A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1971.
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3. THE ABBEY OF PERSHORE
The abbey of Pershore is stated by William of Malmesbury to have been founded by Egelward, duke of Dorset, in the reign of King Edgar, (fn. 1) but this is generally accepted as the date of the re-constitution of a house already in existence and the introduction of Benedictine monks. (fn. 2) Leland describes the monastery as originally founded about the year 689 by Oswald, (fn. 3) a nephew of Ethelred, king of the Mercians, who instituted secular canons in the new foundation, monks being subsequently introduced, then the canons reinstated and finally replaced by monks through the instrumentality of King Edgar. (fn. 4) The monastic Annals say that St. Oswald after introducing monks at Worcester and Westbury constituted the same at Pershore in 983, the name of the first abbot being Foldbriht or Fulbert. (fn. 5) According to the chronicle this holy man, famous for the austerities he practised, was raised from death by the prayers of St. Oswald and declared the glorious visions he had seen under the guidance of St. Benedict and that for the merits of St. Oswald he had received forgiveness of sins and assurance of salvation, after which he again expired. (fn. 6)
The charter of Edgar, dated 972, recites that he has granted to the convent situated at Pershore and dedicated to the ever blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Our Lord, and the apostles SS. Peter and Paul, all the privileges bestowed on them by his predecessor Coenulf at the request of Duke Beornoth with the liberty of electing a head according to the rule of St. Benedict after the death of Folbriht, in whose time this liberty had been restored. The document, which runs to great length, enumerates extensive grants of 'manses' in Pershore and elsewhere to be restored to the possession of the monks. (fn. 7) The monastery passed through many vicissitudes before the compilation of Domesday, and is said to have sustained great losses amounting to 'more than half her revenues, one part being devoured by the ambition of the rich, another buried in oblivion, and the greatest portion of all bestowed by Edward the Confessor and William the Conqueror on Westminster.' (fn. 8) The house was perhaps exceptionally unfortunate; it was several times destroyed by fire and a prey to plunder. According to Leland it became deserted on the first destruction by fire early in the eleventh century, and the abbey of Westminster stepped into the possessions of the monks. (fn. 9) The church was rebuilt and opened in 1020. (fn. 10) The brethren suffered severely under the depredations of Duke Delfer, or Alphere, (fn. 11) who did great injury to the monastic establishments of the diocese. After a life of crime and rapine the oppressor of the church is said to have met with a horrible death, 'being eaten of vermin.' His son Odda restored what his father had plundered and vowed a vow of perpetual virginity lest a son of his should be guilty of similar crime. (fn. 12) He adopted the habit of a monk at Deerhurst, and after his death in 1056 his body was carried for burial to Pershore. (fn. 13) The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes him as 'a good man and pure and very noble.' (fn. 14) Many years later, after another of these disastrous fires which devasted Pershore, the workmen digging in the Lady-chapel came upon a leaden coffin containing the bones of this 'founder' and inscribed with his epitaph, 'Odda, sometime duke, in times past called Edwin in baptism, a worshipper of God and a monk before his death, lies here. Joy to him in peace with Christ Our Lord. Amen.' (fn. 15) Earl Odda or Wadda was the benefactor who purchased the precious relics of St. Edburga and bestowed them on the convent; in honour of this sacred trust, which drew many pilgrims attracted by the report of miracles performed at her shrine, the house was from that time dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and St. Edburga Virgin. (fn. 16)
At the time of the Domesday Survey the lands held by the abbey comprised Hawkesbury and Cowley in Gloucestershire, the manor of Pershore with the berewicks or hamlets of Chevington, Abberton [Edbritone], Wadborough, Broughton, Abberton [Edbretintune], Wick and Cumberton containing 26 hides. The monks had a salt pan at Droitwich yielding 36 'mits' of salt. In Beoley with Yardley the convent held 21 hides, 20 in Sture (Alderminster), 30 in Broadway, 3 in Leigh and 5 at Mathon in the hundred of Dodingtree of which one hide lay in Herefordshire. Payment of church scot was due to the abbey for 300 hides, and the abbot had the right of 'forisfactura' or payment for transgression for 100 hides. (fn. 17) The value of the land in many cases had fallen considerably since the days of the Confessor, and many of the places mentioned in the charter of Edgar had passed out of the possession of the abbey. It is stated in a ledger of the bishopric of Worcester that half the town of Pershore with its appurtenances had been granted to the abbot of Westminster by King Edward. (fn. 18)
