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Hugh Bishop Of Lincoln by Charles L. Marson

CHAPTER V THE BISHOP AT WORK

Henry was dead before his friend was three years a bishop, and with him died Hugh's hopes of better men on the bench, for Richard's bishops were treasurers, justiciars and everything but fathers of their dioceses. Tall, blue-eyed, golden-haired Richard the Viking, had a simple view of his father's Empire. It was a fine basis for military operations.{7} He loosed some of the people's burdens to make them pay more groats. He unlocked the gaols. He made concessions to France and Scotland. He frowned upon the Jews, a frown which only meant that he was going to squeeze them, but which his people interpreted into a permission to wreak their hatred, malice, and revenge upon the favoured usurers.

The massacre of Jews which began in London and finally culminated in the fearful scenes of York, spread to other parts and broke out in place after place. In Lent (1190) the enlisting for the crusade was going on in Stamford. The recruits, |indignant that the enemies of the Cross of Christ who lived there should possess so much, while they themselves had so little for the expenses of so great a journey,| rushed upon the Jews. The men of Stamford tried to stop the riot, but were overcome, and if it had not been for the Castle the Jews would have been killed to a man. Two of the plunderers fell out over the booty. One, John by name, was killed, martyred it was supposed. The old women had dreams about him. Miracles began. A shrine was set up and robber John began to develop into Saint John. Then down came the bishop, scattered the watchers and worshippers, hacked down the shrine and forbade any more such adoration of Jew-baiting thieves, with a thundering anathema. The Lincoln people next began the same game, but they did not reckon with the new warden, Gerard de Camville, who had bought the revenues and provided a harbour there for the Israelites. We may believe that the bishop also was not behind hand in quelling such bloody ruffianism, for the Jews were afterwards very conspicuous in their grief at his death, evidently owing him something.

King Richard, athirst for adventure, sold all that he could, taxed all that he could, and then set off for the crusade, carrying with him Baldwin the gentle archbishop, who was to die in despair at the gross habits and loose morals of the crusading hosts. He left behind him brother John, whom he had tried to bribe into fidelity, and a little lame, black foreigner, Longchamp, Bishop of Ely, who had been adviser, schemer, general brain box and jackal to the Lionheart, and who now swept through England with a thousand knights, trying cleverly and faithfully to rule the restive English and to keep them in some order and loyalty, in his ill-bred, active way. But the whole position was impossible and more impossible, first, because of John the always treasonable; and secondly, because of Walter, late Bishop of Lincoln and now of Rouen (the Pilate or Pilot?) whom Richard sent to guard the guardian. Geoffrey, half brother to the king, next came upon the scenes as a new complication. He had been made Archbishop of York and overlord of Durham. Black William's sister Richenda seized this archbishop and imprisoned him: and then Hugh joined the anti-Longchamp party, sided actively with John and with Gerard de Camville, who was beseiged in Lincoln. Hugh excommunicated Richenda. His influence turned the scale against Longchamp.

It would require a treatise in itself to unfold all the tangled story of the first half of Richard's reign till the king returned to England after war, prison, and heavy ransom, in March 1194. Practically, at this date the Bishop of Lincoln disappears as much as possible from political life; or at least tried to do so. He was building the cathedral and doing his duty as bishop, befriending the needy and the outcast, and showing himself the enemy of wrong-doers. Now we hear of him clipping the love locks of his young sacristan Martin, who straightway became a monk; now following in the steps of great St. Martin by some passionate acts of pity, and now retiring mostly in harvest time (when all hands are busy and all hearts are out of reach) to his beloved Witham for a month's retreat.

