A History of the County of Dorset: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.
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32. WIMBORNE MINSTER
One of the earliest religious foundations in this county was the nunnery built here at the beginning of the eighth century, converted on its restoration into a house of secular canons presided over by a dean, and subsequently known as the royal free chapel and college of Wimborne Minster.
The Saxon monastery was built by St. Cuthburh or Cuthburga, the daughter and sister respectively of the Wessex kings, Kenred and Ine, who after her union with Aldfrid, king of the Northumbrians, renounced married life and, with the consent of her husband, entered the abbey of Barking and became a nun under the rule of the Abbess Hildelitha. (fn. 1) Various dates are assigned for her subsequent foundation at Wimborne. Cressy, whose account is generally adopted, gives the year 713; (fn. 2) the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mentions it under 718, but makes no definite statement as to when it came into existence. (fn. 3) The foundation must, however, be dated some years earlier and previous to 705 according to a letter of Bishop Aldhelm, written in that year, granting liberty of election to the monasteries under the charge of the bishop, who died in 709, in which he mentions particularly 'the nuns in the monastery by the river which is called Wimburnia presided over by the abbess Cuthburga.' (fn. 4)
'St. Cuthberga,' says Cressy, translating various passages from the Vita of Capgrave—
having built her monastery and therein a church to the Queen of Virgins, there macerated her body with almost continual watchings and fastings. She was humble both to God and man and mild to all. Many virgins she assembled in the same place; she permitted her body to enjoy no rest; but importunately day and night her prayers sounded in the ears of a merciful God. She happily ended her days in the year of grace 727, and her memory is celebrated by the church on the last day of August. (fn. 5)
According to Leland she was buried on the north side of the presbytery, but afterwards translated to the east end of the high altar of the church, (fn. 6) which was subsequently re-dedicated in her honour. (fn. 7)
With St. Cuthburga is frequently associated as co-foundress her sister St. Cuenburh or Quinburga, also said to have been buried in this church, (fn. 8) and who, if we accept her identification with abbess Cneuburga—the joint author of a letter addressed to Abbot Coengils of Glastonbury, Abbot Ingeld, and the priest Wiethberht agreeing to a proposal for mutual intercessory prayer and asking in particular 'that remembrance may be had of our dead sisters,'—probably succeeded to the rule of the monastery on the death of the first abbess. (fn. 9) The Eta to whom reference is made in the same letter may possibly be identified with Tetta the venerable abbess, said to be a sister of Æthelheard, the kinsman and successor of King Ine, who soon after became superior of the monastery and was responsible for the religious training and education of the sisters Lioba and Agatha, destined to carry abroad the benefits of the instruction they had received while under the care of 'that devout mother.'
A great proof of the perfection of monastical discipline observed after the death of the foundress in her monastery is this: (again quoting Cressy) that St. Boniface the glorious apostle of the Germans, having founded a monastery of virgins at Biscoffsheim in Germany made choice of her disciples above all others, and particularly of St. Lioba, to plant religious observances there. This is testified by Rodulphus, disciple of Rabanus Maurus, in the life of Lioba written by him. (fn. 10)
St. Lioba died in a monastery near Mainz, 28 September, 757.
Besides the nunnery there appears to have been a monastery or 'cloister of monks' at Wimborne, built either by St. Cuthburga or her brother King Ine, strict regulations being laid down prohibiting any intercourse between the two sections of religious men and religious women.
