Colleges: Stoke by Clare

Pages 145-150

A History of the County of Suffolk: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1975.

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Richard de Clare, earl of Hereford, removed, in 1124, the monks of Bec whom his father had established in the castle of Clare to the town of Stoke. This alien priory was naturalized in 1395; (fn. 1) but in 1415 Edmund Mortimer, earl of March, its then patron, caused it to be changed into a college of secular priests or canons, by virtue of a bull from Pope John XXIII, ratified by Pope Martin V. (fn. 2)

The first charter of foundation was not sealed by the earl until 9 May, 1419; (fn. 3) and the seal of the college was attached to the statutes by Thomas Barnsley, the first dean, on 28 January, 1422-3. (fn. 4)

It was provided by the statutes that the college should consist of a dean and six canons, who were to form the chapter, to whom obedience was due from the inferior ministers, and whose order in quire, chapter, and procession is exactly set forth. They were all to reside a full thirtytwo weeks yearly, the dean or vice-dean regulating the period of residence for each; every canon in residence was, on every double feast, to attend mattins, high mass, evensong, and compline, and on every festival mattins or mass or one of the hours; the dean was to hold for the college all the tithes and appurtenances of the parish churches of Stoke and Honydon, and all the tithes of the manors of Arbury and of Chilton; the dean's residence was to be in a manse called 'Locus Decani,' and he was to receive annually 20 marks; the prebends allotted to each stall, three on the south side and three on the north, are all set forth, the prebendary of the first stall on the north side having also at his disposal the chapel of the Blessed Virgin of Stoke; neither the dean nor canons were to be in bed beyond six o'clock in the morning, or at the latest half past six, save if oppressed by old age or notable infirmity; any canon absent from divine offices but found present at table at meal times was to be punished by the dean or vice-dean.

There were also to be eight vicars and two upper clerks sworn to continual residence, and instructed in plain song and part-song (in plano cantu et discantu); five chorister boys of good life to help in singing and to serve in quire, each to receive five marks a year, or at least food and clothing and all necessaries; vicars or choristers absent from mattins, mass, or evensong to be fined one penny, from the other hours a farthing, the fines to be used for buying church ornaments. There were to be, in addition, two under clerks, perpetually resident, to act as keepers of the vestments, bellringers, lamp-trimmers, doorkeepers, clock-winders, &c. The mattins bell was to be rung at five and the last stroke at six; high mass to be finished at 11 a.m. and evensong at 5 p.m. All services were to follow the use of Sarum. The mass of Our Lady to be sung daily as well as the mass of the day, save when the mass of the day was of the Blessed Virgin, and then the second mass was to be of Requiem. Mattins and evensong were to be sung daily immediately after the ringing of the bell, save in Lent, when evensong of Our Lady was to follow evensong of the day. The canons were to wear grey almuces and the vicars black, and both were to wear black copes and white surplices at mattins, mass, and the other hours, after the manner of other colleges. A master was to be appointed at 40s. salary to teach the boys reading, plain song, part-song, &c., and to give his exclusive time to them, seeing after their clothes, beds, and other necessaries.

Every evening at eight the curfew bell was to be rung for a sufficient time to admit of walking from the chapel of St. Mary to the college, and when the bell finished every outer door was to be fastened, and no one of the household of the college, from canon to chorister, was to be permitted to be outside the house save by special permission of the dean or vice-dean. No canon, vicar, or clerk was to frequent taverns at Stoke or Ash; a canon thus offending to be suspended for a year, and other minister to be expelled. No canon (except he had an income of £40 a year), nor vicar, nor clerk was to hunt; nor were greyhounds or any kind of hunting dogs to be kept within the college save by the dean, whose dogs were not to exceed four. No canon nor minister of the college was to carry arms of any kind, either defensive or offensive, within the college, under pain, if a canon, of forfeiting the arms to the dean for the first offence, and paying a fine of 20s. to the church fabric for a second offence; a vicar or clerk thus acting was to be expelled. Other statutes dealt with striking blows, incontinency, slander, and debts; the attaining to a thorough knowledge of vocal and instrumental music; the offices of verger and janitor, with their respective duties and emoluments; the division and cultivation of the vicars' garden; the common seal, and its custody; the rendering of annual accounts; the arrangement of the masses; the dining in common hall, and the reading of the Bible at meals; leave of absence for eight weeks for a vicar, and six weeks for a clerk; the use of special antiphons; the ringing or causing to be rung of a bell on the chancel gable (of such sound that it would carry half a mile) by each priest when about to celebrate mass; the giving of a cope of 40s. value by each canon within the year of his appointment; the election of dean and canons on a vacancy, and the election of vicars, clerks, and choristers; the assigning of the churches of Gazeley, Crimplesham, and Bures, and various pensions, &c. for the sustenance of the vicars; the giving to the college by each vicar within a year of his appointment of six silver spoons, or 13s. 4d. to purchase them; and the oath to be taken by each member of the college.

