Saturday, 3 September 2016

Mumbling Knights and Vanishing Priests : Part 2

Last week I wrote about the “mumbling” Lollards and their influence in Nottingham. Today we learn about how that influence made one priest vanish!

The 1380s were a troubling time for King Richard II of England. He had come to the throne at the age of 10. Various factions in positions of power began vying to get the upper hand. Most of Richard’s closest advisers, hand-picked by himself, were not from the traditional pool of courtiers and were not trusted by the established powers. Even the king’s uncles and regents didn’t trust them.

Soon the competence of the king was being openly questioned. The parliament of 1386 took away most of his powers and put them in the hands of a group of barons called the Lords Appellant, most of whom were known to be his critics and anti-Lollard. King Richard had lost the Lollard-supporting influence of his mother who had died in 1385. Many of his closest personal advisers, however, were still Lollard Knights.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, William Courtenay, excommunicated all Lollard preachers in the archdiocese. One of these was Nicholas Hereford. Hereford arrived in Nottingham in January 1387. By all accounts Nottingham and the east Midlands was an area of strong Lollard support. Technically he was outside Courtenay's ecclesiastical jurisdiction as Nottingham came under that of the archdiocese of York.

The Archbishop of York was Alexander Neville, none other than Sir William Neville’s brother. Considering the Catholic Church’s opposition of Lollardy William's support seems to bring him into direct conflict with his brother, but this does not appear to have been the case. The brothers enjoyed a mutual friendship with the king and the archbishop's Catholic beliefs may not have been as orthodox as that of other clergymen at the time. He certainly enjoyed an uneasy relationship with his more orthodox southern counterpart and superior, Archbishop Courtenay.

Courtenay may not have relied on Archbishop Neville to issue a similar excommunication against Hereford so he issued an arrest warrant against him instead for preaching heresy. He was arrested and imprisoned in Nottingham’s town jail. Shortly afterwards Sir William Neville, the Constable of Nottingham Castle, petitioned for him to be transferred into his custody, "faithfully promising to keep him so safe that he shall not walk abroad, nor preach errors, nor publish unlawful sermons contrary to the faith of the Church", as his petition said. William's petition was accepted and Hereford entered the castle in February 1387.
The gatehouse of Nottingham Castle.
By this time King Richard was going around the country gathering support against the Lords Appellant. He arrived in Nottingham in August. There he found his supporters waiting. What he didn’t find was the preacher Nicholas Hereford. He had vanished. It wasn’t long before he was found safe and well and living with Sir William Neville’s friend and fellow Lollard Knight Sir John Montagu in Hertfordshire. Someone had let his escape. I wonder who? It wasn't as grim an imprisonment as would be imposed upon an ordinary criminal, familiar in Hollywood movies. Nicholas Hereford wasn’t held in chains in a dungeon. Under a kind of house arrest he would have been allowed to move within the inner castle precincts under watch.

Sir William escaped punishment for letting his prisoner escape, despite breaking the assurances he had made in his petition. The king concentrated on his main problem and called a Great Council at Nottingham castle at which the Lords Appellant were declared traitors. On the king’s return to London the Lords Appellant issued their own declaration of treason against some of the royal advisers, including Archbishop Neville. The king’s supporter were overwhelmed by that of the Lords Appellant and he agreed to arrest the traitors. Archbishop Neville was found guilty and removed from office. Only his position as a clergyman saved him from execution.

Sir William Neville escaped censure but his partner, Sir John Clanvowe, didn’t He was impeached and banished from the court. Very soon afterwards he returned, as the king reached the age of majority within a year and was able to rule alone. From then on Sir William and Sir John, once again, enjoyed the friendship of the king.

Nottingham, however, was still seen as a hotbed of Lollard heresy. New warrants were issued to the burgesses, which included my own ancestors I referred to in Part 1. The only good piece of news for the Church that was coming from Nottingham was the progress of the rebuilding of St. Mary’s church.

Before the church was completed Sir William Neville and Sir John Clanvowe travelled to Constantinople, perhaps on another secret mission for the king. There they met their untimely ends and they never got to se the new St. Mary’s. As I mentioned in Part 1, Sir William was commemorated in a stained glass that showed the shields of arms of the church’s patrons.

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