The role of Chapter Clerk has been of great importance in the administration of the College of St George since the fourteenth century. However, the office is not mentioned in the College Statutes of 1352, so it is necessary to piece together the early history of the role from other references. One of the 1352 statutes required that the Dean and Canons (known collectively as ‘Chapter’) should keep a written record of the oaths that all members of the College took at their induction or installation. In order to do this, a register must have been kept from the earliest years, perhaps with a scribe employed to keep it.
The first direct reference to the office occurs in the Treasurer’s accounts of 1377-78. Among the payments made to officers of the college is 40 shillings for the year to John “cl[er]ico Capit[u]lar[i]” (clerk of Chapter). It is speculated that this was John Rouwe, who had received money sporadically since 1362 for drawing up the accounts and acting as clerk to the auditors. Perhaps by 1377 he was doing all of the writing and copying for Chapter and therefore earned the title? On the other hand, a number of individuals called John received payment for similar tasks in the fourteenth century, so there is no guarantee that John clerk of Chapter was definitely John Rouwe, although he did a lot of relevant work.
At the beginning of the fifteenth century the Chapter Clerks were not named by the accounts rolls, but there is evidence that their role became more specialised and that in return they received particular privileges. The Treasurer in 1402-03 recorded that the Chapter Clerk received 1 shilling a day for his expenses when travelling on the business of Chapter and the College gave him a robe which cost 13s 4d. In 1404-05, in addition to his travel expenses, the Chapter Clerk received a fur with his robe.
Travelling was an important part of the role because, in addition to recording business within the College, the Chapter Clerk accompanied the Dean and Canons on business in London and to their properties around England and Wales.
The wages of the Chapter Clerk grew significantly throughout this time, perhaps reflecting the increasing responsibilities of the role. According to the Treasurer’s accounts of 1415-16, John Okeburn received £5 3s 6d for the year, and this included a 6d quotidian (or daily payment) for each day that he attended services in the Chapel. This quotidian system is the same by which all official members of the College (canons, vicars, poor knights) were directed to be paid by the 1352 Statutes.
In 1432, the Archbishop of York, John Kempe, paid a visit to the College of St George. Following that he wrote a letter to the Dean and Canons containing a number of injunctions, or orders, to amend defects in the running of the College. He noted that “a certain John Colkirke, Chapter Clerk of the said College” was said by all of the Canons to be “very useless, burdensome and injurious to the College.” Kempe ordered that Colkirke should be removed from his office within a month and a new Chapter Clerk should be appointed. Although bad news for Colkirke, this does at least indicate to us that by this stage in the College’s history the role played by the Chapter Clerk had become sufficiently significant that poor performance of the tasks could cause damage to the running of the College such that it came to the attention of the Archbishop of York.
Eventually it became expected that the Chapter Clerk would take an oath on being appointed to the office. The earliest record of this was in 1527, when the records of Chapter meetings show that it was sworn by George Hale:
Tu jurabis quod omnia et singula hujus Collegii secreta observabis etiam tu mactabis et in Registro Collegii scribes omnia et singula in eiusdem capitulis tractata sive tractanda vere et fideliter quantum in te est si ad id requisitus fueris.
In short, that he would keep the secrets of the College and would present and write in a Register all of the matters dealt with in Chapter meetings. In later centuries, other requirements would be added, such as the ability to write well and competence in the Latin language. However, in this early sixteenth-century oath lie the core functions of the office which can be said to have endured in some form into the present day.
Kate McQuillian, Archivist & Chapter Librarian