The First Prince Bishops

Early Prince Bishops 1081-1135

The powers held by the Prince Bishops of Durham in the land between Tyne and Tees were the last vestiges of those once held by the kings and earls of Northumbria. Ultimately the Bishops answered to the kings of England, but their powers in Durham were very similar to those held by the King of England in other parts of the country.

Durham Cathedral showing the clerestory and triforium levels
Durham Cathedral © David Simpson 2021

👈 Conquest | TimelineScottish control 👉

Jan 1081 – Bishop of Durham appointed

William St Carileph becomes Bishop of Durham. Carileph has not yet inherited the political powers held by his predecessor which are now held by the Earl of Northumberland. William removes non-celibate monks from Durham and replaces them with celibate monks from Jarrow and Wearmouth. The non-celibate monks who are part of the ancient community of St Cuthbert are moved to sites at Darlington, Norton-on-Tees and St Helen Auckland.

Saxon church of St Mary at Norton on Tees
Saxon church of St Mary at Norton on Tees. Photo © David Simpson 2018

1083 – Tynemouth belongs to Jarrow monks

Robert De Mowbray, the Earl of Northumberland confirms Tynemouth’s possession by the monks of Jarrow. Tynemouth, once the home to a monastery, is now the site of a church affiliated to Jarrow which is in turn a cell of Durham Priory. Meanwhile, William St Carileph, the Bishop of Durham has given Wallsend to the monks of Durham.

1085 – Mowbray gives Tynemouth to St Albans

Robert De Mowbray falls out with William St Carileph, the Bishop of Durham and confiscates the church of St Mary at Tynemouth from the Bishop. Mowbray then negotiates with the Abbot of St Albans and invites him to settle monks at Tynemouth.

Tynemouth Castle and the bay
Tynemouth © 2018 David Simpson

1085 – Miracle attracts pilgrims to Tynemouth

The monks of St Albans, who now own Tynemouth say St Oswin, a former King of Deira (Yorkshire) is buried at Tynemouth. They claim that on March 11, 1065, Aegelwine, a Bishop of Durham along with the wife of Earl Tostig of Northumbria, witnessed the uncovering of St Oswin’s body here.  Æthelwine, the Bishop of Durham along with the wife of Earl Tostig of Northumbria, witnessed the uncovering of St Oswin’s body here. Oswin, a king of Deira was murdered at Gilling in Yorkshire in AD 651 at the behest of Oswy, a Bernician King of all Northumbria. Oswin’s body was apparently found beneath Tynemouth’s church after a tip-off from a priest to whom Oswin’s ghost appeared in a miracle. The revelation will prove lucrative for the monks. Saints and associated miracles attract pilgrims who bring revenue to monastic sites. There has been no mention of Tynemouth since its devastation under a Viking attack in AD 875 and no previous mention of a connection with Oswin. Even Bede did not mention Oswin’s burial place. The Durham monks say  their one-time sacrist and relic collector, Alfred Westou (possibly of Westoe near South Shields) had recovered the bones of Oswin but it is not stated where he found them or buried them.

View of Tynemouth Priory and Castle from Cullercoats.
View of Tynemouth Priory and Castle from Cullercoats. Photo © David Simpson 2018

1086 – North East escapes Domesday

England north of the Tees is left out of the Domesday Book, a survey of the king’s territory, which could be an indication of desolation in the region but likely due to the difficulty of establishing control there. Yorkshire is included.

Sept 9, 1087 –  KING WILLIAM II : ‘RUFUS’

King William I ‘the Conqueror’ of England dies in Normandy. He is succeeded by William ‘Rufus’ who becomes King William II of England. Rufus is not the Conqueror’s oldest son. He has an older brother, Robert Curthose, who succeeds the late William as Duke of Normandy. Another brother, Henry receives a payment but has no major political role.

Newcastle: St Nicholas Cathedral, castle keep and railway
Newcastle castle keep © David Simpson 2021

1087 – Bishop flees to Normandy

Th new king William II (William Rufus) rebuilds the New Castle on the Tyne. Bishop William of Durham and Robert Mowbray, Earl of Northumberland rebel against Rufus and support the claims of the Duke of Normandy, Robert Curthose, to the throne. They join a long list of plotters. Durham castle is besieged by Rufus and Bishop William flees to Normandy.

The castle keep, Durham
Durham Castle © David Simpson 2017

May 1091 – Scots attack North

Scots under King Malcolm III invade as far as Chester-le-Street. A Norman fleet of ships is wrecked off Tynemouth during a counter attack.

