Going to Church in Medieval England 9780300262612

An engaging, richly illustrated account of parish churches and churchgoers in England, from the Anglo-Saxons to the mid-

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Copyright © 2021 Nicholas Orme All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part, in any form (beyond that copying permitted by Sections 107 and 108 of the U.S. Copyright Law and except by reviewers for the public press) without written permission from the publishers. For information about this and other Yale University Press publications, please contact: U.S. Office: [email protected] yalebooks.com Europe Office: [email protected] yalebooks.co.uk Set in Adobe Garamond Pro by IDSUK (DataConnection) Ltd Printed and bound in China Library of Congress Control Number: 2021935426 ISBN 978-0-300-26261-2 A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


For Grace





List of Illustrations


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Foreword Origins and the Parish The Staff of the Church The Church Building The Congregation The Day and the Week The Seasons and the Year The Life Cycle The Reformation Reflections

1 5 48 85 140 197 255 302 349 400

List of Technical Terms 407 Endnotes 414 Bibliography 462 Index 474




The author and publishers are grateful for the permission to reproduce granted by the copyright holders listed below.   1. Brixworth church, Northamptonshire (Alamy).   2. St Peter’s church, Barton on Humber, Lincolnshire (Alamy).   3. Parishes and extra-parochial areas north of Oxford  (Nicholas Orme).   4. Parishes and chapels north-west of Exeter (Nicholas Orme).   5. Calendar of a Book of Hours, August (British Library, Add.  MS 24098, f. 25v).   6. Haddon Hall, Derbyshire, the chapel.   7. Roche, Cornwall, chapel of St Michael (Nicholas Orme).   8. Guy’s Cliff, Warwick, chapel and landscape (William Dugdale,  The Antiquities of Warwickshire (1656), 184).   9. Cotehele, Cornwall, chapel of St George (Nicholas Orme). 10. Muchelney, Somerset, the priest’s house (Alamy). 11. Adam Outlawe, chaplain of West Lynn, Norfolk (John Sell  Cotman, Engravings of Sepulchral Brasses in Norfolk and Suffolk, 2nd edn (London, 1839), ii, plate 99, courtesy of Special Collections, University of Exeter Library). 12. Doddiscombsleigh church, Devon, Seven Sacraments Window:  ordination (David Cook; the rector and churchwardens). 13. A ‘secular’ clerk, from the Bayeux Tapestry. 14. Richard Thaseburgh, incumbent of Hellesdon, Norfolk  (Cotman, Sepulchral Brasses, ii, plate 94); courtesy of Special Collections, University of Exeter Library).


15 18 20 22 31 38 39 42 43 50 54

58 59 62


15. John Schorn, from a panel at Gately church, Norfolk (Alamy). 67 16. Parish priest, clerk, and Jean duc de Berry at mass  74 (Jacquemart de Hesdin, c. 1400; Bridgeman Library). 17. Church plans: a. Kilpeck; b. Melbourne; c. Hemel Hempstead;  86 d. Tintagel; e. Shillington; f. Patrington; g. Long Melford (Nicholas Orme). 18. Kilpeck church, Herefordshire (Nicholas Orme). 95 19. Attleborough church, Norfolk, chancel screen (Alamy). 99 20. Worstead church, Norfolk, the font (J.P. Neale and J. Le Keux,  104 Views of the Most Interesting Collegiate and Parish Churches in Great Britain, vol. i (London, 1824), Worstead, plate 2). 21. Patrington church, Yorkshire (Alamy). 110 22. Lavenham church, Suffolk, screen of the Spring Chantry (Alamy). 114 23. St Margaret, Herefordshire, rood loft (Nicholas Orme). 118 24. West Wortham church, Norfolk, the porch (Nicholas Orme). 126 25. Altarnun church, Cornwall, interior (Alamy). 134 26. Ketteringham church, Norfolk, brass of Thomas and Anne  146 Heveningham (Cotman, Sepulchral Brasses, i, plate 46; courtesy of Special Collections, University of Exeter Library). 27. Image of the Virgin Mary, late fifteenth century, alabaster  154 (British Museum, MME 1956,7–1,1). 28. St Neot church, Cornwall, the sisters’ window (Michael Swift). 159 29. Wax images associated with Bishop Lacy’s cult (Dean and  163 Chapter, Exeter Cathedral). 30. Breage church, Cornwall, wall painting of St Christopher (Alamy). 167 31. The ‘Brailes Hours’, c. 1240 (British Library, Add. MS 49999, f. 1r).174 32. Rougham church, Norfolk, brass of John and Roger Yelverton,  179 1505 and 1510 (Cotman, Sepulchral Engravings, ii, plate 109; courtesy of Special Collections, University of Exeter Library). 33. Clergy at high mass (Gerald Horenbout, c. 1500; Bridgeman  199 Library). 34. Doddiscombsleigh church, window: the eucharist (David Cook; 207 the rector and churchwardens).



35. Priest and people at mass (Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum,  214 r MS 22, f. 80 ). 36. Sandon church, Essex, the pax (Alison Barker; the rector and  223 churchwardens of Sandon). 37. Ottery St Mary church, Devon, the clock. 227 38. Calendar for June from the fifteenth-century Beaufort-Beauchamp  234 Book of Hours, Use of Sarum (British Library, MS Royal 2 A.xviii, f. 30v). 39. Long Sutton church, Somerset, the pulpit (Alamy). 239 40. Simon Bening, page from a former Book of Hours, c. 1550, people going to church at Candlemas (Los Angeles,  259 J. Paul Getty Museum, MS 50 (93.MS.19)). 41. Doddiscombsleigh church, window: confession (David Cook; 271 the rector and churchwardens). 42. Ashton church, Devon, painting: the Annunciation to the  282 Virgin Mary (John Allan). 43. Woman receiving communion (Bodleian Library, MS  291 r Douce 112, f. 21 ). 44. Procession for Rogation Wednesday and Ascension Day  297 (Processionale ad Vsum . . . Sarum (Rouen, 1508; S93705), sig. Rivv). 45. Ranworth church, Norfolk, rood screen: St Michael  299 (Bridgeman Library). 46. Doddiscombsleigh church, window: baptism (David Cook;  310 the rector and churchwardens). 47. Doddiscombsleigh church, window: confirmation (David Cook;  322 the rector and churchwardens). 48. Doddiscombsleigh church, window: marriage (David Cook;  334 the rector and churchwardens). 49. Doddiscombsleigh church, window: anointing (David Cook;  339 the rector and churchwardens). 50. The sacrament of anointing the sick (Vrancke van der Stockt,  342 late fifteenth century; Bridgeman Library). 51. Burial (New York, Pierpont Morgan MS M 190, f. 1r).346



52. Oldham Chapel, Exeter Cathedral, the screen (Exeter Cathedral). 53. The English Bible of 1539 (The Byble in English (London, 1539; S122342), frontispiece). 54. Burlingham St Giles church, Norfolk, defaced images of  saints (Alamy). 55. Howden church, Yorkshire, the ruined chancel with the rest  of the church beyond (Alamy). 56. Burrow Mump, Somerset, St Michael’s chapel ruins  (Francis Grose, The Antiquities of England and Wales, 8 vols (London, 1783–7), v, 21–3). 57. The Reformation under Edward VI (John Foxe, Acts and  Monuments (London, 1583; S122167), ii, 1294). 58. Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire (Alamy). 59. Parracombe old church, Somerset (Alamy).


351 358 359 362 363

367 402 406




From at least about ad 597, when St Augustine started his mission to the English at Canterbury, Christianity reached the people of England through churches. The earliest were those known as minsters, staffed by groups of clergy. These were joined and to a large extent superseded from the tenth century by much greater numbers of local parish churches, run by single clergy. By about the year 1200 England possessed some 9,500 churches of both kinds, forming a network that covered the whole of the country. Until the Toleration Act of 1689 they were places which every adult was expected to attend for baptism, marriage, and burial, to visit for worship on Sundays and festivals, and to support by helping to maintain the buildings and their furnishings. Many thousands of medieval parish churches still survive in their original or altered forms, as do most of their territories or parishes, albeit often with modified boundaries. The following book sets out to tell their story and that of their clergy and congregations from Augustine’s arrival to the final establishment of a Reformed Church of England under Elizabeth I in 1559. The presence of churches all over England, their relationship with its people, and their functions as buildings and places of worship, music, and art make them relevant to a wide range of historical studies. They were important in the institutional history of the Church, as the means by which it ministered to lay people and sought to regulate them. They formed part of the power of the crown and the privileged orders of society, and were centres of the social and economic life of local communities. From the 1530s they were involved in the political and religious changes that accompanied the Reformation. They are also helpful in understanding other disciplines than



history. In the realm of medieval literature, they, their staff, and their worshippers appear in Langland’s Piers Plowman and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, as well as the works of Robert Mannyng, John Mirk, Dives and Pauper, Margery Kempe, and Alexander Barclay among others. They provide crucial evidence for the history of liturgy (how worship was organised), music, architecture, and the decorative arts. The breadth of this relevance has made it hard for scholars to keep all the aspects of their history within a single survey. The historians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who first studied the functioning of medieval parish churches did indeed try to do justice to several of these aspects at the same time. Daniel Rock, J. C. Cox, Henry Littlehales, and other such figures up to about the 1920s sought to produce composite accounts of churches from documents, architecture, furnishings, literature, and liturgical texts.1 After that date, the subject tended to fragment among the various disciplines in which it figures. Mainstream historians came to concentrate on churches as institutions and clergy and congregations as social groups. They gave little attention until recently to the layout and usage of churches, and even less to their liturgy. Liturgical history has always been more concerned with texts than with the circumstances in which these were performed and adapted. Architectural studies have more often concentrated on the forms of churches than the activities within them, although in contrast recent scholars of the history of Church music have taken pains to understand the conditions in which it developed.2 The present volume seeks to address more of these aspects so as to give a broader and deeper account of parish church history. It follows mainstream history in dealing with institutions and social groups, but also concerns itself with liturgy and with buildings in terms of their interior spaces, furnishings, and usage. It draws on literary sources where this is possible, with the additional hope of elucidating them. It does not attempt to argue a particular thesis about medieval parish churches. This is not feasible given a coverage of hundreds of years, thousands of churches, and millions of people. Churches varied in structure, leadership, and resources, and their story involves a complex mixture of opposites: devoutness and indifference, good and bad behaviour, equality and privilege, communality and coterie. Rather this



book sets out to reconstruct how churches worked as religious centres: what happened inside them. Its information is drawn widely from across England to make it a national study, not a regional one. Its object is to help students of all disciplines, as well as general readers, to appreciate the major elements of parish church history within the covers of a single book. The first chapter traces the emergence of an organised Church in Roman Britain and AngloSaxon England, and shows how parish churches, parishes, and congregations came into existence up to the Norman Conquest. Six further chapters survey the main features of their activities through the centuries from then until the 1520s, while an eighth considers the impact of the Reformation. The focus of the book is on people in church. It examines who organised the worship and religious affairs of a parish: the officiating clergy and the laity who assisted them. It describes the buildings to which people went, and the significance of their shapes and furnishings. It asks how far a parish church helped to mould its worshippers into a community, and how far other factors caused the community to divide into smaller groups. It tries to explore the extent to which parishioners went to church or did not go, what they experienced when they came, and how they behaved in church. The history of Church services – the topic of medieval liturgy – is a particularly difficult subject, and a principal aim of the work is to provide an easy way in to understanding it. How did a church, its leaders, and its people worship each day, each week, and each year? How did they provide for and try to control the great events of life: birth, coming of age, marriage, sickness, and death? What was given in terms of spiritual ministry through the mass, through teaching, and through the cults of Christ and the saints? Finally how far were the structures and behaviour characteristic of the Middle Ages altered during the Reformation in the mid sixteenth century? Accounts of the Reformation usually emphasise change, but the study of Church organisation and worship during that process reveals many continuities. I am grateful for the kindness of many people who have given me advice and information. Paul Barnwell, Helen Gittos, David Lepine, Nigel Morgan, Nigel Saul, and two assessors kindly read parts or all of the text to its advantage. I am also indebted to John Allan, Caroline Barron, John Blair, Roger Bowers, Clive Burgess, Eamon Duffy, Brian and Moira Gittos, Sarah



Hamilton, John Harper, Martin Heale, Diarmaid MacCulloch, Joanna Mattingly, Valerie Maxfield, Nigel Ramsay, Gervase Rosser, Robert Swanson, Sheila Sweetinburgh, Magnus Williamson, Peter Wiseman, and Tyanna Yonkers for their writings or for answering particular questions. Many thanks are due to the staff of the Bodleian and Exeter University Libraries, as well as to John Allan, Alison Barker, David Cook, Michael Swift, and Diane Walker, who kindly provided some of the illustrations. My last deep obligation is to Lucy Buchan, Percie Edgeler and Eve Leckey for their tireless work on the illustrations, design, and text of the book. Nicholas Orme, Oxford, 2021


1 J


THE CONVERSION OF THE PEOPLE When did people start to go to church? The answer is: a very long time ago. Churchgoing as a religious and social activity in Britain can be envisaged by at least ad 313 when the Emperor Constantine recognised Christianity as a lawful religion and allowed it to have permanent public places of worship.1 In the following year three bishops from Britain attended a council at Arles in France: bishops described as being ‘in’ the cities of London, York, and probably Lincoln.2 This points to churches there, and others can be conjectured in towns such as Exeter, St Albans, and Silchester.3 Such churches must have attracted worshippers either regularly or occasionally. Little is known about the countryside, but there were certainly landowners there who were Christians, to judge from the vestiges of religious art on the sites of their dwellings.4 People of this status must at least have prayed with their families and households at home, perhaps supported with visits by clergy from cities. Roman rule collapsed in the mid 400s. Most of the cities were deserted as the leaders of society left for bases in the countryside. Invasions by peoples from north Germany and Scandinavia (conventionally described as AngloSaxons) led to the conquest of the eastern half of Roman Britain by pagan rulers who created small kingdoms. The indigenous Britons whom they ruled adopted their language and were eventually indistinguishable from them. Little remained of organised Christianity in the east, but pockets at least survived. A shrine and saint cult at St Albans continued throughout the fifth and sixth centuries, and so did a more obscure one to a saint called Sixtus in Kent.5 Moreover the faith persisted in what is now north-west and south-west



England, as well as in Wales. By the time these areas (apart from Wales) were conquered by Anglo-Saxon rulers, the latter had become Christian, so that some older church sites continued in being and indeed became the locations of monasteries and parish churches in later times. Another pointer to Christian survival is the presence of the Latin word for church, ecclesia, in English placenames beginning with ‘Eccles-’. These are found especially in Lancashire and west Yorkshire, but with outliers as far as East Anglia.6 At the very least they indicate the remembrance of a church among a population that eventually came to speak English. The Roman city sites preserved another memory of the past. When Christianity returned to England, it came from Rome and its missionaries saw their task in part as restoring Roman civilisation. Several of the cathedrals and minsters that were founded after ad 600 were planted in former Roman towns: Canterbury, London, Winchester, and so on. Throughout the fifth and sixth centuries, the rulers of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and their subjects must therefore have been aware of the Christian religion and some of its beliefs and practices from holy sites and folkmemories in England. It was also present in an organised way just over the English Channel in the kingdom of the Franks. Æthelberht, king of Kent (560–616), allied himself with the Frankish king Haribert by marrying his daughter Bertha. She brought with her to Kent a bishop, Liudhard, and re-introduced Christian worship in a church at Canterbury. The foothold she gained enabled the sending of the mission of Augustine of Canterbury by Pope Gregory the Great from Rome in 597, which brought about the conversion of Æthelberht and his nobility. The process of conversion continued from this point in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. It operated chiefly through their monarchs in the first instance, which caused set-backs from time to time when kings with pagan sympathies succeeded Christian ones. But by the 680s, in less than a hundred years, the whole of England was nominally Christian. All the rulers had been converted, and their power and protection allowed the preaching of Christianity and the building of churches to reach the rest of society. The newly established Church was organised according to the political realities of the time. The various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, or larger communities within them, acquired bishops to supervise the church within their



boundaries, the area of supervision being known as a diocese. Thus the kingdoms of Essex and Sussex had one diocese and bishop each, while East Anglia, Kent, and Wessex had two, Northumbria three, and Mercia eventually four. The dioceses were grouped into two provinces each led by an archbishop. Canterbury, the larger province, included England south of the River Trent, while York covered the area between that river and what became the border with Scotland. The number of bishops and dioceses fluctuated until the twelfth century, at which point they were stabilised with Canterbury containing eighteen (including four in Wales) while York had three. MONASTERIES AND MINSTERS The principal churches to be founded in England between about 600 and 900 were staffed by religious communities of monks and priests. The very earliest, set up by Augustine soon after 597, were Christ Church Canterbury, intended to be his cathedral, and SS Peter and Paul as a house of monks outside the city, later known as St Augustine’s Abbey. The Latin word for a religious community was monasterium which became translated into English as mynster: ‘minster’ in modern spelling. After about 900, when the lifestyles of monks and priests were more sharply distinguished, historians have used ‘monastery’ to describe communities of monks and ‘minster’ for those of non-monastic clergy, but up to that date it is often difficult to be sure what kind of clergy those in a community were, or considered themselves to be. This chapter follows the example of John Blair and Sarah Foot in using ‘minster’ for all such communities during the first three centuries of English Christianity.7 There are obvious reasons why the most important early churches took this form. England, unlike the rest of the former Roman Empire, had lost most of its towns. They would gradually reappear during the Anglo-Saxon centuries, but in the meanwhile a church had to be a little town of its own. It needed substantial resources: lands or rents to support its clergy and pay for the materials they required for worship, study, and educating their recruits. These resources could be provided only by very wealthy people: kings at first, nobility by the late 600s, and bishops once bishops were also



endowed by kings. The religious and economic context that would enable smaller churches of a single priest to function was yet to be created. Some minsters were cathedrals whose presiding cleric was the bishop: there were about eighteen of these up to the Norman Conquest of 1066, although not all of these existed at any one time or permanently.8 Others were minsters of male clergy ruled by an abbot or later on a dean. Their clergy consisted either of monks or those whom historians have come to call ‘secular clergy’ because they lived more fully in the world. The latter could be priests or men and youths of lower status: deacons or tonsured clerks. Most of the cathedrals were minsters of secular clergy, except in the far north where two or three were staffed by monks. A third kind of minster consisted of houses of nuns. These were usually or often double-monasteries of women and men, but with an abbess in overall authority. Classifying the clergy of the minsters is not easy. Although St Benedict (d.c.550) had already written his famous Rule of life for monks, there was as yet no commonly recognised equivalent in England. Monks were more likely to give their time to daily prayer and study, but some did pastoral work in the outside world, notably St Cuthbert while he was a monk of Melrose, then in the English kingdom of Northumbria.9 They could also be ordained as priests to celebrate the eucharist or mass. Secular clergy – priests, deacons, or clerks – tended to be more active externally, hence their employment at cathedrals where bishops needed their help in doing administrative and pastoral tasks. A minster might contain both monks and seculars. In one type of foundation either kind of cleric might live communally: sharing food, sleeping arrangements, and possessions. Augustine established Christ Church Canterbury as a minster of seculars rather than monks, but Pope Gregory told him to live with his companions there using what they had in common. Gregory expected that these companions should be celibate and ruled that although those who were merely clerks might marry, they should then move to live outside the community.10 This model was not followed everywhere. From early on, royal and noble men and women adopted the religious life and went into minsters while continuing to possess their previous status and even their property. The historian Bede complained that in his day, the early eighth century, such



people were founding minsters, entering them as clergy, remaining married, begetting children, and living a life more worldly than religious.11 The longterm tendency in the minsters, during the eighth and ninth centuries, was for minster nuns to disappear and for male clergy to become more secular. Many of the latter came to live separate lives in houses of their own, often marrying and passing on their posts to a son or nephew. This led to the resources of a minster being divided rather than used in common. Each cleric took what came to be known as a ‘prebend’ or means of support: an estate or revenue that formed his personal share of the minster’s assets.12 Not all minsters have left records of their existence and some can only be conjectured from evidence such as a place-name ending in ‘-minster’ or the subsequent possession of a large territory or ‘parish’. It is consequently impossible to estimate their numbers accurately, and these must have varied. The era before 800 when records are sparser was followed by a time of disruption in the 800s and early 900s due to interventions by kings and noblemen, and to the first Viking invasions. A further period of recovery came after about 950 and a second Viking disruption from the 990s to the 1010s. But traces of over a dozen minsters in most (later) counties imply the presence of three or four hundred throughout England.13 Not all existed at the same time. The Penitential formerly attributed to Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury (d.690) could envisage a minster being moved from one place to another, perhaps because the family who endowed it transferred their centre of power to a new area.14 Nor were they deliberately planned to provide a comprehensive system of churches. In the more populous parts of England, by about 800, they may have been numerous enough for most people to live within about five miles of one.15 In the upland areas this may have been less so: in Devon there are regions with little trace of a minster.16 Minster clergy engaged in the worship of God through the daily round of services known as the ‘Divine Office’ and through the celebration of the mass or eucharist.17 They offered pastoral care to the people of their surrounding area: their ‘parish’.18 By at least the late ninth century their churches were places of sanctuary where refugees from justice or their enemies could take shelter, at any rate for a time, and this privilege was duly extended to any church that had been consecrated by a bishop.19 At first, while minsters were



not yet numerous, their clergy had to travel if they were to offer spiritual services and pastoral care to their neighbourhoods. Both monks and priests did so. Bede’s account of Cuthbert’s life at Melrose in the 650s tells how he went out ‘sometimes on horseback but more often on foot’ to preach and hear confessions in the surrounding countryside. ‘He used especially to make for those places and preach in those settlements that were far away on steep and rugged mountains, which others dreaded to visit and whose poverty and ignorance kept other teachers away.’20 Bede also tells how the priests and clerics of the monastery-cathedral of Lindisfarne, some thirty-five miles to the east of Melrose, journeyed through the neighbourhood ‘to preach, to baptise, and to visit the sick’, so that people crowded to hear them when they arrived.21 A third example relating to the 680s comes from the Life of St Boniface by Willibald. This claims that Boniface, while the child of a man of status in the south-west of England, used to talk about spiritual matters to the priests and clerics who went out ‘to preach to the people’ when they visited his father’s house.22 The interaction between the clergy and the laity began with baptism.23 In the first century after 597, this, of course, was often given to adults. The rite was frequently administered to large numbers of people: sometimes in rivers to begin with, later in smaller numbers or individually in baptistery baths or fonts at minsters. The first known infant baptism in England was that of Eanfled, the newly-born daughter of King Edwin of Northumbria in 625, and at least two more of his children were baptised at an early age.24 It was the practice of the Church in the Roman Empire to concentrate baptisms at Easter and Pentecost and the practice remained influential throughout the Middle Ages.25 In England, until as late as the 1540s, provision for a baptism to be done was included in the liturgy on the day before each of these great festivals.26 By the time of St Augustine of Hippo (d.430), however, doubts about the salvation of the unbaptised made it seem better to christen children as soon after birth as was possible. A tension can be traced between these two approaches to baptism right through the Anglo-Saxon centuries. On the one hand the laws attributed to King Ine of Wessex (d.726) ordered that the rite should be done within thirty days of a birth on pain of a fine and even of total forfeiture if the child died.27 This may represent the



target of a later era rather than that of Ine. In contrast a Church synod summoned by papal legates in 786 urged that baptism be not done outside Easter and Pentecost, ‘except for great necessity’, and this was repeated by a similar synod as late as 1070.28 The likelihood is that there was a mixture of practices for a very long time. Parents with easy access to a priest might arrange immediate baptism, while those further off or more negligent might delay until the next Easter, Pentecost, or later still. St Cedd (d.664), a married man who became a priest and then a bishop, had a son who was baptised well into his youth.29 Then, in both the ninth and late tenth centuries, there were pagan Viking settlers and their families who may have taken some time to adopt Christianity. A common custom of immediate infant baptism may not have come into place until well into the eleventh century. The baptised were also required to seek confirmation of their baptism by a bishop. A Church council meeting at Clofesho (a still unidentified place) in 747 required bishops to tour their dioceses once every year to do so, but getting confirmed depended on their compliance and on the willingness of one’s parents or oneself.30 This was a problem throughout the Middle Ages and is likely to have left some people unconfirmed until well into adulthood, if ever.31 The other ministration of travelling clergy that is often mentioned was that of preaching and teaching, which would have been important in Christianising people before there were many local churches. Indeed baptisms and preaching are the chief functions that Bede ascribes to early missionaries.32 It is likely that this travelling ministry led to the establishment of some small local places of worship where clergy could function. Bede, in describing early baptisms in rivers, observed that there were not yet ‘baptisteries and oratories’.33 Later he mentions an oratory in a settlement in what is now south-west Scotland.34 Such places would have been helpful not only for baptisms but for celebrating mass and distributing communion bread and wine or the holy bread that was commonly given out as a substitute.35 A travelling cleric could have brought other benefits: confessions, prayers for healing, exorcisms, the blessings of marriages and fields, the visitation of the sick, and (occasionally) a presence at funerals and burials. The latter practices, in contrast, were slow to come under the Church’s supervision. Local communities had their accustomed places of burial and these were not yet all provided



with churches. Important people such as kings and nobility might have graves in minster buildings and neighbouring folk might be buried in minster cemeteries.36 Most people were not in this situation, and burials in a churchyard became common only when churches themselves proliferated after 900 and acquired such yards as a standard feature. This does not mean that minsters related to people only through occasional visits by travelling clergy. Their churches were not private but open to those who wished to attend services or have a child baptised. Bede tells us that those who lived near Lindisfarne ‘flocked eagerly to the church’ on Sundays ‘to hear the word of God’.37 During the later Anglo-Saxon centuries, towns grew up around a number of minsters. Some were revivals of Roman cities in places like Gloucester, St Albans, Winchester, and Worcester. Others were new settlements: at Beverley, Durham, Hereford, and Wells. Here the minsters became effectively parish churches for the local community until other churches were built, and this arrangement endured in some places until well into the Middle Ages or even later. Another motive for people to travel to a minster church from further away was the veneration of relics or saints, especially in order to pray for healing or other benefits. The major minsters, those that were also cathedrals, contained the shrines of well-respected saints: Cuthbert at Lindisfarne and later Durham, Eorcenwald at London, and Æthelberht at Hereford. But even a small minster with only a local importance might hold a saintly body: Beornwald at Bampton, Eadburh at Bicester, and Diuma at Charlbury, to take three examples from Oxfordshire.38 Nevertheless the relationship of the Church with most lay Christians, other than the nobility and their households, must have been more intermittent up to the mid tenth century than it became later on. This would have been especially so in the later ninth and early tenth centuries, when Viking invasions and settlements disrupted life in northern and eastern England. Baptism was probably common but church attendance may have been irregular if lengthy journeys were needed. Weddings and funerals may have been largely untouched by the Church. There was plenty of scope for traditional beliefs and practices of a non-Christian kind. Pagan idols apparently survived in Kent as late as the reign of King Earconberht (640–64), who ordered them to be destroyed.39 One of his successors, Wihtred (690–725), issued



laws imposing fines on those who made offerings to ‘devils’.40 The so-called ‘Theodore’ Penitential stigmatised those who burnt grain by the bodies of the dead, apparently to bring luck or ward off evil to the house and family. It also condemned women who placed a child on the house roof or in the oven to cure fever.41 For the rest of the Middle Ages the Church and its clergy would urge lay people not to engage in ‘witchcraft’ for their needs by appealing to non-Christian powers, instead of using the spiritual powers of the Church itself.42 This battle was never entirely won. LESSER CHURCHES AND THE GROWTH OF A PARISH SYSTEM The minsters cannot have been the only churches in England during the early centuries of Christianity. Canterbury had St Martin from the beginning of Augustine’s mission, and a church of the Four Crowned Martyrs is mentioned there in about 624.43 Worcester may have possessed two churches besides its cathedral by the 700s.44 York by 800 appears to have housed three or four as well as York Minster.45 In the countryside the likelihood of oratories and baptisteries has already been mentioned and there are intimations of more substantial churches. The ‘Theodore’ Penitential, when considering the possibility of a minster being moved, ruled that a priest should be left to officiate in the place where it had been.46 Bede tells us that when the Isle of Wight received Christianity in the late 680s, a priest was placed there to convert the islanders.47 More solid are Bede’s references to St John of Beverley who, while bishop of York (706–14), dedicated two ‘churches’ (ecclesiae) belonging to local noblemen. One of these was located two miles from the minster at Beverley, which makes it less likely to have had a similar status than to have been a church with a more private or local purpose.48 Other private chapels or oratories will be mentioned in due course.49 There seems, however, to have been a significant increase in the number of small local churches after about 900, operated by single resident priests or priests sent from minsters. A name for them, round about 1000, was ‘field church’.50 Several factors may have led to this increase. Large estates were being subdivided and people in many parts of lowland England were gathering into



new village communities. The lords (or ladies) of these communities, now Christians for several generations, desired to have a church of their own. It gave them status and consolidated their links with their tenants, whereas going to the minster of another lord implied a recognition of his or her lordship. Belief in the necessity of speedy infant baptism and the social and spiritual benefits of attending church services, especially mass, made a nearby church desirable. Thanks to the long work of the minsters, there was now a context in which small churches were possible. The population had become used to priestly ministry through baptisms, preachings, and perhaps masses. Craftmanship and writing had made more available the artefacts and books needed for the functioning of a small church. From an economic point of view, the establishment of compulsory tithes (to be considered presently) furnished the resources needed to maintain a full-time priest to serve a church in any part of the country. These new smaller churches acquired territories which they served and whose inhabitants owed them loyalty and duties. The territories, as the ministers had done, came to be known as parishes but some other words were in use for them in Anglo-Saxon times.51 ‘Parish’ comes from the Latin word parochia. Originally it applied to larger areas: a diocese, the territory of a minster church, or that of a monastery. As the number of churches proliferated, their territories became smaller, and the word came to signify a smaller and more exactly defined area. Eventually ‘parochial’ would imply something rather local and petty. The process by which minsters were joined and eventually outnumbered by smaller churches can be seen in action from a code of laws issued by King Edgar in 960–2. This was apparently prompted by disputes about who was entitled to the new institution of tithes. It laid down that tithes should be paid to the ‘old minster’ from within the hyrness or parish of that minster. Thegns (or thanes), meaning landowners, were to render the tithe from their own land and that of their tenants. If a thegn had a church on his land with a graveyard attached, he was to pay one third of his tithe to that church and, by implication, only two thirds of it to the minster. If he had a church with no graveyard, he was to pay all his tithe to the minster, and if he wished to keep a priest to serve that church, he must do so out of his other resources.52 This law shows that new churches were appearing within the traditional



1.  Brixworth church, Northamptonshire, a former minster, later a parish church. Signs of its minster past appear in the series of arches, once leading to small chambers known as porticus.

territories of the minsters, founded by local lords. Some were already partly independent. They had a priest who must have provided church services including burial rites, which implies that local people no longer went to the minster to worship, except on special occasions. Other churches had services but were still tied to the minster for burial. Acquiring freedom for a local church must often have been done by agreement. There are many medieval records of one church paying an annual due to another as a mark of subservience or an act of compensation, and of congregations from daughter churches visiting their ecclesiastical mother at



least once every year. Independence may also have been seized unilaterally. Renewed Viking invasions in the 990s to 1016 and the Norman Conquest of 1066 would have given many lords the opportunity to make this happen. The result was to affect the minsters radically. One group, numbering a few dozen, would survive throughout the rest of the Middle Ages: churches like Beverley, Ripon, and Southwell in the north of England, or Bosham, Crediton, and Wimborne Minster in the south.53 They continued to have bodies of secular clergy maintaining worship in the church, living in separate houses, and providing pastoral care in an extensive parish. A second group became converted into monasteries. The residue, the majority, lost their status and became solely parish churches with a single priest and smaller territories, like Brixworth and Barton-on-Humber (Figs 1, p. 15; 2, p. 18). Sometimes this resulted from them losing so much of their original parishes that they could no longer maintain more staffing. Sometimes, especially in the case of royal minsters, they were seen as no longer essential for Church life but as useful resources to give to clergy serving the king. Such men could be given a minster as an income and as its presiding officer they had the power to let the other clergy die out and enjoy all the revenues. Examples of this being done can be traced under Edward the Confessor (1042–66) and William the Conqueror (1066–87).54 The conversion of some minster churches to monasteries often led to losses of their territory as well. In the second half of the tenth century a monastic revival took place in England, led by Dunstan archbishop of Canterbury and others, which brought about the introduction of a strict religious life to some of the minsters, based on the monastic Rule of St Benedict. Minsters were obvious candidates to be turned back into monasteries, perhaps through a remembrance of their past and certainly because of their resources of lands and tithes which could support the monks. A second monastic revival followed the Norman Conquest and led to further conversions of minsters to monasteries of Benedictine monks or of the newer order of Augustinian canons. The ideal of a monastery for Dunstan’s contemporaries and the Normans involved secluding monks from the cares and distractions of the world, more so than in earlier centuries. This led to a separation between the religion of the clergy, in this case monks or canons, and that of



the laity. In some places, such as Canterbury and Winchester, the minster gradually became a monastery alone and parish churches were allowed to develop nearby for lay people’s needs. Alternatively a new monastery was established and the old minster was left, or rebuilt, as a parish church. This was the case at Bodmin, Cirencester, Launceston, and elsewhere. Not every minster that became a monastery lost touch with its parishioners. An alternative arrangement was for both parties to share the church building. This happened in a few larger churches, such as Chester (St Werburh), Christchurch and Romsey in Hampshire, Leominster, St Germans, and Waltham. At Tewkesbury a separate church existed alongside the local abbey for a time, until eventually the abbey readmitted the congregation.55 But a double arrangement of this kind was most common in smaller minsters: those that became priories.56 There the monks or canons said their daily services in the eastern part of the church: the chancel. They also acted as ‘rector’ of the church, having the rule of the parish and receiving the tithes and offerings. The congregation used the western part, the nave, and were separated from the chancel by a screen, against which stood an altar for their worship. Their services and other needs were provided by a chaplain paid by the monks or canons, since even Augustinian canons were not greatly involved in pastoral work. The chaplain said his own daily services in the nave, presided over baptisms, weddings, and funerals, and heard confessions there. To this group of shared churches, we must add some of the cathedrals. Seven of them contained a lay congregation inside their buildings, either because they were former minsters or had expanded to incorporate a nearby parish church. At Carlisle, Chichester, Ely, Hereford, Lincoln, and Rochester the parishioners were housed in the nave, and at St Paul’s, London, in the crypt.57 Joint arrangements of this kind sometimes led to disputes, but it survived at certain monasteries until the Reformation and at a few of the cathedrals for much longer. The transformation of England into a land of many parishes seems to have taken place between the tenth and the twelfth centuries. A late anomaly was Exeter where the city was a single parish of the cathedral until it was partitioned in 1222.58 Some subdivision of parishes continued after 1200, but it became more difficult to achieve as Church laws grew stronger. By the twelfth century the Church authorities regarded parishes as units with



2.  St Peter’s church, Barton on Humber, Lincolnshire. The Anglo-Saxon tower adjoins a church rebuilt in later times.

definite rights and boundaries which could not be changed or ignored except with permission from the diocesan bishop or the pope and consent by the owner and clergyman of the former mother church. Boundaries mattered from early on in parish history. As the Church extended its power over lay people in the twelfth century it required them all to belong to a definite parish. Lords and ladies who built or owned churches wished all the tenants on their estate to attend the same church. When tithe-paying grew to be normal in and after the tenth century, each parish clergyman had to be vigilant about exactly which lands paid him tithes. Lay parishioners too expected all in a parish to share its burdens. Boundaries came to be known and were sometimes patrolled in the early summer, as we shall see.59 Disputes could arise over the status of a single field or two.60



Parish boundaries form an intriguing subject, because they can be followed in the landscape and often coincide with landscape features: streams, roads, and even ancient hedges. The origins of their boundary routes, however, are not easy to trace or explain. Those that survive today do not all descend from one particular date. They reflect land ownership at different times: times that are generally unrecorded. Some boundaries can be recovered or conjectured, at least in part, from medieval documents and, after about the late sixteenth century, from maps.61 The most detailed and accurate surveys come from much later, chiefly in the decade or so after the Tithe Act of 1836 which caused the surveying of tithe-paying over most of the country, and the careful production of maps of parishes with their field-boundaries, roads, and dwellings, along with ‘apportionments’ or inventories of the lands that were subject to tithes.62 The tithe maps probably record a good many of the medieval boundaries, but there is always the possibility that changes in them took place over the centuries that followed their original establishment in the tenth to twelfth centuries.63 The proliferation of parishes happened locally rather than through the imposition of a logical system by the Church authorities. The authorities adopted the parish system rather than creating it. In consequence the ecclesiastical geography that emerged between the tenth and twelfth centuries was a complicated one. In most areas of the countryside there was a mosaic of large and small parishes with all kinds of shapes: compact or ragged. Some parishes had outliers of territory in other parishes, or outliers of others inside themselves (Figs 3, p. 20; 4, p. 22). Sometimes the church stood centrally and sometimes on the border. At Eastleach in Gloucestershire two churches still face one another on either side of a stream, while Reepham, Norfolk, has two that share a churchyard where once there stood a third. Moreover the study of parish boundaries should not mislead us into thinking that all the territory inside had the same status. This was not always the case. Certain areas might be ‘extra-parochial’, to use a term first found in the seventeenth century. Most religious houses were not in parishes, and if a monastery had a farm that supplied it with everyday produce, this might be free of payments (notably tithe) to the parish priest and perhaps free of his jurisdiction. The same was true of royal palaces and castles, especially castles in county towns that came



Hampton Gay





Parishes north of Oxford

Hampton Poyle





B e ck le y

n Wood Eaton


R i v e re s Th a m

Wolvercote St Giles




Woodperry (vanished)



Shotover Hill

Extra-parochial areas

Stanton St John

Forest Hill


Areas common to more than one parish 8 km 5 miles

3.  Parishes and extra-parochial areas north of Oxford.

under the rule of the local sheriff, and many monastic or royal tithe-free areas continued after the Reformation. Other parts were extra-parochial because they consisted of woodland, moorland, or marsh where nobody lived, or (in later centuries) where parishes had disappeared. These too might pay no tithes or other church dues. In addition, some areas were used for grazing or fishing by two or more parishes and belonged to them in common (Fig. 3, above). In the upland parts of England, especially the far north, parishes were often very large because of the scattered population. They remained so down to the Industrial Revolution in Cumberland, Lancashire, Westmorland, and north-west Yorkshire, with outlying chapels to supplement the distant mother churches. In most of the rest of England parishes were smaller and



those of the former minsters usually shrank to an average size. The desire to have a parish church serving even a modest estate led to some very tiny creations. Lancaut in Gloucestershire covered only 202 acres and Dotton in Devonshire 214. Woodperry near Oxford may not have been much bigger (Fig. 3, p. 20).64 Some of these rural parishes were not viable in terms of revenue and soon disappeared: Woodperry was in trouble by 1300. Whether a small parish and its church survived, however, was not merely a matter of economics. ‘Patrons’, the owners of churches, who had two that adjoined might decide to unite their parishes under a single priest, perhaps getting rid of one church. By the thirteenth century this process was subject to the bishop’s consent as well. In contrast, if the patron owned only one such church, he or she might prefer to keep it and its parish in being. A small parish could still be useful in coinciding with an estate and in providing a post for a cleric which, although its income was little, could be given as a sinecure, while any worship was led by a visiting priest for a fee. The parish was an urban institution as well as a rural one. In the larger towns there were numerous churches as early as the eleventh century, reaching a peak in the twelfth. By about 1200 Lincoln and York had about forty-six each, Winchester about fifty-seven, Norwich about sixty, and London over a hundred.65 Even some smaller places had several: there were six at Ilchester, ten at Ipswich and Wallingford, and twelve at Lewes.66 Towns like these amassed such totals because lords wished to establish their presence in them and built churches for their followers and tenants. Guilds formed there and might desire their own place of worship, while chapels were founded to venerate popular saints. Such churches, at first private or voluntary, might then be made public and parochial with a territory, albeit one that was limited to a street or two, or a block between streets. While London had enough population and wealth to sustain most of its number, other towns lost many of their churches during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Parishes with too few people to support a priest were joined together and redundant churches disappeared. Winchester was reduced to thirty-three by 1400.67 Those churches that survived might do so only as modest buildings, unable to expand due to poverty, and shut in by neighbouring properties.



Parishes west of Exeter

Part of Down St. Mary


Cadeleigh St. John Upcott Cheriton Fitzpaine

Kennerleigh Stockleigh English Down St. Mary

Ash Bullayne

Spencecombe Copplestone



Mill Stockleigh Cadbury Pomeroy

Upton Hellions Ruxford




St. George St. Laurence

Fulford Crediton

Uton Yeo (?)



Newton St. Cyres

Upton Pyne Cowley

Whitestone Heath

Brampford Speke




Church (vicarages in italic)


Chapel (documented ones in italic) CW

Nether Exe


Norton Trobridge


E. Raddon Shobrooke No Man’s Chapel

Creedy Widger 5 km 3 miles

Ancient parish boundaries

4.  Parishes and chapels north-west of Exeter.

Towns that developed in the later Middle Ages did not attain these numbers. Salisbury, a new creation of the thirteenth century, acquired only three parish churches besides its cathedral. Coventry had the same, and some lesser but still very prosperous towns did not advance beyond one, such as Boston, Doncaster, Great Yarmouth, and Newark. The reason was no doubt that, in places such as the last four, a single parish church was well established before the town grew. Its patron, clergy, and congregation were then able to prevent the creation of rivals which would reduce their territory and income. The most that would be allowed was the founding of lesser chapels



without separate rights. In consequence churches that had a monopoly in a flourishing town absorbed most of the patronage and wealth of the local community. They grew into huge buildings with numerous clergy, liturgical services, and guilds of supporters: the opposite of the many small impoverished churches to be found in the older settlements. PATRONS AND BUILDINGS Anglo-Saxon churches had owners, whether they were minsters or smaller parish churches.68 Minsters, as we have seen, were often founded by kings or nobles and stood thereafter under their control. Bishops ruled their cathedrals, and King Edgar’s code talks of a thegn who ‘has’ a church on his land.69 Many of the new parish churches stood on the lands of the king, nobility, bishops, and monasteries, and therefore came under their ownership as well. The owners of the church or their ancestors must often have donated the land on which sat the church, a house for the priest, and the ‘glebe’: an allotment of ground for him to farm and gain part of his livelihood.70 To the owners too would be due the church building, built at their cost or command. In consequence they appointed a priest when necessary and gave him possession of the church and property. They might reoccupy the property through need or wilfulness. This changed in the twelfth century when the Church insisted on having more control over clergy and their property. It wished to detach them from loyalty to the laity and to make them its own obedient servants, following and enforcing its laws including the requirement that they should be celibate. It also disliked the notion that a layman should put a cleric into possession of religious property. Accordingly the Church brought about a reorganisation. By 1215 it regarded the owners of churches as ‘patrons’ or ‘advocates’ and forbade them to interfere with their churches’ property.71 Owners retained the power to choose a cleric for the church, but ostensibly no more. They were now required to ‘present’ him to the bishop, who had the right to ensure that he met the criteria for appointment. If so, the bishop ‘admitted’ or ‘instituted’ him to the church in return for an oath of loyalty, after which an agent of the bishop, not of the patron, ‘inducted’ the cleric to



the church and gave him possession. He then had security of tenure, except for serious misdemeanour, until he resigned or died. The change makes it appear as if patrons lost power. This loss, perhaps, was more apparent than real. A clergyman was bound to be beholden to the person who chose him. The patron still possessed great sway in the church, especially if he or she was someone of importance in the neighbourhood. The bishop was further away and rarely in touch. And although in the twelfth century many Norman lords and ladies gave their church patronage to monasteries, they and their heirs retained power over the church and its priest by virtue of their privileges as monastic benefactors and their likely high standing, through land ownership, in the local community. Indeed the monastery’s choice of cleric might follow their suggestion. There was a further way in which the ownership of churches left its mark. In the twelfth century, when bishops developed systems for running their dioceses and the churches and parishes within them, certain churches and parishes were given exemption because they belonged to people or bodies of high status: the bishop himself, the king, some cathedrals, and a few great monasteries. They were administered separately by those who owned them, independently of the bishop’s officers and sometimes even of the bishop himself. Churches and parishes of this kind were known as ‘peculiar jurisdictions’ or ‘peculiars’, and they survived down to the nineteenth century.72 Let us now turn to the church building, the centre of parish worship. In the days of the minsters, this might be a large structure. Minster cathedrals, like Canterbury and Winchester, came to be extensive in size with an eastern part, the chancel or choir, where the clergy led the service, and a western area, the nave, where most of the lay people gathered.73 The distance that might need to be travelled to get to a church must have produced a distinctive kind of lay congregation, whose members did not necessarily meet each week. There would also have been an issue in where they were placed in the church. In later times we shall encounter the custom of separating the men and the women, and assigning them respectively to be either east and west or south and north of one another.74 The buildings of the newer more local churches in the tenth and eleventh centuries were smaller.75 They might consist of a single rectangular cell with an altar towards (but not right at) the



east end, such as existed at Raunds in Northamptonshire in about 950. A church of this kind could have contained only a small congregation. It may have been largely a place where the eucharist or mass was said inside, from which the consecrated bread and wine of certain great festivals or the holy bread of ordinary Sundays was brought to a crowd outside. By the eleventh century even rural parish churches were also being built in two cells: a smaller chancel and a larger oblong nave, sometimes with an apse to the east of the chancel and sometimes a tower (Figs 2, p. 18; 17, p. 86).76 The chancel continued to house the altar where mass took place on Sundays and festivals. We should now call it the ‘high’ or chief altar, because as churches grew in size they often came to have additional ‘side altars’ in other places. As before, and up to about 1200, the high altar was placed well to the west of the east end of the chancel, leaving a space beyond it for the priest to have a seat and perhaps to perform pastoral tasks such as reconciling penitent sinners. When mass was celebrated, the priest appears to have come to the west side of the altar, leading the congregation and facing east towards God, as was the practice in later centuries.77 The nave accommodated the congregation as well as providing room for a font at its west end, as parish churches took over from the minsters the provision of baptism to local people.78 Coming now from a smaller and closer neighbourhood, the church congregation formed a similar grouping to that of its members’ everyday lives. One often began, continued, and ended one’s spiritual life in the local church. One went there with one’s neighbours. Most churches would grow in size in later times, but the essential parish church community had now been created. Once parish churches were established, there was a need to keep them in repair and provide them with furnishings and materials for their worship. Parishioners became expected to help with this: we shall shortly encounter the obligation of ‘church-bot’ which required them to join in the upkeep of the building. In principle, however, the responsibility for co-ordinating such upkeep and providing all that was needed for services was at first assigned to the clergy.79 As early as 747 the Council of Clofesho laid down that priests should look after ‘the house of prayer’ and everything belonging to worship.80 In the decades either side of the year 1000 the monastic writer Ælfric of



Eynsham, the so-called ‘Canons of Edgar’, and laws of King Æthelred II all expected clergy to maintain the building and supply its equipment, in return for the tithes and church dues they received from lay people.81 The Norman Conquest made no difference in this respect. Church councils meeting in 1175 and 1200 laid down that churches should have books, ornaments, and vestments, but their failure to mention parishioners in this respect implied that the duty to do so was still that of the clergy.82 The practice, as we shall see, would not change significantly until well into the thirteenth century.83 CHURCHGOING IN THE TENTH AND ELEVENTH CENTURIES Something of the nature of church life in the new and numerous parishes of the tenth and eleventh centuries can be gathered from two sources. These are the ‘Pastoral Letter’ composed by Ælfric for Wulfsige III, bishop of Sherborne, in the 990s, and the so-called ‘Canons of Edgar’ drawn up by Wulfstan I, archbishop of York and bishop of Worcester, about a decade later.84 Both were written in English for wide circulation and easy understanding among the parish clergy. Both were prescriptive not descriptive documents, outlining matters as they should be rather than as they were, and sometimes implying that the reality was different. Nevertheless they mention many of the details of worship and observance that would hold good for the rest of the Middle Ages. These were already complex matters, rather than simple ones that became complex later on. The parish clergyman was frequently called a ‘mass-priest’ in this period; later he would become known as a ‘rector’ or ‘vicar’.85 This term shows that he was expected to have been ordained as a priest rather than at a lower level of ordination and to be capable of celebrating mass, which was restricted to priests. He might be assisted by a deacon, who could baptise and distribute communion but no more, and some churches had such deacons by the thirteenth century.86 Alternatively he was urged to teach young men to help him in church: presumably as the permanent aide later known as the parish clerk or as acolytes to hold the cross and candles at major services. The priest should be celibate and not keep any woman in his house save for a close female



relation, although in this respect Ælfric and Wulfstan were expounding an ideal. In practice many minster and parish clergy continued to be married until the late twelfth or early thirteenth centuries.87 The priest and his assistants were to sing the seven daily services or ‘hours’ that clergy sang in minsters, and these were to be announced by bell-ringing. When they should be sung was not specified: in later centuries the services were consolidated into three groups, taking place in the early morning and the mid or late afternoon.88 The priest was to provide himself with books for worship, and mass in particular was to be said or sung from a book, not by heart.89 The books for the daily services included a psalter containing the psalms, songbooks (perhaps a hymnal and antiphoner), a computus or calendar, a reading book (perhaps a breviary containing the daily Bible readings), and a passional (readings from the Lives of the saints). For mass a missal was necessary together with books containing the epistles and gospels read at mass, while pastoral work required a manual with the material for baptism, marriage, and burial. Finally a penitential gave guidance on confessions and penances. Thirteenth-century records reveal many deficiencies in church books, however, which make it doubtful whether all Anglo-Saxon churches had full sets in good condition.90 The commentators took it for granted that the services would be said or sung in Latin. There were, however, some exceptions to this. It appears that a priest told godparents at baptisms in English about the words they were to say in Latin and that, while visiting the sick, he talked to them in English about making their confession. Ordinary confessions must have been conducted in English as well, and it is very likely that a couple at a church wedding made their vows in the language, as was the practice in the later Middle Ages.91 On Sundays and festivals, after the gospel was read at mass, the priest was urged to explain its content to the people in English. At Sunday mass when he consecrated the bread and wine, he should reserve some for ministering to the sick during the week, and this should be changed weekly or fortnightly, as opposed to the practice of some clergy in reserving it only at Easter and using it for the next twelve months. The chalice used to hold the wine should be of metal and not wood. There seems to have been some difficulty in procuring wine, because a later Church council of 1070 forbade the



use of ale or mere water.92 Mass on weekdays was not prescribed, except by Ælfric who ordered it to be celebrated on Wednesdays ‘against the pagans’ at a time of serious Viking attacks. Children should be baptised within seven days of their birth according to Wulfstan, although in Ælfric’s view, whenever they could be brought to the priest. A priest should keep holy oil consecrated by a bishop for use in baptisms and for anointing the gravely sick. The sick should make their confessions, be anointed if they wished (there was some resistance to this), and be given communion. The priest should conduct their funerals and, while a body was awaiting burial in church, any ‘wake’ or vigil held alongside should not involve eating, drinking, or the singing of ‘heathen songs’. Money ought not to be taken for a baptism or any kind of religious service. Confessions should be heard when required, but there was as yet no law as to when this should happen. Parishioners were urged to attend church frequently. No commandment was made to go every Sunday, but that day was to be kept as holy from midday on Saturday until dawn on Monday.93 People should honour the Church’s festivals as holidays, including the first four days of Easter.94 Not mentioned, but important as far back as the eighth century, were the Rogation Days in the fifth week after Easter, when the laity were expected to join the clergy in processions of intercession and blessing of the fields.95 On Sundays all should abstain from trading, and on festivals from ‘heathen songs and games’: even from sex, in Wulfstan’s opinion. They should fast from meat every Friday, except from Christmas Day to the seventh day after Epiphany and from Easter to Pentecost.96 Other Church laws told them to fast during Lent, in the Ember Weeks four times a year, and on the eves or vigils before the feasts of the Virgin Mary and the Apostles.97 All should know the Paternoster (Lord’s Prayer) and the Apostles’ Creed, and teach them to their children.98 The language in which these texts were to be said was not specified, and some may have known them in Latin, some in English. People in church should avoid talking and eating or drinking. No woman should come near the altar while mass was being celebrated. All were encouraged to receive the sacrament of the eucharist at Easter and on other occasions during the year, for which they should fast beforehand.99 At this time it was still customary for them to be given both bread and wine at the



eucharist and this was not necessarily refused even to children. Parishioners were required to render the various dues that the Church laid down, including tithes, and the priest was to remind them of this at the relevant times of the year when this should be done. Churchyards, where people were buried, should be secured against the entrance of animals. Burial inside a church was to be allowed only to Christians in good standing: in practice it would have been based on holding high status. Already by this period, however, a parish community was not a simple body. It comprised men and women of different ranks and devotional inclinations. Groups known as guilds emerged, first clearly recorded in the tenth century although they are likely to have existed earlier. Indeed, in the sense of secular bands of people loyal to each other, they must have been as ancient as any social institution.100 The statutes of four guilds have survived from the tenth and eleventh centuries: at Abbotsbury, Bedwyn, Cambridge, and Exeter.101 These show that the members – apparently all men – bound themselves to obey certain rules. The men were men of status because they had servants who sometimes attended guild meetings with them. They owned the resources to hold feasts and to subsidise one another in times of expense such as pilgrimages, house fires, and funerals. The Cambridge guild was the most secular: its rules included avenging its members and they do not allude to church attendance beyond providing for a man to be brought home for burial after a death elsewhere. The other three had clearer church connections. Abbotsbury was evidently linked with the minster there. It held a devotion to the minster saint, St Peter, and attended mass on his feast day, 1 August (Lammas Day). The Bedwyn statutes point to involvement at the local church on the Rogation Days in summer and on other occasions when members made offerings, while those of Exeter mention going to church three times a year in September, February, and May. The members at Exeter seem to have included priests. Together, the statutes indicate that men of higher rank formed exclusive groups, funding masses and the saying of psalms in intercession for their living and dead members, and ensuring that their funerals were staged with appropriate prayers and festivities.102 The formation of guilds did not remain restricted to the rich and powerful, or to important centres of settlement. By about 1100 they could potentially



be found in many parishes, involving both men and women with more modest wealth although perhaps above that of most people. This is apparent from the remarkable survival of the names of the members of fourteen guilds in the countryside around Exeter at that date. They are written on the leaves of the ‘Exeter Book’: the famous anthology of Old English poetry that belonged to Exeter Cathedral. The guilds undertook to pay a penny per household to the cathedral at Easter and a similar penny when one of their members died, in return for prayers by the cathedral clergy.103 There were guilds in nine parishes, of which Colaton Ralegh had two, Whitestone two, and Woodbury four. Some similar names are found in more than one guild, but since only forenames were recorded it is difficult to know if, when two or more such fellowships existed, they were mutually exclusive. There certainly seem to have been attempts at restricting membership, because three guilds consisted of twelve members and at least one (but possibly three more) of twenty. The largest, Broad Clyst, had forty-six. The members were listed with priests first (but only six guilds had any), then men, then women. Nearly all of the laity were men and most guilds had only a couple of women, except for Broad Clyst with twelve. Little is recorded about guilds related to churches in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, although they certainly continued to exist in both towns and the countryside.104 In the later Middle Ages the evidence proliferates to show that they were very common, so that the Exeter examples are valuable in showing that such groups had a long history and may have existed widely from about 1100 onwards. THE GROWTH OF OBLIGATIONS In return for what the clergy gave parishioners, the Church came to require them to pay dues to support the clergy.105 Such dues may have been expected or even imposed as far back as the late seventh century, to judge from references to the paying of ‘tribute’ by Bede and in the ‘Theodore’ Penitential.106 More exact information is forthcoming in the laws attributed to King Ine of Wessex but probably later in the form that survives. These talk of ‘church-scot’: a donation of grain from every hide of land, paid to the local church at Martinmas (11 November) which, from the scale of the levy, was



5.  Tithes enabled the establishment of small parish churches. The most valuable were those of grain, known as the ‘great tithes’, which in this picture will belong to the rector of the church in the background.



of substantial value. ‘Soul-scot’ and ‘church-bot’, both mentioned in the years around 900, consisted in the first case of a fee at the time of death in return for burial, and in the second of an obligation to help maintain the church building. Two further levies, ‘light-scot’ and ‘plough-alms’, were in being soon after 1000. One was a duty of providing lights to burn in the church, probably by giving wax, three times a year. The other was a payment for each plough made fifteen days after Easter, perhaps as an offering for the success of the ploughing. The evidence for these comes chiefly from Wessex (southern England) and it is unclear how general they became. Church-scot and plough-alms survived in some places until as late as 1300,107 but they and the other dues are not mentioned in Church legislation after the Norman Conquest and seem to have evolved into different forms during the twelfth century. Church-scot appears to have been absorbed or replaced by tithe. Soul-scot turned into a custom called ‘mortuary’: a gift to the church after death, in the case of a man his second-best animal.108 Church-bot was succeeded during the thirteenth century by a general parish duty to maintain the nave and the goods of the church, while light-scot continued as a part of this duty along with a requirement to make a personal gift of a candle at Candlemas (2 February).109 There was a further annual payment named ‘Rome-penny’ or Romfeoh, known later as ‘Romescot’ and ‘Peter’s Pence’, St Peter being the patron saint of Rome and traditionally the first pope.110 It appears to have begun in the reign of King Alfred of Wessex, and certainly existed by that of King Æthelstan, as a voluntary gift of ‘alms’ made by the king to the pope, which the king later extended to his subjects. They too became obliged to pay it and the obligation spread beyond Wessex as its kings extended their control over the Midlands and the north, but it never reached the dioceses of Wales or those of Carlisle and Durham in the far north, although people in Durham made a similar payment to their cathedral.111 Peter’s Pence consisted of a payment of a penny per house or hearth, sometimes known as a ‘smoke penny’, although some people, especially the poorer, were in effect exempt from it. The penny had to be paid by 1 August, the feast of St Peter, and in theory there were severe penalties for defaulting. The money was collected by local clergy and forwarded in turn to the archdeacon, the diocesan bishop,



and lastly the archbishop or, later on, the pope’s collectors. During the twelfth century the amount that each diocese sent to Rome became fixed and it did not significantly change from then until the Reformation. This enabled the collectors to take some of the proceeds for their trouble, and bishops in particular made a modest profit from the operation. All these dues came to be outstripped by tithe: an annual obligation eventually imposed on all landholders and workers and highly lucrative in the returns that it generated (Fig. 5, p. 31). It originated as a voluntary donation to the Church, inspired by the practice of tithing as an offering to God in the Old Testament. The legatine synod of 786 urged that everyone should give a tenth of what they possessed each year because Scripture reserved it for God, and that they should live and give other alms from the other nine tenths.112 This proposal had no immediate effect, and it was not until the tenth century that tithe became compulsory as a levy of a tenth of the fruits of the soil and a tenth of the offspring of domestic animals. In the late 920s King Æthelstan ordered tithe to be paid from his property and that of his bishops and servants: ealdormen and reeves.113 His successor Edmund in the early 940s made a more general command to include every Christian man, in effect all heads of households.114 King Edgar, as we have seen, defined the recipients of tithe as the minster or the local parish church, which in the course of time came most often to mean the latter. He added penalties for failure to pay. The defaulter was to be visited by agents of the king and the bishop along with the parish priest. They were to seize the tenth due to the church, leave another tenth for the defaulter, and confiscate the remaining eight tenths of his yields. Half of this was to go to the bishop and half to the man’s lord, thereby ensuring that the lord had an interest in upholding the payment of tithe.115 In practice local lords came to have other powers over the destination of tithes, at least from their own property. Up to about the late twelfth century it was possible for them to divert such tithes to a church other than the local one, such as a monastery that they wished to endow. There were established times for paying tithe. In the tenth and eleventh centuries the tithe of young animals was to be handed over by Pentecost, seven weeks after Easter, and the tithe of fruits (principally the harvest of grain) by the autumn equinox (reckoned as 23 September) or by All Saints



Day (1 November). Priests were told to remind their congregations in advance of these dates.116 Later medieval Church laws say little about tithing dates, but Salisbury diocese asked for the young animals in the week before Easter and the tithing of grain would obviously have followed the harvest.117 During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, as the Church became more demanding, tithe was reckoned to be due from every kind of activity, which made the Anglo-Saxon dates of less significance. Not only were young animals tithed, but the wool of sheep, milk, butter, and cheese, geese, ducks, hens, and their eggs, honey from bees, doves from dovecotes, and catches of fish. The fruits of the land were extended to include hay, peas and beans, hemp, orchard fruit, garden vegetables, cider, timber, brushwood and reeds collected for fuel or craft-work, and the bracken used for animal bedding.118 We even hear of the tithe of rabbits and of deer killed in hunting.119 Tithe also expanded to embrace industrial workers: smiths, carpenters, shoemakers, weavers, skinners, and millers. Here it was difficult to enforce the tithing of objects, and payments of money took the place of produce, notionally as a tenth of earnings or as a fixed amount of 5s. from poor workers or servants.120 Tithes in towns therefore became more of a matter of cash and this gradually extended to the countryside, although tithing in crops and animals was not fully abolished until 1836. Altogether tithe became an integral part of Church life. For some it was an unpopular burden, leading to evasion and, in hard cases, a summons for punishment in a Church court. For others, the conscientious, it led to nagging doubts: had they paid enough, or would their shortfall be counted against them after their deaths? So we encounter the payment of ‘secret tithes’, apparently made during Lent and perhaps at the time of confession, to show one’s wish to comply, while a bequest ‘for tithes forgotten’ became a common clause to include when making one’s will.121 CHAPELS The proliferation of places of worship did not stop with parish churches. Indeed, just as they came to exceed the monasteries and minsters, they themselves were to be outnumbered by still larger quantities of chapels. The term



is used here of free-standing and usually smaller religious buildings (not chapels within churches), most of which did not possess parishes in the usual sense. They appeared within the first century of the reconversion of England. As well as the oratories already mentioned, Bede tells us that St Chad (d.672) used ‘a retired dwelling place’ near Lichfield where he and some fellow clergy used to read and pray, which looks like an oratory.122 He adds that a few years later, John of Beverley, bishop of Hexham (687–706), had a similar retreat a mile and half from his cathedral and this certainly included a chapel dedicated to St Michael.123 Given these instances, it is likely that chapels or oratories were soon created in episcopal, royal, or noble residences. One such chapel has been excavated in the tenth-century palace of the kings of Wessex at Cheddar in Somerset and others are known at Deerhurst, Gillingham in Dorset, and Winchester.124 There must have been some small private churches that failed to seek or gain parochial status. An example is St James, a mile east of Exeter, which existed by 1066 but was always regarded later on as lying within and subject to the neighbouring parish of Heavitree.125 In addition there were public chapels venerating a religious cult of Christ or a saint which never developed parochial ambitions. The chapel of St Aldhelm in Worth Matravers, Dorset, was probably a late Anglo-Saxon creation.126 Cornwall contained two or three dozen chapels named after alleged local saints: St Dilic in St Endellion, St Ia in Camborne, St Wered in St Breock, and so on, which must have long antedated the Norman Conquest.127 The early history of chapels is obscured by the use of the word ‘church’ for any kind of ecclesiastical building, as is the case in Edgar’s laws. By the late eleventh century, when parish churches were common and their status more uniform, it was necessary to invent another word for religious buildings of an inferior kind. This was supplied by capella or ‘chapel’, borrowed from the church in France that took its name from its famous relic: the capella or cloak of St Martin.128 From the twelfth century to the sixteenth there was a strong impetus, all over England, to supplement parish churches with other places of worship, for reasons that will shortly be explained. This sometimes caused ill will among those who ran the parish church, because a new chapel might draw away their revenues and congregations. Bishops too,



as their authority grew, became more insistent on approving fresh places of worship, and usually licensed chapels on restricting conditions. The conditions varied but might limit the times when services could be held in the building. Permission might be given for Sunday worship if the chapel served a large and remote community, on certain weekdays so as not to compete with the church, or merely on a few days of the year. Those who used the chapel were required to discharge all their usual obligations of attendance and payments to the parish clergyman and his church, and all offerings made in the chapel were the property of that clergyman. Furthermore the chapel was not generally permitted to host a baptism, marriage, funeral, or burial, since these were the prerogatives of the church. Huge numbers of chapels were licensed by bishops between the thirteenth century and the Reformation: so many that the registers of bishops’ activities rarely bothered to record them. The exceptions are the registers of the bishops of Exeter between 1327 and 1455, in which hundreds may be traced although even there not every grant was registered. A study of Devon has identified about 1,300 chapels of all kinds – three times as many as the parish churches.129 Cornwall, a smaller county, had at least 350, but possibly twice as many.130 Research on the eastern side of England has identified 151 in Kent but proposes a total of over 300, while 245 have been listed in Lincolnshire, which is also likely to fall far short of the total.131 The single large parish of Ripon had more than two dozen.132 There must have been many thousands across the whole of the country: perhaps (as in Devon) triple the number of the 9,500 parish churches. The chapels can be divided into categories based on their outreach: private, local, or general. All three kinds had their origins in Anglo-Saxon England. Private chapels were licensed in the castles and households of the king, the bishops and higher clergy, monasteries, the nobility, the gentry, and some wealthy townsmen (Fig. 6, p. 38).133 By the later Middle Ages there were chapels in civic town buildings for the city leaders, while other chapels were private to guilds and their members. The second category was that of chapels-of-ease, which served a neighbourhood, but did not necessarily aim at a wider impact. That name for them is recorded only from the mid sixteenth century, but they had existed by then for several hundreds of years



with the function indicated by the name. This was to operate as a daughter church, providing services for a community at some distance from the parish church while remaining within the parish and under its church’s government. Some enjoyed organised worship only on weekdays, others on Sundays and festivals too, although their congregations were required to attend the parish church on certain occasions. They acquired fonts for baptisms and cemeteries for burials only gradually, if at all, and sometimes against resistance. The third kind of chapel was that which opened itself to the whole of society and was happy to attract whatever support it could. Some were built on bridges and sought to gain offerings for the upkeep of the structure, or alongside roads in the hope of drawing in travellers. These and others were additionally cult chapels, aiming themselves at those who wished to venerate Christ, the Virgin Mary, Michael, or other saints. The variety of chapel types was reflected in the range of their staffing and services. Chapels-of-ease might have their own chaplain paid by the incumbent of the parish church or by the people of the neighbourhood. Alternatively there might be only one or two weekday masses, done by the incumbent or another priest imported for the purpose. Private chapels might have daily worship including a mass said by a domestic chaplain, especially in the large households of the nobility, or in the case of the less wealthy gentry or merchants, a priest might be brought in to officiate on an occasional basis. Guild chapels might have a permanent priest or infrequent visits by one. Cult chapels did not necessarily have services very often. They came to life on one or more days of the year when there was a pilgrimage to them, and might otherwise be chiefly places for private prayer. The relationship of chapels with the laity of a parish also varied from place to place. Private chapels concerned only their wealthy owners and household servants, or the guild members who maintained them. Those who frequented the chapel were expected to use it to supplement, not replace, their duties to the parish church. Any mass that took place had to be ‘low’ or basic in nature rather than ‘solemn’ or ‘high’ with full elaboration, unless special permission was given, and the chapel goers remained obliged to attend the church at the very least on major festivals and to receive the sacraments and burial.134 The cult



6.  A domestic chapel, Haddon Hall, Derbyshire, designed like a small parish church with a chancel screen.

chapels reached more people, either because they were built in places where traffic passed or because they were the object of pilgrimage on certain days of the year. Because they had few or no weekly services, they did not draw away the congregation of the parish church, but in unobtrusive ways they formed an alternative to it. Local people had to maintain such a chapel, open it, and clean it, and those who visited it to worship had it to themselves for much of the time. They could enter, venerate its images, and say prayers without the presence of a priest. In this degree of lay control and activity, and in the location of some of them near parish boundaries, such chapels anticipated the Free Church meeting houses of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Indeed, like these successors, they might become centres of alternative practices. In 1351 Bishop Grandisson of Exeter ordered the destruction of a chapel at Frithelstock, north Devon. The place had developed a cult of the Virgin Mary, perhaps involving divination, which the bishop considered more appropriate to ‘proud and disobedient Eve or lewd Diana’ than to the mother of God.135 An early group of Lollard dissenters in Leicester during the early



7.  A chapel on a rock: Roche, Cornwall, built in the early fifteenth century in two storeys.

1380s based themselves in the disused chapel of St Katherine, where two of them showed their contempt for the veneration of saints by burning her image to cook their cabbage soup.136 A third Leicester Lollard, the priest and hermit William Swinderby, later became a roving missionary for the movement in northern Herefordshire: celebrating mass and probably spreading its beliefs in a lonely chapel at Deerfold Wood in Lingen parish.137 In Henry VIII’s reign the chapel of Court-at-Street in Kent became the scene of the trances and prophecies of the eccentric visionary Elizabeth Barton, ‘the mad nun of Kent’.138 All these were unusual events, but the cult chapel offered scope for religious activities away from the incumbent of the parish church and the leaders of his congregation, and less under their supervision.139 The greatest strains arose between the parish churches and their chapelsof-ease.140 Since the latter stood in communities that lay well away from the church, they became a focus for those communities and their aspirations. Outlying parishioners appreciated having a place of worship of their own.



Not surprisingly they disliked having to travel a long way to church on Sundays in all weathers, as well as the inconvenience of taking babies there for baptisms or bodies for funerals. Further resentment arose because the community had to maintain the chapel building, yet it was forced to surrender any offerings made there to the parish priest and still contribute to the upkeep of the church. Accordingly chapels-of-ease yearned to have a priest of their own, regular worship, and rights of baptism, marriage, and burial. Just as the daughter churches of Anglo-Saxon minsters came to seek their own parochial rights, so these chapels desired to become more autonomous and ideally fully independent. If their district had a substantial landholder, that person or institution might sympathise with the desire. Secessions of this kind were strongly resisted by the patron of the parish church, its clergyman, and its core parishioners, all of whom stood to lose financially from such a departure. The bishop usually gave them his backing. In Devon the people of Sandford in Crediton parish tried to develop their chapel into a parish church. The bishop allowed them to have Sunday services in 1432, but revoked his permission when they began to withdraw from Crediton church. Sandford renewed its attempt in 1524 and Bishop Veysey sanctioned the holding of services and funerals, but in all other respects the people were told to fulfil their obligations to Crediton.141 In 1439 a determined attempt was made to remove the Devon chapel of Templeton from Witheridge parish by the Knights of St John, which owned the manor of Templeton, and by the local inhabitants. The bishop ordered an enquiry which found that a friar had been brought in to consecrate the chapel as a church. Following this, a chaplain was hired, baptisms were administered, and a graveyard was created, allegedly with false graves to suggest antiquity. The bishop’s judgment is not recorded but he would certainly have upheld the rights of Witheridge.142 Nevertheless from late Anglo-Saxon times onwards, the largest and most determined communities managed to gain their independence, especially if their cause was championed by local gentry. Sometimes the dependent chapel acquired a chaplain paid by the incumbent of the mother church, sometimes it gained a full rector, but there was generally a requirement that the parish­ ioners of the chapel area would continue to attend the mother church on



certain major feasts or occasions. There was another group of foundations, ‘free chapels’, as they were known, that also gained a degree of autonomy. The term originally applied to royal chapels in the king’s houses or elsewhere, which by virtue of his ownership were removed from the normal Church officers and formed peculiars. It later came to be used of certain smaller chapels. Some were former parish churches or the churches of extinct religious institutions which had lost their old functions while keeping their independence. Others appear to have been free primarily in that they had a private endowment to support a resident or a visiting priest, who was presumably appointed by the patron or trustees of the chapel rather than by the clergyman of the parish. Their exact relationship with him and the parish church still needs to be elucidated.143 THE CHRISTIANISATION OF THE LANDSCAPE The foundation of minsters, churches, and chapels introduced a Christian element to the landscape. Their buildings often lay at places of significance. These might be ancient ones from Roman times or even former pagan sites of worship.144 Some minsters had a visual impact from an early date with exterior ramparts or defences. The word burh, originally meaning a fortified place, was applied to several religious communities such as Glastonbury and Malmesbury. When lesser churches came to be built, these were often placed close to the houses of the local landowners who were responsible for founding them.145 The association between the manor house and the church can still be seen in many places today. All churches could make their presence felt visibly with battlemented towers or spires, and aurally through the sound of their bells. But Christianity was not confined to church buildings. It colonised the physical landscape too.146 Most faiths acquire relationships with the natural world, and this was true of the Church in medieval England. The religious authorities were inclined to view some features of the landscape with suspicion. These might be historic or potential places for heathen rites or worship to be remembered and perpetuated. Three sets of laws from the early eleventh century forbade the veneration of wells, stones, and trees, and ordered the



8.  A romantic chapel (mid-left): Guy’s Cliff near Warwick, part of a ‘theme park’ commemorating the legendary hero Guy of Warwick.

clergy to discourage the practice.147 Further pronouncements to the same effect are found in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.148 But long before these dates, Christian pioneers had tried to confront such objects and to stamp their mark upon them. The eighth-century Life of St Samson told how he reclaimed a standing stone in Cornwall used for pagan worship by carving a cross on it, as well as expelling a serpent from a cave and purifying the place by living there in prayer and fasting.149 Early Irish saints produced springs of water miraculously, and St Cuthbert (d.687) was believed to have discovered one near his cell on the island of Farne.150 In practice many wells were regarded as holy and became places of pilgrimage, notably St Winifred’s well at Holywell, north Wales, and St Anne’s at Buxton. So did certain trees such as an oak on Hampstead Heath that carried an image of the Virgin, and others associated with local saints.151 Some pioneering missionaries established themselves in remote places and sanctified these by their presence. In the early 650s St Cedd founded a



9.  A chapel in a wood: St George at Cotehele, Cornwall, dating from the end of the fifteenth century.

minster at Lastingham on the North Yorkshire Moors, in a region that Bede described as one of ‘steep and remote hills which seemed better fitted for the haunts of robbers and the dens of wild beasts than for human habitation’. Cedd made the place holy by praying and fasting there for the whole of a Lent, thereby exorcising its past.152 A generation later St Guthlac did the same by settling at Crowland, at that time an island in the Fens. None had been able to live there because of apparitions and terrors until he successfully beat off the attacks of the local demons.153 Other islands became associated with saints and were therefore regarded as saintly places, notably Farne, Lindisfarne, and St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall. Saints’ Lives and legends often connected their heroes and heroines with landscape features. Bede told how St Oswald, slain in battle probably at Oswestry in 642, sanctified the ground where he was killed, so that it was subsequently greener and more beautiful than its surroundings and its soil virtuous in doing mir­­ acles.154 Stories of this kind appear in many later Lives of saints, describing



how they lived on hills or in caves, caused springs and wells to appear, and sometimes suffered martyrdom near a well to which they gave an enduring virtue.155 This spiritual claiming of the landscape increased with the proliferation of chapels. Being usually small in size, they could be built with modest resources in places that were remote or difficult of access. In the course of time they came to be constructed on town gateways, on bridges, and by ferries, thereby adding a spiritual presence to places of transit. Other popular sites for chapels were on physical features. Hills and rocks came to be crowned by their buildings, often dedicated to St Michael whose two great Continental sites were in such places at Monte Gargano (Italy) and Mont St Michel (Normandy). In England, chapels in his honour were built, for example, at Glastonbury Tor and Montacute in Somerset, Brentor in Devon, and Roche and Rough Tor in Cornwall (Fig. 7, p. 39). Contrariwise there were chapels in or near caves: St Vincent at Bristol, Guy’s Cliff at Warwick (Fig. 8, p.42), and the cave of the hermit St Robert at Knaresborough, Yorkshire. A vogue developed for chapels in woods and parks, sometimes associated with a hermitage (Fig. 9, p. 43). These are recorded at Liskeard and Restormel in Cornwall, Chetwode in Buckinghamshire, and St Briavels in the Forest of Dean.156 Kent had several including St Blaise in Offham, Capel in Petham, and Woodlands in Shoreham.157 The chapel of St Anne ‘in the wood’ two miles south-east of Bristol became a notable place of pilgrimage in the fifteenth century and gave its name ‘in the wood’ to chapels elsewhere.158 Even more ubiquitous than chapels were crosses. These were built from Anglo-Saxon times along roads and tracks, at boundaries, in churchyards, and in market-places. Many must have been due to lay people, individually or in communities, keen to affirm their faith in a visible way across the world around them. They acted as visible reminders of Christ in the landscape and as triggers to say prayers.159 A parish church might be the normal centre of everyone’s spiritual life. But on the three days of Rogation Week between late April and early June, depending when Easter fell, its congregation joined in the processions that went into fields to bless the crops, sometimes as far as the parish boundary or further.160 Beyond this, the huge number of local pilgrimage sites, often in the places outlined above, drew people into hills,



woods, caves, and islands at least once a year for a service: the familiar mass or sermon indeed, but celebrated in surroundings very different from those of their regular worship. CHURCH AND PARISH The characteristic scatter of parish churches in England mostly came into being between about the tenth and the twelfth centuries. Each church had its own territory, usually of a modest size except in the uplands of the north and in some old minster parishes. By the middle of the twelfth century, this network of buildings and territories was regarded as the norm. Every diocese was administered through a system of similar units.161 Bishops devolved the routine management of the diocese to one or more archdeacons, each running one large area within it. Every archdeaconry was divided into rural deaneries consisting of groups of churches and parishes, one of whose clergy acted in turn as a local administrator. When bishops, archdeacons, and rural deans engaged with churches and parishes, they did so in a uniform way with the exception of those that were peculiars. This reflected reality in that all churches and parishes had certain things in common. Their clergy were appointed in the same way, with the same duties and the same sources of revenue. Their inhabitants met at the same church, they related to the same priest, and as we shall see, they became obliged not only to pay him tithes but to maintain the church building and its worship.162 The church and its parish were more than a religious unit, however, being also a social one. Indeed the social unit might precede the church, if the church was built to serve an existing estate and community. The church’s spiritual patron to whom it was dedicated – the Trinity, Christ, or a saint – provided a figure around whom people could rally and display on a banner taken in procession.163 Congregations understood themselves as different from those in parishes next door, and sought to equal or surpass in their own buildings what others had in theirs. When, for instance, the people of Stratton in Cornwall commissioned the making of a new rood loft in 1531, they specified that it should reproduce particular features from the nearby churches of Liskeard, St Columb Major, and St Kew.164 This



self-confidence might extend to acts of bravado or hostility against neighbouring parishes. In later chapters we shall encounter physical attempts by parishioners to defend their parish boundaries, and even displays of violence between groups of them waiting behind their banners to pay their Pentecostal dues at their local cathedral.165 Did churches and parishes vary from region to region? There were some differences, notably in the larger size of many northern parishes. As will be shown, there came to be separate ‘Uses’ (meaning sets of liturgical texts) in the province of York and in several of the dioceses of the province of Canterbury, although in that province the Use of Salisbury Cathedral came to be dominant. Building materials varied from region to region, as did preferences for building styles, and it is likely that folk customs differed with regard to certain church festivals and events such as weddings. But regional characteristics were complicated by the disparities between any one church or parish and its neighbours. There was no standard parish in terms of size or wealth, and no such thing as a uniform parish community. In a city with many small parishes, the church would have been a place for neighbours to meet and to form a grouping of their own, but their relationships spread well beyond the church’s own parish. They might work, shop, or socialise elsewhere in the city and, in the case of the wealthier, belong to guilds that transcended the parishes. In the countryside, to take examples from Devon (Fig. 4, p. 22), a parish of moderate size with a single manor and landlord, such as Brampford Speke, might have a close match between the parish and the social community. A parish might be larger but dominated by a ‘nucleated’ or compact village in which the church was sited, as in Thorverton. Such a church became a centre of local life not only for the village but for the people of the remoter farms or hamlets, who were glad to link with it for social reasons. In the uplands, where there was no significant settlement and the church stood almost alone, as happened at Cadbury, it could also be a valued place for a scattered population to meet and overcome its isolation. There were other parishes with different dynamics. These might have one or more significant settlements of people well away from the church, with their own landowners and self-sufficiency in terms of work and socialising. Such outlying places often acquired their own chapels, which then became a



separate focus of loyalty as was the case around Crediton. Resentment then developed against the attendance and duties demanded by a church a tiresome journey away of two or three miles. So the system of churches and parishes had many variations. Size, wealth, and cohesion could differ greatly even from one to its next-door neighbour, and the differences need to be kept in mind throughout the rest of this book.


2 J


KINDS OF CLERGY Life in a parish brought a relationship with one or more clergy. Each parish was required to have at least a single priest in charge of caring for the souls of its people: the so-called ‘cure of souls’. He worshipped every day on their behalf and celebrated mass for them at least on Sundays and festivals. He heard their confessions and provided baptisms, marriages, and funerals at crucial points of their lives. He prayed for them after they died. In return he was entitled to obedience in spiritual matters and to the payment of Church dues. But just as there were different kinds of parish, so the parish clergy varied in type and number. We have seen that some parish churches were housed in religious communities: cathedrals and monasteries. In this case the nave or an aisle of the church was usually allocated to the parish, while the community occupied the chancel. The head of the community – dean, abbot, or prior – might have official authority over the parish, but in practice the cure of souls was usually delegated to a chaplain employed by the community. It was rare for cathedral canons or monks to hold such cures.1 There were also ‘collegiate’ and ‘portionary’ or ‘prebendal’ churches staffed by two or more parish clergy. Here the whole church was usually the parish church. As these terms are best used, ‘collegiate’ means that the clergy managed the church together as a corporate body. ‘Portionary’ and ‘prebendal’ refer to churches with two or more clergy each holding a portion or prebend (a share) of the church’s property, who were not corporate but operated independently. In either kind of church all the clergy might share the cure of souls or the cure might belong



to one of the body alone. At Bampton, Oxfordshire, the three vicars who served the church seem to have done so together, while at St Endellion, Cornwall, which had four prebends or portions, the holder of a particular one of these was the sole parish priest.2 The majority of parishes, in contrast, were ruled by a single clergyman or ‘incumbent’ who held the ‘benefice’, meaning the whole body of rights and revenues that came with the parish.3 By the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, two words for such a clergyman were coming into use, at first in Latin and later in English. The basic word was ‘rector’: one who had the absolute ‘rule’ of his parish, over both cure of souls and benefice rights. His benefice and dwelling were known as a rectory. An alternative word for him was persona, ‘parson’ in English, meaning that he was the ecclesiastical person locally in charge.4 But not all parish benefices by this time were rectories. Some rectories came to be considered suitable to be given to clergy of status who were not obliged to keep residence. In these a separate benefice was created for a resident cleric, known as a ‘vicar’ from vicarius or ‘deputy’.5 Such parishes had two incumbents although only the vicar may have acted in providing pastoral care.6 Far more common than these were benefices where the patron of the rectory was a religious body: a bishop, cathedral, monastery, collegiate church, or (later on) a university college.7 Under canon (meaning Church) law, it was permissible for a religious patron of this kind to make himself or itself rector of the parish, subject to the approval of the bishop and later also of the king, as well as to the benefice having enough income for the purpose. The process became common in England after the 1130s and was known as ‘appropriation’, the benefice being termed an ‘appropriated’ or ‘impropriated’ one.8 When a religious body was made rector, it was entitled to take the rectory assets of land, tithes, and other income. But since it was a body not a person and often lay at a distance from the parish, a deputy cleric was needed to run the parish and exercise the cure of souls. This person was appointed by the appropriating body (subject, as usual, to the bishop’s approval) and was likewise known as a vicar. His benefice and house were called a vicarage (Fig. 10, p. 50). The revenues of such a benefice were divided between the appropriator and the vicar in a way that the bishop came to ‘tax’ or assess in the second



10.  A medieval clergy house: that of the vicar of Muchelney, Somerset.

half of the twelfth century and thereafter, in order to ensure fairness to the vicar. The appropriator usually annexed the tithes of grain: the ‘great tithes’ or ‘garb tithes’ as they were known. These tithes were the most valuable asset in the parish and the most easily stored, transported, and sold. The vicar was given the benefice house, the small ‘glebe’ of land that belonged to the benefice, the ‘lesser tithes’ of hay, peas, beans, hemp, and young animals, and the various monetary offerings made in the parish church. Alternatively, towards the end of the Middle Ages, the appropriator might take everything and pay the vicar a stipend in cash. Apart from their revenues, rectors and vicars were largely identical in their work. Indeed one cannot even say that vicars were always less wealthy than rectors. The poorest benefices were usually rectories, because a benefice needed a substantial income to leave enough for the appropriator and for the vicar. Many churches were run by neither rectors nor vicars but chaplains (Fig. 11, p. 54). In some places the appropriating body absorbed all of the parish revenues, great and lesser, and only paid modest wages to a chaplain to run the parish, rather than a vicar. In others a chapel-of-ease within a large parish might be served by a chaplain whom the rector was bound to provide



and pay to serve that chapel and its hinterland. Common too was the practice of a rector or vicar employing a chaplain privately to replace him if he was absent from the parish or to assist him if he was resident. The modern word for a chaplain of the last kind has been ‘curate’, but in former times the word ‘curate’ was applied to anyone who held the cure of souls. Chaplains earned less than most rectors or vicars and had a lower status. Many were hired and fired at the will of their employers, and lacked security of tenure. They were not officially confirmed in their posts by the local bishop, although they had to appear at the occasional visitations that were made by him or his archdeacons. At irregular intervals from 1377, they were expected to pay taxation and consequently appear in lists of clerical taxpayers.9 An additional class of chaplains were those employed by private employers, founders of chantries, and guilds: domestic chaplains, chantry priests, and guild priests as we may term them. These came into existence by the thirteenth century with the enhanced belief in the mass as having the power to generate benefits for the living and the dead.10 Domestic chaplains functioned only in the private household chapels of the nobility and some of the gentry. Chantry and guild priests worked in parish churches (or sometimes in free-standing chapels) with the consent of the incumbent and under his authority. They were required to attend and assist him with his daily services in the church and, by themselves, to celebrate a daily mass at a side altar in the building with intercessions for the family or guild members who had established their post. This would normally be a ‘low mass’, said or intoned rather than sung.11 The terms of service of these clergy varied. Many were privately employed and never came before the bishop to have their appointments ratified. Some were hired for a limited period of time – a year or two or three – under the wills of wealthy people or at the request of their families. These were also known as ‘annuellars’ from being engaged by the year, so that when their term expired they had to find employment elsewhere. Priests employed by guilds were not necessarily limited in this respect, but they were subject to the control of the guild and might be dismissed if they were thought to be unsatisfactory. Other chantries had priests who were perpetual and enjoyed security of tenure. Founders of these chantries gave their creations an endowment of land or income intended to last for ever. They



issued statutes for the guidance of the institution, and these sometimes required the patrons or trustees in charge of the chantry to present new priests to the bishop for formal appointment to their posts, which gave them permanent possession like the holder of a parish benefice. BECOMING A CLERIC There were requirements to meet before becoming a rector or vicar. Such a person needed to be a priest, although some clergy were allowed to take up a post before being ordained at this level on condition that they would become so in due course. Ordination was carried out by the bishop of one’s diocese or, with his written permission (so-called ‘letters dimissory’), by another bishop (Fig. 12, p. 58). The rite was usually carried out four times a year, on the Saturdays of the Ember Weeks.12 No one could normally be ordained priest until the age of twenty-four, having previously received on a series of occasions the ‘minor orders’ of the first tonsure whose holders were also known as psalmists (conferred from the age of seven) and acolyte (from fourteen years old), followed by the ‘major orders’ of subdeacon and deacon (from seventeen and nineteen years old respectively).13 Candidates for the last two orders and that of priest were generally examined for suitability by an archdeacon or other official.14 They had to be of legitimate birth, free status, sufficient age, and not impaired by serious injury, although dispensations could be obtained in such cases. They should be able to pronounce and understand the Latin of the Church liturgy, sing it in plainsong, and hold a ‘title’: proof of a stipend or wage that would support them afterwards.15 Titles were commonly supplied by wealthy people or religious houses but, as time went on, became more of a formality than a commitment. Ordination at any level changed one’s status at law from layman to cleric, most notably in the ‘benefit of clergy’ by which a cleric convicted of a serious crime in a secular court had to be sent for punishment to the Church authorities, rather than sentenced by the secular ones.16 Establishing who was a cleric in such a case originally depended on whether one’s hair was tonsured, but after about the middle of the fourteenth century it was usual to administer a simple test of literacy. This meant that, as literacy



became more common among laymen, benefit of clergy could be claimed by them as well, which led to its application being limited by the crown under the early Tudor kings. To be able to read and sing meant getting some kind of schooling. Schools in the sense of free-standing institutions are recorded in England from at least the early twelfth century.17 Boys could learn to read in the sense of recognising and pronouncing Latin words at inexpensive elementary schools kept by lay schoolmasters or schoolmistresses and eventually parish clerks. Some of these schools also taught how to sing the plainsong of Church services. Learning to understand Latin took longer and was more expensive since it meant attending a grammar school for at least a few years. Such schools were less common and were chiefly located in towns; moreover most charged fees and the expense grew hugely if one needed to leave home and board in a town with a school. Boys from the wealthier classes – nobility, gentry, merchants, and substantial craftsmen and yeomen – could afford to attend grammar schools and acquire a good understanding of Latin, sufficient to perform Church services and read learned books. A minority of these, with exceptional access to money, might proceed to university to study for part or all of a degree. The next best thing for those from less wealthy families (but not really poor ones) was to serve as a parish clerk, helping a priest with the liturgy and learning it by absorption over several years. This would familiarise them with how to lead services but might provide little more in terms of understanding Latin, unless the priest was capable of giving tuition. These different routes help to explain why there was much variation in the literary and musical skills of medieval clergy. Thousands of names of those ordained survive in the registers of medieval English bishops from the late thirteenth century onwards, although not in all of them, but the strictness of the examinations beforehand is rarely recorded. Some men were certainly turned back or ordained on condition of undertaking further study. The register of Walter Reynolds, bishop of Worcester (1308–13), is exceptional in listing ninety-two conditional ordinations of subdeacons, seven of deacons, and two of priests.18 Some other registers contain scattered examples, which may point to rigorous examinations or to the opposite.19 Ill-qualified candidates sometimes evaded



11.  A parish chaplain: Adam Outlawe of West Lynn, Norfolk, 1503, in amice and cope.

scrutiny. The most famous examples relate to the parish church of Sonning, Berkshire, and its dependent chapels at a visitation by the dean of Salisbury Cathedral in 1222. Out of seven priests who worked there, six were found to be gravely deficient in knowledge of song and grammar. One, tested on the Latin gospel for Advent Sunday and the prayer of consecration in the mass, could give no accurate account of what either meant.20 A later visitation of Berkshire in 1391 heard that the chaplains of Frilsham and Langley were ignorant of the sacraments and of priestly duties, while the chaplain of Peasmore was ‘like a layman and without understanding’.21 The learning of chaplains was still unsatisfactory in London in 1530 when Bishop Stokesley made an enquiry into their abilities. Out of fifty-six recorded cases, only eleven men were found adequate and the others were either told to improve their education or barred from ministry in the diocese completely.22 The Church authorities certainly viewed education as necessary for a priest, in terms of the ability to read and sing Latin and ideally to study and preach. But there were many complaints about deficiencies in this respect,



from Archbishop Pecham’s famous denunciation of the ignorance of priests in 1281 to the strictures of popular writers.23 William Langland, the reputed author of the English poem Piers Plowman in the second half of the fourteenth century, condemned clergy who could not sing or read saints’ Lives, or were better at tracking a hare in a field than construing a clause of the psalms and teaching it to their parishioners.24 On the other hand it is worth noting that John Mirk, writing a manual for the clergy a little later than Langland, added a caveat to this. ‘Shining knowledge and darkness of life do not adorn but disgrace; detract not profit. A priest of simple literacy but with a humble heart and well governed is dear to God and highly acceptable to the people.’ He went on to observe that many of the saints had not been literate, yet the Holy Spirit had given them profound wisdom and the ability to answer difficult questions.25 We tend to judge people in the past by their education because of its importance in our society. It is easy to overlook such attributes as common sense and experience of life which have rarely left any traces. Ordination qualified a cleric to work in a parish, but obtaining a post in the Church with a stipend was a separate matter. The nomination of rectors and vicars belonged to the patron of the benefice. By the twelfth century, as has been said, the patron ‘presented’ his or her candidate to the bishop and, as long as the candidate was not ineligible or incapable, the bishop formally ‘instituted’ or ‘admitted’ him to the benefice in return for a promise of obedience. From 1179 there was a normal requirement that parish incumbents should be in at least their twenty-fifth year, the same age as that for being ordained as a priest.26 The institution led to the ‘induction’ by a local cleric, usually the rural dean, which gave the rector or vicar physical possession of his church, house, and parish. In late Anglo-Saxon times most patrons were probably laity: the king, the nobility, and local lords (or their widows), although some churches were in the gift of bishops and monasteries. During the twelfth century the balance changed somewhat. Many Norman landowners transferred the patronage of their parish churches to the new monasteries that they established, while bishops gave some to their cathedrals. For the rest of the Middle Ages numerous benefices had clergy presented by religious patrons.



Inevitably most patrons presented candidates known to them or whose qualifications impressed them, which favoured those with some status. The king’s appointments included royal officers or relatives of courtiers. Bishops promoted their own relatives, staff, or upcoming scholars, and the nobility and gentry their families and friends. But bishops, cathedrals, and monasteries were not entirely free agents. They came under pressure from powerful people to give benefices to those people’s protégés, and they had to comply with this to some extent.27 The result was that the wealthiest parishes went to clergy with such connections or with academic degrees. Only the poorer were given to those of lesser status and even then very likely through a link with the patron. Clergy without such links had to be satisfied with posts as chaplains of guilds (in a town, some relationship with the merchant class that ran the guilds would have been helpful), as chantry priests, or as the workaday assistant chaplains of the parish incumbents. During the fourteenth century the popes made a determined effort to gain part of this patronage for themselves. Arguing that they were the overlords of bishops, abbeys, and cathedrals, they claimed the right to ‘provide’ or appoint some of the clergy of these patrons’ churches, on the grounds that they would appoint more deserving candidates. Prudently they did not extend the claim to churches in the patronage of the king, nobility, or gentry. Papal appointments, known as ‘provisions’, had some support in England from clergy without much status and influence, and the universities sent lists of deserving candidates to the pope. But far more powerful interests were opposed to them. Bishops and abbeys wanted to keep their own patronage, and the king and the aristocracy took the same view since English clergy were easier to influence than the pope. Further annoyance arose because some of the papal provisions were ‘expectations’: promises of a church in the future. This meant that when a vacancy arose, the patron’s choice of cleric might be challenged by one or more persons possessing an expectation. Large numbers of papal provisions were made in the fourteenth century, especially to cathedral canonries but to some parishes too. However in 1351 and 1365 Parliament enacted statutes forbidding the practice and although the king did not at first enforce these rigorously, papal provisions to parish benefices became uncommon towards the end of the century and virtually disappeared after 1400.28



CELIBACY At the time of the Norman Conquest many clergy were married both in minster churches and smaller parish ones. They felt, as did many laity, that although celibacy was honourable, it was a matter of choice. Marriage was not repugnant to a life serving Christ in the world, and a child of a clerical marriage had a claim on his father’s benefice to which he might properly succeed in due course. Church reformers in the twelfth century, from the popes downwards, took a different view and set out to enforce celibacy. Spiritually they desired to make the clergy more godly and less worldly so as to render their prayer and ministry more effective (Fig. 13, p. 59). Legally celibacy brought the clergy and their posts more fully under the control of the Church authorities, which marriage and inheritance impaired. The four reforming councils of the Catholic Church held at the Lateran in Rome between 1123 and 1215 all forbade clerical marriage. They prohibited subdeacons, deacons, and priests from living with wives or concubines, or from having any woman in their houses other than a near relative. Eventually they ordered all married men to be deprived of their benefices and separated from their partners as being invalidly wedded.29 Reforming Church leaders in England followed a similar path: indeed they sometimes anticipated the decrees of the Lateran councils. The Council of Winchester in 1070 began the assault with the advice that clergy should either live celibately or resign their offices.30 Its successor, held in the same city six years later, forbade cathedral canons to have wives and told bishops to ordain only priests and deacons who declared that they were not married. In the meantime, priests with wives in walled towns and villages were not to be forced to dismiss them, but those not wedded must not take wives in future.31 The evident intention was that married clergy would disappear as time passed. In 1102, however, a Council at Westminster presided over by Archbishop Anselm went further in prohibiting priests and deacons from marrying or retaining a wife, although subdeacons were still allowed to do so.32 A Council at London held in 1108 threatened clergy with deprivation from their benefices if they kept women in their houses other than near relations, and by 1125 the measure was extended to subdeacons.33



12.  A bishop in a mitre ordaining priests.

To pronounce was not to succeed. Some people still felt that the marriage of parish clergy was tolerable or unavoidable.34 Herbert Losinga, bishop of Norwich, remonstrated with Anselm after the Council of 1102, although the archbishop remained inflexible on the subject.35 When a Council of London in 1129 told all priests to renounce their wives by the end of November on pain of losing their churches and houses, a contemporary writer observed that ‘all the orders availed nothing. They all kept their wives by permission of the king, as they had done before.’36 There continued to be married clergy and dynasties of clergy throughout the twelfth century and even into the thirteenth, with monasteries themselves prepared to appoint such clergy to their benefices.37 Nevertheless the pressure for clerical celibacy gradually had an effect. As the thirteenth century continued, married men could not receive ordination or be instituted to benefices. Sexual relationships had to become covert ones and would get a priest into trouble once they were detected.



13.  A ‘secular’ clerk of the eleventh century from the Bayeux Tapestry. The imposition of celibacy on the clergy aimed to turn them away from carnal temptations.

This did not deter every cleric from such a temptation. Illicit relationships continued, despite the efforts of the authorities to stop them. In 1391 and 1394 the bishop of Salisbury instituted two visitations of his diocese which covered Berkshire, Dorset, and Wiltshire. Thirty-nine clergy were reported for fornication with unmarried women or adultery with the married. Twenty were beneficed clergy (rectors or vicars) and nineteen were chaplains. The reports were not assumed to be true and further enquiries were made. Thirteen men were convicted, or failed to appear for questioning which casts suspicion on their situation. Eleven ‘purged’ themselves by producing witnesses to their good conduct, and the cases of the rest were not concluded.38 A few years later, in 1397, a similar visitation was made in Hereford diocese, covering Herefordshire, west Gloucestershire, and south Shropshire. Here fifty-four men were named as suspected or rumoured: twelve beneficed clergy, thirty-two chaplains, and ten of unknown status.



