Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bowet, Henry
BOWET, HENRY, LL.D. (d. 1423), bishop of Bath and Wells, and subsequently archbishop of York, was apparently a member of a knightly family that, about his time, migrated from the north to the eastern counties (Blomefield, Hist. of Norfolk, x. 434-5; cf. Harleian MS. 6164, 92 b). His father was buried at Penrith, his mother in Lincolnshire. His kinsfolk mostly lived in Westmoreland (Testamenta Eboracensia, i. 398). The date and place of his birth, the university in which he studied civil and canon law, and of which he became a doctor, are, with the time of his ordination, equally unknown. He seems to have practised law in the ecclesiastical courts (Adam of Usk, p. 63), and to have become clerk to the warlike Bishop Spencer of Norwich, whom he accompanied on his unlucky crusade to Flanders. On the bishop's impeachment in 1383, after his return, Bowet gave evidence before parliament that tended to clear his patron of the charge of receiving bribes from the French (Rot. Parl. iii. 152 a). A few years later he appears at Rome as a chaplain of Urban VI and auditor of causes in the court of the apostolic chamber (Rymer, vii. 569). In 1385 he was the only Englishman at the papal court who had courage to remain with Urban after the riots at Luceria, in which an Englishman named Alleyn was slain (Walsingham, ii. 124). Early in February 1388 he acted as Richard II's agent in an important negotiation with the pope but had not sufficient powers from his master to complete the affair. He must then have returned to England, where already in 1386 he had been appointed archdeacon and prebendary of Lincoln. A namesake was at this time the archdeacon of Richmond (Test. Ebor. i. 390). That he was high in the confidence of Richard II is shown by his being excepted in 1388 by the Merciless Parliament from the pardon which they issued at the end of their work of proscribing the king's friends (Rot. Parl. iii. 249 b). It is not easy to understand Bowet's subsequent movements. He seems to have been primarily anxious for advancement, and with that object to have transferred his services to the house of Lancaster. In 1393 he was, with others, appointed to negotiate with the king of Castile, still on bad terms with England (Rymer, vii. 743, mispaged 739). On 19 July 1397 Bowet was made chief justice of the superior court of Aquitaine (ib. viii. 7), and on 23 July 1398 constable of Bordeaux (ib. viii. 43). In the latter year, Henry of Bolingbroke, Bowet's patron, was banished from England, but obtained permission to appoint a proxy to receive his inheritance in the event of the death of his father, Lancaster. Bowet seems to have assisted Henry in obtaining this. When Lancaster died, however, in January 1399, Richard revoked his grant, and procured Bowet's condemnation in the committee of parliament at Shrewsbury. As the counsellor and abettor of Bolingbroke, Bowet was declared a traitor, and sentenced to execution ; this sentence, however, was commuted into perpetual banishment in consideration of his clergy (Rot. Parl. iii. 385). His archdeaconry was taken away from him and conferred on another. After the accession of Henry IV, Bowet was rewarded for his fidelity to the new king by restoration to his old preferment at Lincoln, along with the profits that had accrued during his deprivation ; by a prebend at London ; by lavish grants of land, houses, rents, and tolls in Aquitaine ; and by his appointment in May 1400 as one of the four regents to whom the new king entrusted the government of his possessions in southern France (Rymer, viii. 141). His presence being required in England, where he became, says Dr. Stubbs, Henry's confidential agent, he was allowed to appoint a deputy to discharge his duties in Aquitaine. In 1400 a majority of the chapters of Bath and Wells elected him at the royal request as their bishop, but Boniface IX provided another minister of Henry's, Richard Clifford, keeper of the privy seal, for the vacant see. A difficulty arose, although Clifford, at the king's command, declined to accept the illegal preferment. At last matters were settled by the death of the bishop of Worcester. Clifford was transferred to that see, and the pope now issued a provision appointing Bowet to Wells (19 Aug. 1401). He was consecrated at St. Paul's on 20 Nov. (Adam of Usk:, p. 63 ; Walsingham, ii. 247 ; Annales Ric. II et Hen. IV, 334 ; Anglia Sacra, i. 571). The appointment of a suffragan perhaps showed that Bowet was still mainly devoted to cares of state. On 27 Feb. 1402 he became treasurer, though he did not hold that post very long. He was constantly employed, however, by Henry in various capacities. In 1403, on a special embassy, he concluded a truce with France (Trokelowe, Annales Hen. IV, p. 372). In 1403, 1404, 1406, and 1407, he was a trier of petitions (Rot. Parl. iii.) In 1404 he was one of the king's council nominated in parliament. In 1406 he swore to observe Henry's settlement of the succession. His name appears constantly in the proceedings of the privy council. In 1406 he accompanied the court to Lynn, and was thence despatched on an important mission to Denmark, to escort Philippa, the king's daughter, to the home of her intended husband Eric, the heir of the famous Margaret, who had united the three Scandinavian kingdoms. His report of the young king's character and the condition of his country is full of interest (Annales Hen. IV. p. 420).
