A History of the County of Nottingham: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1910.
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HOUSE OF CLUNIAC MONKS
3. THE PRIORY OF LENTON
The Cluniac house of Lenton Priory, in the suburbs of Nottingham, was founded by William Peverel in honour of the Holy Trinity, out of love (as the foundation charter expresses it) of divine worship and for the good of the souls of his lord King William, of his wife Queen Matilda, of their son King William and of all their and his ancestors, and also for the health of his present lord King Henry and Queen Matilda and their children William and Matilda, and for the health of his own soul, and those of his wife Matilda and his son William and all their children. He gave the house to God and to the church of Cluni, and to Pontius the abbot there and his successors, but so that it should be free and quit of obligation save the annual payment of a mark of silver as an acknowledgement.
By this charter Peverel substantially endowed the house with the township of Lenton and its appurtenances, including seven mills; the townships of Radford, Morton, and Keighton, (fn. 1) with all their appurtenances, and whatsoever he had in Newthorpe and Papplewick both in wood and plain; also, with the consent of King Henry, the Nottingham churches of St. Mary, St. Peter, and St. Nicholas, and the churches of Radford, Linby, and Langar, and the tithes of his fisheries, all in Nottinghamshire; Bakewell with all its appurtenances, two parts of the tithes of Newbold, Tideswell, Bradwell, Bakewell, Hucklow, Ashford, Wormill, and Holme, and two parts of the tithes of his demesne pastures in the Peak, namely in Shalcross, Fernilee, Darnall, Quatford, Buxton, Shirebrook, Stanton, Cowdale, 'Crochil' Callow, 'Dunningestede,' Chelmorton, and Sterndale, also the whole tithe of colts and fillies, wherever there was a stud-farm in his Peak demesnes, together with the tithes of his lead and of his venison both in skins and meat, all in Derbyshire; (fn. 2) Courteenhall with its appurtenances, two parts of all the tithes of his demesnes in Blisworth and Duston, and the churches of Harlestone, Courteenhall, Irchester, and Rushden, all in Northamptonshire; and the church of Foxton, in Leicestershire, with a virgate of land.
By the same charter he also granted, after a somewhat unusual form, whatsoever his men (homagers or feodaries) bestowed on the priory for the good of their souls: namely two parts of the tithes of the demesnes of Avenel in Haddon, Meadowplace and Monyash, Derbyshire, and of various other places in the counties of Nottingham, Derby, Leicester, and Buckingham.
There is no reason to doubt that the extensive possessions enumerated above represent genuine grants made to the priory by William Peverel and his under-tenants; but the present charter contains a chronological discrepancy which is quite fatal to its authenticity. The priory is explicitly granted to Pontius, Abbot of Cluni, but the charter is witnessed by Gerard, Archbishop of York. As Gerard died on 21 May 1108, while Abbot Hugh of Cluni, the predecessor of Pontius, died on 29 April 1109, the charter clearly loses all claim to be regarded as a contemporary record. That some genuine document or documents underlay the fabrication of the charter is made probable by its occasional agreement, in the names of Peverel sub-tenants, with the evidence of Domesday; but the only authority for the text of the charter, since the destruction of the Lenton Chartulary in the great Cottonian fire, has been an inspeximus of 1317. Under these circumstances, the charter cannot be cited as evidence for the date of the foundation of the priory, but it may be noted that the abbacy of Pontius extended from 1109 to 1125. As the alleged bestowal of the priory upon Abbot Pontius not improbably represents a genuine tradition, the foundation may well have fallen within these years. A charter of Henry I (fn. 3) confirming Lenton to Cluni, preserved among the muniments of the latter house, is ostensibly not later than 1115, but its authenticity is doubtful.
The inspeximus of 1317 (fn. 4) records the royal confirmation charters of Henry I, of Stephen, of Henry II and of John, as well as the following additional benefactions:—the church of Wigston, Leicestershire, with the tithes of his demesnes in that lordship and certain lands, by Robert Earl of Leicester and Count of Meulan; the tithes of the assarts or tilled lands within Peak Forest, by William de Ferrers; the churches of Ossington, Notts, and Horsley, Derbyshire, and the half church of Cotgrave, Notts, in 1144, by Hugh de Buron and Hugh Meschines his son and heir; the church of Nether Broughton, Leicestershire, with all its appurtenances, including a chapel to which were attached 15 acres of land, by Richard Bussell; the Derbyshire manors of Holme and Dunston, by Matthew de Hathersage; and a moiety of the church of Attenborough, the land of Reginald in Chilwell, the church of Barton in Fabis, and two parts of his demesne tithes in Bunny and Bradmore, by Odo de Bunny. (fn. 5)
Fortunately for the sake of peace, it very rarely happened that the gift of a pious founder gave rise to whole centuries of litigation and strife, as was the case with one part of the benefactions of William Peverel to this priory—we allude to the various tithes of the Peak district just enumerated. When the vast estates of the Peverels were confiscated to the Crown in the reign of Henry II, they were bestowed by the king on his second son John, Count of Mortain. No sooner had Richard ascended his father's throne than John began to play the part of a conspirator. One of John's most ready and able tools in the Midlands was Hugh de Nonant, the turbulent Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield. When his attachment to John began to wane, the count secured his further support by the gift of the churches of Bakewell, Hope, and Tideswell, with all their appurtenances. When John came to the throne, he confirmed the gift of these churches to the then occupant of the see, Geoffrey Muschamp, but Geoffrey's successors in the bishopric, William Cornhill (1215-1224) and Alexander Stavenby (1224-1240), transferred these rights to the dean and chapter of Lichfield.
