chapter  4
20 Pages

The Age of Provision: Canon Law and Custom

In 1341, a canon of Lincoln travelled to Avignon to visit the papal curia. Under normal circumstances, such a journey would not be worthy of comment and would probably have gone unrecorded. This canon, however, was no ordinary canon, and his journey was no ordinary journey; indeed, it marked a turning point in English ecclesiastical history. Thomas Bek was bishop-elect of Lincoln and having heard rumours that his bishopric had been reserved, he went to Avignon to seek clarification of the situation. It was several months before his case was dealt with, but on 26 June 1342 he received papal confirmation of his election; consecration followed days later. Thomas Bek had secured his possession of England’s largest bishopric.1 Unbeknown to him, he had also secured for himself a place in history, as (virtually) the last pre-Reformation English bishop to owe his position to election by cathedral chapter.2