John of Tours

Last updated
John of Tours
Bishop of Bath
(previously Wells)
Term endedDecember 1122
Predecessor Gisa
Successor Godfrey
Other post(s)royal chaplain
ConsecrationJuly 1088
by  Lanfranc
Personal details
DiedDecember 1122
Buried Bath Cathedral

John of Tours or John de Villula (died 1122) was a medieval Bishop of Wells in England who moved the diocese seat to Bath. He was a native of Tours and was King William I of England's doctor before becoming a bishop. After his consecration as bishop, he was either given or purchased Bath Abbey, a rich monastery, and then moved the headquarters of the diocese from Wells, to the abbey. He rebuilt the church at Bath, building a large cathedral that no longer survives. He gave a large library to his cathedral and received the right to hold a fair in Bath. Not noted for his scholarship, he died suddenly in 1122.


Early life

A native of Tours, [1] John was an Angevin-French physician [2] to King William I of England, being present at the king's deathbed in 1087. [3] William of Malmesbury, the medieval chronicler, called him "a very skilled doctor, not in theoretical knowledge, but in practice." [4] He had been a priest of Tours before becoming doctor to King William. [5] He seems to have learned his medical skills not in a school, but was considered a skilled doctor. [6] The name "de Villula" first appears in 1691, and is not a contemporary name. [7] It resulted from a misreading of John's name in his episcopal profession. [5]

Bishop of Bath

A woodcut illustration of Investiture, or the ceremonial granting of the symbols of an ecclesiastical office, by a king. Investiturewoodcut.jpg
A woodcut illustration of Investiture, or the ceremonial granting of the symbols of an ecclesiastical office, by a king.

John was appointed Bishop of Wells in 1088 by King William II "Rufus", the son and successor to William I. The bishop's consecration was in July, [8] at Canterbury by Archbishop Lanfranc, the Archbishop of Canterbury. [2] He probably owed his appointment to the king's desire to honour his father's physician. [6]

Shortly after his consecration, John bought Bath Abbey's grounds from the king, [9] as well as the city of Bath itself. Whether John paid Rufus for the town or whether he was given the town as a gift by the king is unclear. [5] The abbey had recently lost its abbot Alfsige, and was according to Domesday Book the owner of large estates in and near the town. It would have been the wealth of the abbey that attracted John to take over the monastery. [10] By acquiring the town of Bath, John also acquired the mint that was in the town. [11] In 1090 he transferred the seat, or administration, of the bishopric to Bath Abbey, [8] [12] probably as an attempt to increase the revenues of his see. Bath was a rich abbey, and Wells had always been a poor diocese. By taking over the abbey, John increased his episcopal revenues. [13] William of Malmesbury portrays the moving of the episcopal seat as motivated by a desire for the lands of the abbey, but it was part of a pattern at the time of moving cathedral seats from small villages to larger towns. [5] When John moved his episcopal seat, he also took over the abbey of Bath as his cathedral chapter, turning his diocese into a bishopric served by monks instead of the canons located at Wells that had previously served the diocese. [14]

John rebuilt the monastic church at Bath, which had been damaged during one of Robert de Mowbray's rebellions. As rebuilt, it was only surpassed in size by the cathedrals at Ely, Norwich and Winchester. The present Bath Cathedral is not the building that John built, and occupies only a fraction of the space that John's building encompassed. [15] He also reformed the administration of his diocese, setting up archdeacons and organising a court for hearing ecclesiastical cases. [16] His efforts to reform his diocese led to his cathedral chapter's complaining of their treatment, which John seems to have ignored. [17] At Wells, he was accused of destroying the community of canons there, which had been created by his predecessor. [6]

