Introduction: William Worsley, Dean of St. Paul's (1479-99), His Estates and Household

The Estate and Household Accounts of William Worsley Dean of St Paul's Cathedral 1479-1497. Originally published by Shaun Tyas on behalf of Richard III and Yorkist Trust and the London Record Society, Donington, 2004.

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'Introduction: William Worsley, Dean of St. Paul's (1479-99), His Estates and Household', in The Estate and Household Accounts of William Worsley Dean of St Paul's Cathedral 1479-1497, (Donington, 2004) pp. 1-2. British History Online [accessed 29 February 2024]

Part 1: Introduction: William Worsley, Dean of St. Paul's (1479-99), His Estates and Household

'Also I will pat [...] myn executors be not troubled nor vexed be the Chirch of Poules for such maners and londes as I have hadde in ferme of the seid Chirch and also [...] myn executors be not interupted of the said fermes bot soo as thei may enioie the same acordyng to a leese made to me be the Chapiter and also challeyns no thyng for reparacons of the seid fermes, for so moch as I knowe well pat the said maners be in ferre bettyr condicion then I receyved them ...' (fn. 1) Thus boasted William Worsley, Dean of St. Paul's cathedral, London, in 1499 when he came to draw up his will.

Like their lay peers, the greater clergy of later medieval England throughout their lives faced the twin challenges of managing often sizeable landed estates and maintaining from the revenues produced by these estates household establishments in keeping with their social status. An often complex administration was one of the prerequisites of meeting these challenges, and a bevy of officials was required to draw up financial accounts of their activities at varying points in the year. Ultimately, a chief financial officer would draw together all the different threads of his lord's economic affairs and compile his own annual account for inspection by his master. In varying degrees of detail, such accounts provide an impression of the lord's finances, the administrative structures of his establishment, and sometimes his activities and movements over a period of time. (fn. 2)

Yet, although sizeable numbers of these documents survive to the present day, some sections of society are better served than others, and the secular clergy are just one group who have only limited amounts of such material to illuminate their lives. In particular, there are few instances of runs of accounts, rather than just isolated chance survivals. From the end of the fourteenth century the accounts of the household of Robert Braybroke, Bishop of London, are extant, and a century later we are fortunate to have a series of the accounts of the receiver of William Worsley, Dean of London's cathedral church from 1479 to 1499. (fn. 3)

In the accounts he prepared for his master, Worsley's receiver - for much of his life one Roger Radcliff – itemised the sums of money he had received from farmers and ministers throughout the Dean's estates, as well as routine items of expenditure. Extraordinary items of annual expenditure were often listed in great detail, offering fascinating insights into some aspects of Dean Worsley's daily life. Thus, the receiver recorded the acquisition of new liveries and other items for important events in the life of the household, such as the visit of a great magnate, or national events such as royal funerals. The Dean's travels around his estates and benefices in the south-east left their traces, as did the flurry of activity caused by an expedition further afield. More mundanely, the accounts noted the routine maintenance of buildings and illustrate the exploitation of the estates in an age after the manorial demesnes had ceased to be cultivated directly.

In many respects, William Worsley's way of life may have been characteristic of the lives of many of the greater clergy of the late fifteenth century. Only occasionally do the accounts offer us tantalising glimpses of the man himself: they record the clothing he wore, and tell of an ointment purchased for the ageing man's back. Yet, Worsley was a man who allowed himself to be drawn into at least one of the great political crises of his age, and the accounts reflect some of the consequences that befell him, if not his motivation. It may thus be worthwhile, by way of introduction to this collection, to take a closer look at William Worsley's career, his income and finances, and the life they served to support.


  • 1. Register of Wills of Dean and Chapter of York, vol. ii, fol. 22d, printed in Testamenta Eboracensia, iv (Durham et al., Surtees Soc. 53, 1869), p. 157.
  • 2. Some of the difficulties involved in using medieval receivers' accounts are discussed by C. Dyer, Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 34–35.
  • 3. Household Accounts From Medieval England, ed. C. M. Woolgar (2 pts., Oxford 1992–93), ii. 721; 9th Report of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts (3 pts., London, 1883), pt. i, pp. 42b–43a. For examples of later fifteenth-century accounts cf. Woolgar, ii. 693, 695, 703, 704, 709, 712. A cash, corn and stock account of Richard Bell, bishop of Carlisle, for 1485–86 is edited ibid. 557–63; for a diet account of John Hales, bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, for part of the year 1461 see ibid. 451–86. A diet account of the household of William Smith, archdeacon of Winchester and later bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, for the quarter year from December 1491 to March 1492 survives at Westminster Abbey: WAM 5474, 31795. Braybroke's accounts are edited by L. H. Butler, 'Robert Braybrooke, bishop of London (1381–1404) and his kinsmen' (University of Oxford, D.Phil. thesis, 1951), pp. 457–77. For the household accounts of some late thirteenth and early fourteenth-century bishops see A Roll of the Household Expenses of Richard de Swinfield, Bishop of Hereford, during part of the years 1289 and 1290, ed. John Webb (2 vols., London, Cam. Soc. O. S. 59–60, 1854–55), and 'Household Roll of Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury', ed. J. A. Robinson in Collectanea (Som. Rec. Soc. xxxix, 1924), 72–165.