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only that " by ancient custom " fourteen boys ought to be kept
in the Almonry and there were then only eight. The monks
at this time had a complete contempt for learning, as in 1514
the same bishop had found that they had no grammar school
for the young monks, but only a Master Wheteacre, who
taught grammar twice a week, that a monk named Dersham,
instead of attending the school " pursued other arts ", and that
the monks generally, as soon as they had been ordained priests,
gave up study altogether. In 1535 there were "13 boys
yearly living in the monastery to be taught in the grammar
school, called 'Le Almery Scole,' out of charity (ex elemosina\
at the rate of 26s. 8d. each for living and clothing, with 2
135. 4d. for the wages of a master to teach them, and 2Os. a
year for the wages of a servant waiting on them ". It is stated
that this school was "so founded of Hilbert, formerly bishop,
founder of the monastery by his own charity," meaning, ap-
parently, Herbert de Lozinga, the first Bishop of Norwich.
But this is romance.

At Ely Cathedral Priory, an organ was first made in 1396
in the south part of the church, at a cost of 4 8s. 5d. In
1407 a layman taught the Precentor's clerk to play the organ
for 303. a year. Choristers appear in 1409, when a singer
taught "the boys" at a salary of los. a quarter. It was not
till 1448 that the Prior licensed one John Downham, junior, to
teach grammar in a grammar school within the monastery,
and nowhere else, to five Almonry boys, and perform Divine
service three days a week in the Almonry chapel, and three
days in the Lady chapel, and on Sundays and feast days,
where the Prior chose ; and also to teach the younger brethren
(monks) for an hour and a half before Tierce every day. For
the Almonry boys the master received 1 6s. 8d. a year, and
for the rest a monk's loaf and a gallon of the best ale foaming
(sub spume?) every day, a monk's mess from the kitchen daily,

15



226 THE SCHOOLS OF MEDIEVAL ENGLAND

and pittances when the monks had them, a gown of the best
cloth, a chamber and 173. 4d. in silver. So that the employ-
ment of the Almonry schoolmaster for the double duty of
teaching the charity boys and the young monks themselves
was a cheap way of complying with the insistent demands
made during the fifteenth century by episcopal visitors for the
education of the monks.

Another illustration of this is found at Evesham Abbey,
where the Bishop of Worcester, John Alcock, founder of Jesus
College, Cambridge, and of Hull Grammar School, appropriated
by deed of 6 July, 1462, the parish church of Eyford (which,
it is stated, had no parishioners) to the monks to enable them
to " have a master or informer (informator, the official title of
the masters of Winchester and Eton) in grammar, or in the
other primitive sciences, very necessary and much in request to
teach the monks, especially the novices, and other boys and
youths in the said monastery". These "other boys" were
the Almonry boys who, according to the Valor of 1535, were
only six in number, and cost " on food, livery, and other clothes
6", and a partiof the further sum of 25 spent "on alms
... for the . . . poor in the house of the Almoner . . . viz.
Tfrth of the bread baked in it or bought for it, and the tenth
gallon or collection of beer brewed there or bought for it ".

A witness in an Exchequer suit under Queen Elizabeth in
1582 says that at Furness Abbey in Lancashire, where the
abbot ruled almost a principality of his own, some children of
the tenants of whom he was one were educated and boarded
in the abbey, and a grammar and song school kept in it.

That St. Augustine's Abbey, Bristol, had its quota of Al-
monry boys appears from an account produced to the Bishop
of Worcester on a visitation in 1493, in which a payment
occurs to John Austin, vicar of St. Augustine the Less, of
133. 4d. "for teaching the junior canons and other boys in the
grammar school in the abbey", and 35. 4d. " more for his diet
for doing so ". The number must have been very small.

At St. Peter's Abbey, Gloucester, now the cathedral, the
first-known mention of anything like an Almonry school is on
1 6 April, 1515, when John Tucke, B.A., was granted a salary
of 6, 3 paid by the cellarer, 3 by the master of the [Lady]
chapel, with a gown, two cartloads of fuel, two courses at



THE ALMONRY OR CHORISTERS' SCHOOLS 227

dinner the same as a monk, and one " myech " loaf and one
gallon of beer a day, in the chapel house where the singers
dine with the boys. For this he was to teach the junior
monks and thirteen boys in the clerks' chamber the science of
grammar, and also five or six boys who were apt for it plain
and divided or broken song and discant, and with these boys
to sing the Blessed Virgin's anthem daily, and on Saturdays
the antiphon of the name of Jesus, and on Sundays and Saints'
days to play the organ at vespers and high mass. It is clear
that, so far as grammar was concerned, this was an elementary
sort of teaching, and the choir boys were the main object.
There may have been an earlier provision for the Almonry
boys, if not for their education. In the Valor Ecclesiasticus
the monks had the audacity to attribute the institution to the
ordinance of King Barnulph of Mercia.

