Abbots Langley Local History Society

Nicholas Breakspear



Book launch - 24th September 2022
(Click image for details)

Book launch 2022

In over 2,000 years of Christianity, there has been only one pope from England: Nicholas Breakspear. In Breakspear: The English Pope, R.A.J. Waddingham opens the archives to tell the story of a man who rose from humble beginnings to glorious power.


It is believed that Nicholas Breakspear was born in the year 1100, at Bedmond Farm in the parish of Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire. Presumably after the death of his wife, his father, Robert Breakspear, became a monk of St Albans Abbey. When Nicholas was about 18 years old, he too applied to enter St Albans Abbey. But he was refused admission on the grounds that he had had too little schooling to qualify for entrance.

Undeterred by this refusal, Nicholas went abroad to study. He went briefly to St Denys in Paris, then to other places and finally came to Avignon. Here in 1130 he became a monk in the Augustinian Abbey of St Rufus. He was elected Abbot in 1137 and came to the notice of the Pope, Eugenius III. Recognising his qualities, the Pope made him Bishop and Cardinal and sent him on a mission to war-torn Scandinavia. Nicholas restored peace and order to the local churches and monasteries and set about creating two new archbishoprics. [He successfully established an archbishopric for Norway, but was less successful in establishing a Swedish archbishopric.] After four years, now widely recognised as a man of integrity and strength, he returned to Rome to find that Eugenius III had died and had been succeeded by Anastasius IV, a quiet, peaceful old man of ninety. Within the year Anastasius too was dead, and in November 1154 Nicholas found himself unanimously elected Pope. He took the name Adrian IV.

The story of Pope Adrian's short pontificate was told during the Nicholas Breakspear Week, in particular, his dealings with the emperor Frederic Barbarossa and the English King Henry II. Nicholas Breakspear, Pope Adrian IV, died on September 1st 1159.

The above words are based on Alan Johnson's introduction to Nicholas Breakspear Week, held in Abbots Langley in September 2000 to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the birth of Nicholas Breakspear. The week of celebration, organised by Alan Johnson, started with a walk from St Lawrence Church and visited the roadside plaque in Bedmond, near the site of Breakspear Farm. Floral displays were placed beneath road signs at Abbots Road, Adrian Road, Breakspear Road and Popes Road, and the festooned bust of Nicholas Breakspear was brought into the sanctuary at St Saviour’s Church. During the week, daily instalments of the Life of Nicholas Breakspear were read at St Saviour’s and on Thursday 28th September 2000 the Abbots Langley Local History Society presented a lecture by the Revd Canon Dr Anders Bergquist at St Lawrence Church: From Bedmond to Trondheim to Rome – the Career of Nicholas Breakspear. This was a most interesting and enjoyable talk by Anders, expanding on his national Radio 4 broadcast the previous Sunday. Throughout the week, the Society also provided a display, depicting the significant events in the life of Nicholas Breakspear. The week concluded with Vespers at Saviour’s and Compline sung at St Lawrence Church.

There do tend to be inconsistencies and uncertainties in the telling of the history of Nicholas Breakspear. We have put together the following collection of PDF documents of papers, leaflets, posters, etc. The list may be updated as more information becomes available. In particular, the Reading List and Links document may be updated following further research.


All the press cuttings and photos of Breakspear Farm are courtesy of Wendy Ball (i.e. Gazette 2000, ALLHS Spring/Summer 2017, Villager 2000, Evening Echo 1968, Herts Countryside 2000, Gazette 1970, Salvatorian Jubilee 1978, NA Trent images, and photos of Breakspear Farm).

Other documents, courtesy of Richard Simons, are: The Breakspear in Finland 2001 email was sent to the ALLHS; the Breakspear Week flyer and Englishman & Pope leaflet were prepared by Alan Johnson; the St Albans Study Day 1998 came from Brother Clement; and the St Albans Conference flyer and leaflet were provided by Brenda Bolton.

The ALLHS Posters 2000 and the Reading List were prepared by Richard Simons.


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