The archdeaconry of Canterbury: Origins

Pages 550-556

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

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THAT there were archdeacons of this church long before the Norman conquest, contrary to the opinion of Somner and others. (fn. 1) Mr. Battely has plainly shewed in opposition to the manuscript, commonly called the Black Book of the Archdeacon, which had been before in general received as an incontrovertible evidence of the original of this archdeaconry, (fn. 2) but this record loses great part of its insallibility, when it is considered that it seems to have been framed by the monks designedly for their own purposes, and that it was eveidently complied after the year 1313, that is, after the death of archbishop Winchessea. (fn. 3)

Concerning the first institution of archdeacons in the church of Canterbury, I find no mention in any history or record. This seems to be a proof of its greater antiquity, and of its having been the general practice and custom of the Christian church, before even the archiepiscopal see was erected in Canterbury, and it had been the universal practice in both the eastern and western churches, where Christianity was embraced, to appoint archdeacons in great or cathedral churches; but how or when they were instituted, does not appear. In the church of Canterbury, the first archdeacon that we read of, is Wlfrid, whom we find subscribing to the acts of a council, and after him others are named in the records of this church and by historians, where they found occasion to mention them in the matters they treated of.

Upon the replanting of the Christian faith in Kent, the clergy seem not long afterwards to have become numerous, in consequence of which, the archbishop of Canterbury, after the example of other bishops in the Christian church, seems to have appointed his archdeacon also. (fn. 4)

The manuscript above-mentioned, called the Black Book, in the possession of the archdeacon, records the several privileges and rights relating particularly to the jurisdiction of the archdeaconry, all of which, excepting the last, are such as belong to archdeacons in general; some of those however have not escaped with. out exceptions and controversy, one of them is taken away and another is lost. (fn. 5)

These privileges were, a right to hear and determine causes belonging to their courts, &c. the correction of delinquents, the creating and appointing officials, deans of Christianity, as they were called, apparitors, &c. a right concerning the proving of wills within the archdeaconry, granting letters of administration, &c. and concerning the disposing of the goods and chattles of persons dying intestate. (fn. 6) A right of visiting parochial churches, clergy, &c. of receiving procurations and proceeding canonically against the disobedient; (fn. 7) a right to visit and take a view of all churches, vestments, ornaments and utensils belonging to any churches within his archdeaconry, and to see they are kept clean and in repair, &c. a right to provide for all ecclesiastical benefices during their vacancy, and to collect, receive and dispose at pleasure of all the profits belonging to such, within his archdeaconry, for so long time as they remained vacant. (fn. 8) This was a profitable privilege to archdeacons, and the bishops in many places laid hold of it, insomuch as to give occasion for strife and afforded opportunities of several abuses, for the redress of which some ecclesiastical canons were framed both at home and abroad, and several decrees concerning it were made, in subsequent synods held at different places. (fn. 9) At last, by an act of parliament, anno 28 king Henry VIII. c. 12, in the preamble of which, the abuses which were occasioned by this privilege are re cited, the profits of all ecclesiastical benefices during such time as they had no incumbent, were settled for ever on the next incumbent, any usage or custom to the contrary notwithstanding.

The right of the induction of rectors and vicars into their benefices; a right of proceeding against excommunicated persons, &c. the examination of such as were to be presented to the archbishop, to be admitted into holy orders; and lastly a right to receive every year, two great trees from the archbishop's wood, called Eriet, near Dodington, and to convert, and dispose of them to his own use. (fn. 10)

There must be added to these privileges of the archdeacon of Canterbury, the super-eminent one, peculiar to him alone, namely, of installing all the suffragan bishops of the province; a right which has never but once been called in question, which was by the dean and chapter of Lincoln, and that was soon yielded up. This solemnity was antiently celebrated personally by the archdeacon, and not by his letters of deputation, and in his Black Book there is described, after what manner and with what ceremonies it was performed, and the fees which appertained to it. (fn. 11)

The convent of this church would not allow him, being a secular, a stall in their chapter-house, owing to the rules of their order, which forbid all seculars to intermeddle in the chapters of the religious; as such, he could not be admitted there, except upon extraordinary occasions, such as being called on by the convent for his advice, or when he attended upon the archbishop, or upon some special duty, and least these occasions should create a pretence of right of having a stall among the religious, archbishop Theobald, most probably, at the instance of the convent, framed a constitution, by which the archdeacon and all other secuIars were prohibited from intermeddling with the concerns of the chapter, that is, as of his own right, and he was to have his place at the foot of the archbishop's chair, and this was afterwards confirmed by pope Innocent's bull, dated anno 1200. (fn. 12)

Mention has been made above of the archdeacon's coming to church upon special duties, one of those times was upon Thursday in the Great or Holy Week, as it was antiently called, for upon that day it was the old custom to reconcile penitents, which was done with great solemnities, and the archdeacon bore a considerable part therein. Mr. Battely has given an account of the process of this branch of ecclesiastical discipline; (fn. 13) this is not taken notice of as an office peculiar to the archdeacon of Canterbury, for the same solemnities were observed in other cathedrals when this ecclesiastical discipline was observed. At this time, to keep up some kind of remembrance of the archdeacon's duty to attend on that day, usually called Holy Thursday, or Ascension Day, in this church; he sits during the morning service in his own seat in it, adjoining the archbishop's throne eastward, and afterwards preaches a sermon, the only time he appears at service in this church as archdeacon, during the whole year.

