William Worcester, Chronicler

WORCESTER or Botoner, WILLIAM (1415–1482?), chronicler and traveller, was son of William de Worcester, a substantial burgess of Bristol, and Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Botoner by his wife Matilda, who died on 20 July 1402, leaving her son-in-law one of her executors (Itinerarium, p. 276). Thomas Botoner seems to have come to Bristol from Buckingham (ib. p. 172, cf. p. 277). His grandson, who was born in St. James’s parish, Bristol, in 1415, sometimes signed himself Botoner, frequently introducing the unexplained letters H. R. into or above his signature (Paston Letters, i. 291; the first letter may possibly stand for Hibernicus; see below). He went to Oxford in 1431, and became scholar of Great Hart Hall, then attached to Balliol (Itinerarium, pp. 178, 222; Tanner, p. 115). The manuscript of the ‘Cosmographia’ of John Phreas [q. v.] in Balliol College Library was presented by Worcester. His expenses at Oxford, which he left about 1438, are said to have been defrayed by Sir John Fastolf, who subsequently took him into his service; but this is an erroneous inference from his note in the book just mentioned (cf. Liber Niger, i. xxvi). For many years down to Fastolf’s death Worcester acted as his secretary, and was sent by him on missions to London and to hold his courts at Castlecombe in Wiltshire (Paston Letters, i. 289, 430). After his master’s settlement at Caister Castle in 1454, he resided there when in Norfolk. But, useful as he was to Fastolf, the close-fisted and irritable old knight would not assign him any fixed position or salary, ‘and so,’ wrote Worcester to John Paston, ‘I endure inter egenos ut servus ad aratrum’ (ib. i. 300, 371). Between his master’s arbitrary ill-humour and his fellow-servants’ jealousy he had, according to his own account of it, but a poor time (ib. i. 369, 404). Fastolf had no legitimate issue, and as he drew near to his end his wealth was an apple of discord among those who surrounded him.

Worcester found some relief in literary and historical pursuits. Being detained in London in the summer of 1458 by one of Fastolf’s many lawsuits, he seized the opportunity to carry on his studies. ‘Worcester,’ wrote a fellow-servant, ‘hath goon to scole, to a Lumbard called Karoll Giles, to lern and to be red in poetre or els in Frensh; for he hath byn with the same Karoll every day ii tymes or iii, and hath bought divers boks of hym, for the which, as I suppose, he hath put hymself in daunger to the same Karoll. I made a mocion to William to have known his besiness, and he answered and said that he wold be as glad and feyn of a good boke of Frensh or of poetre as my Master Fastolf wold be to purchace a faire manoir; and thereby I understand he list not to be commynd with all in such matiers’ (ib. i. 431).

