Merke, Thomas (DNB00)

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MERKE, THOMAS (d. 1409), bishop of Carlisle, has usually been called Merks, but this form is almost certainly an error. Undoubtedly so are the names Newmarket and Somastre sometimes given to him. The former originated with Bale, who, misled by a slight verbal similarity, confused Merke with Thomas of Newmarket, a Cambridge scholar who wrote on mathematics and rhetoric (Pits, p. 591; Proceedings of Cambridge Antiquarian Soc. vol. ii. pt. xiv. p. 18). ‘Somastre’ is a corruption of his later episcopal title. Merke was educated at Oxford, where he became doctor of divinity, and stood next to the chancellor among the delegates selected in November 1395 to convey to the king the submission of the university touching the rooting out of Lollardy enjoined earlier in that year (Wood, Antiquities of University of Oxford, i. 528 (Gutch); Kennett, Third Letter, pp. 6–7; Godwin, De Præsulibus, p. 766). He is described as a monk of Westminster when, about the beginning of 1397, he was thrust upon the chapter of Carlisle by the pope at the king's request (ib. p. 767; Fœdera, vii. 844, 848; Adam of Usk, p. 42). The temporalities were restored to him on 18 March (Godwin, loc. cit.) His appointment, which connects itself with the close relations between Richard and the abbot and monks of Westminster, was probably the reward of some service to the king; for in little more than a month, about the end of April, he was sent on a mission to the German princes with the Earls of Rutland and Nottingham (Kennett, pp. 34–5; Fœdera, vii. 858, viii. 1). Merke was present in the famous September parliament of 1397, was sent by Richard to order Archbishop Arundel not to appear therein, probably had some hand in the proceedings against Thomas, duke of Gloucester, and on 30 Sept. swore obedience on the relics with other prelates to the king (Adam of Usk, p. 9; Rot. Parl. iii. 355; Annales Henrici IV, p. 314; Stow, Annals, p. 321).

On 19 Oct. 1398 Merke was commissioned with the Earl of Salisbury to obtain payment of Queen Isabella's dowry (Fœdera, viii. 52). He is coupled by the Monk of Evesham (ed. Hearne, p. 168) and in two manuscript chronicles with Tydeman, bishop of Worcester, also a monk, as ill adviser and boon companion of Richard ‘in potationibus et aliis non dicendis’ (Chronique de la Traison, p. xlv; Hardyng, ed. Ellis, cxciii. 347). These charges do not appear in the ‘Annales Ricardi’ or in Walsingham. But the latter doubtless included him among the ‘certi episcopi’ who were the instruments of Richard's extortion. Like Richard and several of his courtiers, Merke sold his favour to the monastery of St. Albans (Gesta Abbatum, iii. 454), and there is reason to doubt whether he ever visited his diocese (Kennett, p. 33). He was one of the executors named in Richard's will, made 16 April 1399, on the eve of his journey to Ireland, whither the bishop accompanied him (Nichols, Royal Wills, p. 199; Ann. Ricardi, p. 250; Fœdera, viii. 78–9; Kennett, p. 37). Returning with Richard to Wales, on the news of the landing of Henry of Bolingbroke, Merke was one of the few who remained with him to the last. He is said by a French authority to have joined in advising him to go to Bordeaux, to have insisted at Conway that Northumberland should take an oath that Henry had no designs against Richard, and to have remonstrated against the latter's excessive grief at Flint (Chronique de la Traison, pp. 44, 49, 56; cf. Creton in Archæologia, xx. 110, 198, 214). According to the English account he was one of the eight for whose lives Richard stipulated when surrendering to Northumberland at Conway (Ann. Ricardi, p. 250). At Chester on 19 Aug. they were separated, and the bishop may have been kept in custody for a time (Chronique de la Traison, p. 60). Kennett (p. 42) thinks it unlikely that he entered London with Henry, as he would in that case have probably fallen a victim to the popular hatred, like John Slake. Possibly he was committed to the care of the abbot of St. Albans. But he was apparently present in parliament, sitting next to Henry, when Richard's renunciation of the crown was read on 30 Sept., and was summoned on that day to Henry's first parliament, which met on 6 Oct. (Continuatio Eulogii, iii. 383; Archæologia, xx. 388; App. to Rep. on Dignity of a Peer, pp. 766, 768). The bold protest against Henry's treatment of Richard, when all his other friends kept silence, which the contemporary ‘Chronique de la Traison’ (pp. 70–1) puts into the mouth of Bishop Merke, whom Henry is said to have thrown into prison in consequence, could only have been delivered in the October parliament, if at all. This famous speech passed through Hall and Holinshed into Shakespeare (Richard II, act iv. sc. 1). Sir John Hayward, in his ‘History of Henry IV,’ 1599, expanded it into a florid disquisition on the rights of kings, bristling with quotations from sacred and profane authors. He repeated Hall's assertion that Merke died soon after his condemnation for this speech, ‘more by fear than sickness, as one desiring to die by Death's darte, rather than by the Temporal sworde’ (p. 281, ed. 1642). In this shape it became a chief weapon in the armoury of the prerogative writers of the seventeenth century, and at the revolution a battle-field of the supporters and opponents of divine right. It was stripped of its embellishments, and rendered very questionable, by the whig researches of Bishop White Kennett [q. v.], in three ‘Letters to the Bishop of Carlisle concerning one of his predecessors, Bishop Merks’ (1713, 1716, 1717). The authenticity of the speech in its original form rests entirely upon the anti-Lancastrian and confused testimony of the ‘Chronique de la Traison,’ and it is not mentioned in the other French contemporary authority, the metrical chronicle of Creton, who indeed expressly states that on 30 Sept. not a voice was raised for Richard (Archæologia, xx. 99). It cannot be shown that Merke was imprisoned for any speech of his in parliament, and he certainly was not deprived of his bishopric on that account, although an error of Rymer's (Fœdera, viii. 106), antedating a document by a whole year, whose detection by Kennett has strangely escaped later historians, has hitherto lent some colour to the charge. He was, indeed, brought up from custody before parliament on 29 Oct., but it was in company with the lords appellant, and for his alleged share in the proceedings against Gloucester, against which charge he eloquently defended himself (Ann. Hen. IV, p. 314; cf. Wylie, i. 72). He had been for some time in charge of the abbot of St. Albans, for his protection against the people, and for the same reason, though acquitted, he went back to St. Albans for a time (Ann. Hen. IV, u.s.) As on Sunday, 19 Oct., he had performed his profession of obedience and fidelity to the Archbishop of York as his metropolitan, in the archbishop's chapel at Westminster, Kennett's conjecture that he had been committed to custody on the same day (20 Oct.) as the lords appellant may be correct (Kennett, p. 64; Le Neve, Fasti, ed. Hardy, p. 236, with incorrect date; Wylie, i. 72). That he chose this time to perform a long-delayed episcopal duty seems to show that he desired to make an appearance at least of submission to the new government. Bishop Stubbs infers that he had been consecrated at Rome (Registrum Sacrum). Recovering his liberty, Merke is said to have been present at the meeting on 17 Dec. in the rooms of the Abbot of West- minster, in which, according to the ‘Chronique de la Traison’ (p. 77), the plot to surprise the king at Windsor on 6 Jan. 1400 was arranged (cf. Wavrin, 1399–1422, pp. 19, 20). According to Wylie (p. 98), who, however, gives no authority, he was with the conspirators at Cirencester. But this seems irreconcilable with his committal to the Tower on 10 Jan. 1400 (Fœdera, viii. 121), and we have a statement that he and Roger Walden, the late archbishop of Canterbury, were taken from the liberties of Westminster (Chronique de la Traison, p. 100).

