Balsham, Hugh de (DNB00)

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BALSHAM, HUGH de (d. 1286), bishop of Ely and founder of Peterhouse, Cambridge, was born in the earlier part of the thirteenth century, most probably in the Cambridgeshire village from which he may be presumed to have taken his name. Matthew Paris, in the only passage where he mentions the bishop by name, calls him Hugo de Belesale, which is doubtless the reason why Fuller introduces him as 'Hugo de Balsham (for so he is truly written)' (see Chronica Majora, v. 589, and Worthies, i, 165). 'It was fashionable,' says Fuller, 'for clergy-men in that age to assume their surnames from the place of their nativity;' and 'there is no other village of that name throughout the dominions of England.' The bishop's supposed birthplace lies about ten miles from Camhridge and nine from Newmarket, in a pleasant neighbourhood, which justifies to this day Henry of Huntingdon's description of it, cited by Fuller, as 'amœnissima Montana de Balsham.' The village is one of those specified in 1401, in connection with a long-standing controversy between the bishops of Ely and the arch-deacons of Ely who called themselves arch-deacons of Cambridge, as under the direct jurisdiction of the bishops (Bentham's Ely, 269). At one time the place was an episcopal manor-seat, and Bishop Simon Montague from time to time abode there (Mullinger, 224, note 3). The church, which has been recently restored, contains some ancient monuments, among them a small brass figure on a slab, said to be that of Hugh de Balsham.

At the time of the death of William de Kilkenny, which occurred in September 1256 (Stubbs), or possibly as late as January 1257 (Abp. Parker), and in any case within two years after his election to the bishopric of Ely, Hugh de Balsham was (according to the usually accepted reading of Matthew Paris) sub-prior of the monastery of Ely. As such, it was his duty to assist the prior, and in his absence to preside over the convent; he was accordingly lodged in convenient apartments, and a sufficient income was assigned to his office (Bentham). The Ely monks cannot but have been mindful of the unfairness with which, in the earlier part of the century, Hervey, the first bishop of the see, had carried out the royal mandate for a division of the lands of the monastery of Ely between the convent itself and the newly created see; and this may have helped to determine their independent conduct on the death of William de Kilkenny. The last two bishops had been personages of political consequence. It appears to have been the intention of Henry III to insure the appointment at Ely of a successor of the same stamp; for upon William's death the king immediately, by special supplicatory letters and official messengers, urged upon the monks the election of his chancellor, Henry de Wengham,to the vacant see. But the monks, or the seven of them whom it was usual for the whole conventual body to name as electors, acting on the principle (says Matthew Paris) that it is unwise to prefer the unknown to the known, without delay chose their sub-prior, 'a man fitted for the office, and of blameless character.' The king, angered at this repulse, refused to accept the election, and allowed John de Waleran, to whom he had committed the custody of the temporalities of the see, shamefully to abuse his trust. Without the fear either of St. Ethelreda or of God before his eyes, he cut down the timber, emptied the parks of their game and the ponds of their fish, pauperised the tenants, and did all the harm in his power to the monks and to the diocese at large. And while the bishop-elect and the convent were hoping to be heard in their own exculpation on a day appointed by the king for the purpose, Henry made use of the occasion to break out into abuse against the choice they had made, inveighing against the bishop-elect above all on the ground that the isle of Ely had from of old been a place of refuge for defeated and desperate persons, and that it would be unsafe to commit the custody of a place which was much the same as a citadel to a simple cloistered monk, feeble, unwarlike, and without experience in statecraft. Accordingly, on the feast of St. Gordian and St. Epimachus, 10 May 1257, the election of Hugh, though perfectly in order, was quashed by the united action of the king and Boniface of Savoy, the archbishop. But before this (for such seems to have been the order of events) the bishop-elect had betaken himself to Rome, there to appeal to the pope (Alexander IV); while the archbishop had written to his personal friends at the papal Curia, asking them to thwart Hugh's endeavours. The archbishop appears (from a statement in Bentham's Ely, 179, note 7)to have taken up the untenable position that, should the election be annulled, the appointment would devolve upon himself; in which case he intended to name Adam de Marisco. Hugh spent considerable sums in vindication of his claims; and Henry de Wengham, who had been no party to the royal application in his favour, entreated the king to stay his manœuvres and 'armed supplications' against the pious monks who had chosen a better man than had been recommended to them. When he heard that the famous Franciscan, Adam de Marisco (Marsh), had been proposed by the Archbishop of Canterbury(Boniface),the modest chanchellor protested that either of the two others was worthier of the see than himself. On the other hand, Adam de Marisco (according to the same authority, Matthew Paris, whose prejudice against the Franciscans is transparent), although an old and learned man and a friar who had renounced all worldly greatness and large revenues in assuming the religious habit, was reported to have given a willing consent to the substitution of himself for Hugh de Balsham.