Almost immediately after this transfer had been completed, litigation broke out between the priory and the chapter, which extended, with certain intervals of peace, over three centuries, during which period there were five several appeals to the Roman court. The matter at issue between Lenton and Lichfield, though presenting slightly different phases of the same questions, always related to (1) the extent of the lordships of William Peverel, (2) the right of bequeathing tithes of land not under cultivation at the time of the donation, and (3) more especially how far the charters of the Count of Mortain overrode those of William Peverel, whose descendants had suffered sequestration.
The disputes assumed a violent form in the years 1250-1, when the monks of Lenton by force of arms seized on certain tithes of wool and lambs in the parish of Tideswell. The chapter of Lichfield actually ordered the wool to be stored and the flocks to be folded within the nave of the church for security; but the adherents of the priory disregarded sanctuary rights and burst open the doors. Thereupon a free fight ensued between the two parties; many of the sheep and lambs were butchered under the horses' hoofs or by the weapons of the combatants; and the pollution of both church and churchyard rendered the suspension of all religious rites obligatory until they had been formally reconciled by the bishop. In this encounter eighteen lambs were killed in the church and fourteen were carried off to the grange of the Lenton monks. Geese, hay, and sheaves of oats were also seized by violent methods about the same time. Bishop Weseham of Lichfield found that it was high time to interfere to check such a scandal, and himself suggested an appeal to Rome. Pope Innocent IV, after failing with earlier-appointed commissions, nominated a commission of three with extended powers, consisting of the warden of the Franciscans of Leicester, the Archdeacon of Chester, and the Prior of the Dominicans of London. A decision was given in 1252 in the church of St. Mary at Leicester to the effect that (1) the priory should pay 100 marks fine to the sacrist of Lichfield, in addition to the £60 already voluntarily paid by the priory to the chapter as compensation for the damage; that (2) all the greater and lesser tithes of Tideswell belonged to the chapter, except two-thirds of the tithes of lead on the demesnes formerly held by William Peverel, of the tithes of the mill of Richard Daniel, and of the tithes of the studfarm and of the venison; that (3) the chapter should pay 14 marks yearly out of the tithes of Bakewell and Hope to the priory; and that (4) two-thirds of the great tithes only should go to the priory in other parts and of pastures and places then under cultivation at Bakewell, Nether Haddon, Ashford, and Chapel en le Frith.
This decision was respected and secured peace for about a quarter of a century, but the dispute broke out again with some vehemence in 1275, and was frequently renewed up to the time of the dissolution of the religious houses. (fn. 6)
The connexion of the Cluniac house of Lenton with the adjoining town of Nottingham was as close and important as that of the monastery of St. Andrew, of the same order, with the town of Northampton. The first charter of Henry II freed from every form of tax, toll, or custom the whole of the priory of Lenton, and any one disturbing the monks or their tenants in this respect was liable to the then huge penalty of £10. By his second charter the same king granted the priory a fair of eight days at the feast of St. Martin, with full toll of all things from which toll may be taken, excepting on those purchases which were made for food or clothing. In the same charter Henry II warned both the sheriff and castellan of Nottingham not to molest the monks of Lenton in the slaughter of oxen, nor in anything else to which they have been accustomed, such as the right of buying freely in the markets. No complaints or pleadings against the monks were to be permitted in any of the local courts, but only before the king or his chief justice.
It may be mentioned that Henry III in 1232 still further extended the length of the great fair of Lenton at Martinmas, making it of twelve days' duration. (fn. 7)
The benefactions to the priory and privileges granted to it, in addition to those already cited, were very numerous. (fn. 8) The following deserve special mention:—The cell or hermitage of Kersall, Lancashire, by Henry II; the first draught of smelts, next after the draught of his steward, by John de Laci, in his fishing of Chilwell, and whatever God should bestow in the said draught on the brethren—as salmon, lamprey, or any other kind of fish, he gave them freely; the same donor subsequently increased the fishing rights of the monks, provided they were for the monks' own use and not let to farm; considerable gifts at Widmerpool by Robert de Heriz, desiring that his body should be Christianly buried in the priory church; the advowson of the church of Nuthall, by Sir Geoffrey de St. Patrick, a gift challenged (but in vain) by William de St. Patrick in 1200, as being made under undue influence on his deathbed. (fn. 9)
By a charter of King John, in 1199, there were confirmed to the priory the churches of Meppershall and Felmersham, Bedfordshire, and also free entry and exit, daily, into the forest of Bestwood with a cart to take dead wood, and with two carts to take heather, as much as would suffice for the monks' proper use. (fn. 10) There were various other grants of fuel, royal and otherwise; but a yet more important charter of John at the end of his reign granted to Peter the prior and the monks of Lenton the tithe of the game taken in the royal forests of the counties of Nottingham and Derby, that is to say of harts, hinds, bucks, does, wild boars, and hares. (fn. 11)
The ecclesiastical rights of Lenton in the town of Nottingham are strikingly exemplified in the statutes of Archbishop Gray, granted to the hospital of St. John in that town in 1234, which are given below in the account of that hospital.
