A History of the County of London: Volume 1, London Within the Bars, Westminster and Southwark. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1909.
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In this section
HOUSE OF BENEDICTINE MONKS
2. SAINT PETER'S ABBEY, WESTMINSTER
The real date of the foundation of Westminster Abbey must probably always remain uncertain. There is hardly a charter before the time of Edward the Confessor which is not open to suspicion, there is no mention of the monastery in Bede nor yet in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle before the year 1040, and there can be no doubt that the more important the house became the greater was the temptation to rival in antiquity the foundation stories of such houses as St. Paul's and St. Alban's. The legend of the destruction of the temple of Apollo by King Lucius and the building of the Christian church of St. Peter on its site is hardly worthy of consideration, (fn. 1) but the story of the East Saxon foundation is so intimately bound up with Westminster traditions that no account of the abbey would be complete without it.
The founder, according to this story, was a certain high-born citizen of London—afterwards identified as Sebert, (fn. 2) king of the East Saxons and nephew of King Ethelbert, at whose instigation the work is supposed to have been undertaken. But more honourable even than this ancient and royal foundation was the apostolic consecration of the church. After the completion of the building, St. Peter, it is said, came by night to the banks of the Thames and was ferried over the broad marshes which surrounded the site of the abbey on the island of Thorney, by a wondering fisherman. Proceeding to the church he performed the rites of consecration amid the chanting of celestial choirs, and on his return bade the awestricken boatman go to Bishop Mellitus of London, tell him what he had seen, and forbid him to repeat the ceremony, which he was to have performed on the morrow. St. Peter also caused the fisherman to take an unprecedented draught of salmon, one of which he charged him to present to the bishop in token of the truth of his story. (fn. 3) When the next day broke Mellitus came to the abbey and found the holy water, oil and crosses, the halfburnt candles, and the Greek and Latin alphabets inscribed upon the walls. He therefore, says one writer, completed what remained to be done, and collecting the relics of apostolic consecration, placed them in a shrine, where they still remained in the fourteenth century. (fn. 4)
The first extant version of this story is to be found in a thirteenth-century transcript of a work purporting to be written by one Sulcardus, a monk of Westminster, at the end of the eleventh century; (fn. 5) but Richard of Cirencester, a monk of the house in the fourteenth century, gives the tradition in substantially the same form, and even William of Malmesbury, one of the most trustworthy of early English historians, and with no occasion for bias in this case, repeats the story at the end of the eleventh or the beginning of the twelfth century. (fn. 6) It is interesting also to note that Gervase of Canterbury and the annalists of Bermondsey and Waverley, as well as Matthew Paris and Ralph de Diceto, both members of houses of rival antiquity, without giving the legend of the miraculous consecration, refer the date of the foundation to the time of Ethelbert. (fn. 7)
According to Sulcard the church, which was but a little one, was much neglected after the death of Ethelbert until King Offa proposed to establish a monastic congregation, but was prevented by his pilgrimage to Rome. This story is suspicious, as there is evident confusion on the part of the writer between Offa of East Saxony (709) and Offa of Mercia (757–96) who is really the next reputed benefactor of the house. (fn. 8)
Offa's charter, however, which takes the form of a grant of 10 cassates of land at Aldenham to 'the needy people of God in Thorney, in the dreadful spot which is called aet Westminster' has been accepted by several historians of the abbey as genuine. (fn. 9) This would seem to point to the existence of a monastery here before the year 785—the date of the charter—for the grant was paid for by the abbot, and the 'needy people of God' must certainly have been a monastic congregation. Accordingly Widmore considered that the house was probably founded between the years 730 and 740, about the time of the death of Bede, by whom, he argued, it must have been mentioned, had it existed earlier. He further supposed it to have been a small foundation for under twelve monks, not sufficiently important to have been of royal foundation. (fn. 10)
Tradition goes on to say that the house was subsequently laid waste by the Danes, but restored by Edgar on the advice of Dunstan, who being a great reader, had made himself acquainted with the early history of the place. Edgar gave Dunstan control over the restored foundation, and the bishop, pursuing his usual policy, immediately placed in it twelve Benedictine monks. (fn. 11) One of Edgar's charters has been accepted by Widmore as genuine, but it has far less appearance of authenticity than that of Offa. Not only is the date given as 951, whereas Edgar did not come to the throne until 958, but also Bishop Wulfred is wrongly mentioned as a contemporary of Offa. (fn. 12)
At the same time it is highly probable that the monastery was restored by Edgar and Dunstan. It was certainly in existence before the refoundation by Edward the Confessor, (fn. 13) but it is hardly likely that it was founded in the stormy period between the death of Edgar and the accession of Edward, and if it was founded before that time it may be safely assumed, even apart from the authority of William of Malmesbury, (fn. 14) that the great bishop would not pass it over in his reforms.
After this Westminster is supposed to have again fallen a prey to the Danes, but it would seem that the house was not wholly destroyed, and if the monks fled they must have returned, for the contemporary biographer of Edward the Confessor speaks of the king having determined, because of his love of the prince of the apostles, to restore a monastery built in honour of St. Peter, which stood outside the walls of London, 'parvo quidem opere et numero paucioribus ibi congregatis monachis sub abbate in servitio Christi,' though even for these few the livelihood given by the faithful was barely sufficient. The place, however, was suitable, lying as it did near the City, in the midst of fertile meadows, and on the banks of the great water way which carried the world's merchandise to London. (fn. 15)
This is sober history: legend again intervening tells how Edward, having subdued his kingdom, vowed a pilgrimage to Rome to return thanks for his success, but was absolved by the pope at the instigation of the English nobles, who feared for the hard-won safety of the realm if the king were to go abroad. The condition of the absolution was that Edward should build or restore a monastery in honour of St. Peter, but before the bishops bearing the message had returned to England, a hermit, Wlsinus by name, sought the king, and told him that the prince of the apostles had appeared to him in a dream foretelling the return of the ambassadors and pointing out the ancient monastery of Thorney as the spot where he wished his church to stand. (fn. 16)
However this may be, Edward threw himself into the work with characteristic devotion. The new building grew apace, and the king is said to have brought monks to Westminster from Exeter, when he erected the latter into an episcopal see. (fn. 17) Many a legend grew up around the king and his new foundation, and the story of his illness and death about the time of the consecration of the abbey put the crowning touch to its connexion with the life and death of the last king of the old English royal lineage. (fn. 18) It is therefore not surprising that the Conqueror, with his usual diplomacy, made a great display of devotion to the church. He boasted that on his first visit to the place he had offered 5 marks of silver and a precious pall on the altar of St. Peter, two not less precious ones at the shrine of St. Edward and 2 marks of gold and two palls on the high altar. This was the beginning of that intimate connexion between the abbey and its royal patrons which has made its history more political and national than that of any other religious foundation in England. Two interesting entries in the Customary of the abbey illustrate this connexion. One, that the brethren were allowed to eat with bishops or Benedictine abbots either in the abbey or in the royal palace, as also with kings, queens, or other magnates. The other that the sacrist, in pointing out any relic in the church to a stranger, must do so shortly unless the visitor were a king or queen or some earl of royal lineage. (fn. 19)
The effect of this connexion upon the character of the house as a religious community is not easy to estimate in the absence of full visitation records. The lack of historians, and the extraordinary number of forged documents in a monastery which should have been in a position to produce as great a school of chroniclers as Saint Albans, do not speak very well either for the critical and literary sense of the house or for its scrupulousness. The works of Richard of Cirencester and of Robert of Reading and the other continuators of the 'Flores' of the so-called Matthew of Westminster are the best known historical writings produced in the abbey. John Bever or 'of London' wrote a history from the time of Eneas to 1306, chiefly compiled from Geoffrey of Monmouth and other sources. Sulcard, Sporley, and Flete, all wrote short annals of the abbey, chiefly concerned, however, with the characters of the abbots. The atmosphere, moreover, seems to have engendered a keenness of political partizanship hardly in accordance with the monastic ideal. This was pre-eminently the case in the reign of Henry III, and again under Edward II, when the writer of the 'Flores' was bitterly hostile to the king, and a dispute arose concerning the election of an abbot who was said to be favoured by Piers Gaveston. (fn. 20) At the same time the royal influence was more than once exercised in favour of discipline, and in early days at least, secured the appointment of abbots of administrative ability and high character.
Edwin, who was a great friend of the Confessor and had apparently been abbot of Westminster almost throughout his reign, must have died within a few years of the Conquest, (fn. 21) and if the fifteenth-century chronicler of the house is to be believed, his successor was deposed after exhortation from King William and Lanfranc at the end of four years' rule. (fn. 22) The next appointment was the work of the king and the archbishop. Vitalis had been abbot of Bernay (Evreux diocese) and had done much to improve that house; he was now forced, against his will, to accept promotion to Westminster. (fn. 23) Hardly any details are known of his rule here, however, and his very name has been almost eclipsed by that of his more famous successor, Gilbert Crispin.
Gilbert was a Norman by birth and educated from a very early age in the abbey of Bec Hellouin under Anselm. The biographer of his family states that he had all the liberal arts at his finger ends, and that his life was so perfect as well in the sphere of action as in that of contemplation that Lanfranc, who must have known him as a young man at Bec, called him to be abbot of Westminster. (fn. 24) There can be no doubt that Anselm thought most highly of the new abbot, for he wrote to him in the warmest terms of congratulation on his promotion, rejoicing that God had been pleased to make known to men his secret judgement of Gilbert, and that having brought him up in learning and wisdom, and nurtured him in holiness, he had now called him to be a shepherd of souls. (fn. 25)
Crispin seems to have been a man of manysided activity, for as well as his scholarly and literary tastes he apparently possessed administrative talents, and was also employed politically by the king. (fn. 26) His best-known writings are the 'Vita Herluini,' the principal authority for the early history of the abbey of Bec, and the 'Disputatio Judaei cum Christiano,' which he submitted to Anselm for approval. (fn. 27) According to Pitts and others he also wrote homilies on the canticles, treatises on Isaiah and Jeremiah, and on the State of the Church, and several other works of a doctrinal or critical description. (fn. 28)
His administrative zeal is illustrated by the fact that he enlarged the camera of the monks so that clothing might be provided for as many as eighty brethren over and above the abbot, for whose wardrobe 10 marks a year was in future to be set aside, with the stipulation that he should receive nothing further from the chamberlain. (fn. 29) A papal bull of doubtful authenticity ascribes to his influence also a grant of immunity from episcopal jurisdiction, and although the details were in all probability invented to meet later troubles, (fn. 30) the connexion of his name with the tradition shows that he left a general impression of vigorous government. It would seem, moreover, that he was an eager exponent of Christianity to the Jews, and had one Jewish convert amongst his monks at Westminster. (fn. 31)
After the death of Gilbert in 1117 a vacancy of four years ensued, (fn. 32) during which the abbey seems to have suffered considerably from unauthorized alienations. The next abbot, Herbert, a monk of the house, was appointed in 1121, (fn. 33) and all his energies and all the influence of the king hardly availed to restore the house to prosperity. (fn. 34) The reign of Stephen, moreover, brought fresh misery; Gervase of Blois, Herbert's successor, was a natural son of the king, and a bad ruler.
