Archbishop of Canterbury 1052-1070
Also Bishop of Elmham and Bishop of Winchester
Born c990 Died 1072

Stigand is belived to have been born in Norwich around the year 990 and to have served as a priest at Ashingdon in Essex but other than that very little is known of his early life.

He first rose to prominence in the year 1020 when he became chaplain to king Cnut and later served his son Harald Harefoot or Harold I in the same capacity and also also acted as adviser to Emma of Normandy, Cnut's widow.

When Edward the Confessor became king Stigand was further promoted, firstly as Bishop of Elmham in 1043 and then as Bishop of Winchester in 1047. His advancement seems to have been as a result of the influence of Earl Godwin, one of Cnut's henchmen who retained significant power and infuence under the reign of Edward.

Edward and Godwin were to quarrel over significant issues regarding the government of the country. One of the matters in dispute was the former's policy of importing Norman advisors; in particular Edward had appointed a Norman named Robert of Jumieges as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1051 with the expectation that he would institute a programme of reform in the English church.

Robert of Jumieges emerged as one of the Godwin's key opponents and Stigand allied himself with the Earl Godwin and became embroiled in the dispute bwtween Edward and Godwin which ultimately led to the expulsion of Godwin. Godwin was however soon back in England and Stigand was instrumental in brokering the peace deal between the two that avoided conflict and resulted in the return to power of Godwin.

Stigand's reward was to be appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in place of Robert of Jumieges, who fled from England on Godwin's return from exile. There was only one problem with this; the authorities in Rome still regarded Robert of Jumieges as the legitimate archbishop and Stigand was not formerly recognised by the then current Pope Leo IX nor any of his successors.

Stigand was formally recognised in 1058 by Pope Benedict X, but as Benedict was regarded as an 'antipope' and was in any case deposed in 1059 this only added to the irregularity of Stigand's appointment and his reputation as a schismatic.1

Even within England Stigand's position was regarded as somewhat questionable, and it seems that it was the Archbishop of York, Aldred who presided over the coronation of Harold Godwinson as Harold II in the January of 1066.2

These quibles do not seem to have bothered Stigand greatly, who was clearly an ambitious cleric who acquired a probably deserved reputation for greed and corruption. He never quite got round to resigning as Bishop of Winchester when appointed as Archbishop of Canterbury and also managed to get himself appointed as abbot to a number of monasteries as well. (An offence known as pluralism.) He also seems to have acquired some quite extensive estates along the way and used his authority to ensure the promotion of his brother Ethelmaer to the position of Bishop of Elmham.

Once Harold II was dead however, Stigand lost little time in submitting to William I, assisted at his coronation and became one of the hostages taken back to Normandy in 1067. It is possible that Stigand believed that he could reach some accomodation with the new king and retain some of the wealth and influence he had accumulated under the old regime.

However when William I finally got around to arranging for the provision of some Papal Legates to consider Stigand's position in 1070, he was formally charged with a number of crimes including that of pluralism, as well as consorting with an anti-pope and usurping the position of Archbishop of Canterbury.

Stigand was found guilty as charged, formally removed from office and imprisoned at Winchester. It was at Winchester that he died, probably on the 22nd of February 1072, possibly as a result of voluntary starvation as has been suggested, but he was in his eighties at the time and old age would have been a factor in any event.


Stigand's career illustrates the case that church appointments were often determined by political rather than religous considerations as well as demonstrating the political manouvering that dominated England in the years prior to the Norman Conquest.

The fact that Stigand was seen as both a schismatic and a creature of the Godwin faction in England coloured the attitude of the Papacy to Harold Godwinson when he seized control of the crown in 1066, and meant that the Papacy was to look favourably on the alternative candidate, William the Bastard when he launched his bid later in that same fateful year.


NOTES

1 These events should be considered in the light of the great schism of 1054 between the Greek (that is Orthodox) and Latin (i.e. Roman Catholic) churches, with the Pope in Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople indulging in a bout of mutual excommunication. Pope's therefore became vary wary of any further signs of disunity.

2 Later suggestions by some Norman authorities that Stigand presided over Harold II's coronation should probably by read as propoganda intended to emphasise the illegitimacy of Harold's reign.


SOURCES

The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica at http://66.1911encyclopedia.org/S/ST/STIGAND.htm

G.M. Bevan Portraits of the Archbishops of Canterbury (1908). reproduced in edited form at www.Britannia.com

Geoff Boxell The Church and the Conquest at http://members.tripod.com/~GeoffBoxell/church.htm

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