A History of the County of Durham: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1928.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
CITY OF DURHAM
The black shadow of the papal interdict fell upon Durham, and much impressed Geoffrey the chronicler. No service, no bells, no processions were allowed, and in the monastery, though not in the parish churches, one weekly Mass alone was celebrated, and that with closed doors. But these dark days which followed the death of Philip in 1208 brought a new and unheard of oppression upon the men of Durham, and the patrimony of St. Cuthbert generally. Hitherto all taxation had been internal, and had been imposed by bishop or prior as the case might be; but John now began to impose burdens which no appeal to ancient right or liberty could evade. (fn. 1) In Durham, during the long vacancy after Philip (1208–17), the one ray of hope was the election of William as prior in 1209. (fn. 2) He was not merely a Durham monk, but a Durham man, and his brief office (1209–15) brought some respite at all events to the monastery and to the monastery tenants. His tenure of office witnessed a royal confirmation of the Cuthbertine liberties, (fn. 3) for which the monks paid 500 marks, and shortly after his death, when the new bishop, Richard Marsh, was appointed, Henry III permitted restoration of lands and houses to all whose property had been confiscated in John's recent march through the bishopric to subdue the northern barons. (fn. 4) But the new bishop falsified the hopes that had been formed, and all the old strife between bishop and monks broke out again. (fn. 5) At last, in 1229, it was ended by the famous compromise drawn up by Bishop Poor and known as the Convenit, which was supposed to be a settlement of all outstanding questions between bishop and monks. (fn. 6) The sphere of the bishop's court and the sphere of the prior's had to be defined, (fn. 7) but in the result the monks considered that their own liberties had been somewhat overridden by the settlement. One or two matters in this document specially concerned the monastery tenants in Elvet who had suffered much in Bishop Philip's time. It was enacted that 'the customs and amendments respecting brewing and bad bread and bad weights or measure in regard to the prior's men at Elvet and the Old Borough shall continue for the Durham monks freely and fully for ever; but if the men of these same are found in the bishop's borough with bad bread, or used bad weight or measure, justice shall be done therein by the bishop's bailiffs, and if there issue thence fine, fee, or other profit, it shall be halved between the bishop and the prior. Moreover, the men aforesaid of Elvet and the Old Borough shall use the same measures and weights which the bishop's men shall use in his Borough of Durham.'
The years which followed the Convenit seem to have been a period of growth and vigorous development in the city of Durham, so far as our scanty information goes. Melsamby became prior in 1233, and in 1237 would have been appointed bishop had not Henry III stepped in and prohibited his consecration, on the ground that he could not be sure of his loyalty. (fn. 8)
An extraordinary story preserved about Melsamby in the king's objections runs as follows: 'He ought to be rejected as a murderer. When a certain performer was going up a rope stretched from tower to tower in the churchyard, with the prior's express permission, he fell and was killed. The said prior ought never to have been present at such unseemly proceedings nor to have given his consent; indeed, he ought to have expressly prohibited their taking place.' (fn. 9) Near the north door of the cathedral is a much-visited tomb. A sculptured figure is represented upon it as holding a glove or purse. Local tradition, well known to all pitmen and others who visit the cathedral, is very definite in maintaining that the grave contains the body of a tight-rope walker who fell from the tower.
Prior Bertram greatly increased the opulence of the monastery, and left to his successor, Hugh Darlington (1258–72), a well-replenished exchequer. Probably the monastery had never been so prosperous before; but Bertram left behind him a reputation for more than material prosperity. He was a copyist of liturgical works, and a commentator of some local fame, writing postils on various books of Old and New Testament. His successor, Hugh, had the advantage of being trained by him, and used the wealth of the house in a way which was much approved. In the Barons' War he bought off unwelcome intruders upon the peace and prosperity of Durham, and was able to bring to completion the great bell-tower of the cathedral. (fn. 10)
There must have been a great deal of hospitality at the monastery; but beyond an occasional reference to visitors of importance, no special account of this department exists. Accordingly, a somewhat obscure allusion to the conditions of life in the abbey is interesting. It occurs in 1272 in connexion with a proposed surrender of Bearpark or Beaurepaire, on the western side of the city, a refugium of the prior lying in the wide open valley and enlivened by the breezes that sweep in from the western uplands. The monks made emphatic protest against the proposal, alleging that the convent cannot agree to give up 'Beaurepaire ubi conventus quorum labor est gravis et aer corruptus habet pro majori parte suam recreationem.' (fn. 11) This may be interpreted to mean that it is their one special place of relaxation, since the work at Durham is heavy and the air bad. But in what sense bad? The actual Durham air is healthy, but somewhat sleepy in summer; but this is, perhaps, not likely to be the chronicler's meaning. It has been suggested that the words refer to what was, in days of imperfect sanitation, a very real drawback in the life of the monastery and city. Durham Abbey did not receive the purging help that the river so generally gives in other places. Here the latrines gave upon the precipitous bank some 105 feet above the Wear, and the house depended in a general way on the length of the drop. With the river low, as it often is in summer, and with a prevailing westerly breeze, the defects of mediaeval drainage must have been constantly and painfully apparent. Under such circumstances, the monks were in consternation at the prospect of losing their chief holiday resort.
The long-standing dispute as to the Archbishop of York's right to visit the chapter and the see, introduced some strange episodes in which the city took its part. In 1274 during the vacancy after Bishop Stichill's death Archbishop Giffard, who was much concerned with the reform of abuses at York, made a visitation of the monastery, after which he proceeded to the castle in pontifical state, no objection being taken to his action. (fn. 12) Giffard's successor, Archbishop Wickwane, a prelate of more vigorous reforming tendency, found a very different temper prevailing when he visited Durham. The change was due to a presentation dispute, Wickwane refusing to institute a nominee of prior and convent to a living in Yorkshire. The Archbishop by an unwarranted stretch of his authority demanded to visit the chapter during the temporary absence of the Bishop of Durham and entered the city without opposition. As he came up Saddlergate to the great north gate of the castle in order to pass up to the cathedral he found his way blocked by the barons of the bishopric. Halting there, he addressed the people and proceeded to excommunicate the bishop, who naturally sided with the monastery, as well as the prior and convent, citing them to undergo his visitation at a later date. An appeal to Rome issued in a triumph for the prior, (fn. 13) but the death of the bishop in 1283 renewed the strife. Wickwane again journeyed to Durham to force what he considered his undoubted right sede vacante. The prior even refused him admission to the cathedral. Upon this the Archbishop descended the hill and made his way to the church of St. Nicholas, which lay upon episcopal land in the borough of Durham, and was probably claimed as his by right during the vacancy of the see. Hereupon some of the youths of the borough made up their minds to resist the Archbishop's action as an invasion of the rights of Durham and so alarmed the Archbishop by their demonstration that he was glad to escape from the church. He made his way, apparently, through a back door and down a flight of steps leading into Walkergate, and so, with what secrecy he could, to the river bank and thus to the hospitable shelter of Kepier. The brief chronicle of this escape contains one incidental reference of importance when it tells us that Wickwane fled down the steps 'towards the schools.' We have already discovered an allusion to schools in the Bailey, more than a century before this date, but here we get what seems to be a distinct trace of schools in the borough which was directly a part of the episcopal section of Durham. It may be added that the popular Hugh Darlington, who had resigned the priorate to Richard Claxton, the prior opposing Wickwane, was re-elected in 1285 and made his second tenure of office memorable by bringing the strife to an end. (fn. 14) It was Prior Hugh's last considerable act, for soon after this he began to show the infirmities of age and was forced to resign.
