A History of the County of Suffolk: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1975.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
In this section
HOUSES OF BENEDICTINE MONKS
1. THE ABBEY OF BURY ST. EDMUNDS (fn. 1)
In the year 903, or somewhat later, the relics of the martyred king, St. Edmund, were translated from the comparatively obscure wooden chapel of Hoxne to Beodricsworth, afterwards known as Bury St. Edmunds. (fn. 2)
The first church in which the body of St. Edmund was placed when it was removed from the decent tomb (competenti mausoleo) at Hoxne was a large church made of wood with much skill by the people of the district of all ranks. (fn. 3) Edmund son of Edward the Elder granted in 945 the lands round Beodricsworth to the family (fn. 4) of the monastery. At that time the household or college of clerks, to whom the duty of guarding the shrine was assigned, consisted of six persons, four priests and two deacons. Herman supplies their names. (fn. 5)
In the year 1010 Ailwin, the chief guardian of the shrine, hearing that the Danes had landed, took up the body of the saint, and passing through Essex in search of a place of greater security eventually reached London, where the relics remained for three years. On the return of tranquillity, notwithstanding the opposition of the Bishop of London and his flock (who are said to have been miraculously baffled), Ailwin returned with the relics to their former restingplace. (fn. 6)
In 1020 Ælfwine, bishop of Elmham, formerly a monk of Ely, removed the seculars in charge of the shrine, and twenty monks, headed by Uvius, prior of Holme, were installed at Beodricsworth. Uvius was consecrated the first abbot of Bury St. Edmunds by the Bishop of London, and a new stone church was begun by the order of Cnut. (fn. 7) In 1020 Cnut granted an ample charter of endowment and liberties. The fundus or farm of St. Edmunds was to be for ever in the hands of the Benedictine monks of the abbey, and they were to be exempt from episcopal jurisdiction. At any time when the English might be called upon to pay danegeld for the support of the Danish fleet and army of occupation, the tenants of the abbey were to be taxed at a like rate for the benefit of the monastery. Regal rights in their fisheries were made over to the monks, and by the same charter there were assigned, as a gift from Queen Emma, four thousand eels yearly from Lakenheath. Finally, full jurisdiction in all their townships was granted to the abbot. (fn. 8)
The first stone church was consecrated by Æthelnoth, archbishop of Canterbury, on 18 October, 1032, and dedicated to the honour of Christ, St. Mary and St. Edmund. (fn. 9)
In 1035 Hardicanute confirmed and extended the privileges of the monks of St. Edmunds, imposing the impossible fine of thirty talents of gold on anyone found guilty of infringing the franchises of the abbey. (fn. 10) Edward the Confessor first visited St. Edmunds in 1044, and of his great devotion granted to the abbey the manor of Mildenhall, full freedom to elect their own abbot, and jurisdiction over eight and a half hundreds; that is to say, over about a third of the widespread county of Suffolk. (fn. 11)
In the same year Uvius died, and was succeeded as abbot by Leofstan, one of the monks who had accompanied Uvius from Holme.
The rule of Leofstan (1044-65) nearly coincided with the reign of the Confessor. It is said by Herman to have been a period of sloth and torpor at the abbey, from which the monks were roused by the entreaties and reproaches of Ælfgeth, a Winchester woman, who had been cured of a congenital dumbness at the shrine. At her instigation, the resting-place of the saint was restored. On the death of Leofstan in 1065, the influence of the Confessor caused the choice of the monks to fall on the king's French physician, Baldwin, a monk of St. Denis, a native of Chartres. The Confessor in that year granted a mint to the abbey. (fn. 12) This seems to be the first time that Beodricsworth was styled St. Edmundsbury or Bury St. Edmunds (Seynet Edmunds Biri). (fn. 13)
In 1071 Abbot Baldwin visited Rome, where Pope Alexander II received him with peculiar honour, and gave him a crozier, a ring, and a precious altar of porphyry. His chief object in undertaking the journey was to oppose the claim of Herfast, bishop of Thetford, to remove the seat of the East Anglian bishopric to Bury St. Edmunds. In this he was successful, the pope taking the monks of St. Edmund under the special protection of the holy see, and forbidding that a bishop's see should ever be there established. William the Conqueror also granted a charter to the like effect, and confirmed their exemption from episcopal jurisdiction. (fn. 14)
Towards the end of his abbacy Baldwin found the wealth of the house, through fresh bene factions and the growth of the town, increasing so rapidly that he felt justified in rebuilding the church on a nobler scale. (fn. 15) The stone was procured from the fine quarries of Barnack, Northamptonshire, which belonged to the abbot of Peterborough, through the direct mandate of the Conqueror, who also ordered that the usual tolls should be remitted for its conveyance. (fn. 16) At length the noble church built by Abbot Baldwin and his sacrists, Thurstan and Tolineus, was finished, and on 29 April, 1095, the body of St. Edmund was translated with much pomp to its shrine, Walkelin, bishop of Winchester, being the presiding prelate.
Baldwin died in 1097, and Rufus, following his usual policy of ecclesiastical pillage, prolonged the vacancy for a considerable time. When Henry I came to the throne, he gave the abbacy in 1100 to Robert, one of the illegitimate sons of Hugh Lupus, earl of Chester. Two years later this Robert was deposed, because he had accepted the office without the consent or the election of the monks.
Robert II, a monk of Westminster, was elected fifth abbot in 1102; but there was a delay of five years—namely, till 15 August, 1107—ere he was consecrated by St. Anselm. He only lived a few weeks after his benediction, for his death occurred on 16 September of the same year. (fn. 17)
After an interregnum of seven years—namely, in 1114—Albold, prior of St. Nicasius at Meaux, was elected sixth abbot; he died in 1119, when there was again a vacancy of nearly two years, till in 1121 Anselm, abbot of St. Saba at Rome, and nephew of Archbishop Anselm, accepted the abbacy. In his days—namely, in 1132—Henry I made a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Edmund, in accordance with a vow made during a storm at sea. About the year 1135, Abbot Anselm, in lieu of making a pilgrimage to St. James of Compostella, built the fine church of St. James within the abbey precincts; it was consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury. At the same time Henry I granted him the privilege of a prolonged fair at St. Edmunds—namely, on the festival of St. James, and on three days before and two days after. (fn. 18)
Abbot Anselm died in 1146, when Ording, the prior of the house, was elected eighth abbot. Four years later a fire occurred which destroyed almost the whole of the conventual buildings, including the chapter-house. The rebuilding was accomplished by Helyas, the sacrist, Ording's nephew. This Ording, who was abbot until 1156, was a homo illiteratus, according to Jocelyn's chronicle, but ruled wisely and obtained an extension of privileges from Stephen. On his death, Hugh, prior of Westminster, was chosen ninth abbot in January, 1156-7, receiving benediction at Colchester from Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury. It is said that on that occasion the primate strove to exact future submission to the see of Canterbury. In 1161 a bull of Pope Alexander II sanctioned an appeal to the holy see in certain important matters, (fn. 19) and eleven years later the same pope issued a further bull exempting the abbey from the visitation of the archbishop of the province, even though coming as legatus natus. (fn. 20)
Hugh's somewhat lax rule, on which Jocelyn descants at the beginning of his chronicle, came to an end in 1180 in the twenty-third year of his abbacy. He was making a pilgrimage to St. Thomas of Canterbury, when he fell from his horse at Rochester on 9 September and severely injured his knee. He was brought back to St. Edmunds in a horse-litter, but died on 15 November.
