Lanfranc

The Italian monk and theologian Lanfranc (ca. 1010-1089) served as archbishop of Canterbury. He was a trusted adviser of King William I and presided over many changes in the English Church after the Norman conquest.

A native of Pavia, Lanfranc migrated to France in the 1030s. He studied under Bérenger at Tours and taught at Avranches. In 1042 he became a monk at Bec; he rose to be prior and head of the monastic school, which became famous under his direction. At the councils of Rome and Vercelli in 1050 Lanfranc was the principal defender of orthodoxy against the heretical doctrine of Bérenger on transubstantiation. His own views were expounded later in his treatise De corpore et sanguine Domini (On the Body and Blood of the Lord), which, like his other theological work, is sound but unoriginal.

William, Duke of Normandy (later William I of England), made Lanfranc abbot of his new foundation of St. Stephen at Caen in 1063, and in 1070, now king of England, he arranged Lanfranc's election as archbishop of Canterbury. Lanfranc was consecrated on August 29. Thereafter Lanfranc was the King's chief adviser and agent in Church affairs and one of his leading supporters in England. He suppressed a conspiracy of the earls of Norfolk and Hereford in 1075, and in 1087 he carried out the Conqueror's last wish by crowning his son, William II.

Lanfranc's principal task was to carry out reforms and changes in the Church. Some of these changes were purely political and involved replacing Saxon bishops and abbots with foreigners wherever possible. To effect his reforms, he held a series of councils; those of Winchester (1072 and 1076) and London (1075) were of great importance. He tried to enforce stricter discipline in monasteries and the rule of celibacy upon the secular clergy. He also presided over the removal of bishoprics from villages to towns; for example, in 1075 the sees of Lichfield, Sherborne, and Selsey were transferred to Chester, Salisbury, and Chichester. About the same time, no doubt with Lanfranc's approval, William ordered that Church cases should no longer be heard in secular courts. Lanfranc also claimed supremacy for Canterbury over York; his claims were endorsed by a legatine council held at Winchester in 1072.

Lanfranc regarded cooperation with the King as the best policy for the Church. He offered no opposition to King William's claims to decide between rival popes, to appoint and invest bishops, and to approve or disapprove decrees of Church councils and publication of papal letters. The extreme claims to power and independence, which were being made by Pope Gregory VII and his party, were quietly ignored. Lanfranc was perhaps fortunate that he died on May 24, 1089, less than 2 years after the accession of the irreligious William II, with whom cooperation was almost impossible. A small collection of Lanfranc's letters and some theological works survive.

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Further Reading on Lanfranc

Lanfranc's The Monastic Constitutions, edited and translated by D. Knowles (1951), illustrates his ideas on the religious life. A useful collection of contemporary documents, including some of Lanfranc's letters, is translated in D. C. Douglas and G. W. Greenaway, eds., English Historical Documents (1042-1189), vol. 2 (1953). The best biography is Allan John Macdonald, Lanfranc: A Study of His Life, Work, and Writing (1926; 2d ed. 1944). The basic book on the Church for this period is Z. N. Brooke, The English Church and the Papacy (1931), in which the author identifies and discusses the collection of canon law brought by Lanfranc to England.

Additional Biography Sources

Gibson, Margaret T., Lanfranc of Bec, Oxford Eng.: Clarendon Press, 1978.