The earliest religious house at Trentham (then called Triccingham,
or Trytenham (fn. 1) ) was the nunnery founded by Werburgh, daughter
of Wulphere, King of Mercia, towards the close of the 7th
century. (fn. 2) Upon the same site, between 1087 and 1100 A.D., Hugh,
Earl of Chester, built a priory, (fn. 3) which had in turn fallen into
decay, circâ Stephen, to be restored, rather than entirely
refounded, by the bequest of Earl Ranulph, second of the name. (fn. 4)
It was a small priory, and of little interest apart from its position
in a royal Mercian demesne, and consequent bearing on the
relations between the Earls Palatine and Staffordshire. (fn. 5) St.
Werburgh's memory would cling to Trentham, the place where
she lived and died; and when her body rested finally at Chester
in the church (the future cathedral), which one Mercian Earl
dedicated, and another restored in her honour, and she became
the patroness of that city, a new link would be forged, connecting
Cheshire with the Mercian Earldom generally, and Chester with
Trentham in particular.
It was the policy (fn. 6) of the Norman earls to renew that bond,
their claims upon the priory opening a way to retaining a claim
upon the manor; and equally the policy of the Crown to check
every attempt to augment their overgrown power. Mr. Eyton
held, (fn. 7) that about 1070, Earl Hugh had been forced to surrender to
the King whatever hold the conquest had given him in Staffordshire (that he had some was unquestionable), but, between 1087
and 1110 A.D., he obtained from William Rufus a grant of the
royal manor of Trentham, his next step being (as already noticed) to
rebuild the religious house so closely connected with his patroness, St.
Werburgh. From Hugh Lupus the manor passed to Earl Richard,
his son; Ranulph de Meschines, the next Earl, handed on
Trentham to Ranulph (2) de Gernons, "whose ambition (to quote
Mr. Eyton again) culminated in the Devizes Treaty, which
guaranteed him, with few reservations, the whole of Staffs."
The death of Earl Ranulph, (fn. 8) poisoned by the contrivance of
William Peveril, put an end to the policy he had steadily pursued,
but from his death-bed in Gresley Castle, the charter was
addressed to Bishop Walter Durdent, restoring Trentham Priory,
and endowing it with 100 solidates of land in Blurton and
Cocknage, portions of that manor. The death of Stephen and
King Henry's ascent of the throne the same year, were followed
by a prompt resumption (fn. 9) of the royal demesnes, including
Trentham, but, in enforcing so unpopular a measure, the king
would be careful to conciliate the church, and to confirm the last
will of his former friend the Earl. He seems, even, to have
enlarged the bequest, (fn. 10) and taken Trentham under his own
protection to bar, the more effectually, any future claims. Witness
four royal charters in the following collection, one dated from
Oxford within a month of his first coronation, two at Northampton,
and the last at Brehull (Brill).
Had Mr. Eyton seen these charters he would have learnt how
accurate is his suggestion that John was the first prior, and might
have cited their authority in evidence, rather than Bishop
Tanner's. His notes on the Pipe Rolls (Vol. II, p. 48, S. H. Coll.)
point out that "we have accounts, more or less accurate, from 1154
to 1195 A.D., showing in each case the Fermor, charging against
his ferm of 30 li. from Trentham Manor, a payment immediately
following of 100s. to John, chaplain to the Earl of Chester, until,
in 1195, the entry runs thus, 'et canonicis de Trentham 100s.
numero, quos Johannes capellanus solebat habere, videlicet
Blorton et Cokenache, per breve regis.' " The sum here charged on
these appurtenances of Trentham, now first transferred to the
canons, who, for 40 years past, were represented by John, the
Earl's chaplain, and their Prior, denotes, manifestly, the original
bequest of Earl Ralph, confirmed by the King; and it was the
death of John (as Eyton suggests), or possibly his incapacity,
considering the time that elapsed before a successor was nominated,
which made the alteration necessary; who succeeded him is
somewhat uncertain, perhaps the ½ marc owing to the sheriff from
the Prior in 1201 was an old debt, for in 1203–4 (5 K. John)
the Priory was vacant and in the custody of Alan the Canon, and
of Henry de Verdon, by order of Geoffrey Fitz Peter the Justiciary.
