishop Ralph de Shrewsbury that no money was received. Without further delay Matthew de Valencenis was excommunicated.
This should have been a terrible blow for Matthew de Valencenis but the man from Hainault was not to be blown over easily. Early in July, at the same time as he was promising to pay the fine, Matthew had sent an appeal to the archbishopric court at Canterbury and to the Pope in Rome. Matthew told the Pope how he had peacefully and quietly held the archdeaconry of Bath with the jurisdiction of same. But now he feared for his position and wanted papal authority to confirm the archdeaconry.
The official of the Canterbury court wrote to Bishop Ralph on 14th July 1341 that Matthew was not to be disturbed from his position while an appeal was at the papal court. Bishop Ralph was to avoid all actions against Matthew de Valencenis.
On 7th November 1341 the official of the Canterbury court sent a letter to Master John de Middleton, commissary of Bishop Ralph saying that Matthew had quietly and peacefully possessed the archdeaconry of Bath but feared the security of his position and had appealed to the Pope. The official cited Middleton for pretending to be a commissary for Bishop Ralph and fining Matthew de Valencenis 100 marks. The official inhibited Middleton and Bishop Ralph along with the dean and chapter of Wells from taking any further action against Matthew.
The affair with Matilda Vakerel seems not to enter the story or the excommunication but the 100 marks is all important. A number of appeals by other clerics made to the Canterbury court against the Bishop of Bath and Wells and his officials around the same time suggest a battle of authority within in the diocese.
We are not sure what happened to Matthew’s appeal to Rome but no papal letter seems to have come from it. His appeal to the Canterbury court did not progress satisfactorily. In March 1342 the commissary for the official of the Canterbury court wrote to Master John de Middleton, commissary for Bishop Ralph, that Matthew de Valencenis had withdrawn his appeal to the Canterbury court. A separate document in May 1342 tells us that Matthew de Valencenis was under a sentence of excommunication.
Matthew de Valencenis is forced out of Bath
By September 1342 a deal was negotiated between the two sides. On 29th September Matthew de Valencenis resigned from the Archdeaconry of Bath and the annexed parish church of Staunton Drew. These were confirmed on Master Walter de Hull who became the new archdeacon. Matthew de Valencenis was given Walter’s old positions of the sub-deaconry of Wells and the attached church of Wookey. It was in that same church at Wookey in 1339 that the chain of events would begin which ended Matthew’s career as Archdeacon of Bath.
St. Peter's church at Langley Burrell, Wiltshire
Matthew leaves the Diocese of Bath and Wells
Matthew de Valencenis didn’t stay long in his new junior position. He had few friends in Wells Cathedral and little prospect of any promotion. On 5th December 1342 he left the Diocese of Bath and Wells for the Diocese of Salisbury where his countryman had become canon back in 1330. Matthew took up the position of rector of the parish church of St. Mary of Langele Bourel (Langley Burrell, just north of Chippenham, Wiltshire) on the presentation of Sir John de la Mare, knight. The former incumbent at Langele Bourel, William de Lavyngton, took up the position of sub-dean at Wells.
At his collation William de Lavyngton swore to indemnify the bishop of Bath and Wells against any writs obtained, or to be obtained, by Matthew de Valencenis in the King’s court. William further declared that he would never go against the authority of the bishop and would reside in the church as was the custom. The last point would suggest that Matthew de Valencenis was a non-resident cleric. We have no direct evidence to prove or disprove this point. The overall evidence would suggest that Matthew may not have resided at Wells as a canon of Wells was supposed to do. Yet he must have stayed in the vicinity of Bath for much of his time as archdeacon to keep the position without any formal collation.
Walter de Hull served for many years as Archdeacon of Bath and took up the prebend of Combe Two that Matthew de Valencenis had turned down. In 1353 John Power succeeded Walter as Archdeacon of Bath along with the canonry at Wells and the prebend of Combe Two.
Shortly after leaving the Diocese of Bath and Wells, Matthew de Valencenis swore to preserve Bishop Ralph from prosecuting writs. Matthew’s new parish of Langley Burrell was only about 16 miles north-east of Bath and so not too far away from the area he knew well. Here he should have got some respite from uncertainty but such was not the case.
Matthew at Langley Burrell
Within a year of Matthew’s arrival in Langley Burrell, the owner of the manor, John de la Mare, decided to sell the manor along with the advowson of the parish church to Sir Thomas de Berkeley of Berkeley Castle. The first deed of transfer was made on 4th September 1343. Sir Thomas de Berkeley quickly moved in to his new property and made changes. On 5th November 1343 he presented Richard de Malmesbury to the church of Langley Burrell, with the assent of John de la Mare.
There was no mention of Matthew de Valencenis in these transactions and it is unknown by what means the church at Langley Burrell became vacant so fast. Maybe there was a disagreement about what had happened as in the final deed of transfer (27th January 1344) of the manor to Sir Thomas de Berkeley, John de la Mare kept the advowson out of the sale. The advowson had earlier been part of the sale.
After these events at Langley Burrell our knowledge of Matthew de Valencenis goes cold. Did he died a natural death sometime after or did the coming Death Black take him from our view? Maybe Matthew de Valencenis returned to Hainault as the Hundred Years War between England and France made people of French nationality feel uncomfortable on the wrong side of the Channel. Perhaps at some future day we may again meet the Archdeacon of Bath and tell another Canterbury Tale from the Lady of Bath.
 Thomas Scott Holmes (ed.), The register of Ralph of Shrewsbury, Bishop of Bath & Wells, 1329-1363 (Somerset Record Society, Vol. 9, 1896), p. xlii
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