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Henry Murdac
Archbishop of York
Enthroned January 1151
Reign ended 14 October 1153
Predecessor William of York
Successor William of York
Consecration 7 December 1147
Personal details
Died 14 October 1153

Henry Murdac was abbot of Fountains Abbey (1144–1147) and Archbishop of York (1147–1153),


Early life

Henry became a Cistercian under the influence of Bernard of Clairvaux, shown here in a 13th century illuminated manuscript.

He was a native of Yorkshire,[1] but descended from a wealthy family from Compton Murdac (now Compton Verney), in Warwickshire. He was friendly with Archbishop Thurstan of York, who gave him preferment in the Cathedral of York,[1] however he resigned soon afterwards when Bernard of Clairvaux invited him to become a Cistercian monk at Clairvaux. He was a friend and companion there of the future Pope Eugenius III.[1] He was later appointed the first abbot of Vauclair Abbey in the diocese of Laon[2] and in 1144 returned to Yorkshire to assume the abbacy at Fountains.[3] Henry was a strict disciplinarian and a magnificent administrator,[1] enforcing his rules by example, in living a life of great austerity and constantly wearing sackcloth next to his skin.

Henry was also at the forefront of opposition to the appointment of William FitzHerbert to the see of York, by King Stephen.[4] William, who was the king’s nephew, was accused by some of simony and unchaste living; in a letter to Pope Innocent II, Bernard maintained that Fitzherbert was ‘rotten from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.’ FitzHerbert was first suspended by the pope and then in 1147 formally deposed by the Council of Rheims at the instigation of Pope Eugenius III, Murdac's fellow monk of Clairvaux.[1]


The ruins of Fountains Abbey

Murdac was then installed as the new archbishop, being consecrated on 7 December 1147[5] by Eugenius III.[2][6] He was the first Cistercian bishop in England,[7] as well as being the first bishop or archbishop elected since the Norman Conquest without the approval of the king.[8] However, the Chapter of York refused to acknowledge his appointment, so he retired to Ripon.[9] King Stephen also refused to recognise him,[10] sequestering the stalls of York and imposing a fine on the town of Beverley for harbouring him. In retaliation, Murdac excommunicated Hugh de Puiset, Treasurer of York, and his other enemies and laid the city under interdict. Puiset, in return, excommunicated the Archbishop and ordered the services to be conducted as usual.[11] In this he was supported by Eustace, son of Stephen.

Murdac, in retaliation for Stephen's refusal to recognize his election, supported King David I of Scotland in 1149, when David invaded the north of England. David was ostensibly invading to put his nephew Henry Plantagenet on the English throne, but modern historians feel that David was also pursuing his own aims of strengthening his kingdom. Murdac probably took the step of aligning himself with the Scots because of Murdac's desire to establish York's independence from the primacy of the see of Canterbury. Murdac hoped that David would be able to install Murdac in York, where the archbishop had been refused entry.[12]

In 1150, Stephen finally recognized Henry Murdac as Archbishop of York, probably hoping that Henry would then intercede with Eugenius to secure the coronation of Eustace, but that didn't happen.[13] Murdac also continued to lack support in the city of York itself, and continued to reside at Ripon.[14] Finally, in January of 1151, Henry was able to enter York. Later in 1151, the archbishop traveled to Rome to consult with the pope about Eustaces's coronation, but was unable to secure permission from the pope.[15] In 1153, Puiset was elected Bishop of Durham, which greatly offended Murdac chiefly because he, as metropolitan of the province, had not been consulted. He excommunicated the prior and Archdeacon of Durham, who came to York to implore mercy and absolution. The King and his son Eustace implored him to grant the rebels absolution, but he refused, until they came to Beverley, acknowledged their fault, and submitted to scourging at the entrance to the Minster when he did finally absolve them.

Murdac spent five of his six years as Archbishop at Ripon. Despite everything, he retained his influence over Fountains and the three succeeding abbots, Maurice (1148), Thorald (1148–1150) and Richard (1150–1170), were suffragen abbots under him.[2][3]

Death and afterwards

Henry died at Beverley on 14 October 1153.[16] Following Henry’s death, William FitzHerbert was reinstalled as archbishop[5] and made his peace with the community at Fountains. Murdac was buried at York Minster.[17]


  1. ^ a b c d e Knowles The Monastic Order in England p. 239
  2. ^ a b c Clay "The Early Abbots of the Yorkshire Cistercian Houses" Yorkshire Archaeological Journal p. 16-17
  3. ^ a b Knowles Heads of Religious Houses p. 132
  4. ^ Barlow The English Church 1066–1154 p. 98-99
  5. ^ a b Fryde Handbook of British Chronology p. 281
  6. ^ Davis King Stephen p. 99
  7. ^ Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings p. 431
  8. ^ Burton Monastic and Religious Orders p. 77
  9. ^ Knowles The Monastic Order in England p. 255-257
  10. ^ Huscroft Ruling England 1042–1217 p. 133-134
  11. ^ Davis King Stephen p. 103-105
  12. ^ Stringer "State-Building" in Appleby Government, Religion and Society in Northern England p. 57-59
  13. ^ Davis King Stephen p. 114
  14. ^ Matthew King Stephen p. 131
  15. ^ Matthew King Stephen p. 201-203
  16. ^ British History Online Archbishops of York accessed on 15 September 2007
  17. ^ Burton "Murdac, Henry (d. 1153)" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online Edition accessed 12 November 2007


  • Appleby, John C. and Paul Dalton (ed.) Government, Religion and Society in Northern England 1000–1700 Stroud: Sutton Publishing 1997 ISBN 0-7509-1057-7
  • Barlow, Frank The English Church 1066–1154 London:Longman 1979 ISBN 0-582-50236-5
  • Bartlett, Robert England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings: 1075–1225 Oxford:Clarendon Press 2000 ISBN 0-19-822741-8
  • British History Online Archbishops of York accessed on 15 September 2007
  • Burton, Janet (1994). Monastic and Religious Orders in Britain: 1000–1300. Cambridge Medieval Textbooks. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-37797-8.  
  • Burton, Janet "Murdac, Henry (d. 1153)" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press, 2004 Online Edition accessed 12 November 2007
  • Clay, C. T. "The Early Abbots of the Yorkshire Cistercian Houses" Yorkshire Archaeological Journal vol. cxlix 1952 p. 8–43
  • Davis, R. H. C. King Stephen 1135–1154 Third Edition London:Longman 1990 ISBN 0-582-04000-0
  • Fryde, E. B.; Greenway, D. E.; Porter, S.; Roy, I. (1996). Handbook of British Chronology (Third Edition, revised ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-56350-X.  
  • Huscroft, Richard Ruling England 1042–1217 London: Pearson Longman 2005 ISBN 0-582-84882-2
  • Knowles, David; London, Vera C. M.; Brooke, Christopher (2001). The Heads of Religious Houses, England and Wales, 940–1216 (Second Edition ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-80452-3.  
  • Knowles, Dom David The Monastic Order in England: From the Times of St. Dunstan to the Fourth Lateran Council Second Edition Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1976 reprint ISBN 0-521-05479-6
  • Matthew, Donald King Stephen London: Hambledon and London 2002 ISBN 1-85285-514-2
  • Stringer, Keith J. "State-Building in Twelfth-Century Britain: David I, King of Scots, and Northern England" in Appleby, John C. and Paul Dalton (ed.) Government, Religion and Society in Northern England 1000–1700 Stroud: Sutton Publishing 1997 ISBN 0-7509-1057-7
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
William of York
Archbishop of York
Succeeded by
William of York


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