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Portrait of Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury  (1353-1414)
Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury  (1353-1414)

THOMAS ARUNDEL (1353-1414), Archbishop of Canterbury, was the third son of Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, the title of his father being, according to a very common custom, used as a family surname. His mother was Eleanor, daughter of Henry Plantagenet, Earl of Lancaster, and was his fathers second wife. The Fitzalans were an old Norman family whose ancestor Alan, the son of Fleald, came in with the Conqueror. The earldom of Arundel had come to them by marriage in the reign of Henry III. The influence they possessed is shown by the singularly early age at which young Thomas Arundel attained high preferment in the church. He was Archdeacon of Taunton in 1373, was promoted by papal bull to the bishopric of Ely on 13 Aug. in the same year, was consecrated in April following, and received full possession of the temporalities on 5 May 1374, when he was only in his twenty-second year. On 24 Jan. 1376 he lost his father,1 and Richard, the elder of his two brothers, succeeded to the title of Earl of Arundel. With the subsequent career of this brother, who became a leading actor in the turbulent times of Richard II, a considerable part of his own life is very closely connected.

The first occasion on which we find him taking a prominent part in public affairs is in the year 1386, when parliament demanded of Richard II the dismissal of the chancellor Michael De la Pole, Duke of Suffolk. The king at first replied that he would not at their request discharge the meanest servant of his kitchen. Nevertheless he afterwards lowered his tone, and was willing to hear the complaints of the Commons if forty members of the Lower House were sent to represent them. It was then agreed between Lords and Commons that the king's uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, and the Bishop of Ely (Arundel) should go to him at Eltham, and persuade him to come to Westminster. Richard accordingly came to the parliament, when he presently found himself compelled to dismiss Suffolk and make Arundel Chancellor in his room.2 On 20 Feb. following an assignment was made to him of the towns and parishes of Hackney and Leyton for the support of his household as Chancellor.3

This was the beginning of that first great struggle between Richard and his parliament for which, in the latter part of his reign, he so unwisely revenged himself. A council of regency was appointed, consisting of eleven lords, of whom the Earl of Arundel, the new Chancellor's brother, was one of the most prominent. Next year Richard took counsel with his judges at Nottingham as to the validity of what had been done in parliament, and obtained from them a unanimous opinion that the commission of regency was invalid, the statutes unconstitutional, and those who had procured them guilty of treason. The result was that five confederate lords marched up to London at the head of 40,000 men, and brought accusations against Richard's councillors, which they offered to prove by single combat [see Lords Appellant].

By the advice of Bishop Arundel and the Earl of Northumberland Richard again put himself into the hands of those whom he distrusted, and the councillors who had hitherto supported him took to flight. This paved the way for the Wonderful Parliament, in which the fugitives were pronounced guilty of treason. Among these was Archbishop Nevill of York, who, being a churchman, could not be put to death. Application, however, was made to Rome for his translation to St. Andrew's, by which he was in effect deprived of any benefice whatever, as Scotland adhered to the schismatic pope, Clement VII, and did not acknowledge the bulls of Urban VI. The see of York being thus vacated, Arundel was made Archbishop in Nevill's place by a bull procured from Pope Urban on 3 April 1388.4

Next year the king declared himself of age, and finally dismissed the council of regency. Arundel was required to give up the great seal (3 May), and William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, was made Chancellor in his room next day.5 But the king exercised his new powers with moderation for some years, and in 1391 (when William of Wykeham resigned) actually made Arundel Chancellor again on 27 Sept.6 Next year, on 30 March, an order was issued by him as Chancellor for the removal of the courts of King's Bench, Common Pleas, and Exchequer from London to York.7 This was perhaps either the cause or the effect of the disaffection shown towards the king by the city of London that year; and it appears to have been attributed by some to Archbishop Arundel's desire to promote the interest of his own cathedral city. London, however, was reconciled to the king in the course of the following summer, and after Christmas justice returned to its old haunts. In 1394, after the king had gone over to Ireland, the Archbishop, along with the Bishop of London and others, was sent over to him on behalf of the clergy to request his speedy return, in order that they might better withstand the attacks of the Lollards, who aimed at the complete disendowment of the church; and their remonstrances were so effectual that the king returned from Ireland after Easter.