Hugh de Balsham succeeded in obtaining not only confirmation, but also consecration from Pope Alexander IV, 14 Oct. 1257 (Profession Roll of Canterbury), and returned home. As for Henry de Wengham, his modesty was rewarded by his election to the bishopric of Winchester two years afterwards (see Matt. Paris, v. 731). Adam de Marisco died within a few months of the termination of the dispute. Had his life been prolonged, his election to the contested bishopric might have exercised a momentous influence not only upon the history of that see, but also upon that of the university with which it was already closely connected. He had been the first Franciscan who read lectures at Oxford, and was, 'if not the founder, an eminent instrument in the foundation, of that school, from which proceeded the most celebrated of the Franciscan schoolmen' (Brewer, Monumenta Franciscana, preface, lxxx). A generation had hardly passed since (in 1226) the Franciscans had arrived in England, and already their numbers had risen to more than 1,200, and Cambridge as well as Oxford was among the towns where they multiplied. Readers or lecturers belonging to the order were here appointed in regular succession (for a list of those at Cambridge, seventy-four in number, see Monumenta Franciscana 555-7). The success of the Franciscans at the English universities was doubtless in some measure due to the fact that after a violent struggle between the citizens and the university of Paris, ending in 1231, the regulars had there achieved a complete triumph over the seculars, and that in this triumph the Franciscans had largely participated (Crevier, Histoire de l'Université de Paris, i. 389 seqq.). Not only did the Franciscans establish themselves at Cambridge as early as 1224, but in 1249 the Carmelites moved in from Chesterton to Newnham: in 1257 the friars of the Order of Bethlehem settled in Trumpington Street; and in 1258 the friars of the Sack or of the Penitence of Jesus Christ settled in the parish of St. Mary (now St. Mary the Great), whence they were afterwards moved to the parish then called St. Peter's without Trumpington Gate. So many orders, writes Matthew Paris, under the year of Hugh de Balsham's election, had already made their appearance in England, that the confusion of orders seemed disorderly (Chronica Majora, v. 631 ). At Cambridge there were added at a rather later date (1273) the friars of St. Mary, and two years afterwards the Dominicans. Besides these establishments older foundations existed, of which here need only be mentioned that of the Augustinian Canons who had been for a century and a half settled in their priory at Barnwell, and that of the brethren of St. John's Hospital, who were likewise under the rule of St. Augustine, and whose house had been founded m 1135 by Henry Frost, a Cambridge burgess (see Cooper, Annals of Cambridge, i. 25-55; and cf. Mullinger, 138-9). Under these circumstances, there can be little doubt that the succession to the Ely bishopric of such a personage as the eminent Franciscan, the Doctor Illustris, would have been a very important if not a very welcome event for the university of Cambridge, as well, perhaps, as for the diocese at large; and the election of Hugh de Balsham accordingly possesses, even negatively, a certain significance. (The above account of the dispute and its issue is mainly collected from the Chronica Majora of Matt. Paris, v. 589, 611, 619-20, 635-36, 662.)

