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their masters, and the holiday is devoted to looking on at the
cock-fights in the morning, after which in the afternoon the
whole youth of the city goes into the suburban level ", as he
calls Smithfield, for " a solemn game of ball ", presumably foot-
ball. " Each school has its own ball " ; and nearly all the
holders of civic offices each provide one. " The grown-up
people, the fathers and rich men of the city come on horseback
to see the struggles of the young, and grow young with them ;
and get hot with excitement, by looking on at so much exer-


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cise, and share the enjoyments of the free-born youth ". We
are also told how, when it freezes, the boys and the whole
population go out and skate on Smithfield marshes, on those
bone skates of which many specimens may be seen in the
British Museum and at York. " On summer evenings ", on
the other hand, " the schoolboys and other young men of the
city go out to take the air at the three principal suburban
springs, where the transparent stream goes bubbling over the
bright pebbles, namely Holywell, Clerkenwell and St. Clement's
Well ", just as the modern youth resorts to the river at Rich-
mond or Hampton Court. Clerkenwell, in particular, took its
name from this resort of the clerks or scholars, just as did the
Pr6 aux clercs at Paris, the Smithfield of that city.

Nor was the inclination of boys to succulent food neglected.
When in 1142, the canons of St. Paul's were called on to
meet a claim for alleged unpaid purchase money of certain
lands in the city, and executed a solemn deed before the
Sheriff, the Alderman and beadle of the ward, to whom various
fees were paid, to prevent such a claim being made again, the
schoolboys, who were called in as witnesses to the purchase,
were given " 3d. to buy cherries".

Stow in his Survey (p. 73) unfortunately threw the history
of London schools into hopeless confusion by guessing that
the other two schools of London besides St. Paul's were those
of Westminster and Bermondsey. He was of course followed
by other writers. Stow guessed the first, because of the tale
of Ingulphus as a Westminster schoolboy and Queen Edith
in the forged Croyland Chronicle, and the second, because, as
he says, Bermondsey was the only other monastery in or near
London then founded. But if he had stuck to his text he
would have seen that both were impossible, as neither of them
were in the then London but far outside it ; while there is no
trace at any time of a school at Bermondsey, which was well
outside even the borough of South wark, and none at West-
minster before the fourteenth century, of which hereafter. Stow
had not access as we have to the statutes of St. Paul's made
in 1243-54 by Dean Henry of Cornhill, and in 1294-1304
by Dean Ralph Baldock, or he would have found the two
other privileged schools mentioned by name. In the earlier
statutes it is said of the Chancellor, " All scholars living in the


city are under him, except those of a school of the Arches and
of a school in the Basilica of St Martin's-le-Grand, who claim
that they are privileged in those and other matters ". In the
later statutes the same words are repeated with the illuminating
difference that instead of the schools being in the singular they
are in the plural " except the scholars of the schools of the
Arches and of St. Martin-le-Grand ".

We find the latter school appearing on 24 August, 1298,
in the city records when John the cap-maker of Fleet Street
entered into a recognizance to Master Hugh of Wytington,
schoolmaster (magistro scolarum) of St. Martin's-le-Grand for
payment of 8 at Michaelmas year. This recognizance was
cancelled at some unspecified date when Master John, brother
and executor of Master Hugh, acknowledged that he had been
satisfied of the debt. It would appear from the words of the
earlier statute that the school was held actually in the church.
But by 1368 we find it outside the church in the precinct.
For the church, we are told in letters patent of William of
Mulsho, Dean, 23 January, 1367, confirmed by King Edward
III, 25 November, 1368, had been with its bell-tower, cloister,
and other necessary buildings blown down and totally ruined
by tempest, pestilence, and other misfortunes, so that its
canons, vicars, and other ministers intended to abandon it, as
the endowment was not enough to enable it to be rebuilt,
when William of Wykeham, then dean, came to the rescue,
" moved by its sanctity as being among the other (royal)
chapels of the realm, the most devout and ancient, founded
and endowed by kings of England, and placed in the most
commanding part of the city of London, and rebuilt it of his
own substance, and erected it into a new form of wondrous
beauty, adorned with carvings of stone and laid the founda-
tions deep in the bosom of the earth and intended to consum-
mate the same in wondrous wise at immense expense ". Stirred
by Wykeham's example, Joan of Hemenhale, rich widow of a
mercer, founded and endowed a chantry in the college, and
the chantry priest was assigned for his lodging " the seler
situated above the school within the close of the chapel on the
East side ". At the same time an order was made for another
benefaction, given by Thomas of Ousefleet, a former dean,
under which a mark was distributed at his Obit among the


canons, vicars, and other ministers of the church, including the
schoolmaster. The school was still flourishing in 1 394 and
in 1446, when its privileges were attacked along with those of
the other two privileged schools. Presumably it went on till
the college, having been annexed to Westminster Abbey by
Henry VII, fell with the abbey in 1540.

