A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.
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9. PRIORY OF CARTMEL
The Augustinian priory of Cartmel was founded shortly after the accession of Richard I by William Marshal, afterwards earl of Pembroke. (fn. 1) He endowed the house with the whole district of Cartmel, between Leven and Winster, granted to him out of the demesne of the honour of Lancaster by Henry II in 1185 or 1186, (fn. 2) and confirmed by his son John, count of Mortain, on his investment with the honour by Richard I immediately after his accession; (fn. 3) John also giving Marshal permission to found a house of religion there and endow it with the entire fief. (fn. 4)
The first canons were brought from the priory of Bradenstoke near Malmesbury in Wiltshire, (fn. 5) founded in 1142 by Walter of Salisbury, whose grandson, William earl of Salisbury, was one of the witnesses to Marshal's charter. This, however, expressly excluded any dependence upon the mother house. Included in the original endowment was the parish church of Cartmel and its chapels. With the consent of the ordinary the old church, dedicated to St. Michael, was appropriated to the use of the canons, pulled down and replaced by the new priory church of St. Mary, in which an altar of St. Michael was reserved for the use of the parishioners, the cure of souls being exercised by a hired secular priest or by one of the canons in priest's orders, appointed and removed at the convent's sole pleasure. (fn. 6)
The founder granted the compact fief of Cartmel with all his seignorial privileges therein, and John in confirming Marshal's charter on becoming king (1 August, 1199) specifies in detail the extensive immunities conveyed—including sac, soc, toll, team, infangenthef and outfangenthef, freedom from suit to hundred or shire courts, exemption from pleas of murder, theft, hamsoken and forestel, from scutage, geld, danegeld, dona, scots and aids, from toll, tallage, lestage and pontage, from castle-work and bridgework, and from all other customs and secular exactions. (fn. 7) These privileges at first attached only to the demesne lands of the priory, but six weeks after granting Magna Carta John was induced to extend them to their tenants. The addition of the four words et omnes tenentes sui cost the house 200 marks; the king had extorted this sum from them during the interdict, and they now agreed to set off the debt against his new concession. (fn. 8) Later sovereigns several times inspected and confirmed the priory charters. (fn. 9) In 1292 on the other hand it was called upon by a writ Quo warranto to show evidence for its immunities. Some rights it was said to claim were not covered by the charters; that of holding the sheriff's tourn the prior disclaimed; in regard to wreck of the sea and waif judgement went against him and the crown reserved these rights and granted them to Edmund, earl of Lancaster. The assize of bread and beer was allowed as appendant to the market William Marshal had had at Cartmel. (fn. 10) Confirmation of their charters was also obtained from Rome. Gregory IX, in 1233, took the priory and its property under the papal protection and bestowed a number of the privileges usually conferred on monasteries, such as the right to celebrate divine service during an interdict, and the right of sepulture in their church, provided the parish church of the defunct did not lose its dues. (fn. 11)
To the founder's acquisition (by his marriage) of the vast Clare estates in Leinster the priory owed a connexion with Ireland which gave it a less purely local position than other Lancashire houses save Furness. By a charter in which he styled himself Earl of Pembroke, Marshal granted to the canons the vill of Kilrush in Kildare (with the advowson of its . church) and the church of Ballysax and chapel of Ballymaden in the diocese of Kildare to be appropriated to their own uses. (fn. 12) The latter part of the gift involved them and the donor in a quarrel with the Augustinian canons of St. Thomas's Abbey, Dublin, who claimed these two benefices. A compromise was arranged by papal commissioners in 1205, the Dublin house surrendering its claim to the disputed churches, but being consoled by a grant of lands in their vicinity. (fn. 13) These Irish estates of Cartmel frequently required the presence of some of their body, an interesting memorial of which is contained in an undated charter of fraternity in which the prior and convent of the cathedral church of Holy Trinity at Dublin agree to entertain any canon of Cartmel visiting Dublin as one of themselves, to celebrate masses for the souls of all members of that house and inscribe their names in the 'Martyrology' of Holy Trinity. During the first half of the thirteenth century the prior of Cartmel 'staying in England' frequently had letters nominating attorneys, one of whom was usually a canon, to represent him in Ireland.
