Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury

Born: c. 1362

Higham Ferrers, Northamptonshire, England

April 12, 1443 (Age c. 81)

Canterbury in History

Henry Chichele would go on to be the archetypal man of both church and state, participating in a wide variety of affairs, ranging from papal matters, to education, to governmental policies in war and peace. He came from a highly respectable family: Two of his brothers were members of Parliament, and several other relatives held important offices in the church. Henry himself received a solid education at Winchester College where he received his doctorate in civil law in 1396. That same year he was ordained both deacon and priest and was frequently awarded with benefices within the church for his services. By the early fifteenth century Chichele was also beginning to take a more active role in government. He was used as an envoy by King Henry IV in France and Rome and participated in the Council of Pisa in 1409. When the king was increasingly hampered by illness towards the end of his reign, Chichele began to support Prince Hal, the heir to the throne and soon to be king, and it was therefore no surprise that Chichele's influence temporarily waned when the prince was dismissed from the council in 1411.

However, when Prince Hal took the throne as Henry V in 1413, Chichele became one of his most trusted advisers. The year following the new king's accession, Chichele was given the highest honor within England's church when he was created Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1415, when the king renewed the Hundred Years War with France, Canterbury headed the council that ruled in the king's absence and was frequently used as a delegate in negotiations between England and the French. As Archbishop of Canterbury, Chichele dedicated the remainder of his life to preserving the orthodox faith (he was an avid opponent of Lollardy), and he also contributed vastly to a number of colleges and universities to assure that those entering the clerical profession would receive as thorough an education as he himself did. All of these activities were on top of his continuous involvement in the government.

Henry V died suddenly in 1422 and was succeeded by his infant son, Henry VI. Chichele became one of the leading members of the minority council and acted, in many cases, as a sort of peacekeeper between Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, and Bishop Henry Beaufort, uncle and great-uncle, respectively, of the new king. Canterbury also lent large sums of cash to the crown, on several occasions, to keep up with the increasingly violent wars in France, which, by the 1430s, were going horribly wrong for the English. Although Canterbury remained active in both politics and the church well into his seventies, it became clear that he was gradually withdrawing from active participation. By 1442, when Canterbury was already a man of roughly eighty, he sought to resign his position as archbishop. The pope was reluctant to let such a powerful and influential man go, but the issue became a moot point when the archbishop died the following year. It would be difficult to say that the loss of a man such as Henry Chichele is not difficult to cope with. He showed throughout his long life that he could balance a number of projects simultaneously in both clerical and secular duties and would indeed be an example for future men of similar backgrounds.

Canterbury in Shakespeare

Appears in: Henry V

The Archbishop of Canterbury appears only in the first act of Henry V where he is first seen with his fellow cleric, the Bishop of Ely, discussing an old law that the king means to enforce that would be financially detrimental to the church. Therefore, Canterbury goes out of his way to distract the king by influencing him to pursue his claim to the throne of France, which he believes is valid. In the end, the king decides to take Canterbury's advice.


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