John Morton (cardinal)

His Eminence
John Morton
D.Cn. & CL
Cardinal, Archbishop of Canterbury
Primate of All England
Church Roman Catholic Church
Appointed 6 October 1486
Term ended 15 September 1500
Predecessor Thomas Bourchier
Successor Thomas Langton
Consecration 31 January 1479
Created Cardinal 20 September 1493
Rank Cardinal priest of Santa Anastasia
Personal details
Born c. 1420
Dorset, England
Died 15 September 1500
Knole House, near Sevenoaks, Kent, England
Buried Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral
Nationality English
Denomination Roman Catholic
Previous post Bishop of Ely, 1479–1486
Education Balliol College, Oxford
Coat of arms Arms of Morton: Quarterly 1st & 4th: Gules, a goat's head erased armed argent; 2nd & 3rd: Ermine

John Morton (c.1420 – 15 September 1500) was an English prelate who served as Archbishop of Canterbury from 1486 to 1500. He was elevated to the cardinalate in 1493.[1]


Born in Dorset,[2] he was educated at Balliol College, Oxford. He was made canon of Sarum in 1458, rector of St. Dunstan's (in the West), archdeacon of Norwich circa 1460, archdeacon of Winchester in 1474, canon of Wells from 1475 to 1478, archdeacon of Berkshire in 1476 and archdeacon of Norfolk in 1477.[3] He was appointed Master of the Rolls from 1472 to 1479.

In February 1477, he was sent by the Yorkist King Edward IV, together with Sir John Donne, as ambassador to the French court. After serving a short spell in 1478 as Archdeacon of Leicester he was appointed Bishop of Ely by King Edward on 8 August 1478 and he was consecrated on 31 January 1479.[4] Morton was an important foe of the Yorkist regime of King Richard III and spent some time in captivity in Brecknock castle. After the dynastic change to the Tudors in 1485, King Henry VII made him Archbishop of Canterbury on 6 October 1486,[5] and appointed him Lord Chancellor of England in 1487.[6] In 1493 he was appointed Cardinal priest of the church of St. Anastasia in Rome by Pope Alexander VI. He built the "Old Palace" of Hatfield House where Queen Elizabeth I spent much of her girlhood.

As Lord Chancellor, Morton was tasked with restoring the royal estate, depleted by Edward IV. By the end of Henry VII's reign, the king's frugality, and Morton's tax policy, carried out by Edmund Dudley and Richard Empson, had replenished the treasury. Morton gave a statement, later known as 'Morton's Fork', that no one was to be exempted from taxes: "If the subject is seen to live frugally, tell him because he is clearly a money saver of great ability, he can afford to give generously to the King. If, however, the subject lives a life of great extravagance, tell him he, too, can afford to give largely, the proof of his opulence being evident in his expenditure."

Morton died at Knole House, Kent, on 15 September 1500.[5] His monument was placed in the south-east part of Canterbury Cathedral's crypt, with an effigy and an arch decorated with angels, cardinal's caps, and tun barrels inscribed with MOR (a pun on his name, Mor-ton).[7] However, this monument is a cenotaph since his actual body was buried in the crypt's central chapel of the Virgin Mary, according to his wishes.

Morton, More, and the history of Richard III

Morton was a mentor of the young Sir Thomas More. More served as a page in Morton's house, acted in revels at Morton's court at Knole House, the archiepiscopal palace, and later mentioned him in his work Utopia. Although most scholars credit More with authoring the History of King Richard III, they debate the issue of the original authorship. Morton is believed by many to be the originator of the account that More rewrote. Modern-day enthusiasts of King Richard III thereby accuse Morton of inventing the account whereby Richard murdered Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York and committed other crimes attributed to him.


James Bentham wrote in 1771 concerning the arms of Bishop Morton:[8][9]

"The Arms given him in Anglia Sacra, p. 673, are not sufficiently explicit; they should be thus blasoned: Quarterly gules and ermine on the 1st and 4th a goat's head erased argent. And this agrees with his arms carved various times on the noble Tower of Wisbeche Church, and as they were formerly in a window of Linton Church in Cambridgeshire, as I have it in a manuscript of church notes taken above a century ago. However these accord not with those for our bishop in his own cathedral twice, viz. in the east window of the north aisle of the presbytery, and in another window of the same aisle, where they are still remaining, and are thus blasoned: Quarterly gules and ermine, on the 1st and 4th three goat's heads erased argent, attired or.

In the 1972 BBC television series The Shadow of the Tower, which focused on the reign of Henry VII, Morton was played by Denis Carey.[10]


  1. Miranda, Salvador. "John Morton". The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. Retrieved 8 October 2010.
  2. "Cardinal Morton ... was born ... at Milborne Syleham": Betjeman, John, ed. (1968) Collins Pocket Guide to English Parish Churches; the South. London: Collins; p. 172
  3. "Alumni Oxonienses 1500–1714". British History Online. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
  4. Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 245
  5. 1 2 Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 234
  6. Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 88
  7. Find a Grave: John Morton
  8. Bentham, Rev. James, The History and Antiquities of the Conventual Cathedral Church of Ely, 2nd. Edition, Cambridge, 1771,pp.46–50
  9. Also blazoned in Lambeth MS 555
  10. "The Shadow of the Tower". IMDB. Retrieved 26 June 2016.


Political offices
Preceded by
John Alcock
Lord Chancellor
Succeeded by
Henry Deane
(Keeper of the Great Seal)
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
William Grey
Bishop of Ely
Succeeded by
John Alcock
Preceded by
Thomas Bourchier
Archbishop of Canterbury
Succeeded by
Thomas Langton
Preceded by
Antonio Pallavicini Gentili
Cardinal priest of Santa Anastasia
Succeeded by
Antonio Trivulzio
Academic offices
Preceded by
John Russell
Chancellor of the University of Oxford
Succeeded by
William Smyth
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