Saturday, June 24, 2017

Walter de Gnoushale; papal envoy and treasurer of Leighlin

Walter de Gnoushale; papal envoy and treasurer of Leighlin
Niall C.E.J. O’Brien


In about 1351 Walter de Gnoushale was treasurer at Leighlin cathedral. He held the position to some unknown date prior to 1363 when John Young was treasurer. Who was Walter de Gnoushale and can we trace his life in the surviving records? The medieval records recount a number of clerics bearing the surname of Gnoushale. The name of Gnoushale possibly came from Gnoushale in Staffordshire.

Ralph de Gnoushale

In the early thirteenth century England a cleric named Ralph de Gnoushale appears in the records. In 1227 Master Ralph de Gnoushale appears as an official in the Diocese of Lincoln. He was possibly the same Ralph de Gnoushale who appears in the 1230s in the Diocese of Salisbury. In August 1230 Master Ralph de Gnoushale, an official in the Diocese of Salisbury, witnessed a deed of confirmation by Robert, Bishop of Salisbury of certain churches and tithes gifted by his predecessors to Abingdon Abbey. In April 1233 Ralph witnessed another deed of confirmation by Bishop Robert of the church of Wrthe to Abingdon Abbey.[1]

Richard de Gnoushale

In about the same time that Ralph de Gnoushale worked in the English church, a cleric named Richard de Gnoushale worked in Ireland. In about 1217 Master Richard de Gnoushale was witness to a charter of Milo le Bret granting 20 shillings in Carricclidan to the Hospital of St. John the Baptist outside the New Gate, Dublin.[2] In 1223 Richard de Gnoushale was archdeacon of Glendalough and prebend of Castleknock in the Diocese of Dublin. A later record in 1228 showed Richard de Gnoushale was still archdeacon of Glendalough at that time.[3]

Another Richard de Gnoushale

In 1278 another Richard de Gnoushale was a monk at Buldewas Abbey in Shropshire. In June 1278 Richard de Gnoushale and Roger de Withinton were nominated as attorneys in England for the abbot of Buldewas who was going overseas.[4]

Walter de Gnoushale

An early reference to a person called Walter de Gnoushale from Gnoushale comes from the ninth year of Edward first. In that year there was appointed at Gnoushale Radulph de Hengham and Reginald de Legh to take the assise of novel disseisin arraigned by Philip son of Walter de Gnoushale against William de Senkewrthe, parson of the church of Gnoushale, touching common of pasture in Gnoushale.[5]

First appearance of Walter de Gnoushale

The earliest known reference to Walter de Gnoushale in the surviving documents is for 1344 but this document carries Walter’s history back to 1332. In 1332 Walter de Gnoushale was in Ireland, working for the papal camera.[6] The exact work that Walter de Gnoushale did for the papacy in Ireland is as yet unknown but it is likely that collecting the papal taxation was the main work. After 1221 collecting taxes was the chief activity of the representatives of the papacy sent to Ireland.[7]  

Government office

The work of collecting papal taxes by Walter de Gnoushale made him see the prospect of working for the government in the same area of activity as a natural extension of his work and as another source of personal income. The levy of procurations was the usual source of income for papal envoys but it was often difficult to collect. This was a small tax levied on the clergy by a papal envoy if he visited a parish or diocese.[8]

Sometime before October 1338 Walter de Gnoushale began canvassing for the job of second chamberlain at the Dublin exchequer. This position was held by Robert de Salkeld since 1334.[9] Walter de Gnoushale lobbied the King and other officials to get the job. On 24th October 1338 Edward III sent a letter to the Bishop of Hereford, keeper of the land of Ireland, that he cause the office of second chamberlain of the exchequer, Dublin, which Robert de Salkeld held, to be committed to Walter de Gnoushale, to hold during pleasure, if he is fit for it, and will find security for his good behaviour therein.[10] It seemed that Walter de Gnoushale was only a step away from a government job but the Bishop of Hereford didn’t think that Walter was “fit for it” and Robert de Salkeld kept the position.

But this failure was not the end of the story and sometime after Walter de Gnoushale renewed his attempts to become second chamberlain at the exchequer. In March 1341 a letter was sent from London to the treasurer and barons of the Dublin exchequer asking for information on the attempt of Walter de Gnoushale to remove Robert Salkeld. The Dublin officials replied that there was no reason why Robert Salkeld, who was appointed during good behaviour, should be removed from office.[11]
Yet within a few months Robert Salkeld was removed from office. His replaced not by Walter de Gnoushale but by William de Puryton. Robert Salkeld appealed for unfair dismissal and received king’s letters reappointing him as second chamberlain. But in June 1344 these letters were revoked when the king learnt that William de Puryton held the job and was highly commended for his work. Robert Salkeld made another appeal for his old job and was partially successful. He was restored as second chamberlain until Trinity term 1349 while William de Puryton kept the office until Easter term 1345. Yet each man worked for a six month period opposite the other.[12]    

