Red Seal Showing Bishop Nathaniel Crew as Prince Palatine with the City of Durham in the Background
This warlike portrayal of Nathaniel Crewe, bishop from 1674 until 1722, is hardly the conventional image of a churchman. It does, however, symbolise the remarkable role of Durham’s prince bishops. In medieval times, they wielded powers usually reserved by the king: to administer justice, mint coinage, and raise armies to defend the northern realm.
By Crewe’s day, many of these rights had been taken away and he witnessed the establishment of parliamentary representation for the county. The ‘power and prerogative’ of the bishop had been overtaken by a new creed: ‘no taxation without representation’. The loss of lucrative privileges must have seemed a poor return on the £5,000 Crewe had paid Nell Gwyn, the king’s influential mistress, for his appointment.
Crewe’s seal has a detailed miniature view of Durham – spirited, if somewhat inaccurate – set beneath the rearing legs of the prince bishop’s horse.