Colleges: St Mary, Warwick

Pages 124-129

A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.

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The design of making the church of St. Mary, Warwick, a collegiate establishment, and uniting with it the priests of the church of All Saints within the Castle, originated with Henry de Newburgh, earl of Warwick. He gave to it the church of Compton Murdock, as a prebend for the maintenance of one canon, for his own good estate and that of Margaret his wife. (fn. 1) His son Roger, in 1123, completed the foundation, at the request of the clergy of both the churches, for the health of the souls of William the Conqueror and Maud his wife, of William Rufus, of Henry I and Maud his wife, and of the present and late earls of Warwick, and all the faithful departed, to the end that all the said clerks might serve God canonically day and night in the church of Our Lady. They were granted for their sustenance the Warwickshire churches of SS. Nicholas, Laurence, Michael, Sepulchre, and Helen, with their respective appurtenances; two parts of the tithes of Bidford, Wellesbourne, and Hardwick; 2 carucates of land near the Long Bridge; ½ hide of land at Charlecote, with tithe of the demesnes and of two mills there; ½ hide of land at Fulbrook, with two parts of the tithe of the demesne and of the village mill; 1 hide at Snitterfield, with two parts of the tithe of the inclosures; and other tithes, lands, or mills at Claverdon, Sherborne, Milverton, Cotes, Compton, Walton, Caldecote, and Miton. The endowment charter also included the church of Budbrooke, with all the tithes of that village; the church of Greetham (Rutland), and the Warwick churches of SS. John and Peter, as well as the school of Warwick and sixty houses within the walls or thereto adjacent. The charter provided that they might have a dean and chapter and enjoy the premises as freely and honourably as the churches of Lincoln, Salisbury, or York. To these considerable endowments Earl Roger subsequently added the chapel of St. James, over the west gate of the town, with a croft thereto belonging, without the town ditch, and extending as far as St. John's Chapel on the other side of the way.

Robert de Curli confirmed the grant of the church of Budbrooke, acknowledging it to be a chapel of the mother church of St. Mary, with 120 acres of inclosed land and a house for the priests thereto pertaining, and the tithes of Budbrooke and its mill; provided that the canons placed a vicar there, with the consent of Robert and his heirs. Bishop Simon of Worcester confirmed these grants in 1128, and translated the priests from the old castle church of All Saints, uniting them with those of St. Mary, under the rule of a dean and a chapter of secular canons. The ordering of this college was considered sufficiently important to require the confirmation of St. Thomas of Canterbury, Pope Eugenius III, and afterwards Pope Adrian IV, King Henry I, and many successive bishops of Worcester.

Early in the reign of Henry II there was a considerable dispute between Ralph, prior of St. Sepulchre's, Warwick, and the dean and canons of St. Mary's. The prior renounced his dependence on the collegiate church, and claimed parochial rights for his chapel of St. Sepulchre. Eventually judgement was given in favour of the college by Pope Adrian IV (1154-9), and this judgement was afterwards confirmed by St. Thomas of Canterbury, and other popes and bishops. (fn. 2)

The canons of St. Mary took curious action in the reign of Henry III with regard to the Warwick church of St. Nicholas, on the south side of the Avon, which was in their gift. They divided the rectory into three parts, presenting three rectors. In 1237 Thomas, one of the rectors, appealed to Pope Gregory on the legality of their action, and the cardinal of St. Nicholasin-Carcere was ordered to hear the cause. Thomas alleged that the church had been usually given to one parson, and that two of these portions being at length void he had demanded of the late bishop of Worcester to have the church restored to its original state, as it had been formerly settled in provincial council that in a church having more than one parson the portion of one deceased should go to the survivor, but the bishop had instituted others to these portions. (fn. 3)

