LIVES OF THE BISHOPS OF EXETER
WALTER BRONESCOMBE. - We have stated in the preceding article that Bishop Blondy died in Exeter Palace on 26th December,1257. The dean and chapter met on the Tuesday after the ensuing Epiphany to deliberate on the choice of a successor, and on the 23rd February Walter Bronescombe, a native of Exeter, who, though but in deacon's orders, had for newly the last six years been Archdeacon of Surrey, was unanimously selected to fill the vacant see. His register informs us, that on Midlent Sunday, the 3rd March, the election was announced to King Henry III. at Westminster, who signified his approbation of it, and directed letters for its confirmation to the Primate Boniface, the queen's uncle. The archbishop happened to be so engaged with public and private business as to be unable to certify his confirmation until three days later. This was done in Bexley Church, Kent, in the presence of Ralph Archbishop of Tarento, and many others; and the elect took the oath of fealty to his sovereign on the very same day, and was duly put in possession of his temporalities. On Saturday, 9th March, he was ordained priest at Canterbury by the said primate, with Simon de Walton, elect of Norwich, and Roger de Longespée, elect of Coventry; and on the following day was consecrated to episcopacy by the primate, assisted by the Bishops of St. David's and Salisbury. The 14th April witnessed his enthronization (intronizatus est) in Exeter Cathedral.
Bishop Bronescombe has the merit of commencing a regular series or register of his acts. His register is indeed a valuable record, supplying abundant evidence of his unwearied attention to his ministerial duties, of his unsullied integrity of character, of his promptitude and successful energy in asserting the rights and privileges of his see, hotly against ecclesiastics and powerful laymen; but, above all, of his generous personal sacrifices to uphold and exteind the means of divine worship and provide for the comforts of the forlorn poor.
That he was distinguished for circumspection and integrity of conduct may-be inferred from having steered with such safety and honour through the perilous and furious contests. between the king and his barons. And when the power of the latter was beaten down by the decisive action fought at Evesham, on the 4th August, 1265, the name of our prelate stands the first on the committee of the twelve bishops and barons appointed to arrange and settle. differences. Their award in the happy pacification called the 'Dictum de Kenilworth' was subsequently confirmed by the king and parliament.
In 1270 he obtained from the crown a market and fair for Bishopsteignton; and on the 8th May of that year the confirmation of the royal charters granted to his see during the last 276 years. They are copied at the end of his register, and are printed tolerably correctly in vol. ii. of the last edition of Dugdale's 'Mon. Ang.' p..535. William of Worcester styles our bishop " Walter le Goode" ('Itin.' p. 128), and he merited the title by the excellence of his character and his deeds of munificence. The registrar of Newenham extols his numerous acts of bounty to that abbey, his donation of 600 marks towards the building of their conventual church, and his gift of six altars for it, viz. St. Gabriel's, St. Thomas', St. Catharine's, on the north side, and of St. John's, St. Anne's, and St. Nicholas', on the south side: and the Grey Friars of Bodmin venerated him as their special benefactor. At Clist he rebuilt the convenient manor-house, with its gateway bearing the appropriate motto, "Janua patet: Cor magis," which became the favourite residence of his successors; and he amply endowed its chapel of St. Gabriel. He did much to restore the collegiate establishment of Crediton to its ancient splendour, and he nobly founded another college of St. Thomas at Glaseney; of both of which a detailed history may be seen in the 'Monasticon' of the diocese. We stop not to notice the senseless calumny broached by Hoker, Godwin, and Izacke, to depreciate his memory, in the purchase of Cornish Wood; for it stands victoriously confuted in the conveyance-deed, fortunately preserved in his register, and which we have printed in the second volume of the 'Ecclesiastical Antiquities,' p. 34. On the 15th January, 1271, he appropriated to his dean and chapter the church of Up-Ottery.
King Henry III. dying on the 16th November, 1272, our bishop, in the company of his old friend Godfrey Gifford, Bishop of Worcester, proceeded in the following May to Paris, to meet King Edward I. on his return from the Holy Land. In the ensuing year he assisted at the 14th General Council holden at Lyons, which opened in May and closed in July, 1274. The annals of Worcester inform us that Eleanora, the queen of Edward I., having been delivered of a son who is called by Matthew of Westminster "Regis primogenitus" (p. 372) - at Bayonne, our bishop was invited to perform the baptismal rite on the 24th November, 1275, and that the child was named Alphonsus, in compliment to the godfather, the King of Spain ('Angl. Sac.' vol. i. 501). This royal child dying in his 10th year (19th August, 1284) was buried in Westminster Abbey.
By his firm, but conciliatory spirit, he succeeded in recovering the rights and privileges of the see from the encroachments of Prince Edmund, the Earl of Cornwall. Their amicable composition of all differences may be seen in the Bishops' Register, fol. 61, which we have printed in the 'Monasticon' of the diocese, p. 426. It is dated from Lambeth Chapel, Thursday after 12th March, 1274-5.
For the better regulation of his cathedral establishment, he had collected, revised, and amended the constitutions and statutes of his predecessors, and procured their ratification from Cardinal Ottobonus, the papal legate in England.
