Earl to old bishop

First published in Past Times Durham Times: Photograph of the Author by

Bishop Hugh Pudsey’s legacy for the North-East was more than just a bridge over the River Wear and a few expensive projects.

Bishop Hugh Pudsey was the most princely of all the Prince Bishops of Durham. A nephew of King Stephen and a former treasurer of York and Archdeacon of Winchester, Pudsey became Prince Bishop of Durham in 1153. By 1189, his possessions included Newcastle, Bamburgh and Windsor castles and he was the virtual ruler of Northern England during the king’s absence. His main contribution to North-East history is the Boldon Buke of 1183, which is the region’s own Domesday Book.

ELVET Bridge, one of Durham City’s great stone arteries across the River Wear, between Durham market place and Old and New Elvet, was built by Bishop Hugh Pudsey in about 1160.

Further work was carried out on it in 1228 and it underwent more extensive repairs, financed by Bishop Richard Fox, in 1495.

The historian, Leland, recorded that the bridge originally had 14 arches, but today there are only ten and two of them are obscured by later building.

At each end of the bridge there used to be a chapel – at the east end it was built in the 13th Century and was dedicated to St Andrew, with the western one, which stood until 1632, nominated to St James.

The great flood of 1771, which did such great damage along the rivers of the North- East, practically destroyed Elvet Bridge but, by 1805, it was rebuilt and doubled in width.

Today, it is essentially a pedestrian thoroughfare which, through the centuries, has witnessed the passage of millions of travellers, famous, infamous and run of the mill.

There was nothing ordinary, however, about the bridge’s builder.

Bishop Hugh Pudsey, one of Durham’s best-remembered Prince Bishops, was the king’s representative in the North- East for 42 years, from 1153 to 1195, and left more by way of legacy than a bridge, albeit a great initiative for the good of the city and a magnificent piece of architecture.

When he was elected as bishop of Durham by the monks, it was probably because he was only 25, a nephew of King Stephen, and from a wealthy, noble background.

His youth, they reasoned, would enable them to bend him to their will but, as they soon discovered, they were completely wrong.

Known also as Hugh de Puiset, du Puiset, de Puteaco and Hugh Pusaz, he had formerly been treasurer of York and archdeacon of Winchester.

King Stephen died soon after Pudsey’s accession to the Durham Episcopal throne and was succeed by King Henry II, the monarch who brought about the untimely death of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas a-Becket.

In 1188, Henry agreed to join the king of France on a crusade to the Holy Land, a most expensive venture for which he levied a tax on his people, some of which had to be collected on his behalf by Hugh Pudsey.

Before he could embark on this expedition, Henry died and was succeeded by his son, Richard I, known as Coeur de Lion, the Lionheart.

He decided to proceed with his father’s crusade to reclaim the Holy Land for Christianity and was supported by the clergy in his determination.

Pudsey was not going to be left out of this religious fervour, so he levied money and used it to build a ship to carry him on the expedition, assuming, quite naturally, that the king would be delighted to have one of his most important clerics with him.

He was wrong.

He wanted to outshine his peers, so he built a ship and equipped it with fine furniture, silver pots and an ornate silver throne, but then found that Richard did not want his company, preferring him to remain in England and be one of two regents who would look after the realm in the king’s absence.

The bishop agreed, and when the king asked him for the money and goods he had assembled for the crusade, he agreed to hand them over on the condition that the king make him Earl of Northumberland and Earl of Sadberge.

SADBERGE means “the hill of pleas” for it was to this hill that people in Saxon times, and even earlier, came to meet others and arrange their affairs.

Formerly, the district of Sadberge, technically a “wapentake”, was a very large area of land and, as earls of it, Pudsey and his successors were entitled to add to their mitre an earl’s coronet and to place a sword alongside their pastoral staff.

In effect, Pudsey bought his titles for the immense sum of £11,000 and King Henry said that he had made a young earl out of an old bishop.