The abbot and convent obtained a charter from King John in the first year of his reign confirming to God and St. Mary and Blessed Edburga Virgin and the monastery of Pershore all their lands and possessions within the counties of Gloucester and Worcester to be held free of all secular service, with right of soc, sac, thol, theam, and infangnethef, and a prohibition addressed to the sheriff and king's officers forbad the exaction of toll or custom from the convent and their servants. (fn. 19) Henry III. confirmed the privileges granted by his father, and in 1251 the convent obtained a charter granting them the liberty of free warren over their demesne lands in the manors of Pershore, Leigh, Mathon, Alderminster, Broadway, Cowley, Hawkesbury, and Wadborough. (fn. 20)
The Taxation of 1291 gives the abbey an income of £99 12s. 6d. derived from temporalities in the diocese of Worcester. (fn. 21) The spiritualities, amounting to £41 2s. 10d., (fn. 22) included £6 13s. 4d. from the altar of Holy Cross in the southern part of the nave of the conventual church which served the parish, and £5 from St. Andrew's church, Pershore, said to have been built by Edward the Confessor for the use of the tenants of the abbot of Westminster to whom he had made large grants in Pershore. (fn. 23) Early in the thirteenth century a dispute seems to have arisen between the two abbots as to their respective rights, the abbot of Pershore asserting that the 'atrium' of the church was his and that the free tenants of the abbot of Westminster had no right there; ultimately he agreed that the abbot of St. Peter's should have his seat where he had had it of custom. (fn. 24) The abbot and convent of Pershore are said to have obtained the advowson of St. Andrew's in 1241, and to have been thus relieved 'from the oppression of the abbot of Westminster and Guy de Beauchamp.' (fn. 25) In addition to St. Andrew's they appear by the end of the thirteenth century to have presented to the churches of Broadway (fn. 26) and Cowley (fn. 27) in Gloucestershire, Leigh, (fn. 28) Mathon, (fn. 29) Abberton, (fn. 30) Eckington, (fn. 31) and St. Peter the Great of Worcester. (fn. 32)
Financial difficulties induced the monks at a comparatively early stage to supplement lessened resources by resort to appropriation. At the latter end of the twelfth century the archbishop of Canterbury, Hubert Walter, bestowed on the brethren in consideration of their poverty the church of Hawkesbury 'in proprios usus.' (fn. 33) Henry de Soilli is said to have granted them the appropriation of the church of Broadway when it should next become vacant for the maintenance of the infirmary, (fn. 34) and the church of Mathon on its next vacancy for the better 'procuration' of the brethren on festivals. (fn. 35) The appropriation of the church of Alderminster, granted about this time, was lost until restored by bishop Giffard in 1269. (fn. 36) Eudo de Beauchamp bequeathed the advowson of the church of HillCroome with his body to the church of SS. Mary and Edburga of Pershore, (fn. 37) Osbert Fitz-Pontii gave a fishery in Longney with the church of that town. (fn. 38) Geoffrey de Chamville granted to abbot Gervase the chapel of St. Nicholas of 'Kemerford' to provide a pittance for the monks on the feast of St. Mary during his lifetime, and after his death on his anniversary. (fn. 39) Among the benefactors of the abbey special mention must be made of Lady Constance de Leigh, who by a charter made during her widowhood and 'after the divorce made between Geoffrey de Avetot my kinsman and me' relinquished for herself and her heirs all rights of stewardship with customs and corrodies pertaining to the same which she and her ancestors formerly enjoyed in the abbey. (fn. 40) She also confirmed a bequest of 3s. annual rent to the high altar of Pershore made by her father William de Leigh, (fn. 41) and by the consent of Mabel her mother, and after a divorce had been 'celebrated' between herself and Stephen de Ebroic', added the gift of a piece of ground in Eckington to enlarge the monks' burial ground which it adjoined. (fn. 42) During the rule of abbot Roger, Lady Constance bequeathed her body with the advowson of Holy Trinity church, Eckington, in perpetuity to the monastery and the abbot and his successors. (fn. 43) Besides the Lady-chapel there is a mention of the chapel of St. Michael, (fn. 44) and on St. David's Day 1514-15 Christopher Westerdall, 'gentyllman,' made a grant for the maintenance of a daily mass called 'Seynt Johny's Masse' in the chapel of St. John the Baptist within the conventual church. (fn. 45)
