A History of the County of Lincoln: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1906.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
9. THE PRIORY OF SPALDING
The priory of Spalding it is said was founded in 1051, when Thorold of Buckenhale, sheriff of Lincoln, (fn. 1) and a special benefactor of Crowland Abbey, granted the manor of Spalding to that house for the relief of its necessities. Sustenance was thus provided for six of the brethren, and their departure from the parent abbey lessened for a while the expenses of the refectory. (fn. 2) In 1059 Earl Algar moved the abbot to give the monks of Spalding the little wooden chapel of St. Mary, and himself bestowed on them certain lands and rents for their support. (fn. 3) But in 1071 Ivo Tailbois, who had been standardbearer at Hastings, apparently married the heiress of Spalding, and came to live in the neighbourhood. If the chronicle of Crowland may be believed, he seems to have had his full share of that Norman arrogance which marred the first days of the Conquest, and despised the monks of Spalding because of their Saxon blood. 'By the instigation of the devil,' says Ingulf, he was roused to such an extremity of hatred and fury against them that he did everything he could think of to annoy and vex them; and being his near neighbours they were indeed very much at his mercy. He would lame their cattle, kill their swine, and browbeat all their tenants and servants in his manorial courts, until at length, worn out by the hardships of their position, after vain efforts to propitiate his servants with gifts, the brethren of Spalding returned to the mother house, taking with them all their movable property. For a good while after this a single monk was sent to celebrate the divine office and mass at the wooden chapel of St. Mary, for the sake of the village folk who worshipped there: but when he was drowned one day on his way to perform this duty, in the floods caused by a great storm of rain, no other was willing to take his place, and the services ceased. Then Ivo, 'being greatly overjoyed because the Lord Himself seemed to be fighting for him against Crowland,' sent to the abbot of St. Nicholas, Angers, and offered him the manor of Spalding for the support of a prior and five monks, promising to have a fair and sufficient cell prepared for them. The offer was accepted, and Spalding became a cell of St. Nicholas. (fn. 4) William I confirmed the charters of Ivo. (fn. 5) Countess Lucy, the widow or heiress of the founder, (fn. 6) renewed the gift in 1129, and her charter was in turn confirmed by William de Romara, her son by another marriage. (fn. 7) The abbots of Crowland made vain efforts all through the twelfth century to recover the property; but the priory was never restored to them. Indeed, for a while it was rather worse than lost: the priors of Spalding were their open rivals and enemies. At the end of the reign of Henry II the chronicler of Crowland asserts that all the most powerful men of the wapentake of Elloe, with the prior of Spalding at their head, marched into the abbot's enclosures, dug up turf, cut down woods and alder-beds, and depastured their cattle on his meadows. A long and tedious suit followed, as to the marshes on which Crowland was built, and the influence of William de Romara and other powerful friends of Spalding was used against the abbot, and he was threatened with the loss of the best part of his lands. Ultimately, however, in 1193, judgement was given in favour of Crowland. (fn. 8)
The property of the priory increased very much during the twelfth century. To the original gifts of Ivo Tailbois, William de Romara, son of Countess Lucy, and his grandson after him, with other benefactors, added lands and churches of considerable value, (fn. 9) and the monks were soon involved, as a natural consequence, in many lawsuits. Thomas of Moulton, who had granted the church of Weston to the monks on the day of his father's burial, (fn. 10) reclaimed it in 1198, (fn. 11) while the prior in 1195 secured the advowson of the churches of (Gate) Burton and Lea against Roger de Trihamton. (fn. 12) About the same time the abbot of Peterborough had to resign all claim to the church of Hautberg (fn. 13) (Alkborough); in 1205 Roger de Lacy quitclaimed the church of Addlethorpe to the prior; (fn. 14) the church of Holbeach was lost in 1224. (fn. 15) In 1234 there were new troubles in connexion with Crowland Abbey. The abbot complained that the prior took and imparked his cattle and exceeded his rights in common of pasture on Crowland marshes. The prior