Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Alnwick, William of
ALNWICK, WILLIAM of (d. 1449), bishop of Norwich (1426–36), and of Lincoln (1436–49), was born at Alnwick in Northumberland, from which he derived his name. He probably studied at Cambridge, of which university he became LL.D. Alnwick became a monk of St. Alban's, and speedily gained a reputation for learning and holiness of life, which secured for him the confidence of Henry V and Henry VI. The former appointed him the first confessor of his new foundation of Brigetine nuns at Syon, established in 1414, and he filled the delicate and responsible office of confessor and spiritual counsellor to his son (Godwin, de Præsul.). In 1420 Alnwick became prior of Wymondham, an office which he resigned the same year (Dugdale's Mon. Angl. (1821), iii. 326), probably on becoming archdeacon of Sarum, to which dignity he was appointed at the end of that year by Bishop Chandler, on the succession of John Stafford, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, to the chancellorship of that church (Jones, Fasti Eccl. Sarisb. p. 161; Le Neve, Fasti, ii. 624). The following year (3 May 1421) he received from Archbishop Kemp the stall of Knaresborough-cum-Bickhill in the cathedral of York (Le Neve, iii. 197). Both of these dignities he held till his consecration to the bishopric of Norwich, in succession to Bishop Wakering, in 1426. The papal bull for his appointment is dated 27 Feb. 1425–6; he was consecrated at Canterbury on 18 Aug., and was installed 22 Dec. of the same year (ib. ii. 467). At this time he also enjoyed the confidential office of keeper of the privy seal. While bishop of Norwich Alnwick was also appointed confessor to the young king, and cannot fail to have had much influence in forming the mind of the ‘meek royal saint’ for that life of piety and devotion which was Henry's most pleasing characteristic. Intellectual power or strength of will the ablest counsellor could not impart to so feeble a nature. In 1433, when Henry, then in his thirteenth year, was keeping his Christmas at Bury Bt. Edmund's, and Bishop Alnwick was attending him as his confessor, the old feud between the abbots of Bury and the bishops of Norwich, in whose diocese the abbey was locally situate, burst forth afresh. Henry compelled the rival dignitaries to assume the semblance of reconciliation, and to give one another the kiss of peace, while a commission was appointed, under Archbishop Chichele, to consider their respective claims, judgment being ultimately given in favour of the abbot (Goulburn, Sculptures of Norwich Cathedral, 464–6). Alnwick was a relentless persecutor of the Lollards in his diocese. One White, a leading teacher of the new doctrines, who had taken refuge in Norfolk, was condemned at a provincial synod held in the chapel of the palace 13 Sept. 1428, and was burnt at the stake. At least 120 were forced to abjure Lollardy, and sentenced to various punishments—some to different terms of imprisonment, one for life. In 1436 Alnwick received a fresh mark of royal favour in his translation from the see of Norwich to the richer and more dignified see of Lincoln, vacant by the translation of Bishop Gray to London. The royal assent to Alnwick's election is dated 26 May 1436, on which day the king wrote to the pope informing him of it. The pope signified his approbation of the choice, and sent over his bull of provision dated 19 Sept. (Reg. Chichele, fol. 54; Pat. 14 Hen. VI, p. i., m. 9; Le Neve, Fasti, ii. 18). Alnwick manifested the same zeal against heresy in his new diocese. A scholar of Oxford accused of the errors of Reginald Pecock was imprisoned by him at Wallingford, and forced to abjure his tenets and to assume monastic vows at Abingdon (Gascoigne, Lib. Verit. p. 29). Alnwick found the chapter of Lincoln in a lamentable state of dissention and demoralisation. The dean, John Mackworth (chancellor to the infant Prince of Wales), a man of violent and despotic temper, was seeking to reduce his canons to submission to his imperious will by brute force. His armed followers appeared in the chapter house during the proceedings of the chapter, and on one occasion they burst into the minster while divine service was being celebrated, dragged the chancellor, Peter Partridge, from his stall, and brutally assaulted him, leaving him sorely wounded on the pavement of the church. The case was a desperate one, and needed a wise and strong healer to remedy it. Both parties placed their disputes in their bishop's hand, and promised to abide by his decision. Alnwick proved himself an able and statesmanlike arbitrator. After twelve months of careful investigation on the points in dispute he pronounced an elaborate ‘laudum’ or arbitration on the forty-two articles exhibited by the chapter and the fourteen points urged by the dean, dated 23 June 1439, by which, with the alterations rendered necessary by the change of ritual, Lincoln Cathedral is practically governed at the present day. His success in this task encouraged Alnwick to undertake the far more difficult and important work of reviewing the whole body of statutes, dating originally from the foundation of the cathedral by Remigius shortly after the conquest, and reducing the confused mass of conflicting uses and customs which had grown up into an orderly and harmonious code, entitled the ‘Novum Registrum.’ This laborious work was finished by the Michaelmas of the following year, 1440. Its result was less happy. The dean obstinately refused to accept a new code of statutes, tending, as he asserted, to derogate from the dignity of his office. The bishop as resolutely insisted on his acceptance of them. The strife waxed warmer and warmer; one commission of inquiry succeeded another; inhibition followed inhibition; but all to no purpose. Two years after the date of the last inhibition—17 March 1447—Alnwick died, 5 Dec. 1449, leaving Dean Mackworth, who survived him two years, practically master of the situation. ‘Alnwick's register reveals some impatience and infirmities of temper, which was indeed sorely tried. But his “Laudum” and “Novum Registrum” are worthy monuments of his zeal, industry, and learning’ (Bp. Wordsworth, Twelve Addresses, 1873, pp. 1–40; Lincoln Cathedral Chapter Acts; Quarterly Review, ‘Cathedral Life,’ No. 269).
