ODO, BISHOP OF BAYEUX
First amongst the companions of the Conqueror must be ranked his two brothers of the half blood, the well-known Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and Earl of Kent, and the less notorious Robert, Count of Mortain in Normandy, and Earl of Cornwall in England.
Both were some years younger than William, his mother, Herleve, having married Herluin de Conteville, by whom she had, besides the above sons, two daughters, one named Emma, wife of Richard, Viscount of the Avranchin, and mother by him of Hugh, Earl of Chester, and the other named Muriel, who became the wife of Eudo de Capello, or al Chapel. A sister also of Muriel married the Lord of Ferté Mace, whose son William is called in a charter, nephew of Bishop Odo. Who was her mother?
Of Odo's infancy we have no record; but whether the eldest of Herleve's children by her husband Herluin or not, he could scarcely have been of age in 1049, when his predecessor, Bishop Hugh, died while attending the council at Rheims in the October of that year.
Mr. Freeman says, "a son of Herluin and Herleva could not be born before 1036," assuming it to be a proved fact that the marriage of Herleve did not take place until after the death of Duke Robert.
I have ventured, however, to dispute that assertion (vide p. 15, ante), and given my reasons for agreeing with William of Malmesbury, and consequently place the birth of Odo some six years earlier, which would make him nineteen at his consecration in 1049, young enough, in all conscience, for a bishop, and in sufficient accordance with the statement of Orderic Vital, who tells us that Odo's relationship to Duke William procured for him the bishopric while he was very young, and that he was actively employed during the fifty (strictly forty-eight) years he held it, which may fairly be reconciled with the date of his death in 1097. * [Orderic says in the month of February, 1096, which would be 1097; the year in the Julian calendar not terminating till the 25th of March.]
At the time of the Conquest, therefore, I consider him to have been six-and-thirty, Duke William himself being, according to one calculation, in the fortieth or at the most the forty-third year of his age.
We have seen Odo called to council by William on the receipt of the news of Harold's assumption of the Crown of England, and we hear of his promise to provide one hundred vessels towards the formation of the fleet, * [ "Ab Odone, episcopo de Baios, C. naves." -Taylor's List. Wace says only forty: "De son frere l'Evesque Odun Recut quarante nes par dun." He admits, however, he is not certain how many ships each baron gave. The MS. from which Taylor printed his List is presumed to have been written temp. Henry I, and therefore earlier in point of date than the Roman de Rou, which was commenced in the following reign, and completed in 1160.] and subsequently fighting with great bravery at Hastings.
Mounted on a white horse, and wearing over a white albe a coat of mail, "wide in the body, but with tight sleeves," he rode wherever the battle raged most fiercely, and, wielding a baston, charged with his knights wherever aid was needed, and did signal service that day. (Roman de Rou)
In the Bayeux Tapestry he is depicted in accordance with the above description. Both he and the Duke are armed with "bastons," which are nothing less than formidable rugged clubs, and over the head of the bishop are the words, "Hic Odo Eps baculum tenens confortat pueros," illustrating a critical period of the battle when the varlets who had the care of the harness took fright and began to abandon it. Odo, "the good priest," as Wace calls him, observed the disorder, and galloping up, exclaimed, "Stand fast! stand fast! move not a foot! Fear nothing, for please God we shall conquer yet!" very probably enforcing his exhortation with the "argumentum baculinum," of which he was so powerful a master.
As far as the bishop is concerned we may believe that his fighting with a bludgeon in lieu of a sword or a lance was in evasion of the edict of the council of Rheims, A.D. 1049, prohibiting the bearing of arms by the clergy; but the war-club was a not unusual weapon at that period, and seems to have been the precursor of the iron mace of the Middle Ages.
Odo was one of the first, if not the first, of William's companions who received the reward of his services in the gift of broad lands, high honours, and official power. Dugdale thus sums up his possessions in England: -" In Kent he had no less than an hundred and eighty-four lordships, or the greater part of them; in Essex thirty-nine, in Oxfordshire thirty-two, in Herefordshire twenty-three, in Buckinghamshire thirty, in Worcestershire two, in Bedfordshire eight, in Northamptonshire twelve, in Nottinghamshire five, in Norfolk twenty-two, in Warwickshire six, and in Lincolnshire seventy-six." In all four hundred and thirty-nine.