Beach at Tynemouth
Tynemouth. Photo: David Simpson 2015

Sep 14, 1091 – First Prince Bishop

William St Carileph is restored as Bishop of Durham after a three year exile. The king allows Carileph to buy political rights held by Mowbray, the Earl of Northumberland, between the Tyne and the Tees. Only the south Durham district called Sadberge remains in Mowbray’s Northumberland. As ‘Prince Bishop’, Carileph can raise armies, appoint sheriffs, administer laws, levy taxes and customs, create fairs and markets, issue charters, salvage shipwrecks, collect revenue from mines, administer forests and mint coins.

1092 – Carlisle Castle protects Newcastle

King Rufus builds a castle at Carlisle. It restricts Scottish invasions along the Tyne Gap and will enable commercial development at Newcastle.

Aug 11, 1093 – Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral is commenced by Bishop William. The old Anglo-Saxon minster of Durham will be demolished. William is inspired by churches he has seen in Normandy during exile. The first stones are laid by the Bishop and, somewhat intriguingly, King Malcolm III of Scotland.

Durham Cathedral © David Simpson 2018

1093 – St Albans monks take over Tynemouth

Despite the protests of the Durham monks at York in the presence of the Archbishop, Paul, the Abbot of St Albans heads north with some monks to take up possession of the monastery at Tynemouth and its lands in Tynemouthshire. Tynemouth was given to the monks of St Albans in 1085 but the monks of Durham, successors to the Bishops of Lindisfarne, still make claim to Tynemouth.

Nov 13, 1093 – St Albans abbot dies on way home

Paul, the abbot of St Albans in Hertfordshire, who has recently taken possession of Tynemouth, dies during his return home.

Nov 13, 1093 – King Malcolm killed at Alnwick

On November 13, 1093, the same day that Abbot Paul of St Albans (and Tynemouth) passed away, Malcolm Canmore (Malcolm III), King of the Scots was slain during a raid upon Alnwick. Malcolm was tricked by Arkil Morel, nephew of Robert Mowbray. Mowbray forms an alliance with Donald, the new Scottish king.

Malcolm's Cross near Alnwick
Malcolm’s Cross near Alnwick marks the site of King Malcolm’s death © David Simpson 2021

1093 – Scottish king buried at Tynemouth

King Malcolm’s body is brought to Tynemouth and buried in a newly established Norman church. Alexander, Malcolm’s son, will request that the king’s body is returned to Dunfermline in Scotland. Mowbray, the Earl of Northumberland agrees, but according to a later historian of the thirteenth century called Matthew Paris, Alexander was sent the body of a farmer from Monkseaton.

1095 – Mowbray seizes Newcastle

Robert De Mowbray Earl of Northumberland seizes Newcastle castle in a rebellion against King William Rufus.

1095 – Northumberland under king’s rule

Bamburgh Castle is besieged by King William II against Robert Mowbray who has rebelled against him. William builds an “evil neighbour” fort – his own fort on the side of someone else’s castle – on the walls of Bamburgh and captures Mowbray. Mowbray’s castles at Newcastle, Tynemouth and Morpeth are seized. Northumberland is taken under direct rule of the King. It stretches from the Tyne to the Tweed but includes land in south Durham.

Bamburgh Castle and village
Bamburgh © David Simpson 2018

Jan 6, 1096 – Bishop Carileph dies

Carileph, Bishop of Durham, dies at Windsor where he was summoned to meet the king on suspicion of revolt. A new appointment is postponed until 1099 when Ranulf Flambard, chief adviser to Rufus, becomes bishop. Flambard has acquired wealth for the king by collecting revenue from postponed appointments and through his tough approach to taxing the barons. Flambard will continue to fund the construction of Carileph’s cathedral.

Durham Cathedral nave
Durham Cathedral nave © David Simpson 2020

Aug 3, 1100 – KING HENRY I

Henry I becomes the King of England. He is the son of King William I and Matilda of Flanders and the brother of the late king, William II. Although Norman-French in just about every way, he might also be described as a ‘Yorkshireman’ as he was born at Selby in September 1068.

1100 – Bishop of Durham escapes Tower of London

Bishop Ranulf Flambard is imprisoned in the Tower of London after the barons tell Henry of his harsh tax-collecting ways. Flambard, who has many enemies, is the first man ever to be imprisoned in the Tower of London, the first of a long line of illustrious names. He later escapes using a rope smuggled in by a butler in a cask of wine and seeks refuge in Normandy. He thus achieves the distinction of being then first man to escape from the Tower.

