Richard Mabon was Dean of Jersey from 1509 until his death around 1543, although there were other appointments in between; he was also Rector of St Martin. He was also appointed jointly with Jean Lempriere as Bailiff, during the suspension of Hélier de Carteret
He was the son of Colyn Mabon and Tassine his wife, descended from a family established in Jersey in the 14th century, and perhaps earlier, landowners in St Saviour. From his father he inherited land in St Saviour belonging to the Fief of St Germain and Fief de Grainville at Longueville,and in St Martin on the Fief of La Queruée. He built Maison de Mabon at Longueville and lived there before his appointment as Rector of St Martin.
The Register of the Diocese of Coutances records the appointment of Dominus Richard Mabon, priest, to the Deanery of Jersey on 22 November 1509, and on 28 January the following year the Register confirms this appointment. On 10 June 1510 there is another announcement of his appointment, then on 1 October that year Nicolas Levesque is shown as being appointed Dean. A deed of 7 August 1512 shows Mabon being appointed Dean as does a further record of 2 May 1514, when he is also described as Curé of St Martin.
All of these appointments and reappointments, which have never been explained, predate Mabon's long and dangerous pilgrimage to Jerusalem, probably starting in 1515, during which he visited the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre, where Christ was supposed to have been buried. Thomas Mallett took his place as Dean before Mabon returned and took up the role again.
On returning, he restored the ruined chapel of Notre Dame de la Clarté on the top of La Hougue Bie, and also built a new chapel by its side, dedicated to the Passion of Jesus, known as Jerusalem. He also built a little oratory resembling the Holy Sepulchre, so that it could be a place of pilgrimage for those who could not undertake the journey to Jerusalem themselves.
In 1535, he gave La Hougue Bie and its chapels with any adjoining lands as endowment to two priests to say mass in the chapels.
Mabon died in 1543, before the Reformation properly hit the Channel Islands. In 1550, the Royal Commissioners arrived in Jersey with powers to confiscate and sell certain ecclesiastical property, and the foundation of Hougue Bie would have been confiscated for the Crown; in the Extente of Crown Revenues of 1607, there is a note that it had been sold by the Crown to Thomas Tanner, then resold to Innocent Quenault.
Accusation of idolatry
The author of Les Chroniques de Jersey, writing in 1585, accused Mabon of being "an idolater and a great maker of images, who caused the poor to believe many lies and rascalities, so that they would bring him offerings. He made simple folk believe that the Virgin often appeared to him near the said Chapel". However, historians tend to dimiss this criticism in the light of Mabon having given away his property in 1535 and his having been held in such high esteem during his lifetime to be appointed a temporary Bailiff.
The author of Les Chroniques wrote:
- "Sire Richard Mabon, priest and vicar of the parish of St Martin and afterwards dean of the island of Jersey under the Bishop of Coutances, having been to Jerusalem, on his return from the said journey caused a chapel to be built on the summit of this hougue, which chapel he named Notre Dame de La Hougue Bie, because he built it on this hougue
in perpetual memory of the Holy Sepulchre. He excited a peculiar reverence for the place by encouraging the idea that the Virgin Mary frequently appeared there to him; and he placed her figure in an excavation underground, formed to resemble the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem and communicated with by arched passages, through which the people passed to pay their devotions. At the end of these passages the figure was seen through an opening, leaning on one elbow and with a hand extended to receive the gifts which all who visited the chapel were expected to present. When the novelty of this spectacle wore off and visitors began to slacken, he announced that the Virgin would for the future perform many miracles at the houguc and by a system of artificial lights and concealed wires produced a series of manifestations which impressed numbers of the people; but eventually much of his trickery was discovered, and gave rise to the expression that anything very incredible was a Miracle de la Hougue Bie.
Mabon had sided with Vaughan in his dispute with de Carteret and on 13 July 1522 the Governor wrote to Cardinal Wolsey that Mabon was coming to London to visit him, and that his views might be accepted as those of the island. On 19 July Mabon used his Deanery seal on a petition from eight Jurats asking for the dismissal of de Carteret.
