William Waynflete

William Waynflete (born William Patten) (c. 1398 – 11 August 1486), was Bishop of Winchester from 1447 to 1486, and Lord Chancellor of England from 1456 to 1460. He is best remembered as the founder of Magdalen College, Oxford.

Early life

William was born in Wainfleet, Lincolnshire (whence his surname) in about 1398. He was the eldest son of Richard Patten (alias Barbour), a merchant. His mother was Margery, daughter of Sir William Brereton of Brereton in Cheshire. He had a younger brother named John, who later became the dean of Chichester.

It has been alleged that he attended Winchester College and New College, Oxford, but this is improbable. Neither college claimed in his lifetime that he was one of its alumni.

That he was at Oxford, and probably a scholar at one of the grammar schools there, before passing on to the higher faculties, is shown by a letter of the chancellor addressed to him when provost of Eton which speaks of the university as his mother who brought him forth into the light of knowledge and nourished him with the alimony of all the sciences.

He is probably the William Barbour who was ordained acolyte by Bishop Fleming of Lincoln on April 21 1420 and subdeacon on January 21 1421; and as William Barbour, otherwise Waynflete of Spalding, was ordained deacon on March 18 1421, and priest on January 21 1426, with title from Spalding Priory.

He may have been the William Waynflete who was admitted a scholar of the King's Hall, Cambridge, on March 6 1428 (Exch. Q. R. Bdle. 346, no. 31), and was described as LL.B. when receiving letters of protection on July 13 1429 (Proc. P.C. iii. 347) to enable him to accompany Robert FitzHugh, D.D., warden of the hail, on an embassy to Rome.. For the scholars of the King's Hall were what we should call fellows, as may be seen by the appointment to the hall on April 3 1360 of Nicholas of Drayton, B.C.L., and John Kent, B.A., instead of two scholars who had gone off to the French wars without the warden's leave (Cal. Close Rolls). William Waynflete, presented to the vicarage of Skendleby, Lincs, by the Priory of Bardney (Lincoln, Ep. Reg. f. ~4, Chandler, 16), on June 14 1430, may also have been our Waynflete. There was, however, another William Waynflete, who was instituted rector of Wroxhall, Somerset, on May 17 1433 (Wells, Ep. Reg. Stafford), and was dead when his successor was appointed on November 18 1436 (Wells, Ep. Reg. Stillington). A successor to the William Waynflete at the King's Hall was admitted on April 3 1434.

Early career

In 1429, Waynflete became headmaster of Winchester College, a position which he held until 1441.

During this time, he was appointed by Bishop Beaufort to the mastership of St Mary Magdalen's Hospital, a leper hospital on St Giles Hill, just outside the city of Winchester. The first recorded headmaster after the foundation of the college, John Melton, had been presented by Wykeham to the mastership of this hospital in 1393 shortly before his retirement.

On July 3 1441 Henry VI went for a weekend visit to Winchester College to see the school for himself. Here he seems to have been so much impressed with Waynflete, that by the autumn, Waynflete had ceased to be headmaster of Winchester. In October he appears dining in the hall there as a guest, and at Christmas 1442 he received a royal livery, five yards of violet cloth, as provost of Eton.

Under the influence of Archbishop Chicheley, who had himself founded two colleges in imitation of Wykeham, and Thomas Bekynton, king's secretary and privy seal, and other Wykehamists, Henry VI, on October 11, 1440, founded, in imitation of Winchester College, a college in the parish church of Eton by Windsor not far from our birthplace, called the King's College of the Blessed Mary of Eton by Windsor, as a sort of first-fruits of his taking the government on himself. The college was to consist of a provost, 10 priests, 6 choristers, 25 poor and needy scholars, 25 almsmen and a magister informator to teach gratis the scholars and all others coming from any part of England to learn grammar. On March 5 1440–1441, the king endowed the college out of alien priories with some £500 a year, almost exactly the amount of the original endowment of Winchester.

Though reckoned first headmaster of Eton, there is no definite evidence that he was. The school building was not begun till May 1442 (V.C.H., Bucks, ii. 154). William Westbury, who left New College, transferring himself to the kings service, in May 1442, and appears in the first extant Eton Audit Roll 1444–1445 as headmaster, was probably such from May 1442. If Waynflete was headmaster from October 1441 to May 1442, his duties must have been little more than nominal. As provost, Waynflete procured the exemption of the college from archidiaconal authority on May 2, and made the contract for completion of the carpenter's work of the eastern side of the quadrangle on November 30 1443.

On December 21 1443 he was sworn to the statutes by Bishop Bekynton and the earl of Suffolk, the king's commissioners, and himself administered the oath to the other members of the foundation, then only five fellows and eleven scholars over fifteen years of age. He is credited with having taken half the scholars and fellows of Winchester to Eton to start the school there. In fact, five scholars and perhaps one commoner left Winchester for Eton in 1443, probably in July, just before the election. For three of them were admitted scholars of King's College, Cambridge, on July 19, that college, by its second charter of July 10 1443 having been placed in the same relation to Eton that New College bore to Winchester; i.e. it was to be recruited entirely from Eton.

The chief part of Waynflete's duties as provost was the financing and completion of the buildings and establishment. The number of scholars was largely increased by an election of 25 new ones on September 26 1444, the income being, then £946, of which the king contributed £120 and Waynflete £18, or more than half his stipend of 30 a year. The full number of 70 scholars was not filled up till Waynflete's last year as provost, 1446–1447 (Eton Audit Roll).

Bishop of Winchester

So greatly did Waynflete ingratiate himself with Henry that when Beaufort, bishop of Winchester, Henry's uncle, died on April 11 1447, the king wrote to the chapter of Winchester, instructing them to elect Waynflete as bishop. On April 12 he was given the custody of the temporalities, on April 15 he was elected, and on May 10 provided to the see by a papal bull. On July 13 1447 he was consecrated in Eton church, when the warden and fellows and others of his old college gave him a horse at a cost of £6, 13s. 4d., and 13s. 4d. to the boys. Subsequent visits to Winchester inspired Henry with the idea of rebuilding Eton church on cathedral dimensions. Waynflete was assigned as the principal executor of his will for that purpose, and if there was any variance between the executors, he was to determine it. From 1448 to 1450 £3336 was spent on the church, of which Waynflete with the marquis of Suffolk and the bishop of Salisbury contributed £100 or £1,000. The troubles which began in 1450 put a stop to the work.

Waynflete, as bishop, lost no time in following the example of Wykeham and his royal patron in becoming a college founder. On May 6, 1448 he obtained licence in mortmain and on August 20, founded at Oxford for the extirpation of heresies and errors, the increase of the clerical order and the adornment of holy mother church, a perpetual hall, called Seint Marie Maudeleyn Halle, for study in the sciences of sacred theology and philosophy, to consist of a president and 50 scholars. Its site was not that of the present college, but of two earlier halls called Boston and Hare, where the new schools now are. Thirteen M.A.s and seven bachelors, besides the president, John Hornley, B.D., were named in the charter. The dedication to Mary Magdalen was no doubt derived from the hospital at Winchester of which the founder had been master. On St Wolstan's Day, January 19 1448–1449, Waynflete was enthroned in Winchester Cathedral in the presence of the king; and, probably partly for his sake, parliament was held there in June and July 1449, when the king frequently attended the college chapel, Waynflete officiating (Win. Coll. Reg. Vet.).

When Jack Cade's rebellion occurred in 1450 Waynflete was employed with Archbishop Stafford, the chancellor, to negotiate with the rebels at St Margaret's church, Southwark, close to Winchester House. A full pardon was promised, but on August 1 Waynflete was one of the special commissioners to try the rebels. On May 7, 1451 Waynflete, from le peynted chambre in his manor house at Southwark, asserting that his bishopric was canonically obtained and that he labored under no disqualification, but feared some grievous attempt against himself and his see, appealed to the protection of the pope. It is suggested (Dict. Nat. Biog.) that this was due to some disturbances at Winchester (Proc. P.C. VI. 108), where one of Cade's quarters was sent after his execution. But it is more likely, as suggested by Richard Chandler (Life of Waynflete, 1811), that it was some Yorkist attack on him in progress in the papal court, to meet which he appointed next day 19 proctors to act for him.

In the result nothing disturbed his peaceable possession of the see. With the archbishop of Canterbury he received Henry VI on a pilgrimage to St Thomas a Becket on August 2, 1451. When in November the duke of York encamped near Dartford, Waynfiete with three others was sent from the king's camp at Blackheath to propose terms, which were accepted. Edward, Prince of Wales, was born on October 13 1453 and baptized by Waynflete the next day. This year Waynflete acquired the reversion of the manor of Stanswick, Berks, from Lady Danvers (Chandler, p. 87) for Magdalen Hall. The king became insane in 1454. On the death of the chancellor, John Kemp, archbishop of Canterbury, during the sitting of parliament, presided over by the duke of York, commissioners, headed by Waynflete, were sent to Henry, to ask him to name a new chancellor, apparently intending that Waynflete should be named. But no answer could be extracted from the king, and after some delay Lord Salisbury took the seals.