1100 – Hexhamshire taken from Durham

As part of the punishment for his supposed excesses as Prince Bishop of Durham, the area called Hexhamshire (once the heartland of an ancient bishopric) is removed from the see of Durham and transferred to the see of York. Since 1071 the Archbishop of York has held jurisdictional responsibilities of governance in Hexham and this new addition of ecclesiastical rights will reinforce the development of Hexhamshire as an independent liberty. Hexhamshire is a relatively small liberty of about 90 square miles and as well as Hexham itself, includes much of the Allendales (the West Allen being its western boundary) as well as places such as Acomb, Fallowfield, St John Lee and Hallington to the north. Politically it will not become part of Northumberland until 1572 and ecclesiastically will remain in the see of York until 1837 when it is transferred into the Dicocese of Durham where it remains up until the creation of the Diocese of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1882.

Hexham Abbey
Hexham Abbey. Photo © 2018 David Simpson

July 1101 – Bishop supports invasion

Flambard persuades Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy, to invade England. King Henry backs down and pardons the duke’s allies. Flambard is restored as Bishop of Durham.

Sep 1104 – Saint buried in cathedral

St Cuthbert’s body is buried in Durham Cathedral. It had rested in a nearby chapel while the cathedral was being built. Ten monks inspect the corpse and find that it is incorrupt with a fragrant smell. It may be embalmed.

Tomb of St. Cuthbert, Durham Cathedral
Tomb of St. Cuthbert, Durham Cathedral © David Simpson 2021

1105 – Symeon of Durham

Symeon of Durham, a monk of Durham priory is working on his Libellus De Exordio which tells the history of the community of St. Cuthbert at Durham.

Western towers and Cloister, Durham Cathedral
Western towers and Cloister, Durham Cathedral.Photo © David Simpson

1107 – Teesdale castle

A Teesdale castle is built which will later be called Barnard Castle. The forests of Teesdale have belonged to the Norman, Guy Baliol since 1093.

Barnard Castle Castle
Barnard Castle Castle © David Simpson 2021

May 1108 – Archbishop of the occult

Gerard, the Archbishop of York dies in mysterious circumstances. He is thought to have been involved with the occult and is refused burial in the minster.

York Minster
York Minster © David Simpson 2021

1115 – Godric of Finchale

St Godric is granted land for a hermitage at Finchale near Durham by Bishop Flambard. He is a former sea pirate.

1119 – York free of Canterbury

Thurstan, Archbishop of York, is consecrated by the Pope who releases him from obedience to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

1120 – Chapel at Middlesbrough

Robert Brus presents a chapel at Middlesbrough to Whitby Abbey.

1121 – Bishop’s Border fort at Norham

Norham Castle is built on the Tweed by Bishop Flambard. Norhamshire is a part of Durham which borders Scotland. Flambard attacks Scotland from this base. Meanwhile Berwick is established as Scotland’s first Royal burgh by King Alexander.

Norham Castle
Norham Castle © David Simpson 2021

1121 – Scottish Bishop retires to Wearmouth

Turgot, Bishop of St Andrews, retires to Wearmouth after a dispute with the Scottish King Alexander over obedience to the Archbishop of York.

1121 – Monks at Bamburgh

A monastic foundation is established at Bamburgh, possibly on the site of an earlier Anglo-Saxon chapel.

Bamburgh Castle
Bamburgh Castle © David Simpson 2018

1124 – David King of Scots

David, Earl of Huntingdon, becomes the King of Scotland. He is the son of Malcolm III but was brought up as a Norman in England.

1125 – Robert Bruce of Cleveland

Robert De Brus, a Norman landowner at Skelton in Cleveland, is granted land in Scotland by King David.

1126 – York and Canterbury equal

The Pope declares York and Canterbury equal but Canterbury’s Archbishop is “papal legate” – the Pope’s representative in Britain.

1128 – Bishop Flambard dies

Flambard dies after 29 years as bishop. He recently built Durham’s Framwellgate Bridge.

Framwellgate Bridge with Durham Cathedral and Castle
Framwellgate Bridge with Durham Cathedral and Castle © David Simpson 2022

1131 – Castles and manors

Ivo de Vesci, a Norman baron, builds a castle at Alnwick. A castle was also recently built at Scarborough by William le Gros. Meanwhile the Manor of Raby recently passed to an Anglo-Saxon called Dolphin.

1132 – New Cathedrals

Durham Cathedral is virtually complete. Meanwhile Carlisle’s Augustinian church becomes a cathedral.

Decorated Durham Cathedral
Durham Cathedral © David Simpson 2021

1135 – Mint at Durham

A mint has been established at Durham where unique Durham coins are produced.

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