A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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9. THE PRIORY OF LANTHONY BY GLOUCESTER
In or about 1108 Hugh de Lacy founded a monastery dedicated to St. John the Baptist for Augustinian canons in the valley of the Hodenay, beneath the Hatteril Hills in Monmouthshire. (fn. 1) During the reign of Henry I this monastery of Lanthony prospered greatly, and the number of canons increased to forty. (fn. 2) Owing to the disturbances which broke out immediately after the death of Henry I the canons were reduced to desperate straits; a Welsh lord took refuge in the monastery with his women-folk, and enemies cut off the canons' supplies of food. (fn. 3) In dire distress they sent a messenger to Robert de Bethune, bishop of Hereford, their former prior. He invited the convent to take refuge with him, and provided for their use a chapel, storehouse, barns, and other offices. Some of the canons chose to remain at Lanthony; (fn. 4) the greater number, under the prior, Robert de Braci, took refuge with the bishop, and stayed with him for two years at his expense. In 1136 at his request Milo, earl of Hereford and constable of Gloucester, offered the canons a hide of land close to the town of Gloucester. (fn. 5) With the money which they had brought from Wales, and with the bishop's help, the canons at once began to build a new church, and on 10 September, 1137, (fn. 6) it was dedicated to the Virgin by Robert, bishop of Hereford, and Simon, bishop of Worcester. Buildings were ready for the habitation of the canons, and the convent from Hereford entered into possession of them. The new foundation was called Lanthony Secunda to distinguish it from the Welsh house, which was thenceforth called Lanthony Prima. On the occasion of the dedication Milo, earl of Hereford, confirmed the gifts of his ancestors, Roger of Gloucester and Walter the constable of the castle, and added churches and lands for the support of the canons. (fn. 7) Thus this endowment included, besides the site, the meadow called Castle Mead, a tithe of the fishery by the castle and of Quedgeley, the chapel within the castle, the chapels of St. Kinburga and Elmore, besides other tithes in the earl of Hereford's demesnes. Afterwards he granted the church of Barton in Hampshire and in 1141 the manor of Heyhampstead. (fn. 8) In 1137 Robert de Braci died, and was succeeded as prior by William de Wycombe, the familiar friend of Robert de Bethune. The chronicler implies that Robert de Bethune stipulated for the return of the canons to the mother church if peace were concluded, leaving only thirteen of their number at Gloucester. (fn. 9) In 1146, at the bishop's request, Pope Eugenius III confirmed the possessions of the two priories, and decreed that the house at Gloucester should continue as a cell to the mother church of St. John the Baptist. (fn. 10) The canons of Gloucester were soon afterwards joined by a band of twenty brethren, who were constrained to leave the mother house because their property lay barren. (fn. 11) Robert de Bethune granted lands and churches in the diocese of Hereford that the newcomers might not be a burden on the younger foundation. The thought of returning to the mother house was hateful; they appreciated the contrast between the town of Gloucester and the desolate Hatteril mountains. (fn. 12) The chronicler told how he had heard some of the canons say that they wished each stone of the mother church was a hare, and others that they longed for the earth to open and swallow it up. They devoted their revenues to the fabric of the new church to the neglect of the elder. As it could not be deserted, all the old, weak, and more humble brethren were sent thither and left in want of clothing and food, while the canons at Gloucester enjoyed plenty. Everything of value was gradually removed to Gloucester, the books of the library, silken cloths, charters, and muniments, even the bells. (fn. 13) William de Wycombe, himself a man of austere life, strove, though in vain, to maintain discipline at Gloucester. (fn. 14) The canons hated him, and used his work on the life of Robert de Bethune to get rid of him. In the course of a serious quarrel, the bishop excommunicated Milo, earl of Hereford, and in 1143, while under the ban, he was killed when hunting in the Forest of Dean. William de Wycombe, the bishop's familiar friend, wrote vehemently against the tyrant, as he styled the earl. The canons informed his son Roger, earl of Hereford of this, and he swore vengeance on the house. William de Wycombe resigned, and left Gloucester to dwell for the rest of his life at Canon Frome in Herefordshire. His successor, Clement, compelled the brethren to dwell with him for a year at the mother house leaving but thirteen at Gloucester, but they would not stay; (fn. 15) on account of St. John, he said, 'we shall all descend into hell.' The Welsh house pleased him as a place for study (fn. 16) and prayer (fn. 17) but the chronicler deemed that the wisdom of the serpent would have profited him more than the innocence of the dove. (fn. 18)
