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Hervey le Breton

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Title: Hervey le Breton  
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Hervey le Breton

Bishop of Ely
Ely Cathedral from the air. The transepts, or the short wings crossing in the middle of the long axis of the building, date from before Hervey's time as bishop.
See Diocese of Ely
Appointed 1109
Installed October 1109
Term ended 30 August 1131
Predecessor new foundation
Successor Nigel
Other posts Bishop of Bangor
royal chaplain
Consecration 1092
by Thomas of Bayeux
Personal details
Died 30 August 1131
Buried 31 August 1131
Ely Cathedral

Hervey le Breton (also known as Hervé le Breton) (died 30 August 1131) was a Breton cleric who became Bishop of Bangor in Wales and later Bishop of Ely in England. Appointed to Bangor by King William II of England, when the Normans were advancing into Wales, Hervey was unable to remain in his diocese when the Welsh began to drive the Normans back from their recent conquests. Hervey's behaviour towards the Welsh seems to have contributed to his expulsion from his see. Although the new king, Henry I wished to translate Hervey to the see of Lisieux in Normandy, it was unsuccessful.

In 1109, a new diocese was created in England, at Ely, and Hervey was appointed to the bishopric created. While bishop, Hervey ordered the compilation of a house chronicle, which later became the Liber Eliensis. He supervised the construction of a causeway between Ely and Exning, which allowed easier access to Ely.


  • Early life 1
  • Problems at Bangor 2
  • Appointment to Ely 3
  • Death 4
  • Citations 5
  • References 6

Early life

Hervey was a native of Brittany,[1] and some sources state a chaplain of King William II of England,[2] while others are less certain that he was a chaplain for the king.[3] He was appointed Bishop of Bangor in 1092[4] by King William.[5] Bangor at the time was in the Kingdom of Gwynedd, which had recently been overrun by the Normans, and following the killing of Robert of Rhuddlan had been taken over by Hugh d'Avranches, 1st Earl of Chester.[6] The appointment of Hervey was probably intended to further consolidate the Norman hold on the area.[7] Bangor was under the jurisdiction of the diocese of Canterbury, but Hervey was consecrated by Thomas of Bayeux, who was the Archbishop of York, since the see of Canterbury was vacant at the time.[8]

Problems at Bangor

Relations between Hervey and the Welsh appear to have been very bad. The Liber Eliensis described the situation as follows:

Since they [the Welsh] did not show the respect and reverence due to a bishop, he [Hervey] wielded the sharp two-edged sword to subdue them, constraining them both with repeated excommunications and with the host of his kinsmen and other followers. They resisted him nonetheless and pressed him with such dangers that they killed his brother and intended to deal with him the same way, if they could lay hands on him.[9]

Hervey was forced to rely on his own armed bands for protection.[10] In 1094 a Welsh revolt against Norman rule in Gwynedd began under the leadership of Gruffudd ap Cynan,[11] and by the late 1090s Hervey had been driven from his diocese by the Welsh.[5] William of Malmesbury, however, states that the reason Hervey left Bangor was that the revenues of the see were too low.[12] He remained nominally Bishop of Bangor until 1109.[10] King Henry I of England tried to translate Hervey to the see of Lisieux in 1106, but the attempt was unsuccessful.[3][10] The main opposition came from Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury, who was the metropolitan of Bangor, and refused to allow Hervey to go to a Norman bishopric.[13] Anselm had the ability to decide the issue as Pope Paschal II had turned the decision of whether to translate Hervey to another see over to Anselm in 1102.[3] While in exile, Hervey served as King Henry's confessor.[14] Bangor itself remained vacant until 1120, when David the Scot was appointed.[15]

Appointment to Ely

Before his death in 1107, Richard the abbot of Ely had attempted to secure from the papacy the elevation of his abbey into a bishopric. After Richard's death, Hervey was appointed to oversee the abbey during the vacancy.[16] He convinced the monks of Ely to support Richard's project, which received the conditional approval of Archbishop Anselm, contingent on papal approval. Paschal signalled his approval, and in 1109 the monastery became a bishopric.[17] Ely still remained a monastic house, as the abbey itself became the cathedral and the monks of the abbey became the monks of the cathedral chapter.[16] Also in 1109, the pope approved Hervey's translation to a new see,[18] and he was made Bishop of Ely.[4] He was enthroned at Ely in October 1109.[19]

