The early clergy of Giggleswick Church

Michael Slater
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

This article gives a glimpse into the lives and beliefs of the clergy at St Alkelda’s through their wills in the period 1412 to 1719.

The early history

Giggleswick Church is known to exist in the 12thC but is not referred to as St Alkelda’s until 1528 in the will of James Carr of Stackhouse. It is a matter of conjecture who St Alkelda was (Edwards, 2004). Whitaker gives a description of the church early history and the building itself, which is amplified by Thomas Brayshaw. Shuffrey’s later material is based on Brayshaw’s notes. The history is also discussed by Cox but the most detailed account of the clergy is given in Fasti Parochiales (19781). The main subject of this article is the men who served the church in earlier days, as vicars and priests. There is a list of vicars on a board in the church (compiled by Vicar Brocklehurst, 1900-1933) but we have little insight into the religious mindset of those listed. Furthermore there is little information on the several chantry priests who served separate altars in the 1500s. A specific search has been made for the wills of early vicars with some success and other wills have been found with details of chantry priests. They reveal something of the beliefs of the clergy in a period of turbulence at the Reformation yet these wills seem not previously to have been considered in recounting the history of the church.

The Reformation

The wills cover the period of the Reformation and the Pilgrimage of Grace with key dates being Henry VIII’s split with Rome in 1536, the reign of his successor Edward VI (1547-1553) who supported Henry’s approach but who required further changes in church practice, the reign of Mary (1553-1558) with reversion to full Catholic worship, and the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603) which saw a more superficially tolerant attitude but a final acceptance of Protestant ideas by the people at large. Merchants and capitalists believed in Protestant values of thriftiness, industriousness and concern more with this world than the next. The Reformation concerned the rejection of the idea that prayers could reduce the time spent by the dead in Purgatory by intercession by the living, the rejection of the cult of saints, and destruction of their images. These violent times and their effects on a village in Devon are wonderfully illustrated by Duffy in ‘The Voices of Morebath’. In early Giggleswick wills we can therefore look for signs of the changes forced on the people by the monarch of the time typically observing the stock phrases usually used in wills. Before the Reformation people wanted their names kept constantly in the memory and prayers of the living so gave money in wills for buildings, candles to light images, bequests to the high altar, and chantry priests, perpetual or temporary, to say mass for them, often in a prescribed manner. The more intercession by the living, the less time spent in Purgatory by the deceased. Debts and forgotten tithes had to be paid quickly by executors otherwise spirits in Purgatory might trouble the living - hence routine bequests to the high altar. By the time of Elizabeth, clergy discouraged commemorative masses in wills but allowed bequests to the poor (earliest local reference Foster, 1570), to highway maintenance (Foster, 1553), bridge repairs (Somerscales, 1553) and church repairs (Twissilton, 1586; Peele, 1588). It is apparent that we do not have the wealth of information used by Duffy in his book ‘Stripping of the altars’ strongly based on material from southern counties of England, perhaps due to the relative poverty in Craven. However, the early non-ecclesiastic wills for Kirkby Malhamdale given by Morkill are interesting and are similar in content to those discussed by Duffy.

The early charters

The editors of Fasti Parochiales, quoting charters of Finchale Priory, say that the patronage of Giggleswick Church started with Henry de Puteaco (Puteach, Pudsey, Puiset), son of Hugh Pudsey, Bishop of Durham who gave the advowson of Giggleswick Church to the Priory of Finchale in c.1196. After much dispute, in 1227 William de Percy, the overlord for the north of England, was confirmed to hold this right. Early rectors were William (before 1175), Henry (1182-c.1200), Laurence (c.1205-1211) and Walter de Vestiario (1230). Laurencio parson of Giggleswick (charters dated between 1190 and 1230) and ‘Laurence parson of Gikleswic’ is a witness in a charter of 1224. In 1230 the Archbishop of York Walter Gray granted that after the death of Walter de Vestiario, the then rector (who resigned as rector in 1231 or 2 with a pension of 55 marks/year), there should be a perpetual vicarage (Walter died in 1259). The Prior of Finchale then became Rector and made presentations of the vicarage until the Dissolution. This was confirmed by Pope Gregory IX in 1232 or 3. In 1259 Archbishop Godfrey de Ludham ordained a vicarage, confirming the tithes due from Langcliffe and Stainforth, and noted that the Vicar will have a priest living with him, ‘in the dwelling house on the church land to live in’. Thus there is evidence for a ‘vicarage’ being lived in. The vicarage was assessed at 33-6s-8d in 1291.

