Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wykeham, William of
WYKEHAM, WILLIAM of (1324–1404), bishop of Winchester and chancellor of England, took his name from Wickham, near Fareham, Hampshire, where he was born in the summer of 1324. His mother, Sibill Bowade, had some gentle blood, but his father, John Long, is merely described as of free condition (Lowth, App. p. i; Moberly, p. 323). They were poor, and Wykeham was sent to school at Winchester by some unnamed patrons, perhaps Sir Ralph Sutton and Sir John Scures (lord of the manor of Wickham), for whose souls he long after ordered masses to be said in his colleges. On leaving school he became secretary to the constable of Winchester Castle, and about 1347 passed into the royal service (ib. p. 324). Though not even in minor orders he was made king's chaplain, and presented in 1349 to the rectory of Irstead, Norfolk. In May 1356 he received the appointment of clerk of the royal works at Henley and Easthampstead, and shortly after (30 Oct.) became one of the surveyors of the works at Windsor (ib. p. 21). He also paid for the keep of the king's dogs and sold his draught horses. Three years later Edward III appointed him joint surveyor of Windsor Forest and chief warden and surveyor of the royal castles of Windsor, Leeds, Dover, and Hadleigh. He superintended the erection of the new royal apartments east of the great keep at Windsor, and of the new castle in the isle of Sheppey called Queenborough after Queen Philippa (ib. pp. 316, 325; Chron. Angliæ, p. 41). But the assumption that he was the architect either of these buildings or of those he afterwards undertook on his own account seems baseless (Jackson, Church of St. Mary, p. 117; Trans. R.I.B.A. vol. iii. 1887; cf. Proceeding of Archæological Institute, 1845, pp. 56 sqq.). He usually employed William de Winford in that capacity (Burrows, pp. 80, 120; Cal. Patent Rolls, Ric. II, ii. 372; Leach, p. 108).
From 1361 Wykeham was joint warden of the forests south of Trent and took a growing share in state business. He witnessed the ratification of the treaty of Brétigny at Calais in October 1360, became keeper of the privy seal (5 May 1364), secretary to the king, and one of the commissioners appointed (May 1365) to come to an understanding with Scotland. Such was his influence with the king that his enemies afterwards described him as having been at this period ‘chief of the privy council and governor of the great council’ (Lowth, p. 104). ‘Everything was done through him, and without him nothing was done’ (Froissart, viii. 101). In consideration of his ‘excessive labours and expenses’ on the king's private business he received an extra allowance of a pound a day.
But church preferment was the usual and cheaper way of rewarding the labours of so valuable a royal servant. Wykeham came to be a mighty pluralist. The king gave him the rich living of Pulham in the diocese of Ely in 1357, a prebend at Lichfield in 1359, and the deanery of St. Martin-le-Grand (whose chapel and cloister he rebuilt) in 1360. The clerical mortality of the plague year 1361 brought him a whole shower of prebends, at St. Paul's, Hereford, Salisbury, St. David's, Beverley, Bromyard, Wherwell, Abergwili, and Lllanddewi Brewi in that year, and at Lincoln, York, Wells, and Hastings in 1362 (Moberly, p. 47). He now took orders, being ordained acolyte on 5 Dec. 1361, and priest on 12 June following. Twelve months after (23 May 1363) he became archdeacon of Lincoln. He also held (by dispensation) the Cornish living of Menheniot, and prebends at Dublin and Bridgenorth. The pluralities return ordered in 1365 showed him in enjoyment of benefices to the annual value of 873l. 6s. 8d. (Lowth, p. 33). He resigned Menheniot as strictly incompatible with another cure of souls, and the prebend at Bridgenorth (Moberly, p. 313). His acceptance of Pulham, part of the confiscated temporalities of Bishop Lisle of Ely, involved him in a prosecution in the papal court, and his presentation by the crown to the Lichfield prebend of Flixton during a vacancy of the see was stoutly resisted by the administrator and the dean and chapter. The king's persistence triumphed in each case, but in 1361 Wykeham quietly resigned Pulham, and exchanged the canonry at Lichfield for a less contentious one at Southwell. Nevertheless it has been urged that these episodes were remembered against him at Avignon when he was proposed for a bishopric. On the other hand, we find the pope making use of Wykeham's influence with the king in 1363 and 1364, and Edward's exculpation of his minister to Urban in a letter of 1366 need only have reference to the recent arrest of a papal chamberlain (Fœdera, vi. 420, 443; Moberly, p. 60). When, therefore, the