RELIGION Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Bristol almshouse hospitals endowments regulations administration fraternities paupers clergy duties oath procedures mass meals clothing charity
Subject: Regulations governing a hospital/almshouse
Original source: Bristol Record Office, Cartulary of the hospital of St. Mary and St. Mark of Billeswick, ff.4-6
Transcription in: C.D. Ross, ed., Cartulary of St. Mark's Hospital, Bristol. Bristol Record Society, vol.21 (1959), 267-70.
Original language: Latin
Location: Bristol
Date: 1259


These are the ordinances made by the authority and with the advice of the reverend father Walter, by the grace of God Bishop of Worcester, with the consent and involvement of Sir Robert de Gournay, patron of the almshouse of St. Mark at Billeswick and Henry Gaunt, then master of the same, concerning the rents and lands acquired by Henry and belonging to the almshouse. That is, the manor of Stockland with the advowsons of the churches of Stockland and Quantoxhead, the manors of Earthcott and Lea with [their] appurtenances, the lands acquired in Brewham, and Langford mill, and the rents in the town of Bristol.

The ordinance previously made by Sir Robert de Gournay, and approved by the Bishop, concerning there being a master and three chaplains in the almshouse and concerning the daily feeding of poor Christians there (as is more fully set out in his charter), is nonetheless to continue in force. That it, that among the number of the poor are to be twelve scholars, who may be admitted or removed at the will of the master; they, dressed in black copes and surplices, shall fulfill their duties under the direction of the precentor. Satisfactory provision for whose needs is to be made, by arrangement of the master, depending on the resources of the house. From whose number one is to be chosen who is capable of overseeing and instructing the others; more complete provision is to be made for his needs than for that of the others.

Further to Robert's ordinance, it is ordained that there be appointed three clerks in holy orders and five lay brothers there wearing the habit, in a style similar to that of the brethren of the hospital of Lechlade, except for the badge of the almshouse which is a white cross and a red shield bearing three white geese. Should it happen that any of the six clerks be raised to the order of priest by the master, he shall nevertheless [continue] to take his turn in fulfilling his duties in the church under the precentor's direction. Beyond the aforesaid number of chaplains, clerks and brothers, there are not to be any others wearing the habit. The number of chaplains and clerks is not to exceed thirteen, unless over the course of time the house's resources increase and then they [received] into the charity of the house may increase accordingly as the master of the house shall think fit in God's sight.

When anyone shall be admitted into the fraternity, while he is in his probationary period his habit shall be imprinted only with the shield; once his year of probation is up and [if] he is found suitable, then he is to profess [his vows], and then the shield with the cross may be placed on his [habit]. Or, if during his probationary period he requests an exception be made and asks for the right, the shield with the cross may be placed on his upper habit once he has taken the basic vows of the order; that is, to continence, obedience, and renunciation of material possessions, as well as observance of the other rules of the house. If someone who has been admitted is, during the probationary period, found to be less than suitable, he may be allowed to leave without obstruction or may be removed by the master.

In regard to fasting and other observances, the procedures and practices of the brethren of Lechlade hospital are to be followed, except that as regards divine offices they are to comply with the consuetudinary and ordinal of Salisbury. Should it happen that any deceased persons will their bodies to be buried in this place, or if any prince or prelate comes to visit, it is permitted for the chaplains and clerks to go out to meet them dressed in their almshouse habits or in more solemn attire as prescribed by the Salisbury practice; on condition that this not be a habit used for other purposes [i.e. in divine services], except in the choir or other situation when church services are not being performed.

On the matter of celebrating solemn mass, the chaplains and clerks of the almshouse are to behave as follows. One mass is to be celebrated solemnly each morning for the Blessed Virgin Mary, a second for the deceased, and a third as the daily mass; this is a daily requisite. The other chaplains may celebrate their masses, both for the living and the dead – and especially for the benefactors of the house – according to the direction of the precentor. After these solemn masses and other divine services have been celebrated, the needs of the poor shall be seen to by two of the chaplains and the six clerks, wearing the habit of the house, together with two lay brothers each carrying in his hand a knife to cut the bread of those who are debilitated or incapacitated, according to their preference. This between the first and third hour, before the chaplains and clerks themselves breakfast, so that having received a share there they [i.e.the poor] may nonetheless seek their necessaries elsewhere.

