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This article is from "Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford" by Norman Hidden, 2009.

In 1480 Richard Mayew was appointed President of Magdalen College by the direct intervention of William Waynflete, the College’s founder. The appointment was doubtless a shock to the resident fellows who had enjoyed, or suffered, twenty four years of selfgovernment.

A man in his late thirties, the new President had been a fellow of New College for the past eleven years. He impressed Waynflete and later he would impress Henry VII. He was to become Chancellor of the University of Oxford and Bishop of Hereford. Yet little is known of his early background. Who was he, where did he come from, what was his parentage?

His place of origin is stated by Emden to have been Edmondsthorp in the parish of Kingsclere, Hampshire [1]. This information seems to have derived from C.W. Boase’s edition of the University Register [2].

All earlier accounts, however, including that of Anthony à Wood, had consistently stated that he ‘was a native of Hungerford’ [3], and none of them make reference of any sort to Kingsclere. The earliest of these accounts of Mayew’s origin occurs in the work of the antiquary Thomas Fuller. Fuller’s ‘Worthies’ published posthumously in 1662 states that ‘Richard Mayo alias Mayowe was born nigh Hungerford, of good parentage, whose surname and kindred was extinct in the last generation when the heirs-general thereto were married into the families of Mompesson and Grove [4]’. That Fuller’s account was the accepted view until Emden implied otherwise we need hardly doubt.
An undated letter from Dr. Warren, President of Magdalen College (1885-1928), confirms this. ‘President Mayhew [sic], afterwards Bishop of Hereford, is a very interesting person and there is a good deal that might be said about him. He was born in Berkshire, I believe in Hungerford. I do not know his parentage [5]’.

Although Emden attributes Richard Mayew’s place of origin as Kingsclere, he names Hungerford as the origin of another and roughly contemporary Mayew, who was to become Chancellor of the Cathedral at Winchester. This was Nicholas Mayew, whose early  career ran remarkably parallel to that of the future President of Magdalen. Richard was educated at Winchester (admitted 1455) and New College, Oxford (matriculated 1457), becoming a fellow in 1469; and Nicholas was admitted to Winchester in 1469, matriculated at New College in 1473, becoming a fellow in 1475. Richard was chaplain to thebishop of Lincoln in 1488, and Nicholas was appointed a canon of Lincoln cathedral in 1493. Richard was appointed rector of West Meon (Hants) in 1492, and Nicholas became vicar of West Meon in 1494 [6].

Such correspondence of education and patronage might reasonably suggest some possible common factor in their family background. It seemed worthwhile therefore to search all available Kingsclere and Hungerford records to see if any connection could be established which might link the two Mayews to the same place and possibly the same family. A search for the Mayews in Kingsclere has proved singularly frustrating. No Mayew transactions in land in Kingsclere are recorded in the six printed volumes of Ancient Deeds at the Public Record Office; and there are neither court rolls nor rentals. The lay subsidies of 1524/5 and 1543/4 have revealed no Mayews in the tithing of Edmondsthorp; if they ever had been, they seem to have quit the place utterly. There was a Mayew family in Kingsclere, however, of which parish Edmondsthorp is a tithing, but the earliest reference I have been able to find to them there has been as late as 1506. There is a foot of fine in that year, in which John Mayew is a defendant with Margery his wife concerning a rent payable out of a messuage called ‘Gaylys’ in Kingsclere [7]; and at about the same time there was a Chancery case (period 1504-1515) concerning 7 messuages and 40 acres of land in Kingsclere in which John Mayew was involved [8]. In short, the Mayew documentation from Kingslere seems not only slight but of a much later date than that which is available from Hungerford.

A group of deeds from Hungerford (most of which relate to the local chantry of the Blessed Virgin Mary), highlight two townsmen who seem influential [9]. One is Walter Mayew a witness in 1438 and a feoffee in 1453/4 and again in 1461/2. The other is Thomas Mayew, a witness to deeds relating to the chantry in 1438 and again in 1458 and a feoffee of church lands in 1453/4. In these deeds, as in other Hungerford documents the name is usually spelled Mayhew, but it also appears as Mayhow, and Mayowe; for convenience I have rendered all variants as Mayew. The name of Thomas Mayew occurs also in a deed of 1445 when he finalised acquisition of a ½ burgage property in the town [10]. The name does not appear again for some twenty five years, (until the Duchy of Lancaster rental c.1470). This suggests that a younger Thomas may have taken on the office of prepositus or town reeve in 1477/8 and in 1478/9 [11]. That the older Thomas Mayew had died may be indicated also by his non-inclusion as feoffee of the so-called burgesses’ chantry in 1461/2 [12].

