Open main menu
For works with similar titles, see Hugh.

HUGH (1135?–1200), Saint, bishop of Lincoln, was born at Avalon, near Pontcharra in Burgundy, close to the Savoy frontier, probably in 1135. He came of a noble family. His father was William, lord of Avalon; his mother's name was Anna. The father desiring to devote himself to a religious life took his son of eight years old with him to the cloister which he had selected for himself, a priory of Regular Canons at Villarbenoit, which was in immediate connection with the church of Grenoble. Here the young Hugh was put to school, together with many other children of noble families. He is said to have shown great proficiency in his studies, and to have become very skilful in singing the various monastic services. At the age of nineteen he was ordained deacon by the Bishop of Grenoble, and a few years afterwards, most probably in 1159, was appointed, together with an aged priest, to the cell or mission chapel of St. Maximin, where he zealously performed ministerial duties for the people. But becoming earnestly desirous of dedicating himself to a more rigidly ascetic life he paid a visit to the monastery of the Grande Chartreuse. Here he was enamoured of the deep seclusion and strict life of the members of the monastery, and was anxious to join them. His prior, fearing this, caused Hugh to take an oath not to enter the Carthusian order. In spite of this, however, he soon contrived to escape to the famous monastery, where he took the vows not much later than 1160. He became remarkable for his diligent studies and extreme austerities, and in 1170 was appointed procurator or bursar of the monastery. This necessitated his constant communication with the outer world, so that his high character and tact came to be generally known. Henry II, king of England, had founded a small Carthusian monastery at Witham in Somerset, which, being badly managed, was on the point of collapse, when a noble of Maurienne suggested to Henry a way of saving it by procuring the services of Hugh of Avalon as prior. The king accordingly sent an influential embassy to Grenoble to solicit the grant of this famous monk. After very great difficulty the grant was obtained by the aid of the Archbishop of Grenoble. Hugh came to England at the latest in 1176, and probably in 1175; on arriving at Witham he found everything in a most miserable state. By his energy and tact he brought matters to a better condition, and was able in an interview with the king to show him the necessity of doing more for the monastery. A great friendship now sprang up between King Henry and the prior. Henry made frequent visits to the monastery in his hunting expeditions in Selwood Forest. He consulted Hugh about his affairs of state, and determined to promote him to the important see of Lincoln, which had now been two years vacant. In May 1186, at a council held at Eynsham, near Oxford, he sent for the canons of Lincoln, and desired them to elect as their bishop Hugh the Burgundian. Some of these canons, men of considerable eminence and great wealth, objected to Hugh as an obscure foreign monk, but they were forced to yield to the king. When, however, his election was notified to Hugh, he refused to accept it. He would have nothing to do with any constrained choice, nor would he consent to be made bishop save by the express permission of the head of his order, the prior of the Grande Chartreuse. The canons upon this again elected him unanimously in their chapter, and an embassy having been despatched to the Chartreuse the prior's consent was obtained.

Hugh was consecrated bishop of Lincoln in the chapel of the invalid monks at Westminster on St. Matthew's day, 21 Sept. 1186 (the Magna Vita incorrectly implies that it was in 1185; see Dimock's preface, pp. xxv-xxix). The king bore all the expenses attendant upon the consecration and the subsequent enthronisation at Lincoln, which took place 29 Sept. The new bishop ordered a large number of the deer in his well-stocked park of Stow to be slaughtered to feed the poor of his cathedral city. He also at once published certain decreta to meet some of the abuses then prevalent. Hugh's residence was at Stow, about twelve miles from Lincoln, and it is with this place that the legends of his famous swan, which displayed such extraordinary affection to the bishop, are connected. On his commencing the administration of his diocese Hugh was confronted with the tyrannical forest laws, and the vexatious demands and encroachments of the king's foresters. These he determined at once to check. He excommunicated the chief forester for some oppressive act, and thereby incurred the wrath of the king. This was much increased by the bishop's direct refusal to bestow a prebend in his church on a courtier recommended by the king. Henry, who had probably expected an obedient and accommodating prelate in Hugh, was greatly enraged. The bishop, whose courage was high, determined to have a personal interview with him to bring about an explanation. He found the king in Woodstock Chase, resting from hunting, with many courtiers about him. He was received in silence and with evidences of grave displeasure; but the cool confidence of the bishop and his jocular remarks turned the tide in his favour, and the interview ended by Henry approving the excommunication of 'his chief forester and the refusal of the prebend to his nominee. The bishop soon became conspicuous by his zealous performance of his duties, and especially by his unbounded charity. This was eminently shown by his treatment of the unhappy lepers then abounding in East Anglia. He delighted to tend these sufferers with his own hands, and did not shrink from eating out of the same dish with them. He was also remarkable for the attention which he showed and enforced on others to the due performance of the rites for the burial of the dead, then much neglected. The bishop stood singularly apart from the men of his time in his appreciation of alleged miracles. He desired neither to hear about them as attributed to others, nor would he allow them to be imputed to himself. Hugh's disciplinary proceedings against evil-doers were very severe, and his anathema was so much dreaded that it was regarded as equivalent to a sentence of death. It was the bishop's practice to retire every year at harvest-time to his old monastery at Witham, where he could practise the discipline which he so much loved, undisturbed by the affairs of his huge diocese. His character was a singular combination of keen worldly wisdom and tact with the deepest ascetic devotion. His most striking characteristic was perhaps his perfect moral courage.

