Picture of Thomas Pennant

Thomas Pennant


places mentioned

In St Albans

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ON leaving St. Michael's, I passed through a sort of suburbs to St. Alban's , and crossed the Ver, to the site of the palace of Kingsbury. It had long been the residence of the Saxon princes, who, by their frequent visits to the abbey of St. Alban's , became an insupportable burden to its revenues. At length abbot Alfric, by his interest with king Ethelred II. prevaled on him to dispose of it, the king only reserving a small fortress in the neighborhood of the monastery.1 This also continuing to give offence to its pious neighbors, was destroyed by king Stephen, at the intercession of Robert, the seventh abbot.2

I SEE in Doctor Stukeley's plan, a bury, or mount, called Osterhill, on which the palace might have stood; and a ditch called Tonman Ditch, which took its name from this Tommin, or Tumulus .

ON ascending into St. Alban's , up Fishpool street, the bottom on the right reminded me of the great pool which once occupied that tract. This had been the property of the Saxon monarchs, and was alienated by Edgar to the all-grasping monks. Those princes were supposed to have taken great pleasure in navigating on this piece of water. Anchors have been found on the spot; which occasioned poets to fable that the Thames once ran this way. One of them, speaking to the Ver, says,

Thou saw'st great burden'd ships through these thy vallies pass,
Where now the sharp-edg'd scythe shears up the spiring grass;
And where the seal and porpoise us'd to play,
The grasshopper and ant now lord it all the day.3

THE town spreads along the slopes and top of the hill. The magnificent mitred parlementary abbey graced the verge of the southern side. Of this there does not remain the lest vestige, except the gateway, a large square building, with a fine spacious pointed arch beneath: so that all the labors of Offa, and the splendid piety of a long train of abbots, and a numerous list of benefactors, are now reduced to the conventual church; and the once-thronged entrance of the devout pilgrims to the shrine of our great proto-martyr, is now no more than an empty gateway.

A BARBAROUS murder was the true spring of Offa's munificence. The Mercian monarch cast a longing eye on the dominions of Ethelbert, prince of the East Angles; treacherously invited him to court, under pretence of marrying him to his daughter Althrida; seized on the young prince (who is represented to have been the most amiable of his time), beheaded him, and seized on his dominions.4 Offa had recourse to the usual expiation of his crime, that of founding a monastery; when the grateful monks, to conceal the infamy of their benefactor, call down a vision from heaven, as a motive to his piety. But Offa did not trust to this solely: he made a penitential pilgrimage to Rome, and, by the merit of his monastic institution at St. Alban's , readily obtained absolution, and not only procured for the house exemption from the tax of Peter-pence, but power to collect the same for its own use, through the whole province of Hertford; a privilege which no person in the realm, the king himself not excepted, ever enjoyed. By the same bull, his holiness granted, that the abbot, or monk, whom he appointed archdeacon, should have pontifical jurisdiction over the priests and laymen of the possessions of this church; and that no person whatsoever, save the pope himself, should offer to interfere. It was, by the charter of the king, to be free from all taxes, repair of bridges and castles, and from making entrenchments against an enemy; to be exempt from episcopal jurisdiction; and, by the same charter, the fines for crimes, which belonged to the king, were given for ever to this monastery. Offa, not content with this, inclosed the body of the Saint in a shrine of beaten gold and silver, set with precious stones; and, encircling the scull with a golden diadem, caused to be inscribed on it, Hoc est caput SANCTI ALBANI, Anglorum pretemartyris .5

Wiligord was the first abbot. It flourished from his time to the dissolution, and received vast endowments and rich gifts. At that fatal period it was surrendered, on the 5th of December 1538, by Richard Boreman ,6 alias Stevenache, the last abbot; who got, in reward for his ready compliance, the annual pension of .266 13s. 4d.; and the thirty-nine monks, then of the house, lesser sums; some even as small as five pounds a year.7 The house, and the greatest part of the lands, were granted to Richard Lee, captain of the band of pensioners, as scandal reports, in reward for his prudence in winking at the king's affection for his handsome wife.8 The town, or, as Willis says, the abbot, purchased the church from the king for .400, and by that means preserved it from destruction; which gave him so much merit with Queen Mary, that when she determined to restore the abbey, she appointed him to preside over it.9 It is said that he died of a broken heart, within a few days after he received the news of her death.

