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Archbishop of Canterbury
Enthroned unknown
Reign ended 16 November 1005
Predecessor Sigeric the Serious
Successor Alphege
Consecration 21 April 995
Personal details
Died 16 November 1005
Canterbury, Kent, England
Buried Canterbury Cathedral
Feast day 16 November
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Communion

Ælfric of Abingdon (Old English: Ælfrīc; died 16 November 1005), also known as Ælfric of Wessex, was a late 10th century Archbishop of Canterbury, as well as previously holding the offices of abbot of St Albans and Bishop of Ramsbury, all of which are in England. He is often confused with famed Anglo-Saxon author Ælfric of Eynsham.



He was the son of an earl of Kent,[1] before he became a monk of Abingdon Abbey in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire) as well as probably Abbot of Abingdon[2] before becoming Abbot of St Albans Abbey around 975.[3] His brother, Leofric, became Abbot of St Albans in succession to him when he became bishop.[4] Between 991 and 993, he was raised to the bishopric of Ramsbury and Sonning[5] and in 995 to the see of Canterbury. He was translated to Canterbury on 21 April 995[6] at a witenagemot held at Amesbury,[7] where he received the permission of "King Æthelred and all the witan".[8] Ælfric continued to hold Ramsbury along with Canterbury until his death.[9] The story that his brother first was chosen for Canterbury but refused, stems from confusion on the part of Matthew of Paris and is generally held by historians to be untrue.[2]

His appointment to Canterbury caused consternation with the clergy of the cathedral chapter, who sent two members to Rome ahead of Ælfric, attempting to secure the office for one of them. The pope, however, would not appoint either without royal permission,[10] and when Ælfric arrived in Rome, he received his pallium from Pope Gregory V in 997.[11] He also witnessed some miracles at the gravesite of Edward the Martyr at Shaftesbury Abbey, helping to lead to Edward's sainthood.[12]

A story was told that he introduced monks into the cathedral church of Christ Church, Canterbury, replacing the secular clerks that had taken over the foundation during the ninth century.[13] Ælfric is said to have done this on the command of the pope. This story originally dates to soon after the Norman Conquest and the monastic historians of Canterbury, and its veracity is unclear.[14] He probably performed the marriage ceremony of King Ethelred the Unready and Emma of Normandy in 1002.[15] A later tradition held that he consecrated a Bishop of Llandaff and two Bishops of St. David's in Wales.[16]

It was either Ælfric or his predecessor Sigeric who wrote a letter to Wulfsige, Bishop of Sherborne about the duties of bishops to make sure that the laity did not despoil churches and that they should be exhorted to better lives.[17] Ælfric also ordered the composition of the first Life of Dunstan.[18] He also acted as a royal judge, once being ordered by King Æthelred to adjudicate a case between thegns.[19]

Ælfric died on 16 November 1005[6] and was buried in Abingdon Abbey, later being translated to Canterbury Cathedral. His will survives and is a most interesting document. He left ships to the people of Wiltshire and Kent, with his best one, equipped for sixty men, going to King Ethelred.[2][20] A life of St. Dunstan was dedicated to him.[21]


  1. ^ Barlow English Church 1000–1066 p. 125 footnote 3
  2. ^ a b c Mason "Ælfric (d. 1005)" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  3. ^ Knowles, et al. Heads of Religious Houses p. 65
  4. ^ Stafford Unification and Conquest p. 169
  5. ^ Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 220
  6. ^ a b Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 214
  7. ^ Williams Æthelred the Unready p. 20
  8. ^ Quoted in Barlow English Church 1000–1066 p. 107 footnote 5
  9. ^ Williams Æthelred the Unready p. 36
  10. ^ Barlow English Church 1000–1066 p. 103
  11. ^ Ortenberg "Anglo-Saxon Church and the Papacy" English Church and the Papacy in the Middle Ages p. 49
  12. ^ O'Brien Queen Emma and the Vikings p. 52-53
  13. ^ Stenton Anglo-Saxon England p. 453
  14. ^ Knowles Monastic Order in England p. 50
  15. ^ O'Brien Queen Emma and the Vikings p. 31
  16. ^ Barlow English Church 1000–1066 p. 232
  17. ^ Barlow English Church 1000–1066 p. 64
  18. ^ Barlow English Church 1000–1066 p. 62
  19. ^ Barlow English Church 1000–1066 p. 147 footnote 4
  20. ^ Williams Æthelred the Unready p. 81-82
  21. ^ Darlington "Ecclesiastical Reform" English Historical Review p. 389


  • Barlow, Frank (1979). The English Church 1000–1066: A History of the Later Anglo-Saxon Church (Second ed.). New York: Longman. ISBN 0-582-49049-9.  
  • Darlington, R. R. (1936). "Ecclesiastical Reform in the Late Old English Period". The English Historical Review 51 (203): 385–428.  
  • Fryde, E. B.; Greenway, D. E.; Porter, S.; Roy, I. (1996). Handbook of British Chronology (Third revised ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-56350-X.  
  • Knowles, David (1976). The Monastic Order in England: A History of its Development from the Times of St. Dunstan to the Fourth Lateran Council, 940–1216 (Second reprint ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-05479-6.  
  • Knowles, David; London, Vera C. M.; Brooke, Christopher (2001). The Heads of Religious Houses, England and Wales, 940–1216 (Second ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-80452-3.  
  • Mason, Emma (2004). "Ælfric (d. 1005)" (fee required). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.   Accessed 7 November 2007
  • O'Brien, Harriet (2005). Queen Emma and the Vikings: A History of Power, Love and Greed in Eleventh-Century England. New York: Bloomsbury USA. ISBN 1-58234-596-1.  
  • Ortenberg, Veronica (1965). "The Anglo-Saxon Church and the Papacy". in Lawrence, C. H.. The English Church and the Papacy in the Middle Ages (1999 reprint ed.). Stroud: Sutton Publishing. pp. 29–62. ISBN 0-7509-1947-7.  
  • Stafford, Pauline (1989). Unification and Conquest: A Political and Social History of England in the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries. London: Edward Arnold. ISBN 0-7131-6532-4.  
  • Stenton, F. M. (1971). Anglo-Saxon England (Third ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-280139-5.  
  • Williams, Ann (2003). Aethelred the Unready: The Ill-Counselled King. London: Hambledon & London. ISBN 1-85285-382-4.  

External links

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Sigeric the Serious
Bishop of Ramsbury
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Sigeric the Serious
Archbishop of Canterbury
Succeeded by


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