In 1092, he helped with the consecration of Old Sarum Cathedral, [5] although its roof was almost immediately damaged by a storm and required decades of repair. In 1094, he performed the same service for Battle Abbey. [18] After the accession of King Henry I of England, John received a confirmation of the grant of the city of Bath, paying 500 pounds of silver for the verification. [19] In 1102, John secured from King Henry the right to hold fairs at Bath on the feast day of the cathedral's patron saint, Saint Peter. [10] He gave an extensive library to the cathedral at Bath, and eventually the monks there became reconciled to him. John, however, continued to hold most of the old abbey's manors himself, rather than using them for the support of the monks. [6]

Investiture Controversy

John was one of the bishops that sided with King William against Anselm of Canterbury at the king's Whitsun council in 1097, [20] one of early councils called during the Investiture Controversy in England. During the reign of King Henry I, who succeeded his brother King William in 1100, John along with Robert Bloet, the Bishop of Lincoln, consecrated abbots who had been invested in office by the king. [21] John attended Anselm's reforming Council of London in 1102, which debated and passed decrees to reform the clergy. [18]

Death and legacy

John died in December 1122 [8] and was buried in Bath Cathedral. [7] He suffered a heart attack after dinner and died suddenly. [22] Traditionally the date of his death is given as 29 December. [19]

Under John, the monks of Bath became known for their scholarship, although he was not particularly noted for learning. [5] William of Malmesbury claimed he was generous and affable, although the chronicler acknowledged that the bishop treated the canons of Wells abominably. [15] William also recorded that John was a heavy drinker and not given to self-restraint, but that his health was good and he lived to be old. [6] At first he treated the monks at Bath with contempt and confiscated much of the lands of the abbey for his own use, but in 1106 he restored their lands to them. [15] John's canons of Wells disliked him because he reduced their income and destroyed some of their buildings as part of the movement of the see to Bath. [5] A layman official of the diocese, Hildebert, was probably John's brother; and he held the offices of steward of the diocese and was also the provost of Wells, an inheritable office. [23] John gave much of the revenues of Wells to Hildebert. [5] Another relative, a nephew also named John, was named archdeacon in the diocese. [24]


  1. Cantor Church, Kingship, and Lay Investiture p. 36
  2. 1 2 Smith "John of Tours" Downside Review pp. 132–133
  3. Barlow William Rufus p. 45
  4. Quoted in Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings p. 589
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Ramsey "Tours, John of" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Barlow English Church pp. 66–67
  7. 1 2 Greenway "Bishops" Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066–1300: Volume 7: Bath and Wells
  8. 1 2 3 Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 227
  9. Barlow William Rufus p. 182
  10. 1 2 Smith "John of Tours" Downside Review pp. 134–135
  11. Mason William II p. 130
  12. Huscroft Ruling England p. 128
  13. Williams English and the Norman Conquest p. 136
  14. Knowles Monastic Order p. 132
  15. 1 2 3 Smith "John of Tours" Downside Review pp. 136–137
  16. Smith "John of Tours" Downside Review pp. 138–139
  17. Brett English Church p. 8
  18. 1 2 Smith "John of Tours" Downside Review pp. 140–141
  19. 1 2 Page History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2: Houses of Benedictine Monks: The Cathedral Priory of Bath
  20. Vaughn Anselm of Bec and Rober of Meulan p. 201
  21. Vaughn Anselm of Bec and Robert of Meulan pp. 248–249
  22. Barlow English Church p. 263
  23. Brett English Church p. 178
  24. Greenway "Archdeacons without Territorial Title" Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066-1300: Volume 7: Bath and Wells

Related Research Articles

Ralph d'Escures was a medieval abbot of Séez, bishop of Rochester and then archbishop of Canterbury. He studied at the school at the Abbey of Bec. In 1079 he entered the abbey of St Martin at Séez, and became abbot there in 1091. He was a friend of both Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury and Bishop Gundulf of Rochester, whose see, or bishopric, he took over on Gundulf's death.

