Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sewall de Bovill

SEWALL de Bovill (d. 1257), archbishop of York, was a pupil at Oxford of St. Edmund (Rich), the future archbishop of Canterbury. Edmund, who was greatly attached to Sewall, is said to have foretold his friend's promotion and troubles. About 1240 Sewall became dean of York. He held the prebend of Fenton, in the same church, apparently as early as 1237. While dean he wrote to Innocent IV in support of the proposed canonisation of St. Edmund (Martene, Thes. Nov. Anecd. iii. 1838). Some constitutions made by him as dean of York, in 1252, are in Cotton MS. Vitellius A. ii. f. iii. Previously to 16 Jan. 1250 he was made archdeacon of York. On the death of Archbishop Gray in 1255 the canons elected him to the vacant see. The king refused his consent on the ground that Sewall was of illegitimate birth. On 1 Oct. the chapter determined to prosecute an appeal at Rome; eventually the pope granted a dispensation removing the defect of birth, and confirmed the election. The king was thus compelled to give his assent on 4 May 1256, and Sewall was consecrated at York on 25 July by Walter de Cantelupe, bishop of Worcester. Shortly after his consecration, Adam de Marisco [q. v.] addressed him a long letter of advice urging him to take Bishop Grosseteste as his example (Monumenta Franciscana, pp. 438–89). The pope claimed the right to appoint to the deanery on its vacation by Sewall, and in 1257 an Italian, Jordan, was by his authority fraudulently installed. Sewall resisted the intrusion, and as a consequence was suspended from his office and excommunicated. It does not seem clear whether Sewall was absolved before his death, but the dispute was apparently compromised by the provision of a pension for Jordan. On 20 July 1257 Sewall was one of the commissioners appointed to decide the dispute between Alexander of Scotland and his nobles (Fœdera, i. 362). He died on 10 May 1257 (Stubbs ap. Raine, Historians of the Church of York, ii. 405; but Matt. Paris, v. 691, gives the date as 2 May). He was buried in the south transept of York minster, where his tomb is marked by a marble slab bearing a cross.

Sewall's rule as archbishop was troubled by his quarrel with the pope, whom on his deathbed he summoned to judgment (ib. v. 692). But his sufferings and resistance to papal intrusion won him great popularity. Matthew Paris describes him as a humble and holy man, well skilled in law and other sciences (v. 516). Bale ascribes to him:

  1. ‘Breviloquium ad Alexandrum papam.’
  2. ‘Sermones et Epistolæ.’
  3. ‘Ad suos Sacerdotes.’

[Annales Monastici, Matthew Paris, Monumenta Franciscana, Raine's Historians of the Church of York (all these in Rolls Ser.); Chron. Lanercost, pp. 71–2; Bliss's Calendar of Papal Registers; Le Neve's Fasti Eccl. Angl.; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.-Hib. p. 664; Dixon and Raine's Fasti Eboracenses, pp. 295–9.]

C. L. K.