Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Scrope, Richard le (1350?-1405)

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SCROPE, RICHARD le (1350?–1405), archbishop of York, probably born about 1350, was fourth son of Henry, first baron Scrope of Masham [q. v.], by his wife Joan, and was godson of Richard, first baron Scrope of Bolton [q. v.], who refers to him in his will as ‘my most dear father and son’ (Test. Ebor. i. 272; Scrope and Grosvenor Roll, ii. 121; Wylie, ii. 194; cf. Historians of York, iii. 288). He was thus uncle to Henry le Scrope, third baron Scrope of Masham [q. v.], executed in 1415. He is said to have graduated in arts at Oxford and in law at Cambridge (ib. ii. 306). The former statement lacks proof. By 1375 he was a licentiate in civil law, and by 1386 doctor in both laws (Godwin, i. 321; Evesham, p. 71). His uncle of Bolton presented him to the rectory of Ainderby Steeple, near Northallerton, in 1367, but he was not in deacon's orders until 1376 (Whitaker, i. 260). In November 1375 he became an official of Bishop Arundel at Ely, and in 1376 warden of the free chapel in Tickhill Castle, then in John of Gaunt's hands (Godwin; Hunter, i. 236). Ordained priest in March 1377, he is said to have held a canonry at York, and next year became chancellor of the university of Cambridge (Le Neve, iii. 599; Wylie, ii. 200). In 1382 he went to Rome, and was made auditor of the curia. Appointed dean of Chichester (1383?), a papal bull on the death of William Rede or Reade [q. v.] in August 1385 provided Scrope to that see, and apparently the canons elected him (Le Neve, i. 256; Higden, ix. 66). But the king insisted on putting in his confessor, Thomas Rushhook [q. v.], bishop of Llandaff. Scrope was still at Rome, and was nominated notary of the curia on 28 April 1386 (Wylie, ii. 201). Urban VI promoted him by bull at Genoa on 18 Aug. in that year to be bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, and consecrated him next day (Fœdera, vii. 541). The temporalities were restored to him on 15 Nov. In August 1387 he was installed in the presence of Richard II, then on progress, and swore to recover the lost estates of the see and refrain himself from alienations. ‘Sure,’ said Richard, ‘you have taken a big oath, my lord’ (Anglia Sacra, i. 450). He went on a mission to Scotland in 1392, and acted as a conservator of the truce with that country in 1394 (Fœdera, vii. 765; Issues, p. 247). In 1397 he journeyed to Rome to seek the pope's consent to Richard's pet project of canonising Edward II (ib. p. 264). The king spent the following winter with him at Lichfield on his way to the Shrewsbury parliament. On the death of Robert Waldby [q. v.], archbishop of York, Richard ignored the choice of the chapter, and at his request the pope translated Scrope thither by bull (2 June 1398).

Acquiescing in the revolution of 1399, Scrope was a member of the parliamentary commission which went to the Tower on 29 Sept. and received Richard's renunciation of the crown. In parliament next day, after an address on the text, ‘I have set my words in thy mouth,’ he read this surrender, and afterwards joined the archbishop of Canterbury in enthroning the new king. When Henry, on his Scottish expedition in the summer of 1400, found himself straitened for money, Scrope exerted himself to fill the void (Wylie, i. 135). His loyalty would appear, however, to have been shaken by the discontent of the Percys, with whom he was closely connected. Not only were they munificent benefactors of his cathedral church, but his younger brother, John, had married the widow of Northumberland's second son, and his sister Isabel was the wife of Sir Robert Plumpton of Plumpton, a wealthy tenant of Northumberland, near Spofforth. Hardyng, a retainer of the Percys, claimed (p. 351), after Scrope's death, that their rising in 1403 was entered upon ‘by the good advice and counsel of Master Richard Scrope.’ But he does not seem to have given them any overt support. They appealed, indeed, in their manifesto to his testimony that they had in vain sought peaceful redress of their grievances, but they joined his name with Archbishop Arundel's (ib. p. 353). When Henry came to York to receive Northumberland's submission, Scrope celebrated high mass in the minster (ib. ii. 211). It is hardly fair (Wylie, ii. 210) to connect his presence (with his suffragans) at the translation of the miracle-working bones of John of Bridlington [q. v.] on 11 May 1404 with the treasonable interpretation given two years before to the obscure prophecies attributed to this personage. Henry himself had in the interval granted privileges in honour of the ‘glorious and blessed confessor’ (ib. i. 272; Annales, p. 388).