Walter de Cantilupe, bishop of Worcester 1237-66, found when visiting this church towards the end of his episcopate that the dean and canons, though bound to personal residence by ancient usage, through the connivance or negligence of previous bishops had withdrawn their attendance and left the performance of worship to six hired chaplains, who had for their salaries merely the oblations and obventions of the parishioners and congregation, and that these chaplains were being reduced in number, as the offerings were not sufficient for their support. The bishop thereupon ordained that the six chaplains should be definitely established; the sum of £16 18s. 8d. was to be annually raised for their support, the prebends of the different canons being bound to pay certain proportions in addition to the altar profits; the first and principal chaplain, and the sixth, or last, who were to be respectively sacrists and rectors of St. John's, Warwick, were to have £6 18s. 8d. between them, and the other four chaplains were to divide the remaining £10. The dean and canons were also solemnly warned as to personal residence. This ordinance is cited by Dugdale (fn. 4) from Bishop Giffard's (1268-1302) register, but the page is now much mutilated.

On 6 March, 1267, Bishop Giffard visited the church after sending a letter acquainting the dean and chapter with his intention. In 1270 John de Plesset, canon of this church, was episcopally warned to make personal residence as required by his oath.

The dean and canons continued to evade the settlement made by Bishop Cantilupe, notwithstanding the pressure put upon them by his successor. In 1282 Robert de Plesset, dean, and Richard de Preston and Robert de Northampton, canons, appealed to Canterbury against the visitorial powers of their diocese, for matters had been brought to a crisis by Giffard excommunicating them for refusing him admission. When Giffard was visiting the monasteries of Warwickshire in 1284, he issued his mandate on 31 July to the prior of St. Sepulchre's Warwick to pronounce sentence of excommunication on Robert de Plesset, 'who called himself dean of the church' of the Blessed Mary of Warwick,' Richard de Preston, Robert de Northampton, and other the canons and chapter of the same church, and to examine into the rule of the house. On 28 July the dean of Arches, in the consistory of the Arches, had confirmed the bishop's sentence of excommunication, reaffirming his powers as a visitor. Giffard, who was then at Alcester, must have issued his mandate immediately on receipt of the news from London. The earl of Warwick, however, the patron of the college, now interfered, and he was strong enough to induce the bishop to withdraw the sentence of excommunication. Meanwhile the dean of Arches condemned the college in 20 marks as the cost of their appeal. On 18 September the bishop wrote to the canons from Bredon, telling them of his intention to visit. The visitation was made on 5 October, when the bishop was accompanied by four of his officials; the bishop preached to the conquered canons from the text 'Cor tuum fantasias pacietur nisi ab altissimo emissa fuerit visitatio per Spiritum Sanctum.'

Meanwhile, although excommunication had been formally withdrawn as against the rest of the canons and chapter, the bishop was still engaged in a suit against Robert de Plesset, whom he declined to recognize as dean; he had probably never been episcopally instituted. On 9 June, 1285, the official of the court of Canterbury ordered the official of the archdeacon of Worcester to cite Robert de Plesset in an appeal by William de Herton, late dean of Arches. In January, 1286, an appeal was entered by the proctor of the bishop to the apostolic see against Robert de Plesset, together with a letter from the bishop to the pope, complaining of Robert having invoked the power of the secular arm, and having also appealed to the court of Canterbury against the sentence of excommunication pronounced on him by his diocesan. Meanwhile, on the feast of St. John Baptist of that year, Giffard celebrated and preached in his prebendal church. The would-be dean seems to have failed in his appeal to Rome, for in November of the same year Giffard wrote to the earl of Warwick stating that Robert de Plesset, who claimed to be dean of St. Mary's, Warwick, was involved in the sentence of the greater excommunication, and that, therefore, the earl should not delay to present a fit person to the same. At the same time mandate was issued to Peter de Leicester, a canon of the church, to induct Thomas de Sodynton to the prebend formerly held by Robert. In March, 1287, the dean of Arches directed the official of the archdeacon of Worcester to pronounce sentence of excommunication on Robert de Plesset for contumacy.

