A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1970.
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34. THE COLLEGE OF ST. MICHAEL, PENKRIDGE
Tradition in the later Middle Ages attributed the foundation of the royal free chapel of St. Michael (fn. 1) at Penkridge to King Edgar (957-75). A safer guide is the evidence of the Liber Niger, the register of John Alen, Archbishop of Dublin and Dean of Penkridge from 1528 to 1534; a note written in Alen's own hand and appended to certain records of Penkridge in the register states that the 'original founder' of the church was King Eadred (946-55). (fn. 2) The antiquarian learning of the archbishop and his knowledge of early deeds relating to Penkridge favour the acceptance of his statement. In the light of it a charter of King Edgar dated at Penkridge in 958 and describing it as a famous place (fn. 3) acquires particular meaning. Another early notice of the church is in the will of Wulfgeat of Donington (Salop.) which is probably of about the year 1000; by it Penkridge received a legacy of two bullocks. (fn. 4) It was stated in the 13th century that the church of Lapley had belonged to Penkridge at an early date but that through the negligence of the canons it was lost to the abbey of St. Rémy at Rheims after they had acquired the manor of Lapley in the early 1060s. (fn. 5) In 1086 there is evidence of a community at Penkridge in the nine clerks whom Domesday Book records as holding one hide of land there in demesne of the Crown. (fn. 6)
King Stephen, desirous of winning the support of the episcopacy, gave the churches of Penkridge and Stafford with their lands, chapels, and tithes in 1136 to Bishop Roger de Clinton and his churches of Coventry and Lichfield for the soul of Henry I. (fn. 7) Both Penkridge and Stafford were then held in chief of the king by Jordan, a clerk of Roger de Fécamp, probably by grant of Henry I. (fn. 8) Jordan was to continue to hold them for his lifetime of the bishop and his two churches who were to remain owners in perpetuity with rights of soc and sac, toll and team, and infangentheof. Stephen's gift was confirmed by papal bulls in 1139, 1144, and 1152. (fn. 9) By the early 1180s, however, Penkridge had been recovered by the Crown and restored to the status of a royal free chapel. Robert, Dean of Penkridge, occurs at some time between 1180 and 1188, (fn. 10) and by 1183 a vacant prebend of Penkridge was in the hands of the Crown. (fn. 11) The king made an appointment to the prebend of Cannock in the late 12th century, (fn. 12) and in 1199 King John appointed to the deanery. (fn. 13)
By this time a protracted dispute between Penkridge and Lichfield over the church of Cannock had begun. In 1189 Richard I, in order to raise funds for his crusade, sold to the bishop, Hugh de Nonant, the vills and churches of Cannock and Rugeley regardless of the fact that Cannock church was attached to the prebend of Cannock in Penkridge church. (fn. 14) In 1191 the Pope confirmed Bishop Hugh in his possession of the churches of Cannock and Rugeley, (fn. 15) and within twelve months Hugh had granted them to the common fund of the canons of Lichfield, reserving to Penkridge an annual payment of 4s. (fn. 16) The Dean of Penkridge eventually impleaded the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield, and the case was heard by three papal judges delegate in 1207. It was decided in favour of Penkridge. (fn. 17) Lichfield was to pay one mark a year to Penkridge through the chaplain of Cannock; deceased parishioners of Cannock were to be buried at Penkridge which was to receive the mortuaries; the chaplain appointed to Cannock by Lichfield was to swear in the chapter-house at Penkridge to observe the agreement. Penkridge and Lichfield promised to support each other 'without charging expenses', and whenever the Dean of Penkridge visited Lichfield he was to be received as a brother of the church in choir and chapter, and on the day of his death and its anniversary Lichfield was to celebrate the office of the dead as for a canon. The transcript of this settlement in the Great Register of Lichfield is followed by an angry note that the Pencrichenses immediately broke the agreement by many vexatious acts against the Lichefeldenses who appealed to Rome and broke the seals on the deed. (fn. 18) The date and result of the appeal are not known. In 1221, however, the Pope, in response to a petition from the chapter, confirmed a grant made by Bishop Cornhill (1214-23) of several churches including Cannock. (fn. 19) The dispute continued until the 14th century. (fn. 20)