The causes of the dwindling resources which so hampered the abbey are set forth in the petition of the monks for the appropriation of St. Andrew's church, Pershore. This document, dated 1327, states that at the time of its foundation the monastery was sufficiently endowed for the maintenance of a statutory number of brethren, the exercise of hospitality, and the care of the poor; a time, however, subsequently ensued in which owing to wars and disturbances, the power of kings and nobles, and by no fault of the community itself, as many as thirty manors formerly in its possession were lost, while at the same time the charges on the hospitality of the house had so increased on account of its situation near the public way which attracted great numbers of people, not only of the rich and powerful, but also of the poor, that the brethren found themselves unable to sustain the burden. The scarcity of the last few years, combined with disease and murrain among the sheep, and the 'extortion of enemies,' had so reduced the capacity of the house that it was impossible without extra assistance to put the church and conventual buildings, the greater part of which had been destroyed by fire, into repair, and the nave of the church, the refectory, dormitory, and guest house still lay in ruins. (fn. 46) In addition to St. Andrew's, Pershore, the convent were permitted in 1344 to appropriate the church of Holy Trinity, Eckington, also of their advowson, at the request of John de Beauchamp. (fn. 47)
In 1327 the abbot and convent received licence to lease certain lands in Pershore with the advowson of St. Andrew's church to Adam de Herwynton for the term of his life. (fn. 48) After his death, about 1345, the convent ordained a chantry of two secular priests at the altar in the southern part of the nave in a chapel within which the late Adam had been buried, to pray for the souls of Guy, late earl of Warwick, and Adam de Herwynton, who had bequeathed a large sum of money with certain lands and rents for this purpose, and for the good estate of Thomas, now earl of Warwick, and Lady Katherine, his wife, while they lived and for their souls 'when withdrawn from this light. (fn. 49) The yearly observance of the anniversary of the said Adam was set down for the last day of March. (fn. 50)
No blame seems to have attached itself to the monks for the management of their affairs until the middle of the fourteenth century; their misfortunes received due commiseration and their kindness to poor travellers was much commended. Their conduct, however, in 1340 attracted the bishop's attention, and he wrote to the late abbot, William de Herwynton, committing the custody of the abbey to him, pro tem., on the ground of reports that certain brethren, 'degenerate sons,' were wasting its goods and creating grievous scandal by applying them to their own licentious pleasures. (fn. 51) The charge of alienation of property and general mismanagement was renewed in December, 1352, but uncoupled with a hint of grosser scandal. (fn. 52) The economic condition of the last half of the fourteenth century was little calculated to improve the financial position of any religious foundation, and Pope Boniface IX., in 1345, confirming the appropriation of the churches of Broadway and St. Peter the Great of Worcester to the abbot and convent of Pershore, states that their monastery 'is weighed down with debt, and their refectory and dormitory in need of repair.' (fn. 53) This is the last reference to the financial condition of the house until the eve of the Dissolution.
The relations of abbot and convent with the king, and their contact with national life, seem of a quite normal and uneventful nature. The abbot received letters of protection from King John in 1200, (fn. 54) and on three occasions from Edward I. (fn. 55) Henry III., on the occasion of the fire which broke out on S. Urban's day, 1223, and reduced the monastery and the greater part of the town to cinders, (fn. 56) issued instructions for the constable of Bristol to allow the convent twelve trees (fusta) from the forest of Alveston for the repair of their church and buildings, similar contributions being laid on the forest of Feckenham and forest of Kinver; (fn. 57) the new church was dedicated by Walter de Cantilupe in 1239. A similar fate overtook it in 1288; a conflagration broke out on 22 April in the bakehouse and brewery, spread to the bell-tower (clocherium), and nearly consumed the whole church. (fn. 58) Edward I., who had spent a week at Pershore in January, 1281-2, (fn. 59) came to the monks' assistance, and bestowed on them ten oaks fit for timber from the forest of Dean for rebuilding. (fn. 60) The entry in the Annals records that on 25 June, 1299, the bishop of Llandaff 'reconciled' the church of Pershore, as the churchkeeper, deceived by the counsel of a woman, had offered strange fire in the sacred place. (fn. 61)
