Thame Local History
The History of Thame Prebend

It is believed that Thame church may originally have been a 'royal minster church' in mid Anglo Saxon times.

It certainly was the mother church for several of the small villages around, such as Towersey, Tetsworth, Sydenham and North Weston.

Thame as a 7th Century Minster

The territory covered by the parish of Thame, on which the prebend was based, is almost certainly the territory governed by the original Anglo Saxon minster.

What is a Prebend, a Prebendal Church and a Rectory?

Bishop Robert Grosseteste is sometimes credited with creating the prebend of Thame, but the Victoria County History notes that Thame church 'had been given to Lincoln Cathedral and formed into a prebend' by 1146.

This makes Bishop Alexander almost certainly the founder of both the new town at Thame and the prebend. Lupton in his History of Thame claims that Thame Church was built in 1138 by Bishop Alexander, and that it was at this time that it became a prebendal church.

Lincoln Cathedral was a collegiate church, with a Dean and Chapter of canons, and the creation of the Thame and other prebends within the Cathedral would have been of considerable benefit to the canons.

The office of prebendary of Thame was from the outset a valuable benefice, since it was based on a parish with Thame at the centre and a number of dependent chapelries in the surrounding villages. The Bishop of Lincoln also endowed the prebend with land from his own manor of Thame.

So how was the prebend of Thame so valuable to the Dean and Chapter at Lincoln, if it was a benefice that bestowed wealth on the person who held it? As we shall see, the valuable prebend of Thame was on more than one occasion fought over by sectional interests in the thirteenth century, so how did the canons of Lincoln benefit?

The answer basically is that the prebendaries of Thame were supposed to be appointed from the ranks of the canons of Lincoln, and the Dean and Chapter, along with the Bishop himself, wished to provide a living for and nurture certain individuals, who in turn would help administer the diocese and its archdeaconries. Without the prebends, the Dean and Chapter would have had to fund these people directly from Cathedral funds.

For a lot of the time, the Thame prebend was in the hands of such people, but it also fell to some who on occasion had other motivations.

The early history of Thame prebend is sketchy. There may have been a prebendary resident at Thame since 1138, but the first name we have comes through a reference in the Victoria County History to a royal grant of wood made to a canon of Lincoln Cathedral for his house at Thame. Ralph de Wareville was granted the wood in 1234.

The chapel within the grounds of the Prebendal House is thought to have been built around 1234, and the records of the community of prebendal monks at Thame begin in that year.

Bishop Robert Grosseteste succeeded to the see of Lincoln in 1235. He was a great churchbuilder, and in the year 1241 he caused the rebuilding of the parish churches at Thame, Aylesbury, Long Crendon, Monks Risborough, Haddenham and Great Milton. He may also have improved the Prebendal House and its chapel around that time.

There is mention in the Victoria County History of a remark made by Bishop Grosseteste, saying that the prebend of Thame was a desirable one because there 'was a perpetual vicar to relieve the prebendary of most of the cure'.

This remark may have been around the time of the celebrated dispute between Bishop Grossetest and King Henry III over Thame prebend.

The prebend of Thame had been vacant, and King Henry III had applied to Pope Gregory IX to provide it for his own royal chancellor, one of the most wealthy ecclesiastics of the time, John Mansel, to be appointed prebend of Thame.

Pope Gregory IX agreed and John Mansel may have taken up the position, but when he applied to Bishop Grosseteste to be formally instituted into the benefice it transpired that Bishop Grosseteste had already filled the post with his own nominee, one Simon of London.

Grosseteste refused to admit John Mansel to Thame, since the appointment had not been agreed with him. He even went so far as to threaten to excommunicate those seeking to invade his see. John Mansel, seeing what was afoot, resigned all claim on the prebend and Simon of London was duly instituted, although it is said that John Mansel had seized and held the church by force.

When the prebend again became vacant in 1292, there was another conflict over possession of it, this time a lot more violent than the argument fifty years earlier over John Mansel.

Again the vacant prebend at Thame was claimed by more than one person. This time the Bishop of Lincon, Oliver Sutton, had given the prebend to his nephew Thomas de Sutton, whilst Pope Nicholas IV had granted it to Edward, son of St John de St John.

The followers of Edward St John occupied the Prebendal House and threw out the servants of Thomas de Sutton. They then tried to prevent the clergy at the church from celebrating mass. This culminated in an all-out attack on the church in 1293 by 200 armed followers of St John.

Unbelievably, several of the priests were wounded with arrows whilst at the high altar celebrating mass.

The King, Edward I, refused to intervene and expel the followers of St John, so it was left to the Bishop of Lincoln and his own men at arms to attempt to restore the prebend to the bishop's nephew.

They basically laid siege to Thame, destroying the Crendon bridge and digging ditches across the main roads in and out of the town. This seems to have done the trick, although who knows what damage was done to the town by the departing followers of St John.

As for the King, he called the Bishop before him to explain why they had obstructed the royal highway. The Bishop's defence was that he had prevented the escape of felons, since the coroner had seen the body of a man murdered by the St John faction. The outcome was that those who had attacked the church were excommunicated.

In 1330 the new prebendary was the first of a string of nine Cardinals to hold the prebend of Thame, and some were never in residence at Thame. In fact, some were foreign and farmed out the prebend to local people, as in the case of one Stephanus, a Cardinal, who farmed it out in 1378, when it was valued at 200 marks a year.

(The period during which the prebend of Thame was to the benefit of Cardinals of the Holy See roughly coincides with the period when the Papacy was based at Avignon in France, and not in Italy. Cardinal Nicholas, appointed as Thame prebendary in 1381 was said to be related to Pierre Roger de Beaufort, alias Pope Gregory XI, one of the most prominent of the Avignon Popes.)