THE revenues at the dissolution were valued by Dugdale at .2102. 7s. 1d. per annum; by Speed at .2510. 6s. 1d. .10 Notwithstanding the purchase made by Boreman, Edward VI. granted the monastery to the corporation of St. Albans, which he had lately instituted, and ordered that the church should be reputed the parish church of the place, and be served by a rector, to be nominated by the mayor and burgesses of the town.

THE abbots lived in splendor, suitable to their rank and revenues. They dined in the great hall, at a table to which there was a flight of fifteen steps. The monks served up the dinner on plate, and in their way made a halt at every fifth step, where there was a landing, and sung on each a short hymn. The abbot usually sat alone in the middle of the table; and when any persons of rank came, he sat towards the end of the table. After the monks had waited some time on the abbot, they sat down at two other tables, placed on the sides of the hall, and had their services brought in by the novices; whd, when the monks had dined, sat down to their own dinners.11

THE church, in its present state, is a most venerable and great pile: its form that of a cross, with a tower. At the intersection the length is six hundred feet; that of the transepts one hundred and eighty. The height of the tower one hundred and forty-four feet; that of the body sixty-five; of the ailes thirty; the breadth of the body two hundred and seventeen.

BY neglect, or by the ravages of war, the original church fell to decay. Abbot Ealdred, who lived in 969, designed to pull down and rebuild it; and for that purpose collected, from the ruins of Verulamium, all the stone, tiles, and timber, he could find. Death put a stop to his intention. His successor, Eadmer, resumed the task of getting together the materials; and in his search, found great quantities of curious antiquities; such as altars, urns, &c. which the pious man broke to pieces, as heathen abominations. He also, as is said, discovered several books, some in British, others in Latin; and a great one in a language and character unknown to any but an old priest. This was found to be the authentic life of St. Alban; which was carefully treasured up, being a confirmation of what Bede had written on the same subject. The other books, being only accounts of heathen mythology, inventions of the devil, were instantly condemned to the flames.12

A FAMINE stopped the design of the new church, under the abbot Leofric. The troubles that ensued, under the remaining Saxon monarchs, and the unsettled state of the kingdom at the Conquest, occasioned the plan to lie dormant till the year 1077, when it was executed by abbot Paul, a Norman monk. He applied to that purpose the timber, the stones, and tiles, collected by his predecessors:13 accordingly we see the far greater and more antient part of the walls a motley composition of stones and Roman tiles.

MANY other parts afterwards were pulled down, and rebuilt in the stile of the times; and I suspect that, in general, the present windows are long posterior to those coeval with the walls; being pointed, and in the taste of another age. The windows in the great tower, and perhaps the range along the nave, are of an intervening period; for they differ from the mode of each of the others. I find this confirmed in the lives of the abbots. John (first of the name) who died in 1214, pulled down the front-wall, which was built of old tiles, so strongly cemented with mortar, that it proved a work of great labor. Master Hugh Goldcliff, a most excellent workman, was employed; who, consulting more the ornaments of sculpture, of images and flowers, neglected the security of his building; so that it fell down, and was left unfinished during the life of this good abbot.14 His successor, William of Trompington, had the honor of completing his design. He not only rebuilt that front, but made new windows, and put glass into them, so as to give more light to the church. He also raised the steeple much higher, covered it with lead, and died full of good works, in 1235.15

IN the abbacy of John of Whethamstead, this church received the most considerable alterations. To avoid prolixity, I omit the numerous works of that most munificent abbot: I shall only note the change he made in the exterior part, by enlarging and glazing the windows on the north side of the church, which was before dark, and by causing a large window to be made at the west end of the north aile, which was as destitute of light as the other part.16 John died in 1464; before which time the narrow windows had been changed for those more expanded, lightsome, and less pointed.

IT is in the inside only that any part of the original building, or the genuine Saxon architecture, is preserved; which is to be seen in the round arches which support the tower, and some of the enormous pillars with round arches in the body of the church, and in the stile of each transept. After the Conquest the round arch was continued, but the pillars were also round and massy: these are square, and not less than twenty-nine feet thick, with capitals totally unadorned. Their composition, as well as that of the stair-cases, is of brick: the other pillars are light, and the arches pointed; evidently of a far later date than the others. Above, are two galleries; the lowest is very elegant, divided with light slender pillars, much enriched; but I find no authority to ascertain the time.

