Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Adam of Orlton

ADAM of Orlton (d. 1345), successively bishop of Hereford, Worcester, and Winchester, was born, according to Leland (Itin. 8, 38), at Hereford. He became doctor of laws and ‘auditor’ in the papal court. He was nominated in 1317 to the see of Hereford by Pope John XXII against the wish of Edward II, who, not content with writing to the pope and cardinals in favour of Thomas de Cherleton, enjoined Adam himself to refuse the see if offered to him (Rymer, Fœdera, ed. 1706, iii. 617). However, he was consecrated at Avignon by Nicholas Albertini, cardinal bishop of Ostia, on 22 May 1317, and received the temporalities on 23 July. The next year he was sent to Philip V to complain of the injuries done by his officers to the king's subjects in Aquitaine (25 Aug. 1318), and to the pope on the king's private matters and on Aquitaine affairs (6 Feb., 1 March 1319). In May 1319 he was one of the commissioners to perform the homage due by Edward II to Philip V for Aquitaine and the other English possessions in France, and to apologise for its delay, and again in March 1320 to settle the interview between the two kings. There is also a credence for him dated 5 Oct. to inform Philip V as to what was being done with regard to a peace with Scotland. At the rising of the barons in 1321 under Badlesmere and Pembroke he took that side, and was one of the messengers to the king from the barons to demand the banishment of the Despensers, and to obtain indemnity for their own conduct. After the battle of Boroughbridge in 1322, and the execution of Badlesmere, he became practically the head of the party, and was brought before the parliament and charged with treason as an adherent of Mortimer, and one who had given counsel and aid to the king's enemies. He is said to be the first English bishop who had ever been brought before a lay tribunal. He refused to answer the charges, excepting with the leave of the archbishop and the other bishops. They asked the king's pardon for him, but, the king not being pacified, he was given into the charge of the archbishop. After a second summons he was taken under the protection of the Archbishops of Canterbury, York, and Dublin, and ten of their suffragans, and anathemas were pronounced against any who should presume to lay violent hands on him. The king, however, went through the form of a trial, had him found guilty, and confiscated all his lands and revenues, allowing even his personal property to be seized. He remained under the archbishop's protection; but the treatment he received confirmed his opposition to the king, who wrote to the pope on 1 April 1324 to complain of his treason, and on 28 May to depose him from his see on the ground of his having joined the rebels. An attempt he made to make his peace with the king while at Winchester through the Earl of Leicester only made the king accuse Leicester of treason. On the queen's landing in 1326 he joined her at once, assisted her with money, and preached before her at Oxford from the text ‘Caput meum doleo’ (4 Reg. iv. 19), treating the king as the sick head which must be removed for the health of the kingdom. He was now the queen's chief adviser, had the army at Hereford under his command, and it was by his advice that the king was committed to Kenilworth. The chancellor, Robert Baldock, was confined in his prison at Hereford, and thence conveyed to his London house, St. Mary Mounthaw (Old Fish Street Hill), whence he was dragged by the mob and placed in Newgate, where he soon after died from the treatment he received. Bishop Orlton was sent to demand the great seal from the king, who was then at Monmouth (Fœdera, ii. 646), and brought it to the queen at Martley. After the parliament met he was sent with the Bishop of Winchester to summon the king to the parliament, and on his refusal brought the answer before the clergy and people on 12 Jan. 1327. The next day, acting as prolocutor for the parliament, he stated that if the queen were to join the king, she would be murdered by him, and then put the question whether they would have Edward or his son as king. He bade them go home and bring the answer the following day. On the answer being for the son, they brought the young prince into Westminster Hall, and Bishop Orlton, the archbishop, and the Bishop of Winchester made their several speeches to the assembly. The next step was to procure the king's abdication. Bishop Orlton was sent as one of a commission chosen by the parliament to visit Edward at Kenilworth, and to induce him to consent to his son's election. He acted as spokesman, explained to the king the cause of their arrival, and put before him the alternative of resigning in favour of his son, or of their choosing whoever might seem best for the protection of the kingdom. He brought back the king's consenting answer to the parliament, says De la Moor, more fully than it was made.