A year and three months elapsed before royal assent could be obtained to proceed with a new election, and when the king's letters at last arrived it was laid down that the prior and twelve of the convent were to appear before him to make choice of an abbot. When the chapter met they charged the prior, at the peril of his soul, conscientiously to choose twelve to accompany him, from whose life and conversation it might be depended that they would not swerve from the right. The prior thereupon nominated six from one side of the choir and six from the other, his choice 'by the dictation of the Holy Ghost' being commended by all. The chapter, however, were not disposed to leave the matter entirely in the hands of the thirteen; they chose six other of their number of the best reputation, who went apart, and, with their hands on the Gospels, selected three men of the convent most fit to be abbot. The names of the three were committed to writing, sealed up and given to those who were to go before the king. If they found they were to have free election of one of their own house, then they were to break the seal and present the three names to the king for his election. They were further instructed, in case of necessity, to accept anyone of their own convent nominated by the king, but to return to consult the chapter if the king named an out sider. The deputation came before the king at Waltham, one of the Hampshire manors of the Bishop of Winchester, on 21 February, 1182, when they were told to nominate three members of their convent. Retiring, they broke the seal of the writing and found, to their surprise, the names of Samson the sub-sacrist, Roger the cellarer, and Hugh the third prior, entered in that order, those of higher standing being ignored. Their oath forbade them to alter the names, but they changed the order, according to convent precedency, and placed Samson last. Jocelyn enters into full detail as to what subsequently happened before the king, and the nomination of others, but eventually the deputation agreed upon Samson as their first choice, the king concurred, and the Bishop of Winchester gave Samson the episcopal benediction at Merewell on 28 February. (fn. 21)
On Palm Sunday, 21 March, Samson was solemnly received by the convent, and homage was done to him on the fourth day of Easter by barons, knights, and freemen. For the thirty years of his rule, Abbot Samson proved himself to be a superior of unflinching integrity and of exceptional business capacities. Jocelyn's narrative comes to an end nine years before Samson's death; up to that date the information as to his rule is exceptionally full. The following is a very brief abstract of the more important events of his reign. Samson was appointed a judge in the ecclesiastical courts by Pope Lucius III in 1182, and obtained the privilege of giving the episcopal benediction, in 1187, from Pope Urban III; in 1184 he was appointed by the holy see one of three arbitrators in a dispute between the Archbishop of Canterbury and the monks of Christ Church, in 1200 between the archbishop and the canons of Lambeth, and in 1201 one of the three commissioners sent by the pope to Worcester to inquire into the miracles of St. Wulfstan; in 1203 he was appointed by the pope on a commission concerning the dispensation of Crusaders from their vows, and was summoned over sea to advise the king on this question. He restored the church of Woolpit to the monastery (1183), founded St. Saviour's Hospital (1184-5), effected the entire discharge of the abbey's debts (1194), took the cellarer's department into his own hands (1196), and transferred the shrine of St. Edmund to the high altar, viewing the body (1190). In 1181 Henry II was at Bury, and Samson was refused permission to accompany him to the Crusades. He took active part in the collection of money for the ransom of Richard I, in 1193, when a gold chalice given to the abbey by Henry II was ceded for that purpose, and visited the king in his German prison, taking with him many gifts. The king, on his return to England in March, 1194, after an absence of four and a quarter years, proceeded at once to make a thanksgiving visit to St. Edmunds. The death of Richard was a great loss to Samson and the abbey. John, immediately after his coronation in May, 1199, visited Bury, but caused great disappointment by his excessive meanness.
We indeed, says Jocelyn, believed that he was come to make offering of some great matter; but all he offered was one silken cloth, which his servants had borrowed from our sacrist, and to this day have not paid for. He availed himself of the hospitality of St. Edmund, which was attended with enormous expense, and upon his departure bestowed nothing at all, either of honour or profit upon the saint, save 13d. sterling, which he offered at his mass, on the day of his departure.
King John again visited Bury on 21 December, 1203, when he made no personal offering, but granted the abbey 10 marks annually from the exchequer, persuading the convent to return him for life certain valuable jewels which his mother, Queen Eleanor, had given to St. Edmund. (fn. 22)
Abbot Samson died, at the ripe age of seventyseven, at twilight ('inter lupum et canem') on 30 December, 1211. It was the fourth year of the Interdict, and even an abbot could only be buried in silence and in unconsecrated ground, and the sorrowing monks had to cover over his remains in a little meadow hard by. The Interdict was removed in July, 1214, and the remains of Samson were exhumed and reinterred in the chapter-house on 12 August of that year. (fn. 23)
The tyrannical John gave a deaf ear to the requests of the monks for a free election, and finding it to his advantage to keep the office vacant, strenuously insisted on royal prerogative. In July, 1213, he gave a half consent to an election, and the monks chose Hugh Northwold; but the king refused confirmation. In November, 1214, the king even lectured the monks in their own chapter-house as to his rights in the matter. The convent appealed to Rome, and the papal commissioners finally gave judgement in Hugh's favour in March, 1215; the king's reluctant approval to this appointment was wrung from him in Staines meadow on 9 June of the same year. (fn. 24)
Meanwhile the abbey had played a most important part in the national resistance to the despotism of John. The earls and barons met at Bury on 20 November, 1214, assembling in the great conventual church; Archbishop Langton read to them Henry I's charter, and each swore on the high altar to make war on John unless he granted them the liberties therein contained. (fn. 25) As a result of this Magna Charta was sealed on 15 June following.
In 1224 Abbot Hugh II appeared in state at the royal camp before Bedford Castle, attended by the knights holding manors under St. Edmund. Abbot Hugh, whom Matthew Paris describes as 'flos magistrorum monachorum, abbas abbatum, et episcopus episcoporum,' was unanimously chosen bishop by the monks of Ely in 1229; he died in 1254. (fn. 26)
On 20 November, 1229, Richard, abbot of Burton, formerly a monk of St. Edmunds, was installed twelfth abbot, it being St. Edmund's Day. (fn. 27) Abbot Richard only ruled for some five years; for on his return from the court of Pope Gregory in 1234, whither he had gone in a matter of appeal, he was attacked in September with mortal illness and died at Pontigny. His body was embalmed and brought back to St. Edmunds for interment in the chapter-house. It was not until 27 September, 1235, that another election was held, when the choice of the monks fell on their prior, Henry of Rushbrook, as their thirteenth abbot. In the year of his election, Henry III granted to Abbot Henry two fairs at Bury and a market at his manor of Melford. Among those excused from attendance at the council of Lyons in 1245 was Abbot Henry, owing to an attack of the gout (morbo podagrico laborantem). (fn. 28) In the same year, at the request of the convent, Henry III gave the name of Edmund to his newly born son, who became the founder of the house of Lancaster. (fn. 29) A bull was issued by Innocent III in July, 1248, prescribing the solemn celebration of the feast of the translation of St. Edmund to be observed on 29 April. (fn. 30)
Abbot Henry died in 1248, and was succeeded in the same year by Edmund Walpole, LL.D., who had only worn the monk's habit for two years. Abbot Edmund and his two predecessors all received episcopal benediction at the hands of good Bishop Hugh of Ely, their former abbot.
In March, 1249-50, Henry III took the cross at the hands of the Archbishop of Canterbury; whereupon Abbot Walpole did the same, exposing himself, as Matthew Paris says, to general derision and setting a pernicious example to monks, for such a vow was inconsistent with the vow of the monastic order. (fn. 31) Revised statutes for the governance of this abbey were approved in 1256 by Pope Alexander IV; they provided, inter alia, for four church watchers, night and day, two for the shrine of St. Edmund, and two for the church treasure and clock. On the last day of this year Abbot Edmund died.
