(died Feb. 22, 1072) Archbishop of Canterbury (1052–70). He mediated the peace between Edward the Confessor and Earl Godwine (1052) and was made archbishop of Canterbury when the Norman archbishop fled. He was not accepted until 1058, and then only by the antipope Benedict X, after whose deposition Stigand was excommunicated by Pope Nicholas II. Stigand's continuance in office was one of the reasons for papal support of the Norman Conquest (see William I) in 1066.
Learn more about Stigand with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Stigand (died 1072) was an English churchman in pre-Norman Conquest England. By 1020, he was serving as a royal chaplain and advisor. He was named bishop of Elmham in 1043, and then later Bishop of Winchester and Archbishop of Canterbury. Stigand acted as an advisor to several members of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman English royal dynasties, serving six successive kings. Excommunicated by several popes for his pluralism in holding the two sees of Winchester and Canterbury concurrently, he was finally deposed in 1070, and his estates and personal wealth were confiscated by William the Conqueror. Stigand was imprisoned at Winchester, where he died without regaining his liberty.
Stigand served King Canute as a chaplain at a royal foundation at Ashingdon in 1020, and as an advisor then and later. He continued in his role of advisor during the reigns of Canute's sons, Harold Harefoot and Harthacanute. When Canute's stepson Edward the Confessor succeeded Harthacanute, Stigand likely became England's main administrator. Monastic writers of the time accused Stigand of extorting money and lands from the church. By 1066, the only estates richer than Stigand's were the royal estates and those of Harold Godwinson.
In 1043 Edward appointed Stigand to the see, or bishopric, of Elmham. Four years later, in 1047, he was appointed to the see of Winchester and then in 1052 to the archdiocese of Canterbury, which Stigand held jointly with that of Winchester. Five successive popes, including Nicholas II and Alexander II, excommunicated Stigand for holding both Winchester and Canterbury. Stigand was present at the deathbed of King Edward and at the coronation of Harold Godwinson as king of England in 1066. After Harold's death, Stigand submitted to William the Conqueror. On Christmas Day, 1066 Aldred, the Archbishop of York crowned William King of England. Stigand's excommunication meant that he could only assist at the coronation.
Despite growing pressure for his deposition, Stigand continued to attend the royal court and to consecrate bishops, until in 1070 he was deposed by papal legates and imprisoned at Winchester. His intransigence towards the papacy was used as propaganda by Norman advocates of the view that the English church was backward and needed reform.
Stigand first appears in the historical record in 1020 as a royal chaplain to King Canute of England (reigned 1016–1035). In that year he was appointed to Canute's church at Ashingdon, or Assandun, which was dedicated by the reforming bishop Wulfstan of York. Little is known of Stigand's life during Canute's reign. He did witness occasional charters, which show that he had a place at the royal court. After Canute's death, Stigand successively served Canute's sons, Harold Harefoot (reigned 1035–1040) and Harthacanute (reigned 1040–1042). When Harthacanute died, Stigand became an advisor to Emma of Normandy, Canute's widow and the mother of Harthacanute and his successor Edward the Confessor. He may have been her chaplain. It is possible that Stigand was already an advisor to Emma while Canute was alive, and that he owed his position at Ashingdon to Emma's influence and favour. Because little is known of Stigand's activities before his appointment as a bishop, it is difficult to determine to whom he owed his position.
By 1046, Stigand began to witness charters of Edward the Confessor, showing that he was once more in royal favour. In 1047 Stigand was translated to the see of Winchester, but he retained Elmham until 1052. He may have owed the promotion to Earl Godwin of Wessex, the father-in-law of King Edward; although some historians dispute this. Emma, who had retired to Winchester after regaining Edward's favour, may also have influenced the appointment, either alone or in concert with Godwin. After his appointment to Winchester, Stigand was a witness to all of the surviving charters of King Edward from the period 1047 to 1052.
