St. Oswald and the Church of Worcester

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St. Oswald and the Church of Worcester  (1919) 
by Joseph Armitage Robinson

THE BRITISH ACADEMY


SUPPLEMENTAL PAPERS


V


St Oswald

and

The Church of Worcester



By

J. Armitage Robinson, D.D.

Fellow of the Academy
Dean of Wells



London
Published for the British Academy
By Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press
Amen Corner, E.C.

CONTENTS
page
St Oswald and the Church of Worcester 3
Appendix:
 A. Worcester Charters of St Mary's before St Oswald's Time 22
 B. Wynsige and the Monks at Worcester 33
 C. Oda, Archbishop of Canterbury 38



ST OSWALD AND THE CHURCH OF WORCESTER


When Osbern, the precentor of Canterbury in the early days after the Conquest, re-wrote the Life of St Dunstan, he described that saint's passage from the abbey of Glastonbury to the bishopric of Worcester as involving no change of allegiance—'from the Virgin' he passed 'to the Virgin, from the Mother of the Lord to the Mother of the Lord': or, as we might put it more plainly, from St Mary of Glastonbury to St Mary of Worcester.[1] The high-flown style in which Osbern wrote, and the historical errors which disfigured his work, soon called forth another Life of St Dunstan, written by a successor of Osbern in the precentorship, the historian Eadmer, the friend and biographer of St Anselm. Eadmer, in his preface, gives as an example of his predecessor's inexactness the fact that he had said that the cathedral church of Worcester was dedicated to the honour of the Blessed Mary the Mother of God, whereas when Dunstan was bishop its dedication was to St Peter the Prince of the Apostles.[2] It was not long before a third Life of St Dunstan came from the pen of William of Malmesbury. He passes over the work of his contemporary Eadmer in silence, but he loses no opportunity of denouncing the ignorance of Osbern. As he was writing for the monks of Glastonbury, who were particularly eager at that time to assert their share in the glories of Dunstan, his depreciation of the Canterbury Chanter, as he calls him, would not come amiss. In his interpretation of the vision in which Dunstan beheld St Peter handing him a sword, he says: 'Blessed Peter handed him his sword, because he grudged him not his own seat at Worcester. For the bishop's throne at Worcester had not yet passed to the name of the Blessed Mother of God.' After exposing the mistake which Osbern had made on this point, he adds: 'I learn from this that his historical investigations have not gone very far, since he does not know the churches of his own country.'[3] In a later passage he gives an explanation of the change of dedication at Worcester. 'Oswald', he says, 'furnished his episcopal see at Worcester with monks living according to rule; not indeed expelling the clerks by force, but circumventing them with holy guile. For in a purposeful neglect he withdrew his presence from the church of Blessed Peter, whom that see had served from ancient times, and exercised his pontifical office with his monks in the church of the Blessed Mother of God, which he had constructed in the churchyard. So, as the people flocked to the bishop and the monks, the clerks were deserted, and either took their flight or bowed to the monastic yoke.'[4]

We are not concerned for the moment with the fiction of Oswald's 'holy guile', but only with the dedication of the church of Worcester. Eadmer tells us that he had sought for information from Worcester itself,[5] and we are fortunate in being able to appeal to a monk of Worcester who was a little earlier than Eadmer, and was unusually well informed as to the traditions of his own church. This was Heming, who under Bishop Wulstan's guidance collected and arranged the ancient charters of the see, and copied them out to preserve them for posterity.[6] Heming's chartulary, as we now have it, is a curiously composite document, the leaves of which have been disarranged, so that it is not easy to discover its original form or even to say whether it is all the work of one compiler. It has more than one preface, and more than one conclusion: but this may be only due to its original distribution into several books. One of these conclusions comes on f. 152. He has just given an early charter of a certain Wiferd and his wife Alta, and he adds to it a note to the effect that after their death a stone structure bearing a cross was erected over their grave and in their memory. By this cross, on account of the level space, Oswald often used to preach to the people; because the church of the episcopal seat, which was dedicated in honour of St Peter, was very small and could not contain the multitudes that assembled, and that noble monastery of St Mary, which he commenced for the episcopal seat and worthily brought to completion, had not as yet been built. This stone structure remained till the time of King Edward (the Confessor), when Alfric, the brother of Bishop Beorhtheah (1033–8), desiring to enlarge the presbytery of St Peter's, pulled it down and used the materials for his building.[7]

Here is a picture to the life, far more convincing than the story of Oswald's 'holy guile'—a parable of what was happening in the English Church of the second half of the tenth century. A great spiritual movement was in progress: the old limits were too narrow for the new enthusiasm. It was no 'purposeful neglect' which made Oswald leave the little sanctuary which had sufficed for the needs and the ambitions of the past: it was the call of the people who could find no room inside. And the old church was spared, as the wattle-church at Glastonbury had been spared, when church after church rose beside it; and as, nearly a century later, the old church of St Peter at Jumièges was spared, when the noble minster of St Mary was built beside it by Abbot Robert, whom Edward the Confessor afterwards brought to Canterbury. Oswald, who was one of the foremost spirits of the new movement, had been a monk at Fleury when that abbey, newly reformed, was at the height of its fame. His conceptions of the dignity of divine worship doubtless impelled him forward, and he would embrace with eagerness the opportunity of raising a great 'basilica', as he himself calls it, in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

We may now go back from these later authorities to Oswald himself, and read what he wrote in 983, when he had been bishop of Worcester for twenty-two years, and for half that time archbishop of York as well. These are the opening words of a charter (K. C. D. 637) issued in the year which had brought what he regarded as the crowning mercy of his life.

