Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Saturday, 6 June 2020

A fitting mitre for a Prince Bishop?

The ever resourceful Special Correspondent has forwarded to me this posting on Twitter from Canon Robin Ward of a picture of Michael Ramsey at his enthronement as Bishop of Durham in 1952 wearing a most extraordinary mitre with the coronet that is heraldically proper to the See of Durham. It is not liturgically proper. Canon Ward goes on to point out that this is not a traditional piece, and insightfully links it to the artistic world of the Festival of Britain the preceding year. Some of the other comments do not show the same historical or heraldic insight as Canon Ward.

My reaction was to wonder why no-one had included in the mitre the ostrich feather plume that is also proper to Palatine powers as in the badges of the Princes of Wales and the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster. I have seen instances of such a plume at one side of the Durham heraldic mitre. The only one the Internet yielded today was this one from 1515:

Part of a Parliamentary Roll of February 5 1515 showing (left to right) the arms of Archbishop William Warham of Canterbury, Archbishop Thomas Wolsey of York, Bishop Richard Fox of Winchester and Bishop Thomas Ruthall of Durham.His mitre, unlike the others, has a coronet and a panache of feathers indicating his unique status within his lordship.Fox’s arms are encircled by the Garter as bishops of Winchester are Prelates of the Order.
BL Add. MS 40078Image: British Library/Alamy

Here is the opinion, and a weighty one too, that of A.C. Fox-Davies in A Complete Guide to Heraldry (1909) - although he does not mention the Palatine plume:

The Bishopric of Durham, until the earlier part of the nineteenth century, was a Palatinate, and in earlier times the Bishops of Durham, who had their own parliament and Barons of the Palatinate, exercised a jurisdiction and regality, limited in extent certainly, but little short in fact or effect of the power of the Crown. If ever any ecclesiastic can be correctly said to have enjoyed temporal power, the Bishops of Durham can be so described. The Prince-Bishops of the Continent had no such attributes of regality vested in themselves as were enjoyed by the Bishops of Durham. These were in truth kings within their bishoprics, and even to the present day—though modern geographies and modern social legislation have divided the bishopric into other divisions—one still hears the term employed of "within" or "without" the bishopric.
The result of this temporal power enjoyed by the Bishops of Durham is seen in their heraldic achievement. In place of the two crosiers in saltire behind the shield, as used by the other bishops, the Bishops of Durham place a sword and a crosier in saltire behind their shield to signify both their temporal and spiritual jurisdiction.
The mitre of the Bishop of Durham is heraldically represented with the rim encircled by a ducal coronet, and it has thereby become usual to speak of the coronetted mitre of the Bishop of Durham; but it should be clearly borne in mind that the coronet formed no part of the actual mitre, and probably no mitre has ever existed in which the rim has been encircled by a coronet. But the Bishops of Durham, by virtue of their temporal status, used a coronet, and by virtue of their ecclesiastical status used a mitre, and the representation of both of these at one and the same time has resulted in the coronet being placed to encircle the rim of the mitre. The result has been that, heraldically, they are now always represented as one and the same article.
It is, of course, from this coronetted mitre of Durham that the wholly inaccurate idea of the existence of coronet on the mitre of an archbishop has originated. Apparently the humility of these Princes of the Church has not been sufficient to prevent their appropriating the peculiar privileges of their ecclesiastical brother of lesser rank.
I wonder what he would have said if he had been on Palace Green in 1952?

Another early sixteenth century representation of the arms of the See of Durham is in the nave of Cirencester church. There, if I recall aright, the plume is included and the mitre and its enhancements are set on top of a great helm - the Church Militant indeed.

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