On 28 Jan. the special justices for the trial of treasons and felonies in London and Middlesex were empowered to try any archbishop or bishop, notwithstanding the statute 18 Ed. III, c. 1, reserving such (unless by the king's special command) for other remedy (Fœdera, viii. 123; Kennett, pp. 70 sqq.) The trial of the Bishop of Carlisle had begun on Tuesday, the 27th, according to the record quoted by Kennett (p. 71), and was adjourned to the Wednesday following, when the bishop, after his plea of episcopal privilege had been set aside, was found guilty by a common jury, but judgment was reserved, and he was sent back to the Tower (ib.; Ann. Hen. IV, p. 330; Cont. Eulog. iii. 387; Walsingham, ii. 245; Chronique de la Traison, p. 101; Adam of Usk, p. 42). On 23 June Merke was removed to the custody of the Abbot of Westminster until the king's further pleasure should be known (Fœdera, viii. 150). Between the two dates he had been deprived of his bishopric, custody of whose temporalities was granted on 18 Feb. to William Strickland (Pat. 1 Hen. IV, p. 5, m. 9). Henry had desired to have Merke degraded and handed over to the secular arm. But his trial not being canonical, Pope Boniface IX had hastened to ‘accommodate matters to his own supremacy’ by translating Merke to a titular eastern see, and filled up Carlisle by provision, without election by the chapter or consent of the king. He craftily provided Strickland, whose election by the chapter in 1396 he had quashed in favour of Reade, and who was now favoured both by the chapter and the king (Kennett, p. 102; Le Neve, iii. 236). The translation was in flat contradiction of his recent undertaking (20 Oct. 1399) not to have recourse to this device in such cases (Kennett, p. 102). Henry on 15 March wrote him a very strong remonstrance (Proceedings of Privy Council, i. 115–117). He got no satisfaction in the matter of the translation, but did not acknowledge the appointment of Strickland as successor until he was elected by the chapter and confirmed by himself (Kennett, p. 117). It was not until 15 Nov. that he gave Strickland restitution of the temporalities of Carlisle (Pat. 2 Hen. IV, p. 1, m. 13, misplaced by Rymer, viii. 106), and on 28 Nov. granted Merke a conditional pardon in consideration of his spiritual capacity (Fœdera, viii. 165). On 29 Jan. 1401 Merke surrendered himself at Westminster to the prison of the Marshalsea, and pleading his pardon of 28 Nov., and giving securities for good behaviour, was dismissed (Kennett, p. 122). Merke had been translated ‘ad ecclesiam de Samastone’ (Pat. 2 Hen. IV, p. 2, m. 11). This see has been variously identified with Samos, Samos in Cephalonia, and Samothrace. But none of these conjectures can be right. Le Quien (Oriens Christianus, iii. 1383) takes it to be Salmasa, or Salmastrum, eight days' journey east of Nineveh. But the adjective Samastenus rather points, though not conclusively, to Samosata, and while there was a papal collector for Salmasa (ib.), in Samastone there was ‘neither Christian clergy nor people.’ Moved by the poverty into which Merke thereby fell, Henry, on 21 March 1401, allowed him to solicit benefices from the pope, bishoprics excepted, provided their annual value did not exceed one hundred marks (Pat. 2 Hen. IV, p. 2, m. 11; Kennett, pp. 127–8). The pope, it would seem from a letter written by Merke from Oxford on 7 June 1401, gave him the prebend of Masham, the ‘golden prebend’ of York, but his claim was disputed (Letters of Hen. IV, Rolls Ser., i. 66; cf. Fisher, Hist. of Masham, pp. 322, 328–9). On 5 Nov. 1401 Henry gave him permission to accept further ‘expectations’ of benefices from the pope up to three hundred marks per annum, along with a full pardon (Wylie, i. 109). It would almost appear, from a passage in Wadding's ‘Annales Minorum’ (ed. 1734, ix. 256), that Boniface on 6 Nov. 1402 translated Merke from Samastone to some other see, the name of which is not given, but which may be concealed in the ‘Millatencus’ of Adam of Usk (p. 42). The king himself, on 19 Nov. 1403, presented him to the vicarage of Sturminster Marshall, Dorset (Wylie, i. 110; Hutchins, Dorsetshire, ii. 133), and the abbot and convent of Westminster to the rectory of Todenham in Gloucestershire on 13 Aug. 1404 (Le Neve, iii. 237; Kennett, p. 138). He acquired the confidence of Wykeham and Arundel, acting occasionally as deputy of the former, and being commissioned by the latter, on 18 Oct. 1405, to perform episcopal functions in the diocese of Winchester during its vacancy (Lowth, Life of Wykeham, p. 247; Kennett, p. 139). He was returned as a member of the lower house of convocation for the province of Canterbury early in 1406, and opened it as the archbishop's commissary on 10 May with a Latin sermon (ib. pp. 139, 140; cf. Wilkins, Concilia, iii. 272–273). Merke seems to have been one of the three Englishmen, ‘viri non modice auctoritatis,’ who were present at Lucca in May 1408, and took sides with the dissenting cardinals against the pope (Theodoric of Niem, Nemus, vi. 31). He apparently signed as a witness the appeal of the cardinals at Pisa against Gregory (Labbe, Concilia, xi. 2, 2217; Hardouin, viii. 101).

