Grave Addiction

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The oldest building on De Montfort University’s campus in the centre of Leicester is Trinity House, the building in which De Montfort University’s vice chancellor is based. It was originally built as the Trinity Hospital, established in 1330-1 to “the honour of God and the glorious Virgin and All Saints and in special Reverence of our Lady” by Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster and Leicester, a grandson of Henry III and second cousin to Edward III. It had a warden, four chaplains, fifty poor and infirm folk and five women to care for the inmates. It was endowed with four acres of land next to the Earl’s castle for the hospital building and gardens, land with grazing rights, two cartloads of fuel every week from his woods and the advowsons (the right to nominate a person to be parish priest) of two churches in Northamptonshire and Derby.

In those days a hospital cared for some of the needy poor and elderly as well as the sick and infirm and the daily life in a hospital was essentially a religious one.  From warden to pauper, all were expected to pay strict attention to faith and give themselves to devotion, care for the soul being equally, if not more important than care for the body. In the intervening six hundred and eighty three years much of the hospital building has undergone substantial re-modelling as the needs of its occupants have changed, notably during the last quarter of the eighteenth century at the expense of King George III and then in 1902 when it was substantially rebuilt. The oldest and most original part is the chapel, part of the first building on the site. In it is the early fifteenth century tomb of a noble-woman, a slightly unusual occurrence in a small hospital chapel. This is thought to be the tomb of Mary Hervey. Recently the Digital Building Heritage Group (DBHG) was asked to laser scan this tomb to create highly accurate 3D images of it. An indication of how accurate this process is can be seen by comparing the photograph below with one of the scans to its right.

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The story of why Mary Hervey’s tomb is in Trinity chapel is of interest because it bears upon a building which once stood very close by and yet has almost entirely vanished, the Church of St. Mary of the Annunciation, also known as St. Mary-in-the-Newarke.

Begun in 1353 by the 3rd earl’s son Henry of Grosmont, 4th Earl of Leicester and Lancaster and later 1st Duke of Lancaster and finished after 1414, St. Mary of the Annunciation was part of a substantial expansion of the original hospital to turn it into a “very splendid” Chantry College. Medieval colleges were establishments of secular priests set up with the prime function of offering masses in intercession for departed members of the founder’s family but also typically they served charitable or educational purposes, such as providing hospitals or schools.  A chantry (also called an Obiit) was a monetary trust fund established to employ one or more priests to sing a stipulated number of masses during a set period of time for the benefit of the departed soul of a deceased person. Later Chantry Colleges attracted chantry endowments from others for the same purpose of saying masses for their departed souls and in the later Middle Ages in the first university towns like Cambridge and Oxford the educational aspect became predominant when college residence was extended to include undergraduate students. A college would have a collegiate church or chapel where, as in a cathedral, the canons were typically seated separately from the lay congregation, in quire stalls parallel with the south and north walls facing inwards rather than towards the altar at the east end. Few original medieval collegiate chapels survive in England, St. George’s chapel in Windsor (1348) being a close contemporary example in date at least.

Henry of Grosmont obtained the Pope’s permission for the transformation of the hospital into a chantry college and granted it further lands and incomes such that it could support a dean, 12 canons, 13 vicars, 6 choristers, 3 other clerks, a verger, 100 poor folk and 10 women attendants to care for the poor. This expansion took place on a site adjacent to the original hospital buildings and became known as the novum opus, (new work) or Newarke. The poor folk who were to occupy the Newarke were all to live together in one “house”, containing a chapel where masses were to be said daily for them. The dean and canons were each to have a separate house, and each vicar was to live in the house of one of the canons and a college church was begun to accommodate the needs of the dean, cannons and vicars. This church was St. Mary of the Annunciation and it was located on the site of De Montfort University’s present day Hawthorne building.

After an illustrious career Duke Henry died on 23rd March 1361 at Leicester Castle probably from the plague which at that time was making a second visit to England. By this time the chantry college was a going concern, and its church was sufficiently complete to receive Duke Henry’s body. He was buried to the south of the high altar and according to A. Hamilton Thompson (1957) the remains of his father, the 3rd Earl, had already been moved there to a grave north of this altar.

