You are in [People] [Clergy & Teachers] [Vicars of Hungerford] [Vicars of Hungerford 1381-1558]

The following text is based on Vicars of the Parish Church of St. Lawrence, Hungerford, by Norman Hidden. It formed part of "Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford", published by the HHA in 2009: 

From 1381 a series of Patent Rolls makes it clear that the Crown had seized into its own hands the power of presentation to the living at Hungerford. The presentation is said to be in the king's gift 'by reason of the temporalities of the priory of Ogbourne being in his hands on account of the war with France'. This phrase or its equivalent occurs also in the presentations of 1389 and 1390. In 1381 Richard II was king though still a minor and it was his uncles, most dominant of whom was John of Gaunt, who wielded the real power. This was the age of Wycliffe (encouraged by Gaunt); and the Statute of Provisions, passed earlier in 1361, showed the Crown's determination to wrest what benefices it could from Papal influence in its appointments. The impropriation of the lands and benefices of alien priories (among which Bec was numbered) may well have been given impetus by this trend as much as by 'the wars against France', though the latter was the popular or publicised reason for such action. Be this as it may, it was the king's appointees who became the vicars of Hungerford during the period from 1381 to 1421.

John Hognorton (1381-1389):

The first of these was John Hognorton. In 1370 he had been rector of Enborne, Berks, exchanging his Enborne benefice in that year for one at Millbrook in Hants. In December 1381 he exchanged his Millbrook benefice with Ralph de Baston for that of Hungerford [13]. His name appears in a Wiltshire Foot of Fine in 1385/6 [14], and he remained until a further exchange in 1389.

Towards the end of his incumbency he was involved in a case of trespass [15], committed primarily by John Scot, with John Syward, clerk, and John Hognorton, vicar of Hungerford, quoted as accessories. The trespass was the acquisition by Scot of the manor of East Bedwyn without licence. A pardon was granted in 1390 on payment of a forty shilling fine. However the same offence was repeated following Scot's death by his widow Elizabeth and a further pardon was purchased in 1396[16].

W.H.Summers seems confused by these two references to Hognorton as vicar of Hungerford occurring in the rolls of 1390 and 1396, that is, after he had left the vicarage in 1389 [17]. But it is clear that the 1390 roll refers to events which had occurred previously to Hognorton's departure; and in the 1396 roll details of the case are probably copied from the earlier one. We may take it that Hognorton did leave the parish in September 1389 and that he did not return again as vicar.

Thomas Shirburn (1389):

In 1389 Hognorton left as he had come, by means of an exchange of benefices, in this case with Thomas Shirburn , rector of the neighbouring parish of Ham. Once again the presentation is recorded in the Patent Rolls and the same formula as before is used concerning the gift being in the king's hands and the war with France etc [18].

Hugh Werston (Wreston) (1390-1403):

Within the year, however, in July 1390, a further Patent Roll announces the presentation to the vicarage of Master Hugh Werston. Nothing is said of the death or retirement of Shirburn or of any further exhange, so it is possible that Shirburn never entered upon the incumbency or that he was intended merely as a temporary stop gap [19].

Robert Napper (1403-1420+):

Werston appears on two further Patent Rolls. In the first on August 22 1403 Robert Napper is recorded as having been presented to the vicarage of Hungerford by exchange with one Wreston (as his name now appears). This exchange also was a local one, Napper having been vicar of Burbage. However, it probably never took place at all, because a second Patent Roll dated 6 September 1403 corrects the record by giving as the reason for Napper's presentation the fact of a vacancy at Hungerford arising from the death of Hugh Wreston [20].

Napper is described in the Patent Rolls as Master, a term normally applied among the clergy to one who was a University graduate. However, his name does not appear in published lists of medieval Oxford and Cambridge graduates. W.H. Summers refers to him as John Napper. The latter must have been a slip of the pen, as all the contemporary documents we have refer to him as Robert [21].

