Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Whethamstede, John

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WHETHAMSTEDE or Bostock, JOHN (d. 1465), abbot of St. Albans, was son of Hugh and Margaret Bostock, and nephew on his mother's side of John Whethamstede, prior of Tynemouth, a cell of St. Albans in 1401 (Gesta Abbatum, iii. 480). He was born at Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire, whence his name appears in Latin as ‘Frumentarius,’ or ‘de loco frumenti.’ He became a monk of St. Albans after 1401, and prior of Gloucester College, the house of the southern Benedictines at Oxford, where probably later he received the degree of D.D. On the promotion of Abbot William Heyworth to the see of Lichfield in 1420, Whethamstede was elected abbot of St. Albans, and received the temporalities on 20 Oct. Being nominated by convocation to attend the council of Pavia, and appointed proctor for the English Benedictines, he set out for Italy in 1423, and, after being delayed by fever at Mainz, arrived at Pavia, where he defended the exempt abbeys against the attack of Richard Fleming, bishop of Lincoln. Having followed the council to Siena, he went thence to Rome, where he fell dangerously ill. On his recovery he obtained some privileges for his abbey from Martin V, again went to Siena, and soon returned thence to England, reaching St. Albans on 25 Feb. 1424.

A dispute between Whethamstede and the archbishop of Canterbury, Henry Chichele [q. v.], who in 1425 claimed to interfere in some matters pertaining to the abbot's jurisdiction, ended in John's favour. He held a synod at St. Albans in 1426, before which he cited some persons suspected of heresy, inflicted penance on one man, and caused an heretical book to be burnt. In 1427 he was flattered by a request from the archbishop and prelates that he would compose a letter to be sent to the pope on behalf of the clergy and laity. About that time he was engaged in three lawsuits in defence of the claims of his house, and made some new ordinances, instituting the office of master of the works, founding a common chest, and directing that, when needful, help should be given to poor scholars and the priors of the cells of the abbey. He was deputed to attend the council of Basle in 1431, but whether he did so does not appear. In 1433 he was involved in a troublesome quarrel with the bishop of Norwich, William Alnwick, on behalf of the prior of Bynham, Norfolk, one of the St. Albans cells. The dukes of Bedford and Gloucester interceded with the bishop in vain, and the case was finally heard before the king's judges and the barons of the exchequer, in the presence of the archbishops and bishops, in the hall of the Blackfriars, London. In support of his privileges the abbot produced a copy of his foundation charter, in which some words seem to have been interpolated exactly meeting the point in question. The result of the trial is not recorded, but the abbot considered that he had been successful in it, and in the protests that he made in convocation against the opposition to his claims on the part of some of the bishops. He was also successful in a suit arising out of an appeal from the court of the archdeacon of St. Albans to the papal court and the court of arches; the appellant in this case having been excommunicated by the cardinal auditor, the abbot obtained a writ against him, and kept him in his prison until he made submission in 1435. He had a long suit with the abbot of Westminster, which he suspended in 1437 on account of the dearth that was then prevailing.

Whethamstede entertained many great people at the abbey, as the young Henry VI and his mother in 1428; Queen Johanna, the widow of Henry IV, his tenant at Langley; the Duke and Duchess of Bedford, who came with a retinue of three hundred persons; the Earl and Countess of Warwick, and others. Among these Humphrey, duke of Gloucester [q. v.], was a frequent visitor, for the abbot shared the duke's love of learning, found his friendship useful to him, and helped him to form his famous library. Through Gloucester's influence he obtained grants from the crown of several estates already given to the convent by grants that had been annulled by the statute of mortmain. He spent much in presents to persons of rank and influence, and in the transcription of books, and paid John Lydgate [q. v.], a monk of Bury, 3l. 6s. 8d. for translating the life of St. Alban into English verse, the whole cost of the volume, which he offered on the high altar of his church, being 5l. He was also liberal to the scholars of Gloucester College. He caused the lady-chapel at St. Albans to be painted, built a new chapel near the shrine of St. Alban, and made other costly additions and restorations in the church, built new chambers in the infirmary, and further improved the buildings of the convent both at St. Albans and on its property elsewhere, and at Gloucester College built a new library, a small chapel, and a wall round the garden, which is believed still to exist at Worcester College (Riley). On 26 Nov. 1440 he resigned the abbacy. The reasons alleged for this step are that he was suffering from ill health; that, being of a nervous temperament, he found his work and anxieties too much for him; and that he was painfully bashful: his real reason probably being that he saw that the power of his friend and patron Gloucester was declining. A large provision was granted to him, and a house in the abbey was set apart for him and his household. A dispute arose between him and his successor, John Stoke, as to this provision, and was decided in his favour by Gloucester acting as arbitrator in 1442. He was assisted in this matter by his old opponent, Alnwick, then bishop of Lincoln, and they became friends. Owing to this dispute he resided, it is believed, chiefly at Wheathampstead, only visiting St. Albans occasionally (Hearne). He is also said to have been presented to the rectory of Little Cornard, Suffolk, in 1446 (ib.)

