A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1926.
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19. THE PRIORY OF LEEDS
The priory of St. Mary and St. Nicholas, Leeds, was founded by Robert de Crepido Corde or Crevequer in 1119. (fn. 1) By one charter (fn. 2) he made a grant of the site for the foundation, and by another he granted to the canons the advowsons of all the churches of his land, viz. Leeds, Goudhurst, Lamberhurst, Farleigh, Teston, Chatham, and Rainham; and charters were also granted by Daniel his son, Robert his grandson and several others of the family. Among the liberties included in the grants were a fair at Chatham (afterwards surrendered to Edward I), the right to take hares, rabbits, partridges and the like in the demesne lands, full power to dispose of the possessions in times of the vacancy of the priorship, and the right to elect a prior without asking licence. The advowson of the priory passed from the Crevequer family to the crown in the latter part of the thirteenth century. (fn. 3) It was granted to Bartholomew de Badlesmere in 1318, (fn. 4) but afterwards came back to the crown.
The charters mentioned above and several others are set out in full in long charters of confirmation by Edward I in 1285 (fn. 5) and Edward III in 1367. (fn. 6) In addition to lands and rents, Leeds received a large number of churches, some of which it secured full possession of, while it had ultimately to be content with pensions from others. Henry I granted the church of Chart, which was appropriated to the priory in 1320. (fn. 7) Edward I granted the church of Little Peckham, appropriated in 1387. (fn. 8) Daniel de Crevequer granted a moiety of the church of Hallaton (Leicestershire), which the convent afterwards parted with. (fn. 9) Elias de Crevequer granted the churches of Thanet (Sarre) and Etchingham; William son of Hamo the church of Ditton; John de Bouton, son of Basilia de Bendevill, the church of (East) Barming; Henry de Bockton the churches of Boughton Monchelsea, and South Hanningfield (Essex); William de Morestun the church of Emley; William de Cusington the church of Acrise; Simon son of Peter de Borden the church of Borden, confirmed by John in 1205; (fn. 10) Ascelina de Wodenesbergh the church of Woodnesbprough; Hugh, lord of Bergested, the church of Bearsted; and William son of Helto the church of Stockbury, which the convent had licence to appropriate in 1340; (fn. 11) Hamo son of Richard de Ottringbery granted the church of Wateringbury; (fn. 12) Eugenia Picot the churches of Ham and Chillenden; (fn. 13) and the priory also owned a pension from the church of Mere worth. (fn. 14) The temporalities were valued in the Taxation of 1291 at £37 18s. yearly, lying in Leeds, Rainham, Borden, Orpington, Tonge, Sheppey, Cranbrook, Woodnesborough, Boxley, Chart, Langley, Goudhurst, and Lamberhurst. (fn. 15)
Confirmations of early grants were also made by Edward III in 1328 (fn. 16) and 1335. (fn. 17) Richard II in 1395 granted to the prior and convent the advowson of the church of Harrietsham, with licence for its appropriation; and in 1397 he granted to them the reversion of the advowson of the church of Sutton Valence on the death of Philippa the wife of Richard, earl of Arundel, with licence for its appropriation for the support of two canons to celebrate divine service in the priory for the. king. (fn. 18)
Edward I on 24 May, 1293, made a grant to the prior and convent of 28 marks yearly from the issues of the manor of Leeds for the maintenance of four canons in the priory, with one clerk to serve them, celebrating divine service daily in the chapel of the castle of Leeds for the soul of Eleanor, the late queen consort; (fn. 19) and in 1301 he transferred the charge to the manor of Bockingfold. (fn. 20) Edward II in 1326 granted to them the church of Old Romney, an escheat by the forfeiture of the rebel Bartholomew de Badlesmere, with licence for its appropriation, instead of the 28 marks yearly, for the maintenance of the said canons and clerk and an additional canon to celebrate divine service in the priory for the soul of Peter de Gavaston; (fn. 21) but this grant was afterwards cancelled, the prior and convent receiving licence instead to acquire lands to the value of £10 yearly. (fn. 22) The chantry was finally established by Edward III, who in 1341, in consideration of their losses at the siege of Leeds Castle, granted to them the advowson of the church of Leatherhead in Surrey with licence for its appropriation, for the maintenance of six canons and a clerk to celebrate divine service daily in the chapel of the castle for the good estate of the king and his mother Queen Isabel and for their souls after death and the souls of his brother John de Eltham, earl of Cornwall, and Queen Eleanor. (fn. 23) The church was accordingly appropriated to the priory. (fn. 24) In 1439, in consideration of the chantry, the prior, who was aged and infirm, received an exemption for life from being made collector of tenths and subsidies granted by the clergy of the province of Canterbury. (fn. 25)
