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Fitzherbert, William (DNB00)

FITZHERBERT, WILLIAM (d. 1154), archbishop of York and Saint, is also called sometimes William of Thwayt (Chron. de Melsa, i. 114, Rolls Ser.) and most commonly Saint William of York. He was of noble birth (William of Newburgh, i. 55, Rolls Ser.), and brought up in luxury (John of Hexham, c. 274, in Twysden), but of his father Herbert very little is certainly known. John of Hexham calls him Herbert of Winchester, and says that he had been treasurer of Henry I. Hugh the Chanter (in Raine, Historians of the Church of York, ii. 223) says Herbert was also chamberlain. Thomas Stubbs (ib. p. 390) calls him the 'very strenuous Count Herbert,' and says that his wife was Emma, the sister of King Stephen. But of her nothing else is known (Freeman, Norman Conquest, v. 315), and her very existence depends on the trustworthiness of a late authority. John of Hexham mentions that William was a kinsman of Roger, king of Sicily, but it is suspicious that no contemporary writer, even when speaking in some detail of William's dealings with Stephen and his brother Henry of Winchester, says a word of his relationship to the king. One nephew of Stephen was almost elected archbishop before him. Another nephew of Stephen succeeded him as treasurer of York. It is hardly probable that William was a nephew of Stephen also.

Many of William's kinsfolk lived in Yorkshire, and his elder brother Herbert held lands there, to which he apparently succeeded about 1140. William himself probably became treasurer and canon of York before 1130, at latest before 1138 (Dugdale, Monasticon, iv. 323–4, ed. Caley, &c.). In that capacity he accompanied Archbishop Thurstan on his visitation of St. Mary's Abbey, and witnessed his charter of foundation of Fountains Abbey (Walbran, Memorials of Fountains, i. 157). He also joined his brother Herbert in conferring benefactions on the Austin Priory of Nostell (Rot. Chart. p. 215). Stephen made him one of his chaplains, and granted him certain churches in the north which he had hitherto held of his brother in fee (Monasticon, vi. 1196).

On the death of Archbishop Thurstan (February 1140) there were great disputes in the chapter as to the choice of his successor. When the election of Henry de Coilli, King Stephen's nephew, had been determined upon, it was rendered ineffective by his refusal to comply with the papal request to resign the abbey of Fécamp on accepting the archbishopric. At last, in January 1142, the majority agreed to elect as their archbishop William the treasurer. Their choice was, however, hardly unfettered; for King Stephen strongly pressed for his election, and the presence of William, earl of Albemarle, in the chapter-house to promote it doubtless stimulated their zeal (John of Hexham, c. 268; cf. Gervase, Op. Histor. i. 123, Rolls Ser.) A minority persisted in voting for the strict Cistercian, Henry Murdac of Fountains (Hoveden, i. 198, Rolls Ser.), and the whole of that famous order believed that bribes of the treasurer had supplemented the commands of the king. The archdeacon of York, Osbert, called Walter of London in John of Hexham and in the ‘Additions to Hugh the Chanter’ (Raine, Historians of York, ii. 221), and other archdeacons hurried to the king to complain of the election. They were seized by Albemarle on their way and confined in his castle of Bytham, Lincolnshire. William meanwhile was well received by Stephen at Lincoln, and there received the restitution of his temporalities. But he was unable to obtain consecration from Archbishop Theobald, and Henry, bishop of Winchester, the legate, Stephen's brother, who was his friend, could only direct him to go to Rome, where Richard, abbot of Fountains, William, abbot of Rievaulx, and his other enemies had already appealed against his election as tainted by simony and royal influence. A strong letter of St. Bernard to Innocent II (S. Bernardi, Omnia Opera, i. 316, ed. Mabillon; also printed in Walbran, pp. 80–1), to the pope that he had made, showed that the whole influence of the Cistercian order was to be directed against William. For a time Innocent hesitated, but at last, in Lent 1143, he decided that William might be consecrated if William, dean of York, would swear that the chapter received no royal commands from Albemarle, and if the archbishop elect would clear himself on oath from the charge of bribery. These points were to be ascertained in England, whither William arrived in September. The Dean of York, who had in the meanwhile been made bishop of Durham, was unable to attend in person the council at Winchester, where the case was to be settled; but his agents gave the necessary assurances, and William's innocence was so clearly established that all clamoured for his consecration. On 26 Sept. the legate Henry himself consecrated William in his own cathedral at Winchester (Additions to Hugh the Chanter, p. 222).

