Cuthbert Tunstall

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The Right Reverend

Cuthbert Tunstall
Prince-Bishop of Durham
Church Catholic Church
Diocese Diocese of Durham
Elected1530 & 1556
Term ended1552 & 1559 (twice deprived)
PredecessorCardinal Thomas Wolsey
Successor James Pilkington
Other posts Bishop of London
Personal details
Hackforth, Yorkshire
Died(1559-11-18)18 November 1559
Nationality English
Denomination Roman Catholic
ParentsThomas Tunstall
Alma mater University of Oxford
Arms of Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall, Durham Castle. See of Durham impaling Tunstall (Sable, three combs argent), "which arose from the first of the name and family in England, being barber to William the Conqueror" Durham Castle - external Coat of Arms - - 1007792.jpg
Arms of Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall, Durham Castle. See of Durham impaling Tunstall (Sable, three combs argent), "which arose from the first of the name and family in England, being barber to William the Conqueror"

Cuthbert Tunstall (otherwise spelt Tunstal or Tonstall; 1474 – 18 November 1559) was an English Scholastic, church leader, diplomat, administrator and royal adviser. He served as Prince-Bishop of Durham during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.

Scholasticism A method of critical thought which dominated teaching by the academics ("scholastics", or "schoolmen") of medieval universities in Europe from about 1100 to 1700

Scholasticism was a medieval school of philosophy that employed a critical method of philosophical analysis presupposed upon a Christian theistic paradigm which dominated teaching in the medieval universities in Europe from about 1100 to 1700. It originated within the Christian monastic schools that were the basis of the earliest European universities. The rise of scholasticism was closely associated with the rise of the 12th and 13th century schools that developed into the earliest modern universities, including those in Italy, France, Spain and England.

Bishop of Durham Diocesan bishop in the Church of England

The Bishop of Durham is the Anglican bishop responsible for the Diocese of Durham in the Province of York. The diocese is one of the oldest in England and its bishop is a member of the House of Lords. Paul Butler has been the Bishop of Durham since his election was confirmed at York Minster on 20 January 2014. The previous bishop was Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury. The bishop is one of two who escort the sovereign at the coronation.


Childhood and early career

Cuthbert Tunstall was born at Hackforth near Bedale in North Yorkshire in 1474, an illegitimate son of Thomas Tunstall of Thurland Castle in Lancashire, later an esquire of the body of Richard III, and of his future second wife, a daughter of Sir John Conyers. [2] His parents' subsequent marriage legitimated him under canon and civil law, if not under common law. His legitimate half-brother, Brian Tunstall, the so-called "stainless knight," was killed at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. Sir Walter Scott mentions "stainless Tunstall's banner white" in Canto Six, line 790 of Marmion .

Hackforth village in United Kingdom

Hackforth is a small village and civil parish in the Hambleton district of North Yorkshire, England, about 4 miles (6 km) north of Bedale. Nearby settlements include Langthorne and Crakehall. The pub is called the "Greyhound".

Bedale town

Bedale is a market town and civil parish in the district of Hambleton, North Yorkshire, England. Historically part of the North Riding of Yorkshire, it is situated 34 miles (55 km) north of Leeds, 26 miles (42 km) south-west of Middlesbrough and 7 miles (11 km) south-west of the county town of Northallerton. It was originally in Richmondshire and listed in the Domesday Book as part of Catterick wapentake, which was also known as Hangshire ; it was split again and Bedale remained in East Hang. Bedale Beck is a tributary of the River Swale, which forms one of the Yorkshire Dales, with its predominance of agriculture and its related small traditional trades, although tourism is increasingly important.

North Yorkshire County of England

North Yorkshire is a non-metropolitan county and the largest ceremonial county in England by area. It is located primarily in the region of Yorkshire and the Humber but partly in the region of North East England. The estimated population of North Yorkshire was 602,300 in mid-2016.

Nothing is known of Tunstall's early life, except that he spent two years as a kitchen boy in the household of Sir Thomas Holland, perhaps at Lynn, Norfolk. [2] He was admitted to Balliol College, Oxford around 1491, where he studied mathematics, theology, and law. Around 1496 he became a scholar of the King's Hall, Cambridge. He did not receive a degree from either Oxford or Cambridge, but he graduated from the University of Padua in 1505 with a Doctor of Civil Law and a Doctor of Canon Law. At Padua he studied under some of the leading humanists, and became proficient in Greek and Hebrew. [2]

Balliol College, Oxford constituent college of the University of Oxford

Balliol College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. One of Oxford's oldest colleges, it was founded around 1263 by John I de Balliol, a rich landowner from Barnard Castle in County Durham, who provided the foundation and endowment for the college. When de Balliol died in 1269 his widow, Dervorguilla, a woman whose wealth far exceeded that of her husband, continued his work in setting up the college, providing a further endowment, and writing the statutes. She is considered a co‑founder of the college.