Under the new reign he became treasurer, had the temporalities of his see restored, the proceedings against him in 1323 being annulled in Edward III's first parliament, and was sent to the pope in March 1327 to obtain the dispensation for the young king's marriage with his cousin Philippa of Hainault. While he was at Avignon the see of Worcester became vacant, and to this he was nominated by a papal proviso, although the king wrote both to him and to the prior and convent of Christ Church, Canterbury, forbidding them to hinder the consecration of Wolstan de Bransford, the prior of Worcester, who had been elected by the chapter, and had obtained the royal assent. He was summoned before the parliament at York to answer for his attempts to procure his translation, and for obtaining papal letters prejudicial to the king. In spite of this, the temporalities of Worcester were restored to him on 5 March 1328; nor did he lose the king's favour, as he was sent in the course of the year to demand and receive for the king his rights as heir to the crown of France. In 1330 he was one of the commission to treat with Philip VI, and to arrange for marriages between the king's sister Eleanor and John, the eldest son of the French king, and between Mary, daughter of the French king, and John of Eltham, earl of Cornwall, as well as for the business of the homage at Amiens, and the completion of the negotiations for peace begun in the two preceding reigns. On his way we hear of him at Canterbury, where he was consulted about the troubles at St. Augustine's. He had fuller powers given him in January 1331, and there is a warrant for the payment of his expenses in April 1332. In 1333 he was one of a commission to treat with Ralph, count of Eu, for a marriage between the count's daughter, Joan, and John, earl of Cornwall. In September 1333 he was nominated by the pope, at the request of Philip VI, to the see of Winchester against the wish of the king, who would not surrender the temporalities till 23 Sept. 1334, when he did so at the request of the archbishop and other bishops. The formal appeal against his appointment charged him with maltreatment of the chancellor Baldock, with his being the cause of the king's imprisonment, and with preventing the queen from joining her husband. His answers to these charges are preserved in the curious paper, ‘Responsiones Adæ quondam Wigorniensis episcopi,’ &c., which is printed in Twysden's ‘Decem Scriptores’ (coll. 2763–2768).

As bishop of Winchester we find him one of the king's deputies at the council in London in August 1335, one of a commission in 1336 to treat with the King of France for a joint expedition to the Holy Land, to arrange an interview between the two kings for the consideration of certain processes pending in the French courts, and to treat with David Bruce. In May 1337 the king wrote to the pope not to allow the bishop to appeal to the Roman court for the decision of his cause against William Inge, archdeacon of Canterbury. In the attack on Archbishop Stratford in 1341 he was one of his chief opponents, and the ‘famosus libellus’ (Birchington, p. 23), which the king put forth against the archbishop, was attributed to his pen. Though he denied this, the archbishop evidently did not believe him, and was able to convict him of falsehood before the parliament in at least one of his charges (Birchington, p. 40). The last entry in the ‘Fœdera’ concerning Bishop Orlton is in 1342 (16 Nov.), when a loan of 200l. was demanded of him. Warton (History of English Poetry, ii. 97, ed. Hazlitt) mentions his visitation of the priory of Winchester in 1338, when a minstrel named Herbert sang the song of Colbrond and the tale of Queen Emma.

De la Moor speaks of him as a man of a very crafty intellect, prudent in worldly matters, bold and unscrupulous, and the one who revived the hatred against the Despensers after the king's victory at Boroughbridge. He accuses him of being guilty of the king's murder; but as the story he tells is of a much older date, and as the bishop was out of the country at the time, it may be dismissed as certainly false. It never was charged against him at the time, and in the defence of his conduct above mentioned there is no allusion to such an accusation. He became blind for some time before his death, which took place at Farnham 18 July 1345. He was one of the very few English prelates who had been twice translated—a fact which gave rise to the lines quoted by Wharton (A. S. i. 534):—

Trinus est Adam; talem suspendere vadam.
Thomam [Hereford] despexit, Wlstanum [Worcester] non bene rexit;
    Swithunum [Winchester] maluit. Cur?
      Quia plus valuit.

[Trokelowe, 109, and Blanefoorde, 140–142 (Rolls Ser.); Adam of Murimouth, 25, 43, 47, 48, 51, 58, 72 (Eng. Hist. Soc.); Chron. de Lanercost, 257, 258 (Bannatyne Club); Thomas de la Moor, 599–602 (Chron. Ed. I, Ed. II, Rolls Ser.); William de Dene (Ang. Sacr. i.), 367; Birchington (Ang. Sacr. i.), 39, 40; Thorn (Twysden), 2057; Robert of Graystanes, 48, p. 119; Mon. Malmesb. 216, 234, 235 (Hearne); Annal. Paulin. 320 (Chron. Ed. I, Ed. II, Rolls Ser.); Rymer's Fœdera, ii.]

H. R. L.