Thursday, April 21, 2016

The First Prisoner

Ralph Flambard was born in Bayeux, Normandy six years before William the Conqueror crossed the English Channel and became King of England. When he grew up, however, he became intertwined with the affairs of William and his sons.

Depiction of Flambard in stone
for Christ Church, Dorset
He must have been a clever lad, because he was one of the people put in charge of the Domesday Book in 1086, to make an account of all the lands and towns in England. He also became the keeper of the king's seal; documents had to pass through him to be stamped as official. When William died, Ralph chose to serve the new king, William Rufus.

Under Rufus, Flambard showed notable talent at raising funds for the king—and himself. He took control of empty parishes (up to 16 at one point), so that rent from their tenants flowed to him. With the money he was raising for the Crown, he built the first stone bridge in London (but not London Bridge itself). It was at this time that the king's hall was built in Westminster, the walls of which are still standing.

When William Rufus died in 1100, Ralph Flambard, now Bishop of Durham, was made a scapegoat for the financial hardships put on the citizens of England. King Henry I made Flambard the first person to be imprisoned in the Tower of London.

He also became the first man to escape the Tower of London.

The story goes that his friends sent to him a large jug of wine. (Prisoners in the Tower were not fed well, and food and drink from family and friends were allowed in order to sustain them.) Inside the jug was a rope. Flambard offered his captors wine, and when they were drunk and sleeping, he extracted the rope, tied it to the middle strut of the window, and climbed down to where his friends were waiting with horses to take him and his elderly mother to a boat that would whisk him to safety in Normandy.

Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury arranged a papal trial for the crime of simony. Henry officially confiscated his lands. Archbishop Gerard of York took away his title of bishop. Flambard didn't care: he had had dealings with every important member of William the Conqueror's family except one—the out-of-favor eldest son, Robert Curthose. He made his way to Robert, the Duke of Normandy; he had a plan.

[to be continued]

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