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Église et État, Église ou État ?

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Christine Barralis
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Jean-Patrice Boudet
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Fabrice Delivré
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et al.

Partie I. Le clerc dans l’appareil d’État

Clerics and the King’s Service in Late Medieval England1

Virginia Davis

Texte intégral

  • 1 I was delighted to have been invited to speak at this conference to honour Hélène Millet whose con (...)

1What exactly is meant when we consider the issue of the role of “clerics” in the context of royal government? Too often the perception relating to churchmen employed in royal service involves with a division of royal administrators and advisors between those men who were laymen and those who were ecclesiastics. The majority of analysis of participation by individuals in royal service takes place within this dichotomy; the actual role of individuals and the depth of their immersion in ecclesiastical culture and their status within the late medieval English church is blurred by the wide range of meanings encompassed within the medieval and catch–all term “clericus”. The ambiguity of this term provides an inadequately subtle understanding of both the backgrounds and mind–sets of the men who played key roles in late medieval English politics and administration. Any analysis of the personnel of royal government focused on dividing them into laymen and clerks on the basis of their main sources of income does not allow adequate and in depth exploration of the “church and state, church or state?” question.

2Men described as “clericus” span the full gambit from having received the first tonsure, which carried with it no commitment to an ecclesiastical career and could be conferred on young boys, to having been ordained to any of the seven levels of ordination recognised by the medieval church, the final one of which was ordination to the priesthood. Only the major orders—subdeacon, deacon and priest—demanded a lifestyle of celibacy while only those ordained as priests were permitted to consecrate the Eucharist. The clerical tonsure and/or ordination to the minor clerical orders offered access to the privileges associated with belonging to the clerical class with little commitment to pursuing a formal career in the church.

  • 2 C. N. L. Brooke, “Priest, Deacon and Layman, from St Peter Damian to St Francis”, in W. J. Shiels (...)
  • 3 W. M. Ormrod, The Reign of Edward III: Crown and Political Society in England, New Haven/London, Y (...)

3Much of the historiography on the role of members of the clergy in royal government and administration has been built on a clear distinction between clergy and laymen. Writing of the earlier middle ages, Christopher Brooke stressed the importance of the distinction between cleric and layman. “When class distinctions were growing in the secular world, one distinction alone meant more than lineage: the clerical tonsure… The greatest social barrier in this society was between clergy and layman.”2 However, by the late middle ages this distinction had become blurred and the reality of the situation was more complex than that. Ordination, in particular as far as level of acolyte, the last of the minor orders brought advantage to those seeking education or advancement within royal service. Many men therefore began to climb the ladder of ordination without being committed to reaching its upper echelons. Yet an assumption of a clerical versus lay viewpoint continues to dominate much of modern historiography. Writing of the role of the clergy in political society during the Hundred Years War, Mark Ormrod encapsulates these views: “In this way the church, like other sections of political society became inextricably bound up in the king’s military and diplomatic ambitions and had little choice but to give public support to his cause.”3 This conveys to the reader a more clear–cut division between laymen and churchmen than was often the reality.

  • 4 Ibid., p. 131.
  • 5 Ibid., p. 127.

4There is no doubt about the close relationship which existed between churchmen and royal administrators. As Ormrod notes, clergy were much in demand for the king’s diplomatic service with graduates in civil or canon law particularly favoured, while at lower levels of international diplomacy there was “a veritable army of university graduates and notaries who helped to organise negotiations… associated with international diplomacy.”4 Educated clergy provided valuable administrative support for the practical organisation of the war effort and were effective in staffing the chancery and exchequer. For King Edward III and his successors church offices were an extraordinarily important financial resource which enabled them to provide for the myriad clerks employed both in the royal household and in government departments without subjecting the crown to financial strain.5 However, the rewarding by the crown of diplomats and administrators with ecclesiastical benefices not only represented an astute use of ecclesiastical patronage but also frequently blurred the line between the categorisation of men as clerical or lay. This paper challenges that binary categorisation and argues that, when considering the participation of men holding religious benefices in royal government, it is important to be wary of making a simplistic division between clergy and laymen. Secular clerks and ordained priests might well come from similar social and educational backgrounds and in many instances the mind–set and intellectual formation of men who might be categorised as laymen and as churchmen was very similar.

