Lanfranc[a] (1005 x 1010 – 24 May 1089) was a celebrated
Italian jurist who renounced his career to become a Benedictine monk
at Bec in Normandy. He served successively as prior of
Bec Abbey and
abbot of St Stephen in
Normandy and then as archbishop of Canterbury
in England, following its Conquest by William the Conqueror. He is
also variously known as
Pavia (Italian: Lanfranco di
Lanfranc of Bec (French:
Lanfranc du Bec), and
Canterbury (Latin: Lanfrancus Cantuariensis).
1 Early life
2 Teacher and scholar
Prior and abbot
4 Archbishop of Canterbury
5 Not quite sainthood
6 Modern Commemoration
8 See also
12 Further reading
Lanfranc was born in the early years of the 11th century at Pavia,
where later tradition held that his father, Hanbald, held a rank
broadly equivalent to magistrate. He was orphaned at an early age.
Lanfranc was trained in the liberal arts, at that time a field in
which northern Italy was famous (there is little or no evidence to
support the myth that his education included much in the way of Civil
Law, and none that links him with
Irnerius of Bologna as a pioneer in
the renaissance of its study). For unknown reasons at an uncertain
date, he crossed the Alps, soon taking up the role of teacher in
France and eventually in Normandy. About 1039 he became the master of
the cathedral school at Avranches, where he taught for three years
with conspicuous success. But in 1042 he embraced the monastic
profession in the newly founded Bec Abbey. Until 1045 he lived at Bec
in absolute seclusion.
Teacher and scholar
Lanfranc was then persuaded by
Abbot Herluin to open a school at Bec
to relieve the monastery's poverty. From the first he was celebrated
(totius Latinitatis magister). His pupils were drawn not only from
France and Normandy, but also from Gascony, Flanders, Germany and
Italy. Many of them afterwards attained high positions in the
Church; one possible student, Anselm of Badagio, became pope under the
title of Alexander II; another,
Anselm of Bec
Anselm of Bec succeeded
the Archbishop of Canterbury. The favourite subjects of his lectures
were the trivium of grammar, logic and rhetoric and the application of
these principles to theological elucidation. In one of Lanfranc's most
important works, The Commentary on the Epistles of St. Paul; he,
'expounded Paul the Apostle; and, wherever opportunity offered, he
stated the premises, whether principal or secondary, and the
conclusions of Paul's arguments in accordance with the rules of
As a result of his growing reputation
Lanfranc was invited to defend
the doctrine of transubstantiation against the attacks of Berengar of
Tours. He took up the task with the greatest zeal, although Berengar
had been his personal friend; he was the protagonist of orthodoxy at
the Church Councils of
Tours (1054) and Rome (1059).
To Lanfranc's influence is attributed the desertion of Berengar's
cause by Hildebrand and the more broad-minded of the cardinals. Our
knowledge of Lanfranc's polemics is chiefly derived from the tract De
corpore et sanguine Domini, probably written c. 1060-63. Though
betraying no signs of metaphysical ability, his work was regarded as
conclusive and became for a while a text-book in the schools. It is
often said to be the place where the Aristotelian distinction between
substance and accident was first applied to explain Eucharistic
change. It is the most important of the surviving works attributed to
Prior and abbot
In the midst of Lanfranc's scholastic and controversial activities
Lanfranc became a political force. Later tradition told that while he
Prior of Bec he opposed the non-canonical marriage of Duke William
with Matilda of
Flanders (1053) and carried matters so far that he
incurred a sentence of exile. But the quarrel was settled when he was
on the point of departure, and he undertook the difficult task of
obtaining the pope’s approval of the marriage. In this he was
successful at the same council which witnessed his third victory over
Berengar (1059), and he thus acquired a lasting claim on William's
gratitude. In assessing this story it may well be relevant that no
reputable source can tell what the exact impediment to marriage was.
Lanfranc became the first
Abbot of the Abbey of Saint-Étienne
Caen in Normandy, a monastery dedicated to
Saint Stephen which the
duke had supposedly been enjoined to found as a penance for his
disobedience to the Holy See.
Lanfranc exercised a perceptible influence on his
master's policy. William adopted the
Cluniac programme of
ecclesiastical reform, and obtained the support of Rome for his
English expedition by assuming the attitude of a crusader against
schism and corruption. It was Alexander II, possibly a pupil of
Lanfranc's and certainly a close friend, who gave the Norman Conquest
the papal benediction—a notable advantage to William at the moment,
but subsequently the cause of serious embarrassments.
