The Archbishop and the pub in St Ives

THE hunt is on to find the next Archbishop of Canterbury. I expect they’ll choose someone from Huntingdonshire – they often do.

Previous residents of Lambeth Palace have included Thomas Tenison, for example. He was rector of Holywell before becoming archbishop in 1694.

He preached the sermon at Nell Gwyn’s funeral, which must have been a tricky one to get right. He was also a St Ives pub landlord. He owned the White Swan in the Market Hill (later part of the Robin Hood).

No doubt he bought the pub as an investment while he was at Holywell, and I don’t suppose he ever rolled up his sleeves and served behind the bar. But he held on to it when he moved away from Huntingdonshire and it was still his property when he became archbishop. Very few St Ives pub landlords rise as high in the Church of England as that.

Another archbishop’s connection with Huntingdonshire was more fleeting. William of Whittlesey was rector of Fenstanton for just a couple of years before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury in 1369.

Thomas and William served in Huntingdonshire parishes but were born in the nearby counties of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely.

So has anyone born in Huntingdonshire ever become archbishop of Canterbury? Well yes – up to a point.

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John of Offord was born at Offord D’Arcy in about 1290. He was a trusted diplomat under Edward III, travelling overseas to negotiate with the Pope and the King of France.

King Edward rewarded him by making him Archbishop of Canterbury. But the cathedral canons chose another candidate and the stage was set for a big quarrel between church and king.

Fate intervened. At the time of John’s appointment in September 1348 the Black Death was sweeping the country, and he died of it 663 years ago this week, on May 20, 1349. He hadn’t been consecrated, so technically he was never archbishop at all.

Our Huntingdonshire man was said to have used lavish bribery to get the job and was already old and ill – “weak and paralytic” said a chronicler.

Know any pub landlords who fit that description? Now’s the time to send in their name to Downing Street.