Wednesday, 6 August 2014

We Have Moved!

Please be sure to have a look at our newly relaunched site at , which we shall be regularly updating with interesting and exciting format. Content will continue to be posted on our Facebook page at  , so follow us there to keep up with the latest!

All blog posts published before August 2014 shall be kept archived on this page, so if you are new here then please do have a browse through some of the fascinating articles found below and enjoy!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014


If you wander around Worcester Cathedral you are bound to come across the interesting effigies of a Knight and his lady in the north aisle, near the porch door.  If you go and look at the tomb, you will notice the arms of the Beauchamps – Earls of Warwick, and Beauchamps, Barons of Powick.

 There has been much dispute about whether the effigies are of Sir John Beauchamp of Holt and his wife Joan, or Sir John Beauchamp of Powick and his wife Elizabeth.

Sir John Beauchamp of Holt rose rapidly in the favour of Richard II. He served in the wars in France, and received the honour of knighthood for his service in the wars against the Scotch. In 1377 he became Steward of the King’s household, and on October 10th of the same year was by patent (being the first instance of the kind) created Lord de Beauchamp, Baron of Kidderminster. However, he did not enjoy these honours long - he was seized by the King for having appeared in arms in London together with other Lords “for treasonable purposes” – and after confinement at Dover he was beheaded on Tower Hill aged 58.

It was said that the monks at Worcester Cathedral, being ancient friends of his family, received his body into their Cathedral, in which it was interred, and his tomb was erected over his grave. If you believe that the tomb belongs to Sir John Beauchamp of Holt, you may attribute the relevance of the swans that the couple rest their heads on to the crest of the Atwoods of Wolverly, the last of whom John Beauchamp of Holt was declared to be heir.

An interesting story is associated with the swans on the effigy:

One of the Atwoods who had gone to the Crusades, had been so long absent that his wife was about to remarry. But, before she did, her milk-maid, guided by a dog, found a man who was emaciated, unkempt, and had iron shackles around his limbs lying asleep on the grass in a meadow. Despite the haggard appearance of the man, the dog seemed to know him and greeted him as a friend. The maid fetched her mistress, and when the man greeted her, he claimed that she was his wife. The Knight told the tale of how he has been taken prisoner and kept in a dungeon. One night when he was praying for deliverance an angel came and spoke words of comfort; then he lost consciousness, and when he awoke he found himself in the meadow. The knight had a vague memory of moving through space; but being too humble of heart to imagine that an angel had been sent to carry him, he declared a swan had brought him, for he had perceived feathers around him. For this reason, he took a swan for his crest, and the dog which recognised him was carved in marble at the feet of his effigy.

However, many people are very cynical of this story. On many sculpted tombs a helm of some sort was needed as a support for the Knight’s head, it could be argued that the swans were only there as a support, not to represent the legend of the Atwood family. The animals are also thought to have represented the Knight’s tourneying triumphs, or as recognition of military achievements which was very common in effigies. It has also been questioned that if Sir John Beauchamp of Holt was beheaded, why would a grand tomb be erected in his honour? Furthermore, it has been recorded by W.M. Thomas in 1737 that in the nave there is a monumental slab minus its brass of a man of armour, which he attributed to Sir John Beauchamp of Holt (which is now lost). This must surely mean the tomb is more likely to represent John Beauchamp of Powick and his wife Elizabeth.

Alice Leonard

  • Hutchinson's Worcester Monuments, Oxford 1944
  • Worcester Cathedral - It's monuments and their Stories - The Very Rev. W. Moore, Worcester 1925
  • English Church Monuments in the Middle Ages - Nigel Saul, Oxford 2009
  • Transactions of the Worcestershire Archaeological Society - Vol. 18, 2002 - Medieval Military effigies up to 1500 remaining in Worcestershire - Mark Downing

Saturday, 21 June 2014

F. 172- A Middle English manuscript in Worcester Cathedral Library.

Worcester Cathedral Library has a very interesting fifteenth-century manuscript written in Middle English, using the much the same language as Chaucer fifty years earlier. It is known by its catalogue title of ‘F. 172’, and is an anthology of religious writings, popular tales called Middle English Romances, and items thought to be true history. This type of work was very popular in its day.

