Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Islip, Simon
ISLIP, SIMON (d. 1366), archbishop of Canterbury, derived his name from the village of Islip on the Cherwell, about six miles north of Oxford, where he was probably born. Of his namesakes or kinsfolk, Walter Islip was a baron of the Irish exchequer between 1307 and 1338, and in 1314 treasurer (Cal. Rot. Pat. 68 b, 77, 121 b, 128). John Islip was until 1332 archdeacon of Stow, in the diocese of Lincoln. William Islip, Simon's nephew, held the manor of Woodford in south Northamptonshire, and William Whittlesey, subsequently archbishop, was another kinsman.
In 1307 Simon was a fellow of Merton College (Wood, Colleges and Halls, p. 15; Brodrick, Memorials of Merton, p. 199, Oxford Hist. Soc.). He proceeded doctor in canon and civil law at Oxford. He soon made his way as an ecclesiastical lawyer, and apparently enjoyed the patronage, first of Bishop Burghersh of Lincoln, and afterwards of Archbishop Stratford of Canterbury. His early preferments include the rectories of Easton, near Stamford, and Horncastle, the first of which he exchanged in 1332 for a brief tenure of the archdeaconry of Stow (1332–3), and the last he vacated by cession in 1357 (Le Neve, Fasti Eccl. Anglic. ii. 78, ed. Hardy). He held the prebend of Welton Brinkhall, in the cathedral of Lincoln, from 1327 till 1331 (ib. ii. 228). In 1329 he was collated to the prebend of Aylesbury in the same cathedral, which he exchanged in 1340 for that of Welton Beckhall (ib. ii. 96, but cf. ii. 225). In 1337 he was vicar-general to the Bishop of Lincoln. In 1343 he was made archdeacon of Canterbury, but in 1346 he surrendered that post to Peter Rogier, afterwards Pope Gregory XI (ib. i. 40). He also became dean of arches, and in 1348 prebendary of Mora in St. Paul's Cathedral on the presentation of the king (ib. ii. 410). In March 1348 he was also collated to the prebend of Sandiacre in Lichfield (ib. i. 624).
Islip attached himself to the king's service, becoming in turn chaplain, secretary, councillor, and keeper of the privy seal to Edward III. On 4 Jan. 1342 he was one of the ambassadors sent to treat for a truce with France at Antoing, near Tournay, on 3 Feb. (Fœdera, ii. 1185, Record ed.). On 1 July 1345 he was appointed, with other members of the council, to assist the king's son Lionel, while acting as regent during the king's absence abroad (ib. iii. 50). In 1346 he was authorised to open royal letters and treat with foreign ambassadors during Edward III's residence beyond sea (ib. iii. 85).
Archbishop Stratford had died on 23 Aug. 1348. His successor, John Ufford, died of the Black Death on 20 May 1349, before he was consecrated. On 26 Aug. the famous scholastic Bradwardine [q. v.] died of the same pestilence, only a week after he had received the temporalities of the see. On 20 Sept. the monks of Christ Church elected Islip, at the king's request, to the vacant archbishopric (Wharton, Anglia Sacra, i. 119); but on 7 Oct. Pope Clement VI, also in obedience to a royal request, conferred the primacy upon him by provision (ib. i. 376). On 20 Dec. 1349 Islip was consecrated at St. Paul's. He received the pallium on 25 March 1350 at Esher from Bishop Edington. As the Black Death had not yet ceased its ravages, he caused himself to be enthroned privately at Canterbury (ib. i. 377), and without the usual lavish festivities. The Christ Church monks, who already resented his consecration out of Canterbury, unfairly attributed the absence of the customary entertainments to his parsimony, and a reputation for niggardliness remained to him for the rest of his life. On 23 April 1350 Islip assisted at the gorgeous pageant at Windsor in which Edward III inaugurated the order of the Garter (G. Le Baker, pp. 109, 278–9, ed. Thompson). He long remained very poor, and he incurred much reproach for cutting down and selling the timber on his estates; for exacting larger sums from his clergy than he had received papal authority to exact; for dealing hardly with the executors of Ufford in the matter of dilapidations; and for alienating for ready money the perpetual right of the archbishops to receive from the Earls of Arundel a yearly grant of twenty-six deer.