The vicars and priests

There are several versions of the list of vicars with appointment dates but the most comprehensive one justified by documentary evidence is perhaps that given by Brayshaw and Robinson. Specific differences concern William de Smeton, 1327 and James Carr, given on the board as vicar from 1507 (died 1518) who founded the Chantry of the Rood, because he was a chantry priest not vicar. Details of the early history to 1556 are given in the Fasti Parochiales Series (1971).

From 1231 to 1686 there are 34 vicars names known. Of these, nine are said to have resigned their post, and at least eleven died in post. A search in the Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series lists (which go up to 1688) reveals ten relevant wills in the York Registers, but of these, that of John Holderness (died 1414) reveals nothing about Giggleswick and five are Administrations, not full wills, which reveal very little useful information. However, in addition we have four wills - of Christopher Altham chaplain 1461, John Malton Chantry priest 1538, John Mone priest 1538 and Richard Somerscall priest 1557 who are not listed as vicars. We therefore have eight full wills spanning the period 1412 to 1719. Three of the full wills are in Latin. A search of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills has not revealed any relevant ones (

The titles rector and vicar and (for unbeneficed posts for generally semi- or illiterate men) titles of priest, chaplain, curate and clerk are used. ‘Sir’ (dominus), a courtesy title for a non-graduate man of the church, is often used. Rectors took the great tithes and were responsible for chancel repairs and the vicar took lesser tithes and was responsible with the churchwardens for the nave, tower and bells. The clerk led the singing.

The wills pre-Elizabeth (up to 1558)

The first will (in Latin) is that of William Stalmyn vicar ‘de Gygleswike’ of 1412. He was vicar in 1335 and is noted in 1351 as being a canon at Southwell and ratified at Giggleswick in 1399 - a remarkable length of service if true - it is suspected that there was another unrecorded man of the same name. A deed of gift by William Stalmyn of Langcliffe, perpetual vicar of Giggleswick, and his wife Emmot of all his lands and tenements is known from 1409. The graduated Poll Tax list of 1379 curiously notes Willelmus de Langclyff and wife living in Giggleswick, paying 4 pence. The name is clearly Stalmyn not Stalwyn as written by Shuffrey; Stalmine is a village near Fleetwood and Stalman is a common local name in Craven. He first bequeaths his soul to the Blessed Mary and all the Saints. Interestingly he leaves ‘duos solidos’ (2 shillings) to the great altar of Horton Church, five books to Ade Morton, capellano, and 40 solidos to dominus Rico Hayholme capellano. (The title capellano or chaplain means minister of a chapel). To dominus Henrico Rauthmell capellano he leaves five silver spoons and two pounds. He leaves an ordinal (a book of instructions on the administration of the liturgy and sacraments) and other writings to Giggleswick church. To Sawley Abbey he leaves nine bed covers for inmates, and all his domestic utensils to John Calnay and his sister.

The will of dominus John Wodhous vicar ‘de Gigleswyk’ of 1438 in Latin bequeaths his soul to Almighty God, Blessed Mary and all the Saints. He leaves eight (pence?) to dominus Christopher Altham (Vicar in 1440) to pray for his soul in Giggleswick Church. He bequeaths 20s to John Hermetstede ‘for his labours’ - as executor perhaps. Several other bequests totalling over 5 are made to individuals.

Christopher Altam (Altham) simply calls himself chaplain, to be buried in Giggleswick Church, 1461. He leaves his soul to Almighty God, the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the Saints in heaven. Every chaplain saying mass at his burial is to receive 4d and he leaves a horse (the customary best animal) for his mortuary payment. He bequeaths 13s 4d (one mark) to Laurence, John and Henry Altham, Henry Wodewarde, the wife of Ralph Dogeson and their respective sons. Elizabeth Altham a relative receives 10 marks. He leaves two beds with coverlet, two blankets and two linen sheets to John Altham and John Wodwarde his servant. Henry Dogeson receives a dagger, Christopher Altham scholar a [word unclear] and William Clought a monk at Sallay Abbey is left a felt hat coloured violet and a silver ring. Cows and horses are also bequeathed. One presumes that Christopher had to supplement his meagre chaplain’s income of a few marks per year with husbandry.

