A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.
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35. THE COLLEGIATE CHURCH OF ASTLEY
Sir Thomas de Astley obtained leave of both king and bishop to found, in 1338, in the Lady chapel of the parish church of Astley, a chantry consisting of four secular priests, one of whom was termed the warden. The advowson and rectory of the church were bestowed upon the chantry. (fn. 1) Two years later he augmented the number of chaplains to seven and provided them with a clerk, alienating for this purpose lands and rents in Withybrook, Hopsford, and Bedworth. (fn. 2)
Not satisfied with this arrangement, Sir Thomas in 1343 obtained the sanction of both king and bishop to change this chantry into a collegiate church, which he built anew, and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. It consisted of a dean, two canons or prebendaries, styled respectively after their prebends of Milverton and Wolvey, and three vicars, besides clerks and servants. (fn. 3)
Dugdale printed the ordination of this college and its statutes in extenso from a copy that was at that time in the keeping of the dean and chapter of Lichfield, but is no longer among their muniments. (fn. 4) The sealed ordinance of Bishop Roger Northburgh establishing the college is dated 15 September, 1343, and was countersealed by the founder at Astley on 22 September.
The ordination of the college recites that a chantry had been founded in the Lady chapel of the church of Astley, by Sir Thomas Astley, son of Sir Giles Astley, and that it was established for the glory of God and in honour of the Blessed Virgin, for his own weal and that of the ladies Elizabeth his wife and Alice his mother, and their heirs and successors. After their death, the priests were to pray for their souls and also for the souls of Walter Astley and Isabel his wife. Thomas Astley and Joan his wife, Andrew Astley and Sybil his wife, Nicholas Astley and Alice his wife, as well as the aforesaid Giles Astley, Thomas de Wolvey and Alice his wife, Thomas de Clinton, and other relatives and benefactors were also to be included in their intercessions, together with all the faithful departed. This chantry was originally ordained for one priest who was to be called the warden, with three assistants; but in 1343, after the appropriation to it of the church of Hillmorton, their dignity was raised, the church was turned into a college, the warden became dean, two other priests associated with him were termed canons, and an elaborate foundation was established like that of a cathedral church in petto. For the sustenance of the dean, and for the burdens assigned to him, he was to have the rectory house of Astley, with all the glebe and tithes that pertained to it, together with the reversion of lands and tenements which William Franceys held in Withybrook and Hopsford. There were also assigned to the dean two messuages and a virgate of land in Wolvey. From his income, he was bound to distribute to the poor 37s. at certain festivals.
One of the two canons had assigned to him as his prebend a messuage in Astley, a messuage and a carucate of land in Wilby-by-Dunchurch, together with sixty marks of annual rents in Milverton; he was to be termed the prebendary of Milverton. The other canon was to have 33½ acres of land and 33s. 11d. of annual rents in Astley together with nine messuages, four virgates, and six acres of land in Wolvey; he was to be termed the prebendary of Wolvey.
The canons were to find from their income a stipend of 5 marks of silver for the vicar of the church of Hillmorton, who was to be presented by the dean and chapter. They were also to find a chaplain and a suitable clerk to serve that church and parish. The provision they were to make for lights is elaborate and interesting; they were to provide daily at high mass two great wax tapers called torches (dictos torches) to be lighted at the elevation of the Host; also two wax candles to burn whilst high mass was being celebrated; one wax candle, together with a lamp, at mattins and evensong; on Sundays and festivals two wax candles at mattins and evensong; at compline one wax candle with lamp; and sufficient lights for all other masses celebrated in the church. Moreover, every Monday one candle and one lamp were to burn whilst placebo and dirige were sung.
The dean was responsible for finding two wax candles to burn in the church of Astley at the anniversaries of the founder, his wife, and mother. He had also to provide a candle to burn daily at compline whilst one antiphon of the Blessed Virgin was sung; and also to find the wax candle (paschal) to burn from Maundy Thursday to Easter Day. A further charge on the dean was the payment of procurations, synodals, and all other church obligations, except the books and vestments, which were to be found and kept in repair at the common charge of the dean and canons. If, however, any of the books or vestments were lost or destroyed they were to be made good at the sole charge of the dean.
The dean and each of the two canons had to find a priest-vicar and another priest, who were to be presented by the canon and instituted by the diocesan; the dean and canons were to pay each of them a stipend of 5 marks. In the event of either of the canons being non-resident, or legitimately impeded from celebrating in person, he was to provide another priest (in addition to the two already mentioned) to say daily mass in the collegiate church. Both the canons had to pay a mark to the dean annually towards finding the stipend for a clerk.
The priest-vicars and perpetual chaplains had at their institution to take an oath to observe the statutes and ordinances of the college, and to abstain from revealing in the least degree the secrets of the chapter. The vicars, in the absence of the canons, were to take part in chapter with the dean, forming with him the chapter. The priest-vicars and perpetual chaplains had a messuage in Astley, adjoining the churchyard, assigned to them, with a common house for their occupation. If they did not enter into residence within two months of their presentation their benefice was voided.