Excepting priests who were to serve at the altar, no men should be permitted to enter the monastery of those religious virgins, nor any woman that of religious men. And that among the other obligations of the virgins at their profession this was one, never to step out of their cloister except upon a necessary cause to be approved by superiors. (fn. 11)
We are told in her life given by Mabillon that St. Lioba (fn. 12) was fond of citing the example set by her former superior, Abbess Tetta of Wimborne, who presided over the houses of both men and women as over a double monastery, and whose observance of this regulation was so strict 'that she would not so much as permit the bishop's entrance' in the women's section. (fn. 13)
References to Wimborne in the ninth and tenth centuries afford ample proof of the importance of the town and the veneration paid to its Minster during the Saxon period. It was selected as the burial-place of King Æthelred, who died in 871 in consequence of wounds received in the battle fought against the Danes at Merton. (fn. 14) The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recording the death of king Sigferth, who killed himself in 962, adds, 'his body lies at Wimborne.' (fn. 15)
Again, Wimborne was the centre of events attending the accession to the throne of Edward the Elder in 901, for Æthelwold, son of Æthelbert, an elder brother of Alfred, disputing the title of his cousin and relying on some measure of popular support for his own claim, seized the royal towns of Oxeley or Christchurch (Hants) and Wimborne, and investing the latter place with such troops as he could muster resolved to stand a siege, declaring that there he would either live or lie.' To the injury moreover of whatever cause he might possess, he forcibly abducted an inmate of the famous monastery 'without leave of the king and contrary to the bishop's ordinance, for she was a professed nun,' and made her his wife. King Edward meanwhile raising a powerful army for the defence of his kingdom and the vindication of religion marched into Dorset, and encamped at a place called Badbury, where there was a castle at no great distance from Wimborne. The courage of Æthelwold then apparently deserted him and he fled away by night and came to Northumbria, where he joined himself to the Danes and besought them to receive him into their company to fight against King Edward, being soon after made king by them. Edward the Elder in the meantime relinquishing the pursuit of the enemy contented himself with receiving the submission of the town, ordering the religious woman who had been abandoned by Æthelwold in his flight to be sent back to her nunnery. (fn. 16)
A blank in the history of Wimborne succeeds, and it is generally conjectured that the monastery perished in one of the Danish raids of the period. The Danes, we are told, ravaged the country in the year 998; no details are given, but the AngloSaxon Chronicle, recording fruitless attempts to withstand the destructive march of the enemy, adds sadly: 'In the end they ever had the victory.' (fn. 17) According to Leland Wimborne was rebuilt by 'King Edward,' supposed to be the Confessor, and by him was converted into a house or college of secular canons with a dean at its head. (fn. 18) No reference is made to it until the reign of Henry III beyond the statement in Domesday, that the church of Wimborne had a hide and a half and a virgate of land in Hinton. (fn. 19) From the date of its restoration it appears to have enjoyed the status and privileges of a royal free chapel with college attached under the direct patronage of the crown. In 1318 Edward II addressed an order to Rigaud Asser, then papal nuncio, afterwards bishop of Winchester, forbidding him to exact aught from or to lay any imposition whatever on the dean and prebendaries of Wimborne Minster—
Whereas it is a free chapel of the king and altogether exempt with the prebends and chapels pertaining thereto from all ordinary jurisdiction and from all exactions, procurations and contributions whatsoever. (fn. 20)
Owing to this immunity from episcopal jurisdiction there are no entries in the diocesan registers which can throw light on the internal condition of the college. A solitary mention occurs in 1379 wherein William Crundell, proctor of the dean and college, was summoned with the proctors of Ford, Cerne, and Tewkesbury to appear before the bishop's commissary in the parish church of Sonning prepared to exhibit their title to all ecclesiastical benefices, portions, and pensions held by them. (fn. 21)
The earliest appointment to Wimborne that is recorded occurs at the beginning of the reign of Henry III, when Martin de Pateshull received letters of presentation to the deanery then vacant and at the royal collation, 6 December, 1223. (fn. 22)
The following year the sheriff of Dorset was directed to cause proclamation to be made that the market and fair formerly held within the cemetery of Wimborne should in future be held outside under the walls, on land belonging to the dean on the same days and with the same liberties and customs as formerly. (fn. 23)
The deanery was always held by men holding other ecclesiastical benefices and in many cases secular offices, and was bestowed by the king on his clerks and court favourites as a reward for their services, and by no means always with a view to their spiritual fitness. Martin de Pateshull, early in the reign of Henry III, sat as a justice of the King's Bench, was a justice itinerant and constantly employed as a judge; besides other ecclesiastical benefices he held a prebend in St. Paul's, London, the archdeaconry of Norfolk, and in 1228 was appointed to the deanery of St. Paul's. (fn. 24) On his death the following year he was succeeded at Wimborne, 20 October, by Randolf Brito, (fn. 25) who in the previous December had been presented by letters patent of the king to prebends in London and Salisbury and to the rectory of Charing (Kent), (fn. 26) and the March following appointed constable of Colchester Castle and warden of the ports of Essex. (fn. 27) John Mansel, the notorious pluralist, who succeeded in 1247 on the death of Brito, had, as we may gather from the pages of Matthew Paris, (fn. 28) a very distinguished career in many ways, but the positions which he held and the difficult negotiations in which he was frequently employed by the king can have left him no leisure to bestow on Wimborne, and the fact that he held the deanery is not even mentioned in the Chronica Majora, which records his varied appointments. (fn. 29)
