A History of the County of Durham: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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HOUSES OF BENEDICTINE MONKS
7. THE PRIORY OF ST. CUTHBERT, DURHAM
The Benedictine Priory of St. Cuthbert at Durham was founded by Bishop William of St. Carileph in 1083. (fn. 1) From the time when Bishop Aldwin in 995 brought the body of St. Cuthbert from Chester-le-Street and built 'the White Church on Dunholme' for its reception, (fn. 2) divine worship had been maintained there, and the church served by a body of secular clergy to whom generous gifts of lands, &c., had been made by Cnut and other benefactors. (fn. 3) These secular canons, with their wives and children, (fn. 4) were driven out by Bishop William, and replaced by the monks of the newly restored monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow. (fn. 5) To this course, in which he was supported by both papal and royal authority, the bishop was moved by the appalling state of desolation to which his diocese had been reduced. Three times during the previous fourteen years it had been deluged with blood and fire. The few inhabitants who survived were in a state of penury; the country lay wild and waste; and even the church itself was plundered and neglected. The bishop, anxious for the restoration alike of religion and of civilization in his diocese, and finding on inquiry that St. Cuthbert, whether living or dead, had ever been served by monks, determined to found a monastery in the place where the saint's body lay; and in the end carried out his design, though not without some remonstrance from the ejected canons, only one of whom could be induced to take the monastic vows and remain in his former home.
The lands of the church were divided between the bishopric and the monastery. Aldwin, prior of Wearmouth, the restorer of monasticism in northern England, became the first prior of Durham, and on his death in 1087 was succeeded by Turgot. (fn. 6)
In the following year Bishop William was banished by the king, and dwelt for three years in Normandy. During this period the monks lived under the king's protection and went on with the building of their house, completing the refectory. At length the bishop returned, bringing with him numerous gold and silver vessels, and a store of books for the church. Not long afterwards he pulled down the old Saxon church, and on 11 August, 1093, he and Prior Turgot, in the presence of all the brethren, laid the foundation stone of the great cathedral. (fn. 7) The monks then continued the erection of the monastic buildings at their own expense, the bishop taking that of the church entirely upon himself. The work was carried on with great vigour, and when Bishop William died in January, 1096-7, the chapter-house was so far advanced towards completion as to be considered a fitting burial-place for him. (fn. 8) In 1104 the remains of St. Cuthbert were translated with great state to the shrine prepared for them in the new church. (fn. 9)
Bishop William's successor, Ralph Flambard, though he considered that Prior Turgot usurped too much authority in the diocese, (fn. 10) proceeded with the building of the church, completed the nave, gave a great number of vestments, and enlarged and improved the monastery. (fn. 11)
The death in 1115 of Turgot, (fn. 12) who had been promoted to the bishopric of St. Andrews, brought to a close the initial period of the history of the priory.
At the risk of anticipating in various details, it is thought that a short account of the way in which the interior life of the convent was carried on from day to day, and the services of the church were conducted, may throw some light upon the events of later years. (fn. 13)
The day's work apparently began at six a.m., when the servant (or scholar) of the sacristan took his post beside the awmry in the Nine Altars, where he remained until the end of high mass to give out the singing-bread and wine to those who assisted the monks to celebrate the divine office. The sacristan himself, part of whose duty it was to lock up every night the awmries belonging to the various altars, (fn. 14) came into the church at seven o'clock, and proceeded to lay out the keys on the top of the key-cupboard, whence the monks fetched them as they were required. At eight he retired into the chapterhouse to pray for the founders and benefactors of the house; and at nine a bell rang out, summoning the brethren to the chapter mass.
During the morning everyone was fully occupied. The masters of the novices, of the songschool, and of the farmery (fn. 15) school, were busy with their respective scholars. The bursar was engaged in receiving rents, paying wages, and generally superintending the financial affairs of the house, in his little stone office near the kitchen. All the officers of the house had to account to him for the money entrusted to them for special purposes. The cellarer overlooked the food supplies, regulated the expenses of the kitchen, and arranged for the proper serving of meals. The terrer, whose office, or 'checker,' was near the guest-hall, was responsible for the comfort of all guests. He saw to the ordering of their chamber, the supply of bed and tablelinen for their use, and of provender for their horses; provided wine for strangers, and superintended the four yeomen told off to attend on them. The keeper of the garners supplied the household with corn.
The chamberlain, with the assistance of a tailor who worked in the 'sartry,' or tailor's shop, near the chamberlain's checker, provided clothing for the brethren, i.e. frocks, girdles, and boots, with underclothing, sheets, socks, &c., of linsey-woolsey, no linen being allowed to the monks. The sacristan, whose office was no sinecure, provided bread, wine, wax, and lights for the services; arranged for necessary repairs to the windows, bells, &c., of the church; saw to the cleaning of it; and was also responsible for the convent's lands of Sacristanhaugh and St. Margaret's Wood. His checker, where he carried on business and took his meals, was within the church in the north aisle.
The labours of the prior's chaplain were almost entirely confined to the household of the lord prior himself. He controlled the servants, paid them their wages, provided all that was wanted for the table, and purchased the prior's apparel. His office was over the stairs of the hall, and he slept in a room next the prior himself. The deputy-prior kept the keys of the shrines of SS. Cuthbert and Bede, and superintended the opening of the former when visitors brought offerings, and also during the Te Deum at mattins and the Magnificat at evensong, and of the latter when St. Bede's bones were to be carried in procession. He was sometimes called the master of the feretory.
Perhaps the most congenial employment was that of the master of the common-house. It was his duty to keep a hogshead of wine and a good fire in the common-house for the monks. This was the only fire to which they had access, the officers of the house excepted, and in the bitter northern winters it must have been much appreciated. To the common-house belonged also a garden and a bowling-alley, where the master stood by during games to see good order kept. When Lent drew near he provided figs, walnuts, and 'such spices as should be comfortable for the monks for their great austerity of prayer and fasting'; and on 'the day called O Sapientia, between Martinmas and Christmas,' he kept a feast—'a solemn banquet of figs, raisins, ale, and cakes,' in which the prior and convent shared; 'and thereof was no superfluity or excess, but a scholastical and moderate congratulation amongst themselves.'
With these and the like occupations for the officers of the house, and other work for the humbler brethren, the time must have passed quickly till eleven o'clock, when the bell at the conduit-door rang, summoning all to wash and dine.
Having washed their hands at the marble laver in the cloister, (fn. 16) and dried them on clean towels from the awmry by the frater-house door, of which every monk had a key, the brethren filed in to dinner. This meal was an affair of some ceremony. The monks dined in what was called 'the loft,' up some stairs at the west end of the frater-house; they, as also the prior, were served from the great kitchen. The tables were furnished with table-cloths, salt-cellars, and mazers or drinking-bowls. Every monk had his own mazer, edged with silver double-gilt. There were also at the high table a basin and ewer of latten, the ewer shaped like a huntsman on horseback, used by the sub-prior to wash his hands at table. He always dined and supped with the convent, said grace for them, and was responsible for their good behaviour during meals.
The novices and their master dined at 'a fair table set up at the east end of the frater-house, with a decent screen of wainscot over it.' One of their number, standing in a window-recess fitted with a desk, read during the meal a chapter of the Bible in Latin, which being ended, the master tolled a gilt bell hanging above his head, on which another novice came to the high table and said grace, and they departed to their books.
The 'children of the almonry' (fn. 17) had their meals in a loft on the north side of the abbey gates, and were supplied with food from the novices' table. The prior who, except on rare occasions, dined in his own house, sent portions from his table to four old women who lived in the farmery outside the south gate of the abbey, each having a separate chamber.
The daily allowance of food for a monk of Durham seems to have consisted of a loaf of bread, two justicias (fn. 18) of ale, two portions of pulse or beans, and two commons of flesh or fish. (fn. 19) In the early fifteenth century 666 red herrings were purchased every week for the convent, besides white herrings, salmon, 'dog-draves,' (fn. 20) eels, turbot, and many other kinds of fish, some from Iceland, then the great emporium of stockfish. (fn. 21) The prior and the more distinguished guests of the house drank wine of various kinds, while a liquor called 'ptisan,' probably equivalent to single ale, was brewed in great quantities at festivals for the use of the tenants and populace. (fn. 22)
The windows of the north cloister were glazed, and in each window were three narrow pews or carrells. These carrells, each of which only extended from one stanchion to another, were separated by woodwork screens, and each contained a desk. Opposite, against the church wall, were cupboards full of books. (fn. 23) Each of the elder monks had a carrell to himself, and the library also was used for purposes of study. A porter kept the door of the cloister that none might enter to disturb the workers, who were occupied chiefly in writing or copying the Holy Scriptures, lives of the saints, classical works, the acts of the bishops and priors of Durham, and more general histories.
