PECKHAM, JOHN (d. 1292), archbishop of Canterbury, was probably a native of Sussex, and received his early education from the Cluniac monks of Lewes. About 1250 he joined the Franciscan order and studied in their Oxford convent. Shortly afterwards he proceeded to the university of Paris, where he took his degree under St Bonaventure and became regent in theology. For many years Peckham taught at Paris, coming into contact with the greatest scholars of the day, among others St Thomas Aquinas. About 1270 he returned to Oxford and taught there, being elected in 1275 provincial minister of the Franciscans in England, but he was soon afterwards called to Rome as lector sacri palalii, or theological lecturer in the schools of the papal palace. In 1279 he returned to England as archbishop of Canterbury, being appointed by the pope on the rejection of Robert Burnell, Edward I.'s candidate. Peckham was always a strenuous advocate of the papal power, especially as shown in the council of Lyons in 1274. His enthronement in October 1279 marks the beginning of an important epoch in the history of the English primacy. Its characteristic note was an insistence on discipline which offended contemporaries. Peckham's zeal was not tempered by discernment, and he had little gift of sympathy or imagination. His first act on arrival in England was to call a council at Reading, which met in July 1 279. Its main object was ecclesiastical reform, but the provision that a copy of Magna Carta should be hung in all cathedral and collegiate churches seemed to the king a political action, and parliament declared void any action of this council touching on the royal power. Nevertheless Peckham's relations with the king were often cordial, and Edward called on him for help in bringing order into conquered Wales. The chief note of his activity was, however, certainly ecclesiastical. The crime of " plurality," the holding by one cleric of two or more benefices, was especially attacked, as also clerical absenteeism and ignorance, and laxity in the monastic life. Peckham's main instrument was a minute system of " visitation," which he used with a frequency hitherto unknown. Disputes resulted, and on some points Peckham gave way, but his powers as papal legate complicated matters, and he did much to strengthen the court of Canterbury at the expense of the lower courts. The famous quarrel with St Thomas of Cantilupe, bishop of Hereford, arose out of similar causes. A more attractive side of Peckham's career is his activity as a writer. The numerous manuscripts of his works to be found in the libraries of Italy, England and France, testify to his industry as a philosopher and commentator. In philosophy he represents the Franciscan school which attacked the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas on the " Unity of Form." He wrote in a quaint and elaborate style on scientific, scriptural and moral subjects and engaged in much controversy in defence of the Franciscan rule and practice. He was " an excellent maker of songs," and his hymns are characterized by a lyrical tenderness which seems typically Franciscan. Printed examples of his work as commentator and hymn writer respectively may be found in the Firamentum Irium ordinum (Paris, 1512), and his office for Trinity Sunday in the " unreformed " breviary.
The chief authority on Peckham as archbishop of Canterbury, is the Registrum fratris Johannis Peckham, edited by C. Trice Martin for the Rolls Series (London, 1882-1885). A sympathetic account of his life as a Franciscan is to be found in L. Wadding, Annales minorum (Lyons, 1625, 1654). See also the article by C. L. Kingsford in Did. Nat. Biog., and Wilkin's Concilia magnae Britanniae (London, 1737). (E. O'N.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)