Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ayscough, William

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AYSCOUGH, WILLIAM, LL.D. (d. 1450), bishop of Salisbury, is believed to have come of an ancient Lincolnshire family seated at Kelsey. The date of his birth is unknown, and the only thing which gives an interest to his name is the manner of his death. Indeed all that is recorded of him before he was made a bishop is that his name occurs in the list of prebendaries of Sutton in Lincoln Cathedral, where he was installed on 10 Nov. 1436. But on 11 Feb. 1438 he was promoted by papal bull to the bishopric of Salisbury, and was consecrated at Windsor on 20 July following; on which promotion he gave up his prebend. He was Henry VI's confessor, and appears to have been constantly called to council by that king, whom he married to Margaret of Anjou, at Titchfield, on 22 April 1445. He was also one of the bishops who examined Eleanor Cobham, the wife of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, for sorcery. His continual residence at court seems to have been the principal cause of complaint against him in his own diocese, where bishops were expected to keep open house with the profuse hospitality of the middle ages. It was, in fact, a novelty in those days for a bishop to be a king's confessor; and it exposed him to the further criticism that if he was the king's confessor and an influential member of the council he was responsible for everything that was done amiss. Nothing but covetousness, it was believed, could have reconciled him to the atmosphere of the court if he had given the king good advice without effect. These feelings found a vent one day when he really did visit his diocese. In that year of civil tumult, 1450, at the very time that Jack Cade and his followers were upon Blackheath just before they entered London, the bishop said mass at Edington, in Wiltshire, on 29 June, the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul. The sacred rite was scarcely completed when the people in church dragged him from the altar and carried him forcibly up a neighbouring hill, with his alb and stole upon him; then beat him and killed him with murderous weapons, stripping his body naked to the skin and leaving it lying in the fields unburied. Nor was their fury satiated even after the deed, but they tore his bloody shirt to pieces, and bore the fragments away with them in triumph, glorying in what they had done.

[Fuller's Worthies (ed. Nichols), ii. 10; Will. Wyrcestre; Davies's English Chronicle (Camd. Soc.), 58, 61, 64; Gascoigne's Theol. Dict. (Loci e Libro Veritatum), ed. Rogers, 39, 42, 158, 174.]

J. G.