Archbishop of Canterbury
Aelfric was the son of an Ealdorman of Kent who rose through the administrative ranks of the Anglo-Saxon court, to become Chancellor to King Aethelred the Unready, before taking monastic vows at Abingdon Abbey in the middle years of his life. He presumably gained positions of some responsibility at Abingdon, for around AD 975, he was made Abbot of St. Albans and was installed as such by St. Oswald, Bishop of Worcester and Archbishop of York. He is known to have bought Kingsbury and other lauds for his abbey and composed and set to music a life of St. Alban, which was widely used on the feast day of that saint.
Abbot Aelfric was then made Bishop of Ramsbury & Sonning in succession to Sigeric, who was translated to Canterbury in AD 992. It has been held that he was one of the leaders of the fleet which, in that same year, was gathered together at London, but the bishop who had this command was more probably Aelfstan of London (961-995).
In AD 995, it is said that the Bishop’s uterine brother, Leofric, who had succeeded him at St. Albans, was elected to the Archbishopric of Canterbury. He, however, declared that his brother, Aelfric, was more worthy of the honour and so he took up the post instead! There is some suggestion that, when Aelfric was made archbishop, he expelled the clerks from his cathedral church and put monks in their place, although this is also ascribed to Archbishop Sigeric. Aelfric is said to have been consecrated in AD 996, the year after his election to Canterbury and thus probably refering to the gift of the pall. The author of the 'Life of Dunstan', in dedicating his work to the Archbishop, speaks of his remarkable ability.
Aelfric died in November 1005 and was buried in Abingdon Abbey; although, in the reign of King Canute, his body was translated to Canterbury. In close connection with his death the records mention the consecration of St. Britwold at Ramsbury. It is therefore probable that neither Aelfric nor Britwold succeeded to Ramsbury immediately on the translation of their predecessors, and that both Sigeric, for a while at least, and Aelfric after him, held that see along with the archbishopric. A letter which speaks of Aelfric as though he were not a bishop at all at the date of his election to Canterbury is probably spurious, yet it may have a substratum of truth as pointing to the fact that he was not consecrated to the See of Ramsbury until shortly before the death of Archbishop Sigeric and his own translation.
Aelfric’s will is extant. By it, he left his books and land at Kingsbury and other places to St. Albans, and he also gave land to Abingdon. He left, to the King, his best ship and armour of defence for sixty men, and gave a ship to the people of Kent, and another to the people of Wiltshire, the shires of his two dioceses. A cross went to Bishop Aelfheah of Winchester (alias St. Alphege) who succeeded him at Canterbury. Aelfric appointed Leofric, Abbot of St. Albans, his supposed half-brother, as one of his executors. The ships left to Kent and Wiltshire were intended to lighten the burdens of the people by paying for them a portion of the ship-tax which each shire was bound to furnish in kind.
Edited from Leslie Stephens &
Sidney Lee's "Dictionary of National Biography" (1891).
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