The hospitality of the Dublin canons must have mitigated the dangers of these absences from the house, and the clause of the rule which forbade a canon to go into the world unaccompanied by a fellow canon may not have been wholly disregarded. Nevertheless their wanderings can hardly fail to have had an unsettling effect, and it is perhaps significant that the priory had been in existence barely half a century when disorders within it called for papal intervention. A number of the canons and conversi had been excommunicated, some for using personal violence to each other, others for retaining property and refusing obedience to the prior; the excommunicated canons took holy orders and celebrated the divine offices while still unabsolved. Pope Innocent IV, in 1245, empowered the prior to give the less heinous offenders, if penitent, absolution and dispensation, and to suspend the recalcitrant for two years. Those guilty of violence were to be sent to him for absolution. (fn. 14) These measures do not seem to have been entirely successful, for three years afterwards the archbishop of York commissioned the abbot of Furness and the precentor of Beverley to inquire into alleged irregularities in the house and, if necessary, to deprive the prior and his subordinates. (fn. 15)
In 1250 an old dispute with the patrons, as to their control over the election of the priors and rights of custody during vacancies, reached a final settlement in the royal court. The founder provided in his charter that on the death of a prior the canons should choose two canons and present them to him or his heirs 'ut ille quern communis assensus noster elegerit, Prior efficiatur.' (fn. 16) From other sources we learn that the prior-elect was then presented by the patron to the ordinary for admission. In 1233 the founder's son, Richard Marshal, earl of Pembroke, was proclaimed a traitor, and the canons seized the opportunity to get this method of election declared invalid by Pope Gregory IX. (fn. 17) But the speedy death of Richard and the succession of his brother Gilbert to the title and estates doubtless endangered this decision, aided perhaps by the fact that it had been obtained by misrepresentation, the canons having led the pope to understand that the form of election just described was 'a custom which had grown up in their church.' (fn. 18) Ultimately in 1250 a final concord was made at Westminster between the prior and William de Valence and his wife Joan, granddaughter of the founder, who had inherited the patronage, whereby the canons were in future to choose their prior freely, the patron's share being limited to the grant of a licence to elect and the presentation of the new prior to the ordinary— neither of which could be refused; his rights of custody during a vacancy were made equally nominal. For this latter concession the convent gave 40 marks. (fn. 19)
In 1300 the patrons of the church of Whittington in Lonsdale desired to transfer the advowson to the priory which had long claimed it in virtue of a grant of Robert son of Gilmichael, lord of Whittington in the time of John, and drew a pension of two marks a year from the church. A jury of inquest, however, found that the transfer would be to the prejudice of the king or the Earl of Lancaster, and the idea was abandoned. (fn. 20) Cartmel suffered severely from the Scottish raids of 1316 and 1322; so much so that the valuation of the rectory for the tenths was reduced from £46 13s. 4d. to £8. (fn. 21)
At the beginning of the last decade of this century complaints of misconduct on the part of William Lawrence, who had been prior for nine years, reached the ears of the pope. He was accused of dilapidations, of simony in the admission of persons applying to make their profession in the house, and of spending the proceeds in depraved uses and too frequent visits to taverns. The buildings were said to be in ruin, divine worship and hospitality neglected, and scandal given by the prior's too unhonest life. (fn. 22) Apparently the inquiry which Boniface IX ordered in 1390 sustained these charges, for the archbishop of York was ordered to deprive the prior of his office and have a new election made (1395). (fn. 23) In spite of this, unless there is some error in the record, Lawrence was still prior five years later. (fn. 24)