Islip's diocese had been demoralised by the ravages of the Black Death, and in an early visitation he sought energetically to remedy the evils. He afterwards visited ‘perfunctorily’ the dioceses of Rochester and Chichester, but subsequently remained mostly in his manors, of which Mayfield in Sussex soon became his favourite residence. In 1356 he was specially exhorted by Innocent VI to resume his visitations (Wilkins, Concilia, iii. 35–6). Islip was never lacking in vigilance, and strove earnestly to restore discipline (cf. his constitutions and canons in Wilkins, vol. iii.). He deprived criminous clerks of their benefices; took care that clerks incarcerated in ecclesiastical prisons should not fare too well; and enforced a stricter keeping of Sunday, especially by putting down markets and riotous gatherings on that day. He directed, however, that work should not be suspended on minor saints' days (Walsingham, Hist. Angl. i. 297, Rolls Ser.) The plague had thinned the ranks of the beneficed clergy, and unbeneficed priests now refused to undertake pastoral work for the stipends customary before the Black Death. Many parishes were thus wholly or in part deprived of spiritual direction. Islip therefore issued in 1350 a canon which is a sort of spiritual counterpart of the Statute of Labourers, ordering chaplains to remain content with the salaries they had received before the Black Death (Wilkins, iii. 1–2). In 1362, the year after the second visitation of the Black Death had intensified existing evils, Islip drew up other constitutions defining more strictly the priests' remuneration, and ordering the deprivation of those who refused to undertake pastoral functions when called upon by the bishop (ib. iii. 50). Islip's measures drove many priests to theft (Walsingham, i. 297). In 1353 Islip also drew up regulations for the apparel and salaries of priests (Wilkins, iii. 29). His care for the secular clergy led him to limit the rights of the friars to hear confessions or discharge pastoral functions (ib. iii. 64).
In 1353 Islip arranged with Archbishop Thoresby of York to end the long strife between the rival archbishops as to the right of the northern primate to carry his cross erect in the southern province. They submitted their respective claims to the arbitration of Edward III, whose decision, uttered on 20 April at Westminster, was confirmed by Pope Clement VI. The chief feature in the agreement was that the archbishops of York were allowed to bear their cross erect within the province of Canterbury on condition that every archbishop of York, within two months of his confirmation, presented to the shrine of St. Thomas a golden image of an archbishop or jewels to the value of 40l. (Anglia Sacra, i. 43, 75; T. Stubbs in Raine, Historians of York, ii. 419, Rolls Ser.; Raine, Fasti Eboracenses, pp. 456–7; Wilkins, Concilia, iii. 31–2).
Islip was involved in several grave disputes with Bishop Gynwell of Lincoln, who had procured a bull from Clement VI absolving him from his obedience to Canterbury. Islip obtained another bull from Innocent VI which practically revoked the preceding grant. When, in 1350, Gynwell refused to confirm the election of William of Palmorva to the chancellorship of Oxford University, Islip, in answer to the university's appeal, summoned Gynwell to appear before him, and appointed a commission to admit William to his office. The Bishop of Lincoln then appealed to Pope Clement VI, who finally decided in Islip's favour (Wilkins, Concilia, iii. 3–8; Mun. Acad. pp. 168–172; Lyte, Hist. Univ. Oxf. pp. 169–70; Wood, Annals of Oxford, i. 452–3, ed. Gutch). A third triumph over his unruly diocesan was obtained by Islip in 1354, when he removed the interdict under which Gynwell had placed Oxford, after a great riot between town and gown. Gynwell, however, had previously suspended the interdict. The final arrangement between the university and the townsmen was made by the king on the mediation of Islip.
