Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fleming, Richard
FLEMING, RICHARD (d. 1431), bishop of Lincoln and founder of Lincoln College, Oxford, was born of a good family in Yorkshire—Tanner says at Croston, but the name suggests a doubt as to the identification—probably about 1360. He entered the university of Oxford, and became a member of University College. He was junior proctor in 1407 (Wood, Fasti Oxon. p. 37 et seq.), his year of office being still remembered in consequence of the fact that he caused one of the books of statutes and privileges of the university, still preserved in the archives and known as the ‘Junior Proctor's Book’ (or Registrum C), to be transcribed for him (Munimenta Academica Oxon. i. intr. xiv, 237, ed. H. Anstey, 1868). In 1408 there is a record of his payment of 6s. 8d. for the use of one of the schools belonging to Exeter College (C. W. Boase, Register of Exeter College, p. 14, 1879), probably with a view to proceeding to a degree in divinity. He had already held, since 22 Aug. 1406, the prebend of South Newbald in the church of York (Le Neve, Fasti Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ, iii. 205, ed. Sir T. D. Hardy).
At present Fleming was, in some points at least, a warm adherent of the Wycliffite party, which still maintained its strength among the scholars of Oxford. In 1407 Archbishop Arundel had held a provincial council there, at which stringent decrees were passed against the reading of Wycliffe's books and an attempt made to regulate the studies of the university (Wilkins, Conc. Magn. Brit. iii. 305). Two years later the archbishop persuaded convocation at its session in London to appoint a committee of twelve persons to examine the writings of Wycliffe, and to condemn them if any heresy should be found therein. Among these judges was Fleming, described as a student of theology (ib. p. 172, where the date is erroneously given as 1382; cf. H. C. Maxwell, History of the University of Oxford, p. 283, n. 2, 1886). After long debate and a delay which called forth a complaint from the archbishop, the majority drew up a report condemning 267 propositions attributed to Wycliffe as erroneous or heretical (Wilkins, iii. 339). But the discussion appears to have excited the smouldering elements of heterodox opinion. The university was disturbed by disorderly manifestations of lollard feeling, and Fleming with another member of the committee itself declared openly for some of the obnoxious tenets. In December 1409 the archbishop addressed a mandate to the chancellor of the university, bidding him to warn the malcontents to abstain from defending Wycliffe's doctrines under heavy penalties. The language employed is remarkable for its contemptuous severity as applied to a man who had already been chosen by the masters of arts some years before to be their official representative as proctor: ‘Certæ personæ,’ wrote the archbishop, ‘dictæ universitatis, quibus digna non esset cathedra, attamen graduatæ, quæ et puerilia rudimenta non transcendunt, vix adhuc ab adolescentiæ cunabulis exeuntes, quarum una, ut asseritur, est Richardus cognomento Flemmyng, quæ etiam velut elingues pueri, quorum nondum barbas cæsaries decoravit, prius legentes quam syllabicent, ponentes os in cœlum, tanta ambitione tumescunt quod certas dictarum conclusionum damnatarum publice asserere et velut conclusionabiliter in scholis tenere et defendere damnabiliter non verentur’ (ib. p. 322). The passage has needed quotation at length since doubts have been cast upon Fleming's attachment to Wycliffism; at the same time his theological obliquity cannot be proved to have extended to Wycliffe's more radical heresies, and it would be hasty to conclude with Wood (Hist. and Antiq. of Oxford, Colleges and Halls, p. 234, ed. Gutch) that he was so active in the cause ‘that had not his mouth been stopped with preferment the business would then have proved pernicious’ (cf. Lyte, pp. 280–5). Whether or not frightened by the primate's energetic measures, Fleming seems to have soon tempered his judgment and to have won recognition as an authority on the method of theological disputation. Thomas Gascoigne, the most correct of divines, who was chancellor in 1434, says that about 1420 (the date is evidently some years too late) he introduced the procedure in such exercises which continued in force in his own day (Loci e Libro Veritatum, p. 183, ed. J. E. T. Rogers).
