Guillaume de Marchia

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This article by S W Bisson and Joan Stevens was first published in the 1980 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

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In the preparation of this article we have had the great advantage of the considered advice of four experts on medieval affairs, Professor J Le Patourel, Dr J N L Myres, Dr A J Taylor and Le Chanoine Hyernard of St Sauveur Le Vicomte, whose combined opinions add up to a degree of knowledge it is seldom our good fortune to obtain.

Rector of St Mary

In the course of examining our parish churches with Dr Myres in 1979, Dr Taylor was intrigued by the name of Guillaume de Marchia, Rector of St Mary in 1298, and he equated this Guillaume with Willelmus de Marchia, Bishop of Bath and Wells.

De Marchia's date of birth is not known, but was probably before 1250. His name is variously written as March, de la March, de Marchia, but always with a 'c' that is to say he was 'of the Marches' and not 'of the marsh'. He rose to prominence in church and state. In 1285 he was Clerk of the King's Wardrobe, and for a time Custodian of the Great Seal. In 1289 he served on a commission to enquire into complaints brought against royal officials during the King's absences, and in 1290 he was granted a 'messuage' at the Old Bailey, and became Treasurer and Clerk of the Chancery to Edward I.

Ecclesiastical preferments followed and with a canonry at Wells he soon became Bishop of Bath and Wells, being consecrated in Canterbury Cathedral in 1293. However, in 1295, following some disagreement, and perhaps because of his stern austerity, he was removed from the treasurership, and thereafter concentrated on his ecclesiastical duties. He is reported to have been far-seeing, discreet and circumspect, liberal in alms giving and zealous for good works. He was responsible for the building of the Chapter House of Wells cathedral, architecturally transitional between the Early English and Decorated styles. His tomb is against the south wall of the south transept, and it was believed that miracles of healing occurred before it. After his death in 1302, there was a strong move to have him canonized, but the Pope at Avignon did not react to this suggestion, and it was said that the miracles then ceased.

We felt somewhat incredulous that a Bishop should have been Rector of one of the smallest parishes in a remote small island, even if he were an absentee Rector; also the majority of appointments were of local men, or sometimes of Norman clerics. So the Patent Roll was consulted, and it recorded: "The like of Master William de Marchia to the church of St Mary Mosterars (Sancte Marie de Castro) Gereseye in the same diocese in the King's gift by reason of the lands of the island of the Abbot of St Sauveur Le Vicomte being in his hands". The reference to Sancte Marie de Castro is most puzzling; clearly meaning St Mary Catel in Guernsey, why should it have been inserted here, in brackets and in italics, after , St Mary Mosterars, which is obviously St Mary of the Burnt Monastery in Jersey?

Irrelevant insertion

Through the kindness of Dr Taylor, the original roll was consulted in the Public Record Office, and the reference to Sancte Marie de Castri found to be, in his words, "an entirely gratuitous, irrelevant and incorrect interpolation inserted by the editors of the printed calendar". The original gave: Magister Willelmus de Marchia clericus habet litteras Regis de presentacione ad ecclesiam beate Marie de Mosterars de Gereseye va cantern et ad donacionem Regis spectantem racione terrarum et tenememtorum Abbatis sancti Salvatoris vicecomitis in insula predicte in manu Regis existencium. Et dit littere eidem Episcopo. (Master William de Marchia, clerk, has letters from the King presenting him to the church of St Mary of the Burnt Monastery in Jersey, vacant and in the King's gift by reason of the lands and tenements of the abbot of St Sauveur Le Vicomte in the aforesaid island being taken into the King's hands).

Equally puzzling is the reference to St Sauveur Le Vicomte, for we have irrefutable evidence that Cerisy held the advowsons of St Mary of the Burnt Monastery and St Martin the Old. Cerisy also held a third of the tithes of St Mary, and St Sauveur Le Vicomte a sixth.