'The mercy of our Lord and our Redeemer ruling all the kingdoms of the whole world: He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory. So to me Oswald, Archbishop, though unworthy, He hath granted so great a boon of His loving-kindness, that beyond all my expectation I should bring to its completion the basilica which I have founded in my episcopal see, to wit in the monastery of Worcester, in honour of Mary, Mother of God, in the year of our Lord's Incarnation 983.'

We cannot fix with precision the year in which Oswald brought monks to Worcester. At the outset of his episcopate he had formed a small community at Westbury-on-Trym, as a model of monastic life after the reformed manner. Then came his great new foundation at Ramsey in Huntingdonshire, colonized in the first instance from Westbury. Ramsey in its turn supplied the nucleus of the settlement at Worcester. The great church of St Mary must have taken from six to ten years to build: for we have positive evidence that the monks were in Worcester by 977, if not sooner. But Oswald was no rough-handed reformer. He would not force the pace, and he would not obliterate the past. The little old church of St Peter still stood and enjoyed the prerogative of the bishop's stool. In a charter (B. C. S. 1166), misdated 965, but shown by the signatures to belong to 991, the year before the archbishop's death, a grant is said to be made 'with consent and license of the monastic society of St Mary, the episcopal chair of whose monastery is known to be consecrated to St Peter'.

This reverence for the past is a fine trait in Oswald's character, and it goes far to explain the peaceableness which marked the reform of his cathedral chapter. But we can well understand that his successors would feel the incongruity of the situation thus created; and the church of St Mary was bound to succeed to the dignity to which its superior merits entitled it.


It will seem to those who are familiar with the history of the church of Worcester, as it has been written in recent times, that the account given above is seriously defective, inasmuch as it makes no reference to an earlier church of St Mary and to the monks who at one time were attached to it, as evidenced by a series of notices in charters from the eighth to the tenth century. It has become customary to explain these notices by the supposition that there were two churches side by side with a common cemetery between them, the principal church being dedicated to St Peter and served by secular clergy, while the other of lesser dignity had at one time at any rate been served by monks. The two churches are thought of as receiving benefactions separately and competing for public favour, until Oswald put an end to their rivalry by rebuilding St Mary's on a grand scale and transferring to it the bishop's chair and the ancient endowments of St Peter's.[8]

Instead of discussing point by point the difficulties inherent in the situation thus outlined, it may be well to state at once that an examination of the Worcester charters down to the time of Oswald has convinced me that there was no church of St Mary, and that there was no community of monks at Worcester before the days of the great reform in the latter part of the tenth century.[9] The diligent labours of the monk Heming have preserved to us a mass of information regarding the bishop's familia, as his cathedral chapter in old days was called, such as is not available for any other church in England. Here at least we are not left in such darkness as should compel us to fall back on conjecture to reconstruct the history of the past. It is true that not all the charters Heming copied are trustworthy documents. We have good reason to think him an honest man, but Worcester in the days gone by was no exception to the general run of ecclesiastical foundations which had thought it necessary to supplement their genuine deeds with others modelled on them, in order to secure their title to properties the charters of which had perished by fire or perhaps had never existed at all. The period of national decline under King Ethelred, which marks the close of the tenth century as an age of decadence and disaster following an age of intellectual progress and unbroken peace, would seem also to have been a period in which churchmen were in constant danger of being robbed of their inheritance and were driven to resort to methods of self-protection which our modern conscience condemns as pious frauds. Later ages were yet more prolific in the manufacture of documentary evidence; but Worcester has not in this respect the evil record of Winchester and Abingdon and Sherborne and other great foundations, thanks no doubt to the very fact that Heming's work had preserved so much that without it would have perished. But Heming, honest as he was, could only work with his materials; the charters lay before him, and he had no means of appraising their authenticity: the science of criticism was not yet, and only a very glaring forgery could be detected at the time he wrote. We need not, therefore, be surprised if a considerable number of his charters fail to satisfy the tests to which the modern student must submit them.

These strictures do not affect the general history of the bishop's familia at Worcester, as it may be read in Heming's chartulary. For the charters which the members of the familia attest as witnesses are not charters of gifts to themselves, but grants which the bishop makes with their consent. They are usually grants for two or three lives with a clause of reversion to the church−a kind of extended lease such as we presently find in great numbers under Oswald's own administration. There was no particular temptation to forge a domestic charter of this nature, though it might suffer in the copying through scribal errors and through the embodiment of later notes as if they were part of the original document.

