Archbishop of Canterbury, opponent of John wy clif; b. near Exeter, c. 1341; d. Canterbury, July 31, 1396. William was the son of Hugh, Earl of Devon, and related through his mother to the Plantagenets. He studied law at oxford and in 1367 was chosen chancellor of the university despite difficulties with the Bishop of Lincoln over his election. Through the favor of the Black Prince and other influential patrons, Courtenay was richly provided with benefices, and climbed rapidly up the ecclesiastical ladder. In 1369 he was consecrated bishop of Hereford (see hereford, ancient see of). In convocation three years later he made his entry into ecclesiastical political affairs when he protested against papal exactions. In 1375 he was translated to London (see london, ancient see of), where he accomplished what success the Church achieved in silencing Wyclif. The murder of Archbishop simon of sudbury in the Peasant Revolt (1381) cleared the way for his translation to Canterbury (see canterbury, ancient see of), where his first move was to convene a council of theologians and canon lawyers that condemned 24 of Wyclif's propositions (1382). This condemnation, supported by a royal ordinance, enabled him to suppress overt Wyclifitism at Oxford. Courtenay next undertook the visitation of his province, with which task he was occupied intermittently until his death. Because of his influence at Westminster and Rome, he was able to compel the recalcitrant bishops of exeter and salisbury to acknowledge his right of visitation; his own death came in the midst of his dispute with the defiant bishop of hereford. As primate of England he prevented richard ii from controlling the hierarchy by abuse of the convocation of the english clergy. That Courtenay gave qualified acceptance to the Statutes of provisors and praemunire when they were confirmed in the early nineties, suggests that these measures were not so sharply antipapal as frequently assumed. By order of the king, he was buried in Canterbury cathedral.
Bibliography: w. hunt, The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900, 4:1267–72. j. h. dahmus, ed., The Metropolitan Visitations of William Courteney: Archbishop of Canterbury, 1381–1396 (Urbana, Ill. 1950); The Prosecution of John Wyclyf (New Haven 1952). a. b. emden, A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford to A.D. 1500 1:502–504.
J. A. Cannon