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Theobald of Bec

Theobald (d. 1161), archbishop of Canterbury, was of Norman parentage, but the date of his birth is unknown.

Early in life he entered the great abbey of Bec, of which he became prior in 1127 and abbot ten years later. In 1138 he was selected by Stephen, king of England, to fill the vacant see of Canterbury.

Apparently he owed this advancement to his character for meekness, and as archbishop he behaved with a moderation which is in striking contrast to the conduct of his rival, Henry of Blois, bishop of Winchester. During the struggle between Stephen and Matilda it was Bishop Henry who fought for the privileges of the Church; Theobald, while showing a preference for Stephen's title, made it his rule to support the de facto sovereign. But as Stephen's cause gained ground the archbishop showed greater independence. He refused to consecrate the king's nephew to the see of York, and in 1148 attended the papal council of Reims in defiance of a royal prohibition.

This quarrel was ended by the intercession of the queen, Matilda of Boulogne[?], but another, of a more serious character, was provoked by Theobald's refusal to crown Count Eustace, the eldest son of Stephen, the archbishop pleading the pope's orders as the excuse for this contumacy. He was banished from the kingdom, but Pope Eugenius terrified Stephen into a reversal of the sentence.

In 1153 Theobald succeeded in reconciling Stephen with Henry of Anjou, and in securing for the latter the succession to the throne. On the accession of Henry in 1154, Theobald naturally became his trusted counsellor; but ill-health prevented the archbishop from using his influence to its full extent. He placed the interests of the Church in the hands of Thomas Becket, his archdeacon, whom he induced Henry to employ as chancellor. Theobald died on April 18 1161. He is said to have recommended Becket as his successor.

In history Theobald lives chiefly as the patron of three eminent men: Becket, who began life as a clerk in his household; Master Vacarius, the Italian jurist, who was the first to teach Roman law in England; and John of Salisbury, the most learned scholar of the age. Theobald's household was a university in little; and in it were trained not a few of the leading prelates of the next generation.

See the Vita Theobaldi printed in JA Giles, Lanfranci Opera, vol. i. (Oxford, 1844); W Hook, Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury, ii. c. vi. (London, 1862); and K Norgate, England under the Angevin Kings, vol. i. (London, 1887).

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.

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