DEATH Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval York vintners testaments bequests pious uses civic works churches clothing books funerals charity prayer memorial services chantries
Subject: Pious and charitable bequests
Original source: Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, Prob.Reg. 2, ff.439-41
Transcription in: James Raine, ed. Testamenta Eboracensia, part II. Surtees Society, vol.30 (1855), 52-57.
Original language: Latin
Location: York
Date: 1435


I, Richard Russell, citizen and merchant of York [...] my body to be buried in my parish church of St. John the Baptist in Hungate, York. [I bequeath] to the rector of my parish church the best cut of cloth from my body, with hood, by way of mortuary payment. And to the same rector, 100s. to pray for my soul.

It is my wish that the belfry of the church of St. John the Baptist be completed, along the lines already begun, at my expense, under the supervision of mason John Cotom. And I wish that carpenter John Bolron construct the door, the ladder, and all the beams from which to hang the bells in the belfry. Also that the church interior be decorated during the following summer, when convenient for the church. Also that a good and useable altar be made out of boards for the north side of the church, before the images of the Blessed Mary and St. Anne, and underneath that altar a cupboard for safekeeping of books and vestments belonging to the altar. And that another suitable altar be made for the south side of the church, before the images of Ss. Katherine and Mary Magdalene, along the same lines as the other altar. Also that three new stone windows in the church be glazed and filled in, during the following summer, in the best fashion possible, at the discretion of my executors.

I bequeath to the wardens of the church fabric, and their successors, for use in the church of St. John the Baptist in perpetuity:

  • a chasuble; an alb of grey fustian with a pattern dyed in and a chasuble;
  • two tunics of black arras spangled with Luca gold, and a suit [to go] with the tunics;
  • two chasubles, and a cope spangled with golden stars, with a frontal and cloth for the altar in the same style;
  • two other altar-cloths and two of my "corpraxis";
  • another set of black vestments with strands of Cyprus gold, viz. a chasuble, two tunics, and a cope, with their accessories;
  • a large antiphonary, notated, which begins on the third folio with Seph nuncia;
  • a legendary in two books, based on the rites and ordinals of the cathedral church of St. Peter of York, of which the first book begins on the second folio with per aliter fieri, and the second book begins on the third folio with mittit servicio;
  • two graduals, notated, of which the principal begins on the third folio with Quem Joseph, and the lesser begins on the third folio with Intende qui;
  • another new gradual, notated, which beings on the third folio with potenciam;
  • a book, notated, containing invitatories with responsories, and collects with processions, for the principal festivals;
  • a large missal for the high altar, which begins on the second folio following the table of contents with meus egressus;
  • a chalice with paten, and one gilded silver spoon with two silver cruets
On this condition, that the chaplain of the parish then in office shall, from the pulpit of the church, say a special prayer and, at the time for prayer, require all the parishioners who are there each Sunday to say a special prayer, for my soul and the souls of my late wife Petronilla, my parents, my benefactors, and all the faithful deceased, in perpetuity. I bequeath 100s. to the wardens of the fabric of the parish church of St. Saviour in the same city.

I bequeath 40 lb. of wax, in three wax candles to burn around my body at the time of the exequies on my burial day. And 48s. to buy twelve torches, at 4s.each, to burn during those exequies. I wish that eight of them (what remains to burn down) be given to the high altar, two to the altar of the Blessed Mary, and two to the altar of St. Katherine in my parish church, to burn their at the time of the elevation of the Host. Also, 60s. to buy clothing for the paupers who hold the torches during my exequies. To distribute to the poor and needy between the time of my death and the putting of my body into the ground, £13.6s.8d. To distribute to poor folk of the city and suburbs of York who are blind or ill, bed-ridden and not healthy enough to go out, £10. To distribute to poor men and women who are householders in the parishes of St. John the Baptist, St. Saviour, and All Saints in the Marsh, £13.6s.8d, wherever the alms are most needed, according to the discretion of my executors. To distribute to poor men and women, householders or residents of all the other parishes in the city and suburbs of York, at the discretion of my executors, £20.