The last of all these numerous statutes provided that daily, immediately after compline, there shall be sung in the Lady chapel, by all the ministers present, the antiphon of the Blessed Virgin, namely, Salut Regina, &c. It is noted that this one statute was added at the special petition of Richard Flemyng, bishop of Lincoln, who procured the confirmation of the statutes by Pope Martin. (fn. 5)

These statutes were slightly amended from time to time, and the number of the prebends augmented as benefactions increased. (fn. 6)

The clear annual value of the college of St. John Baptist, Stoke, was shown by the Valor of 1535 to be £324 4s. 1¼d. The temporalities in Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk, and Hertfordshire brought in an income of £99 11s. 7¾d. The spiritualities produced £268 4s., and included the Essex rectories of Great Dunmow, Thaxted, Bardfield Magna, Bardfield Saling, Wetherfield, Finchingfield, and Bures; the Gloucestershire rectory of Bisley; the Norfolk rectory of Crimplesham, and the Suffolk rectories of Gazeley, Cavenham, Hundon, and Stoke; together with a great number of pensions or portions from other churches. The offerings at the image of the Blessed Virgin within her chapel in Cartestrete, Stoke, averaged 40s. a year. (fn. 7)

The church of Great Dunmow had been appropriated to the college in 1481, and that of Wetherfield in 1503. (fn. 8)

The college was visited in February, 1493, by Archdeacon Goldwell, as commissary for his brother the bishop. The visitation was attended by Richard Edenham, bishop of Bangor (1465-1496), who held the deanery, and six canons, together with three vicars, two 'conducts,' six clerks, a verger, and five choristers. There was no reform needed. (fn. 9)

All the members of the college were summoned to a visitation held by Bishop Nykke in the Lady Chapel of Sudbury College in June, 1514. The vicars-choral were first examined; their testimony was that everything was laudably conducted, but that the number of the vicars had been reduced from eight to six for many years, owing to insufficiency of income; one of their number complained that their statutory privilege of being absent for eight weeks in the year without any diminution of stipend was no longer observed. Bishop Edenham, as dean, made a satisfactory report. Thomas Whitehead, prebendary of the second stall on the south side, and Thomas Wardell, prebendary of the second stall on the north side, stated that the book of the statutes had been suspiciously erased and interlined, particularly in the parts relative to the residence of the canons and vicars. Another of the prebendaries complained that the dean and Thomas Whitehead had been illegally felling much timber and applying it to the repairs of a mill, whereas the woods were only to be used for the repairs of the college and its houses; also that Whitehead had carried off much pertaining to the college for the repair of his benefice of Birdbrook. The same prebendary, William Wiott, also stated that Whitehead lived scandalously at his benefice. A fourth prebendary said that the erasures in the book of the statutes led to many disputes; and that although there were but six vicars instead of eight, there were nevertheless four clerks serving in quire, although the statutes only provided for two. It was also alleged that profits of the appropriated churches of Dunmow and Bisley, formerly assigned for the augmentation of the vicars, were now divided among the canons. The bishop was evidently not satisfied, and prorogued his visitation to the next feast of the Annunciation. (fn. 10)

The next recorded visitation was held in June, 1520, when the suffragan Bishop of Chalcedon and two other commissaries were the visitors. The vicars had been reduced from eight to five, for whose support there was scarcely sufficient; nevertheless the 'conducts' or clerks had been increased in numbers. The fellows or prebendaries repeated their complaints as to the campering with the book of the statutes, and consequent disputes. The visitation was prorogued until Michaelmas. (fn. 11)

In April, 1521, the master and fellows of Stoke agreed to a revision of their statutes, in the presence of the bishop's commissary, on account of the erasures and interlineations in the original copy; they promised to abide by any decision at which the bishop might arrive. (fn. 12)

Five years later, namely on 12 July, 1526, the bishop in person visited the college. Of the beginning of this visitation an unusually detailed account is preserved in the register. It was held in the chapter-house, or, as the bishop's scribe explains it, 'in the vestry which they hold to be a chapter-house in the collegiate church of Stoke.' Thomas Whitehead, the senior canon, who had held a prebend here for twenty-nine years, in the presence and with the consent of three other canons, asserted openly before the diocesan, that Richard Griffith, receiver-general and secretary of Queen Katharine, had at her command forcibly taken away, in spite of their protests, the statutes and muniments of the college, namely the book of the statutes, the bull of Pope John XXII as to the founding of the college with bulla attached, the confirmation of Henry V, the charter of Edmund earl of March, and the charter of Richard duke of York, with other muniments and evidences, and the common seal with three other seals. The visitation notes continue, Et dicit magister Whitehed, and then suddenly break off.

