Cambridgeshire Collection

Historical Background

The following essay is a detailed survey of Cambridgeshire from Roman times to 1642. For a more focussed account of mimetic activity in the county, see 'Performance Traditions.'

The history of Cambridgeshire, as it intersects with the history of performance, is largely dominated by two major centres, each deeply influential on the economic and religious environments of the county. These are the town of Cambridge, including the collegiate university and the town parishes and guilds, and the Isle of Ely, including the bishopric, the town and its guilds, and the King’s School of Ely. The authority of each radiated through the surrounding villages and towns, whether by providing entertainment in the form of the Cambridge waits (Barnwell Priory and Bassingbourn), offering performance space (as Pembroke Hall did for Linton), or prosecuting illicit performance activities (chiefly Morris dancing, but also other forms of profaning the Sabbath, and an instance of cross-dressing) through the Ely diocesan courts. The history of the town of Cambridge and of performance in the town and the university, respectively, have already been fully discussed by Alan H. Nelson in REED’s Cambridge collection. However, as Nelson notes, connections between the colleges of Cambridge and the bishopric of Ely are numerous: the chancellor of the university was a ‘representative of the bishop of Ely,’ and Humphrey Tyndall (1549–1614), dean of Ely, was a fellow of Pembroke Hall, and subsequently master of Queens’ College and a vice-chancellor of the university. Likewise, as Stanford E. Lehmberg notes, following the Reformation the 'ties between Cambridge and Ely were particularly close':

'[O]ne finds among the prebendaries of Ely such men as Richard Wilkes and Edward Barwell, masters of Christ’s College; Henry Hervey, master of Trinity Hall and vice-chancellor in 1560; Giles Eyre, fellow and vice-provost of King’s; John Fuller, Edward Gascoyne, and John Duport, masters of Jesus; Thomas Bacon, master of Gonville Hall; Thomas Peacock, master of Queens’; and Edward Leeds, master of Clare.'

Further, Pembroke Hall leased land to the town of Linton for its guildhall (later known as the Townhouse) through the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Additionally, many bishops of Ely were Cambridge-educated, including, near-successively during the Reformation, Nicholas West (1461–1533), King’s College; Thomas Goodrich (1494–1554), Corpus Christi College; Thomas Thirlby (c 1506–70), Trinity Hall; Richard Cox (c 1500–81), King’s College; Lancelot Andrewes (1555–1626), Pembroke Hall; Nicholas Felton (1556–1626), Pembroke Hall; Francis White (c 1564–1638), Gonville and Caius College; and Matthew Wren (1585–1667), Pembroke Hall.

Given such connections, it is impossible to avoid some discussion of the town. Nonetheless, the following introduction will focus primarily on the rest of Cambridgeshire, drawing on the diocesan court proceedings of Ely, petitions, visitations, and household accounts of the bishops of Ely, churchwardens’ accounts of the smaller towns and villages (especially the parish of Sts Peter and Paul in Bassingbourn, but also St Leonard’s in Leverington and St Mary’s in Linton), and the household and travelling accounts of Sir John North (c 1550–97) and his wife Dorothy (née Dale, 1560–1618), of Kirtling Hall. These records deal mainly in the tumultuous period from the end of the Wars of the Roses (see the Service at the Installation of John Morton, Bishop of Ely, 1479), and the times during and after the Reformation. The earliest of the records included in this collection concerns payment by the prior of Anglesey for minstrels, including a minstrel of the king, in 1356–7; the latest of particular note comprise the visitation articles of Bishop Matthew Wren and the ‘Petition Against Bishop Wren,’ from 1638. Most of the records date from the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, providing documentation of numerous instances of Morris dancing, music, playing, and cross-dressing, in and across the towns, including a St George play held in Bassingbourn on St Margaret’s Day (20 July), 1511, and payments for players and minstrels by influential figures in the county, including the Norths of Kirtling Hall and the bishops of Ely.


The Land and Economy


Cambridgeshire, often considered part of East Anglia, is bordered by Norfolk to the northeast, Suffolk to the east, Essex and Hertfordshire to the south, Northamptonshire to the west, and Lincolnshire to the north. Famously low-lying, the county comprises several geographic divisions based on the composition of the soil and the elevation of the areas: the best known of these are perhaps the fenlands of the north, partially flooded fields of peat or silt which are interrupted by elevations of clay (as with Ely, March, and Chatteris) or chalky silt (as with Wisbech). Chalk escarpments form the so-called ‘uplands’ of the south, clay hills form the west and southeast, and chalkland lies between these hills, spanning the county from the southwest to the northeast. The main river of the county is the River Cam (originally named the Granta, but renamed the Cam through a back-formation from the town of Cambridge). The Cam’s tributaries are the Rhee (beginning in Ashwell, Hertfordshire) and the Granta (beginning outside of Widdington, Essex), and the Cam flows into the Great Ouse, south of Ely. The Ouse itself then connects to the North Sea at King’s Lynn, Norfolk. The rivers, along with chalkland strips, were the major sites for settlement from the period of Roman occupation forward, and the construction of important roads of medieval and early modern Cambridgeshire.

Travel and Roads

Cambridgeshire is not as well represented among the classic sources for travel in the period as other regions. John Leland’s Itinerary, for example, mentions travel in the area only twice, with no discussion of roads. Further, as Alan Everitt observes, 'no other region of England was as so plenteously served by waterways as the eastern counties': Cambridgeshire held or was bordered by the Wensum, Welland, Nene, Cam, and Great and Little Ouse, and these rivers could also have served as routes for commercial and personal travel. Nonetheless, the county is situated along several of the major medieval roads first constructed by the Romans. During three and a half centuries of occupation of Cambridgeshire between 43 and 410 CE, the Romans constructed both the commercially significant Icknield Way, which ran from Norfolk to Wiltshire/Dorset, and the military route Ermine Street, which ran from London to Lincoln and York. These two highways intersected at Royston (now in Hertfordshire, but divided between Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire before 1897), and the parish of Bassingbourn was likewise bordered by these two highways. There were also smaller roads used in the Tudor and Stuart periods for a variety of purposes, including the transportation of goods, personal travel, the assize circuit, and travelling entertainers. For entertainment purposes, the most certain routes are those taken by the Queen’s Men in 1591, as documented by Mark Brayshay. Although the records show that the churchwardens of St Leonard’s, Leverington, and the Holy Trinity Guild of Wisbech paid for performers from Lincolnshire and other Cambridgeshire towns, and that numerous villages around Bassingbourn contributed to the St George’s play, the routes for travel are unknown (see 'Performance Traditions: Travelling Performers').


The Roman imperial program of road and waterway construction also addressed issues of travel and land use in the fenlands through a series of canals and dykes that aided in land drainage and created waterways connecting numerous villages. This pattern of development gave rise to notable settlements at Arbury, Barnwell, Godmanchester, Grantchester, Newnham, Water Newton, and Cambridge, though beyond the fenlands, valleys, and chalklands the county remained relatively unsettled until the English settlement of East Anglia between 400 and 600 CE. The shallow vessels favoured by the Angles enabled colonization to spread throughout East Anglia, as the rivers provided a way to move further inland: after Cambridge, English colonization gave rise to villages at Linton, Haslingfield, and between Newmarket and Balsham. Cambridgeshire underwent a period of disputed control through the seventh century, with the kingdom of East Anglia holding Norfolk, Suffolk, and the eastern fens, the East Saxons holding the south of the county, and Middle Anglia possessing the west of Cambridgeshire and the East Midlands until Mercia conquered the province by 700 CE. This period did not lead to significant further settlement in the county: as Bruce Galloway notes, the fenlands in particular featured primarily monastic construction, including abbeys at Crowland (Croyland), Ely, Thorney, and Peterborough. Nonetheless, these monastic establishments were critical in forming ‘the administrative geography of modern Cambridgeshire.’

Between 866 and 1066 Cambridgeshire along with the rest of East Anglia came under repeated Viking incursion. Cambridge itself was taken in 875 and the county became part of the Danelaw. Following successful English attempts by Edward the Elder to retake Cambridgeshire in 905 and the rest of East Anglia in 921, the county again fell to the Danish in 1010. However, despite these two centuries of control, ‘the archaeological record emphasises rather the continuity of English occupation,’ and indeed only Toft and Bourne have Danish place-names. Meanwhile English authority over the abbeys persisted. During the reign of King Edgar, 959–75, the Abbey of Peterborough was restored, further monasteries were founded at Ramsey and Chatteris, and charters of endowment granted to the two hundreds of the fenlands (Downham and Littleport), and to the monastery at Ely in 970. In 974 the Isle of Ely became a fully-fledged legal unit, over which the abbot held exclusive jurisdiction.

Cambridgeshire, and Ely in particular, were major centres of resistance to the Norman Conquest. The replacement of the English abbot of Peterborough, Brand, by the Norman Thorold in 1069 was one touchstone moment in this resistance. Following Thorold’s settlement of sixty Norman knights on land held by English thegns, Hereward the Wake, a soldier of the abbots of Peterborough and Crowland, fled with other tenants to Ely and joined there with powerful Anglo-Danish partisans, including Earl Morcar, Bishop Æthelwine of Durham, and Turkil Cild. The rebellion marked the county’s continued ‘underlying resentment of foreign invaders’ and ‘the imposition of a manorial economy,’ although it was crushed within two years by King William — who personally supervised the siege from Cambridge — and ended with William’s threat to confiscate manorial estates from the abbot of Ely. Further, the rebellion marks the development of these two centres of influence, Cambridge and Ely, as locations defined respectively by secular and economic, and religious authority. These centres were intertwined, with Cambridge-educated clerics acquiring ecclesiastical positions in Ely, or teaching as schoolmasters in parishes, and various monasteries dependent on Ely Priory constructed across the county.

