1248: Priests warned for drinking, sex and “ball games”

Eudes Clement was a prominent French cleric in the early 13th century. Eudes was born into a prominent family in Normandy sometime in the 1190s. He entered the clergy in his late teens and later become the abbot of Saint-Denis. Eudes also became a close friend and advisor to Louis IX, after he purportedly saved the king from a deadly illness by hauling the corpses of saints out of their tombs.

In 1245, Eudes was ordained as archbishop of Rouen, a diocese in Normandy known for its corruption and lack of discipline among both the higher and lower clergy. He spent several months travelling across the diocese, carrying out surprise visits on its parishes and monasteries and keeping a register of sins and transgressions.

The nuns at St Armand de Rouen came in for strong criticism from Eudes. According to his register, they sang hymns and prayers “with too much haste and jumbling of the words”, they received wine in unequal amounts and they slept in their underwear rather than their habits.

More serious clerical misbehaviour was uncovered at Ouville, where Eudes found that:

“..the prior wanders about when he ought to stay in the cloister… he is a drunk and of such shameful drunkenness that… he sometimes sleeps out in the fields… he is sexually active and his conduct with a certain woman of Grainville and the lady of Routot are matters of scandal…”

At Jumieges, the archbishop found two monks, both named William, guilty of committing sodomy with each other. He ordered their removal to separate monasteries.

A number of other monks were placed on notice and threatened with expulsion if they transgressed again. Brother Geoffrey of Ouville was one of these given a ‘last chance’; he had fathered a son with the wife of Walter of Ecaquelon. William of Cailleville was placed on notice for his frequent drunkenness. The parish priest at Ermenouville was warned for having sexual relations with a local woman.

Meanwhile, another cleric was warned about one of his leisure pursuits:

“..the priest of Saint Vaast de Dieppedale confessed that he was guilty of playing ball games in public, and that in this game one of the players had been injured… He swore before us that if he was found to have acted thus again, his parish would be resigned from that time on.”

Source: Register of Eudes, Archbishop of Rouen, ent. July 1248, September 1248, January 1249. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.