Life in a Medieval College: The Story of the Vicars-Choral of York Minster

By Frederick Harrison | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
RULES

While the common life of the vicars was nowhere so strict as that of monks or canons-regular, rules were necessary in the interests of all. Vicars owed a varied allegiance -- to the canon law (that is, the law of the church, to which all the ministers of the church were subject), to the dean and chapter as their immediate superiors, to the sub-chanter and the rules of their own body-corporate, and, in public, to the unwritten laws that governed the conduct of clerks in public. With the canon law, except in a few instances which will be chronicled, this book has little concern. It is, however, much concerned with the duties of the vicars to the dean and chapter and to themselves as a corporate body.

The rules which governed these duties are to be found in (1) the statutes of the dean and chapter, which survive from the middle of the thirteenth century to the year 1936, it being understood that statutes must have the approval of the dean and chapter, of the archbishop in his capacity of "visitor" and (at any rate in modern times) of the King-in-Council; (2) the injunctions that were issued from the middle of the sixteenth century, sometimes after formal visitations; and (3) the rules which the vicars themselves, with or without the approval, or even the knowledge, of the dean and chapter or the visitor, formulated for the general convenience and comfort of themselves as a community. It is convenient to divide into two at the Reformation what would otherwise be a tedious, long tale about two bodies of clergy each sensitive about its rights, a tale of imperium in imperio.


THE MEDIEVAL STATUTES

These, conveniently for the purpose of this essay, begin as early as there were vicars-choral, even though, at that time, the canons had deputies that were only "unofficial". Even at that early period,

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