The Alderman of Southburgh [Sudbury 1485]

The Alderman of Southburgh [Sudbury 1485]

To Mr. G. W. Fulcher, Sudbury 1856

Dear Sir. – Knowing the interest you take in anything connected with the history and antiquities of your native town, I send you the enclosed document. It contains a curious tale of old ancestral times, and its own history is not less remarkable. A friend of mine who happens to be an architect, discovered its original amongst a mass of unintelligible papers (for most of them were written in cypher) in a cupboard, concealed in the thick wall of a house, which he had occasion to pull down in one of oldest streets of Oxford. Tradition asserted that house to have been the residence of Priest Simons, who organized the first rebellion against Henry the VII, and made Lambert Simnel pass for a Plantagenet.

If the letter were addressed to him, as seems probable, his Reverence must have sought for claimants to the Crown of England in more than one direction. However, there is solid evidence of its authenticity within the Southburgh (to give your town its ancient name). The church of Saint
Bartholomew, though roofless and environed by orchard trees, still stands out against parochial rates. The tomb of a merchant Quintin may still be seen in the old church of Saint Gregory, and there is more than one crazy timber fabric known to have been a Fleming’s Woolhall. Doubtless your own antiquarian lore can supply further illustrations, but with these certificates I recommend the ancient letter to your Sudbury readers, particularly as its spelling has been modernized and remain –
Your Contributor,

“Christopher Wearwell, Alderman of Southburgh, – to Father Anthony”

“Reverend Father, since though hast taken the trouble to send messenger so long a way to enquire concerning my lineage, and that strange passage of my youth whereof many living may remember the bruit, though few know the verity-since, thanks to the Brothers of Saint Augustine, I, though an
Alderman, understand the art of writing, and thanks to God can still direct a pen by the light of mine own horn lamp, this vigil of the Innocents in the year of Christ, one thousand four hundred and eighty-five; which is the sixty-fifth of my life: I think it good to send you a written account, for messengers oft forget that which they should best remember.

Touching my lineage, it came not from any royal or noble house that I wot of: nor at all pertained to the Plantagenet line, (whose souls God rest, for their times were troublesome), but my first remembrances are those of a little child brought up for charity by the Friars of Saint Augustine,
founded here by Simon Theobald, our notable Bishop. The brethren found me, an infant at the gate where they were accustomed to relieve the poor, one Christmas morning, and therefore gave me the name Christopher. In those days that blessed King, Henry the VI, reigned over England with the
help of his three uncles; and the Earl of March having been beheaded for treason in the reign of his victorious father, all his lands and tenements within this Burgh, together with the Lordship thereof, Sak and Soke, Toll and Theme, were bestowed upon Master Wolfric, the King’s moneyer, who it was said had spared neither work nor word at court to win the same. It was even bruited in corners that he had paid the price of blood for it. There had been one Master Raymond De Vere, a martlet of the noble house of Headingham, who having travelled as far as the Provencal country, and gained great skill in hawks and minstrelsy, was made an esquire to King Henry, much favoured by his grace, and promised the Lordship of Southburgh. Master Raymond could see our fair town from the battlements of Headingham Castle. It was his wont to repair thither every Christmas and Eastertide to feast with his noble kinsman, my Lord of Oxford; being both valiant and landless, the Esquire journeyed with no attendants but one stripling page, and soon after the King’s promise he left the court at Shene to keep Christmas, but neither Esquire nor page were ever heard after. Men said that blood had been seen in the snow – that a steed grazed wild, and a falcon’s bell was heard for many a year in the heart of Headingham forest; but next Michaelmas got the Lordship; and I knew nothing of such tales, being a fatherless boy in the Priory, where old Ralph, the gardener, brought me up with some care and kindness. He had been an archer at the battle of Agincourt, and man-at-arms to a Knight who died in the Holy Land; but now he was a lay brother, porter, and gardener to the Friars of Saint Augustine; and his talk night and day was the wastefulness of a woollen weaver, whom his only daughter had wedded, notwithstanding that he loved strong ale better than his loom. This goodly man and his spouse had left Southburgh for debt and went no one knew whither.

