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Ancient manuscripts - Introduction to the catalogue 2

Sir Roger Mynors: Catalogue of the Manuscripts of Balliol College Oxford, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963.

c. Oxford University Press 1963. Reproduced with permission.


2. William Gray and his Books cont.

For there were occasional visits to England on business. On 13 September in a year unspecified (possibly 1448?), while on his way home from the Curia, he was received in state by the Gonfaloniere and Priori of the Florentine Republic; the letter-book of Donato Acciaiuoli, already mentioned, contains drafts of the speeches delivered on the occasion. [1] Both were composed by Donato, and so we learn nothing of Gray's prose style. The Papal registers under date 7 July 1449 record a rehabilitation to Robert Morpath, monk of St Albans, who had previously received a dispensation from Master William Gray, archdeacon of Northampton, 'then a papal nuncio in those parts.' [2] Then there seems to have been a break in his tenure as King's proctor at the Curia, between 13 March 1449, when William babington, abbot of Bury, was appointed, and his own reappointment on 8 October 1450. Other journeys home are indicated by the issue of letters of protection of his return to Rome on 15 October 1451 and 12 March 1452 [3] , and it was no doubt on the last of these that he took back with him Archbishop Kempe's formal request for the pallium. He was back in Rome by the beginning of May 1452, only to be sent off again with the pallium at the end of July. [4] From this last mission he returned again to Rome, where we find him active in the affairs of the English hospice on 18 June of the following year. But on 13 October 1453, as Simon Houchyns duly reported to the Chapter of Salisbury, he left Rome once more, perhaps for the last time.

These services naturally did not pass unnoticed. On 16 December 1447 Gray received the prebend of Barnby in York, and on 13 January 1448 he was inducted into the canonry and prebend of Thorp in Ripon, Robert Thwaites the Master of Balliol acting as his proxy. Later in that year he received papa; dispensation to hold an increased number of benefices with his archdeaconry, and was commended to the King by Nicholas V. On 3 March 1450, Archbishop Kempe appointed him to the important archdeaconry of Richmond, vacant by the promotion of his nephew Thomas Kempe to the see of London; and the first act recorded in gray's register is the institution to the valuable vicarage of Kendal of his kinsman George Nveille, the future archbishop of York, who had not long before gone into residence like himself at Balliol. [5] (Whether his registrar as archdeacon, John Saxton, was related to the Saxtons who were fellows of Balliol, and one of them the companion of his travels, does not appear.) Nor was this all. In the course of 1450 the Yorkist star seemed to be in the ascendant: in August the duke of York came back from Ireland, and spent the next few months increasing his hold on the government. It may have been in anticipation of what seemed an imminent Yorkist victory that the Pope agreed to the issue on 23 December of a provision of Gray to the see of Lincoln. But the King was strong enough by the beginning of 1451 to refuse to remove York's confusion, during some of which, as we have seen, Gray may have been temporarily in England, York's attempt to seize power miscarried. On 5 May 1452 Gray had to resign the provision, and the bishopric of Lincoln, vacant since 18 December 1450, was conferred on John Chedworth, the royal nominee and provost of the King's new college in Cambridge. But, though then set aside, a man of his connexions and experience had not long to wait. By the beginning of 1454 King Henry had become deranged; on 27 March York became Protector; and on 21 June Gray got his bishopric - the see of Ely, vacant by the promotion of Thomas Bourchier to Canterbury - 'on account' says Bentham, the Ely historian 'of his recondite and excellent learning, and above all, his humanity benevolence and candour.' He was succeeded in his archdeaconry of Northampton and his prebends of Thame and Thorp by George Neville, who was to give place in his turn, two years later, to a third humanist, the younger John Chedworth. On 18 March 1455 another English pupil of Guarino, Robert Flemmyng, dean of Lincoln, succeeded him as King's proctor at the Curia, and so far as we know, Gray never set foot in Italy again. [6]

So the new bishop of Ely did his fealty ('hathe do hys fewthe' is William Paston's phrase, reporting the news to his brother John) on 6 September 1454, and received the temporalities of the see from Henry VI; was consecrated at Mortlake the next day; and settled in town for the winter at the hospital of St James, Walbrook. [7] One of his first acts as bishop was the ordination, at Westminster on 21 December, of George Neville. By March 1455 we find him at his palace of Downham, on the low ridge of land that runs north from Ely and looks northward over the vast expense of fen, so unlike anything he had seen before, although he was not formally installed in his cathedral church until St Cuthbert's day, 20 March 1459, in frost and heavy snow which left a deep impression on men's memories in Ely [8]; and so he seems to have settled down to the duties of his new office. Of these there is not much to be said. In the pages of his register we can follow his movements: frequent visits to his London home, the episcopal palace in Holborn; an occasional short sojourn in Cambridge or the neighbouring priory of Barnwell; and the rest of his time at Downham, or on one of his other manors - Doddington in Cambridgeshire, Shipdham in Norfolk, and perhaps especially Somersham in Huntingdon. Not much incident finds its way into a bishop's register to break the diocesan routine. In 1457 there is an inquiry into the spread of Lollardy; on 9 January 1466 proceedings against Robert Barker, a heretic and necromancer of Babraham, who 'had great hope of certain spirits appearing to him, who would answer his questions, direct him to gold and silver in abundance, and impart to him all secrets'; on 26 September 1465 a solemn visitation of the Premonstratensian abbey of Welbeck, some 90 miles to the north in Nottinghamshire, where he is received in procession as titular founder of the convent. [9]

