Robert Runcie

Last updated

The Lord Runcie

Archbishop of Canterbury
Church Church of England
Province Canterbury
Diocese Canterbury
Installed25 March 1980
Term ended31 January 1991
Predecessor Donald Coggan
Successor George Carey
Personal details
Birth nameRobert Alexander Kennedy Runcie
Born(1921-10-02)2 October 1921
Birkenhead, England
Died11 July 2000(2000-07-11) (aged 78)
St Albans, Hertfordshire, England
Buried St Albans Cathedral
Denomination Church of England
Rosalind Turner (m. 1957)
Alma mater

Robert Alexander Kennedy Runcie, Baron Runcie, MC , PC (2 October 1921 – 11 July 2000) was a British Anglican bishop. He was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1980 to 1991, having previously been the Bishop of St Albans.

Military Cross third-level military decoration of the British Armed Forces, Commonwealth officers

The Military Cross (MC) is the third-level military decoration awarded to officers and other ranks of the British Armed Forces, and formerly awarded to officers of other Commonwealth countries.

Privy Council of the United Kingdom Formal body of advisers to the sovereign in the United Kingdom

Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, usually known simply as the Privy Council of the United Kingdom or just the Privy Council, is a formal body of advisers to the Sovereign of the United Kingdom. Its membership mainly comprises senior politicians who are current or former members of either the House of Commons or the House of Lords.

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.


Early life

Runcie was born on 2 October 1921 in Birkenhead, Cheshire, [1] and spent his early life in Great Crosby, Lancashire, to middle-class and rather non-religious parents. He initially attended St Luke's Church, Crosby (where he was confirmed in 1936), before switching to the Anglo-Catholic St Faith's Church about a mile down the road. He was educated at Merchant Taylors' Boys' School, Crosby, before going up to Brasenose College, Oxford.

Birkenhead town in Merseyside, England

Birkenhead is a town within the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral in Merseyside, England. Historically in Cheshire, it is on the Wirral Peninsula, along the west bank of the River Mersey, opposite the city of Liverpool. In the 2011 census, the Parliamentary constituency of Birkenhead had a population of 88,818.

Cheshire County of England

Cheshire is a county in North West England, bordering Merseyside and Greater Manchester to the north, Derbyshire to the east, Staffordshire and Shropshire to the south and Flintshire, Wales and Wrexham county borough to the west. Cheshire's county town is the City of Chester (118,200); the largest town is Warrington (209,700). Other major towns include Crewe (71,722), Ellesmere Port (55,715), Macclesfield (52,044), Northwich (75,000), Runcorn (61,789), Widnes (61,464) and Winsford (32,610)

Great Crosby suburb of Crosby, Merseyside, England

Great Crosby is an area of the town of Crosby, in the Metropolitan Borough of Sefton, Merseyside, England and is historically, part of Lancashire.

During the Second World War he earned a commission as a second lieutenant in the Scots Guards on 21 November 1942, and was given the service number of 251985. [2] He served with the regiment's 3rd (Tank) Battalion, then part of the 6th Guards Tank Brigade, as a tank commander, with which he landed in Normandy as part of Operation Overlord in July 1944, a few weeks after the D-Day landings on 6 June, and fought with the battalion throughout the entire North West Europe Campaign until Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) in May 1945. Towards the end of the war, he earned the Military Cross (MC) for two feats of bravery in March 1945: [3] he rescued one of his men from a crippled tank under heavy enemy fire, and the next day took his own tank into an exceptionally exposed position in order to knock out three anti-tank guns. As a result, he is unique among modern Archbishops of Canterbury, in having killed fellow human beings. In May 1945, he was among the first British soldiers to enter the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Officer (armed forces) member of an armed force or uniformed service who holds a position of authority

An officer is a member of an armed forces or uniformed service who holds a position of authority.

Second lieutenant is a junior commissioned officer military rank in many armed forces, comparable to NATO OF-1a rank.

After the surrender of Nazi Germany, Runcie served with the occupying forces in Cologne and then with the boundary commission dealing with the future status of the Free Territory of Trieste.

Nazi Germany The German state from 1933 to 1945, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler

Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state that controlled nearly all aspects of life via the Gleichschaltung legal process. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.

