Archbishops of Canterbury (765 - 914 AD)

Traditionally, the Archbishop of Canterbury is the leading churchman of England, outranking his colleague in York (and the short-lived archbishopric based in Lichfield). The sequence of archiepiscopal office-holders at Canterbury is known from coins and manuscript evidence in an (almost) unbroken sequence from Augustine, the papal legate who brought Christianity to the southern Anglo-Saxons in 597 AD through to the present day. Many of these prelates played an important part in international affairs and were instrumental in implementing royal policy both in Britain and abroad; missionary work in Frisia and Germany was just one of the accomplishments of the early English church.

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Augustine (ca.598 - 604 AD)
Augustine was a monastic prior in Rome, chosen by Pope Gregory the Great to lead the mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. In fact, some northern Anglo-Saxon kingdoms had already been converted by St. Columba from his base on Iona, but Rome regarded the Irish church as unorthodox. Already consecrated, Augustine landed in Kent, where the king, Æthelberht, was familiar with the new faith, being married to a Frankish princess who was accompanied by her own priest. Augustine was given leave to preach to the Kentish people, and allocated a site outside the walls of Canterbury as his base. At his death in 604, Augustine had established two bishoprics at London and Rochester, and was installed as their spritual overlord in Canterbury; Gregory's plan was to move the archiepiscopal seat to London, the capital of Essex and former Roman headquarters, but the resistance of the East Saxon people to Christianity prevented this. He was canonized. Augustine's cult was later promoted by the Normans for political reasons.

Laurentius (604 - 619 AD)
Laurentius was a member of the initial papal mission under Augustine. In 601 he reported back to Rome on Augustine's progress and returned with additional missionaries to spread the Christian faith. He became Augustine's successor in 604 and worked to establish the new religion, despite a widespread reversion to paganism in the period 616-7. Laurentius was successful in converting the pagan King Eadbald of Kent to Christianity, thus stemming the apostasy. He was later canonized and is now known as St. Lawrence.

Mellitus (619 - 624 AD)
Mellitus was among the second group of missionaries to England, who accompanied Laurentius in 601 AD. Three years later he was consecrated to the see of London, but on the death of King Sæberht of the East Saxons in 616 matters came to a head when he refused to give communion to the king's three unbaptised sons. Mellitus was forced to flee to Francia for a while, and on his return he remained in Kent, fearing for his life if he returned to London. On the death of Laurentius, he was elected to the status of archbishop. It was Mellitus to whom Pope Gregory's famous decree was given forbidding the destruction of heathen temples and instructing that they be re-consecrated to Christian purposes; this directive may explain why so many early English churches are sited in places which have been holy locations for a considerable time. Mellitus's name is associated with a miracle whereby the churchman was able to save Canterbury from a terrible fire by redirecting the wind. He was later canonized.

Justus (624 - 627 AD)
Justus accompanied Laurentius and Mellitus, his two predecessors in the office, from Rome in 601 AD. He was made the first bishop of Rochester in 604. The anti-Christian sentiment which overflowed on the death of the mission's patron, King Æthelberht, in 616 caused Mellitus and Justus to flee to Francia, but on the accession of King Eadbald Justus was recalled. He was raised to the archiepiscopy in 624 and in turn consecrated Paulinus as the first bishop of York as part of the missionary movement to convert the north. He was canonized after his death in 627.

Honorius (627 - 655 AD)
Honorius was probably a member of the second papal mission of 601 AD, working alongside Laurentius, Mellitus and Justus. He was elevated to the status of archbishop by Paulinus in 627 on the death of Justus, while staying in Lincoln. During Honorius's time in office, the church established itself firmly in many of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms despite frequent adverse reactions. Honorius began the conversion of the East Angles through the mission of St. Felix. His long tenure gave stability to the early church.

Deusdedit (655 - 668 AD)
Desisdedit was the first archbishop of Canterbury not drawn from the first or second papal missions. A native of Wessex, his birth-name is said to have been Frithona (perhaps Friðwine?). His primacy is not marked by any spectacular events. He presided over an expansion of the Anglo-Saxon church under British and Frankish bishops. He died on the same day as his royal patron, King Eorcenberht of Kent.

