HE prelates of the past enjoyed not a few peculiar privileges which are not inherited by their successors in modern times. In the mediæval era, the dignitaries of the church led comparatively exciting lives, and were by no means strangers to the use of sword and lance, many gaining fame on the field of battle.
Representatives of the church often possessed rights in respect to the gallows and its victims. A few facts about a case occurring far back, in the days of our first Edward, shew how keenly they maintained their privileges. The Abbot of Peterborough set up a gallows at Collingham, Nottinghamshire, and had hanged thereon a thief. This proceeding came under the notice of the Bishop of Lincoln, and he, with considerable 38 warmth and temper, declared that the Abbot had usurped his rights, since he held from the king’s predecessors the liberty of the Wapentake of Collingham, and the right of executing criminals. The Abbot declared that Henry III. had given to him and his successors “Infangthef and Utfangthef in all his hundreds and demesnes.” After investigation it was decided that the Abbot was in the wrong, and he was directed to take down the gallows he had erected. One, and perhaps the chief, reason of the prelate being so particular to retain his privileges was on account of it entitling him to the chattels of the condemned criminals.
William the Conqueror invested the Abbot of Battle Abbey with authority to save the life of any malefactor he might find being executed, and whose life he wished to spare.
Amongst the many privileges enjoyed by the Archbishop of York, was that of having a mint. As early as the year 1070, we find a mention of the mint, and particulars of attempts made, without success, to destroy or curtail His Grace’s coining. Archbishop Lee, who died in 1544, is said to have been the last to exercise the power of issuing money.39
In bygone times, the Archbishops of York appear to have enjoyed almost regal power. The baronies of Beverley, Sherburn, Patrington, Otley, and Wilton belonged to them. They appointed justices for these important towns, had prisons, gallows, pillories, and ducking-stools, and did their utmost to maintain law and order.
It will be gathered from the foregoing that prelates were granted privileges which enabled them to exercise much power amongst the people. Some of the rights enjoyed at Hull by the Archbishop of York were oppressive to the inhabitants of the town, and gave rise to much strife. It was the practice, exercised according to ancient custom, of the Archbishop of York to claim prisage from every vessel of twenty tons burden entering the river Hull. Two casks of wine were demanded, one from before and the other from behind the mast. The casks, however, might be redeemed by paying twenty shillings for each cask. The merchants successfully evaded payment of duty by unloading their ships in the Humber, and bringing their goods into port in small craft. As may be readily expected, the Archbishop was much annoyed at the conduct of the men of Hull, who received the support of the 40 Mayor of the town; indeed, if we read history aright, we find the local authorities had a desire to enjoy the privileges claimed by the prelate. A great difficulty had been experienced for a long time by the officers of the Archbishop in collecting the dues, and Archbishop Neville saw that unless he made a firm stand to maintain his privileges, they would be lost. In the year 1378, he decided to visit Hull, and enforce his rights. The Mayor of Hull, at that time was Sir Thomas de Waltham, a knight of quick temper, and with no particular respect for persons with whom he came in contact.
The Archbishop, with a few attendants, numbering less than a dozen, came to the town. The Mayor, accompanied by two bailiffs, named John Arnold and Thomas Green, and a large company of local supporters, met His Grace. The Archbishop complained bitterly to the Mayor, saying, amongst other serious faults, that he had shown himself wanting in that respect for the Archbishop which the representative of religion was entitled to received. His Worship soon waxed warm, declaring that he had only done his duty in maintaining the rights of his fellow-townsmen. The prelate insisted that the 41 Mayor was in the wrong, and that it was his intention to enforce the payment of his dues. The Mayor soon shewed signs of his displeasure, and seeing one of His Grace’s men mocking him, he, without ceremony, snatched from the Archbishop his crosier, and struck the man. This was the commencement of a free fight, in which the prelate and his people suffered a severe defeat. Blood freely flowed, and the Archbishop, seeing that he could not make, with any degree of success, a stand against to many opponents, beat a hasty retreat, followed a considerable distance out of the town by a large number of excited inhabitants of Hull, eager to avenge the wrongs it was believed His Grace had done to the port by collecting, or attempting to collect, prisage. The Mayor, it must be recorded, fought manfully with the crosier, which was broken into several pieces.
The Archbishop, being a court favourite, brought the matter under the notice of the King. The Mayor was summoned to appear before His Majesty at Westminster. This proceeding doubtless caused much trouble in Hull, but the Mayor, feeling that he had right on his side, proceeded to London with a brave heart, and at 42 the trial pleaded his cause with considerable eloquence. The case resulted in judgment being left in abeyance, or, in other words, His Grace was non-suited.
We can readily imagine that the Mayor would return home in higher spirits than when he left it to appear in the King’s Court, and that he would receive a hearty welcome from his fellow townsmen.
The place where the fight occurred was regarded by the superstitious as sacred, crowds of fanatics repairing to it to shed tears. Not a little inconvenience was caused by their conduct, and their proceedings were stopped by a permanent guard being appointed to keep folk away from the place.
After the death of the Archbishop, it was believed for many years that his spirit haunted the spot where the battle was fought.
In spite of the serious beach between Prelate and Mayor, Hull appears to have been a favourite residence in past times of the Archbishops of York. We know, from the annals of the town, that in the year 1442 the Archbishop had a house in the historic High Street.
Dr. Thomson, the late Archbishop of York, 43 was a frequent and welcome visitor to the town. The last time he was in Hull, His Grace was the guest of Alderman Sherburn, the Mayor. When we saw the two gentlemen in friendly conversation, we could not help contrasting the conditions of 1889 with those of 1378, and noting the great changes which five centuries have brought about, changes better alike for gentle and simple.