Another scene enacted in 1290 within the cathedral throws some light upon mediaeval customs and manners in Durham. There were, of course, various serjeanties and services by which the barons of the bishopric held their lands and houses. The repulse of Wickwane at the North Gate was effected by the barons of the bishopric (per milites episcopatus), and their part in the drama looks as if the resistance of invasion was a duty of military service at the North Gate. The tenures are very imperfectly known, but the story now to be told shows that the Raby lands were held on condition of presenting a deer at the abbey on St. Cuthbert's feast in September. The destination of the animal is in itself interesting, for the lord of Raby was in no sense a baron of the prior but of the bishop. It seems probable, therefore, that this custom was a reminiscence of the earlier period when Canute gave the manors of Raby and Staindrop to the congregation of St. Cuthbert about 1018. Probably the prior still received the payment even after the division of lands between bishop and convent, and apparently the arrangement was confirmed after Flambard's death in 1131. There was no difficulty until 1290, when the third Lord Nevill, Ralph, who was then in possession of Raby, made claims upon the prior in return which caused much trouble. This Ralph has been mentioned in a previous article (fn. 15) as one of those who induced nearly all the knights and freeholders to revolt against Bek. In 1290 he was probably asserting himself in preparation for the leadership which he afterwards assumed. On this occasion he brought the deer and made the unheard-of demand that not only he himself, as always, but all his retinue should be entertained by the prior. It was the great gala day in the Durham year when the city was filled to overflowing and the prior's hospitality was probably strained to the utmost. The prior perhaps refused on the score of difficulties of service, whereupon Ralph said that his own servants should wait, but that all his retinue should dine with the prior. Since a knight's retinue was no small company Prior Hotoun refused again and gave orders that the deer should not be accepted when and if Nevill brought it with the customary pomp to the shrine of St. Cuthbert. Nevill meant to come and to dine with all his following, and accordingly he issued many invitations for the spectacle. In vain John Balliol of Barnard Castle advised him to yield his claim, but Nevill refused and presented himself at the church door with his offering. A procession was formed and with much winding of horns paced up to the shrine carrying the stag with great pomp, not to the hall of the prior, but right up to the Nine Altars. When the prior saw what was intended he refused to have the animal received in this tumultuous manner. Hereupon the servants of Nevill proceeded to bear it off towards the kitchen in order to cook it, apparently for the lord of Raby and his friends. A disgraceful struggle arose and monks and men were soon at strife within the church. The monks caught up the candles round the shrine and using them as weapons drove back the servants of Nevill. Two suits followed, the one before the Pope at Rome for hindering the divine offices, and the other before the bishop's justices for assault, but both parties in the end agreed not to proceed on the earnest entreaty of some who strove to mediate between them.
We have now come well into the reign of Edward I and the restless episcopate of Bishop Bek. A franchise such as that of Durham was not likely to escape the king's notice, while Bek was not the man to let his liberties and dignities suffer any eclipse if he could help it. For nearly twenty years no collision took place, but troubles began in 1293, when the king made a review of franchises and titles. He acted with promptitude, seizing all such liberties into his own hands for due scrutiny and decision. Accordingly, for the time being, he resumed into his own hands all the jura regalia of the palatinate. A regular inspection was carried out, as has been said in another volume, (fn. 16) and the final award notifies various matters of right which affect the city of Durham as well as others which touch the bishopric more generally. In these clauses the importance of Durham comes out very clearly. Thus the bishop held pleas of the Crown at Durham; he had his own gallows and mint within the city; he had his own market and fair. The market was the Saturday market, which is, at least, as old as the time of St. Godric in the 12th century. The fair refers chiefly to that at the Translation of St. Cuthbert (4 Sept.), but also to the spring festival on 20th March. The document shows that the prior had the old Elvet liberties still, as he had had them since the days of St. Calais. This document belongs to a period when the King of England was already trying to get a hold in Scotland through John Balliol. Next year the prior was deputed by the king as his commissary to collect all dues accruing to the Crown within the bishopric. This brought him, as similar action brought the various collectors elsewhere, into grave disrepute with the commonalty of the bishopric, undoing the popularity of the last priors. Bek was much troubled by the amplitude of the prior's position, which had been steadily growing. It was, possibly, in part to regain the importance of earlier bishops that Bek became a builder. In various ways he asserted himself, and gained a prestige which the last bishops had somewhat lost. He built the magnificent hall at the castle, so long attributed to Bishop Hatfield, and in all probability placed there the two 'seats of regality' which Bishop Fox altered in or about 1499. These, it may be conjectured, were thrones for his dual capacity as bishop and as ruler of the palatinate. Before the one, no doubt, the barons of the bishopric took their oaths of allegiance, and before the other the clergy of the diocese gathered to take the oath of allegiance to the bishop.
