Treasures from Worcestershire’s Past: ~38~ Music fragment on a manorial court roll

  • 15th August 2014

This week Bethany Hamblen, Archivist, shares a document encountered during the course of the Manorial Documents Register project she is currently working on. A seemingly ordinary court roll becomes a Treasure thanks to an unusual addition on the reverse. Here, Bethany tells us more:  

This fragment of a musical score was found on the dorse (back) of a court roll dating to 3rd July 1420, during the reign of Henry V.  The court was held for the manor of Kempsey, just to the south of Worcester.  The manor was part of the extensive estates of the Bishops of Worcester, who had a palace there.  The bishop at the time was Philip Morgan, but he was in France accompanying the king on his military campaigns, in a diplomatic capacity.  In fact, that very summer he was involved in negotiations for the release of Arthur, Duke of Brittany, who had been captured at Agincourt.

The contents of the court roll itself are pretty typical.  For example, after the death of a tenant, Nicholas Rok, his brother Robert was admitted into a customary landholding after handing over the heriot or best beast to the lord of the manor, paying an entry fine and performing fealty.  Some inhabitants were involved in pleas, or private litigation, against each other, such as Geoffrey Carpenter, who paid a fine for a license to agree outside of court with John Hurst in a plea of detinue (unlawful detention of goods).  Several people were amerced, or fined for infractions, such as failing to repair ruinous buildings, and others had their goods distrained, or confiscated until they appeared at the next court. 

Amongst those who had been distrained was the chaplain of the chantry at Kempsey.  The chantry, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, had been founded nearly a century earlier, in 1316, so perhaps the music was sung there.      

The score is written in black mensural notation.  The text consists of ‘alleluya….yma summis’, which means something like, ‘alleluia…the lowest with the highest’.  This is a fragment of liturgical choral music known as a motet and would have been sung in four parts.  This type of chant may be referred to simply as an ‘Alleluia’, and may have been sung in honour of the Virgin Mary, possibly as part of the Marian antiphon Alleluia Virga Jesse.

This document can be viewed in the Original Archive area at The Hive by using reference b705:4/BA 54A.       

If you are interested, you can read more about Kempsey’s history and recent archaeological investigations.    

Thanks are due to Sue Pope of Museums Worcestershire, and to David Jarratt-Knock for sharing his knowledge of medieval music and for pointing me in the direction of the existing entry for this document in the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music, which provides further information and a bibliography.        


2 responses to “Treasures from Worcestershire’s Past: ~38~ Music fragment on a manorial court roll”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Most interesting to see an item with musical connections, thank you, although I don't quite understand whether the score represents a single line, or four parts as you say.
    I enjoy reading the blogs, always find something of interest and value, and appreciate the time and trouble taken to produce them.
    Kevin Allen

  2. Roger Leake says:

    Very interesting Bethany. Well spotted.