Archbishop Arundel preaching. British Library MS Harley 1319, f. 12

In 1396 Arundel was promoted to Canterbury, on the death of Archbishop Courtney, by a papal bull dated 25 Sept. It was in anticipation of this promotion (for the bull was only received at Lambeth on 10 Jan. following, and published at Canterbury next day) that he on 27 Sept. resigned the Great Seal once more.8 He received the pall from William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, on 10 Feb. 1397, and was enthroned at Canterbury on the 19th. The very next day, if we may trust the date in the register, he presided over a synod in London, which had assembled the day before, and received an address from the faculty of law at Oxford, requesting him to vindicate his right of visitation against their chancellor, who had procured from the reigning pope, Boniface IX, a bull of exemption for the university. Arundel was nowise reluctant, and, backed by a letter from the king, endeavoured to enforce his right next year. Nevertheless, the dispute seems only to have terminated fifteen years later by the Archbishop obtaining another bull from Pope John XXIII recalling that of Boniface.9

In the London synod above referred to, the Oxford doctors also took action against the Wycliffites, and asked for the formal condemnation of a number of their opinions. In this matter too it might reasonably be supposed they had Arundel's hearty sympathy; for in no character is he better known (at least in later days) than that of an opponent of the Lollards. But he adjourned the synod till next day, and we have no record of its further proceedings. Soon after he made new statutes for the Court of Arches, and proceeded to an almost complete visitation of his province, hearing appeals everywhere from the judgment of his suffragans, whose jurisdiction he seems to have set aside to an extent altogether unusual by delegating causes to his own commissaries. He also issued two monitions to the citizens of London against withholding of tithes and other offerings, renewing an old constitution of Roger Niger, Bishop of London in the days of Henry III, which appears to have fallen into neglect.

At this time, if we may trust some French accounts (and the incident might have occurred during the archbishop's visitation of his province), a new conspiracy against Richard II was hatched at Arundel by the king's turbulent uncle, Gloucester, and the Earls of Arundel and Warwick, to whom the Archbishop administered the sacrament to secure their fidelity to each other. The story has been generally discredited—perhaps on insufficient grounds—because no reference to any such conspiracy is made in the proceedings soon afterwards taken in parliament against the Earl and Archbishop. But, whatever may have been the occasion, it is clear that there was a new outbreak of distrust on the king's part as regards the three noblemen in question.

The surrender of Brest to the Duke of Brittany, and Richard's recent marriage to the daughter of the King of France, were little relished by perhaps the majority of Englishmen, least of all by the Duke of Gloucester. What the Archbishop's sentiments about them were we do not know; but he himself had performed the marriage ceremony at Calais (1 Nov. 1396), and been present at the conferences with the French king which immediately preceded it. And, whether he deserved the king's confidence or not, there was no appearance that it had yet been withdrawn from him. But a sudden storm in the political world changed the position of matters for him as for others. The king, suspecting the designs of Gloucester, and the Earls of Arundel and Warwick, invited these three noblemen to dine with him on 10 July. Gloucester excused himself on the ground of ill health; Arundel thought it best to remain in his castle of Reigate, which was strongly fortified; Warwick alone accepted Richard's hospitality. He was agreeably entertained, and quite thrown off his guard; but after the banquet he was arrested by the king's orders.

That same night Richard urged the Archbishop to endeavour to persuade his brother, the Earl of Arundel, to come to him of his own accord, swearing by St. John the Baptist (his usual oath) that no injury should be done to him if he would only come peacefully. The Earl at first hesitated, but the Archbishop, trusting to the king's oath, induced him to put himself in Richard's power; on which he was apprehended and sent to the Isle of Wight until the meeting of Parliament in September. That done, the king, procuring a body of men from the Mayor of London, and taking with him also some of the noblemen of his court, paid an unexpected visit to his uncle Gloucester at Pleshy, in Essex, and caused him also to be arrested and sent over to Calais, where he was some little time afterwards murdered.