The expedition of 1296, when Edward I passed through Durham, took many men from the palatinate across the borders into Scotland, and this service outside the bishopric proper led them to formulate a claim, which they had long tacitly held, that no obligation of service outside the palatinate was incumbent upon them. Durham men were again at Falkirk in 1298, returning without permission before the campaign was over. The warlike Bishop Bek remonstrated with the deserters, who pleaded the immemorial right of bishopric men to serve only between Tyne and Tees, on the ground that they were the privileged guardians of the body of St. Cuthbert. The bishop flung them into his prison at Durham, an act which incensed the bishopric barons and free tenants to the utmost, until the movement assumed the proportions of a serious rebellion. One outcome, which the bishop probably did not desire, was the growing popularity of the prior, with whom the offended men of Durham sided as against the bishop. We have no specific date in the chronicle for the building of Auckland Castle and Chapel, but it is not improbable that Bek, the builder of both, erected the magnificent new abode as a residence which would prove more pleasant than Durham Castle and the immediate neighbourhood of prior and convent. The feud between bishop and prior continued, despite the good offices of the king, and was intensified in 1300 by a sudden attack upon the prior's lands carried out by Bek's command. The bishop seized some of the prior's manors into his own hands, taking their rents and destroying the parks. Scenes recalling those of the time of Bishop Philip were now enacted, when a regular siege of the abbey began. Armed men surrounded it to prevent all approach of food or of messengers. Down below in the valley men broke up the prior's aqueduct, which seems to mean the conduit crossing the river and bringing water to the cathedral and Palace Green. Bek was determined to oust Prior Hotoun, and although he was not personally responsible for every act of violence which now took place, he was sufficiently to blame. Hotoun and his monks held the monastery and its surroundings, but the superior force of Luceby, the prior of Bek's choice, beat in the doors of the cloister and let his partisans into the church. In the general hubbub Luceby was actually installed and by the bishop's support he was kept in position. Prior Hotoun was thrown into prison, but managed to escape and take his appeal to Rome. (fn. 17) It was the famous Boniface VIII who heard this appeal and in the result the prior obtained a favourable decision, though he died before he could be reinstated. A sentence of Boniface when examining the adherents of the bishop proves incidentally the great prestige and importance of the prior's position at this time. Bek urged that Hotoun had resigned his office voluntarily, but Boniface brushed aside the suggestion, saying that no one who knew what it was to be Prior of Durham would ever voluntarily give up the position.
The strife between bishop and prior cannot have failed to absorb the attention of the city of Durham with its various jurisdictions depending on one or other of the two chief figures. And yet another of the various struggles in which Bek was engaged must have had a more vital effect upon the citizens generally. The circumstances have been set out in another volume (fn. 18) and are concerned with a long constitutional dispute between the bishop and the commonalty of the bishopric. One point in this, namely the question of service outside the boundaries, has already been named. The commonalty complained at the Parliament of Lincoln as to various infringements of their rights. These do not concern us generally, though the decisions, no doubt, eased the people from certain miscarriage of justice, and other grievances which they preferred. Right of free entry to St. Cuthbert's shrine was allowed to all men of the bishopric; hunting was made widely possible; and various other rights were assured. The document clearly shows that Bek had very greatly tyrannized over the country at large, but its silence about the bishopric boroughs makes it probable that these in general, and Durham in particular, were quite able to hold their own. The evidence of the Assize Roll of 1243 as to the strength of the burgesses of Durham is thus supported after an interval of sixty years.
We have now definitely entered the 14th century, which is one of the darkest of all the centuries of local history. In the past the troublers of the peace had often come from within, but in and after Bek's day they came from without in the shape of Scottish invader, or of pestilence and famine. The first rumours of troubles with the Scots were brought into Durham in 1277, and after a respite they revived in 1296, the year of the desolation of Hexham. Edward's operations in Scotland kept further invasion at bay for a number of years, but in and from 1308 the troubles merely died away in winter to revive with the new spring of each year. Soon after his marriage in 1308 Edward II would seem to have been with his wife at Durham, for a single roll of Bek's episcopate belonging to that year contains the receipt entered by the bishop's official: 'And for 7s. 10d. of the meadow at Durham because the King and Queen took the whole of the first crop.' The meadow in question was close to the city and in the neighbourhood of Franklyn Wood, which was the bishop's special preserve. For Edward's expedition into Scotland in 1309 a special order was received from the king to raise forces in the bishopric. Next year, as the Scottish menace pressed more threateningly, alarm grew, and we find an instance recorded of money banked within the castle at Durham for safety's sake. (fn. 19)
Bek died in 1311, receiving interment within the cathedral instead of the chapter house. With his successor's appearance in Durham we get the splendid palatinate register of Bishop Kellaw (1311–18), the only palatinate record that has survived. Since it is chiefly occupied with the general affairs of the bishopric as a whole, we cannot expect to find much detail concerning Durham in particular. A few points of local history, however, are mentioned in it. We have, for instance, the bishop's confirmation (fn. 20) of the foundation in 1312 of the chapel of St. James on the New Bridge of Durham, or Elvet Bridge. This chapel was situated at the north end of Elvet Bridge and existed on this site until the dissolution of the chantries. At the south end a chapel had already been founded by William, son of Absalon, between 1274 and 1283. Another grant of the same period as the chapel of St. James was the right of free fishery between the old and new bridges within the city. It should be noticed that the conveyance of this privilege from the bishop to the prior and convent describes the old bridge as lying 'between the market of Durham and South Street.' As there is no mention of Silver Street the words seem to suggest that the name now given to the descent from the market place to the bridge was bestowed at some later period. Kellaw's Register also shows us incidentally that the church of St. Nicholas was in disrepair in 1312, when a survey was ordered by the bishop. (fn. 21)
The most interesting local topic in Kellaw's Register is the Scottish aggression. A letter from the bishop in 1311 excusing himself from attendance at a Council in Rome, to which he had been summoned by the pope, illustrates the position at the time. He says that in September Brus and his confederates swarmed into the diocese burning churches, boroughs, towns, crops, in their way. They spared neither sex nor age and were already preparing an invasion to outdo their former severities, so that a general flight was in progress. The fears of the bishop were verified, but his presence seemed to put some heart into the citizens of Durham. A commission was issued to levy contributions for the see, and various assessments were made. Perhaps an indulgence of forty days granted by the bishop at this time (fn. 22) to all who should listen to the preaching of the gospel in Durham Cathedral may be connected with the general fear felt as the Scots drew nearer. Next year (1313) the Scots crept up nearer and nearer to Durham. The suburbs, at all events, if not the city itself, were fired by Brus's troops. The vague time-marks, however, make it impossible to date this calamity (fn. 23) with any precision, if it actually took place, and it seems curious that an event of such magnitude should receive no confirmation from any writer except the two chroniclers. Was the rebuilding of the barbican before the North Gate a consequence of this fire, or was the defence added in view of the approach of the Scots? At all events in May 1313 the bishop's order went forth to estimate the loss to the rector of the North Bailey Church and some others whose houses, abutting on the North Gate, would have to be taken down in the process of building the wall of the barbican. (fn. 24)
There are other traces of taxation and trouble about this time. In the previous year the king wrote to the bishop concerning a complaint of the commonalty of the city who had been summoned, unjustly as it appeared, to pay tallage to the bishop. (fn. 25) Eventually, however, the king did not merely acquiesce in the levy, but commanded the bishop to exact it. In 1315 the king notified the bishop that he had assented to the grant of murage by the latter to the city of Durham. This had clear reference to recent Scottish trouble, for the king's writ says: 'The men of your Liberty of Durham have suffered loss beyond calculation owing to the constant ravages of the Scots who have pillaged and burnt excessively in those parts, and all the more frequently because there are no military fortresses or towns defended by walls wherein to find refuge or shelter for the security of themselves and their goods.' The petitioners beg that the king would allow the grant of murage on things for sale which come into the city. (fn. 26) This was in May: then came the most severe, perhaps, of all the invasions so far, the Scots sweeping right up to Durham. It might have been thought that the land was bare, as though a swarm of locusts had passed over it, for after the great descent of 1313 a terrible murrain had fallen upon flocks and herds, followed by such a famine that grain of all kinds was sold at starvation rates. The chronicler even says that women ate their own babes, so famished were they. But the Scots knew that some oases remained, and that wealth was stored up in Durham, so that at the end of June 1315 they threw themselves right into the county and made, it would seem, for Durham. The city was probably full of refugees, and of driven flocks and herds, but bishop and prior were away, and perhaps it was useless to try anything like a siege. The Scots rushed off to Bearpark, where the prior was, and surrounded the park. Prior Burdon got the alarm and managed to flee on horseback in the direction of Durham, the Scots in hot pursuit, and although they failed to catch him they seized his carriage and equipage with practically all the contents of the house at Bearpark. (fn. 27) Glutted with booty, Brus made off to Chester-le-Street. The men of Durham conferred together and hastily carried out a house-to-house visitation of the city and neighbourhood in order to purchase a truce from the Scots. This was not the first occasion on which the commonalty of the bishopric tried to arrange truces. Other instances can be quoted, but this collection has the interest of being carried through by the Durham members of the community. (fn. 28) There was little respite, for next year on St. Swithun's day so vast a flood came that all the lands adjacent to streams were flooded, carrying off all the crops in indiscriminate ruin, breaking down mills, bursting the dams, rushing into the houses, as the waters rose, and drowning men, women and children. Once more murrain, pestilence, and general want fell upon the city and neighbourhood.
