Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Longchamp, William of
LONGCHAMP, WILLIAM of (d. 1197), bishop of Ely and chancellor to Richard I, was once described by Henry II as ‘son of two traitors.’ His father Hugh had received from Henry in 1156 a grant of lands at Linton and Wilton in Herefordshire (Pipe Roll, 2 Hen. II, p. 51, 3 Hen. II, p. 93), and was fermor of Conches (Normandy) from about 1173 till 1180, when he quitted office deep in debt and disgrace (Stapleton, Norm. Exch. Rolls, i. 74). Hugh's father was said to have been a runaway French serf, who had found shelter in the Norman village of Longchamp, whence the family took its name. William's mother was probably a Lacy (Liber Niger Scacc. ed. Hearne, p. 155). William entered public life at the close of Henry's reign as official to the king's son Geoffrey [see Geoffrey, d. 1212] for the archdeaconry of Rouen. Henry warned his son that the traitor blood would show itself before long, and the warning seemed justified when William deserted Geoffrey's service for that of Richard, who made him his chancellor for the duchy of Aquitaine. Longchamp was in Paris about April 1189 when William Marshal [q. v.] and Ralph, archdeacon of Hereford, arrived there to negotiate peace between Henry II and Philip Augustus. By his ‘guile’ in Richard's interests Longchamp is said to have counterchecked the envoys' efforts (Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal, ll. 8323–30, ed. Paul Meyer). On Richard's accession to the crown William became chancellor of the kingdom and bishop of Ely. Consecrated on 31 Dec. 1189, he was enthroned at Ely on 6 Jan. 1190. The king moreover, before leaving England in December, had given him the custody of the Tower of London, and chosen him to share with Bishop Hugh of Durham the office of chief justiciar. William was a man of considerable ability, energetic, hard-working, and devoted to his sovereign, but he was generally unpopular. Personally he was ugly, stunted, deformed, lame, and his manners were as unattractive as his appearance. He was a stranger in England, and took no pains to make himself at home there; he knew no English, and did not try to learn; indeed, he paraded his contempt for the land and its people in a fashion which stirred the resentment of all classes. He was jealous of his high-born fellow-justiciar Hugh Pudsey, bishop of Durham, who looked down upon him as an upstart interloper. They quarrelled as soon as the king's back was turned. William shut Hugh out from a meeting of the court of exchequer, and took upon himself the whole viceregal authority, even to annulling appointments made by Richard in person—conduct for which he, as chancellor, doubtless had the royal sanction. In February 1190, when Richard called a council in Normandy, William hurried over in advance of his colleagues to anticipate their complaints against him, and returned in triumph as sole chief justiciar in Hugh's stead.
William began his administration by fortifying the Tower; in April he went to punish a riot at York; while there he learned that Hugh was on his way home with a fresh commission as justiciar over Northumberland. The rivals met at Blyth, Nottinghamshire, and again at Tickhill, Yorkshire, where William produced a letter, of later date than Hugh's credentials, from Richard to himself, appointing him supreme representative of the absent king. Hugh was forced to surrender his claims, and a commission as legate for all England, granted on 5 June by Pope Clement III, made William supreme in both church and state. As legate he, at Richard's desire, absolved John from an oath to keep out of England for three years [see John, king of England]. John's return threatened William's authority, and he strove to assert it by holding a church council at Gloucester, in the heart of John's lands, on 1 Aug., and another at Westminster on 13 Oct., followed by a progress throughout the realm. Thereby he only added to his unpopularity; for the entertainment of his train of a thousand men-at-arms, and the exactions which he made in the king's name, were so ruinous to the districts through which he travelled that a contemporary writer compares his passage to that of a flash of lightning. The general discontent found a rallying-point in John, who early in 1191 came to England, and at once set himself in opposition to the chancellor. On Mid-Lent Sunday the rivals met at Winchester; the meeting ended in a quarrel. Immediately afterwards Gerard de Camville, the sheriff of Lincolnshire and constable of Lincoln Castle, proclaimed himself John's liegeman, and defied the chancellor openly. William, who at the moment was busy in Herefordshire punishing Roger Mortimer for treasonable dealings with the Welsh, hurried back to find Lincoln impregnable, Nottingham and Tickhill in the hands of John, his own legatine commission suspended by the death of the pope, and his viceregal authority threatened