Robert Winchelsey
Robert Winchelsey (c.
Circa , usually abbreviated c. or ca. , means "approximately" in the English language, usually referring to a date...

1245–1313) was an English Christian theologian
Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...

 and Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop of Canterbury
The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury. In his role as head of the Anglican Communion, the archbishop leads the third largest group...

. He studied at the universities of Paris
University of Paris
The University of Paris was a university located in Paris, France and one of the earliest to be established in Europe. It was founded in the mid 12th century, and officially recognized as a university probably between 1160 and 1250...

 and Oxford
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...

, and later taught at both. Influenced by Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas, O.P. , also Thomas of Aquin or Aquino, was an Italian Dominican priest of the Catholic Church, and an immensely influential philosopher and theologian in the tradition of scholasticism, known as Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Communis, or Doctor Universalis...

, he was a scholastic
Scholasticism is a method of critical thought which dominated teaching by the academics of medieval universities in Europe from about 1100–1500, and a program of employing that method in articulating and defending orthodoxy in an increasingly pluralistic context...

 theologian. Winchelsey held various benefices in England, and was the Chancellor of Oxford University before being elected to Canterbury in early 1293. Although he initially had the support of Edward I
Edward I of England
Edward I , also known as Edward Longshanks and the Hammer of the Scots, was King of England from 1272 to 1307. The first son of Henry III, Edward was involved early in the political intrigues of his father's reign, which included an outright rebellion by the English barons...

, Winchelsey later became a forceful opponent of the king. The archbishop was encouraged by the papacy to resist Edward's attempts to tax the clergy. Winchelsey was also an opponent of the king's treasurer Walter Langton
Walter Langton
Walter Langton was a bishop of Coventry and Lichfield and treasurer of England.He was probably a native of Langton West in Leicestershire....

 as well as other clergy. On one occasion he rebuked an abbot so sternly that the abbot suffered a fatal heart attack.

Following the election of a former royal clerk as Pope Clement V
Pope Clement V
Pope Clement V, born Raymond Bertrand de Got was Pope from 1305 to his death...

 in 1305, the king was able to secure the archbishop's exile that same year. Upon the succession of Edward's son, Edward II
Edward II of England
Edward II , called Edward of Caernarfon, was King of England from 1307 until he was deposed by his wife Isabella in January 1327. He was the sixth Plantagenet king, in a line that began with the reign of Henry II...

, Winchelsey was allowed to return to England after the new king petitioned the pope to allow his return. Winchelsey soon joined the king's enemies, however, and was the only bishop to object to the return of the king's favourite, Piers Gaveston. Winchelsey died in 1313. Although miracles were alleged to have happened at his tomb, an attempt to have him declared a saint was unsuccessful.

Early life

Winchelsey studied and taught at the universities of Paris and Oxford, and became the Rector of Paris, and Chancellor of Oxford. While in Paris, he read, and possibly met, Thomas Aquinas, and his own theology was thereafter purely scholastic. In 1283, he was appointed canon of St. Paul's
St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's Cathedral, London, is a Church of England cathedral and seat of the Bishop of London. Its dedication to Paul the Apostle dates back to the original church on this site, founded in AD 604. St Paul's sits at the top of Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of London, and is the mother...

 in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, but it is unclear exactly when he returned to England. He held the prebend
A prebendary is a post connected to an Anglican or Catholic cathedral or collegiate church and is a type of canon. Prebendaries have a role in the administration of the cathedral...

 of Oxgate in the diocese of London
Diocese of London
The Anglican Diocese of London forms part of the Province of Canterbury in England.Historically the diocese covered a large area north of the Thames and bordered the dioceses of Norwich and Lincoln to the north and west. The present diocese covers and 17 London boroughs, covering most of Greater...

, and was made Archdeacon of Essex, also in the London diocese, in about 1288.


John Peckham
John Peckham
John Peckham was Archbishop of Canterbury in the years 1279–1292. He was a native of Sussex who was educated at Lewes Priory and became a Franciscan friar about 1250. He studied at Paris under Bonaventure, where he later taught theology. From his teaching, he came into conflict with Thomas...

, Archbishop of Canterbury, died in December 1292, and on 13 February 1293 Winchelsey was elected as his successor. Unusually, neither the pope nor the king had a hand in his election. On 1 April Winchelsey left England for Rome to get papal confirmation. He was not consecrated immediately because of a papal vacancy
Papal election, 1292–1294
The papal election from April 5, 1292 to July 5, 1294 was the last papal election which did not take the form of a papal conclave...