Some historians, such as Frank Barlow and Emma Mason, state that he supported Earl Godwin in his quarrel with Edward the Confessor in 1051–1052; others, including Ian Walker, hold that he was neutral. Stigand, whether or not he was a supporter of Godwin's, did not go into exile with the earl. The quarrel started over a fight between Eustace of Boulogne, brother-in-law of the king, and men of the town of Dover. The king ordered Godwin to punish the town, and the earl refused. Continued pressure from Edward undermined Godwin's position, and the earl and his family fled England in 1051. The earl returned in 1052 with a substantial armed force, but eventually reached a peaceful accord with the king. Some medieval sources state that Stigand took part in the negotiations that reached a peace between the king and his earl, and the Canterbury manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle calls Stigand the king's chaplain and advisor during the negotiations.
Although not known as a reformer before his appointment, Robert returned from Rome in 1051, where he had gone to be confirmed by the papacy, and opposed the king's choice for Bishop of London on the grounds that the candidate was not suitable. Robert's attempts to recover church property that had been appropriated by Earl Godwin contributed to the quarrel between the earl and the king. When Godwin returned to England in 1052, Robert was outlawed and exiled. King Edward then appointed Stigand to the archbishopric. The appointment was either a reward from Godwin for Stigand's support during the conflict with Edward or a reward from King Edward for successfully negotiating a peaceful conclusion to the crisis in 1052. Stigand was the first non-monk to be named to either English archbishopric since before the days of Dunstan (archbishop from 959 to 988).
The papacy refused to recognise Stigand's elevation, as Robert was still alive and had not been deprived of office by a pope. Robert of Jumièges appealed to Leo IX, who summoned Stigand to Rome. When Stigand did not appear, he was excommunicated. Historian Nicholas Brooks holds the view that Stigand was not excommunicated at this time, but rather was ordered to refrain from any archiepiscopal functions, such as the consecration of bishops. He argues that in 1062 papal legates sat in council with Stigand, something they would not have done had he been excommunicated. The legates did nothing to alter Stigand's position either, although one of the legates later helped depose Stigand in 1070. However Pope Leo IX and his successors, Victor II and Stephen IX, continued to regard Robert as the rightful archbishop.
Stigand did not travel to Rome to receive a pallium, the band worn around a neck that is the symbol of an archbishop's authority, from the pope. Traveling to Rome for the pallium had become a custom, practiced by a number of his predecessors. Instead, some medieval chroniclers state that he used Robert of Jumièges' pallium. It is not known if Stigand even petitioned the papacy for a pallium soon after his appointment. Due to the reform movement, Stigand probably knew the request would be unsuccessful. In 1058, Antipope Benedict X, who opposed much of the reform movement, gave Stigand a pallium. However, Benedict was deposed in the following year; the reforming party declared Benedict an anti-pope, and nullified all his acts, including Stigand's pallium grant. The exact circumstances that led to Benedict granting a pallium are unknown, whether it was at Stigand's request or was given without prompting.
After his translation to Canterbury, Stigand released Elmham to his brother Æthelmaer, but retained the bishopric of Winchester. Canterbury and Winchester were the two richest sees in England, and while precedent allowed the holding of a rich see along with a poor one, holding two rich sees in conjunction had no such rationale. He may have retained Winchester because of avarice, or it may have been that his hold in Canterbury was not secure. Besides these, he held the abbey of Gloucester and the abbey of Ely and perhaps other abbeys also. Whatever his reasons, the retention of Winchester made Stigand a pluralist, or the holder of more than one benefice at the same time. This was a practice that was targeted for elimination by the growing reform movement in the church. Five successive popes (Leo IX, Victor II, Stephen IX, Nicholas II and Alexander II) excommunicated Stigand for holding both Winchester and Canterbury at the same time. It has been suggested by the historian Emma Mason that Edward refused to remove Stigand because this would have undermined the royal prerogative to appoint bishops and archbishops without papal input. Further hurting Stigand's position, Pope Nicholas II in 1061 declared pluralism to be uncanonical unless approved by the pope.
