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John de Gray

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John de Gray
Bishop of Norwich
Appointedabout 7 September 1200
Term ended18 October 1214
PredecessorJohn of Oxford
SuccessorPandulf Verraccio
Other post(s)Archdeacon of Cleveland
Archdeacon of Gloucester
Archbishop-elect of Canterbury
Bishop-elect of Durham
Consecration24 September 1200
Personal details
Died18 October 1214
Saint-Jean-d'Angély, Poitou
BuriedNorwich Cathedral

John de Gray or de Grey (died 18 October 1214) was an English prelate who served as Bishop of Norwich, and was elected but unconfirmed Archbishop of Canterbury. He was employed in the service of Prince John even before John became king, for which he was rewarded with a number of ecclesiastical offices, culminating in his pro forma election to Norwich in 1200. De Gray continued in royal service after his elevation to the episcopate, lending the King money and undertaking diplomatic missions on his behalf. In 1205 King John attempted to further reward de Gray with a translation to the archbishopric of Canterbury, but a disputed election process led to de Gray's selection being quashed by Pope Innocent III in 1206.

Innocent consecrated Stephen Langton as archbishop against John's wishes, triggering a long dispute between the papacy and the King. The pope imposed various sanctions on England and John; at one point de Gray was one of only two bishops still legitimately holding office in England. In 1209 he became governor of Ireland for John, and spent until 1213 attempting to impose a royal government on the Anglo-Norman barons and the native Irish in that country. Recalled to England to help defend against a threatened invasion by the French, de Gray then travelled to Rome to secure a papal pardon after the final settlement of John and Innocent's dispute over the bishop's abortive elevation to Canterbury. After securing his pardon de Gray was appointed Bishop of Durham, but he died on his way back to England.

De Gray built a palace in his diocese and several castles in Ireland. Although he was reviled by one contemporary writer as an "evil counsellor" to the King,[1] modern historians have been more forgiving; one praised his intelligence and others stated that de Gray was one of the few men King John trusted throughout his life. De Gray's nephew, Walter de Gray, secured the office of Lord Chancellor with his uncle's help in 1205.

Early life[edit]

Some describe de Gray as a native of Norfolk; he was likely descended from the Norman knight Anchetil de Greye.[2] De Gray was the uncle of Walter de Gray, later Archbishop of York.[3] The elder de Gray was instrumental in securing the selection of his nephew as Lord Chancellor,[2] as he was a surety for Walter's payment of a fine of 5000 marks to acquire the position.[4][a]

By 1196, de Gray was in the service of King Richard I's brother John, and was keeper of John's seal by 1198.[3] John ascended the throne of England in 1199, with de Gray becoming Archdeacon of Cleveland in March 1200,[3] and Archdeacon of Gloucester before April that year.[6] He also served as John's secretary,[7] and frequently as a deputy for the Lord Chancellor, Hubert Walter.[8] Shortly after John became king, de Gray began travelling between England and the continent on royal business, and for the first two years of John's reign was active in the royal chancery, sealing royal charters.[2]

De Gray was elected Bishop of Norwich on about 7 September 1200,[9] although the election was purely pro forma,[7] as acknowledged by a contemporary writer Roger of Howden, who stated that the new bishop "succeeded to the bishopric of Norwich by the gift of King John".[10] De Gray was consecrated on 24 September.[9] His consecration took place together with that of the new Bishop of Hereford Giles de Braose at Westminster, at the conclusion of a provincial church council held by Archbishop Walter, which de Gray had been attending.[11] Walter performed the ceremony in a chapel of Westminster Abbey.[2]

Bishop of Norwich[edit]

While bishop, de Gray often lent the king money, and on one occasion held the royal regalia as security for the repayment of a loan; he also served as a royal justice. In 1203 de Gray accompanied Archbishop Hubert Walter and several papal legates on an unsuccessful diplomatic mission to King Philip II of France.[2] Philip had demanded that John's niece Eleanor of Brittany or his nephew Arthur of Brittany be surrendered to him together with all of John's lands on the continent, none of which John was prepared to concede. Philip invaded Normandy after the bishops returned to England.[12]