The Archbishop never saw his brother again. He took his place beside the king in the parliament which met in September, and was appointed one of the triers of petitions; but on 20 Sept. 1397—almost exactly a year after the date of the bull appointing him Archbishop, but only seven months since he had begun really to exercise an archbishop's functions—he was impeached by the House of Commons. The charge against him was that he, being then Chancellor, had assisted in procuring the commission of regency eleven years before in derogation of the king's authority. He was about to reply, but the king, with a motion of his hand, caused him to be silent and sit down, and made answer to the Commons himself that, as the matter touched so high a person, he would take counsel upon the subject apart.

Meanwhile he privately encouraged the Archbishop to believe that the cloud would soon disperse. But next day the Archbishop's brother, the earl, was brought into the House of Peers in the custody of the Constable of the Tower, and an appeal of treason was lodged against him. The charges against him likewise had reference to acts done many years before, and he had since obtained the king's pardon, but it was disallowed. For the king had explicitly demanded of the assembled peers whether charters of pardon granted under compulsion might not be revoked, and all but the Archbishop himself agreed that they might be. The earl was therefore summarily condemned and executed the same day. On the 24th the Earl Marshal [Thomas Mowbray], who was to have produced his prisoner, the Duke of Gloucester, before the peers, reported that he had died in prison at Calais. On the 25th the Commons prayed judgment on the Archbishop, when the king related that he had examined him in the presence of some other lords, and that he had confessed his offence. Sentence of banishment was then pronounced against him, six weeks being allowed him from Michaelmas day during which to take his passage from Dover into France.

These occurrences were the beginning of the despotism of Richard's later days. He had obtained a subservient parliament, but he had already lost the hearts of many of his subjects. The Earl of Arundel was looked upon as a martyr. The Archbishop, undisturbed by his sentence, seems to have continued at least part of the time allowed him in the vigorous discharge of his functions; and on 14 Oct. issued an order from Lambeth in confirmation of one he had already issued in August defining the rights and duties of two officials in the Court of Arches.10 At last he left England and fled to Rome, where he sought the intercession of Boniface IX with the king his master. But Richard wrote in strong terms to his holiness of his seditious and intriguing character; and the pope, though he had favoured him at first, consented, at Richard's request, to deprive him of his see by translating him to St. Andrew's, as his predecessor Urban had translated Archbishop Nevill of York.

It is said by one authority that he absolutely refused to go abroad till the king assured him privately that he would soon be recalled, and that no one else should be Archbishop while he lived; on which he told the king that before his departure he had something to say to him, and proceeded to deliver a long denunciation of the luxury and avarice of the court.11 To this account we may attach what weight we think proper; but it shows, at all events, the opinion entertained by many of his independence of character. The pope, at the king's request, not only translated him to St. Andrew's, where the authority of Boniface was not respected, but filled up the vacancy in the see of Canterbury by the appointment of Roger Walden, at that time dean of York, who had the temporalities restored to him on 21 Jan. 1398, and kept possession of the see during the brief remainder of Richard's reign.

There is no record—nor is the thing at all probable in itself—that Arundel returned to England, in spite of the decree of banishment, before he came back with Henry of Lancaster in 1399. Yet we are told most minutely by Froissart that just before that occasion he was sent over to Henry in France by the Londoners to represent to him the gross misgovernment of Richard, and to invite him to come and assume the crown; that he embarked in the Thames at London, passed through Sluys, Aardenborg, Ghent, Oudenarde, and various other places in the Low Countries, and at length, disguised as a monk going on a pilgrimage, came to Henry in the outskirts of Paris. The story, however, requires but a slight correction to bring it into harmony with the statements of other writers. The archbishop's nephew and namesake, Thomas, now Earl of Arundel, eager to avenge his father's death, escaped from the custody of his guardian, John Holland, Duke of Exeter, and with the aid of a London merchant fled abroad to join his uncle at Cologne. It was he, in all probability, whose itinerary is given in Froissart, and who conveyed through his uncle the message of the city of London to Henry of Lancaster.