Meanwhile in the west cloister the master of the novices, one of the oldest of the monks, taught his scholars. There were six of them, and they sat in 'a fair stall of wainscot,' while he had 'a pretty seat of wainscot' opposite. Besides teaching them, it was the master's duty to see that they had a sufficient supply of cowls, frocks, linsey-woolsey (stammyne) for underclothing, and socks, boots, and bedding. Specially clever and promising pupils he reported to the prior, who sent them to Oxford to study divinity. At the end of their seven years of training the novices were expected 'to understand their Service and the Scriptures.' Then they sang their first mass, receiving on the occasion a small sum of money—perhaps to enable them to feast their brethren; (fn. 24) and thenceforward they were paid 'wages' of 20s. per annum in lieu of clothing. No monk received more than this unless he held some office in the house.
At three o'clock came evensong, followed by supper, which ended at five, when a bell rang to give warning for grace. Then all departed to the chapter-house, where the prior met them, and they remained in prayer and devotion till six. At that hour all the doors were locked and the sub-prior took charge of the keys till seven o'clock on the following morning. A bell now summoned all to the Salve.
The long dormitory was divided by wooden partitions into a double row of narrow cubicles, each lighted by a separate window. Every monk had a cubicle to himself, containing a bed and a desk for books. The novices slept in a row of cubicles at the south end of the dormitory; these were not so warm as the other chambers, and were boarded in on either side and above, having no light but what came in at the doorway. At each end of the dormitory was a square stone with twelve cressets which served to give light.
The sub-prior, whose chamber was close to the entrance, was responsible for the behaviour of the brethren at night. Twice during the night he called to the sleepers, going to every cubicle to make sure that no one was missing; (fn. 25) and when the three bells chimed out from the lantern-tower at midnight he roused them to go down to the church for mattins.
The discipline of the monastery does not seem to have been unusually severe, though good order was maintained, and complaints of evil conduct on the part of the Durham monks are few and far between. Offenders, however, there were no doubt from time to time; and for those who needed more severe punishment than that imposed on Robert Stichill (fn. 26) there were two prisons in the convent—one a cell above ground for less guilty persons near the chapter-house, and the other a strong dungeon called the lying-house, beneath the room of the master of the farmery. Monks convicted of felony, immorality, &c., were imprisoned there for a year, in chains, alone except for the few moments each day when the trapdoor above was opened and the master let down their food by a cord. 'Temporal men' belonging to the house when guilty of serious offences were punished by the secular power.
The monks were not seldom called upon to afford sanctuary to criminals and suspects fleeing from the rough-and-ready justice of mediaeval days. At Durham the privilege of sanctuary extended to the church and churchyard. Persons taking refuge fled to the north door of the cathedral and knocked for admittance, using probably the large knocker that is still upon the door. Over this door there were two chambers in which men were lodged at night for the purpose of admitting such fugitives at any hour. When any person was so admitted the Galilee bell was immediately tolled to give notice that some one had taken sanctuary. The offender was required to declare in the presence of witnesses the nature of his offence, and to toll a bell in token of his demanding the privilege. He was then provided with a gown of black cloth, having St. Cuthbert's cross in yellow on the left shoulder. Near the south door of the Galilee was a grate on which these fugitives slept, and they were supplied with provision and bedding at the expense of the house for thirty-seven days. (fn. 27)
Four bell-ringers were kept in the church; two belonged to the vestry, had charge of the copes and ornaments, and slept in a room above the vestry; the other two slept in a room over the north aisle, kept the church clean, and locked the doors at night. Very early on Sunday morning they filled the holy-water stoups with clear water, and one of the monks came in and hallowed it. Every Sunday afternoon one of the brethren preached in the Galilee from one o'clock till three. On Fridays the 'Jesus mass' was sung at the Jesus altar in the body of the church, and after evensong in the choir the 'Jesus anthem' was sung by the choristers on their knees while one of the Galilee bells tolled.
There appear to have been no less than five organs in the church. Three belonged to the choir, of which one was used only on high festivals, one when the four doctors of the church (fn. 28) were read, and the third at the usual daily services. The fourth organ was in the Galilee, and was used daily at Our Lady's mass by the master of the song-school; while the fifth stood in a loft by the Jesus altar, and was used at the Jesus mass on Fridays. (fn. 29)
During Lent the children of the almonry came daily to the north aisle of the choir where, beneath a staircase, was kept the great ornament known as 'the Paschal,' which it was their duty to 'dress, trim, and make bright for Easter.' This Paschal was, in tact, an enormous sevenbranched candlestick, much enriched with carving and gilding, and in size, when set up, nearly as wide as the choir, and so high that the topmost candle—the Paschal candle par excellence—could only be lighted by means of 'a fine conveyance through the roof of the Church.' It was set up on Maundy Thursday against the first step of the choir, behind the three silver basins that hung before the high altar, and remained there till the octave of Ascension Day. It was considered to be 'one of the rarest monuments in England.'
On the Monday in Holy Week the brethren went in procession to St. Oswald's church; on Tuesday to St. Margaret's, and on Wednesday to St. Nicholas'. Maundy Thursday was a busy day in the convent. Early in the morning thirteen (fn. 30) poor old men, 'having their feet clean washed,' (fn. 31) came to the cloister and seated themselves on a long carved bench brought out of the church for the purpose. To them at nine o'clock came the prior, attended by all his monks. Certain prayers were said, and then the prior washed and kissed their feet; after which he gave them each thirty pence in money and seven red-herrings, serving them himself with drink, three loaves apiece, and certain wafercakes. Meanwhile the monks did the same to a row of children sitting on a stone bench in the south cloister. More prayers followed, and then 'they did all depart in great holiness.'
After this there was a great procession round the church, the prior wearing his cope and mitre, and the monks carrying St. Cuthbert's banner and all the relics. At night the prior and convent met again, this time in the frater-house, using on this occasion only the large silver-gilt mazer called the Judas cup.
On the altar of Our Lady of Bolton stood a hollow image of the Blessed Virgin with double doors which, when opened, revealed the figure of the Saviour, holding in His upraised hands a large crucifix of solid gold. On Good Friday two of the monks removed this crucifix and brought it down to the lowest step of the choir, where they held it while all the brethren, from the prior downwards, barefooted, crept up to it on their knees and kissed it. It was then reverently placed in the sepulchre on the north side of the choir, together with another image of Christ, in the breast of which was inclosed the holy Sacrament of the altar. Long prayers followed, and finally two tapers were lighted and set to burn before the sepulchre till Easter Day.
Between three and four o'clock on Easter morning two of the oldest monks, each bearing a silver censer, came to the sepulchre, knelt down and censed it; then, rising, took out of it an image of the risen Lord, with the holy Sacrament inclosed in crystal in its breast. This they brought and set on the high altar, all the monks singing the anthem of Christus resurgens. Then the image was carried in procession round the church under a canopy of rich purple velvet borne by four ancient gentlemen, and was finally replaced on the altar, to remain there until Ascension Day.
Processions were held on most of the principal holy-days; on Whit Sunday and Trinity Sunday round the church, bearing the banner and relics; on Corpus Christi round Palace Green with the Corpus Christi shrine; on St. Mark's Day to Bow Church, where a service was held. In every procession the shrine containing St. Bede's bones was carried by four monks, and afterwards replaced in his tomb.
St. Cuthbert's Day was of course a great festival. The cover of his shrine was raised, as on certain other days, that the faithful might behold the jewels and other relics in the feretory; and the whole convent kept open house in the frater, dining all together on that day alone of all days in the year.
Across the church from north to south ran a line of blue marble in the pavement with a cross in it. Beyond this no woman might pass; (fn. 32) and any woman transgressing this rule, or entering the precincts of the abbey, was liable to severe punishment. Early in the twelfth century Helisend, the queen of Scotland's chambermaid, disguised herself in a black cope and hood and secretly entered the church; but she was discovered and forcibly ejected by Bernard the sacristan, whose language on the occasion does him little credit either as a man or a monk. (fn. 33) Again in 1417 two maidservants from Newcastle tried to penetrate to St. Cuthbert's feretory, clad in masculine attire. They also were detected, and sentenced to walk in the same dress in procession on various festival days round the churches of St. Nicholas and All Saints, Newcastle. (fn. 34)
There was also a strict rule that all riders approaching the church should dismount at the gate of the churchyard. A certain knight in the time of Henry II essayed to ride up to the door, but judgement descended on him, his horse falling and rolling him in the mud. (fn. 35)
A curious dispute arose in the fourteenth century between a certain rector of St. Mary's in the South Bailey, and the prior of Durham. The rector asserted that he had a right to enter the prior's hall on festival days, quasi propositus, and to celebrate prayers; and on lesser days to read the Gospel, to sprinkle holy water in the brewhouse, bakehouse, and kitchen; and there to receive a commons of bread, beer, and flesh or fish. He also said that the tithes of the monastery gardens were his by right. All these claims, which he grounded on the fact that a great portion of his parish lay within the walls of the monastery, the prior utterly denied. The case was submitted to arbitration, and was finally given against the rector; but the prior of good will granted him parochial dues from the servants of the priory living within his parish, and tithes of the prior's garden after his own table was supplied.