Christopher Tennant is noted as dominus Christopher Tennant ‘nup[er] vic[arius] de Gegleswyke’ in the Administration since he died intestate in 1496. Similarly dominus Jacobus Carre de Gyggilswyk died intestate in 1518 - he was founder of the Chantry of the Rood in 1507 - so it is a great pity we do not have a full will. Brayshaw states that he served the chantry altar as a priest, (and noted by Cox as chaplain), with support for an incumbent (Thomas Husteler) from the income of land at Otterburn worth 6-1-0 p.a. (from the Chantry certificates of 1548). In 1534 the Giggleswick vicarage was valued at 21-3-2.

Sir John Mone left a full will in 1538, just at the time of the break of Henry VIII with the Pope. He is a priest, late of Giggleswick. He bequeaths his soul to ‘Our Lady Saint Mary and to all the company of heaven’ and his body to be buried in the church of ‘Saint Alkelde of Gyglesweke’. Every priest celebrating mass at his burial receives 4d and to every scholar doing prayer that day 1d. Sir John Nelson receives 3, ‘his best gown and best hat to pray for me one year’. He leaves 4-6-8 to buy a crucifix of copper and gilt for the church. He leaves gifts of farm animals to many people. The vicar of Clapham owes him 34s-4d who should be sued for the same. A witness is Sir Richard Mone, Prior of Bolton.

In the same year 1538 Sir John Malton leaves a will and is called a chantry priest at Giggleswick. Sir John bequeaths his soul to God Almighty and Our Lady St Mary and to all the saints in heaven. Then he leaves 33-6-8 to be used to support a priest for evermore in Giggleswick, or failing that, in Clapham. The chantry certificate of 1548 states that 33-6-8 had been bequested by John Malhome priest deceased to maintain a priest and that Thomas Edon priest had been employed at a stipend of 4-3-4 p.a. for the previous 7 years (i.e. since 1541). It seems that Malhome is miswritten in the copy of the will as Malton and that they are the same person; Thomas Yedon is witness to this and five other wills from 1538 to 1557 and noted as Sir, clerk and priest. A detailed requirement (in Latin) for saying mass at certain times and daily Placebo (evensong for the dead) and Dirige (matins with nine readings from Job plus lauds) is given. Further, he leaves 40s to Giggleswick Church to buy three vestments, one of white with a red cross to the high altar and another to Our Lady altar and a third to the Rood altar of red with a black cross. He leaves to Sir Robert Downham(?) a book called Aetas salutis and the residue of his books ‘to Clapham Church to be used commonly to every one that is disposed to look upon them’. He further gives his clothes and money to many people. This will is perhaps the most significant as far as Catholic church practice of the time is concerned. Unfortunately the book has not been identified.

Both Mone and Malton (Malhome) must have experienced the resentment caused by the dissolution of Sawley Abbey. In October 1536 a notice was pinned to Giggleswick church door to raise men for the Pilgrimage of Grace after the muster of up to 3000 men at Neal’s Ing. The injunctions made by Thomas Cromwell in 1536 and 1538 to abandon certain church practices must have severely upset these generous and devout men.

The next will is of Sir Richard Somerscall of 1557 just before Mary dies (in 1558) and so it retains the Catholic formula ‘bequeath my soul to God almighty to Our Lady Saint Mary and to all the saints in heaven’. He requests 4d to every priest saying mass for him the day he is buried and 6s 8d toward buying one great bell if the parish wish to do so. Sir James Foster receives 2s to pray for his soul and other persons receive sums of money totalling over 6. Sir James Foster is noted in Christopher Fawthropp’s will of 1577 as ‘curett of Gegleswicke’ and he is the brother of Thomas Foster (of Mewith?) (will of 1553). In the ‘Returns of the examination of clergy’ (Purvis, 1948) made in 1566 James is noted as ‘In sacris literis mediocriter versatus .... and supported to some extent by the honest testimony of Master Sutus’. From 1551 to 1580 James is witness to at least five wills and described as clerk and curate. He died in 1595, named as presbiter.

Cox and Brayshaw and Robinson discuss the chantry commission and chantry certificates issued by Edward VI in 1548, made with a view to closure of all chantries. These disclose that ‘Rychard Somerskayle Incombent 60 yeres of age somewhat learned hath none other living than the Chantrye’ and serves the Chantry of Our Lady (otherwise the Stanford Chantry). One priest was to serve the cure (the people of the parish) beside the vicar; the number of communicants (everyone over 14 years old) was 1200. The chantry priest was required to pray for the founder’s soul, to assist in services, preach an annual sermon, distribute bread to the poor and to teach in a school. Support for chantries did not come solely from legacies - for example the Hamerton family endowed the Long Preston chantry with land paying rents to the chantry.

During Queen Mary’s reign (1553-1558) married clergy were required to divorce or leave their wives and children (after having been allowed by Edward VI in 1549 to be married). Married clergy were called to account between March 1554 and November 1555. Anthony Holgate, one of the two rectors of Burnsall in Craven, was deprived of his living in April 1554 and excommunicated with his wife in May 1555. He was replaced as rector by one Richard Somerscales under the patronage of John Lambert. This may well be the same Richard as found in Giggleswick, (witness to will of Richard Lund in 1537), who died in 1557. Holgate was re-instated by Elizabeth I in 1559 and later became Dean of Craven.


The Chantry of the Rood (south-east corner of the church) was served by Richard Carr, nephew of James Carr the founder. Richard succeeded Thomas Husteler who was incumbent at the time of foundation. The third Chantry, the Tempest Chantry (north-east corner) was served by ‘Thomas Thompson Incombent 70 yeres of age unlerned ....’. Chantries were closed down by an Act of 1545 to eliminate the daily round of intercession for the dead (and to accrue money to the crown) and they were not greatly missed despite the fall in number of clerks and priests, who acted as auxiliaries to the vicars. However, they carried out useful duties similar to a modern curate and sometimes were schoolmasters. Richard Carr was ‘thirty two years of age, well learned and teacheth a grammar school’. Money left by John Malhome and Thomas Husteler (24 13s 4d) to support a schoolmaster maintained Thomas Iveson, priest, at 4 a year. The salary of about 4 a year for a chantry priest compared to the 20 a year for the vicar gives an idea of the relative work-loads. (Thomas Iveson’s will of 1562 makes no reference to his being a priest nor does the Parish Register). It was considered in the early 16thC that 5 a year was a minimum wage for a priest!

It seems that there was a further chantry not before noted. Hugh Lawkeland in his will of 1527 bequeaths to Saint Sunday Chantry 10s and the same amount to the ‘guild of our lady if it proceeds and go forward’. Richard Frankland’s will of 1532 requires masses to be said and support of the chantry of St Sunday presumably referring to Giggleswick church. In 1541 William Newhouse of Giggleswick bequeathes 6s 8d to the chantry of Sancti Sunday and the same amount to the ‘guilde of oure ladie’. In the will of Thomas Kar of Santon 1509 mention is made of prayers to be said at Giggleswick on the day of Dominic (August 4th). Dominic was the founder of the Friar Preachers born in Spain 1170 and his name could alternatively be Sunday via the word domenica. The Yorkshire Chantry Surveys (1893) note the chantry of Our Lady founded by Robert Stanford, the Chantry of the Rood, and the Tempest Chantry founded by Sir John Tempest but there is no mention of a Chantry of St Sunday.

The wills after 1558 (accession of Elizabeth I)

The Administration for Thomas Abbott who died in 1576 notes ‘Thome Abbot cl[er]ici nuper Rectoris eccl[es]ie de Slaydborne et gigleswicke...’. He is listed as clerk (by Shuffrey) at Giggleswick in 1556 and was rector in Slaidburn until his death.

Christopher Shute is listed as clerk in 1576 (schoolmaster in 1575 as witness to the will of Thos. Heddleston) and he dies in 1626. He was a most able and good man and his name occurs frequently as a witness in wills. ‘I commend my soul into the hands of Almighty God my heavenly father...’ and the emphasis is on Jesus Christ ‘the redeemer of my soul...’. This terminology strongly reflects the major change brought about in religious thought in previous decades. However, he did not escape censure in 1594 when the ‘Returns of the examination of clergy’ concluded that:

‘Contra Mr Chris. Shutt vicarium he dothe not baptize Children with the sign of the Crosse..... Admonished to minister the sacrament of baptisme to some one child with the signe of the Cross before Christmas next in Giggleswick Church .... and to certify. [Other uses of the cross forbidden]’.
He gives the two volumes called the Arts and monuments of the Church to his wife and the rest of his books to his sons. 6-13-4 is given to the poor people of Giggleswick. Mr Shute has previously sold for 100 the advowson of the vicarage of Giggleswick to William Brooke of Drighlington and so in 1626 John Brooke Clerk MA is listed as vicar at Giggleswick. In most parishes it was a rector who owned the advowson; it was Finchale Priory who had this right for Giggleswick until the Dissolution in 1536. Thereafter the right passed to the Crown and was sold on to a variety of owners. Henry Somerscales of Langcliffe Hall who died in 1609 had an interest in half of the rectory or parsonage of Giggleswick. A rectory house is the subject of a lease argument in 1620 between George Middleton and Anne Bankes.

