A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1970.
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36. THE COLLEGE OF ST. EDITH, TAMWORTH
It is not known when or by whom the college of priests at Tamworth was founded. Its dedication to St. Edith, however, suggests that it was a royal foundation of the 10th century. (fn. 1) The St. Edith to whom it was dedicated was probably a sister of King Athelstan who was married to Sihtric, the Norse King of York, at Tamworth in 926 and widowed the following year. (fn. 2) She is said to have retired to Polesworth (Warws.), some 3½ miles south-east of Tamworth, and after her death, which probably occurred in the 960s, she was revered as a saint. (fn. 3) It is possible that Tamworth was, for a time at least, (fn. 4) the home of St. Edith and her community, (fn. 5) and there is some uncertainty whether Polesworth or Tamworth was the saint's burial-place. (fn. 6) It is in any case likely that by the end of the century there was a cult of St. Edith at Tamworth. There was also a religious community there about that time: between 1002 and 1004 Wulfric Spot in his will left it a share in an estate at 'Langandune' (probably Longdon) 'just as they have let it to me'. (fn. 7) This community may have consisted of a group of priests attached to St. Edith's. The pre-Conquest church was evidently a substantial building (fn. 8) and could well have been a minster.
By the mid 13th century the advowson of St. Edith's was held by the Marmions, lords of the castle and honor of Tamworth since the early 12th century. (fn. 9) They may have inherited it, with Tamworth, from Robert Dispensator (fn. 10) or, possibly, have acquired it during the civil war under Stephen. (fn. 11) When, however, Edward I claimed the advowson after the death of Philip, the last Marmion lord of Tamworth, it was alleged that Henry II had held it and had presented his clerk William de Capella to the church. (fn. 12) There appears to be no further evidence relating to this episode, (fn. 13) but in 1267 Henry III granted Ralph de Hotote the prebend which had been held by Simon, a royal chaplain. (fn. 14)
The prebendal system was almost certainly introduced into the college during the period of Marmion patronage. It is likely that the early canons of Tamworth were portioners, sharing between them the tithes of Tamworth parish: (fn. 15) it is significant that when prebends were created they were all named from farms or hamlets within the ancient parish of Tamworth. The division of the church into prebends is unlikely to have occurred before the 1140s. (fn. 16) The first dean whose name has survived was William Marmion, who died about 1240, a younger son of Robert Marmion III. (fn. 17) Prebends are not expressly mentioned until 1267, by which date they were evidently an established feature of the church. (fn. 18) Almost certainly the mid-13th-century establishment at St. Edith's was that which is noted in 1292 (fn. 19) and thereafter remained unchanged until the dissolution of the college: a dean, who held the prebend of Amington, and five canons, who held the prebends of Bonehill, Coton, Syerscote, Wigginton (or Wigginton and Comberford), and Wilnecote.
