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3 December

Re-Foundation of The King’s School, 7 December 1541

This month we celebrate the 480th Anniversary of the re-founding of The King’s School, Worcester by Henry VIII.

The School is fortunate to have an incredible in-house Archivist, Harriet Patrick, who has delved into the detail of what happened in 1541 and in the very early years of the School.  Here are her findings:

On 16 January 1541, Worcester Benedictine monks surrendered their priory to King Henry VIII in obedience to an Act of Parliament dissolving the last of the monasteries.

Foundation of The King’s School

On 7 December 1541, King Henry VIII wrote to Sir Richard Riche, Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations (which managed the property of dissolved religious houses), nominating and appointing John Pether as schoolmaster of the new “Cathedral Collegiate church” at Worcester. Various of his chaplains, the King’s secretary wrote, had recommended John Pether as, “a personne boothe for his learning and also for his sobrietie very mete and apte to be by us appointed Scolemaister”. The full text of this letter is below.

To our trustie and right welbiloued cunsellor Sir Richard Riche, Knight, Chauncellor of Thaugmentations of the Revenues of our crowne.
By the king
Trustie and right welbiloved We greate youe well. And understanding by the credeable reapourte of diverse of oure Chapelaynes that this Bringer John Pether is a personne boothe for his learning and also for his sobrietie very mete and apte to be by us appointed Scolemaister in sornrne Cathedral1 Collegiate churche to be newly by us erected and established Calling to our remembraunce that our Cathedral1 churche at Worcestour shalbe shortely established and mynistres other and officers therein appointed These shalbe therefore to advertise youe that we have nominated and appointed the foresaid John Pether Scolemaister of our saide cathedral churche of Worcestour to exercise and enioy the same Rowme with the yerely Salarye and other Dueties therunto belonging during our pleasure. Wherefore we wolie and require youe to see that the saide John Pether may be presently admitted unto the said Rowme of Scolernaister Any other personne assigned or nominated heretofore to the same in any wise notwithstanding. Yevin under our signet at our Manour of Otelande the vijth of Decembre the xxxiijth yere of our Reigne.

Foundation of The King’s School Henry VIII

The Letters Patent to Worcester were dated 24 January 1542, and King’s opened later that year. King Henry’s charter for the new foundation provided for the endowment of a Dean, ten Prebendaries, ten Minor Canons, two Schoolmasters, 40 King’s Scholars, an Organist, ten Lay Clerks, and ten Choristers, besides other subordinate members of the Cathedral staff, and certain officers attached to the Foundation.

The 1544 Worcester Cathedral book of statutes set up a Governing Body or Chapter consisting of a Dean and ten Major Canons or Prebendaries, each living in his own house within the College. Under Statute 26, the Dean and Chapter would provide funding for “forty boys, poor and destitute of the help of friends, with an inborn aptitude for learning, as far as may be”. The Dean would nominate the scholars, after assessment by the Dean and Schoolmaster in respect of their ability to read and write and to understand “the first rudiments of grammar”. As a condition of entry, boys had to be able to recite from memory, in English, the Lord’s Prayer, the Angelus, the Apostles’ Creed and the Ten Commandments. Pupils were to be aged between nine and 15 years, except former Cathedral choristers, who could remain beyond the age of 15.

The King’s Scholars were to be maintained and boarded and taught gratis, “at the expense of our church”. To this end the Treasurer disbursed every four weeks to each boy 3s. 4d. for his “table and commons”, whether Scholar or Chorister. In addition, each pupil was allocated 2½ yards of cloth, at 3s. 4d. a yard, to be made into suitable garments to be worn for church services. Pupils were to receive this shortly before Christmas “so that they may celebrate the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ with new clothes and new minds”. The school (masters and pupils) was required to be present in the quire on feast days, and to attend the celebration of Mass in the Cathedral. King Henry VIII also stipulated that a service to mark his death must be observed, and that this should continue for perpetuity on the anniversary of his death.

As we have seen, the King himself nominated the first Schoolmaster; but thereafter Statute 26 vested in the Dean and Chapter the power of appointing Master and Usher. The Master had to be learned in Latin and Greek, of good character and pious life, with a talent for teaching. The Usher had to be all those things too, except that he need not know Greek. Both had to take oaths on entering office. Either could be deposed from office after three warnings from the Dean. The Usher was to teach the First, Second and Third Forms and to open the school with prayers and psalms every morning at 6 o’clock. The Master was to come at 7 o’clock to teach the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Forms; but he was responsible for the whole school and was to question the Usher’s boys on their work two or three times a week.


King’s is very fortunate to have such an incredible foundation on which it has grown and developed over the years to the thriving community it is today.

As part of our 480th celebrations, we are inviting OVs and Friends of the School to help continue Henry VIII’s vision and celebrate education by supporting the King’s School Worcester Development Trust, which provides life-changing bursaries. You can learn more about it here.