A re-interpretation of the power and function of late medieval English convocation

Elizabeth Keohane-Burbridge, Fordham University


From the thirteenth century onwards, two political bodies began meeting to debate royal requests for taxation: Parliament and Convocation, the assemblies of the lower and upper clergy. Just as Parliament’s responsibilities grew over time to include various temporal matters of the state, Convocation’s business broadened to include the spiritual responsibilities of provincial synods. Although Convocation’s role expanded to encompass doctrinal debates, heresy trials, and the airing of grievances, historians have largely dismissed Convocation as a tool of the English Crown—which needed Convocation to assent to taxation for its wars—or they have examined it only through the lens of the Reformation, when Henry VIII used Convocation to subjugate the English clergy to his authority alone. This study provides the first systematic analysis of the role that Convocation played in late medieval religion and politics by examining Convocation's representative ecclesiastical government and considering its wider influence in spiritual and temporal policy-making from the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries. This analysis is facilitated by three Microsoft Access databases: one (“Convocation”) records the multiple issues discussed at each of the 256 Convocations in this period; the second database (“Convocation Clergy”) permits a prosopographical study or a collective biography of the 2,196 representatives of Convocation from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries; and the third database (“Writs”) contains information about the 151 surviving mandates for Convocation. By incorporating analysis made possible by these databases, this study aims to reveal the true and intricate nature of medieval Convocation. Ultimately, the goal is not to provide a single, authoritative definition of Convocation, but rather to reveal Convocation’s place in medieval England and in the medieval Church.

Subject Area

European history|History|Medieval history

Recommended Citation

Keohane-Burbridge, Elizabeth, "A re-interpretation of the power and function of late medieval English convocation" (2016). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10192833.