Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gifford, William (1554-1629)

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GIFFORD, WILLIAM, D.D. (1554–1629), archbishop of Rheims, was born in Hampshire in 1554, being the second son of John Gifford, esq., of Weston-sub-Edge, Gloucestershire, by Elizabeth, daughter of Sir George Throckmorton, knt., of Coughton, Warwickshire (Wiltshire Archæological Mag. ii. 100). In 1569 he was sent by his mother, who had become the wife of William Hodges, to Lincoln College, Oxford, then governed by John Bridgewater [q. v.], a Roman catholic at heart, who had many youths of that communion under his care. When Bridgewater was removed from his post, Gifford continued his studies in the noted boarding-school at Oxford kept by George Etherege, M.D. [q. v.] After he had resided in the university for four years, ‘exercising himself in grammar, music, logic, and philosophy,’ he proceeded with his tutor to Louvain, where he graduated M.A. Having studied divinity for four years under Father Bellarmin, he took the degree of bachelor in that faculty. Being obliged by the war in the Low countries to quit Louvain, he retired to Paris, where he prosecuted his theological studies at the Sorbonne. Thence he went, by invitation of Dr. William Allen, to the English College at Rheims, and soon afterwards he was sent with other students to the English College at Rome, of which he was admitted a member on 15 Sept. 1579 (Foley, Records, vi. 139). Allen recalled him from Italy in 1582, and appointed him public lecturer on the ‘Summa’ of St. Thomas Aquinas in the college at Rheims. While he was thus occupied, Henry, duke of Guise, and the cardinal Louis de Lorraine granted him an annual pension of two hundred pieces of gold (ducentos aureos). To prepare himself for the doctorate in divinity he maintained thirty-six propositions concerning the sacraments at a public disputation in Cardinal Guise's palace. After the ceremony, in order to avoid expense, he took the degree of doctor of divinity on 14 Nov. 1584 at Pont-à-Mousson in Lorraine, and, returning to Rheims, taught theology there at intervals for nearly twelve years.

On 18 April 1586 he wrote to Secretary Walsingham a letter of thanks for permission to return to England, and expressing his loyalty to the queen (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1581–90, p. 321). In the following year, when Allen was raised to the purple, he accompanied him to Rome and acted as his principal chaplain and almoner. In a list (at Simancas) of the members of the cardinal's household at his death in 1594 Gifford was described as ‘molto nobile e dotto, theologo del signor Cardinale … e di molto valore et merito et ha niente per mantenersi.’ He afterwards resided for a time in the household of St. Charles Borromeo, cardinal and archbishop of Milan, to whom he had been introduced by Dr. Owen Lewis. About 1596 the pope (Clement VIII) conferred upon him the deanery of the church of St. Peter at Lille. At this period he sided with the faction of Morgan and Paget, and incited the English students at Rome in the same direction (Records of the English Catholics, ii. 389, 390). In August 1603 he carried to James I a despatch from the nuncio at Brussels assuring James of the pope's anxiety that the English Roman catholics should submit peacefully to his government (Gardiner, Hist. i. 140). About 1606, according to one account, the archduke ordered him, at the request of the English king, to whom he had made himself obnoxious, to quit Flanders. He therefore returned to Rheims, where in 1608 he was nominated rector of the university (Marlot, Histoire de Reims, 1846, iv. 536). According to another account he was driven from Lille by the violence of the jesuits, whom he had offended by advocating the cause of the Benedictine monks (Lewis Owen, Running Register, 1626, p. 91). He certainly had a strong predilection for the Benedictines, and induced the cardinal Charles of Lorraine to grant the priory of St. Laurence at Dieulewart in Lorraine to Englishmen of that order in 1606. Gifford joined the order himself. He took the Benedictine habit on 11 July 1608, in the great abbey of St. Remigius at Rheims for the house at Dieulewart, where on 11 July 1609 he was privately professed in the chapter-house, taking the name in religion of Gabriel de Sancta Maria (Weldon, Chronicle, p. 105). He was prior at Dieulewart in 1609–10. In 1611 he laid the foundation of a small community of his order at St. Malo, in Brittany, but eventually he removed the establishment to Paris, and became its first prior (1611–18), though it had not a legal establishment till many years after his death. For fourteen years he was esteemed one of the most eloquent preachers in the French language at Paris. Louis XIII and many eminent men were frequently among his hearers. He also preached in Poitou, Brittany, and Saintonge. At an earlier period he had delivered Latin orations at Lille at the inauguration of Albert and Isabella, sovereign princes of the Low Countries, and at Rheims, before the cardinals of Bourbon, Vendôme, Guise, Vaudemont, and the Dukes of Guise and Aumale. When the English Benedictines were united in one province or congregation, Gifford was chosen the first president, 16 May 1617.

