Friday, 6 June 2014

Retirement planning in the Medieval Period

Worcester Cathedral's Library and Muniments are an ideal place for research into medieval Worcester and its Priory.  Here is an update on one of the many projects that are ongoing at the moment and more will follow over the next few weeks.
 
Planning for your retirement is something that has been heavily promoted in the modern day media but concerns about retirement was also very real to people of the medieval period.  Like us, they wanted to live reasonably comfortable lives once they had reached a point when they could no longer work.  Buying a corrody from a religious house such as the Cathedral Priory at Worcester was one way to do this.

A hard working labourer, drawn into the margin of WCL MS F100, f. 173 v. Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K. (2014).

Research has recently commenced into the corrodies supplied by the Priory of Worcester in the fourteenth century using the Worcester Liber Albus. The Liber Albus is a letter book of the prior and convent of Worcester and covers the years from 1301 to 1446.  The Liber Albus represents one of the most comprehensive collections of social and legal documents and archival material for Worcestershire from the period.

But first things first. What is a corrody?

Today we save up throughout our lives and on retirement purchase an annuity which gives us an income for the rest of our lives. A corrody was similar to an annuity except that the corrodian usually received the payment in kind with such things as firewood, candles, clothing, food, drink and shelter.  This shelter was often in the monastery but sometimes corrodians continued to live in their own homes.

Who were these corrodians?

So far research has shown that these individuals were of different economic and social backgrounds.  Most appear to have had some had a pre-existing relationship with the Priory having worked for the Priory or possibly leased property from them.

Corrodians included not only individuals but also married couples, as with Godfrey Holyne and his wife Margaret who received half a quarter of wheat every fourth week, at Michaelmas half a quarter of oats and a quarter and a half of barley and on Ash Wednesday two hundred red herrings, two salted salmon, and two congers. Yum!

The allowance some received also included support for their servants.  For instance John of Bitterley paid 10 marks a year for a room and food, but for this his two servants also received two servant's loaves, two gallons of servant's beer, and the same food as two of the Prior's grooms every day.
The two hefty volumes that make up The Worcester Liber Albus, held in Worcester Cathedral library. Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K. (2014).

How much did people pay for a corrody, and what did they expect from their retirement arrangements with the Priory of Worcester?

This varied considerably, as you see above John of Bitterley only paid 10 marks [a mark was 66.6p] whereas William de Schokerwych paid the priory £60 and for his corrody and he only received a room, stabling for a horse, bread and beer everyday for life and fish when these are served to the monks.

There was also a royal attempt to foist a retiring Crown servant on the Priory without paying anything. This dispute begins in 1308, when Queen Isabella requested a corrody for one Alice Conan, a lady in waiting to the queen.  The prior refused, pleading his inability to provide one owing to the 'bad times'.  King Edward II refused to accept this and summoned the prior to show why a corrody, formerly granted at the king's request to one Peter d'Avilliers, now deceased, should not be transferred.  The prior challenged this by producing a charter by which Edgar, king of England, granted the monastery certain immunities, but the king claimed this did not include corrodies and the court, not surprisingly, ruled for the king.  The prior then retaliated saying that King Edward II himself granted a number of petitions presented by the bishops and that among these petitions it was granted that the king should not unduly burden religious houses with corrodies because such liabilities led to the “impoverishment of the religious,  and hindered them in the performance of their duties.” many more letters the prior finally gave in and consented to pay Alice £10 a year on condition that it didn't set a precedent and no claim would be repeated.

These are just some of the corrodies discovered so far, but the Liber Albus is a hodgepodge of legal French, Latin, and Middle English. It alternates between terms as changeably as among languages so if you want to know more you will have to wait until the research is completed!

By Vanda Bartoszuk






 



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