In the year 1463, in the reign of King Edward IV, a London merchant, accompanied by his serving man, was crossing the moors to the south of Wyke St. Mary, and, seeking shelter for the night, met a maiden looking after a few sheep. At the stranger’s request she took him to her father’s humble home, and there the wayfarer stayed that night.
Next morning Richard Bumsby, for such was his name, having been greatly impressed by their daughter’s wit and beauty, asked the parents if he might take her to London to assist his wife. So Thomasine Bonaventure set off, travelling pillion behind her master’s servant, and in a fortnight’s time was riding through the streets of London town, which one day were to ring with the praises of this unknown village maid.
After Thomasine had spent a few years as a capable and faithful serving maid, her mistress died, and she consented to become the wife of her master. Three years afterwards her husband died of the plague, leaving to his wife - a young and beautiful widow - the whole of his property. In one of her letters she announces her husband’s death and gives the Reeve of Week St. Mary ten marks “to the intent that he shall cause skilful masons to build a bridge at the Ford of Green-a-more, yea, and with stout stonework well laid, and see that they do no harm to that tree which standeth fast by the brook, neither dispoyle they the rushes and plants that grow thereby: for there did I pass many goodly hours when I was a small mayde, and there did I first see the face of a faithful friend.” An old chronicler says: “Her dower, together with her youth and beauty, procured her to the cognizance of divers well-deserving men, who thereupon made addresses of marriage to her, but none of them obtained her affection, but only Henry Gall of St. Lawrence, Milk Street, an eminent and wealthy citizen, and a merchant adventurer.”
Soon after their marriage we find that “twenty acres of woodland copse in the neighbourhood were bought and conveyed by the gracious lady Dame Thomasine Gall to feofees and trustmen, for the perpetual use of the poor of Week St. Mary, for fewel to be hewn in pieces once a year and finally and equally divided, for evermore on the vigil of St. Thomas the Twin.”
After five years Henry Gall died, leaving his wife a great fortune, and it is written, “The fame of the virtue, wealth and beauty of the said Thomasine spread itself over the City of London, so that persons of the greatest magnitude of wealth and dignity there courted her, Among the rest it was the fortune of John Percyval, Esquire, goldsmith and userer (that is to say, banker) to prevail upon her to become his wife.” He was very wealthy and of high repute, alderman of his ward and of noble character. Their wedding, about the year 1480, was made a kind of public festival. As a wedding gift of remembrance to her old home she directed that “a firm and stedfast road should be laid down with stones, at her sole cost, along the midst of Green-a moor, and fit for man and beast to travel on with their lawful occasions from Lanstephadon (Launceston) to the sea.”
At another time she gave forty marks towards the building of a tower for St. Stephen’s Church, above the causeway of Dunheved, and it was her wish “that they should carry their pinnacles so high that they might be seen from Swannacote Cross, by the moor, to the intent that they who do behold it from the Burgage Mound may remember the poor mayde who is now a wedded dame of London Citie.”
In 1486 John Percyval became Sheriff of London, and in 1498 Lord Mayor, and was knighted by the King.
A letter written at this time to her mother reads:
“Sweet mother, thy daughter hath seen the face of the King. We were bydden to a banket at the royal palace, and Sir John and I could not choose but go. There was such a blaze of lords and ladies in silks and samite and jewels of gold, that it was like the citie of New Jerusalem in the Scriptures, and thy maid Thomasine was arrayed so fine that they brought up the saying that I was dressed like an altar. When we were led into the chamber where His Highness stood, the King did kiss me on the cheek as the manner is, and he seemed gentle and kind. But then he did turn to my good lord and husband, and say, with a look stern and stark enow, ‘Ha, Sir John! See to it that thy fair dame be liege and true, for she comes of the burly Cornish stock, and they be ever rebels in blood and bone. Even now they be one and all for that knave Warbeck, who is among them in the West.’ You will guess, dear mother, how my heart did beat. But withall the King did drink to me at the banket and merrily did call ‘Health to our Lady Mayoress Dame Thomasine Percyval, which now feedeth her flock in the Citie of London.’ And thereat they did laugh and fleer and shout, and there was flashing of tankards and jingling of cups all down the Hall.”