At Tewkesbury Abbey, according to the Valor Ecclesiasti-
cus of 1535, the Almoner paid " in alms distributed to certain
poor scholars to the number of 16, as in woollen cloth to
clothe them, 7 135. 4d. ; and to certain poor boys in the
same office (the Almonry), limited by the ordinance of founda-
tion as well in eatables and drinkables and other necessaries
as in maintenance (exhibicione) of the same boys at school (ad
studium) in ordinary years, .3 Us. 8d.". The wording leads
to the inference that these boys, though lodged, boarded, and
clothed, were not taught in the Almonry, but sent to the public
grammar school of the town. How old the ordinance was
which provided for this we are not told.

In the neighbouring abbey of Winchcombe, the date of a
similar ordinance is known and it was only fourteen years old.
The Valor shows "In alms and payments by foundation of
the lady Jane Huddilston, relict of Sir John Huddilston,
knight, yearly to the master of the Grammar School of Winch-
combe, to the master of the boys singing in the monastery and
for the maintenance of 6 boys in the said monastery being in-
structed and taught in the art of grammar and in song " with
payments for obits and the poor, " 21 6s. 8d. ". This founda-
tion was by a deed of 13 September, 1521. Lady Huddilston
gave the abbots of Winchcombe and Hailes 400 to buy lands
of the value stated, out of which a schoolmaster was to keep
a Free Grammar School, and to receive 6 133. 4d. a year, a



228 THE SCHOOLS OF MEDIEVAL ENGLAND

gown or i, a chamber with fuel, and meat and drink in the
monastery, the school itself being outside. The six boys
maintained in the monastery were not the grammar school
boys, but " six boys or choristers of the Blessed Mary's chapel ",
for whom the master of the Lady Chapel, a monk, paid out of
his separate estate, valued at 19 145. ?d. a year, 3 2s.,
" the price of 6 tunics and making and doubling the same, and
of 24 pairs of shoes and 1 2 shirts according to a composition
and ordinance of Richard, late abbot of the monastery, made
and confirmed under the common seal of the monastery".
This abbot was Richard of Kidderminster, who resigned in
1525, so that this Almonry school was one of the latest.

At Winchester the introduction of Almonry boys was
probably due to William of Wykeham. Five years after he
founded his college there, at a visitation of the Cathedral
Priory, he rebuked the monks for their ignorance of Latin, and
consequent false quantities in singing and reading and per-
verting the meaning of scripture, and commanded the Prior to
provide a grammar master for the " novices and others not
adequately learned". On 29 September, 1402, the Prior's
Register shows the appointment of John Dyes to serve for
twenty years in the daily Lady Mass at the Virgin's altar,
singing and playing the organ, and on high days in the choir,
"he shall also teach the Prior and Convent's boys, not more
than five in number, singing ". For this he was to receive a
salary of $ 6s. 8d., a furred gown of the clerks' suit and a
chamber, and dinner with the Prior whenever he played the
organ in choir. On 16 August, 1404, Wykeham formally
founded his beautiful chantry chapel in the nave, endowing it
largely, the Prior contracting that ' ' every evening the boys of our
Almonry, living on the charity (elemosinis) of our Priory, shall
sing at the chapel, in honour of the Blessed Virgin, the anthem
Salve Regina or Ave Regina, and say the psalm De Profundis
with the prayer Fidelium or Inclina ", in return for which the
Prior was to pay half a mark, 6s. 8d., for the benefit of the
boys on Lady Day. The boys of the Almonry are clearly the
same as the chorister boys to whom John Dyes was teaching
singing. Under Wykeham's successor, Cardinal Beaufort, the
Prior, in asking the bishop to send back one Robert Bygbroke,
a secular priest, whom he had taken from the cathedral for his