The first half of the fourteenth century marked a continued growth in population and prosperity. The fenlands were further drained and cultivated: this was the case particularly for the silt fens, which unlike the lower-lying peat fens were able to be drained more easily, and were not subject to backing up by the fen rivers. While the silt fens listed in Domesday illustrate a lightly populated area (two families per 1,000 acres), the Lay Subsidy of 1327 reveals that ‘the siltlands had passed south Cambridgeshire in population density and intensive farming.’ This agriculture was predominantly pastoral and the towns of Leverington and Tydd St Giles grew markedly: Leverington, to protect fields from the high tides of the late thirteenth century, constructed the so-called ‘Roman Bank,’ a fifteen-foot high sea wall equipped with culverts to ensure further drainage. During the same period, the marshlands, home to the villages of Doddington, Littleport, and Stuntney, focused on fishing (mainly eels) for the abbot-bishop of Ely. Finally, in the uplands of southern Cambridgeshire, the forests were cleared for cultivation and villages there doubled or trebled in size. The increased production gave rise both to smaller market towns like Linton and Kingston and to river ports such as Swavesey, Soham, Reach, Burwell, and Swaffham Bulbeck, as well as larger outports, including Ely, Wisbech, and King’s Lynn in Norfolk. Town charters were issued for Cambridge in 1120–31 and a charter for the town’s Merchant’s Guild confirmed in 1201, the same year in which the Rogation Fair was granted. The town thus grew in both size and economic power, setting the stage for the arrival of the university and the constituent colleges from 1209–1350. The same period marked an explosion in the grants of regular fairs at Wisbech and Barnwell Priory and large fairs like the Rogation Monday fair in Reach, the Feast of the Holy Cross fair at Stourbridge (14 September), and the Ascension (beginning on the Vigil of the Ascension) and St Audrey’s fairs at Ely (17 October).

The fourteenth century, however, also marked an end to this growth. As R.H. Britnell observes, 'water encroached on cultivated lands,' a result of both natural and anthropogenic factors, including rising sea levels and 'the relaxation of responsibility on the part of landlords and local communities' in maintaining sea defenses. When the cumulative pressure of successive crises — the end of the Medieval Warm Period, the Great Famine, and the Black Death — was finally felt, about one-third of the population of the county had been lost, and would only stabilize by 1380. Even the 1342 ‘Nonarum Inquisitiones,’ detailing the war taxes paid by each parish, marks the beginning of this decline. The clayland villages in the southeast reported up to half their fields left to waste, Bassingbourn lost 400 acres, and the once prosperous fenland villages of Newton and Tydd St Giles lost 1000 acres to flooding. As elsewhere in England, the changes in Cambridgeshire were most often marked by a breakdown in the manorial systems of the past, although Cambridgeshire's settlements, like those of Suffolk, Essex, and (to a degree) Norfolk had 'no example[s] of [village] desertion ... attributable to the Black Death.' Further, discontent with ecclesiastical wealth grew, and church officials reported that religious houses were falling into ‘dereliction and sin,’ with Ely Cathedral indebted and unable to repair the roof, and the prioress of Chatteris hoarding money, perhaps in reaction to these economic conditions.

The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were subsequently defined by a consolidation and reorganization of the agricultural landscape, a situation further complicated in the latter century by the Reformation and the Dissolution of the monasteries. Natural disasters still affected the county: floods along the Nene River in 1439, for example, 'drowned over 10000 acres in Wisbech, Leverington, Newton, and Tydd St. Giles.' This is not to say that recreational and performance activities in the county ceased: the records show a continuous tradition of such entertainment. The churchwardens’ accounts of Bassingbourn, for example, record regular church ales, church repairs, and endowments from 1497 to 1538, as well as the well-supported St George’s Play on 20 July 1511 (see the Sts Peter and Paul Churchwardens' Accounts). Similarly, the Holy Trinity guild accounts of Leverington report regular guild dinners and payments to minstrels through the fifteenth century (see the records pertaining to the guild of the Holy Trinity). A new pattern of growth did not fully emerge in Cambridgeshire, however, until the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, when the county began to show the effects of reorganization. Renewed prosperity led to a building campaign of ‘imposing domestic architecture,’ including constructions at Anglesey Abbey, Madingley, Sawston, and Kirtling.

Early seventeenth century Cambridgeshire seemed to be little affected by the Stuart dynasty. The reign of Charles I, however, saw the king’s conflict with the now firmly Puritan university, led by Matthew Wren, who insisted on adherence to the prayer book revisions designated by Archbishop Laud, as documented in the terminal records of this collection, Bishop Matthew Wren's Visitation Articles, 1638 and the Petition against Bishop Wren, 1640.

Wealth And Town Economies

Medieval Cambridgeshire, as Miri Rubin describes it, ‘was an area of comparatively dense and old settlement, where the pressure of population growth was acutely felt in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.’ For the time span that the records cover, however, Cambridgeshire was marked by a period that was ‘transitional not only for the university, but the county ... in which ‘medieval’ patterns of life and agriculture were broken, and replaced by new customs, in which the role of the church changed dramatically.’

Following the great economic growth of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, which gave rise to market towns as well as the regular large fairs discussed above, the fourteenth century marked an end to the prosperity of the county. The records of the St Ives Fair from 1270 to 1324 boasted not only a large contingent of local sellers less than ten miles away (201 people), but also 311 vendors 'from more distant places, mainly the townsmen of Boston, Bury St Edmunds, Cambridge, Ely, King’s Lynn, Leicester, Lincoln, London, Northhampton, and Stamford, as well as aliens from Flanders, France, and even Italy.' During roughly the same time period, however, the gross income of the fair court declined considerably: from a high of £27 18s 2d in 1254 to £2 12s 5d in 1324, and the number of far-flung fairgoers similarly decreased. In 1363 it was noted that the fair had ceased for about twenty years, and the same held true for Stourbridge.

The abandonment of fields because of flooding, along with labour shortages caused by the Black Death, had severe impacts on both agriculture and trade. The transition from crop farming to cattle and sheep (with the latter serving the growing wool market of East Anglia), moreover, saw a permanent shift in the manorial economy. This was not however a wholly bleak time, and indeed these conditions ultimately resulted in ‘a new form of prosperity with a smaller population.’ As fallow land became fertile again and was more readily available, ‘fewer people migrated to towns, which allowed wages there to rise.’ While this demographic and economic situation did mean that ‘sons of peasant families had favourable chances of acquiring holdings and continuing the traditional way of life,’ as Rubin notes, ‘lands tended to go to those who were already substantial owners and influential members of the village community.’ Some institutions, such as Barnwell Priory, sold estates to local magnates (in this case, the Wendys at Haslingfield), while new manor houses were also constructed; among these, Anglesey Abbey and John North’s hall at Kirtling figure as sites of performance in the records. Even so, Cambridgeshire is significant primarily in its general dearth of aristocratic families.

Overall, the period dating from the disasters of the fourteenth century led to a general improvement in the standard of living for the villages of the county, and corporate bodies such as religious houses were able to increase their holdings substantially. This new economic growth was nonetheless focused on the towns, and especially Cambridge, which remained ‘one of the most important centres for marketing of agricultural surplus in East Anglia.’

The increased holdings by religious houses meant that the Dissolution of the monasteries had a profound effect on the economic as well as the religious life of the county, as the monasteries’ possessions passed into the hands of the bishops, colleges, and the laity, resulting in a further concentration of wealth in fewer hands. Anglesey Priory and Barnwell Priory were two establishments that persisted through this process, and the King’s School at Ely was founded in 1541 from properties taken into the hands of King Henry VIII in that year.


The demographic history of Cambridgeshire mirrors that of many other counties in displaying a highly fluctuating population, which may have doubled between 1066 and 1300, and stabilized again by 1380 and after. According to Josiah Cox Russell, the county had a population of 20,058 in 1086, perhaps 55,160 in 1279, and 46,461 in 1377. Stephen Broadberry et al however, place the numbers rather higher: 31,123 in 1086, 137,373 in 1290, 52,885 in 1377, and offer an estimate of 72,492 in 1600. This pattern of growth and contraction through the period can be attributed to the crises of the fourteenth century: the population generally increased steadily between 1086 and the early fourteenth century, rapidly increased in the first half of the 1300s, faced a sharp decline following the plague, and then increased again until the 1600s.

The topographical differences within the county meant the population was highly variable according to region. Margaret Spufford notes that medieval Cambridgeshire 'has suffered' in many population studies in that 'it has frequently been treated together with the Isle of Ely,’ meaning that ‘the densely settled county and the sparsely settled fens of the Isle are usually lumped together.’ Thus, although ‘Cambridgeshire was among the most densely settled areas in the south-east ... [l]arge parts of the Isle, on the other hand, might well still have been recognised in the sixteenth century, before the great fen-drainage schemes of the next hundred years, by St Guthlac, who had sought complete and utter solitude there in the eighth century.’

Focusing on individual manors, towns, and parishes offers evidence of such variation. Kirtling, lying on the border with Suffolk, and the home of the North family from 1533 onward, stands as an example of this population volatility. One of the most densely populated parishes in the area, Kirtling had fifty-three tenants in 1086, fifty-four in 1327, and 186 in 1377; tenant lists from the 1430s indicate that the population had declined, and the parish had about 240 inhabitants in 1603. However, some of the more populous and notable towns and parishes featured in the records – Bassingbourn, Leverington, Linton, and Wisbech – seem to have avoided these declines. Bassingbourn, one of the most populous parishes in the county, had about 180 inhabitants in 1347, 347 taxpayers in 1377, and perhaps 700 inhabitants in 1600. Linton had approximately forty-five resident taxpayers in 1327, 155 in 1377, and eighty-eight in 1524. Wisbech, unfortunately, lacks any accurate returns until 1563, when the town had 313 households.