Islip was generally on good terms with his old master, Edward III. It was during his primacy that the first Statutes of Provisors and Præmunire were passed. In 1359, however, when Islip refused to confirm the election of Robert Stretton to the bishopric of Lichfield, on the ground of his age, blindness, and incompetency, Edward, prince of Wales, and his father the king obtained his appointment by appealing to Avignon against the primate's action (Anglia Sacra, i. 44, 449). He had another difference with the Prince of Wales in 1357, when the prince demanded certain crown dues on the death of Bishop Trevor of St. Asaph, and Islip successfully maintained against him that these dues belonged in the north Welsh dioceses and in Rochester to the Archbishop of Canterbury (Archæological Journal, xi. 275). Yet in 1358, when Bishop de Lisle of Ely was found guilty by a secular court of burning a farmhouse belonging to Lady Wake, and instigating the murder of one of her servants, Islip declined to shelter the guilty prelate by the authority of the ecclesiastical courts.
Islip latterly resented the extravagance of Edward III. In 1356 he presided over a synod which rejected the king's demand for a clerical tenth for six years, and only allowed him a tenth for one year (Avesbury, p. 459, Rolls Ser.) Disgusted at the exactions of the king's servants and courtiers, he addressed to Edward a long and spirited remonstrance on the evils of purveyance, and the scandal and odium produced by the king's greedy insistence on his prerogative. The action of the archbishop combined with the strong petitions of the commons to procure the statute of 1362, which seems to have removed the worst abuses of purveyance. Copies of Islip's remonstrance, which is entitled ‘Speculum regis Edwardi,’ are in Bodleian MS. 624, Harleian MS. 2399, Cotton. MSS. Cleopatra D. ix., and Faustina, B. i. Extracts are given in Stubbs's ‘Constitutional History,’ ii. 375, 404, 536, and a summary is in ‘Archæologia,’ viii. 841-4.
In January 1363 a stroke of paralysis deprived Islip of the power of articulate speech. He partially recovered, but died at Mayfield on 26 April 1366. On 2 May he was buried in his cathedral. At his own request all expense and pomp were avoided, and only six wax candles were lighted round his corpse (Eulogium Hist. iii. 239). Over his grave in Canterbury Cathedral was erected a ‘fine tomb of marble inlaid with brass in the middle,’ in the nave of the church (Somner, Canterbury, ed. Battely, i. 134). His epitaph is preserved by Weever (Ancient Funerall Monuments, pp. 223–4). Parts of his will, dated in 1361, are printed in ‘Anglia Sacra,’ i. 60–1 (cf. Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. p. 436). He left a large amount of plate and vestments to the monks of Canterbury, together with a thousand of his best ewes to improve the breed of their sheep. According to Bale (Script. Brit. Cat. cent. vi. xx. ed. Basel), Islip wrote sermons on Lent, on the saints, and on time.
Despite his poverty Islip increased the endowments of the Canterbury hospitals (Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. p. 443); gave Buckland parsonage to Dover priory, and Bilsington parsonage to the monks of that place; restored his palace at Canterbury, and pulled down Wrotham manor to complete the building of the manor-house at Maidstone, which had been begun by Archbishop Ufford (Som ner, Canterbury, ed. Battely, i. 62, 73, 134; cf. Hasted, Kent, ‘Canterbury,’ ii. 118, 892). In 1350 he released the monks of St. Martin's, Dover, from their old dependence on Christ Church (Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. p. 441). In 1365 he restored to the monks of his cathedral the churches of Monkton and Eastry, though taking care that perpetual vicars should be appointed (ib. p. 442; Somner, i. 134). He was, however, often on bad terms with Christ Church. In 1362 he had listened to ‘sinister reports’ against the prior and monks (Literæ Cantuar. ii. 308). In 1353 the prior ‘with his own hand’ wrote what amounted to a practical refusal to entertain the archbishop during a proposed visit of twelve days (ib. ii. 314–16).
