Part 1: Introduction

Pages xiii-xxxvii

The Bede Roll of the Fraternity of St Nicholas. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 2004.

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The Bede Roll of the Fraternity of St Nicholas, the brotherhood of the parish clerks within London, is currently deposited in Guildhall Library (MS 4889). The manuscript seems to have been first compiled in 1449 after the issue of their second charter by Henry VI in February of that year, and probably before Ascension Day, as after this a supplementary list of deaths occurring during the year of office of the masters between Ascension Day 1448 and 1449 was added. (fn. 1) The entries continue until an abrupt end in 1521, where the list of admissions for the year breaks off and the remainder of the text has been lost. The list of members on f. 3 who were already dead when the text was first compiled extends the chronological range back at least to the 1420s, the date of the earliest identifiable deaths recorded there. Leaves from the end of the manuscript with entries for 1522 and 1523 are known to have found their way into private hands at the end of the nineteenth century and are now untraceable. (fn. 2) It is likely however, that the entries continued to record details of the membership until the Reformation. (fn. 3) The manuscript must have survived with other muniments in the hands of the guild's officers during the reign of Edward VI when the guild's hall and other property were confiscated. Thereafter it remained in the possession of the reincorporated Company of Parish Clerks but was never properly studied until James Christie analysed it at the end of the nineteenth century. (fn. 4) The date when the Bede Roll was first bound up is not known but it is probably the 'old book with letters bleu, red and gold' mentioned in the inventory of the Parish Clerks Company's possessions of 1671 and described in a subsequent inventory as a 'Booke of Antiquities of this Company with gold, blue and red letters'. (fn. 5)

The Bede Roll was intended for liturgical use during the intercessions at mass, as the opening formula makes clear, in order to remember the living and deceased members of the fraternity. Originally, it consisted of three distinct lists of names, one for the living, one for the deceased and a separate but supplementary list of deceased parish clerks. This system proved unwieldy however, as it apparently involved the removal of names by erasure from the list of living when they died and attempts to fill in the gaps with new entrants (fn. 6). Consequently, the initial arrangement was soon abandoned and in 1454, the format of an annually compiled list of admissions and deaths emerged. (fn. 7) The manuscript represents a rare survival from the medieval London fraternities of the period. In comparison with the contemporary registers of the Corpus Christi and Assumption guilds of the Skinners, which also recruited outsiders, it encompasses a much larger body of members, since the fraternity proved immensely attractive to a considerably wider range of individuals than the parish clerks who themselves constituted the core of the membership. (fn. 8) The text is now published not only as a contribution to the history of such guilds, but also to the prosopographical study of late medieval Londoners. (fn. 9) The latter make up almost all the identifiable members although a few individuals from as far away as Devon and Yorkshire are included who probably joined when business brought them to the capital. There are some 10,000 entries recording the admission and deaths of nearly 7,000 individuals many of whom it has been possible to trace.

The Bede Roll and the early history of the Parish Clerks

The compilation of the Bede Roll and the incorporation of the Fraternity of St Nicholas by the royal charters of 1442 and 1449 bring to an end the first, evolutionary, phase of the guild's history. They mark the fact that the parish clerks had embedded themselves at the heart of the civic and religious life of London and achieved recognition as a new, apparently lay profession, able to own property outright and, according to the second charter of 1449, holding services at Guildhall Chapel. The creation of this manuscript represents a proclamation of the burgeoning self-confidence of the clerks, placing Henry VI and other prominent nobles and churchmen at the head of the members to be prayed for. The principal clerks of the collegiate and parish churches of the City of London, as they are called in 1442, had achieved a status which was hard won given their 'small profits and gains'. (fn. 10)

To understand the Bede Roll, it is necessary to outline something of the earlier history of the parish clerks and their attempt to establish the corporate identity and status which is articulated and celebrated in this manuscript. The tradition of the incorporation of the Fraternity of St Nicholas in 1233 under Henry III which is found in the 1633 edition of Stow's Survey of London has no solid historical basis. While the association of the clerks with Clerkenwell, the area outside the City walls where young scholars and other youths would meet and where the parish clerks later put on plays is attested by place name evidence from the twelfth century (fn. 11) and before 1183 by William Fitzstephen in his Description of London, (fn. 12) no reference to the early establishment of their guild occurs in central or local government records. (fn. 13) On the contrary, claims to such an early incorporation are contradicted by the evidence from the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries that property was being held on their behalf by several individual trustees with whose personal property it sometimes became entangled (fn. 14) and by the statement in the first charter that the clerks had maintained a poor brotherhood for forty years and more without lawful foundation prior to incorporation in 1442. (fn. 15)

The parish clerks as a distinct but unlicensed body of men capable of corporate action seem to have emerged in London in the late fourteenth century. They perhaps crystallised as a group through their production of increasingly elaborate mystery plays, which must have required a considerable degree of organisation. By the reign of Richard II these productions are noted in a variety of contemporary sources as taking place in 1384 and 1390. There were apparently large-scale productions before the court or nobility in 1409 and 1410–11. (fn. 16) In 1391 the parish clerks received £10 from the Exchequer for staging these productions at Skinners' Well the previous year. (fn. 17) Chambers suggests on the evidence of the 1442 charter that the performances might well have become annual by this date but if so, the lack of specific reference to them after the early years of the fifteenth century is puzzling. (fn. 18) It may be that the spread of elaborate polyphonic music from the Chapel Royal and great collegiate churches during the fifteenth century into the parish churches of London and other cities on festival days and out into the streets for great civic processions and funerals also had a catalytic effect on the organisation of the fraternity, with its membership of choir, chapel and parish clerks who provided the singers at such events. The lack of documentation from early fifteenth century London in the form of churchwardens' accounts and other sources about expenditure on such music makes it hard to establish a firm connection at present, although much research is currently focussing on this area. (fn. 19)

At the same time the holders of the office of parish clerk were themselves undergoing a transformation, which was probably most marked in London, although it can be discerned to a lesser extent elsewhere. The pattern for the office of holy water clerk was set by the canonical legislation of the thirteenth century in England (the term parish clerk for such office-holders became more common from the fourteenth century). (fn. 20) Up until the late fourteenth century, these clerks were invariably men in minor orders, who assisted the parochial clergy in their liturgical, pastoral and parochial duties and who received fees or payment in kind for their various tasks. (fn. 21) They served the priest at the altar, helped him to sing the services and read the epistle. In theory at least, these minor orders were only stepping stones to the higher clerical orders, and their holders, tonsured to denote their clerical state, were expected to progress further up the ecclesiastical ladder. In the thirteenth century, bishops had ordered that scholars should be given posts as holy water clerks in churches near cathedral cities or towns with castles where there were likely to be schools to educate them for the priesthood. (fn. 22) In practice, marriage or lack of means meant that many never attained the priesthood and pursued an alternative career path by remaining in these lower ranks of the clergy. A number of these married clerks appear to have found a living in fourteenth century London, and there are at least eight whose wills are recorded on the Husting Rolls, bequeathing property to their wives or children. (fn. 23)

Increasingly however, from the late fourteenth century up until the Reformation when the office was finally laicised, there are depictions of, or references to, parish clerks which make it clear that these office-holders were often laymen and not tonsured clerics. The literary portrait of such a clerk, Absolon, given by Chaucer in the Miller's Tale depicts an individual who wears secular clothes and not clerical dress, simply donning a surplice when performing his ecclesiastical duties. His long fair hair parted in the middle denotes an untonsured layman. (fn. 24) Other evidence comes from illuminated manuscripts, stained glass and woodcuts where in scenes depicting the administration of the sacraments, the clerk assisting the priest is sometimes tonsured but often not. (fn. 25)

In London, the process was apparently well underway before the Reformation. The evidence from the Bede Roll shows the transformation of the typical London master parish clerk (each was normally assisted by a junior clerk) (fn. 26) into a married layman with no aspirations to a clerical career, remaining in this office and banding together with his fellows to form a new profession. These individuals, by forming the Fraternity of St Nicholas, also set out to fix wage rates for attendance at funerals and extend the control they could exercise over this aspect of their work. (fn. 27) In the 1450s and 1460s, the clerks and their wives are gradually recorded in a more and more systematic fashion until they regularly have their own column headings within the text. The development of the office into one frequently occupied by laymen did not occur without some resistance. A generation earlier the conservative canonist William Lyndwood (1371–1446), successively Dean of the Arches and Bishop of St Davids, tried to maintain the traditional role of the parish clerk as a cleric in minor orders in his digest of ecclesiastical law, the Provinciale. He insisted that holders of this office should be tonsured and must wear clerical dress, and only reluctantly allowed that they might be married, in which event they were to be ranked with the laity. In cases where they were twice married such clerks were to be deprived of all clerical privilege. (fn. 28) But the pressure in London was inexorably in the opposite direction, towards the laicisation of the clerk's post and Lyndwood's canons on this score effectively became a dead letter there. The agreement of December 1443, whereby certain parish clerks were admitted to the freedom of the City by redemption, underlines the fact that they were laymen who held an ecclesiastical office rather than clerics in minor orders. (fn. 29) Indeed it is clear from the details of this agreement that some of them who had supplemented their income by engaging in other occupations had actually been made freemen of these crafts and were openly pursing a combination of lay careers.