His successor, Simon of Luton, the prior, was elected fifteenth abbot on 15 January, 1256-7. He was exempted from going in person to Rome to procure papal confirmation; but the securing of the confirmation by Alexander IV cost the vast sum of 2,000 marks, and was not obtained until October. The story of the expulsion of the Grey Friars from Bury during this abbacy is told in the account of the friary, which they were permitted to establish at Babwell. At Easter, 1264, a serious conflict arose between the monastery and the town burgesses, which resulted in the infliction of a fine on the latter. Henry III during the troublous years at the close of his reign was at the abbey of St. Edmund's on several occasions. Tarrying here on his way back from Norwich in the autumn of 1272 he was taken seriously ill, and according to some accounts breathed his last in the abbey on 16 November. On 17 April, Edward I and his queen came to St. Edmund's on a pilgrimage to the shrine, to fulfil a vow they had made when in the Holy Land. Abbot Simon died in April, 1279, and was buried in the Lady chapel of his own recent building.
John of Northwold, the hosteller, was elected sixteenth abbot by his brethren on 6 May, 1279. His journey to Rome and fees to procure confirmation cost 1175 marks. On his return he was solemnly received on 28 December in the abbey church, which he ruled for twenty-two years.
The crown, in June, 1285, granted to the abbey the fines for trespasses against the assize of weights and measures whenever the king's ministers made a view thereof; the said fines to be collected by the abbey and applied to the decoration of the tomb of St. Edmund. (fn. 32) This grant was extended in January, 1296, when Edward I was visiting the abbey. He then granted that, whenever the king's ministers of the markets passed through the town to view measures and to do other things pertaining to their office, the abbot and convent and their successors were to have all amercements and profits of bread and ale, &c. The ministers were to furnish the sacristan of the abbey with schedules of all such fines, &c., which were to be collected by the abbey's officials and applied to the decoration of the saint's tomb and shrine. (fn. 33)
One of the recurring disputes between the monastery and the town at its gates came to a head in 1292, when a royal commission of inquiry was appointed, by which it was arranged that the burgesses were to present annually at Michaelmas an allowance for confirmation by the abbot; and the alderman was to present four persons to the sacrist as keepers of the four gates of the town. The fifth or last gate was to remain in the custody of the abbey. The commissioners stated that this had been the custom since the days of the Confessor. (fn. 34)
In consideration of a fine made by Abbot John, in June, 1300, the crown sanctioned the assignment by the abbot and convent, to two chaplains celebrating in the chapel recently built in the abbey churchyard and called 'La Charnere,' of the yearly produce of twentyseven acres of land sown with wheat, being the produce of one acre in as many vills of their demesne lands, which produce had hitherto been assigned to the abbot's crozierbearers for performing that office. (fn. 35) The charnel in the abbey churchyard had been founded in order to avoid the scandal of the bones of the departed lying about in the over-used burial-ground.
In May, 1304, the king pardoned the abbey of all their debts to the crown, in consideration of their remission to the king of a thousand marks, borrowed of them from the tenths of the Holy Land on the clergy, which had been deposited in the abbey's custody in the pope's name. During the same month, Edward I, 'out of devotion to St. Edmund,' granted that the prior and convent should, during future voidances, have the custody of all temporalities, saving knights' fees and advowsons. But for this privilege the abbey had to pay the stiff fine of 1,200 marks if the voidance lasted a year or less, and if longer at the proportionate rate of 100 marks a month. (fn. 36)
In May Edward I granted the murage and pavage dues of the town on goods coming into the town of Bury St. Edmunds to the abbot and convent for three years. (fn. 37) In August of the same year a commission of three justices was appointed in the matter of the rebellion of the town against the general administration of the abbot as lord of the town. The charge against sixty-two of the townsmen, who are named, and others was of a comprehensive character, accusing them of conspiring together by oaths of confederacy and resisting every detail of the abbey's rule, usurping the administration of justice and collecting tolls and other dues granted by charter to the convent. (fn. 38)
Abbot Thomas died on 7 January, 1311-12, and the election of Richard, the third prior, was confirmed in April, 1312, by Pope Clement V. This confirmation states that Richard had been elected by the sacrist, cellarer, infirmarian, and chamberlain, and by four other monks whose names are cited. (fn. 39) In June of the following year the pope sanctioned the appropriation of the church of Harlow, value 20 marks, to take effect on the death or resignation of the rector, a perpetual vicar being assigned. (fn. 40)
In 1327, the long simmering disputes between the town and the abbey came to a head with grievous results, involving the plunder of the abbey and its estates, and the seizing of the abbot and his deportation to Diest in Brabant. These disturbances were long known as the Great Riot. Long statements on both sides appear in Arnold's Memorials, as already set forth. In this summary it seems best to take the statements from the official entries on the patent rolls. On 14 May, 1327, mandates were delivered by the king and council to the authorities of both abbey and town, under forfeiture of all they could forfeit, prohibiting the assembling of armed men. (fn. 41) Nevertheless the riots continued, and on 20 May, 1327, Edward III appointed John de Tendering and Ralph de Bocking, during pleasure, to the custody of the abbey and town of St. Edmunds, which the king had taken under his immediate protection in consequence of the grave dissensions. Power was given to the two wardens to arrest inferior offenders, but not to remove officers and ministers of either abbey or town as long as they were obedient. (fn. 42) In July the king associated two other warders, Robert Walkefare and John Claver, with John and Ralph. (fn. 43) A further step was taken in the interest of the monks, on 16 October of the same year, when the crown appointed John Howard, during pleasure, to the custody of the abbey, with power to protect it and defend its possessions, to arrest those who had injured it, and to apply its revenues, saving the necessary provision for its governance, towards the payment of its debts and its relief; (fn. 44) but this appointment was revoked on 10 November. (fn. 45) This revocation was doubtless brought about by the very serious and extensive character of the revolt against the abbey's authority becoming better known to the authorities. By the end of October commission was granted to the Earl of Norfolk, Thomas Bardolf and others to take, if necessary, the posse comitatus of both Norfolk and Suffolk, to arrest those besieging the abbey, and to imprison others guilty of criminal acts in these affrays. (fn. 46) At the same time four justices were appointed to hold a special assize (fn. 47) at St. Edmunds, on the complaint of the abbot, who gave in the names of about 300 alleged offenders out of a great multitude, including three rectors, nineteen chaplains or assistant parochial clergy, a merchant, six drapers, four mercers, two butchers, a tailor, and two taverners. Among the particular offences specified are beating and wounding the abbey's servants and imprisoning them till they paid fines; mowing the abbey's meadows, felling the trees, and fishing the fish-ponds; preventing the holding of courts and collecting rents and tolls and other customs; cutting off the abbey's water-conduit; breaking down the fish-ponds at Babwell; throwing down the houses of the abbey in the town; carrying away the timber, and burning the abbot's manor houses at Barton, Pakenham, Rougham, 'Eldhawe,' Horningsheath, Newton, Whepstead, Westley, Risby, Ingham, Fornham, 'Redewell,' and 'Haberdon,' with their granges and corn; carrying away 100 horses, 120 oxen, 200 cows, 300 bullocks, 10,000 sheep and 300 swine, worth £6,000; and besieging the abbey with an armed force and great multitude; breaking the gates and doors and windows of the abbey; entering the conventual buildings and assaulting the servants; breaking open chests, coffers and closets and carrying off gold and silver chalices and other plate, books, vestments, and utensils, and money to the value of £1,000, as well as divers writings; imprisoning Peter de Clapton, the prior, and twelve monks in a house in the town; taking the said prior and monks to the chapter-house and forcing them to seal a document setting forth that the abbot and convent were indebted to Oliver Kemp and five other townsmen in the sum of £10,000; and imprisoning the abbot and using his seal as well as the corporate seal to documents obtained by duress, the contents of which neither he nor the monks saw or heard. On 5 November, 1328, a commission was issued to the Bishop of Ely and two others to compose the differences between the abbey and the townsmen. An agreement as to the matters in dispute between the abbey and the town was finally drawn up at Bury, in the presence of the king, at Trinity, 1331, to the effect that in consideration of the remission of the huge fine of £140,000 imposed on the defendants, they should pay the abbey the sum of 2,000 marks during the next twenty years, in sums of 50 marks at a time. (fn. 48) The great seal was affixed to this covenant, and the defendants were conditionally discharged. (fn. 49)
Licence was granted in August, 1330, for the abbey to appropriate the churches of Rougham and Thurstan of their advowson, in consideration of the grievous losses they had sustained at the hands of the men of St. Edmunds, and because, at the king's request, they had pardoned a great part of the sum recovered by them as damages. (fn. 50) As a further compensation from the crown for their losses, the king in the following month granted free warren in all demesnes of the abbey, a weekly market at Melford, and an annual fair of nine days at the same place.
