William Airmyn, government official and Bishop of Norwich
Niall C.E.J. O’Brien
William Airmyn, or as his contemporaries would write Ayreminne, came from the village of Airmyn by the Humber in Yorkshire. Modern historians write his surname as Airmyn and I will follow that convention. His family provided a number of members to make their career in the government – Adam Airmyn was a clerk of the chancery while Richard Airmyn (William’s brother) was clerk of the Privy Seal (1314-1322). This Richard Airmyn became chancellor of Salisbury cathedral in 1329. He was also prebendary of Brixworth and rector of Odiham (both benefices were annexed to the chancellorship).
William Airmyn was a member of the both the church and the state. As a cleric he held many church positions and was elected Bishop of Norwich in 1325. In tandem which this church career William Airmyn worked for the government, beginning as a chancery clerk and rising to become treasurer of England (1331-1332).
The bad press
Bishop William Airmyn has received much bad press from historians over the years, particularly in relation to his political career. Edward Foss said that:
“Throughout the thirty years of his official career, there is nothing to moderate the unfavourable impression which his career trends to create. With cunning and craft in the outset, with covetousness in the progress, and with ingratitude and treason at the end, he seems far more deserving of popular aversion than his contemporary, Robert de Baldock, the chancellor, who, though perhaps answerable for not more wisely directing a weak monarch, was faithful and true to the last”.
Sidney Lee, following on what Edward Foss said, wrote in the Dictionary of National Biography that “The old verdict on his career, which stigmatised him as ‘crafty, covetous and treasonable’, seems substantially just”.
T.F. Tout said that William Airmyn was “a man of great personal importance, one of those capable, pushing and unscrupulous officials who were characteristic politicians of the reign [of Edward II]”.
It is beyond the scope of this article to fully assess if William Airmyn fully deserved such bad press or if he was just a victim of those who were not as ambitious. The restrictions on this author are in place because of so called progress. The Dictionary of National Biography and other references books, formerly available in the local library just ten miles to the west of my house, have been removed to the library headquarters building thirty miles away, making it difficult to find time to get there. This is compounded by the merger of two adjunct local authorities to the east of me. Where formerly a well-stocked reference library was but seven miles from home, this has now been removed to a city fifty miles away. This article on William Airmyn therefore has to be written to replace the lost reference books but its content is restricted to what material I can gather from my own books.
On 20th April 1306 Master Peter de Aymercii going to Gascony nominated William Airmyn and Roger Peperwhit as his English attorneys. In January 1308 these two attorneys were reappointed for another year by Master Peter who was staying overseas. On 21st May 1306 William Airmyn was appointed one of two attorneys for Peter, prior of Le Sele who was going overseas. In July 1309 Master Francis de Sancto Alberto of Rome, canon of St. Mary’s Salisbury nominated William Airmyn and Robert de Patricia as his English attorneys. William’s biggest job of attorney came in August 1311 when he and his brother Richard Airmyn were appointed attorneys for Walter Reynolds, Bishop of Worcester (Archbishop of Canterbury 1313-1327) who was going overseas to the Great Council of the Church. This Great Council was held in the city of Vienne and its chief order of business was the subject of what to do with the Knights Templar. Under pressure from King Philip IV of France the order was suppressed.
Cleric in the medieval church
William Airmyn began his active life as a cleric in the medieval church. Not only did the medieval church bring William closer to God but it also opened doors in education and positions in government that would otherwise not be open to a person of his social standing. In July 1304 William Airmyn was presented to the church of the Holy Trinity at Dorchester in the Diocese of Salisbury (value £8). It is not known how long William held this church as in February 1306 John Airmyn was presented to the same church. Yet he stayed shorter than William as in May 1306 William Airmyn was again presented to Holy Trinity church (he resigned the living in February 1313). In October 1306 William Airmyn was presented to the church of Farnbergh in the Diocese of Coventry and Lichfield which was in the king’s gift during the minority of Hugh de Mortimer.
