Document of the Month, August 2017: Salvation for sale

Indulgence granted to John and Lucy Prince of Theydon Garnon by John Kendale, turcipelerius of Rhodes and Commissary of Pope Sixtus IV, 10 April 1480 (D/DCe Q2)

Our Document of the Month for August 2017 is a medieval indulgence – a certificate granted by the Catholic Church to absolve the bearer of sin, and reduce any punishment they would receive either in this life or in purgatory.

The document dates from 1480, but we have chosen to highlight it in 2017 because this year marks 500 years since Martin Luther’s publication of his Ninety-Five Theses, an event which is generally seen as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in Europe. The Ninety-Five Theses is also known as the Disputation on the Power of Indulgences, and criticised the way the Catholic Church was granting these documents.

Indulgences had originally been intended to be a reward for piety and good deeds, but the system had become increasingly commercialised, with indulgences being sold. In 1517 Pope Leo X offered indulgences to those who contributed alms towards the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In Germany a Dominican friar, Johann Tetzel, was prominent in selling indulgences and the saying ‘As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs’ is attributed to him.

Luther attacked the sale of indulgences not only for their commercialisation, but also because he contended that the Pope had no right to grant indulgences on God’s behalf. He also argued that the selling of indulgences discouraged people from truly repenting of their sins or performing acts of mercy.

This particular indulgence was granted to John and Lucy Prince, ‘in consideration of [their] devotion to the Roman Church and willingness to aid the sacred and necessary expedition against the perfidious Turk and for the defence of the Isle of Rhodes and the Catholic Faith’ [Suarum pro expeditione contra perfidos turchos christinai nominis hostes in defensionem insule Rhodi et fidei catholice facta].

The indulgence was granted by the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem, at their English headquarters of St John’s Priory in Clerkenwell. The Knights Hospitallers were a religious and military order charged with defending the Holy Land. Having been based originally in Jerusalem, by this time they had bases across Europe and operated their military activity from the island of Rhodes.

In 1480, the year this indulgence was granted, the Ottomans under Sultan Mehmet II laid siege to Rhodes; granting indulgences was one of the ways the Knights Hospitallers raised money for its defence. Mehmet II had been waging a largely successful campaign against Christian forces since 1453 when he captured Constantinople (Istanbul). Rhodes did not fall until 1522 when it was captured by Suleiman the Magnificent, Mehmet’s great-grandson.

The indulgence gave the Princes the right to choose their own confessor with the power to absolve all sins, other than murder of a priest, violence against a bishop or disobedience towards the Pope. It also granted the right for a full remission and indulgence of sins once during their lifetime and once at the point of death.

The Protestant Reformation centred round the principle that salvation could be achieved by faith alone, not by faith and good works, as emphasised by the Catholic Church. In this Luther built on the works of humanists such as Erasmus. The subsequent emphasis on translating the Bible from Latin into the vernacular (i.e. English) was intended to make it more accessible to everybody.

These principles resonated across Europe in the 16th century, and we can find evidence of them in the ERO collections. In 1588, for example, John Brockise of Havering Green, Hornchurch, a painter, left a will (D/AEW 9/10) in which he bequeathed his most precious possessions. After bequests of furniture to his children, he left to Samuel Brockis the Paraphrase of Erasmus on the Four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles ‘in consideration that he shalbe good to my wife and to the reste of his bretherne and sister after my desese’ or his wife had the power to withhold the bequest. He left to his son Robert ‘one bybell’ translated by Miles Coverdale on the same basis. Miles Coverdale first translated the Bible into English in 1535.

So this one little document which is today looked after as part of the collections at ERO is a small part of a big story about a transforming world. We will not ever know what sin John and Lucy Prince felt they needed an indulgence for, but in the world of medieval Catholic belief it was better to be safe than sorry.

 The indulgence will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout August 2017.

