English Medieval Boy Bishop Vestments

Inventory Listings

from "The Festival of the Boy Bishop in England" by Edward F. Rimbault

Gold miter, red cope
Boy Bishop Vestments
St Nicholas Church, Skirbeck, England
Photo: C Myers, St Nicholas Center
The boy-bishop had a set of pontificals provided for him. St. Paul's, London, had its 'una mitra alba cum flosculis breudatis ad opus episcopi parvulorum baculus ad usum episcopi parvulorum;' York Minster, too, its 'una capa de tissue pro episcopo puerorum;' Lincoln Cathedral, a cope of red velvet, ordained for the barn- bishop; All Souls College, Oxford, j. chem (ches?) j. cap. et mitra pro episcopo Nicholao;' St. Mary's Church, Sandwich, 'a lytyll chesebyll for Seynt Nicholas bysschop.' For the boy-bishop's attendants capes were also made; and York had no fewer than 'novem capse.pro pueris.'"1
Concerning vestments, jewels, &c., used by the boy-bishop and his companions, we have many curious notices handed down to us, some few of which we have placed together.

Northumberland Household Book

A parchment roll of the fifteenth century, printed in the notes to the Northumberland Household Book, gives us the following inventory.

Contenta de Ornamentis Episcopi Puerorum.
Imprimis, i myter, well garneshed with perle and precious stones, with nowches of silver, and gilt before and behind.
Item, iiij rynges of silver and gilt, with four redde precious stones in them.
Item, i pontifical with silver and gilt, with a blew stone in hytt.
Item, i owche broken, silver and gilt, with iiij precius stones, and a perle in the myddes.
Item, a crosse, with a staf of coper and gilt, with the ymage of St. Nicolas in the myddes.
Item, i vesture, redde, with lyons of silver, with brydds [birds] of gold in the orferes [borders] of the same.
Item, i albe to the same with starres in the paro.
Item, i white cope, stayned with tristells and orferes [of] redde sylkes, with does of gold, and whytt napkins about ther necks.
Item, iiij copes [of] blue sylk, with red orferes, trayled with whitt braunchis and flowres.
Item, i steyned cloth of the ymage of St. Nycholas, Item, i tabard of skarlet, and a hodde thereto, lyned with whitt sylk.
Item, a hode of skarlett, lyned with blue sylk.


In the will of Thomas Rotheram, Archbishop of York, dated in 1481, is a bequest to the College of that place of a mitre of cloth of gold with two silver enamelled u knoppes" to be worn by the "Barnes-Bishop." This is, perhaps, the same mitre which is named in the inventory of jewels and valuables belonging to the Cathedral of York, in Dugdale's Monasticon. —"Item una Mitra parva cum Petris pro Episcopo Puer- orum." The tarnished silver knobs seem to have been mistaken for stones.2

Magdalen College, Oxford

In a MS. inventory of vestments, &c., committed to the care of the Sacristan of Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1495, are, "pro pueris" tunicles, red and white and crimson, with orfreys [borders] of damask and velvet, one set of albs of blue damask, and two with apparels of red silk ; and, lastly, a banner of St. Nicholas, the patron of children.3

St. Mary-at-Hill, London

In the Churchwardens' Accounts of St. Mary-at-Hill, London, 10 Henry VI., mention is made of "two children's copes, also a myter of cloth of gold set with stones." Under 1549 we have in the same accounts, "For 12 oz. silver, being clasps of books and the bishop's mitre, at vs. viij d. per oz., vj 1. xvj s. j d." These last were sold. In the Inventory of Church Goods belonging to the same parish, at the same time, we have, "Item, a mitre for a bishop at St. Nicholas-tyde, garnished with silver and aneyld, and perle and counterfeit stone." Another extract from the same accounts, in 1554, has this entry, "Paid for makying the bishop's myter, with stuff and lace that went to it, iij s. Paid for a boke for Nicholas, viij d." This was the restoration of the ceremony under Queen Mary.4

Westminster Abbey, London

Among the inventories of Westminster Abbey5 is "The vj myter of Seynt Nycholas bysshoppe, the grounde therof of whyte sylk, garnysshed complete with ffloures, gret and small, of sylver and gylte, and stones complete in them, with the scripture, Ora pro nobis Sancte Nicholai, embrodered theron in peril, the sydes sylver and gylt, and the toppys of sylver and gylt, and enamelyd with ij labelles of the same, and garnysshed in lyk maner, and with viij long bells of sylver and gylt, weying all together xxiij unces." And among the kanapys is the following, "a gret blewe clothe with Kyngs on horsse-bake for Saynt Nicholas cheyre."6

  1. Dr. Rock's Church of our Fathers, iii. part ii. p. 217, where authorities are quoted. back
  2. Hampson's Medii AEvi Kalendarium i. 80. See also Hearne's Liber Niger Scaccarii, 1728, ii. 674, 686. back
  3. Millard's Historical Notices of the office of Choristers, 1848, p. 49. CAMD SOC. back
  4. Brand's Popular Antiquities, i. 424, edit. 1849, where authorities are quoted. back
  5. London and Middlesex Arch. Soc. iv. 318. back
  6. Ibid. 328. back
From Edward F. Rimbault's introduction to Two Sermons Preached by the Boy Bishop at St. Paul's, Temp. Henry VIII, and at Gloucester, Temp. Mary, John Gough NIchols, editor, Camden Society, 1875, Internet Archive.

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