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Hugh Bishop Of Lincoln by Charles L. Marson


Hugh knew well enough what the Chartreuse Chapter would say if the English meant to have him, and so he began his preparations at once. Other men fussed about fine copes, chasubles, and mitres, and dogged the clerical tailors, or pottered about in goldsmiths' shops to get a grand equipment of goblets. To him the approaching dignity was like a black cloud to a sailor, or a forest of charging lances to the soldier under arms. He fell hard to prayer and repentance, to meditation upon the spiritual needs of his new duties, lest he should have holy oil on his head and a dry and dirty conscience. He gave no time to the menu of the banquet, to the delicacies, the authorities, and the lacquey-smoothed amenities of the new life. He was racked with misery at the bare imagination of the fruitless trouble of palace business exchanged for the fruitful quiet of his cell. He feared that psalms would give way to tussles, holy reading to cackle, inward meditation to ugly shadows, inward purity to outer nothingness. His words to the brethren took a higher and a humbler tone, which surprised them, for even they were used to see bishoprics looked upon as plums, and sought with every device of dodgery. Yet here was a man who could keep his soul unhurt and cure the hurts of others, yet whose cry was, |In my house is neither bread nor clothing; make me not a ruler of the people.| St. Augustine's fierce words upon the Good Shepherd and the hireling were in his mind. |The soul's lawful husband is God. Whoso seeks aught but God from God is no chaste bride of God. See, brothers, if the wife loves her husband because he is rich she is not chaste. She loves, not her husband, but her husband's gold. For if she loves her husband she loves him bare, she loves him beggared.| So Hugh prepared his soul as for a bridal with the coming bridegroom.

When the inevitable command came, more than three months after his first election, he meekly set out for his duties at |the mount of the Lord, not Lebanon,{3} but Lincoln.| He was white in dress, white in face, but radiant white within. He sat a horse without trappings, but with a roll of fleece and clothes, his day and night gear. Around him pricked his clergy upon their gold-buttoned saddles. They tried various devices to get his bundle away to carry it upon their own cruppers, but neither jest nor earnest could unstrap that homely pack. The truth was that he would not allow himself to change his old simple habits one jot, lest he should develop the carnal mind. So they drew across Salisbury Plain and on to Marlborough. Here was the Court and a great throng, and this public disgrace of the pack was too much for the Lincoln exquisites. They cut the straps of the objectionable bundle and impounded it. From Marlborough the cavalcade rode into London, and Hugh was consecrated on Sunday, September 21 (Feast of St. Matthew, the converted capitalist), 1186. King Henry was in fine feather, and, forgetting his rather near habits, produced some fine gold plate, a large service of silver, a substantial set of pots and pans, and a good sum of ready money to meet the expenses of the festive occasion. Without some such help a penniless Carthusian could hardly have climbed up that Lebanon at all, unless by the sore scandal of a suit to the Lincoln Jewry. This handsome present was made at Marlborough. William de Northalle was consecrated Bishop of Worcester on the same day, of whom nothing else transpires than that he died not long after, and is supposed to have been an old and toothless bishop promoted for his ready fees. The place of consecration was Westminster Abbey, in its prae-Edwardian state, and so no longer extant.

Hugh would undoubtedly sleep in the house in which he afterwards died. This lay at the back of Staple Inn, where the new bursar, whom the king had given him, bestowed the royal pots and crocks. Consecration like necessity brings strange bedfellows, and plain, cheap-habited Hugh, by gaudily trimmed William in his jewelled mitre, must have raised a few smiles that Sunday morning.

