Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pecock, Reginald
PECOCK, REGINALD (1395?–1460?), bishop successively of St. Asaph and Chichester, was a Welshman, probably born in the diocese of St. David's about 1395. Proceeding to Oxford, he entered Oriel College, where he was elected to a fellowship on 30 Oct. 1417. Next year he was teaching in one of the schools belonging to Exeter College in School Street. Possibly at this time he formed his friendship with Walter Lyhert [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Norwich. On 21 Dec. 1420 he was admitted both acolyte and subdeacon by Richard Fleming [q. v.], bishop of Lincoln; he was ordained deacon on 15 Feb. 1421, and priest on the title of his college fellowship on 8 March following. In 1425 he proceeded B.D. His talents and learning attracted the notice of Humphrey, duke of Gloucester [q. v.], then protector, and soon after 1425 Pecock probably left Oxford for the court. In 1431 he was elected to the mastership of Whittington College, near the Three Cranes in the Vintry, London (Wharton, Hist. de Episc. et Dec. Londin. et Assav. p. 349). To the college was attached the rectory of St. Michael's in Riola, and to this Pecock was presented by the chapter of Canterbury on 19 July 1431 (ib.)
His work in London, where the lollards were still numerous, forced on his attention the points at issue between them and the church. Pecock at once entered the lists in behalf of the orthodox position. His earliest extant work is ‘The Book or Rule of Christian Religion,’ in three parts, the manuscript of which was purchased by Sir Thomas Phillipps. To this period also is ascribed the ‘Donet’ (1440?), or an introduction to the chief truths of the Christian faith, in the form of a dialogue between father and son. It was intended ‘to be of little quantity, that wellnigh each poor person may by some means get cost to have it as his own.’ In it Pecock complains that other books by him had already been copied and spread abroad against his will, and he offered to retract, at the bidding of the church, any false conclusion at which he might have arrived. This remark implies that he had excited some suspicion in regard to his orthodoxy (Repressor of Over Much Blaming of the Clergy, Rolls Ser. vol. i. pp. xxi, lxi, lxx). Some years later, about 1454, appeared a supplement to the ‘Donet,’ entitled ‘The Follower to the Donet,’ also in the dialogue form. Both works are extant in manuscript, the ‘Donet’ in the Bodleian, the ‘Follower’ in the British Museum.
In 1444 Pecock was promoted by papal provision (dated 22 April) to the bishopric of St. Asaph, and was consecrated by John Stafford [q. v.], archbishop of Canterbury, at Croydon on 14 June, the temporalities having been restored to him on the 8th (Rymer, Fœdera, vol. v. pt. i. p. 132). At the same time he vacated the mastership of Whittington College (Newcourt, Repertorium, i. 493), and proceeded D.D. at Oxford without offering any exercise or act (Gascoigne, Loci e Libro Veritatum, pp. 26, 30, &c., ed. Rogers). In 1447 Pecock preached at St. Paul's Cross a sermon which offended both the stricter churchmen and the advocates of church reform. He asserted seven conclusions in which he sought to justify the practice of bishops who did not preach, who absented themselves from their dioceses, received their bishoprics from the pope by provision, and paid firstfruits. He distributed his argument in English among his friends, and forwarded it to Archbishop Stafford in an extant document called ‘Abbreviatio Reginaldi Pecock’ (Repressor, ii. 615 seq.). Such an endeavour to stifle the growing agitation against ecclesiastical abuses only stimulated the activity of the agitators. Dr. William Millington [q. v.], provost of King's College, Cambridge, denounced Pecock's teaching, from St. Paul's Cross, as a national danger (Gascoigne, p. 44). His enemies in the universities, and especially among the four orders of friars, made a fruitless appeal to Archbishop Stafford, and afterwards to Archbishop John Kemp [q. v.], to proceed against him. Privately Pecock seems to have modified his statements. The bishops were exempt, he explained, not from the duty of expounding the scripture after the manner of the fathers, but from preaching after the modern fashion of the friars. In a letter to the Franciscan Dr. Goddard, he denounced the friars as ‘pulpit-bawlers’ (ib. pp. 42, 44, 100, 208).
