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John Taylor

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Notable Bartonian's 
John Taylor 
(circa 1480 to 1534)

About the year 1480 a very unusual event happened in Barton-under-Needwood; triplet sons were born to Joan, wife of one William Taylor who was employed as a game warden in the Forest of Needwood. It was remarkable, 500 years ago, for triplets to be born and to be healthy, for all three live to adulthood was extraordinary. The family, John the first born, his brothers Rowland, Nathaniel and their sister Elizabeth lived in a cottage to the north-east of the Church, where several of the village’s oldest timber-framed cottages still stand. Members of the Taylor family had lived in Barton since 1345, and William and Joan took possession of their cottage in 1471, of which they held the copyhold.

The story of the triplets’ life has something of a folk-tale quality about it Plot (Robert Plot, History of Staffordshire 1686) tells of three babies being presented to King Henry VII as a rarity but this story seems to be somewhat romanticised. The present descendants of the family confidently give 1480 as the date of the triplets’ birth but as Henry VII did not accede to the throne until 1485 it is hardly likely that the King was shown babies. It is far more probable that he was shown three growing lads and saw in them the symbol of the Trinity.

Needwood was not a Royal forest, but a Chase, members of the Royal family frequently came to Tutbury Castle, so it is quite probable that the King was, as the legend suggests, on a hunting foray. So it was that he undertook to educate the three boys if they came to manhood, and indeed he kept his word. From this event the Royal Bounty for Triplets was instigated and only ceased during Elizabeth II reign. All three are said to have entered the learned professions after being educated at a University ‘beyond the seas’, probably in France or Italy. There is note in the Royal Privy purse expenses of 1498 ‘for the wages of the King’s Scoler John Taillor at Oxenford.’

About 1503 John Taylor was ordained Rector at Bishop’s Hatfield. Soon afterwards he was often sent abroad on official business, he was in fact, a Tudor civil servant. The following year he became Rector of Sutton Coldfield. By 1509 he had become Prebendary of Eccleshall in Lichfield Cathedral and he was one of the Royal Chaplains at Henry VII’s funeral. In the same year, the new King Henry VIII appointed him King’s Clerk and Chaplain and two years later he was made Clerk to the Parliament and given other positions. The detailed diary of a French campaign he undertook with the King is preserved in the British Museum. He wrote Royal Speeches, met ambassadors and was rewarded by more ecclesiastical preferment's, including that of Archdeacon of Derby in 1515 and later Royal Ambassador to Burgundy and France and Prolocutor of Convocation. In 1516 he also became Archdeacon of Buckingham. He was incorporated by virtue of his degrees of Doctor of Civil Law and Doctor of Canon Law at Cambridge in 1520 on the occasion of Wolsey’s visit there and shortly afterwards in 1522 at Oxford, also.

The famous meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I of France called the Field of the Cloth of Gold took place in June 1520 in Northern France. It was intended to strengthen peace ties between the two nations. Masterminded by the great Cardinal Wolsey, each King and Court strove to outshine the other. Henry was accompanied by 5,000 people and spent in excess of £13,000 on the splendour of the occasion. Among those attendants were ten chaplains, and one of them was John Taylor. The King ordered each priest to be clothed in damask and satin and each to be followed by his own attendants, not exceeding ten persons and four horses. The English built a splendid pavilion, a temporary palace of wood and canvas, with ‘windows upon windows upon windows.’ The Flemish glazier Galyon Hone created the windows. Fine malmsey and claret flowed from two drinking fountains.

Several years before this, as his career reached it zenith, Taylor decided to build a new church to replace the ancient chapelry dedicated to St. James, in his birthplace. This chapelry is first known to have been in existence in 1157 as a Chapel of Ease to Tatenhill. The new building was said to be on, or near the site of Taylor’s parents’ cottage.

It was begun in 1517 which date appears on the tower. Inside, inscriptions over alternate pillars of the nave tell of John Taylor’s preferment's and illustrious career, between these are representations of the coat-of-arms he adopted.

The East window was his gift and represents the Twelve Apostles, Moses, Elijah and Taylor’s Patron Saint, St. John the Baptist His coat of arms is seen again below the crucifixion. By the time the Tudor Church was finished and dedicated in 1533, its donor was already a sick and troubled man. In 1527 he had become Master of the Rolls, the peak of his appointments, he was travelling to and from France on Royal business and he had been appointed one of the commissionaries to try the validity of the King’s marriage to Catharine of Aragon. It seems possible that Wolsey had used John Taylor in a vain attempt to find a suitable French princess for a future Queen of England should the divorce be granted. His dread of Ann Boleyn was well-known.

In 1528 he became Archdeacon of Halifax. At the peak of his career Taylor was suddenly under pressure to surrender his prebend at St. Stephen’s, Westminster, another of his appointments, and he was suffering badly with a diseased leg. Whether his health failed or he incurred Royal disfavour we shall never know, but he wrote his will and resigned as Master of the Rolls in favour of Thomas Cromwell (doomed also to fall from Royal favour) and died in 1534. The place of John Taylor’s burial has not been traced, though there is thought to have been a monument to him in St. Anthony in London’s Threadneedle Street.

There is a touching sentence in his will (in Latin of course) ‘nothing in the world is more fleeting than human life and that nothing follows more certainly then death, and that nothing is more uncertain than the hour of our death and how transitory are the worldly goods provided for us by the goodness of God.’

He left various bequests to churches at Shetesbrook in Berkshire and Bishop’s Hatfield and Lincoln Cathedral. His servants and his sister Elizabeth, his executors, nephews and cousins shared the contents of his considerable household in his home at Bethnal Green and other bequests.

There are descendants of John and Rowland Taylor alive today, although little is known of John Taylor’s wife and children, perhaps because in the Church of England the celibacy of the clergy was not formally abolished until 1549.

The John Taylor High School, built in 1957, is named after the triplet, responsible for building St. James Church, to record local pride in his illustrious career. The knowledge that he rose from lowliness to eminence through education and application to duty is an example to today’s pupils.

The Coat of Arms adopted by John Taylor is described by Somerset Herald of Arms as follows :-

Sable on a chevron Argent between three boy’s aheads affronte, couped at the shoulders proper, crined Or, as many pansies slipped and leaved proper, on a chief - Or, a cross Tau Azure between two roses, Gules barbed and seeded proper.

 

Four Latin inscriptions above St James Church nave refer to his career.

bulletI.T. horum gemellorum natu maximus

I(ohn) T(aylor) of the triplets the eldest.

bulletDecretorum Doctor et sacorum Canonum Professor

Doctor of decrees and professor of sacred Canons

bulletArchidiaconus Derbie et Buckkyngham neg non et

Archdeacon of Derby and Buckingham and also

bulletMagister Rotulorum illustrious King Henry VIII An: Regni sui 20

Master of the Rolls of the illustrious King Henry VIII in the 20th year of his reign

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 Page last updated 16 February 2001