Henry III appears to have been ever ready to assist the monks of Lenton in their building operations. He granted them quarry rights in 1229 in Nottingham Forest to obtain stone for the rebuilding of the tower of their church, which had fallen in the previous year; (fn. 12) and later in the same year five oaks were assigned to them out of the king's hay at 'Willey' to make shingles for the roofing of their dormitory. (fn. 13) In the following years they were granted twenty-five tie-beams out of Mansfield, and two oaks out of Linby Hay to make shingles, and in 1232 thirty oaks out of Sherwood towards building their church. (fn. 14) In 1249 the Prior of Lenton obtained the royal licence to quarry stone in the wood of Nottingham within Sherwood Forest, for the fabric of his church, a favour which was renewed in the following year. In 1253 sanction was given to the prior to take seven score cartloads of stone from the king's quarry in the same wood for certain works there in progress at the priory. (fn. 15)
The taxation of Pope Nicholas in 1291 gives the annual income of the priory as £339 1s. 2½d., which was obtained as follows:—Spiritualities— Lincoln diocese, £15 19s. 4d.; Coventry and Lichfield diocese, £66 13s. 4d.; York diocese, £108 12s. 10d.; Temporalities—Lincoln diocese, £37 3s. 10½d.; Salisbury diocese, 13s. 4d.; Coventry and Lichfield diocese, £17 6s.; York diocese, £92 12s. 6d. (fn. 16)
The seizing of the revenues of the priory by the Crown as subject to alien rule, during the wars with France, which prevailed throughout almost the whole of the 14th century, brought about a diminution in income. Extents of the priory possessions taken in 1380 give the total income as £305 1s. 8d. (fn. 17) A detailed valuation taken by inquisition in Lent 1387 gives the total as £300 14s. 4d.; the net income derived from the great Martinmas fair averaged £35 a year; the chief income came from appropriated tithes of corn, the rectories of Lenton, Radford, 'Kyrkton,' and Sutton brought in £20, St. Mary's, Nottingham, 80 marks, Bakewell rectory, £54 13s., as well as many smaller sums. (fn. 18)
The financial history of this priory is somewhat exceptional, inasmuch as it obtained several additions to its income in the period shortly before the general dissolution. Thus the advowson of Arksey, Yorkshire, was granted to the monks in 1502, and the appropriation of the same in 1513. (fn. 19) Middlewich, Cheshire, was also appropriated to the priory in 1504; it was worth £30 a year. (fn. 20)
The Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1534 gives the gross income as £387 10s. 10½d., and the clear annual value £329 15s. 10½d. Of this estimate the Derbyshire tithes and portions (about which great sums of money had been spent in litigation) contributed £70 18s. 11½d., but far the largest share came from Nottinghamshire. The tithes of corn and hay from Beeston, Lenton, St. Mary's Nottingham (with oblations), and Radford realized £48 6s. 8d.; tithe portions from Greasley, Basford, Attenborough, Langar, Stapleford, Ruddington, Sutton, Thorpe in the Glebe, and Bunny, £32 3s. 2d.; pensions from Barton in Fabis, Basford, Costock, Cotgrave, Lenton, Linby, Nottingham St. Nicholas, St. Peter and the hospitals of St. John and St. Mary, and Rempstone, £5 6s. 4d.; demesne lands, rents, mills, fair, &c., at Lenton, Newthorpe, Nottingham, and Radford, £78 13s. 8d.; and rents at Awsworth, Ompton, Barton in Fabis, Bradmore, Costock, Cotgrave, Cropwell Butler, Keyworth, Mansfield, Normanton, Rempstone, and Watnall, £17 4s. 3d. The remainder of the income came from the counties of Chester, Lancaster, Leicester, Northampton, and York.
The outgoings were considerable, including payments to the warden of Clifton College (fn. 21) and to chantry priests in York Cathedral and in the churches of Rotherham and North Wingfield. The sum of £41 1s. 8d. was expended in the daily meat, drink, lodging, and firing, and a penny each per week on five needy men, who were to pray for the souls of William Peverel and Adeline his wife, of Henry I and Matilda his wife and their heirs. A further sum of £2 13s. 4d. was distributed yearly to the poor on the anniversaries of William and Adeline Peverel, which were kept respectively on 20 and 28 January. (fn. 22)
The statement made by Godfrey (fn. 23) that the distinguished justice Robert de Lexinton was Prior of Lenton during the early years of Henry III is an error, apparently based on the casual juxtaposition of Robert de Lexinton and the Prior of Lenton on certain commissions. (fn. 24)
In 1234 Gregory IX issued his mandate to the Abbot and Prior of Dale to induct the Prior and Convent of Lenton into corporal possession of the church of St. Mary Nottingham, granted to them by the pope on the resignation of Nicholas his nephew, subdeacon and chaplain, a vicar's portion being reserved. (fn. 25)
One of his immediate successors in the papacy granted a privilege to the Lenton monks which would be much appreciated, as the great majority of them came from the warmer climes of France. They obtained a faculty from Alexander IV in the winter of 1257-8, to wear caps suited to their order at divine offices, in consequence of the vehement cold of those parts. (fn. 26)
