Ethelhard (DNB00)

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ETHELHARD, ÆTHELHEARD, ADELARD, or EDELRED (d. 805), archbishop of Canterbury, a Mercian either by birth or at least in feeling, was abbot of ‘Hlud’ (Simeon of Durham, p. 667), either Lydd in Kent, or more probably Louth in Lincolnshire. William of Malmesbury's assertion that he was abbot of Malmesbury and afterwards bishop of Winchester cannot be correct for chronological reasons (Ecclesiastical Documents, iii. 468). He was elected to the see of Canterbury on the death of Archbishop Jaenberht in 791, but was not consecrated until 21 July 793 (Florence, i. 63). This delay was evidently the result of the dislike with which the Kentishmen regarded the Mercian domination. Offa, king of Mercia, who was endeavouring to strengthen his power over them, had diminished the dignity of Canterbury by persuading Pope Hadrian to erect Mercian Lichfield into a third metropolitan see, which was held by Hygberht, and he now hoped, by procuring the election of one of his own party to Canterbury, to secure the success of this arrangement, and to increase his power over Kent through the instrumentality of the archbishop. The clergy and nobles of Kent hated the Mercian rule, and their hatred was no doubt intensified by the injury Offa had done their church. It is probable, therefore, that they did all they could to hinder Æthelheard from receiving consecration from the Mercian archbishop of Lichfield. After his consecration, which was doubtless performed by Hygberht, Æthelheard received a letter from Alcuin [q. v.], who constantly corresponded with him, exhorting him to a faithful discharge of his duties (Monumenta Alcuiniana, p. 202). He was in favour with Offa, for the Frankish king Charles (Charlemagne) requested him to use his influence with the king on behalf of certain English exiles; and his consecration seemed to have secured the success of Offa's policy, for at the council of Clovesho in 794 his name was appended to a charter below that of Hygberht, his senior in office (Eccles. Documents, iii. 484, 485). In 796, however, Eadberht Præn [q. v.] made an insurrection in Kent, and the same year Offa died, and was succeeded by his son Ecgfrith, who in December was succeeded by Cenwulf. Æthelheard, as a strong partisan of Mercia, was in considerable danger in Kent, and Alcuin wrote to him beseeching him not to desert his church. Nevertheless, in 797 he was a fugitive at the Mercian court, and Alcuin wrote to the Kentishmen urging them to receive him back (ib. p. 509). With the death of Offa the importance of the Mercian archbishopric decayed. Now that the Archbishop of Canterbury was a strong adherent of the Mercian king, there was no longer any reason for keeping up the schism in his province, and it seemed better policy to strengthen and make use of the vast influence attached to his office. Mercian bishops began to profess obedience to Canterbury, and Æthelheard wrote to Leo III to obtain the restoration of the rights of his see (ib. pp. 506, 523). Cenwulf in 798, the year of Eadberht's defeat and capture, wrote to Leo to consult him as to the termination of the schism. Leo in his answer declared the primacy of Canterbury (ib. p. 524). On the suppression of the revolt Æthelheard returned to Canterbury, and shortly afterwards received a letter from Alcuin congratulating him on his return, and recommending him to do penance for having deserted his church, to consult Eanbald [see Eanbald II], archbishop of York, as to the restoration of unity in his province, and so to arrange matters that, while regaining the right of ordaining bishops throughout it, he should yet leave Hygberht the pall he had received from Rome. The next year Æthelheard presided at a council at Celchyth (Chelsea). In spite, however, of the pope's declaration, he was not yet invested with primatial dignity, for, at a council held shortly afterwards at Tamworth, his name was still written after that of Hygberht (Kemble, Codex Dipl. 1020). In accordance with Alcuin's advice he took counsel with Eanbald, and determined to go to Rome to lay his case before the pope. He left England in 801 (A.-S. Chron. sub an. 799), and journeyed in company with two bishops and two thegns. Alcuin took a lively interest in his journey, sent a servant with a horse and his own saddle to meet him at St. Josse-sur-Mer or St. Judoc's, a cell he had at Quentavic, or Etaples in Ponthieu, and wrote to the Emperor Charles on his behalf. The archbishop was honourably received by Leo, who on 18 Jan. 802 gave him a letter confirming all the ancient rights of his see (Eccles. Documents, iii. 536), and when he had left Rome wrote to Cenwulf praising his high character and ability, and the holiness of his life and conversation, and informing the king that he had restored the rights of the see, which had, it appears, suffered in property as well as dignity, and had given the archbishop authority to excommunicate transgressors (ib. p. 538). Alcuin again wrote to Æthelheard, congratulating him on his success and his safe return, and praying him to be firm and active. In a council held at Clovesho in October 803 the rights of Canterbury were acknowledged, and the metropolitan dignity was taken away from Lichfield. A record of another act of this council, dated two days later, is attested by Hygberht, an abbot of the diocese of Lichfield. It may therefore be assumed either that Hygberht voluntarily divested himself of his dignity, or that Æthelheard, in spite of Alcuin's advice, followed up his victory by the deposition of his rival. Æthelheard's last public act is dated 805; he died on 12 May of that year, and was buried in the chapel of St. John the Baptist in his cathedral church (Gervase). His coins, of which eight types are extant, are rare; some of them are inscribed ‘Ædilheard Pont.’ instead of ‘Ar.,’ and it has been suggested that they belong to the period between his election and consecration (Kenyon; Ecclesiastical Documents).

[Anglo-Saxon Chron., sub ann. 791, 799; Florence of Worcester, i. 62–4 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Simeon of Durham, p. 667, Mon. Hist. Brit.; William of Malmesbury, Gesta Pontificum, pp. 57–59, 160, 389 (Rolls Ser.); Haddan and Stubbs's Council and Eccles. Documents, iii. 467–553, contains all the more important documents of Æthelheard's archiepiscopate, with references to Kemble's Codex Dipl., and with the correspondence between him and Alcuin, which will be found along with other notices of Æthelheard in the Monumenta Alcuin., ed. Jaffé; see also the Monumenta Carolina, p. 352; Dict. of Christian Biog., art. ‘Ethelhard,’ by Bishop Stubbs; Anglia Sacra, i. 53; Gervase, col. 1642, Twysden; Hook's Archbishops, i. 254; Hawkins's Silver Coins, ed. Kenyon, p. 103.]

W. H.