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Thomas Beckington
(1390-1465)

Bishop of Bath & Wells
Died: 14th January 1465


Thomas Beckington was one of the great benefactors of Wells. He was born of low parentage at the village of Beckington, about two miles from Frome, and was sent, at an early age, to Winchester for his education. Here, he attracted the attention of William of Wykeham, who placed him, first, in his college at Winchester and thence removed him to New College, Oxford. A book in which he asserted the right of the English crown and made it "well appear, the Salique law was not devised for the realm of France," drew on him the favourable notice of Prince Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. The Duke helped Thomas acquire a number of plumb ecclesiastical appointments including Rector of Sutton Courtenay (1420) and Deacon of Arches (1423). The former allowed him to be close to Oxford. It was also, no doubt, through his patron's influence that Thomas was made tutor and then principal secretary to the young King Henry VI. By the late 1430s, he was thus devoting himself to secular affairs with embassies to Calais (1439) and in marriage negotiations with John IV, Count of Armagnac (1442). After having been appointed Keeper of the Privy Seal soon after his return to England, Thomas was nominated to the Bishopric of Bath & Wells in 1443. Bishop Beckington trod closely in the steps of his early patron, Wykeham, whose love and practical knowledge of architecture he seems to have inherited. Nearly all the episcopal palaces in his diocese were repaired by him. A part of the cloisters at Wells was his work and the College of Vicars Choral, which Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury had founded, was greatly enlarged and improved at his expense. His rebus, a beacon and a ton, still remains on these and other of his buildings. For the city of Wells, he built gatehouses, market-offices and a conduit, supplied by pipes from St. Andrew's Well. In Oxford, imitating Wykeham, he was one of the principal benefactors of Lincoln College, the building of which he completed. Bishop Beckington died very wealthy, although he asserts in his will that he had spent six thousand marks in repairing and adorning his palaces. He bequeathed books, church ornaments and vestments to his churches of Bath and Wells, to Wykeham's colleges at Winchester and Oxford and to many parish churches and monasteries. His beautiful chantry remains, partly in St. Calixtus' chapel and partly on the south side of the choir. "A beacon," says Fuller, "we know is so called from beckoning - that is, making signs or giving notice to the next beacon" (an etymology which need not be pressed, however). "This bright beacon doth nod and give hints of bounty to future ages; but it is to be feared it will be long before his signs will be observed, understood and imitated."

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

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