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Hugh Bishop Of Lincoln by Charles L. Marson

CHAPTER IX UNDER KING JOHN

When King Richard died, John, with a handful of followers, gave his host, Arthur of Brittany, the slip, and hurried off to Chinon, in Touraine. Hence he sent a humble message that the Bishop of Lincoln would deign to visit him. The reason was obvious. His fate hung in the balance, and the best loved and most venerated of English bishops would, if he would but recognise him, turn that scale against Arthur of Brittany. On the Wednesday in Holy Week, April 19th, 1199, Hugh left Fontevrault, and the anxious prince rode to meet him and to pay him every court. John would fain have kept him by his side, but the bishop excused himself, and the two travelled back to Fontevrault together, and finally parted at Samur. They visited the royal tombs at the former place, but the prudent nuns would not allow the dubious prince inside their walls |because the abbess was not at home.| John affected to be charmed at their scruples, and sent them a pious message, promising the bishop that he would shew them great favours. The answer was, |You know that I greatly dislike every lie. I shall therefore take care not to tell them your lip promises, unless I have proof that you certainly mean to fulfil them.| John at once swore that he would fulfil all as soon as might be, and the bishop in his presence told the holy women, commended the prince to them, gave the blessing and carried off the royal humbug. He then had a long tale of John's good resolutions: he would be pious to God, kind to his subjects, and just to all; he would take Hugh for his father and guide, and wait upon him. He then shewed him a stone, cased in gold, which he wore round his neck, and told him that its fortunate owner would lack nothing of his ancestral possessions. |Put not your faith in a senseless stone,| he was told, |but only in the living and true heavenly stone, the Lord Jesus Christ. Lay him most surely as your heart's foundation and your hope's anchor. He truly is so firm and living a stone that He crushes all who oppose Him. He suffers not those who rest on him to fall, but ever raises them to higher things and enlarges them to ampler deservings.| They reached then the church porch, where was a lively sculpture of Doomsday, and on the judge's left a company of kings and nobles led to eternal fire. The bishop said, |Let your mind set ceaselessly before you the screams and endless agonies of these. Let these ceaseless tortures be ever in front of your heart's eyes. Let the careful remembrance of these evils teach you how great is the self loss which is laid upon those who rule other men for a little time, and, ruling themselves ill, are subjects to demon spirits in endless agony. These things, while one can avoid them, one is wise to fear ever, lest when one cannot avoid them, one should afterwards happen ceaselessly to endure them.| He then pointed out that this Day of the Lord was put in the porch, so that those who entered to ask for their needs should not forget |the highest and greatest need of all, pardon for sins,| which they might ask and have and be free from pains and glad with eternal joys. John seized the bishop's hand and shewed the kings on the right. |Nay, lord bishop, you should rather shew us these,| he said |whose example and society we pray to follow and attain.| For a few days he seemed exceedingly submissive in deed and speech. The beggars who wished him well he thanked with bows. The ragged old women who saluted him he replied to most gently. But after three days he changed his tune and dashed the hopes which had begun to spring. Easter Sunday came, and the bishop was at Mass and John's chamberlain slipped twelve gold pieces into his hand, the usual royal offering. He was standing (they always stand at Mass) surrounded by a throng of barons before the bishop and gloated upon the gold, tossed it in his hand and delayed so long to offer it, that everybody stared. At last the bishop, angry at such behaviour, then and there said, |Why gaze like that?| John replied, |Truly I am having a look at those gold coins of yours and thinking that if I had held them a few days ago, I should not offer them to you but pop them in my own purse. Still, all the same, take them.| The angry bishop blushed for the king, drew back his arm, would not touch such money nor suffer his hand to be kissed; shook his head at him in fury. |Put down there what you hold,| he said, |and go.| The king cast his money into the silver basin and slunk away. John's insult was all the greater because out of Lincoln none of the bishop's people was ever allowed to nibble one crumb of the alms. That day the bishop had preached upon the conduct and future prospects of princes. John neither liked the duration nor the direction of the sermon, and sent thrice to the preacher to stop his talk and get on with the Mass so that he might go to his victuals. But not a bit of it. The preacher talked louder and longer until all applauded and some wept, and he told them how worthily they ought to partake of the true Sacramental Bread, who came from heaven and gives life to the world. John shared neither in the word nor the Sacrament. Neither then nor on Ascension Day, when he was made king, did he communicate. Indeed it was said he had never done so since he was grown up.