In 1413 Fleming appears signing a petition, as B.D., promising to receive the visitation of Repyngdon, bishop of Lincoln, himself formerly, like Fleming, conspicuous on the lollard side. On 21 Aug. 1415 he received the prebend of Langtoft in the church of York (Le Neve, iii. 199); afterwards he became rector of Boston; and on 20 Nov. 1419 he succeeded Repyngdon as bishop of Lincoln. He was consecrated at Florence 28 April 1420 (Stubbs, Reg. Sacr. Anglic. 65), and the temporalities were restored to him 23 May (Rymer, Fœdera, ix. 909). On 18 Dec. 1421 he received instructions to head an embassy to Germany to seek armed support from the king of the Romans (ib. x. 161–3). But it was in ecclesiastical affairs that his interest directly lay. So little now was there any taint of lollardy about him that on 22 June 1423 he appeared as president of the English nation at the general council of Pavia (John of Ragusa, Initium et prosecutio Basiliensis concilii, in the Monum. Concil. Gen. sec. xv., i. 11, Vienna, 1857; Mansi, Conc. Collect. Ampliss. xviii. 1059 D). The council was transferred to Siena, and on 21 July Fleming was the preacher before it (John of Ragusa, p. 12). At the beginning of the following year he was appointed to hear evidence on behalf of the council (ib. p. 46); then on 23 Jan. he preached a sermon in which he made himself conspicuous as a champion of the rights of the papacy as against the council, an advocacy which produced a good deal of dissatisfaction among the fathers. It was said that he was scheming for higher preferment from the pope (ib. p. 64). The council ended in no positive decisions of moment; but it is singular that Fleming's name is not mentioned in connection with its anti-Wycliffite decree of 8 Nov. 1423. If, as his epitaph asserts, Fleming was chamberlain to Pope Martin V, he was probably appointed to the office in the course of this visit to Italy.
On his return to England he was given a more signal mark of the pope's favour. The archbishopric of York became vacant in the autumn of 1423, and Fleming received the see by his ‘provision,’ 20 July 1424. The Bishop of Worcester, however, had already in January been elected by the chapter, and the royal consent had been obtained. Moreover, Fleming displeased the king's ministers (Godwin strangely says, Henry V, De Præsulibus, i. 297, ed. Cambr. 1743) by his acceptance of the archbishopric without asking permission, and it was seized into the king's hands. In the end he had to submit, under humiliating conditions, to re-translation to Lincoln, and neither of the candidates obtained their desire, the archbishopric being given by the king's nomination, after a long interval, to the chancellor, John Kemp (Le Neve, iii. 110).
Not long after his return to Lincoln, Fleming began to prepare a plan for the foundation of a college at Oxford. The royal license was given by letters patent on 13 Oct. 1427, and although the bishop did not live to carry out more than the elements of his design, his preface to the body of statutes of Lincoln College (which were actually drawn up, nearly half a century later, by Bishop Rotherham) shows clearly enough the objects which he had in view. It was expressly with the desire of counteracting the spread of heresy and error and encouraging the sound study of divinity, that he proposed to found a little college (‘collegiolum’) of theologians in connection with the three parish churches of St. Mildred, St. Michael, and Allhallows. The college which he founded had little endowment from him beyond the churches and the site, and some books of which an inventory is preserved (Hist. MSS. Comm. 2nd Rep. 131, 1871), and it was not established upon a firm footing until the last quarter of the century, when Rotherham drew up a code of statutes on the principle (he said) and in the spirit of Fleming's design. The ninth chapter of these statutes appointed an annual mass for the ‘first founder’ on the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the day of his death.
So far as can be judged from his earlier Memorandum Register (that for his later years is unfortunately lost), Fleming appears to have been an active administrator of his immense diocese, and particularly diligent in the visitation of monasteries within its limits. The muniments of Lincoln Cathedral include a number of injunctions which he addressed to them. The best known act of his episcopate belongs almost exactly to the time when he was planning his foundation for the overthrow of heresy. The old man believed that the movement which he had seen strong at Oxford in his youth was still vigorous. It was in 1428, after an urgent reminder from the pope, 9 Dec. 1427 (Raynald. Ann. ix. 55 seq.), that he gave effect to the vindictive sentence of the council of Constance of 4 May 1415, by exhuming the bones of John Wycliffe from Lutterworth churchyard; he burned them and cast them into the river Swift (W. Lyndwode, Provinciale, v., f. cliv. b, ed. 1501). As a writer he is credited only with sermons preached at the council of Siena and with a work, apparently lost, ‘Super Angliæ Etymologia’ (Bale, Scriptt. Brit. Catal. vii. 90, p. 575).
Fleming died at his palace at Sleaford on 25 Jan. 1430–1, and was buried in Lincoln Cathedral. His altar-tomb, with effigy, still exists. The epitaph, which has been attributed to his own authorship (cf. Wood, Colleges and Halls, p. 236), may be found also in manuscript, with panegyric verses attached by one Stoon, a Cistercian monk of Shene (Bodleian MS. 496, f. 225). He bore, barry of six ar. and az., three lozenges in chief gules; on the fess point a mullet for difference sable (Wood, p. 244).
Fleming's name is spelt variously with one or two m's and with i or y in the second syllable.[Letters patent for the foundation of Lincoln College and Fleming's preface to the Statutes, in Statutes of Lincoln College, Oxford, 1853; Tanner's Bibl. Brit. p. 286; Wood's Hist. and Antiq. of the Univ. of Oxford, i. 551, ed. Gutch; Lincoln Cathedral registers.]