ABOVE the antient arches are galleries, with openings round; of a stile probably coeval with the former.

THE upper part of the choir is entirely of gothic architecture, and is divided from the body by a stone skreen, ornamented with gothic tabernaclework. Before this stood the chapel of Saint Cuthbert: a work owing to the piety of abbot Richard, who happening to be present at the translation of the incorruptible body of that Saint to the church of Durham, apprehending, from its pliantness then, it was going to fall to pieces, caught it in his arms; and in reward, one of them, which was withered, was instantly restored.17

THE high altar fills the end of the choir: a most rich and elegant piece of gothic sculpture, once adorned with images of gold and silver, placed in beautiful niches: the middle part is not of a piece with the rest, being modern and clumsy. This altar was made by abbot Wallingford, either in the reign of Edward IV. or Richard III. at the expence of eleven hundred marks.

THE hind part of it, which stands in the chapel of St. Alban, is of gothic work; inferior indeed to the other side, but still of much elegance. The tops of both are nearly similar; consisting of a light open-work battlement: at the bottom is a large arched recess, in which stood the superb shrine which contained the reliques of St. Alban, made of beaten gold and silver, and enriched with gems and sculpture. The gems were taken from the treasury, one excepted, which, being of singular use to parturient women, was left out. This was no other than the famous AEtites, or Eaglestone, in most superstitious repute from the days of Pliny 18 to that of abbot Geffry, re-founder of the shrine; which had been taken down and concealed, during the reign of Edward the Confessor, to preserve it from the ravages of the Danes .19 To guard the invaluable treasures, a careful and trusty monk was appointed, who was called Custos Feretri, and who kept watch and ward in a small wooden gallery, still standing, near the site of the martyr's shrine.20

ON the north side of the high altar stands the magnificent chapel of abbot Ramridge, who was elected in the year 1496. The fronts are of most elegant gothic open-work; the upper part supplied with niches for statues: in many parts are carved, allusive to the abbot's name, two rams, with the word Ridge inscribed on their collars, supporting a coronet over the arms of the abbey. At the foot of this beautiful structure is a large flag, with the figure of an abbot, with figures of rams: probably the spot of the good man's interment.

ON the south side of the chapel of St. Alban is the magnificent tomb21 of Humphry Duke of Glocester, distinguished by the name of The Good. He was uncle to Henry VI. and regent of the kingdom, under his weak nephew, during twenty-five years. His many eminent qualities gained him the love of the people; his popularity, the hatred of the queen and her favorites. His life was found to be incompatible with their views. They first effected the ruin of his dutchess by a ridiculous charge of witchcraft, and after that, brought as groundless a charge of treason against the duke. He was conveyed to St. Edmond's Bury , where a parlement was convened in 1446, before which the accusation was to be made. His enemies, fearing the public execution of so great and so beloved a character, caused him to be stifled in his bed, and then pretended that he died of vexation at his sudden fall. His body was interred in this church, the scene of his detection of the pretended miracle of the blind restored to sight at the virtuous shrine of St. Alban. Shakespeare gives us the relation admirably.22 Glocester had a predilection for this place: he had bestowed on it rich vestments, to the value of three thousand marks, and the manor of Pembroke, that the monks should pray for his soul: and he also directed that his body should be deposited within these holy walls. The fees attendant on his funeral, were not of the most moderate kind; unless we may suppose, as probably was the case, that the house was at the charge of erecting the monument to so great a benefactor. Sir Henry Chauncy expressly says,23 that abbot Whethamsted adorned Duke Humphry's tomb; which shews, that part at lest of the expences were borne by the convent. The account is curious.