Less is recorded in this case about the outcomes. Some clergy managed to exonerate themselves, but the evidence against others appears convincing.39 The visitations reveal different kinds of relationships. Some women seem to have dwelt in priests’ houses as respectable housekeepers, despite not being close relatives as the law required.40 Others lived in a quasi-marital set-up. In further examples the liaison was a more casual one which could have happened if clerical marriage existed. The large number of chaplains involved, particularly in the Hereford example, reflects the fact that many clergy served in these lowly posts but also perhaps that chaplains had less stake in the community. They were more likely to move from place to place and might live in lodgings rather than benefice houses. The attitude of lay parishioners to clerical sex is not easy to summarise. Parish leaders certainly reported claims and rumours and it is likely that some of the reports embody disapproval, although the Church authorities obliged such reports to be made. In one or two cases the claims came not from the cleric’s own parish but from elsewhere, which may mean that his cohabitation, at least, might be condoned if he was otherwise satisfactory.41 What is clear is that the Church’s victory in establishing celibacy did not succeed in enforcing chastity everywhere. Nearly every piece of Church legislation for the clergy, down to the Reformation, included complaints and interventions on the subject.42 CLERGY INCOME AND STATUS Just as parishes varied in size and location, so did the income that came to the incumbent from each one. Let us take as an example the rural deanery of Dorchester, Dorset, in 1535, not as being typical of the whole of England but to show the range of incomes within a limited area.43 There were fortyfive parishes and benefices in the deanery of which thirty-four were rectories and eleven vicarages. Two vicars, at Chaldon Herring and Winterborne St Martin, were paid £8 per annum by the monasteries that had appropriated all their parish revenues, which was evidently regarded as the minimum acceptable stipend. Thirty-six of the incumbents in the deanery received more than this, mostly in the range of £10 to £20, with four of them enjoying more than £20 of whom the richest, the rector of Corfe Castle, had over



£41. Nine incumbents got less than £8, the poorest being the rector of Tincleton and the vicar of Flete each having a little more than £5 and the rector of All Saints Dorchester with just over £4. The income of the beneficed clergy came from three main sources.44 Nearly all had the allotment of land known as glebe, which they could farm themselves by employing servants or rent out for money.45 Glebes in Dorset were smaller than in some other regions and most produced less than £1, none more than £2 13s. 4d. Offerings were slightly more lucrative than glebes. These were the tiny sums of ½d. or 1d. required from every adult three or four times a year, usually at Christmas, Easter, and the festival of the church’s patron saint, together with other modest donations at weddings and the celebration of masses for the dead. The amounts were usually reported (and very likely under-reported) as between £1 and £2. By far the most valuable source of income was tithes, which accounted for three quarters or more of the total amount, but it must be remembered that these varied in value year by year, depending on the yield of harvests and the consequent price when sold. The small tithes in particular were hard to collect. Getting them required a watchful eye and a good relationship with parishioners, and yet each animal and crop might be worth only a few pence at a time.46 The sums recorded above were nett figures after the deduction of certain small payments, chiefly those made every year to the archdeacon and the bishop. Further expenses had to be met from what every cleric received. Rectors and vicars paid tax to the crown, granted by the leaders of the Church, at a tenth of their income based on a favourable and (after 1350) a very out-of-date valuation. The benefice house had to be maintained, at least one male servant was needed and perhaps more, while an incumbent was expected to use part of his income in providing hospitality to travellers and alms to the poor in his parish.47 In some of the larger and wealthier parishes the incumbent was bound to pay a chaplain to serve a chapel-of-ease. If the incumbent was a rector, he was responsible for maintaining the chancel of the church, and this responsibility was sometimes laid on vicars as well by appropriating bodies.48 Both kinds of clergy had to keep their dwelling houses in good order. These tasks might be shirked, but occasional visits by archdeacons took place to check on the state of churches and houses, and



14.  A parish rector: Richard Thaseburgh, incumbent of Hellesdon, Norfolk, 1389, wearing amice, chasuble, and maniple.

defaulting clergy would be ordered to undertake repairs. Finally, it was necessary for rectors and vicars to take their turn to serve as rural deans, acting as the bishop’s agent in their neighbouring group of parishes. This involved expenditure of time and perhaps money too, if they had to ride around visiting local churches to inspect them or induct new clergy into them. The incomes that have been mentioned may suggest that most parish clergy were relatively well-off. This was not the case when we add the parish chaplains and priests employed in chantries and guilds. Most of these were poorly paid. Some Church authorities tried to ensure them minimally adequate stipends. In the 1220s and 30s the bishops of Worcester and Exeter ordered those serving parishes to be given at least £2 per annum, and a later bishop of Exeter raised this to £3 in 1287.49 Such amounts were no longer sufficient after the middle of the fourteenth century, when the mortality associated with the Black Death was followed by a rise in wages due to a smaller working force. Parliament began to regulate the wages of lay employees and the Church followed suit. In 1362 the two English archbishops ruled that parish chaplains could earn no more than £4 and chantry



priests £3 6s. 8d. These levels proved to be too low and had to be raised to £5 6s. 8d. and £4 13s. 4d. six years later, figures that were confirmed in 1414. Less could be paid if board and lodging were given.50 In the early sixteenth century, sums of £4 to £6 were common.51 Wages of this kind were only just enough to pay for chaplains’ basic needs although they were probably eased a little by some hospitality from local people and by payments for attending funerals or saying prayers for the dead. In the fifteenth century, a number of grammar schools were founded for a chantry priest-schoolmaster who both taught in the school and said a daily mass for the dead. Such priests required higher salaries, sometimes as large as £10 a year like lower-paid parish incumbents. But they were a small element among the majority of chaplains.52 Rectors and vicars were expected to reside in their parishes and to exercise the cure of souls from home. This expectation was frustrated by wealth and power: the appointment of clergy to multiple benefices to reward them because they were of noble rank or were servants of the pope, the king, the bishops, and the lay aristocracy. The Third Lateran Council of the Catholic Church in 1179 condemned the holding of more than one benefice and ordered that clergy appointed to parish churches must be able to reside there. Bishops were told to prevent the converse from happening.53 The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 went further, commanding that no one should hold a second benefice with cure of souls and, if so appointed, should be deprived of the benefice that he held already. It further laid down that the priest of a parish church must serve it in person.54 Despite this, dispensations from the rule could be granted by the pope or the diocesan bishop, and pressure from the powerful ensured that this was done for clergy of importance.55 In 1298 Pope Boniface VIII, in a document entitled Cum ex eo, extended the practice to allow bishops to release clergy from residence to study at a university while continuing to draw the revenues of their parishes.56 This dispensation was originally meant to benefit young clergy who were holding rectories while not yet priests, on the grounds that study would improve their education and ability to serve their parishes. As time went on the dispensations were extended to any priests holding rectories and, more slowly, to the holders of vicarages. Many clergy went to Oxford or Cambridge under this rule thereafter. It was also allowable to hold a parish benefice with one that



had no cure of souls. This enabled the more important and influential clergy to occupy a canonry in a cathedral or collegiate church as well as a parish. The overall result was that, notwithstanding the Lateran decrees, there were always some pluralist and non-resident rectors and vicars in any diocese. This did not mean that parishes could be left without oversight. Cum ex eo insisted that clerics at university should be replaced by other priests and should provide such priests with a decent share of their revenues.57 In 1281 the Council of Lambeth, legislating for the province of Canterbury, added a requirement for every absent cleric to make arrangements for hospitality and almsgiving.58 These could not be expected from a modestly paid chaplain. Chaplains, unlike their superiors, were always bound to be resident. If they were being employed by an absent incumbent, or a resident one who wished to have assistance with his work, they would be in continuous service. The same was true of the priests who served in hospitals, chantries, guilds, or grammar schools. Their employers expected them to attend church every day to say the services and to celebrate mass, although short holidays were sometimes allowed. Paying tithes and offerings to a non-resident incumbent, especially a pluralist who rarely or never came to his parish, must have been unpopular even though such payments were so much part of the accepted framework of life. In return the non-resident would have been expected to contribute to any church building projects, and some had a measure of conscience about their parishes since they remembered them in their wills with bequests of money, books, or ornaments. It was quite possible for a parish to function satisfactorily with a chaplain rather than the incumbent. The churchwardens’ accounts of Ashburton, Devon, which begin in 1479, cover a period of more than a century in which most of the vicars were canons of Exeter Cathedral and therefore normally absent. During this period, a series of chaplains officiated in the church, yet the whole church apparatus of services, parish officers, and social or money-raising activities continued as if there were resident vicars.59 CLERGY AND PEOPLE The social status of the clergy varied with the benefices they held, depending on income and responsibilities.60 One traditional analysis of society placed



the clergy as the first of the ‘three estates’, the second being the nobility and gentry, the third all those who worked for their living.61 This notion led to every priest being given a title of honour by about 1200, ‘Sir John’ or ‘Sir William’, as if he was a knight, unless he had graduated from a university in which case he was entitled to be called ‘Master’ or ‘Doctor’.62 In reality even the richest parish clergy fell far short of the nobility and, at best, only equalled the wealth and importance of gentlemen, lawyers, or merchants (Fig. 14, p. 62). Most clergy were much poorer and consequently lower in status. More accurate assessments of social standing are to be found in literary sources that lay down rules of precedence. Chaucer’s list of the pilgrims in his Canterbury Tales followed such rules, and led him to place the Clerk of Oxford, a graduate cleric, after the Merchant and alongside the Sergeant of the Law and the Franklin or gentleman. The Parson, on the other hand – who was described as poor and coming from the peasantry – came further down, after the wealthy Wife of Bath and next before his brother the Ploughman. The three priests in attendance on the Prioress appear higher up in the list but that is because they counted as her retainers. In truth they ranked the least of Chaucer’s clergy.63 Fifteenth-century treatises on precedence also listed graduate clergy before non-graduates. All might be put at table with lawyers, gentlemen, and merchants, but one may be confident that hosts knew how to rank such people and that a mere chaplain, if present, would have been given an appropriately modest place.64 These issues relate to the world at large; within a particular parish other considerations would apply. A wealthy rector might hold enough glebe land to constitute a ‘rector­ ­ial manor’, administered as an estate on manorial lines and giving the cachet that land conferred.65 Kinship with the local gentry, or a dutiful alliance with them, would be another source of strength. Less rich and well-connected rectors and vicars lacked such power and esteem, and a chaplain had least of all. He might lodge in the house of an absent rector or vicar, but his modest wages and lack of power would be obvious to local people. If his employer was resident, he was effectively a servant and bound to do what he was told. Outside his parish, his status would have been even lower. We know very little of the personalities of most medieval clergy and their relationship with their parishioners. The chief sources – reports about clergy



at bishops’ visitations and disputes between clergy and laity in Church courts – tell us only of inadequacies and disagreements. Research into clerical education does something to penetrate the darkness. From the thirteenth century there were men who had studied at university, albeit not always managing the four years needed to graduate as bachelors and seven as masters of arts. In the fifteenth century the register of Thomas Bekynton, bishop of Bath and Wells (1443–65), records the institution of 102 graduates to 134 benefices. They formed about a fifth of the incumbents in Somerset, although not all would have been resident in their parishes.66 Another glimpse of things can be gained by following cathedral clergy – vicars choral and chantry priests – as they earned promotion by their employers into better-paid parish posts. This meant that men from churches with the most ambitious and disciplined worship ended up running churches where they had at least the opportunity to organise services well.67 Then, at a late period in 1530–3, a remarkably learned group of clergy emerges in the parishes of the north Cotswolds and the Vale of Evesham. They were the recipients of letters in elegant humanist Latin from the scholarly Robert Joseph, monk of Evesham Abbey, and although their own letters do not survive, some of them were evidently able to reply in a similar vein.68 Reason dictates that rectors and vicars existed who were conscientious, helpful, and popular. Richard Caistor, vicar of St Stephen Norwich (d.1420), was the author or rather reviser of a hymn to Jesus that circulated widely.69 He appears three times in the fifteenth-century memoirs of the mystic and pilgrim Margery Kempe of King’s Lynn. Having heard about him, she sought him out in his church in the late morning and asked if she might talk to him for an hour or two after he had eaten his dinner. He lifted up his hands and blessed himself, saying ‘Benedicite! What could a woman occupy an hour or two in the love of our Lord? I shall never eat meat till I know what you can say of our Lord God in the time of an hour.’ They sat down in the church immediately and he listened to her spiritual troubles and experiences. She subsequently claimed him as a defender against her detractors. When she came back from pilgrimage to Jerusalem, she and her companions visited him and he took them to his lodging and ‘made them right good cheer’. After his death she wept by his grave: a humble one in the churchyard, not in the church itself.70



15.  A saintly parish priest: John Schorn (d.1315), rector of North Marston, Buckinghamshire, venerated on a panel at Gately church, Norfolk.

At least five clergy had such a spiritual impact that they were subsequently venerated as if they were saints, and there may have been others. The earliest was John Schorn, rector of North Marston in Buckinghamshire (d.c. 1315), whose tomb in the church became a shrine and was visited, along with a neighbouring well, by people seeking cures for limb conditions of arthritic kinds (Fig. 15, above). His cult was so popular that the dean and canons of St George’s chapel, Windsor, secured the pope’s permission to remove his body into their church in 1478.71 Another was Philip of Beverley, rector of Kayingham in Yorkshire (d.1325), locally honoured for his saintliness and



prayed to after his death when his church was struck by lightning.72 A third, from the same century, was Richard Bovyle, rector of Whitstone in Cornwall, who died by violent means in 1359. It is not clear how he died and at first he was apparently laid in unconsecrated ground, but a significant devotion to him soon grew up, causing his body to be translated into the church and pilgrimages to be made to his tomb from a wide area of north Cornwall and north Devon.73 Veneration was also given to the aforesaid Richard Caistor (d.1420) in Norwich, and to John Felton, vicar of St Mary Magdalen, Oxford (d.1434). Felton was a notable preacher: buried in his church, revered for some time thereafter, and credited with procuring at least one miracle.74 A more typical figure of whom we know a good deal was Christopher Trychay, vicar of Morebath, Devon, from 1519 to 1574.75 Born in a rural parish in the county to a family of only moderate standing, he is likely to have gone to a grammar school and served as some sort of chaplain before becoming a beneficed clergyman. Morebath was the kind of benefice secured by one of his rank, because it was valued at only £8 per annum in 1535. During his time in office he compiled the annual churchwardens’ accounts for the parish and recorded a good many of his own opinions and activities while doing so. He was pious – concerned to import the cult of the local saint Sidwell into the church – and well enough educated to be able to preach: a rare accomplishment in Devon. He saved money for years to buy the church a set of black vestments for funerals. Parish ministry brought him a series of problems: a burglary in the church, a protracted dispute about the financing of the parish clerk, and in due course the religious changes, forwards and backwards, of the Reformation. He coped with them conscientiously, sometimes complaining to the parishioners about their collective failures but obeying each order that the monarch imposed. Just once, in Mary Tudor’s reign, he made clear his sympathy with traditional Catholicism rather than with the Reformation. He came to like his parish and when in 1560, at a time of numerous vacancies in churches, he was given a second benefice some miles away, he preferred to stay in Morebath and serve the other by deputy. His dutiful career, doggedly pursued despite its occasional difficulties and exasperations, must have been typical of many of his kind.



A parish clergyman could be vulnerable and unpopular. If he was a chaplain, he was not well paid and had little status beyond what he could build with his own personality. If he was a rector or vicar, he was not the only kind of cleric in the world as he was after the Reformation, but might be measured against members of the religious orders, particularly friars. For the wealthy in society – gentry, merchants, and even prosperous rural yeomen – a clergy­ ­man posed little threat. If he came from their ranks, he was one of them; if from below, he needed their friendship and valued their support and hospitality. For the majority of people, those of lesser ranks, he was a figure of authority charged with enforcing the Church’s laws about church attendance and morality. His right to take tithes and offerings was a burden on their lifestyle, thus causing resentment when the services he provided seemed to fall short of the costs he imposed. Anticlericalism – dislike of the clergy – was widespread by the second half of the fourteenth century, and probably much earlier when records about it are less available. Langland’s Piers Plowman, compiled at that time, complained of non-residence by the parish clergy, their covetousness of money, neglect of the poor, and condescension to ordinary people.76 Chaucer, writing a little later than Langland, praised the care that his Parson gave to the people of his parish, but with the insinuation that other clergy did the reverse. They would easily take action to recover tithes, fail to visit in cases of need, despise rather than counsel those who sinned, and desert their benefice to live elsewhere.77 More crudely, we hear of angry outbursts from lay people at their clergy: admittedly often from those disobedient to the Church. ‘All priests are heretics.’ ‘Whoreson priests.’ ‘Go forth fool, and set a cockscomb on thy crown.’78 Some parish communities reported their clergy as wanting when bishops and archdeacons came on visitations. In Berkshire in 1391 the vicar of Aldworth was allegedly quarrelsome, allowed a clandestine marriage, baptised without anointing, and refused the sacrament to a dying woman.79 Similar records from Kent in 1511–12 averred that the vicar of Sturry said mass only once or twice a week. He and the vicar of Ospringe did so at variable times, causing frustration to would-be attenders, and the priest of Barfreston refused his parishioners holy bread after mass through anger with them.80



People in Lincoln diocese in 1518 asserted that the vicar of Alconbury hardly managed to give communion to his flock on Easter Day, services were said late at Cole Orton and Surfleet, and the vicar of Worminghall took away the candles offered to the church’s images. The curate of Whipsnade failed to turn up for Candlemas, while the rector of Harrington neglected to say the bidding prayers on Sundays and did not organise processions at Rogationtide.81 Anticlericalism was not without some foundation. Critics of the clergy assumed that they were in good health. In fact they suffered from sickness, infirmity, and old age like the rest of the population. During short illnesses a priest from a neighbouring parish could be asked in to deputise, and he was allowed to celebrate a second mass in a day for that reason.82 Long-term disability was harder to deal with because there was no age of retirement. A rector or vicar, once instituted, held his benefice for as long as he wished or lived. The rector of Clyst Honiton, Devon, in 1301 was reported as having done honestly all that belonged to a parish priest for twenty-two years, ‘but now, broken down with old age, he is made insufficient for a parochial cure’.83 The vicar of Peterchurch in Herefordshire in 1397 was ‘infirm and impotent to serve the parishioners’.84 Priests in this situation ought to have employed a chaplain to deputise for them, and no doubt many clergy did so – if they could afford it. Alternatively the priest could ask the bishop, or the bishop might intervene, to appoint a coadjutor to help him. At St Neot in Cornwall, where the vicar was a leper in 1314, the vicarage was divided into two, so that the coadjutor could live separately, running the parish and paying for the food and clothes of the vicar.85 After about 1400 a new arrangement became popular by which sick or elderly rectors and vicars resigned in return for an annual pension from the benefice. Pensions were usually fixed at a third of the benefice income. They had to be sanctioned by the bishop and agreed by the new incumbent at his institution.86 The problem with benefices like Clyst Honiton was that they were too poor to support an infirm priest as well as a chaplain, or a new priest and a pensioner. Parish clergy in such places could either stagger on for as long as they could get away with doing so, or move to become the priest of a chantry or guild. Such a move would exonerate them from much physical movement, and familiarity with the services might even delay the challenge of fading



eyesight. When parish chaplains and chantry or guild priests grew incapable, their lot was a sad one unless they had family support or private means, because their wages were too low to allow saving money. The Lateran Council of 1179 required a bishop to provide for a priest without means of support, but it is not clear how often this was done.87 It may have been a spur for at least three bishops to establish hospitals for infirm clergy in the dioceses of Canterbury, Chichester, and Exeter, while hospitals for the laity in a few other places admitted some clergy too.88 The history of hospitals was not straightforward, however, and some decayed and closed in the later Middle Ages. The fate of many poor infirm priests is impossible to trace. DEACONS AND PARISH CLERKS A priest in church, singing or saying the daily services and administering the sacraments, needed a helper to do so. Services were dialogues, assuming the presence of a companion to say the responses. The sacraments also required an aide to ring bells before worship, set up the high altar or font for its function, handle materials such as bread, wine, candles, incense, and holy water, and aid the priest in dispensing them. Boys or youths were obvious choices for such work because they were cheap to employ and could be trained for clerical careers. They may have been used in this way from the beginning of the reconversion of the English in about ad 600. As has been noted, the code of practice for priests written by Wulfstan I, archbishop of York, in 1005–8 told them to ‘teach the young and instruct them in skills, that they may have help in church’.89 In the days of married clergy, the helper might be a son who expected to inherit his father’s church. A casual reference of the mid twelfth century tells how Brictric, the priest of Haselbury Plucknett in Somerset, prepared to celebrate mass with a single assistant, his son Osbern, who duly succeeded him in the benefice.90 As the Church came to make the clergy into a more regulated and celibate body in the twelfth century, it sought to extend this policy to the clergy’s assistants. They too were expected to be ordained to the minor orders of the first tonsure or acolyte (which did not commit them to permanent celibacy) or the major orders of subdeacon and deacon (both of which came to do so).



By about 1239 the bishop of Lincoln was directing all the churches in his huge diocese, where resources permitted, to maintain a deacon and subdeacon to help the priest in his ministry. The rest were at least to employ a suitable and honest clerk, meaning someone who had received only the minor orders. This direction was repeated in several other dioceses in the following years, and although a clerk remained free to marry, he could not do so while holding a post in a church. No married person was to be allowed to serve at any altar except in ‘urgent necessity’.91 The Church’s willingness to confer the order of subdeacon from the age of seventeen upwards, deacon from nineteen years old upwards, and priest from twenty-four years upwards put in place a system by which a young man could make a commitment to become a cleric in his late teens and pass up to seven years in subordinate roles in a church before becoming a priest. That a substantial number of clergy worked their way up in this way, during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, is suggested by the fact that a priest’s assistant continued to be known as a ‘deacon’ in many places throughout the rest of the Middle Ages.92 By the end of the thirteenth century, however, the number of assistants who were truly ordained as subdeacons or deacons seems to have declined. The practice sometimes lingered later. The bishop of Ely forbade priests to let their deacons hear confessions as late as 1364,93 but the history of the matter is obscured by the looser use of the term that has just been mentioned.94 Some of the deacons encountered after 1300 were certainly not ordained at that level. It may have been that deacons expected higher wages than lesser clerks,95 but one likely factor in the decline was the enforcement of celibacy on the clergy. While they were still allowed to marry, there was no deterrent to becoming a subdeacon and deacon at the age of seventeen or nineteen. A man of that age still had freedom to become a priest or divert to a lay career, and get married in either case. Once taking the major orders involved a vow of celibacy, it was better to delay receiving any of them for as long as possible. This allowed a young man to keep open his options, serving only as a tonsured clerk or acolyte with the freedom to marry and take up lay employment if he preferred. If at the age of twenty-four a career as a priest became available, he would then proceed as quickly as possible through the three major orders and pass immediately to a post as a chaplain, vicar, or rector.96



The characteristic priest’s assistant from the later thirteenth century therefore became the clerk in minor orders, albeit often known as a deacon especially in the Midlands.97 His distinctive duty of administering holy water led to him first being termed in Latin aquebaiulus or ‘holy water carrier’. The term ‘parish clerk’ was in use by the time of Chaucer, who applied it to his character Absolon in the Canterbury Tales.98 The clerk was expected to arrive at about dawn to unlock the church and ring for the service of matins. He might then be in the building, at least from time to time, until the afternoon service of evensong (vespers and compline), after which he put away the valuables and locked up, although some clerks, as we shall see, were expected to spend part of the day in school.99 In certain places he was required to sleep in the church at night.100 As well as ringing the bells, he might prepare the high altar for mass, asperse the congregation with holy water on Sundays before mass began, and say the responses in the daily services known as the Office as well as in the mass. During mass he read the epistle if there was no subdeacon present, wielded the censer with its incense, and served the priest at the high altar (Fig. 16, p. 74). He attended the priest at the pastoral services of baptism, churching women after childbirth, marriage, the visitation of the sick, and burial, or at blessings of houses or crops. After mass on Sundays, he might go (or send a deputy) to nearby houses, sprinkling food with holy water as a blessing.101 Most parish churches seem to have had a single clerk but some supported more. There were two, for example, at Bakewell in Derbyshire and Torksey in Lincolnshire, three at Bampton and St Cuthbert Wells, and four at Spalding.102 In towns where there were several churches and clerks, they may have socialised together: in Lincoln and London they came to form guilds. Canon law laid down that clerks should be appointed by the rector or vicar of the parish and we sometimes hear complaints that he failed to do so.103 The question of who should pay them was disputed. When the fifteenthcentury canon lawyer William Lyndwood discussed the matter, he thought that they should be maintained from the endowment of the church which meant, effectively, by the incumbent who enjoyed that endowment. This reflected the old belief that the priest of the church was responsible for its building and contents.104 But, as we shall duly discover, these two latter



16.  The parish priest and his clerk at a low mass: the typical clergy of a small parish church. A nobleman watches, close to the altar.

burdens came to be transferred to parishioners during the thirteenth century, and so did the support of the clerk.105 Lyndwood accepted that in practice it was the parishioners’ duty to maintain him, although he noted claims that the incumbent should contribute. He believed that each household ought to provide the clerk with a loaf at Christmas, eggs at Easter, some sheaves of grain in the autumn, and a sum of money quarterly, levied on all the parishioners.106 Clerks received further small fees for their part in bell ringing for funerals or weddings and from assisting in the pastoral sacraments. These rewards were not always very great: a school exercise from Exeter complained that ‘we three parish clerks of the city’ had received only three halfpence and a farthing’s worth of thin ale for bell ringing.107 A charge of 1d. per quarter per household, plus sheaves at harvest, was still in force at Morebath in 1530. Later its clerk was also allowed 2d. for weddings and funerals and some wool at shearing time.108 In



a few places, benefactors endowed the clerkship with revenues, and as time passed salaries became common: £3 at Ashburton by the 1550s.109 The clerk’s role gave him training in the liturgy and religious practices which, as has been suggested, could help him both prepare for a career as a priest and maintain himself while he did so. The phrase ‘the parish priest forgetteth he was clerk’ became proverbial, and the ascent from clerk to priest can sometimes be traced in individual cases. Three clerks of Witheridge, Devon, became clergy in neighbouring parishes during the fifteenth century.110 The educational nature of the post was emphasised by the bishop of Worcester in 1229, when he ordered ‘that [the benefice of ] holy water be conferred only upon poor scholars’.111 This both encouraged would-be priests to study and provided a kind of scholarship for some of those who did. Other bishops repeated this order during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, although in four cases they restricted it to churches near the cathedral or castles of the diocese (implying the major walled towns).112 These would have seemed the kinds of places most likely to have schools and scholars in need of support, since clerks could not feasibly go a long distance to school. In time some clerks developed another educational activity, which was to do teaching themselves, at least of an elementary kind including the alphabet, basic reading, and perhaps singing plainsong. The Decretals, the collection of canon law issued by Pope Gregory IX in 1234, included a decree from a much earlier Church council that the clerks who served parish priests should be ‘able to hold [tenere] schools’, but ‘hold’ may mean ‘attend’ and the decree does not appear to have stimulated teaching by clerks in England.113 The evidence for them doing so, as opposed to being taught, comes chiefly from the fifteenth century or later, when the office of clerk was changing into a post that was held for longer by adult men. In 1442 Bishop Alnwick of Lincoln conceded that any parish clerk in Lincolnshire might teach in such a way,114 and references to the practice survive widely from elsewhere in England in subsequent years.115 It probably centred on elementary education – reading and plainsong – but when polyphonic music became popular in parish churches in the fifteenth century, the post of parish clerk was sometimes used to provide a musician to teach a parochial choir.



The Church authorities found it as hard or harder to impose on parish clerks as on priests the duty to be sufficiently educated and to be celibate. In 1318 the clerk of Chedzoy, Somerset, was removed by his bishop because he was not literate or tonsured, and replaced by a man who met these conditions.116 When Bishop Waltham of Salisbury made a visitation of his diocese in 1391, he discovered five unsatisfactory clerks: one a ‘vagabond’ who was said to have left, and four who had married. Two of the latter were dismissed, one was told to show cause why he should not be, and the other was fined.117 Further complaints on the matter were made in the diocese in 1405.118 On the other hand, when the parish clerk of Hartlebury, Worcestershire, was found to be married in 1414, he was told merely to produce a testimonial letter to that effect in case his marriage was disputed later.119 The Hartlebury case points to changing attitudes. Writing a few years after it, Lyndwood still felt that the office of clerk should not be conferred on a married man but he conceded that, in default of unmarried clerks, it was permissible to appoint a married one as long as he was only in his first marriage and wore a clerical tonsure and habit. A second marriage was incompatible with clerical status and turned a clerk into a layman.120 Lyndwood’s concession recognised the fact that many clerks no longer aimed to be priests. They were holding office for longer periods and living more secular lives. This is particularly well illustrated in London where the parish clerks emerged as an organised community of adult men in about the early thirteenth century. They formed a guild – the Fraternity of St Nicholas – and acted like a trade guild in seeking to fix their wages. They may have received a tonsure but did not necessarily display it. They were often married, sometimes even twice, and could become London citizens.121 One cause of this change, in England generally, may have been the fall in the population during the fourteenth century due to plague and other factors. This meant that clerks were harder to find and could stay in post on their own terms, including marriage and perhaps additional part-time work. They were not the only young assistants to be found in churches, at least by the end of the Middle Ages. Boys came to be co-opted as singers in the polyphonic choirs, and these or other boys must often have been used on Sundays and festivals to assist the clerk in processions by carrying candles, incense, and holy water. Even in a well-provided church like Holy Trinity Coventry, a boy



rather than a clerk was assigned to serve at the weekday mass at the high altar, and ‘children’ helped with mass at Headcorn in Kent.122 Indeed a duty of this kind for a boy was sufficiently common for it to be included in a courtesy book printed by Caxton in the 1470s.123 Chantry priests too could not necessarily rely on a parish clerk to serve them at their masses: they had no right to command him. At Newland in Gloucestershire, where one of the chantry priests acted as schoolmaster, he was told to maintain a scholar in his house, evidently to help with his masses.124 In a similar situation at Wotton-under-Edge in the same county, the chantry priest-schoolmaster would take two boys from his school to assist in this way, and sometimes gave them a penny as a reward.125 Could women serve at the high altar? The early sixteenth-century Dutch friar, Gherit van der Goude, whose guide to the mass was published in English in 1532, thought that they could. He argued that there was no strong adverse commandment in canon law, and that women might assist the priest provided that no men were available and that they themselves were maidens. He envisaged them kneeling near the priest but not looking directly at him or coming too close to the altar.126 Two cases of this occurring are recorded in England before Goude’s work became known. At Eardisley in Herefordshire in 1397, the vicar was reported for not providing a parish clerk but employing two of his servants, Agnes and Isabel, to ‘ring the bells and aid the vicar to celebrate [mass], which is against ecclesiastical honesty’. There was further disquiet that they lived in his house.127 The other instance was at Pyrton in Oxfordshire in 1518 where ‘a certain young woman ministers to the rector at the altar, celebrating every day except at festivals’.128 One can imagine a priest using a devout girl in this way when suitable males were hard to find, but the strong tradition against women in the chancel would have militated against it. The parishioners in the two places mentioned evidently felt it to be inappropriate. PARISH CHOIRS During the fifteenth century many churches acquired further staff to assist their worship in the form of singers and organists. This was to produce the now fashionable polyphony: music in several parts sung in harmony, as



compared with the older plainsong. Some polyphony in parish churches can be traced back to the early fourteenth century, but for a long time it was done only occasionally: on Sundays and festivals, in an improvised way, and with a few adult voices. During the fifteenth century the performance of polyphony developed markedly. Trained groups of singers were created. Their numbers increased and so did the range of their voices, incorporating boy trebles and adult basses so as to extend over two octaves. The music they sang began to be specially composed and written down, being known in this form as ‘pricksong’.129 The earliest centres of this more sophisticated singing were the household chapels of the king, the bishops, and the great aristocracy. This was because the patrons of such chapels could recruit musicians and singers as they wished, whereas cathedrals and monasteries were more traditional in their music and found it harder to adapt their staff and services to embrace much polyphony. But by the middle of the fifteenth century these institutions felt themselves compelled to follow the fashion, and to employ suitable men and boys for the purpose. Polyphony continued to be performed in their chancels on special occasions, but became a daily observance as a devotion to the Virgin Mary in the Lady chapel which most large churches had by this time. A ‘Lady mass’ with polyphony would be sung there in her honour during the morning, and an antiphon or anthem there or elsewhere in the church in the late afternoon. Later in the fifteenth century a further devotion arose to the Name of Jesus, with a mass in his honour on Fridays and a similar antiphon in the afternoon. As these practices were being adopted by cathedrals and monasteries, they spread into collegiate churches and large town churches.130 Such places had enough clergy to imitate the services of the cathedrals and the resources to pay for special singers to embellish them with polyphony. Organs were introduced into such churches, placed in the rood loft between the chancel and the nave or in the Lady chapel, and used for filling gaps in the singing rather than accompanying it. Sometimes a wealthy founder gave an endowment for the purpose. Robert Richards of Cirencester (d.1518) left money to pay for a chantry priest experienced in plainsong and pricksong who would teach four boys, evidently as singers in the church.131 Alternatively guilds of



wealthy local inhabitants paid for the performers, as they did in big parish churches such as Banbury, Boston, and Wisbech.132 A further arrangement was for the lay officers of the church, the churchwardens, to do so by raising money through their normal devices or organising special appeals for funds.133 The resulting personnel would be led by a musician who directed the performers, taught music to the boys, played the organ, and might compose and copy the music too. In a few churches the musician was a chantry priest: a particular chantry was founded to provide a musician-priest of this kind at King’s Lynn as at Cirencester.134 More commonly the parish clerk, or a specially hired layman, became the director as was the case at Bradford-onAvon, All Saints Bristol, and Faversham.135 This required choosing clerks who were more skilled at music than had hitherto been the case and therefore men of the new kind of permanent adult clerk. The adult singers might include other priests in the church and clerks in the sense of lay-clerks who were local laymen attracted to singing, perhaps in return for a small sum for their work. The boys were local too with unbroken voices, for whom the reward was a training in reading, plainsong, and polyphony. Boston, perhaps the most ambitious parish church, came to have nine chaplains, nine clerks, and eight boys in its choir, equal to the musical resources of a large collegiate church. Here there was only a single church in a wealthy community, the focus of all local ambitions, and the same was true in places like Doncaster, Grantham, and Newark. But even a church in a small town could go a long way in the same direction. Topcliffe in Yorkshire managed to sustain a guild chaplain as musical director, six boys, and perhaps seven men.136 Ashburton had an instructor (perhaps the parish clerk), four men, and four boys in 1481, rising to five and six in the 1530s.137 The majority of churches in the countryside and in towns where there were several small churches as well as a large one, were less likely to afford a permanent choir, although there were exceptions like Hartland in Devon and Well in Yorkshire.138 But it was possible for them to organise one on special occasions, and for even the lesser churches to hire musicians from elsewhere to perform on the day of their patron saint or dedication feast.139



CHURCHWARDENS AND LAY OFFICERS We have noted how a convention grew up in Anglo-Saxon England that the laity should pay dues to the Church, but that the responsibility to maintain the church building and supply ornaments and books for services belonged to the parish priest who received the dues.140 As late as 1195 a ‘legatine’ Church council at York laid down that rectors and vicars should repair their churches and, by implication, provide the ornaments. During the thirteenth century, however, the Church authorities shifted the maintenance of the parish church and its equipment from the clergy towards the laity, as they did with the support of the parish clerk.141 The earliest signal of this shift is to be found in statutes issued for the diocese of Winchester by Bishop Peter des Roches in 1224. He instructed his officials to ascertain that all churches were well roofed. If the church rector failed to ensure this, they were ordered to use the goods of the church to do so, and likewise to repair any deficiencies in books or vestments. Parishioners were to be made responsible for maintaining the ‘body’ or nave of the church. Since most of the goods of the church were the funds given to it by lay people, this effectively placed the upkeep of the church on their shoulders.142 Carol Cragoe has pointed out changes in the context within which churches operated that made this re-allocation of duties desirable.143 Most parishes were now smaller than the large minster parishes of the centuries up to the tenth or eleventh, and many rectors would have found it difficult to pay for every church expense, especially those of buildings. Moreover the appropriation of churches to monasteries made their rectors a religious body, often a long way away, and their incumbents vicars on a restricted stipend. At the same time bishops were becoming more exacting about the equipment required in a parish church and about its quality: chalices must be of silver not base metal. The Winchester initiative was not followed immediately. Other statutes of the 1220s still assumed that rectors and vicars should bear their traditional responsibility.144 But by the end of the century the change of view had prevailed. Statutes attributed to Archbishop Pecham of Canterbury (1279–92) and to his successor Winchelsey (1295–1313) gave only the maintenance of the chancel to the rector or vicar, while the



parishioners were charged with the nave, the books, the ornaments, the vestments, the images in the church, the font in the nave, the church tower, and its bells.145 This now became the law of the English Church.146 It was supervised by the archdeacons: the bishops’ deputies, except in those parishes that were ‘peculiars’ where kings, bishops, or cathedral clergy had rights of government. By the early thirteenth century archdeacons were required to visit every church in their jurisdiction personally or by deputy once a year to check on the state of the building and to ensure that all the necessary books and ornaments were available.147 The duty laid on the parishioners required officers to co-ordinate it and funds to support it. These officers seem to have emerged from below rather than being instituted from above, appearing at All Saints Bristol by 1261, St Peter le Bailey Oxford by 1270, and its neighbour St Mary the Virgin by 1275.148 Early references call them ‘proctors’ (procuratores) or, in the Exeter diocesan statutes of 1287, ‘keepers of the church store’. The oldest name for them recorded in English is ‘church reeve’, used by Chaucer at the end of the fourteenth century and in use until at least the early sixteenth. ‘Churchmaster’ and ‘kirk-master’ occur in the north of England, while ‘churchwarden’ is found from the 1440s and has become the standard historical term.149 Records before the Reformation often name them the ‘high wardens’ to distinguish them from the wardens of lesser guilds and funds within the church. There were normally two wardens of each parish church, and chapels-of-ease could have them too, but certain churches had four, and the two or four might be assisted or supervised by a wider group known as the ‘four men’, ‘eight men’, or another number. In some places the wardens served for a single year and in others for two, sometimes rising from a junior post to a senior one in the second year.150 Wardens were chosen by the parishioners. The practice of the incumbent appointing one dates only from after the Reformation, and there was an obligation on the inhabitants of the parish, at least the leading ones, to take their turn in holding the office. This led to the presence of women from time to time, these being widows holding property that would have made their husbands liable for the duty.151 The wardens gradually acquired status in the eyes of the Church and by about the 1460s they were helping to keep order



in their parishes by reporting misdemeanours to the authorities.152 Their principal task, however, was to deal with the parishioners’ new financial duties with regard to the upkeep of the nave and the church goods. The wardens looked after what was called the ‘church store’, the ‘head store’, or the store of the church’s patron saint.153 They collected revenue for the church by various means which, up to the Reformation, were based on voluntary donations or social activities, rather than on a system of taxation like the church rates which developed after that event. Income came from gifts, the sale of candles, the hiring of church ornaments for funerals, fees for church seats and burials inside church, and contributions from the other stores in the church, mentioned below. Gradually the parishioners often came to own property: a ‘church house’ or ‘guildhouse’ on the edge of the churchyard, hired out for social events, and tenements or rent charges bequeathed by wealthy benefactors. The wardens spent their income on the repair of the nave and the church furnishings including bells and eventually a clock, materials for services such as books, textiles, candles, wine and incense, and payments to church employees.154 The Exeter statutes of 1287 required them to make a faithful account of their stewardship once a year before the rector, vicar, or chaplain of the church and five or six trustworthy parishioners. The account was to be put into writing and to be shown to the archdeacon at his visitation.155 This practice became general and many accounts survive, the earliest coming from the church of St Michael Bath in 1349 followed by those of two churches in Hedon, Yorkshire, in the 1370s.156 A further layer of church business lay beneath the immediate responsibility of the wardens. All churches had images of Christ and the saints in the building as well as that of the patron saint at the high altar in the chancel. These images attracted devotees who made them offerings of money or bequeathed them assets such as cows, sheep, or bees. Images with assets of this kind existed in Essex by the middle of the thirteenth century.157 Their possessions had to be administered and the profits used to embellish the image and burn lights in its honour, the surplus being usually passed on to the high wardens for the upkeep of the church. The assets were known as stores and these had their wardens too, either one or a pair, making the



experience of managing a store a useful training for acting as a high warden later on. Some parishes, as we have seen, had guilds which might have functions of their own, such as craft guilds, but met at church and contributed to its expenses. In other places there were more age- and gender-specific com­­ panies of wives, young men, and maidens with their own stewards and input to the parish’s finances.158 A dozen or more people might be involved in running a church, its guilds, and its stores at any one time, and chapels in the parish might have their own wardens who similarly functioned under the authority of the incumbent and wardens of the mother church. These were not the only assistants. There must always have been a need for a man to do the manual tasks of maintenance and repairs that lay outside the duties of the parish clerk. The word ‘sexton’ is derived from ‘sacristan’, meaning someone who looked after church goods in monasteries or large churches, but it seems to have had its meaning of a workman in a parish church by 1391 when it occurs as the surname of someone employed to do church jobs. An alternative word, ‘suffragan’, is found in Bristol.159 In the course of time the sexton seems to have taken over the clerk’s duty of ringing bells and locking or unlocking the church, and he became responsible for digging graves. Occasionally he carried out other tasks such as looking after the choir books, which he did at Cranbrook, Kent, in the early 1500s, although, it was alleged, neglectfully.160 Finally although they are rarely mentioned, there were devoted women parishioners or wage-earning women who laundered linen and mended vestments and altar frontals. Others of them cleaned the church, made wax and candles, brewed ale, provided the holy loaf each Sunday in their turn, or cooked for parish festivities.161 WHO RAN THE PARISH CHURCH? The functioning of a parish church, or indeed a chapel open to the public, was a co-operative enterprise. As we shall shortly discover, each building should have been prepared for use by a bishop through an act of consecration. Its fabric and contents were meant to be supervised by an archdeacon in regular annual visitations. Patrons owned the church and appointed its incumbent. This gave them power over the clergy, which their status and



wealth were likely to prolong after their candidate was instituted by the bishop. Appropriating bodies remained responsible for chancels and might well be expected to give help in any major project of church rebuilding. The rector or vicar held the cure of souls and had rights over the building, properties, revenues, and church services. However these rights came with duties, and if the duties were not done, parishioners could appeal to the bishop – and sometimes did so.162 Moreover the task of maintaining and running a church by the thirteenth century was too complicated and expensive for an incumbent alone. Hence came the devolution of tasks to the parishioners and the emergence of churchwardens to co-ordinate them. Even before this, guilds or groups of parishioners had formed, and these too helped to contribute to the activities in the building or the parish. The clergy themselves were male and most of the leadership in churches was provided by men, apart from the occasional woman churchwarden. Surviving records tend to reinforce this impression. It is harder to do justice to what may have been a significant contribution from women as a whole. We need to imagine the impact of those of high rank. A wife with status might be the heiress of a patron or a lord of the manor, with local prestige reaching into the church. Even without such prestige a nobleman’s or gentleman’s wife was often in a position to be influential. As a widow, she could be sole patron in her own right. She might, in one of these roles, have power over a chantry in the church, its chapel, and its priest. Among the congregation as a whole, women may have been more assiduous attenders at church, particularly on weekdays when they could afford time from their work at home. As members of guilds and companies of maidens and wives, they contributed to the cults of the church and the raising of money. And lest we should assume that the people of medieval England were all good churchgoers, we shall have plenty of opportunity in the rest of this book to encounter people who held aloof from church activities, both men and women, preferring as far as they could to give their time to the cares and opportunities of the outside world.


3 J


CHURCH DEDICATIONS Religious life in a parish centred upon its church. That church had an identity. Churches are not uniform: they stand in particular places, built in particular ways, which give each one a unique personality. In towns their buildings can still be seen above defensive gateways, in streets, in market places, or in cathedral precincts. In the countryside they stand in villages, hamlets, or alone except perhaps for a farmstead; on hilltops, in valleys, on shores, by bridges, or even on islands. Already in the Middle Ages some were ancient while others were newly rebuilt. A church’s personality is holy. It is a place of prayer and worship, and was for centuries a sanctuary for those fleeing from enemies. Every church when new was required to be consecrated by a bishop in an elaborate ceremony. He and his entourage circled the building three times, singing prayers. Then they came inside, after sand had been sprinkled on the floor in the form of a saltire cross linking the church’s four corners. The bishop used his staff to write the alphabet in Greek letters along one diagonal and Roman letters along the other, so that the church was founded on the written Word of God. The interior space was sanctified with aspersions of holy water, and crosses of chrism (a mixture of oil and balm) were painted in twelve places. The high altar in the chancel was solemnly blessed, and holy relics placed within it.1 Rites of consecration of this kind existed from Anglo-Saxon times but it is not clear that all early churches received them. In 1237 the papal legate to England, Otto, thought that many had never been consecrated and ordered this to be remedied forthwith.2 From that time onwards, at least, it is likely that all had this status, as well as many chapels.



Each church has a Christian name: a dedication. When this was first given or approved by the bishop, it was usually as a formula: in the name of the Trinity or Christ together with Mary, one or more other saints, and All Saints. In practice one of these elements was commonly used so that most records are to a single figure such as the Trinity, Mary, Andrew, or All Saints, or occasionally to a pair like Mary and Peter or Peter and Paul.3 It is usually impossible to know why particular dedications were chosen. The period when this generally happened, between the tenth and the twelfth centuries, is one in which the foundations of parish churches are rarely recorded in documents. The circumstances are obscure in most cases since the dedications are mentioned only in much later sources. The Anglo-Saxons made most of their choices from a short list: Mary, Peter, Andrew, Michael, and All Saints. There were also regional favourites, such as Cuthbert in the north, Botolph in Lincolnshire, and Petroc 20 y











20 m 20 yds both plans to same scale

17a&b.  Church plans of Kilpeck, Herefordshire: thirteenth-century, with nave, chancel, and apse, and no tower; and Melbourne, Derbyshire, of the same century, with additional aisles, chapels, apses, and tower.




North Transept


Vestry Vestry



South Transept Porch

20 m 20 yds

17c.  Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire: thirteenth-century, with aisles, transepts, and central tower.



Chapel Transept Porch




High Altar



20 m 20 yds

17d.  Tintagel, Cornwall: twelfth- and thirteenth-century, aisleless with disparate transepts, one chancel chapel, and west tower.





Crypt Nave

Chancel Under




20 m 20 yds

17e.  Shillington, Bedfordshire: fourteenth-century, with wider nave aisles, chapels each side of the chancel, and west tower.







Lady Chapel

20 m 20 yds

17f.  Patrington, Yorkshire: fourteenth-century, with central tower, transepts, and six chapels in the transepts.



Lady Chapel

Chantry Chapel

Squint Clopton Chapel


Jesus Chapel

Rood-stair Turret




20 m 20 yds

17g.  Long Melford, Suffolk: fifteenth-century, with west tower, wide nave aisles, chapels beside the chancel, and a large Lady chapel to the east.



in Devon. Occasionally one can sense the influence of a founder. The church of St Olave or Olaf in Exeter was created in c. 1060 by Gytha, countess of Wessex: a Scandinavian like the saint, whose son Tostig owned a similar church in York. He may have supplied a relic.4 One might then speculate that Gytha’s possession of land in north Cornwall influenced the choice of Olave for Poughill church in that area: the only such dedication in the county.5 Did the dedication matter? It did in that the feast of the deity or saint, the ‘patronal festival’, had high ranking as a day in that church’s calendar. Attendance in church at the feast was expected and the day was both a holy day and a holiday, likely to have social activities.6 In one diocese, Worcester, the name of the dedicatee was ordered to be inscribed in the church as a record.7 Because churches were dedicated to a variety of figures – the persons of God, the Cross, angels, and saints – their festivals fell on different days of the year which meant that one parish would be celebrating when its neighbours were not. In Cornwall, even after the Reformation, it was said to be customary for people to entertain friends from other parishes on the day of their own patronal festival, and to be entertained elsewhere in return.8 Parishioners would have become familiar with the history and legends of their spiritual patron, in part through sermons like those written by John Mirk in the late fourteenth century for use on the appropriate days.9 The patron saint was venerated at the high altar, by which his or her statue stood, and some people had a special devotion to the saint as a personal patron as well.10 Most patron saints of churches in England were known nationally or internationally, providing a link with the wider Church and its history. In western areas like Cornwall and the Marches of Wales, on the other hand, there were numerous local saints of pre-Saxon British origins, and a thinner scattering of similar Saxon saints could be found all over England. If the saint was a littleknown person, folklore would fill up gaps in historical knowledge by conjecturing a royal or noble birth, a virtuous life as a confessor or virgin, and a martyrdom followed by miraculous happenings.11 But even well-known figures like Christ and Mary came to have local associations through their images in a particular church and were regarded in this form as special to that place, most notably as Our Lady of Walsingham.12 Some churches had banners depicting their spiritual patron, and these were appropriate for displaying in



their processions around the parish or outside it in the early summer.13 As has already been noted, a church saint could become not only a unifying focus within the parish community but a way of expressing its self-esteem outside.14 INSIDE THE CHURCH: THE CHANCEL What was the building like, to which clergy and parishioners made their way? It is impossible here to do more than describe the elements of church layouts, given the huge number of surviving buildings with their individual features. Churches face east although in medieval towns, where space was restricted, the direction might need to swing some way to the north or south. There is no evidence that churches were orientated in order to face the point where the sun rose on the feast day of their patronal figure, nor of course did they face towards Jerusalem.15 East was the ancient and universal church direction, which came to be rationalised as representing the place where the sun rises and where the earthly paradise lies. Jesus, it was believed, ascended into heaven to the east of the disciples who were watching him and would return to judge the world from that direction. For that reason Christians were buried facing east so as to rise before him when he arrived.16 The core of the church building remained that which had developed in most places by the Norman Conquest: an eastern chancel in which the daily and weekly services were held, and a western nave.17 Some chancels built in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries had an additional cell further east, in the form of a rounded apse or a rectangle (Fig. 17a, p. 86).18 An apse may have been added as a status symbol, because it was a common feature of abbey and cathedral churches in that period. The west end of the chancel contained seats for the clergy to sing the daily services known as the Office,19 and the east end held the high altar where mass was celebrated on Sundays, festivals, and sometimes weekdays. As has been mentioned, the altar was often placed some way west of the east end of the church until about the twelfth century, and only by the thirteenth was it normally positioned right against the eastern wall.20 Because the chancel was the area where the Office and mass took place, it had a status holier than the rest of the church and, as we shall see, there were attempts to confine it to the clergy.21 In cathedrals and monasteries the chancel



(more often known in their case as the choir) was divided from the area west of it – the nave – by a stone screen called a pulpitum. These churches were not primarily parish churches, and if they included a parish congregation or wished to provide services for visitors, an additional altar would be installed for the purpose on the nave side of the pulpitum. Parish churches did not originally separate chancel and nave in such an absolute way. They had a congregation in the nave which had to be able to watch the mass in the chancel and see the high altar at which it took place. In their case the distinction between the two parts of the church was achieved at first by narrowing the view between them with a wall pierced by an archway of modest proportions. This made the point that chancel and nave were distinct areas, but allowed a vista from one to the other. Towards the end of the twelfth century church design opened up the view from the nave to the chancel with a much larger chancel arch, although the modest ones survived in some small rural churches that were never rebuilt (Fig. 18, p. 95). The opening up reflected the growth of the doctrine of the Real Presence in that century: the belief that Christ became physically present in the consecrated bread and wine of the mass. This belief had two opposite results. Church leaders urged congregations to view and venerate the supreme moment in the mass: the ‘elevation’ at which the priest held up the bread and wine now transformed into the body and blood of Christ, hence the need for maximum visibility from the nave. At the same time the holiness of the consecration, with its manifestation of Christ in a physical sense, required the mass to be done in a holy and secluded space.22 Accordingly a screen of stone or wood was erected between the new open chancel and the nave, also called the pulpitum and in modern English the ‘rood screen’. The ‘rood’ was the cross, bearing the crucified Christ, which stood above the screen, flanked by statues of the Virgin Mary to the north and St John the Evangelist to the south, as they were imagined to have been at the crucifixion. Behind the rood screen and its figures, the open space stretching up to the vault or roof was often closed by walling or by a tympanum of boarding, decorated with a painting of Christ in his other representation as the bringer of the Last Judgment. Redeemed souls might be shown flocking to him on his north side or right hand, while those of the damned fell down on the south side into hell. The images upon and above the screen,



18.  Kilpeck, Herefordshire, a small church of the mid twelfth century, with chancel and nave separated by a fairly narrow archway.

especially those of Christ, were the most prominent ones in the church and dominated the view of the parishioners in the nave. John Mirk, alluding to this in a sermon for the feast of Corpus Christi, observed that the rood was set up high so that people would see it as soon as they came into church and be reminded of Christ’s passion or suffering.23 The introduction of chancel screens and roods has been conjectured to lie in the thirteenth century, which the architectural and liturgical developments mentioned above make very likely.24 However, the word cancellus, whence ‘chancel’ is derived which means a screened-off area, was in use by the twelfth century.25 If at that date it did not imply a chancel screen, it may have referred to the narrower chancel arches of that period. Some screens stood merely between the nave and the chancel, others extended across the whole church to include any chapels or aisles alongside the chancel.26 Their lower part was panelled, over which stood a row of open unglazed windows, which allowed a view from the nave to the high altar (Fig. 19, p. 99). A doorway in the centre



enabled ingress and egress for clergy processions and certain other purposes. The doorway was often closed with a lockable door and kept secured, at least when not under observation. This gave protection for the images, hangings, and ornaments in the chancel, although (as we shall see) lay people were not always prevented from passing through. Screens and roods became almost universal in parish churches, and they were imitated in small chapels like those in private houses or of a public kind devoted to a saint cult. Even such a chapel, although a mere oblong in shape, would often have a screen athwart it to separate the altar area from that in which most onlookers were situated. Chancels and naves were generally on the same level, except that the east end of the chancel, where the high altar stood, was likely to be raised on one or two steps to give better visibility to it and to the priest officiating there.27 By 1070 the high altar was required to be a solid stone structure.28 It was topped by a mensa or slab of stone, marked with five crosses at the centre and corners, while the structure below, when consecrated, had to contain some relics of saints enclosed in a cavity. Externally the high altar was decorated with a ‘frontal’ of coloured or embroidered fabric, which hung down across its front and whose colour might change according to the seasons of the Church year. Its upper surface was covered by white cloths and displayed a small cross and one or two candlesticks. By the later Middle Ages, there were often curtains called ‘riddels’ along the north and south ends of the altar (Fig. 35, p. 214).29 The altar was commonly backed by a reredos or retable of painted or carved wood or stone. In the wall on the south of the altar a piscina or drain enabled the disposal of water used for washing hands or vessels during a high mass, and many churches had sedilia or seats in the south chancel wall: usually three of them for the priest, deacon, and subdeacon who officiated at mass. On the opposite wall north of the altar there often came to be an Easter sepulchre used in the ritual of Holy Week, although this could be sited elsewhere in the church.30 A further item somewhere near the altar was a locked cupboard or aumbry, and the floor around the altar might be paved with decorated tiles.31 In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council ordered churches to keep, under lock and key, the reserved sacrament of consecrated bread used for sick communions and the holy oil and chrism. The oil was used in the anointing of the sick and both oil and chrism in baptisms.32 The bread (in the form of wafers) was



renewed every Sunday,33 while the oil and chrism were consecrated by the bishop each year on the Thursday before Easter and sent to the parish clergy, who were told to burn any old supplies that they had.34 Locking away the bread, oil, and chrism was meant to guard them from misuse for magical purposes, and the Lateran order was repeated by bishops during the thirteenth century.35 However although a lockable cupboard was usually installed for the oil and chrism, the English did not use it for all of the reserved sacrament. It seems that they had already established a custom of hanging one consecrated wafer of bread from a rod above the high altar, so that worshippers might venerate the body and blood of Christ in the wafer. This wafer was housed in a pyx: a small lantern-like vessel with a lock to secure it, the pyx itself being covered by a veil.36 Despite the decree of the council and the orders of the bishops, the hanging up of the pyx with its wafer continued. When William Lyndwood came to comment on the matter in the fifteenth century, he noted the aberrant English custom, and although he conceded that it enabled the sacrament to be venerated, he thought that the law of the Church ought to be followed.37 His view did not prevail, and the English practice endured until the Reformation. The seating for the clergy at the west end of the chancel might be limited to a stall for the parish priest and one for the parish clerk, but it could extend to a range of stalls on either side of the chancel facing inwards ‘college-wise’. Cathedrals sometimes had three levels of stalls, and large parish churches might have more than one. The additional stalls could accommodate other priests, in view of the requirement for any chantry or guild priests in the church to attend the daily and Sunday services in the chancel. In a collegiate church with a staff of priests, clerks, and choristers, a whole choir of these functionaries would assist in the services. When parish churches, especially in towns, instituted choirs of clerks and choristers in the fifteenth century, similar stalls were needed for their accommodation. Some churches, in contrast, retain sets of stalls from the later Middle Ages that seem more numerous than the clergy required, even allowing for choirs.38 We shall see that important laity had access to the chancel, and it may be that they sometimes shared such seating. The presence of books should also be noted. Liturgical books were brought in for the services and, from about the late fourteenth century, some churches had additional reference books in the chancel for clergy to study.39



NAVES, AISLES, AND TRANSEP TS Church naves were generally larger than chancels because their primary function was to accommodate the people of the parish. They were longitudinal: at first about twice as long as they were wide and later three times as much, facing towards the east and the chancel so to view the service there (Figs 17a–g, pp. 86–91).40 Many in the later Middle Ages extended their height as well with a clerestory or row of high windows near the roof. This may have been for grandeur or to give more light to the nave and the rood on the chancel screen.41 The nave housed many or most of the parishioners at services, and it had two liturgical uses of its own. One was the sacrament of baptism which took place there rather than in the chancel, centring on an immovable stone font that usually stood at the west end of the nave near the principal entrance, closed by a wooden cap when not in use (Fig. 20, p. 104).42 The other was the making of announcements, certain kinds of public prayers, and preaching.43 These were often or usually delivered, at least after about 1200, from a pulpit: an elevated stone or wooden enclosure up steps at the east end of the nave: on the north or south side so as not to block the view of the chancel (Fig. 39, p. 239).44 The pulpit took its name from the pulpitum, presumably because such announcements had once been made there, at the bottom of the chancel screen or even above it. Naves had other functions. On or around their boundaries – the walls and the screen – were statues or paintings of Christ and the saints, which will be discussed in a later section. The open space within the nave, as well as any aisles that lay alongside them, enabled processions of clergy to take place before or during services. The rest of the space gave room for the congregation: either standing or, by the end of the Middle Ages, in seats, as we shall discover. Any other unoccupied ground could be used for the burials of important people, as could the chancel floor. Burials inside churches were at first chiefly confined to the patron of the church (and doubtless by courtesy his or her family and other nobility) along with its rectors or vicars.45 These all had a right of burial in the chancel. Their tombs were often contrived within a niche of an outer wall, containing a decorated stone coffin lid or later a sculpture of the departed person.46 Alternatively they could take the



19.  The chancel screen at Attleborough, Norfolk, and above it a wall painting, in this case of the Annunciation and the Crucifixion.

form of a raised altar-like structure placed beside the wall, topped by a sculpture or a monumental brass. A further embellishment, in the case of the male aristocracy, might be the hanging of a helmet or shield above the tomb, which helped to attract the viewer’s attention.47 By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the practice of internal burial was spreading to most of the gentry, many of the merchant class in towns, and some of the wealthier yeomen farmers in the countryside. The tombs of merchants and yeomen were usually more modest and confined to the nave, consisting of a niche beneath the floor for the body topped by a flat ‘ledger stone’ which people could walk over. The stones would be incised with inscriptions or inlaid with images of brass.48 Incumbents or churchwardens charged fees for internal burials: 3s. 4d. being common, although some churches in Sussex demanded 6s. 8d. while St Laurence Reading exacted not only that but a further 8d. for closing the grave.49 St Mary at Hill London was more expensive still, asking 8s. 4d. for the nave and 16s. 8d. for the two most desirable chapels.50 Many church naves for a long time lacked paving or tiling, and it was usual to cover the ground (or even any paving) with



rushes or straw. These were replaced annually or for special events such as Christmas and Easter, a bishop’s visit, or an important wedding.51 We sometimes hear allegations that clergy should have provided the rushes and failed to do so.52 A church with a simple plan of a chancel and nave could be enlarged by adding aisles alongside one or both of these areas, and in the rebuilding of churches that went on throughout the Middle Ages aisles were often included in the design. Here the word is used of a corridor space running west to east beside the nave or the chancel or both, but in the past it could refer to a chapel or transept as well. Aisles were appearing in parish churches or were added to them by the late twelfth century. At first they were narrow and sometimes stood on only one side of the nave, such as the north, to which a corresponding south aisle might be added later. Their purpose may have been structural (to help buttress the building) or status-giving (like apses) because cathedrals and monasteries had such features.53 They could also have provided space for statues of saints to be placed against the piers or pillars that divided the aisles from the nave, so that lay people could venerate them. If narrow aisles of this kind had a use related to church services, it could only have been in processions like those that preceded mass on Sunday mornings, but their narrowness would not have suited more than a small file of clergy: parish priest, clerk, and boy acolytes with candles. They would not have been helpful for accommodating worshippers because they gave a poor view of the chancel and the high altar, but if they had a walled east end, that wall could be used for an additional altar or an image. By the late thirteenth century aisles were becoming wider and higher, and many churches were rebuilt with such aisles during the rest of the Middle Ages (Figs 17f, p. 90; 21, p. 110). Wide aisles were more suitable for processions and, as a further motive for widening them or as a result of the fact, they could accommodate seating. The more open plans of late-medieval churches might give a better view of the chancel and high altar from these aisles than had been possible earlier, and a gangway could still be left for the processions. Large churches, such as cathedrals and monasteries, also acquired transepts stretching north and south of the east end of the nave. Many parish



churches did the same (Figs 17c, d, f, pp. 87, 88, 90; 21, p. 110). Sometimes these features were planned in a building or rebuilding project to reproduce the sign of the cross and to imitate the grandeur of the larger churches designed in that shape. Equally they might be acquired in stages. One transept alone might be built, and if a second was added it might not be symmetrical in form like those at Tintagel in Cornwall (Fig. 17d, p. 88). Because transepts were lateral wings, they had no visual link with the chancel so they were not originally meant as additional spaces for the congregation. Their long east walls could be used as places for more altars, if these were needed in a church, and their floors may have served as private burial areas for important lay families. Later, by about the fifteenth century, transepts appear to have acquired an additional use to house people at the time of the parish mass. These are likely to have been a family or guild members whose status was superior but not high enough to be allowed into the chancel. Since they too wished to be able to see the all-important moment of consecration at the high altar, a linkage of transept and chancel was then made by what is now known as a ‘squint’: a window knocked through from one to the other. This was often done in a rather crude way that indicates the adaptation of the transept from its original purpose.54 All parish churches save for the very smallest, and even chapels-of-ease, contained one or more additional altars, now usually known as ‘side altars’, for occasional or regular use. These had long existed in minsters and monasteries but were spreading into ordinary churches by the early thirteenth century.55 An altar in honour of the Virgin Mary became virtually universal. Some large churches acquired several side altars: Ashburton four, All Saints North Street in York four, St Michael Spurriergate in the same city eight, and St Laurence Reading at least eight.56 These would be placed in different areas. Within an existing building, one or both transepts might become a chapel with an altar or two against its eastern walls. Other locations for altars could include the east end of an aisle, the west side of the chancel screen at the east end of the nave, or between two of the piers dividing the nave from the aisles. They could be put into a chapel abutting the nave, chancel, or transepts, notably a Lady chapel in Mary’s honour which came to be a feature of many churches from the mid thirteenth century (Figs 17f, g, pp. 90–1).57 They could even



be located above the ground if space was limited: on the chancel screen, in the bell tower, or over the church porch. Altars, wherever sited, had three things in common. All appear to have faced east unless there was some particular structural reason why this was impossible.58 All were dedicated to the Trinity or Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Cross, an angel, or a saint, and were accompanied by their image. And all or most, by the thirteenth century, were probably protected from general access, except perhaps in a small church where an extra altar could be inserted only in front of the rood screen. This was because, as has been suggested, the belief in the physical presence of Christ in the sacrament seemed to require a space that gave him honour and excluded any kind of impropriety. The need applied to lesser altars as it did to the high altar in the chancel. Some chapels in grand churches such as cathedrals were given impressive stone cages to seclude them while letting in light. More commonly in parish churches, chapels and altar areas were fenced with a screen of wood or metal (Fig. 22, p. 114). A lockable door allowed the entry of a priest and clerk to celebrate mass. Lay people had to watch from outside, but the smaller dimensions of a side chapel or altar area had the attraction that the watchers came closer to the celebration of mass than most of them did on a Sunday, when they had to observe the service from the nave at a long distance through the rood screen.59 While the functions of chancels and naves are easy to understand, those of chapels in churches pose problems. There is an unfortunate habit now­­ adays of referring to such places as ‘chantry chapels’: unfortunate because although some were, many were not. A chantry was a private endowment, made by a wealthy person, to pay a priest to celebrate mass each day for the souls of certain people, living and dead. Chantries could be temporary and funded for one or more years, or perpetual. Some of the wealthier guilds paid for priests to celebrate in a similar way: that is to say craft guilds in towns or rural guilds that gathered together the most important people in a prosperous parish. We need therefore to visualise a variety of usages of chapels. One might have been chiefly the sitting place and burial place of a superior family, with its altar used infrequently for celebrations of mass. At Hatfield in Yorkshire, for example, it was remembered that the north chancel chapel,



reserved for the Riccards family, had masses said at its altar only ‘on some solemn days’.60 Another chapel or altar might have housed a chantry priest for a limited period after someone had died. A third, the chantry chapel properly speaking, had a perpetual chantry priest celebrating mass inside. A fourth might have been used by a guild, with either a perpetual priest serving within it or a priest brought in to celebrate mass on special occasions. A further likelihood is that some chapel or altar areas in churches might never have had a priest constantly assigned to them. They honoured Christ or particular saints and might have a group of supporters who contributed to the ‘store’ or fund for the saint, or who formed a guild in the saint’s honour, but lacked the resources to do more than pay for an annual or occasional mass. Chantry priests existed in numbers in large town churches but far less so in the majority of smaller urban and rural ones, and we need to avoid assuming their presence without evidence of the fact. In the absence of a chantry priest, the incumbent of the church or his chaplain could celebrate an occasional mass at a side altar, as long as this was not on a Sunday or major feast when mass had to be sung at the high altar.61 The liturgical usage of a chapel seems often to have had a strong private dimension to it. The families who had ancestral tombs or had endowed a chantry or a guild priest therein would regard it as their own territory: they might indeed have built it. They might use it regularly at parish services, planting seats inside and having a squint made for them to glimpse the high altar. There might be a screen like the chancel screen, permitting outsiders to view the altar or the tombs from a distance but allowing the family alone to pass through the screen. This is suggested by the practice, recorded from about 1500, of claiming or describing a chapel or aisle by the name of a particular family or person, as with the Riccards chapel at Hatfield. Thus Thomas Killigrew talked of ‘my chapel’ in the church of St Gluvias, Cornwall, in 1501,62 as Roger Martin later did of ‘my aisle’ and his neighbour’s as ‘Mr Clopton’s aisle’ at Long Melford, Suffolk.63 A vivid illustration of an attempt to privatise an area occurs in a suit of 1537 in the court of Star Chamber. Bridget Stokes asserted that her late husband and his family had long occupied a chapel in the church of Bilton near York. She called it ‘Stokes’s chapel’ to support her claim to the



20.  The font of Worstead church, Norfolk, with the elaborate cover used to protect the holy water constantly kept in the basin.

ownership, and complained that a group of other people, led by local gentry, broke in and destroyed her seating. The opposing side argued that the chapel, which it called ‘the church chapel’, had been used by a local esquire and other people as well as by the Stokes family, until Bridget partitioned it and added doors and locks. They took revenge by ‘quietly’ opening the area on a Sunday morning when the congregation was present in church.64 Guild chapels – especially in urban churches – may have had a similar segregation, giving the guild members the sole use of the area, at least for their own masses and possibly even at times of parish worship. Many church buildings, particularly those of large and wealthy communities, acquired further elements to help with their functioning. One was the porch which will be discussed in the following section. Another was a room or rooms to serve as a vestry. Here clergy could enrobe and vestments and altar hangings be kept as well as the church ornaments, although some churches had no more than a substantial chest for storage purposes. Ledbury in Herefordshire contained what was called a ‘treasury’.65 Some churches required the deacon or parish clerk to sleep in the room or elsewhere in the



church overnight as an extra precaution. At Colyton, Devon, in 1301, the vicar was accused of appointing a clerk rather than the obligatory deacon, ‘serving the church and lying in the same to keep the books and ornaments’.66 Ledbury in 1397 required the deacon to sleep in the treasury (the occupant at that date failed to do so),67 while the two parish clerks of Louth were ordered never to leave their church after dark unless the vicar needed one to go with him to visit the sick.68 UPPER SPACES The upper spaces in churches were often put to use as well: to save room below, for extra security, or to make use of height.69 Chambers over church porches became quite common, accessed from the nave by a spiral staircase. These have sometimes been described as priests’ rooms but that is unlikely because they lacked the space and facilities needed for a permanent resident. The parish clergyman usually lived in the rectory or vicarage, and additional priests of chantries and guilds either had designated houses or took lodgings locally. Porch chambers were more suitable for the storage of muniments or valuables, or at most for the accommodation of a clerk who lived chiefly elsewhere but might be required to spend the night in the building. There are not many records of clergy living in a church. One example relates to St Olave Exeter, whose rector was permitted to build a room under the church roof in 1408, where he might live and sleep.70 Another concerns St Mary at Hill London, where a chamber was kept for the priest who said the early morning ‘morrow mass’.71 More common was a separate house for the parish clergy or chantry priests, built alongside the church as at All Saints Bristol, St Peter Westcheap London, and St Thomas Salisbury.72 All these examples reflected cramped urban sites, where there was nowhere to provide a house except on the church site itself. Some religious houses – cathedrals and monasteries – had upper spaces in the form of a gallery overlooking the chancel to accommodate people of status. This was sometimes the case in private chapels in castles and manor houses, where a first-floor room called the ‘closet’ with a view of the chapel would be used by the lord or lady for private prayer while attending mass, or



by the lady and her attendants in seclusion from the men in the chapel below. The fourteenth-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight describes the lady of a castle occupying such a closet during the service of vespers.73 Rooms of this kind appear to have been rare in parish churches. One at Warwick (a collegiate church) above the vestry with a fireplace has been suggested as meant for the use of the local earl and countess but may have been used by a clerk to sleep in the church.74 Another survives at Hillesden near Buckingham in the form of a first-floor closet above the vestry, with windows looking into the north chancel chapel of the church (possibly the Lady chapel), and accessed by a bridge, probably wooden, from an adjoining manor house.75 Bridge and chapel date from about 1500. This was a time when bridges from houses to churches appear to have been fashionable, no doubt reflecting rising expectations of comfort, although they rarely survive today. Another connected the manor house and church at Morley in Derbyshire,76 and a third, described as ‘a gallery of timber’, was commissioned by Edward Stafford, duke of Buckingham, between 1512 and 1521 to give passage from the back of his great house at Thornbury, north of Bristol, to the north side of the nearby parish church.77 A fourth linked the manor house of the bishop of Bath and Wells with his parish church at Chew Magna in Somerset.78 During the later Middle Ages, if not before, rood screens acquired lofts in the form of a gallery above the partition which could be reached by a ladder or a ‘rood stair’ contrived in the north or south wall of the church (Fig. 23, p. 118). The stair allowed access to the loft for placing lights in honour of the rood images and for cleaning them, and the loft could be used for other purposes too.79 By the fifteenth century, organs were sometimes sited on them so that the organist was close to the singers in the chancel stalls, and there are examples of altars being placed on the loft floor as well.80 Large churches such as cathedrals sometimes had exterior galleries for use on Palm Sunday, when the clergy who had made a procession around the church approached the doors to re-enter. In the Use of Sarum (the customs of Salisbury Cathedral), choristers were directed to stand on that day ‘in an elevated place’ to the south of the cathedral to sing the hymn Gloria, laus, et honor.81 Parish churches did not usually contain exterior galleries of the



cathedral kind and may have used their rood lofts for the purpose. However at Westbury-on-Trym and a group of other churches in the Bristol area, small wooden galleries were built in their south porches which seem to have been meant for this ceremony.82 At Long Melford a boy ascended a turret at the east end of the church by the Lady chapel and sang an antiphon from there on Palm Sunday, as the procession paused on its way round the building.83 There could also be internal galleries for liturgical purposes. Ottery St Mary still has one at the west end of its Lady chapel which held an organ and perhaps singers; Westbury had another in its south chancel chapel.84 Several churches in East Anglia acquired internal galleries at the west end of the nave, one at Worstead being built in 1501 apparently by the ‘bachelors’ or young men of the parish, perhaps as their own place to sit.85 Finally there were towers. These could be built centrally between the chancel and nave, especially in more ambitious churches (Figs 17b, c, f, pp. 86–90). More commonly they stood to the west of the nave (Figs 17d, e, g, pp. 88–91), occasionally to the north or south of the centre of the building, and at some places in complete detachment from the rest of the church.86 Towers called attention to churches in the landscape and gave them presence in the streets of a town. Further emphasis could be given by topping the tower with battlements and often with a spire. The placing of a metal cockerel on the spire or roof was apparently common by the end of the thirteenth century, symbolising watchfulness since such birds crowed in the night.87 If the church had west doors, a tower above them would provide a grand facade for entry in this direction. Towers could act as strongholds and places of refuge. In some walled towns they stood on or next to the gates; on the Welsh and Scottish borders they served as small fortifications.88 Their upper storeys could be put to use. One or two early ones contained a gallery, perhaps for a noble family, and a few had an altar and chapel.89 By the fifteenth century some were housing clocks but, most of all, towers were places for bells.90 Church legislators by the thirteenth century could take it for granted that churches would have large bells in their buildings as well as the smaller hand-bells used in the mass or when taking the sacrament to the sick. Indeed large bells, like fonts, were a mark of a parish church, since not all chapels had them in the same size and number or even at all.91



The earliest legislation about bells, issued by the bishops of Salisbury and Exeter in that century, laid the responsibility for providing them and their ropes on the parishioners, and this was the case in later times.92 Churchwardens’ accounts contain frequent entries about the casting and hanging of bells and the purchase of ropes. Large churches such as cathedrals and monasteries had numerous bells, but parish ones were less ambitious. In the thirteenth century two bells seem to have been usual, as was the case in Essex.93 By the sixteenth most churches in Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire had between three and five in their towers.94 Bells were hung so as to swing in a limited arc or, by the fifteenth century, on a half wheel: not on a whole wheel allowing almost a circle of swing as is the custom in England today. They might be rung singly or in pairs for ordinary services, and all together at festivals such as Christmas and Easter or on special occasions. The ringing was a mixture of sounds, not the sequences characteristic of modern change ringing. Responsibility for ringing for the daily services was often originally given to the parish clerk, but by the fifteenth century it was also done by the sexton. When more than one bell was rung, other ringers would be involved. Bells had names: sometimes of Jesus or saints like Mary, Peter, and John, sometimes of donors, and sometimes nicknames: ‘Singer’ or ‘Dancer’.95 Like the objects used in worship they were holy, and a new one was solemnly consecrated by a bishop. Holy water was cast on it, oil and chrism were applied to it, and it was censed with incense. The bishop prayed that ‘wherever afterwards its ringing may come, there may depart from the neighbourhood the power of those who lie in wait, the shadows of spectres, the incursion of whirlwinds, the strike of lightning, the injury of thunder, the calamity of tempests, and all kinds of winds, and when the children of Christianity hear its clangour, may it arouse in them an increase of devotion, so that hastening to the bosom of their pious Mother, they may sing eternally in the church the new song of the saints’.96 As this suggests, one of the principal functions of bells was to warn of the approach of the three daily services: matins, mass, and evensong. This had to be done early enough for people to get to church.97 An hour beforehand was considered appropriate, sometimes repeated at later intervals.98 At Louth in 1500 the clerks were bidden to ring for matins three times: first at 6.15 a.m,



next at 6.30, and apparently again at 6.45, presumably for a 7.00 start. The two smallest bells were used for the first peal, one small and one medium for the second, and one medium and the largest for the third. Even the number of pulls was prescribed: 200 for matins and 360 for the ‘curfew’ (the evening signal to ‘cover your fire’ and go to bed).99 In 1281 the Council of London required a bell to be sounded in the mass itself, at the moment of consecration when the priest held up the wafer at the high altar, ‘so that the people might bend the knee wherever they were, in the fields or their houses’.100 Later the custom developed of another ringing at the singing of the Sanctus, earlier in the mass.101 This led to the designation of a special ‘sanctus bell’ for these purposes: sometimes in the tower, sometimes elsewhere, with a long rope allowing it to be rung from the ground. The bell for matins would have served as a reveille for people to wake since it was rung at dawn or soon after. The bell for curfew, as well as signalling the end of the day, became a prompt to say the Ave Maria.102 There was ringing on other occasions too. Deaths and funerals were marked in such a way, although for these a charge was usually made. Significant ringing was done in Rogation Week, when clergy and parishioners toured the parish praying for deliverance from evil and blessing on the fields.103 Mirk, in his sermon for this week, compared the ringing of bells at that time with a king going into battle with his trumpets, and said that by doing so the powers of evil were put to flight. He added that, for the same reason, ‘when any tempest is, men use to ring bells and so drive the Fiend away’.104 The practice of ringing in storms was very common and continued well after the Reformation.105 Bells were also used to mark important events: visitations of bishops, the arrival of monarchs, and very likely those of nobility and gentry. By the sixteenth century, this extended to the victory at Flodden in 1513 and the death of Henry VIII in 1547.106 IMAGE AND TEXT Medieval churches acquired imagery: representations of the Trinity, Christ, and the saints in the form of statues, wall paintings, and window glass.107 Their purpose was to encourage devotion and give instruction. A church had



21.  Patrington church, Yorkshire, a spacious church of the later Middle Ages with a large opening from nave to chancel and double transepts, visible on the right-hand side.

two principal devotional centres. One was the high altar. By the late thirteenth century the custom was growing of placing a statue of the figure to whom the church was dedicated on the north side of the altar and one of the Virgin Mary on the south.108 The other centre was the chancel screen with its rood and images of Christ, Mary, and John.109 This formed the principal horizon for worshippers in the nave, although they could discern the chancel and the high altar less distinctly behind it. By the later Middle Ages chancel screens in particular were often highly decorated with carved cornices to support the rood lofts above them, while the panels below the windows might be painted with images of saints such as the twelve apostles. No further images in a church were demanded, and those that appeared did so on the initiative of church patrons, clergy, or parishioners at various times in the church’s history. The smallest free-standing chapels might have



only one or two, but parish churches usually housed several as early as the middle of the thirteenth century. A visitation of churches in Essex belonging to St Paul’s Cathedral in 1249–52 mentions Giles, Mary, and Nicholas at Barking; Andrew, Mary, and James at Heybridge; and Mary, Michael, and Peter at Kirby le Soken.110 Walton-on-the-Naze in the same county had Katherine, Mary, Michael, Nicholas, Peter, and Thomas by 1297, as well as the rood images.111 Some of these lists may have been selective, because large parish churches in the later Middle Ages usually had far more. In the early sixteenth century, Blisworth in Northamptonshire and St Laurence Reading each contained about fourteen while Long Melford boasted at least twenty.112 The most widely venerated saint was Mary, who often acquired a Lady chapel in the church dedicated to her worship, built east of the high altar or on the north side of the chancel, although locations elsewhere are recorded. Her image came to take several forms: her Annunciation with the Angel Gabriel, her giving birth lying in bed, her clasping Jesus as a baby or child, her weeping over the crucified Christ (the so-called image of Pity), and her Assumption or ascension to heaven.113 Other saints would be honoured with altars and images or simply images. The most popular included James, John the Baptist, Katherine, Margaret, Mary Magdalene, Michael, Peter (sometimes with Paul), and Thomas Becket. A painting of St Christopher with Christ on his shoulder was often placed on the north wall opposite the south door so that it could be seen on entry (Fig. 30, p. 167). There was a pious belief that seeing the pair gave people protection that day. Additional images appeared in the later Middle Ages, augmenting the earlier ones or even replacing some. One was Jesus: not only as Christ on the Cross but in his character as the Saviour, as the centre of a devotion to his own Holy Name, or as St Sunday – nowadays known as the ‘Sunday Christ’. The latter image was a wall painting showing him wounded by tools and games, as a warning to those who used Sunday for work or pleasure.114 Other new saints included Anne, the putative mother of the Virgin, Roche and Sythe as patrons of plague victims and servants, and the never-to-be-canonised Henry VI. This is not to overlook the many other ancient saints like Andrew, Clement, and Martin, who were venerated less widely but had a significant presence across the kingdom.



All churches were holy, but some were more holy than others. Most shrines and major relics of the saints were to be found in religious houses, which acquired them from powerful patrons or by removing them from parish churches. Removals were particularly common in the late Anglo-Saxon and Norman periods when new monasteries were established and sought to give themselves a spiritual importance.115 Some parish churches managed to hold on to their saints’ remains, especially in Cornwall and Wales. In England, Bampton in Oxfordshire retained its shrine of Beornwald, Stone in Staffordshire its ancient patrons Wulfhad and Ruffin, and there are other examples.116 Most such churches, in contrast, could not acquire such remains or even significant relics. Their luck, if it so happened, was for devotion to arise towards an image, generally that of Christ on the rood or the Virgin Mary. These acquired reputations for answering prayers in many churches and even chapels. John Heywood’s play The Four Ps, written just before the Reformation, humorously lists some of them: the Rood of Dagenham, Our Lady of Boston, the Great God of Cattawade, and others of Mary near London at Crome, Muswell, and Willesden.117 Similar images were to be found all over the country, attracting pilgrims from the neighbourhood rather than further away, but bringing visits and offerings to churches beyond those of parishioners. Not all saint cults flourished indefinitely, and it should not be assumed that entering a medieval church would have shown every one of its saints to be an object of equal reverence. A church’s images came from its past and the tastes of parishioners might change. A new saint might be introduced, as Christopher Trychay brought Sidwell of Exeter to Morebath on his arrival in 1519.118 This might reduce the devotion awarded to others. The most popular images had boxes near them for donations, but church records often consolidate the totals, obscuring the individual amounts. In one place where these survive, the abbey church of St Augustine Bristol around 1500, the sole image well supported in monetary terms was the Cross. Only two others, Augustine and Mary, received more than a shilling or two per annum, while Antony and Erasmus got nothing. In a chapel outside the abbey, a local saint named Jordan attracted annual gifts as low as 2½d. and never more than 1s. 2d.119 Some cults seem never to have established themselves. In 1334 Bishop Grandisson of Exeter tried to start a devotion to St Boniface in



Crediton church because he believed that the saint had been born there. It is never mentioned after his initiative.120 A chapel of St Antony, built by the rector of Luccombe, Somerset, in the 1460s and blessed with a generous papal indulgence (a grant of remission of penance), is not recorded again by that name. If it survived, it did so under a different dedication.121 During the later Middle Ages images came to be supplemented by written texts: a format that was destined to outlast images and to dominate the interior landscape of churches after the Reformation (Fig. 59, p. 406).122 Texts were of many kinds. They are found inscribed on tombs from at least the thirteenth century: floor slabs, monumental brasses, or table tombs bearing effigies, identifying the person commemorated and asking for prayers. Others appeared in windows, naming the saints they depicted or the donors who gave the window glass. Wall paintings might reinforce their message with a written text. The poet John Lydgate remembered how, as a teenage boy in the late fourteenth century, he was moved by an image of a crucifix subtitled ‘Behold my meekness, O child, and leave thy pride’.123 By the early sixteenth century some churches possessed numerous inscriptions of these kinds. A rare inventory of them survives in relation to Hatfield, where they were described after the Reformation.124 This church had Latin verses in its east window, saluting the Virgin Mary and conveying words of Christ to mankind. Other windows contained the names of their donors, and there were further lines of Latin under a crucifix and alongside a piscina, as well as writings on the tombs themselves. Texts like these formed part of the fabric or furnishings, but framed inscriptions were also hung or fixed up in churches, reflecting the growth of literacy. The London church of St Stephen Walbrook had seven such ‘tables’ by 1480–1, and its colleague St Christopher-le-Stocks had twelve a few years later.125 Some contained prayers to be said at the images of particular saints. When the antiquary William Worcester visited Bristol in 1480, he found such prayers in two chapels outside the city, either on walls or battens to hold in the hand.126 Others were texts of instruction, such as the Ten Commandments, which appeared in both London churches. Religious houses displayed their histories. Worcester noted boards containing chronicles at Glasney College in Cornwall, Tavistock Abbey, and Exeter Cathedral.127 Many church inscriptions were in



22.  A screened chapel: the Spring Chantry in Lavenham church, Suffolk.

Latin, reflecting the fact that it was the language of both the liturgy and official record. This was appropriate not only for chronicles but for tombs in churches which were largely those of clergy or important people, for whom it mattered more to have the status of Latin than to communicate with passers-by. Even texts that were relevant to parishioners might be in Latin too, perhaps to give them authority, like the warnings about the fate of the good and the wicked in the afterlife that appear below the image of the Judgment of Christ at Wood Eaton near Oxford.128 But this was not true of all church inscriptions. Some survive in French on tombs from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, not only identifying the person buried but asking for prayers or offering an indulgence to those who made them. These addressed themselves at least to clergy and wealthy laity who knew the language. English texts began to appear in the late fourteenth century. One of the earliest on a tomb is that of ‘John the smith’ at Brightwell Baldwin in Oxfordshire. Another, in modernised form ‘As we are now, thus shall ye be’, is written beneath the picture of the Three Living meeting the Three Dead at



Wensley in Yorkshire.129 These evidently sought to reach a wider audience, but the use of English in church inscriptions was rather slow to make progress, perhaps because of the association of the language with Lollard dissent after the 1380s.130 It only gradually spread upwards on tombs to include the nobility and gentry, but it was becoming fairly common in the later fifteenth century, as well as featuring in other media. A window of about 1500 at St Kew in Cornwall shows the Passion of Christ in a series of panels with captions in the English of the region. ‘Here owr Lord rydeth ynto Jherusalem’. ‘Here a [he] prayyth to the Fader’. ‘Here [he] ys ybrot [brought] byfore Pilat’.131 Not only inscriptions, therefore, but the casting of them in English was already growing familiar before the Reformers of the sixteenth century adopted the practice more forcefully for educating church congregations. There was also a growing number of texts for people to handle. Every church was required to have the necessary books for performing the liturgy, but by the fifteenth century some were acquiring other titles: chiefly works on canon law or handbooks for priests such as John de Burgh’s Pupilla Oculi.132 These might be kept in a chest, a cupboard, or chained in the choir of the church.133 By the fifteenth century some churches had a special room for the purpose: a library. This was especially so in the larger collegiate bodies, but it is also found in the parish sector at Boston, Louth, three of the Bristol churches, and St Margaret New Fish Street in London.134 Such books were chiefly in Latin with the Bible always so, and were most appropriate for the clergy to use although St Margaret had at least one volume in English. Wealthier and literate parishioners had their own prayer books and were likely to bring them to church by this time.135 Exeter Cathedral, at least, made some provision for worshippers. As well as a breviary in the choir for their use, to be mentioned below, it still possesses iron brackets outside two of its chapels where small books were once mounted, possibly Books of Hours for public perusal. Worshippers could read them devoutly while they observed a mass in the chapel beyond.136 ACCESS AND EXCLUSION Churches were not wholly open of access. They had times of closure, and those who entered them were not necessarily free to wander where they



wished. References to the locking of churches at night, or the sleeping of a parish clerk inside, show that the buildings were regarded as security risks.137 The clerks of Louth were told to lock the doors of the chancel and its lateral chapels when mass was over, and to search the whole church before closure in the evening.138 This is not surprising. Far from the whole population respecting sacred property, churches were common targets for stealing the objects within them. A brazen night-time thief at Hitcham, Buckinghamshire, in 1412 stole the chalice, books, vestments, and altar cloths.139 A similar large-scale raid was reported at Kirby Bellars, Leicestershire, in the following year.140 Two thieves hanged outside London in 1517 confessed to burgling numerous churches in Essex and Kent.141 Nowhere was safe: a gold cross was taken from Ely Cathedral and the very pyx above the high altar at Exeter.142 Such thefts, if not recovered, could be a severe blow to the community. After a burglar entered Morebath at night in 1534, taking the chalice and a silver shoe from an image, the young men and maidens of the parish had to rally round and raise money to buy a replacement chalice.143 Normal entry of course was through a church door. There was often one on the south side of the chancel to enable parish clerks and clergy to enter the area directly in order to prepare for services. The nave might have one entrance or more on its north, south, or west sides. West doors, at least in major churches, were especially associated with ceremonial use in church processions or for the reception of dignitaries. Ordinary people were likely to enter from the north or the south. All entrances had a spiritual significance. For the ordinary worshipper they were a gateway to a holy building. It was customary to place a stoup or basin outside or inside the door most often used, such as the south nave door, and to keep it filled with holy water so that one could asperse oneself as one entered. The doors were used liturgically on certain days of the year. On Ash Wednesday the service provided for the expulsion of grave sinners from the west or north door, and their readmission on Maundy Thursday at the west or south door.144 The parish processions which took place between Palm Sunday and Corpus Christi also left and came back by one or other door, sometimes with an entry rite on returning.145 The entrance to the church played a part in the worshipper’s life cycle: at baptism after birth, the churching of women that followed baptisms, and



weddings. Each of these services began outside the doors and involved bringing the baby, mother, or couple into the church. They are described in Chapter 7. The desire for shelter on these occasions must have been a major impetus for giving a church a porch of sufficient size to hold at least the principal participants (Fig. 24, p. 126). Some porches were built to be much larger than this, with enough space for a substantial gathering and provided with windows and even a fireplace. But a church porch or door was not only a spiritual place. As a focal point of human comings and goings, it was likely to attract secular activities: begging, for example. In 1454–6 the authorities of St Andrew Hubbard in London collected money at the church door on the feast of the patron saint in May. They also took a fee from a local fruitseller, Margaret Kene, to allow her to stand at or near the door to offer her goods to worshippers.146 Langland implies that beggars even entered churches to accost their congregations.147 The church interior, as we have seen, was not a wholly open area. The rood screen barred the chancel from unlimited access, while lesser screens did so in the case of side chapels and altars. In the thirteenth century, when the Church was most ambitious to separate spiritual and secular life, it tried to ensure that only clergy were admitted to the chancel: clergy who were now required to be celibate, as were their parish clerks. Statutes issued for Worcester diocese in 1229 forbade lay people to sit in the choir among the clergy or to carry a cross or candle in processions unless this was absolutely necessary.148 In 1287 the bishop of Exeter made a similar prohibition,149 and a little later Robert Mannyng, writing for readers of English, reminded them that Holy Church forbade the ‘lewed’ or lay person from standing in the chancel during services. He insisted that even the powerful sinned in doing so, and that women who trespassed there were liable to provoke temptation and disturb the devotion of others.150 Despite this the desire of the laity to enter the chancel was too strong to be resisted altogether. In 1239 a council in Lincoln diocese made an exception in the case of patrons of a church.151 It would have been impossible to exclude the noble and gentry families whose ancestors had founded the church in the first place, and who expected privileges above those given to ordinary folk. Within about a year of 1229, Worcester modified its rule to include both patrons and



23.  A rood loft, now lacking its figures and painting, at St Margaret, Herefordshire.

‘sublime’ persons, meaning members of the aristocracy, and this was adopted in regulations for Durham diocese shortly afterwards.152 In 1312 the archbishop of York felt able to forbid any women, even nuns, from entering the chancel of Ripon Minster, but he had to concede that men could do so if they were ‘great and noble persons’.153 The presence of important folk in other major chancels is demonstrated by the mention of ‘a great breviary in two volumes’ (the book containing the daily services) at Exeter Cathedral in the 1320s, which was chained ‘in the choir for the use of the people’.154 At Salisbury too, the rubric for the rite of aspersing the clergy in the choir before mass directed that the aspersions should extend to the laity standing there.155 When cathedrals allowed the practice, it was even more likely to happen in parish churches. The members of the Kalendars’ guild in Bristol, drawn from the elite of the citizens, were already standing in the chancel of All Saints church at their monthly masses in the thirteenth century.156 Entry into the chancel by the laity continued and may have increased after the early 1300s (Fig. 35, p. 214). Parish clergy, vulnerable to the power



of noble men and their wives, appear to have tolerated their presence and even that of people lower in rank. A visitation of Hereford diocese in 1397 reported a man at Minsterworth for entering the area (he claimed that the priest invited him there against his will), while at Brilley in the same year it was alleged that both men and women were coming in against the rules of the Church.157 At Lyme Regis, Dorset, in 1405 a complaint was made that ‘women improperly approach the altar for want of prohibition by the vicar’.158 Seven years later at Hartlebury in Worcestershire, an order had to be given that the women attendant on or related to the priest’s concubine should be removed from the area.159 In 1416 Bishop Repingdon of Lincoln ordered lay men and women out of the chancel of Towcester in Northamptonshire, but they resisted for at least six months and his action did not reverse the practice more widely.160 The chancel of Coverham church in Yorkshire was described in 1428 as ‘so crowded with a multitude of lay people . . . that the clerk can scarcely gain access to the altar’.161 At King’s Lynn, Norfolk, the mayor and the twenty-four members of his council were allowed to sit in the chancel on all feast days from 1424–5.162 Margery Kempe got into the very same area on at least three occasions around that time, including a funeral and once when she literally ‘ran in’ to pray for a beloved friar.163 A few miles west at Leverington in 1467–9, when local people complained that one woman knelt in the chancel rather than sitting in the nave with her neighbours, a Church court dismissed the charge at the request of the local rector.164 By that time, as we shall see, people of high status were acquiring permanent seats in many chancels: both men and women, sometimes sitting together.165 Clerical control of the area came to be undermined in other ways. Parish clerks increasingly married and, as has been observed, this came to be tolerated after about 1400.166 Not long afterwards when many churches began to establish polyphonic choirs, their adult men were likely to be lay in their employment and often in their marital status.167 There were occasions too when lay men and women might lawfully pass through the screen into the chancel. Although baptisms took place in the nave, we hear at least twice of a baby of the gentry class being brought to the high altar by its godmother for additional blessing.168 The churching of mothers after childbirth involved them coming to



church and, at least in the usage of the province of York, staying to hear mass and making an offering at the high altar.169 Married couples went into the chancel to hear mass after their wedding and partook of ceremonies there.170 At Ripon Minster, and probably more widely, lay people went into the chancel on Good Friday to adore the cross,171 while at Easter, when all adults were required to receive communion, there were churches where they went up to the high altar for the purpose even if they were of common status.172 Other occasions for the laity to invade the chancel were the ‘offering days’ when they were required to pay a small fixed sum to the church incumbent. The offerings were often made in the chancel, on the high altar or elsewhere. Even Repingdon sanctioned entry to the chancel for this purpose. At Hartlebury men and women doing so were told to enter by one door and leave by another, presumably to keep their movement orderly.173 At South Kyme, Lincolnshire, in 1440, where the church was both priory and parish church, the clergy claimed that the laity of both sexes disturbed the services while making their offerings at the high altar. Here, in consequence, the practice was moved to the west door of the chancel.174 But on the whole, the attempt to keep the chancel for the clergy in the thirteenth century grew generally weaker during the later Middle Ages. Its weakness by the reign of Henry VIII is shown by the king’s order in 1535 that every parish church should be provided with two Bibles for all to read, one in Latin and one in English. These were to be laid ‘in the choir for every man that will to look and read thereon’, although later enactments of the order broadened the location to ‘some convenient place’.175 The opening up of the chancel did not necessarily extend to other screened-off parts of the church. As has been suggested, transepts and chapels were likely to be confined to notable families or to guilds. Ordinary people may have been confined to the nave for most of their time in the building. SEATING Medieval English people were highly conscious of rank and status. They also had strong views about the different roles and deportment of men and women. These affected how they behaved in church. Issues arose about the proper location for each rank and gender in the building and about what



they should do in terms of standing, sitting, and kneeling there. The postures and gestures that people adopted in church will be addressed in Chapter 4. Here we are concerned with the spaces that they occupied and the physical structure – the seating – in which they did so.176 The area set aside for most of the congregation was the nave. It is difficult to say how far naves were open spaces before about the fifteenth century, and how far they were filled with seating. There is very little written evidence, and architectural remains are limited to the stone benches built into the walls of some cathedrals and monasteries: features not unknown but uncommon in parish churches.177 The likelihood is that there was not much seating until the late thirteenth century, or even the late fourteenth, although individual benches, chairs, or stools might be brought in, especially for people of high status. This was certainly the case later on. A comic tale of about 1500 describes a merchant’s wife requiring her maid to bring one for the purpose, and a few years later the vergers of Exeter Cathedral were accustomed to put out a bench for the mayor and his colleagues when sermons were preached.178 But these were people of status, and most parishioners must originally have stood unless they knelt at the services of matins, mass, and vespers, or while attending a baptism, marriage, or funeral. This does not mean that the open spaces were free for anyone to occupy. A particular area might be claimed by someone of rank. Leckhampstead church in Buckinghamshire contains an inscription of the late thirteenth century on a pier of the north arcade, reading Hic sedet Isabella (‘here sits Isabel’). This indicates a chair or stool being placed there for a woman of status: very likely the person of that name who was the wife of a substantial freeholder in the parish, with some local prominence but (through insufficiency of rank or because of her sex) was not able to establish herself in the chancel.179 A story about the mystic Richard Rolle in the early fourteenth century tells how he visited a church in Yorkshire at the time of vespers and ‘placed himself to pray in the place where the consort of a certain noble esquire . . . was accustomed to pray’. When she arrived with her servants, they wished to remove him but she allowed him to stay until the service was over. The story does not mention him taking her seat, and may mean that the point at issue was an area of the church floor.180



