RELIGION Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval York chantries priests presentment endowments bequests patronage administration
Subject: Appointment of a chantry chaplain
Original source: York, City Archives, Memorandum Book A/Y, f.9
Transcription in: Maud Sellers, ed. York Memorandum Book, part I (1376-1419). Surtees Society, vol.120 (1911), 24.
Original language: Latin
Location: York
Date: 1378


Memorandum that on January 30, 1378, Roger de Seleby, the son of Hugh de Seleby, appeared in the mayoral chamber above the Ouse Bridge, before John de Santone then mayor of York, Robert de Howom, Thomas de Howom, William Tondew, William de Tykehill, Robert Talkan, and other of the reputable men of the city. He presented to the mayor, chamberlains, reputable men, and community his preferred choice, dom. John de Crome chaplain, to [service] the chantry long ago established and constituted for the soul of Hugh de Seleby senior and the souls of his ancestors and all the faithful deceased, at the altar in the chapel of St. William the archbishop on the Ouse Bridge. To the effect that dom. John should celebrate the chantry appropriately and act and serve according to the custom of the chapel. And that he should be in permanent possession of all tenements, objects, rents, and goods pertaining to the chantry. On which day the said dom. John, by consent of the community, was administered the oath and admitted to the chantry on the aforementioned terms, for as long as [he behaves] properly and honestly in that duty.


The foundation of chantries – that is, the provision of an endowment to cover the costs of Masses celebrated and prayers said, sometimes indefinitely, for the benefit of the soul of one or more specific individuals – became increasingly popular, among those who could afford it, during the Late Middle Ages; they supplanted, to an extent, charitable donations to monasteries or friaries for similar intercessional purposes. In cases of the better-endowed chantries, there might even be a chapel within a church dedicated to the function; in other cases an altar was set up for the purpose within an existing space.

The founder was often deceased when the chantry was established, through a testamentary provision; or sometimes a widow or heir might take the initiative, usually providing for their own souls at the same time. Bearing in mind the tendency of bloodlines to die out, townspeople not infrequently delegated the responsibility for maintenance of chantries to gilds or to borough authorities (which had at least the semblance, if not the legal recognition, of being perpetual corporations); the founders allowed such trustees to manage – and potentially profit from – the funding, itself usually stemming from annual revenues from real estate, allocated to the chantry. John de Eshton, for example, bequeathed (ca.1384) 18 houses and shops with a total annual income of £10.18s.8d (although £1.16s.8d of this was lost in rents resolute), to fund a chantry in St. Nicholas' church, Micklegate; £5 of this was applied to the chaplain's salary.

The responsibility turned over to the authorities gave them a role in the appointment of chaplains to serve the chantries. In fact, in the context of a dispute (1388) between York's chantry priests and the parish rectors, over a traditional exaction which the former were resisting, mayor William de Seleby came to their defence with a public statement that, since the chantries had been founded by citizens, this made the city the patrons and masters of the chantry priests, and it was incumbent upon the citizenry (as heirs of the chantry founders) to defend those priests from any onerous demands.

York's churches and chapels had numerous chantries by the late fourteenth century, eight of which were identified by name as under city patronage in the documentation of the 1388 dispute. However, recruiting chaplains was not easy, since nominees had to pay various fees to the Church before obtaining admission to a benefice. A number of such appointments are found among the city records of medieval York. A few months before the appointment of John de Crome to the Selby chantry, the city appointed dom. William de Thorne to a chantry in the same chapel, requiring daily celebration of a morning Mass. Crome's own appointment, although the nomination lay within the Selby family's power, evidently had to be approved by the city authorities before coming into effect. Crome did not last long in the job, resigning in July 1379; although a replacement had already been found, he too resigned in November 1381. In 1416, alderman William Selby presented Thomas Howran as chantry chaplain, after the previous incumbent, John Algude, had died.

When Richard II granted the city a new charter of liberties in 1393 it included permission to the authorities to acquire real estate to the value of £100 a year, to support not only the maintenance of the Ouse and Foss Bridges themselves but also the maintenance of various chaplains and clerics celebrating divine services in the community-owned chapel of St. William, some of those services being for the spiritual well-being of the king and his ancestors and successors.

In 1536 the city authorities obtained from parliament the abolition of seven chantries for whose maintenance it was still responsible. Not so much because religious attitudes had changed and now saw no rationale for that kind of thing, but more because the income devoted to the chantries could then be diverted to offsetting the borough's financial deficit.



"Roger de Seleby"
A man of this name was mayor in 1369. The chantry founder was more likely one of the citizens acting in 1380 as constable of the ward stretching from the Ouse to St. Leonard's.

"rents resolute"
The tenurial hierarchy of some (perhaps many) urban properties could be fairly complex. Real estate, whether land or the buildings on land, was a source of revenue (notably rents) for its owners and increasingly became the object of financial speculation for those with free capital to invest (e.g. merchants). This, combined with the distribution of inheritance among multiple heirs and a general growth in population causing growing demand for dwelling and working space, resulted in a trend towards subdivision of urban property, or sub-letting of space within properties. Although the king was nominally the owner of most land – and on urban plots he often was due a small (e.g. 1d.) burgage rent, he had granted large estates to his nobles or religious institutions. Parts of these estates were, over time, rented or leased to others, who in turn might sell or surrender their rights to yet others, or take on sub-tenants. Yet those higher up this tenurial hierarchy tended to retain a revenue source from the property they passed on to others, although this would be only a small portion of the rent due from the occupier, there being a general rise in rents as property values increased. Thus, for example, an occupier of a property would owe rent to the true tenant, who in turn might have to pay a smaller amount to a former owner, higher up the hierarchy, who had retained the right to a rent when selling the property. The former owner might in turn have to pay an annual payment to a lord who had granted him (or an ancestor) the land at an earlier time. This process of subinfeudation thus created mesne-tenures by which a previous owner of a property had to reserve some real or nominal rent from the property, sufficient for satisfying any demands the superior lord had on his feoffee; the Statute of Quia Emptores (1290) put a stop to this by directing that in any enfeoffment the new feoffee would hold directly of the chief lord of the property, and not of the immediate feoffor.
The earliest of the reserved rents might, at least in many instances, represent the persistence of a quit-rent, by which the obligation of payment for land via labour services was commuted in return for a fixed monetary payment. In this sense it was similar in some respects to a fee farm, and in some documents (e.g. the York bridgemaster accounts) we encounter the term frank-ferme (freehold lease) to refer to property rents. In practice these financial lobligations, or charges, on a property were typically conveyed to a new owner along with the real estate, when it was sold (and urban corporations became burdened with such payments in this way). But since the occupier was often different from the owner, the rent resolute tended to be an expense of the landlord rather than tenant, although the rent demanded by the landlord inevitably exceeded the charges on a property. With early rents of freeholds, such as burgage, being fixed amounts, it may be that the sale (like subdivision) of property provided rare opportunities for increasing the rent, by imposing new layers of rent atop existing encumbrances, and thereby increasing the value or profitability of a property. Subsequent owners could not with impunity let a rent resolute simply lapse, since this would expose the property to a former landlord, or his heirs, reclaiming it before the law.

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Created: March 14, 2003. Last update: November 22, 2015. © Stephen Alsford, 2003-2015