In 1388 the then rector urged his right ex officio to eat three days a week at the prior's table; and in 1434 the prior granted to John Burgham, rector of St. Mary's, an annual pension of 13s. 4d. during his incumbency in recompense of the tithes of the gardens 'formerly within the limits of the said parish, but now within the septa of the monastery,' in lieu of which tithes the rector used on certain days to eat within the abbey. He also granted to the rector a garment de secta clericorum every year for his good service; and thus for a mark and a customary sable suit at Christmas the rector became a retainer of the house of Durham. (fn. 36)
In early days the church, made doubly safe by its great strength and high degree of sanctity, was sometimes used as a temporary place of deposit for gold or treasure. In 1255 Henry III excited the wrath of the monks by seizing some gold which had been left for safe-keeping at St. Cuthbert's shrine; (fn. 37) and a century and a half later Henry V wrote to a priest of Durham to inquire about some treasure which he had placed in charge of the late prior (John of Hemingbrough), two of his monks, and a man called Middleton. The priest at once wrote to the new prior (John Wessington), and told him to allow no chest or other 'instrument' that might contain gold or gems to be removed from the priory or church without the king's knowledge. (fn. 38)
Four times a year, at the festivals of the Purification, Easter, the nativity of St. John the Baptist, and All Saints, the prior withdrew from Durham to one of his manor houses, usually to Bearpark [Beaurepaire], Bewley, Pittington, or Wardley, attended by his officers and a considerable number of the monks, for the purposes of feasting and relaxation. These periods of recreation were known as the 'Ludi Prioris'; and, if we may judge by the provision made for them, were largely attended by the people of the neighbourhood in which they were held, who in all probability were permitted to witness an exhibition of miracle-plays or mysteries. (fn. 39)
When a prior of Durham resigned his office on account of age or infirmity, provision was usually made for his support in one of the cells of the monastery. Thus on the resignation of Prior William of Tanfield in 1313, the cell of Jarrow and manor of Wardley were assigned to him for his maintenance. (fn. 40) He lived for nearly thirty years after his retirement, and meanwhile his successor, Prior Geoffrey of Burdon, also resigned (1322). To him was assigned for his support the cell of Wearmouth, (fn. 41) with the tithes of Wearmouth and Fulwell. (fn. 42)
When a Durham monk fell sick he was carried, with all his belongings, from the dormitory to the infirmary, where he could have a fire and other comforts. If he seemed unlikely to recover the prior's chaplain was sent for, and remained with him to the end. After death the convent barber came, and, removing the garments from the corpse, wrapped it in cowl and habit, putting on also the socks and boots. It was then taken to the 'dead man's chamber' (below the library of later times) and left there till nightfall, when it was removed to St. Andrew's chapel adjoining (which was only used for purposes of solemn devotion), where it lay till eight o'clock on the following morning. Two monks, nearest in kindred or kindness to the dead man, knelt all night at the feet of the corpse, and the children of the almonry knelt on either side, reading over the psalter. In the morning the body was taken to the chapterhouse, where it was received by the prior and the whole convent, who said dirges and devotions; after which it was carried through the 'parler' into the centry-garth, where it was buried, a chalice of wax being laid on the breast. During the funeral four monks held the blue bed (fn. 43) of the dead man over the grave, and one peal was rung.
In the case of a prior a fair marble stone was placed on the grave, and the little chalice was sometimes of silver or some other metal. The body of Prior Fossour, who died in 1374, was wrapped in an oxhide. (fn. 44)
When a bishop was to be buried at Durham the prior and monks met the body at the 'Church-garth gate at the Palace Green,' and brought it either into the church, or through the church to the chapter-house, as the case might be, for burial. The body was dressed in the mass vestments with mitre and crozier. On the breast lay a little chalice of silver, metal, or wax gilt at the edges. By an ancient custom the horses, the 'charette' or car, and all other things that came with the bishop's body became the property of the prior and convent. (fn. 45)
There does not appear to have been much communication between Durham Priory and religious houses in other parts of the kingdom. This may have been due partly to its rather isolated position in the wild northern country, and partly to the consistently independent character of the bishopric as a whole, which could not but affect every institution within its limits. At an early date, probably in the thirteenth century, the convent entered into agreements with various other religious houses to mutually recite prayers for departed brethren; (fn. 46) and in 1464, on the death of Prior Burnby, his successor and the convent entrusted a letter, commemorative of the virtues of Priors Burnby and William Ebchester, to one or more monks, and sent them to ask the prayers of other monasteries throughout the kingdom for the souls of those priors. The roll proves that they visited at least 623 houses, each of which promised to pray for the deceased priors, receiving in return an interest in the prayers of the Durham monks. (fn. 47)
Space does not admit of a separate mention of every grant of land made to the monastery; but King John in February, 1203-4, confirmed to the prior and convent all their privileges and possessions, and his charter states that they then owned the following lands, &c., viz. lands in Durham city and across the bridge with a garden; Elvet with its church; Shincliffe [Sinecliue]; Staindrop and Staindropshire with the church; Burdon; Blakiston [Blecheston]; Billingham with its church; Coupon (?) [Cupum] with all its land of Wolviston, Barmston, Skirningham, Ketton, and Aycliffe [Acle] with its church; Woodham [Wudum]; Ferryhill [Ferie]; the church of St. John with its vill; Merrington; Middleham Church with the chapel and adjoining lands; Trellesden; the two Pittingtons with the church; Moorsley; Hurdwick; the two Raintons with the vill of Cocken; the two Hesledens with the church; Dalton with its church; Heldun; Wearmouth with its church; Southwick; Fulwell; Westoe [Wiuestou]; Harton [Hertedon]; Preston; Hurworth [Hethewrth]; Jarrow [Girwuum] with its church and fisheries in the Tyne; St. Hilda's church; Hebburn [Heb'me]; Monkton; the two Heworths; Foletby; with all other churches, lands, meadows, mills, rents, &c., held by them between Tyne and Tees. In Northumbria (sic) they held Wallsend with its chapel; Willington [Wivelington]; and land in Cramlington. In the Tyne, a fishery which Nicholas Grenville gave to St. Cuthbert. Across the Tees the churches of Northallerton [Alverton] and 'Materebrunton'; the chapel of Dicton and other chapels; and the churches of 'Werkeshale' and 'Siggeston.' In York City, the churches of All Saints, St. Peter, and Holy Trinity, with all their lands and possessions in that city. In Yorkshire, Holtby church with three carucates of land; Skipwith (?) [Scipwiz] church with two bovates of land; four carucates of land in Everthorpe (?) [Evertorp]; six carucates in Cave (?) [Caue]; fourteen and a half bovates of land in Grentingham; a carucate and a half in 'Luchefeld'; two carucates in Cleve (?) [Clif]; a mill in Appleton; the vill of Hemingbrough, with its church, mill, waters, meadows, and woods; two carucates with woods and waters in Brackenholme; one carucate with a wood and waters in Grimsthorpe; the church of Howden with a carucate of land and the chapel of Eastrington with its appurtenances; the churches of Welton, Walkington, and Brantingham with the chapel of 'Alrecher'; Hundesley; Middlehill; and two carucates of land and a mill in Droeton. In Lincoln city, the land which belonged to Wulget, and the land given by Hunfr' and his nephew. In Lincolnshire, six bovates of land at Cleatham; the church of Blyborough with ten bovates of land; three bovates with a mill and sixteen acres of land and meadow in Stainton; the church of Kirkby with nine bovates of land of lay fee with wood and meadow, with the chapel of Birchwood; the church of Biscathorpe with a mill in that vill and the tithes of Wispington; a manse in Torkesey; at Stamford, St. Mary's Church near the bridge, with eight manses and half a carucate of land and meadow belonging to them; and outside the borough St. Leonard's monastery (fn. 48) with its appurtenances; half a bovate of land in Rippingale; and the lesser church of St. Mary. In Nottinghamshire, two carucates of land with an adjoining meadow at Gotham; six bovates with a meadow at 'Chirlingegastoca'; at Normanton, the church with its appurtenances, five carucates of land, two mills and a meadow; ten bovates with a meadow in Bunny Gayton; five and a half carucates of land in Kingston; a carucate of land with a meadow in Barton. In Nottingham itself, the land of Onicar son of Alnot monetarii; two manses, the gift of Azur son of Ulsag; and a carucate of land called Nunewicathornes.