Similarly, parish clerks who were laymen could not feel bound by strictures against marrying more than once. There is strong evidence from the Bede Roll that several of the masters of the parish clerks' fraternity were twice married. Robert How (Hoo) seems to have admitted his wife Elizabeth (106) when he was junior master in 1466 (103), but her death is recorded in 1469 (123). A Joan Hoo was then admitted as a clerk's wife in 1470 (127) and is almost certainly the wife mentioned in Robert's will proved in 1491. (fn. 30) At least two other masters, William Appleby and William Wollaston, were apparently twice married. Clerks' wives with the same surname were admitted to the fraternity at or about the same time as these individuals or in years when their husbands were masters. Agnes Appleby, admitted in 1476 (183) when William Appleby was junior master (179) is noted among deaths for 1493 (331) and in 1494 Joan Appleby was admitted (335) when William was senior master (332). Isobel Wollaston (251), admitted a year after William Wollaston (243) in 1484, and among deaths for 1490 (309), was succeeded by Margaret Wollaston (319), admitted in 1492 when William was senior master (315). It is inconceivable that such breaches of clerical discipline with regard to marriage could have gone unchallenged in London if these individuals had been in orders. Although young parish clerks outside the capital might continue to progress to ordination as priests in places where they could obtain appropriate schooling (as at Ashburton and Exeter in Devon during the fifteenth century), the master parish clerks on the Bede Roll were generally older men who had served as junior or assistant clerks and who appear as laymen occupying a job for life, often dying in office as their wills attest. (fn. 31) By the sixteenth century, they emerge in some parishes as far apart as St Bartholomew's at Smithfield in London and Morebath in Devon as so clearly distinct from the minor clergy whence they originated that they had their own livery suggesting their status as lay officers of their employers. Stephen Findley who was jointly clerk of the church of St Bartholomew's Priory and parish clerk of the parochial chapel of All Saints within the monastic church in 1536 was given three yards of broadcloth each year for his livery of a price and colour given to yeoman servants of the monastery. (fn. 32) The parish clerk of Morebath similarly had his own distinctive livery provided by the parish in the 1530s. (fn. 33) It is possible however, that the dedication of the London clerks' fraternity to St Nicholas was a residual link to an earlier age when clerks were invariably youths or young men, since St Nicholas was the patron of these social groups. (fn. 34)

When these individual fragments of evidence are put together, what emerges is consistent with the more general movement towards the laicisation of specialist functions within the church which gathered pace in the fifteenth century. It has been shown elsewhere that it was becoming possible to pursue an ecclesiastical career at this time without taking orders. Bishop's officials such as registrars might be laymen by 1500. (fn. 35) More conspicuous is the rise of a professional class of ecclesiastical musicians from about 1390 which was created by the demand for the greater numbers of highly skilled singers needed to sustain the performance of polyphonic music. These were laymen following a lifelong musical career by taking over this skilled task rather than, as was previously the case, clergy in minor orders who could expect to move up through the ecclesiastical hierarchy. (fn. 36) A similar evolution occurred in the case of schoolmasters during the fifteenth century, who were no longer confined to the ranks of the clergy, and where the foundations of a new lay profession were laid. (fn. 37)

During the first forty years of the fifteenth century therefore, we can see something of the development of this new profession in London, with the rise of the Fraternity of St Nicholas as the outward and visible sign of its development. The clerks were meeting at the Brewers' Hall between 1419 and 1423 and at some point later in the century built a hall on property which they had acquired off Bishopsgate. (fn. 38) They obtained successive charters in 1442 and 1449, establishing two chantry chaplains at Guildhall Chapel by the latter date in which they had their own altar of St Nicholas, and provision for seven poor almsfolk to pray for the monarch and other members of the guild. There is also some evidence that the elaborate schemes which had evolved in earlier centuries for their payment through fees for services performed and offerings in kind were being underpinned by a more regular salary structure. (fn. 39) An ordinance for payments of wages to the two parish clerks of St Mary Lothbury made in 1434 and exhibited in the Commissary Court of London in 1456 provided for the rating of each house within the parish to provide a fixed payment every quarter towards the clerks' wages. (fn. 40) But fees from their attendance at funerals, processions and other services, particularly at those where they sang, continued to provide an important supplement to their income. Like any other trade guild, the parish clerks' fraternity took steps to ensure that it established effective control over the substantial business in which it was involved as the surviving ordinances of 1529 and indeed, 1553, demonstrate. These sought to prevent non-members from participating in extra-parochial duties and established wage rates and rotas for attendance at major funerals. (fn. 41) Individual clerks also augmented their income from a variety of other sources, notably the washing of church linen for which payments are recorded to them (or their wives) but also the copying of polyphonic church music and other more general written texts. (fn. 42)

Physical description and arrangement of the Bede Roll

The manuscript now consists of fifty full folio sheets and ten half sheets or slips of parchment. These have been trimmed by a bookbinder at some stage in its history, leading to some loss of text at the foot and outer margins of certain sheets. (fn. 43) This sizing has not been carried out methodically however, as one folio sheet has survived with the bottom folded up to fit within the text block determined by the binder. (fn. 44) The folios were numbered by staff at Guildhall Library in 1998. A single folio, originally blank, but with a few transcriptions (in ink, and in an eighteenth century hand) of some of the early names from f. 1r of the text, together with later pencil transcriptions of a few names, precedes the text and has not been edited here. This additional folio has been left unnumbered.

The volume measures 20.5 inches high by 11.5 inches across (52 cm x 29 cm) and is bound in old calf. (fn. 45) The binding is rather too tight and as a result some of the text is hidden in the gutter, as at ff. 4v, 12v and 13r. The boards are secured by two brass clasps and on the spine appears the legend 'Clerks Hall Record'. If this is the volume referred to in the inventory of the Company's possessions at its hall in 1671, then the present binding is later and presents some problems. The style of calf binding appears to date from the eighteenth century, but the marbled end papers are clearly from the nineteenth. There is no sign of the physical removal of leaves containing the last entries for 1521 and those for 1522 and 1523. The present binding appears therefore to be that described by Ebblewhite as being ordered c1890 (fn. 46) but incorporating older boards. (fn. 47)

Apart from the loss of text owing to a previous bookbinder's attentions, there is some evidence of damp staining and areas where damp has caused the inks to run as on f. 17. There are also minor tears and wear to the edges of folios in a number of places, but on the whole the appearance of the text is remarkably fresh and clear. The manuscript varies enormously in the richness of the decoration and the care with which entries have been recorded. The first name at the head of the list of guild members on f. 1r when the Bede Roll was first compiled in 1449, that of Henry VI who had just granted a second charter to the parish clerks, has an elaborately illuminated initial letter in gold leaf, using an appropriate purple and blue wash overlaid with a foliage pattern for the background. The name of Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV's queen, is written entirely in letters of gold at the head of the admissions for 1480. In the folios recording entries for the 1460s however, where half sheets and slips of parchment abound, there is no illumination and it is clear that the ambitious start by the original compilers had faltered, leaving these less elaborate entries, although colours were still used for initial letters where they were filled in. From 1469 there was a revival, with the use of an illuminated initial letter at the head of each year, and in the later years of the fifteenth century much more elaborate decoration is apparent with spreading foliage extending from such letters into the margins. The Bede Roll has nothing to match the sumptuous carpet page depicting the Assumption in the register of the Skinners' Assumption guild. It also lacks a characteristic motif equal to the elaborate depiction of the chalice and host which regularly opens the annual entries in the register of their Corpus Christi fraternity. (fn. 48) Nevertheless the manuscript can, at its best, equal the richness of decoration found in these comparable productions, particularly in certain individual years.

