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Walter de Gray

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Walter de Gray

Walter de Gray
Archbishop of York
Tomb of Gray in York Minster
Province York
Diocese Diocese of York
See Archbishop of York
Elected 10 November 1215
Term ended 1 May 1255
Predecessor Geoffrey Plantagenet
Successor Sewal de Bovil
Other posts Bishop of Lichfield
Bishop of Worcester
Consecration 5 October 1214
Personal details
Birth name Walter de Gray
Born Eaton, Norwich, Norfolk
Died 1 May 1255
Buried York Minster
Parents John de Gray

Walter de Gray (died 1 May 1255) was an English prelate and statesman who rose to be Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor.


Gray was the son of John de Gray the Elder of Eaton in Norfolk and nephew of John de Gray (the Younger), Bishop of Norwich.[1] His birth year is not recorded, nor is his age when he died, but according to the historian Lee Wyatt, Gray was likely born around 1180. This assumes that in 1214 he was at least 30, the earliest legal age for consecration as a bishop, which would mean he was not born after 1184. Likewise, it is unlikely he was much older than 80 when he died, which gives an earliest possible birth year of 1175.[2] His sister, Hawise, married the Justiciar of England, Philip Basset. He studied at the University of Oxford, attending lectures by Edmund of Abingdon.[3]

Gray was a favourite of King John of England, who named him Lord Chancellor in 1205,[4] having paid John 5000 marks for the office.[3] He was named Bishop of Lichfield in 1210,[5] but was not consecrated as bishop there. Gray was then elected Bishop of Worcester on 20 January 1214,[6] and resigned as chancellor in October 1214.[4] His consecration as Bishop of Worcester took place on 5 October 1214.[6] Gray was present at the signing of Magna Carta in June 1215. While he was away from England on an errand for the king, he was appointed Archbishop of York, being elected on 10 November 1215[7] through the influence of John and Pope Innocent III. John had wanted Walter, but, the canons of York felt that Walter was uneducated, and selected Simon Langton, brother of Stephen Langton Archbishop of Canterbury instead. John objected, and wrote to Innocent III complaining of the election of the brother of one of his staunchest enemies, and Innocent agreed.[8] However, Walter in the end paid more than £10,000 to the pope in various fees to get his election confirmed.[9] Walter attended the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.[10]

Gray was an important royal official during the minority of Henry III, who often sent him on diplomatic missions. Henry also named Gray as guardian of England when the king went to France in 1242.[3] In 1252, Walter hosted King Henry and King Alexander III of Scotland for the Christmas feasts at York, which event cost the archbishop ₤2500.[11] Gray attempted to assert his archiepiscopal authority over Scotland, which not only resisted by the Scots but by the Archbishops of Canterbury. Gray had little success in defending his rights to Scotland against either adversary. Gray built the south transept of York Minster purchased the village of Bishopthorpe, which became the residence of the archbishop of York.[3] He also donated to the church at Ripon.[12]

Gray held a series of councils in his diocese from 1241 to 1255 which endeavoured to enforce clerical celibacy, keep benefices from being inherited, and improve the education and morals of the clergy. He gave generously to his cathedral and other churches, as well as working to endow vicarages. He visited many of the monasteries of his diocese and helped those that were in financial difficulties. He also oversaw the translation of Wilfrid's remains to a new shrine at Ripon.[3]

In 1255, Gray visited London to attend a meeting of parliament, and died at Fulham on 1 May 1255.[1][6] He was buried on 15 May 1255 at York Minster.[3]

Gray's three nephews were William Langton (or Rotherfield) who was Dean of York and was elected archbishop of York but never consecrated, and Walter le Breton and Walter de Grey, who were canons of York.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Greenway Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066–1300: Volume 6: York: Archbishops
  2. ^ Wyatt "Making of an Archbishop" Seven Studies p. 65
  3. ^ a b c d e f Haines "Gray, Walter de" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  4. ^ a b Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 84
  5. ^ Greenway Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066–1300: Volume 2: Monastic Cathedrals (Northern and Southern Provinces): Worcester: Bishops
  6. ^ a b c Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 279
  7. ^ Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 282
  8. ^ Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings pp. 406-407
  9. ^ Moorman Church Life p. 174
  10. ^ Moorman Church Life p. 237
  11. ^ Moorman Church Life p. 175
  12. ^ Moorman Church Life p. 204


Political offices
Preceded by
Hubert Walter
Lord Chancellor
Succeeded by
Richard Marsh
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Mauger of Worcester
Bishop of Worcester
Succeeded by
Sylvester of Worcester
Preceded by
Simon Langton
Archbishop of York
Succeeded by
Sewal de Bovil

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