Next Sunday the court was at Rouen and Archbishop Walter was investing John with the sacred emblems of the Duchy of Normandy during the High Mass. A banner on a lance was handed to the new duke. John advanced, amid cheers, and the foolish cackle of laughter of his former boon companions. He looked over his shoulder to grin back at the fools, his friends, and from his feeble grasp the old banner fell upon the pavement! But Hugh had left him for England before this evil omen. When the bishop reached Fleche on Easter Monday, he went to church to vest for Mass. His servants rushed in to say that the guards had seized his horses and carts, and robbers had taken some of his pack horses. The company, including Gilbert de Glanville of Rochester, his friend, begged him not to say Mass, but merely to read the gospel and hurry out of the trap. Neither chagrined at his loss, nor moved by their terrors, he went deaf and silent to the altar. He was not content either with a plain celebration. He must need have sandals, tunic, and all the rest of the robes, and add a pontifical blessing to the solemn celebration. As he was unrobing the magistrates came in a fine state of repentance, with restitution, safe conducts, and humble words. He jested with them and past on to St. Peter's, at Le Mans. Here another alarm met them. Arthur's troopers rushed the place in the night meaning to catch John. News of more robberies and violence came, but thanks to the Abbot he got safely on and Dame Constance of Brittany sent him many apologies and assurances. He reached Sees safely but insisted upon going aside for a little pious colloquy with a learned and devout Abbot of Persigne, although the country was in a very dangerous condition for travelling. He found the good man away; so he said Mass and went on, and at last got home to tell them at Lincoln that all was peace. His progress was a triumph of delighted crowds, for the hearts of his people had been with him in all the struggle thus safely ended, and the sea of people shouted, |Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord,| as their father rode towards his cathedral town. The commons evidently felt that the liberties of the church were the outworks of the liberties of the land.

But the god of victory is a maimed god, and the battles of the world irked Hugh's contemplative soul. He wished to lay by his heavy burden of bishopric and to go back to his quiet cell, the white wool tunic, the silence, and the careful cleaning of trenchers. The office of a bishop in his day left little time for spiritual tillage either at home or abroad. Not only the bishops had to confirm, ordain to all orders, consecrate, anoint, impose penance, and excommunicate, but they had to decide land questions concerning lands in frank almoin, all probate and nullity of marriage cases, and to do all the legal work of a king's baron besides. The judicial duties lay heavily upon him. He used to say that a bishop's case was harder than a lord warden's or a mayor's, for he had to be always on the bench; they only sometimes. They might look after their family affairs, but he could hardly ever handle the cure of souls. For the second or third time he sent messengers to ask Papal leave to resign, but Innocent, knowing that |no one can safely be to the fore who would not sooner be behind,| rejected the petition with indignation; and Pharaoh-like increased his tasks the more by making him legate in nearly every important case of appeal. People who had nothing to rely upon except the justice of their cause against powerful opponents, clamoured for the Lincoln judgments, which then neither fear nor hope could trim, and which were as skilful as they were upright, so that men, learned in the law, ascribed it to the easy explanation of miracles that a comparative layman should steer his course so finely.

