The Customs of Old England
by F. J. Snell
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1 The Mighty Atom Marie Corelli 2 Jane Marie Corelli 3 Boy Marie Corelli 231 Cameos Marie Corelli 4 Spanish Gold G. A. Birmingham 9 The Unofficial Honeymoon Dolf Wyllarde 18 Round the Red Lamp Sir A. Conan Doyle 20 Light Freights W. W. Jacobs 22 The Long Road John Oxenham 71 The Gates of Wrath Arnold Bennett 81 The Card Arnold Bennett 87 Lalage's Lovers G. A. Birmingham 92 White Fang Jack London 108 The Adventures of Dr. Whitty G. A. Birmingham 113 Lavender and Old Lace Myrtle Reed 125 The Regent Arnold Bennett 135 A Spinner in the Sun Myrtle Reed 137 The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu Sax Rohmer 143 Sandy Married Dorothea Conyers 212 Under Western Eyes Joseph Conrad 215 Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo E. Phillips Oppenheim 224 Broken Shackles John Oxenham 227 Byeways Robert Hichens 229 My Friend the Chauffeur C. N. & A. M. Williamson 259 Anthony Cuthbert Richard Bagot 261 Tarzan of the Apes Edgar Rice Burroughs 268 His Island Princess W. Clark Russell 275 Secret History C. N. and A. M. Williamson 276 Mary All-alone John Oxenham 277 Darneley Place Richard Bagot 278 The Desert Trail Dane Coolidge 279 The War Wedding C. N. and A. M. Williamson 281 Because of these Things Marjorie Bowen 282 Mrs. Peter Howard Mary E. Mann 288 A Great Man Arnold Bennett 289 The Rest Cure W. B. Maxwell 290 The Devil Doctor Sax Rohmer 291 Master of the Vineyard Myrtle Reed 293 The Si-Fan Mysteries Sax Rohmer 294 The Guiding Thread Beatrice Harraden 295 The Hillman E. Phillips Oppenheim 296 William, by the Grace of God Marjorie Bowen 297 Below Stairs Mrs. Alfred Sidgwick 301 Love and Louisa E. Maria Albanesi 302 The Joss Richard Marsh 303 The Carissima Lucas Malet 304 The Return of Tarzan Edgar Rice Burroughs 313 The Wall Street Girl Frederick Orin Bartlett 315 The Flying Inn G. K. Chesterton 316 Whom God Hath Joined Arnold Bennett 318 An Affair of State J. C. Snaith 320 The Dweller on the Threshold Robert Hichens 325 A Set Of Six Joseph Conrad 329 '1914' John Oxenham 330 The Fortune Of Christina McNab S. Macnaughtan 334 Bellamy Elinor Mordaunt 343 The Shadow of Victory Myrtle Reed 344 This Woman to this Man C. N. and A. M. Williamson 345 Something Fresh P. G. Wodehouse 36 De Profundis Oscar Wilde 37 Lord Arthur Savile's Crime Oscar Wilde 38 Selected Poems Oscar Wilde 39 An Ideal Husband Oscar Wilde 40 Intentions Oscar Wilde 41 Lady Windermere's Fan Oscar Wilde 77 Selected Prose Oscar Wilde 85 The Importance of Being Earnest Oscar Wilde 146 A Woman of No Importance Oscar Wilde 43 Harvest Home E. V. Lucas 44 A Little of Everything E. V. Lucas 78 The Best of Lamb E. V. Lucas 141 Variety Lane E. V. Lucas 292 Mixed Vintages E. V. Lucas 45 Vailima Letters Robert Louis Stevenson 80 Selected Letters Robert Louis Stevenson 46 Hills and the Sea Hilaire Belloc 96 A Picked Company Hilaire Belloc 193 On Nothing Hilaire Belloc 226 On Everything Hilaire Belloc 254 On Something Hilaire Belloc 47 The Blue Bird Maurice Maeterlinck 214 Select Essays Maurice Maeterlinck 50 Charles Dickens G. K. Chesterton 94 All Things Considered G. K. Chesterton 54 The Life of John Ruskin W. G. Collingwood 57 Sevastopol and other Stories Leo Tolstoy 91 Social Evils and their Remedy Leo Tolstoy 223 Two Generations Leo Tolstoy 253 My Childhood and Boyhood Leo Tolstoy 286 My Youth Leo Tolstoy 58 The Lore of the Honey-Bee Tickner Edwardes 63 Oscar Wilde Arthur Ransome 64 The Vicar of Morwenstow S. Baring-Gould 76 Home Life in France M. Betham-Edwards 83 Reason and Belief Sir Oliver Lodge 93 The Substance of Faith Sir Oliver Lodge 116 The Survival of Man Sir Oliver Lodge 284 Modern Problems Sir Oliver Lodge 95 The Mirror of the Sea Joseph Conrad 126 Science from an Easy Chair Sir Ray Lankester 149 A Shepherd's Life W. H. Hudson 200 Jane Austen and her Times G. E. Mitton 218 R. L. S. Francis Watt 234 Records and Reminiscences Sir Francis Burnand 285 The Old Time Parson P. H. Ditchfield 287 The Customs of Old England F. J. Snell

A short Selection only.





First Issued in this Cheap Form in 1919

This Book was First Published (Crown 8vo) February 16th, 1911

- Transcribers Note: In this book superscript is represented by the carat "^" -


The aim of the present volume is to deal with Old English Customs, not so much in their picturesque aspect—though that element is not wholly wanting—as in their fundamental relations to the organized life of the Middle Ages. Partly for that reason and partly because the work is comparatively small, it embraces only such usages as are of national (and, in some cases, international) significance. The writer is much too modest to put it forth as a scientific exposition of the basic principles of mediaeval civilization. He is well aware that a book designed on this unassuming scale must be more or less eclectic. He is conscious of manifold gaps—valde deflenda. And yet, despite omissions, it is hoped that the reader may rise from its perusal with somewhat clearer conceptions of the world as it appeared to the average educated Englishman of the Middle Ages. This suggests the remark that the reader specially in view is the average educated Englishman of the twentieth century, who has not perhaps forgotten his Latin, for Latin has a way of sticking, while Greek, unless cherished, drops away from a man.

The materials of which the work is composed have been culled from a great variety of sources, and the writer almost despairs of making adequate acknowledgments. For years past admirable articles cognate to the study of mediaeval relationships have been published from time to time in learned periodicals like "Archaeologia," the "Archaeological Journal," the "Antiquary," etc., where, being sandwiched between others of another character, they have been lost to all but antiquarian experts of omnivorous appetite. Assuredly, the average educated Englishman will not go in quest of them, but it may be thought he will esteem the opportunity, here offered, of gaining enlightenment, if not in the full and perfect sense which might have been possible, had life been less brief and art not quite so long. The same observation applies to books, with this difference that, whereas in articles information is usually compacted, in some books at least it has to be picked out from amidst a mass of irrelevant particulars without any help from indices. If the writer has at all succeeded in performing his office—which is to do for the reader what, under other circumstances, he might have done for himself—many weary hours will not have been spent in vain, and the weariest are probably those devoted to the construction of an index, with which this book, whatever its merits or defects, does not go unprovided.

Mere general statements, however, will not suffice; there is the personal side to be thought of. The great "Chronicles and Memorials" series has been served by many competent editors, but by none more competent than Messrs. Riley, Horwood, and Anstey, to whose introductions and texts the writer is deeply indebted. Reeves' "History of English Law" is not yet out of date; and Mr. E. F. Henderson's "Select Documents of the Middle Ages" and the late Mr. Serjeant Pulling's "Order of the Coif," though widely differing in scope, are both extremely useful publications. Mr. Pollard's introduction to the Clarendon Press selection of miracle plays contains the pith of that interesting subject, and Miss Toulmin Smith's "York Plays" and Miss Katherine Bates's "English Religious Drama" will be found valuable guides. Perhaps the most realistic description of a miracle play is that presented in a few pages of Morley's "English Writers," where the scene lives before one. For supplementary details in this and other contexts, the writer owes something to the industry of the late Dr. Brushfield, who brought to bear on local documents the illumination of sound and wide learning. A like tribute must be paid to the Rev. Dr. Cox, but having regard to his long and growing list of important works, the statement is a trifle ludicrous.

One of the best essays on mortuary rolls is that of the late Canon Raine in an early Surtees Society volume, but the writer is specially indebted to a contribution of the Rev. J. Hirst to the "Archaeological Journal." The late Mr. Andre's article on vowesses, and Mr. Evelyn-White's exhaustive account of the Boy-Bishop must be mentioned, and—lest I forget—Dr. Cunningham's "History of English Commerce." The late Mr. F. T. Elworthy's paper on Hugh Rhodes directed attention to the Children of the Chapel, and Dom. H. F. Feasey led the way to the Lady Fast. Here and often the writer has supplemented his authorities out of his own knowledge and research. It may be added that, in numerous instances, indebtedness to able students (e.g., Sir George L. Gomme) has been expressed in the text, and need not be repeated. Finally, it would be ungrateful, as well as ungallant, not to acknowledge some debt to the writings of the Hon. Mrs. Brownlow, Miss Ethel Lega-Weekes, and Miss Giberne Sieveking. Ladies are now invading every domain of intellect, but the details as to University costume happened to be furnished by the severe and really intricate studies of Professor E. G. Clark.

