PhD studentship: The Identities and Networks of bishops in the late medieval North Atlantic

Bishop Hugh Northwold of Ely, d.1254
Bishop Hugh Northwold of Ely, d.1254

AHRC-funded PhD studentship in conjunction with the project “A prosopographical study of bishops’ careers in northern Europe”


 Applications are invited for a PhD Studentship to undertake research on selected bishoprics in the archdiocese of Nidaros between 1250 and the Reformation. The Studentship will be held at the University of Aberdeen, beginning on the 1st of October 2014.

The PhD student will be attached to The Centre for Scandinavian Studies, School of Divinity, History and Philosophy, College of Arts and Social Sciences at The University of Aberdeen.

The Studentship forms part of a three-year research project A prosopographical study of bishops’ careers in northern Europe, funded by the AHRC and directed by Dr Sarah Thomas (University of Hull) and Professor Stefan Brink (University of Aberdeen). The holder of the PhD studentship will join a project team made of Thomas and Brink, and will be a member of the research community of the Centre for Scandinavian Studies.


Duration: 3 years

Value: a stipend £13,726 per year (and the AHRC also pays for the fees)

Start of studentship1 October 2014    



Summary of the research project:

A prosopographical study of bishops’ careers in northern Europe examines the familial, social and educational networks of clerics who became bishops in late medieval Scotland, England and Scandinavia.


In the modern world, we often talk about a person being ‘well-connected’, whether it be as a result of family, schooling, business contacts or a combination of factors. This project will examine how well-connected medieval bishops in Britain and Scandinavia were.  Effectively, we shall be asking who you needed to know to become a bishop and how the connections gained throughout their lives impacted on their activities as bishops both within their diocese and on the wider international stage. Why did this matter? Bishops were not just religious leaders; they were important men who served kings and other great lords as advisers and even diplomats. They also controlled large territories and had significant incomes and people at their command. To be a bishop was to be a leader who might crown kings or foment rebellion. They were also players on an increasingly international stage: the period of study, from 1250 to the Reformation, saw the centralisation of the Church under the Papacy. From the early fourteenth century, candidates for bishoprics usually had to travel to Rome or Avignon in order to be appointed. Yet, at the same time, national or state structures were increasingly important with kings wanting to control who became bishops. The very nature of the international Church meant that such men travelled and had connections well beyond their home countries. That, combined with university education, meant that bishops were key conduits for the transfer of ideas. The key question the project seeks to answer is how internationalised were the bishops in northern Europe.


In order to address this, we will undertake a prosopographical study of the bishops in the following dioceses: Sodor, Dunkeld, Galloway, York, Orkney, the Faroes, Skalholt and Holar in Iceland, Greenland, Bergen, Stavanger, Uppsala and the archdeacons of Jämtland. We will examine the familial, social origins and connections of the bishops and archdeacons. To allow us to consider the pressures of national and papal institutions, we have selected dioceses in four Church provinces – York, Scotland, Nidaros and Uppsala – which lay within the four kingdoms of England, Scotland, Norway and Sweden. This selection also means we can study core and peripheral dioceses within the same Church province, across Church provinces and across national boundaries. The analysis will seek to answer a number of questions which include: did the bishops have similar social origins which meant they had the right connections to lobby the diocesan patrons or chapter for their promotion? We shall also assess the evidence for our bishops having attended university, and if so, where and whether they achieved a degree and the implications of this. Were there particular dioceses with higher levels of university attendance? Can we find evidence of either direct or indirect international contact as a result of university attendance?

The project will then assess whether the bishops, once appointed, were able to introduce new ideas and reforms in their dioceses. They attended international Church councils which agreed policies that the bishops were then expected to introduce in their own dioceses. We will examine whether they were able to enforce rules like clerical celibacy and the payment of tithes. The dioceses in question might be seen as remote from Rome and the centres of Christendom, but they were not necessarily isolated from ideas developed at the supposed ‘core’.

Research topic within the studentship:

The PhD candidate will conduct original research on aspects of the medieval ecclesiastical history (preferably discussing the role of bishops) of the North Atlantic and Norwegian dioceses. Applicants are invited to contact Dr Sarah Thomas ( or Prof. Stefan Brink ( to discuss potential topics prior to applying.

Supervision and support:

The PhD candidate will be supervised by Dr Sarah Thomas and Prof. Stefan Brink. As a member of the project team the candidate will be expected to contribute to project meetings, activities, and events, and will have some organizational responsibilities. In addition to having access to postgraduate training and support provided by the Centre for Scandinavian Studies and the College of Arts and Social Sciences, the candidate will have specific opportunities within the project to develop research skills, present at conferences, and publish papers.


Applications are invited from candidates who have a first-class or good upper second-class degree in History or a related discipline or a relevant area of study, and preferably have completed a Postgraduate Research Masters degree + AHRC conditions of eligibility; or an equivalent exam from a non-UK University. Prior knowledge of Old Norse, Latin and a modern Scandinavian language would be advantageous.


Normally only those students who have been resident in the UK, for purposes other than education, for the preceding three years are eligible for a full award. For some awards candidates who are nationals of a member state of the EU and are resident in the UK may also be eligible for fees only awards.

Deadline for application29 August 2014

 Send application to:
The Post Graduate Secretary
School of Divinity, History and Philosophy
University of Aberdeen
Aberdeen  AB24 3DS

For enquiries regarding the project contact:

Dr Sarah Thomas ( or Prof. Stefan Brink (

For general enquiries regarding postgraduate studies at the University and the School and the conversion of non-UK exams and degrees etc., contact:

Kiran Uppal (

Published by James Alexander Cameron

I am an art historian working primarily on medieval parish church architecture. I completed my doctorate on sedilia in medieval England in 2015 at The Courtauld Institute of Art.

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