LIVES OF THE BISHOPS OF EXETER
JAMES BERKLEY. - When the news reached Exeter that their beloved bishop Walter Stapeldon had fallen a victim to the popular phrensy in London, the dean and chapter assembled to deliberate on a suitable successor. Their choice was unanimous in favour of their colleague James Berkley, S.T.P. For the last eight years he had been also Archdeacon of Huntingdon, and was powerful by his family connections. He was the third son of Thomas de Berkley, who was summoned to Parliament from the 23rd of King Edward I. (1295) to the 14th of King Edward II. (1321), by Joane his wife, daughter of William de Ferrers Earl of Derby. According to Le Neve, the royal assent was given to the election on 12th December, 1326, and six days later the king addressed a letter from Kenilworth to Pope John XXII, extolling the elect for pre-eminence of merit, noble descent, learning, and circumspection, and praying that no obstacle might be opposed to his consecration. To the cardinals individually the king on the same day addressed letters to the same purpose (Rymer's 'Foedera,' tom. .iv. p. 240). From William le Dene's 'Hist. Roffensis' we learn that the primate Walter Reynolds consecrated the elect, at Canterbury, on Midlent Sunday, 22nd March following, assisted by the Bishops of Rochester and Chichester; or perhaps on 15th March, as the 'Chronicon' of Exeter asserts. But, after the consecration, the pope interfered: on 22nd April he announced that he had reserved to himself the power hâc vice of providing a successor to Walter, of happy memory. Godwin has unfairly represented this interference, and takes occasion to vituperate the Holy See : nay, goes so far as to attribute the premature death of the consecrating primate, and of the new bishop, to the terrors excited by the acerbity of the pope's language. How wide this is from the truth must be evident from the bull addressed to his venerable brother James Berkley, at the date above mentioned, which is fortunately preserved in Bishop Grandisson's 'Register' (vol. i. fol. 35). With great good sense and feeling, after affirming his right to provision, in this particular case of reserve, he excuses the parties on the ground of their being ignorant of his intention, ratifies his election and consecration, supplies every defect, and commands that no prejudice shall accrue, and no obstacle be interposed to the canonical government of his diocese of Exeter.
Here we may be allowed to observe that the canons assigned to the pope the confirmation of a primate elect; but that provisions to vacant bishoprics in this country, so often claimed by the Holy See from the reign of King Edward I. to that of King Henry VIII., was an abuse, - an encroachment on the rights of chapters under a national hierarchy, and on the prerogative of the crown. King John had very properly restored to the chapters, episcopal and conventual, the unfettered power of electing their future; prelates, 'After they had solicited and obtained the sovereign's licence, for such as were of royal foundation. The subsequent assent of the crown, "ex debito justitiæ et non ex gratiâ," could not be withholden but for good cause shown. If no reasonable objection was offered, the elect was referred to the metropolitan for confirmation, and, this obtained, the consecration followed of course. As to the restoration of the temporalities, either before or after consecration, that was an affair that belonged exclusively to the crown; and it would be an infringement of the royal prerogative for the spiritual power to pretend to exercise it. The distinction between the spiritual authority and the temporal power was rightly understood by the English barons, as is manifest from their memorable reply to Pope Boniface VIII., in the year 1301; and it is deeply to be lamented, that any of our sovereigns from pusillanimity or indolence, or views of temporary or political expediency, could so far forget what was due to themselves and to the national honour, as to connive at, and much more to suffer and encourage, usurpations of their own prerogative. Thus, for instance, we find in Bishop Stafford's 'Register,' vol. ii. fol. 224, that King Richard II., by letters patent, dated at Coventry on 16th January, 1398, after reciting the Act of Parliament passed nine years before "contra provisores," proceeds to add, that for the honour of God and the Holy See, and for his special affection for the reigning pontiff Boniface IX., he modifies that statute, and sanctions its infringement and violations from the 8th December last past, until the Easter next ensuing!
Quid leges sine moribus
But to return to Bishop Berkley: notwithstanding this satisfactory brief, he was snatched away by death fourteen weeks after his consecration. The event took place at his episcopal manor of Petershayes, in the parish of Yartecombe, on 24th June, 1327, as the 'Register' of Newenham affirms. He was buried on the south side of his cathedral choir, with this simple epitaph, according to Leland ('Itin.' vol. iii. p. 45) :-
"In Berkley natus, jacet hic Jacobus tumulatus."
From a manuscript in the possession of the Dean and Chapter we find that he was a donor to the church on 7th May, 1327, of some purple vestments richly garnished with pearls.
Arms: - Gules, a chevron between ten crosses patee - according to Westcote, or; but according to Izacke, argent.
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