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Hugh Hammer-King Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln, was kind to children and animals but Kings merited firmer handling.

In two parts

King Richard I 1189-1199
Music: Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky

© Jungpionier, Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Public domain. Source

About this picture …

Lincoln Cathedral, the seat of Bishop Hugh from 1186 to his death in 1200, a year after Richard’s brother King John came to the throne. Soon regarded as a saint in the West, Hugh was not recognised as such by the Eastern churches because of the Great Schism which had been widening for almost 150 years by this time. But if Pope Benedict VIII had stood up to the King of the Franks as Bishop Hugh did to Richard, schism might have been avoided. See Filioque.

Hugh Hammer-King

Part 1 of 2

Hugh of Avalon (?1135-1200) was a Frenchman from Burgundy who was appointed Abbot of the Charterhouse at Witham in the reign of Henry II. In 1186, he was raised to the See of Lincoln, where he gained a reputation for kindness towards the sick, to children and to animals, but Henry’s son Richard found that his indulgence did not extend to Kings.

HUGH opposed the raising of a subvention for the prosecution of war in France, when demanded by Richard I.* He refused to have it levied in his diocese. The Coeur de Lion* was furious when he heard of this, and sent some men to Lincoln to arrest and eject the bishop. Hugh had all the bells rung as they arrived, and they were solemnly excommunicated. Seeing all Lincoln stirring, they felt themselves not strong enough to get possession of the person of the bishop, and withdrew.

When Richard came to England, Hugh went to meet him.* The king was angry with the bishop, and would not salute him. Then Hugh went up to Richard, and said, “Give me a kiss.”*

“No,” answered King Richard, “you have not deserved one.”

“I have,” said Hugh; “for I have come a long way to see you. You owe me a kiss,” and he pulled the king’s cloak, and drawing him towards him, extorted the salutation which Richard had at first refused. The king laughed at his pertinacity, and gave way.

Jump to Part 2

A subvention is any provision of aid, especially a grant of money; it was customary for the Church to be exempt from such wartime taxes. Richard had been granted Aquitaine in France by his father Henry II, but it required constant vigilance to defend it from seizure by Philip II of France.

Richard became King in 1189, but spent little time in England. He left for the Third Crusade in 1190, and on his way home was kidnapped by Leopold of Austria in 1192, and held prisoner for more than a year. He was liberated in February 1194. See Charles Dickens’s account in Richard Unchained. Richard died shortly afterwards, in 1199. See The Lion and the Ant.

French for Lionheart, King Richard I’s nickname. Indeed, he is better known as Richard the Lionheart than as Richard I.

See 1 Peter 5:14. The ‘kiss of charity’ was a brotherly embrace with a difference for Richard. Henry II, Richard’s father, had quarrelled with his Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, over whether the Church should be subservient to the interests of the State, and had sworn never to greet Becket with a kiss while the quarrel lasted. This prompted the anxious Pope to write to Henry, absolving him (unasked) of his oath. In the end, four knights murdered Becket, filling Henry with guilt and forcing him into a humiliating climbdown. Hugh’s demand for a kiss, against the background of Richard’s high-handed treatment of the Church, was therefore heavy with symbolism. See The Assassination of Thomas Becket.

Part Two

© böhringer friedrich, Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0. Source

About this picture …

A young swan peeps out from behind its wing. On a visit to Stow in Lindsey, Hugh was adopted by a very large swan that followed him about devotedly thereafter, and did the office of a security guard. “He had a favourite swan,” Baring-Gould tells us, “which he fed; and when he walked by his moat the swan flew or swam to him, and put its head caressingly up his sleeve to be stroked. The swan disappeared at breeding time, when it went off to the fens, but returned invariably to the moat of the palace.”

THEY began to talk together. “How stands your conscience?” asked the bishop; “you are my parishioner, and I must give an answer for it.”*

“My conscience is fairly easy,” answered Richard, “but I admit it is ruffled with anger against those who are hostile to my sovereignty.”

“Ha!” said Hugh, “is that all? And yet I hear daily complaints of the poor oppressed, the innocent afflicted, and the land crushed with exactions. Nor is that everything. I hear that you have not kept your marriage vows.”* The king started up, angry and aghast; and Hugh took his leave.

“If all the bishops in my realm were like that man,” said Richard, when he left, “kings and princes would be powerless against them.”* Hugh got the nickname of Hammer-king because he had dealt both Henry and Richard some hard knocks.

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Richard was born in Oxford, which at that time was under the care of the Diocese of Lincoln. In that sense, he was Hugh’s pastoral responsibility.

Richard married Berengaria of Navarre, daughter of King Sancho VI of Navarre in Portgal, on May 12th, 1191, at Limassol in Cyprus. The couple had no children, but Richard is known to have fathered at least one illegitimate child, Philip of Cognac. Roger of Hoveden tells us that on the Sunday after Easter, 1195, Richard fell ill. “Calling before him religious men, he was not ashamed to confess the guiltiness of his life, and, after receiving absolution, took back his wife, whom for a long time he had not known: and, putting away all illicit intercourse, he remained constant to his wife, and they two became one flesh, and the Lord gave him health both of body and of soul.”

The episode recalls the time when St Basil (330-379) was summoned to explain why he did not accept the Arian heresy, at that time backed by the court in Constantinople and its tame clergy. ‘No one has ever bandied words with me like this!’ complained the Prefect. ‘In that case,’ Basil replied drily, ‘you can’t have met any bishops, because bishops always bandy words like that when they are contending for such matters.’ See Gregory Nazianzen’s Oration XLIII §50. And for another tussle between bishop and emperor, see A Battle of Wills.


From ‘Lives of the Saints,’ November (Part 2) (1877) by Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924). For November 17th. For a longer retelling, see ‘The Life of St Hugh of Lincoln’ by Herbert Thurston (1856-1939).

Suggested Music

1 2

Swan Lake Suite

Scene I

Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Riccardo Muti.

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Swan Lake Suite

Act 1: Waltz

Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Riccardo Muti.

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