A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.
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14. THE PRIORY OF BRUTON
The House of Austin Canons at Bruton was founded in 1142 by William de Moion Earl of Somerset. He endowed it with the manor of Bruton and the rectory of St. Mary and St. Aldhelm's Church, (fn. 1) which William, the chaplain, surrendered for that purpose. Earl William enriched the house also (fn. 2) with the churches of Moion, Pierreville, Regouefe, Lyon-sur-Mêr, on his Norman property in the dioceses of Coutances and Bayeux, and also with estates at Cresserons, Secqueville, and Messons and gave the canons the right to elect their own prior. (fn. 3) Bishop Robert of Bath (1136–66) confirmed this benefaction, and the impropriation (fn. 4) to the house of the tithes of Bruton, and of its dependent churches at Pitcombe, Redlynch, Wyke, Witham, and Brewham. He also gave the rectories of Westbury, Priddy, and Banwell to the priory. (fn. 5) Alexander de Cantelu soon after gave the Hundred of Bruton, with the market and the land of La Combe. (fn. 6) He also gave the land at Bruton (fn. 7) which Alfric, son of Godman, held, and the land which Seric held. Henry Careville and Robert Fitz Geoffrey gave the rectory of Luxborough, (fn. 8) near Dunster, and William and Richard de Montague gave the church of Shepton Montague, (fn. 9) while William de Lovell sanctioned the gift by William de Clevedon of the church of Milton Clevedon. (fn. 10)
In 1175 (fn. 11) Henry II, who had decided to found a house of Carthusians at Witham, gave to the priory at Bruton the church of South Petherton, with its dependent chapelries of Seavington St. Michael, Barrington, Chillington and Lopen in exchange for the prior's rights as patron and rector of Witham. William le Dennis gave the church of St. Lawrence, Creech Hill; Walter de Asselegh the church of Swell; (fn. 12) John Fitz Hamon the church and manor of Charlton Adam, (fn. 13) and William de Moion, the third of that name, gave the churches of Minehead and Cutcombe. (fn. 14) The Bishop of Coutances confirmed the endowment of a prebendal stall at Coutances out of lands in the manor of Moion, to be held by the Prior of Bruton for the time being. (fn. 15)
In 1260 (fn. 16) however the Priory of Bruton exchanged its lands in Normandy with the Abbey of Troarn, near Caen, for lands possessed by that Norman abbey at Runcton in Sussex, and Horsley and Whitminster in Gloucestershire, and the Prior of Bruton gave up then his prebendal stall at Coutances.
In the Taxatio of 1291 Bruton appears to have been possessed of temporalia £47 2s. 4d. from Bruton, Batcary, Charlton Adam, Chedzoy, Horsington, Brewham and Horsley, Runcton, South Stoke, Pulborough Graffham, and Mundham, and spiritualia £45 6s. 8d. from Bruton, Banwell, Chilthorne, Shepton Montague and Milton Clevedon.
Owing to the increased charges for hospitality, (fn. 17) due to the numerous travellers on the road from Mere in Wiltshire to Ilchester, in Somerset, the priory seems to have been burdened with debts, and in 1301 William of March, Bishop of Bath and Wells, confirmed the gift to the canons of Bruton of the church of Chilthorne Domer to enable it the better to continue the hospitality it had shown.
On 11 April 1533 (fn. 18) the convent received a licence for two annual fairs held on the eve and day of St. George, and on the eve and day of the Nativity of St. Mary 'with a court of pie-powder at the said fairs before the steward of the said abbot and convent with the same tolls and customs as at Bartholomew fair.'
In the Valor of 1535 (fn. 19) we find the priory valued at £480 17s. 2d. per year, on which there were pensions and yearly payments amounting to £41 10s. 6d., leaving a clear yearly income of £439 6s. 8d.
