Antony Bek (Patriarch)

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Coat of arms of Antony Bek as Bishop of Durham

Antony Bek (* around 1245; † March 3, 1311 in Eltham Palace , Kent ) was bishop of the English diocese of Durham and titular patriarch of Jerusalem . Regardless of his ecclesiastical offices, he was for many years a trusted military commander and diplomat in the service of King Edward I.


Antony Bek was the third son of the country nobleman Walter Bek , landlord of Eresby in Lincolnshire . His two older brothers were John Beke, 1st Baron Beke and Thomas Bek , who later became the Bishop of St Davids.

Rise in the service of Edward I.

Probably around 1265, Bek entered the king's service when he was supposed to investigate confiscated properties of the rebels with the administrator of the Earl of Lincoln after the king's victory at the Battle of Evesham during the Second Barons' War . In 1266 he continued to serve as the king's official before living with his brother Thomas in Oxford between 1267 and 1270 . There they lived in a house that Walter of Merton had previously donated to the newly founded Merton College . Merton was related to the Beks; whether the brothers also studied at the college cannot be proven. From 1270 he took part in Prince Edward's crusade . When Lord Eduard was critically injured by an assassination attempt in June 1272 and had to undergo an operation, Eduard appointed him together with Robert Burnell as one of his eight executors. In the event of the death of Lord Edward and King Henry III. The eight should take over the government of England until the age of the eldest son of Edward. After Eduard's return to England after the death of his father, Bek was temporarily administrator of the royal cloakroom in 1274. However, he left this office to his brother Thomas, whereupon Bek was appointed Constable of the Tower in January 1275 . Since the Tower of London also served as the royal arsenal, Bek subsequently played a major role in the preparations for King Edward's campaign in Wales . After the king's victory over the Welsh princes, Bek was one of the three English negotiators who negotiated the Aberconwy Treaty . To this end, he served several times as the king's envoy, who negotiated, among other things, abroad about loans for the king's campaigns. In 1282 the king sent him to Aragon together with John de Vescy , where he conducted the preliminary negotiations for a wedding of Prince Alfonso , a son of King Peter , and Edward's eldest daughter Eleanor .

Spiritual career

The king rewarded Bek with numerous benefices and ecclesiastical offices. In 1276, Bek became Precentor of York Minster and Archdeacon of Durham . In 1281, Archbishop John Pecham of Canterbury pointed out to him that he would never be a candidate for bishopric without a papal dispensation for his accumulation of offices. That year, Archbishop Wickwane of York made an attempt to make a visit to the Diocese of Durham . Aside from a visitation during a vacancy , this was unprecedented, so the monks of the Cathedral Chapter required that Bishop Robert of Holy Island of Durham be their official abbot on the visitation. Pope Martin IV then hired several spiritual judges to hear the complaints in Durham, which King Edward I viewed as a scandalous interference in the ecclesiastical affairs of England. The king sent Bek to Durham as an intermediary, and at first an agreement seemed possible. Bishop Robert of Durham died in June 1283, whereupon Archbishop Wickwane tried to carry out the visitation during the vacancy that followed. In view of the complexities of the situation, the king recommended that the cathedral chapter immediately elect Bek as the new bishop of Durham. On July 9, 1283, Bek was elected bishop, which Archbishop Wickwane had to confirm on September 1. On January 9, 1284, Bek was consecrated bishop in York in the presence of the king, at the ceremony the body of St. William of York was reburied in a new place in York Minster, for which Bek took over the costs. The dispute over the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of York over the Diocese of Durham was not settled until 1286, by stating that the Archbishopric would only have jurisdiction during a vacancy. By this point, Wickwane was already dead.

Loyal supporter of the king

Involvement in the Scottish succession dispute

Even as bishop, Bek remained in the service of the king. He was one of the agents who, after the sudden death of King Alexander III. of Scotland negotiated the succession to the throne with the Scottish and Norwegian envoys and negotiated the Treaty of Northampton in 1290 . When the heir to the throne Margaret of Norway died in September 1290, several contenders for the Scottish throne competed . The English king was then asked to act as a mediator. In May 1291 the king accepted the task, with Bek serving as his spokesman. Bek recommended that both English and Scottish customs be observed when determining the heir to the throne. A selection committee eventually selected John Balliol as the legal heir. As Lord of Barnard Castle , Balliol was a vassal of Bek. Balliol swore allegiance to the English king on November 19, 1292 in Norham Castle and was crowned King of Scotland on November 30, in the presence of Beck. As a result, Bek was the liaison between the two kings until King John was persuaded by his Scottish advisers in July 1295 to renew the Auld Alliance with France.

