William Fitz Stephen - Encyclopedia




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WILLIAM FITZ STEPHEN (d. c. 1190), biographer of Thomas Becket and royal justice, was a Londoner by origin. He entered Becket's service at some date between 1154 and 1162. The chancellor employed Fitz Stephen in legal work, made him sub-deacon of his chapel and treated him as a confidant. Fitz Stephen appeared with Becket at the council of Northampton (1164) when the disgrace of the archbishop was published to the world; but he did not follow Becket into exile. He joined Becket's household again in 1170, and was a spectator of the tragedy in Canterbury cathedral. To his pen we owe the most valuable among the extant biographies of his patron. Though he writes as a partisan he gives a precise account of the differences between Becket and the king. This biography contains a description of London which is our chief authority for the social life of the city in the 12th century. Despite his connexion with Becket, William subsequently obtained substantial preferment from the king. He was sheriff of Gloucestershire from 1171 to 1190, and a royal justice in the years1176-1180and 1189-1190.

See his "Vita S. Thomae" in J. C. Robertson's Materials for the History of Thomas Becket, vol. iii. (Rolls series, 1877). Sir T. D. Hardy, in his Catalogue of Materials, ii. 330 (Rolls series, 1865), discusses the manuscripts of this biography and its value. W. H. Hutton, St Thomas of Canterbury, pp. 272-274 (1889), gives an account of the author. (H. W. C. D.)

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