The county of Durham is in the Northeastern region of England. Both the region and its Bishops have been important throughout British history. During the Roman Empire, Durham was the location of Hadrian's Wall, erected by the imperial government to protect the then military outpost from migrating barbarians. Because of its placement between Scotland and England, in the Middle Ages Durham suffered from persistent invasion. As a result, the "Prince-Bishops", or reigning feudal lords of Durham, became responsible for constantly defending their land. With this increased position of power these Bishops were able to establish a tradition of long-standing control. In the nineteenth century, Durham's vast coal supply made it a critical region in British industrialization.
One of the more famous Bishops of Durham was William of Saint Carilef, whose term as Bishop lasted from 1081 to 1096. Bishop Saint Carilef is testimony to the power of these churchmen from Durham, as he was an adviser to William the Conqueror and minister to William Rufus.
In "Hudson's Statue," Carlyle refers to the American Jefferson Brick's reference to the Bishops of Durham as one of "the multifarious patented anomalies...which poor English Society at present labours under, and is made a solecism by." Though he admits that these Bishops indeed represent a blemish on British history, Carlyle distinguishes their "ugliness" from a more awful form. The Bishops of Durham apparently were abusers of power — but solely of political power which Carlyle finds less ugly than the abuse of financial power exemplified by Lord Ellenborough.
Last modified 23 October 2002