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Northolt, William oflocked

(d. 1190)
  • M. G. Cheney

Northolt, William of (d. 1190), bishop of Worcester, took his name from Northolt, formerly Northall, in Middlesex, where the chapter of St Paul's held property. Nothing is known of his family or education. He is never called magister, and in later life he was described as wise as a result of experience rather than of learning. He spent most of his working life in the service of three archbishops of Canterbury. He became a clerk of Archbishop Theobald (d. 1161), and bought property on the archbishop's fee in London in 1145–50. He was a canon of St Paul's, holding the prebend of Neasden, from about 1163, and was parson of Hanwell in Ealing, in the gift of the bishop of London, by 1177. In 1181 he was farming the chapter's manor of West Drayton. He was evidently sufficiently prosperous to be worth asking for money for the exiled archbishop in the 1160s; it is not known whether he responded. He did not serve Archbishop Thomas Becket but he respected Becket's authority when the announcement was made in his presence in St Paul's on Ascension day 1169 that Becket had excommunicated the bishop of London—as a canon of St Paul's Northolt was taking part in the service, and had read the gospel, but proceeded no further. Subsequently he entered the service of Archbishop Richard (d. 1184), probably soon after the archbishop's return to England in August 1174, and became his seneschal. He was in constant attendance on Richard, and Richard's successor, Archbishop Baldwin (d. 1190), until his own election to Worcester. In 1177 Northolt became archdeacon of Gloucester, possibly after a request to Roger, bishop of Worcester (d. 1179), from Gilbert Foliot, bishop of London, but he is seldom recorded in the diocese of Worcester. He also served the king, acting as custodian of the vacant bishopric of Rochester in 1184–5, and of Worcester in 1185–6.

Northolt was elected bishop of Worcester on about 25 May 1186, and consecrated at Westminster on 21 September. Trusted by the king and the archbishop, he was one of three bishops chosen to negotiate with the monks of Canterbury about the archbishop's much disputed proposal to build a new church in honour of St Thomas. The monks suspected them all, and Gervase of Canterbury calls Northolt 'a snake in the path' (Works of Gervase of Canterbury, 1.349). In 1188 Northolt was again one of those sent to try to reach a settlement, but there is no indication of his separate activity. In his own diocese Northolt's practical ability led to successful action against the bishop of Hereford, who claimed to hold the manor of Inkberrow of the bishop of Worcester for half a knight's fee, instead of for a whole fee. The case came before the king at Kempsey, a manor of the bishop of Worcester, probably in March 1188; the bishop of Hereford withdrew his claim rather than face the verdict of the twenty-four knights who had been summoned. Gerald of Wales relates that Northolt banned a certain English love song, by announcements in synods and chapters, because a priest had accidentally sung the refrain in church. It is doubtful whether a particular song was forbidden, but the prohibition may be an early example of the ban on singing, dancing, and games in churchyards, which appears in synodal statutes from about 1214 onwards. The Worcester chronicle records the death of William of Northolt on 3 May 1190; he was commemorated on 4 May at Osney.


  • Fasti Angl., 1066–1300 [St Paul's, London]
  • A. Saltman, Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury (1956)
  • The historical works of Gervase of Canterbury, ed. W. Stubbs, 2 vols., Rolls Series, 73 (1879–80)
  • C. R. Cheney and B. E. A. Jones, eds., Canterbury, 1162–1190, English Episcopal Acta, 2 (1986)
  • M. G. Cheney and others, eds., Worcester, 1066–1212, English Episcopal Acta, 33 (2007)
  • Ann. mon., vol. 4
  • The letters of John of Salisbury, ed. and trans. H. E. Butler and W. J. Millor, rev. C. N. L. Brooke, OMT, 2: The later letters, 1163–1180 (1979) [Latin original with parallel Eng. text]
  • Letters and charters of Gilbert Foliot, ed. A. Morey and others (1967)
H. R. Luard, ed., , 5 vols., RS, 36 (1864–9)
Giraldi Cambrensis, ed. J. S. Brewer, J. F. Dimock, & G. F. Warner, 8 vols., RS, 21 (1861–91)
Selden Society
[J. Le Neve], , ed. D. E. Greenaway & J. S. Barrow, [8 vols] (1968–)