The threatening cloud did not lift for some time. The Scots had been not merely aggressive but insolently overbearing since 1314, when the battle of Bannockburn was fought. The minority of David of Scotland gave the Englishmen new hope, and at Dupplin in 1332 the English took heart of grace. Next year when the king was on his way to the great triumph of Halidon Hill he stopped at Durham, where a quaint episode described by the chronicler took place. As our authority is Graystanes himself, who in that very year was elected to be Bishop of Durham, it may be presumed that his tale is true. He records that Edward III was being entertained by the prior. After nearly a week had passed, Queen Philippa arrived and drove to the monastery gate, and made her way to the prior's house. After supper she went to bed, and then one of the monks plucked up courage to tell the king of the traditions of the abbey and St. Cuthbert's dislike to the presence of women. At the king's suggestion the queen threw a cloak over her and made her way across the Palace Green to the castle. (fn. 29) A requisition had already been made for baggage carts, and these had been concentrating at Durham, (fn. 30) whence the move was made northwards towards Berwick, near which the English revived at Halidon Hill the success of Dupplin.
Bishop Bury succeeded Beaumont in 1333. This celebrated lover of books made Durham not merely the resort of men of learning, but a home of books. Chiefly impressive to the poor were his bountiful gifts of money, for he had a regular scale of largess to be distributed whenever he drove between Durham and Auckland, or Durham and Newcastle. His first appearance in the city was in June 1334, when he was enthroned by Prior Cowton within the cathedral. Afterwards he gave a great banquet in the castle hall, at which a brilliant assembly was present—Edward III and Queen Philippa, the king's mother, Isabel of Boulogne, David II King of Scotland, the two archbishops, John Stratford of Canterbury and Willian la Zouche of York, five bishops, seven earls with their wives, all the great men north of Trent, many knights and squires, several abbots, priors and monks, and also an innumerable throng of the commonalty of the bishopric. (fn. 31)
It is during Bury's episcopate that we get a little group of references to St. Margaret's chapel in the Old Borough, which may indicate some extension in that direction. St. Margaret's, since its foundation in the 12th century, had been a chapel of ease to St. Oswald's. Various documents suggest that the parishioners were not quite content with the subordinate position of the chapelry. In 1343 Prior Fossor became cognizant of the fact that a baptismal font had been erected without any reference either to the bishop or to the prior, who was patron of St. Oswald's. The prior had it removed, to the great indignation of the people in the Old Borough, who made a bitter complaint to the bishop in the castle. He tried to mediate, and ordered a parish meeting within the chapel to discuss the question whether the font should remain against the will of the monastery, or on the express understanding that it was by the prior's grace. In the end the font was allowed to remain on condition that there should be no prejudice to the prior's rights. (fn. 32) The bishop proved a further kind friend of St. Margaret's. The parishioners were evidently extending their church, and had begun a south aisle, in which was an altar dedicated to St. Thomas of Canterbury. Unfortunately their means did not suffice to complete the work in progress, so that the bishop was moved to send a brief to the clergy of his diocese asking them to contribute.
Meanwhile there had been a recrudescence of Scottish troubles, and in 1341, according to Froissart, Durham itself was burned, but the assertion is otherwise unsupported, and it has been supposed to refer to Auckland or some other town. (fn. 33) The neighbourhood of Durham was rarely quiet in these days for long together, and, if the Scots receded, the ways were infested with robbers who did much damage. In fact the dangers of the roads must have kept the pilgrims from approaching the city, so that the annual fairs were probably much impoverished. (fn. 34) With the Battle of Durham in 1346, when the men of Durham largely contributed to the successful issue of the battle outside the city, a temporary improvement began. So far as the Scots were concerned, they were no further trouble for a long time, but a far greater evil than any of the Border invasions fell upon the neighbourhood in 1349 with the advent of the Black Death. It does not seem conceivable that the city escaped, but numerous and pathetic as are the details of the ravages in the bishopric at large no very clear tradition has survived of mortality in Durham itself. It may be argued from a request for money to repair the cathedral in 1359 that the abbey was much impoverished (fn. 35) by the Scottish wars, and perhaps references to mortgages show that the times of pressure had obliged some owners to raise money, while money-lending in Durham appears to have been profitable. (fn. 36) Bishop Hatfield, however, was able to find workmen in 1350 when he entered into a bond (fn. 37) with a certain John of Northallerton to rebuild the roof of the castle hall.
The Cursitor records, which exist from the time of Bury onwards, contain a good many references of some interest as to the conveyance of property in those parts of the city belonging to the bishop. We find the lease of a messuage and garden on 'the place of Durham,' (fn. 38) of 'a place or plot in Owengate,' of 'a place of land . . . under the moat of the Castle of Durham,' of 'one close called Spetelplace formerly occupied by men who were lepers, and now lying waste without occupation of any lepers,' (fn. 39) of 'a piece of land of the waste of the lord outside the north gate of Durham to the south of the said gate between the postern there and a certain round tower situated in the wall of the castle behind the tenement of the Master of Kepier Hospital.' (fn. 40) Thus we have proof that in the 14th century houses abutted on the Palace Green, that there were plots of land leased out below the keep, that the name of Owengate is at least as old as the century in question, though probably much older. The reference to the old Spitalplace shows that there were other hospitals than Kepier and Sherburn in the neighbourhood.
Another lease mentions Jebet Knoll, (fn. 41) and this is, no doubt, the little eminence in full view of the city on the north-west which is still called Gibbet Knoll. Another speaks of the Tolbooth in Durham, and conveys a shop under it. (fn. 42) Many other references to the Tolbooth, which was reerected by Tunstall in the 16th century, show that it must have been a building of some size standing in the market-place and with shops leased out below it. Again in 1398 'William Warde took from the lord a place of the waste of the lord under the walls of the Castle of Durham on the east, viz., in length from Kingsgate to the Quarry where John Lowyn digs stones, and in width from the wall of the aforesaid Castle to the water of Wear to hold and enclose in severalty.' (fn. 43) Other parts of the city named in these rolls of the 14th century are Clayport, Saddlergate, Feshewerrawe or Fleshewergate, Alvertongate, North and South Bailey. All these names survive to-day, with very little change.
If we had more evidence for the period before Bury and Hatfield, we should probably get proof of many changes and improvements in mediaeval Durham, and of quickening trade. The first reference, that has been noted, to the inclosing and paving of the city, other than the mention of murage above, is in 1379, when Bishop Hatfield made a grant of tolls for the purpose of inclosing and paving, (fn. 44) but no light is thrown on the details of what was done. In the previous year the commonalty of the bishopric made a clamosa querela to the bishop, representing to him that the butchers, fishmongers, inn-keepers, and vintners were asking prices higher than those allowed by recent statute. A special commission was issued to the judges to hear the complaint, and to put an end to such offences. (fn. 45) The grievance does not refer to Durham alone, of course, yet the Durham tradesmen probably bore their share.
Some of the references in the lines above have to do with the episcopate of Skirlaw (1388–1405). A year before his consecration trouble was occasioned by some men who broke prison. Possibly this indicates that the building, which was then on the west side of Palace Green, was ruinous. At all events, Skirlaw made it his business to build a new gaol, which was afterwards completed by Langley, and continued to be the ordinary gaol of the city until 1820. An important little valor of Skirlaw's first year informs us not only as to the building of the prison, but as to other matters connected with its immediate neighbourhood.
This interesting document states that the castle with all houses and rooms was in good and thorough repair. Within its walls stood the abbey and two parish churches and between the lower gates of the castle and the graveyard of the abbey was a space called 'le Place' containing by estimation 2 acres with the houses intended for the offices of the Chancery, Exchequer and Receipt; a hall for the Pleas of Justice; a granary; a large grange; and various other rooms on the west side of the said space pertaining to the old gaol before the lord built anew the tower called 'le Northgate' at the entrance to the castle where his gaols now are by his ordinance; and a house for coining money built on the east side of the said space. These buildings returned nothing because they were occupied by the constable, chancellor and moneyer. The mint, which was held by Mulkus of Florence, the lord's moneyer, was then worth 40s. a year, but at the time of the change of the coinage of the money of England brought in 20 marks. The city of Durham with its rents, services, courts, customs, fines on the citizens, proceeds of two water-mills, ovens, fair and market tolls and all other profits and commodities belonging to the said city, escheats, forfeitures of lands and houses, if any, was let to farm to Nicholas Hayford and his fellows at a term of six years for 110 marks a year. The constable had a parcel of land called Hardenfeld, lying near Washington, to support a chaplain celebrating within the chapel of the same castle. There was there also a [wood] called Franklyn, full of great oaks, containing by estimation 300 acres. A certain meadow called Le Bishopmeadow containing by estimation 27 [acres] was let for 106s. 8d. a year. John Cook held a house once belonging to John Morpathe. John Runkhorn, chaplain of the chantry of St. James upon the new bridge of Durham, held a house and a . . . . with a meadow called Millmeadow. Margaret Corbridge held a tenement in the Bailey near Owengate, once belonging to Hugh Cor[bridge]. The commoner of Durham held a tenement in the bailey, once belonging to Robert of Leicester. John Dighton held a tenement in the North Bailey once belonging to Peter Mainsforth and rendered 3s. John Arceys, chaplain, holds a tenement, newly approved, on the Place near the inn of the Archdeacon of Durham, once the property of William Orchard and rendered 17s. The same chaplain held a place there newly approved, once belonging to Master John Hagthorp, and rendered 12d. Geoffrey Langton, rector of the Church of St. Mary in the North Bailey, held a tenement without the North Gate, near a vennel there and rendered 5s. a year. The Almoner of Durham held within the Bailey aforesaid a tenement with a garden formerly Lightfoot's, and rendered 3s. a year. John Aslacby held a certain stage adjoining the tenement of Ralph Warshop before his door and rendered 1d. The heir of John Lumley held a tenement formerly belonging to Alan Goldsmith in Saddlergate in Durham, and rendered 16d. William Werdall held a tenement in Saddlergate, once belonging to the said Alan, and rendered 4d. a year. Thomas Colvell held one place upon the moat, on the western side of the tenement once belonging to John Malleson, which used to render 14d. but was then occupied by those employed by the lord on building of the new tower 4d. . . . held a garden on the eastern part of the same bridge once belonging to Robert Herlesey and before that to Agnes Brown and rendered 4d. a year. Thomas Clerk held a tenement formerly belonging to John Marshall within the North Gate near the tenement of Thomas Smith. Thomas Gray, knight, of Houghton, held a tenement in Owengate, and rendered 3d. a year. The Prior of Durham held a tenement in Saddlergate, once belonging to John Appleton. He also held a tenement called Wearmouthplace within the North Bailey once belonging to Robert Greenwich. The heir of William Catterick held a tenement formerly William Fleshewer's under the moat towards the old bridge and rendered 6d. John Wyrethorp held a garden under the Castle Moat formerly John Woodcock's and rendered 12d. John Killinghall held a garden outside Kingsgate once Henry Klidrow's and renders 2s. There is in the same place a garden lately in the occupation of William Auckland, lying waste and unoccupied. William Huddlestone held in right of his wife, a tenement near Owengate on the south side and formerly John Cutler's and rendered at St. Cuthbert's Feast and in September one pound of pepper. John Runkhorn held two waste places under the arches of Elvet Bridge, and a parcel of ground, and rendered 10d. John Dighton held a tenement, formerly Robert Walton's, and previously William Lanchester's, in the North Bailey, and rendered 6d. a year. Thomas Goldsmith held a shop under the Tolbooth once J. Cusson's and rendered 6s. 8d. Agnes Cupper held a shop under the Tolbooth, and rendered 10s. a year. Thomas Plumer held a place under the moat, once John Chester's and rendered 6d. a year. Thomas Smith held a tenement formerly the said John Chester's and rendered 12d. a year. There is in the same place a tenement, formerly John Maidenstan's in the Bailey of Durham. He rendered at the Feast of St. Cuthbert in September one pound of cumine. 'He does not know where it lies, so let inquiry be made.' There was in the same place a house formerly Ede Barbon's, which was then waste and out of occupation. Ralph Shotton held a garden under the Castle Moat formerly William Ward's which had usually paid 2s., then only 12d. Thomas Bulman held a garden under the moat rendering 12d. Thomas Walworth held a garden there and rendered 12d. Joan Clerk held a garden there and rendered 12d. Elias Harper held a garden near the said Joan's, formerly William Orchard's, towards the Wear which had usually paid 18d. a year. Isabella Fenrother held a garden on the waste reclaimed near Kingsgate on the south side, rendering 6d. John P..lman, chaplain, held two gardens there, each rendering 4d. Roger Wright held a garden formerly Matilda Raven's, usual rent of which was 12d. There is there a garden lying between the garden of Matilda Raven and the garden of Richard le B. . . garth. John Kay, chaplain, held a venell formerly Theodore Coxside's in Saddlergate, rent 2d. Margery, who was wife of Hugh Corbridge, held a place of ground near her own house under the Castle Moat, containing 30 ft. in breadth, and in length 38 ft. and rendered 2d. a year. (fn. 46)