On 27 January, 1290, the bishop visited the canons of St. Mary's, Warwick, and preached. Eventually, on 16 February of that year, Thomas de Sodynton was appointed dean, on the presentation of the earl of Warwick, having personally sworn obedience to the bishop in the cathedral church of Worcester. (fn. 5)

At the time of the Taxatio of 1291, the gross disproportion of the prebends of this college became manifest. The prebend formerly held by Robert de Plesset was valued at 15 marks, that of Ralph Hengham at 9 marks, that of Robert de Northampton at 6½ marks, that formerly held by Nicholas Warin at 5 marks, that of Peter de Leicester at 4 marks, and that of the prior of St. Sepulchre's at ½ a mark. (fn. 6)

In 1302 a dispute arose between Ralph de Hengham, canon of the church of the Blessed Mary of Warwick, and William de Apperley, dean of the same church, as to the advowson of the church of Budbrooke. On 5 November the king issued a writ prohibiting the prior of Worcester from admitting any one to the church until the matter was settled. (fn. 7)

In 1334 Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, gave to the college the advowson and appropriation of the church of Pillerton. (fn. 8)

Through the carelessness of the college chapter, and the aggressive action of those who resisted their control, it came to pass that by the middle of the fourteenth century St. Mary's had lost many of its former privileges and rights. At the instigation of the then earl of Warwick, Bishop Whittlesey (1364-8), afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, fully investigated the circumstances, and was able to restore most of its rights. But in two cases their rights had been irretrievably forfeited, namely over the priory of St. Sepulchre, Warwick, and the church of Greetham, Rutland. With regard to the old Warwick churches of SS. John, Michael, Laurence, Peter, and James, that were then all standing within the walls of the town, but mostly in ruinous condition or lacking churchyards, the bishop decided, by ordinance dated 24 December, 1367, that there was no necessity for repairing them, forasmuch as the collegiate church had sufficient room to receive all the inhabitants, and the churchyard was spacious enough to bury all the dead. The parishioners of these small parishes were therefore enjoined constantly to frequent St. Mary's, and to make their processions there as heretofore, in acknowledgement of subjection as their mother church, and to have sepulture in that churchyard, all other places within the limits of the town, save the church and churchyard of St. Nicholas across the water, being closed for ecclesiastical burial. At the same time special provision was made towards equalizing to some extent the values of the different prebends, the dean's income being scarcely that of an ordinary chaplain. Notwithstanding, however, the decree of Bishop Whittlesey, the profits of the Warwick churches of SS. Nicholas, Peter, and Laurence, as well as that of Budbrooke, were withheld in the time of Richard II, under the pretence that the ordinance of restitution did not in express words extend to the successors of the particular dean and canons to whom it was granted. Consequently, in 1398, the crown granted fresh letters patent for their union and appropriation. (fn. 9)

In May, 1364, an indulgence of three years and three quadrains was granted by the pope to penitents visiting the collegiate church of Warwick and giving alms for the repair of the fabric on the feasts of the Blessed Virgin, and one year and forty days for those doing the like on other feasts. (fn. 10)

Thomas, earl of Warwick, obtained licence to grant to the college, in 1385, the manor of Haselor and the advowson of the church valued at 15 marks yearly, and the advowson of Wolfhamcote valued at 25 marks yearly, and the advowson of Whittlesford, co. Cambridge, valued at 40 marks yearly. At the same time William Beauchamp the earl's brother, granted the college the advowson of Spelsbury, co. Oxford, valued at 20 marks, and Chaddesley Corbett, co. Worcester, valued at 45 marks. These considerable additions to the endowment were granted because the endowment was too scanty for the honourable maintenance of divine service, and the gifts were coupled with conditions for celebrations for the good estate of the two donors and the king and queen, and for their souls after their death. (fn. 11)

In 1401 Walter Power gave the college his manor of Heathcote on condition of their keeping year by year the obits of himself and of Margaret his wife. (fn. 12)

Richard Nevill, earl of Warwick, in 1454, gave them an irregular piece of waste ground, 312 ft. in length, adjoining the dean's garden, to add to their garden and churchyard. (fn. 13)