When the house of Austin Canons was founded in the 12th century it seems as if the ancient church had been, while structurally one, yet formally divided into two—the church of the canons and the church of the parishioners, the latter being the north aisle of the present building. The church had lost its earliest dedication and was now only known as the church of St. Mary and St. Aldhelm; once only do we hear of the church of St. Peter and St. Paul when in 1319 (fn. 20) Sir William de Montague dying at Bordeaux bequeathed in his will his body to be buried in the church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Bruton.
In 1311 (fn. 21) Bishop Drokensford issued a commission to the Bishop of Cork, acting as his suffragan, to reconcile the cemetery of the parish church, which is described as 'within the inclosure of the priory of Bruton,' and which had been defiled by bloodshed.
The bishops would always look to houses of this kind as places where they could send men who seemed to them called to the sacred ministry. Thus in 1315 (fn. 22) Bishop Drokensford recommends to the prior and convent of Bruton Matthew Alewy to be received and trained for the priesthood. He is described as a soldier 'Domino idoneus.' From time to time men who were received into this house would, after training, be ready for holy orders, and in 1314 (fn. 23) we find the Prior of Bruton obtaining from Bishop Drokensford a licence for Roger de Wyk, one of his household, to obtain ordination from any Catholic bishop. At times trouble would naturally arise, and men, for their welfare and for the good order of their house, would have to be transferred from priory to priory. In November 1317 (fn. 24) Bishop Drokensford called upon the Prior and convent of Bruton to receive Thomas le Taverner, a convicted canon of Worspring, to be kept at the cost of the priory of Worspring until he was penitent. He is said to have been rebellious against rules, and he was to be confined in the priory in carcerali conditione, (fn. 25) rules being laid down for his fasting, his devotion, his silence, and his scourging.
Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury (fn. 26) seems to have had a special regard for Canon Richard de Dunster, one of the canons of Bruton, and at least twice in his register a licence is recorded as having been issued to him to act as a public confessor in the diocese of Bath and Wells.
The 15th century was one of trouble and disorder in the priory. John Schoyle was elected prior in 1419. (fn. 27) He seems to have been singularly unfit for his office, and in 1423 was accused of serious offences, some of which had been certainly proved, and of others the report had reached the bishop's ears. In 1428 Bishop Stafford (fn. 28) seems to have found it necessary to take steps to deprive Schoyle of his office, and in 1429, as his presence at Bruton was not for the good of the house, he was sent to live at the house of Austin Canons at Poughley in the parish of Chaddleworth in Berkshire.
Richard of Glastonbury was elected on 8 August 1429, in succession to John Schoyle deposed. He seems however to have been too much influenced by his predecessor, so that Bishop Stafford, in 1430, and Bishop Beckington in 1444 had to issue a commission of inquiry concerning grave charges of immorality brought against the prior and the house generally. (fn. 29)
Prior Richard died in 1448, (fn. 30) and was succeeded by John Henton, a man of a very different type. He was a reforming prior, and Bishop Beckington, (fn. 31) to assist him in his efforts, issued a series of injunctions on 14 April 1452.
The canons were not to sleep in the same bed or away from the convent without permission. They were to eschew oaths per Humanitatem seu per Membra Christi and were not to play at dice. The younger ones were to be taught by the seniors in the rudiments of classical learning. The senior canons were not to attract the juniors to themselves, and the rules of their order in the dormitory were to be observed. The juniors were to show all reverence to the seniors. Women were not to enter the convent. The canons were to keep the secrets of the house, they were not to hunt, but were to eschew 'perevagationes in diversis ecclesiis et capellis prioratus,' i.e. going out for services at the dependent churches of the priory and so neglecting their canonical duties at home. Canons who had private chambers were not to allow confabulationes et potationes in them. After compline all were to betake themselves to the dormitory without further conversation. The infirmary was to be rebuilt and the beer was to be improved and the convent bread was to be of unmixed grain and pure leaven. Letters addressed to the canons were if necessary to be opened by the sub-prior. The coquinarius and cellarer were not to attend the markets dressed as mere laymen. The prior was to take care to collect the dues of the convent.
