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William FitzHerbert

'rotten from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.’
[Bernard ‘of Clairvaux’s verdict on William FitzHerbert]

William was at the centre of controversy in 1142, when King Stephen (1135-1154) appointed him archbishop of York. William’s opponents included the Cistercians, who accused him of simony and unchaste living, and sought his removal from office. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote to the pope, Innocent II, denouncing FitzHerbert as 'rotten from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.' (1) The abbots of Fountains and Rievaulx, Richard and William, voiced their opposition and joined a delegation to Rome in 1143. When Henry Murdac succeeded to the abbacy of Fountains, he played an active role in opposing William. This had serious repercussions for Fountains, and in 1146 William’s supporters launched a violent attack on the abbey, burning the buildings. The following year William was deposed by the Cistercian pope, Eugenius III, who installed Henry Murdac to the see of York. This new appointment provoked an outrage and many, including King Stephen and the bishop of Winchester, refused to acknowledge the new archbishop. Murdac was forced to spend five of his six years as archbishop in Ripon.

Following Henry's death in 1153, William was reinstalled as archbishop and made his peace with the Fountains community. He asked for the monks’ forgiveness, confirmed their possessions and exchanged the kiss of peace, thereby restoring harmony between Fountains and the see of York. William did not, however, remain long in office. He died only a few weeks later and it was rumoured that poison had been put in the chalice he used to celebrate the Mass. Miracles were reported at William’s tomb, and following an investigation led by the abbots of Fountains and Rievaulx, William was canonized in 1227, by Pope Honorius III. The magnificent William window in York Minster today commemorates the saint.