Our first sight of the familia at Worcester comes to us in a small group of charters of the time of Bishop Denebert, whose episcopate of twenty-four years (798-822) nearly coincided with the reign of Coenuulf (796-821), the successor after a brief interval of the great Offa, king of Mercia. One of these (B. C. S. 283) is the charter of a certain Abbot Headda, making a disposition of his properties. It bears no date, but as it closes with a grant intended to secure the prayers of the Worcester familia for his kinsman, Bishop Heathored, it is perhaps reasonable to place it shortly after that bishop's death in 798. It opens with a prologue, which we shall meet again, concerning the fleeting course of time and the need of following the example of the Greeks, who committed their transactions to writing lest they should fall out of memory. 'Wherefore I, Headda, presbyter and abbot, with the testimony of all the venerable familia at Worcester, bequeath my own proper inheritance; making this condition, that my heirs in the line of my family of the male sex and in holy orders shall receive it, so long as in my kindred there can be found a wise and prudent man who can exercise ecclesiastical rule in due and monastic fashion; and that never shall it be subjected to the authority of laymen. But after that, if in our family such churchmen shall be wanting, and they shall be unworthy and unskilled, not knowing how to rule and govern it aright, I order that without any obstacle it be rendered to the episcopal see at Worcester—that is to say, the lands at Dogedeswell and Tyreltun. Besides these I also add an estate of my possession which is known by the dwellers around it as Onnandun; for the remedy of my soul and of the soul of my kinsman, Bishop Heathored, and for the good of all the souls of our kindred; because I am an alumnus of that familia, and was educated and brought up at the threshold of the church.'

We do not know what abbey Headda held, perhaps a small abbey at Dowdeswell in Gloucestershire, the first property which he names. It was common in those days for such houses to descend by inheritance, and too often they fell into lay hands, a danger against which Abbot Headda here seeks to provide. It is unfortunate that no names of witnesses have been preserved, so that we must wait for the next charter to give us the earliest list of the Worcester familia. Meanwhile it is something to have caught a glimpse of the familia, as the training-ground of clergy who were afterwards to hold positions of importance in the Church.

Our next charter (B. C. S. 304) is a grant by Bishop Denebert, which he is careful to say is not made on his sole authority, but conjointly with his familia. It opens with the same prologue as Abbot Headda's charter, which may suggest that both were drawn up by the same scribe and at about the same time. At any rate we shall find reason for placing this charter, which also bears no date, early in Bishop Denebert's episcopate. The bishop grants, 'with the consent and testimony of all the venerable familia at Worcester, to Balthun the presbyter, a man good and true, five manses at Bearmodeslea,[10] to hold for life and to bequeath to one heir whom he may choose; but after that heir's day it shall be rendered again without any dispute to the church of Worcester, whence it was granted forth'. Another property, eight manses at Collesburn, he grants to him for life and for two heirs after him, then to return to the above-named church. 'And be it known to all who read this charter, that not I alone have made this grant, nor alone have confirmed this decree; but all the congregation of the church of Worcester with me, because the priest Balthun aforesaid is a dear and faithful friend to that congregation, and an alumnus of that church.'

There is a grant to Abbot Balthun from King Coenuulf of the monastery of Kempsey in Worcestershire, dated 799 (B. C. S. 295); but we cannot be certain that in its present form it is an authentic document. The bishop's grant which we have been considering may perhaps belong to the preceding year, as Balthun is not spoken of as an abbot, and this early date would agree well with the signatures. For here we have the names of the familia—nine presbyters, four deacons, two clerks, and three other persons with no distinctive appellation. As we do not find 'clericus' as a description in other lists of the familia for the next century and a half, it may have come in here by the inadvertence of a later copyist, who found out his mistake and held his hand after he had written it twice.

In another charter (B. C. S. 307) Bishop Denebert with his familia at Worcester grants land at Hereford to Eanswith, 'to possess it while she lives, if I leave her to survive me in this world, on this condition, that she be always subject to the church of Worcester and its familia on this wise: namely, that she do always renew and cleanse and increase the raiment of that church; and that, after she shall go the way of her fathers, the land aforesaid without contradiction be assigned to the church of Worcester.' This document, again, is not dated, but it is attested by twelve members of the familia with no distinctive titles after their names. When we compare them with the former list we find that six are the same—four priests, and two other persons, one of whom was there called 'clericus', and the other was left undescribed. Six names are new, but four of them recur in documents of 824 and 825; so that we are led to place this charter towards the end of Bishop Denebert's time.

There is now a gap in our information until we come to the time of Bishop Alhun. Then, in 849, we find seven priests, a 'praepositus' or provost, and a deacon (B. C. S. 455). Afterwards, in 855, there are six priests, three deacons, and two others not described by any title (B. C. S. 490). One of the priests is now the provost, and he heads the list. Then under Bishop Werfrith, one of King Alfred's learned men, we have lists for the years 872, 889, 892, 897, and 899 (B. C. S. 533, 559, 570, 575, 580). The numbers remain much the same, and at first one or two of the old names survive from Bishop Alhun's days. We can watch the old men falling out, and new men coming in to fill their places. A provost still appears in 872, but not after that date. In 899 'Cynelm abbas et diaconus' heads the list, and Abbot Cynelm stands in the same position in an undated Saxon grant which belongs to the same period (B. C. S. 608).