Hugh's delays had ended with his prior's order, and he saw nothing now to stay his journey northwards. With him rode Gilbert de Glanville, Bishop of Rochester, a malleus monachorum, a great hammerer of monks, and perhaps told off for the duty of enthroning the new bishop to silence those who had a distaste for all monkery. Herbert le Poor, late rival candidate for the See, also pranced alongside with all the importance of a great functionary, whose archidiaconal duty it was to enthrone all bishops of the Province of Canterbury. For this duty he used to have the bishop's horse and trappings and much besides; but alas! the new man slept at St. Catherine's Priory on Michaelmas Eve and walked upon his bare toes to the cracked cathedral next morning. When he was fairly and ceremonially seated the archdeacon held out his practised palm for the customary fee (archdeacons are still fee-extracting creatures). He was astonished to hear the radical retort, |What I gave for my mitre| (it was a very cheap one) |that and no more will I give for my throne.| Both Herbert and with him Simon Magus fell backward breathless at this blow.{4} But Hugh had a short way of demolishing his enemies, and the archdeacon appears hereafter as his stout follower knocked, no doubt, into a friend. All who were present at this ceremony had their penances remitted for thirteen days. Two other incidents are recorded of this time. One is that the bursar asked how many small fallow deer from the bishop's park should be killed for the inauguration feast. |Let three hundred be taken, and if you find more wanted do not stickle to add to this number.| In this answer the reader must not see the witless, bad arithmetic of a vegetarian unskilled in catering, but a fine determination, first to feed all the poor folk of his metropolis with the monopolies of princes; and secondly, to sever himself wholly and dramatically from the accursed oppression of the game and forest laws. When Hugh told the story at Court it served as a merry jest, often broken, no doubt, against game (but not soul) preserving prelates, but, as the sequel shows, there was method in it. The other incident is that in the convent after Matins, on the morning of his enthronement, he slept and heard a voice which comforted his doubtful heart, too fearful lest this step should not be for the people's health or his own. |Thou hast entered for the waxing of thy people, for the waxing of salvation to be taken with thy Christ.|

The new bishop lived at his manor at Stowe (of which part of the moat and a farmhouse are now to be seen by the curious), a place parked and ponded deliciously. Almost as soon as he was installed a new swan came upon the waters, huge and flat-beaked, with yellow fleshings to his mandibles. This large wild bird dwarfed the tame swans into geese by comparison, and no doubt tame swans and geese were small things in those days compared to our selected fatlings. This bird drove off and killed the other swans, all but one female, with whom he companied but did not breed. The servants easily caught him and brought him to the bishop's room as a wonder. The beast-loving man, instead of sending him to the spit, offered him some bread, which he ate, and immediately struck up an enthusiastic friendship with his master, caring nothing for any throngs about him. After a time he would nestle his long neck far up into the bishop's wide sleeve, toying with him and asking him for things with pretty little clatterings. The bird seemed to know some days before he was due that he was coming, for it flapped about the lake and made cries. It would leave the water and stalk through the house walking wide in the legs. It would neither notice nor brook any other man, but rather seemed jealous, and would hiss and flap away the rest of the company. If the bishop slept or watched, the swan would keep dogs and other animals at bay. With true spiritual instinct it would peck hard at the calves of chaplains. If the bishop was abed no one was allowed near him without a most distressing scene, and there was no cajoling this zealous watchman. When the bishop went away the bird would retire to the middle of its pool, and merely condescend to take rations from the steward; but if its friend returned it would have none of servants. Even two years' interval made no difference to the faithful swan. It prophetically proclaimed his unexpected arrival. When the carts and forerunners arrived (with the household stuffs) the swan would push boldly in among the crowd and cry aloud with delight when at last it caught the sound of its master's voice, and it would go with him through the cloister to his room, upstairs and all, and could not be got out without force. Hugh fed it with fingers of bread he sliced with his own hand. This went on for nearly all Hugh's episcopate. But in his last Easter the swan seemed ill and sullen, and kept to his pond. After some chase they caught him in the sedge, and brought him in, the picture of unhappiness, with drooping head and trailing wing, before the bishop. The poor bird was to lose its friend six months after, and seemed to resent the cruel severance of coming death, though it was itself to live for many a day after its master had gone home to his rest. There, floating conspicuous on the lake, it reminded orphaned hearts of their innocent, kind, and pure friend who had lived patiently and fearlessly, and taken death with a song -- the new song of the Redeemed.