Old Ralph’s wife nursed me, but she died the year after, wherefore he lived within the Priory, and in some sort acted a father’s part to me; while the only similitude to a mother I ever knew, was Brother Cuthbert, the most learned and merciful of all the Friars, who had also found me at the gate. He taught me to read, yea and to write; together with a sprinkling of the Latin tongue and the Seven sciences, which it is to my shame to have been forgotten in the cares of an Alderman and the weight of woollen bales. To be an Augustine Friar, and go forth preaching with the leave of the Prior, was the gory set before my boyhood; which passed tending herbs and apple trees in the Priory garden, chanting in the choir, running errands for all the brethren, and singing psalms through the streets and lanes of Southburgh at high festivals, that the burghers might see how poor and pious were Saint Augustine’s followers among them. From the prior downward, all dealt kindly with my youth, chiefly , as old Ralph told me , because a certain palmer who had learned to read the stars in Palestine, prophesied that through my means great riches would come to the Priory, and truly that palmer had a marvellous power of prophesying, for it is related to him, that once while sitting at thebanquet board of Sir Roger Poley, of Boxted Hall, he said that house would never want an heir, while England had a king; which saying proved true in spite of the woeful wars which I have seen leave so many lands without lords, and lords without castles, seeing that honourable family have kept Christmas this year with marvellous entertainment.

To tell how the palmer’s prophesy was fulfilled concerning me is nevertheless more to my present purpose. When I was full seventeen, my feet had wandered little beyond the bounds of Southburgh, which truly is a fair town having three stately churches, four great wool-halls, a Priory, a college, and a market-place notable throughout the east country for Flemish cloth and for corn, not to reckon fulling mills, weaving shops, and fair timber houses, where the blithe burghers and their honest wives keep up a din of work from dawn till nightfall. Southburgh hath still many worshipful merchants, but in my youth the chief among them was Master Robert de Quintin. He was honourably descended from the work master of those skilful Flemings, whom the courteous and wise Queen Phillipa drew by strength of lands and royal charters to settle in Southburgh, and plant the woollen trade which hath since their time flourished so fair in England. Master Robert inherited great substance and a goodly timber house on the Market-hill, wherein it was said three score and seven cloth workers and market men sat down daily in the dining hall. He was noble in trade and in charity, a good giver to the Priory, a strong helper of law and good manners within the burgh, though the riotous thought him somewhat austere. But his wife was dead, and heiress of all his wealth was a maiden of fifteen, his only daughter, the fair Mistress Maud. Many merchant’s sons in the east country had sought her, but Master Robert being so proud of his brave descent that he would give way neither to Knight nor Squire, purposed to bestow her on a certain distant cousin, named Master Hubert, who dwelt with him as a clerk, and rumour said rather regarded the hosteler’s daughter. This hosteler was one Ephraim Sorrel. Many thought him the greatest rogue in the parish, and his daughter a damsel more merry than wise. His house still stands in a lonely nook where the uttermost liberties of our burgh meet the skirts of Chilton forest. Ephraim sold good ale, and sot; but it pleased him better to make merry with blithe companions and the comely Mistress Mildred, than gather riches slowly and soberly under the grave merchant. Such is the vanity of youth, and it may have been because my also kicked in secret against the sobriety of the Priory, that Master Hubert made up a sort of hasty brotherhood with me in my singing and errand times; taught me to play tennis, to trip the morris dance, and once invited me to go with him a masking. The occasion of this was a high day in our burgh, not only being the first day of May , which hath been held a festival since the early playtime of the world whereof poets tell us, but also the day on which Lord Wolfric came to receive the burghers’ homage and feast with Master Robert de Quintin. The trumpets of battle had not yet sounded between York and Lancaster, so there was peace and plenty in all the shires of England; and it would amaze the poverty of these wasted times to see the streets hung with tapestry and strewn with flowers: the burghers clad in scarlet gowns, their wives in fringed kirtles and wimples of fine linen, and barrels of beer opened at the market cross, while the morris dancers brought in the May.

As soon as the watchman’s bugle sounded from Saint Peter’s tower in token that Lord Wolfric with his train were approaching, forth marched the Aldermen, and burghers, with drums and banners, to meet him; but not a brother stirred out of our Priory, for it was remembered that he had yet bestowed neither lands nor gifts upon us, and the banquet at the Alderman’s house had begun before I was allowed to go forth as usual and sing the thanksgiving psalms. On that errand Master Hubert met me with a merry company bound on playing the masque of Reynard in the Moot Hall; and with contrition I confess myself persuaded to go with them and play the fox, while Hubert acted the lion. He hired a mask and skin for me of a certain Lombard, in the Friars Street, and having arrayed ourselves in the weaving shop, we came into the hall between the first and second courses. It was a goodly sight with green boughs and banners, minstrels, and men at arms, and at the chief table among the best of our dames and burghers sat Master Quintin, Lord Wolfric being on his right hand, and Mistress Maud at his left. I yet remember that she wore a gown and kirtle of grass-green cloth, and a golden fillet on her nut-brown hair, likewise that though Master Robert looked proudly on his silver cups and gilt flagons, something seemed to disquiet him, while Lord Wolfric drank to his and his daughter’s health in the flattering fashion of a courtier. Our old burghers afterwards said that the Lord of Suthburgh had thoughts of borrowing money, wherewith to build a castle; but Master Robert knew it was better to have his gold near, and his Lord at a distance.