It is difficult to discover the relations between the two houses during the latter half of the twelfth century. In 1157 Adrian IV confirmed a composition which had been made by Prior Clement, but the details are not forthcoming. (fn. 19) The Bohuns were generous patrons of the monastery at Gloucester. In the reign of Henry II Margery de Bohun, the daughter of Milo, earl of Hereford, gave the manor of South Cerney, (fn. 20) his son Henry gave the churches of Haresfield and Caldicote, in 1161. (fn. 21) In 1198, Richard I confirmed the possessions and liberties of the priories of St. Mary and St. John the Baptist in one charter. (fn. 22) The Irish Conquest brought a great increase of property; Hugh de Lacy II gave lands to Lanthony Prima, (fn. 23) other benefactors favoured Lanthony Secunda. (fn. 24) Shortly before 1205 Hubert Walter, archbishop of Canterbury, required Mauger, bishop of Worcester, and Giles, bishop of Hereford, to consider the question of a repartition of the possessions of the two priories as a former division had been made void. (fn. 25) In 1205 it was agreed that each monastery should have its own prior and convent and that neither should be subject to the other. (fn. 26) The possessions were to be divided, but no record of the settlement is known to have survived. Later evidence suggests that the mother house had the lands and churches in the counties of Monmouth, Hereford, and Wales, while the monastery at Gloucester kept the lands and other possessions in that county. (fn. 27) In 1211 an amicable composition was made about the Irish property. (fn. 28)
The Irish possessions were an important but fluctuating source of revenue. One or two of the canons acted as the prior's proctors in Ireland, (fn. 29) living at the grange of Dulek in East Meath. (fn. 30) They transmitted the proceeds to England, and in one year, during the rule of Prior Walter (1283-1300), the sum amounted to £81 5s. 7d. (fn. 31) In 1291 the English temporalities were assessed at less than £80. (fn. 32) The profits of the wool-trade were a valuable asset: in 1318 or 1319 a burgess of Cirencester covenanted to purchase the wool of the convent for that year for 100 marks. (fn. 33) It is impossible to ascertain the exact income of the monastery, but until late in the fourteenth century there is evidence of financial embarrassment. Laxity of discipline and maladministration were revealed at the visitation of Giffard, bishop of Worcester, in 1276. (fn. 34) Divine service was neglected, the prior and obedientiars absented themselves too frequently, the sacred vessels and other ornaments of the church were pledged to creditors. The canons went out into the town without licence, and the finances were in confusion. The bishop enjoined more regular attendance in church and forbade the canons to go beyond the precincts without leave. He insisted that the almoner should be removed from his office, and suggested that a more cautious cellarer should be chosen, while better appointments might be made to the offices of sub-cellarer and kitchener. To insure more prudent management, he ordered that two of the wiser and more careful canons should be chosen by the prior and convent to receive all the money of the house and act as treasurers; they were to be bound to render an account four times a year in the presence of the prior, obedientiars, and the wiser members of the convent. Two or three canons should be chosen to act as the prior's council in spiritual and temporal matters. Without their consent he might not transact any business touching the churches, manors, or granges, nor appoint either secular bailiffs or lay brothers to hold the custody of them. The bailiffs were to render their accounts at least once a year. As the house was heavily burdened with liveries and corrodies, the bishop forbade that these should be granted without his special licence. He also attempted to check sales and alienations in perpetuity. He threatened those who were guilty of disobedience to their superiors with condign punishment.