In July 1188 Hugh went on an embassy to the French king, and he was in France at the time of Henry II's death, but returned to England in August 1189, and was present at Richard's coronation, and at the councils of Sadberge and Pipewell. During 1191 he took part in the opposition to Longchamp, whose commands he refused to execute. About the same time also he ordered the remains of Fair Rosamund to be removed from Godstow Priory. Hugh was concerned in the dispute between the chapter of York and Archbishop Geoffrey in 1194—5, and in the latter year refused to suspend Geoffrey, declaring he would rather be suspended himself. Hugh had supported Richard against John, whom he excommunicated in February 1194, but when the occasion came was fearless in his opposition to the king. In a council held at Oxford early in 1198, Hubert Walter asked for a grant in aid of the king's wars; Hugh, together with Bishop Herbert of Salisbury, opposed him, and the archbishop had to yield. Bishop Stubbs describes this as 'a landmark in constitutional history, the first clear case of refusal of a money grant demanded directly by the crown' (Hoveden, vol. iv. preface, p. xci). Richard, in fury at this opposition to his demands, ordered the immediate confiscation of the bishop's goods. Hugh went to him in Normandy, determined to make him retract the sentence. The interview between them took place in the chapel of Roche d'Andeli. The bishop's unflinching courage was completely successful, and excited the king's admiration. Not long afterwards he was involved in another quarrel with Richard, who had made a heavy demand on the canons of Lincoln. Hugh again went abroad to settle matters, and arrived just before the death of Richard. He took part in the funeral rites of the king at Fontevrault, and immediately afterwards had many colloquies with John, who was very anxious to secure the great influence of Hugh in his support. The bishop appears to have thoroughly gauged John's worthless character, and spoke very plainly to him.

Hugh returned to England, and was present at John's coronation on 27 May 1199, but he was soon again in France, summoned by the king to aid in affairs of state. He now formed the project of paying a visit to the scene of his earlier life, the monastery of the Grande Chartreuse, and early in June 1200 he quitted Paris to make this journey. Everywhere he was received with the greatest honour, and on reaching Grenoble, where the city was splendidly decorated for his reception, he celebrated mass in company with the archbishop, and had the pleasure of greeting his elder brother "William, lord of Avalon, and his brother's young son, who was baptised by him. The next day the bishop and his party visited the Grande Chartreuse, where they were received with the highest honour. On his return journey the bishop fell ill of a low intermittent fever, and being unskilfully treated he landed in England in a state of great exhaustion, and was with difficulty conveyed to London, where, in the old Temple, the house of the bishops of Lincoin, he lay lingering for some months, edifying all his attendants by his patience and great devotion, till at length on 16 Nov. the end came. His body was conveyed to Lincoln to be interred in the cathedral, which he had been chiefly instrumental in rebuilding after its partial destruction by the great earthquake of 1185. The obsequies of Hugh were very remarkable. King John, who was then holding a council at Lincoln, took part in carrying the coffin. The bishop was interred in the chapel of St. John Baptist in; the north-eastern transept of the cathedral, 24 Nov. 1200. Worship at the tomb immediately commenced. In 1220 Hugh was canonised as a saint by the Roman church, and his body was translated to a place in the church more convenient for the crowds of worshippers. Sixty years later (1280), upon the completion of the angels' choir, it was again translated, and a shrine, said to have been of pure gold, was erected over it. The translation took place in the presence of Edward I and his queen and a great concourse of noble persons. The worship of St. Hugh soon assumed almost as great proportions in the north as that of St. Thomas of Canterbury did in the south of England. St. Hugh's church is held to be one of the best examples of the fully developed pointed architecture. He also built, or at any rate commenced, the great hall in the episcopium or bishop's house adjoining the cathedral. To aid in these works he established the guild of St. Mary, the members of which all bound themselves to contribute a certain sum for the building of the cathedral. The central tower and nave as they now stand are of somewhat later date; the end of St. Hugh's work may be easily recognised in the eastern walls of the western transepts.

[Magna Vita S. Hugonis Episcopi, ed. Dimock, London, 1864; Metrical Life of St. Hugh, ed. Dimock, Linc. 1860; Giraldus Cambrensis, vol. vii., ed. Dimock, London, 1877; Rogeri de Hoveden Historia, ed. Stubbs, London, 1870; Benedicti Gesta Regis Henrici Secundi, ed. Stubbs, London, 1867; Life of St. Hugh of Avalon by the present writer, London, 1879.]

G. G. P.