The evolution of the format of the Bede Roll is succinctly described and analysed by Christie but his remarks now require some modification. (fn. 49) The first two folios of text form the beginning of what was intended to be a complete table of members alive in 1449, arranged according to their lay or ecclesiastical rank, beginning with Henry VI who was responsible for the incorporation of the fraternity. After those described as 'dominus' or 'magister' occupying most of the first folio, are those lacking any title who appear arranged alphabetically by Christian name. The list breaks off in the middle of the letter K, for reasons which are unclear, since f. 2v on which there is room for further names has been left blank. On f. 3 are the names of those deceased brothers and sisters of the fraternity who died prior to Ascension Day 1448, among whom there are identifiable individuals whose deaths go back to the 1420s, although there may be others prior to this period. Those newly dead in the course of the year between Ascension Day 1448 and 1449 were marked off in the margin by a large square bracket encompassing the relevant names.

On f. 4r is a heading for the names of deceased parish clerks who belonged to the Fraternity of St Nicholas. Christie saw correctly that this signalled the original intention of the compilers to maintain three separate lists, one for living members, one for deceased members and a third specifically devoted to deceased clerks. (fn. 50) But by 1453 the system had broken down. Several of the last entries, including two for Robert Quadring, (a citizen and stationer who made his will on 21 March 1452, and whose widow made her will on 11 December 1453), (fn. 51) and Margaret Killingham, do not relate to parish clerks, but simply record deaths of other fraternity members at about this date.

While Christie recognised the breakdown of the attempt to maintain three separate lists in 1453, he failed to grasp the confusion which ensued because he assumed that an annual chronological progression of entries under the masters of the fraternity for each year was then established. He omitted to check the dates of death of identifiable individuals within each year against the dates he assigned to the entries grouped under the names of masters which followed from f. 4r, column 3. It is now clear from the wills of deceased members of the fraternity from the 1450s and 1460s that the entries on the Bede Roll for this period up until 1469, when an uninterrupted sequence of dated years commences, are confused. The introduction of a more or less regular system of entering annual lists of admissions and deaths in the 1450s under the names of the two masters for each year lends a veneer of order to the sequence of these lists which collapses when they are closely examined. Entries for certain years were clearly written up, sometimes several years afterwards, by scribes for whom the maintenance of strict chronological order was not a priority.

Problems of chronology: the dating and order of entries after 1453 and before 1470

The entries on the Bede Roll can be securely dated up to and including the additional entries for the deceased for the year 1453. The dating of that year is fixed by the deaths of Parnel (Petronella) Saint (Seynt) and Denise Ferrer (Ferrowre) or Hancock (33), both of which occurred between Ascension Day 1453 and 1454. (fn. 52) It seems that the subsequent list of deceased parish clerks comprising the entries contained within f. 4r, col. 1, was originally compiled in 1449, but was supplemented with the names of some later clerks (and other laity) who died as late as the calendar years 1452 or 1453. The next entries at f. 4r, col. 2, record deaths occurring in the year of office of the two masters John Farley and Edmund Smewen. Christie believed that these were deaths occurring in the year between Ascension Day 1454 and 1455. This is impossible however, as the annual list in question includes entries for deaths known to have occurred between Ascension Day in 1458 and in 1459 (54), including those of John Scott, rector of St Michael Bassishaw (died May/June 1458) (fn. 53), William Andrew, parish clerk of St Botolph Aldgate (died August/September 1458) (fn. 54), Richard Snell (died between December 1458 and March 1459) (fn. 55) and Richard Petworth, former secretary to Cardinal Beaufort (died between July and November 1458). (fn. 56) What we have here is an additional list of deaths inserted at this point in the text at a later date, perhaps to fill up a previously unused space in the manuscript. This is confirmed when we look at the entries under the next masters listed, John Green and John Harris (f. 4r, col. 3), which cover both admissions and deaths during their year of office. They include (37) the deceased members Master Nicholas Sturgeon, composer and precentor of St Paul's who died in June 1454, (fn. 57) Walter Shelley, parish clerk (will of 29 May, administration granted 31 July, 1454) (fn. 58) and Master William Leef, rector of St Michael Cornhill (died 1454). (fn. 59) This is clearly the annual list for 1454. Walter Shelley's entry here also provides a terminus ad quem for the previous cumulative list of deceased parish clerks at f. 4r, col. 1. He is the first identifiable clerk to appear in an annual list after this earlier comprehensive record was abandoned. Consequently, the main list of dead clerks can be safely assigned to the period prior to Ascension Day 1454.

The entries for the following year appearing on the manuscript, under the names of the masters John Ledston (Ledyston) and William Aylmer or Almer (a more likely reading than the 'Aluin' of Christie), are on the verso of f. 4 and are ascribed by Christie to 1456. However they are written in a large, crude, hand completely unlike that employed in any other entries for the 1450s. Again, on internal evidence, they seem to constitute an interpolation using the previously unused reverse of the sheet to enter additional (and sometimes duplicate) entries dating between Ascension Day 1462 and Ascension Day 1464. Entries for the deceased (89) include Dame Margery Clopton, widow of Alderman Robert Clopton, who left a bequest to the clerks' brotherhood in her will of 25 September 1462, with an incomplete probate also of 1462; (fn. 60) Joyce Style, widow (will of 11 January, proved 9 February, 1463 in which she left 13s 4d to the fraternity of parish clerks); (fn. 61) William Cantelow (Catelow), alderman (will of 21 February 1463, proved 11 May 1464) (fn. 62) and Thomas Castel, probably the saddler of this name (will of 26 March, proved 1 July, 1463). (fn. 63) While it is just possible that both Cantelow and Castel died before Ascension Day (19 May) 1463, the deaths may well run into the clerks' year 1463. That these additional entries date from in or around 1462 is also indicated by the presence of Richard Estney (86) among the admissions grouped under this year. This is apparently a duplicate entry as the same name occurs earlier among admissions for 1462 (73) a year which is dated in the manuscript.

The interrupted chronological sequence then resumes on f. 5r with the entries for the masters Richard Pollard and Nicholas Harrington (Ascension Day 1455 to 1456), followed by Robert Welwick (Welwike) and Thomas Pilbarow (Ascension Day 1456 to 1457) and William Gace and Richard Cox (Cokkys) (Ascension Day 1457 to 1458). These can be securely dated from internal evidence. Under Pollard and Harrington occur entries for the deaths (43) of William Huntington, rector of St James Garlickhithe (dead shortly before 4 November 1455), Walter Eston, rector of St Olave Southwark (dead shortly before 10 March 1456) and William Prince, chaplain of St Christopher le Stocks (died April 1456). (fn. 64) Under Welwick and Pilbarow are entered the deaths (48) of William Liseux (Lesurs), dean of St Paul's (will proved 17 October 1456), Nicholas Balshaw, chantry priest of St John Walbrook (died March 1457), Richard Corston, rector of St Olave Hart Street (dead between 25 April and 11 May 1457), and Nicholas Wifolde, alderman (dead between 22 June 1456 and the end of that calendar year). (fn. 65) Similarly, under Gace and Cox there are entries for the deaths of the parish clerks William Wallerthwaite (will proved 6 September 1457) and Nicholas Bramble (died October/November 1457). (fn. 66)

We have already accounted for the year beginning Ascension Day 1458 (which includes deaths only and occurs as an interpolated group of entries at f. 4r, col. 2).

