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Stigand (d. 1072), archbishop of Canterbury, appears to have come from a substantial Anglo-Norse family with property in and around Norwich (his name is Norse while that of his brother is English). He emerges in 1020 as the royal clerk to whom King Cnut gave a church that he built on the battlefield of ‘Assandun’ (Essex), where in 1016 he had won the kingdom. For the next twenty-three years little is known of Stigand although he occasionally witnessed royal charters. In 1043, early in Edward the Confessor's reign, he was consecrated bishop of the East Anglian see of Elmham. Because he was a protégé of the king's mother, Emma (Ælfgifu), who was the widow of kings Æthelred and Cnut and who temporarily forfeited the king's favour, he was quickly deposed. According to later authors, Elmham passed simoniacally to Grimketel, bishop of Selsey, who briefly held two sees. However, Stigand was restored early in 1044. In 1046, he witnessed two royal charters and was thus at least occasionally at court.

Bishop of Winchester

In late August 1047 Stigand was translated to Winchester where his patron Emma resided, while Elmham passed to his brother Æthelmaer. Between 1047 and 1052 Stigand regularly witnessed the Confessor's charters, so was evidently much at court. This was so during the political crisis of the Confessor's reign in 1051 and 1052 when Earl Godwine and his family were for a time banished from the kingdom. It is uncertain how far, as bishop of Winchester, Stigand had attached himself to Godwine, but he did not share his exile; indeed, at the onset of the crisis he acted in the king's interest. After the monks of Christ Church, Canterbury, had elected to the vacant see one of themselves, Godwine's kinsman Ælric, the king translated from London his Norman favourite, Robert of Jumièges, replacing him at London with his goldsmith, Abbot Spearhafoc of Abingdon. Spearhafoc was later reputed to have paid Stigand for his advancement. He was quickly expelled, apparently at the behest of Pope Leo IX (r. 1049–54). Stigand thereafter acted as an adviser and mediator. King William I's panegyrist, William of Poitiers, had William in 1066 name ‘Archbishop’ Stigand with earls Godwine, Leofric, and Siward as chief among the counsellors who, early in 1051, swore that, after Edward's death, they would receive him as their lord. Later in the year, Stigand sought to mediate between Edward and Godwine; according to the life of King Edward, Stigand wept exceedingly when delivering to Godwine the king's decision to banish him. If true, it is the only personal touch in anything relating to Stigand. When, in September 1052, Godwine and his sons returned to London with an armed force, Stigand was to the fore in arranging an exchange of hostages with the king and thus in resolving the confrontation. At a council held outside London, perhaps at Westminster, Godwine and his family were restored to their positions and property. Archbishop Robert of Jumièges was outlawed for sowing discord between Godwine and the king, while Stigand succeeded to the see of Canterbury which he held in plurality with Winchester.

Archbishop of Canterbury

At least in the short term, Stigand's position as archbishop looked strong, yet the appearance was deceptive. The first non-monk to be archbishop of Canterbury for almost a hundred years, he had no prior connection with the monks of his cathedral, among whom the formerly elected Ælric still lived. At Rome, Pope Leo was conversant with English affairs, for English bishops had attended his councils. Whether or not Rome considered Stigand's sponsorship of Spearhafoc simoniacal, his holding in plurality the two richest sees in England was objectionable. Unsurprisingly, Stigand did not venture to Rome for his pallium—the stole of white wool which symbolized a metropolitan's participation in the apostolic pastoral office. Instead, he appropriated the pallium, conferred at Rome by Leo IX, that Robert of Jumièges had abandoned. Prudently, in 1053, the bishops-elect Wulfwig of Dorchester and Leofwine of Lichfield sought consecration abroad. In 1058, through action by Roman families, the papacy briefly fell to Benedict X, who quickly dispatched a pallium to Stigand in England. Benedict had a reforming past; but in 1059 he was deposed in favour of Nicholas II (r. 1059–61). Stigand bore the blemish of one who received his pallium from a usurper. Although from 1058 he was regularly styled archbishop, two further bishops-elect, Giso of Wells and Walter of Hereford, sought consecration at Rome, where they no doubt explained their reasons; and in 1062 Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester was consecrated at York. Stigand consecrated only abbots: in his own diocese, Æthelsige of St Augustine's at Canterbury (1061); and in East Anglia, where he had secular power, Baldwin of Bury St Edmunds (1065) and Thurstan of Ely (1066, during Harold's reign). In 1062, while still earl, Harold did not, however, allow Stigand to consecrate his collegiate church at Waltham Cross. Yet under Nicholas II the papacy did not view Stigand with complete disfavour. During King Edward's Easter court at Worcester in 1062, two papal legates, one of whom was Bishop Ermenfrid of Sion, were willing for Stigand, as well as Archbishop Ealdred of York, to accede to their choice of Wulfstan to be bishop of Worcester; Wulfstan's biographer wrote of Stigand's doing so with goodwill and with judgement. However cautious some were about Stigand and his ministrations, under the Anglo-Saxon kings he was acknowledged to be a bishop.