Stigand was later accused of simony by monastic chroniclers, but all such accusations date to after 1066, and are thus suspect due to the post-Conquest desire to vilify the English Church as corrupt and backward. The medieval chronicler William of Poitiers also claimed that Stigand in 1052 agreed that William of Normandy, the future William the Conqueror, should succeed King Edward. This fact was used as propaganda after the Conquest, but the historian David Bates, among other historians, notes that this is unlikely to have happened. The position of Stigand as head of the church in England was used to good effect by the Normans in their propaganda before, during and after the Conquest.
Many of the bishops in England did not want to be consecrated by Stigand. Both Giso of Wells and Walter of Hereford travelled to Rome to be consecrated by the Pope in 1061, rather than be consecrated by Stigand. During the brief period that he held a legitimate pallium, however, Stigand did consecrate Aethelric of Selsey and Siward of Rochester. Abbots of monasteries, however, came to Stigand for consecration throughout his time as archbishop. These included not only abbots from monastic houses inside his province, such as Æthelsige as abbot of St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury, but also Baldwin as Abbot of Bury St. Edmunds and Thurstan as Abbot of Ely. After the Norman Conquest, Stigand was accused of selling the office of abbot, but no abbot was deposed for buying the office, so the charge is suspect.
Stigand also served as a benefactor to the abbey of Ely, and gave gold crosses to St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury, Bury St. Edmunds Abbey, and to his cathedral church at Winchester. Although it does not appear that Stigand ever traveled to Rome, there are indications that Stigand did go on pilgrimage. A twelfth-century life of Saint Willibrord, written at the Abbey of Echternach in what is now Luxembourg, records that "to this place also came Stigand, the eminent archbishop of the English". Stigand is recorded as giving rich gifts to the abbey as well as relics of saints.
Stigand may have been in charge of the royal administration. He may also have been behind the effort to locate Edward the Atheling and his brother Edmund after 1052, possibly to secure a more acceptable heir to King Edward. His landholdings were spread across ten counties, and in some of those counties, his lands were larger than the king's holdings. Although Norman propagandists claimed that as early as 1051 or 1052 King Edward promised the throne of England to Duke William of Normandy, who later became King William the Conqueror, there is little contemporary evidence of such a promise from non-Norman sources. By 1053, Edward probably realized that he would not have a son from his marriage, and he and his advisors began to search for an heir. Edward the Atheling was the son of King Edmund Ironside, (reigned 1016), and Edward had been exiled from England in 1017, after his father's death. Although Aldred, the Bishop of Worcester actually went to the Continent in search of Edward, Ian Walker, the biographer of King Harold Godwinson, feels that Stigand was behind the effort. In the end, although Edward did return to England, he died soon after his return, leaving a young son Edgar the Ætheling.
Stigand did support Harold, and was present at Edward the Confessor's deathbed. Stigand's controversial position may have influenced Pope Alexander II's support of William the Conqueror's invasion of England. The reformers, led by Archdeacon Hildebrand, later Pope Gregory VII, opposed the older type of bishop, rich and installed by the lay powers.
After the death of Harold at the Battle of Hastings, Stigand worked with Earl Edwin and Earl Morcar, as well as Archbishop Aldred of York, to put Edgar the Ætheling on the throne. This plan did not come to fruition, however, due to opposition from the northern earls and some of the other bishops. Stigand submitted to William the Conqueror at Wallingford in early December 1066, and assisted at his coronation on Christmas Day, 1066, although the actual coronation was performed by Aldred. William took Stigand with him to Normandy in 1067, although whether this was because William did not trust the archbishop, as the medieval chronicler William of Poitiers alleges, is not certain. Stigand was present at the coronation of William's queen, Matilda in 1068, although once more the ceremony was actually performed by Aldred.