Papal dispensation and extension

Meanwhile Walter de Gnoushale continued to work for the papacy in Ireland. Yet here also he was restricted in maximising his earning potential. This was because of his illegitimacy, the exact nature of which is unknown. Sometime before May 1344 Walter de Gnoushale was dispensed by the Pope on account of his illegitimacy so that he could hold three benefices at any one time. On 29th May 1344 an extension to this dispensation was issued by the Pope at Avignon. At that time Walter de Gnoushale was a cleric in the Diocese of Dublin. The reason given for the extension was that Walter de Gnoushale had laboured in Ireland for twelve years in the service of the papal camera.[13]

A canonry in Dublin

On the 29th May 1345 papal letters were issued to Walter de Gnoushale that in consideration of his labours during twelve years in Ireland for the apostolic see, he should be provided with a canonry of Dublin, with expectation of a prebend. The bishop and archdeacon of Kildare were directed to help Walter get this provision.[14] Shortly after Walter de Gnoushale successfully got the canonry in Dublin and held the position for many years. Securing a prebendary was much more difficult.
A canonry in Limerick

But Walter de Gnoushale was not content with just the Dublin canonry and in 1346 petitioned the Pope for a canonry in Limerick and for a further dispensation to be advanced to any grade or dignity. He was still awaiting a prebendary in the Diocese of Dublin.[15] On the 2nd September 1346 a further extension of the dispensation to hold three benefices was issued to Walter de Gnoushale, and a grant of a canonry in Limerick.[16]

Papal nuncio’s representative in Ireland

On 7th April 1348 Master Walter de Gnoushale, canon of Dublin, received letters of protection for two years in England while he lived in Ireland. Master Raymond Pelegrini, king's clerk, canon of London and the Pope’s nuncio in England, Scotland and Ireland, had appointed Walter de Gnoushale as his commissary and vice-gerent in Ireland. The protection was for Walter de Gnoushale and for his men and servants along with goods and things, belonging to Walter and the Pope.[17]

In the thirteenth century the job of representing the papal nuncio in Ireland was usually held by an Italian. By the end of the century this job was usually held by an Englishman. The job was no cushy number. A previous English incumbent in 1254 wrote that he would never again set foot in Ireland on such a mission, even if his commission was doubled. Laurence Somercot even said that he would go to prison than to go to Ireland again.[18]

We don’t as yet have any documentation to say how successful Walter de Gnoushale was at representing the papacy and the papal nuncio in Ireland. His appointment was shortly followed on by the Black Death which disrupted much of the organised life of mid fourteenth century Ireland. Many clerics lost their lives in service of their parishioners and the ability to collect papal taxation must have suffered.

Ireland’s relationship with the papacy in the second half of the fourteenth century was not just in the area of the papal fiscal system but also included the increase number of papal provisions to bishoprics. In the reign of Edward II there were just thirteen papal provisions to Irish sees, yet by the time of Richard II virtually the whole of the episcopate held office by provision of the Pope.[19] This work and the increasing number of clerics “running” to Rome to obtain a benefice or parish provided the papal representative in Ireland with much work.     

The relationship between Ireland and Rome in the second half of the fourteenth century is still an area where little research had been conducted. The activities of papal envoys in Ireland are even less researched.  

Leighlin cathedral

Treasurer at Leighlin

In May 1348 Bishop William St. Leger of Leighlin died at Avignon. He was succeeded by a Franciscan friar, Thomas de Brakenberg. On 5th August 1349 Thomas de Brakenberg received the temporalities of the Diocese from the King’s ministers.[20] Sometime in all this change Walter de Gnoushale was appointed treasurer of Leighlin. The papal nuncio or his chief representative often held a position in some cathedral church. Raymond Pelegrini, papal nuncio to England was archdeacon of Surrey which his successor, Hugh Pelegrini was treasurer of Lichfield.[21]

In the absence of an episcopal register for the Diocese of Leighlin it is difficult to know how active Walter de Gnoushale was as treasurer of the cathedral. We can't even say if he visited the cathedral or just lived elsewhere and received the income of the treasurership in the post.

Further extensions of his dispensation

In April 1351 Walter de Gnoushale, canon of Dublin, and treasurer of Leighlin, got a further extension of dispensation on account of illegitimacy so that he may hold three benefices, and accept any dignity less than the episcopal, he having served the apostolic see in Ireland for eighteen years.[22]

Before July 1351 Walter de Gnoushale petitioned the Pope for a further extension of his dispensation. On 13th July 1351 papal letters were given to Walter de Gnoushale with dispensation to hold any number of compatible benefices. By that time Walter de Gnoushale held a canonry with a prebend in Dublin and the treasurership of Leighlin with a canonry and a prebend.[23]

New treasurer at Leighlin

Walter de Gnoushale held the position of treasurer at Leighlin for an unknown number of years. Sometime before 1363 he was succeeded as treasurer by John Young. In 1360 Bishop Thomas de Brakenberg of Leighlin died and the Diocese of Leighlin was kept vacant for three years. In 1363 the then treasurer of Leighlin, John Young, was elevated to the office of Bishop of Leighlin. John Young served twenty-one years as bishop in which he tried to recover the Bishop’s estates in troubled conditions. In 1376 Bishop Young was plundered of all his property by rebel Irish. John Young was twice Vice-Treasurer of Ireland.[24]

