St. Oswald and the Church of Worcester/Appendix B

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The date of the introduction of monks by Oswald into the church of Worcester deserves a more careful consideration than it has yet received. The accepted date is 969, the year to which Florence of Worcester assigns the expulsion of the clerks and the establishment of monks under Wynsige as dean. For this date he claims to have the authority of Oswald himself.[1] This appears to be supported by a charter (B. C. S. 1243) of Oswald, which bears the date 969, and is attested by 'Wynsige monk and all the monks at Worcester'. It is probable that Florence had this charter before him and drew his date from it.

But we shall presently see that so early a date is inconsistent with the fact that Wynsige had received his habit at Ramsey, and had been under training for several years in that monastery. It is therefore necessary to submit the charter in question to a critical examination, We have noticed above (p. 16) that for the years 962 to 969 we have at least thirty charters in which Oswald grants leases for three lives, with a reversion to the church of Worcester. After 969 there is a strange gap[2] until the year 977, when the series recommences. On the one side of the gap the list of the 'familia' attesting is headed by 'Wulfric presbiter'; on the other side of the gap 'Wynsige presbiter' takes the first place, and 'Wulfric presbiter' stands next beneath him.

Next we note that for the year 969 alone we have eleven charters, in ten of which 'Wulfric presbiter' stands, as we have said, in the first place, and Wynsige does not appear at all. The eleventh is the exceptional charter which is said to have been attested by 'Wynsige monk and all the monks at Worcester'.

Oswald's charters follow various types, which recur with only the necessary modification of the name of the person who receives the grant and the description of the land granted. The type to which our charter belongs is seen in its purity in B. C. S. 1238. First comes the date A.D. Then the body of the grant, beginning 'Ego Oswald, superni rectoris fultus iuvamine presul', and ending 'restituatur immunis'. Then the bounds, introduced by the superfluous sentence, 'His metis pref atum rus hinc inde giratur', and beginning 'Ðis synd þa land gemære .…' Lastly, the attestations of Oswald and the 'familia', some eighteen or twenty in number.

Frequently, however, we find Saxon notes inserted at various points, before or after the bounds, or at the end of the signatures. These give supplementary grants, or the names of the heirs to whom the property came. In the latter case it is obvious that they are later insertions which the copyist of the charters has embodied. Now the charter in which we are interested is constructed as follows:

(1) The date, followed by 'Ego Osƿald superni rectoris fultus iuvamine praesul … restituatur immunis'.

(2) A Saxon note saying that 'This was done with the witness of Wynsige monk and all the monks at Worcester'.

(3) 'His metis prefatum rus hinc inde giratur.

(4) Þis syndon þa land gemæru …'

Here there are two divergences from the type: a Saxon note is inserted before the bounds; and the attestations of Oswald and the members of the 'familia' are missing. As we have not the original charter, but only the copy in Heming's chartulary, we can only hazard a conjecture as to the cause of variation. We may suppose that the original charter was mutilated at the end, so that the names were lost; and that a later scribe wrote on the margin or between the lines the Saxon note which perplexes us. At any rate we are justified in suspecting that the copy does not represent the charter in its original form; and we shall be prepared to reject the statement about Wynsige and the monks, if we find it to be inconsistent with historical probability.

After 969 there is, as we have said, a considerable gap in the Worcester charters; and the next charter which gives us a list of the 'familia' does not come till 977. Oswald became archbishop of York after Oskytel's death (1 Nov. 971), possibly not till 972 (Flor. Wig.); but he retained the see of Worcester. King Edgar died July 8, 975: a reaction against the monks who had displaced clerks followed; but we have no indication that Worcester was affected by it. We must now notice two charters which fall within this gap.

B. C. S. 1293 is a memorandum of a lease granted by Archbishop Oswald at London in 973: only a few signatories are named, and these are not of the Worcester 'familia' But in 974 we have a charter (B. C. S. 1298) which has no attestations, but is said in a Saxon note to have been granted 'with the witness of Wynsige dean and all the monks at Worcester'. This is a parallel to the charter which we have already considered, and it must be examined in its turn.

It belongs to another type of Oswald's charters. It begins 'Ego Osualdus archiepiscopus ergo Christi crismate praesul iudicatus': then the date A. D., and the body of the grant ending with the word 'restituatur'[3] Next we have the bounds: 'Þis syndon …' After this we have two Saxon sentences: (1) 'This was done with the witness of Wynsige dean and all the monks at Worcester;' (2) 'Brihtlaf was the first man, and now it is held by his sons, Byrhtwine and Byrhtmær.' There is no list of the 'familia' attesting.

It is plain that the second of these notes is no part of the original document, but a subsequent addition. The first is perplexing; but, as the charter itself is no longer extant, we may well doubt whether our copy faithfully represents it. We seem to see the same hand at work as in the earlier charter of 969. Again we must say that the evidence is not such as will bear any great stress.

It is strange that Worcester leases should be wanting for these seven years (970-6), with the two exceptions that we have mentioned.[4] It may be that a batch of charters of this period was found by Heming in a state of almost irrecoverable collapse through damp or other misfortune. As soon as we reach the year 977 we have no less than seven charters (K. C. D. 596, 1012-17), all of which show us Wynsige in the first place, and Wulfric in the second, at the head of the Worcester 'familia'. The main body of the 'familia' remains as we saw it in 969; but six new men now appear with Wynsige for the first time, and three of them we presently find described as monks; no doubt they were the brethren from 'the choir of Ramsey', whom Oswald, as we are told, brought to Worcester with Wynsige.