A notable event in the history of Penkridge was the grant of the advowson of the deanery by King John in 1215 to Henry of London, Archbishop of Dublin, and his successors provided that they were not Irishmen. John also confirmed the archbishop in his possession of the manor and fair of Penkridge which had been granted by Hugh Hose or Hussey. The archbishop had given valuable service to the Crown as Justiciar of Ireland from 1210 to 1215 and had also given generous financial help in the building of Dublin castle. (fn. 21) When the deanery fell vacant in 1226 the archbishop assumed that he became dean by virtue of the 1215 grant, but Henry III appointed a dean of his own, Walter de Kirkeham. Within a few months, however, the king gave way after an examination of John's charter. He quitclaimed the deanery to the archbishop and ordered the canons of Penkridge to render him due obedience. (fn. 22) The quitclaim was not, however, intended to be permanent, and when Archbishop Henry died in 1228 the king appointed Richard of St. John, chaplain of Hubert de Burgh, to the deanery, declaring it to be in his gift because of the vacancy in the archbishopric of Dublin. Shortly afterwards Luke, Dean of St. Martin le Grand and Treasurer of the King's Wardrobe, was elected archbishop, but the Pope declared the election uncanonical. Luke was re-elected and received papal approval in 1230. Henry III then set aside his previous appointment and quitclaimed the deanery to Luke, confessing that he had been unmindful of his father's charter. (fn. 23)
Though surrendering over the deanery, the king retained his right to collate to the prebends of Penkridge during a vacancy in the see of Dublin. In 1253 Henry granted to William of Kilkenny, Archdeacon of Coventry, the power to collate to the prebends of Penkridge which should fall vacant during the next voidance of the archbishopric. (fn. 24) On the death of Archbishop Luke in 1256 the Pope appointed Fulk de Sanford, Archdeacon of Middlesex, to Dublin, but two months later the king made a life grant to Henry of Salisbury, a royal chaplain, of the power of collating to the prebends of Penkridge. In March 1257 the king surrendered the deanery to Archbishop Fulk to hold 'as his predecessor Luke held it, saving to the king and his heirs his right when he wishes to assert it.' Fulk obtained a bull in June confirming to him John's grant of the advowson. He also petitioned the Pope to make the union of the deanery with the archbishopric complete and absolute, claiming that the deanery had no revenues of its own for the support of the dean. A bull of 1259 duly granted that no one in future should be instituted as dean except the archbishop and his successors in the see of Dublin.
The union remained undisturbed until the Reformation, but the Crown continued to collate to prebends during vacancies in the archbishopric. In 1271, shortly after the death of Fulk, Henry III granted to William de la Cornere collations to the Penkridge prebends falling void during the vacancy of the see. (fn. 25) Edward III took advantage of the rule of devolution established by the Lateran Council of 1179 by claiming the power to collate to a prebend which had been left void by the archbishop for more than six months, and in 1337 he appointed Robert de Kyldesby to the prebend of Dunston. (fn. 26)
There is little evidence that the archbishops ever came to Penkridge. In 1257 Archbishop Fulk de Sanford was at Lichfield for the burial of Bishop Weseham. (fn. 27) One other archbishop who is known to have been at Penkridge is Robert Wikeford. He held a visitation in 1380 and took the opportunity to raise the weekly pittances of the two chantry priests. (fn. 28) The non-residence of the deans made necessary the appointment of an official to exercise the dean's peculiar jurisdiction. In 1288 Stephen of Codnor, the 'vicegerent' of Archbishop John de Sanford, was at Penkridge dealing with the contumacy of Sir Richard de Loges, a parishioner of the dean. (fn. 29) In 1321 Richard Hillary, commissary of Archbishop Bicknor, held an inquisition at Penkridge into allegations of wastage of the collegiate revenues by resident commissaries. He then appointed one of the resident priests as the dean's commissary to be responsible for all the revenues of the church and to account at least once a year to the canons or their proctors. (fn. 30)
In 1291 the church of Penkridge, valued at £44 13s. 4d., had eight prebends: Coppenhall, Stretton, and Shareshill, each valued at £10, Dunston (£5 6s. 8d.), Penkridge (£4), Congreve (£2 13s. 4d.), Longridge (£2), and the vicarage of Coppenhall (13s. 4d.) (fn. 31) An inquisition in 1261 (fn. 32) carried out by the king's command had mentioned only four of these (fn. 33) but included also the disputed prebend of Cannock. Besides the chapel of Cannock there were three chapels, at Coppenhall, Shareshill, and Stretton, dependent on Penkridge. The inquisition also showed that at an earlier time, probably in the late 12th century, the prebends were often treated as hereditary estates. This practice had ceased by 1261, but as already seen the Crown was able to secure many of the prebends for its own nominees. The prebend of Cannock evidently disappeared in the 14th century. The dispute with Lichfield had been renewed in the later 13th century and continued until at least the 1330s. A prebendary of Cannock was appointed in 1313 and 1337, but the absence of the prebend from a list of 1365 seems to suggest that Penkridge lost the fight. (fn. 34) There are occasional references to other prebends. A prebend of the chapel of Pillatonhall occurs in 1272 with the prebendary asserting his claim to tithes in Huntington (in Cannock) against the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield claiming as rectors of Cannock. (fn. 35) The prebend of Bold occurs in 1342 with the vicarage of Coppenhall annexed to it. (fn. 36) The list of 1365 gives 9 prebends: Coppenhall, Shareshill, Dunston, Penkridge, Congreve, Longridge, the King's Chantry, the Chantry of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Sacrist's. (fn. 37) This last is mentioned as a prebend in 1349. (fn. 38) In 1396 a prebend called Brennydhalle was conferred by the Crown on Thomas de Marton. (fn. 39)