  • 6 It has been suggested that by the thirteenth century there seems to have a shift between ordaining (...)

5The most senior of the minor orders—acolyte—stands out as being qualitatively different to the more junior minor orders, a fact which is reflected by the administrative practices of diocesan registrars whose formal recording in episcopal registers of men proceeding to clerical orders usually begins with lists of the men being ordained as acolytes. Formal records of the lesser records are not commonly recorded.6 The manner in which secular patronage relating to benefices—both with and without the cure of souls—was being operated in late medieval England, often with the support of a papal curia ready to offer dispensations, enabled the widespread use of ecclesiastical resources in the form of benefices as rewards for service in administrative and diplomatic roles.

6It is therefore essential to understand fully the career patterns of individuals before couching an analysis of the input of administrators in royal government in terms of a simple division of church and state. Even men who attained high office within the English church in the latter part of their career did not necessarily set out to do from the outset of their careers. The fact that an individual attained a senior post within the church hierarchy does not necessarily mean that his input into earlier participation in royal government should be considered as being influenced by an ecclesiastical perspective. This can be exemplified by a series of brief case studies from the fourteenth and fifteenth century.

  • 7 R. M. Haines, “Northburgh, Michael (c. 1300–1361)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxfor (...)
  • 8 A. B. Emden, A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford to A.D. 1500, vol. 2, Oxford, Cla (...)
  • 9 W. H. Bliss and C. Johnson (eds), Calendar of Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Irelan (...)
  • 10 R. M. Haines, “Northburgh, Michael (c. 1300–1361)”, op. cit.
  • 11 Ibid.

7Michael Northburgh was a diplomat, councillor and close confident of King Edward III throughout in the 1340s and 1350s. He reached the peak of his ecclesiastical career when elevated to the bishopric of London in 1354.7 Northburgh was a highly educated man who had attained an Oxford MA by 1329 and a Doctorate in Civil Law by 1336. Edward III valued his services highly and by 1349 he was described as the king’s secretary.8 Between 1350 and 1353 he was Keeper of the Privy Seal, one of the three key positions at the top of royal government in England. Well–connected, as nephew of Robert de Northburgh, bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, Michael Northburgh had been amassing a range of lucrative benefices by virtue of royal, ecclesiastical and papal patronage since the late 1320s. Yet it is clear that he hadn’t fully committed to a career in the church. As late as 1350, more than twenty years after he was appointed to his first benefice as a canon of St John’s College in Chester, he was granted a papal dispensation to hold the valuable rectory of Pulham in Norfolk, though it was noted that he was not yet in priest’s orders.9 “His career provides a classic example of an ambitious, well–qualified lawyer–clerk, who was able to amass a substantial income by virtue of ecclesiastical, royal, and papal patronage without undertaking higher orders.”10 In fact he was not even ordained to higher orders until after he was provided to the bishopric of London in 1354 in his mid–fifties.11

  • 12 A. B. Emden, Biographical Register of the University of Oxford, op. cit., vol. I, p. 25.
  • 13 A. E. Stamp. (ed.), Calendar of the Close Rolls preserved in the Public Record Office, Henry IV, v (...)
  • 14 A. E. Stamp (ed.), Calendar of the Close Rolls preserved in the Public Record Office, Henry V, vol (...)
  • 15 London, The National Archives (TNA) E404/31/338.
  • 16 R. C. Fowler (ed.), Calendar of the Patent Rolls preserved in the Public Record Office, Henry V, v (...)

