Death of Grosseteste

This day of 9 October in 1253 saw the passing of Robert Grosseteste, the scholarly but irascible bishop of Lincoln, who often clashed with King Henry III over matters of church and state. Grosseteste felt that the king, as a natural layman, was inferior to the clergy and so should keep his nose out of their business. Henry’s response was, ‘Excuse me? I’m the anointed one here, buddy.’ There was no denying the bishop’s brilliance, however. When Henry received a phial of Holy Blood, he turned to Grosseteste to argue how Jesus could have been fully resurrected and yet still leave some of his blood behind on earth. But the king cracked down whenever he exceeded his authority, whether setting up an inquisition or caving in to papal taxes.

Grosseteste was a major influence on Simon de Montfort and it was under his guidance that the new earl of Leicester expelled the Jews from his dominions. Simon often turned to him to complain about what he felt was his mistreatment by Henry. In what was the bishop’s last bit of advice to him, he told Simon to let it go, to never forget that he owed the two greatest fortunes in his life, his earldom and his wife (Henry’s sister) to the king’s generosity. This connection between the bishop and earl had led many historians to imply that Grosseteste was the spiritual father of Simon’s rebellion against the crown. They couldn’t be more wrong. Grosseteste was an absolutist who believed a king might be corrected, but to seize power from him was a perversion of nature. He would have only disgust for what his protégé eventually did.

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