There were more general customs too about where men and women should stand in the building. On the whole, social convention dictated that the two sexes should be separated. This was an ancient practice that went back to at least the third century when the text known as Didascalia Apostolorum maintained that clergy should occupy the eastern part of the church, then laymen, then women.181 This arrangement was still current, at least as a possibility, in the later Middle Ages. The influential French authority on churches and worship, Guillaume Durand, who wrote in the 1290s, approved the principle of separation. More precisely he stated that, according to some people, ‘men should be placed in the front [of the church] and women behind, because [quoting Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians] the husband is head of the wife’.182 As late as the fifteenth century a pontifical or bishop’s manual belonging to Edmund Lacy, bishop of Exeter, followed the Didascalia in its service for the commissioning of an anchorite or recluse. It positioned a clerical candidate in the chancel, a layman at the east end of the nave, and a woman at the west end ‘where it is the custom for women to pray’.183 Examples of this in practice rather than precept are not easy to find. A certain case is that of Durham Cathedral (a monastery) where women were confined to the two easternmost bays of the nave.184 Another seems to be described in a fourteenth-century poem by the Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilym about a service in the church of Llanbadarn Fawr, Ceredigion. The poet, wishing to ogle the local girls, turned his head away from God to look at two who were behind him, and therefore to his west.185 A third may be that of the women at Hartlebury in 1412, mentioned above, who were told, when they were ousted from the chancel, to go to ‘the usual place, that is the bell-tower’, presumably at the west end.186 Durand, in discussing this matter, outlined another custom – indeed he placed it before the one just mentioned – that women should occupy the north side of the church and men the south side. He rationalised this by arguing that ‘men, being more advanced in holiness, should stand against the greater temptations, or in the position best suited for action’.187 This statement seems to be the result of imagining the church as it was viewed by Christ on the rood and in the scene of the Last Judgment behind it. His Mother would be on his right hand, therefore north, which was also the side



of the Saved, while those who had been tempted and were now damned would be on his left hand to the south. There are indications that the north side of the church was seen as appropriate for women, as it was for Isabel. In the medieval marriage service the man usually stood on the right hand of the woman, and wedding tradition in England came to place the bride’s supporters on the north side of the church and the bridegroom’s on the south.188 When Thomas More came to publish Utopia in 1516, he described how, when the people in his imaginary land went to worship, ‘men go into the right side of the church and women into the left side’, presumably looking towards the focus of the building.189 Figures of men and women on monumental brasses generally placed the man on the left and the woman on the right, as seen from the east, which fits with the notion above. There are contrary indications as well. In terms of images, women are sometimes shown on the left hand side of brasses rather than the right.190 Equally men may be placed on effigy monuments to the north of their wives.191 In Norfolk it has been observed that female saints are sometimes shown on the northern half of the chancel screen and sometimes on the southern half.192 We shall shortly encounter one of the earliest records of church seating, at Ashton-under-Lyne in Lancashire, where women sat on both sides of the building. Then, as seats proliferated for the wealthier classes, it became the usage in some churches for a husband of status to sit with his wife. Certain parishes adopted the principle of sitting according to one’s place of residence, notably in Richard Gough’s famous account of the church of Myddle, Shropshire, in about 1700, so that couples sat together in the appropriate seat.193 This makes it wise not to assume that all churches observed a female north and a male south. There were over nine thousand of them, their architecture differed, and the introduction of seating may have changed their arrangements. We shall now turn to the appearance of fixed seating in churches, as opposed to the short-term use of portable seats. Two of the thirteenth-century statutes that forbade lay people in the chancel other than patrons and nobility talk of the latter ‘sitting’ there, which points at least to seats of the latter kind.194 The first reference to general seating occurs in the statutes issued by Bishop Quinel for Exeter diocese in 1287. ‘We have heard’, he stated, ‘that



parishioners have many times come to blows on account of seats – two or more people claiming one seat – causing grave scandal. We lay down that henceforth no one may claim a seat in church as their own with the exception of noble persons and patrons of churches, but those who first enter the church in order to pray shall choose a place to pray according to their own will.’195 This intervention is unique in the legislation issued by councils and bishops in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, and comes from a bishop ambitious to define and regulate every possible activity in his churches. It seems to refer to fixed or at least permanently placed seats, because only then could there be a dispute about who occupied them. But it does not therefore mean that such seats were yet to be found on a large scale in all churches. They were probably fairly common by the later fourteenth century. The final version of Langland’s Piers Plowman in about the 1380s mentions wives and widows enclosed in pews, as if this was familiar to readers.196 A few years later the poet John Gower described hot-blooded young men going into church on holy days and apparently standing while they tried to make contact with the women who sat there ‘all in a row’.197 A third allusion comes in the Canterbury Tales where a sermon is said to start when the people in church are seated.198 Certainly when we reach the fifteenth century, the evidence for fixed seating becomes more conclusive. The earliest surviving seats in churches can be safely dated to that period, and documents begin to mention them.199 Hungerford in Berkshire had one seat and probably more by 1404.200 The first significant evidence of fixed seating for the wider congregation comes from Ashton-under-Lyne in 1422. It describes the seating in the church, but only in so far as it was occupied by women. The church contained three blocks of seats for them in its nave: two on the north side and one on the south. The front block on the north contained seven forms, each long enough for four or five women and their servants. The block behind it had longer forms, capable of accommodating from nine to eleven with servants. The south block had six or seven forms holding from five to seven women. This seating reflected social ranking. It seems to omit most of the female gentry, who may have been placed in the chancel, but ‘stranger’ (i.e. visiting) gentry were placed in the front two forms in the nave on either side. The likelihood is that the status of the occupants fell, the further back they were placed. The



female servants of one of the gentry families had a moderately high place in the fifth form on the south side. There were ‘other void forms for servants and strangers’, probably towards the rear and not allocated.201 Churchwardens’ accounts of the fifteenth century suggest that general seating of this kind was normal by this time, at least for women. The references in Langland and Gower both mention them in particular. Moreover most of the records about who sat in church arise because wardens usually charged a small sum for the right to a seat, and their accounts mention wives in this respect far more often than husbands. It is hard to be sure whether this means that men continued to stand, or whether they were spared the charge for a seat in view of the contributions they made to the church as householders. A period of overlap during the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries seems quite likely, during which some men still stood while most women sat. Gower’s description fits in well with this. By the middle of the sixteenth, on the other hand, general seating must have been the norm except perhaps where space was restricted and those of lesser rank, such as servants or children, were obliged to stand towards the back of the nave. Most seating was placed in naves, but not all of it. It has already been observed that some churches acquired more stalls in their chancels than one would expect to be used by clergy. St Peter Mancroft, Norwich, is thought to have had about twenty-six. There were twenty-eight at Balsham in Norfolk, Beverley parish church in Yorkshire, and Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire, while Boston still has over sixty from the late fourteenth century, although a few are imports from elsewhere.202 These were potentially available for important layfolk: one can envisage patrons and lords of the manor using them, or the mayor and council of Boston doing so as their colleagues did at King’s Lynn. Sir Thomas More is recorded as sitting in the choir of Chelsea church, while his wife sat in the nave.203 Numerous mentions of seats in the chancel or in adjoining chapels survive in the wills of wealthy men and women of the gentry and merchant classes, generally because they wished to be buried close to their seats.204 Sometimes it is clear that husband and wife were sitting together.205 Bridget Stokes, in the case referred to above, claimed that her husband’s ancestors had long used their contested chapel along with their wives and children. At St Margaret Westminster it seems that couples



24.  The elaborate porch of West Wortham church, Norfolk, built to house baptisms, churchings, and weddings.

with higher social status sat together in the chapel of St Erasmus, whereas the rest of the church was divided according to gender.206 As one might expect, people of quality gravitated to sit towards the east end of the church in some seclusion from their inferiors. The ancient seating that has survived in English churches, or that which dates from modern times, is generally similar for all comers (Fig. 25, p. 134). This was not always the case in earlier centuries. There were several words in use for church seats in Latin and English, the latter including ‘closet’, ‘form’, ‘pew’, ‘seat’, ‘siege’, ‘stool’, and ‘stall’.207 They must often have been installed by degrees, with the wealthy in substantial seats while much of the congregation sat on simpler benches. Agnes Paston of the Norfolk family of gentry had a ‘closet’ in Paston church in about 1450 surrounded by a ‘parclose’ which indicates wooden boarding around it to shut out draughts and give some privacy.208 A seat of this kind would have been confined to a family and made by it, but seats were also provided on a general basis as was the case at Ashton. Some were financed by generous donors. A record of Swaffham



church, Norfolk, in 1454 states that John and Catherine Chapman ‘stooled’ the north aisle, Ralph Hamonde ‘seated’ the Trinity chapel, John and Agnes Langman ‘made all the great seats on both sides of the middle aisle’, while Thomas Cocke ‘made certain seats in the south aisle’.209 In other places the churchwardens took the initiative, acting for the parishioners. This was the case at Bodmin in 1491, where the parishioners contracted with Matthy More, ‘carpenter’, to build four ‘renges’ or blocks of seats replicating those across the county border at Plympton St Mary in Devon.210 The four blocks presumably consisted of one in the north aisle, two in the nave with an aisle between them, and one in the south aisle. The contract does not mean that Bodmin was without seats until 1491, rather that the church was rebuilt at that time and that new seating was therefore required. Once there were seats for general use, the question arose of who should sit in them. The authority in the matter seems to have belonged to the churchwardens on behalf of the parishioners, with the likely exception of the chancel as being the preserve of the patron and the rector. In 1458 it was laid down that the churchwardens of St Mary Woolchurch in London should have power to ‘set both rich and poor in their pews’,211 and we certainly find wardens allocating seats to parishioners elsewhere by that time. This was done for a once-only fee, which normally formed part of the parish church’s income. At St Ewen Bristol the price was 6d. for one person and 1s. for a couple, although it is not made clear whether they sat together.212 At Ashburton each person paid 8d.213 London was more expensive. At St Margaret Westminster prices ranged from 8d. to 6s. 8d., the higher-priced seats being those towards the front of the church.214 Allocation implies that there was no permanent right to a seat, although the status of important people must have given them some weight in this respect. In 1493 a certain William Fitzwater sued a rector in the court of King’s Bench for removing his seat from a church. The court found it difficult to decide the case. One speaker said that the plea was inadmissible because the freehold of the church belonged to the rector, and the seat was only a chattel since it was not attached to the freehold. Another argued the opposite: that the seat was fixed and therefore a part of the church. In the end the chief justice, William Hussey, took the view that unless the seat was a matter of



prescription, that is to say ancient usage, it could not be a possession because the church was common to everyone. The Church authorities might assign certain seats to gentlemen or to the poor, but no one could claim a right.215 As a result the court did not endorse Fitzwater’s suit, and this accorded with the general policy of the day by which seats were not formally owned but assigned by churchwardens on the basis of paying a fee or having a particular dwelling. There appears to have been a variety of principles on which seats were allotted. One was to keep men and women in separate areas. St Margaret Westminster seems to have placed most women in the north aisle and central area of the nave while most men were in the south aisle.216 At Grayingham, Lincolnshire, the churchwardens opposed and reported cases where men and women sat together.217 On the other hand, as we have seen, this gender separation did not apply to couples of status who shared their seating in the superior parts of the church. Within the division by gender there would be demarcation by rank as well, as was the case at Ashton. At St Laurence Reading only the wives of mayors were given special precedence; every other woman was ‘to take her place every day as she comes into church’, in other words seating by priority alone as in Bishop Quinel’s statute. Later St Laurence extended the precedence of mayors’ wives to the wives of members of the prestigious guild of Jesus, who were to sit below the current mayor’s wife close to the pulpit.218 A woman of St Margaret Westminster could move to a better seat when someone vacated it by paying an extra sum: one woman of the merchant class did so three times.219 Another variant, at least after the Reformation, was the allocation of seats by dwelling described by Richard Gough.220 Children and servants might sit with parents and employers or, as was sometimes the case in later times, on bracket seats in the aisles or inferior places towards the back of the church. It was also inevitable that the status attached to particular seats should generate disputes, sometimes of a violent nature, and some of these will be mentioned in the following chapter.221 Why did seating come into churches? No Church authorities seem ever to have prescribed it, at least before the Reformation. It was an invention of the laity, most likely for reasons of comfort and status. The wealthy, some of whom of course were elderly, found it helpful to have a framework not only



to sit on but to kneel against and to grip when rising. A seat gave a distinct and reserved place in church which, if boarded in, might be warmer. One may reasonably postulate that the wealthy got seats first and that these were coveted and then imitated among the lesser orders of society. Women may have been an influence here. They were more likely than men to attend church during the week and their desire for a seat on these occasions may be a reason why at first we hear more about them sitting than we do in the case of men. As the popularity of seating grew, it was adaptable to the current understanding of social distinctions. Men and women could be separated, locations in churches could be assigned according to rank, and the inferiority of servants and children could be signalled by their inclusion with a parent or employer under that person’s supervision or by being placed at the rear of the church. The result must have made a difference to churchgoing. Most people came to have a particular place to be, although they did not always keep to it. The poet Alexander Barclay satirised those who wandered about during services in 1517, and as late as 1604 the Church authorities ordered none ‘to walk or stand idly or talking’ at such times.222 It is likely that there was some movement at the moment of consecration in the mass, as people stood and craned to see it, and at the circulation of the ‘pax’ that followed the consecration. But seating tended to make people’s behaviour more uniform, and it would eventually make possible the static services with their emphasis on teaching that characterised the Reformation. THE SECULAR USE OF THE CHURCH There was a struggle to keep the church as the house of God, free from inappropriate human activities. Congregations themselves were not always well behaved. We shall encounter those who brought weapons to church, behaved irreverently, talked, or quarrelled at service times.223 Some people took their dogs or hunting birds (Fig. 40, p. 259). The bishop of Exeter forbade the practice in 1287, but Mirk, a century later, had to warn even priests not to take dogs or hawks to church with them.224 Henry VI prohibited hawks in church, but they were badges of rank and Barclay was still complaining of



men bringing hounds and birds in the early sixteenth century, disturbing the place ‘with their lewd barking, rounding din, and cry’.225 One such was a knight who came to mass with his hat on and his hawk at Eltham church, Kent, in 1514 and, when challenged, struck the vicar in the mouth.226 Dogs came in of their own accord as well, so often that they prompted jokes: that they saw the altars spread as if for a meal and were driven out because they offered no money.227 There were claims of people being attacked by them in church,228 and they might urinate on the walls and furnishings, even, as they did at York Minster, getting into the chancel itself.229 No wonder that St Margaret Westminster paid a dog-whipper in 1503–4, and such a person is often recorded elsewhere later on.230 Then churches acquired graffiti, scratched or incised on walls and pillars. Some were devotional images such as ships, models of which were often offered to saints in the hope of safeguarding real vessels. Others were personal marks for pious purposes no longer recoverable, and yet others signs of two eternal human instincts: to record one’s presence and disfigure beauty.231 Attempts were also made to use the building for non-religious activities. Since the nineteenth century these have given rise to romantic beliefs that medieval churches played host to all kinds of communal events. It is important to state that such events did not necessarily have the approval of the Church authorities.232 They allowed the use of churches for certain purposes: either the Church’s own or ones close in character. A visitation by a bishop or archbishop could be held in a church, and a Church court might meet there. Margery Kempe was tried in one at Leicester.233 Probate of a will could be granted to an executor there.234 Churches were often chosen as places for arbitration and peace-making, and it is unlikely that this would have been forbidden.235 Teaching too seems to have been tolerated. One or two bishops’ statutes encouraged the parish clergy to teach children the basic prayers, and when parochial choirs with boys developed in the fifteenth century, there would be training in song in those churches that had them.236 Reading schools are sometimes recorded as well.237 But the authorities set their face against more secular activities. In 1213–14 the archbishop of Canterbury condemned the holding of lay tribunals (perhaps with manorial courts in mind), especially ones in which capital



punishment was imposed. He further outlawed dancing, games, and ‘scotales’, meaning drinking occasions to raise money, sometimes indeed for the church itself.238 Similar prohibitions were issued by other bishops throughout the thirteenth century: some banned even the announcement of such events in church.239 Writers did the same in works for the edification of the clergy and laity. Robert Mannyng condemned the use of churches and churchyards for secular legal business, and games. He told the story of the dancers of Colbek (Kölbigk) in Germany who danced around the church during mass, prompting the curse of the priest which caused them to become welded together, dancing for ever.240 Mirk reminded clergy that the holding of courts and the playing of games was not allowed in church or churchyard.241 These prohibitions were not enforced absolutely. Eating and drinking took place in the decorous form of what might be called refreshments, although in 1325 Archbishop Reynolds condemned the excessive consumption of food in church after mass on Easter morning.242 Bread, wine, and ale were served at baptisms and weddings, on festival days, and at the annual review of the churchwardens’ accounts.243 There could even be trading of a respectable kind. Exeter Cathedral allowed the selling of ornaments and jewels in its building, and the parish church of St James Bristol, which hosted an important fair in its churchyard, rented two of its pews to a London goldsmith, doubtless because the building gave him security.244 In both cases the goods were at least partly for church use. Civic affairs could be transacted. Some mayors were elected in the principal church of their town, and the audit of the borough finances might be held there.245 Plays in the sense of dramas were allowed.246 These could be defended as telling Biblical stories or the lives of saints, while moral ‘interludes’ told of the triumph of virtue and the downfall of vice. The reservation would have to be made that interludes could be comic and indeed scurrilous. All these pursuits were at the milder end of secular activity. They do not suggest that the law was wholly disregarded but rather modified to allow useful activities compatible with its spirit. The authorities succeeded in driving the more blatantly secular and social events from the church. By the fifteenth century many parish communities acquired a separate house for communal events unless they were in substantial towns where inns and civic buildings were available. The house, known



as the ‘church house’ especially in the west of England, or as the ‘guildhall’ commonly in East Anglia, was typically a long narrow building on or beyond the edge of the churchyard, beside a street or market place. The church­­ wardens maintained and administered it. Such houses had two storeys: the ground floor containing a fireplace and oven for cooking food or brewing ale, while an exterior staircase led to a raftered hall above where events could be held. This enabled the local community to come together for social occasions, such as drinkings of ale to raise funds, or the place could be rented out to individuals for weddings and other celebrations.247 THE CHURCHYARD Around most parish churches lay a churchyard. There were exceptions: in the cities of Exeter and Hereford the cathedrals long insisted on the burial of people in their cemeteries and the parish churches had no such areas. Chapels in the countryside might have an enclosure around them but no burial within it, because the dead of the neighbourhood had to be sent to the parish church for funeral and interment. The acquisition of a churchyard for this purpose by such a chapel depended on its recognition as a chapel-of-ease or daughter church with parochial rights.248 Churchyards varied in size and shape but all were required to be ‘decently enclosed with a wall, hedge, or ditch’ as the statutes of Worcester diocese expressed it in 1229.249 This was to demarcate their limits exactly and to prevent incursions by animals. In some places parishioners individually or in groups were responsible for maintaining a stretch of the boundary.250 The records of Hartlebury church in the same diocese include periodic complaints of the state of the enclosure and the negligence of those responsible for their sections.251 The churchyard was primarily a place of burial although it was traversed by processions from Palm Sunday to Corpus Christi and at times of funerals. Its Christian character was established in two ways. Spiritually it was, or should have been, formally consecrated by a bishop in a ceremony that involved perambulating it with the saying of prayers, casting of holy water, and censing with incense.252 This gave it holy status, with the same right of sanctuary as that of the parish church.253 Parishioners were taught to look on



the area as sacred and to pray for the dead who lay there. Mirk recommended that priests confessing lay people should ask if they had failed do so.254 A fifteenth-century indulgence, impossibly credited to a tenth-century pope, urged everyone who passed by a churchyard to say a Paternoster, an Ave Maria, a Latin ‘anthem’ to the dead reminding them of their salvation in Christ, and a Latin prayer to him to have mercy upon them. In return, it claimed, you would receive as many years of remission of penance as there were bodies in the ground.255 Visually the holy status of the enclosure was confirmed by its buildings. One was the neighbouring church and a second, by the early thirteenth century, ‘a decent and honest’ stone cross.256 Churchyard crosses of this kind generally had a stepped plinth holding an upright shaft with a cross or statuary at the top. They are sometimes assumed to be preaching crosses, but they were ill-adapted for that purpose and unnecessary in view of the pulpit in the church. The true name for them was ‘palm-crosses’, and their principal function, apart from signifying the holiness of the area, was to provide the venue for the procession of clergy and parishioners on Palm Sunday when the gospel was read at the cross.257 It also became quite common in the later Middle Ages to build chapels in churchyards, generally to venerate a particular saint. This may sometimes have been a cheaper and easier alternative than extending the fabric of the church itself. Horsham in Sussex had two, one of Jesus and one of the Trinity, and it was possible for such chapels to become places of pilgrimage in their own right, like those at Cheriton Bishop in Devon and Chew Magna in Somerset, both dedicated to Mary.258 Burial in the ground was universal and most parishioners were laid to rest in their churchyard or ‘church haw’ as it was also known. Up to the thirteenth and even fourteenth centuries this was true even of people of rank like the aristocratic Scrope family, several of whom had stone monuments over their graves in the cemetery at Wensley.259 There was a topography of burial out of doors as there was inside churches. Some areas were likely to be favoured and perhaps kept by custom for those of higher status, such as the ground alongside the chancel or by the palm cross.260 In Anglo-Saxon England children were often buried near the church walls.261 Many people asked in their wills to be placed next to parents or spouses, whose burial sites



25.  Pre-Reformation seating at Altarnun church, Cornwall: the bench ends crafted (and signed) by Robert Daye. The screen also survives, extending right across the church.

were evidently remembered through monuments or in relation to paths or trees.262 Locations may also have been affected by the need to avoid ground used in recent burials. But not everyone came to lie in the churchyard. The wealthy increasingly chose burial inside churches during the later Middle Ages, and the Church in theory objected to the presence of certain kinds of people anywhere on its premises. Threats were sometimes made to exclude priests’ concubines, usurers, and even those who avoided annual confession and communion, although it is unknown how far these were enforced.263 Prostitutes in London certainly had a separate place of burial in Southwark, called the ‘single women’s churchyard’.264 Suicides, if wilful, were excluded, but not if their death was due to mental illness.265 Still-born children were rejected too because they had not been baptised, but this caused resentment and was sometimes evaded by the midwife baptising the baby nonetheless or by the father burying it at night without permission.266 The basic tomb memorial was simply the low mound of earth left over from excavating the grave and this would subside over time. From



Anglo-Saxon times, however, people sought to keep alive the identity of their own or their family’s graves.267 The historian William of Malmesbury, writing in about 1130, assumed that graveyards would have many tombs and memorials, and the rarity today of medieval ones is the result of both decay and clearances.268 Some grave markers were of wood. Pictures of cemeteries in French and Flemish manuscripts depict small wooden crosses in the ground (Fig. 51, p. 346). These have a gable of battens extending from the top to the ends of the cross bars, possibly to protect a painting or inscription. Other memorials were of stone and often resembled their counterparts inside churches: flat ledger stones, tapering coffin shapes, table tombs, or effigies. An alternative form was a vertical headstone, footstone, or both in the form of a standing slab or a cross, and any such tomb might be decorated or inscribed with the name of the deceased. A will-maker of Bury St Edmunds in 1502 asked for two crosses to be fixed, one at his head and one at his feet, adorned with his coat of arms and a text requesting prayers for his soul.269 Even the humble mounds of the poor might be marked with a simple stone. Some people with money made arrangements for clergy to say prayers at or towards a grave in the open air.270 Graves could also be visited to pray for or remember the dead if we can trust the poem Pearl, in which a father muses on the tomb of his tiny daughter and has a vision in which he sees her grown up and redeemed in heaven.271 The accumulation of burials meant that old graves had to be dug over to make new ones. This was especially so in urban churchyards which were often limited in size yet had to provide for a larger population. Bones from former graves rose to the surface or were disturbed in new diggings and these were cared for with respect. During the thirteenth century, places called charnels began to be provided where such bones could be stored. They are recorded at several churches in London and in provincial towns such as Barnstaple, Bodmin, and High Wycombe. The charnel was a building at or below ground level and was sometimes surmounted by a chapel which might have a designated priest to celebrate a daily mass for a founder or for all the dead. Two churches in Oxfordshire, Burford and Witney, still retain traces of charnels with chapels above them within the parish church, while Rothwell in Northamptonshire had one beneath its nave. In other places the charnel



and chapel were sited in the churchyard itself, and their remains at Barnstaple and Bodmin may be seen today.272 The Church authorities had the same difficulty in churchyards as they did in churches, of ensuring the respectful and decorous use of a sacred area.273 Disputes were liable to arise about the trees that grew there, which formed a valuable timber resource. Statutes for the dioceses of Carlisle, Exeter, and York insisted that the trees belonged to the rector. Those of Exeter observed that trees were often planted as wind-breaks to protect the church and recommended that they be not felled except to repair the chancel or, if the rector was agreeable, the nave.274 There were many temptations to misuse the churchyard area. It offered grazing for domestic animals which might be justified as keeping the grass short. It was an obvious place for trade because of the confluence of people on Sundays and festival days. At Newland, Gloucestershire, even huts or sheds were erected for the purpose and had to be forbidden in 1426.275 It was a social meeting place attractive for playing games, especially to the young. Church legislators of the thirteenth century anticipated these temptations and strove to prevent them. Statutes for Canterbury diocese in 1213–14 prohibited dances and ‘dishonest games’.276 Those for Worcester diocese in 1240 forbade the pasturing of animals and Sunday markets.277 Their counterparts for Winchester diocese in 1262–5 condemned wrestlings, dances, ‘spectacular’ games, and grazing animals.278 There were worse violations than these. Animal dung might soil the sacred area and be distasteful, but the shedding of blood by violence polluted the place absolutely. It took only a wound from a fist or a knife in a fight to compromise the status of a church or a cemetery, although this did not apply to natural bleeding from the nose or an injury sustained elsewhere. Some authorities thought that such pollution affected church and churchyard equally, while others confined it to the one in which it happened.279 Sexual intercourse in the sacred areas was equally defiling. It was more discreet and rarely came to notice, but one bishop felt the need to denounce it and the seclusion of a churchyard must have been an attractive choice for it.280 Indeed it could be imagined even in church. Rules for priests confessing women there, as we shall see, laid stress on the process taking place in public view.281



Geoffrey de la Tour Landry, the fourteenth-century French knight whose book of instruction for his daughters was translated by Caxton in 1483, thought it necessary to warn them against sex in church. He told the story of a man and woman who fornicated beneath an altar and became welded together. They were discovered, shamed, and released only after prayers were said for their freedom.282 It is difficult to know how often such pollution took place, or if it was heeded when it did, but at least thirty-three cases (all of bloodshed) were reported in Cornwall and Devon to the diocesan bishop between 1421 and 1454.283 Following such a report, presumably made by or with the approval of the church incumbent, services were immediately suspended in the church or burials in the cemetery, depending on the scene of the event. The bishop then ordered a senior cleric to enquire into the matter and to discover the names of the offenders. In some cases the pollution was found not to have occurred. If it was proved, the culprits would be summoned to a Church court for punishment and the church or cemetery be ‘reconciled’ to its proper spiritual state. This was done by a bishop visiting and enacting a ritual like that of consecration.284 By the later Middle Ages diocesan bishops were usually too busy to do this task and there was a dislike that local ruffians could appear to command the bishop’s attendance to do so. Accordingly suffragan bishops were commissioned to deputise, or a diocesan bishop could procure a papal licence to appoint clerics of lesser rank when necessary.285 In the latter case the diocesan blessed holy water and sent it to the cleric concerned to be used in the ceremony. The suspension of services or burials in the meantime caused hardship to the parish, and a fee had to be paid for the reconciliation, all of which may have helped to limit the pollutions as, no doubt, they were meant to do. CHURCH BUILDINGS AND THEIR USES The aim of this chapter has been to emphasise the importance of studying churches not only through their forms but their functions. Whatever the ambition with which their buildings were designed and decorated, their layout was planned with a view to their usage. But usage, as planners conceived



it and people exploited it, did not remain constant. The Church authorities, in their own minds, directed how churches should be planned and used. Bishops consecrated buildings and were consequently able to check how they were designed. The basic structure of a chancel and nave, with at least some symbolic separation, represented clerical notions of worship and placement. The Church’s developing belief in the Real Presence of the twelfth century was a likely cause of the opening up of the chancel for the congregation to see the elevation of the wafer and chalice, as well as the raising of screens so that Christ could manifest himself in a special and secluded area. The laity were assigned the nave, not only as their principal space when they came to church but as the part of the building that they should maintain. It proved impossible in practice, however, for the Church authorities to exert their will in all these matters. Much of the form and usage of church buildings was shaped by the demands of the laity. Transepts often made their appearance, it seems, to be private burial places and later sitting areas for important families. Wide aisles, while allowing processions of clergy, also gave room for congregational seating. Chapels for chantries and guilds might be added by lay founders. The laity penetrated into all parts of the church and its surrounding churchyard. One might summarise a church site as consisting of three zones. The churchyard was the frontier, which anyone might enter at any time. Like frontiers elsewhere it was an area of potential conflict, in this case between the Church and the world, where the Church did not always have full control. Animal incursions and human activities constantly threatened its sanctity. The next zone inwards, the nave, was holier than the churchyard with its font and images and was locked at night but open during the day. Then all could come in, so that the holiness could yet be broken by talking and disputes, requiring watchfulness to limit secular activities such as food and trading. Further inside were the chapels and altars, still more restricted in access, and finally the chancel, the most sacred section, where mass was celebrated and the Body of Christ reposed in the pyx above the altar. But even here it was impossible to keep lay people out. Their presence could be managed to some extent but not forbidden, and it grew as time went on.



In this sense a parish church was a microcosm of the Church as a whole. Its clergy had to negotiate with the laity at a local level, just as its authorities – popes and bishops – did on a national scale with kings and their ministers. In either case the high ambitions of authorities in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries to keep churches free of lay control were never wholly achieved, and became perceptibly undermined during the later Middle Ages.


4 J


HOW MANY PEOPLE WENT TO CHURCH? It is natural to suppose that, in centuries when religion formed such an important part of popular beliefs and social relationships, there should have been a corresponding presence of people in churches for religious or social reasons. The well-recorded extent of devotion to the mass and to holy images makes it likely that the proportion of a local population present in churches, for services or private devotions, was indeed greater than it normally is today. This reflected obligations to attend as well, backed by enforcement. But contemporaries, as we shall see, were equally aware of the contrary: absences because of laziness, the lure of pleasure, or the pursuit of secular tasks. They did not perceive their society as wholly pious and present at worship in church; far from it. The question of how many people came to church is complicated, because numbers must have varied from time to time and the Church did not usually record them, either centrally or locally, until the mid nineteenth century. It is likely that, from at least the thirteenth, church incumbents and their churchwardens had a notion of the largest attendance of the year: that of Easter Sunday. In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council of the Catholic Church made it a requirement for all adults over the age of puberty to come to church that day to receive their annual communion, or ‘housel’ as it was known.1 For the incumbent, the number of communicants was also that of his heaviest duty during the year, since he should have seen each of them for confession during Lent. An early example of numerical awareness comes from Peterborough in 1225, where the priest of St John’s parish was



reckoned as receiving 22s. a year from those who came to him for confession. This suggests that about 264 adults were envisaged, each offering a penny.2 Unfortunately few estimates of this kind survive before the end of the Middle Ages. In 1478 an appraisal of the tiny parish of Oxnead in Norfolk, made by the gentry family of the Pastons, noted that ‘it is but an easy cure to keep, for there are not twenty persons to be yearly houseled’.3 At the other extreme, Manchester was described in 1519 as ‘a great parish, and hath seven thousand houseling people and more’.4 In 1548 the government of Edward VI collected information about chantries and their endowments, in preparation for closing the former and seizing the latter. The commissioners in charge of the process met parish representatives and, where there were chantries, usually asked the numbers of houseling people in the parish. This was because the government had expressed its willingness to replace chantries with extra clergy to work in populous places. Numbers survive from most counties, but mainly for those parishes with chantries and in some cases (such as Yorkshire) not always then. The figures vary in exactitude. In Gloucestershire, for example, those for small parishes were quite specific: sixtynine at Coberley, eighty-three at Nympsfield, and ninety at Pauntley. In larger places they were, not surprisingly, rounded up: 700 at Westbury-on-Severn, 800 at St Nicholas Bristol, and 1,400 at Cirencester, although Berkeley returned the very precise number of 1,117.5 In Yorkshire, where there were huge parishes, the figures were often estimates as well: 2,000 in Doncaster, 3,000 in Leeds, and 4,000 in New Malton.6 There is an additional problem in Oxfordshire where some of the estimates were subsequently revised, generally upwards.7 Still the statistics help us to understand the variety within the parish system in numbers of worshippers, and how the religious experience and the duties of the clergy might differ between adjoining parishes. The numbers, even if correct, tell us only about adult church attendance for the Lenten confessions and the Easter communion. Moreover the confessions were spread over several days, with only a few folk in church at any one time, and even on Easter Sunday not everyone was necessarily present at the same service.8 A little light is cast on some other major feasts of the year from surviving records of the monetary offerings made on them. Parishioners were required to attend church to make these on five or six days of the year:



Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, the dedication festival (commemorating the day when the church was dedicated), and sometimes an additional day. A further offering was that of Peter’s Pence, which had to be made by 1 August.9 The offerings seem to have been small sums of money: a farthing per household at Pentecost for the cathedral of the diocese, a penny per household for Peter’s Pence, and a penny or a halfpenny per person on the other days to the incumbent of the parish. In addition Candlemas on 2 February required all to come to church to offer a candle,10 and if one’s church was a chapel-ofease, one might also be expected to attend the mother church on certain dates in the year.11 The amount of the offerings made on these occasions has rarely been recorded and it did not come within the ambit of most church records, but occasional examples survive. Ones that have been discovered relate to the parishes of Helmingham in Suffolk, Ilminster in Somerset, All Saints and St Michael-at-the-Northgate in Oxford, and Kirkby Malham, Scarborough, and Whitgift in Yorkshire.12 At Ilminster in 1268 the Easter offerings were estimated at £1 and the other offering days at 15s. (the Assumption of the Virgin: 15 August), 13s. (Christmas Day), and 12s. (Lady Day: 25 March). At Whitgift in 1420 the amounts were more carefully reckoned at 20s. 8d. (Easter), 14s. 4d. (Christmas), 12s. 1½d. (Lady Day), and 9s. 8½d. (All Saints Day: 1 November). These variations are roughly in line with those of the other parishes except for Helmingham, a parish of modest size where the totals recorded were remarkably uniform. Easter produced the largest offerings since that day or season was the greatest obligation of the year and the hardest to avoid. The other days yielded less, very likely because the obligation was not as fully obeyed and fewer people were in church. It would be unsafe to try to turn the monetary totals into attendance figures. Some young people seem to have paid less than full adults and some of the wealthy may have paid more, but the totals point to sizeable attendances on these days. Apart from the offering days, parishioners were expected to come to church every Sunday and on a number of other festivals.13 How far they did so is impossible to say, because there were no compulsory collections of money on these occasions. One would assume that the biggest congregations during the year, apart from the five or six great festivals, were at what we shall



call the ‘principal mass’ held on Sundays and other festivals at 8.00 a.m. or 9.00. This was the mass provided for the congregation: sometimes the only one in the church but always having a greater status than any others that were held. Yet in reality not everyone was in church at that time. There were those whom we shall find to have been absent lawfully or unlawfully. And even some of those who were willing to go to mass wished to do so before the prescribed mid morning time. Such a time cut into a rare day of leisure, and the requirement that worshippers should come to the service fasting from food delayed the point at which they could take refreshment. The Church, on the other hand, was not willing to compromise on universal attendance in mid morning. Only twice a year were alternatives offered: on Christmas Day, when mass might be available at midnight, dawn, or mid morning, and around Easter Day when this might be so on the previous evening as well as the morning itself, and sometimes also later in that day.14 Nonetheless some people tried to avoid the principal Sunday mass by attending an earlier mass if there was one, the sooner to break their fast and extend their day of freedom. In 1364 the nuns of Shaftesbury complained that they were disturbed by the crowds who came to the church of St Cross, which functioned in their nave, for an early mass at dawn – allegedly to spend the rest of the day in drunkenness. The bishop of Salisbury accordingly let them transfer the church and its services to the church of Holy Trinity in the abbey churchyard, although he did not forbid the early mass.15 Other Church authorities intervened to prevent competing masses. A statute attributed to Archbishop Winchelsey (1295–1313) forbade any priest to celebrate mass on a Sunday or festival day before the gospel halfway through the principal mass, and some later bishops took action when this was ignored.16 In 1418 a visitation of Leicestershire brought to light a custom by which the local parish clergy held early masses on the five feast days of the Virgin Mary. These were locally known as ‘Glutton Masses’, because they too were said to allow folk to enjoy the holiday with longer eating and drinking, ‘preferring the tavern to the church, Satan to the Creator’. The practice was ordered to stop.17 The rule, then, was to attend the principal mass, but enough breaches are reported for one to suspect that many folk over the years attended an earlier one if that was available.



Sundays and festivals, then, did not necessarily see everyone in church together. But the attendances on these days are not the whole of the story, because there were other times when people came to church. We shall presently encounter the popularity of weekday services, especially among the leisured classes but also with some workers, as well as days of big attendances on special occasions. THOSE PRESENT: SOCIAL RANKS If attendance cannot be defined in numbers, save around Easter Day, we can at least identify the kinds of people likely or less likely to be in church on Sundays and festivals. The most assiduous in their presence were probably the leisured, who chiefly belonged to the upper ranks of society (Fig. 26, p. 146). Not only had they the time to go, but they were the closest in touch with the Church’s expectations through their contacts with clergy and their reading. In the case of the nobility, their attendance was compromised by other concerns. They frequently moved from property to property, they had private chapels and personal chaplains, they were often patrons of monasteries and visited them, and by the fifteenth century they were employing clerks and choristers to perform polyphonic services in their chapels. Nevertheless it remained a requirement in principle that they should confess to a parish priest in Lent,18 and some of them attended parish churches adjacent to their castles or manors when resident there. One example is Old Bolingbroke in Lincolnshire, where John of Gaunt greatly enlarged the parish church close to his castle: more to provide a grand setting for his own worship than for any needs of the parish. Others are Ewelme, Oxfordshire, and Wingfield, Suffolk, partly paid for by the de la Poles, earls of Suffolk, and holding their tombs. A fourth is Thornbury in Gloucestershire, where the early sixteenth-century duke of Buckingham had the long bridge made for him to pass to the church from his castle.19 In about 1475 John Russell’s Book of Nurture gave it as one of the duties of the chamberlain of a lord, or at least of a very important and wealthy gentleman, to prepare his pew before he went to church, with cushion, carpet, curtain, beads, and book.20 And lords and ladies, of course, would take attendants with them.



The gentry copied the practice of the nobility in providing themselves with private chapels, especially from about the thirteenth century onwards. These might be built into their house or be separate structures, in either case imitating the form of public churches and chapels on a reduced scale. They were furnished with an altar, ornaments, images, and books, but they were an addition to their owners’ parochial responsibilities, not a substitute for them. They required a licence from the diocesan bishop which was usually given on condition that their use was confined to the owner’s family and servants and that it did not compromise the rights of the parish church.21 If a family was rich enough to employ a chaplain, there was a fear that it might never attend services elsewhere, and some bishops required an appearance to be made in the church on the major festivals, seven or eight times a year.22 Many gentry are unlikely to have employed a personal chaplain, however, and the celebration of mass would have been restricted to occasional weekdays when a local priest could be hired for the purpose. There were, in fact, good reasons for all the gentry to attend their parish church, at least from time to time. In some cases they were patrons of the church: in origin the church’s founders and owners. Their ancestors were often buried there, and even if they were not patrons but only local landowners, they were likely to give money to the church fabric and furnishings and to have their coats of arms carved on stone, glazed in windows, or embroidered on vestments to record the fact.23 They would be treated in church with deference. Daniel of Beccles, a writer on good manners in about 1200, observed that ‘clerics must always honour noblemen first’.24 As we have seen, the Church authorities were obliged to admit the nobility and gentry to stand or sit in the chancel, despite their wish to keep it for clergy alone.25 People of rank needed to appear in public to maintain their status and influence. If they did not come to occupy the special places kept for them, they would be deemed remote and command less respect and loyalty. There was the danger that other families would occupy the vacant space: symbolically in the church and effectively in local society. Many anecdotal references survive about the gentry and their wives in parish churches. The presence of Richard Rolle the mystic has been mentioned, when he entered a church in Yorkshire to pray in the early



26.  A model church family: Thomas and Anne Heveningham of Ketteringham, Norfolk, 1499, portrayed kneeling devoutly with their five sons and six daughters.

fourteenth century and occupied the space used by a local lady.26 Lord Strange and Sir John Trussell were both in St Dunstan-in-the-East London in 1416 when they famously quarrelled over the seats of their wives.27 Seats for gentlewomen were reserved at the front of the nave at Ashton-underLyne in Lancashire in 1422,28 and in about 1451 Agnes Paston was occupying her pew in Paston church when she was accosted by two local people about a local dispute.29 Robert Constable, esquire, mentioned his seat in the choir of Bossall church, Yorkshire, in 1454, as did Sir Alexander Neville his before the altar of St Nicholas in St Mary Bishophill Senior at York, two years later.30 In a legal case of 1468 Judge William Yelverton thought it relevant to state as an analogy: ‘I use to sit in the chancel and there I have my carpet and book and cushion’.31 The counterparts of the gentry in the towns were the elite of merchants and wealthier craftsmen and their wives. They had comparable reasons of status and interest to be in church. They served as churchwardens and as the



leaders of craft or religious guilds with church links. Such guilds might employ a priest in the church, so that the elites had power of patronage there and a reason to attend the mass of one who prayed for their souls. By the later Middle Ages they were coming to be buried in parish churches and to set up monuments to their ancestors. Their wives, having more leisure, could attend the masses that might be available in large town churches from dawn until the comfortable hour of ten o’clock, finishing just before midday dinner. Church attendance was an acceptable reason for women to leave home, in eras when they were expected to be careful about travelling alone. On Sundays, when the bede-roll was read in church, the names of present and former merchants would be remembered. The urban church was as much a place to record the history and importance of a city family as was its rural sibling in respect of the gentry. Men and women of this rank would be found in church, at least on Sundays and festivals. The numerous stalls in the choirs of some urban churches like those in Boston have already been noticed: stalls that could have accommodated leading citizens.32 And as with the gentry, there are many anecdotal references to such people in church. One might mention William Stanes, cutler, whose quarrel with John Hockle, spicer, in the church of St Ewen London disturbed the mass there in the late fourteenth century.33 Alan of Alnwick, goldsmith, mentions his seat in the choir of St Michael le Belfry York in his will of 1374, and Robert Fabyan, citizen and draper of London, refers to his in Theydon Garnon, Essex, in 1511.34 A priest who drew up spiritual advice for a wealthy citizen in the early fifteenth century, possibly in London, seems to envisage him worshipping in church every day.35 The best recorded woman of the urban elites is Margery Kempe, who mentions going to services at her own church, St Margaret King’s Lynn, on numerous occasions, including matins, mass, evensong, and at least one funeral. She was present too at the services of Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Ascension Day, and Corpus Christi.36 Margery’s spiritual life was unusual, but there is no reason to think that her church attendances differed much from those of pious women of wealthy citizen families like her own. An Italian visiting London in about 1500 was impressed by the number of people he saw in the city’s churches. With some exaggeration, he reported



that ‘they all attend mass every day’, that they did so on Sundays in their own parish church, and that the women among them carried books and rosaries, denoting high social status.37 Outside the towns the wealthy yeomen of the countryside and their wives had similar reasons to come to Sunday church, although work and distance would have made this difficult on weekdays. The men (and their widows) were required to take turns in serving as churchwardens. They helped to manage the parochial stores and guilds, some of which maintained a chaplain as they did in towns. For them too church was a place where their status was recognised, or where they wished it to be. They expected appropriate seating and, as we shall see, could be violent in trying to get the seats that they felt appropriate. Rural churches had bede-rolls like urban ones, in which their names and those of their ancestors were likely to be read out on Sundays or special occasions.38 Increasingly, from the fifteenth century, their tombs lay in the building, making it the church of their family and a place to pray for their ancestors. There remains to consider the vast majority of adult men and women in town and countryside. The problem here is that most records about parish churches, apart from disciplinary ones, shed light chiefly on those of wealth and status who managed the buildings and contributed to their resources with gifts and benefactions. The presence of the ordinary majority and the truly poor is very much harder to trace, but that does not mean that it should be discounted.39 They were subject to the rules of attendance no less than their superiors. They had reason to come to church for the special events of the year and the turning-points of life that we shall consider in Chapters 6 and 7. It would be hard to deny them a share of those who went to services through piety, to socialise, or to pray at images for their own or others’ needs. And on certain days in many churches, as we shall find, they had a positive inducement to come. One category of the poor in church on a regular basis was that of almsfolk living in charitable institutions. From the twelfth century until the late fourteenth, infirm and elderly people were housed in hospitals which also catered for the sick and travellers or specifically for lepers. Most hospitals included a chapel served by one or more clergy, so that its residents were not



usually to be found at worship in a parish church. But during the later Middle Ages the decline of leprosy and the growing popularity of inns as places to stay undermined the work of the hospitals, and lower incomes after the Black Death led to the closure of many for practical purposes. In their place, from about 1400, a fashion grew to found almshouses, which were more restricted in their charity. They catered for inmates, rather than visitors, for whom they provided lodgings and sometimes communal meals. Founders expected their almsfolk to attend worship at least occasionally, and to offer prayers for the souls of their benefactors. In some institutions this was done in an almshouse chapel, like that of the earlier hospitals, but in others the almsfolk were expected to go to the local parish church. Some almshouses were founded in association with such a church, as at Ewelme, Tong in Shropshire, and Westbury-on-Trym.40 At others the inmates worshipped at a church nearby. The men and women of Bonville’s and Grendon’s almshouses in Exeter went to the parish church of St Mary Major, and those of St Catherine’s almshouse to that of St Stephen.41 The extent to which almsfolk had to go to church varied from place to place. At Tong, founded in 1411, the thirteen poor inmates had to attend at least one or two of the five masses said in the church each day, and themselves to repeat fifteen Paternosters and Ave Marias, three Creeds, and other prayers.42 Browne’s Hospital, Stamford, required them to go to the nearby church of All Saints on Sundays and festivals.43 In some other places the obligations were heavier. Ewelme Hospital, founded in and after 1437 by the de la Pole family, had some of the most onerous. Each of its twelve ‘poor men’ was required to attend matins, mass, and evensong every day. They were prescribed prayers to say, presumably privately during these services. The literate among them were expected to read, in Latin, the simplified prayer book known as the Hours of the Virgin with the seven penitential psalms and the litany, or the services of Placebo, Dirige, and Commendation, evidently from books. Those unable to read were told to recite fifty Ave Marias, fifteen Paternosters, and three Creeds. All were to say multiple prayers on their rosaries for the king and the founders at 2.00 p.m. and 6.00.44 The statutes of Ellis Davy’s foundation for seven poor men and women at Croydon (1447) had much in common. They prescribed attendance at all the daily services in



Croydon church: matins, high mass, and evensong (including compline). Each inmate was to repeat the three basic prayers during services, three recitations of the rosary at other times of the day, and prayers around the founder’s tomb after mass and compline.45 John Estbury’s almshouse at Lambourn, Berkshire, in 1502 distinguished, as did Ewelme, between those he called the literate and the non-literate. In a similar fashion he required the former to recite the Hours of the Virgin, while the non-literate said multiples of the basic prayers.46 THOSE PRESENT: CHILDREN Children made up about a third of the population. What of their presence in church? From the twelfth century the Church regarded puberty (twelve for girls, fourteen for boys) as the age at which one passed from childhood to adolescence and, in certain respects, to adulthood.47 Adolescents like adults had the duty to attend church, confession, and Easter communion, to make at least nominal payments of church dues, but not necessarily to observe fasting days.48 Children beneath the age of puberty were free from the obligations of adults and most legislators did not specifically require their presence in church. Notwithstanding this exemption, some children certainly came to church or were brought there. This may have varied with age. Parents took small children with them because they could not be left at home. The author of Piers Plowman used the simile ‘as chaste as a child that in church weepeth’.49 Noisy or restless young children in church sometimes caused annoyance, as they do today. A visitation of Lincoln diocese in 1519 heard complaints from Wymondham and Kirby Bellars in Leicestershire that ‘children there make a noise indecently, so it is hard to hear divine service’, while at Kimpton, Hertfordshire, infants ‘laugh, cry, and clamour’. Some adults might even condone the noise like Thomas Leyk of Gosberton, Lincolnshire, who ‘impeded the service with an infant’.50 Other parents left their toddlers at home, either from embarrassment or in order to escape for an hour, a practice which came to light when it led to fatal accidents. A two-year-old in the care of an elder sibling fell down a well, a baby was left in a cradle apparently



safely till a fire broke out, and a toddler fell into the fire, although he survived.51 As children grew older their status may have shaped their attendance, with the wealthier accompanying their elders while the poorer were deputed tasks at home. Good parents taught their children the basic prayers and how to behave in church. Mothers had a particular role in this respect. St Edmund of Abingdon, born in about 1175, was ‘nourished religiously’ by his pious mother, and Chaucer’s ‘Prioress’s Tale’ imagined a widow teaching her son the Ave Maria and how to kneel and repeat it in front of the Virgin’s image (Fig. 27, p. 153).52 The maternal or paternal influence must have been present from early times, long before Richard Whitford laid out what it should include in his popular devotional Work for Householders in 1530. This was to teach the young to kneel, stand, or sit in church but never to walk about during services; to kneel during most of the mass but to stand at certain points of it; and to genuflect whenever Jesus was named.53 The likelihood is that some children also went to church of their own accord because it was a gathering place for the local community with something to watch, a place to explore, or one in which to make mischief. A young girl wandered into Durham Cathedral to play, not realising that most of it (unusually) was forbidden to women, and lost her senses which she later regained by making a pilgrimage elsewhere.54 One church in York, St Michael Spurriergate, had a light maintained by children.55 They were useful companions for women to take to church to preserve their respectability; one fifteenth-century poem for women told its readers not to go on any errands without a child.56 When Margery Kempe wished to join a couple of priests on a visit to Mintling church in Norfolk, ‘they took with them a child or two and went to the said place all together’.57 An additional reason for children to be in church was provided by education. Certain churches were used to house schools from the twelfth century, as we hear in the north of England at Norham and Durham.58 These were chiefly elementary schools teaching reading, kept by private teachers in return for a fee to the church. Schools of a higher level teaching Latin grammar usually had their own premises. At King’s Lynn in 1373 the bishop forbade the practice, because it allegedly interrupted the daily services and



distracted worshippers. Nevertheless it continued elsewhere: at Kirkham, Yorkshire, a former pupil remembered that he had been taught beside the font and, presumably in the teacher’s absence, used to aim stones at the top of the tall wooden steeple surmounting it.59 As late as Shakespeare’s day the bard and his audience were familiar with the ‘pedant that keeps a school i’ th’ church’.60 Boys could also come to church by virtue of being schoolboys elsewhere. One often encounters will-makers, especially in the north of England, asking them to be present at funerals, sometimes in surplices, presumably because they were literate and could say or sing the liturgy of all or part of the service.61 Schooling provided boys with liturgical knowledge. By the end of the Middle Ages, many grammar schools began and ended the day with worship, saying such texts as Psalm 67 (Deus misereatur nostri) in the morning and Psalm 130 (De Profundis) in the afternoon (the psalm used in services for the dead), along with other common Latin prayers.62 There were other occasions when schools made their way to church as a body. From about the thirteenth century these included St Nicholas Day (6 December), Holy Innocents’ Day (28 December), and possibly Candlemas (2 February).63 In the early sixteenth century the practice was extended to other days of the year by some of those who founded and endowed new grammar schools. John Colet expected the boys of St Paul’s School, London, to take part in ‘general [religious] processions’ in 1518, and a reference of 1535 mentions three London schools doing so.64 At Pocklington school, Yorkshire, in 1514, pupils who could sing were expected to attend church three mornings in the week when masses were said for the founder.65 Ten years later the scholars of Rolleston, Staffordshire, were encouraged to come to church wearing surplices, presumably on Sundays and festivals.66 Did churches engage with children as compared with allowing their presence? They certainly provided baptism on the day of birth. Confirmation by a bishop was not usually done in one’s own parish church, but those confirmed (who could be of any age from an infant to an adolescent) were told to attend church afterwards to have their bandage removed and washed into the font. This was the bandage tied around the forehead after the bishop had anointed it with chrism.67 Otherwise children lacked the attention given



to adults. Some diocesan statutes in the thirteenth century required the parish clergy to teach them the three basic prayers – Paternoster, Ave Maria, and Creed – and how to make the sign of the cross.68 But references to such teaching inside churches, either on Sundays or other days, are rare until the Reformation when it was made an obligation for all the clergy to do so.69 After about 1200 the Church ruled that they need not confess and should not receive communion until they reached the age of puberty.70 In as far as the Church took notice of them, it did so of boys more than girls. Boys were in demand, as has been shown, to act as servers and later as singers. On the feasts of St Nicholas Day (6 December) and the Holy Innocents’ Day (28 December), a boy bishop and other boys took a major role in the services, and when on Palm Sunday cakes were thrown for children to pick up during the procession round the churchyard, one writer implies that only boys were involved.71 Girls came into their own chiefly after puberty when, as we shall see, they formed a distinct group of ‘maidens’ in the parish and were then a significant part of its activities. THOSE PRESENT: SPECIAL OCCASIONS Church attendance was not confined to the requirements of Sundays and festivals. There were other days when people came voluntarily: as organisations, as groups, or in spontaneous gatherings. The organisations were the guilds, which we have seen existed by about the tenth century.72 In the cities they often came to be based on a specific group of tradesmen or workers. In small towns and the larger, richer rural parishes they gathered their members more widely but probably chiefly from the wealthier. They might include both husbands and wives (or widows) but are likely to have been managed by the adult men.73 Their members went to church together at least once a year on the guild’s feast day, and sometimes more often.74 The Kalendars’ guilds in Bristol, Exeter, and Winchester attended mass every month on the first day, known as the ‘kalends’.75 Then, besides guilds, there were groups based on age or gender which were not controlled by adult men. These are best recorded in the west of England but must have existed more widely.76 Some historians have called them ‘guilds’ but medieval records do not use



27.  An image of the Virgin Mary once universal in churches, in this case made of alabaster and dating from the late fifteenth century.

that word and it is better to distinguish them by a different one such as ‘company’. There were three kinds of companies. The maidens consisted of the unmarried women, aged between puberty and the mid twenties when most women wed. The young men were the corresponding group of adolescents and young adults, who were not yet married. The wives were the married women and probably the widows.77 Married men do not seem to have formed separate companies, no doubt because they dominated the guilds where these existed. There could be more than one guild or company within a single church. East Anglia contained huge numbers of guilds. Some 1,200 have been traced in Norfolk and almost 500 in Suffolk between 1300 and 1550, so that some parishes had two or three or more.78 Similarly there were two groups of young men at Ashburton, those of the town and of the ‘land’ or countryside, and corresponding sets of wives at Wimborne Minster.79 Less is known about



companies than guilds. Their records are largely confined to churchwardens’ accounts and these are chiefly concerned with the social events they held and the money they gathered for church use. Nevertheless it is likely that they venerated a particular image or altar – the wives being drawn towards Mary – and reasonable to assume that they too came to church on the day of their favourite saint. Two early-Tudor windows in the church of St Neot in Cornwall, given by the wives and the ‘sisters’ (perhaps meaning maidens), show their members kneeling in prayer as if they were in church (Fig. 28, p. 159). There were other informal groups who supported the various stores in honour of the images. These stores were primarily funds of money or resources such as cows, sheep, or bees, but their contributors can be envisaged as attending church individually to venerate the image and collectively on its festival day. Less organised groups of people came to church for the great events of the life cycle: christenings, ‘churchings’ after births, marriages, and funerals, which will be covered in Chapter 7. Here invitations or neighbourliness might bring large numbers of both locals and incomers. Two reports of marriages mention congregations of over a hundred, and a major funeral must have attracted far more.80 Moreover many funerals drew audiences well beyond the family and friends of the dead. The wills of those who could afford to do so often arranged for charity to the poor at their burials: doles of money, food, and drink, and sometimes even robes with which to dignify the funeral procession.81 Similar charity might be offered at the ‘month’s mind’ or requiem mass held a month after a death, the similar ‘obit’ mass at the end of a year, or during the course of the year. John Strynger of Derby left 6d. worth of bread to the poor for a whole year of Sundays and festival days in 1518, and Hugh Starkey of Oulton in Cheshire 15d. for a period of fifteen Fridays in 1526.82 If the obit mass was endowed to take place annually, this too might include a distribution: Bristol had at least twenty of these in 1548.83 At the rural church of Crich in Derbyshire around 1500, the chantry priest addressed his listeners in English before the annual mass in the founder’s memory. In return for their prayers, he promised, 10s. would be paid after mass in pennies and farthings to everyone present, and ‘young folks’ were especially invited to stay for the distribution.84 This must have been a day to bring one’s children!



A third kind of voluntary church attendance came about spontaneously for motives of piety. Here the setting was that of the working day, Monday to Saturday. In about the thirteenth century, when some churches acquired extra priests, a custom developed of celebrating a ‘morrow mass’ at daybreak. One motive for establishing such masses may have been devotional – to honour Christ at dawn – but the institution soon became popular with devout folk who wished to be present at one before they started work. Unlike Sundays, there was no bar to this on a weekday. Morrow masses were particularly common in town churches which supported additional clergy. Kidderminster and Northampton had them by the end of the fourteenth century.85 Thirteen endowed priests who provided them were recorded in London city churches in 1548, and other clergy there are likely to have engaged in similar work.86 If a town church did not hold an early mass, there might be the opportunity to go to a religious house for the purpose. Exeter Cathedral had one from the 1270s: it took place at 5.00 a.m. or 6.00, and the gates of the cathedral close were opened so that local people could attend.87 Those present at such masses might include a range of laity. The English translation of the French theologian Jean Quentin’s book The Manner to Live Well (1531), aimed at pious wealthy readers, urged them all to rise at 6.00 a.m. and go to mass ‘ere ye do any worldly works’, unless prevented by business.88 In London the church of St Augustine gained permission to hold mass before dawn for ‘foreigners, sailors, and others of both sexes’, while the chapel of St John the Baptist on the quay at Bristol offered it at 5.00 a.m. for ‘merchants, seamen, craftsmen, and servants’.89 The morrow mass at Doncaster was said to cater for the local inhabitants and for strangers passing through, while at Towcester it appealed to travellers ‘and those working in the town’.90 Pious workers had to come to an early mass, but the wealthier and leisured could and surely did attend later weekday ones. Collegiate and large town churches celebrated a Lady mass in honour of the Virgin in mid morning, and by the second half of the fifteenth century these masses were being performed with the polyphonic singing fashionable in the household chapels of the king and the aristocracy. Many people in towns must have wished to partake of the fashion. Again the holding of masses at the last possible hour of 10.00 a.m. in towns by the later Middle Ages indicates that there was a market for such services, allowing those who had done their morning tasks



to go before they had their midday dinner.91 There is evidence of end-of-day visits as well, for the antiphon of the Virgin Mary sung in urban churches after evensong.92 In the countryside there were fewer guild or chantry priests, but where they existed their masses (whenever performed) were capable of attracting local people. This is shown by the instruction of some chantry founders that their priests should begin each mass by asking in English for prayers for the souls whom the chantry commemorated: a sign that laity were envisaged as being present and indeed valued for the prayers they would make.93 Reasons for them coming can be imagined. The incumbent might not celebrate mass every day or the chantry mass might be closer to one’s vantage point than the parish mass, take place at a more convenient hour, and allow one to meet a particular group of friends. Finally we should not envisage the people in a church as limited to its own congregation. There must have been random occasions when outsiders were present as well. Some might be travellers, pausing to attend mass or pray in the course of their journeys. The Middle English poem ‘A Disputation betwixt the Body and Worms’ imagined a pilgrim passing a church and wishing to hear mass there. Mass was over but the door was open and he entered, knelt, and prayed to an image with great devotion.94 ‘Proofs of age’ – judicial processes that sought to establish the birth dates of feudal heirs – contain many claims of witnesses that they happened to be in church at the time that the heir was baptised. They include a man visiting a local fair, two men summoned to appear before the bishop’s official, two men on their way to meet the county sheriff, and a man on a journey to Calais.95 There were other reasons for outsiders to come to a church. The festival of its patron saint and that of its original dedication were days of fête when people from nearby parishes might come to join their friends at worship and in the subsequent celebrations.96 The shrine of a saint or an image reputed to work miracles would draw in visitors too: to venerate and ask for help for their needs (Fig. 29, p. 163).97 THOSE ABSENT The Church authorities accepted that attendance at church could not be expected on weekdays, when people were at work.98 But they were constantly



troubled by absence on Sundays and festivals through the competing allure of other activities. In 1213–14 Archbishop Stephen Langton ordered every parish priest in Canterbury diocese to warn his flock to attend church on Sundays to pray and hear the word of God, and not to go to markets.99 Similar actions were taken by bishops in other dioceses. A later archbishop, John Pecham in 1291, complained bitterly of the resistance of the population to the divine law about the observance of the Sabbath and the need to cease work and go to worship. Writing to his archdeacon, he threatened draconian punishments: excommunication and even refusal of burial to those who ignored their duties, as well as to any clergy who condoned them.100 Complaints about non-attendance continued in later centuries. Langland’s poem Piers Plowman represented the sin of sloth by a layman who lies abed in Lent with his lover in his arms till matins and mass are over. His best achievement is to catch the last words of a late mass in a friary church at about 11.00 a.m.101 Langland’s contemporary, the Carmelite friar Richard Lavynham, agreed. The slothful man ‘taketh no heed whether he go to church or go not to church, whether he hear matins or none, whether he hear mass or no mass’. The only motive that might stir him is to avoid the shame of his absence.102 Alexander Barclay in his Ship of Fools in 1508 went so far as to say that Sundays and feast days saw ‘the stalls of the tavern stuffed [with drinkers], near each one, when in the church stalls [you] shall see few or none’.103 A few years later in 1523 even the bishop of Exeter noted that in the large minster parish of Crediton, the major part of the parishioners were present ‘at the principal mass of the day . . . scarcely four times a year’: presumably on the compulsory offering days. He attributed this to the length of the services and sought to abridge them, but the distances that people had to travel to church (up to five miles) may been a stronger deterrent.104 There were two issues about Sunday observance: church attendance and abstinence from work. Officially the authorities were not willing to give way on attendance, and blatant offenders were liable for pursuit and punishment. But it is unlikely that occasional absence was penalised. It would have been easy to claim illness, and one’s shortcoming might be excused because of support for the parish church at other times. No wise priest wished to



28.  A parish organisation: the window featuring and donated by the ‘sisters’ at St Neot, Cornwall.

antagonise his flock too easily. The persistent absentees, on the other hand, were reported to a Church court or to a visitation being made by a bishop, archdeacon, or their deputy. Some of the reports may have come from the clergy, but others arose from the indignation of those who kept the rules at those who did not. We can still sense the annoyance of the parish elders of St Giles Colchester in 1543 about a barber named Robert Barkham. On Sundays and feast days he ‘is lurking at home, and everybody that will go to him to be shaven, he is ready to shave them . . . as though they were his common working days, to the great evil example of others, and offendeth other devout people, causing them to speak and think more concerning this matter than they would . . . We marvel thereat.’105 The Church responded with penalties that involved the culprit being singled out and made to do public penance. Penances included holding a candle during high mass and giving it up at the offertory, or being ceremonially beaten round the church (in one case a man was made to hold the shoes he had been selling), sometimes with three such beatings.106



Despite that, there was some tolerance towards people whose work was essential, itinerant, or carried out in places far from churches. Accusations of non-attendance and Sunday work in visitation records do not mention those who looked after animals, such as shepherds and cowherds. Their work seems to have been regarded as different from ploughing, hedging, or crafts, none of which needed to be done on a holy day. The author of the fifteenthcentury sermon cycle Speculum Sacerdotale laid particular stress on the duty of herdsmen of animals to come to communion on Easter Day, as if they were not normally present in church.107 In the large marshland parish of Holbeach, Lincolnshire, the shepherds formed a guild providing candles to burn in the church because, they said, they could not often be there on account of their animals.108 The author of the contemporary moral treatise Dives and Pauper made several other allowances for absence: merchants travelling with goods, messengers, pilgrims, wayfaring folk, and millers dependent on wind or water power. Fishermen too, he conceded, ‘must go far into the sea and long abide’ in search of seasonal fish like herring, even on Sundays.109 Miners, although craftsmen in a sense, may have been another privileged group. The Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, which was a significant industrial centre, formed an extra-parochial area but its nearest prominent church was that of Newland. In 1548 the chantry priest of Our Lady in that church was said ‘to go from one smith to another and from one mining pit to another within the same parish twice every week to say them gospels’: probably the opening chapter of the Gospel of John, In principio, along with a distribution of holy bread.110 It looks as if this missionary enterprise was meant to compensate for lack of regular church attendance. In practice there would have been other people absent by tacit consent or discouraged from coming. The elderly and infirm could not be expected to travel long distances.111 While some servants would have been made to attend their employers to church, especially employers of high rank, others must have been kept at home to cook or look after livestock. Dives and Pauper accepted that they had to obey their masters, but urged the latter not to enforce work without great need.112 Women ‘living in sin’ were not barred from churches, but were not fully welcome there either. An order from the archbishop of Canterbury in 1225 forbade concubines of priests and clerks



to receive the holy objects given to those who attended mass: the pax (the tablet taken round for people to kiss, Fig. 36, p. 223) and the holy bread given out when mass was over. Nor were they to be ‘churched’ or purified after birth unless they submitted to the discipline of the Church.113 Worcester diocese in 1229 forbade women ‘with yellow wimples’ – doubtless prostitutes – to receive holy water or holy bread,114 and one standard textbook for the clergy withheld communion on Easter Day from ‘public fornicators’.115 Lepers were excluded as well. From about 1100 leprosy was identified as a disease whose sufferers should be segregated from the rest of society, and hospitals were built for them with chapels and cemeteries where they could worship and be buried away from parish churches.116 In practice leper hospitals seem to have accommodated the more affluent and respectable sufferers, and it is probable that others – especially the poorest – lived privately in peripheral dwellings on the edge of society.117 They too are unlikely to have been well received in church, although the romantic notion that they watched from outside through what are known as ‘low-side windows’ is improbable. Such windows generally date from the end of the Middle Ages when leprosy had largely disappeared, and appear to have been meant for ventilation. There must have been other people who lived remotely or in poverty and squalor, whom it was not worthwhile to force to church. Two poor people were excused a penalty for absence in Suffolk in 1499 because of their penury, and when the jurors of Pendle in Lancashire reported two women for non-attendance at church in 1518, they added ‘but they are poor and destitute of clothes or garments’.118 Outside church attendance, the authorities were a little more flexible about involvement in work or trade on Sundays. London was a special case with its large population dependent on shopping, and a London synod of the mid thirteenth century allowed food to be sold provided it was not done during the time of mass.119 In 1401 Archbishop Thomas Arundel conceded that buying and selling were permissible anywhere at harvest time, because people were too busy to do so during the week, but he still expected attendance at mass.120 Ranulph Higden writing in 1340 and the author of Dives and Pauper two or three generations later made more extensive and careful lists of exceptions for work. These included gathering crops and fruit that



might otherwise be spoilt, selling victuals from a shop as a public service, preparing food or carrying goods to be sold on Monday, as well as the milling already mentioned. Nevertheless such authors urged the duty to attend church nonetheless, apart from fishermen, and counselled people to plan their lives to avoid Sunday work and shopping.121 Moreover, despite the concessions, there remained a strong sabbatarian belief in keeping Sunday holy: a belief found locally as well as in bishops’ pronouncements. A common image in late-medieval churches was the painting known in those days as St Sunday. It showed a bleeding Christ surrounded by the instruments that wounded him afresh in modern life: in other words the distractions of the Sabbath. Some were implements used by Sunday workers: the spades, harrows, sickles, and rakes used by peasants, and the shears, scissors, and mill-wheels of industry. Others were dice, musical instruments, and playing cards, reproving recreational activities at least at the time of the services in church.122 The painting was not only an advertisement but an icon, and in some places there were stores of money attached to the image, reflecting offerings made to it in veneration.123 The Church’s disciplinary procedures allow us to pursue the motives that kept people away from church attendance. These, of course, do not include the reasonable excuse of illness. One was sheer laziness, as with Langland’s depiction of sloth. Some malingerers were teenagers, then as now notorious for late rising. William Herwer ‘junior’ of Great Bealings, Suffolk, was reported for lying in bed in 1499, and a youth named Perce at Redmile, Leicestershire, for not attending church in 1518.124 At Bowers Gifford, Essex, in 1512 a servant youth of sixteen was accosted by the rector on the vigil of Ascension Day and asked if he had been to the statutory evensong. When the youth gave a saucy reply, ‘I was asleep’, the rector hit him with a staff.125 Other offenders may have been older. Nicholas Hawkins of St Martin Vintry London was accused of staying in bed during matins and mass on Sundays in 1476, while John Johnson, a shoemaker of St Giles Colchester reported for doing the same in 1543, was characterised by his indignant fellow parishioners of behaving ‘as if it were a hound that should keep his kennel’.126 Further attractions were to shop, eat, or enjoy oneself. Here the urge was much stronger than the authorities’ exceptions would allow. Butchers selling



29.  Wax votive offerings of a kind once commonly made to shrines and images, as a sign of a request or thanksgiving for healing, in this case of diseases of the limbs.

meat were a continuous problem in Canterbury from 1474 to 1526. In the end two were allowed to do so on a Sunday.127 Other people wanted to eat or drink instead of going to church. In 1518 three men were serving breakfast in Bedford on Sundays, keeping people from the services, while at Sutton nearby a man and wife received servants and labourers to drink in their house, and a woman at Bicester opened her alehouse during matins.128 At Lydd in Kent in 1511–12 people haunted ale houses instead of attending church, or talked and jangled in the churchyard.129 Yet others preferred to engage in recreations. A parliamentary statute of 1512 claimed that games such as tennis and bowls not only harmed the national sport of archery but caused people to miss divine service on holy days ‘to the high displeasure of Almighty



God’.130 A man at Sandy, Bedfordshire, in 1518, had a dice-playing school in his house at service times.131 In 1536 the bishop of Bath and Wells talked of a congregation of ‘gross and rude people, disposed to gaming and pastime, and not to tarry too long in church’.132 At about the same time John Barlow, a Gloucestershire clergyman who supported the Reformation, found fourteen people playing tennis at Yate instead of attending church, while three men of White Notley, Essex, were accused of hunting on Sunday in 1543.133 A major inducement to be absent, especially for men, was to work.134 In the countryside, there would have been a strong incentive to do essential tasks on the land when the weather was fine. We hear of withdrawal from church for ploughing, muck spreading, hedging, carting hay, raking and binding barley, harvesting peas, gathering corn and binding sheaves (in one case with the plea that the sheaves might be destroyed by animals), and taking corn to a nearby market town. One man busied himself in autumn with gathering crab apples and acorns; others in the Fens absconded to fish in the pools and rivers. Craftsmen and tradesmen had the same temptations. References occur to carpentry and joinery, weaving, fulling, shearing and brushing cloth, and (at a late date in 1540) even bookselling. Shoemakers were frequent offenders: not for making shoes but for taking them round to sell, very likely on the only day that this was possible. The images of St Sunday with their wide variety of tools were evidently accurate in that respect. Women too could be offenders. Some took their husbands’ part, either through disliking church or by running the house in his absence on a Sunday. Others may have been at home of necessity to look after their families. At Burghill, Herefordshire, in 1397 eleven people were reported for not attending church. All but one were women.135 These cases are individual ones and do not in themselves define the extent of non-attendance in general. Matters become a little clearer when sources survive with more detail about a restricted area. In 1389 a visitation of the parish of St Martin Salisbury, one of the three parishes of the city, produced a list of ninety names of men who were apparently significant offenders. Two or three are described as tuckers in the cloth industry and a few others as servants, but the majority have no designation.136 The list may be the result of a ‘crackdown’ on absences, but it suggests the extent to which these could happen in



towns where the community was more crowded, diverse, and hard to control. A rural example comes from Hartlebury in Worcestershire, which constituted a peculiar jurisdiction with its own Church court. Here a series of visitation records between 1436 and 1528 recorded the names of fifty-two non-attenders. All were men save for ten. The men were a mixture of agriculturalists – peasant farmers or labourers – and craftsmen such as a carpenter, fuller, miller, and weaver. A few were repeated offenders, and the offence sometimes ran in a family. Richard Walker was accused twice, and so was Thomas Mannyng. A Philip Best appears once, a John Best twice, and another John twice. Thomas Holmer was in trouble three times and his sons once.137 A third case is that of the great moorland parish of Whalley in Lancashire, with several settlements and chapels-of-ease. Some seventy-one of its people were reported for non-attendance at church or working on holy days from 1510 to 1538, as well as some groups without numbers. The forty-eight men were twice as numerous as the twenty-three women, and the offences were similar to those of Hartlebury: chiefly engagement in agriculture or craft work. Again the same names recur and certain families are prominent, such as the Hartleys, Robinsons, and Shakedeans.138 Here and elsewhere there may have been fluctuations in attendance. One priest may have been more popular than another, or intervention from above may have been effective. At Boxley, Kent, in 1511–12 the vicar reported that attendance had improved since the last visitation.139 There were other groups whose absence was a matter of community spirit rather than individual wilfulness. They lived in places remote from the parish church and its surrounding settlement, to which they had little loyalty. Some preferred to visit another church which was nearer. In the large parishes of fourteenth-century Cumberland, outlying dwellers in Isel caused offence by going to Bridekirk, those of Aspatria to Crosscanonby, and those of Castle Sowerby to Sebergham.140 Other distant communities established the chapels mentioned in Chapter 1, which they came to expect to attend rather than to go a distance to the mother church. By coalescing at a chapel they formed a group analogous to a guild or a church congregation, but with the opposite effect: secession rather than participation. As we have seen, the withdrawal of a chapel from its mother church was discouraged and carefully regulated in so



far as it was permitted at all.141 Even when services were allowed in the chapel, its people might be made to visit the old parish church on important feast days. Bishop Lacy of Exeter allowed a chapel to the inhabitants of St Ives, Cornwall, in 1429 but told them to go to their mother church at nearby Lelant on Easter Day. A few years later, when sanctioning services at Revelstoke, Devon, he required its people to attend their mother church at Yealmpton twice a year: on the patronal festival and the feast of dedication.142 BEHAVIOUR Having considered the kinds of people likely or not to go to church, it is now appropriate to ask what they did when they went. There was a concept of good manners in church. One of the earliest guides to etiquette in England, the poem Urbanus Magnus by Daniel of Beccles (c. 1200), urged its schoolboy readers to kneel in church, not to whisper or tell stories during services, and to avoid crossing their legs, either because to do so was slovenly or might bring ill luck.143 The bishop of Chichester gave similar advice in 1292: to attend ‘silently and devoutly, especially while mass is sung, saying prayers and other devotions, not running about tumultuously in churchyards and other places near churches’.144 It would hardly be necessary to say this to a modern church congregation, because it consists of people who wish to be there. But from at least about the twelfth century, when the Church insisted on the regular attendance of all adults, those present were liable to include the unruly, the resentful, and the mentally disturbed. This led to warnings about behaviour of a kind not encountered today. Medieval and Tudor society was a military one. Men lawfully bore arms and these impinged on church attendance. A dagger was a normal male accoutrement. We shall shortly encounter complaints about assaults in church which were made to the court of Star Chamber during the sixteenth century.145 Taking serious weapons to church may have been common in the more lawless areas of the north of England and Wales. In 1428 the parishioners of Coverham in the Yorkshire dales were bringing swords, bows, arrows, and staves to church and stacking them in the porch, making it hard to enter the building.146 Two years later the bishop of Durham told the parishioners of



30.  A wall painting of St Christopher carrying the infant Christ at Breage, Cornwall. Fish and mermaids swim in the water he crosses.



Lanchester and its two chapels of ease not to leave their arms in the churchyard or the porch.147 At least they did not bring them into church! The precautions taken by Meredydd Wynne, a gentleman of north Wales in the reign of Henry VII, may have been necessary elsewhere in Wales and near the border with Scotland. Although he lived not far from his church of Dolwyddelan, his visits there involved leaving guards at his house, posting a watchman on a nearby hill, and making his journey flanked by twenty archers.148 Advice on what to do when entering church may be gathered from the Book of Courtesy aimed at boys of status by William Caxton in the late fifteenth century. It tells them to begin by aspersing themselves with water from the holy-water stoup that stood by the church door. They should then approach the cross on the rood loft, kneel, knock the breast in penitence, thank Christ for his sacrifice, and say the Paternoster, Ave Maria, and Creed. While in church they should be silent, not making a ‘clap’ or ‘jangling’.149 In the days before churches were fully equipped with seating and when some people stood during worship, those who did were recommended not to move about unnecessarily. The thirteenth-century ‘rule’ of the Kalendars’ guild in Bristol, whose lay members probably came from the city elite, urged them not to walk about the church while mass was in progress, but to stand or kneel in the chancel ‘so that the laity might be stimulated by their example to do likewise’.150 Even once seating became common, people were advised to sit on it decorously. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, when the lord of a castle takes Gawain to his chapel for Christmas evensong, it is noted that ‘they sat together soberly’ during the service, as if that could not be assumed.151 Inevitably, as with attendance, we hear less about good behaviour in churches than the opposite. Congregations, or at least clergy and parish church leaders, were sensitive about noise and disorder, as we have seen them to be about children. There were at least four unpopular kinds of person in church. First there were the restless, who walked about even once the building was largely full of seats. Alexander Barclay complained about them in the Ship of Fools. Men in particular rise up and down or wander from altar to altar, showing off their clothes or the hawk on their wrist, setting a bad example to the young.152 Next there were the gossips, male or female, who disturbed other people with chatter. Kirby Bellars in Leicestershire had as



many as five such men in 1518, and Chivesfield in Hertfordshire several others.153 Another group were the quarrellers who brought a dispute to church or raised one there.154 In London there was Lawnd’s wife who squabbled with Gough’s wife in St Faith’s church in 1501, and William Bramston, given the title ‘Mr’ and therefore of rank, who was warned against talking and disturbing people in St Mary Aldermanbury in the following year.155 In Kent in 1511–12 a man at Wye menaced the priest and the parish clerk when they read the banns of a marriage, while another at Biddenden disturbed many people with ‘facing, bracing, and chiding’.156 A fourth kind of disrupter was resentful, venting his or her spleen on the priest or the parish leaders. Thomas Nash of St John Walbrook in London was charged in 1491 with disturbing the service on Epiphany and St Peter’s Day, calling out ‘what be you but whores, harlots, and bawds?’157 Resentment could be shown without words, as with one man who contemptuously washed his hands in the font and another who gave holy bread to his dog.158 Worse than this, there could be assaults on the priest in the church. The chancellor of England received several petitions for justice on this account. In one case lawless men invaded the Cornish church of St Just in Roseland for much of Christmas Day, stopping the first two masses from taking place. At Pawlett in Somerset armed men accosted the vicar when he was robed at the end of mass and preparing to distribute holy bread. They seized him and forced him to sign a bond worth £10. The rector of Workington in Cumberland was assaulted while vested, and his colleague at Winchelsea, Sussex, was molested as he read the gospel. The malefactors then took away the gospel book and the offerings made that day.159 Events of this kind could be exaggerated to convince judges, but something lay behind the allegations. Good and bad behaviour met, and sometimes clashed, over the question of precedence. This is not a problem faced by modern churches, but one that was important until recently. With regard to the sexes, men had priority over women. In terms of social ranking, the exalted in society – nobility, gentry, merchants, and rural yeomen – expected to take precedence over their infer­ iors. These two principles had to be reconciled, since it is hard to believe that a woman of rank was made to take her place behind men of lesser standing. Precedence caused conflicts when people of similar status had different notions



about it. There were several points in services where this might happen: taking a seat, walking in a procession, making an offering in church, kissing the pax during mass, going forward for Easter communion, and receiving holy bread at the end of the service. Hawkhurst in Kent was the scene of violent altercations in 1502, at which four women were dragged from their seats by men who, one presumes, thought that their own wives should sit there.160 In Yorkshire two families at Heptonstall disputed a seat in 1530, involving its alleged destruction by one of the parties, and two others did so at Minehead in Somerset in 1533, involving the forcible unseating of one of the wives because the pew in question was one of the best in the church.161 Chaucer portrayed his Wife of Bath as determined to go up first to make her offering and, if anyone forestalled her, being so angry as to be out of all charity.162 When religious processions were abolished by the government of Edward VI in 1547, the action was justified by the need ‘to avoid all contention and strife, which heretofore hath arisen . . . by reason of fond courtesy and challenging of places’.163 How one dressed for church was another issue. Nothing precisely is said about a dress code, except for the constant attacks of moralists on the wearing of extravagant clothes at any time.164 But in an age that was very conscious of rank and the expression of rank in dress, respectable people would have worn clothes that denoted their status rather than appearing informal or untidy, especially on days of public celebration. One fourteenth-century writer, while warning the rich not to glorify themselves with ‘rich array’ in church, conceded that more belonged to a queen than to the wife of a burgess or a squire.165 Headgear and what one did with it were important. St Paul instructed women to cover their heads in prayer, and this seems to have been generally followed in churches, indeed down to modern times.166 The writer Guillaume Durand rationalised it as symbolising that women were not made in the image of God and through them sin began.167 On the other hand wearing a veil, surrounding most of the face or covering all of it, does not seem to have been common for women on most occasions. A veil was probably usual for the bride at a wedding, and a mother who came to be churched after a birth wore some kind of headdress, but the veil was otherwise mainly associated with nuns and ‘vowesses’. The latter were that small number of widows, generally women of high status, who took a vow of perpetual celibacy.168



Medieval moralists and satirists were scathing about pride of dress, and this extended to what they wore in church: both men and women. When Langland depicted the sin of envy in his first version of Piers Plowman, he imagined a man in church turning his eye away from the altar to observe a fellow worshipper and his wife in church with new clothes.169 Barclay, as we have seen, reprobated the man who swaggered in church, displaying his dress and his possessions. More often critics singled out women in this respect for their alleged pride and consequent lack of piety in church. Robert Mannyng called the starched kerchiefs on their heads ‘the Devil’s sails’ and warned their wearers to keep out of the chancel.170 Langland redirected his disapproval in the second version of his poem by turning his envious person into a woman. Now it is Eleyne who has a new coat, prompting the onlooker’s thought ‘I wish it were mine, and all the loom too’.171 Chaucer laid a similar charge against the Wife of Bath, telling how she wore fine ‘coverchiefs’ on her head to church on Sundays, weighing as much as ten pounds, along with scarlet stockings and new shoes.172 The wives of his guildsmen went on the vigils of feast days in mantles ‘royally’ borne by an attendant.173 A whole poem was published in the sixteenth century, called The Proud Wives’ Paternoster, attacking what it alleged to be women’s obsession with their clothes. On high feast days when wives go to church, it claims, they take care to go well dressed: Each as gorgeous as other to go, In their apparel, girdle, and ring, And other trim knacks every one. They come into their pews, each doing ‘reverence’ (curtseying) to others close by, and sit by their ‘gossips’ or friends. They look on each other’s dress, and if one is arrayed more finely, the other thinks her proud. When the first addresses herself to her devotions and begins her Paternoster, the second begins to fret and think how she may be as well dressed. The rest of the poem consists of lines of the Paternoster interspersed with the woman’s desire for smart clothes.174 Men wore headgear too, and for them there was an issue in how they handled it. Paul, in the passage just mentioned, gave different instructions



for men than for women: they were to pray bare-headed. This seems not to have been normally observed in the Middle Ages. Instead men appear to have covered their heads in church with a raised hood or, towards the end of the period, with a hat. It was then customary for them to bare their heads at the supreme moment of the mass, the elevation, when the priest held up the consecrated wafer: Christ himself according to the doctrine of the Real Presence. Doffing the hat was the etiquette in saluting someone of high rank in church or elsewhere in society. It was also done, or urged to be done, as the consecrated bread of the mass was taken round the streets on Corpus Christi Day or to give communion to the sick. When Wycliffe’s followers, the Lollards, questioned the Real Presence, some of them seem to have kept themselves covered at the elevation, deliberately. The chronicler Thomas Walsingham, under the year 1387, talked of the knights who espoused Lollardy as the ‘hooded knights’, and a less important Lollard two years later – William Ramsbury of Salisbury diocese – was ordered to remove his hood while attending mass at his penance.175 Once Lollardy became a criminal offence, it was dangerous to advertise one’s beliefs in such a way, but someone might yet do so out of discontent or bad manners. Barclay complained that: When Our Lord is consecrate in form of bread, Thereby walks a knave, his bonnet on his head.176 Two such men were reported at Leverington in Cambridgeshire for refusing to doff their hoods at the elevation in 1464. One was a regular offender in absenting himself from church or talking when he was there, but they claimed illness as the reason and escaped punishment.177 John Inglie of Blunham in Bedfordshire, who failed to communicate at Easter in 1518 and looked down during the elevation at other times, laughing foolishly, may have been deliberately antagonistic or mentally afflicted.178 P OSTURE AND GESTURE Attending a medieval service involved posture and gesture to a greater extent than it normally does today. In 1409 Archbishop Arundel, issuing



constitutions for the Church to deter heresy, exhorted clergy and their congregations to worship the cross and the saints through the ceremonies detested by Lollards: ‘processions, genuflections, bowings, censings, kissings, offerings, and burnings of lights’.179 There were four major postures in church: standing, sitting, kneeling, and prostrating oneself on the ground. All of these were done by the clergy in the chancel, so that the laity were not required to do anything different in kind, and most of what they did was not prescriptive. Liturgical texts had virtually no instructions for them. It is likely, when there were seats or if people brought their own stools, that they sat on arrival and that women at least did so during sermons. Those with seats may have sat during the daily Office of matins and evensong like Gawain and his host, and at mass during the reading of the epistle and while the announcements were made. Sitting for the elderly and infirm, rather than standing or kneeling, must surely have been condoned. Prostration was mainly associated with the practice of ‘creeping to the cross’ on Good Friday, when people venerated a standing cross by abasing themselves on the ground.180 It was done too by those who had just married. They were taken to the steps of the high altar and prostrated themselves while prayers and a blessing were said over them.181 Very likely prostration was done by pious people at other times if there was room. That leaves the two most frequent postures: standing and kneeling or bowing the knee (genuflection). Standing must have been one of the commonest practices in early centuries if we presume that there was little seating and may, as has been suggested, have been done by men when seating was becoming usual for women.182 Once seating grew to be common, it was more necessary to encourage people to stand at significant points in the services, although there was not complete agreement as to when. John Mirk, writing in the late fourteenth century, envisaged people kneeling for most of the time and standing only for the gospel reading.183 A more detailed source of that period, the guide to the mass known as The Lay Folks’ Mass Book, told people to stand six times during mass. These were at the beginning, the reading of the gospel, the offertory, from Sursum corda until the Sanctus, at the Paternoster said by the priest after the consecration, and at the post-communion prayer towards the end of the



31.  One of the earliest surviving ‘Hours of the Virgin’: the ‘Brailes Hours’ belonging to a wealthy owner of the mid thirteenth century.

service.184 Richard Whitford in 1530–1 suggested standing at the beginning which he extended up to Gloria in excelsis, the gospel, the preface before the Sanctus, and the Paternoster. He added the reading of the gospel of John, In principio, that came after mass and the reception of the chalice of unconsecrated wine after taking communion at Easter. But he was flexible, saying ‘stand, if you may conveniently do so’.185



Kneeling or bending the knee in worship, like standing, reflected secular etiquette. One stood in the presence of one’s superiors: parents, masters, lords, and monarchs, and to show one’s deepest respect one bowed the knee before them. Doing so before God acknowledged him as one’s Lord. It was required most of all when Christ was bodily present: when the priest elevated him in the consecrated bread and wine of the mass, when one received him at the Easter communion, and when one met the bread being carried in public to the sick or on the feast of Corpus Christi. By the 1530s it was also recommended during the Nicene Creed in the mass, when the clergy bowed at the words et homo factus (‘and [Christ] was made man’).186 Two authors advocated standing rather than kneeling for prayer from Easter until Pentecost, but they may have had the clergy chiefly in mind. They commended the practice as a sign of the Resurrection of Christ and as what the women did who came to the Holy Sepulchre on Easter morning.187 The problem with the history of kneeling in church is that the verb ‘kneel’ in English could mean a brief genuflection or a full descent on to one or both knees.188 Latin writers of the thirteenth century, such as Stephen Langton in 1213–14, talk of the laity ‘bending the knee’ at the elevation, and since they wrote at a time when most people are likely to have stood in church, a flexing movement while standing seems more likely than getting down any further, except to receive communion.189 Genuflection or bowing also came to be done at each mention of the name of Jesus, following the directive of St Paul: ‘that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow’.190 This practice went back to at least the fourteenth century, and may have grown when the veneration of the Holy Name became popular in the fifteenth.191 It was so well established by the Reformation that it was one of the few traditional observances to be retained in the Protestant Church of Elizabeth I.192 In the later Middle Ages, when seats in church were more common, full kneeling required less effort and may have been more widely adopted. An advantage of seating was that one could more comfortably kneel on both knees, with the bench in front to lean against and perhaps a cushion to rest on, while standing up became easier through clutching one’s bench and its neighbour for support. Mirk recommended people to kneel during most of a mass and therefore by implication on both knees, but he may have set his standards



too high because he urged people to do so if they met the priest carrying the consecrated bread outside church.193 The up-and-down movements recommended by The Lay Folks’ Mass Book and later by Whitford seem also to reflect the growing presence of seats. Kneeling in the fullest sense was common, at least among respectable people, by the fifteenth century since so many twodimensional images of men, women, and children show them doing so on monumental brasses, window glass, and paintings. By 1532 an English translator of Erasmus, and by 1549 the new Book of Common Prayer, could both expect worshippers to pray ‘meekly kneeling upon [both of ] your knees’.194 Posture was not the only accompaniment to prayer; gestures were relevant too. These included making the sign of the cross, joining the hands in prayer, bowing the head, knocking the breast, and kissing. Such actions too were common to clergy and laity. Crossing oneself was done frequently on the forehead and on the breast, and clergy were told to teach people how to do it.195 It could be practised on going to bed, on rising, before travelling, as an affirmation of one’s faith, a sign of blessing (directed to people or on food), an act of self-protection against evil, or a dedication to God of a task to be done.196 Polydore Vergil observed that ‘we make the sign of the cross before any new undertaking’,197 and children in school made it before repeating the alphabet, saying ‘Christ’s cross me speed’ as they did so.198 It was not a mere gesture but a symbolic act. One used the right hand which, by the end of the Middle Ages, had received a cross drawn on it by the priest at one’s baptism.199 The hand began by touching the forehead, referencing God the Father. The first stroke, down to the breast, represented the descent of Christ to humanity. The second stroke went to the left shoulder and the third, made laterally across to the right shoulder, signified the Holy Spirit. This could be accompanied by saying in Latin, In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Parents were recommended to bless their children in the same way before bedtime.200 The gesture could be repeated. Sir Gawain is described as making it three times while praying on Christmas Eve to be led to a place to hear Christmas worship. No sooner had he done so than he saw a hospitable castle.201 A treatise called The Mirror of Our Lady, produced for the nuns of Syon Abbey and printed in 1530, offered an alternative interpretation. The



diagonal stroke to the left shoulder was Christ’s descent into hell and the lateral stroke was his Ascension, relating the whole gesture to Christ rather than the Trinity.202 A further refinement was to kiss one’s thumb as the lateral stroke was made, as if the performer imagined the cross to be real and therefore to be venerated with a kiss like a relic.203 Reformation writers disliked the cross as a symbol and consequently the practice of crossing oneself. William Tyndale complained that some people took it to extremes while the priest read In principio at the end of mass: a reading that was regarded as apotropaic or able to ward off evil. They ‘cross themselves with, I trow, a legion of crosses behind and before and with reverence: on the very arses . . . and cross so much their heels and the very soles of their feet, and believe if it be done in the time that he read the gospel (and else not) that there shall no mischance happen them that day’.204 The common gesture of prayer that had been practised in the Ancient World was to hold up the hands, beside and in front of the head, with the palms upwards. This was adopted by medieval clergy at certain points of the mass and may have been followed by lay people. By the early thirteenth century, in contrast, the custom developed of holding the hands in front of the face or breast, with the palms joined and the thumbs together (Fig. 35, p. 214). This was a more private and intimate gesture. It came to be done by the clergy, particularly when saying the prayer of consecration in the mass,205 and a set of diocesan statutes in the early 1220s ordered them to teach the laity also to genuflect and pray ‘with hands joined together’ when that prayer was said.206 The origin of the practice has been plausibly attributed to the etiquette of feudalism, by which a vassal put his hands into his lord’s hands in this way, as a sign of loyalty and service.207 A Christian who prayed in the same manner affirmed his trust in and obedience to his Lord God whose hands, as it were, enclosed his own. The gesture then came to be adopted during almost any prayer or act of devotion and to be represented on funeral monuments.208 But it would be wise not to rule out other body language during prayer: holding the hands up in the ancient way, interlacing them together, or crossing the arms on the breast, especially at times of great emotion. And contrary or disaffected people in church may have deliberately avoided any of the recommended gestures.