In 1450 he was translated to the bishopric of Chichester in succession to his friend Adam Molyneux or Moleyns [q. v.] This appointment was one of the last acts of William de la Pole, first duke of Suffolk [q. v.], and attached Pecock publicly to the falling house of Lancaster. Shortly afterwards he was called to the privy council, on the records of which his name appears from 29 May 1454 until 27 Jan. 1457 (Nicolas, Proceedings, vi. 185 &c.). In the parliament called on 9 July 1455 he was one of the triers of petitions for Gascony and the islands. On 10 Nov. and 11 Dec. following his name was attached to the documents which empowered Richard Plantagenet, duke of York [q. v.], to act as protector during the illness of King Henry VI (Rolls of Parliament, v. 279 a, &c., and App. pp. 453–4).
About 1455 Pecock's ‘Repressor of Over Much Blaming of the Clergy,’ which he had begun some six years before, was probably published (Repressor, pp. xxii n. 90, ii. 576). It is in English throughout. In the prologue Pecock proposes to consider eleven points of objection advanced by the lollards against the clergy. These are: 1, the use of images; 2, pilgrimages; 3, clerical property in land; 4, inequality of rank among the clergy; 5, the lawfulness of papal and episcopal statutes; 6, the religious orders; 7, the invocation of saints and priestly intercession; 8, the rich adornments of churches; 9, the sacraments, especially that of the altar; 10, the taking of oaths; 11, the upholding of the lawfulness of war and capital punishment. The work is divided into five parts. In the first and most important part Pecock deals in general terms with the principles underlying the complaints against the clergy. He tries to confute in the first place the conclusion that an ordinance is not to be esteemed a law of God unless grounded on scripture. He argues, in anticipation of Hooker, that the moral law is in no true sense grounded on scripture, but rests upon the ‘doom,’ or judgment, of natural reason or ‘moral law of kind,’ which the scriptures presuppose and illustrate rather than declare or define. The sole function of the scriptures is to reveal supernatural truth which is beyond the reach of unaided human reason. The four remaining parts of the ‘Repressor’ deal with the various lollard positions; but of the eleven points advanced by them which Pecock had proposed to consider, he deals fully only with the first six; for a discussion of the last five he refers his readers to other of his works.
The ‘Repressor’ is a monument of fifteenth-century English, clear and even pointed in style, forcible in thought. The argument is logical and subtly critical, informed by wide, if not deep, learning. On the other hand, in the detailed application of his principles Pecock often fails to carry conviction, and his tendency to casuistry irritates the modern reader. He sets forth, however, the views of his opponents so clearly as to render his book an invaluable record of the theological opinions of his time.
Apparently next year (1456) Pecock issued his ‘Book of Faith,’ also in English, of which portions of the first part, together with the whole of the second, were printed by Wharton in 1688. Almost the entire work is extant in manuscript in Trinity College, Cambridge. The object of the book is ‘to win the lay children of the church into obedience’ by rational arguments. He renounces at the outset, for the purposes of argument at any rate, the claims of the church to infallibility, maintaining, however, that it is a man's duty to hold to the clergy so long as they are not proved to be actually in error. Faith itself, Pecock argues, is of two kinds: opinional, or resting on probability, and sciential, or resting on knowledge; and it is only to the former, as a rule, that the Christian attains in this life. The second part of the book treats of the rule of faith, and maintains that Scripture is itself the ultimate authority for the truths it contains, a view in which Pecock was not in advance of his age (Book of Faith, Pref. pp. xi seq. ed. 1688). The work clearly illustrates the limits within which Pecock confined his rational speculations. Where reason speaks with perfectly certain voice, that voice is to be obeyed, even in defiance of the church. But the absolute certainties of the reason are few, and, wherever reason hesitates, authority commands allegiance. He never admits that the church, though supposed fallible, can be proved to have actually erred in matters of faith, and ‘if thou canst not prove clearly and indubitably that the church erre … thou art in damnation for to hold against the church.’
