A History of the County of York: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1974.
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195. COLLEGIATE CHURCH OF ST. JOHN THE EVANGELIST, BEVERLEY
In the preface to the Provost's Book, written about 1417, the earliest foundation of the church is said to have been in the time of King Lucius, towards the middle of the 2nd century. The writer goes on to say that it was destroyed by Horsa and Hengist, refounded as a monastery of black monks and nuns arid seven secular priests by St. John of Beverley, destroyed by the Danes under Hubba and Hingwar, and reconstituted and augmented as a college of seven canons regular by King Athelstan. (fn. 1) Nothing is known of the constitution of the monastery founded by St. John of Beverley in the later part of the 7th century. Nor can it be actually proved that St. John's Monastery, which Bede, his contemporary, calls Inderawuda (in silva Deirorum), where he was buried in 721, was at Beverley. (fn. 2) The destruction of -St. John's foundation by the Danes is vouched for by history as little as the destruction of the mythical Romano-British church by the Saxons. (fn. 3) Athelstan was regarded throughout the Middle Ages as the real founder of the college, who, by the charter whose grants are summed up in the phrase 'Swa mikel fredom giue I the, Swo hert may think or eghe see,' conferred on the church its privilege of sanctuary, its due of four thraves from each plough in the East Riding, and other wellknown features of its franchise. (fn. 4) The story of Athelstan's visit rests, however, on no contemporary record; (fn. 5) while his charter is found in no form earlier than the 13th century, and summarizes privileges which were granted by later sovereigns.
A small body of secular clergy may have been gathered together, many years before the Norman Conquest, in the church of St. John the Evangelist, which contained the tomb of St. John of Beverley, in the principal town of the East Riding. (fn. 6) The canons of Beverley received their first authentic royal charter from Edward the Confessor. (fn. 7) The last three Saxon Archbishops of York seemed to have placed the canons on the footing of a corporate body with landed property. Ælfric caused a shrine to be made for the saint, and obtained estates in the East Riding for the church. (fn. 8) Cynesige built a high tower of stone at the west end of the church. (fn. 9) Ealdred built a new presbytery, and decorated the whole church with painting and splendid furniture. He finished the frater and dorter, which Ælfric and Cynesige had begun, and granted new endowments of land to the chapter. (fn. 10) The authentic history of the college, with its body of canons, and their common residence, the Bedern, (fn. 11) may be said to begin at this point. It is not unlikely that an unscientific age, searching for a royal founder, may have hit upon Athelstan as a king whose reign had exercised a unifying force on Britain, and was remembered as a landmark in its history. (fn. 12)
The canons of Beverley owned a large amount of land at the time of Domesday. (fn. 13) It is probable that they were already seven in number, deriving their income, like the canons at York, from a common fund. Thomas of Bayeux is credited with the foundation of the office of provost at Beverley, as at York. (fn. 14) But while at York the increase in the number of canons and the assignment of separate prebends to each led to the discontinuance of the office, the provostry remained a permanent feature at Beverley. The possessions of the canons were regarded as one common prebend in which each canon possessed an annual dividend. The corpus of each prebendal share was regarded as consisting in the corrody of daily rations derived from the Bedern. (fn. 15) The most important source of income, however, was the tribute of thraves paid by each parish in the East Riding, (fn. 16) and, although in the course of time thraves from certain specified parishes were appropriated to some of the canons, (fn. 17) the scattered nature of such property prevented the establishment of separate prebends with a fixed area. The duty of the provost was to see to the collection of the thraves, and to divide their annual proceeds. He himself held no office in the church in right of his provostry, although he was usually admitted to one of the seven canonries. (fn. 18) He was, in fact, the officer in whom the temporalities of the church were vested. The chapter, in Domesday, was in full possession of the regalities of the lands of St. John; (fn. 19) and it is not unlikely that the office of provost, as chief magistrate and temporal agent of the canons, may have been established at a date earlier than that usually assigned to it.
