Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Grey, Walter de
GREY or GRAY, WALTER de (d. 1255), archbishop of York, was probably a younger son of John and Hawisia de Grey of Rotherfield, Oxfordshire (Baker, Northamptonshire, i. 140; Nichols, Leicestershire, iii. 682); but, according to Dugdale, he was son of Henry and Isolda deGrey of Thurrock, Essex (Baronage, p. 769). In either case he was a member of a family of high position. Educated at Oxford, where, it is said, he attended the lectures of Edmund Rich [q. v.], afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, he retained a strong affection for the university, became one of its benefactors, and annual masses, at which all regent masters were bound to be present, were said in memory of him (Wood, Antiquities, i. 232). He was not apparently a man of learning (Wendover, iii. 338). It is evident that he must have devoted himself to secular business, for on 2 Oct. 1205 he paid the king five thousand marks for the office of chancellor, his uncle John, bishop of Norwich, becoming his bondsman (ib. p. 231; Fœdera, i. 93; for correction of Wendover's date 1209, and of his assertion that Grey's appointment was connected with the king's displeasure at the consecration of Hugh of Wells, see Foss, Judges, ii. 79-81; Raine, Fasti Ebor. p. 283). He made himself the obsequious instrument of King John's will, and the king gave him many benefices, appointing him in 1207 to the prebend of Malling at Rochester; to a prebend at Exeter, with the archdeaconry of Totnes (Le Neve, i. 401); to a moiety of the vicarage of Holkham, Norfolk (Raine); and in 1208 to the rectory of Stradbroke in Suffolk (ib.) By the king's command the chapter of Lichfield elected him bishop in 1210, in opposition to the monastic chapter of Coventry, which had elected Prior Josbert; both elections were quashed by Pandulf. In 1212 the king gave him the living of Cossey in Norfolk (Blomefield, ii. 417), and in 1213 the deanery of St. Berians (now St. Buryan), Cornwall, and the living of Kirkham, Lancashire (Raine). He was present when John made submission to the pope at Dover on 15 May; he appears not to have sealed the charter, but there is no ground for the assertion (Campbell, Lives of the Chancellors, i. 123) that he refused to do so. Possibly in the summer of that year (Fœdera, i. 113), and certainly in October, he was employed on an embassy to Flanders, and before setting out in October he resigned the chancellorship, though his resignation was evidently intended as temporary (Foss). On 20 Jan. 1214 he was again in England, had resumed the chancellorship, and was elected bishop of Worcester. He appears to have accompanied the king abroad, and did not receive seisin of the bishopric until July; he was consecrated at Canterbury on 5 Oct., when he finally resigned the chancellorship (for some of his acts as bishop see Annals of Worcester, pp. 403, 404). Possibly the story of his offering to have a bible copied for Edmund Rich belongs to this period of his life, when he would have been able to get the work done in the monastery of Worcester (see under Edmund, 1170?-1240; Vita S. Edmundi ap. Martene, Thesaurus Novus Anecdotum, iii. col. 1788). In common with his fellow-bishops of both sides, he appeared as one of the king's supporters at Runnymead on 15 June 1215; but he must have cordially adhered to John, for in the autumn the king sent him to raise troops abroad for his service (Wendover, iii. 320). This seems inconsistent with Dr. Stubbs's opinion that the bishop avoided taking up any decided position (Const. Hist. i. 542). Wendover is wrong in calling him chancellor in 1215. On 18 June John wrote to the chapter of York to procure Grey's election to the archbishopric. The canons persisted in electing Simon Langton [q. v.], who was displeasing to John, and refused Grey on the plea that he was illiterate. In accordance with the king's wish Innocent III quashed Langton's election, and, when the canons persevered, called the case to Rome. At Rome the canons made an attempt to procure the confirmation of Langton; but on the pope's threatening that if they did not choose some one else he would choose for them, they named Grey, alleging as the reason of their choice the chastity of his life. Grey was on the spot, for the Lateran council was then sitting, and John was anxious that his cause should be well represented there. He therefore received the pall at once, and bound himself to pay the enormous sum of 10,000l. for his promotion. The date of his return to England is uncertain (Canon Raine is mistaken in asserting that he assisted at the coronation of Henry III on 28 Oct. 1216, Fasti Ebor.p. 284; his authority, a continuator of R. de Monte, Recueil, xviii. 345, confuses him with Silvester of Evesham, his successor at Worcester; comp. Annals of Dunstable, p. 48, Waverley, p. 286).