In another work, the ‘Provoker’—which is not known to be extant—Pecock's scepticism took a more fatal direction. He denied that the apostles wrote the creed which goes by their name (Gascoigne, pp. 104, 209). He had already issued in the ‘Donet’ a revised creed omitting the article affirming Christ's descent into hell, and altering the wording of the clause concerning the holy catholic church (ib. p. 210; Repressor, pp. xx–i). Now, probably in a lost portion of the ‘Book of Faith,’ he included a new creed in English (ib. p. xliii).
By such writings Pecock alienated every section of theological opinion in England. His old patrons were either dead or disgraced, and his political opponents were in power. In 1456 he exasperated the Yorkist lords by hinting in a letter to Canning, mayor of London, at coming political disturbance. This was laid before the king and his advisers, and the knowledge of that fact apparently stimulated the activity of his theological enemies (Gascoigne, l. c. p. 213).
On 22 Oct. 1457 Archbishop Thomas Bourchier [q. v.] issued from Lambeth a citation, addressed to the clergy of Canterbury, calling Pecock's accusers to appear before him on 11 Nov. following. Pecock was ordered to then produce his books for examination. He refused to answer for any works issued by him more than three years ago, for those, he said, had only been privately circulated, and were without his final corrections (Gascoigne, p. 211). On 11 Nov. he produced copies of nine of his books, into which he is said to have introduced vital corrections. They were handed to a committee of twenty-four doctors. Pecock vainly claimed that he was entitled to be tried by a committee of his peers in scholastic disputation. He was charged, among other offences, with having set natural law above the scriptures and the sacraments (ib. p. 212), with having disregarded the authority of Saints Jerome, Augustine, Ambrose, and Pope Gregory, and with having written on great matters in English.
Next day (12 Nov.), apparently, he was carried before the king in council, and was formally expelled from the privy council (ib. pp. 210–11). George Neville [q. v.], the young Yorkist bishop-elect of Exeter, took a foremost part in denouncing his errors, and thus disclosed the political feeling at work against him. The hostility of the Yorkist lords seems to have cowed Pecock, who weakly declared himself ignorant of the matters in dispute—matters upon which he had, at least, read, thought, and taught for twenty years (ib. p. 213; cf. Foxe, Acts and Monuments, ed. Townsend, iii. 733; cf. Bale, Script. Illustr. Cat. p. 594). On the Sunday after his first examination Pecock's creed was read and condemned at St. Paul's Cross by the archbishop's order. Ultimately, at a final examination at Westminster, in the presence of the king and lords (Whethamstede, Monast. S. Albani, Rolls Ser. i. 281), the archbishop offered Pecock his choice between a public recantation and delivery to the secular arm to be burnt (ib. pp. 282–4). Pecock chose the former. His decision need not be ascribed to cowardice. He probably accepted the leading orthodox doctrines. A few of them he had exposed to negative criticism; the majority he had spent his life in defending, if by unorthodox arguments.
On 23 Nov. Pecock made a private recantation before an assembly of archbishops, bishops, and doctors (Gascoigne, p. 214), and again on the 28th, when some temporal lords were present (ib.) His public abjuration of all his alleged errors took place at Paul's Cross on 4 Dec., in the presence of the archbishop of Canterbury and thousands of spectators. Clothed in full episcopal robes, he delivered up fourteen of his books to be burnt (Whethamstede, i. 287; Gascoigne, p. 216). The populace threatened him with violence, and lampoons upon him circulated freely (Whethamstede, i. 288).