Each of the canonries, in process of time, was distinguished by the name of an altar in the church. The original seven were known by the names of the altars of St. Andrew, St. James, St. Martin, St. Mary, St. Michael, St. Peter, and St. Stephen. The prebendary of St. Martin's altar was also rector of the chapel of St. Mary; but no parish church within the provost's jurisdiction was annexed to any separate canonry. (fn. 20) To these was added at an unknown date an eighth canonry, attached to St. Katharine's altar, the holder of which was not ex officio a member of the chapter, but attended chapter meetings by invitation. (fn. 21) The corpus of this prebend was half the daily offerings from the high altar. The other half, and the whole of all other offerings and profits accruing to the church or common fund, were shared by the seven other canons. (fn. 22)
The archbishop himself had his stall in quire, to which an annual corrody from the Bedern was attached. (fn. 23) This, however, did not give him a place in chapter, or the right to be regarded as a canon and prebendary. The right of collation to the provostry and canonries was in the hands of the archbishop.
The church had no dean, (fn. 24) but there were in it three dignitaries, (fn. 25) the precentor, chancellor, and sacrist or treasurer. These were appointed by the provost, and received their income from the revenues of the provostry. They took rank below the canons, with stalls in quire, but no voice in chapter. The precentor had, as usual, the control of the song-school; while the chancellor was ex officio master of the grammarschool. (fn. 26) The chief duty of the sacrist was the care of the church and the shrine of St. John. (fn. 27)
More difficult to explain is the position of the seven clerks known as Berefellarii, who received corrodies from the Bedern, and evidently were attached to the church from an early date. (fn. 28) Their nickname has been interpreted to mean 'bear-skins,' from some distinctive feature of their dress, or 'bare-skins,' which may imply that they were originally poor clerks subsisting on alms derived from the seven canons. It seems that seven bedesmen, attached to the foundation, were superseded by seven poor clerks, who took their part in the services of the church. (fn. 29) Their position improved by degrees. Although bound to continual residence, they were frequently allowed licences of non-residence to study at universities (fn. 30); and in 1324 one of them is called magister. (fn. 31) Archbishop Thoresby raised them to an equality with the parsons of York Minster; and the statutes of 1391 prescribed that they should no longer be called by the turpe nomen of berefellarii, but should be known as parsons. (fn. 32) In 1422 their status is described as a parsonage, office, or benefice (fn. 33); and in 1471-2 they were incorporated as the seven parsons in the quire of the collegiate church. (fn. 34) Like the dignitaries, who were also bound to continual residence, they were appointed by the provost. (fn. 35)
Arundel's statutes (fn. 36) enumerate, in addition, nine vicars or deputies of the archbishop and canons, seven chantry priests, nine canons' clerks, one clerk of the precentor, a clerk of the charnel, seven clerks of the parsons or berefellarii, two incense-bearers, eight choristers, two sacrist's clerks, and two vergers or bell-ringers. The vicars choral, as at York and elsewhere, were permanent institutions; and one of them represented the archbishop in right of his corrody. One peculiar feature of their office was that each of the prebendal altars carried with it a cure of souls. Archbishop Melton in 1325 ascribed this to the original status of the minster as a parish church, served by the canons in common, and to the subsequent division of the parish among the canons, to whom fixed cures of souls were assigned by virtue of their prebends. (fn. 37) The fact, however, was that the cures of souls annexed to the altars had no parochial boundaries. To Melton's complaint that suitable vicars had been instituted in none of the prebendal parishes, save in that of St. Martin's altar, (fn. 38) the chapter answered that the 'parishioners' of each prebend came to their own altar in the church, and were there duly served by the vicar of the stall, and that, in case of sickness, the vicars choral were ready to minister to those within their cure. The existence of an additional clerk in the payment of each canon was held by them to supply an answer to any charge of neglect by the vicars of their choral duties. (fn. 39)
The clerks of the canons, precentor, sacrist, and berefellarii were known as 'clerks of the second form,' and after a year of probation in quire were admitted to minor orders. (fn. 40) Their duty was to assist at the quire offices and serve at the altars. 'They were under the correction of the precentor, who examined them in song; but their qualification for admission was an examination in letters by the chapter. (fn. 41) The choristers received a free education at the grammar school (fn. 42); they were admitted to the quire by the sub-chanter, (fn. 43) who was one of the vicars choral. (fn. 44) The number of chantry priests, seven in 1391, was fifteen at the time of the suppression of the college. (fn. 45) The chantry priests were never incorporated.
