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Robert Flemming (1416 - 1483), ecclesiastic and humanist

Robert was born in the diocese of York, being the illegitimate son of Robert Flemming, esquire, of Wath, near Ripon. He was of a strong Lancastrian family, with his uncle, Richard Flemming, being the bishop of Lincoln and his aunt Cecily was married to Robert Waterton, Henry VI's esquire and right-hand man.

His uncle obained a papal dispensation, dated 20th January 1427, for Robert to hold from his twelfth birthday, a canonry and subdiaconal prebend at Lincoln Cathedral. On 2nd April 1428 he was installed by proxy as prebendary of Frandon-cum-Balderton. Two years later he transferred to Milton Ecclesia and in 1467 he exchanged for Leighton Manor. Finally, in 1478, he exchanged for Leighton Buzzard which he held until his death. He additionally held a number of benefices which combined with the prebend, funded his academic career and his exceptional library.

Robert attended University College, Oxford graduating in 1437-8 with an M.A. The following year he was made the university's junior proctor. He proceeded to holy orders, being ordained priest 21st May 1440, and went on to study theology at University College until summer 1443, having that year become rector of Menthley (the family living). Robert subsequently went to the University of Cologne and matriculated from there in 1445. By 1446 he had left Cologne to go to the studium of Padua, and received their BTh degree the following year.

Having heard Guarino da Verona lecture at Paudua, he decided to follow him to the studium of Ferrara where between 1447 and 1450 Robert attended Guarino's lectures and learned Greek.

By 1450 Robert was back in England and in 1452 was collated as dean of Lincoln. By 1453 he had become one of Henry VI's chaplains - effectively an honory post he probably retained until 1461 when Henry was deposed.

He was named as royal proctor at the papal curia in 1455, 1456 and 1458. In 1457, whilst still in Rome, Robert was appointed as one of the representatives to renew the King's obedience to Pope Calixtus III.

In 1458, after the election of Pope Pius II, he was appointed apolistic protonotary. Following the pope's call for a crusade to recover Byzantium, Robert was appointed as one of the English envoys to attend the diet at Mantua in 1459, however, on arrival the pope decided not to receive the delegation. Subsequently, he returned to England and to University College, Oxford, however, his royal associations had ceased at Edward VI's accession.

By 1473 he had returned to Rome and was made Lateran count palatine. At this time he wrote a poem in two books entitled Tibutinae lucubrationes in the pope's praise.

In 1478 he returned to England for the last time, taking up his duties as dean of Lincoln. Flemming died on the 12th August 1483, and was buried in the cathedral. His extensive library was bequeathed to Lincoln College, Oxford (a college his uncle had founded in 1427).

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