William FitzJohn
Sir Michael Harclay
Joan FitzJohn
Henry Harclay
(Abt 1270-1317)


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Henry Harclay

  • Born: Abt 1270
  • Died: 25 Jun 1317 aged about 47

   Other names for Henry were Henry de Harcla and Henry de Hartcla.

  General Notes:

Harclay was born in the Diocese of Carlisle near the English and Scottish borders. Harclay's family descended from "an old but minor knightly family" of modest origins that gave them their surname Harclay from Hartley; the family name had "considerable variation in the spelling… including: Herkeley, Harkeley, Archilay, Harcla, [etc.]" (Harclay xvii).[1] Harclay had one sister and six brothers; one of which also brings celebrity to the family name. Andrew Harclay, 1st Earl of Carlisle was a controversial figure in his time but was also known for his political and military accomplishments during the Anglo-Scottish wars in the early 14th century. Harclay's father Michael was a sheriff in the county of Cumberland between 1285 and 1298 (Harclay xvii).[1]

Harclay became a Master of the Arts at the University of Oxford by the time he was twenty-six (Pasnau 882).[2] In that same year of 1296, the Bishop of Carlisle appointed him to be the Rector of the church at Dacre on Christmas Day. He remained a secular theologian until 1297 when he was ordained as a priest. (Harclay xviii).[1] Shortly after these events, Henry of Harclay left to study theology at the University of Paris. The dates for Harclay's studies at the University of Paris are most likely between 1300 and 1310 (Harclay xix).[1] Henry went back to Oxford where he became a Master of Theology sometime before 1312 (Pasnau 882).[2]

Henry of Harclay was also declared Chancellor of the University of Oxford in 1312, a position he held until his death in 1317.[3][4] It is believed that during this period William of Ockham studied under Harclay.[5]

The Bishop of Lincoln, John Dalderby, confirmed Henry of Harclay as the Chancellor of the University of Oxford. Harclay was very active and devotedly attentive towards "maintaining the order of the university" (M.G. Henninger 305).[6] A highly contentious and bitter controversy arose during his tenure as chancellor between him and the Dominicans over the confirmation of certain privileges accorded to the university by the king. These included King Edward II's decree that the mayor of Oxford "admit the chancellor and procurators of the university to the periodic testing of beer" (M.G. Henninger 305).[6] These controversies sparked Henry's travelling to the papal court in Avignon several times to defend the universities privileges, and to reach an agreement with the Dominicans. Harclay died on one of these trips in Avignon on 25 June 1317 (M.G. Henninger 305).[6]

Harclay played an important role in Oxford and Paris during the first two decades of the 14th century. While in Paris, he produced a commentary on book I of the Sentences of Peter Lombard, and perhaps a reportatio of lectures from around 1300.[7] Harclay's "principle work is a wide-ranging, philosophically rich series of twenty-nine Quaestiones ordinariae" or Ordinary Questions (Pasnau, 882).[2] Harclay's commentary on the Sentences has only been edited very partially as of now, and so most of what we know about his philosophical beliefs will come from his Ordinary Questions (Harclay xxii).[1]


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