Page:History and characteristics of Bishop Auckland.djvu/23

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6
HISTORY OF BISHOP AUCKLAND.

annual gathering, and, even now, in retrospection, the animated scene may have its charms. At its head the mitred Earl of the Palatinate in all his state, surrounded by his Lords and Commons, and attended by hundreds of his retainers in every grade of life, enlivened by the pleasure of the chase, and cheered by the echoes of the hounds and horns, reverberating from hill to hill and rock to rock in the valley of the Wear. It would most certainly be a curious sight to see such a cavalcade, emerging from the western extremity of the town of Auckland, decked out in all the paraphernalia of the picturesque and many coloured costumes of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

In connection with the hunting excursions of the Bishops in those days, the following curious account is given in Hatfield's Register of a quarrel, ending in manslaughter, in which the Bishop himself was, to a certain extent, concerned:—

On the 17th of September, 1370, the Bishop, with a numerous train of attendants, had taken up his abode for the night in the rectory house of Wolsingham. At twilight he left the haU in which he had been sitting among his friends and servants, after the manner of the times ; and no sooner had he reached his chamber for the night than a quarrel arose below. "Til break thy head," said Nicholas of Skelton, one of the Bishop's upper domestics, to John of Aukland, a lad in the service of William de Beverley, Archdeacon of Northumberland. The charge against the boy was, that he had maltreated one of the Bishop's pages. " Nay, man," said John of Essex, another of the Archdeacon's servants, " keep thyself quiet ; if he has done aught wrong he shall make amends." " What hast thou got to say, thou ribald," said Bkelton to Essex,, " TYL crack thy crown into the bargain." " Whose heads are they that are going to be broken 1" spoke up the Archdeacon, who had been deputed by the Bishop to keep order in the hall, and to chastise any one who should behave himself in an unseemly way. " Theirs that deserve it," rejoined Skelton, coarsely. Methinks," replied the Archdeacon, " thou art talking to my men." " Fd as soon talk to thine as anybody's else," said Skelton. " Nay, man," rejoined the Archdeacon, " an thou break'st any of my men's heads, it may chance that somebody will break thine." "The Devil hang you," said Skelton, "If you dare to do aught of the kind," and in an instant he rushed upon the Archdeacon, armed with a hunting staff heavy enough to kill a man at a blow. Upon this the Archdeacon drew his knife (with which, no doubt, he had been eating Ms supper), and stepping back in the direction of Ids chamber, was thrown down and trampled upon by Skelton, upon the stone stair. During this part of the fray the Archdeacon's knife was broken in two, and he himself received a wound in one of his fingers, and a dangerous one beneath his left eye. The bystanders, who had apparently up to this time been quietly looking on, now interfered, and seized Skelton, who, finding himself prevented from doing further mischief, roared out to his man, " Thomas, go thou ribald, and do for that false priest." Thomas, nothing backward, ran straightway to the Archdeacon, who was still retreating towards his chamber, and, brandishing a long knife, exclaimed, " Thou false priest, only let me get at thee, and thou shalt die." The Archdeacon still retreating, seeing himself in danger from his pursuer, threw at him the broken half of his knife, which up to that time he had retained in his hand, but the fragment, instead of hitting Tom, unfortunately hit Hugh of the buttery, who was running forward to protect the Archdeacon, and gave him a wound of which, within a few days, he died. Hugh of the buttery, a domestic of low degree, as his name implies, had married the Archdeacon's niece, and was in high favour with his uncle, in whose defence he received his death blow. The Archdeacon was, on the 9th of January following, acquitted of manslaughter by process of compurgation, the Bishop himself sitting in judgment in the chapel at Auckland.

But the Boldon Buke (says the same author) contains other records than those of the chase and the palace in the forest. The following are pleasing entries :—" In West Aclit, the Lord Bishop suflFers the widow of Elston to hold twelve acres free from rent, to bring up her boys. In Stanhope, three widows hold three tofts by the alms of the Bishop. In Frosterley, the widow of GaJfrid Parsons holds a toft and eight acres by the like alms." Under the feudal system the proprietors of land provided for the poor ; and, when Christianity was introduced, one-fourth of the tithes were appropriated for the support of the indigent. An Act, passed during the reign of Henry VIL, 1494, directs every impotent beggar to repair to and remain at the place where he last dwelt, and is best known, or was bom, upon pain of being set in the stocks, three days and three nights, with only bread and water, and then be put out of the town. During the reign of Henry VIIL, justices of the peace were empowered to grant licenses to aged and impotent persons to beg within a certain precinct, which, if they exceeded, they were to be punished as above. After the suppression of the monasteries by Henry VIIL, the extension of enclosures and the new practice of letting lands at rack rents during the reign of his successors, drove troin.