Colleges: The collegiate church of Southwell

A History of the County of Nottingham: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1910.

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, 'Colleges: The collegiate church of Southwell', in A History of the County of Nottingham: Volume 2, (London, 1910) pp. 152-161. British History Online [accessed 26 May 2024].

. "Colleges: The collegiate church of Southwell", in A History of the County of Nottingham: Volume 2, (London, 1910) 152-161. British History Online, accessed May 26, 2024,

. "Colleges: The collegiate church of Southwell", A History of the County of Nottingham: Volume 2, (London, 1910). 152-161. British History Online. Web. 26 May 2024,


The mediaeval diocese of York contained, in the churches of York, Ripon, Beverley, and Southwell, four ancient foundations of secular canons. The early history of each is involved in much obscurity; and the difficulty is increased in the case of Southwell by the uncertainty which prevails as to the date at which Nottinghamshire became transferred to the see of York. For reasons given in a former article it seems probable that the latter event took place not earlier than the middle of the 10th century, and that it was immediately followed by the grant to the reigning archbishop of lands which possessed in great part the boundaries of the later manor of Southwell.

This is not the place in which to discuss in detail the very difficult problems presented by the charter by which the lands in question were conveyed. (fn. 1) The charter is only preserved in a late copy, made by a scribe ignorant of AngloSaxon, and in all probability founded upon an original already in part illegible. The strongest witness to its authenticity is the occurrence, in a clause appended to the delimitation of boundaries, of a number of terms, relating to the local distribution of the land, which became obsolete in this part of England soon after the Norman Conquest, and which no later forger would have been in the least likely to invent. The date of the charter is given in the text of the document as 958, which must be corrected to 956; (fn. 2) the donor is King Eadwig, and the donee Oskytel, who was probably translated to the see of York in the latter year.

Taking, then, the document as it stands, we may believe that by it the archbishop was put in possession of a large estate centring in the vill of Southwell, but including land in a number of neighbouring hamlets. The charter gives a list of the 'towns' which belonged to Southwell 'with sake and soke'; (fn. 3) and the latter are certainly included in the eleven unnamed berewicks which are assigned to Southwell in Domesday Book. Their names, as given in the charter, represent the modern Normanton, Kirklington, Upton, Fiskerton, Morton, Gibsmere, Goverton, Bleasby, Halloughton, Farnsfield, and Halam; Blidworth, which afterwards formed the western portion of the manor of Southwell, was only acquired by the archbishop subsequently to 1066. Within the boundaries of this land there were several enclaves of territory not subjected to the archbishop, but even with this reservation we may safely say that no such extensive well-defined estate existed at the period in the hands of any subject between the Humber and the Welland. (fn. 4)

It is probable that the foundation of the collegiate church followed hard upon the archbishop's acquisition of his great estate. Oskytel, the recipient of the grant in question, is one of the obscurer Archbishops of York, but he is known to have been connected with the group of ecclesiastical reformers of whom Dunstan was by tradition the leader. It has, therefore, been contended that such a man, whose personal relations lay all with the monastic party in the English Church, would not have been likely to found an establishment of secular canons; (fn. 5) an argument which is arbitrary at the best, and scarcely admits the possibility that a prelate might be a zealous advocate of monasticism and yet recognize the need of working by means of men outside the rule. In so far as our knowledge at present extends, it certainly implies that the church of Southwell should pay the honours of a founder to Archbishop Oskytel. (fn. 6)

The new foundation was destined for a life of unexampled length, but it is more than a century after the times of Eadwig and Oskytel before materials sufficient for a connected narrative of its fortunes begin to accumulate. By 1000, as we have seen, the church contained the shrine of St. Eadburh. In 1051 Archbishop Ælfric Puttoc died at Southwell, an event which probably implies the existence of an archiepiscopal residence in the vicinity of the church. (fn. 7) Ælfric's successor Cynesige (1051-60) gave bells to the latter; (fn. 8) and the first phase in the history of the minster comes to an end with the death of Ealdred, the last native Archbishop of York, who had established a common refectory for the use of the canons, and had created a number of prebends in the church out of certain estates which he had procured for his see with his private wealth. (fn. 9)

There is good evidence, then, that the prebendal system had been established at Southwell before Ealdred's death in 1069. By this system each canon fulfilled a double function—that of a parish priest in the church which gave title to his prebend, combined with participation in the duties of the collegiate body of which he was a member. In course of time, as will appear hereafter, the average prebendary discharged his parochial office by means of a resident vicar; and was represented in the choir of Southwell by a vicar choral—the practice of non-residence played havoc with the theory on which a college of secular canons was founded. (fn. 10) By the middle of the 13th century at the latest non-residence was recognized as the normal condition of affairs; and the two last prebends of Eaton and North Leverton were provided, at the time of their creation, with a special endowment for vicars parochial and choral.

The full number of prebends attached to the church was sixteen, a number completed in 1291 by the separation of North Leverton from Beckingham. We possess information in some detail about the foundation of seven of these prebends; the date at which the remainder were created is a matter of inference. The evidence bearing upon the latter may here be given in a concise form.

1. The Sacrists' prebend. No endowment in land, but probably early, as connected with the maintenance of the services of the church.

2. Normanton. Undoubtedly early; the prebendary of Normanton was patron of the vicarage of Southwell, and the statement in Domesday Book that 2 bovates in the manor of Southwell were in prebenda almost certainly refers to the Normanton prebend. (fn. 11)

3, 4, 5, Norwell I, II, III. The church of Southwell had possessed a manor of Norwell before the Conquest. Norwell I was the most valuable of the sixteen prebends; Norwell II was also valuable; Norwell III much less so. This looks as if the latter was a later creation than the two former, but as there is no record of its foundation it had probably come into being before the archiepiscopate of Thurstan, from whose time we have complete information on the subject. It seems probable that in the Norwell series we have two, possibly three, of Ealdred's prebends.