The riotous attacks on the abbey and its possessions in 1327 took place at the time when it was known that the king and his forces were in Scotland. When Edward III was at York, on 23 October, 1334, preparatory to another expedition into Scotland, protection was granted by the king and council to the abbey owing to the increasing hostility of the townsmen, and for fear another attempt should be made at the abbey's overthrow when the forces were across the border. (fn. 51)
Abbot Richard died on 5 May, 1335. The king's licence for a new election was speedily obtained, and the new abbot, William of Bernham, the sub-prior, was hastily chosen on 25 May, in order to forestall the expected interference of the pope. Abbot William proceeded to Rome for confirmation, and on 29 October, 1335, received the mandate of Benedict XII to betake himself to the abbey to which he had been appointed, having received benediction from Anibald, bishop of Tusculum. (fn. 52) He ruled for nearly twenty-six years.
A peculiar privilege was granted by Edward III, for life, to Abbot William in 1338, namely that the chancellor was to issue the writ De excommunicato capiendo in the case of persons excommunicated by the abbot at his signification and request, as he did in like cases at the request of archbishops and bishops. (fn. 53)
Five of the king's justices being directed to hold a session at Bury St. Edmunds in 1341, for hearing and determining complaints as to oppressions by ministers in the county of Suffolk, the abbey protested that this was an infringement of their chartered rights against the holding of any secular courts in the town. Edward III thereupon (out of the affection which the king bore for the glorious martyr, St. Edmund the King) granted a charter to the effect that this session was not to prejudice as a precedent the liberties of the abbot and convent. (fn. 54)
A dispute arose in 1345 between the abbey and William Bateman, bishop of Norwich, the latter making strenuous efforts to obtain a reversion of the abbey's exemption from diocesan control; but the effort completely failed. (fn. 55) A mandate was issued in 1349 by Pope Clement III to the Bishops of London and Chichester touching the complaint of the Bishop of Norwich, whose citation the abbey of St. Edmund's refused to obey, sending Sir Richard Freysel, knight, to the king's chancellor, pleading that by royal letters they were exempt from episcopal jurisdiction, and asking for letters prohibiting their diocesan from making any such attempts. Thereupon the bishop excommunicated Richard, who returned to the chancellor pleading that this had been done in contempt of the king's majesty, and that the bishop, the prior of Kersey, and other beneficed clergy in the dioceses of Norwich and York had published the excommunication. Thereupon he obtained letters citing the bishop and his commissaries before the king's justices, before whom exception was taken that the justices could not and ought not to take cognisance of excommunication, and that appeal lay with the archbishop. Nevertheless the justices ordered the imprisonment of the commissaries, and James, rector of Wrabness, Essex, one of those who had published the excommunication, was put in the abbot's prison at St. Edmunds. The prior of Kersey and Hamo, rector of Bunny, lay in hiding, and Simon, rector of Wickhambrook, Suffolk, got away privily to the apostolic see. The justices, the king being abroad, ordered all the goods of the bishop to be seized and to remain in the king's hands until the excommunication vows were revoked and satisfaction made to Richard, who made the huge claim of £10,000 damages. Letters were sent to the sheriffs of four counties where the episcopal estates lay ordering the seizing of all temporalities of the see, and the bishop, fearing he would be taken, betook himself, with his household, to his cathedral church and shut himself up therein. The pope ordered that, if these things were so, the abbot and Richard were to be cited to appear before the pope within three months to receive what justice requires for their excesses and sins. (fn. 56)
In April, 1350, the pope sent a mandate to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishops of Exeter and Chichester, enjoining the public excommunication of all who hindered the Bishop of Norwich from prosecuting his cause, which had been going on for five years at the Roman court, against the abbot and convent of St. Edmunds, who claim exemption from episcopal jurisdiction, certain persons having obtained letters from King Edward ordering the bishop to prosecute the cause before him and his council, and not in the Roman court. (fn. 57) In the following July a further mandate was sent to the same papal commissioners ordering the public excommunication of all the abettors of Richard Freysel. (fn. 58)
Abbot William died on the last day of February, 1361-2, and Henry de Hunstanton was elected his successor in the following month; but proceeding to Avignon in the summer, to obtain papal confirmation, Henry fell a victim to the plague which was raging in that province, dying on 24 July, in a village two miles distant from that city. Pope Innocent VI seized this opportunity of appointing a successor, and made John of Brinkley, a monk of Bury, abbot on 4 August. Edward III gave his consent on 12 November, and on the 16th of that month the new abbot was duly installed at St. Edmunds. His was a comparatively uneventful abbacy, but he was a learned man, and for ten years was president of the provincial chapter of English. Benedictines. The last recorded miracle of St. Edmund occurred in 1375, when Symon Brown, nearly lost at sea, vowed to St. Edmund and was saved. (fn. 59)
On 6 January, 1379, the prior and convent obtained licence to elect a successor to Abbot John, deceased, and on 28 January notification was dispatched to Pope Urban of the royal assent to the election of John de Timworth, sub-prior of that house, to be abbot. In August of the same year there is a further entry relative to the election on the Patent Rolls, namely, orders for the arrest of Edmund Bromefeld, a monk, who was scheming to annul the election of Tymworth as abbot, although it had received the royal assent, and who had procured a papal provision thereof for himself besides divers bulls, (fn. 60) and on 14 October, 1379, the Earls of March and Suffolk, with the sheriff of Suffolk, were appointed to arrest Edmund Bromefeld, who, notwithstanding the Statute of Provisors of 25 Edward III, had procured provision of the abbey from the Roman court, and had taken possession of the abbey by the aid of John Medenham and fourteen other monks of the abbey, and by the aid of various clerks and laymen. All the abettors of the monk Edmund were also to be arrested for this contempt of the crown. (fn. 61)
This controversy, caused by the appointment of Edmund Bromefeld to the abbacy by Urban VI, dragged on for five years; but the pope's nominee never obtained more than a partial and very short-lived recognition at St. Edmunds. Nevertheless, without the papal confirmation John Tymworth was not technically abbot until 4 June, 1384, when the pope at last gave way. (fn. 62)
Whilst this dispute was in progress, namely in 1381, Jack Straw's rebellion broke out in East Anglia, when John of Cambridge, the prior, and Sir John Cavendish, chief justice, were among those murdered at Bury by the mob, who plundered the abbey to the extent of £1,000. For this outrage the town was outlawed and fined 2,000 marks. (fn. 63)
An indult was granted by Boniface IV, in 1398, in order to relieve the abbey of the perils and expenses of the journey to Rome, that the convent might upon voidance freely elect their abbots, who thus elected should be eo ipso true abbots, and be so regarded and administer the monastery without any confirmation of the said see. Further, the abbots might receive benediction at the hands of any Catholic bishop of their choice. In compensation for first-fruits, common and minute services, &c., heretofore paid to the pope and various papal officials, the abbey was to pay to the collector in England twenty marks yearly at Michaelmas. If in any year such payment be not made within two months of the lapse of the year, then this indult was to be void. (fn. 64)
In 1383 Richard II and Anne of Bohemia paid a ten days' visit to Bury, putting the abbey to an expense of 800 marks. Archbishop Arundel paid a visit to the monastery in the year 1400, arriving from Norwich at the conclusion of a visitation of that diocese and Ely. The manner of his reception and entertainment are set forth with some detail by one of the monastic scribes, to serve, as he states, for the use of posterity if the house should again be visited by an archbishop. He was received with the greatest respect and sumptuously entertained, but every care was taken to show that his reception was one of courtesy and due to his high office, and that he was nowise to construe their hospitality as the least recognition of him as a 'visitor.' There was no solemn procession to meet him at the abbey gates, but the abbot, cellarer, sacrist, and other officials met the archbishop on the road between Thetford and Ingham, and conducted him to Bury. On reaching the abbey he was taken into the church through the cemetery and not through the great west gates, nor were the bells rung. The prior and convent met him in the nave. On the morrow, the abbot and his retinue escorted the archbishop on his road southward as far as Frisby. (fn. 65)
During the rule of William of Exeter, the twenty-third abbot (1415-29), the building of the present church of St. Mary, on the site of an older church, was undertaken in the southwest corner of the abbey cemetery; and under William Curteys (1429-46) the western tower of the abbey church fell, but immediate steps were taken to erect it afresh. (fn. 66) In 1427, Thomas Beaufort, second son of John of Gaunt, was buried in the great conventual church. (fn. 67)
Henry VI paid a long visit to the abbey, his sojourn extending from Christmas, 1433, to St. George's Day (23 April), 1434. The monastery, during this visit, presented him with a grandly illuminated 'Life of St. Edmund' by John Lydgate, which now forms one of the treasures of the British Museum. (fn. 68) It is supposed that this visit was chiefly due to the pleasure taken by Henry and his court in the loyal ballads of the abbey's famous poet-monk, presented to the king in 1429, and again when he passed through London on his return from France in 1433. Of this visit Lydgate has much to say in his metrical life of St. Edmund, of which this is the opening stanza:—
When sixte Henry in his estat roial
With his sceptre of Yngland and of France
Heeld at Bury the feste pryncipal
Of Cristemasse with fulest habundance,
And after that list to have plesance,
As his consail gan for him provide,
There in his place til hesterne for to abide.