In October 1309 William Airmyn was presented to the church of Blisworth in the Diocese of Lincoln which was then in the king’s gift. In March 1312 William was presented to the church of Whitbear in the Diocese of Durham which was in the king’s gift during the vacancy in the see. In October 1312 we learn that by then William Airmyn, subdeacon, had served successively as rector of Frittenden, in the Diocese of Canterbury (value £10), of Glentworth, in the Diocese of Lincoln (value £7), and Old Ross, in the Diocese of Ferns (value £6). On resigning the rectory of Frittenden, William Airmyn accepted that of Kirklinton, in the diocese of Carlisle (value £42). William was presented to Kirlinton by King Edward II in November 1311. In that October of 1312 William Airmyn got a dispensation, at the request of the king, to retain Kirklinton as by then William was already a king’s clerk. The appointment to these many livings in the gift of the king was a way for the government to supplement the pay of government officials like Airmyn and so also keeping government wages down.
By 1316 William Airmyn was no longer rector of Old Ross and was replaced by John de Neweland. In April 1317 William Airmyn was rector of Wearmouth in the Diocese of Durham. In that month he got a papal provision of a canonry at York with the reservation of a prebend notwithstanding that he held Wearmouth. William soon after got the canonry at York and still held it in 1323. In October of 1323 he got papal letters to have reservation of a dignity or office in York cathedral.
By February 1325 William Airmyn had acquired a canonry in the Diocese of Hereford. There he organised an election of the chapter to fill the vacancy in the Diocese of Carlisle on the death of Bishop John de Halton. The Pope declared the election as invalid as provision for a new bishop rested with the papal court. The Pope then appointed John Ross, papal chaplain and auditor, canon of Hereford, as the next Bishop of Carlisle. The void election shows that William Airmyn had his own agenda and that if ecclesiastical rules should interfere, his agenda should prevail, but not on this occasion.
Bridging church and state careers
Following his numerous church appointments William Airmyn began to move into the government arena as a civil servant. In 1311 we seen start of William’s two careers in church and state. On 21st September 1311 William advised the king on behalf of the chancellor of England on the appointment of John Lambert to the church of Hellawe in the Diocese of Lincoln. On 24th September William again represented the chancellor when he advised King Edward II on the granting of a safe pass to Walter le Alemuth who was in command of the king’s ship on a voyage overseas. In October 1311 William Airmyn is described as the king’s clerk when presented to the free chapel of Well.
In March 1312 William Airmyn was one of three justices to examine a case in Yorkshire involving the alleged thief of money and sheep that was due to the king for unpaid debts.
William Airmyn began his government/political career in the chancery office as a clerk. Normally this position would not feature highly in the annals of history but in 1316 William Airmyn was placed in an important position by the king. Since he succeeded to the throne King Edward II was in conflict with some of the leading barons of England. One of the central reasons for the conflict was the king’s love affair with Piers Gaveston. Over the first decade of his reign the king lost friends (by natural death and killed in battle) and was reduced to a figure-head position (by the Ordinances of 1310 among other things) as the Earl of Lancaster assumed the guardianship of the kingdom. At the Lincoln parliament of 1316 the scene was set on Lancaster’s power.
Medieval chancery clerks
King Edward spent Christmas rowing in the Cambridge fens with “a great company of simple people” and then hurried to Lincoln for the opening of parliament on 28th January but nothing happened. Everyone was there except Lancaster and only when he arrived on 12th February could business begin. The only power available to King Edward was to specially nominate William Airmyn to record the proceedings of the parliament. Tout described this as “the first full and intelligible record of the proceedings of parliament”. Other scholars held a less glorious view. Richardson and Sayles regarded the roll as no precedent for others or as a true record of proceedings as much was written up later from notes. Be that as it may within a few months the machinery of government ground to a stalemate as the official civil service and the men of Lancaster refused to do each other’s bidding.
After the high drama of Lincoln, William Airmyn returned to the chancery and the routine business of government. Sometime in 1317-8 William Airmyn wrote to Sir Hugh Daudale concerning the estate of the late Robert son of Ralph in Yorkshire as the treasurer was busy organising ships for Ireland. In the letter William Airmyn inform Hugh Daudale under what overlord a number of manors were held and the service fee involved.
After the death Adam Osgodby in 1316, William Airmyn succeeded him as keeper of the rolls of chancery and keeper, for life, of the house for converted Jews in Chancery Lane, already becoming, a customary place for the deposit of chancery records and a natural residence for the clerks of the chancery when they were in London.
During the minority of John, son and heir of John de Grey of Rutherfield, William Airmyn held certain lands around Duston in Northamptonshire in wardship. This grant of wardship was made in December 1312. The wardship ended in 1321 when John de Grey came of age.