As with Walter Job, we learn something of Robert Napper and the problems of his incumbency from the Bishop's Register. In his case the bishop of Salisbury was Bishop Robert Hallum, with whom he got into trouble [22]. In 1408 a parishioner of Napper's named William Roper was summoned to appear in the bishop's court as the result of a complaint by Agnes who claimed to be his wife, but whom he claimed he had divorced through due process in the Dean of Salisbury's court. Following the alleged divorce Roper had contracted a second marriage with Alice Sawser of Hidden. However, Roper and Alice were unable to produce to the bishop's court satisfactory evidence of the divorce and the bishop's commissary who was hearing the case ordered Alice to be pronounced excommunicate. Such a sentence was to be carried out by the local vicar and a certificate that he had done so was to be supplied by the vicar to the commissary. This Napper did not do and he in his turn was now summoned to the bishop's court 'for contempt and disobedience'.

Napper refused to appear and as a result he himself faced excommunication. The vicar felt strongly enough about the matter to appeal for protection to the Archbishop of Canterbury, in whose court of audience the case proceeded, we are told, to several legal actions. But Napper was unable to prove his case to the satisfaction of the court, so that the bishop was acquitted; and immediately this was done, the bishop excommunicated him. A fortnight later Napper appeared before the bishop at Salisbury, sought pardon and submitted to the bishop's mercy. At the instance of the Dean the bishop then absolved the priest from his excommunication after he had sworn to obey the laws of the church.

The entire account is taken from the bishop's own version contained in his register, and one cannot but feel that this affair, also, owed its origin in the friction which occurred because of Hungerford's status as a 'dean's peculiar' where the jurisdiction of Dean and Bishop could become entangled in overlap.

In 1410 Napper was involved in another case [23]. In this he asked the bishop's commissioner to determine a suit against Whitegate, farmer of Hidden and tenant of the monastery of St. Frideswide, for nonpayment of the vicarial tithes due to him. Tithes were of two sorts - greater and lesser. Greater tithes (i.e. of the main produce of the land - corn, oats, wood etc.) belonged to the rector (theoretically, the Abbot of Bec) and the smaller tithes from lesser produce went to the vicar. In the case of Hidden the prior of St. Frideswide 's and the Abbey of Bec had agreed that the tithes due to the rector should be commuted into an annual modus of forty shillings. Whitegate seemed to be claiming that this payment included the tithe on sheep also, of which he was grazing substantial numbers. The dispute is first noted in the Visitation of the Dean of Salisbury in 1405, and dragged on through the next Visitation of the Dean in 1409, before being brought by Napper to the Bishop in 1410. Disputes concerning the collection of tithes were a regular feature of the problems which faced the vicars of Hungerford, as they did elsewhere. The problem was no academic one for the vicar, for the tithes that were awarded him were in effect his stipend for the job.

Nor was this the end of Napper's troubles, for in those same years 1405 to 1410 the parish was rocked by internal dissent among the parishioners [24]. Juliana Farman belonged to a prominent family of local landowners, strongly attached to the Hungerfords. She held strong and probably heretical views, which caused her to become a disturbance in the church; on one occasion she assaulted Alice Sawser in church, and when a mandate was produced authorizing the vicar to solemnize marriage between Alice and William Roper she snatched it from the official and tore it up. She was such a nuisance in church that one of the churchwardens smashed her pew which was affixed to the ground, claiming that it obstructed the parishioners. A few years later she was reported as having taken a chalice, a missal, a set of vestments, 3 altar cloths, a super-altar, 16 sheep and 10 marks belonging to the church. With her friend Margery Coterell (another prominent local family) it was alleged that they had not attended church services for five years, that they ate flesh on Easter Day, and did not receive the eucharist. Not surprisingly this troublesome pair were excommunicated and as they still proved contumacious the bishop called upon the secular authorities to arrest them. This brought them to heel and in June 1410 they were released after the bishop had absolved them.

It is not at all clear what were the real issues in all this turmoil; tithes, morality and if not heresy then rebelliousness all played some part in the general unrest. This was the period, it should be remembered, of the post-Wycliffe Lollards and of Sir John Oldcastle. The Register of Dean Chandler (1404 - 1417) contains much evidence of a divided community; the charges of adultery brought against prominent townsmen, members of the parochial council, and some of the parish's chaplains come from opposite groups, each trying (it would seem) to blacken the other. Amid all this Napper seems to have escaped relatively lightly from the furore of accusations. At a third Dean's Visitation in 1412 he was alleged to have kept wood in the churchyard to the detriment of parishioners going to church, but he was purged of a charge that he failed to give the sacraments to a dying man. Another allegation was that the chapel of St. John had no services through his fault. But as this chapel had its own chaplain it seems unlikely that this charge would stick either. Finally it was alleged that he failed to execute a couple of mandates which had cited two of his parishioners [25].

