If I could meet with one person on our family tree for an afternoon of conversation, I think it would be John de Bostock of Whethamstede (1383-1464), abbot of St. Albans in England.
For the record, our common ancestor is Sir William de Bostock (b. 1225). By his first wife, Elizabeth, he had a son named Edward (b. 1245). By his second wife, Amice, he had a son named Gilbert (b. 1255). We are descended from Edward, while John de Bostock of Whethamstede is descended from Gilbert. (Gards, take note: the Bostocks are ancestors of Elizabeth Johnson, who married Jeremiah Gard in 1740.)
John de Bostock of Whethamstede’s life provides a window onto many aspects of medieval life: religious, political, military, cultural, and familial.
Part I: A Window on Medieval Family and Religion
Let’s begin with familial. The Bostocks were a Cheshire family, owning land near Macclesfield 36 miles northeast of Chester. The John de Bostock who became Abbot John is regularly designated as John Whethamstede because he inherited the Manor of Mackeyre in Whethamstede upon the death of his mother, Margaret Makary. [Spelling was very fluid in this time period.] Whethamstede is in Hertfordshire, and though the Bostocks were Cheshire men, Hugh de Bostock, father of John, seems to have resided at Mackeyre’s End with his wife and children. Since John Whethamstede’s name is inextricably linked to the history of St. Albans Abbey, it is worthy of note that St. Albans is also in Hertfordshire.
At this point, the familial thread begins to blend in with the religious. John’s uncle, also called John Whethamstede, was the prior of Tynemouth. The Priory of Tynemouth, though in Northumberland, was associated with St. Albans Abbey, a religious house much closer to London, because when the priory of Tynemouth had been decimated by the Danes in the tenth and eleventh centuries, William II had transferred monks from St. Albans to re-populate Tynemouth, which has remained in St. Albans’ jurisdiction ever since. With his uncle as the prior of Tynemouth, then, it is perhaps not surprising that John de Bostock of Whethamstede became a monk of St. Albans sometime after 1401.
He also became prior of Gloucester College, a Benedictine house at Oxford, where it is believed he eventually received a doctor of divinity degree. In 1420, John was elected abbot of St. Albans. As abbot, John broadened his horizons by trips to the continent on church business. In 1424, he attended what was billed to be the Council of Pavia in Italy, but because the plague was raging there, the site was changed to Siena. At that council, John spoke out on behalf of the Benedictine abbeys, arguing that they should be allowed to retain their exemption from papal authority. In this debate, Abbot John was pitted against Richard Fleming, bishop of Lincoln, who was the pope’s man, so to speak.
|St. Albans Cathedral|
This would not be the only time in John’s career when he had to take a stand. Though said to be “shy” by some who knew him, he was assertive enough to take on the Archbishop of Canterbury, Henry Chichele, the following year regarding some jurisdictional issues. When the case was decided ultimately, it turned out to be in Abbot John’s favor. Another case arose which pitted John against other clerics of the age on behalf of others. There was a “troublesome quarrel” in 1433 in which he opposed William Alnwick, bishop of Norwich, on behalf of the prior of Bynham, Norfolk, which was one of the St. Albans cells. The matter finally made its way to the king’s court in the hall of the Blackfriars in London. The Dictionary of National Biography states that “the result of the trial is not recorded, but the abbot considered that he had been successful in it.” There were other such disputes throughout John’s time at St. Albans, which gives us some insight into the politics of the religious houses of medieval England.
We see in these events that John would speak up when necessary, especially when he spoke on behalf of others, but that is not to say that John was attracted to anti-clerical movements that sprang up in England in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. He would have been a child when Wycliffe got into a world of trouble for translating the Bible into English, and though he may have heard discussion about Lollardy (a pre-Reformation movement to return Christianity to Biblical standards), he was not attracted by it. The DNB records, “He held a synod at St. Albans in 1426, before which he cited some persons suspected of heresy, inflicted penance on one man, and caused an [sic] heretical book to be burnt.” From this, we can only conclude that in these early English challenges to papal authority, John aligned himself with Rome.
Alston, George Cyprian. “The Benedictine Order.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton, 1907. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02443a.htm
Galbraith, Vivian H., ed. The Abbey of St. Albans from 1300 to the Dissolution of the Monasteries: The Stanhope Essay, 1911. 2008. Web. 29 Mar. 2013. http://www.archive.org/stream/abbeyofstalbansf00galbrich/abbeyofstalbansf00galbrich_djvu.txt
Hunt, William. “WHETHAMSTEDE or Bostock, JOHN.” Dictionary of National Biography. 1885-1900. Vol. 60. 31 Aug. 2012. Web. 30 Mar. 2013.http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Whethamstede,_John_(DNB00)
Riley, Henry Thomas, ed. Registra quorundam abbatum monasterii S. Albani, qui saeculo XVmo floruere: Registra Johannis Whethamstede. . . London: Longman, 1878. 15 Jan. 2008. Web. 30 Mar. 2013. http://books.google.com/books/about/Registra_quorundam_abbatum_monasterii_S.html?id=8RsUAAAAYAAJ
John de Bostock of Whethamstede. http://mysite.verizon.net/vzeoithb/st.albans.html
St. Albans Cathedral.
© Eileen Cunningham, 2013