6 Pages


Over a period of two hundred years, from the mid-twelfth to the midfourteenth centuries, the processes by which English bishops obtained office were transformed. Henry II exercised effective rights of nomination over the bishoprics in his kingdom. Elections were held, but they typically served simply to ratify the royal choice; if the king wanted an individual to be promoted to the episcopate, he could be confident that the electorate would comply. Yet within three decades of Henry’s death, his son John issued a charter that promised freedom of election to the English Church, and in doing so ushered in a century of relative freedom of choice for the cathedral chapters. Henry III and Edward I could express their wishes – and might do so forcefully – but they could no longer guarantee the promotion of a favoured kinsman or servant. By the time of Edward II’s accession, just under 100 years after the Freedom of Election charter, a new method of appointment – papal provision – had become sufficiently common for the new king to suspect that ‘if the pope has his design in the matter, an election will never be made in any cathedral church in England’.1 By the mid-1340s, when Edward’s son Edward III was less than two decades into his lengthy reign, the elder man’s prophecy had been (more or less) fulfilled. True, cathedral chapters would continue to hold elections for centuries to come, but their validity was no longer recognized. The wishes of the pope, or at least his methods of appointment, would henceforth always prevail.