On 1 April, 1301, the vigil of Easter, the monastery suffered a great disaster, the church with its four bell towers was burnt, and only the bare walls were left standing. (fn. 35) The rebuilding was a heavy charge. In 1308, Henry Woodlock, bishop of Winchester, appropriated the rectory of Barton Lacy to the prior and convent; they pleaded their losses from hostile invasions of their Irish possessions, and the burden of hospitality. (fn. 36) Edward II remitted the payment of a fine of sixty marks for the licence. (fn. 37) Serious quarrels followed the resignation of Prior William de Pendebury in 1324. (fn. 38) Acting on a mandate from Edward II, on 5 April Bishop Cobham ordered him to go to the Augustinian monastery of Studley until after the election (fn. 39) of a new prior. Some of the canons chose Robert of Gloucester, others Walter de Longeneye, (fn. 40) and both parties presented their candidates to the king for confirmation. On 24 May, 1324, in consequence of these discords, Edward II gave the custody of the monastery to his servant, Adam de Helnak, and bade him dispose of the revenues of the house with the counsel of the sub-prior. (fn. 41) For two years the convent was without a head, some of the canons set the sub-prior at defiance, and it was reported to Bishop Cobham that they wandered at will to the dwellings of the great, robbed the manors on the plea that they had come thither as proctors, impoverished the monastery, and withheld hospitality. On two occasions the bishop wrote in remonstrance to the sub-prior. (fn. 42) In 1326 the rival candidates agreed to submit their claims to John Stratford, bishop of Winchester. (fn. 43) The late prior, William de Pendebury, declared that the election was invalid, stating that he was taken by the secular power, and kept in prison until he resigned, but he revoked his resignation. (fn. 44) The bishop of Winchester weighed the evidence, and decided that William de Pendebury was the lawful prior, and bade the convent render obedience to him. (fn. 45) Walter de Longeneye was to remain at the monastery with the same privileges as were granted to Prior William de Ashwell when he resigned his office. At the request of Robert of Gloucester he was permitted to enter the abbey of St. Thomas at Dublin with an allowance of forty marks a year for his life, and had leave to take his books with him. (fn. 46) After his reinstatement William de Pendebury ruled the monastery for thirty-six years. He found that the house was not only seriously impoverished but heavily in debt. (fn. 47) In a lamentable petition to Bishop Orlton, in which the misfortunes of the great fire, frequent ravages of Irish lands, floods, and murrains were set forth, the prior and convent pleaded for the appropriation of the church of Tytherington. In 1330, after due investigation, Orlton granted their request, and four years later Thomas Charlton, bishop of Hereford, appropriated the church of Kington with its three dependent chapels to their needs. (fn. 48) In 1342 the priory was still in serious straits, and on that account Edward III took the house under his special protection, with all its lands and rents in Ireland. (fn. 49) As the financial condition of the monastery was unstable, the economic effects of the Black Death were very severe. The mortality in the house was great, out of thirty canons nineteen died. (fn. 50) On 20 September, 1351, Thomas of Berkeley gave the advowson of the church of Aure to Lanthony in exchange for the manor of Coaley. (fn. 51) The prior and convent at once took steps to secure the appropriation of the church, pleading amongst other reasons that owing to the pestilence the rents and services of their tenants were irrecoverably withdrawn. On 3 October John Trelleck, bishop of Hereford, granted the appropriation. (fn. 52)
On the installation of Prior William de Cheriton in 1377 the debts of the house amounted to £128 8s. 4d., (fn. 53) but during the twenty-four years of his rule the monastery regained some measure of prosperity. The prior engaged in several lawsuits, and recovered some houses and £50 in money from the commonalty of Gloucester. In spite of the statute of 3 Ric. II concerning the lands of absentees from Ireland he secured the possession of the Irish estates for his house. The chapel of the Trinity, the cloister, and granary of the priory were rebuilt, and new halls, granges, and mills were built on several of the manors. In the fifteenth century the monastery was uniformly prosperous, the priors were able administrators, and discipline was well maintained. Under John Garland (1436-57) several registers were compiled, and the muniments were set in order. (fn. 54) There were not as many canons as before the Black Death: in 1409 there were seventeen canons besides two in minor orders, (fn. 55) in 1436 the numbers had risen to twenty-six, and there were again two in minor orders, (fn. 56) in 1457 twenty-two canons were present at the election of John Heyward. (fn. 57) Henry Deane was then a scholar at Oxford, ten years later he succeeded to the office of prior. He was in high favour with Edward IV, and in 1477 was one of his chaplains. (fn. 58) The priory of Lanthony Prima had fallen on evil days; it was said that the services were neglected, and that hospitality and almsgiving had ceased. (fn. 59) The convent consisted only of four canons besides the prior, who was charged with waste and destruction, and accordingly on 10 May, 1481, Edward IV granted it and all its possessions to Henry Deane and the convent of Lanthony by Gloucester for a fine of three hundred marks. (fn. 60) Thus Lanthony Prima became a cell to Lanthony Secunda, and was served by a prior and four canons from that house. In 1496 Henry Deane became bishop of Bangor; in 1500 he was transferred to Salisbury, but he retained the office of prior of Lanthony (fn. 61) by Gloucester until his promotion to the see of Canterbury in 1501. In spite of considerable revenues, the monastery was again embarrassed in 1518, and the vicar-general of Bishop Silvester de Giglis pleaded to the treasurer and barons of the Exchequer that it might be exonerated from payment of the tenth. (fn. 62) As a reason he urged the ruin of the conventual church and the great expense of rebuilding.
