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Edmund Flower, Cuckfield school founder 1/2

Updated: May 14

Researched and written by Malcolm Davison

You will find the first article at: 1492: Edmund Flower welcomes the King back to London

This is a visualisation of Edmund Flower towards the end of his life, perhaps in Cuckfield as 'imagined' by Bing Image Creator.

It's surprising that we know anything at all about Edmund Flower, as over five centuries have elapsed. Most records of the Cuckfield Tudors have long been lost.

It’s largely thanks to the fact that the founder of Cuckfield Grammar School was a member of a well documented livery company - Merchant Taylors' - that we have been able to collate fascinating, albeit incomplete, snapshot of the man.

There are examples of his generous, benevolent nature and his professional integrity - but we also get a sense of the perilous and turbulent times that he lived in and that Cuckfield village was living through too. We can also be reassured that he was trusted by the king - Henry Vll.

His name

Flower's names as seen on legal docs and his will (top)

In the fifteenth century, writers' spelling was more fluid and unrestricted by today’s insistence on standardised spellings. So we find references to the name as Flour, Flowre, Flowr and Floure. I have settled on ‘Flower’ as that is how he has mostly been recorded in the last century or so. But the favoured spelling at the time was mostly Floure.

When was Flower born?

We know that Edmund Flower died in 1521 but, until now, we had no idea of the year he was born. To determine this, I researched the average age that Masters of the livery company were appointed around this time. The average age for a Master was 43 at this time - we know that was made Master in 1503 so if he was 43 then he was born in 1460 or within a year or two . We also know the ages of his immediate associates and the King, all of whom he worked closely with - and this estimated age sits well. [Fir more on this - see end of this web page]

Where was he born?

In 'The History of the Merchant Taylors' Company' by Matthew Davies and Ann Saunders [MTMD] we read that Edmund Flower was born in Cuckfield.

Matthew Davies is today Executive Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Professor of Urban History at Birkbeck, University of London. He is the leading expert in the country on the City livery companies and especially Merchant Taylors'.

He was most helpful in replying to my correspondence. He confirms that he has found no written confirmation of his birthplace - but that it follows a general pattern where liverymen leave their legacy of a new school that this would benefit their birthplace. There are other Merchant Taylor examples of this, such as:

Sir John Percyvale, Macclesfield Grammar School 1502

Sir Stephen Jenyns, Wolverhampton Grammar School 1508 [VCH, school says 1512, charter dated Sept 1511]

Note the founding dates of the above schools - and this almost certainly closer to where Cuckfield's founding date should be. These were known associates.

Dr Davies's belief that Flower was born in the village is also shared by four Cuckfield historians:

Rev James Hughes Cooper (Cuckfield Holy Trinity Vicar 1888-1909), Dr Roland B Harris, Maisie Wright, W Herrington [See below for what these authors say about

actual quotes]

Giovanni Battista Morone, the Tailor

Flower's knowledge of Cuckfield is evident in his precise instructions on the setting up of the school and his knowledge of the church for his burial at the Holy Trinity Church detailed in his will.

Flower was described as 'a citizen living in St Martin Outwich' (see below) that's the City Ward location including the Merchant Taylors' Hall in Threadneedle Street, London. His tailoring business, that's if he had one, was no doubt not far away.

In his will (see below) he anticipated that he would probably die in London in which case he left directions for his body to be taken to and buried in Cuckfield.

So retirement in Cuckfield is very unlikely.

Flower was not seen as a well dressed man wandering around Cuckfield High Street in the early sixteenth century. And it seems probable that he was fully active in business until he died.

Did he visit Cuckfield?

Although Edmund must have spent most of his life working in London he might have visited his parents, perhaps still living in the Sussex family home, maybe for a few decades. Travel in the winter to Cuckfield from London in the fifteenth century, from many accounts of the time, was difficult and at times impossible due to the state of the roads - and regular 'commuting' was impractical.