A register containing an account of the estates held of the abbey and the privileges enjoyed by the convent was burnt during one of these fires, and a commission was held to ascertain their extent by the evidence of the monks. Walter the prior stated in evidence that when Bishop Mauger came to Pershore to ordain, he withdrew from the monastery to the chapel of St. Andrew within the precincts of the monks' cemetery on being shown their customs; subsequently, on the invitation of the brethren, he entered the convent and ordained. On another occasion when the said bishop was invited by the abbot and convent to the feast of St. Edburga, he celebrated mass and prepared to carry away the offerings, but restored the same without gainsay on the exhibition of their privileges, by which also Abbot Gervase claimed, and took his place at the right hand of William de Blois when the bishop held a synod. The prior further stated that the bodies of all holding lands in the following places were to be buried in the abbey:—Pershore, Pinvin, Besford, Defford, Woodmancote, Birlingham, Pensham, Wick, Bricklehampton, the village of Eckington, Strensham, Woolashill, Nafford, Pirton, Stoke, Naunton, Great Comberton, Peopleton, North Piddle, Abberton, Broughton Flavel, Martin Hussingtree, Upton Snodsbury, Cowsdoun, Broughton, Walcot, Chevington, Caldwell, Wadborough, Thornton, 'Harlega,' and Little Comberton; those who held no lands should be buried in the churchyard of Little Comberton. Respecting the wills of the deceased, the principal legacy should be carried before the corpse to the church of Pershore, and having been valued by the sacristan and the chaplain of the place to which the dead belonged, half should belong to the sacristan and half to the chaplains. All offerings made in the monastery for the dead should go to the sacristan. Further, the bodies of the deceased should be carried to the chapel of the place to which they belonged, and mass there said for their souls with the exception of the parishioners of Wick, St. Andrew, Pershore, Bricklehampton next the church, Pinvin, Birlingham, and those of the fee of Walter de Nafford; the oblations offered in the chapels should belong to the chaplains. In conclusion the prior said that he had frequently witnessed the register, and committed its contents to memory, and that the brethren had frequent recourse to each article referred to, being much disturbed in the peaceful possession of their privileges, and had written them down in various places for inspection by judges deputed by the pope or the ordinary. Other indulgences had been granted, but these he admitted he could not recall. His testimony, with some variations, was more or less confirmed by the witness of fifteen of the monks. (fn. 62)
The abbot of Pershore was summoned in 1264 to Parliament with other prelates to confer with Simon de Montfort on the affairs of the kingdom, (fn. 63) and to the Parliaments held in 1295 and 1299. (fn. 64) The service of the house from the year 1155-6 was assessed at two knights' fees. (fn. 65) By a deed dated 1166 Reginald, abbot of Pershore, acknowledged that he held all knights' fees of the old feoffment, and that of these William Beauchamp held one, and Geoffrey Blacke and Robert de Lorticote half a knight's fee each of the abbot. (fn. 66) In all burdens incident to their position the abbot and convent of Pershore bore their due share, respectable but wholly commonplace.
The king exercised the royal prerogative of imposing pensioners on the house, though it may be questioned whether this imposition was claimed as of right or conceded as by request. The abbot of Pershore in Michaelmas Term, 1813, appeared in suit before Edward II. respecting a corrody, and stated that John Beauchamp, Hugh de Cokesay, and John le Blake held the manors of Beoley, Yardley, Goldicote, and Walcot from the abbot by the service of two knights, and that he held them of the king in chief by the said service quit of all other charge. (fn. 67) Stephen le Prest, of Ripley, was sent in May, 1309, to the convent to receive maintenance for himself and one groom, (fn. 68) and in 1318 William de Rampton, yeoman of the king's pantry, who had long served the late king, was sent to receive for life the same allowance as Richard Fytel had received in his lifetime. (fn. 69) William del Putte, serjeant of the queen's buttery, was similarly sent in December, 1329, to the abbey in place of Robert Squier, deceased. (fn. 70) In connexion with this last grant an entry in the patent rolls states that the king made a concession to the abbot and convent that it should not prejudice them in future nor be drawn into a precedent. (fn. 71) A few years later, however, Thomas de Mussenden, king's yeoman, after long and faithful service, was sent to receive the maintenance which the late William del Putte had received 'at the late king's request.' (fn. 72) In accordance with recent legislation, Edward III. by letters patent in 1340 granted to the abbot and convent that on the occasion of a vacancy by the death, cession, or resignation of the abbot, the custody of the house with the temporalities and goods should devolve into the hands of the prior with full administration of the same, saving to the king and his heirs knights' fees and advowsons of churches, and paying for each vacancy that should occur £36 for a period of two months and for a longer time in proportion. It was enacted also that at the commencement of any vacancy the sheriff, escheator, or king's officer should take a simple seisin within the gate of the monastery and then retire, nor should he remain longer than one day for the purpose of taking seisin. (fn. 73) By the payment of a fine of £10 the convent obtained a confirmation of the grant from Richard II. in 1379. (fn. 74)
