The archbishops: Provincial jurisdiction and prerogatives

Pages 516-523

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 12. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1801.

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THE PROVINCE of Canterbury at this time comprehends the fees of twenty one suffragan bishops, which as they are universally known, need not be enumerated here; and there are several churches, about eighty-three in number, in the dioceses of Rochester, Winchester, London, Norwich, Lincoln, Chichester, Oxford, and one in the diocese of Chester, within the province of York, exempt from the jurisdiction of their respective bishops, and immediately subject to the archbishop of Canterbury, and are called his peculairs; to which he collates as the patron of them. (fn. 1)

The archbishop is patron besides, of a great number of benefices in his own diocese, of three prebends in the church of Canterbury, and of the archdeaconry, and has the nomination of the several officers belonging to the ecclesiastical courts within his jurisdiction.

He has the right of conferring all vacant ecclesiastical benefices in the province of Canterbury, which devolve to his collation by a lapse of time, either by the negligence or fault of the patrons of such clerks, or inability of the person presented, or by any other means.

He has likewise a privilege, confirmed by long custom, of collating to certain dignities and benefices in different dioceses within his province, called his op tions, which arise from this custom, that whenever a bishop is confirmed in any see within his province, the archbishop claims a right to make his choice or option of the next avoidance of any one dignity or benefice, in that bishop's patronage, to be at his disposal, if vacant, during the bishop's continuance in that see; and the patronage or gift of this option does not cease with the archbishop's demise, but is devised by him, by will or otherwise, as chattels, to whomever he pleases, and as such seems alienable afterwards by the possessor of it. (fn. 2)

Besides the sees above-mentioned, in former times the archbishop of York, the bishops of Ireland, (fn. 3) the clergy of the provinces of Normandy, Gascony, and Aquitaine, so long as they continued in subjection to the kings of England, were subject like wise to the archbishop of Canterbury, as their metropolitan. (fn. 4)

The archbishops of Canterbury have all those rights, powers and jurisdictions, which, by the canons of the church, belong in common to all metropolitans; and there are besides those, some peculiar and proper rights and jurisdictions, privileges, liberties and immunities annexed to their see. The archbishop has two concurrent jurisdictions, the one as ordinary of the see of Canterbury, the other as superintendant throughout all his whole province, of all ecclesiastical matters; both to correct and supply the defects of the several ordinaries; and therefore Panormitan calls him, ordinarius totius provinciæ, for he has jurisdiction nolente ordinario, as in cases of visitation, which is a right vested in him by custom immemorial. Belonging to this his provincial jurisdiction are several courts, as those of the arches, the prerogative, audience, (fn. 5) and consistory, at Canterbury, all belonging to their provincial jurisdication; a particular account of which, in this place, would only be prolix and tedious to the reader, and may the rather be excused, as they are particularly treated of by the learned compiler of the Antiquities of the British Church, towards the beginning of his work, where he treats of the privileges and prerogatives of the see of Canterbury. (fn. 6)

There is a manuscript treatise, among the archives of this church, concerning the prerogatives of the archbishop of Canterbury, chiefly collected from the several registers of the archbishops; of these Mr. Battely has printed, in his appendix, (fn. 7) that of the wardship of the heirs of the earls of Gloucester, and some others, (fn. 8) of the immunities and privileges granted to them, their servants, tenants or vassals, by several different kings, the right of receiving appeals, called tuitory or defensive, the visitations of the dioceses of their comprovincial bishops, the probates of wills, the several courts belonging to them as archbishops, and the like; to these may be added, the rights due to the archbishops and the church of Canterbury, upon the death of every suffragan bishop of the province, which is likewise in the same book, but which the reader may find printed in the Anglia Sacra, vol. i. p. 88. (fn. 9)

The archbishops of Canterbury had, in very antient time, the privilege of coining money; and there are still extant among the cabinets of the curious, several of their coins minted at Canterbury, so early as the time of the Saxons. These are some silver pennies coined by the archbishops Athelard, Wlfred, Ceolnoth and Plegmund; the former of whom came to the see in 793, and the latter in 889; but after this there are none extant, till the time of archbishop Bourchier, so late as king Henry VII.'s reign. (fn. 10)

In the regin of king Athelstane, the coinage of the Saxon kingdom underwent a material regulation made by him in 928, by which he took the prerogative of coining money entirely into his own hands, and put an end to every innovation hurtful to the state, and injurious to the dignity of his crown. (fn. 11) By the above regulation, the several places where mints were allowed are specified; in Canterbury there were to be seven, of which two were to be the archbishop's. (fn. 12)

