Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Alcock, John (1430-1500)
ALCOCK, JOHN (1430–1500), successively bishop of Rochester, Worcester, and Ely, was born at Beverley, the son of William Alcock, sometime a burgess of Kingston-upon-Hull. The grammar school attached to the collegiate church in Beverley was in high repute at that time, and here Alcock received his education. From Beverley he passed to Cambridge, where he commenced LL.D. in or before 1461, was subsequently presented to the rectory of St. Margaret's, Fish Street, London, and to the deanery of St. Stephen's, Westminster. In 1462 he was made master of the rolls, and in 1468 prebendary of St. Paul's, London, and of Salisbury. In the years 1470 and 1471 he appears as filling the office of privy councillor, and in the latter year that of one of the commission appointed to treat with James III of Scotland. To the experience gained in this latter capacity we may probably attribute his appointment in 1484 as one of the commissioners delegated by Richard III to treat with the ambassadors from Scotland (Letters and Papers, ed. Gairdner, i. 66), and again by Henry VII, in 1486, to arrange a treaty between the two countries for a space of three years (Materials, &c., ed. Campbell, i. 480). In 1472 he was consecrated bishop of Rochester, and in 1476 was translated to the see of Worcester. During the intervening period he also held for a short time (April to September 1474) the lord chancellorship of the realm conjointly with Rotheram, bishop of Lincoln, to whom he had probably been known at Cambridge. Of this joint tenure of the office no other instance is on record. In 1476 he also became lord president of Wales, having been the first appointed to that post. He was also tutor to the young King Edward V, but was removed from the post by the protector Gloucester. During the latter's usurpation he seems, however, to have been free from molestation. On the accession of Henry VII he received numerous proofs of the royal confidence and esteem. He performed the baptismal ceremony for the young Prince Arthur; was made comptroller of the royal works and buildings, an office for which he was especially fitted by his skill as an architect; he was again appointed lord chancellor (Materials, &c, ed. Campbell, i. 110, 251), and was translated to the see of Ely; a royal writ (November 1486), granting to the prior and convent of Ely certain rights in the election of their own coroners, expressly declares that the favour is conceded partly ‘out of affection’ to John, bishop of Ely. In the same year he was appointed one of the commissioners of the royal mines (ibid. i. 316). He died at Wisbeach Castle on 1 Oct. 1500, and was interred in the splendid chapel which he had erected for himself at the north-east end of Ely Cathedral. He is the supposed author of an English metrical comment on the Seven Penitential Psalms (MS. Harl. 1704). His published writings are: 1. ‘Spousage of a Virgin to Christ,’ 1486. 2. ‘Hill of Perfection,’ 1497, 1499, 1501. 3. ‘Sermons upon the Eighth Chapter of Luke,’ &c. 4. ‘Gallicantus Johannis Alcock episcopi Eliensis ad fratres suos curatos in sinodo apud Barnwell,’ 1498. 5. ‘Abbey of the Holy Ghost,’ 149 –1531. 6. ‘Castle of Labour,’ translated from the French, 1536.
Alcock takes rank with those eminent ecclesiastics before the Reformation, such as Rotheram, Fisher, and Colet, who aimed at the renovation and reform of the church, and set a high example to others by their own virtues and self-denial. Bale speaks of him as one who, ‘having devoted himself from childhood to learning and piety, made such a proficiency in virtue that no one in England had a greater reputation for sanctity.’ His life, according to this writer, was spent in vigils, studies, abstinence, and in subduing the temptations of the flesh (De Scriptt. Brit., cent. viii. c. 57). He was eminently distinguished by his munificence and hospitality; and his chapel at Ely Cathedral, the episcopal palace in the same city, and Great St. Mary's, at Cambridge, alike bear witness to his skill and taste as an architectural restorer. At Little Malvern he rebuilt the church and restored the convent. He founded a free grammar school at Hull, and erected the collegiate church at Westbury. He was also a generous benefactor to the university of Cambridge, where he not only endowed Peterhouse (of which by virtue of his office he was visitor), but founded Jesus College on the decayed nunnery of St. Rhadegund. Though Alcock was distinguished as a canonist, it is notable that no provision for the study of the canon law was made in connection with the new society; and as the statutes of the college were drawn up in professed harmony with his views, it may be inferred that he recognised, in common with other discerning minds, the evils resulting from the undue prominence at that time given to the study.[Cooper's Athenæ Cantabrigienses, vol.i.; Letters and Papers illustrative of the Reign of Richard III and Henry VII, ed. Gairdner; and Materials for a History of the Reign of Henry VII, ed. Campbell, both in Rolls Ser.; Bentham's History of Ely; Fuller's Worthies; Biographia Brit.; Documents relating to the Univ. and Coll. of Cambridge; Mullinger's Hist. of the University of Cambridge. vol. i.]