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Councils of Clovesho

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Clovesho, or Clofeshoch, is notable as the place at which were held several councils of the Anglo-Saxon Church. The locality itself has never been successfully identified. It is supposed to have been in Mercia, and probably near London (Bede, ed. Plummer, II, 214). Lingard, in his appendix to the "Antiquities of the Anglo-Saxon Church", takes it to be Abingdon, and Kemble (Saxons in England, II, 191) to be Tewkesbury, and others have thought it might be Cliff-at-Hoo, in Kent, but Haddan and Stubbs (Councils, III, 121, n.) consider all these conjectures to be based upon unreliable evidence. Whatever uncertainty exists in determining the place which was known as Clovesho, there is no doubt as to the fact of the councils or to the authenticity of their Acts. When Archbishop Theodore held the Council of Hertford in 673, in which he declared to the assembled bishops that he had been "appointed by the Apostolic See to be Bishop of the Church of Canterbury", a canon was passed to the effect that in future yearly synods should be held every August "in the place which is called Clofeshoch". (Bede, H. E., IV, ch. v.) Notwithstanding this provision, ìt was not until seventy years later that the first Council of Clovesho of which we have an authentic record was assembled. It is true that in the Canterbury Cartulary there is a charter which says that the Privilege of King Wihtred to the churches was "confirmed and ratified in a synod held in the month of July in a place called Clovesho" in the year 716; but the authenticity of this document, though intrinsically probable, is held by Haddan and Stubbs to be dependent upon that of the Privilege of Wihtred. The councils of Clovesho of which we have authentic evidence are those of the years 742, 747, 794, 798, 803, 824, and 825.

(1) The Council of Clovesho in 742 was presided Over by Ethelbald, King of Mercia, and Cuthbert, Archbishop of Canterbury. According to the record of its proceedings (given in Kemble's "Codex Diplomaticus Ævi Saxonici", 87), the council "diligently enquired into the needs of religion, the Creed as delivered by the ancient teaching of the Fathers, and carefully examined how things were ordered at the first beginning of the Church here in England, and where the honour of the monasteries according to the rules of justice was maintained". The privilege of King Wihtred assuring the liberty of the Church was solemnly confirmed. Beyond this, no mention is made of particular provisions.

(2) The Second Council of Clovesho, in 747, was one of the most important in the history of the Anglo-Saxon Church. Its acts were happily copied by Spelman (Councils, I, 240) from an ancient Cottonian Manuscript now lost. They are printed in Wilkins, I, 94; in Mansi, XII, 395; and in Haddan and Stubbs, III, 360. They state that the council was composed of "bishops and dignitaries of less degree from the various provinces of Britain", and that it was presided over by Cuthbert, Archbishop of Canterbury. According to the Manuscript preserved by William of Malmesbury, "King Ethelbald and his princes and chiefs were present". It was thus substantially representative of the Anglo-Saxon Church. The Acts relate that "first of all, the Metropolitan, as president, brought forth in their midst two letters of the Apostolic Lord, Pope Zachary, venerated throughout the whole world, and with great care these were plainly read, and also openly translated into our own language, according as he himself by his Apostolic authority had commanded". The papal letters are described as containing a fervent admonition to amendment of life, addressed to the English people of every rank and condition, and requiring that those who contemned these warnings and remained obstinate in their malice should be punished by sentence of excommunication. The council then drew up thirty-one canons dealing mostly with matters of ecclesiastical discipline and liturgy.

The thirteenth and fifteenth canons are noteworthy as showing the close union of the Anglo-Saxon Church with the Holy See. The thirteenth canon is: "That all the most sacred Festivals of Our Lord made Man, in all things pertaining to the same, viz.: in the Office of Baptism, the celebration of Masses, in the method of chanting, shall be celebrated in one and the same way, namely, according to the sample which we have received in writing from the Roman Church. And also, throughout the course of the whole year, the festivals of the Saints are to be kept on one and the same day, with their proper psalmody and chant, according to the Martyrology of the same Roman Church." The fifteenth canon adds that in the seven hours of the daily and nightly Office the clergy "must not dare to sing or read anything not sanctioned by the general use, but only that which comes down by authority of Holy Scripture, and which the usage of the Roman Church allows". The sixteenth canon in like manner requires that the litanies and rogations are to be observed by the clergy and people with great reverence "according to the rite of the Roman Church". The feasts of St. Gregory and of St. Augustine, "who was sent to the English people by our said Pope and father St. Gregory", were to be solemnly celebrated. The clergy and monks were to live so as to be always prepared to receive worthily the most holy Body and Blood of the Lord, and the laity were to be exhorted to the practice of frequent Communion (Canons xxii, xxiii). Persons who did not know Latin were to join in the psalmody by intention, and were to be taught to say, in the Saxon tongue, prayers for the living or for the repose of the souls of the dead (Can. xxvii). Neither clergy nor monks were in future to be allowed to live in the houses of the people (Can. xxix), nor were they to adopt or imitate the dress which is worn by the laity (Can. xxviii).

