‘Bad’ King John’s Lost Treasure!

By Haydn Brown

In school we were told that King John lost his jewels in the Wash; fact they said- and we believed it for we were not in a position to think or judge otherwise! Now it’s a case of thinking ‘Maybe he did, – maybe he didn’t’; certainly there has been much speculation and probably arguments for generations ever since – with no sign of the debate ending in the foreseeable future!

For the purposes of this blog, let’s keep things calm and simple by starting with The Wash, the place which played host to this interesting and somewhat speculative incident in our history. Then we will combine this with the year of 1216, when King John was said to have lost England’s Crown Jewels somewhere in the murky waters of quite a sizable estuary which is still fed by the rivers Witham, Well, Steeping, Nene and the Great Ouse at the point where they enter the Wash.

Even a cursory look at a map will show that the Wash is a large bay on the East coast of England; lying as it continues to do, between the Counties of Lincolnshire and Norfolk. The Wash collects somewhere around 15% of Great Britain’s water and is host to the Country’s second largest inter-tidal mudflats, clearly in evidence when the tide is out.

King John (sutton-bridge)5

People have lived on the surrounding fertile land for centuries and it was this stretch of water that the Vikings used as a major route to invade East Anglia between 865 and the start of the Norman Conquest. Schools also continue to tell children that The Wash was given the name of Metaris Aestuarium, (meaning the reaping/mowing/cutting off estuary) during the first century, by the Roman astrologer and mathematician, Claudius Ptolemy. Also, that the Romans built large embankments that protected the land and prevented flooding, but they had all but disappeared by the end of the fifth century. However, in 1631, a Dutch engineer, by the name of Sir Cornelius Vermuyden (1595 – 1677), began a large-scale land reclamation to drain the Fens of East Anglia with the building of the Horseshoe Sluice on the tidal river at Wisbech……. So much for today’s geography and history lessons; we must proceed with the circumstances surrounding ‘Bad’ King John and the apparent loss of his Crown Jewels.

King John (Crown)

In a nutshell, King John was not popular – probably still an understatement. Nevertheless, previous to this, his latest of unfortunate ‘incidents’ in his life, he had the misfortune of losing much of England’s lands in France; he’d  been excommunicated and maybe worst of all, he was forced to sign the Magna Carta. However, the following year John, being John, broke his word; this action was the starting point of the First Barons’ War. John travelled around the country to oppose the rebel forces, directing a two-month siege of Rochester Castle. Later he retreated north from the French invasion, taking a safe route by circumventing the marshy area of the Wash and thus avoiding that rebel held area of East Anglia. It is known, for example, that on 2 October John travelled to Grimsby, apparently to arrange for military equipment and stores to be shipped to Bishop’s Lynn – now King’s Lynn. Originally, the town was known as `Linn’, and it is thought that the name derived from the Celtic word for a lake or pool, and it is recorded that a large tidal lake originally covered that particular area.

King John (Kings Lynn)

King John also went to Spalding before possibly using one of the Sutton Wash crossing points to arrive back in Bishop’s Lynn on 9 October. It was in Lynn where he finally succumbed to dysentery and had no option but to stay awhile in order to recover; it may have been somewhat fortunate that Bishop’s Lynn happened to be a town where the King was well liked – in view of the fact that he had previously granted the place a Royal Charter. He was still in Lynn on October 11. According to Kings Lynn’s Borough Council records, the King stayed until the 12 of October 1216 when he left, taking a different route to his baggage.

King John (Will Nickless)
Image: Will Nickless.

We are told that he sent it, together with the jewels, on what he thought was a quicker route across one or other of the rivers thereabout. On this, there is a problem for today’s speculation and argument is about the place where the treasure was actually lost. We know that the Wash was much wider centuries ago, and the sea then reached as far as Wisbech and the inland town of Long Sutton was a port on the coast. But it is much more than that; journalist, Bruce Robinson, as recently as 2014 speculated:

“…… Was it near Fosdyke, close to the mouth of the river Welland, as some modern revisionists have suggested; or as most Long Suttonians have long believed, on the Sutton Wash estuary of the river Nene? And what was the treasure? Gold and silver, or ancient books and legal documents? Or was there never any ‘treasure’ in the first place, as some have speculated, because the King was largely bankrupt?

There are more questions than answers for the precise details of John’s daily movements are unknown, and there has been much speculation as to how the schedule was achieved. John may have gone directly from Lynn to Wisbech, crossing the Nene by the town bridge before heading for Spalding and then to Swineshead Abbey. Or he may have crossed the estuary and ridden to Wisbech before awaiting the arrival of his baggage train. It was all, without doubt, a hard schedule for a very sick man. Understandably, it is the movement of the baggage train which has excited most curiosity, for its attempted crossing of the estuary using the Cross Keys to Sutton route apparently at a time when the tide was about to turn can only suggest either that the baggage train was in a desperate hurry, or that someone must have ignored or over-ruled the advice of local guides. Either way – and it might have been both – and assuming the event did take place here and not Fosdyke, it was a foolhardy decision.”

King John (sutton-bridge)4

We are told that up to three thousand of the King’s entourage were carrying the royal wardrobe and the whole of the kingdom’s treasury. At low tide the conditions of any causeway would have been so wet and muddy that the wagons would have moved slowly, with the inevitable result that they would have sunk into the mud, thus engulfing the King’s most valuable possessions. The men of the train would certainly have struggled with the trunks, whilst others equally struggled with the horses in an attempt to encourage movement – but with no avail;  everything would have been eventually covered by the incoming tide!

King John 1

As for the King; he continued to Swineshead Abby, near Boston in Lincolnshire, where his health deteriorated once again. Here we have yet another legend about the loss of the treasure. This one tells us that he was poisoned by a monk called Brother Simon, who stole the jewels and made his way out of England, his destination was somewhere in Europe – and the stories did not stop there. Another interesting take is that the treasure was not lost at all! – instead, the John used its value as security, arranging for its ‘loss’ before they would have arrived at their destination, using the Wash as a ruse. But, there appears to be no written proof to give credence to these two tales – so they remain as possible myths!

In the end, however, we are led to believe that a story which began with the King’s run from the Barons came to a head with the loss of the kingdom’s ‘treasury’, and may well have been the last straw with the John’s health and possibly his state of mind. But, apparently, he was not to hear about his ‘loss’ until after he had left Sleaford Castle for Newark Castle. It was here where the so-called ‘Bad’ King John died – either the 18 or 19 of October 1216 – and we are all here to pick up the pieces!

King John (Newark_Castle,_2008_David Ingham)
Newark Castle today. Photo: Wikipedia.

Epilogue:
John was an English king who has suffered from bad press over the centuries. He was no hero, he was vengeful and untrusting; is it any wonder when we are told that, as a child he received no support from warring parents, he received no support from a self obsessed brother and, as King, he saw little or no support from his people so, what chance did he have?  W L Warren, in his book ‘King John’, seems to sum up fairly accurately the cause of John’s troubled reign.

“talented in some respects, good at administrative detail, but suspicious, unscrupulous, and mistrusted.  His crisis-prone career was sabotaged repeatedly by the half-heartedness with which his vassals supported him—and the energy with which some of them opposed him.”

King John 5

There are also two contemporary accounts, one by Roger of Wendover, an English chronicler who died in 1236 and one by Ralph of Coggeshall, an English monk and chronicler who died in 1227. Both were writing at the time of the loss. Roger of Wendover writes rather melodramatically and calls it a major disaster, he writes:

 “…….the ground opened up in the midst of the waves, and bottomless whirlpools sucked in everything”

Ralph of Coggeshall, on the other hand, refers to it as more of a ‘misadventure’, stating that it was not the whole of the royal baggage train that was lost but the vanguard that carried household items, church and holy relics. However, and on balance, it seems pretty certain that some valuable items belonging to King John did get lost in the Wash, but not a treasure trove as we would imagine it to be. There was no large chest overflowing with coins, necklaces and gold goblets, only kitchen equipment and finery collected from churches. As Coggeshall suggested, maybe the real treasure was in a second train that never began its journey across the Wash, but ended its days thrown in amongst the new King Henry III’s treasury?

Two final myths: Firstly, in the mid-14th century a certain local Norfolk gentleman,  by the name of Robert Tiptoft, became suddenly very wealthy; according to folklore this was because he found the Kings treasure – but did not hand it back to the Crown!

The other is, again, from journalist, Bruce Robinson:

“The whole King John episode has sparked some odd investigations over the decades, none stranger than one shortly before the Second World War when an ‘expedition’ to find the jewels excited interest and suspicion, so much so that years later……. a story was still current that the searchers were not archaeological experts looking for treasure but ‘Nazi spies’ mapping the fieldscapes in preparation for later landings by paratroopers……..Interestingly, in 1940 and 1941, during the ‘invasion scare’ period, defensive preparations for enemy paratroop landings were high on the list of local military priorities.”

There lies further stories!

THE END

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The Not So Perfect Prior Catton!

By Haydn Brown.

 Robert Catton [otherwise known as Bronde], was Prior of Norwich before becoming Abbot of St Albans. His exact date of birth is not known, although it has been said that he was probably born sometime in the 1470’s and died between 25 April 1552 and 7 July 1552.

According to Francis Blomefield, he was the son of John and Agnes Bronde of Catton, a manor some 3 miles north-east of Norwich which John held and which his son retained during his prelacy. The Brondes were also prominent in Norwich, where the Cathedral’s Trinity altar was popularly named for them. Robert Bronde, whose name in religion links him with his likely parish of origin, entered the Cathedral Priory as a novice at the beginning of the 1490s. He is first identified in its records in October 1492 during an episcopal visitation; positioned forty-fourth in seniority in a convent of forty-six.

Robert Catton (Priory & Cathedral)
Norwich Cathedral Priory in 1150. This picture is computer generated and based on historical records and drawings. The Cathedral and the Priory buildings, also known as a monastery, are joined together. Image: Norwich Cathedral.

He was sent to study at Cambridge University in 1494–5, and was supported there for the next seven academic years, from around 1495 to 1502. Such an unbroken period at university was unusual for a monk and may reflect a particular aptitude for advanced study, although there is scant evidence of a commitment to learning in Catton’s later career. His Will refers to only a single book—a copy of an unspecified work of Archbishop Antonius of Florence. Other surviving manuscripts inscribed with the name Robert Catton have been connected with another Norwich monk of the same era.

In March 1499, Robert Catton returned to the Priory in Norwich to be presented for ordination and remained there to participate in an ‘episcopal visitation’; this is the Bishop’s official pastoral visit to the congregation of the diocese. Canon law requires every diocesan bishop to visit every congregation in his or her diocese at least once every three years. The canonical purposes of a visitation is for the bishop to examine the condition of the congregation, oversee the clergy, preach, confirm, preside at the eucharist, and examine parochial records. This also assumes that the bishop’s visitation will be an occasion for baptism, and that the bishop will preside.

By now Catton was thirty-sixth in seniority. He was elected Prior at an unrecorded date after 29 September 1504, without having held any other office. But like many superiors of this period, during his administration he arrogated to himself the rights, and presumably also the responsibilities, of a number of conventual offices. He took the office of sacrist on no fewer than five occasions around 1504, 1511, 1517, 1522 and 1525. He also held the ‘Mastership of the Cellar’ four times, retaining it for six months after he had vacated the priorate in 1530, presumably as a means of support during his hiatus in office! For a decade from 1512 he was also Prior of the dependent cell of St Leonard’s Priory, on the northern edge of the city.

Robert Catton (Pulls Ferry with St Lenards Priory )
Pull’s Ferry with St Leonard’s Priory in the distance. By Charles Catton. Norfolk Museums Service.

A candid portrait of Catton’s rule is evident in the ‘episcopal visitation’ of 1514 which reported abuses in governance, such as the misuse of the conventual seal, and the neglect of the annual audit of the accounts of the obedientiary officers. Their accounts of conventual life complain of numerous infringements of regular discipline, including the inappropriate dress of the brethren, incompetence in the performance of the offices, and incontinence. At the visitation of 1526, in Catton’s third decade as Prior, there were further reports of indiscipline: some brethren were allegedly living independently in the precincts and enjoying complete freedom of movement in Norwich, others were said to cultivate luxurious lay habits of dress, while Prior Catton himself was condemned for his grandeur, requiring to be addressed as ‘my lord’ rather than ‘father Prior’. None the less, one monk told the Bishop that all was now well in matters of religion because of a reformation effected by the Prior!

Notwithstanding his mixed record, Catton’s status as the scion of an old Norwich family ensured a close affinity with the city of Norwich. A significant settlement over mutual rights was achieved in 1524–5, and he was one of only two Priors to be welcomed into the prestigious Guild of St George.

Robert Catton (St George )
St George and the Dragon, after Vittore Carpaccio.
 The Guild of St George was founded in 1385; its aims were religious, charitable and social: to honour St. George, to keep his feast day, to pray for its members past and present and to offer alms to the poor and needy within the Guild. The principal event for the Guild was the feast day ceremony held annually on 23 April which began as a simple religious celebration of the feast day of St. George. The Guild lasted until 1731. Image: Public Domain.

Prior Catton was also remembered for his investment in Norwich Cathedral and conventual buildings. During his term the Prior’s Hall was extended; an elaborate wrought iron lock on the door of the south transept bears panels embossed with the letters (R C P N (‘Robert Catton, Prior of Norwich’). Catton is thought to have provided four panels of stained glass for the east window of the parish church of St Margaret at his family manor of Catton.

