Sacrist from Michs. 1291 to Michs. 1292.
This is the earliest Roll of the Ely Monastery now known to exist.
For how long a period the accounts of the Sacristy had been annually
presented in this same form we know not; but there is reason to believe
that considerable reforms in the account-keeping of the Monastery were
effected by Bishop Hugh of Balsham.
After a visitation of the Cathedral in 1261 the Bishop singled out from
other matters calling for correction the disordered condition of the finances
of the House, and after deliberation with the Prior and the Senior Brethren
he promulgated certain rules for their future guidance of a very simple and
elementary character 1 . Having himself been a monk and an office-holder
in the Ely Monastery before his elevation to the Episcopate, he may have
been moved to an official investigation into the finances of his Chapter
by his personal experience of the faulty manner in which its business had
been carried on in his own time.
But evidence is also forthcoming that other, if not all, the Benedictine
Houses in England were open to the same charge. The two "Innovations"
or "Reformations" of the Status of the Black Order which were addressed
to the Abbots and Priors assembled in London in the years 1238 and
l MS. Laud. Misc. 647, f. 157. Bodleian, Oxford. — "Ordinacio Episcopi super statu
Prioratus anno ab Incarnacione Domini MCCLXI. pridie Kal. Marc, cum Nos Hugo
miseracione divina Eliensis Ecclesie Minister humilis officio visitacionis exequendo in
C. VOL. I. I
2 (Roff ®o. i*
1253 1 were motived to a great extent by a knowledge that the financial
condition of the Monasteries was being jeopardised, partly indeed by the
practice of borrowing money, but more especially by faulty systems of
The Roll now before us, although thirty years had passed since Bishop
Balsham's Visitation and Reform, still bears an aspect of youthfulness and
rudeness. Payments of all kinds are entered under the months in which
they were made, special purchases being occasionally grouped together in
a section at the close of the quarter. The scribe professes to gather up the
figures of each paragraph into a "summa" or total, leading to a "summa
omnium summarum" at the close of the year, but the arithmetical result is
somewhat perplexing as the figures stand in the Roll.
When Alan of Walsingham enters on the office of Sacrist some thirty
years later, the yearly compotus will be found to take a clearer and more
business-like form which facilitates the comparison of the expenditure of
one year with another, and enables any purchase to be found under its
Clement of Thetford's Compotus requires some dissection before a
general idea of its contents can be arrived at.
The Bishop who appears occasionally in the Roll was Bishop de Luda,
who had been consecrated on Oct. 30, 1290. By the entries he seems to
have been in London about the end of March 2 , at Balsham Manor about
Lady Day 3 , and he may have come into residence at Ely or Downham in
September, as a present by way of hospitality was then sent to him — a usual
offering on such an occasion 4 .
An entry at the beginning of the 3rd quarter (Lady Day to St John the
Baptist's) concerning 6 golden rings and 6 covering tiles on a sarcophagus,
probably refers to the burial of the late Bishop John de Kirkeby, to whom
a tomb was placed in the Cathedral 5 .
Bishop de Luda's absence from the diocese a little later seems to be
marked by the entry that the Sacrist's "socius" journeyed to Norwich to
obtain chrism from the Bishop of that diocese 6 .
The Prior to whom (p. 7) a gift of an exhennium was given was John
Saleman or Solomon of the Goldsmith family.
1 1238, Matt. Paris, Chronica majora. Rolls Series. Luard, iii. 501. 125;,, ibid.
vol. vi. 240.
2 " Cuidam eunti apud London, ad Episcopum," p. 5.
3 "In expensis versus Balsham ad Episcopum," p. 7.
4 "In uno exennio misso Episcopo,'"' p. 10.
5 " Pro vij anulis aureis emptis, pro sex cooperturis ad Saicofagum," p. 7.
6 " In expensis Socii mei versus Norwic. pro crismate querend.," p. 7.
(goff Qto* U 3
The Sacrist's duty of providing candles for the altars of the church
occupies a prominent place in the Roll. The wax and tallow are obtained
in 3 purchases from Lynn amounting to ^72. is. 8d. ; and in the octave of
the feast of the Conversion of St Paul, the chief manufacture for the year
took place, the parishioners of the two Ely parishes being called in to take
their share of the work, and receiving in food or money some portion of
the large sum of nearly ^14.
