Collegiate churches: Bosham

Pages 109-112

A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


In this section


It has already been mentioned that when St. Wilfrid came to preach to the South Saxons he found a priest called Dicul and a few companions settled at Bosham. (fn. 2) Here, where the lamp of Christianity was first lit in Sussex, there sprang up during the succeeding centuries a college of secular priests richly endowed with broad lands, valued in the Confessor's time at over £300. This wealthy foundation, of whose early history nothing is known, was bestowed by the Confessor upon his Norman chaplain, Osbern, bishop of Exeter, who continued to hold it under the Conqueror. Henry I subsequently assigned this ' royal free chapel' of Bosham to William Warelwast, bishop of Exeter, who established there a college of six secular canons with prebends, their dean being the bishop of Exeter. This arrangement held good until the occupant of the western see angered Henry II by taking the part of Archbishop Becket, when the king deprived him of the chapelry and bestowed it upon the bishop of Lisieux, who retained it till 1177, when it came once more to the bishop of Exeter, (fn. 3) whose successors held it till its dissolution.

King John in 1200 confirmed the grant of the chapelry to the church of Exeter, (fn. 4) but the bishop of Chichester evidently disputed their claims, and was so far successful that in 1205 the king ordered that the chapel should be subject to the jurisdiction of the local see. (fn. 5) During this dispute the bishop of Chichester appears to have 'suspended' the church of Bosham, as a priest called Roger was several times excommunicated for ministering there. (fn. 6) This was only the beginning of a long series of quarrels between the bishops of Exeter and Chichester. The question was complicated by the fact that the nave of the collegiate church was the parish church, the vicar of which was vicar of the canon of the parochial prebend; and over this vicar and the parish church the see of Chichester had undoubted jurisdiction— arising, according to an inquest of 1294, from the fact that the parochial vicar, during the time that the chapel was in Henry II's hands, had submitted himself to the bishop's jurisdiction— but the claims of the bishops and archdeacons of Chichester to visit and control the collegiate choir and its canons, though constantly asserted, were always defeated. (fn. 7)

The college (fn. 8) consisted of six prebendaries of Bosham Parochial, Walton, Appledram, Funtington, Chidham, and Westbrooke, one of whom was sacrist and head of the college under the dean (i.e. the bishop of Exeter). The sacrist, who received £4 yearly from each of the other canons, as well as the offerings of wax and other perquisites, was bound to be resident, and to be in priest's orders either when appointed or immediately afterwards; he had to see to the conduct of the services, to control the canons and vicars, and to hear their confessions; he had also to find a clerk to ring the bells and open and shut the doors, of which the keys were to be given to the sacrist after curfew; to him also it fell to provide the elements and wax and other lights, except the tapers lit at the elevation of the Host, the provision of which—as also of books and ornaments and repairs to the chapel— lay at the charge of the other five canons. The canons were forbidden to farm their prebends, and were compelled to provide vicars, who received two marks in addition to six marks composition for tithes—except the parochial vicar, who had special tithes assigned to him. The vicars, with the exception of the parochial vicar, were removable at will, and before admission were examined by the sacrist and the other vicars as to voice and skill in reading and chanting. The services were to be according to the Sarum Use, and were to commence with mattins at daybreak during the winter, and about two hours after sunrise in summer. Immediately after mattins came the mass of the Blessed Virgin —with music or not, according to the discretion of the vicar celebrating. During this and the customary subsequent hours the parochial vicar was to visit the poor and perform the other duties of his cure, taking care to be back in time to take part in the procession and high mass in the choir about the third hour, under penalty of a fine. On Sundays and festivals the procession, after prime and the other hours had been sung, was to go so that on its return a halt was made in the nave before the Rood, where the parochial vicar or his deputy was to offer the customary prayers and to expound sermons and other matters touching his cure in English. After this the procession was to go on to the choir, where the high mass was at once to begin, at which the parochial vicar was to take his part until after the offertory, when, provided there were enough to finish singing the mass as solemnly as it had been begun, he might take one of the parish clerks with him—leaving the other to minister in the choir—and begin mass without music at the parishioners' altar; but this he should do by deputy if it were his turn to celebrate high mass or the mass of the Blessed Virgin in the chapel, which turn must be observed, no excuse being allowed of celebrating 'the so-called parish mass . . . since without doubt that is the parochial mass which is celebrated at the high altar in the choir.' Infringement of these rules involved fines, which were levied in the chapter held on Saturdays in the choir, when excuses might be made, which were to be accredited on the speaker's word without further proof. It was further ordered in 1399 that all the vicars were to live in a house which was to be built for them, £40 having been left for that purpose by Bishop Thomas de Brentingham, and the rest of the money promised by the canons. This house was to have one common entrance, but the parochial vicar was to have a room adjoining the cemetery, where his parishioners could find him whenever required.