; Celestine V
Pope Celestine V
Pope Saint Celestine V, born Pietro Angelerio , also known as Pietro da Morrone was elected pope in the year 1294, by the papal election of 1292–1294, the last non-conclave in the history of the Roman Catholic Church...

 eventually performed the ceremony at Aquila
L'Aquila is a city and comune in central Italy, both the capital city of the Abruzzo region and of the Province of L'Aquila. , it has a population of 73,150 inhabitants, but has a daily presence in the territory of 100,000 people for study, tertiary activities, jobs and tourism...

 on 12 September 1294.

Disputes with Edward I

Winchelsey was a fearless opponent of Edward I. When he swore his oath of fealty to Edward, he offended the king by adding a declaration that he was only swearing fealty for the temporalities
Temporalities are the secular properties and possessions of the Christian Church. It is most often used to describe those properties that were used to support a bishop or other religious person or establishment. Its opposite description would be the spiritualities.In the Middle Ages, the...

, not the spiritualities
Spiritualities is a term, often used in the Middle Ages, that refers to the income sources of a diocese or other ecclesiastical establishment that came from tithes...

. All through his term as archbishop he refused to allow Edward to tax the clergy beyond certain levels, and withstood severe pressure to change his mind. In August 1295, he offered the king a tenth of all ecclesiastical revenues, less than Edward had hoped to collect from the clergy. Winchelsey did concede though that if the war with France, which was what the money was requested to fund, continued into the following year, then the clergy would be amenable to making further contributions.

Following the issue of the papal bull Clericis laicos
Clericis laicos
Clericis laicos was a Papal bull issued on February 5, 1296 by Pope Boniface VIII in an attempt to prevent the secular states of Europe, in particular France and England, from appropriating church revenues without the express prior permission of the pope...

in 1296, forbidding the payment of taxes to a secular power, Winchelsey urged his clergy in 1297 to refuse payments to Edward. However, the clergy of the province of York paid a tax of a fifth of their revenues. Edward then declared clerics who refused to pay outlaws, and ordered their property to be seized. He conceded that the clergy could return to his protection if they paid a fine of a fifth of their revenues, exactly what the northern clergy had offered in the way of taxation. The royal clerks and many other clergy paid the fines, and in March, the southern clergy met again, and after a long debate, Winchelsey instructed each clerk to decide for himself whether or not to pay the fine. It appears that most chose to pay, but the archbishop still refused to make any contribution, and so Edward seized his lands. They were returned to him in July 1297, when the king and prelate were reconciled at Westminster
Westminster is an area of central London, within the City of Westminster, England. It lies on the north bank of the River Thames, southwest of the City of London and southwest of Charing Cross...

. Winchelsey then tried to mediate between Edward and the earls, who also objected to Edward's tax demands.

Winchelsey further irritated Edward with his opposition to the Bishop of Lichfield
Bishop of Lichfield
The Bishop of Lichfield is the ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of Lichfield in the Province of Canterbury.The diocese covers 4,516 km² of the counties of Staffordshire, Shropshire, Warwickshire and West Midlands. The bishop's seat is located in the Cathedral Church of the Blessed...

, Walter Langton
Walter Langton
Walter Langton was a bishop of Coventry and Lichfield and treasurer of England.He was probably a native of Langton West in Leicestershire....

, who was the king's treasurer
Lord High Treasurer
The post of Lord High Treasurer or Lord Treasurer was an English government position and has been a British government position since the Act of Union of 1707. A holder of the post would be the third highest ranked Great Officer of State, below the Lord High Chancellor and above the Lord President...

. The king was not the only one to be upset by the archbishop; the abbot of Oseney, in 1297, was so affected by a rebuke from him that he suffered a fatal heart attack. In 1299, Winchelsey and the king briefly reconciled, and the archbishop presided at the king's second marriage, to Margaret of France
Marguerite of France (born 1282)
Margaret of France , a daughter of Philip III of France and Maria of Brabant, was Queen of England as the second wife of King Edward I, who was her father's first cousin.-Early life:...

, at Canterbury. Winchelsey vigorously asserted his authority over his suffragan
Suffragan bishop
A suffragan bishop is a bishop subordinate to a metropolitan bishop or diocesan bishop. He or she may be assigned to an area which does not have a cathedral of its own.-Anglican Communion:...

