Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Neville, Ralph (d.1244)
NEVILLE, RALPH (d. 1244), bishop of Chichester and chancellor, is stated to have been born at Raby Castle, Durham, the seat of the baronial family whose name he bore. He was, however, of illegitimate birth, for on 25 Jan. 1220 Honorius III specially relieved him from the ecclesiastical disabilities which this circumstance imposed on him (Shirley, Royal and Hist. Letters, i. 534). He was a kinsman of Hugh de Neville [q. v.], and probably owed his early advancement to Hugh's influence (Sussex Archœol. Coll. iii. 36). The first mention of him occurs on 22 Dec. 1213, when he was entrusted as one of the royal clerks with the charge of the great seal to be held under Peter des Roches, the then chancellor (Cal. Pat. Rolls, p. 107). On 11 April 1214 Neville was appointed to the deanery of Lichfield, and received the livings of Stretton and Ludgershall, Wiltshire, in May 1214 (Eyton, Shropshire, xii. 29); Ingham, Norfolk, 29 Oct. 1214; Meringthorp, Norfolk, 10 Dec. 1214; Penrith, Cumberland, 27 May 1215; and Hameleden, 17 March 1216 (Cal. Pat. Rolls, pp. 122, 125, 142, 169). He also held the prebend of Wenlocksbarn at St. Paul's, London (Le Neve, Fasti Eccl. Angl. ii. 444; Shirley, i. 192). Neville was not, as has sometimes been stated, chancellor under John, nor, though he signed charters during the latter part of 1214, does he seem to have been vice-chancellor. This latter office he appears to have held in the early years of Henry III, and in 1220 several letters on fiscal matters were addressed to him under this title by the legate Pandulf (ib. i. 112–20; cf. Ann. Mon. iii. 77). In 1219 the burghers of La Réole actually addressed him as chancellor, and in 1221 his official superior, Richard de Marisco [q. v.], complained of Neville's omission to style him chancellor (Shirley, i. 49, 180). Neville probably acted as chancellor during Marisco's absence from England in 1221; his own duties seem to have been specially connected with the exchequer, and in one place he is described as treasurer in 1222 (Ann. Mon. ii. 299).
On 28 Oct. 1222 Neville was appointed chancellor of Chichester, and almost immediately afterwards was elected bishop of that see, the royal assent being granted on 1 Nov. (Le Neve, ii. 240, 270). Neville was not consecrated till 21 April 1224, the ceremony being performed at St. Katherine's, Westminster, by Stephen Langton, archbishop of Canterbury (Gervase, ii. 113). In 1224 he appears as a justiciar in Shropshire, and in 1225 as one of the witnesses to the reissue of the charter. Soon after the death of Richard de Marisco, on 1 May 1226, Neville was appointed chancellor; a charter dated 12 Feb. 1227 made the appointment for life, and this charter was several times renewed down to 1233. But Matthew Paris (iii. 74) expressly states that Neville was appointed by the assent of the whole realm, and with a provision that he was only to be removed by the same assent. This no doubt means that Neville's appointment was made by the council acting in the king's minority, and it may be that the method of the appointment marks a step towards the constitutional doctrine of ministerial responsibility (cf. Stubbs, Const. Hist. § 171). In 1229 Neville was one of the king's advisers in the settlement of the dispute between Dunstable priory and town (Ann. Mon. iii. 119), and in 1230 he was one of the justiciaries during the king's absence in Britanny.
On 24 Sept. 1231 the monks of Canterbury chose Neville as archbishop. The king readily accepted, but Neville refused to pay the expenses of the monks' mission to Rome, through fear of simony. The monks, however, persevered in their choice, but without success, owing, it is alleged, to the representations of Simon de Langton [q. v.], who informed the pope that Neville was ‘swift of speech and bold in deed,’ intimating that he was likely to break off the yoke of tribute from England (Matt. Paris, iii. 206–7). In the issue Gregory IX quashed the election. From another source we find that Neville had previously contemplated his own promotion to Canterbury, for in 1228 Philip de Arden writes to him from Rome that in answer to an inquiry by the pope as to whom the king wished, he had named Neville, declaring that he knew none so fit. Arden adds that Gregory said he had no knowledge of Neville (Shirley, i. 339).
On 28 Sept. 1232 Neville received a grant of the Irish chancery for life (Cal. Documents relating to Ireland, i. 1988). This was after the fall of Hubert de Burgh; but though Neville had not yet lost the royal favour, he was faithful to his old colleague, and dissuaded the London mob from their intended attack on Hubert. Neville was with the king at Grosmont on 11 Nov. 1233, when the royal camp was surprised by the followers of Richard Marshal, third earl of Pembroke [q. v.] He had not, however, supported the machinations of the court party against the earl, and he was not privy to the use which was made of the royal seal for the purpose of effecting Marshal's ruin in Ireland (Matt. Paris, iii. 253, 266). Neville's own sympathies were undoubtedly with Hubert and Marshal; and when in 1236 the influence of the royal favourites revived, Henry called on him to resign the seal. This Neville refused to do, declaring that, as he had received his office by the assent of the council, so he could only lay it down by the same authority. On 21 Nov. 1238 he took part in the consecration of Richard de Wendene as bishop of Rochester at Canterbury, and was asked to mediate in the quarrel between Archbishop Edmund and his monks, and in the next year endeavoured to effect a reconciliation (Gervase, ii. 159–60). On the death of Peter des Roches in 1238 the monks of Winchester chose Neville for bishop. The king, who desired the see for his brother-in-law, William de Valence, refused his assent, and deprived Neville by force of the custody of the seal, but left him the emoluments. Afterwards Henry wished the bishop to resume his office, but Neville, preferring the profit to the toil of the chancellorship, and remembering his wrongful exclusion from Winchester, refused (Matt. Paris, iii. 495, 530). At last, in 1242, Neville was restored to the exercise of his office, and retained it till his death. This took place on 1 Feb. 1244, in his palace ‘in the street opposite the new Temple.’ This street, now called Chancery Lane, owes its name to the chancellor's residence there. Afterwards the palace became the property of Henry de Lacy, earl of Lincoln [q. v.], and eventually was transferred as Lincoln's Inn to the students of the law.
Neville is praised by Paris as ‘a stedfast pillar of loyalty and truth in state affairs’ (iii. 90, iv. 287). He was one of the worthiest supporters of the statesmen who preserved Henry's throne in his minority, and was not deterred by royal ingratitude from his loyalty to the interests of king and country. In his office he rendered equal justice to all, and especially to the poor. He was a benefactor of his church and see, expending much on the repair of the cathedral, and increasing the endowments of the dean and chapter. To his successors he bequeathed his palace and estate in London, the memory of which is preserved in Chichester Rents. He also bequeathed a dole of bread to the poor at Chichester. Many letters to and from Neville on public and private affairs are printed in Shirley's ‘Royal and Historical Letters.’[Matthew Paris, Annales Monastici, Shirley's Royal and Historical Letters, Gervase of Canterbury (all these are in the Rolls Ser.); Foss's Judges of England, ii. 423–8; Sussex Archæol. Coll. iii. 35–76 (a collection of Neville's letters, annotated by W. H. Blaauw), cf. vols. v. ix. xv. xvii. and xxiv.; authorities quoted.]