On the archbishop's return he acted with the legate Gualo and his order generally against the French party, and immediately before the battle of Lincoln (20 May 1217) joined in pronouncing excommunication against the king's enemies (Chron. Mailros, p. 195). About 6 Nov. he took part in issuing a new edition of the great charter and the charter of the forest. In December he was at Berwick, and there absolved Alexander II, the Scottish king, who had upheld the invaders, and thence proceeded to Carlisle, which had been surrendered by Alexander, and took possession of the town for Henry. In July 1219 he had a severe illness (Royal Letters, i. 39). He quarrelled with Archbishop Stephen Langton about his right to have his cross borne erect in the southern province, and rather than yield the point abstained from attending the king's second coronation in May 1220 (Annals of Dunstable, p. 57). He persisted in his claim, and in 1222 had an interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury near Lincoln to discuss the question, but their meeting had no result (ib. pp. 62, 77). When William of Aumale renewed his rebellion in 1221, Grey joined with Pandulf in excommunicating him, and on the fall of Biham, the earl's stronghold, helped the northern lords to take him prisoner near Fountains, and delivered him to the king, insisting, however, that he should be pardoned (ib. p. 64 ; Wendover, iv. 67; Matt. Paris, iii. 61). On 25 June he married Alexander of Scotland to the king's sister, Joanna, at York. He stood high in the king's favour, and was much employed by him, being sent for example in 1226, along with other ambassadors, to induce the nobles of Brittany, Normandy, and Poitou to revolt from their young king, Louis IX, and ally themselves with Henry, and to negotiate a, marriage between Henry and the daughter of the Duke of Brittany. The ambassadors held several interviews with the French lords, but nothing came of them (Fœdera, i. 183; Annals of Dunstable, p. 103; Wendover, iv. 136, 140, 141;Chron. Turon. Recueil, xviii. 318), and the archbishop returned to England the following May. Grey made some attempts to assert the claims of his see to the obedience -of the Scottish church, and in the last year of his life consecrated a bishop to the see of Withern in Galloway. In 1233 he protested, on the ground of these claims, against the coronation of Alexander of Scotland as contrary to the rights of his see as well at to the dignity of the English kingdom. The Roman see, however, was in favour of the full independence of the Scottish church, and Innocent IV in 1251 settled the question against him (Fœdera, i. 209, 277). When the legate Otho opened the council held at St. Paul's on 19 Nov. 1237, Grey seems to have claimed that as the senior archbishop he should take precedence of Edmund, archbishop of Canterbury; the legate, however, settled the matter by declaring that the Archbishop of Canterbury's proper place was on his right hand, and that of the Archbishop of York on his left (Matt. Paris, iii. 416, 417). The next year Grey was summoned to London by the king to protect the legate, who had fled from Oxford on account of the affray between his household and the scholars, and he evidently took a leading part, in bringing about the pardon of the university (ib. p.485). In 1241 the archbishop attended a meeting of bishops and other great ecclesiastics to consider the condition of the Roman church, which was then in trouble, for Gregory IX was dead and the Emperor Frederic was triumphant in Italy. They ordered prayers and fasts, and determined to send messengers to remonstrate with the emperor (ib. iv. 173). On 9 June Grey consecrated Nicolas of Farnham to the bishopric of Durham, and received a profession of obedience from him, and this had an important bearing on the dispute which afterwards arose between the sees in the days of Archbishops Wickwaine and Romanus, When the king was about to set out on his expedition to France, he sent the archbishop with two other commissioners to the great council which met at London on 2 Feb. 1242 to demand an aid; the commissioners were not successful. Henry sailed at Easter, leaving the archbishop in charge of the kingdom, and Grey is therefore described as the 'king's chief justiciar' (Fœdera, i. 244; Liber de Antiqq. Legg. p. 9); the Bishop of Carlisle and William Cantelupe were appointed as his chief advisers. During the king's absence, which lasted until September 1243, Grey had much to do to supply him with money, stores, and