For my funeral expenses – both my burial and my eighth day [commemorative service] – £50. To each chaplain who celebrates regularly in my parish church, 2s. for being at my funeral. To my parish clerk, 3s.4d. To Thomas, my former parish clerk, 3s.4d. To each chaplain who celebrates in the parish churches and chapels in the city of York and its suburbs, 12d.; of which 4d. is paid to each. To each parish clerk of the same, 6d. To each sub-clerk, 4d. On condition those chaplains and clerks earnestly sing or say the offices for the dead in their parish churches and chapels, with ringing of their bells, for the souls of myself and my late wife Petronilla, our parents, benefactors, and all the faithful deceased.

To each leper in the four leper-houses in the suburbs of York, 5s. To each Maison Dieu in the city and suburbs of York, 10s. To distribute to poor people resident – that is, staying overnight – in the infirmary of St. Leonard's hospital, £3.6s.8d. To each order of mendicant friars of York, to celebrate and say special prayers for my soul, the soul of my late wife Petronilla, and all the souls mentioned above, £10. Towards the fabrication of new glazed windows above the entrance to the vestry of the monastery of St. Peter, York, £8.

To the nuns of Marrick, to pray for my soul, the soul of my late wife Petronilla, and all the souls mentioned above, £6.13s.4d. To the Prior and convent of Durham, to pray for my soul, the soul of my late wife Petronilla, and all the souls mentioned above, and to repay them fully for the board and lodging I had there in my youth, £6.13s.4d. To the Abbot and convent of Newsham, to celebrate the offices of the dead in their church for my soul, the soul of my late wife Petronilla, and all the souls mentioned above, 40s. To the convent of Holystone, 100s., on the same condition. To friar mag. John Rikall, of the Friars Minor of York, 40s. To friar mag. William Neseham, 6s.8d. To each other master friar of the four orders in the city of York, 6s.8d.

It is my wish that my brother Henry have £3.6s.8d annually for the rest of his life. To Euphemia Russell, daughter of my brother Henry, £40. To each other child of my brother Henry, 100s. I wish for his son Henry junior to receive support from my executors until he is eighteen, if he is willing to be governed by the sensible advice of John Threske. To Robert Russell, the son of my brother John Russell, £30 to provide for his education at Oxford University. To Robert's sister, Elizabeth Russell, £20. Towards the marriage of Petronilla, daughter of John Threske, £20. To Elizabeth, the sister of Christine, late wife of John Threske, £13.6s.8d. To Robert, the brother of Christine, late wife of John Threske, £10. To my sister Joan, 40s.

To be distributed among the husbandmen of the Yorkshire Wolds from whom I have bought wool, £20. Similarly, among the husbandmen of Lindsey, £10. To Lady Agnes Wensley, nun of Marrick, 40s. To William Driffeld, knight, lately tailor of York, 40s. For the repair of bridges and causeways within ten leagues around the city of York, wherever the charity is most needful, £13.6s.8d. To John Matester chaplain of York, 40s. To William Horseley, £10. To the recluse [living] in the cemetery of St. Margaret's church, York, £3.6s.8d, and to the recluse in the cemetery of St. Helen in Fishergate, York, £3.6s.8d. To the recluse in the cemetery of All Saints in North Street, York, 40s. To the Prioress and convent of St. Clement's, York, £3.6s.8d. To the Prior and convent of St. Andrew's, York, 100s. To the cloistered monks of Hull, £3.6s.8d. To the cloistered monks at Mount Grace [Priory], £3.6s.8d. To each order of mendicant friars within Yorkshire, 26s.8d. To each head of a nunnery in Yorkshire, 20s.