After his recantation Pecock was sent to Maidstone or Canterbury (Gascoigne, p. 216) to await his sentence. He seems to have at once sent to Calixtus III some account of his case, possibly in the lost document, ‘De sua palinodia,’ which is mentioned among his works. Later a hostile version of the events was sent to Rome by John Milverton [q. v.], provincial of the Carmelites, one of Pecock's old opponents (Bale, Script. Illustr. Cat. Append. p. 593). The pope seems to have issued bulls for Pecock's reinstatement, whereupon Archbishop Bourchier appealed to the king. The latter appointed a commission of inquiry (Wharton MSS. 577, pp. 26 seq.), and on receiving its report (17 Sept. 1458) sent a deputation to Pecock offering him a pension if he would resign his bishopric, and threatening ‘the uttermost rigour of the law’ should he refuse. That Pecock was neither deprived nor degraded, but resigned, is clear (Regist. of Arch. Bourchier, institution under date 27 July 1458, Lambeth; information kindly supplied by the Very Rev. Canon Moyes; Vatican Transcripts in Brit. Mus. xxxiii. 485). His successor was appointed in March 1459 (ib. pp. 484 et seq.; Fœdera, v. ii. 83). Calixtus's successor, Pius II, doubting the genuineness of his repentance, issued a brief dated 7 April 1459, to the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishops of London and Winchester, ordering a new trial. In the event of conviction Pecock was to be either sent to Rome for punishment or publicly degraded from his episcopal office (‘Annals of Raynaldus,’ x. 191, in Baronius's Ann. Eccles. vol. xxix.). It is probable that this brief was neither published nor acted upon (Dublin Review, new ser. xlvii. 34).
Pecock was sent to Thorney Abbey in Cambridgeshire. Forty pounds were assigned to the abbey for his maintenance. He was to be confined to one room, to have no books save a mass-book, psalter, legend, and bible, and no writing materials (Wharton MSS. No. 577, p. 80).
From this point Pecock disappears from history. He probably lived in seclusion at Thorney Abbey until his death, a year or two later (Chron. ed. Davies, p. 77), and was doubtless buried within the abbey precincts. Foxe, with the keen instinct of the martyrologist, hints that Pecock was ‘privily made away;’ but the suggestion (which was not unknown to Bale) has merely a psychological interest (Acts, &c. iii. 734).
Pecock is stated to have been a man of stately presence and pleasing appearance (Whethamstede, i. 279), though he suffered from an hereditary cutaneous disease (Gascoigne, p. 29). Conceit and self-confidence are apparent throughout his writings, but his disposition was naturally kindly (Waterland, Works, x. 217). That he had a considerable following, especially of young men, is clear (Three Fifteenth-Century Chron. p. 168; Gascoigne, pp. 212, 215, &c.; Lewis, pp. 214 seq.). About the time of his trial Archbishop Bourchier commissioned John Bury, an Augustinian friar, to reply to Pecock's ‘Repressor.’ This he did in the ‘Gladius Salomonis,’ printed by Mr. Babington in the appendix to the ‘Repressor’ (ii. 571 seq.). His books were twice burnt by the university of Oxford, on 17 Dec. 1457 (Gascoigne, p. 218) and in 1476 (Twyne, Ant. Acad. Oxon. p. 322). By a strange perversion of fact, Pecock's heresies have been sometimes confounded with those of Wiclif (Harpsfield, ‘Hist. Wicleff.’ in Hist. Angl. Eccles. i. 719, ed. 1622); and in the ‘Index Librorum Prohibitorum et Expurgandorum’ (Madrid, 1667) Pecock appeared as ‘a Lutheran professor at Oxford.’
Besides the editions of the ‘Repressor’ and ‘Book of Faith’ above mentioned, a small collection of excerpts from Pecock's works (chiefly from the ‘Book of Faith’) called ‘Collectanea quædam ex Reginaldi Pecock Cicestrensis episcopi opusculis exustis conservata,’ is printed in Foxe's ‘Commentarii Rerum in Ecclesia Gestarum’ (1554), and was published separately earlier.
