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Tomb of Henry Burghersh, Bishop of Lincoln, in Lincoln Cathedral

Henry Burghersh, Bishop of Lincoln (1292-1340)

HENRY BURGHERSH, Bishop of Lincoln (1292-1340), was third son of Sir Robert Burghersh, lord Burghersh, whose family took their name from Burghersh or Burwash in Sussex. His mother was the sister of the powerful noble, Bartholomew, lord Badlesmere. Having chosen an ecclesiastical career, the young man devoted himself to the study of civil and canon law in the foreign universities. When only twenty-five years of age, 17 Nov. 1316, he was appointed to the prebendal stall of Riccall in York Minster.1

On the death of John Sendale, bishop of Winchester, in 1319, the young man's all-powerful uncle, Badlesmere, sought the dignity for him. Badlesmere was the main bulwark of Edward against Thomas of Lancaster, and his influence is illustrated by the urgency with which Edward assailed the pope (John XXII) on behalf of Burghersh, who was still studying law at Angers. On 2 and 9 Nov. and 15 Dec. 1319 the king made three distinct applications to the pope in favour of Burghersh, accompanying his letters to the pope with others to the cardinals of the curia and his own nuncios, calling upon them to use their influence on his behalf. The letters rise in earnestness of entreaty and in commendation of Burghersh, whom he declares, contrary to the fact, to be of legitimate age for consecration, and to be endowed with all necessary learning, especially of a legal character, and every suitable virtue. The king's urgency failed. The rich see of Winchester was bestowed on a foreigner, Rigaud Asser.2

The bishop of Lincoln, John of Dalderby, universally revered for his sanctity, died on 12 Jan 1320. The dean and chapter, in pursuance of their undoubted rights, elected their dean, Henry of Mansfield, to the vacant see. Mansfield, however, declined the episcopate. The second choice of the chapter fell on Antony Bek (1279-1343), the chancellor of this church, who was not indisposed to accept the office. Again the electors were baulked. Lord Badlesmere was then at the papal court at Avignon on a mission from Edward.3 He availed himself of the opportunity to plead the cause of his nephew, in whose behalf, only three days after Bishop Dalderby's decease, and probably on the very day of its notification to him, 16 Jan. 1320, his royal master had already addressed a fourth letter to the pope, followed by a fifth letter on 6 March.4 His application was warmly supported, and the large bribes offered, 'pecuniæ non modicæ interventionem,'5 furnished a powerful inducement. The election of Antony Bek was shamelessly annulled, and the dean and chapter of Lincoln were informed that the pope had reserved the appointment to himself by way of provision, and had selected Henry Burghersh, though not of canonical age, being only in his twenty-ninth year; this 'defect of age,' in the words of the papal letter to Edward, 'being compensated by the abundance of the young man's merits and virtues, as he was well furnished with knowledge of letters, illustrious by nobility of family, remarkable for moral and virtuous living, and adorned with other manifold gifts.6 The scandal of such an appointment called forth unmeasured reprobation from those to whom the independence of the church and realm was dear. Perhaps to avoid public offence the consecration was performed at Boulogne, 20 July, in the presence of Edward II. His consecrator was Salmon, bishop of Norwich, Adam of Orlton, bishop of Hereford, the infamous conspirator against Edward II, being one of the assistant prelates. Burghersh did not rise above the average moral standard of the English episcopate when it was almost at its lowest. Walsingham charges him with avarice beyond his fellows, and a bold contempt of the rights of others. He was, in common with the leading prelates of his time, far more of a statesman than a bishop. The utmost that John of Schalby, his registrar, can say in his favour is that he bore the royal persecutions patiently and obtained the right of sanctuary for the bishop's palace and canons' houses at Lincoln, already granted to the cathedral church.