To John Turnor chaplain, £46.13s.4d, to pray and celebrate for my soul, the soul of my late wife Petronilla, and the souls of our parents and benefactors and of all the faithful deceased for the full ten years following my death, in my parish church. Furthermore, I wish and prescribe that John Turnor – if he acts well and with propriety in time to come – have the appointment to any chantry that I have established, whenever the occasion may arise. To William Yorke of Berwick and his wife, the daughter of John Barker, £10.

It is my wish that all the lands and tenements that I lately received by the grant and feoffment of John Newland, citizen and goldsmith of York, along Davygate and at its corner opposite Stonegate, be granted in mortmain for a chantry established by him in my parish church, to which chantry my chaplain the aforementioned John is to be appointed. I wish my executors to buy on my behalf certain lands and tenements to the value of eleven or twelve marks a year, with which to establish a chantry – as always, dom. John is to be chosen for these chantries, and he is to celebrate at the altar of the Blessed Mary and Saint Anne in my parish church.

To the Corpus Christi Gild at York, 40s. To Elizabeth Russell my title in four tenements in Walmgate. To John Threske my entire capital messuage.

[Codicil, 1 December 1435:]

To Ellen, the wife of John Threske, a piece of silver with gilded cover, made in the shape of a chalice. I wish my executors to buy a marble slab to place above my body and the body of my late wife Petronilla in my parish church, where our bodies are buried. It is my wish that out of the annual revenues from my capital messuage a suitable and respectable chaplain be found to celebrate divine services continuously in my parish church for thirty years after my death, for my soul, the soul of my late wife Petronilla, and the souls of all the faithful deceased.


[I have divided the documents into paragraphs to make for easier reading.]

Rarely does one see in the will of even a wealthy townsman such lavish and detailed attention to funeral arrangements and those pious and charitable gifts that were, to a degree, associated with the funeral and the post-mortem fate of the soul. The preoccupation with this side of things is that much more pronounced when compared to the short shrift given to disposal of realty, and the almost complete absence of any gifts of household valuables or personalia to friends and family. Whether the extent of this testator's investment reflects a deep religiosity or a guilty conscience is not easy to say, but certainly it shows a strong belief in the efficacity of death-bed charitable acts and of the prayers of the poor to ease the burden of the soul in Purgatory. In considering the sincerity of the testator's bequests to the Church and the poor, we may keep in mind that he received his education at the hands of monks at Durham; although he chose not to pursue a career in the Church, the values he learned from the monks may have stayed with him.

Richard Russell lived in the parish of St. John the Baptist, ground reclaimed from the low-lying marshy area around the Foss. By his time it was attracting a few wealthy merchants and appeared to be becoming one of the preferred neighbourhoods of that class, but this did not last and the parish had declined by the late fifteenth century. The parish church no longer survives; Russell's will (of which Raine's transcription is not complete) is one of a relatively small number of sources that provides some documentation about it. The nearby church of St. Saviour, also on formerly marshy ground, likewise served a parochial community that included many merchants and was consequently the recipient of much benefaction.

Russell was a successful vintner who also was much involved in the wool trade. His education at Durham may indicate origins in that part of the country. He had entered the franchise at York in 1396, and two years later we have record of him importing 6 tuns of wine. His wool dealings drew him into the affairs of the Calais stapler community; in April 1407 he was associated with other staplers (such as Richard Whittington) in a loan to the king of £4,000 to pay the wages of the Calais garrison; it was of course in his own interest to ensure the security of the town. Religious he may have been, but the wealth he could bequeath to pious and charitable works – his monetary bequests being well over £600 – was built over a lifetime of shrewd business dealings.