F. J. S.

TIVERTON, N. DEVON, January 22, 1911.




















A work purporting to deal with old English customs on the broad representative lines of the present volume naturally sets out with a choice of those pertaining to the most ancient and venerable institution of the land—the Church; and, almost as naturally it culls its first flower from a life with which our ancestors were in intimate touch, and which was known to them, in a special and excellent sense, as religious.

The custom to which has been assigned the post of honour is of remarkable and various interest. It takes us back to a remote past, when the English, actuated by new-born fervour, sent the torch of faith to their German kinsmen, still plunged in the gloom of traditional paganism; and it was fated to end when the example of those same German kinsmen stimulated our countrymen to throw off a yoke which had long been irksome, and was then in sharp conflict with their patriotic ideals. It is foreign to the aim of these antiquarian studies to sound any note of controversy, but it will be rather surprising if the beauty and pathos of the custom, which is to engage our attention, does not appeal to many who would not have desired its revival in our age and country.[1] Typical of the thoughts and habits of our ancestors, it is no less typical of their place and share of the general system of Western Christendom, and in the heritage of human sentiment, since reverence for the dead is common to all but the most degraded races of mankind. That mutual commemoration of departed, and also of living, worth was not exclusive to this country is brought home to us by the fact that the most learned and comprehensive work on the subject, in its Christian and mediaeval aspects, is Ebner's "Die Klosterlichen Gebets-Verbruederungen" (Regensburg and New York, 1890). This circumstance, however, by no means diminishes—it rather heightens-the interest of a custom for centuries embedded in the consciousness and culture of the English people.

First, it may be well to devote a paragraph to the phrases applied to the institution. The title of the chapter is "Leagues of Prayer," but it would have been simple to substitute for it any one of half a dozen others—less definite, it is true—sanctioned by the precedents of ecclesiastical writers. One term is "friendship"; and St. Boniface, in his letters referring to the topic, employs indifferently the cognate expressions "familiarity," "charity" (or "love"). Sometimes he speaks of the "bond of brotherhood" and "fellowship." Venerable Bede favours the word "communion." Alcuin, in his epistles, alternates between the more precise description "pacts of charity" and the vaguer expressions "brotherhood" and "familiarity." The last he employs very commonly. The fame of Cluny as a spiritual centre led to the term "brotherhood" being preferred, and from the eleventh century onwards it became general.

The privilege of fraternal alliance with other religious communities was greatly valued, and admission was craved in language at once humble, eloquent, and touchingly sincere. Venerable Bede implores the monks of Lindisfarne to receive him as their "little household slave"—he desires that "my name also" may be inscribed in the register of the holy flock. Many a time does Alcuin avow his longing to "merit" being one of some congregation in communion of love; and, in writing to the Abbeys of Girwy and Wearmouth, he fails not to remind them of the "brotherhood" they have granted him.

The term "brother," in some contexts, bore the distinctive meaning of one to whom had been vouchsafed the prayers and spiritual boons of a convent other than that of which he was a member, if, as was not always or necessarily the case, he was incorporated in a religious order. The definition furnished by Ducange, who quotes from the diptych of the Abbey of Bath, proves how wide a field the term covers, even when restricted to confederated prayer:

"Fratres interdum inde vocantur qui in ejusmodi Fraternitatem sive participationem orationum aliorumque bonorum spiritualium sive monachorum sive aliarum Ecclesiarum et jam Cathedralium admissi errant, sive laici sive ecclesiastici."

Thus the secular clergy and the laity were recognized as fully eligible for all the benefits of this high privilege, but it is identified for the most part with the functions of the regular clergy, whose leisured and tranquil existence was more consonant with the punctual observance of the custom, and by whom it was handed down to successive generations as a laudable and edifying practice importing much comfort for the living, and, it might be hoped, true succour for the pious dead.

In so far as the custom was founded on any particular text of Scripture, it may be considered to rest on the exhortation of St. James, which is cited by St. Boniface: "Pray for one another that ye may be saved, for the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." St. Boniface is remembered as the Apostle of Germany, and when, early in the eighth century, he embarked on his perilous mission, he and his company made a compact with the King of the East Angles, whereby the monarch engaged that prayers should be offered on their behalf in all the monasteries in his dominion. On the death of members of the brotherhood, the tidings were to be conveyed to their fellows in England, as opportunity occurred. Not only did Boniface enter into leagues of prayer with Archbishops of Canterbury and the chapters and monks of Winchester, Worcester, York, etc., but he formed similar ties with the Church of Rome and the Abbey of Monte Cassino, binding himself to transmit the names of his defunct brethren for their remembrance and suffrage, and promising prayers and masses for their brethren on receiving notice of their decease. Lullus, who followed St. Boniface as Archbishop of Mayence, and other Anglo-Saxon missionaries extended the scope of the confederacy, linking themselves with English and Continental monasteries—for instance, Salzburg. Wunibald, a nephew of St. Boniface, imitating his uncle's example, allied himself with Monte Cassino. We may add that in Alcuin's time York was in league with Ferrieres; and in 849 the relations between the Abbey and Cathedral of the former city and their friends on the Continent were solemnly confirmed.

Having given some account of the infancy or adolescence of the custom, we may now turn to what may be termed, without disrespect, the machinery of the institution. The death of a dignitary, or of a clerk distinguished for virtue and learning, or of a simple monk has occurred. Forthwith his name is engrossed on a strip of parchment, which is wrapped round a stick or a wooden roll, at each end of the latter being a wooden or metal cap designed to prevent the parchment from slipping off. After the tenth century, at certain periods—say once a year—the names of dead brethren were carried to the scriptorium, where they were entered with the utmost precision, and with reverent art, on a mortuary roll.

The next step was to summon a messenger, and fasten the roll to his neck, after which the brethren, in a group at the gateway, bade him God-speed. These officials were numerous enough to form a distinct class, and some hundreds of them might have been found wending their way simultaneously on the same devout errand through the Christian Kingdoms of the West, in which they were variously known as geruli, cursores, diplomates, and bajuli. We may picture them speeding from one church or one abbey to another, bearing their mournful missive, and when England had been traversed, crossing the narrow seas to resume their melancholy task on the Continent. At whatever place he halted, the messenger might count on a sympathetic reception; and in every monastery the roll, having been detached from his neck, was read to the assembled brethren, who proceeded to render the solemn chant and requiem for the dead in compliance with their engagements. On the following day the messenger took his leave, lavishly supplied with provisions for the next stage.

Monasteries often embraced the opportunity afforded by these visits to insert the name of some brother lately deceased, in order to avoid waiting for the dispatch of their own annual encyclical, and so to notify, sooner than would otherwise have been possible, the death of members for whom they desired the prayers of the association.

Mortuary rolls, many examples of which have been found in national collections—some of them as much as fifty or sixty feet in length—contain strict injunctions specifying that the house and day of arrival be inscribed on the roll in each monastery, together with the name of the superior, the purpose being to preclude any failure on the part of the messenger worn out with the fatigue, or daunted by the hardships and perils, of the journey. The circuit having been completed, the parchment returned to the monastery from which it had issued, whereupon a scrutiny was made to ascertain, by means of the dates, whether the errand had been duly performed. "After many months' absence," says Dr. Rock, "the messenger would reach his own cloister, carrying back with him the illuminated death-bill, now filled to its fullest length with dates and elegies, for his abbot to see that the behest of the chapter had been duly done, and the library of the house enriched with another document."

One of the Durham rolls is thirteen yards in length and nine inches in breadth. Consisting of nineteen sheets of parchment, it was executed on the death of John Burnby, a Prior of Durham, in 1464. His successor, Richard Bell, who was afterwards Bishop of Durham, and the convent, caused this roll, commemorating the virtues of the late Prior and William of Ebchester, another predecessor, to be circulated through the religious houses of the entire kingdom; and inscribed on it are the titles, orders, and dedications of no fewer than six hundred and twenty-three. Each had undertaken to pray for the souls of the two priors in return for the prayers of the monks at Durham. The roll opens with a superb illumination, three feet long, depicting the death and burial of one of the priors; and at the foot occurs the formula: Anima Magistri Willielmi Ebchestre et anima Johannis Burnby et animae omnium defunctorum per Dei misericordiam in pace requiescant.

The monastery first visited makes the following entry: Titulus Monasterii Beatae Mariae de Gyseburn in Clyveland, ordinis S. Augustini Ebor. Dioc. Anima Magistri Willielmi Ebchestre et anima Johannis Burnby et animae omnium defunctorum per misericordiam Dei in pace requiescant. Vestris nostra damus, pro nostris vestra rogamus. The other houses employ identical terms, with the exception of the monastery of St. Paul, Newenham, Lincolnshire, which substitutes for the concluding verse a hexameter of similar import. It is of some interest to remark that, apart from armorial or fanciful initials, the standing of a house may be gauged by the handwriting, the titles of the larger monasteries being given in bold letters, while those of the smaller form an almost illegible scrawl. The greater houses would have been in a position to support a competent scribe—not so the lesser; and this is believed to have been the reason of the difference.