The confusion in the order of entries then becomes chronic. On the verso of f. 6 at the top is a single name, that of Master Richard Petworth (68), written in a hand distinct from that employed in the surrounding years. It appears that this entry was abandoned, perhaps as the scribe realised he had not entered any incipit and that entries for this year, headed by Petworth, were entered on f. 4r (54). Instead, the remainder of f. 6v was filled up with 'overflow' entries from the year headed by masters John Nichol and John Cooper. The Nichol/Cooper year actually begins two thirds of the way down on f. 9r (69), where the incipit includes the date 1462, and then continues on f. 6v. Each year between ff. 6v and 9r therefore needs to be examined carefully to unravel the chronological sequence of entries which can only be achieved through evaluation of the internal evidence. Fortunately, the list of entries for the year of the masters John Acres (Acrys) and John Bradford is helpful in that it includes Edward IV and the immediate members of his family, both living and dead, describing him as son of the rightful heir of the kingdom, on his assumption of the throne which occurred on 4 March 1461. It also records his father Richard Duke of York and his brother Edmund Earl of Rutland killed at the Battle of Wakefield in December 1460. There is no doubt that this is the year stretching from Ascension Day 1460–1, but again written up some time afterwards in view of the fact that George, Edward IV's brother, is described as Duke of Clarence, an honour conferred at the coronation on 29 June 1461. (fn. 67)

Christie naturally assumed that the following year on ff. 8r-9v with entries under the masters Thomas Humberston and John Pollet (Polyt) and sandwiched between the securely dated 1460 and 1462 must be 1461. However, the internal evidence reveals that the deaths in this annual list (60) are attributable to the year from Ascension Day 1459–60. The two deceased priests heading the list of deaths, Thomas Fawkes, rector of St Bride and Thomas Swan, rector of St Mary at Hill help to pinpoint the year. Fawkes left a will of 5 December 1458, proved 19 September 1459, and Swan was dead by April 1460 when his successor was instituted. (fn. 68) Conversely, the priest David Taylor, chaplain of St Mary Matfellon, who was admitted in this year, died between 24 and 27 July 1461 when his will was respectively drawn up and proved. (fn. 69) He is not present however, among the deaths included under the same year. Hence this group of entries apparently pre-dates the clerks' year 1461–2. All the other probable identifications of deaths for this year are consistent with a date between the feasts of the Ascension in 1459 and 1460.

What therefore, has happened to the entries for the clerks' year beginning in 1461? It looks as though some of the entries have been subsumed under 1462, as the latter includes entries for certain individuals dying within the year beginning on Ascension Day 1461. The priest David Taylor, mentioned above, occurs among deaths for 1462 (75) although he died in July 1461. A number of other deaths recorded under 1462 (75) are probably attributable to the clerks' previous year of reckoning, including those of Henry Otteware (dead before 29 August 1461) and Morgan Water (died February 1462). (fn. 70) However, the precise identification of the year is clouded by a posthumous entry for the knight Sir John Fray. He is among a separately noticed group of 'defuncti' (76). His widow and daughter were admitted in 1462 (69) and he was probably entered retrospectively at their behest as a posthumous entrant to the fraternity as he was dead by July 1461. (fn. 71) This suggested chronology cannot be definitive therefore, but seems to accord most closely with the available evidence.

There still remains a lacuna in terms of admissions for 1461. It is just possible that the additional entries for 1462 and? 1463 (dated by the deaths of identifiable individuals among them) entered on the reverse of f. 4 include entries for 1461 as well, but there is no way of proving this. However, as separate groups of entries with appropriate masters constitute the main entries for 1462 and 1463 commencing on ff. 9r and 11r, it may be that at least the masters John Ledston and William Aylmer (84) who are at the head of this group on f. 4v are those for 1461. They are not obviously attributable to any other year (namely those from Ascension Day 1462 and 1463) to which the entries apparently relate and masters for all other years up to 1460 are accounted for.

Whereas the disorder in the entries so far considered appears to be largely attributable to scribes who confounded or confused the proper order of the entries, that for subsequent annual lists from the 1460s is principally due to errors in the subsequent binding of the manuscript, which has reversed the order of two folios, namely the current ff. 10 and 11. Christie assumed that he was dealing with a correct sequence of entries covering the years commencing on each Ascension Day between 1463 and 1469 respectively, although he noted that one year was lacking from it. In fact, analysis of the deaths for each of the annual groups of entries up to and including 1469 (which is dated as such in the text) reveals a different picture, confirming the conclusion of EA Ebblewhite that some entries for the 1460s were bound in the wrong order. (fn. 72) The deaths (102) for the next year after 1462 are those for 1465 including entries for Alice Abraham (died May/August 1465), John Acres (will proved 28 October 1465), the priest William Kilburn (will exhibited 15 January 1466) and John Fleet, prior of Westminster who died between 29 September 1465 and 1466). (fn. 73) The following year's entries are those for 1463 which include the deaths (83) of Stephen Proctor, priest (died July/August 1463), Robert Devereux (died November/December 1463) and William Deer, formerly alderman (will proved 4 February 1464), (fn. 74) followed by those for 1464 (94) including John Austin, parish clerk (died June/July 1464), Sir Thomas Charlton (died February/March 1465), Robert Dowde (died between late May/July 1464) and William Stifford (died November 1464/January 1465). (fn. 75) Folios 10 and 11 consisted originally of one large sheet of parchment which has been folded to create one and a half folio leaves. During the operation, the smaller leaf of this folded sheet was bent backwards and used to record the entries for 1465. However, in the course of binding, the half sheet has been bent forwards thereby ensuring that entries for 1465 precede those for 1463 and 1464. Thus the folio currently numbered 10 is recte f. 11 and conversely 11 is recte f. 10. The correct numeration at this point has been entered on the manuscript below the sequential numeration, both added by Guildhall Library staff. (fn. 76)

It remains to assign a proper chronology to the remaining admissions and deaths for the 1460s. The next group of annual entries which occur on f. 12v under the masters William Palmer and Robert How (Hoo) (103) are those for 1466 including the deaths (109) of William Bond (died late May/July 1466), Sir John Burcetyr (died October/November 1466) and Edmund Kirton, abbot of Westminster (died 3 October 1466). (fn. 77) Those for 1467 then follow sequentially on f. 12v, recorded under the masters John Pollet (Polyt) and William Burton (110), including the deaths (115, 116) of Dame Alice Illingworth and the parish clerks Robert Lety (between 28 April and 6 May 1468) and William Packer (December 1467/January 1468). (fn. 78) As the following year's entries entered on f. 13 of the Bede Roll are specifically assigned to 1469, we can now identify the missing year after 1462 as that for 1468. However, when the entries for 1469 are closely examined they include deaths for 1468, among them (123) those of Hugh Wiche, alderman, Thomas Frary and Agnes Impingham, all of whom died in the year before Ascension Day 1469. (fn. 79) Moreover, the number of admissions for 1469 (117–121) is so much greater than for the years which precede it that there is a strong possibility that two years' worth of entries have been subsumed under one. Conversely, the deaths of those who died in the year beginning Ascension Day 1469 are entered under 1470 (130). A convention is thereby established for this and each successive year, namely that deaths are entered in the parish clerks' year following that in which they actually occurred. The results of these investigations can now be summarised in the following table showing a revised chronology and succession of masters.

1448 1448 John Hunt Thomas Denley [Henley in Christie.] [Names largely trimmed away. Supplied from 1449 charter.] f. 3v [26]
1449 1449 [Names trimmed away] f. 3v [27–8]
1450 1450 John Beby John Butler (Boteler) f. 3v [29]
1451 1451 John Ledston John Trebon [Trelon in Christie] f. 3v [30]
1452 1452 William Idersey William Clerk f. 3v [31–2]
1453 1453 Henry Smith Thomas Derby f. 3v [33] (fn. 80)
1454 1455 John Green John Harris f. 4r [35–7]
1455 1457 Richard Pollard Nicholas Harrington f. 5r [38–43]
1456 1458 Robert Welwick Thomas Pilbarow f. 5r [44–8]
1457 1459 William Gace Richard Cox f. 5v [49–53]
1458 1454 John Farley Edmund Smewen [Schewen in Christie] f. 4r [54]
1459 1461 Thomas Humberston John Pollet f. 8r [55–60]
1460 1460 John Acres John Bradford f. 7r [61–8]
1461 [missing] See 1462, 1462 and ?1463 (additional entries)
1462 (incorporating deaths for 1461) 1462 John Nichol John Cooper f. 9r [69–74] f 6v (list of deaths) [75–7]
1463 1465? John Beby Richard Tabbe f. 11r [78–83]
1462 and ?1463 (additional entries) 1456 John Ledston William Aylmer or Almer [Aluin in Christie] recte masters for ?1461 f. 4v [84–9]
1464 1466? Thomas Butler Thomas Warren f. 11v [90–5]
1465 1463 or 1464? Robert Alderman William Horton f. 10r [96–102]
1466 1467? William Palmer Robert How f. 12r [103–9]
1467 1468 John Pollet William Burton f. 12v [110–6]
1468 [missing]
1469 (incorporating entries for 1468) 1469 Simon Mayhew Henry Emson [Pineson in Christie] f. 13r [117–23]
1470 (incorporating deaths for 1469) 1470 Philip Chapman John Hill f. 14r [124–30]

