Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Crokesley, Richard de

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Richard of Croxley in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

CROKESLEY, RICHARD de (d. 1258), ecclesiastic and judge, was probably a native of Suffolk, whose name indicates his birthplace. He succeeded Richard de Berking as abbot of the monastery of St. Peter, Westminster, in 1246–7, and was the first archdeacon mentioned at Westminster. He was a favourite of the king, who was at that time laying out yearly considerable sums upon the abbey buildings. In 1247 he was sent with John Mansel on an embassy to Brabant to arrange a marriage between Prince Edward and the daughter of the duke. Matthew Paris tells us that he was proficient both in the canon and in the civil law, and his name appears at the head of Madox's ‘List of Barons of the Exchequer’ in 1250 and 1257, though without the title of treasurer. In 1250 he urged the king to abridge the privileges granted by charters of his predecessors to the city of London in the interest of the monastery of St. Peter; but the resistance opposed by the townspeople was so energetic that the king abandoned the attempt. Crokesley succeeded, however, in obtaining a transfer of some of the rights previously exercised by the monastery of St. Alban in respect of the town of Aldenham in Hertfordshire. In March 1251 he was sent to Lyons, where the pope then held his court, to arrange a meeting between the king and the pope at Pontigny in Champagne. Though the pope refused to meet the king, Crokesley lingered some time at the papal court, living splendidly and, according to Matthew Paris, contracting immense debts. Before he returned he had obtained from the pope permission to style himself his chaplain, and authority to annul an ordinance of one of his predecessors, whereby the monks of St. Peter's had acquired the right to hold separate property. The monks appealed to the king, who, offended by the assumption of the style of pope's chaplain by Crokesley, took their part. It was agreed to refer the dispute to the arbitration of Richard, earl of Cornwall, and John Mansel, provost of Beverley, and an arrangement was arrived at (May 1252), with which Crokesley was so little satisfied that he thought of appealing to the pope to set it aside. It was probably to prevent Crokesley's leaving the kingdom on this errand that the king issued a curious proclamation prohibiting the lending of money to him. The king having bound himself to despatch a force to Italy by Michaelmas 1256, and to grant the pope a subsidy for war expenses in consideration of being relieved from his obligation to take the cross, Crokesley was sent to Italy in the summer of 1256 with the papal legate, Rustand, to obtain a renewal of the bill. Before starting he took an oath before the king at Gloucester that he would not use his influence with the pope to the prejudice of his monastery, or seek to obtain an annulment of the previous compromise. His mission was successful. He was again in France in 1257 negotiating unsuccessfully for the restoration of the king's French provinces. In 1258 Henry, being in pecuniary difficulties, induced Crokesley to pledge his own credit and that of his monastery in his favour to the extent of 2,050 marks. The same year Crokesley acted as one of the arbitrators on the part of the king at the conference at Oxford. His death, which happened suddenly at Winchester in July of this year, is attributed by the chroniclers of Dunstable and Burton to poison taken while at dinner. He was buried at Westminster with great state in a small chapel near the north porch, built by himself and dedicated to St. Edmund. His body was subsequently removed to the chapel of St. Nicholas, and thence, in the reign of Henry VI, to some other part of the abbey, probably to the space underneath the high altar, where, on 12 July 1866, a skeleton, accompanied by the remains of a crozier, leaden paten, and chalice, was discovered in a Purbeck marble coffin bearing traces of previous removal. If this was Crokesley's skeleton, he must have been a tall man, slightly lame with one leg, and subject to rheumatism. Matthew Paris describes him as ‘elegans’ and ‘facundus,’ and gives him credit for having ably administered his abbey.

[Matt. Paris's Chron. Maj. (Rolls Series), iv. 589, v. 128, 228, 231, 239, 304, 305, 520, 560, 682, 700; Madox's Exch. ii. 318–19; Rymer's Fœdera, ed. Clarke, i. 344, 350, 351, 355; Annales Monast. (Rolls Series), i. 447, 460, iii. 211; Widmore's Westminster, p. 63; Foss's Lives of the Judges.]

J. M. R.