Kemp, John (1380?-1447) (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 30
Kemp, John (1380?-1447)

by Thomas Frederick Tout
The actual date of death is 1454.

KEMP or KEMPE, JOHN (1380?–1447), archbishop successively of York and Canterbury, cardinal, and chancellor, was the son, not, as Leland says, of ‘a poor husbandman’ (Itinerary, vi. f. 2), but of a Kentish gentleman, Thomas Kemp, and his wife Beatrix, daughter of Sir Thomas Lewknor. He was born at his father's seat of Olanteigh or Ollantigh, situated in the northwestern extremity of the parish of Wye, near Ashford. The estate had been in the family since the days of Edward I. John, who was the second son, was probably born in 1380, as he was sixty-seven years old in 1447 (Hasted, Kent, iii. 170–3). His elder brother, Thomas, was the father of Thomas Kemp, bishop of London.

In 1395 Kemp's name first appears on the books of Merton College, Oxford, of which society he subsequently became a fellow (Brodrick, Memorials of Merton, p. 221, Oxford Hist. Soc.) He ultimately proceeded doctor of laws, and practised as a lawyer in the ecclesiastical courts. In 1413 he was one of the assessors employed by Archbishop Arundel in the trial of Sir John Oldcastle for heresy. In 1415 he was made dean of the court of arches, and vicar-general to Archbishop Chichele. His early ecclesiastical preferment included the rectory of St. Michael's, Crooked Lane, London, which he resigned in 1408 (Newcourt, Repertorium Ecclesiasticum Lond. i. 22), and the rectory of Southwick in Sussex (Dallaway, Western Sussex, ii. 68). In or after 1416 he became archdeacon of Durham (Le Neve, Fasti Eccl. Angl. iii. 303–304, ed. Hardy).

Henry V employed Kemp in several diplomatic negotiations. In July 1415 he was commissioned with John Waterton to treat for an alliance with Ferdinand the Just, king of Aragon, and for the marriage of Henry V to Ferdinand's daughter Mary (Fœdera, ix. 293–5). He was one of the seven former fellows of Merton who attended Henry V on his invasion of Normandy. In February 1418 he was appointed, with two others, to hold the musters of the men-at-arms and archers at Bayeux (ib. ix. 543). In the same year he became keeper of the privy seal, and in November was commissioned to treat with Yolande, queen of Sicily, and her son Louis, for a truce with Anjou and Maine (ib. ix. 649). In January 1419 Kemp was elected bishop of Rochester, though his final appointment to that see was obtained by papal provision of 26 June (Wharton, Anglia Sacra, i. 379). He remained, however, in Normandy discharging the king's business, and was probably consecrated bishop on 3 Dec. at Rouen at the same time as Bishop Morgan of Worcester (Stubbs, Registrum Sacrum Anglicanum, p. 64). On 9 Dec. he received the temporalities and spiritualities of his see from Archbishop Chichele. In September 1419 he was one of an embassy empowered to treat for truce or peace with France (Fœdera, ix. 796). He was made chancellor of Normandy, and retained that office until Henry V's death. On 28 Feb. 1421 he was translated to Chichester, but performed no episcopal acts in that see, being on 17 Nov. translated to London by provision of Martin V. The dean and chapter had already elected Thomas Polton, bishop of Hereford, but the king approved of Kemp, and they had no alternative but submission. On 20 May 1422 Kemp received the spiritualities, and on the same date in the following month the temporalities of his new bishopric (ib. x. 218).

Kemp was made a member of the new council appointed after the accession of Henry VI, and resigned the chancellorship of Normandy to reside in London. But in May 1423 he was sent to France with the earl-marshal and Lord Willoughby to convey the thanks of the council to the regent Bedford, and to attend the king's council there (Ordinances of Privy Council, iii. 70, 72). In February 1424 he was sent on another mission to the Scottish marches to negotiate for the release of the captive James I. Eighty pounds were allowed him for his expenses (ib. iii. 137).

