23 July 2023

The Prebendaries of
Wigginton and Comberford
in Saint Editha’s Church,
Tamworth, 1290-1548

Comberford gave its name to the title of the Prebendaries of Wigginton and Comberford in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Saint Editha’s Collegiate Church, Tamworth, is a Grade I listed building and the largest parish church in Staffordshire. It stands on a site where successive churches have stood since the eighth century.

The town and church were destroyed by fire in 1345, leading to the building of the fourth, present church, between 1350 and 1369 by Dean Baldwin de Witney.

Tradition says the College of Canons of Saint Editha was a royal foundation in the tenth century, but the date of foundation is not known. Although the right to appoint canons was disputed, by the 12th century all appointments were royal. There was a dean and six prebendaries or canons: the Dean held the prebend of Amington, and the other five canons held the prebends of Bonehill, Coton, Syerscote, Wigginton and Comberford, and Wilnecote.

The canons or prebendaries received an income from the tithes of the areas that gave their names to the prebendal stalls. At the time, neither Wigginton nor Comberford were parishes in their own right, but parts of Tamworth parish.

Although the Comberford family had no role in appointing the Prebendaries of Wigginton and Comberford, the names of those prebendaries are part of the history of Comberford. They can be traced for a period of more than 250 years, from 1290 until the chapter was dissolved in 1548 with the dissolution of the chantries and monastic foundations during the Tudor Reformation.

Throughout most of those two and a half centuries, the dean and canons were usually crown nominees, with no involvement of the Comberford family. But, for a brief time, the appointment of the Dean and many of the prebendaries, including the Prebendary of Wigginton and Comberford, was claimed by the Marmion family of Tamworth and, as their heirs, by members of the Butler family.

Inside Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

When Philip Marmion, the fifth and last Baron Marmion of Tamworth, died in 1291, he had no male heirs, and his properties and estates were divided among his daughters and their husbands: Mazera married Ralph de Cromwell, and her interests passed to their daughter Joan, who married Alexander de Freville; Maud married Ralph le Botiller (Butler) of Wemme; and Margaret married first Thomas de Ludlow, and then Henry Hillary. Three other daughters, Joan, who married William de Morteyn, Matilda and Elizabeth, had no children.

Tamworth was inherited by Joan Cromwell, who married Alexander de Freville. Scrivelsby passed to Margaret de Ludlow and then to Sir John Dymoke, whose family also inherited the title of ‘Champion of England.’ Maud Butler was the heiress of Pulverbatch, Middleton and Norbury.

The Marmion heirs continued to contest the right to nominate the deans and canons of Tamworth. In the late 1320s, the crown made two unsuccessful attempts to nominate Deans. Eventually, there were two occasions when the male heirs in the Butler family were legal minors or under age. This state lasted from at least 1342 until 1359, and gave the crown a series of opportunities to intervene.

A priest in the Butler family, Thomas le Botiller, became Prebendary of Wigginton and Comberford on 5 May 1341, but this appointment had royal ratification on 10 December 1341.

A year later, in 1342-1343, the right of presentation to the prebend of Wilnecote was disputed between Baldwin de Freville I, Joan’s son and heir, and the king as guardian of the Butler heir. The crown argued that the right of presentation was held in common by Marmion’s heirs and that the next presentation fell to the Butlers. The crown’s argument was successful and the royal candidate was appointed.

When the prebend next fell vacant in 1347, the king again presented, still basing his claim on his custody of the Butler heir. But, on this occasion, the earlier argument, which in 1347 would have given the right of presentation to Henry Hillary, was abandoned, and the Crown based its case on a royal grant of 1317 allotting the advowson of Wilnecote to the Butlers. The verdict again went in favour of the king.

The final stage was reached in 1358 and 1359, when the crown presented to two prebends, including Wigginton and Comberford, making the wider claim that the advowsons once held by Philip Marmion were now in the king’s hands. The claim apparently went unchallenged.

After 1341, in fact, the Marmion heirs made no further presentations to Tamworth. The unsuccessful attempt made by Baldwin de Freville I in 1342-1343 to present to Wilnecote appears to have been the last serious challenge to the crown.

Baldwin’s son, Baldwin de Freville II, made at least one effort to recover his rights in the college. After he died in 1375, it was claimed that, although the crown had made a number of presentations, the advowson of the deanery and of the five prebends belonged to him as lord of Tamworth Castle. By then, however, the king had established himself more firmly as patron and the Chancery clerks had begun to refer to the college officially as ‘the king’s free chapel of Tamworth.’

After Dean Whitney died in 1369, no canon remained who was not in office as a royal appointment.

The composition of the chapter did not alter appreciably. By the late 13th and early 14th centuries, when it was still in the hands of the Marmion heirs, the canons were mainly pluralists and absentees, some of whom, such as Ralph de Hengham, Prebendary of Wigginton and Comberford, held office under the crown or were attached to the royal household. They left the services and pastoral duties to vicars to look after.