On the 5th September, 1278, he appropriated to his dean and chapter St. Bruered's Church in Cornwall, as well to maintain the celebration of the feast of his great patron St. Gabriel on the first Monday in September yearly, as to meet the expenses of his own obit on the day following. The subjoined ordinance may interest our readers, the original of which may be seen in his register :-
"To all sons of our Holy Mother the Church who shall see or hear this present writing, Walter, by divine mercy, Bishop of Exon, everlasting salvation in the Lord. To the intent that, with more holy affection and more fervent zeal, even our service may not be wanting to the spirits of the heavenly court; we endeavour, according to the measure of our weakness, to bestow such honour as we are able. To which heavenly company we believe and hope the guardianship of human frailty is deputed, under certain blessed angelic spirits, and the souls of the faithful are mercifully intrusted by the most high Maker of heaven. Therefore, being desirous to honour, as much as we are able, the renowned Brideman of the same court, namely, the memory of Saint Gabriel, of whose favour, the divine clemency so willing it, we have often felt the benefit; we do assign, and, so assigned by the evidence of this present writing, do appropriate, in form hereunder noted, to our beloved sons, our Dean and Chapter of Exon, perpetually to be possessed to their proper use, the church of St Bruered in Cornwall, of which the advowson is known to belong to us, as of our canonical acquisition (that is to say), that the aforesaid Dean and Chapter and their successors, every year on the first Monday of the month of September, in our great church of the blessed Peter of Exon, shall for ever solemnly celebrate the memory of the same Saint Gabriel with the like honour, in lights and other things, as hath been accustomed to be done on the day of the Nativity of our Lord, or at Easter: ordaining that each canon being bodily present at the said solemnity shall over and above his daily distribution of that day, receive of the goods of the church, two shillings; each vicar, in like manner, present, twelve-pence; each secondary, six-pence; and each choir-boy of the choir, being within the due number, two-pence. We ordain that, on the next ensuing Tuesday of the same month, namely, on the morrow of the same feast, there shall be had, in our church aforesaid, a solemn anniversary day, by the aforesaid Dean and Chapter, and their successors, for our soul, and for the souls of William and Richard, our predecessors of good memory, and for the souls of our successors, Bishops of Exon, and for the souls of our father and mother, and of our benefactors, and of all the faithful departed this life. Therefore, each canon present at this solemn commemoration, shall perpetually receive yearly, on that day, of the goods of the same church, two shillings; and each vicar, twelve-pence; and each secondary, six-pence; and each choir-boy, two-pence; appointing that the aforesaid Dean and Chapter and their successors shall, in every year on the aforesaid Tuesday, feed annually five hundred feeble poor; so that the allowance of provisions to each, be of the value of one penny in meat and drink. We will also and ordain that all the residue of the proceeds of the said church of Saint Bruered be equally divided amongst the canons who shall happen to assist at both the aforesaid solemnities, and be not converted to other uses; save a competent vicariate in the same church of Saint Bruered, which we ordain shall consist of the whole 'Altalage,' and the whole sanctua together with 40s. in the sheaf tithes, and of all the tithes of hay, to be by us and our successors honestly paid. We appoint also and ordain that every Dean, at his creation, shall swear to observe this our statute and ordinance, together with the other ancient and approved ones of the church of Exon. In witness whereof we have caused our seal to be affixed.
Given in our Chapter of Exon, on the nones (5th) of September, in the year of grace 1278, and of our consecration 21."
For some time 'the prelate's health had been declining, and he had already prepared St. Gabriel's Chapel at the south-east end of his cathedral for his place of interment. Leaving London early in June, 1280, he reached Bishop's Clist by the end of that month, whence he proceeded to his manor-court at Chudleigh; but after a short interval moved to his residence at Bishopsteignton. The routine of official business experienced no interruption; but two days before his death he appropriated to his chapter the church of Bokerell Reg. fol 97); and on the very day of his death, 22nd July, 1280, he admitted Walter de Guldeford to Knowstone Church, and withdrew the interdict laid on the abbot and convent of the recently founded monastery of Bucland for having presumed to celebrate divine service in their precincts without having obtained his previous license.
His stately monument in St. Gabriel's Chapel was inscribed with the following epitaph, manifestly composed after his death, and perhaps after the death of the second Walter (Bishop Stapeldon) :
Olim sincerus Pater, omni dignus amore
Primus Walterus magma jacet hie in honore.
Edidit hic plura dignissima laude statuta
Quæ tanquam jura servant hic omnia tuta.
Atque hoc Collegium quod Glaseney plebs vocat omnis
Condidit egregium, pro voce datâ sibi somnis.
Quot loca construxit? Pietatis quot bona fecit?
Quam sanctam duxit vitam? vox dicere quaæ scit.
Laudibus immensis jubilet gens Exoniensis
Et chorus et turbæ, quia natus in hâc fuit Urbe.
Plus si scire velis, festum statuit Gabrielis,
Gaudeat in coelis igitur Pater iste fidelis.
Did the learned prelate borrow the idea of his motto, "Patientia vincit," from our townsman Joseph's epic poem 'de Bello Trajano,' lib. 2, v. 357, "Patientia Victrix"?
ARMS: - Or a chevron sable, charged with three cinquefoils of the first, between two keys erect in chief and a sword erect in base of the second.
Previous Bishop Return to list of Bishops Next Bishop