Robert Catton (St Margarets_Simon Knott)
St Margaret’s Church, Catton. Photo: Simon Knott.

The glass panels depict St John and St Agnes in commemoration of his parents, and two figures of Benedictine monks, one depicting St Cuthbert, the other apparently intended as a self-portrait; the glass was later removed to St Michael’s, Plumstead, about 20 miles north of Norwich, where it is preserved.

Robert Catton (St Michael_Plumstaed_Simon Knott)
St Michael’s Church, Plumstead. Photo: Simon Knott.
Robert Catton (St Michael_Plumstaed_St Agnus_Old Catton Society)
St Michael’s Church Glass, late of St Margaret’s Church, Catton. Photo: Old Catton Society.

In spite of the internal state of the convent, during his priorate Prior Catton won significant favours from the governors of the church, not least from a royal administration that was increasingly involved in the affairs of major foundations. He secured dispensations to hold a number of benefices; from 1526 to 1528 he held the vicarage of St Mary in the Marsh, in Norwich Cathedral Close, where a now lost effigy dated 1528 was said to have stood before the east window. The church itself no longer exists but the walls of its Chancel still survive in the cellars of No 12 Lower Close. In 1519 Prior Catton received the privilege of the mitre.

This decade-long pattern of patronage and preferment culminated in 1531 in the Crown’s recommendation that Prior Catton should succeed Cardinal Wolsey as Abbot of the prestigious royal foundation of St Albans. It appears there was a delay between the promise of the appointment and its fulfilment, since Catton resigned the priorate of Norwich in November 1529 but was not confirmed as Abbot of St Albans until 16 March 1530. He was represented as having been freely elected by the Prior and convent, but in reality, the nomination was forced upon the monks.

During the vacancy that followed Wolsey’s fall, Henry VIII had sought to secure the abbey’s manor at More as accommodation for his estranged queen, Katherine of Aragon, during their divorce proceedings. The leaderless monks resisted, and at the same time expressed their own preference for their Prior, Andrew Ramridge, as Abbot. The King rejected their choice, and in a letter of January 1530 threatened unspecified penalties should they persist in their refusal to surrender More. Catton’s election was affected less than two months later, and on 5 September he conveyed More and other properties to the Crown. Three months later he received bowls, cups, goblets, and other plate as new year’s gifts from the king.

In the years that followed, Prior Catton cultivated his royal connections. In September 1533 he was among the clergy invited to officiate at the baptism of the Lady Elizabeth. In 1534 he presented a fulsome dedicatory prayer to Queen Anne:

‘lovynge lady dere … indowed with grace and vertu without pere’ in the abbey’s imprint of John Lydgate’s life of St Alban: Here begynnethe the glorious lyfe and passion of seint Albon prothomartyr of Englande, and also the lyfe and passion of saint Amphabel whiche converted saint Albon to the fayth of Christe (St Albans, 1534, STC 2nd edn, 256).

In October 1537 he was present at the ‘obsequies’ for Queen Jane. He was also welcome at Thomas Cromwell’s table, dining with him on one occasion at Norwich:

Robert Catton (Cromwell)
Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, KG, PC (c. 1485 – 28 July 1540).
‘with gret chere [and] with alle musyke plesant’.
Image: Wikipedia

As the crown’s interventions in monastic affairs gathered pace in 1535, with first the Valor Survey and then the nationwide visitation organised by Cromwell, Catton’s personal ties to the court and to the vicegerent exacerbated tensions between himself and his brethren. Eighteen St Albans monks, led by Prior Ramridge, petitioned Sir Francis Bryan in November 1535, complaining of Catton’s maladministration. Bryan’s response is not recorded, and probably no action followed, since the monks made a further petition in April 1536, maintaining that ‘the monasterye is sorely damaged above 800 marks’ and requesting the appointment of an:

‘assistaunte and coadjutore without whome [Catton] might do notynge, neither destroy, nor waste nor brynge oure monasterye in dett nore doo any other unlawghfull act’.

Catton’s response was to seek the support of his patrons. He complained of his ‘uncourteous’ brethren in January 1536, while in the following October he appears to have sought release from his office and the support of a benefice. On 14 December 1537 John Husee reported St Albans as one of the monasteries that would ‘go down’, with the consent of its Abbot. But Catton’s persistent hope of consolatory preferment appears to have weakened his position, and by the turn of the year it was reported that the King wished to remove him. On 15 January 1538 the convent received confirmation of its right to elect a successor to Catton, ‘lately deprived’.

At this point Catton’s former convent of Norwich appears to have come to his aid, for although there is no record of his being granted a faculty to take the habit of a secular, by 20 April 1538 he had been presented to the vicarage of Bawburgh, Norfolk, a living in the gift of Norwich Priory; he was also granted a dispensation to absent himself for two years. Later, presumably at the dissolution of St Albans, Catton acquired the abbey living of All Saints, Campton, Bedfordshire. Despite his deprivation, moreover, he was named among the St Albans pensioners, receiving the substantial portion of £80 per annum.

The terms of his final bequests suggest that Catton passed his remaining years variously at Campton, Norwich, and St Albans. He died between 25 April 1552, when he added a codicil to the Will he had drafted on 26 October of the previous year, and 7 July 1552, when probate was granted. He had requested burial either at his church at Campton, or at St Albans, ‘where I was sometimes abbote’, but no location is recorded.

THE END

Source:
https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-105481/version/0

Banner Heading Image: Norwich Cathedral, Norfolk. James Sillett (1764–1840) Norfolk Museums Service

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K.
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Discovery of a Hidden Paston Girl!

By Haydn Brown.

The following story provides extra exposure to a very interesting article which was written by Stuart Anderson and first appeared in the ‘North Norfolk News’ on 9 June, 2019, and subsequently updated on 11 October, 2020. He reported on the previously hidden fate of Anna Paston, was titled ‘Discovery of a Hidden Paston girl…….’. His words, began with a question:

Paston (lady-katherine-paston-oxnead)1
A bust of Lady Katherine Paston at her tomb in Oxnead church. Lady Katherine died in childbirth in 1636 after seven years of marriage to Sir William Paston, only son of Clement Paston. Sir William is considered “the real founder of the Paston family fortunes”. Lady Katherine would have been the grandmother of the previously unknown Anna Paston. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

The Pastons are among the most-studied families from the English later Middle Ages. So how has the story of one Paston girl who died tragically young gone unnoticed for so long?

Paston (anna-paston-brass)2
The brass memorial to Anna Paston, which was recently discovered at Oxnead church. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

The Pastons are also one of England’s best-known medieval families, who rose from humble origins to become leading members of the aristocracy, wielding political power and entertaining royalty at their sumptuous mansions. Thanks to the letters and other documents they left behind we know more about the Pastons than virtually any other family of that age. The documents, which chronicle the rise of the family during the War of the Roses, speak volumes of their arguments, gossip, feuds, plotting, private scandals, and even their shopping lists. Now, a recent discovery at Oxnead church in north Norfolk has uncovered evidence of a previously unknown Paston which is literally re-writing what was thought we knew about the family.

Paston (admiral-sir-clement-paston)3
The tomb of Admiral Sir Clement Paston at Oxnead church. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

A small medieval memorial brass is dedicated to Anna Paston, who is thought to have died tragically young. The brass was found tucked away between two larger monuments, and reads in abbreviated Latin:

‘Here lies Anna, daughter of John Paston Knight, on whose soul God have mercy, Amen’.

Paston (Oxnead Church)4
Oxnead church. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

Historian Helen Castor, author of the bestselling ‘Blood and Roses: The Paston Family in the Fifteenth Century’, said nothing had previously been known about Anna. She said:

“This is an extraordinary find: not only a previously unknown Paston grave, but the grave of a previously unknown Paston. The family’s remarkable letters shine a spotlight on the middle decades of the 15th Century, but a great deal of their story, before and after, remains in shadow.”

Paston (oxnead-church)5
Oxnead Church, where the memorial to Anna Paston was discovered. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

Dr Rob Knee of the Paston Heritage Society said Anna can only have been a daughter of John Paston III. The memorial is believed to have been crafted at the one of the Norwich workshops in the last decade of the 15th Century or the opening years of the 16th Century, and is of the type commonly used to memorialise an unmarried girl.

Archaeologist, Matthew Champion, who came across the memorial whilst investigating the church as part of the ‘600 Paston Footprints’ (-this is a Heritage Lottery funded project that aims to shed new light the family). added:

Paston (The Tomb)6
The tomb of Lady Katherine Paston at Oxnead church. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

“Some people may be taken aback that one of the best known and most thoroughly researched families in England can still throw up surprises such as this. However, very few of the Paston letters actually survive from the 1490s, so there is likely to be quite a lot more that we have missed. “

It is known that John Paston III had another daughter called Elizabeth, who would have been Anna’s sister. Elizabeth survives to adulthood, and eventually marries, but the surviving documents contain barely a mention of her.”

Paston (oxnead-tombs)8
Oxnead Hall’s tombs. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

The Paston documents contain no further information about Anna, although it is likely she died in her early teens, given the ages of her siblings. But she may also may have been a scion of John Paston III’s second marriage, which means she would have died an infant.

It was at Oxnead that the Pastons entertained King Charles II in 1671, and where the medieval Paston letters were discovered mouldering in an attic room half a century later. These documents have been studied by historians in minute detail since they were first published in the late 18th Century, and it was thought that the family held few new surprises for academics.

Paston (oxnead-gardens)9
The gardens at Oxnead Hall in Norfolk, where the Pastons entertained King Charles II in 1671. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

The earliest member of the family that we have any record of is Clement Paston, of the village of Paston in north-east Norfolk. Clement was born in the years immediately after the Black Death swept England in the middle of the 14th Century, and was a miller and small-scale farmer by trade. In the wake of the plague, that killed about a third of the population of the country, Clement made good use of the less regulated land market to buy up small pieces of land in Paston and the neighbouring parishes. He married well, to the sister of a local lawyer, and their son William became a rich lawyer, high court judge, major landowner, and founder of the family fortune.

Paston (the once great oxnead-hall)110
The once-great Paston mansion of Oxnead Hall, where the memorial to the previously unknown Anna Paston was discovered. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

THE END

The original Stuart Anderson’s article, plus advertisements and other extraneous matter, can be found via the source link below.

Source:
Hidden story of Anna Paston sheds new light on famous medieval family (northnorfolknews.co.uk)

Barnham Broom’s ‘Old Hall’

By Haydn Brown

The Old Hall is a medieval manor house situated on the Honingham Road in Barnham Broom, just south of Norwich in the county of Norfolk – it has quite a history!

Old Barnham Ryskes Hall2
Approach to the Old Hall. Photo: Savilles.

Origins:
Long before the present Old Hall was built, there had been settlements on the Hall’s grounds since prehistoric times. During the Roman period, it is believed that the site was used as a military camp on a conjectured military route from the West to Brancaster, possibly to stem the Iceni uprisings lead by Boudicca. Indeed, many aspects of the moated enclosure in the grounds of the Hall resemble a typical Roman Castra (or camp) – but much of this needs further research. There may also have been a buried Saxon settlement, just to the South of the moat; the site calls out for an excavation for, certainly, some timbers have already been discovered. In medieval times there was also a stockade within the moat boundaries.

Mortirmer Coat of Arms

In the 13th Century, the land was owned by William Mortimer, the then Lord of Attleborough who also had manors at Scoulton, Little Ellingham, Rockland Tofts, Stanford and Little Buckenham in Norfolk; clearly this branch of the ‘Mortimer’s’ were wealthy and powerful land owners in the eastern region. William was to resist King John, along with his father, Robert, in 1205 and 1215, for which both lost their lands – and after which, neither man appeared in the Book of Fees for 1212. However, in 1216-17, the Sheriff of Norfolk was ordered to return the Barnham land to William; then by early 1250, William received Charters for free-warrens in his manors of Attleborough, Barnham Broom and Scoulton. He died soon afterwards – certainly before 29 May 1250.

In 1347, or thereabouts, ‘Barnham Ryske’ – the former name of Barnham Broom, was decimated by the Plague with many cottages, lying between the current Hall and the local church of St. Peter and St. Paul, were abandoned and allowed to fall into ruin. This was the time when the land, on which very little stood, may have passed into the ownership of Roger Chamberlayne (b.1380), originally from Gedding in Suffolk. During his ownership, at least a gate house and drawbridge existed on the site, leading to what was probably the timber Great Hall; today, nothing remains of these structures, and it may have been the case that this great wooden hall burned down in the late 14th Century, with the gatehouse finally being demolished in 1849.

Chamberlain Coat of ArmsRoger’s son, Sir Robert Chamberlayne entered the story of the Barnham estate around the time of the Wars of the Roses, circa 1455. He, unfortunately, became embroiled in that war – but chose the wrong (Yorkist) side! He was subsequently tried and convicted for plotting against Henry VII; the charge of high treason ensured that he was executed on Tower Hill in 1491 – forty-four years and sixteen battles after the savage assault against his father at Bury St. Edmunds. In these incidents the Chamberlayne family were pawns in both the opening and closing of a bloody chapter in English history. Robert left the family with very little money or land. On 14 May 1496, Sir Ralph Shelton, as a Commissioner of the Peace in Norfolk, was directed to assay the lordships, lands and manors of the rebel and traitor, Sir Robert Chamberlain. This resulted in the forfeiture of his Estates. It was at this point when his family moved to Barnham Broom, where Sir Robert’s widow, Elizabeth Fitz-Ralph, daughter and co-heiress of Sir John Fitz Rafe (Ralfe/Ralph), held inherited possessions that had escaped the confiscation. Fifty years later, on the 11 March, 1541 and during the reign of Henry VIII [1509-1547], Sir Robert’s son, Sir Edward Chamberlayn obtained a reversal of his father’s attainder, but without the restitution of any property.

