A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
37. THE COLLEGE OF ST. MARY MAGDALEN, BRIDGNORTH
The forerunner of this royal free chapel was the college founded at Quatford in 1086 by Roger, Earl of Shrewsbury. A tradition current in the later Middle Ages that the college was founded at Quatford to fulfil a vow by Roger's second wife Adelize (fn. 1) is not out of accord with known facts and may embody some elements of truth. It seems clear, however, that the earl's main object was to provide his clerks with a source of income more secure that the life-interests in the manors of Stoke St. Milborough and Morville which they had earlier been given. (fn. 2) Material considerations probably also accounted for his choice of site. The college stood close to one of the earl's principal residences in a district better provided than Shrewsbury with comital estates from which income might be drawn. He may well have imagined, too, that its church would form an imposing and attractive feature in the new town he planned to establish at Quatford. (fn. 3)
The content of the college's foundation charters is preserved in later transcripts of an abbreviated account of its foundation, probably drawn up in or after the 13th century. (fn. 4) The preliminaries seem to have been accomplished quickly, for the three or four original deeds cited in the account can be dated to the years 1085-6. (fn. 5) The earl first provided his canons with the whole of Eardington, except the site of the castle and town of Quatford and his demesne woodlands, granting Millichope to Wenlock Priory in compensation for the latter's claims to Eardington. (fn. 6) The church was dedicated, apparently on 14 November 1086, (fn. 7) before an impressive assembly which included three bishops, six archdeacons, monks from the earl's foundations at Shrewsbury and Wenlock and from Gloucester Abbey, two sheriffs, and at least six of the earl's principal lay tenants in Shropshire. Provision was made for six canons, and the earl then added to his original endowment the churches of Claverley and Alveley, the tithes of Nordley, Bobbington, and 'Laetonia', a third of the tithes of Morville, Chetton, Stottesdon, Corfham, Culmington, and Siefton, and the tithes of tolls and a market in Quatford. On the same day the earl's sons Hugh and Philip gave the township of Burcote in Worfield.
It is improbable that Quatford would have survived for long as a secular college had not the estates of the earls of Shrewsbury been forfeited to the Crown following the rebellion of Robert of Bellême in 1102. Earl Roger's son Hugh granted Quatford to the French abbey of La Sauve Majeure, (fn. 8) presumably because he no longer required the college as a means of providing for his secretariat, and in the confirmation of the grant by Robert of Bellême provision was made that as each canon died his prebend was to be assigned to a monk. (fn. 9) If any steps were taken to transform Quatford into a dependency of the French house, the events of 1102 quickly rendered them abortive. Patronage of the college was retained by the Crown and when it next appears in the mid 12th century (fn. 10) it had been transferred to Bridgnorth, where its church was the chapel of St. Mary Magdalen in the royal castle there. Although it now comprised a dean and five canons the college preserved in its unusual constitution some trace of its origins as a community of comital chaplains. The Crown reserved the right to appoint to each prebend as well as to the deanery and each canon exercised independent jurisdiction in his own prebend.
The college also retained the greater part of its original endowment. Burcote does not reappear among its possessions and the tithes it had once held in Chetton, Culmington, Siefton, and Stottesdon had passed into other hands by the mid 13th century. (fn. 11) Sources of revenue were divided on a rough geographical basis between the deanery and the five prebends, those of the deanery lying in Bridgnorth and townships to the east, those of Alveley and Eardington prebends to the south and south-west, and those of Morville, Underton, and Walton prebends to the north-west.
