RELIGION Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Beverley testaments religiosity charity bequests churches funerals friaries abbey paupers hospitals memorial services
Subject: Bequests for pious and charitable purposes
Original source: Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, Prob. Reg. 2, ff.86-87
Transcription in: James Raine, ed. Testamenta Eboracensia, part II. Surtees Society, vol.30 (1855), 96-98.
Original language: Latin
Location: Beverley
Date: 1444


In the name of God, Amen. In the name of the Highest and Indivisible Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Amen. On 9 July, 1444, I, John Brompton merchant of Beverley, being sound in mind and memory, make, ordain and provide for my testament in the following way. First, being about to depart from this world, Father, into your hands I commend my soul, that I may be redeemed, Lord God of truth, if not through my own merits – I who am a sinner – I nonetheless hope that the Bosom of Abraham will receive me in redemption through the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the merits and intercession of the exalted Mary, Mother of God, Saints Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and all the angels and archangels, St. John the Baptist and all the Patriarchs, SS. Peter and Paul, Andrew, James, John and the Apostles, All Saints, SS. George, Denis, Thomas, Alban and All Holy Martyrs, SS. Edward, Remigius, Nicholas, John de Beverley, John de Bridlington and all Confessors, SS. Anne, [Mary] Magdalene, and Brigid, the matrons Winifred, Katherine, Barbara, Etheldreda, Ursula and the Eleven Thousand, with all Holy Virgins, and the entire heavenly court. Also, through faith, hope and charity, I devoutly trust in the highest clemency of the Great Saviour.

I leave my body to be buried in the collegial church of St. John of Beverley, next to the body of my wife Elena. I bequeath 20s. to the fabric of that church. To the fabric of the [cathedral] church of St. Peter at York, 5s. To the fabric of the chapel of the Blessed Mary at Beverley, 10s. I bequeath 6s.8d to mag. Henry Bowett, formerly my rector and [now] prebendary in the prebend of St. Martin in the collegiate church of St.John of Beverley. To each of the friaries at Kingston-upon-Hull, 3s.4d. To every friary at Scarborough, 3s.4d. I bequeath to the convent of nuns and sisters at Watton, 20s. for a pittance. I bequeath 3s.4d to the Prioress of Swine, 2s. to each nun of that house, and 3s.4d to the vicar there. And 12d. to each chaplain celebrating divine service in the churches of that village. To Hamond the servant there, 12d.; and to each female servant of the nuns within that abbey, 6d. To the nuns of Keeling, 10s. To the nuns of Burnham, 5s.

I bequeath £3.6s.8d for wax [candles] to be burned at the time of my exequies. I bequeath 36s. to clothe in russet cloth thirteen poor men carrying candles [at the funeral]. I bequeath £10 to clothe, in cloth called "walshefresed" Coventry russet, 60 paupers of either sex. I bequeath £18 to be distributed among the poor at the time of my obit. To the lepers outside the north gates of Beverley, 2s. and half a cauldron of coal. I bequeath to the paupers of the almshouse outside the same gates 4d. every week for three years, as a pittance. Also, 6d. to each of them at the time of my obit and a cauldron of coal. To the paupers of Holy Trinity on the Cross bridge, 4d. every week for three years, as a pittance. Also, 6d. to each of them on the day of my burial, and a cauldron of coal between them. To the paupers of St. John in Lathgate, 2d. a week for three years. To each sister of the house of St. Giles, 6d. and half a cauldron of coal between them. To each poor person, up to the number of 15, 1d. each week for four years. To the hermit next to St. Giles' church, 3s.4d. To the anchorite at the friary of St. Nicholas in Beverley, 18d.

I bequeath 3s.4d to my parish vicar. I bequeath 12d. to my parish clerk. I bequeath 4d. to each chaplain who is at my exequies and mass. I bequeath £12 in food for paupers and other of my friends and in clothing for my brethren and my friends [for the funeral]. I bequeath [blank] to pay the king his tax, or two half-taxes, on behalf of the inhabitants of Langtoft and Cottam. I bequeath 10s. to the fabric of the church of Langtoft. I bequeath 12d. to each poor person, of either sex, in the villages of Langtoft and Cottam. I bequeath £4.13s.4d to be taken annually [as salary] by each of two chaplains, for celebrating divine services for me for three years in the Charnell. I bequeath £4.13s.4d per year to John Burnard chaplain, for celebrating divine services for me for three years in the church called Holmekirke. I give and bequeath 40s. to the same John Burnard. I bequeath £4.6s.8d per year to a chaplain celebrating for a year in Langtoft church for the souls of my parents and all my benefactors.


John Brompton was one of Beverley's wealthiest merchants, and a name of influence in the town, having served as one of the keepers of the town first in 1407/08 and on 6 further occasions up to 1440/41. Since Brompton died in July 1444, just three weeks after drawing up his will, the man of this name who was a keeper in 1453/54 must have been one of his grandsons of the name. The relatively luxurious lifestyle revealed by his will makes him exceptional among his peers, and the amount he was able to give to charitable and pious uses, upon turning his mind to death and the afterlife, was correspondingly greater. Brompton was himself the founder of three almshouses for housing the poor; they do not, however, appear to have lasted for many years.

