BISHOP BEKYNTON.* HAD this book appeared some thirty years ago, when the Camden Society gave to the world Jocelin of Brakelond's Chronicle, our literature might possibly have been enriched by another version of Past and Present. The hand that drew the vigorous and pie-
* Olietitt Correspondence of Thomas Betynton, Secretary to King Henry W., and Bishop qf (Bath and Wells. (Rolls Series.) Edited by George Williams, %D. 22/01a. London : Longman& 1872.
far better that the necessary illustrations and explanations shouldturesque portrait of Prior Sampson might have given new life to- beiound in an authorised form in the body of the code itself.— I the dry bones of Thomas Bekynton, Bishop of Bath and Wells..
In 1828 Sir Harris Nicolas published a meagre sketch of the pre- late, by way of introduction to his edition of the Journal of an. Embassy to the Count of Armagnac (1442-3), written by one of Bekynton's suite. Mr. Cecil Monro throws' a little more light on the Bishop's character in the interesting volume printed for the Camden Society in 1863, under the title of Letters of Queen Mar- garet of Anjou, Bishop Beckington, and others. Be it observed, by the way, that the history of the discovery of those letters at Emrall Hall, in Flintshire, would make an amusing chapter in any future Curiosities of Literature that may be published. Mr. Williams, in his introduction to the volumes before us, adds some. important particulars to previous biographies, and among other- things, corrects the date, 1385, which Sir H. Nicolas conjectured- to be the year of the bishop's birth, and shows with much pro- bability that it must have been as late as 1390. Born at Beckin' g-- ton, near Frome, in Somersetshire, young Thomas was placed on the foundation at Winchester School, in 1404, by William of Wykeham himself, whose regard he attracted, according to Sir H. Nicolas, by " his elegant person and superior understanding." In- 1408, he was admitted Fellow of New College, Oxford, and retained his fellowship for twelve years. He quitted the Uni- versity for the service of Humphrey, Dake of Gloucester, whose favour and countenance brought him many benefits and more than- one benefice. His sacerdotal duties, however, seem to have been abandoned for secular occupations, for in 1423, not long after the death of Henry V., we find him, as Dean of Arches, assisting at the trial of the heretic William Tailour, who, after due sentence,. was taken to Smithfield. Sir H. Nicolas says it is probable that Bekynton was indebted to Humphrey (the Protector) for the appoint- meat of Tutor to Henry VI. The King was twelve years old when Thomas was sent on his first diplomatic mission with Landon, Bishop of Rochester, and Sir John Falstolfe, to negotiate- a treaty of peace between the King of England and the Dauphin Charles- de Valois. This negotiation was broken off by the force of events, and before Bekynton was again sent abroad he'had been appointed secretary to the young King. In 1439 he accompanied Cardinal. Beaufort on his important embassy to Calais, where he stayed several months, and wrote a journal, which has been printed in the Appendix to the Acts of the Privy Council, edited by Sir H. Nicolas. Though horribly bored with the monotony of his so- journ there, he admits that the Lord Cardinal entertained him and others with "great humanity' and a cheerful countenance, and feasted in the most solemn and costly wise." On returning to- England, the new secretary was engaged in pretty close attendance- upon the King, whom he accompanied on his journeys, reading to him nearly every day, and writing for him whenever it was necessary to do so. The royal letters are often meek enough, but Bekynton, when writing in his own name, could be sharp. Abbot Wheathampstead, of St. Alban's, applies for the secretary's assist- ance to secure a licence in mortmain for a friend, John Fray, chief baron, who seeks to benefit the Abbey of St. Alban's. Bekynton not only replies with a warning that the abbot should not be self- willed nor excite a friend's anger by rejecting his friendship, but he scoffs at his bad Latin, and advises him to mend his grammar. " Rogo, pater, construe Latinum hoc, quod Merits mihi missia inscripseras, Ipsum juvare vellitis in sancto devotoque proposito suo. 'Vellitis:' pater, gum pars? si verbum hoc, declinando verbum volo, nullibi reperias, quid prohibet concludere, quod incongrui sis- locutus ? Helas ! pater, helas ! ubi ferule ? ubi virga, quibus tam incongrui correctoris temeritas feriatnr ?" Where's the ruler?' Where's the rod ? This early Wykehamite must have been a " tunding " prsefect when at Winchester, and a strict up- holder of discipline, before he could write in this tone to so venerable a personage as the Abbot of St. Alban's. As aspirant to a bishopric he could be courteous and even devout in his language when writing to people of position, personages whose- frown or smile might have an influence on his career. Mr. Monro says rather slily that some of the Bekynton letters he publishes are " curious, as showing how many pious and devout expressions the writer could muster, espe- cially when addressing a Cardinal." He is extremely civil also to the King's agents at Rome, Andrew Holes and Richard Caunton, who have to manage his little presents sent to the Pope- and certain of the Cardinals. Vincent Clement, too, who was- sent on a special mission to Rome in order to secure privileges and endowments for the King's pet foundation, Eton College,-is also- conciliated and flattered by the assiduous secretary. It is almost touching to note the marks of deep interest shown by the young King in the success of his new educational establishment. Let
