A History of the County of London: Volume 1, London Within the Bars, Westminster and Southwark. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1909.
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THE ROYAL FREE CHAPEL OF ST. STEPHEN, WESTMINSTER
The chapel of St. Stephen in the palace of Westminster was, according to Stow, founded by King Stephen. (fn. 1) There is no doubt that it existed in the time of King John for the names of two of the chaplains are recorded: Gervase who became vicar of St. Mary's, Cambridge, in 1205, (fn. 2) and his successor in office, Baldwin of London, clerk of the exchequer. (fn. 3)
Henry III appears to have taken a great interest in the chapel which he provided with vestments, (fn. 4) altar-frontals, (fn. 5) images (fn. 6) and tapestry (fn. 7) and beautified in various ways. (fn. 8) It was rebuilt in 1292 by Edward I (fn. 9) who was assisted by the papal indulgence offered to those visiting the chapel on certain festivals, (fn. 10) but in 1298 it was burned down (fn. 11) about four years after its completion. (fn. 12)
In 1330 a new chapel was begun, (fn. 13) apparently on a more ambitious scale for masons were still at work on it in 1337, (fn. 14) and it could not have been finished very long before workmen were again being employed in large numbers, (fn. 15) probably to make its appearance correspond to the important change in its position recently made by the king. There had been four chaplains in the reign of Henry III (fn. 16) but they seem to have been afterwards reduced to one (fn. 17) whose office was regarded as of no great value, (fn. 18) when in 1348 Edward III ordained that there should henceforth be a college there consisting of a dean, twelve secular canons, thirteen vicars, four clerks and six choristers to whom he assured an income of £500, (fn. 19) the difference between this sum and their revenues being paid to them from the exchequer. (fn. 20) The pope, in answer to the king's petition in 1349, gave to the dean power to correct the canons and exempted them from the jurisdiction of the ordinary, stipulating, however, that the dean should receive cure of souls from the bishop and be subject to him in all things relating to it. (fn. 21) He also empowered the dean to enjoy the fruits of his benefices while residing in the deanery. The king in 1354 exempted them from the aids for knighting the king's eldest son and marrying his eldest daughter, and from all other contributions, tallages, fifteenths and clerical tenths, (fn. 22) from payments for munitions of war (fn. 23) and liveries of seneschals and marshals; (fn. 24) he forbade the seizure of their goods and those of their men by his provisors (fn. 25) and excused them from paying any pension or corrody to the king or his heir against their will; (fn. 26) he acquitted them and their tenants of toll, pannage, pontage, kaiage, lestage &c., scots and gelds, hidage and scutage, shire courts, hundred courts, view of frankpledge and murdrum. (fn. 27) He ordered moreover that the dean and canons should have the amercements, fines and forfeitures incurred by their men and tenants; (fn. 28) that they should have wreckage and waifs and strays on their lands, (fn. 29) sac and soc, infangenthef, and outfangenthef, view of frankpledge, pillory, tumbrel and gallows; (fn. 30) and granted them free warren in all their demesne lands, (fn. 31) acquittance of pleas of the forest and freedom from all charges that the foresters could make. (fn. 32) They were to have the return of all briefs and attachments of pleas of the crown in all their lands and fees; (fn. 33) the cognition and correction of small breaches of the peace committed by the vicars or servants within the college, and the cognition in their courts of all pleas of those living on their lands. (fn. 34)
To provide accommodation for the members of the college, the king gave them in 1354 a chamber in the gate of the palace and a hospice and other buildings within the precinct, with a piece of ground bounded by the chapel, the receipt of the exchequer, Westminster Hall and the Thames for a close. (fn. 35) The endowment of the college, however, to the extent designed by the king, could not be accomplished very quickly. By the foundation charter the college received a large hospice in Lombard Street, and the advowsons of the churches of Dewsbury and Wakefield, co. York, with licence to appropriate. (fn. 36) To these the king added three more churches, Sandal (fn. 37) and Burton, (fn. 38) co. York, and Bledlow, (fn. 39) co. Bucks, between 1351 and 1360; the sum of £35 14s. 7d. from the ferm of the city of York in 1351; (fn. 40) 'Sewtestower' in Bucklersbury in 1358; (fn. 41) rents amounting to £66 13s. 4d. from houses in the Staple of Westminster before 1360; (fn. 42) and a hospice called 'La Reole' in London in 1369. (fn. 43) Before his death the king also enfeoffed John of Gaunt and others in trust for the college, of the manors of Ashford, Barton, Buckwell, Eastling, Mere, and Langley by Leeds, with the advowsons of the churches, a parcel of meadow in Eynsford, and the reversion of the manors of Elham and Colbridge, co. Kent, (fn. 44) and of Winchfield, co. Southants. (fn. 45) These the feoffees let to the dean and canons for forty years in 1382, but before the grant in mortmain which they intended could be effected, the lands were seized by Sir Simon de Burley, who held them by letters patent of King Richard. Burley was attainted in 1388, and the lands came in consequence into the king's hands. The canons then put in their claim, and Richard at first granted them the profits arising from the lands for a term of years, but finally in 1398 carried out King Edward's wish and gave them the lands themselves. (fn. 46)
