DEATH Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Reading law funerals behaviour memorial services administration solidarity
Subject: Attendance at funerals
Original source: Berkshire Record Office, Reading borough archives, Corporation Diary 1431-1602, p.124
Transcription in: J.M. Guilding, ed. Reading Records: Diary of the Corporation, (London, 1892), vol.1, p.74.
Original language: Latin
Location: Reading
Date: 1477


On 21 March 1477 it was ordained and agreed by the mayor and all the comburgesses of the whole borough that whenever and as often as any comburgess of the borough should happen to pass away or decease, then the mayor and all the comburgesses [should go] with the corpse from the house where the death occurred as far as the church where the burial is to take place and there make an offering; and that they act in the same manner at the trental. If it is a comburgess such as who has, in times past, been tasked with the burden of the mayoralty, then all the comburgesses shall act in the same manner both for the initial and for the secondary funeral services, under penalty of sixpence [fine] for whoever defaults or does the contrary, as often as that may happen.


The growing consciousness of urban government as a perpetual institution, increasingly recognized so before the law and through grants of incorporation, encouraged townsmen to ensure the maintenance of their anniversary services by assigning some of the responsibility to local government. This might be by way of assigning revenues allocated for chantry support to the management of that government, or by giving local officials a vested interest by paying them for attendance at and supervision of the anniversary. Local government was thereby drawn into the regulation of certain aspects of funerals and commemorative services; ordinances from Lynn and Henley provide examples of this.

In the case above, the Reading authorities were looking after their own, for we may reasonably suspect that "comburgesses" here is not being used in its literal sense of "fellow townsmen" but in its technical sense referring to those acting as a town council (possibly equivalent to members of the Guild of Reading). This was a question of mutual support of the sort that socio-religious gilds had long provided for their members. It was also a question of a public display of political solidarity, perhaps – although not necessarily – in the context of a political battle with the abbey and its supporters.



Also known as "month's mind", this was a service held thirty days after the funeral.

"secondary funeral services"
I.e. commemorative services held at intervals after the funeral.

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Created: February 29, 2004. Last update: April 14, 2004 © Stephen Alsford, 2004