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RELIGION Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval York chantries priests presentment endowments bequests patronage administration

Subject: Appointment of a chantry chaplain
Original source: York, City Archives, Memorandum Book A/Y, f.9
Transcription in: Maud Sellers, ed. York Memorandum Book, part I (1376-1419). Surtees Society, vol.120 (1911), 24.
Original language: Latin
Location: York
Date: 1378


Memorandum that on January 30, 1378, Roger de Seleby, the son of Hugh de Seleby, appeared in the mayoral chamber above the Ouse Bridge, before John de Santone then mayor of York, Robert de Howom, Thomas de Howom, William Tondew, William de Tykehill, Robert Talkan, and other of the reputable men of the city. He presented to the mayor, chamberlains, reputable men, and community his preferred choice, dom. John de Crome chaplain, to [service] the chantry long ago established and constituted for the soul of Hugh de Seleby senior and the souls of his ancestors and all the faithful deceased, at the altar in the chapel of St. William the archbishop on the Ouse Bridge. To the effect that dom. John should celebrate the chantry appropriately and act and serve according to the custom of the chapel. And that he should be in permanent possession of all tenements, objects, rents, and goods pertaining to the chantry. On which day the said dom. John, by consent of the community, was administered the oath and admitted to the chantry on the aforementioned terms, for as long as [he behaves] properly and honestly in that duty.


The foundation of chantries – that is, the provision of an endowment to cover the costs of Masses celebrated and prayers said, sometimes indefinitely, for the benefit of the soul of one or more specific individuals – became increasingly popular, among those who could afford it, during the Late Middle Ages; they supplanted, to an extent, charitable donations to monasteries or friaries for similar intercessional purposes. In cases of the better-endowed chantries, there might even be a chapel within a church dedicated to the function; in other cases an altar was set up for the purpose within an existing space.

The founder was often deceased when the chantry was established, through a testamentary provision; or sometimes a widow or heir might take the initiative, usually providing for their own souls at the same time. Bearing in mind the tendency of bloodlines to die out, townspeople not infrequently delegated the responsibility for maintenance of chantries to gilds or to borough authorities (which had at least the semblance, if not the legal recognition, of being perpetual corporations); the founders allowed such trustees to manage – and potentially profit from – the funding, itself usually stemming from annual revenues from real estate, allocated to the chantry. John de Eshton, for example, bequeathed (ca.1384) 18 houses and shops with a total annual income of £10.18s.8d (although £1.16s.8d of this was lost in rents resolute), to fund a chantry in St. Nicholas' church, Micklegate; £5 of this was applied to the chaplain's salary.

The responsibility turned over to the authorities gave them a role in the appointment of chaplains to serve the chantries. In fact, in the context of a dispute (1388) between York's chantry priests and the parish rectors, over a traditional exaction which the former were resisting, mayor William de Seleby came to their defence with a public statement that, since the chantries had been founded by citizens, this made the city the patrons and masters of the chantry priests, and it was incumbent upon the citizenry (as heirs of the chantry founders) to defend those priests from any onerous demands.

York's churches and chapels had numerous chantries by the late fourteenth century, eight of which were identified by name as under city patronage in the documentation of the 1388 dispute. However, recruiting chaplains was not easy, since nominees had to pay various fees to the Church before obtaining admission to a benefice. A number of such appointments are found among the city records of medieval York. A few months before the appointment of John de Crome to the Selby chantry, the city appointed dom. William de Thorne to a chantry in the same chapel, requiring daily celebration of a morning Mass. Crome's own appointment, although the nomination lay within the Selby family's power, evidently had to be approved by the city authorities before coming into effect. Crome did not last long in the job, resigning in July 1379; although a replacement had already been found, he too resigned in November 1381. In 1416, alderman William Selby presented Thomas Howran as chantry chaplain, after the previous incumbent, John Algude, had died.

When Richard II granted the city a new charter of liberties in 1393 it included permission to the authorities to acquire real estate to the value of £100 a year, to support not only the maintenance of the Ouse and Foss Bridges themselves but also the maintenance of various chaplains and clerics celebrating divine services in the community-owned chapel of St. William, some of those services being for the spiritual well-being of the king and his ancestors and successors.

In 1536 the city authorities obtained from parliament the abolition of seven chantries for whose maintenance it was still responsible. Not so much because religious attitudes had changed and now saw no rationale for that kind of thing, but more because the income devoted to the chantries could then be diverted to offsetting the borough's financial deficit.



"Roger de Seleby"
A man of this name was mayor in 1369. The chantry founder was more likely one of the citizens acting in 1380 as constable of the ward stretching from the Ouse to St. Leonard's.

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