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Booth [Bothe], Laurence (c.1420–1480), bishop of Durham and archbishop of York, was the illegitimate and probably youngest son of John Booth of Barton in Eccles, Lancashire (d. 1422). His mother is unknown. He was educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge, from which he took degrees in both civil and canon law by 1448. In 1442 he received papal dispensation as a son of unmarried parents for promotion to holy orders, and was duly ordained priest in 1446. By then he had already been presented to the rectory of Cottenham, near Cambridge. In 1450, although not a fellow, he was admitted master of Pembroke, which he remained until his death. He was rarely resident; indeed in January 1450 he was living in London as a residentiary canon of St Paul's.

Booth rose rapidly in the train of his elder brother , bishop of Coventry and Lichfield since 1447 and archbishop of York from 1452, to whom he owed most of his early promotion. He succeeded William as chancellor to Queen Margaret on 7 March 1451, and rapidly acquired benefices, receiving licence to hold with the archdeaconry of Stow (which he held only briefly in 1452) any three incompatible benefices up to the value of £100. While holding a series of prebends in London, and a prebend in Lichfield, he also, after William's provision to York, received the valuable prebend of Wistow in York Minster, became a canon of Beverley (and provost in 1457), and was archdeacon of Richmond from 17 August 1454. For two years (1456–8) he was also chancellor of the University of Cambridge. His income from the diocese of York alone was well in excess of £200 a year.

Booth's political career advanced swiftly, matching his rapid ecclesiastical promotion. Service in the household of Queen Margaret led directly to his appointment as keeper of the privy seal on 24 September 1456 following the death of Thomas Lisieux, whom he also succeeded as dean of St Paul's. Booth's promotion was the preliminary step to a bid for power that Queen Margaret made at a general council meeting at Coventry in October. For the next four years he was closely linked with the resurgent court faction led by the queen, becoming a councillor of the prince of Wales and being found from time to time in the midlands where the queen concentrated her strength. However, Booth's principal service was to lie in the north following his provision to the bishopric of Durham on 22 August 1457. He was consecrated by his brother on 25 September, and received the temporalities on 18 October.

Booth's promotion to Durham has usually been interpreted as entirely partisan. To an extent it was. He was able to bring to the support of the queen's cause the political authority of the palatinate and, at the same time, by succeeding Robert Neville, remove one of the props of the Yorkist cause in the north. Yet there was a long and respected tradition of promoting the keeper of the privy seal to this key northern diocese in the royal interest. In times less fraught the provision would not have been controversial. Indeed, there is some indication that at first Booth sought to retain the goodwill of Richard Neville, earl of Salisbury, whose handsome annuity from the revenues of the bishopric he continued to pay, and several of whose servants he kept in office. Yet, as the kingdom drifted towards civil war, it was almost inevitable that Booth would promote members of the family of Salisbury's enemy, the earl of Westmorland, and their servants to positions of authority, as well as committing the resources of his palatinate to the Lancastrian cause. He took immediate advantage of the rout of Ludford (13 October 1459) to seize possession of Barnard Castle, the lordship of Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, to which the bishops of Durham had ancient claims, claims confirmed subsequently in a proviso to the earl's attainder.

Not surprisingly Booth was removed from the privy seal following the Yorkist victory at Northampton (10 July 1460), but following the comprehensive defeat of the Lancastrians at Towton (29 March 1461) he submitted to the victorious Edward IV, was received into his grace, and became his confessor. He was forced, however, to surrender Barnard Castle to Warwick. He remained loyal to his new master, rallying the men of the palatinate to defeat a Lancastrian incursion in June. Commissioned to treat with the Scots in 1462, he was rewarded by the king with the grant of the alien priory and manor of Tooting Bec in Surrey. Yet in December, when Edward IV was in Durham to counter a combined Lancastrian and Scottish incursion, he was stripped of his temporalities (that is to say the palatinate and episcopal estates) and removed to Pembroke College where he was obliged, for the only time during his tenure, to be its resident master. Booth was no doubt suspected of collusion with Margaret of Anjou, and since the episcopal castle of Norham was the only fortress then in English hands in the far north-east, the sequestration was, perhaps, a wise precaution. Yet there is no direct evidence of treason. It is as likely that he was the victim of Neville vindictiveness and resentment, for the Kingmaker and his brother, Lord Montagu, were the chief beneficiaries of his fall from favour.

