Gilbert Foliot - Encyclopedia

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GILBERT FOLIOT (d. 1187), bishop of Hereford, and of London, is first mentioned as a monk of Cluny, whence he was called in 1136 to plead the cause of the empress Matilda against Stephen at the Roman court. Shortly afterwards he became prior of Cluny; then prior of Abbeville, a house dependent upon Cluny. In 1139 he was elected abbot of Gloucester. The appointment was confirmed by Stephen, and from the ecclesiastical point of view was unexceptionable. But the new abbot proved himself a valuable ally of the empress, and her ablest controversialist. Gilbert's reputation grew rapidly. He was respected at Rome; and he acted as the representative of the primate, Theobald, in the supervision of the Welsh church. In 1148, on being nominated by the pope to the see of Hereford, Gilbert with characteristic wariness sought confirmation both from Henry of Anjou and from Stephen. But he was an Angevin at heart, and after 1154 was treated by Henry II. with. every mark of consideration. He was Becket's rival for the primacy, and the only bishop who protested against the king's choice. Becket, with rare forbearance, endeavoured to win his friendship by procuring for him the see of London (1163). But Gilbert evaded the customary profession of obedience to the primate, and apparently aspired to make his see independent of Canterbury. On the questions raised by the Constitutions of Clarendon he sided with the king, whose confessor he had now become. He urged Becket to yield, and, when this advice was rejected, encouraged his fellow-bishops to repudiate the authority of the archbishop. In the years of controversy which followed Becket's flight the king depended much upon the bishop's skill as a disputant and diplomatist. Gilbert was twice excommunicated by Becket, but both on these and on other occasions he showed great dexterity in detaching the pope from the cause of the exile. To him it was chiefly due that Henry avoided an open conflict with Rome of the kind which John afterwards provoked. Gilbert was one of the bishops whose excommunication in 1170 provoked the king's knights to murder Becket; but he cannot be reproached with any share in the crime. His later years were uneventful, though he enjoyed great influence with the king and among his fellow-bishops. Scholarly, dignified, ascetic in his private life, devoted to the service of the Church, he was nevertheless more respected than loved. His nature was cold; he made few friends; and the taint of a calculating ambition runs through his whole career. He died in the spring of 1187.

See Gilbert's Letters, ed. J. A. Giles (Oxford, 1845); Materials for the History of Thomas Becket, ed. J. C. Robertson (Rolls series, 1875-1885); and Miss K. Norgate's England under the Angevin Kings (1887). (H. W. C. D.)

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