William SMYTHE

(Bishop of Lincoln)

Born: ABT 1460, Lancashire, England


Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield (1493-1496) and then translated Bishop of Lincoln, (1496-1514). He was born in Lancashire in about 1460 and he probably passed some of his early days at Knowsley under the roof of Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby. This lady was none other than the great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt and Catherine Roet - and the mother of the future King, Henry Tudor. She was directly related to the family of Joan De Beaufort, partner of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmoreland which latter, according to Burke, is supposed to have leased Rosedale Abbey to the Smythe family.

Descended from Beaufort illegitimacy, as he was, Henry VII was regarded by many as usurping the throne. By design - through a previous vow to join the two factions through marriage if he became King through battle, the new King kept his vow and quicky cemented his position by marrying one of the two legitimate claimants.

Almost all of the old noble houses were swept away or vastly reduced by the Wars of the Roses and it is not difficult to ascertain the kind of atmosphere in which the key players of church and state moved at this time; those who met with success were clearly those who cast their lot with the winning House. Such a man was William Smythe. He was a member of Lincoln College, Oxford but his early connections held him in good stead because in 1485, just after the Battle of Bosworth, he was made Keeper of the Hanaper of Chancery. The duty of the Keeper was to record fees paid on the writs that began every action at common law. In this capacity, William Smythe would have been apprised of each and every action to be heard and, as such, would have been a useful source of information for a new King grappling with insecurity. The office was so named because the writs, and the returns to them, were kept in a wickerwork box called a hanaper - or hamper. The office was eventually abolished in 1852.

Two of King Edward IV's daughters were entrusted to William Smythe's keeping. In 1485 he was paid the princely sum of 200 for this purpose. It is recorded that he transferred this sum to Margaret, Countess of Richmond, who "of late hadde the keping and guiding of the ladies, daughters of King Edward iiiith".

He was a member of the Royal Council and he obtained the livings of Combe Martin, Devon, of Great Grimsby and of Cheshunt, Hertfordshire. In 1491 he was made Dean of St. Stephen's, Westminster and two years later Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield. The Bishop was a member of Prince Arthur's council in the Marches of Wales, and in 1501, five years after he had been translated to the important Bishopric of Lincoln, he became Lord President of Wales. Whilst he was Bishop of Lichfield, he refounded the ruionous hospital of St. John, originally a priory of friars, but transformed by him into an almshouse and free grammar school. To it he annexed the hospital of Denhall or Dunwell in Cheshire and secured for it liberal patronage from Henry VII. This Hospital still survives at Litchfield as a monument to Smyth's memory.

Because of his association with Arthur, Prince of Wales, he spent much of his time at Ludlow in Herefordshire and Bewdley in Worcestershire. In 1501 - a man of great substance and wealth by this time - he bought an estate at St. John's, Bedwardine, near Worcester. In about 1507, at the close of Henry VII's reign, with Sir Richard Sutton (d. 1524) (see inset panel below) he set to work to found a new college (Brasenose) in Oxford. They rebuilt Brasenose Hall, added other existing halls to it and, having obtained a charter in 1512 - the third year of Henry VIII's reign - called it The King's Haule and College of Brasennose. At this time, Oxford lay within the vast See of Lincoln.

Sources:

DNB

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