Pilgrimage in Medieval Nottinghamshire

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An overview

By R B Parish

The records of the pilgrimage activity of pre-reformation Nottinghashire is an interesting area of discussion and themes clearly arise.

Where did Pilgrims go?

Understandably the most common destination for the medieval pilgrim or palmer was Jerusalem or Hierusalem as it is written in the medieval records. However there is evidence of a wide range of pilgrimage locations ranging from the shrine of St James of Compostella  in Northern Spain to more great English shrines such as St. William of York to more local sites such as Our Lady of Doncaster.

Why go on pilgrimage?

It is clear that to all able bodied and sometimes less able seeking a cure, Medieval Christians, were obliged to go on pilgrimage. Sometimes, this was enshrined in law.  In 1325, Archbishop Melton’s register records that a Sir Peter de Mauley was penalised for adultery having not to fast every Friday in Lent, Ember Days and Advent for seven years on bread, water and small beer and on Good Friday and the Vigils of All Saints on bread and water only and to make pilgrimages to the shrines of St. William at York, St Thomas at Hereford and the Blessed Virgin at Southwell and St. John of Beverley and St. Wilfrid at Ripon.

Granting permission

Compared with today when we can take paid holidays or sabbaticals, going on pilgrimage was a far more difficult prospect.  Permission was needed. In 1281, an Edmund de Everley, rector of Treswell obtained ecclesiastical sanction to be absent for three years for pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Often some sort of fee would have to be paid to the employer of those intending to go on pilgrimage. One of the earliest accounts dates from Worksop in the reign of Richard I when a Richard de Lovetot was pardoned because of his absence but had to pay scuttage, one-fifth of 100s. Sometimes pilgrimages were not officially recognised. In 1292, a William de Hoknale, vicar of Hucknall, departed covertly to the Holy land, alleging that he vowed to make this pilgrimage. Fortunately for him, the Archbishop appears to have been willing to overlook his absence, but sequestrated the income of his living and provided a priest whilst he was absent.

A dangerous obligation

Going on pilgrimage was a potentially hazardous venture. Not only could a pilgrim contend with perilous sea journeys, long and risky land passage combined with the expense and the exposure to foreign diseases. Many doubtless did not return. Jollanus de Nevill  in 1344 gives the tithe of his mill at Rolleston to Thurgaton Priory “when he took his journey from Rolleston to Hierusalem” and as his wife was present suggesting that Jollanus never returned from his pilgrimage. In 1500 an interesting account describes the difficulties of going on pilgrimage within England, in this case into the shrine of Henry VI at Windsor written to Henry Bishop of Sarum:

“Mekely shewith unto your good and gracious lordship your pore orator, Thomas Clerk of the countie of Notyngham, That where late he went on Pilgrimage tp ythe Towne of Newe Wyndesore in the countie of Berks, to visite the Tombe of Kyng Henry VI, one William Philip, which ought malice and ill will upon your said orator caused the Bayliffs of the said Towne to attaché your said beseechjer for a vagabunde by reason whereof he was committed to the gaole of the said Towne, where he bevng ferre from his country and having noo frendis to labour for him, hath remained in pryson by the space of 16 weekis and more, and there is like to perish onless your gracious ayde and succour to him be shedwid in this behalf. Please it your good lordship in consideracion of the premissis and that your said Oratour shall fynde sufficient suretie afore your good lordship to aunswere to anything that shalbe returned agenst him, in the way of pitie to graunt a writ of corpus cum causa direct to the Maier and Bailiffs of the said Towne, hto have your beseecher with the cause of his arreste brought afore the King in his chaunceries, at a certeyne day by your good lordship to be lymitted there the same cause to be ordered and demed as right and consciens shall be require this, for the love of God and the way of Charitie.”

This emphasised the need to have papers appealing for safe conduct and to show that the pilgrimage was genuine as many towns did and still do have offences for vagancy. For example Patent Rolls show that in 1248 Gerard de Rodes, Lord of Langar, Clifton, Barnstone etc had letters of protection for going upon pilgrimage. John Willoughby, of Wollaton had letters signed from Henry III for safe conduct for himself and a retinue of six persons to go to St. James of Compostella. Similarly, Maud Fraunceys was given protection and safe conduct to go overseas with one damsel, one chaplain, one yeoman and four horses, and took £40 expenses.

Sending someone in your place

Sometimes you could send someone else in your place to go on pilgrimage. This is noted when a Sir William deStaunton, who being too preoccupied to go on Pilgrimage, sent a bondsmen and gave him freedom on safe return.  Similarly, a John Darcy was given 20 marks to serve Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, for life and to go to Holy land when required 1274. A William de Staunton wills ten marks:

“to the Holy land in 1312 that two footman should go to the first passage in his name”

He also freed Hugh Travers of Auvringham, his family and brother John for taking “a cross for him, and went for his to Hierusaleum and gives them to God and Staunton church, to be in the protection of the rector there.”

In 1528, the steward of the Willoughbys at Wollaton gave 8d as a reward to two Nottingham Friars who were going to St. Michael’s Mount.  The Wollaton MSS  also records show of a Towle who was paid by Sir Henry Willoughby “when he went Paylgramage to the sweyt rowed of Garadyne”. Even after death, pilgrimage duties could still be fulfilled.  A Hugh de Hoveringham  of Radcliffe-on-Trent gives the Knights Hospitallers a bovate of land;

“for his soul and the souls of his wives, and his ancestors and successors, and for the journey of his pilgrimages which he promised to make to St. Andrew”

Of course such pilgrimages largely disappeared after the Reformation.

This page was added by R B Parish on 10/03/2013.

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