Ecclesia Reformata – John Morton’s Contemporaries and the Remaking of the English Church
Date: 24 May 2021
University of Exeter
PhD in Medieval History
This thesis examines the path to secular prelacy in the changing landscape of the English Church during the ‘long’ fifteenth century (1400-1520). It takes as a key exemplar the career of John Morton, archbishop of Canterbury and chancellor under Henry VII. This was a different world from the high medieval Church: the effective force ...
This thesis examines the path to secular prelacy in the changing landscape of the English Church during the ‘long’ fifteenth century (1400-1520). It takes as a key exemplar the career of John Morton, archbishop of Canterbury and chancellor under Henry VII. This was a different world from the high medieval Church: the effective force of papal provision was much diminished; the Lancastrians were completing what Edward III had started, the building of a state Church. To achieve prelacy, an aspiring clerk had to position himself within a pool of candidates from which the king would undoubtedly choose his new bishops. This was a well-defined set of men, and they were distinguished by their education, experience, network of contacts and closeness to the king. The focus of this study is the early careers of that cadre. Their time at university was crucial to their formation, and it could be lengthy with many future bishops obtaining doctorates in law or theology. In addition to high qualifications, universities provided unparalleled opportunities to build networks of contacts and patrons. They were also ideal forums for clerks to display their skills in legal practice and rhetoric. Such men were becoming members of an exclusive ecclesiastical cohort. For the clerical lawyers, their time practising as advocates in the church courts was the next critical stage in their career development. Attracting ecclesiastical patrons with benefices at their disposal was essential, as aspiring prelates needed benefices to support themselves and enhance their reputations. But the most crucial requirement for an ambitious clerk was to make his way into royal service. It was the king’s chosen man who would fill a vacant bishopric, and eligibility had to be carefully earned. This thesis explores all of those themes as they developed across the century, and adopts some novel and systematic forms of prosopographical analysis through the creation of a set of databases to elucidate the careers of this cohort of clerks. The conclusion looks forward to the 1520s and beyond, to the end of the grand, late medieval prelate. It seeks to explain the submission of the prelacy to Henry VIII through the developments in the background, training and recruitment of prelates in the fifteenth century.
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