Almost, if not quite, as important as the roll just noticed is that of Archbishop Islip of Westminster recently reproduced in Vetusta Monumenta.

After the tenth century it appears to have been the custom in some monasteries, on the death of a member, to record the fact; and at certain periods—probably once a year—the names of all the dead brethren were inscribed on an elaborate mortuary roll in the scriptorium, before being dispatched to the religious houses throughout the land.

The books of the confraternities are divisible into two classes—necrologies and libri vitae. The former are in the shape of a calendar, in which the names are arranged according to the days on which the deaths took place; the latter include the names of the living as well as the dead, and were laid on the altar to aid the memory of the priest during mass. Twice a day—at the chapter after prime and at mass—the monks assembled to listen to the recitation of the names, singly or collectively, from the sacramentary, diptych, or book of life. The most famous English liber vitae—that of Durham—embraces entries dating from the time of Edwin, King of Northumbria (616-633), and was compiled, apparently, between the devastation of Lindisfarne in 793 and the withdrawal of the monks from the island in 875. In the first handwriting there are 3,100 names, a goodly proportion of them belonging to the seventh century. As has been already implied, various degrees are represented in the rolls of the living and the dead—notably, of course, benefactors, but recorded in them are bishops and abbots, princes and nobles, monks and laymen, and often enough this is their only footprint on the sands of time. The name of a pilgrim in the confraternity book of any abbey signifies that he was there on the day mentioned.




Not wholly aloof from the subject treated in the previous chapter is the custom that prevailed in the Middle Ages for widows to assume vows of chastity. The present topic might possibly have been reserved for the pages devoted to domestic customs, but the recognition accorded by the Church to a state which was neither conventual nor lay, but partook of both conditions in equal measure, decides its position in the economy of the work. We must deal with it here.

Before discussing the custom in its historical and social relations, it will be well to advert to the soil of thought out of which it sprang, and from which it drew strength and sustenance. Already we have spoken of the heritage of human sentiment. Now there is ample evidence that the indifference to the marriage of widows which marks our time did not obtain always and everywhere. On the contrary, among widely separated races such arrangements evoked deep repugnance, as subversive of the perfect union of man and wife, and clearly also of the civil inferiority of females. The notion that a woman is the property of her husband, joined to a belief in the immortality of the soul, appears to lie at the root of the dislike to second marriages—which, according to this view, imply a degree of freedom approximating to immorality. The culmination of duty and fidelity in life and death is seen in the immolation of Hindu widows. The Manu prescribes no such fiery ordeal, but it states the principles leading to this display of futile heroism: "Let her consecrate her body by living entirely on flowers, roots, and fruits. Let her not, when her lord is deceased, ever pronounce the name of another man. A widow who slights her deceased lord by marrying again brings disgrace on herself here below, and shall be excluded from the seat of her lord."

A similar feeling permeated the early Church. "The argument used against the unions," says Professor Donaldson, "was that God made husband and wife one flesh, and one flesh they remained even after the death of one of them. If they were one flesh, how could a second woman be added to them?" He alludes, of course, to the re-marriage of the husband, but the argument, whatever it may be worth, applies equally to both parties. An ancient example of renunciation is afforded by Judith, of whom it is recorded: "She was a widow now three years and six months, and she made herself a private chamber in the upper part of the house, in which she abode shut up with her maids and she wore hair-cloth upon her loins, and fasted all the days of her life, except the Sabbaths and new moons, and the feasts of the house of Israel; and on festival days she came forth in great glory, and she abode in her husband's house a hundred and five years."

An order of widows is said to have been founded or confirmed by St. Paul, who fixed the age of admission at sixty. This assertion, one suspects, grew out of a passage in the First Epistle to Timothy, in which the apostle employs language that would, at least, be consonant with such a proceeding: "Honour widows that are widows indeed.... Now she that is a widow indeed and desolate trusteth in God and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day." Simple but very striking is the epitaph inscribed on the wall of the Vatican:


The order of deaconesses appears to have been mainly composed of pious widows, and only those were eligible who had had but one husband. This order came to an end in the eleventh or twelfth century, but the vowesses, as a class, continued to subsist in England until the convulsions of the sixteenth century, and in the Roman Church survive as a class with some modifications in the order of Oblates, who, says Alban Butler in his life of St. Francis, "make no solemn vows, only a promise of obedience to the mother-president, enjoy pensions, inherit estates, and go abroad with leave." Their abbey in Rome is filled with ladies of the first rank.

The chief distinction between deaconesses and widows was the obligation imposed on the former to accomplish certain outward works, whereas widows vowed to remain till death in a single life, in which, like nuns, they were regarded as mystically espoused to Christ. Unlike nuns, however, vowesses usually supported the burdens entailed by their previous marriage—superintending the affairs of the household and interesting themselves in the welfare of their descendants. St. Elizabeth of Hungary, though she bound herself to follow the injunctions of her confessor and received from him a coarse habit of undyed wool, did not become a nun, but, on his advice, retained her secular estate and ministered to the needs of the poor. But instances occur in which vowesses retired from the world and its cares. Elfleda, niece of King Athelstan, having resolved to pass the remainder of her days in widowhood, fixed her abode in Glastonbury Abbey; and as late as July 23, 1527, leave was granted to the Prioress of Dartford to receive "any well-born matron widow, of good repute, to dwell perpetually in the monastery without a habit according to the custom of the monastery." Now and then a widow would completely embrace the religious life, as is shown by an inscription on the brass of John Goodrington, of Appleton, Berkshire, dated 1519, which states that his widow "toke relygyon at y^e monastery of Sion."

The position of vowesses in the eyes of the Church may be illustrated in various ways. For example, the homilies of the Anglo-Saxon AElfric testify to a triple division of the people of God. "There are," says he, "three states which bear witness of Christ; that is, maidenhood, and widowhood, and lawful matrimony." And with the quaintness of mediaeval symbolists, he affirms that the house of Cana in Galilee had three floors—the lowest occupied by believing married laymen, the next by reputable widows, and the uppermost by virgins. Emphasis is given to the order of comparative merit thus defined by the application to it of one of our Lord's parables, for the first are to receive the thirty-fold, the second the sixty-fold, and the third and highest division the hundred-fold reward. Similarly, a hymn in the Sarum Missal for the festival of Holy Women asserts:

Fruit thirty-fold she yielded, While yet a wedded wife; But sixty-fold she rendered, When in a widowed life.

And a Good Friday prayer in the same missal is introduced with the words: "Let us also pray for all bishops, priests, deacons, sub-deacons, acolytes, exorcists, readers, door-keepers, confessors, virgins, widows, and all the holy people of God."

In the pontifical of Bishop Lacy of Exeter may be found the office of the Benediction of a Widow. The ceremony was performed during mass, and prefixed to the office is a rubric directing that it shall take place on a solemn day or at least upon a Sunday. Between the epistle and gospel the bishop, seated in his chair, turned towards the people, asked the kneeling widow if she desired to be the spouse of Christ. Thereupon she made her profession in the vulgar tongue, and the bishop, rising, gave her his blessing. Then followed four prayers, in one of which the bishop blessed the habit, after which he kneeled, began the hymn "Veni Creator Spiritus," and at the close bestowed upon the vowess the mantle, the veil, and the ring. More prayers were said, wherein the bishop besought God to be the widow's solace in trouble, counsel in perplexity, defence under injury, patience in tribulation, abundance in poverty, food in fasting, and medicine in sickness; and the rite ended with a renewed commendation of the widow to the merciful care of God.

It is worthy of note that in these supplications mention is made of the sixty-fold reward which the widow is to receive for her victory over her old enemy the Devil; and also, that the postulant is believed to have made her vow with her hands joined within those of the bishop, as if swearing allegiance.

Several witnesses were necessary on the occasion. When, for instance, the widow of Simon de Shardlowe made her profession before the Bishop of Norwich, as she did in 1369, the deed in which the vow was registered, and upon which she made the sign of the cross in token of consent, was witnessed by the Archdeacon of Norwich, Sir Simon de Babingle, and William de Swinefleet. In the same way the Earl of Warwick, the Lords Willoughby, Scales, and others, were present at the profession of Isabella, Countess of Suffolk. This noble lady made her vow in French, as did also Isabella Golafre, when she appeared for the purpose on Sunday, October 18, 1379, before William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester. Notwithstanding the direction in Bishop Lacy's pontifical, the vow was sometimes spoken in Latin, an instance of which is the case of "Domina Alicia Seynt Johan de Baggenet," whose profession took place on April 9, 1398, in the chapel of the Lord of Amberley, Sussex.

That the vow was restricted to the obligation of perpetual chastity, and in no way curtailed the freedom and privileges which the vowess shared with other ladies, is demonstrated by the contents of various wills, like that of Katherine of Riplingham, dated February 8, 1473. Therein she styles herself an "advowess"; but, having forfeited none of her civil rights, she devises estates, executes awards, and composes family differences. This is quite in the spirit of St. Paul's words: "If any widows have children or nephews, let them learn first to show piety at home, and to requite their parents, for that is good and acceptable to God."