see of Winchester fell vacant in October of that year, and the monks at the king's instance unanimously elected Wykeham, the pope did not withhold his consent on personal grounds, but because he had already reserved the bishopric for his own disposition (Lowth, App. p. vi). If Urban had any objection to Wykeham personally, he concealed it very successfully, for on hearing that the king ‘pro quadam magna pecuniæ summa’ had made the bishop-elect guardian of the temporalities of the see, he himself at once (11 Dec.) invested him with its administration in spirituals and temporals (ib.) Influence was brought to bear upon Urban through the Duke of Bourbon, one of the hostages for the treaty of Brétigny, who was granted an extension of his leave of absence for which the pope had interceded (Fœdera, vi. 540; Chron. Angliæ, p. lxxvi; Froissart, vii. 101). His mediation had at all events no immediate result, and a letter of Wykeham's, preserved at New College, raises a doubt whether other means more effective at the court of Avignon were not resorted to (but cf. Moberly, p. 70). It was not until 14 July 1367 that Urban gave way and provided Wykeham as bishop-elect to the vacant see. He was accordingly consecrated at St. Paul's on 10 Oct., and two days later Edward invested him (as bishop by papal provision) with the temporalities (Lowth, p. 36). The battle was thus drawn in the king's favour. Wykeham reported his consecration to the pope in most respectful terms (Moberly, p. 74). He was not enthroned at Winchester until 9 July 1368.
As soon as Wykeham's episcopal position had been secured, he succeeded (17 Sept.) Archbishop Langham as chancellor. He was unlucky in becoming chief minister at a time when the glories of the reign were already past and a period of national humiliation was opening. As a statesman he made no mark, though the attempt to hold him responsible for the loss of Ponthieu in 1369 probably did him injustice (Chron. Angliæ, p. lxxvi; Fœdera, iii. 832, Rec. ed.) The reverses in France provided the opponents of clerical ministers, headed by the Earl of Pembroke, with a sufficiently plausible case, and Wykeham was driven from office. He resigned the great seal (14 March 1371) to Pembroke's henchman, Sir Robert Thorpe; and Lord Scrope, who was in the confidence of the absent Duke of Lancaster, became treasurer (Fœdera, vi. 683). Wykeham had now more leisure to devote to his episcopal duties and the disposition of the vast revenues he now enjoyed. His annual income as bishop of Winchester has been reckoned as equal to 60,000l. at the present day (Leach, p. 59). The outgoings, however, were also great. The repair of the dilapidated manor-houses of the see, with some new buildings of his own, cost him more than twenty thousand marks (Moberly, p. 319). By April 1371 he had begun a ‘new work’ in his cathedral, possibly the reconstruction of the nave (ib. pp. 101, 276; Register, ii. 127). If so, the operations were soon suspended, and not resumed until 1394. Wykeham's strained relations with the prior and monks of St. Swithun's, who resented his attempt to reform them, may have interrupted the work (ib. ii. 502). His zeal in correcting abuses in the religious and charitable houses in his diocese involved him in a long conflict with two masters of the hospital of St. Cross at Winchester, who shamelessly plundered its property and denied his right to interfere. It was only after the proceedings had dragged on for more than six years that a papal delegate finally gave judgment in favour of Wykeham, who took the hospital into his own hands until the death of the master, entrusting the work of building up its shattered resources to his kinsman Nicholas de Wykeham (Lowth, pp. 65–82). His experience of the disregard of founders' intentions in such institutions was very nearly inducing him, he tells us, to distribute his wealth among the poor with his own hand, but he bethought him that a society of learned men ‘having God before their eyes’ would observe his statutes, and decided to found a school at Winchester, and a college at Oxford in close connection, for the relief of poor scholars and the training of secular clergy to fill the gaps caused by war and pestilence. As early as 1369 he began buying the land for his college at Oxford, and by 1376 seventy poor scholars, with Richard Toneworth, fellow of Merton, as warden, were lodged at his expense in various halls on the site of his future cloister (Moberly, p. 121). Three years before he had engaged Richard de Herton to instruct his poor scholars at Winchester ‘in arte grammatica’ (Register, ii. 195). But the storm which broke upon him in 1376 temporarily interrupted his plans and dispersed his Oxford scholars (Chron. Angliæ, p. lxxx).
