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Episcopal Reluctance: Lanfranc's Resignation Reconsidered*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 July 2014

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On 29 August 1070, the Norman monk, Lanfranc, was consecrated archbishop of Canterbury despite having recoiled at the prospect when informed of his appointment earlier that year. His alleged reluctance to undertake the business of the English Church is well known and accepted by Anglo-Norman historians. And the account that his compliance was forced only through the united persuasion of the king, the queen, his former abbot, Herluin of Bee, and the papal legate, Erminfrid of Sion, adds an element of unparalleled sincerity to his resolve. More than two years after his consecration, Lanfranc wrote a letter to Pope Alexander II reasserting his initial aversion to taking office: the foreign tongue and barbarous English inhabitants presented a greater challenge than he, personally unworthy and waning in vigor, wished to endure. Lanfranc then asked the pope to relieve him of his burdensome episcopal duties so he might return to the monastic life.

Modern historians have equated this petition with his initial unwillingness to take office and have tacitly appended it to those humble actions usually associated with a monk bishop. Frank Barlow writes that Lanfranc had “suffered bitterly when he first went to England.” He infers from the resignation letter that all of the archbishop's passions “were diverted into conventional monastic virtues.” And Margaret Gibson advises that “No assessment of Lanfranc … can or should stray far from Lanfranc the monk.” Lanfranc had hesitated and been reluctant to accept Canterbury; therefore, the implication is that in 1072 he humbly wished to shed the office he had been compelled to enter.

The 1986 Denis Bethell Prize Essay of the Charles Homer Haskins Society
Albion , Volume 19 , Issue 2 , Summer 1987 , pp. 163 - 175
Copyright © North American Conference on British Studies 1987

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A shortened version of this paper was delivered at the Fifth Annual Conference of the Charles Homer Haskins Society, Houston, Texas, November 1986. I acknowledge gratefully the criticism and suggestions I received from Professor C. Warren Hollister and members of his seminar concerning my research; and I appreciate the opportunities I had to discuss this paper with Dr. Robin Fleming, Dr. Katharin Mack, Cassandra Potts, Michael Burger and Lauren Helm Jared.


1 The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis, ed. and trans. Chibnall, Marjorie, 6 vols. (Oxford, 19691980), 2: 252–54Google Scholar (hereafter cited as OV).

2 The Letters of Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury, ed. and trans. Clover, Helen and Gibson, Margaret (Oxford, 1979), pp. 3031Google Scholar (hereafter cited as Gibson, Letters), all quotes from Lanfranc's letters are from this translation.

3 For references to Lanfranc's unwillingness to take office, other than those mentioned in the text, see MacDonald, A.J., Lanfranc: A Study of his Life, Work and Writing (Oxford, 1926), pp. 64–69, 266Google Scholar; Barlow, Frank, The English Church, 1066–1154: A History of the Anglo-Norman Church (New York, 1979), p. 60Google Scholar; and Clanchy, Michael, England and its Rulers, 1066–1272 (Oxford, 1983), p. 92Google Scholar.

4 Barlow, Frank, “A View of Archbishop Lanfranc,” in The Norman Conquest and Beyond (London, 1983), p. 236Google Scholar.

5 Ibid. See also p. 237 where Barlow refers to letter one and combines the elements of reluctance and resignation to interpret Lanfranc's sentiments as those of a monk wishing to save English souls.

6 Gibson, Margaret, Lanfranc of Bec (Oxford, 1978), p. 191Google Scholar.

7 Southern, Richard W., St. Anselm and His Biographer (Cambridge, 1963), pp. 129–30Google Scholar.

8 Vaughn, Sally N., “Lanfranc at Bec: A Reinterpretation,” Albion 17 (1985): 139–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 For Lanfranc's acquisition of property, see Musset, Lucien, Les Actes de Guillaume le Conquérant et de la reine Mathilde pour les abbayes Caennaises (Caen, 1967), no. 20, and Introduction, p. 32Google Scholar (hereafter cited as Musset). See also pp. 45–46 for a claim by a former owner of property acquired by Caen.

10 William of Poitiers, Gesta Guillelmi, ed. Foreville, Raymonde (Paris, 1952), p. 127Google Scholar.

11 Regesta pontificum Romanorum, ed. Jaffé, Philippe, 2 vols. (Wattenbach, W., ed.; Leipzig, 18851887), 1: 4644Google Scholar (hereafter cited as JL).

12 For a further discussion of St. Étienne's exemption see Lemarignier, Jean-François, Les privilèges d'exemption el de juridiction ecclésiastique des abbayes Normandes (Paris, 1937), pp. 141–46Google Scholar; and Musset, no. 13.

