Chancellor Longchamps

Before departing on crusade, King Richard appointed William Longchamps as Chancellor.

Chancellor Longchamps
  • As soon as King Richard learned of the trouble in England, he released Walter, Archbishop of Rouen, from his crusader vows and sent him home from Sicily.
  • Although Walter was armed with a pouch full of letters written by the King authorising him to act in all matters, Longchamp refused to recognise his authority and told Walter: "The letters could be false or obtained by fraud . . . and anyway, I know best the King's mind!"
  • This is a case where the pen is not mightier than the sword - Walter may possess the King's letters but Longchamp held all the important castles and commanded an army of mercenary soldiers.
  • This page reports on the subsequent Power Struggle, a Compromise Agreement, the Fleeing of Longchamps and Farewell! William Longchamps.
Power Struggle

Powerless to act on his own, Walter enlisted the aid of Earl John who sent letters to all the leading barons and clergy in the country asking for their support against Longchamp.As usual, Longchamp himself brought matters to a head when he ordered Gerard of Camville to surrender Lincoln castle to him. Since Gerard paid 700 marks to King Richard for the office of Sheriff of Lincolnshire and the custody of Lincoln castle he was reluctant to comply. Leaving his wife Nichola in charge of the castle, Gerard went to Earl John for help.

Diverted for a while by an uprising on the Welsh border, Longchamp suddenly returned with his mercenaries to lay siege to Lincoln castle - loyalty to Longchamp is paid for at the rate of 2s a day for a knight, 2d a day for an infantryman and 2d a day each for the 40 miners trying to undermine the walls. The brave lady Nichola stoutly resisted.

Nottingham CastleThis was the moment for which Earl John had been waiting. He attacked the royal castles of Tickhill and Nottingham (pictured left) and surprisingly took both of them after a short siege. Both castles are formidable strongholds and the ease with which they capitulated brings into question the loyalty of their constables to King Richard - rumours that gold quietly changed hands freely circulate in Nottingham.

Earl John ordered Longchamp to lift his siege of Lincoln castle. "I will visit you with a rod of iron," his message read.

In his turn, Longchamp ordered Earl John to surrenderTickhill and Nottingham castles and demanded that Earl John stand trial for breaking his oath to his brother that he would stay out of the country for three years. Longchamp was obviously not up to date with the news - it was a good year since the King had released Earl John from this oath.

Acting as a go-between, Archbishop Walter carried messages between the two, praising Longchamp's determination when in his presence and fanning Earl John's ambitions when he spoke with him. Earl and bishop finally agreed to meet with all the barons on 28 July at Winchester. Earl John took the precaution of stationing 4,000 Welsh mercenaries close by in order to rescue him in case of treachery. Likewise, Longchamp summoned up a levy of 2,000 knights and a number of Welsh mercenaries - all paid for out of the Exchequer.

Compromise Agreement

Despite the rattling of swords, a compromise agreement was drawn up. Earl John was to surrender Nottingham and Tickhill castles to William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. Men of proven loyalty to King Richard would hold all other royal castles. No more castles were to be built and Gerard of Camville was to be restored as Sheriff of Lincolnshire. A proviso was added: if Chancellor Longchamp did not mend his ways and continued to exceed his lawful powers then the castles would be immediately handed back to Earl John.

The agreement made other provisions: no bishop, abbot, earl or baron would lose any of his lands at the pleasure of the lord King's justiciars - he would be judged according to proper custom at the lord King's courts. Earl John also had to observe the same proviso in his territories, agreeing that where royal justiciars did not visit, he would no longer shelter outlaws or the King's enemies and would ensure that they stood trial in the King's court.

Both Earl John and Bishop Longchamp swore before Archbishop Walter "in good faith and without evil intent to keep the treaty."

But trouble reared again when Geoffrey, the King's half-brother, became confirmed as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Fleeing of Longchamps

One of the messages that Queen Eleanor delivered to the new Pope from King Richard, on her way home from Sicily, confirmed the election of Richard's half-brother Geoffrey as Archbishop of York. When Chancellor Longchamp, enjoying the revenues of the See of York, learned of this news, he ordered the Sheriffs of the southern counties to keep Geoffrey out of the country. Geoffrey landed at Dover ready to take up his new office but when Longchamp's men tried to arrest him, he fled to St. Martin's priory.

Longchamp's knights then formed an armed guard around the monastery and ordered Geoffrey to leave the country. It was not a dissimilar situation to St. Thomas's fateful confrontation with the knights of King Henry II thirty years ago, only this time farce was added. In a show of piety, the knights first bowed their knees and beat their breasts three times before dragging the Archbishop along the floor and out of the door - Geoffrey excommunicated them as his head banged upon the floor.

They offered him a horse but he refused to mount it, saying: "The horse belongs to excommunicated men with whom I will have no dealings." Clinging firmly to his processional cross, he was half-pushed, half-dragged through the mud to Dover castle where he was imprisoned. In his cell he indignantly refused all food from those he had excommunicated on the way.

Every day Longchamp sent messages ordering him to swear fealty to the King and himself, offering to provide him with ships if he returned to Normandy. Geoffrey adamantly refused to reply. The news of Geoffrey's imprisonment spread like wildfire. Half-brother to the King, valiant warrior against the Scots, Geoffrey is well liked by English people. Did he not, alone of all King Henry's sons, stay with his dying father to the end, pillowing his head on his breast and swishing away the flies from his face? His treatment by an arrogant foreigner, grandson of a runaway serf, brought nothing but indignation - Longchamp's final act of folly had united everyone in the realm against him.