Like most of the councillors and high officials, Kemp was no friend of Humphrey, duke of Gloucester [q. v.], the protector, and adhered to the side of Henry Beaufort [q. v.], bishop of Winchester. As early as 1424 he was differing from Gloucester as to the treatment of a papal collector, whom he protected (Beckington Correspondence, i. 281). His prudence and moderation procured him the highest preferment in 1426, when he became successively chancellor and archbishop of York. In each case the appointment was the result of a compromise between the opposing parties, and Kemp was apparently accepted by Duke Humphrey's faction, which was the weaker, as the least unpalatable nominee of the Beaufort side. Bedford had reconciled Beaufort and Humphrey in the parliament of Leicester, and Beaufort, as part of the agreement, gave up the chancellorship. On 16 March the silver seal was put into Kemp's hands by the little king at St. Mary's Abbey, Leicester, and on 18 March Bedford transferred the gold seal to him with the approval of the assembled estates (Fœdera, x. 353; Rot. Parl. iv. 299). The see of York had been vacant since the death of Henry Bowet [q. v.] in October 1423. Martin V now refused to accept the translation of Bishop Morgan of Worcester, who, after long delays, had been nominated by crown and chapter, and was a partisan of Duke Humphrey, and provided Richard Fleming, bishop of Lincoln; but the council frightened Fleming, by holding over him the penalties of præmunire, into renouncing all his claims to the see; and Kemp, brought forward in his stead, was elected by the chapter on 8 April 1426 (Le Neve, Fasti Eccles. Angl. iii. 110, ed. Hardy). Martin retranslated Fleming to Lincoln, and accepted Kemp on his acknowledgment of the formal validity of Fleming's appointment. But Kemp was unwillingly received by the chapter when he came to York to be enthroned.

Kemp remained chancellor till 1432. All went smoothly at first, because Bedford remained in England. But on the withdrawal of Bedford to France, and of Beaufort on crusade, Gloucester at once began to act as master, and Kemp was hardly strong enough to keep him in check. In all the renewed quarrels which followed Beaufort's return, Kemp seems to have supported his old associate. In the parliament of 1429, opened by Kemp with the customary sermon, his party procured the restoration of Beaufort to the council and the ending of the protectorate. But between April 1430 and February 1432 Henry VI was in France, and Beaufort spent most of the time with him. Kemp was thus left to exert the chief restraining influence on Gloucester, the lieutenant of the kingdom. Fresh disputes naturally arose between them, and Kemp fell into precarious health. In January 1431 he was unable to open parliament in person, and was under the care of John Somerset, the king's physician. Moreover, as Henry grew older, Gloucester's influence over him increased. The king's return was quickly followed by a change of ministry. On 25 Feb. 1432 Kemp resigned the chancellorship on the pretence of bad health, and was succeeded by Bishop Stafford of Bath (Fœdera, x. 500).

Deprived of office, Kemp continued an active member of the council. He now became a strenuous adherent of the new peace party, and was appointed one of the ambassadors to the council of Basel, where strenuous efforts were being made by Eugenius IV to procure peace between France and England. On 26 Nov. 1432 Kemp received letters of protection, a grant of a salary of one thousand marks a year, and the usual wages of an archiepiscopal ambassador while he was at the council (ib. x. 525, 526). But he still delayed his departure, though on 8 Feb. 1433 he again requested a safe-conduct (ib. x. 536), which he received on 28 Feb., along with a license to take one thousand marks out of the kingdom with him (ib. x. 539). On 1 April letters of general attorney were issued for him (ib. x. 547). But the council finally resolved to keep him in England, and entrust his mission to other hands (ib. x. 589, 595). In July he refunded the sums advanced for his maintenance abroad, which were spent on the siege of Saint-Valery (Ord. P. C. iv. 168). In the same month he was prominent in conducting the negotiations with the French envoy, Lannoy, in London (Stevenson, ii. 226–9). At the end of the session he joined four other bishops in volunteering to attend the council without payment, provided that he was not forced to attend in vacation (Rot. Parl. iv. 446).

The urgency of the pope and council at last forced the English to send ambassadors to the great European congress at Arras and, after Philip of Burgundy declined to act for England, Kemp became head of the embassy. He arrived with his companions on 25 July, and next day delivered a great oration before the cardinals of Santa Croce and Cyprus, the representatives respectively of pope and council (Plancher, Histoire de Bourgogne, iv. preuves, pp. cxlviii–li). Minute accounts of the acts of the congress have been preserved (cf. a French account by A. de la Taverne, 1651; a Latin relation by the English ambassadors in Harleian MS. 4763; and De Beaucourt, Histoire de Charles VII, ii. 505–59). The congress was opened on 3 Aug., and Kemp declared on 6 Aug. ‘very highly and magnificently’ his master's desire for peace. But his insistence on impossible terms drew on him the merited rebuke of the legates on 10 Aug. Sickness prevented him from attending the session of 12 Aug., when the English proposed to secure peace by way of marrying Henry to a daughter of Charles VII. In subsequent sessions the French made great concessions, but Kemp was hampered by his instructions and the unreasonable state of English public opinion. The negotiations were therefore destined to fail. On 31 Aug. Kemp rejected the offer of Normandy as a French fief, and was again rebuked by the two legates. Beaufort had now arrived, and on 1 Sept. Kemp joined him in a long private discussion with Burgundy. Henceforth Kemp acted under Beaufort, but on 6 Sept. the English withdrew from Arras, and returned to England. Kemp henceforth shared the unpopularity of all the English statesmen who sought an honourable end to a hopeless conflict.

