Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Egbert (d.766)

EGBERT or ECGBERHT (d. 766), archbishop of York, son of Eata and cousin of Ceolwulf [q. v.], the king of Northumbria, to whom Bæda dedicated his 'History,' was sent by his father to a monastery to receive his education. When he had grown up he went to Rome with his brother Ecgred, and was ordained deacon there. Ecgred died at Rome, and Ecgberht returned home alone. He was appointed to the see of York by Ceolwulf, probably in 732 (Carmen de Pontiff. 1284; Addit. ad Bœdam, 734; A.-S, Chron, 735, Symeon), and Bæda thereupon wrote him a long letter of advice as to his life and doctrine, the administration of his diocese, the evils that prevailed among the clergy, the corrupt state of the monasteries, and the measures of reform that he desired him to adopt ('Ad Ecgberctum antistitem,' Opera Hist. Min. 207-26). As a means of restoring discipline, he urged him to forward the erection of new bishoprics and the fulfilment of the scheme of Pope Gregory, which invested the see of York with metropolitan authority by the gift of the pall. Acting on this advice Ecgberht obtained his pall at Rome from Gregory III in 735, and thus became the second archbishop of York; for as none of his predecessors since Paulinus received the vestment, they are not entitled to a higher title than that of bishop (Anglia Sacra, i. 66). His power was evidently greatly increased by the accession of his brother Eadberht [q. v.] to the Northumbrian throne in 738; he worked in perfect harmony with him, exercised full authority in ecclesiastical matters, and issued coins bearing his own name along with that of the king. He was learned, just, gracious, and liberal. He enriched the churches of his diocese with many splendid gifts, took care to ordain worthy men as priests, and paid attention to the cultivation of church music. Above all, he founded the school attached to his cathedral church. In this school the range of teaching was wide, and besides divinity included the study of classical authors, and especially of Virgil, of grammar, arts, and science. The work of teaching was mainly confided to Albert (Æthelberht), who succeeded Ecgberht as archbishop, and here among other scholars of note was educated Alcuin (Eahlwine), who also took part in the direction of the school. In the anonymous 'Life of Alcuin' we are told that Ecgberht each morning, as soon as his business was transacted, used to sit on his couch Egbert and instruct his young clerks till midday; he then prayed privately and celebrated mass. At dinner he ate sparingly, and listened to his scholars discussing literary questions. In the evening he always said the compline service with them, and then gave each his blessing singly (Vita Alcuini, Bibl. rerum Germ, Jaffé, iv. 10, 11). He corresponded with the English missionary Boniface, who wrote to him thanking him for his gifts, asking him to send him the 'Commentaries' of Bæda, and consulting hiih on a question of church discipline (epp. 60, 100). In 758 he received into his monastery his brother Eadberht, who voluntarily resigned his crown and became a monk. He died on 19 Nov. 766, after having ruled the diocese for thirty-four years (Carmen de Pontiff.; thirty-two years, Symeon), and was buried in one of the porches or chapels of his cathedral church. A letter of Paul I, with a superscription addressing it to Ecgberht as well as Eadberht, was really written to the king alone (Councils and Eccl. Docs. iii. 394-6). Ecgberht wrote:

  1. 'The Pontificale,' or a book of ritual, first printed by the Surtees Society, vol. xxvi. 1853.
  2. The 'Succinctus Dialogus Ecclesiasticæ Institutionis, 'printed with two epistles of Bæda by Ware 1664, by Wharton 1693, by Wilkins in his 'Concilia' 1737, by Thorpe in his 'Ancient Laws and Institutes' 1840, and by Haddan and Stubbs in their 'Councils,' &c.,180l.
  3. 'The Pænitentiale,' printed by Haddan and Stubbs in their 'Councils,' &c., iii. 413 sq., from the text of Wasserschleben, which presents what may be taken as the genuine work of the archbishop.

Other versions of the 'Penitential' ascribed to Ecgberht have been printed by Spelman, Wilkins, and Thorpe, but in each case his work has been mixed up with much that is clearly extraneous. A book of 'Excerptiones,' also ascribed to him, is of later date. The editors of the 'Councils,' &c. (see above), in a learned note on the works attributed to Ecgberht, consider that 'it seems rather more probable than not' that he may have translated the Anglo-Saxon version or paraphrase of the 'Confessionale' from the 'Penitential' of the 'so-called Cummeanus.' Other writings of which, if they ever existed, no traces now remain are ascribed to him by Bale (Scriptt. Brit, cent. ii. 109).

Carmen de Pontiff. Ebor. Eccl. 1247-86, Historians of York, i. 386; Symeon of Durham, Hist. Eccl. Dunelm. ii. 3 (Rolls Ser.); Bædæ Opera Hist. Minora, pp. 207-26 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); William of Malmesbury, Gesta Pontiff, p. 245 (Rolls Ser.); Addit. ad Bædam, Mon. Hist. Brit. p. 288; Vita Alcuini, Jaffé, pp. 10, 11; Bonifacii Epistolæ, Jaffé epp. 60, 100; Raine's Fasti Ebor. p. 94 sq.; Haddan and Stubbs's Councils and Eccl. Docs. iii. 358 sq., 388 sq., 413 sq.; Wright's Biog. Lit. i. 297 sq.; Dict. of Christian Biog., art. 'Egbert,' by Canon Raine.]

W. H.