Of course all devout people in the Middle Ages had an especial care for lepers because of that most fortunate mistranslation in Isaiah liii.4. which we render |we did esteem Him stricken,| but which the Vulgate renders putavimus eum quasi leprosum: we did esteem Him as it were a leper. Hence service to lepers was especially part of service to Christ. At Maiden Bradley, in Somerset, was a colony of leprous sisters; and at Witham Church a leper window looked towards their house. At Lincoln{8} was the Hospital of the Holy Innocents called La Malandrie. It was founded by St. Remigius, the Norman cathedral builder, with thirteen marks revenue and further endowed by Henry I. and Henry II. The condition of all these leper outcasts was more than miserable. The disease was divided into the breeding, full and shipwreck periods. When the first was detected the patient was led to church, clothed in black, Mass and Matins for the dead were said over him, earth was thrown upon his foot, and then he was taken to a hovel on waste land where he was to be buried at the last. Here he found a parti-coloured robe, a coat, two shirts, a rattle, knife, staff, copper girdle, bed, table, and lamp, a chair, chest, pail, cask and funnel, and this was his portion for ever. He was not before 1179 allowed even a leprous priest to say Mass for him. The disease rotted away his flesh till he died, limbless or faceless in fearful shipwreck, and unhouselled. These wretches this bishop took under his peculiar care. He would wash them with his own hands, as his mother did before him, kiss them, serve them with meat, drink, and money. He would have thirteen together in his room, if he could find that number. He maintained many, both men and women. He would go to the Malandry, stop in a cell there, accompanied by a few of his devoutest and closest friends, and cosset the lepers motheringly, telling them they were desolate and afflicted only to be rewarded for ever, persuading them to a holy life with his pitying words, reproving them for their evil deeds (and many lepers were horribly immoral); but before ever he talked to them he kissed the men, embracing longer and more lovingly those who were worst smitten. The swelled, black, gathered, deformed faces, eyeless or lipless, were a horror to behold, but to Hugh they seemed lovely, in the body of their humiliation. Such he said were happy, were Paradise flowers, great crown gems of the King Eternal. He would use these as a text and speak of Christ's compassion to the wretched, Christ who now took ulcerous Lazarus by angels to Abraham's bosom and now became weak with our weakness. |Oh, how happy they were who were close about that so sweet man as his friends! Whatever his foot trod upon, or any part of him had touched, or his hands had handled, it would be sweet indeed to me, to devour with kisses, to put to my eyes, to bury in my very heart if I could. What of this superfluous humour, if one may use the word of what flowed from the tree of life? What am I to feel of that humour which used to be poured from a vase of such blessing because He bare our infirmity? Why, of course, if I only could, I should diligently gather Him, yes, and drain Him with my lips, drink Him in with my jaws, and hide just Him in my inward parts. Those are the really wretched, who fear aught else than to offend One so sweet. Those are the pitiful who esteem aught else sweet, or seek aught else than sweetly to cleave to this sweet One and sweetly obey Him. I do not know what he can feel to be bitter, who with the inner palate of the heart has learnt by continuous meditation to feed on the sweetness of this Sweet.| Thus inspired, he looked upon the weaker limbs of Christ, honouring those whom others passed by.

Not only was he bountiful to lepers, but what with the alms asked of him and given by a hand that often outran the tongue of need, he gave away a third of all he had in this way alone. Once at Newark he met a leper and kissed him. There a most learned Canon from Paris, William de Montibus, a great master and author, an early Cruden, and the Chancellor of the Diocese, said to him, |Martin's kiss cleansed the leper.| The bishop answered humbly, |Martin kissed the leper and cured his body, but the leper's kiss has cured my soul.|

Of Hugh's courage several instances are cited (but impossible now to date). He went several times unarmed against threatening bands of men who flourished naked swords. In Lincoln Church, in Holland as aforementioned, and in Northampton, he faced angry clerks and laymen, knights and men at arms, and burgesses with equal vigour, and excommunicated them. It is not unlikely that the first was in defence of the Jews, and the third when he stopped the worship of a thief at the last place. The second may have been when he placed himself among the enemies of Longchamp.

He was believed, and he believed himself, to be able to cause death to those whom he excommunicated. This was so firmly acknowledged that it saved him in many a severe pinch, and shielded him from indifference, beggary, and defeat. Many instances are given us, in which misfortune and death followed upon his censures. If any one likes to plead post hoc, non ergo propter hoc, judgment may go by default; but at any rate the stories show the life of the time most vividly, and the battle for righteousness which a good bishop had to wage.