The document seems to be a return of all rents let out to farm in Durham itself by the bishop. As has been seen in Boldon Book, the city was even then at farm, and in the 14th century the grants of one or other section of the bishop's property are not infrequent. Thus in 1386 Fordham in a deed enrolled granted to John Lewyn, Walter Cokyn, Roger Aspour, Henry Sherburn 'the borough' of Durham to farm with all rents, services, etc. appurtenant thereto for the term of six years. A year later Thomas Tudhoe, and John Custson surrendered the farm of 'the vill' of Durham to Ralph de Eure the steward thereof who demised the same to others in turn. It is by no means improbable that the valor quoted above refers to the steward's statement of particulars in connexion with the demise here named. The details are in some respects a help to forming a picture of Durham in 1388. The castle was in good repair, as of course it would be after Hatfield's work upon it. (fn. 47) St. Mary, in the South Bailey, was already a parish church. Around the Palace Green were two sets of buildings. On the west side were the earlier exchequer and chancery courts, the court of justice, the old gaol, and certain buildings of store. The old gaol had been recently superseded, and as the document speaks of extensive work on the new gaol it is probably safe to say that Fordham, or more probably Hatfield, built the new fabric. All these houses were official and produced no rent. On the east side stood the mint, to which we shall recur. On the same side, as we know, though the document does not say so, was the inn of the Archdeacon of Northumberland, and beside it were other houses. Apparently a careful distinction is drawn between the Bailey, the North Bailey, and the South Bailey. There is no difficulty as to the last two, but Margaret Corbridge's house and garden may suggest that the Bailey was the space behind Owengate and below the castle mound. If so her garden may perhaps still be identified as the garden inclosed and still in that position. The rector of the North Bailey church seems still to have lived outside the north gate, as a previous reference in 1311 makes clear. There were houses and gardens below the moat, both on the Framwellgate side and round towards Saddlergate. There were several gardens below the Bailey wall, and between it and the river. Finally there were two instances of quaint mediaeval tenure, but nothing is here said of Castle-Ward and other duties.
Attention must be drawn to the mint. The valor places it on the east side of Palace Green. It was under the management of a Florentine, but it was not long in his hands. Seven years later 'William Ward took from the lord a house or a place in the Castle of Durham called Moneyer's house together with another room beyond the gate called Owengate, to hold until some moneyer should come who wishes to make money in the same.' (fn. 48) This suggests that the moneyer had a residence, perhaps, on the north side of Owengate, whilst his mint proper was on the south side of that street. This not only works in with local tradition (fn. 49) but is supported by a document of 1455 which leases 'on the east of the Place of Durham' and 'South of an ortus (sic) called Coneyorgarth' a parcel of the lord's waste. (fn. 50) Obviously the Coneyorgarth or Mintersgarth was on the south of Owengate. References to the mint in the 15th century are pretty frequent. In 1460 one Norwell of Durham, coiner, entered into bond with certain persons to pay so much to the bishop for the farm of the coinage, delivering up the dies and instruments used after the expiration of a year. (fn. 51) He was also to answer to the bishop for any defect. In 1473 a goldsmith of York was licensed to make the coining dies, (fn. 52) but in 1476 the grant was to one William Omoryghe, goldsmith of Durham, to make, grave, and print coining irons for the mint of the bishop of Durham, under the supervision of John Kelyng, Chancellor of Durham, and John Raket. (fn. 53) In 1490 there was another bond on the appointment of mintmaster, (fn. 54) and in 1493 there was a bond in £200 entered into by five tradesmen of Durham for the due execution of the office of keeper of the mint of Durham. (fn. 55) The mintmaster was one of the five, and his name was William Richardson, merchant. The danger of false coining naturally led to such precautions as these bonds and covenants suggest, and that vigilance was needed is attested by the fact that in 1475 false money had been issued, for which offence the king's pardon was sought and obtained. (fn. 56)
It is now necessary to return to the history of the city in the 15th century. The period opens with many evidences of founding and repairing. Much of this is due to Cardinal Langley, who became bishop in 1406. He left his mark upon Durham in various ways. It is, once more, a little difficult to assign dates to his work, but it is probable that the considerable changes at the north gate of the castle are to be attributed to the early years of his episcopate. At all events in 1413 a lease of a chalk-pit and quarry at Sherburn was granted to Thomas Alanson on condition of rendering 120 horse-loads of chalk 'to the works of the castle of Durham.' (fn. 57) The chronicler ascribes to Langley 'the whole of Durham gaol, and the very costly stone gates of the gaol, where in old times was the ancient gateway at that period in disrepair.' (fn. 58) Until Langley's time the gaol was in an entirely different part of the castle precincts, and he built the great gaol tower over Saddler Street which lasted until 1820. It is not improbable that the older gaol occupied the site of the exchequer buildings rebuilt by Neville about 1450. In any case it must have been near them. Langley's rearrangement of the ground at the top of Saddlergate and behind Owengate, towards the castle, cannot be followed in detail, as no exact description survives, and later adaptation introduced alterations. There were, however, various alleys and spaces running back towards the mound of the keep, both above and below the great gateway. In 1453 there was a lease to Richard Raket, clerk of the exchequer, of 'a small garden lying next the wall of the castle which leads from the north gate to the tower of the castle . . . and a parcel of waste land lying next the said wall between the tenement of Ralph Earl of Westmorland and William Prior of Durham on the one part, and the said wall as far as the entrance which leads to the great house of the seneschal in the said north gate on the other part.' (fn. 59) All the parts here named appear to be on the Palace Green side of the great gate.
