Sutton Coldfield

Bishop Vesey

written in 1860 by unknown author

Suffering from the effects of civil war, unsupported by a great  feudal lord and his retainers, Sutton was left in a neglected condition, the market deserted, the manor house in ruin; but in her solitudes she was nurturing a son faithful to the home of his youth. John Harman, arrived at eminence and enjoying royal favor, employed his advantages to bestow on Sutton a new vitality, freedom, and power. Little can be discovered respecting the family of this benefactor. In 1431 there was a John Harman incumbent of Wishaw, patron, sir John Hore, knight, lord of Wishaw and Langley. The next year a John Harman was vicar of Hampton in Arden, patrons, prior and convent of Kenilworth, at the nomination of sir William Mountfort, lord of Hampton, by his first marriage. In 1441 a John Harman was incumbent of Saint Blaize Chapel, in the manor house of Sutton, patron, duke of Clarence. In 1446 Thomas Harman was rector of Aldridge, patron, sir William Mountfort, lord of Aldridge by his second marriage; and who was the son of sir Baldwin Mountfort, and became the great grandfather of Thomas Mountfort, who resided at Sutton in the reign of Henry VII, whose son Simon married the widow of Hugh Harman. In an Harleian MS. we find a Walter Harman, and the son of Walter, John, and the son of John, William Harman, of Moor Hall. He married Joan, the daughter of Henry Squeir, of Handsworth, of a respectable Staffordshire family. In the monumental inscription in Sutton church, quoted by Dugdale, he, as well as his son Hugh, are called, alias Vesey; but no allusion is made to the origin of this "alias," and the author of the inscription, if the great-nephew Wirley, who erected the monument to the bishop, was apparently ignorant of the occasion of its adoption. Tradition fixes the Moat House as the birthplace of the bishop, and it was perhaps originally known as Moor Hall. It still remains a small stone-built house, in the hollow below the Moor Hall of later date. William Harman died May 31, 1470 ; his wife Joan survived until March 8, 1524, new style. They had four children, John, Hugh, Amicia, and Agnes.

John, the heir of the small Sutton patrimony, was induced to take ecclesiastical orders. In 1482 he became a student at Oxford; in 1486 probationary fellow of Magdalen College ; and in 1487, by the name of John Harman, perpetual fellow of the same college. Cardinal Wolsey had studied there, and it is thought that to his appreciation of its members, John Harman was indebted for his introduction to royal notice. He took the degree of D.C.L., and became professor of civil law at Oxford. In 1495 Henry VII granted to him, by the name of John Harman, D.C.L., the free chapel of St. Blaize, within his manor of Sutton Coldfield, with all the lands and possessions thereto belonging for life. In the patent recital is made that the said chapel, &c., was formerly granted, also for life, unto one John Harman, priest, 20 Henry VI [1441-2] to celebrate divine service therein, according to the founders thereof ; and confirmed to him by George duke of Clarence in right of his earldom of Warwick, 12th October, 11 Edward 1V [1471] and then (viz. 11 Henry VII) surrendered to the king and cancelled to make way for this grant. It was perhaps an uncle, who thus, at an advanced age, made way for him, after holding this small preferment about fifty-four years. The younger John, was made commissary of the bishop of Lincoln, in the archdeaconry of Oxford , from the year 1498 to 1503 he was appointed by the bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, vicar-general of this diocese, about 1500 he was vicar of St. Michael’s, Coventry, being then more noted for his abilities than his divinity; and in 1515 he was made prebendary of North Aulton in the church of Salisbury, by the name of John Vesey ; and also by king Henry VIII tutor to his daughter, the princess Mary, and president of Wales. In 1515 he became dean of Windsor, registrar of the Order of the Garter, archdeacon of Chester, and dean of the king’s domestic chapels at Windsor and Exeter, and archdeacon of Barnstaple and praecentor of Exeter.