The school of the Arches, or St. Mary-le-Bow, appears
several times in the Archiepiscopal Registers at Lambeth.
Archbishop Winchelsea interfered on 25 September, 1309, in
a dispute as to the appointment of the master. Master John,
rector of the grammar school (scolarum gramaticalium) of the
Church of the Blessed Mary-le-Bow, said that he had been ap-
pointed master by the dean of the church, the Dean of Arches,
" to whom by ancient and hitherto peacefully observed
custom " the appointment was well known to belong. But
after he had quietly ruled the school, the Official Principal, the
superior of the dean and supreme judge of the ecclesiastical
court, " wishing to change the custom " had removed Master
John and appointed Master Robert Cotoun. The archbishop
told his Official to replace Master John. On 23 March, 1383,
we find Archbishop Courtney himself, probably because the
deanery was vacant at the time, appointing his beloved son,
William Poklynton, clerk, " to the teaching and governance of
the grammar school of the deanery of the Arches ". But the
record is cancelled in the manuscript. Archbishop Arundel,
however, on 4 October, 1399, also committed the teaching and
governance of the grammar school of the Arches to Master
Thomas Barym, master in grammar ; the earliest evidence it is
believed of the existence of a degree in grammar, as distinct
from that in arts. It is curious that Stow misinterpreted a
subsequent confirmation of the privilege of this school by
Henry VI in 1446, which expressly mentions it as a school in
the Church of St. Mary-le-Bow, as being its foundation : " In this
parish ", he says, "a grammar school was kept by commandment
of Henry VI, in a house for that purpose prepared in the church-
yard. But that school being decayed the schoolhouse was let
out for a rent in the reign of King Henry VIII for 43. a year, a
cellar for 2s. a year and two vaults underneath the church for 153.
the two." Perhaps it had then been superseded by the better-
endowed school of St. Anthony's Hospital founded in 1446.


It is rather remarkable that Fitzstephen does not mention
among the schoolboys' amusements the ceremony of the boy-
bishop or St. Nicholas ; probably because they had not in
Becket's boyhood obtained the vogue they enjoyed from the
middle of the twelfth century. The feast of St. Nicholas was
a most important day in the school life of the Middle Ages,
mixed up as it came to be with the earlier celebration, handed
down from Roman times, of the Saturnalia in December
and of the Kalends on New Year's Day, in Christian circles
known as the Feast of Innocents. This feast was only one
and the last but, as it turned out, by no means the least, es-
pecially in England, of a series of feasts which lasted from
1 6 December to 6 January, and took on their maddest,
merriest mood on Christmas Day and the three days follow-
ing it, and became known as the Feast of Fools, the Feast of
Asses and the Boy-bishop.

In the festivities, which centred round the boy-bishop, the
medieval schoolboy found the relaxation and reaction which
were to compensate him for the restraint and repression of
the year. Santa Claus and Father Christmas and the panto-
mime which delights the modern schoolboy are direct de-
scendants from the performances of the boy-bishop. Yet the
very existence of that functionary, though he existed in Eng-
land down to 1557, came to be quite forgotten.

The whole of Christmas time from the day of O Sapientia,
1 6 December, was given up to festivity. In the monasteries
the various officers of the convents celebrated their " O's " on
successive days by a series of feasts. These feasts were called
O's because at vespers on these days the anthems all began
with O. Thus on the i8th at Winchester Cathedral the
Gardener appropriately celebrated his O with the anthem, " O
root of Jesse". Though commonly supposed to be peculiar to
monasteries, the same practice was observed, and had no doubt
been originated by the clergy of the cathedral and college
churches. Thus a special statute was made at St. Paul's in
1263 that the " OOO against Christmas should no longer be
kept". The bursars' dinner at All Souls' College, formerly
held on 19 December, and the New College dinner on 23
December, are the lingering survivals of these " O's ".