In Northumberland, Bedlington church with the chapel of Cambois and all its appendages; Farne Island and the adjacent islands; the church of Holy Island with all its chapels, and the lands and wastes adjacent; Fennum (sic), and what they have in Elwick; the church of Norham with its chapels, lands, waters, and appurtenances; and the vill of 'Sorwurth.'
Across the Tweed, Coldingham with the church of the same vill and all things thereto belonging, viz. Aldecambus with its church, Lumsden, Rainton, and Greenwood, and the two Ristons, Aldgrave, Swinewood, and the two Eytons with mills, and Prendelgest with a mill; Ederham, and the church of that vill with all its chapels: the two Swintons with a church; the two Lambertons with a church; Berwick Church; Fishwick with a church; Paxton; Nesbit, with a mill; the church of Edenham with the chapel of Stichill; and all besides which they have in Loudoun (?) [Lodoneio]. (fn. 49)
Further details respecting the interior life of the convent will appear in the course of its history. Enough has been said to show that the picture presented to us, even in very early days, is that of a well-organized, richly endowed, powerful, and independent body, quite capable of conducting its own affairs, and not likely to be tolerant of any attempt at oppression or interference. Not only did the monks gradually become possessors of a great part of the landed property in the county; but they were also the keepers and guardians of the sacred body of St. Cuthbert, and as such wielded a power difficult to realize in modern days. Even the worldly, avaricious and remorseless Bishop Flambard felt and acknowledged this spiritual force. During his later years he had carried up the walls of the church as far as the roof, enlarged the common hall of the monastery, and given rich vestments for the holy offices; but he had previously annexed certain of the convent lands and dues, and he dared not die until restitution was made. Struck by mortal illness, he caused himself to be carried into the church, and, resting on the altar, lamented the injuries he had done to the convent. The prior and monks, standing round, received public restitution of their property by the ceremony of offering a ring at the high altar. (fn. 50)
As early as 1153 the monks came into collision with the archbishop of York about the election of Hugh Pudsey as bishop of Durham; and though the archbishop excommunicated them, and even the papal legate, while absolving them, obliged them to undergo a severe penance, they carried their point in the end. Prior Laurence accompanied the bishop-elect to Rome, and induced the pope to consecrate him there. (fn. 51)
Soon after the consecration of Philip of Poitou as bishop of Durham in 1197, quarrels arose and long continued between that prelate and the convent, fomented by Archdeacon Aimeric, nephew to the bishop, who insinuated that the monks were usurping an authority to which they had no right, and were daily infringing upon the episcopal prerogative. The question arose, whose was the right of presentation to Coldingham? The bishop claimed it for himself as abbot of the monastery; the prior declared that it belonged by royal grant to the convent. The bishop, enraged by contradiction, proceeded to acts of great violence. By his orders Aimeric besieged the monks in St. Oswald's church, and when in spite of hunger and thirst they remained obdurate, he set fire to the church doors and smoked them out. But in the end the bishop was obliged to yield, and the monks gained their point. (fn. 52)
Again, when the bishop claimed to be admitted to the chapter-house at the time of the monks' convention, he was met by a decided refusal. In his rage he excommunicated the prior and the entire chapter, and sent emissaries who broke into the church on St. Cuthbert's Day, interrupted the holy offices, and with impious hands dragged the prior and his assistants from the very altar itself. (fn. 53) But he did not thereby obtain admission to their councils.
Possibly there was some ground for his complaints. The property of the house was rapidly increasing, and the monks may have been trying to extend their authority to an unwarrantable degree. In any case they had their revenge. Not only did they hand down the bishop's name to posterity loaded with obloquy, but when in 1208 he died excommunicate they refused his body Christian burial, and it was interred by laymen in an obscure grave with no religious rite of any kind. (fn. 54)
Encouraged no doubt by their victories over Bishop Philip, the monks took a very high hand with his successor, Richard Marsh. (fn. 55) When he sought to encroach on their privileges they went to law with him, and at last, in wrath at his exactions, they accused him to the pope of bloodshed, simony, sacrilege, gross immorality, perjury, and other crimes. The pope appointed the bishops of Ely and Salisbury his delegates to hear and inquire into the truth of these charges. Bishop Marsh, however, appealed direct to the pope: and at Rome his money prevailed to soften the pontiff's anger and to protract the suit. How it would have been decided is difficult to guess; but when in 1226 it was brought to an abrupt conclusion by the sudden death of the bishop, the monks, regarding the occurrence as a notable example of the Divine judgement, considered that they had again been victorious. (fn. 56)
With regard to the election of Bishop Marsh's successor, Richard le Poor, the monks were opposed alike by the king and the pope; but, though at first defeated in the struggle, and threatened with the loss of the freedom of election which they had hitherto enjoyed, in the end they overcame all opposition. (fn. 57) The event proved their choice a wise one. In Bishop le Poor they found a patron at once just and liberal, learned and devout. In order to secure them in quiet and undisturbed possession of their property, and to prevent any future disputes between them and their bishops, he entered into an agreement with them in 1231 usually known as 'le convenit.' The articles of this agreement dealt with the action of the courts, bailiffs, officers, &c. of the bishop and prior respectively; with the questions of wreckage, customs, tolls, weights and measures, and the like; and with the punishment of various classes of offenders. It was conceived in a spirit of strict justice and moderation, and was certainly calculated to prevent either party from encroaching on the rights and privileges of the other, or from acquiring an undue degree of predominance in the diocese. (fn. 58)
On the death of Bishop le Poor in 1237 difficulties at once arose as to the choice of his successor. The monks rejected the king's candidate, probably not more because of his unsuitability than because they were determined to retain their privileges unbroken, and proceeded to elect their own prior, Thomas of Melsanby. The king objected, on the rather absurd ground that Thomas, when prior of Coldingham, had sworn allegiance to the king of Scotland. He also accused him of simony and other crimes, and of lack of learning. (fn. 59) The archbishop of York, to whom the question was submitted, could find no just grounds for these accusations, but postponed his decision from fear of the king. Four monks were therefore sent from Durham to appeal to the pope; but, whether by foul play or not, they all died before reaching Rome. Melsanby himself then started for Rome, but was stopped at Dover, and, despairing of any peaceful solution of the matter, returned to Durham and resigned his election. The king at once nominated a kinsman of his own, but the monks rejected his proposal, and at length, after a struggle lasting three years and a half, elected a nominee of their own, Nicholas Farnham, (fn. 60) thereby maintaining their right in the letter, though hardly in the spirit, as Nicholas was a court favourite, and possibly had all along been the king's choice. (fn. 61) However, a period of peace ensued, during which Prior Bartram (1244-58) founded the house and chapel of Bearpark [Beaurepaire], which ultimately became the chief country seat of the priors of Durham. (fn. 62)
In 1255 fresh trouble arose. The pope having demanded an enormous sum of money from the English ecclesiastics on a most shallow and ridiculous pretext, the prior and monks of Durham, alone save for the canons of Gisburn, stood out against his exactions, though threatened with an interdict. (fn. 63) Had the other clergy and religious bodies in the country joined with them, no doubt a stand might have been made which would have altered the whole subsequent history of the English church; but more cowardly counsels prevailed. The monks submitted, and in 1257 received the papal absolution. (fn. 64) Their conduct, however, bears witness to their independent spirit, which was forcibly illustrated in 1283 when, the see of Durham being vacant, Wickwane, archbishop of York, insisted on visiting the convent. The monks, who had never admitted his right to do so, shut the church doors in his face. The archbishop, furious at this rebuff, retreated to St. Nicholas' church, and was in the act of publicly excommunicating the prior and convent when a body of young men from the borough rushed into the church and chased him from the pulpit, out of the building, down the stairs to the school, and so to the waterside. The descent was steep and perilous, and so closely was the prelate followed that one of his palfrey's ears was cut off by his pursuers. He finally escaped across the water, vowing vengeance on the monks. Much litigation ensued, but the archbishop's death put an end to it before any decision had been arrived at. (fn. 65) His successor, John Romanus, however, made an agreement with the convent, dated 2 November, 1286, by which the right of York to the jurisdiction of the see of Durham when vacant was recognized, the archbishop on his part agreeing to let bygones be bygones. (fn. 66)
Anthony Bek, now bishop of Durham, acted as mediator in this transaction, but his own conduct towards the monks was far from conciliatory, and during the latter part of his pontificate he and they were involved in almost ceaseless strife. Imperious and overbearing, he thought he could rule the monks as he liked; and he did not hesitate to infringe their liberties. By rather underhand dealing he procured the resignation in December, 1285, of Prior Richard of Claxton, and appointed Henry of Horncastre guardian of the convent during the vacancy. This was entirely contrary to use, the guardianship belonging of right to the sub-prior. Hugh of Darlington, a former prior, was elected, but shortly afterwards he resigned, and in 1299 was succeeded by Richard of Hoton.