The first act of the new bishop was naturally to enlist captains for the severe campaign, and he ran his keen eye over England and beyond it for wise, learned, and godly men who could help a stranger. He wrote a touchingly humble letter to Archbishop Baldwin to help him to find worthy right-hand men, |for you are bred among them, you have long been a leader, and you know them 'inside and under the skin,' as the saying goes.| Baldwin, an Exeter labourer by birth, by turns a schoolmaster, archdeacon, Cistercian abbot, Bishop of Worcester, and primate -- a silent, dark, strong man, gentle, studious, and unworldly -- was delighted at the request. He sent off Robert of Bedford, an ardent reformer and brilliant scholar, and Roger Roldeston, another distinguished scholar, who afterwards was Dean of Lincoln. These, like Aaron and Hur, upheld the lawgiver's hands, and they, with others of a like kidney, soon changed the face of affairs. Robert died early, but Roger was made Archdeacon of Leicester, confessor, and at the end executor to the bishop. After gathering captains the next thing was an eight-fold lash for abuses -- decrees (1) against bribes; (2) against vicars who would not sing Mass save for extra pay; (3) against swaggering archdeacons who suspended churches, and persons beyond their beat. These gentlemen, in the absence of a bishop, seem to have grown into popes at the least. (4) Mass not to be laid as a penance upon any non-priestly person. This was a nimble way by which confessors fined penitents to their own profit. (5) Annual and other customary masses to be said without temporal gain. (6) Priestly administration only to be undertaken by those who are proved to be duly ordained by the archbishop or one of his suffragans: forged orders being plentiful. (7) Incumbents to be tonsured, and clergy to wear |the crown| instead of love-locks. (8) Clergy not to sue clergy in ecclesiastical cases before civil justices, Erastian knaves being active, even then.