Worcester’s frequent absences from Caister during the last two years of Fastolf’s life probably injured his prospects. John Paston [q. v.] obtained great influence over the old knight, and after his death on 5 Nov. 1459 Paston with Thomas Howes, parson of Blofield, propounded a will said to have been made two days before which left him residuary legatee. A barren executorship was all that fell to Worcester, though he afterwards asserted that Fastolf had orally declared his intention of providing for him and his family, and had asked Howes, whose niece Worcester had married, to choose the land (ib. i. 509). At first he hoped that Paston, who was under some obligation to him, would remedy the injustice, and it was only when that keen man of business, against the advice of his brother, refused to do anything for the unfortunate Worcester that he joined Sir William Yelverton [q. v.], another of Fastolf’s executors, in disputing the will of 3 Nov., and propounding an earlier one dated 14 June 1459 (ib. i. 494, 508, iii. 438). ‘I have lost,’ he said, ‘more thanne x mark worthe londe in my maister servyce, by God and not I be releved, all the worlde schal knowe it elles that I have to gret wrong’ (ib. i. 509). Friendly attempts to bring about a reconciliation were of no avail owing to Paston’s reluctance to make any provision for him, and in 1464 Worcester and Yelverton began their suit in the archbishop’s court, which was still proceeding when Paston died two years later (ib. ii. 154, 271). In June 1467 Sir John Paston entered a counter suit, in which he charged Yelverton and Worcester with bribing witnesses in the previous trial (ib. ii. 443). But Howes had now deserted the Pastons, and Bishop Waynflete, who had conceived the idea of diverting the endowment left by Fastolf for a college at Caister to a new foundation of his own at Oxford, used his influence in favour of peace. Ultimately Worcester obtained some lands near Norwich called Fairchilds, and two tenements and gardens called Walles in Southwark; in return for all documents relating to Fastolf’s lands in Worcester’s possession, and his assistance in securing those estates appropriated to his new college, Waynflete covenanted (7 Dec. 1472) to pay him 100l. and an allowance upon all sums of money recovered by him (ib. ii. 397, iii. 73). Some two years before Worcester had been urging that the college ought to be at Cambridge as nearer Norfolk and Suffolk (ib. ii. 312). In 1470 he had himself announced an intention of removing to Cambridge, as a cheaper place of residence than London, but whether he actually lived there is not clear (ib. ii. 397). It is probable that the last years of his life were mainly spent in Norfolk, though he frequently visited his property in Bristol (Itinerarium, pp. 208, 210, 212). After his death he was described as ‘late of Pokethorp by Norwich, gentleman’ (Paston Letters, iii. 296; Tanner, p. 115). He devoted a good deal of his time, however, to the journeys of which he has left a record in his ‘Itinerarium.’ A detailed account is given of those he made in the summers of 1478 and 1480 respectively. On 17 Aug. 1478 he left Norwich, and travelling by Southampton and Bristol, whence he visited Tintern Abbey, to St. Michael’s Mount, he returned to London on 7 Oct. (Itinerarium, pp. 142 sqq.). In 1480 he spent September in Bristol, visiting Kingston and Oxford on his way (ib. pp. 275, 296, 298). While at Bristol he rode out to Shirehampton to reclaim two of his books, the ‘Ethics’ and ‘Le myrrour de dames,’ which he had lent to one Thomas Young. These last years of his life were probably comparatively free from troubles, though in 1475 he was arrested at the instance of John Monk, a neighbour at Pokethorp, and a former witness in the suit against Paston (ib. p. 368; cf. Paston Letters, ii. 272). The exact year of his death is unknown, but seems to have been between 1480 and 1483, as his collection of documents relating to the Duke of Bedford’s regency, which he dedicated to Edward IV, was re-dedicated by his son to Richard III (Wars of the English in France, ii. [521]). The three concluding entries of his ‘Annals,’ which belong to 1491 and were written after October 1500, must therefore be by another hand. The continuous narrative ends with 1468 (ib. ii. [792]). His wife Margaret survived him (Paston Letters, iii. 296). By her he had several children, of whom a son William, referred to above, is the only one whose name is known.

According to Friar Brackley, Worcester was blind of an eye and of a swarthy complexion (ib. i. 523, iii. 479). His letters betray some sense of humour. His accomplishments were varied (including a knowledge of medicine and astronomy), and his zeal and industry in collecting historical and topographical information praiseworthy, but he had no literary skill. Both his Latin and his English are ungrammatical, but he was keenly interested in the classical revival, and entered in his commonplace-book notes as to Greek terminations and pronunciations derived from his friend Prior William Celling [q. v.] The ‘Annals,’ though a valuable authority where authorities are scarce, are jejune and uninteresting. The ‘Itinerarium’ is a mass of undigested notes of very unequal importance, but interesting if only as an anticipation of Leland’s greater work. The survey of Bristol it contains is exceedingly full, and has been of the greatest service to local topographers. It is the basis of the map which forms the frontispiece to the ‘History of Bristol’ in the ‘Historic Towns’ series.

The following works were written by, or have been ascribed to, Worcester: 1. ‘Annales rerum Anglicarum’ (1324–1468, 1491), the only manuscript of which is the author’s holograph in Arundel MS. 48 at the College of Arms. It was first printed by Hearne with the ‘Liber Niger Scaccarii’ in 1728 (reprinted 1771), and again in 1864 by Rev. Joseph Stevenson in the Rolls Series at the end of ‘Letters and Papers illustrative of the Wars of the English in France’ (vol. ii. pt. ii.). 2. A collection of documents (1447–50) relating chiefly to the cession of Maine to Charles VII, printed by Stevenson (vide supra) from Arundel MS. 48 in Worcester’s own hand. 3. A collection of documents (1427–52) mainly relating to the Duke of Bedford’s regency in France, with a dedication originally addressed to Edward IV, but clumsily altered into a dedication to Richard III by Worcester’s son; printed by Stevenson from Lambeth MS. 506. 4. ‘Acta domini Johannis Fastolf’ (Tanner, p. 115; cf. Paston Letters, i. 545). The incipit shows that this was not identical with 3, but it is not now known to exist. 5. ‘Antiquitates Angliæ’ (Tanner, p. 115). This is said to have been in three books, and an incipit is given; but Nasmith doubted whether Worcester ever did more than plan such a work. 6. ‘Itinerarium.’ The portions of historical and topographical interest were printed by James Nasmith [q. v.] in 1778 from the manuscript in Worcester’s hand in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. 7. ‘De agri Norfolciensis familiis antiquis.’ Tanner notes that a manuscript formerly belonged to Thomas Allen. 8. ‘Variorum autorum deflorationes.’ Cotton MS. Julius F. vii. (Tanner, p. 115; cf. Worcester’s own reference to a ‘magnus liber,’ Ann. p. 771). The ‘Deflorationes’ may include those in Arundel MS. 48, a few of which were printed by Hearne at the end of the ‘Annals.’ 9. ‘Registratio sive excerptio versuum proverbialium de libro Ovidii de arte amandi, de fastis et de epistolis’ (A.D. 1462), Cotton. MS. Julius F. vii. 5 (Tanner). 10. ‘De ordinibus religiosorum tam nomine quam habitu compilatus de diversis cronicis in civitate Lond.’ Written for Nicholas Ancrage, prior of St. Leonard’s, close to Pokethorpe (A.D. 1465), Cotton. MS. Julius F. vii. 40 (Tanner). 11. ‘Polyandrum Oxoniensium’ (Tanner, p. 115). 12. A translation into English of Cicero’s ‘De Senectute,’ which he presented to Waynflete at Esher on 10 Aug. 1473 without eliciting any response (Itinerarium, p. 368; cf. Paston Letters, iii. 301). Caxton printed a translation, generally identified with this, in 1481, part of which he attributed to Tiptoft, earl of Worcester. 13. ‘Epistolarum acervum.’ 14. ‘Abbreviationes doctorum’ (Tanner, p. 115). 15. ‘De sacramentis dedicationis’ (ib.) But this is not by Worcester, who merely presented it to Waynflete (Liber Niger, i. xxv). It is in Magdalen College Library. 16. ‘Collectiones medicinales’ (Sloane MS. 4, Brit. Mus.); Worcester’s authorship inferred from internal evidence; according to Hearne mainly derived from the papers of John Somerset [q. v.] 17. ‘De Astrologiæ valore’ (ib.); Antony Wood questioned this attribution. 18. ‘Unificatio omnium stellarum fixarum pro anno 1440.’ Drawn up at the instance of Fastolf, and 19. ‘Abbreviatio tractatus Walt. Evesham de motu octavæ sphæræ,’ both in Bodleian MS. Laud B. 23, in his own hand.

[Paston Letters, ed. Gairdner; Itinerarium Willelmi de Worcestre, ed. Nasmith; Wars of the English in France, ed. Stevenson (Rolls Ser.); Tanner’s Bibliotheca Britannico-Hibernica; Liber Niger Scaccarii, ed. Hearne; Scrope’s History of Castlecombe; Hunt’s Bristol (Historic Towns); Gasquet’s An Old English Bible and other Essays (Note-Books of William Worcester), 1897.]

Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 62
Worcester, William by James Tait

Leave a Reply