Thurstan or Turstin of Bayeux was a medieval Archbishop of York, the son of a priest. He served kings William II and Henry I of England before his election to the see of York in 1114. Once elected, his consecration was delayed for five years while he fought attempts by the Archbishop of Canterbury to assert primacy over York. Eventually, he was consecrated by the pope instead and allowed to return to England. While archbishop, he secured two new suffragan bishops for his province. When Henry I died, Thurstan supported Henry's nephew Stephen of Blois as king. Thurstan also defended the northern part of England from invasion by the Scots, taking a leading part in organising the English forces at the Battle of the Standard (1138). Shortly before his death, Thurstan resigned from his see and took the habit of a Cluniac monk.

William de St-Calais 11th century Norman Bishop of Durham, England

William de St-Calais was a medieval Norman monk, abbot of the abbey of Saint-Vincent in Le Mans in Maine, who was nominated by King William I of England as Bishop of Durham in 1080. During his term as bishop, St-Calais replaced the canons of his cathedral chapter with monks, and began the construction of Durham Cathedral. In addition to his ecclesiastical duties, he served as a commissioner for the Domesday Book of 1086. He was also a councillor and advisor to both King William I and his son, King William II, known as William Rufus. Following William Rufus' accession to the throne in 1087, St-Calais is considered by scholars to have been the new king's chief advisor.

Gerard was Archbishop of York between 1100 and 1108 and Lord Chancellor of England from 1085 until 1092. A Norman, he was a member of the cathedral clergy at Rouen before becoming a royal clerk under King William I of England and subsequently his son King William II Rufus. Gerard was appointed Lord Chancellor by William I, and he continued in that office under Rufus, who rewarded him with the Bishopric of Hereford in 1096. Gerard may have been with the king's hunting party when William II was killed, as he is known to have witnessed the first charter issued by the new king, Henry I of England, within days of William's death.

Bishop of Norwich Diocesan bishop in the Church of England

The Bishop of Norwich is the ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of Norwich in the Province of Canterbury. The diocese covers most of the county of Norfolk and part of Suffolk. The bishop of Norwich is Graham Usher.

Robert Bloet was Bishop of Lincoln 1093–1123 and Chancellor of England. Born into a noble Norman family, he became a royal clerk under King William I. Under William I's son and successor King William II, Bloet was first named chancellor then appointed to the See of Lincoln. Continuing to serve the king while bishop, Bloet remained a close royal councillor to William II's successor, King Henry I. He did much to embellish Lincoln Cathedral, and gave generously to his cathedral and other religious houses. He educated a number of noblemen, including illegitimate children of Henry I. He also was the patron of the medieval chronicler Henry of Huntingdon, and was an early patron of Gilbert of Sempringham, the founder of the Gilbertine monastic order.

Thomas of Bayeux Norman Archbishop of York

Thomas of Bayeux was Archbishop of York from 1070 until 1100. He was educated at Liège and became a royal chaplain to Duke William of Normandy, who later became King William I of England. After the Norman Conquest, the king nominated Thomas to succeed Ealdred as Archbishop of York. After Thomas' election, Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury, demanded an oath from Thomas to obey him and any future Archbishops of Canterbury; this was part of Lanfranc's claim that Canterbury was the primary bishopric, and its holder the head of the English Church. Thomas countered that York had never made such an oath. As a result, Lanfranc refused to consecrate him. The King eventually persuaded Thomas to submit, but Thomas and Lanfranc continued to clash over ecclesiastical issues, including the primacy of Canterbury, which dioceses belonged to the province of York, and the question of how York's obedience to Canterbury would be expressed.

Thomas II was a medieval archbishop of York.

Henry Murdac was abbot of Fountains Abbey and Archbishop of York in medieval England.