Five favourite Chelmsford documents

Hannah Salisbury, Engagement and Events Manager

We have two great events coming up in late October looking at the history of Chelmsford. On Wednesday 26 October we have a guided walk of the city centre based on John Walker’s fabulous 1591 map (see below if you have never seen this before), and on Saturday 29 October we are hosting Chelmsford Through Time, a pop-up display of historic maps and photographs, with a talk by Dr James Bettley on the post-war development of Chelmsford. You can find details of both of these on our events webpages.

In preparation for these events we have been sifting through some of the masses of material we have on Chelmsford history, and I thought I would share here five of my favourite Chelmsford items from our collections, that provide fascination snapshots into the past of our county town.

  1. John Walker’s map, 1591

Any round-up of significant documents of Chelmsford’s history must surely start with John Walker’s spectacular map, dating from 1591 (long-time readers of this blog will most like have come across this in some of our previous posts). It shows the town in exquisite detail, with each building individually drawn with its own doors, windows and chimneys. What’s more, a written survey that goes with the map tells us who was living in each of these properties at the time. It’s a very special window into the past that I never get tired of looking through.

Walker map Chelmsford

Extract from John Walker’s map of Chelmsford, 1591, showing the town (D/DM P1)

  1. James Maylett execution

A grimmer choice, but I have always been interested in Tudor history and this snippet from the Chelmsford burial registers serves as a reminder of how brutal life could be. This burial entry dates from December 1542, and reads:

Jamys Maylette clerke Bachelor of Dyvinyti and p[ar]son of moche Lyes was drawen hanged and quarteryd on the market hyll for high treason on fryday the firste daye of December ao 1542.

That is to say, James Mallett, the parson of Great Lees, was hung, drawn and quartered in the market square at Chelmsford for high treason. 1 December that year was a Friday, market day, to ensure maximum witnesses for the gruesome spectacle.

Mallett had been a chaplain to Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife whom he divorced in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Mallett had also been rector of Great Leighs for 28 years. His treasonous offence was to comment unfavourably on Henry’s policy of dissolving religious houses. His public execution must surely have been intended as a warning to other clergy not to pass comment on the king’s decisions.

james-maylett-watermarked

Extract from the Chelmsford parish registers showing the burial of James Mallett, December 1542 (D/P 94/1/4 image 26)

 

  1. Spalding photo of High Street, c.1869

This is one of the earliest surviving photographs of Chelmsford High Street, dating to about 1869. It shows a view looking north up the High Street towards Shire Hall. It was taken by Fred Spalding, Chelmsford’s first commercial photographer. Spalding’s son and grandson both became photographers too, and we have about 7,000 of their photographs at the ERO today. This one, like all of Spalding’s early photographs, was taken on a glass plate coated with chemicals; a challenging process to get right, especially in the open air.

d-f-269-1-3715-watermarked

Photograph of Chelmsford High Street by Fred Spalding, c.1869 (D/F 269/1/3715)

  1. Photograph of Chelmsford Corn Exchange

If I could wave a magic wand over Chelmsford I would love to be able to bring back the Corn Exchange. This neo-Renaissance building was designed by Fred Chancellor in 1857, and sat on Tindal Square (Shire Hall is just out of frame on the right of this photo). It was demolished, along with the whole of the west side of Tindal Street, to make way for the High Chelmer redevelopment in 1969.

corn-exchange-1080-watermarked

Photograph by Fred Spalding of Chelmsford Corn Exchange

  1. Women at work in Marconi’s

This photograph is one of a series of images taken of Marconi’s Hall Street works, sometime between 1898 and 1912. At the start of the twentieth century, women were mostly expected to marry, have children, and stay at home. As an archetypal `new’ industry, the wireless industry involved complex assembly operations and `high-tech’ components requiring manual dexterity. The Marconi Hall Street works pioneered the early recruitment of a trained female workforce. Women are so often invisible or difficult to find in historical sources, so to find such striking photographs giving an insight into what their lives were like is always exciting. (You can see some more photos from this set on our Historypin page.)

Women at work in Marconi's Hall Street Factory, c.1902 (A11449)

Women at work in Marconi’s Hall Street Factory, c.1902 (A11449)

 Join us for Walking with Walker (Wednesday 26 October 2016) or Chelmsford Through Time (Saturday 29 October 2016) to delve deeper into Chelmsford’s history.