The Bishop of Lincoln's court favour was not of long duration. His uncle, Lord Badlesmere, joined in the attack of the barons on the Despensers [see Hugh le Despenser the younger], and with his old enemy, the Earl of Lancaster, and the rebel lords made war upon the king. After the battle of Boroughbridge, 16 March 1322, in which Lancaster and his allies were defeated, Badlesmere took refuge in his nephew the Bishop of Lincoln's manor of Stow Park. Here he was captured and taken to Canterbury, where he was beheaded.7 The bishop's temporalities were seized by the king, who, in a series of letters to the pope, called upon his holiness to deprive Burghersh of his see. Similar letters were addressed to the college of cardinals and to Philip of France, and able theologians were despatched to plead the king's cause against the bishop at the papal court.8 The pope at last replied that he would be ready to attend to any charges for canonical offences, but it was most unreasonable to ask him to visit unproved offences with severe penalties.9

Meanwhile Edward was as usual in great want of money, and the Bishop of Lincoln, by way of reprisal, used his authority to thwart his demands for subsidies from the clergy. A convocation of the clergy of the province of Canterbury, held at Lincoln 14 Jan. 1323, to confirm the subsidy already voted at York, resolutely refused to accede to the demand. Burghersh's name is not definitely mentioned, but there can be no doubt that the violent opposition of the clergy was actively supported by the bishop, in whose cathedral the convocation was held.10 The vigorous measures taken by the king against the arch-traitor, Adam de Orlton, bishop of Hereford, would seem to have alarmed the Bishop of Lincoln into an outward profession of loyalty and obedience. Edward rewarded his insincere professions by taking him again into his royal favour and giving him restitution of his temporalities. This generosity was recompensed by the basest duplicity. When Queen Isabella landed in Suffolk, 24 Sept. 1326, 'proclaiming herself,' as Bishop Stubbs writes, 'the avenger of Earl Thomas and the enemy of the Despensers,' one of the earliest and most zealous of her adherents was Burghersh. He, with his brethren of Norwich and Hereford, styled in the vigorous language of a contemporary chronicler, with allusion to the queen's name, 'Baal sacerdotes alumni Jesabellæ,'11 obtained for her supplies of money from the other bishops, who were all either avowedly hostile or coldly indifferent to their royal master. Burghersh was among the guests at the Christmas banquet held at Wallingford by the leaders of the queen's party after Edward's capture and imprisonment at Kenilworth. He also accompanied Orlton to that fortress in January 1327, after the deposition of Edward by the parliament, being sent in advance of the other commissioners to procure his resignation of the crown in favour of his son [Edward III].

In February 1328 he was commissioned by the parliament at York, in conjunction with the queen's tool, Ayreminne, bishop of Norwich, to conclude peace with the Scots, and to negotiate the marriage of the king's [Edward III] young sister, Joan, with David, the son and heir of Robert Bruce, which was carried into effect the next year. In the following March he succeeded his fellow-conspirator Orlton as treasurer, on the latter going to the papal court at Avignon, where he obtained for himself a papal provision to the see of Worcester, and in May 1328 he received the great seal as chancellor on the resignation of John Hotham, bishop of Ely; thus at the early age of thirty-seven attaining the highest office in the state. Two months after the murder of the king, Reynolds, archbishop of Canterbury, died, and an unsuccessful attempt was made by the queen's party to secure the primacy for Burghersh, to which Simon Mepham was appointed. When Edward proceeded to France to do homage for his continental possessions, Burghersh, the confidential friend of Isabella and of Mortimer, accompanied him as his guardian, and, according to Knighton,12 by a timely retreat rescued the young king from the treacherous designs of Philip, who was purposing to make him his prisoner.