Kings Hall, Cambridge was once one of the constituent colleges of Cambridge

King's Hall was once one of the constituent colleges of Cambridge, founded in 1317, the second after Peterhouse. King's Hall was established by King Edward II to provide chancery clerks for his administration, and was very rich compared to Michaelhouse, which occupied the southern area of what is now Trinity Great Court.

University of Padua university in Italy

The University of Padua is an Italian university located in the city of Padua, Veneto, Italy. The University of Padua was founded in 1222 as a school of law. Padua is the second-oldest university in Italy and the world's fifth-oldest surviving university. In 2010 the university had approximately 65,000 students, in 2016 was ranked "best university" among Italian institutions of higher education with more than 40,000 students, and in 2018 best Italian university according to ARWU ranking.

William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, made Tunstall his chancellor on 25 August 1511, and shortly afterward appointed him rector of Harrow on the Hill. He eventually became a canon of Lincoln (1514) and archdeacon of Chester (1515). Soon thereafter he was employed on diplomatic business by King Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey. In 1515, Tunstall was sent to Flanders with Sir Thomas More. It was at Brussels that he would meet Erasmus as well, becoming the intimate friend of both scholars. [3] In 1519 he was sent to Cologne; a visit to Worms (1520–21) gave him a sense of the significance held by the Lutheran movement and its literature.

William Warham Archbishop of Canterbury

William Warham was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1503 to his death.

Archbishop of Canterbury Senior bishop of the Church of England

The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion and the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury. The current archbishop is Justin Welby, who was enthroned at Canterbury Cathedral on 21 March 2013. Welby is the 105th in a line which goes back more than 1400 years to Augustine of Canterbury, the "Apostle to the English", sent from Rome in the year 597. Welby succeeded Rowan Williams.

Harrow on the Hill Residential area of north west London, England

Harrow on the Hill is a locality and historic village in the borough of Harrow in Greater London, England. Independent boutiques and restaurants dot the affluent area, which is rich with historic architecture; offering a village atmosphere. The name refers to Harrow Hill, 408 feet (124 m). It is located some half a mile south from the modern town of Harrow. The area is home of the famous Harrow School.

Tunstall was made Master of the Rolls in 1516, and Dean of Salisbury in 1521. In 1522 he became Bishop of London by papal provision, and on 25 May 1523 he was made Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal. In 1525 he negotiated with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V after the Battle of Pavia, and helped to arrange the Peace of Cambrai in 1529. [4]

The Keeper or Master of the Rolls and Records of the Chancery of England, known as the Master of the Rolls, is the second-most senior judge in England and Wales after the Lord Chief Justice, and serves as President of the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal and Head of Civil Justice. The position dates from at least 1286, although it is believed that the office probably existed earlier than that.

Salisbury Cathedral Church in Wiltshire, England

Salisbury Cathedral, formally known as the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is an Anglican cathedral in Salisbury, England. The cathedral is regarded as one of the leading examples of Early English architecture: its main body was completed in 38 years, from 1220 to 1258.

Bishop of London third most senior bishop of the Church of England

The Bishop of London is the ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of London in the Province of Canterbury.

Bishop of Durham under Henry VIII and Edward VI

Bishop Tunstall burning a translation of the Bible in London, 1870 illustration History of the great reformation in Europe in the times of Luther and Calvin.. (1870) (14765778105).jpg
Bishop Tunstall burning a translation of the Bible in London, 1870 illustration

On 22 February 1530 — again by papal provision — Tunstall succeeded Cardinal Wolsey as Bishop of Durham. This role involved the assumption of quasi-regal power and authority within the territory of the diocese. In 1537 he was also made President of the new Council of the North. Although he was often engaged in time-consuming negotiations with the Scots, he took part in other public business, and attended parliament, where in 1539 he participated in the discussion on the Bill of Six Articles. [4]

Thomas Wolsey 16th-century Archbishop of York, Chancellor of England, and cardinal

Thomas Wolsey was an English archbishop, statesman and a cardinal of the Catholic Church. When Henry VIII became King of England in 1509, Wolsey became the King's almoner. Wolsey's affairs prospered, and by 1514 he had become the controlling figure in virtually all matters of state. He also held important ecclesiastical appointments. These included the Archbishopric of York – the second most important role in the English church – and acting as Papal legate. His appointment as a cardinal by Pope Leo X in 1515 gave him precedence over all other English clergy.

