Thornton Grammar School

The Chantry Chapel at Thornton was on the North wall of the Chancel. In the 1790’s during the time that the Manor was owned by Thomas Sheppard, he was given permission by the Rural Dean of Buckingham to repair or rebuild the church which he undertook by dismantling the Chantry Chapel and Chancel, rebuilding the North wall of the aisle and improving the Tower. The rubble was used to build the Ruinous Grotto.

A Chantry is a chapel or place within a church dedicated to benefactor or benefactor’s family where monks or priests would chant a mass or prayers for the soul of the departed.

Rich landowners endowed some chantries during their lifetime. This meant that the chantry priest would be obliged to celebrate masses for the land-owner’s well being on earth and his soul after death. Others were endowed by guilds and societies for the benefit of their members.

Chantries date back to the medieval period, but were not numerous in England until the 14th and 15th Centuries.

Chantries were established at Thornton by several of the Lords of the Manor. The endowment paid for a chantry priest to chant a mass at specific times of the week and also to educate boys of the parish. In this way he could serve his community even though he did not offer a public mass.

In 1545, at the time of the Reformation, Parliament passed an act that Chantries were, in fact, misapplied funds and misappropriated lands. The Act stated that all Chantries and their properties would belong to the King. Along with the dispersal of the monasteries, this was designed to help Henry relieve the monetary pressures of the wars in France, Ireland and Scotland. By the time Henry died there was little money left so when Edward VI succeeded him he (or rather his advisors) issued an act in 1547 completely suppressing the 2374 chantries and guild chapels.

The most significant effect of the loss of the chantries was the loss of education available to poor and rural residents. Some of the chantries were, however, converted into grammar schools.


The Chantry Commissioners visited Thornton on the 4 February 1545/6, the same day that they visited Buckingham (see Appendix Ill). They found two chantries called ‘Bartons Chantry’ which they ascribed as being founded by Roberte Ingleton and John Barton respectively. The commissioners recorded that the Ingleton chantry provided 6d a week for ‘six poore folkes’ and a clothing allowance of 4s a year to ‘six poore children’ and that the chantry priest, William Abbotte, should ‘teache the children’ (Chantry Certificate, No.4, 10). Thus the first teacher that can be identified with certainty at Thornton school is William Abbott.

The sum of £l0-8s-0½d was William Abbott’s salary in 1548/9.
E301/77. Reproduced with kind permission of the Public Records Office.

William Abbott was born c1487 some twenty years after Thornton Grammar school was founded. His early career is unknown, but he is known to have been appointed to be the Thornton chantry priest and teacher from c1520, when he was appointed by his ‘cousin’, Humphrey Tyrell who had (in 1519) married Jane Ingleton (Tricker, 1996), the daughter and heir of Robert Ingleton (Lipscombe, iii, p 19). Abbott is mentioned as being a chantry priest in 1526 (Salter, 1909, p242), and was poorly treated by his patrons and was deprived of the profits of the chantry income for some 15 years. The final straw was when, four days before Christmas 1530, William Abbott was thrown out of his chantry house and so ‘hampered’ his teaching duties. In 1535 he brought an action against his patron and wrote a letter to the Bishop of Lincoln explaining and complaining about his rough treatment. His letter to the Bishop still survives in Lincoln archives (Chantries 3).

Ten years later, in 1545, William Abbott was accused of a similar crime in a case that was heard in the Court of Requests. This court was linked to the Kings council and designed to give poor people access to Royal justice. Apparently, Abbott had rented out 36 acres of Thornton for some 18 years at ‘9s 2d yerlie’ to Richard Leche, a farmer. Abbott then supplanted this farmer with another, a Lawrens Bee. Richard Leche complained to the court that as he had just ploughed the land he was reluctant to leave, and that Bee had ‘plukkyd (him) owte of his said hous by vyolens and felle upon him & beate hym’. The court ruled that the ‘seid bill of complaint is insufficyent in the law to be answered’ (REQ2/Bundle4/128).