Archbishop of Canterbury
When the see of Rouen next fell vacant (1067), the thoughts of the
electors turned to Lanfranc. But he declined the honour, and he was
nominated to the English Primacy as
Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop of Canterbury as soon
Stigand had been canonically deposed on 15 August 1070. He was
speedily consecrated on 29 August 1070. The new archbishop at once
began a policy of reorganisation and reform. His first difficulties
were with Thomas of Bayeux, Archbishop-elect of York, (another former
pupil) who asserted that his see was independent of
claimed jurisdiction over the greater part of the English Midlands.
This was the beginning of a long running dispute between the sees of
Canterbury and York, usually known as the Canterbury–York
Signatures at the council of Winchester. The large crosses are the
signatures of William & Matilda, the one under theirs is
Lanfranc's, and the other bishops' are under his.
Lanfranc, during a visit which he paid the pope for the purpose of
receiving his pallium, obtained an order from Alexander that the
disputed points should be settled by a council of the English Church.
This was held at Winchester in 1072. At this council
the confirmation of his primacy that he sought; nonetheless he was
never able to secure its formal confirmation by the papacy, possibly
as a result of the succession of
Pope Gregory VII
Pope Gregory VII to the papal throne
Lanfranc assisted William in maintaining the independence of the
English Church; and appears at one time to have favoured the idea of
maintaining a neutral attitude on the subject of the quarrels between
papacy and empire. In the domestic affairs of England the archbishop
showed more spiritual zeal. His grand aim was to extricate the Church
from the fetters of corruption. He was a generous patron of
monasticism. He endeavoured to enforce celibacy upon the secular
Lanfranc obtained the king's permission to deal with the affairs of
the Church in synods. In the cases of
Odo of Bayeux
Odo of Bayeux (1082) (see Trial
of Penenden Heath) and of William of St Calais, Bishop of Durham
(1088), he used his legal ingenuity to justify the trial of bishops
before a lay tribunal.
Lanfranc accelerated the process of substituting Normans for
Englishmen in all preferments of importance; and although his nominees
were usually respectable, it cannot be said that all of them were
better than the men whom they superseded. For this admixture of
secular with spiritual aims there was considerable excuse. By long
tradition the primate was entitled to a leading position in the
king’s councils; and the interests of the Church demanded that
Lanfranc should use his power in a manner not displeasing to the king.
On several occasions when William I was absent from England Lanfranc
acted as his vicegerent.
Lanfranc's greatest political service to the Conqueror was rendered in
1075, when he detected and foiled the conspiracy which had been formed
by the earls of Norfolk and Hereford. Waltheof, 1st Earl of
Northumberland, one of the rebels, soon lost heart and confessed the
conspiracy to Lanfranc, who urged Earl Roger, the earl of Hereford to
return to his allegiance, and finally excommunicated him and his
adherents. He interceded for Waltheof’s life and to the last spoke
of the earl as an innocent sufferer for the crimes of others; he lived
on terms of friendship with Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester.
Near contemporary depiction of
Lanfranc in Oxford Bodleian Library MS
On the death of the Conqueror in 1087
Lanfranc secured the succession
for William Rufus, in spite of the discontent of the Anglo-Norman
baronage; and in 1088 his exhortations induced the English militia to
fight on the side of the new sovereign against
Odo of Bayeux
Odo of Bayeux and the
other partisans of Duke Robert. He exacted promises of just government
from Rufus, and was not afraid to remonstrate when the promises were
disregarded. So long as he lived he was a check upon the worst
propensities of the king’s administration. But his restraining hand
was too soon removed. In 1089 he was stricken with fever and he died
on 24 May amidst universal lamentations. Notwithstanding some
obvious moral and intellectual defects, he was the most eminent and
the most disinterested of those who had co-operated with William I in
riveting Norman rule upon the English Church and people. As a
statesman he did something to uphold the traditional ideal of his
office; as a primate he elevated the standards of clerical discipline
and education. Conceived in the spirit of popes such as Pope Leo IX,
his reforms led by a natural sequence to strained relations between
Church and State; the equilibrium which he established was unstable,
and depended too much upon his personal influence with the Conqueror.
