Born William Gifford in Hampshire to John Gifford, Esq., of Weston-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, and his wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir George Throckmorton, Knight of Coughton, Warwickshire, he was sent to Oxford in 1569, where he was entrusted to the care of John Bridgewater, President of Lincoln College, who was a Catholic at heart.
Gifford remained at Oxford for about four years, part of which time he spent in the celebrated boarding school kept by the Catholic physician, Dr Etheridge, where he had been placed on the compulsory retirement of Bridgewater for refusal to conform. After that period, Gifford, accompanied by his tutor, proceeded to the Catholic University of Louvain (1573), resumed there his studies, and took the degree of Master of arts. After having also obtained his baccalaureate in theology on the completion of a four-year course in that science under Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, Gifford was forced to quit Leuven owing to the disturbances in the Low Countries.
Gifford pursued his ecclesiastical studies at Paris, at the University of Reims, which he visited (1577) at the invitation of Cardinal William Allen, and at the English College at Rome, to which he was admitted as a student on 15 September 1579. Having been ordained priest in March 1582, he was recalled to Reims by Allen to be the professor of theology at the English College there.
The degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred on Gifford in December 1584 by the Jesuit University of Pont-à-Mousson (now the University of Nancy), after which, returning to Reims, Gifford taught theology at intervals for nearly twelve years. Upon Allen's elevation to the cardinalate, Gifford accompanied him to Rome in the capacity of chaplain, and it is said that during this visit he resided for a time in the household of Charles Borromeo. About this time (1597) Gifford was appointed to the deanery of Lille, which office Pope Clement VIII conferred on him at the urging, it is alleged, of the Archbishop of Milan. This dignity he retained for about ten years, and, after his withdrawal from Lille (c. 1606), he was made "Rector magnificus" of Reims University. In 1608, Gifford, who had always esteemed the Benedictines, and befriended them in many ways, took the habit of that order under the religious name of Gabriel of St Mary and subsequently became prior of the Monastery of St. Lawrence at Dieulouard (Dieulewart), now Ampleforth Abbey in England.
In 1611, Gifford was sent to Brittany to lay the foundation of a small community of his order at St. Malo. He was favourably received by the bishop, and a chair of divinity was assigned to him. He was one of the nine definitors chosen in 1617 to arrange the terms of union among the Benedictine congregations in England, of which province he was elected first president in May of the same year. In 1618, Gifford was consecrated coadjutor bishop to Cardinal Louis III, Cardinal of Guise, Archbishop of Reims, with the titular title of Bishop of Archidal. On the death of Guise, he succeeded to the archbishopric, becoming also, by virtue of his office, Duke of Reims and First Peer of France.
Before Guifford's death, which occurred in 1629 at Reims, he had acquired a high reputation as a preacher. His writings include:
- "Oratio Funebris in exequiis venerabilis viri domini Maxæmiliani Manare præpositi ecclesiæ D. Petri oppidi Insulensis" (Douai, 1598);
- "Orationes diversæ" (Douai);
- "Calvino-Turcismus", etc. (Antwerp, 1597 and 1603).
The latter work, begun by Dr. Reynolds, Clifford completed and edited. He translated from the French of Fronto-Ducæus, S.J., "The Inventory of Errors, Contradictions, and false Citations of Philip Mornay, Lord of Plessis and Mornay". He also wrote, at the request of the Duke of Guise, a treatise in favour of the Ligue.
The "Sermones Adventuales" (Reims, 1625) were a Latin rendering by Gifford of discourses originally delivered in French. He assisted Dr. Anthony Champney in his "Treatise on the Protestant Ordinations" (Douai, 1616); other of Gifford's MSS. were destroyed in the burning of the monastery at Dieulouard in 1717.
- Anthony à Wood, Athenæ Oxoniensis, ed. Bliss, II (London, 1815). col, 453 sqq., essays an orderly narration of the events in Gifford's life;
- Cooper, Thompson (1885–1900). "Gifford, William (1554-1629)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. ;
- Records of the English Catholics, I—Douay Diaries (London, 1878), passim;
- Joseph Gillow, Bibl. Dict. Eng. Cath., s. v. Giffard;
- Patre, Notices of the Eng. Colleges and Convents on the Continent, etc. (Norwich, 1849). 28, 30 sqq.;
- Marlot, Histoire de Rheims, IV (1846), 450 535 sqq.;
- Snow, Benedictine Chronology, 37;
- Duthilloeul, Bibliographie Douaisienne (Douai, 1842), 46-47 (no. 119);
- Lewis Owen, Running Register (1626), 91:
- John Pits, De Angliæ Scriptoribus, 809;
- S. R. Gardiner, History of England, I, 140;
- Ralph Weldon, Chron. Notes, 105, 159.
For a more intimate insight into certain phases of Gifford's character, see
- Butler in The Month, CIII (1904);
- John Hungerford Pollen, ibid. (1904);
- Knox, Letters of Card. Allen (1882);
- private documents and letters, some of which are published in the Appendix Documentorum Ineditorum (Douay Diaries), xxii (326), lxi (395), etc.;
- Charles Dodd, Church Hist. of England, ed. Tierney (London, 1839), II.
- Wood, "Athen. Oxon.", below.
- Athen. Oxon.
- Foley, "Records of the English Province", etc., VI (London, 1880), p. 139; but compare statement there given as to age with date of birth above.
- Foley, "Records", loc. cit.
- "Douay Diaries", infra: Diarium Primum, 11; Diarium Secundum, 189 -- note statement as to age.
- Petre, op. cit.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "William Gifford". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.
|Catholic Church titles|
Louis III, Cardinal of Guise
|Archbishop of Reims
| Succeeded by|
Henry of Guise