The nation was saddened when the genial archaeologist and television personality Mick Aston died suddenly, but as a man who studied the traces of the past he left his own impact on archaeology, which included a generous legacy to fund research.The legacy funded a dig at Auckland Castle in County Durham, sometimes known as Auckland Palace, official residence of the Anglican bishops of Durham, the most senior clergy after the two archbishops, Canterbury and York.
So where is Durham? It is England's second most north-eastern county, just south of Northumberland. In the war-torn history of the county it has seen Viking raiders come and go and in the eleventh and twelfth centuries massive Scottish raids, during one of which in 1069 the population of the county town of Durham sheltered in the Cathedral while the Scottish horde approached until they were rescued by an advancing Norman army. This is an early instance of the Prince-bishops taking responsibility for security in the area.
From Norman times the bishops of Durham had special status, for the bishop was not merely a spiritual ruler, but a temporal one. He was earl palatine of Durham, a non-hereditary position responsible for civil government. The title palatine denotes responsibility for tax collection. The bishops dwelt at Durham Castle, a place of safety against Scottish [and English] raiders, but in the late thirteenth century they moved from the drafty castle to a newly-built Auckland [Northern English for Oakland] Palace. [The English raiders were the clans of the north Pennine hills and the Cheviots, who lived in a state of constant clan warfare, preying on both Scots and English.]
In 1283 Antony Bek became Bishop of Durham, and was the most famous of the Prince-bishops.He had been on crusade and represented the king in dealings with the Scots,including William Wallace, the renowned Braveheart. The new palace was near his deer park,whose meat was to provide food for his guests and extensive staff.It was said of Bishop Antony that there were two monarchs in England, King Edward the First and Bishop Antony. It was Antony who constructed Auckland Palace and the great chapel.It was just smaller than the chapel at the king's residence at Windsor Castle, a great national treasure.
The beautiful edifice survived the depredations of Henry the Eighth and the attentions of iconoclastic Protestants, possibly because its prince bishop was so powerful and maybe because the Durham area was very Catholic in sympathy, and the Stewart dynasty that succeeded the Tudors was uninterested in destroying anything, but its destruction was only delayed, for a second wave of fanaticism struck the country culminating in the mid seventeenth century.