It was this same Edward Chamberlayne, born around 1470, who was eventually in a position to build the present Old Hall on the site of the former Barnham Ryskes Hall; this was made possible by way of his wife, Jane Starkey’s (of West Acre) dowry.  He was neither rich enough, nor influential enough, to profit from the Dissolution of the Monasteries’ and, by the turn of the 17th century, the family fortunes has declined appreciably.

Diaperwork_Brigitte Webster
False ‘Diaper work built into the external walls of the Hall. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Webster.

The building of the Barnham Old Hall was started in 1510 and completed in 1550; its South wing being completed in 1514 and the porch tower around 1540. The style of the manor, whilst modest in proportions, featured numerous very fashionable elements. For example, the white mortared entrance arch and window pediments were designed to mimic the fashionable marble examples of the Italian Renaissance. The North wing (and crow step gables) were completed in 1614. Again, attempts were made to keep things fashionable with “false” diaper work being applied to most brick walls. Traditional diaper work, that is the dark crosses in the brick work is made from darker, usually burnt bricks. The diaper work here follows the lesser but more common practice of staining select bricks.

Jacobean Ceiling_Brigitte Webster
Plaster relief ceiling in the Jacobean Parlour. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Webster.

From 1514 until 1663 the Old Hall was the local Manor House with the manorial court held there during this period. Plaster relief in the Jacobean Parlour indicates the manorial court duties. It was during this period that Edward’s mother, Lady Elizabeth FitzRalph – an influential woman in her own right, successfully petitioned King Henry VIII to reverse the attainder of her late husband, Sir Robert Chamberlayne, in 1531; however, Henry did not restore any of the family’s assets and the family never regained any appreciable wealth, missing out in the dissolution of the monasteries.

In 1522 Edward succeeded his brother Sir Francis, who had died without issue, in the possessions of their mother, Elizabeth Fitz-Ralph, which had escaped the confiscation consequent upon Sir Robert’s attainder; this included the Barnham Broom estate. He was over fifty-two years of age. On the 11 March 1541 Edward obtained a reversal of his father’s attainder, but without restitution of property. He died on the 15th July 1541 and was buried at Barnham Broome in Norfolk. Ultimately the Old Hall was sold to the Wodehouse Family of Kimberley in 1644 who used it as the principle farm house on their extensive estates.

Approaching the Present Day:
By the 19th century, the Tudor South wing of the Old Hall doubled as the village rectory from about 1815 until 1849. Unfortunately, in 1849 the moat’s drawbridge and porter’s lodge were demolished but otherwise very little was remodelled or changed. The current farm house is next door to the Old Hall and is owned and farmed by the Eagle family who also owned the Old Hall from 1923 until 1963. The house and, in particular, the Jacobean parlour were, at this time used for agricultural storage including hay bales and fencing. Many of the windows lacked glass and the increased dampness caused the magnificent plaster ceiling in the Jacobean parlour to sag with increasing severity over this period. Luckily the parlour had been subdivided into two rooms with a stud work partition wall across the centre. The ceiling finally came to rest, propped up by this partition wall.

After the Second World War a number of restoration and preservation societies sought buyers for the Old Hall – because to its historic importance. However, due to a combination of the Hall’s sad state of repair, combined with owners’ relative poverty in the form of sweeping death duties, it was not until 1963 when a buyer was found – one who was prepared to invest considerably in the restoration. In the meantime, a number of tenants came and went, including members of the Lincoln family, said to be directly related to the US president, Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln family graves are in the neighbouring village of Hingham – for their story see “The Lincolns, Gurneys and a President”

The next owners were the Hawker family who owned the house from 1963 to 1973. They undertook extensive but very sensitive renovation work and, according to Brigitte Webster the present owner, it is thanks to them that so many of the original features were saved. Unfortunately, the octagonal staircase tower on the West facing South wing was beyond repair by this time and had to be dismantled. However, the magnificent plaster ceiling in the Jacobean parlour was largely salvageable by the expedience of fitting hundreds of threaded rods to its reverse surface and ever so slowly screwing them up thus jacking the ceiling back into place. An article in the February 23rd, 1967 edition of Country Life magazine details the restoration process.

Old Barnham Ryskes Hall (Country Life)

In 1973 the house was briefly owned by a Mr. Walwork until 1977, though nothing is known about his tenancy. Then the Hall was purchased by Dr. Hartley Booth (who was related to the founding Booths of the Salvation Army) and his wife Adrianne. Theirs was the start of a 41-year programme of restoration and improvement, which included a long-running battle against death-watch beetle and dry rot. Over time, they rewired and re-plumbed, restored the large, arched, 16th-century window in the dining room, restored a number of other original features such as the Tudor fireplace in the dining room (of original hall) and the Tudor ceiling that lay concealed under a lower (probably) Victorian false ceiling. They also dredged and restored the spring-fed moat, a special feature of the Tudor-themed gardens laid out around the house by Mrs Booth, and they bought more land to protect the setting of the Hall.

John Evelyn Book

In 2001 the Booths also established a John Evelyn (1620-1706) memorial arboretum to the front of the Hall’s East Side. John Evelyn was a founder member of the Royal Society and author of its first ever work being “Sylva: or A Discourse of Forest-Trees and the Propagation of Timber in His Majesty’s Dominions” published as a paper in 1662 and as a book in 1664. The book, in trying to redress the widespread destruction of natural forests in England (due to the Civil War) catalogued all tree types native to England in the 17th Century; the arboretum comprised only trees that were mentioned in the book.

Then, in late 2018, Tom Webster was searching the internet for a suitable house for a friend of his and, as is so often the case when one is online, found himself going down various “rabbit holes” culminating in him discovering that the Old Hall was ‘For Sale’. Against the will of his wife, Brigitte – who reckoned she was never going to move from Parsonage Farm, their previous abode, an appointment was made to view the property. Approximately 5 minutes after arriving at the front of the house both Tom and Brigitte Webster were convinced that this was the house for them. It took almost 12 months to turn that conviction into a successful purchase.

Present Day:
Today, the Old Hall at Barnham Broom is the home of the Tudor and 17th Century Experience. Its surviving features include:

The Front Porch_Brigitte Webster)
The Front Porch of the Old Hall showing the Italianate Renaissance style of archway. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Webster.

The Front Porch: This leads into the porch tower and displays many interesting period features. For example, the white archway and window surrounds were intended to mimic the Italianate renaissance use of marble and had been made fashionable by Henry VIII. However, the “crows’ steps” at the gable were probably added during Elizabethan times as a fashion, introduced by the Dutch and Flemish protestant immigrants. Inside the porch there are left and right stone benches upon which the property’s tenant cottagers would have waited to pay their rent. One benefit of the large covered porch is that the huge early Tudor linenfold front door has remained remarkably intact with its Tudor rose motif. Though this door is the current front hallway with the Hall’s oldest furniture item, an original French or Flemish oak dressier dating circa 1485.

The Great Hall (Dining Room_Brigitte Webster)
The ‘Great Hall’ Dining Room. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Webster.

The Dining Room: (Great Hall – as the Tudors called such a dining room): This is narrower than when it was built in 1514, the Victorians having added the corridor to the rear. However, it still retains its original oak ceiling mouldings and large inglenook style fire place. The original lintel was largely damaged and now a reproduction frontispiece adorns the original woodwork to give a clearer idea of what it would have looked like. At one time there would have been a minstrel’s gallery at the North end and indeed the original gallery window is still visible on the outside of the house.

View From Library_Brigitte Webster
The view from the Library. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Webster.

The Library: This was also part of the 1514 wing of the house, and was probably the ladies withdrawing room now containing the family antiques, places of interest and history library. The room also features interesting “squint” windows to allow occupants to observe people approaching from the side – it is yet to be discovered their true purpose. All the furniture in the library dates before 1600 and includes some superb Italian Renaissance “Cass bancas” – being an Italian take on the idea of a bench married to a sofa.

The Staircase Tower: To the rear of the entrance hallway is the grand staircase in a tower that makes the Leaning Tower of Pisa look like it was levelled with a spirit level. It is of a solid oak construction outwardly clad in bricks. One very interesting feature is an original “dog gate” at the foot of the stairs. This was intended to keep the family’s deer hounds downstairs and dates circa 1620?

Old Barnham Ryskes Hall (Tudor Door)3
Door leading into the Jacobean Parlour. Photo: Savilles.

The Great (Jacobean) Parlour: At the top of this staircase is a fine Jacobean door leading into the Great Parlour, dating from 1614. This room sports arguably one of the finest plaster ceilings in all of England! It was once used as the manorial courtroom as the winged angel motif on one of the frieze panels attests. In the centre is an inverted finial with the remains of Jacobean courtiers and wild boar motifs.

Jacobean Parlour_Brigitte Webster
The Jacobean Parlour. Photo: Courtesy Brigitte Webster.

Sir Robert Chamberlayne Chamber: Through the side door of the Great Parlour is the Sir Robert Chamberlayne ensuite bedroom or chamber (as they referred to bedrooms in Tudor times). The room is named after the patriarch of the family. As already mentioned, Sir Robert was executed for treason by Henry VII in 1491 but his attainment was reversed posthumously by Henry VIII in 1531. In the 17th Century this was the master bedroom and still bears the Chamberlayne crest above the fireplace. This currently houses one of the nicest examples of a 17th century four poster bed to be found. It is largely original and in superb condition. The views from the ensuite bathroom across the water meadow to the river Yare to the West are stupendous!

Tudor Games Room_Brigitte Webster
Tudor Games Room showing rare Tudor wall painting. Photo: Courtesy Brigitte Webster

Tudor Games Room: The other door from the Great Parlour leads to the Tudor Games Room. Dating from the early 16th Century this was originally an oratory where the resident priest would hold mass every day for the family. The original wall recessed bible box is still present. The walls were once all painted and one still retains near perfect original wall painting. This date to circa 1590 and is intended to represent the blood of Christ (possibly remembering the family’s Roman Catholic past in a now protestant England). The room is now used for the Hall’s collection of Tudor board and card games.

Chapel: Leading up from the Games Room is a narrow spiral staircase to the household chapel. This was once the bedroom for the resident priest, the last being Father Richard Chamberlayne who died in 1570. Currently still being restored it is intended that authentic Tudor wedding services will be performed here.

Sir Edward Chamberlayne Chamber: This is the first bedroom in the South Wing of the Hall and was so named after the man who oversaw the construction of the house from 1510. The bed in this chamber is an original “truckle bed” dating to the early 17th century.

Great Chamber_Brigitte Webster
The Great Chamber. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Webster.

The Great Chamber: This bedroom is also in the South Wing and is so named because it is located directly above the Great Hall below. It is a generously proportioned room and contains an original four poster bed dating to either late Elizabethan or early James I. It boasts fine views to the front of the Hall. This room is the only other room in the house with a lockable bible box set into the wall.

Duke & Duchess Bedroom_Brigitte Webster
Duke an Duchess of Suffolk Chamber. Photo: Courtesy Brigitte Webster.

The Duke and Duchess of Suffolk Chamber: The final bedroom in the wing is currently the master bedroom, which has the most magnificent panoramic window overlooking the front garden and reproduced early Tudor knot garden. The bed is an original early Tudor four poster bed of modest proportions. The room also boasts a fine heavy beamed fireplace complete with impressive apotropaic fire scorch marks. The furniture in this room is all 16th Century and includes a rare example of a “Dante Chair” and an exquisite Cassone (or chest).

THE END

The Pedlar of Swaffham.

Our thanks to Jim Moon of ‘Hypnogoria’ who, somewhere amongst his many blogs, wrote the following – it is his take on a very famous and popular Norfolk myth – whoops! – tale.

Pedlar of Swaffham (Village Sign)
The Swaffham Village Sign.

In the county of Norfolk, between King’s Lynn in the west and Norwich in the east lies the market town of Swaffham. However, while the town and its market have been a centre for agriculture since the 14th century, the town is perhaps better known as being home to an oft-told folk tale. It’s a tale of a good man and good fortune, and frequently is mentioned when the subject of prophecies and dreams come up. It’s a tale that has been told many times, and its earliest incarnation is found in an old tome entitled ‘An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk’ by Francis Blomefield (William Miller, London, 1805-10). In Volume 11 of this truly compendious essay, we have a letter by Sir William Dugdale, dated 29 January 1652, and in it he relates the following Tale:

Pedlar of Swaffham (Essay)

“That dreaming one night if he went to London he should certainly meet with a man upon London Bridge which would tell him good news; he was so perplext in his mind, that till he set upon his journey he could have no rest; to London therefore he hasts and walk’d upon the Bridge for some hours where being espyed by a Shopkeeper and asked what he wanted, he answered you may well ask me that question for truly (quoth he) I am come hither upon a very vain errand and so told the story of his dream which occasioned the journey.  Whereupon the Shopkeeper reply’d alas good friend! should I have heeded dreams, I might have proved myself as very a fool as thou hast; for ‘tis not long since that I dreamt, that at a place called Swaffham Market in Norfolk dwells one John Chapman a pedlar who hath a tree in his backside under which is buried a pot of money.  Now therefore, if I should have made a journey thither to dig for such hidden treasure, judge you whether I should not have been counted a fool. To whom the pedlar cunningly said “Yes verily, I will therefore return home and follow my business, not heeding such dreams henceforward.”  But when he came home (being satisfied that his dream was fulfilled) he took occasion to dig in the place and accordingly found a large pot full of money which he prudently conceal’d, putting the pot amongst the rest of his brass.”

Pedlar of Swaffham 3
The Pedlar of Swaffham
The oak benches in the nave of The Church of St Peter and St Paul, Swaffham date from the middle of the nineteenth century. The carved finials on the front pew ends in this church represent John Chapman, otherwise known as the Pedlar of Swaffham. Photo: Copyright David Dixon.

“After a time, it happen’d that one who came to his house and beholding the pot observed an inscription upon it which being in Latin, he interpreted it, that under that there was an other twice as good.  Of that inscription the Pedlar was before ignorant or at least minded it not, but when he heard the meaning of it he said, “‘tis very true, in the shop where I bought this pot stood another under it, which was twice as big”; but considering that it might tend to further his profit to dig deeper in the same place where he found that, he fell again to work and discover’d such a pot, as was intimated by the inscription, full of old coine: notwithstanding all which he so conceal’d his wealth, that the neighbours took no notice of it.  But not long after the inhabitants of Swaffham resolving to reedify their church, and having consulted with the workmen about the charge they made a levy wherein they taxed the Pedlar according to no other rate than what they had formerly done.  But he knowing his own ability came to the church and desired the workmen to shew him their model, and to tell him what they esteemed the charge of the North Isle would amount to, which when they told him he presently undertook to pay them for building it, and not only that but of a very tall and beautiful tower steeple.”

Now this tale has become famous the world over, and is much celebrated in the the town itself, lending its name, in the past, to the Pedlar’s Hall Cafe and inspiring the carved wooden village sign (above) for the town. However curiously, Swaffham isn’t the only place that has a tale like this. Indeed, an almost identical tale is told of Upsall Castle in North Yorkshire. In ‘The Vale of Mowbray: A Historical and Topographical Account of Thirsk and Its Neighbourhood’ by William Grainge (Simpkin, Marshall & Co. 1859) we have a story he entitles “Crocks of Gold”:

“Many years ago there resided in the village of Upsall, a man who dreamed three nights successively that if he went to London, he would hear of something greatly to his advantage. He went, travelling the whole distance from Upsall to London on foot, arrived he took his station on the bridge where he waited until his patience was very nearly exhausted and the idea that he had acted a very foolish part began to rise in his mind. At length he was accosted by a Quaker, who kindly inquired what he was waiting there so long for. After some hesitation, he told his dreams. The Quaker laughed at his simplicity, and told him he had had that night a very curious dream himself, which was that if he went to dig under a certain bush in Upsall Castle in Yorkshire, he will find a pot of gold; but he did not know where Upsall was, and inquired of the Countryman if he knew, who seeing some advantage in secrecy pleading ignorance of the locality; and then thinking his business in London was completed, returned immediately home, dug beneath the bush, and there he found a pot filled with gold, and on the cover an inscriptions in a language he did not understand. The pot and cover were however reserved at the village inn; where one day, a bearded stranger like a Jew, made his appearance, saw the pot, and read the inscription, the plain English at which was –

“Look lower where this stood
Is another twice as good”

The man of Upsall hearing this, resumed his spade, returned to the bush, dug deeper, and found another pot filled with gold far more valuable than the first: encouraged by this, he dug deeper still, and found another yet more valuable.”

This story has been related of other places, but Upsall appears to have as good a claim to this yielding of hidden treasures as the best of them. Here we have the constant tradition of the inhabitants, and the identical but yet remains beneath which the treasure was found; an Elder, near the north-west corner of the ruins. Now you will notice that this text boldly mentions that the tale is told in other places, and indeed it is. For to travel further north in the United Kingdom, we find it retold yet again and at an earlier date. In ‘The Popular Rhymes of Scotland’ by Robert Chambers (W. Hunter, 1826), we learn the history of Dundonald Castle:

Pedlar of Swaffham (Scotland)
‘The Popular Rhymes of Scotland’ by Robert Chambers (W. Hunter, 1826).

“Donald, the builder, was originally a poor man, but had the faculty of dreaming lucky dreams. Upon one occasion he dreamed, thrice in one night, that if he were to go to London Bridge, he would become a wealthy man. He went accordingly, saw a man looking over the parapet of the bridge, whom he accosted courteously, and, after a little conversation, intrusted with the secret of the occasion of his visiting London Bridge. The stranger told him that he had made a very foolish errand, for he himself had once had a similar vision, which directed him to go to a certain spot in Ayrshire, in Scotland, where he would find a vast treasure, and, for his part, he had never once thought of obeying the injunction. From his description of the spot, the sly Scotsman at once perceived that the treasure in question must be concealed in no other place than his own humble kail-yard at home, to which he immediately repaired in full expectation of finding it. Nor was he disappointed; for, after destroying many good and promising cabbages, and completely cracking credit with his wife, who esteemed him mad, he found a large potful of gold coin, with the proceeds of which he built a stout castle for himself, and became the founder of a flourishing family.”

Pedlar of Swaffham (London Bridge)
London Bridge

Chambers, much like Grainge, goes on to remark “This absurd story is localised in almost every district of Scotland, always referring to London Bridge”. And indeed, not only does the tale recur in other Scottish tales, but it appears in various other places in England and Wales too. Furthermore if we hop over the Channel to Europe, we find it flourishing there too, although of course with some other national landmark standing in for dear old London Bridge. The most famous example perhaps is found in the collections of folk tales recorded by the Brothers Grimm:

“Some time ago a man dreamed that he should go to the bridge at Regensburg where he would become rich. He went there, and after spending some fourteen days there a wealthy merchant, who wondered why was spending so much time on the bridge, approached him and asked him what he was doing there. The latter answered, “I dreamed that I was to go to the bridge at Regensburg, where I would become rich.“What?” said the merchant, “You came here because of a dream? Dreams are fantasies and lies. Why I myself dreamed that there is a large pot of gold buried beneath that large tree over there.” And he pointed to the tree. “But I paid no attention, for dreams are fantasies.” Then the visitor went and dug beneath the tree, where he found a great treasure that made him rich, and thus his dream was confirmed” (from Deutsche Sagen (1816/1818), Vol. 1, No. 212)

Pedlar of Swaffham (Grimm)

However, the trail does not end there. Even earlier and further south, we discover an identical tale in that famous anthology of ancient tales ‘A Thousand and One Nights’ (AKA Arabian Nights). The 14th tale is called The Ruined Man Who Became Rich Again Through a Dream and goes like this:

“Once there lived in Baghdad a wealthy man who lost all his means and was thus forced to earn his living by hard labor. One night a man came to him in a dream, saying, “Your fortune is in Cairo; go there and seek it.” So he set out for Cairo. He arrived there after dark and took shelter for the night in a mosque. As Allah would have it, a band of thieves entered the mosque in order to break into an adjoining house. The noise awakened the owners, who called for help. The Chief of Police and his men came to their aid. The robbers escaped, but when the police entered the mosque, they found the man from Baghdad asleep there. They laid hold of him and beat him with palm rods until he was nearly dead, then threw him into jail. Three days later, the Chief of Police sent for him and asked “Where do you come from?” “From Bagdad” he answered. ” And what brought you to Cairo?” asked the Chief.

“A man came to me in a dream and told me to come to Cairo to find my fortune,” answered the man from Baghdad “But when I came here, the promised fortune proved to be the palm rods you so generously gave to me.””You fool,” said the Chief of Police, laughing until his wisdom teeth showed. “A man has come to me three times in a dream and has described a house in Baghdad where a great sum of money is supposedly buried beneath a fountain in the garden. He told me to go there and take it, but I stayed here. You, however, have foolishly journeyed from place to place on the faith of a dream which was nothing more than a meaningless hallucination.” He then gave him some money saying, “This will help you return to your own country.”The man took the money. He realized that the Chief of Police had just described his own house in Baghdad, so he forthwith returned home, where he discovered a great treasure beneath the fountain in his garden. Thus, Allah gave him abundant fortune and brought the dream’s prediction to fulfillment”.

Now we cannot be sure of the exact age of the many tales collected in this volume, for scholars believe the first versions of the collection appeared in Arabic in the early parts of the 8th century, with various additional tales being added over the next few centuries. However, what we do know is that this particular story of a most fortunate dream appears in as part of a poem by the 13th century Persian poet, Jalal al-Din Rumia, who is best known in the West as simply Rumi. In his epic collection The Masnavi, we have the poem ‘In Baghdad, Dreaming of Cairo: In Cairo, Dreaming of Baghdad’.

So then, here we have a tale retold in many places and at many times, indeed it is one of those small number of tales that seems to recur everywhere. And folklorists have a catalogue of such stories – this one is commonly referred to as ‘The Treasure at Home’, and under the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Classification of Folk Tales it is number ATU 1646. Now given that we have several important literary landmarks for the story, it is widely though that this very popular tale was spread throughout Europe thanks the massive popularity of ‘A Thousand and One Nights’, and was adapted to fit local geography and history as it was retold in different places.

However, the first European edition of ‘A Thousand and One Nights’ was a French version translated by Antoine Galland that appeared 1704, and was first translated into English in 1706. We should also note at this point that the works of Rumi were not translated until considerably later, with the first English translations appearing in the late 19th century. However, if you have been paying attention to the dates, we find that while the ‘Arabian Nights’ theory could well account for the versions referenced by Grainge and Chambers, the oldest English version, comes from a letter written in the 1650s.

Now while we cannot rule out this old Arabic tale been spread orally across Europe before its printed incarnations, it is certainly intriguing that the Swaffham version predates other European versions by a good century or more. Furthermore Sir William makes clear that it was already an old tale when he set it down in his letter, and this is supported by the fact that the original Swaffham version has a sequel built in that many other version do not – the business of the inscription and a second pot of gold. For this kind of embroidery is typical of a tale been around for a good while, gaining additional details and extra subplots as it is retold by different generations.

Pedlar of Swaffham (Chapman & Dog)
John Chapman and his dog

Stranger still is the fact that our hero is actually given a name – John Chapman – something very unusual for a folk tale. But even more intriguingly, there is some historical evidence to back up the story, for John Botewrigh, the Rector of Swaffham between 1435 and 1474 made an inventory of building and repair work done to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. And this tome is now known as the’Swaffham Black Book’, and in it we discover that in the mid-15th century the North Aisle of the church was rebuilt. And what is more, this renovation work was paid for by a fellow named John Chapman. And as part of this building work, new pews were installed and two of them are of particular interest for us: for their carved ends show a pedlar and his dog. Furthermore, local tradition suggests that a third which shows a lady, is a representation of the shopkeeper in the story.

Pedlar of Swaffham (Church)
The Church of St Peter and St Paul, Swaffham
This is one of the finest medieval churches in East Anglia. It was built between the years of 1454-1465 on the remains of the previous church which had partly collapsed. The tower was added between 1507 and 1510.
The church, which is built of Barnack stone, brick and flint, is in the Perpendicular style. It has the traditional cruciform plan of chancel, nave and transepts with north and south aisles and a square tower. Its total length is 173 feet from west to east. The church is a grade I listed building (English Heritage Building).

 Of course, none of that can displace the fact that a version of the tale was circulating in the East some centuries before, but certainly the pews and Chapman’s name appearing in the ‘Swaffham Black Book’ does suggest that the story of his good fortune may have been doing the rounds while the goodly gent was still alive. Obviously, Chapman, who served as a churchwarden, was a wealthy man, for construction work never comes cheap, particular in earlier times when a major building project may take years to complete. And given that in the 15th century, Swaffham was home to a thriving market, one wonders whether the tale had found its way to rural Norfolk thanks to travelling merchants, the very kind of folks Chapman would have been trading with.

Furthermore, in history we have many examples of less than virtuous men who in later life decide to bankroll various projects for their local churches. And usually these generous and charitable projects are seemingly done as a kind of penance for their earlier sins and misdeeds. Therefore it is tempting to speculate that the tale of Chapman’s fortune may well have been deliberately adopted to disguise the real origin of his wealth. And rather than repaying the good Lord for his luck by refurbishing his local church, as many versions of the tale suggest, he may well have been atoning for making a lot of money through less than virtuous means…

THE END.

Sources:
https://plus.google.com/+JimMoonHypnogoria
https://thehistoryanorak.blogspot.com/2016/01/the-pedlar-of-swaffham.html
https://calumimaclean.blogspot.com/2014/12/dreaming-of-fortune-at-london-bridge.html
Feature Image: Is an illustration by John D. Batten

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Wickhampton: St Andrews and a Legend!

By Haydn Brown.

On reclaimed marshland where the most frequent visitors are birds, the site of St Andrew’s Church at Wickhampton was once covered by sea, now it stands as a lonely beacon on the haunting expanse of Halvergate marsh. It is a place which inspires calm – unlike the story attached to the stone effigies it guards. Many childhood generations have been told the heartrending and cautionary tale of two local brothers who took extreme measures to resolve their differences; it warns against sibling wars.

Wickhampton Legend4 (St Andrews)
St Andrews, Wickhampton, Norfolk.

This tale has to start in the chancel of St Andrew’s Church where there is an interesting pair of 13th century effigies, representing Sir William and Isabella Gerbygge; the couple lie in single beds awaiting Judgement Day. Sir William served as a Bailiff of Great Yarmouth in the 1270s and died about 1280. One fascinating feature of Sir William is that he is shown holding a heart in his hands. This has given rise to several interpretations. The most romantic interpretation is that Sir George is showing his love for his wife. A more religious interpretation is that he is holding his heart up to God in prayer. Another, rather intriguing interpretation is that the heart tells the story of Sir William’s two sons who tore each other’s hearts out.

