Monday, May 18, 2020

William Longchamp – Richard the Lionheart’s Chancellor

by Charlene Newcomb

Richard I
Whilst preparing to depart on crusade in 1189, King Richard, the Lionheart, invested the authority to act in his name in the Bishop of Ely, William Longchamp. A cleric likely trained at Bologna, Longchamp had been a trusted advisor to Richard and had served him as chancellor of Aquitaine. Longchamp’s family was Norman and not of high birth, but his father had risen in power during the reign of Henry II and held lands in Normandy and in England.

To serve as co-justiciar with Longchamp, Richard named the Bishop of Durham, Hugh of Le Puiset; and three others, William Marshal, Hugh Bardolf, and William Briwerre, were named associate justiciars. Richard is not known as being a capable administrator and he failed to delineate the specific authority of these men, which led to major upheaval in 1190-91.

For the sum of £3000, Richard named Longchamp chancellor and asked the Pope to make him papal legate to England. To his contemporaries, William Longchamp became “a man with three titles and three heads,” exercising power as justiciar, chancellor, and papal legate. His critics claim he was greedy, ambitious, and unscrupulous and he eyed co-justiciar Le Puiset’s authority with envy. Longchamp did not know the language, did not adapt to English customs, and “openly professed his contempt for the English.” The author of a biography of the gentle Bishop Hugh of Lincoln writes that Richard “left behind a little lame, black foreigner, Longchamp…who had been adviser, schemer, general brain box and jackal to Lion-heart.” Perhaps Richard did not know Longchamp as well as he thought.

Contemporary sources note that Longchamp was short, had a limp, and “possessed the face of a dog.” It did not take the chancellor long to alienate his co-justiciars or the English barons after Richard left England behind. The chronicler Roger de Hoveden writes “the said bishop of Ely, legate of the Apostolic See, chancellor of our lord the king, and justiciary of England, oppressed the clergy and the people, confounding right and wrong; nor was there a person in the kingdom who dared to offer resistance to his authority, even in word.” The chancellor deposed Le Puiset, had him arrested and forcibly taken to London. He appointed numerous relatives to high positions, removed sheriffs and castellans, and suspended clergy.

Lincoln Castle
As Longchamp attempted to consolidate his own power, many barons turned to Richard’s brother John. John, who eyed Richard’s crown and expected to be named his heir, garnered the support of these men. When Longchamp removed Gerard de Camville as Sheriff of Lincolnshire, de Camville joined forces with John to take over Nottingham and Tickhill Castles, whilst his wife, Nichola de la Haye, held Lincoln Castle against Longchamp’s forces in a 40 day siege in 1191. Compromise was reached due to the efforts of Walter de Coutances, archbishop of Rouen, whom Richard had sent back to England from Sicily after hearing of the many complaints against Longchamp.

For a very brief period it appeared that Longchamp and John might come to a peaceful coexistence after John secured word that the chancellor would support him as heir should Richard not return from the crusade. But Longchamp made a fatal error, taking action against Richard’s half-brother Geoffrey, the archbishop of York, when he landed at Dover.

Dover Castle
Longchamp denied ordering the rough treatment against the archbishop, but his supporters physically dragged Geoffrey from the sanctuary of a church (recalling Beckett’s murder 20 years earlier). John and the justiciars called Longchamp to appear to explain his action, but he fled and barricaded himself in the Tower of London for three days before surrendering. The bishops excommunicated him and the justiciars removed him from office and ordered him to relinquish custody of his castles.

Longchamp attempted to flee and, according to one of his enemies, Bishop Hugh of Nonant, he was caught trying to board a boat in Dover dressed as a woman. De Hoveden writes that “He chose to hasten on foot from the heights of the castle down to the sea-shore, clothed in in a woman’s green gown of enormous length instead of the priest’s gown of azure colour… a hood on his head instead of mitre… [he] became so effeminate in mind… Having seated himself on the shore upon a rock, a fisherman, who immediately took him for a common woman, came up to him; and having come nearly naked up from the sea, perhaps wishing to be made warm, he ran up to the wretch, and embracing his neck … began pulling him about, upon which he discovered that he was a man.”

