Accessibility statement

Medieval clergy and disability

In theory at least, once someone had become a member of the clergy in the Middle Ages they remained so for life. Although some people did resign their churches (and some bishops also resigned as did at least one pope) and many elderly, ill and infirm ordinary rectors and vicars continued to hold churches. To help them with their duties the bishop (or in the case of York the archbishop) of the diocese where they worked could appoint a helper – known as a coadjutor – for each clergymen.

Examples of these could be found under many archbishops of York, including William Melton who was archbishop during the fourteenth century. Although the original letters appointing coadjutors have not survived these were sometimes copied into a register of documents issued by the archbishop and from Melton's register we can see the range of people for whom coadjutors were appointed.

The first of Archbishop Melton's coadjutors for someone with a disability was William de Sutton, appointed in 1322 to help Roger de Sutton, rector of North Collingham, who was paralysed and unable to carry out his duties. Roger is said to have made a request, and given written permission, for such an appointment and the archbishop was careful to safeguard the income of the church. He orders that an inventory of all the church’s and the rector's goods be drawn up and that the coadjutor should render an account whenever asked. A transcript of the inventory can be seen here and a translation here.

William de Sutton inventory (small)
(Click the image for a larger version, transcription and translation)

In 1326 William de Hundon was appointed to be coadjutor for Elias de Coulton, who was canon of Southwell (so one of the clerical staff at Southwell minster) who was described as being almost blind and completely incapacitated. In 1330 Ralph de Hertford, rector of Hockerton, was similarly described as blind and incapacitated when Henry Asselyn was appointed as his coadjutor. A transcript of the document can be seen here and a translation here.

Henry Asselyn inventory (small)
(Click the image for a larger version, transcription and translation)

Finally, in 1333, A coadjutor – Robert de Somerhous – was appointed as coadjutor for his brother, John de Somerhous, who was the rector of Rounton and was described as old, totally blind and ill.