Peter Des Roches
Bishop of Winchester
Died: 9th June 1238
Peter Des Roches was born of a knightly family in Poitou, of which province he became archdeacon and treasurer. He was consecrated Bishop of Winchester at Rome in the Autumn of 1205: "one of the first and most powerful of those foreign Churchmen" whose oppressions and exactions were afterwards among the chief causes of the rising under Simon de Montfort. Throughout, and in spite of, all the insults and oppressions heaped on the Church by King John, Bishop Peter of Winchester, together with two other prelates, Grey of Norwich and Philip of Durham, continued the firm partizans and unscrupulous executors of all the King's measures. They figure accordingly in the satirical songs of the time. In one of which the Bishop of Winchester, the royal treasurer, is thus referred to:
Praesidet ad scaccarium;
Ad computandum impiger,
Piger ad evangelium;
Regis revolvens rotulum.
Sic lucrum Lucam superat,
Marco, marcam praeponderat,
Et librae librum subjecit."
During all the contest with Innocent Ill and, afterwards, with the Barons, Des Roches remained constant to the King. In 1214, after John's submission to the Pope, and whilst the barons were preparing for the struggle which ended in the grant of the Great Charter (Magna Carta), he was made Grand Justiciary of England - not without much remonstrance and ill-will on the part of the native nobles.
After John's death, Des Roches continued in power and succeeded William, Earl Marshal, as guardian of the young king, Henry III. The exercise of the royal authority, however, was in the hands of the famous Justiciary, Hubert de Burgh, with whom the Bishop of Winchester was involved in a perpetual feud. Accordingly, in 1226, the warlike Bishop found it necessary to withdraw, for a time, from the kingdom; and, together with William Brewer, Bishop of Exeter, led a body of crusaders from England to the Holy Land. Her, according to Matthew Paris, Des Roches did effectual service as well by his sword as by his counsels. He was present during the visit of the Emperor Frederick II (September 1228 -May 1229) who consulted the English Bishops before concluding the Treaty with Sultan Kameel, by which the latter agreed to surrender the Holy City. Their subsequent testimony was of some importance in the great contest between the Pope and the Emperor.
Upon his return after five years' absence, Bishop Peter was received with especial favour by the King. The troubles which, during the following years (1232-34) fell upon Hubert de Burgh and his partizans, were excited by the Bishop of Winchester who, in his turn provoked the indignation and almost a rising of the people by his patronage of foreigners. This was one of the great evils under which the country angered throughout this period. Des Roches invited over vast numbers of his countrymen (Poitevins). The chief Offices of State were conferred on them and the Royal revenues were employed to enrich them. At length, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edmund of Abingdon, insisted on their dismissal. To which the King only submitted after threats of excommunication. Peter Des Roches died at his castle of Farnham in June 1238 and was interred in his own cathedral, though in what part is not certainly known.
The death of Bishop Des Roches was the signal for great troubles at Winchester. Henry III insisted that William of Valence, uncle of the Queen, should be elected; but the monks, declining him as a "man of blood," chose William De Raley, the Bishop of Norwich, instead.