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A Brief Biography of Henry Chichele

Henry Chicheley (also Checheley or Chichele) (c. 1364 – April 12, 1443), English archbishop, founder of All Souls College, Oxford, was born at Higham Ferrers, Northamptonshire, in 1363 or 1364. Chicheley told Pope Eugene IV, in 1443, in asking leave to retire from the archbishopric, that he was in his eightieth year.

He was the third and youngest son of Thomas Chicheley, who appears in 1368 in still extant town records of Higham Ferrers as a suitor in the mayor's court, and in 1381-1382, and again in 1384-1385, was mayor: in fact, for a dozen years he and Henry Barton, schoolmaster of Higham Ferrers grammar school, and one Richard Brabazon, filled the mayoralty in turns.

The first recorded appearance of Henry Chicheley himself is at New College, Oxford, as Checheley, eighth among the undergraduate fellows, in July 1387, in the earliest extant hall-book, which contains weekly lists of those dining in Hall. It is clear from Chicheley's position in the list, with eleven fellows and eight scholars, or probationer fellows, below him, that this entry does not mark his first appearance in the college, which had been going on since 1375 at least, and was chartered in 1379. He must have come from Winchester College in one of the earliest batches of scholars from that college, the sole feeder of New College, not from St John Baptist College, Winchester, as guessed by Dr William Hunt in the Dict. Nat. Biog. (and repeated in Charles Grant Robertson's History of All Souls College) to cover the mistaken supposition that St Mary's College was not founded till 1393. St Mary's College was in fact formally founded in 1382, and the school had been going on since 1373 (AF Leach, History of Winchester College), while no such college as St John's College at Winchester ever existed.

Chicheley appears in the Hall-books of New College up to the year 1392/93, when he was a B.A. and was absent for ten weeks from about December 6 to March 6, presumably for the purpose of his ordination as a sub-deacon, which was performed by the bishop of Derry, acting as suffragan to the bishop of London. He was then already beneficed, receiving a royal ratification of his estate as parson of Llanvarchell in the diocese of St Asaph on March 20, 1391/92 (Cat. Pat. Rolls). In the Hall-book, marked 1393/94, but really for 1394/95, Chicheley's name does not appear. He had then left Oxford and gone up to London to practise as an advocate in the principal ecclesiastical court, the Court of Arches. His rise was rapid. Already on February 8 1395/96 he was, on a commission with several knights and clerks to hear an appeal in a case of John Molton, Esquire v. John Shawe, citizen of London, from Sir John Cheyne. kt., sitting for the constable of England in a court of chivalry.

Like other ecclesiastical lawyers and civil servants of the day; he was paid with ecclesiastical preferments. On April 13, 1396 he obtained ratification of the parsonage of St Stephens, Walbrook, presented on March 30 by the abbot of Colchester, no doubt through his brother Robert, who restored the church and increased its endowment. In 1397 he was made archdeacon of Dorset by Richard Mitford, bishop of Salisbury, but litigation. was still going on about it in the papal court until June 27, 1399, when the pope extinguished the suit, imposing perpetual silence on Nicholas Bubwith, master of the rolls, his opponent. In the first year of Henry IV Chicheley was parson of Sherston, Wiltshire, and prebendary of Nantgwyly in the college of Abergwilly, Wales; on February 23, 1401/2, now called doctor of laws, he was pardoned for bringing in, and allowed to use, a bull of the pope providing to him the chancellorship of Salisbury Cathedral, and canonries in the nuns' churches of Shaftesbury and Wilton in that diocese; and on January 9, 1402/3 he was archdeacon of Salisbury.

This year his brother Robert was senior sheriff of London. On May 7, 1404, Pope Boniface IX provided him to a prebend at Lincoln, notwithstanding he already held prebends at Salisbury, Lichfield, St Martins-le-Grand and Abergwyly, and the living of Brington. On January 9, 1405 he found time to attend a court at Higham Ferrers and be admitted to a burgage there. In July 1405 Chicheley began a diplomatic career by a mission to the new Roman Pope Innocent VII, who was professing his desire to end the schism in the papacy by resignation, if his French rival at Avignon would do likewise. Next year, on October 5, 1406, he was sent with Sir John Cheyne to Paris to arrange a lasting peace and the marriage of Prince Henry with the French princess Marie, which was frustrated by her becoming a nun at Poissy next year.

In 1406 renewed efforts were made to stop the schism, and Chicheley was one of the envoys sent to the new Pope Gregory XII. Here he utilized his opportunities. On August 31, 1407 Guy Mone (he is always so spelt and not Mohun, and was probably from one of the Hampshire Meons; there was a John Mone of Havant admitted a Winchester scholar in 1397), bishop of St David's, died, and on October 12, 1407 Chicheley was by the pope provided to the bishopric of St David's. Another bull the same day gave him the right to hold all his benfices with the bishopric. He was consecrated on June 17, 1408.

At Siena in July 1408 he and Sir John Cheyne, as English envoys, were received by Gregory XII with special honor, and Bishop Repingdon of Lincoln, ex-Wycliffite, was one of the new batch of cardinals created on September 18, 1408, most of Gregory's cardinals having deserted him. These, together with Benedict's revolting cardinals, summoned a general council at Pisa. In November 1408 Chicheley was back at Westminster, when Henry IV received the cardinal archbishop of Bordeaux and determined to support the cardlinals at Pisa against both popes. In January 1409 Chicheley was named with Bishop Hallum of Salisbury and the prior of Canterbury to represent the Southern Convocation at the council, which opened on March 25 1409, arriving on April 24. Obedience was withdrawn from both the existing popes, and on June 26 a new pope elected instead of them.

