More and Blokley: Prior and Scribe

William More was the penultimate Prior of Worcester and held office from 1518 to 1536. His tenure of this post could not be described as one of the high points in the priory’s history. Visitations of monasteries were a regular occurrence in the middle ages. During Prior More’s time in office, he was subject to a number of pre-reformation visitations, firstly by Cardinal Wolsey in 1525, when the only allusion to the visitation is in Prior More’s journal on folio 80v for Easter week 1525, where he listed

“Rewards [i.e. gifts] to the visiturs. Item to Mr. Alen £5 …”

Image of Prior More’s Journal excerpt from folio 80v. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

And again in 1534, on folio 152r when Archbishop Cranmer personally visited the monastery. Again there is an entry in Prior More’s journal:

“My Lord of Caunterbury … came to Worcester Fryday nyght … and visited in his own person on Monday, the 17th August, teusday, wennesday and thursday.” The Prior notes that he spent in “rewards to my lord of Canterbury howsold divided to divers uses £5 7s. 0d.”

Image of Prior More’s Journal excerpt from folio 152r. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

As head of the monastery, More lived a life of comfort that is more typical of the late medieval gentry than of a monk. Consequently it is easy to look upon Prior More as “an incorrigible wordling” (Canon James Wilson’s colourful description of More from his study of the Worcester Visitations made in April 1923)[1].

Whatever his personal faults, Prior More leaves us a fascinatingly detailed insight into his personal accounts, and day-to-day affairs, in the form of his account book or “journal” as it has come to be known. The journal, which is essentially a set of reckonings or accounts for 1518 to 1536, is hand-written on paper in one hand, although there are marginal notes by others both from the sixteenth century, but also some from the seventeenth century. For a late medieval English monastic superior, it is a unique document. We can build a picture of Prior More as both a patron and monk. Partly because of his position, and partly because of the way in which Worcester monastery was administered by various monk officials, the Prior had a degree of autonomy in his spending[2]. This is witnessed by More’s patronage of the arts. Fascinatingly, the journal shows us the nature of those expenses, namely the works of art and other trappings Prior More commissioned for his own use. These items, though at face value part of More’s personal collection and a reflection of his own acquisitiveness, may also be viewed (as Julian Luxford asserts in The Art and Architecture of English Benedictine Monasteries) as works that could be seen by visiting nobles, pilgrims, and local citizens and therefore taken as potent symbols of the power and importance of the monastery[3].

Image of Register A6ii folio 112r. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

The official register is another remarkable document for its decorative capitals throughout and not least for the magnificent capital “R” (for Register) at the beginning of More’s time as prior, in black ink. The initial employs a type of interlacing penmanship within the body of the letter “R” in an early sixteenth century fashion, seen elsewhere in the register. Around and within the initial letter are examples of accomplished, if rather naive, draughtsmanship, depicting both religious and secular scenes. In the upper part of the letter R is a portrait of the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus, in the lower part we see St. Catherine (with the accompanying symbols of her martyrdom, the sword and the wheel), to the right is a drawing of a lute-player, seated on a stool, with his lute case. To the left is a swordsman with a drawn sword. Within the design is a shield incorporating the arms of the See of Worcester (ten roundels, though not in the usual “argent ten Torteaux four three two one” formation) and those of another, perhaps More’s own? What makes this particular initial more intriguing yet is the proud inscription, either side of St. Catherine, of the artist’s name, Thomas Blokley.

Blokley (sometimes spelled Blockley, Blocley or Blokeleye) occupied various positions in the monastery at Worcester between 1516 and 1540[4]. In October 1518 he was appointed as secretary to Prior William More, and was paid 12d when he began work on the prior’s register (journal). In 1527 he became chaplain to Prior More, and in 1536 chaplain to Prior More’s successor Henry Holbeche. It seems Blokley became tainted by the criticisms of Prior More following Archbishop Cranmer’s visitation. In fact one of Archbishop Cranmer’s injunctions after his visitation warned the monks against constantly remembering the recantations of oaths made by Blokley and continuing to make slanderous remarks about him because of his former poor actions. The same year he became embroiled in accusations made by John Musard, one of the monks, regarding, amongst other things, the theft of a note from Musard’s monastic cell (room). In spite of these accusations Blokley weathered the storm, and eventually retired his position in 1540, when he was assigned a pension of £8 per annum.

Other fine initials in the register A6ii include a number of variations on the capital R for regestrum.

Image of A6ii folio 164r. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

One example incorporates two men’s faces staring at one another. The one on the right hand side wearing a finely detailed hat, and the man opposite him is distinguished by a large nose with a couple of spots on it. This is on folio 164br, and is dated to the year 1529. It was not signed by the artist, but has a nicely detailed leaf coming off the back of the letter R, and includes the arms of the Diocese of Worcester.

Another initial “R”, from 1536, appears near the start of the register for Henry Holbeche[5]. Finely drawn in brown ink, and partially overdrawn in black ink, it has an image of a tree (possibly an oak) in the centre and two cherubs or putti linking their arms around it. There is a cipher or symbol of some sort incorporated in the design (possibly an interlinked H. H. for Henry Holbeche?), and again Thomas Blokley’s name appears in the inscription or heading. Intriguingly there are also two marginalia drawings of a man’s head alongside the initial. It would be lovely to speculate that this could be a portrait of Holbeche or even Blokley himself?

Image from Register A6iii folio 9r Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

As we look at these examples of Blokley’s (and others’) work in the journal we gain a better understanding of the modus operandi of monastery secretaries and scribes. The journal has several examples of headings or initials that have been started but not completed, or simply blank spaces left for future work sadly never finished. Consequently we see how many splendid books, either administrative works like the journal, or more decorative service books, were designed and executed by degrees, as time or money allowed.

Steve Hobbs

 

[1] James M. Wilson, Monastic Life in England just before the reformation, The Contemporary Review, April 1923, p.491

[2] James M. Wilson, Accounts of the Priory of Worcester for the year 13-14 Henry VIII AD 1521-2, Worcestershire Historical Society, Oxford 1907.

[3] Julian Luxford, The Art and Architecture of English Benedictine Monasteries, 1300-1540. A Patronage History, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2005, p.92

[4] Joan Greatrex, Biographical Register of the English Cathedral Priories of the Province of Canterbury c.1066-1540, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1997, p.777

[5] WCM A6iii folio 9

 

Bibliography

S. Benedikz and S. L. Brock, Worcester Cathedral Library Catalogue of Muniments Class A, University of Birmingham.

A.V. Butcher, Three Worcester Shields, 1980 Worcester Cathedral Add Ms. 339

Joan Greatrex, Biographical Register of the English Cathedral Priories of the Province of Canterbury c.1006-1540 Oxford, Clarendon press 1997

Julian M. Luxford The Art and Architecture of English Benedictine Monasteries, 1300-1540. A Patronage History, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2005.

Flourishing the Register: the Worcester Monk-Artist Thomas Blockeley at Work, Julian Luxford, pp.141-148 Transactions of the Worcestershire Archaeological Society 2004 3rd series vol.19, pp. 141-148

Canon James M. Wilson, Accounts of the Priory of Worcester for the year 13-14 Henry VIII AD 1521-2, Worcestershire Historical Society, Oxford 1907.

Canon James M. Wilson, Monastic Life in England just before the reformation, The Contemporary Review April 1923, pp. 488-495

Canon James M. Wilson, Wolsey’s and Cranmer’s Visitations of the Priory of Worcester, English Historical Review July 1926 pp.418-423

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