Robert of Winchelsea

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Archbishop of Canterbury; b. probably Winchelsea, Sussex, England, c. 1240; d. Otford, Kent, May 11, 1313. He studied arts at Paris, possibly for a time under thomas aquinas, and became rector of the university in 1267. He then studied theology at Oxford, became a doctor of theology, and was chancellor by 1288. He delivered a series of quaestiones on the Trinity at St. Paul's Cathedral. Elected archbishop of canterbury in 1293, he was forced by a vacancy in the papacy to wait 18 months before being consecrated at Aquila in 1294. He thus entered his office with enormous debts and was immediately faced with King Edward I's demands for clerical subsidies for the war with France. The archbishop struggled constantly to scale these down and was further embarrassed by the issue in 1296 of clericis laicos, which he delayed publishing for a year. Upon refusing to make the king further grants, he and most of his clergy were punished by outlawry and the confiscation of their revenues. Robert had to live on charity for five months. Then, to ease his clergy's difficulties, he allowed each to follow his own conscience. A truce with France, invasion by the Scots, and the compromise offered by Etsi de statu allowed him to reach an accommodation with the king, but he continued to insist on all his other prerogatives. Pope boniface viii's death and the election of Edward I's vassal as clement v deprived Robert of any papal support, and in 1306 he was suspended from office and left England. After Edward I's death (1307), he was recalled by the new king but was soon at odds with him, particularly over Gaveston, whose banishment Robert supported in 1308. In 1310 he was chosen as one of the lords' ordainers to supervise Edward II's conduct of the government, and he was their guiding spirit until his death. Ascetic and generous, he also loved power; defending the Church against royal encroachments, he punctiliously upheld his own rights within the Church, conducting a prolonged feud with the archbishop of York and the royal treasurer, Bishop Walter Langton.

Bibliography: r. winchelsey, Registrum , ed. r. graham (Canterbury and York Society, 123; London 1956). The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900, 63v. (London 18851900) 21:626632. a. b. emden, A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford to a.d. 1500, 3 v. (Oxford 195759) 3:20572059.

[b. s. smith]