A dispute between the priories of Leeds and Christchurch, Canterbury, about common of pasture in Harbledown and Blean was settled by a partition in 1278. (fn. 26) In 1299 a special commission of oyer and terminer was appointed to settle a complaint by the prior that his servants had been assaulted and imprisoned at Woodnesborough; (fn. 27) and another in the same year to settle a complaint by the abbot of St. Albans that the prior of Leeds and others had assaulted John de Stopeslee, a monk of St. Albans, at Leeds. (fn. 28) In 1312 the prior complained that his trees in his wood of Frittenden had been felled, and obtained the appointment of another commission. (fn. 29)
Corrodies were claimed by the crown in the priory, William de la Spyneye being sent there by Edward II in 1317 to receive maintenance for life. (fn. 30) Edward III in 1329 promised the prior and convent that the grant of maintenance for life which they had made at his request to William de Balsham, cook of Queen Isabel, should not be taken as a precedent; (fn. 31) but nevertheless on the death of William he sent Joan de Bureford there for maintenance, (fn. 32) and on her death William de Scanderwyk. (fn. 33)
In 1318 and 1356 the prior was one of the visitors of the Augustinian houses in the dioceses of Canterbury and Rochester; (fn. 34) and in 1353 the priory was visited by the priors of Tonbridge and St. Gregory, Canterbury. (fn. 35)
Pope Boniface IX, on 29 November, 1398, granted relaxation of penance to penitents who at certain times of the year should visit and give alms to the altar of St. Mary in the priory. (fn. 36) Pope Martin V, on 25 March, 1425, granted that the prior and twenty-four canons, to be named by him, might choose a confessor who should hear their confessions arid grant them absolution. (fn. 37)
Edward IV in 1483, in recompense of 20 acres of land in Leeds and Bromfield which the prior and convent granted to him for the enlargement of his park of Leeds, granted that they should be quit of tenths and subsidies granted by the clergy. (fn. 38)
James Gold well, bishop of Norwich, finding the convent deep in debt, relieved them; and in return, on 12 June, 1487, they granted that one of their canons should celebrate divine service daily for the soul of the bishop and his parents at the altar of St. Mary in the south part of their church. (fn. 39)
Archbishop Winchelsey issued injunctions after a visitation of the priory on 31 July, 1299, in which he had found that the ordinances previously made were negligently observed. These related principally to the proper assembly in choir, the prohibition of playing with bows without licence, and the exclusion of women. J. de Brabourn, a student of medicine, was not to practise outside the priory or in it without licence. No corrody was to be granted without special licence. (fn. 40)
Archbishop Langham made a long visitation of Leeds on 25 April, 1368, in which several charges were brought against the prior, Thomas de Roffa. It was said that he neglected the house, did not stop the excesses of the cellarer, made extravagant sales of wood and corrodies, and intended to resign, and in the meantime to secure what he could. Other details are given, but they seem to be of not much importance, as he was fully excused. Detailed charges were brought at the same time against the sacrist and cellarer of drunkenness, playing dice till midnight, &c.; and these were evidently considered more serious, being adjourned for further consideration. (fn. 41)
Archbishop Warham made a visitation (fn. 42) of the priory in 1511. Richard Chetham, prior, said that all was well; John Bredgar, formerly prior, was now vicar of Marden, and rarely came to the monastery, but thought that all things were well; and Thomas Vincent, sub-prior, said that much had been reformed, but much still remained to be reformed by the prior and sub-prior. John Goldstone, professed thirty years, said that he performed the divine offices in the parish church of Bilsington, appropriated to the priory of Bilsington. Thomas Langley said that the prior had taken away five of the ten wax lights which used to burn before the image of St. Mary in her chapel. The prior admitted William Parys, a Frenchman, to the priory without the consent of the brethren, sent a scholar to study at the university, and presented chaplains to benefices without their consent, and did not, distribute among them what ought to be given for the souls of the founders. Others gave evidence that the prior did not punish the brethren according to rule, but too rigorously and in an arbitrary manner; did not give his accounts yearly; did not pay the weekly fees of 12d., 4d., and 4d. to the brother celebrating high mass according to the wills of Nicholas Potyn, William Clerke, and Stephen Norton; sealed with the common seal without the consent of the seniors; and did not allow the brethren to have access to the archbishop for the purpose of securing reforms as Archbishop Bourchier had ordered. William Parys complained of having been assaulted by the prior. John Fortte, professed of the priory of Launceston, in the diocese of Exeter, had been here three years, and asked to be sent back to Launceston. Thomas Broke, a canon of Launceston, had been here one year. John London was vicar of Stockbury. The archbishop ordered, the correction of all the points mentioned, and also directed the prior to pay a teacher to instruct the younger brethren. Besides the eight canons already named there were twelve others, making a total of twenty in addition to the prior.