Within very few months of his consecration the chapter sent Osbert, the prior of the house, to the pope to obtain the canonization of the Confessor, but Innocent II replied that so important a festival ought to be to the honour of the whole realm and therefore asked for by the whole people, consequently he postponed the ceremony until sufficient testimony to the popular desire should be produced—probably a euphemism for the restoration of the order and good fame of the monastery, for at the same time the monks were exhorted to observe the rule and set a good example. There had evidently also been complaints as to alienations of the possessions of the church, and their recovery was committed to the bishop of Winchester. (fn. 35)
It was probably at this time that Innocent wrote to Gervase exhorting him to still the murmurs in the house, and to administer its goods with the counsel of the brethren. He was to try to recover the churches and tithes which had been dispersed without the consent of the chapter, (fn. 36) to banish strangers from sharing his secrets, to put down gatherings of knights and laymen in the monastery, to remember that ecclesiastical matters are altogether exempt from the secular arm, to try to be worthy of his calling, and to love the life of Christ-like poverty. The regalia of the Confessor and the insignia were not to be sold without common consent, and the brethren were to show canonical obedi ence to the abbot and to be of good conversation. (fn. 37)
The continuator of Symeon of Durham's 'Historia Regum' seems to imply that Gervase was removed through the influence of Henry II. (fn. 38) The prestige of the house certainly recovered under his successor Laurence, a monk of St. Albans. (fn. 39) He was evidently a man of considerable administrative ability, for he rebuilt part of the monastery which had been destroyed by fire and recovered many of the alienated estates. (fn. 40) A further point in his favour is the fact that in his time the pope consented to the canonization of King Edward, and conceded to the abbot the use of the mitre and gloves. (fn. 41) His relations with Saint Albans were chequered, and at one time much strained by the beginning of a lengthy quarrel as to the manor of Aldenham, (fn. 42) but as Laurence was summoned to attend the deathbed of Abbot Gorham, (fn. 43) it would seem that the breach between the two houses was not permanent.
Laurence died on 11 April, 1175, (fn. 44) and according to Ralph de Diceto his successor was one of the ten abbots appointed arbitrarily by Henry II at Woodstock early in July. Walter had been prior of Winchester, and his election is said to have been procured by bribery on the part of the king, who feared lest, if the great abbeys were allowed to choose abbots from their own numbers, his royal authority might be undermined. (fn. 45) Nothing is known, however, of the history of the house at this time beyond the fact that the papal nuncio, being received at the abbey minus reverenter, suspended the abbot from the use of the newly-acquired mitre and gloves, and the prior from his place in choir. (fn. 46) His anti-papal attitude may well have been one of Walter's strongest recommendations in the eyes of the king, and account in part for his promotion.
A curious story is told concerning the part played by the abbey during the absence of Richard I from England. It is said that the king on leaving Sicily for the East in 1191 gave special injunctions that the appointment of a new abbot to the then vacant chair at Westminster was to be left entirely to the will of the chancellor. Longchamp accordingly, by force of exactions and importunity, gradually persuaded the convent to allow him to introduce into the abbey, with a view to his election as abbot, his brother, who had been bred a monk at Caen, and for the better security of his plan he had the agreement committed to writing and sealed with the conventual seal. Upon Longchamp's disgrace, however, the monks, 'qui ante dies istos tam magni cordis exstiterant ut pro more sua facta non infecerent,' seeing the times had changed, set aside their covenant and elected as abbot their own prior, William Postard. (fn. 47)
This exchange was probably an advantage to the abbey, for Postard's rule appears to have been frugal and wise; (fn. 48) little evidence as to the fortune of the monastery during the reign of John is, however, extant. A few scattered notices of Abbot Ralph Papillon or of Arundel occur. He is said, by Leland, (fn. 49) to have been a friend of Abbot Laurence, and by him appointed prior of Hurley. The latter statement is supported by Ralph de Diceto, who says that he was elected at Northampton 'ne monachi emendicatis aliunde suffragiis uterentur.' (fn. 50) But of his rule at Westminster hardly anything is known. He is supposed to have held the saints in special reverence and to have added to the magnificence of certain festivals, (fn. 51) and he did his utmost to uphold the dignity of office upon one occasion when the prior, 'vir simplex et trepidus,' offered himself for correction in chapter with the other obedientiaries who had been reproved by the abbot. (fn. 52) His rule, however, ended in disaster, for he quarrelled with his brethren and was deposed by the bishop of Tusculum in 1214, when his seal was broken in chapter.
The exact grounds of Abbot Ralph's downfall are open to question. According to Wendover, who calls him William, the charges brought against him were dilapidation and incontinency. (fn. 53) Widmore, however, scouts the latter charge, and points out that he must already have been an old man at this date; (fn. 54) moreover, the statement receives no corroboration from the Westminster chronicles. Matthew Paris in one place repeats Wendover's story word for word, but later on he gives an account of the event in his own words, and seems to know nothing of the charge. (fn. 55)
The abbey bore its share in the disturbances of the next two years, (fn. 56) and appears to have adopted a prominently royalist attitude, for in 1216 the monks refused to admit Louis of France, whose soldiers promptly plundered the royal treasure in the abbey. (fn. 57) The coronation of the young King Henry in October had to be performed at Gloucester, for Westminster was still besieged by the barons' party, but on 17 May, 1220, a second coronation was performed in the abbey by the archbishop of Canterbury. (fn. 58)
The history of the next thirty years is chiefly a record of rapid development. Internally the constitution was completely remodelled under Abbot Berking, and the new Lady chapel was begun under the auspices of the king; (fn. 59) externally the abbey became of sufficient importance to make its friendship a thing to be desired, and its independence a factor in the economy of the Church which could not lightly be neglected. It was some time between the years 1215 and 1223 that the abbeys of Westminster and St. Edmunds entered into an agreement for mutual aid. In times of vacancy the surviving abbot was to visit the sister house, if desired, and to receive the profession of its novices. Monks of either house were to be entertained honourably at the other, except in the case of those banished for grave misdemeanours. Prayers were to be mutually offered for deceased abbots and brethren. A similar treaty was made with Worcester in 1227, and with Malmesbury before 1283, and there is a tradition of one with the house of St. Victor of Paris. (fn. 60)
In 1221 Bishop Eustace of London claimed jurisdiction in the abbey, and appeal was made to Rome. (fn. 61) It is difficult to determine what were the exact rights of the case, as the abbey based its claim to exemption on a papal bull of the date of the foundation. (fn. 62) A very untrustworthy charter of Dunstan in 959 renounces all rights of the bishop of London in Westminster, (fn. 63) and there occurs in the doubtful grant of exemption to Abbot Gilbert already mentioned (fn. 64) a tradition of a quarrel as to episcopal claims as early as the time of Abbot Wulnoth, who died in 1049. (fn. 65) Other ostensible papal bulls of the twelfth century follow the Dunstan tradition. (fn. 66) However this may be, the claim to exemption was probably prescriptive, and the archbishop of Canterbury and the other arbitrators of 1222 were justified in pronouncing in favour of the abbey. (fn. 67) There seem to have been revivals of the question, in part at least, in 1229–30, 1254, and 1268. (fn. 68)
Westminster was one of the exempt houses which appealed against the visitation of the abbots of Boxley and Beigham and the precentor of Christchurch, Canterbury, in 1232. The papal mandate for the visitation seems to have been issued in due form, and upon the plea that several of the great houses were 'in spiritualibus deformata et in temporalibus . . . graviter diminuta.' In the case of Westminster at least the latter charge was probably true, for when the prior of Ely visited a little later he ordered that the conventual seal should be kept under three keys to prevent unlawful alienations, (fn. 69) and in 1232 and 1235 special appeal was made to the abbot's tenants to give him an aid on account of his debts. (fn. 70) At the same time there is no reason to suppose that the condition of the house at this time was otherwise unsatisfactory; Matthew Paris calls the abbot vir religiosus, and Prior Peter, who died a few years later, was noted for his great holiness. (fn. 71) The visitors, however, on coming to St. Augustine's, Canterbury, behaved with such violence that the monks of that house, together with those of St. Edmunds, St. Albans, and Westminster, refused to acknowledge their authority. (fn. 72) In spite, however, of an appeal to Rome, and the issue of a papal indult, the visitors published an inhibition that no one should pray in or make offerings at Westminster, whereupon the pope ordered that if they did not revoke everything which they had done to the prejudice of the abbey, the bishop and prior of Ely and the prior of Norwich should annul their proceedings. (fn. 73)
The chief offender in the matter was the Cistercian abbot of Boxley, (fn. 74) and the event seems to have caused a serious coolness between Westminster and the whole Cistercian order. The compiler of the Customary, at the end of the thirteenth century, remarks that at one time Cistercians used to come to the abbey in great numbers, being received in the refectory and sleeping in the dormitory 'as brethren of our order,' and that not infrequently as many as four or more Cistercian abbots had dined together at the high table, but he implies that this had become a thing of the past since the repulse of the visitors. (fn. 75)
Abbot Richard de Berking died at the close of the year 1246. (fn. 76) Matthew Paris calls him 'vir prudens literatus et religiosus,' and his acquisitions led the Westminster chronicler to wish that all abbots would follow his example. From the pope he obtained the right to give episcopal benediction and first tonsure, and from the king he received a grant of the amercements of the abbey tenants. He gave to the abbey a reredos depicting the history of our Saviour, and another of the life of King Edward, as well as certain vestments, and the chronicler records with pride that he was molestus sive onerosus to his neighbours. But his best claim to an honourable place in the annals of Westminster should be based on his division of the estates and organization of the constitution of the monastery. (fn. 77)
His successor, a second Richard, was elected on account of his friendship with the king. (fn. 78) Perhaps in consequence of this election the relations between the abbey and the crown became closer than ever. In 1247 Henry presented, and carried personally to Westminster, a portion of the blood of our Lord which had been sent to him from the Holy Land. The procession from St. Paul's was attended by all the priests of London vested in copes and surplices, and the king himself on foot and with eyes cast down carried the relic 'through the uneven and muddy streets.' After being borne in this wise through the City, and round the church and palace, amid singing and exultation, it was finally offered by Henry to 'God and St. Peter, and his dear St. Edward.' (fn. 79)
Unfortunately Henry's piety was as injudicious as his administrative policy, and anyone to whom he showed favour could not fail, sooner or later, to become involved in the political strife of the day. As early as the year 1222 indications had not been wanting of the possibility of an outbreak between the abbey and the City. In a wrestling match between the tenants of Westminster and the citizens of London, the former had suddenly, either on impulse or of set purpose, flown to arms and driven the Londoners back to the City. Here the common bell was rung, and in spite of the pacific efforts of the mayor, a serious political riot developed; the leader, Constantine son of Arnulf, encouraged his followers with the seditious cry 'Montis Gaudium, Montis Gaudium, adjuvet Deus et dominus noster Ludovicus.' The maddened populace threatened the houses of the abbot with destruction, stole his horses, and ill-treated his men, while he himself barely escaped by taking refuge in the house of one of the king's officials. Ultimately the justiciar held an inquiry, hanged the ringleaders, and, since the people still murmured, took sixty hostages and banished them to various castles throughout England. (fn. 80)