When the news of the royal visit reached the abbot he at once set eighty masons and artificers at work to enlarge and beautify the abbot's lodgings. He invited and obtained the cordial co-operation of the town in the royal reception. Five hundred townsmen turned out to meet the young king, headed by their aldermen and chief burgesses in scarlet, whilst the Bishop of Norwich and the abbot (so often rivals if not actively hostile) united in giving him holy water as he dismounted from his palfrey. Of this visit Abbot Curteys has left many particulars in his register. (fn. 69) There, too, are the various letters from the king to the abbot, whom he evidently regarded as a tried and trusted friend. He consulted him freely in his anxiety about the progress of the French arms, asked his help in making due preparation for the reception of the French princess he was about to marry, and in a letter shortly before the abbot's death (17 September 1446), urged him to be present at the laying of the foundation-stone of King's College, Cambridge, on the ensuing Michaelmas Day, as he (Henry) was unable to be present. (fn. 70)
Amongst these entries is the record of a great storm on the evening of 27 January, 1439. It did much damage, particularly to the bell tower, especially in the windows and glazing. A memorable incident was the extinguishing of every light and lamp throughout the conventual buildings and church save that only which burnt perpetually before the Blessed Sacrament; from that light all the others were subsequently rekindled. This storm was followed, on 29 May of the same year, by a great flood; the waters rose so high that they were deep enough for a boat in St. James's Church, in the nave of the great conventual church, and in the Lady chapel of the crypt (fol. 341).
The abbacy of William Babington (1446-53) was signalized by the holding of a Parliament at Bury. It assembled in the great refectory hall of the abbey on 10 February, 1446-7. Humphrey duke of Gloucester attended, and found lodgings at St. Saviour's Hospital. There he was arrested on a charge of high treason and kept under guard; a few days later the duke was found dead in his bed without any exterior mark of violence; the death was attributed to apoplexy, but popular opinion considered that he had been privately murdered. In the following November the king granted to the abbey an ample charter of all their privileges. (fn. 71) This was followed, two years later, by a royal charter which freed the abbey of all aids to the king, in consideration of paying a fixed sum of forty marks a year.
The chief event during the rule of Abbot John Bohun (1453-69) was the complete gutting of the conventual church by fire on 20 January, 1464-5, involving the fall of the central tower. The shrine of St. Edmund, though begirt with flames, remained uninjured. The catastrophe was caused by the carelessness of plumbers engaged in repairing the roof. (fn. 72)
John Reeve of Melford (sometimes called John Melford), the thirty-second and last abbot of St. Edmunds, was elected in April, 1513. He was admitted to the king's privy council in 1520, and in 1531 he was placed on the commission of the peace for Suffolk. The unscrupulous Cromwell first appears on the scene in connexion with this abbey in November, 1532, when he wrote to the abbot desiring to obtain the lease for sixty years of the farm of Harlowbury in Essex, the previous lease of which had nearly expired. He asked for an answer by the bearer, and assuming it would be favourable, had already agreed with the then holder for the remainder of his lease. If the request was granted he would do whatever he could for the monastery. (fn. 73)
Legh and Ap Rice were the two deputy visitors appointed by Cromwell to visit the abbey of St. Edmunds in November, 1535. With regard to this, Ap Rice wrote at once to his 'mastership' (fn. 74) stating that they had failed to establish anything against the abbot save that he was much at his country houses or granges, and was said to be fond of dice and cards, and did not preach. 'Also he seemeth to be addict to the maintaining of such superstitious ceremonies as hath been used here tofore' . . . 'Touching the convent, we could get little or no report among them, although we did use much diligence in our examinations, with some other arguments gathered their examinations.' This being the case, the commissioners chose to conclude 'that they had confederated and compacted before our coming that they should disclose nothing.' When with all their ingenuity and promptings to scandal, nothing evil could be discovered, it was coolly assumed that there was a lying conspiracy. The commissioners made exactly similar statements with regard to the seventeen monks of Thetford and the eighteen canons of Ixworth in this district, when they could find nothing against them. (fn. 75) The visitors reported that the convent numbered sixty-two monks, three of whom were at Oxford. Their injunctions here, as elsewhere, ordered that all religious under twenty-four years of age as well as those who had taken vows under twenty were to be dismissed. This reduced the number by eight. Another injunction insisted upon the actual confinement to the precincts of all the religious from the superior downwards.