Cologne city in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

Cologne is the largest city of Germany's most populous federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and its 1 million+ (2016) inhabitants make it the fourth most populous city in Germany after Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich. The largest city on the Rhine, it is also the most populous city both of the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Region, which is Germany's largest and one of Europe's major metropolitan areas, and of the Rhineland. Centred on the left bank of the Rhine, Cologne is about 45 kilometres (28 mi) southeast of North Rhine-Westphalia's capital of Düsseldorf and 25 kilometres (16 mi) northwest of Bonn. It is the largest city in the Central Franconian and Ripuarian dialect areas.

Free Territory of Trieste former country

The Free Territory of Trieste was an independent territory situated in Central Europe between northern Italy and Yugoslavia, facing the north part of the Adriatic Sea, under direct responsibility of the United Nations Security Council in the aftermath of World War II.

On his return to Oxford, he surprised many by taking first-class honours in Greats. [4] He was a member of both Conservative and socialist societies at Oxford, and through that he had his first dealings with the young Margaret Thatcher (then Margaret Roberts), a relationship which was to prove pivotal during his archiepiscopate.

Conservative Party (UK) Political party in the United Kingdom

The Conservative Party, officially the Conservative and Unionist Party, is a centre-right political party in the United Kingdom. The governing party since 2010, it is the largest in the House of Commons, with 313 Members of Parliament, and also has 249 members of the House of Lords, 18 members of the European Parliament, 31 Members of the Scottish Parliament, 12 members of the Welsh Assembly, eight members of the London Assembly and 8,916 local councillors.

Margaret Thatcher former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, was a British stateswoman who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990 and Leader of the Conservative Party from 1975 to 1990. She was the longest-serving British prime minister of the 20th century and the first woman to hold that office. A Soviet journalist dubbed her "The 'Iron Lady'", a nickname that became associated with her uncompromising politics and leadership style. As Prime Minister, she implemented policies known as Thatcherism.

Ordained ministry

Runcie studied for ordination at Westcott House, Cambridge, where he received a diploma, rather than a second bachelor's degree in theology. He was ordained in the Diocese of Newcastle in 1950 to serve as a curate in the parish of All Saints in the wealthy Newcastle upon Tyne suburb of Gosforth, then a rapidly growing suburban area. Rather than the conventional minimum three-year curacy, after only two years[ citation needed ] Runcie was invited to return to Westcott House as Chaplain and, later, Vice-Principal. [5] In 1956 he was elected Fellow and[ citation needed ] Dean of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, [5] where he would meet his future wife, Rosalind, the daughter of the college bursar.

Ordination is the process by which individuals are consecrated, that is, set apart as clergy to perform various religious rites and ceremonies. The process and ceremonies of ordination vary by religion and denomination. One who is in preparation for, or who is undergoing the process of ordination is sometimes called an ordinand. The liturgy used at an ordination is sometimes referred to as an ordination.

Westcott House, Cambridge Church of England theological college based in Jesus Lane, Cambridge

Westcott House is a Church of England theological college based in Jesus Lane in the centre of the university city of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. Its main activity is training people for ordained ministry in the Church of England and other Anglican churches. Westcott House is a founder member of the Cambridge Theological Federation. The college is considered by many to be "Modern Catholic" or "Liberal Catholic" in its tradition, but accepts ordinands from a range of traditions in the Church of England.

A bachelor's degree or baccalaureate is an undergraduate academic degree awarded by colleges and universities upon completion of a course of study lasting three to seven years. In some institutions and educational systems, some bachelor's degrees can only be taken as graduate or postgraduate degrees after a first degree has been completed. In countries with qualifications frameworks, bachelor's degrees are normally one of the major levels in the framework, although some qualifications titled bachelor's degrees may be at other levels and some qualifications with non-bachelor's titles may be classified as bachelor's degrees.

