Courtney, William

, archbishop of Canterbury in the reign of king Richard II. was the fourth son of Hugh Courtney, earl of Devonshire, by Margaret, daughter of Humphrey Bohun, earl of Hereford and Essex, by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of king Edward I. and was born in the year 1341. He had his education at Oxford, where he applied himself to the study of the civil and canon law. Afterwards, entering into holy orders, he obtained three prebends in three cathedral churches, viz. those of Bath, Exeter, and York. The nobility of his birth, and his eminent learning, recommending him to public notice, in the reign of Edward III. he was promoted in 1369 to the see of Hereford, and thence translated to the see of London, September 12, 1375, being then in the 34th year of his age. In a synod, held at London in 1376, bishop Courtney distinguished himself by his opposition to the king’s demand of a subsidy; and presently after he fell under the displeasure of the high court of chancery, for publishing a bull of pope Gregory II. without the king’s consent, which he was compelled to recall. The next year, in obedience | to the pope’s mandate, he cited Wickliff to appear befofe his tribunal in St. Paul’s church: but that reformer being accompanied by John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, and other nobles, who favoured his opinions, and appeared openly in the bishop’s court for him, and treated the bishop with very little ceremony, the populace took his part, went to the duke of Lancaster’s house in the Savoy, plundered it, and would have burnt it to the ground, had not the bishop hastened to the place, and drawn them off by his persuasions. The consequences of this difference with so powerful a nobleman as John of Gaunt, were probably dreaded even by Courtney; for, with respect to Wickliff, he at this time proceeded no farther than to enjoin him and his followers silence. In 1378, it is said by Godwin, but without proper authority, that Courtney was made a cardinal. In 1381, he was appointed lord high chancellor of England. The same year, he was translated to the see of Canterbury, in the room of Simon Sudbury; and on the 6th of May, 1382, he received the pall from the hands of the bishop of London in the archiepiscopal palace at Croydon. This year also he performed the ceremony of crowning queen Anne, consort of king Richard II. at Westminster. Soon after his inauguration, he restrained, by ecclesiastical censures, the bailiffs, and other officers, of the see of Canterbury, from taking cognizance of adultery and the like crimes, which then belonged to the ecclesiastical court. About the same time, he held a synod at London, in which several of Wickliff’s tenets were condemned as heretical and erroneous. In 1383, he held a synod at Oxford, in which a subsidy was granted to the king, some of WicklifT’s followers obliged to recant, and the students of the university to swear renunciation of his tenets. The same year, in pursuance of the pope’s bull directed to him for that purpose, he issued his mandate to the bishop of London for celebrating the festival of St. Anne, mother of the blessed virgin. In 1386, the king, by the advice of his parliament, put the administration of the government into the hands of eleven commissioners, of whom archbishop Courtney was the first; but this lasted only one year. In 1387, he held a synod at London, in which a tenth was granted to the king. The same year, it being moved in a parliament held at London on occasion of the dissension between the king and his nobles, to inflict capital punishment on some of the ringleaders, and it being prohibited | by the canons for bishops to be present and vote in cases of blood, the archbishop and his suffragans withdrew from the house of lords, having first entered a protest in relation to their peerage and privilege to sit upon all other matters. In 1399, he held a synod in St. Mary’s church in Cambridge, in which a tenth was granted to the king, on condition that he should pass over into France with an army before the 1st of October following. This year, archbishop Courtney set out upon his metropolitical visitation, in which he was at first strongly opposed by the bishops of Exeter and Salisbury; but those prelates being at last reduced to terms of submission, he proceeded in his visitation without farther opposition: only, at the intercession of the abbot of St. Alban’s, he refrained from visiting certain monasteries at Oxford. The same year, the king directed his royal mandate to the archbishop, not to countenance or contribute any thing towards a subsidy for the pope. In a parliament held at Winchester in 1392, archbishop Courtney, being probably suspected of abetting the papal encroachments upon the church and state, delivered in an answer to certain articles exhibited by the commons in relation to those encroachments, which is thought to have led the way to the statute of pr&munire. The same year, he visited the diocese of Lincoln, in which he endeavoured to check the growth of Wickliff’s doctrines. In 1395, he obtained from the pope a grant of four-pence in the pound on all ecclesiastical benefices; in which he was opposed by the bishop of Lincoln, who would not suffer it to be collected in his diocese, and appealed to the pope. But before the matter could be decided, archbishop Courtney died, July 31, 1396, at Maidstone in Kent, where he was buried, but has a monument in the cathedral church of Canterbury, on the south side, near the tomb of Thomas Becket, and at the feet of the Black Prince. His remains at Maidstone, only a few bones, were seen some years ago. This prelate founded a college of secular priests at Maidstone. He left a thousand marks for the repair of the cathedral church of Canterbury also to the same church a silver- gilt image of the Trinity, with six apostles standing round it weighing 160 pounds some books, and some ecclesiastical vestments. He obtained from king Richard a grant of four fairs to be kept at Canterbury yearly within the site of the priory. The character of archbishop Courtney, weighed in the balance of | modern opinions, is that of a persecuting adherent to the church of Rome, to which, however, he was not so much attached as to forget what was due to his king and country. He appears to have exhibited in critical emergencies, a bold and resolute spirit, and occasionally a happy presence of mind. One circumstance, which displays the strength and firmness of Courtney’s mind in the exercise of his religious bigotry, deserves to be noticed. When the archbishop, on a certain day, with a number of bishops and divines, had assembled to condemn the tenets of Wickliff, just as they were going to enter upon business, a violent earthquake shook the monastery. Upon this, the terrified bishops threw down their papers, and crying out, that the business was displeasing to God, came to a hasty resolution to proceed no farther. “The archbishop alone,” says Mr. Gil pin in his Life of Wickliff, “remained unmoved. With equal spirit and address he chid their superstitious fears, and told them, that if the earthquake portended any thing, it portended the downfall of heresy; that as noxious vapours are lodged in the bowels of the earth, and are expelled by these violent concussions, so by their strenuous endeavours, the kingdom should be purified from the pestilential taint of heresy, which had infected it in every part. This speech, together with the news that the earthquake was general through the city, &s it was afterwards indeed found to have been through the island, dispelled their fears Wickliff would often merrily speak of this accident; and would call this assembly the council of the herydene; herydene being the old English word for earthquake.

In the Parliamentary History, some notice is taken of the speech which, as chancellor of England, Courtney made at the opening of the parliament in 1382. The words which he took for his theme were rex convenire fecit cojisitium, and it is said that he made a notable oration upon it in English. He applied his text to the good and virtuous government of the kingdom during his reign. No reign, the archbishop affirmed, could long endure, if vice ruled in it, to remedy which evil the parliament was called, the laws then in being not having been found effectual to that purpose. 1

1 Biog. Brit. Parker de Antiq. Brit. Eccles. Wharton’s Anglia Sacra. Prince’s Worthies of Devon Cough’s Sepulchral Monuments, Introd, to vol. II,
|