The dean drew most of his income from tithes and other dues in Bridgnorth St. Mary, Claverley, and Bobbington. (fn. 12) His portion also included Quatford church, Pendlestone mills in Bridgnorth, the manor of Ludstone in Claverley, and a portion of tithes in Stottesdon. Income from tithes and Easter offerings in the dependent chapel of Bridgnorth St. Leonard and from fairs and markets in the town were apparently shared between the dean and canons, but the dean was said to have appropriated the former in 1379 (fn. 13) and the canons' rights to the latter were in doubt at the Dissolution. (fn. 14) By the mid 13th century Alveley prebend included lands in the south of Eardington as well as the church and tithes of Alveley itself, while the remainder of Eardington, with its chapel, formed the endowment of Eardington prebend. (fn. 15) This may have been a modification of the original arrangement, since the two Eardington estates were said in 1255 to represent parts of a single prebend, (fn. 16) and in 1350 the portion of Eardington in Alveley prebend was transferred to that of Eardington. (fn. 17)
Lands in Morville and the two adjoining townships of Underton and Walton, afterwards the sole endowment of the three prebends named after them, probably represent the two hides which Earl Roger had held in demesne at Morville in 1086. (fn. 18) The college lost the portion of tithes it had held in Morville parish. Shrewsbury Abbey was able to establish its title to the tithes of Walton and Underton in the 12th century (fn. 19) and there is no indication that Morville prebend included the tithes of that township. (fn. 20) These three prebends were considerably less well endowed than the others in the later Middle Ages and there are indications that they had once included the lost portions of tithes in Corvedale. A third of the demesne tithes of Corfham and a small annual pension from Diddlebury were still claimed as part of Underton prebend in 1255. (fn. 21)
Deans and canons of Bridgnorth were thus considerably better endowed than their counterparts at Shrewsbury St. Mary (fn. 22) and there was little apparent change in the gross income from the college's estate between the 13th and the 16th centuries. There are five late-13th-century valuations purporting to show the income of each prebend. The two sets of figures given in 1255 (fn. 23) and the assessment in the Taxatio of 1291 (fn. 24) are untrustworthy but more reliance can be placed on the gross valuations of £123 and £160 given at the assizes of 1272 (fn. 25) and 1292 (fn. 26) respectively. The valuation of £81 6s. 8d. in 1535 (fn. 27) is clearly an underestimate, judging by the net valuations of £112 in 1546 (fn. 28) and £101 (fn. 29) in 1548 and the gross value of £132 given in the first ministers' account, 1547-8. (fn. 30)
Rather more than half of the total income was annexed to the deanery, which was said to be worth 60 marks in 1272, 100 marks in 1292, and £81 5s. 2½d. in 1547-8. (fn. 31) All but some £3 of the last-mentioned sum was derived from tithes and other spiritualities, and Alveley, the most wealthy of the prebends, similarly drew most of its income from tithes. It had been valued at 60 marks in 1272 and at 80 marks in 1292, but its income was reduced after the transfer of lands and tithes in Eardington to Eardington prebend in 1350. (fn. 32) It was worth £21 6s. 8d. in 15478, of which at least £20 seems to have been derived from tithes. (fn. 33) Eardington prebend, worth 15 marks in 1272 and 14 marks in 1292, comprised in 1547-8 about 200 acres of land (fn. 34) worth £9 a year and only £1 in tithes. (fn. 35) The three prebends in Morville, which included little or no income from tithes, (fn. 36) were reckoned to be of about the same value as Eardington prebend in the later 13th century (fn. 37) but their values had fallen to little more than £6 apiece in the 16th century. (fn. 38)
Since the Crown enjoyed the patronage of both deanery and prebends the royal household remained the largest single source from which deans and canons were drawn until the later 15th century. (fn. 39) The origins of the few known 12th-century canons cannot be established but in John's reign they included two royal justices, (fn. 40) a king's physician, (fn. 41) and at least four of the king's foreign dependents or allies. (fn. 42) The Wardrobe became a prominent source after the appointment of the noted wardrobe clerk Peter of Rivaulx as dean in 1224; (fn. 43) wardrobe clerks secured the prebends of Alveley, (fn. 44) Eardington, (fn. 45) Morville, (fn. 46) and Underton (fn. 47) between 1227 and 1238 and two Poitevins, one of them a clerk of the Great Wardrobe (fn. 48) and the other the king's kinsman Peter of Aubusson, (fn. 49) held Walton prebend successively, 1248-75. Clerks from the queen's Wardrobe were appointed to Underton in 1244 (fn. 50) and to Alveley in 1260. (fn. 51) Prince Edward, whose physician had been canon of Alveley, 1252-3, (fn. 52) secured control of appointments to the deanery during and after the Barons' Wars and two late-13th-century canons had connexions with the papal curia, but otherwise most vacancies were filled from the royal household. William of Fécamp, appointed to Morville in 1263, was a king's physician, (fn. 53) the noted pluralist John Maunsel, who held Underton until 1264, (fn. 54) and Adam de Fileby who probably succeeded him were diplomats, (fn. 55) and Walter Langton, Keeper of the Wardrobe, was appointed dean in 1291.
