Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Winchester, John

WINCHESTER, JOHN, or John of (d. 1460?), bishop of Moray, is said to have been an Englishman who came into Scotland in the retinue of James I on his return from England in 1424. His name (though there are contemporary instances of it as a surname in Scotland) suggests that he may have been a priest of the household of Cardinal Beaufort, bishop of Winchester, who was the uncle of James's queen and solemnised their marriage. From the beginning of James's actual reign Winchester appears as his trusted friend, and is constantly in attendance at court. In the church he is chaplain to the king, prebendary of Dunkeld, canon of Glasgow (1428), and provost of Lincluden (1435). In the same year he is bishop-elect of Moray, and receives certain payments for promoting the king's affairs at the court of Rome. His election was confirmed by the pope in 1436, and next year he was consecrated at Cambuskenneth. He held the see for twenty-three years (not thirteen, as Spottiswoode says), and obtained for it certain valuable privileges. His men were not to be distrained for ‘wapinschaw or hosting’ by either of his powerful neighbours, the earls of Moray and Huntly, but were to rise and pass with his own bailies, as other barons' men (1445). His town of Spynie was erected into a burgh of barony, and the church-lands of his diocese (which were in six counties—Elgin, Banff, Aberdeen, Inverness, Ross, and Sutherland) were erected into one regality (1451), the latter being given him (says James II) in gratitude for ‘a multitude of services rendered to our late father, of cherished memory, and faithfully continued to ourselves.’

The records teem with notices of these services, rendered in the household, the exchequer, as lord-register, and as lord-treasurer, and ranging from payments ‘pro zucure et gingibero ad usum regis’ to embassies to England (1452), and especially supervision of the works at the royal castles of Linlithgow (which he visited along with James I in 1434), Stirling (1434), Urquhart (on Loch Ness), and Inverness (1458); and in the demolishing of the Douglases' island fortress of Lochindorb (1458) his deputy at the latter place, Calder of that ilk, carried the great iron door of Lochindorb to his seat, Cawdor Castle, where it may still be seen. The strengthening and demolishing of these castles respectively formed part of the policy of James I and James II, and Winchester was their adviser in regard to that policy, as well as in the acts by which it was carried out. From July 1457 to April 1458 James II spent his time mostly in the bishop's diocese, and Winchester entertained him at his palace of Spynie. On the king's return to the south, Winchester complained that the Earl of Huntly had seized his lands and was drawing his rents.

Winchester died on 1 April 1459 or 1460, and was buried in his cathedral at Elgin, in St. Mary's Isle, where his effigy remains. There are still in the north of Scotland families of the name who claim descent from him; they spring more probably from members of his household, who, following a northern custom, had, as his ‘baron's men,’ assumed his surname. He is said to have been a bachelor of the canon law. Spottiswoode, who, like Shaw and Keith, is in error in regard to the dates of his life, describes him as ‘a man of good parts.’

[Exchequer Rolls; Great Seal Registers; Registrum Moraviense; Keith's Catalogue of Scottish Bishops; Grub's Ecclesiastical History; Shaw's History of Moray; Young's Annals of Elgin.]

J. C.