West, Nicolas (DNB00)


WEST, NICOLAS (1461–1533), bishop of Ely and diplomatist, was born in 1461 at Putney, Surrey. His father, John West, is alleged by Hatcher and all subsequent biographers to have been a baker at Putney. He was educated at Eton and became scholar of King's College, Cambridge, in 1477, being elected fellow in 1483. Wood, on Hatcher's authority, has a story, which is obviously an exaggeration of some college disturbance, that in connection with an election to the proctorship of the university he set fire to the provost's lodgings, stole some silver spoons, and ran away from the college. As a matter of fact he held his fellowship till the close of 1498, regularly took his degrees in arts, and became LL.D. before 1486, when he was admitted archdeacon of Derby (Le Neve, Fasti, i. 577). In 1499 he was presented by Richard Foxe [q. v.], bishop of Durham, to the rectory of Egglescliffe; but at this time he must have been in deacon's orders only, for on 18 April 1500 Thomas Savage [q. v.], bishop of London, ordained him priest. He retained Egglescliffe until his preferment to a bishopric in 1515. In 1501, upon occasion of a dispute between William Smith or Smyth (1460?–1514) [q. v.], bishop of Lincoln, and the knights hospitallers, relative to a jurisdiction claimed by the knights in the archdeaconry of Leicester, West acted as counsel for the knights (Churton, Life of Bishop Smyth, p. 185). This perhaps introduced him to the notice of Bishop Smyth, who presented him in 1502 to the rectory of Witney in Oxfordshire, a living which he also retained till his elevation to the bench. Godwin states that he was also rector of Elford, near Lichfield. In the same year (1502) he was styled chaplain to the king (Rymer, Fœdera, xiii. 35).

In Foxe West had found a powerful patron. Foxe controlled the foreign relations of the country, and on 18 Nov. 1502 appointed West as junior colleague of Sir Thomas Brandon [q. v.], ambassador to the Emperor Maximilian (ib.) In 1504 we find West a member of the king's council, for he appears sitting as such in the Star-chamber upon the occasion of a decree dated 26 Nov. 1504 which settled the conflicting relations of the merchants of the staple and the merchant adventurers (Churton, Life of Bishop Smyth, p. 223). At the beginning of 1505 West was commissioned as sole plenipotentiary to conclude a treaty with George, duke of Saxony (Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, i. 1717). Calais was the place of negotiation. The real object of the treaty was to prevent the harbouring of Suffolk [see Pole, Edmund de la, Earl of Suffolk] by the duke. The convention was ratified at Dresden on 30 Dec. 1505 (Rymer, Fœdera, xiii. 123). In 1506 West was one of the commissioners who negotiated a treaty of commerce with the Netherlands so favourable to England that it was known in Flanders as the ‘intercursus malus.’

On 10 May following this brilliant success West received another diplomatic mission. This was to take the ratification of a treaty of marriage between Henry VII and Margaret of Savoy, sister of Philip, king of Castille (ib. xiii. 128). The treaty, which had no practical result, was confirmed at Valladolid on 13 July 1506, West being present (ib. xiii. 155). In this document West is styled archdeacon of Derby.

In 1508 West was one of the commissioners for settling the conditions of a marriage between Charles, archduke of Austria and prince of Castille, and the Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VII. The Flemish embassy arrived in England to negotiate the treaty in December of that year. West, as one of a small deputation of the council, was appointed to meet them on their way (Gairdner, Letters and Papers, Richard III and Henry VII, i. 371). It is clear from this that, though he retained his benefices and his archdeaconry, he was still about the court. The treaty was signed by Henry on 8 Dec. 1508 (Rymer, Fœdera, xiii. 187).

On 3 Nov. 1509 West received his first preferment from Henry VIII, the grant of the deanery of St. George's, Windsor (Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, i. 624). On 20 June 1510, having Sir Thomas Docwra [q. v.], a former colleague, as leader of the mission, West was despatched to France for the purpose of taking the oath of Louis XII to the observance of the treaty of 23 March 1509 (ib. i. 1104). After West's return he took up his residence at Windsor, and occupied himself with the completion of St. George's Chapel. In September 1511 a warrant was issued for the payment to him of 200l. for the vaulting of the building, to be repaid by the knights of the Garter to the exchequer (ib. ii. p. 1452).

