Chancellor

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The post of Chancellor has been an important one since the College of William and Mary was chartered in 1693 by King William III and Queen Mary II of Great Britain. Until 1776, the Chancellor was an English subject – usually the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Bishop of London – who served as the College’s advocate to the crown, while a colonial president oversaw the day-to-day activities of the Williamsburg campus. Following the Revolutionary War, George Washington was appointed as the first American chancellor.

Colonial Period

The College's charter, granted in 1693 by King William III and Queen Mary II, provided for the office of Chancellor, and during the colonial period the Chancellor served as the College's representative to the British Government. Many of the pre-Revolutionary War chancellors were either Bishops of London or Archbishops of Canterbury and served as a link between the College and the government in London. They would also help recruit faculty to come to Virginia and teach at the College. However, none of these chancellors ever set foot in Williamsburg.

With the outbreak of the Revolutionary War and the Declaration of Independence, the ties between The College of William & Mary and England were severed, leaving the position of Chancellor vacant until 1788. Other ties with England, such as the money from the Brafferton Estate which funded the Indian School, were also severed.

Post-Independence

Thomas Jefferson wished to alter the office of the Chancellor after the American Revolution. In 1776, Jefferson proposed a system that included three chancellors, elected from the leading men of Virginia and who would have the power to remove faculty, in place of a single chancellor. His reforms did not pass, and the office of Chancellor remained vacant until 1788.

George Washington served as the next Chancellor, an office he held from 1788 until his death in 1799. Washington was asked because the President of the College, Bishop James Madison, thought that the heritage of the position required a national figure to occupy it. The office again remained vacant until another President of the United States, John Tyler was appointed as Chancellor, serving from 1859 until 1862. Tyler was an alumnus of the College and one of his relatives, Lyon Gardiner Tyler, would later serve as its President.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the office of Chancellor was intermittently occupied. People such as Hugh Blair Grigsby, John Stewart Bryan, and Colgate W. Darden, Jr. served as Chancellor and ended their terms without a direct successor.

For two years, Alvin Duke Chandler was a very different kind of chancellor. From 1960 to 1962, Chandler presided over the Colleges of William and Mary, a five campus system that included William & Mary, the Richmond Professional Institute, the Norfolk Division of the College of William & Mary, Christopher Newport College, and Richard Bland College. When the system was disbanded in 1962, Chandler became the honorary chancellor until 1974.

After a 12 year vacancy, Warren Burger was chosen to be the twentieth chancellor of the College of William and Mary in 1986. Burger had numerous associations with Williamsburg and William & Mary, receiving an honorary degree and delivering the commencement address in 1973, speaking at Law Day in 1979, and helping to found the National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg in 1976. The personal and professional papers of Chief Justice Burger are held by the Special Collections Research Center and will be open to the public in 2026.

After the retirement of Warren Burger, the office has been filled consistently by Margaret Thatcher, Henry Kissinger, and Sandra Day O'Connor. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will take over the position in February 2012.

List of Chancellors of the College of William and Mary

17th-18th Centuries

Henry Compton, Bishop of London, 1693-1700

Thomas Tenison, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1700-1707

Henry Compton, Bishop of London, 1707-1713

John Robinson, Bishop of London, 1714-1721

William Wake, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1721-1729

Edmund Gibson, Bishop of London, 1729-1736

William Wake, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1736-1737

Edmund Gibson, Bishop of London, 1737-1748

Thomas Sherlock, Bishop of London, 1749-1761

Thomas Hayter, Bishop of London, 1762

Charles Wyndham, Earl of Egremont, 1762-1763

Philip Yorke, Earl of Harwicke, 1764

Richard Terrick, Bishop of London, 1764-1776

George Washington, President of the United States, 1788-1799

19th Century

John Tyler, President of the United States, 1859-1862

Hugh Blair Grigsby, Historian, 1871-1881

20th Century

John Stewart Bryan, President of the College of William and Mary, 1942-1944

Colgate W. Darden, Jr. Governor of Virginia, 1946-1947

Alvin Duke Chandler, President of the College of William and Mary, 1962-1974

Warren E. Burger, Former Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, 1986-1993

Lady Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of Great Britain, 1993-2000

21st Century

Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State of the United States, 2000-2005

Sandra Day O'Connor, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, 2005-2012

Robert M. Gates, Class of 1965, U.S. Secretary of Defense, 2012-

Chancellor’s Badge and Chain of Office

Chancellor's Badge and Chain, circa 1987

The Chancellor’s Badge and Chain of Office were presented to the College of William and Mary by the Society of the Alumni at the investiture of Chancellor Warren E. Burger at Charter Day on February 7, 1987. The badge contains a large depiction of the coat of arms of the College done in enamel on silver. The badge and chain of office were handcrafted by the firm of Thomas Fattorini, gold and silversmiths of Birmingham and London. It is on display in the Special Collections Research Center in Swem Library along with other academic regalia of the College of William and Mary.

