The priory of Christchurch: Foundation of the Dean and Chapter

Pages 544-547

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 11. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1800.

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THE PRECINCTS of the late priory of Christ-church, and the church itself, having remained in the king's hands for more than the space of one year, he at last thought proper, by his letters patent, dated April 8, in the 32d year of his reign, anno 1541, to establish a new foundation here, (fn. 1) consisting of a dean and twelve canons or prebendaries, with other inferior members, and incorporated them by the name of the dean and chapter of the cathedral and metropolitical church of Christ, in Canterbury; (fn. 2) to them he committed the solemn celebration of divine service in this church, and at the same time ordained and declared this church to be the mother church of the province, and the see of the archbishops of Canterbury for ever, confirming to them all jurisdictions belonging to their church, and regranting them this church, the scite of the late monastery, and all buildings, gardens and places whatsoever, within the precinct, circuit, and compass of the wall, of the same, excepting the palace of the archbishop and the cellarer's hall and lodgings (afterwards granted to the archbishop). At the same time he ordained for them a body of statutes or canons, which they were to be sworn to the due observance of; these were compiled and particularly inspected, for the use of this church, by archbishop Cranmer, and contain rules and precepts, excellently well drawn up and adapted for the well regulating of such a collegiate society as this, and for the due attendance on and decent performing of the sacred offices of religion in a cathedral church.

The members of the cathedral, according to the foundation, consist of a dean, twelve prebendaries, six preachers, (nominated by the archbishop) six minorcanons, six substitutes, twelve lay-clerks or singing men, one of which is organist, a master of the choris ters, which are in number ten, a chapter clerk, two masters of the grammar school, fifty scholars, twelve alms-men (nominated by the crown) two virgers, two vestry keepers, with other inferior officers, as bell ringers, &c.

In the same year (though the next of his reign) the king, by a dotation charter, dated on May 26, endowed this new founded dean and chapter with several manors, lands, rectories, and advowsons, partly belonging to the late priory here, and partly to other suppressed religious houses, which, though he afterwards by some disadvantageous exchanges forced on them, in some measure lessened, (fn. 3) yet by the increased value of lands, they now produce an ample and splendid revenue for the support of this foundation, and the members of it. (fn. 4)

When the king erected and founded this and several other cathedral churches about this time, he appointed, that the deans and chapters of them should distribute and give in alms yearly, among poor householders and other poor people, the sum of one hundred pounds sterling; and yearly in and upon making and repairing of highways, the sum of forty pounds sterling. To the success therefore and better proceedings in this intent, the king granted a commission in his 37th year, anno 1545, to certain bishops, to call these deans and chapters before them, and all other persons, to enquire into the bestowing and ordering of the same; and if they should think the same could be better bestowed elsewhere, and in other places than the same then was, that they should have full power and authority to order and appoint the same otherwise, and in other places, as they should think fit and judge more expedient, &c. (fn. 5) and a like commission was directed by Edward VI. in his 1st year, to Sir Edward North, and others. (fn. 6)

The statutes (fn. 7) or canons, which the dean and chapter had received when they were incorporated, admitting, through the different alterations made in the forms of religious worship, of some interpretations and additional amendments, such were added by archbishop Parker, being called his injunctions, and were published in the chapter-house on October 7, 1573; in which state the statutes of this church remained till the time of archbishop Laud, who having the king's licence for the purpose under his great seal, reviewed them; and having, with great care and pains, made such alterations as appeared to him necessary for making them more absolute and complete, he presented them to the king, who confirmed them by his letters patent, dated January 3d, in the twelfth year of his reign. (fn. 8) These statutes, which still continue in force, the several members of this church, at their entrance into it, are sworn to obey, and by them they are at this time in a great measure governed.


  • 1. This cathedral is one of the churches upon the new foundation. The distinction of the old and new foundation came in after the dissolution of monasteries, in 1540. For Henry VIII. having ejected the monks from the cathedrals, placed in them secular canons in their room; those which he thus regulated, are called deans and chapters of the new foundation, viz. Canter bury. Winchester, Worcester, Ely, Carlisle, Durham, Rochester and Norwich; besides these, he erected five cathedrals, de novo, and endowed them with estates out of the dissolved monasteries, viz. Chester, Peterborough, Oxford, Gloucester and Bristol; which were by him made episcopal sees.
  • 2. There are copies of the letters patent of this foundation among the Harleian MSS. No. 1197-18, 7044-14, of the incorporation, ibid. 17.
  • 3. Rym. Foed. vol. xv. p. 77.
  • 4. The deanry is not in particular charged with the payment of first fruits or tenths. It is now of the yearly value of about 1000l. The prebends of between 3 and 400l. each. The income of the dean arises from his share as a double prebend, and his severalties being the rents of particular estates, to the whole of which he is entitled.
  • 5. The king, particularly in his 37th year, took the almonry to himself, for a mint-office, and likewise Canterbury college, in Oxford; six valuable manors in Essex, one in Buckinghamshire, and another in Kent; for all which he most graciously gave them in exchange, the single manor, rectory and advowson of Godmersham, in this county; valued at 80l 11s. 05/8d. and charged with a rent to the crown, of 10l. 1s. 8d. Such were the exchanges this king graciously made with this church. There is a copy of this deed in Harleian MSS. No. 1197–19.
  • 6. Rym. Fœd. vol. xv. p. 134.
  • 7. There is a copy of the statutes given by Henry VIII. to this church, among Harleian MSS. No. 1197–15.
  • 8. See Rym. Fœd. vol. xx. p. 99.