On 3 Nov. 1511 West was nominated an ambassador to James IV of Scotland (Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, i. p. 1926). He set out in November and arrived as far as York (ib. ii. p. 1453). But his journey seems to have been arrested, and West returned. On 4 Feb. 1512 he was appointed to the sinecure office of receiver of petitions to parliament from Gascoigne and beyond seas (ib. i. 2082). On 15 Feb. he received a fresh appointment as commissioner to treat with Scotland for redress of grievances (ib. i. 3007). On 15 Feb. 1513 Lord Dacre and West were again appointed ambassadors to settle differences with the Scots (ib. 3726). The real object of Henry VIII was to keep Scotland quiet pending his invasion of France [see Henry VIII]. James IV, on the other hand, was waiting the moment of England's embarrassment in France formally to declare war. The final result of West's embassy was the concession by James of a commission to treat of the grievances on the border, which met, without transacting any business, in June 1513. Meanwhile West had returned to England, and the fruitlessness of his mission was proved by the invasion of England by James in the following summer.

During his stay in Scotland West had availed himself of the hospitality of the Friars Observant at Stirling (ib. 3838). It was perhaps a consequence of this intimacy that on 25 Jan. 1514 he was admitted to the order, a favour recited in the deed of admission as granted ‘on account of the services he had rendered them’ (ib. 4678). That Henry VIII did not attribute the failure of his mission to any remissness upon West's part is evident from the fact that on 18 Aug. 1514 he nominated him, together with Charles Somerset, earl of Worcester [q. v.], the head of the mission, and his former colleague, Sir Thomas Docwra, a commissioner to take the oath of Louis XII to the treaty of peace of 7 Aug. 1513 and to receive that king's obligation for the payment of 1,000,000 crowns of gold (ib. 5335). The ambassadors arrived at Boulogne on 3 Sept. 1514 (ib. 5379), proceeding by way of Abbeville to Paris (ib. 5391). Part of their mission was the celebration by proxy of the marriage of the Princess Mary [see Mary of France], sister of Henry VIII, to Louis XII, which was among the terms of the treaty of peace (ib. 5482). On 1 Jan. 1515 Louis XII died, and West was again despatched, together with Suffolk and Sir Richard Wingfield [q. v.], to present to Francis I the condolences of Henry on the death of his predecessor (ib. ii. 24, 25).

The fruit of the diplomacy of West and his colleagues was a defensive alliance with France, dated 5 April 1515. This secured to Francis immunity from interference during the prosecution of his Italian campaign (ib. 301). West was commissioned to receive from Francis his oath to the treaty (ib. 332), including his obligation for the payment of the million golden crowns claimed by Henry as due from Louis XII (ib. ii. 333, 428). The reward of West's mission in France was his nomination to the see of Ely through Wolsey's influence (ib. 295, 298, 299, 305). The temporalities of the see were granted to him on 18 May 1515 as from the death of his predecessor (Rymer, Fœdera, xiii. 510). He was consecrated on 7 Oct. (Le Neve, Fasti, i. 341) at Lambeth by Warham. On 12 Nov. he took his seat in the House of Lords (Letters and Papers, ii. 1131), and officiated at the ceremonies attending the reception by Wolsey of the cardinal's hat three days later (ib. 1153).

In the following spring (1516) West began his episcopal visitation. The bishop wrote to Wolsey on 4 April that he ‘found such disorder at Ely that but for this visit it could not have been continued a monastery four years’ (ib. p. 1733). He appointed a new prior and other officers. On 30 May 1516 West was appointed to settle the terms of a treaty with Scotland, having Lord Dacre once more for his colleague, Thomas Magnus [q. v.], archdeacon of the East Riding, being the third commissioner (ib. 1957). Notwithstanding his activity, West's health was infirm (ib. ii. 2413). On 28 May 1517 he was nominated at the head of the commission to inquire into inclosures and imparkations of land, contrary to the statute of 4 Henry VII, c 19 (‘agaynst pullyng doun of Tounes’), in Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, and Hertfordshire. On 1 Oct. 1517 he was nominated a member of a commission, presided over by the Duke of Norfolk, to arrange a league with France and Leo X, and settle the terms of the long-deferred restitution of Tournai (Letters and Papers, ii. 4467). This resulted in a treaty of universal peace (Rymer, xiii. 624), dated 2 Oct. 1518 (Letters and Papers, ii. 4469). He signed two days later another treaty for a marriage between the Princess Mary [see Mary I] and the dauphin (ib. 4475), and on 8 Oct. a third treaty (ib. 4483) arranging a personal interview between the two kings. On 9 Nov. 1518 West was nominated one of four ambassadors to France (Rymer, Fœdera, xiii. 664). In this, as in his former embassy to France, the main conduct of negotiations appears to have devolved on West (Letters and Papers, iii. 9, 15, 22, &c.). To him also Wolsey had secretly entrusted the delicate discussion of the compensation he was to receive from Francis for the resignation of his bishopric of Tournai (ib. ii. 4664), and of the pension to be paid him (ib. iii. 9). On 21 Dec. West was, with the other ambassadors, a witness to the formal ratification by Francis of the treaty of marriage of Mary to the dauphin (ib. ii. 4669), and of other articles of treaty (ib.) In the summer of 1521 Wolsey summoned West to Calais to assist him in his arbitration upon the issues between Francis I and Charles V. On 27 Nov., however, Wolsey, in despair of bringing the negotiations to a successful issue, returned to England, accompanied by West (Chron. of Calais, pp. 30, 31). On 14 Aug. 1525, in conjunction with Sir Thomas More, West settled the articles of a truce between England and France (Letters and Papers, iv. 1570). The formal treaty, called the ‘Treaty at the More,’ was ratified after frequent conferences (ib. 1738) on 30 Aug., West being one of the signatories (ib. 1600 (4), 1601, cf. 1617) and principal negotiator (ib. 1738).