CHARGES of the burial of Humphry Duke of Gloucester, and observances appointed by him, to be perpetually born by the convent of the monasterie of St. Alban .24
First. The abbat and convent of the said monastarie have payd for markynge the tumbe & place of sepulture of the said duke, within the seid monasterie, above the sume of .
CCCCXXXIII.
s.
2.
d.
VIII.
Item. To two monks prests,dayly seiying messe at the auter of sepulture of the seid prince, everich takyrig by 1 day VId sma. thereoff, by 1 hole yere XVIII. Vs.  
Item. To the abbat ther yerely, the day of the anniversary of the seid prince, attending his exquys ther   XLs.  
Item. To the priour yerly ther, the same day, in likwyse atteinding   XXs.  
Item. To XL monks prests, yerly, to everich of them, in the same day, VIs. VIIId. sm. theroff XII. VI.s. VIII.d.
Item. To VIII monks not prests, yerly, in the seid day, to everich of them 3s. 4d. sm. thereof   XXVIs. VIIId.
Item. To II ankeresses, I at St. Peter church, another at St. Mich. the seid day, yerly, to everich sm.   IIIs. 4d.
Item. In money, to be distribut to pore peple ther, the seid day, yerly   XLs.  
Item. To XIII pore men beryng torches, the seid day, about the seid sepulture   IIs. IId.
Item. For wex brennyng dayly at the messes, and his anniversary of torch, yerly VI. XII.s. III.d.
Item. The kechin of the convent ther yerly, in relief of the great decay of the hustode of the seid monasteri in the marches of Scotland, which before tyme shall be appointed to the kichyn X.    

THIS beautiful tomb was once insulated, as appears by one of these items. In the middle is a pervious arch, adorned above with the coat of arms of the deceased; and others again along a freeze; with his supporters, two antelopes with collars. From the freeze arises a light elegant tabernaclework, with niches; containing on one side the effigies of our princes; the other side is despoiled of the figures.

IN 1703, the vault in which reposed the remains of this illustrious personage was discovered. The body was preserved in a leaden coffin, in a strong pickle: and over that was another case of wood, now perished. Against the wall is painted a Crucifixion, with four chalices receiving the blood; a hand pointing towards it, with a label, inscribed Lord have mercy upon me .

THE epitaph.has long since been defaced; but was as follows:

Hie jacet Umphredus dux ille Glocestrius, olim
Henrici regis protector, fraudis ineptae
Detector; dum ficta notat tniracula caeci25
Lumen erat patriae, columen venerabile regni:
Pacis amans musisque favens melioribus; unde
Gratum opus Oxonio 26 quae nunc scola sacra refulget
Invida sed mulier regno, regi, sibi, nequam
Abstulit hunc, humili vix hoc dignata sepulchro.
Invidia rumpente tamen post funera vivit.

ABBOT Whethamsted's tomb (or Johannes de loco frumentario, as he stiled himself) is covered by a small chapel, erected by himself. It is a plain building, on the south side of the choir. His arms, allusive to his name, are three ears of wheat; and the motto, allusive to the flourishing state of the monastery under his government, is Valles abundabunt, twice repeated. Weever, from p. 562 to 567, enumerates all his munificent works. He had a great turn towards ornamental generosity; and caused this church, the Lady's chapel, and several parts of the house, to be adorned with historical paintings, and inscriptions of his own composition to be placed under them. He also was a great composer of epitaphs. The reader will accept, as a specimen of the first, a distich placed in our Lady's chapel:

Dulce pluit manna, partum dum protulit Anna ,
Dulcius ancilla dum CHRISTUS crevit in ilia.27

Of the other, a curious one upon one Peter, who was interred in the lower choir:

Petrum petra togit; qui post obitum sibi legit
Hic in fine chori, se sub tellure reponi.
Petra fuit Petrus, petras quia condicionis
Substaris et solidus, quasi postis religionis
Hic sibi sub petra, sit pax et pausa quieta.28

His artist was Alan Strayler, painter, who is said to have been so well paid for his work, that he forgave the convents three shillings and four pence of an old debt, for colors; and on that account was probably complimented with the following epitaph:

Nomen pictoris Alanus Strayler habetur
Qui sine fine choris celestibus associetur.29

I BELIEVE, some of his labors are yet extant in the roof of the choir; on which is painted, in compartments, an Eagle and a Lamb. Under others, in our Lady's chapel, was this line:

Inter oyes Aries, ut sine cornubus Agnus.

Under the other,

Inter aves aquila veluti sine felle columba.

IN the middle of the cieling of the north aile, is a painting of the martyrdom of St. Alban, (as is said) over the very spot on which he suffered. There is, besides, a rude sculpture of his death in a small aile on the back of his chapel, expressing the manner how the executioner lost his eyes for his impiety.

IN the centre of another cieling, is a rude painting of king Offa; and this inscription beneath:

Fundator ecclesiae circa annum 793.
Quem male depictum, et residentem cernitis alte
Sublimem solio Mercius Offa fuit.