In June of the same year a slight change was made in these injunctions to allow canons appointed for that purpose to serve in the parish church of Bruton and the two dependent chapels of Wyke and Redlynch. The other churches were to be served by secular priests.
In 1455 (fn. 32) the prior, John Henton, petitioned the pope for absolution from the possible crime of simony. He stated that he had discovered, seven years after he had become prior, that his father had paid money to two noblemen of those parts to further his election, and he was afraid of impeachment for simony.
Pope Calixtus III in December 1455 (fn. 33) absolved him and confirmed him in the priorship, and forbad the convent to grant any more corrodies under pain of excommunication.
Henton belonged to a wealthy family in Bruton. His father, John, had founded a chantry at the altar of St. Aldhelm, in the conventual church of Bruton, and the confirmation of this endowment was granted by Bishop Beckington on 1 July 1459. (fn. 34)
In 1494 John Henton was succeeded as prior by William Gilbert. Like his predecessor he was of a good family that had long settled at Corton Denham, and was related to the family of Fitz James, of great influence at Bruton in the early decades of the 16th century. He took his degree of Doctor of Divinity at Oxford (fn. 35) on 8 February 1507, and three years afterwards went to Rome. His object in going appears in the next year, 1511, when, on 21 June (fn. 36) he received the royal licence to assume the style of abbot, so that for the last twenty-eight years of its existence Bruton ceased to be a priory, and had an abbot and not a prior as its head.
Soon after we find him consecrated Bishop of Mayo in Ireland and acting as suffragan to the Bishops of Bath and Wells from 1519 to 1526, namely during Cardinal Wolsey's episcopate and that of Bishop Clerk, and in that capacity, on 28 March 1525 he blessed Richard Whiting, the new abbot of Glastonbury. (fn. 37)
In 1519 he also received as abbot to hold for the house of Bruton an endowment which Richard Fitz James, Bishop of London, and his nephew, John Fitz James of Redlynch near Bruton, afterwards Chief Justice of the King's Bench, and Dr. Edmondes, a native of Bruton, had given for the endowment of a free school at Bruton, (fn. 38) where boys and young men might be trained for regular canons, the abbot agreeing that he and the house 'should take into their religion and prefer to the same part of such able scholars in virtue and cunning as shall from time to time be brought up in the same school.' What happened afterwards is unknown, but in 1532 something more than a coolness had arisen between the now Chief Justice Fitz James and the Abbot of Bruton.
On 9 September 1532 the Chief Justice wrote to Cromwell in reference to a successor to Abbot Gilbert:— (fn. 39)
The Abbey of Brewton is within a mile of my house. The abbot is sick and old, and upon his death or resignation the monks desire to have one that I dislike. The abbot has been to me an unkind neighbour, and I would gladly have a better one. The house is not of the King's foundation but of Sir Andrew Lutterells (the Luttrells succeeded the Mohuns as patrons) and he and his ancestors have given the monks licence for election. But still the King's letter and your policy can do much in the matter . . . . . I shall be glad to know what applications have been made to you in the matter.
Cromwell replies to this letter on 24 September (fn. 40) :—
Has received his letter and has accordingly moved the King touching the election of the Abbot of Bruton. . . . As he understands that both you and Lord Lisle sue for the advancement of the same person to be abbot there, he has directed his letters for that purpose. But if you see cause to stay the election for the trial of his title, his Grace is therewith right well contented, so that his Highness may be remembered somewhat, like as your Lordship wrote unto me in your last which he only remitteth to your wisdom and discretion. He would as fain that ye were well neighboured as ye would yourself: 'will always be ready to do his Lordship's service in this and other things.'
Gilbert seems to have died at the end of May or the beginning of June, for on 14 July of that year (fn. 41) a licence was granted for the restitution of the temporalities on the election of John Ely as abbot, and his oath is ordered to be taken by Sir John Fitz James for divers manors belonging to the said monastery.