In 1389 the Rector of Ringwood in Hampshire, Richard Field, became prebendary of Thame, and he was followed by fifteen prebendaries from within the ranks of the English clergy, several of whom subsequently became Bishops.

In 1431 it is said that the Bishops of England met at the Thame Prebendal House to decide upon the fate of Joan of Arc. If this is so they would have been the guests of the prebendary at the time, Robert Leeks.

The last four prebendaries of Thame deserve special mention.

Adrian Tabarde became prebendary in 1480. He was a local man, born at Moreton, although he had been educated in Florence. It was part of the duties of a prebendary to keep the church buildings in good order and repair, and Tabarde made considerable improvements to Thame's St Mary's Church and to the Chapel at Tetsworth and was also a benefactor of the Chapel at Rycote.

At Thame he improved the choir and put in much stained glass.

Tabarde retired as prebendary in 1519, and there is an interesting entry in Thame Churchwardens accounts for the May Church Ale in 1520, "payed for making of ale to Mr Adryan Tabarde late p'bendary iid" (two pence).

The next prebendary, Richard Maudelay, was a respected canon lawyer and theologian, and played a part in the great debate within the University of Oxford over the validity of King Henry VIII's marriage with Katherine of Aragon.

Maudelay had been appointed by Bishop William Atwater, the predecessor at the see of Lincoln to Bishop John Longland. Longland took a very different stance on the matter of the divorce from that of his Thame prebendary.

Maudelay and Longland argued against each other at the debate in Oxford, and in the end the University voted in favour of the divorce, and against Maudelay, although with some reluctance. Maudelay had done nothing to endear himself to his Bishop.

When Maudelay died in 1531, Bishop Longland appointed as prebendary Dr John Rayne, vicar-general of the diocese of Lincoln and someone on whom he could rely.

Longland also took precautions against the eventual fate of the prebendal lands. Fearing confiscation by the state, he leased the lands for fifty years to his cousin, John Pate in 1533.

In 1535 King Henry ordered an assessment of the benefices belonging to the Church, known as the valor ecclesiasticus. This valuation included the vicarage and prebend of Thame.

The prebend was assessed to be worth 90 8s 9d to the prebendary, 'Sir John Rayns', from which was to be deducted 7 3s 2d for the payment of a Chaplain of Lincoln. The vicarage was worth 18 to the vicar, 'Sir John Parker'.

This valuation calculated a 'tenth part' of Rayne's income, after the deduction of the payment to the chaplain, and of Parker's income, showing a total amount of 9 21s 2d, which was payable to the Crown under the 'first fruits and tenths' legislation.

Rayne was killed by the mob at Lincoln, in the run-up to the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536. When a new vicar had to be appointed at Thame in 1536, at the death of John Parker, it was Bishop Longland himself who made the appointment.

The next prebendary was George Henneage, a lawyer of distinction who had studied at Cambridge and Bologna. Henneage had been appointed Dean of Lincoln Cathedral in 1528, especially selected by Bishop Longland to enact reforms within the Chapter, but he resigned his position as Dean in 1539.

Something of a mystery surrounds the unexpected resignation of George Henneage as Dean of Lincoln Cathedral. There is speculation that Thomas Cromwell persuaded him to resign in order to install his own man as Dean.

In the event the new appointee as Dean of Lincoln did not take up residence in the close of Lincoln until 1546, and so between 1539 and 1546 it seems that Henneage was resident in Lincoln, as acting Dean. In 1542 he was also appointed Archdeacon of Lincoln by the King.

Henneage installed a new vicar at Thame in 1541. He may have been prebendary from 1536. If he was ever resident at Thame then it would have been from 1546, when he again installed a new vicar, or from 1547.

In 1543 Henneage or possibly Bishop Longland may have resolved certain matters relating to the estate of the murdered former prebendary, Dr John Rayne, as the Thame Churchwardens accounts record that in 1543 a payment of ten shillings was made 'for the costes of me & my ffellows and John Brige riding in the Northe for the legacie of Doctor Rayne p'bendare of Thame'. (This seems to have led Lee to conclude that Rayne died in 1543).

On 28th January 1547 King Henry VIII died, leaving the throne of England to his nine year old son Edward VI. Within weeks the council Henry had appointed to rule England resolved to appoint Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and the young king's uncle, as Protector of the Realm.

Somerset was himself not above profiting directly from the confiscation of ecclesiastical assests. His own residence, Somerset House in London, begun in 1547, occupied the site of a number of former churches and chapels, earning Somerset great unpopularity.

In May 1547 John Longland, who as Bishop of Lincoln had sought hard to protect the resources of his Lincoln diocese from confiscation by the Crown, died.

Longland was succeeded as Bishop of Lincoln by Henry Holbeach, who was in office by 1st August of that year, since on that date the nine year old king issued a 'licence of alienation' to Bishop Henry Holbeach, commanding him to 'aliene', that is to transfer ownership, to the Duke of Somerset of the 'Manor of Thame'.

Later that month the Bishop and the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral confirmed the sale of the manorial possessions of Thame to the Duke of Somerset.

The following month, September 1547, Somerset commanded one of the country's leading lawyers, Robert Keilway, already surveyor of the Court of Wards and Liveries, to enquire into the state of the Crown revenues.

On 16th November of that year, Robert Keilway the Crown lawyer and Sir John Thynne, who as Somerset's own Steward was it seems acting as surrogate for Somerset himself, purchased the prebend of Thame from George Henneage, the last prebendary.

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