8My second example derives from the fifteenth century. Robert Allerton (d. 1437) was a less illustrious royal administrator than Northburgh, although still a highly successful one. He too was an educated man, a Bachelor of Civil Law, probably from Oxford.12 Allerton had joined the royal administration by 1411 at the latest.13 By 1415 he was described as under-clerk of the king’s kitchen.14 He was mentioned as receiving special wages during Henry V’s expeditions to France.15 To reward Allerton’s good service in the French wars King Henry V presented him in 1420 to the lucrative Buckinghamshire parish of Amersham which entailed the cure of souls.16

  • 17 R. C. Fowler (ed.), Calendar of the Patent Rolls, Henry V, vol. II, op. cit., p. 45.
  • 18 N. H. Bennett (ed.), The Register of Richard Fleming, op. cit., p. 71.
  • 19 J. A. Tremlow (ed.), Calendar of entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Irel (...)
  • 20 E. F. Jacob and H. C. Johnson(eds), The Register of Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1414 (...)

9Allerton’s earliest benefice had been a moiety of the Derbyshire parish of Eckington to which he was presented by Henry V in 1416.17 However his acquisition of ecclesiastical benefices was not matched by a concomitant commitment to the development of a career as a churchman. Until 1421 Allerton was a layman who had taken no steps towards ordination. He had received the clerical tonsure, most probably before going to University but had not taken any of the minor orders. This is made clear by the account of his ordination as sub-deacon in February 1421. In a special ceremony officiated by the bishop of Lincoln Allerton was promoted “…to all four minor orders and then to the sub-diaconate.”18 Sub-deacon was the first of the major priestly orders, the one which signified formal change of a status from a layman to a churchman. In 1422 Allerton obtained a papal dispensation allowing him to defer further ordinations for a five-year period.19 This was hardly the act of a committed ecclesiastic who had consciously chosen to have a career in the English church although his later career demonstrates success in obtaining ecclesiastical advancement, largely with royal patronage. Further preferments included canon of Lincoln (from 1420 till death); canon of Ripon (1420 till death), canon of Chichester and canon of the royal chapel of St George’s Chapel in Windsor (1432 till death). In terms of looking at the influence of clerics on royal government, to what extent can a man such as Allerton be classified as representing a religious perspective as opposed to a more secular one? This is not to suggest that Allerton was not a religiously-minded man. His will demonstrates both conventional piety and clear attachment to Amersham church where he requested burial and to the other ecclesiastical establishments with which he had been associated throughout his career.20

  • 21 J. R. L. Highfield, “The English Hierarchy in the Reign of Edward III”, Transactions of the Royal (...)

10It is not straightforward therefore, to categorise royal administrators simply using terms such as “clerical” or “secular”. What Robert Allerton and Michael Northburgh had in common was an educational background which fed into the attitudes which senior administrators approached their work. Their university education will have contributed to the mindset of the men who were senior in royal administration in the late fourteenth and fifteenth century. However, a straightforward clerical versus secular division cannot be replaced by a hypothesis that the real division was, in fact, between those who had experienced university level education and those who had not had that opportunity. The laymen who served Edward III in senior administrative capacities had not been to university in this period, and although in the fourteenth and early fifteenth century the episcopate was becoming increasingly dominated by men who had been to university, it was not a universal experience.21

  • 22 V. Davis, William Wykeham: A Life, London/New York, Hambledon Continuum, 2007.
  • 23 Ibid., p. 12. Heete’s biography of Wykeham, written c. 1426, is printed as appendix E of G. H. Mob (...)
  • 24 V. Davis, “William Wykehams early ecclesiastical career”, in M. E. Rubin (ed.), European Religious (...)

