Staffordshire Historical Collections, Vol. 4. Originally published by Staffordshire Record Society, London, 1883.
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The Ronton Chartulary.
Ronton, or St. Mary des Essarz, (fn. 1) was an Augustine Priory, founded about the middle of the twelfth century by Robert fitz Noel of Ellenhall. This Robert Noel, or Robert fitz Noel, as he is indifferently styled in cotemporary documents, was a person of considerable estate in Staffordshire, holding Ellenhall, Seighford, Clanford, Bridgeford, Podmore, Milnmease, and other lands of the Bishop; and Ronton (fn. 2) and its members of the Barons of Stafford. In Warwickshire also he held the Manor of Granborough of the Prior of Coventry. This latter manor as well as those held of the Bishop were doubtless acquired by episcopal favour and influence, for the Priory of Coventry was in subjection to the Bishops, and the service rendered to the Episcopal See by the Noels for their Staffordshire manors was quite incommensurate with their value and extent. For the whole of the Staffordshire estate held by this family of the See of Coventry and Lichfield, the service due to the Bishops was half a Knight's fee.
The Monks of Ronton at p. 12 of their Chartulary give the following account of the origin of their benefactor:—
In primis, quidam Noel nominc, et Celestria uxor ejus, venerunt in exercitu Willielmi Bastard in Angliâ, et habuerunt dictum manerium de Elinhale cum membris ex donatione ejusdem Willielmi Bastard. De predicto Noel descendit jus et hereditas cuidam Roberto Noel tanquam filio et heredi, qui desponsavit quandam Aliciam nomine, et fundavit Prioratum de Ranton vivente Celestria matre suâ.
This account of the origin of the Noels has hitherto passed unquestioned, and has been introduced into all the genealogies of this family. It can, however, readily be shewn to be fictitious.
Putting aside the chronological difficulties in it, it may be safely affirmed that Ellenhall could not have been given by the Conqueror to Noel, for we know, on the authority of Domesday, that manor was in the possession of the Bishops of Chester both before and after the Conquest. This account of the ancestors of the Noel family was not written in fact before the fourteenth century, and must be looked upon as one of those pious fabrications based on oral tradition which the inmates of religious houses usually compiled in honour of their founders. A curious feature in it is that the monks, regarding Celestria as their chief benefactress, and wishing to do her memory as much honour as possible, in accordance with the prepossessions of their age, have represented her, somewhat grotesquely, as accompanying the Conqueror to England in the train of his victorious army.
Leaving fiction for fact, we find from a document printed in the appendix to Hearne's "History of Glastonbury," that Celestria was daughter of Robert de Limesi, (fn. 3) who succeeded Peter as Bishop of Chester circa A.D. 1088, and died A.D. 1117. Here we have at once an explanation of the favourable feoffments made to Noel out of the Episcopal estates, and a date which coincides with the authentic epoch of Noel as handed down to us on the authority of cotemporary charters.
As Noel held no manors by hereditary descent, Ronton having been given or sold to him by Nicholas de Stafford, (fn. 4) and all his other estates acquired in marriage with Celestria, he was probably a cadet of one of the vassal houses of the see of Chester, and I believe him to have been a brother or son of Robert, who A.D. 1086 held Handsacre of the Bishop. (fn. 5)
As regards the date of the foundation of Ronton, all that can be said positively on the subject is, that it was founded prior to A.D. 1166, for some of the witnesses to the foundation deed were dead at the date of the Liber Niger, the feodary of that year.
Sometime after the death of Robert Noel his foundation of Ronton was ratified by Baldwin, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was consecrated A.D. 1184, and died A.D. 1190. In this deed, the Archbishop confirms the grant, which "vir nobilis Robertus Noel, piæ memoriæ, fecit de loco dicitur ad Sanctam Mariam de Essarz, sicut cum WILLIELMUS NOEL vel aliquis predecessorum ejus unquam mclius tenuit. ("Monasticon.")
On the authority of this deed, Mr. Eyton has expressed an opinion that Noel the father of Robert fitz Noel was named William Noel, and that the name of Noel was employed both as a prenomen and agnomen, not an uncommon practice at this date.
The Chartulary of which an abstract is here given, is a folio volume of sixty-one pages of vellum written in a hand of the fourteenth century. (fn. 6) A memorandum on the first page states it had been the property of Thomas Povey, Esq., by whom it had been presented to Sir Robert Cotton. Its official designation at the British Museum is Cottonian MS. Vespasian C.XV.
Besides the families of Noel and their descendants, the Harcourts and D'Oyllis, the Chartulary contains much useful information respecting the Staffordshire families of Haughton, Knightley, de Burgh, Coyney, Handsacre, Duston, Knighton, Flashbrook, Adbaston, and Ellaston.
In making the abstract, care has been taken to introduce all matter which may be useful to the compiler of a County History. The writer of the Chartulary has unfortunately omitted in most cases the names of the witnesses to the deeds; these, whenever they occur, have been given at full length in the abstract.