This state of affairs in Tamworth was usually accepted in royal free chapels, and it persisted in Tamworth until the dissolution of the college, with the canons appointed by the crown from all branches of the royal households and the royal administration.

Tamworth was one of a handful of royal free churches or peculiars that were ecclesiastical islands within yet outside the Diocese of Lichfield. The others included the Royal Free Chapel or Collegiate Church of Saint Michael and All Angels, Penkridge, Saint Michael’s, Tettenhall, Saint Peter’s, Wolverhampton, Saint Mary’s, Stafford, and Saint Laurence’s, Gnosall, all in Staffordshire, and Quatford in Shropshire. Other sources add the Royal Free Chapel of Saint Mary, Shrewsbury, and the Royal Free Chapel, Bridgnorth.

From 1290 until 1548, when the college at Saint Editha’s was dissolved, we can identify the Prebendaries of Wigginton and Comberford. They include a professor of theology, a Proctor of the University of Oxford, two Deans of York, a Dean of Salisbury, a Dean of Hereford, a Bishop of Salisbury, a Bishop of Exeter, a Bishop of Limerick, two Lords Privy Seal, a Lord Chancellor, and a number of royal chaplains.

Comberford is named with the churches in the Tamworth Deanery on a hassock in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Prebendaries of Wigginton and Comberford:

1290: Robert de Pyccheford, Pykford or Pygford was in office by 1290. He had royal letters of presentation on 18 October 1294 as Canon of Tamworth and parson of Hoginton and Picheford.

1311: Henry le Stoke de Solihull was admitted 18 June 1311, when he was presented by Ralph le Botiller junior.

1341: Thomas le Botiller was admitted 5 May 1341, and had royal ratification on 10 December 1341 to the Prebend of Wigginton and Comberford.

1359: Thomas de Keynes, almoner to the king, was presented by the king on 22 March 1359 to the Prebend of Wigginton on account of the custody of the lands and heir of Ralph le Botiller, and on 1 April and 28 June 1359 to the Prebend of Wigginton and Comberford on account of the advowsons of the churches of the inheritance of Sir Philip Marmion (who held them in capite) being in the king’s hands.

After this date, this Prebend is usually named simply as Wigginton rather than Wigginton and Comberford.

On 1 July 1359, Keynes was made the king’s keeper of the royal park of Foliejon in Berkshire and forester in the Bailiwick of Ascot, for which he was paid 2 pence a day for life by the Constable of Windsor Castle. He was Prebendary of Twiford in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, 1361-1366. He died in 1367.

1367: John de Thorp was presented 4 July 1367. This is the first time Saint Editha’s Church is described as ‘the King’s Free Chapel of Tamworth.’ He was also the Rector of Nailstone in the Diocese of Lincoln, and had a Prebend in the royal chapel of Saint Mary and All Saints, Fotheringay, Yorkshire. He exchanged these three appointments for the Church of Cottenham in the Diocese of Ely, with Thomas de Oldyngton or Holdyngton.

1369: Thomas de Oldyngton or Holdyngton was presented by the king on 18 January 1369, and was instituted on 7 February.

The tomb of Edmund de Stafford in the Lady Chapel in Exeter Cathedral (Photograph: Lobsterthermidor/Wikipedia/CCL Licence, 2020)

1387: Edmund Stafford (1344-1419) was the second son of Sir Richard Stafford (c. 1301-1381) of Clifton Campville, Staffordshire, the second son of Edmund Stafford, 1st Baron Stafford of Stafford Castle and the younger brother of Ralph Stafford, 1st Earl of Stafford.

Stafford attended Oxford University (BA 1363, BCL 1369, DL 1385). He was appointed a canon of Lichfield in 1369, and became Dean of York in 1385. He was also the Rector of Clifton Campville, his family lands.

Edmund Stafford made an exchange with Thomas de Oldyngton or Holdyngton and was appointed Prebendary of Wigginton by the king on 12 October 1387. He remained in office until early 1395, when he exchanged with Alexander Herle or Herds, becoming a canon in Exeter Cathedral. He became Bishop of Exeter immediately, and was Bishop of Exeter from 1395 until his death in 1419. He was the Keeper of the Privy Seal (1389-1396) and twice he was Lord Chancellor of England (1396-1399, 1401-1403).

He died on 3 September 1419 and was buried in the Lady Chapel of Exeter Cathedral, where he his elaborate monument includes a recumbent alabaster effigy.

1395: Alexander Herds or Herle had the king’s grant 24 January 1395, but almost immediately exchanged for a portion in Norton Church in the Diocese of Durham with John Prophet.

1395: John Prophet (1356-1416) became the Prebendary of Wigginton by royal appointment on 17 February 1395. He was Dean of Hereford in 1393-1407. By 1404, Prophet held several prebendal appointments at Lincoln, Salisbury, York, and St Asaph’s cathedrals, as well as Abergwili, Tamworth, Crediton, and Leighton Buzzard in the Diocese of Lincoln in 1405.

