Studies in medieval architectural history often place speculative emphasis on the designers and the professional services of craftsmen rather than on how patrons acquired, organised and rewarded their builders. This paper will confront this neglected and often problematic issue, looking specifically at the architectural patronage of one of the most powerful men of his age, William Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester (1366-1404). Wykeham’s personal wealth and that of his diocese funded an ambitious building programme that first, saw improvements to his dilapidated episcopal palaces, second, continued with the perpendicular remodelling of Winchestercathedral and third, with significant royal support, realised the foundation of two ecclesiastical colleges. For the latter two projects, Wykeham drew on his favourable relations with the monarch. Hence, in 1383, New College, Oxford, took protection and exemption from tolls and customs to all persons connected with its construction, while a Charter of Privileges was ordained to Winchester College in September 1395. Furthermore, royal timber from Windsor was used for the tower and cloisters atNewCollege,Oxford, between 1396 and 1403. Such patronage was acknowledged through the installation of iconographic images of Richard II on or within the fabric as, for example, on the stonework and in the glass of Winchester College Chapel.

In demonstrating how Wykeham’s architectural ambitions were fulfilled, it becomes evident that he differed significantly from other ecclesiastical and secular patrons in his methods of securing and rewarding building labour. It is fair to say that Wykeham’s dealings with his building staff would be recognised by modern historians as bastard feudal, that is ‘the set of relationships with their social inferiors that provided the English aristocracy with the manpower they required’. Patronage of this sort is, by its very nature, difficult to define, as it was often the result of private arrangements with reciprocal and non-financial recompense rarely recorded in documents of the day. Yet, confronted with a national labour shortage, the consequence of endemic disorder following the Black Death, surviving evidence indicates that Wykeham made best use of his privileged position in both high ecclesiastical office and political authority to secure the loyalty of his workforce. While such actions were perceived by some as both anti-social and intolerant, by extending the mutuality of service beyond what a secular patron could offer, the bishop could reward his most loyal men, not only with fees and wages, but also through individual benefaction and spiritual recompense. In order to understand patronage and rewards we need first to examine the organisation of the bishop’s labour force.

It is clear that Wykeham’s building works were structured according to the resources available to him within the locality. Surviving records of building works at NewCollege, Oxford, for example, show how the bishop deployed a two-tier system of craftsmen below that of his architectural advisors. First, a local skilled and unskilled secular workforce provided the manpower and, second, a small group of specialist migrant craftsmen provided expertise; these men being temporarily accommodated within the city. This labour structure noticeably differs for the bishop’s works in Winchester. While there are no surviving Obedientiary Rolls from the resident custos operum at the Benedictine Cathedral Priory of St Swithun for this period, surviving rolls from other monastic officials lead us to believe that neither craft lodges nor guilds existed during Wykeham’s time as bishop. This would seem somewhat unexpected when we consider the scale of the bishop’s building ambitions in the city and when compared to other large-scale projects as, for example, at Exeter and York.[iii]

 Wykeham’s advisors and supervisory staff were largely drawn from either the Cathedral Priory or the bishop’s own household. Hence, between 1393-1406, representing the convent’s interests at Winchester Cathedral was Master of Works (custos novorum operum), Brother John Wayte.[iv] In 1408 the former Almoner, and later Sacrist, John Hurst managed labour, which at this time comprised of eight monastic permanent staff; unfortunately, their status within the Priory remains unrecorded.[v] Two examples of the organisational responsibility of their jobs have been recorded. The Obedientary Rolls and the Winchester College Compotus Rolls provide an example dated 1398, when 112 loads of flint were removed by cart from the cathedral as per contract [with the Priory] valued at 9s 4d..[vi] Furthermore, in 1404 it was indicated within the Register of Common Seal that the Prior and Convent would provide ‘gratis’ all scaffolding, digging and carting building materials from the Priory quarries.[vii] Manual labour for this was to be provided by ‘their men and tenants wherever they consider it advantageous to the speedier and more successful execution of this work’[viii]