In 1300 dissensions began. The prior was accused of irregularities respecting the lands of Coldinghamshire, and the bishop was urged to visit the convent and reform abuses. The prior insisted that if the bishop came he should come alone and unattended; moreover, he failed to submit the necessary formalities for his approval. The bishop was furious at what he considered open disrespect. He excommunicated, suspended, and pronounced an interdict against Prior Richard, and finally deprived him.
The convent was divided on the matter, many of the monks siding with the prior, while others, led by the priors of Finchale and Holy Island, took part with the bishop. The latter, unable for once to get his own way, had recourse to violence. He broke into the prior's park at Bearpark and destroyed the game. By his orders, or at least with his consent, his servants committed outrages against the prior, imprisoned his people, and isolated the convent.
At last the king himself came to Durham to restore peace. After hearing both sides of the dispute he decided that Prior Richard was to remain in office, and on the other hand the bishop was to be allowed to bring three or four clergy to attend on him at the visitation. He also announced that whichever party first broke the peace would incur his severe displeasure.
In spite of this warning the bishop soon renewed his acts of violence, and the king kept his word, and from thenceforth took the convent's part. Three months after he had suspended Prior Richard the bishop summoned those of the monks who were on his side, and ordered them to choose a prior for themselves, unless they wished him to do so. They utterly refused; whereupon he nominated his chief supporter, Henry de Luceby, prior of Holy Island, and in order to eject Richard of Hoton he sent for his foresters of Weardale and men of Tynedale, who besieged the convent. They cut off the supplies of food and water, forced the gates of the priory and cloister, and drove the monks into the church, where they kept them for three days, reducing them to the verge of starvation. At length, on St. Bartholomew's Day, the bishop's party amongst the brethren, driven to desperation, admitted one of the Tynedale men into the church, and commanded him to remove the prior by force. He consented, but when he caught sight of the reverend father he drew back, awestruck, and declared that for no amount of gold would he do this thing. Whereupon one of the monks, an adherent of the bishop, pulled the prior from his seat, and Luceby was installed in his place. Then the whole body of monks, coerced, starved, and terrified, submitted and professed obedience to the bishop. (fn. 67)
Prior Richard and his two principal supporters were imprisoned in the abbey, and the bishop rejoiced over their defeat. But his triumph was of short duration. The prior complained that his health was suffering from the closeness of his confinement, and asked leave to take the air. Permission having been granted, he left the city, and, attended by a small body-guard, walked down the hill towards Shincliffe. Suddenly, as the party reached the bridge, eight men made their appearance, leading a horse ready saddled and bridled. Five minutes later the guards were in full flight towards Durham, while the dauntless prior, accompanied by William de Conton, his chaplain, (fn. 68) for whom a second horse had been quickly found, was riding for his life in the opposite direction. He escaped into Cleveland, and there remained until Parliament met in the following February at Lincoln, where he attended in person, stated his grievances, and obtained the king's permission to go to Rome.
The pope summoned Bishop Bek to answer personally at Rome the charges brought against him; instead of which he merely sent proctors. This angered the pope, who received the prior's appeal very graciously, and decreed on 29 November, 1301, that he should be restored to his place, pronouncing Luceby's election 'irregular.' He also suspended the bishop, and again commanded him to come to Rome in person on pain of deprivation. This time the bishop thought good to obey, but he came in the utmost pomp and state. The pope, impressed by his magnificence and lavish expenditure, received him favourably, and gave him leave to visit the convent, attended by two clerks, one notary, and one religious of the same order. (fn. 69)
This, however, did not satisfy the bishop. After the death of Pope Boniface, he obtained from his successor a bull ordering the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishops of Lincoln and Worcester to visit the convent. To them he accused the prior of dilapidations and various offences, but before any inquiry could be made the pope died. The charges were repeated to Clement, the new pope, as soon as might be, and he very rashly acted upon them, suspending the prior in spiritualities and also in temporalities. The prior once more started for Rome to appeal against this sentence, but was delayed by the advance of winter, and remained near Canterbury. The bishop put Luceby in charge of the convent, and the pope ordered the abbot of Lazenby to give him possession; but the exasperated monks refused to admit the abbot, thereby bringing down a sentence of excommunication on themselves and their prior.
The pope, however, had made a mistake. His interference with the temporalities was an invasion of the rights of the crown, which brought on a judicial examination of the whole matter, and both parties found themselves loaded with a heavy fine. Prior Richard now returned from Canterbury, met the king at Durham, celebrated mass in his presence at St. Oswald's altar on St. Oswald's Day, and received from him a letter of recommendation to the pope. Armed with this, he again went to Rome and obtained a sentence of restitution, for which the convent was to pay 1,000 marks. But, unfortunately, he died while still in Rome, and all his goods, horses, books, plate, and jewels were confiscated to the pope's use.
choice was given to the three monks who accompanied
him to the curia to nominate a prior whom the pope
would prefer to the office. When one of them had
been pitched upon, however, so provoked was he that
he shed bloody tears from both eyes and nostrils,
saying, 'Would you bring such a scandal upon me that
it should be said I had poisoned my prior in order
that I might rule in his stead?'
an exclamation which throws a somewhat lurid light upon an age when such an accusation should be regarded as not only possible, but the most likely thing to be said. (fn. 70) The pope himself then proposed William of Tanfield, and he was duly elected. It is said that for this promotion William paid a bribe of 3,000 marks to the pope and 1,000 to the cardinals. (fn. 71)
All these infamous transactions fell heavily on
the church of Durham. Only one pleasing if
pathetic incident is to be found in connexion
with them. On the morrow of the Purification,
1308, Bishop Bek visited the chapter after the
form of the Bonifacian Constitution. Many
severe sentences did he pass upon the heads of
the house, which, after his death, were annulled
by Archbishop Greenfield. But these, in Graystanes' belief, were brought about through the
influence of others, not by the bishop's own
for in the beginning of the visitation, he says, the laymen and seculars having retired, immediately the whole convent prostrated themselves on bent knees to the earth before the bishop, and desired that if any of them in the late strife had transgressed against him in any way he would mercifully forgive them; upon which, bursting into tears, he promised them solemnly that he would do so. (fn. 72)
This was the last time the convent came into collision to any serious extent with the episcopal power in Durham; but their difficulties with their metropolitan were not yet over. Bishop Bek died 3 March, 1310-11, and was buried in the east transept of the church, near St. Cuthbert's feretory. (fn. 73) Immediately after his death the prior and chapter appointed officers to act during the vacancy. The archbishop promptly excommunicated all parties concerned in the matter. The monks obtained from the king a licence to elect, but before the day of election the king sent the earl of Gloucester to Durham, entreating them to nominate his kinsman, Antholin of Pisana, a foreigner, a stranger, and said to be under the canonical age. Bribes were offered to the monks in rich profusion, but they totally refused to do as the king wished. They were, nevertheless, in great perplexity as to how the election should take place. They knew the archbishop would not confirm any act done by persons under his sentence of excommunication; but to withdraw themselves would be to submit to what they considered his usurped jurisdiction. Finally it was decided that anything was better than prolonging the vacancy of the see, so they absented, leaving the business to those of their brethren who were not under censure, and Richard Kellaw, himself a Durham monk, was elected 31 March, 1311. (fn. 74)