In the various disputes between monks and bishops, which were a standing dish in most dioceses, he took an unbiassed line. In the long fight waged by Archbishop Baldwin first and then by Hubert Walter with the monks of Canterbury, which began in 1186, and was not over until Hugh was dead, he rather favoured the side of the monastery. Yet we find him speaking multa aspera, many stinging things to their spokesman, and recommending, as the monk said, prostration before the archbishop. His words to the archbishop have been already quoted. With Carlyle's Abbot Sampson and the Bishop of Ely he was appointed by Innocent to hush the long brawl. The Pope, tired and angry, wrote (September, 1199) to the commissioners to compel the archbishop, even with ecclesiastical censures. They reply rather sharply to his holiness that he is hasty and obscure; and so the matter dragged on. Then in 1195 the inevitable Geoffrey Plantagenet, the bastard, Archbishop of York, before mentioned, has a lively dispute with his canons. Hugh is ordered by the Pope to suspend him, but would rather be suspended (by the neck) himself. Geoffrey certainly was a little extreme, even for those days -- a Broad Churchman indeed. He despises the Sacraments, said the canons, he hunts, hawks, fights, does not ordain, dedicate, or hold synods, but chases the canons with armed men and robs them; but Hugh, though he cannot defend the man, seems to know better of him, and at any rate will not be a mere marionette of Rome. Geoffrey, indeed, came out nobly in the struggles with king John in later story, as a defender of the people. Then there is the dispute between the Bishop of Coventry, another striking bishop, who brought stout fellows against the saucy monks. He had bought their monastery for three hundred marks of the king, and when they would not budge, he chased them away with beating and maiming, sacked their house, burnt their charters, and so on. Hugh was against this too vigorous gentleman, who was clearly indefensible; but it was by no means because he was blindly prejudiced in favour of monks, for he seems to have supported the Bishop of Rochester against his monks. These disputes of astonishing detail, are very important in the history of the church, as by their means the Papal Empire grew to a great height of power; and however little the bishops' methods commend themselves, the monasteries, which became rebel castles in every diocese, were very subversive of discipline, and their warfare equally worldly.

In cases less ecclesiastical, we have a glimpse of Hugh defending two young orphans against Jordan of the Tower, the most mighty of Londoners. This powerful robber of the weak came to the court with an army of retainers, king's men and London citizens, to overawe all opposition. The |father of orphans| made a little speech on the occasion which has come down to us. |In truth, Jordan, although you may have been dear to us, yet against God we can yield nothing to you. But it is evident that against your so many and great abetters it is useless not only for these little ones to strive, but even for ourselves and our fellow judges. So what we shall do, we wish you to know. Yet I speak for my own self. I shall free my soul. I shall therefore write to my lord the Pope that you alone in these countries traverse his jurisdiction; you alone strive to nullify his authority.| The vociferous and well-backed Jordan took the hint. He dismounted from his high horse, and the orphans got their own again. But these and like duties were a heavy cross to Hugh. He hoped to be excused of God because he obeyed orders, rather than rewarded because he did well. Like Cowley, he looked upon business as |the frivolous pretence of human lusts to shake off innocence.| He would not even look at his own household accounts, but delegated such work to trustworthy folk, while these behaved well. If they misbehaved he quickly detected it and sent them packing.

We have now reached the year A.D.1200. King John has been crowned for a year. Hugh was not present at this ceremony, and the king, anxious still for his support, sends for him to be present at the great peace he was concluding with France. By this treaty the Dauphin was to marry Blanche of Castile and become Earl of Evreux, a dangerous earldom, and Philip was to drop the cause of young Arthur and give up debateable Vexin. Hugh also was tempted over seas by the hope of visiting his old haunts, which he felt must be done now or never, for health and eyesight were failing him, and he needed this refreshment for his vexed soul. It was in the Chateau Gaillard again that he met the king, left him in the sweet spring time at the end of May, for a pilgrim tour to shrines and haunts of holy men living and dead -- a pilgrimage made possible by the new peace.

Here it must be confessed that modern sympathy is apt to falter, for though we can understand the zeal of American tourists for chips of palaces and the communal moral code peculiar to archaeologists, coin collectors, and umbrella snatchers, we cannot understand the enthusiasm which the manliest, holiest, and robustest minds then displayed for relics, for stray split straws and strained twigs from the fledged bird's nests whence holy souls had fled to other skies. To us these things mean but little; but to Hugh they meant very much. The facts must be given, and the reader can decide whether they are beauty spots or warts upon the strong, patient, brave face upon which they appear.

