This article examines a hitherto unexplored source for the history of the Irish clergy in England — English episcopal ordination lists — to see what they can reveal about Irish clergy in medieval England: their geographic origins, their numbers and, less tangibly, their motivation both for coming to England and for remaining there.
Episcopal ordination lists survive, with gaps, for most English dioceses from the later thirteenth century onwards and are the formal records of the diocesan ordination ceremonies held quarterly by bishops or their suffragans, at which men wishing to be ordained to the priesthood were ordained successively to the orders of acolyte, subdeacon, deacon and priest. The ordination lists can add substantially to our knowledge of the vast mass of the medieval clergy, especially the unbeneficed, who frequently remain almost hidden from the historian. Episcopal ordination lists detail information such as the date and place of ordination, the ordinand’s diocese of origin, and occasionally a more precise place of origin and educational qualifications. If the candidate for ordination belonged to a religious order, usually this order and the actual house to which he was attached are listed. Thus these lists can provide a substantial corpus of information, particularly since every member of the clergy ought to be included in the ordination lists as they climbed the ranks of the clerical hierarchy; the same information should be available for everybody, whether they later became an archbishop or found themselves scratching out a living as an underpaid vicar or an unbeneficed mass priest. Over the last few years the computerisation of this material has produced a database of English medieval clergy drawn from the contents of surviving English episcopal ordination lists.