In 1262 Henry Prior of Bermondsey and John Prior of the French house of Gassicourt were appointed visitors of the subordinate English houses by Yves de Poyson, twenty-fifth Abbot of Cluni. They made searching inquiry as to the condition of Lenton Priory, through two of the obedientiaries of the house, Brother Alfred the sub-cellarer, and Richard the almoner, who met them in London; but the visitors do not appear to have gone in person to Lenton. By the showing of these, it was manifest that the state of the convent was all that could be desired in respect of spiritualities, and that divine offices were conducted becomingly and according to church ritual; the religious community consisted of twenty-two monks and two lay brethren. On a further inquiry of them as to the convent's financial condition, it is evident that the house was loaded with debt, to the extent of £1,000 of the English currency. (fn. 27)
The visitors appointed for England by the Abbot of Cluni in 1275-6 were John, Prior of Wenlock, and Arnulph, the abbot's equerry. They visited Lenton on Friday, 22 February. The monks then numbered twenty-seven and the lay brethren four. The priory's debts amounted to 180 marks. There were various set orders enjoined by these visitors on most of the houses, which were repeated at Lincoln, such as the use when riding of saddle, crupper, and leggings, the non-eating of meat with seculars, the reading of the lection in the infirmary at dinner, and the tarrying of any in the priory after compline. These were all enjoined at Lenton, as had previously been the case at Montacute, Wenlock, and other houses. It also came to the visitors' knowledge at Lenton that the lay brothers were wearing red or russet habits; they were ordered henceforth to use as their distinguishing colour something darker and more nearly approaching black. (fn. 28)
The English visitation of 1279 for the Abbot of Cluni was made by the Prior of Lenton in conjunction with the French Prior of MontDidier. They arrived at Lenton on 6 September and found twenty-five monks, the usual complement, leading good and commendable lives, living according to rule, and solemnly conducting their devotional exercises. As the Prior of Lenton was himself one of the two visitors, it is to be hoped that only the Prior of MontDidier was responsible for the report sent to Cluni, for it was stated therein that the superior of the Nottingham house was 'a worthy good man, of blameless repute.' When he entered on his office there were debts of 935 marks in money and of forty sacks of wool at 15 marks the sack. Of this latter debt thirty-two sacks had been paid, but the money debt had risen to 1,030 marks, chiefly through the strife with the chapter of Lichfield, 'composed of rich and influential persons, some of them being about the King.' The matter in dispute was said to concern a yearly tithe of 250 marks; the prior had already spent 160 marks in litigation, and anticipated further legal trouble and expense. The prior, when first entering on his duties, found an insufficiency of all necessary provisions, and he had also had to pay an annuity of 40 marks to his predecessor, which could ill be spared. There was another debt of £40 on certain property, which originated with Roger, a former prior. (fn. 29)
In 1263 the priory became involved in a most serious affray connected with the patronage of the church of St. George's Burton-on-Trent, which doubtless arose through the preferment of absentee foreigners. According to the deposition of Bartholomew son of Adinulf, knight, of Anagni, papal chaplain and rector of St. George's, the Prior and Convent of Lenton, pretending that he was dead, presented to it one Thomas de Raley; whereupon Bartholomew obtained papal letters addressed to Master John de Anagni, papal chaplain, resident in England, who, on the prior's promise to expedite the business at his own expense, committed the matter to him. Afterwards the prior went to the church of St. George with Bonushomo de Portia, the rector's proctor; but certain servants of Thomas de Raley stripped the proctor in the prior's presence, robbed him of the papal letters, and eventually killed him in the churchyard. The prior and Thomas were cited to appear before the pope within a given time, which they did not do, and were therefore declared contumacious and excommunicated by the Cardinal, to whom the pope had committed the matter. This excommunication was pronounced in November 1263, but it was not until August of the following year that the Bishop of London received the papal mandate to publish the excommunication of the prior and Thomas de Raley throughout the archdeaconry of Nottingham and in other prescribed places, until they made condign satisfaction in the cathedral church of London. (fn. 30)
In 1267 the vicar of Lenton complained to the diocesan that the Prior and Convent of Lenton were detaining certain mortuaries and oblations that pertained to the vicarage. Giffard directed the Archdeacon of Nottingham to hold an inquiry, and if the allegation were true, to order the priory to restore the payments in dispute. (fn. 31)
The Prior of Lenton in 1285 appointed brother Thomas de Amundesham, a monk of that house, to serve as general and special proctor, for presenting in his name to vacant benefices, &c. The cause for this was doubtless the visit of the prior to a general chapter at Cluni. (fn. 32)
The finding of a Nottingham jury, in 1284, that William son of Nicholas de Cauntlow was born in the abbey of Lenton (in abbatia de Lenton), and was baptized in the church of the abbey on Palm Sunday twenty-one years before, is at first sight a little startling. (fn. 33) But within the precincts of so important a priory as this there would be sure to be special guest-chambers for visitors of distinction, and occasionally, though somewhat irregularly, they would be of the fair sex.