Christmas of course was kept with much feasting, and the


fun was fast and furious. The next three days were given
up to the three orders in the church. Boxing Day, the day
of St. Stephen, the proto-martyr, who was a deacon, was the
deacons' day. On Christmas Day after vespers a proces-
sion was formed, in which the deacons appeared in silk
copes, like priests, carrying lighted tapers, and the proces-
sion, after going round the church, went to the altar of
St. Stephen, if there was one, a deacon taking the staff of
the ruler of the choir, and acting as precentor, and three
deacons chanting the " verse " and " prose ". On St.
Stephen's Day itself the deacons performed the priests' parts
in the service. At vespers on 27 December a lord of fools
was elected by the deacons. The Te Deum was sung, and
he was then " chaired ", or carried on the shoulders of his com-
panions, to the common room, where the rest of the staff of
the church were drinking. " At his entry all rise, even the
Lord Bishop, if there, and with due reverence fruit, spices, and
wines are given him. When the drinking is done they
proceed to perform divine service". In the course of it, the
two sides of the choir gradually sang higher and higher, trying
to shout each other down. Service done, they " make a
rush " into the streets, and " process " through the town,
"visiting" the people and levying contributions. In 1236
Bishop Grosseteste of Lincoln, though we have evidence that
he had himself when an undergraduate at Oxford performed
the part of " lord of misrule," thundered against the vicars of
the choir of the Minster for their Feast of Fools, with its plays
and maskings. He thundered in vain. For in 1390 Arch-
bishop Courtney after an archiepiscopal visitation there ob-
jected that on i January, " the vicars and clerks, dressed like
laymen, laughed, shouted and acted plays which they commonly
and fitly call The Feast of Fools ", and he ordered them to stop it
together with their public drinkings in the church. A sarcas-
tic person has written in the margin of the Chapter Act Book,
in which the order appears, " Harrow barrow. Here goes the
Feast of Fools (Hie subducitur festum stultorum)"

The subdeacons gave even a rowdier turn to their celebra-
tion. The ruling idea of the Roman Saturnalia and Kalends
of January feasts was imported with its inversion of status, the
subversion of society, the slave becoming the master and the


master the slave. The subordinate members of the choir sat
in tha seats and performed the functions of their superiors,
and burlesqued them. We know what they did chiefly from
the denunciations with which the more puritanical authorities
from time to time tried, mostly in vain, to put down their
performances. They rang the bells jangled, sang out of
tune, the two sides of the choir trying to howl each other
down, said a burlesque mass, preached a sham sermon, put on
their vestments inside out, censed the altar and the choir with
incense made of black puddings and sausages or out of old
shoes, even sang ribald and indecent songs, played dice on the
altar, ran and danced indecently in the streets, sometimes
dressed as women or with monstrous masks, and wound up
with an uproarious supper.

On St. John the Evangelist's Day the priests had their
turn ; gave a mock blessing, and proclaimed a ribald form of

On the Eve of Innocents' Day the priests gave way to
" the children," that is, the schoolboys and the choir boys,
whence its name of Childermas. In The Medieval Stage Mr.
E. K. Chambers quotes as the earliest mention of the boys'
celebration, the Festum puerorum, one from Switzerland in
991, when King Conrad was spending Christmas with Solo-
mon, Bishop of Constance, and went over to the monastery
of St. Gall hard by, to see the sports with which the monks
passed the three days and nights of Christmas, especially the
procession of the children (infantuni), not as Mr. Chambers
supposes the boys of a public song school, but the oblates
or boy novices. The King was much impressed by their
discipline, for when a heap of apples had been placed in
the middle of the church in front of them, not one even of the
smallest went up to it or even paid any attention to it.
However, a much earlier notice of these celebrations occurs
in England at the end of the seventh century when, as we
have seen, Aldhelm wrote to Haeddi, the Bishop of Win-
chester, to express his regret that he could not get there for
Christmas and dance with the brethren (Natalis Domini
solemnitatem . . . tripudians celebrare). A Winchester Tropar
written before 980 gives the songs sung by the three orders
of deacons, priests, and boys, the former on the day of St.