As for the master, the chaplains, the clerks, and the brothers wearing the habit, they are to sleep together in one building and take their meals in one building (that is, the refectory); but no secular person may eat or drink in that refectory unless by special permission of the master. Nor shall any of them [i.e. the brethren] eat or drink within the grounds of the almshouse other than in the refectory, unless prevented by illness or blood-letting; in which case, at the direction of the master, he may take his meals in the space designated and outfitted as an infirmary. If guests arrive or there is some other good reason, the master, however, may dine in his room or some other location of his choice; with the proviso that when the master does not wish to join his guests at table, or is prevented from doing so for some reason, he may task whichever he wishes of the chaplains, clerks or brothers in the almshouse habit to substitute for him in that duty. Furthermore, whenever the master eats outside the refectory he may have with him one or two of the chaplains of the house. The same applies whenever he happens to go outside to some other place, such as into the town of Bristol or beyond, on whatever business or for whatever reason. Also, none of the chaplains, clerks, or brothers may eat or drink in the town outside of their house, unless in the company of the bishop or the patron, or in [other of] the religious houses; and then [only] with the permission of the master or someone acting in his place. On such occasions he is to take with him one of the chaplains, clerks, or brothers in the habit of the house, both on his way there and on the way back, to avoid any of them being seen wandering around alone in the town.

Whenever they are at table, or within the grounds of the house, or elsewhere, the master and the chaplains are to wear black mantles and amices, with the badge of the house visible on the outside. But when riding out or walking about the town they are to wear black copes bearing the badge.

The chaplains, clerks,and brothers are to have good bread made from corn and, similarly, good ale well brewed and good pottage, with a small dish, and an allowance determined by the master – but they may not [use it to] buy wine for their own consumption nor to host a party to which others are invited, at the expense or to the loss of the poor. At each mealtime and get-together some lesson is to be read out, as is the custom among other religious communities, under the direction of the precentor.

Also, if any of the chaplains or clerks knows how to write or has experience in notating music, he should under instruction from the master write or notate such things that are useful for the house. Similarly, if any of the lay brothers has received training in any mechanical art, he is to employ himself in the same, under instruction from the master, for the benefit of the house. Moreover, each and every of the lay brothers is to be diligent in attending to the duties assigned him by the master, whether inside or outside the house, whenever and as often as required by determination of the master. If in fulfilling his duties someone behaves improperly or performs less well than he should, and this is proven, he is to be removed from that role and someone else substituted, as seems best to the master.

This also must be stated, that if the land at Pawlett next to the sea, which belongs to the almshouse, should be flooded because of tide action (which Heaven forbid), so that the crops grown on that land are completely or in large part ruined; then, this having been proven by the master of the house to the bishop of Worcester then in office and to the patron of the almshouse, after an enquiry has taken place, with their agreement the allowance for the poor and costs incurred in relation to that allowance are to be reduced until the house has recovered from its loss.

The bishop has also granted, for himself and his successors, that the house of St. Mark be relieved of and exempted from his procurations, visitations from the archdeacon or his official, and from making obedience to the archdeacon, as much as permissible for a religious house, given the obligations with which the house is burdened and due consideration to its limited means; however, visitations of the house will be conducted by the bishop or his official as the law requires.

We, Walter, by the grace of God Bishop of Worcester, having inspected these ordinances, confirm them by our authority from the pope. In witness to which, we have had set to this document our seal, together with the common seal of the house of St. Mark, as well as the seals of Sir Robert de Gournay the patron of the almshouse and Henry de Gaunt the master of that place. Given on 15 September 1259.