In fact Lenton Priory possessed in all probability a finer set of guest-chambers than any that could be found in the town of Nottingham. Henry III lodged at the priory in 1230. It was at Lenton Priory that Edward I sojourned in April 1302, and again in April of the following year; whilst Edward II visited the house for some days in the year of his accession, and again in 1323. Edward III was a royal visitor in 1336, as well as on other occasions. (fn. 34)
In 1289 Pope Nicholas IV wrote to Edward I requesting him to restore to Peter de Siriniaco the full possession of Lenton Priory, of which he had been wrongfully deprived, as other priors had been, by the abbot and general chapter of Cluni, in consequence of appeals to the Roman court in regard to the non-observance of statutes made by Gregory IX for the reformation of the order, and to which Ranaudus or Renaud, a Cluniac monk, on presentation of the abbot, had been inducted by the king as patron. The pope urged Edward to assign to the proctor of Peter de Siriniaco possession of this priory, as the Abbot of Cluni had died at Rome whilst the cause of Peter and the priory was pending, and Peter's presence was required at Cluni for the election of an abbot. (fn. 35)
There were various disputes between the priory and the mayor and burgesses of Nottingham as to the duration of the great Lenton fair and its ordinances. An interesting agreement was arranged between the parties in the reign of Edward I, c. 1300. The priory pledged itself to be content with eight days, beginning on the eve of St. Martin, remitting four days, and promising never to ask for any extension beyond the octave. The priory also covenanted for themselves and their successors that cloth merchants, apothecaries, pilchers (makers of fur garments), and mercers of the community of the town, wishing to hire booths in the fair, were to pay 12d. for as long as the fair lasted, excepting those selling blacks (Blakkes) and ordinary cloths, whose fee was to be 8d. All others desiring to hire booths were to pay 8d., save that those selling iron and desiring ground as well as a booth paid 4d., or without extra ground 2d. Tanners and shoemakers not occupying ground were to be quit of covered and uncovered stalls. Each booth was to be 8 ft. long and 8 ft. broad. None of the community of Nottingham were to hire booths or stalls for any stranger, or for the sale of any alien goods, but only for themselves and their own wares. All men of Nottingham buying and selling hides, tanned or untanned, and all from Nottingham passing through Lenton in fair time with carts, wagons, or packhorses, were to be quit of toll and custom. In return for this quittance, the mayor and burgesses granted to the prior and convent a building for ever in the Saturday market free of charge, and that no market of any kind of merchandise be held within the town of Nottingham during the eight days of the Lenton fair, except within houses, and in doors and windows. (fn. 36)
The priory was in an unhappy financial condition in 1313. In May of that year Edward II, at the request of the prior and convent, appointed John de Hotham to be keeper of that house and of all issues and profits and possessions, as the king had taken it into his protection on account of its poverty and indebtedness. After a reasonable allowance had been made for the prior and convent and their men, all issues were to be reserved for the discharge of debts, and for making good the defects of the priory. So long as the priory was in Hotham's custody, no sheriff, bailiff, or other minister of the king was to lodge there without his licence. (fn. 37) This appointment, which was 'during pleasure,' was renewed in the following year. (fn. 38)
In 1319, much to his credit, Prior Geoffrey de Chintriaco had the courage to resist the papal order to induct the proctor of Bertrand, Cardinal of St. Marcellus, to the rectory of Ratcliffe on Soar. In January 1320 Pope John XXII issued his mandate to the Archbishop of York and the Bishops of Hereford and Winchester to cite the prior to appear personally before him to answer for his disobedience, and at the same time to cite in like manner Walter de Almiarslond, who had 'thrust himself into the parish church of Radcliff of which papal provision had been made to Cardinal Bertrand.' Prior Geoffrey put in no appearance at Rome, and was excommunicated by the Cardinal of St. Susanna as papal commissioner. For about three years the prior remained contumacious, and then in November 1323 a fresh mandate was issued by Pope John to the Archbishop of York and two others not only to renew the citation of Prior Geoffrey to Rome, but also to publish and enforce the suspension of the papal letters of protection granted to the English Cluniacs, under which the Prior of Lenton had sheltered himself in the matter of Cardinal Bertrand, and to inhibit the Abbot of Westminster, as conservator of the order of Cluni in England, from taking any action in the matter. Early in 1327, immediately after the accession of Edward III, Prior Geoffrey again disobeyed a papal mandate by refusing to put Cardinal Fouget in possession of the rectory of Ratcliffe on Soar. Being threatened by the pope with the destruction of his house of Lenton, the prior petitioned the king, and implored him by the love of God to write letters excusatory to Rome. To this petition the king acceded and wrote to Pope John XXII from Nottingham on 15 May 1327, and also at the same date to the Cardinal of St. Susanna, explaining the situation and justifying the prior. (fn. 39)
At the close, however, of 1328, the pope secured the due submission of Prior Geoffrey and removed the excommunication. (fn. 40) In 1331 Prior Geoffrey resigned Lenton, which was reserved by Pope John to Guichard de Jou, monk of Cluni: the priory of Montacute being at the same time reserved for Geoffrey. (fn. 41)
A grant was obtained from Edward in 1327, that on any voidance of the priory no escheator or other minister was to enter or intermeddle with its possessions; but that, at the request of the sub-prior and convent, the sheriff or the constable of Nottingham Castle should place a servant at the door for the protection of the goods of the priory, taking nothing therefrom save his entertainment. It was stated in the grant that this was but a confirmation of the original chartered privilege of William Peverel, the founder, (fn. 42) whom we know to have been appointed castellan of Nottingham in 1068.
Edward III, on his accession, restored to the priory of Lenton and sixty-four other alien priories their lands in England, seized by his father on account of the war in Aquitaine. (fn. 43) But on the resumption of the war with France the Crown resumed its hold on the property of Lenton and of the other alien priories. The Patent Rolls of both Edward III and Richard II abound in entries of Crown presentations to the numerous benefices whose advowsons were nominally in the gift of the Prior and Convent of Lenton.