His status and abilities are evidenced by the duties the community assigned him. He was chosen as a city chamberlain in 1409, served as sheriff in 1412/13, and was elected to the mayoralty in 1421 and again in 1430. He also represented the city at two, or possibly three, parliaments, and was present at eleven of the parliamentary elections held there between 1417 and 1435. In January 1425 he is found as mayor of the Calais wool staple, a post more commonly held by wealthy London merchants; but by June 1426 is referred to as "recently" mayor of the staple. In that latter year two ships carrying cargoes of his wool from Hull to Calais were lost at sea. Despite this, he was still in a position to contribute towards another large staple loan to the king in 1433, to support the costs of national defence. Further indication that his mercantile ventures extended beyond wine is seen in his partnership with another leading merchant, Nicholas Blackburn, in a wool export venture. On another occasion he partnered with Blackburn's son-in-law, John Bolton, as did Richard's brother John. Colleagues also in local government, on a par in terms of socio-economic status, and perhaps sharing very similar religious beliefs, Russell and Blackburn may have been quite close. They and William Ormeshede partnered in acquiring, from the earl of Northumberland, property in Cumberland. In 1432 Blackburn chose Russell as one of his executors, along with Ormeshede. Richard is also found exporting cloth and calf skins. Like many other of the leading merchants of the city, he became a member of the Corpus Christi Gild, along with his wife, although not until in 1426.

His wife Petronilla died not long before him; her will was drawn up in March 1434 and received probate in June 1435. Richard had already lost his sister, Alice (widow of York merchant Peter Upstall) in 1431, his friend and associate Nicholas Blackburn, and one daughter, Joan, was also to die before him. Richard's own will was drawn up on 1 December 1435 and received probate on 10 December. His other daughter Ellen had married John Thirsk, another parishioner of St. John's, Hungate, although only a short time before Richard's death, for Thirsk's previous wife, Christine, had died around June 1435. Thirsk, a merchant, went on to serve as mayor of York, and also follow in Richard's footsteps as a mayor of the Calais staple. It is evident from Richard's will that he placed much store by his new son-in-law, whom he had doubtless known for some years and had probably probably carefully chosen as husband for his daughter. An excellent marriage, from the economic perspective, it explains why Richard felt no need to provide directly for Ellen in his will; the bequest to the marriage of his residence may have been part of the marriage settlement. In 1460 Thirsk set up a chantry to celebrate for the soul of Richard and Petronilla Russell, among others; this in fact appears to have been associated with the alientation in mortmain of Russell property for a chantry, which had taken Thirsk 25 years to complete, and it worked to the benefit of Thirsk, who ensured he was among those for whom prayers would be said.

Apart from his married daughter, who received a bequest of property indirectly, via her husband, Richard's nearest blood relatives were his brothers John (died 1443) and Henry and sister Joan. The sister receives cursory mention in the will; probably because her needs were taken care of through marriage. Nor was Henry's benefit from the will great, and one suspects Henry may have been perceived as a failure by Richard, who also had some doubts about Henry's heir. In the children of his brother John – who was like him an industrious wool merchant – he placed, it seems, greater hope; although since John's daughter received real estate, and Robert only money for education, one suspects that Robert was headed for a career in the Church.



"John Cotom" "John Bolron"
Bolron was employed by the city at this period as its official carpenter. The city was also doing occasional business with Cotom (it purchased a quantity of parchment from him in 1433/34).

This probably refers to repainting, which is why the work needed to be undertaken in the warmer months and at suitable times (i.e. outside of the hours of service).

"following summer"
Whether. the summer following the death of the testator, or following the completion of the belfry (it being sensible to wait until the dust had settled) is not evident.

The principal and most visible vestment worn by the priest celebrating Mass.

A long white linen tunic, worn under the chasuble.

A heavy-woven fabric.

More strictly, tunicles: the upper vestment worn by subdeacons during celebration of Mass.

A term meaning that the cloth had decorations woven in (presumably the spangles).

"Luca gold"
The original has "auro de Luka", which might mean bright gold, but the subsequent reference to Cyprus gold suggests Luka is also a place-name.

A vestment similar to a chasuble.