The college was never rich. Most of its income, throughout its history, evidently came from tithes and other spiritualities from the parish of Tamworth. By the end of the 13th century it was probably the practice for a canon to receive as his share of the tithes of the parish the tithes from the township after which his prebend was named. Later evidence (fn. 20) suggests that the tithes of the castle mills and those of the mills at Amington (Warws.) were held to belong to the common fund and were divided among the whole body of canons. The canons also received in common the profits of Tamworth fair, which had been granted to them by 1266. (fn. 21)
Besides their rights in and around Tamworth the canons had by the end of the 13th century acquired various privileges and endowments in Warwickshire, Leicestershire, and Staffordshire, most of which evidently came from the Marmions. (fn. 22) The earliest evidence of interests outside Tamworth occurs in 1198 and 1199, when the canons were involved, apparently unsuccessfully, in a dispute with the Templars over an acre of land at Olton, in Solihull (Warws.). (fn. 23) Elsewhere in Warwickshire the college purchased in 1257 from Philip Marmion the advowson of the church of Middleton, (fn. 24) which remained part of its property until the dissolution of the college. (fn. 25) At some date between 1259 and Philip Marmion's death in 1291 it also acquired from him the manor of Middleton, which Philip and his heirs continued to hold of the college until its dissolution. (fn. 26) The only other pre-1300 Warwickshire endowment known is a pension of 13s. 4d. which, it was stated in 1291, the college received from the church of Berkswell; (fn. 27) no later mention of this pension has been found. In Leicestershire the canons had by 1220 acquired tithe rights in the parishes of Burrough on the Hill, Somerby, and Stoney Stanton, (fn. 28) probably by grant of the Marmions, (fn. 29) and possibly before the mid-12th century. (fn. 30) There appears, however, to be no subsequent mention of these rights. (fn. 31) In Staffordshire the canons had by 1300 acquired the right to present to the church of Drayton Bassett a clerk nominated by the lord of the manor. (fn. 32)
In 1291 the income of the college was stated to be £36 13s. 4d., all derived from spiritualities. (fn. 33) In the following year it was given as £36: (fn. 34) the dean's average annual income was £10, the prebend of Bonehill was valued at £7 a year, (fn. 35) Wigginton at £6 a year, (fn. 36) Wilnecote at £5 a year, (fn. 37) and Syerscote and Coton at £4 a year each. (fn. 38) Both these assessments were no doubt underestimates, although by how much is uncertain. (fn. 39) In 1307 Dean Bedewynde seems to have been able to lease his decanal prebend with all appurtenances for four years at £37 6s. 8d. a year, and after Dean Longavilla's enforced resignation in 1329 his successor was ordered by the bishop to pay him a pension of £20 a year. (fn. 40)
The death of Philip Marmion in 1291 began the chain of events which led to the acquisition of the college by the Crown. Philip left four heirs: three daughters — Joan I, who had married William de Morteyn, Maud, the wife of Ralph Butler, and Joan II, a minor who later married first Thomas de Ludlow and secondly Henry Hillary — and a grand-daughter, another Joan, wife of Alexander de Freville and child of Philip's second daughter, Mazera, who had predeceased her father. (fn. 41) The heirs divided the advowson of the college between them (fn. 42) and before long had to face the first challenge from the Crown. In 1293 Edward I sued Joan de Morteyn, Maud and Ralph Butler, and Joan and Alexander de Freville for the advowson, claiming that Henry II had held it and citing as evidence Henry's presentation of William de Capella. (fn. 43) The defendants claimed that they could not plead in the absence of Joan II, the fourth coheir, who was still a minor, and the case lapsed; but the division of the advowson eventually provided a way for the Crown to dispossess the Marmion heirs.
In the late 1320s two unsuccessful attempts were made to intrude royal nominees into the deanery. (fn. 44) Finally two minorities in the Butler family, lasting from at least 1342 until 1359, (fn. 45) gave the Crown a series of opportunities to intervene. They were put to good use. In 1342-3 the right of presentation to the prebend of Wilnecote was disputed between Baldwin de Freville I, Joan's son and heir, and the king, guardian of the Butler heir. The king's case, that the right of presentation was held in common by Marmion's heirs and that the next presentation fell to the Butlers, was successful, and the royal candidate was duly installed. (fn. 46) In 1347, when the prebend next fell vacant, the king again presented, still basing his claim on his custody of the Butler heir; but this time the earlier argument, which in 1347 would have given the right of presentation to Henry Hillary, was abandoned, and the Crown based its case on a royal grant of 1317 allotting the advowson of Wilnecote to the Butlers. The verdict again went to the king. (fn. 47) The final stage was reached in 1358 and 1359, when the Crown presented to two prebends, making the wider claim that the advowsons which Philip Marmion had held were now in the king's hands. (fn. 48) The claim apparently went unchallenged.
After 1341, in fact, the Marmion heirs made no further presentations to Tamworth, and the unsuccessful attempt made in 1342-3 by Baldwin de Freville I to present to Wilnecote appears to have been the last serious challenge to the Crown. It is true that Baldwin's son, Baldwin II, made at least one effort to recover his rights in the college. Inquisitions taken after his death in 1375 also stated that, although the Crown had made a number of presentations, the advowson of the deanery and of the five prebends belonged to him as lord of Tamworth castle. By this time, however, the king had established himself more firmly as patron and the Chancery clerks had begun to refer to the college officially as 'the king's free chapel of Tamworth'. (fn. 49) After the death of Dean Whitney in 1369 (fn. 50) no canon remained who was not a royal appointee.
