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The post of Chancellor has been an important one since William & 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 university'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.

Information about each of William & Mary's Chancellors can be found below. The following pages may also be of interest:

  • Chancellor Regalia - about the badge, chain of office, and robes
  • Factoids - interesting trivia about William & Mary's Chancellors and the office in general

Colonial Period

The university'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 university'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 university. 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 & 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 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 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 & Mary

17th-18th Centuries

Term Name Occupation
1693-1700 Henry Compton Bishop of London
1700-1707 Thomas Tenison Archbishop of Canterbury
1707-1713 Henry Compton Bishop of London
1714-1721 John Robinson Bishop of London
1721-1729 William Wake Archbishop of Canterbury,
1729-1736 Edmund Gibson Bishop of London
1736-1737 William Wake Archbishop of Canterbury
1737-1748 Edmund Gibson Bishop of London
1749-1761 Thomas Sherlock Bishop of London
1762 Thomas Hayter Bishop of London
1762-1763 Charles Wyndham Earl of Egremont
1764 Philip Yorke Earl of Harwicke
1764-1776 Richard Terrick Bishop of London
1788-1799 George Washington President of the United States

 

19th Century

Term Name Occupation
1859-1862 John Tyler President of the United States
1871-1881 Hugh Blair Grigsby Historian

 

20th Century

Term Name Occupation
1942-1944 John Stewart Bryan

President of the College of William & Mary

1946-1947 Colgate W. Darden, Jr. Governor of Virginia
1962-1974 Alvin Duke Chandler

President of the College of William & Mary

1986-1993 Warren E. Burger

Former Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court

1993-2000 Lady Margaret Thatcher Prime Minister of Great Britain

 

21st Century

Term Name Occupation
2000-2005 Henry A. Kissinger

Secretary of State of the United States

2005-2012 Sandra Day O'Connor

Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court

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

References

 

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Questions? Have ideas or updates for articles you'd like to see? Contact the Special Collections Research Center at spcoll@wm.edu or 757-221-3090.

A note about the contents of this site

This website contains the best available information from known sources at the time it was written. Unfortunately, many of the early original records of William & Mary were destroyed by fires, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. The information in this website is not complete, and it changes as we continue to research and uncover new sources.