This letter was dispatched to Cromwell on 5 November, and on the following day the abbot wrote to him as visitor in chief, begging a licence, notwithstanding the injunctions left by the late visitors, to go abroad (that is outside the precincts) with a chaplain or two on the business of the monastery. (fn. 76)
Knowing well the style of argument that would appeal to Cromwell in the obtaining of any favour, the abbot and convent granted to him, and his son Gregory, on 26 November, in the chapter-house, an annual pension of £10 from the manor of Harlow. (fn. 77) But this amount did not satisfy his avarice, and in December one of his agents, Sir Thomas Russhe, called on the abbot to beg him to grant Cromwell and his son a larger sum, which he promised to do. (fn. 78)
One of the last favours received by Abbot John was a crown licence in August, 1536, permitting any of his servants, during his life, to shoot with a cross bow at all manner of deer and wild fowl in his parks and grounds, notwithstanding the Act 25 Henry VIII. (fn. 79)
Early in 1538, the agents for spoiling the greater monasteries (in this case Williams, Pollard, Parys, and Smyth) visited St. Edmunds. Writing to Cromwell, from Bury, they tell the Lord Privy Seal that they found a rich shrine which was very cumbrous to deface; that they had stripped the monastery of over 5,000 marks in gold and silver, besides a rich cross bestudded with emeralds and other stones of great value; but that they had left the church and convent well furnished with silver plate. (fn. 80)
On 4 November, 1539, this famous abbey was surrendered. The surrender is signed by Abbot John Reeve, Prior Thomas Ringstede (alias Dennis), and by forty-two other monks. (fn. 81)
Pensions were assigned, on the same day, of £30 to the prior, of £20 to the sacrist, and of sums varying from £13 6s. 8d., to £6 13s. 4d., to thirty-eight other monks. (fn. 82)
Sir Richard Rich and other commissioners who had received the surrender wrote to the king on 7 November, saying they had not yet assigned the ex-abbot any pension, but suggested as he had been 'very conformable and is aged,' and as the yearly revenues of his house would be 4,000 marks, that he should have 500 marks a year and a house. They had taken into custody for the king the plate and best ornaments, and sold the rest. The lead and bells were worth 4,500 marks. They desired to know whether they were to deface the church and other edifices of the house. (fn. 83) On 11 November, the abnormally large pension of £333 6s. 8d. was allotted to the abbot. (fn. 84) He lived, however, only a few months after the dissolution of his house. Weighed down, as it is said, with sorrow and disappointment at the complete degradation of his order, he died on 31 March, 1540, in a small private house at the top of Crown Street, Bury St. Edmunds, never having drawn a penny of his pension. He was buried in the chancel of St. Mary's Church, with a pathetic Latin epitaph on the brass over his remains. The brasses were torn from his grave in 1643, and in 1717 the slab was broken up and the remains removed to make way for the burial of a ship's purser named Sutton. (fn. 85)
Having thus followed in outline the general history of the abbey through its succession of rulers, it may be well to give some fuller particulars as to the amount of property that it had to administer, which was chiefly in the nature of temporalities within the hundreds over which it exercised such full powers of local government.
In Abbot Samson's days (1182-1211) a large number of churches, chiefly in the eight and a half hundreds of the liberty of St. Edmunds, were in the gift of the whole convent, as set forth in detail in Jocelyn's Chronicle. (fn. 86) Thirty-four are named as pertaining to the abbot, and thirtytwo to the chapter. But there were at that time very few appropriations, and only a small number of pensions or portions from the rectories. Indeed Jocelyn expressly states that 'after all these churches scarcely brought any gain or profit to the convent.' Nevertheless the holding of these numerous advowsons tended to augment considerably the abbey's dignity and influence.
The various officials or obedientiaries of St. Edmunds, in common with every large Benedictine house, had certain tithes, lands, or rents allotted to them which they had to administer for the good of their particular office, and for which they had to return annual accounts. At St. Edmunds there was such an unusual amount of definite application of early grants to specific purposes that it led to much confusion, and it was considered expedient to apply for legal sanction to a re-allotment of the monastic property in the time of Abbot John of Northwold. Accordingly in 1281, a general redistribution scheme between the abbot and the different obedientiaries was sanctioned by Edward I, and a single long charter covering the whole ground was granted in return for the handsome fee of £1,000. To the abbot was assigned the hidage or tax on every hide of land, the foddercorn or ancient feudal right of providing the lord with horse-fodder, and every kind of court fee and manorial due throughout the whole of the great liberty of St. Edmunds. The award then proceeded to set out the specific manors, lands, tithes, rents, &c., that were allotted to (1) the cellarer, (2) the sacrist, (3) the chamberlain, (4) the almoner, (5) the pittancer, (6) the infirmarian, (7) the hosteller, and (8) the precentor. (fn. 87)
The remarkable wealth of St. Edmunds comes out in a striking form in the very numerous entries in the general taxation roll of 1291. An exceptional feature of the income of this house is the comparative smallness of its spiritualities; this abbey had then far less appropriations than any other considerable religious foundation. Contrariwise the temporalities were much in excess of any other foundation, apart from the fees pertaining to the abbot as lord of the various hundred courts which were not inconsiderable. Thus the hundred of Lackford produced £4, and that of Blackburne £14 per annum. (fn. 88)
As to spiritualities, the appropriated rectory of Mildenhall supplied the abbey with an income of £30, and there was a portion of 13s. 4d. from the church of Horningsheath.
Other spiritualities were assigned to particular obedientiaries. The important rectories of St. Mary and St. James, Bury St. Edmunds, were divided between the sacrist and the almoner; the former receiving from these two churches £44 13s. 4d., and the latter, £26 13s. 4d. The church of Woolpit was divided (after an endowment of £6 13s. 4d. had been arranged for the vicar) between the infirmarian and the pittancer, who each received £6, whilst the hosteller had also an annual portion of £1 6s. 8d. The chamberlain received the annual income of £33 6s. 8d. from the appropriated church of Brook, and also a portion of £4 from Rougham church. It will thus be seen that the spiritualities of the monastery at this date brought in an income of £152 13s. 4d.
No two of the great Benedictine abbeys were at all alike in the amounts assigned by grants to the different obedientiaries, and consequently in the relative financial importance of the particular offices. Naturally in the early days, when grants were made to the monks, it was always common to give lands or rents that were earmarked for the actual sustenance of the religious in the way of food. The cellarer's income was therefore usually of considerable importance, but in no other case had this official anything like so assured an income to administer as was the case at Bury. The following were the amounts definitely assigned to different officials by grants in 1291, exclusive of the spiritualities already cited. Cellarer £390 16s. 6¼d., sacrist £134 3s. 11¾d., chamberlain £69 12s. 5½d., almoner £11 19s. 0½d., pittancer £11 11s. 11½d., infirmarian £6 17s. 1d., hosteller £2 17s., subsacrist £1 15s. 8d., sub-cellarer 16s., and precentor 13s. 4d. A large portion of the remainder of the income was assigned to the office of the abbot, and the rest to the convent at large. By far the greater part of the income was derived from Suffolk parishes; the largest sum (£99 14s. 10½d.) came from the temporalities of Mildenhall; £103 7s. was contributed by Norfolk parishes; £3 11s. 10d. came out of the diocese of Ely, and £4 19s. 10d. from Lincoln diocese.
The complete return of 1291 thus shows that the temporalities of the abbey towards the end of the thirteenth century were worth £774 16s., yielding a total income, with the spiritualities added, and an additional £40 per annum for offerings at the shrine of St. Edmund, of nearly £1,000 a year, or about £20,000 at the present value of money.
There are many particulars extant with regard to the various obedientiaries throughout the fifteenth century, particularly as to the pittancer. The special register or chartulary of the pittancer, which contains all the evidences relative to the property assigned to that office, shows that it was endowed with the church of Woolpit and much temporal property at Bury, Mendham, Clopton, and Woolpit, bringing in an income of £17 17s. 1d. (fn. 89) There is also in the same register a taxation roll giving the value of the whole property of the abbey according to its special appropriation. (fn. 90) To the abbot was assigned £798 18s. 2d., whilst the amounts allotted to the cellarer, sacristan, treasurer, chamberlain and almoner, infirmarian, hosteller, feretrar, vestarian, sub-sacrist, sub-cellarer, and precentor, brought the total up to £2,030 7s. 11½d.
The full returns of the valor of 1535 are of much interest, though space can only be found here for the more salient points.