Appointments for other priests in the Roll, for instance William de Spissa to St Sampson in Guernsey, and Nicholas de Cumbervill to Trinity in Jersey, quote similarly, "by reason of the lands of that island ... being in the King's hands". Alien priories did fall into the King's hands whenever there was a state of war between England and France, for example in 1290, in 1324, in 1337, and finally in 1413. In between times the revenues reverted to the parent houses in France.

Le Chanoine Hyernard observes that as St Sauveur Le Vicomte had only one sixth of the tithes of St Mary, there must have been other beneficiaries who, over the years, could have disposed of their share to other abbeys. This, he says, did happen, and gave rise to acrimonious proceedings between abbeys.

In the Assize Roll of 1309 we find Cherbourg Abbey apparently holding the advowsons of St Mary and St Martin. So we are confronted with a situation where the advowson of St Mary was held by Cerisy Abbey in 1042, had perhaps passed to St Sauveur Le Vicomte (for the appointment of a Rector is surely a matter of advowson more than of tithes) in 1298, with the appearance of Cherbourg Abbey in 1309, only a decade later.

One is extremely reluctant to suggest that an original source may be faulty, though Professor Le Patourel has found similar errors in the Calendar of Patent Rolls, where the names of Norman abbeys have been confused by the clerks away in Westminster. They may have been dealing with numbers of small benefices that accumulated to important men who were pluralists, and they could have been working from drafts which have not survived, so we cannot know if the original bore corrections, and they were also writing about places that were unknown to them. Here one is forced to conclude that there is an error.

It may be seen that what was translated as Cherbourg on pages 243, 244 and 294 of the Assize Roll is more likely to be Cerisy. All the Latin forms of Cherbourg found elsewhere in the Roll include the element 'burgh' or 'burg' (eg Chireburgh, Cesaris burgo), whereas on these pages, where the word occurs in connection with St Mary of the Burnt Monastery, they do not. They are Cesario, Ceseriensis, Cesario.

If we take the letter C to denote the abbey, (and that is not in doubt), pages 243-244 show that;

  • The Abbot of C was Brother Thomas (a)
  • The community was of the Order of St Benedict in the diocese of Bayeux (b)
  • The attorneys appointed by the Abbot to represent him before the Justices said that William, formerly Duke of Normandy and afterwards King of England, gave to a certain Abbot of C those things which they now possess in the island (c)
  • The attorneys said that Henry I confirmed his father's gift by his charter (d)
  • The attorneys produced the charter of Henry I to the Justices (e)
  • The charter stated that Duke William gave to the abbey of C in honour of St Vigor, the churches of St Mary of the Burnt Monastery and St Martin the Old with their lands and a third part of their tithes (f)
  • The attorneys said that ever since then successive abbots of C have always held peacefully the aforesaid churches and tithes (g)
  • The jurors, on their oath, testified to the same (h)
  • The Justices discharged the Abbot, having evidently accepted the evidence of the attorneys (i)

It is not known if (a) applies to Cherbourg and as to (b), Cherbourg is in the diocese of Coutances. (c) and (d) could refer to any place that had possessions in Jersey, but according to the Cartulaire (f) and (g) cannot refer to Cherbourg, but do apply to Cerisy. The fact that the gift was in honour of St Vigor applies to both Cerisy and Cherbourg. One must therefore, considering all the available evidence, conclude that there was an error either in the original Assize Roll or in its transcription. Regrettably we have found no really convincing explanation for the intrusion of St Sauveur lLe Vicomte in 1298.

However, on the credit side of this detective story, we have now discovered that a Rector of St Mary was a prominent and important person in the household of Edward l, one of his own special clerks, and this we certainly had never suspected. Did the parish of St Mary benefit from this appointment? Guillaume de Marchia will have chosen a French-speaking curate to act for him, but one hopes that he took some interest in the welfare of a parish from which he doubtless drew some, if small, financial reward. We may recall that he was generous in alms giving and zealous for good works. Let us hope that St Mary reaped the benefit of this zeal.

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