Langley, probably, pulled down a good deal of old work on the west of the Green. There had been a wall from the keep to the cathedral running along the east side of the Green, originally built by Flambard, and its foundations can still be traced underneath existing houses. When the cardinal founded in 1414 his two schools, the one for grammar and the other for music, he probably destroyed this wall. For a description of the schools and for the story of their refoundation by Cosin in the time of Charles II, the reader must be referred to the first volume of this series. Cardinal Langley also founded the chantry in the Galilee, and restored the Galilee itself, at considerable cost. Under the chantry his tomb in time was placed. (fn. 60) In the midst of these operations a terrible visit of pestilence fell upon Durham in 1416, (fn. 61) and also, later, in Langley's last year, 1438. (fn. 62) In between these two pestilences occurred one of the most notable calamities in Durham history, when in 1429 a terrific thunderstorm burst (fn. 63) over the city and destroyed the upper part of the central tower of the cathedral. Prior Wessington wrote a pathetic account to the bishop concerning the damage done. The storm was not only terrible but quite unheard of in those parts, lasting from ten o'clock at night to seven next morning. Just before 1 a.m., when the monks were at matins, a crash so awful came that they thought the building was collapsing. Probably at this time the wooden top of the bell-tower was struck, but the fire was not discovered until the storm abated, and then until noon the flames gained an increasing hold, whilst the molten lead began to pour through the roof on to the pavement below. The people rushed up to the church as the news of the conflagration spread, and at last by their efforts and prayers the flames subsided after raging for about twelve hours, whereupon monks and populace sang a Te Deum. The concourse was all the greater because it was Corpus Christi day, a general holiday, when all the trade gilds walked in procession. Probably Wessington's work of repair in the cathedral was partly in consequence of the damage done by this storm. (fn. 64)
Beside Bishop Langley's chantry in the Galilee, served by the masters of his two newly-built schools, (fn. 65) several other chantries were established at this time by clerical donors, and in 1431 St. Margaret's Chapel at last received the status of a parish church. (fn. 66)
The Corpus Christi gild, whose inauguration is much earlier, probably, was refounded in 1437. To this gild Thomas Billing had granted permission to inclose and cover a well in his manor of Sidgate near Framwellgate, and to bring the water by a subterranean aqueduct to the market place of the city for the use and convenience of the men and burgesses thereof. Such is the chartered beginning of the main freshwater supply of the centre of the city, a supply which has only been superseded by other means within the memory of men still living. Bishop Neville confirmed the arrangement in 1451. (fn. 67)
It was in this same year that the earliest extant incorporation of a special trade fraternity took place, and as had been the case in London the first incorporation was granted to the weavers. The Assize Roll of 1243 shows that such trade was vigorous in Durham two centuries before this date, so that as in the case of the Corpus Christi gild Neville's charter is probably an incorporation of an existing society. The ordinance follows more or less the usual lines of such documents. Corpus Christi day was the trade festival when the gildsmen walked in procession, and were to 'playe or gar playe ye playe yat of old times longes to yair crafte at yair allens costage after the ordinance of the two wardens, and ilka man sall be at ye said procession yearly when his oure is assygned by the wardens and at all other meetings under penalty of 6d. to the Bishop and 6d. to the lights of the crafte unless reasonably excused.' This company and others acted on strictly protectionist principles, of course, and were allowed 'to take to prentes noe Scottesman nor noe Scotteswoman on payne of 6s. 8d. to the Bishop, and 6s. 8d. to the lights for ilk defaute.' A few years later a dispute sprang up between rival branches of the craft, and an inquisition was held at Durham to decide the matter, when it was ruled and the decree enrolled that 'no one of the said craft is to make the work of the other under a penalty of 100 shillings.' (fn. 68)
The cordwainers were next in order of enrolment. In 1458, and by confirmation in 1460, this company was incorporated in much the same way as the weavers had been. (fn. 69) Then came the barbers, whose oldest extant ordinary is in 1468, from which it appears that, as usual, the term barbers is intended to comprise surgeons as well. In later days they affiliated certain other trades to their fraternity. (fn. 70)
Other trades in the city were perhaps not as yet incorporated, or they may have been refounded after the Reformation. In 1448, for instance, the fullers and the shoemakers were prohibited from employing any native of Scotland in their craft. (fn. 71)
In the 15th century the shrine of St. Cuthbert was a great attraction still, and pilgrims flocked to the city as they had done for more than four centuries, bringing demands which the various companies were able to supply abundantly. (fn. 72) In the main the century was peaceful, for Scottish troubles were rare, and the astute opportunism of Booth saved city and bishopric from reprisal when the Yorkist side became supreme. When we turn to the conditions of life in Durham at this period there is little to guide us. In 1417 a fatal accident at the butts near Framwellgate shows that archery was practised by the inhabitants. We have already seen the allusions to the mystery plays of the gilds, an observance which no doubt took up a large amount of time and preparation as May approached year by year. In 1492 a chance entry suggests a large unwritten chapter in local history, which if it could be recovered would entertain the reader with that long list of Durham characters who have played their part in the life of the city and have passed away. Two shoemakers became bail for the good behaviour of 'Thomas Smyth, minstrel, of Durham, otherwise called Piper whom the Lord Bishop had pardoned for all felonies and other offences.' (fn. 73) There was fishing in the river, and the Wearthen, as now, was a salmon river. How far it was generally open to all does not appear, but in 1390 and again in 1437 commissions were issued to observe the 'fence months.' This, of course, was in accordance with the statute of Westminster the Second.
The end of the 15th century witnessed more building in Durham. Bishop Fox carried out the changes associated with his name in the castle, dating their completion, perhaps, by the legend which is still to be seen over the kitchen hatch, viz. 1499. This was the year in which he was the means of concluding the prospective marriage between James IV of Scotland and the Princess Margaret of England. The bride's youth postponed it for some four years, and Fox, meantime appointed Bishop of Winchester, came back in the royal retinue proceeding to Scotland to give a royal feast to Margaret and the noble company that assembled in the hall. Possibly Fox's elaborate changes were designed to make this banquet worthy of the match which he had so largely brought about. A visit from Lord Darcy, destined many years later to be a rebel leader, gives an interesting side-light. He said to Fox: 'My lord, both I and my lady was in all your new works at Durham, and verily they are of the most goodly and best cast that I have seen after my poor mind, and in especial your kitchen passeth all other.'
