Letter about the nun, who faked her own death © York Minster

The Northern Way

The Northern Way is a research project exploring the political Role of Archbishops of York from 1304–1405

Recently, the National Archives in London launched an innovative research project investigating the political role of the Archbishops of York from 1304–1405.
With funding of almost £1 million from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the 33-month project will be managed in collaboration with the University of York, with the support of the Chapter of York Minster. A project of discovery, historians and archivists will explore records generated by and from the Archbishops of York to investigate their role in one of the most turbulent periods in British history.

14th Century York

The Martyrdom of Richard le Scrope at York 1405.
The Martyrdom of Richard le Scrope at York 1405. Bodl. MS. Lat. liturg. f. 2. Book of Hours, fol 146v. Mainly illuminated by Hermann Scheerre. c. 1405.

As a result of the Scottish Wars of Independence, beginning in 1296, the English state adopted new mechanisms for governing the lands north of the Trent.
Thus, the 14th century was a formative period in the development of both the North of England and the kingdom of England as political-cultural entities.

As part of this process, the Church provided active leadership in the war through the mobilisation of material support, military leadership, and promotion of the cults of the northern saints. Much of this promotion centred on the personalities of the archbishops of York who, in addition to their political leadership, were extensively engaged in agrarian reform, memorialised in new chronicles as well as in the greatly enlarged and newly glazed York Minster.

Ultimately the representation of the archbishops as northern leaders reached a crisis in the rebellion and execution for treason of Archbishop Richard Scrope in 1405, following his participation in the Northern rebellion against Henry IV in 1405. These events and their aftermath would condition “northernness” and royal government of the north for centuries to come.

Yet, the deeper historical reasons for the extraordinary political events of 1405 are still not understood. Of the eight archbishops of this period only one, Arundel (1388-1396), has been the subject of a modern study.

The Northern Way begins from the proposition that we cannot understand these events without understanding the role of the archbishops of York as northern leaders in the century before 1405. Did this “role” represent a conscious “Northern” agenda? Does this emerge as a longer-term context explaining the state crisis in 1405?

The Research Project

The project has two complementary strands. The principal aim is to make the key records of spiritual governance more digitally accessible, searchable and free. The digital indexing of archbishops registers held at the Borthwick Institute for Archives, the University of York, and at regional and national archives, aims to achieve this. These registers will also be linked to new evidence taken from the many ecclesiastical records held at The National Archives.

Another ambition is to explore the tension between the archbishops’ spiritual and political leadership during a century of instability, warfare and famine. This includes focusing on the individual roles of northern archbishops as confidants of English royals and senior officials in the 14th century.

“The records held at The National Archives are an important piece of the puzzle in understanding this tension. Throughout the fourteenth century, successive archbishops of York held key roles within the royal government. They worked closely alongside individual kings and were supported by their clerks, many of whom came to Westminster from across the northern diocese. In many ways they can be described as a true northern powerhouse”, says the Co-Investigator of the project, Dr Paul Dryburgh, who is Principal Records Specialist at The National Archives.


Press releases and project presentations

The Northern Way

Project to explore political role of Archbishops of York from 1304–1405


Twitter: @tnorthernway


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Letter about the nun, who faked her own death © York Minster



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