Photograph of MS F172. Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.), 2014.
F.172 cannot be described as a decorated or lavish manuscript. It is written in quite a clear neat style, with simple page decoration but no illustrations. It has more than 200 pages, was copied by a single scribe, and is fairly easy to read, once you are used to reading Middle English. The handwriting style or palaeographic hand is known as an anglicana secretary hand.

A good deal is known about the scribe that penned this lengthy manuscript. The scribe is referred to by scholars as the ‘Hammond scribe’ and he is known to have produced 11 other manuscripts asides from F.172, all of which are either held by the British Library or Trinity College, Cambridge.

It is not certain how this manuscript, originally written in fifteenth century London, came to be found in Worcester Cathedral. It is not mentioned in the seventeeth-century library catalogues, but two signatures written on the first page provide some clues.

Signatures of previous owners of F172. Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral Library (U.K.), 2014.

The first signature says ‘William Ballard 1707’. This is probably the man who is known to have been mayor of Worcester in 1723, a benefactor of St Nicholas’ parish church, and an administrator of a charity for poor prisoners in the city gaol. He subscribed to an edition of the Antiquities of Warwickshire, and perhaps was a collector of old manuscripts, and the year may be when he first acquired it.

The second signature belongs to William Thomas D.D., rector of St Nicholas, grandson of a seventeenth-century bishop of Worcester, and a student of ancient literature. Perhaps the manuscript was a gift to him from William Ballard. He made some notes on the contents, and presumably donated it later to the Cathedral.

What is the evidence for the fifteenth-century origin of the manuscript? Apart from the language, and watermarks found in the paper used, quite unusually there is good information about the Hammond scribe and also the probable first owner, both suggesting a date sometime during the reign of King Edward IV, between 1461 and 1483.

Another page has a monogram, indicating that it belonged to John Vale, one of the three manuscripts found with this monogram.

John Vale's monograph in F172. image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.), 2014
John Vale was steward and secretary to Sir Thomas Cook, a wealthy draper and mayor of London in 1462. But remember that this was the time of the ‘Wars of the Roses’, and although Sir Thomas was in favour with King Edward, he was later accused of treason for lending money to the wife of the exiled Henry VI, imprisoned and heavily fined.

It is not known what happened to the manuscript for more than 200 years after this, but it is likely to have remained an important family heirloom. Even after the rise of mechanical printing and the gradual ending of manuscript copying, books remained expensive and manuscripts could have continued in use for many tears.

Photograph of F.172, f. 117 v. an obliterated page. Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral library (U.K.), 2014. 

A clue to the later use of the manuscript is shown on three pages which have been crossed out with later pen lines.  These pages mention prayers and services that could gain indulgences and relief from the punishment of sins in Purgatory after death. The doctrine of indulgences had been rejected by the English Reformation, and the scribbling-out showed willingness to accept the new belief, along with a wish to keep the manuscript in use well into the sixteenth century and beyond.

In other blogs I hope to look at some of the interesting, amusing and controversial contents of this manuscript.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Researching the provenance of seventeenth century anatomy books

This week we installed a small display about anatomy books from Worcester Cathedral Library published in the seventeenth century, called “Dissecting, discovering and depicting”. We had many interesting books to include in this display, yet not a lot of space to work with. As a result, it was difficult to talk about the provenance of the Cathedral library’s anatomy books, a subject which is itself very interesting. Why did clergymen collect or acquisition anatomy books? Do the anatomy books reflect the collecting habits of one individual, or is it by chance that they’ve ended up in Worcester Cathedral library?

Julius Casseri, Nova Anatomia (1622), p. 277. Image Copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K., 2014.
To answer these questions, some background on the anatomy books is important. By my count, there are 11 anatomy books published between 1616 and 1683 that are held in Worcester Cathedral library. Of these 11, two are monographs on animal anatomy (the first is work on birds, the second a book on equine anatomy). Nine take human anatomy as their primary subject but, because dissecting animals in order to compare and contrast their internal structures with those in humans was popular with anatomists working from the late 1500s to around 1800, most of these also contain illustrations and discussions of animal anatomy.