Katherine Shute’s will of 1628 refers to the sale of the vicarage of Giggleswick and the promised repairs. The next full will is that of Richard Ellershaw vicar in 1686 (BA 1682, MA 1688) who died in 1719. He leaves the Mansion House in Giggleswick to his wife but his will is otherwise mundane and unrevealing.

Non-ecclesiatical wills

A collection of wills mainly in the Craven district has also been assessed for evidence of changing attitudes after 1536. About 170 full wills ranging from 1456 to 1852 have been transcribed (deposited with the North Craven Historical Research Group by Reg Postlethwaite and the author). Of these there are 17 in the period 1456 - 1577 which use the Catholic terminology referring to Mary and all the saints; 94 in the period 1575-1772 refer to God and Jesus Christ; 31 in the period 1548-1751 refer to God alone, and 28 in the period 1719-1869 contain no religious comment at all. There is surprisingly little overlap of the time periods in which these references are made and there seems a distinct absence of Catholic terminology after 1577. This accords with the fact that the reforms of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) began to take effect only in the 1580’s when Elizabeth allowed Jesuit priests to return to England and when of course priests ordained in earlier Catholic times came to the end of their lives. Even in 1590 there was ‘Manifolde popishe Superstition used in the Buriall of the dead’. The collection of 210 wills (1522-1600) from Swaledale shows references to Mary and all the saints up to 1564 in 48 wills, with references in 14 more wills from 1552 to 1564 solely to God.


All the clergy wills seem generally rather worldly in tone (except that of John Malton) rather than strongly devoted to the church, which is somewhat surprising. It is a pity that we lack information in the period 1560 to 1600 where most impact on the church was felt but there is a difference in tone to be seen in wills before the Reformation and fifty years later, which is in accord with the general picture described by Duffy for southern England.


To Maureen Ellis, John Harrop, Paul Hypher, Jean Lavelle, Nigel Mussett and Jan Rhodes for their helpful comments.


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Borthwick Institute of Historical Research

Clergy wills

  • 1412 Wm. Stalmyn vol. 18 fol. 352 Archbishops’ Register
  • Dean and Chapter Peculiar vol. 1 fol. 163
  • 1414 John Holderness vol. 18 fol. 355 Archbishops’ Register mf 1985
  • 1438 John Wodhus vol. 3 fol. 559 mf 913
  • 1496 Christopher Tennant vol. 5 fol. 482 Admon. mf 915
  • 1518 James Carr Craven DAB fol. 83 Admon.
  • 1537 Richard Lund vol. 11 fol. 245
  • 1540 John Malton vol. 11 fol. 495 mf 919
  • 1538 John Mone vol. 11 fol. 329 mf 918
  • 1557 Richard Somerscall vol. 15 fol. 252
  • 1576 Thomas Abbat vol. 31 fol. 10 Archbishops’ Register mf 1992
  • 1626 Christopher Shute vol. 31 fol. 252 Archbishops’ Register mf 1992
  • 1634 John Watson vol. 32 fol. 57 Admon. Archbishops’ Register
  • 1641 Robert Dockrey vol. 32 fol. 7 Admon. Archbishops’ Register
  • 1719 Richard Ellershaw vol. 34 fol. 135 (not on microfilm - see original)

Other wills

  • 1509 Thomas Kar of Santon, Test. Ebor. Part II, 1884. Surtees Soc., vol. 79, p. 219.
  • 1527 Hugh Lawkeland vol. 9 fol. 385
  • 1532 Richard Frankland vol. 11 fol. 1532
  • 1541 William Newhouse vol. 11 fol. 617
  • 1553 Thomas Foster vol. 13b fol. 987
  • 1553 Robert Somerscales vol. 14 fol. 219
  • 1562 Thomas Iveson vol. 17 fol. 110
  • 1570 Oliver Foster vol. 9 fol. 44
  • 1575 Thomas Heddleston vol. 20 fol. 78
  • 1577 Christopher Fawthropp vol. 21 fol. 213
  • 1586 Antony Twissilton vol. 23 fol. 384
  • 1588 William Peele vol. 23 fol. 1010
  • 1609 Henry Somerscales vol. 31 fol. 193
  • 1628 Katherine Shute vol. 40 fol. 198

Transcriptions of these wills in modern English are lodged with the North Craven Historical Research Group, c/o Hudson History, Settle.

Giggleswick Church

Giggleswick Church