Bek, Anthony

, bishop of Durham in the reigns of Edward I. and II. was advanced, with the king’s consent, from the archdeaconry of Durham and other preferments to the bishopric. Of his extraction and education we have no account. He was elected by the monks on the 9th of July 1283, and consecrated, in the presence of the king and several of the nobles, by William Wicwane, archbishop of York, on the 9th of January following. At the time of his consecration, the archbishop, having had a dispute, during the vacancy of the see, with | the chapter of Durham, obliged the prior to go out of the church; and the next day enjoined the new bishop, upon his canonical obedience, to excommunicate the superior and several of the monks: but Bek refused to obey the archbishop, saying, “I was yesterday consecrated their bishop, and shall 1 excommunicate them to-day? 110 obedience shall force me to this.” He was enthroned on Christmas eve, 1285; on which occasion a dispute arising between the prior and the official of York about the right of performing that ceremony, Bek was installed by his brother Thomas Bt k bishop of St. David’s. This prelate had a long dispute with the monks of Durham; which proved very detrimental to the revenues and privileges of the see. He is said to have been the richest bishop (if we except Wolsey) that had ever held the see of Durham: for, besides the revenues of his bishopric, he had a temporal estate of five thousand marks per annum; part of which, we are told, he gained by unjustly converting to his own use an estate, which he held in trust for the natural son of the baron of Vescey. He procured the translation of the body of St. William, formerly archbishop of York, and bore the whole expence of the ceremony, which was performed in the church of York. He assisted king Edward I. in his war against John Baliol, king of Scotland, and brought into the field a large body of forces. In 1294, he was sent ambassador from king Edward to the emperor of Germany, to conclude a treaty with that prince, against the increasing power of France. In 1295, the pope having sent two cardinals on an embassy to the English court, this prelate was appointed to answer them in the king’s name. He had the title of patriarch of Jerusalem conferred on him by the pope in 1305; and about the same time received from the king a grant of the principality of the island of Man. An act passed in his time, in the parliament of Carlisle, 1307, to prevent the bishop of Durham or his officers, from cutting -down the woods belonging to the bishopric. This prelate expended large sums in building. He fortified the bishop’s seat at Aukland, and turned it into a castle; and he built, or enlarged, the castles of Bernard in the bishopric of Durham; of Alnwick in Northumberland; of Gainford in the bishopric of Durham; of Somerton in Lincolnshire, which he gave to king Edward I.; and of Eltham in Kent, which he gave to queen Eleanor. He founded the priory of Alvingham in Lincolnshire, the | revenue of which, at the dissolution, was valued at 141l. 15s. per annum. He founded, likewise, a collegiate church, with a dean and seven prebendaries, at Chesterupon-the-street, and at Lanchester, in the bishopric of Durham. He also gave to the church of Durham two pictures, containing the history of our Saviour’s nativity, to be hung as an ornament over the great altar on the festival of Christmas. He died at Eltham, March 3, 1310, having sat twenty-eight years, and was buried in the church of Durham near the east front, contrary to the custom of his predecessors, who, out of respect to the body of St. Cuthbert, were never laid within the church. Bek was a man of uncommon pride, which more or less entered into the whole of his conduct. He was fond of military parade, and the attendance of a retinue of soldiers, although he took little pains to attach them to him. His magnificent taste appeared not only in the lasting monuments already noticed, but in his more domestic expences. He is said on one occasion to have paid forty shillings (a sum now equivalent to 8O/.) for forty fresh herrings in London, when they had been refused by the most opulent persons of the realm, then assembled in parliament. He was so impatient of rest, that he never took more than one sleep, saying it was unbecoming a man to turn from one side to the other in bed. He was perpetually either riding from one manor to another, or hunting or hawking. Though his expences were great, he was provident enough never to want money. He always rose from his meals with an appetite: and his continence was so singular that he never looked a woman full in the face. We are even gravely told, that in the translation of the body of St. William of York, when the other bishops declined touching that saint’s remains, conscious of their failings in point of chastity, he alone boldly handled them, and assisted the ceremony. His taste in architecture, however, and his munificence in contributing to so many once noble edifices, are the only favourable circumstances in his character, nor should we have thought him worthy of much notice, had he not been admitted by the original editors of our national biography. 1

1

Biog. Brit, Hutchinson’s Hist, of Durham, vol. I. p. 228.