The king, however, failed to take permanent warning by this outburst. In 1250 he demanded for the abbey certain privileges prejudicial to the charters of the City. The mayor offered some resistance, and finally appealed to the earl of Leicester, who, with other barons, effectually complained to the king, and rebuked the abbot, who was regarded as the instigator to the aggression. (fn. 81) At the same time, and according to Matthew Paris in the same spirit, Henry, to the great indignation of St. Albans, confirmed the rights of Westminster in the manor of Aldenham—a step which at such a time was less judicious than just. In the meantime it became evident that the king's devotion to the abbey was even a stronger motive with him than his friendship for the abbot. About the year 1251 Richard attempted to repudiate his predecessor's division of the abbey revenues, and meeting with opposition from the convent set out for Rome. He appears to have been a man of prepossessing appearance and manners, and no little business capacity, and was accordingly received with favour by the pope who made him one of his chaplains, and sent him home after a prolonged stay in Rome, armed with powers to reduce his convent to submission. Both parties appealed to the king, the convent in a spirit of humility, and the abbot apparently with the utmost confidence, relying on the papal authority and his own friendship with Henry. He must accordingly have been somewhat surprised when his overtures were utterly rejected, and he was driven from the royal counsels and favour. Seeing that victory was not easily to be his, he submitted to the arbitration of Richard earl of Cornwall and John Mansel, provost of Beverley, but when they pronounced in favour of the convent he attempted a further appeal to Rome, which was only frustrated by the king's order forbidding anyone to lend him money or to accept his bonds. (fn. 82)
In August, 1252, an amicable settlement was reached with the convent, though Matthew Paris states that the abbot was never restored to Henry's favour; this statement, however, is open to doubt in view of the part Richard played in the crisis of 1258. The king, being determined not to confirm the charters, and unable to obtain financial aid from the constitutional party without so doing, appealed to the abbots of St. Albans, Reading, Waltham, and Westminster for help. Abbot Richard at once acceded to this request, but the other three houses were proof against his evil example, and probably saved the political situation. Henry was forced to summon the Mad Parliament, and the committee of twentyfour was chosen, the abbot of Westminster being one of the twelve appointed by the king. (fn. 83) He died near Winchester in July of the same year, according to some authorities, of poison administered by the Poitevins, though it would seem scarcely politic on their part to avenge themselves thus on one of the most loyal of the king's adherents. (fn. 84)
Richard of Ware, the new abbot, reaped the fruits of his predecessor's anti-popular attitude. In 1265 Henry attempted to restore to the monks the liberties which had been taken from them by the City; (fn. 85) but in May, 1267, he himself was forced to borrow all the jewels, pictures, and precious stones of the church as well as the gold from the shrine of St. Edward. (fn. 86) The following year the popular party became so much exasperated that they broke into the church in the king's absence and carried off the royal treasure deposited there. The chronicler remarks that 'by God's mercy the rebels spared the monks and their goods,' (fn. 87) but there was probably not very much worth pillaging at the time, as the monastic jewels were not restored until February, 1269. (fn. 88) Far, however, from grudging all the turmoil into which his friendship drew them, the abbot and convent seem to have remained enthusiastic adherents of Henry to the end, and on the occasion of his severe illness in 1270, all the brethren, 'fearing to lose so great a patron,' went in procession in the rain from the abbey to the New Temple and back. On their return they found the danger was over, and at the king's command they chanted Gaudent in coelis 'because he had recovered in answer to the prayers of the monks.' (fn. 89)
About this time the character of the house seems to have fallen into somewhat unmerited disrepute. In 1269 the archbishop of Canterbury and Gregory de Neapoli held a visitation as commissaries of Cardinal Ottobon. The commissioners' report was to the effect that the monastery was in a much better condition than many had 'believed and hoped,' and their injunctions point rather to some slight slackness of administration than to any graver disorders. It would therefore seem probable that the rumours had been set on foot by the popular party in London, or by rival houses which were jealous of Westminster on account of the extraordinary favours showered upon it by the king. The cardinal enjoined that in future the obedientiaries should not make alienations of their property without consultation with the abbot, and that they should render their accounts four times yearly; that the prior should have his room in a place accessible to the whole convent and not at a distance from the cloister as hitherto; (fn. 90) that the infirmarer should provide better for the quiet and comfort of the sick; that alms should not be misappropriated; that in future, to prevent the violation of the rule of poverty, the brethren should receive from the chamberlain their clothing rather than purchasemoney, which they had too often appropriated to other uses; that monks who had been in office on their retirement should not retain their silver cups at the common table; and that claustral brethren should not go to manors outside the monastery without good reason. (fn. 91)
Of the history of the next ten years little is known; the abbot was apparently frequently absent, for he was the king's treasurer, and was employed for long periods on foreign embassies and judicial eyres. (fn. 92) In January, 1279, however, John Peckham was consecrated archbishop of Canterbury. Robert of Reading remarks that 'in his prosperity he despised many, especially the Benedictines.' (fn. 93) However this may be, he certainly made his authority felt at Westminster. In 1281 he complained that the tenants of the abbey were defrauding his men of Lambeth at the ferry, (fn. 94) and in the same year he excommunicated the abbot together with the heads of other exempt religious houses within his province for refusing to attend a council at Lambeth. (fn. 95) A few months later a long-standing dispute with the bishop of Worcester as to visitation and jurisdiction in the cell of Great Malvern reached its height, and the archbishop characteristically gave his support to the diocesan against the exempt abbey. (fn. 96) In each of these cases Peckham would seem to have combined a real zeal for abstract justice and morality with a singular lack of tact and respect for valued privileges, and ill-feeling ultimately ran so high that when the archbishop came to Westminster in 1283 the sacrist lost his temper, and threw a great and hard roll in his face, aggravating the offence with many insults. The occasion of the archbishop's visit and of the sacrist's outbreak is not specified, but it would seem that the latter had some interest—probably as a papal commissary—in a case then pending between Peckham and Theodosius de Camilla, dean of the royal chapel of Wolverhampton, as to the church of Wingham (Kent). (fn. 97)
The parishioners of Wingham were inhibited by the sacrist from the payment of tithes, and the archbishop may have gone to Westminster in this connexion. Possibly he asked to inspect the papal mandate for the inhibition, and it was this that the sacrist threw at him. (fn. 98)
In 1290 a quarrel arose between Westminster and the English Franciscans, and it was probably again owing to the influence of Peckham, himself a friar and conservator of the order of the Brothers Minor in England, that the abbey nearly had to submit to the utmost humiliation. It appears that a certain Brother William, once a Benedictine monk of Pershore, and subsequently professed a Friar Minor, had become apostate from his order and fled to Westminster. According to the custom of the house truants seeking refuge in the abbey were to receive one day's victuals from the sub-almoner and go where they would, (fn. 99) but in this case the sympathies of the convent seem to have been enlisted in favour of the delinquent, and he had been received and harboured by the brethren.
On 30 July, 1290, Peckham ordered the official of the bishop of London to publish sentence of excommunication against the apostate and his accomplices. On 7 October following the monks appealed to the pope. Apparently, however, the appeal was in vain, and the abbot and convent remaining obdurate, were excommunicated. Subsequently the proctors of both parties appeared before Matthew, cardinal of St. Laurence, who gave judgement on 4 April, 1291. He ordered the abbot and convent to acknowledge that the apostate could not remain amongst them without the loss of his own soul, to purge themselves upon the most stringent conditions of having helped him to escape, and to undertake to aid the Franciscans in his recovery. The abbot was to come specially to the next provincial chapter of Franciscans in London to humble himself publicly and to be received back to charity. He, however, protested that he would not submit to the pronouncement, and in December, 1291, the more onerous terms were commuted for a sum of 60 marks, the last instalment of which was duly paid on 21 December, 1294. (fn. 100)
There is reason to suppose that the convent was in anything but a satisfactory condition at this time. In 1303 occurred the famous robbery of the king's treasury in the abbey, the story of which has so frequently been told that it scarcely requires repetition in detail. The more salient facts of the case cannot be doubted, namely that the treasure was taken from the usual depository within the abbey precincts (fn. 101) by a carefully organized and long-thought-out plan, which could not have been put into execution without the knowledge of some of the monks, that the sacrist, the sub-prior, the cellarer, seven monks and certain servants of the sacrist were guilty at least of collusion, and that the cellarer and certain of the monks had been in the habit of consorting with one of the chief culprits and joining with him in eating and drinking with women of evil life. (fn. 102) That the abbot was unaware of what was taking place in the monastery seems clear, but this is a doubtful point in his favour. He must have been guilty of extraordinary negligence to retain such men as Adam de Warefeld, Alexander of Pershore, and Ralph Morton as sacrist, subprior and cellarer, and a somewhat significant light is thrown upon his character by an entry in the annals of Worcester under the year 1300. As president of the General Chapter of Benedictines held at Oxford, Abbot Walter decreed, says the annalist, that every prelate might give his monks dispensation to eat flesh as seemed expedient to him; he also provided for the omission of lengthy prayers between the hours, and, adds the chronicler, 'dubito quod futuris temporibus superfluum videbatur Pater Noster.' (fn. 103)
But by far the most prejudicial evidence against him was given in the case of Prior Reginald de Hadham, which was only finally decided in 1308, after Walter's death. It would seem by the notarial instruments (fn. 104) that at some date previous to July, 1307, the prior and certain monks petitioned the abbot to reform abuses and to observe the compositions as to the division of the revenues of the house. Walter thereupon conceived a violent prejudice against the prior, and without legitimate warning suspended him from his office. Reginald appealed to Rome, and Brother Roger of Aldenham, who drew up the instrument of the appeal, was consequently banished to the cell of Hurley. At the beginning of September, (fn. 105) despite the fact that the appeal was still pending, the abbot summoned the discontented monks for correction in chapter, and brought certain charges against Reginald, stating that his election as prior had been uncanonical, that he had misappropriated the revenues of other offices which he had held, that he had encouraged Roger of Aldenham in disobedience and vagrancy, that he had continued to exercise his office after his suspension, that he had appealed to Canterbury against the liberties of the house, and that he had had the abbot falsely and maliciously accused in the matter of the robbery of the treasury; he further summoned Reginald to purge himself, but when he showed himself ready to do so refused to accept his compurgators, excommunicated, deprived and imprisoned him in defiance of his appeal, and proceeded to the election of a new prior.
During the remainder of the year no word appears to have come from Rome, and the abbot and his party remained supreme in the house until Walter's death on Christmas Day. The following spring, however, the case was heard by papal commissaries, and as no one appeared on behalf of the late abbot and the witnesses were unanimous in praise of Reginald, the sentences against him and against Roger of Aldenham were reversed, and he was restored to his office.
This, however, was not the end of the troubles at Westminster. A vacancy of two years and sixteen weeks followed, (fn. 106) and evidently the rivalry between the two parties in the house continued and caused great disorder.