Between him and the convent the greatest cordiality subsisted. He took much pleasure in the society of the monks, and was almost invariably accompanied by one or more of them; his chancellor, seneschal, and confessor were chosen from amongst their number. (fn. 75) Within a few months of his consecration he bestowed upon them his waste in the vill of Wolsingham with the wood of Wastrophead, (fn. 76) extended their park at Bearpark, (fn. 77) augmented the office of sacristan by the gift of certain waste land in Middlewood, near Sacristanhaugh, (fn. 78) insisted on the payment of debts due to the house, (fn. 79) and smoothed their path in many smaller particulars. In November, 1312, he granted an indulgence of forty days to all who went to hear the monks preach the Gospel in the church. (fn. 80)
During the first half of the fourteenth century both bishop and monks were called upon to defend themselves from a common foe—a circumstance which probably contributed largely to the preservation of peace amongst themselves. The warlike and half-savage Scots of the borders by a series of forays and inroads laid waste the marches, and reduced the inhabitants, both religious and secular, to great straits. In August, 1313, the king demanded a loan of 300 marks from the prior and convent towards the expenses of his army in the war with Scotland, (fn. 81) and a year later the monks agreed to pay 800 marks to Thomas, earl of Moray, to ensure the bishopric against attack from the Thursday before St. Edward's Day, 1314, to the octave of St. Hilary next following. (fn. 82) The payment of tenths also pressed heavily upon all in the general distress, and the prior of Durham, to whom it fell to collect both papal and royal tenths, fifteenths, &c., in the county of Durham, seems to have found it difficult to get the money together. (fn. 83) The corn and other crops on the convent lands were so frequently destroyed by the invaders, that in February, 1315-16, the prior was obliged to send messengers to other parts of the country to buy food. (fn. 84) During the spring of that year the Scots entered the bishopric and ravaged the monks' park at Bearpark; then marched northward, leaving ruin and desolation behind them. (fn. 85)
In the midst of all this trouble the house sustained a severe blow in the death of its friend and patron, Bishop Kellaw, 9 October, 1316. During the vacancy of the see difficulties occurred with the chapter of York on the question of the custody of the spiritualities of the bishopric, the metropolitan see being also void. (fn. 86) The two chapters finally agreed to refer the whole matter to the pope, and abide by his decision. (fn. 87)
A fresh struggle now arose as to the election of a bishop. The monks received letters from the king and queen, earnestly begging them to choose Lewis de Beaumont, the queen's cousin; but having obtained licence they proceeded to elect Henry of Stamford, prior of Finchale, thus asserting their independence, and at the same time doing their best to secure a worthy successor to Bishop Kellaw, for Henry was in every respect a suitable person for the post. But while the election was going forward in the chapter-house, the church was filled with excited courtiers eagerly awaiting the issue. Lewis de Beaumont himself was there, with his brother Henry, and his friends the earls of Lancaster, Hereford, and Pembroke, besides many persons bitterly opposed to his cause; and threats of violence were heard on all sides. News of the election of Henry of Stamford was at once taken to the king at York, and he was personally willing to confirm the monks' choice; but the queen, on her knees, entreated him to appoint her cousin. The king accordingly refused his assent, and sent letters to the pope recommending Lewis on the ground that it was eminently desirable for the moment to have as bishop of Durham a man who was first and foremost a good soldier, on account of the condition of the Marches. (fn. 88) The chapter of York dared not run counter to the king, so the bishop-elect, after consulting the convent, decided to go to Rome; but before his arrival the pope, by an act of appalling injustice, had given the bishopric to Lewis, salving his conscience by imposing upon him at the same time an enormously heavy fine. As nothing whatever could be objected against Henry, the pope endeavoured to console him with a grant of the priory of Durham, when it should next fall vacant; but Henry did not live to reap any benefit from this generous offer. Worn out by all he had gone through he travelled back as far as the cell at Stamford, where he fell ill of a gradual decline and died in 1320. (fn. 89)
Meanwhile the war with Scotland continued. The monks were ordered to hold processions and to pray for the success of the English troops; (fn. 90) and one of their number was sent to join the army with the banner of St. Cuthbert, (fn. 91) which was said to bring victory in its train. The enemy, however, continued to infest the border counties, and in October, 1322, were present in Yorkshire in such force that the prior of Durham was unable to travel south to present his accounts at the Exchequer. (fn. 92)
In consequence of this state of things, during the next twenty years the successive priors were much occupied in secular and military matters. Prior William of Conton acted as one of the king's justiciars for enforcing in Northumberland the observance of the treaty with Scotland in 1331, (fn. 93) and as 'collector of the money due for victuals of the late king at Newcastle.' (fn. 94) It appears that such scandalous reports were circulated with regard to him that the king thought fit 'for the protection of the innocent from the slanders of the wicked' to publish a statement to the effect that the prior was ' a man of approved devotion and of wise and laudable conduct in the administration of the temporalities and spiritualities of the priory.' (fn. 95)
In the spring of 1333 the prior was ordered to prepare a wagon and ten oxen to carry tents for the troops; a similar order (fn. 96) was issued to several other religious houses, and all were to be at Durham by Easter week. (fn. 97)
These and other expenses fell so heavily on the impoverished monks that in October, 1333, the king forgave them a debt of £100 due to him, 'in consideration of their losses by the frequent forays of the Scots.' (fn. 98)
About this time Bishop Beaumont died; and the king, while granting the monks leave to elect a successor, wrote privately to the pope, asking him to appoint Richard Aungerville of Bury, his own domestic chaplain, which the pope was quite ready to do. Meanwhile the unconscious monks duly elected Robert of Graystanes, sub-prior of Durham, (fn. 99) and applied to the king to confirm their choice. He answered that he much regretted his inability to do so, as the pope had unfortunately already appointed Bury. Graystanes went to York, and after consulting with the canons there he was, with the consent of the prior and convent of Durham, confirmed, consecrated by the archbishop, and enthroned, notwithstanding the refusal of the royal assent. Having professed obedience, he applied for the restitution of the temporalities; but this was refused, the king saying that he should lay the whole matter before Parliament. Soon afterwards Richard of Bury came to Durham, armed with papal and royal authority, and was immediately received. (fn. 100) The archbishop, afraid of offending the pope, revoked all that he had done; apologized, explaining that he had acted in ignorance of the pope's selection; and sent Graystanes to seek the favour of Bury. (fn. 101) The proceedings were so serious an infringement of the rights of the convent that the monks would have resorted to litigation, but their resources were so drained by the war that this was impossible, and they had no choice but to submit. (fn. 102) Graystanes did not long survive this mortification; anxiety and disappointment brought on an illness which ended in his death. (fn. 103) His case and that of Henry of Stamford serve to illustrate the power which worldly ambition was beginning to exercise in the cloister. Both these men were learned, upright, and devout; yet they allowed the disappointment of their hopes of promotion so to prey upon their minds as to produce fatal results.