Trouble in Limerick

As noted above, in 1346 Walter de Gnoushale obtained a canonry in the Diocese of Limerick. He worked in the cathedral church and as a clerk for the bishop. He also obtained a benefice in the Diocese. Walter de Gnoushale was still involved in the affairs of the Diocese in 1358 but not always with the high praise for a good job. On 26th June 1358 a government order was sent to Stephen Lawless, Bishop of Limerick, to cause to come before the Justices at Limerick on 30th June 1358 Walter Gnoushale and Peter Godyng, clerks of the bishop, who have been indicted in the King’s court of various enormities, contempt’s and trespasses prejudicial against the King and royal crown. The clerks were to answer to the King concerning these contempt’s and trespasses.[25]

The outcome of these proceedings is as yet unknown. It is also unknown as to the fate of Walter de Gnoushale after 1358. The records after that time do not record his name. It is therefore impossibly to say if Walter de Gnoushale died in Ireland shortly after 1358 or if he returned to England to live out his days. It is also difficult to say for how many years he served as the representative of the papacy and the papal nuncio in Ireland. As John Young was treasurer of Leighlin before 1363 it may be possibly to conclude that Walter de Gnoushale died shortly after 1358 and before 1363. In this dark area of the story we must leave the life of Walter de Gnoushale that has been briefly extracted from the pages of history and let the conclusion for another day.


End of post


[1] Gabrielle Lambrick & C.F. Slade (eds.), Two cartularies of Abingdon Abbey (Oxford Historical Society, New Series, Vol. 33, 1991), vol. 2, pp. 33, 57, 58
[2] Eric St. John Brooks (ed.), Register of the Hospital of St. John the Baptist without the New Gate, Dublin (Stationery Office, Dublin, 1936), no. 345
[3] Henry Cotton, Fasti Ecclesiae Hibernicae: Vol. 2: The Province of Leinster (Hodges and Smith, Dublin, 1848), p. 155; Charles McNeill (ed.), Calendar of Archbishop Alen’s Register c.1172-1534 (Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Dublin, 1950), pp. 47, 61
[4] Calendar of Patent Rolls, Edward 1, 1272-1281, p. 273
[5] Annual Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records 1889 (London, 1889), p. 114
[6] W.H. Bliss and C. Johnson (eds.), Calendar of Papal Registers Relating To Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 3, 1342-1362 (London, 1897), p. 173
[7] John Watt, The Church in Medieval Ireland (Gill & Macmillan, Dublin, 1972), p. 134
[8] May McKisack, The Fourteenth Century, 1307-1399 (Oxford University Press, 1959), p. 286
[9] Philomena Connolly (ed.), Irish Exchequer Payments, 1270-1446 (Irish Manuscripts Commission, Dublin, 1998), p. 372
[10] Calendar of Close Rolls, Edward III, 1337-1339, p. 544
[11] Philomena Connolly, ‘List of Irish material in the class of Chancery files (Recorda) (C.260) in the Public Record Office, London’, in Analecta Hibernica, No. 31 (1984), p. 9
[12] Philomena Connolly (ed.), Irish Exchequer Payments, 1270-1446, pp. 372, 422, 428; Calendar Patent Rolls, Edward III, 1343-1345, p. 300
[13] W.H. Bliss and C. Johnson (eds.), Calendar of Papal Registers, Volume 3, 1342-1362, p. 173
[14] W.H. Bliss and C. Johnson (eds.), Calendar of Papal Registers Relating To Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 3, 1342-1362 (London, 1897), p. 150
[15] W.H. Bliss (ed.), Calendar of entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland: petitions to the Pope, Vol. 1, 1342-1419 (Stationery Office, London, 1896), p. 119
[16] W.H. Bliss and C. Johnson (eds.), Calendar of Papal Registers Relating To Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 3, 1342-1362 (London, 1897), p. 231
[17] Calendar Patent Rolls, Edward III,1348-1350,  p. 46
[18] John Watt, The Church in Medieval Ireland, p. 135
[19] John Watt, The Church in Medieval Ireland, p. 147, 148
[20] Henry Cotton, Fasti Ecclesiae Hibernicae: Vol. 2: The Province of Leinster (Hodges and Smith, Dublin, 1848), p. 384
[21] W.H. Bliss (ed.), Calendar of entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland: petitions to the Pope, Vol. 1, 1342-1419, p. 720
[22] W.H. Bliss and C. Johnson (eds.), Calendar of Papal Registers Relating To Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 3, 1342-1362 (London, 1897), p. 384
[23] W.H. Bliss (ed.), Calendar of entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland: petitions to the Pope, Vol. 1, 1342-1419, p. 119 ; W.H. Bliss and C. Johnson (eds.), Calendar of Papal Registers Relating To Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 3, 1342-1362, p. 430
[24] Henry Cotton, Fasti Ecclesiae Hibernicae: Vol. 2: The Province of Leinster, pp. 384, 385, 395
[25] Rev. James MacCaffrey (ed.), The Black Book of Limerick (Gill, Dublin, 1907), no. 176; number 166

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