The various Williamite communities were virtually autonomous, and had no central government.
In about 1237, Pope Gregory IX had intervened to insist that all Williamite houses at least all adopt the Rule of Saint Benedict, but apparently with limited success.
In 1250, Pope Innocent IV wrote to deplore the conduct of some Williamites in Germany. There the Williamites had difficulty when members of the order had left their convento and formed separate "rival" houses without permission.
Differences in opinion within Williamite communities in 1251 led their foundations in the Italian diocese of Pesaro to join the Augustinian Order of Hermits in Tuscany (founded by the Little Union of 1244, with Cardinal Richard Annibaldi
appointed by the pope as their "supervisor and legal guide" ever since 1244).
Here was a religious order that was divided and loosely controlled. It needed organisation and reform.
In 1256 it was to some extent an act of papal wishful thinking that, like the former Williamites of Pesaro, the rest of the Williamite communities would blend in with the Augustinians in Tuscany. It certainly would have simplified the religious landscape in Tuscany for the authoritarian Cardinal Richard Annibaldi if the remaining Williamite houses had become Augustinian. But it was not to be, as explained in the first paragraph (above) on the Williamites.
Immediately after the Grand Union of 1256
there was disagreement among Williamite communities as to their future direction. The Williamites in Tuscany used much effort to withdraw from the Grand Union. The decisions of the Grand Union of 1256 deprived the Williamites not only of their former mode of life but also of their name and habit, and their following of the Rule of St Benedict.
The Williamites bitterly resented the changes imposed upon them and, although Cardinal Richard Annibaldi had reported to the pope of unanimous consent achieved at the Grand Union, the Williamites claimed that they had not agreed to the Grand Union but had opposed it. As soon as their delegates returned, they bent every effort to regain their former independence and succeeded in the same year. They based their protest on the old and approved principle, that a monk can change from his Order only to one of stricter observance, but not to a milder form.
While this legal reason did not seem conclusive in their case, since Pope Gregory IX had greatly mitigated their austerity, its general correctness could not be denied. Certain compromises had to be made at the Grand Union in order to satisfy all groups. An added reason for the separation seems to have been a question of poverty. The Williamites accustomed to the Benedictine form of self-sustenance and, therefore, opposed to alms-begging, were threatened with serious losses because Licet Ecclesiae, the papal bull that had convoked the Augustinian Grand Union, demanded absolute poverty according to the Franciscan ideal.
Thus Duke Ulrich III of Carinthia withdrew in October 1256 his former bequests to the Williamites in Windischgratz, because through their transmutation into the Augustinian Order, they were no longer permitted to have such possessions.As a result of their strenuous protests, the Williamites on 22nd August 1256 obtained papal permission to retain their use of the Rule of Saint Benedict - only six months after the Grand Union.
(Continued on the next page.)