The Duchy of Lancaster rental of Hungerford properties, compiled c.1470, included three properties held by Thomas Mayew, viz. a burgage described as ‘½ burgage and a parcel [of land?]’; 2 acres in ‘Schawland’; 1 stall in the market place. A further tenement of ½ burgage was ‘late Thomas Mayew’, now held by Henry Sturmy. In addition a full burgage was held by Agnes Mayew [13].

As no entry in the rental appears for Walter Mayew this would seem to confirm the supposition that he too was now dead. Similarly the references to one half burgage formerly held by Thomas Mayew and to another property currently being held by Thomas fits the assumption of an elder deceased and a younger living Thomas; and Agnes Mayew’s holding seems likely to have arisen from her right of widowhood.

Because the Hungerford rental entries follow a more or less fixed order we can locate the burgage sites sufficiently accurately to identify each individual property from one rental to the next, in many cases right down to the present day. Agnes Mayew’s dwelling and its accompanying garden or ‘back’ lay on the west side of the High Street, toward the lower end of the hill which slopes down to the river. Today the Kennet and Avon canal runs over the site. In 1470 the house looked across the High street to the other Mayew property almost opposite. Both houses were in a prime position, and that of Agnes bore a full quit rent of 8d, an indication of its size and substantial nature.

At this point mention should be made of another Mayew who held property in Hungerford in the latter half of the 15th century. This was William Mayew of East Garston, a parish adjoining that of Hungerford, about 2 miles north of the town. William was reported on 8 October 1481 to have died, and inquisitions taken by the Duchy of Lancaster revealed that he was Duchy tenant of unquestionably the two best water meadows in Hungerford, viz. Millmarsh and Woodmarsh. He also held 1 stall in the marketplace [14].

The next record of property held in Hungerford by the Mayew family is a foot of fine dated 1528 which records the purchase by John Cowslade from ‘Humphrey Trewlove and Alice his wife, daughter and heir of Thomas Mayew, late of Hungerford, draper, of 2 messauges, 30 acres of arable at Hungerford, and other properties in Kingsclere, Hants’ [ 1]5. Humphrey Trulove had earlier appeared in the 1522 muster for the tithing of Hidden, part of the parish of Hungerford north of the river Kennet on the road to East Garston [16]. No further references to Mayew occur in Hungerford and it may be assumed that this fine in 1528 represents the final selling up of the Mayew interests in the town. A later rental of 1552 clearly identifies one of the messuages acquired by John Cowslade with that which had been held by widow Agnes c. 1470 [17].

From the totality of these records we have a picture of a family of successful traders, well-established in the town of Hungerford and its environs. The final reference to ‘other properties in Kingsclere’ not only links the Hungerford Mayews with Kingsclere, but suggests that they were one and the same family, with property in both places.

How then did C.W. Boase (and subsequently Emden) come to assign Richard Mayew, in the face of all earlier references such as Fuller’s, to Kingsclere rather than Hungerford? It is known that a John Mayew was a tenant of Winchester College in the 15th century and acted as a farmer or rent-collector of some College lands in Kingsclere, but the references are brief and uninformative; and no mention is made of the names of Richard or Nicholas [18]. It was customary for a close relative fortunate to have such a connection to use it to ensure the nomination and admission to the College of a bright or favourite child. The founder’s statutes re quired special consideration to be given to those from the bishop’s own lands.

Since the bishop had lands in Kingsclere (indeed the very first scholar to enter the College came from there) but did not have lands in Hungerford, the advantage of putting a boy’s name forward from Kingsclere would have been considerable. Such an explanation would reconcile the differing accounts of two careful scholars such as the twentieth century Emden and the seventeenth century Fuller. A tantalising piece of information concerning the Mayew family arises from a note in Macray’s edition of Magdalen College Registers, to which Dr. Jane Cottis, the College archivist, kindly drew my attention [19]. In the year 1490/1 the President held a small dinner party at the College. In adition to the Vice -President of the College the guests comprised ‘the mother of the President [Richard Mayew], and his sister with her husband -Dowse M.A., Thomas Mayew and his wife, Drs. Harward and Mayew’. It was clearly very much a family occasion, with five Mayews including the President himself, and at least two in-laws present.