In November and December 1527 he sat in the chapter-house of Westminster with Wolsey and five other bishops, and received the submission of Thomas Bilney [q. v.] and Thomas Arthur (d. 1532) [q. v.], accused of heresy, of both of whom he was diocesan (ib. 3639; Foxe, Actes and Monuments). Upon the hearing of the divorce in July 1529 West filed an affidavit in behalf of the queen, whose chaplain he was. On 6 April 1533 Cromwell wrote that the king desired West to attend the council next term; ‘his grace had often lamented his absence and his infirmity’ (Letters and Papers, vi. 312). On 28 April 1533 West died. His will, executed at Downham, is of the same date (ib. 393). An inventory of the bishop's goods survives in the record office.

Upon matters of doctrine, as his admission to the Friars Observant indicates (see Roy's satire on Wolsey, Harl. Misc. ix. 45 foll.), West belonged to the older school of ecclesiastical conservatism. Pits speaks of him as ‘in defendenda catholica fide valde strenuus.’ Despite the exorbitant demands of the crown, he maintained a sumptuous state. A hundred servants were in his pay. He is said by Godwin to have fed two hundred poor daily with cooked victuals, and to have distributed large sums of money when corn was dear. According to Fuller he was a donor of plate to his college of King's at Cambridge. He was so far a patron of literature that Alexander Barclay's ‘Life of St. George,’ printed by Pinson, was dedicated to him as bishop of Ely, where Barclay was a monk. He had a cultivated architectural taste, and built a chapel of great beauty in the later Perpendicular style, with fan tracery, at the end of the south aisle of Putney parish church. The church was unfortunately rebuilt in 1836, and, according to Brayley, the chapel actually ‘removed’ to its present situation, north of the chancel (Hist. of Surrey, 1850, iii. 477). At Cambridge he built part of the provost's lodgings at King's. To Ely Cathedral he added an exquisite chapel, in the same style, with elaborate carved canopies and corbels ‘of endless variety in workmanship, size, shape, and decoration,’ now much defaced. Over the door is the bishop's favourite motto, ‘Gracia Dei sum id quod sum,’ with the date 1534 (G. Miller, Description of Ely, 3rd edit. 1834, p. 94). Here he was buried. On a brass plate was formerly this inscription: ‘Of your charitie pray for the soule of Nicholas West, sometyme Bishop of this See, and for all Christian soules; in the whych prayer he hath graunted to every person so doing 40 days of pardon for every time they shall so pray.’ Here, as in his chapel at Putney, are his arms: the see of Ely impaling argent a chevron sa. between three roses gu. slipped vert.

[Cal. of Letters and Papers of Henry VIII; Rymer's Fœdera, vol. xiii.; Hatcher's manuscript Catalogue of Provosts, Fellows, and Scholars of King's Coll.; Foxe's Actes and Monuments; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, ii. 706; Fiddes's Life of Wolsey, London, 1726; Fuller's Hist. of the Univ. of Cambridge, 1655, p. 76; Wharton's Anglia Sacra, 1691, i. 676; Godwin, De Præsulibus, 1743; Pits, De Rebus Anglicis, 1619; Watson's Hist. of Wisbech, 1827; Surtees's Hist. of Durham, 1823, iii. 200; Manning and Bray's Hist. of Surrey, 1814, iii. 292; Brayley's Hist. of Surrey, 1850, iii. 477; Lewis's Life of Dr. John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, 1855, 2 vols.; Brewer's Reign of Henry VIII; Schanz's Englische Handelspolitik, 1881; Ames's Typogr. Antiq.; Busch's England unter den Tudors, 1892; Warton's Hist. Engl. Poetry, ed. 1871, iii. 195; Andrews and Jackson's Illustrations of Bishop West's Chapel, Putney, 1825; MSS. Record Office.]

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