He almost certainly visited Cuckfield to discuss setting up the grammar school, and maybe he interviewed the schoolmaster, Revd William Molyneux [c1512-21 until 1539] he was also the vicar.

Both Molyneux and Flower's names have been used as house names in local schools.

Flower's closest colleague at Merchant Taylors' was William FitzWilliam who was the same age (born 1460) [more of him in a future article]. William married Mildred Sackville probably in the 1490s, this was his second marriage. Sackville is a local Sussex name and the family home was just 17 miles from Cuckfield at Withyham between Forest Row and Groombridge. But we don't know how William met Mildred. Did Edmond know the Sackville's from local knowledge and did he introduce her?

The opening of Edmund's lengthy will, dated 6 July 1521, mentions Cuckfield where he was born - three lines from bottom.

Edmund's career path

The fifteenth century was well before central birth registry records were kept. As a researcher for the Tudor period you would be very fortunate to find an individual's name in the baptismal records of a local church. Even if you did - due to spelling variations and little supporting evidence - it's easy to mistake your target individual for someone of the same name or for a relation. You might be lucky enough to find a crude genealogy chart, but the information for Edmund is non-existant: no birth record, family tree or burial memorial exists.

From MT Minutes, FitzWilliam and Flower admitted on the same day to the livery company in 1490

Had Edmund followed a conventional career path in tailoring, he would have completed his apprenticeship at 24 in 1484 (later the trade reduced the age to 21 in 1768). This would have been served in London with an established business run by a master tailor. There is a record that he was enrolled as a member of the Merchant Taylors' livery company on 7 May 1490.

Edmund was made a Warden of the company (four are appointed each year) in 1495 (at 35). He then served for a second term as Warden in 1499 (at 39). They were probably chosen by the Master, and being asked to serve twice did happen occasionally.

Then we know he became Master (their term for President, or Chief Executive) in 1503 for two years in office atan age I suggest of 43 [H1].

International trade

There is a Merchant Taylors' record showing that Flower was still in business in London in 1506:

'Floure exported cloth through the port of London with a Stephen Jenyns Jan 1506' [M1]

Sir Stephen Jenyns (c. 1450–1523) was a wool merchant from Wolverhampton, Merchant of the Staple* and Master Merchant Taylor who became Lord Mayor of London in the year of the coronation of King Henry VIII (1509). A patron of the arts, architecture and education, he founded Wolverhampton Grammar School (in 1512). So two business colleagues - Jenyns and Flower - both in Merchant Taylors' each founded schools at about the same time.

[* the oldest mercantile corporation in England that controlled the export of wool to the continent during the late medieval period.]

Top city job

As one of the most powerful and wealthy livery companies - being Master of this livery company was one of the top jobs in the City. Clearly he was much respected and trusted by his peers, and would, most likely, have been both prominent and successful in the tailoring trade.

The medieval classes

At this time, tailoring was confined to the middle and upper classes. Fine clothes expressed status and wealth. But Cuckfield was a quiet rural community - clothing was mostly practical to suit their main preoccupation. But the village was about to see a significant expansion with the iron industry from 1512 onwards. [T]

Edmund, both before and after his death made practical and appreciated social improvements to village life. Not only would he bring grammar school education but he also contributed to welfare support through the input of the Fraternity of our Blessed Lady.

The Old St Pauls, a graphic visualisation

The Merchant Taylors’ livery company became one of the largest and most prestigious in the City of London. It attracted nobles and royals to join the trade - indeed Henry Vll himself was a member.

The Company was allowed to use St Martins Outwich (adjacent to their Hall) to administer deceased member’s chantries (prayers for the souls of the dead). They also had their own chapel in St Paul’s Cathedral (the forerunner to Christopher Wren’s masterpiece that we know today). Affluent people may well have joined the livery company to benefit from the chantry prayer services that they provided [T1]

Flower given exceptional admission

There is a footnote in the Merchant Taylors' minutes [MIN P159] for May 1490 that shows that Flower William FitzWilliam were sworn into the company at the same time. This shows that although they were not normally accepting admissions at the time both were given exceptional admission because of their spouses:

'Item the same day the following persons were admitted as brethren of this fraternity, notwithstanding that the livery is not being granted this year … as both brethren were married to wives who were formerly the wives of wardens according to the aforesaid ordinance … Edmund Floure (sworn) and William Fitzwilliam (sworn) [see references to him above].'

