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The Chantry Priest of Barnet by  Alfred J. Church

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OF THE CHANTRY OF BARNET

The sixth day of June, 1471.

[233] I HEARD this day of Master Brown of Colney, that my lord the King is minded to build a chantry on Barnet Field. Master Brown holdeth a water-mill and certain meadows of the Abbey, and came hither, as is the custom, ten weeks or thereabouts after the Feast of Our Lady, to pay his dues, certain sacks of wheat and ten marks in money, for the half-year last past. I have some knowledge of him, having been sent for in haste to minister the sacraments to his father now deceased, the parson of Colney lying dead in his house of the spotted fever, and the man hath kindly thoughts of me for such service as I did to him and his. His story was in this wise: "I was in Barnet yesterday with a certain baker with whom I have dealings in the way [234] of my trade, whose house is over against the Crown hostelry, which doubtless thou knowest, having tarried in Barnet when thou wast with the King. And as we sat, our business being ended, over a flagon of ale, we were ware of a goodly company of horsemen that drew rein at the door of the said hostelry, to whom came forth Master Richard the host, cap in hand, bending low as to travellers of great worship. Then said master baker, 'On my life 'tis the King and none other.' I scanned him well, and indeed he is a goodly person, though somewhat overgrown. And those two that favour him so greatly are his brothers of Clarence and Gloucester. We noted that when the King had spoken certain words to the host there ran a little lad as one that carried a message with all haste. Presently, the riders sitting meanwhile on their horses, the lad came back, and in no great space of time there followed him Sir Thomas Aston, that is parson of Barnet. With him the King had some speech, and after the whole company rode forwards, going towards the Field, but at a foot's pace, the parson walking with them covered, for the King would [235] have it so, as we saw by the gesture of his hand. Then said master baker, 'Let us e'en follow these great folk and learn wherefore they be come.' And though I was loath to meddle in that which concerned me not, yet he overbore me, and I went. There followed also no small concourse of the townsfolk. And when the King and his company were come to the open space which lieth to the north of Barnet town they turned somewhat to the left hand, where, three hundred yards or thereabouts from the highway, there standeth a clump of fir trees. There did the King and they that were with him light down from their horses, and, having uncovered, knelt for a space, and we that had followed stood on the highway, for the parson had beckoned to us with the hand that we should not approach nearer. Then the King rose up, and after he had talked for a space with Master Aston, he mounted upon his horse, as also did his company. Then sticking spurs, they rode northward, minding, as one told me afterwards, to visit Master More, who hath a fair house in North Mimms. And while I tarried, noting such tokens of the battle as yet remained upon the [236] field—broken pieces of horses' reins and bits and other trappings and the like (but all that was price the Barnet folk had gathered, aye, and made a good market thereof, and with them, and I doubt not, of some things that had not been in this or any battle), came up Master Aston and greeted me full courteously. 'Would'st thou hear news,' saith he, 'Master Brown, for this, methinks, is no secret of state? My lord the King is minded to build him a chantry where a priest may sing the mass day by day for the souls of them that were slain on Barnet Field. Didst thou note the place where he and his company knelt upon the ground? There first, as the King said to me with his own mouth, did my lord Warwick's men give ground, and there will he have it built, a fair chapel and a lodging for a priest. Truly I had been better pleased had he added it to my own church of Barnet; but 'tis a good work, howsoever it be done; and I misdoubt me,' this he said whispering lest any perchance should overhear, 'whether all the King's revenue be as well spent.'" After this Master Brown departed. Truly I am rejoiced that God hath put it into the King's heart, which seemeth over [237] much set on worldly things, thus to give thanks for his deliverance.

The Feast of St. Barnabas, 1471.

I thought not that Master Brown's tidings which he told me, now five days since, touching the chantry that should be built on Barnet Field, concerned me so nearly. But this morning there cometh a letter from the King to my lord the Abbot, which letter I will here transcribe.

"To the Right Reverend Father in God, my right entirely beloved counsellor, William Abbot of St. Albans, Greeting—

"I have it in my mind for the glory of God, and for the encouragement of good faith and honesty among men, to build a chantry on Barnet Field, in which a priest shall sing mass day by day for the souls of the Lord Cromwell, the Lord Say, Sir Humphrey Bourchier, and of all others that were slain in the battle of Barnet on my party. And I will that there be paid to the said priest one shilling by the day, the said priest promising for his part, if he be hindered by sickness or any other cause, to provide some one of good repute to sing mass in his stead. And I will that one Thomas Aylmer, at this present a brother in your Abbey of St. Alban, have this office, so that your lordship give consent, the said Thomas Aylmer having companied with my army in the same battle, and done good service ministering to them that were wounded and like to die, and otherwise approved himself good and faithful. And because, though I have laid my command on Master William, my chief builder, that he build the said chantry with a convenient lodging for the priest without delay, there must needs be no small space of time before the work be finished, I will that the said Thomas Aylmer begin to sing mass, as here [238] aforesaid, in the Parish Church of Barnet on the Feast of St Peter next ensuing. And I will that, till the said chantry any lodging be built, he receive the sum of four pence by the day, over and above the said sum of one shilling, out of which he shall pay to the parson of Barnet two pence for the use of his church and of the vessels of the altar. I pray that God have you in His keeping; and so farewell.

"Given at my Court of Westminster, this tenth day of June in the year of our Lord, 1471.
"EDWARD R."

Verily I am thankful to my lord the King that he hath such kind remembrance of my, poor services on Barnet Field. And though I be loath for some reason to leave this Abbey of St. Alban, than which there is not, I trow, in the whole realm of England, a fairer house of God, and in which also I had some time hoped to end my days; yet I do think that I see the hand of God in this matter. For I doubt me much whether, if I abide here, I shall have strength to follow that on which my heart is chiefly set, the writing out of books (Master Thomas, the leech, has not suffered me so much as to set foot in the scriptorium). I doubt also, however this may be, whether this art of the writing out of books may not come to an end (such strange things do I hear of this new device of printing). There is another cause, [239] also, why I should be not unwilling to depart, of which it beseemeth me to write little. There are certain in this place that walk disorderly, of whom I will at this present say no more than that I pray to God that they may speedily mend their ways.


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