Chancellor’s Robe

A new chancellor’s robe was recommended by members of the Board of Visitors (BOV) and Cypher Society in 1993. The BOV officially approved the redesign of the robe and authorized the president to have it designed in a resolution approved at the November 1993 meeting of the BOV.

More information about the robe is available at http://www.wm.edu/about/administration/chancellor/robe/index.php.

Random Factoids

The Royal Charter of the College of William & Mary established the office of the chancellor and set the term at seven years. The chancellor was to be an “eminent and discreet person” upon whom the College could rely. The Charter also named the first chancellor, Henry Compton, who was the Bishop of London at the time. He was chosen to be the first chancellor because the Bishop of London was the head of the Anglican Church in the American colonies and W&M’s first president James Blair was Compton's commissary for Virginia. • Many of the pre-Revolutionary War chancellors were either Bishops of London or Archbishops of Canterbury and served as a link between the College and the government in London. They would also help recruit faculty to come to Virginia and teach at the College. However, none of these chancellors ever set foot in Williamsburg. • With the outbreak of the Revolutionary War and the Declaration of Independence, the ties between William & Mary and England were severed, leaving the position of chancellor vacant until 1788. (Other ties with England, such as the money from the Brafferton Estate which funded the Indian School, were also severed.) • Thomas Jefferson wished to alter the office of the Chancellor after the American Revolution. In the place of a single chancellor, he proposed a system that included three chancellors, elected from the leading men of Virginia, who would have the power to remove faculty. • The first American chancellor was George Washington, who accepted the position only months before he was elected President of the United States. Washington was asked because the president of the College, Bishop James Madison (cousin of U.S. President James Madison), believed that the heritage of the position required a national figure to occupy it. Washington served until his death in 1799, having been appointed in 1788. • After the death of Washington, the office of chancellor remained vacant until it was occupied by another U.S. President, John Tyler. Tyler served as chancellor from 1859 until his death in 1862. • Hugh Blair Grigsby, noted historian and author, served as chancellor from 1871 to 1881, when the College closed due to lack of funds. Grigsby established the Chancellor’s Fund, which was the fund for the Chancellor Professors in academic departments. • For two years, former W&M President Alvin Duke Chandler was a very different kind of chancellor. From 1960 to 1962, Chandler presided over the Colleges of William & Mary, a five campus system that included William & Mary, the Richmond Professional Institute, the Norfolk Division of the College of William & Mary, Christopher Newport College, and Richard Bland College. When the system was disbanded in 1962, Chandler occupied the role of an honorary chancellor until 1974. • After a 12 year vacancy, Warren Burger was chosen to be the twentieth chancellor of the College of William & Mary in 1986. Burger had numerous associations with Williamsburg and William & Mary, receiving an honorary degree and delivering the commencement address in 1973, speaking at Law Day in 1979, and helping to found the National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg in 1976. The personal and professional papers of Chief Justice Burger are held by Swem Library’s Special Collections Research Center. (In accordance with the donor agreement, the Warren E. Burger Papers are closed to researchers until 2026.) • After the retirement of Warren Burger from the position, Margaret Thatcher was chosen to be the first woman chancellor and the first post-independence chancellor from the United Kingdom. She served from 1993 until 2000. • Henry Kissinger was the first chancellor who was not a natural-born citizen either of the United States or the United Kingdom. He served from 2000 until 2005. • The chancellor’s badge and chain of office is silver and bears the College’s coat of arms. There are also elements of various other coats of arms, including those of the Bishop of London, the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Washington, John Tyler, the London Company, and the seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia. It was given as a gift of the Society of the Alumni in 1987 and has been worn by W&M Chancellors since. More on the chain of office: http://www.wm.edu/about/administration/chancellor/badge/index.php and the Chancellor’s robe: http://www.wm.edu/about/administration/chancellor/robe/index.php.


Material in the Special Collections Research Center

References

In the News

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A Note About The Contents Of This Wiki
The information available in this wiki is the best available from known documents and sources at the time it was written. Unfortunately, many of the early original records of the College of William and Mary were destroyed by fires, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. The information available here is the best available from known documents and sources at the time it was written. Information in this wiki is not complete as new information continues to be uncovered in the Swem Library's Special Collections Research Center and elsewhere. Researchers are strongly encouraged to use the Special Collections search tools for their research as the information contained in this wiki is by no means comprehensive.