16.09.28, Bloore and Martin, eds., Wingfield College and its Patrons

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Gary Gibbs

The Medieval Review 16.09.28

Bloore, Peter and Edward Martin, eds. Wingfield College and its Patrons: Piety and Prestige in Medieval Suffolk. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2015. pp. xv, 249, supplementary DVD. ISBN: 978-1-84383-832-6 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Gary Gibbs
Roanoke College

Wingfield College, Suffolk, was established in 1362 "by Sir John de Wingfield, the father-in-law of Michael de la Pole, the first earl of Suffolk" (1). The institution served myriad religious, political, social, and cultural functions in the post-plague and early Tudor periods. The Wingfield family began a rise to power in the late thirteenth century, acquiring "69 acres in Wingfield that were held in chief from the crown" (24-25). Their in-laws and descendants, the de la Pole family, continued their legacy, eventually developing marital ties to the Yorkist dynasty and, later to Henry VIII via his maternal Yorkist line. Wingfield College served as an educational/chantry foundation until its dissolution in 1534. As stated by Bloore and Martin in their introduction, "the scale, structure and decoration of chantry colleges indicates that the wish to display status and power was as powerful as the wish to save souls in purgatory through the extravagant yet diligent worship of God and charitable activities" (3).

This current collection of essays seeks to explore the multifaceted nature of Wingfield College. The origin of the publication was a two-day symposium held in June 2012 in observance of the 650th anniversary of the foundation of the college. The symposium--and hence the book--included a list of impressive people. The resulting collection presents nine essays plus two documents (transcribed in Latin and translated into modern English) ordered in three parts. All of the essays are admirable, but not exactly in the same ways. Topics are not presented chronologically, and one may find biographical information about college founder Sir John Wingfield in several places, including the start of chapter 7. Given the nature of the publication, the editors probably had no way around a bit of repetition.

Part 1, "The Founding of the College," begins with an essay by Edward Martin that includes a useful diagram of the plan of the college, its proximity to the church of St. Andrew (which became a parish church after the dissolution), a fish pond, and so on. However, the ca. 4-minute digital reconstruction of the college and its surroundings, along with a companion clip regarding Wingfield Castle, is fabulously done and should probably be consulted first in order for the reader to gain a good understanding of the physical layout of the college.

The second chapter by Mark Bailey, "Sir John de Wingfield and the Foundation of Wingfield College," lays out much more than simply the foundation of the chantry college, but also explores the rise of the Wingfield family. The college, offering prayers for the family, was also a monument to it, with an impressive effigy of Sir John located in the church.

The essay by Eamon Duffy focuses less on Wingfield College than on larger issues such as whether the Black Death introduced a gloomy quality to the faith and whether people were afraid of purgatory. He cites Millard Meiss and Jean Delumeau as starting points in this debate. Duffy provides some interesting insights regarding the number of perpetual chantries established in the fourteenth century (50-51). The statutes for Mortimer College are summarized to provide a sense of the liturgy and culture of a chantry college. Lastly, Duffy looks at 2,342 fifteenth-century wills, transcribed by Peter Northeast and published by the Suffolk Record Society, to test the "fear of purgatory" theory. He looks for indications that testators wish intercessory prayers to begin quickly upon their demise, and finds that only a few do. Thus, medieval people "thought God merciful and just" and "perhaps, a chantry was about lineage and family" (58).

The last chapter of part 1 contains the foundation document, from the Norwich Record Office, followed by the document of surrender, presented in both Latin and English.

Part 2 is entitled "The Medieval Structure" and also contains four chapters. Robert Liddiard examines the history--the adaption and transformation--of Wingfield College, while also addressing the technology of digital reconstruction. Bloore continues with the same general topic as the college building transformed from a place for priests to a gentleman's residence to a Palladian manor house to a "Victorian farmhouse" (97). Sally Badham examines the monuments of the Wingfield and de la Pole families in a thorough and engaging essay. The monuments were located in several places and demonstrate an unusual degree of variety in material and style, allowing the author to make some statements concerning the choices patrons made in how and where they would be memorialized. John Goodall presents a short essay to argue that Wingfield Church's vestry has incorrectly "been identified as the former Chapel of the Holy Trinity." Instead, he sees it as a fourteenth-century vestry that Alice, Duchess of Suffolk, converted into a closet, probably with an altar.

In part 3, "The Later History," Rowena E. Archer writes about Alice, Duchess of Suffolk, and presents one of the stronger, more compelling essays in the collection. The thrice-married Alice was born a commoner and died a wealthy and powerful woman who could apparently ignore laws when they interfered with her plans. Archer does a wonderful job of explaining the complex life of Alice Chaucer, as she was born, while constantly framing the particulars in the larger issues of the conflict-ridden fifteenth century.

The final essay by Diarmaid MacCulloch surveys the political problems of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, up to the execution of Edmund de la Pole in 1514 and the fall from power of the de la Pole family. Shortly after this action, Charles Brandon was created the new Duke of Suffolk, and he was granted new lands located away from Wingfield College. The college continued on, but "became one of the first major chantry colleges in Suffolk to be dissolved by Henry VIII's commissioners, in 1542" (215).

A good local history offers a thorough investigation of a regionally defined topic while demonstrating the connection among the themes prevalent in larger cultural discourses. This collection achieves that standard. Oddly, however, the collection's appeal to a potential audience seems simultaneously both wide and limited. Many of the essays are aimed for specialists, but even if a novice reader will persevere, the collection will present a keen insight into the nexus of religion, social status, and politics in the post-plague era. Some essays, such as Badham's and Archer's, would benefit many readers, and the two video clips on the supplementary DVD possess pedagogical potential for undergraduates. The collection presents so many ways to approach the topic of a chantry college that readers will walk away understanding how richly multidimensional such institutions truly were.

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