6. Woodborough. The prebendary of Woodborough may safely be recognized in the 'clerk' who is entered in Domesday Book as holding 1 bovate in the latter vill under the archbishop. In addition to this bovate, the archbishop possessed 7 other bovates in Woodborough, making a total estate of 1 carucate. As the clerk's holding is only spoken of in the present tense, it was probably detached from the carucate in question subsequently to 1066, and the foundation of Woodborough prebend may therefore be assigned either to the last years of Ealdred or to Archbishop Thomas I, more probably to the latter.

7. North Muskham. The archbishop's holding of 1½ carucates is entered in Domesday Book as a note to the description of Southwell. It is uncertain whether any prebend had been created out of this estate by 1086, but it is not improbable.

8, 9. Oxton I, II. The creation of these prebends presents great difficulty. They included an endowment in the distant vill of Cropwell Bishop which 'St. Mary of Southwell' had held in 1066. The archbishop's land in Oxton itself had been acquired during the Conqueror's reign, and had not apparently by 1086 been appropriated to the church of Southwell. It is therefore possible that the Oxton prebends date between 1086 and Thurstan's time, though in their later form they may represent the addition of land in Oxton to an earlier prebend or prebends in Cropwell Bishop. This, on the whole, seems the more probable explanation.

10. South Muskham. Probably to be assigned to Archbishop Thomas II (1108-14).

11. Dunham. The church of this royal manor was given by Henry I to Archbishop Thurstan for the foundation of a prebend. The exact date is uncertain.

12. Beckingham. Created by Thurstan. Beckingham was one of the 'berewicks' of the archbishop's great manor of Laneham.

13. Halloughton. With the exception of Normanton (q.v.) the only prebend created within the limits of the manor of Southwell. The foundation of Archbishop Roger de Pont l'Evêque, confirmed by Pope Alexander III.

14. Rampton. The solitary lay foundation among the prebends of Southwell. Bestowed upon the church by Pavia de Malluvel and Robert her son about 1200.

15. Eaton. Founded by Archbishop Romayne 1290.

16. North Leverton. Separated from Beckingham by the latter archbishop 1291.

These remarks are somewhat inconclusive, but it would be futile to try to define more closely the order in which the earliest prebends of Southwell came into being. The evidence which we possess hardly lends support to the idea, founded on the analogy of other churches of the same description, that the original foundation at Southwell consisted of seven prebendaries; (fn. 12) it rather suggests the gradual extension of some much smaller nucleus. In any case, however, the notable increase in the number of prebends, and the length of time over which that increase continued, are very remarkable facts. In the period which lies beyond 1200 but few of the canons are known to us by name, but it deserves notice that Master Vacarius, the great teacher of the civil law, held for a time one of the prebends of Norwell. (fn. 13)

One more unsolved problem in the early history of Southwell may here be mentioned— the fate which befell the remains of St. Eadburh. We know that the Norman prelates who followed the Conquest possessed but scant respect for the native saints of the land, but it is not easy to account for the disappearance of a shrine which clearly was an object of frequent pilgrimage in the early 11th century. It has to some extent escaped notice that a discovery of wonderworking relics was made at Southwell in the reign of Stephen; these, however, cannot be connected with St. Eadburh's remains. While a grave was being prepared, there were found the relics of certain saints, and a glass vessel filled with clear water, which restored health to those who tasted it. The matter was brought to the notice of Thurstan, (fn. 14) the then Archbishop of York, but nothing further is recorded in connexion with the discovery.

The Taxation Roll of 1291 enters all the sixteen prebends, though it is a little difficult to distinguish them with precision, as some are given under the name of the prebend and others under the name of the prebendary then holding the preferment. The estimate of the annual value of these prebends (including £4 13s. 4d. for the vicar of Dunham prebend; the church of Rolleston—which was assigned to the common fund—£13 6s. 8d.; and the church of Kirklington, £5) amounted to the large total of £342 13s. 4d. The prebends varied very greatly in value; thus Dunham and another one held by Master John Clavell (one of the Norwells) were each worth £36 a year, but the recent foundation of North Leverton was worth £13 6s. 8d. and that of Eaton only £6 13s. 4d. (fn. 15)

When the Valor of 1534 was drawn up, separate returns were made for each of the sixteen prebends. The prebend of Dunham had then fallen in value, being worth £28, but Eaton was worth £9 6s. 8d. Each prebendary at that time paid £4 a year to his vicar choral, and 2s. 2½d. to the chapter for visitation fees. Each of the sixteen vicars was in receipt of £7 4s. 8½d. (including the £4 from his prebendary), their common revenues being equally divided. There were also thirteen chantry priests attached to the minster, whose respective incomes varied from £8 7s. 5d. to £4 16s. 5d. A fabric fund brought in a clear annual income of £10 12s. 6½d.