William now ruled at York in peace, and St. Bernard could only exhort the abbot of Rievaulx to bear with equanimity the triumph of his foe (Epistolæ, cccliii. and ccclx. in Opera, i. 556, 561, ed. Migne). Meanwhile William busied himself in drawing up constitutions that prohibited the profane use of the trees and grass in churchyards, and prevented clerks turning the money received for dilapidations from the heirs of their predecessors to their own personal uses (Wilkins, Concilia, i. 425–6). On a visit to Durham William succeeded in reconciling the turbulent William Comyn with Bishop William his old friend. On the same day he enthroned the former dean of York as bishop in Durham Cathedral, and absolved Comyn from his sins against the church (Symeon, Hist. Eccl. Dunelm. pp. 283–4, 292; also Anglia Sacra, i. 717).

Though popular from his extraordinary kindness and gentleness, William was of a sluggish temperament. When in 1146 the cardinal bishop Hincmar arrived in England on a mission from the new pope, Lucius II, he brought with him the pallium for the new archbishop. Occupied, as was his wont, on other matters of less necessity (John of Hexham, c. 274), William neglected to obtain it from Hincmar at an early opportunity. Before long Lucius died. The new pope, Eugenius III, was a violent Cistercian and the slave of St. Bernard. The enemies of William took advantage of his accession to renew their complaints against William. Hincmar took his pall back again to Rome. Bernard plied Eugenius with new letters. Henry Murdac, who was now, through Bernard's influence, abbot of Fountains, led the attack. In 1147 William was compelled to undertake a fresh journey to Rome to seek for the pallium. To pay his expenses he was compelled to sell the treasures and privileges of the church of York (ib. c. 279), and this of course became a new source of complaint against him. Yet even now most of the cardinals were in his favour, and Eugenius was much distracted between the advice of his ‘senate’ and the commands of the abbot of Clairvaux. At last he found a pretext against William in the fact that William of Durham had not personally taken the pledges required by Pope Innocent. Until this was done he suspended William from his archiepiscopal functions.

Disgusted at his condemnation on a second trial for offences for which he had been already acquitted, William left Rome and found a refuge with his kinsman Roger the Norman, king of Sicily. He was entertained there by Robert of Salisbury (or Selby), the English chancellor of King Roger. Meanwhile his relatives and partisans in Yorkshire had revenged his wrongs by burning and plundering Fountains Abbey, the centre of the Cistercian opposition to him (Walbran, p. 101). This indiscreet violence added a new point to the passionate appeals of Bernard. In 1147 Murdac and the rest again appeared against William at a council held by Eugenius at Rheims. There, as the Bishop of Durham had omitted to purge the archbishop on his oath (Chron. de Mailros, s. a. Bannatyne Club), Eugenius finally deposed him from his see. The chapter were directed to proceed within forty days to a new election. As they could not agree on any one choice, Eugenius cut the matter short by consecrating at Trier Henry Murdac himself as archbishop of York (7 Dec. 1147). But such was William's popularity that Murdac obtained scanty recognition in Yorkshire, where king and people continued to maltreat his followers (Additions to Hugh the Chanter, p. 225).

William showed great resignation to his fate. His staunch friend Henry of Winchester gave him an asylum in his palace, and treated him with all the respect due to an archbishop. William made no complaints of his harsh treatment. He occupied himself in prayer and study. He renounced his former habits of luxury. As often as he could escape from the hospitable entertainment of Bishop Henry, he spent his days with the monks of Winchester, whose sanctity specially attracted him to eat and drink at their frugal table and sleep with them in their common dormitory (Ann. de Winton in Ann. Mon. ii.54). He remained at Winchester until the death of Bernard and Eugenius in 1153 again excited hopes in him of restitution. He again hurried to Rome, where, without reflecting on the judgment passed against him, he besought the new pope, Anastasius IV, to show him mercy. His friend, if not kinsman, Hugh of Puiset, who was also seeking at Rome his recognition as bishop of Durham, did his best to support William's requests. The famous Cardinal Gregory warmly espoused his cause. The death of Archbishop Murdac, on 14 Oct. 1153, made it easy for Anastasius to accede to William's prayers. Without questioning the legitimacy of Murdac's rule or reopening the suits decided against William, Anastasius was persuaded to pity his grey hairs and misfortunes. William was restored to the archbishopric, and for the first time received the pallium.

William now returned to England. Passing through Canterbury he is said to have designated the archdeacon Roger as his successor as archbishop. He next proceeded to Winchester, and celebrated the Easter feast of 1154 in the city where he had resided when young, and which had afforded him a refuge in his troubles. Thence he turned his course towards his diocese. As he approached York the new dean and his old enemy, Archdeacon Osbert, endeavoured to prevent his entrance into the city by declaring their intention of appealing against his appointment. But William proceeded on his way undismayed by their hostility. A great procession of clergy and laity welcomed him into the town. The wooden bridge over the Ouse gave way under the pressure of the crowd, and many were precipitated into the river; but the prayers of William saved, as men thought, the lives of every one of them. In after years a chapel dedicated to William was erected on the stone bridge now thrown over the river to commemorate so signal a miracle. He entered York on 9 May.