Scrope joined the primate in stoutly resisting the spoliation of the church proposed by the ‘unlearned parliament’ of October 1404. Mr. Wylie thinks that he attended a council of the discontented lords in London as late as Easter (19 April) 1405; but this is putting some strain upon Hardyng's words (p. 362). It is certain, however, that in taking up arms at York in May, Scrope was acting in concert with Northumberland and Bardolf, who took advantage of Henry's departure for Wales to raise the standard of rebellion beyond the Tyne. One of the rebel lords, Thomas Mowbray, earl marshal [q. v.], was with him. The archbishop first made sure of local support by privately circulating a damaging indictment of Henry's government, which he declared himself ready to support to the death. It hit some very real blots on Henry's administration, and the known discontent which these had excited, and the high character of Scrope, gave reason to hope that the uprising would be general. Assured of armed support, he placarded York with the manifesto of the discontented in English. After a protest against holding parliament in places like Coventry under royal influence and interference with free election, three heads of reform were laid down. The estates of the realm, and particularly the clergy, were to be treated with less injustice, the nobles to be freed from the fear of destruction, and the heavy burden of taxation to be lightened by greater economy and the suppression of malversation. If these reforms were effected, they had the assurance of the Welsh rebels that Wales would quietly submit to English rule (Annales Henrici, p. 403; Walsingham, ii. 422). The procedure foreshadowed followed the precedent of those armed demonstrations against Richard II for the redress of grievances in which Henry himself had engaged. If Scrope indeed were really the author of another and much longer manifesto attributed to him (Historians of York, ii. 292), he was not going to be content with less than the deposition of a ‘perjured king’ and the restoration of the ‘right line.’ But Mr. Wylie (ii. 214) has thrown great doubt upon his authorship of this document. It would seem to follow, though Mr. Wylie does not draw the conclusion, that Scrope was not prepared to go the lengths which the Percys went when left to themselves, unless indeed we assume that his quasi-constitutional plan of campaign was a mere blind, like Henry's first declarations on landing in 1399.