There lived at Cokewald an oldish knight, Thomas de Saleby, whose wife Agnes was barren. William, his brother, also a knight, but of Hardredeshill, was the heir to the estate. Dame Agnes detested William and schemed to disappoint him. She gave out that she was with child. William disbelieved, consulted friends, but could find no remedy. About Easter, 1194, the lady affected to be confined. A baby, Grace by name, was smuggled into the room, and sent back to its mother to be suckled. Outwitted, William went off in distress to the bishop, who sent for Sir Thomas, in private, charged him, and tried to make him confess. But he, |fearing the scoldings of his too tongue-banging wife more than God's justice, and being, moreover, spell-bound by her viperine hissings,| affected utter innocence. The bishop plied him vigorously, urging public opinion and his own old weak state. At last he promised that he would go home and talk with Agnes, and report the next day, and if he found these things so, would obey orders. |Do so,| said the bishop, |but know that if you bate your promise, the sentence of excommunication will strike solemnly and fearfully all the doers and abetters of this wrong.| But Agnes' tongue outdid the bishop's, and Thomas sulked indoors. The bishop preached about this in public, on the Easter Monday, and said it was a sin unto death. He then knotted the cord of anathema round the daring conspirators. Satan was soon up and at Thomas. He wrenched away the soul of the unhappy knight, who had gone to bed to escape the worry, and there died a sad example to wife-ruled husbands. Agnes, however, defied them all and braved out her story; and here is the crux: the infant was legally legitimate because Thomas had acknowledged it to be such. King Richard allowed little Grace, aged four, to be betrothed to Adam, a brother of Hugh de Neville, his chief forestar. Hugh, who was always at war with child marriages, issued a special caveat in this case. But when he was away in Normandy they found a priest (a fool or bribed) to tie the knot. The priest was suspended and the rest excommunicated. In the next act the chambermaid confessed; and lastly Agnes' nerve gave way, and she did the same. But Adam still claimed the lands, won a suit in London, although William bid five hundred marks against him, and died drunk at an inn, with his baby bride. Hugh's comment was that |the name forestar is right and aptly given, for they will stand far from the kingdom of God.| But the little heiress was again hunted into marriage, this time by a valet of John's, Norman of the chamber, who bought her for two hundred marks. He died, and the little girl was sold for three hundred marks to Brien de Insula, a man known to history. Grace at the last died childless, though she seems to have been a pious wife; and Saleby came back at the last to William's long defrauded line.

Yet another forestar also under ban found some men in his forest cutting brush-wood, handled them insolently and was cut to pieces and stuck together again with twigs and left at the cross roads.

Again a deacon, Richard de Waure, quarrelled with a knight, Reginald de Argentun, and maliciously accused him of treason. The bishop forbade the suit, but the deacon danced off to my lord of Canterbury, Hubert the Justiciar, who was the real King of England and one of the ablest men the country had to serve her. He felt it right that the suit should continue. Hugh declared that he had acted as Justiciar, not as Metropolitan, and suspended Richard, who again went off to Hubert and got the sentence relaxed, and boasted that he was free from Lincoln jurisdiction. Hugh simply added excommunication to the contumacious deacon. Again the archbishop loosed, and Hugh bound. |If a hundred times you get absolved by the lord archbishop, know that we re-excommunicate you a hundred times or more, as long as we see you so all too hardened in your mad presumption. It is evident what you care for our sentence. But it is utterly fixed and settled.| Then the deacon hesitated, but before he could make up his mind his man cracked open his head with an axe.

Then again there was a girl at Oxford, who, backed by a Herodias mother, left her husband for another love. The husband appealed to the bishop, who told her to go back. She kept repeating that she would sooner die. Hugh tried coaxing. He took her husband's hand and said, |Be my daughter and do what I bid you. Take your husband in the kiss of peace with God's benison. Otherwise I will not spare you, be sure, nor your baneful advisers.| He told the husband to give her the kiss of peace. But when he advanced to do so the hussey spat in his face near the altar (of Carfax) and before many reverend fathers. With a fearful voice the bishop said, |You have eschewed the blessing and chosen the curse. Lo! the curse shall catch you.| He gave her a few days' respite and then pronounced the curse. |She was suffocated by the enemy of mankind, and suddenly changed lawless and vanishing pleasures for unending and just tortures,| says the unhesitating scribe.

Once a Yorkshire clerk was turned out of his benefice by a knight (who was in our sense also a squire) simply that the gentleman might clap in his brother. The poor parson appealed to Courts Christian and Courts Civil, but found his enemy was much too favoured for him to effect anything. He tried Rome, but, poor Lackpenny, got what he might have expected from that distant tribunal. In his distress he turned to the chivalrous Bishop of Lincoln. Now, Hugh had no business at all to meddle with Archbishop Geoffrey Plantagenet's diocese, but it was a case of |Who said oppression?| He banned the obtruding priest by name and all his accomplices. Some died, some went mad or blind. Thus William got his own again, for, as all who knew expected, Hugh's anathema meant repentance or death.

These anecdotes explain much that follows, and not a little the great strain that there was between Archbishop Hubert Walter and the Bishop of Lincoln. Perhaps this strain was bound to be felt, because the policy of the former was to employ churchmen largely in political and secular affairs, the policy of the other to exclude them as much as possible. In the abstract we can hardly think that it is well that priests should rule the State or bishops manipulate the national finances. But to lay down that rule at the close of the twelfth century was to cut the spine between the brains of the State and its members. Hugh, perhaps, allowed too little for the present distress; Hubert for the distant goal. Anyhow they collided.