The earliest recorded visitation of Bosham appears to be that of Bishop Wyville in 1282, when it was found that the church was in bad repair, rain falling even on the high altar; the vestments were very bad, as was all the church furniture, the supply of books was inadequate, and neither the church nor any altar was dedicated. As a result of this visitation the profits of all the prebends were sequestrated. (fn. 9) When Bishop Thomas visited the chapel in July, 1294, the fabric was still in bad repair, the chancel especially; altar-fronts, copes and other things were lacking, and books required binding. Orders were given that the canons should be more liberal in almsgiving and should be content with their prebends, not encroaching on those of others; moreover, lest there should be a temptation to provide unsuitable persons as vicars because they would take lower stipends, each canon was to pay his vicar two marks in addition to what he received from the church in right of his vicarage, and they were also ordered to be more punctual in paying the sacrist his dues, and further to collect certain tithes which had fallen into arrears. To the vicars the only order given was that they should not be absent from service without the sacrist's leave, under a penalty of a halfpenny for every hour which they missed. (fn. 10) The next visitation was that by Bishop Walter Stapleton in 1309. The church furniture was still deficient, and an order was made that the books, vestments, and ornaments of the chapel, being provided by the canons, were not in future to be used by the priests celebrating for the parishioners in the nave of the church. At this time the five vicars refused to take the oath of obedience to the bishop, though they could not justify their refusal; they were also accused of quarrelling in the choir, and of being absent without leave; the canons gave nothing to the poor, one of them had bought his prebend, and two others were farming theirs to laymen; the parochial prebendary was a non-resident pluralist who neglected his cure, and another canon had gone abroad without licence. The sacrist was accused of incontinence, but pleaded that he had already been punished and had not since sinned. (fn. 11)

Bishop Stapleton was again at Bosham in March, 1321, (fn. 12) and his successor, Bishop Grandison, dedicated the high altar in the choir in 1354, (fn. 13) and made a visitation of the chapel in 1363 by command of the king, who had heard a bad report of its condition, both spiritual and material—a report not without foundation, as the vicars were found to be deficient in number, often absent from services, and when present slovenly and ill-behaved, even disturbing service by quarrels and arguments. (fn. 14) The prebend of Appledram at this time was held by the illustrious William of Wykeham. Bishop Grandison was to some extent a benefactor of the college, as an inventory (fn. 15) of goods drawn up by the sacrist in 1371 shows that he had given them at least three service books, as well as a set of vestments worked with his arms. The most interesting of the other items in this long inventory is a copy of a 'Life of St. Richard.'

The state of the college at the end of the fourteenth century could not be called satisfactory. In 1375 Bishop Thomas de Brentingham wrote to the sacrist, appointing a date for visitation, (fn. 16) saying— we have heard with grief by the report of many that the canons, though they draw their full salaries, retain them for their own use and do not appoint vicars or ministers in their places; also they desert the chapelry and live corrupt lives in houses outside.

Again in 1380 the bishop stated that he had heard an evil report of the clergy at Bosham and had intended to visit them himself, but being too busy had deputed others to do so. (fn. 17) In 1384 special notice was made of one of the vicars choral, Robert Dygby, who for two years had neglected his duties and frequented taverns and gambling-houses in Chichester, leading a dissolute life and making strife between the laity and the clergy of Bosham, to whom he had made himself so obnoxious that his brother ministers used to take to flight whenever they met him. (fn. 18) Next year the bishop appointed his official to inquire whether the canons and vicars were treating his orders with contempt, as it was reported; especially Robert Dygby, who had now gone so far as even to live openly with a certain widow at Bosham, and Peter Carsfelde, a vicar, who had assaulted the sacrist and tried to murder him. (fn. 19) This same year, 1385, the vicar of Bosham complained that the sacrist and one of the vicars had usurped his parochial rights, baptizing infants and hearing confessions without his leave, and that the sacrist had deprived him of his canonical habit and his share in certain emoluments. (fn. 20) At last, in January, 1386, the bishop issued a strict command for all the canons to appear before him as he was determined to enforce obedience. (fn. 21) In April of the same year orders were issued for the prevention of strangers from entering the choir, where they were in the habit of coming and causing disputes and quarrels even during the services, (fn. 22) and in June penance was enjoined upon one of the vicars who had been guilty of incontinence. (fn. 23)

The college of Bosham survived until 1548, when the 'sexton,' and the other four prebendaries were pensioned off, and two of the priest vicars dismissed, a third being left to assist the vicar by the commissioners, who also recommended that the curate found by the prebend of Appledram should continue to serve the church of Appledram parish. (fn. 24)

Sacrists Of The College Of Bosham

Walter de Welewe, occurs 1308 (fn. 25)

John, occurs 1318 (fn. 26)

Ralph de Riburghe, appointed 1321 (fn. 27)

Walter de Shireforde, occurs 1323 (fn. 28)

John de Whatenhull, occurs 1334 (fn. 29)

William de Hardeshull, occurs 1340 (fn. 30)

William Scote, occurs 1363, (fn. 31) 1375 (fn. 32)

William Mewy, occurs 1379, (fn. 33) exchanged 1383

Roger Primer, appointed 1383, (fn. 34) exchanged 1388

Peter Carsfelde, appointed 1388, (fn. 35) exchanged 1399

Richard Deen, appointed 1399, (fn. 36) resigned 1400

Ralph Waterman, appointed 1400, (fn. 37) resigned 1408

John Lamburn, appointed 1408, (fn. 38) exchanged 1410

Robert de Gunwardby, appointed 1410, (fn. 39) died 1412

Robert Tremylet, appointed 1412, (fn. 40) died 1415

John Leyman, appointed 1415, (fn. 41) exchanged 1419

Nicholas Pycot, appointed 1419 (fn. 42)

William Spade, appointed 1424, (fn. 43) resigned 1431

John Penycoke, appointed 1431, (fn. 44) resigned 1433

Thomas Halle, appointed 1433, (fn. 45) resigned 1434

John Restone, M.A., appointed 1434, (fn. 46) resigned 1439

John Faxe, appointed 1439, (fn. 47) resigned 1444

Robert Langmane, appointed 1444, (fn. 48) resigned 1454

Thomas Northedone, appointed 1454 (fn. 49)

John Belyncham, alias Velingham, appointed 1503, (fn. 50) died 1504-5

Henry Hant, appointed 1505 (fn. 51)

Nicholas Taverner, resigned 1508-9 (fn. 52)

Thomas Burley, appointed 1509 (fn. 53)

John Starkey, occurs 1535 (fn. 54)

John Rixman, occurs 1548 (fn. 55)


  • 1. Suss. Arch. Coll. viii, 189-200.
  • 2. See above, p. 1.
  • 3. Gesta Henrici (Rolls Ser.), i, 181.
  • 4. Chart R. 1 John, m. 20, no. 3.
  • 5. Pat. 6 John, m. 10.
  • 6. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 255.
  • 7. See Exeter Epis. Reg. passim.
  • 8. For the loan of a transcript of the statutes of the college, drawn up in 1398, I am indebted to the kindness of Canon Dalton, C.M.G., of Windsor.
  • 9. Suss. Arch. Coll. xlv, 216.
  • 10. Exeter Epis. Reg. Stapleton, 58.
  • 11. Ibid.
  • 12. Ibid. 80.
  • 13. Ibid. Grandison, i, 174.
  • 14. Ibid. i, 50.
  • 15. Ibid. Brentingham, 256.
  • 16. Ibid. 149.
  • 17. Ibid. 424.
  • 18. Ibid. 161.
  • 19. Ibid. 164.
  • 20. Ibid. 166.
  • 21. Ibid. 168.
  • 22. Ibid. 610.
  • 23. Ibid. 614.
  • 24. Chant. Cert. 50.
  • 25. Exeter Epis. Reg. Stapleton, 56.
  • 26. Ibid. 192.
  • 27. Ibid.
  • 28. Ibid. 80.
  • 29. Pat. 8 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 35.
  • 30. Pat. 14 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 10.
  • 31. Exeter Epis. Reg. Grandison, i, 50.
  • 32. Ibid. Brentingham, i, 152.
  • 33. Ibid. 392.
  • 34. Ibid. 85.
  • 35. Ibid. 101.
  • 36. Ibid. Stafford, 148.
  • 37. Ibid.
  • 38. Ibid.
  • 39. Ibid.
  • 40. Ibid.
  • 41. Ibid.
  • 42. Ibid. For the following eleven names I am indebted to Preb. Hingeston-Randolph.
  • 43. Exeter Epis. Reg. Lacy, fol. 68.
  • 44. Ibid. fol. 107.
  • 45. Ibid. fol. 113.
  • 46. Ibid. fol. 126b.
  • 47. Ibid. fol. 181b.
  • 48. Ibid. fol. 207.
  • 49. Ibid. fol. 280.
  • 50. Ibid. Arundel, fol. 10 (4th nos.).
  • 51. Ibid. Oldham, fol. 1b.
  • 52. Ibid. fol. 28.
  • 53. Ibid.
  • 54. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 310.
  • 55. Chant. Cert. 49, 50.