Scrope expounded his manifesto in the minster, the neighbouring clergy in their churches. Gentle and simple, priests and villeins, flocked armed into York. The citizens rose in a body. The archbishop appeared among them in armour, urging and encouraging them to stand fast, with the promise of indulgence, and, if they fell, full remission of their sins. A ‘day of assignment’ had been arranged with Northumberland, but the rapid movements of the Earl of Westmorland and the king's second son, John, the wardens of the Scottish marches, disconcerted their plans. On 27 May Mowbray, Scrope, and his nephew, Sir William Plumpton, led out their ‘priestly rout,’ which soon grew to eight thousand men, under the banner of the five wounds, to join the forces gathering in Mowbray's country near Topcliffe. But at Shipton Moor, some six miles north-west of York, on the edge of the forest of Galtres, they encountered the royal army. Westmorland, not caring to attack with inferior numbers, is said to have waited for three days and then resorted to guile. He sent to demand the cause of all this warlike apparatus. Scrope replied that their object was peace, not war, and sent him a copy of their manifesto. The earl feigned approval of its tenor, and proposed a personal conference with the archbishop between the armies. Scrope accepted, and took the reluctant Mowbray with him. Westmorland assured him that nothing could be more reasonable than his proposals, and that he would do his best to get the king to adopt them. The little party then shook hands over this happy ending, and the earl proposed that they should drink together in order to advertise their followers of their concord. This done, he suggested that as all was now over, Scrope could send and dismiss his wearied men to their homes. Nothing loth, they at once began to disperse. Scrope did not realise that he had been duped until Westmorland laid hands on his shoulder and formally arrested him. This remarkable story is related by writers absolutely contemporary with the events; but Otterbourne (i. 256), who wrote under Henry V, represents the surrender as voluntary. Another version, based on the report of an eyewitness, ascribed the treachery to Lord Fitzhugh and the king's son John of Lancaster, duke of Bedford [q. v.] (Historians of York, iii. 288). Scrope and his companions were sent to Pontefract to await the decision of the king, who was hurrying up from Wales. On his arrival Scrope requested an interview, which Henry refused, sending Sir Thomas Beaufort to take away his crozier, which he only relinquished after a stiff tussle, declaring that none could deprive him of it but the pope, who had given it (Annales Henrici, p. 407; cf. Walsingham, ii. 423). Determined that York should witness the punishment of those who had incited her to treason, Henry carried his prisoners (6 June) to Scrope's manor of Bishopthorpe, some three miles south of the city. Before leaving Pontefract he had appointed a commission, including Beaufort and Chief-justice Gascoigne, to try the rebels, to which the Earl of Arundel and five other peers were now added (Wylie, ii. 230). Arundel and Beaufort received power to act as deputies of the absent constable and marshal. The trial was fixed for Monday, 8 June. The archbishop of Canterbury, who arrived in hot haste early that morning, to deprecate any summary treatment of a great prelate of the church, was persuaded by the king to take some rest on the understanding that nothing should be done without his co-operation. But Henry was deeply incensed against Scrope, and Lord Arundel and Beaufort took care his anger did not cool. He called upon Gascoigne to pass sentence upon Scrope and his fellow-traitors. The chief justice, who knew the law, refused to sit in judgment on a prelate (Gascoigne, p. 226). Another member of the commission, Sir William Fulthorpe, a man learned in the law, though not a judge, was then instructed to act as president. While the king and Archbishop Arundel were breakfasting the three prisoners were brought before Fulthorpe, Arundel, Beaufort, and Sir Ralph Euer, and Fulthorpe at once declared them guilty of treason, and by the royal order sentenced them to death (ib., but cf. Annales Henrici, p. 409).

Scrope repudiated any intention of injuring the king or the realm, and besought the bystanders to pray that God's vengeance for his death should not fall upon King Henry and his house. No time was lost in carrying out this hasty and irregular sentence. Attired in a scarlet cloak and hood, and mounted on a bare-backed collier's horse ‘scarcely worth forty pence,’ Scrope was conducted towards York with his two companions in misfortune. He indulged in no threats or excommunications, but as he went he sang the psalm ‘Exaudi.’ He cheered the sinking courage of young Mowbray, and rallied the king's physician, an old acquaintance, on his having no further need for his medicine (Chron. ed. Giles, p. 46). Just under the walls of York the procession turned into a field belonging to the nunnery of Clementhorpe. It was the feast of St. William, the patron saint of York, and the people thronged from the city to the place of execution and trod down the young corn, in spite of the protests of the husbandmen and Scrope's vain request that the scene might be removed to the high road. While his companions met their death he prayed and remarked to the bystanders that he died for the laws and good government of England. When his turn came he begged the headsman to deal five blows at his neck in memory of the five sacred wounds, kissed him thrice, and, commending his spirit to God, bent his neck for the fatal stroke (Gascoigne, p. 227). As his head fell at the fifth stroke a faint smile, some thought, still played over his features (Annales, p. 410).

