Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ælfric (d.1051)

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579693Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 01 — Ælfric (d.1051)1885William Hunt

ÆLFRIC (d. 1051), archbishop of York, called Puttoc, or the kite, first appears as provost of Winchester. He was consecrated to the see of York in 1023. Wharton (Anglia Sacra, i. 125) asserts his identity with the Abbot Ælfric, called the Grammarian [q. v.]. A refutation of this theory was put forth by E. R. Mores (published by Thorkelin, 1789), who attempted to prove that the grammarian was Ælfric, archbishop of Canterbury. The theory of Mores, which is adopted with some hesitation by Wright (Biog. Lit. vol. i.), seems impossible for chronological reasons. At the same time it is difficult to believe that the Archbishop of York could have been the grammarian, as he must in that case have lived to a very great age, and some record would probably have been given of this if such had been the fact. Ælfric of York was a benefactor to the collegiate churches of Beverley and Southwell. At Beverley he instituted the offices of chancellor, sacristan, and precentor, and translated the body of St. John of Beverley with great magnificence. In 1026 he went to Rome, and obtained the pall from Pope John XIX. When Cnut wrote his letter from Rome to his English subjects, he addressed it to Ælfric as well as to Æthelnoth of Canterbury. On the accession of Harthacnut, the king sent Ælfric with Earl Godwine to disinter and outrage the body of his brother Harold. William of Malmesbury, who takes the worst view of Ælfric's character, says (Gesta Pontif. lib. iii.) that this base deed was done by his advice. As neither Florence nor the Chronicle mentions this, the assertion must be regarded with suspicion. In 1040, Ælfric, with others, accused Earl Godwine and Bishop Lyfing of the murder of the ætheling Ælfred, the king's half brother. Harthacnut took away the bishopric of Worcester from Lyfing and gave it to Ælfric. While Ælfric held Worcester, the men of the bishopric made an insurrection against Harthacnut. The king sent the great earls with his housecarls to lay waste the shire and slay all its men. This barbarous measure is also attributed by William of Malmesbury to the advice of Ælfric, and he says that the archbishop took this way of revenging himself on the men of Worcester because they refused to receive him as their bishop. The next year the king gave back the bishopric to Lyfing. In 1043, Ælfric assisted at the coronation of Eadward the Confessor. He died at Southwell, 22 Jan. 1051, and was buried at Peterborough. The dark character given by William of Malmesbury to Ælfric, which Mr. Freeman freely accepts (Norman Conquest, i. c. 6), is probably to be referred, at least to some extent, to monkish prejudice against a patron of the secular clergy. Sufficient proof of the untruth of Malmesbury's statement as to the part taken by Ælfric in the Worcester outrage seems to be contained in the silence of Florence of Worcester, who simply says that it took place while Ælfric held the bishopric, and in the words of the Worcester writer of the Chronicle, who, in recording the death of Ælfric, says: ‘An exceeding pious man was he and wise.’

[Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; Florence of Worcester; William of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum, lib. ii., and Gesta Pontificum, lib. iii.; T. Stubbs, Pontif. Ebor., ap. Twysden, Dec. Script.; Simeon of Durham; Fasti Eboracenses, Dixon, ed. Raine.]

W. H.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.3
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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166 ii 38 Ælfric (d. 1051): For the use of puttock in the sense of kite cf. Shakespeare's '2 Hen. VI,' Act iii. Scene 2, lines 191-3