In 1960, he returned to the world of the theological college, becoming Principal of Cuddesdon College, near Oxford, and vicar of the local parish church (Church of All Saints, Cuddesdon). He spent ten years and transformed what had been a rather monastic and traditionally Anglo-Catholic institution into a stronghold of the liberal Catholic wing of the Church of England. In this period, his name became more and more strongly spoken of as a future bishop, and speculation was confirmed when he was appointed Bishop of St Albans in 1970. He was duly consecrated a bishop on 24 February 1970, by Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury, at Westminster Abbey. [6]

Like Gosforth in the 1950s, the Diocese of St Albans was a booming suburban area, popular with families moving out of a depopulating London. As well as diocesan work, he worked with broadcasters as Chairman of the Central Religious Advisory Committee, and was appointed Chairman of the joint Anglican–Orthodox Commission.

Archbishop of Canterbury

Runcie was selected as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1979. [7] There is evidence that Runcie was the second choice of the Crown Appointments Commission, the first choice, Hugh Montefiore, having proven politically unacceptable to the then newly elected Conservative government.[ citation needed ] He was installed as archbishop on 25 March 1980. [8]

During his time as Archbishop of Canterbury he witnessed a breaking down of traditionally convivial relations between the Conservative Party and the Church of England, which was habitually described as "the Tory party at prayer". The breakdown was due mainly to the church's pronouncements on political matters and Margaret Thatcher's support for the ethos of individualism and wealth creation as well as her claim that "there is no such thing as society", which some Anglicans thought was uncaring and anti-Christian.[ citation needed ]

In 1981, Runcie officiated at the marriage of Charles, Prince of Wales, to Lady Diana Spencer, despite suspecting privately that they were ill-suited and that their marriage would not last.[ citation needed ]

On 11 March 1982, Runcie attempted to give a speech in St Nicholas's Parish Church in Liverpool but was shouted at by people upset about the Pope's prospective visit to Britain. They shouted that Runcie was a traitor, a liar and was a traitor to the Church of England. After interruptions of the service, Runcie asked the congregation to heed chapter five of St Matthew's Gospel (the Sermon on the Mount), telling them "For they are the words of Jesus himself". The crowd replied: "You had better read your Bible yourself. You are a traitor and a Judas." Outside, demonstrators held placards with the inscriptions "Rome Rules Runcie", "Our Faith Our Bible", "Revive Reformation", "Calvary not Popery" and "Jesus What More". Afterwards, Runcie said: "I am trying my best to find forgiveness for them, but it is very upsetting." [9] Cardinal Basil Hume called the demonstration "particularly abhorrent and a scandal". [10]

On 17 March 1982, Runcie gave a speech to the National Society for the Promotion of Christianity[ dubious ] in which he said that Christianity should play a crucial part in the religious education of all pupils, even if they were non-Christian: "While recognising that a truly pluralistic society should not merely tolerate diversity but value and nurture it, I must also express the fear that at times we seem tempted to sacrifice too much of our native Christian tradition on the altar of multi-culturalism." [11]

In a gesture of goodwill, he knelt in prayer with Pope John Paul II in Canterbury Cathedral during John Paul's visit to the United Kingdom in 1982.

On 18 April 1982, Runcie said in an interview with London Weekend Television that he hoped the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church would be unified by the year 2000: "I dream of unity with Rome, and with the great Reform tradition and with the orthodox, by the end of the century, but we will have to get a move on, certainly, if that is our target. I don't see why we should not have that target." Runcie said of the office of Pope: "There is advantage in having a central focus of affection, even a central spokesman to articulate what the churches in different parts of the world are thinking. I think Anglicans recognise that there is value in that sort of concept". He also played down the Queen's role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England:

Our entanglement with Crown and Parliament is not very considerable now. The Queen's position in the life of our church is very much a symbolic position. She is, as it were, a chief lay person in our church rather than somebody who has a decisive voice in all our appointments. [12]

In 1985, there was friction between the Church of England and members of the Conservative government, in particular Norman Tebbit, over a church report, "Faith in the City", which criticised the government's handling of social problems in British inner-city areas. Tebbit became a strong supporter of the disestablishment of the Church of England, claiming that institutions affiliated to the British state should not express what he saw as overtly partisan political views.

Much of the middle period of Runcie's archiepiscopate was taken up with the tribulations of two men who had been close to him: the suicide of Gareth Bennett and the kidnapping of Terry Waite.

