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Lichfield [formerly Wyche], Clement (d. 1546), abbot of Evesham, was probably born in the early 1470s to parents surnamed Wyche, possibly at Lichfield, Staffordshire, which would explain his adoption of that name on becoming a monk. He entered the Benedictine abbey of Evesham well before 1497, when he was ordained priest at Oxford while studying at the university. He took the degree of BTh in 1500 and was allowed to proceed DTh in 1507. After serving as sacrist, he was prior of the monastery when on 28 December 1513 he was elected abbot following the death of Thomas Newbold. His consecration by the suffragan bishop of Worcester diocese took place at Offenham, Worcestershire, on 15 January 1514.

Evesham was a wealthy abbey, exempt from episcopal jurisdiction. Lichfield received a seat in the House of Lords and acted as a justice of the peace in Worcestershire throughout his term of office. He was a notable initiator of building projects. While prior, he created an ornate chapel in the church of All Saints, Evesham, which displays his monogram, and about 1530 he added a second chapel, dedicated to the Trinity, the Virgin Mary, and St Clement, in St Laurence's Church in the same town. Lichfield was also the driving force behind the erection of the richly decorated free-standing bell tower which still survives in the former monastic precinct. Bequests towards its costs in local wills reveal that this was being built in the period 1524–32.

Lichfield's other achievement was to construct a grammar school on Merstow Green, opposite the gate of the abbey, probably by 1524 when a master of the school is recorded. This embodied another of his interests: the promotion of education. The school, which offered tuition in Latin free of fees, was open to boys from the neighbourhood, endowed from the abbey's resources, staffed by a salaried schoolmaster. It survived the dissolution of the abbey in 1540. He also fostered learning in his monastery. By 1530 Robert Joseph, the humanist Latinist and letter writer, was acting as lecturer to the novices, and the abbot met the requirements of the Benedictine order by sending his best students to Oxford. When the abbey was dissolved, the community included a prior in charge of students, one bachelor of canon law, four bachelors of divinity, and two or three monks still at university. By December 1537 Joseph had become prior in charge of Gloucester College, one of the Benedictine centres of study at Oxford, though he later returned to Evesham.

Criticisms of Lichfield are discernible in the letters that Robert Joseph wrote while staying at Evesham in 1530–31. The abbot had recalled him from Oxford to serve as his chaplain, and then appointed him as lecturer because of what Joseph regarded as Lichfield's displeasure. Joseph chafed at the interruption of his university studies, but the abbot allowed him to return to Oxford shortly afterwards. An unfriendly entry in an abbey chronicle accuses Lichfield of paying large sums of money to Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey in return for favours, and of burdening Evesham with hospitality to their servants. This judgement underestimates the pressure of the crown on monasteries as Henry's reign progressed, especially after the king's assumption of the headship of the English church in 1534. The king's commissioners who visited Evesham in 1535 might describe the abbot as ‘a man chaste in his living’ and one who ‘right well overlooked the reparation of his house’ (Barnard, 44). Nevertheless, by 1536 Lichfield was facing demands to surrender the abbey's cells of Alcester, Warwickshire, and Penwortham, Lancashire, as well as landed property at Church Honeybourne, Worcestershire. His authority was weakened when Thomas Cromwell found an ally in the person of the monastery's cellarer, Philip Hawford, and letters of 1536–7 hint at plans to replace the abbot by Hawford.

In March 1538 Dr William Petre, Cromwell's assistant, visited Lichfield with letters from his master that were evidently of a stringent nature. Petre wrote to Cromwell on the 17th of the month that, after seeing the letters, Lichfield offered his resignation with the request that the fact should be concealed for a little time lest he be suspected of leaving from fear of deprivation. Through Petre, Lichfield asked to be granted a pension. His resignation took effect, and Hawford was elected to replace him in the following April, duly yielding the abbey to the crown in January 1540. It has been assumed since the late eighteenth century that Lichfield retired to Offenham, where the abbots possessed a house. However, when the crown made grants of the site of Evesham Abbey to Philip Hoby in 1542 and 1544, certain buildings on the outer edge of the monastery were excepted because they were reserved to Lichfield for life, and he is listed as residing at Evesham in a taxation return of 1546. He probably died on 8 December of that year and was buried the following day in the chapel that he had built at All Saints' Church. A ledger stone was placed above his grave, depicting him wearing vestments, accompanied by pious inscriptions in Latin and a tribute, in translation, that ‘in his time the new tower of Evesham was built’. The grave was opened and the body viewed in 1817, but the stone was apparently removed or destroyed later in the nineteenth century.

Nicholas Orme

Sources  

Emden, Oxf., 2.1183 · E. A. B. Barnard, ‘Clement Lichfield, last abbot of Evesham’, Transactions of the Worcestershire Archaeological Society, new ser./5 (1927–8), 38–52 · LP Henry VIII, vols. 1, 4–5, 9–13, 17, 19 · The letter book of Robert Joseph, ed. H. Aveling and W. A. Pantin, OHS, new ser., 19 (1967) · W. D. Macray, ed., Chronicon abbatiae de Evesham, ad annum 1418, Rolls Series, 29 (1863), 340 · Royal Library of Belgium, Brussels, MS 7965, fol. 134r · T. Habington, A survey of Worcestershire, ed. J. Amphlett, 2 vols., Worcestershire Historical Society (1895–9), 2.78, 91