While the bishopric’s role in supplying direct labour and materials was relatively well documented, as for example, the manor’s contribution of timber for the works at NewCollege, Oxfordin 1381/2, documentary evidence of ecclesiastical contribution is harder to find. By stripping back the demarcation between the secular and ecclesiastical, Wykeham could effectively draw on both orders to fulfil his architectural ambitions while, at the same time, satisfying part of his bishopric duty in forging essential links between his religious foundations and the wider lay community. Hence, for the construction of WinchesterCollege, a project in isolation of the Priory, at the forefront of the administrative mechanism was the secular cleric Simon Membury, later indentured Treasurer of Wolvesey. Such arrangements were by no means uncommon, indeed at WindsorCastle, working alongside the king’s master mason John Sponlee, was the administrator Canon Robert Burnham.[ix]

If Wykeham deployed both ecclesiastical and secular administrative staff then how did he secure the services of skilled craftsmen? The working arrangements of the king’s master mason William Wynford (fl. 1360-1404) provide some answers to this question. As the bishop influenced Wynford’s early rise to prominence in social and, most likely, spiritual status, the mason has long been credited as being the foremost architectural influence on Wykeham’s buildings. This attribution is not as straightforward as previous historians have suggested. In 1364 Wykeham (in his new position as Provost of Wells) employed Wynford as master mason at Wells Cathedral.[x] By 1376 at least, it would appear that the master mason was retained within Wykeham’s household. At this time Wykeham’s fall from political grace saw him ‘brake [sic] up his household’; it was said that the bishop ‘scattered his men and dismissed them for he could no longer govern or maintain them’.[xi] It is significant that, in order to support himself outside of the household, Wynford immediately forged a close association with the king’s master mason Henry Yeveley (fl. 1353-1400) and, by 1383, the king’s master carpenter Hugh Herland (c.1330-c.1411). This association did not exist prior to Wykeham’s fall. The documentary evidence, or more importantly the lack of it, suggests that Wynford’s status as a builder differs from that of many of his contemporaries. Indeed, the deficiency of evidence for Wynford’s business interests, private land or property ownership, remuneration or subinfeudation, gives some indication that, unlike other high status craftsmen of the period, the mason had no intention of diversifying in order to profit beyond his means. Furthermore, by surrendering an annual pension of £10 in 1383 and breaking his association with Yeveley for works outside Winchester in 1384, it would seem that Wynford resumed retained status within Wykeham’s household sometime before the laying of Winchester College’s foundation stone in 1387.[xii] Despite such standing within the bishop’s intimate circle there remains thought-provoking evidence to suggest that Wynford recurrently worked with senior advisors.

If, as this argument suggests, Wynford was committed to duties of patronage and, as the building trade was largely directed from London, it would seem curious that more established architectural contributors were not used on Wykeham’s projects. Wykeham’s position at court would make Yeveley an obvious choice as architectural advisor for the bishop’s works. Certainly between 1378 and 1384 Yeveley and Wynford worked together at Southampton, Walthamand Carisbrooke. It has often been suggested that ArundelChurch, a work that is significantly comparable to Wykeham’s colleges in style, was a product of this partnership. If so, it would fit neatly with Herland’s departure from the king’s work. Moreover, in 1381 both Yeveley and Wynford were ‘witness to a homage rendered to William of Wykeham in person in his chapel within the castleof Farnham’.[xiii] The significance of this union raises further complications to Wynford’s status as Wykeham’s principal designer.