For the next month William ruled his church in peace, though the appeal of the chapter to Archbishop Theobald was fraught with fresh mischief. But William was no longer the worldling whose wealth and laxity had excited the suspicions of Cistercian zealots. With great humility he visited Fountains and promised full restitution for the injuries his partisans had inflicted upon the abbey. The official chroniclers of the abbey had in after times nothing to say against one who could make so complete a reparation (Walbran, i. 80). He also visited the new Cistercian foundation at Meaux, Yorkshire, and in its chapter-house solemnly confirmed the grants of Archbishop Murdac to the struggling community (Chron. de Melsa, i. 94, 108). On Trinity Sunday he was back at York, and when celebrating high mass in his cathedral on that festival was seized with a sudden illness. He struggled through the service and even appeared afterwards among the guests assembled in his house. But he felt that his end was near. Poison was at once suspected, and antidotes were administered. But he died on 8 June, eight days after his seizure, and Bishop Hugh of Durham buried his body in York Minster.

Faction had risen to such a height at York that a circumstantial story soon gained credence among William's friends that Osbert the archdeacon had caused his death by poisoning the eucharistic chalice. A clerk of William's, named Symphorian, accused Osbert of the crime, in the presence of King Stephen, and long judicial proceedings ensued. Though the matter seems never to have been brought to a definite issue, so acute an observer as John of Salisbury was not satisfied of Osbert's innocence (Ep. i. 158, 170, ed. Giles). William of Newburgh (i. 80–1), the most critical historian of the time, was, however, convinced by the absence of positive testimony, and the witness of an old monk of Rievaulx, then a canon of York, that William died of a fever. Gilbert Foliot (Ep. i. 152, ed. Giles) was indignant at the baselessness of the accusations against Osbert, but the true issue became rather obscured by clerical opposition to the desire of Stephen, and of the accuser, that the case should be tried in the royal court. The two biographers of William omit all reference to the story, and the writers who mention it generally qualify it as a rumour or gossip. Yet before long the misfortunes and sufferings of William brought worshippers to his tomb. He began to be reputed a martyr, and miracles were worked by him. It was believed that when the old minster was almost burnt down and the tomb burst open by the falling beam the silken robe which enveloped the saint's incorruptible body was not consumed (Vita S. Will. in Raine, ii. 279). The canons of York, who envied the local saints of Ripon and Beverley, were anxious for a saint of their own, and a movement was started for the canonisation of William. In 1223 holy oil exuded from his tomb (Matt. Paris, Hist. Major, iii. 77, Rolls Ser.). A formal petition to Honorius III led to the usual investigations of his claims to sanctity (Walbran, i. 173–5, from Addit. MS. 15352). These, after some doubt, were so well established that in 1227 Honorius admitted him to the calendar of saints. On 9 Jan. 1283 his remains were translated into a shrine behind the high altar, through the exertions of Bishop Bek of Durham, and in the presence of Edward I and a distinguished company (details in Raine, pp. 228–9, from York Breviary). But all the efforts of the York chapter could not secure for St. William more than a local fame; and his shrine, though not unfrequented, was never among the great centres of popular pilgrimage and worship. His festival was on 8 June, while his translation was commemorated on Sunday after the Epiphany.

[The fullest contemporary sources for William's life are John of Hexham's Continuation of Symeon of Durham, printed in Twysdens's Decem Scriptores, and William of Newburgh's History, edited for the Rolls Series by Mr. Hewlett; his life in the Actus Pontificum Eboracensium, generally attributed to Thomas Stubbs, was published originally in Twysden's Decem Scriptores, cc. 1721–2, and is now reprinted by Canon Raine in his Historians of the Church of York, ii. 388–97. There is a manuscript life of Fitzherbert in Harl. MS. 2 ff. 76–88, written in a thirteenth-century hand, which contains little special information. It has been printed for the first time by Canon Raine in his Historians of the Church of York, ii. 270–91, and the Eight Miracles, pp. 531–50. This is abridged in the short life in Capgrave's Nova Legenda Angliæ, pp. 310–11. A few additional facts come from the Additions to Hugh the Chanter, in Raine's Hist. Church of York, ii. 220–7. A full life is in the Bollandist Acta Sanctorum, tome ii. Junii, pp. 136–46. The modern life in Canon Raine's Fasti Eboracenses, pp. 220–33, where two hymns, addressed to St. William, are printed, collects all the principal facts; Gervase of Canterbury, Hoveden, Annals of Winchester and Waverley in Annales Monastici, vol. ii., Chron. de Melsa (all in Rolls Series); Walbran's Memorials of Fountains, and Raine's Fabric Rolls of York Minster, both published by Surtees Society; Chron. of Melrose (Bannatyne Club); Epistles of St. Bernard, ed. Migne; John of Salisbury and Gilbert Foliot, ed. Migne or Giles.]

T. F. T.