There was also a common fund of the minster. To this the appropriated Nottinghamshire churches of Upton, Rolleston, Edingley, Kirklington, Barnby, and the third part of Kelham contributed £36 16s. 8d., and the church of Barnborough, Yorkshire, £16 13s. 4d. Among other receipts were £8 in offerings during 'Whitsandaye weike'; two stone of wax from Thurgarton Priory; three stone of wax from Shelford Priory; and 26s. 8d. from the parish church of South Wheatley to buy wax and oil. The outgoings from this fund included £6 9s. 4½d. to six poor choristers; 63s. 4d. to two 'thuribularies'; £4 to two deacons, and 66s. 8d. to two sub-deacons; to the master of the choristers, 20s.; to the verge bearers, 3s. 4d.; and for bringing hallowed oil and cream, 12d. (fn. 16)

When the college and chantry commissioners of 1545 visited Southwell Minster, they described it as 'reputed and taken for the hed mother Churche of the Towne and Countie of Nottingham, wherin is sedes archie…alis founded by the Righte famous of memorye Edgare the Kinges majesties moste noble progenitor,' (fn. 17) for three canons residentiary, a parish vicar, sixteen vicars choral, thirteen chantry priests, four deacons and sub-deacons, six choristers, two 'Thuribales,' and two clerks. The sixteen prebends and the thirteen chantry priests are all specified; the latter had each a chamber and share in a common hall. (fn. 18)

On 12 August 1540 the Archbishop of York granted to the king the patronage of all promotion in the collegiate church of Southwell. (fn. 19) On the same day the vicars choral surrendered their chief house or mansion in Southwell with all their possessions, and like surrenders were also executed by the prebendaries and by the chantry priests. (fn. 20) But these definite surrenders, through some unknown influence, were suffered to pass as so many dead letters, and in January 1543 their effect was formally annulled by a special Act of Parliament, whereby 'the colledge and church collegiate of Southwell' was legally reestablished in every particular; the whole of its property and officials were restored, including lamps, obits, chantries, and chantry priests. (fn. 21)

Almost the whole of the upwards of two hundred collegiate foundations extant throughout England in pre-Reformation days, both great and small, were ruthlessly confiscated by either Henry VIII or Edward VI; even the fabrics were in many cases destroyed and merchandise made not only of the lead and bells but of the very monuments, brasses, and gravestones. In some cases, like Beverley and Ripon, Southwell's sister minsters, the churches were bought back by the inhabitants and turned into parish churches. In only five, or at the most six instances, were fabrics and endowments eventually spared—Windsor and Manchester being amongst them—but of these by far the most ancient and famous, as well as one of the largest, richest, and most beautiful, was the collegiate church of the Blessed Virgin of Southwell.

It seems that at this time it was the intention of the king to make Southwell the seat of a bishopric. The revenue was set down as £1,003, of which one-third was to be allotted to the bishop, who was designated in the person of one of the prebendaries, Dr. Richard Cox, who afterwards became Bishop of Ely. (fn. 22) But this idea, like the great majority of paper schemes of Henry VIII, came to naught.

The commissioners of Edward VI, in 1547-8, went over much the same ground. (fn. 23) They were, however, sufficiently uncritical deliberately to repeat the legend as to the founding by King Edgar in definite form as to each of the sixteen prebendaries and the sixteen vicars. 'The Thuribularies' serving at the altar are again entered as in receipt of 13s. 4d., and the 'dilation of Oyle and Creme from York' costing 12d. Of the chantry priests one is entered as a preacher, two as 'meatly lerned,' and four as 'unlerned.' Three chapels of ease are mentioned as served from the minster, namely those of Halam, Halloughton, and Morton. There is a curious entry to the effect that, when the commissioners of Henry VIII visited Southwell on 24 November 1545, the prebendaries and heads of the college sold a 'Holy water Stocke of Sylver,' weighing 51 oz., and with the money provided due entertainment for the visitors.

They found that the church had already been stripped of 626 oz. of plate. They left to the minster two silver-gilt chalices with their patens, weighing 45 oz., for use at the Holy Communion, and also £20 6s. 2d. worth of vestments, copes, &c.

The visitation of the commissioners of Edward VI not only swept away all the chantries of Southwell, but the college itself, the church being continued as the parish church, on the petition of the parishioners. John Adams, the sacrist's prebendary, was appointed parish vicar with a salary of £20, and two others made 'assistants to the cure' at £5 each. By an Act, however, of Philip and Mary (1557) the chapter was restored. Most of the confiscated property had passed to John Beaumont, Master of the Rolls, but he had fallen into disgrace and his estates had been resumed by the Crown in payment of his debts.

After this restoration until the final dissolution of the chapter in 1841 the constitution of the collegiate church was governed by a set of statutes promulgated by Queen Elizabeth on 2 April 1585, (fn. 24) interpreted by injunctions issued by successive Archbishops of York as visitors of the church and by resolutions of the chapter themselves. No definite scheme of residence is propounded in these statutes, which leave the performance of this duty to the will of the several prebendaries. (fn. 25) Provision was made for the performance of the sacred offices by insistence on the continued presence of at least six vicars choral, presbyteri et musici, assisted by six choirmen and an equal number of choristers. (fn. 26) A new officer, elected by the canons from among their number and known as the vicar-general, was created at the same time to exercise the ecclesiastical jurisdiction belonging to the chapter. (fn. 27) For the edification of the officers of the church weekly or fortnightly lectures in theology were instituted; and in the afternoon of each Sunday the rudiments of the Faith were to be expounded by one of the canons to an audience including, beside the vicars choral and choristers, the boys of the grammar school with their master. (fn. 28) Advantage was taken of the existing opportunity to provide for a suitable distribution of the lesser offices connected with the church; and the chapter were directed to institute a fitting person to see to the maintenance of the fabric. (fn. 29) The whole set of statutes is evidence of a thorough reorganization, the nature of which reflects much credit upon the queen's advisers, among whom we may certainly reckon in the present case Edwin Sandys, the reigning Archbishop of York.