 Indeed, while the Waltham building accounts refer to Wynford as master of all the Lord’s masonry works, they also show that Yeveley was on site simultaneously supervising the construction of a the new hall.[xiv] Furthermore, Dr John Harvey himself commented on the evidence contained within the Steward’s Hall Books of New College, Oxford, in 1389, which implies the differing social positions of ‘magister’ Yeveley, and ‘familia’ Herland and Wynford when dining at New College.[xv]  The word familia in this case would identify those who were dependent on their lord – that is those who were hired or otherwise retained for continuous service.[xvi] This distinction holds more truth when we take into account that Herland worked exclusively for the bishop, or on Winchester Castle, between 1387 and 1394. Furthermore the close personal relationships that built up between the bishop and Yeveley and, later, Herland, in particular the financial rewards bestowed upon his carpenter, are significant.[xvii] Such prestige and benefits from association remains important. It is of interest therefore that there is no evidence to suggest that Wynford enjoyed the same level of access to Wykeham, indeed supporting evidence would have us believe that the bishop never socially entertained his employee Wynford without a senior architect as Yeveley or Herland being present. It would seem that therefore that throughout his career Wynford remained subordinate to Yeveley in design capabilities, monetary wealth, and social status. In essence it could be suggested that it was Yeveley and Herland who were instrumental in providing theWinchesterCollege plans and overseeing work for the bishop: a contribution that has been underestimated and would benefit from some further scholarly reassessment.

As was the nature of the mediaeval building trade, Wykeham needed to supplement this design team with a loyal group of craftsmen who took control of the daily duties of running a busy site. These wardens or undermasters included William Brown, while the bishop’s most senior and faithful craftsmen were Robert Brewes (or Prewes), William Ickenham (or Hickman) and John Spillesbury (or Billesbury). Wynford appears at most of the bishop’s building projects at one time or another and thus may be viewed as Wykeham’s senior architectural representative. Conversely, Brown was dedicated to the completion of Wykeham’s Oxfordcollege. As for the craftsmen Brewes was documented at Highclere, Oxfordand Waltham, Ickenham was predominately based in Winchester, while Spillesbury appears only at Highclere. While there is no evidence to prove conclusively if these craftsmen were retained in any way they all remained loyal to a single patron and, consequently, defied regulation and impressment. Moreover, as we shall see, all of these men worked alongside or took advice from more senior consultants, not evidently having a design remit of their own, for example, Yeveley and Herland sporadically attended the ongoing works at Walthamto advise Wynford and carpenters Brewes and Ickenham.[xviii]  What they all had in common was that they received some outstanding recognition of service. It is this unconventional system of rewards that set these intermediate figures apart from Wykeham’s traditional lay workforce.

Full research into the rewards for Wykeham’s craftsmen remains hampered by a dearth of surviving building accounts, but it must be believed that most of Wykeham’s builders were no different to any other builder of the period in that financial payment was undoubtedly the predominant motive behind service. It can be seen that Wykeham had more difficulty in securing the higher status craftsmen rather than the labouring classes, presumably because he could supply at least some unskilled labour from the religious orders. Regardless of the bishop’s political obligation in selectively reducing wage rates within some of his manors in line with the Statute of Labourers, in order to secure a highly skilled workforce Wykeham openly flaunted labour legislation.[xix] Some key masons such as John Spillesbury working at Highclere and William Brown and John Sampson both at New College, Oxford, were paid above the statutory rates.[xx] Brown’s continued employment after four prosecutions for excessive pay shows that these actions harmed the reputations of neither the employee nor employer; far from it retained status often protected the craftsmen from scrutiny.[xxi]  Prosecutions were not unique to Wykeham’s sites and were, in part, a consequence of enhanced London rates rather than an abuse of retainership. Either way ‘jurors professed not to know from what persons masons took excessive wages’.[xxii] It is particularly noticeable that in order to maintain a supply of labour, Wykeham had to extend the mutuality of association well beyond solely financial incentives.