Next year brought a much more fighting foe, Godfrey the chief forestar. There was a Forest Assize only three years back, and a great outbreak of game preserving, dog licensing, bow confiscating, fines, imprisonment and slaughter, new rights for old tyrants, boys of twelve and clergy to be sworn to the hunting peace, mangling of mastiffs, banishment of tanners and parchmenters from woodlands -- and if this was within the law, what could not be done without the law by these far away and favoured gamekeepers? The country groaned. Robbers and wolves could easily demolish those whom the foresters did not choose to protect, and the forest men went through the land like a scourge. Some flagrant injustice to one of Hugh's men brought down an excommunication upon Godfrey, who sent off to the king in fury and astonishment; and Henry was in a fine fit of anger at the news, for the Conqueror long ago had forbidden unauthorised anathemas against his men. Certain courtiers, thinking to put Hugh in the way of obliging the king, suggested that a vacant prebend at Lincoln should be given to one of themselves. The king sent a letter to that effect, which he did with some curiosity, suggesting this tit for tat. The messengers jingled through Oxford from Woodstock and found the bishop at Dorchester touring round his weedy diocese, who addressed the expectant prebendary and his friends with these words: |Benefices are not for courtiers but for ecclesiastics. Their holders should not minister to the palace, revenue, or treasury, but as Scripture teachers to the altar. The lord king has wherewith to reward those who serve him in his business, wherewith to recompense soldiers' work in temporals with temporals. It is good for him to allow the soldiers of the highest King to enjoy what is set aside for their future necessities and not to agree to deprive them of their due stipends.| With these words he unhesitatingly sent the courtiers empty and packing. The fat was in the fire, and the angry courtiers took care that the chimney should draw. A man galloped off to say |Come to the king at once,| and when the bishop was nearing Rosamond's bower, the king and his nobles rode off to the park, and sat down in a ring. The bishop followed at once. No one replied to his salute, or took the least notice of him. He laid hands upon a great officer next the king and moved him and sat down, in the circle of black looks. Then the king called for a needle. He had hurt one of his left fingers, and he sewed a stall upon it. The bishop was practised in silence, and was not put out by it. At last he said gently, |You are very like your relatives in Falaise.| Henry threw himself back and laughed in a healthy roar. The courtiers who understood the sarcasm were aghast at its audacity. They could not but smile, but waited for the king, who, when he had had his laugh out, explained the allusion to the Conqueror's leather dressing and gloving lineage. |All the same, my good man, you must say why you chose, without our leave, to put our chief forester under the ban, why moreover you so flouted our little request that you neither came in person to explain your repulse nor sent a polite message by our messengers.| Hugh answered simply that he knew the king had taken great trouble about his election, so it was his business to keep the king from spiritual dangers, to coerce the oppressor and to dismiss the covetous nonsuited. It would be useless and stupid to come to court for either matter, for the king's discretion was prompt to notice proper action and quick to approve the right. Hugh was irresistible. The king embraced him, asked for his prayers, gave the forester to his mercy. Godfrey and his accomplices were all publicly flogged and absolved, and the enemy, as usual, became his faithful friend and supporter. The courtiers ceased to act like kites and never troubled him again. On the contrary, some of them helped him so heartily that, if they had not been tied by the court, he would have loved to have beneficed them in the diocese. But non-residence was one of the scandals of the age and Hugh was inflexible in this matter. Salary and service at the altar were never to be parted. Even the Rector of the University of Paris, who once said how much he would like to be associated with Lincoln by accepting a canonry, heard that this would also be a great pleasure to the bishop, |if only you are willing to reside there, and if, too, your morals will keep pace with your learning.| The gentleman was stricter in scholarship than in life, but no one had ever taken the liberty to tell him of it, and he is said to have taken the hint. Herein Hugh was quite consistent. He would not take any amount of quadrivium as a substitute for honest living, and next after honest living he valued a peaceable, meek, conformist spirit, which was not always agape for division and the sowing of discords. He took some pains to compose quarrels elsewhere, as for instance, between Archbishop Baldwin and the monks of Canterbury. The archbishop wished to found a house of secular canons at Hackington in honour of SS. Stephen and Thomas of Canterbury. The monks were furious; the quarrel grew. Hugh thought and advised, when asked, that the question of division outweighed the use of the new church, and that it would be better to stop at the onset than to have to give up the finished work. But, objected Baldwin, holy Thomas himself wanted to build this church. |Let it suffice that you are like the martyr in proposing the same. Hear my simplicity and go no further.| He preached union with constant fervour, and used to say that the knowledge that his spiritual sons were all at his back made him fear neither king nor any mortal, |neither do I lose the inward freedom from care, which is the earnest of, and the practice for, the eternal calm. Nor do my masters (so he called his canons) break and destroy a quiet that knows no dissent, for they think me gentle and mild. I am really tarter and more stinging than pepper, so that even when I am presiding over them at the chapter, the smallest thing fires me with anger. But they, as they ought, know their man of their choice and bear with him. They turn necessity into virtue and give place to me. I am deeply grateful to them. They have never opposed a single word of mine since I first came to live among them. When they all go out and the chapter is over, not one of them, I think, but knows I love him, nor do I believe I am unloved by a single one of them.| This fact and temper of mind it was which made it possible to work the large diocese, for, of course, the bishop did not act in any public matter without his clergy. But personally his work was much helped by his self-denial and simplicity of his life. He never touched flesh but often used fish. He would drink a little wine, not only for health, but for company's sake. He was a merry and jest-loving table companion, though he never was undignified or unseemly. He would allow tumblers and musicians to perform at banquets, but he then appeared detached and abstracted rather than interested; but he was most attentive when meals were accompanied by readings about martyrs' passions, or saints' lives, and he had the scriptures (except the four gospels, which were treated apart) read at dinner and at the nightly office. He found the work of a bishop obliged him to treat that baggage animal, the body, better than of yore. His earlier austerities were avenged by constant pains in the bowels and stomach troubles, but in dedications of churches, ordinations, and other offices he would out-tire and knock up every one else, as he went from work to work. He rose before dawn and often times did not break his fast till after midday. In hot summer weather, he would oblige his ministers (deacon, sub-deacon, acolytes, &c.) to take a little bread and wine lest they should faint at the solemn Mass. When they hesitated, he upbraided them with want of faith and of sense, because they could not obey orders or see the force of them. When he journeyed and crowds came to be confirmed themselves or to present their little ones, he would get off his horse at a suitable spot and perform that rite. Neither tiredness, weakness, haste, rough ground, nor rain would induce him to confirm from the saddle. A young bishop afterwards, with no possible excuse, would order the frightened children up among restive horses. They came weeping and whipped by insolent attendants at no small risk -- but his lordship cared nothing for their woe and danger. Not so dear Father Hugh. He took the babes gently and in due order, and if he caught any lay assistants troubling them would reproach them terribly, sometimes even thrashing the rascals with his own heavy hand. Then he would bless the audience, pray for the sick, and go on with his journey.