There is no evidence to suggest that the Crown's acquisition of the college had much effect on it. The mechanics of presentation and institution remained unchanged: the king presented to each prebend, and the bishop, on receiving the royal mandate, instituted the king's nominee. (fn. 51) The bishop retained his jurisdiction over the college. He continued to hold visitations there without, so far as can be seen, any opposition, (fn. 52) and when in 1442 Dean Bate drew up some statutes for the college he did so by virtue of a commission from the bishop and ensured that they were formally approved by him. (fn. 53) Nor did the composition of the chapter alter appreciably; whatever may have been its character in the mid 13th century or earlier, by the late 13th and early 14th centuries, when it was still in the hands of the Marmion heirs, it was evidently a body consisting in the main of pluralists and absentees, some of whom, such as deans Cliffe (fn. 54) and Longavilla, (fn. 55) and Ralph de Hengham, Prebendary of Wigginton, (fn. 56) held office under the Crown or were attached to the royal household. Services and pastoral duties were left to vicars. (fn. 57) This state of affairs was that usually accepted in royal free chapels and duly persisted at Tamworth until its dissolution, with canons being appointed by the Crown from all branches of the royal households and the royal administration.
By the early 1440s the system had produced a state of crisis at Tamworth. The vicars were poorly paid and, because of their parochial responsibilities, were forced to neglect their duties in the college. (fn. 58) Dean Bate (1436-79), one of the few deans who spent much time at Tamworth, took steps to remedy this, the most important being the promulgation of a set of additional statutes (fn. 59) for the college in 1442.
One of the main purposes of these statutes was to raise the vicars' stipends and give them security of tenure. (fn. 60) Before 1442 each vicar apparently received his stipend in two portions: 6s. 8d. a year out of the revenues of the common fund of the college, (fn. 61) and an additional payment from his prebendary. In 1366 the dean and the prebendary of Coton each affirmed that he paid his vicar £4 13s. 4d. a year; (fn. 62) this would have brought vicars' stipends up to £5 a year, which may have been the standard rate in 1366. It is evident that stipends did not rise over the next seventy years; moreover they may not have been paid regularly. At any rate Bate emphasized the difficulty which was being experienced in finding suitable, well-qualified vicars. He laid the blame for this on the meagreness of the stipends which for many years vicars had customarily received — they were, he stated, insufficient to give the vicars a suitable standard of living — and on the fact that vicars were usually dismissed when they became old or infirm and then had to drag out their declining years in poverty.
Bate's statutes raised the vicars' stipends to £6 a year and made the payment of them one of the standard charges on the college revenues, thus ensuring that the vicars got their money before the year's income from the common fund was divided among the canons. The £6 was to be made up of 6s. 8d. from the income of Middleton church and the tithes of the mills at Tamworth castle and Amington, (fn. 63) and £5 13s. 4d. from all the other tithes and sources of income which were traditionally regarded as part of the common fund and divided annually among the canons. Two vicars were to be appointed each year to act as collectors of the money and goods which went into this annual division and were made responsible for selling those tithes that were paid in kind. All receipts were to be put into a chest with two locks, the two vicars having the key to one and the dean or his deputy the key to the other. The vicars were to be paid their stipends quarterly from the money in the chest under the supervision of the dean or his deputy. The money was also to be used to pay 20s. a year to each deacon in the college, and what remained at Michaelmas was to be divided among the canons. Should there not be enough money in the chest to pay the vicars and deacons, their stipends were to be made up to the required amount by the canons out of the income of their individual prebends; any canon who refused to pay in such a case was to have the revenues of his prebend sequestrated.
