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William Greenfield
(Died 1315)

Archbishop of York
Died: 6th December 1315 at Cawood Palace, Yorkshire West Riding


William Greenfield was the first of a succession of very distinguished prelates who presided over the northern English Archiepiscopal diocese and were great English statesmen, throughout the fourteenth century. Archbishop Greenfield's birth-place is unknown; but he was related to his predecessor in the see, Archbishop Giffard, at whose expense he was educated at Oxford. Besides other preferments, he was, before his election to York, Dean of Chichester, Rector of Stratford-upon-Avon and temporal Chancellor of Durham. Since the year 1290, he had been much employed in the service of the State by King Edward I and, in 1302, he became Chancellor of England, an office which he held for three years.

Greenfield was elected by the Chapter of York on 4th December 1304; but in consequence of the death of the Pope, Benedict X, some time elapsed before his consecration. He was, at length, consecrated by Clement V at Lyons, on 30th January 1306. He had been for some time resident at Rome where the cost of his living, and the sum spent in procuring the Papal assent, were enormous. Greenfield was obliged to borrow money in all directions. "All the money lenders were ecclesiastics. The Jews had disappeared some years before and the greater part of the treasure of the country was now stored away in the chests of some wealthy clerk or in the coffers of the monastery."

The war with Scotland rendered York, at this time, almost the Capital of England. Parliaments were held there in 1298, 1299 and 1300; and the Courts of Justice were removed to York and did not return to London for seven years. Greenfield constantly entertained Kings Edward I and Edward II in his palaces at York and at Bishopthorpe, and had not only to supply men for the Scottish expeditions, but, in conjunction with the Bishop of Durham, to protect the Eastern Marches. In 1306, the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Lichfield were made Guardians of the Kingdom, during the expedition of Edward I which was broken up upon his death at Brugh-on-the Sands.

The attack on the Templars in England began in 1308 when they, and their property, were taken possession of by the Royal Officers. Greenfield was favourable to them and refused, altogether, to take any part against them within the province of Canterbury. In 1310, a council of the northern province was assembled to inquire into the charges against them. Little or nothing was proved; but a second council was held in 1311. This ordered that the twenty-four Templars, who had been confined in the Castle of York since the Autumn of 1309, should be sent to different religious houses within the province of York to do penance for their errors. They remained in these monasteries for the remainder of their lives. In 1319, the Pope granted permission, to such of them as chose, to take the vows required by the monastery within which each was residing; but only two seem to have done so. Archbishop Greenfield was present at the Great Council of Vienne in 1312, when Pope Clement V finally dissolved the Order of the Templars.

Greenfield died at his palace of Cawood, on 6th December 1315, and was buried in the north transept of York Minster, where his monument remains. A gold ring with a ruby was taken from the finger of the Archbishop, in 1735, when his tomb was opened and it has been preserved by the Cathedral authorities.

Edited from Richard John King's "Handbook to the Cathedrals of England: Northern Division" (1903).

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