There is a theory I put forward in a future article about why these two men might have been admitted at the same time, and why the livery company chose to ignore their recruitment limit to andit them.

We have no written accounts of Edmund’s progress through the trade. Clearly from his rise in the livery company he was well respected by his peers and became Master of the company in the space of 13 years. FitzWilliam made it in nine years (and Flower was one of his Wardens).

Edmund's family life

We know very little about Edmund's personal life. He was married at least twice. His first wife was the widow of a former Warden of the Merchant Taylors' livery company. We know he had a wife called Alicia and that she predeceased Edmund. If she was Edmund's first wife, then it's likely her husband was the tailor, and that Edmund had been an apprentice in his business and effectively 'married into the business It may be possible to establish which Warden her husband was, but there are many potential names in the frame to check and the chances of a positive outcome are slim.

Edmund refers to family in his will and lists his wife as an executor** of his will. The testator provided for the cost of the obits and for charities in London, and left the residue of his property to his family.

** his wife with Richard Conhille and Robert Shether, merchant tailors, as his executors, with Sir Henry Wyatt as overseer.

Richard Cornhill was aMaster of Merchant Taylors in 1506 and was a Warden when Flower was Master (so probably appointed by him)

Robert Shether was a Warden in 1520 and Master of Merchant Taylors in 1526

Sir Henry Wyatt KB (c. 1460–1536) was an English nobleman, knight, courtier, and politician. Under Henry VII he was appointed Clerk of the King's Jewels and Captain of Carlisle Castle. His close connections with Scotland came to the fore in his later career as Henry VII's agent in that country, for which there is ample evidence of his employment on secret and sensitive missions. He was also present at the subsequent reception for Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor at Canterbury in 1522. He was Treasurer of the King's Chamber from 1524 to 1528.

Where was Flower buried?

From his will we know that Edmund still had a home in London and gave instructions that his body would lie in Southwark Cathedral for his London colleagues to pay their respects.

. . . unto the parisshe Chirche of Saint George in Southwark in the Countie of Surry. … to cause it to be caried unto the same Chirche of Cukfeld and there to be buried.'

This also gave time for arrangements to be at Cuckfield Church and to relay his body to Cuckfield… ' shall cause my body to be honestely conveyed

Flower asked [10th line of his will] to be 'buried' in the body of the church' of the Holy Trinity of Cuckfeld.

Since Edmund will have paid handsomely, through his bequest for the school, for chantry prayers for his soul to be regularly read after his death. Setting up the welfare arrangements would have been appreacited too. As his other wishes in his will seem to have been carried out - his request for burial within the church was probably carried out too. The final say on this would have been Ninian Burrell's who was Cuckfield's vicar (1509-36) at the time.

Building a reputation

Following the seven year apprenticeship you became a freeman. You then would have to prove yourself to others in the craft that you had the potential to succeed, and will insist on the highest standards. Only then would you be accepted into the livery company. It took time to progress through the ranks. Matthew Davies in ‘The History of the Merchant Taylors' Company explains the roles of Warden and Master:

‘In common with most guilds and fraternities the Merchant Taylors’ company was governed from day to day by elected representatives, in this case a Master and four wardens who are drawn from the ranks of its most distinguished members.