Of matters concerning Hugh de Balsham's episcopal administration nothing very noteworthy is handed down to us. He certainly took no leading part in the great political struggle contemporary with the earlier years of his episcopate; but there is no reason for supposing that he sided against the leader of the barons, the friend of the great Franciscan teachers. On the contrary, we have the statement of Archbishop Parker (Acad. Hist. Cantab. appended to de Antiq. Britann. Eccl.) that Hugh de Balsham was one of those bishops who denounced the penalty of excommunication against violators of Magna Charta and of the forest statutes. It is improbable that he sought to effect any important improvements in the architecture of his beautiful cathedral, in emulation of the achievements in this direction of his last predecessor but one, Bishop Hugh Northwold. On the other hand, he seems to have been a zealous guardian of the rights of his see, and a liberal benefactor both to it and to the convent out of which it had grown, and to which he had himself so much reason to be attached. Soon after his return from Rome, in the year 1258, he recovered the right of hostelage in the Temple, formerly possessed by the bishops of Ely, from the master of the Knights Templars who had contested it. The power of the Templars was already on the wane, and Hugh Bigot, justiciary of England, condemned the bishop's opponent to heavy damages and costs (Bentham, 150). The estate in Holborn, on which the bishops of Ely afterwards fixed their London residence, was not acquired till the time of Hugh de Balsham's successor, Bishop John de Kirkeby. Bishop Hugh's acquisitions were nearer home. He purchased the manor of Tyd, which he annexed to the see: and in lieu of two churches (Wisbeach and Foxton) which had belonged to the see, and which he had appropriated to the convent, and of a third (Triplow) which he had assigned to his scholars in Cambridge, of whom mention will be made immediately, he purchased for his bishopric the patronage of three other churches (Bentham, 150). He augmented the revenues of the almoner of the convent by appropriating the rectory of Foxton to that officer (ib. 128). And we may be tempted to recognise the influence of comfortable Benedictine training as well as a considerate spirit in his obtaining (if it was he that obtained) the papal dispensation granted during his episcopate to the monks of Ely, which, in consideration of their cathedral church being situate on an eminence and exposed to cold and sharp winds, allowed them to wear caps suited to their order during service in church. On the other hand, he had a vigilant eye upon the indispensable accompaniments of episcopal authority, issuing in 1268 an order to his archdeacon to summon all parish priests to repair to the cathedral every Whitsuntide and to pay their pentecostals, and to exhort their parishioners to do the like, under pain of ecclesiastical censures {ib. 150). In 1275 we find him maintaining the rights of his see against the claims of (the dowager) Queen Eleanor, who was a benefactress of the university, to present to the mastership of St. John's Hospital at Cambridge (Cooper, Annals, i.).

But it is in the services rendered by this prelate to the university of Cambridge itself, where he laid the foundations of a system of academical life which has, in substance, endured for six centuries, that his title to fame consists. Apparently a man without commanding genius, and belonging to an order which was already thought to have degenerated from its greatness and usefulness, the Benedictine bishop became the father of the collegiate system of Cambridge, and at the same time the founder of a college which has honourably taken part in the activity and achievements of the university. A few words are necessary to show how Bishop Hugh de Balsham came to accomplish the act that has made his name memorable, and what precedents or examples were followed in the foundation of Peterhouse.

Various circumstances had contributed to hasten the growth of the two English universities in the earlier half of the thirteenth century, and to draw closer the relations between them and the university of Paris upon which they were modelled. At Paris not fewer than sixteen colleges are mentioned as founded in the thirteenth century (indeed two are placed as early as the twelfth), among which the most famous is that of the Sorbonne, established about 1250. At the Sorbonne, as elsewhere, poverty was an indispensable condition of membership (Mullinger's History of Cambridge, 127 and note 3). At Oxford, where the intellectual efforts of Paris had,under the guidance of the Franciscans, been equalled and were soon to be outstripped, it might seem strange that the earliest collegiate foundation—that of Walter de Merton (1264)—should have expressly excluded all members of regular orders (Mullinger, 164). But the dangers involved in the ascendency of the monks and friars must have been already patent to many with sagacious minds: and it may be worth noting that Bishop Walter de Merton had been chancellor of the kingdom in the years almost immediately preceding the date of the foundation of his college (1261-1262), when the king's troubles were at their height (Mullinger, 164, note 1), and that he was accordingly by position an adversary of the Franciscan interest. And in any case the monks and friars were already sufficiently provided for, so that there was no need for including them in a new foundation. In 1268, when Hugh de Balsham presumably had not yet formed the design of establishing a college of his own, he appropriated to Merton College a moiety of the rectory of Gamlingay in Ely diocese and Cambridge county (Kilner, Account of Pythagoras's School, 1790, 87-90). These examples, then—for the 'hostels' which already existed in the university can hardly be taken into account—Bishop Hugh had before him when, manifestly after mature reflection, he proceeded, by giving a new form to an earlier benefaction of his own, to open a new chapter in the history of one of our universities.