Antony Bek at the Battle of Falkirk. Historicizing representation from 1873

Military in the war against France and Scotland

The traditionally difficult Franco-English relations had been strained since May 1293. After further quarrels, King Philip IV of France occupied Gascogne , which belonged to the English kings, in February 1294 , which led to the Franco-English War . The king instructed Bek to recruit mercenaries in Flanders, the Netherlands and the German Empire. Bek spent £ 60,000 on this task. In the summer of 1294, Bek, together with John of Sandford , Archbishop of Dublin, conducted secret negotiations with the Roman-German King Adolf of Nassau . In April 1295, Bek initially accompanied the English king to Anglesey , where a Welsh revolt against English rule had broken out. In August 1295, Bek spoke for the king in parliament and defended the war with France against the Pope's envoys who urged peace, since Edward I was obliged by treaty to support King Adolf of Nassau.

It was then that it became known that Scotland had renewed its alliance with France, leading to the first Scottish War of Independence . Together with John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey , Bek was appointed Guardian of Northern England. In March 1296, the Diocese of Durham contributed 500 horsemen and 1,000 foot soldiers for the campaign to Scotland, in which Bek himself took part. As the king's representative, he accepted the submission of John Balliol in July 1296. After this success in Scotland, the king turned back to war with France. In May 1297, the king called the diocese of Durham, which should include 30 Knight Banneret , for the campaign in France. Bek vouched for a number of Scottish nobles who wanted to take part in this campaign. Bek was part of the king's entourage when he began negotiations in Flanders for an armistice with France in October 1297. After the armistice with France was concluded, Edward I had the opportunity again to take action against the Scots who had invaded northern England during his absence. By July 1298 the English army had advanced to Roxburgh . Bek served as the commander of part of the English army that captured Dirleton Castle on the south bank of the Firth of Forth . Then Bek rejoined the main English army and fought as one of the English commanders on July 22nd in the Battle of Falkirk . After this English victory, the Scottish rebellion against English supremacy was initially crushed.

Serving as Bishop of Durham

Formation of the County Palatine of Durham

In view of his obligations to the king, Bek paid little attention to his diocese in the early years of his tenure. Under him, collegiate monasteries were founded in Lanchester in 1284 and in Chester-le-Street in 1286 , and in 1293 the monastery of St Andrew in Auckland was revived. These foundations primarily served to create benefits for officials of the episcopal household.

As a bishop, Bek, given his experience in royal administration, wanted to introduce the way it worked in County Durham . In the spring of 1293 he declared in Newcastle that the Royal Sheriff of Northumberland was not responsible for the region between the rivers Tyne and Tees , nor in Norhamshire , Islandshire and Bedlingtonshire , the lands of the diocese north of the Tyne. An official inquiry into a conflict with Archbishop John le Romeyn of York confirmed that the Bishop of Durham, unlike other barons, appointed his own judicial officers for his lands, carried out the prosecution himself, and had the right to death and pardon. In addition, he had the right to coin . These privileges were ratified by Parliament in October 1293, and as a result, County Durham became County Palatine . To this end, he took over the right to confiscate traitors' possessions, to assign guardianship, to detain prisoners and to dispose of stranded ships. King Edward I was willing to grant Bek these privileges as long as he contributed troops and funds to the war against Scotland.

Conflict with the cathedral chapter

In 1299 there was a serious crisis in the diocese. Bek had supported the cathedral chapter of Durham in 1281 when it opposed a visit from the Archbishop of York, but now he wanted to pay a visit to the cathedral chapter himself. The monks resisted this inspection visit and asked the king to intervene in their favor. The gentry of the diocese used this uprising to protest against the strict rule of Beck and the increasing burdens of military service. In May 1300, Bek then announced an official visit to the cathedral chapter. Its prior Richard Hoton objected that the bishop was only entitled to a simple visit. When he continued to oppose Beck's announcement of his visit, he was excommunicated by the bishop. The cathedral priory was initially blocked by the bishop's troops and then violently stormed. Hoton was captured and deposed by Bek. However, he managed to escape from captivity and protested to the king and Pope Boniface VIII against Beck's actions. Bek now lost the king's favor. In June 1301 he had to justify himself before the king at a meeting in Tynemouth , as he had intercepted a royal messenger who was to deliver a royal letter of protection for the cathedral priory and for the lands of Hoton. Bek admitted to having made a mistake, but refused a summons from the Pope, according to which he should answer to the curia for the removal of Hoton. In April 1302, Subprior Richard Kellaw published a letter from the Pope reinstating Hoton as prior. However, this was forcibly prevented by the bishop's officials. In May 1302, Bek went to Rome to present his view of the dispute with the cathedral chapter to the curia. Pope Boniface VIII was convinced by Bek that Hoton had to be deposed and decided in July 1302 that the bishop could pay a visit to the cathedral priory. He should only be accompanied by two or three officials, one of whom had to be a Benedictine monk, and a notary had to be present at the visit. According to these regulations, Bek made a visit to the cathedral chapter in February 1309. Prior Tanfield, the successor of Richard Hoton, who died in 1308, renounced in Beck's favor the right to investigate previous misconduct by monks of the cathedral chapter himself.