First, the household accounts within the Winchester College Muniments shows admissions within Wykeham’s educational institutions were one incentive of this ‘patronage society’.[xxiii] To these ends Wykeham’s most prominent builders differ little from other members of his household, benefiting from an article of benevolent patronage included within the College statutes giving entitlement to ‘founder’s kin’. This expression, later promulgated by Wykeham in 1400, gave the bishop some privilege in determining the levels of support given to his builders for loyal service.[xxiv] Hence, amongst the first recorded scholars of Winchester College were John Brewes (or Prewes), William Herland (Kingston-Upon-Thames), William Norton (Kenton, Devon) and Laurence Martyn (Frome).  It could, of course, just be coincidental that Robert Brewes, Wykeham’s warden at Waltham and at New College between 1388-1402 and the Oxford masons Richard Norton and John Martyn were associated with the bishop’s building works. What may be linked by more than mere coincidence however are the cases of both Hugh Herland and William Wynford being recorded with their namesakes at New College, Oxford.[xxv]  Such an education gave these scholars high aspirations and it is noteworthy that some achieved notable positions within the cloister. William Norton was by 1397 indentured within the department of the hospital wardrobe and, as a consequence of association, achieved a high position in the church.[xxvi] In addition, a Richard Prewes was recorded as clerk of the bishopric in 1404 and John Wynford (Salisbury), was later a monk at Oseney Abbey.[xxvii] It is significant that when comparing names of Norwich monastic scholars and craftsmen the same relationships and rewards are not evident.[xxviii]

Second, the inclusion of building personnel and their respective families, in the codicil to Wykeham’s own will gives further the indication of potential rewards for mutual service.[xxix] Amongst the aforementioned scholars financially rewarded by the bishop were William Norton and John Prewes, presumably for ecclesiastical service.[xxx] The builders Thomas de la Dene, warden at Waltham, the Oxford masons John Martyn and Richard Norton were included alongside the administrators John Wayte and Simon Membury.[xxxi] In addition the names Rede and Billesbury (Spillesbury) appear in both Wykeham’s will and some of his associated building projects, although association cannot be conclusively deduced. This type of reward from a patron was, as far as I can tell, unique within the mediaeval building trade and supports the idea that, in some cases, builders or their families had special status within the household. Such evidence is further supported by late mediaeval lawyers, employed by Winchester College, who are also mentioned as legatees of Wykeham’s will.[xxxii] In two cases, at least, lawyers had forged extremely close relationships with the Priory and, as a result, left substantial endowments to the cathedral or college fabrics. In the same way as builders, those not mentioned as legatees tended to be independent of the household and therefore progressed further in their respective trades.

Third, the notion of salvation and religious mobility also appears to have been a consideration of service. Along with Wynford at St Swithun’s Priory, it would appear that John Spillesbury received a corrody into Eynsham Abbey after thirty years of loyal service to Wykeham.[xxxiii]  Far from being a prerequisite for illness or old age, corrodians were rewarded for their duration of service and solidarity of faith. However, this was a rare honour. The impediment to overcome selection for such a privilege was displayed by the failed petition of Edward II to the Prior of Bath Abbey for the mason William Joy (or Joye) to receive a dwelling at corrody in 1335/6.[xxxiv] It is also noteworthy that some corrodians purchased such a favour; while others as, for example, Richard Farleigh at Bath Abbey and William Cobald at Bury, unlike Joy, had close association with, or received their training through, the confines of the church. In the same way Thomas of Witney granted land to Winchester Cathedral Priory in 1313, most likely to secure his corrody in later life. John Sponlee, arguably Edward III’s most senior architect, was rewarded with a corrody at Reading Abbey in 1364 and continued working for some years after.