Apart from the royal justice Henry of London (fn. 56) the only canon with known local connexions up to this date had been William Lestrange (Alveley 1203-28), (fn. 57) who had been followed here by his nephew John Gernun. (fn. 58) In the 1290s, however, there occured a curious interlude while the deanery was held successively by three of the king's Savoyard kinsmen and three prebends were held by John, Nicholas, and William Brun, who seem to have been members of a prominent Bridgnorth merchant family. (fn. 59) A fourth prebend was held by Robert of Turberville, who was living at or near Bridgnorth in 1292 (fn. 60) and was also rector of the nearby parish of Wheathill.
Walter de Bedwynd, Cofferer of the Wardrobe, (fn. 61) was appointed to Morville prebend in 1306 and the two next vacancies were also filled from this department. (fn. 62) Although the Wardrobe never secured a monopoly of preferment at Bridgnorth it provided at least 14 of the 57 deans and canons appointed between 1306 and 1399, compared with four from the Chamber and three from the Privy Seal. The last, all appointed between 1361 and 1363, (fn. 63) included William of Wykeham. Comparatively few prebends went to officials of the Chapel Royal in the 14th century and of the five known appointments of such clerks three were made in the last years of Richard II. (fn. 64) Four canons were members of the queen's household (fn. 65) and five were officers in the Chancery (fn. 66) or Exchequer. (fn. 67) Instances of nepotism were rare. Wykeham was followed at Alveley by Richard of Wykeham, who does not appear to have been in the royal service and was presumably a kinsman. Walter of London may have shown a similar concern for his kin, for he was succeeded in Underton by Nicholas of London in 1332 and, having been reappointed to Underton, resigned it to John of London in 1343. Apart from Thomas of Eyton alias Knockin and Henry of Harley, who challenged Eyton's title to the deanery in 1327, (fn. 68) no 14th-century deans or canons appear to have been of local origin but three deans were in the service of bishops of Hereford. (fn. 69)
If the evidence of royal commissions of inquiry is to be believed, 14th-century deans habitually neglected the dependent chapels in their charge. In 1336, when it was alleged that the dean and canons had been alienating their estates, the commissioners were given power to deprive them if necessary. (fn. 70) As a result of an inquiry, perhaps set on foot by a newly-appointed dean in 1369, his predecessor was found to have failed to provide chaplains at Claverley, Broughton, Bobbington, Quatford, and Bridgnorth St. Mary. (fn. 71) Similar charges were made in 1376 (fn. 72) and 1379 (fn. 73) and among the detailed catalogue of misdeeds attributed to Columb of Dunbar in 1410 were charges that he had sold the lead on the roofs of Quatford, Bobbington, and Claverley churches, causing them to fall down. (fn. 74)
From the early 15th century a far smaller proportion of deans and canons was drawn from the administrative departments of state. Columb of Dunbar obtained the deanery in 1403 as a reward for help given by his father to Henry IV in the campaign of Hambledon Hill (fn. 75) and William Dudley (dean 1471-6) also seems to have owed his preferment to timely military assistance to Edward IV. (fn. 76) Other 15th- and 16th-century deans included the King's councillor Richard Martin (1476-82), (fn. 77) Wolsey's secretary Thomas Larke (1508-15), and the diplomat Thomas Magnus (1517-48); the five remaining deans were primarily scholars, two of whom were incidentally connected with the royal household. (fn. 78) The antecedents of 26 of the 62 canons appointed between 1399 and 1548 are not known. The remainder included four administrative officials in the king's or queen's household (fn. 79) and a Chancery clerk, (fn. 80) while the Privy Seal, (fn. 81) the Duchy of Lancaster, (fn. 82) and the Irish Chancery (fn. 83) each provided two canons. On the other hand at least 15 canons were associated with the Chapel Royal, notably those of Walton prebend, which was held continuously by vicars choral and other clerks of the Chapel Royal from 1479 if not earlier. (fn. 84) A further six 15th-century canons were Oxford scholars. (fn. 85)
The practice of granting the right of next presentation to vacant prebends is first met with at Bridgnorth in 1475 (fn. 86) and this seems to have become the normal method of dispensing Crown patronage here by the early 16th century. (fn. 87) The Chapel Royal retained its interest in Walton prebend to the end but the four remaining prebends were held from the 1490s by canons without known connexions with the Crown. A few bore local names but the antecedents of most of them are not known.