On 14 July, 1308, the king wrote to the prior and convent complaining of dilapidations and appointing a commission of lawyers to inquire into the case. (fn. 107) Even this seems to have been without permanent effect, and in May, 1310, Edward wrote again to the prior complaining that the abbey was
moult abessez et empoverez par la dissolucion des moignes . . . qui ont alez avant ces houres desordenement wakerantz hors de lour meson . . . . et degastent les biens de la meson a grant ameneusement des . . . aumones.
He exhorted the prior to keep the monks to the observance of their profession, and not to allow them to leave the close without permission. If visible reforms were not speedily made the king threatened so to lay hands upon the monks and their goods that all the other houses of the order 'se chastieront par ensample de vous.' (fn. 108)
In the meantime, however, the new abbot had been admitted and consecrated. His election, as might have been expected at a time of such great internal dissension, had not been unattended with difficulties. When the choice fell on Richard de Kydington several members of the house complained of his infamia et insufficiencia suggesting that he was supported by Piers Gaveston, (fn. 109) and the prior of Sudbury appealed to Rome on the ground that he had not been summoned to take part in the election. (fn. 110) The appeal dragged on for many months, and after the death of the prior Roger of Aldenham complained that the elect was 'not free from some faults.' Whether there was any truth in the accusations does not appear, but in May, 1310, the pope ordered the benediction of Richard, (fn. 111) his election having been confirmed without the usual burdensome visit to Rome. (fn. 112) Richard's rule was short and apparently uneventful. (fn. 113) On his death in 1315 he was succeeded by William de Curtlington, who appears to have been trusted both by the king and the pope, being appointed in 1320 to audit the accounts of the town of Abbeville, (fn. 114) and in 1322 to administer the monastery of Abingdon during the suspension of the abbot. (fn. 115) He was, however, subjected to a systematic persecution by the papal officials for a debt incurred by his predecessor and long since pardoned by Clement V. An attempt was made to sequester the abbot's manors in Worcestershire, and he himself was put under sentence of excommunication, which was only removed in 1320 after frequent remonstrances from the king. (fn. 116)
A somewhat discreditable affray took place in the monastery at the end of August, 1324. A quarrel having arisen between one of the masons of the king's chapel and a serving man of Westminster, the monks flew to arms, and after wounding the masons were received back to the monastery by the prior. The abbot was absent at the time, but on his return took no steps to punish the culprits, who, when the case was summoned before the justices, were found to have escaped. (fn. 117) The abbot was subsequently pardoned, on condition that he should stand his trial should anyone proceed against him. (fn. 118) A few years before Abbot William's death a fire, which broke out in the royal palace, destroyed a considerable portion of the monastic buildings, and large sums of money were spent on rebuilding, towards which the abbot procured the appropriation of the churches of Langdon, Sawbridgeworth, and Kelvedon. (fn. 119)
The election of Abbot Thomas de Henley in 1333 was confirmed by the pope in spite of some irregularity, (fn. 120) and in 1335 the new abbot received leave of absence from the king for seven years, to stay 'in universities or places where learning thrives, as well in parts beyond the seas as on this side, so that he go not to Scotland nor to other parts at war with the king.' (fn. 121) Thomas certainly intended to set out for his university the following year, though whither he went and how long he stayed does not appear. In 1340 he was in England and presided at the General Benedictine Chapter at Northampton, and In 1341 he and a fellow-monk were summoned for deer-stealing in Windsor Forest, though possibly the abbot was only involved as representative of the convent in all legal proceedings. (fn. 122)
The most important event of his rule was the dispute which arose in 1342 as to the visitation of the hospital of St. James. The king claimed that the right was annexed to the treasurership, and had only been exercised by such abbots of Westminster as held that office; Thomas, on the other hand, asserted that the hospital lay within the bounds of the parish of St. Margaret, Westminster, and therefore within the jurisdiction of the abbey. (fn. 123) The jurors gave evidence in favour of the abbot to the great annoyance of the treasurer, who, says the Westminster chronicler, was so angry that he grievously vexed the church, and impleaded the abbot to the end of his life. (fn. 124)
The succeeding abbot, Simon de Bircheston, acquired a most unenviable notoriety. The circumstances of his election are unknown, but twenty years earlier he had been one of the monks involved in the attack on the king's stonemason, (fn. 125) and his character does not seem to have improved with advancing years, for a general tradition of misrule clings to his name. In 1345 he received licence for three years to study in the schools or stay elsewhere where he would within the realm, with entire exemption from personal attendance at any Councils or Parliaments, and two years later he obtained a similar exemption for two years. (fn. 126) In March, 1349, the plague broke out in Westminster, and shortly afterwards it attacked the abbey. Early in May Abbot Bircheston and twenty-seven of the monks were dead, and Simon Langham, who had been chosen prior barely a month before, was left to administer the house. (fn. 127) This can have been no light task, for not only had great distress been caused by the ravages of the plague, but also the monastery was impoverished by the extravagance of the late abbot, the frauds of his associates, and the wastefulness of his relatives. (fn. 128) The prior, however, evidently had the confidence of the house, for the monks in their necessity elected him abbot. Together with certain other brethren he sold jewels and ornaments of the church to the value of £315 13s. 8d. (fn. 129) for the relief of the more pressing needs, and for his own part he refused to receive the customary gifts on his accession, and presented the garden called the 'Burgoyne' to the convent. Details of his rule at Westminster are not known, but the chronicler speaks of his love and care for the house, and the zeal with which he extirpated certain 'insolences, abuses, singularities, superfluities, and malices' which had crept into the monastery; (fn. 130) while another writer states that he speedily paid off the debts of his predecessor and recalled the brethren to saner and more honourable counsels. (fn. 131) By the summer of 1354 the good fame of the abbey had so far recovered that a certain Austin canon from Waltham Holy Cross, who desired to lead a stricter life than he found possible in his own community, petitioned for admittance at Saint Peter's. (fn. 132)
In 1362 Langham was promoted to the see of Ely, but throughout a somewhat stormy career he appears never to have lost his affection for Westminster. (fn. 133) The completion of the cloisters and the erection of various other conventual buildings were probably paid for out of the residuary estate which he left to the fabric of the monastery, (fn. 134) and he gave to the monks a library of nearly a hundred volumes, as well as vestments and church furniture. (fn. 135)
The new abbot, Nicholas Litlington, was undoubtedly a vigorous administrator; already as a simple monk he had three times secured to the prior and convent the guardianship of the abbot's temporalities during vacancies, he had considerably improved some of the abbey estates, and he had been associated with Langham in the oversight of the finances of the monastery at the death of Simon de Bircheston; (fn. 136) after his election he showed equal energy in carrying out the enlargements of the monastic buildings which Cardinal Langham's bequests had made possible, and in pleading the cause of the abbey before Parliament when the rights of sanctuary had been violated. (fn. 137)
But the period of his rule was a time of no little turmoil in the monastery. On 10 August, 1378, two gentlemen named Shackle and Hawley who had escaped from the Tower and taken sanctuary at Westminster were pursued thither by their enemies; one of the fugitives was captured, and the other escaped to the choir of the church, where he was overtaken and slain at the moment when the gospel was about to be read at high mass. The service ceased immediately, but the mischief was already done, and the abbey, which had never before been violated, was polluted with the blood of Hawley and of one of the servants of the church who had attempted to stop the fray. (fn. 138) Apparently the abbot did not bestir himself to procure the reconciliation of the church, for in December the king wrote to him remonstrating at the cessation of all services and distributions and the misapplication of alms, and urging him to remedy the matter. (fn. 139)
The privilege of sanctuary which had thus been infringed was one of the most valued rights of the abbey; in his defence of it Abbot Nicholas quoted charters of Edgar and Saint Edward, but its real origin is doubtful; it was probably prescriptive, and based on a common consent and necessity in days when justice was primitive and summary. In a Westminster manuscript of the fifteenth century occurs the oath taken by a fugitive on admission. In the first place he must say truthfully why he came, then he must swear to behave properly and faithfully while there, to submit to all corrections and judgements of the president, and to observe all contracts which he might make while in sanctuary; if he came there on account of debt, he was to satisfy his creditors at the earliest opportunity, and without garrulous or insolent words; he was to promise not to sell victuals in sanctuary without special leave of the archdeacon, not to receive any fugitive or suspect person at his table, not to carry defensive weapons nor go out of sanctuary without permission, not to defame any of his fellow fugitives in any way, nor, finally, to do or permit any violence within the privileged precincts. (fn. 140) Even at this date sanctuary was no doubt claimed from time to time legitimately enough, as in the case of Elizabeth, widow of Edward IV, and the two young princes, but very frequently in the later Middle Ages it became a real obstacle in the way of justice. As early as the time of Hawley's murder the custom was evidently unpopular, and when the archbishop of Canterbury, in the name of all the clergy of England, petitioned the king in Parliament against the late violation, the lords replied that they had no wish to encroach upon the liberties of the church, but that grave abuses were occasioned by people taking sanctuary for debts they were well able to pay, and other petitions were presented against the immense range of misdemeanour which the general terms of the charters were construed to cover. Abbot Nicholas made a vigorous defence, and Richard II, while he acknowledged the losses and inconveniences which had arisen, and pronounced that henceforth the immunity should not be construed to cover fraudulent debtors, still maintained all the privileges of the church touching cases of felony, and because of his great love for the abbey extended its protection to such debtors as had lost their wealth by fortune of the sea, robbery, or other mischief. (fn. 141)
The abuses seem to have increased as time went on, for in 1474 Edward IV wrote to the archdeacon of Westminster, saying that he had heard that great resort was made to the sanctuary, and grave crimes and abominable excesses committed there, and exhorting him to restrain and punish them; (fn. 142) and in the reign of Henry VIII an extraordinary collection of criminals and fugitives of every rank and description were congregated at Westminster. (fn. 143) Yet it would seem that the system was even yet not wholly without supporters, for when attempts were made to abolish it by Act of Parliament under the later Tudors the bills were always defeated. (fn. 144)
Though the abbey does not appear to have suffered much from the rising of 1381, there must have been consternation in the hearts of the monks when they heard that the rebels were attacking Lambeth Palace, and their fears were not allayed when the warden of the Marshalsea, flying before the insurgents, took refuge in the church on Saturday, 14 June. There he was found by the mob a few hours later clinging to the pillars of St. Edward's shrine, and thence he was borne away to be beheaded in mid Chepe. (fn. 145) In the afternoon, however, the young king, accompanied by a great train of nobles, knights, and citizens, came to the abbey, where he was met by a procession of monks. At the door of the monastery Richard sprang from his horse, and in tears upon his knees kissed the cross, which was borne before the convent; thence he proceeded to the shrine, where he knelt long in prayer before returning to meet the rebels at Smithfield. (fn. 146) In 1382 Abbot Nicholas was one of the commissioners of the peace appointed to arrest and punish the insurgents. (fn. 147)
Nicholas died at the close of the year 1386, leaving to the abbey a considerable quantity of plate 'because of the love which the prior and convent bear and have borne him.' The vessels were all marked with his initials, and he left money for repairing and replacing them. (fn. 148) A document among the Westminster archives, (fn. 149) which has been attributed to this period, raises an interesting point as to his character. It is an English letter to the king from 'the senior and more part of the convent' complaining of the 'gret waste and destruction' which 'dayly encreceth' through the 'misgovernaunce' of the abbot. If this really refers to Litlington, and may be taken in conjunction with another entry (fn. 150) which complains of the dishonesty of the abbot in the matter of certain lead which he borrowed from the convent for roofing his new buildings, it throws a curious light on the protestation of affectionate loyalty between the abbot and his brethren, cited above, and on the ostentation with which Nicholas left his initials on his bequests of plate and on the buildings which he carried out with Abbot Langham's money. The ultimate impression left by these various indications of his character is that of a man of great vigour and business capacity, but at the same time worldly and vain-glorious. It is traditionally reported that in the last year of his life, when he was quite an old man, on the rumour of French invasion he bought armour and set out with two fellow monks to assist in the defence of the coast. (fn. 151) The story, if it is true, bespeaks enterprise and courage in a man of his age, but hardly that spiritual calm which would better befit the declining years of a venerable Benedictine abbot.