The main feature of the constitutional history of the church in the succeeding period lies in various attempts made by the canons to arrange a permanent system of keeping residence. In 1693, by a resolution of chapter, which received the sanction of Archbishop Sharpe, it was decreed that for the future each prebendary, in the order of his seniority, should keep a term of residence for three months, an arrangement which in theory prevailed until the dissolution of the chapter. (fn. 30) It followed from this that the canon in residence for the time being became in effect the temporary head of the whole collegiate body; he presided over the sessions of the chapter, and was responsible for the conduct of the services of the church. It could scarcely have been expected, however, that those canons who held high ecclesiastical office elsewhere should consent to go into retirement at Southwell for three months in every four years, and in practice the office of residentiary is found circulating among a small number of prebendaries, mostly connected with the neighbourhood by birth or family. At last, in 1841, provision was made by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for the gradual abolition of the chapter as a whole; the decease of each successive canon after this time involved the extinction of his prebend, and on 12 February 1873 the ancient corporation came to its appointed end upon the death of the Rev. Thomas Henry Shepherd, rector of Clayworth and prebendary of Beckingham.

The history of the chapter of Southwell in the 18th century raises no points of special interest. It bore very much the character of a select clerical association of which the members were nominated by an external authority, the Archbishop of York, but which enjoyed virtual autonomy in the management of its internal concerns. The latter were regulated by a quarterly meeting of the chapter, which was rarely attended by more than five or six out of the sixteen canons, while three was a number competent for the transaction of business. The deliberations of this body were usually conducted with unanimity, but a grave difference of opinion is clearly reflected in the following entries taken from the minutes of chapter:— (fn. 31)

October 19th, 1780.


That for the future, on the Installation of any Prebendary the expensive Dinner of late years given on that occasion shall be laid aside, and every succeeding Prebendary in stead thereof shall pay into the hands of the Treasurer £10; of which sum at least £2, according to old custom, shall be applied to improve the Library, and the rest disposd of according to the discretion and determination of the Chapter.

July 19th, 1781.

At a chapter held the 19th day of October 1780 it was Decreed that on the Installation of any prebendary in future the expensive Dinner of late years given on that occasion shoud be laid aside, w'ch Decree appears to this Chapter to be inconvenient, therefore it is now Decreed that the same be postponed.

It is rather a suggestive circumstance that a new canon was to be installed the next day. Three years later the dispute in question was settled by the intervention of the Archbishop of York as visitor of the college, who enjoined:—

That hereafter no publick dinner or entertainment shall be made at the installation of any Prebendary, but, instead thereof, the sum of six pounds shall be paid by the person installed, in addition to the two pounds heretofore given for the benefit of the library. (fn. 32)

A resolution of chapter, made 24 October 1783, 'that the chanting of the service in the church be performed in a monotony,' is of some interest from its date, but it must be admitted that the 18th-century canons of Southwell can hardly be claimed as exempt from the lethargy which characterized the Church of England as a whole during this period. Here and there among the resident canons may be recognized a divine of superior scholarship and wider intellectual interests, such as Dr. Ralph Heathcote, vicar general from 1788 to 1795, who in his youth had taken an active part in the theological controversies of the middle of the century. (fn. 33) Earlier than this the same office had been held by George Mompesson, the heroic vicar of Eyam, Derbyshire, in the days of the great plague of 1666; and William Rastall, Heathcote's immediate predecessor, showed commendable diligence in his care for the fabric of the magnificent church of which he and his colleagues were the custodians. But these men were exceptions, and for such a body as the chapter of Southwell in its latest days there was but one possible fate in the decades of radical reform which followed 1832. Eleven years after the death of the last surviving prebendary the church of Southwell became once more a centre in the ecclesiastical organization of the county by its elevation to be the cathedral of the see newly created in 1884 for the counties of Nottingham and Derby. (fn. 34)

The constitution of this great Nottinghamshire church was based on that of the cathedral church of York. In the bull of Alexander III, granted in 1171, confirming the canons in all their possessions, it is expressly stated that the ancient customs and liberties 'which the church of York is known to have had from old time and still to have' were renewed and solemnly maintained to them. (fn. 35) In this bull sanction was given to the ancient custom, already well established, of both clergy and laity making Whitsuntide procession to Southwell as the old mother church of the county, and thence they were to obtain the holy oils for distribution among their churches, brought thither from York. The clergy, too, were expected to attend an annual synod at Southwell.

The special privileges that the Southwell canons enjoyed in common with those of York were freedom in their common lands and also in their respective prebends from all ordinary jurisdiction, spiritual or temporal, of archbishop or king. No distress, &c., could be taken by the sheriff without the chapter's leave, or without the individual prebend's leave in the case of prebendal lands. 'The canons had civil and criminal jurisdiction over all their tenants and people in their liberty. The judges on circuit had to hold the pleas of the Crown at the south door of the church; in criminal cases in one of the canon's houses, outside the minster yard. They had to make a return of their proceedings to the canons, and the fines and forfeitures inflicted went to the canons and not to the king.' (fn. 36) The canons also held the assize of bread and beer throughout their liberty, and could fine the infringers of this and other market regulations; but they did not possess either pillory or tumbrel. They and their tenants were also free from every form of toll and custom throughout England. These extensive powers and privileges were granted by charters of the first three Henrys, and were fully maintained by them under the Quo Warranto proceedings of the beginning of the reign of Edward I. (fn. 37)

In spiritual matters the collegiate church of Southwell was exempt from all archiepiscopal jurisdiction, save that the diocesan had the power to visit to see that they kept their statutes; but this power was seldom if ever put in force after the 13th century. The chapter alone exercised jurisdiction over the vicars choral and chantry priests, and over their prebendal or parochial vicars (whom they instituted), and also over the laity throughout their peculiar. (fn. 38)

In one important point the canons of Southwell differed from those of York. Unlike any other foundation of secular canons save that of Ripon, they possessed no head warden or dean. Even Ripon gave a recognized supremacy, though no special title, to one of their number, the prebendary of Stanwick; but at Southwell all were of equal rights throughout their history. In actual practice it is probable that the senior canon in residence would preside at chapter meetings, and in other ways take precedence. (fn. 39)

There is no regular body of statutes of an early date defining the duties of the various members of the chapter; but Mr. Leach is able to show by numerous references that the necessary functions of precentor, of sacrist or treasurer, and of chancellor were duly discharged by particular prebendaries. (fn. 40) From quite early times Southwell suffered from the invariable abuse of all establishments of secular canons, the nonresidence of its highly-paid members. Owing to the illicit sanction of pluralities and nonresidence, it came about that each canon had two deputies, the one to act as parish vicar in his prebendal or village church, and the other to take his singing place in quire as vicar choral. The non-residence of many of the Southwell prebendaries must have been well established at a fairly early date, for the bull of Alexander III (1170) definitely assigns to the canons the right to institute fit vicars, whom they please, in their prebendal churches without anyone's interference.