Lord Stourton wrote a letter on 16 September 1533 (fn. 42) to Cromwell, complaining of the abbot's withholding from a certain John White an annuity of £10, which had been granted to him by Abbot Gilbert. White seems to have been a servant or bailiff of the house and Lord Stourton begs Cromwell's interference on his behalf. On 7 October 1533 (fn. 43) Lady Lisle, the wife of another of those who had wished for Ely's election, writes to Cromwell against the abbot for his action towards John Legat who had killed a man in self-defence. On 28 January 1534 (fn. 44) Abbot Ely wrote to Lady Lisle, appealing to her not to accept the statements that were made against him, and explaining his conduct, and assuring her of his prayers and his regard. The servant, White, seems to have been busy in slandering the abbot.
On 10 August 1534 John Ely and seventeen canons signed the acknowledgement of the royal supremacy.
On 7 December of the same year (fn. 45) Cromwell seems to have received a complaint from John Downer of Mundham in Sussex against Abbot Ely who had objected to his action as a tenant of the abbey on the Runcton estate. On this occasion Thomas, Lord La Warr, wrote in the abbot's defence.
The next year, 7 August 1535, (fn. 46) Layton, one of the commissioners for visiting the monasteries, writes to Cromwell referring to Bruton and assures him that in a few days there is every chance of obtaining this surrender.
On 24 August (fn. 47) he again writes to Cromwell:—
'I sende yowe also oure Lades gyrdell of Bruton, rede silke, wiche is a solemne reliqui sent to women travelyng wiche shall not miscarie in partu.'
Meanwhile Dr. Legh claimed to have received the king's commission to visit Bruton, and on the same day wrote (fn. 48) to Cromwell protesting against Layton's interference, telling him that instead of commanding the abbot to confine himself within the precincts of the house, he had allowed him a considerable discretion. Abbot Ely was naturally somewhat annoyed at receiving two commissioners with two authorities to visit on the same day, and Legh complains that the abbot little regarded the authority committed to him, and gave him sharp and quick answers, saying that if he wished to visit afresh the house, it would be the undoing of all abbots and monasteries. He also showed himself very haughty, and obstinate. Then on 23 September (fn. 49) Legh sends his formal report of his visitation of the house. (fn. 50) He says that he has forbidden the abbot to go out of his house without licence.
On 16 October (fn. 51) John ap Rice, another commissioner, complaining to Cromwell of Legh's haughty conduct towards the heads, says:— 'he handleth the fathers where he cometh very roughely, and many tymes for small causes as thabbote Brueton, for not meting of hym at the doore where he had no warnyng of his comyng. . . . The man is young and of intolerable elation of mind but he is too insolent and pompalique, and on his visitations he refuses many times his reward, though it be competent, because they offer him so little, and maketh them to send after him such rewards as may please him.'
What follows reveals a conspiracy against the abbot in the monastery itself. White's slanders seem to have continued, and on 12 June 1536 (fn. 52) we find Richard Halford, one of the canons, in the Fleet prison, and there examined by Thomas Bedill as to what he had said and what he had heard the Abbot of Bruton say. He seems to have obtained a licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury to go out of the abbey and be abroad in a secular clerk's habit, but the importance of his examination has reference to the action of Abbot Ely. He was asked of what crimes he suspected him, and whether he (Richard Halford) together with John Harold and Richard Harte, and the man, White, had conspired together to bring about the abbot's death, and why? White certainly seems to have handed over to Lord Stourton an accusation against the abbot, and Halford, while he acknowledged that there had been some conversation about them, acquitted the abbot of ever speaking unfitting words against the queen's grace. We do not know what was the result of these accusations. The abbot certainly, though unpopular, seems to have deserved well of the house. He was also a good friend to the town. Leland tells us (fn. 53) :—
'Ther is in the Market Place of the Town a new Crosse of 6 Arches and a piller yn the midle, for Market folkes to stande yn, begon and brought up to fornix by Ely laste abbate of Brutun.'
On 1 April 1539 (fn. 54) Dr. John Tregonwell received the surrender of the house, signed by Ely, the abbot, Bogye, the prior, and thirteen canons.
