Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Easton, Adam

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EASTON, ADAM (d. 1397), cardinal, was born of humble parentage, perhaps at Easton, six or seven miles north-west of Norwich, at which city he entered the Benedictine order. He studied at Oxford, became doctor in theology, and was famous for his attainments both in Greek and Hebrew. Several errors have been current as to his church preferments: he has been described as bishop of Hereford (Pits,DeAngl.Scriptor. p. 548) or of London (Panvinius, Epit. Pontiff. Rom. p. 253, Rome, 1557); and it has also been said that he was the cardinal whom the monks of Canterbury desired to elect archbishop on the death of Whittlesey in 1374 (Godwin, De Præsulibus, i. 117, with Richardson's note). As a matter of fact Easton seems to have left England before he received any benefice, and to have settled in Rome, where he may be presumed to have held some office in the curia. His name first appears as a witness against the appeal of John Wycliffe in respect of his dismission from the wardenship of Canterbury Hall, May 1370 (Twyne MS. 2, 307b, in the Oxford University Archives); a circumstance which renders it probable that he accompanied Archbishop Langham, the prelate who ejected Wycliffe, in his removal to the papal court, where he was appointed cardinal in 1368. Easton himself was also made cardinal, but not, as has been stated (Pits, l. c.), by Gregory XI, but by Urban VI; nor again in 1380 (Tanner, Bibl. Brit. p. 266), but subsequently to June 1381 (Ciacconius, Vitæ Pontiff, ii. 648 e, ed. Oldoin, Rome, 1677). The date is given by the monk of Evesham (Vit. Reg. Ricardi, ii. 34, ed. Hearne) as 21 Sept.; but the creation of cardinals in this year took place in December (Ciacconius, ii. 651 f). Easton was cardinal priest of the title of St. Cecilia. Shortly after his appointment he was nominated by papal provision to the deanery of York, 7 March 1381-2 (Le Neve, Fasti Eccl. Angl. iii. 123, ed. Hardy), he being the third cardinal in succession who was so appointed to this dignity. With it he held the rectory of Somersham (Godwin), no doubt the Huntingdonshire parish of that name.

Easton's troubles began in 1384, when Pope Urban moved the seat of the curia to cramped and unpleasant quarters at Nocera. Their life was so irksome that in the following winter certain of the cardinals made a conspiracy against the pope, by which they proposed to limit his despotic power by the establishment of a council. The secret, however, was betrayed to Urban; on 11 Jan. 1385 he called before him six of the cardinals, including Easton, whom it was said (Walsingham, Hist. Anglic, ii. 197, ed. Riley) he feared above the rest ‘propter profunditatem sensus et scientiæ,’ and thrust them into a noisome and reeking dungeon. They were charged with a plot against the pope's life, examined and tortured, but to no purpose except to amuse the ferocious pope. On 5 June Easton was deprived of his deanery of York (Le Neve, l. c). When shortly afterwards the siege of Nocera compelled Urban to make his escape thence, he took his prisoners with him, and after long wanderings settled his court at Genoa (September). Towards the end of the following year, however, desiring again to change his residence, he put the captive cardinals to death to save trouble, with the exception only of Easton, who had implored help from England. He seems to have written a letter or tract ‘De sua calamitate’ to the monks of his order, who moved Richard II to intervene on his behalf (Bale, Selden, MS. supra 64, f. 7, Bodl. Libr.) The pope, therefore, merely sent him away (Niem says) ‘ut pauperem monachum et solivagum,’ to remain still for a while in the custody of one of his chamberlains, a Frenchman. Easton lost his English benefice and was degraded from his cardinalship either now or in the previous year (cf. Chron. Angl. p. 362, ed. Thompson, 1874); he was not restored to the latter dignity until the death of Urban. One of the first acts of his successor, Boniface IX, 18 Dec. 1389, was to perform this act of justice and to write a letter of commendation for Easton to the English parliament (Ciacconius, ii. 648 f). It is possible that this letter had something to do with the cardinal's return to England. At least he is known to have held the prebend of Yetminster Secunda in Salisbury Cathedral some time after 1388 but before 1392 (W. H. Jones, Fasti Eccl. Saresb. p. 436), when he exchanged for the living of Hecham (evidently Heygham) in the diocese of Norwich (Godwin). He died at last in Rome, 15 Sept. 1397 (according to his epitaph, Ciacconius, ii. 649 c), or 20 Oct. (ib. 712 b), and was there buried in the church of his title.

Easton's writings, not one of which is known to be extant, are the following:—

  1. ‘De Potestate Ecclesiæ.’
  2. ‘Defensorium Ecclesiæ’ (both these works Bale, MS. ubi supra, found in the possession of John Whithamstede; the latter was preserved in the Cottonian MS. Otho B. iv. since burnt; and the book entitled 'Defensorium Ecclesiasticæ Potestatis,’ which Bale quotes ‘ex notulis cuiusdam Johannis,’ looks as though it arose from a confusion of the two works named, so that it does not appear in Bale's printed work).
  3. ‘De Electione Pontificis,’ presumably the evidence he gave, before his creation as cardinal, with reference to the election of Urban VI (Ciacconius, ii. 648 d, e).
  4. ‘De modo conferendi Beneficia.’
  5. ‘De forma procedendi contra Hæreticos.’
  6. ‘Opus Vitæ contra Hæreticos.’
  7. ‘Perfectio Vitæ Spiritualis.’
  8. ‘Dialogus Regis et Episcopi.’
  9. ‘De Communicatione Idiomatum.’
  10. ‘De Diversitate Translationum’ (possibly an extract from one of Easton's Hebrew treatises).
  11. ‘De Veritate Catholica,’ Græce.
  12. ‘Meteora Aristotelis,’ Græce.Easton is credited with a Latin version of the Hebrew bible, of which Robert Wakefield says he had a copy complete but for the psalter; the book, however, was stolen from him by Richard Colier, Carmelite, afterwards vicar of Sittingbourne (De cod. Hebr. incorruptione, sign. H. ii. verso, printed circa 1533-4). Easton's ‘Psalterium Hebraicum’ is mentioned separately by Bale, together with ‘Postilla Hebraica,’ ‘Alphabetum Judæorum,’ Hebraice (possibly one work, ‘Postilla … in Alphabetum;’ cf. Wolf, Bibl. Hebr. iii. 70).
  13. ‘Expositio Levitici.’
  14. ‘Hebraica Saraceni.’
  15. ‘Hebraica Jarchi Salomonis.’ It may be conjectured that some at least of the foregoing are simply transcripts made by or for Easton. To this list, which is given by Bale, Tanner adds:
  16. ‘Epistolæ duæ de Canonizatione sanctæ Brigidæ,’ and
  17. ‘Defensorium illustris sanctæ Brigidæ … articulis xlii.;’ both of which were preserved in the cathedral library at Lincoln.

Easton is also stated to have been the author of the office for the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin, July 2 (Ciacconius, ii. 648 f).

[See generally Godwin, De Præsulibus, ii. 373, ed. 1743. Easton's experiences under Urban VI are related by Theodoric a Niem, De Schismate, lib. i. (Basle, 1566, folio): compare a letter of ‘Anti-cardinals’ to the clergy of Rome in Baluze, Vit. Papp. Avenion. ii. 983-6 (1693). A full narrative is contained in Creighton'a History of the Papacy during the Period of the Reformation, i. 80-6, 1882.]

R. L. P.