convocations of Canterbury and York

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convocations of Canterbury and York. These provincial assemblies, originally of bishops, date from Archbishop Theodore (668–90), though York's, smaller and historically less significant, only developed separately c.733. Representatives (proctors) of cathedrals, monasteries, and parochial clergy attended later (13th cent.). Initially sitting together, bishops and lower clergy split into upper and lower houses (15th cent.). The archbishop presided over the whole convocation; the lower house, when sitting separately, was chaired by its elected prolocutor, its channel of communication to the bishops. Though kings watched warily, convocations normally legislated by canons, until compelled by Henry VIII to limit their powers drastically (Acts of submission 1532/1534). Despite Edward I's abortive attempts to prevent them, the clergy taxed themselves through convocations until 1664, after which the crown had less need to summon them. Acrimonious altercations between the Whiggish upper and Tory lower house of the Canterbury convocation (1689 and 1700–17)—reflecting contemporary political and ecclesiastical divisions—led the crown to suspend both convocations. They met only formally until the evangelical and tractarian revivals inspired them to resume discussion (1852 and 1861). Still exclusively clerical assemblies, the two convocations have existed alongside elected lay houses since 1885. The two sat jointly from 1904, a situation legalized as the Church Assembly (1920) which in turn gave way to the General Synod (1970). Though its ‘last smile’ lives on in the Synod's houses of bishops and clergy, convocation's loose federalism—and thus diocesan ‘near-autonomy’—has given way to synodical centralism.

Revd Dr William M. Marshall