During York's regency, both before and after the First Battle of St Albans, Waynflete took an active part in the proceedings of the privy council. With a view to an ampler site for his college, Waynflete obtained on July 5, 1456 a grant of the Hospital of St John the Baptist outside the east gate at Oxford and on July 15 licence to found a college there. Having obtained a papal bull, he founded it by deed of June 12, 1458, converting the hospital into a college with a president and six fellows, to which college two days later Magdalen Hall surrendered itself and its possessions, its members being incorporated into the New College of St Mary Magdalen.

Lord Chancellor

Meanwhile Waynflete himself had been advanced to the highest office in the state, the chancellorship, the seals being delivered to him on October 11, 1456 by the king in the priory of Coventry in the presence of the duke of York, apparently as a person acceptable to both parties. On October 27, 1457 he took part in the trial and condemnation for heresy of Reginald Pecock, bishop of Chichester, who had been ordained subdeacon and deacon on the same day and by the same bishop as Waynflete himself. Only Pecock's books and not the heretic were burnt. As the heresy consisted chiefly in defending the clergy on grounds of reason instead of authority, the proceeding does not show any great enlightenment on Waynflete's part. It must have been at this time that an addition was made by Waynflete to the Eton college statutes, compelling the fellows to forswear the heresies of John Wycliffe and Pecock.

Waynflete presided as chancellor at the parliament at Coventry in November 1459, which, after the Yorkist catastrophe at Ludlow, attainted the Yorkist leaders. It was no doubt because of this that, three days before the Yorkist attack at Northampton, he delivered the great seal to the king in his tent near Diapre abbey, a nunnery by Northampton, on July 7, 1460. It was taken with Henry and handed to the Yorkist, George Neville, bishop of Exeter, brother of the kingmaker, earl of Warwick, in London on July 25 following.

Later life

Whether, as alleged by some, Waynflete fled and hid himself during the period covered by the battle of Wakefield and Edward's first parliament in 1461, is very doubtful. A testimonial to his fidelity written by Henry to the pope on November 8, 1460 (Chandler, 346) was written while Henry was in Yorkist hands. The fact too that complaints laid before Edward IV himself in August 1461 of wrongful exaction of manorial rights from the tenants of the episcopal manor of East Meon., Hants, were decided in the bishop's favour in parliament in the December following (Rot. Parl. v. 475) also suggests that he was not regarded as an enemy to the Yorkists, though a personal favourite of Henry's. A general charter of confirmation to him and his successors of the property and rights of the bishopric of Winchester on July 1 1462 (Pat. 2 Ed. IV) points in the same direction.

It is certain that he took an active part in the restoration of Eton College; which Edward annexed to St Georges, Windsor, in 1463, depriving it of a large part of its possessions. In the earliest Audit Rolls after the restoration of the college in 1467 there are many entries of visits of Provost Westbury to the lord of Winchester, which in January 1468–1469 were for beginning the work of the church and providing money for them. Why a pardon was granted to Waynflete on February 1, 1469 (Pat. 8 Ed. IV. pt. ill. m. 16) does not appear. On the restoration of Henry VI on September 28, 1470 Waynflete welcomed him on his release from the Tower, which necessitated a new pardon, granted a month after Edward's reinstatement on May 30, 1471 (Pat. II. Ed. IV. pat. i. m. 24), and a loan to the king of 2000 marks (£1333, 6s. 8d.). In the years 1471–1472 to 1474 Waynflete was largely engaged in completing the church, now called chapel, at Eton, his glazier, supplying the windows, and he contracted on August 15, 1475 for the rood-loft to be made on one side like to the rode bite in Bishop Wykeham's college at Winchester, and on the other like that of the college of St Thomas of Acres in London. In 1479 he built, the ante-chapel at the west-end, as it now stands, of stone from Headington, Oxford. In 1483 he founded Magdelan College School (now Skegness Grammar School in his birth town of Wainfleet, Lincolnshire as a satellite feeder school for Magdelin College, Oxford.

He died on 11 August 1486 at Bishop's Waltham in Hampshire. He was buried in the Magdalen Chapel at Winchester Cathedral.


The Waynflete Building at Magdalen College, Oxford, commemorates Bishop Waynflete, and the college endows four professorial fellowships in science in his honour, which are collectively known as the Waynflete Professorships.

There is also a Waynflete School in Portland, Maine, which is named after him.

There is a road named Waynflete Road in his honour in the Barton area of Headington, Oxford.

See also



  • Powicke, F. Maurice and E. B. Fryde Handbook of British Chronology 2nd. ed. London:Royal Historical Society 1961

External links

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