Mauger was consecrated Bishop of Worcester in June 1200 and remained so until his death in 1212 – twelve turbulent years for Worcester, for England and for the Bishop himself. The Cathedral Library has an eighteenth-century survey of his career in this office and several original thirteenth-century documents, some written at his command and others said to be brought by him to Worcester.
The Bishop had held previous offices as the Archdeacon of Evreux and as physician to King Richard the Lionheart. Richard died in 1199 and in that same year Mauger was elected Bishop of Worcester. But this election was rejected by Pope Innocent III when it was reported that Mauger was an illegitimate child. He travelled to Rome to make a direct appeal to the Pope. He clearly made a very good impression and the Pope confirmed his election. He was consecrated Bishop in 1200.
One of his first acts as Bishop was to replace the bones of the saintly Bishop Wulfstan which had been disturbed by the previous Bishop. Many miracles were reported following this. On 17 April 1202 the Cathedral was damaged by a fire that devastated Worcester City. Bishop Mauger applied to Rome for the canonisation of Wulfstan partly to raise funds to repair the damage. Wulfstan was made a saint in 1203, attracting even more pilgrims to Worcester, including King John in 1207. The Bishop began a restoration of the buildings that was only finished sixteen years later.
Bishop Mauger was renowned for his piety and charity. The 1737 Survey of the Cathedral Church by William Thomas includes a description of the help he gave to Little Malvern Priory from his own property. The woodward was the Bishop’s forest manager and he was instructed to give the Priory one valuable oak tree each year to meet its need for fuel.
‘He was a benefactor to the Priory of Little Malvern, giving to the monks there yearly out of his woods on the hills of Malvern, and elsewhere, sufficient fuel for their kitchen, bakehouse, brewhouse, and other offices, with one oak to be set out by his woodward; to enable them to keep the better hospitality, and to relieve the poor and strangers.’
But Bishop Mauger could also be a firm defender of the right. The Cathedral Library has two Latin documents which he ordered to be sent out throughout the Diocese and which both show that even clerics sometimes needed to be warned against unlawful accumulation of wealth. In a letter to the Archdeacon of Gloucester, then a part of Worcester Diocese, he threatens excommunication. Earnest Money was a sort of early payment extracted before the regular legitimate tax was actually due.
‘We have learned of a bad custom having grown in the Archdiaconate by which annual payments called Earnest Moneys are extracted from each church or chapel of Gloucester which we have publicly declared to have been prohibited by a sentence of excommunication.’
In the other letter Bishop Mauger passes on comments from Hubert, Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1199 the Pope had sent one Master Philip to collect from the English clergy a tax of one fortieth of the value of their possessions and income, to finance aid and support for the Holy Land. This was only seven years since King Richard had returned from the Third Crusade having failed to take back Jerusalem from Saladin. The Pope had received complaints about Master Philip’s extraction of money from the clergy and he now asked for accounts of everything that had been paid – again in Latin:
‘It has come to our ears that Master Philip our official notary while he was formerly appointed to England he is said to have received very much money from many people and then to have departed, and that they gave to us more in shame than in honour. Therefore being unwilling that our good name should be called in question by this excess we ask . . . that you will make enquiries carefully and diligently throughout your province and the province of York how much he received for himself and how much for us.’
It is worth noting that this was a time of considerable local manuscript production in the Midlands particularly in Hereford, Winchcombe and Worcester. The date of Bishop Mauger’s manuscript is just a few years before the time of the famous Tremulous Hand of Worcester began his work of glossing and translating Anglo-Saxon works, and before the priest Layamon at Areley Kings near Stourport was writing The Brut, one of the first major works composed in English. A feature of the local style used in this area was the design of its capital letters. Here are two examples: Bishop Mauger is identified solely by a capital M and Archbishop Hubert by a capital H:
Being a dedicated and pious Bishop did not prevent Mauger from getting into serious trouble with King John in his last years in the office, so serious that he was obliged to spend those years in exile at a monastery in France. In the words of the Survey of the Cathedral:
‘In 1208, after having put the kingdom under an interdict, he fled to France with William, Bishop of London, and Eustace, Bishop of Ely, and there he died ann. 1212 . . . at Pontigny, the year before peace was restored to the Kingdom and Church of England.’
Pope Innocent III placed the kingdom of England under an interdict for six years between 1208 and 1214, after King John refused to accept Stephen Langton as the appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. The interdict suspended Christian services such as the administration of communion and the burial rites, very severe penalties to a nation of believers. The three Bishops delivered the Interdict to John and immediately exiled themselves to the Abbey of Pontigny where Archbishop Langton was already waiting. Pontigny had also been the refuge of Thomas à Becket in his years of exile and it was still a place of revered memory. Bishop Mauger did not live to see the eventual submission of King John as he died the year before.
In the year 1215 King John was forced to accept Magna Carta by the combined might of the landed classes and the church. Part of the reason for the success of this enterprise was almost certainly the sight of the King being forced to accept Stephen Langton as Archbishop by the unselfish defiance of its Bishops, including Bishop Mauger of Worcester.