After this our information fails us for more than half a century, until we get a list again in 957, one of the last years of Bishop Coenwald. This list (B. C. S. 993) is of special value, as it enables us to observe the continuity of the familia, as represented in the numerous lists which occur in Oswald's charters from 962 onwards. But of this we must speak later.

We have thus had clearly in our view for a century and a half the constitution of the church of Worcester—the bishop and his familia, a body of clergy who are joint holders with the bishop of the estates of the church. There is but one church of Worcester, and but one familia. And there is no hint anywhere of monasticism; for though at the close of the ninth century we find the list headed for a brief period by an abbot, we cannot safely conclude even that the man who bore this title was himself a monk, much less that the society he presided over was monastic.

There seems, therefore, to be no room for a church of St Mary or for a community of monks. The suggestion that there was such a church side by side with St Peter's appears to be quite a modern one, based only on notices to be found in some of the early Worcester charters. But the evidence which at first sight seems to support such a theory will be found on examination to melt away altogether.

The number of Worcester charters preserved to us in some form or other from the earliest days down to the time of St Oswald's accession is considerably over a hundred. In sixteen of these we find a mention of the church or monastery of St Mary. Each of these charters must be dealt with separately in order to determine its claim to authenticity.[9] The result of such an examination will show that not one of them is trustworthy, so far at least as its reference to St Mary's church is concerned. One or two examples may here be given to show how the mention of St Mary's has come in.

The earliest charter which mentions St Mary's is B. C. S. 165, a grant of King Æthilbald, the bounds of which are dated 743. Before the signature comes the statement that this grant was made over afterwards to the monastery of St Mary of Worcester. This was evidently a note written on the charter at a later date, and copied in course of time as though it had been part of the original.

Another example of subsequent modification is B. C. S. 233, which is not strictly a charter, but a record of a grant by King Offa, who as spoken of in the third person. Here it is said that 'King Offa granted to the monks of the church of St Mary of Worcester' a certain property. A Saxon record of the same grant follows, which says nothing of monks or of St Mary, but records the gift as 'to the minster at Worcester for the use of the brethren'. The Latin record may have been written at a very much later date than the charter of which presumably it was a summary.

Again, B. C. S. 577 and 578 are two forms of grants said to have been made by King Alfred; but it is only the second and inferior form which speaks of 'the church of St Mary of Worcester'; the other form has simply 'the church of Worcester'.


Before we come to the consideration of the changes introduced at Worcester by St Oswald, it is desirable that we should learn something of the saint's earlier days. Our source of information is the anonymous Life of St Oswald, published by Raine in the Rolls Series (Historians of York, i. 399 ff.) from the Cotton MS., Nero E 1. As the biographer appeals to Archbishop Ælfric as a witness to the miracles performed at the tomb of King Edward the Martyr, he would seem to have written before that archbishop's death in 1005; and as he quotes the earliest Life of St Dunstan, which was dedicated to the same archbishop, we may perhaps date his work between 1000 and 1005. Oswald had died in 992, and his biographer was a monk of Ramsey, Oswald's greatest foundation.[11] Our author begins with a long account of Archbishop Oda, Oswald's uncle. He tells us that Oda's father was said to have been 'one of those Danes who came over in the army of the fleet with Huba and Hinwar'. We learn from other sources that Ingwar and Ubba were the chieftains whose three sisters had woven the mysterious Raven banner which foretold victory or defeat; they had landed in England in 866, and were defeated after their invasion of Devonshire in 878. That Oda was of Danish descent we may readily believe; the name of his kinsman Oskytel, the archbishop of York, bears this out. The energy and adaptability of these fierce Norsemen is strikingly illustrated by the fact that less than eighty years after the Peace of Wedmore the two primatial sees were filled by men of Danish blood. We may accept the character given to Oda by Oswald's biographer, and regard him as a strong, brave, and prudent man. He was known after his death as 'Oda se goda' Oda the Good, a title which St Dunstan himself is said to have bestowed upon him. He must share with the saintly Bishop Ælfheah of Winchester the merit of preparing the way for the great monastic revival. Oda, we are told by Oswald's biographer, had received the monastic habit from the newly reformed monastery of Fleury; and as the English movement of reform under Dunstan and Ethelwold at Glastonbury was the fruit of Ælfheah's pious zeal, so the stimulus which it afterwards derived from foreign sources was partly the result of Oda's sending Oswald to be a monk at Fleury.

