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

By Frederick Harrison | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 14
CUBICLE ROLLS, 1575-85

When, in the middle of the thirteenth century, the colleges of vicars-choral at York, and other similar foundations, came into being at churches, cathedral or otherwise, it was intended that the members of these colleges should worship, confer and eat in common, but not that they should work and sleep in such intimacy as existed in monastic communities. Before the middle of the sixteenth century, the monastic system in this country came to an end. It was not long after the suppression of the monasteries when, in the collegiate system, a revolution took place which, while it did not bring the system to an end, left it with little more than the framework of its original form. At York, the gradual diminution in the numbers of the vicars-choral, in the face of little or no prospect that the full number of 36 would ever again be reached, weakened the belief of the vicars-choral themselves in the system which they had inherited from the long past. Even before the Reformation, at least one-third of the houses in Bedern were inhabited by those who were not vicars, and therefore, to that extent, intruders. Though smaller, the Bedern was as much an enclosed space as a college at Oxford or Cambridge. Alone amongst the communities in this country, these colleges preserved their identity and their character through the fundamental changes of the troubled sixteenth century. They preserved their ideals of education and the common life, and they still worshipped together in their chapels. Meantime, some of the vicars-choral of York first began, after the middle of the sixteenth century, to take to themselves wives for whom there was little accommodation in the Bedern, and therefore to seek more convenient houses in the city. The next step was taken on 27 June, 1574, when the one common meal, dinner, came to an end. It was not long before there was not a single vicar left as an inhabitant of the Bedern, though there is no

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