Chantries, poor livings and the gift of a lectern

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Late medieval gospel lecterns are wonderful things and I have blogged about them and their purpose before.  There are quite a number of 15th-century latten lecterns in Norfolk and Suffolk, but the example from Oxborough in Norfolk, dating from the 1480s, is particularly impressive.  Not only is it a delightful object visually, with its eagle book rest and lion feet, but it is also a rather fascinating historical document.  It has led me to look into the life of a late medieval priest, which in turn has given an insight into the life of a late medieval cleric of modest prospects as he tries to make a living.

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The lectern has around it’s middle an inscription, as many do and that connects the object to an individual.   What’s left of the inscription reads:

…. Thomae Kypyng quondam rectoris de narburgh.

This suggests that the lectern was the gift of Thomas Kypyng, who was sometime Rector of Narburgh.  The first part of the inscription, which seemingly asked for prayers for Kypyng’s soul, has been deliberately obliterated, presumably by a Reformation reformer, most likely during the Commonwealth.

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Narbugh, or Narborough as it is now called, where the lectern states that Thoms Kypyng (sometimes spelt Kyppyng) was Rector, is a village about eight miles from Oxborough.   That, of course, begs a couple of questions: why is there a lectern in Oxborough given by him and has it been removed from Narborough?

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A quick look at the various volumes of Blomefield’s An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk, tells us quite a bit more about Kypyng and his career and provides firm evidence that shows that he had a connection with Oxborough and was likely to have given the lectern to Oxborough church.

Let’s begin this exploration by looking at the foundation of a chantry in Oxborough church. There were a number of distinct manors centred on Oxborough in the late Middle Ages and one of them was owned by the Ode family and consisted of land and property in both Oxborough and another village called Caldecote.  In 1460 John Ode, the last of the family dies and by the provision of his will, the manor is given over into the hands of trustees, with the intention of the income from the manor would be applied to some religious purpose.  The trustees apply for a licence of mortmain to alienate the property, as they presumably intend to found a chantry.  In 1463 those trustees include our man Thomas Kypyng, who is described as a clerk of Caldecote.  The 1460s and 1470s are of course a time of great turbulence politically in England and it appears the trustees’ plans are scuppered and that they sell the land.  By the 1480s the manor has been purchased by a man called Richard Sparrow.  In 1483 Richard Sparrow dies and he then uses the manor to found a chantry in the parish church dedicated to the Holy Trinity, the Virgin Mary, St. John the Evangelist, and All the Saints.  It was quite a big manor and it created an extraordinarily well-endowed chantry.  Blomefield says the chantry lands included:

17 acres of pasture enclosed, sevenscore and five acres, with three roods of arable land.

One hundred and sixty acres is a fair size estate and it must have produced a considerable income.  The manor was centred on a ‘capital messuage’ in Oxborough and this appears to have become the chantry priest’s house and was quite a residence.

‘a great building, and had lately a large hall with screens, butteries, &c. adjoining, as in colleges, enclosed next the street with a lofty long wall of free-stone, with embattlements or copings of the same; the entrance to it was through a neat and lofty arch in the walls, now worked up’.

The chantry priest would have enjoyed an income and a residence that was far and away better than that of many beneficed parochial clergy at the time.  When the chantry was established, initially Sir William Elys was appointed as the chantry priest, but at some stage, Thomas Kypying himself, once a trustee of the manor, is appointed to succeed him (note 1).

At the point that Kypying is appointed as the chantry priest, he is still the Rector of Narborough, he holds that post in conjunction with being the Rector of Caldecote and he has held the two livings together since at least 1463.  He continues to hold them, in conjunction with his new role as chantry priest.  The living of Narborough was a bit of an odd one really.  The Rectory of Narborough had been divided into three portions in the early 14th-century and one third made up the Rectory and two-thirds were a Vicarage. So there was Rector of Narborough who held a third of the great tithes and glebe, but the other two-thirds had been appropriated to the Priory of Westacre, who appointed a Vicar to Narborough. (note 2)  So being Rector of Narborough was a bit of a mixed blessing, as the income was low and with a resident Vicar the, the Rector was somewhat surplus to requirement.   Caldecote Kypyng’s second living was a little to the south of Narborough and by the end of the 15th-century was a shrunken and depopulated village.  The village and the church have now disappeared entirely. (note 3)

Kypyng was not an avaricious pluralist, holding these two livings together wasn’t exactly rich pickings, as neither one could be considered to provide an adequate income to support a priest. Blomefield records that when the Valor Ecclesiasticus was compiled in 1535, Narborough brought in £3 and Caldecote £3 and 1s a year.  With little duty for Kypyng to do in these two places and a relatively poor income from both, it is no surprise that when an opportunity arises to improve his prospects he seizes it.  The combination of his two livings and the chantry income meant that Kypying was a prosperous man by the time he died.  He asked to be buried in the south aisle of Oxborough church and his gravestone with a cross fleury still existed in Blomefield’s day.  Blomefield records that in his will he gave £10 for a priest to sing masses for his soul in Oxborough church, as he had done for others and £20 to repair Caldecote chancel and of course.  Although it isn’t mentioned in his will, he gives this splendid eagle lectern.

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As a resident chantry priest in Oxborough, he was a useful second pair of hands and no doubt he would have assisted the Rector of Oxborough with the celebration of the parish mass, perhaps acting as Deacon and singing the Gospel.  There is a splendid sedilia in the spacious 15th-century chancel in Oxborough church, which suggests that high mass with Priest, Deacon and Subdeacon was usual. The gift of a new gospel lectern to the church for his successor chantry priests to use in the singing of the gospel would have been a particularly appropriate gift.

Footnotes

  1.  Francis Blomefield, ‘Hundred of South Greenhoe: Oxburgh’, in An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 6 (London, 1807), pp. 168-197. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/topographical-hist-norfolk/vol6/pp168-197 [accessed 6 October 2018].
  2. Francis Blomefield, ‘Hundred of South Greenhoe: Narburgh’, in An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 6 (London, 1807), pp. 147-167. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/topographical-hist-norfolk/vol6/pp147-167 [accessed 6 October 2018].
  3. Francis Blomefield, ‘Hundred of South Greenhoe: Caldecote’, in An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 6 (London, 1807), pp. 56-60. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/topographical-hist-norfolk/vol6/pp56-60 [accessed 6 October 2018].

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