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4.0 out of 5 stars Cornwall's Clerical Club, 21 Mar. 2012
Nicholas Casley (Plymouth, Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The History of Glasney College (Paperback)
Any visitor to Penryn would be hard pressed to conceive that a huge church and associated buildings akin to an abbey stood in the valley to the south of the town. But Whetter tells us that Glasney College was "probably the best known and most important of Cornwall's monastic institutions." Strictly, it was not a monastery; after listing the names of its founders, Whetter writes that, "In many ways it was a sort of clerical club, though with political and economic overtones, of the notable and substantial clergymen of mid-Cornwall in the 1260s, an instrument of power and influence for both the bishop [of Exeter] and the earl [of Cornwall]."

Published in 1988, Whetter foretold the success of future archaeological excavations when he wrote that, "A detailed investigation of the site today would no doubt show that there is more surviving ... than one might expect." His book missed out on the discoveries made during these excavations in the first decade of this century, but this does not make the book any the less useful.

There are seven chapters, titled `History'; `The Buildings'; `Officials and Daily Life'; `The Chantries'; `The Economic Basis'; Glasney College in the Community'; and `Glasney and the Cornish Language'. His first chapter, which takes up a quarter of the book, details the history of the college from its foundation in 1265 to its dissolution in 1549. Chapter three takes up another quarter of the book. Here he analyses the roles of the provost, sacristan, and the vicars, as well as their characters and backgrounds (so far as he is able) of these and of the canons.

Chapter five reviews the sources of the college's income: "Glasney, being a comparatively late foundation, was unusually dependent on ecclesiastical sources for its revenue. This fact linked the college closely with the tithe-collection system, not a popular facet of life in the Middle Ages." (It would have been better to have had the financial details presented in tabular form.)

Chapter six looks at the college's relationship with the town of Penryn, a relationship that Whetter casts as, on the whole, "mutually supportive". He writes that, "Both were ultimately under the control of the Bishop of Exeter and this fact no doubt united rather than divided." With the dissolution of the college, Penryn suffered decline.

The final chapter is ostensibly devoted to Glasney's role in the preservation of the Cornish language, but Whetter cleverly parallels the demise of the language with that of the college, together with the stifling of a Cornish nationalism, concluding that, "In many ways the end of Glasney was a damaging blow to the history and spirit of the Cornish nation."

His book - a well-written and concise history that also contains much detail - is devoid of photographic plates but opens with three figures depicting the college and the town of Penryn: these are from Lord Burghley's plot of around 1580, the south coast fortifications plot of around 1540, and the reconstruction for Sir Ferdinand George. Unfortunately they are all reproduced in monochrome and the details of the first cannot be read; perhaps it should have had a double-page spread.

Whetter's book is a work of history; he is not uncritical of monkish claims, for example putting the `divine lights' seen at the time of the college's foundation down to the effects of marsh gas. Sometimes he goes too far in his claims of certainty, such as that Roger de Ponte "must have been an early chaplain of the chantry" of that name." Many a `no doubt' should really be a `probably'.

There are no references in the text, the author referring us instead to the bibliography and list of sources at the end of the book. Which is fine as far as it goes, but the author's reference to Deborah Wingfield's "in-depth survey of the archaeology of the area" is curiously omitted from the list of sources. The book comes with a good index.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Uncovering a forgotten & disregarded part of our history., 20 Dec. 2013
corporaljones (Just the wrong side of the Border) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The History of Glasney College (Paperback)
Much fuller and more 'rounded' an account than Thurstan Peter's: well worth the paltry price.
A pity it has to be in such a small font-size.
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The History of Glasney College
The History of Glasney College by James Whetter (Paperback - April 1988)
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