He was passionately fond of children, not only because they were innocent, but because they were young: and he loved to romp with them -- anticipating by nearly seven centuries the simple discovery of their charm, and he would coax half words of wondrous wit from their little stammering lips. They made close friends with him at once, just as did the mesenges or blue tits who used to come from woods and orchards of Thornholm, in Lindsey, and perch upon him, to get or to ask for food.{5}

There is a story of a six months' old infant which jumped in its mother's arms to see him, waved its armlets, wagged its head, and made mysterious wrigglings (hitherto unobserved by bachelor monks) to greet him. It dragged his hand with its plump palm to its mouth as if to kiss it, although truth compels biographer Adam to acknowledge the kiss was but a suck. |These things are marvellous and to be deeply astonished at,| he says. Hugh gave the boy apples or other small apposites (let us hope it was not apples, or the consequences of such gross ignorance would be equally marvellous), but the child was too interested in the bishop to notice the gifts. The bishop would tell how while he was still Prior he once went abroad to the Carthusian Chapter and stopped with brother William at Avalon. There his nephew, a child who could not even speak, was laid down upon his bed and (above the force of nature) chuckled at him -- actually chuckled. Adam expected these two to grow up into prodigies and heard good of the latter, but the former he lost sight of -- a little low-born boy in Newark Castle. Hugh used to put his baby friends to school when they grew older. Benedict of Caen was one of these, and he slipped off Roger de Roldeston's horse into a rushing stream, but was miraculously not drowned: and Robert of Noyon was another whom he picked up at Lambeth in the archbishop's train and put to school with the nuns at Elstow.

These tender passages are to be contrasted with quite other sides to the man. Once an old rustic arrived late for a roadside confirmation. The bishop was in the saddle and trotting off to another place near, when the old fellow bawled after him that he, too, wished to be bishopped. Hugh more than once bade him hurry with the rest to the next place, but the man sat plump on the ground and said it was the bishop's fault and not his if he missed that Grace. The prelate looked back, and at last pulled up, turned his horse, rode back, and was off saddle again, and had the rite administered swiftly; but having laid holy hands upon him, he laid also a disciplinary one, for he boxed the old fellow's ears pretty smartly, which spanking some would have us to believe was a technical act of ritual, a sort of accolade in fact. The same has been suggested about the flogging of forester Godfrey; for the mere resonance of these blows it seems, is too much for the tender nerves of our generation. Another bumpkin with his son once ran after the bishop's horse. The holy man descended, opened his chrism box, and donned his stole, but the boy had been confirmed already. The father wanted to change the boy's name; it would bring him luck. The bishop, horrified at such paganism, asked the boy's name. When he heard that it was John he was furious. |John, a Hebrew name for God's Grace. How dare you ask for a better one? Do you want him called 'hoe' or 'fork'? For your foolish request, take a year's penance, Wednesday's Lenten diet and Friday's bread and water.|{6}