In 1516 he was dean of the free chapel of Saint Peter and Saint Paul at Wolverhampton, and in 1519 he was consecrated bishop of Exeter. When the talents displayed by Vesey, in several offices, had brought him under the observation of Henry, whose sagacity led him to employ the serviceable powers of men from every rank of life, the king found in him a facile temper, and an intellect marked by penetration, method, and application to business, and became conscious that these qualifications were associated with a heart capable of a strong attachment. And at a period when absolutism did not shock the moral and independent sentiments of mankind, the vigour of that prince’s mind and will compelled the admiration, and even the adection, of those persons whom he drew into his service. Vesey was sent on several embassies; and his successive preferments marked the approval of his sovereign. It is said of him, that having been well trained from his youth, he was considered the most accomplished courtier amongst the English bishops. Whether to flatter the king, or from a real discernment of right, he encouraged Henry to oblige ecclesiastics to submit to the civil law. In 1515 Richard Hunne, a merchant tailor, was thrown into the Lollard’s tower, accused of heresy, as having a bible of Wickliff’s in his house. His case became inconvenient to the spiritual lords, and he was found murdered in the prison. Dr. Horsey, chancellor to the bishop of London, was charged with the crime. The convocatian maintained that the clergy were exempt from trial by the civil courts; but Vesey, then dean of the chapel royal, being consulted by the king, advised Henry to maintain the law of the land, and to support Dr. Standish, who had asserted that, in cases of murder, the clergy ought to be subjected to trial before the secular judges. Vesey also observed before the council, that it was certain the laws of the church did not bind any but those who received them. In 1520 the earl of Derby had paid a tribute to the bishop of Exeter’s character by appointing him joint executor to his will with the cardinal archbishopof York, and other bishops. He was one of the splendid train which accompanied the king to Calais, on the occasion of his visit to the French monarch in 1532; and in 1534 he was one of the prelates who consecrated Cranmer archbishop of Canterbury. However much his ambition had risen with his fortunes, it must have been gratified by his appointment to one of the most important bishoprics in England, the wealthy see of Exeter, which held rights over extensive territories, and was possessed of upwards of twenty manors, If he entered on this responsibility under the self-deception that increased influence would only conduce to the wider diffusion of his nets of beneficence, he had to learn what was the feebleness of merely self-supported good intentions; and to discover that his position could only be maintained at the expense both of his inclinations and his conscience. These had proliably already yielded to circumstances.

Errors in the church have been ever accompanied by a proportionate low standard of public morals, and integrity was not the characteristic of courtiers at that period. It would seem that Henry placed him amidst these large benefices to avail himself of the bishop’s pliant temper, and absorb, without unpopular notoriety, the riches of this see. The spoliation was not carried on with the cordial submission of the incumbent. It was by constraint that he surrendered the extensive manor and hundred of Crediton to the crown. The king wrote his desire that Crediton Park should be conveyed to sir Thomas Dennis; but this was not executed until lord Russell, lord lieutenant of the western counties, and afterwards earl of Bedford, addressed a letter to the bishop, expressing surprise that he should be so backward to accede to his majesty’s request, and intimating that the king was determined that sir Thomas Dennis should he accommodated. Numerous were the demands on Vesey’ s powers of transfer.Bishop-Cheriton and other manors, were wrung from him by men of influence, who perhaps considered the spoil but the restitution of enormous grants formerly extorted from their priest-awed ancestors. Of twenty-two lordships, producing a large revenue, which had devolved upon him from his predecessors in the see of Exeter, he left but seven or eight, and those leased out; and where he found fourteen bishops’ residences, well furnished, he left only one, and that denuded. And even these properties were charged with many fees and annuities, by which means the see of Exeter from being one of the richest became one of the poorest in the realm. Nor was any recompence made to him for this surrender of the endowments of his See. He could only carefully enregister all those privy-seals for the vindication of himself to his successors ; and perceiving the course taken with church property, he seems to have deemed it expedient not to leave himself altogether unprovided for; accordingly, in 1548, he sold to Thomas Hawkins, the manors, rectories, and vicarages of Chadham and Thorney, in Sussex; of Horsley and Tyting, in Surrey; the rectory of South Mims, with the manor of Fernefields, in Middlesex ; and the advowsons of the rectories and vicarages of Chadhann, Horsley, South Mims, Fernefields, and Haringham. This Thomas Hawkins, alias Fisher, was the son of a fish dealer in Warwick. He was in the service of Viscount L'isle, afterwards earl of Warwick and duke of Northumberland, as steward, and became secretary to the duke of Somerset, consequently a person whose favour was to be propitiated. In 1517 he purchased from the bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, and in 1549 from the crown, many church properties, amongst which were the chantry lands of Sutton Coldfield, and those of Deryate-End, near Birmingham. In queen Mary’s reign he was examined for a sum of money that had been placed in his trust by the duke of Somerset, for political purposes, and though most severely racked, so that all his fingers were drawn out of joint, he would not reveal it.

