John Frost (?1576 – 1642) From Colebrooke to Westminster Abbey


The Chapel Royal of the King or Queen dates back to the 11th century. The term does not refer to a building, rather a choir. Primarily it provided religious music and singing for the monarch and travelled with him around the country. It was a male-only establishment, composed of 32 “Gentlemen” and 12 boys recruited from cathedrals around the country. In the 17th century its members also performed in theatrical productions, and in that period many also sang in Westminster Abbey’s Choir.


Records from that time are rather sketchy but it is clear that one of these singers (or chanters/chaunters) was a native of Colebrooke in Devon. He was probably a singer at Westminster Abbey in 1603, and was sworn in as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1611. He probably had started his singing career at Exeter Cathedral as a young boy.

 

What is known for sure about John Frost is that he died in 1642 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. By his will written on 14th May of that year he left bequests to the poor of Colebrooke (his birthplace) and to the choir of Exeter Cathedral where he was educated. His will mentioned his brother Robert, resident in Colebrooke, and John’s loving wife Annastasia. 

 

(Between 1569 and 1720 there were 69 children named Frost baptised in Colebrooke Church, including six Johns.)

 

The person most likely to be this John Frost was the son of William Frost, baptised on 9 May 1576 in Colebrooke, being one of two Colebrooke Johns known to have a brother named Robert. It is possible that this John had married, by licence, Thomasine Bremridge of Bow in 1614.

In September 1618 a bond was entered in Exeter for a marriage by licence between a John Frost, “Vicar Choral of Exeter Cathedral”, and Annaniath Mitchell, widow of Exeter. (It is probable that Annaniath is a mistake and should refer to Anastasia.)

 

Annastasia Frost died in 1649. In her will she mentions property in Westminster leased by her late husband, her nephew Richard Channon or Cannon and his daughter Ursula, her “kinsewoman” Susan Frost (now married to George Dale) and her brother Christopher. Possibly her maiden name was Channon.

 

 

Part of John Frost’s 1642 will:


… first of all I doe give and bequeath unto the poor of the parish of Colebrooke in the countie of Devon where I was borne tenn pounds current English money to be paid within a year after my decease by my executrix hereafter named unto Robert Frost my Brother being an inhabitant in that parish which I desire should be distributed by him with the advice of the Parson or vicar of the said parish…


I doe give and bequeath to the Custos and Colledge of the Vicars Chorall of the Cathedral Church of St Peter’s in Exon where I was bread and whereof I am a member the somme of Ten pounds of lawfull English money. To be paid by my said Executrix within one year after my death to the Custos of the said Colledge which then shall be at the payement thereof which somme I desire maie be distributed and doe direct that it then shall be by the said Custos within one month after he hath received the same or that he hath been allotted thereof by my executors amongst the Quire of the said church according to the disendation of the said custos and vicars choral of the said Quire.


A Gentleman of the Chapel Royal Choir, John Frost was also a Minor Canon and Chanter (i.e singer) of Westminster Abbey 1623-42. He was buried on 10 May 1642 in the north transept near the porch. His wife Anne or Annastasia was buried on 14 May 1649 in the same transept near St Andrew's chapel near to where his daughter Thomasin had been buried on 11 October 1623. Nothing marks their graves. Described as “a base and of extraordinary sufficiency for his quality and also of honesty and good conversacon”, it should be noted that there were at least two John Frosts (possibly related) at Westminster Abbey. Both sang at the coronation of King Charles I in Scotland in 1633. John Frost junior died and was buried in Westminster Abbey in 1696.