This scheme of dating leaves some anomalies. The entries for deaths in the years between 1460 and 1463 overlap to some extent when record-keeping apparently became confused. The year with additional deaths for 1462 (and possibly 1463) is something of a composite before a clearer pattern of deaths resumes. An alternative possibility is that the pattern of admissions for one year being coupled with deaths for the previous one obtained before 1469 in the earlier annual lists covering the 1460s. However, this seems to be ruled out by the fact that John Lock (Lokke), very likely the alderman and mercer who died in the calendar year 1463, appears under both the admissions (81) and deaths (83) for the same year (identified by us as the clerks' year 1463). This would be an impossible conjunction if the admissions related to the clerks' year after the death in question was recorded.

From 1470 onwards, a straight chronological progression of entries proceeds on this basis until the text breaks off with the admissions of members for the clerks' year 1521. The incipits and dating clauses become increasingly elaborate towards the end of the fifteenth century. In 1478 (196) a mayoralty, that of Humphrey Hayford, is first mentioned and regnal years are used intermittently from 1488 (287) as well as calendar years until the end of the century. The civic pride of the Fraternity of St Nicholas is most fully expressed in 1493, 1496 and 1497 when not only the mayor but also the sheriffs are mentioned at the opening of each year's entry (323, 347, 355).

Membership of the fraternity

There are nearly 7,000 individuals recorded in the text, but only a handful of those who can be identified were resident outside London or its environs. Many of the latter may have been enrolled when they visited the capital on business. Of this grand total, some 900 individuals are identified or identifiable as 'clerks' on the Bede Roll (none of them priests, who are separately categorised). There are also some 300 or so clerks' wives, although they are not systematically identified before 1460. Many others are listed with the generality of laywomen, particularly among the deceased women who are recorded. This body of individuals represents the core membership of the fraternity. However, the figure for clerks is misleading as lay clerks among the many choirs and musical establishments of London ranging from the Chapel Royal to choirs in parish churches are included. The presence of the latter, including major composers such as Robert Fairfax (Fayrfax) and Nicholas Ludford, makes the Bede Roll a prime source for the careers of musicians in this period although it has not always been used sufficiently critically. (fn. 81) Christie noted in his study of the text that many of the musicians did not keep up their membership and their reasons for joining do seem to have been linked to the opportunities for additional work in terms of singing at patronal festivals and other major holy days in London churches as well as at the numerous funerals which the parish clerks attended individually or corporately. In the churchwardens' accounts of St Mary-at-Hill in the period 1510–1 for instance, payments or references occur to two lay clerks of the Chapel Royal who were also members of the Fraternity of St Nicholas, Henry Prentice and John Sudborough (402, 447). Membership of the brotherhood also helps to chart the career progression of these lay choir clerks and professional ecclesiastical musicians whose services were in high demand for singing elaborate polyphonic music in some 200 major monasteries and collegiate establishments around the country. (fn. 82) Then, as now, such musicians moved around as opportunities presented themselves and some of the choir clerks recorded on the Bede Roll can be found at various stages in their careers at the Chapel Royal, St George's Chapel, Windsor and to a lesser extent elsewhere. (fn. 83) It is interesting that the parish clerks' fraternity was seen as a useful vehicle for the aspirations of these singing men who did not seek to form their own brotherhood, unlike the secular minstrels who did have a separate guild. The similar origins of the parish clerks in London and the ecclesiastical musicians who both occupied posts which had previously been reserved for clerks in holy orders have already been noted.

The manuscript also includes a number of other discrete groups of individuals of whom several hundred are identifiable with varying degrees of certainty. Among them are many who were clearly co-opted for the lustre which their names gave to the parish clerks' fraternity, such as members of the royal family, nobles and other courtiers, bishops or abbots and some aldermen whose funerals the clerks attended. But frequently, only their admission or death is recorded, suggesting that they were honorary rather than substantive members, or were placed on the Bede Roll posthumously at the behest of family or executors. The maintenance of a chantry priest and altar in Guildhall Chapel nevertheless placed the fraternity at the heart of civic life and numerous aldermen maintained long-standing membership with both their admission and deaths, often with that of their wives, being recorded.

The bulk of the membership however, on the basis of evidence derived from contemporary wills, seems to have consisted of middle-ranking Londoners who aspired to a more elaborate funeral than could be provided through membership of the average parish fraternity. Membership of the latter would guarantee a funeral mass and decent burial, with prayers and masses offered collectively for the living and deceased members' souls and also relief of living members who became sick or destitute. The almshouses and pensions of the Fraternity of St Nicholas were, however, only open to parish clerks and their wives who had been duly admitted according to the ordinances of 1529. The attraction for others must have been focussed more particularly on the 'death benefits' of a superior funeral. For a modest outlay in entrance fines and quarterage, ordinary laity could ensure sung obsequies which would otherwise surely have been beyond their means if they had to be purchased on the open funeral market. (fn. 84) The attendance of the guild at individuals' obsequies is requested more often than that of any other religious fraternity in Londoners' wills of the period, but frequently in conjunction with the brotherhood of the poor priests of the Pappey, and these occurrences have been noted in the footnotes to the main text. (fn. 85) Although the membership records of the Pappey fraternity have not survived, it seems that the two guilds may have co-operated closely in the funeral business and probably five (possibly seven) masters of the Hospital of St Augustine Pappey which housed these priests are recorded amongst the membership of the Fraternity of St Nicholas. (fn. 86)

A number of other interesting sub-groups are also distinguishable among the ranks of the members. There is, for example, besides a large number of incumbents and other London clergy to whom the parish clerks were answerable in the performance of their professional duties, a significant group of some forty monks of Westminster. The abbots included might to some extent be bracketed with the other heads of religious houses and distinguished figures co-opted to add lustre to the brotherhood, although the deaths of abbots Kirton, Norwich and Milling are all recorded (109, 130, 322), the latter even though he had been appointed as bishop of Hereford. The inclusion of so many ordinary Westminster monks is harder to explain. They had individual pensions which could be used to purchase additional spiritual benefits and some occur among the accounts of the Assumption guild at St Margaret Westminster. Others may have been Londoners by birth. Perhaps it was also part of a wider exchange of spiritual benefits by which the parish clerks were themselves remembered in the prayers of such religious communities.

As one would expect, there is a sprinkling of the neighbours of the parish clerks around their hall off Bishopsgate including at least two prioresses of St Helen's Bishopsgate (154, 540) and John Larke, rector of St Ethelburga and later of Chelsea (541), who in common with his patron Sir Thomas More suffered death for his opposition to the royal supremacy. Family traditions of membership over more than one generation are harder to pinpoint (the incidence of admissions and deaths over time of individuals with unusual names such as Medwall, Ostrich and Quadring seems to indicate some) but it is noticeable that wives or sons are sometimes admitted in the same year as the deaths of their husbands or fathers. The pattern of membership for lay women (who commonly joined at the same time as their husbands) and clerks' wives (who did not) is intriguing, particularly as masters of the fraternity frequently admitted their wives during their year of office. This suggests that the wives of ordinary laymen could be admitted with their husbands while paying only one subscription between them (fn. 87) but that the privilege was not normally extended to the clerks' wives, perhaps because as widows they might have proved too great a drain on the available alms and accommodation provided by the charitable funds of the guild. (fn. 88) Certainly John Marlow, parish clerk of St Botolph Aldersgate, who joined the parish fraternity of the Holy Trinity there in 1499–1500 when his wife Agnes (fn. 89) entered at no extra charge, did not secure her admission to the parish clerks' brotherhood which he joined in the clerks' year 1499–1500 (371) either then or subsequently.

