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Archbishop of Canterbury
Enthroned unknown
Reign ended 24 March 832
Predecessor Æthelhard
Successor Feologild
Consecration 3 August 805
Personal details
Died 24 March 832

Wulfred was Archbishop of Canterbury from 805 to 832.



Wulfred is believed to have come from Middlesex and was a member of a wealthy and important family with considerable landholdings in Middlesex and neighbouring regions. He was archdeacon of the community at Christ Church, Canterbury before the death of his predecessor Æthelhard.[1] Although earlier historians felt that Wulfred came from the Kentish nobility, it no longer appears that this was so.[2] He attended a synod as a member of Æthelhard's staff in 803.[3] Wulfred was consecrated archbishop on 3 August 805 and died on 24 March 832.[4]

He came into conflict with Cenwulf, King of Mercia over the issue of whether laymen could control religious houses, and in 808 the papacy informed Charlemagne that Cenwulf had not yet made peace with the archbishop,[5][6] but by 809 they seem to have been on good terms as Cenwulf and Wulfred were involved in a series of land transfers from 809 to 815.[3]

In 814 Wulfred traveled to Rome to visit Pope Leo III. Although the exact nature of his business with the pope is unknown, it was likely connected with the issue that arose between the archbishop and Cenwulf, king of the Mercians, over lay control of monasteries.[7] He was accompanied by the bishop of Sherborne, Wigberht.[5] Such lordship had been customary for centuries, though in the half-century or so before Wulfred became archbishop the church had begun to assert episcopal control over monasteries. In England, this resistance was manifested in decrees made by synods at Clofesho in 803 and more especially the synod of Chelsea in 816. Tensions over the Kentish houses of Reculver and Minster-in-Thanet reached such a point that Wulfred was deprived of authority by the king for a period of some years; six according to the document drawn up in 825 recording the – then victorious – Canterbury view of the debate, though four is perhaps more likely.[1] Wulfred still witnessed documents as archbishop in 817, and by September 822, he was once more officiating as archbishop, when he consecrated King Ceolwulf of Mercia.[8] Wulfred was driven into exile briefly at some point during his suspension from office.[3] However, the dispute was still active in the last years of Cenwulf's reign, as at a council held late in Cenwulf's reign, the king threatened the archbishop with exile unless he yielded.[8] Wulfred and the Canterbury community fought Cenwulf vigorously, sending embassies to the Pope and concocting forgeries in their favour which purported to have been issued by earlier kings.[1]

Around 820 Cenwulf forced Wulfred into an unfavourable settlement by which Wulfred gained control over the debated monasteries in exchange for a large payment of gold and the loss of a very large estate to the king.[9] Neither were Cenwulf and his followers quick to cede control of Minster and Reculver to the archbishop.[1] In September of 822, Wulfred reached a settlement with Cenwulf's successor Ceolwulf signified by the consecration of Ceolwulf as king, which had been delayed about a year because of the dispute with the archbishop. After Ceolwuf's deposition in 823 Wulfred's situation improved.[7] The new Mercian king, Beornwulf presided over another council at Clofesho in 825 where the conflict was finally settled in Wulfred's favour and an account of the whole conflict up to that point was written down. Cenwulf's daughter Cwenthryth, abbess of Winchcombe and Minster, paid compensation to Wulfred and lost control over the houses in Kent. Later in 825 (or possibly the following year), however, Kent was lost to Mercia after Egbert of Wessex defeated Beornwulf at Ellendun. Relations between Wulfred and the new West Saxon rulers were cold, and coinage in Wulfred's name appears to have ceased for a time, though it had been restored before Wulfred's death in 832.[1] Final settlement of the debate over lordship of monasteries came in 838 at Kingston, shortly before Egbert's death.[10]

Wulfred died in 832, probably on 24 March. Most of his wealth was left to a kinsman, Werhard, who was to give the lands to Christ Church after Werhard's death.[3] This is known from Wulfred's will, which survives in a late copy. This document names Werhard as Wulfred's nephew, and calls him priest.[2]

Under Wulfred's long archiepiscopacy considerable changes and reforms took place at Christ Church, which can be traced in the plentiful documentation that survives from this time. Wulfred used his very considerable personal wealth to fund the construction of new buildings, and reformed the community, possibly along the lines of Chrodegang's Regula canonicorum or perhaps on the rule of Benedict.[11] The main thrust of the reforms was that the clergy of the cathedral agreed to live in common and eat in common, in return for some property interests in their housing. Although it is clear that a communal style of living was practiced, whether the cathedral clergy were transformed into canons or if they remained monks is unclear.[3] The Christ Church scriptorium was also particularly active under Wulfred. In addition, Wulfred was the first archbishop to place his portrait on the pennies struck in his name which, unlike those of previous archbishops, never made reference to the ruling Mercian king.[9][11] Wulfred also rebuilt some buildings at Christ Church, Canterbury, although it is not known whether these were support buildings such as the dormitory and refractory or if he rebuilt the cathedral. Wulfred also left most of his wealth to his diocese at his death.[12]


  1. ^ a b c d e Brooks "Wulfred (d. 832)" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  2. ^ a b Witney "Period of Mercian Rule" Archæologia Cantiana pp. 89–90
  3. ^ a b c d e Kelly "Wulfred" Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England
  4. ^ Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 214
  5. ^ a b Kirby Earliest English Kings p. 152
  6. ^ This is Pope Leo III's first Letter to Charlemagne, written in 808, ed. K. Hampe, "Epistolae Leonis III Papae [no. 2]", in Epistolae Karolini aevi III. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Epistolae 5. Berlin, 1898. pp. 89–91.
  7. ^ a b Brooks Early History of the Church of Canterbury p. 132-142
  8. ^ a b Kirby Earliest English Kings p. 153
  9. ^ a b Stenton Anglo-Saxon England p. 229
  10. ^ Brooks Early History of the Church of Canterbury p. 197-203
  11. ^ a b Hindley A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons p. 223
  12. ^ Brooks Early History of the Church of Canterbury p. 51-52


  • Brooks, Nicholas (1984). The Early History of the Church of Canterbury: Christ Church from 597 to 1066. London: Leicester University Press. ISBN 0-7185-0041-5.  
  • Brooks, N. P. (2004). "Wulfred (d. 832)" (fee required). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.   Accessed 7 November 2007
  • 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.  
  • Hindley, Geoffrey (2006). A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons: The Beginnings of the English Nation. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers. ISBN 978-0-78671-738-5.  
  • Kirby, D. P. (2000). The Earliest English Kings. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-24211-8.  
  • Kelly, S. K. (2001). "Wulfred". in Lapidge, Michael; Blair, John; Keynes, Simon; Scragg, Donald. The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. pp. 491–492. ISBN 978-0-631-22492-1.  
  • Stenton, F. M. (1971). Anglo-Saxon England (Third ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-280139-5.  
  • Witney, K. P. (1987). "The Period of Mercian Rule in Kent, and a Charter of A. D. 811". Archæologia Cantiana CIV: 87–113.  

Further reading

External links

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Archbishop of Canterbury
Succeeded by


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