It was, however, to Litlington's lavishness and love of splendour that Westminster owed the famous missal known by his name, and left by him to the high altar of the abbey. (fn. 152) From this it would appear that the Westminster Use was closely allied to that of Sarum. There are, however, certain differences in the introits and grails, and the sequences of St. Thomas of Canterbury, St. Edward the Confessor, St. Peter ad Vincula, and the Common of the Apostles are peculiar to Westminster, as are also the distribution of lessons on Easter Eve and the collect before the first lesson on that day. The missal also contains a greater number of prayers for private use by the celebrant than any other English mass book. (fn. 153)
On hearing of Litlington's death the king sent John Lakyngheth, a candidate of his own, to Westminster; but the convent, disregarding the royal wishes, elected their archdeacon, William of Colchester. Richard was greatly annoyed, and for some time refused to admit the new abbot; eventually, however, he was pacified, and wrote to Rome, satis gratiose, on William's behalf. (fn. 154) The century closed prosperously. A long-continued dispute with the canons of St. Stephen's, Westminster, was decided largely in favour of the abbey; (fn. 155) Christchurch, Canterbury, gave their share of the common Benedictine hall at Oxford to the monks of St. Peter's, (fn. 156) and the king was munificent in his benefactions and in the assistance he gave towards the completion of the new buildings. (fn. 157) In the tragedy with which the reign ended Abbot Colchester played a somewhat inexplicable part. He was with the king in Ireland at Whitsuntide, but the following autumn he was one of the commissioners sent to the Tower to receive Richard's abdication, (fn. 158) and was among those who recommended the king's entire isolation from any of his former companions; (fn. 159) at the same time he was appointed one of the executors of his will, (fn. 160) and was suspected of complicity in the conspiracy against Henry IV in 1400. (fn. 161)
Very few details of the history of Westminster in the fifteenth century survive. Beyond a statement by one of the chroniclers of the day to the effect that if the Lollards succeeded, one of their first enterprises would be the destruction of the abbey, (fn. 162) the monastery seems to slip out of the general current of national history, and the few notices that do occur are purely domestic. About the middle of the century a discontented monk accused the abbot of having recourse to a necromancer to discover the thief of certain plate from his chapel and wine-cellar; (fn. 163) this in itself, however, is insufficient evidence as to the character of the abbot or the state of the house—one malcontent among some forty or fifty monks would be scarcely surprising, though it may be noted that the abbot resigned in 1463. (fn. 164) A real instance of misgovernment arose, however, some few years later, when Abbot George Norwich was asked to retire to another house for a time on account of his maladministration and debts. The debt incurred amounted to at least 3,037 marks 6s. 8d., and the resources which should have met it had been reduced by alienations and grants in fee. A certain Brother Thomas Ruston, evidently a partisan of the abbot, was holding four offices, and had brought them to decay by his neglect; he had burdened the house with his own debts, and was suspected of having embezzled six or seven copes at the time when he was keeper of the vestry. The memorial presented to the abbot was signed by thirteen monks, two of whom, Thomas Milling, the prior, and John Eastney, were afterwards themselves abbots. (fn. 165) The tone of the document reflects great credit on the spirit of the house at the time: it is at once businesslike, moderate, and respectful, and the abbot wisely acquiesced in the scheme set before him, and appointed Milling one of the five commissioners to administer the abbey during his retirement.
Milling was elected to succeed Norwich as abbot in 1469, (fn. 166) but his rule was short, for in 1474 he was consecrated bishop of Hereford. He was succeeded by John Eastney, who, like Norwich, was appointed by papal provision. (fn. 167) Several slight indications point to a decaying vigour in the monastery at this time. That the abbey should surrender its cherished privilege of free election to the pope twice within a period of twelve years was without precedent; in 1478 moreover, the king complained to Sixtus IV that the house was going to decay on account of the civil war and floods, (fn. 168) and though the expression was doubtless an exaggeration, yet the pope thought the situation sufficiently grave to warrant him in absolving future abbots from going to Rome for confirmation. (fn. 169) The numbers of the brethren, moreover, during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries show a steady decline. In the eleventh century Abbot Gilbert had made provision for eighty monks, (fn. 170) and about the year 1260 there is said to have been an increase in the community; (fn. 171) at the election of Abbot Islip in 1500, however, there were but forty-six monks present, in 1528 there were forty-four, in 1534 there were forty-three, and the following year forty-one, while the deed of surrender was signed only by the abbot, prior, and twentythree others. (fn. 172)
But if numbers were declining the old splendour of ceremonial was still maintained. The funeral of Abbot Islip in 1532 must have been one of the most impressive scenes ever witnessed at Westminster. The abbot had been an energetic statesman, an able administrator, and a great builder, (fn. 173) and he was mourned with extraordinary pomp. The magnificent obituary roll which was circulated amongst the religious houses of England announcing his death has an interest apart from the beauty and skill of its workmanship, due to the fact that it commemorates the last Englishman who died as abbot of this most national of English monasteries, and perhaps it is not altogether without significance that while the four pictures of the roll are mediaeval in character the drawing of the initial letter of the brief shows signs of renaissance influence. (fn. 174)
Not very much is known of William Boston, the last abbot. He seems to have acquiesced without much question in the dealings of Henry VIII and of Cromwell, and to have felt that private judgement was no match for authority. At the examination of Sir Thomas More in 1534 he said that however the matter seemed to the prisoner he had reason to think he was wrong seeing that the Great Council had determined otherwise; More, he argued, ought to 'change his conscience.' (fn. 175) The following year he wrote to Cromwell asking him to secure him the free bestowal of his bailiwick of Westminster, and stating that he would be glad to appoint Cromwell himself to the office. (fn. 176) His compliance, however, did not save his house from a visit from Dr. Legh, which, to judge from Ap Rice's report to Cromwell, was by no means respectful. (fn. 177) This was in October, 1535; in July of the following year the king issued royal injunctions to Westminster; the abbot was to administer the monastery according to the rule of St. Benedict and the custom of the house, 'notwithstanding any injunctions' given by the vicar-general or his commissaries; the monks were to be allowed to leave the monastery, with permission, for honest recreation; they might occasionally entertain women of upright life at their table, and when they were sick they were to be kept by the infirmarer, with help, in cases of need, from the abbot himself. The injunctions stated that the abbot was to render an account to the vicar-general as often as it seemed good, but Boston erased the entry, adding at the side 'oute wt this elles he and hys deputys may call me weeklye to accopt.' (fn. 178)
By the beginning of the year 1540 Boston was anxiously pleading to 'be delivered from the governance of this house' and seeking to avoid the king's indignation. He seems to have been thoroughly afraid of incurring Henry's wrath, for he wrote to someone in authority—probably Cromwell—'As for my pension, I pass not how little soever it be, so I may have the King's Highness my gracious lord.' Possibly this seeming pusillanimity was accounted for by the fact that he was suffering from a painful disease, and expected but 'a very short painful bodily life.' (fn. 179) However this may be he seems to have obtained favour, but not the retirement he coveted; his convent was dissolved on 16 January, 1540, pensions of from £10 to 56s. 8d. being granted to seven of the brethren, (fn. 180) but in the following December the new cathedral church was erected, Abbot Boston being appointed dean of the new foundation. (fn. 181) With this point the history of Westminster as a religious house practically ends.
There is no lack of information as to the administrative details and daily life of the abbey. At a very early date Abbot Gilbert had made provision for the clothing of eighty monks, and Abbot William endowed the kitchen with a revenue of £150 11s. 9d., including the manors of Ashwell (Herts.), Longdon (Worcs.), and Morden (Surrey), (fn. 182) but the turning-point in the constitutional history of Westminster was reached when Richard de Berking made his composition with the monastery in 1225. (fn. 183) He assigned to the convent the manors of Feering, Stevenage, Wheathampstead, Aldenham, Battersea, Wandsworth, and Knightsbridge, with the farms of Deene and Sudborough, Shepperton and Halliford (Halgeford), Kelvedon and Hendon, with reliefs and escheats and the 10 marks a year which his predecessors had received for their clothing and £8 from the tithes of Droitwich; for fuel he assigned the farms of Denham (£15), Holwell (£6), and Datchworth (60s.), and the brushwood from Pyrford; for wages for the convent he assigned £6 from the church of Oakham; and for repairs in the dormitory and elsewhere, 100s. from the manor of Islhampstead and the revenues of the mills of Westminster, saving to the abbot free multure. To the charges of hospitality he appropriated the church of Staines and half the church of Wheathampstead with a rent of £10 from 'Wokendune' (Essex) and £8 from Westminster, and half the herbage of Westminster.
The composition goes on to say that the abbot in chapter deputed one or two brethren for the keeping of hospitality, while for keeping the manors assigned to the convent 'he made some of the brethren proctors and obedientiaries as many as the convent thought fit.' This is evidently not the first institution of obedientiaries at Westminster, but it may have been the occasion of an increase in their numbers (fn. 184) and the definition of their status, for the document further states that the abbot must remove them readily on complaint of the convent, but that he could not do so at his own pleasure without assigning good cause. With regard to the maintenance of hospitality, the convent was to undertake all entertainment except that of kings, legates, archbishops, and nuncios with twelve or more horsemen; for these the abbot was to provide, as also for all guests whom he had himself invited. The abbot retained the advowsons of all churches on the conventual manors, as well as the service and wardship of all who owed knight's service, and he received the homage of every free tenant of the abbey. In return he had to answer to the king for all scutages, and to defend the abbey and its property in all suits ecclesiastical and secular; he was also bound to provide fuel and a dish of meat for the 'misericorde' of the convent from the feast of the Epiphany to Septuagesima, and gruel in Lent, as well as bread and beer on the occasion of the ceremonial feetwashing of the poor on Maundy Thursday and wine for the wassails of the convent on the same day. He had to secure the convent against inundations of the Thames, and to repair the walls of the monastery.