There is little evidence that the Crown's rights of patronage at Bridgnorth, or the status of the college as a peculiar jurisdiction, were ever seriously challenged. The dean was involved in 1241 in a lawsuit with a papal collector concerning the sequestration of the former's goods as rector of Claverley, (fn. 88) but the college was among those royal free chapels whose exemption from ordinary jurisdiction was claimed in 1245 (fn. 89) and there is no later record of trouble from this quarter. Until 1281, when Bridgnorth's exemption from ordinary jurisdiction was confirmed, (fn. 90) there were occasional clashes with the diocesan authorities. The archdeacon of Stafford had interfered in the appointment of a chaplain to Bobbington, c. 1222, (fn. 91) and a dispute over the archdeacon's right to levy procurations was in progress in 1245. (fn. 92) The canons found it necessary, c. 1260, to ask the dean to protect them from the archdeacon, who had threatened to impose an interdict on Bridgnorth and to imprison one of the vicars choral should he venture outside the town. (fn. 93) The college also enjoyed some measure of exemption from local secular jurisdiction; the deans and canons had been quit of suit of hundred and county in 1234 (fn. 94) and they were said to be claiming pleas of the crown and waif in the manor of Bridgnorth in 1292. (fn. 95)
The earliest surviving act book of the dean's peculiar covers the period 1472-1523. (fn. 96) His court, normally presided over by a commissary, (fn. 97) then met at intervals of a little less than a month. Visitations or general chapters were usually held once a year and were attended by the vicars choral, the clergy and other representatives of the two town churches and the four country chapels in the dean's portion, and the priors of the hospitals of St. James and Holy Trinity. Although each of the canons enjoyed similar peculiar jurisdiction over his prebend, no record of such peculiars has survived. There are manor court rolls of Underton prebend, 14581537, (fn. 98) including, in 1501, a combined view of frankpledge and court for spiritual causes. (fn. 99)
Although there are rare instances of the appointment of local men as canons there is no evidence that canons had ever been assigned prebendal houses. (fn. 100) They might go to Bridgnorth on occasion, two canons being present at the dean's visitation of 1480, (fn. 101) but in the early 16th century they seem to have stayed at inns in the town. (fn. 102) There are, however, some indications that deans of Bridgnorth maintained the manor-house at Ludstone as a local residence until the end of the 14th century. Peter of Rivaulx obtained a gift of 18 beams for repair there shortly after his appointment as dean in 1223 (fn. 103) and the dean claimed the right to take wood for fuel from Morfe Forest in 1285. (fn. 104) A similar claim was made in 1332 by Thomas of Eyton, who implies that he and some at least of his predecessors had been resident. (fn. 105) When his successor Thomas Talbot petitioned the king to the same effect he limited his claim to woods in the manor of Ludstone. (fn. 106) The timber-framed manor-house which stood there in the time of dean Thomas of Tutbury (1391-1403) comprised a hall, chamber, 'frerechamber', kitchen, and bakehouse. (fn. 107) Other buildings included a gatehouse, partly of stone, and there was a well-stocked fishpond. Tutbury, who evidently intended to rebuild the house in stone, had assembled a quantity of freestone, shingles, tiles, and boards for the purpose but these were sold by his successor Columb of Dunbar, who pulled down the greater part of the house and allowed the remainder to fall into ruin. (fn. 108)