Wickhampton Legend1

It was during the reign of Edward I that Wickhampton, on the marshes near Breydon Water, was a place of fishing, fine hunting and with a farm and a church; the neighbouring village of Halvergate was rich in arable land and seen as the better of the two villages for it boasted many fine farms and a fine church.

Sir William Gerbygge owned both villages and he and his two sons, Gilbert, the elder son, and William managed the estate. It was a fine estate, the rich farmland produced bountiful crops, while livestock thrived on the damp verdant pastures, which also provided hay for the winter months. Wildlife abounded, providing fine sport and hunting. The sons were very fortunate, a fact that Sir William was forever reminding them. But the brothers were quarrelsome and jealous and their father often had to reproach them.

Wickhampton Legend6

Gilbert, the elder son, wanted the better of the inheritance and his possessive gaze took in all that was good, frequently using the word “my”, to the annoyance of his brother and the villagers. But William was strong and had a sharp mind, frequently quarrelling with his brother and driving his father to his wits end to know how best to distribute his lands after his death. He eventually left Wickhampton to William and the better of the two villages, Halvergate, to Gilbert. He made known of his Will and prayed for peace as he breathed his last. But, after his death, there would be little peace. At first Gilbert and William wanted to at least give the impression that they were both pleased with their respective inheritances; when they met, they would make a point of shaking hands – which was noted by the quiet villagers with a cynical nod as they could see the storm clouds gathering. In fact, the two brothers were to spend years arguing over their respective lands, with neither brother conceding; gradually, the dispute became bitter and finally, became violent.

It happened at ploughing time of one particular year, when the folk looked forward to another good season. There was a field, just north of Wickhampton church which projected far into the boundary of Halvergate, and Gilbert saw this as an opportunity. He called to his brother who happened to be close by, “That field should be mine. It is an obvious mistake, made when the boundaries were drawn”. William replied coolly “You already have enough…….no mistake was made”. But the impetuous Gilbert, angry that he could not sway his younger brother, jumped from his saddle, rushed over to William and pulled him from his horse. “I will have my way” he shouted, striking William with his bare hands.

Wickhampton Legend7
Conflict!

The two brothers then attacked each other with increasing ferocity that frightened the folk who had gathered around to watch the fight. Gilbert and William tore at each other with bare hands, at the edge of the field over which they disagreed. They grasped for hair to pull out by its roots, ears to rent, fingers, legs, arms and noses which were scratched, pulled and twisted with unreasoning and inhuman fury. The differences, pent up over the years, were released as they became snarling and snorting animals. The villagers dared not to intervene.

As the blood began to flow and the fighting became ever more intense, a demonic fury gripped the two brothers. Their finger nails appeared to grow longer, their teeth became fangs, their eyes widened and the villagers gazed on in silence. The brothers tore at each other’s throats and breasts with devilish roars in what became their final fight. Then, strange as it would appear and precisely at the same point in time, the brothers tore the hearts from each other with their bare hands in a final burst of malice. They lay upon the ground, lifeless – as one would expect! The awestruck onlookers then saw a divine figure overhead, some said it was an angel, others said no – it was God who was so appalled by the brother’s behaviour that he instantly turned them both to stone to atone for such sins and as a warning to others. God also ensured that the stone fingers of each brother would remain clutching the heart of the other. Local villagers bore the stone corpses – together with the clutched hearts – into the church to serve as a reminder of the perils of fighting. As for the brothers’ lands; they were renamed Wicked Hampton, now shortened to Wickhampton, and Hell Fire Gate, now known as Halvergate. Legend also has it that, over time, one brother’s heart has been worn away leaving just one grasping a heart with the other next to him.

 

But there is more to St Andrew’s church than a legend, standing as it does in a secluded rural location on the wide open Halvergate marshes where the Yare Valley seems to contain any excitement it may have of reaching the sea. We are still four miles from the coast and there is nothing hereabouts until you reach Yarmouth except – the haunting flatness. Five-hundred years ago, St Andrews stood on the edge of a wide inlet, but the silting up of the estuary over the years left its tower as a beacon for nothing else other river boats.

The dedication of the church to St Andrew seems appropriate; he is the patron saint of fishermen, and Wickhampton is said to have been a fishing community which supported a population of around 500 inhabitants and had direct access to the river Yare. The church was built in the 13th century, but it seems very likely that an earlier church stood on the same spot for at least several hundred years before that. The earliest part of the church is the 13th century tower. The nave was rebuilt around 1340, and the chancel and south porch were added in the 15th century.

That said, the most interesting historic feature of St Andrews church is a series of 14th century wall paintings which are simply staggering, and the detail is remarkable. They were hidden by plaster at the Reformation and only came to light again during restoration in 1840 by the Diocesan architect Richard Phipson, someone criticised for over doing it! However, many wallpaintings of this kind were lost when liturgical patterns changed in the 15th century, a full century before the Reformation when perpendicular windows often destroyed such decorations when punched through them. But the three main subjects at Wickhampton are pretty well complete. They sit on the north wall with the largest, at the extreme westend, being the best surviving depiction in Norfolk of the Three Living and Three Dead. The theme was a common one in medieval art; the frailty of human life and the certainty of mortality. Three kings are shown hunting, and they meet three skeletons in a wood. They give the kings a warning,

‘As you are now, so once were we. as we are now, so shall you be.’

Wickhampton Legend (Wall Painting_Simon K)2b
Three kings are hunting and meet three skeletons in a wood. They give the kings a warning. Photo: Simon K Flickr.
Wickhampton Legend (Wall Painting)2a
The Three Living Kings.
Wickhampton Legend (Wall Painting)2
The Three Skeletons.

The final wall painting shows The Seven Acts of Mercy and The Resurrection, which illustrates people Feeding the Hungry, Giving Drink to the Thirsty, Clothing the Naked, Visiting the Prisoner, Receiving the Stranger, Visiting the Sick, and Burying the Dead. In a largely illiterate society, these images acted as as colourful reminder to churchgoers of the sort of behaviour that was expected of medieval Christians. The message is driven home in the final scene, showing Christ raising his hand in a gesture of blessing.

Wickhampton Legend (Wall Painting)1
The Seven Acts of Mercy and The Resurrection

According to Simon Knott: The Seven Works of Mercy were, and are, a Catholic catechetical tool, designed to help the faithful follow the teachings of Christ with regard to strangers as set forth in Chapter 25 of St Matthew’s Gospel. By meditating on these images, the worshippers could ensure they were carrying out this advice in their daily lives. The faithful are called upon to feed the hungry, to give water to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to give shelter to the homeless, to visit the sick, to comfort the prisoner, and to bury the dead. The way in which meditative images could be used to follow their example give us an insight into the way in which medieval Christianity was practiced in the days before congregational worship became the norm. The illustrations at Wickhampton are stunning in their simplicity and emotion. The Burying of the Dead panel in particular deserves to be as well-known as any 14th century Christian image in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and yet here it is, in an isolated church on the edge of a wild Norfolk marshland.

There are, of course, other features of historic interest in the church beyond the wall paintings. The pulpit is late Elizabethan, while the benches in the nave are Victorian, in the style of the Jacobean period. A single original Jacobean bench end survives in the chancel. In the nave hangs a royal coat of arms to George I, dated 1737. The organ came from Freethorpe Manor and is housed in an 1810 mahogany cabinet made by George Pike. Near the south door is an ancient parish chest. In its traditional place opposite the entrance is a painting of St Christopher carrying the Christ Child. You can still see swarms of fish around St Christopher’s feet, perhaps another sign of Wickhampton’s once-thriving fishing industry.

To visit Wickhampton church will provide an unforgettable experience. The church seems stranded, lost in time, with no obvious village left to serve, but the superb wall paintings speak of a long and rich past, now lost, when this rural backwater was a busy place, full of life, and providing the roots of a possible sibling feud – one which led to a legend!

THE END

Sources:
www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/wickhampton/wickhampton.htm
https://www.britainexpress.com/counties/norfolk/churches/wickhampton.htm

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William In The Wood.

There is today, overlooking Norwich, a gem of a place which is free of urbanisation – although it is completely surrounded by roads, traffic, concrete and bricks. It is an area where there is freedom for trees, bracken, brambles, grass and weeds to grow, freedom for feet to ramble and for dogs to do what they normally do when let off the lead. This place once formed part of a much greater expanse of heathland that extended from the north-eastern bank of the River Wensum at Norwich, towards the villages of Salhouse and Rackheath way out into the County. It was once a large area maintained by grazing, but without such husbandry the trees grew tall and thick to produce woodland, now much frequented by walkers. Today, this area covers a mere 200 acres but is much appreciated by Norwich people as a welcome piece of open space. It is an island of green, known today as Mousehold Heath but in far off days there was a section of it that was called Thorpe Wood.

St William (Mousehold)
A scene on Mousehold Heath; here formerly known as Thorpe Wood. Image: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

Within it, Long Valley makes one feel that Norwich is far away and that the only exciting thing that would happen below the deciduous canopy of Mousehold is for Robert Kett to emerge with the city’s authorities in hot pursuit. The wood’s deciduous canopy also does more than cushion objects of our imagination, it muffles the noise of vehicles on those roads that run circles around the area, including that odd little field or two set amongst the trees. It is a wood veined with sand and flint edged pathways that have been cut through ridges by centuries of feet; nice pathways, many of them through birches growing in shallow areas either side. Pick the right one, but avoiding bramble, rough undergrowth, burrs and ticks and you will find the site of a largely forgotten chapel; here the mind can get lost in time for that place is where the ‘St William’s Chapel in the Wood’ once stood.

St William (Site)1
Site of St. William’s Chapel in the  Wood. Image: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

The Chapel site covers just a small area, towards the edge of present-day Mousehold Heath – a short distance to the south-west of the junction of Gurney Road and Heartsease Lane. It was originally dedicated to St Catherine de Monte, way back in those far off days following the Norman Conquest; at that time, it served as a parochial chapel for the Norwich Cathedral Priory. Later, in fact on the 27 April 1168, it was re-dedicated to honour a new ‘martyr’ on the block – the boy William. Fast forward to some 380 years later and we find that this chapel was amongst those religious establishments dissolved by Henry VIII; and whilst the exact date of its demise is unknown, the last offering was recorded in 1506, and by 1556 the site had been leased out by the Dean as ‘The Chapel-Yard called St William in the Wood’. But that piece of information is something of a distraction for we need to retrace our steps back to March 1144. In that month, a despicable act was said to have taken place at, or near, the site of the chapel – It was Easter and not the best time for a murder – or a place to dump a body!

Church Site 002
A ‘bird’s eye view’ of most of Mousehold Heath, showing the approximate position of the St William’s Chapel site. Illustration: Haydn Brown

Get the detail right and the place will be a stark reminder of a disturbing and unpleasant moment that, they say, took place here. But take care; the way history works is not to run through the past in straight lines. As with many stories, and particularly with historical accounts, it is best to visualise them as being twisted flights, criss-crossing through time and place on a journey which runs the risk of turning the past into a ‘foreign country’ – where that which is written is far from factual – and the  truth. The St William’s Chapel story may well fit into this category and, as with other historical stories, it doesn’t have one starting point. What we know or think we know about this story, is that parts of it are probably inaccurate, simply twisted by whatever thought or political/religious agenda was in place when the scribes pen was at work. Here we have Thomas of Monmouth to thank!

It is probably a safe thing to say that most people in Norwich are vaguely aware of William of Norwich, helped no doubt by a report in 2004 about 17 skeleton bodies which were found in a medieval well in Norwich, during the development of the Chapelfield Shopping Centre (see Footnote below). That report was clearly written for readers who like Time-Team programmes with their trowel and forensic archaeology. However, these sorts of people may not be aware of all the detail which, in William’s case, seems to suggest to some that he was a victim of a ritualised murder. Further, he was only a young lad of about 12 years of age who was an apprentice skinner and tanner, the first recorded apprentice in English history so they say. We are told that he died somewhere in Norwich on or around 22nd of March 1144 and it was on the 25th March that his body was found, mutilated on the heath close to, if not on the spot where the Chapel stood. Clearly, if he had been murdered elsewhere then his body would probably have been carried to the heath by horse to be disposed of.

Nobody truly knows who did the foul deed, or where, or even why; but, as ever, blame was quickly apportioned by the populace, egged on by the religious authorities and William’s family. Their collective finger pointed directly at the Jews of Norwich who, by the way, were protected by the Sheriff in the King’s name. Now, this is where politics vie with the powers of the church for front row seats, not forgetting that in the 12th century the King was Stephen. He not only had the church to deal with but also his cousin Matilda; they were both grandchildren of William the Conqueror and amongst all the others competing for a dominant position in ‘The Anarchy’ – which, basically, was a rather nasty tribal squabble about who controls England – not forgetting Normandy of course. Add to this the question of the Jews who started to come over in 1066, who had French as their mother language – and settled in Norwich. Big trouble was afoot!

Brother Thomas and his Version of Events:
Enter Thomas of Monmouth, a Benedictine monk who resided in the cathedral priory in Norwich, having been “respectably educated” before he first arrived in Norwich around the year 1150. It would appear that very shortly after his arrival in the city Brother Thomas, (we’ll call him that from now on), began his long-winded investigating into the so-called ‘murder’ of the boy William. He began by taking notes in preparation for a narrative about William, and a plea for the boy’s martyrdom that he finally completed more than twenty years later, titled “The Life and Passion of Saint William of Norwich”. This account ended up as a multi-volume series with the final Volume 7 being completed around 1173. The first two volumes details William’s life and sufferings, with the remaining five volumes recounting the miracles the proposed saint was said to have performed after his death. According to E.M. Rose, in his book ‘The Murder of William of Norwich’ “Brother Thomas maintained that William was worthy of veneration and claimed him as an important patron for Norwich Cathedral”. but his claim was based on a writing that was nothing more than a treatise that was “an imaginative, emotional appeal rather than a presentation of forensic evidence”. It is thought that the original manuscript no longer survives, but a unique single contemporary copy resides in the Cambridge University Library.

Life of William 002
An example of a page from the sole surviving text of ‘The Life and Passion of St William of Norwich’ by Thomas of Monmouth which appears in a 12th-century manuscript held by Cambridge University Library, Ref: Add MS 3037, f. 1 – 771.

In his quest, Brother Thomas claims to have set about interviewing as many of the surviving ‘witnesses’ as possible. These included people who he had already identified as being “converted Jews”; they, he would claim, provided him with inside information about events within the Jewish community. According to Brother Thomas, one particular ‘convert’, called Theobald of Cambridge, told him that there was a written prophecy which stated that the Jews would regain control of Israel if they sacrificed a Christian child each year. Every year, Jewish leaders met in Narbonne to decide who would be asked to perform the sacrifice; in 1144, the Jews of Norwich were assigned that task.

Since most information about William’s life and the resulting murder inquiry comes from Brother Thomas, it is difficult to distinguish the facts of the case from the story of martyrdom created around it by Thomas. It was he who devoted himself to the promotion of William to sainthood; even his opening sentence of Volume 1 reflects that both he, and presumably some of his contemporaries, believed that William’s death was preordained:

“The mercy of the divine goodness desiring to display itself to the parts about Norwich, or rather to the whole of England, and to give it in these new times a patron, granted that a boy should be conceived in his mother’s womb without her knowing that he was to be numbered among the illustrious martyrs”.

Was Brother Thomas proud that his adopted city of Norwich should be blessed with a suitable candidate for sainthood, despite the apparent horrible circumstances surrounding the young boy’s death? That’s how it may have been, but Thomas’s final narrative went on to build a case for William’s holiness based on the collected evidence, and arguing that he had been martyred by the Jews in a ‘ritual’ murder.

St William (Loddon Screen)1
Holy Trinity church, Loddon: One of the rood screen panels, depicting a rosary sequence from the birth of the Blessed Virgin to the Presentation in the Temple, with the addition of one unrelated panel – seen here – depicting the martyrdom of a local saint, St William of Norwich, whose dead body was found in 1144 on Mousehold Heath.

As things turned out, Brother Thomas was ultimately unsuccessful in getting William of Norwich canonized as a saint; however, but did succeed, for a time at least, in creating a cult around him in Norwich. But right from the outset of his endeavours, Thomas contended that he had received visions from the founding Bishop of Norwich, Herbert de Losinga, who had died in 1119. According to Thomas, Losinga had told him in a vision that William’s body should be moved into the Chapter House of the monastery; however, Thomas had to battle with the sceptical Prior Elias, who was unconvinced of William’s sanctity. The body of William was in fact moved in the same year of Thomas’s arrival in Norwich. That year of 1150 was also the year in which Elias died, and by then the cult of William was established.

St William (Jewish-cartoon-norwich)
Jewish Cartoon, Norwich
“Every year, at Narbonne in Spain, where the Jews are held in high regard, lots are cast in order to determine the country where the sacrifice will take place. In the capital city of that country, another lot is drawn to determine the town or city, and it just so happens that at this particular time the lot has fallen on the Jews of Norwich, and all the synagogues in England have signified, by letter or message, their consent that the killing should take place here”.

Circumstances Leading up to the Murder:
Brother Thomas stated that William had been born on 2 February 1132 and that his parents, Wenstan and Elviva, were a local Anglo-Saxon couple living on the outskirts of Norwich. His father died while William was still very young and it was left to Elviva, who had learned much from her own father, a priest, to educate William. Then, when William was eight years old, he was taken to a skinner, near his home, to learn a trade. Brother Thomas says:

“In a short time, he far surpassed lads of his own age in the crafts aforesaid, and he equalled some who had been his teachers”.

In time, William moved into the city to join the workshop of a prosperous master of the skin, fur and leather trade; an important industry in Norwich, which served the demand for clothing, shoes and bed coverings. Leather was the most hard-wearing fabric available, so leather jerkings, breeches, aprons and caps were the normal wear for most manual workers. It was the custom for young unmarried employees to live with their master, often being obliged to sleep on the shop floor in order to help protect the property from break-ins and thefts. The area that William moved into was the Jewry, to the east of Norwich Castle, which suggests that both Jews and Gentiles were accustomed to working and trading alongside each other.

St William (norwich-city-walls 14C)

In his book, Norwich – The Biography, Christopher Reeve writes:

“It could be imagined that William would be well liked by his fellow workers and neighbours, and also by the customers, some of whom would have preferred to deal with him when they brought their orders in for leather goods. If it was true that William had settled in so well then what happened next was all the more shocking……. the Jewish community believed that they would never gain freedom, or be able to return to their homeland unless they made an annual sacrifice of a Christian, so as to mock Christ. Where Thomas got this idea from is not known…….[or] whether or not he himself had a prejudice against Jews. Maybe it was simple malicious gossip from those who might have envied Jewish prosperity in the city”.

Shortly before his murder, William’s mother, Elviva, was approached by a man who claimed to be a cook, working for the Archdeacon of Norwich. He offered William a job in the Archdeacon’s kitchens and paid William’s mother three shillings to let him go. This must have been a very good offer for it came with the opportunity to earn more money and better prospects than if he stayed in the skin trade. William must have been delighted but, it is said, his mother had her doubts and asked her son not to go; however, William was determined and the messenger’s words were compelling to both mother and son, sweetened by a reward of ‘three shillings’ in return for the mother’s agreement. William later visited his aunt in the company of this same man but she was apparently suspicious when she heard the news and told her own daughter to follow William and this messenger after they left. The daughter was able to report that they returned to the area when William worked and went into a house belonging to Eleazar the Jew. This was the last time William was seen alive. It was Holy Tuesday.

According to Brother Thomas, the man who claimed to be a cook had been employed by the Jews to entice William into the house where the sacrifice would occur. There, William was initially treated well, but was then bound, gagged and suspended in a cruciform position in a room where he was tortured and murdered in a manner imitating the Crucifixion of Jesus: the Jews lacerated his head with thorns and pierced his side.

“having shaved his head, they stabbed it with countless thorn points, and made the blood come horribly from the wounds they made……… some of those present judged him to be fixed to a cross in mockery of the Lord’s Passion…………”

St William (Little Hugh)
Hugh of Lincoln (1246 – 1255) was an English boy, whose death was apparently (as with William) an act of Jewish ritual murder. Hugh is known as Little Saint Hugh to distinguish him from Saint Hugh, otherwise Hugh of Lincoln. The style is often corrupted to Little Sir Hugh. The boy disappeared on 31 July, and his body was discovered in a well on 29 August.

Brother Thomas said that the body was concealed until the Good Friday and claimed further that another converted Jew told him that there was an argument over how to dispose of the body afterwards. Nevertheless, two members from amongst those who had tortured William, did place his body in a sack and take it to the best hiding place they could think of – Thorpe Woods on Mousehold Heath. Unfortunately for them, as they entered the wood they met, we are told, Erlward, a Burgess and a citizen of note, who was returning from the church of St Mary Magdalen nearby. He challenged the two men, suspicious that they were up to no good. At this, the two Jews ‘in their terror…… made off at full gallop and rushed into the thick of the wood’.

St William (Site)2
Site of St. William’s Chapel in the  Wood. Image: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

Christopher Reeve again writes:

“It is said that Erlward did nothing further except continue on his way to his own home in the city. With the coast clear, the two Jews returned and simply hung the sack holding William’s body on a tree and galloped home, still in panic. Aware that there was now a witness to the disposal of the body, the Jewish leaders decided that they needed to obtain the protection of the City Sheriff, John de Caineto, who as the King’s representative, was obliged to act on the Jew’s behalf for they were his source of ready money. In return for a willing bribe offered by the Jews, de Caineto instructed Aelward not to divulge anything he might have seen in Thorpe Wood”.

Unfortunately, in that March of 1144 at least three persons had already discovered William’s mutilated body; one, a peasant, plus two prominent citizens – Lady Legarda and Henry de Sprowston, a forester and keeper of the Bishop’s stables. It seems that Lady Legarda, a Norman aristocratic nun, was the first to come across the cadaver, tangled as it was in the undergrowth and quite near a thoroughfare in Thorpe Woods. We are told that she took no responsibility in informing the authorities, as was required; instead, she quietly said prayers over the corpse before retreating to her convent. Later that day, the peasant also ignored the body, despite being well aware of his responsibility to report the find to the powers-to-be.  Then, on 25 March 1144, Holy Saturday, Henry de Sprowston was riding through the woods in the course of his duties as guardian of all that was owned there by his ecclesiastical employers, the Norwich bishop and monks. Possibly to deflect attention from his own illicit activities, the same peasant [apparently] led Henry de Sprowston to the cadaver, but neither person recognised it as anyone they knew; what was clear however was that it was a young boy. The forester, because of his standing, instigated an inquiry into the death and while nothing came out of his investigation, the boy was identified as that of William, the apprentice leatherworker and son of Wenstan and Elviva.

St William (Eye c1500)
Church of St. Peter & St. Paul, Eye, Suffolk: A 15th Century ‘rood screen’ painting of St William – complete with his” martyrs marks “and carrying a cross.

It was noted at the time that William’s injuries suggested a violent death and that the boy appeared to have been gagged with a wooden ‘teasel’ and was wearing just a jacket and shoes. Maybe they speculated that this had been a sexual assault? After consultation with the local priest, it was decided to bury the body two days hence, on Easter Monday; the position of the grave would be where the body was found. In the meantime, some curious folk came to look at the body, a few recognising William. Then, the following day, being Easter Sunday, William’s uncle, brother and cousin arrived to confirm the identity of the dead youth before he was buried, but with proper but minimal ceremony and no elaborate marker. That was on Easter Monday.

Information about William and the resulting homicide inquiry comes only from Brother Thomas’s account which claimed to have pieced together what actually happened during that fateful Holy Week of 1144. Thomas seems to have set out to prove that William had been killed for his faith and therefore deserved to be ordained as a saint. He devoted most of his book not to the crime, but to the evidence for William’s sanctity, including mysterious lights seen around the body itself and miraculous cures affected on local devotees. Thomas admits that some of the clergy, notably the Prior Elias, were opposed to the cult on the grounds that there was little evidence of William’s piety or martyrdom. However, Thomas actively promoted the claims by providing evidence of visions of William and miracles.

As for the Christians of Norwich, they quickly blamed local Jews for the crime, then demanded justice from the local ecclesiastical court. Members of the Jewish community were asked to attend the court and submit to a trial by ordeal, but the local sheriff, John de Chesney, advised them that the ecclesiastical court had no jurisdiction over them, as they were not Christians. He then took the Jews into protection in the castle. After the situation had calmed down, they returned to their homes. In the meantime, William’s body had been moved to the monks’ cemetery. Later, it would be moved to progressively more prestigious places in the Cathedral, being placed in the Chapterhouse in 1150 and close to the High Altar in 1151.

St William (With St Adatha)
Depicting St Agatha holding Pincers and a Breast and St William of Norwich with nails in his head. This Panel is from a rood screen originally in the Chapel of St Mary in St John’s Church, Maddermarket, Norwich. It was commissioned by Ralph Segrym, – later Mayor of Norwich and who is buried beneath the nave of the Church. It was painted in Norwich by an unidentified artist in 1450. The screen was removed (date unknown) and is now believed to reside in the V & A museum London.

As part of this promotion, images of William, as a martyr, were created for some churches, generally in the vicinity of Norwich. The above image shows a panel of painted oak, depicting both William and Agatha of Sicily, and is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; William is shown holding a hammer and with three nails in his head. The panel was formerly part of a rood screen at the Norwich Church of St John Maddermarket. The screen was commissioned by Ralph Segrym who died in 1472, a merchant who became a Member of Parliament and Mayor of Norwich. Another rood screen in St Mary’s church, Worstead also depicts him holding nails. One in Loddon depicts William being crucified.

As it was, William’s death was never satisfactorily solved and the local authorities would therefore not convict anyone – simply because there was no proof. There the matter apparently rested, that is until a Brother Thomas came along, some six years later, and got caught up in the clergy’s idea of establishing a cult around the death of William with a motive which must have been partly pecuniary. It was William de Turbeville, Bishop of Norwich between 1146 and 174 who encouraged Brother Thomas to write his book as a precursor to the church achieving its aim. It turned out to be an extensive hagiography work; Volume 7 being completed in 1173. Clearly, it was designed to deify the boy and to blame the Norwich Jews for what became Britain’s first ‘Blood Libel’ – the idea that Jews use the blood of the murdered, usually Christian, children in Passover rituals to make bread – no more need be said!

The Aftermath:
As a result of the feelings generated by the William ritual murder story and subsequent intervention by the authorities on behalf of the accused, the growing suspicion of collusion between the ruling class and Jews fuelled the general anti-Jewish and anti-King Stephen mood of the population. After Brother Thomas’s version of William’s death circulated a number of other unsolved child murders were attributed to Jewish conspiracies: – This evolved into the so-called Blood Libel.