 Title page of Helkia Crooke's Microcosmographia (1616) with Prideaux's signature. Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K., 2014.

The provenance of certain anatomy books is traceable. Bishop John Prideaux, who occupied the See of Worcester between 1641 and 1650, signed his name in two: Helkiah Crooke’s Microcosmographia (1616) and  Andreas Laurentius’ Historia Anatomica (1627). In the case of Microcosmographia, Prideuax was not the first owner. On leaves at the front of the book we find the signatures pictured below, of Francis Whiddon M.A., and Jacob Browne. There is also a hand that has been censored, beneath which you can read “Henery Hodges His Booke”, written in what looks like a late seventeenth or early eighteenth century style of handwriting. The signature of Jacob Browne appears to have the earliest style of handwriting, making it probable that Browne was the first owner of the book c. 1616.
Whiddon's signature (first below); Browne's signature and Hodges' erased signature (furthest below)
Nothing is known about Henery Hodges or Jacob Browne. The Annals of the University of Oxford (1815), however, record that Francis Whiddon was created a Master of Arts at Oxford in the first half of the seventeenth century. He attended Exeter College, though it is unclear at which dates exactly he was at the College. Afterwards, he went on to become the minister of Morton Hampstead in Devon, the county where he was born. He was rector at Morton Hampstead from 1617-1650. Whiddon and Prideaux likely knew each other from Exeter College, and the former probably gave the latter Microcosmographia. Prideaux studied for a BA at Exeter College beginning in 1596 and was awarded an MA by 1603. After taking Holy Orders, Prideaux returned to Exeter College Oxford 1611 and 1612 as Rector to the College.

A still burning question is why two MA students who would later become clergymen would be so interested in a book on anatomy, a racy one at that- Microcosmographia caused outrage because it printed explicit illustrations showing the sexual and reproductive organs of men and women, and discussed regeneration at length.
If we look at the other anatomy books that Prideaux owned, namely Laurentius’ Historia Anatomia (1602), it appears that he mainly acquired compendiums of historic anatomical writings produced for the general reader, rather than books written for budding scientists or practitioners of anatomy (physicians and surgeons). Laurentius’ Historia Anatomia, did not cover any new ground or document any discoveries within the human body when first published in 1600. The book discussed what earlier authors and dissections had revealed about a specific parts of the body, and the author mainly stuck to Galen’s beliefs, despite many contemporary anatomists, for example Vesalius, Ruini, Casseri, seeking to disprove Galen’s theories on the structure of the human body. Laurentius’ book was nonetheless exceedingly popular in its time. We might therefore think of it as a good introductory guide to anatomy and anatomical writing, which is probably the reason someone like Bishop Prideaux acquired it.
Preliminary research into the provenance of other anatomy books has been less fruitful. The largely plagiarised monograph on equine anatomy by Andrew Snape titled, The Anatomy of An Horse (1683), contains a rather handsome signature belonging to a Richard Mason, which is pictured below. We were able to trace the book back to a collection of 18 books donated by a “Lady Mason” c. 1694. The donation of these books is recorded in the libraries earliest book of donors, which includes bequests and donations given from  1675 to 1941! Below and to the right, is a picture of Lady Mason’s bequest.

Richard Mason's signature on the fly leaf of Snape's Anatomy of An Horse. Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K., 2014.
Lady Mason's donations to the library. Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral library, U.K., 2014.
I was not able to find anything concrete about the Masons. If you look through the list of books donated though, several items indicate the likelihood of Mason being a practicing physician or surgeon with a keen interest in science, such as “Morison’s Herbal” and “Wiseman Chirugical Obseruations”. Many of our science books and anatomy books could well have been donated by local professionals like Mason, who considered the cathedral library worthy of furnishing. Others like Microcosmographia were very popular in their time and produced for the general reader, so it is feasible that scholarly clergymen could well have picked them up as bit of extra reading. Notably we have two copies of Laurentius’ Historia Anatomica, suggesting this book wasn't necessarily an acquired taste, or only read by physicians and surgeons.
If you found this week's blog interesting then be sure to call into Worcester Cathedral nave where you can learn more about our anatomy books in the new display, "Dissecting, discovering and depicting", located in glass cases in the South west nave aisle.

