William Fitzherbert, St.
WILLIAM FITZHERBERT, ST.
Archbishop of York; d. York, June 8, 1154. His disputed election to the archbishopric was a cause célèbre of 12th-century ecclesiastical politics. William, the son of Herbert of Winchester and Emma, an illegitimate half sister of King Stephen of England, was treasurer of York Cathedral before 1114. Early in 1142 he was elected to the archbishopric as Stephen's candidate. But his election aroused violent opposition from the Yorkshire cistercians, who secured a powerful ally during their numerous appeals to Rome in bernard, Cistercian abbot of Clairvaux. None of the charges against Fitzherbert, except perhaps that of intrusion into the see, were convincing. He was consecrated in 1143, but deposed in 1147 through Bernard's influence with the Cistercian pope, eugene iii, and the cardinals who favored the new monastic orders. Bernard referred to William (now his fellow saint) as "rotten from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head." More recently, Fitzherbert has been described as "amiable and generous, though unused to exertion of any kind" (Knowles). After the death of the Cistercian archbishop, henry murdac, who replaced him, Fitzherbert returned to York (May 1154), but he died a month later—of poison, it was suspected. He was canonized in 1226 through the memory of his patient sufferings, the miracles reported at his tomb, and the desire of the canons of york to rival ripon as a center of pilgrimage.
Feast: June 8.
Bibliography: john of hexham's continuation of Historia regum, v.2 of Symeonis monachi opera omnia, ed. t. arnold, 2 v. [Rerum Britannicarum medii aevi scriptores, 75 (London 1882–85) 306–332]. Two early sources now considered untrustworthy are Life … and Miracles of St. William in The Historians of the Church of York, ed. j. raine, 3 v. [Rerum Britannicarum medii aevi scriptores 71 (London 1879–94) 2:270–291, 531–543]. t. f. tout, The Dictionary of National Biography From the Earliest Times to 1900 (London 1938) 7:173–176. r. l. poole, "The Appointment and Deprivation of St. W., Archbishop of York," English Historical Review 45 (London 1930) 273–281. d. knowles, "The Case of St. W. of York," Cambridge Historical Journal 5 (Cambridge, Eng. 1935–37) 162–177, bibliog. 212–214. c. h. talbot, "New Documents in the Case of Saint W. of York," ibid. 10 (1950–52) 1–15. w. g. wheeler, Saint William of York (London 1976). c. wilson, The shrines of St. William of York (York 1977).