Ely was however suspected, and we find him a prisoner in the Tower in November 1539. (fn. 55)
Ely received the unusually large pension of £80 a year, and fifteen others the following pensions:— (fn. 56)
Richard Bogye, prior, £7; Richard Bisshopp, sub-prior, £6; Richard Herte, B.D., chamberer, £6; John Gyles, fermerer, £5 6s. 8d.; Thomas Eton, cellarer, £5 6s. 8d.; John Dunster, B.D., chaunter, £6; Robert Welles, 'stuard,' £5 6s. 8d.; William Burges, fraterer, £5 6s. 8d.; William Wylton, LL.B., chaplain, £6; Rich. Stacye, £5 6s. 8d.; John Harrold, scholar in Oxon., £5 6s. 8d.; Hugh Backwell, scholar in Oxon., £6; John Spicer, £5 6s. 8d.; John Castelyne, £5 6s. 8d.; Rich. Alvorde, £5 6s. 8d.
Halford does not appear in the list of those who signed the Deed of Surrender, but his name comes at the end of the pension list. He had probably in the meantime been released from prison.
The house was certainly a house of scholars, five at least were graduates of the University of Oxford, two were Bachelors of Divinity (Harte and Dunster) and Wilton was an M.A.; Ely and Bishop were B.A.'s. (fn. 57)
Three weeks after the surrender, on 21 April, (fn. 58) Sir Thomas Arundel wrote to Cromwell, acknowledging the receipt of his letter. He had placed in possession of the surrendered house John Drew of Bristol, on the authority of the Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations. He now dispossessed Drew, and, under the orders of Cromwell, placed in charge of the parsonages Master Maurice Berkeley.
In Cardinal Pole's pension list, 1556, the abbot's name still appears, together with ten canons. His pension however is now only £13 6s. 8d. (fn. 59) This perhaps may be accounted for by his appointment on 12 August 1541, on the presentation of the Dean and chapter of Wells to the vicarage of Pucklechurch (fn. 60) in the county of Gloucester and diocese of Worcester.
Priors of Bruton (fn. 61)
Gilbert, occurs 1144 (fn. 62)
William, occurs 1159 (fn. 63)
Robert, occurs 1184 (fn. 64)
Philip, occurs 1188 (fn. 65)
Gilbert, occurs 1194, 1209 (fn. 66)
Ralph, (fn. 67)
Richard, occurs 1222 (fn. 68)
Stephen de Kari, occurs 1235, removed 1255 (fn. 69)
William de Sancto Edwardo, alias de Sheftysbury, elected 1255 (fn. 70)
Thomas de Deverell, 1267
Stephen de Carevyll, 1270
John de Grindenham, 1274
Richard de la Grave, 1301, died 1309
Walter de Leghe, died 1334
Robert Coker, 1335
Richard Cokkynge, 1361
John Corsham or Cossam, 1396
John Schoyle, 1418
Richard of Glastonbury, 1429
John Henton, 1448–95
Abbots of Bruton
William Gilbert, 1495–1532
John Ely, 1532–39
The 13th-century seal of Bruton Priory (fn. 71) is a large vesica, 31/8 in. by 21/8 in., showing Our Lady crowned and seated on a throne, holding the Child on her left knee. On either side of the throne is a monk's head. Above these are the sun and moon, and below, under an arch, are half-length figures of the abbot and three monks in prayer. The legend is:—
SIGILLUM ECCLESIE BEATE MARIE BRIUTONIE.
There are two seals of Prior Stephen, both of the 13th century.
The first (fn. 72) is a vesica, 13/8 in., by 7/8 in., showing a half-length of Our Lady with the Child on her left knee. Below, under an arch, is the prior, half length, in prayer. The legend is:—
✠ SIGILL' STEPH'I PRIORIS D' BRIWTONE.
The second seal (fn. 73) is a larger vesica, 1¾ in. by 11/8 in., with Our Lady crowned and seated on a throne and holding the Child on her left knee. In the canopy above the throne is a hand holding a crozier, and to left and right of the throne are the sun and moon. Below, under an arch, is the prior, half length, in prayer. The legend is:—
. . . . STEPHANI PRIORIS BRIWTONIE.