Governance, officers and administration

Most of our information about the governance of the Fraternity of St Nicholas comes from the three charters of 1442, 1449 and 1475 along with the ordinances of 1529, the earliest to survive. (fn. 90) The two charters issued by Henry VI provided for the establishment of the guild as a body corporate of brothers and sisters, able to hold land and other property in perpetuity worth up to £40 per annum in London and having a common seal. They also stipulated the election of two masters, which (as the ordinances of 1529 make clear) occurred on Ascension Day. The masters, as the chief officers, were empowered to appoint two chaplains to celebrate the divine offices for the benefit of the King, living and departed members of the fraternity and all Christian souls in accordance with the usual formula in the charters issued to such guilds. In 1443, representatives of the guild came to an agreement with the City of London whereby parish clerks could be admitted to the freedom of the City and in return had promised that one chaplain provided by them should serve perpetually the altar of St Nicholas in the Corporation's own Guildhall Chapel. (fn. 91) When the second charter of 1449 was issued, the chaplains are specifically mentioned as serving there. The charters of 1442 and 1449 also provided for the formal recognition of seven poor persons on the establishment of the brotherhood to offer up prayers in similar fashion for the welfare of the living and the souls of the dead. They provide the first specific references to the almsfolk, who are separately mentioned on the Bede Roll only in 1474 (168) and 1488 (293). (fn. 92)

By 1475, the resources of the parish clerks seem to have become overstretched, and a new charter was obtained from Edward IV reducing the number of chaplains to be maintained at Guildhall Chapel from two to one and specifically allowing the remaining chaplain to be deployed in other consecrated places of worship as required by the masters. (fn. 93) The value of property which could be held was scaled back to £20 to reflect these reduced commitments. At the same time, the control of the fraternity over the perquisites and privileges of their profession was strengthened. The masters were given additional authority to call upon any of the principal parish clerks of London and its suburbs to carry out duties in connection with the guild in accordance with their statutes and ordinances (which are not extant for this period). They were also empowered to correct or punish such clerks and authority was given to all mayors, aldermen, sheriffs, freemen, constables and other officials in London and its suburbs to assist the fraternity to this end. If the later ordinances of 1529 are any guide, the concern of the masters may well have been to establish their powers to summon parish clerks to attend funerals and to arrange for their participation in civic processions and other festivals while exacting appropriate fees both for the fraternity and its members involved in these ceremonies and offices. (fn. 94) There was always a danger that parish clerks who were not members of the Fraternity of St Nicholas in the City or indeed in the suburbs (where the writ of the City authorities did not run) might ignore the authority of its officers and undercut the wage rates of its members through freelance activity on such occasions. These ordinances provided that parish clerks who were not members were to be confined to work in their own parishes or churches and were not to take part in processions, masses or anthems elsewhere on pain of heavy fines. (fn. 95) Any member of the clerks' guild assisting such non-members or using them at their own parish services, thereby denying fellow-members their due perquisites, were similarly to be fined.

The ordinances of 1529 reveal for the first time the administrative organisation in some detail. (fn. 96) In addition to the masters (chosen on Ascension Day), the annual election of two wardens (in the 28 days after 2 February) and twelve auditors were also provided for. Rates of relief and the accommodation entitlement for brethren who had fallen into poverty were set out. Quarterly and other occasional assemblies and an annual feast following a procession after divine service at Guildhall Chapel to Clerks' Hall off Bishopsgate were similarly established. Appropriate oaths, fines and disciplinary measures were laid down following the pattern of similar bodies. Quarterage dues of 3d were set. Not until the ordinances of 1553 however are Court Assistants mentioned. (fn. 97) In common with other London trade guilds, authority rested largely with the current and former masters. They elected each succeeding year's masters and (together with the auditors) chose the wardens for the year.

We know comparatively little about the fraternity's premises in Clark's Place off Bishopsgate and the corporate life of the clerks outside the religious sphere after incorporation. Apart from deeds relating to the site, the sources are silent about the buildings and garden prior to the seizure by the Crown in Edward VI's reign, when an inventory was made for the Court of Augmentations. (fn. 98) There was a parlour at the rear of the site against London Wall which offered a meeting place for the clerks, measuring 36 feet long by 14 feet wide (11 m × 4.3 m) with three chambers above and a room for the beadle below. This overlooked a garden and next to it was the hall, 30 feet long by 25 feet wide (9.1 m × 7.6 m), with a gallery at the far end and a smaller parlour at one end of that area. It was also provided with a kitchen 22 feet square (6.7 m2), cellar, larders and pantry. Although it was not large, it had all the essential facilities for the feasts and conduct of the brotherhood's business which corporate pride demanded. On one side of the hall were seven tenements occupied by the almsfolk and on the other towards the Bishopsgate frontage were another four tenements let out at a yearly rent to generate income. Between them lay a small garden 72 by 21 feet (22 m × 6.4 m) in extent. The stages by which these premises and other adjacent properties were developed however, are unclear, although the hall would seem to date from after the period 1463–7 when the fraternity used Merchant Taylors' Hall. (fn. 99)

The dissolution of the fraternity under Edward VI and the seizure of its assets

The Chantries Act of Edward VI in 1547 struck at the heart of the Fraternity of St Nicholas's existence by attacking allegedly superstitious practices including prayers and masses for the dead and authorising the seizure by the Crown of property which supported such functions by any corporation, fraternity, guild or craft. In 1548, the hall and almshouses were seized and sold to Sir Robert Chester on 20 December, and the guild dissolved. (fn. 100) The clerks put up a spirited defence, arguing their case through the courts on the basis that they were a trade guild like others in the City and at one point in 1550 obtaining repossession of the hall. (fn. 101) The deeds and other evidences of their property which survived until they were destroyed in the Blitz of 1940, must have been secured at this time in order to fight their legal case. Chester eventually won this battle and in 1552 the City Corporation provided alternative temporary accommodation for the clerks' meetings in Bethlem Hospital. On the accession of Queen Mary in 1553, the clerks prepared to renew their suit for restoration of their property, under a restored Catholic regime, but Chester pre-empted them by pulling down the hall and selling the stone and other building material. The parish clerks survived the setback however. They had already secured reincorporation from the sympathetic City authorities in the last days of the Edwardian regime (as a result of a decision by the Court of Aldermen on 2 May 1553 after approval of their ordinances) and have maintained a continuous existence ever since. (fn. 102) Against the background of these upheavals the survival of the Bede Roll is remarkable. It remains one of a small number of parish or fraternity bede rolls which are still in existence following the systematic destruction of any materials supporting prayer for the dead at the height of the Reformation and their redundancy under the Elizabethan Settlement.

Editorial method

The text has been divided into numbered sections noted in bold, largely following existing divisions within the manuscript, although each incipit shares a number with the entries which follow immediately after it. Material from the earlier part of the Bede Roll has been rearranged in our edition to reflect what appears to be the chronological rather than the actual order of entries, which is confused. The chronological order has been recovered, as far as possible, from the identification of individuals named within specific annual or other groups of entries. Additional entries which appear to refer to the years 1462 and possibly 1463 following masters from an unrelated year (probably 1461) have been placed following the main entries for 1463.

Editorial notes follow the sections to which they relate. Any editorial interventions in the text or conjectural readings are inserted within square brackets. Standard contractions or abbreviations have been expanded. Suspension marks have normally been ignored except where their import is unclear at the end of place names. Angled brackets are reserved for deleted names or letters which can be discerned using ultra violet light. Entries added in a subsequent hand are indicated by italics. Those between bow-shaped brackets indicate that they have been crossed through in the MS as duplicates. Illegible words or letters of words are indicated by three dots.

Capitalisation and punctuation have been modernised for the sake of clarity. City or district names and the names of churches are capitalised but street names left in lower case. The letters i, j, u and v are transcribed as they appear in the MS but Anglo-Saxon thorn and yogh are transcribed as 'th' and 'y' or 'g' respectively. Where space has been left for individuals' Christian names or surnames which were never added, or where material has been deleted, the fact is indicated in the text.