Chicheley and the other envoys were received on their return as saviours of the world; though the result was summed up by a contemporary as trischism instead of schism, and the Church as giving three husbands instead of two. Chicheley now became the subject of a leading case, the court of kings bench deciding, after arguments reheard in three successive terms, that he could not hold his previous benefices with the bishopric, and that, spite of the maxim Papa potest omnia, a papal bull could not supersede the law of the land (Year-book ii. H. iv. 37, 59, 79). Accordingly he had to resign livings and canonries wholesale (April 28, 1410). As, however, he had obtained a bull (August 20, 1409) enabling him to appoint his successors to the vacated preferments, including his nephew William, though still an undergraduate and not in orders, to the chancellorship of Salisbury, and a prebend at Lichfield, he did not go empty away. In May 1410 he went again on an embassy to France; on September 11, 1411 he headed a mission to discuss Henry V's marriage with a daughter of the duke of Burgundy; and he was again there in November.

In the interval Chicheley found time to visit his diocese for the first time and be enthroned at St Davids on May 11, 1411. He was with the English force under the earl of Arundel which accompanied the duke of Burgundy to Paris in October 1411 and there defeated the Armagnacs, an exploit which revealed to England the weakness of the French. On November 30, 1411 Chicheley, with two other bishops and three earls and the prince of Wales, knelt to the king to receive public thanks for their administration. That he was in high favor with Henry V is shown by his being sent with the earl of Warwick to France in July 1413 to conclude peace. Immediately after the death of archbishop Arundel he was nominated by the king to the archbishopric, elected on March 4, translated by papal bull on April 28, and received the pall without going to Rome for it on July 24.

These dates are important as they help to save Chicheley from the charge, versified by Shakespeare (Henry V. act 1. sc. 2) from Hall's Chronicle, of having tempted Henry V into the conquest of France for the sake of diverting parliament from the disendowment of the Church. There is no contemporary authority for the charge, which seems to appear first in Redman's rhetorical history of Henry V, written in 1540 with an eye to the political situation at that time, As a matter of fact, the parliament at Leicester, in which the speeches were supposed to have been made, began on April 30, 1414 before Chicheley was archbishop. The rolls of parliament show that he was not present in the parliament at all. Moreover parliament was so far from pressing disendowment that on the petition of the House of Commons it passed a savage act against the heresies commonly called Lollardry which aimed at the destruction of the king and all temporal estates, making Lollards felons and ordering every justice of the peace to hunt down their schools, conventicles, congregations and confederacies.

[edit] The archbishop as statesman

In his capacity of archbishop, Chicheley remained what he had always been chiefly, the lawyer and diplomatist. He was present at the siege of Rouen, and the king committed to him personally the negotiations for the surrender of the city in January 1419 and for the marriage of Katherine. He crowned Katherine at Westminster (20th February 1421), and on December 6 baptized her child Henry VI. He was of course a persecutor of heretics. No one could have attained or kept the position of archbishop at the time without being so. So he presided at the trial of John Claydon, Skinner and citizen of London, who after five years imprisonment at various times had made public abjuration before the late archbishop, Arundel, but now was found in possession of a book in English called The Lanterne of Light, which contained the heinous heresy that the principal cause of the persecution of Christians was the illegal retention by priests of the goods of this world, and that archbishops and bishops were the special seats of antichrist.

As a relapsed heretic, he was left to the secular arm by Chicheley. On July 1 1416 Chicheley directed a half-yearly inquisition by archdeacons to hunt out heretics. On February 12, 1420 proceedings were begun before him against William Taylor, priest, who had been for fourteen years excommunicated for heresy, and was now degraded and burnt for saying that prayers ought not to be addressed to saints, but only to God. A striking contrast was exhibited in October 1424, when a Stamford friar, John Russell, who had preached that any religious potest concuinbere cum muliere and not mortally sin, was sentenced only to retract his doctrine.

Further persecutions of a whole batch of Lollards took place in 1428. The records of convocation in Chicheley's time are a curious mixture of persecutions for heresy, which largely consisted in attacks on clerical endowments, with negotiations with the ministers of the crown for the object of cutting down to the lowest level the clerical contributions to the public revenues in respect of their endowments. Chicheley was tenacious of the privileges of his see, and this involved him in a constant struggle with Henry Beaufort, bishop of Winchester. In 1418, while Henry V was alive, he successfully protested against Beaufort's being made a cardinal and legate a kteere to supersede the legatine jurisdiction of Canterbury. But during the regency, after Henry VI's accession, Beaufort was successful, and in 1426 became cardinal and legate.

Relations with the papacy

This brought Chichele into collision with Martin V. The struggle between them has been represented as one of a patriotic archbishop resisting the encroachments of the papacy on the Church of England. In point of fact it was almost wholly personal, and was rather an incident in the rivalry between the duke of Gloucester and his half-brother, Cardinal Beaufort, than one involving any principle. Chichele, by appointing a jubilee to be held at Canterbury in 1420, after the manner of the Jubilee ordained by the Popes, threatened to divert the profits from pilgrims from Rome to Canterbury. A ferocious letter from the pope to the papal nuncios, on March 19, 1423, denounced the proceeding as calculated to ensnare simple souls and extort, from them a profane reward, thereby setting up themselves against the apostolic see and the Roman pontiff, to whom alone so great a faculty has been granted by God (Cat. Pap. Reg. vii. 12). Chichele also incurred the papal wrath by opposing the system of papal provision which diverted patronage from English to Italian hands, but the immediate occasion was to prevent the introduction of the bulls making Beaufort a cardinal. Chichele had been careful enough to obtain Papal provisions for himself, his pluralities, his bishopric and archbishopric.


Henry died on April 12, 1443.