Deirdre McKeown

Friday, 6 June 2014

Retirement planning in the Medieval Period

Worcester Cathedral's Library and Muniments are an ideal place for research into medieval Worcester and its Priory.  Here is an update on one of the many projects that are ongoing at the moment and more will follow over the next few weeks.
Planning for your retirement is something that has been heavily promoted in the modern day media but concerns about retirement was also very real to people of the medieval period.  Like us, they wanted to live reasonably comfortable lives once they had reached a point when they could no longer work.  Buying a corrody from a religious house such as the Cathedral Priory at Worcester was one way to do this.

A hard working labourer, drawn into the margin of WCL MS F100, f. 173 v. Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K. (2014).

Research has recently commenced into the corrodies supplied by the Priory of Worcester in the fourteenth century using the Worcester Liber Albus. The Liber Albus is a letter book of the prior and convent of Worcester and covers the years from 1301 to 1446.  The Liber Albus represents one of the most comprehensive collections of social and legal documents and archival material for Worcestershire from the period.

But first things first. What is a corrody?

Today we save up throughout our lives and on retirement purchase an annuity which gives us an income for the rest of our lives. A corrody was similar to an annuity except that the corrodian usually received the payment in kind with such things as firewood, candles, clothing, food, drink and shelter.  This shelter was often in the monastery but sometimes corrodians continued to live in their own homes.

Who were these corrodians?

So far research has shown that these individuals were of different economic and social backgrounds.  Most appear to have had some had a pre-existing relationship with the Priory having worked for the Priory or possibly leased property from them.

Corrodians included not only individuals but also married couples, as with Godfrey Holyne and his wife Margaret who received half a quarter of wheat every fourth week, at Michaelmas half a quarter of oats and a quarter and a half of barley and on Ash Wednesday two hundred red herrings, two salted salmon, and two congers. Yum!

The allowance some received also included support for their servants.  For instance John of Bitterley paid 10 marks a year for a room and food, but for this his two servants also received two servant's loaves, two gallons of servant's beer, and the same food as two of the Prior's grooms every day.
The two hefty volumes that make up The Worcester Liber Albus, held in Worcester Cathedral library. Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K. (2014).

How much did people pay for a corrody, and what did they expect from their retirement arrangements with the Priory of Worcester?

This varied considerably, as you see above John of Bitterley only paid 10 marks [a mark was 66.6p] whereas William de Schokerwych paid the priory £60 and for his corrody and he only received a room, stabling for a horse, bread and beer everyday for life and fish when these are served to the monks.

There was also a royal attempt to foist a retiring Crown servant on the Priory without paying anything. This dispute begins in 1308, when Queen Isabella requested a corrody for one Alice Conan, a lady in waiting to the queen.  The prior refused, pleading his inability to provide one owing to the 'bad times'.  King Edward II refused to accept this and summoned the prior to show why a corrody, formerly granted at the king's request to one Peter d'Avilliers, now deceased, should not be transferred.  The prior challenged this by producing a charter by which Edgar, king of England, granted the monastery certain immunities, but the king claimed this did not include corrodies and the court, not surprisingly, ruled for the king.  The prior then retaliated saying that King Edward II himself granted a number of petitions presented by the bishops and that among these petitions it was granted that the king should not unduly burden religious houses with corrodies because such liabilities led to the “impoverishment of the religious,  and hindered them in the performance of their duties.” many more letters the prior finally gave in and consented to pay Alice £10 a year on condition that it didn't set a precedent and no claim would be repeated.

These are just some of the corrodies discovered so far, but the Liber Albus is a hodgepodge of legal French, Latin, and Middle English. It alternates between terms as changeably as among languages so if you want to know more you will have to wait until the research is completed!