However, our play began. There was no poet in Southburgh, nor is there till this day one to prepare a masque, wherefore we depended on our own wits, which strange to say were keener in those days of youth and poverty than I have found them since as an Alderman; for though Hubert spoke much longer, and one (a scholar from the college, acting the ass) talked; when the rose noble which her father had laid down to be awarded by Mistress Maud as lady of the feast, she bestowed it on me saying, “The fox speaks best,” and then retired with all the young maidens to her chamber; though Lord Wolfric prayed the merchant to bid her stay, and looked sore displeased when the good man told him it was not burgher fashion. From that hour I began to think there might be braver things than the life of an Augustine Friar; but the rose noble was spent in cakes and ale at the hostel, where old Ralph found me at sunset dancing the flowers of May, and scolded me home to the Prior, who sent me to keep vigil that night in the chapel, with a promise of doing penance in a white sheet if I ever again brought such scandal on the order. After that, Reverend Father, I grew weary of cell and service. Not having the inward call to monkhood, half my days were spent in contriving errands without the walls, to talk with Master Hubert of our masking. Sometimes I saw Mistress Maud giving bread to the poor at her father’s gate, or spinning in the porch in sultry evenings; but not to tire your patience with such vane memories, the days wore on till the Shrovetide Fair of Lavenham. Lollards were said to be in that town, wherefore, and because the Priory was poor that season, Brother Cuthbert, of whom I have before spoken, and Brother Herewald, a mighty preacher though somewhat fierce of mind for a Friar, were sent to discourse and gather money from the people, I being in their company to look after the mules. Our merchants have always attended that fair to sell their cloths and buy wool; and many a goodly train of pack horses not to speak of bravely mounted merchants, and the poorer sort all in their best array, left our burgh at sunrise on the fair eve, but none better appointed than the company of Master Robert de Quintin. He had with him twelve good horses laden with bales; two oxen, the best in Suffolk, carried his stall and furniture and besides two bowmen for defence, servants and apprentices, his staid foreman, his gay clerk, and Mistress Maud riding on a dappled palfrey, to spend the fait-time with her aunt Dame Dister. As I caught sight of her crimson mantle, her snow- white wimple, and the sweet face beneath, that journey became a May-day to me, but its sunshine was soon overcast. We had passed the hostel, and were skirting the forest slowly, for the rain had been heavy and the mire was deep. The Friars had joined themselves to Master de Quintin’s company; and I perceiving that Mistress Maud took some note of me, set my simple heart on letting her know who pleased her in the masque. Therefore, as the merchant seemed engaged with Brother Herewald, who was earnest with him to seek out Lollards in Southburgh, I drew up to her palfrey and said:- “Fair Mistress, I am that fox who pleased you in the masque of May – what is your will I should play at the Easter revels?” Mistress Maud answered something with a frightened look, and before I could hear it my boldness was rewarded with a box on the ear from the proud merchant, and an order to keep my own side of the company.

“What hast thou done, mischievous boy, to move Master de Quintin so?” cried Brother Herewald, who had seen the box but not its cause. The Merchant discreetly left me to answer, and being in no haste for that, the Friar again shouted – “What hast thou done?”

“ Tell him,” muttered Master Hubert, “It is not a Friar’s business.” Without thinking I gave in that ready reply, whereon Brother Herewald’s blood boiled up, and aiming at me his cudgel, he struck the mule, which having some likeness to its master, reared, threw him, and sprained the good man’s arm. Brother Cuthbert and I were forced by this accident to return with him to the Priory. He bestowed backward benedictions on me the whole way, and the Prior had reckoned much on his preaching at Lavenham, railed at me for an instrument of Satan, through whom the Lollard heresy escaped confutation, locked me up in a penitential cell, and next day sent me to do penance on the very spot where Brother Herewald had been thrown, that all comers and goers might see and be admonished. The Lavenham fair lasted for three days, and sorely ashamed was I to stand in the highway bareheaded in a white sheet with a taper in my hand. The Monks took turns in watching me that I should keep the penance; but having by chance on the third evening that Master de Quintin’s company would shortly pass homeward; I could not abide to be seen by Mistress Maud; and seeing Brother Godwin, whose eyes closed as sure as he sat down, fast asleep on his station at the root of an old tree, I fled from my place of penance and hid myself in the forest.