The position of the abbot of Pershore from early days was an important one in ecclesiastical circles, and he receives frequent mention during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The abbey of Pershore was included in a federation which, according to a document dated 1022, contained in the chartulary of Bath Abbey, united the abbots of Evesham, Chertsey, Bath, Pershore, Winchcomb, and Gloucester, and the dean of Worcester, in a bond of agreement pledged to abide by the Benedictine rule, and to live as if all seven monasteries were one monastery, 'quasi cor unum et anima una.' The members of each community should be received as brethren whilst living, and after death benefit by the prayers of all. (fn. 75) The abbots of Gloucester, Tewkesbury, Winchcomb, and Pershore when they were blessed were bound to provide entertainment for the cathedral convent of Worcester or pay 40s.; the sacristan of Worcester should receive from them vestment and cope. (fn. 76) These dues are recorded to have been paid in 1198 and in 1234. (fn. 77) On the benediction of William de Leigh, early in 1290, the sacristan received his 'baudekin' and vestment 'de serico cum arbouribus,' but the usual entertainment was excused on account of the late fire. (fn. 78)
The efforts of the heads of the community during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were directed towards lessening the burdens incident to their poverty, and adjusting the affairs of each department in the house. An early entry records that Abbot Wido or Guido assigned the manor of Hawkesbury to the monks for the augmentatation of their kitchen and to provide clothing. (fn. 79) Abbot Gervase confirmed the grant, but reserved to himself and his successors the right of presentation to the vicarage, homage, reliefs etc., and of visiting the church once a year, with entertainment for himself and twelve horsemen for four days, including the day of arrival. (fn. 80) Abbot Eler added a proviso that any increase in the issues should be applied to the office where need should appear greatest; 40s. out of Longney was to be expended in procuring herrings for the brethren during Lent. (fn. 81) An interesting entry states that Richard, abbot of Whitby, bestowed on the church of Pershore for the sake of Abbot Simon, 'monk of our church,' a toft with houses within the borough for the curing of his fish, with as much wood as should be required. (fn. 82) The anniversaries to be observed by the brethren include that of Abbot Simon, whose obit was ordained to be kept on the same day as that of his father, Maurice de Ambersley, (fn. 83) and the anniversary of Abbot Gervase, who decreed that on his obit 10s. should be expended in wine and a pittance for the monks, and 10s. in food for the poor, and the almoner, out of certain rents, of which one mark was bestowed in perpetual alms with Walter de Fonte 'our monk,' should find the abbot and his successors 10s. to be distributed annually to thirty poor persons on Maunday Thursday at the 'mandatum,' and 4d. to be bestowed by each monk on two poor people, and half a mark to clothe and shoe the brother deputed annually in succession to pray for the soul of the abbot, with a daily allowance from the kitchen. (fn. 84) The convent confirming the aforesaid ordination recorded that Abbot Gervase 'ruled this place well and nobly for thirty years, and repaired it after its destruction by fire, and relieved it of debt beyond the ability of the convent, plunged in poverty, to pay, and acquired for it further lands and possessions.' (fn. 85) The anniversary of their benefactor Lady Constance de Leigh was ordained by Abbot Roger, (fn. 86) and in 1249 the abbot and convent granted an anniversary to Roger de Wigorn', prior of Pershore, and about the same time to the precentor, Richard de Wendelburgh, and Sampson de Bromsgrove, rector of Stoke, who bestowed rents on the convent for the provision of lights for the high altar and the Lady-chapel. (fn. 87) Abbot Eler obtained from Walter de Cantilupe the restoration of certain tithes within the parish, and ordained that these should be expended in augmenting the monks' brewery, and for the yearly observance of his own anniversary on the feast of St. Elerius Martyr. (fn. 88) The anniversary of Henry de Bideford who augmented the goods of the house, and obtained the restoration of the church of Alderminster, was ordained by William de Leigh to be observed on the vigil of St. Martin 'in hieme' (11 November), and the anniversary of Henry de Caldwell on 2 March. (fn. 89)