Footnotes are normally attached to identifiable individuals when they are first mentioned in the text. Exceptions are sometimes made in the case of women who married several times and may be better known under a subsequent name, when cross-references are provided, or where the existence of several individuals of the same name makes correlation of admissions and deaths difficult and where identifications can then be more easily matched to appropriate entries for deaths. Original documents have sometimes been cited rather than calendared published texts where insufficient detail is given in the latter, as in the case of the parish clerks' charters.

Locations of manuscripts cited in footnotes are given except where classes of material in The National Archives: Public Record Office (PRO) are concerned. Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills in this repository (PROB 11) are cited according to the later (stamped) folio numbers rather than the original enumeration, and similarly the later folio numbers of the London Commissary Court act books noted in pencil since their deposit in Guildhall Library are cited where these diverge from earlier systems of numeration used in the text. The term 'will' is used indifferently for wills and testaments. Conventions used in the index in part II, are separately noticed in the introduction to it.

Dates are all given in New Style, with years commencing on 1 January in each case, except where otherwise indicated. Dates given for mayors of London and masters of trade guilds are those at which they took up office.

The Latin employed in the incipits and column headings for the deceased is eccentric. The incipits are thoroughly inconsistent in their style. Sometimes the Christian names of different masters or of churches which appear are declined and sometimes not, and inconsistency is exhibited even within the incipit of a single year. Wholesale correction would have distorted the text as we have received it and indications of all inconsistencies would have overwhelmed the critical apparatus. Only minimal changes have been made to correct the most obvious errors and these have been recorded in the footnotes.

The imprecision of the Latin used in the incipits also extends to the column headings for sisters of the Fraternity of St Nicholas. The following formulae are regularly used: (Nomina) uxorum clericorum vivorum, uxorum clericorum mortuorum, mulierum mortuorum, uxorum secularium mortuorum, uxorum laicorum mortuorum and uxorum secularium mortuorum. It is the wives of the clerks or laity who are living or dead in each case, yet the scribes do not make 'vivus' or 'mortuus' agree with the gender of the relevant nouns. This is a regular practice, so the headings have been left as they stand.