On the death of Stoke, Whethamstede was for the second time elected abbot, on 17 Jan. 1451, and accepted the election. The good order and prosperity of the abbey had declined under Stoke, and Whethamstede at once provided for an increase in the number of scholars, for better tuition, and for more frequent preaching. In 1452 he applied for and received letters patent, extending the king's general pardon to himself and the convent. The accounts of the general official, William Wallingford, afterwards abbot, who executed a number of the conventual offices, showed many debts, and it is asserted in the register compiled after Whethamstede's death that the abbot convicted him of gross fraud [see Wallingford, William]. The abbot caused the accounts to be regulated and the pecuniary position of the house to be set right, and was as active generally in the discharge of his duties as during his earlier tenure of office. After the first battle of St. Albans, on 22 May 1455, he obtained leave from the Duke of York to bury Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset, Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland, and Thomas, lord Clifford. Henry VI spent Easter in 1459 at the abbey, and the abbot at his request provided that his obit should be kept. He did not in that year personally attend parliament, on account of bodily infirmity. On the defeat of the Yorkists at St. Albans on 17 Feb. 1461, the northern army, though it did not enter the abbey, did great damage to the conventual property, and the abbot was forced to retire to Wheathampstead for a short time, others of the convent also temporarily withdrawing. He represented the impoverished state of his house to Edward IV, and on 3 Nov. received a charter enlarging the abbot's temporal jurisdiction. He died at a great age on 20 Jan. 1465, and was buried in the still existing tomb that he had made for himself in the abbey church.

Whethamstede's chief works during his second abbacy were the building of the library and rebuilding of the bakehouse of the abbey. He was learned, energetic, liberal, of high character, and much esteemed. The allegation that he suddenly changed from a violent Lancastrian to a Yorkist (Hallam, Middle Ages, iii. 198) seems mistaken. He was probably always inclined to the Yorkist side, as might be expected from his former friendship with Gloucester (Riley). Though he was perhaps too much given to litigation, he lived at a time specially marked by litigiousness, and it was his duty to defend the rights of his house. During his first abbacy he wrote ‘Granarium de viris illustribus,’ in four volumes; ‘Palearium Poetarum;’ a Register to the seventh year of his abbacy, with various letters; a book, ‘Super Valerium in Augustinum de Anchona;’ another commentary, ‘Super Polycraticum et super Epistolas Petri Blesensis,’ and a small book with metres and tables. The ‘Cato Glossatus’ and the two books of his own composition which he presented to the Duke of Gloucester were doubtless the same as the ‘Cato Commentatus,’ and two volumes of the ‘Granarium’ which Gloucester presented to the university of Oxford. Damaged copies of three parts of the ‘Granarium,’ with illuminations, are in the British Museum, the first part, Cottonian MS. Nero, C vi.; the second, Cottonian MS. Tib. D. v.; and the fourth, Additional MS. 26764. Leland saw a book of Whethamstede's entitled ‘De situ Terræ Sanctæ,’ and there are also attributed to him books called ‘Propinarium,’ ‘Pabularium Poetarum,’ and ‘Proverbiarium,’ besides others mentioned by Bale and Pits. He was held in high repute as a letter-writer; some of his letters, which are verbose and flowery, are in the ‘Chronicles of St. Albans Abbey’ (see below), and others of little importance are in Cottonian MS. Claudius D i. His Latin verses, which he seems to have composed on all occasions, are mere doggerel.

[The events of Whethamstede's first abbacy are recorded in the two volumes entitled Johannis Amundesham, Ann. de Mon. S. Albani, ed. Riley (Rolls Ser.), which contain a St. Albans Chron. 1422–31, by an unknown author, Annals of the Abbey, 1421–40, almost certainly by Amundesham, and probably written under Whethamstede's direction, and an appendix of the abbot's expenses, &c. The second abbacy is related in a book long known as Whethamstede's Chron., of which a large portion was printed by Hearne (see his Preface), along with Otterbourne's Chron.; it has been edited by Riley in Regista Quorundam Abbatum (Rolls Ser.), 2 vols., and is a Register compiled after Whethamstede's death, probably from two of his Registers (see Introd.); Dugdale's Monasticon, ii. 199–204; Newcome's St. Albans, pp. 307–42, 344–99; Anstey's Mun. Acad. pp. 769, 772 (Rolls Ser.); Warton's Hist. of Engl. Poetry, iii. 49, 50, 55, ed. Hazlitt; Leland, De Scriptt. pp. 437–8; Bale's Scriptt. cent. viii. 3; Pits, De Angl. Scriptt. p. 631.]

W. H.