Registered wills – filling in the gaps

Wills can tell us all sorts of things about the lives of people in the past, and are a brilliant resource for genealogists and social and economic historians alike.

As we have mentioned before, our collections include some 70,000 original wills made by people in Essex between 1400 and 1858. These wills have all been catalogued and digitised, and can be searched for by name and viewed on our online subscription service Essex Ancestors.

We have now begun work on an additional set of records which can help to fill in any gaps in our series of original wills, which will ultimately result in about 10,000 more wills being added to Essex Ancestors.

Decorative I

A decorative initial ‘I’ from a book of registered wills dating from 1500-1515 (D/ACR 1)

Before 1858 when somebody died leaving a will, their executor would take the original will to the relevant court so that probate could be granted. The original wills would be kept by the court and filed; it is these wills proved in the ecclesiastical courts in Essex which have been digitised and are available via Essex Ancestors.

Clerks at the courts would also usually write out a copy of the will into large volumes called will registers (references beginning D/ABR, D/ACR, D/AER and D/AMR). There are approximately thirty 16th and 17th century registers for the courts in Essex where there are no original wills surviving.

Registered wills 1500-1515

The will registers are books into which clerks copied wills being proved at the ecclesiastical courts. Sometimes a will might survive in the book when the original copy of it has been lost, providing a useful second chance for researchers.

The wills in the registers are listed in the three volumes of Wills at Chelmsford, but do not currently appear on Seax. To make these records easier to find, we have started a project to add the details of individual wills in the registers to Seax, so they will be searchable by name. To begin with, only a written catalogue description will be available, but in the long term we plan to add digital images too. In the meantime, registered wills are viewable on microfiche in the Searchroom, or copies can be ordered through our reprographics service.

The first register for which details have been added to Seax is that for the archdeaconry of Colchester (D/ACR 1) which covers the north of the county for the years 1500-1515. 

Some of the wills in the volume are in Latin and as it dates from before the Reformation, the testators would all have been Roman Catholic, evidenced by the use of Catholic phraseology such as ‘I bequeath my soule to almyghte god and to our blessed lady saynt mary and to the holy all hallowes’, which appears in the will of Roger Burgon of Colchester below. Following the English Reformation and the invention of the Church of England references to Mary and the saints all but disappeared.

Roger Burgon’s will is dated 16 December 1507 (D/ACR 1/127/1).  After bequeathing his soul to God he went on to request that his body be buried in the Church of St. Francis within the Convent of the Friars Minor [Greyfriars] in Colchester.

Roger Burgon will

The beginning of the will of Roger Burgon, 1507 (D/ACR 1/127/1)

The majority of the wills are for men, but a number of women do appear, such as this one for Agnes Tomson of the parish of St Leonard in Colchester, dated 8th December 1502 (D/ACR 1/50/5).

Agnes Tomson will

The beginning of the will of Agnes Tomson, 1502 (D/ACR 1/50/5). The heading to the will reads ‘Testm Agness Tomson de High’ – Testament of Agnes Tomson of the High, then a new area of Colchester

Agnes’s bequests included a ‘blake gowne’ (black dress), a ‘petycote’, a ‘greene gowne’, a ‘russet gowne’ a ‘floke bed’ (flock bed), pots, plates and a kettle, a ‘blankett’, a ‘bolster’, and a ‘long knyff’ (knife), all of which helps us build up a picture of Agnes’s life.

Agnes Tomson will

The section of Agnes’s will leaving a ‘blake gowne’ (black dress)

Examples of English HandwritingIf you would like any further advice on using wills in your research, please ask a member of staff in the Searchroom or contact us on ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk. If you would like any help with reading old handwriting, our publication Examples of English Handwriting 1150-1750 by Hilda Grieve is a very useful guide. It can be purchased for £6 (+P&P) from the Searchroom or by phoning 033301 32500.

If you get really stuck, our Search Service can transcribe wills for you – please contact ero.searchroom@essex.gov.uk for details.