After having devoted the first section of his work to Archbishop Oda, the writer comes at length to his proper subject.[12] In highly rhetorical language, which serves to disguise his real lack of information, he tells us of Oswald's pious boyhood, his education under his uncle's supervision, and his rapid progress in sacred studies. Oda endowed him with a considerable fortune, which he employed in the purchase of a monastery at Winchester. He was of an -exceedingly attractive character, and his abilities and wealth surrounded him with friends. After the fashion of the times, he arrayed himself in silk and fared sumptuously every day, but his heart was not at ease. 'In those days', says our author, 'there were no men of monastic life in England, and no rules of that holy institute. There were clerks of religion and dignity, who yet gave the treasures which they eagerly acquired not to the honour of the church, but to their wives. Among such dwelt this pious youth as Lot in Sodom.'

We must not exaggerate the import of such a statement as this. The first part of it we know to be not strictly true; for Bishop Ælfheah, who was himself a monk of devoted life, had ruled at Winchester from about 934 to 951; and though it is possible that Oswald did not go there till after his death, when he was succeeded by Ælfsige, of whom no good has been recorded, yet by that time Dunstan had been building up Glastonbury for some ten years and making it a true model of Benedictine life. But all this was half a century before the date at which our author was writing; and a tradition had begun to grow up to the effect that there were no monks in England, and that such monasteries as had not been wholly destroyed by the Danes were served by careless clerks whose iniquities called to heaven for vengeance. Such speedy forgetfulness of the recent past is no isolated phenomenon: it is indeed characteristic of great movements of reform.

We must pause to note here a misconception which arose a hundred years later, and still confuses the story of Oswald's early days. Eadmer, in re-writing his Life, says that Oswald became a canon at Winchester, and was soon made dean in spite of his youthfulness. 'Regular among irregulars,' he tells us, Oswald sought in vain to mend the morals of his colleagues, and at last left them in despair.[13] We need not press the anachronism of the use of the word 'canon', which does not seem to occur in any document of English origin, either Latin or Saxon, before the year 1000. It is enough to point out that the anonymous biographer, whose work he had before him, says nothing about Oswald's association with the cathedral church at Winchester, still less of his becoming its dean. What we are told is that out of the wealth with which his uncle Oda supplied him 'he bought for himself a monastery situated at Winchester, paying no inconsiderable price (sibi monasterium quod est in Wintonia, positum acquisivit, donando digno pretio).[14] Such a proceeding is in harmony with what we know of the times, though by Eadmer's day it had happily become almost inconceivable. There were two great monasteries or minsters in Winchester—the Old Minster, which was the cathedral church, and the New Minster founded by King Alfred and his son King Edward. We have no ground for supposing that what Oswald purchased was the headship of either of these great foundations, still less that it was merely a stall in the cathedral minster. There were other churches in Winchester, such as the two which chance to be mentioned in connexion with Bishop Ælfheah in the earliest Life of St Dunstan.[15] Probably it was one of these smaller monasteria that was the scene of Oswald's earliest ministrations.

'I would fain visit the parts beyond the sea,' he told the archbishop, 'and in the place that your love shall decree enter the service of God and His saints,' In other words, he would resign his position and his prospects, leave home and country, and become a monk in a foreign land. Had he been of a Wessex stock he would not have looked so far afield. Glastonbury under Abbot Dunstan would have provided him with the life he sought. Perhaps it is an indication of the silence with which Dunstan worked, that the fame of Glastonbury as the home of a new spiritual movement was not yet such as to attract this restless Danish youth. At any rate his uncle welcomed his determination and sent him with gifts and commendation to Fleury, where, under Abbot Wlfald, he would find the most perfect observance of the Rule.[16]

Oda in his old age implored that Oswald might be sent back to him. It may be that he hoped that the young monk might bring his experience to the English Church, and found a monastery on the reformed lines at home. It is a curious fact that in the last year of his life Oda obtained from King Edwy the grant of 'forty manses' at Ely, which was then practically deserted and in the king's hand.[17] We shall find King Edgar offering Ely to Oswald at a later period among other available sites for the settlement of his monks. We may hazard the suggestion that Archbishop Oda had his nephew Oswald in view when he obtained lands at Ely from King Edwy. But Ely was to wait for another refounder, Bishop Ethelwold. And though Oda's request was granted by the abbot of Fleury, his nephew's return came too late: before he reached England the archbishop had passed away, on June 2, 958.

Oswald accordingly travelled north to his kinsman Oskytel, the archbishop of York, by whom he was commended to Dunstan, who had now been recalled from exile and was administering the sees of Worcester and London. Dunstan at once recognized his gifts and his goodness; and among his first acts on becoming archbishop of Canterbury he consecrated Oswald, with King Edgar's permission, to the see of Worcester, which he had just vacated. This was in the year 961. His biographer now tells us how the new bishop, in apostolic fashion, travelled round the villages of the diocese, preaching and giving abundant alms. He endeared himself to every class, from the dukes to the peasants: justice, gentleness, and hospitality were the marks of his administration.[18]