The inquisition of 1261 revealed that two of the canons, probably the only two then resident, had usurped powers over the collegiate property to the detriment of the rest. (fn. 40) Another inquisition in 1321 revealed a similar state of affairs. (fn. 41) Two resident priests, acting as commissaries of the deans, were found to have wasted much of the collegiate property. It was stressed that the two priests were not canons but resided as chantry priests obliged to celebrate mass daily, one for the king and the other in the chapel of the Blessed Virgin. It was ordered that in future one of them was to act as commissary if no canon was resident; he was to account for all the revenues of the church once or twice a year to the proctors of the canons. The two priests were to divide between themselves what was left of the income of the church after the chancel had been repaired, again if there was no canon in residence. They were also to take the place in choir of the vicars if these were prevented from attendance by their duties as chaplains of the churches dependent on Penkridge. As already seen, the two chantry priests were listed as prebendaries of Penkridge in 1365. In 1380 it was stated that by custom they had to be resident 'to support the burdens of hospitality.' They then received only 10½d. a week each from the rents of the college, and since the rest of their income, derived from the chantry endowments, was insufficient to support their burdens, the Archbishop of Dublin raised their weekly income from the common rents by 3½d. each. (fn. 42)
The permanent union of the deanery of Penkridge and the archbishopric of Dublin had no effect on the status of the church as a royal free chapel. Henry III showed his interest by his gift in 1251 of a silver chalice and of two oaks from Cannock Forest to make stalls for the church. (fn. 43) In 1253 he gave ten oaks for the work then in progress on the fabric of the church. (fn. 44) More marked was the Crown's resistance, as in the case of other royal free chapels, to papal attempts to tax Penkridge, except when such taxation was for the benefit of the king. (fn. 45) In the 14th century papal provisions to prebends in Penkridge provoked determined opposition from the Crown. (fn. 46) The first of these seems to have been the provision of Elias de Janaston to the prebend of Dunston; in 1315 Elias surrendered the prebend and accepted the royal claim that the papal provision was void. In 1317 the Pope made provisions to two canonries at Penkridge, each in expectation of a prebend there. (fn. 47) In the case of the first the archbishop-elect of Dublin who was then at the papal court, promised to appoint to the next vacant prebend. In 1325, however, after the vacancy had occurred, Edward II asserted the complete exemption of the prebends of royal free chapels from all ordinary jurisdiction and from conferment by anyone except himself; he cautioned the Dean and Chapter of Penkridge against proceeding further in the execution of the provision. The archbishop as dean accepted the royal declaration and sent it on to the chapter at Penkridge with his order for it to be observed. In 1333 the Pope provided Thomas Michel, Rector of Berkley (Norf.), to a Penkridge canonry with the expectation of a prebend. Two years later Coppenhall fell vacant and Michel was provided to it by papal mandate. Edward III made a strong protest, but Ralph, Lord Stafford, interceded for Michel and the king agreed to confirm him in possession on condition that he renounced his right by virtue of the papal provision. This renunciation was duly made. Another papal provision, to the prebend of Coppenhall in 1342, seems to have been accepted by the Crown without protest, no doubt because of the war with France. When, however, Thomas Michel died in 1361 at the papal court and the Pope proceeded to provide William Russell to the Coppenhall prebend, (fn. 48) Edward III opposed the provision and in 1362 appointed David of Wooler. (fn. 49) Thomas de Eltenheved succeeded Russell as the papal nominee in 1363, but he was so violently disturbed by Wooler in enjoyment of the prebend that he appealed to the papacy. Judgement was, of course, given for him and the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield was ordered to restore to him the prebendal property and, in case of hindrance from Wooler, to put him under sentence of greater excommunication. Finally Wooler resigned, and in 1363 the king appointed Richard de Bedyk, ordering the imprisonment of any persons hindering his collation by the prosecution of appeals in foreign parts. But Eltenheved appears to have retained possession, and in 1365 the king appointed John Edward. Eventually he got possession, his estate in the prebend was ratified by the Crown in 1371, and he died as prebendary in 1381. In 1379, during the papal schism, Urban VI had granted Richard II the right to nominate to two canonries, with expectation of prebends, in every cathedral chapter and collegiate church in the realm, and thus in 1381 the king nominated John de Wendlyngburgh to the prebend of Coppenhall without any friction. Several other royal appointments were made between 1385 and 1400.