At this point in the visitation a startling incident occurred. A letter from the cardinal was handed to the bishop. Cardinal Wolsey was at this time endeavouring to carry out his scheme of suppressing various small religious houses that seemed to be of little use, in favour of establishing the two large collegiate foundations at Ipswich and Oxford. The pope had granted him ample powers, and he had cast his eyes on the wealthy college of Stoke. Learning that the bishop of Norwich was making a visitation tour, it became a matter of some moment to check it. The cardinal's commissioners were anxious to make out a good case for the suppression of the college, and probably had their brief prepared; moreover the non-resident master or dean of the college, 'no estimable person,' had been already gained over. But the college was now under the patronage of the queens of England, and when Queen Katharine learnt what was contemplated she acted with prompt decision, sent down her faithful servant Griffith and took possession of the title deeds. Meanwhile, on 8 July, the cardinal wrote to the dean announcing that he was about to visit the college on 1 August, with powers of a legate a latere. This important and ominous letter seems to have been handed to the bishop just after he had begun his visitation. Cardinal Wolsey had full power as legate to inhibit the bishop visiting, but the Bishop of Norwich was on safe ground in considering that a letter addressed to the dean of the college did not concern him, and he continued the visitation regardless of he contents. The letter, however, of the cardinal to the dean was set forth at length by the bishop's scribe in his register; it stated that the religious life of the college was said to have declined, and the dean and canons were cited to appear on 1 August before the cardinal's commissioners. This letter had reached the college on 11 July.

The notes of the interrupted but continued visitation show that Dr. William Greene, the dean, was not present, but that six prebendaries were in attendance, with eight vicars and five 'conducts' or lay stipendiaries. The result of the several examination of the canons and the vicars is set forth in detail. It was shown that the janitor of the college, who ought to be in residence, was in attendance on the queen; that the dean, though bound to reside, was non-resident and in other ways broke the statutes; that George Gelibrond, one of the vicars who had been forced upon them by the present dean, though incapable of singing, was a most quarrelsome and discreditable person; and that the dean had presented him to the vicarage of Stoke under his seal, without the consent of the chapter, and had also dismissed a vicar of the college without cause and without the leave of the chapter. All the vicars united in complaining of Gelibrond, most of them also stating that he defamed Cardinal Wolsey. Three slightly different versions in English are entered of the actual words used by Gelibrond when defaming the cardinal, the most pungent is: 'It is a pitie that he berith the rule that he doithe, and if otheremen wolde doo as I wolde, he shoulde be plucked out of his house by the eyres. I wolde to God there were xl thousand of my mynde.'

The bishop's injunctions were that if the dean did not reside he was only to receive £20 a year out of the profits, according to the statutes; that the chancel of Clare was to be repaired at the dean's expense, before next All Saints' day; that the janitor was to reside and see to his duty, otherwise to forfeit his salary; that one of the clerks was to sleep and remain all night in the vestry; that the verger was to be in attendance and exercise his office in the same manner as at the collegiate church of St. Stephen, Westminster, or of Windsor; and that George Gelibrond, irregularly admitted, was to be expelled from his stall. This last injunction was afterwards withdrawn in favour of a monition. Other injunctions related to inventories, custody of seals, the recovery of the muniments, &c. (fn. 13)

The bishop left Stoke on 15 July and visited other Norfolk houses, arriving at Thompson college on 21 July. When there, one John Stacy, of Norwich, a messenger of the cardinal, brought him a letter from Wolsey, dated 2 July, concerning the visitation of Stoke, which had been for some unknown reason delayed. To this letter the bishop wrote a wary reply, stating the exact hour that the letter reached him, adding that he had already visited Stoke, but saying nothing as to his injunctions. Meanwhile the bishop took action against Dr. Greene, the dean of the college, whom Dr. Jessopp describes as 'an unprincipled rogue, ready to sell himself and the college for what he could get.'