IN tne choir are some fine brasses of mitred abbots. That of Thomas de la More, a most munificent and pious man, who died in 1396, is very richly engraved. His figure lies in the center, surrounded by the twelve Apostles in miniature: a proof that this art was arrived at great perfection at so early a period.

I MUST not omit the modest epitaph of an antient abbot.

Hie quidem terra tegitur,
Peccato solvens debitum:
Cujus nomen non impositum,
In libro vitae sit inscriptum.

ON a large brass plate is engraven the figure of a warrior. Fragments of the inscription are given by Mr. Salmon; which inform us, that it was in memory of the son and heir to Edmonde erle of Kent. The date 1480. The historian says, that he was killed in the second battle of St. Alban's . This must be a mistake; for none of the name of that family fell on that day, except Sir John Grey of Groby. This must therefore have been a cenotaph in honor of Anthony Grey, eldest son of Edmund Earl of Kent, buried at Luton, who died before his father:30 the earl dying in 1489: which might bring the son's death to the date on the brass.

AGAINST a wall, near Whethamsted's chapel, is painted, kneeling, in a cloak, Ralph Maynard, of this town, of the family of the ancestor of Lord Maynard .

A LONG inscription31 against a column, on the north side of the body of the church, clames the honor of having the body of the celebrated Sir John Mandeville interred beneath. We admit that this place gave him birth; but he found a grave at Liege, in the convent of the Gulielmites, in 1371. He was the greatest traveller of his own or any other age; having been out thirty-four years; and in the character of pilgrim, knighterrant, and man of observation, visited the greatest parts of Africa and Asia then known. It is probable that he penetrated as far as China. He left an account of his travels, which was shamefully falsified by the monks; who destroyed much of its credit, by mingling with it legendary tales, and stories out of Pliny: but still truth appears so frequently, that the authenticity of the groundwork is by no means impaired. He was called Johannes de Mandevile, aliter dictus ad Barbam, from his forked beard. He is engraven on his tomb with that addition, armed, and treading on a lion. At his head, the hand of one blessing him; and these words in the French of the time, Vos ki paseis sor mi pour l'amour Deix proies por mi. His knives, horse-furniture, and spurs, were, in the time of Ortelius ,32 preserved at Liege by the monks, and shewn to strangers.

AN inscription under the great west window denotes, that the courts of justice were adjourned from London to this town: once, in the reign of Henry VIII, and again in that of his daughter Elizabeth, on account of the pestilence which at those times raged in the capital.

THE magnificent brazen font, brought from the plunder of Leith by Sir Richard Lee, in the reign of Henry VIII. was again stolen in the civil wars. The knight commemorates his benefaction in these bombastic terms:

Cum Laethia oppidum apud Scotos non incelebre et Edinburgus primoria apud eos civitas incendio conflagrarent, Ricardus Leius eques auratus me flammis ereptum ad Anglos perduxit. Hujus ego tanti beneficii memor non nisi regum liberos lavare solitus, nunc meam operam etiam infimis Anglorum libenter condixi. LEIUS VICTOR SIC VOLUIT. Vale. A. D. 1543.

THE last inscription I shall mention, is that in memory of two hermits, now almost defaced, inscribed near a benetoire, by the door in the south aile leading into the cloisters.

Vir domini verus jacet hie hermita Rogerus
Et sub eo clarus meritis hermita Sigarus .

THE door adjacent is extremely beautiful, and rich in sculpture. The cloisters lay on the other side. Nothing but the marks of their junction with the outside of the church now remains; a series of tripartite arches: nor is there the lest relique of the vast and magnificent buildings, which once covered a large space on this side.

ADJOINING to the east end of the church is the chapel of St. Mary, supported by light and elegant pillars. The roof is of stone, the sides of the windows ornamented with a fine running foliage, and little images adorn the pillars of each window. The stair-case from hence to the leads has a beautiful imitation of cordage cut in stone, following the spiral windings. All the arches are of the sharp-pointed gothic.

I CANNOT trace the founder of this elegant building. It was prior to the days of John of Whethamsted; for he caused33 "our Lady's chapel to be new trimmed, and curiously depicted with stories out of the Sacred Word; and caused some verses (before quoted by me) to be curiously depensed in gold."

