Ely, Nicholas of (DNB00)
|←Ely, Humphrey||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 17
Ely, Nicholas of
ELY, NICHOLAS of (d. 1280), chancellor and successively bishop of Worcester and Winchester, may have derived his name from the fact that about 1249 he was appointed archdeacon of Ely. He was also a few years later prebendary of St. Paul's. There is, however, a Nicholas of Ely mentioned as prior of the Cluniac monastery of Daventry in Northamptonshire between 1231 and 1264 (Dugdale, Monasticon, v. 176, from Reg. de Daventr. in MS. Cotton Claudius D. xii. f. 172), whose name also occurs in a letter of Grosseteste to the legate Otho in 1240, and in whose behalf the bishop had made some petition to the legate. In the absence, however, of any express identification, it seems less difficult to assume that this Nicholas of Ely was another person than to suppose that a Cluniac monk left his cloister to become a royal official. Nicholas of Ely must have been a friend of the baronial party, for soon after the triumph of Leicester and Gloucester at the Provisions of Oxford he was elevated to the custody of the great seal. One account says that he became chancellor at the same time that Hugh Bigod became justiciar, i.e. in 1258 (Wykes in Ann. Mon. iv. 120); but there is no doubt that the royalist chancellor Wingham was continued in office until 18 Oct. 1260, on which date that functionary, now become bishop of London, handed back the great seal to the king. The old seal was immediately broken, and a new seal delivered to Nicholas of Ely, who at once took the customary oaths and entered upon his duties (Cal. Rot. Pat. p. 316); but in July 1261 Henry, having obtained, as was believed, papal authority to dispense him from his oath to the Provisions, dismissed Ely and restored the seal to Walter of Merton (Wykes in A.M. iv. 129; Cal. Rot. Pat. p. 32 b). In 1262, however, he was made treasurer, on the death of John de Caux (Ann. Dunst. in A.M. iii. 220); and in 1263 the attempt at arbitration between the rival parties seems to have resulted in his reappointment as chancellor. On 1 Sept. he paid the king a fine of fifty marks to have the wardship of the heir and lands of Baldwin of Witsand (Roberts, Excerpta e Rot. Finium, ii. 403); and on 18 Sept., when the king went abroad for a short time, the great seal remained in his charge, on the condition that he only signed ordinary writs to which Hugh le Despenser, the justiciar, was the witness (Fœdera, i. 433). The same thing happened two months later, on Henry's departure for the arbitration at Amiens (Cal. Rot. Pat. 33 b). In the middle of July he received the seals again (ib. p. 34), but he did not retain them much longer. Before October his name appears again as treasurer (ib. p. 34); and on 31 Oct. he witnessed a charter in that capacity (Madox, Hist. Exchequer, ii. 319). It seems probable that he was of a moderate or peaceable temper, for, though the nominee of the barons, he was not in any way disgraced on the great triumph of the king's party in 1265. Early in 1266 the death of Walter of Cantelupe [q. v.] had left the see of Worcester vacant. Henry, who had approved of Ely's services, even when he was acting as baronial chancellor, made no opposition to his election to that bishopric. He was chosen on 9 May; the election was confirmed on 19 June; on 19 Sept. he was consecrated at Canterbury along with William de Braose, bishop of Llandaff, by Archbishop Boniface, and a week later was solemnly enthroned in his cathedral. (These dates are from the Worcester Annals in A.M. iv. 456; Wykes, ib. iv. 190, makes his consecration ‘in octavis Pentecostes;’ the Winchester and Waverley Annals both put it in September, as does the London Annals, in Stubbs, Chron. Ed. I and Ed. II, i. 75.) In August 1266 he was present at Kenilworth, and was one of the six elected by the king to arrange terms for the submission of the disinherited barons (Ann. Wav. in A.M. ii. 371; Ann. Dunst. ib. iii. 242). But early in 1268 the death of John Gervais, bishop of Winchester, at the papal court put, according to the received doctrine, the next presentation to that see in the hands of Clement IV, who, setting aside the election of Richard de la More by the chapter, translated Ely, to his great delight, to the rich and important vacancy. On 2 May the king accepted the papal nomination, and on Whit-Sunday, 27 May, the bishop was enthroned with great state in his new cathedral (Ann. Wig. in A. M. ii. 136; Wykes, ib. iv. 214). In 1269 he consecrated John le Breton to the see of Hereford at Waverley (Ann. Wint. ib. ii. 107). In 1270 he witnessed the act by which Edward, the king's son, consigned his children to the care of Richard of Cornwall before starting on crusade (Fœdera, i. 484). In 1271 he made a visitation, first of his cathedral and then of his diocese (Ann. Wint. ii. 110). In 1272 he was one of the magnates who wrote to Edward to announce his father's death and his own peaceful succession (Fœdera, i. 497). In May 1273 he joined Walter, bishop of Exeter, in conferring the pallium on Archbishop Kilwardby, and immediately after the two bishops went to meet Edward I at Paris, on his return from the Holy Land (Ann. Winton. ii. 115). In November 1274 he magnificently entertained Kilwardby at Winchester and at Bittern (ib. ii. 118); and in the same year consecrated the sacred chrism at the Cistercian abbey of Waverley in Surrey, to which he was ever afterwards much attached. The monks record with pride that he afterwards ate with them in their refectory. In 1276 he entertained the king and queen at Winchester (Ann. Wig. iv. 469). In 1278 he was present when Alexander, king of Scots, performed homage to the king at Westminster (Parl. Writs, i. 7). In the same year he dedicated the new church of the monks of Waverley, granting indulgences to all present and entertaining the whole assembly at his own cost (Ann. Wav. ii. 390). In 1279 he assisted at the consecration of John of Darlington, archbishop of Dublin, and attended and sent presents of game to Peckham's enthronement (Reg. Epist. J. Peckham, xxix. xxx.) During nearly the whole of his episcopal rule at Winchester he was engaged in an obstinate quarrel with his chapter. One of his first acts was, at the instance of the legate Ottobon, to restore as prior a certain Valentine. In 1274 Andrew, the rival prior, endeavoured, at the head of an armed force, to restore himself to his old position. The bishop excommunicated the offenders and placed the town under an interdict. A full inquiry by royal justices, before a jury, led to the imprisonment of the culprits; but so strong was the feeling among the monks in favour of Andrew, that the new prior, Valentine, found his position untenable, and resigned in 1276. In great indignation Ely seized the prior's manors; but the mediation of royal commissioners resulted in Valentine's restoration for a time, with two episcopal nominees among the obedientaries of the house. But before long, ‘to show his power,’ Ely deposed Valentine altogether, and appointed a Norman, John of Dureville, in his stead. The disgusted monks sought the protection of the Roman curia; but in 1278 the mediation of the abbots of Reading and Glastonbury patched up a peace between Ely and his chapter. The bishop ‘put away all rancour’ and gave the kiss of peace to all the monks, except those still negotiating in the papal court against him. A little later troubles were renewed, and the king thought it worth while to take the priory in his own hands; though at Christmas, when he held his court at Winchester, he resigned its custody to the bishop. Ely then made a clean sweep of the house, made Adam of Fareham the prior, and appointed his partisans as obedientiaries. This secured his triumph for the rest of his life; but years after his death the after-swell of the storm had not subsided (Reg. Epist. Peckham, iii. 806, 837). But on 12 Feb. 1280 Ely died. His body was interred in the church of Waverley Abbey, to which he had so long been a friend; but his heart was deposited in his own cathedral. In his will he left considerable legacies to Worcester Cathedral (Ann. Wig. iv. 480). He had promised to assist in building the Franciscan church at Southampton, and Peckham compelled his executors to respect his wishes. Ely, according to Wykes (A. M. iv. 180), had knowledge and prudence. He is said to have been a benefactor of the university of Cambridge.
[Annales Monastici, ed. Luard, in Rolls Ser., and especially the Annals of Winchester, Waverley, Worcester, and Wykes, in the second and fourth volumes; Calendarium Rotulorum Patentium; Rymer's Fœdera, vol. i., Record edition; Stubbs's Chronicles of Edward I and Edward II, Rolls Series; Martin's Registrum Epistolarum Johannis Peckham, Rolls Series; Le Neve's Fasti Eccles. Angl. ed. Hardy, i. 350, ii. 447, iii. 10, 52; Godwin, De Præsulibus; Foss's Judges of England, ii. 315–16.]