(3) The record of the Council of Clovesho in 794 consists merely in a charter by which Offa, King of Mercia, made a grant of land for pious purposes. The charter states that it has been drawn up "in the general synodal Council in the most celebrated place called Clofeshoas". At or about the time when the papal legates presided at the Council of Chelsea in 787, Offa had obtained from Pope Adrian I that Lichfield should be created an archbishopric and that the Mercian sees should be subjected to its jurisdiction and withdrawn from that of Canterbury. Consequently at this Council of Clovesho in 794, Higbert of Lichfield, to whom the pope had sent the pall, signs as an archbishop.

(4) A council was held at Clovesho in 798 by Archbishop Ethelheard with Kenulph, King of Mercia, at which the bishops and abbots and chief men of the province were present. Its proceedings are related in a document by Archbishop Ethelheard (Lambeth Manuscript 1212, p. 312; Haddan and Stubbs, III, 512). He states that his first care was to examine diligently "in what way the Catholic Faith was held and how the Christian religion was practised amongst them". To this inquiry, "they all replied with one voice: 'Be it known to your Paternity, that even as it was formerly delivered to us by the Holy Roman and Apostolic See, by the mission of the most Blessed Pope Gregory, so do we believe, and what we believe, we in all sincerity do our best to put into practice.'" The rest of the time of the council was devoted to questions of church property, and an agreement of exchange of certain lands between the archbishop and the Abbess Cynedritha.

(5) The Council of Clovesho in 803 is one of the most remarkable of the series, as its Acts contain the declaration of the restitution of the Mercian sees to the province of Canterbury by the authority of Pope Leo III. In 798 King Kenulph of Mercia addressed to the pope a long letter, written as he says "with great affection and humility", representing the disadvantages of the new archbishopric which had been erected at Lichfield some sixteen years previously by Pope Adrian, at the prayer of King Offa. King Kenulph in this letter (Haddan and Stubbs, III, 521) submits the whole case to the pope, asking his blessing and saying: "I love you as one who is my father, and I embrace you with the whole strength of my obedience", and promising to abide in all things by his decision. "I judge it fitting to bend humbly the ear of our obedience to your holy commands, and to fulfil with all our strength whatever may seem to your Holiness that we ought to do." Ethelheard, Archbishop of Canterbury, went himself to Rome, and pleaded for the restitution of the sees. In 802 Pope Leo III granted the petition of the king and the archbishop, and issued to the latter a Bull in which by the authority of Blessed Peter he restored to him the full jurisdiction enjoyed by his predecessors. The pope communicated this judgment in a letter to King Kenulph (Haddan and Stubbs, III, 538). This decision was duly proclaimed in the Council of Clovesho held in the following year. Archbishop Ethelheard declared to the synod that "by the co-operation of God and of the Apostolic Lord, the Pope Leo", he and his fellow-bishops unanimously ratified the rights of the See of Canterbury, and that an archbishopric should never more be founded at Lichfield, and that the grant of the pallium made by Pope Adrian, should, "with the consent and permission of the Apostolic Lord Pope Adrian, be considered as null, having been obtained surreptitiously and by evil suggestion". Higbert, the Archbishop of Lichfield, submitted to the papal judgment, and retired into a monastery, and the Mercian sees returned to the jurisdiction of Canterbury.

(6-7) In 824 and again in 825 synods were held at Clovesho, "Beornwulf, King of Mercia, presiding and the Venerable Archbishop Wulfred ruling and controlling the Synod", according to the record of the first, and "Wulfred the Archbishop presiding, and also Beornwulf, King of Mercia", according to the second. The first assembly was occupied in deciding a suit concerning an inheritance, and the second in terminating a dispute between the archbishop and the Abbess Cwenthrytha (Haddan and Stubbs, III, 593, 596).

It is evident from the records that the councils held at Clovesho and those generally of the Anglo-Saxon period were mixed assemblies at which not only the bishops and abbots, but the kings of Mercia and the chief men of the kingdom were present. They had thus the character not only of a church synod but of the Witenagemot or assembly fairly representative of the Church and realm. The affairs of the Church were decided by the bishops presided over by the archbishop, while the king, presiding over his chiefs, gave to their decisions the co-operation and acceptance of the State. Both parties signed the decrees, but there is no evidence of any ingerence of the lay power in the spiritual legislation or judgments of the Church. While it must be remembered that at this period the country was not yet united into one kingdom, the councils of Clovesho, as far as we may judge from their signatures, represented the primatial See of Canterbury and the whole English Church south of the Humber.


KEMBLE, Codex Diplomaticus Ævi Saxonici (London, 1839-48); THORPE ed., The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (London, 1861); BEDE, Historia Eccl. Gentis Anglorum, ed. PLUMMER (Oxford, 1896); WILKINS, Concilia Magnæ Britanniæ (London, 1737); HADDAN AND STUBBS, Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents (Oxford, 1869-78); SPELMAN, Concilia, decreta, etc., in re ecclesiarum orbis Britannici (London, 1639-64).

About this page

APA citation. Moyes, J. (1908). Councils of Clovesho. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Moyes, James. "Councils of Clovesho." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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