own chapel choir, describes Bygbroke as song-master of the
boys and organist and their best singer, " of no great mark
among the nightingales of your lovely choir but necessary to
us country-folk, in whose absence the choir of psalm-singers is
mutilated, the melody of the organ silent and your church in
danger of derision ". So that the choir-monks by this time
were even incapable of adequately conducting the services, the
performance of which was the primary object of their existence.
In 1482, when Edmund Pynbrygge was appointed song-
master, the salary was raised to 6 1 33. 4d., the " boys of the
Prior and Convent", whom he was to teach in "chant and
discant", being now increased to eight. On his retirement
with a pension of 4 6s. 8d., his successor in 1511 reverted to
the old salary of .5 6s. 8d., though the boys, now called
"boys of the Lady chapel", had crept up to "not more than
10". In 1538 the next song-master, Matthew Fuller, syngyng
man, received only 4 6s. 8d., but the " boys of the chapel "
were reduced to eight. This seems to have been because the
bulk of the teaching of the boys had been transferred to
another and higher teacher. In 1497 Master Peter Druett,
M.A., had been appointed to " inform the monks in grammar,
but no secular boys at the same time without special leave ".
In 1510 Master William Porthous, clerk, combined teaching
the young monks " dialectic ", or logic, with being physician
to the Prior and Convent. In December, 1538, under the
stress of the Cromwellian injunctions, John Potinger, who was
Second Master of the College, succeeded Druett as master, to
teach grammar not only to the young monks, but also to "the
chyldren of the chapell " and " the chyldren of the Almery ".
This is the first indication that the choristers, or such of the
Almonry boys as were not choristers, but probably proba-
tionary choristers, were thought worthy of being taught gram-
mar. They may, however, have been sent for grammatical
instruction to the old city High School, which we know was
still flourishing in 1488, when a scholar of Winchester College
and fellow of New College was appointed to the mastership ;
it was close to the monastic precinct on the west.

There were no doubt many other monasteries which main-
tained Almonry schools, or at least Almonry boys, whom they
sent to school. Taking them all together, and putting the



230 THE SCHOOLS OF MEDIEVAL ENGLAND

average number of boys at ten for a monastery, upwards of a
thousand children of the lower classes altogether may have re-
ceived their board and lodging in the monasteries during the
last century of their existence ; and most of them learnt to
read and sing and some got a more or less good grammatical
or general education there. This of itself would perhaps
hardly justify the space devoted to the exposition of the pre-
cise facts as to these Almonry schools, were it not that there
is reason to think that the common legend that the monasteries
afforded the main provision of education in medieval times, so
far as it has any foundation in fact at all, and is not the pro-
duct of mere interested assertion by monasticizing writers, is
founded on these Almonry schools. Unfortunately a new
currency was given to this legend by the treatment, which
these schools received in the paper, which ushered in a publi-
cation, with the sounding title of Oxford Studies in Social
and Legal History, edited by Professor Vinogradoff in 1 909,
entitled " English Monasteries on the Eve of the Dissolution ",
a study of the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535. This paper was
originally published as a Russian thesis, by Alexander Savine,
Professor of History in the University of Moscow, and it is to
be regretted that it did not remain in its original language.
Though the Valor extended to all ecclesiastical revenues, not
those of monasteries only, for the purpose of ascertaining what
were the First-fruits, or first year's income, and Tenths, or 10
per cent of the yearly income, payable to the Crown, which
Parliament had recently imposed on ecclesiastical benefices in
lieu of the annates and other payments previously payable to
the Pope, the paper is limited to the monasteries, and is mainly
concerned with their estates. But in an unfortunate moment
Professor Savine set himself to estimate the amounts as dis-
closed in the Valor expended by the monks in charity and
especially on education.

This expenditure only appears in the Valor at all because
the Commissioners who took it were directed to exempt com-
pulsory alms given according to the foundation to outsiders ;
which were to be treated as an outgoing to be deducted from
gross income before arriving at the net taxable revenue accru-
ing to the monks. The Professor expresses surprise that
" the Commissioners occasionally did not recognize some ex-



THE ALMONRY OR CHORISTERS' SCHOOLS 231

penses that were most undoubtedly compulsory. For instance,
the Winchester Commissioners refused to exempt the monastic
expenditure upon poor children and poor scholars in spite of
the remonstrances of the monks, and of the fact that the
' scholar ' of those days was little better than a beggar " a
preposterously untrue generalization by the way, indeed a very
reversal of the truth. " The monks pointed out that the ex-
penditure upon poor scholars was called alms, but the Com-
missioners did not listen to them ; and Gardiner explained to
Cromwell that there was ' a great difference between the relief
of the poor and the education of children ; the poor would die
without the alms, but the children could do without a school ' ".

