Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 07.djvu/394

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

selected to determine the security for David’s fidelity on his restoration to his forfeited fiefs, and was appointed to conduct Llewelyn to London to fulfil his long-delayed feudal duties. Early in 1278 he was employed on important business in France and Gascony (Rymer, ii. 109). In 1282 and 1283 he was constantly engaged in Wales or the borders. He was present at the drawing up of the statute Rhuddlan, In the latter year he entertained the king and parliament at his own house, Acton, where the statute De Mercatoribus was passed. ln_ 1285 he presided over the parliaments which passed the statutes of Westminster II and the statute of Winchester. In May 1286 he accompanied Edward to France, taking the great seal with him, and remained there until August 1289 (see Stubbs, Const. Hist. ii. 123). During their absence the judicial system fell into confusion, and on his return he was placed at the head of the commission which inquired at Westminster into the complaints against the judges (An. Dunstable in An. Mon. iii. 357; An. E. I. and E. II. ed. Stubbs, i. 98). A wholesale removal of the justices followed the presentment oftheir report in 1290. The close of Burnell's life was much occupied in Soottish affairs. He pronounced at the great meeting opposite Norham the king’s intention to act as arbiter (An. Reg. Scot. 242-246; Rymer i. 762). His baptism during 1291 of Edward I's infant grandson, Gilbert of Gloucester, shows the personal relations between king and minister kept up to the last. On 14 Oct. 1292 Burnell attended at Berwick, probably with a view to pronouncing Edwards decision in favour of Balliol. But on 25 Oct., nearly a month before the great suit was concluded, he died, apparently suddenly. His body was conveyed to Wells and buried there on 23 Nov.

lt is a remarkable proof of Burnell's energy that he was able to make such mark as he did upon the history of Wells. He found in its deanery and prebends an easy means of 'preferring his nephews or sons. He procured many franchises and liberties for the church of Wells, and acquired for it the possession of five new churches. He brought to an end the long-standing feud between the bishops of Wells and the abbots of Glastonbury, and gave up his claims to the patronage of the abbey in return for royal cessions of property, that made the bishop completely lord of the city of Bath. He built at his own expense the episcopal hall at Wells, which rivalled the works of Gower at St. David‘s, and was only surpassed in dimensions by the great hall of the bishop’s castle at Durham. His command of the royal ear enabled all his as Burnell benefactions to be firmly secured by royal charters and muniments (Canonici Wellensis Hist. de Episcopis Bath. et Well. in Anglia Sacra, i. 566, with Wharton’s note; Adam De Domerham, De Lite infer Episc. Batlon. et Monach. Glaston., ed. Hearne; Godwin, Catologue of Bishops of Bath and Wells; Phelps, History of Somerset, ii. 108; Freeman, History of Wells Cathedral; Cassan, Bishops of Bath and Wells.

In general ecclesiastical politics Burnell was thrown a good deal into opposition with his old rival Archbishop Peckham, whose uncom promising zeal for the privileges of his order, no less than his activity against moral abuses must have been equally obnoxious to the chancellor. The ‘Register of Peckharn,’ 373, 424, 430 (Rolls Series, ed. C. T. Martin, 1882-4), shows how uneasy the relations of Burnell and his metropolitan continued to be. At one time urnell accused Peckham of obtaining papal letters to prevent his further promotion, and in 1284 Peckham asked the Roman curia to any the current report that when Winchester was vacant: he informed the pope of ‘certain defects’ of Burnell's character which effectually stopped his appointment (dxliv.) At another time Burnell accused Peckham of refusing him justice in the court of arches dxviii), while Peckham suspected Burnell of using spiritual censures in order to get in the debts of merchants whose services were useful to the crown (cccclvi.)

The private habits of the chancellor were not such as to satisfy even the low standard of ecclesiastical decorum then exacted, and may well have barred him from the arch-bishopric, An unpleasant feature of his character was his insatiable greed. His ambition was to found a baronial family in Shropshire. To make his native village of Acton a flourishing town, to rebuild his ancestral house on a scale adequate to entertain kings and parliaments and to increase his estates were oljects cbnstantly pursued by him for nearly thirty years. So early as 1272 his own kinsfolk were among the jurors of Condover who complained that the future minister of the king who destroyed the political importance of feudalism was withdrawing Acton from the jurisdiction of the hundred moot. With the acquisition of Castle Holgate from the Templars and the Earl of Cornwall, Burnell had obtained an honour the possession of which made his heirs peers of the realm (see, on all points connected with Burnell's relations to Shropshire, Eyton, Antiquities of Shropshire, especially vol. iv.) On his death he was rn possession of estates in nineteen counties, and the holder, in whole or part,