Monday, 7 October 2013

Land of the Prince Bishops

John Speed's map 1610
As you drive into Durham you will most likely see a road sign proclaiming that you are entering The Land of The Prince Bishops. The Bishop of Durham has always been Bishop by Divine Providence while other Bishops are  by Divine Permission.

So far from Westminster, Durham's Bishop enjoyed extraordinary powers and could hold his own parliament, raise his own army and appoint his own sheriffs and Justices. Laws, levies, taxes and custom dues were his. He also created markets and fairs, issued charters, claimed salvage from shipwrecks, revenues from mines, administered forests and minted his own coins.

It was said that there were two kings in England, and one of them was the Bishop of Durham. The administrative centre of all this activity was the castle and the buildings on Palace Green, some of which still remain. Henry VIII curbed some of the Prince Bishops powers and in 1538 ordered the destruction of the shrine of St Cuthbert.

Until the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury, St Cuthbert's was the most important shrine in England. It was famous for two reasons - the healing properties he had in life continued after his death, and his body was, as they say, incorruptible. That was back in 668. When Henry ordered the destruction of the shrine, his officers came to Durham intent on taking the gold and jewels, and tried to throw down the saint's bones. Check the link to find out what happened!  ~

Durham's location has always meant the city kept a wary eye on the Scots. The castle is one of the few Norman keeps to withstand a Scots attack. The Battle of Neville's Cross on 17th October 1346 is well documented, and there are several accounts to follow. here are links to just two of them: or

Plague outbreaks reached Durham in 1544, 1589 and 1598.

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