The sources of information on this page are the Brasenose College Quartercentenary Monographs of 1909.
Monograph IX - "All that we know of the private life of the Bishop is contained in a letter to Sir Reginald Bray without date either of time or place, probably belonging to 1503 ..." By this date, William Smyth complains ... "nowe I myselff beynge olde and full of sekenes and ache in my bones ..."
He is believed to have been born in about 1460 but conjecture over his age aside, the letter makes it clear that Bishop Smyth had become increasingly disillusioned with the state and operation of many of the religious houses he encountered. Lincolnshire alone had a monastery to every 53 square miles, according to C.H. Pearson in 'Historical Maps of England' (1870) p.61. - and this reaction "goes far to explain the resolution of the Bishop, though an unbending conservative, to devote his wealth to the endowment, not of monks but of a place of learning. Into his College no member of the Regular Clergy, even if accredited as his deputy by the Visitor himself, should ever be allowed to intrude [College Statutes] and for a Fellow to join a monastic order was, ipso facto, to vacate his Fellowship."
"William Smyth belonged to a well-to-do family and his provision for commoners in his College suggests that he may once have been in such a position himself."
According to Churton, William Smyth was "the fourth son of Robert Smyth of Peel House, in the parish of Prescot, Lancashire. His grandfather was Henry Smyth, a country squire, seated at Cuerdley. The date of his birth and the place of his education are alike unknown."
"Churton conjectures, partly from the association of one Hugh Smyth (Hugh is a forename in common with members of the Bristol, Ashton Court Smyth branch.) with Lord Strange, son of the first Earl of Derby, more forcibly from the patronage early bestowed ... by the Earl's second wife, Margaret, Countess of Richmond, mother of Henry VII, (ancestral link via Tudor Rose) that he [William Smyth] was brought up at a school in which were educated 'certayn young gentilmen at her findying'." The school was run by Maurice Westbury whom Margaret, Countess of Richmond, had brought from Oxford for that purpose. "This conjecture is strengthened by the certainty that as a young man Smyth enjoyed exceptional favour in high places."
"It is known that he was a Bachelor of Law in 1485, when, within a month of Henry VII's accession, he was appointed to the lucrative office of Clerk of the Hanaper in Chancery."
As may be evidenced by William Smyth's entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, high office and preferential treatment came his way very quickly and he achieved higher offices in swift succession. It may be taken as certain, too, that he amassed a considerable fortune. He did not, however covet his wealth since (Fuller says of him) 'this man wheresoever he went may be followed by the perfume of charity he left behind him.' However, in common with many "dynasty builders" he displayed a degree of nepotism and his relatives are reputed to have gained considerable benefit from his wealth and position.
Amongst these was Matthew Smyth, born in Lancashire and traditionally accorded kinship to the Bishop - though, as yet, this is not proven - and who became the "transitional" Principal of Brasenose Hall (17th and last Principal, 1510) and Brasenose College (1st Principal, 1510). Bishop William Smyth had already given him the prebend of Centum Solidorum at Lincoln in 1508 and was, in 1512, to give him the prebend of Banbury.
Matthew Smyth became Rector of Godstow Nunnery in 1533 and died - according to the Brasenose College Register, 1909 First Principal and Original Fellows - in 1547/8. He was buried in St. Mary's Church. He was a benefactor of Falmouth Grammar School in Cornwall.
NB: Matthew is a forename often associated with the Bristol Smyth branch of Ashton Court.
Monograph I - Regarding the "Durham connection" - Monograph I links William of Durham with the (13th Century) transactions associated with Brasenose Hall (which later became Smyth's foundation, Bransenose College) which had been purchased in 1262 by the University (according to the historians of University College) with "William of Durham's money and for the purposes of his foundation". William of Durham (originally from France) died in 1249 and a bequest was received by the University, making him the originator of the College system in Oxford.
Lincolnshire Smith/e Smyth/e - some notes:
A Francis Smythe was Vicar of Crowle in Lincolnshire. He was an uncle, via his sister, Mary (Simkinson) Smythe, of the Brewster family - founder of the American line of Brewster. Mary Smythe's father, William, was of Yorkshire.
Note also -
Edward Smythe (spouse unknown) was christened 30 September 1571 at Kirton, Lincolnshire, England. A son of Edward Smythe was Robert Smith who married Margaret (unknown). He was christened 4 March 1595 at Sutterton, Lincolnshire, England. His wife was born circa 1593 at Frampton, Lincolnshire, England.
Children of Robert Smith and Margaret (unknown) were -