agreed to offend no more in this respect. The abbot undertook, however, not to impark the cattle of the prior or of his men of Spalding and Pinchbeck in the same marshes. (fn. 16) In the same year a baker of Crowland, one of the abbot's men, was caught selling bread in the market of Spalding against the prior's assize, and was put on the tumbrel. The abbot complained that his liberties were invaded, and that he ought to have the punishment of his own subjects. It was agreed finally that if such a thing should occur again the man should, on the first offence, be pardoned; for the second offence, delivered over to the abbot's bailiff; for the third, he should undergo the penalty of the tumbrel at Spalding, and lose for ever the protection of the abbey. (fn. 17) These disputes between the two houses continued throughout the thirteenth century; in 1283 they could not agree as to their respective duties in maintaining the bridges, gutters, dikes, and ditches of Spalding, (fn. 18) and as late as 1329 the abbot accused the prior of having cut in pieces the beams placed to strengthen the dikes which defended the abbey, and extorted tolls and customs from those who came to Crowland Fair. (fn. 19) At last, however, in 1332 a final agreement was made, and the two monasteries formally entered upon a league of brotherhood. Henceforward each was to share the spiritual goods of the other, the divine office, and all prayers, masses, meditations, vigils, &c.; a monk who died in either house was to have his absolutions and requiem celebrated in both, and each should strive to reclaim and reform apostates from the other. (fn. 20)
The priory of Spalding grew in wealth and importance. In the thirteenth century the priors claimed lordship in the vills of Weston, Spalding, Moulton, and Pinchbeck, with wreck of the sea for three leagues along the coast, free warrens and fisheries in several places, (fn. 21) and their income in 1294 amounted to £515 0s. 7d. (fn. 22) The monks became more and more desirous to be free of all subjection to the parent abbey of St. Nicholas at Angers. The history of their gradual emancipation is interesting, but can only be briefly sketched here. The priors had been at first sent direct from Angers, and were placed and displaced entirely at the abbot's will; and when they were recalled to France they were wont to carry away with them all the money they could collect together. (fn. 23) In consequence of these proceedings, the bishop of Lincoln, Hugh of Wells, and Ralf earl of Chester, as patron of the house, invited the abbot to a conference, and explained to him the many disadvantages which this system produced. (fn. 24) An agreement was made in 1232 that in future the priors of Spalding should be elected in England and instituted by the diocesan, so as to have full administration in things temporal and spiritual; but the right of visitation was reserved to the abbot on condition that he did not make his visits too expensive and burdensome. Novices were still to be professed at Angers unless the abbot of his own free will chose to allow them to make their profession at Spalding, and four monks from the abbey were to be maintained at the priory, being under obedience to the prior, but liable to be recalled by the abbot from time to time. A pension of 40 marks a year was to be paid to the abbey. (fn. 25)
This arrangement, however, did not give complete satisfaction to either party; Before 1241 Pope Gregory IX, at the instance of the abbot of Angers, had published two bulls against the prior of Spalding for not sending his novices to the mother-house for profession, (fn. 26) and for not going there himself for visitation, (fn. 27) as well as another addressed to the bishop of Lincoln ordering him to inquire into the quarrel, and informing him that the abbot had excommunicated the prior for disobedience, while the prior complained that the abbot exceeded his rights. (fn. 28) A new agreement was made in 1242, and confirmed by Pope Innocent IV in 1245. (fn. 29) It was very similar to the previous one, only that now the abbot agreed to visit the priory every three years and to receive the profession of novices there instead of requiring them to come to Angers; his stay, however, was not to exceed a month, nor was he to bring more than fifteen mounted attendants with him. The pension was to be increased to 60 marks on account of the great expense incurred by the abbot in forwarding his suit at the apostolic see. The bishop of Lincoln was to see that all these arrangements were faithfully carried out, and arrears of pension paid.
