(Bishop of Exeter)

Born: ABT 1450, Crumpsell or Oldham, Lancashire, England

Died: 25 Jun 1519

A native of Manchester, or its immediate neighbourhood, of the ancient family of Oldham, of Oldham in Lancashire, Hugh was the brother of William Oldham, Abbot of Chester. He was educated in the household of Thomas Stanley, first Earl of Derby with James Stanley, Bishop of Ely and his great friend, William Smythe, Bishop of Lincoln and founder of Brazenose College, Oxford. He became chaplain to his patron's wife, Margaret of Richmond, mother of King Henry VII, before being appointed Bishop of Exeter in 1504.

His resignation of the living of Lanivet in Cornwall on 5 Jul 1493, on a pension of twelve pounds, to be deducted from the income of his successor John Oby, is recorded in Bishop King's Register, fol. 166. About the same time he was collated by that prelate to the archdeaconry of Exeter, and, whilst on a visit at the Royal Manor of Shene, obtained, on 11 March following, the canonry and prebend in this cathedral, void by the death of John Paskewe. Chaplain to his noble patroness and to King Henry VII, he assisted on 24 Jan 1503, at the laying of the first stone of the Royal Chapel in Westminster Abbey. Pope Julius II, by his bull dated Rome 27 Nov 1504, provided him to the see of Exeter, void by the death of Bishop John Arundell, and the temporalities were restored to him on Epiphany-day following, but we cannot fix the precise day of his consecration. His Register commences with 12 Jan 1505, and is fairly kept. In Sep of that year he reached his diocese and commenced its visitation. With the license of his sovereign, dated from Croydon 12 Jan 1509, he appropriated to the priest-vicars of his cathedral the chapel of Clist Gabriel at Sowton, and the chapel of the Holy Ghost at Warlond in Totnes, and he added for their benefit a free gift of 80l. sterling, which they gratefully acknowledged on 8 Feb that year.

Towards Corpus Christi College, the foundation of his dear friend and predecessor Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester, he contributed the large sum of six thousand marks ('Hist. et Antiq. Oxon.,' lib. ii. p. 23F). It was through Bishop Oldham, who foresaw the coming changes of the Reformation, that Fox was induced to found a college instead of a monastery, as he had at first intended. And he also assigned certain lands and houses in Chelsea, which he had purchased, to its better endowment. At Manchester he erected and endowed in 1515 the grammar-school or college of which he was warden.

Bishop Oldham's chantry chapel remains, in the south choir-aisle of Exeter Cathedral, covered with tiny owls: a rebus on his name. The arms of the See, as borne at present, (Gules, a sword erect in pale argent, pomelled and hilted or, surmounted by two keys in saltire of the last) were settled by this Bishop. Earlier examples vary the position of the keys and sword.

Hoker, in his 'MS. History' (p. 337), relates the Bishop's punctuality of dining at eleven o'clock in the morning, and of supping at five o'clock in the afternoon, and that to ensure precision he had a house-clock to strike the hours, and a servant to look after it. Should his lordship be prevented by important business from coming to table at the appointed time, the servant would delay the clock's striking the hour until he knew that his master was ready. Sometimes, if asked what was the hour, he would humorously answer, "As your lordship pleaseth", at which the Bishop would smile and go his way.

From a document in his Register, dated 30 Dec 1513, we learn that he had then completed St. Saviour's Chapel in his cathedral to receive his mortal remains. Finding his end drawing near, he quitted London about Easter 1519, and, after passing six weeks at Bishop's Clist, removed to his palace in Exeter. On 25 Jun he instituted Bernard Travesse to the church of St. Mary Major, Exeter; and his Registrar concludes thus, "Ipsoque eodem die, viz. xxv die mensis Junii, anno Domini millimo quingentesimo decimo nono, in palatio suo Exon., Dominus ab hâc luce migravit. Cujus animæ propitietur Deus, Amen". His will, dated 16 Dec 1518, was proved 16 Jul 1519. The Bishop had a brother, Bernard, who was collated to the treasurership of Exeter Cathedral on 5 Apr 1515, but who died within a month after his appointment.


King, Richard John: "Handbook to the Cathedrals of England: Southern Division" (1903).

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