Edward IV, in the first year of his reign, in consideration of certain lapsed tithes at Fulbrook, granted the church a certain portion of inclosed ground called Northbroke in that lordship. (fn. 14) In 1468 Richard Nevill and Anne his wife, daughter of Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, granted to the dean and canons the manors of Baginton and Wolverton in this county, with three tenements and one garden in Warwick adjoining the collegiate churchyard, to the intent that four priests and two clerks, in addition to their present number, should be found for the service of the church. (fn. 15)

In the ancient park of Wedgnock, imparked by Henry de Newburgh soon after the Conquest, stood a chapel in a chapel-yard called Cuckow church, in the patronage of the earl of Warwick. In the year 1500 Henry VII granted this site to the dean and chapter of Warwick together with 40s. rent thereto belonging in lieu of glebe. It was recited in the letters patent that the chapel had been down to the ground for a long time, that the place and chapel-yard were employed for profane uses, that there were no inhabitants there to rebuild it, and that therefore it was bestowed on the college to the intent that a place once consecrated might be reconverted to pious uses. (fn. 16)

Towards the end of the chartulary there is a full and interesting inventory of the church goods, taken at the feast of the Purification 1407, by John Besseford, sacristan. (fn. 17)

The books include—

First viii Massebooks and a Gospellary and a Pistelary. Also vi new graduelles and ii olde. Also ii troperes. Also viii Portos with Legend, and ii Legends, the one of temp (Summer) another of Wynter. Also iii new Antiphoners and ii olde. Also iiii Sauters. Also vi processionals, and another with an Emanuel. (fn. 18) Also a Martyrologe and an ymner with junctotories (sic). Also a new emanuel and an Ordinal. Also a Catholicon.

Under the head 'Sylver Herneys' are given various treasures, including—

A berill herneysed wyth sylver and gilt and enamayled. . . . Also a coupe of sylver and wyth ynne a peece of sylver, and a boiste of gold of Watkyn Powers gift. . . . A boiste (fn. 19) of sylver for brede and a shelle of sylver. Twey censers of sylver, and a shippe of sylver with a spone. A tixte wyth a crucifixe Mari and Johon over helid wyth sylver. (fn. 20) Also a new canape with the crownes and a belle of silver and gilt of Watkyn Poweres gift.

Amongst the less valuable furniture of the church were—

Foure staves of uwe (yew) for ye rectors. . . . A peyre of pynsons and hamor of yron al yn on. . . . Also a crosse for eche (i.e. every) day. iiii peyre cruettis of peuter. Twey super altaries. Twey peynted tables on of ye nativite and on of ye resurrecxion, and a pax brede peynted.

There was the usual store of rich vestments always found in wealthy collegiate churches, two items may be quoted as showing how many separate articles were included in the comprehensive term 'a vestment.'

An hole vestiment of blewe of my ladyes gift of Warwick that is to say foure aubis iiii amyces wyth the parures ii chesibles ii tonycles iiii stolis iiii fanons iiii girdeles iiii copes ii anticlothis ii curtyns a frontel and a towaile, ii pilowes, and a tapit (carpet), of the same sute. Also an hole vestiment of cloth of gold, which is cald the kyngs vestiment that is to say iii aubes iii amyces wyth the parures a chesible ii tonyclis ii stolis iii fanons iii girdeles and twey copis of the same sute.

The 'baners and penons' included 'iiii crosse baners, on of ye assumpcion and xv other goode baners,' 'ii penons of ragged staves,' another 'penon of Greys armes and elmely armies quartely.'

Under the general head of 'Relikes' occur the following entries: but only the first paragraph are relics. The subsequent list of relics shows that the 'skelet' was St. Brandon's frying pan, and that the horn pertained to St. George.

Also saint Thomas heire. Also vi relikes of cristal herneysed with silver gilt. A flat relike with cristals. Also a flat relike closid yn a cas. An horn of yvore. A skelet with a skele. Also a myter, a croce (crosier) and a peyre of wollen gloves with iii rynges of goold on with a rubye. Also an othir ryng of goolde with an emerand of anneys martyns gift. Also a chesible an aube and an amyce for the bishop.

Also v copes, ii arkes, xiii sconses. An olde combe of yon, and iiii rede longe small staves for baners.