The failure of John of Gaunt and the lay ministers who had replaced Wykeham in 1371 to stem the tide of national disaster brought about a reaction. In the parliament of 1373 the commons demanded a conference with eight lords opposed to Lancaster's influence, of whom Wykeham was one (Rot. Parl. ii. 316). The pope sought his support with the king for the peace negotiations at Bruges (Lowth, App. p. viii), and in the combination with which the duke found himself confronted in the Good parliament Wykeham occupied a leading position. He was a close friend of the Black Prince, who made him one of his executors, and he had been driven from office by the party which was now arraigned by the nation (Fœdera, vii. 165). The commons included him among the nine special councillors appointed to guide the king, and he opposed Lord Latimer's request for ‘counsel and a day’ to prepare his answer to the charges brought against him (Chron. Angliæ, pp. lxviii, lxxxii). Even this is hardly sufficient to account for the extreme exasperation shown against him by John of Gaunt, with whom he had been hitherto on friendly terms.
Idle as was the rumour that Queen Philippa had confessed to Wykeham that the duke was a supposititious child, Lancaster seems to have held him responsible for it; and after the Black Prince's death in June 1376 and the dissolution of the Good parliament the bishop was singled out as the chief victim of his vengeance. He and Latimer changed places. In a great council which met at Westminster on 11 Oct. 1376 charges of malversation and misgovernment during his chancellorship were brought against him, closely modelled upon those on which Latimer had been impeached. He was alleged to have frittered away over a million sterling granted by parliament, surrendered the hostages for the treaty of Brétigny for his own profit, caused the loss of Ponthieu by lack of timely reinforcements, made large profits by buying up crown debts, and refused fines and payments due to the king (Fœdera, vii. 163, 168). When he craved day and counsel to answer these charges, Justice Skipworth reminded him that he had refused them to Latimer; but Lancaster interfered and granted his request. Three days later he reappeared before the council ‘well accompanyed with men, but with a pensive countenance, and with him ye bishop of London to comfort him, and some sixe serjeantes of the lawe of his counsaile’ (Chron. Angliæ, p. lxxviii). The vexatious character of the more general charges is probably indicated by the priority assigned to a case where a fine had been reduced. Wykeham vainly offered to take oath that the remission had brought him no personal profit, and, after a second adjournment, was found guilty and declared to have incurred a penalty of nearly a million marks. In a subsequent sitting the other articles were brought forward, and Lancaster demanded sentence. But the bishops claimed immunity for his ‘parsone and his spiritualtyes,’ and the council had to be content with seizing (17 Nov.) his temporalities into the king's hands, and ordering him to appear again on 20 Jan. (ib. pp. lxxx, 106).
Meanwhile he was forbidden to come within twenty miles of the court, and retired successively to Merton Priory, Newark Priory, near Woking, and Waverley Abbey. He broke up his household, and sent word to his Oxford scholars to return home. His trial was further postponed on 7 Jan. 1377; but convocation, meeting on 3 Feb., took up his cause and insisted on his presence (ib. pp. lxxxii, 114; Fœdera, vii. 132). They could not, however, induce the duke to restore the temporalities; and, though the Londoners demanded his trial by his peers, Lancaster preferred to try and divide his opponents by settling the temporalities upon the young Prince of Wales (ib. vii. 142; Chron. Angliæ, p. 126). Wykeham was specially excepted from the general pardon granted by the king in honour of his jubilee (Stat. of the Realm, i. 397). On 18 June, however, three days before Edward's death, the temporalities were restored to him on condition of fitting out three ships and paying the wages of marines for them for three months (Fœdera, vii. 149). The stipulation does not fit in well with the story that Wykeham, wearied out, bribed Alice Perrers to move the old king on his behalf (Chron. Angliæ, p. 137). Lancaster knew that his father had not many days to live, and that a French invasion was imminent. On the other hand the story of of the bribe comes from a chronicler friendly to the bishop, and Wykeham bought from Alice Perrers considerable property for Winchester College. With the accession of Richard II Wykeham's troubles were over. He received a royal pardon (31 July 1377) for the offences alleged against him, of which he was declared to be guiltless, and the young king reconciled him with his uncle (ib. p. 150; Fœdera, vii. 163, 168). The pardon was confirmed in full parliament at the end of the year. Richard released all claims upon the temporalities, in spite of which Wykeham is computed to have lost ten thousand marks by the sequestration (Moberly, p. 319).
