He was probably born in Abbots Langley near St Albans in Hertfordshire, possibly around 1100. His father seems to have been a married priest, who later became a monk at St Albans Abbey. Nicholas studied in France and became a canon regular, and later abbot, of St Ruf near Avignon. He came to the attention of Pope Eugenius III, who made him a cardinal and sent him on a mission to reorganise the church in Scandinavia.
As Pope Adrian IV, he and Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa were rivals for supremacy in Rome. He was generous to St Albans Abbey and confirmed the archbishop of York in his metropolitan authority over the Scottish bishops, and in his freedom from that of Canterbury. In the bull Laudabiliter, he apparently gave Henry II of England papal approval for the conquest of Ireland. He died at Anagni near Rome on 1 September 1159.
Distant descendents of Nicholas Breakspear set up the W.H.Brakspear and Sons Brewery in Henley, Oxfordshire, in 1779. Apparently the pope used the symbol of a bee on his mitre, which is still used by the brewery.
Jane E. Sayers, ‘Adrian IV (d. 1159)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. [Accessed online on 14 April 2011]
Richard Cavendish, ‘Election of Pope Adrian IV’, History Today, Vol 54, Issue 12, Dec 2004, p 53. [Accessed online on 7 June 2011]
‘History of Brakspear Brewery’ [Accessed online on 30 November 2014]
(Photograph of the Gateway of St Albans Abbey © Dorothea Preis)