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William Lyndwood

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Bishop of St. David's and the greatest of English canonists, b. about 1375; d. in 1446. He had a distinguished ecclesiastical career, being appointed "Official" of the Archbishop of Canterbury (i.e. his principal adviser and representative in matters of ecclesiastical law) in 1414, and Dean of the Arches in 1426, while holding at the same time several important benefices and prebends. In 1434 he was made Archdeacon of Stow in the Diocese of Lincoln, and in 1442, after an earnest recommendation from King Henry VI himself, he was promoted by the pope to the vacant See of St. David's. During these years many other matters besides the study of canon law had occupied Lyndwood's attention. He had been closely associated with Archbishop Henry Chichele in his proceedings against the Lollards. He had also several times acted as the chosen representative of the English clergy in their discussions with the Crown over subsidies, but more especially he had repeatedly been sent abroad upon diplomatic missions - e.g. to Portugal, France, the Netherlands, etc. — besides acting as the king's proctor at the Council of Basle in 1433 and taking a prominent part as negotiator in arranging political and commercial treaties. Despite the fact that so much of Lyndwood's energies were spent upon purely secular concerns nothing seems ever to have been said against his moral or religious character. He was buried in the crypt of St. Stephen's, Westminster, where his body was found in 1852, wrapped in a ceremonial cloth and almost without signs of corruption.

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Lyndwood, however, is chiefly remembered for his great commentary upon the ecclesiastical decrees enacted in English provincial councils under the presidency of the Archbishops of Canterbury. This elaborate work, commonly known as the "Provinciale", follows the arrangement of the titles of the Decretals of Gregory IX in the "Corpus Juris", and forms a complete gloss upon all that English legislation with which, in view of special needs and local conditions, it was found necessary here, as elsewhere, to supplement the common law ( jus commune ) of the Church. Lyndwood's gloss affords a faithful picture of the views accepted among the English clergy of his day upon all sorts of subjects. In particular, the much vexed question of the attitude of the Ecclesia Anglicana towards the jurisdiction claimed by the popes there finds its complete solution. Prof. F.W. Maitland some years ago produced a profound sensation by appealing to Lyndwood against the pet historical figment of modern Anglicans, that the "Canon Law of Rome, though always regarded as of great authority in England, was not held to be binding on the English ecclesiastical courts " (Eng. Hist. Rev., 1896, p. 446). How successfully Maitland, armed with the irrefragable evidence which Lyndwood supplies, has demolished this legend, may be proved by a reference to one of the most authoritative legal works of recent date, viz., "The Laws of England " edited by Lord Chancellor Halsbury (vol. XI, 1910, p. 377). "In pre-Reformation times", we there read, "no dignitary of the Church, no archbishop, or bishop could repeal or vary the Papal decrees "; and, after quoting Lyndwood's explicit statement to this effect, the account continues: "Much of the Canon Law set forth in archiepiscopal constitutions is merely a repetition of the Papal canons, and passed for the purpose of making them better known in remote localities; part was ultra vires , and the rest consisted of local regulations which were only valid in so far as they did not contravene the 'jus commune', i.e. the Roman Canon Law."

Lyndwood's great work was frequently reprinted in the early years of the sixteenth century, but the best edition is that produced at Oxford in 1679.


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