The oath of acknowledgement of the royal supremacy was taken on 22 December, 1534, by Arthur Sentleger, prior, Thomas Egerton, sub-prior, and eleven other canons. (fn. 43) In the next year the priory was visited by Dr. Layton, but no details of the visitation are known, except that he ordered the canons not to go out of the precincts. Anthony Sentleger mentioned this when writing to Cromwell to ask that his brother, the prior, might take recreation with his hounds, as he had been accustomed for a certain infirmity with which he was troubled. (fn. 44)
The net value of the possessions of the priory mentioned in the Valor of 1535 was £362 7s. 7d. yearly, (fn. 45) and it thus escaped the first dissolution. It appears, however, to have been in a very bad state, for Thomas, the last prior, writing to Cromwell on 8 April, 1537, says that his predecessor, Arthur Sentleger, left debts due to the king of £951 19s. 8¾d., and to his brothers Anthony and Robert Sentleger and others of £447 18s;. 4½d.; and asks whether pensions are to be paid to the last two priors, suggesting that they should be stayed until the debts be paid. (fn. 46) The exact end of the house is not known, but it was surrendered some time in the next two or three years, and on 18 March, 1540, pensions were allotted, the prior receiving £60 (afterwards raised to £80) yearly, and fourteen other canons benefices or smaller amounts. (fn. 47)
The bulk of the possessions of the priory, including the manors of Ulcombe, Chart Sutton, Lamberhurst, Marden, Brisshing, Horsmonden, Maidstone, Chatham, Rodmersham, and Bearsted, and the rectories and advowsons of the vicarages of East Sutton, Sutton Valence, Chart Sutton, Lamberhurst, Goudhurst, Wateringbury, West Farleigh, Chatham, Stockbury, Woodnesborough, Bearsted, Boughton Monchelsea, Ashford, Little Peckham, and Leatherhead, were granted in June, 1541, to the dean and chapter of Rochester. (fn. 48) The site of the priory was granted on 13 August, 1550, to Anthony Sentleger in fee. (fn. 49)
Priors of Leeds
Alexander (fn. 50)
Robert, (fn. 51) occurs c. 1175
Fulk, occurs 1205, (fn. 52) 1228 (fn. 53)
Roger, occurs 1231 (fn. 54)
William, occurs 1237 (fn. 55)
Nicholas (fn. 56)
Stephen, occurs 1267, 1271 (fn. 57)
John, occurs 1283 (fn. 58)
Adam de Maydenstan, resigned 1299 (fn. 59)
William de Bordenne, elected 1299 (fn. 59)
Robert de Maidenstan, died 1338 (fn. 60)
Thomas, occurs 1347, (fn. 61) 1351 (fn. 62)
Thomas de Roffia, occurs 1368, (fn. 63) died 1380 (fn. 64)
Aymar Odenhelle, elected 1380 (fn. 65)
William de Verdun, occurs 1397 (fn. 66)
Thomas Sidyngbourne, died 1409 (fn. 67)
John Surynden, elected 1409, (fn. 67) died 1447
John Wittisham, elected 1447, (fn. 68) died 1453 (fn. 69)
Robert Goudeherst, elected 1453 (fn. 70)
John Bredgar, occurs 1487 (fn. 71)
Richard Chetham, occurs 1511, (fn. 63) resigned 1524 (fn. 72)
Thomas Chetham, elected 1524 (fn. 72)
Arthur Sentleger, elected 1528, (fn. 73) resigned 1536 (fn. 74)
Thomas Dey, or Daye, elected 1536, (fn. 74) the last prior (fn. 75)
The seal (fn. 76) of the pripry (1293) measures 2¾ inches.
Obverse—The Virgin seated crowned on a throne in a niche with canopy of three arches, pinnacled and crocketed, with carved sides of four orders of arched niches, holding on the left knee the Child between two angels, each with one wing elevated. In base, under a trefoiled arch with an arcade at each side, the prior between two monks half-length in prayer to the right. In the field on the right a triple-towered castle with a cinquefoiled rose over it, and a drooping lily flower below it. Legend:—
IGILLUM COMMUNE EC. . . . . . . S.
Reverse.—A niche containing St. Nicholas seated, lifting up the right hand in benediction and holding in the left a pastoral staff, between two clerks standing and each holding a book. In base, under a trefoiled arcade, three children in a tub (restored to life by the saint) between two angels. In the field on the left a wavy sprig of foliage, with the inscription NICHOLAUS. Legend:—
. . . E A[NNO] DfI M CC NONOG' TERCIO.