A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1971.
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'Houses of Benedictine monks: Priory of St Mary, Worcester', in A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 2, (London, 1971) pp. 94-112. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/worcs/vol2/pp94-112 [accessed 29 February 2024]
HOUSES OF BENEDICTINE MONKS
1. PRIORY OF ST. MARY OF WORCESTER
The origin of the cathedral at Worcester may be traced far back to the establishment of the episcopal see of the Hwiccas, in 680, on the division of the unwieldy diocese of Mercia carried out by Archbishop Theodore, with the co-operation of the Mercian King Ethelred and other Hwiccan princes. (fn. 1) Numerous grants and privileges were bestowed by Ethelred and subsequent kings and viceroys on the bishop and his familia, the first occupants of the cathedral monastery, dedicated, like most Hwiccan foundations of an early date, to St. Peter. It is difficult to define the precise character of these early societies and 'families.' Bede states that they were originally composed of a mixed company of clerks and monks, but which of the two elements preponderated is still open to conjecture. The first mention of another society composed entirely of monks, destined eventually to swallow up and supersede the earlier establishment, occurs in a charter of Ethelbald, king of the Mercians, dated 743, granting to the monastery of St. Mary of Worcester the reversion of lands at Cold Ashton and Notgrove in Gloucestershire which he had bestowed on Osred, a member of the royal family of the Hwiccas. (fn. 2) Nothing is known of the earliest origin of St. Mary. Green suggests, but gives no authority, that it may be identified with the monastery at Worcester founded by Alfred and presided over by his daughter, the abbess Ethelburga. (fn. 3) The more probable theory is that this second society was the outcome of the separation of the dual elements of which the first establishment was composed, and that the mixed society which had early formed the bishop's 'familia' resolved itself into the secular college of St. Peter and the monastic society of St. Mary. (fn. 4) In support of this theory Dr. Stubbs (fn. 5) notes that the earliest references to St. Mary occur about the time of the Council of Clovesho, which laid a definite obligation on all monks and nuns to follow the rule of St. Benedict. (fn. 6) The distinction between the two establishments continued up to the time of St. Oswald, by whom the bishop's chair, which had hitherto belonged to St. Peter's church, was transferred to St. Mary's, which henceforth became known as the cathedral church of St. Mary of Worcester. In the centuries intervening the two churches existing side by side benefited equally from the liberality of Mercian princes. About the year 757 Eanberht, viceroy of the Hwiccas, with his brothers Uhtred and Aldred, granted land at Tredingtonon-Stour to Bishop Milred and the church of St. Peter, 'where our parents lie buried,' that prayers and masses might be offered to God daily. (fn. 7) His brother, the viceroy Uhtred, gave land at Stoke Prior on the east of the river Salwarpe to the brethren serving God in the monastery at Worcester dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and in 775 bestowed on the church of St. Mary, (fn. 8) 'where the bodies of my parents lie buried,' Shipston-on-Stour, for the better keeping of a good table and for the use of Christ's poor inhabiting there. (fn. 9) Probably the two churches shared the same cemetery, though St. Peter's churchyard is generally given as the burial ground of Hwiccan princes. Wigferth, duke of the Mercians, with his wife Alta, considerable benefactors to the see, and of whose gift the monks of Worcester claimed the manor and church of Lindridge, (fn. 10) was buried here about the year 781 under a stone cross in the cathedral cemetery. (fn. 11) St. Oswald is said to have preached to the people too numerous for St. Peter's church from the stone cross in the churchyard before St. Mary's was built; we read that it was taken down in the time of Edward the Confessor in order to repair the church of St. Peter. (fn. 12) Aldred the viceroy added Sedgeberrow, which he had obtained from King Offa, to the possessions of St. Mary. (fn. 13) Offa made numerous grants to both churches, but the authenticity of his charters as well as those of Uhtred the viceroy is regarded as more than doubtful.
The see, and consequently the cathedral chapter, profited largely by a practice in vogue during the eighth and ninth centuries for rich laymen to make temporary provision for their families, and at the same time testify to their devotion to religion by making over large grants of money or land for the foundation of monasteries where relations of the donor could be established for life, but with the intention of their final reversion to the episcopal see. Fladbury was one of the earliest of these foundations thus absorbed into the college at Worcester. Bishop Oftfor obtained it by grant of King Ethelred about the year 961, (fn. 14) and it was regranted by Bishop Ecgwin to Ethelheard, son of Oshere the Mercian sub-regulus and early benefactor of the see, in exchange for Stratford, on condition that its monastic state should be maintained. (fn. 15) It descended to the viceroy Aldred by inheritance, and was by him granted to the Abbess Ethelburga his kinswoman on condition of its reversion to the see. (fn. 16) On her death it was confirmed to Bishop Deneberht and his familia by King Kenulf. The Danish raids fell heavily on the diocese during the ninth century, and the bishops were obliged to make considerable grants of church lands in order to purchase protection. (fn. 17)
Bishop Oswald, destined to end the long rivalry between the sister churches of St. Peter and St. Mary, (fn. 18) was appointed to the see in 961 by the influence of Dunstan. (fn. 19) He proceeded at once to bring about the reforms for which he had been selected, but chose a gentler method than that adopted by his fellow-reformers Dunstan and Ethelwald: instead of forcibly expelling the secular canons who refused to comply he undermined and supplanted them. (fn. 20) He began by showing a marked preference for St. Mary's church, and by frequent attendance there at divine offices so drew off the people who flocked to hear him preach and receive his blessing that St. Peter's became practically deserted. (fn. 21) He then proceeded to build a new and stately church in St. Peter's churchyard, which he dedicated to the Blessed Mary. By these and other means (fn. 22) the seculars found themselves so reduced that, with Wynsin, a creature of Oswald's, kirkward of St. Peter's and vicar of St. Helen's church, at their head, they peaceably handed over the keys, deeds, etc. of the college to the bishop, and with but two exceptions consented to receive the habit. (fn. 23) Wynsin was sent to Ramsey, and after undergoing three years' probation was installed dean of St. Mary's, whither the inmates of St. Peter's had been transferred. In this manner the possession of the bishop's seat passed over to St. Mary's church, or, in the language of William of Malmesbury, 'the saint who bears the keys of paradise made way for her who keeps the door of heaven.' (fn. 24) The date of the completion of this transfer is generally given as 969, (fn. 25) though the famous charter of King Edgar, now generally regarded as a forgery, referring to the reforms effected by St. Oswald, and commenting severely on the previous occupants of the cathedral, is dated 964. (fn. 26) By it the lands and possessions of the bishop and chapter were consolidated into the hundred of Oswaldslawe, containing 300 hides in Worcestershire, to be held under the legal jurisdiction of the bishop with privileges and exemptions, excluding that of the hundred or county courts.