Bowet had scarcely returned from his Danish embassy when he was translated to York by papal provision, after the archbishopric, vacant since the execution of Scrope, had been unoccupied for two years and a half. He was enthroned on 9 Dec. 1407. With increasing age and with important duties in the north Bowet seems henceforth to have had less to do with the court. He was still often in parliament, where in 1413, 1414, 1415, and 1416 he was again trier of petitions, but he was employed on no more embassies, and his name appears less often in the proceedings of the council. It is remarkable that the registers of the archbishopric, till then full of documents of public interest, assume a new aspect under Bowet, and henceforth contain little but the ordinary proceedings of the diocese (Raine, Northern Registers, p. xiv, Rolls Ser.) The inventory of his property (printed in 'Testamenta Eboracensia,' iii. 69) shows him to have been possessed of very considerable wealth. He acquired a great reputation for a hospitality and sumptuous housekeeping that consumed eighty tuns of claret yearly. He built the great hall at Cawood and a new kitchen at Ottley, and was a liberal benefactor to his cathedral (Godwin, De Præsulibus ; Raine, Fabric Rolls of York Minster). In 1411 he had a suit against the archbishop of Canterbury with respect to the right of visitation of Queen's College, Oxford, which seems to have resulted in a compromise (Rot. Parl. iii. 652 b}.
In 1410 he showed his zeal against Lollardy by acting as one of Arundel's assistants at the trial of Badby (Foxe, iii. 235), and in 1421 he wrote a strong letter to the king against another heretic named John Tailor or Bilton (MS. Harl. 421). It was not until 1414 that he saw the last of a troublesome suit with Sir W. Farenden, which had originated when he was regent of Guienne. He was one of Henry IV's executors, and sat on a commission appointed to pay that monarch's debts. He had himself lent Henry various sums of money, sometimes at least on good security. In 1417 the Scots profited by Henry V's absence in Normandy to invade the borders. Bowet, though advanced in years and so infirm that he could only be carried in a litter, resolved to accompany the army of defence with his clergy. His bravery, patriotism, and loyalty largely encouraged the English to victory. He died on 20 Oct. 1423, and was buried at the east end of York minster, opposite the tomb of his ill-fated predecessor.
[Anglia Sacra; Walsingham; Rymer; Rolls of Parliament; Proceedings of Privy Council; Annales Ric. II et Hen. IV, ed. Riley; Adam of Usk, ed. Thompson; Memorials of Henry V, ed. Cole; Gesta Henrici V, ed. Williams; Hingeston's Royal and Historical Letters under 'Henry IV;' Torr's MS. collections at York are often referred to as a great source of information; there are original brief lives of Bowet by a Canon of Wells (Anglia Sacra, i. 571), and by the continuator of Thomas Stubbs; short modern lives are to be found in Godwin's De Præsulibus and Cassan's Bishops of Bath and Wells; Le Neve's Fasti Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ; Drake's Eboracum. Bowet's will is printed in Raine's Testamenta Eboracensia (Surtees Soc.), i. 398-402.]