By Vanda Bartoszuk


Thursday, 29 May 2014

A Dynasty of Medieval Bell founders in Worcester

This blog summarizes a recent research project that traced a family of medieval bell-founders, the Seynters/Belyeters, in Worcester. It's important to begin with  a brief explanation of the surnames that will occur. In the middle ages many people derived their surnames from their occupation or profession, and this was the case with the Worcester family of bell-founders that this blog discusses. The Norman-French name for a bell-founder was 'Saintier', leading to the English version of Seinter, Ceinter or Seynter. The other name used for bell-founders was Belleyeter, Belyeter, Belezeter – 'bell' is self-explanatory and 'yeter' is from 'geotan', the Anglo-Saxon term for founding or making with molten metal.

Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K. (2014)
It is in the muniments of Worcester Cathedral Library and with the name Seynter that references to the first bell-founder in thirteenth century Worcester are to be found.  In a document dated from c.1230, Simon le Seynter was recorded as holding land outside Sidbury Gate[ii]. In  a second document he is recorded as holding another piece of land inside the gate of Sidbury.  Confirming this is another rental in the accounts of the Almoner[iii] , which mentions that Simon le Seynter had a furnace on his land in Sidbury.
To put some flesh on the bones of the Seynters we need to look at a group of documents held at the National Archives called  the Justices in Eyre, of Assize, of Oyer and Terminer, and of the Peace[iv][v].    It is from these Eyres dating to around 1275[vi] that most information can be garnered.   The first thing that becomes clear is that Simon le Seynter has died by 1275.  These documents therefore record the name of Simon's widow, Agnes and her parents: Gilbert the Archer and his wife was Mabel.  Other cases show us Simon and Agnes had two daughters, Lucy and Isabel as well as four sons, Henry, Thomas, Robert and Simon.
Although Simon le Seynter Senior was dead by the time of these cases, the Lay Subsidy Roll of 1280 shows that the business was carried on by Simon's widow Agnes and Henry, his eldest son.  Henry appears to have 'retired' from the bell-founding business as he purchases a corrody[vii] from the Priory in 1327, recorded in the Liber Albus[viii], which is pictured below. 

Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K. (2014)

Henry has a son, Richard.  This son, Richard le Seynter, also known as Richard le Belyeter, was a prominent bell-founder in Herefordshire and Worcestershire. Between fifteen and twentuy bells are presently attributed to him across the two counties.  Richard held the office of Bailiff in Worcester at least four times and probably more, so like his grand-father Simon, he was prosperous and a man of standing within the community.  One of these documents has an exquisite specimen of his seal, a wide-mouthed bell, with the legend "Sigillum Ricardi le Belyeter".  It is one of only a handful of bell-founder seals surviving in the country and is the most complete.

Richard le Belyeter most likely died around 1345 as that is the last date he is found witnessing or is cited in any documents. At this date, John le Belyeter is found witnessing documents.  The first impression of John le Belyeter is that he was not only following in his father's footsteps but was moving even higher up the social scale, as in 1334 he was elected as a Member of Parliament for Worcester[ix].  However, this may not have been the case as only two years later in 1336 there is a warrant sent out to arrest him, and others 'notoriously suspected' and have them brought to the Tower of London[x].  He must have been released though, so perhaps he was just mixing with the wrong crowd, as he continues to appear in the documents.  For instance in 1354 the Abbott of Evesham claims that John Belyeter along with others 'arrested his animals' in Worcester. John was most likely acting as a bailiff to do this, so was still in a position of authority. The final document to name John le Belyeter is a lease, which although dated 1464 quotes a grant[xi] from 1358/9 in which a messuage in Sidbury was 'formerly' held by John le Beleyeter, suggesting perhaps that the land has lain waste since that time.

