Brihtwald (DNB00)


BRIHTWALD (660?–731), the eighth archbishop of Canterbury, whose name is variously spelt by different writers, was of noble if not royal lineage (Will. Malm. Gest. Reg. i. 29), and was born about the middle of the seventh century, but neither the place nor the exact date of his birth is known. It is doubtful whether he was educated at Glastonbury ; but Bede says (v. 8) that, although not to be compared with his predecessor Theodore, he was thoroughly read in Scripture, and well instructed in ecclesiastical and monastic discipline. Somewhere about 670 the palace of the kings of Kent at Reculver was converted into a monastery, of which Brihtwald was made abbot. In a charter dated May 679 Alothari, king of Kent,bestows lands in Thanet upon him and his monastery (Kemble, Cod. Dipl. i. 16). Two years after the death of Theodore, Brihtwald was elected archbishop of Canterbury 1 July 692. Being probably unwilling to receive consecration at the hands of Wilfrith, archbishop of York, who had been opposed to Theodore [see Wilfrith], he crossed over to Gaul, and was consecrated by the primate Godwin, archbishop of Lyons, on 29 June 693 (Bede, v. 8). Two letters of Pope Sergius are quoted by William of Malmesbury (Gest. Pont. ed. Hamilton, pp. 52-55), one addressed to the kings Æthelred, Aldfrith, and Ealdulph, exhorting them to receive Brihtwald as 'primate of all Britain,' the other to the English bishops, enjoining obedience to him as such ; but the authenticity of these letters is doubtful (Haddan and Stubbs, iii. 65). In 696 he attended the council of 'the great men' summoned by Wihtred, king of Kent, at Berghamstede or Bersted, in which laws were passed prescribing the penalties to be exacted for various offences, ecclesiastical and moral ; and somewhere between 696 and 716 some ordinances, seemingly drawn up by him for securing the rights of the monasteries in Kent, were confirmed by the king in a council held at Beccanceld (probably Bapchild). The document is commonly known as the 'Privilege of Wihtred' (ibid. 233-240). In 702 he presided at the council of Estrefeld or Onestrefeld (near Ripon ?), attended by Aldfrith [q. v.], king of Northumbria, in which Wilfrith was condemned and excommunicated; and in 705, Wilfrith having visited Rome and obtained a papal mandate for his restoration, Brihtwald held a council near the river Nidd, in which, chiefly through his skilful management, it was arranged that Wilfrith should be permitted to re-enter the Northumbrian kingdom, only resigning the see of York and becoming bishop of Hexham (ibid. 264). He had already in the previous year taken measures for the division of the diocese of Wessex,then vacant by the death of Hedda, bishop of Winchester, and in 705 he consecrated Daniel to be bishop of that see, and Aldhelm first bishop of the new see of Sherborne (Will. Malm. Gest. Punt. 376). An interesting letter of his has been preserved (Ep. Boniface, 155) to Forthere, the successor of Aldhelm, imploring him to induce Beorwald, abbot of Glastonbury, to release a slave girl for a ransom of three hundred shillings offered by her brother. About the same time he received Winfrith (Boniface) on a mission from the West-Saxon clergy, perhaps concerning the further subdivision of their diocese by the foundation of a see for Sussex at Selsey, which took place in 711. In 716, in a council at Clovesho, he obtained a confirmation of Wihtred's privilege Hadden and Stubbs, iii. 300, 301). Scanty as these records of Brihtwald are, they seem to indicate that he ruled the church during a difficult period with energy and tact. The sympathies, however, of Bede and William of Malmesbury were so thoroughly on the side of Wilfrith of York that they were unable to bestow hearty praise on one who did not give him unqualified support. Brihtwald died in January 731, having presided over the church of England for thirty-seven years and a half, and was buried near his predecessor Theodore inside the church of St. Peter at Canterbury, the porch in which the first six primates had been buried being now quite full (Bede, ii. 3).

[Authorities cited in the text.]

W. R. W. S.