In 1338 the battle of Halydon took place, with important results to the convent. The king had vowed that if God gave him the victory he would build a house for thirteen Benedictines. Accordingly, the Scots being signally defeated, he granted to the bishop of Durham the advowson of Simonburn church, to endow a house for a prior and twelve monks of the chapter of Durham, to be founded by the bishop in the suburbs of Oxford, with a church and suitable dwellings, at the king's expense, in honour of God and of St. Margaret, on whose eve he gained the victory. (fn. 104) The house, known as Durham College, was refounded by Bishop Hatfield, who, in 1381, granted a licence to the prior and convent to acquire lands, &c., to the annual value of 200 marks for the support therein of eight monks as chaplains and of eight poor scholars. (fn. 105)
The struggle with Scotland continued with unabated fierceness. In August, 1343, the prior was ordered to collect men-at-arms and to proceed to the March to repel an expected invasion. (fn. 106) Two years later the learned Bishop Bury died, and the pope, at the king's request, at once (May, 1345) appointed Thomas Hatfield to succeed him. (fn. 107) This proceeding, utterly unjust and unconstitutional though it was, appears to have been accepted without remonstrance by the monks, either because they were occupied with more urgent matters, or because in the disturbed state of the country they thought that so warlike a bishop would be a real acquisition. At all events, if we may judge from their letters to the bishop during his absence in France in 1346, they were on very friendly terms with him. In July of that year Prior John wrote to thank him for the news of the victory at Crécy; he reported that they were all well at Durham, but the Scots had invaded Westmorland, where they had committed horrible atrocities, and they threatened soon to attack the bishopric, 'which,' exclaims the prior fervently, 'may the Highest avert!' (fn. 108)
When next he wrote the threatened invasion had taken place, with a result which he little anticipated. The Scots entered the bishopric, and encamped at Bearpark ('inter civitatem Dunelm et manerium nostrum de Bello Redditu'). (fn. 109)
The archbishop of York with a force of 16,000 men under the banner of St. Cuthbert, was encamped in Auckland Park; (fn. 110) and on 17 October, 1346, the two forces met at the Redhills, just outside Durham, and the battle of Neville's Cross took place, resulting in the complete defeat of the Scots and the capture of their king. The monks watched the combat from the top of the church tower, and seeing the Scots in flight, lifted up their voices and praised the Lord, singing the Te Deum so lustily that the sound of their chanting reached the ears of the combatants, inspiring the English soldiers to yet further efforts. (fn. 111) It is said that in memory of this victory a wooden cross was erected on the spot where the monk had stood who had borne St. Cuthbert's banner, and ever thereafter the prior and brethren, going to and from Bearpark in times of recreation, stopped there to offer prayers and thanksgivings. (fn. 112) The church shared largely in the liberality of the conquerors; amongst other things the mysterious 'Black Rood' of Scotland, said to possess miraculous powers, and the banners of the Scottish nobles were offered at St. Cuthbert's shrine. (fn. 113)
The relations between Edward III and the
convent seem to have been peculiar. They were
perpetually going to law with each other about
the right of presentation to various prebends and
benefices, (fn. 114) yet the king made a good many concessions to the monks, (fn. 115) and, on the other hand,
seems to have had no hesitation in asking favours
from them. On many occasions he sent old or
disabled servants of his own to receive sustenance
in the priory; (fn. 116) and his demands for loans, both
in money and kind, were frequent. (fn. 117) At last in
May, 1347, a demand for five sacks of wool
produced a remonstrance from the monks. 'The
Scots,' they wrote to the Privy Council,
have plundered our manor of Beaurepaire. At Bywell, Merrington, and Ferryhill we and our tenants have had great losses. Also the monks of our cell of Coldingham have been obliged to leave Scotland, and are staying with us to our great charge. Wherefore we must for a time seek means to live, and there are no merchants and friends here to aid us. If we let the king have five sacks of wool we must have them allowed in the diocese. Pray excuse us, in consideration of our losses and of what has been at Durham against the Scots for all England. (fn. 118)
At the same time the prior wrote to the archbishop of York, describing the spoliations of the Scots and the beggary of the brethren from the cells of Coldingham, Farne, and Holy Island, all of whom had taken refuge at Durham and had to be supported there. These cells had derived their subsistence from three churches in Scotland (Edenham, Ederham, and Ercildoune), which were worth £300 a year. The prior asked the archbishop to write to the pope about the appropriation of the church of Hemingbrough to the convent, to make up in some part for their losses. (fn. 119) Henry Lord Percy wrote direct to the pope, urging this appropriation, as the convent was on the verge of ruin. (fn. 120)
To add to the universal distress early in 1349 there was a terrible outbreak of plague in the northern province. In March the archbishop forwarded to the convent a letter from the pope, allowing everyone to have his own confessor; (fn. 121) and by the autumn the pestilence had swept away so many of the clergy that there were not enough priests left to administer the holy sacraments, and the archbishop was authorized to hold additional ordinations to supply the want. (fn. 122) An example of the depreciation in the value of property consequent upon all these troubles is afforded by the prior's manor of Paxton in Berwick, one-third of which had been worth five silver marks (£3 6s. 8d.) in time of peace, and was now (in 1363) worth £2 only; whilst the fishing in the Tweed belonging to it had fallen in value from twenty marks (£13 6s. 8d.) to £10. (fn. 123)
In 1357 licence was granted for the appropriation by the convent of the church of Hemingbrough, (fn. 124) and shortly afterwards the churches of Blyborough, co. Lincoln, (fn. 125) and Appleby, co. Leicester, (fn. 126) were also appropriated to Durham. In 1376 Bishop Hatfield gave to the monks a messuage in Holy Island in return for a special prayer daily at high mass, and a solemn mass yearly after his death, in the church of Holy Island. (fn. 127) He also bestowed on them an annual pension of 6s. 8d. (fn. 128) and in 1379 granted a licence for the alienation in mortmain to them by John of Bamburgh, clerk, of the manor of Rilley, and of messuages and lands in Wolviston, Billingham, Great Burdon, Aycliffe, Ferryhill, Monk Hesleden, Edmondbyers, Hett [Hect], Hebburn, Spennymoor, Aldin Grange, Hebenis (sic), North Pittington, Moorsley [Moreslawe], and Durham, amounting in all to twenty-seven messuages and about nine hundred acres of land, besides crofts, tofts, cottages, gardens, and rents. (fn. 129)
In March, 1380-1, the monks complained to the king that the Scots had harried the barony of Coldingham, certain lands belonging to the priory of Holy Island, and, almost worse, 'the convent's remaining pastures which lie near the Marches, they being without any place in the south for keeping their stock in safety.' The king, in response to their appeal, granted them the custody of the priory of Burstall, but this was subsequently vacated, the prior resigning it in May, 1382. (fn. 130) About the same time the convent received grants of the advowson of Stamford Church, co. Lincoln; (fn. 131) the reversion of two bovates of land and the advowson of the church of Ruddington, co. Nottingham; a messuage and two bovates of land in Flaxton, and the advowsons of Bossall and Fishlake, co. York; and of Frampton, co. Lincoln, (fn. 132) for the support of their monks and students at Durham College. All these donations must have gone far to recoup the monastery for its losses; and the century of storm and strife ended for the house more prosperously than could have been expected.
The records of episcopal visitations of the convent are unhappily very few, and most of the documents of which they consist are purely formal. Of Bishop Bek's visitations some account has already been given. In 1314 Bishop Kellaw visited the convent and appointed the master of Kepier and two others to correct certain irregularities which he found. (fn. 133) The prior and monks were commanded to submit to correction as to the points mentioned in a certain schedule, (fn. 134) but this, unfortunately, though sent with the mandate, was not copied into the register, and so is lost. Five monks were subsequently summoned to appear before the bishop to answer for their conduct, (fn. 135) and the purgation injoined upon two others was respited; (fn. 136) but no particulars of their offences are given.
On 26 March, 1355, Bishop Hatfield, having visited the convent, issued a set of injunctions which bear strong indirect evidence to the good character and conduct of the monks. Almost the only fault he had to find was that the discipline was a little too severe. He directed, amongst other things, that a competent doctor should be provided for the brethren, and that the latter, when sick, should be carefully tended, allowed light and delicate food, and visited daily by the cellarer. The monks were to have a proper amount of recreation and of intercourse with their friends. Hospitality was to be exercised and the poor relieved. Certain defects in the church fabric were to be made good. (fn. 139)
