Tag Archives: PMJ

In tempore pestis

Plague in 1532-3

Charles Creighton’s A History of Epidemics in England has a chapter on plague in the Tudor period. There was scarcely a year without an outbreak between 1511 and 1538. King Henry VIII’s restless travelling between royal houses was driven by his fear of plague and the English Sweat. The universities went in fear too. Local outbreaks in Cambridge in 1532 and Oxford in 1533 hit the universities hard.

According to the Annals of Cambridge, in 1532 the Fellows, Scholars, and Bachelors of St John’s College were absent ‘in Easter term, during which, for fear of the plague, they had dwelt in the country’. And some time during the 1532-3 financial year (financial years began, as did academic years, at Michaelmas on September 29), the town of Cambridge paid 5 shillings to ‘John Blonnfeld yoman of the Kyngs garde cummyng in massage to enquir whether that the plage reynyid in Cambrigge or no’. The answer was not recorded, but the King’s College accounts suggest that it did.

Two entries in the accounts record payments for people to go out and retrieve choristers, or at least young boys. Bowers (p 266) says in 1542 another boy similarly had to be retrieved, so this was not unheard of, nor necessarily entirely attributable to the plague. The first payment was ‘extra duty’ pay to a Chapel clerk called Malard:

Extract from ‘Feoda et Regarda’ for 1532-3 [KCAR/4/1/1/10]

Item solutum vjo die novembris malard clerico exeuns pro choristis  ij s

Also, paid on 6 November to Malard, clerk, going out for choristers   2 s

Whether Malard was recovering boys trying to escape home away from the plague, or having to recruit new choristers, is not clear.

It is interesting to speculate about the relationship of this Malard to a Mallard, not a member of the College, who was one of three supplementary payees for the 22 March exequies (for more on the exequies, see below).

Payments for exequies, for 22 March 1532-3 [KCAR/4/1/1/10]

This is the other occasion where a young boy had to be retrieved:

Extract from ‘Custus Equitantum’ for 1532-3 [KCAR/4/1/1/10]

Item solutum pro expencis hanckocson equitandi ad ware ultimo die Augusti pro puero faciente fugam        xx d

Also, paid for expenses for Hanckocson riding to Ware on the last day of August for the boy who fled          20 d

A news story published by Gonville and Caius College this past April notes that they locked their College gates in times of plague. We may  not have been quite so rigid in 1532, as the accounts note a payment to someone who brought the money from one of our Lincolnshire estates but – rather than being prohibited from entering, he chose not to enter College ‘for fear of the plague’.

Extract from ‘Expense Necessarie’ for 1532-3 [KCAR/4/1/1/10]

Item solutum xxvio die octobris pro expensis factis super R Robardes adducentem pecunias a Wylloughtun ad collegium & non audentem intrare ob metum pestis.  vj d

Also, paid on 26 October for expenses for R Robardes bringing money from Willoughton to college and not daring to come in for fear of the plague.  6 d

Another curious thing is that two horses were brought back from Norfolk, during the plague. There are plenty of entries for College horses being treated in this year – one, ‘vocati hyrishoby’ (‘called the Irish Hobby’ – the breed is now extinct), stayed at Babraham to recover for 3 days around 15 October – but there is no reason given for horses being at Norfolk, or whose need it was to bring them back during the plague, as noted in the extract below.

Extract from ‘Custus Stabuli’ for 1532-3 [KCAR/4/1/1/10]

Item solutum xxijo die octobris W. Rawlyns pro pabulo equino ij equorum redeuntis a norfolcia in tempore pestis per ij noctes                          xx d

Also, paid on 20 October to W. Rawlins for horse fodder for bringing back 2 horses from Norfolk during the plague, for 2 nights          20 d

Commons reimbursements

The news story cited above notes that in times of plague the members of Gonville and Caius took to the country, ‘without loss of stipend of other privileges’. This seems also to have been the case at King’s in 1532-3. The commons expenses record these reimbursements, and they are only recorded from September to December 1532 and April to June 1533, suggesting that the plague raged in Cambridge during Michaelmas term, improved with the dispersal of people from the urban area, and then got worse again when they returned, a situation with which we today are all too familiar.

