Saturday, April 28, 2018

Bishop Nicholas West, RIP

Nicholas West, the Bishop of Ely, died on April 28, 1533. He might be counted fortunate to have died that year, because if he had remained true to his defense of Katherine of Aragon, he might have joined John Cardinal Fisher on the scaffold on Tower Hill.

It all depends on the way you look at it: he could have been a martyred canonized saint!

According to Isaac Saunders Leadam in the Dictionary of National Biography, he divided his time as the Bishop of Ely between diplomatic missions for Henry VIII and taking care of his diocese, cathedral, and churches:

The reward of West's mission in France was his nomination to the see of Ely through Wolsey's influence (ib. 295, 298, 299, 305). The temporalities of the see were granted to him on 18 May 1515 as from the death of his predecessor (Rymer, Fœdera, xiii. 510). He was consecrated on 7 Oct. (Le Neve, Fasti, i. 341) at Lambeth by Warham. On 12 Nov. he took his seat in the House of Lords (Letters and Papers, ii. 1131), and officiated at the ceremonies attending the reception by Wolsey of the cardinal's hat three days later (ib. 1153).

In the following spring (1516) West began his episcopal visitation. The bishop wrote to Wolsey on 4 April that he ‘found such disorder at Ely that but for this visit it could not have been continued a monastery four years’ (ib. p. 1733). He appointed a new prior and other officers. On 30 May 1516 West was appointed to settle the terms of a treaty with Scotland, having Lord Dacre once more for his colleague, Thomas Magnus [q. v.], archdeacon of the East Riding, being the third commissioner (ib. 1957). Notwithstanding his activity, West's health was infirm (ib. ii. 2413). On 28 May 1517 he was nominated at the head of the commission to inquire into inclosures and imparkations of land, contrary to the statute of 4 Henry VII, c 19 (‘agaynst pullyng doun of Tounes’), in Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, and Hertfordshire. On 1 Oct. 1517 he was nominated a member of a commission, presided over by the Duke of Norfolk, to arrange a league with France and Leo X, and settle the terms of the long-deferred restitution of Tournai (Letters and Papers, ii. 4467). This resulted in a treaty of universal peace (Rymer, xiii. 624), dated 2 Oct. 1518 (Letters and Papers, ii. 4469). He signed two days later another treaty for a marriage between the Princess Mary [see Mary I] and the dauphin (ib. 4475), and on 8 Oct. a third treaty (ib. 4483) arranging a personal interview between the two kings. On 9 Nov. 1518 West was nominated one of four ambassadors to France (Rymer, Fœdera, xiii. 664). In this, as in his former embassy to France, the main conduct of negotiations appears to have devolved on West (Letters and Papers, iii. 9, 15, 22, &c.). To him also Wolsey had secretly entrusted the delicate discussion of the compensation he was to receive from Francis for the resignation of his bishopric of Tournai (ib. ii. 4664), and of the pension to be paid him (ib. iii. 9). On 21 Dec. West was, with the other ambassadors, a witness to the formal ratification by Francis of the treaty of marriage of Mary to the dauphin (ib. ii. 4669), and of other articles of treaty (ib.) In the summer of 1521 Wolsey summoned West to Calais to assist him in his arbitration upon the issues between Francis I and Charles V. On 27 Nov., however, Wolsey, in despair of bringing the negotiations to a successful issue, returned to England, accompanied by West (Chron. of Calais, pp. 30, 31). On 14 Aug. 1525, in conjunction with Sir Thomas More, West settled the articles of a truce between England and France (Letters and Papers, iv. 1570). The formal treaty, called the ‘Treaty at the More,’ was ratified after frequent conferences (ib. 1738) on 30 Aug., West being one of the signatories (ib. 1600 (4), 1601, cf. 1617) and principal negotiator (ib. 1738).

In November and December 1527 he sat in the chapter-house of Westminster with Wolsey and five other bishops, and received the submission of Thomas Bilney [q. v.] and Thomas Arthur (d. 1532) [q. v.], accused of heresy, of both of whom he was diocesan (ib. 3639; Foxe, Actes and Monuments). Upon the hearing of the divorce in July 1529 West filed an affidavit in behalf of the queen, whose chaplain he was. On 6 April 1533 Cromwell wrote that the king desired West to attend the council next term; ‘his grace had often lamented his absence and his infirmity’ (Letters and Papers, vi. 312). On 28 April 1533 West died. His will, executed at Downham, is of the same date (ib. 393). An inventory of the bishop's goods survives in the record office.

As one of Katherine of Aragon's chaplains, he had defended her rights to be considered Henry VIII's lawful and legitimate wife and queen. If like her other chaplains, Blesseds Thomas Abel, Richard Fetherston, and Edward Powell, he had remained true to her and had continued to defend the sacramental marriage of Henry and Katherine, and had contested with Henry VIII in the Convocation of Bishops, etc., he might not have died in his bed if he had been alive in late April 1534. What a difference a year makes: he might have been among those brought to Lambeth Palace with Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher, refused to take the Oath of Succession, and been taken to the Tower of London by April 17, 1534. 

Upon matters of doctrine, as his admission to the Friars Observant indicates (see Roy's satire on Wolsey, Harl. Misc. ix. 45 foll.), West belonged to the older school of ecclesiastical conservatism. Pits speaks of him as ‘in defendenda catholica fide valde strenuus.’ Despite the exorbitant demands of the crown, he maintained a sumptuous state. A hundred servants were in his pay. He is said by Godwin to have fed two hundred poor daily with cooked victuals, and to have distributed large sums of money when corn was dear. According to Fuller he was a donor of plate to his college of King's at Cambridge. He was so far a patron of literature that Alexander Barclay's ‘Life of St. George,’ printed by Pinson, was dedicated to him as bishop of Ely, where Barclay was a monk. He had a cultivated architectural taste, and built a chapel of great beauty in the later Perpendicular style, with fan tracery, at the end of the south aisle of Putney parish church.

He also built a chantry chapel for himself in Ely Cathedral with the  inscription: "Of your charitie pray for the soule of Nicholas West, sometyme Bishop of this See, and for all Christian soules; in the whych prayer he hath graunted to every person so doing 40 days of pardon for every time they shall so pray." That inscription--urging prayer for the dead and promising indulgences (lessening of periods of penitence)--and the statues in the niches at the entry to the chapel were removed by his successor as bishop, Thomas Goodrich.

Nicholas West is also remembered as one of the founders of The College of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist and the glorious Virgin Saint Radegund, commonly called Jesus College, one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford.

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