It was twilight there, for the sun was near setting, and I had reached a path among the tall trees, when the voices of men hard by made me cower close in the thicket – “I marvel,” said one of them, “why Lord Wolfric should have set us on this business.” “Thou simpleton,” said the other, “the merchant hath riches and a fair daughter, and his taking off will make the Lord of the Manor warden of both – but I marvel that so cunning a trader as Master de Quintin should have been persuaded to let his company go forward and take this forest way to confer privately with his Lordship – Hist! Here they come!”

As the voice ceased, I heard the tread of horses, and mine eyes being now accustomed to the dim light, I could see Lord Wolfric and Master Robert de Quintin riding together in earnest talk. “It is a fair night,” said Lord Wolfric, speaking aloud as for a signal, and presently two outlandish looking men sprang forth at the merchant with their long knives. I knew Master Robert was unarmed, but near me lay a great bough like a bludgeon, and I could not see Maud’s father so treacherously slain. Catching it up I rushed out, penitential sheet and all, and struck at the nearest villain, when to my surprise, both flung down their knives and scoured away, while Lord Wolfric setting spurs to his horse fled through the forest like one in mortal fear. “In the name of all the Saints, who are you?” said the merchant reining his frightened steed. “The priory boy, Christopher, who was made to do penance all the fair time, because a mule threw Brother Herewald,” I replied. “Thou are a brave boy,” said Master Robert, “strip off that sheet – mount behind me, and let us ride for life.”

I did as the merchant bade me – we soon reached the highway, entered the burgh, and came to his house, when Mistress Maud and all the company were alighting at the porch – I lodged there that night in a private chamber, and next morning there was a terrible tale in Southburgh, that Lord Wolfric had been found by Brother Godwin half demented from seeing a spirit in the forest, and remained at the Priory where masses had been said for him all night. The merchant had much talk with me, and also with the Prior, by whose consent I became apprenticed to Master de Quiintin who much approved of my discretion in keeping the silence which he and the Prior enjoined me concerning the whole matter; by which that forest way became a terror to all travellers, chiefly because Lord Wolfric forsaking court and manor, became a Brother of Saint Augustine, founded the church of Saint Bartholomew, and endowed it with all the lands and rights thereto pertaining; which gift King Henry confirmed before the rising of the White Rose; and the two robbers who were hanged* at Southburgh in the following year confessed themselves to have seen in the forest the ghost of Master Raymond’s page wrapped in a winding sheet. As for myself, it is scarce worthy of your courtesy to hear how I grew in favour with Master Robert de Quintin – how I became his clerk when Master Hubert married Mistress Mildred, in spite of all advice and led as they say a sorry life – how at length I became the merchant’s son-in-law, conducting myself as all men say dutifully, succeeding to his business, and with much sorrow placing over him a fair tomb in the church of Saint Gregory.

Now, Reverend Father, my grand-children are clamouring for me because supper is ready; and concerning my birth I have only time to say, that when Master Robert advanced me in his service, old Ralph made solemn declaration that I was his grandson, left at that Priory gate for the brethren’s charity, which tale hath been confirmed not only by Brother Cuthbert, but mine own poor parents who dwelt with me in their age, and all my kindred who have gloried in me ever since I became an Alderman of Southburgh.

*The spot where they were hung in chains is situate a short distance from the Borough of Sudbury on the high road to Lavenham, and is called “Gallows Hill” to this day.

The antient family of the De Quintin’s carried on an extensive trade in Wool in the Town of Sudbury more than 650 years ago. From an inquisition taken on oath in the 2nd year of King Edward 1 st 1274 and recorded in the Hundred Rolls, it was alleged and proved that Robert St. Quintin and John St. Quintin, travelling merchants, did contrary to law, cause to be exported , nine sacks of Wool to parts beyond the seas, and exported the same through the Port of Ipswich. The rich Clothier , Spring, who built the Church at Lavenham, and Alleyne Disten of that place (the latter died 1534) were also extensive Woollen Merchants in connection with Southburgh. The Pall used at the burial of De Quintin and known as “The Alderman’s Pall” is still in the possession of the Corporation/Council.

Lollards and Lollardy = Followers of John Foxe and of John Wycliffe, who promoted a ‘English’ bible and practice. Early Protestantism became popular among the Weavers and to many in Sudbury.

NB The above ‘Alderman’s Tale has been extracted from MOORE’S ALMANACK, 1856 Printed in Sudbury by George Williams Fulcher Jun.

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