William Smyth

William Smyth (or Smith) (c. 1460 – 2 January 1514) was Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield from 1493 to 1496 and then Bishop of Lincoln until his death. He held political offices, the most important being Lord President of the Council of Wales and the Marches. He became very wealthy and was a benefactor of a number of institutions. He was a co-founder of Brasenose College, Oxford and endowed a grammar school in the village of his birth in Lancashire.

William Smyth
Bishop of Lincoln
Portrait of William Smith founder of Brasenose College Oxford by John Faber the Elder.jpg
Appointed6 November 1496
Term ended2 January 1514
PredecessorJohn Russell
SuccessorThomas Wolsey
Consecration3 February 1493
by John Morton
Personal details
Bornc. 1460
Farnworth, Widnes, Lancashire
Died2 January 1514
Buckden Palace
DenominationRoman Catholic
Previous postBishop of Coventry and Lichfield

Early life and educationEdit

Smyth was born in the south Lancashire village of Farnworth in the parish of Prescot, which now falls within the town of Widnes in the Borough of Halton. Smyth was the fourth son of Robert Smyth of Peel Hall.[1][2] He was allegedly brought up during his youth[3] at nearby Knowsley Hall, the home of Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby. At this time Stanley was married to his second wife Lady Margaret, Countess of Richmond.[4] Lady Margaret was the mother of the future Henry VII by her previous marriage to Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond,[5] and she was to have an important influence in Smyth's life.[6]

Smyth went to the University of Oxford.[7] His college is uncertain, being either Oriel or Lincoln, or both in succession.[8] In 1476 he gained the degree of bachelor of canon law and by 1492 he had received the degree of bachelor of civil law.[6]

Ecclesiastical lifeEdit

On 24 September 1485, one month after the battle of Bosworth and the consequent accession to the throne of Henry VII, Smyth was given the benefice of the deanery of Wimborne, Dorset, where Lady Margaret's parents were buried. On 20 October 1485 he was made a canon and prebendary of St Stephen's Chapel in the Palace of Westminster, where he became dean in 1490.[6] He later obtained the livings of Combe Martin, Devon, of Great Grimsby[9] and on 14 June 1492 he was instituted as rector of Cheshunt, Hertfordshire.[10] It is not possible to be sure about all his preferments because of his common name.[6]

On 1 October 1492 he became bishop of Coventry and Lichfield and was consecrated on 3 February 1493 by Archbishop Morton.[6] On 6 November 1496 he was translated to the diocese of Lincoln.[11]

Political lifeEdit

On 20 September 1485 Smyth gained a place in the Court of Chancery as keeper of the hanaper which gave him a salary for life.[12] In 1486 he obtained a grant for the custody of the daughters of Edward IV.[6] In 1493 Smyth was appointed a member of Prince Arthur's Council of Wales and the Marches. In 1500 he was made Chancellor of the University of Oxford.[6]

Prince Arthur died in April 1502 and in August of that year Smyth became Lord President of the Council, giving him full responsibility for the exercise of royal power in Wales. He continued to hold this post until at least 1512 or, possibly, until his death. By August 1502 he was no longer Chancellor of Oxford University.[6]


In November 1495 Smyth refounded the hospital of St John the Baptist in Lichfield and added to it a school for poor children.[6] In 1500 he founded the Cuerdley Chapel which was added to the south aisle of St Luke's Church, Farnworth for the use of his tenants from Cuerdley.[8] The nearby village of Cuerdley was the seat of the very ancient Smith family of Cuerdley his armorial progenitors[13] from which the renowned Captain John Smith also claimed his lineage.[14] He purchased land including a footpath from the village to the church to allow entry for his tenants by a separate door to avoid contact with the residents of Farnworth at the time of the plague.[15] In 1507 he made an endowment of £350 to found a grammar school in Farnworth, the village of his birth.[16]

Also in 1507 Smyth founded a fellowship in Oriel College, Oxford, and gave manors to Lincoln College. Around the same time he and Sir Richard Sutton set out to found a new college in Oxford. They rebuilt Brasenose Hall, added other existing halls to it, and having obtained a charter in 1512, called it "The King's haule and college of Brasennose".[9] This is now Brasenose College. Smyth's intention at the college was to benefit clergy from the north of England. The twelve fellows of the college were to have been born in the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield, or to have come from Lancashire, and particularly from the area of his birthplace. He gave to the college his lands of Cold Norton and, by his will, a considerable legacy of lands, plate, vestments, manuscripts and books.[6]

Reputation and legacyEdit

Smyth's ecclesiastical, legal and political duties resulted in his having a very busy life, only at times being resident in his diocese. He was very wealthy and was described by Hugh Latimer as being one of the "unpreaching prelates"; no sermons by him survive.[6] He indulged in nepotism. Matthew Smyth was the first principal of Brasenose College,[9] a William Smyth was archdeacon of Northampton and then of Lincoln and another William Smyth was appointed to St John's Hospital at Lichfield.[6]

William Smyth died on 2 January 1514[11] at Buckden Palace, now in Cambridgeshire, one of the residences of the bishops of Lincoln. In addition to bequests to Brasenose College and Lincoln Cathedral, he made provision for a hospital at Banbury. He is buried in Lincoln Cathedral.[6]


  1. ^ Poole, p21
  2. ^ Fishwick, Henry; Ditchfield, P. H. (Peter Hampson) (1909). Memorials of Old Lancashire (1909). v2: p. 262
  3. ^ Wise, Charles (1891). Rockingham Castle and the Watsons, p. 191.
  4. ^ Poole, p. 22
  5. ^ E. M. G. Routh, (1924) Lady Margaret: A Memoir of Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond & Derby, Mother of Henry VII, London: Oxford University Press e-text
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Bowler, Margaret. "Smith, William (d. 1514)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/25920. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  7. ^ Alumni Oxonienses 1500-1714, Smith-Sowton
  8. ^ a b Foster, Alan (1981). A History of Farnworth Village and its Parish Church. pp. 25–28.
  9. ^ a b c ‹See Tfd›  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain‹See Tfd›Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Smyth, William". Encyclopædia Britannica. 25 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 283.
  10. ^ Poole, p25
  11. ^ a b Fryde, et al., p. 256
  12. ^ Poole, p. 23
  13. ^ Reade, Compton (1904). The Smith family : being a popular account of most branches of the name--however spelt-- from the fourteenth century downwards, with numerous pedigrees now published for the first time. pp. 36, 98 and 143.
  14. ^ Churton, Ralph (1800),The lives of William Smyth, Bishop of Lincoln, and Sir Richard Sutton. p. 5
  15. ^ Poole, p. 75
  16. ^ Poole, p. 27


  • Fryde, E. B.; Greenway, D. E.; Porter, S.; Roy, I. (1996). Handbook of British Chronology (Third revised ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-56350-X.
  • Poole, Charles (1906). Old Widnes and its Neighbourhood. Widnes: Exors. of T.S. Swale.
Academic offices
Preceded by
John Morton
Chancellor of the University of Oxford
Succeeded by
Richard Mayew
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
John Hales
Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield
Succeeded by
John Arundel
Preceded by
John Russell
Bishop of Lincoln
Succeeded by
Thomas Wolsey