The interest of Edward III in his foundation was constant. It was at his request that the pope offered an indulgence in 1349 (fn. 47) and again in 1354 (fn. 48) and 1361 (fn. 49) to those who helped the chapel by gifts or bequests or who visited it on the feasts of the Assumption, of St. Stephen, St. George, and St. Edward. It was to him, too, that the canons owed their bell-tower with its three large bells. (fn. 50) He also purchased a great missal and an antiphon for the chapel (fn. 51) in 1362 at a cost of £33. But perhaps there is nothing that better illustrates the king's relations with the college than his grant of £34 to the vicars, clerks, and choristers in 1370 'in relief of their charges because of the dearness of provisions.' (fn. 52) The college probably owed something of the king's generosity to their position. It was impossible for him to forget men who were actually living in the palace, many of the canons being moreover his clerks. But it was also a situation which involved obligations, and if the college had a large income, (fn. 53) they certainly needed it, for they seem to have been expected to keep open house for the nobles coming to the court. (fn. 54)
A quarrel which was to last for years began in 1375 (fn. 55) between the college and the abbey because the dean had proved the will and administered the estates of two inmates of Westminster Palace. (fn. 56) The abbot and convent claimed that as the church of St. Margaret and all the chapels in the parish were appropriated to them, St. Stephen's, which lay in the parish, belonged to them, and the dean and canons had no right to receive parochial tithes and oblations or exercise jurisdiction in the parish or chapel. (fn. 57) They therefore obtained letters from Pope Gregory XI, and the dean was cited to appear before papal delegates at St. Frideswide's, Oxford. (fn. 58) But the matter now touched the crown, and in February, 1377, Edward III interposed, (fn. 59) and after a declaration that his free chapels were exempt from all jurisdiction, ordinary and delegate, except that of his chancellor, forbade archbishops, bishops, or others to hold any pleas concerning them to his prejudice or to molest the dean. (fn. 60) The prohibition was renewed by Richard II in December, (fn. 61) but in July, 1378, the dean and chapter were excommunicated and suspended. (fn. 62) The king then sent ambassadors to Pope Urban VI asking that the case might be submitted to the chancellor, and his request was granted on condition that an agreement was made between the parties within a year. No settlement being arrived at in that time, the matter was referred to Parliament in 1380, but with no result. A further appeal was then made to Rome, (fn. 63) and sentence was given against the college in 1382; (fn. 64) the dean and chapter nevertheless refused to pay the fine and costs (fn. 65) to which they were condemned, and although they were excommunicated for contumacy (fn. 66) they did not yield until 1393. (fn. 67) The next year (fn. 68) an agreement was at length made with the abbot and convent as follows: (fn. 69) The chapel of St. Stephen's with the chapterhouse and the chapels of St. Mary in the Vault and St. Mary of Pewe, as well as the cloister and the houses within the precinct (fn. 70) inhabited by the thirty-eight persons serving in the chapel, the new kitchen of the vicars, and a room beneath the star chamber, were to be exempt from the jurisdiction of the abbot and convent; all other chapels and places within the palace as well as the houses of the thirty-eight if not inhabited by them were to remain subject to the abbot and convent; the dean and college were not to be exempt for faults committed without the precincts and in the parish of St. Margaret. The abbot and convent were to have probate of wills of all persons within or without the precinct except of the thirty-eight persons, the probate of whose wills belonged to the dean; the members of the households of the thirty-eight were to be considered parishioners of St. Margaret's; the dean and college should have free burial in their chapel and cloister as far as the thirty-eight were concerned, but in the case of others half of all oblations should go to the abbey unless bequests were made to a member of the college separately, when the monks were not to participate; with these exceptions all oblations and obventions made in St. Stephen's were to go to the dean and college, but those offered in the chapel of St. John the Evangelist and all other oratories within and without the precinct were to belong to the abbot and convent; the dean and college might have a baptismal font for baptizing the children of kings and magnates, but they were to administer no other sacraments to any without the authority of the abbot and convent especially granted; the dean and college were bound to give the greater tithes from their precinct to the abbey but not the lesser; the dean was to receive investiture from the abbot, and at his installation was to take an oath to observe the agreement; as an indemnity to the abbey the college promised to pay an annual pension of 5 marks.