In 1203 some of de Gray's knights were part of the garrison at the castle of Vaudreuil in Normandy, serving under the command of Robert FitzWalter. Although they had provisions and John was moving in support of the troops, in the summer of 1203 the garrison surrendered to Philip, shortly after a siege had begun.[13] When John abandoned Normandy in late 1203, effectively relinquishing control of the duchy to Philip, de Gray was one of his companions on the journey to the port of Barfleur, and went on to England with the king.[14]


John's attempt to impose de Gray's election as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1205 was the beginning of the king's long quarrel with Pope Innocent III. After Hubert Walter's death in July 1205, the selection of a successor was hindered by doubts about what the proper procedure should be, something that commonly happened with elections to Canterbury. John postponed a decision while delegations from the bishops of England and the monks of the cathedral chapter went to Rome to seek guidance from the pope.[15] The bishops of the province of Canterbury claimed the right to a say in who was elected, as whoever was chosen would be their superior,[16] but according to canon law the monks of the cathedral chapter had the right to elect the new archbishop. The king also had a say in the election,[17] as the archbishop was a major tenant-in-chief and was traditionally one of the principal royal advisers.[18]

While the delegations from the various parties were in Rome, the monks of Canterbury secretly elected one of their own, Reginald, as archbishop, and subsequently sent him to Rome to join the delegation. When John discovered that Reginald had been elected without any royal input he forced the monks to elect de Gray as archbishop.[7] Some stories have Reginald's election taking place before the despatch of the first delegation to the papal curia. Another source, Gervase of Canterbury, has the king telling the chapter they could choose their own nominee after six months, while the king secretly sent envoys to Rome to secure de Gray's election.[15] A further story, from Roger of Wendover, states that the monks elected Reginald before Walter was even buried and that only a few members of the cathedral chapter – the younger ones – participated in the election. Wendover wrote in the 1230s and was not a monk of Canterbury, therefore it is unlikely he has recorded a true account.[19]

De Gray was postulated or nominated, to Canterbury on 11 December 1205,[7] which presented Innocent with two candidates for the office. In an effort to reach a compromise,[20] the pope quashed both nominations on about 30 March 1206;[7][21] Innocent's reason for invalidating de Gray's candidacy was that any election was invalid if an earlier one was still under appeal to the papacy.[22] The monks then elected Stephen Langton, with Innocent's approval.[7] John did not accept Langton's candidacy, however, and Innocent's consecration of Langton in 1207 led to an eight-year struggle between John and the pope over the rights of the king to secure the election of his choice as archbishop.[20] John refused to allow Langton to enter England and exiled the Canterbury monks.[18] Innocent placed an interdict on England in 1208, which John countered by confiscating the income and estates of any clergy who enforced it. Innocent went on to excommunicate John in 1209, in a dispute that led to the exile of many of the English clergy and John's imposition of heavy financial demands on the church in England;[20] by 1209 de Gray and Peter des Roches, the Bishop of Winchester, were the only living English bishops not in exile.[17] But it was not until 1213,[20] when Innocent began to support John's deposition, that the king became concerned and reached a settlement with the papacy.[23]

In Ireland[edit]

Part of castle battlements with worn stones
Part of the fortifications at Athlone Castle, built on John de Gray's orders

By 1209 de Gray was in Ireland serving as the king's governor,[24][b] an office sometimes referred to as justiciar for Ireland.[26] One possible reason for his appointment was to save him from being accused of ignoring the interdict on England. As a bishop, it was de Gray's ecclesiastical duty to enforce the interdict, but by going to Ireland, which was not under interdict, he could continue to serve the king without provoking the papacy.[27] De Gray's chief policy in Ireland was to extend English rule, to which end he was involved in battles on the River Shannon and in Fermanagh.[28] He also replaced the Irish coinage with English, and attempted unsuccessfully to make English laws applicable in Ireland.[29] De Gray's term of office in Ireland coincided with a time of change in Irish governmental practices.[30]

