Thursday, January 9, 2014

Dean John Bernard of Tamworth and the sale of the church books

Dean John Bernard of Tamworth
and the sale of the church books

Niall C.E.J. O’Brien

On 18th December 1422 King Henry VI sent a commission to Thomas Stanley, esquire, Thomas Mollesley, John Comberford, John Breton and the sheriff of Staffordshire to make inquiries concerning the royal collegiate church at Tamworth, Staffordshire.[1] The church of St. Editha at Tamworth is said to be a royal foundation of the tenth century. St Editha was a sister of King Athelstan and the wife of Sihtric, the Norse king of York. She died in the 960s and was made a saint shortly after. It is claimed that she was buried at Tamworth or at Polesworth, some three miles away.[2]

In the early twelfth century Tamworth church and castle was acquired by the Marmion family. The collegiate church at Tamworth was founded by the family. In 1218 Robert Marmion junior made a fine with the king to succeed to his English lands including Tamworth. This event was witnessed by Henry de Pont-Audemer who we met in an earlier article.[3] [Link to article on Henry de Pont-Audemer = Article link]

In 1291 the last male member of the family, Philip Marmion died leaving three daughters and one grand-daughter as heirs. The crown lost no time in attempting to acquire the colligate church at Tamworth. In 1203 Edward I claimed the advowson against the heirs. The case went lapse as the grand-daughter was a minor. In the 1320s the crown made two unsuccessful attempts to claim the church. Two minorities with one of the inheriting families allowed the crown to intrude on Tamworth. In 1342 and 1347 the crown successful got its person into the prebend of Wilnecote which was attached to Tamworth. The right of presenting the dean of Tamworth continued to be claimed by the Baldwin family but after the death of Dean Whitney in 1369 all further dean were royal appointees.[4]

Many of the subsequent deans were career civil servants of the crown. Their presentation to Tamworth was as much to provide them with a source of income as it was to care for the spiritual needs of the people of Tamworth. In December 1399 Master John Bernard, parson of the church of Bishop’s Hatfield, Hertfordshire, was presented to Tamworth in an exchange of benefices with the then Dean of Tamworth, John de Messyngham.[5] John Bernard was a graduate of Cambridge University. There was an attempt in 1404 to present William Pountfreyt to the deanery but John Bernard kept the position.[6] John Bernard held a number of benefices such as Wilbeye in the Diocese of Norwich and just collected the income for his own use. The jury at the inquisition found that Bernard never resided in the parish for the whole of his incumbency. The vicars and canons at Tamworth were left to care for the spiritual needs on a very small income which sometimes left them unable to do their job.

By 1422 reports of bad practises had come from Tamworth. It was reported to the King that “all the fruits, rents and income of the chapel of Middleton and the tithes of the mills of the castle of Tamworth and of Amington, which were lately piously conferred … by the founders of the … church of Tamworth for the common fund of the resident canons … and for the maintenance of the business and ornaments … were withdrawn …and wasted by certain enemies of the church of God and those forgetful of the salvation of their souls, by applying them wickedly to their own uses”.

It was further said that there was “notable defects in the books, vestments and other ornaments of the church have … resulted … in frustration and defrauding of the pious intentions of the founders, to the grave peril of their souls …”[7]

A panel of twenty-three jurors met at Tamworth on the Monday before the feast of St. Hilary in 1423 from which twelve were sworn. They found that the fruits, rent and income were worth 16 marks per year and the tithes were worth 23s 4d per year. After the deduction of costs and expenses for the business, ornaments and necessaries of the church the resulting profit should go to the common fund of the church. Instead, since Midsummer 1402 John Bernard, the Dean of Tamworth, took the money for his own use and profit.

