The archbishops: Privileges

Pages 541-547

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

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AMONG other pre-eminences and privileges belonging to this archbishopric, there was formerly a perpetual legantine power annexed to it, whence the archbishop had the title of apostolicæ sedis legatus natus, being, the pope's perpetual legate. He was sensible of the great power which the archbishop had in the administration of all ecclesiastical concerns in this nation, and left he should seem to exercise that authority in his own right, he was constituted by the pope perpetual or hereditary legate, which was meant to denote that he implicitly derived all his authority from the papal see, and acted in every part of it by virtue of his legantine power only; and although this was then esteemed as a mark of special honour and dignity, yet it was really a diminution of that authority, and a lessening of that prerogative, which of right belonged to the see of Canterbury. But though at the reformation and the abolition of all papal authority within this realm, the title of legate was suppressed, yet by the statute, the archbishop was continued in possession of every power and prerogative which he before enjoyed by virtue of it, not being contrary to the laws of the kingdom.

In consequence of which, the archbishop has continued to this time to conser degrees in the several faculties of law, physic and divinity, the same as conferred by the two universities; which have been esteemed of equal force and validity, as those conferred there, excepting that they have not been allowed by those learned bodies to take effect within their respective universities. (fn. 1) Of such high rank and dignity was the archbishop of Canterbury held to be, that all England was in a manner reputed his diocese; the bishop of London was esteemed as his dean in the college of bishops, his office being to summon councils; the bishop of Winton his chancellor; the bishop of Lincoln his vice-chancellor; the bishop of Sarum was his precentor, to begin the service when he was present; the bishop of Worcester was his chaplain, and Rochester was his cross-bearer; and he contended strenuously for the same obedience from the archbishop of York, as he himself paid to the see of Rome. (fn. 2)

His title is, primate and metropolitan of all England, and he stiles himself Providentia Divina Cantuar. Archiepiscopus; whereas other bishops write permissione divina. As in general councils, the archbishop was placed before all other archbishops, a favour conferred on him by pope Leo X. (fn. 3) so in the parliament and all other assemblies and conferences of council, he has now the precedence next the royal family, as first peer of the realm, (fn. 4) and he has the privilege of qualifying eight chaplains, whereas a duke can qualify but six.—He is always of the king's privy council, and it being necessary to consult him on most great and important occasions, especially in which the church is concerned; he is frequently summoned to be present among the king's confidential ministers who compose the cabinet of state, and as archbishop, he is constantly chosen a president of the corporation of the sons of the clergy, a governor of the Charter-house, a trustee of the British museum, &c.

Among the rights and privileges formerly belonging to this see, was that of the right of patronage of the bishopric of Rochester, and whenever that see was vacant, the administration and custody of the temporalities, as well as spiritualities devolved on the archbishop, and the nomination of another bishop belonged to him. The temporalities likewise were restored to the bishop elect, and confirmed to him, he doing the same homage to the archbishop as other bishops did to the king on the like occasions, and this right they derived by custom from the time of archbishop Lanfranc, and which was allowed to them by the charters of several kings, and confirmed by the bulls of pope Alex ander III. and Honorius III. still extant among the archives of this church. (fn. 5)

Another right claimed by the metropolitans of the see of Canterbury, was that of performing the sacred and honourable office of anointing the kings and queens of this realm; of putting the royal crowns on their heads, and of administering to them the coronation oath. Eadmer reports (fn. 6) a singular instance of the archbishops claim to this right; he says, when Henry I. came with his royal bride to be married, wearing the crown upon his head, archbishop Ralph, or Rodulph, refused to celebrate the nuptial solemnities, until he had expostulated with the king (who was then in the 21st year of his reign) for having had the crown placed upon his head by any other than the archbishop of Canterbury, to whom alone that office belonged; for the king, archbishop Anselm, being then banished, had been crowned by the bishop of London, upon his accession to the throne. Having thus expostulated, he took the crown from off the king's head, and after some pause, as if he kept it awhile in his own possession, at the earnest request and petition of the people present, he with uplifted hands placed it on again; and so this act passed for the new crowning of the king, by the hands of the archbishop, to continue the antient right and custom to the see of Canterbury.

The right to this office was confirmed to the archbishop by a bull of pope Alexander III. (fn. 7) When king Edward II. began his reign, archbishop Winchelsea was then suspended by the papal authority at the request of king Edward I. and the pope directed a commission to the archbishop of York, to anoint and crown the new king; but the king wrote to the pope that he was then reconciled to the archbishop, and desired that the suspension might be taken off, and that he might be restored to the execution of his archiepiscopal offices, one of which was to crown the kings of England, and therein he purposed to make use of him in a short time; upon which it was taken off, the commission to the archbishop of York was revoked, and the archbishop of Canterbury sent one in his own right to the bishop of Winchester, to celebrate that office, in case he himself could not return soon enough into England to perform it.