him, whose meed of praise and glory as king has been but scant, be honoured for this. In that strangely eventful and distracted period, a more vigorous hand than Henry's was needed at the helm of the State. Yet the virtues be possessed have not been fairly appreciated. It would be a graceful and an easy task for some accomplished Etonian of our day to undertake the vindication of the amiable and pious founder of the College by Wyndesore, on the banks of the Thames. A vivid impression of the disorders of the time may be gathered by a simple statement of the names of some of Bekyn- ton's correspondents, as shown in the several volumes we have under consideration. The miseries endured by his royal master are matters of history. His first patron, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, was murdered. The Duke of Suffolk, letters to whom are found in Mr. Monro's volume, was banished and murdered at sea. James Fiennes, Lord Say and Sele, who after the death of Duke Humphrey rose rapidly to the top of the political ladder and became Lord Treasurer, was murdered by Jack Cade in Cheapside.
Bekynton went on his fruitless errand to the Count d'Armagnac in 1442, and returned home early in 1443. Policy seems to have dictated the Count's refusal of his daughter to the King of England. The Dauphin seemed in a fair way of driving the English out of France, and it would be patriotic as well as safe in the Count to keep his daughter at home. In April, 1443, Bekynton received the reward of his services by being appointed Bishop of Bath and Wells, and he was consecrated on the 1st October following in Eton College Chapel. He had laboured hard to secure it, not only by personal service to the King, his master, but by gifts and flatteries distributed at Rome through Vincent Clement and others. In Mr. Williams's first volume there are four letters, written to Bekynton in the summer of 1442, which illustrate this point. Pope Eugenius IV. writes to assure him that, having heard of his affairs through Clement and received Ilia present, his Holiness is disposed, when oppor- tunity offers, to reward him according to his merits. This was at the end of May. In the middle of June the Pope's Treasurer, Cardinal Condolmieri, writes thanks for the present he has ,received, and praises Clement, who will inform Bekynton how friendly the Pope and Cardinals are towards him. A few days later the Pope's Chamberlain and the Pope's Secretary return thanks for the gift of cloth with compliments. The former avers that he has heard the Pope praising Bekynton for the singular devotion which has endeared him to the whole Papal Court. The latter goes farther, having rejoiced in his friendship almost before be knew him, having heard his learning and integrity lauded by all who did know him. Truly, English cloth must have been a very precious commodity in those days, to have extracted so many sweet words from such high personages, and to have netted a bishopric into the bargain. Here are also Bekynton's letters to the Pope and his great officers, after the King has nominated him for Bath and Wells, and the Pope's appointment is required. This aspect of clerical promotion in the fifteenth century has a marvellously modern tinge. Bekynton seems to have spent the twenty remaining years of his life in comparative retirement, mindful of the business of his diocese, but keeping out of the bloody fray carried on by York and Lancaster. He lived to know that his discrowned King was a fugitive, and he had to pay probably for safety under Edward IV. He was not free from diocesan troubles, as may be read in a letter from the Abbot of Glastonbury, who bids him follow the examples given in the parables of the Good Shepherd and the Lost Sheep, the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. William Millington accuses the Bishop plumply of telling lies.
Bekynton attained the allotted span of threescore years and ten, dying in January. 1464-65, after an episcopal life distinguished, like that of Wykeham and that of Waynftete, by a love of learning and of ecclesiastical architecture. His benefactions were numerous and munificent. He was buried in Wells Cathedral, under a curious sepulchral structure, part wood, part stone. The upper slab bore a recumbent figure of the deceased in alabaster, repre- senting him splendidly habited, in the way he had appointed to be buried. This figure was richly painted, and the borderiugs set with precious atones. By way of contrast and as a lesson to poor humanity, there was on a lower pedestal another effigy in freestone, represented as an emaciated corpse extended in a winding.sheet. Such was the sermon in stone the artistic Bishop left to posterity.
Though we have passed over other important and interesting public documents in the volumes edited by Mr. Williams, we commend them heartily to the notice of our historical readers.