11I want to conclude with a more detailed case study of a successful non–university educated bishop whose career demonstrates clearly that he came late to commitment to the English church, William Wykeham, bishop of Winchester.22 It has always been assumed that Wykeham was destined to become a churchman. His medieval biographers portray a pious, devout boy. One biographer claimed that every morning Wykeham used to kneel near an image of the Virgin Mary which stood against a column in the nave and listen to mass being said by one of the monks from the local St Swithun’s priory.23 They are unambiguous in conveying the impression that Wykeham was destined for an ecclesiastical career from an early age. In fact his biographers only knew personally this octogenarian bishop towards the end of his career, in the last decade of an episcopate which had spanned nearly 40 years so their perspective is not unsurprising. Historians have traditionally accepted their judgement but a closer examination of the evidence surrounding Wykeham’s ordination to the priesthood and the timing of his early acquisition of benefices suggests otherwise. Wykeham reached the age of thirty–eight before committing himself irrevocably to a career in the church. This clearly indicates that despite that despite Wykeham’s success in the upper echelons of the English church hierarchy this outcome was not part of his original career intention. Even in the late 1350s, when King Edward III was beginning to reward him with benefices in the royal gift, Wykeham was only cautiously exploring the idea of becoming a priest.24

  • 25 V. Davis, WilliamWykeham, op. cit., pp. 16–17.
  • 26 London, The National Archives (TNA) E32/306.
  • 27 A. Verduyn, “Burghersh, Bartholomew, the elder, second Lord Burghersh (d. 1355)”, Oxford Dictionar (...)

12William Wykeham was the son of a Hampshire yeoman born in 1324 with few apparent advantages pointing to a meteoric career in the church. His early rise in administrative rather than agrarian circumstances was due to a combination of his evident talent and his success in obtaining the support of local influential patrons at an early stage in his career. Throughout his early career Wykeham moved in circles of laymen and clerics, working equally easily with senior churchmen such as William Edington, bishop of Winchester and with aristocratic laymen such as the Foxley family, an influential southern English family. John Foxley, son of Thomas Foxley, constable of Windsor Castle, was a young man building a military career in the service of King Edward III.25 By the early 1360s Wykeham was holding, alongside John Foxley, the substantial position of keeper of the forests south of the Trent.26 This role was one often held by magnates in the royal circles, such as Bartholomew de Burgherssh the elder who was an important diplomat and councillor to King Edward III.27

  • 28 V. Davis, “William Wykehams early ecclesiastical career”, op. cit., p. 52.
  • 29 S. F. Hockey (ed.), The Register of William Edington, Bishop of Winchester, vol. I, Winchester, Ha (...)
  • 30 V. Davis, WilliamWykeham, op. cit., pp. 105–117.

13That Wykeham had not even been ordained as an acolyte by the end of the 1350s when he was in his late thirties clearly indicates that a career in the church was not what he was seeking. He had been a clerk in royal service since early that decade but was certainly not a member of the ecclesiastical establishment. The early support obtained from his patron Bishop Edington was secular rather than ecclesiastical in nature; Wykeham was granted wardships in the bishop’s gift rather than ecclesiastical benefices.28 Had Wykeham been seeking to enter the church, it would not have been difficult for Bishop Edington to find him a benefice in the wake of the destruction wrought by the Black Death in the diocese of Winchester in which 48% of all beneficed clergy died.29 The diocese of Winchester Wykeham’s decision to enter the church was not a change of direction hastily undertaken; there was no “road to Damascus” experience. Rather than a sudden religious conversion, it is more likely that Wykeham embraced an ecclesiastical career in the early 1360s because of his increasing conviction that riches and opportunities were likely to be very much more accessible as a churchman than as a layman from a peasant background. Without the backing of significant family resources William Wykeham was dependent on royal largesse or membership of a noble affinity to reach the peak of his potential. Neither did he enjoy the privileges of his near–contemporary, the poet Geoffrey Chaucer, who was to follow in Wykeham’s footsteps as clerk of the king’s works in the thirteen–nineties. Chaucer had been born into a wealthy London merchant family, and had money behind him which offered him some freedom of action even within the bounds of royal service, and left him free to marry. Wykeham’s position was different. Elevation to a wide range of major ecclesiastical benefices by King Edward III as a reward for his administrative talents increased his realization that many of his passions and interests could be carried forward within the framework of the English church hierarchy. Having made his decision he was ordained with a speed which was to be increasingly common in the later middle ages. Within a year he had been ordained subdeacon, deacon and finally priest and went on to have an extremely successful career as a bishop.30