After the first rebellions broke out in late 1067 William adopted a policy of conciliation, towards the church. He gave Stigand a place at court, as well as giving administrative positions to Aldred of York and Aethelwig, abbot of Evesham. Archbishop Stigand appears on a number of royal charters in 1069, along with both Norman and English leaders. He even consecrated Remigius de Fécamp as Bishop of Dorcester in 1067. Once the danger of rebellion was past, however, William had no further need of Stigand. At a council held at Winchester at Easter 1070, the bishops met with papal legates from Alexander II. On 11 April 1070 Stigand was deposed by the papal legate, Ermenfrid, bishop of Sion in the Alps, and was imprisoned at Winchester. His brother Aethelmaer, bishop of Elmham, was also deposed at the same council. Shortly afterwards Aethelric bishop of Selsey, Ethelwin bishop of Durham and Leofwine bishop of Lichfield, who was married, were deposed at a council held at Windsor. There were three reasons given for Stigand's deposition: that he held the bishopric of Winchester in plurality with Canterbury; that he not only occupied Canterbury after Robert of Jumièges fled but also seized Robert's pallium which was left behind; and that he received his own pallium from Benedict X, an anti-pope. Some accounts state that Stigand did appear at the council which deposed him, but nothing is recorded of any defence that he attempted. The charges against his brother are nowhere stated, leading to a belief that the depositions were mainly political. That spring he had deposited his personal wealth at Ely Abbey for safekeeping, but King William confiscated it after his deposition, along with his estates. King William appointed Lanfranc, a native of Italy and a scholar and abbot in Normandy, as the new archbishop.
King William appears to have left the initiative for Stigand's deposition to the papacy, and did nothing to hinder Stigand's authority until the papal legates arrived in England to depose the archbishop and reform the English Church. Besides witnessing charters and consecrating Remigius, Stigand appears to have been a member of the royal council, and able to move freely about the country. But after the arrival of the legates, William did nothing to protect Stigand from deposition, and the archbishop later accused the king of acting with bad faith. Stigand may even have been surprised that the legates wished him deposed. It was probably the death of Aldred in 1069 that moved the pope to send the legates, as that left only one archbishop in England; and he was not considered legitimate and unable to consecrate bishops. The historian George Garnett draws the parallel between the treatment of King Harold in Domesday Book, where he is essentially ignored as king, and Stigand's treatment after his deposition, where his time as archbishop is as much as possible treated as not occuring.
Stigand died in 1072 while still imprisoned, and his death was commemorated on 21 February or 22 February. Sometime between his deposition and his death the widow of King Edward and sister of King Harold, Edith of Wessex, visited him in his imprisonment and allegedly told him to take better care of himself. He was buried in the Old Minster at Westminster.
At King Edward's death, only the royal estates and the estates of Harold were larger and wealthier than those held by Stigand. Medieval writers condemned him for his greed and for his pluralism. Hugh the Chanter, a medieval chronicler, claimed that the confiscated wealth of Stigand helped keep King William on the throne. A recent study of his wealth and how it was earned, shows that while he did engage in some exploitative methods to gain some of his wealth, other lands were gained through inheritance or through royal favour. The same study shows little evidence that he despoiled his episcopal estates, although the record towards monastic houses is more suspect. There is no complaint in contemporary records about his private life, and the accusations that he committed simony and was illiterate only date from the 1100s.
Although monastic chroniclers after the Norman Conquest accused him of crimes such as perjury and homicide, they do not provide any evidence of those crimes. Modern historians views tend to see him as either a wily politician and indifferent bishop, or to see him purely in terms of his ecclesiastical failings. The historian Frank Stenton felt that his "whole career shows that he was essentially a politician". Concurring with this, the historian Nick Higham said that "Stigand was a seasoned politician whose career had been built on an accurate reading of the balance of power." Another historian, Eric John, said that "Stigand had a fair claim to be the worst bishop of Christendom". However, the historian Frank Barlow felt that "he was a man of cultured tastes, a patron of the arts who was generous to the monasteries which he held".
Travel: Stitching Up My Relatives Kevin Pilley Lands in Normandy and Heads for a Museum in Bayeux in Search of a Very Long-Lost Relation
Aug 15, 1999; Shoes squeaked behind me and a hand tapped my shoulder. "Non," said the official, as I squashed my nose flat against the glass....