Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Neville, Robert (1404-1457)

NEVILLE, ROBERT (1404–1457), bishop of Salisbury and Durham, born in 1404, was the fifth son of Ralph, first earl of Westmorland [q. v.], by his second marriage in 1397 with Joan Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt; and was brother of Richard Neville, earl of Salisbury [q. v.], Edward, lord Bergavenny [q. v.], and William, lord Fauconberg [q. v.] In 1413 he was presented to the prebend of Eldon in the collegiate church of St. Andrew, Auckland, by Bishop Langley (Madox, Form. Angl. dlxxxiii. ex. autogr.); in 1414 he was collated to the prebend of Grindall, and in 1416 to that of Laughton in York Cathedral (Willis, Cathedrals, i. 151); and in 1423 he was prebendary of Milton Ecclesia in Lincoln Cathedral (Le Neve, Fasti, ed. Hardy). He is said to have studied at Oxford (Godwin, De Præs. Angl. ed. 1743, p. 350), and is described as M.A. in the Vatican records (Brady, Episc. Success. i. 30). About 1421 (Willis, Mit. Abb. ii. 267) he was made provost of Beverley; here he built a tower ‘in Bederna,’ that is, on the Beddern or ancient site of the minster, at that time the provost's house (Oliver, Beverley, p. 392).

In 1427 he was made twenty-sixth Bishop of Salisbury by papal provision (bull of Martin V, dated 10 July), and received a special dispensation ‘super defectum ætatis,’ being only twenty-three (Brady); he had the temporalities restored 10 Oct., and was consecrated at Lambeth by Chichele 26 Oct. (Le Neve). His episcopal register is preserved, and one of his charters, given to the dean and chapter, is printed in Benson and Hatcher's ‘Salisbury,’ p. 760. In 1433 (18 and 20 Feb.) he received the royal license to take 1,000l. to the Council of Basle and a safe-conduct (Rymer, Fœdera, x. 538–9); but it does not appear likely that he ever attended the council, as his name is not in the lists of ‘incorporati’ in ‘Monumenta Conciliorum Generalium sæculi xv.,’ vol. ii. Godwin states that Neville founded a ‘Cœnobium Sunningense,’ of which the annual value at the dissolution was 682l. 14s. 7½d.; and this statement is copied by Fuller (Worthies, p. 293, with a naïve comment) and by many later writers, though it is declared erroneous by Tanner (Notitia Monast. ‘Berkshire,’ p. xxii, note t). The bishops of Salisbury had a palace at Sunning; and Sherborne Abbey, valued at the dissolution at 682l. 14s. 7d., was in their diocese; so Godwin has probably made some confusion between these places and the almshouse of St. John Baptist and St. John the Evangelist at Sherborne, which is usually said to have been founded by Neville in 1448, and, though partially despoiled, still flourishes and bears his name (Hutchins, Dorset, 3rd ed. iv. 294). A license dated 1436 to Robert Nevyll, bishop of Salisbury, Sir Humphry Stafford, and three others, to found such an institution is printed by Dugdale (Monast. ed. Ellis, vi. 717); but it is not clear that Neville contributed anything besides his patronage to the work.

In 1437, on the vacancy of the see of Durham by the death of Cardinal Langley, Henry VI recommended Neville, ‘consanguineum nostrum charissimum,’ to Eugenius IV, as a suitable bishop for that diocese, ‘unde ex præclarissima quidem et illustri prosapia exstitit oriundus’ (Corresp. of Bekynton, Rolls Ser. i. 92); he was translated by a bull dated 27 Jan. 1438 to Durham as twenty-seventh bishop. His brother Richard had been appointed guardian of the temporalities, which were restored 8 April 1438. Surtees says that he was enthroned on the 11th of the same month; but it is clear from a record of the ceremony printed by Surtees himself from Neville's ‘Register’ (Durham, vol. i. p. cxxxii), as well as from some letters discussing the date and form of the enthronisation (Raine, Hist. Dunelm. Script. Tres, Appendices ccxvii. ccxix. ccxxi.), that he was really installed by Prior John Wessyngton on 11 April 1441, in presence of his brothers and a large assembly of nobles and ecclesiastics, including his suffragan, Thomas Radcliffe [q. v.], bishop of Dromore.