Little is known of the internal history of the chapter of Beverley until the later part of the 13th century. An attempt to secure the provostship for his half-brother, Morgan, was one of the many causes of dispute between Geoffrey Plantagenet and his subordinates. (fn. 46) The position of the provost led to a quarrel between Fulk Basset, provost c. 1222-40, and the canons, in which Pope Gregory IX intervened at the provost's request. The chief cause was the inordinate expenditure upon food in the Bedern, at a time when prices were high; the provost complained that his office brought him loss, while the goods of the church were wasted. (fn. 47) There was less excuse for the high-handed dealings of the non-resident provost, Aymo du Quart (1294-1304), both with the tenants of the provostry and with the chapter, which brought about the intervention of Archbishop Corbridge. (fn. 48) When Aymo was elected Bishop of Geneva in 1304 he sold goods belonging to the provostry and the canons to defray the expenses of his journey. The chapter stopped the unauthorized sales, and sequestrated the property of the provostry to the maintenance of the Bedern. (fn. 49) In 1304-5 the official of Provost Robert of Abberwick summoned the schoolmaster of the chapter to appear in his court in answer to a plea brought by a rival schoolmaster within the provostry. The canons challenged the summons with the objection that, by ancient custom, clerks wearing their habit in the minster and dwelling in Beverley were answerable only to the jurisdiction of the chapter. (fn. 50) A similar argument was urged in 1305 against the claim of the official of the archbishop to summon a canon on certain unspecified charges. The chapter threatened to appeal to the Curia if the summons were carried into execution. (fn. 51)
The growing customs of non-residence and pluralism led to difficulties between the provost and canons, and in the chapter itself. Aymo du Quart was not only non-resident and a holder of other lucrative preferments, but, as canon, did not obey the fundamental condition of proceeding to priest's orders. (fn. 52) His successor in his canonry found his prebendal house in need of almost entire rebuilding. (fn. 53) By the end of the 13th century, at any rate, the corrodies of victuals in the Bedern had been commuted for money payments. In 1286 Archbishop Romanus ordered the tax of a fourth payable by each nonresident to be levied on the prebends of three canons and of the sacrist, chancellor, precentor, and the portions of all seven berefellarii. (fn. 54) The canons were, as a rule, clerks chiefly engaged in the king's and archbishop's business. Thus Master John of Nassington in 1306 was directed by Archbishop Greenfield, whose chancellor he was, to receive the full corpus of his prebend, by virtue of a papal decree which authorized canons in attendance on their bishop to count as resident in their chapters. (fn. 55) At a convocation in 1308, when six of the canons were present, it was ordained that a canon going on business on behalf of the church and at his own expense should be accounted resident. (fn. 56) A Frenchman, Peter son of Emery, was presented by Edward I to the prebend of St. Martin's altar, the wealthiest stall in the church. His admission was delayed by his fellow canons, on the ground that he made no effort to keep his statutory residence; and he endeavoured to sue his three chief opponents for the fruits of his prebend before the king's court. This action naturally led to an indignant assertion of the chapter's right of internal jurisdiction. The deadlock caused by the intervention of the king was solved by a compromise, by which Peter agreed to accept an annual pension from the prebend, while remitting his claims to its fruits. (fn. 57) He died in 1309, and does not seem to have visited Beverley.
