The Henry VII Indentures

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The Henry VII Indentures

The Henry VII Indentures
Parchment, Velvet Cover
16 July 1504

This is a colourfully illuminated set of agreements known as an indenture quadripartite (four-part), of which several copies were made. They formed part of a larger collection, including a series of four indentures bipartite (two-part) and an indenture septipartite (seven-part). As a whole, these indentures record arrangements made between Henry VII and the abbot (John Islip) and monks of Westminster Abbey on 16 July 1504. Primarily, they concern the King’s new burial chapel in the Abbey, the founding and maintenance of an almshouse, and rituals to be performed on behalf of the King and his family.
 
The indenture quadripartite details ‘foreign obits’: annual practices to be fulfilled in perpetuity for the welfare of the King in life, of his soul after death, and of his family. Among other duties, this included the saying of particular prayers, the delivery of sermons, the performance of liturgies and the distribution of alms. Such ceremonial was indicative of the Catholic belief in prayers for the dead as a means of helping souls to be delivered from Purgatory into Heaven. It was not just the abbot and monks of Westminster Abbey who were expected to observe these anniversaries, though. As recompense for an annual dole, many other religious communities were also bound to the ritual requirements of the indenture and faced a penalty if they defaulted.
 
Copies of the indenture quadripartite were distributed to the King, to the abbot and monks of Westminster Abbey, and to twenty third parties including the Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral. Only half of these third party indentures are thought to survive. To ensure that separate copies could later be reunited and verified as genuine, they were designed to fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. This accounts for the curious, wavy manner in which the upper edges of the pages have been trimmed. It would have allowed copies to be matched up with others of interlocking shape. In fact, indentures derive their name from their appearance; the word ‘indenture’ comes from the French word endenture, which means ‘indented’ or ‘toothed’.
 
Further reading
 
Condon, Margaret, ‘God Save the King! Piety, Propaganda, and the Perpetual Memorial’, in Tim Tatton-Brown and Richard Mortimer (eds.), ‘Westminster Abbey: The Lady Chapel of Henry VII (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2003), pp. 59-97
 
McKendrick, Scot, John Lowden and Kathleen Doyle, Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination, exhibition catalogue (British Library, 2011)