Extract from commons expenses for Michaelmas 1532 [KCAR/4/1/1/10]

The above is from the commons expenses for Michaelmas 1532. It says:

In primis solui pro communis xxiijor sociorum & scholarium absentium ob metum pestis a vigilia Michaelis usque in 3m diem decembris videlicet per ix septimanas & dimidium ut patet per billam M Turges xj li viij s & pro communis ix sociorum absentium eodem tempore per viij septimanas [& dimidium] cuilibet xij d per septimanam iij li xvj s vj d Item pro communis iiijor sociorum absentium consimiliter per vij septimanas & dimidium 30 s Item pro communis ij sociorum et unius scholarium absentium eodem tempore per iiijor septimanas & dimidium xiij s vi d Et pro communis quinque sociorum absentium eodem tempore per quinque septimanas et dimidium xxvij s vj d Item pro communis iij sociorum et unius scholarium absentium eodem tempore per vj septimanas et dimidium xxvj s Et pro communis unius socii absentis consimiliter per iij septimanas et dimidium iij s vj d Et pro communis vij sociorum et iiijor scholarium absentium eodem tempore per unam septimanam et dimidium xvj s vj d  [Total:] xxj li ij s vj d

Which, translated, begins

First I paid out for commons for 24 Fellows and Scholars absent for fear of plague from the vigil of Michaelmas to 3 December, that is for 9 ½ weeks, as appears in the bill of M Turges [a bursar] £11 8s, and for commons for 9 Fellows absent at the time for 8 [½] weeks at 12d per week £3 16s 6d…

A similar list of reimbursements is recorded for 19 April to 18 June.

If we presume nobody is counted twice in any one term, that’s a total of 61 Fellows and Scholars who eventually evacuated for all or part of the 9 ½ weeks from 28 September to 3 December 1532, and 51 who evacuated from 19 April to 18 June, out of a possible maximum of 70. Most, if not all, were back in time to say the December exequies, or specified prayers (see below).

The chaplains, clerks and choristers were entitled to commons allowance under the statutes, but the accounts record no payments to these members, so either they did not evacuate or they were not reimbursed for it.

The saddest thing about the 1532-3 plague is that 3 choristers died. Roger Bowers lucidly explored the plague’s effects on the choir in his chapter in the Chapel 500th anniversary book, so we need only reproduce here the entries showing that two women were hired to bleach and oversee the choristers’ bedding during the plague, and then we paid for shrouds to bury 3 choristers:

Item solutum ijbus mulierculis per manus W. Byrlyngam pro lotione et supervisione supellectilium chorustarum in tempore pestis    iiij s j d

Item solutum pro iijbus lintheaminibus ad sepiliendum iij chorustas    iij s

Also, paid 2 women by the hand of W. Burlingham, for bleaching and overseeing the choristers’ bedding in the time of plague 4 s 1 d

Also, paid for 3 shrouds for burying 3 choristers 3 s

Extract from ‘Exhibitio Chorustarum’ for 1532-3 [KCAR/4/1/1/10]

The College at that time consisted of up to 70 Fellows and Scholars plus the Provost, 10 chaplains, 6 clerks (men in holy orders), 16 choristers and 16 servants. It’s not clear just how many of the adults in College died; perhaps their families took them home to bury. What is likely, from the head counts compiled c. 1900 (cat. no. KCHR/3/1/13/2), is that in 1532-3 there was about 30% turnover amongst the Fellows and Scholars, 40% among the chaplains and clerks (who seem to have been readily replaced), and possibly 100% amongst the choristers.


The accounts record payments to members for saying exequies, or prayers (it is probably more accurate to think of them as memorial services, possibly including music) for Henry VI and his parents as required by statute on nine specified dates. It appears that, during the plague, all of the required exequies were in fact observed. Low numbers at this time might reflect deaths, but might also reflect people who chose to stay away, shirk their duties and forgo their payments and commons reimbursement.

