October this year marks the 650th anniversary of the death of William Edington, Bishop of Winchester. A financially astute servant of King Edward III, Edington served as Keeper of the Wardrobe, Treasurer and Chancellor throughout his career, arranging the kingdom’s finances to enable the king to pursue the costly Hundred Years War.
To find his significance in the history of the College of St George we must look back to our College Statutes. Amongst the oldest records relating to the College, these were first produced in 1352, four years after the College was founded by Edward III. The oldest surviving copy is on a vellum roll in the St George’s Chapel Archives, dating from the late-fourteenth or early-fifteenth century [SGC XI.D.20].
The College statutes were written by William Edington and Simon Islip, the Archbishop of Canterbury. They were entrusted with the work by Pope Clement VI, who stated in a papal bull issued on 30 November 1350 [SGC PB.3] that he fully approved and supported Edward III’s intention to found a college of canons, priests, clerks and Poor Knights at Windsor for the salvation of his soul and other people’s. Clement VI confirmed his confidence in Edington’s and Islip’s mindfulness of God and so granted to them the authority to order and enact statutes for the College and to appoint its first members.
The statutes that Edington and Islip produced covered a wide range of subjects in meticulous detail; everything that they considered important for the successful operation of the College and of St George’s Chapel. There are instructions about each member of the College, from the Dean (then known as the Warden) to the boy choristers: where they are to live and how often they are expected to attend services in St George’s Chapel, how much they should be paid and the penalty if they did not fulfil their obligations. For example, each Poor Knight was to receive 40 pence in sterling silver a year, plus 12 pence for every day he was resident at Windsor. If a Poor Knight was not in residence then his money for that day would be distributed among those who were. A Poor Knight was obliged to attend four services each day: two masses, evensong and compline, and to say one hundred and fifty salutations to the Virgin Mary, interspersed with fifteen recitations of the Lord’s Prayer, at each.
To ensure sound religious practice and financial management rules were provided about which people the Dean and Canons must keep in their prayers, about the duties of the different offices to be held by the Canons of the College and about how to invest any money that the College had left over at the end of a year. The statutes go into detail about the behaviour and appearance of members of the College – canons, vicars and clerks were discouraged from frequenting “taverns and suspicious places” and could be suspended from entering the quire for appearing too often in unclean or ridiculous attire. To maintain both the peace and the reputation of the College, anyone proven to be a defamer, grumbler and sower of discord was to be expelled.
Following Edington’s death, which is believed to have fallen on 6th or 7th October 1366, a tomb bearing his effigy was erected to commemorate him in the nave of Winchester Cathedral. Our statutes form another lasting memorial to his life and work as, with the addition of a number of supplemental charters to make them workable in the modern era, they are still in effect for the governance of the College of St George today.
Kate McQuillian, Assistant Archivist