With the king's permission, his remains were carried by four of the vicars choral to the lady-chapel of the minster, where they were interred behind the last column on the north-east in the spot which became the burial-place of his family (Wylie, ii. 284). A more injudicious piece of complaisance it would be hard to imagine. It gave a local centre to the natural tendency of the discontented Yorkshiremen to elevate their fallen leader, the first archbishop to die a traitor's death, into a sainted martyr. Miracles began to be worked at his tomb, the concourse at which grew so dangerous that after three months the government had it covered with logs of wood and heavy stones to keep the people off. This only gave rise to a new legend that an aged man, whom Scrope in a vision commanded to remove these obstacles, lifted weights which three strong men could barely raise (Gascoigne, p. 226). Subsequently the prohibition on bringing offerings to his tomb was removed, and they were devoted to the reconstruction of the great tower. The tomb still exists. Henry having averted the threatened papal excommunication, Scrope never received ecclesiastical recognition as a saint or martyr, despite the appeals of the convocation of York in 1462. But he was popularly known in the north as Saint Richard Scrope, under which appellation missals contained prayers to him as the ‘Glory of York’ and the ‘Martyr of Christ.’

Scrope's high character, his gravity, simplicity, and purity of life, and pleasant manners are borne witness to by the writers most friendly to the king (Annales Henrici, p. 403; Walsingham, ii. 269). Walsingham speaks vaguely of his ‘incomparable knowledge of literature.’ His manifesto, preserved only in a Latin translation, was meant for the popular ear, and the translator's criticism of the ‘barbarousness and inelegance’ of his original is probably a reflection on the English language rather than on Scrope's style. A late York writer attributes to him several sequences and prayers in use in the minster (Historians of York, ii. 429). It was during Scrope's archiepiscopate that the rebuilding of the choir, in abeyance since the death of Archbishop Thoresby, was resumed and carried to completion. The Scropes, with other great Yorkshire families, were munificent supporters of the work. An alleged portrait of Scrope in a missal written before 1445 is mentioned in ‘Notes and Queries,’ 2nd ser. i. 489. A drawing in watercolours by Powell, from a stained-glass window formerly in York minster, is in the National Portrait Gallery.

[There is a meagre notice of Scrope's earlier career in the Lives of the Bishops of Lichfield by Whitlocke (c. 1560) in Anglia Sacra, i. 450; a brief and inaccurate life is contained in the early sixteenth-century continuation of Stubbs's Lives of the Archbishops of York by an unknown author (Dr. Raine suggests William de Melton [q. v.]). This is printed in the Historians of the Church of York, vol. ii. (Rolls Ser.). The fullest and best modern biography will be found in the second volume of Mr. Wylie's History of Henry IV, though his judgment of Scrope is perhaps too severe. It should be compared with Bishop Stubbs's estimate in his Constitutional History, vol. iii. There is a short life by Sir Harris Nicolas in the second volume (p. 121) of his edition of the Scrope and Grosvenor Roll, 1832. The chief original authorities are the Annales Henrici IV, Continuatio Eulogii Historiarum, and Walsingham's Historia Anglicana in the Rolls Ser.; Otterbourne's History and the Monk of Evesham's Chronicle, ed. Hearne; Thomas Gascoigne's Account of the Trial and Execution printed at the end of his Loci e Libro Veritatum, ed. Thorold Rogers, and confirmed in many points by the Chronicle edited by Dr. Giles, 1848; Gascoigne also preserved, and his editor has printed, the exposition by Northumberland, &c., of the causes for which Scrope died. Another account, based on the report of an eyewitness, of Scrope's rebellion and execution is printed from a manuscript in Lincoln College, Oxford, in Historians of York, iii. 288–91. A lament for Scrope occurs in Hymns to the Virgin (Early English Text Soc. 1867), another was printed in the Athenæum, 4 Aug. 1888; Higden's Polychronicon (Rolls Ser.); see also Rymer's Fœdera, original ed.; Devon's Issues of the Exchequer; Godwin, De Præsulibus Angliæ, ed. Richardson, 1743; Le Neve's Fasti Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ, ed. Hardy; Testamenta Eboracensia (Surtees Soc.); Hunter's South Yorkshire; Whitaker's Richmondshire; Yorkshire Archæol. Journal, viii. 311.]

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