Incarcerated for several days, Longchamp was released and sailed to Flanders at the end of October 1191. Armed with a message from the Pope, he landed at Dover the following year and attempted to be reinstated to his former position, but was ordered by Queen Eleanor and the justiciars to leave the country.

When word of Richard’s imprisonment became public knowledge in 1193, Longchamp ended up at the king’s side in Germany, negotiating for terms with the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI. He delivered information to the justiciars in England about the ransom agreed to by the king, bringing Richard’s instructions about collection and delivery of the money. Richard sent him to negotiate with King Philip and later with John. Longchamp was with the king when he released from captivity in Mainz in February 1194, and returned to England with him.

Longchamp continued to serve Richard on numerous diplomatic missions to Germany and France. His last task for the king was to go to Rome and ask the Pope to lift an interdict the Archbishop of Rouen had placed on Richard. Longchamp fell ill on the journey and died in January 1197.


Richard being anointed during his coronation. by Unknown. - A 13th-century chronicle. Public Domain,

Gate at Lincoln Castle. by Rodhullandemu - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Dover Castle. by Misterzee - Own work, CC BY 3.0,


Appleby, J.T. (1965). England Without Richard. Ithaca : Cornell University Press.

Lloyd, A. (1973). King John. Newton Abbot Eng.: David & Charles.

Marson, Charles L. (1901). Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln: a short story of one of the makers of Medieval England. London : Edward Arnold.

Norgate, K. (1902). John Lackland. London : Macmillan.

Turner, R.V. (2009). King John: England’s Evil King? Stroud, Gloucestershire : The History Press.

Turner, R.V. “Longchamp, William de (d. 1197)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2007 [, accessed 24 April 2016]

This is an Editor's Choice from the #EHFA archives, originally published June 4, 2016.


Charlene Newcomb is the author of the Battle Scars series, 12th century historical fiction filled with war, political intrigue, and a knightly romance of forbidden love set during the reign of Richard the Lionheart. She is currently working on a new medieval tale set during King John’s reign; and in summer 2020 will publish Echoes of the Storm, a sci fi/space opera filled with rebels and traitors and battles and romance in a galaxy far, far away (no, not Star Wars). Sign up for Char’s Newsletter for exclusives, including a free short story, and other special offers. Find her books on Amazon & connect with Char on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.


  1. Fantastic post, Char. I'm rather getting that 12th century England was steeped in corruption and greed. Not surprising, then, that Robin Hood became such a folk hero.

    1. Thank you, Cryssa. Like many other eras, the 12th century had its share of greedy men. The original Robin tales place the 'outlaw' in the 14th century, but it is just too easy to tie him to bad King John. I believe those stories began to appear in the 1600s, but it was the novel Ivanhoe that seemed to make the idea of Robin Hood in a 12th century setting stick.

  2. Good summary of Longchamp's career, but I would be interested in your analysis of him as a man. He appears to have been very useful to Richard both in Aquitaine and during his captivity, so what explains his utter failure a chancellor? Was he, like Becket, a man who could not cope with power? I.e. it went entirely to his head? Or do you have another explanation? I don't buy the argument that Richard was a "poor administrator" -- he was a brilliant planner and exceptionally financially astute, as the entire crusade planning proves (not to mention selling Cyprus twice!)But Henry misjudged Becket too. Maybe there Richard was too much like his father, in both good and bad.

    1. From what I understand, Longchamp did not serve long in Aquitaine, having come into public service and appointed shortly before Henry II's death. I'd suggest he may have been an able administrator - and definitely was adept at negotiation - but greed and power must have gone to his head. He had little or no justification for removing people from offices though those moves generated more money to support the crusade (after Richard himself had already sold many of them when he became king). We might have a very different picture of Longchamp had Richard not gone on Crusade. You're correct that Richard was a brilliant planner and understood how he could raise monies for the Crusade. He also tended to choose his justiciars wisely - except for Longchamp - but I don't feel we truly get to see him as an administrator because he spent his entire reign at war in the Holy Land and then on the continent to secure his family's realm. Had Philip not waged war against him, we might have seen a very different Lionheart. Definitely a bit of the old man in him.


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