English abbot and bishop; b. c. 1110 of a well-connected Anglo-Norman family; d. Feb. 18, 1187. Trained in Roman and Canon Law and theology, he taught in the schools before becoming a monk at Cluny c. 1132 and, subsequently, was prior of Abbeville. Chosen by King Stephen in 1139 to be abbot of Gloucester, he won the friendship of Archbishop Theobald, who in 1148 secured his election to the See of Hereford, where he speedily became the most respected bishop in England. Disappointed in his expectation of succeeding Theobald at Canterbury by the election of Thomas becket, whom he disliked, and unappeased by his translation to London in 1163, Foliot, after quarrelling with Becket at Clarendon and Northampton, became the leading spirit of the opposition to the exiled Archbishop, though by no means entirely the King's man. In a war of pamphlets his letter Multiplicem stands out as a rhetorical masterpiece and bitter summary of charges against Becket. Twice excommunicated, Foliot was unreconciled when Becket was murdered, but accepted the Archbishop's canonization with good grace. As bishop, Foliot was frequently a papal judge–delegate and helped to establish the personnel of his cathedral. He owes his celebrity to his share in the great controversy between henry ii and St. Thomas, and while his action is comprehensible, he does not emerge as an attractive or saintly figure. He remains an enigma. Although upright, austere, energetic, and influential, his character contained elements of ambition, rigidity, harshness, and, possibly, even duplicity. His correspondence with many of the leading men of his time is an important source for the political history of England in the mid-12th century.
Bibliography: Works. g. foliot, Epistolae Patrologia Latina, ed. j. p. migne (Paris 1878–90) 190:739–1068. Literature. g.g. perry, Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900 (London 1885–1900) 7:358–360. m. d. knowles, The Episcopal Colleagues of Archbishop Thomas Becket (Cambridge, Eng. 1951). f. l. cross, The Oxford Dictionary of the English Church (London 1957) 511–512. a. morey and c. n. l. brooke, Gilbert Foliot and His Letters (Cambridge 1965).
[m. d. knowles]