by the impending arrival of Archbishop Walter of Rouen [see Coutances, Walter of] as special commissioner from the king. He therefore submitted his dispute with John to arbitration at Winchester on 25 April; the arbitrators decided against him on every point. Nevertheless, at the end of June he ventured to deprive Gerard de Camville of his sheriffdom. The other bishops, headed now by Walter of Rouen, called a meeting at Winchester on 28 July, and there made a fresh settlement somewhat more favourable to William (Stubbs, notes to Gesta Ric. p. 208, and Rog. Hoveden, iii. 134). On 30 July William issued a writ for the arrest of Geoffrey, now archbishop of York, as soon as he should touch English soil, Geoffrey having, like John, taken a vow of absence for three years, and William having no assurance that it had been remitted by Richard. The arrest was forcibly made on 18 Sept., in St. Martin's Priory Church, near Dover, by soldiers acting under orders from the constable of Dover Castle, and his wife, a sister of the chancellor.
John seized upon this outrage as a pretext for organising a general attack upon William. Bishops and barons gathered round him, and William was summoned by the assistant justiciars to meet them on 5 Oct. at the bridge over the Lodden, between Reading and Windsor, and defend his conduct if he could. After issuing a counter-summons to John's adherents, he proceeded to Windsor, but failed to appear at the meeting, excusing his absence by a plea of ill-health. On 6 Oct. the bishops excommunicated him, and after a vain attempt to buy peace with John, he promised to stand his trial at the Lodden bridge next day. In the morning, however, he learned that his enemies were marching upon London, and he at once turned in the same direction. He met some of them on the road, but fought his way through them, entered the city, and shut himself up in the Tower. A three days' blockade forced him to surrender, and on 10 Oct. the other justiciars and the barons formally deposed him from all secular offices, and sentenced him to deliver up the castles in his custody, to give hostages, and then to depart the realm. Submitting under protest, he gave up the keys of the Tower and of Windsor Castle, and was allowed to withdraw to Dover. Thence he twice attempted to escape in disguise over sea, but was caught and detained till the castles were all surrendered, when he was permitted to sail on 29 Oct. for Flanders (cf. English Hist. Rev. v. 316–9); he afterwards proceeded to France and Normandy.
The justiciars sequestrated William's see, in spite of a threat of papal excommunication. Next spring he took advantage of their strained relations with John to revisit England and demand restitution, and bribed John himself into supporting the demand. The justiciars, however, managed to outbid him, and he returned to France. Early in 1193 he joined his imprisoned sovereign in Germany. Richard seems to have attributed the settlement soon afterwards arrived at between himself and the emperor to his ‘dearest chancellor,’ to whom he committed his instructions for the collection of the money and the transmission of the hostages required from England for the royal ransom, and the emperor's golden bull proclaiming the treaty (19 April). Before the English justiciars would allow William to land they made him swear to meddle with nothing outside his immediate commission; and they treated this as limited to the presentation of the bull, to receive which they met him at St. Albans in June. He had landed at Ipswich and thence gone to St. Edmunds, where the abbot, regarding him as excommunicate, stopped the celebration of mass in his presence (Joc. Brakelonde, pp. 38, 39). He then went to London, and there made trial of his power by ordering the seizure of some houses belonging to the rebel bishop of Coventry. A storm of popular fury drove him to change his attitude, and at St. Albans he declared that he merely came ‘as a simple bishop,’ and on a brief visit as the king's messenger. But the council was deaf to his protestations; the archbishop of Rouen refused him the kiss of peace, and the queen-mother and the barons unanimously declined to trust him with the care of the hostages. By 29 June William was back at Worms with his king. He was next sent to negotiate a peace with Philip of France at Mantes on 9 July. In December he went to Normandy to arrange terms between Richard and John. In February 1194 he was again with Richard at Mainz, and he accompanied the king on his last visit to England, March–May 1194. At the council of Nottingham, 30 March, he sought to buy the sheriffdoms of Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, and Northamptonshire, but was outbid by wealthier purchasers. On 17 April he walked, as chancellor, at the king's right hand in the coronation procession to Westminster; and on 24 April his quarrel with Geoffrey of York was formally settled by Richard.
On 23 July, when Richard was in Aquitaine, William was in Normandy negotiating with Philip another truce, with which Richard on his return professed to be so dissatisfied, that he for a moment deprived William of the seals. His anger was, however, merely assumed to colour a scheme for the repudiation of all engagements made under the old seal, in order to raise money by the sale of confirmations to be issued under a new one. The chancellor was immediately reinstated, and the change of seal was, in fact, not carried out till after his death (Wyon, Great Seals, pp. 149, 19). In the summer of 1195 he narrowly escaped capture on his way through France to Germany, whither he was sent to ascertain how far the emperor would assist the English king in an invasion of France. At the close of the following year Richard despatched him, with two other bishops, on a mission to Rome to appeal against the interdict with which Walter of Rouen was avenging the building of Château-Gaillard. William fell sick at Poitiers, died there on 31 Jan. (R. Diceto, ii. 150; ‘Hist. Eliens.’ in Angl. Sacra, i. 633) or 1 Feb. (Gerv. Cant. i. 543) 1197, and was buried in the neighbouring abbey of Le Pin. It was reported at Poitiers that when he expired a stream as of tears was seen to flow from a crucifix in the cathedral church; but in England his death was a subject of rejoicing.
The haughtiness, the arrogance, and the greed of power for himself and his relatives, which the English people justly resented in him, are virtues compared with the crimes laid to his charge by Gerald of Wales; but Gerald's accusations, as Bishop Stubbs says, ‘defeat themselves.’ No man who was seriously suspected of such immorality as Gerald imputes to William could have been not merely tolerated in the offices of bishop and legate, but actually and successfully recommended by the whole body of English bishops to Pope Celestine III for a renewal of the legation at the opening of his struggle with John (Gesta Ric. ii. 242, 243), and this without a word of protest from clerk or layman during his life, or of reprobation from historians after his death. Nor could a man guilty of atrocious crime have been regarded by John as one whom the chapter of Canterbury were likely to choose for primate (Epp. Cantuar. ed. Stubbs, p. 394), nor have been quoted by the same chapter as a weighty authority on their side in their controversy with Hubert Walter (ib. p. 538), nor chosen by the satirist-monk, Nigel Wireker, to receive the dedication of his treatise on the clerical corruptions of the time, nor publicly addressed by him in terms of respect and admiration, as well as of warm personal friendship (Anglo-Norm. Satir. Poems, ed. Wright, i. 152, 153, 157). William of Newburgh had no worse epithet for him than ‘tyrant;’ Richard of Devizes described him as ‘a man of mark, whose physical deficiencies were outweighed by the greatness of his mind.’ The Winchester annalist (Ann. Monast. ed. Luard, ii. 64) praised his worldly wisdom, his eloquence, and his unalterable loyalty to an attachment once formed. His loyalty to his royal friend seems in truth to have been at once his most conspicuous virtue, and the source of his gravest political errors. It was mainly by his unscrupulous overriding of every other consideration in the pursuit of what he regarded as Richard's interests that he brought upon himself the hatred and the vengeance of Richard's English subjects.
[Gesta Ricardi Regis; Roger of Hoveden, vols. iii. iv.; Giraldus Cambrensis, Vita Galfridi (Opera, vol. iv.); Ralph de Diceto, vol. ii.; Gervase of Canterbury, vol. i.; William of Newburgh and Richard of Devizes (Chronicles of Richard I, vols. i–iii.), all in Rolls Series; Stubbs's preface to Roger of Hoveden, vol. iii.; L. Boivin-Champeaux, Notice sur Guillaume de Longchamp (Evreux, 1885).]