As regent, and viceroy of the north of England, Pudsey was, in everything but name, king of all the lands north of the Humber, but while the regency was only a temporary title the bishop, as earl of Sadberge, had become the absolute ruler of all the country between the Tyne and the Tees. For the payment of a further £1,000, the king made Pudsey Chief Justice of all England and governor of the castle and forest of Windsor.

Once Henry had left England, Pudsey was accused by his co-regent, the Bishop of Ely, of being a traitor and was imprisoned by him in the Tower of London.

He was released only after he had agreed to hand over the city of Newcastle, the earldoms of Newcastle and Sadberge, the castle and lands of Windsor and his son, Henry Pudsey, as a hostage.

The Bishop of Ely was eventually removed as co-regent by the king’s brother, Prince John, and Richard was persuaded to return to England.

Unfortunately, as he was travelling home, he fell foul of Duke Leopold of Austria, who took him prisoner and handed him over to the Emperor Henry VI from whom he had to be ransomed.

The money for his release was raised by, among others, Hugh Pudsey, but Pudsey failed to hand it all over and, when the king found out, he was obviously very displeased.

Pudsey had used some of the money on building a church in Darlington and other expensive projects, with the result that he had to pay King Richard several large fines.

On a subsequent journey to London, Pudsey fell ill at Crayke, near Easingwold, allegedly having eaten too well and too much.

He managed to get as far as Doncaster before being unable to travel any further.

The doctors attending him suggested that he was near to death, but he refused to believe them.

He was wrong, however, and soon died, aged 70.

He was buried in the chapter house at Durham.

During his early life, he had not always enjoyed the best of relationships with the Durham monks, but he did try to make amends and, in 1180, granted them a charter so that they could build a priory at Finchale, about four miles from Durham, and also gave them an endowment for its ongoing upkeep.

As well as being a clever churchman, Pudsey was well aware of the growing financial power of commerce and granted charters of incorporation, along with other help, to the boroughs under his influence.

He also wanted to leave his mark on what is now Durham Cathedral by extending it to the west with the addition of the Galilee Chapel, where the bones of the Venerable Bede now lie.

The purpose of the chapel was to allow women to attend church services and, in order to build it, Pudsey had to close up the western entrance to the church and create a new one in the north wall.

The replica of Durham’s famous sanctuary knocker is on this north door.

Another example of Pudsey’s work in the building is the great archway from the cloisters into the south aisle.

ONE of the most feared diseases of the Middle Ages was leprosy, for 65 of whose sufferers Pudsey built a hospital in Sherburn, endowing it and providing a master and chaplains for the patients. The master was himself a leper.

Less than 250 years after the establishment of Sherburn Hospital, leprosy had become so rare that not enough sufferers existed to fill the hospital, so it was turned into an almshouse for the poor.

Another of Pudsey’s benevolent acts was to found a hospital in Witton Gilbert, west of Durham, and another in Northallerton, North Yorkshire.

Other of his building works included several private houses, one of these in Darlington, more of Durham’s city walls and renovations to Durham Castle.

On the north bank of the River Wear today is a farm which contains all that is left of Kepier Hospital, whose foundation dates originally from 1112 when it was created as St Giles’ hospital, in Gilesgate, by Bishop Ralph Flambard with St Giles’ church as its chapel, but it was Bishop Pudsey who moved it to its present location late in the 12th Century.

Its staff, a master and 13 brothers were charged with the duty of helping the poor of the area, although they did, on occasion, entertain royalty too.

Pudsey also recreated the village of Elvet, which had been burnt to the ground some years earlier.

Possibly Pudsey’s greatest achievement was the creation of a document for which historians owe him a great debt.

The Durham area had not been included in William the Conqueror’s great survey of 1083, known as the Domesday Book, so Pudsey rectified this by commissioning his own survey, now known as the Boldon Buke, which provides a vast amount of information about the region as it was in the late 12th Century.

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