Stillington, Robert, Bishop of Bath and Wells
- (d. 1491)In 1483, Robert Stillington, bishop of Bath and Wells, supposedly supplied Richard, duke of Gloucester, with the information the duke used to depose his nephew and thereby reanimate the Wars of the Roses.Born in Yorkshire, Stillington graduated from Oxford in about 1442 and thereafter rose steadily through the ecclesiastical hierarchy. He attached himself to the Yorkist cause in the late 1450s, and in July 1460 was appointed keeper of the privy seal by Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, who was then, as a consequence of his recent victory at the Battle of NORTHAMPTON, in control of HENRY VI and the royal government. In 1465, Stillington was elected bishop of Bath and Wells, and in STILLINGTON, ROBERT, BISHOP OF BATH AND WELLS 257 June 1467, EDWARD IV appointed the bishop chancellor of England. He was deprived of the chancellorship by Warwick when the earl overthrew Edward IV in the autumn of 1470, but restored to office by Edward upon his return to the throne in the spring of 1471. Stillington resigned the chancellorship in 1475 and was then employed by Edward IV on an ultimately unsuccessful effort to induce FRANCIS II, duke of BRITTANY, to surrender Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond (see Henry VII, King of England), the surviving Lancastrian claimant to the throne.At the accession of EDWARD V in 1483, Stillington informed Richard, duke of Gloucester, the king’s paternal uncle, that Edward IV had contracted marriage with one Eleanor Butler prior to his marriage to Elizabeth WOODVILLE; Gloucester accepted the BUTLER PRECONTRACT as grounds for deposing Edward V, holding that the Butler betrothal illegitimized the king and his siblings as offspring of an invalid marriage. As incorporated in the 1484 statute TITULUS REGIUS, Stillington’s claims became the basis of Gloucester’s formal justification for taking the Crown. Many contemporary commentators and most modern historians have dismissed Stillington’s supposed revelations as an invention by Gloucester to legitimize his usurpation. They point out that the story was unknown before 1483, and that the timing of its appearance was too convenient for Gloucester’s ambition to be credible. The duke’s supporters argue that Stillington’s mysterious imprisonment in 1478 for uttering words prejudicial to the king was the bishop’s punishment for divulging the precontract story to Edward IV’s brother, George PLANTAGENET, duke of Clarence. The truth of Stillington’s revelations cannot now be determined. In July 1483, Stillington officiated at Gloucester’s coronation as RICHARD III, and thereafter became a favored member of Richard’s COUNCIL. Shortly after his victory at the Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD in August 1485, Henry VII, Richard’s supplanter, ordered Stillington’s arrest, but pardoned the bishop three months later. Henry had his first PARLIAMENT repeal Titulus Regius, but took no action against the supposed author of the statute’s contents. In 1487, Stillington involved himself in the uprising instigated by Lambert SIMNEL, who claimed to be the Yorkist heir, Edward PLANTAGENET, earl of Warwick. After the collapse of Simnel’s enterprise at the Battle of STOKE in June 1487, the king imprisoned Stillington at Windsor, where the bishop died in May 1491.Further Reading: Kendall, Paul Murray, Richard the Third (New York:W.W. Norton, 1956); Levine, Mortimer, Tudor Dynastic Problems, 1460-1571 (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1973); Ross, Charles, Edward IV (New Haven, CT:Yale University Press, 1998); Ross, Charles, Richard III (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981).
Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. John A.Wagner. 2001.
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