There are no further references to Hungerford in the Dean's Register after 1412, the Register closing in 1417. It is therefore possible that the frenzy spent itself and that the affairs of the parish finally settled down. Whatever the case, the lot of the parish vicar in this period cannot have been an easy or an idle one.

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Rosemary Simons, Indexing the Plea Rolls of the Court of Common Pleas, for the Anglo-American Legal Tradition, headed by Prof. Robert Palmer, University of Houston, Texas, kindly emailed the Virtual Museum July 2013 having found a record saying that Robert Napper, vicar of Hungerford, was accused by the prior of St Frideswide, in Oxford, of committing the trespass of "free warren" in Hidden?, and took away hares and other animals, such as 20 sheep, worth 40/-. against the King's peace. She adds... "Perhaps he was short of a bob or two? or perhaps the Prior made a mistake?" [See photo above]

We do not know when Napper's incumbency came to its end. He was still vicar in 1420 when his name appears on a local deed, and it is probable that he served out the rest of his life in the parish [26].

In 1404 a year after Napper had taken up his appointment, the process of alienation of the parish church from the Abbey of Bec was completed by the Crown's grant of the Abbey's possessions in England to the Duke of Bedford. In 1421 the Duke transferred the former spiritualities of the Abbey to the royal chapel of St. George in Windsor, and after his death in 1435 the temporalities were dispersed among other ecclesiastical foundations [27]. As a result of these transfers the advowson or right of appointment of a vicar, passed to the Dean and Canons of Windsor, with whom it remains.

Nicholas Rychere (Ante 1433):

We hear next from the Bishop's Register of the institution in 1433 of John Skyllinton as vicar of Hungerford by exchange with Nicholas Rychere, about whom nothing further is known [28].

John Skillyngton (1433):

We know little more of Skyllinton unless he may be identified with a priest of that name who had an unusual career in the years leading up to this appointment. This man came from Ireland. He was granted a licence to study at Oxford 1401-1405. At the end of the year 1405 it was stated in the Patent Rolls that he had been captured at sea between England and Ireland by the king's enemies of Scotland and put to ransom at an excessive sum. He was granted licence to cross to Scotland for the purpose of negotiation. In Ireland he was warden of a free chapel at Kilkenny, became a canon of the cathedral of St. Patrick in Dublin, and was prebendary of Yago in 1425. In February 1428 he was granted leave to go to England for 5 years [29].

William Knight (Ante 1447):

John Howden (1447):

In May 1447 John Howden was instituted as vicar [30], a vacancy which arose by reason of the incompatibility of the previous vicar William Knight. Incompatibility in this context meant the inability to hold two or more benefices together. What other benefice William Knight may have held is not stated, but a William Knight was rector of Childrey, Berks in 1470, exchanging in that year for the rectory of All Hallows the Great, London, where he died by December of the same year. In his will, he bequeathed 18 marks to enable a chaplain of good character to study at Oxford for 3 years [31]. The only local trace of William Knight I have been able to discover is a reference to a clerk of that name who purchased in 1468 a royal licence to grant to William Changton a messsuage and land in Shalbourne and the advowson of the chapel of St. Margaret there [32].

Thomas Acton (1447-1458):

The appointment of John Howden seems like yet another holding operation, for in August of the same year 1447 Bishop Aiscough's Register records the institution of Master Thomas Acton as perpetual vicar following the 'voluntary resignation' of 'Sir' John Howden [33]. Howden's title 'Sir' indicates that he was a non-graduate; as he was a chaplain at the time of his appointment he may have been a young man of promise. If so, he could be the same John Howden who obtained a B.A. degree later at Oxford University, to which he was admitted 21st October 1450 [34].