The interests of the crown were so bound up with those of the royal chapel in the above controversy that during the period of its duration some special sign of the king's favour might almost be expected to occur, and it was in 1384, after the judgement pronounced against the chapel at Rome and while the dean and chapter still refused to submit, that the king was arranging to build a cloister for the college across the close and a house for the vicars. (fn. 71)
The firm establishment of the college as a whole had hitherto been the main concern. When this was secured, attention could be given to details. Thus the position of the vicars and clerks seems to have received too little consideration, (fn. 72) until in 1396 King Richard ordained, on condition that they observed the obit of the late Queen Anne, that the vicars, clerks, and choristers should henceforth form a corporate body which should have a common seal and power to acquire land, (fn. 73) and of which one of the vicars, elected by themselves without any necessity to ask the king's leave or assent, should be warden. (fn. 74) This ordinance, however, was not to affect the power of the dean and canons to appoint the vicars and to exercise authority over them. The king granted to them in frankalmoign the houses which he had built for them, and also a piece of land between the palace and the river where they were making a garden at their own cost.
The numerous grants made to St. Stephen's during the next century for the maintenance of anniversaries and chantries must have amounted in the end to a considerable sum. Among other gifts the college received £50 in 1399 for the anniversary of Dean Sleford; (fn. 75) in 1410 a rent from a messuage in Bishopsgate Street for that of Canon Fulmere; (fn. 76) and £20 bequeathed to them for the same purpose by Canon Adam de Chesterfield, who also left them a large missal worth £11 6s. 8d., a great gradual worth £7 13s. 4d., and a new ordinal worth £5; (fn. 77) £50 in 1425 for the annual obit of Canon Orgrave; (fn. 78) £40 in 1427 for the anniversary of Canon Merston; (fn. 79) 100 marks in 1471 for Dean Kirkham's anniversary; (fn. 80) £82 in 1478 for the anniversaries of two canons, (fn. 81) and tenements in Warwick Lane in 1498 for the anniversary of another canon. (fn. 82) Six houses in the staple of Westminster were made over to the college in 1442 as the endowment of a chantry for the soul of William Prestwyk, one of the masters in chancery, either in the oratory of St. Mary of Pewe or in St. Stephen's. (fn. 83) A chantry of two priests was founded there in 1455 for the soul of William Lindwood, bishop of St. Davids, (fn. 84) who had been buried in the lower chapel in 1446, (fn. 85) and who bequeathed to the college 600 marks of the money owing to him by the crown for the completion of the cloister and bell-tower. (fn. 86) A sum of £100 was paid in 1471 for an obit and a daily remembrance of Canon John Crecy and Thomas Lord Stanley, (fn. 87) and in 1480 Richard Green gave to the college 200 marks to provide perpetual masses for his soul. (fn. 88) Among the benefactors of the college were numbered also Walter Hungerford, knt., lord of Haytesbury and Homet, treasurer of England, and Ralph, Lord Cromwell, for whose anniversaries agreements were made in 1428 and 1437. (fn. 89)
The chapel had perhaps more need of these gifts and bequests than might be imagined. Its income of £500 was certainly large for those days, but it could never have allowed much margin over the expenditure, (fn. 90) since Edward III in 1360 gave the chapel £5 a year more because the charges exceeded its revenues by that amount.