troops, specially as some of the stores which he sent were lost, as he believed, at sea. He demanded an aid from the Cistercians on account of their wool, but, though he threatened them with the king's displeasure, was unable to obtain it, and consequently refused to allow the abbots to leave the kingdom in order to attend the general chapter of their order (Fœdera, i. 246, 250; Matt. Paris, iv. 234, 235). The guardians of the Cinque ports applied to him for help, representing that they were unable to protect the coast from the ships of Brittany and Poitou, and that the seamen of Normandy and Calais were preventing them from fishing. Grey wrote urgently to the king, bidding him return as he cared for his own safely and that of his kingdom. He provided ships for his voyage, and went to Portsmouth to meet him on his return. In 1244 he was warden of the Tower, and as Griffith, the eldest son of Llewelyn of North Wales, who was confined there, broke his neck in trying to escape on I May, he obtained a writ from the king declaring that no blame attached to him in the matter (Fœdera, i. 256), Henry requested Pope Innocent to excuse the archbishop from attending the council of Lyons in 1245, but the pope would not consent. In 1249 he was employed on some fruitless scheme of marriage between the reigning houses of England and Provence (ib. pp. 270, 277).
Grey distinguished himself by his magnificent hospitality at the marriage of Alexander III of Scotland to Henry's daughter Margaret in 1252. The wedding was held at York. Grey gave sixty oxen for the feast, supplied all deficiencies, and provided lodgings for all who had none, pasture for horses, firing, and utensils, at a cost of four thousand marks behaving as became one who was 'the prince of the north' (Matt. Paris, v. 269), He did not attend the assembly of the clergy held the following October, and the prelates refused to decide finally on the demand made upon them in his absence, especially as the Archbishop of Canterbury was also absent. The next year he excused himself from coming to the parliament, alleging his old age and the length of the journey. The real reason of his absence, however, was that he had become convinced of the mis-government of the king, and decided as far as possible to withdraw himself from his councils (ib. p. 373). He did not come up to the parliament of 1254, but on this occasion he was unfit for the journey; for when, on the queen leaving England to join the king in Gascony at the end of May, he was again requested to take charge of the kingdom, he refused, feeling old age and sickness pressing heavily on him (ib. p. 447). However he attended the parliament which met on 6 April 1255, while he was at London. His anxiety about the affairs of the kingdom, conjoined with his habit of fasting, affected his head, and at the invitation of the Bishop of London he withdrew to Fulham for rest, and died there on 1 May, the third day after his arrival, having held the archbishopric for nearly forty years. His body was embalmed, conveyed to York with much honour by Walter, bishop of Durham, and buried in the south transept of the minster, under a monument with his effigy, which still exists. He published a body of 'constitutions,' probably in a provincial synod (Wilkins, i. 698).
In his diocesan work Grey was wise and active, and seems to have done much to reorganise the parochial system (Raine, p. 291). At York he built the south transept of the minster, probably founded the sub-deanery, and otherwise enlarged and enriched the prebendal body, and presented the church with a splendid set of copes and other ornaments. At Ripon he translated the body of St. Wilfrid to a new shrine (Metrical Chronicle, ll. 79, 385), and is said to have built the west front of the church. He also made some gifts to monasteries. He bought and attached to his church the village of St. Andrewthorpe, long known as Bishopthorpe, the residence of the archbishops, and a house in London, now Whitehall. This house was the residence of Hubert de Burgh, who gave it to the Black friars of London. Grey bought it from the Black friars, and it became the London house of the archbishops, and was called York Place down to Wolsey's time. He further provided a good amount of stock in all the manors of his see, and obtained an order from the crown that the same amount should be kept up by his successors. He died very rich, and left his private estates to his brother, Sir Richard Grey, with remainder to Richard's son Walter (Drake, Eboracum, p. 426).