Religious History

Cambridgeshire had, from the early Middle Ages, an important role to play in the religious history of England. The large number of religious houses, the prominence of Ely, and the role of the university in producing trained clergy for both smaller parishes and major dioceses, created a vibrant religious landscape before, during, and after the Reformation.

Medieval Cambridgeshire

The kingdom of Middle Anglia, East Anglia, and the land that is now Cambridgeshire underwent a gradual conversion in the mid-seventh century, as described by Bede. While Bede reports that the kingdom of East Anglia converted under Sigbert circa 631, the kingdom of Mercia was said not to have converted until 653 under King Peada. Some of the earliest records of Christianity in Cambridgeshire, too, describe the monastic foundations established in the fenlands. The best known of these certainly is the eighth-century Vita Felis (Felix’s Life of St Guthlac), which describes Guthlac, son of a Mercian noble, who, after fighting in the army of Aethelred of Mercia, became a monk at Repton (Derbyshire) and then pursued a hermetic life on the island of Croyland (now Crowland, Lincolnshire) in 699. According to Felix, the Mercian bishop Headda ordained Guthlac and consecrated Croyland sometime before Guthlac’s death in 714. The fenland deserts seem to have been particularly appealing to those seeking a monastic life and further abbeys were built at Peterborough (c 655), Ely (c 673), and Thorney (bef. 972). Ely was made a bishopric in 1109, giving the abbot-bishop full authority over the new diocese and the county its ecclesiastical centre. After this point monastic houses flourished and the birth of the university at Cambridge in 1209 ensured a new source of educated clergy for the parish churches. By the early sixteenth century, however, and at the eve of the Reformation, many clergy in Cambridgeshire ‘were pluralists, absentee, or both’: Galloway notes that many clerical wills show ‘a marked absence of books, especially bibles’ and that many priests were ordained despite a lack of Latin or knowledge of holy scripture.

The Reformation in Cambridgeshire

Some of the most profound effects of the Reformation in the county sprang from the Dissolution. Since Ely, Barnwell, Chatteris, and other religious houses held dozens of manors and church benefices, the seizure of their property and transfer to the bishops, colleges, and laity transformed the economic landscape. At the same time, the effects of the Reformation extended far beyond the Dissolution, affecting religious practices throughout the county, from the economic and religious centres of Cambridge and Ely to the smaller towns and parishes that appear in the records. Cambridgeshire, unlike other East Anglian counties such as Norfolk and Suffolk, lacks a county-specific history of the Reformation: as such, anecdotal examples must be drawn from more granular studies.

Arguably, the Reformation in Cambridgeshire was defined and guided by the university: as Nelson notes, Cambridge was indeed a ‘breeding ground of the English Reformation.’ Winthrop Hudson observes that 'the new religious ferment associated with the Protestant Reformation was even more important in quickening the intellectual excitement at Cambridge in the 1520s,' transforming the university into 'an early center of Protestant influence in England.' Erasmus stayed at Queens’ College from 1511 to 1514, Hugh Latimer announced his Lutheranism at Great St Mary’s in 1525, and though Bishop Nicholas West of Ely fought against Latimer and other Cambridge heterodoxies, his successor Thomas Goodrich engaged in ‘determined efforts to Protestantise the diocesan church ... consistently appoint[ing] dedicated reformists to church livings.’ These reformists include many Cambridge-educated figures prominent in the records, including Thomas Thirlby and Richard Cox, whose synod (Bishop Thomas Thirlby's Synod, c 1558) and injunctions (Bishop Richard Cox's Injunctions, 1579) from 1558 and 1579, respectively, reveal this dedication to Protestant doctrine, as do the preponderance of records from the diocesan courts. Upon Goodrich’s entry into the royal council, arch-Protestantism defined the ecclesiastical, episcopal, and scholarly milieus.

This ferment was not long to last: by 1531, the group that participated in '[a]nimated debates at the White Horse Tavern (‘little Germany,’ they called it) ... had lost whatever coherence it may have had.' Further, Mary’s accession to the throne in 1553 led to a short but bloody interlude in reform, during which time all but three masters of the college were expelled, Goodrich was dispossessed, village clergy were purged, and only Catholics were permitted to take degrees. This did not, however, necessarily result in an exile of Protestantism, as Hudson notes:

'While some members of what is called the Cambridge connection did go into exile, others did not. Some simply withdrew from public life, some were able to make an accommodation which enabled them to function in minor official capacities during Mary’s reign, some were not put to the test, and some went into hiding or made themselves as inconspicuous as possible. The response to the Marian regime varied according to differences in temperament, in the intensity and character of religious convictions, and in the individual’s perception of the danger of arrest.'

Thus in the reign of Elizabeth the university began again 'to supply the rank and file of a new and larger puritan party, young men who were already accustomed to setting themselves against ecclesiastical and academic authority.' Those educated at Cambridge came from all corners of England, producing what Patrick Collinson describes as '[c]lerical puritanism, as a cohesive, national movement'; it was here at the university 'that the various regional and social origins of the Elizabethan preachers were submerged in a common brotherhood.'

The university itself then remained sympathetic to Puritan ideology and the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries saw an increase in the disciplinary powers of the vice-chancellor over moral infractions. Some evidence for the same may be found at Ely, 'in the contribution of £5 sent in 1590 by the Dean and Chapter of Ely to the city of Geneva, presumably a token of appreciation for spiritual leadership given at a time of need.' It may be in reaction to this Protestant zeal that, as Nelson notes, ‘[t]he town’s protestantism ... did not generally embrace radical puritan strictures against worldly pleasures, nor did the local population give up its desire for secular entertainment,' particularly during the reign of Elizabeth. Humphrey Tyndall's activities both at Cambridge and in his dismissal of William Pamplyn, headmaster of the King’s School at Ely, for example, show a careful balancing act between supporting public performance but condemning the sometimes resultant disorder (see Papers Concerning Ely (A), 1609). Additionally, as Collinson discusses, '[n]ot all of these hundreds of Cambridge preachers were to become militant Presbyterians':

'[T]he typical Cambridge puritan was no extremist: practical godliness concerned him more than platforms of church government. To know the situations in which most of these clergymen found themselves is to understand the dominant motif in most of their ministries. They were essentially pastors, faced with blank irreligion and ignorance in the souls under their care. They preached primary protestant doctrine, "spiritual" and "plain," rarely having occasion to touch on controversial matters, and the best of them became even more famous as physicians of the soul than as preachers. As Thomas Fuller wrote of Richard Greenham, the model puritan of Dry Drayton, "his masterpiece was in comforting wounded consciences".'

While the university and the bishops of Ely may have set the tone for the Reformation in Cambridgeshire, other similarly principled groups or individuals were at times in opposition to these institutions, such as the Family of Love and the clergyman of Dry Drayton, Richard Greenham (c 1540s–94). Even such cases, however, show some connections to Ely or the university.

The Family of Love (Familia Caritatis) was a sixteenth-century religious movement based on the teachings of the Dutch mystic Hendrick Niclaes. The English Familists comprised a rather broad cross-section of society, despite contemporary and modern critiques that they were ‘largely uneducated peasants’ who ‘lacked the support of those indigenous merchants and scholars, those prosperous and powerful burghers, who made it a movement of importance on the Continent.’ Building on two distinct traditions – one anti-intellectual and spiritual, the other sectarian and Messianic – in England the Familists ‘combined with ... heterodox creeds already in existence,’ including Lollardy and English Anabaptism. The Familists believed in an inward spiritual transformation that would permit ‘the godly individual ... to become, ultimately, one of the mysterious “elders”.’ Such a transformation would permit a mutual incorporation of God and human, requiring a forsaking of all past knowledge and a deep reflection on one’s own sin. In the English context, Niclaes’ soteriology was especially suspect: ‘Christ was to be imitated in all that he had gone through — crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection and ascension.’ This form of imitatio Christi, Marsh notes, had precedent in English religious belief, and specifically in the context of Cambridgeshire. Marsh cites in particular Walter Hilton’s The Scale of Perfection, and notes that Hilton ‘had worked as a consistory court lawyer in the diocese of Ely between 1371 and 1384, while in the service of Bishop Thomas Arundel.' Whether anything more than a tenuous argument can be made on this connection, Marsh notes that over thirty Familists held offices in the diocese of Ely between 1560 and 1615, that Familists were present in the court of Elizabeth I, and that several English Familist groups were resident in the county, most notably in Balsham, Horingsea and Wisbech.

The Familists faced considerable critique from the religious establishment: in 1580 Bishop Cox sought examination of ‘seventy supposed adherents of the Family ... by a Commission which included Richard Greenham, and fifteen men and women were imprisoned as members.’ Nonetheless, for all the critiques offered against them, the Familists' continued prominence was likely due neither to the ‘ignorance of wider society’ nor to ‘religious apathy.’ Instead, Marsh argues, it is possible ‘that early modern English society — despite its martyrs and its exiles — possessed considerable resources of religious tolerance,’ producing an atmosphere ‘in which tensions implicit in the local situation were generally managed and controlled without recourse to the courts or higher authority.’

One of the major figures that sought to return the Family to conformity was Richard Greenham (early 1540s–94), who matriculated at Pembroke College (MA, 1567) and was a fellow thereafter. A Puritan lauded for his ‘practical divinity,’ Greenham was, as Kenneth L. Parker and Eric J. Carlson describe:

'[A] pastor, intensely loyal to the Church of England, and obsessed with the realization of a visible godly community in every English parish. Greenham’s practical divinity defies our categories of "Anglican" /"conformist" and "puritan" /"nonconformist", and points to a broader category of clergy too concerned with establishing "true religion" and fighting popery in the parish to tolerate an overscrupulosity that detracted from the work of Protestant evangelization.'