When Runcie visited Pope John Paul II in 1989, he set out to reconcile the Church of England with the Church of Rome. Runcie advocated the Papacy as having a "primacy of honour" rather than "primacy of jurisdiction" over the Anglican churches, a proposal consistent with the report of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission. The Pope did not go along with this, however, claiming that the Papacy already has primacy of jurisdiction over all other churches regardless of whether or not this is officially recognised and also that the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church would not change to accommodate Runcie's proposals.[ citation needed ]

In internal Anglican matters, much of Runcie's time as archbishop was taken up with the debate over whether to proceed with the ordination of women in the Church of England as well as the fallout from the ordination of women as priests and bishops in other parts of the Anglican Communion. Runcie's position on the matter had been described as "nailing his colours firmly to the fence"[ citation needed ] – his liberal theology conflicting with his instinctive conservatism.

Runcie's grave at St Albans Cathedral Robert-runcie-grave.jpg
Runcie's grave at St Albans Cathedral

The church's attitude to homosexuality was also a divisive issue during this period, although it did not assume the crisis proportions it would in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In public Runcie stuck to official Church of England policy as set out in the publication Issues in Human Sexuality , that homosexual practice was not ideal for lay people and unacceptable for clergy.

Retirement and death

Runcie retired as Archbishop of Canterbury effective 31 January 1991. [13] On 1 February, he was created a life peer – gazetted on 7 February as Baron Runcie, of Cuddesdon in the County of Oxfordshire [14] – enabling him to immediately re-enter the House of Lords where he had previously sat as a Lord Spiritual. He died of cancer in St Albans in 2000, [15] and is buried in the grounds of St Albans Cathedral.


Runcie's wife, Rosalind, whom he married on 5 September 1957, was well known as a pianist. They had two children: James Runcie, a novelist, and Rebecca Runcie, as well as four grandchildren: Rosie, Charlotte, Matthew and Edward. Rosalind Runcie died on 12 January 2012.


In the postscript of Humphrey Carpenter's biography: [16]

I have done my best to die before this book is published. It now seems possible that I may not succeed.


See also

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  1. "Robert Runcie, obituary".
  2. "No. 35830". The London Gazette (Supplement). 18 December 1942. p. 5552.
  3. "No. 37112". The London Gazette (Supplement). 5 June 1945. p. 2878.
  4. Mantle 1991, p. 20.
  5. 1 2 Hastings 1991, p. 17.
  6. "Picture Caption" . Church Times (5585). 27 February 1970. p. 1. ISSN   0009-658X . Retrieved 26 December 2016.
  7. Mantle 1991, p. 112.
  8. "Thatcher Wanted Church to Relent on Budget Day Clash". BBC News. 30 December 2010. Retrieved 6 September 2015.
  9. The Times. 12 March 1982. p. 1.
  10. The Times. 15 March 1982. p. 2.
  11. The Times. 18 March 1982. p. 3.
  12. The Times. 19 April 1982. p. 10.
  13. "Runcie Retires at Synod". Catholic Herald. 18 January 1991. Archived from the original on 25 April 2012.
  14. "No. 52443". The London Gazette . 7 February 1991. p. 1993.
  15. Deaths England and Wales 1984–2006 Archived 28 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  16. Carpenter 1996.

Works cited

Carpenter, Humphrey (1996). Robert Runcie: The Reluctant Archbishop. London: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN   978-0-340-57107-1.
Hastings, Adrian (1991). Robert Runcie. London: Mowbray. ISBN   978-0-264-67209-0.
Mantle, Jonathan (1991). Archbishop: The Life and Times of Robert Runcie. London: Sinclair-Stevenson. ISBN   978-1-85619-058-9.

Further reading

Platten, Stephen, ed. (2002). Runcie: On Reflection. Norwich, England: Canterbury Press. ISBN   978-1-85311-470-0.
Church of England titles
Preceded by
Michael Gresford Jones
Bishop of St Albans
Succeeded by
John Taylor
Preceded by
Donald Coggan
Archbishop of Canterbury
Succeeded by
George Carey
Academic offices
Preceded by
Edward Knapp-Fisher
Principal of Cuddesdon College
Succeeded by
Leslie Houlden
as Principal of
Ripon College Cuddesdon