No other record of the name Seynter or Belyeter is found after this and so a family of bell-founders that lasted for nearly 150 years faded from history only to be discovered again 500 years later by researchers at Worcester Cathedral. If you want to know more about this family's history, the full research paper will be printed in the Annual Symposium Report of Worcester Cathedral, which will be published later this year (2014).
by Vanda Bartoszuk 

     George Redmonds, Turi King, David Hey.  Surnames, DNA, and Family History, Oxford University Press, 2011, Oxford
[ii]    WCM B1539 [33]…..... also land outside the gate [of Sidbury] in the suburbs of Worcester, with messuages and other appurtenances lying between the land of Thomas Piment, the chaplain, and that of Simon le Seynter.
[iii]   WCM A9
[iv]   This is a group of justices who were sent from the central courts at Westminster to the counties of England to hear cases - the courts themselves, were known as Eyres.
[v]    NA/Just/1
[vi]   NA/JUST1/1023, 1024, 1025, 1026, 1027, 1028, 1222, 1230A, 1230B, 1232
[vii]   A corrody was a stipend granted to an individual (a corrodian) that was fulfilled by a religious institution. A full corrody included food, drink, and lodging and could in some cases also include a regular allowance in cash. Lesser corrodies provided only food and drink
[viii]  WCM A5
[ix]   Williams, William Retlaw. The parliamentary history of the county of Worcester. Bibliolife, 1897. Priv. print. for the author by Jakeman and Carver, Hereford. p.81 the MP for Worcester in 1334 is John le 'Belleyetere'.
[x]    Calendar of the Patent Rolls Preserved in the Public Record Office: Edward III: A.D. 1364-1367, Volume 13 Great Britain. Public Record Office, England. Membrane 29d
[xi]   WCM A6v1 fol. 38

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Rediscovering Runes

From the mysterious to the mundane, runes have a long and fascinating history of use…

Another exciting discovery which has come from research on George Hickes’ book (see last week's blog post) is a wealth of material dealing with Runes. These were used throughout the Western Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire, and were best suited to short messages carved on stone, wood and metal.
Hickes includes a copperplate image of the Old English ‘Rune Poem’. This text is critical to our knowledge of early England, as it preserves the memory of a time before Christianisation and subsequent adoption of Latin letters. Written down in around the 10th century but probably composed in the 8th or 9th century, it lists and names the 29 characters of the English runic script, along with a short poem in Old English to help the reader remember the name. For example:

“Þ Þorn (Thorn) is very sharp · for every thane

Who grabs it, it is evil · and immeasurably cruel

For every man · that with it rests”

The original manuscript containing the Rune Poem was destroyed by fire in 1731, but thankfully a copy had been made by the scholar Humfrey Wanley and reproduced by Hickes, making this the most original and accurate source in existence.

Runes were used more commonly and for a longer time in Scandinavia. One of the most common places runes are found are on monumental stones, often erected at land boundaries or beside roads and bridges. This was to ensure they were read by many people. The earliest rune stones may bear only the name of the man who carved them, but over time this was elaborated into memorial messages with artistic decoration. These later stones were generally commissioned by a wealthy individual to commemorate his family and achievements. Hickes includes this example from Iceland:

Picture of rune stones from Hickes' From Thesaurus Grammatico Criticus & Archaeologicus. Image copyright of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K. (2014.)
“Thorstein had these words made in memory of Svein his father and in memory of Thor his brother. They are away in Greece. And in memory of Ingithu his mother. Carved by Ubir”

It is very helpful of Hickes to have reproduced this image, as rune stones are often in exposed places, meaning that their inscriptions become worn away and less legible over time.

One of Hickes’ most ambitious ideas was to chart the development of runic characters.

Photo of rune family trees from Hickes' Thesaurus Grammatico Criticus & Archaeologicus. Image copyright of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K. (2014.)

 In their earliest forms they often appear similar to Latin letters, which Western European troops may have seen whilst serving as mercenaries in the Roman army (perhaps this is what Thorstein’s brother and father are doing?), but some later became very complex, as Hickes shows. In the British Isles, the alphabet was expanded into 29 characters as seen in the poem above. In Scandinavia however this was reduced to 16, with some characters representing more than one sound, which must have been very confusing!

Joanna Perks