Staffordshire Historical Collections, Vol. 11. Originally published by Staffordshire Record Society, London, 1890.
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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 courtesy.
Prlors of Trentham.
1154–1194. (fn. 12) John, Chaplain to the Earl of Chester (Prior).
1200–1204. (fn. 13)Samson, Prior of Trentham (Tanner).
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" de D).
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 Trentham.
1441. (fn. 18)Thomas Madeley. Ob. 1441.
1441–1446. (fn. 18)Brother William Rossington, February 26, on death of Thomas Madeley.
1486. (fn. 18)Brother Thomas Williams (of St. Thomas, near Stafford) on death of A. Greyhore, January 5.
1529. (fn. 18)Thomas Bradwall, on death of R. Stringer.