Bishop of Chichester, b. in North Wales about 1395; d. at Thorny. Abbey about 1460
Pecock (PEACOCK), REGINALD, Bishop of Chichester, b. in North Wales about 1395; d. at Thorny. Abbey about 1460. He was educated at Oriel College, Oxford, where he obtained a fellowship in 1417. During the following years he taught in the schools belonging to Exeter College, obtaining a wide reputation for learning and scholarship. He was ordained priest on March 8, 1421, and took the degree of bachelor in divinity four years later, about which time he left the university for the court where he won the favor of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. In 1431 he was appointed master of Whittington College, London, and rector of St. Michael’s-in-Riola. The activity of the London Lollards drew him into controversy against them and at this time he wrote “The Book or Rule of Christian Religion” and “Donet”, an introduction to Christian doctrine which was published about 1440. In 1444 he was made Bishop of St. Asaph by papal provision dated April 22, and on June 14 he was consecrated by Archbishop Stafford. At the same time he took the degree of doctor in divinity at Oxford without any academic act. The bishop’s troubles began with a sermon which he preached at St. Paul’s Cross in 1447 which gave general offense because of his attempt to justify the bishops for not preaching. The manner of this offended both the agitators whom he attacked and the ecclesiastics whom he defended. Undaunted by the opposition, he summarized his argument in a tract called “Abbreviatio Reginaldi Pecock.” It is noteworthy that he incurred in a special degree the resentment of the religious orders. It was unfortunate for Pecock that he was befriended by the unpopular Duke of Suffolk, one of whose last acts before his assassination was to procure the translation of Pecock from St. Asaph’s to Chichester, an appointment by which the bishop was attached to the falling house of Lancaster. Soon after he was made a privy councillor, and he was among those who signed the appointment of Richard, Duke of York, as protector during the king’s illness.
About 1455 he completed and published his best known work, “The Repressor of Over Much Blaming of the Clergy”, written against Lollard doctrine, and about a year later he issued his “Book of Faith“. The tendency of these works afforded ground for an attack on him by his theological and political opponents, and on October 22, 1457, Archbishop Bourchier cited Pecock and his accusers to appear before him on November 11 Nine books which he produced were submitted to a commission of theologians who reported adversely on them on the grounds among other reasons that he set the natural law above the authority of the Scriptures, denied the necessity of believing Christ’s descent into hell, and belittled the authority of the Church. On November 28, Pecock was sentenced either to complete public abjuration or degradation and death at the stake. Pecock, who all his life had been defending the doctrines of the Church, though possibly in an unwise way, had no intention of a conflict with authority, and abjured first privately, then in public at St. Paul’s Cross, a list of errors most of which he had neither held nor taught. The whole proceeding was illegal according to canon law, which required the authority of the Holy See for such a process. This became clear when Pecock appealed to the pope, for Callistus III sent back Bulls of restitution which were equivalent to a condemnation of the Lambeth court. Archbishop Bourchier received these Bulls but refused to act on them and the king was advised to despatch an ambassador to Rome to obtain their revocation. Unfortunately for Pecock Callistus died, and the new pope, Pius II, acting on Pecock’s confession, ordered a new trial with the express instructions that in case of conviction he was to be sent to Rome for punishment, or if that were impossible, he was to be degraded and punished in England as the canons decreed. In this document Pecock is said to have already resigned his see of his own accord. His successor John Arundel was appointed on March 26, 1459, which was before the arrival of the papal brief. There is no indication either that he was sent to Rome or degraded, but there is a document which shows that he was confined in the Abbey of Thorney. There probably he died, though reports differ, but no certain account of his death has been recorded. Space does not permit a statement of Pecock’s doctrine, but his intentions were orthodox, and his indiscretions would certainly not have been visited by such severe treatment had it not been for the intrigues of his political enemies. Irregularly they forced from him under fear of death a confession, which Pope Pius, taking it on its merits, naturally regarded as evidence of his guilt.