Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Nicholas of Meaux

NICHOLAS of Meaux (d. 1227?), bishop of the Isles, called also Kolus, Kolius, or Kolas, came from Argadia, Archadia, or Argyll, and not from the Orkney Isles (Chronicon Regum Manniæ et Insularum, ed. Munch, pp. 29, 140). He was first an Augustinian canon of Wartre in the East Riding of Yorkshire (Dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum, ed. 1830, v. 246, Append. i.), but there is no reason for identifying him with the Nicholas who appears as prior of that foundation (ib. vi. 298). He afterwards entered the Cistercian order, and became a monk of Meaux, a Cistercian abbey a few miles north of Hull, from which he took his name. Thence he passed into Furness, also a Cistercian house, in North Lancashire, where he ultimately became seventeenth de facto abbot (ib. v. 246; cf. Chron. de Melsa, i. 380, Rolls Ser., where the S in ‘monachus quidam S’ is doubtless a mistake for ‘N’). The ‘Chronicle of Meaux’ dates his appointment during the time of Hugh, fifth abbot of that house—between 1210 and 1220—but this is evidently too late (Beck, Annales Furnesienses, p. 170).

Nicholas subsequently became bishop of Man and the Sudreys. The ‘Chronicle of Man’ merely affirms that he succeeded Bishop Michael, who appears to have died in 1203 (Coucher Book of Furness, iii. xli.). In an extant letter to the dean and chapter of York, probably written soon after 1207, Olaf, king of the Isles, demands the speedy consecration at York of Nicholas, his bishop-elect, in spite of the clamour and complaints of the monks of Furness, who claimed the right of electing the Bishop of Man (Monast. vi. 1186, App. xlvi.; but vide Chron. Man. ed. Goss, i. 169, ii. 272, Manx Soc.) The election to the see had belonged to Furness Abbey, nominally at least since the charter of Olaf I, dated about 1134 (Oliver, Monumenta de Insula Manniæ, ii. 1). It is possible, but scarcely probable, that the hostility of the monks referred merely to the consecration of Nicholas at York in disregard of the rights vested in the Archbishop of Trondjem (Nidaros) by the bull of Anastasius IV, dated 30 Nov. 1154 (Jaffé, Regesta Pontificum, ii. 102; Chron. Man. ed. Goss, ii. 274, prints this in full). A bull lately issued in February 1205, perhaps during the progress of the struggle, expressly prohibited the consecration of the suffragans of Trondjem by any other than the primate of that see. After much delay Nicholas obtained consecration from the Norwegian primate in 1210 (Annales Islandorum Regii, in Script. rerum Danicarum, iii. 77, ‘Kolius episcopus ad Hebrides consecratus;’ cf. Torphæus, Orcades, p. 154). Thereupon Nicholas probably resigned the abbacy of Furness; a new abbot apparently (Ann. Furnes. p. 177) received the episcopal benediction at Melrose on 13 Dec. 1211 (Chron. de Mailros, p. 111, Bannatyne Club).

A few years later Nicholas attended a general council (Oliver, Monumenta, ii. 38), doubtless the Fourth Lateran, held at Rome in 1215–16. On his return he received vestments, a staff and mitre, due under the will of his predecessor Michael, from the convent of Furness. The wording of this charter, which declares that ‘N[icholas], bishop of the Isles,’ has received the above from ‘N[icholas], abbot of Furness,’ has led Dr. Goss to conjecture the existence of another Nicholas, successor of Nicholas of Meaux in the abbacy of Furness (Chron. Ma. ed. Goss, i. 241–2; cf. Grub, Eccl. Hist. of Scotl. i. 323). But the wording of the document merely distinguishes between Nicholas's present and former official capacities.

King Reginald, however, Olaf's brother and successor, resolutely refused to recognise Nicholas, and he was soon forced to abandon the church of the Isles (Monumenta, i. 200). The ‘Chronicle of Man’ (p. 16, ed. Munch) erroneously places his death in 1217, when, according to Le Neve (Fasti Eccl. Angl. iii. 323), he probably resigned his see. Nicholas was clearly driven into exile by his enemies, but the statement that he died very soon afterwards is erroneous. Another bishop of the Isles named Reginald undoubtedly declared himself at the time the unanimous choice of the monks of Furness on, as it was stated, the death of Nicholas, his predecessor (Theiner, Vet. Monumenta Hibern. et Scot. Hist. Illustr. No. xxxi. p. 14). But Nicholas was living in 1224, when he besought Honorius III not to compel him to return to the church from which he had been long exiled owing to the opposition of lord and people, but to permit him to resign the office, retaining the use of the pontificals (Oliver, Monumenta, ii. 67). The request was granted, and his signature, ‘N[icholas] sometime bishop of Man and the Isles,’ is appended to a charter given by Archbishop Gray to the prior and convent of Durham, dated 24 Jan. 1224–5 (Archbishop Gray's Register, pp. 153–154, App. xxix. Surtees Soc. 56). In the same year Nicholas became attached to the church of Kelloe in the diocese of Durham, and on 20 Aug. 1225 Archbishop Gray confirmed the collation made by R., bishop of Durham, of a portion of that church to ‘N[icholas], sometime bishop of Man and the Isles’ (ib. p. 5, App. xvi.). Next year he was in attendance upon Archbishop Gray, and witnessed two deeds of the latter, one relating to Hexham Priory, dated 5 Aug. 1226 (Memorials of Hexham Priory, ii. 93–4, Surtees Soc. 46), the other to Stainfield Priory in Lincolnshire, dated 19 Aug. of the same year at Knaresborough (Monast. iv. 309, ed. 1830). He probably died in 1227, and, according to the very doubtful authority of the ‘Chronicle of Man’ (p. 16, ed. Munch), was buried in Benchor or Bangor in Ulster, on the southern shores of Carrickfergus Bay.

[Authorities quoted in the text.]

A. M. C.-e.