English party leader, Benedictine, and prelate; b. Gloucestershire, 1554; d. Reims, April 11, 1629. He was educated at Lincoln College, Oxford, the University of Louvain, the English College at Douay, and the English College at Rome. After ordination in 1582 as a protégé of Cardinal William Allen, he taught theology at Reims until 1593, then served Allen in Rome and Flanders (1593–94). Upon Allen's death he was made dean of Lille in 1595. His long and violent disagreement with Robert persons, SJ, was at that time well advanced.
Until all the evidence of the intricate quarrels of the English exiles is published, much will remain obscure, although this tentative character of our knowledge has not prevented widely varying partisan judgments on the protagonists. Persons accused Gifford of fomenting opposition in the seminaries to Jesuit direction and policies, and of corresponding secretly and treacherously with the English government and agents. It is generally certain that Gifford did foment trouble and conduct such a correspondence. What is still uncertain is the degree of irresponsibility and factiousness he showed, and how far he was justified in his opposition to Persons' policies. Moreover, there is no real doubt about the firmness of his Catholic faith throughout these troubles. In 1606 he was mysteriously expelled from the Spanish Netherlands and lived in Paris (1606–08) and then in Reims as a professor at the university. In 1608 he did what an increasing number of seminarian opponents of Persons were doing—joined the English Benedictines. From his profession in 1609 until 1617 he was remarkably active: in rapid succession he became Prior of Dieulouard, founded the English monasteries of St. Malo and St. Edmund's Paris, helped to form the English Benedictine Congregation, and became first president of and helped to reform Fontrevault. He was a close friend of the Guise family and supporter of the Ligue, and through their influence he was consecrated in 1617 coadjutor to Louis of Lorraine, cardinal de Guise, and archbishop of Reims. In 1622 he succeeded to the see, clearly as a Guise nominee, and ruled it until his death. After Allen and Persons, he was undoubtedly the most celebrated English Catholic of his day. His achievements included the decisive reestablishing of the English Benedictine Congregation, much solid teaching of theology and effective preaching, and a good deal of hard work to help restore the French Church after the religious wars.
Bibliography: t. fitzherbert, Letters, in Publications of the Catholic Record Society, v. 41, ed. l. hicks (London 1948). The Wisbech Stirs, 1595–1598 in Publications of the Catholic Record Society, v. 51, ed. p. renold (London 1958). j. mccann, "William Gabriel Gifford," Ampleforth and Its Origins, ed. j. mccann and c. cary-elwes (London 1952). t. h. clancy, Papist Pamphleteers: The Allen-Persons Party and the Political Thought of the Counter-Reformation in England, 1572–1615 (Chicago 1964)