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William Warham

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Archbishop of Canterbury, born at Church Oakley, Hampshire, about 1450; died at Hackington, near Canterbury, 22 August, 1532. He was educated at Winchester School and New College, Oxford, of which he became a fellow in 1475. Having taken his doctorate of laws he left Oxford in 1488, to become an advocate in the ecclesiastical courts in London, but two years later he returned to Oxford as principal of the school of civil law. His ability caused him to be employed to several foreign embassies, and his success obtained for him much ecclesiastical preferment. He became precentor of Wells (1493), rector of Barley (1495), archdeacon of Huntingdon (1497), and rector of Cottenham (1500). On 13 February, 1494, he had been appointed to the important legal office of Master of the Rolls. While absent on one of his frequent missions abroad he was elected Bishop of London (October, 1501), but was not consecrated till 25 September, 1502. In the interval he had resigned the office of Master of the Rolls, and had been appointed to the more important post of Keeper of the Great Seal. So great was his reputation for learning and ability that fresh honours followed rapidly. On 29 November, 1503, Pope Julius II nominated him as Archbishop of Canterbury, and on 21 January, 1504, the king made him Lord Chancellor of England. He received the pallium at Lambeth on Candlemas Day and was enthroned at Canterbury on 9 March. He took a leading part in all important national business, and his powers as an orator were in much demand on great occasions of state. His university of Oxford chose him as Chancellor in 1506.

In 1509 he crowned Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, and under the new king he enjoyed the same confidence as under Henry VII till he was overshadowed by the growing influence of Wolsey. In 1512 he became involved in a controversy with his suffragans, who considered that he pushed the metropolitan prerogative too far, and the matter was finally settled by a compromise. When Wolsey was created cardinal in 1515 Warham conferred the hat upon him in Westminster Abbey, and thereafter he was forced into the second place. Before Christmas he resigned the office of Lord Chancellor, as he had long wished to do, being out of sympathy with the king's anti-French policy, and Wolsey received the Great Seal in his stead. Warham's power was still further diminished in 1517 when Wolsey was appointed papal legate, and from that time forward there were constant official differences between them, though their private relations continued friendly. Wolsey as legate continually interfered with the action of the archbishop as metropolitan of the southern province and not infrequently overruled his decisions. In state affairs, especially in the raising of subsidies, he supported Wolsey, though he incurred the contempt of the cardinal's enemies for doing so. When the divorce question was first raised in 1527 he was Wolsey's assessor in the secret inquiry into the validity of the king's marriage. About this time his health began to fail, and he was no longer equal to taking an effective part in the important affairs that ensued. Being selected as the chief of the counsel appointed to assist Queen Katherine he did nothing on her behalf, but when she appealed to him for advice, replied that he would not meddle in such matters. He steadfastly refused to oppose the king's wishes, and in the summer of 1530 signed the petition to the pope begging him to allow the divorce. This course he pursued under threats from the king that unless he was complaisant all ecclesiastical authority in England would be destroyed.

On Wolsey's fall the king wished the whole case to be submitted to Warham's decision, but the pope refused on the ground that his signature of the petition made him an unfit judge. When the whole clergy of England were subjected to a praemunire for having acknowledged Wolsey's legatine authority, the king seized the opportunity to force them to declare him head of the Church. Warham proposed an amendment recognizing him as "protector and supreme lord of the Church and so far as the law of Christ will allow supreme head". This was carried in default of opposition and the clergy were allowed to purchase their pardon for a large sum. At length Warham awoke to the gravity of the position, and on 24 February, 1532, he formally protested against all Acts of Parliament derogatory to the pope's authority or the prerogatives of Canterbury. The king incited the parliament to harass the archbishop with a petition for redress of grievances against his courts. With a flash of his old spirit and ability he returned an able answer, but this did not satisfy either king or parliament, and on 15 May the "submission of the clergy" was wrung from them. Three months later Warham died, leaving his books to be divided between Winchester, and All Souls and New Colleges at Oxford. He had nothing else to leave, owing to his extreme munificence in supporting public charities, in exercising hospitality and in assisting scholars, such as Erasmus. His own private life was simple and austere, so that he died "without money and without debts". His portrait by Holbein is at Lambeth, the original drawing for it being preserved in the king's collection at Windsor.


POLYDORE VERGIL, Anglia Historia (Basle, 1555), Memorials of Henry VII, ed. GAIRDNER in R.S. (London, 1858); Letters and Papers of Richard III and Henry VII, ed. GAIRDNER in R.S. (London, 1861-3); State Papers of Henry VIII (London, 1831- 52); CAMPBELL, Materials for a history of the reign of Henry VII in R.S. (London, 1873-7); HOOK, Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury (London, 1860-84); CAMPBELL, Lives of the Lord Chancellors (London, 1845-60); FOSS, The Judges of England (London, 1848-64); BREWER, Reign of Henry VIII to death of Wolsey (London, 1884); LINGARD, History of England; GAIRDNER in Dict. Nat. Biog., s.v.

About this page

APA citation. Burton, E. (1912). William Warham. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Burton, Edwin. "William Warham." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Michael T. Barrett. Dedicated to the memory of the martyrs of England.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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