Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Grey, William (d.1478)

GREY, WILLIAM (d. 1478), bishop of Ely and high treasurer, was a member of the family of Lord Grey of Codnor (H. Savage, Balliofergus, p. 109, Oxford, 1668; Godwin, De Præsulibus, ed. Richardson, i. 268), possibly a son of Richard de Grey (d. 1419) [q. v.], and a younger brother of John and Henry Grey, who succeeded in turn to the barony, and who were born respectively about 1399 and 1406. William Grey was educated at Balliol College, Oxford, and in due course became a doctor of divinity in that university. His powerful family connections early secured him ecclesiastical preferment. On 11 Jan. 1430-1 he was collated to the prebend of Kentish Town in St. Paul's Cathedral, an office which he held until 1446 (Le Neve,Fasti Eccl. Anglic, ed. Hardy, ii. 404). On 16 May 1434 he was made archdeacon of Northampton (ib. p. 58), and in the same year prebendary of Thame in Lincoln Cathedral (ib. 221) ; these preferments he occupied until 1454. On 21 Oct. 1443 he was collated to the prebend of Longdon in Lichfield Cathedral (ib. i. 613). Towards the end of 1447 he is mentioned as prebendary of Barnby, and then for a short time in the latter part of 1452 of Driffield, both in York Cathedral (ib. iii. 173, 183). Before this last date, on 3 March 1449-50, he was admitted archdeacon of Richmond (ib. p. 140).

How far these various and accumulated preferments imply a residence in England may be doubtful, but that Grey lived for some time in Oxford, possibly with the object of completing the acts required for the degree of doctor of divinity, is shown by the facts that he was elected chancellor of the university, and held that office in 1440-1 and also during a part of 1442, and that later in this year he acted for a time as commissary (Wood, Fasti Oxon. 47 f.) Probably his long sojourn abroad may be placed partly before 1440 and mostly after 1442.

According to Vespasiano, his travels led him first to Cologne, where he studied logic, philosophy, and theology. He lived there in princely style, and with a magnificent household for some years. Then, possibly (we may infer) after an interval spent in England, he went to Italy in order to apply himself more closely to the study of classical learning. He stayed for a while in Florence and then removed to Padua. Afterwards, being advised to profit by the teaching of the famous Guarino, he settled in Ferrara. Here, too, he kept a splendid establishment, and maintained Nicolo Perotti, afterwards well known as a grammarian, in his household. Perotti was a mere youth, but his Greek scholarship made his help valuable to the Englishman. Since he was born in 1430, we can hardly suppose that he entered Grey's service until about 1447-8. His patron remained at Ferrara until 1449, when Henry VI appointed him his proctor at the Roman curia. He took Perotti with him and afterwards procured him a post in the household of Cardinal Bessarion.

Grey's devotion to humanism and his patronage of learned men naturally found favour in the eyes of Pope Nicolas V. So early as 1450 the latter sought to obtain for him the bishopric of Lincoln (William of Worcester [769]), and failing to accomplish this, on 21 June 1454, on the elevation of Bishop Bourchier to the see of Canterbury, nominated him to the vacant bishopric of Ely (Le Neve, i. 339). In the bull of provision Grey is described as apostolic notary and referendary (Godwin, l. c.) The temporalities were restored to him 6 Sept. (Rymer, Fœdera, xi. 358, ed. 1710), and he was consecrated by the new archbishop at Mortlake two days later (Stubbs, Reg. Sacr. Anglic, p. 69). But he was not installed in his cathedral until St. Cuthbert's day, 20 March 1457-8, when there was a great frost (Monk of Ely, Cont. Hist. Eliensis, p. 672; Le Neve, i. 339).

Grey had during his life abroad devoted much care to the collection of manuscripts, and wherever he resided constantly employed scribes to make copies of such books as he could not otherwise obtain. Many of these he had adorned with costly miniatures and initial letters by the skill of an artist who worked for him at Florence. It was his desire to make his collection the nucleus of a library for Balliol College, to the building of which, as well as to that of the master's lodgings and of the old buttery and hall, he contributed largely. The work was finished about 1477 by Robert Abdy, then master of the college, and enriched with some two hundred manuscripts, the bishop's gift. Of these, unhappily many were destroyed in the reign of Edward VI and during the great rebellion, and by Wood's time few of the miniatures in the remaining volumes had escaped mutilation (Savage, Ballioferyus, p. 99; Wood, Hist. and Antiq. of Oxford, Colleges and Halls, p. 89). But even now, no less than 152 of Grey's codices are in the possession of the college. The bishop's coat of arms (gules, a lion rampant, within a bordure engrailed argent) is displayed on two windows of the library, and in the panels below the window of the master's dining hall.

During the troubled years of his episcopate Grey never took a leading part in public affairs. He devoted himself rather to the charge of his diocese, and still more probably to his learned interests, which were reputed to extend not only to Greek but also to Hebrew, while in his palace on Holborn he maintained the same stately establishment as that for which he had been famous on the continent (cf. Will. of Worcester [786]). Yet there is ample evidence also of his political activity. In the beginning of 1455 he was appointed to serve on a commission to arbitrate between the Dukes of York and Somerset (Rymer, xi. 362), the failure of which was shown in the first battle of St. Albans in the following May. Later on, apparently in 1460, before the battle of Northampton, he again took part in an attempted reconciliation of the Yorkist leaders (Will of Worcester [772], where the date is given as 1459). At length, on 25 Oct. 1469, he was made high treasurer, and held the seals until the following July (Godwin, 1. c.; Le Neve, i. 339). On 26 Aug. 1471 he was named first on a commission of fifteen to hold a diet at Alnwick to deal with the infractions of the truce with Scotland (Rymer, xi. 717 f.), and in the following March to treat with the Scots ambassadors at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, on 25 April (ib. p. 748 f.), and again on 16 May he was entrusted with a similar negotiation (ib. p. 776 ff.)

In February 1477-8 the bishop's health showed signs of breaking down. After Easter he quitted his London palace for Ely, and then, as his weakness increased, he removed to his neighbouring manor of Downham. Here he died on Tuesday, 4 Aug. 1478. On the next day his body was borne to Ely with great pomp, attended by almost all the priests of the Isle, and on the Thursday the bishop was buried between two marble pillars on the north side of the cathedral church (Monk of Ely, 672 f.), the fabric of which owes not a little to his munificence (Godwin, p. 269).

[Vespasiano's Vite di uomini illustri del secolo xv. § 42, Vescovo d'Ely, printed in Cardinal Mai's Spicilegium Romanum, i. 280-3, Rome, 1839; Monachi Eliensis Contin. Hist. Eliensis in Wharton's Anglia Sacra, i. 672 f.; Wilhelmi Wyrcester Annales (Letters and Papers illustrative of the Wars of the English in France, ed. J. Stevenson, vol. ii. pt. ii., 1864); Wood's Hist, and Antiq. of the University of Oxford, ed. Gutch, i. 2U7, ii. 782, Colleges and Halls, pp. 85, 87-90; G. Voigt's Wiederbelebung des classischen Altherthums, ii. 261 f., 2nd edit., Berlin, 1881.]

R. L. P.