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William Melton
(Died 1340)

Archbishop of York
Died: 5th April 1340


William Melton, born of humble parents, was a native of Melton in the parish of Welton, about nine miles from Hull. He was a contemporary of John of Hotham, Chancellor of England and Bishop of Ely, born at Hotham, very near Melton's birth-place. The two prelates were often associated in public matters and were the most powerful churchmen of their period in England.

Melton was Comptroller of the Wardrobe at the accession of King Edward II and was a pluralist of the first water at the time of his elevation to the See of York. Amongst numerous other preferments, he was Archdeacon of Barnstaple and Provost of Beverley. He was elected by the Chapter of York within a month of Archbishop Greenfield's death, in December 1315; but difficulties were interposed by the Court of Rome and he was not consecrated until September 1317, at Avignon by Pope John XXII.

Throughout his Archiepiscopate, he was actively concerned in the affairs of Scotland. In 1318, in 1319 and again in 1322, the Scots, under the Black Douglas, made forays into Yorkshire, devastating great parts of the country, destroying churches and sacking the richest monasteries. During the raid of 1319, the King was at the Siege of Berwick and all the better soldiery was there with him. Archbishop Melton was ordered to collect what men he could and to lead them against the Scots. Clergy, friars and citizens of York were accordingly gathered and the result was the Battle of Myton (12th October 1319) on the Swale, in which the English were entirely routed. The battle was called "The Chapter of Myton," from the number of clergy engaged in it. It is not certain that the Archbishop was present, but he is called the "capitaine" of the host in Barbour's 'Brus' and elsewhere. Connected with the Scottish foray of 1322 was the battle of Boroughbridge, in which the famous Earl of Lancaster was overpowered and taken prisoner. He was led from Boroughbridge to his own castle of Pontefract and there beheaded. Archbishop Melton had unquestionably aided him, at one part of his career, and seems, in consequence, to have fallen into some disfavour with Edward. II. In 1325, however, the King's good opinion had been recovered, since Melton then became Lord Treasurer of England.

Melton did not desert King Edward in his latter days, and certainly regarded his imprisonment with great displeasure. Nor would he be present at the coronation of Edward III and is said afterwards (1330) to have been engaged in a dangerous intrigue to upset the new government. For this, he was arrested, though acquitted. In January 1328, Melton had married, in the Minster at York the young King to Philippa of Hainault.

Archbishop Melton completed the building of the nave of York Minster and his figure still remains above the great western portal. He is said to have assisted largely in building the fine church of Patrington, in Holderness, and certainly gave much toward the fabric of Beverley Minster. He died at Cawood Palace, in April 1340, and was buried in the north aisle of the Minster nave at York. In spite of the troubles and devastations of his diocese - which he had relieved to a great extent - he died very wealthy, seized of many manors and estates. His heir was his nephew, William Melton Junior of Aston, near Sheffield, who thus became the progenitor of one of the most powerful knightly families in the south of Yorkshire.

Edited from Richard John King's "Handbook to the Cathedrals of England: Northern Division" (1903).

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