Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Rotherham, Thomas
ROTHERHAM, THOMAS (1423–1500), archbishop of York, otherwise known as Thomas Scot, was born on 24 Aug. 1423 at Rotherham in Yorkshire, and was son of Sir John Rotherham, by his wife Alice. The origin of the alternative surnames is obscure. The archbishop is given the name of Scot coupled with that of Rotherham in Hatcher's ‘Register of King's College’ (1555–1562), in Bishop Wrenn's manuscript at Pembroke, and almost all early notices of him. The Scotts of Ecclesfield were related to him, and received from him the Barnes Hall estate. The name of Rotherham, which he used without any alternative in all official documents, was, however, borne by his parents, and his brother, John Rotherham, of Someries, Bedfordshire. The genealogical history of ‘Scott of Scot's Hall’ very doubtfully claims the archbishop as the son of Sir John Scotte of Brabourne in Kent, a knight who held distinguished offices under Edward IV, and traced his descent from William, youngest brother of John Baliol [see Scott, Sir William, d. 1350]. These contentions cannot be sustained (Notes and Queries, 5th ser. vols. vii.–ix. passim).
Rotherham spent his earlier years, as he tells us in his will, at Rotherham. He received his first education, along with some others ‘who reached higher stations,’ from a teacher of grammar who settled in the town. Anthony à Wood, on the evidence of a letter addressed to a bishop of Lincoln, probably John Chedworth (Oxford Univ. Archives, F 4, 254), claims him as an Oxford man (Athenæ Oxonienses, ed. Bliss, ii. 683). It is possible that he was during 1443 at Eton. In 1444, at the age of twenty-one, he was elected on the foundation at King's College, Cambridge. King's College placed in his hands and that of Walter Field the appointment to the benefice of Kingston in 1457, when he was still probably one of its fellows. In 1463 he was admitted to the degree of D.D. at Oxford, having previously taken it at Cambridge. From 1461 until 1465 he was rector of Ripple in Worcestershire (Nash, Worcestershire, ii. 299). In 1462 he was collated by Bishop Chedworth, his contemporary at King's, to the prebend of Welton Brinkhall in Lincoln Cathedral. He also held apparently in plurality the provostship of Wingham in Kent, resigning it, according to Leland, in 1463. In 1465 he was made prebendary of Netherhaven in the cathedral of Salisbury, and later in that year rector of St. Vedast's, Foster Lane, London. In 1467 he was archdeacon of Canterbury (William of Wyrcester, Annales, ii. 508), being apparently appointed on the death of Thomas Chichley.
Some time before 1461 the staunch Lancastrian Earl of Oxford [see Vere, John de, thirteenth Earl] had made Rotherham his chaplain; and in the earl's suite he may first have seen at court his future patroness, Elizabeth Wydeville, then wife of Sir John Grey, and lady of the bedchamber to Queen Margaret. Doubtless to her, now queen of England, Rotherham owed his appointment in 1467 as keeper of the privy seal to Edward IV, at an annual pension of 360 marks (Pat. Rolls, 7 Edw. IV). He rapidly gained the king's confidence. In 1468 he was made bishop of Rochester, and apparently (Poulson, Beverlac, p. 653) provost of the college of Beverley, holding the latter post until 1472. In 1468 he was appointed sole ambassador to treat with Louis, king of France (Rymer, Fœdera, xi. 625). In 1471 he was ambassador, along with Hastings and others, to Charles of Burgundy (ib. xi. 737), and immediately afterwards was translated to the bishopric of Lincoln. As the deputy of the bishop of Bath and Well, who was invalided, he gave the address at the opening of parliament in 1472, and appears as one of the signatories to the creation of Edward as Prince of Wales.
Early in 1474 he was made chancellor of England, and he prorogued parliament in that capacity on 28 May of that year. The Croyland continuator contrasts Rotherham's skill in managing the parliament with that of his two predecessors, and the large supplies voted for war with France were said to be due to his diplomacy. After the dissolution of this parliament in 1475 Edward desired that Rotherham should accompany him on his French expedition, and an arrangement was made by which the chancellorship was temporarily entrusted to Alcock, bishop of Rochester, who used the privy seal as chancellor between 27 April and 28 Sept. 1475 (Foss). Rotherham was present at Edward IV's celebrated interview with Louis XI at Pecquigny (Philip de Comines styles him by mistake bishop of Ely), and received from Louis an annual pension of two thousand crowns for his good offices in the negotiation of the peace. The rolls of parliament contain quaint outlines of Rotherham's addresses when opening the parliament of 1477 (in which Clarence was attainted) and Edward's last parliament (1482). Lord Campbell (Lives of the Lord Chancellors), commenting on the advance of equity at this period, considers Rotherham ‘the greatest equity lawyer of his age.’ Meanwhile he had been translated (1480) to the archbishopric of York, and his register at York styles him at that time legate of the apostolic see.
Rotherham's fidelity to Elizabeth led to the forfeiture of the chancellorship. At the death of Edward IV (9 April 1483) the vantage of power seemed in the queen and her kindred. Before the month closed the boy king was in Gloucester's hands, the queen's brother, Lord Rivers, and her son, Lord Grey, were imprisoned, and the queen herself was seeking sanctuary. Lord Hastings assured Rotherham that there was no danger to the young king, and that all would be well. ‘Be it as well as it will,’ was Rotherham's reply, ‘it will never be as well as we have seen it.’ He hastened with his retinue of servants in the middle of the night to the queen, and found her sitting on the rushes among the trunks and household stuff for her use in sanctuary. Rotherham assured her of his loyalty, declared that if anything should happen to the young king he would crown the next brother, the Duke of York, who was still with the queen, and, as the greatest proof of faithfulness he could give, put the great seal into her hands. This surrender was of course indefensible, and after a few hours' reflection he sent for the seal again. But for his action that night he was deprived of office before the end of May, and on 13 June, concurrently with the hurried and brutal execution of Hastings, he was thrown into prison. In some editions of the ‘History of Richard III’ assigned to Sir Thomas More, and in Holinshed's and Stowe's ‘Chronicles,’ Rotherham appears as a consenting party to the next move of the Duke of Gloucester, by which he gained the delivery of the little Duke of York out of his mother's hands in sanctuary through Bourchier the archbishop of Canterbury; but the actual date of that transaction (16 June) given by the Croyland continuator proves that Rotherham was then in prison. After the coronation of Richard at the beginning of July he was released. But he took no share in the splendid reception of the king and queen shortly afterwards at York. According to the York register, although Richard lodged at the archbishop's palace, Rotherham himself was not present, the bishop of Durham being the officiating prelate (, Hist. of the Metropolitan Church of York, pp. 260–1). He did not wholly withdraw from public affairs. He appears as one of the commissioners at Nottingham for managing a marriage ‘between the Prince of Scottes and one of the Kinge's blood’ (1484), and was among the triers of petitions in the parliaments of Richard and Henry VII until 1496. He attended, although ‘not in pontificals,’ the creation of Henry (afterwards Henry VIII) as Duke of York, and at the three days' jousts which followed (1494) (Gairdner, Letters … illustrative of the Reigns of Richard and Henry VII, pp. 64, 393, 403).
Rotherham ranks among the great benefactors of the two English universities. Oxford lay within his diocese of Lincoln, and he was visitor of Lincoln College. At the time of his first visitation (1474) the college was in great distress. Through the carelessness of a scribe the charter it had received from Edward IV about twelve years before had been so drawn that the crown claimed to resume its grants to it. In the course of a sermon before the bishop, the rector, or one of the fellows, described the desolate condition of the college, and appealed to him for help. Rotherham's response was immediate and thorough. For the present needs of the college he made it an annual grant of 5l. for his life. He afterwards built the southern side of the quadrangle. He impropriated the benefices of Long Combe and Twyford to the endowment; obtained from Edward IV a larger charter, which confirmed the college perpetually in its old rights of property, and in 1480 gave the college a new body of statutes. For these great services he was styled the second founder of Lincoln; his portrait, now removed, was placed in the Bodleian among the benefactors of Oxford and another portrait, in cope and mitre, with a crosier in his hand—the gift, according to tradition, of Bishop Saunderson—hangs in the college hall at Lincoln (Clark, The Colleges of Oxford, pp. 171–6). Cambridge, Rotherham's own university, chose him several times her chancellor (1469, 1473, 1475, 1478, 1483), and petitioned Gloucester to release him from captivity in 1483. The completion of the schools, which had been proceeding slowly for several years, was due to his munificence. The eastern front, with its noble gateway, and the library on its first floor, enriched by him with two hundred volumes, were his special work. His arms also are still visible on the tower of St. Mary's, which he helped to repair (Guest, Rotherham, p. 94; Robert Willis, Architectural Hist. of Cambridge, ed. Clark, iii. 13–15). He was elected also master of Pembroke Hall (1480), and held the office for six years, and perhaps longer (Wrenn MS.)
During his tenure of the see of York, Rotherham's affection turned strongly to his Yorkshire birthplace. Tradition ascribes to him the stately spire and the splendid development of the spacious cruciform church at Rotherham. The ‘very fair college’ of Jesus, ‘sumptuously builded of brike’ (Leland), which he founded at Rotherham in 1482, and endowed by impropriation of the benefices of Laxton and Almondbury and by his own bounty, is a good illustration of his love of learning as well as piety. The provost and the three fellows were not only to say masses for him, and attend in the choir of the church at festivals, but to preach the word of God in Rotherham and Ecclesfield, and in Laxton and Almondbury; to teach grammar as a memorial of the grammar teacher of his boyhood; to train six choristers in music, that the parishioners and people from the hills might love the church worship; and teach writing and reckoning to lads following mechanical and worldly callings. The college fell with the Chantries Act of Edward VI, but part of the endowment was saved for the grammar school at Rotherham.
Rotherham died (according to most authorities, of the plague) at Cawood in 1500, and was buried in York Minster. The present monument there is a restoration (at the cost of Lincoln College, Oxford) of the original one erected by Rotherham himself, which had been much damaged by fire. His elaborate will, filled with bequests not only to his family and domestics, but to his college at Rotherham, and the benefices and bishoprics he had filled (a mitre worth five hundred marks being his legacy to York), is said by Canon Raine to be ‘probably the most noble and striking will of a mediæval English bishop in existence’ (Testamenta Eboracensia, iv. 138 ss.). Most of its provisions are given in Scott's ‘Scott of Scot's Hall.’ The most touching trait in it is his deep sense of his own unworthiness.[Wrenn MSS. Pembroke Coll. Cambridge; Hatcher and Allen MSS. King's Coll. Cambridge; Godwin, De Præsulibus; Guest's Hist. of Rotherham; Scott's Scott of Scot's Hall, 1876, passim.]