In 1534 the acknowledgement of the royal supremacy was signed by the prior and twentytwo canons of Lanthony Secunda and the prior and four canons of Lanthony Prima. (fn. 63) In 1536 when, under the Act of 3 Ric. II, Henry VIII seized the possessions of English monasteries in Ireland, Lanthony was deprived of about a third of its revenues. (fn. 64) On 4 March, 1537, the prior wrote to Cromwell asking, on account of his great loss in Ireland, for leave to recall the prior and canons from Lanthony Prima, that the profits of the cell might be used for the maintenance of his house. (fn. 65) It is not clear if Cromwell consented. On 10 March, 1539, the royal commissioners arrived to receive the surrender of Lanthony Secunda, and the deed was signed by the prior and twenty-four canons, including the prior of Lanthony Prima. (fn. 66) Richard Hempstead secured a pension of £100 a year, the rest of the canons were awarded pensions varying from £8 to £4. (fn. 67)
In 1535 the clear yearly revenues of the monastery amounted to £648 19s. 10¾d. (fn. 68) The possessions included the manors of Barrington Magna, Quedgeley, and Elmore, Hempstead, Brockworth, Painswick, Haresfield, Prestbury, Colesborne, Aylberton, Ocle, Westbury, Frome Canonicorum, Monkton and Lanwarne, Falley, Alvington, Boroughhill, Tytherington, Turkdean and Northleach, Eyleworth, Caldicote, South Cerney, Widmarshmore, Cherington, Henlow, rents in Gloucester and Cirencester, and the rectories of Barrington Magna, Barrington Parva, Windrush, Hempstead, Brockworth, Painswick, Haresfield, Prestbury, Frome Episcopi, Boroughhill, Tytherington, Caldicote, Barton Lacy, Cherington, Kington, Staunton Lacy, Llantrisant, Weobley and Awre, and the chapel of St. Kinburga at Gloucester. (fn. 69) The property of Lanthony Prima yielded £99 19s. 0½d. (fn. 70)
Priors of Lanthony by Gloucester (fn. 71)
Robert de Braci, 1137 (fn. 72)
William de Wycombe, 1137 (fn. 73)
Roger of Norwich occurs 1178 (fn. 76)
Martin occurs 1203 (fn. 79)
Gilbert occurs circa 1203 (fn. 80)
Walter of Monmouth occurs 1207 (fn. 81)
Geoffrey de Banbury resigned 1251 (fn. 84)
Edward or Everard, 1251 (fn. 85)
William de Cheriton, 1377-1401 (fn. 97)
John Lymnor, 1401 (fn. 98)
John Wyche, 1409-36 (fn. 99)
John Garland, 1436-57 (fn. 100)
John Heyward, 1457 (fn. 101)
Henry Deane, 1467 (fn. 102)
Richard Hempstead or Hart occurs 153439 (fn. 105)
A seal of the fifteenth century represents the Virgin crowned, seated in a heavily canopied niche, with tabernacle work at the sides, the Child with nimbus on her right knee, at her feet a lion passant.
The legend is:—
SIGILLVM COVENE PRIORIS ET CONVENTVS ECCL'IE BEATE MARIE LANTHONI IVX. GLOUCESTRV (fn. 106)