Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Nicholas of Hereford

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NICHOLAS of Hereford or Nicholas Herford (fl. 1390), lollard, was probably a native of Hereford. A Nicholas Hereford was prior of Evesham for forty years, and died in 1393 (Vita Ricardi, p. 124), but there is no particular likelihood of any relationship. Hereford was an Oxford student and fellow of Queen's College, where he appears as bursar from 30 Sept. 1374 to 29 Sept. 1375 (Fasciculi Zizaniorum, p. 515). To this circumstance he no doubt owed his intimacy with John Wiclif. He may be the Nicholas of Hereford who was chancellor of Hereford on 20 Feb. 1377, but had vacated that post before 1381 (Le Neve, Fasti Eccl. Angl. ii. 491). Hereford is stated to have been implicated by the confession of John Ball (d. 1381) [q. v.] in July 1381, when he is described, probably in error, as a master of arts (Fasc. Ziz. p. 274). He had graduated as doctor of divinity by the following spring, and in the letter of the Oxford friars to John, duke of Lancaster, on 18 Feb. 1382, is mentioned as their chief enemy (ib. pp. 294, 296). Throughout Lent of this year Hereford was constantly preaching in support of Wiclif, and against the friars at St. Mary's Church, having for his chief opponent Peter Stokes, the Carmelite. The chancellor, Robert Rigge, refused to take action against Hereford, and finally appointed him to preach the sermon at St. Frideswide's on Ascension day, 15 May, which, delivered in English, proved the climax in the events of the year. In the ‘earthquake council’ held at Blackfriars, London, by William Courtenay [q. v.], archbishop of Canterbury, on 21 May, the doctrines of Wiclif were condemned, and on 30 May the archbishop wrote to the chancellor expressing his surprise at the favour shown to Hereford. On 12 June, at a second meeting of the council, the chancellor received a peremptory mandate suspending Wiclif, Hereford, Philip Repington [q. v.], John Aston [q. v.], and Lawrence Bedeman [q. v.] from all public functions. The chancellor, under pressure, published the mandate at Oxford on Sunday, 15 June. Next day Hereford and Repington appealed to John of Lancaster for his protection, without success. At a third council, held on 18 June, they were called on to answer plainly to the conclusions formulated against them, and, failing to do so, were remanded for a final answer two days later. The answers then handed in were adjudged unsatisfactory, and they were ordered to appear again at Otford on 27 June. The matter was then once more postponed till 1 July, when the accused, failing to appear, were condemned and excommunicated. Knighton (col. 2657) says that Hereford escaped death only by the help of John of Lancaster and the subtlety of his own arguments. In the poem on the council, in Wright's ‘Political Songs’ (i. 253–6, Rolls Ser.), Hereford's answer on 20 June is said to have confounded his opponents, one of the chief of whom was John Wellys, monk of Ramsey.

Hereford at once appealed to the pope, and set out for Rome. In the meantime a royal letter was issued on 13 July, ordering the destruction of any of his writings that might be found at Oxford. In answer to another letter from the archbishop, the chancellor replied on 25 July that search had been made at Oxford, but that Hereford could not be found. On reaching Rome, Hereford propounded his conclusions, which had been condemned at Blackfriars, before the pope and cardinals. They were once more condemned, and Hereford only escaped death through the friendship of Pope Urban VI for the English. He was ordered to be confined for life, and, despite the remonstrances of some of the nobles, was kept a prisoner till, when the pope on his way to Naples was besieged in a certain castle, he obtained his release through a popular rising (Knighton, col. 2657). This would appear to refer to the siege of Urban at Nocera, by Charles of Durazzo, in June 1385. After his escape Hereford made his way back to England; according to Knighton he was imprisoned for some years by the Archbishop of Canterbury, but at length made his submission. On 15 Jan. 1386 the archbishop made a request that a writ might be issued for Hereford's capture. But on 10 Aug. 1387 Hereford was still at large, for on that date the Bishop of Worcester inhibited him and other lollards from preaching in his diocese. Walsingham (Historia Anglicana, ii. 159) describes Hereford at the time as the chief leader of the lollards after Wiclif's death (see also Vita Ricardi, p. 83). Between 30 March 1388 and 16 Dec. 1389 numerous commissions were issued by the king ordering the writings of Wiclif and of various of his followers, including Hereford, to be seized (Forshall and Madden, i. xxiv; Knighton, col. 2709). Hereford's English captivity is probably to be referred to these years. According to Foxe, Thomas Netter [q. v.], in his ‘De Sacramentis,’ says that Hereford and John Purvey [q. v.] were grievously tormented in the castle of Saltwood, Kent, and at length recanted at Paul's Cross, Thomas Arundel being then archbishop (Acts and Monuments, iii. 285). This would put the recantation at least as late as 1396, but more probably it was in 1391, for on 12 Dec. of the latter year Hereford received the royal protection. On 8 Oct. 1393 he was present at the examination of Walter Brit or Brute [q. v.] for heresy at Hereford; a letter of reproach for his apostasy, which was addressed to him on this occasion, is given by Foxe (ib. iii. 188–9). Hereford is mentioned in 1401 as a stout opponent of his old associates (cf. Wylie, Hist. Henry IV, i. 301). At the examination of William Thorpe [q. v.], in 1407, Hereford was referred to as a great clerk, who had seen his error, and is alleged to have declared that since he forsook lollard opinions he had more favour and delight to hold against them than ever he had to hold with them (Acts and Monuments, iii. 279). On 12 Dec. 1391 Hereford was appointed chancellor of Hereford Cathedral, which post he still held on 10 Feb. 1394, but resigned it before 1399. On 20 March 1397 he became treasurer of Hereford, and held the office till 1417, when he resigned both the treasurership and the prebend of Pratum Minus, which he had received some time after 1410. It is probably also the ex-lollard who was made chancellor of St. Paul's on 1 July 1395, and held that post till the next year (Le Neve, Fasti Eccl. Angl. i. 489, 491, 524, ii. 359; Newcourt, Repertorium, i. 113). In his old age, probably in 1417, Hereford became a Carthusian monk at St. Anne's, Coventry, and lived there till his death, the date of which is not recorded (Bodleian MS. 117, f. 32 b).