In secular affairs, Stigand was not only prominent in the king's court and a friend of the Godwines, but he also commanded the power that came from the accumulation of wealth and resources to rival that of the greatest earls. On the latest estimate, the Domesday values of his resources in 1066 were some £755 for his personal wealth, £1145 for the see of Canterbury, and £1040 for the see of Winchester—making a total of some £2940. He had begun early to amass personal wealth. If ‘Assandun’ is Ashdon in far north-west Essex, his years there may account for a concentration of early interests near where Essex, Cambridgeshire, and Suffolk meet. Domesday shows him with a stake in ten shires; almost a third of his personal wealth came from Norfolk, but he had £60 or more from Dorset, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Kent, and Suffolk. His resources were not to be numbered only in possessions and cash; in East Anglia alone, he had claims upon the personal loyalty of over a thousand thegns (mostly, it is true, of only middling or lower status) and freemen. His brother Æthelmaer was bishop of his sometime see of Elmham; it was not wealthy, but the continuing family association augmented Stigand's position in East Anglia.

The estates of the see of Canterbury were heavily concentrated in the south-east of England; however, they were not only rich in themselves but they were a link between Stigand's largely personal holdings in East Anglia and his resources as bishop of Winchester from Surrey through Hampshire to Wiltshire and Somerset. More than three-quarters of the Domesday value of the see of Canterbury came from Kent, with Essex, Surrey, and Sussex each yielding £65 or more among six further counties. More than half of the value of the see of Winchester arose from Hampshire; Wiltshire and Somerset were to the fore among seven other shires. In total, Stigand had sources of wealth in eighteen shires which dovetailed well across the areas of southern and south-eastern England, the south midlands, and East Anglia. He was powerful in many areas that mattered most for the Anglo-Saxon and early Anglo-Norman regimes.

A dishonest prelate?

It must be asked whether Stigand was guilty of misappropriating or maladministering the property and interests of the ecclesiastical institutions with which he was connected. At Canterbury, he has been judged to have neglected rather than misused the endowments of the see. He did little to augment them, while he did not check the losses of land (especially to his friends the Godwines) before the conquest, which after it were to present serious problems; and he acquiesced in leases to the Godwines which were to Canterbury's disadvantage. At Winchester, Domesday Book establishes that Stigand at first held the valuable manor of East Meon in Hampshire for the use of the monks but later ‘for his own lifetime’ (Domesday Book, fol. 38b); however, there is no further evidence of major depredation of its estates. The worst that can be said is that there was a glaring contrast between the little care that Stigand gave to the estates of Canterbury and Winchester, and his assiduity in building up his personal fortune by inheritance, royal favour, and shrewd dealing with church property.

Much the same may be said of Stigand's dealings with monasteries. The most damaging specific allegation against him, that he extorted the manor of Cerney in Gloucestershire from Abingdon in return for supporting Abbot Spearhafoc's candidature for the see of London, is insecure. But in some transactions with Bath and Bury St Edmunds he drove hard bargains with the monks and took excessive advantage of his own power and position. More serious is the general allegation made at Ely that he kept vacant abbeys, as well as bishoprics, in his own hands and exploited them as his property. During a vacancy at Ely, probably in 1066, he held the abbey and diverted some of its possessions to his own use. Yet he also made Ely magnificent gifts: gold and silver altar vessels; a crucifix covered with silver which bore a life-size image of Christ and was accompanied by bronze figures of St Mary and St John; an alb and cope for the precentor; and a chasuble richer than any other in the kingdom. The Ely crucifix repeated his gift in 1047 to the Old Minster at Winchester of a similar crucifixion group, covered in precious metals, which he paid for from gifts of Queen Emma. He gave a third crucifixion group to Bury St Edmunds, and a cross and other benefactions to St Augustine's at Canterbury. If he could be rapacious, he could also be generous. At none of the monasteries that the Ely record alleged that he held—Winchester, Glastonbury, St Albans, St Augustine's, and Ely itself—do gaps in the lists of abbots leave room for prolonged exploitation. The Old Minster at Winchester, St Augustine's, and Ely included him in their necrologies. His dealings with monasteries were chequered; he could be neglectful, heavy-handed, and unscrupulous, but he cannot be called scandalous or oppressive.

Stigand and the Norman conquest

William of Poitiers insisted upon Stigand's power and his influence over the English, but because of his canonical position his power was fatally flawed. According to William of Poitiers (Guillaume de Poitiers, 146), the Waltham chronicle (Watkiss and Chibnall, 44), and the Bayeux tapestry, he crowned Harold on 6 January 1066; John of Worcester states, more credibly, that Archbishop Ealdred of York did so (John of Worcester, Chron., 2.601). After the battle of Hastings, Stigand briefly sponsored Edgar Ætheling to succeed Harold, but early in December he did homage to William of Normandy at Wallingford, Berkshire, before Ealdred followed suit. Yet on Christmas day it was Ealdred who crowned William king at Westminster, possibly with Stigand assisting. In 1067 Stigand was foremost among the English magnates who, because William mistrusted their loyalty and power, perforce accompanied him on his triumphal return to Normandy; when back in England, Stigand consecrated Remigius as bishop of Dorchester. At William's Pentecost court in 1068, he witnessed two royal diplomas, taking precedence over Ealdred; but Ealdred crowned Queen Matilda and was alone named in the associated Laudes regiae chant. Until Ealdred's death in 1069, Stigand was too powerful a figure for William to discard or ignore.