The lavish expressions in the preamble are unusual, perhaps reflecting personal preferences in the selection of the saints, and contrast with the much briefer self-commendation in Whttington's will. The testament of John Baret of Bury St. Edmund's (to come) paints yet another picture, for Baret – Brompton's counterpart in wealth and taste for luxury – focused his attention on funeral arrangements. It would be tempting to give in to modern cynicism and ascribe Brompton's apparent piety to the conscience of a politician and merchant who might have acted in self-interest, to the detriment of others, many times during his career. However, we should not dismiss the possibility that it reflects a sincerely devout and pious mentality. Nor are the two interpretations necessarily incompatible.

Nonetheless, it is a risky business taking the evidence of the last will and testament and trying to reconstruct from it a sense of the religiosity of the testator. Does the will reflect the testator as he or she was, and behaved, during life? Or does it attempt to make amends for failings? To what extent are the provisions of a will motivated by desire to make provision for heirs and dependants? To wrap up unfinished business and personal matters? To make a final display of socio-economic status? Or to arrange for the fate of one's soul? Some wills were drawn up hastily, as death approached, giving the testator little time for self-expression and obliging him or her to rely on the executors or heirs to deal with spiritual investments; others were evidently drawn up with considerable forethought, and possibly under the influence of others, notably the principal heirs. A will may tell us something of the testator's state of mind at death, but not so much about attitudes during life. Furthermore, we cannot generalize from one testator to the class as a whole, and the testament of such a wealthy man as John Brompton should not be taken as typifying the merchant class of late medieval Beverley.

The large sums assigned to pious and charitable purposes, including his own funeral, were of course not affordable for most townsmen. Handouts to the poor on the day of the funeral or obit were probably fairly common, at least in the case of wealthy testators; the aim being to attract to the event the attendance and prayers of those on whom God was believed to look in favour. Brompton made little attempt to identify which poor might benefit – his munificence needed no provisos; less wealthy testators might limit the dole to poor persons in their own parish or neighbourhood.

In the codicil to his will he left amounts ranging from 3s.4d to 10s. to the fabric and decoration of parish churches of various villages in the immediate vicinity of Beverley and Kingston-upon-Hull: Etton, Cherry Burton, Bishop Burton, Walkington, Rowley, Cottingham, Hessle, Swanland, North Ferriby, Melton, Elloughton, Brantingham, Ellerker, South Cave, North Cave, Hotham, Sancton, etc.. These were perhaps places he held land, although the careful sequence in which the places are named – beginning northwest of Beverley, then heading south to the west side of Hull, and then proceeding along the road west out of Hull for a few miles, before veering north again, may have some other significance, such as a route for collecting the wool on which Brompton's mercantile fortune was based. Such gifts to churches, possibly excepting those specified as recompense for forgotten tithes, were likely understood as eliciting prayers of thanks from parish clergy and parishioners, which would benefit the testator's soul.



"Bosom of Abraham"
A term deriving from ancient Jewish beliefs and reflected in the gospels only in St. Luke, in a parable in which a rich man, selfishly ignoring the needs of the leprous beggar lying helpless outside his door, after death suffers the fate of an outcast from Heaven, while the beggar banquets, his head resting on the bosom of Abraham. The term became a medieval metaphor for a place of comfort for the righteous after death (in effect, Heaven itself). The mention is pertinent to the testator's charitable motivations.

"John de Beverley"
An eighth-century Bishop of Hexham and York, who founded a monastery at the site of what developed into the town of Beverley, and later retired and died there.

"John de Bridlington"
St. John Twenge, the last Englishman made a saint. In the 14th century he was Prior of St. Mary's at Bridlington, and had a reputation for great holiness and miraculous powers.

handout to be divided among the nuns (as opposed to a contribution to the house itself).

A village lying roughly between Beverley and Kingston-upon-Hull; the several bequests to the abbey there suggests that Brompton had more than once enjoyed abbey hospitality.

Now Nunkeeling.

There was a specific measure of this name. A "chaldron" was over a ton. Coal was a cheaper fuel than wood and gave off fumes; it was not much used by wealthier townspeople.

This probably refers to St. Mary's hospital, which stood immediately outside the north gates. The leper house is thought to have been a few hundred yards further north.

A hermit, probably female, since the term is distinguished from the previous bequest to a "recluse".

The reference here may be to the testator's fellow town rulers, rather than to siblings.

"Langtoft and Cottam"
Villages about 15 miles north of Beverley. It appears Langtoft may have been Brompton's birthplace, and possibly other kin lived in nearby Cottam.

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Created: March 14, 2003. Last update: March 31, 2005 © Stephen Alsford, 2003-2005