Turgot of Durham

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Thorgaut or Turgot (c. 1048-1115) (sometimes, Thurgot) was Archdeacon and Prior of Durham, and Bishop of Saint Andrews.[1]

Turgot came from the Kingdom of Lindsey in Lincolnshire. He was born into a Saxon family of good standing, burghers of Lindsey, although the Scandinavian spelling of his name suggests that he was named after the Norse god Thor. It is possible that he was educated as a boy at the minster church of St Mary at Stow by the secular canons there. After the Norman conquest there were a number of rebellions, particularly in 1068, and William of Normandy used his army to quell them. As well as building a number of castles as 'insurance' against further uprisings, William took hostages from the leading families to guarantee the good behaviour of all Lindsey. Turgot was one of these hostages and he was held for a time in Lincoln Castle. But he contrived his escape and stowed away on a ship at Grimsby that was sailing to Norway. When King Olav III heard that a clerk had come from England he promptly employed the youth as his master of psalmody. He soon became a major player in the royal court and helped the king greatly in the development of Nidaros (Trondheim) and Bergen as centres of world-wide trade. In about 1074 he decided to return to England but the ship that was carrying him home was shipwrecked on the Northumbrian coast. Destitute, he made his way to Durham where he was received by Bishop Walcher who listened to Turgot's story. All that Turgot now wished was to become a monk. Walcher, at length, sent him, "at that time a cleric as to his dress, but even then a follower of the monastic life in heart and deed", to the monastery of Jarrow to live as a clerk among monks under the rule of Aldwin.[2] He was Aldwin's chosen companion of his journeys and enterprises, including that to Melrose Abbey. Turgot then became a monk at Wearmouth, and in 1087 he was appointed prior of the cathedral-monastery at Durham, combining this, from 1093, with the archdeaconry of Durham.

He became close to the Scottish court (Durham was always a focus of the generosity of the Scots rulers). Between 1100 and 1107 Turgot wrote the life of Malcolm's wife, Saint Margaret of Scotland, at the request of her daughter, Matilda, wife of king Henry I of England.[1]

In 1107, Turgot elected bishop of St Andrews. His consecration was delayed by ecclesiastical disputes between York and St Andrews, and did not take place until 1 August 1109. According to Symeon of Durham, he found that he could not exercise the office "worthily", and resolved to go to Rome, but he was prevented by the king.

When he became ill he was determined to celebrate a (last) mass where he had first been clothed with the monastic habit. The King allowed him to return to Durham, and there Turgot died on 31 August 1115.[1]

It is interesting to note the contents of a letter of King Alexander to the Archbishop of Canterbury: "We inform you, kindest father, that the bishop of the church of St Andrew the apostle, master Turgot, on the second before the Kalends of September departed from the world. Wherefore we are greatly afflicted by the loss of so great a consolation".[3] This is, for a King, a most sincere tribute and an expression of great sadness. Although never himself a bishop of Durham, Turgot was laid to rest, between the graves of bishops Walcher and William of St-Calais, in Durham's chapter house. A long, narrow, slab of freestone placed over him reads simply, "Turgotus Episco".


  1. ^ a b c Bartlett, Robert (2004). "Turgot (c.1050–1115), author and bishop of St Andrews". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/27831. Retrieved 25 August 2013. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  2. ^ Stevenson (tr.), Joseph (1993). Simeon of Durham: Libellus de Exordio atque Procursu istius, hoc est Dunelmensis, Ecclesie. Felinfach: Llanerch Publishers (facsimile reprint). p. 694. ISBN 978 1 897853 16 0.
  3. ^ Anderson, Alan O. (tr.) (1908). Scottish Annals from English Chronicles, 500 - 1256. Nutt. p. 13.

Further reading[edit]

  • Dowden, John, The Bishops of Scotland, ed. J. Maitland Thomson, (Glasgow, 1912), pp. 1–3
  • Dawson, Christopher, "Religion and the Rise of Western Culture", (Doubleday, 1950), pp. 100
  • Veitch, Kenneth, "Replanting Paradise: Alexander I and the Reform of Religious Life in Scotland", in The Innes Review, 52, (Autumn, 2001), pp. 136–166
  • "The Life Of St Margaret, Queen Of Scotland". Archived from the original on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 14 March 2011.
  • Green, Lionel, Building St Cuthbert's Shrine: Durham Cathedral and the Life of Prior Turgot, (Sacristy Press, Durham, 2013)
Religious titles
Preceded by
or Cathróe
Bishop of Cell Rígmonaid
(Saint Andrews)
Succeeded by