Britannia Biographies: William of Wykeham Part 6
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Biography of William of Wykeham (1324-1404), Bishop of Winchester

O F   W Y K E H A M
Part 6: Times of Trouble

The pious and patriotic exertions of good Bishop William of Wykeham were interrupted for a time by a political storm which rose against him in 1376, the last year of the reign of Edward III. He had been appointed one of the council established to superintend the conduct of affairs on the petition of the Parliament which met in April of that year and, in consequence, became a principal object of the resentment of the Duke of Lancaster. After the death of the Black Prince in June and the rise of the Parliament in July, the Duke and his party had taken possession of the superannuated and dying King and proceeded to overthrow all the reforms that had been lately made in the Government; and to effect, as far as they could, the ruin of all concerned in them. By the Duke's contrivance, eight articles were exhibited against Bishop Wykeham at the beginning of the next Michaelmas term. They charged him with various acts of pecuniary defalcation, oppression and other sorts of misgovernment while he had been in office many years before as Keeper of the Privy Seal and Lord Chancellor. He was heard in his defence, before a commission of bishops, peers and privy councillors, about the middle of November. Judgement was given against him upon one of the articles, involving, at the utmost, a mere irregularity, and, upon this, under the influence that then prevailed at Court, an order was immediately issued for the sequestration of the revenues of his bishopric. He was, at the same time, forbidden, in the King's name, to come within twenty miles of the court. The next Parliament, which met on 27th January 1377, was wholly devoted to Lancaster. So when, soon after, on the petition of the Commons, an act of general pardon was issued by the King, in consideration of its being the year of his jubilee, the Bishop of Winchester alone was specially excepted out of its provisions. All this, in the circumstances of the time, may be taken as the best attestation to Wykeham's patriotism and integrity. His brethren of the clergy, however, assembled in convocation, now took up his cause with great zeal; and, whether in consequence of their bold representations on the subject to the King or for some other reason, it was soon deemed expedient to drop the proceedings against him. On 18th June, his temporalities were restored to him, on condition of his fitting out three ships of war for the defence of the Kingdom and maintaining them at sea for a quarter of a year. And even from this condition, he was released on the accession of Richard II, a few days after. But the loss nevertheless to which he had been subjected by his prosecution is said to have amounted to ten thousand marks (6,666 13s 4d).

The instrument by which, on the accession of the young king, Wykeham was relieved from the pains and penal ties which a dominant party had imposed upon him, is very full and explicit. It sets forth "that the King, reflecting upon the great damages and hardships that the

Bishop of Winchester hath sustained on occasion of the said impeachment and revolving in his mind the many acceptable, useful and laudable services which the said Bishop, with great labour and expense, hath long performed for his grandfather, the many high offices which he hath held under his grandfather and father and the special affection and sincere love which his father, while he lived, always bore towards the said Bishop, out of his special favour and with his certain knowledge, and also by advice and consent of his uncle the Duke of Lancaster and other prelates and lords of his council, remits and pardons all the aforesaid articles and all other crimes and offences whatsoever in the amplest terms and in the fullest manner, the exception of the said Bishop in the Act of Grace passed in the last Parliament of the late King and all other statutes to the contrary notwithstanding." It concludes with a clause to this effect: "Willing that all men should know that, although we have granted to the Bishop of Winchester the said pardons and graces, nevertheless we do not think the said Bishop to be in anywise chargeable, in the sight of God, with any of the matters thus by us pardoned, remitted or released unto him, but do hold him to be, as to all and every of them, wholly innocent and guiltless."

Part 7: Twilight Years      Copyright ©2000, LLC