Neville, who seems not to have shared the ambitious and intriguing spirit of his family, did not distinguish himself as bishop, except by building the ‘Exchequer’ (now part of the University Library), near the gate of Durham Castle, to provide courts for various officials of the palatinate. Over the entrance are his arms, the Neville saltire differenced by two annulets innected, not (as Fuller, l.c.) in memory of his two bishoprics, since the annulets appear on the Salisbury seal. He created the new offices of chamberlain, vice-chamberlain, master of the horse, and armourer, apparently for the benefit of his relations (see lists in Hutchinson, Durham, i. 338–341). Surtees preserves two instances of his generosity to the tenants of the see, to whom he restored lands escheated by the misconduct of their ancestors. In 1448 Henry VI paid him a four days' visit (26–30 Sept.), and afterwards expressed his gratification at the character of the services in the cathedral in a letter to ‘Mr. John Somerset’ (ib. i. 337).

In 1449 English and Scottish commissioners met twice at Durham, and in 1457 at Newcastle, to renew the truces disturbed by border raids, and Neville's name stands first on the English commission (Rymer, Fœdera, xi. 244–88; his name does not occur in the documents on pp. 231–8, which alone are cited by Surtees). He had previously (16 May 1442) had powers to receive the oaths of the wardens of the east marches (Rymer, xi. 4). Some unimportant official letters are printed by Surtees (Durham, vol. i. p. cxxxiii), Raine (op. cit. App. ccxxix. ccxxx.), and Hutchinson (l.c.)

Neville died 8 or 9 July 1457, and was buried in the south aisle of the cathedral, where the marble slab, despoiled of his brass effigy by the Scottish prisoners after the battle of Dunbar, may be seen near the second pillar from the cloister door (cf. Surtees, Durham, vol. iv., cathedral plates, No. 3). In his will, dated 8 July 1457, but ‘nunquam approbatum,’ and presumably invalid (it is printed in Raine, op. cit. App. cclv.), he had desired burial near the Venerable Bede in the galilee. Sequestration of his goods was granted to Sir John Neville, afterwards marquis of Montagu [q. v.], his nephew by the half-blood. He intended to leave a hundred marks to Thomas Neville, ‘scolari in tenera ætate constituto ad exhibicionem suam,’ the same to Ralph, and the same to their sister Alice for her portion; these three can hardly be the children of the Earl of Salisbury, and, as they do not occur elsewhere in the Neville pedigree, may possibly be offspring of his own.

Neville's Salisbury seal, which is unusual in character, is figured in Benson and Hatcher's ‘Salisbury,’ pl. i. No. 8 (cf. Wordsworth, Seals of Bishops of Salisbury, paper read 3 Aug. 1887 to Royal Arch. Institute, reprinted, p. 17). Surtees gives engravings of Neville's Durham seal ad causas, palatinate seal, and private signet (Durham, vol. i. plates iii. 9, iv. 5, 6, xi. 7). A sitting effigy on the second of these represents him as a stout man with inexpressive features.

[William de Chambre in Raine's Hist. Dunelm. Script. Tres, p. 147, and other annalistic notices cited above; pedigrees in Doyle's Baronage and Surtees's Durham, iv. 158. Modern lives, more or less inaccurate and incomplete, may be found in Surtees's Durham, vol. i. p. lvii (very careless); Hutchinson's Durham, i. 337–41; Cassan's Bishops of Salisbury, p. 248; Jones's Fasti Eccl. Sarisb. p. 98; Swallow, De Nova Villa, p. 138.]

H. E. D. B.