Allusion has been made to the ring as the symbol of the spiritual espousal. As such it was the object of peculiar reverence, and its destination was frequently specified in the vowess's will. Thus in "Testamenta Vetusta" we find the abstract of the will of Alice, widow of Sir Thomas West, dated 1395, in which the lady bequeaths "the ring with which I was spoused to God" to her son Sir Thomas. In like manner Katherine Riplingham leaves a gold ring set with a diamond—the ring with which she was sacred—to her daughter Alice Saint John. To some vowesses the custody even of a son or daughter appeared unworthy of so precious a relic; and thus we learn that Lady Joan Danvers, by her will dated 1453, gave her spousal ring to the image of the Crucifix near the north door of St. Paul's, while Lady Margaret Davy presented hers to the image of Our Lady of Walsingham.

In certain instances the formality of episcopal benediction was dispensed with, a simple promise sufficing. As a case in point, John Brackenbury, by his will dated 1487, bequeathed to his mother certain real estate subject to the condition that she did not marry again—a condition to which she assented before the parson and parish of Thymmylbe. "If," says the testator, "she keep not that promise, I will that she be content with that which was my father's will, which she had every penny." But, in compacts or wills in which the married parties themselves were interested, the vow seems to have been usually exacted. Wives sometimes engaged with their husbands to make the vow; and the will of William Herbert, Knight, Earl of Pembroke, dated July 27, 1469, contains an affecting reminder of duty—"And, wife, that you may remember your promise to take the order of widowhood, so that you may be the better maistres of your owen, to perform my will, and to help my children, as I love and trust you," etc.

Husbands left chattels to their wives provided that they took the vow of chastity. The will of Sir Gilbert Denys, Knight, of Syston, dated 1422, sets out: "If Margaret, my wife, will after my death vow a vow of chastity, I give her all my moveable goods, she paying my debts and providing for my children; and if she will not vow the vow of chastity, I desire my goods may be divided and distributed in three equal parts." On like terms wives were appointed executrices. William Edlington, Esq., of Castle Carlton, in his will dated June 11, 1466, declares: "I make Christian, my wife, my sole executor on this condition, that she take the mantle soon after my decease; and in case she will not take the mantle and the ring, I will that William my son [and other persons named] be my executors, and she to have a third part of all my goods moveable."

Such is the frailty of human nature that even when widows accepted the obligation of faith and chastity in the most solemn manner, the vow was occasionally broken. This will hardly excite surprise when we consider the youth, or comparative youth, of some of the postulants. Mary, the widow of Lewis, King of Hungary, was only twenty-three at the time of her profession. Our English annals yield striking instances of promises followed by repentance. Thus Eleanor, third daughter of King John, "on the death of her first husband, the Earl of Pembroke, 1231, in the first transports of her grief, made in public a solemn vow in the presence of Edmund, Archbishop of Canterbury, that she would never again become a wife, but remain a true spouse of Christ, and received a ring in confirmation, which she, however, broke, much to the indignation of a strong party of the laity and clergy of England, on her marriage with Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester." Another delinquent was Lady Elizabeth Juliers, Countess of Kent. When her first husband died, in 1354, she took a vow of chastity before William de Edyndon, Archbishop of Canterbury. Six years later she was wedded privately and without licence to Sir Eustace Dabridgecourt, Knight. As the result, the Archbishop of Canterbury instituted proceedings against her, and she was condemned to severe penance for the remainder of her life. In the light of these examples it is unnecessary to observe that the infraction of a vow so strict and stringent brought the utmost discredit on any widow who might be guilty of it.

The question has been raised why widows did not, instead of making their especial vow, enter the third orders of St. Dominic and St. Francis, both of them intended for pious persons remaining in the world. The answer has already, in some degree, been given in what was said regarding the extinct order of deaconesses. Followers of St. Dominic and St. Francis were bound to recite daily a shortened form of the Breviary, supposing that they were able to read, or, if they were not able, a certain number of Aves and Paternosters. They were further expected to observe sundry fasts over and above those commanded by the Church, and thus they became qualified for all the benefits accruing to the first two orders, Dominican and Franciscan. With the vowesses it was different. The one condition imposed upon them was that of chastity, as tending to a state of sanctification. They took upon themselves no other obligation whatever, and consequently acquired no title to the blessings and privileges flowing from the strict observance of rules to which they did not subscribe. Even after the Reformation the custom did not absolutely cease. At any rate, Anne Clifford, Countess of Dorset, who died in 1676, is stated, after the death of her last husband, to have dressed in black serge and to have been very abstemious in the matter of food.

Here and there may be found funeral monuments containing representations of vowesses. Leland remarks, with reference to a member of the Marmion family at West Tanfield, Yorkshire: "There lyeth there alone a lady with the apparill of a vowess"; and in Norfolk there are still in existence two brasses of widows and vowesses. The earlier and smaller, of about the year 1500, adjoins the threshold of the west door of Witton church, near Blofield, and bears the figure of a lady in a gown, mantle, barbe or gorget, and veil, together with the inscription:


The other example is in the little church of Frenze, near Diss, which contains, among a number of other interesting brasses, that of a lady clothed, like the former, in gown, mantle, barbe, and veil. This figure, however, shows cuffs; the gown is encircled with an ornamental girdle, and depending from the mantle on long cords ending in tassels. Underneath runs the legend:


Below are three shields, of which the dexter bears the husband's arms, the sinister those of Dame Braham's family, and the middle the coats impaled. In neither of these examples is the ring—the most important symbol—displayed on the vowess's finger. This omission may be explained, perhaps, by the fact that it was not buried with her, being, as we have seen, sometimes bequeathed as an heirloom and sometimes left as a gift to the Church.

Notwithstanding the desire of so many husbands that their widows should live "sole, without marriage," it is well known that second and even third marriages were not uncommon in the Middle Ages, and, provided that they did not involve an infraction of some solemn engagement, do not appear to have incurred social censure any more than at present.




It was pointed out as one of the distinctions between vowesses and members of the third orders of the Dominican and Franciscan brotherhoods that the latter were pledged to the observance of fasts from which the former were exempt. Tyndale complains of the "open idolatry" of abstinences undertaken in honour of St. Patrick, St. Brandan, and other holy men of old; and he lays special stress on "Our Lady Fast," which, he explains, was kept "either seven years the same day that her day falleth in March, and then begin, or one year with bread and water." Whatever fasts a vowess might neglect as non-obligatory, it seems probable that she would not willingly forgo any opportunity of showing reverence to the Blessed Virgin, who, in the belief of St. Augustine, had taken vows of chastity before the salutation of the Angel.

It is not a little curious that the Lady Fast, in the forms mentioned by Tyndale, was so far from being enjoined by the Church as to be actually opposed to the decree of the Roman Council of 1078, which indicated Saturday as the day of the week appropriated to the honour of the Blessed Virgin. This usage was as well understood in the British Isles as elsewhere. Thus, in "Piers Plowman":

Lechery said "Alas!" and on Our Lady he cried To make mercy for his misdeeds between God and his soul, With that he should the Saturday seven year thereafter Drink but with the duck, and dine but once.

Bower, the continuator of Fordun's "Scotichronicon," makes it a reproach to lax prelates that they suffer the common people to vary after their own pleasure the days kept as fast days in honour of Mary. In doing so he recalls that on Saturday, the first Easter Eve, she abode unshakenly in the faith, when the apostles doubted. Good reason, therefore, why Saturday should be dedicated to her as a fast. "But now," he continues, "you will see both men and women on a Saturday morning make good dinners, who, on a Tuesday or a Thursday, would not touch a crust of bread, lest they should break the Lady Fast kept after their own fancy."

Tyndale seems to have erred in intimating that the Lady Fast, if of an annual character, was regulated of necessity by the feast of the Annunciation, or, in the happier, more affectionate phrase of our forefathers, "the Gretynge of Our Ladye." The Blessed Virgin had no fewer than six festivals—those of the Conception, Nativity, Annunciation, Visitation, Purification, and Assumption—any one of which might be made the starting-point of the fast either by the choice of the votary or by the cast of the die. A third method is instanced in the "Popish Kingdom" of Barnabe Googe (1570), actually an English metrical version of a truculent German satire by one Thomas Kirchmeyer, who was scholar enough to Latinize, or Graecize, his homely patronymic into the more imposing correlative "Naogeorgus." The passage is as follows:

Besides they keep Our Lady's fast at sundry solemn times, Instructed by a turning wheel, or as the lot assigns. For every sexton has a wheel that hangeth for the view, Mark'd round about with certain days, unto the Virgin due, Which holy through the year are kept, from whence hangs down a thread Of length sufficient to be touched and to be handled. Now when that any servant of Our Lady cometh here And seeks to have some certain day by lot for to appear, The sexton turns the wheel about, and bids the stander-by To hold the thread whereby he doth the time and season try, Wherein he ought to keep his fast and every other thing That decent is and longing to Our Lady's worshipping.