We then come to a chapter which specially concerns us: it is headed, 'How Christ's prelate, chosen to government, afterwards earnestly sought to gather together monks'. It opens with a rhetorical outburst in praise of Fleury, whither St Benedict's bones had been brought from Monte Cassino by the holy Agiulf. Then we are told that there had followed Oswald to Fleury a Winchester youth named Germanus, who after a long and severe probation became a monk, and diligently learned the institutions of the Rule. Oswald now sent for Germanus, and set him to instruct disciples in the monastic manner of life. The fame of his pupils extended throughout the province, and many faithful clerks came under him, including the venerable priest Eadnoth, a man of noted wisdom. They soon passed the sacred number of twelve, not counting the children whom they trained. Oswald settled them at Westbury, where they offered an example of true monasticism. He furnished them with the necessaries of life, so that their whole care should be for the divine service. This state of things lasted for some four years.[19]

Next we have a description of King Edgar's Easter court, at which the whole question of monastic reform was considered. The king, who hated the clerks (clericos perosos habuit) and loved the monks, ordered more than forty monasteries to be established. His chief adviser in this was Ethelwold, the bishop of Winchester. Oswald asked the king for a place for his monks, and was offered the choice of St Albans, Ely, and Benfleet; after visiting these places he returned home.[20]

The narrative now reverts to the Easter court, to tell how a certain knight died during its course, and how at the funeral Oswald met with Ethelwin, son of that great Duke Athelstan who for his power was, called the 'Half-king', and who ended his days as a monk at Glastonbury. Oswald asked Ethelwin if he could provide him a place suitable for monks. Ethelwin at once offered him Ramsey, where already there were three men desirous of the monastic life. Oswald visited Ramsey, and approved its island solitude among the fens. Returning home, he ordered the priest Eadnoth, the steward of the monastery, to go to Ramsey and make preparations; and on St John Baptist's Day (August 29) Oswald himself came and settled the monks there.[21]

A new chapter now begins by relating how during the next winter masons were secured and materials prepared for building a stone church in the spring. The church was cruciform, with a tower in the middle and another at the west end. Meanwhile other monasteries were being founded; for the king pressed the matter on, and ordered Dunstan to let Ethelwold of Winchester and Oswald of Worcester understand that all sites of monasteries should be furnished with monks or nuns. And this they quickly brought about, being eager so to do. Oswald made two monasteries, one in his cathedral city, the other at Winchelcombe. Of the latter he appointed Germanus, the dean of Ramsey, to be head. Ethelnoth was set to rule Ramsey; and in the cathedral city the headship was given to Wynsin, who had been trained at Ramsey (apud nostri coenobii gymnasium), and took with him certain brethren from the Ramsey choir.[22]

Our author makes no further reference to Worcester, save at the end, when he tells how the brethren at Worcester sent tidings to Ramsey of Oswald's death, and how the saint was buried in his own new church at Worcester.[23] In estimating the historical value of what he says about Worcester, we must bear in mind that he is a Ramsey monk, and his interests centre in his own house: Worcester and Winchelcombe concern him only because Ramsey monks ruled these foundations. But we learn from him that Oswald acted with prudence and patience. He began with a model monastery on a small scale at Westbury-on-Trym; then, thanks to Duke Ethelwin's unbounded generosity, Ramsey offered itself for a great foundation. The introduction of monks at Worcester came later. Wynsin, or Wynsige, who was put at their head, had received his training at Ramsey. There is no suggestion that he had been a member of the cathedral body at Worcester; nor is any hint given of a difficulty with clerks in the establishment of the monastery. It is important to note these silences, for Eadmer's Life of Oswald greatly improves on the barrenness of this early account.


We will now turn back to contemporary evidence, and see what may be learned from Oswald's own charters. Between the years 962 and 969 we have some thirty grants of leases, mostly for three lives, attested by members of the Worcester familia; and of these grants eleven belong to 969. After this we have a gap, and the next lists of the familia come to us in 977. When we add to this that we have a single charter attested by the familia of Bishop Coenwald in 957, it will be seen that we are in a position to watch the changes which took place in the composition of the cathedral body during the important period of twenty years, from the last days of Bishop Coenwald to the middle point of Oswald's episcopate. This is first-hand evidence of the course of his reform.

Bishop Coenwald's charter of 957 (B. C. S. 993) is a semi-poetical grant, made 'with consent of the brethren to Behstan presbyter of the same monastery'; and we may note the phrase, 'by the key of the apostolic authority of Peter', as a probable allusion to the dedication of the church. Thirteen names follow that of Coenwald in the attestation. Behstan stands first and Wulfric second; but only one name is followed by a descriptive title, viz. 'Cynethegn clericus'. In Oswald's charters, on the other hand, we shall find that it is the rule to place the title presbyter, deacon, or clerk after each name. Taking B. C. S. 1088 and 1089 as the earliest of the charters issued by Oswald in 982, we can learn something by a comparison of the names there given with the names of 957. The figures in brackets after the names of the first list indicate their places in the second list.[24]