Up until about July 1323 William Airmyn held the wardship of John, son and heir of Robert le Chamberlain. This Robert le Chamberlain died sometime before 20th July 1318. His lands were located at Wykingby and Merston in Lincolnshire.
When William Airmyn was made Bishop of Norwich in 1325 he succeeded to substantially more property than he ever had before. Yet his enjoyment of the episcopal estates was short lived. William Airmyn was one of the English officials in Paris when Queen Isabella came over to conclude a peace treaty between England and France. King Edward blamed William Airmyn for the treaty and seized the Norwich temporalities.
Following the death of Joan, late wife of John de Bohun of Midhurst in 1329, the inquisition post mortem conducted in Lincolnshire found that William Airmyn, Bishop of Norwich, held £30 rent for a term of years from various lands in Waltham, Belesby, Hateclive, Fenby and Wathe.
Berwick and Myton
In April 1318 the Scots captured the important town on Berwick after a three year siege. England was shocked at the loss and King Edward’s advisers considered it a national honour to recover the town. In June 1319 what amounted to a national army assembled at Newcastle. The earlier divisions within the government which saw the Earl of Lancaster and others staying away from the Battle of Bannockburn were put aside as all sides descend on Newcastle. By the end of July the English were at the walls of Berwick with the Scots inside trying to keep them out.
King Robert Bruce saw that head-on battle would not carry the day. Instead he sent Sir James Douglas with the main Scottish army on a broad sweep through Yorkshire. The army came to York where the queen, the exchequer and the royal courts were staying. Queen Isabella escaped by water as Archbishop Melton assembled a motley force of priests, monks, farmers and townsfolk to repel the invaders. The two sides met on about 20th September 1319 at Myton-in Swaledale. The Scots advanced on the English under the cover of great fires of hay burning in the surrounding fields. Suddenly out from the smoke came the Scots and the English were sent scattering in all directions. Many drowned in the Swale while Archbishop Melton had a narrow escape. Among the captured was William Airmyn.
After the battle the Scots pressed on for Pontefract. News of their successes reached the English army at Berwick and caused a split in the ranks as the northern lords, led by the Earl of Lancaster, wished to lift the siege and head off to defend their lands. There was nothing left for King Edward to do but agree a two year truce with the Scots. The divisions in the English government were now permanent and remained so until the coup of Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer in 1327.
William Airmyn and Annaghdown Diocese
Within the archdiocese of Tuam, in the west of Ireland, were a number of old and not so old, dioceses including the Diocese of Tuam. Over a number of decades successive Archbishops of Tuam sought to annex some of these dioceses into the Diocese of Tuam. The principal target of Tuam’s ambitions was the two Dioceses of Mayo and Annaghdown. In 1321 the then Bishop of Annaghdown, Gilbert O Tigernaig, sent a petition to King Edward II complaining that the Archbishop of Tuam had seized the temporalities of Annaghdown and Mayo against established law and to the damage of the king’s revenue as well as the revenue of Bishop Gilbert. King Edward and his chief advisers, Walter of Norwich and William de Airmyn, sent the petition to the Dublin government to enquire about the matter and draw up a report. It is not known if this report was ever acted on or was it just filed away to gather dust. For more on this story see my article on Annaghdown versus the Archbishop of Tuam = http://celtic2realms-medievalnews.blogspot.ie/2014/05/annaghdown-diocese-and-battle-with.html
William Airmyn and the new Archbishop of Armagh
Shortly before August 1322 the then Archbishop of Armagh, Rowland Jorz, resigned his see and ceded authority for his replacement to Pope John XXII. On 16th March 1323 Pope John appointed Stephen de Segrave as the new archbishop and granted him the spiritualties and temporalities of the see. On 2nd August 1323 Stephen de Segrave was at the church of St. Mary’s in York to be confirmed as archbishop-elect by William Airmyn, then canon of York, Lincoln, Hereford and Chichester and William de Hailestone, canon of Llandaff and keeper of the Great Seal.