Although, as has been said, the "Popish Kingdom" had a German original, it is an extraordinary fact that no Continental example of the Lady Fast wheel is known to exist. Two English wheels have been preserved—both of them in East Anglian churches: viz., those of Long Stratton, Norfolk, and Yaxley, Suffolk. Of the two the former is the more perfect. That at Yaxley consists of a pair of wheels, cut out of sheet iron, which measure a little over two feet in diameter, and are similar and concentric, but separate. The Long Stratton wheels, on the other hand, have a pin passing through the centre which holds them together, and around which they revolve, each of them independently. To the same pin is attached the forked end of a long pendent handle, which was held by the sexton. Each wheel is pierced with three holes through which strings were passed, the total number coinciding with that of the six feasts sacred to Mary, or possibly to the six days of the week excluding Sunday, which did not rank as a fast day.

The instrument was worked in the following manner. Should a devout person desire to keep a Lady Fast, he or she repaired to the church to determine by the aid of the wheel which of the days or anniversaries should be observed. Thereupon the sexton took the wheel, which he either hung up or held at arm's length by means of a ring at the termination of the handle. He then set the wheel in motion, and the votary, standing by, caught at the strings as they spun round. Whichever string was caught decided the question on what day the fast was to be begun, whether on the feast of the Annunciation or that of the Assumption, or any other of the six feasts, or days of the week, of which the several strings were emblematical. The feast of the Assumption was known as Lady Day in Harvest, being observed on the fifteenth of August.

The compromise, which we style the Reformation, at first inclined to the retention of the Saturday fast; and, indeed, the legislature interfered to enforce its more regular observance. In 1548 a remarkable measure was enacted with this object, not so much, it is to be feared, out of any genuine concern for religion as for the benefit of the fishing community, whose interests had been injuriously affected by recent ecclesiastical changes.

"Albeit," it recites, "the King's subjects now having a more perfect and clear light of the Gospel and true word of God, through the infinite cleansing and mercy of Almighty God, by the hand of the King's Majesty and his most noble father of famous memory, promulgate, shewed, declared and opened, and thereby perceiving that one day or one kind of meat of itself is not more holy, more pure, or more clean than another, for that all days and all meats be of their nature of one equal purity, cleanness, and holiness, and that all men should by them live to the glory of God, and at all times and for all meats give thanks unto Him, of which meats none can defile Christian men or make them unclean at any time, to whom all meats be lawful and pure, so that they be not used in disobedience or vice; yet forasmuch as divers of the King's subjects turning their knowledge therein to satisfy their sensuality, when they should thereby increase in virtue, have in late time more than in times past, broken and contemned such abstinence which hath been used in the Realm upon the Fridays and Saturdays, the Embering days, and other days commonly called Vigils, and in the time commonly called Lent and other accustomed times: the King's Majesty, considering that due and godly abstinence is a means to virtue, and to subdue men's bodies to their soul and spirit, and considering also especially that Fishers, and men using the trade of living by fishing in the sea, may thereby the rather be set on work, and that by eating of fish much flesh shall be saved and increased, and also for divers other considerations and commodities of this realm, doth ordain 'that all statutes and constitutions regarding fasting be repealed, but that all persons neglecting to observe the ordinary fast days—Fridays, Saturdays, Ember days, and Lent—be subject to a fine of ten shillings and ten days' imprisonment for the first offence.'"

This measure, so inconsistent with the spirit of the age and so contradictory in its terms, was re-enacted at various dates during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I. It is perhaps the last "word" as regards the Lady Fast, but the legislature by no means suspended its vigilance in enforcing abstinence at the proper season. Discussion of post-Reformation fasting, however, or fasting in general, forms no part of our present undertaking.




The fact may not have escaped notice that Domina Alicia Seynt Johan de Baggenet "took the vow of widowhood in the chapel of the Lord of Amberley." Possession of a private chapel was, as it still is, a mark of social distinction. "It was once the constitution of the English," runs a law of King Athelstan, "that the people and their legal condition went according to their merits; and then were the councillors of the nation honoured each one according to his quality, the earl and the ceorl, the thane and the underthane. If a ceorl throve so as to have five hides booked to him, a church, bell-tower, a seat in the borough, and an office in the King's court, from that time forward he was esteemed equal in honour to a thane." Again, the laws of King Edgar relating to tithe ordain "that God's church be entitled to every right, and that every tithe be rendered to the old minster to which the district belongs, and be then so paid, both from the thane's inland and from geneat land, as the plough traverses it. But if there be any thane who on his boc-land has a church at which there is a burial-place, let him give the third part of his own tithe to his church. If anyone hath a church at which there is not a burial-place, then of the same nine parts let him then give to his priest what he will."

Domestic chapels were extremely common all through the Middle Ages. In the parish of Tiverton, Devon, there were at least seventeen, some of them within less than a mile of each other. Allusions to these oratories are found in the registers of the Bishops of Exeter, by whom they were severally licensed for the convenience of the owner, his family, and his tenants. As a rule, they were in rooms of the house or castle, not separate buildings. Andrew Boorde, in his directions for the construction of a sixteenth-century mansion, remarks: "Let the privy chamber be annexed to the great chamber of estate, with other chambers necessary for the building, so that many of the chambers may have a prospect into the chapel."

Great nobles of the post-Conquest period were not content with the services of a priest only. They maintained an establishment of singing men and boys analogous to the vicars-choral and choristers of the present time, who were described as "the gentlemen and children of the chapel." From the household books of the Earl of Northumberland (A.D. 1510-11) we learn that he had "daily abidynge in his household—Gentillmen of the Chapel, ix; viz., the maistre of the Childre, j; Tenors, ij; Counter-tenors, iiij; the Pistoler, j; and oone for the Orgayns; Childer of the Chapell, vj."

Particulars are recorded of the daily allowances of bread, beer, and fish during Lent. On Scambling Days it was usual not to provide regular meals, each having to scramble or shift for himself, but things were otherwise ordered in the mansion of the Percy, where the service of meat and drink "upon Scambling Days in Lent yerely" was properly seen to. Not only are we furnished with the "Ordre of all suche Braikfasts that shall be lowable daily in my Lordes hous thorowte the yere as well on Flesche days as Fysch days in Lent, and out of Lent," but accounts are supplied of the liveries of wine, white wine, and wax, and also of wood and coal, of which the Master and the Children of the Chapel were entitled to one peck per diem. The cost of the washing of surplices, etc., was not to exceed a stated sum. "Then shal be paid for the Holl weshing of all manner of Lynnon belonging to the Lordes Chappell for a Holl yere but xvijs. iiijd. And to be weshed for every Penny iij Surplesses or iij Albes. And the said Surplesses to be weshed in the yere xvj tymes against these Feasts following," &c.

The salaries of the choir were paid at definite intervals, and formed a charge on his lordship's property in Yorkshire. The scale of remuneration was as follows:

"Gentillmen of the Chappell x (as to saye, Two at x marks a pece, iij at iiijl. a pece, Two at v marks a pece, Oon at iiij marks, Oon at xxs., and Oon at xxs.; viz., ij Bassis, ij Tenors and vj Counter-tenors). Childeryn of the Chappell vj, after xxvs. a pece. And so the whole somme for full contentacion of the said Chappell wagies for oone hole yere ys—xxxvl. xvs."

The gentlemen slept two in a bed, as seems to have been the custom for priests also; the children, three in a bed. ("There shall be for vj Prests iij Beddes after ij to a Bedde; for x Gentillmen of the Chapell v Beddes, after ij to a Bedde; for vj Children ij Beddes after iij to a Bedde.")

Not only noblemen, but the Princes of the Church had their private chapels, for which the services of children were retained. George Cavendish, in his "Life of Wolsey," gives a glowing account of the Cardinal's palatial appointments, in the course of which he observes: "Now I will declare unto you the officers of his chapel and singing men of the same. First he had there a dean, a great divine, and a man of excellent learning; and a sub-dean, a repeater of the choir, a gospeller and epistler of the singing-priests, and a master of the children [therefore, of course, children]; in the vestry a yeoman and two grooms, besides other retainers that came thither at principal feasts.... And as for the furniture of the chapel it passeth my weak capacity to declare the number of the costly ornaments and rich jewels that were occupied in the same, for I have seen in procession about the hall forty-four rich copes of one settle worn, besides the candlesticks and other necessary ornaments to the furniture of the same." Such were the sumptuous surroundings in which "children of the chapel" were wont sometimes to perform their office.

An element of distinction enjoyed by peer and prelate was not likely to be absent from the first estate of the realm; and, in point of fact, the phrase "children of the chapel," so far as it is known, is more commonly associated with the King's court than any of the castles or episcopal palaces of the land. Certain of the King's "Gentlemen of the Chapel" seem to have received payment in money, including extraordinary fees, and provided for themselves, whilst others had board and lodging. The following table, though less complete than the Northumberland accounts, throws light on the rate of requital:

L s. d.