Exequy dates # Fellows & Scholars participating
(full complement: 70)
# Chaplains & Clerks participating
(full complement: 16)
# Choristers participating
(full complement: 16)
17 and 19 December, 3 January 57-61 14-15 10-12
22 March 59 13 2
21 May 31 14 0
20 June 47 14 5
15 and 31 August, 23 September 50-61 13-14 13-15
Table: Numbers of participants celebrating exequies during 1532-3

More questions than answers

The 1532-3 accounts raise various tantalising questions. For example, is it remarkable that so many workmen came from as far away as Royston, Bassingbourn and Luton to work on the new Choristers’ room and other repairs? Is it remarkable that the audit was held at Grantchester instead of in the College in 1532-3? Were there more widows being paid that year for wheat and horse food, than usual? Was it remarkable that we were buying wheat – weren’t our tenants supposed to supply it? Was it a hard winter – did we pay more for fuel, or buy more than usual (pro-rataed considering the evacuation)? Some of these might be answered with research in the existing accounts documents. Unfortunately, if not surprisingly, there is a gap of nearly 10 years in the accounts books around 1532 which complicates any such research.


Many thanks are extended to Michael Good for suggesting the blog, and for solving the ‘hyrishoby’ puzzle.


Bowers, Roger. ‘Chapel and Choir, Liturgy and Music, 1444-1644’ in King’s College Chapel 1515-2015: Art, Music and Religion in Cambridge; JM Massing and N Zeeman, eds (London: Harvey Miller Publishers, 2014) pp 258-283.

Cooper, Charles Henry. Annals of Cambridge, Vol. 1 (Cambridge: Warwick & Co, 1842) pp 346, 353-4.

Creighton, Charles. A History of Epidemics in Britain, Vol. 1 (Cambridge: CUP, 1891; https://www.gutenberg.org/files/42686/42686-h/42686-h.htm  accessed 19 October 2020) pp 293-7 and index for ‘London, plagues in’.




An Astonishing Transformation


In the archives we have this somewhat intimidating collection of College records:

KCA/684: Before

Intimidating because it’s mostly 15th-century Latin, and it’s in this temporary-looking heavy straw-board folder

The old packaging

from the early 20th century which is itself falling apart, and you worry the pages will get out of place. Yet everything says it’s important: the vellum is so fine and soft that it drapes like fabric (nice to handle but it means you have to pay careful attention when turning pages), the wide margins bespeak a luxurious undertaking, and it’s one of the College’s oldest of its own documents. The first thing recorded in this volume is a detailed inventory of the College’s valuables in 1453-7.


Or at least we did have this intimidating object, until it was conserved over the winter by the Conservation Consortium and restored to what must be a very close approximation of its former glory.

During this process the Consortium carefully diagrammed all the quires, showing where blank pages had been cut out for use elsewhere:

Quire diagram

Then they flattened, under controlled humidification, and cleaned the pages,

Flattening the pages under weights

stabilising those that had the worst historic damage using Japanese paper. This is a soft tissue paper, often handmade, of consistent quality and free from impurities such as iron particles which can lead to paper degradation, rust spots, or ‘foxing’. It is transparent so that it can be glued over tears in existing pages while still allowing the text to be read, and allows for easily reversible interventions.

Based on evidence found within the book

Evidence of previous binding

and drawing from other historical contemporary book structures they recreated a late medieval-style binding. Boards were hand-carved from quarter cut planks of seasoned oak. The bookblock was carefully sewn to achieve a flat, well-supported opening,

Sewing the block

finishing it off with a quarto style alum-tawed (white) leather binding.

Claude applying glue to the leather binding

Sewing the binding to the spine of the book

Book conservator Claude Grewal-Sultze even went to the Bodleian Library to learn lessons from the conservation project on the Winchester Bible.

The result looks fabulous and now it’s hard to keep your hands off it – the smooth oak end-boards present a friendly, inviting surface.

KCA/684: After

Decorative sewing on the endband

You still have to be careful turning the soft pages of course. The document even appears smaller and lighter than it had done. Archivists will be surprised to hear that even after conservation and in its new protective box (made of archive-quality mid-weight cardboard), it fits in its old location.

The total cost of the renovation was £5000. This has been paid for by a generous donor, to whom we are very grateful.  


The volume contains more than just the inventory advertised on the cover, though it’s a magnificent inventory, befitting the holdings of a royal institution. We hope to publish a commentary on it in due course. The volume contents are:

1453-7 inventory (folios 3-12), high points of Henry VI’s charters for King’s (folios 13-26), Library books (folios 58r-65v), a list of members of the foundation (folios 70-77), and pledges (folio 81). There are blank pages between the sections, showing a consciousness that King’s was here to stay – further information would be added in due course.