The new cathedral church, with its twentyeight altars, (fn. 27) was completed in 983. (fn. 28) The bishop was not allowed to resign Worcester on his promotion to York in 972, lest in his absence the reforms established by him in the cathedral chapter should be undone. (fn. 29) On his death in 992 he was buried in the church which he had built from the foundations. Ten years later his remains were translated by Aldulf, then archbishop of York, and placed in a shrine. (fn. 30)
The church of Worcester suffered severely under the Danish invasion of the early part of the eleventh century. A schedule of its possessions lost about this time states that during the reign of King Ethelred the country was wasted and depopulated under Sweyn, the pagan king of the Danes, and that in order to meet the heavy tax laid on the whole of England nearly all the ornaments of the cathedral were taken, the altars despoiled of their gold and silver tables (tabulœ), crosses and chalices melted down, and large sums of money carried off. (fn. 31) The citizens of Worcester rose in rebellion under the extortion of Hardicanute, and pursued the two housecarls sent to enforce payment, and slew them in the monastery whither they had fled. The army sent by the king to take vengeance laid waste the city for four days, and left on the fifth day carrying plunder with them. (fn. 32) The cathedral thus ravaged with fire and sword remained until replaced by the foundation of Wulfstan II., the last Saxon prelate, who succeeded on the eve of the conquest. His predecessor, Archbishop Ealdred, will be remembered for his curse of the usurping sheriff of Worcester, Urse D'Abitôt, against whose encroachments on their burial ground the monks of St. Mary's had applied for protection. (fn. 33)
Wulfstan began his career under Bishop Brihteah, by whom he was ordained deacon and priest. Urged by his parents, and especially his mother, he proceeded to take monastic vows and entered the monastery of St. Mary, of which his father was already an inmate. He filled the offices of scholasticus, or master of the school, and treasurer in succession, and on the death of Ethelwin, or Agelwin, was made prior. (fn. 34) He was chosen, it is said, against his will to fill the see vacated by the promotion of Bishop Ealdred to York in 1061. (fn. 35) He was the friend of Harold, but after the battle of Hastings when all was lost he met the Conqueror at Berkhampstead and with others made submission to him. (fn. 36) An entry in Heming's chartulary records a grant of two hides of land at Cullacliffe made as early as 1067 to the bishop and his monks on condition that they should 'intercede faithfully for the Conqueror's soul and for those who assisted him when he obtained the lordship of this land.' (fn. 37) Worcester is said to have shared the fate of other monasteries plundered in 1069, (fn. 38) but the feeling of mutual confidence and respect between bishop and king was maintained during the Conqueror's reign nevertheless, and by another charter William testified to Wulfstan the bishop and Urse the sheriff that he had confirmed to Alstan the dean and the monks of Worcester all customs and privileges pertaining to their priory. (fn. 39)
According to the Domesday Survey the church of Worcester (fn. 40) at that time held in Worcestershire, besides the triple hundred of the Oswaldslawe, land at Cleeve Prior, Phepson, and Hanbury within the hundred of Esch, at Stoke Prior and Alvechurch within the hundred of Came, at Hartlebury and Wolverley in that of Cresslau, and the two manors of Eardiston in Lindridge and Knighton on Teme assigned to the support of the monks within the hundred of Dodingtree. (fn. 41) In addition the church held various manors and estates in the counties of Gloucester and Warwick. (fn. 42) By a suit instituted on the death of Archbishop Ealdred in 1069 and on the promotion of his successor Thomas, Wulfstan was able to prove the claim of the subjection of Worcester to York to be groundless, the council confirming the ancient liberties of the church as granted by the kings of Mercia and of the English. (fn. 43)
In 1084 Wulfstan began his life's work, the erection of a new cathedral in place of St. Oswald's, which had been so grievously damaged in the Danish raids, and which was now ordered to be unroofed and demolished. (fn. 44) In 1089 the work was completed, and the monks entered their new and enlarged monastery on the Day of Pentecost in that same year, the bishop offering upon the altar on the dedication day of the church, built to the pious memory of Blessed Oswald, the manor of Alveston in Warwickshire, recovered from the Conqueror at great labour and cost, and now applied to the maintenance of the brethren whose number Wulfstan had augmented from twelve to fifty. (fn. 45) Among other good works for the benefit of the community Sanctœ Mariæ in Cryptis, (fn. 46) Wulfstan restored the house of Westbury, which had fallen into decay through time, 'the ravages of pirates, and the neglect of provosts' (prepositorum), and gave it back to the use of the monks of Worcester, with whom it had been early associated as one of those 'family' monasteries of which mention has already been made. (fn. 47) At his wise instigation 'Heming the monk' codified the wonderful collection of charters and documents relating to the see and church of Worcester, known to us as Heming's Chartulary, as a means of ensurance against further loss in future. (fn. 48) One of the last acts of his life was to convene a synod in the monastery of 'Saint Mary in the crypts' in 1092 to decide a dispute between the parish priests of the churches of St. Helen and St. Alban as to which was the mother church of Worcester. The prior and chapter put in a claim to St. Helen's church, alleging that it had belonged to them since the foundation of the see. The synod found that there was no mother church but the cathedral. (fn. 49)
The successors of Wulfstan the last Saxon bishop (fn. 50) owed their appointment during the twelfth century to court influence. Indirectly their connexion with the king and official life benefited the cathedral chapter by enhancing the importance of the city and see of Worcester before the sanctity attaching in the following century to the tombs of SS. Oswald and Wulfstan had established its fame. Bishop Sampson, consecrated in 1096, bestowed many gifts on the monks, but was disapproved by them for revoking the constitution of Westbury and re-establishing secular canons there. (fn. 51) In the interval between his death and the appointment of his successor the cathedral was considerably damaged by fire, in which it is said the roof was wholly consumed, 'the lead melted, the planks converted into charcoal, and beams as large as trees fell to the pavement'; the escape of Wulfstan's tomb was regarded as miraculous. (fn. 52) Bishops Sampson and Theulf were both buried in the nave of St. Mary's before the crucifix. (fn. 53) Stephen was received at Worcester in 1139 by the clergy and citizens with open arms; the ring from his finger which the king offered on the altar was scrupulously returned to him the following day. (fn. 54) In the later part of the year the city was thrown into commotion by the report of the advance of the Empress's troops. The citizens prepared for assault by depositing their goods and valuables in the cathedral. (fn. 55) The monks endeavoured to avert the doom by carrying the relics of St. Oswald in procession. The cathedral appears to have escaped in the firing of the city which ensued. (fn. 56) Bishop Simon showed himself a liberal benefactor of the convent, to whom he subjected the priory of Little Malvern with the church of St. Giles, (fn. 57) restored the church of Lawern, (fn. 58) and gave back to the monks their right in the church of Westbury. (fn. 59)
From the reign of Henry I. Worcester frequently became the headquarters of the king and court during the great festivals of the year. (fn. 60) Roger de Hoveden states that Henry II. caused himself to be crowned for the third time with Eleanor his wife at Worcester in the solemn feast of Easter 1159. When they came to the offertory the king and queen removed their crowns and laid them on the altar with a vow that they would henceforth cease to wear them. (fn. 61) Roger, who occupied the see for the first part of the reign of Henry II., during his rule settled various disputes that had arisen between the convent and Osbert de Say respecting the churches of All Saints and St. Clement, Worcester, (fn. 62) delivering judgment in the crypt of the cathedral before the altar of St. Peter. In 1178 he terminated a controversy between the monks of Worcester and the nuns of Westwood respecting the patronage of the church of Dodderhill. (fn. 63) In 1175 the new tower of the cathedral is reported to have given way, and a disastrous fire in 1189 did great damage. (fn. 64)
Richard I. in the first year of his reign granted to St. Mary's church and the bishop and his successors, for the soul of his father King Henry and the good estate of his mother Eleanor and himself, 614 acres of assarted land, parcel of various manors belonging to the bishop. (fn. 65) John de Coutances in the short term of his office is said to have removed irreverently and by night the bones of St. Wulfstan; they were restored to their resting-place by Bishop Mauger in 1204. (fn. 66)
The wonderful miracles attributed to the relics of the saint did not begin till 14 January, 1201, 'which for a whole year or more increased to such an extent that sometimes fifteen or sixteen sick were cured in one day.' (fn. 67) A deputation of the monks was despatched to Rome to procure the canonization of their patron, and on 1 September, 1202, the archbishop of Canterbury, with other commissioners, visited Worcester at the command of the pope for the purpose of holding an enquiry. (fn. 68) As a consequence of this report St. Wulfstan was canonized at Rome on 23 April, 1203. (fn. 69) These events had an important bearing, for in 1202 the cathedral with its adjoining offices was again visited by fire, (fn. 70) and the revenue accruing to the brethren by the offerings of pilgrims who flocked to the shrine largely enabled them to rebuild their church and monastery. By the year 1224 these offerings had become so valuable that the bishop and convent had to come to some agreement as to their respective shares. (fn. 71) In 1216 the men of the earl of Hereford plundered the cathedral and exacted 300 marks from the monks, for which they were compelled to melt down the shrine of St. Wulfstan. (fn. 72)