Princess Margaret's visit to Durham is the most picturesque event, perhaps, in the history of the city ; it gives, moreover, a sort of farewell description of the mediaeval monastery on a festival occasion. (fn. 74) In connection with it, too, we find elsewhere for the last time recorded how the shrine of St. Cuthbert was still visited, and how cures were reputed to be worked there. (fn. 75) A far more detailed account of what the great monastery was in its very latest years is given in really fascinating detail by the author of the Rites of Durham, which was written in 1593 by one whose memory went back to its sunset days in the twenties and the thirties. (fn. 76)
After the visit of the princess, the next conspicuous event is the Scottish invasion of the bishopric, and the great English victory at Flodden. (fn. 77) Ruthall the bishop, who was with the king in France, hurried back to Durham, and from the castle superintended the Durham musters. From the castle too he wrote to Wolsey a full account of Flodden, (fn. 78) telling him how the Durham people ascribed their triumph to the intercession of St. Cuthbert, and how the King of Scots' banner, sword, and 'gwyschys,' or armour for the thighs, had been brought to the cathedral. The banner was hung up near the feretory. (fn. 79) The signal triumph must have brought much satisfaction to the city which had been harassed by the Scots.
Just before the Scottish war, Bishop Bainbridge had made a grant of some importance to the people of Durham when he gave the prior and convent all the right bank of the river between Elvet and Framwellgate Bridges below the castle and cathedral walls down to the Wear, and also the river itself between those points, reserving ingress and egress for all the castle folk and right of winning stones for the walls with full access to them. The reason of the grant is 'lest the prior and convent and their successors in time to come should be troubled, disturbed, or annoyed by ill-disposed persons in their prayers and other divine offices.' (fn. 80) Then they were able to police and guard what Durham calls ' the Banks' on both sides, the other side being theirs already. The bishop lost what in later days, when trees were planted, came to be the most beautiful part of the peninsula. (fn. 81)
From this we pass on to mention the classic reference to Durham so often quoted from Leland's Itinerary. The writer paid his visit to the city on the eve of the great changes, but probably before the demolition of the shrine of St. Cuthbert in 1538.
The town self of Durham standeth on a rocky hill, and standeth as men come from the south country on the ripe of Wear. (fn. 82) The which water so with his course natural in a bottom windeth about, that from Elvet, a great stone-bridge of 14 arches, it creepeth about the town to Framwellgate Bridge of three arches (fn. 83) also on Wear, that, betwixt the two bridges, or a little lower down at St. Nicholas, the town except the length of an arrow-shot is brought in insulam. And some hold opinion that of ancient time Wear ran from the place where now Elvet Bridge is straight down by St. Nicholas now standing on a hill, (fn. 84) and that the other course part for policy, and part by digging of stones for building of the town and minster was made a valley, and so the water-course was conveyed that way, but I approve not full this conjecture. (fn. 85) The close itself of the minster on the highest part of the hill is well walled, and hath divers fair gates. The Church itself and the Cloister be very strong and fair, and at the very east end is a cross-aisle beside the middle cross aisle of the minster church. (fn. 86) The Castle standeth stately on the north-east side of the Minster, and Wear runneth under it.
Leland adds some words as to recent improvements at the castle, which would be those of Fox, and then concludes: 'The building of Durham Town is meetly strong, but it is neither high nor of costly work.' Obviously Leland had no eye for anything outside the peninsula itself.
Leland had no anticipation of the great changes which even then were setting in. Tunstall the bishop was very little in Durham. When the supremacy was agitated in 1532, special messengers came to Durham as well as to Auckland and Stockton to seize any 'books bearing on the king's cause.' (fn. 87) Incidentally, we find how ill furnished the castle was, for the visitors found 'such a little household stuff.' Tunstall soon came down, and in Durham preached the king's supremacy very convincingly. In the next year or two, the people of Durham had to witness the visits of royal commissioners and the virtual suspension of the bishop's powers in his own capital. (fn. 88) Then came the monastic visitation at the end of 1535, but the visitors could find no flaw in the morality of Durham Abbey, though certain local superstitions were held up to ridicule. All the royal action was a blow to the bishop's power, and still more severe was the act of resumption in 1536, which was the greatest diminution of the jura regalia that any bishop had yet suffered. (fn. 89)
Before the year was over, the first act of the Pilgrimage of Grace had been carried out, which was not entirely a religious demonstration, but largely, as one of the leaders said, a rising 'under Captain Poverty.' (fn. 90) The Durham insurgents bore away the banner (fn. 91) of St. Cuthbert as their ensign.
The rising collapsed about March 1537, when Norfolk held his assize in Durham castle, (fn. 92) an event of great significance, for here was the royal power over-riding the paramount authority of the bishop in Durham. (fn. 93) A year later came a catastrophe which meant more to the tradesmen and inhabitants of Durham than any diminution of episcopal independence. The shrine of St. Cuthbert was despoiled in March 1538, close to the spring feast and fair of the saint, and the very centre of the arch upholding the fabric of mediaeval Durham at once fell in. (fn. 94) It was a loss of means to very many in the city, and even of subsistence to some. A year before, another rebellion would have been the result, but men had learnt to fear the king's mailed hand, which after the Pilgrimage of Grace had hit hard. A horseman on the London road said to a man of Durham: (fn. 95) 'Is there none that grudgeth with such pulling down of abbeys in your country ?' To this the wayfarer replied: 'I trust no, for if there be any such they keep it secret, for there hath been so sore punishment.' In 1539, a conversation in Durham Castle gives a glimpse of the reign of terror that had set in when at dinner in hall one present declared that the Prior of Mount Grace would never surrender his charterhouse. (fn. 96) But he did, and, before the year was out, the great Benedictine abbey of Durham had surrendered, (fn. 97) an event which, to the speaker in the hall that day, would have seemed unthinkable.
So the shrine was despoiled of the saint's body, and the abbey came to an end. To the citizens of Durham it must have seemed as if the glory of Durham had departed. But it was intended to re-constitute the foundation on a secular basis, and an interim constitution was drawn up. (fn. 98) Under this, the prior acted as guardian, the estates and property were administered by his direction, and the household carried on by a sufficient staff until the details were settled with much debating and alteration of plan. No doubt the people of Durham were given to understand that a new and, perhaps, a better order was designed. For the present it was ordered that all debts and expenses should be duly paid. All superfluous servants were to be discharged with six months' wages in advance. It is probable that a large amount of the abbey plate went up to London 'for the King's majesty's use.' As for the church services, daily matins at 6 and Mass of Our Lady were ordered to be sung according to the use of Sarum. (fn. 99)