In 1547/8 the first Barton chantry supported by All Souls at Thornton was forcibly closed ‘for the chantry lately come to the king’s hands’, and the college had to pay for sweeping up and cleaning the choir after the last deportation of images’ (Leach 1896, p52). However the school which was part of the second Barton’s chantry, the refounded Chastillon chantry, was allowed to continue. In 1548/9, the commissioners confirmed that William Abbott is a chantry priest ‘of the age of 60 yeres ... and yett doth teach a free schole of grammer” (see Appendix III & IV). He was the incumbent as well as school teacher and received a pension of £l0-8s-0½d. In the margin of this document, presumably written by officers of the Court of Augmentations, are the words ‘Continuatur the Schola quousque’ (see Appendix V) meaning ‘the School is continued until further orders’ (Leach, 1696, p86). This instruction was put into action by a continuance warrant dated 20 July 1548/9 assigning the master his salary:

'Let the school be continued'.
E301/77. Reproduced with the kind permission of the Public Records Office.

‘A grammer schole hath been contynuallie kept in Thorneton with the revenues of the late chauntery of our ladye there, called Bartons Chaunterye … Wee therefore ... haue assigned and appoynted that the saide grammer schole shall contynewe, and that William Abbot, scholemaster there, shall haue and enjoye the rome of scholemaster there, and shall have for his wages yerelie £10 8s 0 ½d” (Leach, 1896, p 19).

It was commonplace for chantry grammar schools teachers to be given the same salaries as they had previously enjoyed (Dickens, 1989, p235). This pension was used to sustain schools for the next 336 years (1548/9 to 1884).

In 1550 Edward VI bestowed the Barton’s chantry in Thornton and its lands in Thornborough - ‘including the messuage and land in the tenure of John Joslyn* - to Edward Chamberlain of Fulwell Oxfordshire (VCH, Oxon, iv, p241). Chamberlain sold the Bartons chantries and lands of Thornton and Thornborough in c1556, which passed through several hands until they came to John Temple of Stowe in c1561 or c1601 (VCH, Bucks, iv, p241 & Willis, 1755, p290).**

Let the school be continued

The accounts of the Augmentation office record the payments of £l0-8s-0d (the halfpenny was omitted) to William Abbott describing him as the schoolmaster of the school of letters (ludirnagistro ludi litterarii), a Grammar school (palestra litteraria) from 1550 until 1574, when he presumably died aged about 86 years (VCH, Bucks, ii, p146).

Why did the Barton-founded Thornton school survive through the Reformation, and the Stratton-founded Buckingham school remain invisible?

The Commissioners visited both Buckingham and Thornton in February 1545/6, and noted the chantries but not the school at Buckingham. On their second visit to Thornton in 1548/9, they did not visit Buckingham. The answer to this puzzle is probably that Matthew Stratton’s foundation in Buckingham was that of a hospital, run by a hospitaller, Thomas Hawkins. Hospital schools were usually ignored by Henry VIII’s Commissioners, and were exempted from Edward VI Chantries Act (Leach, 1896, p25). As Henry VIII’s Commissioners had already closed the other Buckingham Chantries, there was no need for Edward VI’s Commissioners to visit a hospital school in Buckingham whose headquarters in London had already been dissolved. Thus the silence on the issue is simply because the school was left to continue without interference. Even the Bishop of Lincoln was not sure of the situation, and in 1549/50 listed Stratton’s chantry as a ‘doubtful chantry’ – ‘chantries about which it is doubtful whether they be in the hands of the Lord King or no’; although he knew that the two other Buckingham chantries (John Barton (senior) and the Fraternity of the Holy Trinity) were ‘before the Auditor the court of .Augmentations]’ (Foster & Thompson, p272-4, 1927). The chantry school in Buckingham only became ‘visible’ after 1553, when Queen Mary came to the throne and changed the political climate.

link to William Barton brass rubbingJOHN BARTON (SENIOR) William Barton brass in Thornborough Church

In the 14th century William Barton, Coroner of Buckinghamshire had two sons, both of whom were called John Barton. John Barton (senior) was a very successful lawyer and Recorder of London. John Barton (junior) was also a lawyer. The Bartons became wealthy and well connected, and their property deals involved such notables as: Alan Ayete, John Smith the Bailiff and William Purefreye (Willis, 1755, p384).

