The Ghost of Linstock, Part 2

I set some background on the story of the Ghost of Linstock yesterday--one Bishop Ireton.  Assuming belief in ghosts at all, it's an interesting question, what sort of a person, what sort of a life, leads to Ghosthood.  So who was this Bishop who Became a Ghost?  (The Reverend who Returned as a Wraith?)

Initially, very little turns up on a search for Bishop Ireton, or Irton as spelled on some sites, or Bishop Irton Linstock (or Lynstock as it was once spelled), except that he died in 1283 and his ghost is said to appear at Linstock on the anniversary of his death and that in 1282 he referred to St. Mary's Chapel at Little Salkeld--the previous name of the church now known as the Church of St. Michael and All Angels. 

Not much left to tell of a life that must have spanned at least 60 years and possibly much more.

This site that speaks of this reference, however, calls him Bishop Irton of Carlisle, and a search on that leads us to Ralph of Irton, which tells us that he actually died on March 1, 1282.  Now a little more information turns up.  He was first a canon at Gisborough Priory, and elected as its prior between 1257 and 1261, and later elected to Carlisle on December 14 of 1278, after William de Rotherfeld refused the position.

King Edward (the elder Edward, Longshanks) objected to the election on the grounds that he had not granted a new license after de Rotherfeld's refusal.  Ralph took the matter to Pope Nicholas who, we are told, 'quashed the election,' yet still gave the see to Irton.  He was consecrated Bishop of Carlisle 'before April 9, 1280.'  On July 8, he paid a fine 'for the king's goodwill.'

  • Prior of Guisborough (Aug., Yorks., North). El. 14 Dec. 1278 (Chron. Lanercost p. 102).
  • Royal objections because no new lic. el. sought after Rotherfield's refusal (cf. C.P.R. 1281-92 p. 10; Cal. Fine Rolls 1 (1911) 134).
  • Appeal to pope, and el. qua., but Ireton prov. by pope and cons. before 9 Apr. 1280 (Reg. Nic. III nos. 636, 1077).
  • Paid fine for king's goodwill 8 July (Cal. Fine Rolls 1 (1911) 131).
  • Temps. 10 July (C.P.R. 1272-81 p. 386).
  • Prof. obed. to York 22 July 1280 (Reg. W. Wickwane, ed. W. Brown (Surtees Soc. cxiv) pp. 222-3).
  • D. 1 March 1292 (Chron. Lanercost p. 143; cf. Cal. Fine Rolls 1 (1911) 307).
Other sources fill in just a little more color to these stark lines of his life.  

Like many clerics of the time, he was involved in politics.  He taxed his diocese in order to complete the Cathedral of Carlisle and was involved in negotiating the marriage of Edward II to Margaret, the Maid of Norway (which of course came to nothing, when she died in Orkney.)

He died of a burst vein while attending parliament in London.

And finally, stumbling upon a wikisource article, Bishop Irton really begins to come to life.  We begin to see a little bit of his personality, rather than a dry list of his activities.  We get an image of the young Ralph, son of a landed family near the village of Irton near Ravenglass, Cumberland, with a father--Stephen--and two brothers--Robert and Thomas.  Isn't it funny how just putting names to his father and brothers makes them--and him--seem more real? 

Irton is a small village in the Scarborough district of England with a population today of only 312.  Is it a safe bet it was no bustling medieval metropolis in the 1200s?  Did young Ralph go the famous Scarborough Fair?  Or did he live in a manor house overlooking this small village and stay away from the lower classes?  

ravenglass, cumbria, medieval history, bishop irton, bishop ireton
Ravenglass, less than four miles away, is a coastal town that dates back at least to the 2nd century and was used as a naval base for the Roman fleet, in addition to being garrisoned for over 300 years.  These, then, were the surroundings of his youth.

Given that the family retained its lands into the 18th century, and Ralph's high connections as a cleric, we can guess they were not exactly of the peasant class?  And given that Ralph went into the clergy, we can guess he was one of the younger sons.

medieval monks, augustinians, augustinian monk, medieval carlisle
He joined the Augustinians, going first to Gisburne Priory in Cleveland in the northeast of England.  Our first glimpse of him as prior at Gisburne is in 1261.  We know nothing of his age or his activities or reputation at the priory before this.  Was he elected prior because of his popularity or diplomacy or skill at handling finances or political connections?  We don't know.  We know only that he held the office for approximately 17 years until the canons and prior of Carlisle to be their bishop, on December 26, 1278.  Edward I fined them 500 marks for holding the election without his consent and refused Irton's nomination.  (Because a king can do that if the year is 1278.)

It became quite an affair by the sounds of it.  Had it happened today, one can only imagine the tweets that might have flown among the various bishops, prelates, pope, and king!  Tempers were hot enough as it was, from the sounds of it, even with their medieval tweets-on-vellum taking the travel time they did.

The Archbishop of York delayed confirming Irton to the bishopric.  We are not told why--but certainly not wanting to displease a king would be a reasonable reason.  Unfortunately for the Archbishop of York...he died.  (The Archbishop, that is.)  Or maybe that was his reason for delaying--knowing soon enough he wouldn't have to deal with it.

Irton, the unrecognized bishop-elect, traveled to Rome to appeal to Pope Nicholas III, who appointed three cardinals to look into it.  The cardinals decided that, technically, the election had been informal and therefore Nicholas III nixed Irton's election.  However, he immediately used his papal provision privilege to appoint Irton to the vacancy.  Ordonius Alurz, cardinal bishop of Tusculum and one of the three investigating cardinals, ordained Ralph as bishop on March 25, 1280.  [Catholic Hierarchy] 

Nicholas sent a message of April 9, 1280 to Edward I asking him to accept this decision.  The now-bishop Irton returned to England in May and on July 10, Edward restored his 'temporalities,' which had apparently been unstored.  Or de-stored.  Or simply taken away.  Temporalities are defined as properties or revenues.  There is no mention elsewhere of these being taken from Ralph but it seems they were.

The prior and convent were forgiven to the tune of another 100.  Edward was an expensive man to know--and displease--but I guess considering the times we're talking about, we can say with a completely straight face, they are lucky it didn't cost them an arm and a leg...and an intestine and a head.

And so, Ralph Irton became the Bishop of Carlisle, moving west again, to within 55 miles of his childhood home (a hard day's ride for the Scots on their garrons, but likely several days for a bishop.) He took a very active role, which wasn't necessarily approved of by others--the Franciscans of Carlisle, for instance.

[A side note: In The Water is Wide, Niall visits both the Franciscans, the Grey Friars, and the Dominicans, the Black Friars.  The medieval Dominicans had a certain interesting feature to their priory, built on the city walls, that made them much more useful to Niall.]

Once again, however, the post is getting long enough...and the day is not getting any longer...and my to-do list is...and so we'll find out tomorrow what Ralph Irton did to agitate the Grey Friars and what happened after his death that some said was divine retribution.

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  • October 2017: Author Talk and Book Festival in Appleton, Wisconsin
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