In this family group it is perfectly feasible that Thomas Mayew was the Hungerford draper who is known to have been the town’s leading citizen (prepositus) in the years 1478 - 80. The identity of ‘Dr.Mayew’ is less straightforward because of the lack of a Christian name. There is, however, one obvious candidate. A Patent roll of 1501, in its reference to Nicholas Mayew, addresses him as ‘Doctor of Laws [20]’.

Moreover, we know that Nicholas was at Oxford at the time; and in fact was employed on legal business by Magdalen College in 1481/2, 1484/5 and 1490/91, the latter being the very year of the dinner party. [21]

The President’s sister’s husband may be identified as Stephen Dowse of Collingbourne Ducis, Wilts. He had been admittted to Winchester College in 1469, the very same year as Nicholas Mayhew, and had been admitted to New College in 1472, fellow 1474, College notary 1487/8, sub-warden 1488/9 and still occupying that post at the time of the dinner party. He later became canon of Wells Cathedral until his death in 1518 [22].

Dr. Harward is also easy to trace, once it is realised that his name is a variant spelling for Hereward. William Hereward was a fellow of Magdalen Hall in 1448, sojourner in Magdalen 1477/8, and vicar successively of the Berkshire parishes of Buscot and St. Helens, Abingdon [23]. The link which may have tied him to this particular group of host and guests is not known.

Stephen Dowse, to judge by the date of his admission to Winchester College, was of an approximately similar age to Nicholas Mayew. Assuming that the Mayew daughter was not a great deal older than her husband, it means that her birth would be close to that of Nicholas. Thus the latter despite his being fourteen years’ younger than Richard could easily be her (and Richard’s) brother. Had the Thomas Mayew at the dinner party been their father, he would have been named as such; and, as we have seen, the elder Thomas had almost certainly died some years before. The most likely supposition is that the younger Thomas was another brother, the father of Alice who married Trulove and sold up both the Hungerford and the remaining Kingsclere property in 1528.

Clearly, from the limited scraps of information thus gleaned, nothing can be absolutely proven. In these cases it rarely can. Nevertheless the weight of evidence must surely give substance to Fuller’s statement that Richard Mayew’s place of origin was Hungerford; and, since we know that Nicholas too came from Hungerford, the supposition arises of a close family relationship with Richard, probably that of younger brother, both sons of the merchant Thomas, both moving away from their local origins in land and trade to the national centres of power held by the church and into the civil service with which the church provided the state as well as itself.


1 A.B.Emden ‘Biographical Register, University of Oxford to 1500’
2 C.W.Boase ‘Register of University of Oxford’ 1885, i 26
3 B.L. Add Ms 28674, ff.44, 63v; ‘Athen. Cantab.’, C.H.& T.Cooper, 31858,
p.18; Anthony a Wood, ‘Athen. Oxon.’(Bliss) ii 708
4 T. Fuller ‘History of the Worthies of England’ ed. T. Austin Nuttall,1965,vol 1, p.326
5 Letter penes Soc. Genealogists, box marked ‘Mayhew’.
6 Emden op.cit.
7 PRO: Feet of Fine, Hants, 22 Hen.VII
8 PRO: C1/128/39
9 Berks. R.O.: H/RTa 26, 28, 29, 40, 41
10 PRO: C146/ 1337
11 PRO: DL29/689/11177 and 11180
12 Berks. R O: H/TRa 41
13 PRO: DL43/1/4
14 PRO: DL 4/1
15 PRO: CP25/2/1/2
16 PRO: E315/464 f.99
17 PRO: DL 42/108 f.91
18 Info. supplied by Dr.Roger Custance, Winchester College
19 W.D.Macray ‘Registers of Magdalen College’, 1894, i 2
20 Cal.Pat. Rolls 1494 -1509, i 239
21 Emden op.cit.
22 ibid
23 ibid

See also:

- Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford