William de Vere, Bishop of Hereford

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William de Vere, Bishop of Hereford

Birthplace: Haddingham, Essex, England
Death: Died in Hereford, Herefordshire, England
Place of Burial: Hereford, Herefordshire, England, United Kingdom
Immediate Family:

Son of Alberic/Aubrey de Vere, Lord of Hedingham Castle and Adelize de Clare
Brother of Rohese de Vere, Countess of Essex; Felice de Vere, Baroness Rayne; Alberic / Aubrey de Vere; Sir Robert de Vere, lord of Twywell; Alice de Vere and 5 others

Occupation: clergy, literary patron
Managed by: Douglas John Nimmo
Last Updated:

About William de Vere, Bishop of Hereford

William de Vere (died 1198) was Bishop of Hereford and an Augustinian canon.

  • parents: probably the fourth of five sons of Aubrey de Vere II and Adeliza of Clare

biographical notes

The family's principal seat was Hedingham in Essex, but they also had a house at Great Bentley, not far from Colchester. William was probably born no later than 1120, since he was brought up at the court of Henry I and Queen Adeliza; it may have been thanks to Adeliza, a patron of French literature, that he developed the interest in Anglo-Norman verse that was to be a marked feature of his life. Other information about his education is lacking; he presumably received schooling appropriate for a cleric, and had been ordained in at least minor orders before his father's death. He appears not to have attended higher schools, unlike many other members of the higher clergy in England in the twelfth century. ...

It may well have been during the year 1178, or perhaps 1182–5, that William visited the Holy Land. ....William de Vere was accompanied on his trip by a certain Gilbert li Butiliers (possibly to be identified with the Geoffrey pincerna who occurs with William in several charters for Waltham), and when the latter stopped in Constantinople on the return journey he acquired a copy of the Epistle of Prester John, again according to the Yale manuscript's epilogue. The Epistle had originally been written in the 1160s, probably in Germany, as a spoof to annoy the Byzantine emperor Manuel I Comnenus with stories of a Christian empire even greater than his own; it had a wide circulation and had already been adapted by the time Gilbert encountered it ...

Herefordshire in the 1180s was an important centre of literary activity, especially in Anglo-Norman French: Walter Map had been given a prebend at Hereford Cathedral by Bishop Foliot, and the poet Hue de Rotelande lived at Credenhill near Hereford. Bishop William seems to have acted as a patron to Simund de Freine, one of whose works was an Anglo-Norman Vie de Saint Georges making use of material brought from Lydda, for which William could have been the source. The Vie de Saint Georges adds anti-Muslim polemic to its account of the saint's life and martyrdom, suggesting that the work was intended as crusading propaganda, a cause that would have been close to William's heart. ...

William de Vere died, probably at Hereford, on Christmas eve 1198 and was buried in Hereford Cathedral, where he is commemorated by a late-thirteenth-century tomb effigy.

Epistle of Prester John

In the twelfth century, a mysterious letter began to circulate around Europe. It told of a magical kingdom in the East that was in danger of being overrun by infidels and barbarians. This letter was supposedly written by a king known as Prester John.

Throughout the Middle Ages, the legend of Prester John sparked geographic exploration across Asia and Africa. The letter first surfaced in Europe as early as the 1160s, claiming to be from Prester (a corrupted form of the word Presbyter or Priest) John. There were over one-hundred different versions of the letter published over the following few centuries. Most often, the letter was addressed to Emanuel I, the Byzantine Emperor of Rome, though other editions were also often addressed to the Pope or the King of France.

The letters said that Prester John ruled a huge Christian kingdom in the East, comprising the "three Indias." His letters told of his crime-free and vice-free peaceful kingdom, where "honey flows in our land and milk everywhere abounds." (Kimble, 130) Prester John also "wrote" that he was besieged by infidels and barbarians and he needed the help of Christian European armies. In 1177, Pope Alexander III sent his friend Master Philip to find Prester John; he never did.

The letters

  1. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/presterjohn.asp in Latin
  2. http://www.graveworm.com/occult/texts/pjohn.html in English translation (abridged)


  1. Barrow, Julia. “Vere, William de (d. 1198).” Julia BarrowOxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Oxford: OUP, Oct. 2007. 22 Nov. 2012 <http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/95042>.


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William de Vere, Bishop of Hereford's Timeline

Haddingham, Essex, England
December 24, 1198
Age 78
Hereford, Herefordshire, England
Age 78
Hereford, Herefordshire, England, United Kingdom