Wykeham was ‘so deep a manager,’ however, that he was able immediately to revert to and complete without curtailment the twin foundations he had planned at Oxford and Winchester. His scholars returned to Oxford, and the purchase of a site being complete in 1379, and the license of king and pope duly obtained, Wykeham issued (26 Nov.) a charter of foundation for ‘Seinte Marie College of Wynchestre in Oxenforde.’ The first stone was laid on 5 March 1380, and the warden and scholars made their public entrance into the finished buildings ‘cum cruce erecta et litania sollemniter cantata’ on 14 April 1386 (ib. p. 332). The statutes under which they had been living were reissued by him in fuller form, and thrice subsequently he revised them. He endowed the ‘New College,’ as it came to be familiarly called, with ample revenues, and obtained a papal bull (19 July 1398) reserving all visitatorial jurisdiction over it to the bishops of Winchester. The number of persons on the foundation was no fewer than one hundred, including the priests and choristers of the chapel. Of the seventy scholars, twenty were to study canon and civil law, the rest philosophy and theology, though two of them were permitted to take up medicine and two astronomy. In itself, apart from its magnificent scale and completeness, Wykeham's college marked no deviation from the type represented by Merton and Queen's (Leach, pp. 77 sqq.; Rashdall, ii. 504; Clark, p. 151). The real novelty in his scheme lay in the exclusive connection he established between New College and his grammar school at Winchester—‘Seinte Marie College of Wynchestre.’ Wykeham obtained a papal bull for the endowment of this school in 1378, and in 1382 bought the site and issued (20 Oct.) his charter of foundation, providing for the education of seventy scholars ‘suffering from want of money and poverty’ in the art of grammar as the portal to the higher studies of his Oxford college, for which they were to be prepared. The first stone of Winchester College was laid on 26 March 1387, and the opening ceremony took place on 28 March 1394 (Leach, p. 129, correcting Moberly, p. 333). The 105 persons on the foundation comprised, besides the warden and the seventy scholars, with their schoolmaster and undermaster, priest-fellows, chaplains, clerks, and choristers for the service of the college chapel. Provision was made for ten commoners, ‘sons of noble and powerful persons, special friends of the said college’—the germ of the ‘public school system’ (Leach, p. 96). Apart from this and its grander scale, the chief departure from the pre-existing cases of schools connected with colleges in the universities was that ‘for the first time a school was established as a sovereign and independent corporation, existing by and for itself, self-centred, self-controlled’ (ib. p. 90).
Winchester College was hardly finished when Wykeham took up or resumed (November 1394) the rebuilding of the old Norman nave of his cathedral, the whole cost of which he undertook to defray. According to one of his biographers, the work was ‘happily finished’ before his death (Moberly, p. 334). But from Wykeham's will it appears that a year before his death the upper portions of the nave had not yet been touched, and the vaulting contains the arms of Beaufort and Waynflete as well as those of Wykeham (Lowth, App. p. xxxiv; Proceedings of Archæological Institute, 1845, p. 58).
During the troublous times of Richard II's minority Wykeham held no office of state, but his experience and character usually secured his inclusion in the committees of the lords with whom the commons demanded conference, and in the various commissions for the reform of the royal household. In 1383 he successfully resisted the claim of the Percys and other border lords to public money for services to which they were bound by the tenure of their lands (Walsingham, ii. 108). The Duke of Gloucester placed him on the commission of regency in 1386, but he took no active part in the proceedings which earned some of his colleagues the lasting hatred of the young king; and when Richard in 1389 reclaimed his liberty of action, it was Wykeham whom he chose for his chancellor. Accepting the seals with extreme reluctance, he did his best to confirm the hasty king in his resolutions of better government, even at the risk of his displeasure (ib. ii. 181; Ord. Privy Council, i. 12; Rot. Parl. iii. 257). He and his colleagues insisted on protecting themselves against any future pursuit for complicity with the king in setting aside the government established in the Merciless parliament by temporarily resigning their offices in 1390, and securing as private individuals parliamentary endorsement of what they had done (ib. iii. 258). After seeing the new régime well under way, Wykeham laid down his office on 27 Sept. 1391 (Fœdera, vii. 707). He was now sixty-seven years of age, and was probably glad to obtain release from responsibilities that were not of his own seeking.
For the rest of his life Wykeham kept aloof from politics. He was present in the September parliament of 1397, in which Richard avenged himself for the Merciless parliament; but, doubtless finding the king's measures very little to his taste, excused himself from personal attendance at the adjourned session at Shrewsbury (Register, ii. 477). His share in the commission of 1386 was not brought up against him, but Richard extracted from him a loan of 1,000l. (Fœdera, viii. 9). He attended the first parliament of Henry IV and the great council of February 1400, but this was his last appearance in public affairs. His excellent health at last broke down. From May 1401 Thomas Merke [q. v.] and others ordained for him, and he spent the remaining two years of his life in retirement at South Waltham. In January 1403 he availed himself of a papal permission, obtained twelve years before (22 July 1391), to appoint two coadjutors without asking the consent of the archbishop of Canterbury or the chapter of Winchester (Register, ii. 543). Six months later he signed his will, in which he gave instructions for his burial in the chapel on the south side of the nave; this he had recently erected over the altar of the Virgin, at which he had daily paid his devotions during his early days in Winchester (Lowth, App. p. xxxiii; Moberly, pp. 316, 324, 335). Shortly before his death he endowed (16 Aug. 1404) a chantry in this chapel for the souls of his parents and others (Lowth, App. p. xxix). He had already provided for his heir, his sister's grandson, Thomas Perot, who had taken the name of Wykeham, settling on him estates worth six hundred marks a year (ib. p. 268). He left legacies to other kinsmen, to the monks of St. Swithun's and the members of his own foundations, to many other monasteries and churches, to the poor in various prisons, to his executors, and to over 150 friends, officers, and servants, amounting in the total to between six and seven thousand pounds. His crozier (figured in Lowth, p. 263) he bequeathed to New College, his bible to Winchester. The personal bequests and those to the poor he characteristically discharged before his death. His strength gradually failed, but he was able to transact business until four days before his death, on 27 Sept. 1404. Over his remains, within his chantry, was erected a tomb of white marble, with a recumbent effigy and a Latin epitaph. The chantry, except the statues lately restored, and his monument remain untouched. They are figured in the works of Lowth and Longman and elsewhere. Besides the effigy there is a corbel bust of Wykeham made ten years before his death in the muniment-room of Winchester College (Leach, p. 50). In both the face is round and full.
Wykeham had risen in life as a man of affairs, not as a scholar; and though Wycliffe's growl at the preferment of clerks ‘wise in building castles or worldly doing,’ who could not well read their psalter, was no doubt an exaggeration as far as Wykeham was concerned, the list of his books does not point to any superfluity of learning (Lowth, App. p. xxxvii). But, as a contemporary observed, ‘quod minus habuit litteraturæ, laudabili compensavit liberalitate’ (Ann. Henrici IV, p. 391), a liberality which, however conventional on the whole in motive—for he was no innovator—was not only exceptional in its munificence, but showed a consciousness of some of the defects of the school training of his time, his endeavour to correct which bore more fruit than he could have foreseen. That real goodness of heart underlay his generosity there is ample proof. Almost his first act as bishop had been to excuse his poorer manorial tenants customary payments to the amount of 500l.; on three occasions he paid his tenants' share of subsidies granted by parliament; in 1377 he paid off the debts of the priory of Selborne out of his own purse (Moberly, p. 317). He relieved old and impoverished officers of the bishopric, fed at least twenty-four poor people every day during his long episcopate, and kept open house to rich and poor (ib.). At his own cost he repaired bad roads and ruinous churches, and he increased the demesne of the bishopric by estates yielding a rental of two hundred marks a year (ib. p. 319). In religious matters he was conservative. A clerical minister occupied a somewhat ambiguous position in those days of conflict between church and state; but it may safely be asserted that he was not ‘the head of the nationalist party in the English church’ (Moberly, p. 185). Entirely without sympathy with the new ideas which were fermenting within the church, he joined in the repressive measures against Wycliffe and his followers; but his gentle and moderate temper indisposed him to severity, and it was he who induced Archbishop Courtenay to pardon Chancellor Rygge [q. v.] of Oxford in 1382 (Fasciculi Zizaniorum, p. 308). The same qualities made him a more useful adviser to Richard II when he emancipated himself from the yoke of the lords-appellant than many a more gifted statesman.
