WULFRED (d. 832), archbishop of Canterbury, first appears as archdeacon under Archbishop Ethelhard [q. v.] He had large estates in Kent, and was probably a Kentish man (Ecclesiastical Documents, iii. 557). He was consecrated in Canterbury at the time of the council of Acle in 805, probably early in August (ib. p. 559), and the next year received his pall. Before long he had some disagreement with Cenwulf, king of Mercia. Though Cuthred, who had reigned in Kent in dependence on Mercia, was succeeded in 807 by Baldred, with whom the archbishop was on friendly terms, Cenwulf virtually ruled the kingdom, and was doubtless jealous of the archbishop's political influence, for Wulfred's wide possessions rendered him peculiarly powerful; his position is illustrated by the fact that his coins are not, like those of his predecessor, stamped on the reverse with the name of the Mercian king. Cenwulf evidently regarded his power as dangerous to the Mercian supremacy, and unscrupulously attempted to counterbalance it by attacking the metropolitan see. Their disagreement had reached the ears of Leo III in 808, who refers to it in a letter to the Emperor Charles the Great (Monumenta Carolina, p. 313). In 814 Wulfred, accompanied by Wigthegn, bishop of Winchester, went to Rome, probably to represent his cause to the pope, who may have arranged matters, for in 816 Cenwulf was present at a provincial council held by Wulfred at Chelsea. This council was attended by all the bishops of the southern province, and eleven canons were agreed upon (Eccl. Documents, u.s. 579–85).
In 817 Cenwulf seized the monasteries of Minster in Thanet and Reculver, which belonged to the church of Canterbury, and, in order to defeat the archbishop's resistance, laid false charges against him before the pope. In consequence, according to a contemporary document, for six years (817–822) ‘the whole English nation were deprived of primordial authority and the ministry of holy baptism’ (ib. p. 597); the words are doubtless rhetorical, for no other notice of a virtual interdict of so tremendous a character is known to exist. As it was from Canterbury that baptism first came to the English, and the archbishop was the head of national Christianity, it seems probable that this puzzling sentence really means that during the progress of the quarrel Wulfred was more or less prevented from exercising his authority, either by Cenwulf's tyranny or by the pope during the examination into the king's charges against him. Wulfred evidently represented his innocence to the pope and the Emperor Lewis, who seem to have espoused his cause. Their interference enraged Cenwulf, who, about 820, cited the archbishop to appear before him at a witenagemot at London, and demanded that he should surrender another estate and pay a fine, in which case he would withdraw the charges that he had made against him, threatening that if he refused he would confiscate all his property, would banish him from the land, and never receive him back again, ‘either for pope or emperor or any other person.’ Wulfred was forced to agree, but the king did not keep his word, and still kept possession of Minster and Reculver.
Cenwulf died in 822, and Ceolwulf, who became king in that year, appears to have been friendly to Wulfred, for he made him a grant on his coronation. The estates of which Cenwulf had despoiled the see passed to his daughter, the Abbess Cwenthryth. Wulfred claimed them at a council held at Clovesho, apparently in 825, by Beornwulf, the successor of Ceolwulf. Cwenthryth met the archbishop, and promised to surrender the estates. When in 826 the Mercian power was on the eve of its overthrow by Egbert, the West-Saxon king, and the friendship of the archbishop was of especial importance to the Mercian king, Beornwulf held another council at Clovesho in which he caused Cwenthryth to restore the property of the see (ib. pp. 594, 596–604). In spite of the friendly relations that seem to have existed between Wulfred and Baldred, the archbishop probably welcomed the invasion of Kent by the West-Saxon forces, for when Baldred was fleeing before them he granted Malling to the see, as though to purchase Wulfred's good will. Wulfred was on good terms with Egbert and his son Æthelwulf. He died on 24 March 832. He was a man of singular courage and no small political ability. So far as may be gathered from the canons of the council of 816, he appears to have been pious, and he was a liberal benefactor to his church. His will in its known form was drawn up after his death, about 833 (ib. p. 557, Kemble, Codex Dipl. No. 235).[All that is known of Wulfred will be found in Haddan and Stubbs's Eccl. Documents, and in Kemble's Codex Dipl., to which references are made above.]