The church of St. Editha at Tamworth

The jury also found that around the year 1401-2 Dean Bernard had sold the books, vestments and ornaments of the church for his own profit. These books included “a missal at the high altar, another at the altar of the Virgin, another at the altar of St. John the Baptist, two graduals, two legends, both of saints and temporal persons, four breviaries marked for the use of the choir, four processionals, and ten copies of various patterns”. As well as telling us what type of books were in the church of St. Editha the report also tells us that there was more than one altar in the church. Many medieval parish churches had more than one altar whereas today most have just one altar. It would appear that there was a missal for each altar so that a number of services could be held at the same time. This would be particularly useful when conducting numerous memorial masses for the dead souls of the parish - speed up the process and earn more money by having more masses.

In addition to the sale of books, Dean Bernard sold six vestments, five silver chalices, four frontals for the high altar and four candlesticks among other items. The value of all these books and vestments was set at £200.[8] This action by Dean Bernard meant there was no sufficient missal left in the church and no vestments whereby divine service was completely withdrawn.

It must be remembered that the vast majority of books in circulation in the early fifteenth century were still hand made books and thus expensive. Printing was only just beginning in southern Germany and even many early printed books were illustrated by hand. Printing in England only started in 1476 with William Caxton and took awhile to take off. If John Bernard was dean of Tamworth in the early sixteenth century then the sale of the church books would not bring in so much money. It may even be the case that some books would not be worth selling because the market was full of printed books.

Clearly Cambridge University instilled no love of books on Dean Bernard. The vicar of Morland in the Diocese of Carlisle, Rev. Richard de Havingdon would be very displeased. We saw in an early article [Link to Morland vicarage and the lost book = article link] how when Richard de Havingdon lost his book of canonical hours in 1342 while on a journey between Morland and Penrith, he was heartbroken and reported the loss to his bishop with a “mournful face”.[9]

The jury calculated that it would take £300 to restore the sold books, vestments and ornaments to the church. They also calculated that it would cost more than £40 to repair the chancel of Middleton chapel and its associated buildings. Even the rectory did not escape John Bernard as he had four chambers knocked and the materials sold for 400 shillings. The cost of repairing the rectory was judged at more than £50.[10]

With such a report Dean John Bernard should have had the “book thrown at him” but there was no book left to use. Instead the report was buried in a filing cabinet in the chancery and Bernard continued to hold Tamworth church until he finally gave up the benefice in 1429. In February 1429 John Bernard exchanged Tamworth for the prebend of Keton in the royal chapel of St. Martin-le-Grand in London.[11] The new dean, Clement Denston, left Keton in February 1429 but he barely saw Tamworth before he resigned in April 1429. Three more deans came and went in quick succession before the appointment of John Bate in 1436. The new dean was one of the few holders of the office to reside in Tamworth and in 1442 he introduced reforms which included an increase in the wages for the vicars and canons.[12] It is not recorded if Dean Bate purchased new church books to replaced the ones sold by Dean Bernard.

Despite these reforms the fortunes of the college continued to be mixed until it was dissolved in 1548. The church at Tamworth was retained as a parish church but the prebends and other sources of income were sold to royal grantees.   


End of post


[1] J.W.B Chapman and Mrs. Leighton (eds.), Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous (Chancery) preserved in the Public Record Office (Boydell Press & National Archives, 2003), Vol. 8, no. 5
[2] W.M. Greenslade & R.B. Pugh (eds.), A History of the County of Stafford (Victoria County History, 1970), Vol. 3, pp. 309-10
[5] Calendar of the Patent Rolls, Henry  IV, 1399-1401, p. 160
[7] J.W.B Chapman and Mrs. Leighton (eds.), Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous (Chancery), Vol. 8, no. 5
[8] J.W.B Chapman and Mrs. Leighton (eds.), Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous (Chancery), Vol. 8, no. 5
[10] J.W.B Chapman and Mrs. Leighton (eds.), Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous (Chancery), Vol. 8, no. 5
[11] Calendar of Patent Rolls, Henry VI, 1422-1429, p. 531

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