Swinfield, Richard de (DNB00)
|←Swiney, George||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 55
Swinfield, Richard de
SWINFIELD or SWYNFIELD, RICHARD de (d. 1317), bishop of Hereford, took his name from the village of Swinfield, now called Swingfield, five miles north of Folkestone in Kent, where he is generally supposed to have been born (Hasted, Kent, iii. 350). His lifelong interest in Kent, and the large number of Kentish names among his following as bishop of Hereford, attest his abiding attachment to this county. When bishop he held a small estate at Womenswould, between Springfield and Canterbury. His father, Stephen, died at the episcopal manor of Bosbury, near Ledbury, where his monumental stone, dated 1282, can still be seen in the parish church (Webb, p. cvi). Richard's brother, also named Stephen, a layman, was, with his sons, a permanent member of the episcopal household. Two at least of his nephews were beneficed in the diocese. One of these, Gilbert de Swinfield, became chancellor of Hereford Cathedral on 20 Jan. 1287, and held that office until his death in 1299. The other, John de Swinfield, was archdeacon of Shrewsbury in 1289, resigning that preferment to be made treasurer of Hereford in 1292, which post he exchanged for the precentorship in 1294, and was still holding the latter office in 1311.
Richard became famous as a preacher and for his pleasant powers of speech (Trivet, p. 306, Engl. Hist. Soc.). He graduated doctor of divinity (Rishanger, Chronica, p. 103; ‘Waverley Annals’ in Ann. Monastici, ii. 405), probably at Oxford. In 1265 St. Thomas de Cantelupe [q. v.], as a strong partisan of the baronial party, became chancellor of England, and then, or a little earlier, Swinfield entered into his service. For the remaining eighteen years of Cantelupe's life Swinfield was his chaplain, secretary, agent, friend, and constant companion. In 1277 Cantelupe, then bishop of Hereford, presented him to a prebend of Hereford, and in May 1279 he was inducted by proxy to another stall in the same cathedral. Again, in 1280, on the expected deprivation of James of Aigueblanche [see Peter of Aigueblanche], of the archdeaconry of Shrewsbury, Cantelupe collated Richard to the post in his absence, with the proviso ‘if he can accept it.’ Finally both deprivation and appointment were cancelled. Swinfield had, however, already other preferment. Before 1280 he was chancellor of Lincoln, and in 1281 and 1282 he appears as prebendary of St. Pancras in St. Paul's Cathedral and archdeacon of London (Newcourt, Repert. Eccles. Lond. i. 59, 647; Le Neve, Fasti Eccl. Angl. ed. Hardy, ii. 320, 423). Despite these occupations elsewhere, Swinfield remained faithful to his ancient master. After Cantelupe's excommunication, Swinfield withdrew with him to Normandy, both returning to England in 1281. In 1282 Swinfield accompanied Cantelupe on his fatal journey to Italy. He is described by Cantelupe's biographer as ‘the chief manager of his affairs, his secretary, first in authority above the rest, and a prelate of great parts and virtuous conversation’ (Acta Sanctorum, October, tom. i.). He was present when Cantelupe died at Monte Fiascone on 25 Aug. 1282, and his pious care preserved the bishop's heart and bones, which he brought back with him to England. He deposited the heart with Edmund of Cornwall's college of canons at Ashridge, while he buried the bones at Hereford. On 14 May 1283 Swinfield and William de Montfort (afterwards dean of St. Paul's) took out the administration of Cantelupe's estate as executors (Peckham, Letters, iii. 1032).
Before this, on 1 Dec. 1282, the canons of Hereford had chosen Swinfield as their new bishop, and on 31 Dec. his election was confirmed by Archbishop Peckham (ib. ii. 498). He remained in charge of the diocese for thirty-four years.
Swinfield was a stay-at-home prelate who made his weak health an excuse for non-attendance at parliaments and councils, both ecclesiastical and lay. He was, however, an excellent bishop, administering both the temporal and spiritual concerns of his rude border diocese with exemplary zeal, tact, and success. He ever remained faithful to Cantelupe's memory. On 6 April 1287 he had the satisfaction of witnessing the translation of Thomas's bones to a more honourable resting-place in the north-west transept of his cathedral, which had perhaps been built by him for their reception. Moreover he had, as Cantelupe's chief executor, to bear the full burden of the wearisome lawsuit brought by Peter de Langon against Cantelupe for reinstatement in his Hereford prebend and damages for his ejectment. Though personally innocent of any share in Langon's wrong, he was made by Nicholas IV a chief party to the suit, and it was not until July 1290 that a decision was given in Langon's favour. Before this Swinfield wrote in April 1290 a strong appeal to Nicholas IV for Cantelupe's canonisation, reciting the miracles worked by his relics (Webb, App. No. xxiv. 1). In 1305 Edward I joined with Swinfield in urging the canonisation on Clement V, and Swinfield opened his purse freely to defray the heavy expenses involved in the application. In 1307 Clement appointed a commission to inquire into Cantelupe's claims, putting on it Ralph Baldock, bishop of London, William Durand, bishop of Mende, and Swinfield himself. On 22 Feb. the bishop of Mende arrived in London, and was entertained at the bishop of Hereford's house (‘Ann. Londin.’ p. 150, in Stubb's Chron. Edward I and Edward II, vol. i.) Nothing, however, came to Swinfield save fresh worry and expense, and he was three years dead before the canonisation of his hero had been effected.