During John's persecution of William de Braose in 1209, William Marshal gave de Braose shelter on his Irish lands. De Gray demanded that Marshal surrender de Braose to him as a traitor, but Marshal refused, claiming that since he held some lands from de Braose, it would be an act of treason to surrender his lord to an outside authority.[31] Marshal's refusal does not seem to have embittered de Gray, however, as three years later the bishop was praising him in a letter to John.[32]

John led an expedition to Ireland in 1210 in an effort to bring the Anglo-Norman barons under control. He opened talks with the native Irish kings, and some accounts state that his negotiations were so successful that the native Irish submitted to him. In contrast, the historian Seán Duffy has argued that the native Irish nobility were just as resistant to John as the Anglo-Norman barons. After John's return to England he ordered de Gray to build three new castles in Connacht,[33] one of them at Athlone.[34] Associated with the castle building were two military invasions of Connacht by the royal government – one from Meath and Leinster and the other from Munster.[33] De Gray left Ireland in 1211 to lead a military campaign against the Welsh,[2] leaving his deputy Richard de Tuit in charge of the country.[26]

De Gray also faced resistance from the northern Irish. In 1212 he led a campaign against Áed Méith, in the promotion of which he constructed castles at Cáel Uisce, Belleek, and Clones,[c] bases for raids against the Ua Néill territory in the north. A naval campaign was also launched but to no avail.[33] De Gray suffered a defeat at the hands of Cormac O'Melaghlin in 1212 at Fircal, Offaly,[2] and left Ireland the following year.[36] He continued to hold the office of governor for a time, but by July 1213 he had been replaced by Henry de Loundres, the Archbishop of Dublin.[26] One of de Gray's final acts as justiciar was to take a force of Irish knights to England to help repel a threatened invasion by the French king Philip II.[2]

Episcopal affairs and later career[edit]

As bishop, de Gray settled a long-running dispute between the monks of his cathedral chapter and his predecessors as bishop.[37] He also allowed the monks of his cathedral chapter the right to appoint and replace the clergy of the dependent churches of the cathedral.[38] De Gray received a 1203 missive from Innocent III decrying the marriages of some secular clergy, in contravention of canon law.[39] In more secular matters, he granted the town of Bishop's Lynn (now King's Lynn) the right to hold a weekly market and two fairs per year. He also built a palace at Gaywood.[2]

De Gray's ability to raise money made him useful to John. In 1213 de Gray mustered 500 knights during a period when Philip II was threatening to invade England,[40] bringing this force over from Ireland along with mounted men-at-arms to support the king in England.[41] In May 1213, John and Innocent finally resolved the dispute over Langton's election to Canterbury, and part of the settlement was that John gave Ireland and England to Innocent and received them back from the pope, making John a papal vassal.[17] The settlement was sealed with a treaty, to which de Gray was one of the witnesses.[40] After John settled with the papacy, de Gray was not included in the general pardon and had to go to Rome to be pardoned.[42] While in that city the bishop was named as one of the guarantors of a new financial arrangement between the king and the pope dealing with feudal payments from England, which lowered the lump sum that had to be paid before Innocent would lift the interdict.[43] After Innocent pardoned de Gray, the pope recommended his election as Bishop of Durham in 1213;[42][44] but de Gray died during his journey back to England on 18 October 1214, at Saint-Jean-d'Angély in Poitou.[9] He was buried in Norwich Cathedral, but his tomb has not survived.[2]

As well as encouraging his nephew's career, de Gray took into his household two of Hubert Walter's household clerks: David, and Robert of Ruddeby.[45] Another clerk employed by de Gray, Robert de Bingham, was in the bishop's household during the papal interdict on England; he went on to become a tutor in theology at Oxford, and Bishop of Salisbury in 1228.[46]

De Gray remained close to John for most of the bishop's life,[47] and one of the King's chief fundraisers.[40] Sidney Painter, a historian and biographer of John, said of de Gray that he was "probably the only man whom John trusted absolutely and without reservation for the whole period of their association".[48] The medievalist Ralph Turner called de Gray "one of John's greatest favourites",[49] and another of John's biographers, W. L. Warren, described de Gray as "one of the best brains of the royal administration".[27] Matthew Paris, a medieval writer, called him an "evil counsellor",[1] and blamed many of the difficulties of John's later reign on de Gray's failed election to Canterbury.[2]