Canon Kiel, supported by two of his colleagues, had testified that the dean had been duly cited to the bishop's visitation, and produced a letter in which Dr. Greene not only declared his own intention of being absent, but urged his fellows to resist the visit. The dean was then cited to appear before the bishop in the chapel of his palace at Norwich on 20 August. At the appointed time Canon Kiel appeared and testified that the dean's answer to him was 'I can not appear, nor will not appear, and ye were to blame and folis any of you to tappere before my lorde, for I send you letter to the contrary.' Whereupon, Dr. Greene was formally pronounced contumacious and suspended from celebrating divine service and cited to appear before the bishop in the manor chapel of Hoxne on Wednesday after next Mid-Lent Sunday to show cause why graver action should not be taken. Canon Gilbert Latham, the only one of the college who supported the dean in subserviency to the cardinal, was also at the same time pronounced contumacious. (fn. 14)

It is not known precisely what next took place, but the aged diocesan and the queen evidently succeeded in checkmating Wolsey so far as the immediate suppression of Stoke College was concerned, for it lasted until the days of Edward VI.

The college was again visited by the diocesan on 10 July, 1532, when Canon Whitehead, who had sent the book of the statutes to London, was ordered to restore it before Michaelmas under pain of excommunication. There were not many complaints, but it is clear from one of the entries that Cardinal Wolsey did visit the college either in 1526 or at some subsequent date. The bishop, in consequence of £13 having been paid to the king that year in discharge of procuration fees due at the visitation of the late cardinal, and of jewels to the value of forty marks having been taken by thieves out of the vestry, ordered that there was to be no division that year of the residue of the profits of the college among the residentiaries. He further enjoined that women were not to fetch linen for washing from the houses of the vicars, nor were they to serve in the houses of the canons; that the muniments were to be kept under three locks of diverse workmanship; that one of the clerks was always to sleep at night in the vestry, particularly in the winter season; and that an annual statement of accounts was to be made immediately before the feast of the Purification. (fn. 15)

The state papers show that the corruption of this college continued. Dean Robert Shorton, writing to Cromwell on 14 August, 1535, said that he had received his letter in favour of Gilbert Latham, a canon of the college, asking for his restoration to the college dividends. For once, at all events, in his life, Cromwell met with no subserviency. The dean flatly refused to allow Latham a penny. To do so would be contrary to statute and custom. There could be no division until repairs were deducted. In a year and a half the canons had only spent £4 in repairs, whereas, according to custom, they should have spent £14. Latham had got into his hands £17, and Westby as much, against the statutes. This would not be suffered; moreover if they, dean and canon, divided equally, each share would not come to as much as £5 or £6. (fn. 16)

Dean Shorton could not have had much time to give to the college affairs, for he was a bad pluralist, being at the same time master of St. John's College, Cambridge, and canon of York, as well as holding a benefice in Durham diocese. But he died shortly after rebuffing Cromwell, namely, on 17 October, 1535. Leyton, Cromwell's subsequent unprincipled tool against the monasteries, wrote to him in October, saying that Dean Shorton was in articulo mortis, begging for a letter commending him to the bishop of Durham for this benefice. He asked for the letter to be delivered to the bearer, who would ride with it to Stoke College, 'and as soon as the dean is dead, ride on with it to Durham.' (fn. 17)

The vacancy caused by the death of Dean Shorton was filled by the appointment of Matthew Parker, the future archbishop. He was presented on 4 November, 1535. (fn. 18) In 1537 Matthew Parker procured the assent of his chapter to a reformation of the statutes. (fn. 19)

An inventory of the goods of Stoke College was drawn up on 8 December, 1547. There was a very rich supply of vestments, including thirteen suits for priest, deacon, and subdeacon, with albs; fifty-five copes, seventeen single vestments, and a considerable number of altar cloths, corporas cases, etc. The books in the library, 'with ther cheres, tables, yrons, and waynscott,' were valued at £5. The silver plate, including four chalices, a cross, two candlesticks, cruets, pix, &c. was divided into gilt, parcel-gilt, and white; its total weight was 461 oz.