To give vicars security of tenure Bate laid down that in future a vicar was to hold office for life, though he had to provide at his own expense a substitute to act for him if he became too old or ill to serve his cure. No canon was to dismiss his vicar without due cause, and the dismissal had to be ratified by the dean or his deputy. To preserve discipline it was decreed that the dean or his deputy was to dismiss any vicar or deacon who persistently neglected his duties or was found guilty of some serious crime.
The statutes made further provision for easing and regulating the vicars' lives. Each vicar was to have six days' leave a quarter, if this could be done without disrupting services. A common life for the vicars and deacons could now be planned, since Henry Jekes of Tamworth had recently left them a house near the church. Previously the working clergy of St. Edith's had boarded with townspeople, an arrangement which, according to Bate, had been thoroughly unsatisfactory. (fn. 64) The dean decreed that as soon as the house was repaired the vicars were to live a full common life, eating and sleeping there. The deacons were to be semicommunarii: they had their meals in the house but were to sleep in St. Edith's 'for the defence and safe custody of the church's books and ornaments'.
In order to keep the number of vicars up to strength it was laid down that within two months of a vacancy in a vicar's stall the prebendary or his proxy was to present a new vicar to the dean or his deputy. If this candidate were found, after examination, to be suitable tam moribus quam sciencia, he was to be admitted and was to take an oath of obedience to the dean, canons, and college statutes. Should a canon or his proxy fail to present to a vacancy within two months the right of presentation passed to the dean or his deputy.
Worship too was regulated. Services were to be sung daily at the standard times and according to the Salisbury Use; matins was to be preceded by three strokes of the bell to summon vicars and deacons to the choir. Clergy were forbidden to chatter to each other during services. Vicars who, without reasonable excuse, missed matins, high mass, or vespers were to forfeit 1d. for each offence; money collected in this way was to be spent on utensils for the vicars' house. In a further attempt to increase the dignity and formality of worship Bate laid down that in future vicars and deacons were to wear surplices and hoods (capicia) during services throughout the year with, in addition, black copes from Michaelmas to Holy Saturday. (fn. 65) They were expected to provide the vestments at their own expense, but Bate may have hoped that they would gain some advantage from a further statute, which laid down that within a year of his induction a new dean or canon was to spend £5 on a book, vestment, or piece of plate for the church or to give the church £5 in cash for the same purpose, to be spent by the dean and chapter.
The statutes confirm that among the canons absenteeism was the rule rather than the exception. No mention is made of any earlier statute enforcing a minimum period of residence; the only inducement given to canons to reside was the arrangement, apparently abolished by Bate, whereby part of the income from Middleton church and from the tithes of the mills at Tamworth castle and Amington was divided at Michaelmas among those members of the chapter who had spent two consecutive months in residence during the preceding year. It was the vicars who were usually in charge of day-to-day college administration. Bate laid down that when no canon was in residence a vicar was to be chosen to ensure that the new statutes were upheld, and both the statutes which he drew up and passages which he quoted from the earlier statutes made provision for the management of common fund revenues by two vicars whenever all members of the chapter were away. (fn. 66)
The statutes throw little light upon the numbers and organization of the lesser clergy of the college, other than the vicars. The deacons are mentioned only as ringers of bells, attendants at services, and night-watchmen, and there is no reference at all to the stipendiaries, who occur in 1414. A deed of about 1531 gives the number of deacons as two, and a survey of 1533 lists twelve vicars and stipendiaries at the college. (fn. 67)
