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Robert Alexander Kennedy Runcie, 102nd Archbishop of Canterbury

 'One of his three tanks was knocked out by an anti-tank gun and set on fire. Runcie discovered that one of his men was trapped in the tank and went across open ground under enemy fire in order to pull out this remaining man who was unconscious. He succeeded in getting him out.' Citation for Gallantry for the Military Cross: March 1945

The 102nd Archbishop of Canterbury was born in 1921 in Crosby, Liverpool, the son of Robert Dalziel Runcie, a Scottish electrical engineer, and his wife Ann.

Educated at Coronation Road council school in Liverpool, he won a scholarship to Oxford University and attended Brasenose College for a year before WWII intervened. He served with the Scots Guards, fighting across northern France and into Germany, being amongst the first British soldiers into the concentration camp at Belsen.

In March 1945 he was awarded the Military Cross for bravery, rescuing, under fire, a wounded comrade from a burning tank and also for bravery whilst engaging the enemy.

After the war he continued his studies, gaining a first in Greats at Oxford and then training for the ministry at Westcott House in Cambridge. He was ordained deacon in 1950, priest a year later and served two years as a curate in Gosforth, Tyneside, before returning to Westcott as chaplain. He was subsequently appointed Vice-Principal and in 1956 became Dean of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, eventually being appointed Principal of Cuddesdon Theological College in Oxford in 1960. 

He became Bishop of St Albans in 1970 and ten years later was transferred to the See of Canterbury, the first Archbishop of Canterbury to result from the new Crown Appointments process which had been announced by Prime Minister Jim Callaghan in 1976. this was the first outworking of a process in which the views of the church were substantively taken into account. Runcie was a reluctant Archbishop, reportedly taking six weeks to give his answer to the offer.

Runcie became the first Archbishop of Canterbury to host a visiting Pope.  He had met John Paul II in Accra, when both were visiting Africa and when, in 1982 the Pope visited England, the photograph of the two leaders kneeling in prayer at the tomb of St Thomas a Becket sent shockwaves around the Protestant world. Shockwaves also went through the British establishment when, at the service to mark the conclusion of the war in the Falklands, he remembered the Argentinian war dead, much to the reported fury of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

The international profile of the Church was also brought to the fore when the Archbishops' Envoy, Terry Waite, was kidnapped in 1987 during the last of a series of visits to the Lebanon, where he had played a role in the negotiations over the release of hostages. Waite's release did not come until 1991, well after Runcie's retirement. 

During Runcie's time, the General Synod of the church, only ten years old as he took up his appointment, began to flex its ecclesial and political muscles; debates focussed in on controversial issues including biblical morality and the state of the nation.

In 1985 the Church published Faith in the City, the highly controversial report of a commission appointed by Runcie to look into urban life. The stark conclusions, charting decline and deprivation in the inner cities, proved almost too much for the political establishment which reacted furiously. The report was leaked, together with a semi-official government rejection as 'a Marxist document', to a Sunday newspaper in advance of publication. This was a move which immediately backfired, rallying considerable support for the recommendations, not only amongst politicians but many more who had some experience of inner city life.

The Report's challenge was not only to politicians; the church was tasked with raising millions of pounds to be spent on faith projects contributing to the improvement of life and community in urban areas. By 2007, the Church Urban Fund had raised and spent over £40 million in this way and the fund continues.

In 1987 Runcie was heavily criticised in the traditionally anonymous preface to the Church of England Yearbook. The author of the preface, Gary Bennett, took his own life on being identified and the affair revealed deep divisions and resentments within the church.

Runcie was a supporter of the ordination of women to the priesthood, and women were, for hte first time, ordained as deacons in his time. He voted, though, against an early proposal to ordain them as priests in 1989, reckoning that the move was likely to be too divisive at that stage.