In view of the absence of the bishop, the king, who was still angry with Bek, had confiscated the temporalities of the diocese on 7 July 1302 and had the officials brought before the court for abuse of office. As administrator he had appointed Robert de Clifford, 1st Baron de Clifford . The residents of Durham, led by nobles Ranulph Neville of Raby and John Marmaduke of Horde , had then asked for a charter stating the rights of the bishop over them. After his return, in May 1303, Bek finally agreed to limit various rights such as his forest sovereignty. The king confirmed the right of the bishop to grant guardianship and the duty of the diocese's military contingent to fight outside the diocese's lands. In July 1303 there was a reconciliation between the bishop and the residents of Durham, and Bek resumed administration of his lands.

Next life

Instead of continuing to work towards an equalization in view of the continued tense situation, Bek returned to Rome in August 1303 to continue the proceedings against Hoton. In Durham, during his absence, there was a dispute with the Royal Treasury. Beks officials did not want to pay taxes or dues to the king for the period when Durham had been occupied by the king's orders. The Royal Treasury, on the other hand, tried to collect these outstanding taxes, fines and debts of over £ 6000. In addition, it used its own customs officers in Hartlepool , which was part of Durham. In March 1305 the king appointed two judges to deal with the lawsuits against Bek in Durham. In December 1305 Edward I handed the administration of Durham back to Robert de Clifford, but after his death his son and successor Edward II handed Durham back to the returned Bek in September 1307. When Robert the Bruce rose to the rank of King of Scotland and the Continued the fight against English supremacy, he confiscated the lands of the diocese near Hartlepool. Since the bishop was unable to protect his territories, Edward II gave Hartlepool as a fief to Robert de Clifford, so that the bishops of Durham only had formal sovereignty there. Also Barnard Castle , which initially was owned by the Scottish throne candidate Balliol, fell after a short time owned by Bek of Guy de Beauchamp, 10th Earl of Warwick . This and his successors fought off the diocese's claims to the castle. However, the other possessions of the County Palatine of Durham retained their privileges until they were repealed in 1536 by Henry VIII and finally under William IV in 1836.

Pope Clement V appointed Bek Patriarch of Jerusalem in February 1306 . Even if the patriarchy was only a titular patriarchy after the conquest of the Crusader states by the Muslims , Bek was now formally regarded as the leading prelate of England. With the title, Bek received from the Pope the task of leading the Inquisition against the Knights Templar in England, Scotland and Ireland. In January 1308 he traveled to Boulogne , where King Edward II married his French bride. There he was one of the leaders of a group of nobles who, in the so-called Boulogne Agreement, expressed their concern and dissatisfaction with the king's policy.

Death and aftermath

Bek died in Eltham Palace near London, which he had received from the king in 1305. Beck's body was transferred to Durham and buried in Durham Cathedral on May 3, 1311 . His funeral was thus the first in the cathedral since the transfer of the remains of Cuthbert von Lindisfarne in 1104. Bek had been personally brave and possessed a remarkable charisma, which earned him the friendship of Edward I. He was considered extravagant and surrounded himself with a large retinue, but is said to have lived chaste. As the Bishop of Durham, Bek had been a rich man. In Durham Castle he built the magnificent living hall in the west wing, and he built Auckland Castle as a further bishop's residence . Even before his election as bishop, he had begun building Somerton Castle in Lincolnshire in 1281 , which he handed over to the king after his election as bishop. At his death he is said to have owned personal property valued at £ 4,000. King Edward II secured 240 horses from his estate from the famous Weardale stud , and later he bought gold harnesses from the estate for £ 1,383 and the tents that Bek had bought for his campaigns for £ 500. These included two living tents and three adjoining rooms, a chapel and ten tents as stables for the bishop's battle horses , tents and pack horses. The monks of the cathedral chapter reluctantly referred to him later as a saint, but official canonization was never sought.


  • CM Fraser: A history of Antony Bek, Bishop of Durham, 1283-1311. Clarendon, Oxford 1957.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. WB Bartlett: The taming of the dragon. Edward I & the conquest of Wales. Sutton, Stroud 2003. ISBN 0-7509-3217-1 , p. 89
  2. ^ Michael Prestwich: Edward I. University of California, Berkeley 1988, ISBN 0-520-06266-3 , p. 375
  3. ^ Michael Prestwich: Edward I. University of California Press, Berkeley 1988. ISBN 978-0-520-06266-5 , p. 390
  4. ^ Roy Martin Haines: King Edward II: Edward of Caernarfon, his life, his reign, and its aftermath 1284-1330 . McGill-Queen's University Press, Montréal 2003. ISBN 0-7735-2432-0 , p. 56
  5. ^ Adrian Pettifer: English Castles. A Guide by Counties . Boydell, Woodbridge 2002. ISBN 978-0-85115-782-5 , p. 29
  6. ^ Adrian Pettifer: English Castles. A Guide by Counties . Boydell, Woodbridge 2002. ISBN 978-0-85115-782-5 , p. 25
  7. ^ Adrian Pettifer: English Castles. A Guide by Counties . Boydell, Woodbridge 2002. ISBN 978-0-85115-782-5 , p. 144
predecessor Office successor
Robert of Holy Island Bishop of Durham
Richard Kellaw
Landolfo Titular Patriarch of Jerusalem
Pierre I. Pleinecassagne