King John visited the city (fn. 73) in the Christmastide of 1217, and having been received in solemn procession made his prayer at the tomb of the saint; subsequently at the request of the prior he granted to the brethren full liberties and customs within the manors of Lindridge, Wolverley, Stoke and Cleeve Prior, (fn. 74) and commuted the fine to which they were liable for the grant that it might be applied to the repair of their church. (fn. 75) On the confiscation of church lands which followed the Interdict in 1208, the king ordered the sheriff to restore to the prior of Worcester all his lands and rents. (fn. 76) Following the death of Bishop Mauger the chapter elected their prior to be his successor, but the election was set aside in favour of Walter de Gray, the king's chancellor, and Prior Ralph, having renounced the right of his election, was blessed by the papal legate as abbot of Evesham, (fn. 77) of which body he was already a member. (fn. 78) John wrote to the prior and chapter on the elevation of Gray to York in 1216 pointing out the expediency of making fit choice of those pastors who should be useful to the king and his realm and desiring them on those grounds not to elect their subprior or the prior of Little Malvern. (fn. 79) Thus admonished the convent elected their prior Silvester de Evesham who had just returned from the Roman council, (fn. 80) having received letters of protection from the king earlier in the year. (fn. 81) The death of John followed some months later. In obedience to his last wishes (fn. 82) the abbot of Croxton, after performing the customary anatomical operation, conveyed the body of the king from Newark to Worcester, where it was buried before the high altar of the cathedral between SS. Oswald and Wulfstan; the chronicler adds 'that the saying of Merlin might be verified, let him be buried between the saints.' (fn. 83) The monks seized the occasion to obtain from the guardians of the infant king Henry III. that part of the castle of Worcester within the king's fee which they had long claimed, (fn. 84) the king himself confirmed the grant in 1232, (fn. 85) and in the same year bestowed on the brethren the church of Bromsgrove to provide for the yearly celebration of his father's anniversary. (fn. 86) In an entry under the year 1224 we read of the king's order to the Exchequer to pay for an embroidered cloth 'to cover the tomb of our father.' (fn. 87)
In June 1218 the cathedral church all this time in building was solemnly consecrated and dedicated anew to St. Mary, St. Peter, St. Oswald, and St. Wulfstan, in presence of the young king, his nobles and bishops, and on the same day the remains of St. Wulfstan were translated to a permanent shrine. (fn. 88) William de Blois built the charnel-chapel or Carnarie, situated between the cathedral and the bishop's palace, with a crypt under it for the bones of the faithful, and dedicated it to St. Thomas the Martyr. He ordained that mass should be said daily in the chapel for the repose of his soul and of his predecessor's. It was endowed by Walter de Cantilupe in 1265 for the maintenance of four priests. (fn. 89) The prior, we are told, began to build his house in August 1225, and finished it in December next. (fn. 90)
The episcopacy of William de Blois, 12181236, was an important one in the building up and consolidation of the power and independence enjoyed by the convent at a later stage when the interests of bishop and chapter had become to a certain extent divorced. The frequent disputes which estranged the community taught them at least the necessity of a clear definition of the extent of the bishop's power in chapter, and the limit of their submission to him as head. Forced on the monks against their will by the papal legate Guala, the convent reluctantly consented to elect William, then archdeacon of Bucks, to the vacant see on the death of Silvester de Evesham. It must be admitted that he showed himself both able and energetic in carrying on the work of building, and enlarging the revenues of the monastery. In 1220 his struggle with the community began. He visited and made a searching examination into the internal and external affairs of the houses, with the object, it appeared, of deposing the prior. (fn. 91) The attempt was foiled by the obstinate resistance offered by the brethren, and in the following year they claimed to have received letters of indulgence from Rome forbidding his deposition unless instigated by the pope himself. In the discussions which ensued the sacristan was deposed and three of the monks excommunicated in one day, the enraged community retaliating by violently opposing the bishop when he attempted to enter the chapter-house with his clerks. The pope suspended the prior the following year, and the bishop returning from Rome deposed him and instituted William Norman, prior of Great Malvern, in his place, the monks meanwhile violently protesting. (fn. 92) The quarrel lasted till the year 1224, in the course of which the bishop seems to have seized certain pensions and rents of the monks which he was afterwards ordered to restore. (fn. 93) The meeting held in the chapter-house on 3 October, 1224, presided over by the archbishop of Canterbury, decided with an object of putting an end to strife that William Norman should resign his office and receive the manor of Cleeve Prior for his lifetime by way of compensation, that the convent should pay his expenses, amounting to 100 marks, in the suit, and that the bishop should appoint another prior from outside the cathedral body. For the future it was provided that on the vacancy of the house the convent should present seven of their number to the bishop, who should appoint a prior out of the seven, and he should not be removed save for just cause, and during such vacancy the bishop should have the presentation to churches belonging to the priory together with wardships, marriages, and escheats of all free tenants, all other profits remaining to the convent. (fn. 94) The appointment of a prior should not be delayed so as to cause injury to the convent. (fn. 95) The bishop and chapter should each retain half of the offerings made at the bier and shrine of Blessed St. Wulfstun, and both parties should appoint 'honest clerks' for the custody of the same. It was further enacted that the bishop before entering the chapter-house should warn the convent, and should be attended only by his clerks if he intended to treat of spiritual matters. He might be accompanied by seculars if temporal matters were to be discussed. Finally all were admonished to lay aside rancour and ill-feeling and to forgive mutually all debts and expenses incurred by the other. (fn. 96) In 1234 a suit between the bishop and chapter respecting the church of St. Helen, Worcester, was settled by arbitration which ordained that the bishop should have jurisdiction over the church with the chapel of Claines on the east of the Severn and that the convent should hold in proprios usus the church with the chapels of Wyke and Wickhamford on the west of the Severn for the hospitality of their house. (fn. 97) A composition in 1283 between Boniface, archbishop of Canterbury, and the monks of Worcester ordained that in the vacancy of the see the custody of the spiritualities should be vested in the prior, or in the event of his death or absence in the sub-prior, as the archbishop's official, with the right of exercising such spiritual jurisdiction within the diocese as pertained to the office of custodian. Two-thirds of the profits of administration should go to the archbishop, the prior retaining the other third with all procurations made in kind. (fn. 98) It may also be recalled here that St. Wulfstan confirmed the right of the priors of Worcester since the days of Wynsin to be deans over all the churches belonging to the monks so that no dean or archdeacon could have any right therein, all ecclesiastical dues being paid by the prior as dean direct to the bishop. (fn. 99)
Bishop Cantilupe obtained from Henry III. grants of various privileges for lands belonging to the church. He took, however, a prominent part on the side of the Barons in the troubles of the later part of the reign, and while under the pope's ban for his complicity with the king's enemies the prior was summoned to the great parliament held at Winchester in 1265 after the fall of De Montfort from which the bishop was excluded. (fn. 100) We read that on the eve of these troubles the archbishop of Canterbury visited Worcester in 1260 and was received by the bishop and convent who paid a procuration of four marks. (fn. 101)
The thirteenth-century register of the Blessed Mary of Worcester contains a minute account of the internal economy of the convent about this time. This interesting document, besides the larger part, consisting of a specimen rent roll of the monastery for the year 1240, contains entries of public interest such as the re-issue of the Charter in 1224, the charter of the forests, with numerous charters and bulls relating to the possessions and liberties of the cathedral chapter. From it we learn the manner in which its large revenue was applied to the various offices, the provision for lights at the various chapels and altars as well as in the dormitory, the disposition of bequests, (fn. 102) the celebration of the anniversary of King John named among other benefactors and departed priors, the wages paid to the servants and to the prior's familia, the servants' Christmas gifts, the daily distribution of bread outside the convent body, the portion of St. Wulfstan, their patron and benefactor whom the brethren deemed ever present among them, the forms to be observed on the death of a prior, the notices served on the death of a member of the house to other houses within the bishop's fraternity. (fn. 103) It is possible to reconstruct much of the routine of this Benedictine house from such abundant material.