The terms of Wynford’s 1399 corrody state that he provided ‘good services both past and future to them and their cathedral church’.[xxxv] Hence, it is apparent that Wynford had a close association with the church prior to 1399. The Priory Ledger provides no evidence to support any claim that Wynford was a professed monk nor, as in the example of the master mason Robert Hulle, does it suggest that Wynford provided any service to the king’s works.[xxxvi] It would be unfair to wholly dismiss the suggestion that corrodians or builders were not or did not become professed monks. Indeed, as we shall see, Wynford’s  livery in the east window of Winchester College Chapel suggests some ecclesiastical link. As do two further examples. First, an incised stone that marks the early fifteenth century grave of Master William of Wermington at Croyland Abbey, Lincolnshire. The tomb depicts Master William in a monk’s cowl and habit holding a compass and square, the inscription reads ‘+ ici gist mestre Willm de Wermington le mason a lalme de ky dev ly par sa grace doune absolution’ (Here lies Master William of Wermington, the mason may God grant his soul absolution). Second, a thirteenth century Hanover bench end now in the Niedersachsisches Landesmuseum in Germany, which depicts a habited and tonsured man using carving tools, compass and set square.  It would appear, therefore, in the absence of documentation for secular rewards that exist for other notable masons, Wynford’s background could well have been from within the cloister. Herland, for example, received secular rewards in the form of leasing London property from St Swithun’s Priory and, in his senior years, being rewarded with a yearly pension from the fee-farm of Winchester.[xxxvii]

Despite Wynford’s corrody, his actual status within the Priory remained significantly low. This was highlighted when they state, ‘He is permitted, if he so wishes, to take his lunch and supper daily at the prior’s hall except when a large number of important people of rank are present’.[xxxviii] Wynford’s rewards were similar in many aspects to those given to the doorkeeper of the Priory, John Gerveys, in 1406.[xxxix] Yet, included in Wynford’s corrody were some extras as a room in the hospice of John Wayte, the Master of Works, and access to horses, suggesting perhaps his work would take him outside of the cloister?[xl] What is more telling, however is the next entry in the roll that records Wynford being ‘received into the spiritual brotherhood of the monastic chapter’.[xli] Wynford’s positions first in Wykeham’s household and second, as within the ‘spiritual brotherhood’ would explain why he never achieved a close personal bond with Wykeham that was so enjoyed by Yeveley and Herland.[xlii] Although they seemingly never received spiritual reward’s the concept of absolution through sacred architecture would have been treated with ‘great seriousness’ and undoubtedly had some bearing on their choice of patron.[xliii] It is worthy of note that Wykeham’s Register records the granting of private oratories for Yeveley and Wynford shortly before their deaths.[xliv] Clearly the role of the patron was not solely financial in Wykeham’s case the ability to provide benefaction and spiritual protection in life, old age and finally in death would appear important. Within mediaeval society status and therefore, ties of lordship often influenced the place and position of burial. While details of Wynford’s death are unclear, his salvation was ensured through the terms of his corrody when it states ‘..that there be done for him in life and after death as for one of the brothers of our congregation is wont to be done’.[xlv] Other examples of how spiritual status could have been achieved are evident from Wykeham’s own provincial labour. John Bouke, joint clerk of works at New College, Oxford, later become its fifth warden, and on his death in June 1441 was buried before the cross in the chapter of Winchester College.[xlvi] However, more unusual was the case of Wykeham’s carpenter William Ickenham who requested in his will dated 1424 to be buried in the nave aisle of Winchester Cathedral: clearly a high expectation from such a less significant craftsman.[xlvii]

Such mutuality of service is vital in understanding Wykeham’s patronage to his craftsmen and the reciprocal nature of the arrangement. Indeed, builders were no different from the rest of the lay community in that they themselves became patrons in order to create some perpetuity of memory. John Sponlee, the king’s master mason and a future corrodian of Benedictine Abbey of Reading was a case in point when he donated a chalice to St George’sChapel.[xlviii] Such documented physical support to the church remains unusual but in the impressive east window of Winchester College Chapel, Wykeham’s three prominent building staff Willms Wynford lathomus, Dns Simon de Membury and the unnamed carpentarius, most likely William Ickenham, can be viewed. (Fig.1 below).[xlix] It is probable that such a prominent depiction of Wykeham’s craftsmen indicates that they were in fact patrons themselves of either some of the building works or the window itself. Indeed, what could be a higher reward than physical inclusion within the sacred space alongside the two major patrons, the king and the Bishop of Winchester? All three men are in liveried robes and are kneeling in prayer; in line with the 1377 legislation against liveried hats, Wykeham’s men do not display such apparel. Livery, the visible recognition of retainership, despite being more common prior to sumptuary legislation, was a rare honour for craftsmen outside the king’s work.[l] Bearing in mind that the glass was replaced in 1821-3, and supposing that the colours therefore are consistent with those of the mediaeval, then the display of different coloured robes for each of Wykeham’s men may distinguish between the clerical and lay orders or indeed, differentiate between an ordinary and an extraordinary retainer.[li] As they are depicted at prayer, it further suggests that all three were connected with the convent before the glass was installed in 1393.


