The Boy Bishop's Visitation

York — 1396

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

. . . a York Computus, A.D. 1396, gives a very circumstantial account of the visitation made by the boy-bishop in that year. This curious roll, in the possession of Canon Raine, was lent to the late Mr. J. G. Nichols, and from it he constructed a short narrative of the boy-bishop's progress, which will be read with interest from the minuteness of its details, and the graphic character of some of its descriptions. As Canon Raine justly observes, "It is unique, and throws more light upon the subject than anything that has yet been seen."

Boy Bishop on throne
1986 Christmas Stamp
United Kingdom St Nicholas Center Collection

After having performed the functions of a bishop within his own cathedral church and city, the next part the boy-bishop had to play was that of making a visitation. That this was not unusual we learn from the Northumberland Household Book, in which it is mentioned that the Earl was annually accustomed to entertain the boy-bishop of York and Beverley, and from the notice we have of the boy-bishop at Winchester.

The privilege was in some instances restrained; as when Bishop Mortival, at Salisbury, in 1319, forbad for the future both feast and visitation (convivium aliquod de cetera vel visitationem exteriusvel interim nullatenus faciendo) ; and as when Bishop Grandison in the statutes for his college at Ottery St. Mary declared that the boys were not to be allowed on the feast of the Holy Innocents to wander beyond the parish of Ottery.

Visitation Receipts

The roll purports to be "The Account of Nicholas of Newark, guardian of the property of John de Cave, boy-bishop in the year of our Lord [13]96." The Receipts were derived partly from offerings in the cathedral church, partly from the contributions of the canons, and partly from the gifts of the nobility and of the monasteries which the bishop visited. They are in the accompt divided under three heads: the first containing the following: From the offerings on Christmas day, xij d.; offerings on Innocents' day, xxiv s. j d., with a silver spoon weighing xxd., a silver ring and a silk purse; from William de Kexby the precentor, xx d.; from master John de Schirburne, the chancellor, ij s. ; from master John de Newton, treasurer ad Novam,1 vj s. viij d.; from master Thomas Dalby, Archdeacon of Richmond, vj s. viij d.; from master Nicholas de Feribj, vj s. viij d. ; and from master Thomas de Wall worth, vj s. viij d.; total, Iv s. v d. Secondly, in the town were received: from the Lord Abbot of St. Mary's without the Walls of York, vj s. viij d.; and from master William de Feriby, Archdeacon of the East Riding, iij s. iv d. ; total, x s.

But the largest receipts arose from "the country:" being the gifts of those to whom the bishop went in his visitation. They amounted in all to v 1. x s.: the particular donations we shall see in following the bishop's progress. Altogether the receipts amounted to viij 1. xv s. v d.

Visitation Expenses

The expenses commenced on the 23rd of December, when O Virgo virginum was sung, and then j d. was spent in bread for wafer, and vj d. in ale.

Within the city various purchases were made for the use of the bishop: a torch weighing twelve pounds cost ivs. iij d.; a cap, ix d.; a pair of linen gloves, iij d.; a pair of sleeves or cuffs, iij d.; a pair of knives, xiv d.; a pair of spurs, v d.; for the making of his gown, xviijd.; lamb's wool bought for his overcoat, ij s. vj d.; furs, vj s.; faggots through the whole time, viij d.; sea-coal, vij d.; charcoal, x d.; Paris candle; iiij d. ob.; xxviii pairs of gloves for the vicars and masters of the schools; iij s. ivd. ob.; and for mending a silk cope, ij d.

The bishop's great supper on the eve of Innocents' day cost xv s. vj d. ob., viz.: in bread, vij d.; lord's bread, iv d.; ale, xxj d.; veal and mutton, ix d. ob.; sausages, ivd.; two ducks, ivd.; twelve chickens, ij s. vj d.; eight woodcocks and one plover, ijs. ijd.; three dozen and ten field-fares, xix d.; small birds, iij d.; wine, ij s. iij d.; various spices (or grocery), xj d.; sixty wardens (pears), vd. ob.; honey, ij d. ob.; mustard, j d.; two pounds of candles, ij d. ob.; flour, ij d.; fuel, j d. ob.; and to the cook, vj d.

At the supper on Innocent's day was spent, in bread, iij d.; ale, v d.; veal and mutton, vij d.; pepper and saffron, j d.

In the next week nothing was done; but on Thursday, the 4th of January, being the octave of Innocents day, they went to Kexby (seven miles from York), the mansion of Sir Thomas Utrecht, knight, who gave the bishop iij s. ivd. They returned to a supper, at which was spent, in bread, ij d.; ale, ivd.; and meat, vd. On the succeding Friday and Saturday the roll states that "they did not visit."

Monastery Visits

On the second Sunday of his episcopate, which was the feast of Saint William (Jan. 7), the bishop went out of town on his longest circuit. A girdle was now bought for him which cost iij d., and he had not gone far when his cap required mending at the expense of j d. His party took a breakfast before starting, and consumed, in bread, ij d.; in meat, v d.; and in ale, iij d. The sum of ij d. was also paid for "horse-bread." Their first visit appears to have been to the Prior of Kirkham, who gave the bishop ij s.; and the second to the wealthier Prior of Malton, whose offering was a noble. They proceeded next to the Countess of Northumberland living at Leconfield, who was the bishop's most generous benefactor: she gave him twenty shillings and a gold ring. From thence to Bridlington, where the prior gave him a noble. He next gathered iij s. iv d. from the Prior of Watton, and the like sum from the Rector of Baynton and from the Prior of Meaux. Between the two last places the cavalcade passed through Beverley, where a girth was bought for j d. He proceeded to Ferriby, where the prior gave him xx d.; Sir Stephen de Scrope gave him vj s. viij d.; and to the priory of Drax, where he received ij s.

On coming to the abbey of Selby, the head of that great monastery gave him a noble; from the Prior of Pontefract he had half a noble; and from the Prior of St. Oswald at Nostell a noble. The Prior of Monk Bretton gave him half a noble, and "Dominus John Depdene" a noble. He went to the residence of the Lady Marmion at Tanfield on the Yore and received a noble and a gold ring with a silk purse; to the residence of Lady Darcy, "the Lady of Harlsay," and obtained half a noble; and to the Lady Koos at Helmsley Castle, who gave him a noble.

He now came to the abbey of Rievaulx and had only two shillings; the like at Byland abbey; the like at Newburgh priory; and twenty pence at the priory of Marton.

Further Expenses

On the Saturday the travellers again returned to York, and had a supper, for which the fish cost vj d, the bread ij d. ob. 5 and the ale ij d. The accompt of the "expenses within the city" concludes with this item, "On the fifth Sunday and to the end of the Purifi- cation (Feb. 2) nothing."

The expenses upon the road, which have not been hitherto enumerated, were, in an offering at Bridlyngton, ij d., and given in alms there j d. At that stage of the journey a new girth was required, for which j d. was paid, and the old one was repaired for an ob. A second horse-comb was also purchased, the first having been bought at York, and the two together cost iiij d. Upon three different occasions was money spent in "ferilay" = ferry-hire, or payment at the ferry; the first time at Melsam, the second time at Drax, and the third time at Harlsay. The charge at each place was iiij d. At Selby they spent iiij d. in horse-bread, and paid a penny to the barber, whose employment was more probably upon the beard of the tenor singer or other men of the company than upon the chin of the boy-bishop. The horses were re-shod at Ferriby, at Fountains, and at Newburgh, costing in the first-named place viij d., in the second iiij d., and in the third iij d.

The excursionists supped once at Leeds at a cost of xvij d. for themselves, and of xiij d. in hay and oats for the horses; and once at Eipley, where their own supper cost xvj d., and the hay and oats for the horses xij d. ob. In baiting at Allerton they spent vj d. and the like sum for horse-bread and hay at Helmslay. It may be noted that horse-bread is still in use in some parts of the continent. During the journey the boy-bishop alone seems to have been treated with wine, the cost of which was viij d.

The two last heads of the accompt enumerate the attendants upon the child-bishop. Under that of "Wages of servants and horses" it is stated that there was paid "To Nicholas de Newsome, his tenor singer, one mark; and to the same for his led horse, ij s.; to Robert Dawtry, his steward, one noble, and for his preachings in the chapel, ij s. j d. ob.; to John Baynton, chanting the medius voice part, xs.; to John Grene, vs.; to John Ellay, iij s. ivd.; to John Schapton, serving him with his two horses, xs. ij d.; to Thomas Marschale for one horse, iij s. iv d.; for a saddle for one horse, iij s. vj d.; to the baker for one horse, iij s. vj d.; and to Eichard Fewler for two horses, vs. The "fees of the ministers serving in the church" were: To the succentor of the vicars, ijs.; to the sub-chancellor, xij d.; to the wax of the boys, xij d.; to the clerks of the vestments, xij d.; to the sacrists, xij d.; for the adornment of the episcopal chair, iv d.; in wood for stalls, iv d. (an entry which is obliterated); in common pence,2 xviij d.; and to the guardian (or master) of the choristers, iij s. iv d.

The total sum of the expenses amounted to vj 1. xiv s. xd. ob., and there consequently remained of the receipts, for the use of the bishop, forty shillings and sixpence halfpenny.3

York Minster Records

York holds a conspicuous place in the annals of the boy-bishop. In the register of the capitulary acts of the Cathedral, under the date Dec. 2, 1367, it is ordered, as an indispensable qualification, "that the Bishop of the boys should for the future be he who had served longest in the church, and who should be most suitable; provided, nevertheless, that he was sufficiently handsome in person; and that any election otherwise should not be valid.4 The boy- bishop was supposed to be elected by his chapter, as were ordinary bishops; but the choice was probably directed by the higher authorities in favour of the most deserving boy.

Many other notices might possibly be found in the York records, but the search would be attended with some labour. A slight investigation made by Canon Eaine, some few years since, revealed the following curious list of boy-bishops:

Test. S. Nich. 6 Dec. 1416. Confirm, elect. Hie. Massam in Episc. puerorum.
Test. S. Nich. 6 Dec. 1417. Confirm, elect. Hen. Fournas.
Test. S. Nich. 6 Dec. 1418. Confirm, elect. Thos. Thorp.
Test. S. Nich. 6 Dec. 1420. Confirm, elect. ——de Burgh.
Test. S. Nich. 6 Dec. 1485. Confirm, elect. Thos. Malson, choristse.
Test. S. Nich. 6 Dec. 1486. Confirm, elect. John Clerk, do.
Test. S. Nich. 6 Dec. 1487. Confirm, elect. Thos. Greves, do.
Test. S. Nich. 6 Dec. 1488. Confirm, elect. James Beswyk.
Test. S. Nich. 6 Dec. 1503. Confirm, elect. Kic. Plummer.
Test. S. Nich. 6 Dec. 1537. Confirm, elect. Geo. Nevell, choristae. 5

  1. The meaning of ad Novum is uncertain. back
  2. Perhaps distributed to the choristers. back
  3. A copy of the original document is given as an Appendix. back
  4. Warton's History of English Poetry, ed. 1840, iii. 251, where other curious extracts from the York Registers are given. back
  5. List expanded for formatting purposes 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, flip book on the  Internet Archive.

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