The year 1329 was of some celebrity in the annals of Lenton Priory on account of two lawsuits which were then brought to an issue. In the one case a dispute had arisen between the Prior of Lenton and the Abbot of Vale Royal, Cheshire, in consequence of the former selling the tithes of beasts pasturing in Edale, Derbyshire. The abbot entreated Queen Isabella, who was at that time lady of the Castle and Honour of the High Peak, to instruct her bailiff to see that the tithes both of deer and cattle in Edale were reserved for the benefit of the church of Castleton, of which the abbot was rector. An inquisition on oath was accordingly held, with the result that the ancient rights of the church of Castleton were confirmed. (fn. 44)
The other case was the revival of an old dispute as to the advowson of the church of Harlestone, Northants, which had been granted to the priory by Peverel in the foundation charter, but had been claimed on several occasions by alleged Peverel representatives. At last in 1329 one Thomas de Staunton claimed the advowson, stating that his ancestor William de Staunton had been seised of it in the time of Henry III, and had successfully presented to it. Both parties agreed to submit the decision of the cause to single combat, and appointed their champions, William Fitz Thomas for the claimant, and William Fitz John for the Prior of Lenton. All the formalities necessary to a trial by combat were enacted, but at the last moment, when both champions had been sworn at the bar and were about to advance, Staunton was persuaded to relinquish all claim for himself and his heirs to the prior and his successors. (fn. 45)
It was in this year, too, that the pleas De Quo Warranto were held in Nottingham at Martinmas. By the production of charters the Prior of Lenton was able to establish the claim of his house to the great Lenton fair, to full manorial rights (including gallows) at Lenton and at Cotgrave, to freedom from every kind of toll, to market privileges, and to voidance of escheat during vacancy. (fn. 46)
In consequence of the great burdens of the priory, the king granted his protection for two years in 1334, appointing three custodians to administer the temporalities. (fn. 49)
In 1345 Astorgius de Gorciis, Prior of Lenton, in conjunction with the Cluniac priors of Lewes and Northampton and of other English houses, refused to pay his proper subsidy to Iterius, Abbot of Cluni; the abbot appealed to Rome, whereupon Clement VI issued his mandate to the Archbishop of Canterbury to cite Astorgius and the other defaulting priors to appear before him. (fn. 50)
On the petition of Prior Astorgius, to whom the king had committed the custody of the priory at farm for such time as the priory remained in his hands on account of the war with France, Edward III in 1347 granted licence for him to lease the manor of Dunston for ten years, and to sell all portions of the tithes of sheaves and hay pertaining to the priory in the High Peak for a like period. The plea for this exception was the debt and other misfortunes that were overwhelming the house. On a further petition in the same year they obtained the royal sanction to lease their High Peak lead tithes for sixteen years to William de Amyas. (fn. 51)
Prior Peter in 1350 obtained the assistance of the civil power to try to secure the arrest of John de Tideswell, John de Rempstone, and Richard de Cortenhale, apostate monks of Lenton, who were wandering about the country in secular dress. (fn. 52)
An interesting case occurred among the pleas of the borough court of Nottingham in 1355, relative to the repair of a costly pyx belonging to the priory. Prior Peter appeared, by his attorney, against Walter the Goldsmith, complaining that though Walter had covenanted to repair a vessel of crystal to carry the body of our Lord Jesus Christ with pure silver and gold, he had broken the agreement in three particulars: (1) in not making it of pure silver; (2) in not well or suitably gilding it; and (3) in soldering the vessel with tin instead of silver. The prior claimed 100s. for this serious damage. Walter replied that the vessel had been well and suitably repaired, and would verify this by a good inquest; an inquest was accordingly ordered against the next court. The prior further appeared against Walter on a plea of debt; alleging that he was unjustly withholding from him a noble and a half of gold; the prior had delivered two gold nobles to Walter wherewith to gild the vessel, but only a half noble had been used. On this claim Walter also demanded and obtained an inquest. As a set off, Walter in his turn appeared against the prior on a plea of debt, alleging that he was unjustly withholding 36s. in silver, which was the covenanted price for the work, although repeatedly asked for the same. (fn. 53) Unfortunately the issue of this case is not extant.
In February 1361-2 Edward III restored to the Prior of Lenton all the lands, tenements, advowsons, &c., that had been in the hands of the Crown by reason of the war with France. (fn. 54) This was in consequence of the peace of Bretigny; but on the recurrence of war a few years later Lenton and the other alien priories were again in a like plight.