The dean, canons, vicars, and other priests were enjoined to live a good and honest life and to dress suitably. The vicars were to celebrate daily. At each mass they were specially to pray for the founder, his wife and mother, for John de Stratford, archbishop of Canterbury, for Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, William de Clinton, earl of Huntingdon, and others; and after death for their souls, and for the souls of Guy earl of Warwick and Alice his wife, and the various members of the Astley family already enumerated. Their names were to be clearly written on a tablet. They were every day to attend mattins, evensong, and compline, which were to be sung in the quire of the church. After mattins there was to be the Lady mass, followed by prime; terce and sext were to be said at proper hours after high mass, and afterwards nones. There were also special arrangements for various masses on different days of the week; and every day one of the priests was to say, when celebrating mass, a collect for the good estate of William Franceys, whilst living, and after death, for his soul. Placebo and dirige were to be said daily before evensong, save on Mondays when they were to be sung in quire. On every solemn day and festival there were to be deacon and sub-deacon properly vested, as well as priest at the chief mass. At the greater doubles there were to be two cantors in quire copes throughout, and every day at high mass. Every Monday at mass for the dead the priests. and deacons celebrating were to be suitably vested.
The dean and canons were to wear in quire surplices and grey amices: and from Michaelmas to Easter black copes with hoods lined with silk or taffeta. The deans and perpetual chaplains were to use surplices and amices of black cloth edged with fur; from Michaelmas to Easter black copes with hoods lined with silk or taffeta. Other priests were to wear like habits to the vicars and chaplains, save that their amices or hoods were to be unlined. These surplices, &c., were to be found at the charge of the wearers.
The common seal was to be kept in a coffer with four keys in the respective charge of the dean and the three vicars; but the seal was not to be used without the consent of the canons or their proctors.
The ringing of the bell at the hour of mattins and curfew (ignitegii) and at the other hours was never to be omitted. Any vicar or chaplain absent from a mass or an hour was to be fined a halfpenny for each offence, to be deducted from his stipend.
If any vicar or perpetual priest was absent from mass or hours he was to forfeit a halfpenny for a single offence and a penny for the second. If absent for a whole day to be punished by the dean. If a whole quarter's salary was lost in such fines, then the offender was to be excommunicated by the diocesan.
The founder increased the endowments in 1362 by £9 15s. 5¾d. of rents out of lands in Lilbourne and Crick, Northamptonshire; and Shustoke, Fillongley, and Nuneaton, Warwickwickshire. (fn. 7) Sir William de Astley, the son of the founder, granted in 1389 to John de Plumpton, vicar and sacrist of the college, and his successors, a rent-charge of 40s. on the manor of Bentley. (fn. 8)
Joan, the daughter and heir of Sir William, was first married to Thomas Raleigh, who by his will of 1405 left his body to be buried in the quire of the collegiate church, with £10 for his obit, and 20 marks for a priest to sing mass for his soul for three years. (fn. 9)
Sir Edmond Grey, who died in 1492, left his body to be buried in the new Lady chapel of the College, where his first wife Elizabeth (Ferrers) was buried, and lands to support a perpetual chantry for his soul and those of his two wives. (fn. 10)
Sir Thomas Grey, marquis of Dorset, who died in 1501, desired that his body might be buried in the collegiate church of Astley in the midst of his closet on the south side before the image of the Blessed Trinity. He left 100 marks to be distributed to the poor at the time of his burial. He further provided that the hospital of Lutterworth, Leicestershire, in his patronage, should be appropriated to the college, if the dean and canons could procure such lawful appropriation within three years of his decease, to the intent they should specially pray for the souls of King Edward IV and Queen Elizabeth his consort, who was mother of the marquis. (fn. 11) Lady Cicely his wife was also by bequest buried here, as well as their son Thomas, second marquis of Dorset. His will, of 1530, desired that his body should be buried near that of his father, and provided for the maintenance of two chantry priests. His executors were directed, with all speed and diligence, to build a chapel within the church, with a goodly tomb for his father and mother, with another tomb for himself in the midst of the chancel. When that was accomplished an almshouse was to be built for thirteen poor men at Astley; but this does not seem to have been accomplished. (fn. 12) His son Henry, marquis of Dorset, had all the college property granted him in 1545.
The Valor of 1535, when John Brereton, LL.D. was dean, returned the clear annual value at only £39 16s., the stipend of the dean in money was £4; of William Baker, one of the prebendaries, 53s. 4d.; of four chaplains collectively, £21 6s. 8d.; and of two other chaplains, £9. Roger Plumpton, the bailiff, received 26s. 8d. for collecting the college rents. (fn. 13)
The college was surrendered at the close of Henry VIII's reign, namely on 20 November, 1545. The surrender is signed by Robert Brocke, dean, William Baker, prebendary of Milverton, and Robert Wheteley, who appears to have been one of the vicars.