He had also the custody of the castle of Dover; "the lock and key of the kingdom of England," as it is called by Matthew Paris; and the whole county of Kent, of which he was created earl, was committed to his charge. As a Count Palatine he possessed power over all other earls and magnates in the land. As Justice of England he was the principal person under the King for the administration of the laws throughout the nation, and in conjunction with William Fitz Osbern exercised chief superintendency of all the military forces of the kingdom as well in the field as in garrison. On the King's visit to Normandy after his coronation, the custody of the realm was intrusted to Odo in conjunction with the said William Fitz Osbern, with authority to erect castles at their discretion in all parts of the kingdom.
This sudden accession of extraordinary power and immense wealth had an evil influence over an ambitious and rapacious nature. Believing no man durst oppose him, he took forcible possession of several lordships belonging to the archbishopric of Canterbury, upon which Lanfranc, who had been advanced to that See by King William in the fifth year of his reign, to the great mortification of Odo, who had coveted the primacy, complained to his sovereign, by whose command a council was summoned at Pinenden in Kent, composed of all persons in the county most conversant with the ancient customs and usages therein, and Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutances, was appointed judge in the place of the King. After much dispute, the decision was given in favour of the Archbishop, and sentence pronounced that he should enjoy the lands belonging to his church as freely as the King himself enjoyed his own demesne lands.
This first and humiliating check to the power and arrogance of the great Earl-bishop appears to have rankled in his bosom, and gradually loosened the ties of consanguinity, personal regard, and feudal obligation by which he is reported to have been attached to his sovereign to such a degree that "he could not be severed from him, not even in the camp, being constant and faithful always to him." * [Gesta Will. Ducis Norm. p. 209, etc.] No outbreak, however, immediately occurred between the kinsmen. Odo knew William too well openly to dispute his will, independently of the fact that in this case it was in accordance with the solemn and impartial voice of justice.
He continued, therefore, in power and favour for some years; marching with his late judge and brother prelate, Geoffrey of Coutances, against the rebellious Earls of Hereford and Norfolk in 1074, and four years afterwards leading an army into Northumberland to suppress an insurrection there, and avenge the murder of Walcher, Bishop of Durham, at Gateshead, near Newcastle-on-Tyne. In this expedition he is accused of much cruelty, and of having sacrilegiously despoiled the Cathedral of Durham of many valuables, amongst which is specified a rare crosier of sapphire.
In the mean while he was contemplating a great and audacious act, encouraged by the predictions of some pretended soothsayers at Rome, who professed to have discovered that after the death of Gregory VII. an Odo would succeed to the Tiara. Inflated by this prophecy, which he interpreted as alluding to him, he purchased a palace in Rome, and furnished it sumptuously, at the same time propitiating the senators by lavish gifts, and tempting by promises of ample reward many choice soldiers to accompany him to Italy; amongst them no less a personage than Hugh, Earl of Chester, one of the most important and powerful of the Anglo-Norman nobility.
King William, who was at that time in Normandy, receiving intimation of these proceedings, and foreseeing the serious consequences to himself should his ambitious half-brother succeed in occupying the Chair of St. Peter, returned with all speed to England, and confronted Odo in the Isle of Wight at the very moment he was setting forth on his journey, attended by a magnificent retinue.
Addressing the nobles in his own suite, he represented to them how, in consequence of the disturbed state of Normandy, he intrusted the government of England to this Odo during his absence, and that while occupied in suppressing the insurrections in the duchy, his brother had grievously oppressed his people in England, robbed the churches of their land, revenues, and ornaments, and seduced those soldiers who should have been employed to defend the kingdom from the Danes and the Irish to enter his service and cross the Alps in his company. At the conclusion of his accusation he commanded the men-at-arms to arrest the traitor; but no one daring to lay hands on a bishop, William himself seized him, and to Odo's remonstrance that he was a clerk and a minister of God, and was not amenable for his acts to any one but the Pope, replied with his usual readiness, "I do not condemn a clerk or bishop, but I arrest an earl I have myself created, and to whom, as my Vicegerent, I intrusted the government of my realm, it being my will that he should render an account of the stewardship I committed to him." * [Ordericus Vitalis, lib. vii. cap. viii.]
