Lanfranc bigraphy, stories - Prior of Bec; Archbishop of Canterbury

Lanfranc : biography

ca. 1005 - 24 May 1089

Lanfranc () was an Archbishop of Canterbury, and an Italian by birth, who earlier had become a Benedictine monk in France.


The chief authority is the Vita Lanfranci by the monk Milo Crispin, who was precentor at Bec and died in 1149. Milo drew largely upon the Vita Herluini, composed by Gilbert Crispin, Abbot of Westminster. The Chronicon Beccensis abbatiae, a 14th-century compilation, should also be consulted. The first edition of these two sources, and of Lanfranc's writings, is that of L. d'Achery, Beati Lanfranci opera omnia (Paris, 1648). Another edition, slightly enlarged, is that of J. A. Giles, Lanfranci opera (2 vols., Oxford, 1844). The correspondence between Lanfranc and Pope Gregory VII is given in the Monumenta Gregoriana (ed. P. Jaffi, Berlin, 1865). A more modern edition (and translation) of Lanfranc's correspondence is to be found in H. Clover and M. Gibson (eds), The Letters of Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury (Oxford, 1979). His On the Body and Blood of the Lord is translated (along with Guitmund of Aversa's tract on the same matter) in volume 10 of the Fathers of the Church Medieval Continuation (Washington, DC, 2009).

Archbishop of Canterbury

When the see of Rouen next fell vacant (1067), the thoughts of the electors turned to Lanfranc. But he declined the honour, and he was nominated to the English Primacy as soon as Stigand had been canonically deposed on 15 August 1070. He was speedily consecrated on 29 August 1070. The new archbishop at once began a policy of reorganisation and reform. His first difficulties were with Thomas of Bayeux, Archbishop-elect of York, (another former pupil) who asserted that his see was independent of Canterbury and claimed jurisdiction over the greater part of midland England. This was the beginning of a long running dispute between the sees of Canterbury and York, usually known as the Canterbury-York dispute.

Lanfranc, during a visit which he paid the pope for the purpose of receiving his pallium, obtained an order from Alexander that the disputed points should be settled by a council of the English Church. This was held at Winchester in 1072. At this council Lanfranc obtained the confirmation of his primacy that he sought; nonetheless he was never able to secure its formal confirmation by the papacy, possibly as a result of the succession of Pope Gregory VII to the papal throne in 1073.

Lanfranc assisted William in maintaining the independence of the English Church; and appears at one time to have favoured the idea of maintaining a neutral attitude on the subject of the quarrels between papacy and empire. In the domestic affairs of England the archbishop showed more spiritual zeal. His grand aim was to extricate the Church from the fetters of corruption. He was a generous patron of monasticism. He endeavoured to enforce celibacy upon the secular clergy.

Lanfranc obtained the king's permission to deal with the affairs of the Church in synods. In the cases of Odo of Bayeux (1082) (see Trial of Penenden Heath) and of William of St Calais, Bishop of Durham (1088), he used his legal ingenuity to justify the trial of bishops before a lay tribunal.

Lanfranc accelerated the process of substituting Normans for Englishmen in all preferments of importance; and although his nominees were usually respectable, it cannot be said that all of them were better than the men whom they superseded. For this admixture of secular with spiritual aims there was considerable excuse. By long tradition the primate was entitled to a leading position in the king’s councils; and the interests of the Church demanded that Lanfranc should use his power in a manner not displeasing to the king. On several occasions when William I was absent from England Lanfranc acted as his vicegerent.

Lanfranc's greatest political service to the Conqueror was rendered in 1075, when he detected and foiled the conspiracy which had been formed by the earls of Norfolk and Hereford. Waltheof, 1st Earl of Northumberland, one of the rebels, soon lost heart and confessed the conspiracy to Lanfranc, who urged Earl Roger, the earl of Hereford to return to his allegiance, and finally excommunicated him and his adherents. He interceded for Waltheof’s life and to the last spoke of the earl as an innocent sufferer for the crimes of others; he lived on terms of friendship with Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester.

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine