A view backstage at Beverley Minster

A little oasis in the desert of time

Beverley Minster virger Neil Pickford opens his history books.
Now then, pay attention at the back, this is going to be quite entertaining, informative and, hopefully, educational and, let’s be honest, that’s exactly what you want at this mid-point in the summer holidays.
And if you don’t want it, you probably need it anyway, so here goes.
Bear in mind that, due to the Government’s recent pronouncements on living within our means I shall not be able to use a white board to illustrate this lecture. So, to keep your attention, I will instead default to my normal mode of waving my arms around.
Anyway, with all that in mind, I now invite you to cast your mind back, if you will, to the glorious days of 1489 when the Tudor king Henry VIIth was enjoying his 4th year of rule after defeating our own Yorkist monarch Richard IIIrd (cue loyal hissing from the back of the class).
If you then turn a rather more recent event – namely my column from three  weeks ago – you should recall that we have recently opened the Percy Chapel in our north east corner for everyone to visit. This contains the tomb of Henry Percy, 4th Duke of Northumberland, who would have been one of the most powerful men in the kingdom and, in the nasty and suspicious mind of Henry VIIth, a potential rival for the throne itself.
After all, it wasn’t long since Henry himself had risen to the top (like cream, obviously) through military action so these thoughts weren’t completely barking. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you.
For that reason the death of Henry Percy would have been very comforting to Henry Tudor, and it would be even more comforting if the family could be financially weakened in consequence.
So how lucky it was for him that Henry P was killed in riots led by Sir John Egremont of Yorkshire against increased taxes – and it must be entirely coincidental that Henry P was the only person who did die in the riots. Pardon my cynicism.
However, according to the official account Henry VIIth was so upset by the death of the 4th Duke that he ordered that not a penny of (Percy) money should be spared in honouring the man throughout his funeral proceedings – and that’s really the point of this weeks column.
We have a surviving copy of the expenses incurred, and what a remarkable list they make. To take a few items at random: 
a) For 400 Torches, after 2s. 8d. the pece – £53-6-8p (for the benefit of any youngsters out there, that’s how we used to do money, back in the good old days before 1973).
b) For 24 gownes withe hods, for Lords and Knights (at 10s. the yerd, and after 5 yerds in every gowne and hode) with the Executors – £60-0-0
c) For 60 gownes with tipets for Squyers and Gentlemen (at 6s. 8d. the yerd and after 4 yerds in every gowne and typet). – £80-0-0
And so it goes on, detailing the type and quality of clothing that had to be provided for so many members of each class of society, even down to the 6 pennies per day paid to 100 men on foot to walk from Lekinfield to Beverley and stay for the funeral, 500 priests for the burial and, finally, some 2 pennies ‘dole money’ for every ‘pore body’ who attended the graveside over two days (unsurprisingly some 13,340 individuals turned up for this slice of easy money – cash being a rare commodity among the peasantry in those days).
The total bill , excluding the costs of the Percy Chapel itself, came to £1008-3-4 which, in modern terms, would be over £5.5 million. Unsurprisingly, the family subsequently sold their Leconfield estates and relocated further north, loyally supporting the King from then on.
OK, lesson over, you can all go out and play now.
First published August 2010 


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