The custody of three messuages and 164 acres of land of the cell of Kersall, Lancashire, was committed to Lenton Priory. (fn. 55)
Grant for life, during the war with France, was made by Richard II in 1387 to William Kylmyngton, one of the king's servants, of the office of porter of Lenton Priory, with power to execute the office by deputy. (fn. 56)
In May 1389 Richard II requested the Archbishop of York to inquire into certain dissensions that had arisen between Geoffrey, Prior of Lenton (who rendered a certain yearly farm to the king for that alien priory), and certain of his monks who had rebelled against him, to examine the condition of the priory and inform himself as to its rule and the rebellion, correcting defects and removing monks refusing obedience to other houses of the same rule. A further commission to laymen about the same time shows that the disturbance was a serious one, involving the breaking open houses and chests of the priory, taking two horses valued at £10 as well as other goods and moneys, and so threatening the prior and his servants that neither could he attend to divine service nor they to the cultivation of the land. Some of the monks seem to have taken the side of the mob. (fn. 57)
It was under Prior Geoffrey that this muchtried alien priory became nationalized or reputed denizen, and no longer liable to be seized into the king's hands. Richard II sealed this grant, with the assent of the council, on 7 October 1392, a sum of 500 marks having been paid to the Crown. (fn. 58)
In 1395 a commission was issued to the Sheriff of the counties of Nottingham and Derby, to the Mayor of Nottingham and others, to arrest and bring before the king and council one William de Repyngdon, a monk who had been to the Roman court without licence and there acquired divers bulls for obtaining certain offices in the priory of Lenton, without the assent either of the king or of the prior and convent of that place. (fn. 59)
The general control that the priory exercised over the ecclesiastical affairs of Nottingham was again illustrated in the year 1400, when the foundation instrument of Plumtree's Hospital at Nottingham Bridge provided that the presentation of the two chantry chaplains was to be in the hands of the Prior and Convent of Lenton. (fn. 60)
Boniface IX, in 1402, permitted the Prior and Convent of Lenton to let to farm to clerks or laymen all fruits, tithes, and oblations of their churches, chapels, portions, pensions, and other possessions, without requiring licence of the ordinaries. (fn. 61)
A visitation report sent to Cluni in 1405 gives the proper complement of the brethren as thirty-two, although some maintained that there was no fixed number. Six daily masses were celebrated, of which three were conventual with music and three low masses; of the latter one was of the Trinity and the two others for the dead. The visitors found that monastic obligations were all duly and strictly observed. William Peverel is named as the founder, and it is added that he and his successors, as patrons, were bound to transmit yearly to the church of Cluni a mark of silver, a provision confirmed by the king's letters patent.
The same visitation records that the cell of Roche, subordinate to Lenton Priory, consisted of a prior and one monk. (fn. 62)
On 11 June 1414 the temporalities of this priory were made over by the Crown to a prior of considerable celebrity in the world of letters. Thomas Elmham was a monk of St. Augustine's, Canterbury, but joined the Cluniac order in the year of his appointment as Prior of Lenton. In 1416 he was appointed vicar-general to Raymond, Abbot of Cluni, for England and Scotland. Ten years later (1426) he was made commissarygeneral for all vacant benefices belonging to the Cluniac order in England, Scotland, and Ireland. In the same year he resigned his priorship of Lenton and was succeeded by John Elmham, who was probably his younger brother. Elmham was an historical author of no small repute. His history of the monastery of St. Augustine, Canterbury, was published in the 'Chronicles and Memorials' series as early as 1858. He was also the author of a prose life of Henry V. (fn. 63)
The 15th-century records of the borough court of Nottingham contain various incidental references to the priory. Thus in 1436 Prior Elmham and John Dyghton his fellow monk complained, through their attorney, of Robert Selby, carpenter, in a plea of debt of 2s. 8d.; it was alleged that Selby on Sunday 8 May 1435 bought of Dyghton a cowl of black worsted, promising to pay for it at the feast of St. John Baptist, which promise he had failed to keep. Another action by the same prior was also against Selby, for a table and trestles which he refused to deliver; and a third was for a debt of tithes of hay. (fn. 64)
In 1464 William Lord Hastings, then Lord Chamberlain, was a guest at Lenton Priory; the corporation made him a present on Easter Day of 'iij galons of rede wyne.' (fn. 65)
In the year 1504 the royal free chapel of Tickhill, which had for some time belonged to this priory, was transferred to the abbey of Westminster. (fn. 66)
A corrody was granted by Henry VIII within this monastery in 1510, under privy seal, to Robert Penne, gentleman of the Chapel Royal. (fn. 67)
The foundation deed of the Nottingham Free School, dated 22 November 1513, shows great trust in and affection for Lenton Priory. The foundress provided that if the mayor and corporation were in any way remiss in their trust, the Prior and Convent of Lenton were to have the rule, guidance, and oversight of the lands and the school. (fn. 68)
When there was a vacancy in the headship of this house in 1534, Sir Anthony Babington wrote to Cromwell begging that the new prior, in succession to John Annesley, deceased, might be chosen from one of the monks of the house, as it was then likely to prosper better than under a stranger; 'for which reason my lord Cardinal in his time made Thomas Holrose prior and Simmes (?) that is late prior.' (fn. 69)