Other purchases the Sacrist makes at the different fairs. On
St Edmund's day, Nov. 20, he purchases rice, sugar, etc., at the Bury
fair 1 . At Barnwell, wheels, axles, etc. for carts 2 . At St Botolph's
(Boston), wine 3 — at Reche, steel and iron 4 . At London principally things
needed in the Vestry for the service of the Church. For such things
we may suppose a spring journey is taken after Ladyday, "for the
expenses of some one going to London and returning — pro vestimentis
querendis 5 ." In the spring, too, he looks after the fish-ponds, and
purchases fish for them 6 .
The farm house at Tydbreye, which belongs to the Sacristy, is a place
of retreat for Sacrist Clement. On St Withburga's Day he receives a party
of the brethren and of the townsmen of Ely there, expending jQi. \s.od. on
their entertainment. About Trinity, after attending the Bishop's Synod,
he holds his minucio at Tydbreye with his brethren during a week; pro-
viding largely for their food; — a sheep, and calf, chickens, etc., and wine 7 .
From the 1st Quarter of the year to the last the tax collector was
at hand at Ely in the 13th century as to-day. The King's tax for the year
was one fifteenth, and a visit has to be made early in the year to London
concerning arrears unpaid; a second journey and a third follow on the
same errand and payments and expenses amount to ^10. 7^. od. 8 Later
in the year two persons, Philip and Richard, have to journey to town to
pay the tenths 9 , with a fine of £1 to the Bishop of Winchester who was
collecting them. And in the 4th Quarter the usual tithes for the Sacrist's
Temporalities and Spiritualities are entered amounting to ^14. 3s. 3jd.;
the tithe due on the property at St Botolph (Boston in Lincolnshire) was
four year&in arrear 9 .
1 " In nundinis Sci. Edmundi...amigdalarum," etc., p. 4.
2 "In nundinis de Bernewclle pro iij paribus rolarum," etc., p. 8.
3 " Pro uno doleo vini empt. apud Scum. Botolphum," p. 10.
4 " Pro calibe et ferro et cust. axium in Nundinis de Reche," p. 8.
5 Page 7.
6 The fish-ponds of the Monastery lay in the low land in what is now called the park.
The fish-ponds of the Bishop remain in part in the garden of the present palace.
" In lupis aquaticis ad viuariam," p. 7.
7 Page 8. 8 Page 4. 9 Page 10.
4 Qfoff (Jt0* *♦
There occurs a payment of 5^. in each half-year, which as it is repeated
in the form of a single payment in every subsequent Roll, may be fitly
referred to at once and explained.
Capellano Stephani Mareschalli $s. or 10s. By a special deed the
Sacrist was bound to find and to pay for a secular chaplain to say mass for
the soul of a certain Stephen Marshall, and was prohibited from using the
services of one of the regular chaplains attached to the churches of Ely
which were under him 1 . One special entry in Roll ix. b, page 118, is
more explanatory on the subject and gives the name of the secular
chaplain then employed.
"Paid to Dom. Martin Chaplain celebrating in the Chapel for the
soul of Stephen Marshall from the Monday following St Andrew's Day
to Christmas 2 ."
The servants employed in care of the Church and other minor officials
of the Sacristy are paid quarterly, at the close of each quarter.
The entry at the close of the Roll recounting the cost of a New House
naturally excites some interest : it runs thus :
"Expenses about the New House from Michaelmas for stone and
timber and other necessaries; and for the roofing of the Houses, together
with wages of Masons, Carpenters, and Workmen as appears by the Par-
ticulars in the Roll of the expenses of the aforesaid House ^51. 9^. iod. 3 "
The only indication concerning the position of this House appears in
an entry at the opening of the 4th quarter of the accounts, " For the
roofing and repair of the Camera Infirmar' next to or touching the New
House 4 ."
1 Lambeth MS. 448, f. 56.
2 By a deed of Bishop Hugh of Northwold without date but apparently written
between 1230 and 1240, Stephen seems to have been the son of a blacksmith and a
valuable assistant to the Bishop in ecclesiastical matters. Episc. Registry Liber M,
This Stephanus Marescallus is probably the man who gave a benefaction to the
Church to provide lights for the altar of S. Mary in the presbytery — see Appendix A.
3 Roll i., p. 12.
4 " Plumbariis pro coopertura et reparacione camere firmarie juxta nouam domum," p. 9.
Of this New House, which apparently adjoined the Infirmary, we have no further
account; but there has been preserved a document dated 1277 which refers to certain
agreements between Bishop Hugh of Balsham and Prior John de Hemingstone concerning
the Building by the Convent of a new stone Chamber. It is possible that further research
may reveal a connection between that Building and the Nova Domus.