Bate made further efforts to increase the income of the lesser clergy. He announced in his statutes that Henry VI had, at his request, granted the vicars and deacons the rent from four messuages in Tamworth to endow annual requiem masses for the soul of Henry V and to provide in due course for annual requiems for the king's own soul. In 1446 the king, again at Bate's request, founded a chantry at the altar of the Holy Trinity and licensed Bate to found a chantry of St. Edith and St. Katherine at the altar of the Virgin; in addition he granted the vicars and the two chantry chaplains a tun of red wine yearly. (fn. 68) The college, however, received little or no benefit from all this. The vicars obtained their wine in 1447 and 1448, but the royal grants were invalidated by the 1450 Act of Resumption and there seems to be no evidence that Bate's chantry was ever established. (fn. 69)
Although the college lost these benefactions it received a steady trickle of gifts and bequests throughout the 15th and early 16th centuries. Most of these came from local people and, with few exceptions, consisted of small pieces of property in and around Tamworth or of small sums of money: the will of John Comberford of Tamworth, for example, proved in 1414, included bequests of 3s. to the high altar, 1s. 6d. to the Holy Trinity altar, and 6d. to each of the other altars. (fn. 70) There were a few rather more substantial gifts, such as the rent-charge of 26s. 8d. from property at Claverley (Salop.) which Sir Thomas Ferrers gave the vicars in 1496 and the lands and burgage in Tamworth which Dame Dorothy Ferrers, his grandson's wife, gave them in trust in 1530. (fn. 71) The largest single gift appears to have been that given to St. George's chantry by the executors of John Bailey, a native of Tamworth. By the early 1530s the Tamworth guild of St. George had acquired property worth about £5 a year, the income from which was used to pay the stipend of a 'St. George priest' or 'morrow mass priest' who sang mass daily in St. George's chapel. In his will Bailey expressed the wish that his money should be used to purchase land for the endowment of a chantry or, if possible, a free school, and in 1536 his executors obtained a royal licence for St. George's chantry and were granted permission to endow it with further property to the value of £6 a year. With Bailey's money they purchased various pieces of land and property round Tamworth bringing in about £5 10s. a year, directing that the St. George priest was in future to keep a free school in the town besides praying for Bailey. (fn. 72)
In the Valor Ecclesiasticus (fn. 73) the total income of the six prebends is given as £57 6s. 8d., of which £4 7s. 8d came from the glebe and the remainder from tithes, gifts, and other spiritualities. Of this the dean received £21, (fn. 74) the prebendary of Bonehill £7, the prebendary of Coton £8, the prebendary of Syerscote £3 6s. 8d., the prebendary of Wigginton £10, and the prebendary of Wilnecote £8. The arrangements which Dean Bate had made for the payment of vicars' stipends were evidently still working satisfactorily, and no money had to be deducted from the prebendal incomes to provide for this: the Prior of Alvecote (Warws.), whose three-year farm of the deanery ended abruptly in 1530 in a dispute with Dean Parker, noted at the time that the vicars' stipends were kept separate and that the 'yearly charges of the aforesaid deanery is little or nothing in effect'. The prior also maintained that the income of the deanery had diminished since the passing of the 1529 Act restricting the payment of mortuaries, (fn. 75) 'which mortuaries were one of the greatest profits and advantages coming or growing of the said farm [of the deanery]'. (fn. 76)
By 1548 the income of all save one of the prebends had dropped slightly; Wigginton had, however, risen in value since 1535 and was now worth £13 16s. 8d. a year. Four vicars each received £5 13s. 4d. a year, and a deacon had a stipend of £3. (fn. 77) The endowments of St. George's chantry were said to bring the priest £11 3s. 0¼d. a year; other endowments included property in Tamworth to support a priest celebrating the service called 'Our Lady of Grace' and a chaplain celebrating 'the First Mass'. (fn. 78) The net yearly value of the college was about £105. (fn. 79)
