Clarembald (abbot)

Clarembald was a medieval Benedictine monk and abbot-elect of St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury, Kent.

Abbot of St Augustine's
ChurchSt Augustine's Abbey
Term ended1173
Personal details
Died18 March

Clarembald was a native of Normandy before he became prior of the Cluniac house Montacute Priory in 1155.[2] Around 1158 he became prior of Thetford Priory, which he held until 1163.[3]

Clarembald was appointed to St Augustine's in 1163,[1] at the command of King Henry II of England.[4] After his appointment, he refused to make a profession of obedience to Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury,[5] claiming that the abbey was exempt from oversight by the archbishop and that swearing obedience would compromise the abbey's independence.[4] Pope Alexander III ordered Clarembald to swear to obey Becket on 10 July 1165, but offered two small concessions – one that the form should be in the same form that previous abbots had sworn and secondly that the oath would not preclude further legal actions on whether the profession was required.[6] Clarembald, who was supported in his defiance of the archbishop by the king, continued to refuse to swear to obey Becket and was never consecrated as abbot. He remained as abbot-elect for his entire time in office.[4]

In late 1167 Clarembald was a member of a royal deputation to the papacy, along with Reginald fitzJocelin, Simon de Prisun, and Henry of Northampton. The envoys were part of diplomatic efforts on behalf of the king as part of the Becket controversy between the king and Becket.[7]

In 1168 the monks of St Augustine's complained to the papacy that Clarembald was allowing infants and small children to become monks of their abbey.[a] The monks were given a papal ruling that stated no one should be allowed to become a monk younger than age 15.[8] The next year Clarembald was the sole supporter of a royal effort to remove England from papal and archiepiscopal authority. Clarembald was appointed to conduct the sheriff's inquest of 1170 in Kent and other southern counties.[4]

On 29 December 1170, Clarembald was host to the four knights, Reginald fitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton, who were on their way to confront Becket. The knights asked Clarembald's advice, and the abbot-elect sent a knight of the abbey, Simon de Criol, along with the other four to confront the archbishop,[9] which led to the murder of the archbishop later that day.[10]

The monks of St Augustine's had long complained that their abbot was incompetent, stole revenues meant for the monks, sold property belonging to the abbey for his own use, and accepted bribes. The dispute between Becket and the king appears to have delayed the papacy noticing the dire straits the abbey had fallen into, but after Becket's death in 1173 the situation finally resulted in papal action.[4] Clarembald was deposed from his abbacy in 1173,[1] by a papal commission composed of Bartholomew Iscanus the Bishop of Exeter, Roger the Bishop of Worcester, and the abbot of Faversham.[b] The judgement of deposition was seen by the judges as not just a punishment for Clarembald's offences against his monks, but also as a punishment for his involvement in the murder of Becket.[12][c] Clarembald had fled the abbey before the commission arrived, and his later career is unknown.[4] Clarembald probably died on 18 March, when his obituary was remembered at St. Augustine's, but the year is not known.[1]

The historian David Knowles called Clarembald a "worthless monk from overseas".[14] Clarembald's contemporary, John of Salisbury, called him "God's rejected".[15]


  1. ^ The monks actual complaint was, in the words of David Knowles, "that infants recently at nurse" had been "clothed with the habit".[8]
  2. ^ The abbot of Faversham was also named Clarembald.[11]
  3. ^ The judges granted absolution to those monks who were forced by Clarembald to be involved in events around Becket's murder.[13]


  1. ^ a b c d e Knowles, et al. Heads of Religious Houses p. 36
  2. ^ Knowles, et al. Heads of Religious Houses p. 122
  3. ^ Knowles, et al. Heads of Religious Houses p. 125
  4. ^ a b c d e f Greatrex "Clarembald" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  5. ^ Barlow Thomas Becket p. 96
  6. ^ Barlow Thomas Becket p. 138
  7. ^ Barlow Thomas Becket p. 175
  8. ^ a b Knowles Monastic Order p. 421
  9. ^ Barlow Thomas Becket p. 238
  10. ^ Barlow Thomas Becket pp. 246–248
  11. ^ Knowles, et al. Heads of Religious Houses p. 49
  12. ^ Cheney Roger, Bishop of Worcester pp. 134–135
  13. ^ Cheney Roger, Bishop of Worcester p. 242
  14. ^ Knowles Monastic Order p. 277
  15. ^ Quoted in Greatrex "Clarembald" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography


  • Barlow, Frank (1986). Thomas Becket. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-07175-1.
  • Cheney, Mary G. (1980). Roger, Bishop of Worcester 1164–1179: An English Bishop of the Age of Becket. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-821879-6.
  • Greatrex, Joan (2004). "Clarembald". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/5451. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  • Knowles, David; London, Vera C. M.; Brooke, Christopher (2001). The Heads of Religious Houses, England and Wales, 940–1216 (Second ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-80452-3.
  • Knowles, David (1976). The Monastic Order in England: A History of its Development from the Times of St. Dunstan to the Fourth Lateran Council, 940–1216 (Second reprint ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-05479-6.