Friday, 19 July 2013

Finding an Irish archbishop on
a college building in Cambridge

Archbishop John Colton, and an angel with the coat-of-arms of Armagh, on the side of Saint Michael’s Court in Trinity Street, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

During my daily walks in Cambridge this week, I kept my eyes open for images of angels to illustrate the lectures at the IOCS summer school in Sidney Sussex College.

On my way back from the early morning Eucharist in Saint Bene’t’s Church yesterday [18 July 2013], I had decided to return to breakfast in Sidney Sussex College along King’s Parade, Trinity Street, and Green Street.

Walking along Trinity Street, I was surprised to find a statue of Archbishop John Colton (ca 1320-1404) of Armagh on the side of a building, and above him an angel holding his coat-of-arms as Archbishop of Armagh.

Archbishop Colton was a leading political and church figure in 14th century Ireland, and held the offices of Treasurer of Ireland, Lord Chancellor of Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh. He is best remembered, perhaps, for his Visitation of Derry (1397).

But what, I wondered, was he doing on the side of a building owned by Gonville and Caius College?

John Colton, or John of Tyrington, was born in Terrington St Clement in Norfolk ca 1320, and began his career working for William Bateman, Bishop of Norwich. Some say he had a degree in theology from the University of Cambridge, and that in 1348 he received a degree of Doctor of Canon Law (DCL) when he became the first ever Master of the new Gonville Hall, now Gonville and Caius College.

Gonville and Caius (pronounced “Keys”) is the fourth oldest college in Cambridge. It is said to own or have rights to much of the land in Cambridge, and several streets, such as Harvey Road, Glisson Road and Gresham Road, are named after alumni ... although ot seems remiss that there is no street on Cambridge named after the first Master who become Archbishop of Armagh.

Gonville and Caius College is the fourth oldest college in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The founder of Gonville Hall, the Revd Edmund Gonville, was Rector of Terrington St Clement in Norfolk, where he had been Colton’s neighbour in his home village. However, when Gonville died three years later, he left a struggling institution with almost no money.

Colton’s patron, William Bateman, Bishop of Norwich, was the executor of Gonville’s will, and stepped in, transferring the college to the land close to the college he had just founded, Trinity Hall. He renamed it the Hall of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and endowed it with its first buildings.

Despite the claims by his biographers, there is no record in Cambridge showing any work for a degree by Colton. His short time as Master of Gonville was divided between the original site in Lurthburgh Lane and the present site, which was acquired through an exchange of land in 1353. A licence to build a chapel was granted by the Bishop and Prior of Ely that year, although the chapel was not completed for many years so that college probably used Saint Michael’s Church at the beginning.

He appears to have been absent in Avignon in the mid and late 1350s, although he continued to hold office as Master of Gonville Hall until at least 1360, perhaps even until 1366, when it was noted again that he was absent from Cambridge.

An angel holding Archbishop Colton’s coat-of-arms as Archbishop of Armagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2103)

John Colton first came to Ireland as Treasurer, in 1373, and became Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral the following year, although the Patent Roll shows he was still only a deacon. Colton was also Vicar of Saint Mary’s, Wood Street, London, and in 1377 he was also appointed a Prebendary of York Minster, although he appears to have held that office for only a year.

He was Lord Chancellor from 1379 to 1382, and became Archbishop of Armagh in 1383. He accompanied the Justiciar of Ireland, Edmund Mortimer, 3rd Earl of March, on an expedition to Cork in 1381. Mortimer died on that expedition and Colton briefly replaced him as Justiciar.

He was held in high regard by the Crown and was sent by King Richard II on a special mission to Rome in 1398. Later, in an acknowledgment of his fidelity and loyalty, he received a grant of money from the Crown.

LIke most Crown officials at the time, including clerics, Colton was also expected to perform military dutiess, and he seems to have been a competent soldier: in 1373, at his own cost, he raised a troop for the defence of Dublin.

Colton is best remembered for writing or commissioning the Visitation of Derry, although the actual author was probably his secretary, Richard Kenmore. This is an account of his ten-day tour of the Diocese of Derry when the see was vacant.

Colton took the opportunity to assert his metropolitan authority over the diocese in all matters of religion and morals. The visitation itself is remarkable because the mediaeval Archbishops of Armagh were usually English and found Ulster a foreign and hostile province. They lived in Dundalk or Drogheda, with a summer house in Termonfeckin, Co Louth, but they rarely even visited Armagh, and seldom went further afield in their province to places such as Derry.

Colton entered the Diocese of Derry at Cappagh with a large band of followers, and they then proceed moved on to Derry and Banagher. The only potential trouble was the refusal of the Archdeacon of Derry and the Cathedral Chapter to recognise Colton’s authority. But, faced with a threat of excommunication, they quickly submitted.

Colton was busy as archbishop, reconsecrating churches and graveyards, settling a bitter property dispute and hearing matrimonial causes. His most colourful action may have been his injunction to the Abbot of Derry instructing him to refrain from cohabitating with his mistress “or any other woman.”

Archbishop Colton died in Drogheda on 27 April 1404 and was buried in Saint Peter’s Church, Drogheda. He was described as “a man of great talent and activity, of high reputation for virtue and learning, dear to all ranks of people for his affability and sweetness of temper.”

Archbishop Colton’s statue, with the angel holding his coat-of-arms stands as Archbishop of Armagh, can be seen on the side of Saint Michael’s Court, owned by Gonville and Caius. Saint Michael’s Court stands opposite the main college building and Trinity Lane on the corner of Rose Crescent and Trinity Street, once the High Street of Cambridge, on land surrounding Saint Michael’s Church. Saint Michael’s Court was built in 1903 by the architect Aston Webb, and was completed in the 1930s.

Saint Michael’s Church on Trinity Street, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

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