There are some causes however, which are reserved to be heard and determined in the archbishop's court, in which the archdeacon or his official are not to intermeddle, and there are within this archdeaconry, twenty-six churches, immediately subject to the archbishop, and visited by him or his commissary, which being exempted from the jurisdiction of the archdeacon, are commonly called the exempts. (fn. 14)

The whole diocese of Canterbury hasd but one archdeacon, whose jurisdiction, except as to the abovementioned exempt churches, extends over the whole of it. (fn. 15) It is valued in the king's books at 163l. and 21d. (fn. 16)

The ceremony of his induction into the archdeaconry, was celebrated antiently by a mandate directed to the vicars of Tenham, Lymne, &c. that is, to any vicars of the churches belonging to his archdeaconry, and his induction was into one of those churches, for he had no stall then in the cathedral, nor till after the dissolution of the priory. Bernard de Ecii was inducted into the archdeaconry by authority of a papal bull directed to the bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, and the abbots of St. Augustine and Waltham. At this time the solemnity is performed by one of the prebendaries or canons of this church, by placing him in his stall above-mentioned, being the proper place assigned to him.

The archdeacon is appropriator and patron of the vicarages or curacies of the several churches and chapels of St. Stephen's, alias Hackington, Tenham, Linsted, Dodington, Iwade, Stone, Limne, Westhythe, St. Mary's and St. Clement's, in Sandwich, Stodmarsh, and St. Margaret's, in Canterbury. The antient taxation of the archdeaconry was, of the churches belonging to it 180l. uncertain profits of it 20l. the total sum 200l. (fn. 17) It is computed to be of nearly the value of 400l. per annum income.


  • 1. See Battely's Somner, p. 150. Parkeri Antiq. Britan. in vita Lanfranci.
  • 2. See Battely, pt. ii. p. 129; Appendix, No. xxv. Anglia Sacra, pt. i. p. 150.
  • 3. See Battely, pt. ii. p. 130.
  • 4. See Battley, p. 133.
  • 5. Ibid. p. 141.
  • 6. A sharp controversy continued a long time, between the archbishops and archdeacons of Canterbury, concerning some matters contained in the last-mentioned privileges; but a final agreement was concluded between archbishop Thomas Arundel and Thomas Clifford, archdeacon; and a tripartite composition was drawn up in form, sealed by the archbishop in his palace, by the prior and convent, and by the archdeacon in the chapter-house, on March 26, 1397; which was afterwards confirmed by pope Eugenius, at the instance and suit of Thomas Chichely. See this composition, in Battely, pt. ii. appendix, No. xxvi.
  • 7. The abbot and convent of St. Augustine contended with the archdeacons for an exemption of certain churches belonging to that monastery form their jurisdiction; and this is not strange, since the former had procured of the popes bulls of privileges, by which they became exempt from the jurisdiction of the archbishop, and from all subjection and obedience to him. and had put themselves under immediate subjection to the pope himself. The archbishop and archdeacon concluded this controversy with that convent, by a composition, dated anno 1237, which is printed at large, in Thorn, col. 1882.
  • 8. The abbot and convent of St. Augustine compounded likewise with the archdeacon, for an exemption from this privilege.
  • 9. The archdeacons of Canterbury appear to have a most undoubted right to this privilege from antient custom, and this right continued to them, after the constitution of Othobon, made anno 1240; for upon founding the college of Wye, to which the parochial church of it, within this archdeaconry was annexed, the first provost of that college compounded with the archdeacon, among other things, for the profits which should arise in the time of the vacancy of that church. The composition for which makes mention of several rights belonging to the archdeacon, and is inserted in Battely, pt. ii. appendix, No. xxvii.
  • 10. See Battely, pt. ii. p. 142.
  • 11. See Battely, pt. ii. No. xxviiia. These fees were antiently, the bishop's palfry and saddle, with the appurtenances; his riding coat, hat, and boots; hay and provender for fifteen horses, so long as he tarried upon account of performing the inthronization; meat, drink and wine; two large tapers of wax, for the whole time of his stay; two small tapers every night, and 24 wax candles; the bishop's silver cup with which he was served at the table on the day of his inthronization; the bed likewise of the bishop was demanded, and ten marcs sterling. On that day a table on the right side of the hall was furnished, for the archdeacon, at which, none were to sit, but such as were invited by himself, to dine with him; to which may be added, that at the installation of the abbot of Faversham, the archdeacon's fees were, the abbot's palfry, meat and drink for two nights and one day for himself, and ten others, who should come along with him, at the expence of the abbot. At the instalments of the priors of Leeds, Cumbwell, Bilsington, and Folkestone, the archdeacon received nothing, but an entertainment in meat and drink for two nights and one day. Battely, append. No. xxviiib, Biog. Brit. vol. vii; Supplement, p. 207 [D].
  • 12. Batt. Somn. pt. i, append. No. lviii. pt. ii. p. 144.
  • 13. Battely's Somner, pt. ii. p. 144, appendix, No. xxx,
  • 14. These excepted causes, and a list of the excepted churches, (which latter may be found likewife in the History of Kent, under their proper heads) is inserted from the archdeacon's Black Book, in Battely, pt. ii. appendix, No. xxix.
  • 15. There was once a design of dividing this one into three archdeaconries, by archbishop Richard, who in the year 1176, constituted three archdeacons, which was censured as a novelty contrary to the practice of former archbishops; but this project soon vanished, and we hear no more after this, of more than onearchdeacon at a time, in this diocefe. Matthew paris. Rad. de Diceto. Aug. Sacra, pt. ii. p. 692.
  • 16. See Weever, p. 186.
  • 17. Thorn, col. 2165.