In 1249 the king forbade Thomas of Wymondham to enter the bounds of the free chapel of Penkridge and to exercise any jurisdiction there. (fn. 50) In 1259, however, the Archdeacon of Stafford began a visitation of Penkridge. The king promptly wrote to him stating how perturbed he was to hear that the archdeacon was striving to subdue the chapel to the jurisdiction of the ordinary and to hold chapters there. He ordered the archdeacon to desist from such rash presumption if he wished to stay in the kingdom and the sheriff to prevent him from further activities in the parish of Penkridge. (fn. 51) The parishioners were also warned not to allow the bishop, his officials, or the archdeacon to enter the vill of Penkridge for the exercise of spiritual functions or to obey them in any spiritual matters. (fn. 52) It is not known how this dispute proceeded, but in 1281 Penkridge was one of the six royal free chapels of the diocese recognized by the bishop as exempt from all ordinary jurisdiction and subject directly to the Pope. (fn. 53)
In the meantime a conflict had begun between the canons of Penkridge and John Pecham, Archbishop of Canterbury, who came to the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield on a metropolitical visitation in 1280. (fn. 54) In a letter of April to the Archbishop of Dublin as Dean of Penkridge Pecham agreed to defer the visitation of Penkridge until the two prelates had met to discuss the college's claim of exemption. Pecham said that he had seen with astonishment a letter shown him by the dean's commissary and bearing the seal of Henry III, which testified to an apostolic privilege granting the general exemption of the royal chapels. The Archbishop of Dublin was advised to think well over the matter, which Pecham suggested, might be brought before the Dean of the Court of Arches. (fn. 55) In July 1280 Pecham reported to the king that the dean and canons of Penkridge had done great wrong to the church of Canterbury in its greatest franchise, the exercise of its tuitory power, during their prosecution of an appeal to Rome against the archbishop. (fn. 56) It is not, however, clear how Penkridge had done this wrong. In November the archbishop excommunicated Penkridge along with the other royal free chapels. (fn. 57) Penkridge's appeal to the papacy against the archbishop was still being prosecuted in March 1281 and caused Pecham to make an exception of Penkridge when he deferred until Parliament met the sentences of excommunication and interdict upon the other royal free chapels in the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield, in compliance with the king's will. (fn. 58) The archbishop was, however, careful to exclude from the sentences pronounced against the canons of Penkridge the Archbishop of Dublin, to whom he explained in a letter in February 1281 that only those who actually resisted his jurisdiction were involved. (fn. 59) Twelve months later Pecham again expressly excluded the archbishop from the excommunication still in force against the canons. (fn. 60) There is no further evidence of the prosecution of this appeal by the canons of Penkridge. Pecham seems to have discontinued the assertion of his claims after the agreement of 1281 between the diocesan and the royal chapels. (fn. 61)
A metropolitical visitation of Penkridge and of the other royal free chapels in Staffordshire took place under Archbishop Arundel who appointed two commissaries to carry it out in 1401. (fn. 62) There was a secret examination of each member of the chapter or his deputy, as well as of other ministers serving the church. In all things canonical obedience was given to the visitors. They also examined certain parishioners and exercised all their visitatorial powers without meeting resistance.