To pass to another important work in which he was largely concerned, which is still bearing good fruit after the lapse of more than four centuries, Alnwick, both in his capacity of the king's spiritual adviser, and as bishop of the diocese in which the royal school was situated, took an influential part in Henry VI's foundations of Eton School and King's College, Cambridge, which, following the model first laid down by William of Wykeham in his allied foundations of Winchester School and New College, Oxford, he had resolved upon at the commencement of his personal rule ‘as the first pledge of his devotion to God’ (‘primas nostræ in Deum devotionis arrhas,’ Henry VI's letter to Pope Eugenius IV, 13 May 1443, apud Bekynton's Correspondence, i. 231). Alnwick entered warmly into his royal patron's scheme, and applauded his goodness towards ‘our holy mother the church of England, which in these last days the sons of Belial would have destroyed,’ had it not been for the royal protection vouchsafed to it. To facilitate the completion of the plan, Alnwick appointed commissaries to act on his behalf (29 Sept. 1440) (including Ayscough, bishop of Salisbury, in whose diocese Windsor was then situated, Lyndwood the canonist, keeper of the privy seal, and Bekynton,the king's secretary, archdeacon of Bucks), in converting the parish church of Eton into a collegiate church to be governed by a provost and fellows (Bekynton's Corresp. ii. 274 ff.). The charter of foundation bears date 11 Oct. 1440. Three years later (13 Nov. 1443), when Bekynton, as a reward for his services in the establishment of the college, had been elevated to the see of Bath and Wells, his consecration was performed by Bishop Alnwick at Eton (Stubbs, Episcopal Succession, p. 67).
Bishop Alnwick had a fondness for architectural works. He is commemorated in the roll of benefactors to the university of Cambridge as having contributed to the southern wing (‘pars meridionalis’) of the schools, including the law schools and the old library above, facing the magnificent chapel of his royal master. During his tenure of the see of Norwich he commenced the alteration of the west front of the cathedral by the erection of the great portal, the design being completed by his executors after his death, in accordance with the terms of his will, by a new large west window (‘unam magnam fenestram ad decoracionem et illuminacionem ejusdem ecclesiæ’). During his episcopate the cloisters of that cathedral were also completed, and the chief gateway of the bishop's palace, afterwards finished by Bishop Lyhart, was begun. At Lincoln his architectural taste was exhibited in large additions to the episcopal palace, where he erected an extensive eastern wing, including a chapel with a dining parlour under it (both now destroyed), and a noble gateway tower, recently restored by Bishop Wordsworth. The west windows of the minster, usually attributed to him on the authority of an erroneous statement of Leland (Collectan. i. 95), are more than fifty years earlier. Enough, however, remains which is certainly his to warrant the description of his epitaph, ‘pretiosarum domuum ædificator.’ Alnwick died on 5 Dec. 1449, and was buried hard by the west door of Lincoln Cathedral, with a lengthy epitaph, preserved by Sanderson, recording his career and many virtues, and apostrophising the vanity of human life. By his will, proved at Lambeth on 10 Dec. 1449, he bequeathed 10l. for the walls of his native town, and the same sum for the restoration of its church. The year before his death he had been appointed one of the feoffees of ‘a charity founded in the church of St. Michael Alnwick’ (Pat. Roll. 26 Hen. VI, p. 2, m. 8).