a) What were the principal Monastic orders in medieval England ? How did they develop and how did they differ one from another ? What functions did the monasteries perform in medieval society ?
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b) What distinguished the Franciscan Friars from other monastic orders ? Why did they become unpopular with the church authorities ?
Caryl Dane ----
The friars represented a revolutionary departure from the old monastic tradition.

 In common with the Cistercians particularly, they aspired to live in imitation of Christ; but they differed in attempting to do this in the world itself, rather than by withdrawing from it. They lived a life much more in contact with the general population than did the older established orders, whose existence was confined within the monastic precinct walls and who are consequently known as enclosed orders.

The friars were resented :

  • because they criticised the church's wealth. The Franciscan creed was based on the ideal of absolute poverty, not only individual but corporate as well.
  • because by founding houses in, or often on the edges of towns they threatened the position there of established Benedictine monasteries.
  • because, in travelling the country preaching, hearing confessions and taking burials they encroached on the prerogatives of the parish priests.
While some bishops welcomed the friars as preachers, others disliked their apparent immunity from Episcopal control. The papacy gave the friars exemptions and privileges so wide that the basic rights of the secular clergy were threatened and the territorial organisation of the Church disregarded. As mobile missionaries their international organisation cut through diocesan and parochial boundaries.

Well-trained , highly educated and extremely mobile, the friars were able to reach and influence sections of the community where the static monks and clergy had failed.

The Franciscans instituted the Tertiaries for ordinary people living in the world, who wished to practice some of the Franciscan ideals without actually joining the Order.

Conflicts eventually developed within the Order over the observance of the vow of poverty.

c) How was the medieval English church organised ?
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d) Who were the principal elements in the hierarchy of the medieval English church ? From what social classes were they drawn and what duties were expected of them ?
Katie Mooney ----
The principle elements of the hierarchy of the English church were, (in descending order):
  1. The bishops: 2 archbishops and varying numbers of bishops. 
  2. Cathedral Chapters, these were the members who lived in and within the area of Cathedral, firstly those who ran the cathedral, the dean, the percenter, the treasurer, and the chancellor, secondly a body of canons and lastly the archdeacons of the parishes covered by the cathedral. 
  3. The Parish level, the rector, who was the head of the parish, the vicar, who carried out many activities the Rector was unavailable to do such as holding services and saying mass, and lastly at the bottom of the scale was the curates, who acted as a hired assistant in the areas a vicar could not be, hearing confessions and administering last sacrament.
Generally members of the clergy came from diverse backgrounds and many social areas and, especially in the parish level, could be either well educated or those who had worked under a senior member of the church and worked their way up the hierarchy. To look at one section as an example, one will examine the bishops and their background as they have the most information readily available for study and deeply investigated by historians. 

Bishops, like most of the English clergy came from a variety of backgrounds from the 11th to the fourteenth century. The origins can be classed into four main classes, but it was still true that many did come from more than one area.

  1. Religious origins - This type of bishop began were men who had formerly occupied minor sees. In the tenth and eleventh centuries the greatest percentage of English bishops were from this class. This type began to gradually decrease across the period as bishops were appointed from outside the hierarchy of the church, but bishops of this type still existed throughout the medieval period. 
  2. Graduate origins - This type of bishops began to appear in the thirteenth century and rose to prominence as the religious bishops began to decline. It can be seen that this time of bishops first began to be appointed as the universities were formally established. Graduate bishops peaked in numbers in the early fourteenth century, with 27 of Edward II's 45 bishops all having graduate origins. Graduates became the key holders of key dioceses for example, archbishop Winchestsley who was made the archbishop of Canterbury. In the early fourteenth century the percentage of graduate bishops began to decrease in importance with the rise of civil service bishops, generally delegated to minor sees such as Chichester and Armagh. 
  3. Civil service origins - The increase of this type of bishop appeared to have coincided with the increase of the importance of the civil service in the government and the church. This included not only those who held their merits from experience in the civil service, but also those who were graduates and some of religious origins. Therefore it can be presumed that the percentage of the former two types could have been still quite high proportion, only they used other methods, namely the civil service, to gain advancement. These type of bishops also show officials begin awarded their post for their good work and achievement as a patronage, instead have being placed solely on ability. Civil servant bishops became most numerous in the mid fourteenth century but began to lose importance around the Hundred years war as the English Kings rewarded noble supporters an their families with bishoprics. 
  4. Noble origins - There had always been elements elements of noble blood within the bishops, such as Henry of Blois in the twelfth century who was of royal blood, but generally they had come from the knights classes. Increase occurred firstly in Edward III's reign and later use widely in richard II's reign to reward supporters and retainers, increasing the percentage of noble blood within the church. 
These were the four main types of background of the medieval English bishops but there was also a few others who originated from different background. There was those who were created from papal officials, both foreign and English who had gone to the pope, and those who were promoted form the Diocesan officials, though these types were very rare through out the whole period. The origins of bishops does show the diversity of background within the English church , and it is true even though there was an increase of patronage of noble bishops, others could still come from the knightly classes, even up to the sixteenth century were one can see two prominent examples under Henry VIII of Wolsey and Cranmer, who came from relatively poor backgrounds. This was very different from European bishops who from an early date tended to be of noble origins. 

There was also a tendency to place bishops within their relatively locality, for example many of the Welsh bishops were or could speak Welsh and therefore could relate to the parishioners, and this practice carried on till the fifteenth century, even after Edward I's domination of Wales. Another feature of the backgrounds of English bishops was as the monarchy became more settled so did the nationality of the bishops, who became prominently English, rather than alien, which can be seen as England began to develop into a state . 

The duties of the bishops were formally to act as a spiritual guide to those below him, but more than often bishops acted as judges, a role for which his spiritual duties could be neglected for. Though these were the bishops main duties he could also be called upon to to act as an ambassador, kings advisor, regent and a sheriff.

It seems that the background of the English church was very much like the bishops and socially they could come from many different origins. 

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e) What powers did the medieval church exercise over its parishioners ?
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f) How was the church assimilated into the feudal hierarchy ? What problems did this create for the ecclesiastical lords ?
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g) What were the principal causes of friction between the Church and the State in medieval England ? How were they resolved ?
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h) Were there any significant heretical movements within or outside the medieval English Church ? How did the church deal with such threats ?
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I) What is meant by the concept of mysticism in medieval religion ?
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j) What was the contribution of John Wycliffe and William of Ockham to medieval theological and political thought ?

Using the relevant volume of ENGLISH HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS find, read and annotate the following documents:


JSI /20/10/99

School of History and Welsh History - University of Wales Bangor