Booth was released in April 1464 and the temporalities restored shortly before peace was made with the Scots. But he was obliged to continue to accept Montagu (created earl of Northumberland in this year) as his lay steward, and it would appear that for the rest of the decade the palatinate remained under unwelcome Neville oversight. Warwick's flight in the spring of 1470 gave Booth the opportunity to recover his freedom of action, and Barnard Castle was restored to him. He survived the readeption of Henry VI to emerge a key figure in Edward IV's regime after 1471, becoming once again the councillor of an infant prince of Wales and being rewarded with the manor of Battersea. Admittedly he failed to hold on to Barnard Castle, which, after a complex tussle with rival claimants, was granted to the king's brother, Richard, duke of Gloucester, in 1474. He was prominent in Anglo-Scottish negotiations culminating in the treaty of Edinburgh of 26 October 1474, and served as chancellor of the realm from 27 July 1473 to 27 May 1474, resigning, it was said, because he became weary and tired by the endless task of managing parliamentary business. But he remained a royal councillor, being nominated to the body that ruled England during the king's expedition to France in 1475. He was rewarded with translation to York on 31 July 1476.

Booth's four years at York were uneventful, noted more for the favour shown to his kinsmen than for any ecclesiastical acts. His nephew Ralph was appointed archdeacon of York soon after his translation and also became his clerk; a second nephew, Thomas, was collated to the prebend of Ampleforth in 1478; and a great-nephew, Robert, rose swiftly to be dean of York in 1477 and was collated to the lucrative prebend of Wetwang. Laurence died at Southwell on 19 May 1480, possibly after a long illness, for he drew up his will on 28 September 1479; he was buried alongside his brother in the chantry chapel dedicated to St John the Baptist which he had founded there, and which his executors were to complete. His tomb is now in the south aisle of the minster. He is credited with initiating the building of a new arts and canon-law school when he was chancellor of Cambridge, and he rebuilt the gate and adjoining buildings of the episcopal residence of Auckland Palace when bishop of Durham. He founded a chantry in Eccles parish church, Lancashire, and was a benefactor of Pembroke College.

Booth's career is enigmatic. A great pluralist in his early years, he subsequently became, perhaps following the example of Pope Sixtus IV, a great nepotist, for which he has been much criticized. He has also been dismissed as a time-serving partisan. But this underestimates him. He was a stickler for the rights and prerogatives of every benefice he held. As early as 1455, as archdeacon of Richmond, he challenged the claim of St Mary's, York, to exemption from visitation in its appropriated churches within the archdeaconry. At Durham he soon came into conflict with the cathedral priory, over its similar claims to archidiaconal jurisdiction over appropriated churches, and his insistence on exercising his feudal prerogatives over its estates. The same obsession with feudal prerogative led to his assertion of the title of the bishop, as the successor of St Cuthbert, over Barnard Castle. It is not surprising that he made powerful enemies of the earl of Warwick and his brother George, archbishop of York, to whom the Durham monks appealed for support. Yet Booth stood by his principles, and after 1471 he was supreme in his palatinate. To him can be credited a reform of the administration that brought it more directly under the control of his officers, and also a brief revival of its mint. Perhaps not quite a latter-day Antony Bek, he was determined to be his own man in his palatinate. In this he was not discouraged by Edward IV, for whom ultimately, if only for a short while, he performed the traditional role of the bishop of Durham as the king's right-hand man in the far north.

A. J. Pollard


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