The college was dissolved in 1548 under the terms of the Act of 1547. (fn. 80) All the canons except for Richard Pigot, a layman who had recently been appointed prebendary of Wilnecote, were granted pensions, as were the four vicars and the deacon who occur in the commissioners' report. (fn. 81) As a result of a report submitted later in the year by a further set of commissioners St. Edith's remained the parish church, served by a preacher and two curates, who lived in the house which had belonged to the vicars. The master of the free school was confirmed in office and was granted a stipend equal to that which he had received as schoolmaster and St. George priest before the Dissolution. (fn. 82)
The Crown began to dispose of parcels of college property (mainly lands left to endow obits) to speculators early in 1549. (fn. 83) The six prebends and the advowson were retained until 1581, when they were granted to Edmund Downynge and Peter Aysheton. Two years later Downynge and Aysheton disposed of the property to John Morley and his servant Roger Rant, who broke it up and sold it prebend by prebend. (fn. 84)
The dean's house, only fragments of which now remain, stood on the east side of the churchyard, north-east of the church. The vicars' house was south of the church, on the site of the present College Lane School. (fn. 85)
William Marmion, died about 1240. (fn. 86)
Matthew, occurs 1257. (fn. 87)
Ralph de Manton, presented temp. Edward I, died or resigned by 1291. (fn. 88)
John de Teford, presented by 1291, occurs 1292. (fn. 89)
Roger le Wyne, presented between 1292 and 1295, died 1305. (fn. 90)
Walter de Bedewynde, admitted 1305, resigned 1310. (fn. 91)
Hugh de Babynton, admitted 1310, resigned 1315. (fn. 92)
Master Henry de Cliffe, admitted 1317, resigned 1319. (fn. 93)
Nicholas Isambardi de Longavilla, in office by 1320, resigned 1329. (fn. 94)
Baldwin de Whitney, admitted 1329, died 1369. (fn. 95)
Walter Pryde, admitted 1369, resigned 1372. (fn. 96)
Reynold de Hulton, admitted 1372, resigned 1389. (fn. 97)
Thomas Iberye, presented 1389, resigned 1391. (fn. 98)
John de Massyngham, admitted 1391, resigned 1399. (fn. 99)
John Bernard, Lic.C.L., admitted 1400, resigned 1429. (fn. 100)
Clement Denston, M.A., B.Th., presented February 1429, resigned April 1429. (fn. 101)
Thomas Rodburn, M.A., Lic.Th., admitted 1429, Bishop of St. David's 1433. (fn. 102)
John de la Bere, B.Cn.L., presented 1433, resigned 1434. (fn. 103)
William Newport, B.C.L., presented 1434, died 1436. (fn. 104)
John Bate, presented 1436, died 1479. (fn. 105)
Ralph Ferrers, D.C.L., presented 1479, died 1504. (fn. 106)
Thomas Bowd, B.Th., presented 1504, probably held the deanery until his death in 1508. (fn. 107)
William Lichfield, D.C.L., D.Cn.L., probably presented 1508, resigned 1512. (fn. 108)
Humphrey Wistow, D.Th., presented 1512, died 1514. (fn. 109)
William Hone, M.A., presented 1514, died 1522. (fn. 110)
Richard Rawson, B.Cn.L., D.C.L., presented 1522, resigned 1525. (fn. 111)
Thomas Parker, D.Cn.L., presented 1525, died 1538. (fn. 112)
Simon Symonds, presented 1538, dean at the dissolution. (fn. 113)
A common seal in use before 1500 (fn. 114) is described as being oval and bearing a figure, probably St. Edith. Legend:
[SIGIL]LUM COMMUNE EC[CLESIE] . . .
A common seal cut under Dean Parker (15251538), re-using a 15th-century matrix of unknown provenance, (fn. 115) is a pointed oval 33/8 by 21/8 in. It depicts a bishop in full pontificals lifting his right hand in benediction and holding a pastoral staff in his left. On his right stands an archbishop in full pontificals lifting his right hand in benediction and holding a pastoral staff in his left. On his left stands St. Katherine, crowned, holding her wheel in her right hand and a sword in her left. Each figure stands in a niche under a Gothic canopy. In the central canopy there is a small niche containing a seated figure of the Virgin, crowned and holding the Child on her right knee. In the base, in a niche with pointed arch carved with trefoils, a bishop stands in full pontificals with a pastoral staff and with his hands joined in prayer. On the masonry on either side of this central niche is a shield. That on the left bears the initials T P, apparently replacing the royal arms, vestiges of which are still visible. The shield on the right bears the arms of Parker: on a fesse between three pheons, a stag's head cabossed between two pellets. Legend, lombardic:
SIGILLUM COMMUNE COLLEGIATE DE TOMWORTH