St William (Harold-of-Gloucester)
Harold is one of a small group of 12th century English Saints of strikingly similar characteristics: they were all young boys, all mysteriously found dead and all hailed as martyrs to alleged anti-Christian practices among Jews. Contemporary assumptions made about the circumstances of their deaths evolved into the blood libel.
St William (Robert_of_Bury)
15th century illumination depicting the martyrdom of St. Robert of Bury. Top left, a woman seems to be placing Robert’s body in a well; top right, it is lying next to a tree with an archer standing by. The precise meaning of these scenes is unknown. At bottom, a monk prays to Robert’s soul.

The horrific death of William of Norwich at the hands of an unknown became an appalling beginning for future propaganda exercises in many other parts of Britain and across Europe which used murdered children by unknowns, some of whom, as with William, became the subject of veneration. Proof of William’s veneration can be found in Norwich Cathedral, in a small chapel less than a stone’s throw from the choir stalls. It’s not an exciting place, wood lined and with a few chairs; seemingly out of place within the Cathedral’s splendour but comfortably near the tombs of old bishops. As someone said elsewhere, this is where the story starts to get really nasty. William is said to be buried here, after being moved several times in the church’s attempt to get William away from Thorpe Wood and nearer the high alter. The answer is all very simple; saints bring pilgrims and pilgrims bring money!

According to Emily M. Rose in her book ‘The Murder of William of Norwich’:

“William of Norwich, in particular, has received a considerable amount of attention, ever since the full text of his story was discovered in a Suffolk parish library at the end of the 19th– century by the antiquarian M. R. James, who edited and published an influential translation with Augustus Jessopp, an honorary canon of Norwich Cathedral. Brother Thomas’s ‘Life and Passion has now been re-translated for a modern readership, including passages that the fastidious Victorian translators passed over.”

FOOTNOTE:
In 2004, the remains of 17 bodies were found at the bottom of a medieval well in Norwich. They were discovered during an excavation of a site in the City’s centre, ahead of the construction of Chapelfield Shopping Centre.
According to the scientists, carrying out the investigation, the skeletons dated back to the 12th or 13th Centuries, at a time when Jewish people were facing persecution in Norwich and, indeed, throughout Europe. In their opinion, the most likely explanation for them being down the well were that they were Jewish and probably murdered or forced to commit suicide. Pictures taken at the time of excavation suggested the bodies were thrown down the well together, head first.

St William (Bones)

Using a combination of DNA analysis, carbon dating and bone chemical studies in their investigation, the team established that eleven of the 17 skeletons were those of children aged between 2 and 15; the remaining six were adult men and women. Out of the total found, seven skeletons were successfully tested and five of them had a DNA sequence suggesting they were likely to be members of a single Jewish family.

A close examination of the adult bones showed fractures caused by the impact of hitting the bottom of the well. But the same damage was not seen on the children’s bones, suggesting they were thrown in after the adults who cushioned the fall of their bodies.

The team had considered the possibility of death by disease but the bone examination also showed no evidence of diseases.

St William (Reburial of bones)1
Seventeen suspected victims of religious persecution, found at the bottom of a Norwich well were buried an estimated 800 years after their deaths in a service in the Jewish Cemetery in Earlham Cemetery, Norwich. Minister Alex Bennett adds soil to the grave. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Medieval Jewish History:

1066: The Norman Conquest opens the way to Jewish immigration. The monarchy needs to borrow money and Christians are forbidden to lend money at interest. London, Lincoln and York become centres for substantial Jewish populations.

1100s: Resentment against the Jewish community grows over their perceived wealth and belief they killed Jesus. The “blood libels” – Jews are accused of the ritual murder of Christian children.

1190: Many Jewish people massacred in York. In Norwich they flee to the city’s castle for refuge. Those who stay in their homes are butchered.

1230s: Executions in Norwich after an allegation a Christian child was kidnapped.

1272: Edward I comes to the throne and enforces extra taxes on the Jewish community.

1290: Edward I expels the Jews en masse after devising a new form of royal financing using Christian knights to fill the coffers.

THE END

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_of_Norwich
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Life_and_Miracles_of_St._William_of_Norwich
http://www.historyinanhour.com/2010/11/25/blood-libel-and-the-murder-of-william-of-norwich/
http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~pardos/ArchiveWilliam.html
Reeve, Christopher, Norwich – The Biography, Amberley Publishing, 2014.
Rose, E. M., The Murder of William of Norwich, Oxford University Press, 2015.

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site which publishes only informative and/or educational items in the hope of broadening an appreciation of the history and heritage of the wonderful County of Norfolk. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where necessary, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material, as well as our own. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.

Admirals of our Norfolk Coast!

To understand what the title and this particular blog is all about, it is best to first explain the title and responsibilities of an ‘Admiral’ – before going on to write about two archaic posts which were held by distinguished persons responsible for our Norfolk coastline:

Meanings Behind the use of ‘Admiral’:
The title ‘Admiral’, as most people understand it today is quite different to the original name. Today, it refers to the title and rank of a senior naval officer, often referred to as a flag officer, who commands a fleet or group of ships of a navy or who holds an important naval post on shore. The term is sometimes also applied to the commander of a fleet of merchant vessels or fishing ships.

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the title of Admiral has an ancient lineage. It apparently originated before the 12th century with Muslim Arabs, who combined amīr (“commander”), the article al, and baḥr (“sea”) to make amīr al-baḥr. Shortened to amiral, the title was adopted for naval use by the Sicilians. The French copied the word from the Genoese during the Seventh Crusade of 1248 to 1254. The Latin word admirabilis (“admirable”) may have contributed to the designation Admiral for the commander of the Cinque Ports in England before the end of the 13th century.

Admirals (Ship)
A ship of the 16th century. Photo: Pinterest.

Henry VIII is known as the father of the English navy and from the Tudor period, England produced many eminent naval officers. By 1620 the word Admiral was used in England to denote a commander at sea. In that year the fleet was formed into three squadrons with the admiral commanding the centre squadron, his ships flying red ensigns. The vice admiral in the van squadron flew white ensigns, and the rear admiral flew blue ensigns in his squadron. The British navy became the Royal Navy after the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II in 1660.

The ’Lord High Admiral of the Wash’:
This position is an ancient hereditary office within the English navy goes back to medieval times when the title holder was a nobleman with responsibility for defending and protecting the entire coastal area of the Wash in Norfolk. The post was first granted to the Le Strange family (still associated today with Old Hunstanton) in the 13th century. However, in the 16th century and reign of Henry VIII, the post became obsolete when protection and defence duties around the area were taken over by the Royal Navy. Apparently, at that time, nobody thought of formally abolishing the post so even today, it still remains in title a hereditary dignity – but with absolutely no responsibilities nor privileges of any kind what so ever!

Admirals (henry_styleman_le_strange)
Henry Styleman Le Strange. Photo: Wikipedia.

When Henry Styleman Le Strange died in 1862 he was already Lord of the manor of Hunstanton – and other Manors, but also held the wonderful title of Hereditary Lord High Admiral of the Wash. But in more official times, this title had also allowed its holder the right to claim possession of anything out to sea for the distance a man on horseback could throw a spear from the High-Water mark!

Admirals1
The Admiral Surveys his Norfolk coast! Photo: Christopher Weston.

The Lord High Admiral of the Wash no longer resides at Hunstanton Hall. Nor does he control all shipping and smuggling around the Wash, as the Le Strange family had originally been commanded to do all those centuries earlier. The current Admiral inherited the title from his mother, yet still lives in Hunstanton. Technically, he still owns all the land between the High Tide mark and the distance he can throw a spear.

The ‘Vice Admiral of the Coast’:
Again, during Henry Vlll’s reign in the 16th century, ‘vice-admiralties of the coast’ posts were established in each of the twenty maritime counties of England, the North and South of Wales, and the four provinces of Ireland. Hence, each jobholder became formally a ‘Vice Admiral of the Coast’ within the county or area for which they had been appointed and while holding office, were required to act as deputies of the Lord High Admiral. This, the highest post, was always held by a nobleman who was not a seaman and did not command at sea except on rare occasions; the position was as head of departments that administered naval affairs and included responsible for providing ships for war which, through the duty usually brought large fees to the holder – he, by the way, also had jurisdiction in certain legal cases. The current title holder of Lord High Admiral is Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh. As for the lower “Vice-Admiral”, he was responsible for naval administration in his County; this included deciding the lawfulness of prizes captured by privateers, dealing with salvage claims for wrecks, acting as a judge and implementing the role of the Impress Service (relating to men forced into military service by Press Gangs).

The earliest recorded appointment to the post was in 1536, when William Gonson (1482-1544) became Vice Admiral of the combined Norfolk & Suffolk coastal areas. Gonson was born in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire in England he was the son of Christopher Gonson and Elizabeth (nee: Trussell). He married Bennett Walters and together they had six sons and four daughters. (One of his sons, Benjamin Gonson, would go on to hold a career in the English navy and also became Treasurer of the Navy). William Gonson eventually fell from grace and committed suicide in 1544 leaving the navy disorganized in the region. It took two years for Henry VIII to reorganize control and develop what became later known as ‘The Navy Board’. William Gonson was probably, along with William of Wrotham, and Sir Robert de Crull of the 13th and 14th centuries, one of the three most important administrators of naval affairs of the English Navy prior to 1546.

Admirals (John Wodehouse)
On of the last recorded Vice Admirals of the Coast in Norfolk,  John Wodehouse (1771-1846), painted by Thomas Phillips (1770–1845)
Norwich Civic Portrait Collection, Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery

From around 1560, the ‘Vice Admiral of the Coast’ acquired a more public profile than previously and in the second half of the 16th century, increasingly received orders from the Privy Council.  In 1561, instructions were given by the Crown but in 1660, their functions were controlled by the Admiralty Board. The last recorded Vice Admiral of the Coast in Norfolk, was the 2nd Baron Wodehouse, John Wodehouse (1771-1846), who was also Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk between 1821 and 1846. Soon after this, records indicate the office and its requirements as described above, became extinct.

THE END

Sources:
Christopher Weston, Norfolk Archives.
https://www.britannica.com/topic/admiral
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_High_Admiral_of_the_Wash
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_vice-admirals_of_the_coast

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site which publishes only informative and/or educational items in the hope of broadening an appreciation of the history and heritage of the wonderful County of Norfolk. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where necessary, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material, as well as our own. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.

2020: The Year of Richard Caister

By Haydn Brown.

Richard Caister could be described as a medieval maverick cleric who preached and wrote in the vernacular a century before the Protestant Reformation. However, it is more than likely that not many people today would recognise his name if asked; or be aware of his deeds, character or reputation.

It was timely therefore that between February and October of 2020, St Stephen’s Church in Norwich, (where this late priest and poet was based in the latter part of his life), celebrated the 600th Anniversary of his life and work. The church did so by hosting several events, including family craft workshops and musical performances. These events were supported by associated historical tours of the city and variously timed lectures at the Forum and the Norfolk Record Office.

Not everyone could possibly have shared in these celebrations, but for those who missed the events but remain interested in the man, the period in which he lived and those with whom he was associated with, here is an adapted summary of his life based (in part) on the information compiled by St Stephens Church.

Richard Caister (St Stephens)
St Stephens Church, Norwich and host for the 600th Anniversary of its late Vicar, Richard Caister. Photo: Jamie (flickr).

We can never be absolutely certain of Richard Caister’s place of birth or the actual date, only that he was born either in Caister St Edmund or Caister-on-Sea sometime around the middle of the 14th century. He was apparently styled ‘master’ but there is no clear evidence that he studied at a university; but it is said that in 1385, possibly on 1 October, a part of his head was ‘tonsured’ – left bare on top by the shaving off of the hair – he had been made a cleric. It was at that moment when he was admitted to Merton Priory in Surrey where he received his education in preparation for an ordained ministry. It is probable that, after being ordained, he spent some 10 years as a monk of the Norwich Cathedral Priory. Certainly, in 1397, he become vicar of St Mary’s Church in Sedgeford, near Kings Lynn, having been presented to the benefice by the Prior of the Norwich Cathedral Priory.  Richard Caister served Sedgeford for five years; its location described by Simon Knott in 2006 thus:

Richard Caister (Sedgeford)
St Mary The Virgin Church at Sedgeford. Photo: Blosslyn.

“Sedgeford is one of those surprisingly secluded villages not far from the Wash, with busy Hunstanton and Sandringham just over the hill. Many East Anglian churches are at the highest point in their parishes, which isn’t saying a lot, but this big church is down in a dip in the valley below the road, and you would never notice it unless you were deliberately looking for it. The nave seems vast with those great clerestory windows, and the round tower appears to grow out of it, the aisles extending westwards to wrap around it.”

In 1402 Richard Caister was transferred to St Stephen’s Church in Norwich, where he remained until his death on April 4, 1420. He was buried in the chancel of the Church; an indication of the high regard he was held at the time. According to Norman P. Tanner:

“Margery Kempe [see below] provides a glowing portrait of him as vicar of St Stephen’s. He was, she indicates, a generous and apostolic parish priest, and a noted and effective preacher. He acted as her confessor in Norwich and supported her against her critics, including the officials of the bishop……… Following his death in 1420, perhaps on 29 March, his reputation for holiness developed into a minor cult. Margery Kempe went to pray at his grave in St Stephen’s Church, to thank him for the recovery of a friend from sickness: between 1429 and 1500 a number of bequests were left in wills for people to make pilgrimages to his grave, or for offerings to be left at it. He appears to have been a radical and evangelical priest, one in a succession as vicars of St Stephen’s parish, though Bale’s claim that he was an enthusiastic Wycliffite, albeit a secret one, seems unfounded……… Books on the ten commandments, the beatitudes, and the meditations of St Bernard, and also some homilies, were attributed to him. His only extant work, however, is the hymn ‘Jesu, lord, that madest me’, which seems to have been very popular, surviving in numerous manuscripts (though eight of its twelve stanzas come from an earlier poem).”

