[From Ramsey Church Magazine]

Notable Manx Bishops.


A.D. 1217-1226. (CIRCA).

[by John Quine]


THE reign of King Reginald 1. (1188-122?) was a period of romantic vicissitudes in the fortunes of the children of Godred II. The Church had imposed celibacy on its clergy; but with no less persistence was endeavouring to impose Christian marriage on its laity - in the place of lawless concubinage. In this heroic task perhaps it was necessary that the clergy should be absolutely celibate, if the laity were to be persuaded and convinced of the necessity of moral reform affecting themselves. A Cardinal Legate accompanied by the Abbot of Rivaulx had come to Man in Godred's days for the express purpose of causing Godred to be "married" to his wife. One effect of Christian marriage was the distinctive legitimacy of children, Thus Olaf, then three years old, became by King Godred's marriage " legitimate," and on this ground was subsequently named his father's heir'; whereas Reginald, an elder half-brother, was " illegitimate," and when by a popular clamour he was called to succeed his father, he was in some degree a "usurper." But on the same ground Lady Aufrica,of Man, daughter of Godred and wife of John de Courcy, Lord of Down, must also have been illegitimate. Her marriage to De Courcy would imply that the distinction of legitimacy was at that period only being introduced and urged in Man by the influence of the Church. Reginald and Aufrica would unquestionably repudiate the claim of their young half-brother Olaf to any exclusive superiority acquired through the retrospective validity of King Godred's marriage. Thus Reginald being elected to the kingdom in the minority of Olaf, held it for thirty-eight years, ere Olaf, with patient tenacity of purpose and in spite of many vicissitudes of fortune, ultimately recovered it. As Olaf grew up there came into existence a fixed and lifelong jealousy between the two brothers. Reginald gave Olaf the Island of Lewis in the Hebrides, and there Olaf resided in comparative poverty, the people living by fishing and hunting, and Olaf having to support a band of fighting men whom he kept about him. Reginald, about the middle of his reign (1208 circa), visited Lewis. Olaf took occasion to claim a larger share of the Isles, whereupon Reginald seized Him, and with the connivance of William the Lion (of Scotland) Olaf was imprisoned for nearly seven years in Merchmont Castle. On his release (1214 circa) he came to Man to Reginald, and soon after went on a pilgrimage to Spain to the shrine of James of Compostella. On his return he was kindly received by Reginald married a daughter of a chief of Cantyre, sister to Reginald's wife, and receiving again the Island of Lewis went to reside there (1217 circa).

At this point Bishop Reginald makes his appearance on the stage of our history, as successor to Bishop Nicholas who died at Bangor Abbey in County Down. There was at that time a second Nicholas, viz., Nicholas de Meaux, Abbot of Furness; who was consecrated, but never became de facto Bishop. Olaf seem, to have abetted his cause; and Reginald to have rejected him, bringing in as bishop his own nephew Reginald. - This bishop Reginald held the See of Man and the Isles for the remaining nine or ten years of the reign of his uncle, King Reginald, and possibly was an embodiment of the aspiration of Olaf I, that there might be "in this kingdom of mine a bishop of its own, seeking not his own, but the things of the Lord."

Of all the bishops of the Manx: Church in the earlier centuries, it is of Reginald that we obtain the most distinct biographical glimpse. The scene is in the Island of Lewis.

" Reginald, Bishop of the Isles, came to the Isles to visit the churches. Olaf meeting him with pleasure, and glad of his coming, being his sister's son, ordered a great banquet to be prepared but Reginald said to Olaf: 'I will not hold communication with thee kinsman, till the Catholic Church canonically loose thee from the bond of illicit matrimony,' and added, ' Dost thou not know that thou hadst in past days, the cousin of the woman whom thou now hast ? Olaf did not deny it, as it was indeed true, and admitted that he had had her cousin for a long time as his mistress. Then a synod having been summoned, Bishop Reginald canonically separated Olaf Godredson and Joan his wife."

The surname Godredson is here of supreme significance. Olaf Godredson, forsooth ! the legitimate and exclusive possessor of the Godredson name ! was grounding his claim to the Kingdom of -Man and the Isles on a legitimacy, the strength of which lay wholly and exclusively in the marriage of his father, Godred according to the canon of the Church and at the instance of the Church ; hut was himself married contrary to the canon of the Church in the matter of kinship ; and seemingly he had no defence. Here, in Bishop Reginald we find an uncompromising strength worthy of the mighty Wilson, who five centuries later reflected a fuller light of glory on the bishopric in Man.

We do not know, and we need not discuss, Bishop Reginald's motives. Was the Bishop (himself a Godredson) acting as the partisan of his uncle, King Reginald Godredson ? Unhappily his action roused into activity the fire of evil passions. "The wife of King "Reginald, Queen of the Isles, grieving over the separation of her own sister and Olaf, and the rancour of bitterness being roused, she, the sower of the seed of all the discord between Reginald and Olaf, etc." sought the death of Olaf. But she lost a brave son in the quarrel ; and the death of her husband on the battlefield was the end of it.

The constitution of the synod assembled by Bishop Reginald is an interesting question. It was probably an assembly of Bishop and Clergy, like the present Convocation of the Manx Church, some of whose canons date back to within a dozen years of this synod in the Island of Lewis. and whose authority in Bishop Wilson's days, was exercised in the deposition of Archdeacon Horrobin.

An interesting question has now to be discussed as to the identity of Bishop Reginald. He is called a "noble of the royal race," and more definitely " son of Olaf's sister." Three sons of Godred II. are known to its, viz., Reginald, Olaf, and Ivar, and one daughter, viz., Aufrica. Was Bishop Reginald the son of John de Courcy and Aufrica of Man, his wife ?

It is possible King Godred had other daughters, but in the absence of any hint to that effect, is there any positive evidence in favour of the Bishop being Reginald de Courcy ? The Barons of Kinsale, whose surname is De Courcy, claim to he descended from John de Courcy through his son Miles. Reginald the bishop may have been a brother to Miles the soldier. But the question suggests itself, would a son of the Lord of Down have followed any profession hut that of arms ? To this a sufficient answer and explanation is found in the statement of the chronicle that Bishop Reginald was a man harassed with long-continued physical weakness," and in " continual depression." This physical infirmity accounts for his choice of life.

Again the distinction with which Olaf welcomed him on his arrival in Lewis is not without significance, and points to Bishop Reginald lining a " nobleman " as well as a enplane . Bishop Reginald, it is to he noted farther, was buried in the Cistercian Abbey of Rushen, from which some intimacy of connection with the Cistercians may he inferred. If then, he was the son of John de Courcy, the founder of Inch, and of his wife Aufrica, the founder of Grey, and on account of physical infirmity was devoted to the monastic life, he most probably would be connected with the Cistercian house of Inch, or Grey Abbey, or with both.

These glimpses, unhappily only glimpses, of Bishop Reginald, invest him with exceptional interest. He was unquestionably a notable man ; and the estimate of his life and character in the Rushen Chronicle stamps him as a great bishop. " Reginald; a nobleman of the royal " race, having followed as Bishop, held the helm of the " Church with a vigorous hand. Though harassed by " long-continued physical weakness, nevertheless in continual depression, never faltering, but giving thanks to " God, he breathed his last breath in the utterance of a ":good confession, and was buried in the Abbey of S. Mary of Rushen."


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2007