William de Corbeil

William de Corbeil was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury as a compromise following the death of Ralph d’Escures. Unlike most men appointed to the role, he was a canon, who lived communally and had not held a bishopric previously. William’s time as Archbishop of Canterbury lasted from 1123 until his death in 1136. He gained papal support to assert Canterbury’s supremacy over York. Politically he became involved in the succession crisis and played a significant role in Stephen of Blois becoming King of England.

With the Gregorian reform programme in full swing across Europe, Henry I opted to allow a free election to the position of Archbishop of Canterbury in 1123. The monks of the Chapter of Canterbury, Bishops and leading barons were involved in the election. The Chapter of Canterbury argued that they alone had the right to appoint and that the new Archbishop should, like themselves, be a monk. The candidates that this would promote were not to the liking of the others involved in the election process. Instead, a middle ground was found. William de Corbeil was a canon. He had administrative experience from work he had done for bishops. He was duly elected despite the protestations of the monks.

The election brought the Canterbury-York debate to the fore. Thurstan of York used it as an opportunity to press the Pope. The election had been both unfair and a breach of church rules, he argued. The Chapter at Canterbury themselves also complained. William received support from Henry I and the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry V. The outcome re-enforced the position of the English Church. The pope officially took no sides so retained Papal Authority. He asserted this by appointing a Papal Legate to oversee the church in England. Technically, this did not state that either Canterbury or York held supremacy. The Legate, was William de Corbeil. Canterbury held the upper hand on the proviso that William deferred to the pope on all matters.

Under William’s leadership the English Church continued it’s reform programme. 3 Councils took place that developed the rules for priests. These forbid women, other than relatives, from staying in a priests house; those women who had lived in priests homes were to leave or be exiled or sold into slavery. The purchasing of any priestly role was forbidden. King Henry I did interfere in these rules, saying that fines could be paid to the treasury rather than the church.

William de Corbeil also reformed parishes. Several within his diocese saw changes made to make the priests act in a more appropriate way.

William was also interested in the fabric of the buildings. As well as maintaining the churches and Cathedrals, he was responsible for the construction of the keep at Rochester Castle for King Henry I.

Key Points

Canterbury-York debate continued, though with William as Legate

Continued reform of the church

Compromise between the state and the church on the appointment


British History

The Normans

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