Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.

JULY 31st

On this day in history in 1396, died William Courtenay.

Courtenay was an archbishop of Canterbury, who defended the people from outrageous taxes, and led the fight against Protestant thinking, even before the Reformation.

William Courtney was born in 1342, a younger son of Hugh de Courtenay, Earl of Devon, and Margaret, granddaughter of Edward I. He read law at Oxford and, through his royal connections, was appointed University Chancellor in 1367. In 1370, he was consecrated bishop of Hereford, and then of London in 1375. He became archbishop of Canterbury in 1381.

Courtenay was expected to support the Royal cause. He supported John of Gaunt in his opposition to the popeís claim to be able to tax the English church, but when the government introduced the Poll Tax, he turned against them and challenged their right to impose taxes on peasants. He even reproved Richard IIís extravagance, which was the cause of the unwarranted taxation, and was for a time, exiled to Devon.

In the course of his public defences against excessive taxation, Courtenay came into conflict with the Lollards, a group which disputed not only the kingís right to levy taxes but the churchís right to gather tithes. The Lollards were followers of John Wycliffe, a theologian who said that the church should only concern itself with spiritual matters, and was too rich for its own good. Wycliffe and the Lollards also disputed certain church doctrines such as transubstantiation, and believed that people could find their own spiritual path without reference to an established church. They translated the bible into English and read it at home. The Lollards had conceived the idea of Reformation, a century before Martin Luther. Courtenay was vigorous in his attack on this heretical group. In 1382, he condemned Wycliffe, and ordered the bishops to imprison heretics and to seize heretical books.

Courtenay died before he could suppress the Lollards. They continued in their principles until the end of the reign of Richard II, after which they were stifled by the more energetic Henry IV. Courtenay died on 31st July 1396, and is buried in Canterbury Cathedral.

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