There was also a considerable supply of church ornaments in latten. There was a pair of organs in the rood loft, another in the quire, and two pairs in the Lady chapel. In the tower were six great bells and a little sanctus bell, and 'a clock perfect striking on ye great bell.' The destruction contemplated is shown by the fact that twenty-two gravestones with their brasses were valued at £3 13s. 4d. and even 'the foundar's tombe' at 20s. (fn. 20)

The following details appear in the certificate of this college taken by the commissioners in 1548. (fn. 21)

'The College of Seynte John Baptiste in Stoke nexte Clare, founded by Edmund yerle of the Marches and Ulton, lord of Wigmore and of Clare,' 19 May, 2 Henry V, to find a dean, six canons, eight vicars, seven chief clerks, two meaner clerks, one verger, one porter, and five choristers. Since the foundation, the numbers had been twice augmented; in the first place by William Pykenham, sometime dean, for another vicar, to be vicar to the dean and his successors; and in the second place by William Lowell, sometime verger, for a deacon of the college. The yearly value was declared at £383 2s. 6½d. and the clear value £314 14s. 8d. There were 490 oz. of plate, ornaments, and household stuff, valued at £69 0s. 8d.; lead remaining 62 fothers, and bells weighing 8 tons, 2 cwt. 26 li. Arrears of rent amounted to £105 9s. 2d.

Matthew Parker, D.D., the dean, aged 48, drew £67 0s. 2d. and held in addition divers pensions of the annual value of £30. The stipends and pensions of the other members of the establishment, including the schoolmasters of the college and of the free school are also given in detail.

On the suppression of the college in this year, it was granted to Sir John Cheke and Walter Mildmay. A pension of £40 was secured for Dean Parker. (fn. 22)

Deans (fn. 23) of the College of Stoke by Clare

Thomas Barnesley, A.M. 1415-54

Walter Blaket, A.M. 1454-61

William Welflet, S.T.P. 1461-9

Richard Edenham, S.T.P. 1470-93 (Bishop of Bangor)

William Pikynham, LL.D. 1493-7

John Ednam, S.T.P. 1497-1517

Robert Bekinsawe, S.T.P. 1517-25

William Greene, S.T.P. 1525-9

Robert Shorton, S.T.P. 1529-35

Matthew Parker, S.T.P. 1535

There are numerous impressions of the seal ad causas of this college attached to various Harleian charters. It is a pointed oval, bearing the head of St. John Baptist, with rays and large nimbus; there is a flowering sprig above and below the head. Legend:—



  • 1. The making denizen of this alien priory of St. John Baptist is set forth at great length on the patent rolls. To secure this privilege from the crown, Richard Cotesford, the English-born prior, was required to pay 1,000 marks, at the rate of 100 marks a year, towards 'the new work' at St. Peter's, Westminster. Pat. 19 Ric. II. pt. i, m. 8.
  • 2. Cott. MS. Vit. D. xii, fol. 73, 79.
  • 3. Ibid. fol. 73 d.
  • 4. Ibid. fol. 81.
  • 5. These elaborate statutes are set forth in full in Latin in Dugdale, Mon. vi, 1417-23. There is an English translation of them. Add. MS. 19103, 87-95.
  • 6. The institutions in the Norwich diocesan register of some fifty years later record admission to the sixth stall on the dean's side (the dean taking the first), and to the fifth stall on the north side, so there must have been at one time ten prebendaries.
  • 7. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 469-71. There were then six prebendaries and a canon.
  • 8. Parker MSS. C. C. C. Camb. cviii, 2-3. There is much pertaining to the endowments and statutes of Stoke College in Parker's noble collection of MSS. They are numbered cviii, 2-4, 16-18, 22-40 clxx, 137. See Nasmyth's Catalogue (1777).
  • 9. Jessopp, Visit. 42-3.
  • 10. Ibid. 81-3.
  • 11. Ibid. 132-4.
  • 12. Ibid. 195.
  • 13. Jessopp, Visit. 226-39.
  • 14. Ibid. 254-59.
  • 15. Jessopp, Visit. 299-301.
  • 16. L. and P. Hen. VIII, ix, 92.
  • 17. Ibid. 632.
  • 18. Parker MSS. (C.C.C. Camb.), cviii, 6.
  • 19. Ibid. Parker carried out this reform in the hope of saving the college. Strype, Life of Parker, 3.
  • 20. Weever, Funeral Monuments, 742-3, says that there were buried in this college Sir Edward Mortimer, the last earl of March, Sir Thomas Grey, knight, and his first wife, and Sir Thomas Clopton, and Ada his wife. The Duke of Norfolk, writing to Dean Parker in 1540, expressed his desire to be buried in the collegiate church among his ancestors.
  • 21. Chant. Cert. 45, No. 47.
  • 22. Hook, Archbishops of Cant. ix, 82.
  • 23. This list is taken from that drawn up by Archbishop Parker MSS. (C.C.C. Camb.) cviii, 11.
  • 24. Harl. Chart. 442a, 32-50; B.M. Cast, lxxiii, 13.