Other writers *[Matthew Paris; Roger of Wendover] give Lanfranc the credit of suggesting to William this ingenious distinction. Be it as it may, the ambitious prelate was arrested and conveyed to Rouen, where he was imprisoned during the remainder of William's life, who only on his death-bed reluctantly consented to his release, predicting the evil consequences of his restoration to liberty.
Odo is said to have been present at the funeral of the Conqueror, but I think it scarcely probable. He was, however, shortly afterwards restored to his earldom by his nephew, William Rufus, and speedily justified the opinion his dying brother had entertained of him. Irritated at finding himself shorn of some of the vast power he had formerly possessed, William de St. Carilief, Bishop of Durham, being made Chief Justiciary, and all the affairs of the kingdom no longer conducted according to his will, he commenced conspiring against Rufus in favour of Robert, whom he had confirmed in the government of Normandy, and asserted that the kingdom of England would be much better ruled by the latter, who would now atone for the follies of his youth by diligence and activity; that William Rufus was effeminately brought up, cruel in disposition, and a coward at heart, regardless of all vows, divine or human, and that the honours which his countrymen had acquired by many toils were now in danger of being lost. By these and similar representations he contrived to gain over to his views Roger de Montgomeri, Earl of Shrewsbury, Robert de Mowbray, and other powerful persons, including the Bishop of Coutances and, strange to say, the new justiciary himself.
Odo now broke out into open rebellion, and ravaged the royal possessions in Kent and the lands of Archbishop Lanfranc, whom he specially hated, and accused of having instigated his arrest and imprisonment by King William the elder. Collecting great booty, he stored it in his castle at Rochester, while his adherents plundered Bath and Berkeley, and laid waste the county of Worcester. From Rochester he marched to Pevensey, then held by his brother, Count of Mortain, *[Orderic says that Odo's brother, Robert Earl of Mortain, held Pevensey against the King, lib. x. cap. iv. Florence of Worcester speaks of it as Robert's own castle, sub anno 1088] whither he was followed by the King, who had hastily raised considerable forces, principally of the native English, to whom he had promised remission of taxes and freedom of the chase in return for their assistance, and having taken Tunbridge Castle from Gilbert Fitz Richard, who had joined the rebels, now laid strict siege to Pevensey. At the end of six weeks Odo's provisions began to fail, and foreseeing the certainty of surrender, he offered the King to give up not only Pevensey, but also Rochester Castle, and to quit the realm, with a promise upon oath never to return to it without William's permission. The King accepted these terms, and sent Odo under strong guard, with a body of troops, to Rochester, to take possession of the castle, which he was to render to them. Upon their arrival and demanding entrance in the name of the King, with consent of the Bishop, who had resigned it to him, the garrison, judging from the appearance of Odo, whom they could see from the walls, that he was acting under restraint, opened the gates suddenly, and instead of admitting the royal troops, sallied out upon them, made them all prisoners, and brought them, together with the Bishop, into the castle.
Rufus, enraged at this intelligence, marched with all the forces he could muster upon Rochester, which, not being in a condition to endure a long siege, was speedily surrendered, and Odo found himself again a prisoner. Deprived of his earldom and stripped of all his ill-got treasure, he left England, according to his oath at Pevensey, and repaired to Normandy, where he was well received by Duke Robert, whose cause he had so strenuously supported, and who now intrusted him with the sole government of the province, which, through the Duke's slothful ease, was in a state of dissolution. Crimes of the most horrible and detestable description were committed with perfect impunity. Fire, robbery, and homicide were matters of daily occurrence. "The depopulated country and crowds of widows and infirm persons lamenting the calamities brought upon them, are witnesses to this day," says Orderic, "of the truth of my statements." "The good priest," as Wace amusingly calls him, though he assumed all the power of the Duke, does not appear to have exercised it in the repression of these abominable disorders and the punishment of the greatest criminals, in the list of whom it is painful to record such names as William Comte d'Evreux, Richard de Courci, Robert de Mowbray, and even Prince Henry himself, who had been invested by the Duke, his brother, with the Comte of the Cotentin, and who as soon as certain intelligence reached him of the surrender of Rochester, crossed the sea to England, and demanded of King William the investiture of his mother's domains. Having obtained his request, he returned in the autumn of the same year to Normandy, accompanied by Robert de Belesme, son of Roger de Montgomeri, who had been pardoned by the King for his complicity in the rebellion of Odo. The Duke, in the mean while, had heard a report that his brother Henry and Robert de Belesme had not only made their peace with Rufus, but had also bound themselves by oaths to the Duke's disadvantage. Taking counsel, therefore, with Odo, whose advice we are told "he followed in some things, making light of it in others," he issued orders for their arrest, and at the moment of their landing, unsuspicious of any danger, they were seized and fettered and committed to the custody of Odo, who imprisoned Henry at Bayeux and Robert de Belesme at Neuilly.