Apart from what may be contained in the Vatican archives still uncalendared the history of the priory during the fifteenth century is a blank. There is here a great gap in our list of priors. William Hale, who was prior in the last years of the century, appealed to Pope Alexander VI against a decision of Christopher Urswick, archdeacon of Richmond (1494-1500), depriving him of his office and sequestrating the revenues of the priory on the ground of certain alleged 'excesses' not particularized. Hale asserted that evidence had been trumped up against him. (fn. 25) The result of the inquiry ordered by the pope is not known. But Hale was still prior in 1501, when the archbishop was requested by the house to compel the return of two of the canons, Miles Burre, afterwards prior, and William Payne, who had left the monastery without leave and engaged in secular disputes. The archdeacon had been appealed to but took no action. (fn. 26) James Grigg, the last prior but one, confessed on his death-bed that he had lent £70 of the money of the house to certain persons, one of whom appears to have been a poor relation of his own. (fn. 27) This was still owing when the hand of King Henry fell upon the priory. In February, 1536, an Act of Parliament authorized the dissolution of all religious houses with less than twelve inmates, the clear annual income being under £200, and five commissioners were appointed on 24 April to make a new survey of certain Lancashire monasteries. They spent the first week in June at Cartmel. There were only ten canons, and the net revenue of the house, according to the valuation made in the previous year for the tenth, was far below the limit of the Act; but the commissioners more than doubled the estimated income and brought it slightly above the minimum. (fn. 28) Strictly speaking this discovery ought to have excluded the house from the operation of the Act, but its wording perhaps left it open to the crown to fall back upon the old valuation. Compared with some of the smaller monasteries Cartmel was not without a claim to consideration. Eight of the canons were ' of good conversation.' Those in whose case this testimonial was withheld are doubtless the two canons unnamed reported by the visitors of the year before as guilty of incontinence, one of them having six children. (fn. 29) Richard Preston, the prior, aged forty-one, was one, and the other was William Panell, aged sixty-eight, to whom the convent had given licence to live where he pleased and a pension of £5 13s. 4d., which Doctors Legh and Layton had revoked. With these exceptions all were desirous to ' continue in religion' either here or, if the house was dissolved, in some other monastery, and even Panell was resigned to that fate if he were not allowed a 'capacity' to go into the world. (fn. 30) The servants of the priory numbered thirty-seven, of whom ten were waiting servants, nineteen household and estate officers, and only eight servants of husbandry. (fn. 31) A stipend of £6 13s. 4d. a year was paid to the parish priest of Cartmel. (fn. 32) From time immemorial the priory had been bound to provide guides for those crossing the Cartmel Sands on the west of the peninsula and the Kent Sands on the east side. The ' Conductor of the King's people over Cartmel Sands' was paid £6 a year. (fn. 33) To the ' Cartership of Kent Sands' were attached a tenement at Kent's Bank called the Carterhouse and certain lands and wages. It had recently been the subject of a dispute between the priory and one Edward Barborne, ' King's serjant in the office of groom porter,' which was settled by arbitration in February, 1536. Barborne was to occupy the office peaceably for life, binding himself to exercise it properly. (fn. 34) It looks as if he had been forced upon the canons by outside pressure. The tenants of the priory were required by their tenure to assist the prior and canons when necessary in the passage of the sands on pain of forfeiture. (fn. 35)
When the valuation for the tenth was made in 1535 the house claimed exemption on £12 6s. 8d. defrayed annually in alms, £12 to seven poor persons praying daily for the soul of the founder, and the rest distributed on Easter Day among divers boys and others. But for some reason not stated the larger sum was disallowed.
