The story of Archbishop Mauger

11th May 2017

By Joseph-Laurent Couppey of Cherbourg, extract from 'Notice sur l'histoire des iles anglaises de Jersey, Guernesey et Aurigny, dans ses rapports avec l'histoire de la Normandie et spécialement du département de la Manche,' published in the Revue anglo-française, Poitiers, 1833, pp. 305-7. [From the French.]

When William the Bastard, afterwards known as the Conqueror, succeeded his father, the legitimate members of the family viewed his elevation with disgust. One such was his uncle, Mauger, the archbishop of Rouen. So, when his nephew married his relative Matilda, who was the daughter of Baldwin the count of Flanders, the prelate used the opportunity to demonstrate his hatred: in accordance with the Church’s customary opposition to marriage between relatives, he excommunicated the duke and his wife. They had then to obtain leave from the Pope to remain married. This they only achieved with a great deal of difficulty, on condition that they founded, amongst other pious institutions, the two monasteries at Caen, one for men and one for women. From this moment on, Duke William, who in common with all great men was of relentless and energetic character, looked for a way to get his revenge. He called a provincial council, at which Mauger was deposed from all his offices as archibishop; he was accused of living incontinently and squandering Church money, and thus was he exiled, to the isles of the diocese of Coutances.

It is always difficult to be certain of the character of such people as this priest, owing to the ignorance and the preclusions of contemporary historians. All do agree on his great talent and all impute a bad reputation to him. He had, it is said, a familiar whom he talked to and whom he summoned by crying out Thor, Thour, or Thouret, or Thoret—there are different versions. Thor was one of the Norse gods, son of the redoubtable Odin and god of thunder. Had the minister turned back to the religion of his ancestors, or was perhaps this invocation evidence of charlatanism, designed to intimidate the ignorant? The authors say people heard them talking, but no-one could actually see the ‘god’ or ‘demon’ interlocutor.

Banished to the islands of Jersey and Guernsey, Mauger continued with his magic and depravity there. He had many wives, with one especial favourite, who came from a Guernsey family called Gisles or Gislette, by whom he had many children. The author of the in-quarto history of that island claims that the numerous Mauger families existing in these English islands descend from this archbishop, and that the Maugers of the Cotentin peninsula share this origin; this may or may not be so, but it is very difficult to find any proof for it after all this time. In addition, it is up to these families themselves, some of whom are of honourable rank, to decide if it is important to them to acquire proof of a genealogy which will indeed have them descending from one of our foremost dukes, but also from a priest whose behaviour was completely inappropriate and for which there is really no excuse, even though in those times it was extremely common for clerics to be libertines.

Mauger was often visited by the bishop of Coutances, Geoffrey of Montbray, who tried in vain to convert him. We can have no idea what they talked about. Mauger’s reputation as a magician endowed with supernatural powers was known far and wide. His death took place in 'supernatural' circumstances. One day when he was out at sea, with a few boatmen accompanying him, just off the coast of the peninsula, he suddenly exclaimed: ‘It has been revealed to me that one of us will die today, I do not know who.’ It was a very hot day, and so he pulled down some of his clothing, which stayed entangled around his feet. When he tried to stand up he fell over into the water and drowned. At low tide they found his body amongst the rocks. He was taken to Cherbourg and buried there. This is the story told by contemporary authors, but in this century one is less inclined to give credence to such miraculous accidents, and one might reasonably suppose criminal activity to be involved, perhaps on the orders of someone powerful, motivated by jealousy and revenge.