The bishops of Ely, it should be premised, had consistently claimed to exercise a jurisdiction over the university of Cambridge; all the chancellors of the university, from the middle of the thirteenth century (1246), when the earliest mention of the dignity occurs, to the end of the fourteenth, received episcopal confirmation; nor was it till 1433 that the university was by papal authority wholly exempted from the jurisdiction of the bishops (Bentham, 159, note 7). Indeed, it has been argued that the prerogatives of the chancellor were originally ecclesiastical, and that the highly important powers of excommunication and absolution were derived by him in the first instance from the Bishop of Ely (Mullinger, 141). This relation is illustrated by the circumstance that in 1275 Bishop Hugh de Balsham issued letters requiring all suits in the university to be brought before the chancellor, and limiting his own authority to appeals from the chancellor's decisions (Mullinger, 225). The bishop's readiness to make a concession to the university deserves to be contrasted with his tenacity in resisting the master of the Temple and the queen dowager. Again, in 1276, the bishop settled the question of jurisdiction between the chancellor of the university and the archdeacon of Ely, who, having the nomination of the master of the glomerels (i.e., it would seem, the instructor of students in the rudiments of Latin grammar), sought to make this privilege the basis of further interference the chancellor's rights. Bishop Hugh's decision on this head was given with great clearness, and at the same time he approved a statute, published by the university authorities, subjecting to expulsion or imprisonment all scholars who within thirteen days after entering into residence should not have procured or taken proper steps to procure 'a fixed master' (Bentham, 150; Mullinger, 226; and cf. as to the master of the glomerels eund. 140, 340. The entire very interesting decree is printed in Cooper, i. 56-58). Rather earlier, in 1273, under date 'Shelford, on Wednesday next after the Sunday when "Letare Jerusalem" is sung,' he brought about a composition between the university and the combative rector of St. Bene't, who had denied to the university the customary courtesy of ringing the bell of his church to convene clerks to extraordinary lectures (Cooper, i. 54). Nothing of course could be more natural than that the bishops of Ely should look with a kindly eve upon the neighbouring seat of learning, as in the thirteenth century it might already be appropriately called. The tradition that the priory of canons regular at Cambridge, known as St. John's House or Hospital, 'upon' which St. John's College was founded several centuries afterwards, was instituted by Nigellus, second Bishop of Ely, rests on no solid grounds (see Baker, 13, 14); the origin of this house was, in fact, due, as stated above, to the munificence of a Cambridge burgess. Eustachius, fifth Bishop of Ely, it is true, 'stands in the front of the founders and benefactors' of St. John's hospital (ib. 17), and it was he who appropriated to it St. Peter's Church without Trumpington Gate. Hugh Northwold, eighth bishop, is said by at least one authority to have placed some secular scholars as students there, who devoted themselves to academical study rather than to the services of the church. (The authority is Parker, Sceletos Cant., 1622, cited by Kilner, and by Bentham, 147, note 4.) Bishop Northwold also obtained for the hospital the privilege of exemption from taxation with respect to their two hostels near St. Peters church. William de Kilkenny, ninth bishop, had little time for the concerns of his diocese, though he left two hundred marks to the priory at Barnwell for the maintenance of two chaplains, students of divinity in the university.

