There has been a link between the English hospices and the crowned heads of England from the earliest times.
The Schola Saxonum is said to have its origins in the arrival of King Ine of the West Saxons in about 725. With regard to the Hospice of St Thomas, the coat of arms and plaque (1), dated 1412, and possibly relating to some building work at that time, indicates a connection with the English Crown. The monarch at that time was Henry IV and at that time there was already in existence the Firma Angliae, begun under Richard II, a national collection in support of the hospice. One of the notable features of the plaque that accompanies the shield is the reference to the monarch as king of England and France. The same royal coat of arms can be seen on one of the preserved corbels, now on display in the Cardinals Corridor, which comes from the church consecrated in 1501, which was paid for by Robert Shirborne, Henry VII’s ambassador. According to a description of 1662 this originally ‘stood out in relief and colour’.
Under Royal Control
From the middle of the 15th century at least the Hospice was connected with the English ‘orators’ or ambassadors, to the Holy See. Prominent among these were John Shirwood, Robert Shirborne, and Christopher Bainbridge. Henry VII (1485-1509) took a particular interest in the hospice, and Shirwood and Shirborne were his ambassadors. Eventually, with increasing governance issues at stake, the king took direct control in appointing Hugh Inge as Warden. Later kings, however, took less direct interest in the Hospice.
The most famous royal ambassador to have influence over the Hospice is probably Christopher Bainbridge, Cardinal Archbishop of York (4). Bainbridge had been a member of the confraternity since 1492, and held the office of camerarius in 1493, and so was very familiar with the place. When he returned to Rome as Ambassador in 1510 he seems to have taken control of the administration. Bainbridge was, however, a rather difficult character and made many enemies. He died in 1514, possibly poisoned at the instigation of the warden, Sylvester Giglis.
The link between the Hospice and the Crown came to an end when, following Henry VIII’s break with Rome, Pope Paul III handed the Hospice over to English exiles under Cardinal Pole (3) in 1538.