There is no doubt, at all events, that the Archbishop and the young earl were together with Henry abroad, and landed with him at Ravenspur. The Archbishop accompanied Henry to the siege of Bristol, and afterwards into Wales, to intercept Richard's return from Ireland; and it was alleged that Richard's first offer to resign the crown was made to him and the Earl of Northumberland at Conway. Such was the statement of the Archbishop himself in Henry's first parliament, and it must be owned it has rather the look of a political fiction, like the other assertion, made at the same time, touching Richard's formal abdication in the Tower, that it was an act done with perfect willingness and with a cheerful countenance. It is certain that the Archbishop had no interview with Richard at Conway, though he had one afterwards at Flint. At Conway it was still possible for the unhappy king to escape by sea, and the Archbishop, instead of receiving from him then an offer to resign the crown, was plotting with Henry how to lure Richard into the power of the invader and cut off his retreat.

Soon after his return Arundel took possession again of his see of Canterbury, Roger Walden being regarded as an intruder. He took his place at once in parliament as Archbishop, and was one of the lords who witnessed the abdication of Richard in the Tower. This being reported next day to the assembled peers, and Henry having challenged the crown as his right, he took the new king by the right hand, and led him to the throne; then, after he was seated, delivered a sermon in parliament on the text 'Vir dominabitur populo' (1 Samuel ix. 17).

Henry was crowned by Arundel at Westminster on 13 Oct. At the feast in Westminster Hall the same day he sat on the king's right hand, and the Archbishop of York upon his left.12 For a few days he continued to discharge the duties of Chancellor, which seem to have been again imposed upon him from the time that Richard fell into Henry's hands; but he presently resigned the Great Seal to John de Scarle, Master of the Rolls, afterwards Archdeacon of Lincoln. He was Lord Chancellor again for the fourth time 1407, and for a fifth time in 1412. But his life after the accession of Henry IV is comparatively uneventful, being chiefly remarkable for two things: first, for his successful opposition to the demand of the Lacklearning parliament (1404) and the parliament of 1410 for a general disendowment of the church; and second, his proceedings against the Lollards. He seems also to have been sent on an embassy abroad in the year 1411, but of the particulars of this mission we have no information.

The great business of his later life was to resist the tide of Lollardy. In 1401 he passed sentence of degradation upon Sawtree, and handed him over to the secular arm, when he was burned under the new statute against heresy. In 1408 he summoned a provincial council at Oxford, in which certain constitutions against the Lollards were drawn up, but not immediately published. In 1410 another heretic was brought before him, Badby, a tailor of Evesham, who denied transubstantiation, and, as he could not be induced to recant, was committed to the flames. In 1411 the old question arose again about the visitation of the university, and was settled in the manner we have already shown.

In 1413, just after the accession of Henry V, arose the more important case of Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham, whom the Archbishop examined at great length, and finally condemned as a heretic, though he was not brought to the flames till some years after the Archbishop's death. For Arundel died on 19 Feb. following of a sudden attack of some complaint in the throat. He was buried in his own cathedral, where he had caused a tomb to be erected in his lifetime, but it has been since destroyed.

It is difficult fully to appreciate the character and motives of any leading actor in those turbulent times. But we may well believe that Arundel's conduct throughout life was governed by a standard of duty which, though we may not always approve it, was in accordance with the general feeling and the principles of his own day. Nor does it appear that he was by any means unmerciful in his treatment of the unhappy heretics brought before him, whose ultimate doom, indeed, did not rest with him. His inhibitions of unlicensed preachers displeased even the reputed orthodox of another generation; and Dr. Gascoigne tells us how he was struck dumb, unable to speak or swallow for days before his death, which was believed to be a judgment on him for having tied up the word of God in the mouths of preachers.13 It does not appear that Arundel's own bigotry was of this narrow description. He was a man of princely tastes, built fine edifices for himself at Ely and Canterbury, and was a munificent benefactor of the churches in which he had any interest.

