Cumin (Comyn), John (d. 1212), archbishop of Dublin and royal servant, was originally a monk of Evesham. He made himself almost indispensable as a royal clerk to Henry II (qv) and while serving as an official at the royal chancery acted as Henry's emissary during the conflict with Archbishop Thomas Becket of Canterbury; in this connection he was at the imperial court in 1163 and at the papal curia three years later. Meanwhile, he was of service to the king as a witness of charters and a justice itinerant. That Cumin had been singled out for royal favour seems clear: the king appointed him to the archdeaconry of Bath, probably with the connivance of the anti-pope, which earned Cumin an excommunication from Becket in 1169. Ten years later, Cumin was appointed judge of the northern division of England and warden of Glastonbury.
By the time the see of Dublin fell vacant in 1181, Cumin had a long record of royal service and was ideally placed to become the first crown-appointed English prelate in Ireland. Royal preference for English or ‘loyal’ Irish episcopal candidates was perfectly understandable: the crown wanted bishops with whom it could work comfortably. In all probability Henry II's experience with Archbishop Lorcán Ua Tuathail (qv) (later St Laurence O'Toole) highlighted the desirability of English influence in the see of Dublin. In any event Cumin's appointment bears the hallmark of royal influence; the only scope for debate is the extent to which his election followed standard English practice or represented manipulation. On this question a strong case can be argued for crown exploitation of divisions within the Dublin chapter; the testimony of Gesta Henrici (i, 280–81) concerning a request from ‘quorundam clericorum . . . Duvelinae’ indicates that only a sector of the clergy was involved, most likely the Anglo-Norman party. The fact remains, however, that Cumin's election was confirmed by the pope and he was duly consecrated at Velletri in March 1182 (Pontificia, no. 11). Whatever truth may lie in the suggestion that Cumin himself had proposed certain provisions in the papal bull (13 April 1182) confirming to him his rights, it may be noted that he secured the effective independence of Dublin from Armagh and so initiated a protracted controversy over the primacy. The possessions of the archdiocese were subsequently confirmed to him under feudal law by John (qv), lord of Ireland, and by Aífe (qv), daughter of Diarmait Mac Murchada (qv), king of Leinster (Calendar of Archbishop Alen's register, i, 94b; Crede mihi, li).
As archbishop, Cumin remained a dedicated royal servant. Following his consecration, he spent time in England with Henry II, before he was dispatched to Ireland in autumn 1184 to prepare for the visit of the young Lord John (Expugnatio, §25). In Ireland in 1184–8 it appears that Cumin was befriended by Gerald of Wales (qv), who approved of his appointment perhaps because the two shared broadly similar views in relation to the native Irish. In summer 1188 Cumin was in Normandy, interceding on behalf of Duke Richard with his father, the king. The following year he was at Richard's coronation and attended the royal councils before the new king's departure for the Holy Land. Later, in 1199 and in 1201, Cumin would assist at the coronations of King John and Queen Isabella. Cumin's services to the crown arose not only from his long history as a royal agent but from his role as de facto palatine lord in Ireland. He held archiepiscopal manors at St Sepulchre (south of the city), Swords, Finglas, Tallaght, Shankill, and Ballymore, along with the land of Coillacht – an extensive wooded area extending from the upper Dodder to Tallaght. He exercised jurisdiction in these manors through his officials, including seneschals and bailliffs, and held licence for an annual eight-day fair in Swords and a Saturday market in Ballymore. Among Cumin's earliest projects after his arrival in Ireland was to transfer his residence from the archiepiscopal palace on St Michael's Hill to his manor of St Sepulchre, where he would not be subject to the civic jurisdiction of Dublin. Cumin's status was greatly augmented in 1190, with a confirmation of liberties and free customs by John, lord of Ireland, which gave the archbishop the right to hold courts in various parts of Ireland (CDI, nos 180, 1789).
While Cumin was a strong defender of crown authority in Ireland, he nevertheless fearlessly championed his own archiepiscopal dignity, along with the rights and possessions of his see, as Ronan and others have observed. In 1197 he clashed openly with the justiciar Hamo de Valognes (qv) over ecclesiastical properties, fleeing to Normandy to escape repercussions and eventually securing papal reprimands for both the justiciar and the king. In 1203 and again in 1205 he fought royal claims against Ballymore and Coillacht, yet three years later could still support the cause of erecting a royal castle at Dublin. Essentially, for Cumin, Irish aspirations had to yield to those of the crown, but crown interests had to coincide with those of his archiepiscopal dignity. At a provincial synod, which he convened as early as 1186, Cumin not only sought to standardise liturgical practice and combat abuses among the clergy, he also solemnly excommunicated armed men who were commiting rapine in the lordship of Leinster (Christ Ch. deeds, no. 5). This is significant both because it illustrates Cumin's attitude to those who resisted the king's authority and because it suggests that sixteen years after the conquest of Leinster some did not subscribe to the pax Normanica.
Cumin's initiative against the diocese of Glendalough in the 1180s and 1190s provides further evidence of his defence of both crown and archiepiscopal authority. In 1202, at a synod convened at Dublin by the papal legate John de Monte Celio, much concern would be expressed about what were perceived as Irish abuses, including clerical marriage and hereditary succession to the office of comarba – headship of a monastic church. Against this background, it seems reasonable to challenge views of Cumin's initiative against the diocese of Glendalough as aggrandisement for its own sake or as efforts to secure the economic viability of Dublin. For Cumin, Glendalough represented the epitome of Irish clerical reactionariness and the epicentre of Leinster resistance to the English crown. There are indications that, as early as 1182, crown initiatives to deal with Glendalough were under way. Cumin received a grant of Glendalough in 1185 from John, lord of Ireland, but, this having proved ineffective, he secured another grant in 1192 authorising him to take charge of the temporalities of Glendalough at the next vacancy and to provide a bishop; this is probably what is meant by the papal bull of 1193 confirming to the archbishop the capellania of Glendalough (Pontificia, no. 27). Any attempt to pursue either ecclesiastical reform or political reorientation at Glendalough would have brought Cumin into direct conflict with the abbot, whose possessions and sphere of authority were in any case almost inseparable from those of the bishop.
The abbatial office was at this time occupied by Thomas, nephew of Lorcán Ua Tuathail; aside from being a Leinster dynast, Thomas was probably not without influence in his late uncle's chapter of Irish and Hiberno-Norse Augustinian canons at the Holy Trinity cathedral. Such a conflict of interests may well provide the context for Cumin's foundation and endowment in 1192 of the new cathedral of St Patrick for secular canons, which was consciously modelled on English lines. While some, including J. A. Watt, have remarked on Cumin's apparent willingness to retain two cathedrals, there are indications that he did try to deprive the Holy Trinity canons of lands, but that vested interests in preserving the status quo were too strong. At the same time, some evidence suggests that Cumin, rather than his predecessor Lorcán, was the principal agent in the rebuilding of the Holy Trinity cathedral towards the close of the twelfth century. Notwithstanding developments in Dublin, in 1192, after a decade of sustained pressure, a combination of crown interests and those of Archbishop Cumin managed to secure the appointment of an Anglo-Norman churchman, William Piro, to the bishopric of Glendalough. Whether or not Cumin intended this arrangement as a stepping-stone to absorbing the suffragan diocese, such a solution no doubt looked increasingly attractive in view of Bishop William's need to reach a modus vivendi with Abbot Thomas.
Despite conflict with aspects of the native Irish ecclesiastical establishment, there is nothing to suggest that Cumin was either fanatical or inclined towards bigotry. Leaving aside the various instances of his subordinating crown interests to his own, he had a good working relationship with ‘politically safe’ Irishmen, such as Bishop Ailbe O'Mulloy (qv), who clearly stood in good stead with John, lord of Ireland. Nor was Cumin opposed to all aspects of Irish culture: he was quite content to promote the cults of Irish saints (including Patrick) and even supported the cause for canonisation of his predecessor Lorcán Ua Tuathail, whose nephew so steadfastly opposed his designs. Nor is there any necessity to read an anti-Augustinian motive into Cumin's policies. His moves against the Holy Trinity chapter can be viewed in terms of political expediency given the continuing battle with Glendalough. Likewise, Cumin's assertion of authority over the Augustinian priory of All Hallows involved the rights of his see; by the terms of the priory's foundation, the bishop of Clogher had an established interest there. While he upheld the claims of the Cistercian foundation of St Mary's Abbey, Dublin, against the Augustinian canons of Holy Trinity and against the canonesses of Tachmolinbeg, he also transferred nuns from Swords to establish Grace Dieu, a community of Augustinian canonesses, and charged them with educating daughters of the nobility; in addition, he endowed Grace Dieu with tithes from several churches including the new St Audeon's, Dublin. Not all Cumin's land transactions were philanthropic. He granted possessions in Holywood and Coillacht to his nephew Geoffrey de Marisco (qv), and property in Domnach Imlech (Burgage, Co. Wicklow) to his nephew Gilbert Cumin. Another nephew, Walter Cumin, appears a parson of Swords, while a certain Helias Cumin, who held the manor of Kinsaley, may have been a member of the same family.
Archbishop Cumin died ‘old and full of years’ – he was probably in his late seventies – on 25 October 1212 and was buried in the Holy Trinity cathedral (Chartul. St Mary's, Dublin). While it may be understandable from an Irish perspective to focus on his advancement of English crown interests, it is not unreasonable to view Cumin's career as one dedicated to setting the archdiocese on an ordered footing. His successor in the archbishopric was Henry (qv) of London.