Wykeham did not escape detraction either in his own or later times. The inaccurate and malicious notes of his life supplied to Leland (Itinerary, iv. 161, vii. p. ix) by that unworthy Wykehamist Dr. John London [q. v.] were effectually exposed by Lowth (p. 287), along with the equally malicious attacks of William Bohun in his ‘English Lawyer’ (1732) and his comments on Nicholas Bacon's ‘Historical and Political Discourse of the Laws and Government of England’ (1739).[Two brief biographies of Wykeham, written shortly after his death, are preserved at Winchester College. The earlier and briefer of the two is ascribed by Lowth with much probability to Dr. Thomas Aylward, one of the bishop's executors. The other, which is the fuller and more valuable, bears the title Libellus seu Tractatus de prosapia, vita, et gestis venerabilis patris et domini, domini Willelmi de Wykeham, and is dated 1424. The name of the author, a fellow of one of Wykeham's colleges, was given by Martyn as Heresius, by which Lowth supposed Robert Heete, fellow of Winchester College (1422), to be meant. Both the above are printed in the appendix to Moberly's Life. The Brevis Chronica de ortu, vita, et gestis nobilibus reverendi domini Willelmi de Wykeham, printed (from a manuscript at New College) in Anglia Sacra, is a mere excerpt from the Libellus. Wharton erroneously ascribed it to Dr. Thomas Chaundler, warden of New College, who made it his chief authority for his Collocutiones de laudabili vita et moribus et christiana perfectione Willelmi de Wykeham, written in 1462, and contained in the same manuscript volume. Aylward's and Heete's lives were used by Dr. Thomas Martyn (d. 1597?) [q. v.] for his rather untrustworthy Historica Descriptio complectens vitam ac res gestas beatissimi viri Gulielmi Wicami, London, 1597, privately reprinted at Oxford in 1690 by Dr. Nicholas, warden of New College. It was entirely superseded by the Life of Wykeham by Dr. Robert Lowth, afterwards bishop of London, first published in 1758, and quoted above in the third edition (1777), an admirable piece of work for its date, with a valuable appendix of documents. The results of subsequent investigations are to be found in the full and accurate biography by G. H. Moberly (2nd edit. 1893). Sketches of the life of Wykeham are contained in Mackenzie Walcott's Wykeham and his Colleges, 1853, and H. C. Adams's Wykehamica, 1878. An account of Wykeham's controversy with the masters of St. Cross's Hospital occurs in a manuscript at New College. His Register has been printed in two volumes (ed. T. F. Kirby, 1897, 1899) by the Hampshire Record Society. The early history of his foundations is dealt with in Canon Walcott's work mentioned above, Kirby's Annals of Winchester College (1892), A. F. Leach's History of Winchester College (1899), Dean Kitchin in Winchester College, 1393–1893 (ed. A. K. Cook), Mr. Rashdall's article on New College in Clark's Colleges of Oxford (1891), and from the architectural side in Proceedings of the Archæological Institute, 1845. The general authorities are Rotuli Parliamentorum; Abbreviatio Rotulorum Originalium; Calendar of Patent Rolls of Richard II, vols. i.–ii. (1377–85); Rymer's Fœdera, original edit.; Proceedings and Ordinances of the Privy Council, ed. Nicolas; Chronicon Angliæ, Walsingham's Historia Anglicana, Annales Henrici IV (with Trokelowe), and Fasciculi Zizaniorum, in the Rolls Series; Froissart's Chronicle, ed. Luce; Leland's Itinerary, ed. Hearne, 1768; Rashdall's Universities of Europe.]