For examples of pluralism in this county we have only to turn to this deanery, a notorious instance being that of John Kirby the taxgatherer, who followed Mansel. The number of his clerical preferments, granted solely in reward for his services to the king, and with no regard to his fitness, (fn. 30) created a painful impression in the minds of the more scrupulous and devout of the clergy, while the nature of his employment did not tend to add to his popularity. (fn. 31) On his election to Rochester in 1285, Archbishop Peckham actively interfered and, on the ground of Kirby's notorious pluralism, desired the chapter to make another choice of a fit person. (fn. 32) The archbishop did not interfere, however, when, in 1286, the dean was promoted to Ely. (fn. 33)
No record seems to exist of the original endowment of the college and deanery, which at the beginning probably consisted of the great tithes of the parish, to which were added as time went on considerable gifts of portions of tithes and land. According to the Taxatio of 1291 the possessions of the dean and college were assessed at £71; the portion of the dean amounting to £26 13s. 4d. from Wimborne, Kingston, and Shapwick; that of the four prebendaries £10 each; the sacrist £4 6s. 8d. (fn. 34) In 1349, on the appointment of Reginald Brian, four commissioners were deputed, together with Thomas de Cary the sacrist, to survey the chapel, which was reported to be very defective in books and ornaments, and in need of repairs in the manse and houses as well as in the manors and other places in the country pertaining to the deanery, to the great injury of the then dean, (fn. 35) who, the following year, was raised to the see of St. David's and subsequently made bishop of Worcester. The next occasion for an inquiry was in 1367, when an inquisition was ordered to be held in the presence of Richard de Beverley, lately presented to the deanery, or his proctor and the executors of the late dean, Henry de Bukyngham, with a view to ascertain what damages and waste had occurred during the last occupancy of the deanery, the nature of the defects, and whether they could be repaired within a cost of £400. The return made to the writ, giving the value of the dean's possessions, enumerates tithes in Shapwick, 100s.; Kingston, 8 marks; Pimperne, 20s.; Bradford, 20s.; Crichel, 10s.; parcel of Holt, with tithes of wool and lambs, £8; tithes of Hampreston, £4; demesne lands let to farm, 23s.; tithes of wool and lambs, 40s.; and states that William Sewell, chaplain and farmer of the late dean, had 20 marks remaining in hand, and the reeve (praepositus) £6 of arrears. (fn. 36)
Leaving the deanery, we find the staff of the college with sacrist and four prebendaries increased in the middle of the fourteenth century by the addition of four chaplains appointed to serve the chantry, known as the Great or Brembre's Chantry, founded in 1354 by the dean Thomas de Brembre, who, on 10 August of that year, obtained a royal licence to appropriate the advowson of the church of Shapwick, held in chief of the king, to the canons and college of Wimborne Minster for the sustentation of four chantry priests celebrating divine offices in the chapel under the sacrist according to the ordination of the dean. (fn. 37) In addition to this grant the custodian and four chaplains obtained a licence enabling them to acquire 10 'marcatas' of land and rent in Walsford, Chalbury, Kingston, 'Duppleshegh,' and 'Cokeshull,' not held of the king in chief; while Richard de Corfton, at the same time, was permitted to assign to them one messuage, 12 bovates of land, 16 acres of meadow, 5 acres of pasture, 2 acres of wood with 40s. rent, and pasturage for sixteen oxen, twelve cows, forty pigs, and 400 sheep in the above places, valued at 71s. 4d., to be held by the custodian and chaplains at the annual value of £4, in part satisfaction of the grant of 10 'marcatas.' (fn. 38) The office of custodian of the chantry was held, ex officio, by the sacrist.
Besides the foundation of Dean Brembre, there was another and later chantry of equal, or even greater, importance in the church, founded by Margaret countess of Richmond and Derby but not completed till after her death. By a tripartite deed, dated 12 March, 1511, between the executors of the will of the deceased countess, the dean and chapter of the college, and the sacrist or custodian and chaplains of the Great Chantry, reciting the grant procured by the countess of her son Henry VII by letters patent of 1 March, 1497, for the foundation of a chantry of one chaplain in the royal free chapel or collegiate church of Wimborne 'to the praise and honour of Jesus and the Annunciation of the B. V. M.,' with licence to appropriate lands, rents, and benefices &c., to the annual value of £10, to the said chaplain and his successors; and after the death of the countess and the appointment of her executors (Richard bishop of Winchester, John bishop of Rochester, and others), the letters patent of Henry VIII, 7 August, 1509, in the first year of his reign, confirming the previous grant of his father and granting an additional licence to appropriate lands and rents to the annual value of £6, besides the above £10, was established a perpetual chantry for the augmentation of divine service and for the souls of the said countess, her parents and ancestors, and all the faithful departed at the altar on the south side of the tomb of John Beaufort, late duke of Somerset, and Margaret his wife, the father and mother of the aforesaid countess.