Very little, comparatively speaking, is known of the history of the convent during the fifteenth century. The doctrines of Wyclif and of the new school of thought, which began to agitate the minds of men in southern England, do not seem to have penetrated into the bishopric to any great extent. (fn. 140) It is true that in March, 1413-14, Bishop Langley ordered the priors of Durham and its cells to hold solemn processions during Lent, with litanies in which the people were to join, on account of the spread of heresy in England; (fn. 141) but this has the appearance of a general command issued in every diocese and having no special application to Durham. Several reasons suggest themselves for this conservatism in religious matters. In Durham the church was pre-eminently the centre of life and thought; the people were St. Cuthbert's folk, set apart to a certain extent by their traditions, very independent by nature, and having comparatively little intercourse with foreign countries or even with other parts of England. Moreover, the minds of men, both secular and religious, were greatly occupied with making good the damage wrought by the Scottish invaders during past years; and, last but not least, the bishop and the monks between them held by far the largest part of the landed property in the county. The following inventory of the possessions or the convent, dated 1464, shows, by comparison with the list in King John's Charter, how in spite of all their troubles the monks had enlarged their territory and increased their wealth; at this date they owned the vills of Shoreswood, Wallsend, Willington, Over and Nether Heworth, Follonsby, Hebburn, Monkton, Hedworth, Simonside, Jarrow, Harton, Westoe, Southwick, Shields, Fulwell, Wearmouth, Dalton, East and West Rainton, Moorsley, North and South Pittington, Coupon, Newton, Wolviston, Billingham, Blakiston, Burdon, Skirningham, Newton Ketton, Aycliffe, Woodham, Chilton, Ferryhill, East, Middle and West Merrington, and Edmondbyers; the manors of Felling, Wardley, Fulwell, Westoe, Pittington, Eden, Monk Hesleden, Bewley, Bellasis, Ketton, Aycliffe, Ferryhill, East Merrington, Bearpark [Beaurepaire], Aldin Grange [Aldyngrige], and Houghall (constituting the service of two knights' fees); lands, houses, rents, &c. in Norhamshire, Islandshire, Harbottle, Warkworth, Cramlington, Newcastle, Pipewellgate, Hawthorne, Silksworth, Wareknoll, Ludworth, Hulam, Hutton Henry, Hartlepool, Fishburn, Claxton, Pounteys, Barmpton, Newsham, Winston, Osmundcroft, Cleatlam, Berford, Summerhouse, Staindropshire, Coatham Mundeville, Newhouse, Coats-a-Moor, Nun Stainton, Hett, Bishop Auckland, Hunwick, Spennymoor, Broom, Woodyfield, Muggleswick, Cocken, Durham, Brompton, Northallerton, Ottrington, and Woodhall; tithes from the parishes of Jarrow, Wearmouth, Pittington, Hesleden, Billingham, Aycliffe, Heighington, Merrington, Northallerton, and Eastrington; besides various pensions, perquisites, &c. (fn. 142) The convent also held the advowsons of the rectories of Dinsdale, Edmondbyers, Kimblesworth, and Meldon; and of the vicarages of St. Oswald's, Durham, Aycliffe, Heighington, Merrington, Billingham, Hesleden, Pittington, Dalton-le-Dale, Berwick-on-Tweed, Norham, Brankston, Edlingham, Ellingham, Bedlington, Bywell St. Peter, Fishlake, Brantingham, Northallerton, Bossall, Frampton, and Ruddington; and nominations to seven chapels and nine chantries. (fn. 143)
In the time of Prior John Fossour (13421374) the church and the monastic buildings had been extensively repaired and beautified; (fn. 144) and this work was carried on by his successor, Robert Benington alias Walworth. This prior much enriched the convent, and was the first to obtain the use of the mitre and pastoral staff. (fn. 145) John of Washington [Wessington], who became prior in 1416, (fn. 146) retained his office for nearly thirty years, during which time he was active in extending and repairing the buildings of the monastery and its dependent cells. (fn. 147) One of the few priors of Durham addicted to literary pursuits, he was the author of various historical works, (fn. 148) and made a collection of documents with a view to writing a history of his own monastery. (fn. 149) On his resignation in 1446 the chapter, in grateful recognition of his services, made liberal provision for his old age. A pension of £40 was assigned to him, together with a private room in the priory, and the services of five attendants—a chaplain, a squire, a clerk, a valet, and a groom (garcio). Should he wish for change of air, the principal room in the cell at Finchale was reserved for his use. (fn. 150)
Thomas Castell, who was prior from 1494 to 1519, repaired the east gates of the abbey, with the porter's lodge, and built upon the same a stone chapel dedicated to St. Helen, with a priest's room attached. (fn. 151) To this chapel the laity were admitted twice a day to the celebration of mass, for which service two priests were assigned by the convent. Prior Castell also restored the great north transept window in the church, and purchased and gave to the convent two mills from thenceforth called 'Jesus' Mills.' (fn. 152) In 1497 Bishop Fox made him master of his game, and ordered that he was to have 'a dear of the season' whenever he required. (fn. 153)
In the year 1540 most of the larger monasteries were surrendered to the king, among them being Durham Priory, where the prior and monks were replaced by a dean and twelve canons. Hugh Whitehead, the last prior, became the first dean. (fn. 154) He was a man of virtuous and religious life, and had conferred considerable benefits on the convent, having repaired and improved Bearpark, and built a new hall at Pittington called 'the Prior's Hall,' together with other edifices. He was hospitable, liberal, and most exemplary in his private life. (fn. 155)
Taking into consideration the character of
this prior, and the general feeling in the north
of England on religious matters, it is somewhat
surprising that the priory should have been surrendered without a struggle, and that the change
should, when accomplished, have produced so
little apparent effect. As has been already
pointed out, the north had remained almost unaffected by the wave of Protestantism which was
passing over other parts of the country;
the old religion remained deeply seated in the breasts of the northern people; and (after the dissolution of the smaller houses) the monastics of both sexes, expelled from their habitations, and seeking food and shelter through the country, were objects well calculated to excite the popular indignation. (fn. 156)
In the autumn of 1536 the insurrection known as the 'Pilgrimage of Grace' broke out, and in this the people of the bishopric were seriously involved. In no county did the Reformation make slower progress than in Durham; yet the dissolution of the priory roused no immediate outburst of popular feeling, nor did the newly constituted body of cathedral clergy meet with any open opposition.
The apparent apathy of the people was no doubt partly traceable to the mild and moderate character of Bishop Tunstall. He would have been the natural leader of both monks and laymen in opposing the mandate of the king; but he had already bowed to the storm in silence, suffering himself and his successors to be ruthlessly despoiled of some of the most important rights and privileges pertaining to the Palatinate. (fn. 157)
Another and perhaps more potent reason why such radical changes passed by seemingly almost unheeded has been pointed out by a modern historian, (fn. 158) namely, the poverty-stricken and miserable condition of the inhabitants of the bishopric at that period. War, famine, and pestilence had swept over it time after time, leaving the country bare and desolate, and the poorer inhabitants reduced to a condition of almost absolute savagery. A glance at the list of crimes committed by those who took sanctuary at Durham during the early years of the sixteenth century (fn. 159) reveals the fact that murder, or at least manslaughter, was as common in the county then as petty larceny is in our own time; every man's hand was against his fellow; and the better sort must have been largely occupied in defending their lives and property, as well from their more lawless neighbours as from the thieves and robbers from Scotland who infested the borders. Moreover, from 1538 to 1540 the plague was raging so furiously in Durham that the people of the city had fled, and were living on Elvet Moor in tents. (fn. 160)
This being so, perhaps it is not wonderful that but little notice was taken at the time of the ejection of the monks from their ancient home; the fact that Hugh Whitehead continued to hold office perhaps served to mask the change, and most of the church lands remained church lands still; so that possibly the poorer folk hardly realized what had been done. But there can be little doubt that much of the intense bitterness which showed itself in the Earls' Rebellion nearly thirty years later may be traced back to this period.
The revenues of the convent at its dissolution are rated by Dugdale at £1,366 10s. 5d.; Speed gives the value as £1,615 14s. 10d. Out of this property Henry VIII established the present endowment, (fn. 161) restoring to the new cathedral nearly the whole of the ancient possessions of the convent, except those attached to the cells at Finchale, Wearmouth, Jarrow, Stamford, and Lytham. (fn. 162)
After the dissolution some of the monks, following the example of their prior, remained to form part of the staff of the new cathedral, and afterwards accepted benefices under Queen Elizabeth. One of these was William Bennett, the last prior of Finchale. When that house was dissolved in 1536 he went back to the convent at Durham, and on its dissolution in 1540 he became prebendary of the fourth stall. In 1571 he was vicar of Kelloe. (fn. 163)
Another monk of Durham was George Cliffe, who in 1562 was rector of Elswick, and in 1571 became rector also of Brancepeth. (fn. 166)
Priors Of Durham
Aldwin, app. 1083, d. 1087 (fn. 167)
Turgot, app. 1087, res. 1109 (fn. 168)
Algar, app. 1109, d. 1137 (fn. 169)
Roger, app. 1137, d. 1149 (fn. 170)
Laurence, app. 1149, d. 1154 (fn. 171)
Absolon, app. 1154, d. 1156 (fn. 172)
German, app. 1162, d. 1186 (fn. 175)
Bertram, app. 1188, d. 1212 (fn. 176)
William de Durham, app. 1212, d. 1214 (fn. 177)
Ralph Kernech, app. 1214, d. 1233 (fn. 178)
Thomas Melsanby alias Welscome, elected 1233, res. 1244 (fn. 179)
Bertram de Middleton, app. 1244, res. 1258 (fn. 180)
Hugh de Darlington, app. 16 August, 1258, res. 8 January, 1272-3 (fn. 181)
Hugh de Darlington, app. 11 January, 1285-6, res. 11 March, 1289-90 (fn. 184)
Geoffrey de Burdon, app. June, 1313, res. January, 1322-3 (fn. 189)
William de Conton, or Couton, app. 1323, d. February, 1342-3 (fn. 190)
John Fossour, or Forcer, app. March, 1342-3, d. November, 1374 (fn. 191)
Robert Benington, alias Walworth, app. December, 1374, d. 1391 (fn. 192)
John de Hemingbrough, app. 1391, d. 1416 (fn. 193)
John de Washington (Wessington), app. 1416, d. 1446 (fn. 194)
William Ebchester, app. June, 1446, res. 1456 (fn. 195)
John Burnby, alias Burnley, app. 1456, d. 1464 (fn. 196)
Richard Bell, app. 1464, res. March, 1478-9 (fn. 197)
Robert Ebchester, app. November, 1479, d. 1484 (fn. 198)
John Auckland, app. July, 1484, d. 1494 (fn. 199)
Thomas Castell, app. May, 1494, d. 1519 (fn. 200)
The seal used by the convent from its foundation to its dissolution was one of the greatest simplicity: a circle containing a cross surrounded by a legend in letters almost Saxon, and evidently not later than the foundation. Legend—
The cross is closely similar in form to that found on the body of the saint. (fn. 203)
The arms of the monastery, as given in the Heralds' Visitation of 1530, were, 'Azure, a cross flory Or between four lions rampant Argent.' The lions have in modern times been altered from silver to gold. (fn. 204)