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Walter de Merton
Denomination Catholic
Senior posting
See Diocese of Rochester
Title Bishop of Rochester
Period in office 1274–1277
Predecessor Lawrence of St Martin
Successor John Bradfield
Date of birth c1205
Place of birth probably Merton
Date of death 27 October 1277

Walter de Merton (c. 1205 – 27 October 1277) was Bishop of Rochester and founder of Merton College, Oxford.



Walter was born probably at Merton in Surrey or educated there; hence the surname. He came of a land-owning family at Basingstoke; beyond that there is no definite information as to the date or place of birth. We know that his mother was Christina Fitz-Oliver and his father William, and that in 1237 both parents were dead, and Walter was a clerk in Holy orders. In 1241 Walter already held a number of livings in various parts of the country; in 1256 he was an agent for Walter of Kirkham Bishop of Durham in a lawsuit; in 1259 prebendary of St. Paul's, London; and in 1262 prebendary of Exeter and canon of Wells. Walter was also prothonotary of the chancery in 1258; and in 1261 Henry III made him chancellor, in place of Nicholas of Ely.[1]

It was in this same year that Walter first set aside two manors in Surrey for the priory at Merton, for the support of "scholars residing at the schools". This was the beginning of Merton College. In 1264 Walter drew up statutes for a "house of the scholars of Merton", at Malden in Surrey; ten years later these scholars were transferred to Oxford, and a permanent house established. Merton College, thus founded and endowed by Walter, is the earliest example of collegiate life at Oxford. Walter's statutes provided for a common corporate life under the rule of a warden, but as vows were to be taken and scholars entering a monastic order forfeited their scholarship, the college was really a place of training for the secular clergy.

While labouring for the establishment of Merton College, Walter was removed from the chancellorship when the barons triumphed in 1263,[1] but after the civil war was restored to the government. He is mentioned as a justiciar in 1271 and he was re-appointed as Lord Chancellor on Henry III's death in 1272.[1] For the first two years of Edward I, Walter was in all but name regent of England during the King's absence abroad. On Edward's return in 1274, Walter was dismissed as Lord Chancellor in favour of Robert Burnell,[1] but was rewarded with the Bishopric of Rochester. He was elected in late July and consecrated on 21 October 1274.[2][3]

Freed of the responsibilities of government, Walter turned his attention to his college again. He redrafted the statutes and moved the scholars permanently to Oxford. They were established on the site of the parish church of St John whose advowson he had obtained in the early 1260s and where he had been buying adjoining houses and halls since 1264.

For the last three years of his life Walter divided his time between his duties in Rochester and the supervision of his fledging academic house. It was on a journey back from Oxford in 1277, while fording the Medway, that he fell from his horse; he died two days later on 27 October 1277[2] from the effects of the accident. He was buried in Rochester Cathedral, and is described in the Annales monastici as a man of liberality and great worldly learning, ever ready in his assistance to the religious orders.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Powicke Handbook of British Chronology p. 83
  2. ^ a b Powicke Handbook of British Chronology p. 248
  3. ^ British History Online Bishops of Rochester accessed on 30 October 2007


External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Nicholas of Ely
Lord Chancellor
Succeeded by
Nicholas of Ely
Preceded by
Richard Middleton
Lord Chancellor
Succeeded by
Robert Burnell
Religious titles
Preceded by
Lawrence of St Martin
Bishop of Rochester
Succeeded by
John Bradfield


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