Space on the page for additions

Due to the specially designed binding, the volume can be opened flat without causing damage.

The 1453-7 inventory was published by G. Williams (‘Ecclesiastical Vestments, Books, and Furniture, in the Collegiate Church of King’s College, Cambridge, in the Fifteenth Century’, three articles in The Ecclesiologist, 20 (1859), 304-15; 21 (1860), 1-7; and 24 (1863), 99-102). Williams left out additions to the inventory subsequent to the original scribe’s activity. These additions were transcribed by MR James and W St John Hope in a copy of Williams’s article (call mark Coll 2/23).

In 2018, various sections of this volume featured in an article Peter Jones wrote (‘Commemoration at a Royal College’, pages 106-122 from Commemoration in Medieval Cambridge, ed. John S. Lee and Christian Steer, in the series ‘The History of the University of Cambridge: Texts and Studies’ published by Boydell Press for Cambridge University Library).


Many of the objects listed here can be found in inventories made 50 or more years later (call mark KCA/22).

KCA/22 also left space for additions

The 1554 inventory in that book is interesting because in the intervening years the vestments had been turned into costumes – see our online exhibition about Queen Elizabeth’s 1564 visit.

Although not as elegantly presented as KCA/684, KCA/22 is still a spaciously designed book with a variety of flourished capitals and a use of display scripts. The inventories in KCA/22 were transcribed by MR James (Provost of King’s) and W St John Hope (antiquarian), and those transcriptions can be found in the archives under call marks Coll 2/23 and KCA/687. The same donation is covering the cost of conserving KCA/22. Part of the conservation will include replacement of the stiff parchment cover which has shrunk, making the pages’ leading edges vulnerable.

Peter Jones, Fellow Librarian
Patricia McGuire, Archivist


Mania and Imagination

Building on the success of our 2013 conference to celebrate the centenary of ‘Tim’ Munby’s birth, ‘Floreat Bibliomania—Great Collectors and their Grand Designs’, we will be holding a second conference on 18-19 June 2016. This will be called ‘Mania and Imagination: Perils and pleasures of the private collector, present and future’, and will again be held in the Keynes Hall at King’s.

A.N.L. Munby

Please visit this page for further details, including a programme and registration form. We hope it will be as enjoyable as the first conference, and that readers of the King’s Treasures blog will be well represented!

We are also happy to announce the publications of the proceedings of the first conference in a special issue of the Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society. See here for full details.

Great Collectors


Bradshaw’s Bullet

Richard Beadle gave the Sandars Lectures at Cambridge University Library this year on ‘Henry Bradshaw and the Foundations of Codicology’. Bradshaw was a Fellow of King’s from 1853 onwards, and University Librarian from 1867 until his death in 1886. Richard Beadle began his lectures with a gunshot fired from the Queens’ Lane direction into Bradshaw’s rooms at King’s in 1872, and Bradshaw’s enquiries to try to find who had fired it. Over the course of the lectures he showed Bradshaw acting as a detective in examining manuscripts, working from significant details of physical evidence, very much like Sherlock Holmes—but Bradshaw got there first. Bradshaw inspired awe and devotion amongst his colleagues in King’s, in Cambridge and the wider book world. His friend the historian George Prothero, Tutor at King’s, produced A Memoir of Henry Bradshaw in 1888, based largely on the correspondence of Bradshaw, his friends and collaborators. The Memoir has a facsimile of a letter from Bradshaw to Mr G.L.F. Tupper of 6 May 1870 tipped in opposite page 360 where other letters to Tupper are mentioned. In the 1870 letter Bradshaw explains how his codicological method could also be applied to woodcuts found in early printed books. His addressee Tupper was a lithographic printer, but also a keen student of early printing, who produced excellent facsimiles of early editions for Bradshaw.