Dry Drayton, the location of Crowland Abbey, was a village of moderate size, numbering thirty-one households in 1563, but with a perhaps sizable population growth in the next two decades. The manor of Dry Drayton passed to Thomas Hutton after the Dissolution; his heir John offered the parish to Greenham to minister in 1570, after two rectors of short-lived tenure who were dismissed in turn for non-residency and adultery. It seemed at first that Greenham, too, was not long for the position. In 1571 he refused to sign a statement in support of the prayer book, the Articles of Religion, and clerical vestments; two years later, he did not seek the consent of the bishop and two justices of the peace before marrying Katherine Bownd. After these two instances of non-conformity, Greenham faced suspension and wrote an apologia, ‘The Apologie or aunswere of Maister Grenham, Minister of Dreaton, unto the Bishop of Ely, being commaunded to subscribe, and to use the Romish habite, with allowance of the com[munion] booke,’ in which he claimed right of conscience and criticized the tumult over external matters such as these as a sign of the Devil’s work. Cox elected to retain Greenham in the position and recruited him to hold conferences with recusants and Familists. On the latter group, ‘Greenham played a central role in the diocesan campaign against the Family of Love in the same year, devising the articles to which suspects would subscribe and, through personal conversation, returning some of the tractable to “orthodoxy”.’ Greenham’s approach to these matters was complex. He argued that ‘[c]ommon people were drawn to [heresies] because their parish churches failed to offer the sort of teaching and preaching necessary to meet their spiritual needs’ and sought to remedy this concern by establishing a household seminary in Dry Drayton that focused on practical training for ministry, an intermediary step between university training and the ministry itself. Greenham seems to have applied this practical approach to ministry in Dry Drayton himself, preaching not only in church but also in the fields of the village, urging confession during Mass, introducing mid-week catechism sessions, and administering charity to the poor. As a result Dry Drayton was a place of intense religious ferment. Already notorious before Greenham’s time ‘for its connections with advanced reformers and prominent London religious radicals,’ the parish sponsored one of the London lectureships known for nonconformists; under Greenham, the number of lectureships rose to four. After twenty years in Dry Drayton Greenham left the parish for London in 1591, where he remained until his death three years later.

The 'Petition against Bishop Wren, 1640' a document with approximately five hundred signatories from twenty-two villages, finally, offers late evidence of debate and dissent in the county. As Spufford observes in her comparison of Puritan belief in Cambridgeshire before and after the Commonwealth, the petition gives evidence as to ‘whether Puritan feeling was indeed already established in Cambridgeshire before the work of the separatist evangelists’:

'[T]hose who signed this document wanted no further reformation within the church ... there was no question in these men's minds that they wanted a total abolition of episcopal and traditional church government.... The Cambridgeshire laity, in some villages, were already convinced by 1640 that they wanted a total reform in church government; and their radical ideas were not planted in their heads by the dissenting evangelists Denne, Parnell and Holcroft, or even by the other clergy, who, with Holcroft, failed to subscribe in 1662.'

Together these anecdotes provide a picture of a Cambridgeshire that is at times resistant to further reformation and change, varied in its flavours of Protestantism, and somewhat tolerant of dissent or heterodoxy.

Religious Institutions

In addition to the major centres at Cambridge and Ely, Cambridgeshire possessed from the twelfth century a large number of houses representing many religious orders. Benedictine monasteries stood at Isleham and Thorney, and nunneries at Chatteris, Ickleton, Linton and Swaffham Bulbeck. There were Gilbertine canons in Cambridge, Fordham, and Upwell. The Crutched Friars held a friary at Barham and the Knights Hospitaller had priories at Shingay, Chippenham, and Wilbraham. Some of the largest institutions were the Benedictine priory and bishopric of Ely, and the Augustinian canonries at Anglesey and Barnwell, all represented in the records.

Ely Priory

The abbey at Ely was founded about 673. The abbey church of Saint Peter and Saint Etheldreda was consecrated by Archbishop Dunstan on 3 February 971/2 and Bryhtnoth (Brithnoth) (d. 981), the prior of Winchester, was raised as first abbot of the Benedictine community. The abbey soon became a wealthy and prominent corporate landowner in the area and Ely soon shared preeminence with Bury St Edmunds as one of the principal abbeys and shrines of East Anglia. Upon the death of Abbot Simeon in 1093, an inventory of the abbey recorded seventy-two monks living there and a library of 287 books. The monastic population remained at about seventy into the thirteenth century, though by 1349 fifty-three were resident, and only twenty-eight immediately after the plague. This number soon rose again to forty-seven in 1378, dropped to thirty-seven by 1532, and then dwindled to just twenty-four receiving pension after the Dissolution. Nonetheless, secular concerns prevailed: as Dorothy M. Owen notes, the chapter at Ely ‘rarely had any perceptible role in [its diocese],’ and only one monk of Ely ever became bishop. With the Dissolution, the last prior was appointed the first dean, the refectory was converted into a dining hall 'for the minor canons and singing men,' and the ‘Lady Chapel was given to the parishioners of St Cross in 1562, when their own building was so decrepit that it could no longer be occupied.' Ely — like at Winchester, Worcester, Westminster, and Canterbury — was granted 'endowments for the support of university students, but these did not last long,' with the government taking over support of higher education in 1545. Similarly, the Crown preserved the almonry school at Ely for the King’s School, which initially provided free instruction for twenty-four boys.

The Bishopric of Ely

The majesty of Ely Priory is naturally best associated with the bishopric. When Ely was made a bishopric in 1109, the offices of abbot and bishop were combined and day-to-day administration of the monastery fell to the prior. The bishops through the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries engaged in major waves of construction to integrate the cathedral (completed in 1106) with the abbey. The cathedral underwent numerous renovations through the later Middle Ages, with a major reworking of the presbytery and east end by Bishop Hugh of Northwold between 1234 and 1252. Alan of Walsingham (d. 1363), a junior monk at Ely and an architect, undertook the design and construction of Ely’s free-standing Lady Chapel in 1321, with construction ending about 1351, though work was suspended in 1321 when the Norman crossing tower of the cathedral collapsed and was replaced with the famous octagonal crossing tower. Finally, additional chantry chapels were built by Bishops John Alcock (1430–1550) and Nicholas West, about 1486 and after 1515 respectively (for West's household accounts, see Treasurer's Accounts (A), 1526 and Treasurer's Accounts (A), 1532–3). Alcock also had constructed the Bishop’s Palace, which between 1577 and 1597 was used as a prison for Catholic recusants and which was bought by the King’s School in 2010 to serve as the school’s Boarding House.

The earliest records connected to the bishopric are those of Thomas Arundel (1353–1414) (see Bishop Thomas Arundel's Household Accounts, 1383). The third son of Richard (II) Fitzalan (c 1313–76), third earl of Arundel and eighth earl of Surrey, and Eleanor (d. 1372), daughter of Henry, earl of Lancaster, Arundel was raised to the bishopric of Ely on 13 August 1373, the archbishopric of York in 1388, and the archbishopric of Canterbury in 1396. As bishop of Ely, Arundel was dedicated to pastoral reform; notably, he patronized Richard Scrope (c 1350–1405), the future archbishop of York, as well as the Augustinian mystic Walter Hilton (c 1343–96), among others, in an effort to combat Lollardry. The bishopric of Ely remained an ecclesiastical and political force through the later Middle Ages and the Reformation under the successive administrations of John Morton, 1479–86, Thomas Thirlby, 1554–59, Richard Cox, 1559–81, Lancelot Andrewes, 1609–19, and Matthew Wren, 1638–46 and 1660–7.

Barnwell Priory

Barnwell Priory was one of the earliest Augustinian foundations in England, established by Picot, lord of Bourn and Madingley, in 1092 at a new church dedicated to St Giles in Cambridge. After St Giles came into the hands of the king, following a rebellion by Picot’s son Robert, the priory then passed to Pain Peverel (c 1060–1132), who granted it lands on the eastern edge of Cambridge and commenced construction of a new church. Subsequent donations by the townspeople permitted the priory to build up its demesne around Barnwell Field, giving Barnwell its name. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Barnwell continued to grow in size, particularly under the ninth prior, Laurence de Stanesfeld (d. 1251), who saw the construction of a refectory, guest hall, infirmary, granary, stables, bakehouse, and brewhouse, gatehouse, and inner gate of the inclosure. In 1352 Barnwell sold lands to the Corpus Christi and St Mary’s Guilds to found their college in the university, and the priory remained closely affiliated with the university and colleges after this date, raising money for students’ maintenance and hostelling Augustinian students who had no dedicated college. Barnwell was also a regular lodging house for royalty and the bishops of Ely, though the former honour was taken on by the colleges in the fifteenth century. For much of its history Barnwell comprised seventeen canons, but here as elsewhere the number dwindled in the fifteenth century, with only twelve in 1455, seven in 1474, fourteen by 1489, and nine in 1507. At the time of the Dissolution there were ten canons and five novices as well as sixteen or seventeen secular servants. The church furniture was sold and although the land was granted to Anthony Brown and Baron Edward Clinton, the buildings slowly fell into ruin and were finally destroyed in 1810; only the cellar’s checker remains today.

Anglesey Priory

Although the Augustinian canon and chronicler Henry Knighton claims in his Leycestrensis Chronicon that Henry I founded the religious house of Anglesey during his reign — ‘Iste Henricus clericus regnavit xxxvj annis, et ... fundavit ... Angleseye in comitatu Cantabrigiae’ — it is more likely that the priory first began with the endowment of half the manor of Bottisham and the advowson of Gloucester to the house by Richard de Clare (c 1153–1217), third earl of Hertford. The first concrete evidence that the perhaps preexisting hospital of St Mary’s on the site was established as a religious house is a deed naming the first prior of Anglesey, Richard, in 1222. The priory fell under direct control of the bishop of Ely as soon as 1237, when Bishop Hugh Northwold (d. 1254) directed the then prior, William de Fordham, never to raise loans or incur debts of more than sixty marks without advice from the bishop. As with Barnwell, Anglesey continued to grow through small endowments, donations, and purchases from this point until about 1389. By the time of the clerical poll-tax of 1379, Anglesey had seven canons resident, including the prior, a number which seems to have held steady through the fifteenth century. At the eve of the Dissolution that number increased to nine canons and the priory was surrendered to the crown before 7 August 1536. In 1539 the site was granted to John Hynde and was converted to a private residence by the Fowkes family in the early 1600s. The property then passed through a number of owners until it was purchased in 1926 by Huttleston Boughton, Lord Fairhaven, who further renovated the house and left it to the National Trust upon his death in 1966.

Major Towns and Parishes

With the exception of Ely, Bassingbourn, Wisbech, Leverington, and Linton, Cambridgeshire's thirty-three towns offer little record of performance activities beyond the punishments discussed in the diocesan court records (see ‘Performance Traditions’), and surviving records of either parish churches or local guilds contain no such records. This is despite the fact that Cambridgeshire, by the sixteenth century, had a number of market towns and villages that were potential sites for performance activity: Cambridge, Ely, Caxton, Linton, Littleport, March, Reach, and Wisbech. Further, many of the smaller towns of Cambridgeshire held religious guilds which may have sponsored performance: Ely itself boasted over ten religious guilds. The inconsistent nature of manuscript preservation, however, means that records are lacking for any religious guild other that of the Holy Trinity in Wisbech. What follows is a general historical overview of the major towns and parishes; for a discussion of known or potential performance sites and buildings, see ‘Performance Traditions: Playing Places’.


Ely lies about sixteen miles northeast of Cambridge, on the western bank of the Ouse. The high ground for the settlement is what established its ‘isle’ name in the early Middle Ages and perhaps controlled its growth: the town is not much larger than one square mile in size. A castle built by William I once stood in Ely, on Cherry (or Mill) Hill on the southwest of the cathedral park; by the mid-thirteenth century, however, neither the castle nor any successive structure was still standing and the cathedral dominated the site. It was the ecclesiastical authorities who coordinated construction of the roads, bridges, and drainage of the city, as well as the education of children of the town citizens.

Historically, Ely was a site of major political activity in the county: Hereward fled to Ely in the eleventh century, the castle was taken and destroyed by Prince Edward in 1268 during the baronial struggles of the thirteenth century, and the Revolt of 1381 led to attacks on the bishop’s prison and the execution of the justice Sir Edmund Walsyngham. These moments of unrest, however, were followed by several centuries of relative peace and development; by 1416, the city had almost achieved its present layout. Commerce seems to have predominated over industry in the comparatively small city, and its general prosperity made Ely an ideal centre for religious guilds. From 1389 these included the guilds of the Assumption, All Saints, and St John the Baptist (at the church of St Mary), All Saints, Corpus Christi, and St John the Baptist (at the church of St Peter), and finally, Holy Trinity, Holy Cross, St Peter, St Ethelreada, and St Katherine (at the church of the Holy Trinity). The guild of St Anne appears by 1458 and the guilds of St Withburga and St Sexburga are mentioned in 1516–17. Though never as large an urban centre as Cambridge, Ely had many corporate institutions outside of the priory and bishopric, such as the hospitals of St John the Baptist and St Mary Magdalene, which were united in 1225. As with Cambridge, however, ‘whose contribution to the history of the "merchant" guild and of the "craft" guild is singularly poor,’ no guild records other than the social-religious survive.


The parish of Bassingbourn lies in the southwest of Cambridgeshire and about twelve miles southwest of the town of Cambridge. It was bordered by two of the major highways of medieval and early modern England: on the east by Ermine Street, which ran from London to Lincoln, and on the south by Icknield Way, which ran from Norfolk to Wiltshire/Dorset. To the north Bassingbourn was bordered by the River Cam (or Rhee) and to the northwest by Abington Pigotts. Bassingbourn was the site of several major manor houses: Richmonds, Castle, and Seymours. Richmonds, granted to Count Alan, lord of Richmond, in 1086, remained until the 1500s; from 1280 it was the site of a manor house to the northwest of the churchyard but this was ruined by 1436. Among other manor houses stood the so-called ‘castle,’ which lay about half a mile north of the village and has incorrectly been named a residence of John of Gaunt, but which in fact was likely constructed by John Bassingbourn, son of Sir Warin Bassingbourn, in 1378. The castle thence passed, in order, to the Tiptofts, the Ingoldisthorpes, and the Lynnes in 1487. The Lynnes also had acquired, by 1589, the Seymours manor house; John Lynne, the owner at that time, was found to be overbearing and litigious in his expansion of his estates, serving as an example of the shifts in land ownership described above (‘Wealth and Town Economies’). Within the village, the majority of arable land was divided into smaller furlongs, though the ‘Great field’ which lay mostly south of Ashwell Street was about eighty acres in size and common pastures were scattered through the area, offering space for sheep (perhaps 1100 in 1347). Perhaps because of its position along the major roads, Bassingbourn had an inn by 1485. The village also had a resident schoolmaster from the late 1570s to the 1630s. From the sixteenth century forward, the time period covered by the records, there was a small group of prosperous yeomen, including the Lynnes, Bolnests, Warrens, Curtises, Archers, and Turpins.

In this time period Bassingbourn was served by the parish church of St Peter and St Paul. Established by 1200, by the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it comprised an early thirteenth-century tower and a late thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century nave, chancel, and south porch. A vicarage house had been built by 1330 on the south side of the churchyard and the guilds of the Trinity, Holy Cross, and St John the Baptist partially supplied the vicars. The churchwardens were the heads of the Trinity guild, and a guildhall may have stood from 1475 on land purchased from Richmonds manor. Funds for the upkeep and restoration of the church were gathered by the churchwardens, whose account books (see the associated records) offer details of these efforts, including regular church ales and the St George’s play of 20 July 1511 (see ‘Performance Traditions: Civic Entertainment’). These efforts were apparently quite effective, with the church recording possessions of plate, vestments, thirty service books, and an organ by 1498–1501.


Wisbech sits in the far northeast of Cambridgeshire and was the largest town in the Isle of Ely. The town was very closely affiliated with the bishops of Ely and it was at the insistence of Bishop Goodrich that the town received a charter and was incorporated in 1549. This incorporation gave the burgesses right of perpetual succession, licensed them to buy, sell, grant, lease, and exchange their lands, established an annual 1 November meeting and election, and provided salary for a schoolmaster. An inland port, Wisbech lies on the Nene River about thirteen miles south-southwest of the river’s mouth at the Wash. The town's existence as a trading centre from the early Middle Ages was likely due to its location and by 1327 it was granted the right to hold a fair for twenty days, beginning Trinity Sunday (though the date shifted to the festival of St Peter and St Paul by the end of the fifteenth century).

The town centre is dominated by Wisbech Castle, which overlooks both the Old Market, so-called from 1221, and the New Market. The castle itself is said to have have been built by William the Conqueror following the defeat of Hereward, and although it may have been granted to the bishopric of Ely immediately upon construction, it was certainly held by the See by 1215. A regular visiting location for Edward I, the castle was used from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries as a prison and a location for the bishop’s courts. In the reign of Elizabeth, it was used, like the Bishop's Palace at Ely, as a prison for Catholic recusants.

Wisbech was served by the two parish churches: the church of St Peter and St Paul, and the church of St Mary. The current structures of each date from the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, respectively, but the latter existed in some form in or before 1217. As with both Cambridge and Ely, however, Wisbech leaves no record of craft guilds, although the town had nine documented religious guilds: St Peter’s (from 1327), St John Baptist, Our Lady, St Thomas, Corpus Christi (all from the reign of Richard II), Holy Trinity (from before 1379), St George, St Lawrence, and Holy Cross. Holy Trinity, whose accounts (see Holy Trinity Guild Accounts) detail activities from 1379 to 1564, was perhaps the most important of these guilds. The membership was fairly constant at about sixty-five to seventy guildsmen, and Holy Trinity had a guildhall in Wisbech from before 1423, when repairs to the structure are mentioned in the records. The guildhall no longer stands and its location is unknown; it was, however, rented by the other guilds of the town in 1462 and was used by the guild for their annual festival and dinner, held on the Friday before Trinity Sunday.

Wisbech also had a small hospital which began as a grant of five cottages and five acres of arable land to establish a poor house, and which by 1343 was styled as the Hospital of St John the Baptist. As a town foundation lacking ecclesiastical rights, however, it seems to have fallen into vacancy during the plague in the 1350s.


Leverington, located to the northwest of Wisbech, shared the protection of the Roman Bank and lies just inside the sea wall. As with Wisbech, much of the land in and around Leverington had been purchased by the bishop and prior of Ely from 1109. Like Bassingbourn, Leverington had several notable manor houses, including those located in Richmond manor (built at some point in the late fourteenth century and demolished in the nineteenth), Graces manor (a conventual manor sold at the Dissolution, with the house located in Newfield), and Fitton (ruinous by 1459). The village had three religious guilds: St Mary’s (founded 1386), St John’s (present before 1525), and the Holy Trinity (present by 1528). The St Mary’s guild used the chapel now called Swaine Chapel in the church of St Leonard. A guildhall belonging to the St John’s guild was constructed at some point before 1525 but no longer remains. The Holy Trinity guild seems to have been affiliated with the guild of the same name at Wisbech. Leverington was served by the church of St Leonard, constructed in the middle of the thirteenth century and heavily reworked in the second half of the fifteenth century. The records detail the activities of the churchwardens there from 1518 to 1566, including regular payments to both local and travelling performers (see the St Leonard's Churchwardens' Accounts and ‘Performance Traditions: Civic Entertainment’).