Bowing the head was recommended as an alternative to genuflection when the name of Jesus was pronounced, or when the consecrated bread and wine were held up in the mass.209 Knocking the breast, using the right hand for the purpose, was a sign of penitence. The priest at mass did so while he made his confession at the beginning of the rite. A lay person followed suit when he did so to a priest or while privately admitting his sins in prayer.210 A further action, kissing, was an expression of adoration. This too was done by the priest who kissed the altar at mass, his assistants during mass, the consecrated chalice, and the pax (a small icon or tablet with a picture of Christ). Clergy knelt and kissed the ground on occasion, notably when entering the choir on Palm Sunday, and Mirk recommended doing so as an act of abasement to deter pride.211 After the priest had kissed the pax, it was kissed by the priest’s assistants and taken around the congregation to be kissed by all. The thumb might be kissed, as we have seen, while making the sign of the cross. The bridegroom kissed the bride at the nuptial mass, and sick people the crucifix held before them.212 One kissed the capsule that contained a holy relic, the cross on Good Friday,213 and very likely other holy objects: statues if one could reach them, wall paintings, or pictures in books. Some prayer books survive in which pictures or texts have become smeared or illegible through such usage. As would be expected, sixteenth-century Reformers noted and deplored the tradition of ‘kissing or licking’ images and relics, and the practice was condemned in the royal injunctions of 1538.214 Then, not formally but emotionally, there might be crying and tears. These were especially associated with confession, and both men and women could be affected. When Sir Gawain ‘cried in his prayer’ for his misdeeds, he may have been moved to tears, and Langland certainly represents himself weeping at confession in Piers Plowman, as well as a penitent thief doing so.215 Henry VII was said to have wept and sobbed for three quarters of an hour while confessing towards the end of his life.216 Crying could also take place in the setting of worship. Lady Margaret Beaufort was described as weeping floods of tears when she received communion, probably in her private chapel.217 The most famous exponent of the practice is Margery Kempe, who wept frequently in churches. Sometimes it was triggered by an image: a crucifix or a statue of Our Lady of Pity holding the body of Christ. As with Lady Margaret, it



32.  Even young children might have funerals and burials in the church or churchyard: in this case John and Roger Yelverton, 1505 and 1510 in Rougham church, Norfolk.

accompanied communion. At other times it arose from her imagination, as she visualised the Passion and crucifixion of Jesus with herself as an onlooker, joining in the lamentations of the Virgin and St John. It could be prompted by thoughts of her sins towards Jesus, or equally by His promise of grace in this life followed by endless joy and bliss in heaven. These experiences brought on uncontrollable sobbing to the surprise and vexation of other churchgoers, some of whom thought it disorderly or attention seeking. This suggests that such noisy emotion in church was unusual, but would have been acceptable if expressed in more muted ways.218 Mouths, then, were used in church, and not only emotionally but deliberately in the subdued recitation of a prayer book, of the rosary, and no doubt of extempore prayer.219 What of the use of the eyes? Did people pray with



them closed or open? They may have shut their eyes for private prayer to detach themselves from their surroundings. A downward look, at least, was proper as one knelt before one’s confessor. He too was meant to avoid staring into one’s face.220 But eyes were certainly kept open to gaze straight ahead at other times. Images of people at prayer in paintings, or on monumental brasses, show them kneeling while doing so. It would have been fitting when praying before an image to ask the Christ or saint of the image for help. Most of all, it was appropriate at the elevation of the bread and wine in the mass, when one’s Saviour appeared in that form to be seen and adored.221 PRAYER The Anglo-Saxon Church wished all adult Christians to know two prayers: the Paternoster (which was also, but less commonly, known as the Lord’s Prayer) and the Apostles’ Creed.222 This was still the aim in 1213–14, when Stephen Langton told the clergy of his diocese to ensure that people did so, but very soon afterwards other bishops were adding the Ave Maria which had become popular with the rising veneration of the Virgin Mary in the twelfth century.223 These three prayers were important because of their origins: the first dictated by Christ, the second announced by God through an archangel, and the third composed – it was believed – by the Twelve Apostles, each contributing a clause. The Paternoster not only expounded mankind’s relationship with God and covered its basic duties and needs but was rationalised as containing seven precepts against the seven deadly sins, while the Creed contained the most important beliefs that a Christian should have. The Church statutes that ordered people to know the prayers did not normally prescribe the language – Latin, French, or English – in which they should be said. The exception was the Creed, the longest of the three, for which the proviso was sometimes added ‘at least in English’.224 So were the prayers said in Latin or English? There can be little doubt that the ‘default’ language was Latin. Everyone heard them in church pronounced in that form, and it was apparently customary for the laity to join in saying the last phrase of the priest’s Paternoster: sed libera nos a malo. Those who were literate would have learnt the prayers in Latin as their first texts at school,



and they appear in that language in many of the Books of Hours owned by literate people. But the non-literate knew them in Latin too, as examples hereafter will show. Indeed a writer in 1554 was to remark: ‘Who could, twenty years ago, say the Lord’s Prayer in English?’225 The lack of a common practice of using the prayers in English is also indicated by the absence of identical texts of them in that language as there were in Latin. English translations varied slightly from book to book. In the late fourteenth century, when English was gaining wider use in institutions and for writing purposes, one or two commentators did indeed speak favourably of it as an acceptable medium for the prayers, at least in private. Mirk provided English versions of them in his Instructions for Parish Priests, and a contemporary treatise called The Chastising of God’s Children noted that some people now said their prayers in English.226 In his sermon cycle, Festial, Mirk went so far as to argue in favour of this. ‘It is much more speedful and meritable to you to say your Paternoster in English than in Latin as you do, for when you speak in English, then you know and understand well what you say, and so, by your understanding, you have liking and devotion for to say it.’227 But soon after he wrote, the rise of the Lollards brought formal prayer in English under suspicion and no progress was made towards adopting uniform texts. Some prayer books and religious guides for the literate included the basic prayers in English, especially after 1500, but their versions remained inconsistent.228 Only in 1536 did Henry VIII order everyone to use the English forms alone and only in the 1540s did standard forms become widespread.229 The three texts were meant to form the basis of people’s prayer until the Reformation, supplemented of course by their own extempore words and requests. At the same time we cannot be sure that every lay person knew them properly in Latin or English, although the clergy were told to examine parishioners in the annual confessions to ascertain that they did.230 The Ave Maria may have been the best known because it was short and used repetitively with a rosary. The Paternoster was harder and the Creed, being the longest, harder still. It is noteworthy that when Church leaders asked people to pray, they normally specified the Paternoster and Ave alone, without the Creed.231 A series of writers drew attention to people who were not mentally



able or inclined to learn the texts. ‘I know not perfectly my Paternoster as the priest sings it’, confessed a slothful parishioner in Piers Plowman: in other words in Latin.232 In 1510 Wynkyn de Worde printed A Little Jest How the Plowman Learnt his Paternoster: a merry tale about a wealthy but ignorant peasant who could not say the prayer at his annual confession until the priest thought of an ingenious and amusing way of teaching him, again in Latin.233 The contemporary jest-book, A Hundred Merry Tales, had a similar anecdote about a young man who needed to be taught the prayer when he went to confession, this too in Latin.234 Latin then was the norm, but it was not always attained. As Eamon Duffy has observed, the humour of these stories depended on people believing that they were possible.235 The real existence of such ignorance was envisaged by John Fitzherbert, writing for agriculturalists in 1523. ‘He that cannot read nor understand his Paternoster, Ave, nor Credo, he must remember the Passion of Christ . . . and all the miracles and wonders that God hath done.’236 Such a man may have been William Nicholl of South Mimms in Hertfordshire, who was said in 1497 ‘to come rarely to church and when he comes he makes no prayers to God. It is believed that he does not know the Paternoster, Ave Maria, or Creed.’237 The three basic prayers formed one of the great continuities in Christian life from about 1200 until the 1540s. At the same time their significance underwent change. Their original value was that they were salutary for the speaker and respectful to God and Mary. But during this period they were increasingly seen as a measurable way of earning spiritual merit. They came to be said in multiples: the more the better. Their value could be transferred to the dead. Inscriptions on monuments often asked the passer-by to say a Paternoster and Ave for a dead person’s soul, and no doubt people prayed them with the intention of benefiting their loved ones. They were also a means of gaining an indulgence. Indulgences – remissions of penance in one’s life and after one’s death – gave rewards for good works of various kinds, calculated in days and years. The saying of the basic prayers became a common way of earning the remissions: always of forty days and sometimes many more, with the advantage that anyone could follow this strategy, however unlearned or poor.238 Multiple recitations of the prayers by using a rosary became very popular up to the Reformation. In fact the term ‘rosary’ was not in common use



before that date; the usual words for the object were a ‘pair of beads’ or a ‘paternoster’, and the recital of prayers as one counted the beads was ‘saying’ or ‘telling’ one’s beads. The rosary came to consist of fifty-five beads on a string, made up of five groups of ten small beads, each of which was a prompt to say the Ave Maria. Every ten or decade of these was followed by a larger bead at which one said the Paternoster, and the Creed was pronounced when all the beads had been counted. Saying the rosary three times, making 150 Aves – the same number as the psalms – with fifteen Paternosters and three Creeds, was known as ‘Our Lady’s Psalter’.239 The prayers could be said at home, in church, or while travelling, and the beads of wealthy people were often made of precious materials: amber, coral, silver, or gilt. Taken to church they were, like clothes or hawks, a sign of social standing, and one could pray with them while the service went on (Fig. 28, p. 159).240 But even the less well-off might be able to use a pair through a bequest from a benefactor or a church having ones that could be borrowed.241 Apart from the basic prayers, and whatever people might offer up informally, the Church aspired to make formal prayer a part of domestic life. In about the 1220s the bishop of Coventry ordered all Christian men and women to say the Paternoster and the Ave Maria seven times a day, as if to imitate the psalm that called on worshippers to praise God that number of times, and the Creed twice.242 This must have been too ambitious to have much effect, but in about 1317 Pope John XXII seems to have introduced or confirmed a practice by which people were encouraged to say an Ave Maria when the church bell rang for curfew in the evening. An indulgence was offered to those who did so.243 The ringing was well established in England by 1400 when Archbishop Arundel mentioned it as customary, and urged his fellow bishops to institute a morning bell and Ave as well, for which he added his own indulgence.244 Some large churches added a ringing at noon.245 The evening custom became known as ‘knolling [tolling] the Aves’ and later grew into the ringing and saying of the Angelus, although that word relates to Catholic usage after the Reformation when the practice was no longer permitted in England.246 By the later Middle Ages more elaborate daily prayer was becoming common among the wealthier and more literate classes. They were encouraged, when they got up, to say prayers and to recite from the Hours of the



Virgin: a text to be outlined presently.247 Caxton’s translation of the French treatise for noble girls, The Book of the Knight of the Tower (1484), urged them to say the Hours before having breakfast. His Book of Courtesy for boys of rank told them to do the same while they were dressing.248 Quentin’s treatise of 1531 likewise commends the saying of the Virgin’s matins, prime, and hours in one’s chamber as a prelude to church or work.249 At a lower social level, apprentices were encouraged to recite the three basic prayers when they rose, and the practice reached almshouses like Ewelme and Lambourn where the inmates were instructed to do so kneeling before their beds.250 It was a further custom in pious households to say grace before meals, and the task was often given to children.251 Then there were prompts to say prayers in the landscape. As well as interceding for the dead while passing a churchyard, Christians were encouraged to pronounce the Paternoster on meeting a standing cross of the kind that stood in market places and at crossroads.252 There had been literate lay people in England since Anglo-Saxon times, and for them reading a book in church was a way of spending their time in devotion during the service. The earliest popular text for this purpose was the Latin psalter. This was used for teaching boys and girls to read during the Middle Ages, so that it became a familiar part of their knowledge.253 The illuminated psalter still exists which was produced for Alfonso, son of Edward I when he was eleven and passed, when he died soon afterwards, to his younger sister Elizabeth.254 In the thirteenth century, when literacy and written materials seem to have increased, more simple prayer books were produced for the laity to use. One was the ‘primer’, meaning ‘first book’. It contained the three essential prayers and other basic material such as confessions, graces, and certain psalms. Most were in Latin, with a few English copies by the late fourteenth century. Some primers began with an alphabet, enabling the book to be used by a parent, especially a mother, to teach a child to read.255 The second prayer book was the Hours of the Virgin, also known as the ‘matins book’ and (confusingly) as the ‘primer’.256 This was a simplified version of the daily Church services, which developed in monasteries during the eleventh and twelfth centuries and spread from them to other churches and into lay use during the thirteenth.257 It provided a structure of prayer suitable for the laity, based chiefly on psalms, hymns, and prayers with



special devotions to Mary. Most surviving copies are in Latin, but the Hours were sometimes read in Anglo-Norman French versions and there were also Middle English ones.258 Those that survive of the latter, however, are few: again perhaps because of the association of English with Lollardy.259 All the seven services or ‘hours’ of the Office were represented but their material was largely the same every week, with modest seasonal variations for Advent, Christmas to the Annunciation (Lady Day, 25 March), and Eastertide.260 As well as containing these daily services, texts of the Hours came to include other devotions such as the penitential psalms, the litany (prayers to God and the saints for their protection), and the services commemorating the dead known as Placebo and Dirige. They also might contain (or have copied into them) some of the large number of other written prayers that circulated in the later Middle Ages as well as devotional pictures, especially those of a suffering Christ, for their reader to gaze on and venerate. These prayers and pictures form a huge subject, too great to investigate here, for which the reader should consult the works of Eamon Duffy and Robert Swanson.261 Manuscript texts of the Hours became common possessions among the wealthier classes from the thirteenth century. Those belonging to people of high status were often highly decorated, one of the earliest to survive being the De Brailes Hours, written at Oxford in about 1240, apparently for a lady of a local gentry family (Fig. 31, p. 174).262 They are mentioned in the wills of nobility, gentry, merchants, and their wives, and were especially popular with (but by no means confined to) literate women.263 Basic, plainer versions circulated more widely. Even a woman servant might own a ‘primer’, because one in London had it stolen from her (but recovered) in 1500.264 Towards the end of the fifteenth century such books were appearing in print, which reduced the price to a few pence in the 1520s.265 They could be used at home or taken to church. Margery Kempe said her ‘matins’ and other devotions while she listened to mass, evidently from a book which she mentions as using on another occasion.266 The Italian observer who visited London in about 1500 was struck by the way that churchgoers (evidently wealthier ones) took with them the ‘Office of Our Lady’ ‘and with some companion reciting it in the church verse by verse, in a low voice, after the manner of churchmen’.267 By the 1530s this could be so in the countryside too, as in the



report of two maidens ‘saying their matins together upon an English primer’ at Langham church in Essex.268 This meant that such lay people used a different text from that of the clergy, their voices producing a contrasting murmur alongside the sound of the liturgy. Equally this did not prevent them being aware of the course of a service and praying in harmony with it. Those who wished to come closer to what happened during the mass could use guides to its structure. These also emerged in the thirteenth century, at first composed in the Anglo-Norman French spoken by the upper orders of society.269 Later they were produced in English, notably The Lay Folks’ Mass Book which survives in several versions from the fourteenth century or later. Books of this kind explained the different parts of the service, including both the actions of the priest and the texts that he and the ministers were singing. They provided prayers for the reader to say at the appropriate point, so that his or her devotions could be synchronised with the course of the mass as closely as possible.270 More elaborate guides of the same kind, one compiled by John Lydgate and another printed by Caxton, appeared in the fifteenth century.271 And at a higher level still, there were ambitious members of the laity, particularly (but not exclusively) men, who aspired to follow services with the same Latin books that the clergy were using: the breviary and the missal.272 An attested example of this was King Henry VI who liked to say the words of the mass inaudibly, including the epistle and the gospel, while the clergy did so.273 Many surviving wills of wealthy layfolk mention that they owned copies of the clergy’s own liturgical texts. An analysis of late-medieval Londoner will-makers found that about a fifth of them (chiefly men) alluded to such books, including a significant number of psalters and missals.274 We need to be careful about weighing such evidence. Books of this kind may have been family heirlooms, valuable articles acquired as assets, or the equipment of private chapels rather than items of personal use.275 On the other hand references occur that are suggestive of stronger attachment. Richard Lord Scrope (d.1403) left to his son ‘my portuous [breviary] which I have used to say my matins and vespers’.276 Lady Joan Barre (d.1485) of the aforementioned Newland bequeathed ‘my fair little portuous which lieth for the most part in my parlour window in a bag’.277 Sir Brian Rocliffe (d.1495) owned a missal



belonging to his grandfather and bequeathed it to his son.278 Among the merchant class of Bristol we find men passing on ‘my’ copy of the psalter, the missal, and the antiphoner to other lay people.279 Even a copy of a manual survives, housing the material for baptisms, marriages, and funerals, that belonged to a family of gentry in Kent.280 The priest who advised the citizen mentioned earlier in the chapter encouraged him to read the epistle, the gospel, and the readings for saints from the books that belonged to his own church, while he was hearing mass.281 There was, of course, a language gap in church, since services were mainly in Latin. But, as we shall see, a parish mass on a Sunday or festival included pieces of English: probably from early times and certainly by the fifteenth century. These were said by the clergy during the opening aspersions, the announcements, the bidding prayer, the sermon if one was preached, and the distribution of holy bread after mass. Other material in English made its way into the services of baptism and marriage.282 Lay people could carry out an emergency baptism in English, as long as they followed the correct format, and clergy must sometimes have used the language in church to tell people what to do or explain what was happening. A general confession in English might be said on Easter Day.283 However, following the liturgy with understanding required knowledge of Latin, and that was possessed chiefly by men of the nobility, gentry, and merchant class who learnt it at grammar schools, hence the possession of liturgical books by such people. Girls of those ranks and boys from some middling social classes learnt only to read. This enabled them to decipher and pronounce Latin but to understand fully only what they read in the vernacular. Lady Margaret Beaufort regretted that, when she was young, she had not applied herself to the understanding of Latin, in which she had only ‘a little perceiving’, particularly of the rubrics of services.284 Wider literacy during the later Middle Ages, at least in reading French or English, enabled the language gap to be bridged to some extent. Primers and books of prayers in the vernacular languages helped, as did guides to services like the Lay Folks’ Mass Book.285 A large number of devotional works were written during the later Middle Ages, at first in French and later in English, aimed at nurturing the spiritual lives of wealthier literate people.286 But merely having a Latin prayer book gave more understanding than listening to



Latin, because a text and its sections became familiar. By the fifteenth century almshouse founders could envisage reading abilities even among the poor whom they were supporting. Ellis Davy expected his inmates at Croydon to read or say the psalm De Profundis with Latin versicles and prayers, although he allowed the three basic prayers as a substitute.287 The Suffolk family, in their ordinances for Ewelme almshouse, and John Estbury, in his for Lambourn, could equally imagine their inmates capable of saying material from the Book of Hours, psalms, and even the liturgical services of Placebo, Dirige, and Commendation, although they too had to permit the basic prayers instead.288 The fact that lay people spent so much time at Latin services meant that they picked up some of the Latin words. If the clergy gave the instruction that they were told to give, the laity would have known the general meaning of particular prayers and actions. Several Latin words and phrases became familiar from the liturgy or texts on monuments: Benedicite, et cum spiritu tuo, Deus hic, In nomine Domini, In principio, Mea culpa, Orate pro anima . . ., and so on. Such knowledge did not necessarily go much further among uneducated people. In 1491 Richard Lyllyngston of Castle Combe in Wiltshire was made to recant the opprobrious words he had said in the alehouse about clergy and their preaching. When someone pointed out that Richard knew not even what it signified to say Domine labia mea aperies – the opening words of the Hours of the Virgin – he answered that it meant no more than to say ‘a sparrow breedeth in an ivy bush’!289 MENTAL HORIZONS, PIETY, AND DISSENT Parishioners were required to be loyal to their own church. They had to attend its services and share in its maintenance. Beyond these duties they must have often established strong personal links with it through christenings, marriages, and the graves of their family members. At the same time it would be inadequate to imagine their mental horizons as limited to a single church. People moved parishes through their work or their marriages, and we often find bequests in wills to churches with which the will-maker had an ancient rather than a current relationship.290 A person’s religious interests



might lead to a pilgrimage elsewhere, to a shrine or an image. The wealthy could afford to travel to the great centres such as Canterbury and Walsingham, but even the poor could visit a neighbouring church or chapel on its festival day to meet with friends and gain the benefit of a small indulgence.291 As well as the parish guilds, there were guilds of national importance at Boston, Coventry, Stratford-upon-Avon, and other places, which gathered members from all over the country: at least members with money.292 Every religious house – cathedral, monastery, nunnery, or friary – had its ‘confraternity’, that is to say a list of donors whose names were enrolled in a register and prayed for. Even the Knights of St John had a ‘frary’ of supporters who subscribed for their crusading work in the Mediterranean in return for spiritual benefits.293 The piety of parishioners, and the extent of their mental alienation from the Church, each forms a topic deserving a book to itself. There are dangers in trying to simplify the spirituality of millions of people, or its absence, but some reflections on the issues are appropriate here. The question of piety must be approached with care, because the evidence for it arises, to an extent, from duty as well as from choice. Attendance at church and the maintenance of buildings and furnishings were enforced by bishops and archdeacons through visitations and Church courts. Those who disobeyed the Church persistently or in major ways were subject to punishments: penances and fines. Words spoken in public against a cleric or the clergy in general could bring the speaker before a Church court. If the Church’s judgments were ignored, it would excommunicate, barring the culprit from all church buildings and spiritual benefits, and at least in theory from contact with other people. Should the excommunicated person remain defiant after forty days, the bishop could signify the fact to the crown whose officers would make an arrest and imprison the offender until submission was made.294 In the case of beliefs defined as heresy and persisted in, there was, after 1401, the extreme penalty of death by burning. The functioning of the parish church and the support it received from people has to be seen beside this system of enforcement. Even evidence of voluntary support for religious beliefs and structures can be misleading. Churchwardens’ accounts, which are such a good source of information for the running of parish churches, record the support and



devotion of that part of the community which was actively pious and conscientious, not of that which was not. Wills, of which so many survive from about the thirteenth century onwards, appear to testify to individual piety. They open by confessing belief in God and the saints, make arrangements for burial, and give donations for masses or to Church organisations, even before the bequests to families and friends. But most wills were not wholly personal in origin. The majority were made not by the testator but by clergy or scribes who drew them up according to a set format.295 Often made or remade close to death, they are not entirely spontaneous documents, and partly accord with the requirements and expectations that have just been discussed. Nevertheless it cannot be the case that piety was due solely to enforcement. It certainly sprang up spontaneously, and much that has been recorded about it undoubtedly reflects the free will of devout people. What happened spiritually in most parishes went far beyond the basic demands of the Church. Thus while it was not compulsory to go to church on weekdays, there is the evidence of people at morrow masses. Some of these were members of the leisured classes, but others were not. In towns it is likely that Sunday afternoon sermons attracted pious people who had already been to mass in the morning. No church was required to have images other than the three on the rood loft and those of the patron saint and the Virgin beside the high altar. Yet most buildings acquired several more. Not all of these established a loyal following or retained it, in view of the tiny sums of money donated to some altars and images over the course of a year.296 But others had significant support, with people willing to manage their ‘stores’ of money or to join in guilds to venerate them. Activities gravitated to religion that need not have done so. Craft guilds made links with particular churches and went there to worship. The holiday periods of Whitsuntide and Corpus Christi were times for the performance of religious plays, not merely for nonreligious recreations when church was over. Nevertheless piety was not always as uniform and orthodox as the Church authorities would have wished. In one direction it could veer to superstition. Public veneration might arise to something that the Church considered unsuitable. Archbishop Greenfield of York forbade the worship of an image of Mary at Foston, Yorkshire, in 1315, until he had examined the matter,



fearing idolatry.297 The determination of Bishop Grandisson of Exeter to destroy another Marian cult at Frithelstock in Devon has already been mentioned.298 In 1386 Bishop Buckingham of Lincoln condemned the adoration of a wooden cross by a roadside at Rippingale where miracles were being claimed. He refused to allow a chapel to be built at the site, but local people went over his head to the pope and got permission despite him.299 The Church forbade magical practices which invoked powers other than Christian ones, but prayers and practices that came close to magic in supposing that a particular formula could have a specific effect were embraced by pious people. This is a feature well recorded in the later Middle Ages, often linked with offers of indulgences (or claims that such indulgences existed) in return for saying particular prayers or following other disciplines.300 An early sixteenthcentury prayer book from north Devon contains two typical examples. One advises that if you fast on the twelve Good Fridays of the year, you will not die an evil death or lack confession and housel when you die, while the Devil will not know of the passing of your soul. The twelve Fridays were located between the beginning of Lent and the approach to Christmas. Another prayer is in Latin and was allegedly composed by St Peter. It had to be written down, three masses of Our Lady said over it, and it should then be carried around with you. Its virtues were that you would be well treated by important people, able to calm storms with a dish of water, and safe from the dangers of childbirth with the additional bonus of a year’s remission of penance.301 We should allow for the circulation of such beliefs among some people in church who, in other respects, would have been considered orthodox. In the opposite direction the Church’s teachings and duties could provoke dissent and disbelief. These reactions are difficult to trace before the late fourteenth century, partly due to lack of surviving evidence from the Church courts that would have dealt with the matter. Until the 1380s England lacked an intellectual tradition of dissent such as was to be found in parts of the Continent, which the Church categorised as heresy and took severe measures to suppress. Nevertheless there is much evidence, from Church law-making and occasional records of law breaches, that many people did not want to attend church, pay church dues, or observe the Church’s moral code. The Church regarded this as disobedience rather than heresy, but it



surely carried with it a state of mind: a wish not to be involved, a dislike of the parish clergy, or a disbelief in some of the Church’s doctrines. Even though there is little evidence of the fact, it is likely that many found it hard to believe such teachings as the Real Presence of Christ at the mass, the honour to be given to the saints, or the official cosmology of heaven, purgatory, and hell. Langland claimed to have heard lords disputing and doubting the account in Genesis of the origin of evil and the Fall.302 The Real Presence was a particular problem because the stress of the Church upon it was so great and so contrary to the normal understanding of material things.303 Most sceptics did not express their disbelief or alienation in public in an intellectual way but through crude remarks, oafishness, and crime. In 1404 when the king was in Coventry and a priest was carrying the holy sacrament to the sick along a street, Archbishop Arundel was disgusted to see that knights and squires of the royal household did not venerate it but turned their backs and made no effort to stop their conversations.304 A spectacular case of coarse derision was that of John Knyght, a ‘husbandman’ or peasant who went into the chapel of St John the Baptist at Newport near Barnstaple, Devon, in 1441. He took a lighted candle and held it under the chin and nose of the Virgin Mary’s statue until they were blackened with smoke. As he did so he jeered, ‘Mabbe [a pet-name for Mary], ware [beware] thy beard!’305 Disregard for the Church was also manifest in crime, like the thefts recounted in the previous chapter. Attacks were made on clergy such as those mentioned above: sometimes fatal attacks. These were acts of defiance against the Church although they were not professions of heresy.306 By the time of these last examples, conditions had changed with the expression of alternative beliefs in an intellectual way by John Wycliffe in the 1370s and by his disciples, the Lollards, in and after 1382. These ideas can be summarised in the form that they were given in a document of 1395 now known as ‘The Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards’. The Church should not have temporal lands and powers. The present-day priesthood is not that which was instituted by the Apostles. Priests may marry. The bread and wine of the eucharist remain after consecration and are not the real body of Christ. The consecration and blessing of objects in churches should not be done. Prayers for the dead should not name individuals. Images should not be venerated in



worship or through pilgrimage. Confession is a means by which the clergy hold power over the laity.307 Ideas such as these had a considerable impact on popular scepticism and were widely disseminated through speech and writings. Disbelievers who had hitherto been vulnerable to accusations that they were ignorant, isolated, or wilful gained the confidence that what they felt could be supported by learned scholarship and were shared by other people. As a result they alarmed the Church authorities into becoming more vigilant and repressive of such ideas and according them greater status: the status of heresy which merited punishment by penance and, if necessary, imprisonment or death. From 1382 until well into the Reformation, men and women suspected of holding these and other proscribed ideas came to the notice of the Church authorities: through visitations, reports from other people, or their own initiative. Many of the suspects were not Lollards in the fullest sense: that they had absorbed or read the ideas of Wycliffe or his later interpreters. Investigations brought to light all kinds of sceptical views of the kind we have postulated before Wycliffe’s time, but for which previous evidence has not survived.308 Large numbers of people with doubts about Church doctrines or practices, or hostility to them, now appeared in Church records. Since only the bold or unlucky came to be noticed, the views expressed must have been more common, although they did not always form a belief-system but merely dislike or scepticism about particular things. Some of the opinions have no direct link to Wycliffe and others may have been influenced from elsewhere. Thus an assertion that children need not be baptised, since the Holy Spirit could provide the necessary grace, had some support among scholars dealing with the question of the salvation of stillborn babies.309 The investigations into suspected disbelievers centred on the Real Presence, which the authorities considered the chief and most serious of the Lollard heresies. Many people were accused of, or admitted to, believing that the bread and wine remained after consecration. Other enquiries uncovered hostility to the organised Church: the pope was Antichrist, the bishops his disciples, and many priests evil. One should not pay tithes to a priest of sinful life. There was disapproval of the veneration of relics and saints. One person averred that the Holy Blood of Hailes Abbey in Gloucestershire, allegedly Christ’s own, was merely that of an animal. Baptism, confirmation,



confession, and fasting were all unnecessary, and God forgave through contrition alone. Prayers should be said in English, and to repeat the Paternoster in Latin was but to say ‘bibull, babull’. Further away from classic Lollardy, but arising from individual disbelief, were notions that Christ was not conceived by a Virgin, that she had at least one other child, that the soul dies with the body, or even that we have no souls at all. Some people had picturesque ways of describing their scepticism: There is more good in a cask of ale than in the four gospels. Matins and evensong are no better than the rumbling of tubs, or the mass of a bad priest than the sound of a barking dog. I would as soon see the consecration of a pudding as a mass, or as soon be buried under an oak as in a Christian cemetery. When you see my soul hang on a hedge, cast stones at it.310 At the same time scepticism cannot be easily separated from orthodoxy. Much of what Lollards believed was in principle commended by the Church authorities. Christ should be central to one’s faith. Faith and worship should be founded on knowledge and understanding, not on mere rituals. Sunday should be strictly kept as a holy day. Charity should be given to the poor.311 Those who could read devotional works should be encouraged to do so: indeed the reading of the Bible in the Lollards’ English translation was allowed by the Church to those considered to be important and trustworthy. A well-known view found in some wills of Lollard sympathisers – a disdain for one’s dead body and a wish for a plain funeral – was shared by people of unimpeachable Catholicism.312 Popular beliefs could not and cannot be sorted into neat categories. At one extreme it was possible to be orthodox and yet superstitious in ways that the Church disliked. At the other, orthodoxy might co-exist with anticlericalism, with ‘Puritanism’ like that of the Lollards, or with a wish to reduce one’s church associations as much as possible to live one’s life outside. These variations need to be considered alongside the uniformity suggested by the laws and institutions of the Church. THE LAITY AND THEIR IMPACT How then should we rate the importance of a congregation in the life and working of a medieval parish church? Notionally the Church gave orders to the



laity to support their church, and sought to ensure that they did. Parishioners were expected to maintain much of the building and its furnishings, provide the books and materials needed for services, and attend church worship. Services were carried out by the clergy, and screens around chancels and altars kept most people at a distance. Such things can easily give rise to an assumption that the laity were largely spectators in church, or the passive recipients of spiritual benefits at masses, baptisms, marriages, visitations of the sick, and funerals. This chapter and its two predecessors, however, should have shown how much initiative a congregation or its individual members possessed in the functioning of a church. From Anglo-Saxon times many church patrons were lay nobility or gentry who chose the church incumbent and had influence over him. Even where patrons were bishops or monasteries, wealthy lay people in a parish must also have exerted some power over clergy and church activities. Men and women of this kind contributed to the maintenance and remodelling of church buildings in formats that they liked. Noble families gave artefacts and planted tombs marked with their effigies and coats of arms, establishing emblems of lay power alongside the church’s spiritual imagery. They had the power to make the clergy’s lives more pleasant through hospitality and support, or the reverse. The growth of the office of churchwarden gave other men and women important functions alongside the church incumbent. The creation of chantries, guilds, stores, and companies helped to determine the range of altars, images, and even clergy within a church. But lay influence extended much further than this into the spiritual areas that the Church considered its own. We have seen how the attempts of the authorities to regulate how churches were used were undermined by the determination of lay people to enter the sacred spaces of chancels and chapels. The filling of the building with seating was an initiative of the laity rather than the authorities, yet it must have modified how worship functioned. The wish of many people to spend Sunday and festival days as they wanted led them to seek for services other than the official mid-morning ones, at least until authority prevented them. The following chapter provides more such examples. We shall see how the presence of congregations at mass led clergy to elaborate its rituals and teaching for the benefit of those present. This involved the use of the English language in ways that are not apparent



in the standard liturgical books. The power of the gentry could affect the times of services. The desire of the laity for masses could cause them to happen more frequently than the Church required. A similar lay fondness for polyphonic music paid for organs and choirs to provide it. In short the people too helped shape how worship developed. The forms that it took were not moulded by clergy alone.


5 J


THE DAY, THE WEEK, AND THE YEAR Human life proceeds through stages of time: the day, the week, the season, and the year. The calendar of the Christian Church in the Middle Ages observed these stages, affecting and reflecting how people lived. Time was holy: created by God for us to live and mark in holy ways. The Church inherited from Judaism an understanding that continual praise to God was offered in heaven, which mankind ought to imitate on earth. Two texts in the psalms were quoted: ‘My prayer comes before you in the morning’ and ‘Seven times a day I praise you’.1 There grew up a series of services – acts of praise and prayer – meant to be said or sung at intervals each day by the clergy: the professionals whose duty it was to honour God and intercede to him on behalf of the rest of humanity. These services marked significant points of the day. Originally four of them related to the stages of the natural day: midnight, dawn, evening, and the end of the day. Three others recalled the Passion of Jesus: the third hour (9.00 a.m.) when the crowd called for his crucifixion, the sixth (noon or midday) when that event took place, and the ninth (3.00 p.m.) when he died.2 Each day’s services were therefore commemorations of day itself and one of the most crucial days in the history of human salvation. Indeed, by the end of the Middle Ages, all the daily services could be thought of as linked with the events of the Passion.3 A large part of these services consisted of the singing of the 150 psalms in the Bible. This took place across the whole of every week, which therefore formed a second unit of spiritual time. Certain days of the week were significant. The first day, Sunday, was the day of God’s first act of creation, of the



resurrection of Jesus, and of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This was always a festal day from Anglo-Saxon times, as has been noted, with special observances in church and the requirement to cease from work and go to worship. Robert Mannyng, writing in the early fourteenth century, recalled the Anglo-Saxon practice of keeping Sunday as a holy day from midday on Saturday. He believed that when this was done, there had been grace and plenty.4 The liturgy of Sunday, on the other hand, began with the service of vespers (or evensong) on Saturday which, by the later Middle Ages, was held in the middle or end of the afternoon. This then became the point at which the Lord’s Day started and when abstinence from work should be observed although, as we have seen, the rule was frequently flouted.5 Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday were days of prayer and self-denial from early times. Wednesday came to be associated with the first day of Lent, with Christ’s beginning to fast in the wilderness, and with Judas’s plotting to betray him.6 Friday commemorated his crucifixion and Saturday the sorrowing of his apostles between Good Friday and Easter Day.7 Every Friday became a required day of fasting from meat unless it fell on Christmas Day,8 and the practice was also recommended on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The household accounts of some wealthy people show the purchase of fish for eating on each of these days,9 and Geoffrey de la Tour Landry, in his book of instruction for young women, likewise urged the observance of all three.10 Penances were often imposed on Wednesdays and Fridays, and processions to pray for God’s help in times of trouble were held on these days.11 Four weeks of the Church year were additional times of fasting, known as ‘Ember Weeks’. These were the first full week of Lent, the week after Pentecost, the week after Holy Cross Day (14 September), and the week after St Lucy’s Day (13 December).12 On three days in these weeks, the ‘Ember Days’ of Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, all were expected to fast from meat, and the Saturdays were particularly solemn days when bishops ordained their clergy. Saturday was also regarded as the special day of the Virgin Mary, when prayer and devotion should be offered to her. This idea had reached England by the tenth century and was well established by the time of Mannyng, who rationalised it by asserting that the Virgin alone had believed in the Resurrection of Christ during the Saturday before Easter.13 A penitent lecher



33.  A high mass in church with priest, deacon, and subdeacon. The artist has omitted the other clerks or laity likely to be present.

in Piers Plowman vowed to fast on that day in honour of the Virgin Mary, and Geoffrey de la Tour Landry advised doing the same, which he said would help preserve a maiden’s virginity and chastity.14 It was impossible to treat every week of the year in the same religious manner, however, because of the occurrence of special days. Some of these were fixed days of the week: Ash Wednesday at the beginning of Lent, the three days before Easter (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Eve), Ascension Day (a Thursday) and the three Rogation Days that preceded it, Corpus Christi (also a Thursday), along with the twelve Ember Days. Others were feasts of Christ, the Virgin



Mary, and the saints, which fell on designated days of the year and therefore might turn up on any day of the week. In consequence the weekly services in church had to be modified to take account of these special days, and so did the devotions of people outside church. The Church kept in step with the seasons too. It held a midwinter feast at Christmas and spring ones on Palm Sunday and Easter Day, while Midsummer Day was celebrated as the feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist on 24 June. The fields were blessed during Rogation Week in late April or May, and the daily keeping of time was adjusted to match the changes in daylight from winter to summer. Each of the four seasons was marked by an Ember Week. In addition the Church had seasons of its own alongside those of the natural year: Advent, Epiphany, Lent, and Eastertide. In this chapter we shall examine the day and the week, reserving the seasons and the year for Chapter 6. THE FORMAT OF SERVICES The services of the medieval Catholic Church were similar, but not uniform, across western Europe and throughout England. Canon law laid down that parish churches should follow the format of the services at the chief or ‘metropolitan’ cathedral of the province in which they lay.15 In England, as we have seen, there were two provinces: Canterbury, south of the River Trent (including Wales), and York, between that river and the border with Scotland. The canon law was appropriate in the province of York, where the cathedral was ‘secular’ (staffed by canons) and its services were suitable to be repeated, in a simplified way, in the parish churches of the three dioceses within the province: Carlisle, Durham, and York. The ‘Use of York’, as that cathedral’s services were known, became widely copied in service books and parish church practices in the north of England.16 In the southern province of Canterbury there was a problem, because the archbishop’s cathedral was a monastery whose services were less suitable for use in parish churches. In consequence the secular cathedrals in the province became models for parish worship, at least in the dioceses around them. These places were Chichester, Exeter, Hereford, Lichfield, Lincoln, St Paul’s



London and Salisbury.17 Salisbury came to lead the field and its services – the Use of Sarum – were adopted in most of the province of Canterbury during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, apart from the diocese of Hereford where that cathedral’s usages remained influential.18 William Lyndwood, the authority on English canon law who wrote in the early fifteenth century, accepted that Sarum was commonly and correctly used in most of the province, and at a very late date, in 1543, the whole province was ordered to use the Sarum breviary: the book that contained the daily services.19 The requirement that parish churches should model their worship on that of a cathedral ensured that the material of the services would be orthodox and appropriate. At the same time it left unresolved some important questions. In the first place, the texts of cathedral worship did not remain static. The modern editions of Sarum and York were produced by late-Victorian scholars who assumed that they could recover perfect texts of the services. In fact they used only certain manuscripts or early printed editions and failed to give enough credit to the evolution of liturgy over time and its many variants from copy to copy.20 Evolution included the insertion of new liturgical material, new religious festivals, and new ‘rubrics’ or directions for the ceremonial of services, so called because they were written (and later printed) in red alongside the black of the textual material. Early service books in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries had little in terms of directions and left much to the initiative of the performer. Later ones were more precise and prescriptive, and important changes in this respect took place in the later thirteenth century and the second half of the fourteenth.21 In addition the control of liturgical texts by the Church authorities was limited. As we shall see, bishops and archdeacons insisted that parish churches should have the necessary books for services, and some inspection of books was done to ensure that they were ‘sufficient’ or complete. Above all, every church was required to have the correct text of the canon of the mass: the all-important prayer of consecration that had to be used in the same form everywhere.22 When popes or archbishops added new festivals of Christ or the saints to the Church calendar, the material for these was meant to be included in each church’s service books and this was sometimes checked on.23 But there was no formal process for establishing the texts of the Uses or



for updating them, as there is, say, for a modern handbook that is revised and reissued as a standard text from time to time.24 In principle each Use was regulated by the bishop and the ruling body of the cathedral concerned: the dean and chapter.25 Some of the changes were initiated or approved by them, but they did not control the reproduction of the texts. Service books were all manuscripts until about the 1480s and it was beyond the power of the authorities to ensure that they were absolutely uniform. The scribes and later on the printers who produced them could do so using earlier versions or with the insertion or subtraction of material. Individual clergy could add or omit while using the texts. Even in the sixteenth century, when those of Sarum in particular were frequently printed in England or abroad for the English market, the liturgical scholar Richard Pfaff has observed that ‘any notion that there was one standard printed Sarum missal [book for mass] must be regarded as fiction’ and that ‘each edition should ideally be regarded as an independent artefact’.26 As a result the parish clergy who used Sarum or York would have encountered slightly varying texts or rubrics in their books. If the books were decades old, their users might be doing different things compared to more up-to-date churches, although the major features of the services would be similar. A further unresolved matter was that a cathedral worked differently from a parish church. Worship in a cathedral was a grand act of praise and prayer to God, rather than one that tried to reach out to a congregation. Lay people could be present, but they were not involved in the worship and were only minimally noticed in it. Cathedral services were performed in splendid and spacious surroundings. They involved a large number of clergy: reading, singing, and carrying out the ceremonies required. Some parish churches were well staffed in this way, notably certain old minsters like Beverley, Ripon, and Southwell, and the larger collegiate churches founded in the later Middle Ages such as Fotheringhay, Newark College Leicester, and Ottery St Mary. Certain big town churches came to have similar resources in terms of additional chantry priests and choirs of men and boys. In these places, a reasonable attempt could be made to stage services in the manner of a cathedral. Worship in many, perhaps most, parish churches, could not reproduce that. Space might be limited, whether in chancel, nave, or side chapel. There



was often only a priest and a parish clerk to perform services, especially on a weekday. A chantry priest or chaplain celebrating his daily mass in a side chapel, manor house chapel, or small chapel-of-ease, had also to do so in a basic way, with a similar clerk or boy to serve him and provide the responses that the service required. But only one of the Sarum and York service books used by the clergy was easily adaptable to parish churches as well as to cathedrals. This was the ‘manual’, which contained the pastoral services such as baptisms and funerals.27 The books for the daily and Sunday services – the Office and the mass, which we shall encounter presently – did not make this adjustment. Their rubrics were those of cathedrals with elaborate ceremony. Clergy in churches with few assistants were obliged to do the best they could with the books, using the material but staging it in a simple way. They would be obliged to lead the singing, rather than leave it to a choir, and carry out the ceremonial actions with minimal assistance. This could lead to anomalies. Thomas Becon, writing after the Reformation, mocked the chantry priests who had formerly quoted from Sarum, ‘Pray for me, brothers and sisters’, when there might be no one in church apart from the boy who served them.28 The presence of a congregation in a parish church raised a further issue. On Sundays and festivals, when people gathered together for worship – particularly for the parish mass in the middle of the morning – there were needs and opportunities ignored by Sarum or York where the services were not primarily meant to reach out to lay worshippers. Later in this chapter we shall see how parish clergy devised ways of relating their services more closely to their audience. They developed ceremonies at the beginning and the end of the mass, made announcements and asked for prayers in the middle of it, and told parishioners on Easter Day how to receive communion. They produced words of guidance for godparents at a baptism and banns of marriage before a wedding. They introduced extra drama into certain services, such as Palm Sunday and St Nicholas Day when more colourful activities took place than were done in a cathedral.29 Here what parishioners wanted or needed led to the elaboration of Sarum and York rather than to their simplification. Much of the elaboration introduced by the clergy involved material in English. Explanations, announcements, and prayers in the language were inserted into what were otherwise Latin services, in order to make worship



more understandable by and inclusive of lay people. This is likely to have happened from Anglo-Saxon times, but the material rarely survives in written form until about the fifteenth century. We then find it being added to copies of the Sarum and York service books, or recorded separately in private prayer books and miscellanies that clergy made for themselves. The Church authorities do not seem to have concerned themselves with extra prayers and ceremonies of this kind, neither giving directions about them nor forbidding them to happen. Instead such material came to be shared and circulated informally, to such an extent that similar texts of it can be found in widely separated regions of England.30 The daily and weekly services performed by the parish clergy were done from books, not by heart, and by the early thirteenth century bishops were ordering the churches in their dioceses to possess the necessary texts.31 By 1240 they were specifying the exact titles and, at least occasionally, enquiring if churches possessed them.32 For the daily services, which we shall refer to as the Office, a church should possess a breviary, a psalter, an antiphoner, a legendary, and an ordinal. The breviary provided most of the material for the Office. It was alternatively known as the ‘portuous’ from the French words porte hors, ‘carry outside’, reflecting the fact that clergy might need to use it to perform the Office away from the church, perhaps while ill in their houses or on a journey. The psalter and antiphoner, containing psalms and antiphons, would often include notation for singing in plainsong. The legendary included the lessons from the Bible, Church Fathers, and Lives of the saints that were read at matins. It might be in two parts or volumes called, in Latin, the Temporale covering the seasons of the year and the Sanctorale with the lessons for saints’ days. The ordinal, later known as the ‘pie’, was a guide to the daily services which enabled clergy to find the specifications for what was to be included or omitted every day. Further books were required for other purposes. The missal and gradual contained the material for celebrating mass, and the manual included the pastoral services that the Church provided for the laity. These were baptism, marriage, churching after birth, visiting and giving communion to the sick, the last rites for the dying, and funerals.33 Many churches with elaborate worship would also have a processioner which included the material to be



sung during processions, although this was not prescribed in diocesan documents. Finally bishops would own a separate book, the pontifical, for the services that they carried out such as confirmation, ordination, and the dedication of churches. Other books are occasionally mentioned, such as the collectar for the prayers for Sundays, festivals, and saints’ days known as collects, and used in tandem with both the breviary and the missal. As time went on there was a tendency to consolidate material in the breviary and the missal, reducing the problems that arose from handling several books. The order of 1240, which came from the bishop of Worcester, implied that the books should be provided at the expense of the parishioners of the church.34 This signalled the same shift of responsibility from the clergy to the laity that we have encountered in the maintenance of church buildings.35 In 1287 the bishop of Exeter stated explicitly that parishioners should supply all the books that their church required, with double or triple copies in larger churches. He made the clergy themselves accountable only for the ‘matins book’ and a psalter.36 By the fourteenth century the provision and repair of the books were a definite obligation laid on the people of every parish in the province of Canterbury.37 This does not mean that the books were always available or in a good state. Visitations of churches in Cornwall and Devon in 1281 and 1331, for example, found some items missing and others in bad condition.38 But the requirements were broadly enforced. Some wellorganised churches after about 1400 have left us inventories of their books, which show that in such places the appropriate volumes were acquired and carefully looked after.39 THE DIVINE OFFICE Parish clergy were required to follow the precepts of the psalms and to perform the series of services each day that are mentioned above. These were seven or eight in number, depending on whether the first two were counted separately or together. The name of the first service, matins, means the service of the early morning and took place correctly at that time: the hours from midnight onwards. Lauds usually followed straight after matins. Prime gained its name from the first hour of daylight, terce from the third hour,



sext from the sixth hour, nones from the ninth hour, vespers from the evening, and compline from the completion of the working day before going to bed. During the Middle Ages, however, the original times of these services were modified to accommodate the other tasks that clergy had to do, and the revised times will be outlined later in the chapter. The daily services were known collectively as the Opus Dei, Divine Office, Divine Service, or the Canonical Hours. They often came to be called ‘of the day’, as in ‘matins of the day’, to distinguish them from the shorter services known as the Hours of the Virgin Mary, discussed in the previous chapter. The Office services were written in Latin up to the Reformation.40 They were normally required to be sung with plainsong and this would be so every day in a large church with several clergy or in a small one on a Sunday or festival day.41 It was indeed permissible to ‘read’ or say them (perhaps by intoning) if the day was not a festive one, which would be likely in a small church on weekdays or when they were done by the clergy in private.42 Saying them was sufficiently common for some medieval writers to use that word rather than ‘singing’, so the following discussion will employ a neutral term such as ‘performing’ to cover both possibilities.43 The Office services contained six elements: psalms and canticles, antiphons, hymns, lessons or readings, responsories, and prayers. All 150 psalms in the Bible were read through every week, chiefly at matins and vespers. Matins dealt with the numbers from 1 to 108 and vespers with those from 109 to 147. The sequence was not perfect because certain psalms were detached from it for assignment to particular services, including 148–150. Along with the psalms there were passages of praise from elsewhere in the Bible that have come to be known as canticles, including Benedictus at matins, Magnificat at vespers, and Nunc dimittis at compline, along with the early Christian hymn of praise Te Deum at lauds. The psalms and canticles were usually preceded and followed by antiphons: short sentences also from the Scriptures, designed to comment on the material and relate it to the seasons and festivals of the year. Hymns were metrical works of praise written during the Middle Ages and responsories were texts based on the Scriptures and sung after each of the lessons. The lessons partook of some complexity. They were chiefly read through at matins, the material of which was divided into three ‘nocturnes’ each



34.  The climax of the mass: the priest elevates the ‘host’ of consecrated bread, watched by his assistant clerks.



consisting of a few psalms and one or three readings. On ordinary weekdays there was one reading in each nocturne, making three altogether, and on Sundays and festival days three readings in each, making nine. The ‘lectionary’ or plan of lessons did not, as in modern usages, proceed through the Bible in a logical order, but came from four sources. Much but not all of the Old Testament was read: Isaiah from Advent Sunday until Christmas Day, Genesis from Septuagesima, and a selection of books including Kings, Wisdom, and Job in the late summer and autumn. From the New Testament, some of Paul’s epistles were read after Epiphany and portions of the gospels and the epistle of James between Easter and Trinity Sunday. In contrast on many of the major festivals lessons were read not from the Bible but from the sermons and homilies of great medieval writers such as Augustine of Hippo, Gregory the Great, and Bede. And on saints’ days they might be taken from the principal Life of the saint or from a homily in the saint’s honour. The lack of gospels and epistles was offset by their inclusion in the liturgy of the mass. But the overall effect was to reduce the presence of the Bible in the Office readings and to enlarge that of the history and doctrine of the Church since the time of the first apostles.44 During the thirteenth century two additions were made to the recitation of the Office in churches. One was the Hours of the Virgin Mary, discussed in Chapter 4.45 These Hours had originated in monasteries, from whence they came to be performed in cathedrals and other great churches after lauds and vespers of the day.46 They were popular, as we have seen, with lay people for their personal devotions, and it may be that some parish clergy adopted the practice of saying them after the two main daily services, especially in larger town churches. The other addition was that of the ‘vigils’ or ‘vespers and matins’ ‘of the dead’, known from their opening words as Placebo and Dirige, together with the short service for the dead known as the Commendation of Souls.47 These were liturgies said in church on the evening and morning before a funeral, but came to be repeated on a daily basis in major churches for the souls of the departed in general, except during the season of Eastertide and on the vigils of major festivals. In the Use of Sarum this was done following the vespers of the Virgin after the vespers of the day.48 By the middle of the thirteenth century the practice was enjoined on



the parish clergy in several dioceses, so that it may have become a common one, especially if there was a funeral in prospect.49 The Church inherited the ancient Jewish understanding that a day began in the evening rather than at midnight or dawn.50 In consequence, each day of the Office started at vespers on the evening before: the liturgy of Christmas Day, for example, commencing at vespers on Christmas Eve. If the day was a major festival, this service was called ‘first vespers’ and the vespers on the day itself also contained material relating to the festival, being known as ‘second vespers’. Otherwise the vespers of a particular day related to the next day. The day was thus one unit of time in the Office and the week was another. As well as the psalms being read through every week, major festivals had a secondary commemoration one week later, known as an octave, in which the services included material referring back to the feast of the week before. The third unit of time was the year. Liturgical books began the year on Advent Sunday, the fourth Sunday before Christmas, and the services for that day formed a template for the rest of the year. The cycle of saints’ days opened with that of St Andrew on 30 November. This practice co-existed with an understanding that the natural year began on 1 January (the feast of the Circumcision of Christ) and the calendar year (when the year date changed) on 25 March (the Annunciation of the Virgin). The liturgical year had six major seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Eastertide, and Pentecost, as well as minor ones such as the four Ember Weeks and Rogation Week. These seasons all had their own special observances, which had to be fitted into the daily and weekly routines. Nor was that all, because a large number of festivals and saints’ days were celebrated, each with its own material for worship.51 By the end of the Middle Ages the Use of Sarum recognised over two hundred days of the year as feasts of Christ and the saints, or as having other distinct characteristics such as the Ember and Rogation Days. Festivals and saints’ days were ranked in five categories. The higher the category, the more elaborate the services. In Sarum usage, the highest level, ‘principal doubles’, included the major festivals of Christ: Christmas Day, Epiphany, Easter Day, and Ascension Day, along with Pentecost, the Assumption or ascension of Mary (15 August) and her Nativity (8 September), the festival of each church’s own patron saint



(the patronal festival), and the anniversary of when it had been dedicated by the bishop (the dedication festival). ‘Major doubles’ consisted of other chief festivals of the Trinity, Christ, and Mary, while ‘minor doubles’ were the four days after Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost together with the two festivals of the Holy Cross and a few major saints’ days. ‘Inferior doubles’ were mostly feasts of the apostles together with John the Baptist, Jerome, Ambrose, Michael, and three saints particularly venerated in England: Augustine of Canterbury, Edward the Confessor, and George. The remaining category was that of ‘simple feasts’, in which the majority of saints’ days were to be found, although these were subdivided into three groups with some differences depending on status. THE MASS The mass – the sacrament of the eucharist – was the service of greatest importance and with the strongest appeal to lay people. Like the Office it changed with the passage of the liturgical year, with appropriate material for the season or festival day. Unlike the Office it was not linked to a particular time of the day although it was normally required to take place between dawn and late morning. Priests and congregations were expected to fast before mass, so that the latest celebration in the morning had to end before midday dinner at 11.00 a.m. or thereabouts.52 There were three exceptions to this. On Christmas Day three masses could be celebrated, even by one priest: at midnight, dawn, and mid morning. On Easter Eve he was allowed to celebrate a mass after vespers to supplement the mass of the following Easter morning, in order to give communion to more lay people.53 Finally on the Saturdays of the four Ember Weeks of the year – the days on which ordinations of clergy were held – it was permissible for a mass to take place in the afternoon, presumably so that freshly ordained priests could celebrate on the first day of their new status.54 In a cathedral, monastery, collegiate church, or large town church, all of which had several priests, each one might celebrate a mass within the span of time just described, but the principal mass of the day, which formed the only one in many parish churches, was integrated into the pattern of the Office.



By the early thirteenth century clergy were forbidden to begin their mass until they had performed matins, lauds, and prime.55 In principle this meant that a chantry priest whose mass was timed for dawn should have said his matins beforehand. A parish priest rose later, at dawn or afterwards, performed his Office services, and probably undertook his mass, the principal mass of his church, an hour or two later. The same was true of the principal mass in a church with numerous clergy. On Sundays this mass took place in mid morning after the office of terce. On weekdays it was deferred to follow sext which came after terce, and on fasting days in Lent and at certain other times it was postponed still further to follow nones which came after sext.56 The principal mass, when celebrated on Sundays and festivals in the presence of a congregation, was sung to plainsong and performed with full ceremony, and was known in this form as a ‘high mass’. This might also be so on weekdays in collegiate and large town churches with several clergy. In smaller parish churches with one or two priests, a weekday mass, even if it was the principal one, would be said, not sung, with minimal ceremony and was then known as a ‘low mass’. Other masses in churches done by chantry or guild priests were normally low masses too. The liturgical material for mass was to be found, and is still preserved, in the missals of Sarum, York, and Hereford.57 But, as has been pointed out, the rubrics for performing mass related to a cathedral setting in grand and spacious surroundings with plentiful human resources. Such a mass was led by a priest assisted by a deacon and subdeacon (whose roles would normally be taken by other priests). There were acolytes or servers to carry candles, incense, and holy water, and the support of a choir. This allowed the ministers (priest, deacon, and subdeacon) to do tasks while the choir sang: tasks that could be divided among all three of them. In many, perhaps most, parish churches, mass could not be celebrated in this way, with only a priest, a clerk or boy available, and on Sundays perhaps some other boy assistants. It may seem odd that no Church authority, or enterprising liturgist, produced a ‘parish missal’ comparable to the manual, with directions for mass on ordinary days or even on Sundays in parish churches. Why was there such a lack? Maybe because the mass was considered so holy that every church ought to put all its available resources into the celebration. Perhaps in addition because



church staffing varied so widely: much more widely than was the case after the Reformation. But not until the Prayer Book of 1549 was a service of mass (now called holy communion) specifically designed and officially authorised for parish usage.58 The following account – which attempts to describe the principal mass for a congregation on a Sunday or festival at a typical modest church – must therefore try, like the medieval clergy, to envisage the Sarum and York mass in a parish situation. It also necessarily abridges what, even in a parish church, was a very intricate and repetitive ceremony. The principal mass on Sundays was preceded by a rite called the ‘blessing of salt and water’. The priest and his assistants (the plural will be used but there might be only the parish clerk) assembled in the chancel before the service of terce which began the sequence of mid morning services. The priest was presented with salt and with water in a pot or small bucket which he exorcised with prayers. He threw salt into the water in the sign of the cross, and blessed the mixture. Using an asperge or small brush, he aspersed or sprinkled the altar, and did the same to his assistants from the least important upwards. Next he aspersed any privileged laity who were allowed to stand in the chancel.59 After this the priest and his assistants went in procession around the church: clockwise if the church had aisles permitting this. They aspersed any side altars and the lay congregation, returning to the chancel for terce or (on appropriate days) for sext and nones as well, as mentioned above. The priest now needed to vest himself for mass in a vestment called a chasuble, which he did while reciting the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus (‘Come, Creator Spirit’), the collect of the Holy Spirit Deus qui omne cor patet (‘O God, to whom all hearts are open’), and the Kyries (‘Lord, have mercy’). A Sunday or festival mass in a parish church, as stated, was intoned and sung to plainsong, except for certain parts (chiefly the prayer of consecration) which were said by the priest in a low voice. Cases exist of congregations complaining when this was not done.60 The priest, having vested, went to the altar on which were placed two lighted candles, or one at least, to signify Christ as the light of the world.61 He faced eastwards towards the altar and began the office, later known as the introit: a short Biblical text, which was repeated by the choir if there was one. The priest offered the Confiteor,



or prayer of confession, to his assistants and they reciprocated, after which he absolved them and exchanged a kiss of peace with his clerk. Having made further prayers, he kissed the altar and made the sign of the cross. The clerk brought a thurible of incense, the priest blessed it, and he used it to cense the altar, after which he was censed by the clerk. Then the priest, or the choir, sang the early Christian hymn Gloria in excelsis (‘Glory be to God on high’). Gloria was followed by the priest turning to face the people and intoning the collect: the special prayer for that day or week of the Church year. Next the parish clerk intoned the epistle at the south end of the altar, and he or any servers prepared the vessels and materials for the eucharist. The priest or choir sang the gradual or grail, a short text usually from the psalms in two parts, verse and response, together with the alleluia: a further sentence of scripture. In Lent and other penitential times, the alleluia was replaced by the tract: a portion of one of the psalms. On Sundays in Advent, Christmas, and Eastertide and on certain great festivals the alleluia was followed by the sequence: a rhythmical hymn of medieval origin, and the sequence by the gospel. The gospel was intoned from the north end of the altar by the priest unless he had assistants, in which case this might be done after going in procession to a more central place in the chancel or perhaps to the east end of the nave. The congregation stood during the gospel and bowed when Jesus was named.62 After the gospel the priest or choir sang the longer form of the Creed known as the Nicene Creed, bowing three times in the middle at the words affirming how Jesus was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man. This was followed by the offertory: another short sung text. At this point on a Sunday, as we shall see, the service became more instructive for the benefit of the laity and included the use of the English language. Announcements were made and sermons might be preached, after the gospel or the offertory.63 This part of the service would have been a suitable time for donations of any kind to be given, or collected by the parish clerk. No directions are given in missals for the making of offerings by the congregation while the priest sang the offertory, but the fourteenth-century English guide to the mass for lay people, The Lay Folks’ Mass Book, indicates that their gifts were to be made at this point, although it left them with the choice of giving



35.  Another image of the elevation at mass, watched by a clerk with a torch and lay people. There is a framed text on the wall.



or not.64 On an ordinary Sunday or weekday, making a gift was a choice, but there were occasions on which an offering was expected: Candlemas, weddings, churchings of women, funerals, and the four compulsory offering days. Some churches made occasional collections for the poor as well: in 1451 the bishop of Worcester told his diocese to do so three times a year.65 When these matters of business were over, the priest prepared for the central part of the mass: the eucharist. He placed on the altar the materials which had been prepared by the clerk: a paten (a little plate on which lay the ‘host’, a circular wafer of unleavened bread) and a small chalice of wine mixed with water. The clerk passed the priest the thurible of burning incense and the priest censed the altar, paten, and chalice. He washed and dried his hands and passed the thurible to his assistants to cense each other, then the choir, and finally the congregation. After this he lowered his voice to say the secret: a short prayer to God followed by another to the Virgin. This was followed by himself or the choir singing Sursum Corda (‘Lift up your hearts’) together with the preface (a prayer of praise that varied on great festivals) and the Sanctus (‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts’), accompanied by the ringing of the sanctus bell.66 The priest now faced the altar which had on it the paten with its host and the chalice. He began the canon, or prayer of consecration. This was the most holy part of the service, hence the care that every church should possess an accurate text of the words. On the Continent, since about 800, the prayer had come to be said or intoned in a low voice because of its holiness.67 How low is hard to say. Some thirteenth-century English bishops ordered it to be said or ‘offered’ ‘in a rounded and distinct way’, and one of them used the word ‘openly’.68 In 1323 Archbishop Reynolds told priests not to pronounce it too fastidiously ‘lest this instil fastidium [distaste or scorn] in their listeners’.69 However it seems often or usually to have been said quietly or silently: a practice that came to be explained on the grounds that the canon was personal to the priest and that silence avoided disrespect to the words from his listeners.70 The Lay Folks’ Mass Book did not envisage worshippers being able to pick up the words that the priest was saying, and assumed that they would keep abreast of the canon only by following his gestures at the altar.71



The canon began with prayers for the living: the pope, the bishop, the king, the priest himself, those present, and if appropriate for particular people. It paid reverence to the Virgin Mary, the apostles, and other early saints, and then recalled how Christ broke bread at the Last Supper with the words Hoc est corpus meum (‘This is my body’). Some clergy broke the host at this point as if to imitate Christ, but the Sarum missal condemned such practice as foolish. The priest venerated the host, took it from the paten, and held it aloft in his hands: a gesture known as the ‘first sacring’ (Figs 33, p. 199; 35, p. 214). This, the first elevation, was a development of the early thirteenth century, impelled by the growth of belief in the Real Presence.72 Once the pronouncing of Christ’s words was understood to change the bread into his physical body and blood, the host became an object of devotion for onlookers. Their attention was summoned visually by the priest’s action and audibly by the shaking of a small hand-bell or bells by the priest’s assistant. The fact was also proclaimed to the outside world by another ringing of the sanctus bell. Those who heard the bell in the fields or in their homes were expected to genuflect, and indulgences were offered for such a gesture.73 Some priests kissed the host at this point, but John Mirk in his manual for clergy reproved the practice as equally inappropriate.74 The priest continued with the repetition of Christ’s words over the wine: ‘Drink this, all of you’, and similarly raised the chalice above him. After this he bowed, kissed the altar, and prayed for the dead, both by name if appropriate and in the name of all the faithful departed. Continuing and completing the canon, he lifted the host and chalice above his head together: an action known as the ‘second sacring’. This was originally the only elevation made during the prayer, signifying that the bread and wine were offerings to God, but it came to be overshadowed after about 1200 by the earlier one.75 The priest then turned to the chalice and made the sign of the cross upon it five times, using the host to do so. Next he sang the Paternoster, to which the choir or clerk and perhaps the congregation replied with the last clause sed libera nos a malo (‘but deliver us from evil’). Following that he broke the host into three pieces to replicate Christ’s action at the Last Supper: first into half and then the left half into two quarters.76 The priest prayed again and he or the choir sang the Agnus Dei (‘O Lamb of God, you that take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us’). He



placed one of the parts of the host into the chalice of wine as a sign of the mingling of the body and blood of Christ. Having kissed the chalice, he took the pax or ‘pax-brede’: a tablet of ivory, wood, or metal marked with a symbol of Christ. A few examples of these survive, such as that of Sandon in Essex which resembles a small framed icon showing Christ on the Cross with Mary and John (Fig. 36, p. 223).77 The priest transferred the kiss of the chalice, as it were, to the pax, saying to the clerk, Pax tibi (‘Peace to you and to the Church of God’). The clerk received the pax, kissed it, and passed it first to anyone else in the chancel after which he or an assistant took it to the laity in the nave to be kissed by each person. Meanwhile, when more prayers had been made, the priest bowed or genuflected before the host and the wine, and consumed them himself. No one else normally shared this communion, even if other priests were present, except on Easter morning when everyone was required to do so.78 After the priest’s communion, ablutions were done. The clerk poured unconsecrated wine over the priest’s fingers into the chalice, followed by water to further wash the fingers, the paten, and the chalice. The priest consumed the mixture, thus cleaning the vessels, after which he washed and wiped his hands. Having offered further prayers, including a post-communion prayer appropriate to the day, and having returned the paten and chalice to the altar, he intoned ‘The Lord be with you’, to which his assistant replied ‘And with your spirit’. Then, on an ordinary day and in the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent, the priest and his assistants faced the altar while a deacon, if there was one, sang the words Benedicamus Domino (‘Let us bless the Lord’) to a plainsong melody. The response was Deo gracias (‘Thanks be to God’).79 On a normal Sunday or festival day, with worshippers in mind, they turned to face the congregation, and the deacon, or whoever took his place, sang Ite, missa est, which was understood to mean ‘Go! The mass is finished’ or ‘has been offered’.80 This dismissal was not quite the end of a Sunday mass, however, because, as we shall see, there was a further rite of reading the Gospel of John. PROCESSIONS A further dimension of worship involving the clergy, and sometimes lay people, was the procession. This existed in several forms.81 Short processions



took place in church before mass on Sundays and major festivals, as we have seen, and on certain Sundays and festivals during vespers. They travelled clockwise: leaving the chancel, passing down the south aisle of the nave if one existed, and returning to the chancel up the central spine of the nave. The participants were wholly or chiefly the clergy and they sang, while walking, liturgical material relating to the service that followed or came before. It is not impossible that some important laity took part as well, to assert their status, but lesser people were involved only as a punishment. Church courts often sentenced those convicted of moral or spiritual crimes to do public penance in church. This required walking in front of the procession before Sunday mass, wearing a shift or loose garment without a belt, going barefoot, and carrying a candle. Some were ceremonially beaten as they walked. The culprits might be required to stand holding the candle during mass or to offer it at the high altar: a humiliation in the eyes of those who knew them.82 Seasonal processions took place in the spring and summer, from Palm Sunday until Corpus Christi. These were more elaborate, having a selfcontained liturgy, and were led by the clergy with the parishioners following after them. On Palm Sunday and Ascension Day they passed around the outside of the church, also clockwise. On the four Rogation Days and the feast of Corpus Christi they went on longer journeys through the streets or into the countryside, very likely with a similar clockwise direction of travel. All seven processional days will be described in Chapter 6, within the seasons to which they related.83 Certain churches had processions of their own, like St Buryan and Perranzabuloe in Cornwall where the relics of the local saint were taken round the parish and even further afield, although the calendar dates of these journeys are not recorded.84 Guilds too might go to church in procession on their festival days: in Boston, the sisters of the guild of St John even danced and carried lights as they did so.85 Funeral processions of clergy and laity went from the house of the dead to the church, and from the church to the grave.86 Finally there were special processions causa necessitatis, ‘for reasons of need’. These happened in times of emergency, they had their own liturgy and, since they were meant to offer prayer to God from the whole community, parishioners were expected to join the clergy on the journey. A few were



ordered by the pope to pray for peace or for the extirpation of heresy in the Catholic Church. Others related to the kingdom, its wars, or its wish for peace. Instructions to hold these came from the king via the archbishop of Canterbury. Yet others were prompted by local conditions: drought, undue rain, or pestilence, and were authorised by the diocesan bishop.87 They were directed to be done on Wednesdays, Fridays, and occasionally on Sundays, and an archbishop or bishop would offer a modest indulgence of forty days’ remission of penance to encourage attendance. No routes were prescribed. One document merely states ‘in the accustomed manner’, which seems to have left it to each church to decide whether to walk inside the building or to perambulate further around the churchyard or the neighbourhood.88 All processions were headed by clerks or boys carrying a cross, candles, thuribles, and sometimes books and reliquaries. The major clergy followed them wearing copes: large coloured or decorated vestments shaped and worn like cloaks. Early printed editions of processional books contain diagrams showing the objects to be carried and the number of assisting clergy (Fig. 44, p. 297).89 On festal occasions such as Christmas and Easter, the material sung during the procession consisted of psalms, antiphons, hymns, and prayers. On the Rogation Days and the days of special need, when the intention was to pray for God’s assistance in trouble, the litany was included. The litany, named from a Greek word for a prayer, was a series of Latin intercessions to the persons of the Trinity, the Virgin Mary, the archangels, and a large number of saints by name. It asked for deliverance from evil, temptations, sins, lightning, storms, and sudden death. After this, prayers were said for the safety of the Church, the king, peace in the world, the clergy and people, the fruits of the land, and the poor and imprisoned.90 The laity were not expected to join in the liturgy, but they were encouraged to say their own prayers on the journey for the purpose of the procession, whatever it was.91 THE PERFORMANCE OF SERVICES The Fourth Lateran Council of the Catholic Church in 1215 urged clergy ‘to apply themselves diligently to the Divine Office’.92 At the diocesan level this became an expectation that all priests (incumbents, chantry or guild priests,



and chaplains) should perform the Office every day and, despite the breviary being known as the portuous, the accepted practice was that this should take place in the parish church. At least two bishops ruled that particular services should be done ‘before leaving church’, and Mirk warned priests not to say the Office in a chamber or a garden, but only in church if they wished to avoid committing a major sin.93 We hear anecdotally of many clergy officiating in their churches or being censured for failing in that respect. In 1397 a rector in Herefordshire was reported for not going to church for matins or vespers and was ordered to do so.94 The parish chaplain of Hartlebury, Worcestershire, was charged with rarely performing vespers in church in 1412, and likewise the vicar of Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, in 1519–20.95 Margery Kempe mentions attending vespers in the parish church of King’s Lynn, and the rector of South Brent, Devon, was at vespers in church on Corpus Christi eve in 1436 before the scandal in which he was dragged from the church and murdered.96 The performance of the Office by the clergy in church every day continued to be required by the Church authorities when the Prayer Books of 1549 and 1552 replaced those of Sarum and York.97 At church the Office would be said or sung in the chancel or choir of the building by the parish priest and the clerk, the latter making the necessary responses. They sat, stood, and knelt in seats or at desks and, by the thirteenth century, priests were required to wear surplices while doing so: loose white linen robes with wide sleeves, worn over their ordinary clothes.98 This continued until the Reformation and indeed after it, graduates being allowed to add the hoods of their degrees while canons of cathedrals and collegiate churches could display a fur hood or ‘almuce’. Some clerks wore surplices too while others came to use a rochet: a similar garment with close-fitting sleeves.99 By at least about 1300 any additional priests in a church who served a chantry or a guild were required to help perform the Office in the chancel, making it more likely to be sung. Foundation documents of chantries often made a stipulation to this effect.100 This was how large town churches with several additional priests became, in effect, collegiate churches able to stage the Office in state by adopting more of the practices of cathedrals as set out in the Uses of Sarum and York.



The principal mass of the day was also celebrated in the church’s chancel or choir by the high altar at its eastern end. Any additional priests would say their masses (at other times of the day) at altars in the side chapels, transepts, or nave, and it was permissible for two or more priests to celebrate in succession at the same altar. The principal mass, like the Office, might be limited to the parish priest and his clerk, but if there were other priests in the church, they could assist the parish priest as deacon and subdeacon. A priest celebrating mass wore an alb as an undergarment: a close fitting white linen robe, with an amice or hood that was usually worn folded behind the neck. Both alb and amice were ornamented with coloured apparels at the collar of the amice and the cuffs and hems of the alb. Over the alb the priest put on the vestment known as a chasuble (a kind of sleeveless tabard), as well as a stole (a thin scarf round his neck and hanging down his front), and a maniple (a short band descending from his left wrist). The chasuble, stole, and maniple could be embroidered and coloured according to the liturgical day or season of the year. A deacon wore a similar vestment called a dalmatic and a subdeacon a tunicle, but clerks dressed in an alb and amice without further costume.101 The vestments worn at mass or in processions could be richly decorated and partake of different colours, as could the hangings upon the altars.102 Decorations might include images of Christ or the saints, beasts, flowers, or coats of arms. Neighbouring aristocracy signalled their piety (and also their importance) by giving vestments that displayed their shields. Colours varied according to the season of the year or the special nature of particular days. The chief ones originally used in the medieval church in England were white and red, but these came to be supplemented by yellow, green, blue, purple, and black, as well as mixed colours on embroidered vestments. The choice of colours was not standardised but varied from place to place, to the extent that vestments and altars might not always match within a single church.103 However red, white, or embroideries were common on major festivals, unbleached linen in Lent, and black or blue for funerals and requiem masses.104 Poor parishes could not necessarily afford a range of colours. The vicar of Morebath, Christopher Trychay, saved money assiduously from 1528 to 1547 merely to buy a set of black vestments. When they arrived, he



could use them for only a couple of years before the services for which they were meant were abolished.105 A priest of any kind could celebrate only one mass each day, with the exceptions of the three allowed on Christmas Day, the two on Easter Eve and Day, and two on the day of a funeral because funerals were customarily preceded by a mass of ‘requiem’ for the soul of the deceased person. John de Burgh, the author of Pupilla Oculi, a widely read treatise for clergy of 1380–5, also thought a second mass permissible in a populous parish on Easter Day or when a priest deputised for a colleague who was sick.106 Bishops too occasionally licensed a man to celebrate twice to cover a place where there was a shortage of clergy.107 More frequently clergy did so without permission. Poorly paid chaplains might increase their earnings with an additional sum for officiating in another church. In Hereford diocese in 1397, for example, a single chaplain was celebrating at Garway and Wormbridge, six miles apart, presumably only on Sundays, while the priest of Goodrich was doing so daily there and at the chapel of Huntsham in the same parish.108 Some people seem to have felt that a second mass by a priest on the same day lacked the spiritual power of the first. When the same priest celebrated at both Abdon and Stoke St Milborough, Shropshire, in 1397 it was reported that ‘the parishioners do not have so much devotion at the second mass as if it were the first, so they say’.109 As well as the mass of the day, there were masses for special occasions or with special intentions. These had appropriate readings and prayers. Weddings were accompanied by a nuptial mass, while funerals and the anniversaries of deaths included the mass of requiem. A mass devoted to the Virgin Mary, or ‘Lady mass’, was very popular from at least the thirteenth century. Cathedrals, monasteries, and many parish churches came to establish Lady chapels from about the thirteenth century, in which the Lady mass was celebrated daily if staffing resources allowed.110 Other masses were dedicated to the Trinity, the Name of Jesus, the Five Wounds of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Holy Cross, the angels, and yet other devotions. Further variations were produced for popular needs: the king, Salus populi (‘the safety of the people’), brothers and sisters (suitable for a guild), prisoners, sailors, times of war, rain, or fair weather.111 Some people had a devotion to these distinctive masses, and



36.  The pre-Reformation pax from Sandon, Essex, with its scene of the crucifixion, passed round the church at mass to be kissed by each person present.

chantry founders or wealthy will-makers might prescribe the celebration of one or more kinds to be carried out after their deaths.112 The question arises and arose as to whether a priest was required to celebrate mass every day. A parish priest was certainly expected to do so on Sundays and festivals for the benefit of his congregation. The Council of Lambeth, legislating for the province of Canterbury in 1281, insisted that he should celebrate at least once a week.113 By the end of the fourteenth century Mirk went further, describing a good priest as celebrating masses daily and a bad one only when his lord suggested.114 At the same time he thought that there was a decision to be made about daily celebration and that the rite must be done with devotion, although it should certainly happen weekly.115 A generation later Lyndwood ruled that priests did not need to do so when prevented by illness. Even if they were in health, he quoted Augustine of



Hippo to the effect that, ‘I neither praise nor condemn the receiving of the communion of the eucharist every day’. He continued, ‘Where a priest feels fervour and love to magnify God in this way, let him celebrate every day. If he feels his devotion to decline, it is good that he abstains so that afterwards he may come with more reverence and devotion.’116 In practice, popular opinion ran strongly in favour of daily masses. The employment of priests by a college, guild, chantry, or even the nobility meant that the statutes or terms of service that governed them were likely to insist on a daily celebration unless they were sick. This expectation extended to the parochial clergy in so far that funerals required a mass. They could also enhance their income (and minister to their flock) by celebrating for the dead a week, a month, and a year after death, or benefit from the legacies of the rich who wished to have multiple numbers of masses celebrated for their souls. A parish clergyman was, to a significant extent, a chantry priest: almost as much as those who were so called. His general responsibilities complemented, not replaced, the practice of praying for the departed.117 As a result, lay people came to assume that mass would take place every day and to resent its omission. An ecclesiastical court book relating to Lincoln diocese in the mid fifteenth century reveals that the rector of Ludford in Lincolnshire was cited for celebrating mass ‘scarce once a week’ and the rector of Aspenden in Hertfordshire for failing to do so on weekdays.118 In 1511 the vicar of Sturry, Kent, was accused of reducing his duty to once or twice a week. He seems to have taken his cue from Lyndwood, because he was said to have answered, ‘Would you have me say mass when I am not disposed?’119 Seven years later the Lincolnshire vicar of Wrawby was accused of scarcely celebrating once a week,120 and his counterpart in Essex, the rector of Little Tey, was similarly charged in 1541 with negligence on weekdays.121 At Bampton, with three vicars, the parishioners asserted in 1530 that ‘they ought to have mass sung every day, and the priests there do not do it’.122 People reported their clergy for such lapses because they wanted daily masses and assumed that the Church authorities would endorse their desire. This was certainly the result at Sturry where the vicar was told to celebrate mass at least on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.



WORSHIP AND TIME As well as the obligation to perform services, there was a requirement to do so at an appropriate time. These times came to vary from monasteries and cathedrals to parish churches and changed somewhat over the centuries, but there were some constant features. Matins was always a service of the early morning (ranging from midnight to daybreak) except on three days (Wednesday to Friday) in Holy Week, leading up to Easter, when it was brought forward to the evening from the following morning as the service known as Tenebrae.123 Mass, as has been said, was normally celebrated between dawn and late morning, while vespers was usually an afternoon service. On weekdays in Lent, however, it also advanced to follow nones and mass in the late morning, delaying midday dinner.124 It was then replaced in the afternoon (at least in churches of several clergy) by ‘collation’: a reading from one of the Church Fathers or from a homily. Compline, on the other hand, and the antiphon to the Virgin Mary which often accompanied it, usually took place in the afternoon in parish churches, even in Lent. The problem for us today in locating the starting times of medieval services is that the hours of the clock which we use are not normally recorded until the late fourteenth century.125 There were indeed two ancient ways of dividing the day into units of time. One, shared with Judaism as previously mentioned, measured time according to sunset and sunrise. It thought of darkness and daylight as different, and divided the first into four watches and the second into twelve hours, beginning at dawn (about 6.00 a.m.).126 The other regarded the day as beginning at midnight. This ignored the difference between light and darkness and divided the day into two major parts: morning and evening, with their boundary at noon or midday. The first system led to the liturgical day beginning at vespers and gave the names of its day hours to the services of prime, terce, sext, and nones. The other system became the predominant one during the Middle Ages. It led to the holding of matins in great churches at or soon after midnight, because that was the beginning of the morning. Its practice of numbering the hours in twelves from midnight and noon was the standard method of measuring daily time by and after the fifteenth century.



However days and nights are not consistent in length. They vary during the year. For most of the Middle Ages this obstructed the notion of units of time with equal duration. Workmen and labourers worked longer in summer, less so in winter, and their wages were adjusted accordingly. Parish church services were largely determined by daylight, with matins at dawn or soon afterwards followed by mass, and then with evensong (vespers, compline, and the prayers for the dead) as daylight declined: both these events fluctuated with the seasons. True, from Anglo-Saxon times churches acquired sundials, now usually known in their case as mass-clocks, which may have helped identify the time to ring the bell and prepare for mass, but dials depended on sunlight.127 There was consequently little possibility of holding services at fixed times of day independent of seasonal changes, and no concept of referring to such times. This situation changed with the development of mechanical clocks (Fig. 37, p. 227). They were being installed in monasteries and cathedrals by the end of the thirteenth century, at first denoting time by ringing a bell rather than using a dial.128 As such they were more regular and reliable substitutes for a human bell-ringer. Using the widely accepted bases of midnight and midday, they sounded the hours in two sets of twelve. At least one parish church in London owned a clock by 1374: St Pancras Soper Lane, by which date the authorities in Gloucester were planning to establish one in their own city.129 By the 1430s clocks were spreading to churches elsewhere, both urban and rural, such as St Petroc Exeter, St Laurence Reading, and Tintinhull in Somerset.130 This proliferation had important effects not only on the keeping of time but on how it was understood and described, both in churches and more widely in society. Already in about the 1370s people in London were talking of times in clock hours as we do today.131 Chaucer did so twice in the Canterbury Tales shortly afterwards, although he generally used older ways of marking the passing of time by daylight or church services.132 By the early 1400s the author of the treatise Dives and Pauper could take it for granted that, ‘in cities and towns, men rule themselves by the clock’.133 The measurement of the day became fixed rather than altering gradually through the year as daylight lengthened or shortened. Services came to have set hours, and if these did not fit with daylight (notably in winter), they were rescheduled to another fixed hour. At



37.  Church clocks were becoming common by the fifteenth century: the approximate date of this one at Ottery St Mary, Devon.

first clock time was reckoned only in hours, which was how often the earliest clock bells sounded. Most of the references to the times of church services up to the Reformation are to a simple hour. By the middle of the fifteenth century, clock signalling was becoming more sophisticated and one begins to find mentions of half hours and even quarter hours. This enabled some church services to begin on the half hour rather than the full hour.134 In a religious community such as a monastery, the Office could be done at spaced times during the night and the day.135 However these times became



adapted to the other needs and activities of the community. This was especially so at the secular cathedrals which were influential models for both collegiate churches and parish ones. At Exeter Cathedral in the later Middle Ages, the clergy rose at midnight to sing matins and lauds except that in spring and summer, when nights were shorter, they sometimes anticipated or delayed the time in order to have a stretch of uninterrupted sleep. Early chantry masses were celebrated from dawn onwards, but these were limited to their designated priests. General services resumed at about 8.00 a.m. for prime, followed by the principal mass at 9.00 with the lesser hours of terce, sext, and nones, ending by about 11.00. The clergy then returned in mid afternoon to sing the office of the dead, vespers, and compline one after the other.136 A parallel pattern has been suggested for Lincoln Cathedral.137 In effect the secular cathedrals gathered the ancient spaced-out services into three blocks: one at night, another in the first half of the morning, and the third in the afternoon, although there were additional observances, including a series of services in Lady chapels and the sequence of chantry masses from dawn till mid morning, which involved some of the clergy at other times. The measured pace of a religious community was not feasible for parish priests who lived individually, and it could not be forced upon them. As early as the thirteenth century, bishops conceded that they need not rise for matins at night and allowed them to do so by day, although they were urged to get up at dawn and perform the service as early as possible.138 The rare exceptions to singing or saying matins at daybreak were on Christmas night when, if a priest wished to celebrate mass at midnight, he should have performed his matins beforehand, and on the three days of Tenebrae in Holy Week.139 As for the sequence of services, the parish clergy followed the cathedrals by grouping these into three blocks. Matins, lauds, and prime were joined together at first light and known collectively as matins. Terce, sext, and nones took place on either side of a mid morning mass. Mirk expected clergy to do these services while fasting, because he advised them not to take refreshment during the early morning except for reasons of health. He suggested a morning meal after 10.00 a.m., postponed until noon on fasting days.140 The clergy would return to church to carry out the third block of services, vespers and compline (both referred to as evensong), in the mid or



late afternoon, after which Mirk recommended the eating of a light supper and finally retirement to bed and prayers before sleep.141 Even this simplified timetable was not followed by negligent and erratic priests whose service times varied, to the annoyance of the laity who wanted predictable hours. A related complaint was about the lack of ringing before services: without such notice, people did not know when to come.142 As early as about 1240, the bishop of Salisbury was censuring clergy who held services so early that they were over by the time that their parishioners arrived.143 We hear several complaints of irregular conduct in later visitation records. In Kent in 1511–12 the vicar of Sturry sometimes ordered ringing for mass while he was in the middle of matins and sometimes an hour later. His counterpart at Ospringe might one day finish his morning services by 8.00 a.m. and on another as late as 11.00.144 Cokethorpe chapel, Oxfordshire, in 1518 was served by a visiting Dominican friar, who dispatched its services so quickly that vespers was done before noon.145 In Essex the curate of Elsenham in 1540 was so leisurely that ‘it is many times noon or he has done mass’, while the rector of Little Tey was the opposite: he finished both matins and mass before other parishes started their matins.146 Not all lateness may have been due to clergy slackness. At Sixhills, Lincolnshire, in 1519, the vicar waited for the coming of the chief local residents, Alexander Moyne and his wife, before he started the service.147 This may have been a common occurrence, since there were certainly cases where a chantry priest was required by statute to delay his daily mass until the founder’s family arrived.148 Still episcopal oversight, clocks, the conscience of good clergy, and popular demand must have done a good deal to standardise times, although there can never have been complete uniformity between parishes. Service times in summer, especially for matins, were sometimes an hour earlier than they were in winter. The change between the two seasons took place in spring (Lady Day on 25 March is mentioned as well as Easter Day) and in late summer or early autumn (such as the Assumption of the Virgin on 15 August or Michaelmas Day on 29 September). The normal times for parish church matins probably ranged from 5.00 a.m. to 7.00 in summer, or 6.00 a.m. to 8.00 in winter, with the principal mass and its accompanying services



at 8.00 a.m. or 9.00, finishing by 10.00 or so. Evensong was commonly at 3.00 p.m. or 4.00, so that it was completed before daylight faded.149 The masses sung by chantry or guild priests took place around the major services. They had to attend the Office every day, and on Sundays, festivals, and funeral days they were not allowed to celebrate their masses in rivalry with the principal mass at the high altar. As we have seen, statutes attributed to Archbishop Winchelsey (1295–1313) ordered them to delay beginning their own celebrations on these days until after the gospel in the principal mass. This was to prevent their mass from competing for the attention of the parishioners.150 When the chantry chaplain of Downton, Wiltshire, broke the rule in 1391, he was reported to the bishop.151 A popular time for weekday chantry masses, as we have seen, was at dawn or ‘morrow’, corresponding to 5.00 a.m. or 6.00 in clock time depending on the season. In cathedrals and large town churches with several chantry priests, a staggered timetable was developed so that there were masses every hour from 5.00 a.m. or 6.00 until 10.00, but presumably not so as to rival the principal mass.152 An alternative arrangement at Tattershall in Lincolnshire restricted its priests to celebrating only at 6.00 a.m. or 10.00.153 A mass at 10.00 a.m., as already mentioned, was effectively the latest that could be celebrated. The custom of holding one at this time may have originated in urban churches of friars during the fourteenth century to cater for wealthy leisured people. Langland referred to the practice disapprovingly in Piers Plowman during the second half of that century, but it spread widely and is often found in churches up to the Reformation.154 Another aspect of time to consider, but a difficult one to determine, is the length of services, and how much of the day they required from the clergy and from worshippers. It is difficult because services varied in length according to the day: weekday, Sunday, or great festival. They would also have varied according to the skill of the performer and to his devoutness. A low mass said by an incumbent on a weekday or by a chantry priest at a side altar would finish more quickly than a sung high mass on a Sunday or festival when greater attention was given to the performance and extra activities took place. Langland thought that the services done by clergy who were employed in the administration of the king and the aristocracy were too hurried: ‘their matins and their mass, and many of their hours, are done



undevoutly’.155 The influence of important people must have been a factor as well. King Henry II preferred to hear short masses and King John once objected to a long sermon.156 Mirk believed that priests would lengthen or shorten their masses as their lord desired.157 Assuming that the day was measured and understood in hours rather than in minutes, it is likely that a priest’s morning services of matins with the lesser hours lasted for at least an hour, and a weekday mass for most of a further hour.158 Sundays and festivals took longer: up to an hour and a quarter for matins, and at least an hour for mass, perhaps an hour and a half. On such mornings there were extra ceremonies along with the inclusion of announcements, bidding prayers, and possibly a sermon, as we shall shortly discover. The afternoon service of evensong would have taken about an hour and half or more, depending on the importance of the day and the elaboration of the services. As a result, devout lay people could have been in church for a similar length of time, although those who came only for mass might spend no more than one hour. At the opposite extreme the leisured and very devout could have exceeded these times. Lady Margaret Beaufort (d.1509) was said to spend most of the morning from 5.00 a.m. to 10.00 at prayer.159 For a parish priest, the Office and mass are likely to have kept him in church for most of the time from dawn until 10.00 a.m. and perhaps an hour or more later in Lent. He had then about five hours in the middle part of the day to eat and do other business (including the hearing of confessions).160 In what we now call afternoon, at about 3.00 p.m. or 4.00, he returned to church for evensong. Guild and chantry priests could not necessarily follow this timetable. They might be bound to celebrate their daily mass at dawn or some other designated time, in which case their matins and prime had to be done beforehand. They would then be required to assist the parish priest with the matins and mass in the chancel, and with evensong there in the afternoon. THE LAITY AND THE DIVINE OFFICE The Church wished for the attendance of lay people on Sundays and festivals, not only at mass but at the Office: in parish terms, the two services of



matins and evensong. Popular writers urged them to comply. Robert Mannyng exhorted parishioners to be present at both matins and mass and to stay until the end of the proceedings. He accused the rich, on the other hand, of taking no heed of matins and rising only in time for mass.161 Langland made similar points. People on Sundays should hear God’s service, both matins and mass, and return after dinner for evensong.162 His example of a slothful parishioner was one who failed to rise for either matins or mass until he was made to repent,163 while the active and virtuous – the king and the knights – went to both.164 How the laity related to matins is hard to say. It was not addressed to them as was the mass, and it lasted for an hour or more on a Sunday or festival in which the clergy simply sang or read the service in the chancel. The advice given to the scholars of Newark grammar school in 1532 as to what do in church is probably as good a clue as any. They were told to be ‘exercised in prayers, contemplations, reading upon books, or otherwise virtuously occupied’.165 In other words one could pray extempore, say the basic prayers with a rosary, meditate, or in the case of the literate, take and study a psalter, the Hours of the Virgin, or even a breviary (Fig. 31, p. 174).166 The fact that all were at rest after the working week in a spiritual and a social environment may also have been a source of comfort. Some of the nobility and gentry seem to have attended matins daily, not only on Sundays, despite the length of time that this required. Cecily duchess of York (d.1495) said matins of the day and of the Virgin with her chaplain at 7.00 a.m., after which she heard ‘divine service’ again in her chapel. In the afternoon she and her chaplain repeated vespers of the day and of the Virgin before going to chapel to hear vespers sung ‘by note’, in plainsong.167 Her son Edward IV, in laying down rules for the bringing up of his heir Edward V in 1473, required the boy to be present while his chaplains performed matins in his presence and at vespers in the afternoon. It is not made clear if these were the longer services of the day or those of the Virgin, but on holy days he was certainly expected to hear ‘all the divine service of the day in his chapel or closet’.168 Lady Margaret Beaufort said matins of the Virgin with one of her gentlewomen, followed by matins of the day in her closet with her chaplain, as well as attending vespers of some kind before her supper.169



As these examples show, vespers had its lay attenders too, and this was especially true on the eve of great festivals. The hero of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight attended the chapel of his host’s castle for the service because it was the first vespers of Christmas Day.170 Vespers before a Sunday or a festival had more drama than matins. As well as the usual psalms and prayers, it included a procession of clergy, or more precisely it did so at the first vespers of Christmas Day and its three successors, the days during Easter week, and the first vespers of the Sundays from Trinity Sunday (a week after Pentecost) until the Sunday before Advent.171 Vespers on important days also featured the censing of the altar and of at least the principal clergy during the singing of Magnificat.172 This censing could be extended to the congregation, and at Holy Trinity Coventry in 1462 the task was apparently done by the two deacons who supervised each side of the church.173 When vespers (or more accurately compline) was over, it was the custom in cathedrals and monasteries to sing an antiphon or anthem in honour of Mary, such as Salve regina, at an altar or image in the church. By the late fourteenth century these anthems were beginning to be sung in polyphony. Numerous settings of them were made by composers and they too were performed in the larger town churches which maintained regular choirs.174 The anthems were a further inducement for lay people to go to church at or after vespers to hear them. The singing of Salve Maria was instituted at St Magnus London in about the 1340s in order, its supporters later claimed, to excite ‘the people to devotion’ in the evening.175 All Saints Northampton had a Marian anthem by 1389 when it was said that a ‘large multitude’ of people came to hear it,176 and a hope of something similar was cherished at St Michael Paternoster Royal, London, in 1424. Here the anthems were ordered to be sung on weekdays at sunset or soon afterwards, followed by prayers for the church’s benefactor, Richard Whittington, at the time ‘when the poor artisans and neighbours living around the church came from their labours and duties’.177 THE LAITY AND THE MASS The most important service for the laity to attend, however, was the mass, with a definite requirement to do so on Sundays and festival days. Church authorities and devotional writers constantly urged its value. They quoted



38.  The calendar for June from the fifteenth-century Beaufort-Beauchamp Book of Hours, which helped to mark time and might be used, as here, to make personal annotations.



Augustine’s assertion that being present conferred an array of benefits: what was needed for food that day, freedom from loss of eyesight, protection from sudden death, and even delay in the onset of old age, while all one’s steps in going and returning from mass would be counted by the angels.178 Some people, as we have seen, heeded this to the extent of going to mass on weekdays as well as on Sundays. In towns there were the morrow mass at dawn, the Lady mass later in the morning with its attractive polyphony, and the 10.00 a.m. mass just before midday dinner.179 The most devout might go to more than one mass. Robin Hood was said to hear three every day; goodness knows where!180 A Norfolk knight, Sir John Heveningham, attended three in his local church on the morning of Tuesday 3 July 1453 before disproving Augustine by dying suddenly three hours later.181 In itself the mass did not require a congregation. It could be done by a single priest with a clerk or a boy to serve and make the responses. Any lay worshippers present needed to do no more than watch and pray in a reverent manner. Even in a cathedral where mass was done with the utmost ceremony, it did not involve the laity and the Sarum missal gives them virtually no attention. Equally it is possible that long familiarity or the possession of a missal prompted some lay attenders to join in with at least the simpler responses. In 1548 Thomas Cranmer observed that people in the Latin mass ‘answer to what [the priest] saith, sometimes “Amen”, sometimes Et cum spiritu tuo [“And with thy spirit”], and sometimes other things’.182 Furthermore in parish churches the fact that a congregation attended mass on Sundays and festivals meant that there was a wish from some of its members to be involved more fully in the service, and an opportunity for the clergy to involve them. We have already discussed the extent to which people came to mass; here it is our business to explain how the clergy adapted the mass for those who did. The adaptation was done partly through ceremony and partly through the addition of didactic material to the Latin liturgy, sometimes in English. This material reached the whole congregation, as opposed to the wealthier and literate who might bring in private devotional texts and guides to the mass such as The Lay Folks’ Mass Book. The first ceremony has already been mentioned: the blessing and mixing of salt and water in the choir before terce, and the use of them to asperse the altar and then the clergy present in



the chancel. Aspersion was done by the parish clerk or a boy holding a pot of the holy water and the priest using an asperge to sprinkle it. The Sarum missal directed that after the clergy had been aspersed, the rite should be given to any laity who are in the chancel: in other words people of status.183 Its directions did not extend the aspersions to a congregation in the nave, but anecdotal evidence shows that this happened elsewhere as the clergy went on to circle the church in procession, led by the boy with the pot. A twelfthcentury story tells how a demon disguised as a woman always avoided attending church at the aspersions,184 and a century or so later Robert Mannyng urged parishioners not to be the last in church when the holy water was cast.185 The matter is clinched by a complaint in 1492 that the rector of All Hallows on London Wall did ‘not observe the laudable custom, observed of old by all the churches of London, that is to say the aspersion with holy water on the parishioners hearing divine service in his church on Sundays’.186 Aspersing may, as Mannyng hoped, have encouraged early attendance before mass started, but people could also sprinkle themselves individually by dipping a hand in the holy-water stoup by the door as they entered. In some places the aspersions were made more apposite to the congregation by the saying or singing of words. Two fifteenth-century liturgical books, one linked with St Aldate Gloucester and the other with its neighbouring parish of Arlingham, contain a text for this purpose that was delivered in English. It was also recommended for use by Hugh Latimer, bishop of Worcester, to his clergy in 1535–9.187 As the aspersions were done, the clergy or choir said or sang: Remember your promise made in baptism, And Christ’s merciful blood-shedding, By the which most holy sprinkling Of all your sins you have free pardon. This was interspersed with verses in English from Psalm 51: Have mercy upon me, O God, After thy great mercy,



And according to the multitude of thy mercies Do away my wickedness. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, so now and ever in the world of worlds so be it. The practice was not confined to the south of England. Henry VIII made a general order in 1539 that the aspersions should be explained on Sundays as reminding us of baptism and Christ’s blood, and the first stanza above was recommended for use in Doncaster and the surrounding churches as late as 1548.188 The second point of engagement with the congregation happened in the middle of the service after the gospel, the Nicene Creed, or the offertory. As has been stated, this was the moment for the giving (or collection) of offerings in the form of money or other things. Since mid morning mass on Sundays and festivals gathered the largest number of parishioners, the time was also suitable for public announcements of one kind or another.189 These came to be made from the free-standing pulpit somewhere at the east end of the nave (Fig. 39, p. 239). People in a Gloucestershire village in 1397 complained that their parish chaplain ‘does not stand in the pulpit as is the custom . . . to publish feasts and vigils and do other things, but in the chancel’.190 The author of the early fifteenth-century sermon cycle, Speculum Sacerdotale, states that there were three kinds of announcements: first notices of forthcoming feasts and fasts, next bidding prayers, and finally a sermon, the last of which we shall reserve until the end of this chapter.191 Notices needed to be publicised each week so that parishioners knew how to observe the days requiring fasts and church attendance.192 The vicar of Aldworth in Berkshire was reported for failing to do so in 1391, while the Bedfordshire chaplain of Whipsnade, who omitted to tell his parishioners about an Ember Wednesday in 1518, was accused of causing them to eat meat that day out of ignorance.193 A fifteenth-century manual from the north of England contains a template for making announcements in English, produced by a cleric for his own guidance or that of an assistant. It seems to be imaginary, because the two festivals mentioned were not held in the same week:



Friends, we shall [have] upon Tuesday the feast of Philip and Jacob, the which we charge and command [to be a] holy day, and ye shall come to God and Holy Church and hear divine [service] in the worship of God and Our Lady and the apostles Philip and Jacob. Also we shall have another worthy feast in Holy Church on Thursday, of Saint Helen [Ellen], the which we charge etc. Other holy day[s] have ye not this week, but that ye may do all manner of good works, and thereto God Almighty speed you!194

It is likely that other kinds of announcements were made along with this. They could have included the readings of banns of marriage,195 the making of requests for charity, the proclamation of indulgences, and messages from the Church authorities. The coming of a diocesan bishop or his suffragan to hold confirmations would surely be publicised, as well as visitations by the bishop or his archdeacon, especially when lay representatives of the parish were required to attend them at local centres. Secular notices may have been given out, unless this was done before or after mass. A reeve giving evidence of a birth remembered announcing the meeting of a manorial court at Gnosall in Staffordshire in 1394, and one of the Pastons asked his agent to do the same in the church of Bacton in Norfolk in 1478.196 There could be excommunications too. These were of two kinds, general and specific. By the early thirteenth century, parish clergy were required to pronounce the ‘Greater Excommunication’ in their churches three or four times during the year.197 The specified days varied between dioceses, but one tradition came to settle on Advent Sunday, the first Sunday in Lent, Trinity Sunday, and the Sunday after the feast of the Assumption (15 August).198 By the late thirteenth century, the requirements ordered the clergy to make their pronouncements in the vernacular, evidently to give them more effect. Texts of these survive in English by the fifteenth century and eventually found their way into the printed manuals of Sarum and York.199 The texts identified a long list of evildoers including invaders of the rights and properties of the Church, traitors against the king, false swearers, slanderers, withholders of tithes and offerings, thieves, forgers, heretics, breakers of the laws of marriage, injurers of parents, and slayers or abandoners of children. In addition to these



39.  A well carved and decorated pulpit at Long Sutton, Somerset, probably chiefly used for announcements and bidding prayers at mass on Sundays.



four ‘general sentences’, as they were also called, excommunications could be proclaimed against particular individuals at any time of the year. These were initiated by archbishops and bishops and were sent out to the clergy to be announced ‘in parish churches during the solemnities of the mass, on Sundays and festivals, when the greatest multitude of the people should be present’.200 Some of the specific excommunications were limited to a particular area, others extended to an entire diocese, and yet others to the whole of a province. Thus in Exeter diocese under Bishop Lacy (1420–55), individuals who attacked two clergy at the cathedral and others who later spilt blood in its cemetery were denounced in the cathedral alone. The murderers of the vicar of South Brent and those who poached in the bishop’s deer park were censured throughout the diocese, while the distributors of seditious books and leaflets in London were condemned across the province. Whether general or special, excommunications ended with fearsome threats and dramatic actions. The culprits were cursed in the name of the Trinity, the nine orders of angels, and all the saints with respect to wherever they might be: ‘speaking, riding, going, sitting, standing, eating, drinking, in wood, in water, in field, in town’. The church bells were rung, a cross was held up, lighted candles were dashed to the ground, and the priest spat on them as he declared in English or Latin, ‘As the light of the candle is extinguished, so may their good works be extinguished before God unless they repent. Be it done, be it done. Amen.’201 A more appealing kind of announcement might come from the questors (also known as pardoners) who travelled around to raise money for a crusade, a hospital, or a church in need of support. Sunday mass was a favourite time for such men to appear, in view of larger congregations. Here they would preach or explain their mission, advertise the indulgences on offer to contributors, and invite donations. At Holy Trinity Coventry the parish deacon was allowed to charge each pardoner 2d. in return for lending him a surplice ‘to go with the priest into the pulpit’, presumably to announce or preach under the priest’s supervision.202 The incumbent might ask for a fee as well: at Hornsea, Yorkshire, in the 1480s, he took 4d. from each of the four to six pardoners who came in the course of a year.203 The Church authorities were watchful of such men’s activities because some (and their causes) were of dubious status. A series of bishops commanded that no one should solicit alms in this way



unless their permission had been obtained.204 In 1328 Bishop Grandisson of Exeter even turned the practice on its head: ordering the denunciation of a group of questors ‘during the solemnities of the mass’. Grandisson had a particular dislike of unauthorised religious cults, and the agents in this case were offering false indulgences on behalf of the recently executed Thomas earl of Lancaster, whom they were trying to promote as a saint.205 When all such matters of business had been done, it was time for the reading of bidding prayers: invitations to the congregation to pray for particular people. The prayers took place at Sunday mass to give them too the most publicity and so that they could be offered to God at the holiest of services. They were announced by the presiding priest or perhaps, in a large church, by an assistant cleric, and from the pulpit by about 1400. Since the prayers were addressed to the congregation, they were partly framed in the vernacular. The earliest survive from late Anglo-Saxon times, after which examples occur in Anglo-Norman French from the thirteenth century and in Middle English from the fourteenth, although they contain liturgical material in Latin as well.206 By the later Middle Ages their structure was usually in two or three sections: each one in English followed by prayers in Latin. The first section prayed in English for the clergy from the pope downwards, then for the king and the laity, and sometimes for causes such as peace, good weather, and the growth of the crops. This was followed by the Latin Psalm 67, Deus misereatur nostri, the Kyries, Paternoster, and a set of Latin versicles and responses that became popular in the later Middle Ages and survived to be adopted by Cranmer in the Book of Common Prayer in 1549. Translating from the Latin, they included: O Lord, show your mercy upon us. And grant us your salvation . . . . O Lord, save the king, And hear us in the day when we call upon you.207 These were followed by a Latin collect. The second section, if there was one, covered similar ground and might include requests for blessings on more local concerns: the sick, women with child, pilgrims, and those who had



given the holy bread for distribution after the service. This would end with more liturgical material. The final section focussed on prayers for the dead. The laity were invited in English to pray in this category for former bishops and clergy, kings, church benefactors, their own parents and relatives, the souls of those buried in the churchyard, and all souls in purgatory. These prayers were followed in Latin by Psalm 130 (De Profundis) and by a further set of the Kyries, Paternoster, versicles, and responses, with a collect including the request ‘May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace’. This section of the prayers was amenable to having particular names added to it, appropriate to the church it was read in. A common format for the purpose was the bederoll which, as its name suggests, was a roll of paper or, for long usage, parchment to which further pieces could be stitched as names were added. The names on the bede-roll were those of people who had given benefactions to the church or had paid for their names to be added. Reading them therefore singled out the wealthier and more eminent of the parishioners. Their names were read either in English or, for more solemnity, in Latin. Those from the guild of parish clerks in London and from the parish of Camborne in Cornwall were in Latin: [Orate] pro anima Johannis Basset armigeri, and so on.208 Some lists may have been read weekly, but the longer ones must surely have been reserved for special occasions. The payments for entry onto the roll seem to have usually passed to the churchwardens, for whom they made a useful addition to the church income. At Stratton, also in Cornwall, the wardens charged a standard fee of 3s. 4d.209 The incumbent of the church might then be paid a small sum every year for reading the names.210 One finds prosperous parishioners who had not arranged for their registration during their life leaving bequests in their wills for this to be done when they died.211 CONSECRATION AND COMMUNION The third involvement of the congregation with the mass came with the consecration of the host and chalice at the high altar. The Church authorities and devotional writers laid great emphasis on the importance and value of



viewing and venerating the elements at this point of the service. This reflected the belief in transubstantiation, which developed in the twelfth century and was published as a doctrine of the Church by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. The Council declared that the bread and wine of the eucharist, when consecrated by a priest, are ‘changed in substance, by God’s power, into his body and blood’.212 Each element, bread and wine, became both body and blood. Christ therefore became present physically, in a form considered to be that of his body on the cross: wounded and yet redeeming. His coming offered benefits to all who were present and required from them the devotion due to their Saviour. ‘Every priest’, said the bishop of Ely in the mid thirteenth century, ‘should teach his people frequently that when the healthgiving host is held up, they should all bow reverently’.213 The result of such teaching was that the moment of consecration became of supreme importance to those attending mass. As most people do not appear to have received communion very often, the elevation of the host and the chalice by the priest became the climax of the service. It was known as ‘seeing God’ or ‘seeing one’s Maker’.214 The elevation had to be visible, hence the piercing of windows in the chancel screen or the screens of side chapels for the laity to look through, and the openings of squints into transepts so that people there could glimpse the priest at the high altar. Occasionally we hear complaints about visibility. At Grayingham in Lincolnshire the rector impeded the view with an image. At Hartlebury cloths hanging up in the church formed an obstruction, and at Minster Lovel in Oxfordshire, where the church’s central tower made it hard to see the high altar, the congregation grumbled that the vicar would not let them into the chancel to watch the elevation.215 At Wootton in Kent the background was the problem, not the foreground. The church was so dingy that the people sitting in the nave could scarcely see the sacrament when it was held up, so the archdeacon ordered the wardens to whitewash the walls.216 The desire to see Christ in the sacrament could outweigh another reason for being in church. William Thorpe, a preacher with Lollard sympathies who was delivering a sermon at St Chad Shrewsbury soon after 1400, was mortified when part of his audience dispersed to watch a consecration in another part of the church:



As I stood there in the pulpit, busying me to teach the hests [commandments] of God, one knelled a sacring [consecration] bell and herefore much people turned away fiercely [roughly] and with great noise ran forwards [away from] me.