  • 1. Guildhall MS 4889, f. 3v.
  • 2. James Christie, Some Account of Parish Clerks, privately printed (1893), p 40. One leaf (for 1523) entered the private library of Thomas Kerslake (see his entry in DNB), but disappeared after his death when it was dispersed by sale in 1891.
  • 3. See, for example, the will of James Spencer, alderman (544), who as late as 1544 left 10s to the parish clerks' fraternity to pray for his soul (PROB 11/30, f. 76v).
  • 4. RH Adams, The Parish Clerks of London (1971), pp 29–30.
  • 5. Christie, p 203.
  • 6. As in the cases of David Lewis, Denise Quadring and Hugh Somerville erased from the original list of living members.
  • 7. The complex evolution of the Bede Roll is discussed in more detail below. The reading of names could become a lengthy and burdensome process and various expedients were adopted to manage the process. In the guild of St Peter at St Peter Cornhill, deceased members were specifically named in the bidding prayers only until the end of the year following that in which they died. After this they were simply prayed for in general. See ordinance (ii) of the guild in HMC Sixth Report (1877), Appendix, p 412.
  • 8. Guildhall MSS 31692 (Corpus Christi fraternity) and 31693 (Assumption guild). The Corpus Christi register records new admissions each year from 1485 but with retrospective entries going back to the reign of Edward III and the Assumption guild book dates from c1472 but incorporates earlier material. Names of members of the Merchant Taylors' Fraternity of St John the Baptist (Guildhall Library MS 34048) and of two Westminster guilds (of the Assumption and St Mary Rounceval deposited in Westminster Abbey Muniment Room) are known from the surviving accounts.
  • 9. See Parish Fraternity Register, ed P Basing (London Record Society, XVIII, 1982), pp vii-xxvi, and CM Barron, 'The parish fraternities of medieval London' in The church in pre-Reformation Society essays in honour of FRH du Boulay (1985), CM Barron and C Harper-Bill, eds., pp 13–37, for the historical background to the development of London guilds.
  • 10. Charter of 1442 (C 66/452, m. 28) translated in Adams, pp 118–9.
  • 11. See The Place-Names of Middlesex (English Place-Name Society, 18, 1942), pp 94–5, for the 'fons clericorum' recorded c1145.
  • 12. As reproduced in John Stow, Survey of London, ed CL Kingsford (1908), 11, 220.
  • 13. EA Ebblewhite, The Parish Clerks' Company and its Charters (privately printed, 1932), p 11.
  • 14. For discussion, see Adams, pp 12–6. On property holding by trustees, Christie, pp 76–90.
  • 15. C 66/452, m. 28.
  • 16. EK Chambers, The Medieval Stage (1903), II, 380 and I Lancashire, Dramatic Texts and Records of Britain: A Chronological Topography (1984), p xvii for divergent discussion. Lancashire, ibid., 543–9, collects together all the relevant references. Stow, Survey, ed Kingsford, I, 15 and 93, II, 31 and 272 provides the classic account of the performance of the plays.
  • 17. E 403/533 (entries for 11 July 1391 referring to payment for the previous year's performances).
  • 18. Chambers, ibid. The charter refers to 'diversis chantatis et pietatis operibus per ipsos annuatim exhibitis et inventis'. Lancashire suggests that the public performances died out after 1410–1 owing to the lack of any specific references to them later.
  • 19. See now CM Barron, 'Church Music in English Towns 1450–1550: an interim report', Urban History, 29, 1 (2002), pp 83–91.
  • 20. See N Orme, Medieval Children (2001), p 229.
  • 21. For a full picture of the clerk's duties including assistance to the priest in the administration of the sacraments and many of the duties undertaken by the modern verger in cleaning, lighting and preparing the church and caring for its vestments and plate, see J Wickham Legg The Clerk's Book of 1549, Henry Bradshaw Society, 25 (1903).
  • 22. N Orme, English Schools in the Middle Ages (1973), pp 180–1.
  • 23. Calendar of wills proved and enrolled in the Court of Husting, ed RR Sharpe (1889–90), I, 378 and 467 (Robert de Barsham and Nicholas de Bath); II, 17, 24, 77, 83, 126 and 228 (Alan de Scarnyngge, John Brian, Joyce Evatte, Edmund de Pountfreit, Robert de Charwelton and Thomas Rose).
  • 24. The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales, ed WW Skeat (1894), pp 95–6, lines 3313–24.
  • 25. See for examples of untonsured clerks Bodleian Library MS Laud Misc. 740, f. 5v and British Library Royal MS 6 E. vi, f. 171 (baptism); Bodleian Library MS Douce 245, f. 264v (celebration of mass). For stained glass, the seven sacraments window at Doddiscombsleigh church, Devon, reproduced in N Orme, Medieval Children, 2001, illustration 11. For a woodcut, The arte or crafte to live well, f. 37, published by Wynkyn de Worde (1503).
  • 26. The charter of 1442 established that it was a guild of the principal and chief parish clerks of the collegiate and parish churches of London (Adams, pp 118–9), but some junior clerks such as John Lincoln, 'subclaricus' (56) were clearly admitted along with the choir clerks noted below.
  • 27. The rise of this new profession was first noted by RN Swanson, Church and Society in Late Medieval England (1989), p 43. For control over parish clerks in London, see the provisions of their third charter of 1475 (C 66/536, m. 8) which was also enrolled in Corporation letter book L, ff. 297v-8v (CLRO).
  • 28. Provinciale (1679), Liber III, p 129 (de clericis conjugatis) and p 142 (de concessione praebendae).
  • 29. CLRO: Corporation letter book K, f. 216v.
  • 30. PROB 11/9, f. 11v.
  • 31. See Orme, Medieval Children, p 229 for the Devon examples.
  • 32. EA Webb, The Records of St Bartholomew's Priory and the church and parish of St Bartholomew the Great West Smithfield (1921), I, 245.
  • 33. E Duffy, The Voices of Morebath (2001), p 55.
  • 34. Christie, p 57; Orme, Medieval Children, p 188.
  • 35. Swanson, Church and Society, p 43.
  • 36. See R Bowers, 'Obligation, Agency and Laissez-Faire: the Promotion of Polyphonic Composition for the Church in Fifteenth-Century England', Music in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, ed IA Fenelon (1981), pp 1–19, and 'The Music and Musical Establishment of St George's Chapel Windsor in the Late Middle Ages', St George's Chapel, Windsor, in the Late Middle Ages, ed C Richmond and E Scarff (2001), pp 171–214.
  • 37. CM Barron, 'The Expansion of Education in Fifteenth-Century London,' The Cloister and the World. Essays in Medieval History in honour of Barbara Harvey, ed J Blair and B Golding (1996), pp 219–45, especially 227–8.
  • 38. Christie, pp 82–97. For the use of Brewers' Hall, see Guildhall MS 5440, ff. 60r, 84 and 184
  • 39. See J Wickham Legg, The Clerk's Book of 1549, Introduction, for the fees and payments in kind to parish clerks.
  • 40. Guildhall MS 9171/4, f. 273v.
  • 41. CLRO: Corporation letter books O, ff. 136r-9v, and R, ff. 250v–4r. Ordinances of 1529 are printed in full (Christie, pp 65–75) and those of 1553 in part or summary form (ibid, pp 114–6, 133–4 and 149–51)
  • 42. See, for example, Westminster City Archives: St Margaret Westminster churchwardens' accounts (microfilm) E1, pp 85, 452, 488 and 514 (washing); London Metropolitan Archives: P92/SAV/24, f. 5v (copying music); and CP Christianson, A Directory of London Stationers and Book Artisans 1300–1500 (1990), pp 114 and 117 (on the dual careers of Thomas Hatfield and Nicholas Holford, textwriters and parish or chapel clerks).
  • 43. As at ff. 3v, 4r, 13r and 37v.
  • 44. F. 34 for 1490.
  • 45. Christie, p 30 for the physical description.
  • 46. EA Ebblewhite, MS notes on the history of the Parish Clerks (Guildhall MS 4894/1).
  • 47. The editors are grateful to Stephen Freeth and Robin Myers for their help on these points.
  • 48. Guildhall MSS 31693 and 31692.
  • 49. Christie, pp 30–55.
  • 50. Ibid., pp 31–2. However, the record keeping was not exact one parish clerk, William Laverok, appears both under the main series of deaths on f. 3r and among the list of deceased clerks on f. 4r.
  • 51. Guildhall MS 9171/5, ff. 49r and 121v. These and subsequent citations from MS 9171 are to testamentary records from the Commissary Court of London.
  • 52. Guildhall MS 9171/5, ff. 122v and 125v.
  • 53. Guildhall MS 9171/5, f. 248v.
  • 54. Guildhall MS 9171/5, f. 257v.
  • 55. Guildhall MS 9171/5, f. 271r.
  • 56. PROB 11/4, f. 104r.
  • 57. PROB 11/1, f. 75v.
  • 58. Guildhall MS 9171/5, f. 130v.
  • 59. Hennessy, Novum repertorium ecclesiasticum parochiale Londinense (1898), pp 88, 382 and lxi.
  • 60. Guildhall MS 9171/5, f. 338r.
  • 61. Guildhall MS 9171/5, f. 336r.
  • 62. PROB 11/5, f. 28r.
  • 63. Guildhall MS 9171/5, f. 351r.
  • 64. Guildhall MS 9171/5, f. 172r; Hampshire Record Office 21M65/A1/13, ff. 4r and 78r; Guildhall MS 9171/5, f. 186r.
  • 65. PROB 11/4, f. 56v; Guildhall MS 9171/5, f. 210v and 209r; PROB 11/4, f. 59r.
  • 66. Guildhall MSS 9171/5, f. 226r and 234r.
  • 67. GEC Complete Peerage.
  • 68. PROB 11/4, f. 127r; Hennessy, p 305.
  • 69. Guildhall MS 9171/5, f. 312r.
  • 70. PROB 11/4, f. 175v; Guildhall MS 9171/5, f. 321 v.
  • 71. PROB 11/4, f. 175r.
  • 72. Guildhall MS 4894/1 (notes on the early history of the Parish Clerks' Company).
  • 73. Guildhall MS 9171/5, ff. 374v, 376v and 382v; EH Pearce, The Monks of Westminster (1916), p 137.
  • 74. Guildhall MS 9171/5, ff. 343v, 349r and 350v; PROB 11/5, f. 19v.
  • 75. Guildhall MS 9171/5, ff. 362r, 363r and 372r; PROB 11/5, f. 60r.
  • 76. We are grateful to John Cuthbert, formerly head conservator at Guildhall Library, who identified the binding error which transposed these folios.
  • 77. PROB 11/5, ff. 108v and 121v; Pearce, pp 129–30.
  • 78. Guildhall MS 9171/6, ff. 10r, 25r and 32r.
  • 79. PROB 11/5, ff. 178r and 183r; Guildhall MS 9171/6, f. 26v.
  • 80. [34] comprises the cumulative list of dead clerks which appears at this point.
  • 81. Hugh Baillie, 'Some Biographical Notes on English church musicians chiefly working in London (1485–1569)', Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle. 2 (1969), 18–57, undertook pioneering work using the evidence of the Bede Roll, but many of his identifications are questionable.
  • 82. See R Bowers English Church Polyphony. Singers and Sources from the 14th to the 17th century (Variorum reprints, 1999) and 'The Music and Musical Establishment of St George's Chapel in the Late Middle Ages' in St George's Chapel, Windsor, in the Late Middle Ages ed C Richmond and E Scarff (2001), pp 171–214. Also C Burgess and A Wathey, 'Mapping the soundscape: church music in English towns 1450–1550', Early Music History, 19 (2000), 1–46.
  • 83. See Bowers, St George's Chapel, pp 188–9 for reasonably assured examples in the careers of John Mildenhall (15) and John Wetherby (85), although the dates given for their appearance on the Bede Roll follow those of Christie and require revision.
  • 84. The cost of membership, while greater than that of a parish fraternity, was moderate. The ordinances of 1553 provide an entry fine of 3s 4d for parish clerks, and the earlier ordinances of 1529 established quarterage payments of 3d per quarter. Although these figures are late and can only be used indicatively, they compare favourably with an entry fine of £1 for the prestigious Merchant Taylors' Fraternity of St John the Baptist and £5 for entry to the Holy Trinity guild at Coventry which was dominated by the city's ruling oligarchy.
  • 85. On the Pappey brotherhood, see VCH London, I, 550.
  • 86. Robert Greetham, John Pyrules, Thomas Ashborne, George Dunne and William Robinson. Possibly also William Leek and John Colin.
  • 87. As with the Holy Trinity fraternity at St Botolph Aldersgate. See Basing, Parish Fraternity Register, p xiii, n 39.
  • 88. For the alms distributed to infirm clerks and their widows by the Parish Clerks and their almshouses adjacent to their hall off Bishopsgate, see the ordinances of 1529 (reprinted in Christie pp 73–5 and 90–5) and Stow, Survey, ed Kingsford, 1, 170–1.
  • 89. Basing, Parish Fraternity Register, 133.
  • 90. For what follows C 66/452, m. 28; C 66/468, m. 9; C 66/536, m. 8. Ordinances of 1529 are reprinted in Christie, pp 65–75.
  • 91. CLRO: Corporation letter book K, f. 216v.
  • 92. Normally, as former parish clerks or wives of clerks, they would be recorded under these categories.
  • 93. Christie, pp 28–9, calendars the charter.
  • 94. Christie, pp 71–2.
  • 95. Christie, ibid.
  • 96. Christie, pp 65–75.
  • 97. Christie, pp 114–6.
  • 98. Relevant extracts printed in Christie, pp 94–5.
  • 99. Adams, p 93.
  • 100. London and Middlesex Chantry Certificate, 1548, ed CJ Kitching, (LRS, XVI, 1980), 218.
  • 101. On these events under Edward VI and Mary, see Stow, Survey, ed Kingsford, I, 170–1 and Christie pp 90–7.
  • 102. CLRO: Repertory 13(1), f. 41v. EA Ebblewhite, The Parish Clerks' Company and its Charters, pp 16–7, incorrectly gives the date as 27 April. We are grateful to James Sewell, City Archivist, for assistance on the issue of reincorporation and in tracking down the relevant entries in the Corporation's records culminating in this decision.