Islip always took a keen interest in Oxford, and since 1356 was commemorated by the university among its benefactors (Munimenta Academica, i. 186). He was also a benefactor of Cambridge (Anglia Sacra, i. 794). He was most anxious to increase the number of ‘exhibitions’ at the universities for poor students, and desired that the regular clergy should receive more generally an academic training. The Black Death had greatly diminished the numbers of the learned clergy. In 1355 Islip strongly urged the prior of Christ Church to send more of his monks to the universities (Literæ Cantuar. ii. 332). Finally, he elaborated a plan for a new college, in which he made the bold experiment of mixing together in the same society monks and secular clergy. He bought for this purpose some houses, whose situation is still marked by the Canterbury quadrangle of the modern Christ Church, Oxford. On 20 Oct. 1361 he obtained the royal license to found his college for ‘a certain number of clerks both religious and secular,’ and secured the king's consent to appropriate the advowson of Pagham in Sussex for its endowment (ib. ii. 409–10; Lewis, Life of Wycliffe, pp. 285–290). He closely connected his college with his cathedral, and directed the monks of Christ Church to appoint the first warden by nominating three persons to the archbishop, of whom he chose one (Literæ Cantuar. ii. 417). Islip in March 1362 nominated one of the monks' three nominees, Dr. Henry Woodhall, as first warden (ib. ii. 416). On 13 April 1363 Islip issued his charter of foundation (ib. ii. 442–3). Provision was made for eleven fellows, besides the warden, and a chaplain. Four of these seem to have been Christ Church monks, the rest seculars. On 4 June 1363 Islip obtained from his nephew, William Islip, the manor of Woodford, Northamptonshire, as an additional endowment (ib. ii. 443, 447–8). Quarrels at once arose between the regular and secular members on the foundation. The seculars, who were in a majority, seem to have driven out Woodhall and the monks, and to have chosen as their head John Wycliffe, a secular priest, who is variously identified [see art. Wycliffe, John, and Lechler, John Wyclif, i. 160–84, translated by Lorimer; but cf. Shirley, Fasciculi Zizaniorum, pp. 513–28, Rolls. Ser., and Poole, Wycliffe and Movements for Reform; cf. also Wycliffe, De Ecclesia, pp. 370–1, ed. Loserth, Wyclif Society]. Islip practically sided with the seculars. The elaborate statutes for the college (printed in Wilkins, iii. 52–8), which were probably drawn up by him at this time as a new constitution, substantially contemplate a secular foundation, based on the rule of Merton, Islip's old college. Wycliffe only retained office for the rest of Islip's life. Archbishop Langham [q. v.] restored Woodhall, and in 1370, after a famous suit, the pope's decision converted Islip's foundation into a mere appendage at Oxford of Christ Church, Canterbury, and a place for the education of the Canterbury monks. It was finally absorbed by Wolsey and Henry VIII, in Cardinal College, afterwards Christ Church, Oxford.[Hook's Archbishops of Canterbury, iv. 111–162; Wharton's Anglia Sacra, vol. i., especially Birchington's Life, pp. 43–6, and Dies obituales, pp. 60–1 and p. 119; Sheppard's Literæ Cantuarienses, Walsingham's Hist. Angl., both in Rolls Ser.; Wilkins's Concilia, vol. iii.; Rymer's Fœdera, Record ed.; Hist. MSS. Comm., 5th Rep.; Lewis's Life of Wycliffe; Lechler's John Wyclif and his English Precursors, translated by Lorimer; Wood's Hist. and Antiquities of Oxford, ed. Gutch; Lyte's Hist. of the University of Oxford; Le Neve's Fasti Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ, ed. Hardy; Somner's Canterbury, ed. Battely.]