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Lee, Edward


Archbishop of York (153144); b. Kent, c. 1482; d. York, Sept. 13, 1544. He was the son of Richard Lee, a country gentleman of Delee Magna, Kent. He was a bachelor of arts and fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and then received his M.A. from Cambridge in 1504. After a succession of ecclesiastical positions at Wells, Norfolk, and Lincoln, he became King Henry VIII's chaplain in 1518 and was groomed by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey for diplomatic service. From 1517 to 1520, this boyhood friend of Thomas More carried on a sharp literary controversy with Erasmus over the latter's revised version of the New Testament. Lee accused Erasmus of plagiarism, and the quarrel has led historians to describe Lee as an opponent of the new learning. Lee, however conservative in literary and religious matters, was never an obscurantist or a reactionary. He served King Henry VIII on several diplomatic missions to Austria (1523), Spain (1529), and Bologna (1530). His rapid promotions to king's almoner, the archdeaconry of Colchester, chancellor of Salisbury, and finally the archbishopric of York in 1531 were due in large measure to his efficient service. The archbishop supported King Henry VIII in his opposition to papal claims in English affairs, but he was very uncomfortable with Henry's doctrine of royal supremacy over the Church and refused to sign an agreement calling the king's first marriage void from the beginning (1533). When taken prisoner during the Pilgrimage of Grace (1536) and fearful for his life, Lee swore an oath supporting the rebellion. He later opposed the rebels, and despite royal annoyance at his somewhat hasty action retained the approval of Thomas Cromwell. A disciplinarian, the archbishop kept good order in his archdiocese. He loyally supported the Act of Six Articles in 1539 and issued new statutes for the governing of York. An opponent of Lutheranism and of Tyndale's Bible, Lee, like Bishops Stephen Gardiner, Cuthbert Tunstall, and Edmund Bonner, was a Henrician doctrinal conservative who once confessed that he owed "all things save his soul" to the king. These bishops observed the tradition of obedience to the king and state, a principle universal to Tudor England and one that had a marked effect on conservative and reformer alike.

Bibliography: w. hunt, The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900, 63 v. (London 18851900) 11:788790. p. hughes, The Reformation in England, rev. ed. 3 v. in 1 (New York 1963). l. b. smith, Tudor Prelates and Politics, 15361558 (Princeton 1953).

[p. s. mcgarry]

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