William of Wykeham

William of Wykeham

Wykeham, William of: see William of Wykeham.
William of Wykeham or William of Wickham, 1324-1404, English prelate and lord chancellor. He is thought to have been the son of a serf. Entering the service of the royal court in 1347, he supervised the building of additions to Windsor Castle and rapidly gained influence at the court of Edward III, becoming royal secretary and lord privy seal (1364). He received benefices in all parts of England but was not ordained a priest until 1362. In 1366 he was appointed bishop of Winchester, and he was made lord chancellor the following year. The debility of the aging Edward III and the strife of factions made his political position extremely difficult. In 1371, William was dismissed, largely as a result of the rising tide of anticlericalism. Opposing John of Gaunt, he supported the attack made on Gaunt's court party in the Good Parliament (1376). As a result he was charged (1376) with previous misuse of government funds, deprived of his temporalities, and harried for almost a year. On Richard II's accession (1377) he was exonerated and devoted most of his remaining life to his episcopal duties, although from 1389 to 1391 he again served as chancellor. His most lasting importance lies in his two great foundations, New College at Oxford (1379) and Winchester College (opened 1394), one of the most famous English public schools. He rebuilt the Norman nave of Winchester Cathedral and repaired many churches of his diocese. A conservative but conscientious churchman, William was a vigorous clerical reformer.

See biography by G. C. Heseltine (1932); W. Hayter, William of Wykeham: Patron of the Arts (1970).

William of Wykeham (1320 – 27 September 1404) was Bishop of Winchester, Chancellor of England, founder of Winchester College and of New College, Oxford, and builder of a large part of Windsor Castle.


William was born to an undistinguished family, in Wickham, Hampshire, and educated at a school in Winchester. He was appointed Justice in Eyre south of the Trent along with Peter Atte Wode in 1361, a position he held until about 1367. He became secretary to the constable of Winchester Castle and in that capacity learned a lot about building. This led to architectural work for King Edward III, for whom he reconstructed Windsor Castle whilst residing at Bear's Rails in Old Windsor. William was paid for these services by being given the incomes of various churches, and eventually, in 1362, he was ordained. He had shown considerable talent as an administrator and in June 1363 was appointed Lord Privy Seal and then in October 1366 he was elected Bishop of Winchester, and in 1367, Chancellor of England. He resigned this position in 1371 and began a long conflict with John of Gaunt. However, with the ascension of Richard II to the throne, William was reappointed Chancellor in 1389, retaining that office through 1391.

He had many ups and downs in his long career, but at the time of his death on 27 September 1404, he was one of the richest men in England. Much of his wealth went into the schools he patronized, but he also contrived to leave a fortune to a nephew, whose descendants include the Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes family.

His motto was 'Manners makyth man'. This, along with a coat of arms, were granted to him by the College of Arms and not acquired by descent. His biography was written by Bishop Lowth. He was also written about by Lord Brougham in his 'Old England's Worthies' (1857) and by Froissart. 'Manners Makyth Man' is also the motto of the establishments Wykeham founded, Winchester College and New College, Oxford, as well as the Australian school Sydney Technical High School.

See also



  • Lowth, Robert Life of William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester (London, 1759)
  • Moberly, G. H. Life of William Wykeham (Wells, 1887, 2nd edition, London, 1893)
  • Powicke, F. Maurice and E. B. Fryde Handbook of British Chronology 2nd. ed. London:Royal Historical Society 1961
  • Walcott, Mackenzie Edward Charle William of Wykeham and his Colleges (London, 1897)

Further reading

  • John, Lord Campbell, Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal of England (London, 1848), I, xv, xvii
  • Augusta Theodosia Drane, The Three Chancellors, or Sketches of the Lives of William of Wykeham, William of Waynflete and Sir Thomas More (London, 1882), 1-112
  • Thomas Kitchin, Winchester (London, 1890).
  • Professor Virginia Davis, "William Wykeham: A Life" 2007

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