Baldwyn Hyde (1458):

Thomas Acton had previously been chaplain of St. Mary's chantry, Lambourn, to which he had been instituted in 1433 [35]. He died in 1458 and Henry VI granted the ensuing vacancy at Hungerford to Baldwyn Hyde on 25th November of that year [36]. Baldwyn Hyde, Bachelor of Common Law, was admitted to the University in 1471/2. The identification is speculative, but the case seems to resemble that of John Howden to some extent, and Hyde had certainly left the parish by 1463 [37].

Richard Berde (1463-1464+):

In 1463 Master Richard Berde was already installed when the visitation of John Newton took place [38]. There were two Richard Berde's who lived about this time and died within 1 year of each other, both leaving PCC wills [39]. The one whom Emden identifies as vicar of Hungerford was principal of Eagle Hall in Oxford in 1448, in which year he obtained his M.A . He was Bachelor of Common and Civil Law by 1451, Licentiate in Common Law by 1464, and Doctor of Civil Law by 1465. He had been ordained in 1448 at Hereford and made rector of St. Giles Winchelsea, Sussex, in 1451. Emden states that he became vicar of Hungerford in 1464, but his appointment must have been earlier than this for, as we have seen, he was visited by John Newton in the year preceding. Emden probably obtained the date 1464 from the date of a dispensation by the Pope enabling Berde to hold with the vicarage any one other benefice or, if he resigned the vicarage, any two other benefices 'as often as he please'. This dispensation freed him for life from the rule of incompatibility which had impeded William Knight in 1447; the only proviso was that the total income from the two benefices should not exceed £20 p.a., a more than average income for a parson in those days [40]. The dispensation was dated 5th August 1464. Armed with it, he became rector of West Kington, Wilts in 1465, and was admitted rector of Tilbrook, Beds, 25 July 1476, a post he held until his death. He died in St. James Abbey, Northampton, in October 1501. His PCC will was dated 2 May, probate 11th November 1501 [41].

Thomas Holme (1475-1487):

Berde was succeeded at Hungerford by Thomas Holme. A Papal letter [42] refers to him as perpetual vicar in 1474. However, Emden by reference to the Registers of the Bishop of Lincoln shows him to have been admitted as rector of Tilbrook, Bedfordshire in October 1468 and exchanging (with Berde) to become vicar of Hungerford 25th July 1476. Holme was a man of some learning; he held the degree of Bachelor of Canon Law, probably from Oxford where the New College manuscripts include a copy made by him of the Sermones Dominicales by John Felton in 1467 and some tractates of the canon law [43].

He was still vicar of Hungerford at the Dean's Visitation in June 1480, and again at a similar Visitation in 1485 [44]. In 1478 he had obtained papal dispensation to receive any other benefice. This may have been the chaplaincy of the chapel of Chilton Foliat, for in 1487 another chaplain (John Arthur) was instituted 'on the death of Thomas Holme [45]'.

Thomas Whitemore (1499-1505+):

Although the Bishop's Register contains no note of the institution of a new vicar at Hungerford in 1487, it would seem that the next incumbent may have been Master William Stokes, for in 1499 he is stated to have exchanged his Hungerford benefice with Master Thomas Whitamer (or Whitemore )[46]. Nothing is known of William Stokes, but in 1473 a Thomas Stokes, clerk, of Hungerford is mentioned in a Patent Roll of that year [47].

Miscellaneous local records show that Whitemore was in the parish c.1500 ( a feoffee of William Warnewell's gift of land and houses to the church); in 1504 when he witnessed the PCC will of Roger Hanley; in 1505 when he witnessed another PCC will, that of Thomas Toghy [48].

John Hakett (1524):

In 1524 Master John Hakett, vicar, witnessed the PCC will of Robert Heyward of Hungerford [49]. I presume this to be the vicar of Hungerford. I have found no other reference to the vicarage between 1505 and 1547. As Hakett signs himself Master in witnessing Heyward's will, we must assume he was graduate of a University. The only graduate of such name recorded during this period was John Hakehead or Hackett. Although I have discovered no other evidence directly to connect him with Hungerford, Hackett had connections with the diocese of Sarum and with the city of Salisbury . He held the degree of B.C.L. which was probably obtained at Oxford by or before 1503. In 1503 he was ordained at Sarum and held various priestly offices in Oxford in 1505. In the same year he became attached to the De Vaux College in Salisbury. He was rector of Woodeaton, Oxon. in 1515 and was said to be still there in 1526. He became canon and prebendary of Wells Cathedral, a post which he held until his death. In his will dated 10th February 1531, probate 13th November 1531, he asks to be buried near the grave of his mother in Salisbury Cathedral [50].