, or subordinant bishops, quarrelled with Pope Boniface VIII
Pope Boniface VIII
Pope Boniface VIII , born Benedetto Gaetani, was Pope of the Catholic Church from 1294 to 1303. Today, Boniface VIII is probably best remembered for his feuds with Dante, who placed him in the Eighth circle of Hell in his Divina Commedia, among the Simonists.- Biography :Gaetani was born in 1235 in...

 over a Sussex
Sussex , from the Old English Sūþsēaxe , is an historic county in South East England corresponding roughly in area to the ancient Kingdom of Sussex. It is bounded on the north by Surrey, east by Kent, south by the English Channel, and west by Hampshire, and is divided for local government into West...

 living, and was excommunicated
Excommunication is a religious censure used to deprive, suspend or limit membership in a religious community. The word means putting [someone] out of communion. In some religions, excommunication includes spiritual condemnation of the member or group...

 by one of the pope's clerks in 1301. He was absolved in 1302.

Exile and return

Winchelsey and the barons joined in demanding reforms from the king at the parliament of Lincoln in 1301, but Winchelsey's support of Boniface VIII's claim to be the protector of Scotland, broke the alliance. One of the reasons which led the archbishop to ally with the barons was his hostility to Edward's adviser, Walter Langton, Bishop of Lichfield
Lichfield is a cathedral city, civil parish and district in Staffordshire, England. One of eight civil parishes with city status in England, Lichfield is situated roughly north of Birmingham...

. The king took no action against Winchelsey until the Gascon and former royal clerk Bertrand de Got was named Pope Clement V in 1305. Edward then sent two envoys – Langton and Henry Lacy
Henry de Lacy, 3rd Earl of Lincoln
Henry de Lacy, 3rd Earl of Lincoln was a confidant of Edward I of England.In 1272 on reaching the age of majority he became Earl of Lincoln...

 – to the pope, to press his claim that Winchelsey was plotting against him. Clement suspended the archbishop on 12 February 1306. Winchelsey left England and went to the papal court at Bordeaux
Bordeaux is a port city on the Garonne River in the Gironde department in southwestern France.The Bordeaux-Arcachon-Libourne metropolitan area, has a population of 1,010,000 and constitutes the sixth-largest urban area in France. It is the capital of the Aquitaine region, as well as the prefecture...

, where he stayed until Edward's death in July 1307. Only Antony Bek, Bishop of Durham supported the archbishop.

After the death of Edward I, the new king, Edward II, asked that Winchelsey be restored, which the pope agreed to on 22 January 1308. Soon after his return to England in early 1308 the archbishop joined the king's enemies. The archbishop, along with the Earl of Warwick
Guy de Beauchamp, 10th Earl of Warwick
Guy de Beauchamp, 10th Earl of Warwick was an English magnate, and one of the principal opponents of King Edward II and his favourite Piers Gaveston. Guy de Beauchamp was the son of William de Beauchamp, the first Beauchamp earl of Warwick, and succeeded his father in 1298...

, were the only people to object to the return of the new king's favourite Piers Gaveston to England in 1309. Winchelsey aided the baron
Baron is a title of nobility. The word baron comes from Old French baron, itself from Old High German and Latin baro meaning " man, warrior"; it merged with cognate Old English beorn meaning "nobleman"...

s in their prosecution of Edward II by sentencing their enemies to excommunication. He was appointed an Ordainer
Ordinances of 1311
The Ordinances of 1311 were a series of regulations imposed upon King Edward II by the peerage and clergy of the Kingdom of England to restrict the power of the king. The twenty-one signatories of the Ordinances are referred to as the Lords Ordainers, or simply the Ordainers...

 in 1310, and died at Otford
Otford is a village and civil parish in the Sevenoaks District of Kent known for its classically British countryside. The village is located on the River Darent, flowing north down its valley from its source on the North Downs...

 on 11 May 1313.


Winchelsey was a preacher of some note, and when preaching at St. Paul's he attracted large crowds to his sermons and lectures. Winchelsey's theological writings date primarily from his time at St. Paul's, where he delivered a number of quodibeta. The quaestiones disputatae from those sessions survive, and illustrate his highly orthodox trinitarian views and his scholastic method. Miracles were said to have been worked at his tomb in Canterbury cathedral, but efforts to have him declared a saint were unsuccessful.

Further reading

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