photo of portrait2

Portrait of Bradshaw by Hubert von Herkomer, 1881

Two copies of this Memoir in the Library at King’s were ‘grangerised’, that is original letters by Henry Bradshaw were inserted within the printed text, rather on the model of the Tupper letter. ‘Grangerising’ was a common practice amongst Victorian book owners, a way of personalising as well as supplementing biographies, or extra-illustrating histories and antiquarian works. Both these copies of the Memoir were purchased by King’s in 1955. One copy is quarter-bound in leather and cloth by the firm of Zaehnsdorf for its owner William Tuckwell, whose bookplate is inside the front board. Tuckwell (1829-1919) was educated at New College, Oxford, and became a friend of Bradshaw when they both taught at St Columba’s College near Dublin in 1853-4. Tuckwell is best known today for his Reminiscences of Oxford (1900). Inside the Memoir Tuckwell inserted a letter from Arthur Hugh Clough (son of the poet of the same name), of 16 February 1886 describing the last hours of Bradshaw’s life, as well as another portion of a letter from Clough listing obituaries of Bradshaw. There is a letter from Prothero asking Tuckwell for information about Bradshaw, manuscript ‘Reminiscences sent to Mr Prothero’ by Tuckwell, and Prothero’s letter of thanks. Then follows a printed review of the Memoir by Tuckwell, from The Spectator on 6 July 1889, with Prothero’s letter of thanks for sending it to him. Five letters from Bradshaw to Tuckwell dating from 1854 to 1865 are inserted. Apart from school matters at St Columba’s College the letters deal with Bradshaw’s responses to reading Wordsworth and college reform at King’s. These letters were selectively quoted by Prothero in the Memoir. The final insertion is of a copy of the auction catalogue of Bradshaw’s library by John Swan & Son of Cambridge in November 1886.


Click on image to see full letter

The other ‘grangerised’ copy of the Memoir must have been in the possession of the historian and banker Frederic Seebohm (1833-1912). No less than 31 letters from Bradshaw to Seebohm are inserted, some attached, some now loose. Seebohm’s work on The Oxford Reformers (1867) seems to have first put him in touch with Bradshaw, who helped him by superintending a transcript of the lectures on St Paul’s Epistles to the Romans by John Colet (1467-1519), CUL MS Gg.IV.26, and by trying to procure a decent photograph of an illuminated portrait of Colet in MS Dd.7.3. A second batch of letters deals with Seebohm’s innovative research on early field systems, which resulted in The English Village Community (1883), his most influential book. Seebohm had worked out the size of the average ‘virgate’ or villein’s holding of land, which Bradshaw was able to illustrate from a 14th century manuscript terrier of the West Fields of Cambridge which he had bought himself in 1878, and was bequeathed to the University Library (Additional MS 2601). Seebohm’s letter to Bradshaw of 13 September 1878 (Additional MS 2592, no.504) reads: You are a splendid fellow! Your letter has interested me much for, as the enclosed paper will show you, you are describing the field system in the very terms in which it is described incidentally in the Saxon descriptions of the boundaries added to the Latin charters of the 10th century aBradshaw’s own transcription of part of the manuscript dealing with ‘Grythowefeld’ survives as Additional MS 4228, and is mentioned in his letter to Seebohm of 25 September 1878. Bradshaw also performed the service of introducing Seebohm to the great Russian historian Paul Vinogradoff, as we see from his letter of 8 October 1883. IMG_5733_crop0The most poignant letter inserted in Seebohm’s copy of the Memoir is Henry Bradshaw’s letter of condolence on the sudden death of Seebohm’s daughter Winnie, a student at Newnham College, on 20 December 1885. Winnie’s life and her letters is the subject of Victoria Glendinning, A Suppressed Cry: Life and Death of a Quaker Daughter (1969). Other sources: C.W. Crawley, “Sir George Prothero and his Circle: The Prothero Lecture”, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 20 (1970), 101-127 ‘Introduction’ to John Colet’s Commentary on First Corinthians, ed. Bernard O’Kelly and Catherine A.L. Jarrott (Binghampton, NY: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1985) Robin Myers, “George Isaac Frederick Tupper, Facsimilist, ‘Whose ability in this description of work is beyond praise’ (1820?-1911)”, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 7 (1978): 113-34 Paul Needham, The Bradshaw Method: Henry Bradshaw’s Contribution to Bibliography (Chapel Hill: Hanes Foundation, 1988) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Bradshaw, Prothero, Seebohm, Tuckwell)