Here, then, for the first time, we are on firm ground. We can say with confidence that in the year 977 Wynsige and a few other Ramsey monks had become established in the 'familia' at Worcester. They may have come in before this date, but we cannot prove it.

In order to check the date 969, we need to know when the first settlement took place at Ramsey. For the early Life of Oswald tells us that Wynsige received his training in that monastery.

Oswald met the alderman Ethelwine at the funeral of a knight who died at the time of a great Easter Council, of which neither the place nor the year is mentioned by the early biographer. A few days after this Oswald visited Ramsey, and on his return to Worcester at once dispatched Eadnoth to make preparations for an immediate settlement, which took place on August 29 of the same year. Everything was necessarily constructed on the smallest scale; but the next year saw the beginning of a stone church.

Now the historian of Ramsey (p. 30), writing at the end of the twelfth century, adds to this information that the funeral of the knight took place at Glastonbury. It is quite possible that this reached him by a trustworthy tradition. And we note with interest that a charter, in which King Edgar confirmed to Bishop Ethelwold the liberties of Taunton, is said to have been granted at an Easter Council held at Cheddar in 968 (B. C. S. 1219).[5] This year (968) is a traditional date for the first settlement at Ramsey: for in one of the MSS. of the History of Ramsey (cent, xiv) the date 969 is entered in the margin against the notice of the foundation of the new church (p. 40). It is not quite easy, however, to reconcile this date with the narrative contained in the Privilege of King Edgar, to which the writer himself refers, and which is given later in the book.[6] For here we read that the consecration of the new church took place on Nov. 8, 974, five years and eighteen days after the first temporary buildings had been erected (p. 185): but this brings us back only to October 969.[7]

Yet another tradition is preserved in the List of Abbots of Ramsey (ibid., p. 339), where Eadnoth is said to have been sent by Oswald from Westbury in 970, and the settlement of twelve monks is assigned to August 29, 972. And, again, the Register of Ramsey distinctly places the foundation of the monastery in 969, the arrival of Eadnoth in 970, and that of the twelve monks from Westbury in 972.[8]

Whether the foundation of Ramsey be assigned to 968, 969, or 970, it is difficult to suppose that Wynsige, after being trained there, could have been placed at the head of the Worcester 'familia', at the very earliest, before 972, when Oswald became archbishop of York. We are told in a document of 1092 (Anglia Sacra, i. 542) that he was made prior of Worcester in e the third year of his conversion 9: and Oswald's biographer (p. 435) speaks of him as follows:

Illis qui sub eo erant in civitate [i. e. at Worcester] anteposuit Wynsinum reverendum presbyterum, qui erat apud nostri coenobii gymnasium eruditus, cui annexuit quosdam fratres ex nostro choro.

In conclusion, we are certain from the charters that Wynsige was at the head of the 'familia' at Worcester in 977. Six years after this Oswald could thank God that he had been able praeter spem to bring to completion the church of St Mary at Worcester (K. C. D. 637: A.D. 983). In view of all that has been said above, the dates 969 and 974, which are found in the charters B. C. S. 1243, 1298, where Saxon notes speak of 'Wynsige monk' and 'Wynsige dean', cannot be relied on as satisfactory evidence.

  1. Unde S. Oswaldus sui voti compos effectus, clericos Wigornensis ecclesiae monachilem habitum suscipere renuentes de monasterio expulit; consentientes vero hoc anno ipso teste monachizavit, eisque Ramesiensem coenobitam Winsinum, magnae religionis virum, loco decani praefecit,' Flor. Wig. sub anno 969.
  2. Of the two charters dated 973 and 974 we shall speak later: neither contains the list of the 'familia'.
  3. The normal opening is 'Ego Osƿald ergo Christi crismate presul iudicatus'. In the charter of 974, however, 'archiepiscopus' is awkwardly inserted: but afterwards it is usual to write 'archipresul' instead of 'presul'. We may note that B. C. S. 1203 reads: 'Ego Osƿold largo Christi carismate praesul dicatus', which perhaps may be the correct form. For recurrence of a blunder compare the phrase 'libera omni regi nisi aecclesiastici census' in several charters: as contrasted with 'libera ab omni saecularis rei negotio …' in K. C. D. 651, 662.
  4. B. C. S. 1299 is wrongly assigned by Birch to 974: it belongs to 977, though 'Edgar' is written by a scribe's mistake for 'Edward'.
  5. This, however, is not a very satisfactory charter (Winch. Reg.).
  6. The charter is only of value as evidence of Ramsey tradition of the time when it was forged.
  7. This consecration is probably a pure invention. The Ramsey historian has to make a second consecration, after the repair of the church, on November 8, 991, which is the real consecration date in the anon. Life of St. Oswald (pp. 403 f.).
  8. Monasticon, ii. 554: and for other dates see ibid., p. 54G . (Ramsey Chartulary, Rolls Ser., Hi. 170 ff.).