Richard Caistor’s Will was probably written within a few days of his death; it is remarkable, especially for a man who had been incumbent in one of the most valuable livings in Norwich for some eighteen years. The Will is very brief and contains no requests for masses or prayers to be said for his soul. Instead, he seems to have wanted his ‘unspecified wealth’, apart from £10 that was to be spent on buying two antiphonaries for his church, to be given to the poor, with preference being given to those of his parish on the grounds that “the goods of the church, according to canon law, belong to the poor”

Two significant Contemporaries of Caister:
One of Caister’s contemporaries was Julian of Norwich (1342-1416). She is, of course, known for her book The Revelations of Divine Love, which is a masterpiece of 14th century vernacular theology and also the earliest surviving book in the English language written by a woman.

Richard Caister (Julian of Norwich)
A sculpture giving an imagined depiction of Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)

There are no documents in existence which says that Richard Caister and Julian of Norwich ever met. However, it seems inconceivable that this was never so, when their geographical proximity of St Julian’s and St Stephen’s Churches were practically next door to each other. Also, having both a mutual friend in Margery Kempe, would strongly suggest that the lives of Julian and Richard may well have overlapped at times. However, more significantly than that suggestion, is the fact that both of them wrote in the vernacular. By doing so, both opened spiritual and theological matters to ordinary lay people, as distinct to only the clergy which believed, certainly in Caister’s time, that the English language was not an appropriate vehicle to consider or broadcast theological matters; such matters needed to be presented in the language of the Church – Latin.

Richard Caister (Margery Kempe)2

Margery Kempe (1373-1438) was another significant contemporary of Caister and the author of The Book of Margery Kempe, which is considered by some to be the first autobiography in the English language; she was also a Christian mystic whose work gives a careful spiritual and social commentary of England. Kempe became very close to Caister; in their first meeting, Caister listened to Margery Kempe speak about the love of God and her spiritual experiences. Margery Kempe also recorded that while some considered her to be insane or under the influence of demons, Richard Caister defended her, open to the idea that God may inspire a woman. Caister became Margery Kempe’s confessor and even defended her in a hearing before the formidable Bishop Henry le Despenser. From the website of present-day St Stephen’s Church, we learn that:

“……. after Caister’s death and burial, Margery Kempe writes that she was moved to journey to St Stephen’s to pray for the healing of a priest who was close to her. She writes of a powerful spiritual encounter of the goodness of God during this time of prayer at the chancel of St Stephen’s Church, where Caister was buried. The priest for whom she was praying was healed. It is most likely for this reason that Caister’s burial place became a shrine for pilgrimage throughout the latter half of the 15th century.”

The Character of Caister and his Ministry:
Caister had a reputation for being a man of significant learning who was assiduous in his pastoral duties, particularly in his preaching and in his concern for the poor of his parish. The pilgrim badges that accompanied the shrine of Richard Caister frequently depict him preaching from the pulpit, wearing either clerical or academic dress’.

Richard Caister (Pilgrim Badges)2
A medieval pilgrim badge, worn by someone who would have visited Richard Caister’s burial spot in St Stephen’s Church in Norwich in the 15th century. Photo: Pinterest (Museum of London)

John Pits, (1560 – 17 October 1616) was an English Roman Catholic scholar and writer who was born in Alton, Hampshire. He provides a character sketch of Richard Caister.

“He was a man simple and upright, and no mean scholar. In his sermons he used not so much to attack men’s vices with bitter words, as to deplore them with tears of sympathy, and to exhort all to flee from their sins and to have pity upon their own souls. With the ignorant multitude he willingly adopted a familiar style, and used to mingle with the crowds to hold outdoor meetings. The simplest folk he loved the best, as being most like himself, saying that of such is the kingdom of heaven. He is said to have had the spirit of prophecy, and both during his life and after his death to have been renowned for many miracles”

Then there was Francis Blomefield who, in his History of Norfolk (volume 4), adds to this description that Caister was “a man of greatest learning and what was exceedingly remarkable in those days, a constant preacher of God’s word in English to his parishioners”.

Religious Dissent in the 14th and 15th Centuries:
Caister lived in a turbulent period in the life of the Church in England, for there existed a particular element of non-conformist thought, known of today as “Lollardy“; this movement became increasingly powerful across England in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. The book “Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards (1395)” indicates a set of ideas held in common at the time, and strongly criticises clerical practice, the doctrine of transubstantiation, pilgrimage, plus rejecting the necessity of the mediation of God’s forgiveness through the Church via confession of sins to a priest. However, at the heart of Lollardy was the insistence for access to the scriptures in the English language – not Latin.

Richard Caister (Thomas Arundel)
Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury. Copy of a 15th century portrait. Image: Lambeth Palace.

Thomas Arundel (1353 – 19 February 1414) was an English clergyman who served as Lord Chancellor during the reign of Richard II, as well as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1397 and from 1399 until his death, an outspoken opponent of the Lollards. In 1409 he promulgated a piece of ecclesiastical legislation, called the ‘Constitutions’ which was designed to establish control over religious thought and speech in England; it established controls over access to the scriptures in the English language:

“No one should translate any text of holy scripture on his own authority into the English language or any other under pain of excommunication, until that translation was approved by the local diocesan council”.

Alongside this, the Constitutions outlawed the criticism of clergy in the context of sermons and limited the topics upon which clergy could educate their parishioners. In a very influential essay Nicholas Watson argued that the goal of Arundel’s Constitutions was to restrict the development of religious thought in the English language; this led to the ‘watering-down’ of a growing and creative tradition of vernacular theology in England, as represented by Julian of Norwich.

Richard Caister (Love's Mirror)2
The ‘Mirror of the Blessed Jesus. This version printed by William Caxton, Westminster: circa. 1490. Image: University of Glasgow.

Then there was the 15th century Nicholas Love; the Carthusian prior of Mount Grace Priory. He translated and adapted Pseudo-Bonaventure’s ‘Meditations on the Life of Christ’ into English and named it ‘Mirror of the Blessed Jesus (1410)’. His was not merely a translation of one of the most popular Latin works of Franciscan devotion on the life and passion of Christ, but an expanded version with additions against the John Wycliffite (Lollard). Specifically, Love argued that Latin was the true language of theological thought and spiritual devotion. As such, the lay person remained in an unchangeable state of dependency on the Latin-speaking clergy. His version was submitted to Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, around the year 1410 for approval. This submission was in accordance with strictures that forbade any new biblical translation written since the time of John Wycliffe, “in any form whatsoever, unless the translation was submitted to the local bishop for approval.” Arundel not merely approved the ‘Mirror of the Blessed Jesus’, but commanded its propagation; the work survives in sixty-four manuscripts; nineteen of these contain a note of Arundel’s official approval along with a note that this work is a “confutation of heretics or lollards”. Love’s work appears to have been the most popular new piece of literature in 15th-century England and was published at least ten times between 1484 and 1606. It provides an instructive insight into the character of the Church at the time, in contrast to which Richard Caister’s own ‘Metrical Prayer’ can be better understood. In short, it is a fascinating document written at that turbulent time and does, arguably, contains some themes consistent with Lollardy.

Richard Caister (Henry_le_Despenser)
Henry le Despenser (c.1341-1406) a 14th-century carving of him on a misericord in a chancel stall in St. Margaret’s Church, King’s Lynn. Photo: Wikipedia.

Lollardy was particularly influential in Norfolk at the turn of the 15th century. The Bishop of Norwich, the then Henry le Despenser, was also a fierce an opponent of Lollardy. According to Thomas Walsingham, (Rolls Series, Vol. ii., p.188):

“He swore, and did not repent, that if any of that perverse sect [Lollards] should presume to preach in his diocese, he should either be given to the flames or deprived of his head”.

The Legacy of Richard Caister:
Richard Caister was closely associated with the linguist, philosopher and theologian John Wycliffe who was an important influence on Lollardy and is thought of as a forerunner of Protestantism in England. Then there was Bishop John Bale (himself a man with strong protestant sympathies) who, in his work ‘Illustrious Writers of Great Britain’ (printed c1549-1559), wrote:

Richard Caister (John Bale)
John ‘Bilious’ Bale. Image: Wikipedia.

“Richard Caister, of the County of Norfolk, and coming from near Norwich itself, a man learned and pious for his age, and Vicar at the Church of St Stephen in that City, [he was] called ‘the Good’, lead an apostolic and innocent life in great simplicity of spirit. Miracles are narrated of this man, but many are void of all truth. Nevertheless, he was distinguished for remarkable sanctity and a prophetic spirit. He favoured the Wycliffite (or rather the Christian) doctrine strongly, but secretly, for fear of the Papists, having had experience of their tyranny in others.  The scandalous example of the clergy he deplored with humble reproof in sermons, since otherwise he was not able to cure it. Many other proofs of piety did the good man display, and amongst other things he wrote in his native tongue”.

Richard Caister (John Wycliffe)
John Wycliffe. Image: Wikimedia.

Whether or not Richard Caister really held Wycliffite views is not clear. In the case of Bishop Bale, (who was quite partisan towards Protestantism and could stretch his views of people towards his own ways of thinking), Richard Caister’s own Metrical Prayer does indicate, at least, some sympathy with ideas associated with Wycliffe and Lollardy; but, of course, did not suffer the same fate as others in the Diocese of Norwich who were more explicitly loyal to Wycliffe’s thought, such as William Sawtrey, and payed the price!

Richard Caister (William Sawtre)

THE END

Sources on which this Blog was based:
https://www.ststephensnorwich.org

The Story of Richard Caister


https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-4349
https://www.juliancentre.org/about/about-julian-of-norwich.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margery_Kempe#Pilgrimage
https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Lollardy
https://philpapers.org/rec/WATCAC-4
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wycliffe
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bale
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Sawtrey
https://www.networknorwich.co.uk/Articles/558444/Network_Norwich_and_Norfolk/Regional_News/Norwich/Events_mark_6th_centenary_of_Norwich_medieval.aspx

6. Christmas: Wassailing!

Anglo-Saxon tradition dictated that at the beginning of each year, the lord of the manor would greet the assembled multitude with the toast waes hael, meaning “be well” or “be in good health”, to which his followers would reply drink hael, or “drink well”, and so the New Year celebrations would start with a glass or two, or perhaps even a drop more! It is likely that such celebrations were being enjoyed many years before Christianity began to spread throughout Britain from around 600 onwards.

Wassailing1

Depending upon the area of the country where you lived, the wassail drink itself would generally consist of a warmed ale, wine or cider, blended with spices, honey and perhaps an egg or two, all served in one huge bowl and passed from one person to the next with the traditional “wassail” greeting.

The Wassailing celebrations generally take place on the Twelfth Night, 5th January, however the more traditional still insist in celebrating it on ‘Old Twelvey’, or the 17th January, the correct date; that is before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar messed things up in 1752.

There are two distinct variations of wassailing. One involves groups of merrymakers going from one house to another, wassail bowl in hand, singing traditional songs and generally spreading fun and good wishes. The other form of wassailing is generally practiced in the countryside, particularly in fruit growing regions, where it is the trees that are blessed.

Wassailing2

The practice of house-wassailing continued in England throughout the Middle Ages, adapting as a way by which the feudal lord of the manor could demonstrate charitable seasonal goodwill to those who served him, by gifting money and food in exchange for the wassailers blessing and songs;

“Love and joy come to you,
and to you your wassail to;
and God bless you and send you
a happy New Year.”

The house-wassailing tradition has evolved into what we now recognise as carolling, where groups of people go from door-to-door singing Christmas carols. Some aspects of the original practise however can still be detected in the words of these carols; listen carefully as the wassailers demands begin, “now give us some figgy pudding”, and then as those demands turn to threats “and we won’t go until we’ve got some”.

Wassailing3

The wassailing, or blessing of the fruit trees, involves drinking and singing to the health of the trees in the hope that they will provide a bountiful harvest in the autumn. This ancient custom is still practised across the country today, and is particularly popular in the cider producing areas of England, such as Somerset, Devon, Herefordshire, Kent and Sussex.

The celebrations vary from region to region, but generally involve a wassail King and Queen leading the assembled group of revellers, comprising the farmers, farm workers and general villagers, in a noisy procession from one orchard to the next. In each orchard the wassailers gather round the biggest and best tree, and as a gift to the tree spirits, the Queen places a piece of wassail soaked toast into its branches, accompanied by songs such as;

“Apple tree, apple tree we all come to wassail thee,
Bear this year and next year to bloom and blow,
Hat fulls, cap fulls, three cornered sacks fills…”

The wassailers then move on to the next orchard; singing, shouting, banging pots and pans, and even firing shotguns, generally making as much noise as possible in order to both waken the sleeping tree spirits, and also to frighten off any evil demons that may be lurking in the branches.

THE END

Source:
https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Wassailing/
Photo used for Feature Heading is via Wikipedia

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ and ‘non-profit making Site which publishes items which are considered deserving of wider exposure. In pursuing this aim, the Group endeavours, where possible, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. Nevertheless, please rest assured that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to sources, are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is ever intentional.