By 1069, however, the conquest was consolidated sufficiently for William to have a freer choice of agents; and with the consecration of a new archbishop of York in prospect he could scarcely ignore Stigand's canonical position. Moreover, the king stood to gain materially from Stigand's fall. The papacy was more than prepared to collaborate. Fuelled, no doubt, by Norman representations at Rome to secure sanction for the conquest of England and by Lanfranc's visit in 1067, Alexander II's hostility to Stigand became extreme. Writing to King William, he referred to national apostasy in pre-conquest England and to a ‘source of evil’ by which he clearly intended Stigand (Patrologia Latina, 146.1413). In 1070 legates from Rome, assisted by Bishop Ermenfrid of Sion, deposed Stigand and his brother Æthelmaer of Elmham at the Eastertide Council of Winchester. According to John of Worcester, the charges against Stigand were that he had illegally held Winchester with Canterbury in plurality, that during Robert of Jumièges's lifetime he not only assumed the archiepiscopate but wore at mass the pallium that Robert left behind when unjustly expelled, and that he later accepted his own pallium from the excommunicated simoniac Benedict. There was no mention of simony on Stigand's part. Lanfranc was consecrated to succeed him on 29 August.

Lanfranc was committed to Alexander II by personal loyalty and by shared ecclesiastical ideals. He refused even the degree of recognition that kings Edward and Harold, and rather more William I, had conceded to Stigand; he treated Stigand's archiepiscopate as null and void. The principal source for his rigour is the professions of obedience which he quickly required from three bishops whom he found in office—Wulfstan of Worcester, Remigius of Dorchester, and Herfast of Elmham. They were made particularly to acknowledge the second charge levelled against Stigand at Winchester, and in addition to allege that he had himself expelled his predecessor by force and guile, and assumed his pallium in defiance of papal authority; therefore, five successive popes from Leo IX to Alexander II (all reference to Benedict X was suppressed) had condemned him and inhibited him from consecrating bishops, and they had sent letters or legates to England against a consistently obdurate archbishop. For any such sustained papal campaign there is neither evidence nor probability; in 1062, for example, Stigand had worked with papal legates, including Ermenfrid of Sion, at Worcester. Other sources, particularly William of Poitiers and the Bayeux tapestry, share a concern after 1070 to blacken Stigand's reputation.

Wealth and death

Stigand's confiscated wealth and consequential opportunities for plundering monasteries no doubt helped King William to concur in such a presentation of Stigand. Before his deposition, he may have fled with some of his possessions, eventually reaching Ely. He was captured by royal order and detained at Winchester, where he was allowed a meagre pension. Queen Edith, Harold's sister, was among those said to have urged him to dress and feed himself better. His pleas of poverty were discounted after his death in Winchester on 21 or 22 February 1072, when a key suspended from his neck was said to have led to the discovery of hidden riches. He was honourably buried in the Old Minster, Winchester.

H. E. J. Cowdrey


ASC, s.a. 1020 [text F]; s.a. 1042–3, 1045, 1052, 1058, 1061 [text E]; s.a. 1048, 1058, 1066 [text D] · The Vita Wulfstani of William of Malmesbury, ed. R. R. Darlington, CS, 3rd ser., 40 (1928) · L. Watkiss and M. Chibnall, eds. and trans., The Waltham chronicle: an account of the discovery of our holy cross at Montacute and its conveyance to Waltham, OMT (1994) · John of Worcester, Chron. · Willelmi Malmesbiriensis monachi de gestis pontificum Anglorum libri quinque, ed. N. E. S. A. Hamilton, Rolls Series, 52 (1870) · Guillaume de Poitiers [Gulielmus Pictaviensis], Histoire de Guillaume le Conquérant / Gesta Gulielmus ducis Normannorum et regis Anglorum, ed. R. Foreville (Paris, 1952) · F. Barlow, ed. and trans., The life of King Edward who rests at Westminster, 2nd edn, OMT (1992) · E. O. Blake, ed., Liber Eliensis, CS, 3rd ser., 92 (1962) · Ann. mon., 2.3–125 · D. Whitelock, M. Brett, and C. N. L. Brooke, eds., Councils and synods with other documents relating to the English church, 871–1204, 2 (1981) · M. Richter, ed., Canterbury professions, CYS, 67 (1973) · N. Brooks, The early history of the church of Canterbury: Christ Church from 597 to 1066 (1984) · M. F. Smith, ‘Archbishop Stigand and the eye of a needle’, Anglo-Norman Studies, 16 (1993), 199–219 · Pope Alexander II, ‘Epistolae et diplomata’, Patrologia Latina, 146 (1853), 1413 · The Gesta Guillelmi of William of Poitiers, ed. and trans. R. H. C. Davis and M. Chibnall, OMT (1998)


embroidery (Bayeux Tapestry), Bayeux, France; see illus. in Harold II (1022/3?–1066)