By this same deed Richard Hodgekynnes, B.A., was appointed the first chaplain, to reside in a house within the college opposite the chamber or dwelling of the sacrist and to teach grammar to all comers after the form and manner used at Eton and Winchester. Besides this duty he was bound to celebrate daily for the soul of the founder, and for the souls of her father, mother, and ancestors, special collects being appointed to be recited; an anniversary was fixed to be kept yearly on 29 July, whereon a requiem mass should be said, and at the end of the mass a distribution of 20s. made in the following manner:—To the sacrist of the college if he should be present in his surplice and amice, 16d.; to each chaplain 'present and devoutly singing,' 8d.; to every secondary and parish clerk, 4d.; to the sacrist for five wax candles to be burnt round the bier, and two on the altar during the mass, and for bell-ropes, 16d.; to those ringing the bells, 8d.; the remainder of the 20s. should be distributed to the poor of the parish by the advice of the sacrist according to their necessities, thus:—to one, 1d.; to another, 2d. The said Richard Hodgekynnes should receive yearly £10, and his servant or usher 40s., and he should present a yearly account, within Michaelmas and the Feast of All Saints, of his receipts and expenditure in the presence of the dean, or, in his absence, of the sacrist, and of the senior chaplain of the chantry of Thomas Brembre, and it should be deposited in a chest with three keys whereof one key should be in the custody of the dean, or, in his absence, of the sacrist, another in the custody of the senior chaplain, and the third should be kept by Richard Hodgekynnes himself and his successors. (fn. 39)
The deanery was held on the eve of the Reformation by the famous Reginald Pole, and according to the Valor of 1535 was worth £29 8s. 4d. clear. (fn. 40) The office of the sacrist, held by Thomas Yeroth who also served the 'Redcottes' Chantry founded in the chapel of the hospital of St. Margaret and St. Antony within the manor of Kingston Lacy, (fn. 41) was valued at £5 9s. 4d. clear. (fn. 42) The incumbents of the four prebends, Richard Sperkeford, John Starkey, Thomas Myllys, and George Lylly, received respectively the following stipends:— £15 5s. 8d., £16 15s. 8d., £15 13s. 4d., and £12 19s. The number of chaplains attached to the Brembre or Great Chantry had been reduced from four to three, their names being given as Walter Gardener, Edward Thorpe, and John Ase, or Ace as he afterwards appears; each had a stipend of £7 11s. 10d. Edward Laborne, the schoolmaster and chantry priest attached to the foundation of the late countess of Richmond and Derby, had a net income of £9 11s. 2d. (fn. 43)
In the return of the commissioners, appointed under Edward VI to take the value of the possessions of colleges and chantries and to report on their plate, goods and ornaments, the 'college or free chapel of our Sovereign Lord the king in Wimborne' was said to be worth £51 5s. 6d., with 'rents resolute' of £6 13s. 4d. and fees £6 6s. 8d., reducing the clear income to £38 5s. (fn. 44) The sacrist's office after deducting 'rents resolute' of £3 14s. 10d. was returned at £5 2s. 4d. clear. (fn. 45) The Great Chantry, with a deduction of £10 2s. 4d. in 'rents resolute,' was worth £34 7s. 5d., and had the following 'jewels' and 'ornaments':—Three chalices weighing 55 oz., three pairs of old vestments worth 6s., two table borders, and one ladder 2s.
Item I challice belonging to St. James weighing 5 oz. 2 basons of silver and gilt gyvty to the kinges Majestie by the parishioners of Wymborne so it [is] said= 50 oz. Total 8s., 110 oz. (fn. 46)
The chantry of Margaret, countess of Richmond, was returned at a clear income of £6 2s. 0½d., and had no ornaments. (fn. 47) The four prebends in the college called the 'first,' 'seconde,' 'thirde,' and 'fourthe staulle,' were worth respectively £8 10s., £7 15s. 2d., £12 15s. 2d., and £7 1s. 1d. clear. (fn. 48)
Pole forfeited the deanery in 1537 and was succeeded at Wimborne by Nicholas Wilson. (fn. 49) Some of the leading parishioners the following year addressed the dean a very respectful letter, saying they had been informed that 'Seynt Cuthborow's hed' was to be removed from their church.