The oldest ordinances of this church are those of Archbishop Gray, dated 20 April 1225. (fn. 41) These ordinances (sealed by the Southwell chapter as well as by the archbishop) clearly endeavoured to secure better residence by a system of rewards for attendance. By these ordinances, it was provided that every canon attending mattins on ordinary feasts was to receive 3d. from the common fund, and 6d. on double feasts. The old common fund had been increased in 1221 by the appropriation to it of the rectory of Rolleston Church, and the surplus of the whole fund was to be divided equally among the resident canons at Whitsuntide. To be a resident canon and entitled to this portion the canon had to reside three months at one time, or in two halves, but the study of theology elsewhere might count as residence.

When this statute or ordinance of 1225 was reconsidered by a convocation of the canons in 1260, it was decided, with the assent of Archbishop Giffard, that the study of theology was only to count as residence if the student followed the regular course at Paris and Oxford or Cambridge at least for two terms of the year. (fn. 42) Mr. Leach concludes, with much probability, that this explanatory ordinance was aimed at Italian canons thrust upon the chapter by papal provision. (fn. 43) At the same time it was decided that the absence of a canon at his prebend for the purpose of preaching, hearing confessions, or the fulfilment of like duties in his prebendal church, provided he did not sleep more than three nights out of Southwell, and had asked leave of the other canons resident, was not to count as absence.

Non-residence was, however, so fully recognized as the usual custom, that Archbishop Romayne, when founding two new prebends in 1291, made provision at the same time for the due appointment of prebendal and choral vicars in each case. (fn. 44) At a visitation in 1293 the same archbishop ordained that each canon was to have a duly authorized proxy, that vicarages were to be established in all the prebendal churches, and that the prebendaries were to pay their vicars choral 60s. a year. Thomas de Corbridge, the next archbishop, after visitation, provided in 1302 that at all times three or at least two canons were to be resident in the church, to hold chapter, and personally in consultation direct and handle business. (fn. 45) Henceforth this minimum of canons residentiary was treated as if it was the maximum.

At a later period even this minimum was set aside from time to time. Mr. Leach cites an instance in 1361 of a single canon residentiary 'making and holding a chapter,' whilst in the 15th and 16th centuries a single residentiary constantly sat as a tribunal, described in the official entries as 'making a chapter.' (fn. 46)

The later mediaeval Archbishops of York, instead of trying like their predecessors to do somewhat to stay the plague of the Church's tithes being squandered on sinecure pluralists, vied with popes (fn. 47) and kings in its extravagant promotion.

An exceptional reason was given by Henry IV in 1405 for permitting papal provisions for one Brian de Willoughby, a Nottinghamshire clerk. It appeared that substance of his maintenance, amounting to 200 marks yearly, had been so wasted by the rebel Welsh that he had but £7 a year to keep up his estate. The king therefore granted that he might obtain from the pope a provision and collation to a dignity and a prebend in the cathedral church of York and also like appointments in the three collegiate churches of Beverley, Southwell, and Ripon, all of the advowson of the Archbishop of York. (fn. 48)

All the canonries of Southwell, as well as of York, Beverley, and Ripon, were in the gift of the archbishops, and it was by no means infrequent for these prelates to bestow three or even more of such prebends on their favourites. Archbishop Nevill in 1474 collated and personally inducted Edmund Chaterton into the Southwell prebend of South Muskham; Chaterton also held prebends of Beverley, Ripon, Lincoln, St. Paul's, St. Stephen's Westminster, and Salisbury, and was also warden of Sibthorpe College, rector of Calverton, Dean of Barking, and Archdeacon of Chester, Salisbury, and Totnes.

Henry Carnbull, collated by Archbishop Rotherham in 1499 to the Southwell prebend of Norwell Overhall, was also canon of York, Beverley, and Lincoln, and fellow of the archbishop's own foundation at Rotherham.

William Clarburgh, collated by Archbishop Wolsey in 1527 to the Southwell prebend of Rampton, already held four other canonries, three of them in this diocese, namely those of York, Lincoln, Howden, and Hemingbrough.

The work of this great collegiate establishment had, however, to be in some sort fulfilled, both in temporalities and spiritualities. As to the former a somewhat unusual system of churchwardens, beginning about the middle of the 13th century, was gradually developed. They are spoken of in 1295 as 'wardens of the communia of the canons and of the fabric of the church.' In 1302 it was provided that no one bound to choir service was to absent himself without leave from a canon residentiary, or from the wardens of the chapter if no canon was present. There is a provision in an ordinance of 1329 that these two wardens were to be elected annually at the audit next after the feast of Trinity. The references to these wardens of the commons are constant at a later period. (fn. 49)

As to spiritualities, the Chantry Commissioners stated that this collegiate church was 'atte the firste cheffely founded for maintenaunce of Gods worde and mynstringe of the most blessed sacramentes and for to have all dyvine service there dayleye songe and sayde.' It remained therefore for the vicars choral to discharge these duties of perpetual divine service, beginning in the early hours of the morning, for which the canons were originally appointed.