Master of the children, for his wages and board wages 30 0 0

Gospeller, for wages, 13 6 8

Epistoler, " " 13 6 8

Verger, " " 20 0 0

Yeomen of the Vestry {10 0 0 {10 0 0

Children of the Chapel, ten 56 13 4

Another ordinance states that "The Gentlemen of the Chapell, Gospeller, Episteller, and Sergeant of the Vestry shall have from the last day of March forward for their board wages, everie of them, 10d. per diem; and the Yeomen and Groomes of the Vestry, everie of them, 2s. by the weeke." When not on board wages, they had "Bouche of Court," like the physicians. "Bouche of Court" signified the daily livery or allowance of food, drink, and fuel, and this, in the case of the Master of the Children, exceeded that of the surgeons to the value of about L1 1s. per annum. Thus it will be seen that the style "Gentlemen," as applied to the grown-up members of the choir, was not merely complimentary, but indicative of their actual status.

Meals were served at regular hours. "It is ordeyned that the household, when the hall is kept, shall observe certyne times for dinner and souper as followeth: that is to say, the first dynner in eating dayes to begin at tenn of the clock, or somewhat before; and the first souper at foure of the clock on worke dayes."

The duties of the choir also are plainly laid down: "Forasmuch as it is goodly and honourable that there should be alwayes some divine service in the court ... when his grace keepeth court and specially in riding journeys: it is ordeyned that the master of the children and six men ... shall give their continual attendance in the King's court, and dayly in the absence of the residue of the chappell, to have a masse of our Lady before noone, and on Sundayes and holy dayes masse of the day besides our Lady masse, and an anthem in the afternoone."

It was part of the business of the Master of the Children to instruct his young charges in "grammar, songes, organes, and other vertuous things"; and, on the whole, the lot of the choristers might have been deemed enviable. It is evident, however, that it was not always regarded in that light, for a custom existed of impressing children. This practice was authorized by a precept of Henry VI. in 1454, and one of its victims was Thomas Tusser, afterwards author of "Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry," who thus alludes to the matter:

There for my voice I must (no choice) Away of force, like posting horse; For sundry men had placards then Such child to take.

Moreover, it has been shrewdly suspected that the whipping-boy, who vicariously atoned for the sins of a prince of the blood—in other words, was thrashed, when he did wrong—was picked from the Children of the Chapel. Certainly Charles I. had such a whipping-boy named Murray; and judging from this instance the expedient was not commended by its results.

Members of the choir were expected to be persons of exemplary life and conversation, to ensure which state of things there was a weekly visitation by the Dean. Every Friday he sought out and avoided from office "all rascals and hangers upon thys courte." The tone of discipline, to conclude from the poems of Hugh Rhodes, was undoubtedly high; and, whatever difficulties he may have encountered in training the boys to his own high standards, his "Book of Nurture" must always possess considerable value as a reflex of the moral and social ideals of a Master of the Children in the sixteenth century.

Rhodes's successor in the days of Elizabeth was Richard Edwards, a man of literary taste and the compiler of a "Paradise of Dainty Devices." The Master had now a salary of forty pounds a year; the Gentlemen nineteen pence a day, in addition to board and clothing; and the Children received largesse at high feasts and on occasions when their services were used for purposes apart from their ordinary duties. In this way the Chapel Royal is closely connected with the rise of the English drama. Edwards wrote light pieces for the children to act before Her Majesty, and, encouraged by success, fell to composing set comedies, which were also performed by the boys, under his instructions, in the presence of the Court.

We have limited our retrospect mainly to the Tudor period. As an extension of the subject would call for more space than we have at our disposal, those who desire more information concerning the "Children of the Chapel" will do well to consult a recent work entitled "The King's Musick" (edited by H. C. de Lafontaine: Novello & Co.), which carries on the record into the age of the Stuarts. Entries cited in this excellent compilation relate to eminent English composers. In December, 1673, for example, there was a "warrant to pay Henry Purcell, late one of the children of his Majesty's Chappell Royall, whose voyce is changed and gone from the Chappell, the sum of L30 by the year, to commence Michaelmas, 1673." This was in consequence of the sensible custom of retaining as supernumeraries boys who had given evidence of musical ability. Such is certainly true of Purcell, who, at the early age of eleven, had shown promise of his future career by an ode called "The Address of the Children of the Chapel Royal to the King and their Master, Captain Cooke, on His Majestie's Birthday, A.D. 1670, composed by Master Purcell, one of the Children of the said Chapel."




Mention has been made of Hugh Rhodes and his "Book of Nurture." It is pretty evident that this master of music was attached to the older form of faith, since he published in Queen Mary's reign a poem bearing the extravagant title: "The Song of the Chyld-Bysshop, as it was songe before the Queen's Maiestie in her priuie chamber at her mannour of Saint James in the feeldes on Saynt Nicholas' Day and Innocents' Day this yeare now present by the chylde bisshop of Poules church with his company. Londini in aedibus Johannis Cawood typographi reginae, 1555." This effusion Warton derides as a "fulsome panegyric" on the Queen's devotion; and the censure is not wholly unjust, since the author, without much regard for accuracy, likens that least lovable of our sovereigns to Judith, Esther, and the Blessed Virgin. Meanwhile, who or what was the "Chyld-Bysshop," or, as he is usually styled, the Boy-Bishop?

In the first place it may be noted that the Latin equivalent of the phrase was not, as might be expected, Episcopus puerilis, but Episcopus puerorum, suggesting that the boy, if boy he was, was elevated above his compeers and possessed perhaps some jurisdiction over them. There is no question of the access of dignity, but the amount of authority enjoyed by him would have depended on the humour of his fellows, and boys are not always docile subjects even of rulers of their own election. This, however, is a minor consideration, since the Boy-Bishop, when we first make his acquaintance, has already emerged from the obscurity of school and playground, and made good his claim to the homage of superiors in age and station. Hence the term "Boy-Bishop" appears to define more accurately than its Latin analogue the rank and privileges of the immature prelate.

It seems to lie in the nature of things that the Boy-Bishop was originally an institution of the boys themselves, the chief figure in a game in which they aped, as children so commonly do, the procedure of their elders, and that, in course of time, those elders, for reasons deemed good and sufficient, extended their patronage to the innocent parade, and made it a constituent of their own festal round.

In tracing the migration of the custom from the precincts to the interior of the church we must not forget the tradition of the Roman Saturnalia, with the season and spirit of which it accorded, and to which the Christian festival, with its greater purity and decorum, may have been prescribed as an antidote. The pagan holiday was held on December 17th, and as the Sigillaria formed a continuation of it, the joyous celebration endured a whole week. The Boy-Bishop's term of office was yet longer, extending from St. Nicholas' Day (December 6th) to Holy Innocents' Day (December 28th).

The distinctive feature of the Saturnalia was the inversion of ordinary relationships; the world was turned upside down, and the licence that prevailed, by dint of long usage and inviolable sentiment, imparted to the merry-making a rough and even immoral character. Slaves assumed the position of masters, and masters of slaves; and the general nature of the observance is aptly described by the patron deity in Lucian's play on the subject: "During my reign of a week no one may attend to his business, but only to drinking, singing, playing, making imaginary kings, playing servants at table with their masters."

The advent of Christianity was impotent to arrest the annual scenes of disorder; and, in some form or another—sometimes tolerated, sometimes the object of the Church's anathema—the tradition held its own down through the Dark Ages, and we meet with the substance of the Saturnalia, during the centuries immediately preceding the Reformation, in the burlesque festivals with which the rule of the Boy-Bishop has been often identified. We shall see presently how far this judgment is correct. An example will, no doubt, readily recur to the reader from a source to which we owe so many impressions of the Middle Ages, some true, others false or at least exaggerated—we mean the historical romances of Sir Walter Scott. That writer has introduced into "The Abbot" an Abbot of Unreason, and he explains in a note that "The Roman Catholic Church connived at the frolics of the rude vulgar, who, in almost all Catholic countries, enjoyed, or at least assumed, the privilege of making some Lord of the Revels, who, under the name of the Abbot of Unreason, the Boy-Bishop, or the President of Fools, occupied the churches, profaned the holy places by a mock imitation of the sacred rites, and sang indecent parodies of the hymns of the church." The last touch, at any rate, may be safely challenged as untrue, and the whole picture has the appearance of being largely overdrawn. This is certainly the case as regards England, though there is evidence that on the Continent the Boy-Bishop celebration was, at certain times and in certain places, not free from objectionable features. In 1274 the Council of Salzburg was moved to prohibit the "noxii ludi quos vulgaris eloquentia Episcopus puerorum appellat" on the ground that they had produced great enormities. Probably this sentence referred to the accessories, such as immoral plays, but it is quite possible that the Boy-Bishop ceremonies themselves had degenerated into a farce. As the Rex Stultorum festival was prohibited at Beverly Minster in 1371, we must conclude that similar extravagance and profanity had crept into Yuletide observances in this country. The festival of the Boy-Bishop, however, was conducted with a decency hardly to be expected in view of its apparent associations. It would seem, indeed, to have been an impressive and edifying function, and that reasonable exception can be taken to it only on the score of childishness, and the absence of any warrant from Scripture, apart from the rather doubtful sanction of St. Paul's words, "The elder shall serve the younger."