Immediately on his consecration in 1268 Bishop Giffard (fn. 104) bestowed on the prior and chapter the church of Grimley with the chapel of Hallow; (fn. 105) during his rule he confirmed the composition made with William de Blois for the custody of the priory during a vacancy, and in 1275 placed the cathedral under the protection of the pope who confirmed to the church of St. Mary all its possessions and prohibited the custom of the king and bailiffs seizing the movable goods of the priory on the death of its bishop. (fn. 106) He augmented the number of priests to officiate in the charnel-chappel from four to six, and added to their endowment the churches of St. Helen in Worcester and Naunton in Cotswold, (fn. 107) and shortly before his death bestowed on the priory the church of Dodderhill. (fn. 108)
Edward I. was a frequent visitor at Worcester and is said to have had a special love for St. Wulfstan. (fn. 109) He held Parliament here on an outbreak of the Welsh in 1282, (fn. 110) and made a practice of stopping to hear St. Wulfstan's mass and to implore the aid of the saint's prayers when summoned to quell disturbances in Wales. On the eve of the Gascon expedition in 1293 he sent his clerk with offerings for St. Wulfstan and two golden cloths for the high altar. On the same day the chapter ordained that three masses of St. Wulfstan should be said weekly until the king's return in safety. (fn. 111) He came to Worcester by boat in July, 1295, before embarking for France, and heard mass and made offerings to the shrines of St. Wulfstan and St. Oswald, and on the morrow, kneeling before the tomb of St. Wulfstan, the prior and precentor standing by, he vowed to God and the saints that in return for the intercession of St. Wulfstan he would provide for the maintenance of three monks in the convent and two candles to burn before the shrine. (fn. 112) In fulfilment of this promise he bestowed on the convent the church of Worfield on the occasion of his visit here with the queen 16 April, 1301. (fn. 113) The king in 1302 made a grant to the convent of the offerings of St. Wulfstan's shrine during all future vacancies. (fn. 114) The monks had to sustain a suit for their possession of the church of Bromsgrove in 1279 which they won, (fn. 115) but were subsequently fined for holding assize of bread within the manor. (fn. 116) The convent obtained from the king in 1282 a confirmation of previous charters granted to them by his predecessors. (fn. 117)
Despite the evidences of wealth and distinction that attended the rule of Giffard it was not a time wholly of gain to the convent. The bishop and chapter joined in concert in opposing outside interference with their joint rights, but the controversies that rent them internally were long and bitter and did much to foster that growing spirit of rebellion and independence which marked the attitude of the monks. The articles of complaint formulated against the bishop by the convent on the occasion of the archbishop's visitation in 1301 (fn. 118) contain the gravamen of these disputes. (fn. 119) Among other things the monks complained that the bishop had stirred up the sacristan against the prior, (fn. 120) had made the best churches in his patronage prebendal to Westbury, (fn. 121) and wasted the first fruits of vacant churches within his diocese which should have been applied to the repair of the church of Worcester described as ruinous. He was further accused of impoverishing the convent by making certain grants prejudicial to them without their consent, that he had on one occasion when visiting them made grievous statutes and received fifty marks from the chapter for revoking them, and on another occasion had brought with him so many of his kinsmen that the number of horsemen quartered on the monastery amounted to a hundred. Every grievance, extortion, or encroachment was set down, including the destruction of pots and pans by the bishop's retinue. Many of the charges were denied or explained away by Giffard, but allowing for exaggeration much truth remains in the complaints. Giffard had picturesque qualities, but he was of an imperious disposition with a stubborn temper that brooked no opposition, fond of state and display, and regardless of scruples that weigh with smaller men. (fn. 122) He loved to entertain royally and to do good to those of his kith and kin.
The convent was visited at frequent intervals during the rule of Giffard; his visitations here are recorded in 1282 (fn. 123) and in the year 1284, when according to his register he found nothing reprehensible. (fn. 124) In the intervening year the diocese was visited by Archbishop Peckham; he arrived at Worcester on the morrow of the Feast of the Purification, 1283, and received procuration from the bishop but lay at the priory; the following day he visited the monks. (fn. 125) Relations between bishop and convent in the ensuing years became much strained owing to prolonged and bitter dispute, and an incident which occurred in 1288 rendered the contest between them more acute. On the death of Robert de Fangef, archdeacon of Gloucester, (fn. 126) John de Ebroicis, a nephew of Giffard, was appointed. In the first year of his appointment he claimed the right of calling the names of the candidates at an ordination held at Westbury; the precentor of the cathedral, to whom the office of custom belonged, attempted to vindicate his claim, but was ignominiously expelled, the bishop apparently assenting; the following year the incident was repeated at Bromsgrove. (fn. 127) The convent were up in arms at the slight, and during 1288 protested against the bishop receiving the monks' professions pending their appeal for the rights of their church. (fn. 128) The Annals record two fruitless attempts on the part of Giffard to enter the chapter-house in 1288. Finally he yielded to the extent of admitting that the rights of the church were whatever they had been before the expulsion of the precentor from Westbury. (fn. 129) The monks were not so successful, according to their own showing, in their next controversy, and it served also to stir up the archbishop of Canterbury against them. Their smouldering dislike of the Franciscan friars had in 1289 broken out in open feud; they carried off by force the body of a certain citizen of Worcester, H. de Poche, who the friars asserted desired to be buried by them, and caused it to be buried in their own cemetery. (fn. 130) The archbishop interfered, (fn. 131) and eventually, after a series of inquiries, the brethren were compelled to dig up and return the body to the brothers minor, who, regardless of their promise to take it away secretly and with all modesty, made the triumph an occasion of great display and public rejoicing to the natural confusion of the monks. (fn. 132) Hostilities with the bishop meanwhile continued, and in 1289 the community discerned a fresh grievance in his ' extortion' of the chapel of Grafton which they were at considerable cost and labour to recover at law. (fn. 133) The bishop came to visit the convent on 7 November, 1290, and in his official account states that he was impeded on the second day of his visitation as he was examining some of the officials in the chapter-house by the violence of the prior and his adherents. (fn. 134) It is not a matter of great surprise after such litigation to find from the bishop's injunctions published the following March (fn. 135) that the convent was endeavouring to raise money by the sale of corrodies and by contracting loans. The brethren were also forbidden to wander about or lead out harriers. (fn. 136) The monks record that the bishop wrote to them on 6 May, 1291, and visited them the following day. Negotiations followed which resulted in the bishop revoking his former grievous statutes, (fn. 137) and possibly it was in gratitude for this concession that the prior and convent agreed the following year that on the anniversary of the bishop's death every year they would feed thirteen poor persons. (fn. 138) In 1292 a brawl took place in the cathedral; the monks on hearing that blood had been shed, though it was doubtful if it had touched the pavement, carefully abstained from celebrating, and divine offices were said in the chapter-house until the church had been reconciled by the bishop. (fn. 139) A brief entry records that on 11 June, 1300, Giffard visited the monastery, (fn. 140) he was breaking up fast at that time, and in August of the same year being hindered by increasing infirmity he gave instructions for the visitation of the priory by commissioners (fn. 141) and wrote to the prior and chapter to notify impending visitation. (fn. 142) The archbishop of Canterbury, notwithstanding the bishop's protest, (fn. 143) came to visit the diocese in the following spring. He arrived at Worcester on 14 March, 1300-1, and preached to the monks, and afterwards went on to visit the bishop who was lying ill at Wyke. (fn. 144) The following day he visited the prior and chapter by his clerks and lodged meanwhile at the prior's house, for the guest-house of the convent was taken up with pilgrims and guests. The annalist speaks of the day on which the archbishop published his corrections as 'a day of tribulation and rebuke,' and with reason, for he deposed the sub-prior, precentor, and chamberlain, and forbad the sacristan, third prior, and pittancer to leave the precincts of the monastery for a year. (fn. 145) The fourteenth century opens with the resignation of the prior in 1301 (fn. 146) and the death of Bishop Giffard in the following January, 1301-2. (fn. 147)