And we know by our composycion that yt ys the parishioners' goods and our chyrche ys in gret ruyn and decay and our toure ys foundered and lyke to fall and ther ys no money left in our chyrche box, and by reason of great infyrmyty and deth ther hath byn thys yere in our parysh no chyrche aele the whych hath hyndred our chyrche of xx nobles.
The letter proceeded to ask whether the parishioners might sell the silver about the head of the image, and apply the proceeds to the repair of their church. (fn. 50)
The college was dissolved in 1547, and we may gather the immediate effect of its suppression and of the withdrawal of the activity of the staff from the parochial and social life of the town from the second part of the commissioners' report of Edward VI. The chantry of the Countess Margaret, (fn. 51) 'founded to the intent that the incumbent thereof should say mass for the soul of the founder and to tech schooleing,' was empty, and complaints appear to have been made by the townspeople that their children had been deprived of the means of education provided for them:—
It is very requisite and necessary (ran the report) to have the said school maintained, for the town of Wimborne is a great market town and a thoroughfare and hath many children therein, and there is no grammar school kept within 12 miles of Wimborne, at which place the poor men dwelling in Wimborne and thereabout are not able to keep their children. Wherefore it is very requisite that the said school may remain still for the bringing up of young children in larnyng . . . without anything paying at all as it was in times past. (fn. 52)
From the sacrist's office, the last holder of which was Simon Benyson, (fn. 53) a distribution was annually made to the poor of 20s. (fn. 54) The clear income of the deanery, lately held by Nicholas Wilson, then amounted to £34 6s. 7d.,
all which was employed as well towards his own portion and finding as towards the finding of poore men, in which said town of Wimborne be very many poore people unto the finding and relief whereof he did yerely distribute £4 at the lest. (fn. 55)
A note in reference to the four prebends in the college states:—
Memd to have 4 priests to serve the cure in the parish of Wimborne because there be 3 chapelles wherein ther is devyne service, because the said chapelles be distaunt from the church of Wymborne 3 miles and are for the ease of the people. (fn. 56)
The report also serves to show of what the staff of the college consisted; besides the dean and sacrist, the four chaplains—afterwards reduced to three—ordained to serve the Great Chantry, the chantry priest and schoolmaster of the foundation of the Countess Margaret, there were four prebendaries who were bound out of their salaries to find and maintain four vicars and four 'secondaries' to discharge the cure of souls in the parish. The repetition of some of the names indicates that some offices were doubled; John Ace and Walter Matthew, chaplains of the Great Chantry, served as vicars of the first and third prebend. (fn. 57)
On its dissolution, in the first year of the reign of Edward VI, most of the possessions of the college were granted to (1) Edward, duke of Somerset, (2) to Giles Keylsway and William Leonard, and in 1551 to Edward, Lord Clinton. Notwithstanding the representation of the commissioners no steps appear to have been taken for the retention of the school till the reign of Elizabeth, when by a grant of the queen part of the property of the late college was vested in the governors of the free grammar school of Queen Elizabeth in Wimborne Minster in the county of Dorset. (fn. 58)
Deans Of Wimborne (fn. 59)
Martin de Pateshull, presented 1223 (fn. 60)
Randolf Brito, presented 1229 (fn. 61)
John Mansell, presented 1247
John Kirby, 1265
John de Berwick, presented 1286
Stephen de Malo Lacu or Mauley, presented 1312 (fn. 62)
Richard de Clare, presented 1317 (fn. 63)
Richard de Swynnerton, presented 1335 (fn. 64)
Richard de Murymouth, presented 1338 (fn. 65)
Robert de Kyngeston, presented 1342 (fn. 66)
Thomas de Clopton, presented 1349, (fn. 67) died in the same year
Reginald Brian, presented 1349 (fn. 68)
Thomas de Brembre, presented 1350 (fn. 69)
Henry de Bukyngham, presented 1361
Richard de Beverley, presented 1367 (fn. 70)
John Carp, presented 1387 (fn. 71)
Roger Coryngham, presented 1400 (fn. 72)
Peter de Altobasso or Altobosco, presented 1412
Walter Medford, occurs 1415
Gilbert Kymer, presented 1423 (fn. 73)
Walter Hurte, occurs 1467
Hugh Oldham, presented 1485
Thomas Rowthel, occurs 1508
Henry Hornby, occurs 1509 as an executor of the will of the countess of Richmond and Derby
Reginald Pole, presented 1518 (fn. 74)
Nicholas Wilson, presented 1537 (fn. 75)