Expostulating, he said ‘Good men, you were better to stand here still and to hear God’s word’, telling them that the virtue of a sacrament rested more on belief than on the outward sight.217 After the Reformation Thomas Becon derided the excitement produced when the host was held up. It caused the watchers, he said, to, kneel down unto it, knock their breasts, lift up their hands, worship and honour it. When the bell rings (if they cannot conveniently see) they forsake their seats and run from altar to altar, from sacring to sacring, peeping here and touting there . . . And if the priest be weak in the arms and heave not high enough, the rude people of the country in divers parts of England will cry out to the priest, ‘Hold up, Sir John, hold up; heave it a little higher’. And one will say to another, ‘Stoop down, thou fellow before [in front], that I may see my Maker’.218

It was not only critics of the Church who censured these practices. The English translation of the Dutch writer Gherit van der Goude, published in 1532, chided such people from the viewpoint of a devout Catholic. If they could not see, it was better for them to stay where they were and keep their eyes devoutly on the ground, like the penitent sinner in Christ’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.219 Such great devotion to the body and blood of Christ had a reverse effect in that the giving of the sacrament to the laity in communion became a rare event, at least by the early thirteenth century. Receiving it seemed to need significant preparation beforehand with confession and fasting, and this, as we shall see in the following chapter, happened chiefly on Easter Day after the disciplines of Lent and Holy Week.220 Involving people in the mass in a tactile way throughout the rest of the year had to be done by different means. One was through the aspersions and another, which followed the consecration,



took place through the circulation of the pax. As has been noted, the priest carried a kiss from the chalice to the pax which was then taken by the clerk or a boy server ‘round the church’.221 It must have gone first to the most important people present, in their places or seats, and then to the rest of the worshippers. The clerk seems to have kept control of the pax, rather than surrendering it to the people. At least two commentators on the mass expected the congregation to stand for the Paternoster after the consecration.222 If they remained in this position, it would have been easier for the clerk to give them the pax: in a crowd, perhaps, before there were many seats, and then by them coming out from their seats in some way. A fifteenth-century song imagines the clerk seducing one of the maidens at this point by nudging her foot with his own, which suggests that she was standing close by to receive it.223 The question arises as to the order of precedence here, as it does with the giving out of holy bread discussed below and with communion on Easter Day. As has already been noticed, men would have taken precedence over women, but not all men over all women.224 It is hard to imagine Chaucer’s Wife of Bath giving way to his Ploughman! The likelihood is that couples with status did so together, since they sat together, and then perhaps lesser folk in larger groups by gender. The sequence in which they did so sometimes led to disputes, resulting in summonses to the Church courts. At All Saints Staining London in 1496 a woman threw the pax on the ground and broke it when another kissed it first.225 At Godmanchester, Huntingdonshire, in 1518 a chaplain and two men tried to stop a gentleman’s wife from receiving the pax, presumably on the grounds that it was not her turn.226 Worst of all, if true, was an assault in Essex at Theydon Garnon in 1522. On the Sunday before All Saints Day, John Browne, a gentleman in the parish but not the most important one, was alleged to have said to the parish clerk, ‘If thou hereafter givest not me the pax first, I shall break it on thy head’. When All Saints came, the clerk, Richard Pond, gave the pax first to Francis Hampden, the patron of the church, then to Margery his wife, and finally to Browne, who kissed it and allegedly then broke it into two pieces on the clerk’s head, causing streams of blood to run to the ground.227 Precedence also figured in the ceremony that followed the end of mass: the final device to engage the congregation with the service. As soon as mass



had finished, the priest proceeded to read the first chapter of the Gospel of John, In principio (‘In the beginning was the Word’), a text believed to have protective power. This was followed by the bringing up of a loaf of bread, also known as the ‘cake’, sometimes accompanied by a candle or a payment of a penny or so. Each household was expected to take a turn in providing the loaf, and the failure of some families to comply led to occasional complaints at visitations of churches.228 The priest prayed in Latin that God might bless the bread as he blessed the five loaves in the desert, so that all who tasted it might receive health of body and soul. Holy water was then sprinkled on the bread, after which it was cut and distributed.229 Social rank was again an issue here. Daniel of Beccles, writing in about 1200, thought that the noblest person in church should receive the bread first, and Piers Plowman features a woman who objected to her neighbour preceding her.230 At Holy Trinity Coventry in 1462 one of the church’s two deacons was responsible for cutting the bread ‘according to every man’s degree’. He then carried it round to the people on the north side of the nave while his colleague presumably did so on the other side.231 At All Saints Bristol it was given out on a bread-board ‘by the holy-water stock’, presumably the stoup by the church door and therefore as people left the building.232 A further custom at a church in Durham was to give a slice to the following person on the rota, as a reminder of their duty next Sunday.233 As with the aspersions, a text in English came to be spoken or sung to the congregation to explain the symbolism of the action. Latimer recommended it in Worcester diocese in the late 1530s, and it was current at Doncaster in the following decade: Of Christ’s body this is a token Which on the cross for our sins was broken, Wherefore of his death, if ye will be partakers, Of vice and sin you must be forsakers.234 The verse makes clear that the holy bread was a symbol of Christ’s body: a substitute for the communion that the congregation received only on Easter Day. Receiving the holy bread was followed by leaving the church and,



according to one writer, sprinkling oneself and crossing one’s forehead at the holy-water stoup by the door.235 In some places the parish clerk (or boys under his supervision) took holy water out of the church itself and visited parishion­ ­ers nearby, aspersing their houses and perhaps their midday dinner.236 Considering that mass in itself gave little scope for popular participation, the additions that have been outlined went some way towards reaching out to congregations.237 From a ceremonial point of view they received aspersions, the pax, the sight of the consecrated elements, and the holy bread. In terms of communication they gained information about the forthcoming calendar and news in the form of banns, episcopal pronouncements, and excommunications. Lastly the bidding prayers, although they gave due respect to the Church and the lay authorities, made an attempt to embrace the concerns of ordinary people: peace, the fertility of the land, and the remembrance and commending of the dead. SERMONS A deficiency of medieval services to the Reformers of the sixteenth century was their failure to teach the Word of God and the duties of mankind. Medieval clergy would not all have agreed: did not the mass teach one about praise to God, the sacrifice of Christ, the need to repent one’s sins, and the value of praying for others? One writer represented Christ as saying, ‘The often thinking of my Passion maketh an unlearned man a full learned man’.238 But the fact that most of the prayers, praise, and readings of the mass were in Latin meant that specific teaching was lacking, and by the thirteenth century the Church authorities were urging that the general duty of priests to instruct their parishioners ought to include the exposition of particular topics. The following discussion must necessarily avoid the huge subject of the content of preaching and focus on its delivery in parish churches. A statute of Walter Cantilupe, bishop of Worcester, in 1240 was influential in encouraging clergy to preach and was copied in at least three other dioceses. It urged them frequently to expound the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments), the seven sacraments, and the avoidance of the seven deadly sins, along with a simple knowledge of the faith from the Apostles’



Creed, the Nicene Creed, and Quicunque vult (the ‘Athanasian Creed’).239 More precise instructions to preach were issued by John Pecham, archbishop of Canterbury, for his province at the Council of Lambeth in 1281. These began with the ringing words Ignorancia sacerdotum: ‘The ignorance of priests casts the people into the pit of error’. To remedy this, the Council ordered every parish priest to preach four times a year, once in each quarter, personally or through a deputy. His preaching should explain the articles of faith contained in the Apostles’ Creed, the Decalogue, the two precepts of the gospel (to love God and one’s neighbour), the seven works of mercy, the seven deadly sins, the seven principal virtues, and the seven sacraments. The order went on to provide the clergy with a detailed guide to each of these topics.240 This directive was restated by John Thoresby, archbishop of York, in 1357 with the addition of a text in English explaining the topics identified by Pecham, which could be narrated by clergy or read by lay people.241 Preaching of the kind envisaged by the two archbishops was suitable for a Sunday mass. It would be short, lasting for ten or fifteen minutes because mass could not be extended too long, and would be basic in content. It could be communicated impromptu without study or significant preparation. Longer sermons were also given in the medieval Church which required the preacher to research, envisage, and sometimes write them. These might take place in the morning, but often happened after midday dinner in the clear space from then until vespers.242 It was not easy, of course, to enforce preaching on the parish clergy, even of the morning variety. They were scattered and hard to supervise. Many had been educated only to read and understand Latin at best and had few resources in terms of scholarly books. Complaints continued about the lack of preaching by the parish clergy or its poor quality.243 A visitation of Lincoln diocese in 1518 was told that the rector of Harrington in Lincolnshire had not explained the articles of the faith – or indeed apparently entered the pulpit – for three or four years, while nobody had preached at Westwell in Oxfordshire for one year.244 Elsenham in Essex in 1540 had heard only a single sermon (from a visiting priest) over about two years.245 The humorous jest-book, A Hundred Merry Tales, dating from soon after 1500 and admittedly a comic rather than an accurate source, tells several



stories about clumsy preaching in parish churches. In one a cleric discusses the Commandments and gets into difficulties defining mortal and venial sins. In another he does no more than identify the articles of the Apostles’ Creed. In a third the preacher tells the congregation that a thousand souls might dance on a finger-nail, at which one of his listeners cries out ‘Where stands the piper?’246 But more objective sources support the view that clerical preaching was not common, even in the mid sixteenth century. In 1561 the bishop of Exeter carried out a survey of his beneficed clergy. It recorded that throughout his two counties of Cornwall and Devon, only eleven of them were licensed to preach, which meant that they were able and trusted to do so widely. Another twelve were reported as preaching without a licence: in other words in their own parishes. The rest, at best, can have been doing little more than explaining the faith as Pecham had instructed.247 Help for clergy to preach was available in cycles of sermons for Sundays or for Lent. Some were in Latin by scholars such as the thirteenth-century writers Guillaume d’Auvergne, Guillaume Peyraut, and Jacopo da Varazze (also known as Jacobus de Voragine). These could be used as the basis for writing sermons in the vernacular or delivering them extempore, but many parish clergy cannot have possessed nor had access to them. More useful in their case were cycles in English, which became available by the late fourteenth century and could be preached directly.248 One such cycle was Speculum Sacerdotale (c. 1425), now extant in only a single manuscript although this is the copy of another.249 Similar but far more popular was John Mirk’s Festial, composed in the late 1380s. This provided sixty-eight English sermons for the Sundays and major festivals of the year, to which the author later added six on other subjects. The work exists today in twenty-five manuscripts, not counting selections in others, and was repeatedly printed from 1483 until 1532. It has been described as ‘an early English bestseller’, ‘the official source of sermon material for religious and lay consumption alike in the last fifty years of the Roman Catholic Church in England’.250 Mirk’s success reflected his sensible approach to what was needed. The sermons were designed for Sunday mornings, so that those for a particular Sunday begin ‘This day is called . . .’ Their counterparts for saints’ days that would occur in the coming week were announcements of the fact: ‘[On]



such a day ye shall have St John the Baptist’s day . . . wherefore ye shall fast on the eve’.251 Each sermon was short, taking about fifteen minutes to read, and was linked to the associated mass by taking themes from its epistle or gospel or, in the case of saints, by discussing the life of the saint. Later additions to the work made available sermons for a marriage and a burial, as well as expositions of the Paternoster and the miracles of the Virgin. Sermons outside the mass were different in two respects. They were less common since they required skilled preachers who could research and perhaps write them, but they were a desirable feature of at least the more ambitious churches on Sundays in Advent and Lent.252 If in the afternoon, people from neighbouring parishes could attend them, having discharged their duty at their own church during the morning. Parish clergy able to deliver them were more likely to be found in towns, where audiences were larger and more discerning. Some urban clergy became notable preachers. John Felton, vicar of St Mary Magdalene Oxford (d.1434) was described by a contemporary (Thomas Gascoigne) as ‘a glorious preacher’ who preached every Sunday for many years. He wrote a cycle of Sunday sermons in Latin which survive in several manuscripts: these, of course were aimed at clergy and need not represent how he preached to lay people.253 Gascoigne also praised the preaching of William Lichfield, a Cambridge doctor of theology and rector of All Hallows the Great London (d.1448), crediting him with having written 3,083 sermons which were subsequently found among his papers.254 A third urban cleric, John Hornley of Dartford, Kent, and St Benet Sherehog in London (d.1477), according to his tomb, ‘knew how to preach holy sermons’; he too was a graduate in theology.255 Long discourses by clergy in the countryside may have been rarer, but the scholar Richard FitzRalph, while dean of Lichfield, preached at Cannock, Staffordshire, and Burford near Oxford in 1346–7, and this is known only because a collection of his sermons includes the unusual feature of places and dates.256 Parishioners who wished for more scholarly sermons were not restricted to what the parish clergy provided. Most towns of any size had one or more friaries, and friars gave greater attention to training one another to preach well. Their houses included graduate clergy likely to know the great European sermon writers or to be able to write effective sermons of their own. They



preached in urban parish churches too, as did some monks. Margery Kempe, an assiduous attender of sermons, mentions friars in the pulpits of her own parish church of St Margaret King’s Lynn and its chapel-of-ease St James, as well as a monk and the bishop of Norwich at St Margaret and a monk in York.257 Friars even penetrated into some rural churches. Following a papal decree of 1300, bishops were required to licence a certain number of them to preach and hear confessions, and such men were available to do so, at least nearby their towns.258 There was some animosity over this between friars and parish clergy, which led to complaints from the former that the latter were obstructive of their presence, or at best condescending and ungrateful for it.259 Nevertheless Margery found a friar preaching to a large audience in a village church near Walsingham, while the Tudor knight Sir Henry Willoughby heard and rewarded several friars who did so in his churches of Middleton, Warwickshire, and Wollaton, Nottinghamshire, during the 1520s.260 This does not mean that sermons were always heard respectfully. From the thirteenth century onwards, preachers criticised the devotion of their listeners, especially at the longer sermons where attendance was voluntary.261 One priest observed that if a bishop came to preach, people flocked to hear him, and if he reproved their sins, they did not object. ‘But let a simple priest as I am say the word of God to you, and you set no price thereby’.262 A friar writing in the early fifteenth century made similar complaints: But in these days many folk will not lower themselves to sit down at the sermon, nor will hear it with meek heart, but they will stand [so] that they may readily go away if the preacher pleases them not . . . Some come only to hear curiosity and new things, some come for malice and envy to pinch at the preacher’s words, some come only to be seen. Some come only for the manner [the fashion] and for no devotion, nor for no profit of their soul, and such fall soon asleep.263

There are indeed anecdotes to support his view. The ‘readily going away’ is confirmed by the story of William Thorpe, told above, who could not keep his audience when a nearby mass reached its climax. Half a century later, Peter Idley complained of men who went into a corner during the sermon, talking



with women or playing with their purses, keys, and knives.264 The ‘malice and envy’ is illustrated by the prosecution of Richard Lyllyngston of Castle Combe, Wiltshire, in 1491 for causing dissent in his parish. He confessed that, Whensoever there was any preaching or teaching of the word of God in the pulpit, I would contrary it at [the] alehouse, and I would ask the preacher whether he would bide by the words in the pulpit or no, and so I caused such as were the sayers of the word of Almighty God to be loth to come into the said pulpit again.265

Such dissent could come into church itself. Michael Maunford of St Botulph without Aldgate, London, in 1497 shouted ‘Leave thy preaching, for it is not worth a fart’, after which he was hauled before a Church court.266 Thomas Fuller of Kennington in Kent was charged in 1511 with standing in the church porch and guying the preacher from there.267 Less offensive, but still brought to court, was an interruption to a sermon at Mile End church near London in 1544. The rector complained in the pulpit that the parishioners were like galled horses (‘when they be rubbed, they will wince’), at which John Crete called out ‘Priest, findest it in the book that my back is galled?’268 Outbursts of this kind from the pews form much of the humour in A Hundred Merry Tales. Violent reactions were aroused by the sermons of William Swinderby, the hermit-priest of Leicester and revivalist preacher in the town in the early 1380s. According to Henry Knighton, a canon of the local abbey and a critic of Swinderby, He greatly despised women’s adornments, and he disdained their pride and their general behaviour, and detested their lewdness. And even when they behaved decently, he nevertheless treated the subject most unsuitably, for he had no notion of moderation, whether in preaching or in anything else. So much so, in fact, that the women of the town, both the good and grave sort and others, were moved to wrath by the violence of his preaching and his denunciations, and they proposed to gather stones and stone him out of the town.269



But far more common, no doubt, was the response of those who ‘fell soon asleep’. One of the stories in A Hundred Merry Tales concerns a merchant’s wife, mature in years, who lived in the parish of St Mary Bow London. On a Sunday in Lent, her maid came to her after dinner and said that the bells of the church of St Thomas Acon were ringing to announce a sermon. The wife had passed a restless night. ‘Bring my stool with me’, she commanded the maid, ‘for I will go there to see if I can take a nap while the priest is preaching.’270 THE WORSHIPPER’S EXPERIENCE What then did a worshipper gain from going to a regular church service in medieval England? The fact that the Office, at least, ought to be performed in church every day, meant that the building was open for worship, morning and afternoon. This made it available for anyone to offer their own prayer in the presence of authorised, organised liturgy, often with the likelihood that other lay people would be present for companionship. As has been said, it is hard to know what those present gained from matins and evensong, except for the very few who could read a breviary, other than an environment in which to pray by themselves. Only in a minority of places or occasions did these services have a special visual or aural content, chiefly at vespers with the processions on certain Sundays and the evening antiphons in some town churches. The attraction of the mass is easier to understand. Even a low weekday mass by the incumbent or a chantry priest provided the spectacle of the elevation and the manifestation of Christ in bread and wine, with the spiritual advantages proclaimed as coming to those who viewed it. Sunday mass, the service attended by most people, had a social importance. It was a public occasion, enabling one to meet one’s neighbours, take one’s place in the local community, and (especially once seating became common) occupy a space appropriate to one’s status and indicative of the fact. In terms of worship Sunday mass had a regular form. Its shape was reassuringly predictable and the stages through which it passed must have become familiar with frequent attendance. Something of their meaning would be learnt through clerical teaching and this was certainly so for those able to use The Lay Folks’ Mass Book or its



counterparts. The texts of the mass and their variable elements like the collect, epistle, and gospel, being in Latin, were less understandable. It seems unlikely that these became as familiar and remembered as they would be in English after the Reformation. The mass did not emphasise teaching unless the priest read a sermon like that of Mirk or could compose one of his own. Instead the mass conveyed its spiritual messages through sight and ceremony. There was the visual dimension: the staging of the service in the decorated chancel, the clergy in their vestments, the incense, and above all the elevation. There were the ceremonies involving the congregation: the aspersions, the mid-mass announcements, the pax, and the holy bread. These gave some compensation for the lack of communion. Some attempt was made to bridge the language gap by the use of English. Worshippers were certainly meant to be spiritually involved, to be more than spectators. But they were freer to follow a path of their own than would be the case after the Reformation. The chancel screen removed them from close contact with the service beyond. The Latinity of the service and the modest number of places where their interaction was required enabled them to say the rosary, read the Hours of the Virgin, or use a handbook to the mass while the service was in progress. The Reformation, as we shall see, would greatly increase the instructive aspect of services. But in doing so it would require the attention of the congregation in a more absolute and directed way than had been the case hitherto.


6 J


THE CYCLE OF THE YEAR The Christian life is a journey, and churchgoers in the Middle Ages travelled through a series of seasons and observances in every year of it. The year, as the Church constructed it, was divided into two. The first part, which began on Advent Sunday, the fourth Sunday before Christmas, followed the course of Christ’s life on earth. It looked forward to his first and second coming during the next three weeks (the season of Advent) and celebrated his birth at Christmas with his appearance to the world at Epiphany. It went on to recall his temptation in Lent, his Passion in Holy Week, his resurrection at Easter, and his rising to heaven on Ascension Day. This cycle ended with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost or Whitsunday, the veneration of the Trinity on the next or Trinity Sunday, and (from about 1318) the feast of Corpus Christi (Christ’s body in the eucharist) on the following Thursday. The rest of the year, from Midsummer to Advent, formed what is now called ‘ordinary time’ in which the themes of worship were more general and less specific. The two parts were not fixed in length, because Easter is a moveable feast linked to the first new moon of spring. In medieval times it could fall between 22 March and 25 April. This meant that the ‘Christ cycle’ might vary in length by a month and, within it, the Sunday called Septuagesima which began the approach to Easter could occur from 18 January to 21 February, while Corpus Christi which concluded the cycle could do so from 21 May to 24 June. Within each part of the year there were other elements. Roughly every quarter, there were the Ember Weeks with the Wednesday, Friday, and



Saturday as days of fasting, and the ordination of clergy on the Saturday. The three days before Ascension Day constituted the Rogation Days: days of fasting and processions. Then there were the numerous saints’ days with their own observances: commemorating the apostles, early Roman martyrs, and medieval holy men and women. Some of these were relevant only to the clergy and were merely remembered and prayed for in the Church liturgy, but others had a public dimension. And as well as the universal saints who were honoured everywhere, many local figures were celebrated: some in a handful of churches, some perhaps in a single one like St Edburh of Bicester, St Wulfric of Haselbury, and St Cuthman of Steyning. The liturgical books used by the clergy included calendars to help them keep track of these days of special observance, and the prayer books owned by wealthier literate lay people came to include such data as well. The Church calendar was important for everyone because, as well as Sundays, some of the special days demanded attendance in church and their eves or ‘vigils’ might involve fasting from certain kinds of food.1 It was the responsibility of the clergy, as we have seen, to keep their congregations aware of such days as they approached.2 Churchgoing was required on Christmas Day and a number of days other than Sundays, varying locally from about twenty-seven to about thirty-six. Official guidance differed about some of these, from diocese to diocese. Most had to be kept as fully holy days with abstention from work apart from domestic tasks. On others weekday activities were allowed except for ploughing, while women’s work (at least craft work) was discouraged on four festivals of female saints (Agatha, Agnes, Lucy, and Margaret).3 The feast of the patron saint of a church and that of the day on which the building had been dedicated were additional days of obligation to go to church. Many of these days were holidays too, since after attending church the day could be given to recreation. The fasting days were Friday every week (except when it fell on Christmas Day), the vigils of Christmas Day, Pentecost, and about twelve saints’ days (of Mary and the apostles), the forty weekdays of Lent, the Rogation Days (including St Mark’s Day), and the twelve Ember Days.4 Some other days were recommended for fasting but were not compulsory. Fasting meant abstinence from meat and sometimes from dairy foods as well.



The Church’s calendar impressed itself deeply into people’s consciousness of time, even when they were dealing with matters outside church. They remembered events as often by Church festivals as by day and month: ‘about Mid-Lent Sunday’, ‘a little before Lammas’, ‘the Monday next after Michaelmas Day’.5 The wealthy and literate could use the calendars in the front of their prayer books to keep abreast of daily time. Margaret Paston, the Norfolk gentlewoman, dated her letters ‘the Friday next after Ash Wednesday’, ‘the Wednesday next before Palm Sunday’, ‘the Friday next after Crouchmas Day [the Invention of the Holy Cross]’.6 She had been to church or used her prayer book on these days, and expected her correspondents to be just as aware of them too. ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS Advent Sunday can fall between 27 November and 3 December. It introduced a note of austerity into the daily and weekly services. The next three weeks or so were devoted to the reading of the Book of Isaiah at matins with its prophecies of Christ’s birth, to which the Church added the expectation of his second coming to sit in judgment on the virtues and sins of the world. Two hymns of praise disappeared from the liturgy: Te Deum at matins and Gloria in excelsis at mass.7 Fasting was recommended, especially if this was the local custom.8 It was not compulsory but was observed in some households to the extent of eating fish rather than meat, although less so in others.9 No marriages were normally allowed because marriage was assumed to be followed by sexual activity, thought to be inappropriate to this and indeed to the other penitential seasons.10 One custom challenged the sobriety of Advent. This was the ceremony of the boy bishop on St Nicholas Day (6 December), repeated after Christmas on Holy Innocents’ Day (28 December). The boy was often chosen by fellow choristers in a large church or by fellow pupils in a local school, and other boys acted as his clergy and servants.11 The liturgical texts of Sarum and York do not mention their presence at the services of St Nicholas Day, but boy bishops certainly took part in these at some places, such as Eton College, St Nicholas Bristol, and St Mary at Hill in London for example.12 Sarum and



York are more informative about Holy Innocents’ Day, or Childermas as it was known. Here they tell us that the bishop and his entourage were involved in the liturgy for a period of twenty-four hours. In a process of ‘role reversal’, they occupied the adults’ seats in the chancel or choir while the adults were placed elsewhere. The boy bishop led first vespers on the eve, and on the day itself he presided over the whole liturgy and gave blessings to those in church.13 He could not undertake priestly functions, of course, and a monk who was serving the church of Fenny Stratford in Buckinghamshire got into trouble in 1497 for allowing its boy bishop to bless the font on St Nicholas Day and sing the Paternoster at the mass.14 Advent lasted until the afternoon of Christmas Eve: a vigil and therefore a fasting day. The hero of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, arriving at a castle in the middle of that day, was treated to a lavish meal of different kinds of fish, appropriate to the fast but humorously described by his hosts as a ‘penance’.15 Christmas was one of the three great feasts of the year, along with Easter and Pentecost. It was distinguished liturgically by the fact that three masses could be celebrated: at midnight, dawn, and mid morning. These were certainly done in large churches with several clergy and possibly more widely, since the usual rule that a priest could celebrate only one mass a day was relaxed to allow him all three. The three days after Christmas Day – those of St Stephen, St John the Evangelist, and the Holy Innocents with its boy bishop – were major festivals too, as were the Circumcision of Christ on 1 January, and the Epiphany on 6 January. Christmas time attracted folk customs as is the case today. Some decoration of churches was done. Churchwardens’ accounts in towns mention the putting up of holly and ivy, apparently in association with extra candles: perhaps with the midnight and dawn services in mind.16 In wealthy households the whole period from Christmas Day to Epiphany constituted a holiday with what became known as ‘Christmas rule’: appropriate food, games, and gift-giving on New Year’s Day rather than Christmas Day as now. This was a time for performing carols and dramas, carols being songs in English (or English and Latin mixed) to which one danced. These often had religious themes but were not used in church.17 The twelve days were also allowed to some serfs: those peasant farmers who were not technically free and had to spend certain days



40.  People going to church at Candlemas in this painting by Simon Bening of about 1550, but as in earlier times. Men, women, and children carry the obligatory candles, and their dogs follow them.

working for their lords. Such serfs, however, may have wished to work on their own holdings during part of the Christmas holidays, and the holidays were probably shorter too for wage-earning labourers and servants.18 From 13 January or later the Church numbered the Sundays as ‘first’, ‘second’, and so on, ‘after the octave of the Epiphany’, so that the next few weeks may be called the season of Epiphany, although its character as a time of celebration continued that of Christmas. Indeed Christmas could be considered as lasting until Candlemas on 2 February, and Epiphany could do so until 20 February if Easter fell on its latest possible date of 25 April. Candlemas honoured the purification of the Virgin Mary forty days after the birth of Christ and served additionally as a festival of light. From at least the end of the tenth century it was a major feast requiring attendance in church and the bringing of candles not only by adults but children (Fig. 40, above).19 A boy at Ewelme school in 1465 had a halfpenny candle bought for him on the occasion.20 It may also have been a day for a guild or company devoted to Mary to come as a group. At Beverley, members of the guild of St Mary dressed up as Mary, Joseph, Simeon, and angels, and walked with their brothers and sisters



through the streets to the parish church holding torches.21 When mass was over, the candles intended for use in the church during the following year were blessed, aspersed with holy water, and censed with incense so that they, like the other furnishings in the church, were holy objects.22 In some places there was a practice – perhaps associated with Candlemas – known as ‘measuring the church’. This involved stretching lengths of candle-wick and wax through or around the building. These were then used to make the church’s candles so that they symbolised the church itself – a practice similar to that of ‘measuring’ sick people with wax and then offering the wax to a shrine or image.23 The bringing of a candle was a duty of each parishioner. ‘It is a common use of all Holy Church’, wrote John Mirk, ‘to come to church this day and bear a candle in procession, as though they went bodily to church with Our Lady, and after offered with her in worship and high reverence of her’.24 Some people repeated the duty on the following day, that of St Blaise, perhaps in tandem with a custom of having their throats blessed on his festival.25 Ranulph Higden also talked in 1340 of bringing wax images to Candlemas in the forms of animals, which were burnt after blessing in the belief that protection was extended to the beasts concerned.26 The candles seem to have been the perquisite of the rector or vicar, no doubt for use in his house, in an elegant inversion: the enlightenment of the incumbent by the congregation. In 1287 the bishop of Exeter condemned those who took the candles and used the wax for the lights that burnt before the crucifix on the chancel screen or elsewhere.27 The provision of such lights in the church, those that had already been blessed, was the responsibility of the parishioners not of the clergyman. But it was not unknown for someone who brought a candle to refuse to hand it over. Records of this survive from Haringey in Middlesex in 1497 and Dovercourt in Essex in 1541, and a refusal even features in a miracle story from a sermon for Candlemas Day.28 LENT If Easter fell before 6 April, Candlemas would be preceded by Septuagesima, the third Sunday before Lent, which could happen from 18 January onwards. This Sunday, named from its falling seventy days before Easter, began a



period of two and a half weeks that formed a prelude to the penitential season of Lent. Te Deum and Gloria in excelsis departed again from the liturgy,29 and marriage was forbidden as it had been in Advent.30 The last few days of this prelude leading up to Ash Wednesday, two and a half weeks after Septuagesima, were known as ‘Shrovetide’. The name seems to have arisen because some people ‘shrove’ themselves (meaning ‘went to confession’), perhaps to prepare themselves for Lent or to make the confession required in Lent before other people crowded to do so.31 At the same time these last days were a period of festivity before the fasting required in Lent. The Saturday before Ash Wednesday was called Festum Ovorum or ‘Egg Saturday’, referring to the using up of eggs. Shrove Tuesday, three days later, which was the last day before Lent, saw the further enjoyment of eggs in the form of pancakes. This day was a festival for young people, when schoolboys took cockerels to school to fight them and when football matches were held.32 The season was thus a ‘merry Shrovetide’,33 a time of enjoyment and release, although in England it does not seem to have burgeoned into so grand a period of carnival as it did in parts of the Continent. Ash Wednesday followed Shrove Tuesday and marked the beginning of Lent: the forty days of penitence that celebrated and imitated Christ’s fasting and temptation in the wilderness. In ancient times Lent began on the following Sunday known as Quadragesima, ‘the fortieth day’ from Good Friday. The start was brought forward to Ash Wednesday in the seventh century so that there would be exactly forty days to Easter Day excluding Sundays which were traditionally festive days. In consequence not all the liturgical observances of the season began on Ash Wednesday, although it was still a solemn and penitential occasion. In church a sermon might be preached before the principal mass, after which the clergy said the seven ‘penitential psalms’ while prostrating themselves in the chancel. This was followed by the blessing of ashes and the coming forward of the clergy and the laity to have ashes painted on their foreheads in the shape of the cross. As this was done, the officiating cleric said to each person in Latin, ‘Remember, man, that you are ash, and to ash you shall return’. When further antiphons and prayers had been sung and said, the clergy went in procession from the chancel to the doors of the church. Salisbury’s



custom was to use the west doors for this purpose, but York preferred the north door and this may have been the practice even in southern England, if churches had only north and south nave doors.34 The purpose of going to the doors was to expel the ‘penitents’ from the church in a ceremonial re-enactment of Adam’s expulsion from Eden. The bishop or principal cleric presided, the penitents kissed his hand in submission, the church doors were closed upon them, and the clergy returned to the chancel to sing mass.35 The penitents were then excluded for six weeks until Maundy Thursday, three days before Easter, when they were received back again into church just as Christ released Adam from hell. So, at least, the liturgical sources tell us. Expulsion of this kind was known as ‘public’ or later as ‘solemn’ penance, as opposed to the private penance given by priests at confession which we shall encounter presently. It is first recorded in England in about the year 1000, and was originally awarded by bishops for grave sins.36 By the thirteenth century these seem to have included sexual transgressions such as adultery, incest, and cohabiting with a priest, as well as usury, sorcery, perjury, false witness, and the exposure of babies.37 The discipline could not be repeated; if the sinner sinned again, a different punishment had to be given. Its public nature made it unpopular and people sentenced to it seem to have done their best to avoid it. They offered money for their sentence to be commuted – a device condemned by thirteenth-century bishops but evidently in use, and by 1281 the Council of Lambeth complained that penance of this kind ‘seems as if it has fallen into oblivion’ and commanded its restoration.38 It certainly continued in some places. Hereford diocese still observed it in 1346–7 and Canterbury diocese in 1455, but apparently as a rite specific to the bishop or his deputy and held in a single church such as the cathedral.39 Public penances of a different kind were imposed for a variety of lesser crimes by the Church courts, but these were carried out in churches or market places on prescribed days during the year, not only in Lent. All this makes it doubtful whether most churches ever had any penitents to expel on Ash Wednesday.40 The ceremony continued to appear in all the liturgical texts for that day up to the Reformation, but in practice parish clergy can have done it only symbolically, showing that very wicked people would be punished in this way. They may have omitted it altogether.



Lent lasted for forty weekdays, the last being the eve of Easter Day. It was sometimes called ‘Clean Lent’, perhaps to distinguish it from the transitional period that followed Septuagesima.41 Important changes took place to the church interior. A large curtain, the Lenten veil, was hung across the chancel to the west of the high altar, thereby screening it from view for most of Lent. The veil was originally set up on the Saturday after Ash Wednesday, but in later times on the following Monday. Side altars in churches continued to be visible. Also on the aforesaid Monday all the crosses and images of Christ and the saints were covered with veils and they remained so until Easter Day, with two exceptions to be mentioned presently. For this reason, perhaps, some people called the first Monday of Lent ‘Black Monday’, the restrictions of Lent coming fully into force on that day.42 Sundays in Lent were not strictly part of the season liturgically and their services were more like those of normal Sundays. Accordingly the Lenten veil was drawn away before vespers on Saturdays so that the congregation could have a view of the altar at Sunday mass, with the all-important sight of the elevations of the wafer and chalice. The veil was then restored before matins on Mondays.43 The season had an impact outside church since adults, both clergy and laity, were required to fast by abstaining from most animal products: meat and what was known as ‘white meat’, meaning dairy items such as eggs, milk, butter, and cheese. The only forms of animal food allowed for consumption were fish and shellfish. Although John Mirk observed that in Lent ‘Sunday is no day of fasting’,44 this relaxation did not apparently apply to diet because household accounts of wealthy people show that fish continued to be eaten on Sundays as well as on weekdays.45 Many clergy also fasted in an additional way, in that their morning services were extended by saying vespers on weekdays, delaying midday dinner by an hour or so.46 However not everyone was required to observe the Lenten fast because certain categor­ ­ies of people were deemed to be excused. Commentators specified manual labourers, pregnant women, nursing mothers, children and (in one case adolescents under twenty-one), the sick, the elderly, beggars, and pilgrims.47 It was also possible for wealthy people with access to the Church authorities to gain exemption on grounds of ill health. In 1447, for example, the bishop of Exeter relaxed the fast for that reason in favour of the countess of Devon



and Elizabeth Coplestone, the wife of an esquire, in return for them undertaking alternative acts of penance.48 Among the rest of the population there were some who ignored the fast, although this carried the danger of one’s cooking being noticed and reported by neighbours, unless one lived in an isolated dwelling. CONFESSION Another major feature of Lent was the making of one’s confession. In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council of the Catholic Church sought to bring regularity into people’s spiritual lives by laying down that ‘all the faithful, of either sex, after they have reached the age of discernment, should individually confess in a faithful manner to their own priest at least once a year’.49 Although the timing of the ‘once’ was not laid down, it was either already associated with Lent or soon became so. There it accorded with the penitential nature of the season, and provided an appropriate preparation for the important and unusual practice of receiving communion on Easter Day. Lay people were normally required to make their Lenten confession to their parish priest, while clergy did so to a designated senior cleric in each district, known as a ‘penitentiary’. He also dealt with those of the laity who had committed sins too serious to be forgiven by their own priest.50 The official Latin word for ‘confession’ was penitencia, the sacrament of penance, and the common medieval English verb was ‘shrive’, meaning both to hear a person’s confession and to be confessed, the process being called ‘shrift’. Confession to a priest was defined as ‘private penance’, since the confession and the penance that resulted from it were known only to the person who confessed and their confessor. It was distinct from the ‘solemn penance’ of Ash Wednesday and the ‘public penance’ ordered by Church courts when they convicted people of serious crimes. In the latter cases the crimes had become public and were punished with a penance done in an equally public way.51 This does not mean, of course, that confessions to priests took place in Lent alone. Several bishops in the thirteenth century tried to encourage them before Christmas and Pentecost as well, although it is not clear with what effect.52 The moralist Robert Mannyng, in the early fourteenth century,



advised going to confession quickly after sinning.53 Jean Quentin’s ‘Manner to Live Well’, published in English in 1531, urged people to do so once a week, unless greatly prevented, and certainly once a fortnight.54 Personal concerns prompted people to confess at times of danger: before childbirth, on taking a long journey overseas as on a pilgrimage, or before battle. Mirk recommended priests to hear confessions after mass, because the celebration of the sacrament would have purified their minds from bad or distracting thoughts.55 After mass, at about 9.00 a.m., was a good time for practical reasons. A priest had finished his morning services and had no commitments until his midday dinner. Confessions always took place in church, except in the case of the sick, and the priest could be found there when mass was over. Langland’s character Glutton and Sir Gawain both went to do so at that time of the day.56 Alternatively confessions might be held after dinner in the early afternoon.57 Confession was not confined to the parish and its priest. The wealthy and pious yearned for expert teaching and advice about their spiritual health, and preferred to seek it from ‘specialists’ rather than ‘general practitioners’ like the parish clergy. By the mid fourteenth century those with initiative and money could acquire licences from the pope to choose their confessor.58 Permission might also be obtained from one’s bishop or even one’s own parish priest.59 From the thirteenth century the orders of friars specialised in spiritual counselling and instruction, including confession. This provoked hostility from the parish clergy, which was calmed by a papal compromise of 1300 that limited the number of friars allowed to hear confessions in each diocese.60 Anchorites or recluses became popular for this purpose as well. Margery Kempe went at different times to confess to, or consult, her parish priest in King’s Lynn, a recluse in the local Dominican friary, a vicar and a monk in Norwich, and an Augustinian canon of Bridlington Priory.61 But not everyone was wealthy or pious. The confessional habits of most people are unknown and may not have extended beyond the minimum requirement. The Lenten confessions, on the other hand, were almost universally observed. Even a nobleman with several dwellings was expected to present himself in the parish where he happened to be staying.62 The process was compulsory and evasion was punished by the Church’s disciplinary processes.



Thus in Archbishop Morton’s visitation of Suffolk in 1499, one man from Norwich and two of Woodbridge were reported for non-attendance. The first claimed to have confessed to the priest of another parish (although that was normally forbidden) and the others absconded, no doubt to avoid the penance that they would incur.63 It appears, however, that at least a few people made their Lenten confession to a monk or a friar, perhaps on the grounds of their licence to choose. A school exercise from Bristol in the 1420s refers to this: ‘Our parson shall shrive me in Lent, holiest of times, and not a friar nor none other religious man’.64 By the 1530s some people apparently got certificates from a friary or religious house that they had made their Lenten confession there, presumably to show their priest and to be allowed Easter communion in their parish church.65 The rector of Tingewick in Buckinghamshire refused communion to a parishioner who claimed to have confessed to a monk in 1517, perhaps because the rules had not been followed.66 Nevertheless it should be noted that visitation records mention offences about confessions in Lent far less often than they do failures of church attendance on Sundays, which may indicate that the duty was normally done and in the requisite ways. Men and women were reckoned to gain discernment and the ability to sin in a serious way at the age of puberty: twelve for girls and fourteen for youths.67 This meant that in every parish some two thirds of the people needed to confess to their priest: the rector, the vicar, or the chaplain who deputised for them. A problem then arose about how so many adolescents and adults were to be dealt with. The obvious solution was to use other clergy in the parish, in view of the presence of chantry priests and guild priests in the larger and wealthier churches by about 1300. At first the Church authorities were doubtful about this. Statutes attributed to Archbishop Winchelsey (1295–1313), which sought to regulate the role of such priests, forbade them to hear the confessions of people within the parish that they served ‘except in cases permitted by law’.68 This presumably meant that they could do so only if authorised by the parish priest. In later times their involvement seems to have been common in well-populated parishes. How common is apparent from the information about chantry priests gathered by the government of Edward VI in 1548, when chantries were



abolished and the government wished to ascertain if there would be any consequences of their disappearance. The ‘chantry certificates’ that contain this information, and were partly based on reports by churchwardens, often state that a particular chantry priest in a parish helped the curate to minister ‘the sacraments and sacramental things’.69 This could be interpreted as merely assisting with communion on Easter Day or taking communion to the sick in remote parts of the parish, but the help is likely to have included the Lenten confessions because the need was so pressing. The fact can sometimes be established from other sources, as at St Cuthbert Wells, where a will-maker mentions three chaplains doing the duty in what was the sole parish church of a small cathedral city.70 Single churches in other large towns had similar challenges. At High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, in 1509, with an adult population of about a thousand, the vicar was ordered to employ a chaplain to assist him and they were allowed to say rather than sing matins on weekdays during Lent, evidently to give more time for confessions.71 At Doncaster in 1548, where the population was reckoned at twice as much, it was claimed that the incumbent of the church and the seven chantry priests within it were all involved in doing the task from the beginning of Lent until Palm Sunday, as well as helping to give communion at Easter.72 The authorities tried to encourage confessions early in Lent. Bishops’ statutes of the thirteenth century instructed that this should be the case.73 Lyndwood glossed the instruction as ‘the first, second, or third days’, presumably beginning with Ash Wednesday.74 The bishop of Worcester issued an indulgence in 1368 to encourage early confessions: forty days to those who confessed before the first Sunday of Lent and twenty to those who did so before the second Sunday.75 In a parish like Doncaster, on the other hand, sheer numbers could extend the process right through Lent, and even in smaller communities people might ignore the request until very late in the day. The author of Speculum Sacerdotale, the fifteenth-century cycle of sermons, complained that people ‘come not in the first week commonly, nor in the second, nor in the third, but in the sixth week and [even] on Good Friday and on Easter Day’.76 An example of this is a certain John Dybbe, a young Exeter labourer and witness in a legal case in 1439, who dated an



event that had happened in the previous year by the fact that he made his confession ‘on Saturday next before Palm Sunday, and not before’. He left doing so until a week before the process was scheduled to end.77 Accordingly many clergy must have organised systems to ensure that parishioners came to confession in an orderly and predictable manner. One indication of this is a directive from the bishop of Exeter in 1429 regarding the inhabitants of St Ives in Cornwall, whose mother church was at Lelant more than three miles away. They were required to attend Lelant church for their Lenten confession ‘on certain days to be defined for them by the pre­­ arrangement of the said vicar [of Lelant]’.78 He evidently needed to fit them into time-slots alongside those that he allocated to his other parishioners. Such a system prevented the priest from waiting in church for people who failed to arrive, as well as enabling people to avoid a time-wasting queue in the church when they came. A detailed timetable of this kind survives from a parish in west Devon in the late fifteenth century. It is headed ‘This is the order of the parishioners of Bere Ferrers for confessing sins’.79 The timetable begins on the Monday after Ash Wednesday with ‘the dwellers at Stone, the dwellers at Ley, and the dwellers at Tuckham’. These were farms or hamlets in the parish. The following days of that week, up to Saturday, and apparently the six weekdays of the following week, were allocated to other settlements, ranging from two to four places each day. It does not appear that confessions were held on Sundays, no doubt because of the priest’s liturgical duties. The sequence of places followed a roughly circular, clockwise route round the parish. This ensured that no group of dwellers would seem to have priority over the others. As the arrangement was evidently intended to be permanent, farm work (such as attending to animals) could be organised accordingly, perhaps with neighbours helping or servants going at a different hour from their employers. The timetable does not include the three days, Thursday to Saturday, that followed Ash Wednesday; nor does it mention Bere Ferrers itself or the household of the lord of the manor. This may indicate that the parish priest began the confessions with the lord and his family, with any other gentry in the parish, and with the settlement beside the church. Such a priority would have been natural and expected by those of superior status.



When parishioners came into church for confession, the event had to take place openly, not in secret (Fig. 41, p. 271). As early as the 1220s the statutes of an unknown English diocese laid down, ‘Let the priest, when hearing confessions, choose to himself a common place in the church, so that he may be seen commonly by everyone, and let him not receive any confession in hidden places, and especially those of women, except for great necessity or the infirmity of the penitent’.80 Similar requirements appear in statutes attributed to Archbishop Reynolds of Canterbury in 1325, and were reproduced and commented on by Lyndwood. He defined ‘a common place’ as one that is ‘open or public’, and ‘in the church’ as signifying ‘the body of the church’, that is to say the nave.81 Other diocesan statutes insisted that the confession of women in particular should be done ‘outside the veil’, referring to the Lenten curtain in the chancel.82 There was an evident fear of clergy and women being in a situation together where they could not be seen. It was only too well justified by the actions of one London priest in 1495 who confessed young women in the vestry where he kissed them, fondled them, and tried to seduce them, while another was accused of using confessions to ask women to commit adultery.83 It is likely then that confession took place in the nave, either near the chancel screen or at most at the priest’s seat in the chancel if that was near the screen and visible.84 Other people, waiting their turns, would have been kept at a suitable distance out of earshot, standing or kneeling as they are sometimes shown in paintings or sculptures of the seven sacraments (Fig. 41, p. 271). Some churches had a special seat – a ‘shriving pew’ – either permanent or moveable, which was used if no other seat was available.85 One moveable device appears to have been a prie-dieu or small desk at which the penitent knelt and placed hands on the desk. Lay people were instructed to kneel at one side of the confessor – the left side is once mentioned for a female86 – so that he and they did not look directly at one another. Images of confession sometimes show this sideways arrangement.87 The priest was further advised to draw his hood over his head for additional privacy, especially when the penitent was a woman.88 A school exercise of the 1420s notes that ‘priests walk up and down the nave of the church, hooded, the which it befalleth to shrive us’.89



Those who came to confession were expected to meet five requirements. They must have hope of being pardoned, show contrition for their sin, confess what had been done or undone, make amends through an act of penance, and avoid evil thereafter.90 The priest was their ‘ghostly [spiritual] father’, and pastoral writers on confession reminded priests of their duty to be fatherly and encouraging as well as inquisitive and instructive. Penitents began by saying Benedicite (‘Bless you’) to which the priest replied Dominus vobiscum (‘The Lord be with you’). They were then led through the range of sins that they might have committed and the circumstances in which these happened. In 1213–14 Archbishop Stephen Langton told the priests of Canterbury diocese to enquire about the number of occasions when sin had been done; the time, place, and reason; the length of time engaged in the sin; and the devoutness of the penitent.91 This short list soon came to seem inadequate. Later bishops issued statutes and manuals were compiled to guide the clergy more extensively in what they should ask, and how they should respond in terms of advice and the allocation of penance.92 We may take as an example Mirk’s Instructions to Parish Priests, written in English in about the 1380s, which are simple and practical in this respect.93 He recommended calling the penitent ‘son’ or ‘daughter’ and encouraging them by saying that you too may have committed similar sins. The exploration of the penitent’s situation should follow, beginning with belief. Did they know the creeds and their meaning, and believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the bread and wine of communion? This was followed by a review of the Ten Commandments. Had they engaged in witchcraft, sworn by God’s body, broken the Sabbath, not given honour to parents, engaged in theft, failed to pay a loan, borne false witness, or coveted anything? The questions should then turn to the seven deadly sins: pride, sloth, envy, wrath, avarice, gluttony, and lechery. Next the less important venial sins should be considered, such as eating on Sundays without having tasted holy bread, or engaging in games at wakes for the dead. Had they carried out the seven works of mercy, giving charity to the poor? Had they taught their children good manners, remembered to pray for the dead while passing a churchyard, and taken care not to ride through crops? In all this the confessor should



41.  Confession. A parishioner kneels before a parish priest, who has pulled his hood over his head to distance himself.

consider the issues and circumstances surrounding the sins: who, what, where, by whom, how often, in what way, and when? After the sins had been confessed and if the penitent expressed due sorrow, the confessor imposed a penance on the principle that God required spiritual sins (like earthly crimes) to be paid for. Mirk stressed the importance of giving a penance that suited the penitent’s circumstances. A spouse’s penance might need to be one that could be done without the other partner’s awareness.94 It was better to award a light penance that would one day put someone into purgatory to endure further punishment there, than to assign a heavy one that would not be done and might send the defaulter to hell.



Penances recommended by Mirk included kneeling and kissing the ground for pride, almsgiving for gluttony, regular prayer for sloth, and fasting for lechery. He recalled that traditional penances included abstinence from meat on Wednesdays with fasting on bread and water on Fridays, for a period of seven years. But, he observed, few would do this now, so lighter penances should be given. As for graver sins such as arson, murder, heresy, usury, and unlawful marriages, those who did them must be sent to the bishop (in practice to one of his penitentiaries) for higher consideration. When the penitent had accepted the penance, he should call on God for mercy – Mirk provided a prayer in English for this. Originally the priest then prayed to God to dispense that mercy, but by the thirteenth century he was reckoned to have the power to absolve the sinner himself. This was done in Latin with words prescribed by a Church council at London in 1268, in translation ‘I absolve you from your sins by the authority that I execute’.95 The priest might raise his hand while doing this, or lay it on the head of the penitent. How long confessions took is hard to say. If we use confessional manuals as the guide, with their wide compass of sins and careful analysis of circumstances, the business could have lasted for half an hour or more, albeit that most people did not yet take close attention to clock time. Some images of confession portray the confessor with a book or two, as if he might need to consult them during the dialogue.96 More commonly one or more people are shown waiting their turns, either standing or kneeling, which suggest the Lenten confessions since all parishioners were bound to appear at that time. On other occasions during the year the priest and parishioner could take as long as they wished, but in Lent the number of people requiring to be seen suggests that the appointments may have been shorter rather than longer. One would hardly have queued nearby for half-hourly appointments. The priest knew his flock and could identify the points he should address. He might have confessed the more pious on other occasions. Only a considerable sinner, a very penitent person, or a stranger would have required a substantial investigation. The priest of Bere Ferrers, seeing perhaps ten or a dozen people every day, doing so in the late morning or following midday dinner in the afternoon, can hardly have spent more than fifteen or twenty minutes with each one. A session of about this length may have been common, in which



case parishioners may well have preferred to sit in the porch or at the far end of the nave, rather than in the queues shown by the images. The question arose with confession, as with the other sacraments, as to whether a fee could be charged or an offering made in return for the benefit. The Lateran Council of 1179 forbade the exaction of payments for the administration of any sacrament, and this was robustly restated at the Council of London, summoned by the papal legate Otto in 1237.97 During the following decades the prohibition was repeated by a number of diocesan bishops.98 There was no uniformity in this respect, however. It seems to have become a common practice by the early thirteenth century for each penitent to make an offering to the priest of a penny once a year, very likely at the Lenten confession. The bishop of Norwich, while following the official policy, made the significant concession that a priest should not exact anything from a parishioner ‘beyond the due and habitual custom of his parish’.99 Examples can be found throughout the later Middle Ages of bishops recognising that offerings at confessions were being made and sanctioning the clergy to receive them.100 One record of a real confession survives, but it is not typical because the person involved was a stranger to the priest and the dialogue was extended. A record of this kind is unexpected because the occasion was confidential between the penitent and the priest, and a priest would be at fault and punished for revealing its contents.101 By the time of the Reformation, however, the seal of the confession was less potent and the wish to cause trouble the greater. Accordingly in 1536 a layman named John Stanton divulged what happened when he confessed to George Rowland, a priest at the priory of the Crutched Friars in London.102 Their exchange got into an argument about Henry VIII’s Church reforms, which Stanton later reported to the authorities. The confession followed a similar form to that set out by Mirk. The priest ran through the seven deadly sins and the five senses to identify what faults Stanton might have committed, after which the priest asked if he had failed to do the five works of mercy. Stanton replied, ‘Yea, forsooth, for the which and all other I cry God mercy and beseech you, my ghostly father, of forgiveness, and give me penance of my sins’. The priest, who did not know Stanton well, asked if he was married or not, and John said ‘Nay’. This was to inform the priest about an appropriate penance. ‘And



then the said priest gave him for his penance to eat neither fish nor flesh on two Wednesdays between Easter and Whitsuntide, and that he should say the Seven [Penitential] Psalms with the litany and, further, ere he went out of the church, five Paternosters and five Aves with a Credo.’ This being accepted, he held up his hands to lay them on Stanton’s head to give him absolution, but at this point Stanton began to raise issues about the Church, which led to the allegations that he later made. PALM SUNDAY AND HOLY WEEK The last week of Lent began with Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, which introduced a series of important events in church. Its own ceremony recalled the entry of Christ into Jerusalem on a donkey, when the crowds threw down palm branches and clothes for him to ride over. The day was one of celebration: the Lenten veil was removed as usual on a Sunday as was, apparently, the veil of the cross on the high altar.103 Before the mass of the day, flowers and foliage were blessed, aspersed with holy water, and censed with incense. Since the palm of Palestine was not available, the twigs and branches of the willow with their grey furry buds were used, or those of the yew, and these were popularly known as ‘palm’.104 At Salisbury Cathedral a procession formed in the choir consisting of cross, candles, incense bearer, a casket of relics, the holy sacrament in a pyx, clerks with branches, the officiating clergy, and any lay people who accompanied them.105 The procession left the church and circled the building clockwise, in three phases. First it went to the churchyard cross north-east of the church: the ‘palm cross’ that all parish and larger churches had in their yard by the later Middle Ages.106 Here the account of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem was read in Latin from the Gospel of Luke with the laity listening. Then the procession moved to the south side of the church where seven boys in an upper gallery sang the Latin hymn Gloria, laus, et honor (‘All glory, laud, and honour’). Next clergy and people passed to the west door of the church at which more material was sung, and finally they entered the church where the clergy did further singing in front of the cross on the rood loft, before returning to the choir to perform the principal mass of the day.



As with Sunday mass, the Sarum texts do not give a sufficient guide to the activities in parish churches on Palm Sunday. A more comprehensive description was written by Thomas Becon in 1542, evidently inspired by what went on in places with a well-organised liturgy.107 Several of its details are confirmed from sources elsewhere.108 According to Becon, a procession left the church headed by a veiled cross with the ministers behind and then the people, holding palms. The procession went to the palm cross where the priest read or sang the gospel account of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, as in the Sarum rite. After this the procession moved on and met a second procession led by an unveiled cross, decorated with green leaves and palms. This procession included boy singers dressed in wigs and beards to represent prophets, who sang an antiphon, En rex venit (‘Behold, your king comes to you, meek and sitting on beasts’).109 Behind them came the church’s relics in a casket and the sacrament in a pyx, as at Salisbury. The two processions met with their crosses – one account claims that the crosses ‘justled’110 – after which the veiled cross withdrew and both processions joined to follow the decorated cross towards the church door. Here more (or the same) boy singers ‘standing upon a high place’, such as a gallery, a specially erected scaffolding, or in or on the church tower, sang Gloria, laus, et honor. At the end of each verse they threw down ‘certain cakes or breads, with flowers’, which were apparently scrambled for by the other boys of the parish.111 Finally the procession went to the church door, standing closed, with boys singing inside. The priest took the cross and struck its shaft against the door, which opened to admit the procession for the rest of the service. Becon explained that the crosses symbolised the change from the veiled revelations of the Old Testament to the full truths of the New, while the door signified the shutting of heaven to mankind by the sin of Adam and its re-opening by the redemption of Christ. Margery Kempe, when she witnessed the knock on the door, imagined Christ’s descent into hell on Good Friday, and his delivery of the souls of the good within.112 After the service, people took home their palms and, according to one Reformation writer, set them on the house-door or carried them in a purse to drive away the Devil.113 In the days after Palm Sunday the liturgy continued to re-enact the Passion and crucifixion of Jesus. A dramatic moment took place at mass on



Wednesday morning when the Passion story was read from the Gospel of Luke. As the reader came to the words ‘and the veil of the Temple was rent in the middle’, the Lenten veil was allowed to fall from its place of hanging in the chancel, disclosing once more the high altar.114 Towards the end of Wednesday there was another striking piece of liturgy after evensong. Matins and lauds were brought forward from their normal time of performance, which would have been in the following night at a cathedral or monastery and early on the following morning in the case of a parish church. This practice was repeated on the next two days: Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Matins and lauds performed in this way were known as Tenebrae or in popular speech ‘Tenables’ or ‘Tenebres’. The word means ‘darkness’ because the service was done when night was falling. Mirk wrote a sermon for Tenebrae to encourage lay people to be present on the occasion. Holding the service in darkness, he explained, is to remind us that Christ prayed at night on Maundy Thursday, that his arrest took place at night, and that night fell when Christ was crucified. During the service the church was lit with candles placed on a ‘hearse’ or wooden frame. The number of candles varied in churches; the sermon cycle Speculum Sacerdotale mentions seven, twelve, fifteen, twenty-four, or seventy-two, and explains their significance.115 Salisbury’s custom was to have twenty-four on the hearse and to extinguish them one at a time at the beginning of each of the antiphons and responsories sung during the liturgy. The Speculum recommended that a hand made of wax should be used as a snuffer, signifying the hand that wrote on the wall at Belshazzar’s feast.116 One candle was left alight at the end. This was taken away still lit towards the end of the service, but was hidden to produce total darkness as a symbol of Christ’s death. The clergy sang Benedictus and the Kyries in the dark, after which the senior cleric rapped his hand three times on his book to represent Christ’s breaking the gates of hell. The candle then returned as a symbol of the Resurrection, and the rest of its companions were re-lit to signify Christ’s bringing of light to mankind.117 On the next day, Maundy Thursday, and the two that followed it – Good Friday and Easter Eve (the Saturday) – the services were done in a more subdued way. No church bells were rung between the principal masses of Thursday and Saturday, and worship was announced by the sounding of



rattles.118 Maundy Thursday takes its name from Christ’s ‘commandment’ to his disciples to love one another. After the service of nones and before the principal mass in the middle of the morning, there was a ceremony to readmit the penitents (if any) who had been expelled on Ash Wednesday. A procession went from the chancel to the church doors (the western ones in Salisbury’s usage and the southern in York’s), and the leading cleric called in Latin to the penitents waiting outside, ‘Come! Come!’ A deacon, placed beside them, answered on their behalf, ‘We bow the knee’. When a psalm had been sung, they were brought in by a cleric holding their hands ‘and restored to the bosom of the church’.119 They then attended the mass that followed. During the afternoon the clergy or their assistants stripped the high altar and any other altars in the church of their coverings and furnishings, and washed the altars. At Salisbury Cathedral and no doubt other great churches, the clergy then entered the chapter house and listened to a sermon. There two senior clerics washed the feet of the others.120 It is possible that such washing was done in parish churches too, although the evidence is elusive. Maundy Thursday was widely known as ‘Sheer Thursday’ from an old word meaning ‘purification’: referring to the making of confession on that day or to the washing of the altars.121 Although everyone should have been to confession in Lent, the more pious may have repeated the devotion so as to be wholly clean for Easter. John Paston I of the Norfolk family of gentry did so in 1456, and Sir Henry Willoughby of Wollaton in 1526.122 By the early fifteenth century, however, the word ‘sheer’ became reinterpreted as ‘shear’ meaning ‘to cut’. Mirk believed that the name of the day arose because our forefathers trimmed their heads and beards to make themselves respectable for Easter, and he urged people to do the same. Lay people should dress their heads, men clip their beards, and priests shave the crowns of their heads and their beards, ‘so that right as we shave and shear away the superfluity of filth without, so we shall shave and shear away the superfluity of sin and of vices within’.123 On Good Friday the ‘day hours’ from prime to nones were not sung loudly but said silently or quietly, and so on the following day, Easter Eve.124 No mass was celebrated on Friday. After its morning service of nones, the story of Christ’s passion was read from the Gospel of John, chapter 18. Then at



Salisbury, following some prayers, two barefoot priests removed the portable cross from the bare high altar. This, like every image, was still veiled, so they unwrapped the veil and placed the cross on the third step below the altar. The rest of the clergy, also barefoot, proceeded to adore the cross, probably by prostrating themselves on the floor. After this the cross was taken by the two priests through the choir to ‘where it may be adored by the people, before another altar’.125 At lesser churches the carrying of the cross may have been done by clerks or boys, and the adoration by the people have taken place in the nave or possibly, later in the Middle Ages, in the chancel. The adoration of the laity was known as ‘creeping to the cross’ and seems to have involved crawling or crossing the floor on one’s knees, kissing the cross when one reached it. The author of Piers Plowman describes himself as doing so, with his wife and daughter.126 After this a pre-consecrated wafer dipped in consecrated wine, constituting Christ in body and blood, was placed in a pyx or closed receptacle and taken in procession to the Easter Sepulchre. The sepulchre was either a wooden box kept on the north side of the chancel, or a more elaborate stone structure containing a shelf or cupboard and sometimes combined with a funeral monument. The box or cupboard was censed, its door closed, and at Salisbury a candle was lit beside it, to burn (with one or two exceptions) until Easter morning.127 Some parishes, in contrast, lit numerous candles or tapers and provided guardians to keep watch at the sepulchre.128 On Easter Eve or Saturday, early in the morning, the altars were dressed again but the crosses and images remained veiled until the end of the day.129 During the morning there was the ceremony of making and blessing new fire. All the lights in the church were extinguished. A procession went to the font: at Salisbury towards the back of the nave on the south side. Fire was kindled and blessed; the York rite said that it should be made by using a beryl or a flint, presumably struck with metal to make sparks.130 Prayers were said, drops of holy water were aspersed on the fire, and it was censed with incense. At Salisbury a candle on a pole was lit, and the procession returned to the chancel to light the paschal (Easter) candlestick. This was a large device, sometimes with seven branches each holding candles, the central section supporting a long wooden shaft painted to look like a candle and, being a sham, known as the ‘Judas candle’. The real candle was fixed to its top, the



whole structure rising as high as thirty-six feet high at Salisbury, hence the need of the pole to light it.131 Lesser churches had larger-than-usual candlesticks and candles, although of more modest proportions. Next a second procession was made to the font. Fresh water had been placed in it, and the water was re-sanctified. There was an ancient tradition in the Church, as we have seen, that baptisms should be done on Easter Eve. In the thirteenth century this was reduced to the requirement that babies born during Holy Week should have their baptisms deferred until the Eve.132 The practice seems to have diminished by the end of the Middle Ages, and the versions of the Salisbury service that come from the early sixteenth century state that the font water should not be augmented with holy oil and chrism, as it would be for a real baptism, unless there was anyone to be baptised.133 When the font had been sanctified and the Easter candle lit, mass was celebrated along with a shortened version of vespers. As Gloria in excelsis was sung for the first time since Septuagesima, the church bells rang out, breaking the silence of the last three days.134 EASTER DAY Easter Day began as usual with matins: in the night in cathedrals and monasteries and at dawn or early morning in most parish churches. Before it started, the clergy lit the lights in the church including the paschal candle. The candle burnt at the services of Easter week and on those of the Sundays and festival days until Ascension Day, or later.135 Next the clergy went in procession to the sepulchre. They censed it, genuflected to it, and took the pyx containing the sacrament to the high altar; later it was moved to a lesser altar. The principal cleric then began the singing of Christus resurgens. ‘Christ rising up from the dead henceforth dies not. Death shall have no more dominion over him, for in that he lives, he lives in God. Alleluia! Alleluia!’136 Then the veils were removed from the crosses and images, and the bells were rung for matins.137 Te Deum was sung once again, as Gloria in excelsis had been on the previous day.138 Some lay people, it seems, marked the day by creeping to the cross on the high altar as they had done on Good Friday, and did so again on Easter Monday.139



The Lateran Council of 1215 required all parishioners over the age of discretion (puberty) to receive communion at Easter, just as they had to be confessed once a year.140 Those failing to do so were threatened with exclusion from church and from Christian burial, and there are cases of such people being reported to the authorities, given a public penance, and made to receive communion at a later date.141 At the same time communion was withheld from public sinners (such as prostitutes) and those excommunicated, but not from women during their periods unless they wished to withdraw voluntarily.142 Every communicant was expected to have attended confession and, at least in Salisbury diocese, to have adored the cross on Good Friday.143 The men were shorn or shaved, as we have seen, and both sexes were told to come not having eaten food. The holiness of the experience was such that they were even advised to refrain from sexual activity for a few days beforehand, on the day itself, and in a more extreme view, for three days afterwards.144 At the same time, taking communion was not merely an obligation; it was referred to as one’s ‘rights’. The Church regarded it as essential for salvation and tried, as we shall see, to ensure that it was indeed a right, not to be denied for financial reasons. As with confession, the obligation to receive ‘housel’ or communion at Easter did not preclude doing so on other occasions. Communion, like confession, was encouraged at times of personal danger such as grave illness, childbirth, a long pilgrimage, or the approach of death, always provided that reception was preceded by confession.145 In late Roman and Anglo-Saxon times, Church leaders promoted the taking of communion frequently during the year.146 This tradition lingered as late as about 1200, when the Ancrene Rule for nuns allowed them to receive up to fifteen times annually on major festival days.147 But attitudes came to change as the doctrine of the Real Presence made the practice seem more awesome and needful of careful preparation.148 By the 1210s Salisbury diocese was refusing to give communion to women when they were ‘churched’ after childbirth, unless they expressly asked for it and had attended confession.149 There was never a prohibition of frequent communion after 1200, but the practice became so closely associated with Easter that a lay person needed determination or clerical support to request it more often. Many clergy must have been reluctant to encourage



this, lest the sacrament became undervalued. Margery Kempe wished to communicate very frequently and, having apparently found her wish obstructed, gained a written letter of permission from the archbishop of Canterbury to do so every Sunday. Her permission and practice must have been very unusual.150 The devout Lady Margaret Beaufort (d.1509) was said to have been ‘houseled’ only ‘full nigh a dozen times a year’.151 Since she had the status to gain as wide a privilege as anyone, it is likely that her confessor advised her that once every month was sufficient. Even some nuns received only at Easter, although in other cases they were told to do so on major feasts.152 The Bridgettines of Syon near London, founded in 1414, followed a Rule that envisaged the practice on five such feasts in the year.153 The Church expected ordinary people to communicate far more rarely. There was a tradition in canon law that ‘seculars’ should do so at Christmas and Pentecost as well as at Easter.154 This was recommended from time to time for lay people in England: by Archbishop Langton and at least five other bishops in the thirteenth century, by Langton’s successor Simon Sudbury in 1378, and in Caxton’s translation of Gui de Royes’s Doctrinal of Sapience in 1489.155 Such promptings seem to have influenced royal practice by the reign of Edward IV when it was the custom of the king to communicate four times a year: at Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, and All Saints Day (1 November).156 Some of the Tudors seem likewise to have received more than once. Elizabeth of York did so three times in 1502 and Henry VII (when ill) at Mid Lent as well as at Easter in 1509.157 Henry VIII’s daughter Mary took communion on Maundy Thursday in 1537 and again in 1543, although she also attended mass on Easter Sunday.158 To what extent the king’s great subjects followed his lead in this matter is unclear. The earl of Northumberland in 1512 seems to have done so only at Easter, whereas Sir Thomas More (d.1535) was credited with taking communion before he embarked on any mission of great importance.159 Some lesser people may also have done so occasionally, out of piety.160 But it is significant that when Lyndwood discussed the matter, he interpreted ‘secular’ as applying to secular clergy other than priests, adding that ‘for as regards the laity, I think that they are not required [to do so] except once a year at Easter’.161 The writers of handbooks for priests, John de Burgh and



42.  The Annunciation to the Virgin Mary by Gabriel, typical of the paintings in parish churches, in this case on the chancel screen of Ashton, Devon.

John Mirk, likewise make no mention of communion apart from that day.162 This suggests that they were all unaware of significant lay participation on other great festivals. Easter, it seems, retained a very special character and status as the one day in the year when most adults went to communion. In a little parish like Oxnead it would have been easy to give the sacrament to each of the parish’s twenty ‘houseling people’ at a single Easter morning mass.163 In larger places the size of the population posed the same problem that it did with the Lenten confessions. From the early thirteenth century, bishops allowed clergy to celebrate more than one mass at Easter.164 Lyndwood, commenting on this in the fifteenth century, believed that it enabled a priest to celebrate twice: once on Easter Eve at night and once on Easter morning. He noted that this avoided the need for servants to go to mass at the same time as their employers, when they were required to do tasks at home.165 Even in a parish with one priest and a moderately sized



population, two masses might therefore take place for that reason. We hear of an evening mass on Easter Eve at Lanteglos-by-Fowey in Cornwall solely because there was a disturbance in church which led to legal proceedings.166 Such a practice was not necessarily confined to those of lowly rank. In 1508 Lord Edward Grey, a noble ward of the duke of Buckingham, received communion on the Eve, and Northumberland and his family followed a similar custom four years later. They may have done so to avoid the crowds on Easter morning, although they also attended mass on that occasion.167 In many larger parishes chantry priests and guild priests were available to hold additional masses. Attendance and communion at an early morning Easter mass or a mid morning one are envisaged in the statutes attributed to Archbishop Reynolds in 1325.168 John de Burgh’s Pupilla Oculi also seems to have allowed an additional mass on Easter Day itself, if there was only one priest in a church and such a multitude of parishioners that they could not all come to mass at the same time.169 But in the most populous places it might still be impossible to accommodate every parishioner on Easter Day or its Eve. The clergy of Doncaster were said to ‘minister the blessed sacrament all the said week’, which seems to mean the week after Easter Day.170 Even in the parish of St Mary Woolchurch London, with only 360 houseling people, the parishioners claimed that ‘all the priests we have’ (two of them with the rector) ‘do not suffice’.171 As with confession, arrangements may have been needed to direct people from different streets or parts of the parish to attend particular masses. The communion of the people took place after the priest at mass had consecrated the elements and had consumed a wafer of bread with all of the wine himself. By the fifteenth century it was apparently common to precede the giving of communion with an exhortation to the congregation and a general confession, both in English.172 This practice is not specified in the Latin missals, but texts to be used on the occasion survive in manuscripts, headed with such phrases as ‘A brief exhortation to the people on Easter Day’ and ‘The general confession of Easter’. The exhortation might warn the congregation that they should receive communion believing that the bread they received was the Body of Christ, having made their private confessions, being at peace with their neighbours, and having a will to withstand sin in



future. The priest would then lead them, phrase by phrase, through a general and public confession which (like the exhortation) anticipated what would be done in the Prayer Book services of the sixteenth century.173 When the laity came forward to communicate, they received communion ‘in one kind’, that is to say the bread and not the wine. This was another practice that developed in the twelfth century, reflecting the heightened respect for the Body of Christ. The withholding of the wine was justified by Lyndwood on the grounds that first, people should believe that the whole of Christ was present in each element – bread and wine, and that secondly, the wine might be easily spilt.174 Spillages were distasteful, given the belief that the consecrated wine was the real body and blood of Christ. Even the dropping of crumbs from the wafers had to be avoided carefully. A special place needed to be chosen for the lay communions. In the thirteenth century, when the Church strove to keep laity out of the chancel as far as possible, they may have happened on the outer side of the chancel screen except for the assistant clergy and any patrons or other noble people who were present inside the chancel. Later there are signs that more or all of the congregation moved into the chancel. Some lay people are shown receiving communion there in manuscript illuminations (Fig. 35, p. 214),175 and written sources refer to the practice. Margery Kempe’s autobiography says that she was houseled at the high altar of St Margaret’s church, King’s Lynn, apparently on a regular basis,176 and one of the exhortations mentioned above talks of the communicants going to ‘God’s board’, also meaning the high, or at least another, altar.177 In 1529 Joan Carpenter was bending down to receive communion before the altar at St Michael Queenhithe in London, when another woman demanded that she ask forgiveness before taking the sacrament.178 And at Elsenham in Essex in 1540, while a poor woman named Craknell knelt at ‘God’s board’ to receive the sacrament, the priest allegedly refused to provide it until she gave him the groat (worth 4d.) that he said that she owed him.179 Wherever the site, two clerks or boys held a long towel, called the ‘houseling towel’, to catch any crumb that might fall from the consecrated bread although it was given in the form of a wafer or ‘singing cake’ as the wafer was often known. Communicants knelt with their chins above the towel and the priest, passing behind it, put a wafer directly into their mouths (Fig. 43,



p. 291). This avoided any touching or misuse of the wafer, and a Londoner who took it with his hand was reported for disobedience.180 The giving of the wafer would be accompanied by some ‘words of administration’, which are recorded in Latin in liturgical books although it is not impossible that English was sometimes used. In the Sarum rite they were, in translation: The body of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you in everlasting life. Amen.181

York added ‘keep your body and soul’.182 The recipient then took a sip of wine from a chalice offered with a cloth or towel around its base and stem. This recalled Christ’s distributing wine with bread at his Last Supper, but the wine was not that which the priest had consecrated and already consumed. It was unconsecrated and had the function of an ablution to help wash down the wafer. The Church was at pains to instruct that it was different from that of the mass.183 Only priests and deacons were allowed to dispense the bread of the eucharist.184 This did not apply to the chalice with its ordinary wine, which could permissibly have been given out by the parish clerk, following in the footsteps of the parish priest. Once the chalice is mentioned as being held by a churchwarden. This was at St Andrew Canterbury in 1541. On that occasion the warden said to the communicant, one Thomas Dalle, ‘Take the chalice with the towel in your hand as other folk do’, but Dalle took it in his bare hand, saying that his hand was as good as the priest’s.185 Some people received the wine while still kneeling after taking the wafer, but Richard Whitford, writing a guide to the taking of communion in 1531, said that the custom in certain places was to stand up to drink. This he commended, ‘in sign and token that no reverence should be done nor given unto that drink, for it is no part of the sacrament’. Indeed, he added, one was not required to drink anything at all.186 The reverence demanded of Dalle, however, shows that the chalice and its contents were often regarded as holy nonetheless – a view ridiculed by Reformers after the 1540s.187 We lack accounts of how a congregation went up to receive communion. One reasonable assumption is that they got it in order of rank, the most important first, as was the custom when they were given the pax at mass or took their places in parish processions.188 Another is that men were



communicated before women, as was often the case in the centuries after the Reformation. But as with other communal events in church, it is unlikely that all the men were houseled first, down to the poorest and most disreputable, before the substantial wives of the parish. When protesters in Cornwall and Devon objected that the new Prayer Book of 1549 allowed men and women to enter the chancel together for communion, the head of the government, the duke of Somerset, replied ‘Did not men and women always heretofore go to God’s board and receive together and all at one time as they do now?’189 Practice may well have varied from place to place or within a congregation, so that sometimes a couple or even a family of rank went up together, while for the lower in status there was more segregation by gender. Communion brought into question two other issues. Easter Day was one of the compulsory offering days. The Church authorities were anxious that communion should not be seen as dependent on making an offering, because the sacrament was a Christian ‘right’ as already mentioned. In 1237 Bishop Grosseteste of Lincoln noted that, in some churches, the offerings were made after mass had been celebrated, when parishioners came to receive communion. This he forbade, as did other bishops who emphasised that the payment of offerings should take place separately from communion and that no one should be refused the sacrament on account of owing a debt.190 The ruling reflected the temptation for some clergy to link the two activities and to ensure that they received any payments due to them. That was the case at Elsenham, as we have seen, and it led to three accusations against clergy during a visitation in Herefordshire in 1397 as well as elsewhere.191 Nevertheless Easter communion continued to have an equivocal relationship with money, and as late as Henry VIII’s reign, a Reformer claimed that the poor and impotent had to beg at Easter to pay for the sacrament, or else they did not get their ‘rights’.192 The other issue arose from the fact that Easter Day was a festival of food. Most parishioners had abstained from meat and dairy products for six and a half weeks, and were expected to come to church still fasting. Accordingly the day was one of thanksgiving for the end of restrictions on food, and from Anglo-Saxon times it was customary to take to church one’s Easter fare of meat, cheese, milk, or eggs, where it was blessed and sprinkled with holy water.



This was not only customary but was considered correct. Durand, writing in the 1290s, asserted that ‘on Easter Day we ought to eat nothing that has not been blessed by a priest’. Everything to be consumed that day should be brought for him to asperse with solemnity, ‘wearing vestments, with cross and holy water, in the porch or vestibule of the church’.193 The fifteenth-century sermon cycle Speculum Sacerdotale indicated the ‘vestry’ (presumably vestibule or porch) or the choir.194 The blessing was meant to happen after mass, and prayers for the purpose were provided in bishops’ pontificals and priests’ manuals.195 When therefore Bishop Buckingham of Lincoln fired off an irate salvo in 1395 about the blessing of food in the church of his manor of Nettleham, it was not about the practice as such. The bishop objected to the fact that people were taking joints of bacon and hard-boiled eggs into the church itself, and the rector was blessing them when he had just consecrated the bread of the mass before giving it out to the congregation: perhaps in tandem with passing round the pax. This was ordered to cease immediately.196 Bacon and eggs must often have been the best fare available, even at Easter, but one of the blessing prayers referred to the Jewish practice of sacrificing a lamb, a sacrifice that foreshadowed that of Jesus, the Lamb of God. Some wealthy people (and perhaps some shepherds) took their cue from this by procuring lamb for the feast, and would have brought it to be blessed accordingly.197 Bringing food to church gave rise to another inappropriate custom. Some people were prone to eat and drink it in church as soon as they had been houseled, raising the dreadful possibility that they might vomit up the Body of Christ.198 The statutes attributed to Archbishop Reynolds in 1325 complained that ‘sons of drunkenness and greed, whose God is the belly, have introduced a corrupt practice into the holy church for some time, so that immediately after taking that same body of the Lord on Easter Day, they cause to be offered to themselves unconsecrated offerings and wine in churches, sitting in that very place, eating and drinking as if in a tavern’. This was to be strictly forbidden. No one was to indulge in food and drink in such a way, while those who were houseled in the early morning were told to abstain from food until the service of terce, and those who communicated in mid morning until that of vespers.199 But as with warnings about sexual activity, such orders were not easy to enforce.



SPRING AND EARLY SUMMER Easter Day was followed by a few days of holiday, the Monday being known as ‘Black Monday’ like its counterpart in Lent: perhaps from the rueful reflection that rejoicing is so often followed by sorrow.200 In the following week, from at least about 1200, there was the folk custom of Hocktide, held on the second Monday and Tuesday after Easter. This custom did not take place at church but had a church connection. On the Monday the women of the parish set out to capture men and force them to pay a fine for release, while on Tuesday the men did the same to the women. ‘As I went yesterday to St Mary [the Virgin] church’, wrote an Oxford schoolboy in about 1520, ‘there came a great meinie [crowd] of women about me . . . so that I could neither go forward nor backward . . . and so whether I would or no, I was fain [obliged] to give them somewhat, and I did see afterward that I was not served so only, but many other men were so served as well as I.’201 The money raised was given to church funds.202 Otherwise the two months after Easter completed the ‘Christ cycle’ with the forty days of Easter itself and the celebrations of Christ’s Ascension, Pentecost (the coming of the Holy Spirit), Trinity Sunday, and the feast of Corpus Christi. The spring and early summer were distinguished by seven great processions made outside the church itself, accompanied by the singing of a liturgy. Palm Sunday was the first of these, with its circuit around the building. The others, in calendar order were St Mark’s Day (25 April), the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Rogation Week (the sixth week after Easter), Ascension Day (the Thursday of the same week, also known as Holy Thursday), and Corpus Christi (the second Thursday after Pentecost). An eighth journey, made by some parishioners to their cathedral or another church, took place in the week following Pentecost and was also described as a procession, although it did not possess a liturgy. All were ancient festivals apart from Corpus Christi, which became common in England only in the early fourteenth century. Four of the processional days were festive and celebratory: Palm Sunday, Ascension Day, Pentecost (if we include it), and Corpus Christi. The other four, the Rogation Days, were penitential, ‘rogation’ meaning intercession with God for human needs. They involved abstinence from meat and, in Rogation Week and the two that followed it, from getting married.203



The second in sequence of the processional days, the feast of St Mark, was known by clergy as the ‘Major Rogation’ and had its origin in a pagan Roman festival of blessing the growing crops, although it was ascribed in medieval times to Pope Gregory the Great. There was a problem with this day since it might coincide with and detract from the festal season of Easter, so its procession was omitted if it fell in Easter week or on one of the Sundays after Easter.204 St Mark’s is the least well-documented of the processional days and little has survived about its nature. It was certainly a day of fasting from meat205 with a procession led by the clergy, followed by the laity, in which the litany was sung.206 The ceremonial was more modest than that of Rogation Week, described below: no lion banner was carried and no dragon. At Durham and Salisbury the cathedral clergy went to another church in the city or suburbs, where mass was said.207 At Long Melford it was remembered that the participants circled Melford Green to the south of the church but did not apparently go to a second church or chapel as on the other Rogation Days.208 The days in Rogation Week were correctly known as the ‘Minor Rogations’ and in popular speech as the ‘Gang Days’ or ‘Cross Week’. They were believed to have been instituted in the fifth century by Mamertus, bishop of Vienne in France, to pray for relief from a plague of wolves and wild animals as well as from the perils of earthquakes. The processions took place after the usual mid morning mass had been said in church.209 They were longer than normal since they went from the home church to another church or chapel and not necessarily directly. On the way out the clergy sang Latin psalms, antiphons, and prayers to plainsong and said the litany in dialogue.210 Special petitions might be made for rain, for fair weather, or (in time of war) for protection from death. In the countryside, where journeys could be extensive, there might be one or more ‘stations’, sometimes marked by a stone cross. There the participants stopped for the singing or reading of a gospel to give blessing to the fields.211 Processions at Kirkham in Yorkshire stopped at four places: Cliff Close Head, Whitbone, Whitwell Beacon, and Fulstie Head, with a gospel read at each of them.212 Stations and gospels are not mentioned in the Sarum processioner, and the York version, while allowing for a station and a gospel, does not lay down what the gospel should be.213 The obvious text to use was the greatly



venerated In principio, John chapter 1, with its highly valued power to give protection.214 If others were needed, they are likely to have been the account of Christ’s birth in Matthew, the Annunciation to Mary in Luke, and the last verses of Mark, all three of which often followed In principio in the Hours of the Virgin Mary and were read for devotion.215 On reaching the destination, a second mass took place including a sermon if wished. This was a ‘fasting mass’, meaning that people had to delay taking food until it was over, at midday or later. On Tuesday the first mass in the home church was celebrated in honour of the Virgin Mary and the second was that of Salus populi: for the health and safety of the people. The second mass on Wednesday was dedicated to peace. The processions of Rogation Week were organised in a striking manner. At Salisbury Cathedral they were led by three men carrying red banners preceding a dragon with a long stiff tail, held aloft on a pole. Next came a banner displaying a lion, other banners, and bearers of holy water, a cross, two candles, and a reliquary, followed by the clergy proper. A fifteenthcentury sermon explains the purpose of the equipment as follows: In these processions, banners and crosses are borne and bells rung so that the spirits that fly above in the air, as thick as motes in the sun, should flee away from us when they see banners and crosses on loft [aloft] and hearing the bells rung.216

The liturgical sources do not mention the laity, but they were certainly present. Commentators on the processions, including the sermon writer, expected them to attend, and many contemporary references mention them doing so. They must have followed the clergy in order of rank, hence a later complaint that this caused disputes over precedence.217 No provision was made for them to take part in the liturgy, but it is not impossible that some joined in the responses such as Ora pro nobis when the saints were invoked.218 On Rogation Tuesday the order of the procession was similar, but on Wednesday it changed (Fig. 44, p. 297). The procession was now headed by the lion banner, followed by the other banners, and the dragon was demoted to go behind them immediately before the procession of clergy. Moreover



43.  Receiving communion. A lady of high status is given the consecrated host. Acolytes hold the ‘houseling towel’ to catch any crumbs that may fall.



the dragon’s tail, which had been stuffed to make it erect, was emptied of its straw so that it hung ‘drooping and depressed’. There was a final procession on Ascension Day on which the order of marshalling resembled that of Rogation Wednesday with the lion banner and other banners leading the way. But the processional route on this day was only a short one. At Salisbury it went no further than from the choir to proceed around the outside of the church clockwise, and into the nave again through the west door.219 The thirteenth-century French theologian Guillaume Durand provided an explanation or at least a rationalisation of these features, which circulated widely in his guide to church worship, Rationale Divinorum Officium, as well as in the Golden Legend: the great collection of saints’ Lives by Jacopo da Varazze.220 Durand interpreted the dragon as signifying the Devil. It was carried in front of the procession on Rogation Monday and Tuesday to denote the fact that the Devil ruled during the first two ages of the world: before the law of Moses and while that law was in operation, up to the time of Christ. Rogation Wednesday symbolised the third age of the world, the age of grace, in which the power of the Devil was overcome by Christ. Hence the emasculation of the dragon, and its replacement by the banner with the lion, Christ being termed ‘the lion of Judah’ in the biblical Book of Revelation.221 Some information survives about the processional routes. In the cities of Durham, Exeter, and Salisbury the cathedral clergy visited a different church each day in the city or the suburbs.222 How far the other churches of such cities had their own processions, or joined with those of the principal church, is not clear. In the countryside the journeys were longer and often differed on the three processional days. They led to a neighbouring parish church or, by the end of the Middle Ages, to one of the many chapels that were scattered across the landscape.223 The people of Davidstow in Cornwall appear to have gone to three outlying chapels in the parish, and those of Long Melford to three places too, including at least one chapel.224 Alternatively parishes might join together: a common practice, it was said, in Tudor Yorkshire.225 In Surrey the people of Ashtead and Leatherhead visited a cross on their common boundary ‘to say their gospels in Rogation days’, while in Yorkshire the canons of Kirkham Priory combined with the neighbouring churches of



Crambe and Westow.226 On the north coast of Cornwall the clergy and people of four parishes – Crantock, Cubert, Newlyn East, and Perranzabuloe – met at the chapel of St Nectan on the edge of Newlyn parish. They brought with them their banners and relics, laid them on stones in the chapel-yard, and listened to a mass and a sermon.227 The procession routes were significant in that they sometimes had a territorial motive: a desire to visit and thus claim the parish boundaries. Going to the boundaries in a peaceful way appears in the evidence from Ashtead and Newlyn East, but in some places the action of doing so led to a clash. In 1477 the parishioners of Preston near Hull were proceeding along a causeway named Maudlin Alley when they were driven off by the people of Hedon nearby.228 In 1519 the chaplain and servants of the Knights of St John at Temple Bruer in Lincolnshire used the Rogation Days to march around and claim a disputed piece of land between their parish and Ashby de la Launde, allegedly with bows and swords (but peaceably they claimed) in order to assert their ownership.229 How many communities spent Rogationtide in touring their borders is uncertain: often the route would have been too long or over ground too challenging.230 In 1481 twelve clergy and twenty-four laity of Ripon made a perambulation of the ‘liberty and lordship of Ripon’, a part of its vast minster parish, bearing with them the church’s relics, but that was done in Pentecost week and was clearly a special event.231 Nonetheless it is significant that after the processions were suppressed at the Reformation in 1548, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer proposed to introduce boundary patrols of a new kind, led by the priest and a few senior parishioners.232 His initiative suggests that the processions may often have included a territorial motive, even if it was limited to visiting certain frontier points, and that he feared a loss of the knowledge of boundaries at a time when parishes were becoming important units of secular government. The penitential and territorial aspects of the Rogation Days did not prevent them being days of recreation as well. Drinking might take place at the stations on the way: benefactors in Suffolk and Yorkshire even gave endowments for the purpose in the 1520s.233 Food was consumed once the second mass was over. Fasting from meat was required on all three days, but dairy products were allowed, as was the eating of fish.234 At Exeter the cathedral



clergy funded lavish refreshments. Flans were made of pastry and filled with a mixture of eggs, cheese, butter, and cream, flavoured with pepper, saffron, and sometimes honey. Thousands of eggs were used in the recipes, along with several bushels of flour and two or three pounds of pepper, apparently to be eaten by the clergy and no doubt by other favoured people joining them.235 A school exercise from Oxford in the 1490s describes how Christian people go in procession on the three days after which, when all is done, ‘they fall to their meats [food] that the wives brought from home’.236 Another exercise, from Devon, evokes Rogation food with relish as ‘onions and leeks with butter, and also milk, cream, junket, and flans’.237 In London too the clergy had ‘good cheer’, and at St Michael’s Mount the church provided bread, ale, and wine for at least some of those who came. There was a ‘play’ at the Mount as well: some kind of performance or activity.238 At Long Melford, food and drink were consumed each day, including a breakfast at the parsonage and entertainment at two local manor houses.239 The jovial celebrations that ended the processions began to attract disapproval from Reformers in the middle of the sixteenth century. A book of sermons edited by one of them in 1540, Richard Taverner, complained that Rogationtide had become ‘a right foul and detectable abuse’. Men and women came not from devotion but rather to ‘show themselves and to pass the time with unprofitable tales and many fables’. The days were ‘spent in rioting and belly cheer’ and the banners and crosses ‘so unreverently handled and abused’ as to invite the vengeance of God upon humanity.240 Another hostile writer in 1554 claimed that ‘many times the clerk has left his cross behind him and the priest his gospel book, and scant found the right way home’, so much were they ‘misled with the spirit of the buttery’ – the room where the ale was kept!241 In 1548 the processions were abolished, but they were revived under Mary Tudor and their popularity remained high enough for them to continue in a modified way after Elizabeth I succeeded her.242 FROM PENTECOST TO ADVENT Rogation Week was followed, seven days later, by Pentecost, meaning ‘fifty days’: originally counting from the Jewish Passover and later from Easter



Day. Its English name, Whitsunday, is thought to refer to the wearing of white robes by those formerly baptised at that season.243 This was the third great festival of the Church year. It drew large numbers of people to church to make offerings since it was one of the days that they had to contribute small coins, sometimes known as ‘smoke farthings’: the amount required in certain dioceses from every house with a hearth. The proceeds were sent to the local cathedral as an act of duty to the mother church of the diocese, and there was a convention that parishes should go in procession during Pentecost week to take the money there.244 Obviously this could only be done from the churches close by, but it happened near Chichester, Lichfield, Lincoln, and Salisbury, for example, where groups of parishioners went with crosses and banners as they did in parish processions.245 Churches further away from a cathedral might be told to go to a local collection point: Lewes or Hastings in Chichester diocese.246 It does not seem, however, that there was a prescribed liturgy for this procession as on the days already mentioned. The arrival of numerous delegations at the cathedral caused problems of behaviour, perhaps because the participants included younger fitter men buoyed up by comradeship and holiday spirit. This led to disputes over precedence and possibly the settling of scores for other reasons. In about 1239 Bishop Grosseteste of Lincoln forbade the bringing of banners from which ‘both fights and death are wont to arise’. But by 1356 the banners had returned and were causing fresh disturbances.247 Chichester had similar problems. In 1479 the bishop complained that the processions led to opprobrious words, quarrels, and even homicides. He banned the bringing of painted staves which might be used as weapons, and restated the sequence in which parishes should enter the cathedral. Bosham was to come first, unless it arrived late in which case it must wait its turn. Arundel and West Dean should follow, and so on.248 Lichfield had comparable arrangements, which did not stop two neighbouring communities – Longdon and Alrewas – quarrelling over their priority, forcing the cathedral to restate the times that they should go in.249 This means that, in some places, the Pentecost processions ought to be counted as parish religious events, making them the longest processional journeys of all although not ones that involved the whole congregation.



