A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1906.
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6. THE PRIORY OF ST. AUGUSTINE, DAVENTRY
Hugh de Leicester, sheriff of Northamptonshire about the year 1090, placed four Cluniac monks in his church of Preston Capes; lack of water and other inconveniences, including the close proximity of Hugh's castle, rendered the place unsuitable for the establishment of a monastery and caused its removal to Daventry, where, with the permission of his lord, Simon de St. Liz, first earl of Northampton, the founder established a Cluniac priory close to the parish church. This, like the earl of Northampton's foundation of St. Andrew's, Northampton, was a cell of the great priory of St. Mary de Caritate or La Charité sur Loire. (fn. 1)
The early endowments of the priory, whose dedication in honour of St. Augustine was somewhat unusual for a Cluniac house, were speedy and considerable. (fn. 2) The founder bestowed the churches of Preston Capes, Elkington, and Thorpe Mandeville, a mill at Everdon, 3 virgates of land at Fawsley, and the lands of 'Edric.' His grandson, Hugh Poer, gave the churches of West Haddon and Cold Ashby. Earl Simon gave the site of the conventual buildings, and his daughter Maud, in conjunction with her husband, Saher de Quinci, gave considerable demesne lands adjoining the site. Maud afterwards, in her widowhood, bestowed on the monks the three mills of Daventry, forbidding any to establish another save for their benefit, as well as considerable lands, the church of Daventry with its appurtenances, and a stretch of woodland for the repair of their ploughs. Certain of her bequests were charged with finding the habits and cowls of the monks, and the wine for sacramental use. Walter FitzRobert, the son of Maud by her first husband, confirmed all his mother's gifts and materially increased them, particularly in the way of fish-ponds. Among other gifts the said Walter gave the right of one day's fishing yearly in his own fish-pond before the feast of St. Augustine, a thousand herrings and ten wagon-loads of wood and twenty-four bundles of kindling for the use of the sacrist in preparing the wafers; and for the good of his soul and those of his two wives, Maud de Lucy and Maud de Bohun, he granted all the oblations due from his whole family to the support of the lamps in the church of Daventry, on condition that the chaplains of his private chapel might retain a tenth of the profits arising from the masses sung there, rendering an account of the remaining nine-tenths to the sacrist of the priory. (fn. 3) A letter of Hubert Walter, the archbishop of Canterbury, 1201, addressed to the faithful in the dioceses of Lincoln and Lichfield, offered a remission of fifteen days' penance to those who, having confessed, should give their alms for the repair of the church of the monks of Daventry; this indulgence was granted for three years. (fn. 4) An indulgence was granted to benefactors of the priory by Fulco, archbishop of Dublin, in May, 1271. (fn. 5)
Robert, the eldest son of Walter, and his brother Simon confirmed all the gifts of their family. Simon's son Walter bestowed a further rood of land in Daventry to provide an additional light at the Lady altar during mass, and bound himself and his heirs to maintain a lamp burning before the high altar all night and every day at the time of mass. (fn. 6) The monks of Daventry held all the churches of the Leicestershire barony of Foxton, comprising Foxton, Gumley, Scalford, and Lubenham (Leic.), Bisbrook (Rutland), and Braybrooke (Northants), as well as the churches of Staverton, Norton, and Walgrave, also in Northamptonshire. (fn. 7) According to the Taxation of 1291 the temporalities and spiritualities of the house amounted to £45 8s. 11½d. (fn. 8) In 1313 the monks obtained a licence from the king to acquire lands and rents to the value of £40 yearly, in satisfaction of which they added considerably in 1316 (fn. 9) and later to their previous endowment.