‘… The pattern of office-holding by members of the livery became established during the fifteenth century. Service as Master was normally limited to just one year, although in exceptional circumstances, such as the illness of death of an incumbent, a former Master could be asked to serve again. All Masters were expected to have served previously as one of the Wardens … those who became Master were usually highly experienced individuals, who had had the opportunity to demonstrate their suitability for the Mastership over a period of years.’ [MTMD, 36/37]

The charter granted by Henry VII on 6 January 1503

Unusually Edmund served as Master for two years. In the space of 100 years from the year 1500 there were only 11 cases of a master serving more than one year. In Edmund's case this probably related to the new charter, not only was there a need for some continuity at a time of instability but, and more importantly, the line of communication with the king needed to be maintained.

However another explanation could be that the Master Elect (next Master) had died and Flower continued in the role.

The new charter

This was a time of considerable business turmoil in the tailoring trade in the City. This seventh and most controversial royal charter followed lengthynegotiations with the sovereign. It was driven forward by the then Master of the company, William FitzWilliam. The livery members would have faced bitter anger from tailors who were not members of the company. From then on, the company set and administered and 'policed' trading standards and could even fine and imprison those that ignored them.

This side-lined non members of the Company who mostly did not go through lengthy apprenticeships. They would no longer be allowed to make complete garments - but they were allowed to repair and clean existing tailored garments..

FitzWillam's negotiations and details of the debate internally were not recorded. And it's notable that this was the time of significant transfer of wealth from the livery’s coffers. Perhaps this charter was a quid pro quo - a payment to the Crown for 'a licence to print money' within the trade.

Henry Vll, unlike his son and successor Henry Vlll, preferred to handle negotiations himself. Creating a sound new direction for the nation was crucial for the monarchy's future. There was a need to avoid corrupt deals. The king was also paranoid about noblemen plotting his downfall. It's highly likely that Flower also dealt directly with the King during his two years in office with the support of William FitzWilliam. Flower and the King were of similar age - in 1503, the King was 46, and Flower probably 43.

Flower trusted by the King

Henry Vll painted on 29 October 1505

Merchant Taylors' agreed to celebrate Mass for the King Henry Vll’s soul in the church of St Martin Outwich. They repeated this every year on the anniversary of the monarch’s death - from the King's death in April 1509 until 1548 when the Reformation led to the abandonment of such services.

Taking this on would have been appreciated by other livery companies - some of which were far less wealthy. It was also compensation for the impact that the charter had on allied trades.

These prayers were a matter of such personal importance to the King, and Edmund must have been closely trusted by the monarch. The agreement went:

… that the company should keep a perpetual Obit ‘commemoration of their most excellent prince’ - Henry VII

in return for change of name of ‘the Brotherhood’ which ‘has long lain hid in concealment and shade’ [HI, 349]

Safe pair of hands

Flower was a very powerful man in the City, for a time he steered one of the most wealthy livery companies. Despite this it appears that he conducted himself with humility and philanthropy, reflecting the values of the organisation he was representing and leading.

While the livery company records the excesses and shortcomings of some members, the few records of Flower only show him in a positive light. To the livery members Edmund must have been considered a ‘safe pair of hands’ tfo him to be invited for a second term in office as Master, and we can sense that he was well liked.

London building work

When acting as Warden, Edmund was involved with improvements to the livery company’s buildings in London. It was in 1495 and 1496 when Flower along with other company officers, approved payment for some buildings ‘in the vyntry’ referring to the Vintry ward of the City of London where its Hall was located. This may have been an extension to the Company’s Hall.

'By royal appointment'

Some members of Merchant Taylor supplied services to the 'Great Wardrobe' which mantained, stored and made clothes for the royal court including the king himself. We know that:

  • The [Great] Wardrobe purchased silks, woollens, linens, furs, dress accessories, shoes, and some ready-made clothing such as hats, bonnets caps, and hose. In some cases changes in fashion can be detected; this is particularly true for hose, which became far more apparent during this period. There were 400 suppliers to the Wardrobe during the reigns of Henry Vll and Henry Vlll. [GW]

  • Robert Duplage, who was Master in 1480, supplied drapery to the Royal Wardrobe and scarlet and woollen cloth for the coronations of both Richard lll and Henry Vll.