The parish of Linton is situated nine miles southeast of Cambridge and was bounded by Wool Street on the north and the Granta River on the south, along the county border with Essex. The site was likely settled before Roman times and was by 1008 the location of two towns, Great and Little Linton, which were combined into a single parish in the twelfth century. This parish was served by the church of St Mary. The church dates from the twelfth century, though it was heavily renovated and reworked (including the nave and west tower) in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The churchwarden’s accounts detail some late sixteenth-century interactions between the wardens and the local guilds, with rentals of the guildhall (called the ‘Townhouse’ or the ‘Old Guildhall’). This seems to have been the guildhall belonging to the Trinity guild (dating from 1466), which was one of three guilds in the village, the others being St Lawrence’s (by 1466) and Our Lady (by 1484). Although the parish was governed by the Linton manor court, which met biannually from 1509, the churchwardens seem for the most part to have been acting independently from the time of the records; their duties included management of the Old Guildhall which had been leased by Pembroke College. In addition to the parish church, Linton also had two religious houses, the Benedictine Linton Priory and the Crutched Friars of Barham.

Regular fairs were held at Linton from 1246 and a market house was built in 1528. The first evidence of a school in the village dates from about 1558, when the will of Sir Philip Parys directed funds to pay for a schoolmaster. A resident schoolmaster seems to have been in place by the 1570s and a schoolhouse was built in the northwest corner of the churchyard by 1600.


Perhaps because of the number of scholars trained at the university, Cambridgeshire possessed a number of schools and itinerant schoolmasters, particularly in the later sixteenth century and the start of the seventeenth century. Drawing on the Ely diocesan records, Spufford provides an image of ‘readily available’ education in southern Cambridgeshire from 1574 to about 1628:

'There were twenty-three places where a school seems to have been kept more or less continuously during the sixty years. Most of these were in the larger villages. The settlements on the fen-edge, which had had over a hundred households in 1563 like Cottenham, Waterbeach, Bottisham and Fulbourn, had them. The larger villages in or near the Cam valley, like Great Shelford, Barrington, Sawston and Linton, which had accommodated over fifty households had them, and so also did the larger villages in the upper Rhee valley, like Melbourn and Bassingbourn... Market towns, like Linton, were obvious foci for schools, and were both easily accessible and much visited, so that they had a large catchment area. It is noticeable that the ancient market town of Bourn was the only settlement on the western clay plateau of Cambridgeshire to have a well-established school.'

Apart from these twenty-three well-established schools, masters were continuously referred to in another nine villages either up to or after 1600. These villages also had scattered references in the later, or earlier, period, and they may well have had schools consistently for a much longer period.

Some details can support Spufford's synopsis. Waterbeach had a series of schoolmasters, including the vicar of the town about 1596, with another recorded between 1628 and 1635. More permanent educational institutions were also apparent in Wisbech, where a primary school is suggested by a reference to a schoolmaster named Mr Belson of Wisbech St Peter in the Archdeacon’s Visitation Book of 1581–3. Further, Furnivall notes that a grammar school was extant before 1547; this is probably the grammar school which the guild of the Holy Trinity noted they supported at the time of the Dissolution.

Dry Drayton had, in addition to its household seminary, a schoolmaster from the 1570s to the 1610s. Chesterton too possesses records of schoolmasters, some licensed to teach grammar, from the 1570s to 1620: by 1600 these seem to have been resident schoolmasters (including a John Reed, licensed in 1599, who was still teaching in 1619, and a second schoolmaster from 1600-20), one of whom, listed in 1601, possessed an MA. The same consistency of resident schoolmasters holds true for Sutton, where a William Heye was licensed as a schoolmaster in 1579 and an unnamed schoolmaster is recorded in the visitation return of 1596. Fen Drayton also had schoolmasters noted in 1590 and 1602, while the curate taught circa 1610. Comberton and Whittlesford had schoolmasters from 1601, while Haddenham had a school from as early as 1463 (under the schoolmaster John Strother) and other schoolmasters named in the visitations for Haddenham of 1590 and 1596. Most prominent in the county outside of Cambridge, however, is the King’s School at Ely.

The King’s School, Ely

The King’s School at Ely (now King’s Ely) is one of the oldest schools in England, founded first as an almonry school in 970 AD with the refoundation of the Benedictine monastery, and one of seven schools given royal charter in 1541 by Henry VIII, at the Dissolution. While at its foundation the monastery school would have functioned solely for oblates (as in the case of King Edward the Confessor), the practice of oblation declined in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and by the middle of the twelfth century the school’s instruction was dedicated to ‘the young monks or novices, entering now at sixteen or so.’ Since this cloister school would not offer training to laymen, Ely also offered a school in the almonry; the chapter ordinances of 1314 stipulate the care and feeding of the scholars and their master, specifying that ‘no boy shall stay in the almonry school for more than four years [and that] no secular person is to introduce a boy to the school without the consent of the prior and convent.’ The four-year limit on schooling was preserved by the subsequent grammar school, with nomination to the school by the deans and canons. By the fifteenth century Ely offered a song school (first mentioned in 1461), headed by the cantor of the chapel. Though it is unclear from the records whether students received training other than in music, ‘it is certain that they were not taught in the almonry school and nothing is known about their schoolroom.’

Following the Dissolution, records of cathedral activity in Ely are sparse, and until 1561 the records are primarily concerned with the school, including lists of students accepted to the school and university exhibitions provided for them. Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell proposed the establishment of the grammar school at Ely (as at Peterborough), to be maintained by the now available monastic funds. The students admitted were expected to be able to read and write, be between nine to fifteen years old, and stay at the school until they were literate and fluent in Latin. At Ely the provisions for the school at its foundation were clear:

'[T]here were to be twenty-four boys on the foundation, who were to be taught by a master and an usher. Only Latin and Greek are mentioned in the subjects of study (Hebrew was certainly expected in some schools, and is mentioned in the Elizabethan statutes at Ely). The boys were to be fed at a common table, and were to be given fifteen shillings per year and two and a half yards of cloth every Christmas for gowns which they were to wear whenever they processed in public. The two masters, one to be skilled in both Latin and Greek, the other in Latin, would have their livery too, and would be paid respectively £11.15s.4d and £4.5s.10d; they were to teach not only the foundation scholars, but any others who came to the school for the sake of learning. They and their scholars were to sit in the cathedral choir on feast days. At six every morning the school was to open with some of the prayers to be found in the proper of the mass, and it was to close at 5 p.m. with the psalms and prayers from the office of compline.'

Though no record of changes is apparent in Queen Mary’s reign, in the reign of Elizabeth the subjects were expanded to include music, Hebrew grammar, and writing Greek and Latin in verse, the tenure of a student was raised to five and six years, during which time they would receive £3 6s 8d, and the upper master’s salary was raised to £16 6s 8d, without the provision of livery. These statutes remained in place until the Restoration.

Humphrey Tyndall and the King's School, Ely

The ‘golden age’ of the school was probably under the supervision of James Speght, master from 1562 to 1596, when upwards of forty students were enrolled, at times as many as sixty. This golden age included the oversight of Humphrey Tyndall, who was installed as dean of Ely in December 1591. Prior to this appointment, Tyndall was a fellow of Pembroke Hall from 1567, served as chaplain to Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester (and served as officiant in Leicester’s marriage to Lettice Knollys on 21 September 1578), and was elected master of Queens’ College from 1579 to 1614. As Joseph Henry Gray notes, ‘[t]here can be no doubt that [Tyndall] owed his promotion to Lord Leicester’s influence,’ particularly since one of the fellows of Queen’s had written to Dudley the year before, arguing that Tyndall was too young (at the age of 30) to be raised to the position. After this Tyndall was elected vice-chancellor of Cambridge University in 1585, and chancellor of the Cathedral church of Lichfield and archdeacon of Stafford in 1586.

Tyndall seems to have been dynamic and effective as vice-chancellor and his activities and policies there may inform his actions as dean of Ely. Gray describes ‘[h]is views were Calvinistic to a marked degree,’ while adding that ‘a predilection for Calvinistic doctrine by no means implied a love for Calvinistic discipline.’ Evincing an aversion to ‘any Puritan laxity,’ Tyndall ‘held the reins of government with a hand as firm as ever his predecessor had done.’ This behaviour is clear in his examination of John Smith of Christ’s College, who preached in an Ash Wednesday sermon on play performance on the sabbath in the colleges. Tyndall, along with a number of doctors, ruled that the sabbath was not ‘violated when something is done that would be neither necessary nor of a religious nature,’ claiming that ‘only those actions shall not hinder religious observance or even be a slight stumbling-block to the brethren.’ While this occasion reveals a desire to restrain the actions of members of the university when it came to their critiques of public performance, Tyndall was primarily concerned with public order, as Nelson comprehensively explores in his discussion of the Cambridge records associated with riots during and following play performances at the colleges. Addressing a February 1606/7 incident of vandalism during the performance of a comedy at King’s College and a riot following a play in February 1611, Tyndall condemned the acts and issued strict punishments for the offenders.

Tyndall faced similar challenges as dean of the King's School at Ely — following the apparently exemplary mastership of Speght — when he and the school had to deal with a series of less than reputable masters, including Mark Holdred (1598–1604), who was imprisoned, possibly for debt, soon after Tyndall's tenure began. Holdred was followed by William Pamplyn, whom Tyndall dismissed in 1609 for a variety of offenses, including one that involved one of Pamplyn's daughters, possibly Anna. For a further discussion of these infractions see ‘Performance Traditions: School Drama.’