The convent, on the other hand, undertook to pay any fines which might be exacted by the king's court from any of their manors, to answer for the hidage on their own lands, and not to waste or alienate their woods or emancipate their villeins without the consent of the abbot. No abbot or prior was to visit the conventual manors without the consent of the whole convent, lest by too frequent visits its share should be diminished. With regard to the abbot's maintenance, he might eat in the refectory with the convent when he liked, and might at any time bring as many as four people with him; and when resident within the monastery or at Eye he was to receive six loaves daily from the cellarer, but when elsewhere he could not claim bread or any other food from the convent. He was responsible for certain anniversaries and the liveries (liberationes) of the servants on the principal feasts.
This arrangement, with certain modifications, remained in force throughout the Middle Ages, but it was not always acquiesced in without question. In 1227 the convent complained that their share was not sufficient, and the bishops of Bath, Salisbury, and Chichester were called upon to mediate; the manors of Ashford (Midd.) and Greenford were added and 60s. from the manor of 'Suberk,' on condition that nothing should be exacted from the abbot in the way of victuals, firewood, or contributions towards the debts of the prior and convent. (fn. 185)
After the great quarrel with Abbot Crokesle in 1252, the bishop of Bath and John Mansel, provost of Beverley, made certain provisions which seem to point to an attempt on the part of the convent to interpret the original composition wholly in their own interests. The abbot was to be allowed to remove the obedientiaries according to the rule of St. Benedict, and for reasonable cause; he was not to be bound to find flesh for the convent, and was to be admitted to visit the five principal manors assigned to the cellarer, one day in the year, for purposes of correction, with reasonable procuration. For the appointment of the cellarers the prior and convent were to nominate four brethren, from whom the abbot was to make choice of two, and the guest-masters were to be chosen in the same way; the celararius extrinsecus was to choose honest seculars to act under him, and to hear such causes as ought not to be entertained by monks. The common seal was to be kept under four keys, held respectively by a monk appointed by the abbot, the prior, the sub-prior, and a monk appointed by the convent. The obedientiaries were to show their accounts annually or oftener, and any surplus was to be spent on hospitality; the abbot was not to send the brethren from place to place unnecessarily or without consultation; (fn. 186) the church of Ashwell was assigned to the guest-master, and the church of Feering for the support of an increased number of monks and additional anniversaries. (fn. 187)
That further difficulties as to the compositions arose at the end of the century may be gathered from a decree passed by the prior and convent during the vacancy on the death of Abbot Richard de Ware in 1283. Some of the clauses are merely in confirmation of the original compositions, others point to fresh difficulties; thus the new abbot was to provide a grange for the conventual tithes at Staines; he was not to remove the cellarer, almoner, or guest-master without consent; he was not to imprison the brethren except for open theft, or on conviction of enormous crime; he was not to hand over the care of the walls against the Thames to any obedientiary; he was to have the appointment of only seven of the servants; he was to furnish the king's clerks at the Exchequer with bread and beer; he was not to extort money from the officers of the monastery, nor gifts on feast days from the gardener, keeper of the granaries, or others; he was to demand nothing from the chamberlain beyond one light for his bedroom. It was also arranged that the gifts to the abbot from the obedientiaries on the ten principal feasts were not to exceed 4s. each (fn. 188) if he were at Westminster, or 12d. if he were elsewhere. The agreement was to be enrolled in the martyrology, and read in chapter once a year. This provision, however, was not sufficient to prevent Abbot Wenlac from once more attempting to override the constitution; (fn. 189) his quarrel with Prior Reginald appears to have turned chiefly upon this point, and during the vacancy of 1308 the whole convent once more swore to the articles, and undertook that whichever of them should be elected as abbot should not procure from the pope any letters prejudicial to the arrangement. (fn. 190)
Passing from the general outlines of the constitution to the details of the daily life, it is clear from the Customary that the abbot, no doubt owing to his political position, could not be relied upon for the oversight of the daily routine. This was accordingly committed to the prior and sub-prior, and to that one of the obedientiaries who, as keeper of the order of the day, presided at the high table at meals, and regulated the entertainment of guests. The standard of courtesy in the monastery was high; thus if anyone made a noise with the cover of his cup, or upset anything on the cloth during the reading at meals, immediate and public penance was exacted. (fn. 191) Any one who was obliged to leave the table during meat had to go through an elaborate ceremony of asking leave of the president. No brother was to gaze about him during dinner nor to throw things from table to table, nor yet to sit with his hand under his chin or over his face, 'eo quod sic sedere mesticiae et doloris aut studii immoderate, seu agoniae indicium est.' Everyone was to keep his tongue from talking, and to hold his cup with both hands according to the good old English custom. It was the Normans, according to the compiler of the Customary, who introduced the slovenly habit of holding the cup in one hand. (fn. 192)
Discipline in the dormitory is discussed at length in the Customary. The brethren were to prepare for bed as secretly and simply as possible, they were not to keep riding apparel or dirty boots about their beds, but everyone might have one peg and no more on which to hang his clothes. There were strict rules against gaycoloured counterpanes, and the utmost silence was enjoined—snorers and those who talked in their sleep were to be banished to a separate room. Each brother was to have a separate bed, chiefly, says the compiler of the Customary, because secret prayer is best offered to God when there is no witness. No one was to give place to unholy thoughts before he slept, but to lie down contemplating God only, that he might have rest of body and peace of mind. When the bell rang for mattins all were to rise promptly, to sign themselves with the cross, and repeat privately certain prayers before they spoke.
But if life in the monastery was carefully regulated, it can hardly have been austere. The plain convent food was supplemented with a goodly number of pittances; (fn. 193) the gardener had to supply apples, cherries, plums, pears, and nuts; and cheese, which had once been supplied only rarely and 'by the grace of God,' (fn. 194) was by the middle of the thirteenth century a usual dish. The large staff of servants were bidden to serve the brethren mansuete et honeste. As regards clothing, each monk had a new frock and cowl annually, and underclothing whenever he needed it; no one was to wear underclothing which had been much mended. Though, according to the rule, no brother ought to have other than lamb's wool lining to his cloak, yet in cases of manifest necessity a more costly fur might be used, provided it were hidden at the collar and cuffs with a lamb's wool edging, lest the sight of such luxury should be an occasion of stumbling to any. Felt boots and woollen socks were supplied at the vigil of All Saints, and stockings again at the vigil of St. Thomas, while on the Saturday before Palm Sunday boots and socks were to be distributed to any Benedictine guests, as well as to the members of the house. Hospitality was always regarded as one of the most sacred duties of the abbey; great stress is laid upon its observance in all the compositions, and in the Customary the most minute regulations are given for the entertainment of various ranks of guests, from the great Benedictine abbot down to the humblest clerk or truant monk.
The actual wealth of the church of the abbey is too well known (fn. 195) to require discussion, but there are many points of interest with regard to the revenue of the monastery and its distribution amongst the obedientiaries.
From the Valor (fn. 196) it appears that the clear value of the abbey property in 1535 amounted to the enormous sum of £3,470 0s. 2¼d. The abbot's lands in Gloucestershire included the manors of Deerhurst, Hardwicke, Bourton cum Moreton, and Todenham, and rents in Sutton; in Worcestershire he held the manors of Longdon, Chaddesley, Pensham, Binholme, Pinvin, Wick, Pershore, and Birlingham; in Middlesex he held the manors of le Nete, Staines, Laleham and 'Billets,' and the rectory of Hendon; in Surrey, the manor of Pyrford, and the farms of 'Alferthyng' and Wandsworth; in Buckinghamshire, the manor of Denham; in Oxfordshire, the manor of Islip with Stokenchurch; in Berkshire, rents in Poughley; and in Suffolk, the priory of St. Bartholomew Sudbury. The foundation of Margaret, countess of Richmond, was worth £91 2s. net, and included the rectories of Cheshunt (Herts.) and Swineshead (Lincs.), but out of this 24s. 3d. was paid annually in rents, and £26 13s. 4d. to two readers in theology at Oxford and Cambridge, £10 to a certain preacher at Cambridge, and £10 to the poor. The foundation of Henry VII was worth £580 17s. 5½d. clear; it included the rectories of St. Bride London, Great Chesterford, Newport Pound, Witham, Cressing, Chrishall, Ketton or Kedington? ('Ketton and Cowpes') and Good Easter (Essex), Stanford (Berks.), Swaffham (Norfolk), and Bassingbourn (Camb.); four of the prebends of St. Martin le Grand, the free chapels of Playden (Sussex), Tickhill (Yorks.), and 'Uplambourne' (Wilts.), the manor of 'Oswardbesoken,' (? Osberton, Notts.), and the priory of Luffield (Bucks.). The treasurer's was always by far the most richly endowed of the conventual offices; in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries his revenues came principally from some twentyfour demesne manors, chiefly in Hertfordshire, Essex, and Middlesex. His total income for the year 1302–3 was £658 0s. 2¾d.; from Michaelmas, 1378–9, it was £564 15s. 7¼d.; and two years later, £527 19s. 7¾d. At the close of the following century (1499–1500) it had risen to £837 2s. 7½d., and in 1501–2 it was £888 3s. 7¼d. His expenses fell chiefly into nine groups—purchase of corn and malt, gifts, anniversaries, pittances, kitchen expenses, pensions, pleas, subsidies and other contributions, and gifts to the abbot. Of these the purchase of corn was the heaviest item, ranging from £141 15s. 10½d. in 1378–9 to £458 5s. 2¼d. in 1501–2; pittances in 1378–9 amounted to £16 19s. 1d., and in 1380–1 £13 16s. 8d., while in the sixteenth century they cost about £28 or £29 a year. Kitchen expenses seem to have been met by a fixed sum, in the fourteenth century £182 10s., and in the sixteenth £184 2s.; gifts in the fourteenth century cost about £33, and in the sixteenth £9 or £10. The total outgoings of the year 1378–9 were £834 1s. 6¼d.; those of the years 1499–1500 £791 7s. 4d. (fn. 197)
Turning to the rolls of the sacrist, his income for the year 1338–9 was about £100, in 1379–80 it was £222 6s. 10d. and in 1483–4 £191 2s. 7½d. His outgoings were chiefly purchases of wax and oil, wine for pittances and for the sacrament, coal and tallow, purchases of church furniture and the maintenance of the fabric of the church, and the usual wages, gifts, pittances, subsidies, and procurations. The general purchases of 1338–9 amounted to about £23, those of 1379–80 to £36 10s. 0½d., and those of 1483–4 to £43 7s. 10¼d. On church furniture in 1379–80 the sacrist spent £10 3s., including 6s. 8d. for mats for the choir and chapter, 4s. 6d. for red, white, and green thread for the abbot's vestments, 21s. 4d. for incense, 7s. 6d. for a pall for the high altar, and 25s. for bread for the sacrament; and in 1483–4 similar items amounted to £6 15s. 5d. The maintenance of the fabric cost £33 3s. 11¾d. in 1338–9, £43 16s. 1d. in 1379–80, and £56 8s. in 1483–4.