  • John Kirkeby, who was Master 1501, also supplied cloth to the Great Wardrobe for the coronation of Richard lll. The Great Wardrobe was the section of the royal household responsible for supplying the king and his household with clothing and furnishings.

  • Georg Lovekyn served as King Henry Vll's tailor until 1504, but also made robes for Edward lV

  • Roger Mone supplied cloth to the Great Wardrobe and exported wool and skins to Calais. He did not serve as Master but was a Warden in 1490 and 1497. He died 1499.

There are no records of Flower's business to know whether he was serving the royal court. But the livery company's input to court appearance gives another reason for the King Henry Vll apparent favourable of the Merchant Taylors' livery company. The tailors were the largest craft in London and were a major contributor for the nation's export trade.

[end of part one]

Part 2 to follow Saturday 2 May

Sources for Part 1 are at the end of Part 2 of the article



Colleagues at Merchant Taylors' and the age they were made Master

Key: name; birth year; warden; master; age as Master

Sir Stephen Jenyns 1447; unknown; 1490; 42

Sir William Fitzwilliam 1460; 1494 and 1498; 1499; 39

Edmund Flower 1460 [derived from this data]; 1494 and 1498; 1503; 43

Sir Thomas White 1492; 1533; 1535 [Davies]; 43

In the 16th century the age of the Master increased. This is explained in a doctorate dissertation for the University of London dated June 1989 by Dr Nigel Victor Sleigh-Johnson entitled:

'The Merchant Taylors Company of London 1580-1645 with special reference to Politics and Government.'

In the thorough examination of the livery company the author established [p43] the number of years it took to become a Warden (on the Court of Assistants). He observes that this steadily increased to over 85 years. For Flower this interval was just nine years:

560-1569 15 years

1600-1609 26 years

1640-1645 38 years

The increase in member numbers increased the length of the 'on probation' figure and raised the age of the Master to their 50s, and 60s. This was due to the massive expansion of London's population leading to many more tailors in the trade. But the number of officers for the livery company did not increase by the same proportion. One duty for wardens was to look after rental income, and another to monitor and approve company expenditure - but extra hands were not needed to manage the extra load.

Historians who believed that Edmund was born in Cuckfield

Four Cuckfield historians have in the past also expressed a belief that Edmund Flower was born in Cuckfield:

  1. Rev James Hughes Cooper wrote in 'History of the Parish of Cuckfield' : 'The facts that he chose Cuckfield as the place of his School and desired to be buried there make it most probable that he was a native of the town.'

  2. Dr Roland B Harris BA DPhil MIFA in Cuckfield's 'Historic Character Assessment Report' for WSCC in 2005 wrote: 'His will of 1521 endowed the school that he had already funded for ‘certeine years past’. Given that in 1498-9 he was warden of the Merchant Taylors Company, and their first master in 1503-4, is possible that he established the school c.1500. Flower’s founding of the school and burial at Cuckfield, strongly suggests that he was a native of the town.'

  3. Maisie Wright in A Chronicle of Cuckfield (1971) wrote : '… he asks to be buried in the parish church of Cuckfield, which suggests that he was a native of the town.'

  4. William Herrington. Headmaster of the National School, Cuckfield (Former grammar school) 1891-1924.  'Why the first founder, Flower, chose Cuckfield for his school is unknown. Probably he lived here. Certainly he desired to be buried here in the church itself, and left very explicit instructions in his Will for this to be done. But was he buried here? We do not know, for the first volume of the Cuckfield Registers has gone astray. The second volume begins with the year 1598. seventy-seven years too late to be of any assistance. If ever the vaults under the chancel and floor of our church are opened, and access to them is permitted, there is one who would search long and carefully for a casket with a brass plate bearing the name of Edmund Flower.' Mid Sussex Times, 3 January 1922.

Painting: Giovanni Battista Morone, The Tailor ('Il Tagliapanni') c1570. National Gallery. Wikimedia public domain image.

Contributed and researched by by Malcolm Davison.


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