Cambridgeshire Families

Cambridgeshire boasted few notable resident families beyond the Norths of Kirtling, particularly before the sixteenth century. As Galloway observes, the early sixteenth century gave rise to a new program of domestic architecture, sponsored by wealthy gentry and giving rise to the manor houses of Childerley, Bourn, Madingley, and Sawston. Some of the families behind these architectural projects are worth brief mention as evidence of the Reformation's economic effects on the county, and to contextualize the rapid rise of the North family in the county.

The Scales and Wendys of Haslingfield

The parish of Haslingfield contained two lay fees which were gradually combined in the eleventh century and twelfth centuries to form Scales manor. This was home to the Scales family from 1299, when Robert (d. 1305) was granted the title Baron Scales. The manor subsequently acquired additional land, including that of the Somery family, and remained until 1486, when it was divided following the deaths of Thomas, seventh Baron Scales (1460), his daughter Elizabeth (1473), and finally her husband Anthony Wydeville, second Earl Rivers (c 1440–83). Haslingfield then passed from the Tyndall and Felbrigge families before being sold to Dr Thomas Wendy, physician to Henry VII, in 1541. Wendy then purchased Melfords manor and the attached rectory, the confiscated lands of the Haslingfield chantries, and Minchins manor between 1546 and 1550, thus owning the majority of the parish of Haslingfield. The Wendy's manor house, Haslingfield Hall, was built during Thomas Wendy’s lifetime and remains today.

The Huddlestons of Sawston

The Huddlestons settled in Sawston in the early sixteenth century, constructed Sawston Hall, and ‘dominated the parish until modern times.’ Owned by Isabel Neville, daughter of Isabel and John Neville (later Marquess of Montagu), the manor of Sawston passed to William Huddleston of Millom, Cumberland, when the pair married. Isabel’s grandson, Sir John Huddleston, was a JP and sheriff of Cambridgeshire under Edward VI and, having supported Queen Mary early in her reign, was knighted in 1553 and subsequently made vice-chamberlain, privy councillor, and captain of King Philip’s guard in England. The first manor house at Sawston was built by 1279 and expanded by the fifteenth century to have a hall, two cross chambers, thirty other chambers, outhouses, gatehouses, barns, stables, and a dovecot. In 1553 it was burned by Protestants – possibly including John Dudley (1504–53), duke of Northumberland – who were seeking Queen Mary when she fled to the estate. Sir John Huddleston received after this a grant of stone from Cambridge Castle to rebuild, a process that lasted from 1557 to 1584; Huddleston himself, however, died at the very outset of the project. The Catholic recusancy of the Huddlestons persisted for centuries. After Sir John’s death Sawston passed to John’s widow Bridget and his son Edmund (d. 1606). Edmund’s son, Henry, was a member of the Gunpowder Plot.

The Norths of Kirtling

The parish of Kirtling comprised a single manor, which from the eleventh century had a castle held by non-resident nobility, ending in 1487 with possession by Anne Neville, who conveyed the manor to Henry VII. Henry VIII then granted it to Sir John Sharp. Upon Sharp’s death in 1519, Kirtling passed to his nephew, Robert Brown; in 1533 Brown sold the manor to Edward North, who was created Lord North of Kirtling in 1554, after which the manor descended with the title.

Edward North, first Baron North (c 1504–64), was the only son of the merchant Roger North and his wife Christina (née Warcup), of St Michael-le-Querne, London, and is thought to ‘have been a man of great ability and not a little cunning because, beginning with Henry VIII, he managed to stay in favour with four successive monarchs (five if Jane Grey is included).’ In his youth, Edward attended St Paul’s School, possibly the University of Cambridge, and was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in 1522. He was appointed counsel for the corporation of London in 1525, became a freeman of the Mercers’ Company in 1527, and married Alice (née Squire), widow of Edward Murfyn in 1528. The couple had two sons (Roger and Thomas) and two daughters. Edward was married again after his wife’s death in 1560, this time to Margaret Broke (d. 1575), daughter of Richard Butler; this union produced no children. In 1533 Edward purchased Kirtling manor from Robert Brown and began to establish ‘himself as one of the leading gentlemen in the shire’ of Cambridge, acting as JP, sheriff, and knight of the shire through the 1530s and 1540s. During this time Edward also began extensive renovations at Kirtling, building Kirtling Hall in the 1540s and 1550s.

The 1530s, however, also marked Edward’s movement into royal circles and his primary residence seems to have remained in London. In April 1545 Edward purchased the London Charterhouse, where he hosted Queen Elizabeth for November 1558 and July 1561, and which saw his wife’s death in 1560 and his own death on 31 December 1564. In 1531, under the favour of Sir Brian Tuke, treasurer of the chamber, Edward became clerk of parliaments, where he worked for Thomas Cromwell. Perhaps because of Cromwell’s influence, Edward was appointed treasurer of the court of Augmentations in 1539; he was subsequently knighted in 1542, appointed chancellor of the court of Augmentations in 1544, and in 1547 became a member of the Privy Council. Although Edward backed the duke of Northumberland’s attempt to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne in 1553 and was subsequently removed from the Privy Council, he seems to have retained a degree of royal favour and was created Lord North in April 1554. For the remainder of his life Edward seems to have moved into retirement, spending more time at Kirtling, where his wife Alice was buried in 1560 and he himself interred in 1565.

Edward was succeeded by his son Roger (1531–1600). Possibly educated — like his younger brother, Thomas — at Peterhouse, Cambridge, Roger was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in 1542 and Gray’s Inn in 1561. About 1547 he married Winifred (d. 1578), daughter of Richard Rich, first Baron Rich, by whom he had three sons and one daughter. The eldest son died in infancy, his second son, John, predeceased him in 1597, his third son, Henry, survived him, but Roger was succeeded by John’s son, Dudley. Roger was apparently introduced to court early, learning to joust in tournament and, like his father, dividing his time between London and Cambridgeshire. He served as senior knight of the shire for the county in 1555, 1559, and 1563, as well as JP in 1558–9, alderman and free burgess of Cambridge in 1568, lord lieutenant of the county in 1569, and high steward in 1572. After his father’s death Roger sold the Charterhouse to Thomas Howard, duke of Norfolk, and seems to have settled more permanently in Cambridgeshire to manage his estates. As John Craig notes, ‘North dominated county politics and threw his energies into local administration ... organizing county musters, serving as a subsidy commissioner, supervising schemes for draining the fens, or investigating matters brought to his attention by the privy council.’ Roger also made use of the now enlarged and lavish Kirtling Hall, hosting Elizabeth in the summer of 1578 for two days.

In his duties as administrator in Cambridgeshire, Roger also clashed with university and church officials over a number of issues, including disputes over local and visiting players. Following attempts by the vice-chancellor of the university to prohibit travelling players from performing in Chesterton, including those licensed by North himself, Roger went on to question officially the authority of the vice-chancellor of the university in imprisoning a townsman in 1580. In 1591 he appealed to the Privy Council at the vice-chancellor’s attempt to arrest one of his retainers, Richard Parish. Following 1574 Roger clashed with Richard Cox, bishop of Ely, who had refused to grant North a lease on Somersham, Huntingdonshire; in December 1575, North produced a bill of complaint against Cox, accusing him of mismanagement of the diocesan estates. Though a compromise was reached, the ‘issue reflected [North’s] distaste for a powerful and wealthy episcopate.’

Roger was also, however, prominent at court, being admitted to the chamber in 1558, created a knight of the Bath at Elizabeth’s coronation in 1559, and playing in the grand tournament in Greenwich Park in July 1559. He acted with Thomas Radcliffe, third earl of Sussex, as special ambassador to Vienna in 1567–8 at Elizabeth’s request, possibly accompanied Francis Walsingham to France in 1570 to negotiate tolerance for the Huguenots, and travelled to Lyon from October to December 1574 to congratulate Henri II on his succession of Charles IX. Close friends with Robert Dudley from the late 1560s, he witnessed Dudley’s marriage to Lettice Knollys in 1578, had custody of Dudley’s illegitimate son Robert (by Baroness Douglas Sheffield), and in 1585 travelled with Dudley and his own son, Sir John North, to the Netherlands. There he served as governor of Flushing, Utrecht, and Harlingen in 1586, remaining active in the Netherlands (with periodic returns to England) until 1588. Roger finally was appointed privy councillor and treasurer of the household in 1596 and died at his house in Charterhouse Square on 3 December 1600. He was interred at Kirtling 12 February 1601.

Roger North’s younger brother, Thomas (1535–?1603) is best known as a translator of European texts. These included the Spanish The Diall of Princes (1557, revised in 1568), the Italian Morall Philosophie (1570), and a translation from the French of Plutarch, The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romanes (1574); it has been long held that Shakespeare relied on North’s translation of this last for his Roman plays. Thomas was at least sometimes resident at Kirtling but his primary residence from 1576, when Roger purchased a lease for his brother, is uncertain.

Roger North’s son, Sir John (c 1550–1597), entered Peterhouse College at a young age in 1562 and was placed under John Whitgift, later archbishop of Canterbury. When Whitgift became master of Trinity College in 1567, North changed colleges to follow him; he took his MA in May 1572. In the same year North — like his father — was admitted to Gray’s Inn. Unlike his father or grandfather, and although he served as MP for the county for the parliaments of 1584, 1586, and 1588, North’s focus was not the family’s county seat at Kirtling. He is instead best known for his extensive travel, for both personal and military purposes, across the Continent and to Ireland.