As part of his confirmation Stephen de Segrave renounced the papal grant of temporalities, asserting that he wished to hold them by gift of the king. It was normal practice that the king should hold the temporalities of any vacant see. This renouncement and confirmation was overseen by two specially invited witnesses, Adam de Broml, rector of St. Mary’s, Oxford, in the diocese of Lincoln, and John de Crosseby, rector of Thollesbury in the diocese of London. Stephen de Segrave was not consecrated archbishop until April 1324.
William Airmyn as keeper of the privy seal, 1323-1324
In October 1323 the Pope sent a number of letters to government officials and church leaders in England concerning the situation of Bernard Jordan, Lord of Insula in the Duchy of Aquitaine. There Bernard Jordan was been molested by royal officials. Among the receipts of these letters asking King Edward II to stop his officials from molested Bernard Jordan, was William Airmyn, king’s clerk and keeper of the privy seal.
During the time that William Airmyn held the privy seal his superior, Robert Baldock, chancellor of England, tried to control William’s activities but to little success. Robert Baldock wanted the privy seal to remain as a part of the wardrobe office and not become a separate, semi-independent office. William Airmyn wanted to continue government policy of making the privy seal as a separate office. To this end William Airmyn kept the clerks at York while he travelled with the king in order to counter Baldock. Robert Baldock had more success in controlling William’s successor at the privy seal, Henry Cliff.
William Airmyn as Bishop-elect of Carlisle
On 1st November 1324 John de Halton, Bishop of Carlisle died. He had been bishop since 1292 and was a former canon and cellar at Carlisle cathedral. Master John de Skiren, rector of Marton, was appointed by Archbishop Melton of York to administrate the Diocese of Carlisle during the vacancy in the see. In January 1325 the prior and convent of Carlisle met to elect a new bishop and they decided on William Airmyn, then canon of York among other places. On 26th January Master John de Skiren was mandated to announce the election publicly and ask if any knew of any impediment to the election. This election seems to have been organised by William Airmyn according to papal documents that declared the lection to be invalid.
In early February 1325 Roger Paul, sub-prior of Carlisle and William de Hurtheworth, canon of Carlisle, wrote to Archbishop Melton of York on the election of William Airmyn as bishop-elect of Carlisle. Simon de Hautwysell, prior of Carlisle, wrote a further letter with William de Hurtheworth, confirming the election. Archbishop Melton accepted these letters and confirmed William Airmyn as the Bishop of Carlisle. On 11th February 1325 Archbishop Melton sent a mandate to the prior and convent of Carlisle to obey William Airmyn as their lawful bishop. But by April William Airmyn had learnt that the Pope had provided another cleric to the see of Carlisle and resigned. This new cleric was John de Ross, a man who had spent many years in the Roman Curia.
William Airmyn elected Bishop of Norwich, 1325
William Airmyn’s resignation of Carlisle had many reasons more than just giving way to a nominee of the Pope. As a career civil servant Carlisle was just too far away from the centre of power in London. Instead the Bishopric of Norwich, which had become vacant, presented a better situation; nearer to London and further away from those troublesome Scots.
John Salmon was Bishop of Norwich since 1299 and was chancellor of England, 1320-3. In 1310 Bishop Salmon was one of the Ordainers for managing the government but had royalist sympathies. He was of the Middle Party at the York parliament of 1320 when Lancaster was side lined from the government. In late 1324 Bishop Salmon was joint head of an embassy sent to Paris.
Robert Baldock, keeper of the privy seal (1320-3) and chancellor of England (1323-6) was the preferred choice for the vacancy. Baldock was a supporter of Edward II and stayed with the king until his capture at Neath Abbey. After imprisonment in the Bishop of Hereford’s London house, Baldock was taken to Newgate prison where he shortly after died.
In the summer of 1325 these dark events were in the future and the rich city of Norwich beckoned for Robert Baldock but he was too slow off the mark. In fact William Airmyn who was sent to Avignon to secure the position for Baldock. Instead William Airmyn lost little time in securing the diocese for himself and Pope John approved of Airmyn as bishop. There was little love lost between William Airmyn and Robert Baldock since the time when Airmyn held the privy seal and Airmyn was only too happy to get one up on his old foe. By July 1325 the papal nuncios had inform the Pope that William Airmyn had been elected Bishop of Norwich. The Pope informed the nuncios that before the death of the previous Bishop of Norwich the Pope had reserved the appointment of the next bishop. Thus on 18th July 1325 the Pope appointed William Airmyn as the new bishop.
