Odo may have been made a bishop at the age of twenty but it have very little to do with a spiritual vocation. Not only did William the Conqueror’s half-brother play an active military role but he was also notorious for his womanising and greed.
William, Odo and Robert of Motain shared a mother – Herleva, the tanner’s daughter. William’s father, Duke Robert of Normandy, married Herleva off to Herluin de Conteville. The Bayeux Tapestry depicts Odo as playing a leading role in the planning and execution of the invasion of England in 1066. Of course, given that he probably commissioned the embroidery it would relay that particular message. He certainly supplied one hundred ships for the expedition and is depicted virtually sharing a seat with William at the feast before the battle. He is shown on numerous occasions with his club or mace in hand during the battle. As a cleric he was not supposed to spill blood – so bashing in his enemies skulls was an effective alternative.
In the aftermath of the battle Odo was given control of Dover where he managed to make himself unpopular by using the guildhall as his own place of residence and allowing a mill to be built at the mouth of the harbour.
In the spring of 1067 Odo took on the role of William’s deputy in England when William returned to Normandy. So he played an active role crushing English revolts in East Anglia and in the north of the country.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that he became, according to the Domesday Book, one of the wealthiest landholders in the country. He held; 184 lordships, manors in twelve other counties besides Kent and had an income somewhere in the region of £3,000 a year. In fact, the Domesday Book shows him to be the richest tenant-in-chief in the kingdom by far.
The Anglo Saxon Chronicle and the Orderic Vitalis make clear that his spiritual capital was rather less significant describing the bishop as ‘destitute of virtue,’ ‘a ravening wolf,’ ‘ambitious,’ ‘rapacious,’ ‘greedy,’ ‘ruthless,’ ‘arrogant’ and ‘tyrannical’ – in short a real charmer.
Unfortunately for Odo, his ambition matched that of his half brother and it was discovered that the Bishop of Bayeux was plotting to become pope. William locked his brother up and he was only released upon William’s death. By way of gratitude Odo led a rebellion in 1088 against William Rufus in favour of Robert Curthose, William’s elder brother who was Duke of Normandy at that time.
Odo never returned to Britain, something for which the people of Kent were probably deeply grateful. He died and was buried in Palermo, Sicily on his way to the First Crusade.
To find out more about the chronology of the period click on the picture to open the page relating to the eleventh century in my ‘timeline of history’ or use the tabs at the top of the blog.