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Walter De Grey Walter De Grey
(c.1188-1255)

Bishop-Elect of Coventry & Lichfield
Bishop of Worcester
Archbishop of York
Born: circa 1188
Died: 1st May 1255


The family of De Grey was one of considerable importance and is still represented on the roll of peers. Walter was almost certainly the son of John De Grey I of Eaton in Norfolk, though the family was particularly associated with the Castle of Rotherfield Greys in Oxfordshire, which Walter eventually purchased, from a cousin, for his brother, Robert. The future Archbishop was educated at Oxford and like his uncle - John De Grey II, Bishop of Norwich and Archbishop-Elect of Canterbury - he was drawn to the Church. Walter was, early, brought to the notice of King John, to whom he was indebted for all his preferments.

In 1207, Walter was made prebendary of Rochester and, in the same year, received a stall at Exeter and the archdeaconry of Totnes. Many other appointments followed; and, in 1288, he was elected Bishop of Coventry & Lichfield by the Lichfield Chapter, in opposition to the nominee of the monks of Coventry. The legate, Pandulph, would admit neither and, at length, a third person became the prelate. In October 1214, however, De Grey was consecrated Bishop of Worcester, resigning all his former preferments. The following year, the Chapter of York elected Simon Langton, brother of the famous Archbishop of Canterbury, to their vacant see; but the King would not receive him and the Pope, Innocent III, at once set him aside when the Canons sent their representatives to Rome. The latter, prepared for such an emergency, then nominated Walter de Grey, Bishop of Worcester, who was, at the time (1216), also in Rome. The Pope accepted him and De Grey returned with the pall to England. It is said that he paid 10,000 for the Papal recognition.

De Grey was a marked favourite with both Kings John and Henry Ill and was, beyond a doubt, the most distinguished English prelate of his time. He is said to have complied readily with all the wishes of King John and was certainly on the King's side during the great struggle for the Magna Carta. Under Henry III, De Grey was frequently employed on important diplomatic services. In 1227, he was sent to France, in the hope of inducing the great lords of Normandy, Anjou, Brittany and Poitou to accept Henry as their suzerain; and, in 1237, he was sent with the Earl of Cornwall to an assembly convened by the Emperor Frederick. Archbishop De Grey was appointed regent of the Kingdom during Henry's absence in France, in 1242, and was again regent in 1254, when the Queen joined her husband in Gascony. In every important event which took place in the history of the nation, the Arch-bishop of York was more or less concerned. He several times entertained the Kings of England and Scotland, with their Queens, at York. The most memorable occasion being in 1252, when the English court and the Royal House of Scotland kept their Christmas at York and the young King, Alexander III, then eight years old, was married to Henry's daughter Margaret. In 1255, De Grey was present at a parliament which, in effect, ushered in the War of the Barons. The whole country was in a state of sullen indignation and, on the dissolution of the Parliament, the Archbishop retired to the Bishop of London's Palace at Fulham. He had been there only three days when he died, on 1st May 1255.

In his own diocese, Walter de Grey was a great benefactor. He found it in a state of utter neglect and left it, at his death, in comparative wealth and order. He purchased and annexed, to the stalls and offices of the Chapter, many churches and livings. He bought and appropriated, to the see, the village of St. Andrewthorpe, the name of which was speedily changed to Bishopthorpe, from the palace which he built there and which is still the residence of the Archbishops. In London, he bought York House for the see, to which it remained attached until Henry VIII compelled Wolsey to resign it, and its name was changed to Whitehall Palace. De Grey had the south transept of York Minster built and his tomb remains there. The place of his interment was probably chosen the man himself. At Ripon, he probably built the west front of the existing cathedral and translated the relics of St. Wilfrid.

Edited from Richard John King's "Handbook to the Cathedrals of England: Northern Division" (1903).

 

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