The 1988 Lambeth Conference, which he convened in Canterbury, brought together many friends that Runcie had met in his worldwide travels. The Bishops of the Communion celebrated its common life, agonised over its differences and pondered the problems of the world around it and all without the deep rancour and division that was to characterise Anglican relations in subsequent years.

One more shock for the Protestant world came during his last visit to Rime when he sketched out the need for a primacy gathering together the scattered churches of the world; a primacy which, in some form, might be found in Rome. The idea did not find any practical support.

Runcie retired in 1990, and was made a Life Peer, taking the title Baron Runcie of Cuddesdon, reflecting his time in Oxford. He retired to St Albans where he served as an Assistant Bishop. He died in 2000, a memorial service being held in St Albans Cathedral.

Detailed Biography

Robert Alexander Kennedy Runcie (b 1921 - d 2000) 
The Rt Revd & Rt Hon. Baron Runcie of Cuddesdon (created life peer 1991)
Son (youngest child) of Robert Dalziel Runcie, Scottish electrical engineer, and his wife, Anne.
born 2.10.1921 Liverpool. Coronation Rd Council School Liverpool. Merchant Taylors school, Crosby. Brasenose College Oxford (1 year). Sandhurst. WW2 Tank Officer Scots Guards. PA to the British Rep Italo-Yugoslavia Boundary Commission Trieste c1945. Brasenose College Oxford BA1948 MA1948. Westcott House Cambridge 1948.

M.1957 Angela Rosalind (Turner), professional musician. children; 1 son, 1 daughter


Ordained deacon, 24th December 1950, Priest 1951. Curate of Gosforth All Saints 1950-1952; Chaplain Westcott House Cambridge 1953-1954 (Vice-Principal 1954-1956); Dean, Fellow & Assistant Tutor, Trinity Hall Cambridge 1956-1960; General Secretary of the Cambridge Mission to Delhi 1957-1960; Select Preacher, Cambridge University 1957 & 1974-75; Select Preacher Oxford University 1959 & 1973/74; Principal Cuddesdon College & Vicar of Cuddesdon 1960- 1969/70; Teape Lecturer St Stephens College Delhi 1962; Canon & Prebendary of Melton Ross with Scamblesby in Lincoln Cathedral 1969-1970; Bishop of St Albans 1970-1980, consecrated  24.2.1970 in Westminster Abbey; Chairman BBC & IBA Central Religious Adv Committe 1973-1979; Anglican Chairman Anglican-Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Commission 1973-1980; Archbishop of Canterbury 1980-1991; enthroned on the Feast of the Annunciation of the BVM 3.00pm Tue 25.3.1980 in Canterbury Cathedral a the age of 58; resigned 31.1.91; after serving over ten years; Assistant Bishop St Albans Diocese.

His time as Archbishop coincided with Elizabeth II 1952- » Prime Ministers » M Thatcher Con 1979-90 » J Major Con 1990-97 » Popes » John Paul II 1978- » Archbishops of York » S Blanch 1975-83 » J Habgood 1983-95 »

Military Cross (MC) 1945; Royal Victorian Chain 1991; Privy Councillor 1980; Freeman St Albans 1979 City of London 1981 Canterbury 1984; Hon Bencher Grays Inn 1980; Fellow of Kings College London from 1981.

Known Writings

Windows onto God 1983

Seasons of the Spirit 1983

One Light for One World 1988

Authority in Crisis? an Anglican response 1988

The Unity We Seek 1989;

edited: Cathedral and City: St Albans Ancient and Modern 1978

 m.1957 Angela Rosalind (Turner), professional musician. children; 1 son, 1 daughter

Biography: Humphrey Carpenter, Robert Runcie: The Reluctant Archbishop, Hodder & Stoughton 1996

Firsts and notables

1st Archbishop appointed by Crown Appointments process; 1st Archbishop to receive Pope in Canterbury Cathedral; 1st  Archbishop to list owning Berkshire pigs as a special interest.

Research: Steve Empson and Jenny Childs