The cathedral priory rose during the ensuing century to a position of commanding eminence, notwithstanding papal pretensions which almost invariably on the voidance of the diocese' provided' to the see regardless of the wishes of the monks, and the fact that from and partly owing to the rule of Giffard it was crippled from the outset by want of sufficient funds to meet the increased outlay required for building and other purposes. The prior's ascendancy in the diocese was also increased by a rapid succession of short episcopates with intervals of voidance occasionally much prolonged, during which as official custodian of the see (fn. 148) he exercised powers of spiritual jurisdiction over other monasteries in the diocese, which was much resented in the case of great rival houses like St. Peter of Gloucester, Tewkesbury, Bristol, and Winchcomb, and resulted in much friction and frequent appeals on both sides to the court of Canterbury. How successful the prior was in maintaining his right to visit and exercise the spiritual authority temporarily vested in him may be seen in the register Sede Vacante. The frequent absence of the bishop on affairs of the realm also placed him in a position of redoubled trust and honour. In regard to their relations with the diocesan the convent continued to resist strenuously any attempt to impinge on its prerogative or curtail its liberty on the part of the bishop. The chartulary of St. Peter's of Gloucester contains an interesting copy of an agreement dated 1315, whereby the monasteries of Worcester, Gloucester, Cirencester, and Lanthony bound themselves together in opposition to any molestations by their bishop and his officers, and agreed to share law expenses incurred in carrying cases up to Canterbury or Rome. (fn. 149) In the middle of the century Pope Clement VI. granted leave to Prior John of Evesham (fn. 150) and his successors to wear a mitre, ring, and pastoral staff and give the solemn benediction at mass and table. His successor, Innocent VI., confirmed these privileges, but at the request of Bishop Reginald decreed that the mitre and other ornaments should not be worn in the presence of the bishop, and, lest these should become more magnificent than those of the bishop, ordained that the prior's mitre should be of white with orphreys but without gems or precious stones. The prior petitioned Urban V. for leave to wear his mitre in the bishop's presence, setting forth the privileges obtained by other abbots and priors. He was only able to obtain, however, an indulgence for the use of a mitre ornamented with pearls and precious stones, and other insignia to be worn in the absence of the bishop. (fn. 151) It was further decreed by Innocent VI. that the prior or sub-prior should not reconcile churches or cemeteries, save during the vacancy of the see or in the absence of the bishop out of England, as the episcopal income was largely dependent on the dues of such reconciliations. (fn. 152)
Building was carried on extensively all through the century. In July, 1302, we are told that a great part of the monks' dormitory fell down, the result of negligence, as for a long time it had been in a threatening condition. The drain of constant litigation and appeals that needed backing by the power of the purse seems to have allowed the brethren but scant means to set their house in order. In a letter to the archbishop in March, 1302, the prior reminds him of his promise to help the monastery, which at his visitation he found so oppressed by debt that there was scarcely enough food, and pleads for the confirmation of the church of Dodderhill, appropriated to them by the late bishop. (fn. 153) It was urged as a reason for the appointment of John de Sancto Germano that the building of the church would be continued by him, and the state of the monks improved with regard to their food and refection. (fn. 154) According to the Taxation Roll of 1291, the prior of Worcester held temporalities in the two archdeaconries of Worcester and Gloucester amounting to £196 16s. (fn. 155) and £6 2s., (fn. 156) and spiritualities of the value of £17 12s. 8d.; (fn. 157) he held also temporalities and spiritualities amounting to £34 18s. 2d. (fn. 158) in the diocese of Hereford, and £4 4s. in the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield. (fn. 159) The prior and convent added largely to their estates during the present century, but owing to their financial condition on its opening, and its economic changes, were nevertheless constantly made to feel the embarrassment of insufficient means. The usual resort was made to appropriation. In the last year of his reign Edward I. appropriated to the convent the church of Lindridge of their advowson for the maintenance of three more monks in their house, and to provide wax lights to burn before the shrine of St. Wulfstan. (fn. 160) In 1313 Bishop Reynolds appropriated to them the church of Dodderhill, (fn. 161) the brethren in their petition reciting the loss of eight manors and five churches in the time of the wars and by general extortion, combined with the increased drain on hospitality, so many strangers making their way to the town by the bridge over the Severn, whereby they had become so impoverished that without assistance they would be obliged to reduce the number of their monks. (fn. 162) During his episcopacy Reynolds appointed a commission to remove the wooden and stone tombs in the cathedral churchyard for the repair of the fabric. (fn. 163) Bishop Maidstone appropriated the church of Tibberton to the office of the precentor at his request, showing that his income was insufficient to defray the cost of writing new books and repairing the old, and of keeping a horse and servant for the affairs of the monastery. (fn. 164) In 1330 the convent obtained a grant from Edward III. for the appropriation of the church of Overbury with the chapels of Washbourne, Teddington, and 'Berghes' annexed; (fn. 165) the grant was confirmed by the pope in 1346 at the prayer of Queen Philippa, reciting that the priory at that time was burdened with debt, the church ruinous, and its manors in need of repair. (fn. 166) Bishop Montacute in 1336 granted a licence to the prior and convent to build a new domuncula, and renew the cemetery in view of its age. (fn. 167) In the same year he restored to the priory the manor of Crowle Siward, originally granted in the reign of Bertulf, the Mercian king, and since lost, (fn. 168) and leased to the brethren certain lands within the manor of Kempsey for a term of thirty years, in order to augment the office of the sacristan. (fn. 169) To indemnify the bishop for the loss of the manor, the convent agreed to pay him and his successors an annual pension of one mark from the manor of Tibberton, (fn. 170) and in return for his 'paternal kindness' made him a partieipator in all their prayers and religious exercises, placed his name in their martyrology, and ordained the yearly celebration of his anniversary. (fn. 171) Bishop Wakefield, in 1389, appropriated the church of Stoke Prior to the use of the chamberlain's office on account of the poverty of its issues. (fn. 172)
Besides numerous pensions granted by the convent, (fn. 173) frequent demands came from the king for corrodies and grants to his retainers. In October, 1287, Edward I. wrote to the bishop for the exhibition of Alice, a lay sister, conversa, and John her son, within the priory. (fn. 174) In February, 1301-2, he wrote to the convent, asking for a corrody to be given to the bearer, John le Traior, which was granted. (fn. 175) The prior in 1309 presented, as pertained to his office, a corrody called the corrody of King John, to a certain Nicholas atte Zales of Humelton. (fn. 176) During the reign of Edward II. Nicholas de Renty was sent to receive the necessaries of life, together with maintenance for a horse and groom, within the convent for his life. (fn. 177) John le Barber was sent in May, 1316, to receive a similar allowance. (fn. 178) On the death of Nicholas, the king requested the prior and convent to admit Geoffrey de Caroune on the same terms, (fn. 179) and in November, 1320, to allow Peter Dannyles, or Danviliers, to receive such maintenance in their house as James le Barber had had. (fn. 180) In 1322 came a request for admittance and life maintenance for Alice Conan, in return for her good services to the queen. (fn. 181) The brethren attempted to evade the last imposition, and were summoned in Michaelmas Term, 1323, by the king for neglecting to comply with his request. The prior protested the inability of the convent, owing to the badness of the times, but the reason being considered insufficient the matter was deferred. On the next hearing the prior acknowledged the admission of previous pensioners at the king's request, but stated that the charter of King Edgar, which he produced in court, granted the convent certain indemnities, and that their lands had been given in such a manner that it was not lawful for any bishop or prince to withdraw or invade any of their privileges so long as the Christian faith endured, consequently the prior was quit of all claim for sustenance. Judgment was finally given in the prior's favour, saving the right of the king to imparl therein. (fn. 182) The convent appear to have yielded the point as of courtesy, but secured a promise from Edward III. in the first year of his reign that the grant made by them of £10 a year for the maintenance of her damsel at the queen's request should not prejudice them or their successors as a precedent. (fn. 183) The priory received requests for aid in connexion with various incidents in the reign of Edward III. (fn. 184) In 1335 John Ussher was sent to the priory to receive such maintenance as John le Traior had had at the request of Edward I. (fn. 185) The convent obtained a licence from Edward III. in 1332 to acquire four messuages and 8s. rent in Worcester, for the maintenance of a chaplain celebrating daily in the Lady Chapel for the souls of the father and mother of William le Orfevre, of Worcester: (fn. 186) by another licence in 1334 they acquired land in aid of the daily celebration in the church. (fn. 187) Richard II. in the first year of his reign confirmed previous charters granted to the priory; among these was one of Edward III. in 1369, giving leave to the monks to crenellate their priory. (fn. 188)
The chapter of Worcester was visited with other religious houses in the diocese by the prior or his commissaries during the not infrequent vacancies which occurred during the fourteenth century; these occasions provided indeed an opportunity for rigorously enforcing all episcopal rights of spiritual jurisdiction. (fn. 189) On 3 September, 1303, Bishop Gainsborough sent a notice to the prior and chaplain of his intention to visit their priory. (fn. 190) Bishop Maidstone in October, 1313, appointed officials to visit all religious houses in the diocese on account of his own disability. (fn. 191) The prior was ordered in May, 1315, to correct and punish the 'excesses' of his fellow monks in the monastery of Worcester lately visited. (fn. 192) Bishop Montacute visited the monastery on Monday before the Feast of All Saints, 1333, and preached and received procuration. (fn. 193) In a subsequent letter of corrections the bishop made earnest endeavours to reform existing abuses, and, taking different departments in order, laid down various rules for the guidance of each officer. He desired the brethren also to labour quietly for the spiritual welfare of their house, and advised that the younger members should be kept more usefully occupied, and not suffered to wander from the precincts of the cloister except for some special and approved cause. The eating of meat in times and places prohibited by their rule (fn. 194) was forbidden, together with the nonobservance of fast, and the sowing of discord; the observance of silence, almsgiving, the care of the sick in the infirmary, enjoined. Various officers came under the bishop's mild censure, the sub-prior was admonished not to absent himself from the priory without reasonable cause, the sacristan