Kemp went back to his work on the council. In 1436 he joined the Bishop of Durham and the Earl of Northumberland in relieving Roxburgh, besieged by James I (Three Fifteenth-century Chronicles, p. 166), and acted as one of the executors of the Duke of Bedford (Stevenson, i. 493). He was still closely associated with Beaufort. In 1439 a new conference met to negotiate a peace. Beaufort and his niece, Isabella, duchess of Burgundy, acted as mediators, and Kemp again headed the English ambassadors. At the end of January 1439 Kemp accompanied Beaufort to Calais for a preliminary conference. He had received on 23 Nov. 1438 powers to negotiate with Burgundy for the resumption of commercial intercourse with Flanders (Fœdera, x. 713). Between 21 and 30 May 1439 he obtained his final instructions as to the negotiations with France (ib. x. 724–30). The journal of the secretary Beckington preserves a minute account of the proceedings (Ord. P. C. v. 335–407). On 26 June the ambassadors landed at Calais for the principal meetings, which were fixed to take place near Oye, a castle not far from Gravelines. On 28 June the French ambassadors joined them at Calais, and next day were entertained by Kemp at dinner. The conference opened on 6 July, but the French protested against the English allowing to their master no other style than Charles of Valois. Kemp went back to Calais and corrected the commissions, and did not scruple to insert in the new commissions the same date as in the original ones. On 10 July Kemp began the proceedings by a sort of sermon in Latin on a text from the revelations of St. Bridget, and the fruitless and unmeaning negotiations continued, with occasional interruptions, till 29 Aug. As the English were unable to accept the renewed French offer of Normandy in satisfaction of their claims, an adjournment was made to secure fresh instructions, and on 5 Sept. Kemp returned to England. He came back on 9 Sept., with instructions dated 30 Aug. that Henry would be content with Normandy and Guienne in full sovereignty, and without abandoning his claim to the French crown. Kemp afterwards incurred much ill-will by striving hard to persuade the king and council to give up the title of king of France. The French ambassadors had not returned, and a final conference on 15 Sept. ended the abortive negotiations. Kemp delayed, however, at Calais, and signed on 29 Sept. a treaty of commerce with Flanders. Bad winds kept him at Calais till 2 Oct., and after a rough passage he left his ship, which could not make Dover, in the Downs, and landed in a small boat near Sandwich. On 7 Oct. Kemp reached London with the cardinal, and on 9 Oct. had an interview with the king. He laboured to no purpose to procure new conferences in the spring, but succeeded in effecting the release of Orleans, who pledged himself to use his best efforts to further a peace. Gloucester took advantage of Orleans's release to issue a sort of manifesto against Beaufort and Kemp, in which he unscrupulously denounced their policy and character (Stevenson, ii. 440–51).

At his third creation of cardinals, in December 1439, Eugenius IV appointed Kemp cardinal priest of Santa Balbina (Mas Latrie, Trésor de Chronologie, p. 1206). Mindful of Beaufort's difficulties, Kemp hesitated to accept the position, but he was persuaded to do so by the king, who confirmed him in the possession of his English preferment and dignities, and hoped that his exalted position would make him more influential in future negotiations for peace (Beckington Correspondence, ii. 38–47). No worse trouble befell the new cardinal than a sharp contest with Archbishop Chichele, over whom he claimed precedence. The matter was referred to the pope, who decided that even in his own province an archbishop should go after a cardinal, ‘the first degree in the church next to the papacy’ (Duck, Life of Chichele).