There are weighty considerations on the other side. The mediaeval Church derived stores of strength from its sympathetic attitude towards women and children and the illiterate; and there was a sensible loss of vitality and interest when the ministry of the Church was curtailed to suit the common sense of a handful of statesmen, scholars, and philosophers. At the time the festival was abolished, opinion was divided even among the leaders of reform. Thus Archbishop Strype openly favoured the custom, holding that it "gave a spirit to the children," and was an encouragement to them to study in the hope of attaining some day the real mitre. Broadly speaking, then, the Boy-Bishop festival is evidence of the tender condescension of Holy Mother Church to little children, and it does not stand alone. At Eyton, Rutlandshire, and elsewhere, children were allowed to play in church on Holy Innocents' Day, possibly in the same way as at the "Burial of the Alleluia" in a church at Paris, where a chorister whipped a top, on which the word "Alleluia" was inscribed, from one end of the choir to the other. As Mr. Evelyn White points out, this "quickening of golden praise," by its union of religious service and child's play, exactly reproduces the conditions of the Boy-Bishop festival. Certain it is that the festival was extraordinarily popular. There was hardly a church or school throughout the country in which it was not observed, and if we turn to the Northumberland Book cited in the foregoing chapter we shall find that provision was made for its celebration in the chapels of the nobility as well. The inventory is as follows:

"Imprimis, myter well garnished with perle and precious stones with nowches of silver and gilt before and behind.

"Item, iiij rynges of silver and gilt with four redde precious stones in them.

"Item, j pontifical with silver and gilt, with a blew stone in hytt.

"Item, j owche broken silver and gilt, with iiij precious stones and a perle in the myddes.

"Item, A Crosse with a staf of coper and gilt with the ymage of St. Nicholas in the myddes.

"Item, j vesture redde with lyons of silver with brydds of gold in the orferores of the same.

"Item, j albe to the same, with stars in the paro.[2]

"Item, j white cope stayned with cristells and orferes redde sylk with does of gold and white napkins about their necks.

"Item, j stayned cloth of the ymage of St. Nicholas.

"Item, iiij copes blue sylk with red orferes trayled with whitt braunches and flowers.

"Item, j tabard of skarlett and a hodde thereto lyned with whitt sylk.

"Item, A hode of Scarlett lyned with blue sylk."

There is an entry in the book showing upon what terms the custom was observed in the house of a great noble. When chapel was kept for St. Nicholas—St. Nicholas was, of course, the patron saint of boys—6s. 8d. was assigned to the Master of the Children for one of the latter. When, on the contrary, St. Nicholas "com out of the towne where my lord lyeth and my lord kepe no chapel," the amount is reduced to 3s. 4d.

Abbeys, cathedrals, and parish churches were equally forward in their recognition of the custom, and strove to celebrate it on a scale of the utmost splendour and magnificence. A list of ornaments for St. Nicholas contained in a Westminster inventory of the year 1388 comprises a mitre, gloves, surplice, and rochet for the Boy-Bishop, together with two albs, a cope embroidered with griffins and other beasts and playing fountains, a velvet cope with the new arms of England, a second mitre and a ring. In 1540 mention occurs of the "vj^th mytre for St. Nicholas bisshope," and "a great blewe cloth with kyngs on horsse back for the St. Nicholas cheyre." At St. Paul's Cathedral twenty-eight copes were employed not only for the Boy-Bishop and his company, but for the Feast of Fools. The earliest inventory of the church—that of 1245—speaks of a mitre, the gift of John de Belemains, Prebendary of Chiswick, and a rich pastoral staff for the use of the Boy-Bishop. At York Minster were kept a "cope of tissue" for the Boy-Bishop, and ten for his attendants, while an inventory made in 1536 at Lincoln refers to "a coope of rede velvett with rolles and clowdes ordeyned for the barne bisshop with this scripture THE HYE WAY IS BEST." Typical of many other places, the custom was observed at Winchester, Durham, Salisbury, and Exeter Cathedrals; at the Temple Church, London (1307); St. Benet-Fynck; St. Mary Woolnoth; St. Catherine, near the Tower of London; St. Peter Cheap; St. Mary-at-Hill, Billingsgate; Rotherham; Sandwich, St. Mary; Norwich, St. Andrew's and St. Peter Mancroft; Elsing College, Winchester; Eton and Winchester Colleges; Magdalen College, Oxford, and King's College, Cambridge; Witchingham, Norfolk (1547); Great St. Mary, Cambridge (1503); Hadleigh, Suffolk; North Elmham, Norfolk (1547). When the goods of Great St. Mary, Cambridge, were sold, in May 1560, among the rest were the following: "It. ye rede cote and qwood yt St. Nicholas dyd wer the color red. It. the vestement and cope yt Seynt Nicholas dyd wer. Also albs for the children."

Recapitulating, the vestments and ornaments of the Boy-Bishop and his attendants, as gleaned from these and similar sources, were: (i) Mitre; (ii) Crosier or Pastoral Staff; (iii) Ring; (iv) Gloves; (v) Sandals; (vi) Cope; (vii) Pontifical; (viii) Banner; (ix) Tabard; (x) Hood; (xi) Cloth for St. Nicholas' Chair; (xii) Alb; (xiii) Chasuble; (xiv) Rochet; (xv) Surplice; (xvi) Tunicle; (xvii) Worsted Robe.

Usually the Boy-Bishop was chosen from the choristers of the cathedral, collegiate or other church by the choristers themselves; but at York, after 1366, and possibly elsewhere, the position fell, as of right, to the senior chorister. The date of the election was the Eve of St. Nicholas, when the boys assembled for an entertainment, and gloves were presented to the Boy-Bishop. On St. Nicholas' Day the boys accompanied the youthful prelate to the church; and we learn from the Sarum Use that the order in which the procession entered the choir was as follows: First the Dean and Canons, then the Chaplain, and lastly the Boy-Bishop and his Prebendaries, who thus took the place of honour. The Bishop being seated, the other children ranged themselves on opposite sides of the choir, where they occupied the uppermost ascent, whilst the Canons bore the incense and the Petit Canons the tapers. The first vespers of their patron saint having been sung by the boys, they marched the same evening through the precincts, or parish, the Bishop bestowing his fatherly blessings and such other favours as were becoming his dignity.

The statutes of St. Paul's Cathedral show that, as early as 1262, the rules underwent some modification. It was thought that the celebration tended to lower the reputation of the church; so it was ordained that the Boy-Bishop should select his own ministers, who were to carry the censer and the tapers, and they were to be no longer the Canons, but "Clerks of the Third Form," i.e., his fellow-choristers. But the practice remained for the Boy-Bishop to be entertained on the Eve of St. John the Evangelist either at the Deanery or at the house of the Canon-in-residence. Should the Dean be the host, fifteen of the Boy-Bishop's companions were included in the invitation. The Dean, too, found a horse for the Boy-Bishop, and each of the Canons a horse for one of his attendants, to enable them to go in procession—a show formally abolished by proclamation on July 25, 1542, but, nevertheless, retained for some years owing to the attachment of the citizens to the ancient custom.

The question has been raised—Did the Boy-Bishop say mass? The proclamation of Henry VIII. distinctly affirms that he did, but there is reason to suspect the truth of the statement. In the York Missal, published by the Surtees Society, there is a rubric directing the Boy-Bishop to occupy the episcopal throne during mass—a proof that he cannot have been the celebrant. But the Boy-Bishop, if he did not officiate at the altar, unquestionably preached the sermon. The statutes of Dean Colet for the government of his school enjoin that "all the children shall every Childermas Day come to Paule's Churche, and heare the chylde bishop sermon, and after be at hygh masse and each of them offer 1d. to the chylde bysshop." Specimens of the sermons preached on Holy Innocents' Day have come down to us from the reigns of Henry VIII. and Mary, and are of extreme interest. They, indeed, go far to justify the custom as a mode of inculcating virtue and, particularly, reverence in the minds of the auditors. The earlier discourse appears to have been prepared by one of the Almoners of St. Paul's, and the "bidding prayer" contains a quaint allusion to "the ryghte reverende fader and worshypfull lorde my broder Bysshop of London, your dyocesan, also my worshypfull broder, the Deane of this Cathedral Churche." The later discourse was pronounced by "John Stubs, Querester, on Childermas-Day at Gloceter, 1558," and, most appropriately, based on the text, "Except you be convertyd and made lyke unto lytill children," etc. Referring to the "queresters" and children of the song school, the preacher remarks, with a touch of delightful humour, "Yt is not so long sens I was one of them myself"; and, in explaining the significance of Childermas, adverts to the Protestant martyrs, who, alas! are without "the commendacion of innocency." It may be added that, according to the testimony of the Exeter Ordinale, the Boy-Bishop, on St. Nicholas' Day, censed the altar of the Holy Innocents, recited prayers, read the Little Chapter at Lauds "in a modest voice," and gave the Benediction.