Hubert, in his capacity of financial viceroy, the moment Richard had come back from captivity, been re-crowned, and gone off again, sent off the visiting justices to look after various pleas of the Crown, among which was a question of defaults. These gentlemen began their milking process in September, 1194. It was discovered that an old tribute of an expensive mantel had been paid in times past by Lincoln See to the King. This pall was a matter of 100 marks (say L2,000 of our money). In the long vacancy and under Bishop Walter there had been no payment, and the royal claim was for a good many years back, there being apparently some limitations. Arrears of 1,000 marks were demanded, or a lump sum of 3,000 to have done with the tribute. Hugh thought it an unworthy and intolerable thing that our Lady's Church and he, as its warder, should be under tribute at all, and he was prepared to do anything to end the |slavery.| However little we can share this notion, at least it was a generous one. The demand came after the Saladin taxes, the drain for the Crusade, for the king's ransom, and during the building of the cathedral. It came to a man who gave a third of his money in alms and who lived from hand to mouth, often borrowing on his revenues before he got them. He proposed to meet this new huge call by retiring to Witham and devoting the whole emoluments of the See to redeeming this fictitious mantel. But the clergy, who knew by experience both order and chaos, rose in arms, and monastic advisers added their dissuading voices. Well might the clergy support their bishop. They had in times past paid for the king's mantel with episcopal trimmings, and other prelates had not scorned a little cabbage over this rich tailoring. Richard cynically expected that Hugh would do the same, but his clergy knew him better. They offered to find the money. But Hugh, though he allowed them to do so, would not allow one fruitful vein to be worked. He absolutely forbade penance fines, lest, for money's sake, the innocent should be oppressed and the guilty be given less pains than were needed. Some folk told the bishop that rascals had more feeling in their purses than in their banned souls or banged bodies. He replied that this was because their spiritual fathers laid on too lightly upon the sinners. |But,| they pleaded, |Thomas the Martyr, of most blessed memory, fined sinners.| Hugh answered, |Believe me, it was not on that head that he was a saint. Quite other virtue merits marked him a saint; by quite another story he won the meed of martyr palm.|

Hubert must have felt it more of a financial than a moral victory when the 3,000 marks clinked in the treasurer's box.

The next battle between these two doughty men (or shall we say systems of thought?) was fought about Eynsham Abbey. Old Abbot Geoffrey died, and at his election the Abbey had been under the See of Lincoln; but since then King Henry had claimed the gift of abbacies, a claim his son was not likely to bate. A suit with the Crown, Hugh's friends argued, was hopeless or not worth the trouble; but this argument seemed sacrilegious to the intrepid bishop. What? Allow God and the Queen of Heaven to be robbed? Who ever agreed to let Lincoln be so pilled? He is but a useless and craven ruler who does not enlarge instead of lessen the dignities and liberties of the Holy Church. He went stoutly to the contest, crossed and recrossed the sea, and at last persuaded a sort of grand jury of twenty-four clerks and laymen that he was the patron. In a year's time he won his case and saw Robert of Dore, a good abbot, well in his chair. Hugh spent a week with his almost bereft family, gave the new man a fine chased silver and ivory crook and a great glorious goblet, and amplified the place with a generous hand.

