The First Ten Years

The First Ten Years

In 1988 Professor John Baker (as he then was) wrote the first of a series of articles entitled “Famous English Canon Lawyers” in the Ecclesiastical Law Journal, the new house journal of the equally new Ecclesiastical Law Society (ELS), which had been founded the previous year. He began with Bishop William Bateman of Norwich (d.1355) who had been a Rotal Auditor from 1329.[1] In 1992, the fourth article in the series was published, with a biography of the most celebrated pre-reformation English Canonist, William Lyndwood.[2] This article prompted Sir Oswald Clark CBE (Below), a member of the Ecclesiastical Law Society, to write to the Editor of the Journal on 19th September 1992.[3] He pointed out that 21st October 1996 would be the 550th anniversary of Lyndwood’s death, and suggested that the Society ought to mark the occasion in some fitting way. He gave a number of suggestions, the last of which was “perhaps, in association with the Canon Law Society of Great Britain, the first of a regular series of Lyndwood Lectures?

By May of 1994 this proposal was being discussed at the General Committee of the Ecclesiastical Law Society. The key players at this stage seem to have been the Venerable T. Hughie Jones, the new Executive Officer of the ELS, who was charged with convening a small group from both societies to look at the proposal in detail. It was suggested that the lecture be free (for maximum interest) and that the cost be met from the general funds of both Societies. It was also suggested that Monsignor Brian Ferme be the first speaker.

The initial reaction from the Canon Law Society was lukewarm, with worries about lack of attendance and financial losses. Nevertheless, the Executive Committee agreed to put the proposal to the Society’s AGM in May 1995. As the only member of both societies present at that year’s Conference, I was told about the proposal shortly before the AGM and asked if I would be willing to introduce an item. Thinking the idea a good one, I willingly agreed. There followed an interesting AGM, as some members may recall.

The item about the Lyndwood Lecture proved not to be uncontroversial, and a lively discussion ensued. The main concern did seem to be financial, as already mentioned, but more surprisingly to me, so did the title. Evidently the many reforms of Catholic Canon Law in the last few centuries had provoked a long-term memory loss in some of our members, for whom the name Lyndwood meant nothing. (One member expressed surprise that the Lecture would be named after “some Anglican”) To put the discussions in context members may also recall that this was our very last conference at London Colney, when an equally lively discussion took place about the proposal to hold future conferences in hotels, and some member’s opinions on the detrimental effect this would have on the Society’s fortunes. The rest, as they say…..

I hope it is therefore appropriate to put on record, the impeccable credentials which qualify Lyndwood as the pre-eminent candidate in whose memory to dedicate this Lecture series. William Lyndwood was born around 1375 in Linwood, Lincolnshire, where his father (d.1419) was a woolman. He studied at Gonville Hall, Cambridge, was probably a Fellow of Pembroke Hall, and had become a Doctor of Civil and Canon Law (UJD) by 1407. In 1411 he became the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Chancellor and Auditor of Causes, and in 1417 Officialis of the Court of the Arches. In the 1420s he served as Procurator of the Clergy of five Convocations. He was the King’s Procurator of the Clergy at the Council of Basel in 1433, Keeper of the Privy Seal 1434-1443 and Archdeacon of Oxford 1438-42. Lyndwood was involved in the establishment of Henry VI’s sister foundations of the King’s College of St Mary of Eton (Eton College) and the King’s College of St Mary and St Nicholas (King’s College), Cambridge. He was consecrated Bishop of St David’s in 1442, died on 21st October 1446 and was buried in the chantry of Our Lady of Pew in St Stephen’s Chapel, Westminster. A body of a Bishop, thought to be his, was re-interned in the cloister of Westminster Abbey in 1852.

Lyndwood’s remarkable career, however, was impressive but not uniquely so. What does mark him out from other mediaeval English Canonists is his Provinciale, a collection of the conciliar and synodal legislation of the Province of Canterbury from 1222 to his own time, together with his own gloss, or commentary. This work was completed in 1434, and circulated widely in manuscript form. Amongst the earliest English books to be printed (in 1483) it was reprinted in 1501, 1505 and 1679, all but the first bound together with the Legatine Canons collected by John Ayton. Editions of the collection alone (without Lyndwood’s gloss) also appeared from the earliest times and English translations of these were printed between 1534 and 1929.[4]

Both Societies ultimately agreed on the proposal, and a date and time and venue were fixed. The inaugural lecture was delivered on the morning of All Soul’s Day, 1996 in the Conference Room of Vaughan House, by Monsignor Brian Ferme. Father Bob Ombres chaired proceedings, in the presence of the Papal Nuncio, three Bishops and the Presidents of both Societies. The subject, appropriately, was Lyndwoods Provinciale which had been the subject of Professor Ferme’s doctoral dissertation. Although the actual date was a few days later than that suggested by Oswald Clark some four years previously, there is still mention of the 550th Anniversary in the text of the lecture.

The lecture, followed by a buffet lunch, was a great success, and even returned a modest profit. The Lecture quickly became an established part of the calendars of both Societies as a biennial fixture in which each society took it in turn to host the Lecture and to provide the speaker. Sister Chiara Hatton-Hall took on the task of being the CLS link person with the ELS for the arrangement of the lectures. On her retirement from the CLS Executive Committee I was asked to take over the task, though by that time all the most onerous work had been done, and the familiar patterns established. Originally held at the weekend, from 2000 onwards the Lectures have taken place on a weekday evening, following feedback from members of our Society.

A list of all Lyndwood Lectures delivered so far is set out below. The text of each lecture has been published in both the Canon Law Society Newsletter (CLSN) and the Ecclesiastical Law Journey (EccLJ) and the volume and page number of each appearance are given below.                                  Paul Barber


[1] EccLJ (3) 3. The whole of this series of articles were later republished as a book: Baker, J.H., Monuments of Endlesse Labours: English Canonists and Their Work 1300-1900. Hambledon Press, London 1998; this article as Ch.3, p17.

[2] EcclJ 268; Monuments, CH.5, p.43

[3] EccLJ 46.

[4] This summary is largely taken from Professor Baker’s article in the Ecclesiastical Law Journal, cited in n.2 above