15. THE PRIORY OF BURTLE MOOR
Some time in the second half of the 13th century, a hermit built himself a lodging on the moor, part of the possessions of the Abbey of Glastonbury held by Godfrey de Edington. It was situated on what was known as 'Sprawlesmede,' and the hermitage is referred to as the priory of the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Stephen of Burtle, Burcle, or Sprawlesmede. This settlement was formally endowed by William de Edington, son of Godfrey de Edington, and the grant was confirmed by Robert, the son of William.
In the 'Secretum Abbatis' (fn. 74) of Abbot Walter de Monyngton in the Bodleian Library, the private register and charters concerning the Abbey of Glastonbury, made by order of that abbot (1341–72), there is a series of six charters concerning the foundation of this priory, copies of which are in the Monasticon. The first is a confirmation by Archbishop Boniface (1245–73), concerning the patronage of the priory of Sprawlesmede. It recites the letter which William son of Godfrey, in his own and in his son's name, wrote to Bishop William Button (1267– 75) declaring his intention to found a priory as a memorial of himself and his wife Alice, and giving, for that purpose, to Brother Walter, the hermit, that house which he had in Sprawlesmede, with 10 acres of land which the predecessor of that Walter had marked off with a ditch. The priory was to enjoy an eleventh part of the profits of his mills at Edington and was to consist of the said Walter and his successors with two brethren who were to worship God in the chapel of the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and St. Stephen in Sprawlesmede. He added also half a virgate of land in his manor of Edington, namely, 5 acres, and the cottage which Hugh Buterestake held, and 5 acres then held by William de Pedewell, with Walter Sperling's cottage and croft, and 5 acres of demesne. Then follow two documents dated, however, 14 Edward I (1285), transferring through Antony de Bradeneye the endowment of the priory to John of Kent, Abbot of Glastonbury (1291–1303), (fn. 75) and to his successors and the convent at Glastonbury.
The next charter (fn. 76) is a statement that the priory, of which Stephen is the prior, though in the parish of Moorlinch, is subject to none but the Abbot and convent of Glastonbury. This charter is dated 20 January 1270.
The above seems to prove that Walter succeeded to the hermitage made by Stephen, and as Stephen was prior in 1270 Walter belongs to the time of Abbot John de Taunton or Abbot John de Kent. On 23 September 1312 (fn. 77) Bishop Drokensford quashed an election of Nicholas Drake, canon of this Augustinian priory as prior, because, on scrutiny, he had found that the election which was dated in May had really taken place in September, and so the collation had lapsed to himself as bishop. He thereupon, in his own right, appointed Nicholas Drake as prior.
On 25 November 1343 (fn. 78) Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury wrote to Robert de Cadecote, since the appointment had devolved on the bishop, appointing him as prior of Burtle, and again in February 1349, (fn. 79) Robert de Baltesborow being dead (most likely of the plague), Bishop Ralph confirmed the election as prior of William de Fulbrok, a canon of Burtle.
The Valor in 1535 (fn. 80) reports the priory as worth £6 5s. 2d., and Stephen Stowell is mentioned as prior.
Priors of Burtle
Stephen, occurs 1276 (fn. 81)
Walter, c. 1275 (fn. 82)
Nicholas Drake, appointed 1312 (fn. 83)
Robert de Cadecote, appointed 1343 (fn. 84)
Robert de Baltesborow, died 1349 (fn. 85)
William de Fulbroke, elected 1349 (fn. 86)
Thomas Hornblouton, elected 1409 (fn. 87)
John Romney, elected 1420 (fn. 88)
Thomas Bone, 1463 (fn. 89)
John Faireman, 1467 (fn. 90)
John Bennett (fn. 91)
Thomas Vele, 1488 (fn. 92)
William Badcock, 1499 (fn. 93)
Stephen Stowell, 1516 occurs 1535 (fn. 94)