The abbot drew from the various hundred courts £83 0s. 6½d.; from the temporalities of Suffolk (the largest amount being £117 17s. 4d. from Melford) £549 7s. 8¼d.; from the temporalities of Norfolk £102 1s. 4½d.; from the temporalities of Essex £82 18s. 4d.; and from spiritualities (the rectory of Thurston and a portion from Fressingfield) £14 6s. 8d., giving him a total income of £843 11s. 3¼d. Out of this, however, large returns had to be made to bailiffs, &c., as well as distributions to the poor of £36 3s. 4d. The cellarer drew the great income of £821 13s. 8d. from the temporalities of Suffolk (the largest contribution being £163 from Mildenhall), and when to this were added temporalities from Norfolk, Northampton, and Hertfordshire, and the rectory of Mildenhall, his gross income came to £903 12s. 2d. From this great deductions had to be made, including £191 19s. 1d. for the poor, so that the cellarer's clear income was brought down to £629 16s. 9d.
The gross total of the abbey's income, irrespective of its cells, was £2,336 16s. 11d. The deductions, however, were so considerable that the clear value was only returned at £1,656 7s. 3½d. (fn. 91)
There was no other of our large English abbeys that expended by grants or charters so large a share of its income on distribution to the poor. In the case of St. Edmunds it amounted to £398 15s. 11½d. a year; and this was altogether apart from the daily distribution of broken meat, the occasional doles of old clothes, the long sustained alms on the death of a monk, the Christmas gifts, &c., and, above all, the entertainment of all comers in the guest-houses, from royalty to the poorest tramp. The sum just named is simply that which they were compelled to distribute even under the laxest administration.
It has been stated with emphasis that Bury St. Edmunds was by far the wealthiest Benedictine abbey in England. This is, however, by no means the case, the houses of Westminster, Glastonbury, St. Albans, and Christ Church, Canterbury, all possessing larger incomes.
It remains to put on record some of the more salient points relative to the inner life and working of the monastery.
As to the numbers of this great household: in the second half of the thirteenth century there were 80 monks, 21 chaplains, and 111 servants living in curia, apart from a considerable number of officials and hinds of the home-farms, who drew their rations from the abbey. (fn. 92) The number of the monks had dropped to about sixty at the time of the first visitation of Henry VIII's commissioners, and his policy had driven out about a third of that number before the surrender.
Many of the entries in the custumary of the abbey, temp. Edward I, are full of interest. (fn. 93) After reciting the very severe discipline de gravi culpa, and the lighter punishment de levi culpa, the custumary proceeds to deal with de trunculo, which appears to have been a third grade of yet lighter punishment. The delinquent was required to sit super trunculum, i.e. on a low trunk or chest, which stood in the midst of the chapter-house, between the lectern and the foot of the abbot's seat. There he had to remain whenever the convent assembled in chapter. Full details are also set forth as to the penitential positions to be taken up by the de trunculo offender when in choir and refectory. There was also a fourth grade of discipline de minoribus penitentiis. A delinquent of this class had various minor but not degrading duties assigned him, such as carrying the lamp before the convent, collecting the scraps from the refectory, &c. Nor was he severely restricted in diet; it was permitted to him if ailing to drink beer of the second quality 'propter stomachi infirmitacionem et capitis debilitatem.' (fn. 94)
Entry is made of the weekly wages (9s. 1¾d.) due to the servants of the church. The chaplain in charge of the vestments had two servants receiving 12d.; the sub-sacrist's boy 6d.; the cressetarius, who looked after the cressets, 8d., but the cerarius only 4d.; two steyrarii (?) 12d.; a carpenter, 12¼d.; a plumber, 12d., and his servant, 6d.; a janitor of the church, with his dog, 7d.; a janitor of the west door, 2d.; a warden of the green gate (custos viridi hostii), 6d.; and a carter (carractarius), 8½d. A memorandum adds that the carter received from Easter to Michaelmas 1½d. ad nonchenches, (fn. 95) the woodman 8d., and the two steyrarii 3d. each week during the like period. (fn. 96)
A list of the monastic servants for the year 1284 shows that the cellarer's department had forty-eight servants of different grades, such as the porter of the great gate, and the hall steward, whose names are set forth, and those of humbler degree who only appear as messor, tres pistores, or mundator curi. Twenty-four servants were under the sacrist; seven under the chamberlain, including a tailor and a shoemaker; six under the infirmarian; nine under the almoner; and seven under the hosteller or guest-master. This list takes no account of those of the abbot's household. (fn. 97)
A list of the chaplains of the monastery, drawn up early in the reign of Edward I, gives the names of three chaplains of the church of St. Mary, three of the church of St. James, one general chaplain, and one each of the chapels of St. Robert, St. Margaret, St. John of the Mount (de Monte), the Round Chapel, St. Denis, St. John at the Well (ad fontes), St. Katharine, St. Faith, the Great Rood, St. John at the Gate, St. Michael, the chapel of the Brazen Cross (ad crucem aream), the hospital of St. Saviour, and the Domus Dei. This gives a total of twenty-one chaplains supported by the abbey. (fn. 98)
The distribution of bread of different kinds to the household is set forth with much nicety in the custumary. The total of the day's baking amounted to 94 loaves, in addition to the bread for the abbot's household, for the monks' refectory, for the infirmary, and for the guest-houses. The daily allowance of beer to the household servants amounted to 82 gallons (lagenae), whilst 96 gallons were dispatched once a week to the nuns of Thetford.
That lordly fish, usually reserved for royalty, the sturgeon, graced the monastic table on the anniversary of Richard I, the Transfiguration, the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, the feast of All Saints, the feast of St. Nicholas, and the anniversary of Abbot Samson. On the feast of St. Denis, fine bread, butter, and cheese, were provided. A pittance of wine was provided for the convent at Easter, Ascension, Whitsuntide, Christmas, the feasts of St. John Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, St. Botolph, Relics, St. Edmund, and the Assumption. On the feast of Relics a choice was given of 'must' (unfermented wine) or wine.
The pittances of this abbey for the convent were numerous; a list given in the custumary enumerates eighty-two. Thirty-one of these were on anniversaries, (fn. 99) chiefly of their own abbots or other distinguished men of the house; the remainder were on church festivals. The pittance in some cases was so small that it could not have made any appreciable difference to the diet except of a few; thus there was a pittance of a mark on the anniversary of Isabel, mother of Abbot Henry; and the like amount on the anniversary of Abbot Edmund. In several cases where the addition to the usual diet is stated, it will be seen that the extra food was of a trifling character. Pancakes and white bread were the additions at the Epiphany, the Purification, the feasts of St. John Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, &c. On Easter Monday, the octave of Easter, Michaelmas, Martinmas, the Translation of St. Benedict, &c., and on a few anniversaries, onions were supplied. On Easter Day, Whitsunday, the feast of St. Edmund and Christmas Day, apples and pears, as well as pancakes, were placed on the tables. 'Ringes', which were probably round cakes, were supplied on the anniversary of Richard I, the Transfiguration, the anniversary of Abbot Hugh, the feast of Relics, and the feast of St. Thomas; and wafers and biscuits on the feast of St. Nicholas. (fn. 100) On forty days in the year, being the chief feasts, such as Christmas, Circumcision, Epiphany, &c., the servants of the church had their meals in the refectory. Particular details are given as to the Maundy gifts and observances, including the payment of 2d. each by certain of the upper servants, termed 'glovesilver.'