John Prophet was Dean of York from 1407 until he died in 1416, and he was also Lord Privy Seal (1406-1415) and secretary to King Henry IV. A capable administrator, he remained loyal to all kings through a mix of shrewdness, and cunning.

1402: John Chandler (or Chaundler) succeeded John Prophet on 3 October 1402, but probably resigned this prebend in 1404 when he became the Dean of Salisbury.

Chandler had become a resident canon at Salisbury in 1383 and was elected dean in 1404. A record of his work as dean is the earliest and most complete mediaeval dean’s register to survive at Salisbury, with detailed records and inventories from his visitations to each prebendal parish in 1405, 1408-1409 and 1412.

His first election as Bishop of Salisbury in 1407 was quashed immediately, but he was elected again on 15 November 1417 and he was consecrated on 12 December 1417. He died on 16 July 1426.

1404: John Bremore was presented on 21 July 1404, and died in 1418. He was also Rector of Chesterton in the Diocese of Lincoln.

1418: John Hunte was the royal nominee as Prebendary of Wigginton on 26 October 1418.

1418: Robert Shirynton succeeded on 29 November 1418, and continued in office for almost 20 years until 1438.

1438: Walter Shiryngton was presented on 20 June 1438, and continued until 1448.

1449: Roger Mersshe obtained this Prebend on 3 February 1449. Ten years later he exchanged it with Gilbert Haydock to become a canon of Windsor.

1459: Gilbert Haydock was presented 19 August 1459, and held the office for almost 30 years until he died in 1484.

Inside Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick … John Dunmowe was Prebendary of Wigginton and Comberford when he was also Bishop of Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

1484: John Dunmowe (also Dunmow, Dumoe, Dunow or Dunowe) succeeded as Prebendary of Wigginton on 25 July 1484 when Haydock died. He was Rector of Hanworth, Middlesex (1432), a Canon of Windsor (1450-1455), Prebendary of Barnby in York (1475-1481), the ninth canon in Saint George’s Chapel, Windsor (1476-1488), Rector of Saint Magnus London Bridge (1481-1489), Archdeacon of Gloucester (1487-1489), Rector of Saint Peter ad Vincula, a chapel royal in the Tower of London (1488), and a canon of Exeter.

He was made Bishop of Limerick 13 November 1486, and was also an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Exeter. He was Henry VII’s ambassador to the papal court in Rome, and he died at the Papal Court on 25 January 1489. He was still Prebendary of Wigginton and Comberford when he died. He had never visiting the Diocese of Limerick, and he probably never visited Tamworth, or Wigginton and Comerford either.

1489: John Dunmowe succeeding his uncle as Prebendary of Wigginton. He was presented on 3 February 1489, and continued in office until he died in 1498.

1498: William Taillour, a king’s scholar in the University of Oxford, was appointed to the prebend 2 October 1498, but he died soon after.

1499: William Lathis or Lathes succeeded on 1 June 1499, and died in 1502.

1502: Thomas Norbury, chaplain of the royal household, followed on 8 March 1502 on the death of Lathes. He resigned in 1505.

1505: Brian Darley, a professor of theology, was presented on 29 March 1505. The records do not show where he was professor of theology, and his appointment predated the foundation of the Regius Professorships of Divinity in Oxford (1535) and Cambridge (1540). He died in 1527.

1527: John Oolde was almoner to Mary Tudor, Queen of France. She was a sister of Henry VIII and the third wife of Louis XII, who died in 1515; she died in 1533. Oolde was appointed Prebendary of Wigginton by Henry VIII on 14 July 1527.

1529 (?): Roger Dingley, a chaplain to Henry VIII, succeeded Oolde as the prebendary very soon after. He was educated at Oxford (BA 1506, MA 1513, BD 1523, DD 1526). He was a Fellow of All Souls’ College, Oxford, 1511, and Proctor of the University of Oxford, 1518. He died in 1538.

1538: Humfrey Horton, who was presented on 1 August 1538, was the last Prebendary of Wigginton and Comberford. He was educated at Oxford (BA 1524). He was a secular chaplain, perhaps prebend, in Saint Mary’s Collegiate Church, Stafford (1541), and Vicar of Kenwyn and Kea, Cornwall (1547), Marston, Derbyshire (1554), and Fairford, Gloucestershire (1563).

Humfrey Horton was the last Prebendary of Wigginton and Comberford, and Simon Symonds was the last dean of the Collegiate Church of Saint Editha, Tamworth (1538-1548).

With the dissolution of monastic houses and the chantries during the Tudor Reformation, the college was dissolved in 1548 and Saint Editha’s became the parish church of the town of Tamworth.

A list of the Deans and Vicars of Tamworth in the porch of Saint Editha’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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