While bishop, Hervey ordered the compilation of a history of the refounding of the abbey of Ely, which later became incorporated into the Liber Eliensis.[20] This was a Latin reworking of an Old English book of grants compiled by Bishop Æthelwold of Winchester.[21] He was energetic in recovering the feudal rights of the bishopric against knights who had intruded themselves on the lands, but were not rendering knight service to the bishop.[22] As bishop, he attended a legatine council, or council held by a papal legate, in 1127, and a royal council in 1129, but otherwise his administrative actions remain obscure. The causeway between the island of Ely and Exning, which made it easier for pilgrims to visit the shrine of Saint Ethelreda, was built under Hervey's orders.[10] Insight into his activities as bishop is given in the Pipe Roll of 1130, the first surviving Pipe Roll. In that record, Hervey is recorded as owing King Henry 45 pounds to provide an office for a nephew, 100 pounds on an old settlement with the king, another 100 pounds for the settlement of a case dealing with Ramsey Abbey, Bury St. Edmunds Abbey and the bishop, 240 pounds for the right to be rid of a surplus of knights, and finally 1000 pounds for the king to allow the bishop's knights to serve castleguard at Ely instead of Norwich.[23]


Hervey died on 30 August 1131.[24] He was buried in Ely Cathedral on 31 August 1131.[10] He was disliked by Archbishop Anselm,[13] and he was described as a man of "secular tastes".[25] His nephew, William Brito, was a royal chaplain and was appointed Archdeacon of Ely by 1110.[26][27] Another nephew was Richard, who in 1130 is recorded in the Pipe Roll as paying a fine to the king because of land that his uncle had given him.[28] Another of Hervey's relative was Gilbert Universalis, who was appointed to the see of London in 1128 by Henry I.[29]


  1. ^ Miller Abbey and Bishopric of Ely p. 3
  2. ^ Green Government of England p. 278
  3. ^ a b c Pearson Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066–1300: Volume 9: The Welsh Cathedrals (Bangor, Llandaff, St Asaph, St Davids): Bishops of Bangor
  4. ^ a b Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 290
  5. ^ a b Chibnall Anglo-Norman England pp. 81–82
  6. ^ Barlow William Rufus p. 320–324
  7. ^ Barlow William Rufus p. 322
  8. ^ Barlow English Church p. 69
  9. ^ Quoted in Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings p. 93
  10. ^ a b c d e Owen "Hervey" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  11. ^ Barlow William Rufus p. 337
  12. ^ Vaughn Anselm of Bec and Robert of Meulan p. 320 footnote 43
  13. ^ a b Vaughn Anselm of Bec and Robert of Meulan pp. 320–321
  14. ^ Brett English Church p. 105
  15. ^ Walker Medieval Wales p. 68
  16. ^ a b Miller Abbey and Bishopric of Ely p. 75
  17. ^ Brett English Church p. 57–58
  18. ^ Brett English Church p. 36 footnote3
  19. ^ Greenway Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066–1300: Volume 2: Monastic Cathedrals (Northern and Southern Provinces): Bishops of Ely
  20. ^ Miller Abbey and Bishopric of Ely p. 4
  21. ^ Van Houts "Historical Writing" Companion to the Anglo-Norman World p. 110
  22. ^ Miller Abbey and Bishopric of Ely p. 166
  23. ^ Green Government of England pp. 86–87
  24. ^ Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 244
  25. ^ Hollister Henry I p. 223
  26. ^ Brett English Church Under Henry I p. 109
  27. ^ Greenway Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066–1300: Volume 2: Monastic Cathedrals (Northern and Southern Provinces): Archdeacons of Ely
  28. ^ Barlow William Rufus p. 258
  29. ^ Barlow English Church p. 86


  • Brett, M. (1975). The English Church Under Henry I. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.  
  • Fryde, E. B.; Greenway, D. E.; Porter, S.; Roy, I. (1996). Handbook of British Chronology (Third revised ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.  
  • Greenway, Diana E. (1971). Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066–1300: Volume 2: Monastic Cathedrals (Northern and Southern Provinces): Archdeacons of Ely. Institute for Historical Research. Retrieved 6 March 2008. 
  • Greenway, Diana E. (1971). Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066–1300: Volume 2: Monastic Cathedrals (Northern and Southern Provinces): Bishops of Ely. Institute for Historical Research. Retrieved 25 October 2007. 
  • Pearson, M. J. (2003). Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066–1300: Volume 9: The Welsh Cathedrals (Bangor, Llandaff, St Asaph, St Davids): Bishops of Bangor. Institute for Historical Research. Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  • van Houts, Elizabeth (2002). "Historical Writing". In Harper-Bill, Christopher; van Houts, Elizabeth. A Companion to the Anglo-Norman World. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell. pp. 103–121.  
  • Vaughn, Sally N. (1987). Anselm of Bec and Robert of Meulan: The Innocence of the Dove and the Wisdom of the Serpent. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.  
  • Walker, David (1990). Medieval Wales. Cambridge Medieval Textbooks. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.  
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Bishop of Bangor
Succeeded by
David the Scot
New title Bishop of Ely
Succeeded by
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