The Earl of Shrewsbury, hearing of his son's captivity, hastened over to Normandy, having obtained the King's licence, and put all his castles in a state of defence against the Duke.
Odo, still full of wrath at the defeat and humiliation he had suffered in England, "like a dragon struck to earth and vomiting flames," in lieu of endeavouring to appease dissensions, exerted himself in fomenting any commotions in the duchy which might by some means or other cause trouble and vexation to the King, who had impoverished and expelled him. Hastening to the Duke at Rouen, he exhorted him to take up arms and march against certain malcontents who had set his authority at naught; and especially the Earl of Shrewsbury, the head of that family of Talvas, the extirpation of the whole of which he urged could alone ensure peace to the nation.
I will spare the reader the infliction of the long speech Orderic puts in the mouth of "the Turbulent Bishop," and which, if it have any foundation in truth, is only remarkable for the impudence with which this graceless, treacherous, and unscrupulous prelate could descant on the vices of others, and preach justice, gentleness, magnanimity, consideration of the poor and defenceless, observation of the laws of God, and reliance on the protection of the Almighty.
His address was however received, we are assured, with cordial approbation by all who heard it. The Duke assembled his forces and marched to Nantes, where he was joined by Geoffrey de Mayenne, Robert de Nevers, surnamed the Burgundian, Elias de Beaugencie, and many others, with their contingents.
The Norman troops were commanded by Bishop Odo, once more bestriding a war-horse, and wielding, no doubt, the iron-shod club as formerly at Senlac, and with him were William Comte d'Evreux, one of the principal despoilers of the duchy, Ralph de Conches, and his nephew William de Breteuil.
The Castle of Ballon, held by one Pagan de Montdoubleau, was the first point of attack, and offered considerable resistance; but, after many losses on both sides, the garrison came to terms with the Duke, and the united forces of Normandy and Maine laid siege to the Castle of St. Ceneri, in which the family of the captive Robert de Belesme had taken refuge.
The Earl of Shrewsbury had intrusted this rockthroned fastness, washed on three sides by the windings of the Sarthe, to the keeping of a gallant knight named Robert Quarrel, and manfully he discharged his trust; but provisions failing, famine achieved what the force of arms had vainly attempted. The garrison surrendered at discretion; and, exasperated by the determined resistance he had met with, the Duke cruelly deprived the valiant Quarrel of sight, and caused many of the defenders to be barbarously mutilated.
Terrified at the fate of Robert Quarrel and his comrades, the governors of Alençon, Belesme, and other fortresses belonging to Earl Roger consulted together on the propriety of surrendering immediately upon the Duke's approach, when suddenly, to the surprise of all, the weak and fickle Prince terminated the campaign, disbanded his army, and, accepting an offer of peace made to him by the Earl, restored Robert de Belesme to liberty.
That Odo was no party to this unexpected pacification may fairly be concluded, and from the absence of any mention of him in the many turmoils and conflicts which the unhappy Duchy of Normandy was subjected to during the following six or seven years, it would appear as if he had retired disgusted to his bishopric of Bayeux, and renounced interfering in the government of the country.
The temporary reconciliation of the brothers William and Robert, in 1091, must have been gall and wormwood to him.
In 1093 he is said by Orderic to have celebrated the "execrable marriage" of Philip I King of France with Bertrade Countess of Anjou, which no French bishop would consent to do, and for which service he was rewarded by the adulterous King with the gift of all the churches in the city of Mantes; and in November 1095 we hear of his being present at the Council of Clermont with Gilbert of Evreux and Serlo of Séez, and also at the Synod assembled at Rouen by Archbishop William Bonne-âme the following February. In the month of September, 1096, Robert Courtheuse having mortgaged his Duchy of Normandy to his brother William Rufus for ten thousand silver marks (estimated by M. le Prévost at six thousand six hundred and sixty-six livres d'argent), set forth and joined the great body of Crusaders, moved by the eloquence of Pope Urban, and still more by that of the celebrated Pierre d'Acheri or l'Ermite (son of Reginald l'Ermite, a family name which was the origin of a mistaken notion that Peter the hermit was a monk and an anchorite), was pouring from all parts of Christendom towards the Holy Land, bent upon wresting Jerusalem and the Sepulchre of our Lord from the power of the Infidels.
