Northwold, Hugh of (DNB00)

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NORTHWOLD, HUGH of (d. 1254), bishop of Ely, took his name from his birthplace, Northwold in Norfolk. He was a monk and eventually abbot of the great Benedictine abbey of Bury St. Edmunds. On the death of Abbot Sampson, 30 Dec. 1211, King John had claimed to nominate the abbot, and, seizing the property of the abbey, retained it for a year and a half. At last, in July 1213, he requested the conventual body, ‘according to the custom of England,’ to send him ‘certain discreet persons, of whom one should be chosen.’ Disregarding the king's mandate, the monks deputed seven of their body to select an abbot, binding themselves by oath to accept their choice. By them Hugh of Northwold—‘vir miræ simplicitatis et mansuetudinis’—who had gained general goodwill by a combination of gentleness and firmness, was unanimously chosen. John was indignant, and refused to confirm the election. He had his own adherents in the body. Hugh was not equally acceptable to all, and a fierce struggle arose between the two parties.

A long series of complications ensued. John remaining obstinate in spite of Archbishop Langton's intercession, Northwold referred the matter to Nicholas, the papal legate, who had recently arrived in England to remove the interdict. But Nicholas came to no decision, and Northwold sent a messenger to Pope Innocent, invoking his aid. Robert of Graveley, the sacrist, who headed the royalist party among the monks, sent a counter embassy, and Innocent (18 May 1214) commissioned three English ecclesiastics to inquire into the election, and confirm it if found valid. The papal delegates—the abbot of Warden, the prior of Dunstable, and the dean of Salisbury—met in the chapter-house at Bury. On the question coming to the vote the monks were almost equally divided—thirty-two for, and thirty against the election. The commission adjourned till 26 July, when three representatives of each party met at St. Albans and confirmed the election. After sending a humble request to the king that he would signify his consent to the choice or state his reasons for withholding it, Northwold started for Poitou to plead his cause in person. John received him courteously, and desired him to return to Bury, where he promised to meet him. This he did early in November. The monks were summoned into the chapter-house, and a large majority declared in favour of the election. Robert the sacrist, however, and his adherents continued so determined in their opposition that, after much wrangling and repeated adjournments, the king's agents recommended Northwold to resign the abbacy in the interests of peace. Northwold refused, and the question was again submitted to the delegates, who met at Reading 12 Jan. 1215, and again at Bury 12 Feb. The sacrist did all he could to obstruct the proceedings, but judgment was given in Northwold's favour on 10 March, and the sacrist and the party of opposition consented to receive the kiss of peace.

The royal assent had yet to be obtained. Northwold met the king at his hunting-lodge in Sherwood Forest, but, though graciously received, he could obtain nothing beyond fair words. John's trusted councillor, William Brewer [q. v.], advised him to renew his appeal to the king and barons at Oxford. Great interest was made for him there; but though John had in the previous January granted free election to the church, it was made evident that his assent would not be given without a substantial bribe. This Northwold indignantly refused to give, and he returned on 17 April to Bury. It was now clear that he must take the matter into his own hands, and, by the advice of Archbishop Langton, he received the abbatial benediction from Benedict, bishop of Rochester, at Halling on 17 May 1215. John continuing to temporise, the archbishop and the barons advised Northwold to press for the royal assent till he gave way.

The crisis of John's reign was now growing imminent. Ten days before the signing of Magna Charta Northwold reached Windsor. He was, as usual, received with gracious speeches, and directed to meet the king at Runnymede, where, 10 June 1215, after long discussion and negotiation, he was admitted to favour, and invited to the royal table. The next day he swore fealty, and did homage for the temporalities of the abbey. He probably returned to Bury before the signing of Magna Charta on the 15th.

