Cornhill, William of (DNB00)

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CORNHILL, WILLIAM of (d. 1223), bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, belonged to a family several members of which were high in the service of Henry II and his sons. Their name indicates their London origin, and the first mentioned, Gervase of Cornhill, was sheriff of London early in Henry II's reign. He afterwards became an itinerant justice, and was sheriff of Surrey and Kent for many years. He left three sons, Henry, Reginald, and Ralph, of whom Reginald was the most conspicuous. This Reginald also was sheriff of Kent for a very long period, the principal interests of the family being now centred in that county. He was a close friend of King John, and hated as one of the cruellest of his evil counsellors. It was under his auspices that Cornhill, who was probably his nephew, but possibly his son, first entered into public life. About 1204 Cornhill's name begins to appear frequently in the records as a royal clerk and an officer of the exchequer. In that year he received from King John the grant of some houses in London (Rotuli Chartarum, i. 123); a little later the justiciar Fitz Peter was ordered to furnish him with a revenue of twenty marks out of the first vacant benefice in the king's patronage (Rot. de Libertate, 69, 80), and in September he received a grant of twenty acres in the wood of Tilgholt in Kent (Rot. Chart. 137). In 1205 the king presented him to the rectory of Maidstone (ib. 157), and made him custos of the vacant bishopric of Winchester and abbey of Malmesbury (Rot. Lit. Claus. i. 23; Rot. Lit. Pat. i. 57). In 1206 he was put in charge of the temporalities of Lincoln (ib. 65). In 1207 the king made him archdeacon of Huntingdon (ib. 73). His present to the king of five hundred marks was doubtless the price paid for the preferment (Rot. de Finibus, 412). The king's quarrel with the pope did not shake Cornhill's fidelity. In 1208 he acted as a justiciar, and remained during the next two years in constant attendance on the king. In 1208 he was also appointed guardian of the lands and goods belonging to clerks in the diocese of Lincoln, which had been seized by the crown on their owners refusing to celebrate divine service during the interdict (Fœdera, Record ed. i. 100). In 1213 he was presented to the churches of Somerton and Fereby; was appointed jointly with his cousin or brother, the younger Reginald of Cornhill, royal chamberlain (Rot. Lit. Pat. 95, 96), and in return for the payment of two hundred marks received the custody of the estates of two rich minors (Rot. de Finibus, 466, 467). In August 1214 John's influence succeeded in obtaining his election as bishop both by the monks of Coventry and the canons of Lichfield (Rot. Lit. Claus. i. 196 b; Rot. Chart. 198 b), a see that had been vacant several years owing to a disputed election. After some delay he was consecrated by Langton at Reading on 25 Jan. 1215 (An. Wav. in An. Mon. ii. 282; Walt. Cov. ii. 218), the king making him a large grant of venison from Windsor Forest towards his consecration feast (Rot. Lit. Claus. 182 b). The fidelity which had adhered to John during the troubles of the interdict was equally unshaken by the revolt of the barons. Cornhill remained actively on the king's side to the very last; went on unsuccessful missions to persuade the Londoners and the Welsh princes to espouse his master's cause (Fœdera, Record ed. i. 121, 127); accompanied him to Runnymede (Matt. Paris, ii. 589, ed. Luard), and was named in the great charter as one of the magnates by whose advice it was issued. In the next reign he continued steadfast to John's son, and was among the four bishops present when the legate Gualo crowned Henry III at Gloucester (An. Wav. in An. Mon. ii. 286). Of his acts as bishop little is recorded. He made a grant, confirmed by a bull of Honorius III, to the canons of Lichfield of the right of electing their own dean, an appointment previously in the hands of the bishop (Thomas Chesterfield in Anglia Sacra, i. 436–7), and was further their benefactor by his gift of the impropriations of Hope, Tideswell, Earnley, Cannock, and Rugeley (Anglia Sacra, i. 446). In September 1221 he was deprived of speech by a sudden stroke of paralysis in the midst of an ordination service (An. Wav. ii. 295; An. Dunstap. iii. 76, which gives the date as 1222). He died on 19 Aug. 1223, and was buried in his cathedral. His body was discovered in 1662, and an inscribed plate found on the coffin (Willis, Cathedrals, ii. 386). His kinsfolk continued to hold prominent positions. One of the family, Henry Cornhill, dean of St. Paul's, distinguished himself by leading the opposition to the papal collector, Master Martin, in 1244 (Matt. Paris, iv. 374, ed. Luard; Newcourt, Repert. Eccles. i. 36).

[Rotuli Clausarum, Rotuli Chartarum, Rotuli Literarum Patentium, Rymer's Fœdera, vol. i., and Rotuli de Finibus, all in Record Commission's editions; Matthew Paris, ed. Luard (Rolls Series); Annales Monastici (Rolls Series); Anglia Sacra; Foss's Judges of England, ii. 53, 54; Madox's Hist. of Exchequer.]

T. F. T.