Robert of Jumieges, Archbishop of Canterbury

Robert of Jumieges was the first Norman Archbishop of Canterbury. When Edward the Confessor became King of England, he appointed Robert. Robert’s time as Archbishop was brief. He feuded with the powerful Godwine Family who ruled Wessex and was eventually outlawed to satisfy their demands.

Robert of Jumieges was brought to England by Edward the Confessor. He was appointed Bishop of London in 1044. In this role, Robert became embroiled in a political clash with the powerful Godwine family. The Godwine’s were expanding their families authority. As well as the Earldom of Wessex, two of the Earls sons had themselves been granted Earldoms. He had married his daughter into the Royal Family.

Robert of Jumieges commissioned the Abbey at Jumieges

Robert was one of the powerful men who opposed these moves. They were a threat to the authority of the crown. In 1050, Archbishop Eadsige of Canterbury died. The Chapter (Church Council) elected an Anglo-Saxon to replace Eadsige. King Edward overruled them. He insisted upon the promotion of Robert and had him appointed as the Archbishop of Canterbury.

As was tradition, Robert made his way to Rome and was annointed into his new role as Prelate of England by the Pope. This took place in 1051.

Some chroniclers claim that in this year, either on his way to or from Rome, Robert informed William of Normandy that he was the designated heir to the throne of England. It is claimed that the decision was made at the same council that appointed Robert as Archbishop of Canterbury. True or not, it is this claim that becomes William of Normandy’s justification for his legitimacy as King of England in 1066 and afterwards.

In England, Robert of Jumieges was faced with a political struggle. While Edward the Confessor had been able to appoint him as Archbishop of Canterbury, the same succession problems now arose when choosing his replacement as Bishop of London. The Saxons wanted to appoint Spearhafoc. Edward and the Norman contingent within the English Church, wanted William the Norman. Robert of Jumieges intervened and stated that Pope Leo IX had forbidden the appointment of Spearhafoc. William the Norman was duly appointed.

In the time that Robert had been travelling to Rome and back, the Godwine family had take control of some church lands. Robert attempted to claim them back for the church through the courts. The Godwine’s resisted. Economically, the land in the area was of huge value and was the basis of the power of either the Archbishop or the Earl. In September 1051, a Great Council was held in Gloucester. The most powerful people in the land were present. At the council, Robert of Jumieges accused Earl Godwine of plotting to have Edward the Confessor killed.

The Council outlawed the Godwine’s and banished them. They fled to Normandy for refuge. Whilst in exile the young Harold Godwinson spent time in the court of William of Normandy. Here, it is claimed, he swore an oath to honour William of Normandy’s right to be heir to the English throne.

The Godwin family quickly regrouped. They had many contacts in Flanders and Normandy. The Earl landed a force in Wessex. His sons invade from Ireland. It was clear that the House of Wessex was the dominant force in England. The King and his advisors stripped Robert of Jumieges of his titles and land, he himself was then exiled. He died the following year in Normandy.

Key facts:

First Norman bishop in England

First Norman Archbishop of Canterbury

Prevented Saxon appointment of Spearhafoc: this was against the backdrop of Church Reform being led by Pope Leo IX.

Advisor and aide to Edward the Confessor. He may have promised the crown to William of Normandy.

Note on Sources: Not all sources say that William of Normandy was promised the crown upon Edward’s death. Some contemporary accounts suggest it happened, others make no mention of it. Later sources tend to be written by Norman chroniclers who were justifying William’s right to the crown.

The Normans



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Harold's death as depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry

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