The erection of the Refectory although perhaps scarcely completed in 1277 had been
commenced as early as 1270. Cf. Lambeth Library no. 448, also "The Architectural
History of Ely Cathedral" (Stewart), p. 261.
(Roff (Ho. u
The Balance sheet at the end of the year, Michs. 1292, is thus given by
Total receipts ...
Total expenses in the four quarters ...
Cost of the New House
Et sic expense excedunt Receptas per
The roll is 38 inches long.
Although the parchment is of a very bad character, the writing is good,
firm, and clear, except in the 1st paragraph, which is illegible.
The receipts are in Dorso.
(goff (Jlo* in £0e Com^otm of (gaff of
Sacrist from Michs. 1302 to Michs. 1303.
Our second extant Sacrist Roll, dated 20 years later than that of
Clement of Thetford, shows an advance in the science of account-keeping.
It opens with regular entries of weekly expenses, but they are limited to
disbursements for the table in the Domus and the Camera of the Sacrist ;
and all other outgoings are given under nine paragraphs, of which the
margin headings are unfortunately illegible.
The department in the Sacrist's establishment here called " Domus " is
in later Rolls spoken of as the "Hospice" or guest house. It may be best
expressed in modern language as the Servants' Hall in which workmen
would be entertained together with the famuli of the House; the Camera
being the private room of the Sacrist and his socii. The frequent entries
in these rolls of workmen receiving wages with the qualifying words —
either ad mensam Domini, or prefer mensam Dni, have reference to the
"table" of the Domus or Hospice in the Sacristy, and signify that the
money payment to the man is given in addition to, or without, board or
food at the Sacrist's expense. A like distinction is observable also when
the person to be remunerated is engaged in business outside of the
Monastery. He is then paid in money either cum stauro, with his food
taken out of the store-room of the Sacrist, or sine stauro, without food '.
l It should be noted also that whenever the title Dominus is used alone without a
name following the Sacrist is meant. In page 82 (Roll vii.) examples of the employment
of the title will be found, in relation to the Sacrist, the Bishop, and the Prior.
" In expensis Domini ad tractandum cum Domino Episcopo."
" In expensis Domini pro colloquio habendo cum Domino Priore."
6 (goff (Jto* it.
The general outgoings in the second Roll are almost similar to those in
the first, although classified in a different manner. The chief interest, how-
ever, in the Compotus from Michs. 1302 to Michs. 1303 lies in the scattered
notes which arise out of, and which corroborate, the history given else-
where of the events of that year, one full of excitement for the Ely monks.
During the 12 months there were three different Priors of the Monastery,
and for a portion of the year the monks of Ely were watching with
anxiety for intelligence from Rome whether they had or had not a Bishop.
One of the first entries of this Roll is an echo of the then existing dis-
quiet. " Help for the Prior — ,£66. 13s. 5^."
Prior Robert of Orford had been elected on Ap. 14, 1302 at the death
of Bishop Walpole, to be Bishop of Ely ; but the Archbishop of Canterbury
having objected to the appointment on account of the Prior's alleged want
of learning, Robert Orford determined to prosecute his claim at Rome, and
it was doubtless to enable him to meet the expense of the journey and of
the necessary fees, that so large a sum was granted to him from the funds
of the Sacristy.
Whether the golden mouth or the golden key proved the more
persuasive we know not, but Orford received consecration at the hand of
the Pope, and in due time returned to England : the temporalities of the
see, however, were not returned to him until Feb. 1303; that is not until
four months of the Compotus year of this Roll had passed. When the
Chapter proceeded to the election of his successor their choice fell upon
a certain William of Clare, of whom little is known except that before he
had filled the office of Prior two months he was buried in the Cathedral.
The rejoicings of the convent over the advent of Bishop Orford and
the election of Prior Clare are witnessed in this Roll in a practical and
substantial manner; carcases of oxen, and sheldrakes, are sent as a gift of
hospitality to Bishop and Prior 1 .
The records which follow, of William of Clare's death, are brief and
pathetic — For the Prior's burying, eightpence; for stone for the Prior's
tomb, seven shillings.
Again then, for the third time during a period of 1 2 months, the Convent
was called together to elect a Prior; and before the close of this financial
year John of Fressingfield was entering on his chequered career as Head
of the House 2 .
Other entries in this Roll deserve attention.
1 Page 17.
2 Fressingfield was Prior from 1302 to 132 1, when he was deposed. He lived
15 years in the Priory, while John of Crauden was Prior.
