What prompted Morton to threaten a visitation to St Albans Abbey . . . .?


Statue of John Morton at Canterbury

Well, in 1487, while the powers-that-be were gearing up toward the Battle of Stoke Field, Archbishop Morton (also Chancellor) was also having to deal with the – um! – mundane goings-on at St Albans Abbey. It seems the abbot was being proceeded against in the Court of Arches by the Prioress of Sopwell.

This case eventually landed in Morton’s lap, and he ordered Abbot Wallingford to rectify failings at the abbey or he, Morton, would conduct a visitation in thirty (or sixty) days and see to it himself! Oh dear, what a ghastly thought. But the abbot does appear to have deserved a wigging, at the very least.

Richard Wallingford, Abbot of St Albans

One of the grounds for Morton’s threat “ . . . appears in a petition in Chancery.  Elizabeth Webbe, the Prioress of Sopwell appointed in March 1480-1, had brought a suit in the Court of Arches for unjust removal and had won; on reassuming her position she had been beaten by the archdeacon’s deputies and thrown into prison. There was evidently foundation also for the report about Pré [see below], for shortly before Michaelmas Helen ceased to be prioress, and her successor seems to have been chosen from Sopwell . . .” 

How charming. Evidently the jealous men of the abbey didn’t like losing to a woman!

I think this nun was a little more complacent than the unfortunate prioress

But Morton was learning even worse things of Wallingford’s rule at St Albans. “ . . . The abbot was accused of simony and usury, and of being so remiss in his rule and in his administration of goods that regular observances had been given up, hospitality and alms had decreased, and daily diminished, and not a few of the monks led dissolute lives, defiling even God’s temples by intercourse with nuns; the abbot is said to have admitted as a nun into the house of Pré and made prioress a married woman named Helen Germyn who had previously left her husband to live in adultery, and he had taken no measures against her guilty intimacy with Thomas Sudbury,  one of his monks ; he had also not corrected other monks who resorted to the nunnery for immoral purposes; he had changed the Prioresses of Sopwell at his caprice, and both here and at Pré had deposed the good and religious and promoted the idle and vicious; he had moreover appointed as wardens of those houses monks who had dissipated their goods; he had dilapidated the property of the monastery and cells, sold the jewels and cut down wood to the value of 8,000 marks and more ; the monks neglected divine service ; some consorted with harlots even in the precincts of the abbey, others to pay for promotion had stolen the jewels of the church and robbed the very shrine and had not been punished . . . “

Good grief, how very Christian and godly! And this at one of the premier abbeys in the land! I do hope that the tangle proved worse than Morton feared and that it gave him a headache for months. As well as sleepless nights and agonising indigestion.

You can read more about all this at British History Online which covers much more of the history of the abbey. Not all as interesting, I fear! 😊

St Albans Abbey before the Dissolution

Here’s what Hellenica World has to say about Abbot Wallingford:-

” . . . .William of Wallingford (1476-1484). This Abbot’s name will be remembered because the high altar screen was his work, and is generally called Wallingford’s screen. It is said that his management of the revenues of the Abbey was prudent, and that he was energetic in defending his rights; but it would seem that he was not equally energetic in repressing irregularities within its walls. During the interregnum that followed his tenure of office things went on from bad to worse, so that the Archbishop sent a monition to the Abbey reciting a bull which had been sent to him as legate. This bull directed the Archbishop to visit all the larger monasteries in which he had reason to suspect that evil practices prevailed, and the Archbishop threatens to visit St. Albans because he has heard of cases of simony, usury, lavish expenditure, and immorality. He says unless within sixty days things are reduced to order, not only in the monastery but also in the nunneries of Pré and Sopwell and other cells, he will visit personally or by commission to inquire into matters and set things in order. The Abbot died in 1484, but his successor was not appointed until 1492 . . . .”

from http://quantumwavepublishing.co.uk/the-wheel-of-fortune/




  1. I do wonder whether Richard and Sir John Say getting themselves the presentation to the priory may not have put the Earl of Northumberland’s nose out of joint – as we knw, Henry Percy did not like Richard encroaching on his territory. At any rate, when Pror Boston was ousted in 1480, the Earl was one of three trustees appointed by William Dixwell to pay him the pension he was being granted. Nicholas Boston had been Almoner at St. Albans for many, many years before his appointment as Prior of Tynemouth, without apparently getting himself into any trouble.

    I wonder if Elizabeth Webbe, the godly prioress of Sopwell, may have been related to Peter Webbe, the Prior of Worcester. Anyway, in late June 1482, when Humphrey Stafford of Grafton, Worcs, lost his wife, Katherine Fray (probably giving birth to her last child, Margaret), Katherine’s widowed sister Margaret Leynham was living with them, having only recently arrived from London/ Finchley. On 21 June 1482, Margaret Lenyham had added a codicil to her will asking to be buried in the Worcester Greyfriars and leaving £20 in consideration to the Prior, Peter ‘Wibbe’. Very soon after this, however, Katherine died, and on 6 July Margaret Leynham, added another codicil which shows that she had moved to Sopwell Priory, a place with which she had no known links.

    Liked by 3 people

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