Belmeis, Richard de (d.1162) (DNB00)

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BELMEIS or BEAUMEIS, RICHARD de (d. 4 May 1162), bishop of London, was son of the first Bishop Richard's younger brother, Walter of Belmeis. While the elder Bishop Richard made Walter's elder son, Philip, heir to his temporal estates in Shropshire, he selected his namesake as the representative of the family interest in the church. While still very young he was made prebendary of St. Paul's and archdeacon of Middlesex, though, owing to his extreme youth, the duties of the latter office were fulfilled by a deputy named Hugh, who seems to have been under a pledge to retire when Richard attained the canonical age. But on Bishop Richard's death (1128), Hugh refused to fulfil the simoniacal contract, and the new bishop, Gilbert the Universal, supported him in his action. The young Richard found a better reception in Shropshire, where a royal grant invested him with certain prebends of the collegiate church of St. Alkmund's, Shrewsbury, which his uncle had previously possessed, and which gave him a preponderating influence on that body. He did not, however, despair of pushing his way in his uncle's old diocese. Bishop Gilbert, his enemy, died in 1134, and, after a long vacancy, the chapter vehemently opposed an attempt to make a certain Anselm bishop. In 1138 they sent their brother, Prebendary Richard, to Rome to represent their case to Pope Innocent II. He won the cause of the chapter, and also persuaded the pope to appoint the bishops of Lincoln and Hereford commissioners to investigate his personal claims to the archdeaconry of Middlesex. Before long they decided in his favour. The interloper, Hugh, was expelled, and Richard's ordination as deacon by Bishop Henry of Winchester, at the request of the papal legate, marks his actual entry into possession of the archdeaconry.

The great work of Richard's life was the conversion of the estates of the secular canons of St. Alkmund to the foundation of a college of canons regular of that branch of the Augustinian order called the Arroasian. In conjunction with his brother Philip, he settled some Arroasian canons on the family estate at Donington, and obtained in 1145 a grant from King Stephen to his canons of his own prebends at St. Alkmund's and all the other prebends of that church as they fell vacant. During the contests of Stephen and Matilda he vacillated from side to side, always anxious to obtain from both monarchs alike the confirmation of the above grant. He obtained such confirmations from Archbishop Theodore, from the empress, and from her son Henry, both before and after his accession to the throne. He persuaded Eugenius III to force the unwilling bishop of Lichfield to confirm the grant. About 1146 he had transferred his canons to Lilleshall, where their house was finally settled. By this time they had acquired the whole of the revenues of St. Alkmund's, which speedily became a poor vicarage. The foundation of Lilleshall is very typical of the process of converting seculars into regulars which was so common at that period.

In 1152 Archdeacon Richard was made bishop of London, being ordained priest on 20 Sept., and consecrated on 28 Sept. by Archbishop Theobald. The presence of every bishop except Henry of Winchester testifies to the popularity or to the position of the new prelate, and Henry excused his absence in a letter of extreme eulogy. As bishop, Richard seems to have done very little. In 1153 he was a party to the treaty which secured the succession to Henry II, and attended with some regularity that king's court up to the year 1157. About that date he was seized with a malady that deprived him of speech—probably paralysis like his uncle's—and though he lived on until 1162, his public career was closed.

Richard of Belmeis the younger seems to have mainly owed his position both in London and Shropshire to family influence. His only remarkable act was the foundation of Lilleshall. His vacillation during Stephen's reign may have been an elevated aversion to espousing the cause of a faction, but it more probably proceeded from weakness or self-seeking. Yet Bishop Henry of Winchester speaks of him as beautiful in person and polished in manner, and as both learned and hard-working. Whether this was panegyric or sincere praise we have no means of ascertaining.

[Eyton's Antiquities of Shropshire (especially vol. viii. 212 sq.), where the account of the foundation of Lilleshall is taken from the unpublished register and chartulary preserved at Trentham ; cf. Dugdale's Monasticon, vi. 1; Diceto (Ymagines Historiarum, i. 296) gives Henry of Blois' letter]

T. F. T.