The statutes, or 'Acts of Convocation of all the brethren and canons of Southwell,' drawn up in 1248, laid down many injunctions as to the vicars. They were not to quarrel; to have a warden of their commons, elected by themselves, who was to divide legacies and payments for masses or obits among them; incontinence was to be canonically punished; bad language or insults in the church to be punished by two disciplines (floggings) in chapter, or fine of 2s.; like offences outside the church, one flogging or 1s. or wearing in the Sunday procession the old bulgewarium round the neck; for a third offence, expulsion; to attend all the hours, especially mattins, with 1s. fine for absence; readers in quire to read over lessons beforehand, ridiculous reading to be punished by discipline in chapter; tavern and play haunters to be suspended; and fines for missing hours to be handed to the commons warden for division among the other vicars. (fn. 50)

In 1379 a part of the eastern side of the churchyard was assigned as the site of the vicars' hall and common mansion, the site of the present vicars' court, in succession to a predecessor at some little distance, which was much out of repair. Canon Richard de Chesterfield, who built this house, was also a benefactor to the vicars in 1392 by a grant of property. (fn. 51)

In March 1439 Henry VI granted to Southwell chapter the alien priory of Ravendale, Lincolnshire, of the clear yearly value of £14, with all its advowsons and profits. The reason alleged for this grant was that the Archbishop of York had shown to the king that the revenues of the collegiate church had decreased; so that of the canons, vicars, chaplains, chanters, deacons, sub-deacons, choristers and other ministers there to the number of 60 persons, only a few of the chaplains could live on the portions assigned them, and that the residue to the number of about forty persons of the lower grades of the ministry were about to leave the church for lack of sustenance. (fn. 52)

The chantry priests of this church formed another important body, whose special function here as elsewhere was to pray for the souls of their founder or founders and their relations and benefactors. Several, however, of their number also served chantries and acted as assistant chaplains to the prebendal churches and their chapels of ease round Southwell. One of their number was also usher of the grammar school. Eight of these chantries were founded in the collegiate church of Southwell in the 13th century; the number was eventually increased to thirteen. By the statutes of 1248 they were brought under the same discipline as the vicars choral. When Canon Thomas Haxey founded a chantry in 1415 he gave certain small endowments of common lands, the revenues from which were to be divided among the ten chantry priests then existing. (fn. 53) He also built for them a common chantry house on ground taken out of the northwest corner of the minster yard. Here they dwelt together in common. This chantry house stood intact till 1784. Mr. Leach mentions what he rightly terms 'a quite pathetic provision' in a lease of 1574 of the west part of this house to a layman; he was to allow 'Sir Francis Hall and Sir Richard Harryson, sometime chauntrie priests,' to enjoy their two several chambers therein for their lives. Hall was then sixty-nine and Harrison seventy-seven years of age. (fn. 54)

The following are brief particulars as to the dates and founding of the thirteen chantries:—

Three chantries in the chapel of St. Thomas the Martyr, founded c. 1240 by Robert de Lexinton, canon of Southwell, one of the king's justices.

St. Peter's chantry, at the altar of St. Peter, founded by Richard Sutton, canon of Southwell, 1274.

St. Nicholas chantry, at the altar of St. Nicholas, founded by Sir William Widington, steward of the archbishop and bailiff of Southwell, c. 1250.

St. Stephen's chantry, at the altar of St. Nicholas, founded by Andrew, bailiff of Southwell, c. 1250.

St. John Baptist's chantry, founded by Henry Vavasour, canon of Southwell, c. 1280.

St. John the Evangelist's chantry, at the altar of the same name, founded by Henry de Nottingham, canon of Southwell, c. 1240.

St. Mary's chantry, at the altar of St. Michael, impoverished at the time of the Black Death, augmented by William Gunthorpe, canon of Southwell, 1395.

The Morrow Mass chantry for very early celebrations, (fn. 55) founded in 1415 by Thomas Haxey, canon of Southwell.

The double chantry of Our Lady and St. Cuthbert, for two priests, in the chapel of St. John Baptist, founded by Archbishop Laurence Booth, 1479.

The chantry of St. Mary Magdalen, at the altar of the same name, founded by Robert Oxton, canon of Southwell, who died in 1408.

There is a second valuable register book preserved at Southwell. It is a register of the Acts of Chapter from 9 November 1469 to 23 July 1542. It contains records of chapter courts in slander, tithe, and perjury cases of the usual ecclesiastical court description, visitations and corrections by the chapter of vicars choral and prebendal and of chantry priests, wills within the peculiar, admission and resignation of canons, vicars choral, and other officers of the church, presentations to livings, &c. The contents of this quarto volume, containing 355 pages of paper, have for the most part been reproduced in extenso by Mr. Leach, as well as analysed after a vigorous fashion, in his notable volume of 1891, so that a very brief reference need only be made to it in this sketch. The triennial visitations held by the chapter of the inferior ministers exposed many delinquencies of various kinds, from sleeping at mattins, laughing during service, spitting in quire, gabbling the psalms, celebrating in dirty vestments, and shirking the services, down to more serious matters, such as disobedience to the chapter, revealing chapter secrets, gaming, hunting, hawking and cock-fighting, drinking, and incontinency.