What the register does enable us to follow is the distribution of appointments and patronage, and from this we get a glimpse of Gray's circle of officers and household. His first two officials, Dr Roger Ratclif, afterwards archdeacon of Salisbury and dean of St Paul's, and Dr Richard Laverock who succeeded him in 1458, had been almost contemporaries as scholars of King's Hall; they were Cambridge men, and possessed the necessary local knowledge. Everyone else on his staff of whom we know anything he bropught in with him from Balliol of from Rome. On the domestic side Elias Cliderow, whom we have met as Gray's London agent while he was at the Curia, is appointed forthwith receiver-general and warden for life of the park at Downham; later he is bailiff of the liberty of East Dereham, and so forth. At his death on 11 September 1468 [10], some of his offices pass to his son Clement, and others to John Kilvington, presumably the man of that name who had been warden of the English hospice in Rome in 1452. Richard Thwaites, who witnesses an act of the bishop's at Downham in 1455, and on 14 December 1456 as marescallus hospicii nostri is made warden for life of the park at Hatfield, had been treasurer of the hospice; he was a brother of Robert Thwaites Master of Balliol, and together with the bishop and another brother Henry an executor of his will. [11] John Thwaites, who on 5 March 1460 is collated as B.D. to the rectory of Little Gransden (Cambs.), and in the month following receives licence to attend a university, was probably another member of the family. [12] Robert Thwaites himself, the head of Gray's old college, benefited by one of his first acts of patronage, being appointed on 4 January 1455 to the rectory of Terrington St Clement in the diocese of Norwich, to which that of Cottenham near Cambridge was added on 14 December 1456. He died, as we have seen, in the early autumn of 1458, leaving some interesting books in the College library, and he is replaced at Terrington on 26th January 1459 by Alexander Woderyngton or Widdrington the bishop's own nephew, being the son of his sister Elizabeth, who had died in 1454, by her second husband Roger Widdrington, member of an old Northumbrian family. Five years later the nephew is given the rectory of great Shelford near Cambridge, his first cousin Thomas Gray being inducted as his proxy on 23 March 1464, and on 7 December 1465 that of Dereham in Norfolk but he did not long live to enjoy them, for by August 1466 we find that he has died. One would expect to find other relaives among the recipients of the bishop's patronage, but the only one easily recognized is a kinsman John Gray, who on 16 August 1477 as subdeacon and rector of Tydd St Giles is given licence to study in Cambridge for seven years. [13] The bishop in fact was left with very little family, and only one man was much comfort to him, his nephew Thomas, the second son of his eldest brother Ralph; this Thomas seems to have been his right-hand man in secular matters all through his episcopate, and did him the final office of serving as his executor.


[1] Printed by Miss de la Mare, p.175

[2] Cal. Pap. Reg x 49.

[3] Calendar of French Rolls for the reign of Henry VI, in the 48th Report of the Deputy-keeper of the Public Records (1887) 387, 391. (I owe this reference to Professor Weiss.)

[4] Cal. Pap. Reg.x. 44.

[5] On Neville see Emden ii. 1347-9.

[6] Cal. Pap. Reg. xi (1921) 5, under date 28 Apr. 1455, records a safe-conduct granted to John Valtrim, a member of Gray's household.

[7] Henceforward the authority for all facts for which no reference is given is Gray's register as bishop; it is calendared serially in the Ely Diocesan Remembrancer from May 1904 to May 1908, and the Ely authorities have kindly allowed me to consult the original. It contains, on f.120, an account of his installation.

[8] London, Lambeth Palace MS 448, f.87: installatus erat... in ualde turbida frigida in gelu et magna niue.

[9] Gray's register preserves a letter from the convent in English, wondrously spelt, which escsaped even A Hamilton Thompson, The Premonstratensian Abbey of Welbech (London 1938).

[10] His obit is entered in the kalendar of Cambridge, Gonville and Caius MS 489. Besides Clement, he had a daughter Isabel, married to William Aston esquire; they were enfeoffed of the manor and advowson of Somerton, Oxon., under a licence granted on 28 Aug. 1465 to Bishop Gray and two others; Cal. Patent Rolls 1461-67 (1897) 467. RJ Mitchell, John Free (London, 1955) 75, makes Cliderow Gray's chaplain, and sends him to Rome in 1457; but one cannot make much of the scanty facts of this period without a certain admixture of imagination.

[11] He died in 1467; a draft of his epitaph survives as a book-marker in Peterhouse MS 165; Studies in Medieval History presented to FM Powicke (Oxford 1948), 468. Perhaps he was the father of John Thwaites, who on 3 June 1471 as Gray's familiaris domesticus is made warden of the park at Shipdham, an office which he shares on 30 July 1478 with a son, William. It is tempting to suggest that the family thus took root in Norfolk, for the Yorkshireman John Thwaites, whose will dated 7 Jan. 1504 is calendared in North Country Wills 78, describes himself as of Hardingham, which is 6 miles from Shipdham. But in the Norfolk visitation of 1563 (Harleian Society xxxii, 1891, 284), Thwaites of Hardingham gives quite different arms from those assigned to Thwaites of Marston in Ainsty, to which family our Robert Thwaites is attached in Yorkshire Pedigrees T-Z (ibid. xcii, 1944, 366-9).

[12] Al. Cant. identifies him with the man who was proctor at Cambridge 1449-50, and perhaps fellow of Clare Hall in 1455. It appears from Emden iii.1873 that there were several contemporaries of this name.

[13] TA Walker, A Biographical Register of Peterhouse Men i (Cambridge, 1927) 55 records his death in Jan. 1519, and assumes (followed by Al. Cant.) that he is the same as John gray who was MA Cambridge in 1460-1 and admitted fellow of Peterhouse 22 March 1460, which is surely wrong.

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