Edmund Beaufort Duke of Somerset, Henry Percy Earl of Northumberland, John Lord Clifford, and others of the nobility and gentry, to the amount of forty-seven, slain in the first battle of St. Alban's , were interred in this chapel.

SAINT Peter's, the third church in St. Alban's , lies at the upper end of the town: it was founded by abbot Ulfin, and was an impropriation of the abbey, now a vicarage in the patronage of the bishop of Ely. This church received the overflowings of the bodies of the men of rank slain in the same battle. There is still a perfect brass of Sir Bertin Entwysle, in complete armor. He was born in Lancashire, and was viscount and baron of Brikbeke in Normandy. He died on May 28th, 1455, of the wounds he received while fighting in the cause of Henry .

THE two Ralph Babthorps of Yorkshire, father and son (the one sewer, the other 'squire to that unfortunate prince) found their graves here; slain in the same cause.

Ox a stone is this inscription: Edithe le Vineter gist: ici: Dieu: de: sa: alme: eie: merci .

A LARGE marble monument, with a bust, commemorates the reward of ingenuity and honest industry.

Beneath, lie the remains of Edward Strong, a shepherd's boy near this town, who took to masonry, worked at St. Paul's cathedral, and laid the last stone. He acquired a good fortune, with a fair character, and died aged 72, in 1723.

AT the bottom of the town is a small brick house,34 called Holywell; once the residence of Sarah Dutchess of Marlborough. Her portrait, in white, exquisitely handsome, is preserved here; as is that of her aged mother, Mrs. Jennings. In the first, are not the lest vestiges of her diabolical passions, the torments of her queen, her husband, and herself.

Two little pictures in this house are so charmingly finished, as to merit a visit. One is of a beautiful woman, with red hair parted in the middle; a close cap, placed far behind; with a long black coif, edged with pearl.

SHE is dressed in a scarlet gown, with sleeves and mantle of purple: breasts and shoulders naked. She appears a deep devotee, reading a rich illuminated missal, seated in a chair. Her middle is surrounded with a chain, a rosary of gold and colored beads pendent from it. On a table, behind, is a chalice of gold, set with pearls.

THE other is ahead of an old man, in a black gown; his beard grey and square, finely finished.

THE town of St. Alban's is large, and, in general, filled with antient buildings. It originally sprung from a few houses built by king Offa, for the conveniency of the officers and servants of the monastery. About the year 950, it was so increased, that king Ethelred, at the intercession of abbot Ulfin, gave it a grant of a market, and the rank of a borough. In the Doomsday Book, it appears at the Conquest to have been rated for ten hides. The

arable was sixteen ploughlands. In demesne, three hides, two ploughlands, and another may be made. There were four aliens, sixteen villeyns, and thirteen boors, having thirteen ploughlands: forty-six burgesses: the toll, and other rents of the town, eleven pounds fourteen shillings a year: three mills, forty shillings a year: meadow, two ploughlands in quantity: wood to feed a thousand hogs in pannage-time: and seven shillings rent. The total twenty pounds at that time; in that of Edward the Confessor, twenty-four. There are now twelve cottagers, a park of deer, and a fish-pond.

THE town was always considered as a part of the demesne of the abbey; and at the Conquest it was part of its possessions. Richard I. by charter, confirmed it to the abbey, with a market, and all the privileges attending a borough: the abbot holding, as he alleged, of the king in capite, and holding the burgesses as demesned men of the abbey. This tenure the burgesses wished to force from him; which they attempted by the following stratagem—In the thirty-fifth of Edward I. they had sent representatives to parlement, and also in the first and second of Edward II; but in the fifth of the same reign, the sheriff of Hertfordshire, by the contrivance of the abbot, to save the expence, had omitted the usual summons. This the burgesses complained of, asserting that they held of the king; hoping thereby to get released of the services they owed their lord abbot: or, if they succeeded in sending members, to be freed of those which they owed the king. Both of which expectations, in the opinion of Mr. Madox, were ill-founded.35 Burgesses were returned to parlement the fifth of Edward II. and in the second, fourth, and fifth of Edward III; after which the load, or the privilege, as it was respectively thought by the disputants, ceased. At the time of the dissolution, the town, with the other possessions of the abbey, fell to the king (Henry VIII.) and from him to his heir, Edward VI; who, by letters patent, dated May 12th, 1553, made the town of St. Alban's a body corporate, by the name of the mayor and burgesses, and granted to the said mayor and burgesses, and their successors, the said profits, and other franchises; they to hold the premises in free burgage, and to render yearly to the crown Xl. as a fee-farm, at the feast of St. Michael .36