The notarial record of Hereford's sermon of 15 May 1382, made at the time in Latin, is preserved in Bodleian MS. 240 (see Academy, 3 June 1882; Fasciculi Zizaniorum, p. 296). The answers made by Hereford and Repington on 20 June to the conclusions previously condemned by the council at Blackfriars are printed in Wilkins's ‘Concilia,’ iii. 161, and ‘Fasciculi Zizaniorum,’ pp. 319–25. Knighton (col. 2655) gives what purports to be Hereford's confession in English made in June 1382. Its tenor on the doctrine of the corporeal presence, when compared with Hereford's later career, shows that this ascription is impossible. Lewis and Vaughan both regarded it as spurious; Lechler, while accepting it as a genuine document, considers that it belongs to a later date—perhaps it may be Hereford's recantation at Paul's Cross, but it is also possible that Knighton may have copied a genuine confession made by one of the lollards in 1382 and accidentally inserted Hereford's name. Hereford's most important literary work, and the only such work of importance which has survived, was his share in the translation of the Bible. Wiclif would appear to have entrusted the translation of the Old Testament to Hereford. The original manuscript of this translation is preserved in Bodleian MS. 959 (No. 3093 in Bernard's ‘Catalogus MSS. Angliæ’). Both in this manuscript and in the copy contained in Douce MS. 369 in the Bodleian Library, the translation stops short in the book of Baruch at ch. iii. verse 20, and in the latter manuscript, in a hand of slightly later date, are added the words, ‘explicit translacion Nicholay Herford.’ It would, therefore, seem to be extremely probable that Hereford, previously to June 1382, had proceeded thus far with the work of translation, which subsequent events prevented him from completing. That portion of the work thus ascribed to Hereford is excessively literal, which ‘makes the version very often stiff and awkward, forced and obscure.’ In the later revision of the translation, which was commenced by Wiclif, and completed by John Purvey in 1388, Hereford may have possibly taken part, though his long absence from England makes it improbable that his share was a very extensive one. The part of the original version ascribed to Hereford was first completely printed in Forshall and Madden's ‘Wycliffite Versions of the Bible’ in 1850; the ‘Song of Songs’ was edited by Adam Clarke [q. v.] in his ‘Commentary on the Bible’ (Forshall and Madden, vol. i. pp. xvii–xviii, xxviii, l; Lechler-Lorimer, i. 342–5).

Besides the ‘Responsiones’ and confession of 1382, Bale ascribes to Hereford the following works, none of which seem to have survived: 1. ‘Determinationes Scholasticæ.’ 2. ‘Wiclevianæ Doctrinæ Censura.’ 3. ‘De Apostasia fratrum a Christo.’ 4. ‘Adversum Petrum Stokes.’ 5. ‘Sermones quadragesimales.’ (The two latter would appear to be Hereford's determinations and sermons in the spring of 1382.) 6. ‘Conciones per Annum.’ It is noticeable that Stokes, writing in 1382, makes it a ground of complaint against Hereford that, ‘ut miser fugiens, nunquam voluit librum vel quaternum communicare alteri doctori’ (Fasciculi Zizaniorum, p. 296). From this it may perhaps be assumed that up to that date Hereford had not actually published anything; this circumstance, and the strict search that was made after his writings, especially in 1388, would explain sufficiently the disappearance of Hereford's minor works.

[Fasciculi Zizaniorum, in Rolls Ser.; Knighton's Chronicle, ap. Twysden's Scriptores Decem; Bale's Centuriæ, vi. 92; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.-Hib. p. 546; Le Neve's Fasti Eccl. Angl. ed. Hardy; Foxe's Acts and Monuments, iii. 24–47, 187–9, 279–85, 809, ed. 1855; Wood's Hist. and Antiq. Oxford, i. 475, 492–3, 502, 504, 510; Wilkins's Conc. Mag. Brit. iii. 157–68, 201, 204; Forshall and Madden's Wycliffite Versions of the Holy Bible, vol. i. Pref. pp. xvii–xviii, xxviii; Lewis's Life of Wyclif, pp. 256–62; Lechler's John Wiclif and his English Precursors, i. 341–8, ii. 246–65, transl. Lorimer; other authorities quoted. The writer has also to thank Mr. R. L. Poole for some notes.]

C. L. K.