Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lisle, Thomas

LISLE, THOMAS (d. 1361), bishop of Ely, called Lyle by Bale, Lylde in the ‘Historia Eliensis,’ and Lyldus by Godwin, received his education in the Dominican house at Cambridge, where he became a doctor of divinity, and joined the order of Predicant Friars. He acquired celebrity both as a diligent and eloquent preacher and as a theologian ‘ut illa ferebant tempora’ (Godwin), being a disciple of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. He also gained the royal favour, and being at Avignon, probably on diplomatic business, at the time of the death of Bishop Montacute of Ely in 1345, he was thrust into the see by Pope Clement VI, as acceptable to the king and prince (Rymer, Fœdera, v. 474), setting aside Alan of Walsingham, the choice of the monks. He was consecrated at Avignon on 24 July 1345, and was enthroned with great magnificence at Ely on Advent Sunday. The spontaneous breaking of the glass flagon containing the sacramental wine at his consecration, and the spilling of the wine on the altar, was regarded as an evil omen, which was abundantly verified in the episcopate of ‘this unfortunate prelate’ (Hist. Eliens., Anglia Sacra, p. 655; Baker, St. John's, p. 35). The pomp and state with which he commenced his episcopate, surrounded by a large retinue of splendidly habited attendants, led Lisle into expenses which he was unable to maintain. He was speedily compelled to reduce his establishment, and when in the year after his consecration the king demanded a loan he had to excuse himself on the ground of poverty (Reg. Lisle, fol. 47, apud Bentham, pp. 160–2). He was, however, an active prelate, visiting every part of his diocese, then one of the smallest in England, and preaching with much acceptance (Hist. Eliens. p. 655). But his haughty bearing and impracticable temper rendered him unpopular. He soon quarrelled with the prior and convent of Ely as to the exercise of their old-established privilege of digging clay and sand for the repairs of the cathedral on the episcopal demesne, and showered excommunications on all who in any way infringed the rights and prerogatives of the see (ib.) He visited the papal court in 1348, and again during the ‘black death,’ which made such ravages in his diocese that no fewer than ninety-two institutions to benefices were made in 1349–50. Great activity in church building prevailed during his episcopate, ten churches having been dedicated by him in the single year 1351–2 (Gibbons, Ely Episcopal Records, p. 144). Two miracles ascribed to the influences of St. Etheldreda are recorded while he was bishop (Hist. Eliens. p. 654). He rendered material services to the university of Cambridge, especially to Peterhouse, to which he was a benefactor (Baker, p. 35), and presented to that college a manuscript bible, still in the library. In November 1352 he consecrated Little St. Mary's Church, recently erected by Alan de Walsingham to serve as the college chapel. He confirmed the foundation of the colleges of Pembroke in 1349, of Gonville Hall in 1351–2, and of Benet or Corpus Christi in 1352–3.

The closing years of his episcopate were darkened, and his life probably shortened, by an unhappy dispute with Blanche, lady Wake, a daughter of Henry, earl of Lancaster, and thus a near relative of the king. It began with a squabble about boundaries and other small matters between their respective tenants. Each party supported the cause of its own men. The quarrel became more and more exasperated, and ultimately deepened into a deadly feud. During the progress of the dispute Lisle took occasion to expostulate with the king against the consecration of Robert Stretton, who on the death of Northburgh, bishop of Lichfield, in 1359, had been elected as his successor at the instance of the Prince of Wales, but by reason of age and blindness had been declared incompetent, both by the archbishop and the pope. Lisle's unguarded language irritated Edward, who bade him be gone and never come into his presence again. Lady Wake seized the occasion to bring an action against him for the burning of one of her tenements at Colne in Huntingdonshire by some of his men. The suit was hurried on; no opportunity was given to the bishop for answering the charge, and he was condemned to pay 90l. for the damage. Lisle made a personal appeal to the king for the rehearing of the case. This was granted; but when the matter came on for trial at Huntingdon the inquiry was quashed. Lisle thrust himself unceremoniously on the king, who was then just starting for hawking, and denounced the malversation of justice, which he was rash enough to attribute to the king's partiality for his kinswoman. Edward's wrath was raised, and a complaint against the bishop was laid before parliament. Jealous for the dignity of one of their order, Archbishop Islip and other bishops fell on their knees before the king, supplicating his indulgence for their brother, who only increased the royal anger by retaining the erect posture of one maintaining his rights. The king turned away, and refused to listen to their prayer. Lisle was condemned, and had to pay the fine. Worse followed. An affray took place between the retainers of the bishop and those of Lady Wake, in which one of her servants met with a violent death. The author of the outrage was Ralph, the bishop's chamberlain, and the bishop was accused of instigating the outrage, and of harbouring and protecting the murderer; and after having been grossly insulted by a mob at St. Ives in Huntingdonshire, where the matter came before the coroner, he was found guilty. Despairing of justice, and in anticipation of the result, he turned all his movable property into money, which he entrusted to safe keeping, and went into concealment. The episcopal revenues were taken into the king's hand, and he was summoned before the judicial bench. He appeared, supported by Archbishop Islip and Bishop Heath of Rochester, and denied the truth of the verdict, and demanded to be tried by his peers. This was refused, and he was put on his trial before a jury, by whom he was acquitted of complicity in the murder, but found guilty of harbouring the murderer, a charge which he met by a solemn denial. He then claimed of the archbishop to be admitted to his ‘canonical purgation.’ This being granted, and no one appearing to accuse him before the spiritual court, he called upon the archbishop to proclaim his purgation. Islip declined to act, in fear of the royal displeasure, and urged Lisle to make his submission, and regain if possible the king's favour. Lisle refused, and fled to Avignon in November 1356, and threw himself on the protection of Pope Innocent VI. The pope warmly espoused his cause, summoned the judges who had passed sentence on him to appear before him, and on their failing to do so passed sentence of excommunication on them, commanding that the bodies of any who had died should be exhumed, and the lands of all put under an interdict. The king under the recent statute of ‘præmunire’ at once outlawed all who should bring over or publish the papal briefs, and punished those who did so with imprisonment, mutilation, or death (Rymer, Fœdera, vi. 65). The pope retaliated by threats of the severest penalties on the king should he persevere in his contumacy. Edward, anxious to bring this wearisome dispute to a termination, sent ambassadors to Avignon to arrange a compromise, which was all but settled when the matter was concluded by the timely death of Lisle on 23 June 1361. He was buried in the church of St. Praxedes at Avignon. The pope immediately withdrew all the excommunications and processes (ib. p. 328). Lisle's latest recorded episcopal act is an ordination at Ely on 24 Sept. 1356. Bale mentions that he wrote ‘Conciones per Annum’ and ‘Scholasticæ Quæstiones’ (De Scriptt. Brit. cent. vi. No. xxvi. p. 469).

[Hist. Eliens. ap. Wharton's Anglia Sacra, i. 652, 662; Walsingham, ad ann. 1358; Godwin, i. 261; Bentham's Ely, pp. 160–2, Continuation p. 87; Hook's Archbishops, iv. 150.]

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