The speed of William Airmyn left Robert de Baldock, the king’s chancellor, standing at the starting block. In November the Pope wrote to Edward II asking him to approve of William Airmyn as bishop and that the Pope will make provision for Robert de Baldock in due time and place. In December 1325 King Edward approved of William’s appointment which brought rejoicing to the Pope and also to William Airmyn yet the temporalities were still in the king’s hand. Therefore Pope John XXII sent letters to the King and Hugh le Despenser asking for the temporalities to be restored to William Airmyn. But no restoration occurred as the position of William Airmyn relating to the peace with France and the situation of Queen Isabella caused the king to withhold the temporalities. Baldock was an important adviser to the king in these matters and help leave Airmyn in exile in France until the return of Queen Isabella.
T.F. Tout said that the career of William Airmyn in the civil service was ended on his election to the bishopric of Norwich in contrast to say Walter Norwich who left the church and became a fixture in the permanent government. But the questions of France, Queen Isabella and the opposition of King Edward did more to end his civil service career in the years 1325 to 1326.
France, Queen Isabella and William Airmyn
The relationship with France and who controlled the government of England were some of the reasons for William Airmyn resigning the see of Carlisle in the spring of 1325 for that of Norwich. The relationship between the Kings of France and England were complicated by the feudal obligations of both sides to the Duchy of Aquitaine. The King of England was king in England but a vassal of the King of France when Duke of Aquitaine. On feudal obligations the King of England should do homage to the King of France but successive English kings found this to be intolerable. To add more injury the King of France was the final court of appeal for any Aquitainian resident and not the King of England.
The two sides fought each other and made peace with each other over the decades as they both tried to deal with a delicate and dangerous situation. The treaty of Paris of 1259 and subsequent agreements under Edward I culminating with the agreement of 1303 kept all-out war off the table. Conflict elsewhere (between England and Scotland and France and Flanders) provided strong motivation on both sides to avoid war in Aquitaine. This uneasy peace remained until September 1323 when a series of events brought both sides to conflict. In September 1323 a thirteen year truce with Scotland freed the English army to think of France. King Charles IV recognised this and asked King Edward II to do him homage at Amiens in the following spring of 1324 before anything should prevent such homage. Edward sent ambassadors (the Earl of Kent and the Archbishop of Dublin) to ask for postponement until 1st July which was agreed.
Meanwhile the French decided to exercise their right to build a fort in Gascony which was violently resisted by the seneschal of Gascony, Sir Ralph Basset and a French serjeant in royal colours was hanged. Edward II pleaded ignorance which was accepted but when named English officials failed twice to appear before the French king they were declared banished and their possessions seized. The English ambassadors at first offered to surrender Montpezet castle as a peace offering but then withdrew it while at the same time asking for further postponement of the act of homage. In response Charles IV declared the Duchy of Gascony and the County of Ponthieu as confiscated.
Edward II made a half-hearted attempt to raise an army to resist the French but with the English Channel controlled by French shipping there was little he could do. As the French entered Gascony in August 1324, the Earl of Kent shut himself up in the fortress of La Réole without firing a shot. The Archbishop of Dublin persuaded Kent to capitulate and a six month truce was agreed. Edward II was furious at the surrender but could do nothing except send an embassy to Paris and try to negotiate a settlement to recovery Gascony.
The Bishops of Winchester (John Stratford) and Norwich (John Salmon) were at the head of this embassy. Charles IV demanded the surrendered of Gascony before negotiations and an impasse developed. The papal nuncio recommended that Queen Isabella should go to Paris to break the deadlock with her brother, Charles IV. By March 1325 the royal party was in France and a truce was agreed. Edward II accepted the truce and invested Prince Edward as Duke of Gascony so he could do homage the following September. A payment to France of £60,000 was agreed and Charles would retain the Agenais department in the heart of Gascony as an indemnity.
Prince Edward sailed for France and did homage at Bois-de-Viencennes. It was now that Queen Isabella played her trump card and told Edward that she or Prince Edward would not return to England until Hugh le Despenser was removed from the government. News of this ultimatum soon spread far and wide. All through the winter and spring of 1325-6 the talk was of an invasion of England by Queen Isabella and Charles IV. Edward II declared the lands of Prince Edward to be forfeit along with the lands of the Queen’s supporters in Paris. These supporters included Roger Mortimer, the Earls of Kent and Richmond, Henry Beaumont Bishop John Stratford of Winchester and the newly appointed Bishop of Norwich, William Airmyn. King Edward blamed William Airmyn for the treaty and refused to restore the temporalities of Norwich.