Stephen the protomartyr, 26th, the priests on the day of the
protopriest, St. John the Evangelist, 27th, and the boys on
Holy Innocents' Day, the 28th. The latter began with an ex-
cellent hexameter, " Psallite nunc Christo pueri dicente pro-
pheta" " Hymn ye now Christ, ye boys, in the well-known
words of the prophet ".

At first the boys' service was a solemn celebration of the
Slaughter of the Innocents by Herod. At some time towards
the end of the eleventh or beginning of the twelfth century
the cult of St. Nicholas of Myra was introduced from the East
and antedated the Boys' Feast by transferring the beginning
of it from Innocents' Day to his day, 6 December.

This probably imaginary saint, from various episodes in his
career, had a varied clientele, being patron of seamen, thieves,
marriageable maidens, children, more particularly schoolboys,
clerks and scholars. He was par excellence " Bishop " Nicholas,
because when the Bishop of Myra died, and the canons were
assembled in the church to elect his successor, and could not
agree, some one had the happy inspiration of taking the
first " man in the street," and going to the church door found
the pious and early-rising Nicholas, then a layman, coming to
the church to hear matins; whereon he was made bishop.
His patronage of children, which has given him the honour of
Protestant celebrity as Santa Claus and Father Christmas, is
attributed to the ascetic sanctity of his babyhood, which led
him, as the service on his day is never tired of repeating, while
still a long-clothes baby, to abstain from more than one meal
on Wednesdays and Fridays, O nova res, quarta feria et sexta
tantum semel in die papillas bibebat. His connexion with
schoolboys and scholars is due to the story of his resurrection
of three boys or youths who on their way to Athens University
had been murdered in a hotel in Myra by the host. The
bishop saw in a vision their dismembered bodies, cut up and
hidden in a pickle-tub. He went to the inn, charged the host,
who confessed, and called on the boys to come out of the tub,
which they did. As related by Wace, the twelfth-century
poet of the Norman Conquest, the story runs in modern
spelling :


Trois clercs allaient a 1'dcole

(N'en ferai mie grande parole)

Leur hflte par unit les oscit J

Leurs corps meussa, 2 1'avoir en prit.

St. Nicholas par Dieu le sail,

S'empresse, fut 1 si comme Dieu plait.

Les clercs a I'h6te demanda, si la mostra

Ne peut musser, St. Nicholas fait sa priere :

Les ames [re]mit aux corps arriere.

Parceque aux clercs [il] fit tel honneur,

Font les clercs fete en ce jour,

De bien lire, de bien chanter,

Et de miracles reciter.

Hence St. Nicholas is often shown with three boys in a
tub, the tub having no connexion with washing (with which
the medieval schoolboy had but little to do), but being the
pickle-tub in which the saint found the boys' bodies. The seal
of Pocklington Grammar School still a flourishing institution
founded in the fifteenth century in connexion with a gild
of St. Nicholas, represents one of the boys just getting his first
leg out of the tub, at the fortunate appearance of the bishop
in full pontificals. There was a "boom " in St. Nicholases in
the eleventh century, owing to some Italian merchants having
stolen his bones and " translated " them to Bari in South Italy,
where divers miracles were performed. In the first part of
the twelfth century it was so great that Dean Kitchin has been
able to show that the so-called " Norman" font in Winchester
Cathedral, on which his story is carved, was only one of a
dozen others all representing the same story, and all turned out
from the same factory near Tournay. Some of the earliest plays,
written in the twelfth century, are founded on the incidents in
his career. He came in handy for the boys' holidays, while the
plays instituted under his auspices outlasted his own memory.

Though elected on St. Nicholas' Eve, the boy-bishop did
not officiate, after St. Nicholas' Day, till after Christmas. On
the evening of St. John's Day at vespers at the words in the
Magnificat, " He hath put down the mighty from their seat,
and hath exalted the humble and meek " Deposuit potentes,
as it was shortly called the bishop or dean (at Winchester
College no doubt the warden) descended from his stall, which
was at once occupied by the boy-bishop in full pontificals,
while his dean, archdeacons, and other dignitaries, and canons,