Not quite sainthood
The efforts of Christ Church
Canterbury to secure him the status of
saint seem to have had only spasmodic and limited effect beyond
English Benedictine circles. However, in the period after the Council
of Trent Lanfranc's name was included in the Roman Martyrology, and in
the current edition maintains the rank of beatus,  the feast day
being celebrated on 28 May.
In 1931 n the Archbishop
Lanfranc School (now The Archbishop Lanfranc
Academy) was opened in Croydon, where he resided at the Old Palace.
Christ Church University
Canterbury have named their state of the art
Lanfranc House. He is also remembered in road
names in London and Worthing, West Sussex.
The chief authority is the Vita Lanfranci by the monk Milo Crispin,
who was precentor at Bec and died in 1149. Milo drew largely upon the
Vita Herluini, composed by Gilbert Crispin,
Abbot of Westminster. The
Chronicon Beccensis abbatiae, a 14th-century compilation, should also
be consulted. The first edition of these two sources, and of
Lanfranc's writings, is that of L. d'Achery, Beati Lanfranci opera
omnia (Paris, 1648). Another edition, slightly enlarged, is that of J.
A. Giles, Lanfranci opera (2 vols., Oxford, 1844). The correspondence
Pope Gregory VII
Pope Gregory VII is given in the Monumenta
Gregoriana (ed. P. Jaffi, Berlin, 1865). A more modern edition (and
translation) of Lanfranc's correspondence is to be found in H. Clover
and M. Gibson (eds), The Letters of Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury
(Oxford, 1979). His On the Body and Blood of the Lord is translated
Guitmund of Aversa's tract on the same matter) in volume
10 of the Fathers of the Church Medieval Continuation (Washington, DC,
^ (Latin: Lanfrancus; Italian: Lanfranco
This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain
unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. Please help to
improve this article by introducing more precise citations. (January
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^ "Lanfranc." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. 2012. Web. 22 Oct.
^ Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Lanfranc". Catholic
Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
^ Dudley, Leonard (2008). Information Revolutions in the History of
the West. Cheltenham: Elgar. p. 53. ISBN 9781848442801.
Retrieved 30 October 2017.
^ Vita Heluini, in Gilbert Crispin, The Works of Gilbert Crispin,
Abbot of Westminster, ed. A.S. Abalufia and G.R. Evans, Auctores
Britannici Medii Aevi(1986), pp. 194-97
^ Sigebert of Gembloux, Liber de Scriptoribus Ecclesiasticised. J.P.
Migne, Patrologia Latina vol. 160, cols, 582-3, 'Paulum apostolum
exposuit Lanfrancus, et ubicumque opportunitas locorum occurrit,
secundum leges dialecticae proponit, assumit, concludit. Richard
Southern, Saint Anselm: a Portrait in a Landscape (Cambridge, 1993),
^ Southern, Saint Anselm, p. 44, n. 7 discusses various possible dates
^ a b Fryde, E. B.; Greenway, D. E.; Porter, S.; Roy, I. (1996).
Handbook of British Chronology (Third revised ed.). Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press. p. 232.
^ Barlow, Frank (1979). The English Church 1066–1154: A History of
the Anglo-Norman Church. New York: Longman. pp. 39–42.
^ Martyrologium Romanum, ex decreto sacrosancti oecumenici Concilii
Vaticani II instauratum auctoritate Ioannis Pauli Pp. II promulgatum,
editio [typica] altera, Typis Vaticanis, A.D. MMIV (2004), p. 308
^ Farmer, David Hugh (2004). Oxford Dictionary of Saints (Fifth ed.).
Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. pp. 309–310.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in
the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Lanfranc".
Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
LePatourel, John (September 1946). "The Date of the Trial on Penenden
Heath". The English Historical Review. 61 (241): 378–388.
Catholic Church titles
Archbishop of Canterbury
Anselm of Canterbury
Archbishops of Canterbury
Theodore of Tarsus
Sigeric the Serious
Ælfric of Abingdon
Robert of Jumièges
William de Corbeil
Theobald of Bec
Roger de Bailleul
Richard of Dover
Baldwin of Forde
Reginald Fitz Jocelin
John de Gray
Richard le Grant
John of Sittingbourne
Edmund of Abingdon
John de Stratford
John de Ufford
John Bird Sumner
Archibald Campbell Tait
Edward White Benson
Italics indicate a person who was elected but not confirmed.
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