Courageous bishop

Daily Reading for November 17 • Hugh, 1200, and Robert Grosseteste, 1253, Bishops of Lincoln

In November 1197 there came a demand from the king for three hundred knights, or money sufficient to hire as many mercenaries, to serve against Philip of France. The archbishop convened a council of bishops and barons at Oxford, where the Bishop of London, speaking as dean of the province, declared his willingness to comply with the demand. Not so the holy Bishop of Lincoln. “I know,” he said, “that the Church of Lincoln is bound to provide military service for our lord the king, but only in this country. Outside England no such service is due. I would rather return to my native solitudes in the Alps than suffer my church to be subjected to this novel burden.” Herbert, Bishop of Salisbury, refused on the same grounds, and it must be presumed that other bishops, emboldened by their example, took the same course, for the archbishop dissolved the meeting in great wrath and reported its failure to the king. Richard was furiously angry, and ordered the property of the two leading offenders to be confiscated. The order was executed on the Bishop of Salisbury, who afterwards redeemed his possessions by a heavy fine; but none of the royal officials dared to lay hands on the property of the revered Bishop of Lincoln.

In August 1198 Hugh crossed to Normandy and met the king at Roche d’Andeli. Richard first stared angrily at him, then averted his face and refused the kiss of peace, but the undaunted Hugh seized the king’s dress and shook it violently, saying, “The kiss is due to me, for I have come a long journey to see thee: yea, I have earned it.” Like his father, the king was softened by the bishop’s boldness and good-humoured persistency. He turned to him with a smile, and gave him the kiss. Presently he attended mass in the chapel of the castle, and when he received the pax from an archbishop whose duty it was to present it to him, he stepped forward and offered it to Hugh for him to kiss. The opposition of Hugh to the demands of the king may be compared to the resistance of Archbishop Thomas in 1163 to the new regulation made by Henry II respecting the sheriffs’ aid. The refusal of Hugh, however, appears to have been limited to the demand for men to serve outside the kingdom. He could not refuse to pay scutage, but claimed exemption for his church from all obligation to send knights beyond sea.

It is characteristic of Bishop Hugh’s courage and faithfulness to duty, that after his reconciliation with the king on this question, he was not deterred from reproving him for his unfaithfulness to his marriage vows. Richard received his admonitions on this and other matters, especially the sale of sacred offices, in good part, and said that if all bishops were like Hugh no sovereign in Christendom would presume to oppose them.

From The History of the English Church from the Norman Conquest to the Accession of Edward I (1066-1272) by W. R. W. Stephens (London: Macmillan, 1901).

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