Doubtless Vesey speculated anxiously on the consequences of the theological agitations, and the changes in church temporalities then in progress. He was too wise to approve or advocate the past ecclesiastical system, and too worldly to adopt a better; and his secular eye perceived not the course to genuine reformation, and a holier application of church wealth. Yet he had probably thought of improving the rural districts under his charge ; and as his arms appear on a few parsonage houses, he must have aided in the important work of giving a residence to the parish minister. But we find a gloomier fact against him than the confiscation of church temporalities. He who had submitted his own conduct to the unwarrantable exactions of the king, and to his doctrinal caprices who had allowed his own name to be appended to the articles of faith which Henry thought proper to patronize, but which all who adhered to the Romish faith must have judged heresy the man who had himself yielded the interests of his church to the demands of unscrupulous spoliators, was called upon, in his diocese of Exeter, to pass sentence on an humble individual who had openly protested against prevailing errors.

Thomas Bennet, MA., of the University of Cambridge, publicly avowed his religious opinions, and attached papers to the doors of the cathedral at Exeter declaring the pope anti-Christ; and that God should be worshipped, and not the saints. For this he was charged at Exeter with heresy, brought before the bishop in open consistory, found guilty, and condemned to be burned.  The sheriff ordered a stake to be erected at Southernhay, but the chamber of Exeter did not allow it, and the terrible scene was enacted at a place called Livery Dole. The church of Rome having, for ages, found herself under the necessity of maintaining her influence by violence, had so thoroughly educated (brainwashed!) the mind of Europe in the persuasion that the persecution of an opposing creed was an acceptable service to God, that it was long before a full acquaintance with His Word disabused the public mind of England on that point. And here we see the polished courtier, the amiable philanthropist, the large-minded patriot, compelled by his church to be the perpetrator of the cruellest of deaths, on a youth who dared to be a martyr in honour of his Saviour, and in behalf of his fellow Christians. But did the agonies of that tortured frame ever cease to haunt the inner eye of his judge?

We will now turn to the brightest traits in the bishop’s character, evidenced by his conduct towards Sutton. To this, his early home, he seems to have turned with fonder regard as the times produced fresh troubles, and his own observation discovered more and more the insecurity of all connected with public life, and the great world. Neither episcopal duties nor episcopal palaces held him in Devonshire, and in 1527, determining to have a residence at Sutton, he obtained from the king certain parcels of inclosure, called Moor Crofts and Heath Yards, and more than forty acres of waste, with license to enclose it. Here he built from the ground near the ancient Moat House of his ancestors, the mansion of Moor Hall, in which he could maintain an hospitality suited both to his station and his inclination; for he had not so long frequented a splendid court without acquiring its tastes. Here he expended the income of £1,500, a large one in those days. His retinue consisted of 140 men in scarlet caps and gowns. Not ungrateful to his royal patron, nor unmindful of attentions which were known to be agreeable, he sent twenty able men, provisioned with £100, to attend the king at the Siege of Boulogne, in 1544, and twice as many brave Sutton men to the field of Norwich. The historian does not give the date, whether the following year, when they might join the army preparing to invade Scotland, or 1549, when they might aid the earl of Warwick to suppress Kett’s rebellion in Norfolk, he also gave them additional funds, in case of sickness, and, on their return, rewarded them with lands and maintenance.
Where Vesey was born. colour image taken by me (L) Rear (R) Front

Vesey Memorial Gardens Trinity Church                                                                                                      Vesey Manor