13 William of Malmesbury, Gesta pontificum Anglorum, ed. Hamilton, N.E.S.A., Rolls Series, vol. 52 (London, 1870), p. 39Google Scholar (hereafter cited as GP).

14 Ibid., p. 40.

15 Ibid., pp. 40–41. See also Eadmer, , Historia novorum in Anglia, ed. Rule, Martin, Rolls Series, vol. 81 (London, 1884), p. 11Google Scholar (hereafter cited as HN).

16 Gibson, , Letters, pp. 5051Google Scholar.

17 HN, p. 11.

18 Ibid.

19 Hugh the Chantor, The History of the Church of York, ed. and trans. Johnson, Charles (London, 1961), p. 2Google Scholar.

20 GP, p. 41.

21 Ibid.

22 For problems in the exact dating of this council see Councils and Synods, with Other Documents Relating to the English Church, 1, A.D. 871–1204, ed. Whitelock, Dorothy, Brett, Martin and Brooke, C.N.L. (Oxford, 1981), Part 2, pp. 591–93Google Scholar.

23 Richter, Michael, Canterbury Professions (Torquay, 1973), p. lxiiGoogle Scholar.

24 Ibid., p. liv. Richter concludes that the practice of written professions during consecration had fallen into disuse in the English Church over a century and a half before Lanfranc became archbishop. For Lanfranc to state that he based his demands for written professions on the actions of his predecessors was a real stretch of tradition. For Richter's remarks on written professions to Canterbury by archbishops of York see p. lix, n. 2. See also Barlow, Frank, The English Church, p. 238Google Scholar: “The register of professions of faith made by the bishops to the archbishop [of Canterbury] runs only from the end of the eighth century to 870 and apart from an isolated entry from the mid tenth century, does not start again till after the Conquest. From York no such register has survived.”

25 The debate on the primatial forgeries, in particular whether Lanfranc was aware of their spurious nature, appears in the following: Southern, R.W., “The Canterbury Forgeries,” English Historical Review 73 (1958): 193226CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Gibson, , Lanfranc, Appendix C, pp. 231–37Google Scholar. Gibson effectively argues against Southern's stand that the privileges were compiled in the early 1120s and suggests that they were instead extant during Lanfranc's archiepiscopacy and used by him in seeking papal approval for Canterbury primacy.

26 MacDonald, , Lanfranc, pp. 8690Google Scholar traces Lanfranc's arguments at the 1072 council. Lanfranc's account of the proceedings is in Gibson, , Letters, pp. 5054Google Scholar.

27 Richter, , Canterbury Professions, p. 28Google Scholar; Gibson, , Letters, p. 46Google Scholar.

28 Richter, , Canterbury Professions, p. lxiiGoogle Scholar.

29 Gibson, , Letters, pp. 4856Google Scholar.

30 Ibid., p. 54–56. Alexander is reported to have conferred two pallia on Lanfranc in 1071. Lanfranc also alludes to his own intervention at that time on behalf of Thomas of York, when the pope allowed him to decide the issue of Thomas' archbishopric. See above, n. 18.

31 Ibid., p. 59.

32 Ibid., pp. 58–59.

33 Ibid., pp. 32, 34. Lanfranc expresses how troublesome a journey to Rome would be, both physically and financially. Also, he probably did not travel to Rome to discuss the primacy further because he realized the finality of the decision. He had made a request that the primacy be recognized when he was in Rome in 1071, but Alexander had refused to make a decision. Why risk the trip for yet another refusal?

34 Barlow, , English Church, p. 42Google Scholar.

35 Richter, , Canterbury Professions, p. lxviiiGoogle Scholar. Richter states that Rome's refusal “was not of great importance to Lanfranc himself, but the absence of any confirmation was eventually to be the stumbling block to a perpetuation of the Canterbury primacy.” Since Lanfranc's appeal to Rome was based on gaining perpetuation of the primacy, one wonders why the archbishop suddenly would be so nonchalant about its denial.

36 Gibson, , Lanfranc, p. 121Google Scholar.

37 Gibson, , Letters, p. 33Google ScholarPubMed.

38 Ibid.

39 Ibid.

40 Brooke, Z.N., The English Church and the Papacy (Cambridge, 1931), pp. 6067Google Scholar. Brooke notes on p. 61 that although Lanfranc's compilation reduced the Pseudo Isidore by as much as one half, the character of the collection was not altered.

41 Richter, , Canterbury Professions, pp. lxviilxviiiGoogle Scholar.

42 Patrologia cursus completes series Latina, ed. Migne, J.-Paul (Paris, 18441864; Rprnt. Turnhout, 1971), vol. 130, Toledo Four, canon 74: 479–82Google Scholar; Toledo Seven, canon 1: 493–96; Toledo Eleven, canon 10: 545–46; and Toledo Twelve, canon 6: 557 (hereafter cited as PL).

