1414: John Neuton and the Re-Foundation of York Minster Library

The Minster in Neuton's Time

Hannah Jeans (University of York)

John Neuton's time at York Minster coincided with some very significant developments in the Minster's history. The Minster was undergoing major building works during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Neuton also crossed paths with some important figures in the history of both the Minster and the contemporary political world. Moreover, he himself was deeply involved in the development of scholarship at York Minster, culminating in his substantial bequest of books to the church.

Neuton was a residentiary canon at York Minster, meaning that he was required to live in York. Around Neuton's time, treasurers began to take up residence in the Cathedral Close, and it is probable that late medieval treasurers lived on the site of the building to the north-east of the Minster known today as Treasurer's House (1). In the fourteenth century, York had relatively few residentiary canons, having only around six or seven for most of the century (2). The office of treasurer was one of the most important in the medieval cathedral. Not only was he in charge of its finances, he also looked after its treasures (3). With his deputies, he would maintain an exact inventory of the treasury, ensuring that the contents were safely guarded and kept in good repair (4).

Neuton held the position of treasurer during some of the most significant building works carried out at the Minster. The cathedral was coming to the end of several decades of renovation and development, and was probably a building site for much of his time there. There were several major projects occurring at the same time, including glazing, the installation of liturgical furnishings in the church and structural works (5). At this time, the Great East Window was being constructed and, as treasurer of York, Neuton would have at least been in charge of finding the funds. However, it is difficult to determine the influence he had on the project. In the 1390s, construction work on the Minster accelerated after a slow period under Archbishop Neville. In 1405 the Dean and Chapter gave John Thornton of Coventry the contract to glaze the Great East Window, a process which was to take three years (6). The Great East Window is the largest in the Minster, measuring seventy-six feet high and thirty-two feet wide. As David E. O'Connor and Jeremy Haselock have noted, it was an immense project to carry out in only three years (7). In 1407, the central tower partially collapsed, necessitating extensive repairs alongside construction work in the eastern arm of the Minster (8). It has been suggested that the tower's collapse was partly due to it being structurally weakened by the constant building work (9). Neuton was treasurer at a very significant time in the Minster's architectural history, as well as its intellectual history.

Neuton's intellectual impact on the Minster is clear from his library. Some scholars have seen Neuton as particularly important during his own lifetime for the intellectual milieu of York. For example, Jonathan Hughes has suggested that:

'Neuton and his circle helped to bring ... scholarly interests to York, and the first indication of the emergence of York Minster as a centre of scholarship coincides with Neuton's arrival at the cathedral in the early 1390s' (10).

Neuton's time at the Minster also coincided with that of some significant figures in the history of the Minster and in English history in general. One of his patrons was Archbishop Thomas Arundel, who made Neuton vicar-general of the diocese of York and treasurer at the Minster (11). Arundel served as Lord Chancellor for Richard II, and later became Archbishop of Canterbury. Richard Scrope was also archbishop during Neuton's time as treasurer, from 1398 to 1405. In 1405 Scrope was executed for treason, for his participation in the Percy rebellion against the Lancastrian King Henry IV. After his execution, Scrope was seen as a martyr and became the focus of a cult in Yorkshire. His burial site in the Minster became an object of pilgrimage (12). Neuton would have known Scrope well and worked closely with him. He may have had some involvement in the preservation of Scrope's memory in York, but there is no clear evidence for Neuton's part in the development of Scrope's cult (13).

Through Neuton, we gain an insight into a very significant period in the Minster's history. Whether or not Neuton had any specific impact on developments such as the building works and the broader political context, he was certainly a close bystander, and he was clearly instrumental in the Minster's intellectual development.

(1) B. Dobson, 'The Later Middle Ages, 1215-1500', in A History of York Minster, ed. by G. E. Aylmer and R. Cant (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), p. 74.

(2) K. Edwards, The English Secular Cathedrals in the Middle Ages: A Constitutional Study with Special Reference to the Fourteenth Century (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1967), pp. 75-76.

(3) Edwards, English Secular Cathedrals, pp. 216-217.

(4) Edwards, English Secular Cathedrals, pp. 220-221.

(5) C. Norton, 'Richard Scrope and York Minster,' in Richard Scrope: Archbishop, Rebel, Martyr, ed. P. J. P. Goldberg (Donington: Shaun Tyas, 2007), p. 138.

(6) Norton, 'Richard Scrope,' p. 140-145.

(7) D. E. O'Connor and J. Haselock, 'The Stained and Painted Glass,' in A History of York Minster, ed. by G. E. Aylmer and R. Cant (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), p. 364.

(8) J. H. Harvey, 'Architectural History from 1291 to 1558,' in A History of York Minster, ed. by G. E. Aylmer and R. Cant (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), p. 170.

(9) A. Willey, York Minster (London: Scala Books, 1998), p. 56.

(10) J. Hughes, Pastors and Visionaries: Religion and Secular Life in Late Medieval Yorkshire (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1988), p. 201.

(11) J. A. Brundage, 'Neuton, John,' in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. by H. C. G. Matthew and B. Harrison (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 466.

(12) P. J. P. Goldberg, 'Introduction,' in Richard Scrope: Archbishop, Rebel, Martyr, ed. P. J. P. Goldberg (Donington: Shaun Tyas, 2007), p. 1.

(13) M. Deanesley, The Incendium Amoris of Richard Rolle of Hampole (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1915), p. 73.

How to cite

Hannah Jeans, 'The Minster in Neuton's Time', in Hanna Vorholt and Peter Young (eds), 1414: John Neuton and the Re-Foundation of York Minster Library, June 2014, https://hoaportal.york.ac.uk/hoaportal/yml1414essay.jsp?id=3, accessed 29 November 2020