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Simon Islip

Archbishop of Canterbury (d. 1366)

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Islip, SIMON, Archbishop of Canterbury, b. at Islip, near Oxford; d. at Mayfield, Sussex, April 26, 1366. He was educated at Oxford, where he proceeded doctor in canon and civil law, being elected Fellow of Merton in 1307. His talents and learning as an ecclesiastical lawyer soon won for him many benefices and preferments. Having for a time been rector of Easton, near Stamford, he exchanged this place in 1332 for the archdeaconry of Stow, which he only held for one year. He also held the rectory of Horncastle. Bishop Burghersh of Lincoln, then treasurer and Chancellor of England, made him a prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral in 1327, and he held successively the prebends of Welton Brinkhall, Aylesbury, and Welton Beckhall, while in 1337 he became vicar-general for the diocese. At this time he was much in London, where he entered the king’s service as one of the royal chaplains. Edward III trusted him also in diplomatic and political affairs, appointed him a member of the council and in 1346 gave Islip extensive powers during his own absence in France. In 1343 he had been made archdeacon of Canterbury and subsequently he was made dean of arches. He also held the prebend of Mora in St. Paul’s Cathedral and a stall at Lichfield. John Stratford, the Archbishop of Canterbury, died in 1348 while the Black Death was raging. His two successors, John Ufford and Thomas Bradwardine, died of the plague within a few weeks of each other, the former before consecration. On September 20, 1349, Simon Islip was elected archbishop, but within three weeks the pope conferred the see on him by provision. He was consecrated just before Christmas and received the pallium at the following Easter. The archdiocese had suffered from the pestilence and there was a dearth of clergy, so that the first work Islip was called on to undertake was a visitation, during which he labored with energy to restore ecclesiastical discipline.

At this time, and after the renewed outbreak of the Black Death in 1362, he took particular pains to regulate the stipends of the unbeneficed clergy, who were induced by the greatly diminished number of priests to exact higher remuneration for their services than formerly. He next succeeded in terminating the ancient dispute between the archbishops of Canterbury and York, as to the right of the latter to bear his cross in the province of the former. The final arrangement, suggested by the king, agreed to by both archbishops, and confirmed by the pope, was that the Archbishop of York might carry his cross in the province of Canterbury on condition that each archbishop should within two months of his confirmation present to the shrine of St. Thomas a golden image of an archbishop. Though he was a favorite of the king, he did not hesitate to resist royal exactions, and he addressed a vigorous remonstrance on the subject to Edward III. This being supported by the action of a synod over which the archbishop presided, and which refused the king’s demand for a tenth of ecclesiastical income for six years, proved effectual to check the corrupt system of purveyance. Copies of this remonstrance, the “Speculum Regis Edwardi”, are in the Bodleian library (MS. 624) and the British Museum (Hari. MS. 2399; Cotton MSS., Cleopatra D. IX and Faustina B. i.). Islip was a munificent benefactor of Oxford University, and founded a college which he intended should afford special facilities for monks to obtain the advantages of a university course, but the difficulties proved insurmountable, and after his death his foundation continued as a dependence on Christ Church, Canterbury, until it was absorbed by Cardinal Wolsey, in his foundation of Christ Church, Oxford. During his lifetime he had the reputation of being a sparing and niggardly administrator of the temporalities of his see, but this seems to be explained partly by the nature of the times, which called for economy and the wise husbandry of resources, and partly by his own temperament, which was frugal and averse to display. Both his enthronement and his funeral at Canterbury were by his own desire marked by the utmost simplicity, but his generous bequests to the monks of Canterbury show that this was not due to lack of interest in his cathedral church. In 1363 the archbishop suffered a paralytic stroke which he survived for three years, although by depriving him of the power of speech, it practically closed his career.


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