Notwithstanding Grey's liberality to the churches of York and Ripon, he appears to have been harsh and illiberal in his dealings with the poor. This is proved by a story which, though it has some supernatural particulars, should not be discarded as 'ridiculously absurd' (Raine, p. 292n.), for it is told by Roger of Wendover (iv. 317) and accepted by Matthew Paris (iii. 299). Both take him as the most notable example of episcopal avarice, and relate that in a time of famine the stewards of some of his manors informed him that he had a quantity of wheat stored up which was perishing from age and vermin. Grey ordered that this damaged stuff was only to be given to the villeins on condition that they bound themselves after the next harvest to restore an equal amount of new grain. His steward at Ripon found the barn there full of toads and snakes. Nevertheless by Grey's orders his servants prepared to weigh it out to the poor; but it was found impossible to move it because of the stench, and a voice was heard saying: 'Put no hand on the grain, for the archbishop and all that he has are the devil's due;' so the grain was burnt to prevent the vermin from getting abroad. Moreover, Matthew Paris, in his notice of Grey's munificence at the marriage-feast of Alexander III, distinctly refers to reports as to his avarice (ib. v. 270). It is probable that the enormous sum which he had to pay at Rome for his promotion caused him to be over-strict in money matters during the earlier part of his archiepiscopate, and he may have changed in this respect in after years. He certainly changed in other ways, for that John liked and trusted him is sufficient to prove that he was at that time base and time-serving. In Henry's reign he helped to put English benefices into the hands of foreigners, and his refusal to accept an English clerk presented to a living (probably) Kirkleatham in Yorkshire by the patron, Robert Twenge, the famous 'Will Wither,' led to such serious consequences that the pope commanded him to accept the presentee (ib. iii. 217, 609-12). Towards the close of his life, however, he became dissatisfied at the evils of the administration, made no secret of his feelings, and was looked on as one of the most prominent of the patriotic party among the clergy. In this connection his name is honourably coupled with that of Bishop Robert Grosseteste, and men lamented his death as the loss of one who would not have shrunk from withstanding the oppressions of the Roman see. His position as a patriotic churchman gave rise to a story that he died under papal excommunication, and that consequently his body was not buried in consecrated ground, but laid within his monument above the level of the floor of the minster. Francis Drake [q. v.], the antiquary, made an opening in the stone work of the monument, and found that it was not hollow (Eboracum, p. 427, where the tomb is figured).[Raine's Fasti Ebor. pp. 275-95; Foss's Judges, ii. 15-24,79-81; Drake's Eboracum, pp.426,427; Roger of Wendover, vols. iii. iv. passim (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Matt. Paris, vols. ii-v. passim (Rolls Ser.); Annals of Waverley, Dunstable, Worcester, &c., ap. Annales Monast. vols. i-iv. passim (Rolls Ser.); Royal Letters, Hen. III, i. 39, 169, 483; T. Stubbs and Metrical Chron. ap. Historians of York, ii. 401, 472, 480 (Rolls Ser.); Martene and Durand, Thesaurus Novus, iii. col. 1788; Chron. Mailros, p. 195, ed. Gale; Baker's Hist. of Northamptonshire, i. 140; Nichols's Hist. of Leicestershire, iii. 682; Dugdale's Baronage, p. 709; Wood's Hist. and Antiq. of Oxford, i. 232; Rymer's Fœdera, vol. i. passim. Record ed.; Wilkins's Concilia, i. 606, 620, 698.]