The question of non-residence was taken in hand by Archbishop Romanus, whose attention was called to the state of the church by his quarrel with Robert of Scarborough, the prebendary of St. Stephen's altar and Dean of York. (fn. 58) On 20th June 1290 he agreed with the canons upon an ordinance by which twentyfour weeks of residence was required yearly of every canon, and the first twelve weeks were a qualification for a share in the portions of nonresidents. (fn. 59) This ordinance was followed by another, binding the dignitaries and berefellarii to continual residence. (fn. 60) It was said later that the chapter was induced to accept the decree by the promise of a church worth at least 60 marks, to be given to their common fund. (fn. 61) Romanus fell out with the canons in 1295. On the death of Peter of Chester, the chapter sequestrated the goods of the provostry; but Romanus drove out their servants and took the property into his hands. A commission was appointed by the Crown to try the case, which probably found for the chapter (fn. 62); but a formal mandate from the archbishop was duly obtained at the next vacancy. (fn. 63) Romanus was also accused of dragging a sanctuary-man from the house of one of the canons, and was ordered by the king to set right one or two high-handed acts of which his predecessors had been guilty. (fn. 64)
At a visitation held by Archbishop Corbridge in 1302 it was decreed that one canon at least must be found in residence to hold chapters, although leave was given to appoint a deputy, in case of unavoidable absence. Of Corbridge's remaining statutes, the most interesting relates to the candles which the vicars procured at matins and vespers from the sacrist. These were to be required only when necessary, and the vicars were to return the unused candle-ends to the sacrist. (fn. 65)
Archbishop Greenfield's visitation in 1306 led to a new ordinance as to residence. The archbishop found that the vicars and clerks were changing the conditions of life in the Bedern, no doubt to their own advantage, and ordered the canons to keep a watch on what was done there, until his decree was issued. (fn. 66) The decree (17 April 1307) reduced the statutory residence of each of the seven primary canons to twelve weeks in the year, after the manner of the lesser residence at York. The corrodies of the seven canons were now permanently united to the prebends; but for his share in the oblations of the high altar and other daily distributions, each canon had to qualify by residence. (fn. 67)
Throughout these years the work of the fabric of the nave was advancing. A new shrine was made for the body of St. John, and on 21 June 1308 Greenfield dedicated the new high altar in honour of St. John of Beverley. (fn. 68) His fee was raised by levying a tenth on each prebend. (fn. 69) Archbishop Melton, formerly provost and canon, in 1325 blamed non-residents for exacting their full shares in the daily distributions and for leaving the parochial cures attached to their prebends without sufficient vicars. He complained of the inroads made on tithe by the exactions of thraves, and of the spiritual jurisdiction claimed by the chapter over their tenants and parishioners. The chapter returned clear answers to Melton's charges. The question of the thraves was reserved for further discussion; but the spiritual and temporal jurisdiction of the chapter was boldly asserted. Greenfield's ordinance as to residence was held to cover the archbishop's complaint against non-resident canons. (fn. 70)
In 1329 the rectors of the deanery of Harthill protested against the encroachment made upon their tithes, owing to the inability of poor proprietors to pay both tithe and thraves. According to custom, each canon claimed one thrave of wheat, one of barley, and two of oats from each plough; but the rectors asserted that now the canons tried to get two of wheat and two of barley in lieu of the customary four, so that the payers, in order to satisfy these demands, were forced to buy. The canons were also accused of defending recusant tithe-payers against their rectors, and of exacting thraves on an artificial assessment of the number of ploughs. (fn. 71) The rectors were apparently instigated by a foreign pluralist who held the benefice of Kirk Ella. (fn. 72) The canons acted promptly against the 'conspiracy.' Provost Huggate in 1331 made a special journey to London at the expense of the chapter, (fn. 73) and laid the case before the king. The dispute however, did not end till 1334, when Archbishop Melton obtained a monition from the king on behalf of the chapter. (fn. 74)
A curious controversy concerned the status of the lay officers of the Bedern. In 1304 the two cooks obtained a royal mandate to stop a suit against them in the court of the chapter, by which their offices were defined as lay fees. (fn. 75) The official of the provostry supported the cooks in their defiance of the chapter, and the Bedern kitchen became for the time being a cave of Adullam, where the cooks and sanctuary-men did what they pleased, holding banquets in the hall, and burning large fires, which smoked out the vicars. (fn. 76) The dispute ended with the withdrawal of excommunication from the cooks in 1306. (fn. 77) Such quarrels tended to the relaxation of discipline in the Bedern. Notes of corrections made by the chapter show that the morality of the vicars was not above suspicion; (fn. 78) and, during the same period, the chancellor, Robert of Bytham, and William of Lincoln, one of the resident canons, became notorious for their gallantries. (fn. 79)
From the death of Provost Huggate in 1338 the internal history of the church is scantily recorded, with the exception of one event. This was the quarrel of Archbishop Alexander Nevill with the canons in 1381. (fn. 80) For some time before he had endeavoured to usurp the extraordinary privileges of the chapter, interfering with the administration of probate, sitting to try causes in the chapel of the chapter altar behind the quire, and excommunicating those who did not appear. (fn. 81) Nevill's claims rested solely upon the assumption that the archbishop, by virtue of his corrody, was a prebendary of the church and could exercise the chapter's jurisdiction as its head. On 2 March 1380-1 he gave notice of a visitation of the chapter. (fn. 82) The canons appealed and claimed the protection of the Curia. (fn. 83) On 27 March only the precentor, a berefellarius, and a chantry priest appeared at the visitation to make their obedience. (fn. 84) Two days later the vicars were present, but refused to submit to visitation, on the ground that they were afraid of their principals, the canons, and then went out laughing. (fn. 85) Their determined contumacy is one of the leading features of the business. The chantry priests and berefellarii were more amenable, and three of the canons eventually obeyed the summons. (fn. 86) A writ of venire facias from the king (fn. 87) was disregarded by Nevill, who excommunicated the vicars (fn. 88) and his two chief foes among the canons, Richard of Ravenser and John of Wellingborough. (fn. 89) His violence was checked by a further royal mandate, (fn. 90) but he was still able to keep his opponents out of their canonries. (fn. 91) The vicars were maintained at Lincoln during their exile by Ravenser, who was Archdeacon of Lincoln. (fn. 92) Nevill fell into disgrace a few years later, and early in 1388 a royal commission was appointed to restore five vicars, one berefellarius, and the chaplain of Queen Isabel's chantry to their benefices. (fn. 93)
Nevill made a serious effort to enforce regular residence upon the canons. His decrees provided for the reform of the common life in the Bedern, and abrogated Greenfield's ordinance in favour of the stricter constitution of Romanus. (fn. 94) The statutes of Archbishop Arundel in 1391 settled the conditions by which the church was governed until its suppression. (fn. 95) Detailed instructions are given as to the order of stalls in quire, the presentation and admission of members of the foundation, and sums of money to be paid yearly out of the provostry. The archbishop was recognized as a genuine canon and prebendary, and as president of the chapter when resident. No order was taken for the residence of the canons; but the three 'officers,' the berefellarii, vicars, and chantry priests were directed to be constantly at their posts, and to take part in the quire services. The corrodies of the canons, including the archbishop, were settled at annual payments of £10 a year each; the corrody of the chancellor was raised to a like amount. Extra payments out of the Bedern, over and above those decreed by the statutes, were cancelled; and, in order to avoid any excess of expenditure over revenue, the offices of goldsmith and master mason were terminated by the death of their existing holders, and the care of the shrines and fabric thenceforward committed to the chapter.
Arundel's assertion of the presidential status of the archbishop was probably regarded as a dead letter. The Provost's Book, drawn up in his time, expressly calls the provost Robert of Manfield, who was senior canon and prebendary, the president of the chapter. (fn. 96) Manfield appears to have been concerned in Archbishop Scrope's rebellion, for in February 1407-8 he received a royal pardon. (fn. 97) His enemies in the provostry translated his letters of pardon into English, and fixed copies to the doors of the inns of Beverley, pretending that they were his letters of orders. Headed by one of the governors of the town and other municipal authorities, the commons of Beverley attacked the provost's house. (fn. 98) How the matter ended is uncertain; but in 1417 Simon Russell describes the chapter as in a flourishing state, the provost being at peace with all the canons and ministers, and all in full receipt of their corrodies and other payments, so that probably the external strife was over. (fn. 99) A difficulty arose between Provost Robert Nevill and King Henry VI with regard to the corrody of the butler of the Bedern, which the Crown claimed on a vacancy. This was settled after Robert Rolleston had succeeded to the provostship in 1427; (fn. 100) and meanwhile, on 13 March 1427-8, Rolleston obtained from the king Letters Patent which confirmed all the rights granted by previous charters to the provost and chapter. (fn. 101)
Rolleston seems to have been the last provost who was commonly resident at Beverley. The last two provosts before the suppression of the college were Thomas Wynter, a natural son of Wolsey, and Reynold Lee, a relation of Archbishop Lee. Neither at his appointment was of an age to take priest's orders; (fn. 102) but this necessary condition was overlooked. At the time of the second Chantries Act, under which the college was suppressed, Reynold Lee is described as "temporall man," i.e. administrator of its temporalities. (fn. 103)
In the Valor of 1535 (fn. 104) the revenues of the provostship were reckoned at £109 8s. 8½d. net. The corrodies of the canons were £7 14s. each. Other sources of revenue, principally derived from thraves, brought the prebends up to amounts which varied from £48 16s. 1d. to £31 8s. 4d. The richest was that of St. Andrew's altar; then followed the altars of St. James, St. Peter, St. Stephen, St. Martin, St. Mary, and St. Michael. St. Katherine's, the eighth prebend, was taxed on a revenue of £10 18s. 4d. The previous taxation of 1291 (fn. 105) had found St. Martin's the richest prebend, with £45. The next was St. Andrew's, with £27, to which followed St. James's (£26), St. Peter's and St. Stephen's (each £25), St. Michael's (£17), St. Mary's (£16), and St. Katherine's (£6 13s. 4d.). The corrody of the eighth prebend in 1291 was equal to the several corrodies of the chancellor, precentor, and goldsmith; the sacrist received £12 yearly. In 1535 the chancellor had £13 16s., and the precentor £13 9s. 4d.; the sacrist is not mentioned. Each berefellarius in 1534-5 had £6 13s. 4d., each vicar choral £8. When the Chantry Certificates Were taken in 1548, two prebends, St. Andrew's and St. Michael's, had fallen into lay hands. St. Peter's was now the richest stall, with £42 6s. 7d.; St. Stephen's, St. James's, St. Mary's, and St. Martin's followed. The archbishop's stall (St. Leonard's) produced an income of £11 6s. 8d., and St. Katherine's of £10 12s. 10d. The sacrist's office was worth £24 9s. 8d., only about £4 less than St. Martin's prebend. The chancery was reckoned at £13 2s. 4¼d., and the chantership at £12 8s. 8¾d. The total incomes of the berefellarii and vicars give a higher dividend than that supplied by the Valor. (fn. 106)
After the suppression of the college one of the vicars choral was appointed vicar of the parish, with three assistant curates chosen from among the inferior clergy of the church. (fn. 107) The grammar-school was continued under a head master, the stipend of the second master being supplied from the funds of St. William's Chantry. (fn. 108) The lands of the church came into the hands of various grantees of the Crown. Edward VI in 1552, and Queen Elizabeth in 1578, made large grants out of the former possessions to the Corporation of Beverley, who were constituted patrons of the church and trustees of the fabric, and continued to present to the vicarage until the passing of the Municipal Reform Act. (fn. 109) The patronage was then vested in the archbishop until the purchase of the advowson of the vicarage by the trustees of the Rev. Charles Simeon.
The 13th-century seal (fn. 110) for citations is a vesica, 3¼ in. by 2 in., having St. John seated and holding a book, and blessing. The fragment of the legend that remains reads
. . . . . EVERL' AD CITATIONES . . . . .
The 15th-century seal (fn. 111) of the vicars choral is a vesica, 25/8 in. by 15/8 in., showing an altar with chalice and candles upon it, and a sanctuary lamp above. All that remains of the broken legend is
. . GILL' COM' VICARIOR . . . CL'IE . . . BEV . . .