That part of the royal edict which respected the archbishop and other like subjects, seems to have continued in force but a short time, not quite a century, and to have been repealed in king Ethelred II's reign, when the inferior mints were in genearl resumed into the hands of the crown. At what time the archbishop resumed this privilege, is not certainly known, however it is plain, he was not in the possession of it at the time of king Richard I.'s accession to the crown, as appears by a grant of king John in his first year, by which he grants and confirms to Hubert, archbishop of Canterbury, and his successors for ever, three mints in the city of Canterbury, which king Richard, his brother, had restored to archbishop Baldwin and his successors, and had confirmed by his charter. (fn. 13) If bishop Wilkins's copy of king Athelstane's edict is accurate, there must, as appears by the charter of king John, have been an additional one added afterwards. Bromton, col. 843, however, gives us a copy of the above-mentioned edict, in which the archbishop is allowed the privilege of three mints, making the total in Canterbury, eight; and this seems more probable to be the true number, as appears by the above and the succeeding grants, for king Edward I. in his 7th year, granted to the archbishop, of his special grace, his writ, that he should have the profits of it, saving his own right—2d ad præsens liberat denarios suos proprios custodibus Cambii Cantuariæ & percipiat emolumentum denariorum suorum propriorum per visum unius de suis quem ad hoc deputaverit quantum ad emolumentum trium cuneorum quos clamat ad se pertinere ratione archiepiscopatus sui sicut temporibus prædecessorum suorum et temporibus aliorum Cambiorum fieri consuevit salvo jure regis. (fn. 14)

King Edward II. in his 1st year, granted his letters testimonial to Everie de Friscombald, keeper of his exchange in Canterbury, that the archbishop had a right, by certain grants which he had produced to him, to three mints and three coinages (cuneos et monetarios) in the city of Canterbury; (fn. 15) and whereas the said keeper of his exchange had obstructed the archbishop in them, to his great detriment and the disinheriting of his church, the king therefore commanded him by no means to interrupt the archbishop in his just right in the exercising of it, and that he should restore to the archbishop all the profits accuring from it from the time of such obstruction; (fn. 16) these mints were still further confirmed to the archbishop by king Henry VI. in his 25th year, and by king Edward IV. in his 2d and 3d year, the title of the roll being de tribus monetariis cum tribus cuneis ad monetam sabricandam in civitate Cantuar concess. archiep Cantuar. (fn. 17)

Archbishop Bourgchier, who filled the see at this time, appears to have exercised this privilege, for there is a half groat of his coining, during the next reign of king Richard III. (fn. 18) his successors afterwards did the same, and there are extant several half groats of archbishop Warham's mintage, and a halfpenny likewise, (fn. 19) and two half groats and an halfpenny of archbishop Cranmer's, (fn. 20) all during the reign of king Henry VIII. soon after which this privilege of coining in these, as well as all other private mints throughout the kingdom, ceased, the coinage of money being prohibited in any other mint, but such as should be appointed by royal authority for that purpose.

The archbishops of Canterbury have not for a long time past exercised their privilege of visiting their province, (fn. 21) but they usually hold a visitation of their diocese every fourth year, oftener than which they are, by the patents granted to their officers, inhibited. (fn. 22) These visitations are holden by the archbi shops with a pomp and splendor, equal to their high station and dignity, and may be said to be the only ceremony, which bears an appearance of the state and grandeur which accompanied their high rank as metropolitans in former times.

The right of the archbishop to visit the two universities as metropolitan, occasioned many disputes between them; the one attempting, and the other denying the archbishop's right to exercise this power. At length it was, by the king's command, solemnly argued in council in 1636, (fn. 23) and determined in the archbishop's favour, exclusive of all others; and the sentence was drawn up by the king's council, and the broad seal was put to it to take away all differences that might hereafter arise; upon which the king directed his letters that year, to archbishop Laud, to visit the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. (fn. 24)