Duke Henry was succeed by his son-in-law John of Gaunt, 1st Earl of Richmond and the third son of Edward III, who after a short interval succeeded to the Duchy of Lancaster and proved to be a generous patron of this college. John of Gaunt was also the father of the young Henry Bolingbroke who later would become King Henry IV. The building of the church continued and in 1374 John of Gaunt granted 100 marks yearly to pay for its completion. It was not finished until after 1414 when it was dedicated as St Mary of the Annunciation and although a small building it was described in contemporary accounts as very beautiful.

John of Gaunt died in 1399 before the church was finished but by his will he provided for the establishment of a chantry with two chaplains in the college church, since the cannons and vicars of the original chantry college were not allowed to be paid to say mass for the souls of the dead other than those of the founder.  Around 1410 other chantries were founded in the college church including that of one Dame Mary Hervey (1406), a benefactress of the College who gave two manors at Southrop in Gloucestershire, for the establishment of a chantry for the souls of her husband, William Hervey, of Alexander Dalby, and of herself after her death. The income from these amounted to £41s. 8d. per annum and was later supplemented with a further sum of 20s. per annum. She had been an influential member of the ducal household and had served John of Gaunt, probably as a governess to his grandchildren.

It is very probable that that seventy nine years after Mary Hervey was interred there the body of Richard III, who was killed by Henry Tudor’s forces at the battle of Bosworth on 22 August 1485 was brought to St. Mary of the Annunciation and exposed upon a hurdle or stretcher for public viewing for two days before his burial at Greyfriars Church on the morning of the 25th August 1485. If true this exposure may well have been within sight of Mary Hervey’s tomb where it was originally located within the church of St. Mary of the Annunciation.

The choral and musical aspect of the college was important and by the late 15th century St Mary of the Annunciation had achieved an elevated musical reputation and had acquired the privilege, apparently shared only with the Chapels Royal, of having the right to recruit outstanding musicians and singers from other institutions without those institutions’ consent. It was in this way that they recruited Hugh Aston, one of the early Tudor period’s foremost musicians and a contemporary of John Taverner. He had taken the degree of BMus at Oxford University in 1510 and possibly after some association with the court of King Henry the VIII in London by 1525 he had been appointed as Keeper of the Organs and Magister Choristerorum (Master of the Choristers) at the Hospital and College of St Mary of the Annunciation. There would have been a heavy musical programme for the choir of around sixteen (including at least some of the Vicars) and its musical director but Aston was paid well, £10 a year (only £2 a year less than that of the Dean) and the College provided him with a rent-free house just outside the South Gate of the Borough more or less directly opposite the main gate of The Newarke on Hangman’s Lane. He remained in Leicester for the rest of his life and was buried at the nearby church of St. Margarets in 1558 but would have witnessed the end of the College and of the Collegiate Church.

This came about, as it did for so many ecclesiastical establishments during the Reformation instigated by Henry VIII. In 1545 sixty years after the Battle of Bosworth and the fall of the Plantagenet dynasty, the first Act for the Dissolution of Chantries was brought into being and the college and the chantries associated with it were placed in the king’s hands. Henry VIII was apparently unwilling to destroy a religious house so closely connected with his Lancastrian ancestors but after his death the college was eventually suppressed under Edward VI’s Act for the Dissolution of Chantries, which provided that all chantry foundations (2,374 of them) should cease to exist at Easter 1548, their property passing to the king. Most of the buildings of the medieval Hospital and College of the Newarke, including the Collegiate Church St. Mary of the Annunciation much admired by Bishop Leland during his visit in ca. 1535, were demolished soon after but not before at least one of the tomb monuments was saved, that of Dame Mary Hervey.

It was relocated to the north east corner the chapel of Trinity House a hundred or so yards away and has remained there ever since. It remains a tangible link to those two days in 1485 surrounding the dead King Richard III, the new King Henry VII and the events which happened within the precincts of the Newarke.

This account is almost entirely based on A. Hamilton Thompson’s Hist. of the Hosp. and New Coll. of the Annunciation of St, Mary in the Newarke.

About Douglas Cawthorne

Reader in Digital Heritage at De Montfort University.
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