The abbey of Pershore appears to have been diligently visited by the bishop of Worcester, or, in the case of a vacancy, by the prior of Worcester. Bishop Giffard showed himself a kind, but stern, disciplinarian; during the first year of his rule he restored to the community the church of Alderminster for the maintenance of hospitality and of the infirm monks. (fn. 90) In December, 1269, he issued a mandate to compel the abbot and cellarer of Pershore to make satisfaction for the goods of the late rector of Broadway which they had carried off. (fn. 91) The bishop paid as many as five recorded visits to the abbey in the course of his rule, (fn. 92) but with the exception of a list of corrections published after a visitation in 1284 no comment is recorded which throws light on the internal condition of the house. In that year, after notifying the abbot and convent of his intention to visit them, (fn. 93) the bishop arrived at the monastery on the Vigil of the Feast of St. Edburga, and remained two days at the charge of the convent. (fn. 94) His amendments denote a somewhat lax discipline. The brethren were admonished to apply themselves more to the divine offices, and to have the door of the cloister more carefully kept to prevent the entrance of seculars 'whereby a stumblingblock is prepared for those contemplating Christ.' The sick and infirm should receive more attention, and a certain ancient custom as to corn for the bread and ale of the convent should be commuted. The abbot was enjoined, other things permitting, to sit in the cloister alone, and Brother Henry de Winchcomb being rather suited for performing divine offices than to attend to matters outside the convent, was ordered to reside within the cloister henceforth. The obedientiaries were reminded of the duty of rendering strict and regular accounts. (fn. 95) In a list of complaints formulated towards the close of his rule, Giffard was charged with exacting procuration of more than 30 marks during a visitation of Pershore, and of taking the gift of a palfrey. The bishop in his reply stated that he had not exceeded the customary procuration in food and drink, and had been presented with a foal by the abbot. (fn. 96)
Visitations carried out by the successors of Giffard are duly recorded, (fn. 97) but between the years 1284 and 1340 afford no light as to the management of the house. The abbot and convent received a licence from Bishop Cobham to have the cemetery of their church reconciled from effusion of blood and homicide. (fn. 98) In the last year of his rule the bishop addressed a friendly letter to the abbot requesting that he would make the bearer, Walter de Chalgrove, porter within the abbey, the office of which had fallen vacant. (fn. 99) The scandalous behaviour of the monks necessitated the recall of their late abbot in 1340, as has been already mentioned. On his resignation, Thomas de Pyriton was appointed by the bishop in consequence of the double election made by the convent of him and brother Robert de Lutlenton. (fn. 100) The number of brethren about that time appears to have been thirty according to a letter, dated 1346, purporting to be signed by all the convent. (fn. 101) At the time of the Dissolution it had fallen to about twenty. The abbot and convent were warned by Bishop Thoresby in December, 1352, after a recent visitation made by his official, not to alienate their property, and admonished to observe the ordination of the bishop's deputy of a special allowance of 2d. a day per head in lieu of provision from the kitchen 'until the faculties of the house should have increased.' (fn. 102) A copy of the bull of Pope Innocent VI. for the visitation of houses within the diocese 'not exempt' was appended to a notice of impending visitation, and the procuration to be required forwarded to the abbey in 1357. (fn. 103) The commissioners of the prior of Worcester visited the monastery during a vacancy on 24 April, 1364, and received procuration in food and drink. (fn. 104) In 1392 Bishop Wakefield deputed the abbot of Pershore to perform the ceremony of 'blessing' a widow. (fn. 105)
