Almost nothing is known about William de Codegrave – just two recorded references, one in 1321 when he was appointed Master of Lutterworth Hospital and one seven years later when a successor was needed because Codegrave was dead. There is no information about his family, no idea how he came to be at the hospital, no clue as to basic facts like his age, let alone what motivated him, his likes or dislikes.
The Hospital of St John was a small institution – never intended to house more than a handful of religious brothers led by a master, giving temporary accommodation to travellers and relief to up to six sick or poor people. But even this was hard to sustain with the meagre resources available. A few decades after Codegrave’s death, the institution gave up pretending and ceased to operate altogether (although masters were still appointed to draw what revenues there were). William was elected by the brethren, but since there can only have been a few (of whom he was one), he did not need many votes to secure the job!
But despite the fact that William de Codegrave is almost a complete enigma, we can get extremely close to him for two reasons. When archaeologists excavated the site of the Hospital, they found a graveyard. Most of the burials cannot be dated (one of then could even be Codegrave for all we know), but one – known as SK16 – contained a buckle at the body’s waist, which can be dated to the fourteenth century. It’s a bit too late to have been worn by Codegrave, but there is every chance that this man knew him – perhaps he was already a young brother at the hospital when William died in the summer of 1329.
And even closer in date to the William de Codegrave’s mastership of the hospital, the researchers found heraldic floor tiles from the early fourteenth century.
And in the British Library is a beautiful psalter, a religious book with saints’ dates, religious words and music, illustrated with exquisite and intricate paintings of everyday life in mediaeval England. It had already been produced when William de Codegrave took charge at the Hospital and perhaps he touched it, using it regularly as he led the religious life of the institution at a time when its income still allowed Codegrave and his religious brothers to offer treatment to the sick, relief to the poor, help to those in need and rest to the weary.
Hospitals: Lutterworth’, in A History of the County of Leicestershire: Volume 2, ed. W G Hoskins and R A McKinley (London, 1954), pp. 42-44. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/leics/vol2/pp42-44 [accessed 5 January 2023].
British Library: Additional MS 18,668.
Score, V. (2010) Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society, Vol 84, pp.165-187.
Registers of Bishop Henry Burghesh 1320-1340, Vol. 1, pp.108, 123, Lincolnshire Record Society (1999)