The English Church in 1376

The Church in England in the late Fourteenth Century

In the early 14th Century, there were about 17,500 monks and nuns. There were also about 100 houses of Franciscan and Dominican friars. In the 1240’s Carmelites & Austin friars arrived. By 1300, all the friars combined had some 150 houses.

The basic administrative division of the church was the parish, which had on average about 400 members. Each parish was a part of a rural deanery; several deaneries comprised an archdeaconry; and a number of these made up each diocese.

In 13th Century England, about one man in fifty was a cleric. Many of these were “in minor orders,” i.e. deacons and sub-deacons (not priests) who could conduct services, but not officiate at mass.

The existing parish boundaries also gradually became fixed, and it became increasingly difficult to create new parishes.

In areas of denser population, the shortfall of parish priests was in part balanced by the growing number of friars. These shared the duties of preaching and holding services with the secular clergy.

English Christians were remarkably conformist: there were very few heretics of any kind. During the 13th century, in France, the Cathars (also called Albigensians) combined Christianity with Gnosticism and Manichaean dualism, and in the 14th Century Netherlands, Gerard Grote and the Brethren of the Common Life advocated new forms of lay piety. Neither movement found many followers in England.

Episcopal Structure of England

Who were the bishops in 1376?

Archdiocese of York, contained:


Alexander Neville was Archbishop of York from 4 June 1374 to 30 April 1388. He was younger son of Ralph Neville, 2nd Baron Neville de Raby. He became a favourite of Richard II and fled when the Appellants rose against Richard in 1388. The Pope granted him the see of St. Andrews in Scotland instead.


Thomas Hatfield was Bishop of Durham from 1345 to 1381. He died 8 May 1381.


Thomas Appleby (or Thomas de Appleby) was a Bishop of Carlisle. He was elected after 18 January 1363, and consecrated 18 June 1363. He died on 5 December 1395

Archdiocese of Canterbury, contained:

Coventry and Lichfield

Robert de Stretton was Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield from 1360 to 1385. He had formerly been a Canon of Lichfield cathedral.


John Bokyngham, He was keeper of the seal of Thomas, regent in England from March through July 1360, and then Dean of Lichfield. He was appointed Lord Privy Seal in 1360 and held that office until 1363. He was elected bishop between 20 August 1362 and 4 October 1362 and consecrated on 25 June 1363. He resigned the see between March and June of 1398 and died on 10 March 1399.


Henry le Despenser (died 23 August 1406) was Bishop of Norwich and the younger brother of Edward le Despencer, 1st Baron le Despencer.

He was nominated 3 April 1370 and was consecrated on 14 August 1370. Despenser won a reputation as the “Fighting Bishop” for putting down an outbreak of the Peasants’ Revolt in Norfolkat the Battle of North Walsham. Despenser’s crusade in Flanders in 1383, directed against the count of Flanders, a supporter of the antipope Clement VII, and in defence of English economic interests, was a fiasco. Upon his return to England, Despenser was impeached in parliament. Having failed to adequately answer the charges brought his temporalities were confiscated, but were returned in 1385. He died on 23 August 1406


Thomas Arundel (1353 – 19 February 1414) was Bishop of Ely and would later become Archbishop of York, Lord Chancellor under Richard II and in 1396 Archbishop of Canterbury.

A younger son of Richard Fitzalan, 10th Earl of Arundel, he was papally provided as Bishop of Elyon 13 August 1373 entirely by reason of his father’s status and financial leverage with the Crown during the dotage of Edward III, happily abandoning his student days at Oxford, from which he gained little pleasure. A hugely wealthy near-sinecure, Ely seems to have captured the young bishop’s genuine interest until his brother’s political opposition to Richard II’s policies both at home and towards France grew rancorous and dragged him in. In an extremely grave crisis, teetering towards civil war, 1386-8, the bishop found himself, at least in formal terms, right at the front of the dangerous attempts by five leading temporal lords to purge the king’s advisors and control future policy.


William Courtenay (c. 1342 ? 31 July 1396), became A, bishop of Canterbury after Simon of Sudbury’s death in 1381. He was a younger son of Hugh de Courtenay, 10th Earl of Devon (d. 1377). Oponent of Gaunt and condemned Lollardy.


Simon Theobald or Simon of Sudbury (died 14 June 1381). Previously Bishop of London, became archbisop in 1375 (possibly with help of John of Gaunt). Supporter of Gaunt, and reluctantly acted against Lollardy.