THESE were changed, by Charles II. into a mayor, recorder, twelve aldermen, and twenty-four assistants. The members are returned by the inhabitants and freemen (about a thousand in number) and the returning-officer is the mayor.37

THE remarkable events, which befel this town in earlier times, were, as usual, of the sanguinary kind. During the rage of the barons wars, in the reign of Henry III. the burgesses fortified the place, and defended it with strong gates, well secured. They were particularly jealous of horsemen; therefore refused passage to all cavaliers. The constable of Hertford, displeased at this prohibition, in a bravado, boasted that he would enter the town with three youths (knights) and four of his best villeins. He did so, and, walking up and down with great insolence, asked his companions which way the wind was. The townsmen, alarmed at the question, thought he designed to fire their houses. In a summary way they executed justice, by knocking down and beheading him, his youths, and villeins; placing their heads on poles, at the corners of their streets. The king resented this invasion of his prerogative, and fined the town in a hundred marks; which was immediately paid.38

IN the reign of Richard III. it underwent a mortification of a far heavier nature. In 1381, after the bloody insurrection of Wat Tyler, a court of justice was held here, by the famous Sir Robert Tresilian. John Ball, a priest of Coventry, was tried and executed. Several of the inhabitants had favored the rebels, or, taking advantage of the turbulence of the times, had demanded from the abbot a release from all their services. Several of them were condemned and put to death, and orders given, that their bodies should remain on the gallows in terrorem. The burgesses, in contempt of the king, took them down; but when a discovery was made, Richard, in a rage, commanded the townsmen to make chains, and hang the putrid carcases on the same places they took them from; which, disgusting and horrible as the task was, they were obliged to perform.39

IN the civil wars between the houses of York and Lancaster, this town was the scene of dreadful carnage. Here was shed the first blood in that fatal quarrel. As soon as ever the weak Henry, or rather his queen and ministers, found themselves free from the power of his rival the Duke of York, they, armed their forces, and marched from London to St. Alban's to encounter their enemy, who was advancing towards them with a mighty host. They met on the 22d of May, 1455. The peaceful prince sent out a herald to York, strictly commanding him to keep the peace as became a dutiful subject, and to avoid effusion of blood. York's answer was humble, yet resolute; demanding the Duke of Somerset, and other delinquents, to be delivered into his hands, that justice might be executed on them, for the miseries they had brought on the realm. Somerset, who had been regent of France, was charged in particular with the loss of Normandy. The king determined to stand the event of the day, rather than give up his friends. His banner was placed in St. Peter's street. Orders were issued by Henry (but most probably by the bloody Margaret) that no quarter should be given to his opponents. The Yorkists began the attack in three places. The famous John Lord Clifford defended the barriers with his accustomed valour. The king-making Warwick, who at this time espoused the cause of York, collected his force, and broke in through the gardens into Holywell-street: 40 his soldiers shouted his tremendous name. The Duke of York entered at the same time, and a dreadful fight ensued. Victory declared in his favor. Numbers of the nobility and gentry, with about eight hundred common men, fell on the side of Henry: the valiant Clifford, usually called The Old, though only forty years of age, the Earl of Northumberland, son to the noted Hotspur, and the great Duke of Somerset, were slain. The last lost his life beneath the sign of the Castle, to fulfil the prophecy thus delivered by Shakespeare :

                Let him shun castles,
Safer shall he be on the sandy plains,
Than where castles mounted stand.41

Numbers of the nobility were wounded, and numbers fled till the fury of the battle was over. None were executed by the victor: the barbarity of civil feuds had not yet taken place, provoked by the reciprocal cruelties which speedily followed.

Henry, wounded in the neck by an arrow, which hurtled in showers on him, retreated to a poor cottage, where he was found by the conquerors. They asked forgiveness on their knees, which the humane prince readily gave, on condition they would stop the carnage. He became their prisoner, and they of course became governors of the kingdom. The abbey escaped plunder; for fortunately the king did not make it his head-quarters.