 957.  962.
1. Behstan. 1. Wulfric pr.
2. Wulfric (1). 2. Æthelnoth pr.
3. Æthelstan (13). 3. Ælfred cl.
4. Wulfnoth. 4. Wulfhun cl.
5. Ælfred (3). 5. Byrhstan cl.
6. Wulfr(ic) (17). 6. Cynsige cl.
7. Eadstan 7. Wulfgar cl.
8. Oswulf. 8. Wynstan cl.
9. Ælfric (15). 9. Wulfheah cl.
10. Wulfhun (4). 10. Cynstan cl.
11. Cynsige (6). 11. Eadwine cl.
12. Cynethegn cler' (14).  12. Ælfstan cl.
13. Ælfstan (12). 13. Æthelstan cl.
14. Cynethegn cl.
15. Ælfric di.
16. Eadgar cl.
17. Wulfric cl.
The changes here shown are not more than might be expected in the course of five years. Four of the first list are missing from the second; but of these Wulfnoth reappears in 966 and afterwards; and Behstan, the senior in 957, may have died, or may have gone to live on the estate then granted to him. Eight names are new in 962; but we cannot be sure that some of these were not merely absentees on the former occasion.

Judging from the titles appended in 962, it seems that the only priests in 957 were Behstan, who is styled 'presbyter' in the body of the grant made to him, and Wulfric, who succeeds Behstan as the senior. Nor were matters any better in 962; for Wulfric and ^Ethelnoth are the only priests, and there is but one deacon, Ælfric. This is a startling revelation. It helps us to understand the general complaint that the monasteries or minsters were in the hands of clerks and the services grossly neglected. In contrast with this we may remember that nine presbyters, four deacons, and five other persons had attested Bishop Denebert's charter of c. 798.

Although we have lists of the familia in charters of 963, 966, 967, and 969, it will suffice for our present purpose to examine two lists which belong to the year 977; and it is important to bear in mind that there has been an interval of seven years (970-6), during which there are no lists for comparison. The first year of their appearance is noted before the names of those who have attested earlier charters.

 977.[25]  977.[26]
Wynsige pr. Wynsige mo.
957 Wulfric pr. Wulfheh mo.
962 Wulfheah pr. Æthelstan mo.
957 Æthelstan pr. Æthelsige mo.
969Ælfsige pr. Æthelstan mo.
962 Eadgar pr. Wulfweard mo.
962 Wistan pr. Eadwine cl.
966 Eadweard pr. Godingc cl.
966 Ælfgar di. Ælfstan cl.
Godingc di. Ælfsige mo.
Leofstan di. Leofwine mo.
Æthelsige di. Ælfgar mo.
Wulfweard di.  Æthelric mo.
957 Cynethegn cl. Brihstan cl.
957 Wulfhun cl. Eadweard cl.
962 Wulfgar cl. Æthelwold cl.
962 Brihstan cl. Ælfstan cl.
966 Leofwine cl. Wulfnoth cl.
962 Cynestan cl. Wulfric cl.
966 Wynstan cl. Cynetheng cl.
962 Eadwine cl. Wulfhun cl.
957 Ælfstan cl. Eadgar pr.
Ælfnoth cl. Wulfgar cl.
Æthelwold cl. Leofstan di.
957 Wulfnoth cl. Tuna cl.
Æthelric cl. Cynstan cl.
Wunstan cl.

Looking at the former of the lists for 977, we may note that three or four members of the body have passed away since 969, and on the other hand there are eight new names. Wynsige, who has come from Ramsey, is now at the head, and among the other new names some may be of those whom he brought with him from the Ramsey choir. Wulfric, who was at the head, now takes the second place. There are six survivors of the thirteen who attested Bishop Coenwald's charter of 957; twelve survivors of the seventeen who signed in 962. Thus it is plain that there has been no violent breach of continuity. On the other hand, we observe the effect of Oswald's reforming influence in the change from the two priests and one deacon of 962 to eight priests and five deacons in 977.

There are six charters of 977 which present this same type of attestation (K. C. D. 596, 612, 613, 614, 616, 617): but there is one of the same year (K. C. D. 615) which is unique, and, if we may trust it, most instructive.[27] Of its 27 names 10 have the title monachus affixed to them. In the next year and henceforward the usual type of attestation is found again, and Wulfric and Wistan, the two presbyters missing from the exceptional list, reappear in their usual places. We might perhaps suppose that they had abstained from signing as a protest against this unexampled method of attestation. A few of the later charters show the title monachus attached to an individual name here and there: but never again is the whole body divided into those who were monks and those who were not. If we care to imagine that hard words passed on this occasion, it will only throw into relief the fact that apart from this there is no evidence at all of any kind of friction in the course of Oswald's great reform. It is right, however, to point out that the designation monachus is by no means the only peculiarity which marks the attestations of K. C. D. 615. We note also (1) the strangeness of the order by which three clerici are interposed between the first six and the last four of the monachi: (2) the late position of Eadgar, the only witness described as presbiter: (3) the absence of Wulfric presbiter, who headed the list before Wynsige arrived and stands second in the other charters of this year: (4) the description of Eadweard as clericus, though in the other charters of this year he is styled presbiter. In view of all this we can hardly think that the attestations of this charter have come down to us in their original form; and it will be more prudent to abstain from basing any conclusions upon it.

