We had an interesting year, although unfortunately we had to cancel three meetings because of illness.  The following reports  for some of our  2017 meetings  are by our Secretary Penny Lawton.




Our advertised paper on Diplomacy had to be postponed because the member who was to give it was ill but we quickly found other material to share: a career civil servant; a lollard and that basic commodity, bread.


Bread was such a common part of medieval life that it was not included in the surviving recipe books, which makes it quite difficult to be certain what the different sorts looked and tasted like. The Assize of Bread and Ale, 1266/7 makes, at first sight quite incomprehensible reading: "When a quarter of wheat is sold for 12d, then Wastel bread of a farthing shall weigh £6 16s. ....". It becomes a little clearer when one knows that because coinage was strictly controlled and had to contain a precise weight of silver, the coins themselves were commonly used as weights.

The lightest bread mentioned in the Assize was Simnel; whatever this was, it was not like a modern simnel cake but may have had a scone-like texture or been made into bread rolls rather than a loaf. This was followed, in order of weight, by Wastel; Cocket; Whole wheat or Cheat; Treet or Common wheat. These were made from wheat flour of different grades, from the most finely sifted to the coarsest. Other types of bread, not mentioned in the Assize were Pandemain, the finest bread made for the nobility in their own households and not on sale to the public and bread baked from grains other than wheat.

Rye was the most commonly grown grain crop and Rye bread and Maslin, (a mixture of wheat and rye) were probably the breads most commonly eaten by the common people. Oats grow better than rye in the northern counties and so Oatcakes (havercakes, clapbread) were, and still are, eaten in northern counties, (especially, of course, Staffordshire, which proudly claims ownership of the "Staffordshire Oatcake", though to be honest, there is also an equally strongly claimed "Derbyshire Oatcake" and what difference there may be between them is hard to say.) Barley was mostly used for brewing, though sometimes made into bread. Horsebread was was only eaten by the very poorest and was made from ground peas and beans with whatever scraps of flour and bran they could lay hands on. 

Bakers who transgressed against the law set down in the Assize could be amerced up to three times, provided their offence was not too great but those whose abuse was too flagrant or persistent would face "the judgement of the Pillory".

The Civil Servant

William Boteler's  pedigree is not certain but Ralph Griffiths in his, "King and Country, England and Wales in the Fifteenth Century", conjectures that he might well be the illegitimate son of Sir Thomas Sudely, eldest son of William Boteler and Joan Sudely. He worked closely with Ralph 7th Lord Sudeley, who, if Griffiths is correct, may well have been his half brother.

He was a fifteenth century civil servant – a ‘working man’. He spent his long life in the administrative service of three kings: Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI, from early days as a messenger and paymaster for the young Prince Hal to later life  as Chamberlain  of Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire.   He was also carried out administrative duties for the earls of Nottingham and Warwick before being disgraced at the age of sixty over complaints of his mishandling his receivership of Kidwelly.  Although he was not a brilliant administrator according to Griffiths, neither was he very inefficient or oppressive. He was held in high regard by Henry VI and maintained by the Royal household. He was loyal to the end: returning with the King from a Council meeting in Leicester, he meet his death at the battle of St Albans.

The Lollard

On 18th October 1511, two Lollards were burned at Smithfield: James Brewster, a carpenter and William Sweeting, sometime bailiff and holy water clerk. The two had been associates for some years but it is Sweetings career which is best recorded.

He is first known at Dallington near Northampton, in the service of Lady Elizabeth, wife of Sir William Lucy and it may be here that he embraced Lollardy. Northamptonshire was the county of Lollard knights Sir Thomas Latimer and Sir John Trussell, while the Lucys' roots were in Herefordshire and the Welsh Marches, where their neighbours included Sir John Clanvow and Sir John Oldcastle. Fragmentary records indicate that Lord Henry Scrope had felt it necessary to warn Lucy against alliance with the fugitive Oldcastle.