Another interesting account of the fifteenth century shows how the convent contributed to provide 'seyng' books for their church. The total cost of two books was 100s, the largest items being 26s. 8d. each for the writing, and in one case 14s. 4d. 'for fflorishing of grete lettres and for the lynyng of grete letters and smale.' The abbot and forty-eight monks contributed, and one brother 'payeth for the peecyng of the book and fyndeth the writer his bedde.' (fn. 198)
The new community which entered upon this goodly heritage of wealth and many-sided activity was intended to consist of a bishop, dean, twelve prebendaries, ten readers at the two universities, scholars to be taught in grammar, twenty students of divinity at Oxford and Cambridge, twelve petty canons to sing in choir, twelve laymen to sing and serve in choir daily, ten choristers, a master of the children, a 'gospellor' and a 'pistoler,' two sextons and twelve poor men decayed in the king's service. (fn. 199) The old community had not so far dissociated itself from the royal plans as to be totally excluded from the new foundation, and the abbot, prior, and several of the monks found places in the cathedral church. But the foundation was short-lived, and has but little history. In 1550 the bishopric was dissolved, and on 21 November, 1556, (fn. 200) just sixteen years after the first foundation of Henry's collegiate church, Dr. Feckenham, late dean of St. Paul's, and fourteen monks were once more installed at Westminster. On the following day
they went in procession after the old fashion, in their monk's dress and cowls of black say, with two vergers carrying two silver rods in their hands, and at evensong time the vergers went through the cloister to the abbot and so went to the altar, and there my lord knelt in the convent, and after his prayers was brought into the choir with the vergers and so into his place and at once he began evensong. (fn. 201)
For a few short years something or the old splendour seemed to be restored to this little community; on 29 November, Feckenham was consecrated and wore his mitre, and in the following April the duke of Muscovy dined at his table—an indication of his high political place. (fn. 202) But, as Fuller justly remarks, the new abbot 'like the Axiltree stood firme and fixed in his own judgement, whilst the times like the wheels turned backwards and forwards round about him.' (fn. 203) The same writer goes on to tell the story of how when Queen Elizabeth sent for Feckenham shortly after her accession, he was found setting elms in the orchard at Westminster, and characteristically would not follow the messenger until he had finished his task. (fn. 204) But neither his saintliness nor his known justice to Protestants during the previous reign (fn. 205) could save him from the results of his firmness of attitude nor his monastery from a second dissolution.
On 21 May, 1560, the queen once more constituted the abbey a collegiate body consisting of a dean and twelve prebendaries, (fn. 206) as in Henry VIII's foundation, though, according to Widmore, the choir was not so large a body as that established twenty years earlier. (fn. 207)
Of the history of Westminster as a community after its second dissolution, it is not easy to speak. Much might be said of individuals, for many of the deans of the collegiate church, such as Launcelot Andrewes, John Williams, Francis Atterbury, and Samuel Wilberforce, have been famous in the annals of the English church; but their fame, whether as divines or as politicians, has been for the most part of national rather than of local importance. Much again might be told of the abbey as the scene of epochmarking events, such as the riot on the occasion of the trial of the earl of Bristol in 1641, (fn. 208) the holding of the Westminster Assembly, (fn. 209) and of pageants, coronations, and funerals innumerable, but here again the interest can hardly be said to be local. Yet the one connecting link between the pre-reformation and the postreformation abbey is perhaps to be found in this closeness of connexion between its history and that of the nation, a connexion which had more than once saved it from utter destruction. This feature, however, was exaggerated by the Reformation, which swept away that independence which, at its proudest, had bowed to the supremacy of the pope alone, and had given the greatest individuality to Westminster history. The dependence upon the crown which was substituted for this only served to emphasize the political aspect of the abbey church, and to make its preferments the stepping stones to higher things—mere interludes in the life of men whose greatest fame was attained elsewhere. Nor is this the happiest aspect of the abbey history, for preferment thus given in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries inevitably engendered a certain amount of subservience to the patrons even upon the part of such men as Dean Goodman and Dean Andrewes. Thus Goodman and his prebendaries, after refusing from early in December, 1596, until the close of the following April, to grant at Queen Elizabeth's request a lease of Godmanchester rectory which was contrary to the statutes of the foundation, (fn. 210) finally gave way before the queen's importunity. (fn. 211) Andrewes, moreover, showed a like subserviency to Cecil, postponing what was apparently a most necessary visitation of the abbey lands in 1601 until he heard whether the secretary was intending to visit the abbey. (fn. 212)
That promotion in the collegiate church continued to depend on interest with persons of influence in the state is clear from the most casual glance at the numerous petitions for prebends towards the close of the seventeenth century. (fn. 213) In 1691 it was proposed for the better distribution of church preferment and the freeing the king from a great deal of importunity that the prebends of Westminster should be limited 'to ministers of London and Westminister'; and that 'the minister of St. Margaret's, Westminster,' should 'always be, as at present, one of the prebends, because the House of Commons go to that church, and therefore it is fit there should be encouragement for a good preacher.' (fn. 214) But canvassing for prebends was still practised as late as 1780, (fn. 215) and the possibility of a vacancy at Westminster was regarded as likely to be a desirable factor in Pitt's political programme in 1787. (fn. 216)
The sympathies of the canons of Westminster in the troubles which preceded the Civil War would seem, at first sight, to have been with the extreme High Church party; it is at least certain that in the quarrel between Laud and Bishop Williams, who was dean of Westminster, the prebendaries furthered Williams' overthrow to the utmost. (fn. 217) Some of the evidence, however, points to the quarrel being rather a matter of personal irritation than of doctrinal conviction. In 1636 the dean and canons wrangled over the possession of a certain pew in the abbey, which the dean claimed as his by right and only by courtesy shared with him by 'noble ladies and such of the prebendaries who were bishops,' while the canons maintained that it was the joint property of themselves and of the dean. (fn. 218) The dean, it was said, stooped to threaten one of the vergers who gave evidence in the dispute. (fn. 219) Another cause of friction was the suggestion of Dr. Gabriel More that a missing register of chapter acts might possibly be in the dean's possession. (fn. 220) Nor do the epithets 'the little urchin' and 'the little meddling hocus pocus,' applied presumably to Laud by Osbaldeston in his correspondence with Williams, (fn. 221) seem to raise the quarrel above the plane of personal animosity.
Whatever may have been the opinions of the prebendaries, however, the extreme Puritan party had no sooner gained the upper hand in London than they took steps to reduce the abbey to a conformity with their own views. On 24 April, 1643, a committee was appointed
to receive information from time to time of any monuments of superstition or idolatry in the abbey church of Westminster, or the windows thereof. . . and they have power to demolish the same where any such . . . are informed to be. (fn. 222)
On 21 August following the subdean and prebendaries of the cathedral granted 'free use and liberty of their pulpit for such ministers of God's word to preach every Sunday afternoon as shall be nominated . . . by this House.' (fn. 223) In the course of the following year pictures were planed out, the high altar in Henry VII's chapel was taken down, angels were removed, and the crucifix at the north end of the abbey and pictures 'at the conduit leading to the new palace' cut down. In September the organ loft and more pictures were taken away, and in November seven more pictures and the 'Resur rection where the kings and queens stand in the abbey' vanished. (fn. 224)
In 1644 orders were issued for 'the disposal of the proceeds of church plate for proper preachers to be provided. (fn. 225) In 1645 Dean Williams's commendam expired, and Richard Steward, who was appointed his successor, was never installed, the collegiate church being henceforth under the guidance of a special committee appointed by the House of Commons. (fn. 226) In 1648 the committee were commanded to
take effectual care that there be preaching in the abbey church of Westminster . . . on the Fast days, and that they take some effectual course to restrain walking by any person or persons in the abbey, cloister, or churchyard during the time of sermon and divine service, and to restrain and punish the playing of children or others in any part of the said places in any time of the Lord's Day to the profanation thereof. (fn. 227)
The parliamentary party valued the abbey as a place of worship—though 'monuments of superstition and idolatry' were so ruthlessly removed there seems to be no evidence of the building itself ever having been desecrated (fn. 228) as so many other cathedrals were—but for the ancient immunities of the precinct and liberty of Westminster they had scant respect. The sheriff of Middlesex soon held undisputed sway within the bailiwick, hitherto immune from all foreign interference, and many months after the Restoration the dean and chapter still complained that
though they have an undoubted right by charter to the bailiwick of Westminster, during the late distractions the sheriffs much abused their liberty, and the present sheriff daily arrests the bodies of the inhabitants, though requested not to do so by . . . the high steward of the city. (fn. 229)
The old order was only restored at Westminster gradually after the return of Charles II. John Earle, the first dean of the Restoration, was one of the wisest and most popular men of his day, and pursuing the policy of conciliation which was at first adopted towards the leading Nonconformist divines, he admitted Richard Baxter (fn. 230) to preach in the abbey. At the beginning of July, 1660, Samuel Pepys came to Westminster in the afternoon and heard 'a good sermon by a stranger, but no Common Prayer yet,' and in the following October the service still fell so far short of his ideal as to call forth a somewhat scathing comment.
After dinner to the Abbey, where I heard them read the church service, but very ridiculously. A poor cold sermon of Dr. Lamb's, one of the prebends, in his habitt, came afterwards and so all ended. (fn. 231)
But gradual as the changes were they did not fail to provoke hostility; two malcontents, John and Elizabeth Dicks, were reported to have said, after attending service at the abbey towards the close of the year 1661, that to see the people bow to the altar made their hair stand on end, for it was mere mountebank play. (fn. 232)
Dolben, the succeeding dean, was a man of considerable energy and good sense. The act by which he signalized his installation—namely his persuasion of his canons to make the abbey an equal sharer in all dividends—provided the fabric fund for many years to come. He was the first dean who on being promoted to the see of Rochester was allowed to retain his deanery in commendam, in order to augment the scanty revenues of his see, a practice which was continued thenceforward until the time of Dean Vincent. (fn. 233) A difficulty arose about this time with regard to the lodgings of the canons. The twelve prebendaries were all bound to residence, but had only eleven houses among them, so that it sometimes happened that a 'senior and useful prebendary' was without lodging. The canons appealed to the king on the subject, and it was decided that they were to revert to what they described as their ancient custom, of permitting the seniors to have choice of lodging, on any removal, so that none but a junior might want a house. (fn. 234)
Dolben's successor, Thomas Spratt, originally known as a wit and satirist, probably received promotion in recognition of his bold support of high church doctrines and the divine right of kings. It was possibly in view of the latter conviction that he assented to the publication in the abbey of the Declaration of Indulgence on the famous occasion when only four clergymen throughout London could be found to read it. The earl of Clarendon, writing to Princess Mary of Orange, said that Spratt 'ordered one of the petty canons to read it, but went out of town himself over night,' and added 'he's a poorspirited man.' (fn. 235) This, however, seems a somewhat unfair epithet, and William Legge, first earl of Derby, who was a boy in Westminster School at the time, and present in the abbey, seems to imply that the dean read the Declaration himself. There was, he says, 'so great a murmur and noise that nobody could hear,' and before it was finished no one was left in the church but 'a few prebends in their stalls, the queristers and the Westminster scholars.' Spratt himself could hardly hold the Declaration in his hands for trembling. (fn. 236)
The early years of the eighteenth century were marred by a somewhat undignified quarrel between the chapter and Francis Atterbury, who was bishop of Rochester and dean from 1713 to 1723. The first friction arose about the appointment of the vestry clerk of St. Margaret's; this was in August; by November Atterbury had persuaded some of the prebendaries to join him, and had fallen foul of Canon Only, curate of St. Margaret's, an old man of between seventy and eighty years, whom he is said to have treated worse than he ever treated anyone when he was dean of Christ Church, Oxford. (fn. 237) Again in June, 1722, the dean seems to have come into collision with his chapter about the appointment of a new receiver in the place of one Battely; Atterbury wanted the post for his son-in-law Morris, but a majority of the canons were in favour of appointing the nephew of the last occupant of the office. Finding his will opposed, the dean claimed the sole right of appointment, and ordered Battely's nephew to give up all papers relating to the college. The prebendaries on the other hand drew up an order forbidding the surrender of the papers to anyone except such persons as should be appointed by the dean and chapter, while the deputy treasurer threatened to cashier all workmen, and stop the wages of all servants appointed on the dean's sole authority. (fn. 238) This was at the end of June; on 22 August political suspicion had fallen upon Atterbury, he was seized 'when sitting in the deanery surrounded with books and papers relating to his domestic quarrels,' and was carried off to the Tower, (fn. 239) and it may be presumed that during the few remaining months before his final deprivation, he had but little time to quarrel with his canons. In weighing the evidence against him, however, it must be remembered that it rests upon the testimony of Stratford, one of the canons of Oxford, with whom he had quarrelled most bitterly while dean of Christ Church. There can be no doubt that Stratford had always disliked him, (fn. 240) and it is possible that there was more fault on the side of the Westminster canons than these letters allow; on the other hand, there seems to be ample evidence that in any position of authority he was highhanded, and quick to avenge himself upon those who withstood him, and that he provoked considerable resentment in each of the cathedrals where he held preferment.