This was a legal triumph for the bishop, but surely it was a moral triumph for the Curia Regis to do ample justice to a strong opponent of the Crown? Of course, nobody wanted another St. Thomas episode again, least of all enacted against a man who carried the Church of England with him, as St. Thomas, living, never did; but Hugh had small favour with the king at this time. By these successive battles the Bishop of Lincoln had come to be looked upon as the leader of the Church and the champion of her liberties. To us those |liberties| seem a strange claim, beyond our faith and our ken, too. It seems obvious to us that men, whether clerks or laymen, who eat, drink, wear, build, and possess on the temporal plane, should requite those who safeguard them in these things with tribute, honour, and obedience; and freedom from State control in things temporal seems like freedom to eat buns without paying the baker. Free bilking, free burgling, and so on, sound no less contradictory. But the best minds of England seven centuries ago dreamed of another citizenship and a higher, of which the Church was the city -- a city not future only and invisible, but manifest in their midst, which they loved with passion and were jealous over, too exclusively perhaps, but in the event not unwisely. It is less difficult for us to see that any cause which would set the unselfish and lofty-minded men of that time against the preponderating power of the Crown made for the welfare and peace of the country in the future. The anarchy of Stephen's reign, Henry's mastery, and Richard's might, with Hubert Walter's genius, resulted in a dangerous accumulation of power that did actually prove almost disastrous to the State. Consequently Bishop Hugh's greatest contest with the Crown demands the sympathy both of men who still dream of the spiritual city in (but unsoiled by) hands of mortals, and also of those who value constitutional liberties in modern politics. The war with France kept Richard active abroad. The flow of money from England was too thin to enable him to strike the final blow he wished to strike. Hubert Walter's power was so hampered he could do little beyond scutages, but in December, 1197, he called together a Council at Oxford. He told this universal assembly of the barons of all England that the king was in straits. He was outclassed and outmanned and like to be even dispossessed by a most powerful and determined enemy. He asked their deliberations as to help for the king in his difficulties. Oxford was the king's birthplace and was also in Lincoln diocese.{9} The Court party, who advocated abject submission to the king's becks, at once proposed that the barons of England, among whom were the bishops, should furnish three hundred knights to the king, which knights should serve for a year without furlough. The Bishop of Lincoln's consent was asked, and he made no reply at first, but turned it over in his mind. The archbishop, of course, spoke for the motion. Richard FitzNigel, Bishop of London, a man of finance, purchase, and political sagacity, one of the historians of the time, assured them that he and his would try every fetch to relieve the royal need. This brought up Hugh in an instant. |You, wise and noble gentlemen here before me, know that I am a stranger in this country of yours and was raised to a bishop's office from a simple hermit life. So when the Church of my Lady Mary the Holy Mother of God was handed over to my inexperience to rule I applied myself to explore its customs, dignities, dues, and burdens. For near thirteen years, up till now, I have not trod out of the straight tracks of my forerunners. I know the Lincoln Church is bound to furnish military service for the King, but only in this country. Beyond the bounds of England none such is due from her. Hence I think it would be wiser for me to foot it back to my native soil and till the wilderness in my wonted way, rather than bear a bishopric here, lose the ancient immunities of the Church entrusted to me, and subject her to unprecedented vexations.| This answer the archbishop took very ill. His voice choked, his lips quivered. He took up the tale, however, without comment, and asked Herbert le Poor, Bishop of Salisbury, the very man who, as Archdeacon of Canterbury, had been snubbed for simony at Hugh's installation, and who might be expected to render a public nothing now for his then empty hand. But he had learnt something since that day, and he replied curtly that he could give no other answer than that of my lord of Lincoln, unless it were to the enormous prejudice of his Church. Then the archbishop blazed into fury. He loosed many a bitter shaft against Bishop Hugh. He broke up the assembly and told the king who it was had made the whole matter to miscarry. Two and even three postmen were sent off to lash the Lion into frenzy, and Richard ordered all that the bishop had to be confiscated as soon as possible. Herbert, the seconder, had the same sentence, and was soon Poor in estate as well as name, and only got peace and possession back after injuries, losses, vexings, and many insults. But no man laid a finger even upon the most trumpery temporal of the Bishop of Lincoln. His anathema meant death. For nine months Richard hounded his minions on, but they dared not bite. Instead they beseeched the bishop's pity for their unhappy position, and he resolved to seek the king and talk him over. He had no friend at Court to prepare his way. Fine old William Earl Marshall and the Earl of Albemarle tried to stop him or to make some way for him; but he did not allow them to sacrifice themselves, but sent word to the king that he was coming. Two things had happened since that December. Innocent III. had become Pope -- the Augustus of the papal empire, and he was already acting most vigorously and unhesitatingly. Secondly, Hubert Walter had resigned, because the Pope took Lincoln views of bishops being judges, councillors, treasurers, and the like. These things made Hugh's chances more favourable. Richard's wrath, too, was a straw fire, and it had time to cool, and cooled quicklier because it had shocked his English subjects. Moreover, though highly abominable as he considered the Bishop's checkmate, he had got the cash after all by breaking the great seal and having a new one made, which necessitated a new sealing of all old parchments, and royal wax is dear to this day. It would, therefore, not be amiss to smooth those English who were smarting at the broken seal and broken faith. Hugh's chances, then, were not quite desperate, although he had been able to stop the mouth of the Lion for nine whole months by his intrepidity, fame, and the help of heaven. The rest of the story, which is given minutely, gives one a little window into the times hard to equal for its clearness.

FOOTNOTES:

{7} Plato's Aristocrat has a son, who is a great timocrat.

{8} |South-east of the Great Bar Gate between that and the little Bar Gate in the north-west angle of the Great South Common.|

{9} Perhaps for both reasons chosen as the trysting-place.

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