Sweeting moved to Boxted in Essex about 1467 where he became the holy water clerk at the parish church, an apparently odd choice for a Lollard but one that probably gave him opportunities to proselytize, since his duties, beside cleaning and preparing the church for services, also required him "to teche children to rede and synge in the choir".  In about 1475, Sweeting moved on to become bailiff to Margaret Wood of Rivers Hall in Boxted. Her husband, Sir John Wood was Speaker of the House of Commons in Edward IV's last parliament and went on to become      Richard III's first Treasurer.

Sweeting was at Boxted for about 20 years. At his trial in 1506, he attributed his Lollardy to reading Matthew's gospel with one William Man. However, it is likely that he had first encountered it in Northamptonshire. Moreover, as holy water clerk, his duties would have included reading the epistle in Latin: he had access to a Bible and presumably was sufficiently literate to understand it.

About 1489 Sweeting moved on again, to become servant of the Augustinian Priory of St. Osyth's, near Colchester, where he remained until his first arrest, along with Sweeting and the other Colchester Lollards, in 1506. It was here that he achieved his most famous "coup": he converted the Prior, George Laund to his Lollard beliefs. St. Osyth's close ties with the town and an entry in the accounts, suggest that the house had contact with the Colchester Lollards. Here Sweeting also began his association with James Brewster.

One of the accusations against Brewster gives an indication of the sophistication of their beliefs and familiarity with Biblical texts. Having heard Master Bardfield (who held the high office of bailiff of Colchester) refer to "Maozim", Brewster asked William Man what it meant and was told that "it signified as much as the masing God, to wit, the sacrament of the alter". "Maozim" occurs only once in the Bible, Daniel 11, and refers to a strange god worshipped by a blasphemous ruler who rewards those who honour Maozim and destroys those who remain faithful to the true God, leaving behind only a remnant, purified, "maad whijt til to a tyme determyned, for ȝit another tyme schal be". Clearly a template for the Lollards own beliefs and experiences. Sweeting and the Colchester Lollards abjured and did penance at St. Paul's Cross in London on 15th March 1506.

Surprisingly, Sweeting again found a job as a holy water clerk at St. Mary Magdalen, Colchester. The parson evidently found the faggot badge which Sweeing had been condemned to wear for life, an embarrassment rather than an impediment to employment and removed it.  After two years Sweeting moved on to become holy water clerk at Rotherhithe, where he remained for a year before becoming a neat herd at Chelsea where he associated with and may have been a teacher of, other Lollards. Brewster travelled from Colchester to attend a conventicle which Sweeting held in the fields outside Chelsea, "where he read many good things out of a certain book". It was through the son of one of his associates, John Forge, that Sweeting, Brewster and others were discovered and arrested on 11th July 1511. As relapsed heretics, Sweeting and Brewster were burned together in single fire, at Smithfield on 18th October.





The main item at the meeting was a paper on "Foreign Policy under Edward IV and Richard III", which was much appreciated by all. It is now on our website in Member's Papers  section.

The paper generated further discussion on diplomatic matters and England's relations with the wider world. We remembered that Caxton had engaged in diplomacy on behalf of Edward IV while in Bruges as part of the merchant community there. We considered the political motivations behind several earlier royal marriages, as well as Richard III's marriage plans following the death of Queen Anne and the consequences of Edward IV's failure to make a "diplomatic" match. We also revisited our earlier topic of travel and crusades as evidence of England's engagement with the known world.


This was followed by a shorter paper on The Isenheim Altar, by Matthias Grunewald, as an example of the effect of the Black Death on European art and in particular the "plague Christs". The Isemhein Altar was painted for Antonine house which cared for plague victims. In contrast to earlier dipictions of the Crucifixion, which show a Christ divinely above suffering, the Isenheim Altar, like other "plague Christs", empasises Christ's human suffering and therefore empathy with all human suffering. This too was followed by a discussion and speculation on the wider pschological effects of the Black Death, not least the effect upon religion and attitudes to the Church. The later 14th century would be a time of questioning, dissent and anti-clericalism.

A lively and interesting meeting.



Our chosen topic for the next three months was, "A Monastery (priory, friary, convent etc.) Near You". We began with an overview of origins of monasticism and of the different religious orders. Detailed accounts of the origins and early foundations in our area together with descriptions and history of individual monasteries can be found  under our ' A Monastery Near You' button on the left hand menu.

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