Reginald Fitz Jocelin 12th-century Bishop of Bath

Reginald fitz Jocelin was a medieval Bishop of Bath and an Archbishop of Canterbury-elect in England. A member of an Anglo-Norman noble family, he was the son of a bishop, and was educated in Italy. He was a household clerk for Thomas Becket, but by 1167 he was serving King Henry II of England. He was also a favourite of King Louis VII of France, who had him appointed abbot of the Abbey of Corbeil. After Reginald angered Becket while attempting to help negotiate a settlement between Becket and the king, Becket called him "that offspring of fornication, that enemy to the peace of the Church, that traitor." When he was elected as a bishop, the election was challenged by King Henry's eldest son, Henry the Young King, and Reginald was forced to go to Rome to be confirmed by Pope Alexander III. He attended the Third Lateran Council in 1179, and spent much of his time administering his diocese. He was elected Archbishop of Canterbury in 1191, but died before he could be installed.

Hervey le Breton 12th-century Bishop of Ely and Bangor

Hervey le Breton was a Breton cleric who became Bishop of Bangor in Wales and later Bishop of Ely in England. Appointed to Bangor by King William II of England, when the Normans were advancing into Wales, Hervey was unable to remain in his diocese when the Welsh began to drive the Normans back from their recent conquests. Hervey's behaviour towards the Welsh seems to have contributed to his expulsion from his see. Although the new king, Henry I wished to translate Hervey to the see of Lisieux in Normandy, it was unsuccessful.

Savaric fitzGeldewin was an Englishman who became Bishop of Bath and Glastonbury in England. Related to his predecessor as well as to Emperor Henry VI, he was elected bishop on the insistence of his predecessor, who urged his election on the cathedral chapter of Bath. While bishop, Savaric spent many years attempting to annexe Glastonbury Abbey as part of his bishopric. Savaric also worked to secure the release of King Richard I of England from captivity, when the king was held by Emperor Henry VI.

Robert the Lotharingian was a priest who became Bishop of Hereford following the Norman Conquest of England. His writings serve as one of the best sources for information on the process of compiling the Domesday Book, and he may have introduced the abacus to England.

Ralph de Luffa 11th and 12th-century Bishop of Chichester

Ralph de Luffa (or Ralph Luffa was an English bishop of Chichester, from 1091 to 1123. He built extensively on his cathedral as well as being praised by contemporary writers as an exemplary bishop. He took little part in the Investiture Crisis which took place in England during his episcopate. Although at one point he refused to allow his diocese to be taxed by King Henry I of England, Luffa remained on good terms with the two kings of England he served.

Robert or sometimes Robert of Lewes was a medieval English Bishop of Bath. He began his career as a monk at Lewes Priory as well as performing administrative functions for Henry of Blois. It was Henry who secured Robert's selection as bishop. While bishop, Robert built in his diocese and set up the system of archdeacons there. He may have been the author of the Gesta Stephani, a work detailing the history of King Stephen's life.

William of Bitton was a medieval English Bishop of Bath and Wells.

Simon of Wells was a medieval Bishop of Chichester.

Ranulf of Wareham was a medieval Bishop of Chichester.

Robert Foliot 12th-century Bishop of Hereford

Robert Foliot was a medieval Bishop of Hereford in England. He was a relative of a number of English ecclesiastics, including Gilbert Foliot, one of his predecessors at Hereford. After serving Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln as a clerk, he became a clerk of Henry of Blois, the Bishop of Winchester and brother of King Stephen of England. He attended the Council of Reims in 1148, where another relative, Robert de Chesney, was elected as Bishop of Hereford. Chesney then secured the office of Archdeacon of Oxford for Foliot.

Hugh of Wells 13th-century Bishop of Lincoln

Hugh of Wells was a medieval Bishop of Lincoln. He began his career in the diocese of Bath, where he served two successive bishops, before joining royal service under King John of England. He served in the royal administration until 1209, when he was elected to the see, or bishopric, of Lincoln. When John was excommunicated by Pope Innocent III in November 1209, Hugh went into exile in France, where he remained until 1213.


Catholic Church titles
Preceded by Bishop of Wells
Succeeded by
as Bishop of Bath
Preceded by
as Bishop of Wells
Bishop of Bath
Succeeded by