Swinfield never shirked the burden involved in taking up the many quarrels and claims in which the hot-headed Cantelupe had involved the diocese. But, though firm in upholding the rights of his church, Swinfield's peacemaking and conciliatory temper gradually overcame the difficulties that had crushed Cantelupe. Despite his fidelity to his predecessor's memory, he kept on good terms with Cantelupe's enemy Peckham (cf. Peckham, Letters, ii. 499). He interested himself in carrying out the archbishop's schemes of reformation (ib. ii. 500, 507). In later letters (ib. ii. 534, 535) Peckham urged the bishop to follow out his schemes even against the king's wishes. In 1286 Swinfield joined with Peckham in condemning certain heretics (ib. iii. 921). Subsequently he joined with Winchelsey in resisting Edward I's extortions. In 1296 he was the spokesman of a deputation representing the clergy which appeared before Edward at Castleacre. Swinfield's speech is described as extremely lucid, but Edward's only answer was, ‘Since you do not keep the homage you have sworn to me for your baronies, I will in no wise be bound to you’ (Cotton, p. 318). Swinfield did not, however, associate himself with the subsequent opposition which finally led Winchelsey into ruin.
With all his tact and pains, Swinfield was involved in constant difficulties within his diocese, which he vigilantly visited, and took much trouble to reform the religious houses. The roll of his expenses incurred during a visitation between Michaelmas 1289 and Michaelmas 1290, drawn up by his chaplain, Richard de Kemeseye, has survived, and was published with copious illustrations by the Rev. John Webb for the Camden Society. It depicts Swinfield's manner of discharging his episcopal functions with a copiousness of detail that is rare in the history of an obscure prelate of the thirteenth century.
Swinfield was a bountiful patron of learning, maintaining poor scholars at his expense at Oxford. He was particularly friendly to the mendicant friars, and in especial to the Franciscans. Among his dependents was Robert of Leicester [see Leicester], who in 1294 dedicated to his patron his first extant work, ‘De compoto Hebreorum aptato ad Kalendarium’ (Little, Grey Friars in Oxford, pp. 168–9). His gifts and benefactions to the Minorites have induced Mr. Webb to believe that Swinfield was himself a professed Franciscan, but his career and appointments make this highly improbable. He kept the episcopal houses and estates and the extensive fortress of Bishop's Castle in an excellent state of repair. He died at Bosbury on 15 March 1317, and was buried in his cathedral, where a monument in the wall, beneath an arch in the north wall of the eastern transept, marks the spot. He is represented in episcopal habit with mitre and staff, and holding in his hand a model of a turreted edifice, which suggests some special connection with a restoration or enlargement of his cathedral, the early ‘decorated’ portion of which, including the nave-aisles, the north-west transept, the clerestory and vaulting of the choir, the eastern transepts, in one of which his tomb lies, and the upper part of the central tower, may well have been erected during his long episcopate. Mr. Webb gives the two clauses that remain of his testament, in which he left ornaments, books, and vestments to his chapel, and expressed the hope that his large expenditure on his buildings will exonerate his heir from any charge for dilapidations, a request which Adam of Orlton [q. v.], his successor, allowed. He is described as a man of notable goodness and holiness (Flores Hist. iii. 177).[A Roll of the Household Expenses of Richard de Swinfield, bishop of Hereford, 1289–90, edited with abstract, illustrations, &c., by the Rev. John Webb, includes, besides the roll itself, numerous extracts from Swinfield's Episcopal Register, while Mr. Webb in the introduction has put together almost all that is known of the bishop's biography; a useful summary is in Phillott's Hereford, pp. 84–101; Godwin, De Præsulibus, p. 488 (1743); Acta Sanctorum, tom. i. Oct.; Rishanger, Cotton, Chronicles of Edward I and Edward II., Annales Monastici, Registrum Epistolarum J. Peckham, Flores Historiarum, all in Rolls Ser.; Trivet (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Rymer's Fœdera (Record edit.)]