He was hardly abreast of his very legal time in reverence for the feudal system. One of his tenants died and his bailiffs seized the best thing he had, to wit, an ox, as heriot due to the lord. The poor widow in tears begged and prayed for her ox back again, as the beast was breadwinner for her young children. The seneschal of the place chimed in, |But, my lord, if you remit these and similar legal dues, you will be absolutely unable to hold the land at all.| The bishop heard him and leapt from his horse to the ground, which was very muddy. He dug both hands into the dirt. |Now I have got the land,| he said, |and yet I do remit the poor little woman her ox,| and then he flung the mud away, and lifting his eyes added, |I do not want the land down here; I want heaven. This woman had only two to work for her. Death has taken the better one and are we to take the other? Perish such avarice! Why, in the throes of such wretchedness, she ought to have comfort much rather than further trouble.| Another time he remitted L5 due from a knight's son, at his father's death, saying it was unjust and mischievous that he should lose his money because he had lost his father too. |He shall not have double misfortune at any rate at our hands.| Even in the twelfth century piety and business sometimes clashed.

Hugh had not been enthroned a year, when Christendom was aghast and alarmed at the news from the East. Saladin with eighty thousand men had met the armies of the Cross at Tiberias (or Hittin), had slaughtered them around the Holy Rood itself, in the Saviour's own country, had beheaded all the knights of the Temple and the Hospital who would not betray the faith. Jerusalem had fallen, and Mahomet was lord of the holy fields. |The rejoicing in hell was as great as the grief when Christ harrowed it,| men said. The news came in terrible bursts; not a country but lost its great ones. Hugh Beauchamp is killed, Roger Mowbray taken. The Pope, Urban III., has died of grief. The Crusade has begun to be preached. Gregory VIII. has offered great indulgences to true penitents and believers who will up and at the Saracens. He bade men fear lest Christians lose what land they have left. Fasting three days a week has been ordered. Prince Richard has the cross (and is one, to his father). Berter of Orleans sings a Jeremiad. Gilbert Foliot (foe to St. Thomas) is dead. Peace has been made between France of the red cross and England of the white, and Flanders of the green. King Henry has ordered a tax of a tenth, under pain of cursing, to be collected before the clergy in the parishes from all stay-at-homes. Our Hugh is not among the bishops present at this Le Mans proclamation. The kingdom is overrun, in patches, with tithe collectors. Awful letters come from Christian remnants, but still there is no crusade; France and England are at war. The new Pope is dead. Now old Frederick Barbarossa is really off to Armenia. Prayers and psalms for Jerusalem fill the air. The Emperor is drowned. Archbishop Baldwin and Hugh of Durham, notwithstanding, quarrel with their monks. Scotland is always in a tangle. Great King Henry, with evil sons and failing health, makes a sad peace in a fearful storm, learns that son John too has betrayed him, curses his day and his sons, and refuses to withdraw his curse, dies at Chinon before the altar, houselled and anhealed, on the 6th of July, 1189. But when dead he is plundered of every rag and forsaken.

That last Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity, Hugh had been abroad with the poor king, and had been the only bishop who insisted upon keeping his festivals with full sung Mass and not a hasty, low Mass.

Hugh de Nonant, the new bishop of Coventry, one Confessor's Day had begun saying the introit, when his Lincoln namesake lifted up his voice and began the long melic intonation. |No, no, we must haste. The king has told us to come quickly,| said the former. The answer was, |Nay, for the sake of the King of kings, who is most powerfully to be served, and whose service must bate nothing for worldly cares, we must not haste but feast on this feast,| and so he came later, but missed nothing. Before the king died Hugh had gone back to his diocese again, and heard the sorrowful news there.


{3} The white.

{4} He was acting by a Canon of 1138, passed at Westminster.

{5} Thornholm is near Appleby, and is a wooded part of the county even to this day.

{6} From this and from various incidental remarks it may be concluded that Hugh knew Hebrew, which is not remarkable, because the learned just then had taken vigorously to that tongue and had to be restrained from taking lessons too ardently in the Ghetto. Some of his incidental remarks certainly did not come from St. Jerome, the great cistern of mediaeval Hebrew.

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