THE king, from this time to the year 1461, remained a mere shadow of royalty, entirely under the direction of the Yorkists. His queen was driven from him, under the terror of proscription. That spirited woman did not employ her time in prayers, or counting her beads, like her weak husband; but, by the assistance of her northern friends, raised a potent army, fought and slew the Duke of York at the battle of Wakefield, on December 30th, 1460, and, marching towards London, gave occasion to a second battle at St. Alban's .

THE Earl of Warwick, now in possession of the king, hastened from London with the captive monarch, and took post in St. Alban's. Margaret, attempting to pass through the town, was repulsed by a storm of arrows, directed from the market-place; but she quickly forced her way through a lane into St. Peters-street. The conflict became then very bloody; and, after great slaughter, both parties quitted the town, and continued the battle, with the animosity usual in civil feuds, on Bernard Heath, north of St. Alban's , as far as the village of Sauntbridge, and even beyond it, to a place called No Mans Land .42 There a corps de reserve of Warwick's army, to the number of four or five thousand, made so vigorous an onset on the Lancastrians, as to render the victory for some time doubtful. At length the treachery or cowardice of a captain Lovelace, who commanded the Kentishmen, determined the day: he quitted the field, and left a complete victory to the queen. The confederated lords fled, and left the king in company of Lord Bonvil and Sir Thomas Kiriel, a gallant knight of Kent, both Yorkists. These gentlemen Henry had prevaled on to stay with him, assuring them of pardon and security; but his barbarous queen, in contempt of the royal word, and in defiance of all good faith, caused them to be beheaded in the presence of her son Edward ,43 as it were to familiarize the young prince with blood, and train him to cruelty.

THREE-AND-TWENTY hundred men perished in this battle. Only one man of rank was slain, Sir John Grey of Groby, who had that morning, with twelve others, been knighted by the king at Colney. His widow became queen to Edward IV. and occasioned fresh calamities to the kingdom, and proved the innocent cause of the destruction of her kindred.


1 Chauncy, 431, 463.

2 The same, 436.

3 Drayton, song xvi. Spenser sings in the same strain, see Ruins of Time .

4 Carte, i. 272.

5 Mat. Paris, 984.

6 The reverend Peter Newcome, in his elaborate History of the Abbey, p. 439, says, That Boreman was put in the place of abbot Catton, who died in 1538, with no other view than to make a surrender in form; an artifice practised whenever there was a vacancy. ED.

7 Willis, i. 27.

8 Stevens, i. 265.

9 Willis, i. 27.

10 Tanner, 180.

11 Antiquarian Repertory, iii. 60.

12 Stevens, i. 237.

13 Ex lapidibus et tegulis veteris civitatis Verolamii et materie lignea quant invenit a praedecessoribus suis collectam et reservatam. Mat. Paris. 1001.

14 Mat. Paris, 1047.

15 The same, 1054, 1063.

16 Stevens, i. 262.

17 M. Paris, 1006.

18 Lib. xxxvi. c. 21.

19 Mat. Paris, 996.

20 Such a guardian was appointed to the shrine of St. Anphibalus, at Redbourn. M. Paris, 1054.

21 Finely engraven in Sandford's Genealogical History, p. 318.

22 Henry VI. part ii. sc. 2. taken from Grafton p. 597, 598.

23 448.

24 Cotton Library Claudii, A. 8. fol. 195. A copy of this is hung up in the church.

25 Alluding to the detection of the impostor.

26 He founded the beautiful divinity-school at Oxford .

27 Weever, 562.

28 Idem, 577.

29 Idem, 578.

30 Vincent's Discocerie, &c. 287.

31 This, and many others, are nearly defaced with white: but may be seen in Weever, 567.

32 Life of Sir J. M. prefixed to his Travels. The tomb was in being in the time of Weever, who saw both that and the inscription.

33 Weever, 562.

34 Lord Treasurer Godolphin died in that house.

35 Antiquities of the Exchequer, i, 760.

36 Madox, i. 762.

37 Willis Notit. Parl.. iii. 26.

38 Chauncy, 442.

39 Hollinshed, 438.

40 Stow, 399.

41 Henry VI. part ii. act 1. Hall's Chronicle, lxxxvi.

42 Stow, 413.

43 Halle, p. c.

Thomas Pennant, The Journey from Chester to London (London: Wilkie and Robinson, 1811)

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