It sounds incredible, but it is true, that the poor children
and poor scholars mentioned were not the charity or chapel
boys in the monastery, but the scholars of Winchester College,
specifically called the " Newe College besyds Winchester " in
the record. They were, of course, no more monks or kept by
the monks than they are now. As for its scholars being little
better than beggars, one would like to know how the Says,
Cecils, Kingsmills, Phillpotts, Whites, Tichbornes, and other
county families, who contributed scions to the school at the
time, would have relished this description of their sons. The
confusion of Winchester School, with its seventy scholars and
ten commoners in college and an indefinite number of oppidans,
with the little handful of charity boys who were kept in monas-
teries, and the warden and fellows of the college with the
monks is a confusion so confounded as to show that the Pro-
fessor had not the least conception what sort of institutions
English schools were and are.

The fact is that the college, being well provided with law-
yers among its fellows, claimed exemption for every item of
their expenditure they could think of. "The seid College
askyth to be alowed of, and that notwithstandyng the Kynges
Commyssyoners (as yet) haue not alowed them ", not only the
" livery ", or gowns, of the seventy scholars, the payments for
oil and candles in their chambers, 11 i8s. 5d. for the stipend
of the schoolmaster and payments given him at obits, but also
the stipends of the warden, the fellows, the "conducts" or
chaplains, the wages of the servants, the commons or food of
the whole 122 persons living in the college, and even the feed



232 THE SCHOOLS OF MEDIEVAL ENGLAND

of the warden's eight horses (very like a beggar that scholar-
warden was : he was a brother of Lord Mayor White). They
actually claimed exemption of what they spent for the enter-
tainment of guests, because Wykeham in his statutes had en-
joined hospitality on the college. The total amount of the
allowances claimed came to over 634 a year, besides some
items not specifically estimated, out of a total gross income
of 710 a year.

Naturally the Commissioners, though they were headed by
Bishop Gardiner, who lived just opposite the College, and the
county gentlemen who had friends and relatives in it, could
not make such allowances as these. If allowed in this case,
every monk's and abbot's living would also have had to be
excluded, as their maintenance, too, was ordered by founda-
tion. Gardiner's reply was more sensible than the Professor
represents it : " The tithe of almes ... we understand it,
and have made allocations in the finding and nourishing of old
and impotent and lame men. . . . We used herein a distinc-
tion of ' finding,' which in poor and impotent men is without
other shift necessary to live by. But in children no such ne-
cessity to find them to school." It is obvious that the distinc-
tion is a real one, especially when as at Winchester College,
the children at school were themselves the college, the founda-
tion, its object and the recipients of its revenues, the very
people to be taxed. The College managed to get off a good
deal, as they were allowed " reprises in alms, fees, and other
payments " to the extent of 81 a year, while they also man-
aged to get their property grossly undervalued at 7 1 o a year
whereas in the Chantry Commission return thirteen years
later the value was shown to be .947 a year.

It is not wonderful that the Russian Professor did not
know what a " howler " he was perpetrating in thus treating
the first of the " Great Public Schools " of England as a petty
monkish charity school. Professor Vinogradoff might have
known better than to put forth in the name of his adoptive
Alma Mater such a derogatory misrepresentation of what was,
till 1854, a member of her own body, a part of the University
itself.

Professor Sa vine's further remarks on educational payments
in the Valor show that he as completely misunderstood the



THE ALMONRY OR CHORISTERS' SCHOOLS 233

Almonry schools as he did Winchester College. He remarks
that "the Commissioners do not mention schoolboys even in
those places where there was no doubt of their existence.
When the monasteries of Lilleshull, Garendon, and Ulverscroft
were suppressed, children were found there, but the Valor does
not mention them ". But the reason is plain. At Lilleshull
the children were " 4 gentylmens sones and their scolemaster ",
who, of course, were no charge on the foundation, but private
wards of the abbot, who paid him for their board and for their
education, which, it may be observed, was not given them by
the abbot or any monk, but by a private tutor hired for the
purpose, who is ranked among the servants. As likely as not
there were none there at the time of the Valor. On the other
hand, at Ulverscroft Priory in Leicester the boys were specifi-
cally described as "chyldren for the chapel there, 14", and at
Garendon as " chyldren founder of almes, 5 ", i.e. they were
choristers and charity boys kept in the almonry of the monas-
tery to wait on the canons or monks and sing in the Lady
Chapel. Being inmates of the monasteries for the comfort and
benefit of its inmates, the expenditure on them was naturally
not exempted from taxation. The Professor repeats his
wonder at the alms of St. Peter's, Gloucester, to some adult
poor being allowed, while the expenditure upon thirteen poor
schoolboys was crossed out, though the monks asserted that
they originated in ordinances by King Barnulf of Mercia. We
may give the Commissioners credit for not crediting this
precious invention.