1 Killed (?) a Hid.



all boys, attired in the characters of those they represented,
were exalted to the upper stalls. In the procession, the
usual order was reversed. The canons went first, the boys,
with the boy-bishop last, brought up the rear. At St.
Paul's it had been the custom for the boy-bishop to appoint
the real dignitaries and canons as candle-holders and incense-
bearers, and to perform the other tasks usually done by
choristers, acolytes or clerks. In 1263 this was forbidden, and
those of the second or third form, i.e. real acolytes or clerks,
were to be selected for these offices. But at Salisbury the
Processional, even up to the sixteenth century, prescribed that,
for the procession, the boys were to write on the table of the day
the names of the canons to minister, the greater to be incense-
bearers and book -bearers, and the lesser to carry the candles.
The copes and vestments of the boy-bishop and his canons
were no mere stage properties. In an inventory of the
treasures of St. Paul's in 1295 are " a mitre embroidered with
flowers for the use of the Bishop of the little ones ; a pastoral
staff, whose curve and pommel is of copper gilt, with many
vines and images, assigned for the use of the Bishop of the
little ones ". In a later inventory, there was " a new white
mitre with an orphrey " or golden fringe, and twenty-eight copes
and mantles for the boys, but these were getting worn out.
At York, in 1321, the Master of the Works gave " a gold ring
with a great stone for the Bishop of the Innocents ". In 1491
the boy-bishop's pontifical was mended with silver-gilt. At
Winchester College the inventory contained " a mitre of cloth
of gold of the gift of the Lord Founder, with trappings of
silver gilt of the gift of one of the fellows, for the Boys'
Bishop, and a pastoral staff of copper gilt for the same ". At
Wykeham's Oxford College, where the boy-bishop, was prob-
ably a chorister, and not a scholar, the mitre was of bawde-
kin only. In the household of the Earl of Northumberland,
who had his own chapel staff and grammar school in his
household, there was for the boy-bishop a mitre well garnished
with gold and precious stones, a cross with staff of copper gilt
with image of St. Nicholas in the midst, a stained cloth of the
image of St. Nicholas, and a gorgeous set of vestments in red
with lions of silver and birds of gold on the orphreys. When
Archbishop Rotherham made his will in 1481 he gave to the


College of Jesus, which he had founded at Rotherham in
imitation of Eton and Winchester, for the " barnes' bishop "
i.e. " bairns' bishop " a mitre of cloth of gold, with two
silver enamelled knoppes.

To return to the ceremonies of Childermas Eve. The boy-
bishop being arrayed, he and his procession marched to the
altar of St. Nicholas, when there was one, or, if not, some other
saint, e.g. at Salisbury that of the Trinity and All Saints, the
boy-bishop beginning the chant, taken from Revelations,
" 144,000 who were bought from earth, the first-fruits of God
and the Lamb" an odd adaptation implying that 144,000
babies were killed by Herod in a small village near Bethlehem.
Then three boys sang a "verse", a continuation of the same
passage from Revelations : " These were bought of all, quia
non inquinati sunt cum mulieribus, virgines enim permanserunt.
Therefore they reign with God and the Lamb with them.
They follow the Lamb wherever he goes." The boy-bishop,
like a real bishop, " censed " the altar and the image of the
saint. The boy-precentor began the anthem of St. Mary.
Then the boy-bishop took his seat, and said the verse :
" Thou art beautiful in form beyond the sons of men ", a verse
repeated by the choir to him, words which called for the
requirement, in the York Minster Statutes, that the boy-bishop
was to be the senior boy " so long as he was sufficiently good-
looking ". " Afterwards ", the rubric runs, " let the boy-bishop
bless the people in this form : the cross-bearer takes the boy-
bishop's staff, and turning to him, begins this anthem : ' Prince
of the Church, Shepherd of the sheepfold, vouchsafe to bless
thy people ' ; then turning to the people, says : ' With
gentleness and charity humble yourselves for the blessing '.
Then he hands the boy-bishop his staff, and he, first crossing
himself on the forehead, says : ' Our help is in the name of
the Lord ' ; then turning to the clergy he lifts his staff, and
says : ' I sign you with the sign of the cross '. Then turning to
the people : ' Our help be ' (turning to the altar) 'in Him who
has bought us and redeemed us ' (placing his hand on his breast
'with the price of His flesh'." Afterwards the boy-bishop
began compline like the priest, and after compline delivered
the blessing : " Almighty God bless you, Father, Son, and
Holy Ghost ".


Supper followed. At St. Paul's the boy-bishop might
choose whichever of the canons he pleased to sup with, but by

Online LibraryArthur Francis LeachThe schools of medieval England → online text (page 15 of 39)