Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Plegmund

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PLEGMUND (d. 914), archbishop of Canterbury, a Mercian by birth, lived as a hermit on what was in those days an island, called from him Plegmundham, about five miles north-east of Chester. The island was said to have been given by Æthelwulf to Christ Church, Canterbury (Gervase, ii. 45), and is now called Plemstall. Being famed for his learning and religious life, Plegmund was called by Ælfred to his court, and there instructed the king and helped him in his literary work. In 890 he was chosen archbishop, and, going to Rome, received the pall from Formosus, who became pope the next year. It has been supposed that he compiled and wrote the first part of the Winchester codex of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,’ now in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, in which there is a change of writing at the year 891, but this is mere supposition; nor is it certain that he resided for any length of time at the court before he became archbishop. Among the books that he helped the king to write was Ælfred's version of Pope Gregory's ‘Regula Pastoralis;’ his share in the work is acknowledged in the preface, and the copy that the king gave him is preserved, though in a much damaged state, in the British Museum (Cott. MS. Tib. B. 11). On the death of Ælfred in 901, Plegmund is said to have crowned his son Edward at Kingston (Diceto, i. 145). William of Malmesbury (Gesta Regum, book ii. c. 129) relates, quoting and altering a narrative in Leofric's ‘Missal,’ that in 904 Pope Formosus wrote threatening to excommunicate Edward and all his people because for seven years the West-Saxon land had had no bishop; that Edward called a synod over which Plegmund presided, that five bishops instead of two as beforetime were chosen and set over different West-Saxon tribes, and that Plegmund consecrated seven bishops in one day at Canterbury, five for Wessex and the other two for Selsey and the Mercian Dorchester. He proceeds to name them. The passage is full of blunders, as, for example, the introduction of Formosus, who died in 896. The story has been critically examined by Bishop Stubbs (Gesta Regum, i. 140 n. and ii. Pref. lv–lx), and his explanation, so far as it concerns Plegmund, is, in brief, as follows. The acts and specially the ordinations of Pope Formosus were annulled in 897, the sentence being confirmed in 904. This sentence, of course, affected the position and the acts of Plegmund and the bishops whom he had consecrated. It was perhaps known—it was certainly afterwards believed (Gesta Pontificum, pp. 59–61)—that Formosus had urged that English sees should be filled more quickly. The decision of 904 made matters urgent in 905— the date of the letter, according to Leofric's ‘Missal.’

In 908 Plegmund consecrated the new minster at Winchester and paid a second visit to Rome, carrying to the pope (Sergius III) the alms sent by the king (Ethelweard, p. 519). The main object of his visit may well have been to obtain the necessary confirmation of his position and his acts; and he would probably also seek the pope's sanction for the subdivision of the West-Saxon episcopate contemplated by him and the king. One act in this subdivision was certainly accomplished in 909; it is possible that the whole of it was carried out at the same time at a council at Winchester (Codex Diplomaticus, Nos. 342, 1090–6). Nor is there any reason to disbelieve that Plegmund on one day in that year consecrated seven bishops, five for Wessex and the two others for sees outside it. On his return from Rome he brought with him the relics of St. Blaise, which he had bought at a high price. He died in old age on 2 Aug. 914, and was buried in his cathedral church.

[A.-S. Chron. ann. 890, 891, 923; Asser, ap. M. H. B. p. 487; Ethelweard, ap. Monumenta Historica Britannica, p. 519; Flor. Wig. an. 890 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Will. of Malmesbury's Gesta Regum, i. 133, 140–1, ii. Pref. lv–lx and Gesta Pontiff. pp. 20, 60, 177, Gervase of Cant. i. 15, ii. 44, 350, Ralph de Diceto, i. 145 (all Rolls Ser.); Kemble's Codex Dipl. Nos. 322, 332, 336, 337, 342, 1090–96 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Stubbs's Reg. Sacr. Angl. pp. 12, 13; Hook's Archbishops of Canterbury, i. 312 sq.; Wright's Biogr. Lit. pp. 413–15.]

W. H.