Possibly meaning the corporal, a cloth (distinct from an altar-cloth) on which the host and chalice were placed during celebration of Mass, or the cases in which such clothes were stored. Two such cloths might be used at the same time, with one of them used to cover the top of the chalice.

A liturgical book containing the chants sung at Mass and other divine services.

A book of readings (lessons) for divine services, perhaps particularly stories about the lives and miracles of the saints.

A book containing liturgical texts (psalms, readings, etc.) used during Mass.

I.e. scored musically.

A book containing prayers and other devotions said or sung during Mass.

A shallow plate on which the consecrated Host (bread) was placed during the Eucharist.

Small containers, one for the sacramental wine and a second for the water used (poured into the chalice) during Mass.

Funeral rites.

I.e. those raising sheep.

A region of Lincolnshire.

"John Matester"
Possibly a chaplain serving St. Saviour's, as his will (1446) requested burial there.

"John Turnor"
It seems likely that Turnor may have been Russell's private chaplain; the amount of paraphernalia associated with divine services that Russell owned surely point to him having had a private chapel in his capital messuage.

"John Thirsk"
Raine thought that Thirsk's previous wife, Christine, was the link to the Russell family, suggesting she may have been Richard Russell's sister; the hypothesis was adopted by Wedgwood and Holt in History of Parliament: Biographies of the Members of the Commons House, 1439-1509. However, Jenny Kermode [Medieval Merchants: York, Beverley and Hull in the Later Middle Ages, Cambridge: University Press, 1998, 79] identifies Ellen Thirsk as Russell's daughter. Ellen apparently predeceased John, for we hear of two other of his wives. John had become a freeman at York in 1427, was chosen as a city chamberlain in 1433, as sheriff in 1435, and served two mayoral terms in 1442/43 and 1462/63. The latter despite the fact that in 1445 he purchased an exemption from serving on juries and from holding civic office (such exemptions were cards only to be played at need). He also represented York at parliaments of 1445/6, 1449, 1450/1, and 1467/8, and was a frequent participant in other parliamentary elections in the city between 1442 and 1460. He had joined the ranks of the aldermen by 1453. Like many merchants, he dealt in whatever might offer a profit: mainly wool, but also items such as iron, lead, woad, and grain. Thirsk's standing in the mercantile community is evidenced in 1449, when he was appointed to negotiate a trade treaty between England and Flanders; in 1458 he participated in an embassy to Burgundy, which he also helped finance through a loan by the staplers. In 1450 he contributed money, as a loan, towards the defence of Calais (an indication of his own interests there), and was involved in raising other loans in 1454 as a royal commissioner and as a merchant of the staple. Two years later he is found in the office of mayor of the Calais staple, and in 1464 added the duties of treasurer to those of mayor. In 1467 he established the dual role of mayor and treasurer as a permanent feature of the staple administration, seeing this as needed to facilitate repayment to the Staple of a loan of £20,000; he appears to have remained in the office up to his death. That office, together with his involvement in various commissions of enquiry in Picardy, suggest he must have spent a good deal of his time in France, and presumably had some kind of residence in Calais. It must have been demanding to divide his time between there and York, for even after his second mayoralty he remained involved with York's affairs. In 1458 he had co-founded, with William Holbeck, a religious gild there, and in the same year set up a chantry for the soul of Petronilla Russell. In 1466 he endowed another chantry, to pray for the souls of his wives Ellen, Alice and Agnes. In November 1464 he became the new partner of John Ferriby (a yeoman of the Crown, and older brother to a later York mayor of the same name) in custodianship of the Foss Water at York. The last of several royal pardons – not uncommon during the period of national political upheaval – was granted him at the beginning of 1472, when he was described as mayor of the staple, alias mayor of York, alias of Burton by Lincoln, merchant. He was dead by September 1473, when the king consequently took back into his own hands the Foss Water.

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Created: February 29, 2004. Last update: March 20, 2004 © Stephen Alsford, 2004