Bek, Antony II (DNB00)

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BEK, ANTONY II (1279–1343), bishop of Norwich, was born on 5 Aug. 1279, and was the second of the three sons of Walter Bek of Luceby, constable of Lincoln Castle, who died leaving his sons minors on 25 Aug. 1291. He was educated at Oxford, and, like his younger brother, Thomas [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Lincoln, took holy orders, and from his influential connections both in church and state he speedily obtained lucrative preferment. During the episcopate of Bishop John of Dalderby he was appointed to the prebendal stall of Ketton in the cathedral of Lincoln, which he exchanged in 1313 for that of Thorngate, which he again resigned on his receiving the chancellorship of the cathedral, together with the stall of North Kelsey, on 4 Sept. 1316 (Le Neve, Fasti, ii. 92, 157, 196, 222). While chancellor he exchanged the residence formerly attached to his office to the north-west of the minster, for one on the east side of the close, to which he made large additions, and in which the chancellors still reside. On the death of Bishop Dalderby, the dean, Henry of Mansfield, who had been the first choice of the chapter, declining the office, he was chosen to fill the vacant see 'per viam scrutinii,' 3 Feb. 1320. The royal assent to his election was given on 20 Feb. The pope, however, John XXI (or XXII), asserted that he had already provided' for the see, and annulled the election, appointing Henry of Burghersh (Le Neve, ii. 13). In 1329 he became dean of Lincoln (ib. 32). His arbitrary temper soon involved him in disputes with his chapter. The dean appealed to the pope, and, without waiting for the royal license, resorted to Avignon to urge the matter in person. He here ingratiated himself with the pope, who made him his chaplain, and a clerk of the Roman curia. At the beginning of 1335 he was summoned by Edward III, then at Newcastle-on-Tyne, to meet him at Nottingham on the ensuing mid-Lent Sunday to treat of divers difficult and urgent matters, setting aside all other engagements (Harl. MS. 3720, p. 10). On the death of Bishop Ayreminne of Norwich (1336), he again repaired to Avignon, and secured the vacant see, to which he was consecrated on 30 March 1337, when he had nearly completed his seventy-second year, being forced upon an unwilling church 'reluctantibus monachis' by a papal bull. On the death of Bishop Ayreminne, the monks of Norwich had elected one of their own body, Thomas of Hemenhall, but the election was set aside by Benedict XI, as Bek's own election had been previously quashed by John XXI on the same ground, viz. a previous appointment by provision.' Hemenhall's personal remonstrance to the pope himself at Avignon was to no purpose, as far as the see of Norwich was concerned. He was, however, induced to resign all claim to the see, and in reward for his compliance was appointed by the pope to the bishopric of Worcester, vacant by the promotion of Simon Montacute to Ely (Rymer, Fœdera, ii. ii. 957, 1060; Le Neve, ii. 464). The remonstrances of Edward III proved equally fruitless with those of the bishop-elect and of his electors, the statute of 'provisions' proving no sufficient barrier against papal usurpation. Bek's episcopate lasted little more than seven years, nearly the whole of which were spent in lawsuits and quarrels, in which his aggressive disposition, arbitrary temper, and aristocratic haughtiness involved him. He commenced his episcopate by suing his predecessor's executors for dilapidation and waste of the property of the see, for which he recovered very large damages. He stoutly resisted the metropolitical visitation of his diocese by Archbishop Stratford, and stirred up the citizens of Norwich to make common cause with him. On the king's interposition on the primate's behalf, 29 Nov. 1342, the citizens yielded, but the old man continued obstinate, and appealed against the archbishop to the pope. He made himself detested by the monks of his cathedral by his determined attempt to introduce a stricter system of discipline, and to reduce the convent to greater subordination to the bishop, 'suffering them to do nothing in their house but what he liked, plucking down and preferring amongst them whom he listed, dealing so rigorously with them that it got him the hatred of all men, which proved his destruction' (Blomfield, Hist. of Norfolk, ii. 359). His death, which took place at his manor of Heveringham on 19 Dec. 1343, was popularly attributed to poison administered to him by his servants at the instigation of his monks. Such suspicions were very common in the middle ages, and there seems to be no ground for the charge besides vulgar report. The death of an old man of seventy-nine requires no such explanation. With all his faults of temper and character, Bek is described as 'a man of learning and principle, and fearless and inflexible when standing up for what he believed to be right' (Jessopp, Diocesan History of Norwich, 115). He appears to have patronised learning, 'his best preferment being bestowed on graduates of the universities' (ib.) He seldom left his diocese during his episcopate, but its duration was too short and his own years much too advanced, to allow of his doing much to bring about the reforms his predecessor's scandalous negligence rendered necessary.

[Godwin, De Præsulibus, ii. 14; Wharton's Anglia Sacra, i. 414; Blomefield's Hist. of Norfolk, ii. 358-9; Le Neve's Fasti, ii. 13, 92, 464; Harl. MS. 3720.]

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