  1. ^ A fine is a payment made to a lord or other person, usually either as a regular payment, such as for a lease, or for the ability to take office.[5]
  2. ^ It appears that de Gray left England after July 1208, as he was a witness to royal charters constantly from January through July 1208, when he disappears from royal documents.[25]
  3. ^ Besides these castles and the earlier ones, in 1213, five more castles were either refurbished or built on de Gray's orders – at Clonmacnoise, Durrow, Birr, Kinnitty, and Roscrea.[35]


  1. ^ a b Quoted in Haines "Gray, John de" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Haines "Gray, John de" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  3. ^ a b c Greenway Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066–1300: Volume 6: York: Archdeacons of Cleveland
  4. ^ Harding England in the Thirteenth Century p. 236
  5. ^ Coredon Dictionary p. 125
  6. ^ Greenway Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066–1300: Volume 2: Monastic Cathedrals (Northern and Southern Provinces): Worcester: Archdeacons of Gloucester
  7. ^ a b c d e f Warren King John pp. 160–162
  8. ^ Young Hubert Walter p. 149
  9. ^ a b c Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 261
  10. ^ Quoted in Warren King John p. 160
  11. ^ Cheney Hubert Walter p. 65
  12. ^ Powicke Loss of Normandy p. 260
  13. ^ Powicke Loss of Normandy p. 162
  14. ^ Powicke Loss of Normandy p. 169 and footnote 251
  15. ^ a b Jones King John and Magna Carta pp. 35–37
  16. ^ Harding England in the Thirteenth Century p. 266
  17. ^ a b c Lyon Constitutional and Legal History pp. 306–307
  18. ^ a b Huscroft Ruling England pp. 195–196
  19. ^ Knowles "Canterbury Election" English Historical Review pp. 212–215
  20. ^ a b c d Lyon Constitutional and Legal History p. 240
  21. ^ Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 232
  22. ^ Turner King John p. 116
  23. ^ Huscroft Ruling England pp. 196–197
  24. ^ Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 161
  25. ^ Richardson "Norman Ireland" Irish Historical Studies p. 145 and footnote 1
  26. ^ a b c Wood "Office of Chief Governor" Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy p. 219
  27. ^ a b Warren King John pp. 195–196
  28. ^ Otway-Ruthven History of Medieval Ireland p. 83
  29. ^ Barlow Feudal Kingdom pp. 408–409
  30. ^ Gillingham Angevin Empire p. 55
  31. ^ Powicke Loss of Normandy p. 295
  32. ^ Warren King John p. 201
  33. ^ a b c Duffy "John and Ireland" King John pp. 241–242
  34. ^ Orpen "Athlone Castle" Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries p. 261
  35. ^ Orpen "Athlone Castle" Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries p. 266
  36. ^ Turner King John p. 108
  37. ^ Harper-Bill "John and the Church" King John p. 294
  38. ^ Cheney From Becket to Langton p. 121 footnote 7
  39. ^ Cheney From Becket to Langton p. 137
  40. ^ a b c Powell and Wallis House of Lords p. 121
  41. ^ Warren King John p. 204
  42. ^ a b Warren King John p. 212
  43. ^ Vincent Peter des Roches p. 92
  44. ^ Greenway Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066–1300: Volume 2: Monastic Cathedrals (Northern and Southern Provinces): Durham: Bishops
  45. ^ Young Hubert Walter p. 58
  46. ^ Vincent Peter des Roches p. 83 and footnote 203
  47. ^ Turner King John p. 46
  48. ^ Quoted in Turner King John p. 46
  49. ^ Turner King John p. 61


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Catholic Church titles
Preceded by Bishop of Norwich
Title next held by
Pandulf Verraccio
Preceded by Archbishop-elect of Canterbury
set aside by Pope Innocent III
Succeeded by
Preceded by Bishop-elect of Durham
Died before enthronement
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Justiciar of Ireland
Succeeded by