Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Shirwood, John

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SHIRWOOD, JOHN (d. 1494), bishop of Durham, was educated at University College, Oxford. Drake Morris asserts that he was at Cambridge also, but he has probably confused him with a contemporary of the same name (Addit MS. 5857, f. 279; Boase, Oxford Univ. Reg. i. 9). He graduated M.A. on 7 March 1450, and then proceeded to the university at Paris. Thence he passed into Italy to perfect himself in Greek. After some stay at Rome he returned to England, bringing with him copies of a number of Greek authors. In 1460 he was appointed chancellor of Exeter; he became archdeacon of Richmond in 1465, and prebendary of Masham in the diocese of York in 1471. He was so highly esteemed as a lawyer by Edward IV that he was employed as the king's advocate at Rome in matters pertaining to the crown (Cal. Rot. Pat. in Turri Londin. p. 323). He was appointed bishop of Durham in 1483, on the death of William Dudley, but did not receive the temporalities of the see until 16 Aug. 1485. On the death of Edward IV he attached himself to the party of Richard III, who was popular in the north, and at his coronation walked on one side of the new king, while Robert Stillington [q. v.], bishop of Bath, walked on the other (Antiq. Eccles. Brit. p. 262). Richard wrote several letters to the papal court, requesting that the dues levied on Shirwood's see might be abated because the bishop was obliged to maintain numerous garrisons against the Scots. He also solicited a cardinal's cap for Shirwood, but his death put an end to the negotiations (Rymer, Fœdera, xii. 214, 216, 222, 224, 252, 272).

Henry VII excluded Shirwood from any share in his confidence. But in 1487, after the battle of Stoke, he was directed by a royal commission to inquire into the causes of the rebellion (ib. p. 328; Stow, p. 472).

At the time of Warbeck's conspiracy the bishop appears to have been on the continent, and it is probable that he went with others to further the interests of the house of York with the court of Burgundy. From Burgundy he proceeded to Rome, where he died on 12 Jan. 1493–4, and was buried in the English College. As soon as his death was known in England the king, besides taking possession of the temporalities of the see, seized on all his private possessions. His library of Greek authors was, however, kept intact at Bishop Auckland, where it was discovered by Cuthbert Tunstal [q. v.] in the following century.

Only one work by Shirwood is extant, the ‘Liber de Ludo Arithmomachia,’ Rome, 1482, 4to. It contains the description of a singular game played on a ‘tabula,’ slightly resembling a chess-board, which he says was taught him at Calais by George Neville [q. v.], archbishop of York. There is a copy of the book in the Grenville library in the British Museum. Shirwood is said by Leland to have been a poet of considerable merit.

[Leland's Comment. de Scriptt. Brit. p. 262; Surtees's Hist. of Durham, vol. i. p. lx; Hutchinson's Hist. of Durham, i. 365; Godwin's Cat. of English Bishops, p. 666; Le Neve's Fasti Eccles. Angl. iii. 140, 202, 292; Letters and Papers of Richard III and Henry VII, ed. Gairdner (Rolls Ser.), i. 98; Addit. MS. 5830, f. 128; Dict. of Book Collectors, 1893.]

E. I. C.