Thomas Brinton, He was nominated on 31 January 1373 and consecrated on 6 February 1373. He died after 30 August 1389.


William Reade (also spelt Rede) was a medieval Bishop of Chichester born around 1283 and died in 1385.

William Reade was educated at Exeter College, Oxford and elected from it to a fellowship at Merton College, where astronomy, mathematics and natural philosophy (science) flourished. He collected what was probably the largest private library in 14th-century England, and was one of the University’s greatest benefactors.

In 1365 he was made provost of the college of Wingham, Kent, and archdeacon of Rochester in 1369. He was nominated for Bishop of Chichester on 23 September 1368, and by provision of Pope Urban V was appointed to the see of Chichester on 2 September 1369.

He converted the old Manor House at Amberley, into a castle. Stephens says he did this to provide a strong fortress for himself and his successors against troublous times.


William of Wykeham (1320 – 27 September 1404) was Bishop of Winchester, Chancellor of England, founder of Winchester College, New College, Oxford, New College School, Oxford, and builder of a large part of Windsor Castle.

William was born to a peasant family, in Wickham, Hampshire, and educated at a school inWinchester. He was appointed Justice in Eyre south of the Trent along with Peter Atte Wode in 1361, a position he held until about 1367. He became secretary to the constable of Winchester Castle and in that capacity learned a lot about building. This led to architectural work for KingEdward III, for whom he reconstructed Windsor Castle whilst residing at Bear’s Rails in Old Windsor. William was paid for these services by being given the incomes of various churches, and eventually, in 1362, he was ordained. He had shown considerable talent as an administrator and in June 1363 was appointed Lord Privy Seal and then in October 1366 he was elected Bishop of Winchester, and in 1367, Chancellor of England. He resigned this position in 1371 and began a long conflict with John of Gaunt. However, with the ascension of Richard II to the throne, William was reappointed Chancellor in 1389, retaining that office through 1391.

He had many ups and downs in his long career, but at the time of his death on 27 September 1404, he was one of the richest men in England. Much of his wealth went into the schools he patronized, but he also contrived to leave a fortune to a nephew, whose descendants include the Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes family.His motto was ‘Manners makyth man’. This, along with a coat of arms, were granted to him by the College of Arms and not acquired by descent. His biography was written by Bishop Lowth. He was also written about by Lord Brougham in his ‘Old England’s Worthies’ (1857) and by Froissart.


Ralph Ergham or Erghum was the English bishop of Salisbury from 1375 to 1388, and then bbishop of Bath and Wells from 1388 to 1400.

Ergham was Chancellor of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster from 1373 to 1377. On 12 October 1375 he was selected to be Bishop of Salisbury, and was consecrated on 9 December. On 3 April 1388 he was transferred to the see of Bath and Wells. Ergham was a member of King Richard II’s first council, representing John of Gaunt’s interests. He died on 10 April 1400.


Thomas de Brantingham (died 1394), English lord treasurer and bishop of Exeter, came of aDurham family. An older relative, Ralph de Brantingham, had served Edward II and Edward III, and Thomas was made a clerk in the treasury. Edward III, obtained preferment for him in the church, and from 1361 to 1368 he was employed in France in responsible positions. He was closely associated with William of Wykeham, and while the latter was in power as chancellor, Brantingham was Lord Treasurer from 1369 to 1371, and again from 1377 to 1381, being made bishop of Exeter on 5 March 1370. He was consecrated on 12 May 1370. He continued to play a prominent part in public affairs under Richard II, and in 1389 was again lord treasurer for a few months. He died in December of 1394, probably on the 23rd, and was buried in Exeter cathedral.


John Harewell was Bishop of Bath and Wells..

John Harewell came from Harwell in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire). He was in the employ of theBlack Prince before being selected, on 14 December 1366, as Bishop of Bath and Wells. He was consecrated on 7 March 1367 and died around 16 July 1386.


Henry Wakefield was Bishop of Worcester.

He was elected on 12 September 1375 and consecrated on 28 October 1375. He briefly served as Lord High Treasurer in 1377.

He died on 11 March 1395


John Gilbert, became Bishop of Bangor in 1372 and then translated to Hereford in 1375. He was Lord High Treasurer from 1386 to 1389 and then again from late 1389 to 1391. He was translated to St. David’s on 5 May 1389 and died on 28 July 1397.

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