In August 1524 Mabon was appointed as Joint-Bailiff with Jean Lempriere. Although there is some doubt over the status of a number of those appointed to stand in for Helier de Carteret, Lempriere and Mabon's appointments seem to have carried the full support of the King.
- "Forasmuch as there is matter of variance depending betwixt Sir Hugh Vaughan and our well-beloved Helier de Carteret, for the appeasing of which we have determined to call the same before us at Westminster. Know that, to the intent that our subjects shall have justice indifferently administered to them, We, having good confidence in our well-beloved Sire Richard Mabon, Dean, and our well-beloved John Lempriere, Gentleman, do appoint the said Dean and John Lempriere jointly to have custody of the Register Rolls and Seal of the Bailiff, Furthermore giving them full power and authority entirely and wholly to have the administration of justice within the isle during the variance betwixt the aforesaid parties, videlicet in Civil Cases only. In Criminal Cases, as the Dean is a spiritual person, and may not in that behalf meddle, we authorise John Lempriere only to have the ordering of Justice."
The official titles of Lempriere and Mabon seem to have been "Judge-Delegates (juge-délégués) commissioned and empowered by our Sovereign Lord the King and his worshipful and discrete Countil to act in all causes civil and otherwise pertaining to the office of Bailiff". They held office jointly until November 1527, although Lempriere seems to have continued for a few weeks until the appointment of Jasper Pen.
On 3 and 8 October 1524 Mabon presided over the States and on 18 July 1527 a contract was passed before him in the Royal Court.
Ultimately the appointments of Lempriere and Mabon were found by the Privy Council to have been unconstitutional and they were required to reimburse Helier de Carteret with the income they received while in office.
Seized as hostage
In 1528 Mabon's successor as acting-Bailiff, Jasper Pen sold some Spaniards in Southampton a cargo of Jersey wheat for £40, but they could find neither the cargo nor Pen when they went to Jersey to collect it. They seized Mabon from his home in the middle of the night as a hostage and kept him prisoner on their boat until he paid them the £40, which he was never able to recover from Pen.
From 1534 to 1541 the office of Dean was held by Thomas de Soulemont, although Mabon continued as Rector of St Martin. He was again appointed Dean on 20 May 1542, and died in office the following year. A chapel which he was in the course of constructing adjoining the church was never completed and became a ruin which was eventually demolished in the 18th century.
Portrait of the wrong man
In 1972 there was considerable excitement within La Société Jersiaise when a portrait in the Rijksmuseum at Enschede in Holland was identified as being of Richard Mabon, and attributed to Holbein. An article in the Annual Bulletin of that year revealed that the back of the portrait was inscribed "Richard Mabon, sacrae theologiae professor, aetatis suae 48, 1532" and it showed a clergyman wearing a Tudor style black cap, and a dark blue cape, with a red and white cross on the breast, which was identified as the habit of the Crutched Friars, a Belgian Order founded in 1214.
The article asked:
- "How did a man, even the Dean of the Island, come to be painted by Holbein, the favbourite of Henry VIII, the Court painter and the most eminent and sought after portraitist of his time?
- "He was Dean intermittently over a long period, being appointed and reappointed many times, for no recorded reason. In addition, for the period 1524-1527 he acted as juge-délégué in the Royal Court, during the quarrel between Sir Hugh Vaughan, the Governor, and Helier de Carteret, the Bailiff, both men with strong rebellious personalities. As Mabon's sympathies were not with de Carteret. he may have been persona grata with Wolsey when he visited England in 1522, but Holbein was not then established there. It must have been on a subsequent visit, in 1533, that he sat for his portrait, at a time when he was Dean, but no longer acting as Bailiff, and after the fall of Wolsey."
The excitement did not last long, however, because the museum at Enschede, which had made the initial identification of Mabon and attribution of the portrait to Holbein, conducted further research, which revealed that the inscription on the back of the picture said Richard Mabott, which was had been taken as a badly-written Mabon. This proved not to be so, and the subject of the portrait was identified as Richard Mabott, Prebendary of Thorngate in Lincoln Cathedral from 1520 to 1525, and then Rector of various parishes.
One outcome of this affair is that Richard Mabon's birth date remains unknown, having been put at 1485 based on the falsely interpreted inscription.