William of Durham (DNB00)

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WILLIAM of Durham (d. 1249), reputed founder of Durham Hall, now University College, Oxford, was possibly born at Durham and educated there or in the neighbouring monastery of Wearmouth, proceeding thence to Oxford. He subsequently studied at Paris, where he became a ‘famosus magister’ (Matt. Paris, Chron. Maj. iii. 168; cf. Denifle, Chart. Univ. Paris. i. 118). He left that university in 1229, after the riots between the students and citizens of Paris, and is said to have ‘headed a migration to Oxford.’ For the latter statement there seems to be no evidence (Rashdall, Universities of Europe, i. 470), though William's three companions mentioned by Matthew Paris, including Nicholas de Farnham [see Nicholas], were provided with professorships at Oxford, and it is not unlikely that William went thither in answer to Henry III's invitation of 14 July 1229 to Paris scholars. Before 1237 he had become archdeacon of Durham; he is identified by Le Neve with a William who is stated in an inscription in a window in University College to have been archdeacon of Durham in 1219, but this date is probably a mistake for 1249; Leland, Tanner, and Chevalier confuse him with William Shirwood [q. v.], and he is also identified with a William de Lanum said to have been archdeacon in 1234 (Le Neve, iii. 302; Rashdall, i. 470). William was also rector of Wearmouth (Cal. Papal Letters, i. 251), and was granted by Richard Poor [q. v.], bishop of Durham, ‘with the assent of the chapter and consent of the king,’ certain rights over the town of Sunderland and manors of Wearmouth and ‘Sephor’ (ib.) At one time, according to Matthew Paris, he was archbishop-elect of Rouen, probably before or after the episcopate of Pierre de Colmieu, who held that see from 1237 to 1245. He was also chaplain to the pope (ib.) After Nicholas de Farnham's election to the bishopric of Durham in 1241, William's rights over Sunderland and Wearmouth were called in question. He appealed to the pope, and the case was heard by Pierre de Colmieu, now bishop of Albano, and the cardinal of St. Laurence. A compromise was reached by William and the bishop of Durham's proctor, and on 22 Dec. 1248 the pope issued from Lyons a mandate directing the bishop of Ely, Hugh of Northwold [q. v.], and the archdeacon of Ely [see Ely, Nicholas of], not to suffer him to be molested on account of his rights. On his way home, however, William died at Rouen (Matt. Paris, Chron. Maj. v. 91; Hist. Anglorum, iii. 67; in the ‘Abbreviatio,’ Hist. Anglorum, iii. 311, he is said to have died ‘transalpinans,’ a statement adopted by Rashdall, though apparently he was only coming from Lyons). Matthew Paris says William ‘abounded in great revenues, but was gaping after greater,’ which Smith interprets as the bishopric of Durham, suggesting that to obtain it was the object of his visit to the pope.

By his will William left 310 marks to Oxford University to be invested in rents for the support of ten or more masters of arts studying theology. ‘The university placed the money in a chest and used it “partly on their own business” and partly in “loans to others” which were never repaid’ (Rashdall, ii. 470). There is no evidence that William of Durham intended the masters who benefited by his bequest to live together and form a separate community, and he cannot be regarded in any way as the founder of the collegiate system [see Merton, Walter de], but his benefaction was the first that was subsequently evolved into a college or hall. This took place about 1280, when four masters formed a community that was the nucleus of University College, still legally styled ‘Great University Hall.’ The locality of the original hall is doubtful, and the present site in High Street was not acquired till 1332; it was called the ‘college of William of Durham,’ but as early as 1374 it occurs as ‘aula quondam Durham, nunc Universitehall’ (Cartulary of St. Frideswide's, Oxf. Hist. Soc. i. 344). There William of Durham is expressly named as its founder; but three years later, in order to secure the evocation of a lawsuit into the royal council chamber, ‘the masters and scholars of University first devised the impudent fiction of a royal foundation by Alfred the Great, which has now become part of the law of England by a decision of the court of king's bench’ (Rashdall, ii. 472). This fiction was not finally discredited until 1728, when William Smith (1651?–1735) [q. v.] published his ‘Annals of University College. Proving William of Durham the Founder’ (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 8vo), the best of early college histories.

[Besides Smith's Annals above cited, see Matt. Paris's Chron. Majora, iii. 168, v. 91, Hist. Anglorum, iii. 67, 311, Anstey's Munimenta Academica, i. 56, 87, ii. 490, 586–8, 780, and Mon. Franciscana, i. 56 (Rolls Ser.); Cal. Papal Letters, 1198–1304, p. 251; Le Neve's Fasti Eccl. Angl.; Parker's Early Hist. of Oxford (Oxf. Hist. Soc.), pp. 52–4; Bryan Twyne's Apologia, 1622; Wood's Colleges and Halls, ed. Gutch, pp. 37 sqq.; Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. App. ii. 477; Sir H. Maxwell-Lyte's Hist. of Oxford Univ. 1886; Clark's Colleges of Oxford; Rashdall's Universities of Europe.]

A. F. P.