We have seen that Dean Colet required his scholars to contribute, each one, a penny to the Boy-Bishop. At Norwich annual payments were made by all the officials of the cathedral church to the Boy-Bishop and his clerks on St. Nicholas' Day, and the expenses of the feast were defrayed by the Almoner out of the revenues of the chapter. An account of Nicholas of Newark, Boy-Bishop of York in 1396, shows that, besides gifts in the church, donations were received from the Canons, the monasteries, noblemen, and other benefactors. On the Octave he repaired, accompanied by his train, to the house of Sir Thomas Utrecht, from whom he obtained "iijs. iiijd."; on the second Sunday he went still farther afield, including in his perambulation the Priories of Kirkham, Malton, Bridlington, Walton, Baynton, and Meaux. En route, he waited on the Countess of Northumberland at Leconfield, and was graciously rewarded with a gold ring and twenty shillings.

These "visitations" seem to have been characterized by feasting and merriment and some undesirable mummery. Puttenham, in his "Arte of Poesie" (1589), observes: "On St. Nicholas' night, commonly, the scholars of the country make them a Bishop, who, like a foolish boy, goeth about blessing and preaching with such childish terms as make the people laugh at his foolish counterfeit." In some quarters regulations were in force to preclude such levity. At Exeter, for example, one of the Canons was appointed to look after the Boy-Bishop, who was to have for his supper a penny roll, a small cup of mild cider, two or three pennyworths of meat, and a pennyworth of cheese or butter. He might ask not more than six of his friends to dine with him at the Canon's room, and their dinner was to cost not more than fourpence a head. He was not to run about the streets in his episcopal gloves, and he was obliged to attend choir and school the next day like the other choristers.

It may be remarked that the Boy-Bishop proceedings had their counterpart in the girls' observance of St. Catherine's Day; and the phrase "going a-Kathering" expressed the same sort of alms-seeking as attended the ceremonies in honour of St. Nicholas.

In its palmy days the festival of the Boy-Bishop was favoured not only by the people, but by the monarch. Edward I. and Henry VI. gave their patronage to the custom, and the latter is said to have followed the example of his progenitors in so doing.

However, in 1542, Henry VIII. "by the advys of his Highness' counsel," saw fit to order its abolition, which he did in the following terms:

"Whereas heretofore dyuers and many superstitions and chyldysh obseruances haue been used, and yet to this day are obserued and kept, in many and sundry partes of this realm, as vpon St. Nicholas, Saint Catherine, Saint Clement, the holie Innocents, and such-like holie daies, children be strangelie decked and apparayled to counterfeit Priests, Bishopes, and Women, and so be ledde with Songes and dances from house to house, blessing the people and gathering of money; and boyes do singe masse and preache in the pulpitt, with other such onfittinge and inconuenient vsages which tend rather to derysyon than enie true glorie of God, or honour of his Sayntes: the Kynges maiestie, therefore, myndynge nothinge so muche as to aduance the true glory of God without vain superstition, wylleth and commandeth that from henceforth all such superstitious obseruations be left and clerely extinguished throu'out all his realme and dominions for as moche as the same doth resemble rather the vnlawfull superstition of gentilitie than the pure and sincere religion of Christ."

The allegation that boys dressed up as women is confirmed by a Compotus roll of St. Swithin's Priory at Winchester (1441), from which it appears that the boys of the monastery, along with the choristers of St. Elizabeth's Collegiate Chapel, near the city, played before the Abbess and Nuns of St. Mary's Abbey—attired "like girls."

The custom was restored by an edict of Bishop Bonner on November 13, 1554, much to the satisfaction of the populace; and the spectacle of the Boy-Bishop riding in pontificalibus—this was in 1556—all about the Metropolis gave currency to the saying—"St. Nicholas yet goeth about the city." Foxe tells us that at Ipswich the Master of the Grammar School led the Boy-Bishop through the streets for "apples and belly-cheer; and whoso would not receive him he made heretics, and such also as would not give his faggot for Queen Mary's child." (By this expression, which was common during this reign, was intended the Boy-Bishop; the Queen had, of course, no child of her own.) Amidst the sundry and manifold changes that marked the accession of Elizabeth the Boy-Bishop again went down; and the memory of the festival lingered only in certain usages like that at Durham, where the boys paraded the town on May-day, arrayed in ancient copes borrowed from the Cathedral.

On one or two points connected with the subject there prevails some degree of misapprehension, and thus it will be well—very briefly—to touch upon them. It is not now believed that the effigy in Salisbury Cathedral—"the child so great in clothes"—which led to the publication, in 1646, of Gregorie's famous treatise, is that of a Boy-Bishop, who died during his term of office and was buried with episcopal honours. There are similar small effigies of knights and courtiers. Nor, again, does it seem correct to state that the Boy-Bishop might present to any prebend that became vacant between St. Nicholas' and Holy Innocents' day. This usage, if it existed at all, was apparently confined to the Church of Cambray.

On the other hand, the Eton Ad Montem ceremony has the look of genuine descent from the older festival, with which it has numerous features in common. The Boy-Bishop custom, it will be remembered, was observed at the College.

Finally, reference may be made to the coinage of tokens, some of them grotesque, which bore the inscription MONETA EPI INNOCENTIUM, or the like, together with representations of the slaughter of the innocents, the bishop in the act of giving his blessing, and similar scenes. Opinions differ as to the purpose for which these tokens, which date from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, were struck, but it is extremely probable that they were designed to commemorate the Boy-Bishop solemnity. Barnabe Googe's Popish Kingdom tells of

"St. Nicholas money made to give to maidens secretlie,"

and in the imperfect state of human society this may have been, at times, their incongruous destiny.




There is a palpable resemblance between the subject just quitted and that most characteristic product of the Middle Ages—the miracle play. It may be observed at the outset that instruction in those days, when reading was the privilege of the few, was apt to take the form of an appeal to the imagination rather than the reasoning faculty, and of all the aids of imagination none has ever been so effective as the drama. The Boy-Bishop celebration was not only the occasion of plays which sometimes necessitated the strong hand of authority for their suppression—it was distinctly dramatic in itself. Miracle plays represent a further stage of development, in which a rude and popular art shook itself free from the trammels of ritual, outgrew the austere restrictions of sacred surroundings, and yet kept fast hold on the religious tradition on which it had been nourished, and which remained to the last its supreme attraction.

The liturgical origin of the miracle play may almost be taken for granted, and the single question that is likely to arise is whether the custom evolved itself from observances connected with Easter, or Christmas, or both festivals in equal or varying measure. Circumstances rather point to Paschal rites as the matrix of the custom. The Waking of the Sepulchre anticipates some of the features of the miracle play, while the dialogue may have been suggested by the antiphonal elements in the church services, and specifically by the colloquy interpolated between the Third Lesson and the Te Deum at Matins, and repeated as part of the sequence "Victimae paschalis laudes," in which two of the choir took the parts of St. Peter and St. John, and three others in albs those of the Three Maries. In the York Missal, in which this colloquy appears at length, its use is prescribed for the Tuesday of Easter Week.

Springing apparently from these germs, the religious drama gradually enlarged its bounds until it not only broke away from the few Latin verses of its first lisping, but came to embrace a whole range of Biblical history in vernacular rhyme. The process is so natural that we need scarcely look for contributory factors, and the influence of such experiments as the Terentian plays of the Saxon nun Hroswitha in the tenth century may be safely dismissed as negligible, or, at most, advanced as proof of a broad tendency, evidence of which may be traced in the "infernal pageants" to which Godwin alludes in his "Life of Chaucer," and which, as regards Italy, are for ever memorable in connexion with the Bridge of Carrara—a story familiar to all students of Dante. These "infernal pageants" were concerned with the destiny of souls after death, and their scope being different from that of the miracle plays, they are adduced simply as marking affection for theatrical display in conjunction with religious sentiment.

As far as can be ascertained, the earliest miracle play ever exhibited in England—and here it may be observed that such performances probably owed their existence or at least considerable encouragement to the system of religious brotherhood detailed in our opening chapter—was enacted in the year 1110 at Dunstable. Matthew Paris informs us that one Geoffrey, afterwards Abbot of St. Albans, produced at the town aforesaid the Play of St. Catherine, and that he borrowed from St. Albans copes in which to attire the actors. This mention of copes reminds us of the Boy-Bishop, and is one of the symptoms indicating community of origin. To this may be added that miracle plays were at first performed in churches, and, as we shall hereafter see, in some localities were never removed from their original sphere. The clergy also took an active share in the performances, as long as they were confined to churches; but on their emergence into the streets, Pope Gregory forbade the participation of the priests in what had ceased to be an act of public worship. This was about A.D. 1210. From that time miracle plays were regarded by the straiter sort with disfavour, and Robert Manning in his "Handlyng Sinne" (a translation of a Norman-French "Manuel de Peche") goes so far as to denounce them, if performed in "ways or greens," as "a sight of sin," though allowing that the resurrection may be played for the confirmation of men's faith in that greatest of mysteries. Such prejudice was by no means universal; in 1328—more than a hundred years later—we find the Bishop of Chester counselling his spiritual children to resort "in peaceable manner, with good devotion, to hear and see" the miracle plays.

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