The monks of Canterbury wrote to Longchamp demanding that he explain his behaviour, invoking "the blood of our glorious martyr St. Thomas."

The Bishop of Lincoln excommunicated the Constable of Dover castle.

Overwhelmed by protests from bishops and barons, Chancellor Longchamp realised the predicament that he had landed himself in and pleaded that he was not responsible for Geoffrey's treatment. He finally sent an order for his release.

A freed Geoffrey prayed for a long time at the tomb of St. Thomas in Canterbury cathedral before setting off for London where the clergy and people welcomed him with honour, escorting him in solemn procession to St. Paul's.

Meanwhile, Earl John summoned all the bishops and barons to a meeting at Reading. Longchamp did set out for the meeting from Windsor castle but after four miles thought better of it and turned back. Before the assembly Archbishop Geoffrey described his treatment by the Chancellor, and Walter of Coutance showed his ignored letters of authority written by King Richard in Sicily.

Longchamp pleaded that he was too ill to attend and his spokesman, the Earl of Arundel, not surprisingly, had great difficulty in finding a reply. Longchamp then tried to bribe Earl John. The earl is never offended by the offer of money but saw no advantage in it. When the barons and Earl John moved on Windsor castle, Longchamp fled to London, summoning a meeting of the leading citizens in the Guildhall. Urging them to close their gates to Earl John, he told them that the earl was planning to seize the realm. They didn't believe him so he took refuge in the Tower of London.

It was then that the citizens of London, backed by the bishops and barons, deprived Longchamp of his office of Chancellor and proclaimed Earl John 'Governor of the whole realm.' Longchamp made a promise not to leave the country.

Three weeks later, Bishop Longchamp became a joke throughout the kingdom. Disguised as a woman with his hood pulled down over his face, Longchamp secretly waited on the shore at Dover for his servants to find him a ship. A fisherman came up and tried to seduce him by putting his left arm around his neck and pushing his other hand under his gown to surprisingly reveal his sex. He summoned his mates to admire this marvel masquerading as a woman but the bishop's servants drove them away.

A woman then came up to him, fingered his gown and asked the price but Longchamp could not answer because he could not speak English. She pulled back his hood and seeing his face, promptly fetched her friends. This time his servants could do nothing as a mob dragged him through the streets of Dover. After they had held him prisoner in a cellar for a week, Earl John ordered his release and the ex-Chancellor boarded a ship to Flanders.

Farewell! William Longchamp

Had to go of course, everyone has suffered enough. Having lost all support, all respect, he even threw his dignity to the winds by dressing up as a woman in a farcical display on Dover beach. He may have been appointed by King Richard but he brought about his own downfall by his own arrogance and personal extravagance. His lofty disdain, his emulation of a monarch, his contempt for the English as he travelled around the country with his pompous retinue antagonised all of the King's supporters. No wonder the barons sided with Earl John against him!

He abused his power, squandered money, pushed forward his own family fortunes - he made one of his brothers Sheriff of Herefordshire and another Sheriff of Yorkshire - and high-handedly ignored letters sent by the King. You can surmise the amount of the bishop's immense possessions from the size of his retinue. On his last visit to Nottingham castle he was accompanied by a cavalcade of a thousand followers that included throngs of knights and foot-soldiers - most of them mercenaries. Numbered in his train were a dozen baggage-wagons, more than a score of tents and endless pack horses. Hangers-on included jugglers, minstrels, mimic dancers, players and prostitutes, marshals of the prostitutes, confectioners, barbers, pimps and other parasites.

And the bishop never travels without his hounds, hawks, huntsmen and falconers. His own eight personal wagons were full to capacity: two were loaded with ale; two served to accommodate a host of domestics who personally attend his every need; and four carried the vessels and furniture of his chapel, kitchen requisites, his bed-chamber, and abundant silver plate and wardrobe - the bishop possesses twenty changes of apparel!

Following the wagons came twelve sumpter horses, each carrying a groom with a monkey sat between his knees. The squires came next carrying their knight's shields and leading their war horses. A hullabaloo of shouting, jostling and brawling surrounded the whole train.

What cannot be denied is that Bishop Longchamp did, in the King's absence, apply zeal to the task of governing England. But did it need all this ostentation? No doub t he had the King's favour and perhaps he was even competent but he was hopelessly out of touch with ordinary people and had a gift for creating trouble. His imprisonment of Geoffrey, the King's brother and Archbishop of York, outraged every God-fearing soul in the kingdom but then what can you expect of a jumped up jack-in-office, the reputed grandson of a runaway serf?

Even after he had sworn an oath not to leave the country - his brothers were held hostage on his assurance - he made a ludicrous attempt to leave England. Perhaps we ought to be thankful that Longchamp brought a cavalcade of much-needed tears of merriment to everyone at a time of crisis throughout the kingdom, though most people believe that England is far better off now that this jester has finally departed the realm.

Ed's View

'Grant me your hand in marriage and your lands in Essex, Surrey, Nottinghamshire . . . '

King Richard Sets Off
Two Kings in Sicily
Siege of Acre
Marriage Arranged
King Richard Weds
Arrival at Acre
Acre Falls
Battle of Arsuf
Retreat from Holy City
King Richard's Crusade


Saladin Defeated at Jaffa
King Richard Captured
Eleanor of Aquitaine
William Marshall
Earl John
Chancellor Longchamps
Double Dealing
Attack on Nottm. Castle


Sherwood Times