In 1437, indeed, the dean declared that they needed at least £100 a year more to discharge their obligations. (fn. 91) The rents derived from the houses in the Staple were no longer paid, (fn. 92) and the money due from the exchequer was not obtained without a great deal of trouble. Henry VI, therefore, in place of these two sums, which amounted to £110 7s. 11d., and for the observance of the anniversaries of his father and mother, granted to them the alien priory or manor of Frampton, co. Dorset, estimated at £166 13s. 4d. per annum.
Considering the close relations between the sovereign and a free chapel and the particular proof which the king had just given of interest in St. Stephen's, it is strange to find one of the canons, Thomas Southwell, accused in 1441 of aiding Roger Bolingbroke in his attempt to kill the king by necromancy at the instigation of Eleanor Cobham. (fn. 93)
The king's favour to the rest of the college was, however, unaffected by this incident. He granted to the dean and canons in 1445 two fairs in Frampton. (fn. 94) In 1453 he gave them the custody of the clock-tower in his palace with wages of 6d. a day, and the houses within the precinct of the palace once occupied by Dean Sleford. (fn. 95) Two years later they were deprived of the wages by an Act of Resumption, but they received them again in 1461 from Edward IV, who besides confirming the grants made to them by his predecessors added to their possessions in 1469 the alien priory or manor of Wells and the rectory of Gayton, co. Norfolk, (fn. 96) and in 1466 gave them power to appoint constables, reeves, and bailiffs in their manors and fees, and exempted their men and tenants from being elected as constables or other officers of the king. (fn. 97)
The dean and canons followed the example of the vicars and clerks in 1479, and obtained permission from the king to form themselves into a corporate body with a common seal and power to acquire lands and to implead and be impleaded. They also received licence to acquire in mortmain lands, rents, knights' fees, and advowsons to the value of £100 yearly, and were acquitted of the payment of fees or fines for royal letters or charters. (fn. 98)
The dean must have been in a special degree the confidential servant of the king. It was emphatically the case with the last two holders of the office, Wolsey, (fn. 99) and his successor, John Chamber, who was chaplain and physician to the king. (fn. 100) Chamber seems to have been wealthy as he spent 11,000 marks on building a cloister at St. Stephen's, (fn. 101) and he sent twenty soldiers to the army against France in 1544, as many as the archbishop of Canterbury. (fn. 102)
This last expense certainly may have been defrayed by the college, which could have well afforded it, for its financial difficulties must have vanished long before it was dissolved by Edward VI in 1547. (fn. 103)
The pensions allotted were as follows:—To the dean £52 10s., to each of the eleven canons £18 7s. 4d., to each of the eleven vicars £6 13s. 4d., to four chantry priests £6 each, to one of the clerks £6 13s. 4d. and to the other three £6 each, and to every chorister, of whom there were seven, 53s. 4d. (fn. 104) In Mary's reign six prebendaries and four choristers were still receiving pensions. (fn. 105)
Its revenues amounted in 1535 to £1,085 10s. 5d. gross, and £458 4s. 10¾d. net, £565 being paid yearly to the dean, canons, and vicars. (fn. 106) Its possessions comprised tenements in London and Westminster, and a small payment from the ferm of the City; (fn. 107) rent of assize in Lambeth, co. Surrey; (fn. 108) the manors of Wells and Gayton, (fn. 109) and lands in South Lynn (fn. 110) and Wiggenhall St. Mary's, (fn. 111) co. Norfolk; the manor of Winchfield, co. Southants; (fn. 112) a payment of £35 14s. 7d. from the ferm of York; the ferm of some mills there; (fn. 113) the manors of Frampton and Burton and rents of assize in Winterborne Came, co. Dorset; (fn. 114) land in