Smith, William

, bishop of Lincoln, and founder of Brasen-nosr college, Oxford, was the fourth son of Robert Smyth, of Peelhou^e in Widdows, or Widness, in the parish of Present, Lancashire. His grandfather was Henry Smyth, esq. of the adjoining township of Cuertiiy, where the family appears to have resided both. before and after the birth of the subject of this sketch, and extended its branches of the same name through various parts of the kingdom. Of his father we have no particular information, nor of the period of his birth, unless that it took place about the middle of the fifteenth century; which is, however, not very consistent with the report, that he was an undergraduate of Oxford so late as 1478.

The same obscurity envelopes his early years. Wood indeed says, that he was trained up in grammar-learning in his own country; but in what seminary, or whether his country at that time could boast of any institution deserving the name of a grammar-school, are subjects of conjecture. His late biographer, with equal acuteness and reason, has supposed him to have been educated in the household of Thomas, the first earl of Derby. The countess of Richmond, who was the second wife of this nobleman, according to a laudable custom in the houses of the nobility, provided in this manner for the instruction of young men of promising talents: and it is known, that she was an early patron of our founder.

At what time he removed to Oxford is uncertain, nor has any research discorered the college of which he was a member. Of his academical honours, all that we know with certainty is his degree of bachelor of law, which he had taken some time before 1492, when he was instituted to the rectory of Cheshuntin Hertfordshire. Wood asserts that he removed with other scholars from Oxford, dreading the pestilence which then raged, and went to Cambridge, where he became fellow, and afterwards master of Pembroke-hall. Browne Willis contradicts this only in part, by informing us that he became fellow, but not master. His late biographer, however, Mr. Churton, has decidedlyproved that he never belonged to Cambridge, and that the mistake of his former biographers originated in his being | confounded with a. person of both his names, who was fellow of Pembroke-hall, and a contemporary.

To the course of learning usual in his time, and which was neither copious nor solid, he appears to. have added the study of the Latin classics of the purer ages, which was., then less frequent, although more liberally tolerated, aiifl more admired, than an acquaintance with the Greek language. In the fifteenth century the latter was scarcely known, unless to the enterprizing spirit of Grocyn, Linacre, and the other restorers of literature; and was so little relished, as to be sometimes a topic of ridicule, and sometimes as dangerous as heresy.

For his tirst advancement he is supposed to have been indebted to the earl of Derby, who was one ol those friends of Henry VII. whom that monarch rewarded, after the crown was established in security. Probably also by his interest Smyth was appointed, September 20, 14-85, to the office of the clerk of the hanaper, with an annual stipend of 40l. and an additional allowance of eighteen-pence per day during his attendance, in person, or by his deputy, on the lord chancellor. This salary is worthy of notice, as the sum exceeds that which was attached to it, not only on a subsequent appointment in this reign, but for a century afterwards. It was, therefore, probably given as a special remuneration to Smyth, whose influence appears to have been increasing. It is certain that, while in this office, he was solicited by the university of Oxford to interpose, on a very critical occasion, when they had incurred the king’s displeasure; and such was his influence, that his majesty was pleased to remove their fears, and confirm their privileges. This occurred in the second year of Henry’s reign. While Smyth held this office, we also find his name in a writ of privy-seal for the foundation of Norbridge’s chantry in the parish church of the Holy Trinity at Guildford, along with Elizabeth, consort of Henry VII., Margaret, countess of Richmond, his mother, Thomas Bourchier and Reginald Bray, knights.

A few years after his being made clerk of the hanaper, he was promoted to the deanery of St. Stephen’s, Westminster, a dignity usually conferred on some favourite chaplain whom the king wished to have near his person. The precise time of his arriving at this preferment cannot be discovered, but it must have, been subsequent to July 28, 1480, when Henry Sharpe- occurs as dean. While, in | this office he resided in Canon-row, and was honoured by his i?oyal master with a seat in the privy-council. From these preferments it may be inferred that Smyth’s talents and address had justified the hopes of his family and patrons. He must certainly have been a favourite with the king, and not less so with his mother, the countess of Richmond, who on June 14, 1492, presented him to the rectory of Cheshunt, which he quitted in 1494 for higher preferment. She conferred upon him another mark of her confidence, in appointing him one of the feoffees of those manors and estates, which were to answer the munificent purposes of her will. As to the reports of his former biographers, that he held, at one time, the archdeaconry of Surrey, and the prepositure of Wells, Mr. Churton has clearly proved that they have no foundation.

When the see of Lichfield and Coventry became vacant by the death of bishop Hales, Dec. 30, 1490, the king bestowed it on Smyth, by the style of “Our beloved and faithful Counsellor, Dean of our free chapel within our own palace at Westminster.” The time neither of his election nor consecration is upon record, but the latter is supposed to have taken place between the 12th and 29th of January 1492-3. The cause of so considerable an interval from the death of his predecessor must probably be sought in the capricious proceedings of the court of Rome on such occasions. His final settlement in this see was followed by a visitation of the clergy under his controul, and the performance of those other duties incumbent on his new station. His usual residences were at Beaudesert, and at Pipe, both near Lichfield, or at his palace in London, which stood on the site of Somerset-house.