In October 1575 John travelled to Italy to finish his education and remained there until November 1577; he kept a travel journal during this time, which comprises one of the major sources for his activities in the records. John spent time in the Netherlands and the Palatinate, meeting there veterans of the Dutch revolt. He returned to the Netherlands again in the spring of 1577/8 to fight with the Dutch as a gentleman volunteer and stayed until 1580, when he returned to England to marry Dorothy (née Dale). The couple resided at Kirtling Hall and the union produced four sons and two daughters: Dudley (1582-1666), who inherited his grandfather’s title, John, Roger, Gilbert, Elizabeth, and Mary. John, however, rarely remained at Kirtling. He returned to the Netherlands in February 1581/2 under Robert Dudley, his father’s close friend and godfather to his eldest son. He remained there until the spring of 1583/4, seeking military advancement through a commission of a regiment, and rejecting the seniority of Sir John Norreys. Perhaps because of his family’s close ties with Dudley, John won the contract and returned to England to raise troops in April of that year.

John returned to the Netherlands with his father in 1587 and 1597, also going to Ireland in 1595 to combat Hugh O’Neill, the earl of Tyrone’s, uprising. John was knighted in Ireland in 1596 and in the Netherlands on 5 June 1597. In his military endeavours in the Low Countries John was known to have ‘abominable’ behaviour. He has been said to be ‘prickly and combative’ personally, an incompetent military leader, and poor with finances. In 1584 he fought three of Norreys’ captains in five days and in 1587 violently assaulted a man in Dordrecht who slandered Dudley; he was criticized for his military ‘simplicity’ by the Welsh soldier Roger Williams in 1583; finally, he ran up a debt to Dutch merchants of 1200 livres between 1582–4 and was subsequently imprisoned for a debt of 10 livres.

The family’s seat in Cambridgeshire was Kirtling Hall, constructed by Edward North in the 1540s and 1550s. Before its acquisition by the North family, Kirtling Castle was, through most of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, a walled structure with a moat and bridge and an encircling ditch and palisade. Although inhabited at times, any buildings within these defenses were reported to be ruined before 1400, and a new hall, kitchen, longhouse, and chapel were all built in the early fourteenth century. The hall contained a parlour, solar, two chambers at the east end, pantry, buttery, and a passage to the kitchen; some of these buildings may have been retained in Edward North’s renovations. Edward’s new construction, however, was significantly larger (about 35 square metres) and included additions of a gatehouse, gallery, lodging-house, and banqueting house. In the seventeenth century the hall underwent further renovations and additions and by the 1660s it was the largest country house in the county, with sixty hearths. After this point, however, Kirtling Hall was slowly reduced in size and was used less often; by the 1770s it had fallen into such disrepair that it was uninhabitable and it was demolished in 1801. The gatehouse was retained and converted into a residential building, Kirtling Tower.

Featured in the household accounts of John and Dorothy North, Kirtling Hall also seems to have been a location of literary production during the time of Roger North. It was the temporary residence of Thomas North when he wrote The Diall of Princes and perhaps Morall Philosophie. During this same period, circa 1560–76, Kirtling also hosted George North, author of The Description of Swedland, Gotland, and Finland (1561), The Philosopher of the Court (1575), The Stage of Popish Toys (1581), as well as the unpublished ‘A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels’ (1576), dedicated to Roger North. Little is known about George North, but it seems that he was at most a distant relative of the Norths of London and Kirtling. According to Swan in his introduction to North’s Description of Swedland, George was the son of a London tailor, and George’s dedication to Roger North, though it praises both Roger and his brother Thomas, offers no further biographical information. Dennis McCarthy and June Schlueter use semantic analysis to identify parallels between the ‘Brief Discourse’ and Shakespeare’s works, and claim that North’s treatise ‘was a significant source for the Shakespeare canon’ across multiple plays, although this argument has met with some criticism.

  • Footnotes
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    • VCH: Cambridgeshire, vol 6, pp 80–105, British History Online, accessed 22 September 2021.
    • Felicity Heal, ‘West, Nicholas (d. 1533), bishop of Ely and diplomat’ ODNB, accessed 20 January 2022; 'West, Nicholas,', accessed 15 June 2022; Felicity Heal, ‘Goodrich [Goodryck], Thomas (1494–1554), bishop of Ely and lord chancellor’ ODNB, accessed 20 January 2022; C.S. Knighton, ‘Thirlby, Thomas (c. 1500–1570), bishop of Westminster and of Ely’ ODNB, accessed 20 January 2022; Felicity Heal, ‘Cox, Richard (c. 1500–1581), bishop of Ely’ ODNB, accessed 20 January 2022; P.E. McCullough, ‘Andrewes, Lancelot (1555–1626), bishop of Winchester’ ODNB, accessed 20 January 2022; Kenneth Fincham, ‘Felton, Nicholas (1556–1626), bishop of Ely’ ODNB, accessed 20 January 2022; Timothy Wadkins, ‘White, Francis (1563/4–1638), bishop of Ely’ ODNB, accessed 20 January 2022; Nicholas W.S. Cranfield, ‘Wren, Matthew (1585–1667), bishop of Ely’ ODNB, accessed 20 January 2022.
    • D.J.B. Trim, 'North, Sir John (c. 1550–1597), soldier and traveller'. ODNB, accessed 15 June 2022; Michael Hicks, 'Dale, Valentine (c. 1520–1589), civil lawyer and diplomat' ODNB, accessed 15 June 2022. Kirtling Hall, notably, was the place of composition of George North’s ‘A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels’ (1576), recently argued to be a potential source text for over twenty Shakespearean monologues; see further Dennis McCarthy and June Schlueter, 'A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels, by George North': A Newly Uncovered Manuscript Source for Shakespeare’s Plays (Cambridge, 2018).
    • Galloway, History of Cambridgeshire, p 13.
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    • Hudson, Cambridge Connection, p 5.
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    • Collinson, Elizabethan Puritan Movement, p 127. For further details, see Collinson, chapter 3, 'The Universities and the New Men,' pp 122–130.
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    • Collinson, Elizabethan Puritan Movement, p 128.
    • Christopher W. Marsh, The Family of Love in English Society, 1550–1630 (Cambridge, 1994), 5, citing Jean Dietz Moss, ‘Godded with God’: Hendrick Niclaes and his Family of Love (Philadelphia, 1981), 22; Alastair Hamilton, The Family of Love (Cambridge, 1981), 132.
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    • Parker and Carlson, Practical Divinity, p 16. The 'Bishop of Ely' was Richard Cox.
    • Parker and Carlson, Practical Divinity, p 18. See also Spufford, Contrasting Communities, pp 256–7.
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    • Parker and Carlson, Practical Divinity, pp 27, 24. See also Paul Seaver, The Puritan Lectureships: The Politics of Religious Dissent, 1560–1662 (Stanford, 1970).
    • Parker and Carlson, Practical Divinity, p 22.
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    • Nicola Coldstream, 'Walsingham, Alan (d. 1363), prior of Ely' ODNB, accessed 22 July 2022; ‘Bishop's Palace Bishop's Palace (The Palace School),’ Historic England; Francis Young, ‘The Bishop's Palace at Ely as a Prison for Recusants, 1577–1597,’ British Catholic History 32.2 (2014): 195–216.
    • Richard II’s visit to King’s Hall, Cambridge, when Arundel was raised to the bishopric of Ely, may have been intended to combat heresy at the college; see Nelson, Cambridgeshire, vol 1, pp 10–11. See also Jonathan Hughes, ‘Arundel [Fitzalan], Thomas (1353-1414), administrator and archbishop of Canterbury,’ ODNB, accessed 23 September 2021.
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    • Henry Knighton, Chronicon Henrici Knighton, vel Cnitthon, Monachi Leycestrensis, Joseph R. Lumby (ed), vol 1 (London, 1889), 128; VCH: Cambridgeshire, vol 2, p 229–234, British History Online,, 23 September 2021.
    • VCH: Cambridgeshire, vol 2, p 229–234, British History Online,, 23 September 2021. See also Rubin, Charity and Community, pp 137–8.
    • ‘Anglesey Abbey,’ Historic England.
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    • A list of all Cambridgeshire guilds can be found in T.D. Atkinson, ‘On the Gilds of Cambridgeshire,’ Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society 9.3 (1898), 385–90. See also Virginia Bainbridge, Gilds in the Medieval Countryside: Social and Religious Change in Cambridgeshire, c. 1350–1558 (Rochester, 1996), and Ken Farnhill, Guilds and the Parish Community in Late Medieval East Anglia, c. 1470–1550 (York, 2001).
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    • Spufford, Contrasting Communities, pp 183–4. For a full discussion of the impact this density of education had on the peasantry and the village community, see Spufford, Contrasting Communities, pp 169–218.
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    • Owen and Thurley, King’s School, p 1. For further information on the practices and prohibitions against oblation, see John Eastburn Boswell, ‘Expositio and Oblatio: The Abandonment of Children and the Ancient and Medieval Family,’ The American Historical Review, 89.1 (February, 1984), 10–33, particularly pp 25 and ff, and Isabelle Cochelein, ‘Besides the Book: Using the Body to Mould the Mind – Cluny in the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries,’ Medieval Monastic Education, Carolyn Muessig and George Ferzoco (eds) (London, 2000), 27–30.
    • Owen and Thurley, King’s School, p 24, from ‘Order of the Ely Chapter Concerning the Boys of the Almonry School, 1341’ (London, BL Add MS 41612, f 31v), also printed in S.J.A. Evans (ed), ‘Ely Chapter Ordinances and Visitation Records, 1241–1515,’ Camden Miscellany, vol 17, Camden Society, 3rd ser, 64, vol 17 (London, 1940).
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    • Owen and Thurley, King’s School, p 4; pp 49–50 offer a transcription of Speght’s will.
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    • See Papers Concerning Ely (A), 1609
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    • McCarthy and Schlueter use the plagiarism software WCopyfind, rather than programs more common in digital humanities, as for example The Natural Language ToolKit or OpenCalais. McCarthy and Schlueter (eds), ‘Brief Discourse’, pp 94.