A bond of special amity between the two priories of Coventry and Daventry is recorded in the year 1150. Herbert being then prior of Daventry, Lawrence, prior of Coventry, confirmed the churches of Cold Ashby and West Haddon to the Cluniac community, and it was then agreed 'that if any monk of Coventry should be, by the consent of his prior and convent, sent to Daventry, out of their great affection for that house, he ought to be freely received and reside there in that regular way as if he were one of the same convent, until he should be recalled by the prior of Coventry, and in case he did depart this life during such his abode there, all solemnities to be performed for him as for a monk of Daventry. And the like were they of Coventry to perform for those of Daventry touching such as should be sent thither from Daventry. And that if any of either convent did happen to die elsewhere, one priest of each monastery (his death being known) should celebrate three masses for him, his service with "Placebo" and "Dirige" to be also performed in the convent with the corrody belonging to a monk for that day, and his name registered in the martyrology. And when any of the priors of either monastery should die, a trentall to be sung in the other convent over and above the services before recited; and moreover, every year a mass of the Holy Ghost to be celebrated, as well for the living in each monastery as for the dead. And lastly, that in all things, both spiritual and temporal, where each might assist other, they should effectually afford their aid.' (fn. 10)
Joybert, an influential Norman of high birth, was a monk of La Charité, esteemed so much for his prudence in secular matters that the abbot of Cluny arranged for him to take control of the English priories of Bermondsey, Wenlock, and Daventry. (fn. 11) The exact time when he was appointed to Daventry cannot be precisely stated; but in 1198, on the restoration of the monks of Coventry after their expulsion by Bishop Hugh de Nonant, Joybert was made prior of Coventry by Hubert Walter, archbishop of Canterbury. He appears to have held the two priories of Coventry and Daventry together for a time during a period of considerable ecclesiastical strife.
Reyner states that during his rule of Daventry Joybert succeeded in separating the priory from the body and discipline of the Cluny congregation, and that the house was subsequently summoned to the general chapter of the black monks of St. Benedict. (fn. 12) The question of the subjection of Daventry to the original mother house of La Charité or its severence therefrom is an intricate one; on the one hand Daventry is not included in the visitations actually made by visitors of the Cluniac order in 1262, 1275-6, and 1279, (fn. 13) and the omission of any account or reference to it is significant; on the other hand a fifteenth-century document enumerating the English and Scotch foundations of Cluny, and apparently compiled from visitation-reports of 1298, 1390, and 1405, states that the priory of St. Augustine of Daventry, near Northampton, in which the religious community consisted of 18 brethren, 'is a cell directly subject to the priory of La Charité.' (fn. 14)
This vexed question of jurisdiction arose early in the thirteenth century, and in the days of William de Bouay, who succeeded to the rule in 1217, there was an appeal to Rome, in consequence of which the papal commissioners in 1221 put the affairs of the priory into the hands of the bishop of Lincoln, (fn. 15) and it may be noted that from this time the names of superiors are all English. The diocesan registers record that Nicholas of Ely was appointed in 1231, on the death of Prior Walter of Sawbridge, with the consent of Walter, son of Simon the patron. (fn. 16) In the same year Pope Gregory IX. ordered the bishop of Ely, the archdeacon of Sudbury, and the chancellor of Cambridge, to hear and adjudge the complaint of the prior and convent of La Charité against the bishop of Lincoln and his action in reference to the priory of Coventry which belonged to their house. Among other things it was alleged that the bishop had compelled the monks of Daventry to elect a prior, threatening to expel them if they did not, and had instituted him to Coventry, whereupon he was excommunicated by the prior of La Charité; that on his death, when the prior of La Charité instituted another, the bishop would not let him enter the priory, but did him grievous injury, although the brethren of the order of Cluny had an indult which exempted them from obedience to any bishop. (fn. 17)
The diocesan registers prove that though there was probably no formal separation on the part of Daventry from the Cluniac rule and de jure they remained subject as a cell to La Charité yet the community from this time elected their own prior and presented him to the bishop for confirmation and institution after his appointment had been approved by the patron, and thus de facto came under the jurisdiction of the ordinary. (fn. 18) Bishop Gray, 1431–6, is recorded to have made a visitation of this house; his subsequent injunctions were merely formal.
In 1284 an interesting agreement was made between the prior and convent and their patron, Robert FitzWalter, lord of Daventry, and Petronilla his wife, to the effect that the said Robert and Petronilla whenever resident in their mansion house should have mass and other religious offices celebrated in their chapel for themselves, their family and guests during their lives. The chapel should, however, have no bell, the chaplain should be maintained at their expense, all offerings made in the chapel should be transferred to the sacrist of the priory, no espousals or purifications should be performed there, and no confessions heard except at the point of death. High mass should not be sung there on Christmas Day, Candlemas Day, or Easter Day, and no mass celebrated in the chapel on Whit Sunday, St. John Baptist Day, or on the dedication day of the church of Daventry, unless Robert or Petronilla should be ill. It was also covenanted that the privilege of this domestic chapel should not extend to the heirs or successors of the present patron. (fn. 19) On 25 July, 1331, the then lord of Daventry obtained a licence to release to the convent in mortmain all the right he and his heirs should have during the voidance of the priory to any of the chattels or horses of the Prior or cellarer, saving the right to place someone at such a time at the gate of the monastery to help the porter in the custody thereof. At the same time the convent obtained the acknowledgement of their right of free election for the future without seeking the licence of the patron or his heirs. (fn. 20) Prior Peter de Horpole in 1337 successfully maintained the right of the priory to the grinding of all the malt used for brewing within the town of Daventry. (fn. 21) He died in 1352, and a licence for the election of his successor, John of Fawsley, was obtained from Henry, duke of Lancaster, (fn. 22) to whom the manor of Daventry had been conveyed in 1350. (fn. 23)
Prior William de Grendon was appointed by Bishop Bokyngham in 1388 to collect within the diocese the moiety of the tenth granted by the clergy of the province of Canterbury to the crown. He and his co-collector, the prior of Bullington, met with so much opposition from certain ecclesiastics that they had to be reinforced by a royal writ of aid. (fn. 24) During the rule of the said William a dispute arose between the priory and the townspeople which was settled in March, 1391, by an agreement given in the chartulary of Daventry:—
'This composicion following is translate out of Frenche, and it is for the fredome and liberties for cariage thorowe the church yerde of Daventre and sealed with the Duke of Lancastre seal.
'This endentur made betwen the prioure and convent of Daventre persones of the parishe churche sett withinne the same priorie and bytwen the good ffolkes of the same towne parishoners of the seid parishe churche witnessethe that where certen debates and discencions have been bytwen them by cause that ye sayd parishoners hav done to ryng theire belles within the sayde churche on dayes so yerly a five ye houre of rysyng of ye sayde priour and convent so offten and in such maner that ye sayd priour and convent thereof haue ben diseased and distourbed of their rest and ye lasse disposed to do dyvyne service the day foloyng consyderyng theire rysing at mydnyght matens for to say as their order requireth and also by cause that ye sayde priour and convent afore saide have made chace and rechace with their cartes and other cariages within and through the churche yerde of ye sayde church claymyng to have a wey for their ease wych thyng suffred bysemeth to ye sayde parishons to be to theym dyshoneste and grevaunce by cause that ther ancestres and ffriends have ther ben buried. The parties aforesayde for gode reste off that on partie and of ye other and for eschewyng such debates and discencions to be in tyme commyng ben accorded in ye presence of ye ryght myghty prynce John Duke of Guyene and of Lancastre in maner that here foloweth. That ys to say that ye sayde parisshons schale do ryng afore masse within ye sayde church ye dayes in ye mornyng on conuenbull peele and ryngyng with on belle and at ye benacion of ye sacrament of ye same masse thre knyllynges oonly afore ye rysing of ye sayde priour and convent aforesaide and also that ye sayde priour and convent for them and for ther tenanntes schall have a wey at their ease in maner as ther have hadde of auncient tyme for to chace and rechace their cariages after as their busines schall require within ye sayde churche yerde withowte distourbing dyvyne service to be don within ye forsayde parish churche and ther schall be a gate open ye sayde churchyerde to be schette and with tweyn lockes and keyes locke of ye whych keyes won of them schall rest in ye warde and kepyng of ye sayde priour and convent and that ther key in ye kepyng of ye sayde parisshioners, in wytnesse of wych thyng aforesayde the sayde duke to ye partes of thes indentures hathe do put hye sseale given att Kenyllworth the xviijth day of Marche the yere of ye reign of owre tres doughted lorde Kyng Richard the Seconde affter ye conquest the xiijth.' (fn. 25)
Prior John Ashby, who succeeded in 1408, obtained a pension on his resignation in 1420, together with the use of a chamber called 'le Oryall,' a silver cup, three silver spoons, etc. (fn. 26) Thomas Knight, who was elected prior in 1444, was consecrated bishop of St. Asaph on 14 February 1450-1; he was allowed to hold the priory in commendam. The diocesan issued injunctions in December, 1459, ordering him to produce the bull enabling him to hold both bishopric and priory up to Easter 1461; he was ordered not to reside in the priory more than one month in the year, and enjoined not to keep there more than three horses and two servants. (fn. 27) He resigned Daventry in 1460, but retained the bishopric till his death in 1471.
In aid of Cardinal Wolsey's proposed collegiate establishment on a magnificent scale at Oxford, Pope Clement VII. granted a bull in September, 1524, which was ratified by the king in the following January, for the dissolution of the Oxford priory of St. Frideswide and of several of the lesser monasteries, among which was included the priory of Daventry. The formal dissolution of the house was executed on 16 February, 1524-5, at the hands of Dr. John Alen, canon of Lincoln, in the presence also of Thomas Cromwell, Anthony Husy, and William Butler. The surrender was signed by Prior Alexander Colyns. (fn. 28) Long before the completion of Cardinal College came Wolsey's fall and death, and the revenues appropriated to its support were seized by the crown. In 1532 the project was continued on a smaller scale, under the title of King Henry VIII. College in Oxford, and the Daventry possessions were conveyed to the collegiate establishment, and subsequently to the dean and chapter of Christ Church.
Priors of Daventry
Osbert, (fn. 29) occurs 1135
Herbert, (fn. 30) occurs 1146
Joybert, (fn. 31) about 1198
Benedict, (fn. 32) appointed 1204
Alelm, (fn. 33) occurs 1208
William de Bouay, (fn. 34) appointed 1217
Walter of Sawbridge, (fn. 35) appointed 1225, died 1231
Nicholas of Ely, (fn. 36) appointed 1231, died 1264
Robert of Hellidon, (fn. 37) elected 1264, died 1269
John of Staverton, (fn. 38) elected 1269, resigned 1281
William of Lymington, (fn. 39) elected 1281, resigned 1289
Peter of Esseby, (fn. 40) elected 1289
Peter of Horpole, (fn. 41) elected 1327, died 1352
John of Fawsley, (fn. 42) elected 1352, died 1360
Thomas of Stockingford, (fn. 43) elected 1360, died 1361
William of Grendon, (fn. 44) elected 1361, died 1396
William Rothwell, (fn. 45) elected 1396
John Ashby, (fn. 46) elected 1408
John Daventry, (fn. 47) elected 1415
Robert Man, (fn. 48) elected 1425
Thomas Knight, (fn. 49) elected 1444, resigned 1460
William Bromley, (fn. 50) elected 1460
William Lane, (fn. 51) elected 1475
Thomas Ilston, (fn. 52) elected 1482, died 1515
Alexander Colyns, (fn. 53) elected 1515, resigned on the dissolution of the house, 1524-5
The pointed oval seal of the priory, mottled green in colour, with fine but imperfect impression, attached to a charter of Prior William de Bouay about 1217, (fn. 54) is of twelfth-century style of art, and represents St. Augustine with pall and mitre, having long strings, seated on a throne, his right hand raised in benediction, in his left hand a pastoral staff.
The legend is wanting.
A fragment of the centre of a seal similar to above in design, brownish-white in colour, is attached to a charter of the year 1239. (fn. 55) The reverse is the fragment only of a small pointed oval counterseal; all that remains is the word PRIORIS in the legend.
Attached to a charter dated 1295 (fn. 56) is another fine example of the first seal given above, green in colour; the edge has been chipped, but part of the legend is still legible on the obverse:—
+ SIG . . . . . . AVGVSTINI . DE DAVINTREO
The reverse is the smaller pointed oval counterseal of Prior Peter de Esseby, and represents, in a double niche with two arches of sloping sides, crocketed, and having a small spire or pinnacle between, on the left an archbishop with mitre and pall, lifting up the right hand in benediction and holding in his left hand a crozier; and on the right a bishop with mitre, lifting up his right hand in benediction, holding in his left hand a pastoral staff. In base under a plinth on which is the inscription FR . PETRUS, the prior half length in prayer, to the left an estoile, and a crescent on the right. Legend:—
+ S' FRIS PETRI . PRIORIS . DE . DAVENTRO.
An imperfect example of the first seal is attached to a charter of William, prior of Daventry, and the convent, dated 1392. (fn. 57)
A sulphur cast with fine impression of the pointed oval seal of Prior Nicholas of Ely (fn. 58) represents a chalice covered with a napkin upon an altar slab resting on two cylindrical columns with a marble entablature between them, ornamented with a diapered lozengy pattern. Legend:—
+ S' NICOLAI . PRIORIS . DE . DAVINTRE.