Wherever we are able to obtain detailed evidence as to the conduct and administration of a large house of secular canons, it is matter of common knowledge to students that its discipline (as was almost bound to be the case) was distinctly inferior to the more rigid rules of the cloistered monasteries. It is of course quite easy for anyone desirous of doing so to draw up a heavy and wellmerited indictment against the forty-five minor ministers whose lives and actions are here so pitilessly unveiled so far as evil, small or grievous, is concerned. But, contrariwise, it is by no means difficult, and far more just, to regard these painful revelations as a proof of the decent and comely lives led by the majority. Visitations, by their very nature, can only take account of breaches of rule by a minority, and never record a syllable of praise as to those who are obedient. To judge in broad general terms as to the life and morality of such a community as this from the registered offences, is as unjust as to estimate the life and morality of any district in England of the present day from the police and assize intelligence, or the condition of a great public school from the tale of canings and impositions.

Moreover, to any fair-minded man the occasional notices of torn surplices, dirty habits, jesting during service, lolling in the seats, carelessness in singing, or missing book-clasps, are so many proofs of a sincere desire after decency of worship, and by no means any evidence of a general slovenliness. Such questions would have been ignored, or lightly treated, had there been any widespread irreverence in the worship of the unreformed collegiate church of Southwell during the last century of its existence. If the best of our present-day cathedral establishments was put through such rigorous and detailed visitations as those to which Southwell was subjected, it would not emerge immaculate.

The worst part of these visitation records is the comparatively mild punishment enjoined in bad cases of incontinency, such as a very short period of suspension. Another punishment not infrequently assigned carried, or ought to have carried, much shame with it, namely the walking in the Sunday procession with bare legs, feet, and head, and carrying a wax taper. The contrast between secular penances and the severity of those usually inflicted in monasteries is strongly marked.

It is unfortunate that there are no records of visitations of the chapter or prebendaries. It would appear from the Liber Albus that there were at one time visitations made by archbishops, as the statutes of both 1293 and 1303 state that they were drawn up in consequence of visitations. But from beginning to end of the voluminous pre-Reformation episcopal registers of York there is no entry of a visitation of Southwell. (fn. 56) Such visitations may possibly have escaped entry, but it is far more probable that none were held later than 1303.

Other references to this great collegiate foundation are of rare occurrence in the diocesan registers, save in the matter of the collation to prebends.

Archbishop Gray in November 1234 granted an indulgence of thirty days of enjoined penance to all penitents who should aid in the construction of the fabric of Southwell Minster, the indulgence to hold good for three years. (fn. 57) This gives the date when the beautiful Early English quire was in progress.

There are various references to Southwell in Archbishop Giffard's register (1266-79), though mostly on minor points. In 1270 the archbishop addressed a letter to the sequestrator, ordering him to respite the fine for non-residence imposed on Henry de Skipton, canon of Southwell. (fn. 58) About this same date Henry de Brondeston was collated to the prebend in the church of Southwell which had been held by Richard de Sutton. In making this appointment the archbishop invested the new canon with his ring, and demanded of the chapter that they should assign him a stall in quire and a seat in the chapterhouse. But the particular feature of this collation was that he was made subject to the yearly heavy payment of 50 marks out of the profits of the prebend to Adinulf, the pope's nephew, during his life. This gross case of papal nepotism was imposed on Archbishop Gray in 1241, when collating Richard de Sutton to this prebend. (fn. 59)

The date of the exquisite chapter-house is determined by an ordinance of Archbishop Romayne of 1293, when he directed that the houses of alien canons threatened with ruin were to be duly repaired within a year, under pain of a heavy fine for the fabric of the new chapterhouse. (fn. 60)

Southwell was a favourite residence of many of the archbishops, and several chose it as the place for their interment. Archbishop Ælfric Puttoc died at Southwell in 1051; he was buried at Peterborough. (fn. 61) Archbishop Cynesige (1051-60) bestowed on the minster bells of great size and tone. (fn. 62) Archbishop Gerard (1096-1108) died at Southwell, but was buried at York. (fn. 63) Archbishop Thomas II (1109-14) wrote a letter soon after his appointment to all his parishioners of Nottinghamshire, praying them, for the remission of their sins, to help with their alms in building the church of St. Mary of Southwell; promising to all who gave the least assistance a share in all the prayers and good works done therein and in all his (minster) churches, releasing them at the same time from their Whitsuntide visit to York Minster, and substituting Southwell Minster in its place. Archbishop Corbridge died at Laneham in this county in 1304, and was interred in the minster. (fn. 64) Archbishop William Booth, who appropriated the church of Kneesall to the vicars choral, died and was buried at Southwell in 1464. (fn. 65) Archbishop Laurence Booth, who founded a chantry of two priests, also died at Southwell in 1480, and was there buried. (fn. 66)

There are two imperfect impressions of the old 12th-century seal of the collegiate church of Southwell. The one is attached to a grant to Rufford Abbey, c. 1220; (fn. 67) the other is attached to the deed of surrender of 1540, at the Public Record Office. It rudely portrays the Blessed Virgin seated, with the Holy Child on her lap; the legends runs:—


An engraving of the latter of these impressions appears as a frontispiece to Mr. Leach's Visitations and Memorials.