Towards the close of the thirteenth century the priory suffered some losses from inundation, (fn. 30) a recurrent difficulty with all houses near the Lincoln coast. In the reign of Edward II the monks of Spalding were in trouble on other accounts: in 1314 for usurping the possession of Deeping manor during the minority of Thomas Wake; (fn. 31) in 1316 they were charged with carrying corn and other victuals to the Scots (fn. 32); in 1316 and 1318 they had difficulties about getting in their rents and market tolls (fn. 33); in 1324 they were accused of harbouring and selling the goods of a traitor. (fn. 34) The outbreak of the French wars brought anxiety and loss to all monasteries dependent on foreign abbeys, and to Spalding among the rest, as its exemption from the mother-house was not yet complete. In 1275 the king confiscated the 40 marks due to Angers, (fn. 35) and the prior seems to have thought this a convenient opportunity for escaping altogether from subjection to foreigners. He expelled the four alien monks who were quartered on his house, and though at first the king ordered him to take them back again, (fn. 36) the intercession of Henry de Lacy, as patron of the priory, brought about an agreement which made the monks of Spalding virtually independent. The king ordered the house to be released by the escheator and granted it the privilege of governing itself in future on condition that the pension due to Angers was paid to the exchequer instead, and that no aliens were received without his consent. (fn. 37) The priory was again seized in 1325, but, after a series of inquiries as to its patronage, released in 1327 on payment of the arrears of pension, (fn. 38) At the conclusion of peace the proctor of St. Nicholas tried again to assert his rights. From 1327 to 1329 a series of royal writs was issued, ordering the prior to pay all arrears since the conclusion of peace. (fn. 39) It was not, however, long before war began again, and in 1339 the pension was transferred once more to the exchequer. (fn. 40)
In 1341 the prior obtained exemption from attendance in Parliament for himself and his successors on the plea of all these expenses lately incurred. In 1397 a bull of Pope Boniface IX set the priory free for ever from all subjection to Angers. (fn. 41) The abbot was no doubt more easily reconciled to this mandate by the fact that he had long ceased to reap any profits from his English property.
Towards the middle of the fifteenth century the monastery was considerably in debt, owing to the mismanagement of its revenues, (fn. 42) but it appears to have recovered from this during the last fifty years before the suppression. In 1534 it was one of the richest monasteries in Lincolnshire. The prior had long enjoyed the right of using the ring and pastoral staff, in consideration of the dignity of the house, (fn. 43) and there were still nineteen monks in it beside the prior and subprior, when the Act of Supremacy was passed. (fn. 44)
In 1526 great efforts were made by the bishop of Lincoln to induce Prior Thomas (Spalding) to resign his office: as it seems, because Cardinal Wolsey was desirous of appointing some one else to suit his own ' honourable pleasure and purpose.' The bishop wrote to Wolsey at this time saying that the prior was himself good and gentle, but had been induced by others (notably the abbot of Peterborough) to resist all persuasion on this point, and was determined to die prior of the house. (fn. 45) In 1528 there was a rumour that he had died, and the abbot of Bardney wrote to John Heneage to solicit the cardinal in favour of one of his own monks. (fn. 46) Thomas Spalding, however, signed the acknowledgement of supremacy in 1534: but evidently resigned or died some time between 1534 and 1540, for the name of the prior who heads the pension list is Richard Elsyn alias Palmer. (fn. 47) This monastery was not actually implicated in the Lincoln Rebellion, but it was reported that the prior had refused to contribute any men to the royal forces, on the ground that he was a ' spiritual man.' (fn. 48) Either this report was not true, or the prior managed to make his peace with Cromwell, whose friend he seems to have been; (fn. 49) at any rate he was not brought to trial. The house was finally surrendered in 1540; the prior receiving a pen sion of £133 6s. 8d., and the monks amounts varying from £12 to 26s. 8d. (fn. 50)
The priory of Spalding was not liable to episcopal visitation until the fourteenth century, when it was freed from all subjection to Angers. Until this time the abbot of St. Nicholas had the right of visitation, for the correction of the house, as has been already seen: though during the French wars it was impossible to exercise this right. Before 1232, when the first agreement was made for the partial exemption of the house, its condition is said to have been somewhat unsatisfactory, as the priors were liable to be recalled at the abbot's pleasure, and had little interest therefore in their charge. One of them, Herbert, who ruled from about 1149 to 1156, is said, however, to have taken pains to increase the revenue of the priory, and obtained the appropriation of the churches of Spalding, Pinchbeck, Moulton, and Alkborough. (fn. 51) At the death of Ralf de Mansel in 1229, Bishop Hugh of Wells interfered to settle a disputed election, when the sub-prior and several monks appealed against the candidate nominated by Ralf earl of Chester, as patron of the house; and Simon of Hautberg was finally appointed. (fn. 52) It was only three years later that the convent gained the right of election, so Simon became the first independent ruler of the house. He was prior for more than twenty years, and his name was long remembered at Spalding. He came of a knightly family, and from his earliest years was devoted to study; and the house flourished under his rule. He was one of the most magnificent prelates in England; on one occasion he invited the king to dinner with him in London and entertained him so royally that the bishops and abbots who heard of it complained loudly, fearing some fresh taxation: and the prior's own diocesan even threatened to depose him. Nevertheless he did not get his house into debt. (fn. 53)
John the Almoner, who ruled the priory from 1253 to 1274, made himself very unpopular in the neighbourhood: it was alleged in 1275 that he had exceeded the bounds of his free warren, had given shelter to felons in the priory, and had maliciously detained certain persons until they paid or granted him whatsoever he desired: he had also let a bridge fall down, to the great loss of the country-side. (fn. 54) None of these accusations were, however, made matter of inquisition, because the prior was already dead: so they cannot be considered as proved. William of Littleport, the next prior, was a great builder. (fn. 55) Clement of Hatfield, who died in 1308, left behind him a good reputation for his government of the house and management of its property. (fn. 56)
Bishop Burghersh issued a commission of inquiry in 1333 as to the causes of discord at the election of Thomas of Nassington. (fn. 57) Regular visitations probably began after 1397, when the priory was finally made independent. An allusion is made in the visitation of 1438 to certain injunctions lately delivered by Bishop Gray, who had ordered the rebuilding of certain parts of the monastery. The visitation of 1438 was conducted by Bishop Alnwick. The prior, Robert Holland, allowed that he had not rebuilt the hall or refectory, as directed by Bishop Gray, and it was found by this time that other repairs were needed also. The order of the house was fairly good for the fifteenth century, when the standard of life, secular and religious, was generally low: a certain number of monks always ate in refectory, and there was no neglect of the divine office; a scholar seems to have been maintained at each university. (fn. 58) Sixteen of the brethren, indeed, answered omnia bene to the bishop's questions. But the prior, some alleged, was not careful of the interests of the house, and did not show his accounts or consult the brethren duly in the disposal of property; (fn. 59) he was too often away from the monastery. (fn. 60) He had allowed wine to be sold in the cloister, a practice which brought in many seculars: he did not help his brethren to maintain the dignity of the religious life, for there was sometimes laughter at the chapter of faults. A few individual complaints about food, or the loss of pittances, or the insolence of the prior's servants, or the neglect of prayer and study, need not cause us much surprise: such complaints may be found at all times in the best regulated monasteries. More serious was the accusation against two brethren of being too familiar with women, of revealing to them the private affairs of the monastery, and of spreading ill-sounding opinions, through ignorance of holy scripture. One of the chaplains was accused of bringing women into the house. (fn. 61)
In 1519 Bishop Atwater found that the ornaments of the church needed repair. The prior did not consult his brethren duly as to the disposal of property, but placed more confidence in the advice of certain seculars, who bore themselves nimis elate towards the monks in consequence. The bishop enjoined that the seniors should be consulted, and that an instructor in grammar should be provided. (fn. 62) . It is evident that the house was on the whole in good order, and the rule kept. A few years before the dissolution, the monastery seems to have suffered some disadvantage from the personal character of the prior, who was ' good and gentle,' wrote Bishop Longlands, but unwilling to see his office pass to more capable hands—an infirmity which other heads of houses have shared with him before and since. (fn. 63) It is not clear whether it was this prior or his successor on whose behalf Cromwell wrote to Bishop Longlands in 1536; most probably the latter. The bishop seems to have designed a visitation of the house, and was somewhat roughly reminded that it belonged to Cromwell's cure and not to his, ' being nouther founder nouther benefactor of the same.' The priory had been lately visited by the royal commissioners, who had reformed all that was necessary: and the prior and convent were to be left in peace. (fn. 64) They had to find, a few years later, that the king and his vicar-general were harder patrons than the bishop.
