Friday, 4 October 2013

A Coffin incident

Sir William Coffin (1495-1538) was a Devonshire courtier under King Henry VIII having joined the royal household in 1515 as a gentleman of the Privy Chamber.

Sir William Coffyn

That which Coffin became known for was an incident that occurred while he was traveling northwards to Derbyshire, and came by Bideford church and cemetery. In the cemetery there was a group of people standing around, not part of a ceremony of any kind so William Coffin stopped to find out what was happening. The situation was that a corpse had been brought to the church to be buried, along with the people who had come to gather for the ceremony, however the priest was refusing to perform the funeral. In payment for the priest to perform the burial rites they required payment from the deceased's estate, and in this case it was the cow that belonged to the deceased man as he was poor, but the dead man's friends would not give the cow up. After being told this William found the priest and ordered him to perform the funeral service as it was his job, but the priest still refused to do it without payment. At this, William ordered the people who were gathered there to grab the priest and put him into the hole that had been dug for the corpse and that dirt be thrown in on top of him. The priest continued in his refusal until the man was nearly fully buried in the earth when at last he conceded.

Such treatment of priests was not acceptable, even during the period of the Dissolution, and William would have expected to receive punishment for this incident, and even perhaps have been executed for such a crime against a man of God. King Henry VIII was informed of the incident and as a result William was summoned before Parliament. For anyone else this would not have ended well, anyone else would have ended up in the Tower or executed. However, Sir William had a number of friends in the House as well as at court and they were loyal to him and he avoided punishment. In fact, he turned it around and brought to Parliament's attention the negative consequences of priests demanding payment (mortuaries) for church services. He drew the attention of the matter away from his personal actions onto the wider situation of the bad behaviour of clergymen. As a result of this, an Act was passed soon after which stopped practices including mortuaries.

Tomb of Margaret Coffin
His presence at court is first recorded when William attended the King in Guisnes in 1519 and took part in the tournament, and later at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520.
In 1529 he became a Member of Parliament for Derbyshire, despite him being born in Devonshire, due to his wife Margaret Dymoke, daughter of the Hereditary Royal Champion Sir Robert Dymoke, having connections to that county; her first husband was Derbyshire man Sir Richard Vernon of Haddon Hall.
In 1533 William Coffin was the Master of the Horse at the coronation of Anne Boleyn and throughout her reign as queen, as well as that of Jane Seymour. He also became the steward of Queen Jane's manors of Standon and Hitchin in Hertfordshire. In this office, on the 17th October 1357 William received the official surrender to the Crown of the Hitchin Priory from the Prior, as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
On the 18th October 1357 William Coffin was knighted, however he did not get to enjoy this position for long as on the 8th December 1538 Sir William had died of the plague.
William and his wife had no surviving children, therefore his heirs were his wife Margaret and his nephews William Coffin the elder, William Coffin the younger and Richard Coffin. Margaret remarried again shortly after to Richard Manners in 1539. 

Sir William Coffyn
St Mary's Church, Standon
Sir William is buried in the church in Standon, commemorated by this inscription;
"Here lies William Coffin, Knight, sometime of the privy chamber with his sovereign Lord King Henry the eighth, Master of the Horse unto queen Jane the most lawful wife unto the aforesaid King Henry the eighth, and high steward of all the liberty [and] manor of Standon in the county of Hertford, which William deceased the eighth day of december Anno domini 1538, [in] the thirtieth year of the reign of King Henry the eighth"

1 comment:

  1. Coffin Cousin, FYI: