Hubert Walter

From New World Encyclopedia

Hubert Walter

Archbishop of Canterbury

Enthroned November 7, 1193
Ended July 13, 1205
Predecessor Reginald Fitz Jocelin
Successor John de Gray
Born c. 1160
Died July 12, 1205
Buried Trinity Chapel in Canterbury Cathedral

Hubert Walter (c. 1160-1205 C.E.) was the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Chancellor and chief justiciar of England, in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. Serving King Henry II of England in many different ways, Walter was elected Bishop of Salisbury shortly after the accession of King Henry's son Richard I to the throne of England. He accompanied King Richard on the Third Crusade, and was one of the principal figures involved in raising Richard's ransom after the king was captured in Germany on his return from the Holy Land. As a reward for his faithful service, Walter was selected to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury in 1193. He also served as Richard's justiciar until 1198, a role in which he was responsible for raising the money Richard needed to prosecute his wars in France.

Walter set up a system that provided a precursor for the modern "Justice of the Peace," based on selecting four knights in each hundred to administer justice. He also revived his predecessor's dispute over setting up a church to rival Christ Church Priory in Canterbury, which was only settled when the Pope ordered him to abandon the plan. Following King Richard's death in 1199, Walter helped assure the elevation of Richard's brother King John to the throne. Walter also served John as a diplomat, undertaking several missions to France.

Walter was not noted for his holiness in life or learning, but historians have judged him as one of the most outstanding government ministers in English history who is famous for initiating the Charter Roll, a record of all charters issued by the chancery.

Early life

Walter was the son of Hervey Walter[1] and his wife Maud de Valoignes, one of the daughters (and co-heiresses) of Theobald de Valoignes, who was lord of Parham in Suffolk.[2][3] Walter was one of six brothers.[4] The eldest brother, Theobald Walter, and Walter himself, were helped in their careers by their uncle, Ranulf de Glanvill.[2] Glanvill was the chief justiciar for Henry II, and was married to Martha de Valoignes sister, Bertha.[4]

Walter's family was from West Dereham in Norfolk, which is probably where Walter was born.[3] Walter first appears in Glanvill's household in a charter that has been dated to 1178, although as it is undated it may have been written as late as 1180.[5] Walter's gratitude towards his aunt and uncle is shown in the foundation charter of Walter's monastery in Dereham, where he asks the foundation to pray for the "souls of Ranulf Glanvill and Bertha his wife, who nourished us".[3] Earlier historians asserted that Walter studied law at Bologna, based on his name appearing in a list of those to be commemorated at a monastery in Bologna in which English students lodged. Modern historians have discounted this, however, as the list also includes benefactors, not just students; other evidence points to the fact that Walter had a poor grasp of Latin, and did not consider himself to be a learned man.[6]

Early assignments

By 1184–1185, Walter had a position as a baron of the exchequer. The king employed him on different tasks, including as a negotiator, a justice, and as a royal secretary.[4] He was appointed Dean of York by order of King Henry II about July 1186.[1] The archbishopric had been vacant since 1181 and would remain so until 1189, so it was Walter's job as dean to administer the archbishopric of York.[7] Walter was an unsuccessful candidate to become Archbishop of York in September 1186.[8] The medieval chronicler Gervase of Canterbury said that during Henry II's reign, Walter "ruled England because Glanvill sought his counsel".[9] Documents also show Walter was active in the administration of the diocese of York.[10] Walter's father and paternal grandfather held lands in Suffolk and Norfolk, which were inherited by Theobald.[3] A younger brother, Osbert, became a royal justice and died in 1206. Roger, Hamo (or Hamon) and Bartholomew only appear as witnesses to charters.[4] Walter's father and paternal grandfather held lands in Suffolk and Norfolk, which were inherited by Theobald.[3]

At the same time he was administering York, Walter founded a Premonstratensian house of canons on purchased property at West Dereham, Norfolk in 1188.[11] His uncle and other family members had favored the Premonstratensian Order, and this monastery was located near the family lands in Norfolk.[12]

In 1187, Walter, along with Glanvill and King Henry II, attempted to mediate a dispute between the Archbishop of Canterbury, Baldwin of Exeter, and the monks of the cathedral chapter. Their efforts were fruitless, and Walter was later drawn back into the dispute, in early 1189 and again as archbishop. The dispute centered around the attempt by Baldwin to build a church dedicated to Saint Thomas Becket just outside of the town of Canterbury. The plan was for the church to be staffed by canons, not monks, and the monks of Canterbury's cathedral chapter feared that this was an attempt to take away the cathedral chapter's right to elect the archbishop.[13] The attempt in 1189 was settled by Baldwin giving up the site near Canterbury for a site further away at Lambeth, which was less threatening to the monks.[14]

Bishop of Salisbury

The capture of King Richard I from the Chronicle of Petrus de Ebulo, 1197

After the death of King Henry in 1189, the new King Richard I appointed Walter Bishop of Salisbury. The election took place on September 15, 1189, at Pipewell, with the consecration on October 22, 1189, at Westminster.[15][16] Also elected to bishoprics at this council were Godfrey de Lucy to the See of Winchester, Richard FitzNeal to the See of London, and William Longchamp to the See of Ely. The elevation of so many new bishops was probably meant to signal the new king's break with his father's habit of keeping bishoprics empty in order to retain the revenues of the sees.[17] At about the same time, Glanvill was either forced out of his justiciarship or resigned—the sources are unclear.[18] Walter was probably elevated to a bishopric even though his uncle had lost some of his power because of political maneuvering over the elevation of King Richard's illegitimate half-brother Geoffrey to the see of York, which Walter had at first opposed. The bishopric was either a reward or a bribe for Walter's withdrawal of his objections to Geoffrey's election.[19]

Soon after his appointment, Walter accompanied the king on the Third Crusade,[20] going ahead of the king directly from Marseille to the Holy Land in a group which included Baldwin of Exeter, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Ranulf de Glanvill.[21] The group left Marseille in August 1190, and arrived two months later.[22] While on crusade, he was praised by his fellow crusaders, and acted as Richard’s principal negotiator with Saladin for a peace treaty.[23] After the conclusion of the treaty with Saladin, Walter was in the first band of pilgrims that entered Jerusalem.[4] Saladin entertained Walter during his stay in Jerusalem, and the Englishman succeeded in extracting a promise from Saladin that a small group of Western clergy would be allowed to remain in the city to perform divine services.[24] Walter subsequently led the English army back to England after Richard's departure from Palestine, but in Sicily he heard of the king's capture, and diverted to Germany.[23] He, along with William of Sainte-Mère-Eglise, was among the first of Richard's subjects to find the king at Ochsenfurt where he was being held.[4] In April 1193, he returned to England to raise the king's ransom. Richard wrote to his mother, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, that Walter should be chosen for the see of Canterbury,[23] as well as to the monks of the cathedral chapter,[25] and soon after Walter's return to England, he was duly elected archbishop of Canterbury, having been transferred to the see on May 29, 1193.[26] He was chosen as archbishop without consultation from the bishops, who normally claimed the right to help decide the new archbishop.[27] He received his pallium, the symbol of his archiepiscopal authority, and was ceremonially enthroned at Canterbury on 7 November 1193,[3] and was made justiciar about 25 December 1193.[28]


After Richard was freed, he spent little time in England, instead concentrating on the war with King Philip II Augustus of France, which began with Philip's attempts to acquire Richard's possessions on the continent. Walter remained in England, raising money for the king's wars and overseeing the administration of the kingdom. The constant warfare forced Walter to find new means of raising money.[4] The historian Doris Stenton wrote that the Pipe Rolls, or financial records, during Walter's time as justiciar "give the impression of a country taxed to the limit".[29] Walter also was responsible for choosing royal justices, and many of his choices were connected with, or had previously worked with, the archbishop in the royal administration.[30]

One of Walter's first acts as justiciar was in February 1194, when he presided over a feudal judgment of Prince John. After Richard's release from captivity, John, intending to begin a rebellion, had prepared his castles for defense. His letters ordering the preparations were intercepted and John was deprived of his lands.[31] When John showed no signs of submitting, Walter called an ecclesiastical council at Westminster for the purposes of excommunicating John unless he submitted.[32] John refused to submit, and was excommunicated.[33] To defeat the rebellion, Walter was required to lay siege to Marlborough Castle himself.[34] Walter employed his brother Theobald in similar actions in Lancaster, and rewarded him with the office of sheriff of Lancaster.[35] Eventually in May 1194, John made peace with Richard, and was restored to favor, although the restoration of his lands did not occur until late in 1195.[36]

Walter's chief administrative measures were his instructions to the itinerant justices of 1194 and 1198, his ordinance of 1195, an attempt to increase order in the kingdom, and in his plan in 1198 for the assessment of a land tax. In 1194, the justices were ordered to secure the election of four coroners by each county court. The coroners were to "keep," or register, royal pleas, which had previously been a duty of the sheriff. The juries were to be chosen by a committee of four knights, also elected by the county court.[37] This introduction of coroners and constables eventually led to a change in the role of sheriffs, and a lessening of their importance in royal administration.[38]

He also worked to introduce order into the lending of money by Jewish moneylenders, and organised a system where the royal officials worked to combat fraud by both parties in the business of Jewish money lending.[4][39] Walter also is probably the originator of the custom of keeping an archival copy of all charters, letters, patents and feet of fines, or record of agreements reached in the royal courts, in the chancery.[40][41][42]

In 1195, Walter issued an ordinance by which four knights were to be appointed in every hundred to act as guardians of the peace, a precursor to the office of Justice of the Peace. His use of the knights, who appear for the first time in political life, is the first sign of the rise of this class who, either as members of parliament or justices of the peace, later became the mainstay of English government. In 1198, Walter requested a carucage, or plough-tax, of five shillings on every plough-land, or carucate, under cultivation. However, difficulties arose over the assessments, so the justiciar ordered them to be made by a sworn jury in every hundred. It is likely that those jurors were elected.[37]

In foreign affairs, Walter negotiated with Scotland in 1195 and with the Welsh in 1197.[43] Negotiations with Scotland were over Scotland's claim to Northumbria, or northern England, claimed by the Scots. Negotiations broke down, but relations between the two countries remained good through the rest of Richard's reign.[44] Talks with the Welsh began after the English lords Roger Mortimer and William de Briouze expanded into Welsh territory in 1195, causing a concern that the Welsh lord Rhys ap Gruffydd would strike back across the border.[45] In 1196, Walter quickly suppressed a popular uprising in London led by William Fitz Osbern.[43] FitzOsbern was an orator, who harnessed the discontent of the poor residents of London against high taxes. His oratory provoked a riot in London, and he was apprehended and hanged on Walter's orders.[46]

Ecclesiastical affairs and resignation

Walter held a legateship from Pope Celestine III from 1195 to 1198, which enabled him to act with the pope's delegated authority within the English Church.[47] Walter actively investigated ecclesiastical misconduct, and deposed several abbots, including Robert of Thorney Abbey in 1195 and an abbot of St Mary's in the province of the Archbishop of York.[48] At the monastic cathedral of Worcester, he disciplined the monks between the death of Henry de Sully and the election of John of Coutances, as was his right as the archbishop of the province.[49] In his own diocese, he granted markets and fairs to towns, and was granted the privilege of minting coins at Shrewsbury, and worked to recover lands and manors that had been lost to the archdiocese.[50]

He revived the scheme of his predecessor, Baldwin of Exeter, to found a church in Canterbury that would be secular and not monastic. He promised that the new foundation's canons would not be allowed to vote in archiepiscopal elections nor would the body of Saint Thomas Becket ever be moved to the new church, but the monks of his cathedral chapter were suspicious and appealed to the papacy. The dispute from the time of Baldwin of Exeter flared up again, with the papacy supporting the monks and the king supporting the archbishop. Finally, Pope Innocent III ruled for the monks and ordered Walter to destroy what had been built.[51]

The archbishop held ecclesiastical councils, including one at York in 1195 which legislated that the clergy should collect their tithes in full, "without any reduction".[52] Another council was held at London in 1200 to legislate the size and composition of clerical retinues,[53] and also ruled that the clergy, when saying Mass, should speak clearly and not speed up or slow down their speech.[54] At the request of the papacy, Walter also led inquiries into the canonizations of Gilbert of Sempringham and Wulfstan of Worcester.[4][55] Walter refused to acquiesce in the election of Gerald of Wales to the see of St David's in Wales and opposed the efforts of Gerald and others to elevate St David's to an archbishopric.[56]

In the later part of Richard's reign, the pressures mounted on Walter. Conflicts between his ecclesiastical duties and his government duties made him the target of criticism from both sides.[4][57] A dispute in December 1197, over Richard's demand that the magnates of England provide 300 knights to serve in France, led to renewed grumbling among the clergy and barons.[57] Richard was dissatisfied with the results of the carucage in 1198 also,[4] so Walter resigned on 11 July 1198.[28] Walter may have resigned willingly, as he had talked of resigning his secular duties since 1194.[57] Some medieval sources, however, stated that he was forced out of office by the king.[58]

Under King John

King John from a medieval manuscript of Historia Anglorum c. 1250–59

According to the Life of William Marshal, which dates to soon after 1219, when word reached William Marshal, one of the richest and most influential barons, that Richard was dead, he consulted with Walter and discussed whom to support as the next king. Marshal's choice was John, but Walter initially leaned towards John's young nephew Arthur of Brittany. When Marshall was insistent on John, who was an adult, the author of the Life has Walter say in reply "'So be it then,' said the archbishop, 'but mark my words, Marshal, you will never regret anything in your life as much as this.'"[59] This is almost certainly a retrospective comment that has been inserted into the biography, however, based on John's later behavior.[4] Once John knew he had the support of Walter and William Marshal, he sent Walter ahead to England to request all free men to pledge fealty to the new king.[60] On 27 May 1199, Walter crowned King John, supposedly making a speech which promulgated for the last time the theory of a king's election by the people. This story is only contained in the writings of Matthew Paris, however, and although it seems certain that Walter made a speech, it is not certain what the exact contents were.[61] On his coronation day, John appointed Walter Lord Chancellor. W. L. Warren, historian and author of a biography of John, says of Walter that, "No one living had a firmer grasp of the intricacies of royal government, yet even in old age his mind was adaptable and fecund with suggestions for coping with new problems."[62]

One of Walter's first suggestions was to lower the fees for having charters confirmed, from nine pounds and five shillings to eighteen shillings and four pence. Accompanying this measure was a requirement that no charter would be accepted in a king's court without having been confirmed by King John. Not only did this reduce forgeries, it led to the establishment of the Charter Roll, an administrative copy of all charters issued and confirmed by the government.[62][41] In his relations with other officers, Walter worked closely with the justiciar Geoffrey Fitz Peter, on the collection of taxation, and both men went to Wales in 1203 on a diplomatic mission.[4] Another joint action of the two men concerned a tax of a seventh part of all movables collected from both lay and ecclesiastical persons. The medieval chronicler Roger of Wendover said that the king "had Archbishop Hubert of Canterbury to act for him in the matter of the church property, Geoffrey fitz-Peter in the matter of lay property; and these two spared no one in carrying out their orders."[63]

In 1201, Walter went on a diplomatic mission to Philip Augustus of France, which was unsuccessful, and in 1202 he returned to England as regent while John was abroad. In April 1204, Walter returned to France with John de Gray the Bishop of Norwich, Eustace the Bishop of Ely, William Marshal, and Robert de Beaumont the Earl of Leicester to seek peace with Philip Augustus. Philip insisted that John hand over Arthur of Brittany, Arthur's sister Eleanor, and renounce all of his continental possessions before the French king would make peace. This John refused to do, and the embassy returned to England not long before Philip conquered Normandy.[64]

Besides sending Walter on diplomatic missions, King John gave Walter custody of Rochester Castle on July 20, 1202, but as Walter was already accounting for the taxes and fees of the city of Rochester to the Exchequer in 1200, it is possible that he held the castle before 1202.[65] John also upheld the right of the archbishop to mint coins, which Walter held until his death in 1205.[66]

Under John, Walter continued to be active in ecclesiastical affairs, and in September 1200 held a provincial church council at London. This council set forth 14 canons, or decrees, which dealt with a number of subjects, including doctrinal concerns, financial affairs, and the duties of the clergy. It drew heavily on earlier church decrees, including those of the Third Lateran Council of 1179.[67] Walter also interceded with Pope Innocent III in 1200, mediating between the pope and the king over a royal dispute with the Cistercians. Walter's intercession prevented the dispute from escalating, and keeping the pope from imposing sanctions on the king for his threats to the Cistercians.[68]

Death and legacy

Walter died on July 13, 1205, after a long illness that permitted a reconciliation with his monks.[69] He was buried in the Trinity Chapel in Canterbury Cathedral, next to Saint Thomas Becket, where his tomb can still be seen.[70] The medieval chronicler Matthew Paris retold the story that when King John heard of Walter's death, the king exclaimed "Now for the first time I am king of England".[71] This story, however entertaining, is apocryphal.[72]

Walter was not a holy man, although he was, as John Gillingham, a historian and biographer of Richard I, says, "one of the most outstanding government ministers in English History".[73] Saint Hugh of Lincoln, a contemporary, is said to have asked forgiveness of God for not having rebuked Walter as often as he probably should have.[74] Modern historians tend not to share the older view that Walter was the driving force behind the administrative changes during Richard's reign, that Richard was uninterested in government, and that he left all decisions in the hands of his ministers, especially Longchamp and Walter.[75] The studies of James Holt and others have shown that Richard was highly involved in government decisions, and that it was more a partnership between the king and his ministers.[76] Walter was, however, very innovative in his approach to government.[77]

Walter was the butt of jokes about his lack of learning,[78] and was the target of a series of tales from the pen of the chronicler Gerald of Wales, an enemy of the archbishop. Even Walter's supporters could only state that he was "moderately literate".[79] Walter's lack of learning earned the scorn of scholars, especially Gerald of Wales.[80] However, Walter did employ a number of canon lawyers in his household.[81] He also employed the architect Elias of Dereham, who was one of Walter's executors. Elias is traditionally credited as being the architect of Salisbury Cathedral after Walter's death.[82] Another scholar employed by Walter was Peter of Blois, who served both Walter and his predecessor as a Latin secretary.[83] Also employed were canon lawyers, who had been educated at Bologna.[84]

W. L. Warren advances the theory that either Walter or Geoffrey Fitz Peter, instead of Ranulf Glanvill, was the author of Tractatus de legibus et consuetudinibus regni Angliae, a legal treatise on the laws and constitutions of the English.[85] Chrimes agrees that Glanvill was probably not the author, and feels that Walter likely was, although he could not be certain.[86] If he was the author, he composed what Chrimes called a "great literary memorial of Henry II's government."[87]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Greenway, Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066–1300: Volume 6: York. Retrieved February 11, 2009.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Cokayne, The Complete Peerage: Volume Two, 447.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Charles R. Young, Hubert Walter: Lord of Canterbury and Lord of England (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1968), 4–5.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 Stacey, "Walter, Hubert (d. 1205)" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  5. Young Hubert Walter, 3.
  6. Young, Hubert Walter, 7–8.
  7. Young, Hubert Walter, 19.
  8. Young Hubert Walter, 19.
  9. Young, Hubert Walter, 15.
  10. Young, Hubert Walter, 20–21.
  11. Knowles, The Monastic Order in England, 360.
  12. Young, Hubert Walter, 22.
  13. Young, Hubert Walter, 13–15.
  14. Young, Hubert Walter, 29–30.
  15. Fryde Handbook of British Chronology, 270.
  16. Greenway, Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066–1300: volume 4: Salisbury. Retrieved February 11, 2009.
  17. Gillingham, Richard I, 109.
  18. Young, Hubert Walter, 23.
  19. Young, Hubert Walter, 25–26.
  20. Bartlett, England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings, 115.
  21. Gillingham, Richard I, 129.
  22. Tyerman, God's War, 429.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Gillingham, Richard I, 238–240.
  24. Tyerman, God's War, 471.
  25. Turner, "Richard Lionheart and English Episcopal Elections," Albion, 8.
  26. Fryde, Handbook of British Chronology, 232.
  27. Jones, King John and Magna Carta, 35.
  28. 28.0 28.1 Fryde, Handbook of British Chronology, 71.
  29. Young, Hubert Walter, 49.
  30. Young, Hubert Walter, 51.
  31. Powell The House of Lords in the Middle Ages pp. 101–102
  32. Jones, King John and Magna Carta, 5–6.
  33. Young, Hubert Walter, 52–53.
  34. Jones, King John and Magna Carta, 62.
  35. Joliffe, Angevin Kingship, 66.
  36. Turner, King John, 38–39.
  37. 37.0 37.1 Powell, The House of Lords in the Middle Ages, 102–105.
  38. Carpenter, "Decline of the Curial Sheriff," English Historical Review, 4.
  39. Young, Hubert Walter, 118–119.
  40. Bartlett, England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings, 200.
  41. 41.0 41.1 Chrimes, An Introduction to the Administrative History of Mediaeval England, 75–76.
  42. Saul, "Fine," A Companion to Medieval England, 105.
  43. 43.0 43.1 Bartlett, England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings, 345.
  44. Gillingham, Richard I, 279.
  45. Gillingham, Richard I, 280.
  46. Young, Hubert Walter, 127–128.
  47. Bartlett, England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings, 411.
  48. Knowles, The Monastic Order in England, 651–652.
  49. Knowles, The Monastic Order in England, 654.
  50. Young, Hubert Walter, 73.
  51. Knowles, The Monastic Order in England, 324–328.
  52. Moorman, Church Life in England in the Thirteenth Century, 111–112.
  53. Moorman, Church Life in England in the Thirteenth Century, 121.
  54. Moorman, Church Life in England in the Thirteenth Century, 226.
  55. Young, Hubert Walter, 141–142.
  56. Mortimer, Angevin England, 208.
  57. 57.0 57.1 57.2 Gillingham, Richard I, 280–281.
  58. Young, Hubert Walter, 129–130.
  59. Warren, King John, 49.
  60. Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings p. 124
  61. Petit-Dutaillis, The Feudal Monarchy in France and England, 117–118.
  62. 62.0 62.1 Warren, King John, 134–135.
  63. Cheney, "Levies on the English clergy," The English Historical Review, 578.
  64. Warren, King John, 96–97.
  65. Young, Hubert Walter, 74–75.
  66. Young, Hubert Walter, 76.
  67. Young, Hubert Walter, 102–103.
  68. Harper-Bill, "John and the Church," King John, 303.
  69. Knowles, The Monastic Order in England, 363.
  70. Bartlett, England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings, 595.
  71. Gillingham, "The Historian as Judge," The English Historical Review.
  72. Gillingham, "The Historian as Judge," The English Historical Review.
  73. Gillingham, Richard I, 274.
  74. Gillingham, Richard I, 274.
  75. Chrimes, An Introduction to the Administrative History of Mediaeval England, 42–43.
  76. Gillingham, Richard I, 275–276.
  77. Mortimer, Angevin England, 70.
  78. Gillingham, Richard I, 256.
  79. Bartlett, England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings, 485.
  80. Moorman, Church Life in England in the Thirteenth Century, 159.
  81. Young, Hubert Walter, 57–58.
  82. Young, Hubert Walter, 61–62.
  83. Turner, "Reputation of Royal Judges," Albion, 309.
  84. Turner, "Roman Law," Journal of British Studies, 9.
  85. Warren, King John, 127.
  86. Chrimes, An Introduction to the Administrative History of Mediaeval England, 40.
  87. Chrimes, An Introduction to the Administrative History of Mediaeval England, 52.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

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  • Coredon, Christopher. 2007. A Dictionary of Medieval Terms & Phrases. Woodbridge: D. S. Brewer. ISBN 978-1-74384-138-8.
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  • Young, Charles R. 1968. Hubert Walter: Lord of Canterbury and Lord of England. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.


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