Although their business took them all over England and involved some overseas travel, they retained their homes in Buckingham and Thornton. They both had close links with the Mercers, the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon and Henry Chichele, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In 1422, John Barton (senior), gave 200 marks to the master and brethren of the hospital of St Thomas of Acon for their relief, an annual rent of 7 marks from some of his London property, in return for which they had to provide a permanent chantry priest in London to say prayers for his soul and the souls of his parents (Roskell, 1992). Two hundred marks was a considerable fortune, amounting to about £133. Nine years later in 1431, he paid St Thomas of Acon about £16 for a chantry priest to say 4000 masses after his burial in Romwald’s aisle in Buckingham church. If Roskell (1992) is correct, these sums are puzzling, and it seems likely that the 200 marks involved more than a chantry priest. Perhaps John Barton (senior) was impressed that the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon was able to provide chantry priests far Stratton for 163 years (1268 to 1431), and/or perhaps familiar with the aims and purpose of the Mercers company, asked their church to provide him with his own exclusive chantry priests. This meant that the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon, London had two priests on 'permanent assignment' in Buckingham, one at Barton’s chantry in the parish church and one at Matthew Stratton’s chantry. Thus it is possible that some of their responsibilities were shared. It is interesting to note that Matthew Stratton’s chantry existed for 270 years (1268-1538), and John Barton’s for 107 years (1431-1538).

In Michaelmas 1423, John Barton (senior) of Buckingham received a quarterly rental of 40d from the schoolmaster (de magistro scolarum) for his lands in Buckingham, payable at each of the four terms of the year, equivalent to 13s 4d (one mark) a year (BM Lansd.572). Leach (see Biography) points out that this was a huge rent in 1423 when the annual salary of a grammar school teacher at this time was about £2 to £3 (Leach, 1969, p226 & p243). How could a schoolmaster afford to pay such a high proportion of his estimated salary in rent? and what was being rented ? Was the priest involved in farming? letting property? Or was there some sort of a deal with St Thomas of Acon? This is the earliest documented evidence for a school in Buckingham, and thus some authorities have stated that the Royal Latin school is the oldest known in Buckinghamshire (VCH, Bucks, ii, p145 & Elliott, 1975, p163). There is unfortunately, no absolute proof that this school is the Royal Latin School. There is however, overwhelming circumstantial evidence:

  • John Barton (senior) was collecting the rent from a schoolmaster in Buckingham in 1423;
  • Most schoolmasters at this time were chantry priests;
  • From c1268 to 1538 Matthew Stratton’s chantry was supplied by priests from the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon;
  • John Barton (senior) trusted and paid significant sums to the Order of St Thomas of Acon for them to set up two chantry chapels;
  • The Bartons were familiar with chantry chapels, eg in 1396 they acted for the subprior of Luffield Priory, in a dispute about chantry elections (Elvey, 1975, xxxii);
  • John Barton (senior) was familiar with the founding of Chichele’s Higham Ferrers college;
  • John Barton was closely connected with the Mercers, who needed to educate their sons;
  • The Order of St Thomas of Acon were very supportive of schools;
  • The Free-school or St John’s Latin school was housed in Matthew Stratton’s chantry (see later);

Link to Alabaster MonumentsJOHN BARTON (JUNIOR) Alabaster Monuments

In 1412 John the younger refused a promotion to the Order of the Coif - the elite group of barristers called Serjeants-at-Law who were entitled to wear a white silk head cap (coif) in court. Most judges had to be members of Serjeants’ Inn, and therefore members were expected to work for the Crown. His penalty for continued refusal was to spend nine days imprisoned in the Tower of London (Roskell, 1992). Presumably Crown work was less lucrative and/or politically more dangerous than private commissions. He worked almost exclusively for the nobility, and managed to build a complicated property portfolio.