Bledlow, co. Bucks; (fn. 115) the manors of Elham, Ashford, Queencourt, Eastling or Northcourt, Bredhurst, Merecourt, Wichling, Langley, (fn. 116) Colbridge, (fn. 117) Plumford and Painters, (fn. 118) and land in Eynsford, (fn. 119) Iwade, (fn. 120) and Harty Isle, (fn. 121) co. Kent; the manor of 'Codyngton,' (fn. 122) co. Sussex; the rectory of Fen Stanton, (fn. 123) co. Huntingdon, which had been given to them in 1394 by Thomas earl of Nottingham; (fn. 124) the appropriated churches of Wakefield with the chapel of St. Leonard, of Dewsbury, Sandal, Penistone, (fn. 125) and Burton, co. York; the rectory of Frampton and the chapel of St. Lawrence in Burton, co. Dorset; (fn. 126) and of Gayton in Norfolk. (fn. 127) In 1431 the dean held the manor of Overland in Loningborough Hundred, co. Kent, by the service of a knight's fee in Elham. (fn. 128)
St. Stephen's, as the chapel in the king's palace at Westminster, was of course particularly rich in vestments and plate. In the long inventory of vestments, the total value of which was estimated at £336 19s. 6d., (fn. 129) there were mentioned children's copes and albs, evidently those worn by the boy-bishop and his attendants in the festivities of St. Nicholas's Day, which seems always to have been observed there. (fn. 130) At the beginning of the fourteenth century the chapel possessed many ornaments of gold or silver-gilt adorned with precious stones and enamels, (fn. 131) and at the Dissolution it had at least 2,250 oz. of silver gilt and 436 oz. of silver parcel gilt besides the jewels in the various articles and a cross and chalice of gold. (fn. 132)
Deans of St. Stephen's College, Westminster
Thomas Cross, appointed 1348, died 1349 (fn. 133)
Michael de Northburgh, D.C.L., occurs 1349 (fn. 134)
Thomas de Keynes, appointed 1355 (fn. 135)
Thomas Rous, appointed 1367 (fn. 136)
William de Sleford, appointed 1369, (fn. 137) occurs 1377, (fn. 138) 1383, (fn. 139) and 1395 (fn. 140)
Nicholas Slake, (fn. 141) appointed 1396, (fn. 142) occurs 1407 (fn. 143) and 1411 (fn. 144)
John Prentys, occurs 1425 (fn. 145) and 1437 (fn. 146)
William Walesby, occurs 1453 (fn. 147) and 1455 (fn. 148)
Robert Kirkham, occurs 1459, (fn. 149) 1461, (fn. 150) 1468, (fn. 151) died 1471 (fn. 152)
John Alcok, appointed 1471, (fn. 153) died 1472 (fn. 154)
Peter Courtenay, appointed 1472, (fn. 155) occurs 1477, (fn. 156) resigned 1478 (fn. 157)
Henry Sharpe, occurs 1478 (fn. 158) and 1480 (fn. 159)
William Smyth, occurs 1491 (fn. 160)
Edmund Martyn, occurs 1498 (fn. 161)
Thomas Hobbis, S.T.P., occurs 1507 (fn. 162)
William Atwater, occurs 1509 (fn. 163)
John Forster, occurs 1509 (fn. 164)
Thomas Wolsey, occurs 1514 (fn. 165)
John Chamber, appointed 1514, (fn. 166) was the last dean (fn. 167)
Smith, Antiquities of Westminster, has included among the deans of St. Stephen's several deans of the chapel royal in the belief that the offices were identical. It is certain, however, they were not the same, for a document of 1377 mentions Sleford as dean of St. Stephen's and Thomas Lynton as dean of the king's chapel.
The common seal of the college in the fourteenth century (fn. 168) is a pointed oval representing St. Stephen, a book in his right hand and three loaves in his left, in a gothic niche of two arches with carved canopy and sides; before him on the right are five persons kneeling. In two smaller niches overhead is the Virgin crowned, with the Child on the left, and St. John the Evangelist, with the eagle on a plaque and a palm branch, on the right. In the base is the shield of arms of Edward III, viz., quarterly, 1, 4, France (ancient), and 2, 3, England, between four sprigs. Tabernacle work at the sides. Legend :—
S. COVE . DECANI ET . COLLEGII . CAPELLE SBI . STEPDI . WESTMONASTERII.
A fine seal of Dean William de Sleford, 1373, (fn. 169) represents the dean standing in a stall and holding a book, beneath a gothic canopy with tabernacle work at the sides. Legend :—
SIGILLVM . WILL'I . DE . SLEFORD.