On the eve of the Dissolution the college of Penkridge comprised the dean and 7 prebendaries, 2 resident canons without prebends, an official principal, 6 vicars, a high deacon, a subdeacon, and a sacrist. (fn. 63) Three of the vicars were resident vicars choral, each with a yearly portion of £5 from the prebends of Penkridge, Coppenhall, and Stretton. (fn. 64) The other three would have had various duties inside the church itself. The two resident canons were still the priests who served the chantry of the Blessed Virgin and the King's Chantry. The stipends of the two canons were £6 16s. 4¼d. and £6 11s. 2¼d. derived from lands and tithes in Penkridge parish and lands and tenements in Muchall (in Penn). (fn. 65) There were, however, charges on these stipends of 10s. for bread and wine, 8s. for bread and ale for the Maundy, and 4s. 4d. for a light before the Sacrament. The sacrist had a house and lands in Penkridge worth 8s. 8d. a year. He also shared with the resident canons the income from the Hay House estate in the Dunston area and from land in Muchall, Moor Hall (in Penkridge), Castle Church, Essington (in Bushbury), Whiston (in Penkridge), Cannock, and 'Malton'. The two canons and the sacrist shared with the vicars choral 42s. rent from three closes in Penkridge. (fn. 66) The high deacon received 53s. 4d. a year out of the prebend of Dunston and the subdeacon 40s. out of the prebends of Congreve and Longridge. There was also a morrow-mass priest 'employed by the inhabitants of Penkridge' and endowed with a rent of 3s. 4d. from property at Whiston.
The incomes of the prebendaries were derived mainly from tithes and rents. Only at Coppenhall and Stretton were the prebendal chapels served by vicars; in each case the vicar received small tithes and also had a house and glebe. At Shareshill the curate received a salary of £5 6s. 8d. from the prebendary, and there was presumably a similar arrangement at Dunston, where a chapel had been built by 1445. (fn. 67) Between 1291 and 1535 all the prebends except Longridge had increased in value. Coppenhall was now worth £16, Stretton £12, Shareshill £10 16s. 8d., Penkridge £9 6s. 8d., Dunston £6, and Congreve £2 16s. 8d. Longridge had dropped to 16s., entirely from grain, and it was exempt from the synodal payment of 6s. 8d. due to the dean every third year from each of the other prebendaries. The dean's prebend was valued at £1 6s. 8d. At the dissolution the total yearly value of the college was £82 6s. 8d. By then much of its property was leased out, notably to Edward Littleton of Pillaton. The college house and all the deanery possessions were leased to him in 1543 for 80 years; in 1545 he was granted the farm of the prebend of Stretton for 21 years and the farm of the prebend of Shareshill for 10 years, and in 1547 the prebend of Coppenhall for the life of the incumbent and the prebend of Penkridge for 21 years.
Penkridge College was dissolved in 1548 under the Act of 1547. (fn. 68) The minister's account for 15471548 shows the prebendaries receiving half a year's income, £41 1s. 8d., up to Easter 1548. In August 1548 the site of the college house and all the deanery possessions, in the tenure of Edward Littleton, were granted to John Dudley, Earl of Warwick; his lands were forfeited to the Crown in 1553. In 1581 the Crown granted the college and its possessions to Edmund Downynge and Peter Aysheton, who sold them in 1583 to John Morley and Thomas Crompton. They conveyed them in 1585 for £604 to Sir Edward Littleton in whose family they then descended with little change until the extensive sales of the 20th century.
Despite the dissolution the peculiar jurisdiction of the former college over the parish of Penkridge survived until the 19th century. The archbishops of Dublin were claiming the right of visitation in the later 17th century. Soon after his consecration in 1661 Archbishop Margetson carried out a visitation, while Archbishop Marsh (1694-1703), in response to a request from Bishop Lloyd of Lichfield and Coventry (1692-9), granted him a process to visit Penkridge in the name of the archbishop. There was great local consternation when the process was delivered to the churchwardens of Penkridge. Word was sent to Edward Littleton who wrote to the bishop. Chancellor Walmesley came to peruse the grants and was satisfied that the archbishop had no power to visit. The bishop himself came to Penkridge and confirmed this; he then dined with Littleton and went back to Lichfield 'without any pretence of visiting'. (fn. 69) By 1737 Sir Edward Littleton, as patron of Penkridge, was appointing the incumbent of Penkridge as official of the peculiar jurisdiction, a practice which evidently continued until the jurisdiction was abolished in 1858. (fn. 70)
The collegiate buildings may have lain to the west of the church. Some buildings of medieval and possibly early-16th-century date survive in this area, and these may have been connected with the college. (fn. 71)
Robert of Coppenhall, occurs temp. Henry II and is probably the Dean Robert who occurs 1180-8. (fn. 72)
Elias of Bristol, appointed 1199, evidently died in 1226. (fn. 73)
Walter de Kirkeham, appointed August 1226; appointment cancelled in view of the right of the Archbishop of Dublin; Walter had resigned by December. (fn. 74)
The college seal in use about the mid 13th century depicts the winged figure of St. Michael. (fn. 75) Legend:
A brass matrix of the seal of the peculiar jurisdiction survives from the 17th century. It is oval, some 2 inches long, and depicts a dove on a branch holding another branch in its bill. (fn. 76) Legend, roman: