The Troublesome bequest of Dame Joan: the establishment of the chapel of St Anne at Walsingham Priory

The Troublesome bequest of Dame Joan: the establishment of the chapel of St Anne at Walsingham Priory

Champion, Matthew

Peregrinations, Vol.3 No.2 (2011)


The establishment of medieval chantries by the wealthy has long been recognized as both a common form of devotion and a pious attempt at creating a lasting memorial to existence. The vast majority of chantry provisions were temporary affairs, designed to last a few weeks, months, or years. Yet, in the case of the truly affluent, the chantry could become a permanent creation in the form of a dedicated chapel with provision for its staff and services. In many instances the creation of purpose-built chantry chapels receives only scant attention from scholars, largely only as a tangible symbol of personal devotion to a particular cult or building, and the physical methods by which such buildings came to be constructed has been largely overlooked. However, the detailed documentation associated with the establishment of the late fourteenth century chapel of St. Anne, within the Priory church at Walsingham, gives us an intriguing insight into the financial, legal and familial complexities associated with such acts of devotion.

In April 1381 Sir Thomas de Felton, Knight of the most illustrious Order of the Garter, hero of the battles of Crécy and Poitiers, seneschal of Aquitaine and Gascony, veteran of numerous military campaigns and companion of kings, died peacefully at his family home. His passing marked the end of a long, distinguished, and, above all, eventful career. Born into a relatively modest Norfolk gentry family, Sir Thomas had built upon his humble beginnings to become one of the most admired, well-respected, and powerful men of his age. A seasoned military campaigner, he had become advisor and friend to the Black Prince, had undertaken daring diplomatic and military missions for his king and had been entrusted with the stewardship of vast territories and castles that made him the envy of his peers. However, despite seemingly being one of the most successful men of his age, at his death Sir Thomas undoubtedly felt the keen lack of two things. His life, adventurous and dashing though it may have been, failed him in two respects. First, and perhaps most significantly for his family‟s immediate prospects, Sir Thomas had failed to produce a male heir.

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