The Professor, on the other hand, expresses his surprise
that while at Gloucester 6 135. 4d. paid to a lecturer on
divinity in the monastery was not exempted, at Worcester the
" fee of Master Roger Neckham, professor of theology, warden
of the carnary near the palace of Worcester," 10 i6s. 8d.,
which he calls " an expense in Worcester cathedral ", was ex-
empted. But the reason is that at Gloucester the lecturer was
to lecture in the monastery for the monks themselves, while at
Worcester the carnary or charnel-house was, as we saw above,
not in the cathedral or monastery at all, but was a separate
and independent institution, not monastic, but a chantry chapel
of seculars. The payment to its Warden for theological lec-
tures was charged by a definite deed of a bishop of Worcester



234 THE SCHOOLS OF MEDIEVAL ENGLAND

on the monastery, who had for greater security vested its en-
dowment in the Sacrist, and was as much an outgoing from
the monastery as any rent-charge to a secular landowner.

Professor Savine, therefore, who has been cited as the latest
authority in support of the theory that the monasteries did the
education of England, and that " in the monastic schools not
only the children of the poor but also those of gentlemen
were educated ", cannot be accepted as of any authority. He
started under the prepossession, sedulously inculcated by
Abbot Gasquet and other monkish writers, that not only would
he find a school in every monastery, but that every school he
did find was monastic, and so he made the appalling blunder
of representing the doyen of our " Great Public Schools " as
monastic, and totally failed to realize the humble position and
the recent origin of the Almonry boys and their schools.



CHAPTER XII
THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY AND HUMANISM

THE fifteenth century has commonly been decried as a
period of decadence in learning owing to the con-
tempt poured by Erasmus, Colet, and other six-
teenth century writers on their more immediate predecessors,
which has been accentuated by the odium theologicum of the
Reformers for the reactionaries of their own day. So far as
education is concerned, the fifteenth century was not one of
decadence but of progress. A great development of edu-
cational foundations took place, alike in the re-endowment
and enlargement of old schools and the erection of new
schools and colleges.

Even in the first years of the century, during the much-
troubled reign of Henry IV, new educational developments
were not wanting. Oswestry Grammar School is one of the
earliest instances of a school entrusted to a mixed body of
laymen and clerics, and not part of, or dependent on, an ecclesias-
tical foundation, college, hospital, or chantry. Its foundation
or endowment, perhaps intended to strengthen the English
elements in the border county of Shropshire against the ever-
rebellious Welsh, was due to a pardoned Welsh lawyer, David
Holbeach, who is credited by Leland with the foundation of
Davy's or Davies Inn, one of the Inns of Chancery, in London.
The school has often been credited to his wife, Gwenwhyvar,
though her grant of a corn-mill and lands for the maintenance
and sustenance of a schoolmaster in the town of Oswestry for
ever are expressly said to be in pursuance " of the intent" of
David Holbeach ; whose feoffment of school-lands in 6 Henry
IV, i.e. 1404-5, is mentioned in the seventeenth century
" School-book ". In 1 548 the school endowment of 6 a year
was augmented by 2 a year out of the " service of Our Lady "

235



236 THE SCHOOLS OF MEDIEVAL ENGLAND

founded by Thomas, Earl of Arundel, also in the early years
of the century.

Throughout the century a similar desire to spread educa-
tion, and that generally free education, is shown. A notable
instance appears in the Statute of Apprentices in 1406.
While the unfortunate labourers on the land were forbidden
to raise their children in life by apprenticing them to trades
and manufactures in the towns, unless they owned land worth
i a year not less than ^30 or .40 a year now, an ex-
press exception was made, that any man or woman of any
estate should be free to send his son or daughter to learn



Online LibraryArthur Francis LeachThe schools of medieval England → online text (page 23 of 39)