Council of the North administrative body of the Kingdom of England

The Council of the North was an administrative body set up in 1472 by King Edward IV of England, the first Yorkist monarch to hold the Crown of England, to improve government control and economic prosperity, to benefit all of Northern England. Edward's brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester was its first Lord President.

In the question of Henry's divorce, Tunstall acted as one of Queen Catherine's counselors. Unlike Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More, during the troubled years that followed Tunstall adopted a policy of passive obedience and acquiescence in many matters regarding which he likely had little support. While Tunstall adhered firmly to Roman Catholic doctrine and practices, after some hesitation he accepted Henry as head of the Church of England, and publicly defended this position – thus accepting a schism with Rome. [4]

Tunstall disliked the religious policy pursued by the advisers of King Edward VI, and voted against the first Act of Uniformity in 1549. However, he continued to discharge his public duties without interruption, and hoped that the Earl of Warwick might be induced to reverse the anti-Catholic policy of the Duke of Somerset. This hope failed, and after Somerset's fall, Tunstall was summoned to London in May 1551, and confined to his house there. During this captivity he composed a treatise on the Eucharist, which was published at Paris in 1554. At the end of 1551 he was imprisoned in the Tower of London, and a bill for his deprivation was introduced into the House of Commons. When this failed, he was tried by a commission on 4–5 October 1552, and deprived of his bishopric. [4]

Bishop of Durham under Mary I and Elizabeth I

On the ascension of Mary I to the throne in 1553, Tunstall was granted liberty. His bishopric, which had been dissolved by Act of Parliament in March 1553, was re-established by a further Act in April 1554. Tunstall, now an octogenarian, again assumed his office as Bishop of Durham. He maintained his earlier conciliatory approach, indulging in no systematic persecution of Protestants. [4] Through Mary's reign he ruled his diocese in peace.

When Elizabeth I ascended to the throne, Tunstall refused to take the Oath of Supremacy, and would not participate in the consecration of the Anglican Matthew Parker as Archbishop of Canterbury. He was arrested, deprived of his diocese in September 1559, and held prisoner at Lambeth Palace, [4] where he died within a few weeks, aged 85. He was one of eleven Roman Catholic bishops to die in custody during Elizabeth's reign.

He was buried in the parish church of St Mary-at-Lambeth, now a deconsecrated building. [5]

The Anglican historian Albert F. Pollard wrote:

"Tunstall's long career of eighty-five years, for thirty-seven of which he was a bishop, is one of the most consistent and honourable in the sixteenth century. The extent of the religious revolution under Edward VI caused him to reverse his views on the royal supremacy and he refused to change them again under Elizabeth."


  1. De arte supputandi libri quattuor (1522)
Based on the Summa of Luca Pacioli, this was the first printed work published in England that was devoted exclusively to mathematics.
  1. Confutatio cavillationum quibus SS. Eucharistiae Sacramentum ab impiis Caphernaitis impeti solet (Paris, 1552)
  2. De veritate corporis et sanguinis domini nostri Jesu Christi in eucharistia (Paris, 1554)
  3. Compendium in decem libros ethicorum Aristotelis (Paris, 1554)
  4. Certaine godly and devout prayers made in Latin by C. Tunstall and translated into Englishe by Thomas Paynelle, Clerke (London, 1558).
  5. Tunstall's correspondence as president of the Council of the North is in the British Library.


  1. Historical Anecdotes of Heraldry and Chivalry: Tending to Shew the Origin of, By Mrs. Dobson (Susannah)
  2. 1 2 3 Newcombe, D. G. "Tunstal , Cuthbert (1474–1559)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.Missing or empty |url= (help)
  3. More, Thomas (1991). Robert Adams (ed.). Utopia: A Revised Translation, Backgrounds, Criticism (2 ed.). New York City: W. W. Norton & Company. p. 3. ISBN   0-393-96145-1.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Chisholm 1911.
  5. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

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Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Richard Fitz-James
Bishop of London
Succeeded by
John Stokesley
Church of England titles
Preceded by
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey
Prince-Bishop of Durham
Succeeded by
James Pilkington
Political offices
Preceded by
The Lord Marney
Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by
The Earl of Wiltshire