Hugh Byrdman (1547):

In 1547 the Bishop of Sarum's Register records the admission and institution of Sir Hugh Byrdman on 20th August. This may be the Hugh Brydman listed in 1541 as a minor canon of the chapel of St. George, Windsor, in whose gift the presentation to the vicarage now lay [51].

Edward Toogood (1551-1554):

In 1551 Edward Toogood was instituted [52]. This vicar had been scholar of St. Mary Hall, Oxford 1530; B.A. 1526; M.A. 1529. He was active in Oxford, holding various local offices 1530-31, and in 1538 was admitted vicar of Holy Cross of the Temple, Bristol. Emden lists him as vicar of Hungerford 24th September 1550. When he left Hungerford it was to be admitted rector of Wraxall, Somerset (21st September 1554) where he remained until his death, which had occurred by 1560 [53].

Edward Beckett (1554-1557):

Toogood's successor in 1554 was Edward Beckett, but the same Register which records his admission and institution has an entry dated 11th June 1557, 'Master Hugh Bidname admitted and instituted by the death of Edward Beckett last vicar there [54]'. Nothing is known of Bidname and one wonders whether this might yet again be Hugh Brydnam, the minor canon of St. George's chapel, filling in until the appointment of a new 'vicar perpetual'.


14. Kirby op. cit. vol.1 pp.30, 124
15. Wilts Feet of Fine 256/55/63
16. Wilts Feet of Fine 256/55/22; Cal. Pat. Rolls (1388 - 92) 205.
17. Cal.Pat. Rolls (1391-6) 71
18. W.H. Summers "The story of'Hungerford" pp. 75-6
19. Cal.Pat. Rolls (1388-92) 115
20. ibid. 285
21. Cal.Pat. Rolls (1401 -5)253; 264
22. see especially T.C.B.Timmins "The Register of Dean Chandler 1404 -17"
23. ed. Joyce M.Horn "Register of Bishop Hallam 1407-17"
24. Timmins op. cit. 88; 247
25. ibid. 88; 247
26. ibid. 377
27. Berks R.O: H/RTal6
28. Marjorie Morgan The English Lands of the Abbey of Bee
29. Wilts R.O: D1/2/9, Register of Robert Nevill 1427-38
30. A.B.Emden: A Biographical Register of University of Oxford to 1500, vol.III, p. 1708
31. Wilts R.O: Dl/2/10
32. P.R.O: PCC will John Howden 1471 (1 Wattys)
33. Cal. Pat. Rolls (1467 - 77); 74
34. Wilts R.O: Dl/2/10
35. Emden op.cit. vol II, p.976
36. J.Footman, History ofLambourn Church, p.58
37. Wilts Notes & Queries vol.7 p.259
38. Salisbury Cathedral Mss, Newton Register f.149
39. ibid.
40 P.R.O: PCC wills, Richard Berde
41 Cal.Papal Letters (1455-64) f. 100
42 P.R.O: PROB 11/13 PCC will Richard Berde 1501 (4 Blamyr)
43 Cal. Papal Letters XIII pt.l, 589.
44 Emden op. cit. vol.3 Additions & Corrections
45 Salisbury Cathedral Ms 189 f.97b; f.46
46 ed.D.P. Wright "Register of Thomas Langton 1485-93"
47 Salisbury Cathedral, Newton Register
48 Cal.Pat Rolls (1467-77) p.381
49 P.R.O: PROB 11/15 PCC wills Roger Hanley 1504; Thomas Toghy 1505.
50 P.R.O: PROB 11/21 PCC will Robert Heyward 1524
51 Emden op. cit vol.II,p.847
52 Wilts R.O: Dl/2/16 f.4v (Bishop of Sarum's Register)
53 Wilts R.O.: Dl/2/16
54 Emden, A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford 1500- 1540, p.570
55 Wilts R.O: Dl/2/16 ff.6v & 8

See also:

- Vicars of St. Lawrence, Hungerford 1148-1381

- Vicars of St. Lawrence, Hungerford 1559-1640