Otherwise Whitsuntide – the days after Pentecost – was a holiday season like the week after Easter, with the restriction that the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of the week were Ember Days of fasting.250 There was, however, another dimension to the holidays of Rogationtide and Pentecost. They fell at a time when last year’s harvests had been largely consumed. Piers Plowman includes a heartfelt account of a peasant’s meagre resources at this time: no eggs, bacon, or poultry, only unripe cheese, bread made of beans and bran, or an oat cake on which to live until the beginning of August.251 As a result the season could be accompanied by restlessness and discontent. Some popular disturbances – the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, the Cornish rebellion of 1497, and the Prayer-Book Rising of 1549 – took place in these weeks, when roads were dry and hands were idle. Indeed in 1381 the rebels were already gathering on Pentecost Sunday and entered London on Corpus Christi, so that their anger took precedence even over the religious calendar. Corpus Christ was the final festival of the ‘Christ cycle’: the second Thursday after Pentecost. This formed a late addition to the processional days. It was established by Pope Urban IV in 1264, but did not become widely observed for another fifty years and is first recorded in England only in 1318.252 Thereafter it became universally popular, reflecting and re­­­ inforcing the belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the mass. The festival included a public procession displaying the consecrated bread and wine to the world at large. According to the Salisbury processioner they were carried by a priest in a receptacle which, in different places, might be a pyx, a monstrance exhibiting the sacrament, or a feretory: a portable shrine. He walked beneath a canopy supported on poles by four attendants, accompanied by bearers of burning candles.253 The canopy was often of silk or velvet, sometimes fringed or embroidered. Banners might be displayed and garlands worn as well, while other clergy and lay people followed in line as on the other processional days. Some town guilds adopted Corpus Christi as a day to parade: the Skinners in London, and the Cordwainers and Weavers at York.254 In towns there seems to have been a general procession rather than each church having its own.255 The route in such places was also an urban one confined to the streets, not venturing into the countryside. In Durham it



44.  Rogationtide processions. The order of precedence on Rogation Wednesday and Ascension Day, when the dragon was demoted to follow the banner representing Christ, the ‘lion of Judah’.

went from St Nicholas church to the cathedral, and in York from Holy Trinity Priory to the cathedral and onwards to St Leonard’s Hospital. In London, a huge procession was organised by the guild of Skinners. Soon after noon it passed along the principal streets of the city with the sacrament in its container accompanied by over a hundred torches of wax, followed by about two hundred clerks and priests in surplices and copes, and behind them the lord mayor and his aldermen in scarlet and the Skinners in their livery.256 As with the Rogation Days, Corpus Christi was a popular holiday and recreational activities took place as well. Most notably there were the cycles of mystery plays, reproducing scenes from the Bible on passing wagons, performed in cities such as Coventry and York. The five-month period from late June to late November had no religious seasons within it, apart from an Ember Week in September and the usual scatter of saints’ days. These included some important days in religious terms: St John the Baptist (Midsummer Day) on 24 June; the Assumption of the Virgin on 15 August; Holy Cross Day on 14 September; St Michael on 29 September; All Saints Day on 1 November; followed by All Souls Day on 2 November. This latter part of the Church year also came to be chosen for the new festivals that were introduced into England in the fifteenth century: the Visitation of the Virgin to her cousin Elizabeth on 2 July; St Anne, mother



of the Virgin, on 26 July; the Transfiguration of Jesus on 6 August; and the Name of Jesus on the following day. By the end of the Middle Ages there were several feasts of the Virgin which her devotees could observe: her Purification, Annunciation, Visitation, Assumption, Nativity, and Conception, to give them their calendar order. One would expect the Church to have been aware of the temporal seasons and there are some signs that this was so, as at Christmas. Churches were decorated with flowers during the summer, especially on festival days. Birch boughs were brought in to mark Midsummer Day, while herbs such as sweet woodruff and flowers including roses were used for decoration or for making garlands to be worn on the heads of clergy and laity during processions.257 There was some engagement with the harvesting of crops. The feast of St Peter on 1 August was known as Lammas Day, an Anglo-Saxon word that seems to have signified the offering of loaves on that day, made from the first grain of the harvest. But there is no sign that Lammas Day was regarded as a harvest festival in later times; indeed one fifteenth-century commentator believed that the name was derived from a feast of lambs.258 Rather it was another offering day: the date by which the ‘smoke penny’ had to be paid as the householder’s share of Peter’s Pence.259 Liturgical books contain a prayer for the blessing of apples on St James’s Day, 25 July, and one for the blessing of ‘new fruits of any kind’, which could have included the grain harvest because it refers to Christ feeding the multitude with loaves and fishes.260 But it is not known how far such blessings were done in church to harvest produce brought as offerings. The modern Church harvest festival stems largely from late-Victorian times. If our earlier ancestors were less interested in such an event, it may have been because the harvesting of food, including vegetables, was a longer drawn-out process and a more routine part of everyday life than it became by the nineteenth century. Moreover medieval harvesting was something to argue about as well as to celebrate. Parish clergy claimed a tenth not only of the grain sheaves but of every vegetable crop down to what was grown in private gardens. This could be resented and resisted. In the months from September to November we can perceive our ancestors’ awareness of the fading light of summer and gathering darkness of



45.  St Michael on the rood screen of Ranworth church, Norfolk. His festival on 29 September was one of four invoking the archangels, as the year passed the equinox into the darkness of winter.

winter. Some of the Christian festivals of the season sought to deflect the ill effects of the darkness. September and October came to include four feasts of the archangels: those beings of light who keep us safe from evil (Fig. 45, above). One of St Gabriel was developed at Exeter and passed into the Use of Sarum on the first Monday in September.261 St Michael had his major feast on 29 September followed by a second one – his alleged appearance at Mont St Michel – on 16 October, while in the fifteenth century Bishop Lacy of Exeter founded a feast of St Raphael on 5 October, which also spread to the Uses of Hereford, Sarum, and York.262 All Saints Day on 1 November and its sequel, All Souls, on the following day, were major feasts, the first being an occasion for a few to receive communion, as we have seen. The night before All Saints (and sometimes the one that followed) was marked by the keeping of a vigil in churches and the ringing of the church bells during the night on behalf of the souls in purgatory.263



The end of autumn and the threshold of winter was also a time for young people to dress up and roam about in search of food or money. A royal proclamation of 1541, which set out to abolish such activities, tells us that on the festivals of St Clement (23 November) and St Katharine (25 November), as well as St Nicholas (6 December), ‘children be strangely decked and apparelled to counterfeit priests, bishops, and women, and so led with songs and dances from house to house, blessing the people and gathering of money’.264 In later times these customs (which by then included adults too) were often held after sunset: embracing and in a sense defying the lengthening nights.265 But they did not apparently come into the church building, except for those of St Nicholas. By the time of his feast day, Advent Sunday had brought once more the promise of salvation and victory over the powers of darkness, as well as the prospect of the great midwinter feasting period. And so one cycle ended and the next began. THE YEAR REVIEWED The year brought people variety, both in church and at home. The sequence of seasons and holy days meant that the calendar underwent frequent changes, hence the need for forthcoming events to be announced every Sunday. These changes were not so apparent in the Office services because the latter also worked on a weekly cycle, but in the mass they provided stimulating variations alongside the predictable structure. Here too the sequence was less obvious in the prayers and readings, apart from the disappearances of Te Deum and Gloria and the introduction of joyful Alleluias during the Easter season. It had more presence in the sermons, if one was preached, and Mirk’s collection paid due attention to seasons and saints. Most of all, change was presented visually like so much else in church. The seasonal colours of the altar hanging and the vestments were one indication. Another was the great veil of Lent and the smaller ones of the crosses and images. There were the ceremonial differences of Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Eastertide with its standing to pray, the Rogation Days, and the days of the boy bishop. Change had some linkage with the seasons. Christmas was the midwinter festival, Candlemas, on 2 February, the reponse to the light as the days lengthened,



and Easter coincided with the resurrection of nature. Spring and summer saw the outdoor processions, St John the Baptist’s day the celebrations of Midsummer, while the holy days of autumn sought to challenge the return of the longer nights. The changes of the calendar also had an impact outside church. This was true of every Sunday mass to a small extent, in that worshippers were required to precede it by fasting and there was a sequel in the taking of holy water by the clerk around people’s houses.266 The seasons and special days had much wider effects and some also came with obligations. The vigils and days of major feasts along with the weekdays of Lent required fasting or abstinence from certain kinds of work, reaching into homes and what was done or eaten there. Marriages could not take place, at least in church, during several weeks of the year. Five or six days required the bringing of offerings of money to church. Other days were times of festival, especially Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost and the days that followed them. Holidays could be taken and folk customs be followed. Most dramatic of all were the great processional days, when the whole community left church to claim the streets and fields for Christ, his cross, and his sacrament. Such events remind us that the power of religion not only brought people to church, but helped to shape their lives outside in their homes.


7 J


Christian time embraces not only the year but the cycle of human life. The medieval Church cast its mantle over six events in that life and required or encouraged them to be blessed and validated by its rituals. Four of these rituals were classified as sacraments. Baptism or christening was administered at the very beginning of life and was compulsory. Confirmation came after baptism and was also obligatory, but not at a specified date. Marriage was recommended to take place at church although this was not insisted on, after which many married couples experienced the birth of children with further baptisms. Unction, or anointing, was offered to those gravely ill. Two further rites were not classed as sacraments. They consisted of the purification or ‘churching’ of women after childbirth and the funeral and burial of the dead, although both were made sacramental by including a mass before or afterwards. Events of life that had no special commemoration included the transitions from childhood to adolescence and from adolescence to adulthood, although marriage had a measure of significance in the latter respect. The following chapter examines these six events and their cere­ monies, as well as explaining the lack of rites of passage for coming of age. BIRTH AND BAP TISM We have seen how baptism in Anglo-Saxon England varied between two practices: the ancient one of waiting until Easter Eve or Pentecost Eve and the newer one of christening soon after birth.1 As late as 1070 a Church council at Winchester still required baptisms to be celebrated only on the two traditional dates, unless there was danger of death.2 Yet in spite of this,



immediate baptism seems to have become almost universal by the twelfth century: on the day that a child was born. The Augustinian canon and miracle collector Peter of Cornwall (d.1221), who came from that county, did indeed claim that his uncle named Pagan, born in the early part of the century, was so called because he was not baptised until he was twelve, but such an oversight, if true, must have been unusual.3 Occasionally baptisms may have been delayed by a day or two to contact godparents and give time for them to arrive. The fourteenth-century English version of the romance Lay Le Freine imagines a knight’s wife giving birth to twins and a messenger being dispatched to a knightly friend some distance away to assist as a godparent.4 But most parents chose godparents from people close at hand, and even gentry families might call on servants to do the duty. A Church court in London in 1480 considered that a man who fathered an illegitimate child increased his sin by waiting for two days before he brought the infant to the font.5 The practice of baptising on the day of birth meant that the rite was also a naming ceremony. This feature has been lost in modern times when babies are born, named, and their names registered long before most of them are christened. The baby’s forename, almost invariably a single name,6 was pronounced by the senior godparent of his or her own gender at the beginning of the baptism service, and the significance of the name was such that it was repeated again and again in the service: sixteen times altogether.7 Some parents chose their children’s names and certain noble families had traditions in this respect.8 The de Vere earls of Oxford used Aubrey, the Arundells of Cornwall Remfrey, and the Digbys of Rutland Everard and Kenelm. Far more common was the custom by which the principal godparent gave his or her own name to the child. This practice explains the presence in families of two or more brothers or sisters with similar forenames, like those now known as John II and John III in the Paston family. It was so normal that there was sometimes surprise in the church when the godparent announced a different name.9 Godparents went back to Anglo-Saxon times: the terms ‘godfather’ and ‘godmother’ were in use by the year 1000.10 By the twelfth century the Church required there to be at least three of them: two of the baby’s own sex and one of the other.11 Parents could not fill the role but siblings could do



so.12 The words ‘father’ and ‘mother’ were significant. Baptism was meant to bring a baby into a long-term relationship with its godparents analogous to that with its parents. As we shall see, godparents undertook duties relating to a child’s spiritual development. A social and economic tie might also develop, in that some parents chose godparents of higher status in the hope of them giving the baby a christening present and patronage in the longer term.13 Most seriously, in the eyes of the Church, godparents and godchildren came into permanent spiritual kinship. This meant that a godchild could not marry its godparents’ children.14 In practice some godparents took their duties seriously while others merely attended the baptism. Many people, it was observed in 1556, did no more of their duty than ‘wash their hands before they departed from church’.15 The preference for immediate baptism reflected the fear of an infant dying without it and therefore losing eternal salvation. This meant that the Church had to depute the rite to a lay person in the emergency of a difficult birth that endangered the baby’s life. Parish clergy were told to instruct their parishioners how to baptise when necessary and to question them, when they had done so, to ensure that they had acted correctly.16 Ideally the rite was to be performed by a man rather than a woman, unless (no doubt with the thought of experienced midwives) a woman knew the words to say more perfectly. Parents should not do it unless there was no alternative, in which case it was not to prejudice their sexual relationship afterwards (the act did not make them into clergy).17 Emergency baptism required sprinkling water on the baby or immersing it in water once or three times, while repeating the following formula: I christen [or baptise] thee [Name] in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

English must have been the commonest language to use, but Latin or French were allowed.18 No addition to these words, or subtraction from them, was permissible.19 A midwife in Kent, who baptised a baby in danger before it was fully born, did indeed reverse the phrases, but her words were still judged correct:



In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, I christen thee Denys.

Sensibly in the circumstances, she chose a name appropriate to either sex.20 Robert Mannyng warned of the peril of using improper words. He told a story of how a midwife christened a child with a phrase of her own: God and Saint John, Christen the child, both flesh and bone.

The child died. When it was brought to the churchyard for burial, the priest questioned the woman and learnt what she had done. He reproached her that the child’s soul was lost, and forbade her from ever again attending a childbirth.21 The anxiety to be correct, according to one late-medieval treatise, led some women at a birth to say the words together, presumably in the hope that at least one would get them right.22 The one exception to immediate baptism that was allowed and indeed encouraged after the twelfth century was the practice relating to Easter and Pentecost. As we have seen, the liturgy for the eves of these great feasts required the holding of ‘solemn baptism’, as it was termed. The Church preferred that babies born shortly beforehand should be brought to church for that purpose. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries one encounters forenames like Anastasia (‘resurrection’) for women, Pascoe or Pascal (‘Easter’) for men, and Pentecost for both sexes, which may refer to baptisms in these circumstances. But immediate baptism was so common, and the Church’s teachings on the need to achieve salvation so compelling, that parents disliked the delay in those seasons. In 1237 a Church council for the whole of England, meeting at London, censured their fears and demanded compliance. It pointed out that the pope himself christened babies in this way and that the Church did so in other countries.23 But the disquiet continued, the obligation was apparently ignored, and in 1279 the Council of Reading, legislating for the province of Canterbury, modified the London pronouncement. Babies would now be held back only during the week before Easter or Pentecost, and not then if they were in peril of death. In the meantime all



could receive the first part of the baptismal rite, the so-called ‘making of a catechumen’ excluding baptism itself.24 It would have been understood that, in necessity, this final part could be done quickly and as an emergency. Even this compromise may not have been very effective. While some early manuscripts of the Sarum missal assumed the presence of a baby on Easter Eve, later versions of the early sixteenth century, as has been mentioned, abbreviated the ceremonies around the font before Easter and Pentecost unless a baptism was going to take place. This suggests that a town as large as Salisbury might produce no available baby.25 Normal baptisms took place in church, and any administered in an emergency had to be ratified there if the infant survived, with all the statutory prayers and ceremonies other than the baptism itself which could not be repeated. A church meant a church or chapel-of-ease with a font and baptismal rights; private chapels were forbidden to all except children of the royal family.26 As the rite was dependent on when the birth took place, it could be done at any time of day and we hear of one baptism at the time of vespers, in mid or late afternoon.27 The liturgy of the service is first fully recorded in the second half of the thirteenth century, and gained small additions during the later Middle Ages.28 It was to be found in the manual, the service book that contained the pastoral rites for lay people. This, like the missal, described cathedral practices but was easier to use in a parish church and offers a clearer guide to what happened there. The liturgy began at the church doors. Baptism, like the services of churching and marriage, was a rite of transition that brought the recipient from outside to inside the church. One motive for building church porches in the later Middle Ages was to provide a shelter for the outdoor part. The baby was brought by the midwife, the mother being still in bed at home, accompanied by godparents and other family members or well-wishers. The priest began by asking the midwife if the child was male or female and if it had already been named and baptised from necessity, in which case the baptism itself would be omitted. A male baby had to be held at the righthand of the priest and a female at the left. The priest made the sign of the cross on the baby’s forehead with his thumb, saying in Latin (the language of virtually all the baptismal rite), ‘I place the sign of the cross of our Lord Jesus



Christ, on your forehead’, and repeated this on the breast, saying ‘The sign of our Saviour Jesus Christ’. Then holding his right hand on the baby’s head, he said prayers. This first part of the service outside the church was called ‘the making of a catechumen’, meaning ‘a candidate for baptism’. It consisted of a series of ritual actions to make the baby fit for baptism. In the usual circumstance of no previous baptism, the priest asked the name of the baby and the chief godparent announced it. The baptismal party brought with it some common salt.29 This the priest exorcised and put a tiny quantity into the baby’s mouth, saying ‘Receive the salt of wisdom that God may be propitious to you in eternal life’. The salt was followed by a series of prayers which differed in the case of a boy or of a girl: a practice that descended from early Christian times. The boy received five (later six) and the girl three (later five) prayers, both sets of which contained an exorcism of the Devil and the signing of a cross on the infant’s forehead. The prayers were broadly similar, with some variations. By the end of the Middle Ages those for the boy referenced Christ’s walking on the water and his rescue of Peter there, while the girl’s alluded to Daniel’s exoneration of Susanna and Christ’s resurrection of Lazarus. After further prayers, which from now on were identical for both sexes, three verses of the Gospel of Matthew came to be added describing how children were brought to Jesus for blessing.30 Having exorcised the baby from the powers of evil, the priest gave it the benefits of Christianity. First he spat into his left hand and used his right hand to touch the ears and nostrils of the baby with saliva, recalling Christ’s healing of a blind man in a similar way.31 Next the priest said the Paternoster and Creed, in later times adding the Ave Maria, and invited the bystanders to join in these prayers. In the earlier versions of the liturgy, the baby was now a catechumen and the priest led it and its attendants into the church, but later versions added further actions. In these the priest made the sign of the cross on the infant’s right hand, declaring, ‘I give you the sign of our Lord Jesus Christ in your right hand, so that you may sign yourself and repel yourself from the adverse part [the powers of evil], remain in the Catholic faith, and have eternal life and live world without end. Amen.’ Finally he blessed the infant with the words, ‘The blessing of almighty God, the Father,



the Son, and the Holy Spirit descend upon you and remain always. Amen.’ The priest then introduced the baby into church: taking it by the right hand, saying its name, and adding ‘Go into the temple of God, so that you may have eternal life and live world without end. Amen.’ Inside the church the party gathered at the west end where the font was usually located. Here, in late-medieval versions of the service, the priest addressed those present in English and told them again to say a Paternoster, Ave Maria, and Creed. Then he gave a charge in English to the godparents. They should ensure that the parents kept the baby from fire, water, and other perils until the age of seven.32 One version of the charge specifies protection ‘from water, from fire, from horse foot, from hound’s tooth, and that [the child] lie not by the father and by the mother until [it] can say Ligge outer [“lie further away”]’: in other words defend itself from overlaying in bed.33 The godparents should teach the child, or see that it was taught, the three basic prayers and ensure that it was confirmed, one of the versions of the charge requiring confirmation to be done ‘in all goodly haste’. A further instruction told the godmother (or senior godmother) to see that the child’s mother brought back the baby’s christening cloth when she came to the church for her churching or purification. The godparents were reminded to wash their hands before they left the church, in case their hands received any of the consecrated chrism: the mixture of oil and balm that was to be used in the baptism. The priest then said a Latin litany, asking for the blessing of the Trinity on the baby and for the intercession of a list of saints by name. These were mostly well-known international figures, but the Sarum rite included Swithun, Birinus, and Edith, while York had Cuthbert, Oswald, and Wilfrid. The litany was followed by the consecration of water for the font, if that was necessary. Canon law, from the early thirteenth century, assumed that consecrated water would always be kept in the font in case of a sudden need for baptism. The water was to be renewed every week.34 Accordingly fonts were required to have covers with locks so as to guard against the use of the water for magical purposes (Fig. 20, p. 104).35 However the records of baptism that we shall shortly encounter – the so-called ‘proofs of age’ – often state that new water was brought for the baptism of children of the nobility, gentry, and other wealthy people, which obliged the priest to bless it as part



of the service of baptism.36 The blessing was greater than that for ordinary holy water and involved the saying of prayers accompanied by ritual actions. Fresh water having been poured into the font, the priest divided it with his right hand by making the sign of the cross. He used that hand to dash water from the font on all four sides of it. He breathed three times on the water in the shape of a cross. He dropped wax from a burning candle into the water in a similar manner. Taking a vase of holy oil from the parish clerk, he used a spoon to drop a small quantity into the water, and similarly from a vase of chrism. Eventually a third action was added: the dropping of a mixture of oil and chrism, perhaps to symbolise the Holy Trinity. The infant was now brought to the font by the godparents, at which point they were required to make the baptismal vows for the baby in a dialogue with the priest. What follows is given in Latin in the liturgical texts and one hostile witness claimed in 1546 that godparents were obliged to make the vows in that language even if they did not know their meaning.37 In contrast another writer of the same period recommended using English, and this may have been done by some clergy.38 Whatever the language, a series of questions was asked. ‘Do you renounce Satan?’ ‘I renounce him [Abrenuncio].’ ‘And all his works?’ ‘I renounce them.’ ‘And all his pomps?’ ‘I renounce them.’ The baby being held by one of the godparents, the priest anointed it on the breast and between the shoulders with holy oil, saying, returning to Latin, ‘I anoint you with the oil of salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord, so that you may have eternal life and live, world without end. Amen.’ After a prayer, the godparents were required to state their belief on the baby’s behalf. ‘Do you believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth?’ ‘I believe in him [Credo].’ ‘Do you also believe in Jesus Christ his only son our Lord, [who was] born and suffered?’ ‘I believe in him.’ ‘Do you also believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life after death everlasting?’ ‘I believe in these.’ Finally the priest asked the baby, through the godparents, ‘What do you seek?’ They replied, ‘Baptism.’ He asked, ‘Do you wish to be baptised?’ They responded, ‘I do [Volo].’ The priest then took the baby, was reminded of its name, and baptised it naked in the font. Saying ‘[Name], I baptise you in the name of the Father



46.  Baptism. A male baby is baptised by the priest, watched by three godparents while the parish clerk holds the priest’s manual.

and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’, he immersed the child beneath the water three times, one for each of the Trinity (Fig. 46, above). By the end of the Middle Ages the first immersion was done by holding the baby on its side to face the north with its head to the east. The second involved turning the baby on its other side to face the south, and the third was done face downwards. Then the senior godparent took the baby from the priest’s hands and ‘raised it from the font’. The priest prayed, in translation, ‘Almighty God, the father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has regenerated you with water and the Holy Spirit, and who has given you remission of all your sins’ – anointing the baby with chrism on the top of the head in the shape of a



cross – ‘he anoints you with the chrism of salvation in the same, his son, our Lord Jesus Christ, into eternal life.’ At this point a white cloth was wrapped around the baby and the priest said ‘Receive your vesture, white, holy, and immaculate, which you will continue to wear before the judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that you may have eternal life and live world without end. Amen.’ This cloth became known as the ‘chrisom’ or ‘chrisom cloth’ and was holy because of its contact with the consecrated chrism.39 It had therefore to be returned to the church in due course and could be used at other baptisms but not for secular purposes. Finally a lighted candle was held in the infant’s hand and the priest said ‘Receive the burning and blameless torch. Keep your baptism, observe [your] commission so that when the Lord comes to the marriage [a reference to Christ’s parable of the Wise Virgins],40 you may hasten to him together with the saints in the court of heaven, and thereby have eternal life and live world without end. Amen.’ The candle, it seems, was not gifted to the baptismal family but remained in the church.41 The baptism was now complete, but it became common to add two gospel readings. One was from Mark, chapter 9: the miracle by which Jesus cured a boy possessed by a spirit.42 An accompanying rubric in the Sarum manual states that this ‘may be said over the infant if it is desired, which according to teachers is of greatest value for the falling sickness [epilepsy]’.43 The other gospel was the familiar In principio of the mass.44 An account of a baptism that took place at Essendine, Rutland, in 1336 tells us that the boy’s godmother took him up to the high altar for the reading of this gospel.45 In another such description, relating to Kirby Bellars, Leicestershire, in 1357, the godmother was said to have carried the baby to the high altar of the church ‘and all the other altars there, in accordance with custom’.46 The intention may have been to invoke the protection of the saints to whom the altars were dedicated. This and other information about baptisms comes from the historical records known as ‘proofs of age’, which begin to survive in the late thirteenth century. Heirs of property who were under the wardship of guardians were sometimes obliged to prove that they had reached the age of majority and had the right to resume their property. The proof involved calling a jury of



twelve men to attest to the date of a birth: not through written records (although these were sometimes appealed to) but by what they claimed to remember of the date in question. It follows that memories of baptisms played a large part in their testimonies. There are two problems with this evidence. First it relates chiefly to the nobility and gentry not to the mass of the population. Secondly it was designed to produce the result that the heir required rather than to be historically accurate. Witnesses alleged an array of unusual events that were supposed to have happened on the day of the birth and these events were sometimes repeated in different cases, as if the evidence in one had been copied from another, perhaps by clerks in the royal chancery. It is unwise therefore to regard the evidence as strictly correct, but it had to seem likely to have happened and it fills in the context of the baptisms of wealthy people’s children beyond what we learn from the liturgical texts.47 Some important families caused their servants to decorate the church before the christening. When a child of Lord de Ros was baptised at Belvoir in Leicestershire in 1406, the interior was adorned with cloths of silk and gold, while the font was hung with a cloth of gold lettered in red. In the following year Lord Darcy’s staff decked the high altar of the Yorkshire chapel of Temple Hirst with ten cloths of gold and placed silken hangings around the font. The baptism of Margery Holes at Watford, Hertfordshire, in 1417 likewise involved four cloths of gold round the altar and ones of white silk at the font.48 Family status was further proclaimed by making the procession of midwife, baby, godparents, and others to church as impressive as possible. The daughter of David Strabolgie, earl of Athol, was taken to Gainsborough church in 1377 under a red canopy held on poles by four servants. At other baptisms swords were carried before important adults like the earl of Northumberland and even the baby son of the earl of Warwick.49 Servants would be present in the procession or in the church through being sent with materials for the service, and (no doubt in society as a whole, not just among the wealthy) there would be relatives and friends. On two occasions we are informed of ‘a great concourse’ of people.50 Another practice was to carry candles or torches (large candles) to the church for use in the service, and a custom is sometimes mentioned by which these went to church unlit and were lit on the way back to the parental house or castle.51 Altogether a



christening among the wealthy might require much preparation and outlay. Sir William Stonor of Stonor, Oxfordshire, drafted plans for the service himself when his first son John was baptised in 1482. Two of his family would lead the child, two servants carry the salt and basin, three bring the christening gifts, and various others act as bearers of torches.52 The candles or torches were used at the baptism to give it more light and splendour. If resources allowed, four or even six men would stand with them around the font.53 A further refinement was to warm the water for the baby’s comfort. This may have been poured in from cans, but at one christening a red-hot rod of iron was brought from a smithy for the purpose and at another in Somerset at Ashbrittle in 1368, a man had the duty of lighting a fire beneath the font, which seems a rather drastic remedy.54 When the baptism was over, the priest and the godparents washed their hands for the reason already explained, using a basin, ewer, and towel brought for the purpose by servants.55 After this, refreshments were handed round to the family, godparents, and guests. These consisted of bread and wine, and silver jugs and cups might be used to serve them. We hear of hot loaves, ‘miller’s cake’, and various kinds of wine: bastard, claret, malmsey, osey, and rumney. On one occasion so much was drunk, it was later recalled, that people could hardly walk out of the church.56 The profusion of a wealthy baptism might continue with the scattering of money among the servants or curious bystanders. One witness testified to gold and silver being thrown; another mentioned only pence, but claimed that he gathered 3s. 4d. worth.57 There was gift-giving too: sometimes at the church, sometimes perhaps at the house afterwards. In high-status circles, these included presents for the baby and for the mother. Gold and silver plate is often mentioned, and it was customary to tip the nurse who, in the case of noble and gentle families, would suckle the baby.58 The euphoria of the occasion might extend further too, as the father or other members of the family handed out gifts to retainers – gloves, bows and arrows, or a greyhound – so that the occasion would be remembered. And finally there would be a feast at home for godparents and guests, with the purchase of such dainties as rabbits (then still a delicacy) and swans.59 All this relates to the wealthy. For most people, while a christening may have been a cause for joy, there were not the resources to make it a very special occasion.



A question arose with baptism as with all the services that sanctified the life cycle. Were they free, or could fees be charged? In England, since at least the Council of Westminster in 1125, clergy were forbidden to take money for baptism, confession, communion, the visitation of the sick, or burial, to which marriage was added later.60 The third Lateran Council of 1179 confirmed this policy, ruling out payment for burials, weddings, ‘or any other sacrament’.61 However in practice, at all the events, there were or might be customary payments or offerings.62 We shall encounter these in relation to the churching of mothers after baptism, weddings, and funerals, all of which included attendance at a mass where an offering was expected. Baptism, being unpredictable, was not conventionally linked with the mass, although it may sometimes have been followed by one. In consequence, records of church fees do not normally include any that arose from christenings, but in at least one parish – Kirkby Malham, Yorkshire – a halfpenny was expected, and similar customs may have existed in other places.63 CHURCHING There was a sequel to baptism in the rite known by the Church as purification or, in popular speech by the mid fifteenth century, as ‘churching’.64 This was the formal return of the mother to her parish church after giving birth. Jewish law regarded such a woman as ritually unclean and barred her from holy places for a period of thirty-three days for a male child and sixty-six for a female, during which her blood was believed to be purified. When it ended she was required to visit a priest, make an offering, and be pronounced cleansed.65 The Christian Church inherited the custom of the visit, no doubt influenced by the belief that the Virgin Mary had made it, but the concept of impurity was played down and the period of absence from church became a voluntary one, standardised at forty days irrespective of the sex of the child. When they were completed the woman returned to the parish church, was formally received again into it, and gave back the chrisom cloth.66 There seems to have been a belief in some places that sexual intercourse could only resume after this, and that if it happened earlier, the woman should immediately place an offering on the church altar.67



The Church was at pains, from early times, to avoid suggesting that women had no right to enter the church during the forty days, nor did it discourage them from doing so.68 A rubric in the Sarum manual based on the canon law notes that, ‘women after birth may enter the church whenever they wish. They bear no sin, nor is entry to the church to be denied them lest their pain seem to be converted to blame. If, however, they wish to abstain for a period out of devotion, this is not improper’.69 One thirteenth-century diocesan statute, from Salisbury (1228–56), ordered women who had given birth to go to church ‘with candles burning’ to offer the chrisom of their infants, and the Sarum manual, as we saw, told godmothers to ensure that the chrisom returned to the church.70 But the topic of churching is notably absent from Church legislation, which suggests that it was a well-established practice needing no policing. Rather than being penitential, it was a celebration of safe delivery and one accompanied by some festivity. Opposition to it seems to have developed only with the rise of Puritanism after the Reformation.71 The rite of churching appears in Latin in the later editions of the manuals of Sarum and York. It was normally followed by mass, as we shall see, so that it would take place in mid morning before the principal mass in the parish church began at 8.00 a.m. or 9.00. The Sarum version is prefixed by the title, ‘An order for the purification of a woman after birth before the door of the church’. The woman, then, waited outside the church door: in the porch if one existed. By the sixteenth century it was customary for her to wear a veil, probably meaning a special kind of headdress, and to be accompanied by two matrons as well as her midwife.72 She carried a lighted candle, probably as a reference to the feast of Candlemas: the Virgin Mary’s purification. The priest and any other ministers recited Psalms 121 (‘I will look up to the hills’, affirming God’s protection) and 128 (‘Blessed are those who fear the Lord’, conveying his blessing of childbirth). The Paternoster followed, in which those present could have joined, with some versicles and responses between the clergy, after which the woman was aspersed with holy water and the priest led her into church by her right hand, saying in Latin, ‘Enter the temple of God so that you may have eternal life and live world without end. Amen.’73 The Sarum manual provides no further information but the York version continues to the effect that the woman should go to the place ‘where she



ought to sit’ until after mass. It seems likely that churching was always followed by attendance at mass, and this was still envisaged in the Reformation Books of Common Prayer. In certain churches there was a special ‘childwife’s pew’ for the woman to sit in.74 The York text is not specific about her part in the mass, but one may posit that she went up to the high altar at the offertory and handed over her chrisom. The candle was presented too, either to the priest or (in at least one Kentish church) to the image of the Virgin Mary,75 and an offering of 1d. or 2d. by the woman was customary, with halfpennies from her supporters. The wealthy might give more: church accounts sometimes record sums of several shillings, but the usual amount came to no more than a few pence.76 At the end of the mass, the York text brought the woman back to the altar where she knelt and received absolution from the priest. Some churches kept an ornamented cloth for churchings, possibly as a headdress or for kneeling on.77 When the holy bread had been blessed, she was the first to receive it.78 A little light is shed on the context of the rite from other sources. For a mother with status, it might be an occasion to wear a new outfit. Margery, apparently the mistress of the London merchant George Cely, sent him a message in 1482 to have ‘raiment – as a gown and other things – against her churching, as she had the other time’.79 The mother came to church with women friends such as the matrons already mentioned, who were very likely her neighbours, and (if she was of rank) no doubt with female servants.80 Margery Kempe mentions that she went to watch on more than one occasion.81 The predominance of women does not rule out the presence of men: a male servant appears in one account, and no pronouncement is known prohibiting a husband from coming unless custom forbade it.82 If resources permitted, there was a feast afterwards and the guests then included both women and men.83 Mentions are made of wine and lambs being bought by those of sufficient wealth to do so, and of music being performed.84 In an unusual intervention, more typical of the Reformation than the Middle Ages, the mayor of Chester in 1539–40 tried to limit the feasting in the woman’s house to her immediate family and her midwife, but there is no reason to think that such a restriction was common.85



CONFIRMATION AND COMING OF AGE Some societies have religious rites to affirm the growing up of children or to mark their coming of age. The medieval Church had three that call for notice in this respect. Two of them related to functions within the Church. A boy could be tonsured at the age of seven: the accepted age at which infancy turned into boyhood. Some schoolboys and choristers received the tonsure, the shaving of the top of the head, making them technically ‘clerks’ under the jurisdiction of the Church. The seven-year-old schoolboy in Chaucer’s ‘Prioress’s Tale’ is referred to as a ‘clergeon’ or little clerk, although some such tonsurings may have been done at later ages.86 Parish clerks would have been expected to have at least a similar status until about the early fifteenth century.87 At fourteen, the age of puberty for boys, a youth could be ordained as an acolyte – one of the minor levels of ordination, although by the fifteenth century this was received chiefly by intending clergy in their mid twenties, as part of the process of becoming priests. Neither tonsuring nor ordination as acolyte committed one to a life as a cleric, and each could be followed by lay careers and marriage afterwards. But both ceremonies were restricted to fairly modest numbers of the male sex alone. The third, and by far the most common, rite received by children was confirmation: being ‘bishoped’, as it was often known. In England, from the Reformation onwards, its conferment was made conditional on a child understanding and mastering the basic Christian doctrines laid out in the catechism, implying that the rite should not be administered before the age of seven at the earliest.88 In medieval times, by contrast, there was usually no link with age.89 This was because confirmation evolved from the rite of baptism. Originally, after the washing with water, the presiding cleric laid his hands on the baptised person’s head and anointed the forehead with chrism. Later, by about the year ad 400, the service fell into two parts. Baptism was made the responsibility of priests (including the application of oil and chrism) but a further anointing with chrism was done separately by the bishop as the senior cleric of the neighbourhood, thereby becoming a sacrament of itself.90 Theologically confirmation reinforced the gift of the Holy Spirit given in baptism and gave one further spiritual grace. Legally it



represented the Church’s official validation of one’s Christian status. Socially the ceremony allowed bishops to meet the members of their flocks individually, which was usually the only time that they did. When Christianity was re-established in England after 597, it is likely that baptism and confirmation often happened together. The early AngloSaxon bishops were missionaries. They travelled with an entourage of clergy who would often have baptised adults, after which the bishop immediately confirmed them. Adults would have been likely to bring children with them, for the same purpose. Anglo-Saxon pontificals, the service books of bishops, assumed that baptism and confirmation would be done at the same time. They provided for the immediate imposition of chrism on a baptised infant, if the bishop should be present. No minimum age for confirmation was officially laid down before the Reformation. Indeed images of the rite in the later Middle Ages show a bishop confirming a baby, as do images of priests conducting baptism (Fig 47, p. 322). But by the twelfth century, if not much earlier, the relative availability of priests and bishops diverged. Thanks to the growth of the parochial system, there were priests close to most communities, whereas England never acquired more than seventeen bishops. Even these were often absent from their dioceses in the employment of the king, or attending his court and Parliament. By about 1200, the Church authorities were becoming aware that many people were not receiving confirmation, leading to attempts to remedy the situation. Accordingly bishops began to lay down rules on the subject during the thirteenth century. In the dioceses of Chichester and Worcester, baptised children were ordered to be confirmed within one year. In Exeter, Wells, and Winchester three years were laid down, and in Durham and Salisbury five.91 Diocesan statutes ordered negligent parents to be punished by fasting or exclusion from church, but this did not solve the problem. In 1213–14 the bishop of Salisbury envisaged children still unconfirmed at puberty, and in about 1322 the statutes attributed to Archbishop Reynolds of Canterbury could imagine ‘adults’ attending the rite, which amounted to the same thing.92 Meanwhile in 1281 the Council of Lambeth, representing the whole province of Canterbury, complained that ‘innumerable’ people grew old in evil ways without becoming confirmed.93 Bishops repeated their threats for



non-compliance. Parents would be denied entry to the church or be made to fast for neglecting the duty, and adults too if they failed to do it themselves.94 It followed that confirmation took place not at a particular age but when there was either some kind of ecclesiastical or social pressure (perhaps from clergy or godparents), or an opportunity to gain access to a bishop. People in London, whose bishop was often at hand, or those who lived near the manor houses where bishops stayed from time to time, may have had a good record in getting confirmed. Those in more distant places must have found it difficult. Some thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century bishops were active in touring their dioceses but they did not go everywhere, and others may have been as neglectful as Roger Longespee of Coventry and Lichfield, twice censured by the archbishop of Canterbury in 1281–2 for failing to confirm.95 It may have been easier to reach a bishop after the mid fourteenth century when they began to employ assistants or ‘suffragans’ to do the task on their behalf. Bishop Lacy of Exeter, for example, who was troubled by poor health, appointed suffragans to carry out confirmations in 1429, 1438, 1442, 1447, 1448, and 1454.96 Yet even supposing that such men worked methodically, it was still possible that years would pass before they met all the children and adolescents who needed the rite. One writer in the fourteenth century approved the delay. William of Pagula in his treatise for the clergy, Oculus Sacerdotis, suggested that candidates for confirmation, ought by right to be . . . of perfect age, i.e. twelve or fourteen years, and they should be warned to make their confession first, so that, being clean, they may be worthy to receive this gift of special grace. This is the case, except for the sick and those in danger of death. It is better for their safety that they be confirmed before the age of adulthood.97

William’s suggestion is a rare example of someone trying to make confirmation a rite of passage from childhood to adolescence or adulthood. But it had a weakness: how could a sick child be brought to a bishop? William’s successor John de Burgh, whose Pupilla Oculi circulated more widely as a work of advice to the clergy, recommended that children should be confirmed before they were adults because they would have more glory in heaven if they died.



He specified confession only for those who were twelve or fourteen.98 John Mirk in his Instructions for Parish Priests said that confirmation should happen within five years of baptism, and Lyndwood recommended it for ‘small children’ as soon as the bishop came ‘nearby’, explaining this as ‘within seven miles, as the common usage is’.99 Attending confirmation, once a bishop became accessible, involved a little preparation. As well as any parents who came with the child, it was necessary to enlist a sponsor: an adult of the same sex as the child who was not a parent, step-parent, or godparent. The choice mattered to the extent that sponsorship, like godparenting, set up a spiritual relationship with the child that might affect a subsequent marriage. Adults, as mentioned, should have made their confession beforehand, and each person to be confirmed had to bring a linen bandage. All must come having fasted.100 The rite might take place in a church, which had the advantage of being under shelter, but it could be done in the open air. The Life of St Hugh of Lincoln (d.1200) mentions a bishop who confirmed on horseback while he was travelling, with his mounted retainers around him and the children at risk from the horses’ hooves. Hugh, in contrast, always dismounted to do so, even when he was elderly.101 There may have been some disorder at crowded confirmations and parents had to be told not to bring their children more than once, presumably through a belief that the more often the better!102 The rite was simple. The bishop and his assistants exchanged some vers­ icles and responses, after which he prayed to God to infuse his seven-fold Holy Spirit into the candidates. He asked the name of each person and it was permissible to change one’s baptismal name at this point, although the opportunity seems to have been taken very rarely.103 He then anointed his thumb with chrism and made a cross on the candidate’s forehead, saying in Latin, I sign you [Name] with the sign of the cross and confirm you with the chrism of salvation. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

As soon as the chrism had been applied, the bandage was tied round the forehead to keep it in place. When everyone had been anointed, there was a



blessing and a prayer for them all.104 Those confirmed had to keep on the bandage, at least around the neck, until they got home, after which they were required to meet their priest in the parish church within an interval fixed variously at three or eight days. The priest then washed the forehead into the font, to remove any possible chrism, and the bandage was undone and burnt.105 Confirmation, then, was not necessarily a rite that had any relationship to growing up and coming of age. Nor originally was communion. In the late Anglo-Saxon and early Norman periods, communion was given to children. Eleventh- and twelfth-century liturgical texts provided for bishops or priests to give it to newly baptised infants, saying in Latin ‘The body of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you in eternal life’.106 This practice changed during the twelfth century, owing to the growth of belief in the Real Presence in the bread and wine which required both substances to be treated with great respect. The fear that adults might drop, spill, or even regurgitate the elements was just as great or greater where children were concerned, and there was a growing conviction among Church leaders that taking communion, like confession and marriage, required mature understanding. Such understanding was believed to come fully to human beings only at puberty, which gave them both the mental power and the physical capability to be virtuous or to sin. The English theologian Robert Pulleyn (d.1146) still recommended communion for a baptised infant by the priest dipping his finger into the chalice and putting it into the child’s mouth. He censured a new procedure by which children were given unconsecrated wine at communion: a practice that soon spread to adults as well.107 But his views did not prevail. In 1215, when the Fourth Lateran Council laid down that all should confess and receive communion at least once a year, it added the rider that they must have ‘reached the age of discernment’.108 This implied the exclusion of those under the age of puberty. A belief grew up too that confirmation should precede communion. In 1281 the Council of Lambeth ordered that no one should receive communion unless confirmed, with the exception of those who might have been reasonably impeded from being confirmed or were at the point of death.109 William of Pagula included this instruction in his Oculus Sacerdotis,110 and John de Burgh gave similar advice in the Pupilla Oculi. John believed that communion should normally follow confirmation



47.  A bishop confirms a baby boy, brought by his male sponsor, with holy chrism held by a clerk. A female sponsor waits her turn with a baby girl.

and that it should not be given to children and the insane because of ‘defect of judgment or reason’. On the other hand he was willing that ‘children, when they are near to adulthood, that is to say when they are ten or eleven and when signs of discretion and reverence towards the sacrament appear in them, may receive communion’.111 But textbooks are one thing, real life another. In remote areas it may have been impossible to enforce the restriction of confirmation before communion on teenagers, and there may have been children of high status who wished, or whose parents wished them, to receive communion, a desire to which the clergy had to defer.



From about 1215, then, there was a more significant boundary between childhood and adulthood, as far as the Church was concerned. Adults were required to go to confession, receive communion, attend church, pay church dues, and observe Sundays, holy days, and fasting days. Puberty was recognised as the time at which these duties began, with some exceptions. Mirk thought that fasting should commence at fourteen, whereas Andrew Chertsey in 1502 deferred the age till twenty-one.112 Certain bishops expected adolescents to make monetary offerings like adults, although they fixed the rates at lower levels, while York diocese required them to do so only after the age of eighteen.113 But no Church ceremony developed to mark the transition to adolescence or adulthood.114 Confirmation, as we have seen, did not have that function. The likelihood is that at puberty, or perhaps before in certain cases following John de Burgh’s view of age, a girl or boy, their parents, godparents, or parish priest, suggested that they should attend the Lenten confessions. They would then participate in the services of Holy Week and Easter Day, including the taking of their ‘rights’ of communion.115 This made them in one sense adults, but they were not singled out as special in this process. They came of age, in the Church’s terms, merely by joining in the regular observances of their elders. If any further initiation took place, it may have happened when they joined the maidens or the young men of the parish – youths are notoriously fond of initiations – but no evidence about this seems to be known. MARRIAGE Marriage was something experienced by most adults as participants and by virtually everyone as an onlooker.116 It can be, and was, regarded as both a goal and a transition. A young adult, an adolescent, and even a child could look forward to it: it appears as a topic in the exercises written by boys in schools.117 It was attractive to men and women as a means of becoming independent or as a sign that one had done so. It required one to possess sufficient wealth to set up a household: from inheritance, after serving an apprenticeship, or through an employer allowing one to live separately rather than under his or her roof. One moved from the home of one’s parents or the



employer to one’s own home. Such a move had its counterpart in the Church. One ceased to be one of the maidens or young men of the parish, and joined the parish wives or a parish guild.118 The new householder – the husband or his widow after his death – became fully liable to pay the church’s offerings and tithes and to undertake church duties such as churchwarden. Not everyone married, of course. Studies of the institution in the early modern period, when statistics may be compiled, suggest that the numbers who failed to do so varied markedly from time to time and reached as high as 16 per cent of adults in the 1680s, although the figures were generally lower.119 Until the Reformation some of these were clergy or nuns, while others spent their lives through choice or necessity as servants or as helpers of their parents. Marriages took place at every age. Even children could marry but, as we shall see, only provisionally. The aristocracy sometimes married definitively at or soon after puberty, like Mary Bohun and Henry of Bolingbroke (Henry IV) when they were about eleven and fourteen respectively. She bore a child within a year of this. Most people married for the first time when they were older: the wealthier often in their late teens (Margery Kempe was about twenty) and the mass of the population even later. Analysis of marriages in the mid sixteenth century suggests that the mean age for men was then twenty-nine, later falling by a year, and for women twenty-six.120 In addition there were many re-marriages of widowers or widows: perhaps as many as 30 per cent of weddings at that time.121 Most medieval marriages were not a matter for the partners alone. A marriage, as we shall see, required only the consent of both parties and could be sealed by a man and a woman themselves without any supervision. But in practice those seeking marriage needed to have their plans approved. The consent of parents was important both for emotional reasons and for economic ones.122 Among the wealthier classes the husband’s income or property and any dowry of money or property that the wife might bring were essential matters to consider. The husband had to assure the wife of a dower: an endowment to sustain her if he died. A father was recognised at a wedding as having the right to give his daughter to her groom. Other people were bound by law to get approval to marry. Some were the fatherless among the propertied classes who lay in wardship under a guardian. Others were in the state of



serfdom, where a serf father was bound to pay his lord a fine called ‘merchet’ for permission to marry his daughter. Finally the Church had to be considered, because the laws of marriage were laws that it made and administered in its courts. Its stress on marriage in church underpinned by social convention to the same effect is likely to have caused most marriages to take place there by the thirteenth century, although the practice was never universal. As the Church established its presence in England, it set out to exercise an influence over marriage. It regarded the institution as a divine one: inaugurated by God for Adam and Eve at the creation of mankind, and affirmed by the presence and miracle of Jesus at the wedding at Cana.123 It included marriage among the seven major sacraments, because a marriage ought to accord with the law of the Church and be solemnised by the Church in a religious service.124 The Church inherited from Hebrew and Roman traditions ideas of who might marry whom and how married life should be led. By the twelfth century it was developing a legal system for adjudicating marriages, and it was this system – not one organised by the crown – that regulated the institution for the rest of the Middle Ages. At the same time, marriage was older than the Church. It was not arranged by the Church but by the bride and groom and their families; the Church became involved only when the arrangement was made. The central action of a marriage service, unlike the other sacraments, came from the participants themselves in making their vows, rather than from the Church which could only bless and affirm the fact. The Church was effective in laying down rules about who could marry and there were detailed regulations on the matter.125 By the twelfth century it insisted that a definitive marriage should be entered into by choice and with understanding. This meant that the parties must have reached the age of puberty, twelve for girls and fourteen for boys, when full understanding was believed to begin as well as the ability to consummate a marriage physically. Child marriages took place, chiefly among wealthy propertied families, but they were provisional until the parties reached puberty and agreed to acknowledge them. In terms of blood ties, the Church, from the ninth to the twelfth century, prohibited marriage within seven degrees of kinship, counting from each partner back to a common ancestor.126 This meant in effect that no one could marry anyone with whom there was any memory of a blood



relationship. The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 reduced the number of degrees to four.127 This still excluded unions between first, second, and third cousins, although in practice only those of first cousins were absolutely forbidden. Second and third cousins able to afford the cost could gain a papal dispensation to marry or to regularise a marriage that they had contracted in ignorance of the restrictions.128 But kinship was not the only issue. Affinity mattered as well, ruling out a marriage to a close relative of a former spouse, and there was the concept of spiritual kinship, forbidding marriage with the children of one’s godparents or sponsor at confirmation.129 The Church had less success in controlling when and where a marriage should take place. At first, after the Norman Conquest, an effort was made to enforce the holding of marriages under priestly supervision. The Council of Winchester in 1076 forbade any man to give his daughter or female relative in marriage without the blessing of a priest, and declared that such a marriage was not legitimate and would be regarded as fornication.130 Later Church legislation was not so stringent, but councils and bishops continued to condemn what they called ‘clandestine marriages’ and urged that weddings should take place only at a church: in public and under clerical direction.131 They censured marriages made ‘with laughter and jest’ in taverns or at public eatings and drinkings: happenings that are not improbable. A marriage was made at a fair in 1375 although its status was later disputed.132 No one should give a ring made of a rush or of any other ‘vile or precious material’ in order to fornicate.133 The rush ring was a real folk custom, mentioned in a rhyme found in a fifteenth-century grammatical miscellany: O Robin, I will marry you Underneath a woodland bough, With a ring made of a rush, Because that will be good enough.134 The Church also condemned what it called practices of sorcery and evil-doing at marriages, presumably ones made away from church.135 These censures partly reflected its wish to gather all the great events of life beneath its roof, but they embodied a practical motive as well: to ensure that marriages were



lawfully made in public and safeguarded from subsequent challenge. Nevertheless the Church condemned, rather than prohibited, marriages made away from churches and, as we shall see, even those at church took place outside the door, not inside. A marriage made privately by two people without witnesses was regarded as definitive even if it was not consummated physically and most certainly if it was.136 This fact was understood among the laity and enabled lovers to marry despite the opposition of their families.137 Such flexibility meant that marriages could be and were contested. One party might allege that no valid contract had been made or that a previous contract existed. Towards the end of the thirteenth century, the Church established a system of courts to deal with such issues. To enable their work, it distinguished two kinds of contract that a couple might make. One was a promise to marry in the future, a betrothal, technically known as using words of the future (verba de futuro). The other was a promise to marry now with words of the present (verba de presenti) such as ‘I take you as my husband or wife here and now’. The first of these was not a valid marriage unless it was subsequently consummated. The second was valid if the fact could be proved, and might be set aside only if one of the partners was not at liberty to have made it, refused to consummate it sexually, or proved unable to do so. The problems resulting from marriage disputes help explain why the Church discouraged informal contracts and tried to bring them under its own supervision. Such supervision ensured that the parties were free to marry and did so in public before witnesses, so that the validity of the marriage could not be contested. In 1200 the Council of Westminster convened by Archbishop Hubert Walter laid down that no marriage might take place without three public announcements of the fact in church.138 This principle was endorsed by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.139 The latter did not specify the number of times, but thirteenth-century bishops in England continued to insist on three. A refinement came to be added that the announcements, eventually called ‘banns’ (meaning ‘proclamations’), should be made in church at intervals, usually of a week, on Sundays or major festivals.140 At first, if one of the partners was not known locally, there was an obligation for that person to produce a letter from his or her own bishop or archdeacon as to the legitimacy of the marriage.141 Later the



practice developed for the banns to be read in the parishes of both partners, after which a letter was sent to the parish priest who was to conduct the marriage by his counterpart in the other place. A form for a letter of this kind was included in some editions of the Sarum manual.142 For the marriage banns to be effective, they needed to be ‘spurred’ or announced in the vernacular, most appropriately during the principal mass on Sunday. The following form in English is found in a fifteenth-century manual belonging to the church of St Aldate Gloucester: I ask the banns of marriage between [Name] and [Name]. If any man or woman can say or put any letting [impediment] of sibrede [kinship] wherefore they may not, nor ought not, to come together by law of Holy Church, do us to wit [know].143

A religious miscellany of the same period has this: [Name] of [Place] has spoken with [Name] of [Place] to have her to his wife to right live in form of Holy Church. If any man know any letting why they may not come together, say now or never, on pain of cursing.144

Banns could be contested, and sometimes were. If the objection was serious, the matter would be remitted to the Church courts for a decision, and the court would instruct the priest of the church to proceed or not, as appropriate.145 WEDDINGS Once the banns had been called, the wedding could take place. This was typically held, it seems, in the bride’s church as has been the later tradition.146 There were three further requirements. First the chosen place must be a parish church or parochial chapel-of-ease. A wedding in a private chapel required a special licence from the bishop.147 Next the appointed day must be within the seasons permitted for marriage. Church weddings were not allowed during the three penitential periods of the year, and the clergy had a Latin couplet to remind themselves of this, in translation,



From Advent, Septuagesima, and the Rogations – no weddings Till the octaves of Epiphany, Easter, and Pentecost.148 The first prohibited season covered Advent, beginning on Advent Sunday but extending over Christmas as far as the octave of Epiphany on 13 January. The second spanned the prelude to Lent, Lent itself, and Easter week: from Septuagesima Sunday until the Sunday after Easter Day (Low Sunday) inclusive. The third included the seasons of Rogationtide and Pentecost, beginning with Rogation Week and lasting until Trinity Sunday a week after Pentecost. Some clergy permitted marriages on Low Sunday itself, but Lyndwood thought this illegal.149 These prohibitions arose from the assumption that marriage would be followed by sexual activity, and the belief that this was improper in such holy seasons. Indeed even married Christians were advised to abstain from sex at these times as well as on the Ember Days.150 The third requirement, when the day had been chosen, was for the marriage to take place in the morning. This was necessary because it was followed by a mass, which could only be celebrated from dawn until about 10.00 a.m. We hear anecdotally of marriages from very early in the morning until about 10.00 a.m. or 11.00, but the commonest time must have been before a church’s principal mass at about 8.00 a.m. or 9.00.151 Ceremonies later in the day were highly irregular and subject to disciplinary action.152 It is likely that the church was prepared and decorated for the occasion as is the case today. We are told of fresh rushes being strewn on the floor, while on the analogy of christenings and funerals, special hangings may have been brought in and extra lights lit to give a festive atmosphere.153 The Italian scholar Polydore Vergil, who lived in England in the early sixteenth century, described the coming of the bride to the church with ‘two young boys dressed like angels’.154 Did he mean that two boy acolytes wearing white albs would be sent to greet her, perhaps at the churchyard gate? One of the earliest accounts of a marriage service in England relates to that of a man and woman of gentry rank at Thremhall Priory, Essex, in about 1200. It shows that many of the elements of later weddings were already in being. This one took place at the west door of the priory, early in the morning, and was conducted by the prior. He asked those present if there was any



impediment to the marriage, and was told that there was not. The groom placed a ring on the bride’s hands and said words of espousal. He also laid a penny on the prior’s book as a sign of the financial support he would give her. The marriage was followed by a ‘nuptial’ or wedding mass at which the couple went to the high altar of the priory where they prayed while two canons held a pall or veil over them.155 More comprehensive directions for the marriage service survive in manuscripts of the Sarum missal from the mid thirteenth century and in late-medieval versions of the manual, of which the York version gives more attention to the vernacular, in other words English, whereas Sarum conveys most of the material in Latin.156 The account that follows is based on the fuller, late-medieval sources. A marriage service falls into two parts: a public exchange of vows followed by the Church’s blessing on the union. The medieval rite began outside the church door, with the bride and groom standing ‘before God, the priest, and the people’, the man usually placed on the right hand side of the woman.157 Guillaume Durand, writing in France in the 1290s, talks of women being veiled when married and this is likely in England since it became a longstanding custom, but references to the fact are elusive.158 All present were fasting as were all the guests, since the wedding was to conclude with a mass. Both partners were also expected to have been to confession: one bridegroom got into trouble in 1491 for failing to do so.159 The service began with an explanation by the priest in English, given in York as follows: Lo, brethren, we are come here before God and his angels and all his saints, in the face and presence of our mother Holy Church for to couple and to knit these two bodies together, that is to say of this man and of this woman, that they be from this time forth but one body and two souls in the faith and law of God and Holy Church, for to deserve everlasting life, whatsoever that they have done here before.160

The priest explained that the banns had been called, but asked in the vernacular if anyone could say anything against the wedding. He then enquired of the couple if they knew of any impediment.



Next the priest questioned them, ‘with all listening’, as to whether they were willing to marry, with the responsibilities that this incurred. Again he spoke in English. To the man, Wilt thou have this woman to thy wife and love her [one manuscript adds ‘and worship her’] and keep her, in sickness and in health, and in all other degrees be to her as a husband should be to his wife, and all other forsake for her, and hold thee only to her to thy life’s end?

The man answered, ‘I will’. The priest then asked the woman, with slightly different words, Wilt thou have this man to thy husband, and to be buxom [obedient] to him, serve him and keep him, in sickness and in health, and in all other degrees be unto him as a wife should be to her husband, and all other to forsake for him, and hold thee only to him to thy life’s end?

She too replied, ‘I will’. Then the priest said ‘Who shall give this woman?’ or similar words.161 The York and Sarum rubrics required the woman to be given by her father or a ‘friend’, meaning a family relative. If the bride was unmarried, her hand was uncovered; if she was a widow at a second marriage, her hand was covered. The bridegroom took her right hand with his right hand, and gave his ‘troth’ or vow of marriage using verba de presenti, ‘I marry you now’, following the instructions of the priest (Fig. 48, p. 334). The familiar marriage vows were already in being, at least in part, by the time of the marriage at Thremhall Priory in about 1200. The record in this case, like the examples that follow, is in Latin, so that the words presented here are modern translations taking into account what is known of the latemedieval forms in English. The man at Thremhall said, With this ring I thee wed, and with my body I thee worship.



In another marriage of a similar date the man’s words included the phrase ‘for as long as I live’.162 Records of vows in the diocese of York in the early fourteenth century include a man saying in 1326, Here I take thee, Elizabeth, as my faithful conjoined wife, to hold and to have until my life’s end, and thereto I give thee my faith [fidem].

The woman replied, And I take thee, Thomas, as my faithful married husband, to hold and to have until my life’s end, and thereto I give thee my faith.163

A man in 1334 said, Here I give thee my faith to have you as my wife, if Holy Church it will allow.164

In this case the influence of the Church can be seen, reflecting its wish to regulate weddings according to its laws. In a further example, in 1339, a woman said, Here I take thee John, son of John of Bristol, as my husband, to have and to hold, for better and worse, for fairer and fouler, until my life’s end, and hereto I give thee my faith.165

The full text of the vows in English is preserved in late-medieval manuscripts and printed copies of the York and Sarum manuals. In York, the man said, Here I take thee [Name], to my wedded wife, to have and to hold, at bed and at board, for fairer for fouler, for better for worse, in sickness and in health, till death us depart, and thereto I plight thee my troth.

The bride’s promises are identical in the York manual. Slightly different are the man’s vows in a manual of the church of St Aldate Gloucester:



I [Name] take thee [Name] to my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, for fairer for fouler, in sickness and in health, till death us depart, if Holy Church it will ordain, and thereto I plight thee my troth.166

Further variations are found in the common printed Sarum manuals of the end of the Middle Ages. In these the man’s vow omits ‘Here’ at the start – the definitive statement so typical of the York vows, as well as the phrase ‘for fairer for fouler’: I [Name] take thee [Name] to my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death us depart, if Holy Church it will ordain, and thereto I plight thee my troth.

The woman’s vow in the Sarum manual differs more from the man’s, and she alone is required to promise her compliance ‘in bed and at board’: I [Name] take thee [Name] to my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to be bonair [courteous] and buxom [obedient] in bed and at board, till death us depart, if Holy Church it will ordain, and thereto I plight thee my troth.167

In yet another version, that of Hereford Cathedral, the man’s vow is similar to that of Sarum but the woman’s is exactly the same as the man’s, as it is in the York manual, so that there was no uniform custom of giving the woman different words to say.168 When the vows had been made, the groom laid money – ideally gold or silver – with the ring on a plate or book as a token of the wealth he would give to his wife. In one manual the priest explained the significance of this to the groom in English: Lo! this gold and this silver is laid down in signifying that the woman shall have her dower of thy goods if she abide after thy decease.169



48.  Marriage in church. A couple make their vows before a priest and his clerk, watched by members of their families.

The priest blessed the ring, if it had not already been blessed. He sprinkled holy water on the ring, and put it into the groom’s left hand. The groom was instructed to hold it with the first three fingers of his right hand, and he then took the right hand of the bride, where the ring would be placed. The bride’s hand was changed to the left in 1549.170 The groom used the ring to touch the bride’s thumb while he said (according to the Sarum manual), or said repeating the words of the priest (in York), the invocation of the Trinity in Latin. Beginning In nomine Patris, he touched her thumb, with et Filii, her forefinger, with et Spiritus Sancti her middle finger, and with Amen her ring finger, at which point he put the ring on that finger. The ring finger – the



fourth finger – was known as the medicus in Latin or ‘leech-finger’ in English, because there was believed to be a vein running from it to the heart.171 The bridegroom then followed the priest by saying, in York, With this ring I thee wed, and with this gold and silver I thee honour, and with this gift I thee endow.

The Sarum rite adds to the words ‘gold and silver’ ‘and with my body I thee worship and with all my worldly goods I thee endow’. It also differs in directing the man to put on the ring after the words above.172 The giving of the ring was followed by Latin prayers and blessings, except in the case of second or third marriages after the deaths of spouses. The Church looked coldly on these and termed them ‘bigamy’. It did not forbid them, but it withheld the special sacramental blessing given at the wedding mass if the man and woman were both re-marrying, although a virgin espousing a widower was allowed to receive it.173 Next the priest led the bridal couple into the church, through the chancel screen, and up to the east end of the chancel where the couple prostrated themselves before the high altar. Where the rest of the congregation went is not mentioned, but doubtless to their usual places with, perhaps, the most exalted being in the chancel as well. Further prayers and blessings were said, after which the couple were raised up and placed on the south side of the presbytery between the altar and the choir stalls, presumably facing the altar. This time the woman stood on the right hand side of the man. Mass was then celebrated. After the Sanctus in the mass, the couple again prostrated themselves before the high altar, and a cloth was held over, or placed on, their heads by two clerks (York) or four (Sarum). This cloth was called in Latin the ‘pall’ (palla) or the ‘veil’ (velamen) and in English the ‘care-cloth’, a term of uncertain origin.174 Then, when the bread and wine had been consecrated, the pall was taken away, the couple rose, and the priest gave the pax to the groom to kiss – in effect recognising the couple as the most important people in church. The groom gave it to the bride, whom he was directed to kiss by mouth – but her alone, after which she presumably kissed the pax which was then taken round by the clerk to the congregation in the usual way. The



bridal couple did not receive communion, but when mass was over and there was the usual blessing of bread, ordinary bread and wine ‘or something else that is drinkable’ (probably ale) were blessed and consumed by the couple as ‘sops’, the bread being soaked in the wine.175 Vergil says that the bride drank first, then the groom, and lastly the guests.176 Weddings, then as now, could be expensive occasions. If money was forthcoming, special clothes would be made, especially for the bride. One source imagines a rich widow spending £5 on her attire; another talks of the purchase of gowns, girdles, and headdresses.177 The poor were challenged by the costs. In Exeter diocese each parish church was told to acquire a bridal veil for lending out when necessary, and some churches elsewhere kept bridal jewels.178 Piers Plowman urged wealthy people to ‘marry maidens’, which may have meant providing them with dowries or with the costs of a wedding.179 A gentleman of Newcastle-on-Tyne left money in 1540 to ten poor maidens ‘towards their dinners in the days of their marriages’.180 One motive for ‘clandestine’ marriages may have been the inability of the poor to pay for the costs involved in a public event. Despite the prohibition that has been mentioned, on charging for any sacrament including marriage, a small fee was often taken for reading the banns or holding the wedding, and it became customary to make offerings at the mass that followed.181 In a typical parish the totals might vary from a few pence to a few shillings, most of which went to the rector or vicar with a gratuity for the parish clerk.182 Another expense, this time for the guests, was for the bride to receive wedding presents at the church door after the service.183 The cost of weddings reflected their importance as social occasions. Evidence about two in Yorkshire in the fourteenth century spoke of over a hundred people at each.184 In another case we hear of the presence of the bride’s father, three uncles, two clergy, and many other people.185 Very likely both bride and groom brought their own friends: the ‘bridemaids’ and ‘bridemen’ who occur in records after the Reformation.186 After the wedding there would be a procession to the house where the celebration took place: the ‘bridal’ or ‘bride-ale’ as it was termed, or the ‘feast’ as it is called in Chaucer’s ‘Knight’s Tale’ and ‘Merchant’s Tale’. Vergil described how ‘two married men accompany [the bride] home while a third one precedes her



carrying in his hands a vase of gold or silver’. This looks like a wealthy wedding, perhaps displaying a wedding present. He went on to relate that ‘the bride is carried about, especially in the countryside, with a crown of wheat on her head. At times she carries such a crown in her hands, and when she enters the house grain is thrown on her head for good luck.’187 The ‘Merchant’s Tale’ depicts the bride and groom at the feast, sitting on a dais ‘with other worthy folk’, enjoying food and music.188 The food would have been all the more welcome after the fasting required before mass. A school exercise of the 1490s imagined the feast at a wedding of status as starting with frumenty (i.e. fruit, milk, and cereal), followed by goose, pork, capon, and swan.189 This is confirmed by a late-medieval book of recipes, which suggests a five-course bridal meal with these and other such ingredients.190 A ‘bridecake’ might also make its appearance on such an occasion.191 The venue of the feast doubtless varied according to wealth: from a manor or merchant’s house to the church house hired for the occasion, or even to an alehouse. Then, in the marriage liturgies, there was a final rubric to the effect that at night, when the bride and groom came to bed, the priest should visit them to bless their chamber, the marriage bed, and the two of them. ‘This having been done’, says the rubric, ‘he asperses them with holy water [York adds that he censes them with incense], and so he withdraws and leaves them in peace’.192 SICKNESS AND DEATH The Church provided a series of rites for sickness, death, and burial. Those up to the point of death took place in the home, not in church. Clergy must frequently have visited the sick in all degrees of their maladies, and the rite known as ‘the Visitation of the Sick’ contained material that could be used to bless and comfort those with lesser disorders. If the sick were seriously ill, on the other hand, they would be offered the sacrament of anointing or ‘extreme unction’, along with communion. This required the priest not only to vest himself but to go with some ceremony: riding or walking in the company of his clerk at least, with the ringing of a hand-bell to announce the passing of Christ’s body and blood, to which onlookers were expected to give due reverence.



In these grave circumstances the priest came to the house and set up a crucifix for the invalid to contemplate. This was done for the mystic Julian of Norwich when she was gravely ill and led to the first of her revelations in which she saw the figure of Christ appear to bleed.193 Invalids were aspersed with holy water, prayers were said, and the priest turned to their belief. He expounded the creed and asked the sick person to make a profession of faith. The directions for this were in Latin, but it must usually have been conducted in the vernacular. English forms occur in fifteenth-century manuals: Believest thou in God [the] Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth?

to which the invalid replied, ‘I believe’, and so on.194 Next the priest heard the sick person’s confession, asking appropriate questions. This too would be in English, with one of the suggested forms for the penitent person beginning: I acknowledge to God and to Our Lady Saint Mary and to all the hallows [saints] of heaven that I have sinned.195

At the end of the confession the priest set out an appropriate penance but did not impose it immediately. Instead he asked invalids to ensure that their friends or executors did almsgiving on their behalf, and told them that if they recovered, they should do the penance that he had assigned. The priest then gave a blessing, offered the crucifix to be kissed, and prayed to God to remit the sins confessed. The next procedure, in the case of serious illness, was the sacrament of anointing (Fig. 49, p. 339). While the priest’s clerk or other companions said psalms, the priest took holy oil from a container and used his right thumb to anoint the invalid’s right eye, left eye, ears, lips, nostrils, hands, feet, and back (or navel in the case of a woman). Afterwards he washed his hands with salt and water. Blessings and prayers of healing followed. He then asked the sick person if they believed that the bread and wine in the sacrament of communion were the true body and blood of Christ. On their affirming that belief, a communion wafer was placed in the mouth with the words of



49.  Anointing and sick communion. A priest administers a wafer to a man in bed, watched by his wife and clerks with a candle and a box of holy oil.

administration used on Easter Sunday. The sacraments of anointing and communion were not given to children under the age of puberty, on the grounds of immature understanding and lack of need through absence of mortal sins. Nor was communion offered to anyone likely to vomit, the insane, or those who had not declared orthodox beliefs.196 There was apparently a popular reluctance to be anointed until the point of death, because people assumed that the one was followed by the other. Clergy were ordered to teach parishioners that anointing could be repeated – in other words one could expect to recover afterwards – and if so, those who were cured could lawfully resume conjugal relations and all their normal occupations.197



When someone was dying, it was expected that clergy would be called and prayers be said to commend the dying soul and to pray over his or her body (Fig. 50, p. 342). In towns it would not have been far to bring the rector, vicar, or chaplain, and the wealthy might have had a chaplain or a friar at hand. In large country parishes this was less simple. Chaucer imagined his ideal parson as ministering to a large area with scattered houses, travelling through storms to reach his furthest parishioners in times of sickness or trouble.198 In reality clergy could fail to arrive in time because of age, negligence, or a vacancy in the benefice.199 The rector of Bergholt in Essex, was guilty of leaving his parish after mass on a feast day in 1541, despite his duty of staying to say evensong. In consequence he was not available to attend a sick woman who died without benefit of confession or communion.200 More widespread lack of care was claimed by the parishioners of Wembury, Devon, in 1534. Their population numbered 500 but the church was staffed by chaplains or canons dispatched from Plympton Priory, four miles off. When someone was dying, a message had to be sent to the priory for help that was slow in coming. Nine adults were said to have died without a priest at hand, and one child’s body waited all day for its funeral.201 The liturgy for the dying included psalms, intercessions, a litany of prayers for the soul addressed to the Trinity and the saints, and the great commendatory prayer Proficiscere: ‘Go forward, Christian soul, from this world, in the name of God the Father Almighty who created you’. The ‘passing bell’ might be rung at the church, with two soundings for a woman and three for a man.202 Further prayers and psalms, known as the Commendation of Souls, were said around the body after death in the room where it lay. It was washed with tepid or warm water and wrapped in a linen shroud while further prayers were said. Some households carried the dead to church to rest overnight; others kept the body at home.203 It was a common practice to watch over the dead that night and, if clergy were available, for them to sing psalms by the corpse or the service of Placebo: the vespers of the dead. There were ancient social customs at watches, including drinking, singing, dancing, and even wrestling. These were frowned on by the Church which tried to discourage them, even in private houses, and clergy were barred from attendance unless to sing psalms.204



When the body was taken to church, on the day of death or the following day, it would be accompanied by family, servants, neighbours, or fellow guild members, and lights might be carried to give dignity to the occasion.205 Wooden coffins were often used to carry the body until it was buried, although only the wealthy were generally buried in a coffin of wood or stone.206 In the countryside the journey to church might be a long one, and it was a common complaint of people demanding a graveyard for a chapelof-ease that it was too difficult to transport the dead elsewhere, especially in winter. Paths to the church from outlying farms might have recognised places where those bearing corpses stopped to rest. One Cornish rector left money in 1448 to erect nine stone crosses in Camborne parish where such halts were made.207 When the body arrived at church its placing is likely to have varied according to status. Clergy, nobility, and gentry were probably admitted to the chancel; ordinary parishioners may have been confined to the nave. The service of matins for the dead, known as Dirige, would often be said in the early morning before the funeral itself. FUNERAL AND BURIAL Burials seem to have taken place typically at about 9.00 a.m. or 10.00 in the morning with the church bell or bells being rung as the body was brought to the church or to the grave. This time was dictated by the custom of preceding burial by a funeral mass of requiem, so called from the repeated Latin sentence Requiem eternam: ‘Eternal rest give them, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon them’. The requiem mass had to be celebrated after the principal mass of the day if there was one, and clergy were permitted to perform a second mass for this purpose.208 It took place in the presence of the deceased and, in the case of important people, might include the preaching of a sermon praising their piety and urging the congregation to live devoutly and die well.209 The priest and other clergy of status would wear black or blue vestments if the parish possessed them. After mass the body was carried to the grave attended by its mourners, to the accompaniment of psalms and prayers (Fig. 51, p. 346). For clergy and the wealthy, the grave might be within the church in a stone coffin or a stone-lined tomb, topped



50.  The rite of anointing before death. A priest administers the holy unction, assisted by his clerk, while family members look on.

by a ledger stone at floor level. For most other people it lay in the churchyard under the sky.210 The priest marked the grave by taking a spade and inscribing a cross on the ground in the dimensions of the body. The Sarum manual seems to imply that the grave was then dug by a sexton.211 This may have been done beforehand, but medieval graves were often shallow: only 0.4–0.7 metres in depth.212 The grave was blessed, aspersed with holy water, and censed with incense. After prayers, the body was placed in the grave in its coffin or shroud. The wealthy could procure a papal indulgence granting them a ‘plenary’ or complete remission of the penances that they would have



incurred at the time of their death. If such a document existed, it too was laid on the body, and lead seals or bullae found in the graves of high-status people no doubt come from this source.213 The grave was again aspersed and censed, and the priest scattered earth on the body in the manner of a cross, with further aspersion and censing. More prayers followed, commending the soul to God, while it seems that the grave was filled and closed. Mirk’s collection of sermons from the 1380s, Festial, includes one for funerals which describes some burial customs and tries to rationalise them.214 The dead are buried wearing a white sheet to show that they have confessed their sins and been absolved by Holy Church. They are laid in the grave facing eastwards, so as to be ready to greet Christ when he comes from that direction to hold judgment. A wooden cross is laid beside their head to show their belief in Christ’s passion, and a cross made of wax is placed on their breast to symbolise that they died burning with charity and will therefore receive the prayers of the Church. A measuring rod is put into the grave as well, presumably having been used as a guide to dig the grave, but the rod is broken as a reminder that we have no defence after death from what we deserve. Small wooden crosses have been found in graves as well as rods but not fractured ones, although some royal and noble officers are recorded breaking their staffs of office at their masters’ funerals and throwing them into the grave.215 Finally earth is cast on the body and the grave is shut, while the priest sprinkles it with holy water so that the fiends may have no dominion over the grave. The service and interment were only two elements of the funeral. People – the family and the mourners – and, in the case of the wealthy, the pageantry with which their funerals were presented must also be considered to express their status and the obligations that they felt that their status imposed. There was no standard funeral, of course, and the circumstances must have ranged from the simplest to the most elaborate. Some people, especially around 1400 and including those with Lollard sympathies, asked for a simple disposal of their ‘foul carrion’.216 Very many deaths were those of children, and it is not clear if they all received the full treatment of prayers at the deathbed, although some certainly did. We find records of offerings made at the funerals of children, presumably at the same requiem mass that was



provided for their elders.217 Many adults, from poverty, may have had the minimal rites allowable. The ban on making charges for funerals was ignored to the extent that it was a virtual requirement for those present at the requiem mass to make monetary offerings which the rector or vicar received, and these were sometimes petrified by custom: 6d. at Hornsea in Yorkshire, for example.218 A further expense was the burial itself. The London church of St Mary at Hill charged 8d. for adults in the churchyard and 4d. for children. At Exeter the bellman who dug the graves in the common cemetery outside the cathedral expected 6d.219 Graves inside churches, as we have seen, were more expensive, and might well be limited to those considered to have an appropriate status.220 In addition a death might involve the payment of a ‘mortuary’, meaning a funeral gift, to the church incumbent in recognition of his spiritual lordship. This was not necessarily due on the day of a funeral but was a consequence of the death, at least that of a male householder. It varied in nature from place to place but usually included one’s best robe or a farm animal in the case of those who had such livestock, and might extend to household utensils.221 Women and children were sometimes exempt, although not always, but we do not know if clergy waived the requirement when there was little to be had. In consequence the cost of a death and funeral posed problems for the poor like those of a wedding. It was a religious and social convention to have lights burning round the corpse in church, from Placebo and Dirige until mass. Some people noticed the challenge that this posed for the needy and sought to alleviate it. In Worcester diocese in 1219 churches were told to turn the remains of the Easter candle into smaller ones for the funerals of the poor.222 Andrew Kilkenny, dean of Exeter Cathedral (d.1302), left an endowment for two candles to burn beside each of the bodies of three poor people every day while they lay in the cathedral for their funerals.223 At Stratfordon-Avon the principal guild – the Holy Cross – undertook to help the poor or strangers in a similar way by providing four candles with a sheet and a pall to cover the deceased.224 One can guess the meagre resources of some families from the small sums donated as offerings. At Scarborough in 1435 one funeral produced only 1d., eight 2d. or 2½d., and ten 3d. or 3½d.225



A child’s funeral, too, might yield very little: examples from Oxford in 1492 include amounts of 1½d., 2d. and 2½d.226 Still, it might be observed, the deaths of these children at least merited some kind of service at which an offering was made. Better-off people were buried with more formality. The lowest social ranks whose wills survive – substantial peasants and craftsmen – did not always include instructions in them for their funerals.227 Nonetheless it is likely that families and neighbours attended, candles were lit, and some ceremonies paid for. Many adults, men and women, belonged to guilds which were common in towns and to be found in some country parishes, and these traditionally made arrangements for the passing of their members. The Tailors’ guild of Norwich, for example, founded in 1350, provided two tapers of wax weighing twelve pounds to burn by the body. All its brothers and sisters were required to come to the Dirige and the funeral mass, and to offer a halfpenny there. They were to stay to see the body buried and to pay a further penny for intercessory masses after the death. If the dead member died within seven miles of the city, the guild was to bring his body back again.228 Other guild ordinances expected their members to go to the house of death, attend the body to church, watch with it overnight, provide numerous torches or candles, and sometimes even pay and clothe some poor men to hold them during the services. They arranged for bread to be given to those in need – the common practice at wealthy funerals – and paid for additional masses.229 It is reasonable to assume that the companies of young men, maidens, and wives in country parishes gave corresponding support to those who died in their fellowship. The rich were able to pay for elaborate funerals to display their status and that of their families. This is a huge subject, of which a single example must suffice.230 Joan Barre, who died in 1485, came from a family of Gloucestershire gentry and married first an esquire and later a knight, after which she lived in widowhood at or near Newland in the Forest of Dean. She gave orders for her burial with her first husband in Newland church, in a chapel where she had already endowed a perpetual chantry. Sixteen torches, each worth 5s., and twelve tapers, each weighing two pounds, were to burn at her Dirige and funeral mass. The torches were to be carried, perhaps around her bier or in



51.  A burial in an urban churchyard with a palm-cross and a grave marker.

procession, by sixteen poor men wearing gowns and hoods of black cloth, and the tapers by twelve others. All were to have food, drink, and a small sum of money for their labour. Every priest who attended Dirige and mass was to receive a shilling and every clerk 2d., so that there was likely to be a substantial presence of local clergy and parish clerks. Members of the gentry, both male and female, were expected to attend, as well as local yeomen. These were all to be offered clothes in black to the total value of £40. All comers were to be fed, and the poor in particular to have food, drink, and a penny each.231 After the funeral, Dirige and mass were to be held every month for a year. In addition to her permanent chantry priest, a second priest was to execute masses in her chapel for three years, and a third to perform St Gregory’s trental of masses for one year. An additional four



hundred masses were to be celebrated in groups of fifty, with intercessions to the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, Our Lady, and other kinds of veneration, with a further thousand masses at 1d. each, presumably meaning that local clergy put her name into their celebrations. Fifty poor men and women were to be employed to say fifty ‘psalters’ of the rosary, in return for clothes and 2d. each.232 The resulting funeral, if all the directions were carried out, must have assembled the largest throng, perhaps, in the church’s history. Its duration, far from being limited to a single day, lasted for a year or more and involved huge numbers of people: no doubt many onlookers too. Such events were, of course, exceptional and would be remembered for long afterwards. The funeral, then, was not the end of the matter. Vergil noted that the English observed thirty days of mourning.233 If financial resources permitted, an additional requiem mass for the dead person might be held, sometimes one week after the funeral but more commonly one month later and known as the ‘month’s mind’.234 Thomas More, censuring funeral pomp in 1529, described the second as an occasion for a sermon praising the dead, in the case of the wealthy, and for ‘much feasting’ when mass was over.235 No doubt, like a modern memorial service, it enabled the immediate family to come with some of their grief having moderated and those unable to get to the funeral to honour the departed with plenty of warning. Further on in time there could be a ‘year’s mind’, or anniversary, with a similar commemoration, and in the case of wealthier people regular mentions of the departed in chantry masses, guild masses, and the reading of the bidding prayers in church. A CHURCH FOR LIFE AND DEATH A church, then, was the scene of all the major events of human life. The first ‘epiphany’ after birth at baptism, first confession and first communion in adolescence, marriage, churching, and funeral punctuated innumerable visits to services. This was true in a general sense, but not always for each individual. Some people moved to live elsewhere in the course of their lives. A marriage might take place in the bride’s church rather than the bridegroom’s. Those who lived in outlying parts of a large parish with a chapel-ofease might need to go to their parish church only for baptisms, marriages,



and funerals, or on designated days of the year as a sign of dependence. Equally leaving a church did not mean forgetting about it. The affections of some people for the churches where they had once worshipped can occasionally be glimpsed in wills where alumni who had long left a parish gave it bequests. In Cornwall, for example, one finds a pewterer of London leaving money to Truro church, a worthy of Southfleet in Kent to Sithney church, and a rector in Devon to Gwinear church, where their parents were buried.236 The discussion of churches in this book has necessarily centred on their relationship with living people. But it is hardly too rash to say that a medieval church was almost as much a place of the dead as it was of the living. The painting of the Last Judgment above the rood screen warned all who entered of the future examination of their souls before Christ, and their assignation to His left or to right. Every mass included a prayer for the dead.237 Every year had a special day to remember them: All Souls Day. Bidding prayers included their names. Within many churches, tombs proliferated during the later Middle Ages. A few drew attention to themselves by their size or splendour but even grave slabs on the floor kept alive the memory of their namesakes. Tombs and slabs recorded dates not of birth but of death, so that the dead might be remembered on that day. Most carried the plea Orate . . ., ‘Pray for . . .’ or the affirmation cuius anime propicietur Deus, ‘on whose soul may God have mercy’, inviting the passer-by to pray likewise. Even the mounds in the open air meant something to close relatives, as the poem Pearl so eloquently reminds us.238 Every Christian was urged to remember the dead in the churchyard, and to pray for their souls in general while passing by.239 The church, in short, was in one sense a destination for its worshippers, a place to come close to God. In another it was a lookout point on a journey that was to take them into another world altogether.


8 J


THE EVE OF THE REFORMATION When Henry VIII became king of England at the age of seventeen in 1509, the English parish church still engaged in its customary round of activities. There were the daily, Sunday, and festival services, the calendar observances, and the christenings, weddings, and burials. Images in churches still had their devotees and stores, parishioners still formed companies and guilds, and the candle-selling and ale-brewing went on to raise money. Despite the vast number of places of worship, new votive chapels were still being founded in the hope of attracting worshippers.1 This does not mean that every church was conscientiously led or that everyone attended it dutifully. Visitation records of the period bear witness to both negligent priests and disobedient parishioners. Anticlericalism existed, as it had long done, fuelled by the dislike of some lay people for the authority and exactions of the clergy. It is impossible to measure such dislike and to say that it was more widely felt after 1500 than before, but it was strong enough to provide a tool for monarchs and Church Reformers to gain lay sympathy and weaken the clergy in the decades that followed.2 At the same time there were changes afoot that would help to bring about the Reformation. That event was a breach with the past, but also grew out of it. One change was a greater respect for monarchy. A strong king seemed reassuring after the disruptive years of the Wars of the Roses, from the 1450s to the 1480s.3 Royal emblems were appearing in churches to a greater extent than before. Cirencester church still displays the symbols and once paraded the heraldry of the House of York on its walls, to which were added the arms



of Henry VII with the badges of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon.4 Fairford nearby contains those of Edward IV and Katherine. Edington in Wiltshire has the ‘glorious sun of York’, while Exeter Cathedral flaunts the royal arms, Tudor rose, and portcullis on two of its chantry chapels built in the 1510s (Fig. 52, p. 351). More roses and pomegranates for Henry and Katherine appear four miles away at Thorverton. The king and his agents – lawyers and administrators – were developing greater ambitions to rule their subjects, including the clergy. From the 1490s the king’s lawyers became more forceful in restraining the activities of the Church courts.5 Some changes were made to cut down the privilege of ‘benefit of clergy’ by which clergy and literate lay people convicted of serious crimes in lay courts were sent for punishment to the Church authorities.6 The power of the pope to appoint clergy had become largely reduced to the bishops and then only to candidates nominated by the king. The crown had long taxed the clergy, but the weight of this increased, especially in 1523 and 1531 when they were compelled to surrender sums of exceptional size.7 There were subtle changes in worship and devotion. Devotion to Christ had always been central to worship with the veneration of the bread and wine in the mass, the rood on the screen, and the painting of the Last Judgment. But it was now taking more forms: the crucified Christ held by Mary (the so-called image of Pity), the crucified Christ seen at the altar during mass, and the wounded Sunday Christ as the warning to Sabbath breakers. There were new dedications of chapels, university colleges, and even monasteries to Christ, St Saviour, and Corpus Christi, and cults of the Name of Jesus and his Transfiguration.8 During the fifteenth century new feasts of these last two devotions were inserted into the Church calendar, and Jesus masses on Fridays became widespread in major churches where they were performed with the now fashionable polyphony. This emphasis on Christ would mark the Reformation too, albeit in the form of his word not his image. Congregations continued to be urged to bow or genuflect at every mention of his name, and new colleges and parish churches were dedicated to him as Christ, the Saviour, or Jesus through and even after that event.9 Saints were not forgotten and the cult of the Virgin was as popular as ever, yet it is noticeable that no new English saints appeared after about the 1470s,



52.  The screen of the Oldham Chapel in Exeter Cathedral, dating from the 1510s, showing the increasing popularity of royal symbols in churches, in this case the Tudor rose and the portcullis.

even unsanctioned ones. Canonisation by the pope had long been hard to achieve, but unofficial cults had arisen through popular acclaim. Now no one was arousing such regard.10 In the world of literacy and text there was some significant movement. Literacy is hard to quantify in terms of who could read and what they read, but it was probably more common than before, thanks to the availability of material in English. Most people who read now did so in that language which had become more standardised for written purposes during the fifteenth century. A unified Modern English had replaced the regional forms of the earlier Middle English, and it possessed a larger vocabulary of abstract and technical terms, as well as effective styles of writing. It had acquired official status in parliamentary statutes and royal proclamations. All this would enable it to be used for the new national Bibles and Prayer Books of the Reformation. As we have seen it was already making its way into the



liturgy of the mass: in the aspersions, the activities in the middle, the Easter confession, and the distribution of the holy bread. It had a presence in the services of baptism, marriage, and the visitation of the sick. It was appearing, more than before, in inscriptions on tombs or in church windows. Printing was well established in England by 1500 and its products were being widely imported from France and the Netherlands, especially Sarum service books. This new technology made it possible to mass-produce texts and get them quickly into people’s hands. The very printing of liturgical books on a large scale tended to give them greater authority than individual manuscripts had possessed, and from 1506 there was a king’s printer, Richard Pynson. His Sarum missal of 1520 proudly displayed the royal coat of arms on the title page, foreshadowing the authorised Books of Common Prayer of 1549–52.11 The education of those growing up in these new conditions changed too. By about 1500 boys learning Latin in schools were taught classical Latin rather than the medieval Latin studied up to that point. The old reading texts of grammar schools in the form of medieval religious poems were discarded for the works of the pagan classical authors: Cicero, Horace, Virgil, and so on.12 Schools remained Christian in saying prayers and keeping Church festivals, but generations were growing up that would regard the medieval Latin of the liturgy as inferior to that of the classics. In one interesting case the Latin hymnal and sequentiary, containing the religious poetry sung in the Office and the mass, had been basic texts for grammar pupils to study. Then in 1530 they ceased to be printed for school use, having evidently dropped out of the curriculum well before the English Reformation.13 A characteristic institution of the fifteenth century had been the endowed chantry school, employing a priest who said mass for the founder each day as well as managing the classroom. But hardly any schools of this kind were created after the 1510s. A chantry priest who had not studied classical Latin was no longer a suitable teacher. Thereafter, most founders were willing for their masters to be priests or laymen, expected them to concentrate on teaching, and were satisfied with prayers said for their souls inside school by masters and boys.14 In another striking development in about 1525, Church leaders and teachers began to call for a uniform textbook of Latin grammar



to be designated for all schools. This was imposed in 1540, anticipating by nine years that of a uniform Prayer Book for Church services.15 In the parishes, churches themselves were evolving to provide a basis on which the Reformers could construct their new ideas of worship and community life. The now well-established post of churchwarden provided a means by which information about churches could be gathered quickly, and orders conveyed to make changes. The introduction of seating arranged the congregation in organised rows and made them a potential school for tuition through the reading of Bible lessons and the preaching of homilies and sermons. Pulpits, although hitherto chiefly used for announcements and bidding prayers, were available for such preaching. Even screens, although they were meant to support the rood images and separate the chancel from the nave, would be found acceptable by the Reformers once the images had been removed. Behind the screen, the chancel had long ceased to be a wholly clerical area and was frequently entered by lay people or occupied by eminent folk with seats. It would be rash to argue that these developments made the Reformation inevitable. They could have been accommodated within an evolving Catholic Church, but they helped to enable the Reformation and would be put to use by its leaders. THE REFORMATION UNDER HENRY VIII Narratives like the present one, which reduce the Reformation to a few pages, give the impression of it being a rapid event. Yet it began to cast a shadow in the early 1520s, and even if we abridge it to start at the breach with Rome and the creation of a national Church of England in 1534, it still spans nineteen years until the death of Edward VI in 1553. There followed five years of Catholic restoration under Mary Tudor, until the re-establishment of the national Church under Elizabeth I in 1559. Young men and women who reached puberty in 1534 would have been approaching fifty by the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign, and they would have experienced the Reformation as a long series of changes mingled with the other events of their lives. Looking back on it in middle or old age may have made it seem less dramatic than it does to us.



The first phase of the Reformation centred on the crown’s assumption of sovereignty over the Church in England. In 1534 a parliamentary statute made Henry VIII supreme head of the Church and the pope’s authority came to an end. The parish clergy were called in to sign their assent to a declaration that the pope, now called ‘the bishop of Rome’, had no jurisdiction over the kingdom of England. Church laws and Church courts continued to operate, but under the authority of the crown and increasingly subject to statutes made in Parliament. In churches the king replaced the pope in the weekly bidding prayer and eventually the word ‘pope’ was ordered to be expunged from liturgical books. Parish clergy were required to explain to parishioners that the pope’s jurisdiction in England had been ‘usurped’ and removed for ‘most just causes’.16 Peter’s Pence stopped being collected. The renunciation of the pope brought with it the disappearance of indulgences. Those issued by popes in the past had no validity once the powers of the papacy were all declared invalid in 1536.17 Bishops had granted them too, but no bishop did so after the end of that year.18 The whole institution ceased without formal closure. This affected parish churches and particularly chapels, which had relied on indulgences to attract visitors and offerings. Having taken control of the Church, Henry deputed its management to his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, and to a new archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, both of whom favoured the reform of the Church. The first results of control were financial. Cromwell drew up a scheme to endow the crown with property and money taken from the church. All clergy were to pay heavier taxation: a sum equivalent to one year’s stipend on taking up a new post, and an income tax of 10 per cent per annum thereafter. Smaller monasteries were to be dissolved and their assets to pass to the crown. The process of closing them began in the spring of 1536, and was so successful that it was extended to the larger monasteries, all of which were disbanded by the spring of 1540. Nor was this all, because the king went on to sanction the closure of several of the remaining minsters and collegiate churches between 1541 and 1546, and this process was completed by the government of Edward VI in 1548. By that date religious houses had disappeared from England with the exception of the cathedrals, university colleges, and a few similar foundations such as the colleges of Eton, Winchester, and Windsor.



The closures affected parish churches too. Some, as we have seen, occupied the nave of a monastery, while minsters and collegiate churches were usually parochial as well. In several places the parishioners managed to keep the whole of the building concerned. This was the case at minsters like Beverley, Ripon, and Southwell, abbeys such as Selby and Tewkesbury, and collegiate churches in the case of Crediton, Maidstone, and Westbury-onTrym. At others the parish church retained only its nave, while the chancel passed to the purchaser of the monastic property or was beyond the congregation’s ability to maintain, resulting in its eventual ruin as at Crowland, Howden, St Germans, and Wymondham (Fig. 55, p. 362). In a third outcome the parish benefited by moving from a smaller church into all or part of the neighbouring monastery, as happened at Malmesbury, St Mary Overy London, and Milton Abbey in Dorset (Fig. 58, p. 402). There were other effects beyond church buildings. The rights of patronage over churches held by monasteries were taken by the crown and transferred, usually to lay purchasers, bringing in a different kind of patron. Where the churches had been appropriated, with the monasteries taking the great tithes of grain, these tithes now often became the property of lay owners and had to be paid to them instead of the monks. Lesser tithes and offerings remained with the vicars of the parishes who had previously enjoyed them. Meanwhile in 1536 the crown turned its attention to the reform of popular religion. Royal injunctions were issued to the clergy with the aim of encouraging faith and preventing superstition. Every rector or proprietor of a parish church was to provide, within a year, a copy of the Bible in Latin and in English and to place it in the chancel ‘for every man that will to look and read therein’.19 This was a startling change of official policy because, although the Lollards had translated the Bible in the late fourteenth century, the Church had forbidden their version to the populace at large and sanctioned it only for those of high status. It was also a premature change because no Bibles in English were readily available in England until the publications of ‘Matthew’s Bible’ in 1537 and the ‘Great Bible’ in 1539.20 Even then some parishes delayed acquiring copies until as late as 1541.21 A second innovation was that the clergy should warn parents and employers to teach their children and servants the basic prayers in English rather than Latin. This had



been suggested by John Mirk in the late fourteenth century but it had not made great headway.22 The specified prayers were now the Paternoster and the Apostles’ Creed without the Ave Maria. In its place lay people should learn the instructive text of the Ten Commandments.23 The order to say these prayers in English was also premature in 1536. No standard versions of them yet existed, and there were variants even in the Bibles of 1537–9.24 What became the historic English forms of the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed were first printed in the primer or prayer book edited by John Hilsey, bishop of Rochester, in 1539.25 These forms were adopted in the official primer issued by Henry VIII in 1545 and four years later in the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549. Further time elapsed before everybody knew them in a standard English form. The second Prayer Book of 1552 was obliged to lay down that the Lord’s Prayer in the communion service should be said by the priest with ‘the people repeating after him every petition’, in other words phrase by phrase.26 They could not yet be trusted to say it by heart. Two years later a Protestant writer envisaged a typical parishioner as having never learnt the prayer in English and returning with relief to the Paternoster when Latin services were restored under Queen Mary.27 Since these lasted for another five years, it is not surprising that the next Prayer Book of 1559 kept the repetition of the Lord’s Prayer in the communion. Only the dying out of older people and the instruction of the young in the new catechism, to be mentioned presently, can have made the new English Lord’s Prayer and Creed universally known in the 1560s and thereafter. An emphasis on understanding in religion was matched by an attempt to downgrade ceremonial and imagery. In 1536 the Church calendar was culled of ‘superfluous holy days’. Feasts of saints were not to be held during the terms when the law courts operated, or in the period of harvesting between 1 July and 29 September, unless they related to the Apostles, Mary, or George (the national saint). Patronal festivals commemorating the patron saint of a church were forbidden unless the saint was commonly venerated, which ruled out saints of merely local repute. Dedication festivals, recalling the date of the church’s being dedicated, were all to take place on the first Sunday of October, and the days for making the required offerings to the incumbent of



the parish were fixed at Christmas, Easter, St John the Baptist (Midsummer Day, 24 June), and Michaelmas Day (29 September): in effect once every quarter of the year.28 Clergy were told to educate their congregations about the right use of images and relics. Such objects should be regarded as representations of virtue and good example to make people remember their sins, especially images of Christ and Mary. They should not be treated superstitiously with incense, kneeling, or offerings. Worship should be done only to God. Saints could still be prayed to, but without the belief that they were patrons of particular causes or that prayer to them was more effective than it was to Christ.29 Two years later, in 1538, a second set of royal injunctions repeated these policies more forcibly. The Bible was again directed to be set up ‘in some convenient place within the church’ at the joint cost of the clergyman and parishioners, and lay people were not to be discouraged from reading it (Fig. 53, p. 358). The clergy were to make their congregations learn the three English texts by heart in church, and to ensure in the Lenten confessions that people knew them before they took Easter communion. Images that attracted pilgrimage or offerings were to be taken down.30 No lights might be placed before any statue or picture, and should be restricted to the rood, the high altar, and the Easter sepulchre but presumably by the latter only at the end of Holy Week. The ringing of the church bell in the evening as a prompt to say the Ave Maria was forbidden, because it was associated with a papal indulgence. The two festivals of St Thomas Becket were also abolished: his resistance to a previous King Henry was too close a parallel for comfort (Fig. 54, p. 359). A further order required every parish church to acquire a register book to record the date and name of everyone who was christened, married, or buried. This was to be kept in a locked chest and written up each Sunday by the clergyman in the presence of at least one churchwarden. The motive, in the case of christenings, was to ensure that everyone was baptised in infancy. In Europe Anabaptists were emerging who argued that the rite should be done in adulthood, threatening the ancient insistence that all must be members of the Church from birth. Records of burials could provide useful evidence in disputes about property and inheritance. The marriage register



53.  The English Bible of 1539 ordered to be placed in all churches. Henry VIII himself dispenses copies to his bishops and nobility, from whom they descend to a grateful populace.