In the annals of our English histories, it appears, that at the marriage of the kings of England, the archbishops of Canterbury, for the most part solemnized the marriage rights and ceremonies, and exercised the sacerdotal function of blessing the nuptials, and this office they laid claim to, as of right belonging to their see; for when king Henry I. was to be married at Windsor, the bishop of Sarum, within whose diocese the castle stands, asserted that right, of his own and proper jurisdiction within that place, and offered to interpose at the solemnity; but all the nobility cried out that the office belonged to the archbishop of Canterbury, whose peculiar and special parishioners the king and queen were, and whose primacy was extended over the whole island, and accordingly archbishop Ralph or Rodulph, solemnized the marriage himself. (fn. 8)

Mr. Somner has mentioned the record of king Edward I.'s marriage, solemnized by archbishop Winchelsea in this church, after which there were several pretences of claim made for the cloth of estate, which was used at that solemnity; the archbishop demanded it as his see, in right of his executing that office; the prior of the church laid claim to it in right of the mother church, in which no one received any such fee but the church itself, which was the mother of all the churches and chapels that were within the province of Canterbury; (fn. 9) the archbishop's cross-bearer and the king's chaplains likewise put in their claim; upon which the king ordered the cloth to be delivered to the earl of Lincoln, as an indifferent person, to be kept by him, till the matter should be ascertained to whom it of right belonged. (fn. 10) This privilege of crowning, marring, and christening the kings and royal family of England, is still exercised by the archbishops of Canterbury. (fn. 11)

The monks of Christ-church have recorded, that the king and queen are the speciales domestici parochaini, the peculiar parishioners of the archbishop, (fn. 12) who was ordinary of the court of the king's houshold, wherever it was kept, and it may be added, he had antiently the holy offerings made at the altar by the king and queen, wherever the court should happen to be, if the archbishop was there present.

The confirmation of all the comprovincial bishops of the province of Canterbury, abbots likewise, and priors, and the consecration of those bishops, the ab solution of the obedientiaries of the monastery of Christchurch, and the nomination of new obedientiaries, and many other such like privileges belonged likewise to the archbishop; and lastly

The archbishop had the right of summoning the bishops and clergy of his province to appear before him in convocation; in which assembly he presided personally, or by his commissary.


  • 1. In the 25th year of king Henry VIII. stat. cap. 21, it was enacted, that all licences and dispensations not repugnant to the law of God, which before were sued for in the court of Rome, should be hereafter granted by the archbishop of Canterbury and his successors; and in the 1st year of queen Elizabeth stat. cap. 2, it was likewise enacted, that by the advice of the metropolitan the queen, or the ecclesiastical commissioners, might publish such rights and ceremonies as would be most for the advantage of God's glory.
  • 2. See Selden's Titles of Honor, p. 224. Parker's Antiq. of British Church, p. 20.
  • 3. Lambarde, p. 80, says, that before archbishop Anselm's time, the archbishop's place in general councils, was next to the bishop of St. Rusine. See Chronol. Aug. Cant. col. 2245, anno 1056; but that archbishop Anselm in 1099, in recompence for his services to the holy see, was by pope Urban preferred to the honour of sitting, he and his successors, in those councils at the pope's right foot, who at the same time added, Includemus hunc in orbe nostro tanquam alterius orbis Papam.
  • 4. This was decreed and confirmed, by a statute made anno 31 Henry VIII. cap. 10, intitled, How lords in parliament shall be placed. By this statute, the king's vice-gerent in ecclesiastical inatters, is seated in seated in the first place, and then follows. It is also enacted, that next to the said vice-gerent shall sit, the archbishop of Canterbury; and then next to him on that from and side shall sit, the archbishop of York; and next to him on the same form and side, the bishop of London, &c.
  • 5. Antiq. Brit. Eccl. Gervas, in Dec. Script. col. 1362.—Ang. Sacra, vol. i. p. 358, 343, 386.
  • 6. Hist. Nov. p. 137; and Gervas, in Dec. Script. col. 1661, repeats the same from Eadmer, word for word.
  • 7. Regist. Eccl. Christi Cant.
  • 8. Eadmer writes as if the archbishop did it by proxy, because he framed a commission, that in case he should be unable, through bodily infirmity to execute the office of himself, the bishop of Winchester should be deputed to it in his stead, designedly to cut off all the pretensions of the bishop of Sarum.
  • 9. Eadmer Hist. Nov. p. 136, 137. See Gervas, in Decem. Script. col. 1661.
  • 10. See Regist. Eccl. Christi.
  • 11. Eadmer and Gervas. Antiq. Brit.
  • 12. As one instance out of the many that might be mentioned, it appears, that at the christening of the new born princess, in the 5th year of king Henry VII. on the morn of St. Andrew's day, the rich font of Canterbury and the Westminster church gear were prepared, as of old time had been accustomed for king's children in the church of Westminster, where she was christened by John Alcock, bishop of Ely; John Morton, archbishop of Canterbury and chancellor of England, being god-father; the princess being named Margaret, after the king's mother. See Varia Opuscula, inserted in Lel. Coll. vol. iv. p. 253.