Theodore (668 - 690 AD)
Born in Tarsus (modern Mersin, Turkey) in 602 AD, Theodore was exposed as a young man to Byzantine, Syriac and Persan culture and learning. The Arab expansion into the eastern Mediterranean in the 630s forced him to flee to Byzantium where he studied widely. How long he remained in Byzantium is unknown, but by 660 he was established in Rome as a leading scholar of the Greek school; he nevertheless set about completing his Latin education. He was widely respected and lived in a community of eastern monks outside Rome. In 667 the Anglo-Saxon candidate for the archbisopric of Canterbury, Wigheard, died while in Rome and Theodore was chosen as his successor at the age of 66. Theodore set about re-organizing the English church, which set him into conflict with the powerful northern churchman, Wilfrid. Theodore mediated in disputes between Anglo-Saxon kings and set himself up as both a peacemaker and a teacher: he instituted a school at Canterbury where poetry, music, astronomy and other subjects were taught, drawing on his long years of learning in Syria, Greece and Rome. He died in 690 at Canterbury at the age of 88, having led the Anglo-Saxon church for more than two decades.

Berhtwald (692 - 731 AD)
Berhtwald was apparently of noble birth, although his early life is unrecorded. He first rose to prominence when King Cenwalh of Wessex appointed him to be the abbot of Glastonbury in 667 AD. He was on friendly terms with many leading churchmen of his day: Boniface, Aldhelm and Wilfrid among others. In 676 he became abbot of Reculver, Kent, and witnessed the turmoil of political succession as rival claimants for the throne contended. Although Wihtred emerged as the king of Kent in 691/692, he may only have ruled in west Kent as both Ceadwalla (Wessex) and Swæfheard (Essex) were active in east Kent at this time. Berhtwald's appointment came after the archbishop's throne, vacated by Theodore, had stood empty for two years. Berhtwald nevertheless felt he needed outside support and travelled to Rome to secure the blessing of Pope Sergius I; he certainly came into conflict with the turbulent Wilfrid who wanted the see of York restored to cover the entire kingdom of Northumbria. During Berhtwald's time the last officially pagan kingdom, Sussex, fell to the Christian religion. Berhtwald's long tenure assisted the church in establishing its authority, and he was subsequently canonized.

Tatwine (731 - 735 AD)
Tatwine was a Mercian cleric, and his appointment to the archbishopric of Canterbury can be ascribed to the powerful influence of the Mercians in south-east England at this time. Tatwine's short tenure was uneventful, and his name is nowadays associated primarily with a series of Latin riddles on devotional subjects and a Latin grammatical work, a reworking of Donatus's Ars Minor. This work was circulated widely in England and on the continent.

Nothhelm (735 - 740 AD)
Nothhelm had been bishop of London for some years before he was elected to the office of archbishop. He was one of the major informants whose testimony was used by Bede for his monumental work, Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum in respect of the early history of Kent. He was the second Mercian appointee promoted by King Æthelbald of Mercia.

Cuthbert (740 - 758 AD)
Cuthbert is first recorded as Abbot of Liminge, Kent; he was later consecrated bishop by Archbishop Nothhelm, and took over the see of Hereford in 736. He was appointed to the Canterbury achbishopric about 740. He received the pallium or robe of investiture in Rome, and on his return took part in the Council of Clofeshoh in 742, where Æthelbald, King of Mercia, rewarded his supporters in churches and monasteries with various privileges. Cuthbert himself raised the status of the cathedral of Christ Church, Canterbury, over the older foundation of SS. Peter's and Paul's, and, before his death was announced, he was buried in the cathedral in secret to prevent the clergy of the rival foundation from claiming his body.

Bregowine (758 - 764 AD)
Legend has it that Bregowine was a Continental Saxon who was moved to the religious life and to join the community at Canterbury by the reputation of Theodore of Tarsus. Whether this is fact or fable, Bregowine's early life was not recorded and nothing is known for sure of him before he was elevated to the archbishop's seat. His appointment took place during a resurgence of Kentish independence from Mercia, and it may have been King Æthelberht II who selected him as a specifically non-Mercian cleric. His short occupation of the cathedra saw no great events, but he was canonized posthumously.

Jænbert (765 - 793 AD)
Jænbert's long rule coincided with the supremacy of King Offa of Mercia, one of the first Anglo-Saxon kings to take his place on the European stage. Jænbert was probably nominated for the see by Offa or his advisers, but the Kentish archbishop and the Mercian king soon fell out. Jænbert allegedly spread rumours about Offa's plans to depose the pope, while Offa petitioned to have a separate archbishopric based in Mercia, firmly under his own control. In 787 Lichfield was elevated to an archiepiscopate, and Jænbert had to surrender a large part of Canterbury's authority and income from its Mercian possessions. Whether the archbishop's quarrel with King Offa was political or personal, his story demonstrated to his successors that kings can influence ecclesiastical affairs.