The cardinal of Guise, in 1618, wanting a coadjutor to the archiepiscopal see of Rheims, recommended Gifford to the holy see. Gifford was consecrated bishop of Archidiapolis, or Archidalia, in partibus, 21 Sept. 1618, by Charles de Balzac, bishop of Noyon, in the monastery of St. Germain-des-Près. On the death of the cardinal, Gifford succeeded him in 1622 as archbishop of Rheims, on the nomination of the king of France, confirmed by the pope. By virtue of this dignity he became also Duke of Rheims and the first peer of France. It is said that Gifford was preferred to the see on the understanding that he should retain it during the minority of the Duke of Guise's son, who was then but a child, and it was generally believed that he annually paid a considerable portion of the archiepiscopal revenues to the Guise family. Weldon says it was intended at the time of Gifford's advancement that the abbey of St. Remigius at Rheims should be annexed to the archbishop's mensa in order to help to defray the cost of his maintenance and table. The Duke of Guise wanted the abbey for his infant son, then called the Abbé of St. Denis, but the king refused to give it to him without Gifford's consent. As, however, Gifford was under great obligations to the Guise family, he gave his consent, and thereby deprived himself of 40,000 livres a year (Chronicle, p. 160). His promotion to the archbishopric gave general satisfaction, and he passed the remainder of his life in preaching, enforcing discipline among the clergy, and providing for the wants of the poor. He died on 11 April 1629 (N. S.), and was buried behind the high altar in the church of the Blessed Virgin at Rheims, but his heart, by his own direction, was delivered to the Benedictine nuns of St. Peter's monastery in that city, and deposited in the chapel of their house with great solemnity on 11 May. He was eulogised in funeral sermons by Henri de Maupas, abbot of St. Denis at Rheims, afterwards bishop successively of Le Puy and Evreux, and by Guillaume Marlot, the historian of Rheims. Both discourses were printed, and are excessively scarce. The title of the second, which contains many interesting biographical details, is ‘Discours funèbre sur la mort de feu Monseigneur le Reverendissime Gabriel de Ste Marie, Archevesque, Duc de Reims … seconde édition,’ Rheims, 1630, 12mo, pp. 130.

Portraits of him were formerly preserved in the English Benedictine monastery of St. Edmund in Paris and at the monastery of Rheims (Weldon, p. 163).

Dodd says: ‘He was remarkably mild, yet not without a reserve of life and spirit, when errors or neglect of discipline gave provocation; upon which occasion he thought a little passion was not ill employed. As to his political disposition he was more of the French than Spanish faction; and what some may think a blemish in his character, a favourer of the league. There are no proofs of his countenancing any attempts against the person or government of Queen Elizabeth; though a certain miserable wretch thought to lessen his own guilt by casting out words to that purpose’ (Church Hist. ii. 361).

His works are:

  1. ‘Oratio Funebris in exequiis venerabilis viri domini Maxæmiliani Manare Præpositi ecclesiæ D. Petri oppidi Insulensis,’ Douay, 1598, 8vo.
  2. ‘Orationes Diversæ,’ Douay, 4to.
  3. ‘Calvino-Turcismus. Id est Calvinisticæ perfidiæ cum Mahumetana Collatio … Quatuor libris explicata. Authore G. Reginaldo,’ Antwerp, 1597 and 1603, 8vo. A work begun by Dr. William Reynolds, and completed and edited by Gifford. Matthew Sutcliffe replied to it in ‘De Turco-Papismo, hoc est De Turcorum et Papistarum adversus Christi ecclesiam et fidem Conjuratione, eorumque in religione et moribus consensione et similitudine,’ London, 1599 and 1604.
  4. ‘The Inventory of Errors, Contradictions, and false Citations of Philip Mornay, Lord of Plessis and Mornay,’ translated from the French of Fronto-Ducæus, S.J., at the instance of the Duke of Guise.
  5. . A treatise in favour of the League, written at the request of the Duke of Guise.
  6. ‘Sermones Adventuales,’ Rheims, 1625, 8vo. Preached originally in French, and translated by himself into Latin.
  7. Several manuscript works which perished in the fire that destroyed the monastery at Dieulewart, 13 Oct. 1717.

He also assisted Dr. Anthony Champney in his ‘Treatise on the Protestant Ordinations,’ 1616.

[Collect. Topogr. et Geneal. vii. 223; Dodd's Church Hist. ii. 358; Douay Diaries; Downside Review, i. 433; Duthillœul's Bibl. Douaisienne, 2nd edit. p. 47; Gillow's Bibl. Dict. ii. 457; Herald and Genealogist, vii. 69; Maihew's Congr. Anglic. Ord. S. Benedicti, 1625; Marlot's Hist. de Reims, 1846, iv. 450, 535; Oliver's Catholic Religion in Cornwall, pp. 484, 485, 516, 535; Pits, De Angliæ Scriptoribus, p. 809; Reyner's Apostolatus Benedictinorum in Anglia, ii. 198; Smith's Brewood, 1874, p. 38; Snow's Benedictine Chronology, p. 37; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, ii. 453, 879.]

T. C.