William of Alnwick

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William of Alnwick (c 1275-1333) was an English theologian and philosopher of the middle ages. He was a disciple and associate of Duns Scotus.


Little is known of his early life. He studied at Paris and received his licence in theology there. He taught at the Franciscan house at Oxford, and then at other European centres of learning, including Montpellier, Bologna, and Naples. He was listed among the few foreign masters who sided with Philippe IV, king of France, in his dispute with Pope Boniface VIII. He probably returned to England sometime in the second decade of the 14th century, as he is recorded as the forty-second Franciscan regent master at Oxford University, when Henry Harclay was chancellor of the university.

Alnwick's manuscript marginalia show that he was part of the contemporary debate which spread all over Europe, and which included the ideas of men such as Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Henry of Ghent, Peter Auriol, Giacomo da Ascoli, Godfrey of Fontaines, Henry Harclay, and Thomas Wilton. His main collaborator, however, was Duns Scotus, and it is this that has saved him from (complete) obscurity.

Alnwick participated in the general chapter of the Franciscan order held at Perugia in 1322, where he joined the theologians who drew up and signed the decree De paupertate Christi attacking the position on the poverty of the church as promulgated by Pope John XXII. In the last section of his Determinationes he argued that Christ and his apostles possessed nothing either personally or in common. This opposition to the papal position caused John to initiate proceedings against Alnwick, who fled to Naples, where King Robert protected him. In 1330, Robert had him appointed bishop of Giovinazzo.

He died in Avignon in March 1333.


Alnwick worked with Scotus in the production of his Commentary on the Sentences (Ordinatio), took down one of his Collationes, and compiled the long additions (Additiones magnae) which were meant to fill the gaps in the Ordinatio. But although Alnwick based his philosophy and theology on the fundamental starting points of Scotus's teaching, he diverged from his colleague when he disagreed. His works include a Commentary on the Sentences (not edited). given in Paris in 1314, questions on Intelligible being (De esse intelligible), a Quodlibet and twenty-eight disputations (Determinationes, not edited) held at Bologna in 1322-3.

His works are an important witness of contemporary discussion of issues such as the formal distinction, the immortality of the soul, the compatibility of faith and reason, and on the 'indivisibilism' of Henry Harclay. They are replete with references to fourteenth-century debate on these subjects.


Primary sources

  • Quaestiones disputatae de esse intelligibilis et de quolibet, ed. A. Ledoux, Quarrachi, Collegium S. Bonaventurae

Secondary sources

  • Dumont, S.D. (1987) 'The univocity of the concept of being in the fourteenth century: John Duns Scotus and William of Alnwick', Medieval Studies 49, pp. 1-75.
  • Noone, T.B. (1993) 'Alnwick on the origin, nature , and function of the formal distinction', Franciscan Studies 53, pp. 231-61


1 1275 1310 England 1333 Avignon France