Odo accompanied his nephew to Rome, whence he appears to have passed into Sicily, and there at Palermo, in the month of February, 1097, according to our present calculations, he was for the last time arrested by a mightier conqueror than William, that "fell sergeant Death," and was buried by Gilbert Bishop of Evreux, far from his own Cathedral of Bayeux, in the Church of Santa Maria in that city, being some sixty-seven years old; according to which calculation he must have been born in 1029 or 1030, as I have previously stated.
Roger Count of Sicily caused a splendid tomb to be built over him, and Orderic, who gives us this information, sums up his character with the usual allowance made by our reverend chroniclers for the greatest criminals, who considered immunity could be purchased both here and hereafter by gifts to the clergy. "He added to the honours and ornaments of his cathedral, respected the clergy, and, depriving numbers of their property, was liberal of what he took from others;" "what he iniquitously amassed was freely bestowed on churches and the poor." The worthy monk of St. Evroult forgot that he had told us earlier in his history "that the monasteries of the saints made great complaints of the injuries they received at the hands of Odo, who with violence and injustice robbed them of the funds with which the English had piously endowed them in ancient times." Equally oblivious was he of the sacrilegious spoliation of the Cathedral of Durham, and the abstraction of the rare crosier of sapphire.
Ambitious, arrogant, rapacious, turbulent, tyranical, ungrateful and licentious, this bold bad man appears to have been destitute of every virtue. Modern writers have compared him to Wolsey, whom he resembled only in his ostentation and passion for splendour, and that pride of patronage which led him to send young scholars to Liége and other cities to study philosophy; for there is nothing to show that he had any love or reverence for learning or learned men. Wolsey, with all his faults, was a man of much greater intellect and infinitely higher character. He never disgraced his order by such shameless immorality as Odo was accused of by his brother, King William, and of which one proof at least existed in the person of an illegitimate son, named John, who was living in the reign of Henry I, and was himself much esteemed in the court of that monarch for his eloquence and ingenuity. And this profligate prelate was actually one of the subscribers to the decree of the Synod of Rouen in 1072, confirming those of a former one at Lisieux, A.D. 1055, whereby incontinence in the clergy was solemnly condemned, and rendered punishable by deprivation and loss of revenue.
If posterity is indebted to Odo for anything, it is probably for the origin of that curious and valuable record of the Norman invasion, in which he played so prominent a part, known as the Bayeux Tapestry, and popularly believed to have been the work of Queen Matilda and her handmaidens. This is not the place for me to enter into the controversy which has for many years caused a vast amount of ink-shed and a useless display of utterly irrelevant learning. At the Congress of the British Archæological Association at Hastings, in 1866, I read a paper in which I summed up the various opinions, arguments, and speculations which had been published on the subject during the last hundred years, and expressed my gratitude to Monsieur F. Pluquet for wading through that mass of misapplied erudition and illogical deduction, and so quietly and concisely disposing of it. *[Mr. Freeman, who has done me the honour to quote my paper, has laid to my charge an oversight of M. Pluquet, respecting Freculf bishop of Lisieux, which I certainly ought to have corrected, but am otherwise not responsible for.] I share his confidence in the antiquity of the tapestry, which has every internal evidence of being contemporaneous with the principal persons represented in it; though neither the work of the first nor the second Matilda, but executed by order of Odo himself, who, as Bishop of Bayeux, alone had the power to deposit and display the representation of a subject from profane history in a sacred edifice.
Thanks to photography we have been enabled to inspect at the Albert Hall a facsimile of this interesting relic of the eleventh century, and contemplate the rude but authentic representations of the Conqueror and some of his companions. In addition to those of Odo which it contains, impressions of his seal are in existence, exhibiting him on one side in his episcopal character, and on the reverse as Earl of Kent, bestriding his destrier, and wielding the sword which he was prohibited from bearing as a Churchman. I now pass to his brother,
Robert, comte de Mortain and earl of Cornwall.
Added to this site through the courtesy of Michael Linton, who provided scanned text.