Britannia Biographies: William of Wykeham Part 2
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Biography of William of Wykeham (1324-1404), Bishop of Winchester

W I L L I A M
O F   W Y K E H A M
Part 2: Early Life

William De Wykeham, or of Wykeham, was born at Wickham in Hampshire, in the year 1324, and, as his biographer Bishop Lowth has shown, some time between the 7th of July and the 27th of September. There is reason, however, to believe that he did not take his name from his native village, the same name being borne by several of his relations living in his own day who do not appear to have been born there. All that is certainly known about his father and mother is that their Christian names were John and Sybil. If his father bore the name of Wykeham, he appears to have also passed by that of Long or Longe and to have had an elder brother who was called Henry Aas.

Lowth thus sensibly remarks upon this obscurity of the name of so distinguished a man: "If we consider the uncertain state of family-names at the time of the birth of Wykeham, we shall not think it strange that there should be some doubt with regard to the surname of his family or even if it should appear that he had properly no family-name at all. Surnames were introduced into England by the Normans at the Conquest: "But certain it is," says Camden, "that as the better sort, over from the Conquest, by little and little, took surnames; so they were not settled among the common people fully until about the time of Edward the Second."

The parents of' Wykeham are held to have been poor but of creditable descent and reputable character. When their son became a dignitary of the church, he employed a seal with heraldic bearings and a quaint motto; but it is believed that these honours were not hereditary. Lowth holds that his relations were of the common people, and adds, "I am even inclined to think that he himself disclaimed all farther pretensions. The celebrated motto which he added to his arms (of which probably he might have received a grant when he began to rise in the World), I imagine was intended by him to intimate something of this kind, Manners makyth Man, the true meaning of which, as he designed it, I presume to be, though it has commonly been understood otherwise, that a man's real worth is to he estimated not from the outward and accidental advantages of birth, rank and fortune, but from the endowments of his mind and his moral qualifications. In this sense, it bears a proper relation to his arms and contains a just apology for those ensigns of his newly acquired dignity. Conscious to himself that his claim to honour is unexceptionable, as founded upon truth and reason, he in a manner makes his appeal to the world; alleging that neither high birth, to which he makes no prtensions, nor high station upon which he does not value himself but, "Virtue alone is true nobility."

Wykeham was put to school at Winchester Cathedral Priory, not by his father, who had not the means, but by some wealthy patron, who is traditionally said to have been Nicholas Uvedale, Lord of the Manor of Wykeham and Governor of Winchester Castle. The tradition further asserts that, after leaving school, he became secretary to Uvedale and that he was secretary to the Constable of Winchester Castle is stated in a written account compiled in his own time. Afterwards, he is said to have been recommended by Uvedale to William Edington, Bishop of Winchester, and then by those two friends to have been made known to King Edward III. There seems to be no reason for supposing that he ever studied at Oxford, as has been affirmed by some later writers. It is evident, indeed, that he had not had a university education and that he never pretended to any skill in the favourite scholastic learning of his age. His strength lay in his natural genius, in his knowledge of mankind and talent for business; and probably the only art or science he had much cultivated was architecture.

Part 3: Rise to Power


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