1. Dugdale, Baronage, i. 318.
2. 24 Oct. —Rymer, Foedera, vii. 548. 3. ib. 553.
4. ib. 573.
5. ib. 616.
6. ib. 707.
7. ib. 713.
8. ib. 840.
9. Wood's Historia et antiquitates Universitatis Oxoniensis, i. 365-6.
10. Wilkins, Concilia Magnae Britanniae et Hiberniae (1737), iii. 233.
11. Eulogium, ed. Haydon, iii. 376-7.
12. Fabian, The New Chronicles of England and France.
13. Loci e Libro Veritatum, 34, 61.

      Excerpted from:

      Gairdner, James. "Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury."
      Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. II. Leslie Stephen, Ed.
      London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1885. 137-141.

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Thomas Howard, 1. Earl of Suffolk
Henry Hastings, 3. E. of Huntingdon
Edward Manners, 3rd Earl of Rutland
Roger Manners, 5th Earl of Rutland
Francis Manners, 6th Earl of Rutland
Henry FitzAlan, 12. Earl of Arundel
Thomas, Earl Arundell of Wardour
Edward Somerset, E. of Worcester
William Davison
Sir Walter Mildmay
Sir Ralph Sadler
Sir Amyas Paulet
Gilbert Gifford
Anthony Browne, Viscount Montague
François, Duke of Alençon & Anjou

Mary, Queen of Scots
Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley
James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell
Anthony Babington and the Babington Plot
John Knox

Philip II of Spain
The Spanish Armada, 1588
Sir Francis Drake
Sir John Hawkins

William Camden
Archbishop Whitgift
Martin Marprelate Controversy
John Penry (Martin Marprelate)
Richard Bancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury
John Dee, Alchemist

Philip Henslowe
Edward Alleyn
The Blackfriars Theatre
The Fortune Theatre
The Rose Theatre
The Swan Theatre
Children's Companies
The Admiral's Men
The Lord Chamberlain's Men
Citizen Comedy
The Isle of Dogs, 1597

Common Law
Court of Common Pleas
Court of King's Bench
Court of Star Chamber
Council of the North
Fleet Prison
First Fruits & Tenths
Livery and Maintenance
Oyer and terminer

The Stuarts

King James I of England
Anne of Denmark
Henry, Prince of Wales
The Gunpowder Plot, 1605
George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham
Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset
Arabella Stuart, Lady Lennox

William Alabaster
Bishop Hall
Bishop Thomas Morton
Archbishop William Laud
John Selden
Lucy Harington, Countess of Bedford
Henry Lawes

King Charles I
Queen Henrietta Maria

Long Parliament
Rump Parliament
Kentish Petition, 1642

Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford
John Digby, Earl of Bristol
George Digby, 2nd Earl of Bristol
Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax
Robert Devereux, 3rd E. of Essex
Robert Sidney, 2. E. of Leicester
Algernon Percy, E. of Northumberland
Henry Montagu, Earl of Manchester
Edward Montagu, 2. Earl of Manchester

The Restoration

King Charles II
King James II
Test Acts

Greenwich Palace
Hatfield House
Richmond Palace
Windsor Palace
Woodstock Manor

The Cinque Ports
Mermaid Tavern
Malmsey Wine
Great Fire of London, 1666
Merchant Taylors' School
Westminster School
The Sanctuary at Westminster


Chart of the English Succession from William I through Henry VII

Medieval English Drama

London c1480, MS Royal 16
London, 1510, the earliest view in print
Map of England from Saxton's Descriptio Angliae, 1579
London in late 16th century
Location Map of Elizabethan London
Plan of the Bankside, Southwark, in Shakespeare's time
Detail of Norden's Map of the Bankside, 1593
Bull and Bear Baiting Rings from the Agas Map (1569-1590, pub. 1631)
Sketch of the Swan Theatre, c. 1596
Westminster in the Seventeenth Century, by Hollar
Visscher's View of London, 1616
Larger Visscher's View in Sections
c. 1690. View of London Churches, after the Great Fire
The Yard of the Tabard Inn from Thornbury, Old and New London

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