The Commandery
The Commandery is a historic building open to visitors and located in the city of Worcester, England. It opened as a museum in 1977 and was for a while the only museum in England dedicated solely to the Civil Wars. The Commandery ceased to be a Civil War museum when it reopened to the public in May 2007, having undergone a year and a half of refurbishments and reinterpretation jointly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Worcester City Council, who own the building.

Present exhibits
In its current form, it showcases six different periods of history, focusing on the characters and stories that affected The Commandery itself at those times. The periods covered are as follows:
  • The Medieval period , when The Commandery was first constructed and run as a hospital by the Catholic Church.
  • The Tudor period , when The Commandery was bought and inhabited by the Wyldes, a family of wealthy wool merchants.
  • The Civil War , when The Commandery was used by Charles II's forces as headquarters during the Battle of Worcester.
  • The Georgian period , when The Commandery was split into several family homes.
  • The Victorian period , when The Commandery housed a pioneering school for the "blind sons of gentlemen".
  • The 1950s, when The Commandery was used as a printing factory by the Littlebury family.
The Commandery includes multimedia exhibits, interactive displays and children's activities.

Tradition would suggest that the first building on the Commandery site was constructed in the eleventh century on the orders of Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester (later Saint Wulfstan), as a hospital for the ill and the destitute. Indeed, originally the Commandery was known as the Hospital of Saint Wulfstan. The first written record of its existence does not occur until 1240 however, in "The Miracles of St. Wulfstan". This collection of stories refers to a Thomas of Eldersfield who was blinded and castrated after losing a judicial duel. According to the story Thomas was cared for at the Hospital of St. Wulfstan by Ysabel a lay sister that took pity on him. Thomas went on to make a miraculous recovery, having both his sight and manhood restored by a miracle of St. Wulfstan. The basic facts of this story appear to be true, as the legal case definitely went before the royal justices in 1221. This would suggest that the hospital was certainly in existence at that point. Another theory suggests that the hospital was built to mark the cannonisation of St. Wulfstan which occurred in 1203. As this date is closer to the first written record of the hospital's existence it is perhaps more likely, however the fact that a chapel incorporated into the site was dedicated to St. Godwald and not St. Wulfstan might suggest that the hospital was in fact already in existence in 1203 and rather renamed to mark the cannonisation of St. Wulfstan. Whatever the case may be, and it is likely that we will never know, the foundation of the Commandery is certainly shrouded in mystery.

The Hospital of St. Wulfstan - the medieval period at the Commandery
What is slightly better documented than the foundation of the hospital is its charitable work. It is traditionally suggested that the hospital was originally built to act more as a hostel for travellers arriving at Worcester during the hours of darkness. At dusk the city gates would have been closed and so this theory makes use of the Commandery's position just outside Sidbury gate. Despite little evidence to support this, it is still considered likely. Again, the first written evidence for the hospital's charitable work is "The Tale of Thomas of Eldersfield". Another record, this time the acceptance of a benefaction from one William de Molendiniis , records that in 1294 there were twenty-two people in the infirmary, all described as "sick". By the end of the fourteenth century however, the hospital's work appears to have altered. Several records from the 1390s show that the hospital was granting corrodies, that is, granting people shelter and sustenance for life in return for their property. Another case, from 1403, refers to Ralph and Alicia Symondes, who were granted a house and money in return for their assets rather than a place in the hospital. This particular example highlights that by the fifteenth century the Hospital of St. Wulfstan had become less a charitable carehome for the elderly and infirm but rather a profitable business. By 1441, the ethics of this practice had been called into question and Bishop Bourchier of Worcester reformed the hospital, banning the granting of corrodies. Bourchier restricted the hospital's activities to handing out a weekly dole of bread to the poor and caring for the sick inmates. He also reorganised the hospital's management structure, appointing a master, two chaplains, five brethren and two sisters. This structure was to remain in place until the hospital was dissolved in 1540. The master of the hospital had originally been charged with the running of all of its matters. With the income received through corrodies however, masters could become rich and therefore powerful men. Bishop Bourchier's reforms put an end to this, stripping the hospital's financial controls from the master and making it a largely honorific position given to already important people. In the mid- to late-15th century the Hospital of St. Wulfstan received a large but anonymous donation which was put towards a complete rebuilding of the site. The older buildings were seemingly completely levelled, save for the chapel of St. Godwald, and a completely new structure built in its place. The work was finished around 1460 and it is these buildings which form the core of the Commandery even today. The building was clearly divided, with the infirmary to the west and the much grander rooms for the use of the master to the east. The two sides were linked by the Great Hall, which would most likely have been used by the master for entertaining. The original ceiling, dais and a number of walls still survive in the Great Hall. The solar room, located on the first floor of the western range, was the living quarters of the master, though it remains unclear whether this was his bedroom, living room or both. In the eastern range, also on the first floor, is located the Commandery's "painted chamber". This room is completely covered in medieval wall paintings which date to the period of the rebuild. Their preservation is down to their Catholic nature, as at the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII they were painted over and protected from the damaging sun, obviously seen as popish idolatry. Most of the paintings depict scenes from the lives of saints, for example, the martyrdoms of St. Erasmus and St. Thomas Beckett, or St. Anne teaching the Virgin Mary to read. Other paintings include the holy trinity, the crucifixion of Christ and the weighing of the souls.

The name "Commandery"
According to Nash (1784) the name "The Commandery" (pronounced Command-ery)is associated with the Knights of the Crusades. He speculates that the first known master of the Hospital of St. Wulfstan, a man known only as Walter, had fought in the Crusades under the banner of either the Knights Templar or the Knights Hospitaler prior to his appointment at the hospital. Walter apparently continued to use his military title of Commander until his death c.1290 when his successor as master also took on the title, so starting a tradition amongst masters. By association, the residence of the Commander became known as the Commandery. No better explanation than this has been presented although no modern researches have been undertaken.

Henry VIII and the dissolution of the hospital
Under the reign of Henry VIII (1509”“1547) England underwent many changes, particularly with regards to religion. In an attempt to solve his "great matter", that is, his quest to produce a male heir, Henry tried to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, in favour of Anne Boleyn. Pope Clement VII would not allow this and it is widely accepted that he was influenced in his decision by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and nephew of Catherine of Aragon. In response Henry VIII had parliament pass the Act of Supremacy in 1534 which recognised Henry as head of the Church of England above all others, including the Pope. Pope Clement VII promptly had Henry excommunicated. Henry VIII continued his reforms with Acts of Suppression in 1536 and 1539 which disbanded England's monastic communities and confiscated their property. Resistance was harshly dealt with, as shown by the beheadings of Cardinal John Fisher and Sir Thomas More; the hanging, drawing and quartering of the abbots of Colchester, Glastonbury and Reading; and the numerous burnings of abbeys up and down England. Monastic hospitals did not escape the reforms. The Hospital of St. Wulfstan was disbanded in 1540, having been administered since the previous year by one Richard Morysyne , a gentleman of the Royal Privy Chamber and the last master of the hospital. He seems to have been appointed specifically to wind-up the affairs of the hospital. The building's wall paintings, as mentioned, were painted over and many more objects of historic and religious value were probably lost. What happened after 1540 is debated. One theory suggests that Richard Morysyne profited greatly from the hospital's dissolution, being granted it for the relatively small sum of £14. The other theory states that Morysyne surrendered the hospital, by this time known as the Commandery, to the king who then donated it to Christ Church College, Oxford. Whatever the case may be, by 1541 the Commandery's owner was leasing the building to one Thomas Wylde, a wealthy Worcester clothier and in 1545 Thomas bought the Commandery outright for £498.