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Henry Murdac, abbot of Fountains (1144-53)

The installation of Henry Murdac as bishop of York; Murdac is surrounded by Cistercian monks. © Dean and Chapter of York Minster

Henry Murdac, abbot of Fountains (1144-47) and archbishop of York (1147-53). When Henry was a master of the schools of York he responded to St Bernard’s personal invitation to join the Cistercians of Clairvaux. He was later appointed abbot of Vauclairs and in 1144 returned to Yorkshire to assume the abbacy at Fountains. Henry was a strict disciplinarian and a magnificent administrator. Henry was also at the forefront of opposition to the rather controversial appointment of William Fitzherbert to the see of York, by King Stephen. William, who was the king’s nephew, was accused by some of simony and unchaste living; in a letter to Pope Innocent II, Bernard of Clairvaux maintained that Fitzherbert was ‘rotten from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.’ (1) Fitzherbert was at first suspended by the pope and in 1147 he was deposed by Eugenius III, who had been a novice under Henry; Murdac was installed as the new archbishop of York, but the chapter of York refused to acknowledge his appointment. Murdac spent five of his six years as archbishop in Ripon. Despite this new appointment Henry retained his influence over Fountains and the three succeeding abbots, Maurice (1148), Thorald (1148-50) and Richard (1150-70), were suffragen abbots under him. Following Henry’s death in 1153 William was reinstalled as archbishop and made his peace with the community at Fountains.