At the heart of the 12th Owen Archer mystery, A Choir of Crows, is the tension in the city when the corpses of three strangers are found at dawn after a heavy snowfall that isolates the city. Two of the bodies are found in the yard of York Minster, both deaths violent, one clearly murder. The timing could not be worse. The lay and religious communities in York are already frantically preparing for an influx of Northern nobles and their traveling parties for the enthronement of Alexander Neville as Archbishop of York. Owen Archer’s task is to find the murderer (s) before Neville’s powerful older brother arrives. The family worked hard to elevate Alexander to the post, calling in many favors to achieve it. Readers who have been following the series will know that Alexander Neville’s elevation to the post was strictly political. As time goes on it became clear to all that he was singularly ill-suited for the position.
You might wonder why the Nevilles were so keen to have one of their own in this position. John Neville was already a Knight of the Garter, Admiral of the North, and Steward of the King’s Household. But now they would have power both among the secular establishment and the religious: as Archbishop of York, Alexander would be the second most powerful cleric in England (after the Archbishop of Canterbury.) “Appointments during the latter half of the century were particularly political: Alexander Neville (1374-1388), Thomas Arundel (1388-1396) and Richard Scrope (1398-1405) all came from influential baronial families who were closely involved in the contentious politics of the courts of King Richard II and Henry IV.” For more about how the archbishops were chosen in the 14th century, you can read this post on the blog for The Northern Way; it is the source of the quote above.
The Northern Way is a research project funded by the AHRC and based at the University of York in partnership with The National Archives and with the support of York Minster. Running from February 2019 to October 2021 the project aims to make the administrative records of the archbishops of York more accessible to both students and the general public, and to provide a history of the role of the Archbishops in governing the region over that period. You can be sure I am watching them closely!
Curious about the role in modern times? Earlier this month, a new Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, arrived in the city for his confirmation. You can see photos of the 9 July celebration here (including a walk down the Shambles!) And here‘s another article about the day.