His first objective, when he left the Andelys, was Meulan, and there he |approached St. Nicasius.| This saint, a very fine fellow, had been Bishop of Rheims, eight hundred years before. When the Vandals invaded the land he had advanced to meet them with a procession of singers and got an ugly sword cut, which lopt off a piece of his head. He went on still singing till he dropped dead. This brave fellow's skull Hugh took in his hands, worshipped the saint, gave gold; and then tried hard to tweak out one of his teeth: but such dentistry was unavailing. He then put his fingers into the nostrils which had so often drawn in the sweet odour of Christ and got with ease a lovely little bone, which had parted the eyes, kissed it and felt a richer hope of being directed into the way of peace and salvation; for so great a bishop would certainly fix his spiritual eyes upon him after this.

Next he went to St. Denis, where he prayed long at the tombs of the saints. The scholars of Paris, of all breeds, turned out in crowds to see a man, who, after St. Nicholas, had done so much good to clerks. Kisses, colloquies and invitations rained upon him, but he chose to lodge in the house of his relative Reimund. This man he had made Canon of Lincoln, and he afterwards refused to buy off King John and became an exile for conscience and the patron of exiles, and thus was in life and character a true son of St. Hugh. Among the visitors here were the Dauphin Lewis and Arthur of Brittany. The latter turned up his nose when told to live in love and peace with Uncle John; but Lewis carried off the bishop to cheer his weeping political bride Blanche, lately bartered into the match. The good bishop walked to the palace, and Blanche bore a merry face and a merry heart after he had talked with her.

The next place was Troyes, and here a wretch came with a doleful story. He had been bailiff to the Earl of Leicester, had torn a rogue from sanctuary at Brackley; had been excommunicated by Hugh, with all his mates. They had submitted and been made to dig up the putrid body and carry it a mile, clad only in their drawers, be whipped at every church door they passed, bury the body with their own hands, and then come to Lincoln for more flogging: and all this in the winter. This sentence frightened the bailiff, who bolted; but ill-luck dogged him. He lost his place, his money, and at last came to beg for shrift and punishment. Hugh gave him a seven years' penance and he went on his way rejoicing.

The next great place was Vienne on the Rhone. Here were the ashes of St. Anthony of the Desert, wrapped in the tunic of Paul, the first hermit. The Carthusian Bruno had caught the enthusiasm for solitude from these ambulatory ashes, which had travelled from Alexandria to Constantinople and so to Vienne in 1070. Of course they were working miracles, chiefly upon those afflicted by St. Anthony's fire. The medical details are given at some length, and the cures described in the Great Life. For the general reader it is enough to say that Hugh said Mass near the precious but plain chest, and that he gave a good sum for the convalescent home where the poor sufferers were housed. Whether change of air, a hearty diet, and strong faith be enough to arrest this (now rare) disease is a scientific question rather than a theological one; but if, as we are told, St. Anthony sent thunder bolts upon castles and keeps where his pilgrims were maltreated, his spirit was somewhat of that Boanerges type which is flatly snubbed in the Gospel. From Vienne Hugh went to his own Grenoble among those mountains which have, as Ruskin says, |the high crest or wall of cliff on the top of their slopes, rising from the plain first in mounds of meadow-land and bosses of rock and studded softness of forest; the brown cottages peeping through grove above grove, until just where the deep shade of the pines becomes blue or purple in the haze of height, a red wall of upper precipice rises from the pasture land and frets the sky with glowing serration.|{26} A splendid procession came out to welcome him, and the city was hung with festoons of flowers and gay silken banners. He was led with chaunting to the cathedral of St. John Baptist, his particular saint, and that of his Order, upon the very feast of the great herald. There he sang the High Mass with intense devoutness, and after the gospel preached to the people, |giving them tears to drink,| but in moderation, for he begged all their prayers for his littleness and unworthiness, whereas they knew quite well what a good and great fellow he was. Then he christened his own nephew, the heir of Avalon, whose uncle Peter was present, and the Bishop of Grenoble was godfather. The hitherto unbaptised boy was actually seven years old. Perhaps he had waited for Uncle Hugh to christen him, and when he had that honour he was not named Peter, as they proposed, but John, in honour of the place and day. Adam records that he taught the little fellow his alphabet and to spell from letters placed above the altar of St. John Baptist at Bellay.

