Monday, May 28, 2018

R. W. Southern and Two Little Known Tidbits about Robert Grosseteste

I’ve been reading R. W. Southern’s Robert Grosseteste: The Growth of an English Mind in Medieval Europe.  And I have to ask, is there anything Southern wrote that is not excellent?  The vast scholarship of this late great historian combined with his ability to write very readable books from his storehouse of scholarship amazes me.

Having said that, two tidbits about Robert Grosseteste in this book stand out to me, one for its amusement, the second for its encouragement.

The first is a Royal Mandate of June 23rd, 1234 that directed Grosseteste and two other Oxford worthies “to supervise the arrest of all prostitutes in Oxford who had disobeyed a royal order to leave the town.” As Southern put it, the king regarded the three men “as peculiarly qualified for this hopeless task.” (p. 71, 1986 edition)

The second is that Grosseteste’s career was obscure and is not very well documented until he reached about age 55 when he suddenly rose to prominence.  Southern thinks this might have occurred because he was among those who assisted the 15 year old Henry III in getting a papal declaration that he was old enough to rule on his own in 1223.  Henry immediately rewarded those who assisted him. (p. 80, 81)

In any case, being around 55 and still somewhat obscure, I find this aspect of Robert Grosseteste’s career encouraging, although I will never be as brilliant as the man . . . or as R. W. Southern. 

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