This concept of glass patronage was certainly the case at St. Neot in Cornwall, where Ralph Harys, donor, glazier, tin investor and, with his son, both most likely liveried retainers of the Earl of Devon, are portrayed.[lii] In turn, John Petty, a late fifteenth century Yorkshire glazier, left money and glass to ecclesiastical foundations for ‘clere absolucion be cause I have wrought much work thare’.[liii] The brief 1394 entry in the Winchester College account roll for the construction of Outer Gate suggests that such reciprocal patronage may have extended further. This entry shows a contract awarded to ‘ten strangers, masons and carpenters, making a contract with Master William Wynford’.[liv] As this entry was struck out from the register, does it show that the king, Wykeham, or a third party or parties may have paid for its construction? While the other accounts itemised in the bishopric or college records relate to direct purchase of labour and materials, this contract becomes more significant as it remains the only definite example of building labour being hired through the master mason for one of Wykeham’s works. However, it cannot be ignored that the deletion may simply show a cancelled transaction, omitted due to Wynford’s infirmity.[lv]

The argument contained here has used surviving documentary evidence and reassessed secondary sources to show that Wykeham retained and supported his labour in a different way from his secular and ecclesiastical counterparts. In times of skilled labour shortages the bishop could not have contemplated the engagement of direct labour and materials to fulfil his appetite for architectural achievement. Instead, he sought dedication and trustworthy support from his builders through the reciprocal nature of bastard feudal exchange, often for life. This is especially pertinent to those who may not have been able to thrive on the strength of their crafts alone and consequently sought supplementary rewards rather than just wages or fees. As no building accounts exist for either of Wykeham’s colleges and very few financial payments have been recorded to his builders per se, one wonders how far this mechanism of incentives went.[lvi]  Nonetheless, the system achieved its aims of encouraging new architectural talent, providing Wykeham’s craftsmen the chance for social and spiritual progression while retaining their loyalty through mutual reward and patronage. It is noticeable that after Wykeham’s death Wynford’s successor, Robert Hulle, took similar rewards from the priory.[lvii]

Patronage reached beyond the master craftsmen to Wykeham’s own retained builders. Those like Wynford, in particular, but also John Spillesbury, William Ickenham and most likely Robert Brewes, were clearly professionals who could be incorporated within the household, though whether in a religious or lay capacity we cannot always be sure. One clear benefit of such an arrangement was that the clerks could account for them easier. Furthermore, rewards given to builders in return for loyalty as, for example, schooling and social mobility, were granted by the bishop to his extended family or, as the WinchesterCollegestatutes state, the ‘founders kin’. In view of Wykeham’s approach to patronage it is hardly surprising to consider that the mid-fourteenth century proverb, ‘Notions of every manner and clothing maketh man’, which was later adapted for his college of ‘Sainte Marie’ in Winchester, is itself based on the importance of mediaeval household, livery and maintenance.[lviii]



About paul holden

Architectural historian working as a House and Collections Manager for the National Trust at Lanhydrock House in Cornwall. Author of 'The Lanhydrock Atlas' (Cornwall Editions,2010) and 'The London Letters of Samuel Molyneux, 1712-13' (London Topographical Society, 2011). Contributor to many scholarly journals and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London.
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