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William Waynflete

William Waynflete
Bishop of Winchester
Church Catholic
See Diocese of Winchester
In office 1447–1486
Predecessor Henry Beaufort
Successor Peter Courtenay
Personal details
Born c. 1398
Died 11 August 1486
Bishop's Waltham, Hampshire

William Waynflete (c. 1398[1] – 11 August 1486), born William Patten, was Provost of Eton (1442–1447), Bishop of Winchester (1447-1486) and Lord Chancellor of England (1456-1460). He is best remembered as the founder of Magdalen College and Magdalen College School in Oxford.


  • Early life 1
  • Early career 2
  • Bishop of Winchester 3
  • Lord Chancellor 4
  • Later life 5
  • Commemoration 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Early life

William was born in Wainfleet in Lincolnshire (whence his surname) in about 1398. He was the eldest son of Richard Patten (alias Barbour),[2] a merchant.[3] His mother was Margery, daughter of Sir William Brereton of Brereton in Cheshire.[4] 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,[5] but this is improbable. Neither college claimed in his lifetime that he was one of its former students.

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[6] 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 21 April 1420 and subdeacon on 21 January 1421; and as William Barbour, otherwise Waynflete of Spalding, was ordained deacon on 18 March 1421, and priest on 21 January 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 6 March 1428 (Exch. Q. R. Bdle. 346, no. 31), and was described as LL.B. when receiving letters of protection on 13 July 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 3 April 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 14 June 1430, may also have been our Waynflete. There was, however, another William Waynflete, who was instituted rector of Wroxhall, Somerset, on 17 May 1433 (Wells, Ep. Reg. Stafford), and was dead when his successor was appointed on 18 November 1436 (Wells, Ep. Reg. Stillington). A successor to the William Waynflete at the King's Hall was admitted on 3 April 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 3 July 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 11 October 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 5 March 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 2 May, and made the contract for completion of the carpenter's work of the eastern side of the quadrangle on 30 November 1443.

On 21 December 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 19 July, that college, by its second charter of 10 July 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 26 September 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 11 April 1447, the king wrote to the chapter of Winchester, instructing them to elect Waynflete as bishop.[7] On 12 April he was given the custody of the temporalities, between 15 and 17 April he was elected,[8] and on 10 May provided to the see by a papal bull. On 13 July 1447 he was consecrated[8] 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 6 May 1448 he obtained licence in mortmain and on 20 August, 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, 19 January 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 1 August Waynflete was one of the special commissioners to try the rebels. On 7 May 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[9] 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 2 August 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 13 October 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 5 July 1456 a grant of the Hospital of St John the Baptist outside the east gate at Oxford and on 15 July licence to found a college there. Having obtained a papal bull, he founded it by deed of 12 June 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 11 October 1456[10] 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 27 October 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 7 July 1460.[10][11] It was taken with Henry and handed to the Yorkist, bishop of Exeter, brother of the kingmaker, earl of Warwick, in London on 25 July following.

Later life

Waynflete's chantry tomb in Winchester Cathedral

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 8 November 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 1 July 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 1 February 1469 (Pat. 8 Ed. IV. pt. ill. m. 16) does not appear. On the restoration of Henry VI on 28 September 1470 Waynflete welcomed him on his release from the Tower, which necessitated a new pardon, granted a month after Edward's reinstatement on 30 May 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 15 August 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 1484 he founded Magdalen College School in his birth town of Wainfleet, Lincolnshire as a satellite feeder school for Magdalen College, Oxford. The building is now used as the local library with a museum upstairs.

He died on 11 August 1486[8] 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.

Waynflete House is a boy's house in Eton College, named after William Waynflete.

An annual memorial service, known as the Waynflete Obit, is held in Winchester Cathedral on the anniversary of his death. The choir for the occasion is formed from members of the Waynflete Singers, who are named after the bishop.

Waynflete projects are research projects undertaken by sixth formers at Magdalen College School, Oxford. Awards are given for the best projects by the President of Magdalen College, David Clary.[12] Alumni of the school are known as "Old Waynfletes".

See also


  1. ^ Some sources give 1395.
  2. ^ Magd. Coll., Oxon. Reg, f. 84b.
  3. ^ His effigy, formerly in the church of Wainfleet, but now in Magdalen College Chapel at Oxford, seems to be in the dress of a merchant.
  4. ^ Ormerods Cheshire, iii. 8f.
  5. ^  "William of Wayneflete".  
  6. ^ Ep. Acad. Oxf. Hist. Soc. i. 158
  7. ^ En. Reg. 1 f. 73b.
  8. ^ a b c Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 277
  9. ^  "Waynflete, William".  
  10. ^ a b Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 87
  11. ^ Rot. Claus. 38 Hen. VI. m. 5 d.
  12. ^ "MCS Waynflete project prizes 2012". 


  • Fryde, E. B.; Greenway, D. E.; Porter, S.; Roy, I. (1996). Handbook of British Chronology (Third revised ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  

External links

  • Biographical sketch at the Magdalen College website.
  •  "William of Wayneflete".  
Political offices
Preceded by
Thomas Bourchier
Lord Chancellor
Succeeded by
George Neville
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Henry Beaufort
Bishop of Winchester
Succeeded by
Peter Courtenay
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