Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lamberton, William de
LAMBERTON, WILLIAM de (d. 1398), bishop of St. Andrews, belonged to a family that was settled in Berwickshire towards the close of the eleventh century which took its name from the estate of Lamberton, in the parish of Mordington, near Berwick. In 1292 Lamberton was chancellor of Glasgow Cathedral. Lamberton swore fealty to Edward I in 1396, but afterwards supported Sir William Wallace, and through Wallace's influence he was elected bishop of St. Andrew's in 1297. A rival candidate, William Comyn, whom the Culdees, claiming to exercise an ancient right, had nominated to the see at the same time, set out in person to Rome to secure the confirmation of his own appointment, but Pope Boniface VIII confirmed the election of Lamberton, and consecrated him on 1 June 1298. In August 1299 he was present at a meeting of the Scottish magnates at Peebles, and after a violent dispute with William Comyn's brother John, third earl of Buchan [q. v.], he was elected one of the chief guardians of Scotland, and had the fortified castles in that kingdom placed under his charge.
About the same time he went as envoy to France to ask the aid of King Philip in resisting the English invasion, and Edward I issued strict orders to have the ship in which he returned from Flanders intercepted. In November 1299 he wrote to Edward, in conjunction with the other guardians, offering to stay hostilities, and to submit to the mediation of the king of France, but this offer was ignored. The claim of Robert de Bruce, earl of Carrick, to the throne of Scotland was covertly supported by Lamberton, although both were then acting as guardians in the name of John de Balliol, another claimant, In his office in capacity he again visited France, returning thence with a letter from King Philip, dated 6 April 1302, in which reference is made to private verbal messages with which the bishop was entrusted. From the seal attached to a letter sent from the Scottish ambassadors at Paris on 25 May 1303, it is evident that Lamberton had then returned to France on an important political mission, and that he concurred in encouraging Wallace to offer a determined resistance to Edward I. On 17 Feb. 1303-4 he obtained a safe-conduct to return peaceable through England, and while on this journey he presented a splendid palfey to King Edward — repeatedly alluded to in documents of the time — as a peace-offering. On 4 May 1304 he again swore fealty to Edward, and obtained restitution of the temporalities belonging to the see of St. Andrews, including lands in twelve counties, and the castle of St. Andrews, which were all to be held from the king of England. As one of the Scottish commissioners sent to the parliament of Westminster in 1305, he assented to the ordinance for the settlement of Scotland propounded by King Edward, and shortly afterwards was appointed one of the custodians of Scotland to maintain order till John de Bretagne, the king's nephew, should arrive there as governor. Yet, on 27 March 1306, he assisted at the coronation of Robert the Bruce at Scone.
So greatly did his treachery enrage Edward, that on 26 May of that year he issued strict orders to Aymer de Valence to take the utmost pains to secure the person of the bishop, and to send him under strict guard to Westminster. During the succeeding month, these orders were repeated, and De Valence was instructed to seize upon the temporalities of the bishopric, and confer them upon Henry de Beaumont, husband of Alice Comyn, Buchan's niece. Meanwhile the bishop addressed a letter from Scotland Well, Kinrossshire, on 9 June, to Valence, protesting that he was innocent of any complicity in the death of John Comyn 'the Red' [q .v.] or Sir Robert Comyn, his uncle. On 23 June three of the Scottish magnates, Henry de Sinclair, Robert de Keith, and Adam de Gordon, became surety for him that be would render himself prisoner; and though the pope, Clement V, interceded for him, Lamberton was captured in the month of July, and conveyed to Newcastle, in company with the Bishop of Glasgow (Wishart) and the Abbot of Scone. On 7 Aug. 1306 orders were given that these three prisoners should he conveyed to Nottingham, and on the same day the king gave personal instructions that the two bishops should be put in irons, Lamberton being sent to Winchester Castle, and Wishart to Porchester, the daily allowances for their sustenance being carefully detailed. The documents by which Lamberton's treason was made evident are still preserved among the Chapter-house papers in the exchequer office, and consist of his oath of fealty to Edward, his secret compact with Bruce at Cambuskenneth on 11 June 1304, and the answers which he gave when under examine at Newcastle. He admitted that he communicated the mass to Bruce after the murder of Comyn; that he had done homage to and sworn fealty to him, though Bruce was then a rebel; and that he had withheld the fruits of the provostry of St. Andrews till the provost would acknowledge Bruce as king. After his arrival at Winchester on 24 Aug. 1306, he was placed in close confinement, charged with perjury, irregularity, and rebellion. The death of Edward I did release him from prison, and it was on 23 May 1308 that Edward II consented to liberate him from Winchester Castle, accepting security that he would remain in the bounds of the county of Northampton. He was set free on 1 June, and on 11 Aug. he swore fealty to Edward II 'on the sacraments and the cross "Gnayth,"' undertaking to remain in the bishopric of Durham and giving a bond for six thousand marks sterling to be paid within three years. The pope had again interceded for Lamberton, but the king replied that on no account would he permit him to enter Scotland. It was not until the following year (1309) that the bishop was allowed to return, and then only after he had undertaken to pronounce sentence of excommunication against Bruce and his adherents. Almost his first action was to take part in a meeting of the clergy at Dundee, in February 1309, at which the claims of Bruce to the Scottish throne were asserted. He played a double part so well that he retained the confidence of Edward II, who wrote to the pope, in July 1311, desiring that the bishop might be excused from attending general council, as his presence was necessary 'to avoid the danger of souls that might chance through his absence.' The esteem in which the English king held him was shown by his sending Lamberton as an envoy to Philip, king of France, on 30 Nov. 1313; and by his granting him a safe-conduct for one year, from 25 Sept. 1314. The bishop officiated at the consecration of the cathedral of St. Andrews on 5 July 1318, in the presence of Robert I and the principal ecclesiastics and nobles of the realm. In 1323 he was one of the ambassadors sent from Scotland to treat with Edward II for peace and on 15 July 1324 he was again in England on the same errand, his retinue consisting of fifty horsemen. According to Wyntoun, he died in St. Andrews, 'in the prior's chamber of the abbey, in June 1328, and was buried on the north half of the high kirk,' and this statement has been accepted without question by the historians who have dealt with the subject. It is certain that the bull of Pope John XXII, appointing his successor, is dated 'the Kalends of August 1328.'
Lamberton was a typical priest-politician, whose patriotism so far exceeded his piety that he violated the most solemn oaths for the purpose of aiding in the liberation of his country. Besides completing the cathedral of St. Andrews, he repaired the castle there, and built, it is said, no less than ten episcopal residences, and reconstructed ten churches within his diocese.
[J. F. S. Gordon's Scotichronicon. i. 179-89; Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, vols. ii. iii.; Gough's Scotland in 1298; Lyon's History of St. Andrews; Rymer's Fœdera; Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th and 9th Reps.; Registrum Prior. S. Andree.]