Also a bastard (fn. 21) gowne of blewe cloth of damaske. Also a crucifixe embroided, and a canape with a coupe of tre (fn. 22) and an aungel of tre gilt.

There is also a short separate inventory of goods' at my lorde's auter.' The earl's altar was apparently only used for requiem or anniversary purposes. There was a black worsted vestment, and another of new black satin. The other articles named were a latten chandelier, and a curtain of red tartaryn, a mass book, and a silver-gilt chalice.

Also othir bookis

A bible, a peyre decrees, ii peire decretals, the tixte of the forthe booke of sentence. (fn. 23) A pupi' oculi, (fn. 24) a raymond, (fn. 25) a breton, (fn. 26) Ysidoris ethiar. (fn. 27)

It is particularly interesting to note, from a brief memorandum in a later hand attached to the second list of books other than service books, that Master John Rous had five books in his hands for the term of his life, and that two books were in the hands of Sir William Blaumford after a like manner, and that two indentures as to this were in the chest (capsula) of Warwick in the treasury of Master John Rous, who had placed the five books in his new library. (fn. 28)

Master John Rous must be the historian of Warwick of that name, whose Historia Regum Anglie, with many references to the town, was published by Hearne in 1716. He was a native of Warwick and towards the end of his life went to reside at the hermitage at Guy's Cliff as one of the two chantry priests. He died on 14 January, 1491, and was buried in this collegiate church. Leland says that he built a library over the south porch of the church, where he placed many books and his own manuscripts, and gives the titles of some that he noticed. The remains of this library were swept away by the great fire which consumed all the church save the quire.

In connexion with the wealth of vestments possessed by this church, it is of interest to note that on 11 October, 1415, it was ordained by the dean and chapter of the collegiate church that for the future every canon on his admission should give to the church a new silk cope of bawdekyn, or of satin, or of silk woven with gold. (fn. 29)

The relics named in a full list of the year 1445 were numerous and remarkable. They included, beside a fragment of the cross, portions of the hair, milk, and garments of the Blessed Virgin, bones and other relics of more than thirty saints, amongst which were an ivory horn of St. George, a stone on which his blood fell when he was martyred, and the frying-pan of St. Brandon. But the most extraordinary relics were a piece of the burning bush which Moses saw, part of the seat (cathedra) of the patriarch Abraham, and some of the oil in which fire came down from heaven at Pentecost!

The full annual value of the college was entered in their register for the year 1461 as £235 6s. 3d. The considerable benefaction of 1468, together with greater care in administration, greatly increased its value, so that the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535 certified the annual revenues to be £334 2s. 3½d. Out of this sum there were allowed in stipends, to the dean, £26 13s. 4d.; to John Watwood, holding the prebend of St. Peter, £13 6s. 8d.; to John Fisher, holding the prebend of St. John Baptist, £13 6s. 8d.; and to David Vaughan, prebendary of St. Lawrence, to Thomas Leason, prebendary of St. Michael, and to Robert Wythington, prebendary of St. James, £2 each. In addition to these Robert Hoole, curate of the parish church, received £6 13s. 4d.; ten priest-vicars, daily serving in the collegiate church, £7 6s. 8d. each; and six choristers, £2 each. (fn. 30)

Dean Carvanell, upon his resignation in 1515, was assigned an annual pension of £8 17s. 9d., which was to be paid to him half-yearly on the font (super fontem baptismalem) of the collegiate church.

In June, 1538, Bishop Latimer wrote to Cromwell inclosing the complaint of the canons of Warwick, as to their poverty, whilst 'the vicar and ministers sing unwaged.' The bishop asked that they might have 'some piece of some broken abbey, or they will go shortly to naught.' (fn. 31)

In the following October complaint was made as to John Wetwood the treasurer, who was 'put up at the visitation as a lecher and fighter and disquieter of his company;' that is of the college. (fn. 32) But in September, 1539, John Wetwood appears to have succeeded against his brother canons, for he is there named as 'president.' (fn. 33)

The college was dissolved in 1544, and granted by the crown to the burgesses of Warwick. (fn. 34)

Deans of St. Mary's (fn. 35)

Robert Plesset, 1282

Thomas de Sodynton, 1290

William de Apperley, 1297 (fn. 36) (or 96)?