In the following years, from 978 to Oswald's death in 992, there is little change. Wulfric, who apparently does not become a monk, disappears after 983. Wynsige signs for the last time in 986; and Æthelstan, the next name on the list, hereafter takes the first place.

The exact date at which Wynsige and the monks came from Ramsey cannot be fixed. All that we can say with certainty is that they were at Worcester in 977. Two charters which bear the dates 969 and 974 (B. C. S. 1243 and 1298) give no lists of signatures, but contain Saxon notes to the effect that they were witnessed by 'Wynsige monk (or 'dean') and all the monks at Worcester'. It is obvious that this cannot represent the original form of these charters, and the evidence cannot be accepted without hesitation. The date 969 is in any case inconsistent with the fact that Wynsige had been trained for some time at Ramsey, which itself was not founded until about that year, if so early.[28]


Lastly, a Worcester tradition of the end of the eleventh century throws some light on the events which we have been considering, and as it has been seriously misinterpreted it will be well to notice it here. The evidence comes from the Acts of a Synod held by Bishop Wulstan at Worcester in 1092, printed by Hearne (pp. 527 ff.) from Vitellius C. 9 (the extracts made by Patrick Young); and also by Wharton (Anglia Sacra, i. 542) from a contemporary document in the archives of the cathedral church. A dispute had arisen between the presbyters of St Helen's and St Alban's as to the rights of their respective churches.

The bishop took the testimony of certain old men, well informed as to the ancient customs of the parish churches, and the testimony also of the monks of the cathedral church. It was affirmed that originally there was no parish in Worcester save that of the mother church. In the time of Bosel, the first bishop (680-691), St Helen's was a vicarage of the mother church. This arrangement was preserved throughout the times of all the bishops by the clerks who served in this see, until the days of Archbishop Oswald, who, by the aid of King Edgar and the authority of Archbishop Dunstan, changed the society of this church from the irregular life of clerks to the regular life and the habit of monks, A.D. 969. In St Oswald's time Wynsius the presbyter of St Helen's was vicar there of the mother church. He, with the others who served this church in the habit of clerks, laid aside the world and took the habit of monastic religion; and he gave up the keys of St Helen's church with its lands and possessions to the common use of the monks. In the third year of the conversion of Wynsius the presbyter, Oswald, with the king's assent, made him prior of the monks of this church.

We need not carry the story farther. The date 969 was doubtless gathered from the charter which claims to be of that year (B. C. S. 1243) and is said in the Saxon note to have been witnessed 'by Wynsige monk and all the monks of Worcester'. We note in passing that in the account here given there is no suggestion that there had ever been a community of monks at Worcester before St. Oswald's time.

  1. Memorials of St Dunstan (Rolls S.), p. 106.
  2. Ibid., p. 163.
  3. Ibid., p. 292
  4. Memorials of St Dunstan (Rolls S.), pp. 303f.
  5. Ibid., pp. 163f.
  6. Heming was not the first to collect the Worcester Charters into a Register. A like attempt was made a hundred years before, possibly begun under the direction of St Oswald himself. Fragments of this—'by far the earliest English chartulary of which we have any trace'—are preserved in the British Museum (Nero E. 1) and among Lord Middleton's MSS. at Wollaton (see the description by Mr. W. H. Stevenson in the Middleton Catalogue, published by the Historical MSS. Commission, pp. 197 ff.). The order of the charters in the surviving pages of this ancient register agrees with that followed by Heming: but happily Heming did not follow his predecessor in the abbreviation of the text of the documents.
  7. Hearne, Hemingi Chartularium, ii. 342; B. C. S. 1007.
  8. The modern view is clearly stated in the Victoria County History of Worcester, ii. 3 f., 95 f.
  9. 9.0 9.1 See Appendix A.
  10. Barnsley, a member of Bibury (= Biga's bury).
  11. On this anonymous Life see further in Appendix C
  12. Historians of York, i. 410.
  13. Historians of York, ii. 6.
  14. Ibid. i. 410f.
  15. Memorials, pp. 14f.
  16. Wlfald succeeded Archembold, who had ruled Fleury after Abbot Odo's death in 941. Wlfald sent monks to St Peter's at Chartres, at the request of Ragenfred, who was bishop of Chartres from 941 to 960. This took place, we are told, some three years after Wlfald's accession (Ann. O. S. B. iii. 503). Abbo was dedicated as a boy at Fleury under Abbot Wlfald (ibid. 538). Wlfald became bishop of Chartres in 962 (ibid. 560). Accordingly he may have been abbot of Fleury from 943 to 962.
  17. Crawford Charters, no. V (B. C. S. 999): 9 May, 957.
  18. Historians of York, i. 421.
  19. Ibid., p. 424.
  20. Ibid., p. 427.
  21. Historians of York, i. 431.
  22. Ibid., p. 435.
  23. Ibid., pp. 474f.
  24. The order of names in B. C. S. 1088 has been deranged by a scribe, who read downwards instead of across.
  25. Cf. K. C. D. 596, 612, 613, 614.
  26. K. C. D. 615.
  27. See the second of the lists given above.
  28. See Appendix B.


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