QRoff (Jto« in
An expense of 135. \d. is incurred by the Sacrist for the carriage of the
Bishop's Chapel to London 1 .
A Capella or portable service was sometimes the property of a
Monastic Church, and entrusted by the Sacrist, who had the guardianship
of it, to the Bishop for his use; the expense of conveying it to or from the
Bishop being charged on the funds of the Sacristie.
It was a Capella of this kind which was annually borne in procession on
one of the Rogation days with the Standard of the Dragon ; and the pay-
ment of the official is thus recorded in this Roll, "for carrying the Dragon
and the Chapel 4^. 2 "
The financial position of the Roll of Ralph of Waltham, for the year
1302-3, is as follows:
Balance from last year
Receipts this year
The scribe concludes —
Excedunt recepte expensas cxs. \\x\d. ob. q.
Length of the Roll — 27 inches.
Breadth — 10^- inches.
Expenses on the first side.
Receipts in Dorso.
1 " Pro expensis et cariagio Capelle Episcopi versus London," p. 16.
2 " Pro dracone et capella portand.," p. 18.
TRANSCRIPTS OF ROLLS
(goffs (Tto0 + tin to ix <*♦ (&f<*n of WciMntfam.
Sacrist from Michs. 1322 to Nov. 30, 1341.
From the foregoing Rolls of Clement of Thetford and Ralph of
Waltham it will be apparent that it is not easy by them to gauge the
position which the Sacrist of Ely held either in the Monastery or the
diocese, or to estimate the proportion which the income which passed
through the Sacrist's hands bore to the general income of the whole
Convent. With regard to the last point an answer may be looked for
from the Rolls of the Treasurer of the Prior and Convent presented,
as were the Sacrist's Rolls, to the Chapter every year; and by the
Treasurer's Rolls which remain in the Muniment Room we may judge
that while the Sacrist's income upon an average reached the sum of
^265, that of the Prior and Convent may be put down at not more than
^870 ; the Sacrist's accounts not being taken notice of by the superior
Concerning the ecclesiastical position of the Sacrist in relation to the
Bishop of the diocese more will be said in Appendix A. The status of the
Sacrist in the Monastery may be most truly estimated by the important and
varied duties which were assigned to his office ; and the Ely Sacrist in the
years before us had indeed a busy and many-sided life, by reason of the
multitude of obligations which were thrown upon him.
(goff (&©♦ tin 9
Besides the burden of the unending cares which consumed his time as
Sacrist of a Monastery in which the services seemed to follow one another
in rapid succession, he had the management of a considerable staff of
minor Church officers employed in the vestry and elsewhere, with the over-
looking of the elaborate details for the provision of Hosts and wine for the
Altars. Outside the Cathedral, he was the immediate ecclesiastical
superior over the Churches and Hospitals in Ely ; the Rector of St Cross
and of St Mary's, responsible for the Chaplains or curates who did duty at
the Altars of those Churches.
Though a monk and a priest he had to supervise not only all the
buildings within the Monastery but numerous tenements in and outside the
town ; he was, too, an extensive farmer, having under his care four separate
farms or granges ; at times purchasing manors and tenements, renting
lands and letting lands ; an urban district authority also, repairing roads
and building bridges ; a judge to visit offences among the inhabitants of
the city, an authority for the proving of wills, and withal not only collector
but tithe impropriator of all Ely tithe.
He must be constantly on the move, visiting fairs near and far off,
making frequent journeys to London, sometimes attending Parliament as
the representative of the Convent, sometimes taking his share in the
councils of the Benedictine Houses, at Northampton.
Year by year he is a manufacturer and provider of some of the chief
necessaries of life, and in the market he purchases his store of household
things, ginger and spice and all things nice, and if his ways of shopping are
not precisely those of the modern housekeeper, there may be useful
thoughts, economical and political, to be drawn from the pages of his old-
fashioned Compotus Rolls.
But when we add to these numerous functions assigned to the Sacrist
some new and unexpected building work, demanding skilfulness, and
accuracy of account-keeping, we shall understand that the Monastery was
indeed fortunate when an exceptional man was discovered in their midst,
able to cope with the exigencies of the moment.
It is only by thus entering into the multiplicity of the occupations then
accumulating on the head of Alan of Walsingham, that we can understand
how great a man he was.
Between Roll ii. and Roll iii. of this series there is an interval of 19
years, during which no Sacrist's Compotus exists.
In 1 3 16 Bishop Ketene died, and John of Hotham became Bishop
io (goff (Jto* xiu
The circumstances under which Alan of Walsingham entered on his
first recorded position in the Monastery were remarkable.