His next promotion was of the civil kind, that of president of the prince’s council within the marches of Wales. The unsettled state of Wales had engaged the attention of Henry VII as soon as he came to the throne; and the wisest policy, in order to civilize and conciliate the inhabitants of that part of the kingdom, appeared to consist in delegating such a part of the executive power as might give dignity and stability to the laws, and ensure subjection to the sovereign. With this view various grants and commissions were issued in the first year of his reign; and about 1492, Arthur, prince of Wales and earl of Chester, was included in a commission of the peace for the county of Warwick, with archbishop Morton, Smyth, bishop of | Lichfield and Coventry, and others. There was a renewal of this commission in the 17th Henry VII. of which our prelate, who had then been translated to the see of Lincoln, was again lord president. The prince’s court was held chiefly at Ludlow-castle, long the seat of the muses, honoured at this time with a train of learned men from the universities, and afterwards immortalized by Milton and Butler. Here bishop Smyth, although placed in an office that seemed likely to divert him from the business of his diocese, took special care that his absence should be compensated by a deputation of his power to vicars-general, and a suffragan bishop, in whom he could confide: and here he conceived some of fhose generous and liberal plans which have conferred honour on his name. The first instance of his becoming a public benefactor was in rebuilding and re-endowing the hospital of St. John in Lichfield, which had been suffered to go to ruin by the negligence of the friars who occupied it. Accordingly, in the third year of his episcopate, 1495, he rebuilt this hospital, and gave a new body of statutes for the use of the society. Of tiiis foundation it is only necessary to add here, that the school attached to it, and afterwards joined to the adjacent seminary of Edward VI. has produced bishops Smalridge and Newton, the chief justices Willes and Parker, and those illustrious scholars, Joseph Addison and Samuel Johnson.

Smyth had been bishop of Lichfield somewhat more than two years, when he was translated to Lincoln, November, 1495. In 1500 he performed a strict visitation of his cathedral, which his liberality had already enriched, and prescribed such matters of discipline and police as seemed calculated to preserve order, and correct that tendency to abuse, which rendered frequent visitations necessary. Nor was his care of his diocese at large less actively employed, in hearing and examining grievances, and promoting discipline and morals. “But perfection,” his biographer has well observe:!, “is not the attribute of man and we learn with less surprise than regret, that Smyth did not escape ;he common fault, of condemning heretics to the prison or the stake.” For this no apology can here be offered. The wonder is, that we are still solicited to a fellow-feeling with a religion which could warp the minds of such men as Smyth. It would have done enough to incur our aversion, had it done no more than to stain the memory of those | benefactors, to whose liberality the learning of the present age is so deeply indebted.

In the last-mentioned year, Smyth was requested by the university of Oxford to accept the office of chancellor, then vacant by the death of archbishop Morton. How long he continued chancellor is not exactly known, but his resignation must have taken place abont 150'i, when we find Dr. Mayew held that office. In 1507-8, he concerted the plan of Brasen-nose college, along with iiis friend sir Richard Sutton, and lived to see it completed. Of his death we have few particulars, nor can his age be ascertained. After making a will in due form, characterized by the liberality which had distinguished his whole life, he expired at Buckden, Jan. 2, 1513-14, and was interred on the south side of the nave of Lincoln cathedral, under a marble grave stone, richly adorned with brass, which sir William Dugdale had leisure to describe just before it was destroyed by the republican soldiers or mob. A mural monument was recently put up, with a suitable inscription, by the rev. Ralph Cawley, D. D. and principal of Brasennose from 1770 to 1777.

The progress of this munificent work, Brasen-nose college, may be seen in our authorities. The charter of foundation granted to bishop Smyth and Richard Sutton, esq. is dated Jan. 15, 1511-12; and it is supposed that the society became a permanent corporation on the feast of St. Hugh, Nov. 17, 1512, or perhaps a little earlier. According tb the charter, the society was to consist of a principal and sixty scholars, to be instructed in the sciences of sophistry, logic, and philosophy, and afterwards in divinity, and they might possess lands, &c. to the yearly value of 1500l. beyond all burdens and repairs. The number of fellows, however, was not completed until their revenues, by being laid out on land, began to be certainly productive.

The estates which bishop Smyth bestowed on the college were chiefly two, Basset’s Fee, in the environs of Oxford, which formerly is supposed to have belonged to the Bassets, barons of Headington; and the entire property of the suppressed priory of Cold Norton, with its manors and estates in Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire, which had been sold to bishop Smyth by the convent of St. Stephen’s Westminster for eleven hundred and fifty marks.1

1 Churtou’s Lives of the Founders. Chalmers’s Hist, of Oxford.