During the fourteen years he presided over the abbey ‘he so bore himself as to win the love and respect of all without prejudice.’ Northwold's calm wisdom and mild and attractive bearing gained the favour of the young king, Henry III, by whom, in 1227, he was appointed one of the itinerant justices for Norfolk, and on the death of Geoffrey de Burgh was selected to fill the vacant see of Ely. He was consecrated at Canterbury on 10 June 1229 by Jocelin of Wells and Henry of Rochester, on the same day as Archbishop Wethershed and Roger of London (Matt. Paris, Hist. Angl. iii. 164, 190). As bishop he retained the monastic habit and mode of life (ib. p. 318). In October 1235 he was despatched, together with Ralph, bishop of Hereford, to receive Henry III's affianced bride Eleanor, daughter of Raymond IV, count of Provence, and escort her to England. He travelled at his own expense, landed with the princess at Dover in January 1236, was present at the wedding ceremony in Canterbury Cathedral on the 14th of that month, and at the coronation in Westminster Abbey on the following Sunday (Rymer, i. 341, 344–346;{{sc|Matt. Paris}, iii. 334–5, v. 330). The following year he went by the king's desire to the congress summoned by the Emperor Frederick at Vaucouleurs for 24 June 1237; but, the congress being deferred to the following year, he and the other deputies returned re infecta (ib. pp. 393–4). He was summoned to the council of Lyons in 1245, but was excused by the pope on the plea of ill-health (ib. iv. 414). He attended the parliament in London in 1248, when remonstrances were ineffectually made against the foreign favourites (cf. v. 5), and in the same year he laid a formal complaint before the king, with as little result, of his high-handed suspension of the fair of St. Etheldreda at Ely and other fairs in the kingdom, for the benefit of his own newly established fair at Westminster (ib. p. 29). In 1249, by giving Robert Passelew [q. v.] the church of Dereham, he offended Henry, who desired the benefice for his half-brother Ethelmar. He was present at the meeting of bishops at Dunstable on 24 Feb. 1251 to protest against Archbishop Boniface's claim of visitation (ib. p. 255), and at that held in the October of the following year in London, to take into consideration the king's demand of a tenth of the church revenues for three years to enable him to fulfil his vow of going on crusade, and joined in the refusal ‘lest the church should be pauperised.’ Henry tried in vain to gain Northwold over by flattering words and fair promises, and on his continuing firm he flew into a passion and opprobriously ordered him to be turned out of doors, and never to appear in his presence again (ib. pp. 330, 332). Only the month before, on the dedication of the new eastern limb of Ely Cathedral, which Northwold, ‘omnis honoris et honestatis amator magnificus,’ had erected at his own cost to receive the shrine of St. Etheldreda and her sister saints, Henry had been magnificently entertained by him, together with his immense suite, in the hall of the palace, which he had also built (ib. p. 322).

Northwold's mild and placable disposition was shown when, on one of the king's violent and brutal Poitevin half-brothers, William of Valence, in 1252 having committed a wanton outrage at the bishop's park-lodge at Hatfield, bursting open the cellar door, broaching the wine casks, wasting their contents, and maltreating his steward, he calmly said, ‘What need was there to plunder when all might have been had for the civil asking?’ adding sadly, ‘It is a cursed thing to have so many kings in one land and all of them tyrants’ (ib. pp. 343–5).

Northwold took his place in the parliament of May 1253 when Magna Charta was solemnly confirmed (ib. pp. 373–5), and attended Queen Eleanor's purification feast 5 Jan. 1254 (ib. p. 421). This was his last recorded public appearance. He died at his manor of Downham on 9 Aug. of the same year, and was buried behind the high altar of his cathedral, on the north side of the exquisitely beautiful presbytery which he had erected. On the monument over his grave, supporting his marble effigy, is carved the martyrdom of St. Edmund, over whose abbey he had so long and honourably presided.

No prelate of his day stood deservedly higher than Northwold in public estimation. His mild and winning disposition, tempered by firmness, secured general goodwill. ‘Rich in alms and good works,’ he expended the large revenues of the see with a wise liberality, and built much, both at Ely and on his various manors. The king himself was a recipient of his bounty, obtaining large pecuniary aid from him when planning a foreign expedition (ib. vi. 330). He may in some sense be regarded as one of the early helpers to the foundation of the university of Cambridge, having obtained exemption from taxation for two houses belonging to the hospital of St. John the Evangelist, near St. Peter's Church, in which his next successor but one, Hugh of Balsham, founded Peterhouse, the earliest college in the university (Mullinger, Univ. of Camb. i. 223). Matthew Paris calls him ‘the flower of the Benedictine order, shining brilliantly as an abbot among abbots, and as a bishop among bishops; profuse in his hospitality, and at table maintaining a calm cheerfulness which attracted all beholders’ (Hist. Angl. vi. 454).

[Matthew Paris's Hist. Majora, locc. cit.; Memorials of St. Edmund's Abbey (Rolls Ser.); Electio Hugonis, ii. 29 ff.; Harl. MS. 1005; Godwin, De Præsulibus Angliæ, ed. Richardson, i. 255; Bentham's History of Ely, pp. 146–8; Rymer's Fœdera, i. 344, 346; Le Neve's Fasti Eccl. Angl.]

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