King Edward II
Queen Isabella wrote to Pope John seek the temporalities for William Airmyn. In her letter she said that she and William Airmyn were falsely accused of breaking the new peace treaty in relation to Aquitaine. It would seem the English government were trying all means to punish William Airmyn by on the one hand blaming him for the peace treaty and on the other hand blaming him for breaking the same treaty. Pope John sent further letters to King Edward asking him to remember the past services of William Airmyn and not to listen to envious people who wanted ill for Airmyn. Further letters were sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishops of York and Ely. In May 1326 the Pope asked William Airmyn to bear oppressions and injuries bravely as the letters to England were posted.
Queen Isabella invades England
Meanwhile Queen Isabella’s stay in France was becoming uncomfortable for the French government. Her liaison with Roger Mortimer was becoming a scandal. Under papal pressure Charles IV asked his sister to leave. The Queen’s party moved to the Low Countries where the Count of Hainault gave support. Soon the ports of Holland and Zeeland were getting ready for invasion. Edward II tried to muster an English fleet to stop the invaders but few answered the call. On 23rd September 1326 Queen Isabella and her small army sailed for England.
They arrived at the Suffolk port of Orwell and then moved inland to Bury St. Edmunds and Cambridge. The gentry of East Anglia joined the Queen while William Airmyn rallied the clerics of Norwich. Within two months the Queen’s army was victorious, the hated Despensers were executed while the king was place in captivity. Edward II would later die a violent death and was buried in Gloucester cathedral.
At the trail of Hugh le Despenser the younger one of the charges levelled against the hated administrator was that he had despoiled the Bishops of Lincoln (Henry Burghersh), Ely (John Hotham) and Norwich (William Airmyn) of their plate and treasure.
Entrusted with the great seal
On 26th October 1326 an assembly of magnates met at Bristol and proclaimed Prince Edward as keeper of the realm which his father had abandoned. Two days later a writ was issued for a parliament at Westminster on 15th December by Prince Edward, under the privy seal, as Earl of Chester and Duke of Aquitaine. On 16th November King Edward was captured at Neath Abbey and taken to Kenilworth via Monmouth and Ledbury. On 20th November the Bishop of Hereford was sent to Monmouth to demand the great seal from King Edward. On 26th November the Bishop of Hereford brought the great seal to Queen Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer. Four days later, 30th November 1326 the great seal was entrusted to William Airmyn, Bishop of Norwich. With the great seal on hand new writs were issued for a parliament on 7th January written in the usual form. On 25th January 1327 King Edward II resigned and the new reign of Edward III was born. Of course the real control of government was in the hands of Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer.
This was not the first time that William Airmyn had been entrusted with the great seal. Near the beginning of his government career, in the autumn and winter of 1311-12 William was entrusted with great seal along with two other persons.
William Airmyn as Bishop of Norwich, 1325-1336
On 19th July 1325 William Airmyn received the papal nomination to the see of Norwich but with the French peace treaty talks and the exile in France along with the new government of Queen Isabella it was not until the 6th February 1327 that William Airmyn was consecrated as bishop.
I don’t have much in the way of source material on the Diocese of Norwich to assess the work of William Airmyn as Bishop. The Diocese of Norwich covered the two counties of Norfolk and Suffolk which in medieval times was the most density populated area of England. The Diocese had about 1,300 parishes, about one seventh of all the parishes in England. The city of Norwich was second only to London and was made rich by the wool trade. Such was the money spent on churches and other buildings that Norwich has more medieval churches than any city in northern Europe.
The episcopal register of Bishop William Airmyn is as yet unpublished. Among the notices in the papal registers is one from June 1335 in which Bishop William was mandated to absolve Edmund de Brokles from the sentence of suspension which he incurred by receiving the four minor orders and the sub-deaconate on one day, and afterwards without absolution and dispensation being ordained deacon and priest.