The commissioners of 1536, whose mandate limited them to inquiry, left the canons still ignorant of what their fate was to be, referring it to the pleasure of the king, whom the Act authorized to except any house from its operation. (fn. 36) Their suspense cannot, however, have been of long duration, for by the autumn the priory had been surrendered and the canons dispersed. Early in October Sir James Layburn reminded Cromwell that he had been promised the farm of a benefice belonging to Cartmel or Conishead. (fn. 37) But the Pilgrimage of Grace was already afoot in West Yorkshire, and the movement soon spread into the northern part of Lancashire. In the course of October the commons of Cartmel restored the canons to the priory. The prior, however, more prudent or less staunch than his brethren, stole away and joined the king's forces at Preston. (fn. 38) This was before he heard of the general pardon and promise of a northern Parliament granted to the rebels at Doncaster on 27 October. Apparently the canons now withdrew, or some of them had not yet re-entered, for on 12 December John Dakyn, rector of Crosby Ravensworth, Westmorland, and vicar-general of the archdeacon of Richmond, wrote to the prior from York informing him that all religious persons by the king's consent were to return to their suppressed houses until further direction should be taken by Parliament. He trusted their monasteries should stand for ever. (fn. 39) If this permission had been given by the king's representatives it was certainly not with his consent. Nevertheless all the canons went back to Cartmel, save 'the foolish prior,' as Dakyn afterwards called him. This did not take place, it would seem, until February, 1537, when the commons of the north —especially Westmorland and the West Riding of Yorkshire—were again in arms. (fn. 40) On the suppression of the revolt several canons of Cartmel and ten laymen of that district were executed. Some of the ringleaders among the canons, James Estrigge, John Ridley, and the late sub-prior, were still at large in the middle of March, in Kendal it was thought. (fn. 41) Prior Preston's compliance obtained him the farm of Cartmel rectory, his profit on which was estimated at £13 6s. 8d. ' in good years of dear corn,' and less than £10 in bad years. (fn. 42)
The priory was dedicated to St. Mary, our Lady of Cartmel. (fn. 43) William Marshal's original endowment of Cartmel and the Irish property enumerated above had received no very considerable additions. Henry de Redman in the reign of Richard I gave a moiety of the vill of Silverdale and fishing rights in Haweswater. (fn. 44) Some property at Hest and Bolton-le-Sands was held by the house at the Dissolution. (fn. 45) The canons' demesne in Cartmel was extended by various gifts, the most important of which was the grant in 1245 of six oxgangs of land in Newton and land in Allithwaite by Peter de Coupland. (fn. 46) A pension of 2 marks (afterwards doubled) from Whittington rectory was acquired before 1233. (fn. 47)
Their total annual income from these temporalities (excluding the Irish lands, of which no valuation is extant) was estimated in 1535 at £88 16s. 3d. derived almost entirely from Cartmel. The tithes of Cartmel (£23 10s.) and the Whittington pension brought their gross revenue up to nearly £115. After deducting various fixed charges there remained a clear annual income of £91 6s. 3d. (fn. 48) This was increased by the commissioners of 1536 to £212 12s. 10½d. (fn. 49) How this great difference was accounted for does not appear in detail, but the rectory of Cartmel was now estimated to be worth close upon £57 a year. (fn. 50) The bells and lead of the priory church and buildings were valued at £15 10s. 4d. (fn. 51) and its movable goods at £185 14s. 5½d. (fn. 52) Debts due to the house amounted to £73 9s. and it owed £59 12s. 8d.
The site of the priory was granted in 1540 with much other monastic property in Lancashire and Cheshire to Thomas Holeroft. (fn. 53) The lordship of Cartmel reverted to the duchy of Lancaster, to which the manor still belongs. Philip and Mary impropriated the rectory to the new see of Chester. Not content with the south part of the church, which had always been set apart for their use, the parishioners purchased the whole. The priory's Irish manor of Kilrush was granted in 1558 to Thomas, earl of Ormond. (fn. 54)
Priors of Cartmel
Daniel, (fn. 55) occurs between 1194 and 1198
William, (fn. 56) occurs 1205 and 1208
Absalon, (fn. 57) occurs 1221 and 1230
Simon, (fn. 58) occurs 1242 (?)
Richard, (fn. 59) occurs 1250
John (fn. 60)
William of Walton, (fn. 61) occurs 1279,1292, and 1299(?)
Simon, (fn. 62) occurs 1334
William of Kendal, (fn. 63) occurs July, 1354
Richard of Kellet, (fn. 64) died 1380
William Lawrence, (fn. 65) elected 1381, deprived (?) 1390, died after December, 1396
William, (fn. 66) occurs 1441
William Hale, (fn. 67) occurs 1497-8, 1501
Miles Burre, (fn. 68) occurs 28 September, 1504, and 2 February, 1509
James Grigg, (fn. 69) occurs 1522, died before 1535
Richard Preston, (fn. 70) occurs 1535, surrendered 1536
The seal of the priory is attached to a document, apparently of the thirteenth century, among the Duchy records in the Rolls Office. It represents the Virgin seated, with, the infant Christ in her lap. The Virgin is crowned and has in her left hand a staff with a dove on top. Part only of the legend remains, viz.:
. IGIL . . . VEN . . . MARIE . DE . KERMELE (fn. 71)
Leland attributes to the priory the arms of the Marshals slightly varied. (fn. 72)