Merke died during 1409 (Hutchins, ii. 133; Godwin, p. 766; for the bible given by him to Robert Stonham, vicar of Oakham, see Gibbon's Lincoln Wills, p. 139). He appears in a cowl in an illumination representing the consultation of Richard with his friends at Conway Castle in a manuscript of Creton in the British Museum (Harl. MS. 1319). This is reproduced in Strutt's ‘Regal and Ecclesiastical Antiquities’ (No. xxiv), and by Mr. Webb in ‘Archæologia’ (xx. 97).

[Annales Ricardi II et Henrici IV, Walsingham's Historia Anglicana, Eulogium, Wavrin, and Gesta Abbatum S. Albani, in the Rolls Ser.; Adam of Usk, ed. Maunde Thompson, for the Society of Literature; Chronique de la Traison, published by the English Historical Society; Creton in Archæologia, xx. 86–7; Rymer's Fœdera, original edit.; Acts and Proceedings of the Privy Council, ed. Harris Nicolas; Kalendars and Inventories (Record Comm.), ii. 26, 59, 81; Froissart, ed. Kervyn de Lettenhove, xvi. 330–7, 344, 357–9, 365; Pits, De Illustribus Scriptoribus Angliæ, Paris, 1619; Bale's Scriptores, cent. vii. No. 60, ed. Basel, 1559; Raleigh's Prerogative of Parliament, p. 45; Godwin, De Præsulibus Angliæ, ed. Richardson, 1743; Browne Willis's Cathedrals, i. 293, ed. 1742; Fuller's Worthies, Cambridgeshire, p. 153; Brady's Richard II, p. 366, and App. p. 132; Spelman's Concilia, ii. 655; Collier's Ecclesiastical Hist. i. 610; Sandford's Genealogical Hist. p. 268. Much the fullest and most accurate account of Merke is given by White Kennett in his Third Letter, who corrected errors which are repeated by subsequent writers down to Sir James Ramsay in Lancaster and York, 1892, i. 12; Wylie's Hist. of Henry IV; Pauli's Geschichte Englands, v. 637. Other authorities in text.]

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