Alexander de Bicknor

Alexander de Bicknor

Alexander de Bicknor (usually Alexander de Bykenore in original Middle English sources, though several other spellings are encountered as well) was an official in the Plantagenet kingdom under Edward I of England, Edward II of England, and Edward III of England. Best known to history as the Archbishop of Dublin from 1317 until his death on July 14, 1349, his career involved extensive diplomatic missions for the King and the holding of numerous civil and ecclesiastical offices in Ireland, including Lord Treasurer of Ireland (1307-1309) and Lord Chancellor of Ireland.

Early Life and Career

De Bicknor's date of birth is unclear. Numerous mentions of an Alexander de Bicknor can be found in Gloucestershire records in the late 1200s and in the first decade of the 14th century. Both Gallagher and Phillips consider these to be the same man as the later archbishop, surmising a birthdate in the 1260s. The earliest mention appears to be as bailiff of Gloucester in 1273, [Gloucester: Bailiffs, 1200-1483, pp. 371-74] which puts this conclusion in some doubt, though there is a fairly continuous trail of records connecting this Alexander with the man who would become Archbishop of Dublin. Whether this is a case of unusual longevity for the period (he would have had to have been over 80 years old at his death) or two presumably related individuals of the same name is unclear, though there can be little doubt that de Bicknor was already a mature adult when elected archbishop in 1310. The career of this or these Alexander de Bicknors in Gloucestershire involved the wool trade at at least one point [Cal. Pat. Rolls 1292-1301 p. 299-300] as well as extensive activity in civil offices, including tax collection, service on commissions of oyer and terminer, and service as one of the two bailiffs of Gloucester for eight different years. De Bicknor was also among nine men of Gloucester charged with evasion of taxes on the wine trade in 1287, which would suggest a breadth of commercial interests. [Medieval Gloucester, p. 22] Given their presence in Gloucester, the de Bicknor family may have derived their toponymic surname from English Bicknor in Gloucestershire (the "English" qualifier did not generally appear until later). The Catholic Encyclopedia [] however associates him with another town named Bicknor in Kent, but in one instance in 1297 he is explicitly called "Alexander de Bykenore of Gloucester." [Cal. Pat. Rolls 1292-1301 p. 300] Confusing the issue, there were indeed contemporary persons surnamed de Bicknor who were clearly associated with Kent (such as the knight and chief falconer of Edward I, John de Bicknor [Prestwich, p. 115] ), so the issue remains in some doubt. According to the "Patent Rolls," [Cal. Pat. Rolls 1307-13, p. 355A] a license to crenellate a structure in Ruardean, around four miles from English Bicknor, Glos., was granted to Alexander de Bicknor (almost certainly the archbishop in this case) by the King in 1311, which corroborates the identification with the de Bicknors of Gloucestershire and also indicates that he must have possessed a fairly substantial dwelling there. Fragments of this structure, now often referred to as "Ruardean Castle" [ [ Ruardean Castle, United Kingdom ] ] can still be seen today. [Parker, p. 344; Davis]

Election to the Archbishopric

De Bicknor was originally elected to the archbishopric in 1310 by the unanimous chapters of St. Patrick's Cathedral and Christ Church, [Phillips, p. 664] at which time he was Treasurer of Ireland and Prebendary of Maynooth, one of several prebendaries he held during his life. For reasons which are unclear, this election was set aside (secondary sources differ as to whether this was on the Pope's or the King's initiative) in favor of the chapter of Dunkeld's election of John de Leche, who thus served a brief but active term as archbishop of Dublin from 1311 to his death in 1313. After Leche's death, the succession was contended between de Bicknor and then-Lord Chancellor of Ireland Walter Thornbury, but after Thornbury met an untimely death in a shipwreck en route to France, the choice fell clearly on de Bicknor. Sources differ on whether he was consecrated at Avignon [Walsh, p. 117, who says that Nicholas de Prato, Cardinal of Ostia performed the consecration on 22 July 1317; Phillips agrees that the site was Avignon, but gives instead a date of 20 August 1317] or Rome [Catholic Encyclopedia, which agrees on the date of 22 July 1317] , but after close to seven years, he was consecrated archbishop of Dublin.

St. Patrick's University Project

One of the more positive achievements of de Bicknor's tenure was the founding the first university in Ireland at St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1320, based on a charter obtained by his predecessor, Archbishop Leche. While it had some limited early success, the institution did not survive into modern times, but scattered historical references show that it persisted in some form up until the time of the Reformation.

Early Tenure: the Rebellion of Isabella and Mortimer and the Accounting Scandal

De Bicknor came to the Dublin see during a time of considerable domestic and foreign troubles, including the continuous chafing of the Gaelic Irish against English rule (of which Bicknor was a chief representative) and the struggles between the Scots under Robert Bruce and the English crown, which frequently spilled over into Ireland. De Bicknor was one of the archbishops who promulgated the excommunication of Bruce in 1318. Among the most notable domestic disturbances was the rebellion of Edward II's queen, Isabella of France, against the King and his favorites, the Despensers in 1324. During the early 1320s, de Bicknor was actively engaged in diplomacy on several missions to France. During one of these, facing a French siege and general military and diplomatic debacle, he advised the Earl of Kent to surrender the fortress of La Réole [The Catholic Encyclopedia, contrary to most other sources names it as La Rozelle] to the French, in effect recognizing the defeat of the English attempting to defend the Duchy of Aquitaine. Shortly thereafter de Bicknor went over to side of the Queen, who had openly taken the powerful and ambitious English noble Roger Mortimer as a lover while in France. The archbishop at one point even declared that he would have challenged Hugh Despenser the Younger to a duel, if it had not been contrary to his ecclesiastic position. [Sumption, p. 96] Edward responded with an extensive list of most likely legitimate accusations to the Pope of various sorts of malfeasance in office, including his attacks on the Despensers. [Catholic Encyclopedia] These opened the door to the discovery of extensive problems in de Bicknor's accounts, and in particular substantial arrears to the Church itself, non-payment of which in part led to de Bicknor's excommunication. [Gallagher] But in the end, de Bicknor had chosen the winning side, and Edward was forced to abdicate in 1327 in favor of his son Edward III, at the time still controlled by Isabella and Mortimer. The former king is thought to have been executed under uncertain circumstances later in the same year. In the late 1320s, the darkest period of de Bicknor's career began to unfold, when further accounting fraud during his administration was uncovered, or at least ceased to be tolerated. If de Bicknor had expected his support for the new regime to excuse him, he was disappointed, as his assets and holdings were seized by the crown. After this point, de Bicknor's role in national politics diminished substantially. His difficulties became only deeper when he apparently attempted to falsify a royal pardon (ironically, for the crime of fraud). [Gallagher] It should be noted though, that when Edward III came of age in 1330, he had Mortimer brutally executed and Isabella was forced to live out the rest of her life under what was, in essence, house arrest, so de Bicknor's fate was relatively mild compared to that of his erstwhile patrons and allies. More remarkably, he eventually obtained an authentic pardon from Edward III.

Later Ecclesiastical Disputes

De Bicknor's later tenure as Archbishop after the accession of Edward III was also plagued by disputes, though of a less mortal nature. In particular de Bicknor conducted a protracted feud with the Bishop of Ossory, Richard Ledrede. The long-standing dispute over the Primacy of All Ireland between Dublin and the Archbishop of Armagh also flared up periodically, and in 1349 Archbishop Fitz Ralph of Armagh entered Dublin to assert his primacy, causing a considerable stir. []

de Bicknor genealogy

The genealogist Gustav Anjou claimed, based on uncertain sources, [Gustav Anjou, "Buckner Family," Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Family History Library Microfilm FHL US/CAN Film 908083 Item 10] that the de Bicknor surname eventually evolved into the modern English surname Buckner, but this claim is doubtful and Anjou's reputation for flattering patrons with dubious claims of distinguished medieval ancestry casts further doubt upon it. There is also a reference to a niece of Alexander de Bicknor named Margery on whom he settled the manor of Ruardean in 1311 at her marriage to Geoffrey of Langley. [History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 5, pp. 231-247]

Notes and References

year = 1895
title = Calendar of the Patent Rolls
editor-last= Deputy Keeper of the Records
volume = Edward I 1292-1301
place= London
publisher = Eyre and Spottiswoode

year = 1894
title = Calendar of the Patent Rolls
editor-last= Deputy Keeper of the Records
volume = Edward II 1307-1313
place= London
publisher = Eyre and Spottiswoode

year = 1907
title = The Catholic Encyclopedia
last= Birt
first= Norbert Henry
editor-last =Lafort
editor-first =Remy
volume = II
place= New York
publisher = Robert Appleton Company

cite web
title =Ruardean Castle
last =Davis
first =Philip
work =Gatehouse: The comprehensive gazetteer of the medieval fortifications and castles of England and Wales
date =2007
url =
accessdate = 4-Oct-2007

cite web
last =Gallagher
first =Niav
title =The Audit of Alexander Bicknor’s Accounts
work =PaGes - Arts Postgraduate Research in Progress, University College Dublin
date =1997
url =
accessdate = 23-Sep-2007

cite web
title =Gloucester: Bailiffs, 1200-1483
work =History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4: The City of Gloucester
date =1988
url =
accessdate = 24-Sep-2007

cite web
title =Medieval Gloucester: Trade and Industry 1066-1327
work =A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4: The City of Gloucester
date =1988
url =
accessdate = 24-Sep-2007

year = 1860
title = Medieval Houses of Gloucestershire
journal = The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Review
first=John Henry
pages = 335-354

year = 2004
title = Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
editor-last =Phillips
editor-first =J.R.S.
pages = 664-665
publisher = Oxford University Press

year = 1997
series = Yale English Monarchs
title = Edward I
isbn = 0300071574
last= Prestwich
first= Michael
place= New Haven and London
publisher = Yale University Press

cite web
title =Ruardean
work =A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 5: Bledisloe Hundred, St. Briavels Hundred, The Forest of Dean
date =1996
url =
accessdate = 3-Oct-2007

year = 1886
title = Dictionary of National Biography
editor-last =Stephen
editor-first =Leslie
volume = V "Bicheno-Bottisham"
pages = 11-12
place= New York
publisher = MacMillan and Co.

year = 1999
title = Hundred Years' War, 1339-1453
last= Sumption
first= Jonathan
isbn = 0812216555
publisher = Univ of Pennsylvania Press

year = 1854
title = History of the Irish Hierarchy
last= Walsh
first= Thomas
place= New York
publisher = D.&J.Sadlier and Co.

External links

* [ Catholic Encyclopedia Article]
* [ Licenses to Crenellate]
* [ Article on the Occasional University at Dublin Founded by de Bicknor]
* [ Life Of Lord Chancellor De Bicknor] from J.R. O'Flanagan's 1870 "Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal of Ireland - from the earliest times to the reign of Queen Victoria"

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