At the time of the dissolution a considerable amount of money was distributed in alms from this monastery, in fulfilment of various bequests. On the five vigils of our Lady 42s. was distributed to the poor: an annual dole of 5s. 3d. was given in memory of two benefactors, and of 23s. 4d. in memory of five deceased priors, as well as 60s. on the anniversary of William Littleport. in particular: £4 18s. was paid out in cloth and ' pardon beans' for the soul of Countess Lucy the foundress. (fn. 65)
The original endowment consisted of the extensive manor of Spalding with its appurtenances and the church. (fn. 66) Ralf earl of Chester and Lucy the countess gave in addition the churches of Belchford, Scamblesby, and Minting, (fn. 67) William de Romara gave the church of Bolingbroke and a moiety of East Keal, (fn. 68) Wido Laval the church of Addlethorpe, (fn. 69) Roger de Trehamton the churches of Gate Burton and Lea. (fn. 70) When King John confirmed the charters of Spalding in 1199 they had lordship in Spalding and Pinchbeck, the manors of Alkborough, Langtoft, and Wilbeton (Wyberton), with the above churches (except Minting and Scamblesby) as well as Weston, Moulton, Pinchbeck, Surfleet, Sibsey, Stickney, Hautberg (Alkborough) with Walcote chapel. (fn. 71) By 1236 their lordship, with free warren, extended over Weston and Moulton as well as Spalding and Pinchbeck. (fn. 72) In 1294 the revenue of the priory was valued at £271 13s. 7d. in temporals and £243 6s. in spirituals. (fn. 73) In 1284, the prior of Spalding held the vills of Spalding, Weston and Pinchbeck, with some exceptions, and sixteen and a half bovates in Long Sutton and Lutton and eight bovates in Moulton which Thomas son of Lambert of Moulton held of him (fn. 74) : in 1303 one third of a knight's fee in Kirkby Laythorpe, and Evedon, and one sixth in Wyberton: (fn. 75) in 1346 the same. (fn. 76) In 1534 the temporals of the priory were valued at £740 2s. 9d. including the demesne land in Spalding and Weston, and the granges of Halmer, Thornham, New Hall, Ambreylathe, Sutton, Gannock, Pinchbeck, Pinchbecklathe, Graves, Moulton-cum-Golwell and Goll, Weston-cum-Westonlathe, Caldbyche, Wykeham, Wyberton, Alkborough, Wythamcum-Obthorpe, Kirkby, Stickney, Belchford, Lincoln, Ludford, Donnington; in spirituals at £138 14s. 6d., including the rectories of Spalding, Pinchbeck, Moulton, Weston, Sibsey, Alkborough, and the chapel of Cowbit. (fn. 77) The Ministers' Accounts amount to £933 10s. 2d. (fn. 78)
Priors of Spalding
Nigel, (fn. 79) occurs temp. Henry II
Herbert, (fn. 80) occurs 1149 and 1156
Reynold, (fn. 81) elected 1176
Geoffrey (fn. 82)
Warin, (fn. 83) occurs 1182
Jocelyn, (fn. 84) occurs 1195 and 1198
John the Spaniard (fn. 85)
Nicholas, (fn. 86) occurs 1203-4
Ralf Mansel, (fn. 87) occurs 1224, died 1229
Simon of Hautberg, (fn. 88) elected 1229, died 1253
John the Almoner, (fn. 89) elected 1253, died 1274
William of Littleport, (fn. 90) elected 1274, died 1294
Clement of Hatfield, (fn. 91) elected 1294, died 1318
Walter of Halton, (fn. 92) elected 1318, occurs till 1332
Thomas of Nassington, (fn. 93) elected 1333, died 1353
John Esterfield, (fn. 94) elected 1353, occurs till 1396
John of Moulton, (fn. 95) elected 1404, died 1421
Robert Holland, (fn. 96) elected 1421, occurs till 1438
William of Pinchbeck (fn. 97)
Thomas II, (fn. 98) occurs 1462
Thomas III, (fn. 99) elected 1475, occurs till 1492
Robert, (fn. 100) occurs 1504 and 1509
Robert Boston, (fn. 101) occurs 1522
Thomas Spalding, (fn. 102) occurs 1515 to 1534
Richard Elsyn (fn. 103) or Palmer, occurs 1540
The common seal of Spalding (fn. 104) is thirteenthcentury style of work, the obverse representing the Virgin with crown seated on a carved throne, the Child on the left knee. In base, under a pointed arch, slightly trefoiled with gables of church-like structure at the sides, the prior halflength to the left in prayer.