During the next ten years Kemp's political attitude became somewhat ambiguous. He was a regular attendant at council, but took no very prominent part in affairs. In 1441 he was one of the judges of Eleanor Cobham (English Chronicle, 1377–1461, Camden Soc., p. 58). His adhesion to Beaufort seems to have become less complete. In February 1443 he joined with Gloucester in very lame recommendations as to the conduct of the French war (Ord. P. C. v. 223). He was, however, a zealous supporter of the Anjou marriage, and in July 1445 was closely associated with Suffolk in receiving the important embassy of the Count of Vendôme and the Archbishop of Rheims. It is plain from the French relation of the proceedings that he was one of the king's chief confidants, and that, though anxious for peace, he did not neglect English interests (Stevenson, i. 104–157). In 1447 he was repaid a loan of five hundred marks which he had lent the king (Fœdera, xi. 174). He was one of Cardinal Beaufort's executors. After the death of Gloucester and Beaufort his political attitude seems to have altered still further. In 1448 he was in sharp opposition to Suffolk. Kemp's nephew, Thomas Kemp, and Suffolk's friend, the treasurer, Marmaduke Lumley, were rival candidates for the bishopric of London, and Pope Eugenius IV appointed Thomas Kemp (Beckington Correspondence, i. 155–159). Relations between Suffolk and the cardinal seem to have remained strained. Yet, when the unpopularity of the duke had become extreme and Stafford gave up the chancellorship, Kemp was again entrusted with the seals on 31 Jan. 1450. His appointment was the prelude to Suffolk's fall. It is not impossible that he was more or less on an understanding with enemies of Suffolk on the council, such as Lord Cromwell, who, like him, was an old partisan of Beaufort and enemy of Gloucester.

On 7 Feb. 1450 Kemp as chancellor was sent by the king to the commons to hear the charges brought against Suffolk, which were largely based on his peace policy with France, for which Kemp was almost equally responsible. On 17 March Kemp pronounced the final sentence, which removed Suffolk without the risks involved in a regular trial. The result made Kemp by far the most important of the king's ministers. But Kemp was old and infirm, and hardly equal to so great a charge. He showed, however, plenty of energy in the crisis of the Kentish rebellion. After Henry VI had fled from London to Kenilworth, the chancellor remained in the Tower with Bishop Waynflete. By sending pardons to the captain and his followers Kemp broke up the insurrection (Three Fifteenth-century Chronicles, p. 68; Gregory's Chronicle, p. 193). In September he went on a commission of oyer and terminer to Kent to try the leaders of the revolt (Paston Letters, i. 139, ed. Gairdner). While at Rochester he sealed the patent which appointed Somerset constable of England (Fœdera, xi. 276). This brought the controversy between Somerset and York to a crisis. Parliament met in November. Kemp as chancellor urged the necessity of putting down riots and defending the coasts from France. But attacks on Somerset occupied the whole session. As the controversy grew fiercer and threatened civil war, Kemp became somewhat helpless. Yet he was the mainstay of the king's party. In 1452 he was translated from York to Canterbury as the successor of Archbishop Stafford. He was duly elected by the monks of Christ Church, but the final appointment was by papal provision, dated 21 July (Anglia Sacra, i. 123). He obtained restitution of his temporalities on 6 Sept., and on 24 Sept. received the pallium from Nicholas V. He was enthroned on 11 Dec. (ib. i. 123). Kemp also received a peculiar distinction from Pope Nicholas, who created in his favour an extraordinary cardinal bishopric, by separating the see of Porto from that of Selva Candida, or Santa Rufina, to which it had been annexed since 1138. Porto remained occupied by Francis Condulmer, nephew of Eugenius IV, while Kemp was transferred from the cardinal priesthood of Santa Balbina to the bishopric of Santa Rufina (Mas Latrie, Trésor de Chronologie, p. 1157). The two sees were reunited after Kemp's death.

Kemp's appointment to Canterbury was a great triumph of Somerset's influence. The parliament which met at Reading in March 1453 was also decidedly on the Lancastrian side. But ill-health kept Kemp in London, so that the Bishop of Lincoln had to open the estates in his stead (Rot. Parl. v. 227). He was, however, present before Easter to convey to the commons the thanks of the king for their liberal grants, and duly presided at the later session in Westminster. In August Henry VI went mad. On 14 Oct. Kemp stood godfather to the king's son, Edward (English Chronicle, 1377–1461, p. 70). But the crisis was becoming too severe for the aged chancellor. Suitors denounced him as the ‘cursed cardinal’ (Paston Letters, i. 275). On 14 Jan. 1454 a tumultuous deputation of London and Calais merchants, headed by the mayors, visited him at Lambeth to complain of Lord Bonville. ‘The chancellor gave them none answer to their liking; wherefore the substance of them with one voice cried aloud “Justice, justice!” whereof the chancellor was so dismayed that he could no more say to them for fear’ (ib. i. 267–8). All the nobles were now arming, and on 19 Jan. ‘the cardinal commanded his servants to be ready with bow and arrows, sword and buckler, and all habiliments of war: to await upon the safeguard of his person’ (ib. i. 268). When the Yorkist lords, headed by Norfolk, threatened his position, he clung bravely to his post. On 19 March he promised a ‘good and comfortable answer’ to the commons' request for a ‘sad and wise council.’ He died three days after, on 22 March. He was buried at Canterbury, in the south aisle of the choir, ‘in a high tomb of marble, but no image engrossed on it’ (Leland; Gough, Sepulchral Monuments, iii. 170). There is a portrait of Kemp in a stained-glass window at the east end of Bolton Percy Church, near York (Notes and Queries, 4th ser. iv. 419, vii. 321).

