Saint William of Malevale was a Frenchman by birth. It is believed that in his younger days, he was a soldier with a reputation for licentiousness. After carefree years of licentious military life, William experienced a conversion of heart of which we are told nothing. We know that this penitent Frenchman made a pilgrimage to the tombs of the apostles at Rome. Here he begged Pope Eugenius III for pardon and to set him on a course of penance for his sins. The Holy Father enjoined him to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1145. William followed his counsel and spent eight years on the journey, returning to Italy a changed man.
He undertook a second pilgrimage, thought to have been officially penitential, to the Holy Land, and on his return to Tuscany in 1153, he was named abbot of a monastery near Pisa. Here he unsuccessfully attempted to bring about reforms in the eremitical life. So unruly were they, that he was unable to maintain discipline among the monks.
After this failure, he retired to a hermitage on Monte Pruno, and finally in 1155 in the desert valley of “Stabulum Rodis”, later known as Malavalle, Grossetto, (near Siena) Italy. This hermitage developed into a monastery, where William attracted two disciples, Albert and Renaldo, who continued to follow William’s rule after his death in 1157. These two disciples buried William in his little garden, and together studied to live according to William’s maxims and example. Later their number increased and they built a chapel over their founder’s grave with a hermitage; however his relics were dispersed in the wars between Siena and Grosseto.
This was the origin of the Gulielmites, or Hermits of Saint William, which spread throughout Italy, France, Flanders, and Germany. Pope Gregory IX, mitigating their austerities, gave the Rule of Saint Benedict to the group organized as the Order of Bare- Footed “Williamite” Friars. The Williamites were ordered by the Pope, to be part of the Grand Union of Augustinians in 1244 and 12166. Eventually all the Williamites were absorbed by the Augustinian hermits except for 12 houses in the Low Countries which chose to join the Benedictines Order. The Williamite order, now extinct, was divided among the Benedictines and the Augustinian canons. Nevertheless, Augustinians have venerated Saint William since the thirteenth century.