The chapel of St. Mary Magdalen, which was demolished in 1792, was described by Leland as 'a rude thing' and was certainly a far less impressive building than the other collegiate churches in the county. (fn. 109) The nave, long chancel, and western tower were probably built c. 1238 (fn. 110) and a north aisle was added, presumably after 1294, when a chantry service was founded in St. Mary's by Richard Dammas. (fn. 111) It was originally intended as a private chapel for the castle but the townsmen petitioned, c. 1330, that it should become a parish church (fn. 112) and it was being used as such by the later 15th century. (fn. 113) Its routine service was the responsibility of the vicars choral and parochial chaplains. The king had assigned a yearly stipend of 50s. to the chaplain of the newly built chapel in 1238 (fn. 114) and this was confirmed in 1259. (fn. 115) There were two such chaplains, c. 1260, (fn. 116) but again only one after the mid 14th century. (fn. 117) In the early 16th century his salary was apparently paid by the dean and canons jointly. (fn. 118) There had presumably been five vicars choral since the refoundation of the college but they are not recorded before 1260 (fn. 119) and little evidence survives regarding them. In the 16th century their income was derived from the profits of the Easter light in St. Mary's church and tithes of wool, lambs, and hemp in the parish. (fn. 120) These had been part of the dean's estate, and the dean's court had assumed responsibility for the discipline of the vicars choral. In 1512 they were directed to attend services properly attired and not to absent themselves without permission from the parochial chaplain (fn. 121) and in 1523 the appointment of two vicars choral was quashed on the ground that they were insufficiently learned. (fn. 122)
The college had been dissolved by April 1548 (fn. 123) and pensions were assigned to the dean and four of the canons in the following June. (fn. 124) Eardington and Walton prebends were granted to John Thynne and Laurence Hyde in August 1548 (fn. 125) and Underton, granted to John Peryent and Thomas Reeve in December 1549, (fn. 126) was sold to Roger Smyth in the following month. (fn. 127) The deanery and the two remaining prebends were retained by the Crown rather longer. The whole of the deanery estate had been leased, with Morville prebend, to John Seymour in September 1548 (fn. 128) but the manor and tithes of Ludstone were granted in 1549 to William Sawle and William Bridges, (fn. 129) who later sold them to Edward Leveson and William Billingsley, (fn. 130) and the great tithes of Bridgnorth St. Leonard were granted to Francis Tunstall and Thomas Smithies in 1560. (fn. 131) In 1569 Francis and Martin Barnham were granted the reversion of Pendlestone mills, the small tithes and Easter dues of St. Leonard's, and profits of the dean's spiritual jurisdiction and of markets and fairs in the town. (fn. 132) The rest of the deanery estate was granted in 1579 to Sir Christopher Hatton, (fn. 133) who immediately sold it to Rowland Hayward and John Lacy. (fn. 134) The reversion of Morville prebend was acquired in 1554 by Thomas Reeve and George Cotton, (fn. 135) who then sold it to William Acton of Aldenham. (fn. 136) Alveley prebend, which had been leased to William Gatacre in 1561, (fn. 137) was granted to the Barnhams in 1569. (fn. 138)
Deans Of The College Of St. Mary Magdalen, Bridgnorth
Alexander, occurs 1161 × 71 and perhaps 1182. (fn. 139)
Simon, occurs c. 1196. (fn. 140)
Michael de Fienles, appointed 1262, resigned 1265. (fn. 145)
Bonettus of St. Quentin, appointed 1268, died 1290. (fn. 148)
William of Savoy, appointed 1300, resigned 1301. (fn. 153)
Thomas Talbot, appointed 1334. (fn. 160)
Thomas Keynes, appointed 1353. (fn. 161)
Robert Ive, appointed 1362, died 1369. (fn. 162)
Thomas of Brantingham, appointed 1369, resigned 1370. (fn. 163)
Nicholas Slake, appointed 1387. (fn. 166)
Columb of Dunbar, appointed 1403, ejected 1410. (fn. 169)
John Marshall, appointed 1410, occurs 1424. (fn. 170)
William Dudley, appointed 1471, resigned 1476. (fn. 173)
Richard Martin, appointed 1476, resigned 1482. (fn. 174)
William Chantry, appointed 1482, died 1485. (fn. 175)
Thomas Larke, appointed 1508, resigned 1515. (fn. 178)
William Cooper, appointed 1515. (fn. 179)
Thomas Magnus, appointed 1517, occurs until 1548. (fn. 180)