After twenty-five years of married life, Sir John died in 1504, and Thomasine, who lived for another thirty-five years, “employed the residue of her life to works no less bountiful than charitable - namely, repairing highways, feeding and apparelling the poor, etc.” In her will, dated 1512, she makes her cousin, John Dinham, residuary legatee and leaves £20 to her brother, John Bonaventer.
She died in 1539 at the age of eighty-nine. Stratton Church accounts show that on the day on which she was to be “remembered” prayer was to be made for the repose of her soul and two shillings and two pence paid to the priests for bread and ale.
Both she and her husband were very loyal to their native places. He, amidst many duties, endowed Macclesfield, near which he was born, with a free grammar school, “because there were few schoolmasters in that country, and the children, for lack of teaching, fell to idleness and consequently live dissolutely all their days.”
At Week St. Mary Dame Percyval founded a chantry and a college, or grammar school, of which there are some picturesque remains, notably a recessed doorway with carved tympanum, a piece of battlemented wall, a well, and the steps leading up to the top of the wall, where the college bell was hung.
It has been thought that the chantry and college were abolished under the Chantry Act of 1545, and that the connection of the school with the Chantry of St. John in the Church gave the pretext for this action. Carew says: “In Thomasine Bonaventer’s grammar school divers of the best gentlemen’s sons of Devon and Cornwall had been virtuously trained up in both kinds of divine and humane learning under one Cholwill, an honest and religious teacher; which caused the neighbours so much the rather and the more to rewe that a petty smacke only of popery opened the gap for the suppression of the whole by the statute made in Edward Vi’s reign touching the suppression of Chanterie.”
The fact however seems to be that when the Commissioners came to Week St. Mary to inspect the chantry, the school was already in decay. This is confirmed by the following extract from the report of the Trustees of the Launceston Charities in 1859: “Among the records at the Record Office, London, are certain Certificates of the Commissioners appointed in the reign of King Henry the Eighth and King Edward 6th to take the surveys of all Chantries, Colleges, and Free Chapels in the County of Cornwall, and that by a Certificate made in or about the 27th year of the reign of King Henry 8th it appears that a Chantry then existed in the parish of Week St. Mary in the County of Cornwall on the foundation of Dame Thomazine Percival, wife of Sir John Percival, Knight, to find a priest for ever not only to pray for her soul within the Parish of Week St. Mary, but also that the said priest should teach children freely in a school founded by the said Dame Percival not far from the said Parish Church, and he to receive for his yearly stipend a salary of £12 and 6 shillings to be levied of the lands given amongst other uses to that intent and purpose: to find a manciple or usher also to instruct and teach children under the said schoolmaster, and he to have for the maintenance of his living yearly 26 shillings and 8 pence. To give to the Laundress to wash the clothes of the Schoolmaster and Principal for her reward yearly 13 shillings and 4 pence and the remainder of the said lands and possessions belonging to the said Chantry the Trustees willed should be expended in the keeping of an obit yearly (18th April, see Tywardreath Obituary) for her within the Parish Church aforesaid.”
"From a similar certificate of certain other Commissioners appointed in the second year of King Edward VI (1548) and by a memorandum thereto, it was noted that the Borough of Launceston was a very meet place to establish a learned man to preach and set forth the word of God to the people and also to teach children in their grammar and other necessary knowledge, and that whereas the said school at Week St. Mary was then in decay, the said Borough of Launceston was a very meet place to have the foundation of the said school removed unto."
“By the ninth and tenth certificates of the said Commissioners issued some time in the reign of King Edward VI, it appears that the said Chantry of Week St. Mary was removed to Launceston, and that the schoolmaster, usher and laundress of the said school of Week St. Mary were to continue their services at their accustomed wages (amounting together to £17 13s 3d) at Launceston.”
It was Horwell Grammar School, as it is now called, in Launceston, that benefited by the action of the Commissioners, so that “Dame Percyval’s” Charity was not misappropriated by the Crown, but passed from her beloved Week St. Mary to Lanstephadon, which she also loved.
Part of this article has been taken from the book "A ROMANCE IN WEEK ST. MARY" by M.V.H. & A.L.S. published by Frederick Warne & Co Ltd 1930
Whilst every effort has been made to trace the copyright holders the publishers have no further information