Among the charters of Peterhouse are letters patent of the 9th of Edward I (1280), attested at Burgh 24 Dec, which, after a preamble, conceived in the mediæval spirit, about King Solomon, grant to Bishop Hugh the royal approval (license) of his intention to introduce into his hospital of St.John at Cambridge, in lieu of the secular brethren there, 'studious scholars who shall in everything live together as students in the university of Cambridge according to the rule of the scholars at Oxford who are called of Merton' (Documents relating to the University and Colleges of Cambridge, ii. l1). This document at all events fixes the date of the royal license, on which there can be little doubt that action was immediately taken. It is clear that Hugh de Balsham's scholars were placed in St. John's Hospital in substitution for the secular brethren already residing there. Very possibly the designation of the Ely scholars as 'scholars of the bishops of Ely' may imply an acknowledgment of the anticipation by Bishop Northwold of Bishop Hugh de Balsham's intention to provide for secular students. For not more than four years afterwards, in 1284, it was found that a separation of the two elements would better meet the purpose which the bishop had at heart. By an instrument dated Doddington, 31 March 1284, which was confirmed by a charter of King Edward I, dated 28 May 1284, Bishop Hugh de Balsham separated his scholars from the brethren of the hospital. Dissensions had from various causes and on several occasions arisen between the brethren and the scholars, and finding a further continuance of their common life 'difficult if not intolerable,' they had on both sides proffered a humble supplication that the localities occupied as well as the possessions held by them in common might be divided between them. The bishop accordingly assigned to his scholars the two hostels (hospicia) adjoining the churchyard of St. Peter without Trumpington Gate, together with that church itself, and certain revenues thereto belonging, inclusive of the tithes of the two mills belonging to that church. The brethren were compensated by certain rents and some houses near to their hospital which had formerly been assigned to the scholars. By another instrument of the same date, and confirmed by the same royal charter, he assigned the church of Triplow, formerly allotted to his scholars and the brethren in common, to his scholars alone. (Both instruments are recited at length in the charter confirming them; seeDocuments,ii.1-4).

This account agrees with the statement in the second of the statutes afterwards given to Peterhouse by Simon Montague (seventeenth Bishop of Ely, 1337-1345) 9 April 1344, according to which his predecessor, Hugh de Balsham, 'desirous for the weal of his soul while he dwelt in this vale of tears, and to provide wholesomely so far as in him lay for poor persons wishing to make themselves proficient in the knowledge of letters by securing to them a proper maintenance, founded a house or college for the public good in our university of Cambridge, with the consent of King Edward and of his beloved sons the prior and chapter of our cathedral, all due requirements of law being observed; which house he desired to be called the House of St. Peter or the Hall {Aula) of the scholars of the bishops of Ely at Cambridge; and he endowed it, and made certain ordinances for it {in aliquibus ordinavit) so far as he was then able, but not as he intended and wished to do, as we hear, had not death frustrated his intention. In this house he willed that there should be one master and as many scholars as could be suitably maintained from the possessions of the house itself in a lawful manner.' Bishop Simon adds that the capabilities of the house had since proved barely sufficient for the support of fifteen persons, viz. a master and fourteen scholars (fellows), a number which has only in our own days been reduced to that of a master and eleven fellows {Documents ii. 7-8).

It would be useless to inquire to what precise extent the statutes of Simon Montague represent the wishes of the founder. There can, however, be no reasonable doubt but that in general they closely correspond to them, more especially as the second of Bishop Simon's statutes declares his intention of following the desire of Bishop Hugh to base the statutes of Peterhouse upon those of Merton (Documents, ii. 8). The Peterhouse statutes are actually modelled on the fourth of the codes of statutes given by Merton to his college, which bears date 1274. Accordingly, the formula 'ad instar Aulæ de Merton' constantly recurs in Simon Montague's statutes, e.g. in statutes 16, 22, 28, 30, 39, 40, 57, 58. Inasmuch as according to statute 43 a fellow who has entered into a monastic order is after a year of grace to vacate his fellowship, Hugh de Balsham may fairly be assumed to have, in the same spirit as that in which his successor legislated for his college, designed that it should provide assistance for students, without, on the one hand, obliging them to become monks, or, on the other, intending anything hostile against monasticism. The endowment of the college was not given, as the same statute affirms, 'nisi pro actualiter studentibus et proficere volentibus.' It must be allowed that the true principle of collegiate endowments could not be more concisely stated (see Mullinger, 233). The directions taken by the studies of the college were necessarily determined by the educational views of the age; but statute 27 shows it not to have been intended that the study of divinity should either absorb all the energies of the college, or be entered upon until after a preliminary study of the 'liberal arts.' It may be added that statute 27, which allows one or two scholars of the college at a time to carry on their studies at Oxford, is most inaccurately represented by Warton's assertion (History of English Poetry, section 9), that 'Bishop Hugh de Balsham orders in his statutes, given about the year 1280, that some of his scholars should annually repair to Oxford for improvement in the sciences—that is, to study under the Franciscan readers.'