Conclusion

14Where late medieval royal diplomats and administrators also held ecclesiastical benefices positions, it is important to recognise that this did not necessarily mean they had entered the church intending to pursue a clerical career from the outset or that they approached their duties from an essentially ecclesiastical perspective. Many of the positions these men held did not entail pastoral care of parishioners. A significant number of royal administrators holding senior church posts did not proceed to the ordination to major orders until relatively late in their careers. They were therefore clerks rather than churchmen.

  • 31 J. R. L. Highfield, “The English Hierarchy in the Reign of Edward III”, op. cit., p. 138.

15It suited successive English kings to make effective use of the ecclesiastical patronage at their disposal to reward their growing bureaucratic army. Ambitious men who wished to rise in royal service but who were without family resources to sustain them chose to be ordained in minor orders because it offered access to a rich vein of patronage. Some men even persisted in retaining their essentially secular status for a substantial period, even after they had been rewarded with benefices which required them to be ordained as priest. In their background and attitudes these men differed very little from lay royal servants and it is important to avoid assuming that they tackled their administrative and counselling roles with what was essentially a clerical mindset. As Highfield noted in his influential analysis of the Edwardian episcopate, bishops became “more like permanent government servants and less like independent churchmen… there was a long and decisive step forward in the reign of Edward III.”31 This can be seen to be the case at a level well–below that of the ecclesiastical hierarchy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Notes

1 I was delighted to have been invited to speak at this conference to honour Hélène Millet whose contribution to the development of prosopographical methodology and extensive publications have hugely enriched our understanding of the late medieval church and its personnel.

2 C. N. L. Brooke, “Priest, Deacon and Layman, from St Peter Damian to St Francis”, in W. J. Shiels and D. Wood (eds), The Ministry: Clerical and Lay, Oxford, B. Blackwell (Studies in Church History, 26), 1989, pp. 76–7.

3 W. M. Ormrod, The Reign of Edward III: Crown and Political Society in England, New Haven/London, Yale University Press, 1990, p. 133.

4 Ibid., p. 131.

5 Ibid., p. 127.

6 It has been suggested that by the thirteenth century there seems to have a shift between ordaining to most junior orders separately from each other to bestowing them in swift succession on the same day and that this might account for the fact that only acolyte as the last of the minor orders is actually recorded, J. Barrow, “Grades of Ordination and Clerical Careers, c. 900–c. 1200”, in C. P. Lewis (ed.), Anglo–Norman Studies 30: Proceedings of the Battle Conference, Woodbridge, Boydell & Brewer, 2008, p. 48. Late medieval liturgical manuscripts however, continue to provide and illustrate the liturgy for ordination to all four of the minor as well as the major orders, see for example the Pontifical of Guilelmus Durandus, written late in the fourteenth century and owned by Guillaume Boisratier, 1409, when he became archbishop of Bourges in 1409, British Library, Yates Thompson Ms 24.

7 R. M. Haines, “Northburgh, Michael (c. 1300–1361)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford/New York, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://0-www.oxforddnb.com.catalogue.ulrls.lon.ac.uk/view/article/20324, accessed 7 Jan 2014].

8 A. B. Emden, A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford to A.D. 1500, vol. 2, Oxford, Clarendon press, 1958, pp. 1368–1370.

9 W. H. Bliss and C. Johnson (eds), Calendar of Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, vol. 3, 1342–1362, London, H.M.S.O., 1897, p. 394. The dispensation was renewed in late 1351, ibid., p. 432.