It is to be noted that following the death of William Airmyn in 1336 two people were provided as the succeeding bishop. Thomas de Henmale, a monk of Norwich, was elected bishop by the chapter on 6th April 1336 but his election was declared null and void by the Pope who said that only he had the right to select the next bishop. On 14th March 1337 Anthony Bek was appointed bishop by Pope Benedict XII and Henmale resigned (Henmale was subsequently made Bishop of Winchester). In the Pope’s letter to Anthony it was said that Henmale was elected in ignorance of the Pope’s reservation of appointment. The double appointment for the see of Carlisle was not that unique nor the actions of William Airmyn solely his own example.
Ambassador to Scotland
Shortly after assuming power Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer turned their attention to finding peace with Scotland so as to free resources for other uses, including their own pockets. The truce between the two countries had several more years to run but both sides were eager for a more permanent solution. King Robert moved troops to the border while the Hainault mercenaries were sent north but only as far as York. There they fought with the locals and Queen Isabella was forced to send them home. King Robert took advantage and invaded England. The two armies met near Stanhope Park and while the English were superior in numbers their heart for battle was small and they withdrew to Newcastle. Edward III felt humiliated but was restrained from further military action.
Instead of war the English opened treaty talks and a delegation was sent to Holyrood Abbey. This delegation was headed by the Bishops of Lincoln (Henry Burghersh) and Norwich (William Airmyn), Sir Geoffrey Scrope, Henry Percy and Sir William Zouche of Ashby. The resulting Treaty of Northampton (1328) gave Scotland nearly everything she asked for. Robert Bruce was recognised as king of an independent country and England disowned any of overlordship. The borders were restored to the time of Alexander III and both sides made an offensive and defensive alliance against all enemies except the French. Scotland paid £20,000 to be free of all obligations and Queen Isabella is said to have taken much of this money for her own use.
In the mist of the change of government and international peace negotiations Bishop William Airmyn gave some time to ecclesiastical matters. While Bishop John Grandisson of Exeter was in Aquitaine (August 1327), Bishop William helped secure for Grandisson a grant of papal indulgences for those who prayed for Grandisson’s predecessors as Bishops of Exeter.
The coup of Edward III
In late 1328 it looked like Henry of Lancaster would lead his troops into war against Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer but the latter moved first in January 1329 and invaded the Earldom of Leicester and Henry surrendered. Henry’s associate, Edmund of Kent, had deserted him at the last hour. Yet Mortimer regarded Kent as dangerous and had him executed. Throughout 1330 Lancaster worked with two members of the royal household, Richard Bury and William Montagu to gain the king’s ear. They enlisted help of Pope John XXII in their small conspiracy.
King Edward III
In October 1330 the great council met at Nottingham where both sides felt uneasy with the other without knowing what the other side was up to. The conspirators acted first and using a secret entrance they gain admittance into Nottingham castle where they arrest Roger Mortimer in his bedroom. Mortimer was quickly sent to London where a few weeks later he was drawn and hanged as a traitor. Oliver Ingham and the bishops were pardoned with only Sir Simon Bereford suffering the same fate as Mortimer. William Airmyn was one of these pardoned bishops and after a short few months outside government he was brought back into the fold.
Later actions as Bishop of Norwich
In June 1331 Bishop William was asked by the chancery to find out who last presented to half of the church of Holkham. Holkham church used to be part of the estate of Aymer de Valance, Earl of Pembroke but following his death there with a number of claimants to the estate. Bishop William searched his register of admissions of clerks and found that the abbot and convent of St. Mary’s, West Derham made the last presentation. The abbot of St. Mary’s produced documents to support his rights but it would be February 19 Edward II before King Edward recognised the rights of St. Mary’s.
William Airmyn as treasurer of England, 1331-1332
With the fall of Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer in October 1330 Bishop William Airmyn was for a time left out in the cold. But Edward III quickly showed that victimization was not one of his characteristics. Three months after the fall Bishop William Airmyn was made treasurer of England – the civil service career of this Yorkshire cleric was back on track.
At the beginning of Airmyn’s term of office the government was based in London but in 1332 the government moved north to York where it stayed until 1337. The king and his household made the convent of Grey Friars their home; the chancery was in the abbey church of St. Mary while the exchequer and common bench conducted business in York castle.
The job of treasurer was a balancing act at the best of times and a real juggling act in time of war. The ordinary revenue of the king was about £30,000 a year with near continuous borrowing on the international money markets inescapable.