John Barton Junior, was MP of Buckinghamshire from 1413 to 1423 (Elliott, 1975, p59). He married Isabel daughter of William Wilcotes, an Oxfordshire lawyer, knight of Oxfordshire and royal justice. In the process, he also gained a brother-in-law, Sir Thomas Wykeham, a great-nephew and heir of William Wykeham. So it is not surprising that from 1415 to 1431, John Barton was a trustee of the Wykeham estates in Hampshire, Oxfordshire & Somerset (Roskell, 1992)

Isabel Barton died in 1457, having been married a second time (like her mother) to Sir Robert Shotesbrook (Russell, 1897, p53). By the terms of her husband’s will money was left to William Fowler, to give to the churches of Thornton, Padbury etc, but as he had failed to do so, it was left to his son Richard Fowler, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to honour her wishes by means of his will proved 19th November 1477 (VCH, Bucks iv, p244/5). His will refers to her as ‘Dame Isabel Shotesbroke’. Sir Robert ‘Shottisbrook’ was alive and at Thornton in 1453 (Willis, 1755, p308).

In 1418, Sir John Chastillon transferred the manor of Thornton, and its church containing the Chastillon chantry, to John Barton (junior). The Chastillon chantry was originally founded in 1356 by licence from the Bishop (see Glossary) of Lincoln to John le Chastillon, and included two messuages (see Glossary) and 100 acres of land in Thornton (VCH, Bucks, iv, p244-248). When John Barton (junior) died in 1434, his will directed that he be buried in Thornton Church, and that a chantry priest be provided there to say mass for him and to look after six poor children - effectively setting up a chantry school, Perhaps it was a combination of his elder brother’s example of a chantry fund for six poor people of Buckingham to pray for his soul (Barton Hospital), and Henry Chichele’s example of refounding a chantry school (Higham Ferrers); that gave John Barton (junior), the idea of refounding the Chastillon chantry as a school for six poor boys (Willis, 1755, p296).

But his wishes were delayed as his widow Isabel became embroiled in litigation, fighting against Chastillon descendants for possession of her husband’s manors (Long Crendon, Stone, Foscott and Moreton). Between 1440 and 1442 she managed to grant some of these manors to All Souls College in order to found the first Barton chantry at Thornton whose priest was to say masses for herself and the late John Barton (Roskell, 1992). Presumably, Isabel believed that the welfare of their souls could be entrusted to All Souls College, which her husband’s friend, Henry Chichele the Archbishop of Canterbury, had founded just three years earlier in 1438. In return for the manors, All Souls paid Isabel 200 marks and supplied two chantry priests at All Souls and one at Thornton. The manors were conveyed to the king by the trustees of the Barton’s marriage settlement; the king conveyed them to the first warden of All Souls, and thus All Souls was entitled to call itself a Royal foundation (Leach 1896, p49-52). Indirectly, John and Isabel Barton endowed All Souls.

Further litigation was initiated by William Fowler, the nephew and subsequent heir of John Barton (junior). Isabel was unable to refound the Chastillon chantry, as it seems these lands (at Thornton) were left in trust to her, as well as William Fowler and others (Willis, 1755, p296), and William refused to honour the terms of John Barton’s will. Then William died in 1452, followed by Isabel (now married to Sir Robert Shottesbrook) in 1457. It was left to William’s son and heir, Richard Fowler, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to put right all the wrongs. But now the situation was even more complicated, because, the cofeoffes had sold the manor of Thornton and in 1463 it was held by Robert Ingleton, Chancellor of the Exchequer to Edward IV, and JP for Buckinghamshire (VCH, Bucks, ii, p245). However it seems that Richard Fowler had prepared well, because on 8th July 1468 Edward IV granted a licence at the request of:

Thomas Littilton, one of the justices of the Common Bench, Thomas Conyers, John Watkyns, William Foweler, were lately enfeoffed together with Robert Conyers, knight and Thomas More, deceased, of certain lands in the county of Buckingham to the use of Dame Isabel Shottesbrook, late the wife of John Barton the younger, late Lord of Thornton, co. Buckingham that they might found a chantry in the parish church of Thornton; the king at their request hereby grants licence to Robert Ingilton, their assign, now lord of the manor of Thornton, or his heirs or assigns to found a perpetual chantry of one chaplain to celebrate divine service daily in the said church for the good estate of the king, his consort Elizabeth, queen of England, George, archbishop of York, and the said Thomas, Thomas, John, William and Robert lngilton, and for their souls after death and the souls of the said John Barton and Isabel and their relatives, friends and benefactors and Dame Isabel Blaket, Robert Shotesbrook, knight, and John Barton the elder; to be called the chantry of St Mary the Virgin in the said church, and to present a suitable chaplain at each voidance, and for the chaplain to acquire from the said Robert or others, lands and other possessions, not held in chief, to the value of 201 yearly, in mortmain , for the sustenance of himself and six poor feeble persons of either sex and the relief of six poor boys by the grant to them of a gown apiece yearly, according to the ordinance of Robert Ingilton in fulfilment of the intention of the said Dame Isabel.

By p.s and for 501 paid in the hanaper.’ (Cal.Pat, 1468, p112).

Richard Fowler finally put to rest all the outstanding issues in his will of 1477, where he honoured Barton’s will and Isabel’s wishes by bequeathing a number of churches including:

‘Thornton, Thornebough and Padbury 40s in money in satisfacc[i]on and discharge of my faders soule of such money as was youen and biquethen unto them by Dame Isabel Shotesbroke aforenamed which shulde have been paied by my saide fader and others his cofeoffees’ (32 Wattys, 1477).

Thus there were two Barton (junior) chantries in the same church at Thornton. The first one was set up c1440 by Isabel Barton herself and All Souls College, Oxford. The second Barton chantry, dated 1468, was a refoundation of the Chastillon chantry, whilst Ingleton was Lord of the manor, and the chantry priest was appointed by the lord of the manor. This latter chantry was financially more valuable (see Reformation) as it included the lands and mansion house given by Chastillon and the chantry school (E301 / 4 No 10). The fact that there were two chantry priests of whom one was also a teacher from 1468 is clear, however it is not now possible to positively identify the names of the Thornton school teachers from the two positions until c1520.

Thus history has confusingly credited what became known as Barton’s chantry to Chastillon, Barton and Ingleton. But the founder of Thornton school was John Barton (junior); but only because of the persistence of his widow Isabel, and the duty of his great nephew Richard Fowler, and the permission of Robert Ingilton (Brasses MS1)

The importance of the Thornton Chantry school is that it was founded by John Barton (junior), and that it later merged with the Matthew Stratton Chantry School in Buckingham which has been linked to John Barton (senior).

John Barton (Senior) was a well known lawyer. His estate was at Thornborough brass rubbing of his monument in Thornborough Church.

Appendixes - Documents drawn up at the time of the break-up of the Chantry Chapels
appendix III
appendix IV
appendix V

The Royal Latin School Buckingham ISBN 0-9539926-0-8 Extracts reproduced by kind permission of Paul Poorman

* John Joslyn co-incidently was the owner of three properties in Buckingham in 1540/1 which had belonged to St Thomas of Acon’s chantry chapel, including Heremytes close in Westbury, and was tenant of lands in Thornborough and Thornton belonging to Barton’s chantry in Thornton in 1550 (L&P Hen VIII, Vol XVI, p716).

** It has not been ascertained whether this Edward Chamberlain was the same person as the High Steward of the borough of Buckingham by charter of Queen Mary in 1553 (Elliott, 1975, p246). He may also have been the son of Richard Chamberlain and Sibyl Fowler and therefore Richard Fowler’s son-in-law.

E301/77. Reproduced with kind permission or the Public Records Office.

Thornton and Buckingham schools merge

To recap, with the exception of the Fraternity of the Trinity, there were chantry priests in:

Location Founder Priest supplied by

St John the Baptist &
St Thomas of Acon

Matthew Stratton St Thomas of Acon (c1268)
Buckingham Church John Barton (senior)
St Thomas of Acon (1431)
Thornton Church John Barton (junior)
(Isabel Barton)
All Souls College (c1440)
Thornton Church Chastillon, Ingleton &
John Barton (junior)
(Richard Fowler)
Lord of the Manor (1356& 1468)

The Dissolution of St Thomas of Acon in London in 1538 stopped the flow of funds to St John's chantry chapel school in Buckingham, except for the pension paid to Thomas Hawkins. When Thomas retired as schoolmaster prior to 1553, it is presumed that the cash requirements were high; St John's Chapel was now in private hands so that rent as well as the new schoolmaster had to be paid.(The Buckingham chantry was privately owned from 1553. In 1590, the owners were William Tipper and Thomas Dawe (Willis, 1755, p48), who seemed to have specialised in purchasing the fishing rights to various manors including: Marsh Gibbon; Westbury; Aston Clinton; Buckland. At the time of the merger, 1592-1597, the Sergeant family owned the chantry chapel at Thornton, and they sold it to John Temple in 1601).

At Thornton church the situation was similar; the Reformation had only allowed a priest sufficient funds for himself, with no means of maintaining the fabric of a chantry school on his pension. By 1584/5 Thornton church was in a neglected state, there was no surplice for the priest to wear, nor even a cloth for the communion table (VCH, Bucks, i, p318). That the interior and exterior of the church was left to decay is in little doubt, and in 1637 it was even reported that an elder tree was growing on its roof (VCH, Bucks, i, p324-325).

In c1574, William Abbott was succeeded by `John Kinge' as the `schoolmaster of Our Lady the Queen at Thorneton' (The title referring to the Ingleton/Barton chantry chapel origins of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Thornton church). King was paid the endowment for 5 years until 1587 when Anthony Gate succeeded him as schoolmaster of the grammar school. Then for one year, 1592, the Thornton endowment was switched to James Smith, 'schoolmaster of the grammar school of the town of Buckingham'. For the next 5 years, payment is again made to Anthony Gate, 'master at Thornton', but in 1597, payment is permanently switched to Buckingham. This payment is made to James Smith, and then his successor, Robert Tomlyns, under a warrant indicating that an order had been made to transfer the school or its endowment, from Thornton to Buckingham (VCH, Bucks, ii, p146-7).

The endowment of £10-8s-0½d
Headteacher Thornton Buckingham
Abbott 1548-1574
King 1582
Gate 1587
Gate 1593-1596

It was entirely logical that a merger,or transfer should occur.The new and Burgesses at Buckingham (1553/4) probably wanted the best possible education for their sons. (The year 1553 is the first in which Willis finds a named schoolmaster at Buckingham.) Transfers had been instigated by chantry commissioners in other locations e.g. Cornwall: ‘the school of ... is in decay by reason it standeth in a desolate place, and far from the market, for the provisions of scholars’ and recommended its `removal' to a town seven miles away (Leach,1896, p117), but in this case, the merger takes place much Iater.

So two chantry schools, both of which had been founded or refounded by two brothers called John Barton were merged. Thus the schools now known as the Royal Latin School has two origins: Thornton provided the `Royal' title courtesy of Edward VI, and the sum of £10-8s-01/2d from William Abbott's pension, and the requirement for six ‘foundation boys’; and Buckingham provided the premises, master and pupils. So William Abbots pension of £10-8s-01/2d fixed in 1548/9 was paid annually to the Latin School in Buckingham from 1597 to 1884 [over the years the 1/2d was sometimes omitted and sometimes appears as ¾d].

One question remains: who had the authority to merge the two schools, fifty years after the Reformation? The 1603 payment to Smith, the schoolmaster of Buckingham, was authorized by a warrant of Thomas, Lord Buckhurst and John Fortescue (Elliot 1975, p172). Baron Buckhurst was also known as Sir Thomas Sackville - a powerful figure and Lord Treasurer from 1599-1608. Sir John Fortescue was MP of Buckingham from 1586 and Chancellor of the Exchequor from 1589 to 1603. Thus it is likely that John Fortescue was the influencial authority who merged the two schools.

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