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William of Wayneflete

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Bishop of Winchester and Chancellor of England, b. towards the end of the fourteenth century; d. at South Waltham, Hampshire, 11 August, 1486. Son of Richard Patten ( alias Barbour), a gentleman of Wayneflete, in Lincolnshire, and of Margery Brereton, he was educated at Winchester College, though not apparently a scholar on the foundation, and at the University of Oxford , where he graduated as bachelor of divinity. He seems to have been ordained sub-deacon at Spalding, the dates are somewhat uncertain) in January, 1420-1, deacon soon afterwards, and priest in 1426. Three years later he was appointed master at Winchester School, and in 1438 Cardinal Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, presented him to the mastership of St. Mary Magdalene's hospital near that city, a preferment which doubled his income. In 1440 the young King Henry VI visited Winchester and made the acquaintance of Wayneflete, whom he selected to be first master and in 1443 provost of his newly-founded college of Eton, near Windsor. Here he laboured with much success for four years, winning high favour and regard from King Henry, who on the death of Beaufort in 1447 nominated Wayneflete as his successor in the See of Winchester. Nicholas V confirmed the appointment, and the new bishop was consecrate on 13 July, 1447, in Eton College chapel, and enthroned six months later in Winchester cathedral in presence of the king. Within a year of his taking possession of his see he manifested his zeal for learning by obtaining a royal charter for the foundation of a hall at Oxford dedicated to his old patroness St. Mary Magdalen. Magdalen Hall came into existed in August, 1448, and existed under that title for some ten years, after which it was replaced by the larger foundation, established on the site of the former hospital of St. John, and known ever since as Magdalen College. The buildings, including the chapel, were, as far as erected in the founder's life-time, completed by 1480, and in the following year Wayneflete's statutes were approved by Sixtus IV and duly promulgated. Before his death the founder largely increased the endowments of the college, chiefly by the annexation of ecclesiastical and monastic property ; and he also provided it with a large and valuable library. A grammar-school, for the education of the choristers and other junior members of the college, likewise formed part of the new foundation.

Returning to Wayneflete's early years as Bishop of Winchester, we soon find him involved in the political troubles of the time. The serious rebellion led by Jack Cade in 1450 was brought to an end mainly through the conciliatory and statesmanlike method in which Wayneflete dealt with the insurgents. In the still more formidable disturbances caused by the ambitious schemes of Richard, Duke of York, the bishop never ceased to labour in the cause of peace. His sympathy with the Lancastrian party partly exposed him, of course, to the odium of the Yorkists, who stirred up the people of Winchester against him and even intrigued to deprive him of his see. Henry VI, however, continued to extend to him his fullest confidence, named him visitor of the royal colleges of Eton and King's, Cambridge, and in 1456 appointed him chancellor of the kingdom in succession to Thomas Bourchier. Within a year of his receiving the great seal he found himself involved in the prosecution of his old friend and fellow-student, Reginald Peacocke, Bishop of Chichester, who was tried at Lambeth for teaching and preaching the Lollard errors. Peacocke was deposed from his see, and his books burned not only in London but also in Oxford, in pursuance of a decree obtained by Wayneflete from the convocation of the university. The War of the Roses, which broke out in 1458, placed the chancellor in a difficult position. The triumph of Henry at Ludlow was followed by a new outbreak of the Yorkists. Wayneflete's efforts for peace and conciliation were fruitless, and he resigned his chancellorship in July, 1460, a few days before the defeat of the Lancastrians at Northampton. A still more decisive victory of the Yorkists on Palm Sunday, 1461, resulted in the proclamation of the Duke of York as king (Edward IV), and lying in hiding for a year, recognized the new order of things and received a full pardon from King Edward. For a few years, released from cares of state, he busied himself with the administration of his diocese and the supervision of Eton College ; but in 1470, the revolt of Warwick "the king-maker" having released Henry VI from prison, Wayneflete performed the second coronation of his old master. The hopes of the Lancastrians were, however, finally destroyed by their total defeat at Barnet and Tewkesbury, and by the deaths of Henry and his son Edward. Wayneflete asked for, and obtained, another full pardon from Edward IV, swore fealty to him and his son, entertained him at Magdalen College, and assisted at his funeral in 1483. Richard III was also received by him at Magdalen, immediately after his coronation, and assigned certain estates to the college in memory of his visit. It was about this time that the venerable bishop, now in the thirty-eighth year of his episcopate, founded and endowed a grammar-school at Wayneflete, his native village, in Lincolnshire. Not long afterwards he retired to his palace of South Waltham, where he drew up and signed his will on 27 April, 1486, leaving all his lands to his beloved college at Oxford. He died less than four months later, and was buried in the chantry chapel built by himself behind the choir of Winchester Cathedral, where 5000 masses were by his direction celebrated for the repose of his soul, in honour of the Five Sacred Wounds. The effigy on his tomb has been thought by his biographers to be an authentic portrait; it is in any case a work of singular power and beauty.

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