Bishop William and Glastonbury Abbey
On 31st March 1330 Bishop William was at the royal manor of Woodstock (now the location of Blenheim Palace) to witness the grant of free warren to Glastonbury Abbey on all their demesne lands.
On 26th January 1332, Bishop William was at Westminster where he witnessed a grant to Glastonbury Abbey of a yearly fair at their manor of Sturminster (Dorset), along with a weekly market and yearly fair at Ditcheat (Somerset). Glastonbury also got a weekly market at Mardon (Hampshire), Wrington and Weston Zoyland (both in Somerset) plus a yearly fair at the latter place.
On 24th March 1332, Bishop William was again at Westminster to witnessed an inspeximus of King Edward III of the inspeximus of King Edward II, which in turn was an inspeximus of that made by King Henry III which was itself an inspeximus of a charter of King Henry II which charter confirmed all the liberties, dignities and privileges which were conferred on Glastonbury Abbey by King Henry I about the years 1121. On the same day Bishop William witnessed another document concerning Glastonbury. This was charter confirming the grant of King Edward I that Glastonbury should receive the return of the King’s writs via the various county sheriffs and execute the same themselves. The location for these writs was at Marksbury and Houndstreet in Somerset and Idmiston in Wiltshire.
Bishop William and the monastery of St. Frideswide
On 24th July 1332 Bishop William Airmyn of Norwich was with the king’s court at the royal manor of Woodstock. While there he was witness to the charter of Edward III to the prior and convent of St. Frideswide in Oxford. This charter confirmed the property and privileges given to St. Frideswide by previous royal charters including that of Empress Maud in about 1142, that of Henry III in February 1230, and that of Edward II in February 1313.
Ambassador to France, 1333
The treaty of Northampton, 1328, made by Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer with Scotland was unpopular among a substantial number in England. King Edward III was also against it and as soon as Queen Isabella and Mortimer were removed he made preparations for war. King Robert of Scotland died in 1329 and Scotland was in the hands of the five year old David II. At first Edward supported a proxy war. Officially keeping the peace, Edward unofficially allowed the assembly of the armed force of the so-called Disinherited on the Humber. After sailing for Scotland this force defeated the Scots at Dupplin Moor near Perth on 11th August 1332 and on 24th September Edward Balliol was crowned King of Scotland at Scone.
Edward moved his government to York and asked the assembled parliament in December 1332 for a mandate for war. But the south was not forgotten. The treat of a new Franco-Scottish alliance was ever real in the minds of the English. To distract the French from giving help to Scotland Edward sent the Bishops of Worcester (Adam Orleton) and Norwich (William Airmyn) to Paris in December 1332 to give King Philip VI the idea of a permanent peace was near at hand. In 1328 the English had put in a claim to the throne of France following the death without an heir of Charles IV but were in no position to back this with military force. Philip VI was crowned at Rheims in May 1328 and Edward III did simple homage for Gascony a year later. By 1330 English Gascony was a narrow strip of land by the coast. A convention of legal experts began four years of negotiation on the question of Gascony.
Into these negotiations came Bishop William Airmyn from England with the learned jurist, Thomas Sampson while the Bishop of Worcester came up to Paris from Avignon. Their talks kept the French busy for a few months and the arrival of a fresh embassy, headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, arrived in Paris in April 1334 for more talks. In May young David II of Scotland arrived in France as a refugee and Philip VI dropped his bombshell of no peace with England until the restoration of Scotland. It seems that it was the French king who was playing the game.
The Scots took heart from French support and rebelled against Edward Balliol. Edward III had to send soldiers into Scotland to hold the situation. Despite much marching Balliol and Edward could not bring final victory against the rebels. Meanwhile through 1335, 1336 and 1337 the rebel Scottish and French ships controlled the English Channel and attacked English ships. Edward III was bogged down in Scotland while Philip VI was growing militarily in France and Gascony was near defenceless. Both sides and much of Europe recognised that an international war was brewing.
William Airmyn died on 27th March 1336 at his house at Charing, near London, and was buried in Norwich Cathedral. His reputation as a “crafty, covetous, and treasonable” royal servant has some merit but a lot depends on what side of the political fence you stood in the unsettled times of Edward II, Queen Isabella with Roger Mortimer and Edward III.
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