Æthelhard (793 - 805 AD)
Æthelhard was an abbot in Lincolnshire and then bishop of Winchester before being raised to the archbishop's status in 793 AD. He was enthroned by Higbert, archbishop of the newly-created Lichfield archbishopric. The people of Kent probably saw Æthelhard as Offa's man and when King Eadbert II Præn seized power he dismissed Æthelhard who fled to Mercia. The conflict between Lichfield and Canterbury was brought to a head when Coenwulf of Mercia invaded Kent in 798 and captured Eadberht, whom he blinded. Æthelhard petitioned the pope about the irregular state of affairs in the English church, and in due course Lichfield was demoted and Canterbury restored to its prime position. He campaigned against secular interference in church affairs, and was canonized after his death in 805.

Wulfred (805 - 832 AD)
Wulfred was a close companion of his predecessor, Æthelheard, and continued the campaign to divide church from state. King Coenwulf of Mercia is alleged to have appropriated some of Wulfred's estates, and this caused a long-lasting quarrel between them. Wulfred visited Rome at least twice to consult the pope, but there was no reconciliation between king and archbishop. Wulfred issued his own coins, but unlike those of Æthelheard they do not bear any reference to the king of Mercia in the legend.

Feologeld (832 AD)
This enigmatic figure is included among the archbishops of Canterbury, although his tenure lasted only from his investiture on 9th June to his death on 30th August the same year. At about the same time, some sources name an Archbishop Swithred: it is not clear whether there was a disputed succession, with different factions supporting rival claimants, or whether Swithred was the man's given name and Feologeld an adopted name (as with Deusdedit two centuries before).

Ceolnoth (833 - 870 AD)
The later career of Ceolnoth can be traced through contemporary records, despite his early life being unknown. He presided over several synods and councils, in conjunction with King Wiglaf of Mercia and the joint-kings of Wessex, Ecgberht and Æthelwulf. By Ceolnoth's day, the pressure from Viking attacks had affected the quality of monastic life and manuscript output was poor in comparison with earlier periods.

Æthelred (870 - 888 AD)
Æthelred's election in 870 as successor to Ceolnoth is unexplained in contemporary sources. He had to deal with Viking depredations and the social effects of these, as well as the increased militarization of Anglo-Saxon society in response. His relations with King Alfred of Wessex were soured in a dispute over some alleged infringement of archiepiscopal rights; the pope supported the archbishop, but we do not know whether the king moderated his behaviour as a result. During this period, Canterbury was sacked on more than one occasion; standards of book production and Latin grammar were severely affected. Alfred certainly complained of the declining educational standards he inherited, and wrote about the steps he took to address the problem. Æthelred died in 888 AD. After his death, the archbishopric was offered to Grimbald, a Flemish scholar, but he refused it; this accounts for the gap between Æthelred and Plegmund.

Plegmund (890 - 923 AD)
Plegmund was probably not from an aristocratic background, and he may have spent some time as a hermit in Mercia, attached to the community of Chester, before his intellectual achievements drew him to the attention of King Alfred; the king was eager to re-instate education in England as part of his plan to defeat the Viking threat, and he saw Plegmund as helpful to this cause. In 890, Plegmund was offered the archbishopric by Alfred and the two men set about re-organizing the political map of the south of England. just as Alfred created strongholds to withstand Viking attack, Plegmund created new sees within the existing structure, effectively making one bishop for each shire. Aside from these duties, Plegmund collaborated with Alfred in translating Gregory the Great's work Cura Pastoralis from Latin into English. His love of learning inspired a renaissance in scholarship at Canterbury. After Alfred's death in 899, Plegmund crowned his successor, Edward the Elder. His death may have taken place in 914 or 923 AD and he was canonized afterwards.

Æthelhelm (923 - 926 AD)
Æthelhelm (or Athelm) was abbot of Glastonbury and the first bishop of the newly-created see of Wells in 909. He was a relative, perhaps an uncle, of the redoubtable 10th century cleric, St.Dunstan. Æthelhelm was archbishop between 923 and 925 AD and presided at the coronation of King Æthelstan. Æthelhelm minted no coins in his own name: this may have been a policy decision, or simply due to the shortness of his tenure.




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