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Robert of Cricklade

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Robert of Cricklade
Died after 1188
Resting place probably St Frideswide's Priory in Oxford
Occupation canon, prior, author
Nationality English
Period Angevin
Genre religious writings

Robert of Cricklade (died after 1188) was a medieval English writer and prior of St Frideswide's Priory in Oxford. He was a native of Cricklade and taught before becoming a cleric. He wrote a number of theological works as well as a lost biography of Thomas Becket, the murdered Archbishop of Canterbury.


Robert was from Cricklade in Wiltshire, and was of Anglo-Saxon descent.[1] At some point he taught in the schools, where he was called "master" for his learning.[2] He became an Augustinian canon at Cirencester Abbey before becoming prior of the priory of St Frideswide in Oxford,[3] an office he occupied from sometime before the end of 1139, when he is first securely attested in the office,[4] until after 1174, his last appearance as prior.[3] In 1158 he went to Rome, extending his travels to Sicily and Paris on the same trip. Another trip was to Scotland in the 1160s. Possibly he also travelled to Rome in 1141 and Paris in 1147, but these trips are not securely attested. Although earlier historians claimed that he was chancellor of Oxford, this office did not yet exist during Robert's lifetime. There were students at Oxford in his lifetime, who probably did listen to Robert's sermons and possibly his teaching at his priory.[1] His successor was in office by 3 March 1185.[4]


Robert was the author of a number of works, including De connubio Iacob, which was dedicated to Lawrence of Westminster; Defloratio Historiae naturalis Plinii,[5] an epitome of Pliny the Elder's Natural History which was dedicated to King Henry II of England;[6] Honiliae super Exechielem; the Speculum fidei; and Vita et miracula Sancta Thomae Cantuariensis, a story of the life and martyrdom of Thomas Becket.[5] Two other works are attributed to him – a commentary on the Psalms, and a saint's life of Frideswide. A letter of his to Benedict of Peterborough also survives in quotations by Benedict. Of these works, the life of Thomas Becket has been lost. The others survive in manuscript, though only one has been published – the Defloratio Historiae naturalis Plinii in the early 20th century.[5][a]

The epitome of Pliny is of some importance in the transmission of Pliny's ideas to medieval Europe.[6] It appears to have originally been composed in the 1130s, perhaps as a text for his students, and only later dedicated it to King Henry.[7] The De connubio Iacob was written while Robert was at Cirencester and was an allegorical treatment of the Jacob story from the Bible. The Speculum fidei was a theological work that mainly collected texts from the Old and New Testament discussing various theological concepts, only delving into great depth with the sections dealing with Robert's refutation of the views of Peter Lombard's theology.[2] The Honiliae super Exechielem were 42 homilies on the Book of Ezekiel and were written about 1172.[1]

Robert's life of Becket, written about 1173 to 1174,[8] was one of the main sources for an Icelandic saga on Becket titled Thómas saga Erkibyskups, which survives in a copy dating from the first half of the 14th century.[9] This saga preserves a number of otherwise unknown details about Becket's life and remains one of the main sources for Becket studies.[10] Robert's life also was a source for the work of Benet of St Albans, another biographer of Becket.[11] From these sources, a modern historian reconstructed Robert's biography partially and published the reconstituted work in the journal Analecta Bollandiana in 1966.[5] A major source for Robert's work on Becket was the writings of John of Salisbury. Robert may have written the work on Becket because the saint cured the author's bad leg.[11]

Death and legacy[edit]

Robert died sometime after 1188,[5][b] and was probably buried in his priory.[1] A modern biographer of Becket, the historian Frank Barlow, speculates that Robert's biography was lost because it favoured the king's side of the story, rather than Becket's.[11] Besides his theological works, Robert also searched throughout England for Hebrew texts of the works of Josephus,[1] according to Gerald of Wales, who claimed that Robert had a knowledge of the Hebrew language.[12]


  1. ^ There are five surviving manuscripts of the De connubio Iacob, four of the Defloratio Historiae naturalis Plinii, two of the Honiliae super Exechielem, and one of the Speculum fidei.[5]
  2. ^ Although the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry for him states only that he died after 1174.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Duggan "Cricklade, Robert of" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  2. ^ a b Hunt "English Learning" Transactions of the Royal Historical Society pp. 31–33
  3. ^ a b Knowles, et al. Heads of Religious Houses p. 180
  4. ^ a b Knowles, et al. Heads of Religious Houses p. 284
  5. ^ a b c d e f Sharpe Handlist of the Latin Writers pp. 532–533
  6. ^ a b Thomson "England and the Twelfth-Century Renaissance" Past & Present p. 13
  7. ^ Woolfson "John Claymond, Pliny the Elder" English Historical Review p. 886
  8. ^ Staunton "Introduction" Lives of Thomas Becket p. 5 footnote 3
  9. ^ Barlow Thomas Becket p. 8
  10. ^ Staunton "Introduction" Lives of Thomas Becket p. 11
  11. ^ a b c Barlow Thomas Becket pp. 6–7
  12. ^ Loewe "Medieval Christian Hebraists" Transactions p. 237 and footnote 9