Bishop Hugh de Balsham did not long survive the foundation of Peterhouse. He died at Doddington 15 June 1286, and was interred on the 24th of the same month in his cathedral church, before the high altar, by Thomas de Ingoldesthorp, bishop of Rochester (Bentham, 151). His heart was separately buried in the cathedral near the altar of St. Martin (see memorandum appended to Peterhouse statute of 1480 in Documents, ii. 45). His benefactions to his foundation had been numerous, and are duly recorded in same memorandum, 'to wit, four "baudekins" with birds and beasts, five copes, of which one is embroidered in red, a chasuble, a tunic and a dalmatic, three albs, two cruets, the church of St. Peter without Trumpington gates, the two hostels adjoining, mill-tithes' (i.e. of Newnham mills), 'several books of theology and other sciences, and three hundred marks towards the building of the college.' According to another source of information (see Bentham, 151) the books and the three hundred marks were left by the bishop in his last will; and with the money his scholars purchased a piece of ground on the south side of St. Peter's church (now St. Mary the Less), where they erected a very fine hall. There seems reason to believe that the land on part of which the present hall is built was bought by the college from the Brethren de Sacco and the Brethren of Jesus Christ. For the rest, the college biography of the founder is extremely meagre, and dwells especially on his good works in appropriating rectories to religious and educational purposes, but not without at the same time compensating the see at his own personal expense.

The services and benefactions of Hugh de Balsham were not left unacknowledged either by his college or by the university. The latter, by an instrument dated Cambridge, 25 May 1291, and sealed with the university seal, bound itself annually to celebrate a solemn commemoration of his obit (Bentham, 151). His successors have, through all the changes which the statutes of the college have undergone, remained its visitors. It is noticeable in this connection that when in 1629 an amended statute was obtained at the instance of the college from Charles I prohibiting the tenure of fellowships by more than two natives of the same county at the same time, an exception was made in favour of Middlesex, and of Cambridgeshire with the isle of Ely, whence 'the greater part of the college income is derived.' Of these two counties four natives might simultaneously hold fellowships (Peterhouse statute of Charles I in Documents, ii. 105), it having been urged that 'Hugo de Balsham, the founder, and all the prime benefactors of the college were of those counties (the southern) which the statute' of Warkworth, assigning half the fellowships of the college to the north of England, 'most wrongs' (ibid. 99). Quite recently, when, on the occasion of the restoration of the hall at Peterhouse, the college and its friends provided for a becoming artistic commemoration of its worthies and benefactors, the place of honour was as of right assigned to a finely imagined semblance of its revered founder. It may be added that the arms of Peterhouse (gules, three pales or) are those of its founder, with the addition of the border, usual in the case of religious foundations (Bentham, Appendix, p. 42).

[Matthæi Parisiensis Chronica Majora, ed. Luard, vol. v., Rolls series, London, 1880; Bentham's History and Antiquities of the Conventual and Cathedral Church of Ely, Cambridge, 1771; Mullinger's University of Cambridge from the earliest times to the Royal Injunctions of 1535, Cambridge, 1873; Documents relating to the University and Colleges of Cambridge, vol. ii. London, 1852; Statutes for Peterhouse, approved by H.M. in Council (preamble), Cambridge, 1882; Cooper's Annals of Cambridge, vol. ii., Cambridge, 1842; Baker's History of the College of St. John the Evangelist, Cambridge, ed. Mayor, Cambridge, 1869; Monumenta Franciscana, ed. Brewer, Rolls series, London, 1858. The writer has to acknowledge the kindness of the late Mr. E. R. Horton, fellow of Peterhouse, who revised the whole of this article, and made numerous valuable suggestions embodied in it.]

A. W. W.