At an uncertain date in the early years of the reign of Henry III, wealthy landowner Maurice de Gaunt built an almshouse just west of intramural Bristol, near St. Augustine's Abbey (itself founded by one of his ancestors), and made an arrangement with the abbot and convent that they, in return for him supplying them with a certain quantity of produce from his estates, to provide a daily meal for a hundred poor people there and to maintain a chaplain to pray for the souls of Maurice and his ancestors. He subsequently added properties in the town and county, notably the manor of Pawlett, to the endowment.

Maurice's nephew and heir, Robert de Gournay, transformed the almshouse into a hospital that was a religious house in its own right. He made it and its endowment independent of the abbey (which led to a series of disputes between the two corporations), limited his own powers as patron, increased the number of chaplains, and appointed a master to govern the institution; Maurice's younger brother Henry de Gaunt was given that post, although thereafter the community was to elect its own masters. In consequence, Robert was viewed as the founder of the hospital, although from the fifteenth century it was increasingly known as Gaunt's House. Most of the endowments of the hospital were acquired from, or through the agency of, Gournay or the Gaunts; from the late thirteenth century on, there were few gifts of land to the hospital.

It seems likely Robert continued the daily feeding of a hundred poor persons, although his foundation charter refers to only twenty-seven; but over time the charitable handouts were reduced and by the close of the Middle Ages were restricted to the twenty-seven. This limitation of activities was the result of revenues from the endowments being diverted to support the enlarged clerical community – the regulations of 1259 present one stage in that process of expansion – and the high cost of legal battles with the abbey and with later patrons, as well as a general trend taking place in hospitals. At several times later in the thirteenth century bishops or hospital patrons complained about reductions in the hospital's almsgiving, and royal commissions similarly investigated suspensions of the doles in the early fifteenth century.

It is not certain whether the hospital went beyond the daily meal to providing short- or long-term accommodations for the hundred poor. The impression is not, for Gournay's confirmation ca.1231 of his uncle's endowment refers to the obligation to give bread or broth to any poor person coming to the hospital between the first and ninth hour of the day. The exception may have been the twenty-seven, whose number included twelve poor scholars serving as choristers. Nor seems there to have been any mission to look after the sick or aged infirm, although from the mid-thirteenth century the hospital was prepared to take on as residents those willing to turn over their lands to the house. It therefore served as a retirement home, but out of self-interest and in favour of persons of at least modest means rather from charitable concerns about the poor or down-and-out. Probably the twenty-seven recipients of alms were, or came to be, all residents; besides the scholars, the number may have encompassed the pensioners and retired hospital brethren or servants – certainly the hospital's residents later included some of its retired masters. There was a trend away from general handouts to more targeted maintenance of inmates in medieval hospitals over the course of the Late Middle Ages.

The focus of St. Mark's hospital was, then, primarily its monastic life, governed like Lechlade hospital by the Augustinian rule; in this it was atypical. It did not abandon its charitable work, nor did its reduction in charitable activities lose it the respect of the local community. Several Bristol merchants founded chantries there in the fourteenth century; in the fifteenth and early sixteenth, the master was called on to perform religious trusteeships, including of Forster's Almshouses in Bristol. Nonetheless, it was as an Augustinian convent, not a hospital, that it was closed at the Dissolution (1539). Its site was purchased by the Corporation of Bristol. Today there survives only a storage cellar of the master's house, which now houses a wine museum.



An area in the suburbs to the north and west of the walled town.

The right of nominating a clergyman for appointment to a vacant living in a church or some other ecclesiastical benefice; the person holding the advowson was in effect the patron of the church. Presentative advowsons typically originated in the Anglo-Saxon period, when major landowners built churches on their property and were allowed by the bishop of the diocese to present a priest of their choice for the bishop's confirmation. After the churches themselves passed out of private hands, the advowsons tended to remain with the heirs or designates of the original patrons.