I am strongly disposed to believe that the vacancy was eventually, (fn. 11)
if not immediately, filled by this same Alan; certainly Alan,
Prior of Trentham, witnesses a grant of Longton land from Ralph
de Bevile to one Gilbert de Mere, which is attested also by the
above-named Henry de Verdon, by William de Erdinton, holder
of lands at Keele, as well as by Walter Coyne and R. de
Titneshovre, all of whom were flourishing in the reign of King
John. From this date the succession of Priors may be traced, with
few omissions, down to the dissolution.
The list will be annexed, with the approximate dates, and the
authority on which they are given. The present chartulary has
been compiled for the most part from the original deeds in the
Trentham muniment room, which the Duke of Sutherland has
kindly allowed the Society to inspect. Some interesting charters
have been added from the Harl. MSS. at the British Museum,
particularly an "Inspeximus" of the Bull of Pope Alexander III,
enumerating the earlier benefactions to Trentham. Other grants
are taken from the Record Office, from Madox's "Formulare
Anglicanum," Dugdale's "Monasticon," and the Cole MSS. (B.M.)
It cannot claim to be a perfect or lengthy chartulary; the
endowments of Trentham never rivalled those of St. Thomas', Nr.
Stafford, belonging to the same order of Austin Canons; witness
its assessment in 1309 (3 Ed. II), towards provisioning the King's
army in Scotland, at twelve quarters of corn, sixty of oats, four
oxen, and thirty sheep, while St. Thomas could furnish thirty
quarters of corn, sixty of oats, six oxen and fifty sheep, and when
suppressed in Henry VIII'th time, its total revenues did not
exceed £106 3s. 9d.; but the deeds themselves are of some local
interest, and have not yet been published, while, as already
stated, from its situation in so wealthy a royal manor, as St.
Werburgh's foundation, and the scene of her death, from its
connection with the Chester earldom in old times, and with one
of the most powerful dukedoms of the present day, Trentham
must always hold a position of its own in the history of the
county of Stafford. The Priory seal, stated in the Monasticon not
to exist, may be seen in a mutilated form, attached to two or three
of the Trentham deeds. A specimen in green wax, on a charter of
1280 A.D., is of "Vesica" shape, about three inches long, and, if
compared with other fragments, will be found to represent a
rudely executed female figure, seated, wearing a narrow and flat
topt head covering, the head encircled by a nimbus; inscription,
"Sigillum . . . (Beate ?) Marie de Trentham." There is no
representation of the Holy Child on this, their earlier seal. Why
the Priory was dedicated "to God, St. Mary and All Saints" we
cannot decide, possibly it may be the same dedication as that of
St. Werburgh's nunnery in the 7th century.
Note.—Special thanks are due to the Rev. E. P. Pigott, Vicar of Trentham, through
whom access was first obtained to the charters; to G. Menzies, Esq., Agent
of the Duke of Sutherland; and to the clerks in the Estate Office for their
Prlors of Trentham.
1154–1194. (fn. 12) John, Chaplain to the Earl of Chester (Prior).
1200–1204. (fn. 13) Samson, Prior of Trentham (Tanner).
1206, circa. Alan, Prior of Trentham.
1242–1255. (fn. 14) Roger, Prior of Trentham.
1272, circa. (fn. 15) Richard, Prior of Trentham.
1277–1296. (fn. 16) John de Conyngeston, Prior of Trentham.
1297. (fn. 17) Richard de Lavindon, Prior of Trentham.
1318–1343. (fn. 19) Richard de Dulverne, Prior of Trentham (otherwise "Ralph"
1343–1353(?) (fn. 18) Brother Richard de Whalton, on death of R. de Dulverne.
11 Kal. December.
1353–1402. (fn. 18) Nicholas Muccleston, Prior. 19 Kal. September.
1402–1421. (fn. 18) Thomas de Trentham, Prior on resignation of N. Muccleston.
1421. (fn. 18) Brother John Clyfton, Sub-Prior on resignation of Thomas de
1441. (fn. 18) Thomas Madeley. Ob. 1441.
1441–1446. (fn. 18) Brother William Rossington, February 26, on death of Thomas
1455–1479. Stephen Browne, Prior.
1483–1486. Alexander Greyhore, Prior.
1486. (fn. 18) Brother Thomas Williams (of St. Thomas, near Stafford) on
death of A. Greyhore, January 5.
1527. Robert Stringer, Prior of Trentham.
1529. (fn. 18) Thomas Bradwall, on death of R. Stringer.