ordered to restore two cloths sent for St. Wulfstan's shrine by the king, and the vestments bequeathed by Bishop Godfrey to the altar of the Blessed Mary, and to make up his quarrel with William de Incebergh. The brethren were admonished generally to refrain from the company of women, and to let greater kindness and brotherly love dwell among them. (fn. 195) Notice of another visitation was sent to the convent 6 November, 1335. (fn. 196) Prior Bransford succeeded to the see on the death of Hemenhale, and in the first year of his rule, 1339, signified to the prior and chapter of Worcester his intention of visiting the convent on Thursday after the Feast of St. Denis (October 9), on which day he desired all absent brethren to be recalled. (fn. 197) He remained two days at the priory at the expense of the convent. (fn. 198) Notice of another visitation was received in October, 1342. (fn. 199) The Black Death ravaged the diocese during the short rule of John Thoresby; the bishop did not visit his diocese till 1351, when he was enthroned. (fn. 200) In August of that year he warned the convent to prepare for his visitation by summoning all absent members to be present. (fn. 201) Visitations were frequently carried out at this time by the bishop's officials. Innocent VI. issued a bull in 1357 for the visitation of the diocese by the bishop or his vices, the latter were not to receive procuration for more than a day. (fn. 202) Towards the close of the century the archbishop of Canterbury signified his intention of visiting the city and diocese, for which he had received a special bull from Urban V. (fn. 203) He was received on Wednesday, 12 October, 1384, by the bishop, prior, and chapter in solemn procession, and led to the altar, where he read the collect and prayer and celebrated mass. During his stay he was entertained at the palace, and on Thursday preached to the convent on the text 'Descendam et videbo.' (fn. 204) On 29 October, at Kempsey, he confirmed the various churches, pensions, and tithes held by the church of Worcester. (fn. 205)
The fourteenth century was a period of lawlessness and strife, and its history abounds in instances of brawl and quarrel, robbery and bloodshed profaning even the cathedral, and breaking out within the hallowed precincts of the ancient sanctuary. (fn. 206) In 1302 the prior of Worcester ordered the excommunication of the bailiffs of the city, 'men of blood and craft' who had lured and arrested a clerk taking sanctuary in the crypt of the cathedral. Public penance was enjoined on the officials with their servants at the door of the cathedral. (fn. 207) Reynolds in August, 1313, ordered the prior of Worcester to reconcile the cemetery from bloodshed, (fn. 208) and in the following year Bishop Maidstone excommunicated certain persons who had dragged a fugitive out of sanctuary and appealed to the king to enforce observance of ancient privilege. (fn. 209) The cathedral cloister was the scene of an affray in 1318, (fn. 210) and in the course of Cobham's rule the monks complained of interference with the pipes conveying their water supply. (fn. 211) In July, 1337, an official of the city appeared before the vicar-general to make submission, having incurred sentence of excommunication by distraining on the house of one John atte Green, situated close to the cathedral cemetery and within the church's fee. (fn. 212) In 1349 a serious riot took place between the monks and townsmen in which the bailiffs and commonalty 'comming in warlike manner with armes' attacked the church and priory, broke the priory gates, made assault on the prior's servants and beat them, and 'with bows and arrows and other offensive weapons' pursued the prior and the monks and endeavoured to set fire to the monastery. (fn. 213) The case was brought up before the justices, who decided that trespasses had been committed against the prior and assessed the damages at £100 12s. (fn. 214) Thieves broke into the the 'elemosinaria' within the cathedral cemetery in the year 1350, and carried off whatever they could lay hands on. (fn. 215) On 27 January 1390-1, Bishop Wakefield reconciled the cathedral from effusion of blood and afterwards absolved those who had taken part in the affray. (fn. 216) Henry IV. in the second year of his reign confirmed the ancient grant of sanctuary within the church by which it was ordained that no 'bailiffs, sergeants, minister, or other person of the city of Worcester shall hereafter carry or bear any mace or maces but only in the presence of the king or his children within the churchyard, priory, and sanctuary of Worcester, nor intermeddle within the aforesaid liberties.' (fn. 217) An indenture, dated in the time of Bishop Carpenter, between the prior and convent of the cathedral church of Worcester and the bailiffs and commonalty of Worcester gave licence to the said bailiffs and their successors 'for their worship and honour' to have their maces borne before them by their sergeants in the church or cemetery and in the parish of St. John.' (fn. 218) During the rule of Prior John Fordham the convent obtained from the bailiffs of Worcester the privilege of conveying water from the city conduits to their own precincts, on condition that for this grant they and their successors should present annually to the bailiffs and their successors a red rose at the feast of St. John Baptist. (fn. 219) A lengthy agreement was arrived at in 1509, during the rule of John Weddersbury, respecting the lead pipes which conveyed water from a spring at Henwick Hill to the monastery (fn. 220) by which the convent agreed to mend the pipes whenever broken within seven days. The city authorities and the monastery agreed that if in future either party should have a grievance, four monks and four citizens should have 'loving meetings and communications before anything be attempted at lawe.' (fn. 221)
According to the number of the brethren assembled for the election of Bishop Clifford in 1401 the chapter at that time numbered fortyfour; there was a third and fourth prior as well as prior and sub-prior. (fn. 222) The number appears to have dwindled to forty in 1419, (fn. 223) but forty-five brethren and monks assembled in chapter for the election of Thomas Bourchier in 1433. (fn. 224) The brethren engaged in a dispute in the early part of the century with the scholars of Queen's College, Oxford, respecting the non-payment of a pension due for the church of Newbold Pacy during a vacancy. (fn. 225) In 1432 they came to an amicable agreement with the Hospital of St. Wulfstan, Worcester, as to the provision of a chaplain for the chapel of Claines within the parish of Bromsgrove. (fn. 226) An indenture dated 1412, and another in 1460, between the two monasteries of Malmesbury and Worcester transferred to the use of the latter certain chambers at Gloucester College, Oxford, for the convenience of their monks studying there. (fn. 227)
In 1437, in consequence of the long continuance of disastrous rains and the threatened failure of crops, the prior and convent were ordered to cause the shrine of St. Oswald to be carried about in solemn procession 'as we byn enformed that hyt hath byn afore this time for cessyng of such continual reyne.' (fn. 228)
The prior and chapter received various requests for aid during the wars of the Roses. Henry VI. in 1458 asked for an allowance to be restored to Richard Hertlebure, brother of a former prior, who had been grievously wounded 'in our warres beyond sea,' and reduced to poverty. (fn. 229) In 1459 he acknowledged the loan of a hundred marks to aid him against the rebels. (fn. 230) Edward IV. wrote to the prior of Worcester in the second year of his reign asking for a benevolence to be raised in order to meet the invasion of 'oure grete Adversary Henre namyng hymselfe Kyng of England by the malicious counseille and excitation of Magarete his wife namyng her selfe Quene of England.' Instructions were given to assemble the brethren with all other persons, householders, and inhabitants within the precincts of the age of sixteen and upwards and to read these letters and inscribe their names in a book. (fn. 231) The convent obtained a pardon for divers transgressions from Henry VII. in the first year of his reign, 1485-6. (fn. 232)
The visitations of the monastery during the fifteenth century throw little light on its condition. In April, 1429, Bishop Polton commissioned his official to finish the visitation of the priory, being himself hindered, (fn. 233) and in June, 1432, Parliament then claiming him, ordered the master of St. Wulfstan's Hospital, Walter London, his commissioner-general, to visit the prior and chapter. (fn. 234) During the vigorous rule of Carpenter the convent was twice visited. On the first occasion the bishop arrived 22 September, 1461, at the priory, where he was received by the sub-prior, the prior being ill, (fn. 235) and the convent with great state and entertained with his household for two days; his visitation sermon was preached by the sacristan. (fn. 236) On the next occasion, in October, 1466, he remained three days and 'reformed' the church and brethren, preaching himself from the text 'Fili quare fecisti nobis sic.' In his register is enrolled a copy of ordinances for the cellarer previously confirmed by Bishop Bourchier in 1443. (fn. 237) The bishop in his zeal for the spread of learning added to the cathedral library which was in the charnel-house, and in 1458 endowed it with £10 a year for the support of a chaplain who should be a Bachelor in Theology and act as librarian. (fn. 238) Bishop Alcock issued a special mandate in December, 1481, for the visitation of the priory, which was carried out on 8 January following by his commissary, all the brethren being present save those studying at Oxford. (fn. 239) In 1480 during his rule there was a bold robbery in the Lady Chapel; the bishop issued a mandate that all gold, silver, rings, jewels, drapery on the image of the Virgin Mary which had been removed should be restored within fifteen days. (fn. 240) The visit of his successor, Robert Morton, in 1488 is described in the register of his acts; he arrived at Worcester, Friday, 19 September, and was received at the gate of the city 'called the Forgate' by the clergy, aldermen, and bailiffs. The prior and convent according to precedent met him in procession in the middle of the cemetery and escorted him into the cathedral up to the high altar, where he bestowed on the prior Robert Multon and on the brethren the kiss of peace. The following day he preached to the brethren from the text 'Vide et visite vineam istam' and exhorted them to continue in the worship of God and in the observance of their sacred religion. (fn. 241)