43 Peters, Edward M., “The Archbishop and the Hedgehog,” in Law, Church and Society: Essays in Honor of Stephen Kuttner, ed. Pennington, Kenneth and Sommerville, Robert (Philadelphia, 1977), pp. 173–77Google Scholar.

44 Caron, Pier, La rinuncia all' ufficio ecclesiastico nella storia del diritto canonico dull' età apostolica alia riforma cattolica (Milan, 1946; Universita Cattolica del sacro cuore saggi e ricerche, nuova serie, 5, 2), pp. 111–12Google Scholar. Caron discusses the Pseudo Isidore's interpretation of these grounds for resignation.

45 Gibson, , Letters, pp. 3437Google ScholarPubMed.

46 For John of Beverly, see PL, 95:236; for Clement of Auxerre see Ex gesta episcoporum Autisiodorensium, ed. Duru, L.-M. in Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores, vol. 13 (Hannover, 1850), p. 395Google Scholar, no. 31 (hereafter cited as MGH).

47 PL, 123:122.

48 For Arnulf, Bishop see Vila St. Arnulfi in MGH, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum, vol. 2 (Hannover, 1888), p. 427Google Scholar; for Wilfred of York see Acta Sanctorum (Brussels and Antwerp, 1643–), April, vol. 3 (Antwerp, 1675), p. 634Google Scholar.

49 Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, ed. Mansi, Joannes, vol. 17A (Paris, 1903), col. 357Google Scholar.

50 Das Registar Gregors VII, ed. Casper, Erich, in MGH, Epistolae selectae, vol. 2, pts. 1, 2 (Berlin, 19201923)Google Scholar. Hildebrand's correspondence as Gregory VII undoubtedly encompasses the general principles he followed and policies he developed while still archdeacon of Rome. The letters stress episcopal responsibility and absolute obedience to Rome. In particular, see letter 2: 50 (p. 190), which clearly demonstrates Hildebrand's refusal to allow an infirm bishop to resign because the circumstances deviated from canonical tradition. See also 1: 60 (p. 87) for Hildebrand's stand on episcopal “neglect of duty” and 2: 28 (p. 160), 2: 56 (p. 209), and 3: 4 (p. 248) which call bishops to toe the line.

51 PL, 145, opusc. 20: 441–56. For the request to Nicholas II see ibid, opusc. 19:423–42.

52 Ibid., opusc. 20:444.

53 Ibid., 144:273.

54 Ibid., 233. In 1070 Damian was relieved of his see's temporal duties, but he was not allowed to resign the bishopric.

55 For Frotarius' resignation see JL, 1: no. 4549. His recall is mentioned in Caron, , La rinuncia, p. 109Google Scholar.

56 MacDonald, , Lanfranc, p. 70Google Scholar.

57 Gibson, , Letters, p. 1Google Scholar.

58 Ibid., pp. 13–15.

59 Ibid., pp. 34–38.

60 Ibid., introductory note to letter 2, p. 34.

61 Ibid., pp. 38–48.

62 Ibid., pp. 60–62.

63 Ibid.. The letter is on pp. 64–66 and Gibson's comment on p. 4.

64 Ibid., introductory note, p. 30 discusses the dating of this letter.

65 Ibid., pp. 11–12.

66 Ibid., p. 12.

67 Ibid., pp. 12–13.

68 The Letters of Peter the Venerable, ed. Constable, Giles (Cambridge, Mass., 1967), p. 5Google Scholar: “From [the end of the tenth and beginning of the eleventh centuries] the number of collections steadily grew and it is clear that many writers and men of affairs kept or gathered copies of their letters with a view to eventual publication”; and idem., Letters and Letter Collections. Typologie des sources du moyen âge occidental, vol. 17 (Turnhout, 1976), p. 60Google Scholar.

69 Schmeidler, Bernard, Die Briefsammlung Froumunds von Tegemsee, in Historisches Jahrbuch 62–64(1949), pp. 220–21Google Scholar.

70 Gibson, , Letters, p. 170Google Scholar.

71 Ibid., p. 16.

72 Fröhlich, Walter, “The Genesis of the Collections of St. Anselm's Letters,” American Benedictine Review 35 (1984): 254–56Google Scholar.

73 On the selection and arrangement of letters see Constable, , The Letters of Peter the Venerable, pp. 1012Google Scholar.

74 Gibson, , Letters, p. 12, n. 2Google Scholar.

75 Ibid., pp. 38–48 , 48–56, 60–62 respectively.

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