Ely Cathedral, Chapter House, The College, Ely CB7 4DL, UK
Abbey of Le Pin, 11 Le Pin, 86190 Béruges, France
William de Longchamp[a] (1140 – January, 1197) was a medieval Lord Chancellor, Chief Justiciar, and Bishop of Ely in England. Richard I of England left as Justiciar, to govern England in his absence, William Longchamp. The Bishop was a confessed misogynist, who preferred boys. A popular joke of the time was that the rebellious barons might be willing to leave their daughters with him as hostages to guarantee good behavior, but never their sons.
Born to a humble family in Normandy, William de Longchamp owed his advancement to royal favour. Although contemporary writers accused Longchamp's father of being the son of a peasant, he held land as a knight. Longchamp first served Henry II's illegitimate son Geoffrey, but quickly transferred to the service of Richard I, Henry's heir. When Richard became king in 1189, Longchamp paid £3,000 for the office of Chancellor, and was soon named to the see, or bishopric, of Ely and appointed legate by the pope. Longchamp governed England while Richard was on the Third Crusade, but his authority was challenged by Richard's brother, John, who eventually succeeded in driving Longchamp from power and from England. Longchamp's relations with the other leading English nobles were also strained, which contributed to the demands for his exile. Soon after Longchamp's departure from England, Richard was captured on his journey back to England from the crusade and held for ransom by Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor. Longchamp travelled to Germany to help negotiate Richard's release. Although Longchamp regained the office of Chancellor after Richard's return to England, he lost much of his former power. He aroused a great deal of hostility among his contemporaries during his career, but he retained Richard's trust and was employed by the king until the bishop's death in 1197. Longchamp wrote a treatise on the law, which remained well known throughout the later Middle Ages.
Longchamp died in January 1197, at Poitiers, while on a diplomatic mission to Rome for Richard, and was buried at the abbey of Le Pin. Much of the information on his career comes from people hostile to him, for example, Gerald of Wales called Longchamp that "monster with many heads". The historian Austin Lane Poole says that Gerald described Longchamp as more like an ape than a man. Longchamp was reportedly a cultured and well-educated man. He was supported by others among his contemporaries, including Pope Clement III, who, when he appointed Longchamp legate, wrote that he did so at the urging of the English bishops. When he was one of four men named bishop in 1189, medieval chronicler Richard of Devizes wrote that the four new bishops were "men of no little virtue and fame". Historian John Gillingham wrote that Longchamp's "record of his life in politics and administration was a good one, spoiled only by his failure in 1191".
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