  • 1. Birch, Cart. Sax. 1029.
  • 2. As by Stubbs, Mem. of St. Dunstan, Introd. p. lxxxix, n. 3.
  • 3. No instance of this formula has yet been quoted from any earlier land-book.
  • 4. The charter recognizes exceptions to the archbishop's ownership in Normanton, Upton, and Fiskerton.
  • 5. We may compare the action of Remigius of Lincoln, himself a monk, who founded an establishment of secular canons in connexion with his new cathedral in the latter city.
  • 6. This statement does not imply that no earlier church existed in Southwell. It is quite possible that a minster upon the royal demesne there already in 956 contained the relics of St. Eadburh. In this case, the foundation of the college of canons would be paralleled by the action of Ethelred II sixty years later in establishing a similar body in connexion with the minster at Oxford, 'where the body of the blessed Frideswide reposes.'
  • 7. Hist. of the Ch. of York (Rolls Ser.), ii, 343.
  • 8. Ibid. 344.
  • 9. Ibid. 353. The Chronicle from which these pieces of information are derived was formerly ascribed to the hand of Thomas Stubbs (c. 1350), and has been incorrectly cited as the work of Hugh the Chantor of York (c. 1135); but it was shown by Raine (Hist. ii, Pref. p. xx) that the first part of the Chronicle in question belongs to an anonymous author of the early part of the 12th century.
  • 10. So late as the time of Thurstan an attempt was made to keep up the common refectory; Hist. of the Church of York, iii, 47.
  • 11. V.C.H. Notts. i, 219.
  • 12. This was the number at Lichfield, York, Beverley, and probably Ripon. But with regard to Southwell we cannot well throw either Woodborough or North Muskham beyond the Conquest, and Norwell III is almost certainly no original prebend.
  • 13. Engl. Hist. Rev. xi, 312, n. 63.
  • 14. Chron. of John of Worc. (ed. Weaver), 44.
  • 15. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 312.
  • 16. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), v, 192–8.
  • 17. The commissioners wisely added to this statement as to the founding of Southwell by King Edgar, which seems to have been then current, that it was 'without any foundation in writinge showed to the Commyssioners.'
  • 18. Coll. and Chant. Cert. Notts. xiii, 40.
  • 19. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xv, 971.
  • 20. Ibid. xvi, 275.
  • 21. Ibid. xviii (1), 65 (45).
  • 22. Strype, Mem. i, pt. ii, 407.
  • 23. a Chant. and Coll. Cert. xxxvii, 4.
  • 24. Printed by Dickenson, Hist. of Southwell (ed. 1), 152–69.
  • 25. Ibid. cap. 3.
  • 26. Ibid. cap. 2.
  • 27. Ibid. cap. 23.
  • 28. Ibid. cap. 12.
  • 29. Ibid. cap. 13.
  • 30. Ibid. p. 171.
  • 31. MS. incomplete. In the possession of Mr. F. M. Stenton.
  • 32. Dickenson, Hist. of Southwell, 278.
  • 33. An interesting autobiography of Dr. Heathcote was included by Dickenson in the second edition of his Hist. of Southwell.
  • 34. For some information upon points of detail included here we are indebted to Mr. W. G. Patchett of Southwell.
  • 35. Liber Albus, fol. 1.
  • 36. Leach, Mem. xxxi.
  • 37. Plac. de Quo War. (Rec. Com.), 615, 636.
  • 38. Mr. Leach, however, goes much too far when he says (xxxiii) that 'they possessed all archiepiscopal functions except ordination,' for of course they could not confirm, nor consecrate altars or churches, &c.
  • 39. One Hugh, Dean of Southwell, occurs as a witness to certain deeds, c. 1225. Mr. Leach thinks that possibly the chapter tried the irregular experiment of having a dean for a few years about this date. But we have no doubt that Hugh was but a rural dean; we have found other later instances of such Deans of Southwell.
  • 40. Mem. xxxviii–xlii.
  • 41. They were confirmed by Archbishop Giffard in 1260, and have several times been wrongly cited as of this latter date. York Epis. Reg. Giffard, fol. 3.
  • 42. Liber Albus, fol. 45.
  • 43. Mem. xlvi.
  • 44. Liber Albus, fol. 24.
  • 45. Ibid. fol. 51, 52.
  • 46. Mem. xlviii.
  • 47. The following are three papal examples of this pernicious practice. Dispensation was granted in 1259 by Alexander IV to John Clarel, canon of Southwell, to hold one additional benefice, although in addition to his prebend of Norwell in Southwell Church he already held the rectories of Overton, Hemingford, Bridgeford, Houghton, Elton, and 'Babworth' (Cal. of Papal Letters, i, 363). In July 1308 William Melthon, rector of Hornsea, Yorkshire, was dispensed by Pope Clement V to hold a canonry and prebend of Southwell, although he already held canonries and prebends of Dublin, Bangor, and Worcester, and two more rectories in the dioceses of York and Lincoln. Two years later the same canon of Southwell was further holding prebends in Lincoln and York, the provostship of St. John's, Beverley, and the deanery of St. Martin's le Grand, London (Cal. of Papal Letters, ii, 42, 72). Master Robert de Beverley, doctor of canon and civil law, obtained papal dispensation in 1352 to hold a prebend of Southwell, notwithstanding that he was then canon of Beverley, sub-treasurer of York, rector of North Burton, and expecting a benefice in the gift of the provost of St. John's, Beverley; Cal. of Papal Letters, iii, 425.
  • 48. Pat. 6 Hen. IV, pt. ii, m. 31.
  • 49. Mem. liii–lv.
  • 50. These statutes are set forth at length in Mem. 205–9.
  • 51. Liber Albus, 443.
  • 52. Pat. 17 Hen. VI, pt. i, m. 2.
  • 53. Liber Albus, fol. 65.
  • 54. Mem. lxiii.
  • 55. The Morrow Mass at Newark was celebrated at 4 a.m. all the year round.
  • 56. The present writer can say this with confidence, for he made a special search on Mr. Leach's behalf in 1890.
  • 57. York Epis. Reg. Gray, fol. 64–5.
  • 58. York Epis. Reg. Giffard, fol. 29b.
  • 59. Ibid fol. 38, 38 d.
  • 60. Liber Albus, fol. 52.
  • 61. Raine, Hist. of the Ch. of York, ii, 343.
  • 62. Ibid. 344.
  • 63. Ibid. 361.
  • 64. Ibid. iii, 412.
  • 65. Ibid. 436.
  • 66. Ibid. 438–9.
  • 67. Harl. Chart. 83, D. 2.