John Clyfton 'The Prisoners' Friend'

John Clyfton 'The Prisoners' Friend'

from The Barwicker No.64

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John Clyfton was rector of Barwick-in-Elmet in the period 1519-1527. Rev FS Colman in his 'History of Barwick-in-Elmet' gives the surname as 'Clifton' and states that he was presented to the parish by Henry VIII on the 'free resignation of Master Richard Pace, clerk, our secretary' (see 'the Barwicker' No.58), and he was instituted on 9 June.

We know little about his activities here or in other places, such as Newcastle upon Tyne and Black Friars in London, which are mentioned in his will. Colman notes that "there was a John Clifton, chaplain, present with Thomas Cromwell at some of the enquiries into the conduct of the religious houses previous to the Dissolution. It is possible that this rector was chaplain to Cromwell". These preliminary enquiries began in 1524. Clyfton had died by the time that Cromwell was appointed Vicar General in 1535 and the Dissolution of the Monasteries followed in the next few years.

We are most grateful to Joyce and Norman Hidden for transcribing from its old script this will, which is located at the Public Record Office in London. We have committed what historians consider the dreadful sin of correcting the old spelling and inserting punctuation to enable the text to be more easily understood. Anyone who feels that he or she has a claim on the will should consult the original!

"In the name of God Amen. The 14th day of the month of January, the year of our Lord one thousand five hundred and twenty six (New Style 1527. Ed.), I John Clyfton, parson of Barwick in Elmet in the diocese of York, being of whole mind and memory, make and ordain this my last will in this manner following: First I bequeath my soul to God Almighty and my body, if I die in London, to be buried in the Black Friars of London to which place I give and bequeath 20s.
  • Item: I will there shall be given to the prisoners of Newgate 10s. To the prisoners of Ludgate 5s. To the poorest prisoners of the two Compters in either house 3s.4d. And to the poorest prisoners in the Marshalsea and in the King's Bench in either house 5s.
  • Item: I will that 40s. shall be distributed among poor people after the discretion of my executors.
  • Item: I give and bequeath unto William Newbolde, keeper of my book, to the extent he shall be true and diligent betwixt my master and me and mine executors in my reckoning and account 3.6.8d.
  • Item: I give and bequeath to Sir Oliver Rudde, my two long gowns, the best save my new gown and my short gown, my black chamlet coat - the fur taken out - and the tawny chamlet jacket lined with black cotton.
  • Item: I give and bequeath to Anthony, my servant, 3 and to either of my other servants 40s.
  • Item: I give and bequeath to Edmonde Dolman 6s.8d.
  • Item: I will there shall be distributed to the most poorest people of the said parish of Barwick-in-Elmet 40s.
  • Item: I will that there shall be distributed to the most poorest people of the parish of Uldale
  • Item: I give and bequeath to Rauf Nevell 40s
  • Item: I give and bequeath to every of the children being alive of Robert Rede and Willam Rede, late of Newcastle upon Tyne, 6s.8d.
  • Item: I give and bequeath to Sir Thomas Arthure , chantry priest of Saint Cuthbert in Saint Nicholas church of the said town of Newcastle, 20s., praying and charging him that my house in Baillygate in the said town of Newcastle that sometime was Sir Thomas Benton's, mine uncle, sometime chantry priest of St Cuthbert, be delivered with all the appurtenances thereof, unto the right and next heir of my said uncle to have to the same heir and his heirs and assigns for ever.

  • I give and bequeath to master Myles Spencer, doctor of both laws, my biggest Turkes set in a ring of gold and my small emerode set in a ring of gold. The which master Myles Spencer; master Thomas Clark, my Lord of Bath's brother; John Ranwyke (Rauwyke), citizen and brewer of London, and Henry Bell, citizen and merchant tailor of London, I make, ordain and constitute mine executors. And I give and bequeath unto every of my said executors for their pains to be taken on that behalf 40s. The residue of all my goods and chattels, moveable and unmoveable, my debts paid, my said legacies performed, I wholly give and bequeath to my said executors, they to distribute them after their discretions as they shall think most best to the pleasure of God and the health of my soul.

    In witness thereof I have subscribed this my present last will with my own hand this day and year above written. Those bearing witness of the same, the said master Myles Spencer, John Ranwyk, Henry Bell, Sir Olyver Rudde, and Willaim Newbolde thereto called and specially required.
  • Item: I bequeath by me the said John Clyfton, more towards the mending and reparation of Tollington Lane in the county of Middlesex 40s.

    (Probate given 12 June 1528 to master Myles Spencer, cleric, John Ranwyk and Henry Bel., executors named in the will to be fully and faithfully administered, etc.)

    What does the letter tell us about John Clyfton and the kind of men who were rectors of Barwick in those days? He seems to have travelled about the country with possible connections to Uldale, a small village about 20 miles to the south west of Carlisle in Cumbria. Enquiries there have revealed nothing about him. He had probably lived in Newcastle where he had property and friends, perhaps relatives in the case of the Redes, but enquiries there have drawn a blank also. What connection he had with Tollington Lane, Middlesex we have been unable to discover.

    At the time of the making of his will he was living in London and seems to be planning to stay there. We rather suspect that he was one of the many rectors of Barwick who did not reside here but took the substantial income from the parish and put in a curate to carry out his clerical duties. We know little about these curates, who were often poorly paid and their parishes badly served. He was obviously a wealthy man with property, fine clothes and jewellery. He evidently lived in some luxury, with a man to supervise his accounts and at least three servants, all of whom were treated very generously in his will. He had the friendship of London businessmen and perhaps aspired to more lofty connections, hence his reference to Lord Bath's brother.

    Despite his posh tastes he seems to have had a genuine concern for those less fortunate than himself, with money left to the 'most poorest' people of Barwick and of Uldale, It is perhaps his generous bequests to the prisoners in six named London prisons that are the most surprising. It seems likely that those who would profit most would be in prison for debt and the bequests could be used to secure their release or to provide relief for those who remained. Was there a connection between this wealthy man and the poor prisoners? Had some friend or member of his family suffered such imprisonment in earlier years? Whatever the reason we must commend his generosity.

    (Will transcribed by JOYCE and NORMAN HIDDEN)

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