Robert Tankard, 1306

Richard de Alcester, 1313

Robert de Geryn, 1314

Robert de Lee, 1321

Thomas Lench, 1338

Robert de Endredeby, 1340 (fn. 37)

Nicholas Southam, 1361

Thomas Yonge, 1395

John Porter, 1432

Robert Cherbury, 1443

William Berkswell, 1454

John Southwell, 1469

Edmund Albone, M.D., 1481

Richard Brackenburgh, 1485 (fn. 38)

William Stokedale, 1498

Edward Haseley, 1498

Ralph Colingwode, 1507

John Allestre, 1510

John Carvanell, 1515

John Knightley, 1542

The fourteenth-century seal is a pointed oval: the Virgin, with crown, seated on a carved throne, the Child on the left knee. In base, under a pointed arch with foliage on each side, the dean, half-length, in prayer, to the right. Legend:—



  • 1. The Register or Chartul. of the College of Warwick, from which these particulars are taken, and from which Dugdale so largely quoted both in the Hist. of Warw. and the Mon. is at the P.R.O. (Misc. Bks. Exch. K. R. vol. xxii), and consists of 232 folios.
  • 2. Kennett, Par. Antiq. 602-3.
  • 3. Cal. Papal Let. i, 160-1.
  • 4. Dugdale, Warw. i, 429.
  • 5. Dugdale, Warw. i, 430.
  • 6. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 218.
  • 7. Sede Vac. Reg. (Worc. Hist. Soc.), fol. 13b.
  • 8. Pat. 8 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 14.
  • 9. Pat. 22 Ric. II, pt. i, m. 29.
  • 10. Cal. Pap. Let. iv, 39.
  • 11. Pat. 8 Ric. II, pt. ii, m. 3.
  • 12. Pat. 1 Hen. IV, pt. v, m. 3.
  • 13. Dugdale, Warw. i, 432.
  • 14. Pat. 1 Edw. IV, pt. iii, m. 17.
  • 15. Pat. 9 Edw. IV, pt. i, m. 17.
  • 16. Pat. 16 Hen. VII, pt. ii, m. 7.
  • 17. Chartul. 201b-204b; Misc. Bks. (P.R.O.), Exch. L. R. vol. xxii.
  • 18. The E in Emanuel in this and the subsequent entry is quite distinct; but it surely must be an ignorant corruption of Manual.
  • 19. Boiste, i.e. box.
  • 20. Tixte, i.e. 'Textus,' or the text of the Gospels, the most ancient of altar ornaments, with a Rood on the cover.
  • 21. Bastard cloth was a cloth of mixed wool and silk.
  • 22. 'Tre' tree, or wood.
  • 23. The last of Peter Lombard's celebrated Four Books of Sentences.
  • 24. Pupilla Oculi was a theological compendium.
  • 25. Either the Summa or the Penitentia of Reymond de Pennaforte; the former was printed in 1480.
  • 26. A legal treatise temp. Edw. I (Summa de legibus Anglie), was popularly known as 'Britton' or 'Breton.'
  • 27. One of the numerous treatises of St. Isidor, bishop of Seville.
  • 28. Chartul. 203b. This entry is in Latin, and the latter part badly written and faded, but the above gives the sense of it.
  • 29. Chartul. 219b.
  • 30. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii, 83.
  • 31. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (1), 445.
  • 32. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (2), 203.
  • 33. Ibid. xiv (1), 159.
  • 34. The exact date is omitted in the college and chantry certificates, but Mr. Leach (Warw. School, 94) is able to show that it occurred between 3 May and 24 June, 1544.
  • 35. Dugdale, Warw. i, 433-4.
  • 36. Worc. Epis. Reg. Giffard, passim.
  • 37. Ibid. Bransford, fol. 45.
  • 38. Pat. 2 Ric. III, pt. iii, m. 18.
  • 39. B.M. lxxiii, 31.