The succeeding century passed comparatively uneventfully at Westminster. Dean Wilcocks completed the west front of the abbey, and Dean Vincent, who had been master of Westminster School before his promotion to the deanery, joined with the chapter in the restoration after the fire in the lantern in 1803, and obtained from Pitt fourteen annual grants for the restoration of Henry VII's chapel between 1807 and 1822. It was during the time that Wilcocks was dean that Widmore, the librarian of the abbey, published his History and Enquiry into the First Foundation of Westminster Abbey, from the publication of which the revived interest in the historic past of the monastery and collegiate church probably dates. Dean Vincent studied the sixteenth and seventeenth-century chapter-books of the foundation, and has left an analysis of Flete's history of the abbey, (fn. 241) and it was only three years after his death that Brayley and Neale published the first volume of their large history.
It was probably in this movement that the attempt originated to make Westminster a great national church in a sense other than that which had prevailed during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was not sufficient that the dean and canons should owe their promotion to and be in close connexion with the crown, nor that the church should be the scene of national pageants and ceremonies; the later deans felt that the great past of the abbey entitled it to a closer connexion with the spiritual and intellectual life of the people. This was the meaning of Dean Trench's institution of evening services in the nave, and yet more of Dean Stanley's attempt to make the abbey a great national church, common to men of all shades of opinion, where differences might be forgotten in the memories of a common past.
List of Abbots (fn. 242)
Orbrithus, 1st abbot, ob. 616
Germanus, 1st prepositus
Aldred, 2nd prepositus, ob. 675
Syward, 3rd prepositus, ob. 684
Osmund, 4th prepositus, ob. 705 (605 by a mistake in the MS.)
Selred, prepositus, ob. 744
Orgar, prepositus, ob. 765
Brithestan, prepositus, ob. 785
Orbrith, 2nd abbot, ob. 797
Alwy, abbot, ob. 820
Alwy, abbot, ob. 837–8
Algar, abbot, ob. 889
Edmer, ob. 922
Alfnodus, ob. 939
Alfricus, ob. 956
Wulsinus, (fn. 243) 958–1004–5
Alwy, (fn. 244) 1004–17
Wulnoth, (fn. 245) ob. 1049, or according to the Chronicle 1046
Edwyn, (fn. 246) 1049–68
Geoffrey, (fn. 247) deposed before 1076
Vitalis, (fn. 248) 1076–7, ob. 1082
Gilbert Crispin, (fn. 249) before 1087, ob. 1117
Herbert, (fn. 250) appointed 1121
Gervase of Blois, (fn. 251) deposed (?) c. 1153, ob. 1160
Laurence, (fn. 252) appointed c. 1153 or 1160
Walter prior of Winchester, (fn. 253) 1175–90
William Postard, (fn. 254) 1191–1200
Ralph de Arundel, (fn. 255) 1200–13
William de Humez, (fn. 256) 1214–22
Richard de Berking, (fn. 257) 1222–46
Richard de Crokesle, (fn. 258) 1246–58
Philip de Levesham, (fn. 259) elect, ob. 1259
Richard de Ware, (fn. 260) 1259, occurs 1279, ob. 1283
Walter de Wenlac, (fn. 261) 1283–1307
Richard de Kydington, (fn. 262) 1308–15
William de Curtlington, (fn. 263) 1315–33
Thomas de Henley, (fn. 264) 1333–44
Simon de Bircheston, (fn. 265) 1344–9
Simon de Langham, (fn. 266) 1349
Nicholas Litlington, (fn. 267) 1362–86
William of Colchester, (fn. 268) 1387–1420
Richard Harweden, (fn. 269) occurs 1435, resigned 1440
Edmund Kirton, (fn. 270) provided by the pope 1440, ceded 1463
George Norwich, (fn. 271) provided 1463, resigned 1469
Thomas Milling, (fn. 272) 1469–74
John Eastney, (fn. 273) provided 1474–98
George Fascet, (fn. 274) 1498–1500
John Islip, (fn. 275) 1500–1532
William Boston or Benson, (fn. 276) last abbot of the old foundation, 1533
John Feckenham, (fn. 277) 1556–60
Deans (fn. 278)
William Boston, (fn. 279) 17 December, 1540,
Richard Cox, October, 1549, deprived 1553
Hugh Weston, 1553, resigned 1556
William Bill, 1560, ob. 1561
Gabriel Goodman, 1561–1601
Launcelot Andrewes, (fn. 280) 1601–5
Richard Neile or Neale, 1605–10 (in commendam from 1608)
George Mountayne, 1610–17
Robert Tounson, 1617–20
John Williams, 1620–45 (in commendam from 1621)
Richard Steward, 1645 (never installed)
John Earle, 1660–2
John Dolben, 1662–83 (from 1666 held deanery with bishopric of Rochester, as did his successors until 1802)
Thomas Spratt, 1683–1713
Francis Atterbury, (fn. 281) 1713–23
Samuel Bradford, 1723–31
Joseph Wilcocks, 1731–56
Zachariah Pearce, 1756–68 (resigned the deanery, but not bishopric)
John Thomas, 1768 (bishop of Rochester 1774)
Samuel Horsley, 1793–1802
William Vincent, 1802–15
John Ireland, 1816–42
Thomas Turton, 1842–5
Samuel Wilberforce, 1845
William Buckland, 1845–56
Richard Chenevix Trench, 1856–64
Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, 1864–81
George Granville Bradley, 1881–1902
Joseph Armitage Robinson, 1902
The first seal of the abbey (fn. 282) is a large vesica 3 in. by 2¾ in., made, it would seem, in the first quarter of the twelfth century. It gives a representation of St. Peter, the patron saint of the house, wearing a pall and seated on a throne with his right hand raised in blessing and holding his keys in his left. Across the field the inscription runs in three lines, each line being broken by the figure of the saint. The legend, of which very little remains in the museum example, was:—
SIGILLE ECCL'E SBI PETRI APL'I WESTMONASTERII
Of the second seal we have examples of two states. The earlier of these, (fn. 283) which belongs to the very beginning of the thirteenth century, is round, about 2¾ in. in diameter. The reverse shows St. Peter vested and wearing mitre and pall, seated on a throne and holding a crosier in his right hand and the keys in his left. His feet rest on a prostrate figure of a man. The obverse has the representation of St. Edward the Confessor similarly seated with his feet on a like figure. He holds in his right hand a flowered sceptre and in his left a conventional model of the abbey church. The field is powdered with flowers and sprigs. Of the legends only half a dozen letters remain.
The second state of this remarkable seal, (fn. 284) which appears to have been in use from the first quarter of the thirteenth century till the Dissolution, has the same designs on reverse and obverse as the first state, of which it was evidently a close copy. It only differs from the first state in small details such as the arrangement of the folds and the decoration of the saint's vestments, and the carving of the king's throne, and the flower that tops his sceptre. The legend on each side is:—
✠ DIMIDIA PARS SIGILL' ECCLESIE SANCTI PETRI WESTMONASTERII
The fifteenth-century seal ad causas (fn. 285) is a large vesica, 3¼ in. by 2⅛ in., having St. Peter and St. Paul sitting side by side in a canopied niche. St. Peter has a book and his keys in his left hand and St. Paul carries the sword of his martyrdom in his right hand and a book in his left. Above their heads, in a shield of arms which seem to be those of the abbey, a chief indented with a mitre and a crosier therein. On the left of the saints is a smaller niche in which St. Catherine stands, wearing a crown and holding her wheel; and on their right in a similar niche is St. John the Evangelist holding in his right hand his symbol of a chalice, from which a serpent issues, and in his left a palm branch. Below is St. Edward with crown and sceptre between two shields of arms which are, on the left hand, the Confessor's cross and martlets impaled with the keys of the abbey, and on the right the royal arms of Henry IV, France quartered with England. The legend, which has a cross between each word, is:—
SIGILLF COMMUNE ECCL'IE BEATI PETRI WESTMONASTERII AD CAUSAS
The seal of Abbot Richard Harweden (fn. 286) (1430–40) is a large vesica 2⅜ in. by 1¾ in., showing St. Peter crowned with a papal tiara, seated in a canopied niche, blessing with his right hand and holding one key in his left. An indistinct shield overhead has arms that may be those of this abbot. To the left of St. Peter is a smaller niche in which St. Catherine stands, while a like niche on the right has a figure of St. John with his symbols. Below is the abbot in prayer. The legend is entirely broken away.
Abbot John Islip's (1500–32) (fn. 287) has a somewhat similar seated figure of St. Peter, who holds in his left hand a patriarch's cross. Above is a shield of the keys, and in niches on either side are St. Edward and St. John. Of the legend only SIGILE IOH'IS . . . remains.
There are several fragments of seals of chamberlains of the abbey in the British Museum collection, all belonging to the first half of the sixteenth century. The most perfect are those of William of Westminster (1511) (fn. 288) and William Overton (1537). (fn. 289)
The earlier seal is a small vesica 1¾ in. by 1¼ in., with counterseal 13 / 16; in. by 9 / 16; in. The seal has two standing figures under a double canopy of St. Peter and St. Edward, with shields of the keys and the Confessor below. Of the broken legend the words:—
. . . CAMERARII MONASTERII SBI PETRI WE . . . alone remain.
The little counterseal has the head of a monk, with the legend:—
EGO SVM QVI PECCAVI
Overton's seal and counterseal are of similar type, but coarser in execution.