The monks had been summoned to the Chapter House; Bishop
Hotham was present with them, burdened with a serious and distressing
The Prior of the House, John of Fressingfield, who possessed a noble
record of usefulness extending over eighteen years, had been adjudged
unfit to continue the duties of his high office; and in the presence of many
who loved him had been removed from the headship of the Monastery 1 .
How it came to pass that, at that moment, the position of second
dignity was vacant, we know not ; but our histories tell us that on the self-
same day on which Prior Fressingfield was retired, another ceremony,
which by ancient custom must also be performed in the Chapter House,
was duly carried through, and Alan of Walsingham was installed by the
Bishop in the office and seat of the Supprior of the Monastery 2 .
Of Alan's age at that time no information is recorded. In the well-
known episode in which Alan was introduced into the presence of
Edward II. on his visit to Ely in the year 1314, the Historian Walsingham
of St Alban's speaks of him as a monk of Ely remarkable for his skill in
goldsmith's work, and at that date he was clearly one of the juniors of the
House 3 .
Again, in 131 9, when in consequence of a dispute between the Sup-
prior and the tertius Prior, the "seniors" of the Monastery assembled for
consultation, Alan's name is not found in the list of the older monks 4 .
He may not, therefore, have been much more than thirty years of age
when he became, as Supprior, the chief personage in the convent, until on
the 22nd May, 1321, John of Crauden was installed Prior 5 . On Lady Day
Alan, as Supprior, laid the foundation stone of the new Lady Chapel ; and
on the 21st December he was elected Sacrist 6 . Seven weeks later, on the
1 I. de Hotham Episcopus — "Anno pontificatus v. et Incarn. Dom. MCCCXXI. Frater
Johannes de Fressyngfeld Prior Eliensis coram Venerabili Patre Dno. Iohanne de
Hotham Eliensi Episcopo cessit Prioratui Eliensi xiv. Kal. Martii in festo See. Juliane
Virg. et Mart." Anglia Sacra, vol. i., p. 643.
2 "Die et anno in quibus Frater J. de Fressingfeld cessit Prioratui Frater Alanus
de Walsingham prefectus fuit in Suppriorem per eundem Venerabilem Patrem Dominum
Johannem Elyensem Episcopum." Wharton, Anglia Sacra, i. 643. (The value of the
expression " prefectus fuit " is discussed in the Appendix " The Sacrist of Ely, by
whom appointed ").
3 Thome Walsingham Hist. Angl. ed. Riley. Rolls Series, i. 138, 139.
4 Lambeth 448, p. 97, 98. Also a transcript in Muniment Room of D. and C.
5 In Crauden's Status Prioratus— in the Muniment Room, penes D. and C.
6 Predictus vero Frater Alanus remansit supprior usque ad festum Sci. Thome
Apostoli in anno sequent! per xliv septimanas. Anglia Sacra, vol. i. p. 643.
(Koff QXo. Hi. 1 1
12th February, 1322, the great central tower of the Cathedral Church, with
four bays of the Norman choir, lay on the ground a heap of ruins.
The monkish historian of this event fixes our thoughts at once on the
distress of the Sacrist, depicting the consternation with which he beheld the
catastrophe, "not knowing whither to turn himself or what to do 1 ."
It is possible that the casting of this dark shadow of despair on Alan's
first reception of the great disaster, may have been only to bring into
dramatic relief the courage of the man, who, by the inspiration of his
genius and by Divine assistance, rose at once to meet and remedy the
sorrow ; for so, in their single-minded worship of the great heroes of their
cloisters, the monks were wont to dignify their every action with a happy
But among the monks themselves we may not doubt there was, if not
a veritable panic, yet a serious depression growing out of their unprepared-
ness for a work, so great in itself and so unfortunate in the moment of its
coming. Other incidents there are which tell us that the authorities of
the Monastery had little anticipated, by any acts of forethought, the huge-
ness of the trial which loomed over their House when the tower fell.
But every effort to realise and reconstruct the story of those early days
of Alan's official life brings more clearly to a front place a work which, for
some reason or other, is always enveloped in a veil of mystery — "The Lady
To discover the date of the first birth and conception of that mag-
nificent undertaking, we should probably have to go back several years
in the history of the Monastery, even before Alan's emergence into a
The religious spirit of the age was demanding everywhere superior
honours for the Virgin Mother of the Lord, and Ely was behind the
Christian world in outwardly expressing its devotion to her service. In
other Religious Houses new Chapels had risen to her honour ; but in Ely,