William of Wrotham

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William of Wrotham
Archdeacon of Taunton
050715 140 lydford castle.jpg
Ruins of Lydford Castle, which was in the custody of William
Installed 1204
Term ended c. 1217
Predecessor Robert de Geldford[1]
Successor Peter[1]
Personal details
Birth name William
Died c. 1217
Nationality English
Parents Godwin

William of Wrotham or William de Wrotham (died c. 1217) was a medieval English royal administrator and clergyman. Although a 13th-century source says that William held a royal office under King Henry II of England (reigned 1154–1189), the first contemporary reference to William is in 1197, when he was put in charge of the royal tin mines, along with a few other offices. He also held ecclesiastical office, eventually occupying the office of Archdeacon of Taunton. William was also placed in charge of the royal fleet in the south of England in 1205, and was one of those responsible for the development of Portsmouth as a naval dockyard.

Early life[edit]

Little is known of William's background or his family's background, except that his father, Godwin, held land in Shipbourne, Kent, which was near Wrotham, and perhaps held that land from the Archbishops of Canterbury. William had a brother Richard, who is attested as receiving lands from William in 1207.[2]

According to the late 13th-century Hundred Rolls, King Henry II gave William the office of steward of Exmoor as well as lands at North Petherton, Somerset.[2] William held the prebend of St Decumans in the cathedral chapter of Bath Cathedral perhaps as early as 1194, but certainly by 9 May 1204, when he is specifically mentioned as holding that office. He claimed to have held the office as early as 1194 during a dispute with Savaric FitzGeldewin, the Bishop of Bath and another canon of the cathedral, Roger Porretanus, who claimed the prebend. By 23 December 1205, William had secured a papal judgment against Roger.[3]

William may have owed his advancement in royal service to Geoffrey fitz Peter, a royal judge, who in 1197 granted William a manor at Sutton-at-Hone, Kent, which was supposed to become a hospital, but instead eventually became a property of the Knights Hospitaller, forming a preceptory for that order. William was also responsible for Geoffrey's lands at Lydford, Devon from 1197. Also from 1197, William held the office of chief forester of Somerset, but it is unclear to whom he owed this office.[2]

Royal service[edit]

In 1197, Hubert Walter, who was Archbishop of Canterbury as well as Justiciar, appointed William to the administration of the royal stannaries, or tin mines, and in 1198 William was placed in charge of the stannaries, an office later known as the Lord Warden of the Stannaries. He retained this office until 1215, with only one brief interruption in 1200. During his control of the mines, they became much more lucrative for the king, accounting for a total of £1100 in William's first year of administration.[2]

In 1198 and 1199, William was Sheriff of Devon and Sheriff of Cornwall, along with another royal servant, as well as serving as a royal justice.[2] By 12 September 1204, William was Archdeacon of Taunton in the Diocese of Bath, and he witnessed the election of Jocelin of Wells as the new bishop of the diocese.[1] In 1205, William was jointly placed in charge of the mints of London and Canterbury, along with Reginald de Cornhill, with whom he also shared the collection of the tax of a fifteenth on merchants, a post the two had held since 1202. William also was placed in charge of vacant ecclesiastical offices, collecting their revenues for the king. He performed this office for the Diocese of Winchester in 1204, for Glastonbury Abbey in 1205, and for Whitby Abbey in 1206 and 1209.[2]

William's main administrative work, however, concerned the navy. In 1205 he was one of the keepers of the royal fleet along the south coast of England. In the same year, he was also in charge of naval spending for the attempted invasion of France. In 1206. In 1206, he was in charge of the naval forces in the Cinque Ports as well as commanding the fleet that invaded Poitou that year. From then until 1215 he was effectively King John's naval commander, and helped to develop Portsmouth as a royal dockyard.[2] John rewarded William for his service with churches in Sheppey and East Malling, which were granted in 1207, as well as the overseeing of the royal forests in Cornwall and Devon. Other grants included lands in Dartford and Sutton-at-Hone which had escheated to the crown, lands in Westminster and a prebend in the royal ecclesiastical foundation at Hastings.[2]

Later years[edit]

During the interdict on England during John's reign, William supported John, and remained in England. The medieval chronicler Roger of Wendover named William as one of the "evil advisors" to John. But in 1215, William joined the baronial rebellion against John, and lost his naval offices and the royal forester's office for Somerset, as well as custody of Lydford Castle. In the summer of 1217, however, he rejoined the royalist cause, returning to the side of King Henry III, John's son. This action regained him some of his lost lands.[2]

William last appeared in documents on 25 July 1217, and was dead by 16 February 1218, probably before 2 December 1217, when someone else is mentioned as archdeacon.[1] On 16 February 1218, John Marshall became the guardian of Richard, William's nephew and heir, who was the son of Richard, William's brother.[2]



Further reading[edit]