  • 1. Wherever the archbishop has had any manors or advowsons in right of his see, that place, though in another diocese, is exempt from any jurisdiction of the ordinary, and is called a peculiar, from its being of the peculiar and immediate jurisdiction of the archbishop.
  • 2. See the archbishop's right to this custom, in Battely, pt. ii. appendix, p. 12, No. ivb; and in Burn's Ecclesiastical Law, vol. i. p. 219.
  • 3. The bishops of Ireland were consecrated by, and made their submission to him, of which there are several forms given by Mr. Wharton, in his Ang. Sacra, vol. i.
  • 4. The city of Calais was made subject to his jurisdiction, for which purpose pope Urban VI. granted him licence, anno 1379, to exercise it there. See Wilkins's Councils, tom. iii. p. 144.
  • 5. The archbishop had formerly his court of audience, which was held in his palce, and the jurisdiction of it exercised by the master official of the audience, who held his court in the consistory at St. Paul's; but now the three great offices of official, principal of the archbishop, dean or judge of the peculiars, and official of the audience, have been for a long time past united in one person, under the general name of dean of the arches, who keeps his court in Doctors Commons Hall.
  • 6. Many of these privileges are, generally speaking, grown out of use; and in relation to the privileges of this see, archbishop Parker says, Autoritas ejus non certis & definitis. Arch. vel Malty. Jurisdictiones cancellis concluditur sed ordinaria, libera, peneq; arbitraria per suam provinciam excurrit & diffundetur.
  • 7. Pt. ii. appendix, No. iv. et seq. where they are enumerated at large.
  • 8. The archbishop had this privilege, among others, that such as held lands of him were liable for wardship to him, and compounded with him for its though they held other lands in capite of the king.
  • 9. See Wilkins's Councils, tom. iii. p. 8.
  • 10. The late learned and Rev. Samuel Pegge, in 1772, published a dissertation on these coins, fabricated by authority of the archbishops of Canterbury, in which there is a plate engraved, of the above pennies, and likewise of the others mentioned below. Selden, in his notes upon Eadmer and Speed, in his history, makes mention of two silver pennies of the archbishops Plegmund and Ceolnoth, then extant, the latter being engraved by Speed, the former by Selden; one of Ceolnoth is likewise given by Camden, præf. cxxxv. tab. N. 4; and Sir Andrew Fountain two, in his tables of Saxon coins, at the end of Hickes's Thesaurus; and of Plegmund, one, in Camden, præf. cxxxv. tab. v. N. 3; and two in Hickes's Thesaurus, tab. ix.
  • 11. In confirmation of this, it is observable, that no metropolitical coin has ever been seen with an archbishop's name or effigies, posterior to the reign of this king, in the Saxon times. Pegge, p. 51.
  • 12. In Wilkins's Councils, tom. i. p. 206, it is two; in Bromton, col. 843, three; of which see more hereafter.
  • 13. See Dugd. Orig. p. 9.
  • 14. See Prynne, p. 237.
  • 15. Wilkins's Councils, tom. iii. p. 552. See Madox's Formulare, p. 177.
  • 16. Witness, &c. at Westminster, 22 Maij anno 1mo regni.—Rym. Fæd. vol. iii. p. 81.
  • 17. Rot. Cartarum de annis, 2 and 3 Edward IV.
  • 18. On one side is the king full faced, a B on his breast, the legend RICABDIWS DEI GRA. and in the inner circle of the reverse, CIVITAS CANTOB —The blunders of the letters from the confusion of the reign, may well be accounted for. See an engraving of it in Pegge, p. 113, addenda.
  • 19. On one side of these half groats, is the king, side faced, and his legend— a clove or pomgranate for the mint mark; the reverse, the royal arms with W on one side, and A on the other, for Willielmus Archiepiscopus; another has a crosscroslet for the mint mark; another has a sleur de lis; and in another, the letters W. A. are placed over the shield of arms, and the mint mark is a martlet. There are others of this archbishop's coins, with no difference but the mint mark; but it should be observed, the halfpenny has the king's full face, the half groats all side faces, and are of the best money of that reign.
  • 20. This curious half groat has, like those of archbishop Warham, king Henry VIII.'s side face, and legend on the reverse; on each side the royal arms T. C. for Thomas Cranmer; the halfpenny has the king full faced, on each side T. C.
  • 21. When the archbishop visits provincially, he has the power of censuring any bishop in his province. If he visits an inserior diocese, and inhibits the bishop during such his visitation, and he should happen at that time to have a title to present to a living by lapse, the bishop cannot do it, but must present his clerk to the archbishop, because during the inhibition, the bishop's power is suspended.
  • 22. Archbishop Secker proposed to visit his diocese every third year, or as much oftener as he thought proper, which being opposed by his commissary, &c. as infringing upon their rights, he acquiesced at last, after much altercation; for he was some time before he could he brought to believe, that he was intibited from visiting as often as he thought proper.
  • 23. In relation to the university of Oxford, it was alledged on behalf of the archbishop, that upon the full hearing of both parties, it had been adjusted by king Richard II. for the archbishop; and afterwards, upon a like hearing and re-examination by king Henry IV. and both of their judgments established by act of parliament, anno 13 Henry IV. and the archbishop produced an original deed from the university of Cambridge, to the archbishop, under the hands of the heads of houses, containing renunciation of all privileges from any pope, and wherein they bind themselves under the penalty of 1000l. not to oppose the archbishop's jurisdiction; and this was, anno 27 Henry VIII the year before those bulls were abolished by act of parliament. Burn's Eccl Law, vol. i. p. 41.
  • 24. Harleian MSS. No. 787–32–91. Wilkins's Councils, vol. iv. p. 525, 528, in which, p. 529, may be seen, a letter of Gerard Vossius to the archbishop, concerning his right to visit the universities.