Then he left for the Grande Chartreuse, having to foot it most of the way up the mountains, sweating not a little, for he was of some diameter, but he out-walked his companions. He took care to drop in while the brothers were having their midday siesta, and he was careful not to be of the least trouble. Indeed, for three weeks he put off the bishop, as he did at Witham, and his insignia all but the ring, and became a humble monk once more. The clergy and the laity hurried to see him from the district, and the poor jostled to behold their father; and each one had dear and gracious words, and many found his hand second his generous tongue. Some days he spent at the lower house. Here, too, he compounded an old and bitter feud between the bishop and the Count of Geneva whereby the one was exiled and the other excommunicate.

Near the end of his stay he made a public present to the House, a silver casket of relics, which he used to carry in his hand in procession at dedications. These were only a part of his collection, for he had a ring of gold and jewels, four fingers broad, with hollow spaces for relics. At his ardent desire and special entreaty the monks of Fleury once gave him a tooth from the jaws of St. Benedict, the first founder and, as it were, grandfather of his and other Orders. This came with a good strip of shroud to boot, and the goldsmith appeared, tools and all, warned by a dream, from Banbury to Dorchester to enshrine the precious ivory. The shred of shroud was liberally divided up among abbots and religious men, but the tooth, after copious kissing, was sealed up in the ring. At Fechamp once (that home of relics!) they kept a bone of St. Mary Magdalen, as was rashly asserted, sewed up in silks and linen. He begged to see it, but none dared show it: but he was not to be denied. Whipping up a penknife from his notary, he had off the covers pretty quickly, and gazed at and kissed it reverently. Then he tried to break off a bit with his fingers, but not a process would come away. He then tried to nibble a snippet, but in vain. Finally, he put the holy bone to his strong back teeth and gave a hearty scrunch. Two tit-bits came off, and he handed them to the trembling Adam, saying, |Excellent man, keep these for us.| The abbots and monks were first struck dumb, then quaked, and then boiled with indignation and wrath. |Oh! oh! Abominable!| they yelled. |We thought the bishop wanted to worship these sacred and holy things, and lo! he has, with doggish ritual, put them to his teeth for mutilation.| While they were raging he quieted them with words which may give us the key to such otherwise indecent behaviour. Suppose they had been having a great Sacramental dispute, and some, as is likely, had maintained against the bishop that the grinding of the Host by the teeth of any communicant meant the grinding of Christ's very body, then it becomes evident that Hugh put this their belief to rather a rough proof, or reproof. Anyhow, he posed them with this answer, |Since a short time back we handled together the most saintly body of the Saint of Saints with fingers granted unworthy; if we handled It with our teeth or lips, and passed It on to our inwards, why do we not also in faith so treat the members of his saints for our defence, their worship, and the deepening of our memory of them, and acquire, so far as opportunity allows, what we are to keep with due honour?|

At Peterborough they had the arm of St. Oswald, which had kept fresh for over five centuries. A supple nerve which protruded Hugh had sliced off and put in this wonderful ring. This, though he had offered it to the high altar at Lincoln, he would have left to the Charterhouse; but Adam reminded him of the fact, so instead thereof he ordered a golden box full of the relics he gave them to be sent after his death.

With mutual blessings he took his last leave of the Grande Chartreuse, and left it in the body, though his heart and mind could never be dislodged from its desert place. This place was his father and his mother, but Lincoln, he did not forget, was his wife.

FOOTNOTES:

{26} |Modern Painters,| iv.253.

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