From the brief notices of the formal visitations made by the vicars-general of the Italian bishops who followed, little information can be gathered. Thomas Wodyngton commenced a tour of the diocese in 1497, and visited the prior and chapter on Monday, 7 May, of that year; (fn. 242) as vicar-general for Silvester de Gigliis he visited here again on 19 June, 1500. (fn. 243) Thomas Alcock visited on 19 June, 1503, (fn. 244) Master Thomas Hannibil came to visit on 25 April, 1512, and again on 14 April, 1516; on both occasions he received procuration for three days. (fn. 245) In 1506 during the rule of Mildenham a dispute was referred to the bishop as to the right of his chancellor to any allotted seat or 'place of dewty' in the cathedral. Silvester de Gigliis in a temperate letter signed 'Gilbert' made reply that he was informed by credible persons that the chancellor should sit next the prior and that the prior should not usurp the bishop's place, but sit with his brethren 'after ye old custom,' which advice he deemed best until he could come himself or depute the matter to be examined indifferently. (fn. 246)
A vivid description is given by Leland of the burial of the young prince Arthur in the cathedral church in 1502. (fn. 247) The body of the prince, who died on 2 April, was removed from the castle of Ludlow on St. George's Day and conveyed to the parish church, whence the procession set out for Worcester, where it was met at the city gate by the 'bayliffs and the honest men of the cittie on foot' and in the churchyard by the abbots of Gloucester, Evesham, Chester, Shrewsbury, Tewkesbury, Hales, and Bordesley, and the prior, of Worcester, the bishop not being present. At Dirige there were nine lessons, of which the first was read by the abbot of Tewkesbury and the sixth by the prior of Worcester. The embroidered coat of arms, the sword, shield, and crested helmet of the prince were conveyed up the choir with the earl of Kildare's son wearing the armour of the dead prince and mounted on his charger, the abbot of Tewkesbury as gospeller receiving the offering of the horse. At the conclusion of the great ceremony the corpse was borne to the grave at the south end of the high altar of the cathedral. It is said that no offerings were allowed to be made by those of the city on account of the sickness or pestilence that then raged there. (fn. 248)
We read that a corrody in the priory of Worcester was granted in reversion to William Gowre, groom of the chamber, by Henry VIII. in the year 1513. (fn. 249) George Heynes, groom of the buttery, was granted it on its next vacancy in 1532. (fn. 250) In 1522 Arthur Purde, student at Oxford, obtained at the suit of his father the pension which the bishop elect was bound to give to a clerk of the king's nomination. (fn. 251) The journal left by Prior William Moore who succeeded to the rule of the house in 1518, on the death of John Weddesbury, gives a very fair idea of the mode of life of the head of a great religious house at that time. It exhibits the prior in the pleasant light of a hospitable magnate entertaining the gentry of the county, and as a kindly, easygoing man who did not forget the ties of blood or neglect the claims of dependents. It shows him travelling about, for comparatively little of his time was spent at Worcester. It gives details as to the entertainment provided when he received distinguished visitors, among whom was the Princess Mary, taking a share in humbler festivities and family rejoicings withal, and bestowing gifts on his father, mother, and other relations. There are allusions to the sports and amusements of the day, otter hunting, the visits of players, minstrels, and jugglers, the feasting of the citizens and their wives, entries occasionally interrupted by pious ejaculations and versifications on the part of the writer. The prior was also a man of refined taste, and bought books, furniture, 'peynted cloths'; there is an entry for stained glass windows. He is entered as a justice of the peace in 1531 and the following year. (fn. 252) But the luxury, ostentation, and show that may be natural to a man of no spiritual profession consorts ill with the ideal of one who has embraced that state implying poverty and renunciation. In the frequent absence of the head at his many manor residences the government of the house largely devolved into the hands of the sub-prior, and its condition furnishes the reverse side of this picture of easy-going, kindly existence, which is not as attractive. The officers were at variance and the convent split up into two parties, the one headed by the sub-prior, Dr. Neckam, opposed to the prior and resenting his open-handed liberality with consequent financial difficulties, the other favourable to a head whose pleasant qualities made him universally popular. In 1528 we are told that ' the cellarer intends to ask Wolsey for the office of sacrist and expel the present holder, who,' the writer continues, 'had it of the gift of Wolsey and has exercised it with much modesty.' (fn. 253) In 1534 the prior, subprior, almoner, and cellarer with thirty-seven other brethren subscribed to the oath of the royal supremacy, denying the authority of the pope in England, (fn. 254) and at the beginning of the following year received a visit from Archbishop Cranmer. His 'iniuncciones et provisiones' for the order and discipline of the convent dated 22 February, 1534-5, relate to the reading of the Bible and its exposition in English, the use of the common seal, the need of making an inventory of the movable goods of the monastery, the provision of properly cooked food, and the general conduct of the officers of the house. (fn. 255) On the occasion of Dr. Leigh's visit here on the king's commission at the end of July, 1535, (fn. 256) the smouldering embers of discord burst into a flame. John Musard, a monk, took the opportunity to bring an accusation of treason against one Richard Clyve, and to prefer a charge against the prior of deposing two discreet men, Dr. Neckam from the office of sub-prior without any alleged lawful cause, and William Fordham from the cellarer's office 'for standing unto the right of the house.' He also complained that 'he and several others of the convent' had been oppressed for sixteen years and several times confined in the bishop's prison 'simply for telling the truth,' and that he was imprisoned on 2 March by a party in the convent for appealing to 'my lord of Canterbury's' visitation. (fn. 257) Two of the monks were already lying under a charge of using 'seditious words' and 'unfitting' demeanour, (fn. 258) and the house was divided on the question of the merits of the former and present cellarer. William Fordham writes to Cromwell immediately after Leigh's visitation stating that the 'saddest' men of the convent desire that he shall be reinstated; (fn. 259) on the other hand a petition was addressed to Cromwell on the part of the sub-prior and twenty-five of the brethren praying that he will retain their present cellarer Thomas Sudbury in his office, and stating it as their experience that 'Sudbury has been a good husband to the profit of the monastery,' while Fordham they describe as 'a troublesome person who has put our house to great expense and vexation.' (fn. 260) The possibility of the prior's resignation as a result of the allegations brought against him was early expected. On 15 August, 1536, the archbishop writing to Cromwell prays him on the vacancy of the house 'to be good to Mr. Holbech, D.D., of the house of Crowland, or to Dan Richard Gorton, B.D., of the house of Burton-on-Trent.' (fn. 261) On 19 October we read that Neckam 'has got the rule of the priory' for the time being, and that 'he and his brethren are still troubled by the cellarer.' (fn. 262) The disgraced prior meanwhile retired or was banished to Gloucester, whither the kindness of his friends followed him.' (fn. 263)
The Valor of 1535 gives the priory an income of £1,386 9s. 8¾d., a not unconsiderable return; nevertheless, John Musard, writing from his prison 'this cold winter,' to which he had been condemned 'in consequence of the complaints of false conspirators to your under visitors,' says 'your Lordship's farmary (infirmary) is down, your kitchen is down, your cloister had been down before this time if Mr. Doctor, your officer, (fn. 264) had not underset him with timber, your ostry and brewery ready to fall with much more that 1,000 marks will not repair.' He proceeds to lay the cause of 'the decays of your honourable Lordship's monastery' against the prior and his reckless hospitality, ostentation and love of display. 'Our untrue master,' he continues, 'kept great hospitality upon our chancellor and bishop's officers . . . with great fees and rewards, for he has been most of his time at law with gentlemen, the convent, and tenants, on account of the affection he has to his kindred and servants. He gives to them the alms the monastery is bound to give in our prince's name to fourteen poor people, viz., 16 bushels of corn each a year, and they hold the greatest farms and profits belonging to the monastery. There are three goodly mitres and staves in the cathedral, but he has sold plate to the value of £80 to buy a new mitre and staff. . . . He has as servants 4 gentlemen, 10 yeomen, and 10 grooms, of whose wages the convent officers pay much. Besides these, 10 yeomen belonging to the convent go in his livery for whom he is not charged. Even this number would not satisfy him, but he has gentlemen waiters (fn. 265) as well, and has increased their wages, diminishing the portion of the convent. I wish you knew of the poor service the convent has on fish days.' (fn. 266)
The writer describes the failure of his efforts to obtain a hearing at visitations within the last sixteen years and their result—'pore Musard to prison for telling truth,' and begs Cromwell to remove him to Westminster. There is a reference in the prior's journal under the year 1531 to John Musard which rather upsets the idea he evidently desired should be entertained of him: a reward to the beadle and others for 'fetching and conveying Dan John Musard home from Overbury after he robbed his master of certain plate and other things'; (fn. 267) it explains the reason why his complaints were lightly treated by Dr. Leigh and other visitors, as is evidently the case. William Moore's resignation must be dated between 11 February, 1535-6, when he came over to Worcester from Gloucester, according to the account given by Neckam, and applied for the use of a horse and money to go and see Cromwell, (fn. 268) probably with a view of coming to terms as to his retiring pension, (fn. 269) and the 7 March following, when the sub-prior and convent received a licence to elect, vice William Moore, resigned. (fn. 270) On the 13 March they made choice of Henry Holbech, S.T.P., monk of Crowland, and prior of the black monks studying at Cambridge, (fn. 271) and his election was confirmed by Henry VIII. on 22 March, 1535-6.
Little is recorded of the rule of the last prior. In November, 1536, he sent Cromwell, 'as a remembrance of his duty,' an annuity of twenty nobles from the manor of Alvestone. (fn. 272) Bishop Latimer visited the priory in 1537, and left injunctions reproving the neglect of the king's ordinances for the suppression of idolatry and superstition, desiring that in future they should be observed, and that the prior should have a whole Bible in English to be fast chained in some open place either in the church or cloister, and that each religious person should have at least a New Testament in English by Christmas next. He also laid down rules that all singing and other ceremonies should be laid aside during the preaching time, and that a lecture in English should be read every day except holidays. (fn. 273) A report is given under date of 27 August, 1537, of the examination of malcontents against the stripping of the ornaments and jewels of the image of the Virgin Mary in the Lady Chapel. (fn. 274) The following year the prior was appointed bishop suffragan of Bristol; (fn. 275) after the suppression of the house, 18 January, 1539-40, (fn. 276) he was reappointed as first dean of the cathedral church on its newly-constituted basis, according to the charter of foundation of Henry VIII., dated 24 January, 1541-2.
Priors of Worcester (fn. 277)
Wynsin or Wynsius or Winsige, 971, died before 992. (fn. 278)
Ethelstan, circa 992. (fn. 279)
Ethelsinus. (fn. 280)
Ethelsinus II. (fn. 281)
Godwin. (fn. 282)
Ethelwin or Agelwin. (fn. 283)
St. Wulfstan, before 1057, (fn. 284) made bishop of Worcester 1062.
Elfstan, 1062. (fn. 285)
Egelred, (fn. 286) circa 1088.
Thomas, (fn. 287) circa 1089; died 1113.
Nicholas, (fn. 288) died 1124.
Gwarin or Warin, (fn. 289) circa 1130.
Ralph, (fn. 290) died 1143.
David, (fn. 291) succeeded 1143, deposed 1145.
Osbert or Osbern, (fn. 292) succeeded 1145; died the same year.
Ralph de Bedford, (fn. 293) succeeded 1146; died 1189.
Senatus, (fn. 294) resigned 1196.
Peter, (fn. 295) 1196, deposed 1203.
Ralph de Evesham, (fn. 296) 1203, made abbot of Evesham 1214.
Silvester de Evesham, (fn. 297) 1214, made bishop of Worcester 1216.
Simon, (fn. 298) 1216, deposed 1222.
William Norman, (fn. 299) 1222, resigned 1224.
William de Bedford, (fn. 300) 1224, died 1242.
Richard de Condicote, (fn. 301) 1242, died 1252.
Thomas, (fn. 302) 1252, died 1260.
Richard de Dumbelton, (fn. 303) 1260, died 1272.
William de Cirencester, (fn. 304) 1262, died 1274.
Richard de Feckenham, (fn. 305) 1274, died 1286.
Philip de Aubyn, (fn. 306) 1286, died 1296.
Simon de Wyre, (fn. 307) 1296, resigned 1301.
John de Wyke, (fn. 308) 1301, died 1317.
Wulstan de Bransford, (fn. 309) 1317, made bishop of Worcester 1339.
Simon de Botiler, 1339, died the same year.
Simon Crompe, 1339, died 1340.
John de Evesham, 1340, died 1370.
Walter de Leigh, 1370, died 1388.
John Green, 1388, died 1395.
John de Malvern, 1395, died 1423.
John de Fordham, 1423, died 1438.
Thomas Ledbury, 1438, died 1443-4.
John Hertelbury, 1444, died 1445.
Thomas Musard, 1445, died 1469.
Robert Multon, 1469, died 1492.
William Wenloke, 1492, died 1499.
Thomas Mildenham, 1499, died 1507.
John Weddesbury, 1507, died 1518.
William Moore, 1518, resigned 1536.
Henry Holbech, 1536, surrendered 1539-40.
Deans of Worcester (fn. 310)
Henry Holbech (last prior), 1541-2.
John Barlow, 1544.
Philip Hawford, alias Ballard, last abbot of Evesham, 1553-4.
Seth Holland, 1557.
John Pedder, 1559-60.
Thomas Wilson, 1571.
Francis Willis, 1586-7.
Richard Eedes, 1597.
James Montague, 1604.
Arthur Lane, 1608.
Joseph Hall, 1616.
William Juxon, 1627-8.
Roger Mainwaring, 1633.
Christopher Potter, 1635-6.
Richard Holdsworth, nominated by the king 1646 but never installed. Vacancy 11 years.
John Oliver, 1660.
Thomas Warmestry, 1661.
William Thomas, 1665.
George Hickes, 1683.
William Talbot, 1691.
Francis Hare, 1715.
James Stillingfleet, 1726.
Edmund Marten, 1746.
John Waugh, 1751.
Sir Richard Wrottesley, 1765.
William Digby, 1769.
Hon. St. Andrew St. John, 1783.
Arthur Onslow, 1795.
John Banks Jenkinson, 1818.
James Hook, 1825.
George Murray, 1828.
John Peel, 1845.
Hon. Grantham Munton Yorke, 1874.
Lord Alwyne Compton, 1879.
John Gott, 1886.
Robert William Forrest, 1891.
The description of the pointed oval seal of the eleventh century is taken from a cast at the British Museum. (fn. 311) The obverse represents the Virgin crowned, seated on a throne, her feet on an ornamental corbel with the Child in her arms, in her right hand a fleur-de-lis. Legend:—
+ SIGILLVM S[ANCT]E DEI GENIT[RIC]IS MA[RIE] WIGORNEN[S]IS ECL'E
Reverse: A small oval counterseal representing a woman pouring out a libation to a deity, from a fine antique gem. There is a mark of the handle of the seal. Legend:—
+ HABVNDANS CAVTELA . R. NOCET.
The C is square in 'cautela' and 'nocet.'
A round fifteenth-century seal, red, is attached to the deed acknowledging the king's supremacy. (fn. 312) The obverse represents the Virgin crowned, seated on a throne in a carved niche, with elaborate canopy of five cusped arches, holding the Child who is standing on the seat, in the left hand a sceptre. Overhead, in a small niche of similar design, the Trinity. On either side in a small niche an angel, full length, swinging a censer. Outside these niches, on either side, a tree on a mount with a shield of arms slung upon the branches, the left defaced but perhaps the royal arms of England, the right ten torteaux in pile, the arms of the see of Worcester. In base an arcading. Legend:—
SIGILL': COM . . . . BEATE: DEI : GENITRICIS: MARIE: WYGORNIE
Reverse: Two carved niches with Gothic canopies, containing on the left St. Oswald with crosier, on the right St. Wulfstan with pastoral staff; each lifting up the right hand in benediction. Over the canopies three small niches containing the coronation of the Virgin between two angels swinging censers. At either side a niche, canopied, containing a kneeling ecclesiastic, with a similar kneeling figure over each canopy. Legend:—
OSWALDVS: PATRES: [et] : WLSTANUS: MONACHOR. SERVANT: HOS ..... A: REORU[M].
The description of the later seal for the new foundation, 1542, is taken from casts at the British Museum. (fn. 313) The impression is chipped, but represents on the obverse the Nativity. In the field are two scrolls inscribed Gloria in Excelsis and Natus est Nobis. In base a carved shield bearing the arms of the see. Legend:—
+ SIGILLU[M]. DECANI. ET. CAPITVLI [C]ATHEDRALIS. WIGORN ... AN. 154 . .
The reverse represents Henry VIII. in robes of majesty, seated on a carved canopied throne, on either side a number of ecclesiastics, over them two labels inscribed: Vivat Rex. Above the canopy St. Peter, half length, with nimbus, holding a key in the left hand; in his right hand a label inscribed: Non . . . . . Legend:—
QVI + PROVOC . . . + REGEM + PECCAT + IN + ANI . . . . VERBES + 20 +.