Among the special privileges of the abbey of St. Edmunds were the powers bestowed upon the abbot of conferring minor orders on those of his own house and the right to call in any bishop of the Church Catholic to admit monks to the higher orders within the abbey precincts. Orders were celebrated in the chancel of the church of St. Mary in the precincts on the vigil of the Holy Trinity, 1401, by Bishop Thomas Aladensis, (fn. 101) when three deacons and four priests were ordained, all monks of the house. At the September Embertide in the same year Bishop Thomas again held an ordination in the like place, ordaining four sub-deacons and three priests. (fn. 102)
Moreover, the abbot's privilege went much further than the giving authority to bishops to hold special ordinations for his monks. He could commission the ordaining, through his own letters dimissory, of any fit candidates for holy orders within the liberties of St. Edmunds, whether religious or secular. Thus in 1410 and 1419, Abbot William of Exeter, writing from his manor of Elmswell, commissioned John, archbishop of Smyrna, (fn. 103) through letters dimissory by papal indult, to ordain certain priests who were not connected with the monastery. (fn. 104) The register of Abbot Curteys (1429-46) has many of these ordination entries. (fn. 105) On the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin (8 September) 1435, Abbot Curteys personally ordained four of the monks from exorcist to acolyte. Again, in the following year six monks were ordained deacons, in the chapel of St. Stephen, by the bishop of Emly. (fn. 106)
There was an old religious saying to the effect that a monastery without a library was as a castle without an armoury. In this respect St. Edmunds was exceptionally well armed, even in early days. The library consisted of upwards of 2,000 volumes, and was widely samed. A large number of them have been identified among the manuscript treasures of the British Museum, and of the University and College libraries of Cambridge and Oxford. Abbot Curteys built a special library for the accommodation of the books in 1430, and drew up regulations for their use. (fn. 107)
It was for a long period, more particularly in the fifteenth century, considered a high honour to be made an associate of this celebrated monastery. During the time of Abbot Curteys (1429-46) admissions to the chapter fraternity were granted to John Brodwell, doctor of laws; William Paston, justice of the King's Bench; Thomas Haseley, king's coroner; William Brewster, king's clerk; Richard Beauchamp, Earl Warwick, with Isabel his wife, Henry and Anne his children; Henry, Cardinal St. Eusebius; Eleanor, duchess of Gloucester; William Clopton, esquire, of Melford; Elizabeth Veer, countess of Oxford; and William Pole, earl of Suffolk, and Alice his wife. (fn. 108) When Henry VI and his court bade farewell to St. Edmunds on St. George's Day, 1434, the Duke of Gloucester and all the leading courtiers were admitted to all the spiritual privileges of the monks as sharers in their prayers and deeds. Last of all the king himself passed into the chapter-house, where he was enrolled as one of the holy community of associates, the abbot greeting him with the fraternal kiss. (fn. 109)
It must not be imagined that this powerful house of Benedictine monks was free from all outside visitation because of its being exempt from diocesan or archiepiscopal jurisdiction. The abbey was just as much subject to the general provincial chapter of the Benedictines as the humblest priory of the order. The general chapter met every three years, and one of its most important duties was the appointment of visitors. There are several references to these periodic inspections in the St. Edmund registers. Thus in 1393, on the feast of St. Barnabas, this abbey was visited by the abbot of St. Benet of Holme, the appointed visitor (as it is stated) of the general chapter. He did not visit in person, but appointed the prior and another learned monk of his house (quendam alium scolare) to act on his behalf. (fn. 110)
Moreover, the most distinguished of the fourteenth-century superiors of St. Edmunds, Abbot Curteys (1429-46), was himself appointed visitor of all the Benedictine houses of East Anglia by the general chapter of the order held at Northampton in 1431. In the following year Abbot Curteys gave formal notice of holding visitations of such important houses as the abbeys of Holme, Colchester, and Thorney, and even of the cathedral priories of Norwich and Ely. These visitations were not carried out by the abbot in person, but he commissioned his fellow-monks John Craneways and Thomas Derham to represent him. (fn. 111) It must have been singularly trying to the Bishop of Norwich, between whom and the abbot of St. Edmunds an almost permanently jealous feud existed, to find his rival holding a visitation of the cathedral priory at the very gates of his palace!
The 'Chronica Buriensis,' of the Cambridge Public Library, contains a sad account of the charges made against the monks of Bury in the fourteenth century. Many of them, it was said, were living in the surrounding villages away from the monastery, wearing the dress of laymen. It was alleged against them in 1345 that they were engaged in abductions, fightings, riots, and other unlawful practices, besides having many illegitimate children. The abbot, William de Bernham, was plainly accused of connivance at these discorders, and cited to appear before the bishop. There can be no manner of doubt that these complaints, even if they had some real basis, were greatly exaggerated. When the charges were formulated on Bishop Bateman's behalf, it was with the avowed intention of securing to himself the visitation of Bury, and his agents were naturally inclined to make out as black a case as possible. Moreover, the only authority for this grievous censure is the chronicle first cited, whose writer proceeds to state that it was a gross libel full of malignant falsehoods. True the writer was a monk, but he was a monk of Holme and not of St. Edmunds. At all events, the bishop's attempt to upset the abbey's exempt jurisdiction completely failed both in secular and ecclesiastical courts.
Mr. Arnold assumes that Abbot Bernham was a careless administrator, and that discipline was generally slack under his rule. (fn. 112) During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, however, he states that 'nothing from any quarter turns up to their (the monks') discredit.' (fn. 113) With this opinion our own perfectly independent and unbiased investigation coincides. Legh and Ap Rice's comperta, which have been already discussed, are in reality strong confirmation of this favourable judgement. The monks of St. Edmunds, whatever may have been their failings in the more remote past, appear to have been well discharging their religious and social duties at the very time of their forcible dispersion.
Abbots of Bury St. Edmunds (fn. 114)
Robert I, 1100-2
Robert II, 1102-7
Hugh I, 1157-80
Hugh II, 1215-29
Henry of Rushbrook, 1235-48
Edmund of Walpole, 1248-56
Simon of Luton, 1257-79
John of Northwold, 1279-1301
Thomas of Tottington, 1302-12
Richard of Draughton, 1312-35
William of Bernham, 1335-61
Henry of Hunstanton, 1361
John of Brinkley, 1361-79
John of Timworth, 1379-89
William of Cratfield, 1390-1415
William of Exeter, 1415-29
William Curteys, 1429-46
William Babington, 1446-53.
John Bohun, 1453-69
Robert Ixworth, 1469-74
Richard Hengham, 1474-79
Thomas Rattlesden, 1479-97
William Cadenham, 1497-1513
John Reeve, 1513-39
The first seal (twelfth century) of the abbey is a pointed oval bearing St. Edmund seated on a throne with a curved footboard crowned, with sceptre in right hand and orb in left. Legend:—
SIGILLUM SANCTO EAD . . . GIS . . . IRIS. (fn. 115)
A large fourteenth-century seal shows the abbey church of elaborate design, with two small circular openings with busts in the upper part. The lower part has three niches; in the impression (Cott. Ch. xxi, 7) the centre is wanting, but there is a crowned king on each side. Legend:—
SIGILL . . . CONVENTUS. ECCLES . . . . MUNDI. REGIS. ET MARTIR.
The reverse bears a cross of St. Andrew, in base the Martyrdom of St. Edmund, a wolf guarding the head; above, the Almighty holding a crown between two angels; on the cross two angels receiving the martyr's soul in a cloth. Legend:—
TELIS: CONFODITUR: EADMUNDUS: ET: ENSE: FERITUR
BESTIA: QUEM: MUNIT: DEUS: LUME: CELESTIB' (fn. 116)
A beautiful privy seal of the thirteenth century bears the martyrdom of St. Edmund. The king is represented tied to a tree and pierced with many arrows; on the left are three archers, and on the right two archers shooting at the king. In the base, under an arch, is the decapitation of the saint by a swordsman, and on the right a wolf bearing away the head. Legend:—
SIGNUM: SECRETUM. CAPL'I: . . . . . AEDMUNDI: REGIS: ET: MARTIRIS.
The reverse bears St. Edmund crowned and seated on a throne between two bishops, each holding a crozier. Legend:—
AGMINE: STIRPATUS: SEDET: ED: REX: PONTIFICATUS (fn. 117)
Impressions of the seals of Abbots Samson, Richard de Insula, Simon de Luton, and John Reeve are also extant.