Nicholas de Farnham (DNB00)

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NICHOLAS de Farnham (d. 1257), bishop of Durham, professor of medicine in the universities of Paris and Bologna, and physician to Henry III, was known, at least abroad, by the additional name of De Fuly. Tiraboschi in his ‘History of Italian Literature’ and De Boulay in his ‘History of the Paris University’ give him both names. Pits has been led into the error of writing a separate notice under each name, so as to make two persons of one (see article in his Appendix, No. 58). Fabricius and Ducange, in his ‘Index Auctorum,’ have followed the same error.

Nicholas began his studies at Oxford, and early acquired a reputation for scientific knowledge and the study of natural phenomena. Proceeding to Paris, he is said to have written, about 1201, an account of Simon de Tournay, a professor of theology in that university, an eloquent, acute, and profound logician, who, while lecturing on the mystery of the divine Trinity, experienced an entire loss of memory, and shortly after was reduced to a state of idiocy (cf. Matthew Paris, Chronica Majora, ii. 476, Rolls Ser.) After finishing his course of philosophy Nicholas began that of medicine and botany, or the curative value of plants. He acquired also a thorough knowledge of the works of Hippocrates, Dioscorides, and Galen, on which he subsequently wrote important treatises. Having obtained his degree, he was named ‘Maître-Régent de la Faculté de Médecine en l'Université de Paris.’ His name is found thus inscribed in the oldest records of the university. He is often mentioned in foreign medical works and in the academical addresses of more recent professors of medicine in Paris as one of the earliest lights of the Paris medical school. From Paris he went for a short time as professor of medicine to Bologna, where he maintained his high reputation, and obtained the degree of doctor. In addition to the course of medical study, he directed, in Paris, separate courses of dialectics, physics, and theology; Bernier, in his ‘Histoire Chronologique de la Médecine,’ says of him, ‘il fut aussi grand médecin que grand philosophe.’

Nicholas returned to England in 1229, together with other Englishmen connected with the Paris University; the students had been dispersed on account of serious riots between them and the citizens. Henry III, being desirous of advancing the reputation of the university of Oxford, provided chairs there for several of the newcomers, viz. John surnamed Blondus, Alan of Beccles, and Nicholas de Farnham. In 1232 Nicholas is known to have been teaching logic and natural philosophy at Oxford, but he afterwards resumed the study of philosophy and theology. He also became private physician to the king and queen, who were much attached to him. For his position at court he was indebted to the good offices of Otho, cardinal legate in England, and to Walter Mauclerk [q. v.], bishop of Carlisle. He is said to have lectured also at Cambridge. His name is found as one of the benefactors of that university, and he was present there in 1243 at the interrogation by the legate of a Carthusian friar accused of denying the supremacy of the pope.

Nicholas had held, while abroad, several benefices in England. In 1219 Hugh, bishop of Lincoln, had appointed him to the church of Audenham in Huntingdonshire, and in 1222 the king had given him that of Cleuden in the same diocese. He held also, by royal letters dated 1222 and 1238, benefices at Essenden and Burton. In 1239 he was elected to the see of Coventry, but he declined the charge. In 1241 he was elected to that of Durham, which he also at first declined, alleging that he could not accept it because he would be thought to have declined the former offer of the see of Coventry, on account of its smaller pecuniary value. His objections were overruled by the urgent representations of Robert Grosseteste [q. v.], bishop of Lincoln. He was consecrated to the see (1241) by Walter, archbishop of York, at Gloucester, in the church of St. Oswald, the king and queen and several state dignitaries being present. A few months after his installation he effected a reconciliation between the king and Walter Marshal [see under Marshal, William, first Earl of Pembroke and Strigul]. The king assigned to the bishop by deed, dated 16 Feb. 1242 (preserved in Rymer, Fœdera, i. 140), several lands in Northumberland, Cumberland, and Westmoreland, to be conveyed to Alexander II Scotland, under the settlement of the late queen of Scotland, sister to Henry III. During the king's absence abroad Nicholas also carried on and concluded a negotiation with Scotland regarding the marriage of the king's eldest son, subsequently Alexander III, with the Princess Margaret, daughter of Henry III.

During Nicholas's episcopate Durham Cathedral was restored. In 1247 a discussion arose between him and the abbot of St. Albans regarding the church of Tynemouth, which, being a cell of the abbey of St. Albans, claimed exemption from all taxes and contributions levied within the kingdom, similar to a privilege possessed by the parent abbey of being only under the direct jurisdiction of the holy see. Notwithstanding the remonstrances of the abbot, the bishop insisted that Tynemouth should contribute to the rebuilding of Durham Cathedral. The king at length wrote to the bishop (1248) in defence of the privilege of Tynemouth (Matt. Paris, Rolls Ser. v. 12). The following year the bishop resigned his see with the consent of the pope. A certain portion of the revenue, amounting to about a thousand marks yearly, was reserved for him during his life. It was proposed subsequently to deprive him of this, in the interest of his successor, but the attempt was defeated by the pope. In the ‘Chronicle of Lanercost’ it is stated that before his resignation he had been accused of having a wife, whom on his consecration he had openly repudiated. Harpsfield says that, being worn out by sickness and the infirmities of old age, he voluntarily resigned his see. He thereupon removed to Stockton-on-Tees, where he passed the remainder of his life engaged in study and in acts of piety. He died there in 1257 and was buried in Durham Cathedral.

Of his writings Pits mentions two treatises, ‘Practica Medicinæ’ and ‘De Viribus Herbarum,’ which have not been traced. Regret has often been expressed that his other works have been lost; yet the search for them does not seem to have been quite thorough. In the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris there is a folio volume of medical treatises in manuscript, anonymous for the most part, without any index or table of contents (indicated in the general Catalogue as ‘Fonds Latin,’ No. 7015). This volume contains three treatises by a Nicholas de Anglia. The writing is of the thirteenth century, in double columns, with numerous marginal notes. There can be little doubt that Nicholas de Anglia is Nicholas de Farnham. The treatises are entitled: (1) ‘Commentarius in librum Galeni de elementis secundum Hippocratem;’ (2) ‘Commentarius in libros Galeni de Crisibus;’ (3) ‘Commentarius in tres libros Galeni de facultatibus naturalibus.’

[Matthew Paris, Chronica Majora, passim; Pits, De Illustribus Angliæ Scriptoribus; Leland's Commentarii and Itinerary; Wharton's Anglia Sacra, i. 763; Godwin, De Præsulibus Angliæ, ed. Richardson, p. 741; Wood's Hist. and Antiq. Oxon. i. 81; Harpsfield's Hist. Angl. Eccles. pp. 474–86; Tiraboschi's Storia della Letteratura Italiana, vol. iv.; De Boulay's Hist. de l'Université de Paris, iii. 682; Schenck's Bib. Iatrica sive Bibl. Medica, Frankfort, 1589; Gæsner's Bibl. Universalis, Zürich, 1545; Pascal Gallus's Bibl. Medica, Basle, 1590; Patin's Paranymphus Medicus habitus in scholis Medic. die 28 Jan. 1648; Bernier's Hist. Chron. de la Med., Paris, 1695; Chomet's Essai sur la Med. en France, Paris, 1762; Eloy's Dict. Hist. de la Med., Mons, 1788; Nouv. Biog. Gén. xvii. 476.]

J. G. F.