10 R. M. Haines, “Northburgh, Michael (c. 1300–1361)”, op. cit.

11 Ibid.

12 A. B. Emden, Biographical Register of the University of Oxford, op. cit., vol. I, p. 25.

13 A. E. Stamp. (ed.), Calendar of the Close Rolls preserved in the Public Record Office, Henry IV, vol. IV, 1409-1413, London, H.M.S.O.,1932, p. 232.

14 A. E. Stamp (ed.), Calendar of the Close Rolls preserved in the Public Record Office, Henry V, vol. I, 1413-1419, London, H.M.S.O., 1929, p. 280.

15 London, The National Archives (TNA) E404/31/338.

16 R. C. Fowler (ed.), Calendar of the Patent Rolls preserved in the Public Record Office, Henry V, vol. II, p. 299; N. H. Bennett (ed.), The Register of Richard Fleming, bishop of Lincoln, 1420–1431, vol. II, Woodbridge, Boydell Press (Canterbury and York Society, 99), 2009, p. 48.

17 R. C. Fowler (ed.), Calendar of the Patent Rolls, Henry V, vol. II, op. cit., p. 45.

18 N. H. Bennett (ed.), The Register of Richard Fleming, op. cit., p. 71.

19 J. A. Tremlow (ed.), Calendar of entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, vol. VII, 1417–1431, London, H.M.S.O., 1906 p. 221.

20 E. F. Jacob and H. C. Johnson(eds), The Register of Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1414–1443, vol. II, Oxford, Clarendon press (Canterbury and York Society, 42), 1938, pp. 554–556, 637. N. Saul, “Servants of God and Crown”, ibid., ed. St George’s Chapel Windsor in the Fourteenth Century, Woodbridge, Boydell & Brewer, 2005, pp. 97–116 discusses Allerton’s later career as a canon of St George’s chapel.

21 J. R. L. Highfield, “The English Hierarchy in the Reign of Edward III”, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th ser., 6, 1956, pp. 115-138; R. G. Davies, “The Episcopate”, in C. H. Clough (ed.), Profession, Vocation and Culture in Later Medieval England: Essays Dedicated to the Memory of A. R. Myers, Liverpool, University Press, 1982, pp. 53–54.

22 V. Davis, William Wykeham: A Life, London/New York, Hambledon Continuum, 2007.

23 Ibid., p. 12. Heete’s biography of Wykeham, written c. 1426, is printed as appendix E of G. H. Moberly, Life ofWykeham, Winchester, Warren & Son, 1887, pp. 293–308.

24 V. Davis, “William Wykehams early ecclesiastical career”, in M. E. Rubin (ed.), European Religious Cultures: Essays offered to Christopher Brooke on the occasion of his Eightieth Birthday, London, University of London. Institute of Historical Research, 2008, pp. 49–65.

25 V. Davis, WilliamWykeham, op. cit., pp. 16–17.

26 London, The National Archives (TNA) E32/306.

27 A. Verduyn, “Burghersh, Bartholomew, the elder, second Lord Burghersh (d. 1355)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford/New-York, Oxford university press, 2004 [http://0-www.oxforddnb.com.catalogue.ulrls.lon.ac.uk/view/article/4005, accessed 11 Feb 2013]

28 V. Davis, “William Wykehams early ecclesiastical career”, op. cit., p. 52.

29 S. F. Hockey (ed.), The Register of William Edington, Bishop of Winchester, vol. I, Winchester, Hampshire Record Society, 1986, pp. xii-xiii.

30 V. Davis, WilliamWykeham, op. cit., pp. 105–117.

31 J. R. L. Highfield, “The English Hierarchy in the Reign of Edward III”, op. cit., p. 138.

Auteur

Queen Mary, University of London

© Éditions de la Sorbonne, 2014

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