Edward's first child, the future Black Prince, born at Woodstock 15 June 1330, and Burghersh, the bishop of the diocese, which then included the county of Oxford, baptised him. The following autumn saw the fall of Isabella and Mortimer. Burghersh was too completely identified with them to escape altogether. He was actually with Mortimer and the queen at Nottingham when the former was apprehended, and was sent to the Tower on St Luke's day, 18 Oct. 1330. He was deprived on 28 Nov. of his office as chancellor in which he was succeeded by Stratford, bishop of Winchester, afterwards primate, who as archdeacon of Lincoln had proved one of his most unremitting opponents, and had been employed by Edward II to convey the charges against him to the papal curia and to prosecute the cause. Burghersh, however, speedily regained a considerable amount of power and influence, and played a conspicuous part in the early years of the reign of Edward III as the spokesman of the court party.13

In 1333 he supported the Oxford authorities in suppressing the attempt on the part of the northern students at Oxford, who had been defeated in an affray with the southern students, to establish a new rival university at Stamford.14 Having been out of office four years, he once more became treasurer in 1334, but was again dismissed in 1337. In the January of the preceding year he had formed one of a commission with the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishops of Durham and Carlisle, for negotiating the short peace with Scotland, speedily nullified by the massacre by the Scots of the English governors appointed by Edward.15 Burghersh's removal from the treasurership does not appear to indicate any decided breach between him and the king, for the following year, the half of the wool of England having been granted to Edward for the expenses of the projected war with Philip of Valois he was sent into Flanders, with Sir Walter Manny and a large force, to protect the fleet which was conveying the wool to be sold to the Flemish clothiers at the king's own price. A large quantity of wool, valued at £150,000,16 having been discovered in the hands of the English merchants at Dordrecht, the whole was seized by the bishop and Manny and the proceeds devoted to purchasing the support of the dukes of Gueldres, Hainault, and Brabant in the contemplated French war.17

Edward evidently found Burghersh an efficient and capable minister, whom he was glad to employ in any state matter calling for businesslike capacity unfettered by over-scrupulosity. He was in England again in the early part of 1340, and was despatched by the king to the south to hurry forward the equipment of vessels for the fleet with which on 24 June Edward gained the great naval victory of Sluys.18 In his capacity of 'principal adviser of the king in foreign affairs,' the character given him by the continuator of Adam of Murimuth,19 he accompanied his royal master to Flanders, where he seems to have remained till his premature death at Ghent, 4 Dec. 1340. His body was brought to England, and was buried in his cathedral church, at the east end of the north aisle of the retrochoir, where his brother, Sir Bartholomew, had founded a chantry at the altar of St. Catherine's. His monument, with his effigy in episcopal habit, still remains, but much mutilated and deprived of its lofty canopy.

—E. V.

1. Le Neve, Fasti Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ, iii. 209.
2. The correspondence, which is curious and painfully instructive, as showing the complete subjugation
of the church of England to the papal see, may be found in Rymer's Fœdera, II. i. 405, 406, 407, 411.
3. Continuation of Adam of Murimuth's Chronicle, Adae Murimuth Continuatio Chronicarum, 1889 ed., p. 31.
4. Rymer's Fœdera, II. i. 414 ff. 814 ff.
5. i.e., "No small monetary intervention." Gesta Edwardi de Carnarvon, Rolls Series, ii. 60.
6. Rymer's Fœdera, II. i. 425.
7. Leland's Collectanea, ii. 465.; Murimuth, p. 37.
8. Rymer's Fœdera, II. i. 464, 500, 504, 510, 515.
9. Rymer, p. 536.
10. Willelmi de Dene, Historia Roffensis, in H. Wharton, Anglia Sacra, i. 362.
11. "The priests of Baal were students of Jezebel," with a pun on Isabel/Jezebel.
12. Twysden, Decem Scriptores, col. 2555.
13. Stubbs' Constitutional History, ii. 367-384.
14. Oxford Historical Society, Collectanea, i. 9.
15. Gesta Edwardi Tertii, Rolls Series, ii. 127.
16. £150,000 in 1338 had roughly the equivalent purchasing power to £152.4m in 2020.
Source: Measuring Worth.
17. Gesta Edwardi Tertii, ii. 133.; Knighton as printed in Twysden, 2570.
18. Walsingham, Historia Anglicana, i. 226., Rolls Series.
19. Murimuth, p. 114.

      Excerpted from:

      Venables, Edmund. "Henry Burghersh, Bishop of Lincoln."
      Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. III.
      Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, Eds.
      New York: The Macmillan Company, 1908. 335-8.

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