Nicholas Hethe or Heath, the last prior, was appointed by patent on 27 December 1535. (fn. 70) Soon after his appointment the new prior wrote to Cromwell one of those numerous letters which show so plainly the extortions of which that minister was guilty. Heath states that it was of Cromwell's favour that he obtained this promotion, but he had not found it in so clear a state as had been anticipated. He had granted to 'Mr. Richard' (Cromwell's nephew) for Cromwell's use £100, but begged he would take £60 and remit the rest till Martinmas. He was bound to keep up hospitality, and if he did not get this remission would have to resort to some London merchant, which would be to his great hindrance. He had accomplished Cromwell's pleasure touching the cell of Kersall in Lancashire. He further begged that the new rule discharging all religious under twenty-five might be relaxed in favour of two of their young monks, for all his brethren, except four or five, were very impotent and of great age, and requested his favour that they might continue in their religion. (fn. 71)
The quasi-legal means adopted to dissolve this monastery differed from all others save the similar case of the Cistercian abbey of Woburn in Bedfordshire. Lenton had been much perturbed by Cromwell's visitors. Here, as elsewhere, certain religious were incited or tempted to bring railing accusations against their superiors. Hamlet Pentrich, one of the monks, brought a charge against his prior before the Privy Council, being released for the purpose from the Fleet, where he was prisoner. Pentrich was, however, a twice-forgiven 'apostate,' and for a third time he forsook his monastery, carrying away with him goods belonging to the priory. (fn. 72)
It is clear that Pentrich and one or two more were ready enough to repeat or invent monastery gossip against the king and Cromwell, in order to save themselves from the results of their own disorderly conduct. A long statement that reached the Privy Council in the spring of 1537 as to talk over the fire (in the Misericorde) at Christmastide contains it would seem much truth, and in the light of resulting consequences is somewhat pathetic reading. Said Dan Haughton, 'It is a marvellous world, for the King will hang a man for a word speaking nowadays.' 'Yea,' said Dan Ralph, 'but the King of Heaven will not do so, and he is the King of all Kings; but he that hangs a man in this world for a word speaking, he shall be hanged in another world himself.' Then, said the sub-prior, 'I was afraid for my life, for I had heard many of the monks speak ill of the King and Queen, and lord Privy Seal, whom they love worst of any man in the world.' (fn. 73)
The documents effecting the dissolution of Lenton Priory, though fairly numerous, are fragmentary, and it seems impossible now to discover with precision under what nominal plea the prior and many of his monks were accused of high treason; but there can be little doubt that it was accomplished under the provisions of what was known as the Verbal Treasons Act of December 1534. (fn. 74) Prior Heath was seized and thrown into prison in February 1538, and it is clear from Cromwell's private 'remembrances' or notes that his doom was fixed and he was to be executed. (fn. 75) In March the prior with eight of his monks and four labourers of Lenton were indicted for treason. The names of the monks were:—Ralph Swenson, Richard Bower, Richard Atkinson, Christopher Browne, John Trewruan, John Adelenton, William Berry, and William Gylham. (fn. 76) The prior and Ralph Swenson, according to a letter from the special commissioners to Cromwell dated 11 April, were the first to be executed. (fn. 77) One other monk, William Gylham, as well as the four labourers, was also sentenced, according to the Controlment Roll, to the shocking punishment then dealt out for treason, of being hanged, drawn, and quartered, with all its unspeakable barbarities. The executions were at Nottingham or its immediate vicinity, and, judging from analogy, directly in front of the priory, where some of the quarters of the victims would be displayed. There are two references to these executions in the chamberlain's accounts of Nottingham for 1537-8. The town gave my Lord's judges two gallons of wine, costing 16d., 'when the Monks of Lenton suffered death.' Another charge in these accounts is 2d. paid for clearing Cow Lane 'when the monks of Lenton suffered death.' Judging from this last entry it is possible that the victims were done to death in the market-place, for Cow Lane was one of the principal approaches; the name was altered to Church Street in 1812. (fn. 78)
As the priory was dissolved by attainder, not a single monk or servant of the house obtained a pension. Even the five poor men maintained there in accordance with the charter of the time of Henry I were apparently thrust out penniless.
Priors of Lenton
Humphrey, temp. Henry I (fn. 79)
Philip (fn. 80)
Alexander, occurs c. 1189 (fn. 81)
Peter, occurs 1200-1214 (fn. 82)
Damascenus (fn. 83)
Roger, 1230 (fn. 84)
Hugh Bluet, occurs 1251 (fn. 87)
Roger Norman, 1259 (fn. 88)
Matthew, 1269 (fn. 89)
Peter de Siriniaco, occurs 1281, 1285, 1287 (fn. 90)
Reginald de Jora, occurs 1289, 1290 (fn. 91)
William, occurs 1291, 1292, 1294, 1299, 1305, 1306 (fn. 92)
Stephen de Moerges, 1309 (fn. 93)
Reginald de Crespy, 1313 (fn. 94)
Geoffrey, 1316 (fn. 95)
William de Pinnebury, occurs 1324 (fn. 96)
Guy de Arlato, occurs 1333 (fn. 97)
Astorgius de Gorciis, occurs 1336-7 (fn. 98)
Peter de Abbeville, occurs 1355 (fn. 99)
Geoffrey de Rochero, occurs 1389 (fn. 100)
Richard Stafford, died 1414 (fn. 101)
Thomas Elmham, 1414 (fn. 102)
John Elmham 1426 (fn. 103)
John Mydylburgh, 1450 (fn. 104)
Thomas Wollore, 1458 (fn. 105)
Richard Dene, 1481 (fn. 106)
John Ilkeston, occurs 1500, 1505 (fn. 107)
Thomas Gwyllam, occurs 1512, 1516 (fn. 108)
Nicholas Heath, 1535 (fn. 109)
There is a fine but imperfect impression of the common seal of the priory attached to a charter c. 1212. It is a pointed oval, about 3 in. by 2 in. when perfect. The obverse has Our Lord enthroned on a rainbow, right hand raised in benediction, book in left hand. Legend:—
+ SIGNUM PETRI P . . . RIS DE LENTONA (fn. 110)
There is a sulphur cast at the British Museum of very imperfect impression of a second seal of the 15th century, which has the Trinity in a carved niche. The only lettering remaining is . . . MONASTERII : s . . . (fn. 111)