"Stockland and Quantoxhead"
These two parishes were near each other, but quite some distance southwest of Bristol, near the coast of Bridgwater Bay.

Earthcott was part of what is now Almondsbury, a few miles north of Bristol; Lea was a subsidiary manor.

What is now South and North Brewham in Somerset, to the south of Bath.

Probably Langford Budville in southern Somerset.

This ecclesiastical dignitary had functions that included teaching and leading the choir, and explaining the church ceremonies to those who participated in them.

This refers principally to chastity (i.e. abstinence from sex), but also to the self-discipline and self-restraint that permits moderation in sensual indulgences generally. It was not the same as celibacy, although a required condition for celibacy.

Aquinas argued that, of the three monastic vows, poverty and continence were less important than obedience.

"renunciation of material possessions"
I.e. poverty.

"consuetudinary and ordinal"
I.e. documents recording the customs and regulations governing the religious community, principally with regard to divine services and observances. For bibliographical references to those of Salisbury, see here.

"seek their necessaries elsewhere"
I assume this to mean that the non-resident poor, having received some food from the hospital, would go to other locations whence they might expect to receive a handout.

"may have with him"
It is unclear whether this was an option or an injunction; i.e. whether for the benefit of the master, or as a check on his behaviour.

An oblong piece of linen placed around the neck and over the shoulders; usually a white cloth worn during mass, but here specified as black.

"good bread made from corn"
The bread to be given to the poor was specified as being made from equal quantities of wheat, beans, and barley or rye.

A thick broth; the pottage for the poor was thickened with oat-flour.

"mechanical art"
I.e. a craft.

A manor in Somerset, on the other side of the River Parrett from Stockland Bristol (see above). It was presumably proximity to the Parrett estuary that put it in jeopardy from storm-fostered high tides; Stockland was similarly vulnerable.

"process of expansion"
According to Ross, the figures given in the constitutions were a clerical error; the copies enrolled in episcopal registers indicate that rather than 3 (chaplains), 3 (clerks), and 5 (lay brethren), the numbers should be 6, 6, and 5. It is not impossible that these later enrolments, the first of which was ca.1269, reflect alterations to the terms of the original, which clearly envisaged further expansion beyond the numbers it specified. However, Gournay's confirmation ca.1231 of his uncle's foundation referred to 4 chaplains and 8 clerks.

Some diverse examples: in 1248 carpenter Simon de Dene gave the hospital his lands at Earthcott and La Lea in return for an annual pension of 13s.4d and, after his wife Isabella Bochan was dead, room and board in the hospital on an equal footing to a chaplain there, for the remainder of his life – he does not seem to have made provision for his wife, in the eventuality of him dying first. Around the same year, Robert de Malefeld and his wife Aldith Bochan gave land in Earthcott and Lea in return for a lump sum of 20s., a quitrent of 13s.4d annually, and for boarding their son John at the almshouse, for life; possibly this unusual arrangement points to mental incompetence in the son, for the hospital added the proviso that it would not host him if he proved disobedient or ungrateful. In 1255, Robert Bilebost offered to transfer his legal rights to a piece of land and provide his services to the house (in what capacity is unknown), in return for a 10s. annual pension and board and lodging on a par with that given the more important servants of the house; the hospital accepted and promised to loan him a horse so that he could travel to the king's court to establish his claim to the land, but warned that if he failed to win his case, the contract would be void. And in 1268, Thomas de Ermynton gave to the hospital houses, land, rents, and a row of shops in Bristol, in exchange for accommodation and maintenance equivalent to that provided the chaplains (excepting clothing and shoes) for himself, his father, and his brother, for as long as each of them should live. He negotiated for the "knights chamber" to be allocated to their use, with sufficient fuel and candles supplied and, in case Thomas and Elias died (or became monks), leaving their father alone, a servant was to be provided for the father. Supervision of fulfillment of the terms of this agreement was put in the hands of the borough authorities.

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Created: March 14, 2003. © Stephen Alsford, 2003