William of Alnwick

William (of/de) Alnwick/ Anewyk – (13?? -1449). Catholic clergyman, Bishop of Norwich, then Lincoln.

William Alnwick appears to have been born in Alnwick, but there are few details of his early life. He came under the influence of Stephen le Scrope, Archdeacon of Richmond (N. Yorks.), who was Chancellor of Cambridge University in 1414. William Alnwick starts to study there, achieving an LL. D. degree, whilst holding the benefice of Goldsborough, near Harrogate. In 1420, he became Archdeacon of Salisbury, and at a similar time becomes the king’s clerk to Henry V1. Various promotions and preferments followed and in 1426, he became Bishop of Norwich, and then confessor to Henry V1. In 1436, he was appointed as Bishop of Lincoln, which held until his death on 5th Dec. 1449. Alnwick was regarded as an efficient, competent Bishop, instituting many reforms and improvements of both Norwich and Lincoln Cathedrals, Palaces and Dioceses during his tenure. He was also assiduous persecutor of heresy, particularly against the Lollards.  As one biography says,

‘Alnwick’s career was that the ordinary prosperous secular clerk, a university man with a legal education, rising from the service of a well-born and influential ecclesiastic to positions of trust under the Crown and, in this instance, to close friendship with the King.’ (Pub. Lincoln Record Soc. Vol. 14 pxvii)

Many of his biographies contain material for which there is no evidence, and this partly reflects likely conflation of men with identical names. There would have been many individuals called William in Alnwick at the time, especially within the two abbeys, and in an age when surnames were not a fixture, they may have been known as William of Alnwick, hence possible misidentification. A William of Alnwick was Canon of Alnwick Abbey, and held the vicarage of Chatton in 1408. Another William of Alnewyk was a canon of Alnwick Abbey in 1424, and given a papal indult to study at university for 7 years. Both these men could not be the future Bishop.

Bishop Alnwick was also connected intimately with educational establishments. He was involved in the foundation and building of both Eton College in 1440 and King’s College, Cambridge. In 1439, he founded a collegiate church at Tattersall, which, though primarily for religious purposes, also had a chantry for education. On the 6th July 1448, letters patent were issued to the second Earl of Northumberland, Bishop Alnwick, Henry Percy the lord Poynings, and a lawyer called John Lematon, licensing the foundation of the chantry of the Blessed Mary, within the church of St. Michael, in Walkergate, Alnwick. There were to be 2 chaplains, one to keep a free-grammar school for poor boys, the maintenance of poor scholars is emphasised as one of the principal endowments of the chantry. The presentation of the chaplains was preserved for the earls of Northumberland, but they were to be nominated for presentation by the burgesses of Alnwick. (Cal. Pat. Rolls 1446 – 1452 p. 170)

William Alnwick died on 5th Dec 1449 and his will proved at Lambeth on the 10th Dec 1449. It contains the following relevant to the town of Alnwick –

‘Also I bequeath to the parish church of Alnwick, of the diocese of Durham, for the use of the priests who celebrate there and the parishioners in the same, my third missal in value, an antiphoner, a purple suit of vestments of mine of cloth of gold with golden lions inwoven, to wit, a chasuble, dalmatic, tunicle, three albs, three copes of the same suit, and a chalice at the disposal of my executors. Also I bequeath to the abbot and convent of the canons of Alnwick a pair of little basons of silver with flowers enamelled in their bottom, and a pipe in the side of one of the said basons, for their high altar, and a hundred shillings. Also I bequeath to the Carmelite friars of Hulne in the same place, xls. Also I bequeath ten pounds to the walling of the said town of Alnwick, and to the works of the church of the same, ten pounds.’ (Translation. Pub. Lincoln Record Soc. Vol. 14 p. xxvi/ xxvii)