The accounts of visitations in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries are mostly without colour or interest. (fn. 106) In 1412 Bishop Peverell forwarded a list of injunctions to the convent in lieu of visitation. The brethren were admonished therein to study to make their lives conformable to the rule of blessed Benedict, to quit vain talk and contentious heresies, and to celebrate masses for the souls of their founders, and keep their names in remembrance. The bishop reminded them of the rule forbidding a good religious to hold personal possessions, and directed that Brother W. B., who contrary to rule held the offices of prior and sacristan, should be absolved from the latter and summoned to make a faithful report of his receipts. (fn. 107) Abbot William Newenton appears in some manner to have given rise to scandal in 1426. The bishop ordered him to be admitted to purgation on a specific charge of incontinence. (fn. 108) From this ordeal he issued triumphant, and his defamer, John Lockyer, was cited to appear before the bishop, who imposed public penance on him in the cathedral of Worcester and the conventual church of Pershore. (fn. 109) Bishop Carpenter paid two visits to the abbey. On the first occasion he arrived at Pershore on Wednesday, 14 October, 1461, and was received in state and with great reverence by the community, and remained at the convent till Friday morning; his visitation sermon was preached by Master William Mogys. A list of special injunctions was issued to the abbot; but, unfortunately, their contents are not stated. (fn. 110) The bishop remained at the abbey from Friday, 24 April, until the following Tuesday in the year 1467, and received procuration in food and drink, a special mandate being issued for his visitation. (fn. 111) A monk of Pershore received a dispensation from the pope in 1468 enabling him to accept a benefice with cure of souls. (fn. 112)
In 1478 the brethren admitted Bishop Alcock into their fraternity in return for his kindness, and ordained that he should participate in all their spiritual exercises and devotions, and after death that a special mass should be said yearly for his soul, with 'dirige' and 'placebo.' (fn. 113) Alcock visited the abbey on Friday, 11 January, 1481-2, but left the following day. (fn. 114) His successor, Morton, visited the convent Friday, 10 June, 1491, and preached in the chapter house; he remained at the abbey till the following Monday. (fn. 115) The abbey, in common with other religious houses, was visited at no infrequent intervals by the vicars-general of the Italian prelates who followed. The duration of these visits, during which they were entertained by the convent, was commonly of three days; no record is preserved of the state and condition of the houses thus visited. (fn. 116)
Entries of the grant of corrodies and annuities, the right of which seems to have remained in the hands of the crown, occur towards the close of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth centuries. In 1478 an annuity of 26s. 8d. was made to a certain John Usher. (fn. 117) In the first year of the reign of Henry VIII. John Ashkyrke, yeoman of the Wardrobe of Beds, received the grant of a corrody lately held in the abbey by John Young, deceased. (fn. 118) The convent obtained a licence from Henry VIII. in May, 1512, to appropriate the rectory of Mathon with the portion of Chokynhill of their own patronage. (fn. 119) In 1514 the convent, probably at this time heavily in debt, consolidated the rents for the endowment of the chantry of Adam de Herwynton of two chaplains, and ordained that in future it should be served by one only. (fn. 120) William Compton, who succeeded to the rule of the house in 1504, appears to have been an ecclesiastic of the type represented by William Moore, the last but one of the priors of Worcester; his name occurs in the list of justices of the peace for Worcester and Gloucester in 1512 and 1514 (fn. 121); he was evidently popular in the county, and probably took a share in all local doings and events. At the same time his lax government and profuse expenditure added much to the difficulties of his successor. He resigned in 1526, and on 30 September John Stonywell, bishop of Polizzi, received the royal assent to his election. (fn. 122)
The history and personality of the last abbot of Pershore is an interesting and notable one. He is said to have been born in the parish of Longdon, Staffordshire, in a small hamlet called Stonywell. In accordance with the early bent of his mind, he was educated in a Benedictine monastery, probably Pershore, and from thence sent to Gloucester College, Oxford, where the monks of Pershore had an apartment for their novices. He became in later years 'prior' of this college, and was noted for his learning and blameless life. (fn. 123) He was already bishop of Polizzi when a patent for his election to Pershore was granted by Henry VIII. The task set before him was no light one. He found the abbey, he said, loaded with debt which had been accumulated by his predecessor, offices granted for which no services had either been exacted or returned, and his efforts to lift the house out of this condition, to free it from debts, some of which under the circumstances he considered not binding, and to redeem its offices, earned him the opposition of the tenants and the hatred of the inhabitants of Pershore. He had to meet incessant demands from his predecessor for pension deferred, the insidious attacks of enemies and detractors, and constant pressure from the court party on whom he had relied for support.