Kemp was a thoroughly political ecclesiastic. Henry VI declared that he was one of the wisest lords of the land (Paston Letters, i. 315), and in thanking the pope for making him a cardinal, commended him for his ‘holiness, purity of life, abundance of knowledge, ripeness of counsel, experience in business, wisdom, eloquence, gravity, and dignity of person’ (Beckington Correspondence, i. 40). He was not much of a bishop, and was very unpopular in Yorkshire, which he seldom visited. In 1441 a great conflict broke out between Kemp's tenants and servants at Ripon and the king's tenants of the Forest of Knaresborough as to certain rights of toll at fairs. Kemp kept ‘his town of Ripon like a town of war with hired soldiers.’ Three hundred mercenaries in the archbishop's pay sought to coerce the Knaresborough men, and seem in the end to have succeeded in making them pay the disputed toll. The whole story illustrates the extreme anarchy of the period (Plumpton Correspondence, liv–lxii., Camden Soc.). In March 1443 bands of rioters, angered at his proceedings against some of the laity for spiritual offences, and instigated by the Earl of Northumberland, pulled down his house, assaulted his servants, and threatened his palace at Southwell (Ord. P. C. v. cxxi. 273, 275, 276, 309). After long debates in council the earl was ordered to pay all damages. In May 1443 a royal order to the custodes pacis of the three ridings of Yorkshire was issued to prevent further attacks on the archbishop (Fœdera, xi. 27). In 1444 he held a provincial council at York, and issued a constitution which sought to prevent the smaller monasteries from alienating their property. Kemp restored Southwell and other manor houses of the see of York (Weever, Funerall Monuments, p. 229). He paid for painting the vaulting of the nave of York Cathedral in white and gold (Raine, Historians of Church of York, ii. 435). The Canterbury historians, though with less reason, also accuse Kemp of neglecting the interests of that see.

Kemp was commemorated as a benefactor of the university of Oxford (Munimenta Academica, Rolls Ser., pp. 351, 352, 354), though the story of Wood, that he contributed five hundred marks to the completion of the divinity school seems to rest partly on a confusion between him and his nephew, who contributed one thousand marks, and partly on the fact that he was an executor of Cardinal Beaufort, who gave that sum (Lyte, Hist. of the University of Oxford, p. 318). His arms are still to be seen in the groined roof of the divinity school. But Kemp's chief act of beneficence was the erection of a college of secular priests, or ‘perpetual chantry,’ in the parish church of Wye, his native place, for which he always showed a strong affection. He obtained a royal license for this object in February 1432, and permission to add largely to its endowment in March 1439. But it was not until 1447 that the plans were finally completed. Kemp drew up elaborate statutes for the government of the master or provost and fellow of his college. He gave a preference to Merton men for the provostship. A grammar school was established in connection with the college, and one of the fellows was to act as curate of Wye. Kemp built a fine new cruciform church and buildings for the college adjacent. He put the college under the care of Battle Abbey, to which the manor of Wye belonged. It was suppressed under Henry VIII (Dugdale, Monasticon, iii. 254, vi. 1430–2; Hasted, Kent, iii. 170–3).

[Dean Hook's life of Kemp, in Lives of Archbishops of Canterbury, v. 188–267, Stubbs's Const. Hist. vol. iii., and Gairdner's preface to Paston Letters explain more clearly Kemp's political position. Raine's Historians of Church of York, vol. ii.; Le Neve's Fasti Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ, ed. Hardy; Beckington Correspondence, and Stevenson's Wars of the English in France, all in Rolls Ser.; Wharton's Anglia Sacra; Paston Letters, ed. Gairdner; Rymer's Fœdera; Rolls of Parliament; Nicolas's Proceedings and Ordinances of Privy Council; Hasted's Kent; Dugdale's Monasticon, ed. Caley, Ellis, and Bandinel.]

T. F. T.