54.  Iconoclasm on the rood screen of Burlingham St Giles, Norfolk. Edward the Confessor has been partly defaced and Thomas Becket wholly so. The veneration of Becket was forbidden in 1538.

was meant to ensure that all weddings were lawfully done and therefore legal in status. It assumed that they would now take place only in church, following the reading of banns on three occasions. A draft revision of canon law drawn up in 1535 had already set out to make church marriages compulsory.31 But this draft was never enacted, and when Cranmer made another attempt in the same direction in a new code of canon law in 1552–3, it too failed to gain official approval.32 As a result while a similar policy in the Catholic Church outlawed weddings not solemnised by a priest in 1563,33 it remained possible in England to contract informal marriages outside church and without registration. Such marriages continued to be recognised by the



Church courts for a long time after the Reformation, just as they had been in medieval times.34 The injunctions of 1536 and 1538 did not greatly affect Sunday services or the sacraments that were administered to the population, but they had an impact in other respects. Bible reading was now lawful, although not the right to interpret the Bible as anyone wished. The veneration of saints and images was greatly reduced and pilgrimage was diminished. Dissolving the monasteries in itself removed many of the images and shrines to which visits and prayers had been made; these were destroyed, not preserved. The religious changes were especially damaging to the thousands of chapels which had come into existence to honour Christ or a saint. They had depended for their survival on pilgrimages and offerings, and had relied on indulgences to attract worshippers. The leaders of the Reformation disliked chapels for those reasons and, one suspects, because chapels were seen as weakening the control of the authorities over the parish churches. No formal injunction or statute was ever issued against them, but chapels devoted to saint cults began to disappear soon after 1538 (Fig. 56, p. 363). When the historian John Leland travelled through England in about 1542, he noted several such casualties. St Brandon at Bristol was ‘now defaced’, Gainsborough ‘desolated’, and King’s Sutton ‘defaced and taken down’. Cleeve near Minehead had lost its pilgrims as had St Mary near Hamble and a chapel at Portsmouth harbour.35 Chapels in manor houses might be used for mass until 1549 when private masses were forbidden, but after this their only function could be as oratories for personal prayer. The sole public chapels to survive were the larger chapels-of-ease, which still had some role in the community and where the parish clergyman was obliged to provide Sunday services. Cromwell fell from power in 1540 and was executed. Henry came under the influence of conservative councillors, and during the last six years of his reign the process of change slowed, although it did not cease entirely. In 1539, even before Cromwell’s downfall, the king helped to draft a backward-looking act of Parliament defending traditional doctrines, with the optimistic title of an ‘Act for the Abolition of Diversity in Opinions’, subsequently known as the ‘Act of Six Articles’.36 This reaffirmed belief in transubstantiation, the giving of



communion ‘in one kind’ meaning the bread alone, the celibacy of the clergy, the lawfulness of private (chantry) masses, and the need for oral confession to a priest. Severe penalties were threatened on those who challenged such teachings. In 1543 an ‘Act for the Advancement of True Religion’ restricted Bible reading to the wealthier orders of society and forbade it to artisans, servants, husbandmen (peasants), labourers, and all women except those of the nobility and gentry, in a partial return to the policy before 1535.37 Yet equally reform was not quite dead. In 1538 a royal proclamation had modified the laws about fasting. Claiming that there was a shortage of fish, it allowed the eating of dairy products (butter, eggs, and cheese) on fasting days, and the concession remained in force for the rest of Henry’s reign.38 There was a relaxation of the marriage laws in 1540 to allow weddings between first cousins, although marriage with a sibling’s widow or widower was ruled out since this was the ground on which Henry’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon had been annulled.39 In 1541 there were further steps. A royal proclamation made more curtailments to Church festivals. Fasting was abolished on St Mark’s and St Laurence’s days, and the two feasts of the Holy Cross were removed as holidays. The children’s customs of dressing up to collect money on two days in the autumn along with the boy bishop ceremonies in December were forbidden.40 A new edition of the Sarum breviary, published in the same year, omitted references to the pope and to Thomas Becket.41 Early in 1542 the convocation of the province of Canterbury ordered the reading of one chapter of the New Testament in English at matins and vespers on Sundays and festivals, or one of the Old Testament when the New had been finished.42 The next two years, 1543–4, saw the shutting of some collegiate churches, and in December 1545 a Chantry Act allowed the king to take possession of the properties of chantries and guilds. The act did not mention their closure but it put their future into doubt. A month later in January 1546 Cranmer suggested the abolition of some of the Church’s major ceremonies: the veiling of images in Lent, creeping to the cross on Good Friday, and ringing bells on All Saints night, although in the end the king failed to endorse the policy.43 He did, however, make one significant intervention in the liturgy and in people’s habits of prayer.44 Henry valued the penitential processions made in



55.  Consequences of the Reformation. Howden church, Yorkshire, lost its community of canons but remained as a parish church. The parishioners could not maintain the chancel, which collapsed in 1696.

times of need, and the prayers offered in them by the clergy and people. During the early 1540s he ordered them throughout the country on four occasions, each including several Wednesdays and Fridays. This may have caused a degree of fatigue and non-attendance, but by 1544 Henry was at war with France and needed such prayers yet again. Accordingly he directed the production of a litany – the liturgy used on these occasions – in English and of a shortened nature. The new service was published in the summer of that year. It was still to be said in procession and to take place in parishes on Sundays and festivals as well as Wednesdays and Fridays. But its shorter length, about half an hour, allowed it to be added to the morning services,



56.  Chapels were mostly converted to other uses or fell into ruin after 1538, like this one: St Michael’s, Burrow Mump, in Somerset.

and the use of English, it was hoped, would cause people to understand it better and pray more fervently. Clergy and choirs were to sing the words to a simple plainsong setting by Thomas Bertelet. Literate people were to read them quietly from books as they followed, while the unlettered were told to listen to the words and pray in their hearts.45 This was the first time that a complete piece of liturgy had been translated and used in public. It also contained an element of reform in that the text left out the long list of saints whose intercession had hitherto been sought, with the sole exception of the Virgin Mary. It is another example of Henry’s occasional interventions in the direction of reform during his last years: indeed a service was created that would be adopted, virtually in its original form, when a fully reformed Prayer Book was issued five years later. We could add on this subject Henry’s request to Cranmer in 1545 to produce an English text for processions on festival days, although it did not bear fruit,46 and the publication of an official primer in the same year containing the



basic prayers and other devotions for the laity. The primer was to be taught to children and to everyone ‘not learned in the Latin tongue’, whether old or young, and no other version was now to be used.47 THE REFORMATION UNDER EDWARD VI Henry VIII died on 28 January 1547 and was succeeded in name by his nineyear-old son Edward VI and in fact by a government led by the young king’s uncle, the duke of Somerset. The government soon made plain its intention of resuming the reform of the Church: the words Reformed and Reformer will be used from now onwards to describe this policy and those who supported it (Fig. 57, p. 367). In the autumn of 1547 teams of visitors toured England on the king’s behalf with fresh injunctions.48 These restated most of those of 1538 but took further the reform of the liturgy. The Office services were again required to include lessons from the Bible in English: a chapter of the New Testament at matins and one of the Old at vespers. At mass the epistle and gospel were to be read or sung in English. The ringing of bells during mass was prohibited, except for the sanctus bell. Religious processions were forbidden: around the church, in the churchyard, or beyond, on the grounds that these led to disputes over precedence. Only the English litany of 1544 was now allowed for use on the occasions when processions had been made, and it was to be said as a static service in church with the people kneeling. The priest was no longer permitted to lead the bodies of the dead to the church from their homes, but only to receive them at the churchyard gate. The traditional requirement for the clergy to preach four times a year was restated, and they were told in doing so to recommend the good new practices in church and to discourage people from the old superstitious ones. They were also to read, each Sunday, one of the Homilies written partly by Cranmer and issued in 1547: a set of sermons in English expounding the official doctrines of salvation, obedience, almsgiving, and so on.49 There were further pronouncements about superstitious practices. The injunctions repeated the warnings about shrines and images, and once again ordered the removal of images likely to be venerated, even from window glass. Disapproval was expressed of the use of holy water to bless beds or



images, the rite at the end of mass when St John’s gospel was read and holy bread was distributed, the carrying of small crosses on Palm Sunday, and the keeping of holy days other than those that were generally authorised. Instead the regime strove to turn people’s devotion to Bible reading, Sunday observance, and works of charity. Each church was told to acquire a chest to receive donations for the needy and to place the resources of the church guilds and stores in the chest for that purpose. Most stores, other than the church’s own store, now started to disappear. A session of Parliament towards the end of 1547 abolished Henry’s Act of Six Articles and the medieval heresy laws, opening the way for Reformed beliefs to become lawful. In December a new Chantry Act was approved, since the act of 1545 had lapsed with Henry’s death. The act began with a forthright condemnation of the ‘fantasy’ of belief in purgatory and of the effectiveness of masses of intercession for the dead. It sanctioned the dissolution of a wide range of institutions and the conveyance of their property to the crown, as from Easter Day, 1 April 1548.50 The institutions included the remaining collegiate churches, the endowed chantries, religious (but not craft) guilds, endowed obits (masses on the anniversaries of people’s deaths), and funds for lights in front of images. All were terminated and their endowments taken, the crown undertaking only to pay the salaries of chantry priests who were teaching grammar schools and to provide for extra chaplains in some large parishes. Chantry and guild priests were granted pensions and many of them, like the ex-monks and friars, took posts as parish curates, some eventually becoming rectors or vicars. In most parish churches their disappearance reduced the staffing to a single clergyman and his clerk. Reform continued during the year 1548. The disapproval of the cere­ monies on festival days, expressed in the injunctions of the previous year, was reaffirmed by Cranmer in letters to at least one bishop at the beginning of the new year, with immediate effect.51 Robert Parkyn, the priest of Adwickle-Street in Yorkshire, chronicled these in an account of the religious changes, which he greatly deplored. At Candlemas ‘there was no candles sanctified, borne, or held in men’s hands’. On Ash Wednesday ‘no ashes was given to any persons’, and during Lent all images and crosses were removed from churches and all votive candles, except for two upon the high altar. On Palm



Sunday ‘no palms was sanctified’ and no procession held, while on Maundy Thursday no altars were washed. On Good Friday no Easter sepulchre was prepared and ‘all other ceremonies, as creeping before the cross, . . . was utterly omitted’.52 On Easter Day, 1 April, a new Order of Communion was introduced to be used alongside the mass when communion was to be given to the laity.53 It provided exhortations to the congregation, a general confession, absolution, and other prayers, all in English and much of it to be used in the Prayer Book of 1549. In a significant departure from the last four hundred years, it required communion to be given in both kinds: consecrated bread and consecrated wine. This was duly noted by Parkyn, who recorded that the observances of St Mark’s Day and Rogation Week were discontinued too. He added that in many places holy bread and water were no longer distributed after mass on Sundays and that, by the end of 1548, the pyxes above the high altar that contained the consecrated wafers were being removed as well.54 A further change, by a statute of February 1549, allowed clergy to marry.55 During the autumn of 1548 Cranmer in consultation with other bishops and senior theologians evolved a new Book of Common Prayer, meaning communal prayer as opposed to private prayer.56 This was approved by Parliament in the form of an ‘Act for the Uniformity of Service and Administration of the Sacraments’ in January 1549.57 During the following spring, royal commissioners ordered each parish to declare its holdings in terms of church silver, and lists were made of the objects: a procedure suggesting that the crown intended to seize them.58 Meanwhile the Prayer Book began to be printed in March to prepare for its adoption in all churches from Pentecost or Whitsunday, 9 June.59 For the first time ever, each church would use a text composed specifically for parish use and identical across the whole of the country. Pentecost was perhaps suggested by its being the festival of the coming of the Holy Spirit: in this case a second coming to bring the light of Reform. The date may have been a fitting one spiritually, but it was not a sensible choice politically. The kingdom had endured two years of religious changes that involved not a distant pope or peripheral monasteries, but the interaction of the people with religion in their own churches. There had been a good deal of dutiful



57.  The Reformation summed up, in John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments of 1583. Above, the superstitions of the past are destroyed. Below, Edward VI dispenses the new Prayer Book, and the Reformed church now contains only a communion table, font, and pulpit with an attentive congregation.

compliance with the changes, and some skilful avoidance of them. At Morebath the parishioners hid images, books, and painted scenes from the rood loft, and brought them out again years later.60 But the extent of the changes, combined with the lesser respect that people felt for authority under a young king, led to some unrest. June was a traditional season for popular rebellions. The weather was drier and the roads were better. It was a time of holidays associated with Rogationtide and Whitsuntide, yet one of scarcity too as has been mentioned. The kingdom as a whole accepted the Prayer Book, at least sullenly, but it provoked a rebellion in Cornwall and Devon in June which caused the



authorities a good deal of trouble. The rising was significant in revealing the dislike of some people for the changes not only of 1549 but of previous years. Demands were drawn up to be sent to the king, each prefaced by the bold words ‘we will have’.61 In weighing these we must remember that they were compiled by the leaders, including a few gentry and some clergy, and were extremely conservative. The demands opposed the changes of recent times: the repeal of the Act of Six Articles, the removal of the reserved sacrament in the pyx, and the taking down of images, along with the abolition of holy bread and water in the mass and of ceremonies like those of Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday. Further paragraphs called for the withdrawal of the English Bible and even hinted at a wish to undo the break with Rome and restore some of the monasteries. The yearning for the old was compounded by the dislike of the new. The protesters compared the Prayer-Book services to ‘a Christmas game’: we might say ‘a Nativity play’. They wished for a return to the Latin services of matins, mass, evensong, and procession. They disapproved of the laity receiving communion except at Easter (another testimony to its previous rarity) and in the form of receiving the wine as well as the bread. They argued that by going into the chancel to receive the sacrament, men and women would in effect be married and licensed to commit adultery.62 This curious claim may have been related to the practice by which a bride and groom went into the chancel at their wedding, although, as we have seen, it was common by 1549 for men and women to enter the chancel together to sit and even to receive communion.63 There was also an objection to baptisms being restricted to Sundays (although emergency baptism was still allowed) and to confirmation being delayed until children had learnt the words and meaning of the basic prayers in the catechism, described below. The insurgents got as far as besieging Exeter and their rising was not subdued until the middle of August, after three battles were fought. Its failure, along with the suppression of Robert Kett’s rebellion – a protest in Norfolk with different objectives – left the crown in a strong position to impose its religious policies. Reform continued. In 1550 churches were told to remove all their altars and to replace the high altar with a wooden table housed in the chancel. This was to make the communion service into a



visible re-enactment of Christ’s Last Supper, rather than as an act of sacrifice at an altar, and to provide a more appropriate replica of what had long been known as ‘God’s board’. Meanwhile the leaders of the government, including Cranmer, determined to make further reforms to the liturgy. Two leading Reforming scholars were consulted, Martin Bucer and Peter Martyr, and additional discussions were held by Cranmer and his more Reforming colleagues.64 In April 1552 a second Act of Uniformity was agreed in Parliament, with the stated aim of making the ‘prayer and fashion of service more earnest and fit to stir Christian people to the true honouring of Almighty God’.65 A second, revised Book of Common Prayer was authorised and came into effect on 1 November. This second Book was in use for less than a year in the first instance, but it had a life of several centuries as the chief basis for church services from 1559 onwards. At the same time, in 1552, Cranmer produced a new code of canon law for the Church of England: the Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum (‘Reform of Ecclesiastical Laws’). The code was presented to the House of Lords in March 1553 but it did not meet with the approval of the duke of Northumberland, who now led the government, and it was never ratified. Nonetheless it is of interest in that it suggests what further reforms might have followed had King Edward not died in the following July.66 MORNING AND EVENING PRAYER AFTER 1549 We now turn to the effects of the changes of Edward VI’s reign on services in church and their impact on churchgoers as set out in the Prayer Books of 1549 and 1552.67 Here we are dealing with official policy. As with the Uses of Sarum and York, what was in the Books was not necessarily reproduced completely in every church, especially given the conservative leanings of so many clergy and congregations. In their intention, however, and to a large extent in their effect, the two Prayer Books made significant changes to the character of liturgical books in England. Previously the breviary and the missal had contained the material for the Office and mass as they were performed in cathedrals. The parish clergy had been obliged to adapt it for their churches as best they could. Only the manual had, to some extent, been



appropriate for a parish setting. The new Prayer Books were wholly constructed for parish use, and tradition was turned on its head. From now onwards the cathedrals would have to adjust them for their own somewhat different conditions. Another innovation of the Books was to include directions to the congregation which Sarum and York had largely ignored. These directions, however, remained small in number. The Books resembled their Latin predecessors in being chiefly concerned with how the clergy should organise church services. They did not demand much active lay participation or do much to regulate posture and gesture, so that these matters, as in previous centuries, may only be recovered if at all from other sources. Each of the Prayer Books provided an Office for clergy to say every day.68 This recognised what had long been the case, that the clergy said the Office in two sessions: one in the early morning and the other in the mid or late afternoon. In 1549 the services were still called matins and evensong; in 1552 the titles were changed to ‘morning prayer’ and ‘evening prayer, ‘evening’ as usual including what we call the afternoon. The reform of the Office greatly reduced the clergy’s devotional work on most days of the week. The new services were shorter than the old, and required little adjustment from day to day. In time this may, perhaps, have helped to gain the acceptance of some clergy. But the Office was designed for congregational worship as well. The 1549 Prayer Book stated, rather obliquely, that the two services should be said by parish clergy every day ‘to the congregation’, that is to say in public.69 The Book of 1552 declared more directly that each parish cleric should perform the services in his church if he was at home and not otherwise prevented, and that the church bell should be rung to call those who were willing to hear the service.70 Matins and evensong, then, were still meant to be available in church every day, and people were expected, as in the past, to attend them there at least on Sundays and festivals. The list of festivals, however, was abridged from the forty or fifty chief holy days of the later Middle Ages to fewer than thirty. These were limited to feasts of Christ, Mary, the Apostles, Michael, and the Holy Innocents, as well as the two days following Easter and Pentecost.71 At matins and evensong Cranmer and his colleagues followed two strategies. The first was to turn what had been primarily an Office for



priests into one that was suitable for a congregation. This was achieved by translating all the material into English and greatly reducing its volume. Their second strategy was to build on what people already knew and could understand. The new matins and evensong had a good deal in common with the Hours of the Virgin which the laity had been using as its own prayer book. Printers had been lawfully publishing primers of prayers in English since 1534, including the Hours.72 The many editions of such works during the next fifteen years (including Hilsey’s) show that devotional reading and praying in English rather than Latin became common among those who were literate. Many people must have already been familiar with English versions of items that would appear in the Prayer Book: the Lord’s Prayer itself, the sentences beginning ‘O Lord, open thou my lips’, Venite, Te Deum, Benedicite, and Benedictus in the morning, and Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in the afternoon. The matins of 1549 began with the priest in his traditional seat in the ‘choir’ (i.e. the chancel) and, one assumes, the people in their normal places: mostly in the nave, but in some cases in the chancel or other chapels and aisles. No directions were given about their posture during the service other than kneeling during the final prayers. The priest said aloud what had been his personal prayer of preparation: the Paternoster, now called the Lord’s Prayer, in the form that Hilsey’s Primer had made available in 1539. This was followed by versicles and responses in the singular form of the Hours of the Virgin: ‘O Lord, open thou my lips’, the responses presumably made, as before, by the parish clerk. The service continued with Venite (Psalm 95) from the Latin matins and then psalms. Much of this material, here and at evensong, was authorised to be sung ‘in a plain tune’, and in 1550 a ‘noted’ or musical edition of the Prayer Book was published, with music by John Merbecke, a clerk of Windsor Chapel.73 Whereas the psalms in the Latin service had been said in the course of a week, with many interruptions to the order, Cranmer’s course of psalms was monthly and consistent. It began on the 1st of the month and ended on the 30th, going in sequence from matins to evensong, and on to the next day. The psalms of the 30th were repeated on the 31st except that the February psalms began on 31 January and ended on 1 March, to make the months as equal as possible.74



The psalms were followed by two lessons from the Bible, separated by Te Deum from the Latin matins except in Lent when Benedicite from lauds was to be used instead. The lessons could be read by the priest or intoned in a church with a choir. They marked a significant change for both clergy and congregation. The clergy were introduced to much more of the Bible than the medieval lectionaries had covered, because these lectionaries had included lessons from non-Biblical sources, all of which were now removed. The congregation had not heard the Bible read in their own language until recently, unless it was expounded in a sermon. Cranmer’s plan was that the Old Testament should be read through once a year and the New Testament three times, in units of one chapter at each service, the Old as the first lesson and the New as the second. The Old Testament readings accordingly began with Genesis in January and worked through the books, although Isaiah was kept for Advent and Christmas as was traditional. In the New Testament the four gospels and the Acts of the Apostles were covered at matins, and the epistles at evensong. Cranmer omitted what he called ‘certain books and chapters which be least edifying’. This led to the reading of only three chapters of Leviticus with its emphasis on Jewish law, none from the amorous Song of Songs, and only two from Revelation: perhaps through caution about its vivid prophecies. An issue arose with the ‘deutero-canonical’ books in the Latin Bible which Reformers were coming to regard as less authentic and eventually relegated to a lower category known as the ‘Apocrypha’. These were not wholly ejected from the Prayer-Book lectionary but were limited to chapters from Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, and Baruch, read during the autumn.75 The second lesson at matins was followed by the canticle Benedictus from the old service of lauds. Then, with the congregation kneeling, the priest said the Apostles’ Creed from the old prime (again in Hilsey’s version) with a second rendering of the Lord’s Prayer. In the latter case, the phrase ‘But deliver us from evil’ was a response, as it had been in the Latin services. Next came a second set of versicles and responses, presumably said as before by priest and clerk, with the congregation kneeling. These differed in being congregational not singular: ‘O Lord, show thy mercy upon us’, because they came from the later Middle Ages when they were said as part of the bidding prayer and



would have been well known to the congregation in their Latin form.76 Cranmer changed the order of the versicles from Church, king, and people, to king, Church, and people, in recognition of the royal headship of the Church. The service concluded with three collects or prayers: for the day (usually that of Sunday or, on a weekday, the previous Sunday), for peace (from lauds), and for grace (from prime). The Sunday collects were mostly translations from the Sarum liturgy or other medieval sources, with only a few (notably Advent Sunday and Ash Wednesday) largely by Cranmer himself. The structure of evensong was similar to that of matins and differed only in its canticles and collects. Magnificat from the Latin vespers was said after the first lesson, and Nunc dimittis from compline after the second. The collects were of the day as before, for peace, and for aid against all perils, the latter two from the old vespers and compline. Neither matins nor evensong was provided with any conclusion in the form of a blessing or dismissal. The modern ‘grace’ was added only in 1662. In the case of matins there was the possibility that it would lead to another service. On Wednesdays and Fridays the clergy were required to follow it with the litany (now shorn of the Virgin Mary), and on Sundays with holy communion (the former mass) and sometimes a baptism. Although the Prayer-Book matins and evensong were undoubtedly a new experience and not approved by all, the two services still retained much of the past about them. They were conducted by the priest and the clerk. The congregation was not required to say anything. It could have joined in the responses, and eventually this would happen. But in 1549, without personal copies of the Prayer Book or experience of saying the responses, there may have been no more interaction between the priest and the people than there had been before. The parish clerk could take the responsive role by himself. The Prayer Book of 1552 retained matins and evensong as daily and Sunday services but it gave them more substance than in 1549. This reflected the experience, which we shall encounter, that it was hard to get people to receive communion on Sundays and that the Office services needed to be more central to regular worship. Accordingly both services were strengthened with the introduction of a penitential element that had hitherto been lacking. The priest was now called a ‘minister’, although in the communion service he



was still a ‘priest’ or ‘curate’, and he was ordered to wear no vestment at his services except for a surplice over his clothes. Whereas the 1549 service had assumed that he would lead the worship from the choir or chancel, 1552 directed him to use whichever part of the church was most audible. The chancel could be used, and may have been in places of small congregations, but in most churches the nave became the centre of nearly all worship. In the course of time, the minister and the clerk came to occupy seats at the east end of the nave, on the outer side of the screen. Whichever the arrangement, minister, clerk, and congregation were now brought together. In 1552 the minister began matins by reading a sentence from Scripture that called his listeners to repentance. He repeated this call in a short exhortation, and he and his congregation then knelt to say a general confession, the minister reciting each clause and the congregation repeating it. The rest of morning prayer continued much as in 1549, with the opening versicles and responses now in plural form (‘O Lord, open thou our lips’). Psalms and even lessons could still be sung and perhaps canticles too, apart from Benedictus which was to be said and could now be replaced if wished by Psalm 100: Jubilate. But by now there was no provision for polyphony, either in the Office or the communion service. The Reformers disliked it for obscuring the meaning of the words and no doubt because of the linkage of much of it to the cult of the Virgin. The people were still required to do very little except to kneel for and join in the confession, add ‘Amen’ when the minister pronounced his absolution after it, stand for the Apostles’ Creed, and (for the first time) join in saying the second rendering of the Lord’s Prayer towards the end of the service. Evening prayer followed a similar format, but it differed from that of 1549 in providing alternatives to the two canticles. Magnificat could be replaced by Psalm 98 (known by some from the Hours of the Virgin) and Nunc dimittis by Psalm 67 (often recited in grammar schools and in the preReformation bidding prayers). The canticles were objectionable to some Reformers because they were not psalms, while the first had close associations with the worship of Mary. One wonders, if the Reformation of Edward VI had not ended in 1553, whether Magnificat and Nunc dimittis would have disappeared altogether. Again neither of the daily services was provided with a blessing or dismissal.



THE COMMUNION SERVICE OF 1549 Cranmer did not intend the Office services to be the only worship of lay people. He also expected them to attend a communion service, replacing the mass. This was to take place in parish churches on Sundays and festival days, but not on weekdays unless a parish priest had people willing to receive the bread and wine with him.77 Accordingly the Prayer Book of 1549 contained a liturgy for communion which kept a good deal of the structure of the mass in English translation.78 It also allowed the singing of some items by a choir: the ‘office’, the Kyries, Gloria in excelsis, the Nicene Creed, offertory sentences, the Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. The service still began with the ‘office’ or ‘introit’, now ordered to be one of the psalms, together with the Lord’s Prayer, the old mass collect invoking the Holy Spirit (‘Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open’), the Kyries, and Gloria in excelsis. Next came a prayer for the king, and then the epistle, gospel, and Nicene Creed. No posture was directed during the gospel, but it appears that people continued to stand up for it, as they had previously done, throughout the sixteenth century.79 The Creed led to the point when formerly announcements had taken place. Nothing was said about the notification of forthcoming feast days (this was remedied in 1552), and no mention was made of a bidding prayer because, as we shall see, there was now a general prayer of a similar kind later in the service. Bidding prayers were not forbidden, and a format for one had been published in 1547 which could be used on other occasions such as free-standing sermons. It included prayers for the universal Church, the monarch, the authorities of the English Church and state, the common people, and (briefly and in general) the departed.80 However the 1549 Prayer Book directed the preaching of a sermon at this point or the narration of one, or part of one of Cranmer’s homilies. It also provided two exhortations for reading to the people: one urged them to receive communion in the proper spirit, following a tradition that existed on Easter Sundays long before this time,81 while the other chided them for their failure if they had not done so and advertised a date for the next such service. This led to the offertory: the part of the service at which in the past offerings of any kind had been made. The traditional payments to the incumbent



four times a year continued to take place at this point,82 but every Sunday and festival communion service was now to include what had occasionally happened in some places already: a collection of money for the poor.83 It was to be accompanied by the priest saying or the choir singing one or more sentences from the Bible encouraging charity. An alms box was prescribed for the collection (in later times it was sometimes a portable box carried round by the parish clerk) to which ‘as many as are disposed’ should contribute; in other words the collection was a voluntary one. After the offertory, people who wished to receive communion were told to enter the chancel. The men were to stand on one side and the women on the other, reproducing the gender division that we have seen so often observed in the later Middle Ages. Those not minded to receive were to leave the chancel, they being presumably the occupants of seats in that part of the church.84 The priest, now standing and facing the altar where he had placed the bread and wine for the communion, said ‘Lift up your hearts’ (the former Sursum corda), the preface, the Sanctus, and a general prayer for the universal Church, the king, the English Church and the people. The prayer was traditional enough to give thanks for the lives of the saints and to commend to God the souls of the departed. This was followed by the prayer of consecration, including two signings of the cross over the bread and wine but with a prohibition of elevating them afterwards. Next came a repetition of the Lord’s Prayer. From this point onwards, Cranmer’s structure resembled a late-medieval Easter Day mass, in which a normal mass was given supplementary material appropriate for the giving of communion to the laity. The priest called the communicants to repentance, and a general confession was made of the kind that had come into use on that day.85 The confession was to be said by one of the congregation or by the priest on behalf of those present; the whole gathering was not required to do so. The priest then pronounced an absolution, and said an innovative piece of liturgy: the ‘comfortable words’ of Jesus, St Paul, and St John in reassurance to sinners. After this he recited a new prayer written by Cranmer, ‘the prayer of humble access’, asking Christ to cleanse with his body and blood the bodies and souls of those who received communion. This prayer was said by the priest on behalf of the congregation, not by them.



Communion was now given to those in the chancel in the form of consecrated bread and consecrated wine. The bread was to be in the form of wafers as before, but larger and having no image printed on them. Increasing their size allowed the priest to break them into pieces and share them with the communicants as a reminder of Christ breaking the bread at his Last Supper. The priest consumed bread and wine himself and then dispensed them ‘to other ministers . . . that they may be ready to help the chief minister’. This implies that the parish clerk could be used to help administer communion. The wafer was to be put straight into the mouth as before, so that it could not be abstracted for superstitious purposes. The wine was to be given from a chalice, but because medieval chalices were usually small (since only the priest drank the wine), it was permissible to use a cup instead. The chalices made after this time were accordingly larger in size than before. As before, the priest said ‘words of administration’ to each person when he gave the elements. These were similar to what had been said to medieval worshippers, and allowed them to believe that the elements were either the real body and blood of Christ or merely so in a symbolic sense: The body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.

Comparable words were used in giving the wine. While communion was in progress Agnes Dei could be sung by a choir, if there was one, together with sentences from scripture known as the ‘post-communion’. The priest then concluded by saying a prayer of thanksgiving on behalf of the communicants, followed by a blessing and dismissal: ‘The peace of God which passeth all understanding’. No place was kept for the opening chapter of John’s gospel, In principio, which was regarded by the Reformers as fostering superstition and merely took its place in the sequence of lessons and gospels during the year.86 The congregation’s part in saying the service was not necessarily very significant. There were numerous places where the Prayer Book required an ‘answer’ to the priest, but this could be done by the parish clerk, as in the past. The people had only to say ‘Glory be to thee, O Lord’ after the gospel and



‘Amen’ after the dismissal. They may also have replied, ‘But deliver us from evil’ at the end of the Lord’s Prayer. But Cranmer did not oblige the congregation to speak much more than they had done during a Latin mass, although he may have hoped that they would join in the ‘answers’ as time went on. His invitation to the people to receive communion failed to evoke a response. Most of them had come to associate the practice only with the special feast of Easter after the long fast and confession of Lent, or with times of danger of death such as childbirth, a pilgrimage abroad, or a terminal illness. Moreover the Prayer Book of 1549 took the traditional, highly serious view of taking communion. Anyone wishing to partake had to inform the priest on the previous evening, or at least before matins, with the possibility that those of evil life or wrong-doers might be told to abstain until they had repented and amended.87 The exhortation to the congregation warned people of the dangers of doing so unworthily, told them not receive unless they were willing to repent all their sins, and urged them to make satisfaction for any wrongs that they had done to others. All this must have deterred people from coming forward to receive. Cranmer foresaw that possibility, hence his provision of the second exhortation to those ‘negligent to come to the communion’, but it jarred with his wish to extend participation beyond the celebrating priest to include the lay community. With regard to the parish churches, the 1549 Prayer Book insisted that all adults should communicate at least once a year.88 It allowed for a second communion on Christmas Day and Easter Day to deal with large numbers of people. Beyond this it tried to establish a rota so that households should receive in turn on Sundays, in the way that they had formerly provided the parish loaf, with at least one person from the household taking part.89 In addition it sought to make a communion service follow a wedding, a funeral, and, if possible, the churching of a mother, in the hope that the congregations at these events would remain for communion.90 The rota seems not to have worked. Members of a congregation never like being singled out in worship as opposed to acting collectively. An Italian visitor to London in 1551 reported that merchants were sending a servant in order to comply.91 The plan was consequently abandoned in 1552 as was the funeral communion, although the wedding communion remained and the one after churching continued to be hoped for. So lay



communion was slow to develop beyond Easter Day and Cranmer was unwilling to allow the service to take place without it. Accordingly the 1549 Prayer Book provided that if the laity would not take part, no communion should be celebrated. The first part of the service (known later as the ‘antecommunion’) would still be held every Sunday and festival day. But it would proceed only as far as the offertory, after which the priest would say some additional prayers and dismiss the people with the final blessing.92 THE COMMUNION SERVICE OF 1552 The Prayer Book of 1552 reflected the defeat of the opposition to the Book of 1549, which enabled the communion liturgy to be revised in a more radical direction. The revision was also influenced by the difficulty of encouraging communion. Accordingly the communion service of 1552 underwent a significant reconstruction, altering its form from that of tradition and 1549. The communion was now to centre on the new table, altars having been abolished, and the table was to stand in the nave or the chancel, wherever morning and evening prayer were said. The clergyman began the service at the table which was covered with a white linen cloth to emphasise its link with the table of Christ’s Last Supper, and stood on its north side (to distinguish himself from a Catholic priest). The orientation of the table was not prescribed, but a clergyman who supported the reforms may have preferred it to stand east to west, rather than (like a Catholic altar) north to south. At the beginning of the service, the psalm that represented the old introit or office was abolished. No mention was made of music, and the Kyries, Nicene Creed, and offertory sentences were all directed to be said. The Kyries were now joined together with the Ten Commandments, which the Church had wished to be in the knowledge and practice of all Christians since the 1530s. Each commandment was read in full while the people knelt, and they were required to reply with an expanded Kyrie: ‘Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law’. Gloria in excelsis was removed from the beginning of the service to a later stage. There followed, as in 1549, prayers for the king, the epistle, gospel, Nicene Creed, and a sermon or homily. Announcements of holy days were once more prescribed, and the



request for money for the poor continued to be made with the Biblical texts (now ordered to be said) to commend it. This section of communion ended with the general prayer that, in 1549, had preceded the prayer of consecration. The prayer was now described as for ‘Christ’s Church militant here in earth’. It included the universal Church, the king, the English Church, and the people, but omitted any reference to saints or the dead. If no communion was to be celebrated, the service ended at this point with some additional prayers. The holding of the rest of the service, including the communion itself, was dependent on the willingness of members of the congregation to join the minister in receiving the bread and wine. The 1552 Book was exacting about this. There should be ‘a good number to communicate’ and if there were only twenty adults in the parish, four – or three at the least – must come forward to do so. To prevent mass abstention, every (adult) parishioner was now required to communicate at least three times in a year, of which Easter was to be one. In later times Christmas and Pentecost became the days observed, to which a day in the autumn was usually added, making four occasions in all.93 This was not altogether a new concept. We have seen that some medieval Church leaders tried to encourage three communions and that and royalty, at least, had come to partake three or four times.94 No special material was provided for additional communions on the three chief festivals, and no guidance was given on how to deal with large numbers of communicants. The rubric about frequency further included an order that every parishioner should negotiate and pay all his Church dues to the incumbent at Easter. The liturgy of communion in 1552 included three exhortations. Two of these were appropriate for reading on a previous occasion to the communion itself. The first, as in 1549, reproved those who neglected to receive the sacrament, while the second urged the congregation to examine their consciences, make peace with their neighbours, and if necessary go to their own or another minister to receive advice and comfort. The third exhortation, for the service itself, outlined the benefits of receiving the sacrament and the dangers of doing so in sin. It was followed by the call to confession, the general confession which was still made by one lay person or a minister on behalf of all, and the absolution. Then came the ‘comfortable words’, ‘Lift up your hearts’



(Sursum corda), the preface, the Sanctus, the prayer of humble access, and a much shortened prayer of consecration without signings of the cross. No provision was made for Agnus Dei because, as we shall see, Gloria in excelsis, which contains the same material, was moved to the end of the service. There followed the communion itself. The people knelt to receive, probably around the table, and very likely men before women but possibly both together according to rank. Kneeling was explained in a rubric as a sign of gratitude to Christ, not as a veneration of the sacrament. The 1552 Book, like that of 1549, still thought of communion as the spiritual eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood.95 This was only in a spiritual sense, however, ‘For as concerning the sacramental bread and wine, they remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored, for that were idolatry to be abhorred by all faithful Christians.’96 The minister and his assistants received communion first, bread then wine, the bread now being required to be ‘such as is usual to be eaten at the table . . . but the best and purest white bread that conveniently may be gotten’. This bread was broken or sliced into pieces and if anything was left over, the priest was authorised to take it home for his personal use, along with any superfluous wine.97 The bread in this form was intended to represent the Last Supper more realistically and to emphasise (like the secular use of the bread and wine) that the elements were not consecrated. For the same reason, when the priest gave them out to the congregation, a piece of the bread was put into the hands of each worshipper, not into the mouth as before. The words of administration were changed to make the same point: Take and eat this, in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving,

and similarly with the wine. The minister then led the congregation in saying the Lord’s Prayer, whose members were required to repeat each clause. After this he recited a form of the second part of the prayer of consecration, followed by Gloria in excelsis which could be said or sung. Cranmer evidently thought this more appropriate as an act of worship after receiving communion than at the beginning of the service, but since it was placed between a



prayer and a blessing it tended to become a prayer of thanksgiving rather than the hymn that it had been hitherto. Proceedings closed, as before, with the blessing and dismissal. The result of the changes of 1549 and 1552 was that Sunday worship continued to follow its traditional form of matins, mass, and evensong, but the mass was now reduced on nearly every occasion to the ante-communion without the consecration and communion. Sunday services became more instructive, partly because they were in English. Parishioners who attended both morning and afternoon worship would hear several psalms, six Bible readings (including an epistle and gospel), and a sermon or homily. Services were now more penitential. They included a general confession at matins and the whole of the litany, which from 1552 followed morning prayer on Sundays as well as on Wednesdays and Fridays. There were the promises to obey the Ten Commandments in the ante-communion, and a further general confession at evensong. The Prayer Books did not contain any provision for private confession to a priest, which ceased to be a requirement for Christians after June 1549, although the offer of counselling was made in 1552. Instead the laity were given a stronger discipline of confession in a communal form on every Sunday at church. There was a requirement for congregations to kneel during confessions and the final prayers of matins and evensong, but apart from standing for the Apostles’ Creed in 1552, very little was said about people’s postures. This enabled traditional customs to be followed or (in the long run, after 1559) to be ignored. BAP TISM, CHURCHING, AND CONFIRMATION The English Reformers continued to uphold the other six traditional pastoral services: baptism, confirmation, the churching of women, marriage, the visitation and communion of the sick, and burials. The principal change to baptism in 1549 was that it was no longer to be done on the day of birth but on the following Sunday after matins, although immediate baptism remained lawful in cases of danger to life and could still be done by a lay person: man or woman.98 Instructions for this were included in the 1549 Book, for the first time, together with an amended liturgy to use when such babies were



eventually brought to church.99 The concentration of baptism on Sundays meant that more than one baby might be present for the purpose, and the rite now made provision for a crowd of people attending. The service began outside the church door, as before, but could be moved into the church if there were too many to stand there. The priest began by making the sign of the cross on the baby’s head and breast, and followed this with a prayer of exorcism but without the use of saliva. The Gospel of Mark was read and the minister expounded it in a brief exhortation, after which the baby was brought into church where the godparents made the traditional promises. The font still held water permanently, as in the past. It was to be changed every month, and the minister was required to say prayers over the water each time it was renewed, but without ceremonial actions or use of oil and chrism. In 1549 the baby was dipped in the water three times, in the customary way, although the pouring of water alone was allowable if it was weak. The godparents raised the baby from the font as before, and the priest put the white chrisom cloth upon it, after which he anointed it on the head and said a prayer. He then gave instructions. The child must be taught the Lord’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed, and Ten Commandments (replacing Ave Maria), be encouraged to attend sermons to learn about the faith, and be brought to the bishop for confirmation. The chrisom cloth should be returned to the church when the mother was churched. The Prayer Book of 1552, in contrast, shed much of this. There was no longer a first part at the church door: the participants met at the font. The font ceased to hold water permanently and water was now poured in for each occasion without any prayer by the minister. The signing of the cross on the baby’s forehead and breast at the beginning of the service was omitted, and the prayer of exorcism disappeared. The triple baptism in the font became a single ‘dipping’ in the water or alternatively the pouring on of water, and the anointing and chrisom cloth were discontinued. The only ritual action apart from the baptism itself was that after it took place, the minister made one sign of the cross on the baby’s forehead. Even this would become a bone of contention with Puritans later in the sixteenth century.100 Baptism continued to have its two sequels, one for the mother and one for the child. The churching rite for the mother was still called a



‘purification’ in 1549, but this was changed to be a ‘thanksgiving’ three years later. The rite was short and similar to the medieval one except that it did not take place at the church door. It began in 1549 with the mother kneeling ‘in some convenient place nigh unto the choir door’ and in 1552 near the communion table. In 1549 the woman still returned the chrisom cloth and there was an echo of Sarum and York in that the rite could be done at a communion service, in which case the woman was encouraged to receive the bread and wine. By 1552 the chrisom cloth had gone, along with all holy objects, and the service was solely one of prayers, although it too could precede a communion service; if so, the mother should remain to partake.101 For the child the sequel was confirmation by the bishop. Here the Reformers made a substantial difference by forbidding it to be done, as it sometimes had been, before the child was several years old. He or she was now required to undergo instruction before confirmation. The expectation of the Church in the Middle Ages, that parents, godparents, and sometimes clergy should give instruction in the three basic prayers, was replaced by an examination: the catechism.102 This was a series of questions and answers, included in the Prayer Book, which set out to ensure that children knew the promises made on their behalf by their godparents. They had to be able to say the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer, and recite the meaning of the texts. Parish clergy were required to hold classes for children in the catechism before Sunday evensong at least once every six weeks. Confirmation could be administered once children could say and comprehend the catechism: no specific age was laid down.103 In 1549 they were to be brought to the bishop by a godparent for a short service, the pivot of which involved the bishop naming the child, laying hands on his or her head, and making the sign of the cross on the forehead.104 The naming and crossing were both omitted in 1552. Each Prayer Book preserved the thirteenth-century rule that confirmation must precede taking communion and at least in the 1560s the Church still held to the medieval custom that children should not be allowed to take communion until they were twelve or thirteen.105 The old problem remained that bishops’ visits were rare, especially in remote areas, while suffragan bishops disappeared soon after the Reformation. When indifference by parents was added, many children must



have reached adulthood still unconfirmed and may well have been communicants nevertheless. MARRIAGE, THE VISITATION OF THE SICK, AND FUNERALS The Prayer-Book marriage service did not change between 1549 and 1552.106 It followed tradition in requiring banns to be called in the parish or parishes of both parties on three Sundays or festivals. Weddings were now envisaged as taking place on a Sunday morning alongside a communion service and no restriction was stated as to the time of year. Cranmer intended marriages to be permissible in any season, but his Reformatio Legum of 1552–3 which aimed to make this legal was never enacted.107 As a result, unless one gained a special dispensation, the traditional prohibitions remained in force: from Advent Sunday to the Sunday after Epiphany, Septuagesima to the Sunday after Easter, and Rogation Sunday to Trinity Sunday.108 On the other hand no distinction was now made between a first and a second marriage. The service followed tradition in having two parts: the public exchange of vows followed by a blessing and a communion service. The exchange of vows, however, was transferred from the church door to the nave and became more instructive, with an opening explanation of the purpose of marriage. Custom was followed in expecting the bride to be ‘given’ to the groom by her father or another relative. Indeed Cranmer wished to make marriages unlawful beneath the age of majority without the consent of a parent or guardian. He included a requirement for that in the Reformation Legum, but its failure to gain approval thwarted this aim as well.109 The marriage vows remained similar to those that had evolved in the later Middle Ages, with minor word changes, and the vows for groom and bride were identical except that the bride made an additional promise to obey. The groom still gave a ring and symbolic money, using the traditional words, but he now put the ring straight on to the bride’s finger rather than in stages as before. Cranmer introduced one change by having the ring placed on the bride’s left hand, rather than her right hand as before, apparently because he believed that the left hand had been used in the early Church.110 He also gave to the



priest, from a German source, the ringing declaration of the marriage: ‘Those whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder’. The couple then went into the chancel and knelt before the altar, or in 1552 to wherever the communion table was sited. There blessings and prayers were pronounced but without the ceremony of the veil. The intention remained (even in the Book of 1552 and its successor in 1559) that a communion service would follow, with a sermon or the reading of a homily after the gospel to expound the virtues of marriage, and the taking of communion by the bridal couple. It was not until 1662 that the communion service ceased to be the expected conclusion. What the Prayer-Book services did not mention (but did not forbid) were the wedding customs that accompanied the marriage. These continued: the formal bringing of the groom and the bride to church – sometimes with bagpipes and fiddles, the drinking of wine and ‘sops’ after the blessing, and the celebrations that followed.111 The visitation of the sick accorded with tradition in being centred on a statement of belief by the sick person, a confession, and prayers of encouragement.112 In 1549 the patient was still anointed with oil in the sign of the cross, albeit only upon the forehead or breast. This was discontinued in 1552. The visitation could be followed by giving communion. In the first Prayer Book the bread and wine might be brought from the church if there were a communion that day, or a fresh communion service might be held in the sick person’s house. The second Book allowed only the second of these options and stipulated that a ‘good number’ of people should be present to receive the bread and wine with the sick person, unless at a time of contagious disease when no one was willing to come. The Prayer-Book burial service was notable in being the only one to retain an element of procession, which had been removed from all other occasions.113 According to the two Books, the priest’s role was reduced to meeting the corpse and mourners at the churchyard gate and walking in front of them saying or singing Biblical texts. Was the churchyard gate meeting retained because in some places a penny was offered to the clergyman at that point?114 In practice the funerals of the wealthy often involved longer journeys from the place of death to the church, and these might include the singing of texts by clerks along the way.115 Having arrived at the church, the



procession could enter the building for the liturgy or go straight to the grave. In 1549 a celebration of communion like the old requiem mass was still allowed but this was discontinued in 1552. Ritual actions were reduced to a minimum. In 1549 the body was simply placed in the grave and the minister cast some earth upon the corpse, referring to him or her as ‘thou’. The dead person was commended to God, psalms were said, and the long lesson on death was read from the First Epistle to the Corinthians.116 In 1552 the service still allowed the singing of texts on the way into church, but it was shortened by the removal of three psalms, the reference to the deceased as ‘thou’ was changed to ‘he’ or ‘she’, and the casting of earth was given to the bystanders. Most of the material in 1552 was said after the burial, either by the grave or in church, making the service more of an occasion for instructing the living than of commending the dead. Indeed prayer for the dead in 1552 survived only in one petition that God might soon complete the number of his chosen people (the ‘elect’) and that the dead man or woman, together with all the faithful, might attain bliss in body and soul in the glory of God.117 As Diarmaid MacCulloch has observed, ‘The Church surrendered its power over death [i.e. its belief that it could affect life after death with its prayers] to the Lord of life and death in heaven.’118 Nevertheless enough of the past remained for a Puritan writer in 1571 to claim that the service still maintained prayer for the dead, and as with marriage, it continued to take place in tandem with established customs. Bells were rung, mourning dress was worn, a white or black cross might be placed on the corpse, and refreshments or a feast be given afterwards, including the sending of cakes to absent friends.119 And despite the Reformation, traditional beliefs about death and the dead would linger long among many people: still powerful but losing touch with the theology that had shaped them hitherto.120 CHANGE FROM 1553 TO 1559 The process of change came to a stop with the death of Edward VI in July 1553 and the accession of his sister Mary. Cranmer was deprived of office in the following November. It is not appropriate here to describe in detail the



restoration of Catholicism in England during Mary’s reign which ended in November 1558. That is because her restoration did not succeed in permanently undoing the Reformation in England, although it had two important achievements. One was to stop the momentum of policy that had developed in Edward’s reign, which seems likely to have led to more radical changes if time had allowed. When the Reformed Church was re-established, this happened under a new queen, Elizabeth I, with more traditional sympathies. The other achievement was to sharpen the distinction between the old and the new forms of religion. A distinction had been growing under Edward VI. The tolerance of the early part of his reign, shown by the abolition of the heresy laws and the moderation noticeable in parts of the 1549 Prayer Book, had given way to more stringent Reforming policies by 1553. The polarisation of new and old increased in Mary’s reign, with its executions for heresy and the driving of Reformist leaders into exile where they learnt more radical ideas. By 1558 many Reformers were more anxious to avoid beliefs and practices that they felt to be Catholic, while some Catholics were more determined to cling to the old faith than to compromise with the new, despite persecution and becoming a small percentage of the population. After Elizabeth I succeeded Mary in 1558, the Reformed Church of England was re-established largely as it had been towards the end of Edward’s reign, but with several reversions to earlier tradition. A new Prayer Book was authorised to be used from 24 June, Midsummer Day, 1559.121 Meanwhile another set of royal injunctions was issued, which complemented the Prayer Book in certain respects.122 The Book was based on that of 1552 with some limited but significant changes. Morning and evening prayer were directed to be said not ‘in such place as the people may best hear’ but ‘in the accustomed place of the church, chapel, or chancel’.123 Elizabeth or her agents were concerned to keep the chancel in use as a liturgical space, at least as a possibility. A prayer in the litany, for deliverance from the ‘tyranny of the bishop of Rome and all his detestable enormities’, was tactfully omitted. The communion service continued to require the willingness of a ‘good number’ of people to receive communion; otherwise it was to conclude with the offertory for the poor and some further prayers. But the words of administration from 1549 and 1552 were coupled together:



The body of our Lord Jesu Christ which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life: and take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, feed on him in thine heart by faith, with thanksgiving,

with a comparable sentence for the wine.124 This allowed the worshipper again to understand communion in more than one sense. Another mixture of old and new – indeed a confusion – was that the Prayer Book directed the use of white table bread in the communion as in 1552, while the injunctions ordered it to be in the form of wafers.125 And there came to be a change in the official understanding of what happened at communion although it was not expressed in the Prayer Book. In 1573 a clergyman of Puritan sympathies, Robert Johnson, ran out of communion wine while dispensing it. He produced more from his store and gave it out as it was. He was prosecuted for not having said the prayer of consecration over it. He argued that the communion service was a memorial of the Last Supper, not a consecration. He had said the prayer already and that was enough. Cranmer in 1552 would have agreed with him, and neither the Book of 1552 nor that of 1559 ordered repetition of the words. Now the Church authorities regarded communion once more as a consecration of bread and wine, so that any additional resources had to be prayed over again. Johnson was sent to prison where he died.126 These were not the only returns to older practices. The clergy were told to wear not merely a surplice but a vestment at communion, although this proved hard to enforce.127 The injunctions laid down that the communion table should normally be placed where the altar had been, in other words at the east end of the chancel, and dressed in a covering. It was to be moved into the chancel or nave when a communion was held, for audibility and convenience, but it must be returned to the east end afterwards.128 Another injunction insisted that the laity should bow and men should remove their headgear whenever the name of Jesus was pronounced in a service.129 A third referred approvingly to ‘the laudable science of music’ in church, and sanctioned its continuance as long as it was ‘modest and distinct’ so that the words being sung were understood.130 This enabled a choir to sing an anthem



at the end of an Office service and even some of the parts of the communion service. The concession did not revive polyphonic music in parish churches to the extent of the 1530s, but it enabled the practice to continue in some places. A further link with the past was a revival of the Rogation processions. It came about in the following way. Cranmer, in his abortive canon law of 1552–3, concluded that communities should be made aware of their parish boundaries. This may have come from a fear that these would be forgotten after the old processions were stopped in 1548. Parishes at this time were developing into important units of secular government. Since the reign of Henry VIII, they had been given responsibilities for poor relief, the upkeep of roads, and the organisation of the militia. Parish officers needed to know their exact territorial responsibilities with regard to these matters. Accordingly Cranmer proposed that the clergyman of the parish, the churchwardens, and four men chosen by the wardens should go round the parish every year in Pentecost week (two weeks later than Rogationtide) to inspect the boundaries and marks, and write them down in a book.131 Cranmer’s proposals were evidently remembered and were revived by the injunctions of 1559, with a few conservative embellishments typical of Elizabeth’s religious leanings. The procession was still restricted to the clergy­ ­man and substantial men of the parish, but their number was not defined. The three Rogation Days remained officially days of fasting, but the procession became a single event, usually on Ascension Day, the Thursday of the same week.132 Its purpose was described as ‘to thank God for the increase and abundance of his fruits’ and to curse whoever ‘translateth [moves] the bounds and doles [portions] of his neighbour’.133 Boundaries were a potent subject of disagreement in places where farmers held strips of land in open fields or shares of a meadow. A liturgy was prescribed for use on the journeys (but not included in the Prayer Book), consisting of Psalms 103 and 104 with the litany. A homily was also published for reading, divided into three parts perhaps to allow its delivery at different stations.134 The restoration of the processions was popular and traditional practices were revived, to the annoyance of some of Elizabeth’s bishops who were mostly greater Reformers than the queen herself. During the 1560s and 70s



at least three of them forbade the presence on the processions of women and ‘young light folk’, the wearing of surplices, the carrying of banners or handbells, pausing at crosses, or drinking except for necessary refreshment.135 Despite these directions, some clergy went on wearing surplices, gospels were read, women took part, boys were included (to pass knowledge of the boundaries down the generations), and refreshment often burgeoned again into feasts.136 CONCLUSION: CHANGE AND CONTINUITY The Reformers have left a strong impression of the changes they made: the destruction of so much of the format and spirit of worship in the Middle Ages with the substitution of a new order. They, of course, did not regard such changes as innovations but as restoring the Church to the principles and practices of the Apostles and the early Church Fathers from the divergences of medieval Catholicism. At the same time Church life continued as before in many respects during the mid and later sixteenth century. There were features that the Reformers did not think or wish to change. There were ways in which their changes were ineffective or resisted, so that they weakened or failed. Let us review these matters through the lens of this volume: the experience of worshippers in church. Many of the changes characteristic of the Reformation can be classified under the word ‘uniformity’. From the 1530s onwards, the crown and its allies in the Church strove to enforce the same order on every parish church. This had been done in the past but more intermittently and partially; now it was attempted universally and quickly, although observances were slower than commands. Uniformity reflected the confidence of monarchs and Church leaders that they had discovered the truth more fully than previous generations and were therefore qualified to impose it on everyone. As a parliamentary act of 1548 expressed it, ‘The king’s subjects now [have] a more perfect and clear light of the gospel and true word of God . . . by the hands of the king’s majesty and his most noble father’.137 The tool for enforcing such confidence was printing: enabling the production and distribution of identical texts. Each church was prescribed a single liturgy: the



Prayer Book. True, all medieval parish churches had staged a similar matins, mass, and evensong, but it had been impossible to ensure that all the texts were identical even in one of the Uses. The complexities of the calendar and the popularity of votive masses of different kinds had led to further variety. Now there was only one Prayer Book: printed by official order, simple in its structure and calendar, and the same everywhere. The church incumbent, or the chaplain he employed, had always been responsible for the cure of souls including the leading of services. But incumbent or chaplain became, more often than before, the only clergyman officiating in the church and the parish, through the removal of other kinds of priests. The Prayer Books of 1552 and 1559 introduced the word ‘minister’ to describe him but they could not manage without ‘priest’ as well and used both terms, sometimes within the same service.138 People continued to call him ‘Sir John’ or ‘Sir William’ until about 1600, as they are shown as doing in Shakespeare’s plays. Yet his status was changing. He could be married. He had lost whatever distinction had come from celebrating frequent masses, hearing confessions, or saying prayers for the dead. On the other hand he had gained new importance in a Church of England governed by the crown, which made him more of a royal officer than before. He read an official liturgy, preached the official homilies, and kept the official record of births, marriages, and deaths. When, from the 1530s, the crown began to make the parish a unit of local government he became an agent in these matters.139 He now presided over a more uniform church community. The disappearance of religious houses and chapels removed the possibility of worshipping and socialising for worship on Sundays and festivals anywhere but in one’s parish church or authorised chapel-of-ease. Indeed the injunctions of 1559 forbade doing so, with the exception of a special sermon being preached in a neighbouring church.140 In a cathedral city, perhaps, someone might attend the cathedral liturgy as an additional devotion in the early morning or the afternoon, but for most of the countryside there was no alternative. Not only did the parish church become the centre of nearly all worship, but only one kind of worship now took place within it: a single morning and a single evening service. These were almost always held in the same part of the church. Communion required the priest and the communicants to move to



the holy table, but that was a rare event. Only baptism demanded the use of another area, where the font was located. No further places of devotion remained: images or side altars. What had been a house of many rooms became for religious purposes a single room. The priest and congregation were brought closer together in what they did. Under the Latin rite it had been permissible to take one’s beads to church and say the basic prayers or read a Book of Hours while the Office or mass went on in the chancel. Now that the liturgy was in English and mostly in the nave, lay people were expected to follow it, mentally and verbally. A Catholic in Mary’s reign could be imagined as saying, ‘Now I may have leisure to pray; afore [under Edward VI] we could not pray for harkening to the priest’.141 This does not mean that all congregations immediately adopted the role assigned to them and acted as dutiful listeners. A Puritan in 1571 would yet complain that ‘the people, some standing, some walking, some talking, some reading, some praying by themselves, attend not to the minister’.142 The Church authorities were still anticipating such problems in the reign of James I.143 Worship turned from a largely Latin liturgy to one entirely in English. The new services were more educational. They brought a deeper knowledge of the Bible and more exhortations about God’s laws and human behaviour. The greater familiarity with the Old and New Testaments that resulted can be seen in Shakespeare’s plays which take for granted a wide acquaintance with their contents.144 The Reformers cleared out much of the spiritual practice of the Middle Ages. Ceremonial was minimised. Images of Christ and the saints disappeared except in windows or on inaccessible stonework, and so did almost all consecrated objects and substances. There were two exceptions: the concept of consecration in the communion service, previously mentioned, and the consecration of a few new churches in Elizabeth’s reign and those of the early Stuart kings. But the memory of the saints was largely expunged, except for Mary, Michael, and the Apostles, with the disuse of readings from their Lives. Most of the patron saints of churches became forgotten except in towns with multiple churches, and were rediscovered or re-invented only in the eighteenth century.145 Not only did images go but even the cross as a symbol. The authorities saw it as no less offensive than a religious statue or painting although it



managed to survive at the beginning of the alphabet in some school textbooks. No portable or processional crosses remained, and the palm crosses built in churchyards were mostly demolished. Imagery was reduced to a single example: the royal coat of arms in a prominent place, signalling that the Church was now under the monarch’s governance.146 Texts were displayed as had long been the case, but those of prayers to saints gave way to boards containing the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Commandments.147 The first two had not been needed before, because they had been widely known in Latin and by heart, but the Commandments had appeared in some churches, as we have seen.148 No image or text was now an object of worship, however, and churches lacked a focus for devotion from 1550 to 1553 and again after 1559. The communion table was dressed, if the 1559 injunctions were followed, but it carried no lights or symbols. The minister’s desk and the pulpit provided a centre of attention, but hardly more. Not until the Laudian re-ordering of churches in the 1620s and 30s, with the permanent placing of the table altar-wise at the east end and its decoration with candlesticks and a Bible, was such a focus restored. Alongside the changes, there was as much that stayed as before. Church congregations in Tudor England still lived in the world that had come into being when the Roman emperors became Christian in the fourth century. The leaders of the Reformation in England took it for granted, as their medieval predecessors had done, that the Christian religion was essential to the wellbeing of the world, the kingdom, and each community, family, and person. The Church must encompass everyone: if no longer from the actual day of their birth, from a very short time later. The enforcement of infant baptism continued to rule out personal consent, and every baptism was now registered. Children and adults alike had to conform to Christianity as it was understood and regulated by the crown and the Church authorities. They were required to learn its basic prayers and doctrines, and to attend church, at least from puberty, on all Sundays and festivals. The injunctions of 1559 were as stringent about this as the medieval laws had been: indeed they planned that three or four men in each parish should monitor church attendance and report offenders.149 The systems in which parishioners lived continued to be largely traditional ones. For a brief period in and after 1540, Henry VIII considered a



radical rearrangement of the government of the Church through its bishops and dioceses. But only five of each were created permanently, affecting seven counties.150 Most diocesan boundaries remained the same, as did those of archdeaconries, rural deaneries, and peculiar jurisdictions. Parish boundaries endured and were strengthened as parishes acquired a role in secular government. Extra-parochial and tithe-free areas continued to exist, even those relating to extinct monasteries and friaries. So did the ancient courts that regulated religious matters, moral behaviour, and wills in all these jurisdictions. Churches still had patrons who chose their clergy and presented them to the bishop for institution, although as we have seen, there were changes of patronage. The clergy went on being rectors, vicars, or chaplains: the latter being either assistant clergy or clergy operating in those benefices once directly run by religious houses. They continued to receive and rely on the traditional tithes and offerings, including such quaint details as ‘mainport’: the offering of loaves to the incumbent by the wives of the parish at certain seasons such as Easter.151 Indeed one could say that the authorities were careful to safeguard all the ancient clergy revenues except for those that came from prayers for the dead. Likewise the financing of the parish church continued to depend on the efforts of churchwardens and others to raise funds. Churches and churchyards remained as places of sanctuary from the law. A statute of 1540 reaffirmed the fact, and their status in this respect was not abolished until 1624.152 Going to church still meant to the church building in its medieval physical structure. There was no concept of rebuilding it, despite the fact that its layout reflected the needs of an older form of religion. Instead the Reformers aimed at altering its furnishings and decorations, with the removal of altars and religious images. Yet a parishioner of 1530 who returned in 1560 would have found four major furnishings unchanged: the font, the pulpit, the seating, and the screens. True the screen was reduced in two respects. The rood images were removed in 1548 and again in 1559, while the loft above the screen that had contained them was ordered to be dismantled in 1561. At the same time churches were told to replace the vanished loft with ‘some convenient crest’: the screen was still intended to look decorous.153 Most



services now came to take place in the nave, where the clergyman and clerk were established with seats and the pulpit, although the Elizabethan rules still allowed the chancel to be used for worship as an alternative to the nave, especially for communion. The communion table was still meant to stand at the east end when not in use, with a covering of silk or buckram.154 Some churches removed their chancel screens during Elizabeth’s reign, perhaps because they no longer appeared to have any function.155 But in many others, perhaps the majority, the screen remained as the horizon towards which the congregation looked, albeit that any images on it were painted over or replaced by texts from the English Bible. A returning visitor would also have noticed most tombs in place, although it was necessary in 1560 for the crown to forbid anyone to remove their stones and brass-work for alleged religious reasons.156 Indeed the scope for burials and monuments in churches was now increased, since they could occupy the flooring and walls of superfluous areas such as chapels, unless these were needed for seating. Outside the church the porch stood as before although it lost its liturgical functions. So did the churchyard. It no longer featured in processions, other than the short one of the corpse from the church stile to the church or grave, but it remained an enclosed area protected against improper use. However the old prohibitions excluding suicides and the excommunicated, still being upheld in 1535, were relaxed after 1547.157 The Edwardian and Elizabethan injunctions ordered clergy to bury whoever was brought to church, and Cranmer’s projected canon law of 1553 made no mention of any restrictions.158 This enabled the burial of still-born infants which had been illegal in the past. Parishioners remained obliged to keep the Church’s disciplines and seasons. Disciplines included observing the rules about receiving the sacraments, attending church, and behaving properly there. Much of Church law remained largely as before, and had to be obeyed on pain of arraignment and punishment. Indeed the failure of the Reformers to establish a new code of law in 1535 and 1553 meant that English ecclesiastical lawyers had to go on referring to the medieval Roman canon law.159 Notably the rules about where and when one might marry stayed in most respects as they had always been.160 Excommunication continued as a sanction, and the denunciation of



sinful people that had been held on four Sundays of the year was retained in the form of a new ‘Commination’ or cursing service. This was at first required to be held in church after matins on Ash Wednesday. It cursed those who had broken the Ten Commandments as well as worshippers of images, slanderers, drunkards, extortioners, and invaders of their neighbours’ boundary marks.161 In 1559 the service was permitted for use at ‘divers times in the year’, and several Elizabethan bishops ordered it to take place a further three or four times between the litany and the communion on a Sunday before Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.162 Weekly and seasonal observances continued too, as we have seen in the case of the prohibited seasons for marriage. Wednesdays and Fridays were still special days of the week, as they had been before, at least in church where the litany had to be said. Fasting, in the form of abstinence from meat or moderation of diet, remained an official requirement throughout the sixteenth century.163 Under Edward VI, while many other changes were being made, a statute of 1548 forbade the eating of meat on Fridays, Saturdays, Ember Days, and in Lent, although Henry VIII’s relaxation in favour of dairy products remained in force.164 A further statute in 1552 added the vigils or eves of the four major festivals of Christ and twelve of the saints.165 Full fasting was officially restored under Mary Tudor, while under Elizabeth, from 1560, annual proclamations were made to the effect that meat could not be sold or consumed in Lent.166 Friday fasting was still insisted on in 1596 and some people continued to extend this to Wednesdays and Saturdays, while the vigils remained officially in place until the Civil War and were indeed reaffirmed in the Prayer Book of 1662.167 Fasts on occasions of national emergency went on being ordered from time to time, down to the nineteenth century. Churchgoing kept much of its ancient character. People were still required to be present in church for a substantial amount of time on Sundays. Matins, the litany, the ante-communion, and a sermon or homily must have taken an hour and a half or more. Evensong was probably shorter than before, at a half or three quarters of an hour. The congregation still had little to do in the services. Clergyman and clerk bore the burden, and the contributions required of their audience were small, at least to begin with. Some aspects of behaviour in church underwent change. In 1549 Cranmer took a tolerant



view of the subject. ‘As touching [concerning] kneeling, crossing [oneself ], holding up of hands, knocking upon the breast, and other gestures, they may be used or left, as every man’s devotion serveth, without blame.’168 The Book of 1552 was less sympathetic. The notes on behaviour of 1549 were omitted, and it is unlikely that crossing oneself and beating the breast would have been encouraged in view of their Catholic associations. By Elizabeth’s reign, clergy were certainly forbidden to make the sign of the cross other than that which was made once in baptisms.169 But not all ancient postures and gestures ceased to be followed. Kneeling remained a requirement: now specified for saying confessional material and prayers, reading the litany, and receiving communion. As we have seen, the practices of standing for the gospel and of bowing or kneeling at the name of Jesus, with doffing of the hat by men, continued in the later sixteenth century.170 They survived because, as in the Middle Ages, they were part of social etiquette outside church and therefore seemed appropriate inside. Holding one’s hands together in prayer remained popular, to judge from how often they are shown in this way on funeral monuments after the Reformation. Most of all, seating provided continuity between the old services and the new ones. It must have offered reassurance. The owner of a seat enjoyed comfort, personal space, and a secure place in both church and community according to his or her status. The Reformers aimed to change what happened in people’s heads, but wisely avoided interfering with what they did with their bottoms. Reform, like all such endeavours, was limited in what it could compel. Parishioners were not wholly amenable to what was required of them. It took time to encourage their active participation in the church liturgy. This improved after 1559 with the rise of the singing of metrical psalms and the increasing use of personal copies of the Prayer Book. But the popular reluctance to receive communion, as we have seen, reduced full communion services to three or four times a year. Even then not all the adult congregation received. People clung to tradition in other respects: in the folk customs traditional to baptisms, marriages, and funerals. Churches went on being decorated for these services, at least by wealthy people. Refreshments were served and feasting followed. Funerals in particular could still include watching beside the deceased at night as well as a magnificent procession to



the church by day with banners and heraldry, clerks singing texts, poor men in mourning clothes, and distributions of food and money afterwards.171 A small minority remained faithful to Catholicism, some attending church but others – the ‘recusants’ – avoiding doing so. On the other hand radical Puritans were soon criticising the Church of England in respect of its government and its liturgy, and minimising or ignoring its requirements in church. Most commonly of all, many people ignored the efforts of the Reformers to make them more godly. Resistance to church dues and church attendance continued. Breaches of the moral code went on being made. The year 1559, of course, was not a terminus. Religion and society continued to evolve but this study must leave them to do so. As of old, variations would remain in how liturgy was enacted and how clergy and laity behaved, and these would now be enhanced by the presence of Catholic sympathisers and Puritans for whom the Church was either too radical or too unreformed. The motive for including the Reformation within this book, up to its re-establishment in that year, has been to show how the institutions and practices that were built up during the Middle Ages fared under the ambitious reforms that began in the early 1530s. These reforms undoubtedly made great changes, and enable us to put a closing date on many traditions. The papal headship of the Church, indulgences, monasteries and chantries, compulsory celibacy, Latin services, image veneration, and numerous calendar observances – at least as manifested inside churches – can all be said to have passed away. The result of describing the reforms, on the other hand, has been to show how much survived from before. Reformers remained attached to many aspects of the past: a Christian state and society, parish structures, church patronage, infant baptism, a set liturgy with traditional features, adult communion, and many calendar observances. Churches could only be adapted, not rebuilt, for Reformed worship. It was unwise to push congregations too far: there had to be some concession to popular usages, notably seating. People’s habits and preferences continued to determine the extent to which change would happen locally. The Reformation may be likened to a tide washing over a reef. At the upper level the tide carries all before it, but underneath the reef remains: in historical terms the resistant compound of customs, vested interests, and stubborn human nature.


9 J


Who went to church in medieval England, and what happened when they went? Reviewing these questions at the end of this study, it must be admitted that there are difficulties in providing answers. The kingdom of England contained some 9,500 parish churches by about 1300, and many more chapels. These were not uniform but differed in their locations, buildings, staffing, congregations, furnishings, and probably certain local customs. Parishes and churches, over the six hundred years from King Edgar to Elizabeth I, varied in size and wealth and underwent changes in their populations, economies, buildings, and worship. The evidence for churchgoing is widely scattered in sources that include archaeology, architecture and furnishings, iconography, liturgy, music, treatises, documents, and imaginative literature. No one writer can easily collect and evaluate the evidence according to the best standards of each of these disciplines. As much may remain to be found as is known already, and it is dangerous to assume the absence of anything from an absence of records about it. The evidence changes with time. Much more may be learnt about the later than the earlier Middle Ages, especially after 1400. The archaeological records tend to be early, whereas the architectural ones come mostly from after 1100. The majority of Church legislation relates to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries when laws and structures were being established, while the evidence for their working is mainly to be found from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries. Churchwardens’ accounts are extant only in that latter period. Liturgical texts survive from the earliest times, but the rubrics explaining how the texts should be performed chiefly date from the thirteenth century onwards, as do people’s personal prayer books. Even when



sources exist, many – like laws, liturgies, and prescriptive books by religious writers – tell us more about what Church leaders and scholars thought should happen, or was happening, than they give us accurate information about real people. Most evidence, except for burials, is more concerned with the activities of the rich than of the poor, of men than of women, and of adults than of children. We possess very little in terms of personal records. Autobiography of someone’s churchgoing and religious experiences like that of Margery Kempe is rare indeed. Much more exists in the shape of prayer books and devotional manuals owned by medieval people and sometimes annotated by them. But these belonged to the wealthier and literate, and the present study has been designed to focus on churchgoing, not on devotional life outside church. Many wills survive from the thirteenth century onwards in which testators expressed their faith and their wishes about funerals and religious bequests. These too come largely from the higher ranks of society, and while they often convey personal beliefs and preferences, they are not wholly spontaneous documents. As has already been said, most of those that exist were drawn up close to death, often by clergy or scribes who followed a recognised format. The format expected the making of certain professions of faith and bequests such as small sums to the cathedral, the incumbent for forgotten tithes, and the local friaries. It is likely that these expectations often shaped the details of the will. Prayer books, wills, and churchwardens’ accounts can also give a misleading impression, since they reflect the beliefs and record the work of those who were pious and active in religious matters. Alongside such evidence we need to consider the many examples of non-conformity in terms of disbelief, unwillingness, or sheer mental inability to accept the Church’s doctrines and follow its rules. It has been important to include these in this book, to dispel any notion that the Middle Ages were purely a time of faith, and orthodox faith at that. The proposal has already been made that nonconformity should not be defined merely in terms of ‘rational’ counterarguments by such people as Lollards. If such a definition is adopted, the extent of non-conformity may indeed appear to have been rather limited. Most dissent took the form of church thefts, assaults on clergy, refusal to pay



58.  A new use for an abbey. At Malmesbury, Wiltshire, the clergy and congregation moved from their parish church to occupy part of the abbey church nearby.

tithes, absence from church, breaches of the moral law, and sceptical comments. Arguably these too represented dissociation from the demands of religion, although the Church authorities chose to categorise and punish them in different ways from those they regarded as heresy. There is a history, yet to be written, of those who doubted or scorned the Church’s doctrines and flouted its rules and obligations. It will be a difficult history to reconstruct from the disapproving general remarks of orthodox writers and from the rather repetitive acts of defiance that have left a record. At the same time, such acts had a context. They often happened because of particular conditions and grievances. There were contacts among sceptics and offenders, at least to the extent of alehouse conversations and the emboldening of one person by the truculence of another. The difficulties of establishing church experiences lessen when we approach the subject by way of communities. It is certainly possible to re-create the religious and social structures in which churchgoing took place. The framework was the parish, and although parishes varied hugely



in character, the resources of maps and local histories go far to reveal the individual features of each one. Many medieval church buildings are extant, and while their fabrics and furnishings have undergone great changes, much remains of their past. Adding to this what we can learn from liturgical and documentary records enables us to be fairly confident about the ways in which churches functioned and were used. The staffing of parish churches has generally left records of rectors and vicars from the thirteenth century. After the 1370s there are occasionally more detailed lists of clergy including chaplains, enabling us to envisage the number of people who would have served any church. Often their careers can be reconstructed. The numbers of people who attended church are elusive except for the figures for Easter communions, and even these hardly survive before the middle of the sixteenth century. Yet if we had more figures, we would still wish to reach beyond them to know their composition. In Chapter 4 of this book it has been possible to identify groups of the people likely to have come to church. As might be expect they included (but were not limited to) the more wealthy, leisured, or powerful who had time or reasons of social standing to go there. Alongside the regular and required attendances of Sundays and festivals, there were other occasions when people came voluntarily to church to support a life-cycle event, to gain alms, or satisfy their own piety. It is equally clear that not everyone complied with the requirement to go, that the absence of some was condoned (such as shepherds and fishermen), and that others flouted the rules. By the time that any of the latter appeared for discipline before the Church authorities, they were likely to have done so on several occasions. There was, in short, the range of devotion and involvement from the willing to the unwilling which, given human nature, we would expect. What people went to church to experience, in the shape of worship, can be reconstructed to a large extent. Writing this book, however, has made it clear that the study of church liturgy cannot be based on liturgical sources alone. The Uses of Sarum and York can be compared with dramatic texts. They were meant for performance and may only be fully understood in relation to places and people on real occasions. But the rubrics, the ‘stage directions’, in the books up to 1549 related to cathedrals, whereas the vast majority



of the performances took place in parish settings. There the resources were as smaller as the demands of congregations were greater. To understand how the books were adapted in parish churches requires research into informal liturgical sources, church furnishings, and anecdotes of happenings at services in documentary records. Relying on the Uses alone would leave one unaware, for example, of the importance of the English language at Sunday mass. Equally the three Tudor Prayer Books are inadequate guides to clergy practice, congregational behaviour, Rogation processions, and the customs that adhered to weddings and funerals. The existence of Catholic and Puritan sympathisers in Elizabeth I’s reign made further differences to what might happen at a local level. Besides the normal daily and weekly services we can reconstruct the cycle of the year with a considerable knowledge of what happened on major festivals, although it would go beyond the scope of this book to investigate the folk customs of these festivals outside church. The services that accompanied the life cycle may be well understood, thanks to late-medieval copies of the manual with their detailed prescriptions for baptism, churching, marriage, and burial. Yet here too there is a disparity between what the Uses prescribe and what probably happened. More, sometimes less, took place than they describe on days such as Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Easter Day, and St Nicholas Day. The services of the life cycle must also be envisaged in a context of popular observances that have left much less in the record, such as church decoration, processions to and from church, and feasting and giftgiving afterwards. Two other aspects of services, the times that they began and their duration, are little known before the late fourteenth century due to the absence of records of the measurement of time. Only once clocks came to have an impact on society in about 1400 can this be remedied with indications of starting hours and estimates of service lengths. Church congregations emerge as complex bodies, reflecting social variety. In some respects their members had a common experience: relating to the same clergy, shaped by the same observances, bound by the same obligations, and by their presence in church in large numbers. They were capable of having a patriotic feeling about themselves and rivalry or even animus towards their neighbouring parishes. At the same time they divided into



groups, reflecting local settlement patterns and perhaps land ownership, as well as differences of rank, gender, and age. From as early as about 1100 there are records of parish guilds and later of the companies of wives, maidens, and youths, with the various stores in honour of the images. These all played their part in supporting their parish church, while allowing people of similar status or piety to combine and share their own customs. Choirs of singers, where they developed in the later fifteenth century, must have bonded together as choirs do. Seating, organised by rank or sex, provided a further way of establishing and hardening social distinctions. Outside the parish church, the large number of free-standing chapels bears further witness to diversity within the parish community. The mother church came to be joined by other centres of devotion, sometimes in harmony with their mother and sometimes in tension. And as has been observed, there was another counter-culture of those who disliked the clergy or their fellow parishioners, and would have preferred to follow their own pursuits. Another diversity was that between the sexes. The roles assumed by men in church are clear enough. They led the worship as clergy, clerks, singers in choirs, and boy servers. They ran the church in other ways, supplying most of the churchwardens and managing the guilds. They also provided most of the disobedience and disruption. Women are far less visible in records, and yet their presence can be glimpsed or assumed in many respects. The influence of a noblewoman, gentlewoman, or even a wealthy woman in a city or town must have been considerable: in choosing clergy when they held church patronage, and in affecting how clergy and congregations behaved even when they did not. The greater evidence for women’s seats in church points to their attendance in church, perhaps more dutiful than that of men. For women, churchgoing was one acceptable reason for leaving home, a way of expressing devotion, and a means of socialising. Some of the saint cults in churches are likely to have appealed to their spirituality and been sustained by their support, notably those of the Virgin and the other female saints. The companies of wives clearly had a significant presence, and women must have been central to the seasonal decoration of churches, hospitality, and the care of fabrics. The only really elusive element in church is that of children. Apart from their brief appearance at baptism, the Church’s modest degree of



59.  Change and survival at Parracombe old church, Somerset. Rood screen and tympanum remain, but texts have replaced images, the seats of the rector and clerk are in the nave, and the pulpit and seats have been renewed.

interest in their development, up to the Reformation, means that hardly anything can be said of their experience in church beyond the involvement of some boys in staging worship, although children made up about a third of the population. A final observation must be that a study of this kind benefits from attention to length and to breadth. Length is chronology. The longer the period examined, the less one is inclined to over-emphasise change and innovation in any shorter phase. Much was already in being in the eleventh century that would remain typical throughout the later Middle Ages. Much about the fifteenth-century parish church would survive the Reformation. Breadth is the search for material in as many kinds of sources as possible. No one discipline provides all the relevant evidence about medieval churches and their activities. The contributions from each of those that have been mentioned become most clear and meaningful when they are studied alongside those of all the others.




A cleric in minor orders (see ordination), nowadays also used of an assistant at mass or in a procession. advowson See patron. aisle A corridor in a church, usually alongside and parallel with the nave or chancel; also, in medieval usage, a chapel or transept within a church. alb A close-fitting white linen robe worn by clergy at mass under a vestment, and on its own by parish clerks or boys assisting at mass. altar The place at which the eucharist (or mass) is celebrated. In the Middle Ages it was a stone structure. The high altar was the principal altar in a church, at the east end of the chancel; it was replaced at the Reformation by a wooden communion table. A side altar was an altar anywhere else in the church. anniversary See obit. annuellar An alternative name for a chantry priest. ante-communion The first half of the eucharist before the consecration and consumption of the bread and wine, often performed on its own after 1549. anthem A religious text sung as a self-contained item during a service. antiphon A piece of music sung before and after a psalm, or as an anthem in its own right. appropriation The procedure by which a bishop or a religious house, when rector of a parish, appropriated some of its endowments, chiefly tithes, and gave the parish duties to a vicar. apse A semi-circular projection from a church, usually at the east end of the chancel. arcade A row of arches, usually separating a nave from an aisle. archbishop The chief cleric of a province, ruling over the bishops of that province. archdeacon The cleric in charge of an archdeaconry, a subdivision of a diocese. aspersing, aspersions Sprinkling with holy water during a service. baptism The rite by which a person is made a Christian, involving pouring on, or immersion in, water; also known as christening. benefice A Church post with an income. bishop The Church leader in overall charge of a diocese with the sole power to confirm and ordain, sometimes assisted by one or more suffragans. acolyte


LIST OF TECHNICAL TERMS A book containing the Office services, also known as a portuous. A cleric following a rule of life; also the prayer of consecration in the eucharist. From the twelfth century, there were two kinds of canons in the first sense. Secular canons served secular cathedrals, minsters, and collegiate churches. Regular canons of the Augustinian, Premonstratensian, and Gilbertine orders were similar to monks. canon law The law of the Church. canticles Venite, Te Deum, Benedicite, and Benedictus said or sung at matins, and Magnificat and Nunc dimittis at evensong. catechism A text in the form of questions and answers, intended to teach children the basic beliefs and duties of Christianity. certain A specific number of masses for the dead. chancel The eastern part of the church where services took place. chantry The saying of a daily mass by a priest for the salvation of a living person or the soul of a dead one, either for a limited period or perpetually. The term was also used for the endowment that paid the priest and for the place where the masses were said, such as a chapel inside a church. chantry priest The priest of a chantry, sometimes known as an annuellar or stipendiary. chapel A defined area within a parish church or a free-standing religious building that was not a parish church, in either case containing an altar. chaplain A priest who was paid wages and assisted in a church or chapel. chasuble A close-fitting vestment worn by the priest at the eucharist. choir An alternative name for the chancel, especially in monasteries and other large churches, and also the collective term for the singers who performed the service in that part of the church. In this book it always has the second of these meanings. chorister A boy singer on the staff of a secular cathedral, minster, or collegiate church. Young singers in monasteries and parish churches were usually known simply as ‘boys’. chrism A mixture of oil and balm, used in baptism and some other rites. chrisom The cloth in which a baby was wrapped after being anointed with chrism. christening See baptism. Church of England The national Church in England since 1534. churching The rite in which women returned to church after childbirth, also known as ‘purification’. churchwarden A lay parishioner, male or female, in charge of the building and contents of a parish church. clerk A term usually meaning a cleric who was not a priest but of lower status. collation See institution. collegiate church A church served by a ‘college’ or group of secular clergy. The term is generally applied to such churches that were established between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries; older churches of this kind are usually referred to as minsters. The words ‘college’ and ‘collegiate’ did not imply academic functions. commination A service cursing evildoers, held after 1549 on Ash Wednesday and sometimes on other days of the year. breviary canon


LIST OF TECHNICAL TERMS The practice of sharing the bread and wine of the eucharist with worshippers. Only the bread was given from the mid twelfth to the mid sixteenth centuries. confession The act of making a confession of sins and omissions privately to a priest. confirmation The rite in which a bishop confirms a previous baptism. cope A vestment shaped like a cloak, originally worn in processions. crossing The part of a church at the east end of the nave, between the transepts. crown The government of England, led by the monarch. crypt An area underneath a church often used as a chapel or for burials. deacon The grade of ordination below that of a priest, held by an assistant to a priest or a cleric on the way to becoming one. It also became an alternative word for a parish clerk. dean The title given to the chief dignitary of a cathedral, collegiate church, or minster. He presided over the ‘chapter’ of canons who assisted him in governing the church. See also rural dean. Decorated The style of Gothic architecture in use from about 1290 to 1360. dedication festival The feast commemorating the day on which a church was dedicated. diocese The territory ruled by a bishop. Early English The style of Gothic architecture in use from about 1200 to 1290. Ember Days, Ember Four weeks of the year when fasting was required and Weeks when, on the Saturdays, ordinations were held. eucharist A medieval Latin and modern term for the sacrament of the mass or holy communion. evensong The English name for the service of vespers. The term was also used to include the service of compline and the prayers for the dead which followed vespers. After 1552 evensong was known as evening prayer. extra-parochial A term applied to an area of land that was not part of a parish. font An immovable stone basin on a base in the nave of a church, used for baptisms. glebe The allotment of land belonging to the rector or vicar of a parish. Gothic The general name for architectural styles with pointed arches, built in England from about 1200 to about 1650 and again from about 1780. guild An organisation of adult men, often including women, which worshipped in and supported a church, at least occasionally, along with other social and sometimes economic functions (such as joining the members of a particular trade). In this book guilds are distinguished from ‘companies’ of wives, maidens, and young men which also supported parish churches but were run by their own members rather than by adult men. holy bread Ordinary bread blessed by a priest, given to parishioners at the end of a mass. holy communion The name given after 1549 to the eucharist. holy water Water blessed by a priest, used in services and other rites. holy-water clerk The original term for an assistant to a parish priest, also known as a parish clerk, because his duties included carrying and dispensing holy water. housel Communion in the form of consecrated bread; also the giving or receiving of such bread. communion


LIST OF TECHNICAL TERMS incumbent The rector or vicar of a parish church. induction The act of giving formal possession to a new rector or vicar of his church and house, usually carried out by the rural dean. indulgence (or The remitting by a pope or a bishop of penance for sins in pardon) return for doing good deeds such as pilgrimage, prayer, or contributing to a church, chapel, or other religious organisation. institution (or The act by which a bishop approves the appointment to a admission) benefice of a clergyman or woman presented to him by a patron. When the bishop is himself the patron of the benefice and therefore both presents and institutes, the act is known as a ‘collation’. Lady chapel A chapel in a church where services were held in honour of the Virgin Mary. ledger stone A flat stone laid over a grave in a church. litany A series of prayers of penitence and requests to God and the saints for protection. Before the Reformation it was said and sung in processions only on the four Rogation Days and on special days of need. In the 1540s it became a regular but stationary service following matins on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. liturgy Religious rites and services both in and out of church. mainport The offering of loaves to the incumbent at Easter and other occasions. manual A book suitable for holding in the hand, containing the pastoral services of baptism, marriage, churching of women, visitation and communion of the sick, and funerals. mass The common medieval word for the service of the eucharist or holy communion. In this book the term ‘principal mass’ is used for the mass celebrated by the incumbent of the church at the high altar in mid morning. A mass was known as a ‘high mass’ when sung to plainsong and performed with ceremony at the high altar, especially on Sundays and festivals, and as a ‘low mass’ when said and carried out more modestly there on a weekday or at a side altar on any day. matins A service said soon after midnight in religious communities but in the early hours of daylight by parish clergy. The term could also include the services of lauds and prime which followed matins. After 1552 it was known as morning prayer. minster In Anglo-Saxon usage, any kind of church served by a community of clergy, whether monks or secular clergy. Historians now use it to mean a church staffed by secular canons, priests, or clerks, rather than monks. missal A book containing the service of the mass. monk A cleric who lived in a monastery that observed the Rule of St Benedict or another similar way of life. mortuary A payment at death to the incumbent of the church, usually of the second best animal or garment. nave The western part of a church, also known as the ‘body’. Norman The architectural style of the period 1066–1200, also called Romanesque. obit A mass celebrated on the anniversary of someone’s death, also known as an anniversary. Office (or Divine The daily services of praise and prayer that included, and Office) were widely known as, matins and evensong.


LIST OF TECHNICAL TERMS The act of giving religious status to a man. It was usually held four times a year in the Ember Weeks and there were effectively five grades of status: the minor orders of first tonsure and acolyte, and the major orders of subdeacon, deacon, and priest. parish The area of land served by and subject to a parish church. parish church A church that provides worship and other services for the inhabitants of a parish. parish clerk (formerly The assistant of a parish priest, sometimes known as a holy-water clerk) deacon. patron A person or organisation with the right to appoint the rector or vicar of a parish church. The right is known as ‘patronage’ or as an ‘advowson’. patronal festival The feast day of the heavenly patron (Trinity, Christ, a saint) of a church or chapel. pax A tablet, usually marked with an image, passed round the church after the consecration in the mass to be kissed by the clergy and congregation. peculiar, peculiar A territory consisting of one or more parishes which had jurisdiction its own system of administration for Church purposes, separate from the normal administration of the diocese. penance The sacrament of confession; also the making of reparation for sins committed. Private penance was imposed by a priest after confession; public and solemn penances took place in public, for more serious sins. Perpendicular The style of Gothic architecture in use from about 1335 until 1530. Peter’s Pence An annual payment to the pope of a penny per household. plainsong Church music sung in unison: the original and normal music of the Latin liturgy. pluralism The practice by which a cleric held more than one benefice at the same time. polyphony Music sung in harmony by voices taking different parts. prebend A share of the income of a church, equivalent to a stipend or salary. prebendary A canon who holds a prebend. Properly ‘canon’ applies to the holder of the post or office and ‘prebend’ to the endowment of the post. presbytery The eastern part of a choir of a church, towards the high altar. priest A cleric with the power to celebrate the eucharist, baptise, and administer most other sacraments. processioner A book containing the liturgy for processions. processions Rites in which clergy (and sometimes lay people) walked inside or outside churches, singing or saying hymns and prayers. province A group of dioceses ruled by an archbishop. In England these are Canterbury and York. provision, papal An appointment of a bishop, abbot, prior, cathedral canon, provision rector, or vicar by the pope instead of by the patron normally responsible for making the appointment. Such appointments were common in fourteenth-century England but only superseded the rights of other clergy patrons, never challenging those of lay patrons. psalmist See tonsure. pulpit An elevated stone or wooden structure used for announcements and preaching. ordination


LIST OF TECHNICAL TERMS pulpitum The screen between the chancel and nave, usually known as the rood screen. pyx A container holding the reserved sacrament, hung above the high altar. rector A cleric in charge of a benefice who had the right to all its profits including tithes, as opposed to a vicar who took only some of the profits. The rector’s benefice and house were known as a rectory. regular clergy Monks, regular canons, friars, and nuns, so called because they all followed written codes of rules. reliquary A wooden or metal container holding bones or other relics of Christ or the saints. requiem A mass directed towards saying prayers for the souls of the dead. reredos A stone screen behind an altar, sometimes smooth, sometimes decorated with statuary. reservation, reserved The practice of keeping consecrated wafers of bread in sacrament church, either in a pyx above the high altar for people to venerate or in a cupboard for use in giving communion to the sick. rochet A garment of white linen like a surplice but with narrow sleeves, often worn by a parish clerk or boy assistant. rood, rood screen The rood was a cross, usually holding a large image of Christ, placed on the pulpitum or rood screen between the chancel and the nave. The rood loft was a gallery above the rood screen giving access to the image. rosary A string of beads used for counting the saying of prayers including the Ave Maria and the Paternoster. The usual medieval words were a ‘pair of beads’ or a ‘paternoster’. rubric A directive in a service book about how the service is to be done. rural dean A cleric responsible for supervising a group of parishes. sacrament One of seven solemn rites of the Church: baptism, confirmation, marriage, confession or penance, eucharist, ordination, and the anointing of the sick. sanctuary The part of the church around the high altar at the east end of the chancel. Also a privilege by which people accused of a crime could take refuge in a church or on certain pieces of Church property. Sarum, Use of Breviaries, missals, and other service books following the usages of Salisbury Cathedral, commonly used in southern England from the thirteenth to the mid sixteenth centuries. screen A partition in a church, usually allowing some view through it, between the chancel and nave (then known as the rood screen), around the edges of the chancel, or closing off the individual chapels and altars in the building. secular cathedral A cathedral staffed by secular canons, comprising half of the cathedrals between the Norman Conquest and the Reformation and all of them afterwards. secular clergy Clergy who did not follow the monastic life, including the canons and other clergy of secular cathedrals and also the parish clergy. see Meaning ‘seat’, the office of bishop with its resources and responsibilities, as opposed to the diocese which is the area over which he has control. sexton An assistant to the parish priest or churchwardens, for example in ringing bells and digging graves.


LIST OF TECHNICAL TERMS Laws issued by bishops for their dioceses. The salary of a cleric. A priest other than a rector or vicar, paid a salary or wages. The term included chantry priests. stole A narrow coloured scarf worn with a surplice or a vestment. store A fund of money or other assets belonging to a parish church (the ‘high store’) or to an image or guild within a church. stoup (also stock) A basin of holy water inside or outside the church door, from which incomers could asperse themselves as they entered. subdeacon The grade of ordination below that of a deacon; also used for one of the assistants of a priest at a high mass. suffragan An assistant bishop to the bishop of the diocese. The word could also mean an assistant in a parish church. surplice A white linen garment with wide sleeves worn by clergy in church. Tenebrae The services of matins and lauds, said in the evenings of the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday in Holy Week. thurible A vessel on a chain containing burning incense, the holder of which was a thurifer. tithe The obligation of all householders to pay the rector or vicar of their parish one tenth of the produce of their land, including all crops and young animals, or a portion of their earnings. It became a monetary payment alone in 1836 and was abolished in 1936. tonsure A circle shaved on the head of a cleric. The ‘first tonsure’ was the first grade of ordination; its holders were also known as ‘psalmists’. transept A wing of a church extending laterally, usually at the east end of the nave. trental The performance of thirty masses of requiem for the soul of a dead person. tympanum A solid partition above the rood screen, often decorated before the Reformation with the Last Judgment of Christ, and after it with religious texts. use The prayers, readings, and ceremonies used in the worship of a particular cathedral, such as Sarum (i.e. Salisbury), Hereford, and York. vespers The evening (actually afternoon) service of prayer, also known as evensong. vestment A chasuble or similar dress worn over an alb by clergy at mass, or a cope worn in processions. vicar A clergyman of an appropriated parish, and occasionally of a parish with an additional rector. He did the parish duties in return for part not all the parish revenues. His benefice and house were known as a vicarage. vigil The day before a major feast, often kept as a day of fasting. visitation A tour of inspection of parishes made by an archbishop, bishop, or archdeacon, and after 1534 by the crown. York, Use of Breviaries, missals, and other service books following the usages of York Minster, commonly used in northern England from the thirteenth to the mid sixteenth centuries. statutes stipend stipendiary




BL Bodleian C&S CIPM CPL CPR EETS, os, es, ss HMC LMA LPFD MED ODNB OED Reg. S(number) TNA VCH

British Library, London Bodleian Library, Oxford Councils and Synods Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem Calendar of Papal Letters Calendar of Patent Rolls Early English Text Society, original series, extra series, supplementary series Historical Manuscripts Commission London Metropolitan Archives Calendar of Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII Middle English Dictionary Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford English Dictionary The Register [or Registrum] of . . . bishop of . . . English Short Title Catalogue, British Library website The National Archives, Kew Victoria County History

FOREWORD   1. For their works, see the bibliography.  2. See for example, the works of Roger Bowers, Sally and John Harper, and Magnus Williamson in the bibliography.

1  ORIGINS AND THE PARISH   1. Recent surveys of the subject include those of Richard Sharpe in Local Saints and Local Churches in the Early Medieval West, eds Alan Thacker and Richard Sharpe (Oxford, 2002), 75–154; David Petts in The Oxford Handbook of Roman Britain, ed. Martin Millett, Louise Revell, and Alison Moore (Oxford, 2014), 660–80; and Martin Henig in Barnwell 2015, 15–32.  2. Concilia Galliae a.314–a.506, ed. C. Munier, Corpus Christianorum, 148 (Turnhout, 1963), 15.   3. Charles Thomas, 194–5; P.T. Bidwell, The Legionary Bath-House and Basilica and Forum at Exeter (Exeter, 1979), 2, 111–13.  4. For example, Frampton and Hinton St Mary, Dorset; Littlecote, Wiltshire; and Lullingstone, Kent (Charles Thomas, 180–2, plate 5).   5. Gildas, The Ruin of Britain, trans. Michael Winterbottom (Chichester, 1978), 19; Local Saints and Local Churches in the Early Medieval West, eds Alan Thacker and Richard Sharpe (Oxford, 2002), 123–4.