In addition to the works already noticed, Pecock wrote the ‘Poor Men's Mirror,’ preserved in manuscript in Archbishop Tenison's library, Leicester Square, London. Numerous allusions to many works by him, not known to be extant, are made in his accessible writings. But some of these, of which a full list is given by Mr. Babington (Repressor, vol. i. pp. lxxvii seq.), were doubtless only in contemplation. The ascription to him (Chron. ed. Davies, p. 75) of a translation of the scriptures is probably a mistake.[Gascoigne's Liber Veritatum, or Dictionarium Theologicum, extant in manuscript in Lincoln College, Oxford, and in part printed by Professor Thorold Rogers in Loci e Libro Veritatum, supplies the fullest contemporary account of Pecock; but it is very hostile to him. The chief modern biography is Lewis's Life of Pecock, for which Waterland (Works, x. 213 seq.) furnished much information. A valuable biographical notice is prefixed to Babington's edition of the Repressor of Over Much Blaming of the Clergy (Rolls Ser.), to which also are appended some important documents bearing upon Pecock, such as extracts from Bury's Gladius Salomonis. Other authorities are Whethamstede's Chron. Monast. S. Albani, i. 279 seq.; Wharton MSS. in Lambeth Palace Libr. Nos. 577, 594; Vatican Transcripts in Brit. Mus xxxiii. 484 seq.; Three Fifteenth-Century Chronicles, pp. 71, 167–8 (Camden Soc.); English Chronicle of the Reigns of Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI, pp. 75 seq. ed. Davies (Camden Soc.); Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. App. pt. ix. p. 584; Leland's Collectanea, ii. 409, 410, ed. 1715, and Comment. de Scriptt. Brit. pp. 458–9, ed. 1709; Bale's Script. Illustr. Cat. pp. 594–5, ed. 1559; Foxe's Acts and Monuments, iii. 731 seq. ed. Townsend; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.-Hib. p. 583; Wood's Hist. et Ant. Univ. Oxon. lib. i. pp. 220 seq., ed. 1674, and Athenæ Oxon. i. 232, ii. 875; Hearne's Hemingford, vol. i. pp. lxxxvi–lxxxvii, and pref.; Wharton's Hist. de Episc. et Dec. Londin. et Assav. p. 349, and preface to his edition of Pecock's Book of Faith, 1688, also Survey of Cath. of St. Asaph, i. 80–1, ii. 118–19; Dublin Review (new ser.), xlvii. 27 seq.; Caxton's Chron. of England, pt. vii. ‘Henry VI,’ p. cciii, ed. 1502; Fabyan's Chronicle, p. 463, ed. 1559; Monumenta Franciscana, ii. 174–175; Fabricius's Bibl. Lat. Med. æt. v. 657–8, vi. 172–3; Historiches Lexicon, ii. 745, ed. 1722; Holinshed's Chronicles, ii. 1291; Stow's Annals, pp. 402–3, ed. 1631; Harpsfield's Hist. Wicleff. in Hist. Angl. Eccles. i. 719, ed. 1622; Annals of Raynaldus, x. 191, in Baronius's Ann. Eccles. vol. xxix.; Rolls of Parliament, v. 279 a, &c.; Nicolas's Proceedings of the Privy Council, vi. 185 &c.; Rymer's Fœdera, vol. v. pt. i. p. 132, pt. ii. p. 25; Wilkins's Concilia, iii. 576, ed. 1737; Le Neve's Fasti Eccles. Angl. i. 71, 247, ed. Hardy; Twyne's Ant. Acad. Oxon. p. 322; Hook's Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury, v. 178, 293 seq.; Hallam's Middle Ages, ii. 448 n.; Cooper's Annals of Cambridge, i. 309; Stephens's Memorials of the See of Chichester, pp. 152 seq.; Ramsay's Lancaster and York, ii. 202 seq.; Ten Brink's English Literature, ii. 333 seq., translated by Robinson.]