The letter written by Richard Beerley, monk of Pershore, to Cromwell in 1536, even allowing for exaggeration, points to a very sad and unsatisfactory condition in the monastery. The writer, addressing it to the 'Most reverent lord in God, second person in this realm of England,' states that 'it is grudging in his conscience that the religion they keep is no rule of St. Benet nor commandment of God nor of any saint, but light and foolish ceremonies . . . and let the precepts of God go.' He has done this for six years, and it grieves his conscience that he has been a dissembler so long, supposes this religion is all vainglory and nothing worthy to be accepted before God or man, has a secret thing on his conscience which moves him to go out of the religion were it ever so perfect, which no man may know but his ghostly father, who shall know of it hereafter, and many other foul vices done amongst religious men. He begs the commissioner to help him out of this vain religion and make him his 'servant, handemayd, and beydman,' promising to tell him how the king's commandment is kept in putting forth from books the bishop of Rome's usurped power. The monks, he continues, drink and bowl 'after collacyon until ten or twelve of the clock and come to matins as dronck as "myss" (mice), and some at cards and some at dice and at tables. Some come to matins at the beginning, some in the midst, and some when it is almost done; and they would not come at all but for the bodily punishment, "nothyng for God's sayck." (fn. 124) This was not the only blow struck at the house or its head. On 22 April, 1538, information was lodged with my Lord Privy Seal by William Harrison, groom of the King's Privy Chamber,' of such words as the abbot of Pershore did speak at his table . . . sounding to treason.' The substance of the charge being: first, that the abbot in conversation with Mr. Ralph Sheldon (one of his most determined opponents by the way) on 'the usurpation of the Church of Rome,' said, inclining himself over the table: ' I trust as I pray God that I may die one of the chynderne of Rome;' and, further: 'I will prove that he is accursed that withstondyth a power,' giving for his proof this text: 'Omnis potestas a Deo est, quia a Deo ordinatæ sunt.' Secondly, that in reference to the pestilence which was then raging the abbot remarked: 'As for us in this country we be smitten with the plagues of David for David's offences . . . God be merciful to us.' (fn. 125)
That the suppression of the house already determined (fn. 126) would be unopposed by the muchtried man appears evident in his letter to Cromwell in February, 1538-9, in which he expresses his willingness to resign and 'entreats' of a pension, (fn. 127) because he has borne all charges of his monastery from Michaelmas to the Annunciation next, prays he may have this half-year's rent, and then he will leave the house out of debt which he found indebted over £1,000. In the light of past services he begs to have this considered in his pension, and that he may have a house and his monks' pensions according to their virtues; he also petitions for leave to have his books and 'favour for his trusty servant the bearer.' (fn. 128) According to the Valor of 1535 the net income of the abbey amounted at that time to £643 4s. 5d. (fn. 129) The pension list, dated January, 1539-40, assigned the following pensions to the dispossessed monks: John Stonywell, bishop of Polizzi, abbot, £160 with the gallery, new lodgings adjoining it, a garden, two orchards 'with the pools in the same'; (fn. 130) the prior £13 6s. 8d., sub-prior £10, almoner £9, fermerer £8, four others, of whom the cellarer was one, £6 13s. 4d. each, John Glyn £7, and four others the sum of £6 each. (fn. 131)
Abbots Of Pershore.
Foldbriht or Fulbert (fn. 132) 983, died 988.
Edmund, died 1085. (fn. 135)
Turstin, died 1087. (fn. 136)
William, elected 1138. (fn. 139)
Thomas, occurs between 1145-1153. (fn. 140)
Simon, elected 1175, died 1198. (fn. 143)
Anselm, elected 1198, died 1203. (fn. 144)
Gervase, elected 1204, died 1234. (fn. 145)
Roger, elected 1234, died 1250-1. (fn. 146)
Henry de Bideford, elected 1265. (fn. 149)
Thomas de Pyriton, appointed 1340, (fn. 156) died 1349.
Peter de Broadway, elected 1363, died 1379. (fn. 157)
Thomas de Upton, elected 1379. (fn. 158)
John Stonywell, elected 1526, (fn. 159) surrendered 1539-40.
The pointed oval twelfth-century seal of the abbey, (fn. 160) chipped at the point, represents the Virgin with crown seated on a carved throne; on her left knee the Child with nimbus, lifting up his right hand in benediction; in her right hand is a sceptre fleur-de-lizé. At the left side of her head is a crescent, on the right an estoile of six points. St. Paul stands on the left holding a sword erect by the point, St. Peter on the right holding two keys; over the head of each an estoile, over the keys a quatrefoil. In base under a trefoiled arch St. Edburga, three-quarters length, in her right hand a chalice, in her left an open book. On each side an estoile. Legend:—
The pointed oval counterseal of the thirteenth century (fn. 161) represents the Virgin with crown, turned to the right, seated on a throne; the Child with beaded nimbus is in her arms, before her St. Edburga kneeling in adoration. Legend:—
The pointed oval seal of Roger de Radeby, abbot, 1234-1251, (fn. 162) represents the abbot, full-length, having in his right hand a pastoral staff, in his left hand a book. Legend:—