NOTES to pp. 6–13   6. Pounds, 14; Blair, 27–8.  7. Blair, 3–4. As the following references testify, I am deeply indebted to the work of Professor John Blair.   8. Orme 2017, 10, 18.   9. Bede, 432–3. 10. Ibid., 80–1. 11. Bede, Opera Historica, ed. Charles Plummer, 2 vols (Oxford, 1896), i, 415–17. 12. Blair, 342–4. 13. Ibid., 149. 14. ‘Penitential’, attributed to Theodore, in Die Canones Theodori Cantuariensis und ihre Überlieferungsformen, ed. P.W. Finsterwalder (Weimar, 1929), 320. 15. Blair, 152, 159. 16. Orme 2013b, 17. 17. On the Office before 1000, see Billett, passim, and for the later Office and mass, below, Chapter 5. 18. On pastoral care, see Alan Thacker in Blair and Sharpe, 137–70. 19. C&S I, i, 24–5, 56–7, 378–90. On sanctuaries, see Cox 1911, and for detailed accounts of people taking sanctuary, R.M. Serjeantson, ‘Sanctuary Seekers in Northamptonshire’, Reports and Papers of the [Associated] Architectural Societies, 32 part i (1913), 179–228, and part ii (1914), 423–84. 20. Bede, 432–3. 21. Ibid., 310–11. 22. Vitae Sancti Bonifatii, ed. W. Levison, Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores Rerum Germanicarum (Hanover, 1905), 5. There is no evidence that Boniface was born in Crediton, only that he lived near enough to Exeter to train there as a monk. 23. On the early history of baptism in England, see Sarah Foot in Blair and Sharpe, 171–92. 24. Bede, 166–7, 186–7. 25. Ibid., 166–7, 188–9, 192–3; on baptism in minsters, see Barnwell 2014, 4–11. 26. See below, pp. 279, 305. 27. Attenborough, 36–7. 28. Haddan and Stubbs, iii, 448; C&S I, ii, 575. 29. Bede, 288–9. 30. Haddan and Stubbs, iii, 363. 31. See below, pp. 318–19. 32. Bede, 190–3, 262–3, 282–3, 382–3, 408–11, 432–3. 33. Ibid., 188–9. 34. Ibid., 488–9. 35. On this subject, see below, p. 246. 36. Thacker in Blair and Sharpe, 140. 37. Bede, 310–11. 38. On minsters, shrines, and relics, see Blair, 145–8, and Helen Gittos, 98–9, 200–2. 39. Bede, 236–7. 40. Attenborough, 26–7. 41. ‘Penitential’, (see note 14), 310–11. 42. For example, Mannyng, lines 339–62. 43. Bede, 76–7, 156–9. 44. P. Barker, ‘The Origins of Worcester’, Transactions of the Worcestershire Archaeological Society, 3rd series 2 (1968–9), 27. 45. Derek Phillips and Brenda Heywood, Excavations at York Minster, vol. i: From Roman Fortress to Norman Cathedral (London, 1995), 10. 46. ‘Penitential’ (see note 14), 320. 47. Bede, 382–3. 48. Ibid., 462–5. 49. See below, pp. 35–6.


NOTES to pp. 13–25 50. Blair, 444. 51. Ibid., 595. 52. C&S I, i, 97–8. 53. For lists, see Knowles and Hadcock, 413–46. 54. Blair, 364–5. 55. Tewkesbury Abbey: History, art and architecture, eds Richard K. Morris and Ron Shoesmith (Almeley, 2012), 75. 56. For examples, see Heale 2004, 301–4, and idem 2006, 54–77. 57. Lepine 2006, 29–53; Orme 2017, 22–3. 58. Orme 2014, 28. 59. See below, p. 293. 60. For example, Reg. Repingdon, Lincoln, ii, 302–8. 61. For an early map of parish boundaries in mid sixteenth-century west Cornwall, see Nicholas Orme, ‘The Church and Clergy of St Buryan, c.1200–c.1574’, Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall (2006), 32–44 at 34–8. 62. On tithe maps, see R.J.P. Kain, and H.C. Prince, The Tithe Surveys of England and Wales (Cambridge, 1985), and idem, Tithe Surveys for Historians (Chichester, 2000). Parish boundaries appear on official Ordnance Survey maps from the 1840s, but by this time some parishes were being divided and their borders rationalised. Cockin’s Parish Atlas aims to convey the boundaries of 1830, before such changes were made. 63. During the nineteenth century, parishes became units of civil government separately from their role as religious units. Since then both the civil units and the religious ones have sometimes changed their boundaries but not necessarily identically, so that modern civil boundaries are not a safe guide to modern religious ones, let alone those of the past. 64. Nicholas Orme, ‘The “Lost” Parish of Dotton’, Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries, 26 part 1 (1987), 1–4; VCH Oxfordshire, vol. v, ed. Mary D. Lobel (Oxford, 1957), 290. 65. Francis Hill, Medieval Lincoln (Cambridge, 1965), 147; VCH City of York, ed. P.M. Tillott (London, 1961), 365; Derek Keene, ‘Survey of Medieval Winchester’, Winchester Studies, 2 part i (Oxford, 1985), 106, 116–17; The Atlas of Historic Towns, vol. ii, ed. M.D. Lobel (London, 1975), 23–4 (on Norwich); vol iii, ed. M.D. Lobel (London, 1991), 34–5 (on London). 66. VCH Somerset, vol. iii, ed. R.W. Dunning (London, 1974), 196–200; Domesday Book, vol. 34, Suffolk, ed. Alex Rumble, 2 vols (Chichester, 1986), ii, index: churches and clergy; VCH Berkshire, vol. iii, ed. William Page (London, 1923), 539, 541–4; VCH Sussex, vol. vii, ed. L.F. Salzman (London, 1940), 40–1. 67. Derek Keene, ‘Survey of Medieval Winchester’, Winchester Studies, 2 part i (Oxford, 1985), 116. 68. On the ownership of churches, see Susan Wood, The Proprietary Church in the Medieval West (Oxford, 2006). 69. C&S I, i, 97–8. 70. On glebe, see Pounds, 214–19. 71. Tanner, i, 254, with other signs of the change in ibid., i, 220, 248–50. 72. Orme 2017, 63–4, 210. Many peculiars can be identified from the maps in The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers, ed. Cecil R. Humphery-Smith (Chichester, 1984). 73. Orme 2017, 24, 26; Blair, 127. 74. See below, pp. 122–3. 75. On lesser church buildings, see Blair, 380–95; Helen Gittos, 179–82; and Barnwell 2015, 209–26. 76. Blair, 412. 77. Barnwell 2015, 216–17. An alternative explanation is that the priest celebrated from the east side of the altar. 78. Barnwell 2014, 11–13. 79. Cragoe, 21–5. 80. Haddan and Stubbs, iii, 365.


NOTES to pp. 26–35  81. C&S I, i, 209–10, 333, 390–1.   82. Ibid., ii, 979, 1063, 1071.   83. See below, pp. 80–1.  84. C&S I, i, 196–226, 315–38.   85. On parish clergy in England from about ad 900, see Barrow, 310–43, and on rectors and vicars, below, pp. 49–50.   86. See below, pp. 71–2.   87. See below, pp. 57–8.   88. See below, pp. 228–9.   89. On this subject, see Richard Pfaff in Gameson, 449–59 (other chapters in the same book are also relevant), and Gerald P. Dyson, Priests and their Books in Late Anglo-Saxon England (Woodbridge, 2019).   90. See below, p. 205.   91. Helen Gittos in Tinti, 63–82.  92. C&S I, ii, 575.   93. Ibid., i, 101, 440–1, 478–9.   94. On the Church calendar, see Hamilton, 168–81.   95. Haddan and Stubbs, iii, 368; below, pp. 289–94. On Rogation and other processions in Anglo-Saxon England, see Blair, 486–9, and Helen Gittos, 102–45.   96. In later times, only Christmas Day was exempt from the Friday fast.  97. C&S I, i, 73, 225–6, 352–3, 478–9.   98. Haddan and Stubbs, iii, 448; C&S I, i, 208–9, 321–2, 483.   99. Helen Gittos, 12–14. 100. Blair, 177–8. 101. Blair, 454, suggests a second Exeter guild but the evidence relates to the series of guilds described in the following paragraph. 102. Whitelock, 603–7. 103. The Exeter Book of Old English Poetry, ed. R.W. Chambers, Max Förster, and Robin Flower (Exeter and London, 1933), ff. 7r–v; Benjamin Thorpe, Diplomatarium Anglicum Aevi Saxonici (London, 1865), 608–9; Lepine and Orme, 259–61. 104. Hugh M. Thomas 2007, 183–5. 105. On what follows, see Blair, 434–44, and Francesca Tinti in Tinti, 27–51. 106. ‘Penitential’ (see note 14), 333; Bede, Opera Historica, ed. Charles Plummer, 2 vols (Oxford, 1896), i, 410. 107. OED s.n. church-scot, plough-alms. 108. C&S II, i, 382, 415–16, 512, 558, 620, 717; ii, 1051. 109. See below, pp. 80–1, 259–60. 110. On what follows, see William E. Lunt, Financial Relations of the Papacy with England to 1327 (Cambridge, Mass., 1939), 3–84, and Henry R. Loyn, Societies and Peoples (London, 1992), 241–58. 111. C&S II, ii, 819–20. 112. Haddan and Stubbs, iii, 456–7. 113. C&S I, i, 44–5. 114. Ibid., i, 62. 115. Ibid., i, 99. 116. Ibid., i, 98–9, 331–3. 117. C&S II, i, 511. 118. For categories tithed and other procedures, see for example ibid., i, 511–12, 623–4; ii, 1052–6. 119. C&S II, 1053, 1389–93; Nicholas Orme in Chaucer’s England: Literature in historical context, ed. Barbara A. Hanawalt (Minneapolis, 1992), 148. 120. CS II, i, 624, 796. 121. For secret tithes paid in cash at Helmingham, see BL, Add. MS 34786, ff. 9v–10r; and for wills, Weaver, i, 29–33, etc.


NOTES to pp. 35–45 122. Bede, 338–9. 123. Ibid., 456–7 124. Blair, 388. 125. Nicholas Orme, ‘St James Priory, Exeter’, Devon Archaeological Society Proceedings, 72 (2014, actually 2015), 171–85. 126. Orme 2018c, 65–9. 127. Orme 2000, 106, 145, 253. 128. On what follows, see Orme 1996b and 2006b. There are early usages of the word in Domesday Book, e.g. vol. 4, 4/1; vol. 14, 1/1, 3/14. 129. Jeanne James, ‘Medieval Chapels in Devon’, University of Exeter, unpublished MPhil thesis (1997). 130. Orme 2007b, 109. 131. Alan Everitt, Continuity and Colonization: The evolution of Kentish settlement (Leicester, 1986), 205–22 at 205–6; Dorothy Owen 1975, 15–22. 132. Werronen, 96–101. 133. On these chapels, see Rawlinson, passim. 134. Wilkins, ii, 677–8, 696. 135. Orme 1992, 109–13. 136. Henry Knighton, Knighton’s Chronicle, ed. G.H. Martin (Oxford, 1995), 296–309. 137. Reg.Trefnant, Hereford, 249, 256. A second chapel in Newton Park is also mentioned but may have been the same: very likely near what is now Chapel Farm. 138. LPFD, vi, 418, 624; Leland, iv, 66. 139. As observed by Alan Everitt, Continuity and Colonization: The evolution of Kentish settlement (Leicester, 1986), 221–2. 140. On this subject, see R.N. Swanson in Getting Along?: Religious identities and confessional relations in early modern England, ed. W.J. Shiels et al. (London, 2012), 77–95. 141. Nicholas Orme in The Greatest Englishman, ed. T.A. Reuter (Exeter, 1980), 97–131 at 120. 142. Reg. Lacy, Exeter, ii, 150–1, 153–5, 174–5, 211–21. 143. For free chapels in Devon, see Snell, 1–61. 144. Blair, 183–91. 145. Ibid., 388–90. 146. On this process in Anglo-Saxon England, see Blair, 475–83, and Helen Gittos, 19–54. Later centuries are surveyed by Alexandra Walsham, The Reformation of the Landscape (Oxford, 2011). 147. C&S I, i, 320, 463, 489. 148. Ibid., ii, 678; C&S II, i, 303, 622, 722; ii, 1044. 149. La Vie ancienne de Saint Samson de Dol, ed. Pierre Flobert (Paris, 1997), book i, chapters 50–1. 150. Two Lives of Saint Cuthbert, ed. Bertram Colgrave (Cambridge, 1940), 98–9, 216–19, 327. 151. Orme 2018a, 26–7, 55, 68, 121, 124, 154, 163. 152. Bede, 286–9. 153. Felix’s Life of St Guthlac, ed. Bertram Colgrave (Cambridge, 1956), 98–111, 114–17. 154. Bede, 242–5. 155. For example, Orme 2000, 72, 81, 107, 137, 198, 214–16. 156. Rotha Mary Clay, The Hermits and Anchorites of England (London, 1914), 17–31. 157. Alan Everitt, Continuity and Colonization: The evolution of Kentish settlement (Leicester, 1986), 207–10. 158. Orme 2018a, 143–5. 159. See below, p. 184. 160. See below, pp. 289–94. 161. On the development and form of diocesan organisation, see Frank Barlow, The English Church 1066–1554 (London and New York, 1979), 29–53, 104–44. 162. See below, pp. 80–1.


NOTES to pp. 45–57 163. See below, p. 295. 164. Mattingly, 211. 165. See below, pp. 293, 295.

2  THE STAFF OF THE CHURCH   1. As observed by Barrow, 323–4.   2. John Blair, The Medieval Clergy, Bampton Research Paper, 4 (Oxford, 1991), 30–4; Orme 2010a, 181.   3. For surveys of medieval English parish clergy in the twelfth century, see Hugh M. Thomas 2014, 17–116; in the thirteenth, Moorman, 24–67, and Campbell, 37–59; in the later Middle Ages, Swanson 1989, 40–50; and in the early sixteenth, Heath 1969.  4. Dictionary of Medieval Latin, s.n. rector, persona.   5. Ibid., s.n. vicarius.  6. Hartridge, 20–2, 29, 48–9, 142. Other examples included Ermington, Devon, and Westbury-on-Severn, Gloucestershire.   7. Hartridge, passim.   8. Barrow, 324.   9. On chaplains, see Simon Townley in Studies in Clergy and Ministry in Medieval England, ed. David M. Smith (York, 1991), 38–64; Swanson 1989, 46–50; and Heath 1969, 20–6. 10. On chantries, see Wood-Legh 1965, passim, and ‘The Medieval Chantry in England’. 11. Bowers 2011, 135. 12. On the Ember Weeks, see below, p. 198. 13. On the degrees of ordination, see Lyndwood, 117. In practice ordination as acolyte included that of the first tonsure. 14. On the educational element of clergy examinations, see William J. Dohar in Brown and Stoneman, 305–21. 15. Corpus Juris Canonici, i, cols 88–9; C&S II, i, 147, 186–7, 248; Tanner, i, 214; C&S I, ii, 1064; Lyndwood, 33. 16. Pollock and Maitland, i, 441–7; Leona C. Gabel, Benefit of Clergy in England in the Later Middle Ages (Northampton, Mass., 1929); Rigby, 208–12. 17. On medieval schools, see Orme 2006a, passim. 18. The Register of Walter Reynolds, Bishop of Worcester, 1308–1313, ed. R.A. Wilson, Worcestershire Historical Society, 39 (1927) and Dugdale Society, 9 (1928), 102–47. 19. For examples, see Nicholas Orme, English Schools in the Middle Ages (London, 1973), 16–19. 20. The Register of St Osmund, ed. W.H.R. Jones, vol. i (London, Rolls Series, 1883), 304–6. 21. Reg. Waltham, Salisbury, 122, 124. 22. Heath 1969, 73–4. 23. See below, p. 248. 24. Piers Plowman, B.v.422–8, C.viii.30–34. 25. Mirk 1990, 24–5 (book 1, chapter 9). 26. Tanner, i, 212, 321–2. 27. For example, Reg. Grandisson, Exeter, i, 163, 185, 201, 216; Wilkins, iii, 364. 28. Papal provisions are listed in the CPL and Petitions to the Pope, vol. i (London, Public Record Office, 1897). The subject is discussed in detail by W.E. Lunt, Financial Relations of the Papacy with England to 1327 (Cambridge, Mass., 1939) and Financial Relations of the Papacy with England 1327–1534 (Cambridge, Mass., 1962). 29. Tanner, i, 191, 198, 202, 217, 242. 30. C&S I, ii, 576. 31. Ibid., ii, 619. 32. Ibid., ii, 675. 33. Ibid., ii, 700–3, 740, 747.


NOTES to pp. 58–68 34. On contemporary writings in favour of clerical marriage, see Jennifer D. Thibordeaux in Religious Men and Masculine Identity in the Middle Ages, ed. Patricia H. Cullum and Katherine J. Lewis (Woodbridge, 2013), 46–63. 35. Sancti Anselmi Cantuarensis Archiepiscopi Omnia Opera, ed. F.S. Schmitt, 6 vols (London, 1946–61), iv, 165–6. 36. C&S I, ii, 752–3. 37. Barrow, 329, 338–9. 38. Reg. Waltham, Salisbury, 114–80. 39. Bannister 1929–30; see also Cooper, 171–8. 40. For possible examples, see Cooper, 170–1. 41. For example, a case at Alvington, Gloucestershire, reported only from Lydney, and one at Sarnesfield, Herefordshire, from Canon Pyon (Bannister 1929, 449–50; 1930, 286, 446). 42. For celibacy in early-Tudor England, see Marshall, 142–73, and Cooper, 171–8. 43. Valor Ecclesiasticus, i, 242–7. 44. On this subject, see also Heath 1964; 1969, 135–74; and R.N. Swanson, in Religious Belief and Ecclesiastical Careers in Late Medieval England, ed. Christopher Harper-Bill (Woodbridge, 1991), 151–83. 45. On glebes, see Ault, 197–9. 46. Heath 1964; 1969, 148–53; see for example BL, Add. MS 34786 (Helmingham, Suffolk). 47. For example, C&S II, i, 27, 64, 128, etc. Hospitality and alms were difficult for poor clergy to provide: in 1342 a Canterbury provincial council tried to shift some of the burden to appropriating bodies (Wilkins, ii, 697). 48. Hartridge, 143. 49. C&S II, i, 175, 236; ii, 1026. 50. Statutes of the Realm, i, 373–4; ii, 188; Wilkins, iii, 402–3; Lyndwood, 240. 51. Cooper, 113–17. 52. Orme 2006a, 176. 53. Tanner, i, 218. 54. Ibid., i, 248–50. 55. C&S II, i, 362, 564–5, 610, 713; ii, 842, 1016. 56. Leonard E. Boyle, ‘The Constitution “Cum ex eo” of Boniface VIII: Education of parochial clergy’, Mediaeval Studies, 24 (1962), 263–302. 57. Ibid., 271–3. 58. For example, C&S II, ii, 907. 59. Hanham, xv–xvi and passim. 60. On the social status of the clergy, see Rigby, 206–42 especially 223–31. 61. Maurice Keen, English Society in the Later Middle Ages (Harmondsworth, 1990), 1–3. 62. Dictionary of Medieval Latin, s.n. dominus (8e); OED, MED, s.n. sir. 63. Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, I(A) 164, 285–308, 477–528. 64. Furnivall 1868a, 70–1, 171, 365 65. Ault, 198–9. 66. Nicholas Orme, English Schools in the Middle Ages (London, 1973), 19. 67. Nicholas Orme, The Minor Clergy of Exeter Cathedral, Biographies: 1250–1548, Devon and Cornwall Record Society, new series 54 (2013), 18–19. 68. The Letter Book of Robert Joseph, ed. Hugh Aveling and W.A. Pantin, Oxford Historical Society, new series 19 (1967), 269–85. 69. ODNB article by Norman Tanner; D. Harford, ‘Richard of Caister and his Metrical Prayer’, Norfolk Archaeology, 17 (1910), 221–31; Religious Lyrics of the XVth Century, ed. Carleton Brown (Oxford, 1939), 98–100, 313–14. 70. Kempe, 38, 102, 147. 71. ODNB article by R.G. Davies; Emden 1957–9, iii, 1697. 72. Ibid., i, 184.


NOTES to pp. 68–75   73. Orme 1992, 107–18 at 113–16.  74. ODNB article by David D’Avray.   75. On Trychay, see Duffy 2001, passim; ODNB article by Nicholas Orme; and for the correct date of his institution, 1519, idem, ‘New Light on Christopher Trychay, Vicar of Morebath’, Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries, 40 part 2 (Autumn 2007), 35–6.  76. Piers Plowman, A.Prol.77–84, B.Prol.81–99, C.i.79–127; A.viii.90–126, B.vii.106–37.  77. Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, I(A)477–528.   78. Hale, 15, 38, 76, 99.  79. Reg. Waltham, Salisbury, 122.   80. Wood-Legh 1984, 62–3, 97, 226.   81. Thompson 1940, 2, 28, 53, 57, 59, 67, 89.   82. Burgh, f. 19r.  83. Reg. Stapeldon, Exeter, 107.   84. Bannister 1929, 283.   85. Ibid., 256, 342.  86. Nicholas Orme in Life, Death, and the Elderly: Historical perspectives, ed. Margaret Pelling and Richard M. Smith (London and New York, 1991), 62–73.   87. Tanner, i, 214; C&S I, ii, 1064.   88. For details, see Knowles and Hadcock, and specifically, Nicholas Orme, ‘A Medieval Almshouse for the Clergy: Clyst Gabriel’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 39 (1988), 1–15, and idem, ‘The Clergy of Clyst Gabriel, 1312–1509’, Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 126 (1994), 107–21.  89. C&S I, i, 331; see above, p. 26.  90. John of Ford, Wulfric of Haselbury, ed. Maurice Bell, Somerset Record Society, 47 (1933), 52, 102.  91. C&S II, i, 272–3, 309, 350, 408, 432, 519, 640, 709–10; ii, 1020.   92. Bannister 1929, 444; 1930, 95, 97, 452, 462; The Clerk’s Book, 58, 63.   93. Wilkins, iii, 60.   94. Wigmore, Herefordshire, should have had a deacon and clerk in 1397 (Bannister 1930, 451), and Diddlebury, Shropshire, had deacons and subdeacons in 1402–3 (Swanson 1989, 47), but it is hard to know if these were offices or grades of ordination.   95. As apparently at Colyton, Devon, in 1301 (Reg. Stapeldon, Exeter, 111).   96. For example, compare those ordained as deacons and priests in 1310–11 (ibid., 473, 480).  97. For example, Herefordshire, 1397 (Bannister 1929, 444; 1930, 95, 97); Stoke-onTrent, Staffordshire, 1467–72 (TNA, C 1/44/226); Coventry, 1462 (The Clerk’s Book, 58, 63); Walsall, Staffordshire, 1540s (TNA, REQ 2/10/223).  98. Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, I(A)3312.  99. The Clerk’s Book, 57–8, 61. 100. Reg. Stapeldon, Exeter, 111; Bannister 1930, 93; A.E.B. Owen, 136; see below, pp. 104–5. 101. See below, p. 247. 102. Reg. Pecham, Canterbury, ii, 249; Borough Customs, ed. Mary Bateson, vol. ii, Selden Society, 21 (1906), 212; A.E.B. Owen, 135; John Blair, The Medieval Clergy, Bampton Research Paper, 4 (Oxford, 1991), 31; Weaver, i, 25; Thompson 1940, 60. 103. Lyndwood, 142; Reg. Waltham, Salisbury, 158; Bannister 1930, 99, 458. 104. See above, pp. 25–6. 105. See below, pp. 80–1. 106. Lyndwood, 143. 107. Orme 2013a, 159. 108. Duffy 2001, 55–63. 109. On endowments, see Lincoln Wills, ed. C.W. Foster, vol. i, Lincoln Record Society, 5 (1914), 69, and TNA, PROB 11/6/203 (will of William Hille); on salaries, Hanham, xvii. 110. Reg. Lacy, Exeter, ii, 214.


NOTES to pp. 75–82 111. C&S II, i, 174. 112. Ibid., i, 174, 211, 309, 407, 514, 606, 713; ii, 1026; Orme 2006a, 205–6. 113. Corpus Juris Canonici, ii, col. 449. 114. Orme 2006a, 63. 115. Ibid.; Swanson in Toomey, 219; Janet Burton in Monasteries and Society in Medieval Britain, ed. Benjamin Thompson (Stamford, 1999), 336. In 1552–3 Cranmer proposed that all clerks should teach the alphabet and the catechism (Bray, 346–7). 116. Calendar of the Register of John de Drokensford, Bishop of Bath and Wells (A.D. 1309– 1329), ed. E. Hobhouse, Somerset Record Society, i (1887), 13. 117. Reg. Waltham, Salisbury, 116, 121, 126, 137, 146. 118. Timmins, 35, 41. 119. Swanson in Toomey, 176. 120. Lyndwood, 142. 121. N.W. and V.A. James, xiv–xvii; see also the will of John Smyth, 1496 (TNA, PROB 11/10/527). 122. The Clerk’s Book, 63; LPFD, xviii (ii), 311. 123. Caxton 1868, 9. 124. Orme 1976, 160–1, 164. 125. Ibid., 198. 126. Goude, sig. I.ir–v. 127. Bannister 1930, 447. 128. Thompson 1940, 121–2. 129. On this subject, see Roger Bowers, English Church Polyphony (Aldershot, 1999), section II, 1–47; Magnus Williamson in Harper et al., 125–53; and idem in Harry and Steer, 17–35. 130. On what follows, see Williamson 2006, 177–242, and Bowers 2011, 142–6. 131. Williamson 2006, 227; Orme 1976, 130. 132. Williamson 2006, 224–5, 241. 133. Ibid., 192. 134. Ibid., 224, 227, 237, 240; Norfolk Record Office, KL/C58/2. 135. Williamson 2006, 225, 228–9, 233. 136. Ibid., 186, 240. 137. Orme 1976, 111. 138. Williamson 2006, 229, 240. 139. Clive Burgess and Andrew Wathey, ‘Mapping the Soundscape: Church music in English towns, 1450–1550’, Early Music History, 19 (2000), 1–46 at 16–17. 140. See above, pp. 25–6. 141. On what follows, see Cragoe 2010, 20–38. 142. C&S II, i, 128. 143. Cragoe 2010, 25–6. 144. C&S II, i, 82, 112–13. 145. Ibid., ii, 1123–5, 1385–8; Wilkins, iii, 697. 146. Lyndwood, 250–3. In Exeter diocese parishioners were also required to contribute to chancel repairs unless they agreed to pay tithes of their church stores (C&S II, ii, 1053; Orme 2013c, 76–103 at 82). 147. C&S II, i, 83, 115, 128, 148, etc. 148. Drew, 6. 149. OED s.n. church-reeve, churchwarden, kirk-master; MED s.n. chirche 9e, churchwardein. 150. For detailed studies of All Saints Bristol, see Burgess 2018 and of Chagford, Devon, Gabriel Byng in Harry and Steer, 137–56. 151. For a social analysis of wardens in a poor parish, see Duffy 2001, 28–32. 152. For example, Poos, 303, 314, and passim. 153. On the financial work of wardens, see Byng 2017, passim.


NOTES to pp. 82–96 154. On buildings and maintenance, see ibid. 155. C&S II, ii, 1008. 156. Cox 1913, 15–18. Surviving accounts are listed by Hutton 1994, 263–93. 157. Sparrow Simpson, 9, 31–3. 158. See below, pp. 153–4. 159. OED s.n. sexton, suffragan 3; MED s.n. sextein; Bristol Archives Office, P/AS/D/HS D 1 (reference of 1385). 160. Woodruff, 52. 161. French 2008, 17, 29–37; Kennan, 69. On the loaf, see below, p. 246. 162. Complaints often surface in visitation records, for example below, pp. 220, 224, 229.

3  THE CHURCH BUILDING   1. Durand 1995–2000, i, 14, 63–84; 1843, 21, 111–36. On Anglo-Saxon rites of dedication, see Helen Gittos, 212–56, and for later ones Pontifical of Magdalen, 98–124; Liber Pontificalis Lacy, 11–32; and Liber Pontificalis Bainbridge, 53–80.  2. C&S II, i, 245–6.   3. Orme 1996a, 9, 161–2.   4. Orme 2014, 150–2.   5. A reliable dictionary of church dedications throughout England has yet to be compiled, and research into their origins and patterns must await that outcome (Orme 1996a, 112).  6. C&S II, i, 561, 656; ii, 1004, 1022, 1056.   7. Ibid., i, 172,   8. Carew, f. 69r.   9. See below, pp. 249–50. 10. Marks 2004, 64–85. 11. For example, Orme 2000, 71–2, 113–14, 255–6. 12. See below, p. 112. 13. For example, Cox 1913, 72; Burgess 1995–2004, i, 42; Masters and Ralph, 9. 14. See below, p. 295. 15. Durand (1995–2000, i, 15; 1843, 21–2) considered that the orientation should be that of east on the dates of the equinox, not (as some thought) the solstice. 16. Goude, sig. Biir. 17. See above, p. 25. 18. On churches of this kind, see Carol F. Davidson in Continuity and Change, ed. R.N. Swanson, Studies in Church History, 35 (Woodbridge, 1999), 65–77, and Barnwell 2004, 41–60. 19. See below, pp. 205–10. 20. See above, p. 25. 21. See below, pp. 117–19. 22. See below, p. 243. 23. Mirk 2009–11, i, 157. 24. Carol Cragoe, ‘Belief and Patronage in the English Parish before 1300: Some evidence from roods’, Architectural History, 48 (2005), 21–48. 25. Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources, ed. R.E. Latham et al. (London, 1975– 2013), fasc. ii, s.n. cancellus. 26. On chancel (or rood) screens, see Frederick Bligh Bond and Bede Camm, Roodscreens and Roodlofts, 2 vols (London, 1909); Michael Aufrere Williams, ‘Medieval English Roodscreens with Special Reference to Devon’, University of Exeter, PhD thesis (2008); and Eamon Duffy in French, Gibbs, and Kümin, 133–62. 27. There were a few raised chancels, especially in collegiate churches, e.g. Leintwardine, Herefordshire, and formerly Westbury-on-Trym, Gloucestershire. 28. C&S I, ii, 575. 29. OED, s.n. ridel, riddel.


NOTES to pp. 96–103 30. See below, p. 278. 31. Eames, passim. 32. On what follows, see Gregory Dix, A Detection of Aumbries: With other notes on the history of reservation (London, 1942), 30–42. 33. Burgh, f. 19v. 34. C&S II, i, 770, 1120–1. Lyndwood, 37, states that clergy should get their own supply from the bishop, but that archdeacons and rural deans could do so on behalf of the clergy in their jurisdiction. In Chichester diocese it was given out at Pentecost when parish processions came to the cathedral (Reg. Rede, Chichester, ii, 416). 35. C&S II, i, 115, 171, 296, etc. 36. Sally Harper in Harper et al., 72–4, plate 35. 37. Lyndwood, 248. 38. Although Magnus Williamson points out that, in some large town churches, choir members could be numerous (in Harper et al., 142–4). 39. See below, p. 132. 40. Barnwell 2018, 203–7. 41. For discussion, see Barnwell 2019, 225–7. 42. On baptism, see below, pp. 302–14. 43. See below, p. 237. 44. OED s.n. pulpit; an early mention is in The Chronicle of Jocelin of Brakelond, ed. H.E. Butler (London, 1949), 40. 45. C&S II, ii, 1117, 1388. 46. On monuments, see Saul 2009. 47. As on the tomb of the Black Prince (d.1376) in Canterbury Cathedral; More, vii, 220. 48. Nicholas Rogers in Burgess and Duffy, 261–81. 49. Hanham, 15; Mattingly, 41, 43–4; Rice, iv, 28, 152, 312, 356, 387; Dils, i, p. xxii. Most references are to churchwardens, but the vicar of Clun in Shropshire was allowed to charge 7s. for internal burials in 1515 (Reg. Mayew, Hereford, 222–5). 50. Littlehales 1904, i, xlix. 51. Cox 1913, 243–5; Mattingly, 65, 78, 82. 52. Reg. Waltham, Salisbury, 146; Bannister 1930, 96–7. 53. For further discussion of purposes, see Barnwell 2018, 201–3. 54. It has been suggested (Barnwell 2019, 218) that squints enabled priests celebrating at chapel altars to co-ordinate their masses with the one taking place at the high altar. This is unlikely. Not only is the view through the squint often some way west of the chapel altar site, but chantry priests were not allowed to compete with the main parish mass on Sundays and festivals, and their mass times on weekdays were often arranged to take place at dawn, 8.00 a.m., and 10.00 a.m. so as not to conflict with any mass at the high altar (see below, p. 143). 55. For example, Coddington, Herefordshire, 1231 (English Episcopal Acta VII: Hereford 1079–1234, ed. Julia Barrow (Oxford, 1993), 251. 56. Orme 2013b, 112; Barnwell 2019, 218; Dils, i, pp. xl–xli. 57. J. McNeill in Luxford and McNeill, 18. 58. A rare exception, the chapel of St Aldhelm, Worth Matravers, Dorset, has a lozenge shape and its altar is at the south-east corner (Orme 2018c, 65–9). 59. Barnwell in Harper et al., 208. 60. Claire Cross, ‘Hatfield Church in the Early Sixteenth Century’, Northern History, 43 (2006), 333–42 at 339. 61. On masses by parish clergy at altars other than the high altar, see for example Reg. Lacy, Exeter, i, 9, 34–5, etc.; Maclean, 278; Snell, 37, 40–1. 62. Orme 2007a, 111. 63. Dymond and Paine, 2, 4–5. For further examples, see Rice, ii, 243, 309; iii, 46, 332, 344, 347; iv, 297; Testamenta Eboracensia, v, 23; and Weaver, ii, 11; iii, 37.


NOTES to pp. 104–109  64. TNA, STAC 2/28/54; Yorkshire Star Chamber Proceedings, vol. iv, ed. John Lister, Yorkshire Archaeological Society, 70 (1927), 9.   65. Bannister 1930, 93.  66. Reg. Stapeldon, Exeter, 111.   67. Bannister 1930, 93.   68. A.E.B. Owen, 136.   69. On Anglo-Saxon churches in this respect, see Helen Gittos, 188–200, and more generally, Huitson, passim.   70. Orme 2014, 152.   71. Littlehales 1904, 243, 340.   72. Orme 2016, 13–14; Rosewell, 110; Huitson, 106.  73. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, lines 933–42.   74. Huitson, 62.   75. Nicholas Orme, ‘Sir Hugh Conway and the Building of Hillesden Church’, Records of Buckinghamshire, 56 (2016), 81–98 at 90.   76. Samuel Fox, The History and Antiquities of the Parish Church of St. Matthew, Morley (London and Derby, 1872), 9, 25.   77. Leland, v, 100.   78. Orme 2018a, 152.   79. I am not convinced that they were accessible to lay people for private devotion, as suggested by Barnwell 2019, 232. There is no written evidence to this effect, and the stairs were likely to have doors and locks for security.   80. Huitson, 50–2; Dymond and Paine, 2–3; Testamenta Eboracensia, v, 281. On the location of organs in churches, see Magnus Williamson in Harry and Steer, 29–35.  81. Sarum Missal, 96; Missale Sarum, col. 262.   82. Orme and Cannon, 143–4.   83. Dymond and Paine, 5–6.   84. Dalton, 70; Orme and Cannon, 152–3.   85. Cox and Harvey, 288.   86. J.P. McAleer, ‘Surviving Medieval Free-Standing Towers at Parish Churches in England and Wales’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 156 (2003), 79–103.   87. Durand 1995–2000, i, 19–20; 1843, 127–8.   88. Oliver Creighton and Robert Higham, Town Walls: An archaeological and social history of urban defence (Stroud, 2005), 173–8; Davies, 92–4. For an example even in central England, see Reg. Sutton, Lincoln, v, 113–14.   89. Barnwell 2018, 210; Huitson, 53; Nicholas Orme, VCH Cornwall, ii (London, 2010), 227 (St Michael Penkevil).  90. On medieval church bells, see J.H. Arnold and Caroline Goodson, ‘Resounding Community: the History and meaning of medieval church bells’, Viator, 43 part i (2012), 99–130.   91. For example, a chapel allowed ‘without beat of bell’ (TNA, E 40/7931).  92. C&S II, i, 513; ii, 1123.   93. Sparrow Simpson 1895b, 1–63 passim.  94. The Edwardian Inventories for Bedfordshire, ed. F.C. Eeles, Alcuin Club Collections, 6 (London, 1905); The Edwardian Inventories for Buckinghamshire, ed. F.C. Eeles, Alcuin Club Collections, 9 (London, 1908).   95. Orme 2009, 137.   96. Durand 1995–2000, i, 52, 57; 1843, 87, 97; Liber Pontificalis Lacy, 218–22; Liber Pontificalis Bainbridge, 133–6.  97. C&S II, i, 378; ii, 1019.   98. For example, Thompson 1918, 296.   99. A.E.B. Owen, 135–6. 100. C&S II, ii, 894. 101. See below, p. 215.


NOTES to pp. 109–116 102. See below, p. 183. 103. Cox 1913, 213; see below, p. 290. 104. Mirk 2009–11, i, 139–40; so too previously Durand 1995–2000, i, 56–7; 1843, 96. 105. Cox 1913, 212. 106. Ibid., 215–17, 226. 107. On imagery, see Marks 2004; on wall paintings, Rosewell; on stained glass, Marks 1993; and on graffiti, Champion. 108. C&S II, ii, 1006. 109. John xix verses 26–7. 110. Sparrow Simpson 1895a, 9, 11–12, 31–3. 111. Sparrow Simpson 1895b, 20. 112. Marks 2004, 86–120; Barnwell 2019, 220–1; Dils, i, pp. xl–xli; Dymond and Paine, 10–25. 113. Marks 2004, 121–56. 114. Reiss, passim. 115. For examples, see Orme 2018a, 79, 115, 121, 132. 116. See also above, pp. 67–8. 117. The Plays of John Heywood, ed. R. Axton and P. Happé (Cambridge, 1991), 112–13, 248–51. 118. Duffy 2001, 73–5. 119. Orme 2018a, 146–7. 120. Nicholas Orme in The Greatest Englishman: Essays on St Boniface and the church at Crediton, ed. Timothy Reuter (Exeter, 1980), 108. 121. Orme 2018a, 166. 122. On this subject, see Marks 2009, 162–202. 123. The Minor Poems of John Lydgate, ed. H.N. MacCracken, part i, EETS, es 107 (1911), 356. 124. Claire Cross, ‘Hatfield Church in the Early Sixteenth Century’, Northern History, 43 (2006), 333–42. 125. Marks 2009, 164–5. 126. William Worcester, The Topography of Medieval Bristol, ed. Frances Neale, Bristol Record Society, 51 (2000), 54–5. 127. William Worcestre, Itineraries, ed. John H. Harvey (Oxford, 1969), 104–5 112–13, 116–17. The latter equates to a known cathedral chronicle. 128. Rosewell, 75. 129. Ibid., 83. 130. See below, p. 181. 131. Orme 2007b, 122. 132. On books in churches, see John Shinners in Brown and Stoneman, 207–30; Testamenta Eboracensia, v, 233. 133. Morgan 2008, 292–3. 134. James Willoughby in The Late Medieval College and its Context, ed. Clive Burgess and Martin Heale (York, 2008), 154–79; The Parochial Libraries of the Church of England (London, 1959), 14; A.E.B. Owen, 136; Orme 2018b, 20; Wordsworth and Littlehales, plate between 48 and 49. 135. See below, pp. 184–6. 136. Orme 2009, 67, 129. 137. For example, Woodruff, 41. 138. A.E.B. Owen, 136. 139. Select Cases in the Court of King’s Bench under Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V, ed. G.O. Sayles, Selden Society, 88 (1971), 207–9. 140. Bertha Putnam, Proceedings before the Justices of the Peace (London, 1938), 100–1. 141. TNA, STAC 10/4/176. 142. Orme 2017, 94. 143. Duffy 2001, 82.


NOTES to pp. 116–122 144. However this probably took place rarely in parish churches: see below, pp. 261–2. 145. See below, p. 218. 146. The Church Records of St Andrew Hubbard Eastcheap c.1450–c.1570, ed. Clive Burgess, London Record Society, 34 (1999), 4, 6, 25. 147. Piers Plowman, C.x.189. 148. C&S II, i, 275. 149. Ibid., ii, 1020. 150. Mannyng, lines 8803–14. 151. C&S II, i, 275. 152. Ibid., i, 297, 433. 153. Memorials of the Church of . . . Ripon, [ed. J.T. Fowler,] vol. ii, Surtees Society, 78 (1886), 71–2. 154. George Oliver, Lives of the Bishops of Exeter and a History of the Cathedral (Exeter, 1861), 309. 155. Processionale Sarum, 1–4; Manuale Sarum, 1–4. 156. See below, p. 168. 157. Bannister 1929, 452; 1930, 449. 158. Reg. Chandler, Dean of Salisbury, 12. 159. R.N. Swanson in Toomey, 171. 160. Reg. Repingdon, Lincoln, iii, 138–9, 145, 155, 187–8. 161. A. Hamilton Thompson in Miscellanea II, Surtees Society, 127 (1916), 220. 162. The Making of King’s Lynn: A documentary survey, ed. Dorothy M. Owen (London, 1984), 141–2. 163. Kempe, 53 169 207–8. 164. Poos, 405–6. 165. As late as 1530 the bishop of Hereford forbade two men, one a gentleman, from sitting in the chancel at Greete, Shropshire, perhaps because the church was a very small one (Reg. Bothe, Hereford, 233). 166. See above, p. 76. 167. In 1457 there was a layman wearing a surplice singing evensong in plainsong in the chancel of All Saints church, Bristol (Bristol Archives Office, P/AS/D/NA 4–6). 168. CIPM, x, 286; xv, 64. 169. See below, p. 316. 170. See below, p. 335. 171. Memorials of the Church of . . . Ripon, [ed. J.T. Fowler,] vol. iii, Surtees Society, 81 (1888), 227. 172. See below, p. 284. 173. Swanson in Toomey, 210–11. 174. Visitations of Religious Houses in the Diocese of Lincoln, ed. A. Hamilton Thompson, vol. i, Lincoln Record Society, 7 (1914) and Canterbury and York Society, 17 (1915), 170. 175. Frere and Kennedy, ii, 7, 35–6, 117–18. 176. The pioneer work was that of Heales, followed by Aston who acknowledged her debt to Heales. Most recently, see Barnwell in Cooper and Brown, 69–86 (other chapters in the latter are also relevant), and Byng 2019. 177. There is a good example in Cotterstock, Northamptonshire, a small collegiate church. 178. See below, p. 253; Orme 2009, 60. 179. VCH Buckinghamshire, ed. William Page, 5 vols (London, 1905–28), iv, 184. 180. The Book of Quinte Essence, ed. F.J. Furnivall, EETS, os 20 (1866), xviii. 181. Didascalia Apostolorum, ed. R. Hugh Connolly (Oxford, 1929), 119–20. 182. Durand 1995–2000, i, 26–7; 1843, 36. 183. Liber Pontificalis Lacy, 131. 184. Fowler 1902, 35. 185. Dafydd ap Gwilym, The Poems, trans. R.M. Loomis (New York, 1982), 126. 186. Swanson in Toomey, 171.


NOTES to pp. 122–130 187. Durand 1995–2000, i, 27; 1843, 36. 188. See below, p. 330. 189. More, Utopia, book ii, chapter ix. 190. Muriel Clayton, Catalogue of Rubbings of Brasses and Incised Slabs (London, 1968), plates 2, 9–10, 12, 15–16. 191. Dalton, 37. 192. Duffy 1992, 171. 193. Richard Gough, The History of Myddle, ed. David Hey (Harmondsworth, 1981), 77–8. 194. C&S II, i, 275, 433. 195. Ibid., ii, 1007–8. 196. Piers Plowman, C.vii.143–4. 197. John Gower, Confessio Amantis, book 5, lines 7055–75. 198. Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, VI(C), line 392. 199. Cooper and Brown, 74. 200. Reg. Chandler, Dean of Salisbury, 43. 201. Three Lancashire Documents of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, ed. John Harland, Chetham Society, 74 (1868), 112–15. 202. Cox and Harvey, 259–61; O’Connell, 230–45 at 233–6. 203. Two Early Tudor Lives, ed. R.W. Sylvester and D.P. Harding (New Haven and London, 1962), 227. 204. For examples, see Heales, i, 33–4, 68; Aston, 245–6, 253. 205. For example, Swanson 1993, 254. 206. French 2008, 105. 207. Heales, i, 16–17. 208. Paston Letters, i, 36–7. 209. J.F. Williams, ‘The Black Book of Swaffham’, Norfolk Archaeology, 33 (1962–5), 243–53 at 252. 210. John Maclean, The Parochial and Family History of the Deanery of Trigg Minor, 3 vols (London and Bodmin, 1873–9), i, 15. 211. Heales, i, 77. 212. Masters and Ralph, 25, etc. 213. Hanham, 3, 5, etc. 214. French 2008, 102–12. 215. [Year Books] Omnes Anni Regis Henrici Septimi (London, 1585; S92232), 8 Henry VII f. xiir. The church is only initialised as B. Fitzwater (not described as a gentleman) was also litigating in connection with Iver, Buckinghamshire, in 1493 (TNA, KB 27/927, m. 61d). 216. French 2008, 105. 217. Ibid., 95. 218. Dils, i, 87; ii, 59. 219. French 2008, 107–9. 220. Richard Gough, The History of Myddle, ed. Hey (Harmondsworth, 1981), passim. 221. See below, p. 170. 222. Barclay, i, 220–4; Constitutions and Canons Ecclesiastical 1604, ed. J.V. Bullard (London, 1934), 94–5. 223. See below, pp. 168–70. 224. C&S II, ii, 1287; Mirk 1990, 74 (part 2, chapter 11); Goude, sig. Diir. 225. James 28; Barclay, i, 220–4; Goude, sig. Diir. 226. Maidstone, Kent History and Library Centre, DRb/P/a/6, p. 80. 227. The Demaundes Joyous (London, 1511; S109526), sig. Aiirf. 228. CIPM, xxvi, 111, 147; TNA, C 1/44/213. 229. Orme 2017, 85. 230. Katherine L. French and Gary G. Gibbs in Harry and Steer, 382. 231. On church graffiti, see Champion.


NOTES to pp. 130–135 232. On the secular uses of churches, see Davies, 37–95, which should emphasise the prohibitions more than it does. 233. CIPM, xiv, 175; Davies, 64; Kempe, 114–17. 234. CIPM, viii, 32; x, 437. 235. Ibid., ix, 411, 450, 453; x, 437; xiv, 174, 179; xix, 238; xxiii, 318–19. 236. C&S II, i, 61, 228, 269, 346, etc.; below, pp. 78–9. 237. See below, pp. 151–2. 238. C&S II, i, 35–6. 239. Ibid., i, 64, 93, 135, 174, 195, 231–2, 320–1, 353; ii, 1023. 240. Mannyng, lines 8909–29, 8991–9237. 241. Mirk 1974, p. 86. 242. See below, p. 287. 243. See below, pp. 313, 336; Davies, 50–2. 244. Letters and Papers of John Shillingford, Mayor of Exeter 1447–50, ed. Stuart A. Moore, Camden Society, new series 2 (1871), 93; J.H. Bettey, St James’s Fair, Bristol, 1137– 1837, Avon Local History and Archaeology, 16 (Bristol, 2014), 17. Such practices were common enough to be condemned by the author of Dives and Pauper, i part 2, 193. 245. Davies, 59–63. 246. Ibid., 90–1. 247. Cox 1913, 287–9; Pounds, 265–6. For more detailed evidence on the South-West of England, see G.W. Copeland, ‘Devonshire Church Houses’, Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 92 (1960), 116–41; 93 (1961), 250–65; 94 (1962), 427–39; 95 (1963), 135–55; 96 (1964), 202–7; 98 (1966), 157–67; 99 (1967), 263–8. 248. For example, Reg. Lacy, Exeter, ii, 90–3, 150–1, 153–5; iii, 235–6, 243. 249. C&S II, i, 172. 250. Reg. Lacy, Exeter, iii, 237. 251. Swanson in Toomey, 158, 178, 200–1. 252. Pontifical of Magdalen, 25–7; Liber Pontificalis Lacy, 42–6; Liber Pontificalis Bainbridge, 87–91. 253. Lyndwood, 256. 254. Mirk 1974, lines 1383–4. 255. BL, Lansdowne MS 379, ff. 80r–80v. 256. C&S II, i, 172. 257. OED s.n. palm-cross; see below, pp. 274–5. 258. Rice, ii, 345; Orme 2018a, 87, 152–3. 259. Brian and Moira Gittos, 44. For other examples, see Reg. Sutton, Lincoln, iii, 54, 191. 260. The Fifty Earliest English Wills, ed. F.J. Furnivall, EETS, os 78 (1882), 117; Wills and Inventories from . . . the Archdeaconry of Richmond, ed. James Raine, Surtees Society, 26 (1853), 10, 47, 58. 261. Elizabeth Craig-Atkins in Medieval Childhood: Archaeological approaches (Oxford, 2014), 95–113. 262. The Fifty Earliest English Wills, ed. F.J. Furnivall, EETS, os 78 (1882), 96. This was so even in the big common cemetery of Exeter (Lepine and Orme, 22, 56, 59, 72, 101). 263. Listed by Durand 1995–2000, i, 61–2; 1843, 105–6; C&S II, ii, 1408 (list). 264. Stow, ii, 55. 265. Reg. Lacy, Exeter, i, 13. However the bishop of Hereford ordered the exhumation of a woman of status from the chancel of Shrawardine, Shropshire, in 1521 because she drowned herself, and forbade her even to be buried in the cemetery (Reg. Bothe, Hereford, 119). 266. Orme 2001, 126. 267. On what follows, see the valuable surveys of the subject by Gilchrist and Sloane, 184–94, and Brian and Moira Gittos, 31–44. 268. Ibid., 31.


NOTES to pp. 135–143 269. Judith Middleton-Stewart, Inward Purity and Outward Splendour (Woodbridge, 2001), 266. 270. For example, William Hille at Moulton, Lincolnshire, 1471 (TNA, PROB 11/6/203), and Laurence Dobell at Exeter, 1527 (Lepine and Orme, 65). 271. The Poems of the Pearl Manuscript, ed. Malcolm Andrew and Ronald Waldron (London, 1978), 53–110. 272. On charnels and their chapels, see Jennifer Nancy Crangle, ‘A Study of Post-Depositional Funerary Practices in Medieval England’, University of Sheffield, PhD thesis (2015), and Elizabeth Craig-Atkins et al., ‘Charnel Practices in Medieval England: New perspectives’, Mortality, 24 (2019), 145–66. The present author’s study of the Exeter charnel chapel will be found in Medieval Art and Architecture at Exeter Cathedral, ed. Francis Kelly, British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions, 11 (London, 1991), 162–71, and Orme 2014, 84–6. 273. On what follows, see Ault, 204–6. 274. C&S II, i, 497, 629; ii, 1009–10; 1123–4. 275. Reg. Spofford, Hereford, 96. 276. C&S II, i, 35. 277. Ibid., i, 297. 278. Ibid., i, 708–9. 279. Durand 1995–2000, i, 132–5; 1843, 135. 280. Ibid., i, 193. 281. See below, p. 269. 282. Caxton 1971, 59. 283. Reg. Lacy, Exeter, v, 247 (index of examples); Pounds, 428. 284. Pontifical of Magdalen, 127–32; Liber Pontificalis Lacy, 46–52; Liber Pontificalis Bainbridge, 92–103. 285. For example, Reg. Sutton, Lincoln, iii, 178–9; v, 218.

4  THE CONGREGATION   1. See below, p. 280; OED, MED s.n. housel, from an old word meaning ‘a sacrifice’.  2. Rotuli Hugonis de Welles, Episcopi Lincolniensis, ed. F.N. Davis et al., vol. ii, Canterbury and York Society, 3 (1907), 127.  3. Paston Letters, i, 178.  4. Pleadings and Depositions in the Duchy Court of Lancaster, ed. Henry Fishwick, vol. i, Lancashire and Cheshire Record Society, 32 (1896), 83.   5. Maclean, 229–308.   6. Page, i, 131, 175; ii, 213.  7. The Chantry Certificates [of Oxfordshire], ed. Rose Graham, Oxfordshire Record Society, 1 (1919), 12–53.   8. See below, pp. 282–3.   9. See above, pp. 32–3. 10. See below, p. 259. 11. See above, p. 37. 12. Helmingham, 1510 (BL, Add. MS 34786, ff. 6r, 7v); Ilminster, 1258 (Two Cartularies of Muchelney and Athelney, ed. E.H. Bates, Somerset Record Society, 14 (1899), 54); All Saints and St Michael Oxford, 1492 (Oxford, Lincoln College Archives, Computus 1, Calc. 6, kindly communicated by Professor Swanson); Kirkby Malham, 1454–5 (BL, Add. Roll 32957); Scarborough, 1435–6 (Swanson 1993, 151–7); and Whitgift, 1421 (Beryl Holt, ‘Two Obedientiary Rolls of Selby Abbey’, in Miscellanea VI, ed. C.E. Whiting, Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series, 118 (1953), 30–52 at 41). 13. For the required festival days, see below, p. 256. 14. See below, pp. 282–3. 15. CPR 1364–7, 402–3.


NOTES to pp. 143–152 16. See below, p. 230. 17. Wilkins, iii, 389–90. 18. See below, p. 265. 19. See above, p. 106. 20. Furnivall 1868a, 62–3. 21. For example, Reg. Lacy, Exeter, i, 4, 17; ii, 180. 22. David Parsons, Lost Chantries and Chapels of Medieval Northamptonshire (Brixworth, 2000), 9–13. 23. On the gentry and the parish, see the comprehensive survey of Saul, 2017. 24. Daniel of Beccles, line 181. 25. See above, pp. 117–18. 26. See above, p. 121. 27. The Great Chronicle of London, ed. A.H. Thomas and I.D. Thornley (London, 1938; repr. Stroud, 1983), 96. 28. Harland, 112–15. 29. Paston Letters, i, 36–7. 30. Testamenta Eboracensia, ii, 174–5, 207. 31. [Year Books] De Termino Pasche Anno IX Edwardi IV (London, 1525; S110102), sig. Ciiiv. 32. See above, p. 125. 33. Edith Rickert, Chaucer’s World (New York and London, 1948), 38. 34. Testamenta Eboracensia, i, 91; TNA, PROB 11/17/420. 35. Pantin 1976, 398–400. 36. Kempe, 12, 14, 21, 53, 107, 139–40, 174, 184, 216. 37. Sneyd, 23. 38. See below, p. 242. 39. On this subject, see the perceptive article by Katherine L. French and Gary G. Gibbs in Harry and Steer, 380–96. 40. John A.A. Goodall, God’s House at Ewelme (Aldershot, 2001), passim; Orme and Cannon, 72–5. 41. Snell, 15–16. 42. William Dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum, ed. J. Caley, H. Ellis, and B. Bandinel, 6 vols in 8 parts (London, 1817–30), vi part iii, 1408. 43. H.P. Wright, The Story of the “Domus Dei” of Stamford (London, 1890), 39, 466. 44. HMC, 9th Report, 3 vols (1883–4), i, 218–19. 45. G. Steinman, History of Croydon (London, 1834), 275–6. 46. John Footman, History of the Parish Church of . . . Chipping Lambourn (London, 1894), 186–7; compare Edward Spooner, ‘The Almshouse Chapel, Hadleigh’, Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History, 7 (1891), 379–80. 47. Orme 2001, 7–8. 48. Chertsey, sigs Mviv and HHir, exempted those under 21 from fasting. 49. Piers Plowman, A.i.154, B.i.178. 50. Thompson 1940, 23, 26, 69, 113. 51. Orme 2001, 211. 52. Ibid., 205–6; A Dialogue, sig. A.viir. 53. Whitford 1530, sig. Diiiv–ivr. 54. Reginald of Durham, Libellus de Vita et Miraculis S. Godrici, ed. J. Stephenson, Surtees Society, 20 (1845), 403. 55. Testamenta Eboracensia, v, 49, 103. 56. Orme 2001, 211. 57. Kempe, 200. 58. Orme 2006a, 136. 59. Ibid. 60. Twelfth Night, III.ii.72–3.


NOTES to pp. 152–157 61. Jo Ann Hoeppner Moran, The Growth of English Schooling 1340–1548 (Princeton, NJ, 1985), 237–78; Lisa Colton in Performance, Ceremony and Display in Late Medieval England, ed. Julia Boffey (Donington, 2020), 229. 62. For example, Orme 1976, 121, 161, 177. 63. See below, pp. 257–9. 64. J.H. Lupton, A Life of John Colet (London, 1909), 278–9; C.L. Kingsford, ‘Two London Chronicles’, Camden Miscellany XII, Royal Historical Society, 3rd series, 18 (1910), 11. 65. The Foundation Documents of Pocklington School, Yorkshire, 1514–2014 (Pocklington, 2014), 45–6. 66. Chichester, West Sussex Record Office, Cap 1/14/5, f. 128r. Other examples were Newark, Nottinghamshire (VCH Nottinghamshire, vol. ii (London, 1910), 205), and Stockport, Cheshire, and Week St Mary, Cornwall (Orme 1976, 176–7). 67. See below, p. 321. 68. C&S II, i, 61, 228, 269, 346, 405, 439, 518, 648. 69. See below, p. 384. 70. Se below, pp. 264, 280. 71. See below, pp. 257–8, 275. 72. See above, pp. 29–30. Much has been written on guilds, notably in recent times Gervase Rosser’s 2015 study of the whole of England and regional surveys such as Joanna Mattingly, ‘The Medieval Parish Guilds of Cornwall’, Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, new series 10 (1989), 290–329; V.R. Bainbridge, Gilds in the Medieval Countryside: social and religious change in Cambridgeshire (Woodbridge, 1996); and K. Farnhill, Guilds and the Parish Community in Late Medieval East Anglia (York, 2001). 73. Kennan, 61–74. 74. Toulmin Smith, 4, 7, 10, 15–16, 17–19, 23–4, 24–6, etc. Usually this was to a parish church but sometimes to a religious house. 75. Orme 2016, 1–3. 76. For example, young men in East Anglia (Duffy 1992, 13) and York (Testamenta Eboracensia, iv, 262). 77. On maidens and married women, see French 2008, 118–56. 78. Farnhill, Guilds, 30. 79. Hanham, xiii; John Hutchins, History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset, ed. W. Shipp and J.W. Hodson, 4 vols (Westminster, 1861–74; repr. East Ardesley, 1973), iii, 260. 80. See below, pp. 336, 347. 81. Most collections of wills include examples, see, for example, Weaver, i, 2, 6, 9, 12, 25, etc. 82. Edwards, 51; Lancashire and Cheshire Wills and Inventories, ed. G.J. Piccope, vol. i, Chetham Society, 1st series 38 (1857), 11. 83. Maclean, 232–51. 84. The Cartulary of the Wakebridge Chantries, ed. Avrom Saltman, Derbyshire Archaeological Society Record Series, 6 (1976), 105. 85. Rosser, 48. They could also be staged by chaplains in noble households: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, line 1135. 86. Kitching, 9–68 passim. 87. Orme 2009, 147. 88. Quentin, sig. Aiiiir. 89. Supplications from England and Wales in the Registers of the Apostolic Penitentiary, ed. Peter D. Clarke and Patrick Zutshi, vol. ii, Canterbury and York Society, 104 (2014), 350; William Worcester, The Topography of Medieval Bristol, ed. Frances Neale, Bristol Record Society, 51 (2000), 146–7. 90. Page, i, 175; Wood-Legh 1965, 291. 91. See below, p. 230. Chaucer mentions pre-dinner mass in Canterbury Tales, B2 *1413, *1441 (VII 223, 251). 92. See below, p. 233.


NOTES to pp. 157–164   93. For example at Idstock, Somerset, 1427 (The Register of John Stafford, Bishop of Bath and Wells, vol i, ed. T.S. Holmes, Somerset Record Society, 31 (1915), 50); Newland, Gloucestershire, 1446 (Orme 1976, 160); and Nettlecombe, Somerset, 1453 (The Register of Thomas Bekynton, Bishop of Bath and Wells, vol. i, ed. H.C. Maxwell Lyte and M.C.B. Dawes, Somerset Record Society, 49 (1934), 217).   94. Jenny Rebecca Rytting, ‘A Disputacioun betwyx þe Body and Wormes: a translation’, Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 31 (2000), 217–32.  95. CIPM, vi, 478; xiv, 175; xvii, 123; xviii, 511. On the veracity of such claims, see below, pp. 311–12.   96. So still in Cornwall in 1602 (Carew, f. 69r).   97. See above, p. 112.  98. C&S II, i, 647, 1020.   99. Ibid., i, 35, 194, 204, 465, 647; ii, 902, 1020–1, 1117. 100. Ibid., ii, 1096–7. 101. Piers Plowman, B.v.417–19, C.viii.26–7. Compare Idley, 173. 102. Lavynham, 16. 103. Barclay, ii, 176. 104. George Oliver, Monasticon Dioecesis Exoniensis (Exeter and London, 1846), 84. 105. Hale, 125. 106. Reg. Morton, Canterbury, iii, 195, 211; Reg. Waltham, Salisbury, 80, 116–17, 128, 212. 107. Speculum Sacerdotale, 125. 108. Rosser, 48, quoting TNA, C 47/40/120 (dated 1389). 109. Dives and Pauper, i part i, 287–90. 110. Maclean, 292. 111. In 1488 the vicar of Aymestrey, Herefordshire, was told to provide a short Sunday service for the infirm and elderly at Leinthall Earls, over two miles away (Reg. Myllyng, Hereford, 112). 112. Dives and Pauper, i part i, 292–3. 113. C&S II, i, 154. 114. Tanner, i, 222; C&S I, ii, 1068; C&S II, i, 175. 115. Burgh, f. 19v. 116. Orme and Webster, 23–7. 117. Ibid., 27–8, 170–7. 118. Reg. Morton, Canterbury, iii, 185; Act Book of the Ecclesiastical Court of Whalley 1510–1538, ed. Alice M. Cooke, Chetham Society, new series 44 (1901), 58; compare 135. 119. C&S II, i, 647. 120. Wilkins, iii, 266–7. 121. Higden, 215; Dives and Pauper, i part i, 277–93. 122. Reiss, 39–46, 50. 123. Duffy 2001, 25, 99–100. 124. Reg. Morton, Canterbury, iii, 196; Thompson 1940, 24. 125. Heath 1969, 10. 126. Hale, 15, 125. 127. Brian L. Woodcock, Medieval Ecclesiastical Courts in the Diocese of Canterbury (London, 1952), 81; Wood-Legh 1984, 13. 128. Thompson 1940, 107, 115; Thompson 1944, 34. 129. Wood-Legh 1984, 147. 130. Statutes of the Realm, iii, 25. 131. Thompson 1940, 113. 132. LPFD, x, 625. 133. Ibid., xi, 1041 (TNA, SP 1/111, f. 54r); Hale, 124. 134. The cases that follow are gathered from Bannister 1929, 287–8, 445–52; Bannister, 1930, 458; Elvey, 7, 161; Hale, 5–129; Reg. Morton, Canterbury, iii, 158–220; Reg.


NOTES to pp. 164–171 Waltham, Salisbury, 116–66; Thompson 1940, 24–77; Poos, 353, 295, 387; and Swanson in Toomey, 156–264. 135. Bannister 1929, 281. 136. Reg. Waltham, Salisbury, 212. 137. Swanson in Toomey, 156–264. 138. Act Book of the Ecclesiastical Court of Whalley 1510–1538, ed. Alice M. Cooke, Chetham Society, new series 44 (1901) passim. 139. Wood-Legh 1984, 291. 140. Reg. Welton, Carlisle, 19, 46–7; Reg. Appleby, Carlisle, 143. 141. See above, p. 40. 142. Reg. Lacy, Exeter, iv, 261, 264, 314, 317; cf. Bannister 1929, 446 (Sellack, Herefordshire), and Lancashire County Archives, DDTO K 23/37 (Chaigley, Lancashire). 143. Daniel of Beccles, lines 133–78. 144. C&S II, ii, 1117. 145. TNA, STAC 2–3, from various counties. 146. A. Hamilton Thompson in Miscellanea II, Surtees Society, 127 (1916), 220. 147. Reg. Langley, Durham, iii, 192–3. 148. Sir John Wynne, The History of the Gwydir Family, ed. J.A. Roberts (Oswestry, 1878), 82. 149. Caxton 1868, 4, 8–9; compare Piers Plowman, C.vi.105–7; Erasmus, sig. B4r; Hilarie, sig. Aivr. 150. The Little Red Book of Bristol, ed. F.B. Bickley, 2 vols (Bristol and London, 1900), i, 206–9. 151. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, lines 760–3. 152. Barclay, i, 220–4; Erasmus, sig. B4v. 153. Hale, 113; Thompson 1940, 26, 44, 83; Thompson 1944, 32. 154. Thompson 1940, 86, 96, 98. 155. Hale, 74, 80. 156. Wood-Legh 1984, 189, 200–1. 157. Hale, 26. 158. Ibid., 94, 124. 159. Baildon, 25, 34, 55, 78, 84, 92. See also Reg. Gilbert. Hereford, 13–15. 160. Woodruff, 27. 161. Yorkshire Star Chamber Proceedings, vol. iii, ed. William Brown, Yorkshire Archaeological Society, 51 (1914), 30–1; Proceedings in the Court of the Star Chamber, ed. G. Bradford, Somerset Record Society, 27 (1911), 121–5. There are several other cases in the Star Chamber records: TNA, STAC. 162. Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, I (A) 449–52. 163. Frere and Kennedy, ii, 124. 164. G.R. Owst, Literature and Pulpit in Medieval England (Oxford, 1966), 601. 165. The Book of Vices and Virtues, ed. W. Nelson Francis, EETS, os 217 (1942), 238–9. 166. 1 Corinthians xi verses 5–6. 167. Durand 1995–2000, i, 27;1843, 37; The Book of Vices and Virtues, ed. W. Nelson Francis, EETS, os 217 (1942), 240. 168. On marriage and churching, see below, pp. 314–16, 323–37. On widows’ veils, see Pontifical of Magdalen, 87; Liber Pontificalis Lacy, 124; Liber Pontificalis Bainbridge, 150; and apparently Piers Plowman, B.vi.7, C.ix.5. 169. Piers Plowman, A.v.85–91. 170. Mannyng, lines 8881–4; Idley, 125. 171. Piers Plowman, B.v.104–110; cf. C.vii.143–4. 172. Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, I(A) 453–7. 173. Ibid., I(A) 376–8. 174. The Proud Wyves Paternoster, passim.


NOTES to pp. 172–178 175. The St Albans Chronicle, ed. John Taylor et al., 2 vols (Oxford, 2003–11), i, 820–1; Reg. Waltham, Salisbury, 169–70. 176. Barclay, i, 223. 177. Poos, 454, 479; compare 318, 353, 466. 178. Thompson 1940, 113. 179. Wilkins, iii, 318; Lyndwood, 298. 180. See below, p. 278. 181. Manuale Sarum, 49–50. 182. See above, p. 125. 183. Mirk 1974, p. 83; Goude, sig. D.iiv. 184. The Lay Folks Mass Book, 10–11, 16–19, 22–3, 26–7, 44–5, 54–5. On these stages of the mass, see below, pp. 210–17. 185. Whitford 1530, sig. Diiiv–ivr; 1531, sig. Eiir, Fvv; Erasmus, sig. B5r. 186. See below, p. 213; Erasmus, sig. B5r. 187. Lyndwood, 298; Speculum Sacerdotale, 128, based on Luke xxiv.4 and John xx.10–11. 188. OED s.n. kneel; MED s.n. knelen. 189. C&S II, i, 33, 79, 143, 268, 300, etc. 190. Philippians ii verse 10; Becon, Prayers and other Pieces, 257. 191. Caxton 1489, sig. Giiv; Becon, 257. 192. See below, p. 389. 193. Mirk 1974, lines 270–86, 304–9. 194. Erasmus, sig. 5r; Brightman, ii, 696; see also Hilarie, sig. Avr. 195. C&S II, i, 346, 405, 423, 518, 648. 196. For occasions on which people should or did cross themselves, see Longland, sig. Giiiv; Erasmus, sig. B4r: Hilarie, sig. Aivr-vir; and Richard Smith, A Bouclier of the Catholike Fayth (London, 1555; S125530), ff. 63r-64r. 197. Vergil, 433. 198. Orme 2001, 253. 199. See below, p. 307. 200. Whitford 1530, sig. Divv. 201. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, lines 753–67. 202. The Myroure of Oure Ladye, ed. J. H. Blunt, EETS, es 19 (1873), 44. 203. Lay Folks’ Mass Book, 18–19 (recommended after the gospel); Becon, 257. 204. William Tyndale, An Answer unto Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue (Antwerp, 1531; S104977), ff. 36v–37r. Hilarie, sig. Avir, suggests that the priest too engaged in lavish crossings. 205. Sarum Missal, 217, 220, 228. 206. C&S II, i, 143. 207. Gerhart B. Ladner, Images and Ideas in the Middle Ages, 2 vols (Rome, 1983), i, 209–37; however he dates the practice too late. As well as the statute of the early 1220s, there are figures with similar hand gestures in the late twelfth- and early thirteenth-century windows of Canterbury Cathedral. 208. For illustrations of people praying, see Charles Boutell, Christian Monuments in England and Wales (London, 1854), 117–56; Francis Wormald, ‘Some Pictures of the Mass in an English XIVth Century Manuscript’, The Walpole Society, 41 (1966–8), 39–45; and Nigel Morgan, ‘Patrons and their Devotions in . . . 13th-century English Psalters’, in The Illuminated Psalter, ed. F.O. Büttner (Turnhout, 2004), 309–19 at 316–17. 209. For example, C&S II, i, 517. 210. Caxton 1868, 8–9. 211. Missale Sarum, col. 262; Mirk, Instructions, 155. 212. See below, pp. 335, 338. 213. Piers Plowman, B.xviii.428, C.xxi.475. 214. Frere and Kennedy, ii, 37, 115.


NOTES to pp. 178–184 215. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, lines 759–61; Piers Plowman, C.vi.108; A.v.44, B.v.62, C.vii. 2; A.v.243, B.v.470, C.vii.317. 216. John Fisher, 273. 217. Ibid., 292. 218. Kempe, e.g. 16, 50, 61, 67, 111, 148. 219. See below, p. 185. 220. See below, p. 269. 221. See below, p. 243. 222. See above, p. 28. 223. C&S II, i, 31, 61, 213, etc. 224. C&S II, i, 134, 172 (also allowing the Paternoster and Ave in English); ii, 1076. 225. A Dialogue, sig. Ciiv. 226. Mirk 1974, lines 89–92; Margaret Deansley, The Lollard Bible (Cambridge, 1920, repr. 1966), 37. 227. Mirk 2009–11, ii, 263. 228. Thomas Betson, Here Begynneth a Ryght Profytable Treatise (London, 1500; S110939); The Craft to Lyue Well and to Dye Well (London, 1505; S108426); and The Kalender of Shepherdes (London, 1506; S1142). 229. See below, pp. 355–6. 230. C&S II, i, 269, 518–19, 648, 713. 231. For example, Swanson 2007, 228, 233, 236, 239, 244 etc. 232. Piers Plowman, B.v.401, C.viii.10; compare Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, I(A) 3638. 233. S102570. 234. A Hundred Merry Tales, f. 16r. 235. Duffy 1992, 85. 236. John Fitzherbert, A Newe Tracte or Treatyse [later entitled The Boke of Husbandry] (London, 1523; S112246), f. 60v. 237. Hale, 49. 238. On this subject, see Swanson 2006, 130–9, and idem 2007, references on 576. 239. Vergil, 364. 240. OED s.n. bead, paternoster(3b), rosary; MED s.n. bede(3), pater-noster(2); Vergil, 364. 241. Rice, ii, 109; Cameron Louis, The Commonplace Book of Robert Reynes of Acle (New York and London, 1980), 287–8. 242. C&S II, i, 213; Psalm 119 verse 164. 243. Lexikon der Marienkunde, ed. K. Algermissen et al. (Regensburg, 1957–67), 219–21. 244. Wilkins, iii, 246–7. 245. Wordsworth and Littlehales, 17–18. 246. Frere and Kennedy, ii, 42, 109; see below, p. 357. 247. W.A. Pantin, The English Church in the Fourteenth Century (Cambridge, 1955), 255–6, 276; Orme 1989, 183. 248. Caxton 1971, 16–17; Caxton 1868, 8–9. 249. Quentin, sig. Aiiv. 250. Reliquiae Antiquae, ed. T. Wright and J.O. Halliwell, 2 vols (London, 1841–3), ii, 223–4; HMC, 9th Report, i, 218; John Footman, History of the Parish Church of . . . Chipping Lambourn (London, 1894), 186–7. 251. Orme 2001, 207. 252. See pp. 133, 270; C&S II, i, 172; Mirk 1974, 142; Kempe, 11; The Merry Deuill of Edmonton (London, 1608; S106285), sig. Biv. 253. Orme 2001, 264. 254. BL, Add. MS 24686. 255. Orme 2001, 248, 264. 256. See below, p. 353. 257. Nigel Morgan, ‘Texts and Images of Marian Devotion’ in Monasteries and Society in Medieval Britain, ed. Benjamin Thompson (Stamford, 1999), 117–36; Duffy 2006, 5–9; Morgan 2008, 306–10, 313–14; Morgan 2013, 65–95.


NOTES to pp. 185–191 258. For example, Littlehales, 1895–7. 259. Duffy 1991, 213; Morgan 2008, 314. 260. Breviarium Sarum, ii, cols 283–314; The Hours of the Blessed Virgin Mary According to the Sarum Breviary, trans. Athelstan Riley (London, 1892). 261. Duffy 1991; Swanson 2007. 262. Donovan, passim; Duffy 2006, 8–9; Morgan 2013, 65–95; Scott-Stokes, 1–24. 263. Morgan 2013, 87. 264. Hale, 71. 265. S125252–S93581; F. Madan, ‘The Daily Ledger of John Dorne’, in Collectanea First Series, ed. C.R.L. Fletcher, Oxford Historical Society, 5 (1885), 78–139; Garrett Godfrey’s Accounts c.1527–1533, ed. Elizabeth Leedham-Green et al. (Cambridge, 1992), 147. 266. Kempe, 21, 216. 267. Sneyd, 23. 268. TNA, E 36/20 p. 117. 269. Ruth J. Dean and Maureen B.M. Boulton, Anglo-Norman Literature: A guide to texts and manuscripts (London, 1999), 392–8; Wormald, ‘Some Pictures of the Mass in an English XIVth Century Manuscript’, The Walpole Society, 41 (1966–8), 39–45. 270. Dean and Boulton, Anglo-Norman Literature: A guide to texts and manuscripts (London, 1999), 392–6; The Lay Folks Mass Book, 2–60. For discussions of the lay experience at mass, see Barnwell in Harper et al., 235–54, and MacCullough, 179–86. 271. Duffy, 118–19. 272. Further research will probably reveal copies owned by women, such as Testamenta Eboracensia, ii, 57. 273. M.R. James, 28. 274. Sylvia Thrupp, The Merchant Class of Medieval London, 2nd ed. (Ann Arbor, 1989), 161. 275. Even a merchant’s house might have a chapel: Testamenta Eboracensia, iii, 185. 276. Testamenta Eboracensia, i, 278. 277. TNA, PROB 11/7/202. 278. Testamenta Eboracensia, iv, 106. 279. Nicholas Orme, Schools, Readers and Writers in Medieval Bristol, Avon Local History and Archaeology 27 (Bristol, 2018), 21–2. 280. The Walsingham family of Scadbury, Kent (Ker, iv, 516–19). 281. Pantin 1976, 398–400. 282. See below, pp. 308, 328–35. 283. See below, p. 283. 284. John Fisher, 292. 285. The Lay Folks Mass Book, passim. 286. On this subject, see Duffy 1992, 68–87, 209–65. 287. G. Steinman, History of Croydon (London, 1834), 275–6. 288. HMC, 9th Report, i, 219; John Footman, History of the Parish Church of . . . Chipping Lambourn (London, 1894), 186–7. 289. Reg. Langton, Salisbury, 80. 290. For example, Orme 2007a, 37, 45, 49, 50–1, 54–5, etc. 291. Orme 2018a, 6–7. 292. Bernard, 119–20. 293. Gregory O’Malley, The Knights Hospitaller of the English Langue 1460–1565 (Oxford, 2005), 16–17, etc. 294. H.G. Richardson, ‘Heresy and the Lay Power under Richard II’, English Historical Review, 51 (1936), 1–28. 295. For example, Manuale Sarum, 185–6. 296. See above, p. 112. 297. Reg. Greenfield, York, iii, 209–10. For other examples see Reg. Sutton, Lincoln, iii, 37; v, 143–4, 176, 212.


NOTES to pp. 191–202 298. See above, p. 38. 299. Dorothy Owen 1972, 141. 300. Swanson 2006, 130–9; 2007, passim. 301. Nicholas Orme, ‘Two Early Prayer-Books from North Devon’, Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries, 36 part 10 (1991), 345–50; Duffy 2006, 105–6; Eamon Duffy in Medieval Christianity in Practice, ed. Miri Rubin (Princeton, 2009), 164–70. 302. Piers Plowman, B.x.101–112. 303. See the admirable discussion by Arnold, 65–95 at 65–82. 304. The St Albans Chronicle, ed. John Taylor et al., 2 vols (Oxford, 2003–11), ii, 424–5. 305. TNA, C 85/79 no. 25. 306. Bernard, 160–1, with whom I respectfully beg to differ on this matter. 307. Selections from English Wycliffite Writings, ed. Anne Hudson (Cambridge, 1978), 24–9. The best survey of the Wycliffite or Lollard movement and its ideas is Hudson, 1988. 308. A wide range of ‘errors’ were apparently being discussed at Oxford University in 1368 before Wycliffe’s ideas were fully formulated (Wilkins, iii, 75–6). 309. Thomson, 65; Orme 2001, 124. 310. This is a selection from Thomson, especially 28, 33, 41, 45, 62, 65, 71, 76–7, 83, 105, 127, 129, 181, 185; Bowker 1968, 153; and LPFD, xviii (ii), 312. 311. Thomson, 36, 41, 68, 129. 312. McFarlane, 207–20.

5  THE DAY AND THE WEEK   1. Psalms 88 verse 13, 119 verse 164; C&S II, ii, 1018.   2. Lyndwood, 236.   3. Littlehales 1895–7, i, 19–34.   4. Mannyng, lines 821–54; cf. C&S I, i, 101, 440–1, 478–9.   5. See above, pp. 157–9.  6. Wednesdayes Faste, urging abstinence from meat on Wednesdays, was published by Wynkyn de Worde in 1500 (S95579).   7. Durand 1995–2000, iii, 139–40.   8. Vernon Staley, The Liturgical Year (London and Oxford, 1907), 171, 214–15.   9. Woolgar, i, 127–50, 150–3, 180–225. 10. Caxton 1971, 19–20. 11. See below, p. 218. 12. Durand 1995–2000, iii, 139–40. 13. Mary Clayton, The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Anglo-Saxon England (Cambridge, 1990), 62–3; Mannyng, lines 853–74. 14. Piers Plowman, A.v.57–8, B.v.74–5; Caxton 1971, 19–20. 15. Corpus Juris Canonici, i, cols 1302, 1324; Lyndwood, 104. 16. Morgan 2008, 298, who also notes some books in northern England of the Use of Sarum. 17. On the various cathedral uses, see Pfaff 2009, 350–509, and on Hereford, William Smith. 18. Nigel Morgan in Harry and Steer, 36–49 at 40; Morgan 2008, 296–8. 19. Lyndwood, 104; Wilkins, iii, 861. 20. Pfaff 2009, 350–87, 412–44; Matthew Cheung Salisbury in Understanding Medieval Liturgy: Essays in interpretation, ed. Helen Gittos and Sarah Hamilton (London, 2017), 103–22. 21. Pfaff 2009, 412–16. 22. C&S II, i, 29, 79, 115, 126, 186, etc. 23. Lyndwood, 101–4; Pfaff 1970. For enforcement, see Wood-Legh 1984, 100, 110–11, 118, 220. 24. On this subject, and Sarum generally, see Nigel Morgan in Powell, 5–23.


NOTES to pp. 202–212 25. For example, Wordsworth 1901, 261, 263–5, 268. 26. Pfaff 2009, 418. 27. See below, Chapter 7. 28. Becon, 265–6. 29. See below, pp. 257, 275. 30. See below, pp. 236–7, 275. 31. On service books, see Wordsworth and Littlehales, passim, and Morgan 2008, 291–316; and for their presence in parish churches, John Shinners in Brown and Stoneman, 207–30. 32. C&S II, i, 29. For early visitations inspecting books, see Sparrow Simpson 1895a, 1–38, and Orme 2013c, 76–103. 33. C&S II, i, 296, 379, 599, ii, 1005–6; a late text of the manual is edited in Manuale Sarum. 34. C&S II, i, 296, 599. 35. See above, pp. 80–1. 36. C&S II, ii, 1005–6. The matins book seems most likely to have been the Hours of the Virgin. 37. Lyndwood, 251–2. 38. Orme 2013c, 76–103; Reg. Grandisson, Exeter, i, 570–9; ii, 605–11. 39. For example, Burgess 1995–2004, i, 31–2, 38–40; Masters and Ralph, 1–4. 40. On the material of the Divine Office at the end of the Middle Ages, see Breviarium Sarum, i, cols vi–xliv; ii, 6–226, described by Salisbury 2017, 47–90; Hereford Breviary and William Smith; and Breviarium Eboracensis. 41. Lyndwood, 52, 70; Bowers 2011, 137; so at High Wycombe in 1509, except in Lent (Lincolnshire Archives, Episcopal Register XXIV, f. 221r. 42. C&S II, i, 377; ii, 1018–19. 43. Lyndwood, 104, 226, 230; OED, MED s.n. matin; Sir Gawain, lines 2187–8. 44. Breviarium Sarum, i, passim; there is a partial summary in Wordsworth and Littlehales, 132. 45. See above, pp. 184–6. 46. Morgan 2003, 103–7, 109; Breviarium Sarum, i, cols xxxiii–lx, xliv; Ordinale Exon, i, 26, 33, 49, 197. 47. Manuale Sarum, 132–44. 48. Breviarium Sarum, i, cols xliv–v. 49. C&S II, i, 79, 213, 301, 377, 442; ii, 1018–20. 50. For example, God’s acts of creation (Genesis i verses 5, 8, etc.) and the keeping of the Sabbath (Leviticus xxiii verse 32). 51. On what follows, see Cheney 117–47, and Harvey, 289–308. 52. For the sequence of fasting, mass, and refreshment, see Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, line 1135. 53. Burgh, f. 19r. 54. Ibid.; Lyndwood, 236. 55. C&S II, i, 144, 301; Mirk 1990, 117 (part 4, chapter 2); Lyndwood, 236. 56. Ordinale Exon, i, 117. 57. For the content of the mass, see Sarum Missal (thirteenth century), 14–16, 221–9; Missale Sarum (sixteenth century), cols 1–17, 577–630 (translated in The Sarum Missal in English, ed. Warren); Manuale Sarum (sixteenth century), 84–97 (canon only); Missale Eboracensis (sixteenth century), i, 163–212; and Missale Herefordensis (fourteenth and sixteenth centuries); and for the integration of the principal mass with the divine office, Ordinale Exon, i, 40. On the problems presented by the texts, see Pfaff 2009, 416–19, and for an appraisal of the nature and purpose of the mass, John Bossy, ‘The Mass as a Social Institution, 1200–1700’, Past and Present, 100 (1983), 33–61. 58. See below, pp. 369–70. 59. Processionale Sarum, 1–4; Manuale Sarum, 1–4.


NOTES to pp. 212–220 60. Bowers 2011, 137. 61. Lyndwood, 236. 62. Gospels had a special devotional appeal. The first chapter of John, In principio, was read at the end of the mass and probably on Rogation processions (below, p. 290). Gerald of Wales, c.1197, criticised knights for persuading clergy to read their favourite gospels as well as the gospel of the day, such as Matthew ii verses 1–12 with its references to the ‘kings’ and to gold (Giraldi Cambrensis Opera, ed. J.S. Brewer, vol. ii (London, Rolls Series, 1862), 126–9). 63. Owst, 144–5; below, p. 237. 64. The Lay Folks Mass Book, 22–3; compare Piers Plowman, B.xix.4, C.xxii.4. 65. Peregrine Horden in Burgess and Duffy, 352–3. 66. See above, p. 109. 67. Jungmann, ii, 104. 68. C&S I, ii, 1060; C&S II, 29, 79, 109, 143, etc. 69. Lyndwood, 235–6. 70. The issue and its history were discussed by the Protestant John Jewel and the Catholic Thomas Harding in the 1560s (John Jewel, Works, ed. John Ayre, 4 vols, Parker Society (1845–50), ii, 697–707). 71. The Lay Folks Mass Book, 28–39. 72. Jungmann, ii, 207. 73. C&S II, ii, 894, 990; Lyndwood, 231. 74. Mirk 1990, 131 (part 4, chapter 10). 75. The second elevation is not clearly prescribed in the Sarum texts, but is well attested historically: J. Wickham Legge, Tracts on the Mass, Henry Bradshaw Society, 27 (1904), 242, 263; Jungmann, i, 72, 90; ii, 266; and in the sixteenth century: Hilarie, sig. Avv; Becon, 277. 76. Durand 1995–2000, i, 525–9. 77. On the pax, see also Nina F. Layard, ‘Notes on Some English Paxes’, Archaeological Journal, 61 (1904), 120–30; Sally Harper in Harper et al., 74–7; and Matthew Champion, ‘The Pax in the Late Medieval Church’, Norfolk Archaeology, 47 part 4 (2017), 487–97, although the South Acre pax postulated there looks doubtful. 78. For lay people receiving communion outside Easter, see below, pp. 280–1. 79. Durand 1995–2000, 558. 80. Ibid., 557–8; Foxe, vi, 378. Funeral masses ended in a third way with the singing of Requiescant in pace (Durand 1995–2000, 559). 81. On what follows, see Bailey, 12–26, and more particularly in England, Bowers 2002, 151–5. 82. For example, Reg. Morton, Canterbury, iii, 176–7, 187, 211. 83. See below, pp. 274–5, 288. 84. Orme 2011, 78–9. Padstow, Cornwall, had a procession on New Year’s Day (TNA, STAC 2/20/218). 85. Kennan, 61. 86. See below, p. 341. 87. For examples, see Reg. Lacy, Exeter, i, 38–42, 234, 243–4; ii, 1, 15–17, 67–8, 237, 375. 88. Ibid., i, 41. 89. Wordsworth 1901, passim. 90. Processionale Sarum, 103–21. 91. This is mentioned in the published litany of 1544 (below, p. 363). 92. Tanner i, 243. 93. C&S II, i, 377; ii, 1018; Mirk 1990, 76–7 (part 2, chapter 13). Exemption might be granted on grounds of infirmity: Registrum Ade de Orleton, episcopi Herefordensis, ed. A.T. Bannister, Canterbury and York Society, 5 (1908), 183–4. In 1509 the bishop of Lincoln excused the clergy of High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, from doing services in church in the month of harvest, presumably because people would not attend (Lincolnshire Archives, Episcopal Register XXIV, f. 221r).


NOTES to pp. 220–227   94. Bannister 1930, 92.   95. Swanson in Toomey, 171; Elvey, 286.   96. Kempe, 15; Reg. Lacy, Exeter, ii, 8–10.   97. See below, p. 370.  98. C&S II, i, 301, 359–60, 463.  99. The Clerk’s Book, pp. xxxviii–xli. 100. C&S II, ii, 1384; Lyndwood, 69, 71; Wood-Legh 1965, 276–7. 101. On liturgical dress, see Percy Dearmer, The Ornaments of the Ministers, 2nd edn (London, 1920), and Alan D. Barton in Barnwell, Cross, and Rycraft, 33–9. 102. On vestments and fabrics, see Nigel Morgan and Kate Heard in Browne, 25–39, 77–89. 103. Alan D. Barton in Barnwell, Cross, and Rycraft, 39–40. 104. Hope and Atchley, passim, summarised on 161–3. 105. Duffy 2001, 116–17. 106. Burgh, f. 19r. 107. For example, Reg. Brantyngham, Exeter, i, 253; Reg. Lacy, Exeter, ii, 43. 108. Bannister 1929, 289, 444; 1930, 455; compare Reg. Waltham, Salisbury, 121, 123–4, 155. 109. Bannister 1930, 455. 110. Morgan 2003, 93–100, 108–9. 111. For texts, see Sarum Missal, 384–412. 112. Wood-Legh 1965, 282–90; Weaver, i, 140; ii, 153–4, 276; iii, 86, 177; Rice, ii, 109. 113. C&S II, i, 894. 114. Mirk 1990, 28–9, 33 (part i, chapters 11–12). 115. Ibid., 23–4 (part i, chapter 8), 118 (part iv, chapter 3). 116. Lyndwood, 228. Caxton 1489, sig. Hviv, concurred but his source also recommended daily celebration. 117. See for example the numerous masses for the dead, including ‘certains’ or negotiated numbers, done by Richard Goodman, rector of Helmingham in 1510 (in BL, Add. MS 34786, ff. 6r-9r). 118. Thompson 1947, 231, 235. For Yorkshire examples, see Heath 1969, 5–6. 119. Wood-Legh 1984, 62–3. 120. Thompson 1940, 89. 121. Hale, 123. 122. Thompson 1944, 49–50. 123. See below, p. 276. 124. The practice began on the first Monday in Lent (Breviarium Sarum, i, col. dxcii). It is recorded at Exeter Cathedral in 1337 (Ordinale Exon, i, 117); Cotterstock, Northamptonshire, in 1344 (Thompson 1947, 285); and by order of the bishop of Lincoln at High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, in 1509 (Lincolnshire Archives, Episcopal Register XXIV, f. 221r). 125. On this subject, see Barron, 141–51 at 145, 150. 126. For examples of the usage in thirteenth-century England, see Adams and Donahue, A.9 p. 30, D.1 pp. 345–6. 127. Arthur Robert Green, Sundials, Incised Dials or Mass Clocks (London, 1926, repr. 1978). 128. Barron, 143–4. 129. Ibid., 146, 150. 130. Cox 1913, 228–31. 131. Barron, 145, 150. 132. Canterbury Tales, II(B1), line 14; X(I), line 5. 133. Dives and Pauper, i part 1, 120. 134. For example, at Tattershall, Lincolnshire, c.1460 (HMC, Report on the MSS of Lord De L’Isle and Dudley, vol. i (London, 1925), 181). 135. On the monastic timetable, see David Knowles, The Monastic Order in England, 940–1216 (Cambridge, 1949), 448–53; idem, The Religious Orders in England, 3 vols (Cambridge, 1948–59), i, 280; ii, 238–9.


NOTES to pp. 228–233 136. Orme 2009, 147–52; compare Dalton, 135. 137. Wordsworth and Littlehales, 17. 138. C&S II, i, 377, 557; ii, 1018; Mirk 1990, 79 (part 2, chapter 13). 139. On Tenebrae, see below, p. 276. 140. Mirk 1990, 148 (part 5, chapter 4). 141. Ibid., 166–70 (part 5, chapters 13–14). 142. Bannister 1930, 100; Thompson 1940, 71. 143. C&S II, i, 378. 144. Wood-Legh 1984, 62–3, 226. 145. Thompson 1940, 132. 146. Hale, 112, 123. 147. Thompson 1940, 63. 148. Wood-Legh 1965, 292–3. 149. On service times, see The Clerk’s Book, 57, 61, 78–9, 92; Wordsworth and Littlehales, 15–23; HMC, Report on the MSS of Lord De L’Isle and Dudley, vol. i (London, 1925), i, 180–1; Wood-Legh 1965, 292–4; Heath 1969, 5–6; and A.E.B. Owen, 135–6. 150. CS II, 1384; also in York province, 1466 (Wilkins, iii, 605); enforced in Reg. Martival, Salisbury, ii, 298; Reg. Gilbert, Hereford, 90–1; and Reg. Brantyngham, Exeter, ii, 622. Lyndwood (p. 238) went so far as to comment ‘indeed it seems not until before solemn mass has ended’. 151. Reg. Waltham, Salisbury, 147. 152. For example, Orme 2009, 147, 150; Page, i, 175. 153. HMC, Report on the MSS of Lord De L’Isle and Dudley, vol. i (London, 1925), i, 181; at Ottery St Mary chantry masses were designated to be said after matins only (Dalton, 153). 154. Piers Plowman, B.v.418, C.viii.27. 155. Ibid., B.Prol.97–8; compare Kempe, 127. 156. W.L. Warren, Henry II (New Haven and London, 2000), 211; Paul Webster, King John and Religion (Woodbridge, 2015), 20. 157. Mirk 1990, 33 (part 1, chapter 12). 158. See the estimates by Roger Bowers in Harry and Steer, 137. 159. John Fisher, 294. 160. See below, p. 265. 161. Mannyng, lines 821–854, 4251–4504. 162. Piers Plowman, A.v.231–5, B.v.458–62, C.viii.65–9, C.x.227–9. 163. Ibid., B.v.418, 460, C.viii.27, 67. 164. Ibid., A.v.1–2, B.v.1–2. 165. VCH Nottinghamshire, vol. ii (London, 1910), 205, which I owe to Roger Bowers; similarly in Erasmus, sig. B5v. 166. See above, pp. 184–7. 167. A Collection of Ordinances and Regulations for the Government of the Royal Household (London, 1790), *37. 168. Orme 1989, 185. 169. John Fisher, 294. 170. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, lines 930–40. 171. Processionale Sarum, pp. xi, 95–6; Bailey, 18, 26. 172. Breviarium Sarum, i, cols clxvii–viii. 173. The Clerk’s Book, 63. Compare Chaucer’s parish clerk Absolon, who censed the parish wives on holy days (Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, I(A) 3339–42). 174. Harrison, 81–8. 175. Magnus Williamson in Harry and Steer, 20. 176. Magnus Williamson in Harper et al., 130–1; idem in Harry and Steer, 21. 177. William Dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum, ed. John Caley et al., 6 vols in 8 (London, 1817–30), vi (ii), 741.


NOTES to pp. 235–243 178. The Sermons of Thomas Brinton, Bishop of Rochester, ed. Mary Aquinas Devlin, 2 vols, Royal Historical Society, Camden third series 85–6 (1954), i, 215–16; Mirk 1974, 85; Caxton 1489, sig. Hviir. 179. See above, pp. 156–7, 230. 180. Rymes of Robyn Hood: An introduction to the English outlaw, ed. R.B. Dobson and J. Taylor (London, 1976), 79. 181. Paston Letters, i, 39. 182. Cranmer, 169. 183. Manuale Sarum, 1–4; Wordsworth, 18–21. 184. Walter Map, De Nugis Curialium, ed. M.R. James et al. (Oxford, 1983), 348–9. 185. Mannyng, lines 821–854. 186. Hale, 34. 187. Salisbury Cathedral Library, MS 152, f. 159v; BL, Add. MS 32,427, f. 141r (both sung versions); Foxe, vii, 461. 188. Hughes and Larkin, i, 278; Sheffield City Archives, BFM/11/3, printed in Frere and Kennedy, ii, 172. 189. Owst, 144–5. Announcements of feast days and fasts were ordered as far back as the early 1000s (C&S I, i, 330). 190. Bannister 1929, 449; compare Bowker 1968, 113. 191. Speculum Sacerdotale, 2–3. 192. Ibid., 2; Harvey, 291, 307. 193. Reg. Waltham, Salisbury, 122; Thompson 1940, 103. 194. York Minster Library, MS XVI.M.4; Manuale Eboracensis, p. xvi. 195. See below, p. 328. 196. CIPM, xxi, 224; Paston Letters, i, 180–1; Ault, 215. 197. C&S II, i, 33, etc. 198. Ibid., i, 192, 332, 355; ii, 1058, 1089; Maskell, iii, 309; Manuale Eboracensis, 22. 199. BL, Cotton MS Claudius A.II, ff. 125v–128v; Harley MS 2383, ff. 46r-54r; Maskell, iii, 309–30; Wordsworth 1901, 245–54; Manuale Eboracensis, 119–22; Mirk 1974, 104–7. For a fifteenth-century commentary on the texts, see Jacob’s Well, ed. A. Brandeis, part i, EETS, os 115 (1900), 5–64. 200. For example, Reg. Lacy, Exeter, i, 109. 201. The details vary in the manuscript sources above, and in documents such as Reg. Lacy, Exeter, i, 108–9, 158–9; ii, 8–10, 60–2, 171–2, 361–5. Mirk 1974, 107 mentions the spitting. 202. The Clerk’s Book, 60. 203. Heath 1964, 29–43. This may explain Piers Plowman, B.Prol.81, C.Prol.79. 204. C&S II, i, 33, 85, 128, etc. 205. Reg. Grandisson, Exeter, i, 344. 206. On bidding prayers, see in general Brightman, ii, 1020–45, 1050–6, and specifically W.H. Stevenson, ‘Yorkshire Surveys and Other Eleventh-Century Documents in the York Gospels’, English Historical Review, 27 (1912), 1–25; K.V. Sinclair, ‘Anglo-Norman Bidding Prayers from Ramsey Abbey’, Mediaeval Studies, 42 (1980), 454–62; Coxe, 11–25, 29–40, 40–50, 53–5; J.F. Williams, ‘The Black Book of Swaffham’, Norfolk Archaeology, 36 (1962–5), 243–53; Lepine and Orme, 337–9; Wordsworth, 22–32; and Manuale Eboracensis, 123–7, 220*–6*. 207. Wordsworth, 22–32; Lepine and Orme, 337; below, pp. 372–3. 208. N.W. and V.A. James, passim; Orme 2006c, 102–3. 209. Mattingly, 41–2, 45–6, 48–50. 210. Cox 1913, 62, 158–9. 211. Orme 2007a, 47, 111, 137, 177. 212. Tanner, i, 230. 213. For example, C&S II, i, 517.


NOTES to pp. 243–249 214. For example, A Dialogue, sig. Aiiir; The Faule of the Romyshe Church (London, c.1547; S94951), sig. Bviv. 215. Baildon, 126–7; Swanson in Toomey, 258; Thompson 1940, 132. 216. Woodruff, 48. 217. Two Wycliffite Tracts, ed. Anne Hudson, EETS, os 301 (1993), 52. 218. Becon, 270; Cranmer, 442. For satirical praise of a good ‘lifter’, see A Dialogue, sig. Aivr. 219. Goude, sig. Eiv; Luke xviii verses 9–14. 220. For frequency of communion, see below, pp. 280–2. 221. Hilarie, sig. Avir; Roger Edgeworth, Sermons (London, 1557; S111773), f. 317r). For boy servers, see LPFD xviii (ii), 311. 222. See above, pp. 173–4. 223. Secular Lyrics of the XIVth and XVth Centuries, ed. R. H. Robbins, 2nd edn (Oxford, 1955), 21. 224. See above, pp. 169–70. 225. Hale, 53–4. 226. Bowker 1967, 63. 227. J.G. Challenor Smith, ‘Some Additions to Newcourt’s Repertorium’, Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, new series 7 (1900), 75. 228. E.g. Bannister 1929, 281, 452; 1930, 92; Reg. Waltham, Salisbury, 158; Thompson 1940, 6. At Kirkby Malham, Yorkshire, people seem to have paid 1½d. instead (BL, Add. Roll 32957), and at Leominster,