A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.
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1. THE CATHEDRAL PRIORY OF BATH
Our first English notice of Bath is the statement in the charter, which certainly does not come down to us in its original form, how Osric (fn. 1) the under-king of the Hwiccas in the kingdom of Mercia gave to Bertana the abbess (fn. 2) one hundred manentes of land adjacent to the city of Bath for the erection there of a monastery of holy virgins. The charter is dated 6 November 676. An Osric who was a follower and perhaps nephew of Ethelred King of Mercia founded the monastery at Gloucester (fn. 3) in 681 and this may be the same as the founder of the nunnery at Bath.
Another charter (fn. 4) concerning Bath records the gift by Æthelmod with the consent of King Ethelred of Mercia of some land on the River Cherwell to the venerable abbess Bernguidis and to Folcburga. The charter is attested by Archbishop Theodore who died in 690, and is probably of the year 681. Folcburga was doubtless the under abbess or prioress.
The nuns appear no more. In 758 Cynewulf King of the West Saxons (fn. 5) with the consent of Offa King of Mercia granted five manentes of land at North Stoke to the monks and to their monastic church of St. Peter. It has been supposed that the monastery which Osric founded was a double monastery for monks and nuns, but there is no evidence for the supposition.
This new foundation of monks was made dependent on HÆthored, Bishop of Worcester; but he seems to have offended Offa King of Mercia, who claimed that the grant made by Æthelbald of Mercia to Hæthored, or his predecessor, of the land at Bath was not in perpetuity but only for a life, either that of Æthelbald or of the predecessor of Hæthored. So at the Synod of Brentford (fn. 6) in 781, Hæthored gave back to Offa all that 'celebrated monastery' at Bath, and south of the river the land he had bought from Cynewulf King of the West Saxons.
So Bath becomes part of the royal demesne of Offa and we hear no more of the monastery for two hundred years. William of Malmesbury (fn. 7) in the 12th century says that Offa founded the monastery there, and Leland (fn. 8) records the tradition that he founded there a college of secular priests. Offa may have rebuilt the church and reconstituted the body of clergy which served in it.
The gifts from the West Saxon monarchs begin with Æthelstan (925–40) (fn. 9) who bestowed upon St. Peter the Apostle and the 'venerable family' which is located æt Bathum lands at Cold Ashton and Priston. Edmund (940–94) (fn. 10) gave Tidenham, Bathford, Corston, Bathamp ton and lands at Weston, and Edwy (955–9) gave again Corston and Bathampton. The exact tenure of these lands is somewhat obscure. Some of the lands granted by Edmund seem to have reverted to the Crown, for Edwy is said to have given Corston to one of the ladies of his court, Ælfswyda; and part of Bathampton to one of his faithful attendants Hehelm, and again he grants 'meo sacerdoti Wulfgar' lands at Tidenham and Bathford. (fn. 11)
Under Edgar (944–75) took place the great monastic reform of Archbishops Dunstan (fn. 12) of Canterbury and Oswald of York, and Bath may have been affected. Now we hear for the first time of the head of the clergy as an abbot and Abbot Æscwig (fn. 13) may have been appointed as the head of a new family of priests organized on stricter monastic principles. Here on Whitsunday 11 May 973, Archbishops Dunstan and Oswald took part in the solemn crowning of King Edgar. The anonymous life of St. Oswald (fn. 14) gives us minute details of the service in the church, but does not mention a monastery or an abbot.
About the year 980 Ælpheah, generally known as St. Elphege, (fn. 15) came to Bath from the monastery of Deerhurst, dissatisfied with the laxity and worldliness which prevailed there. At first he lived in a cell apart from the other religious as a hermit rather than as a monk. But soon his fame for sanctity was noised abroad and many flocked to consult and to live near him. Certainly this seems to be the beginning of a monastery. Though he did not forsake his cell he seems to have had the administration of the funds which the endowments of St. Peter's Church provided and he appointed a provost to arrange for the maintenance of those who had gathered round him. (fn. 16) After a time many fell away, wandering in the town and giving themselves up to drunken habits.
St. Elphege could not have been in Bath for many years. In 983 he was appointed Bishop of Winchester, and in 1012 Archbishop of Canterbury, in which year he also fell a martyr to the Danes. (fn. 17)
During the reign of Æthelred (979–1016) a certain Wulfaru (fn. 18) bequeathed 'into Badum to sancte Petres mynstre' certain mass robes, two gilt crosses and sixty gold marks and to Abbot Ælfere, whose name we only meet with on this occasion, land at Freshford. To our confusion also we find in the first half of the 11th century two abbots at the same time, whatever their functions may have been. Wulfwold was abbot in 1061 when Edward the Confessor gave him—'meo abbati'—a phrase which seems to indicate a special relationship to the king—land at Ashwick with right to bequeath it to whom he would. (fn. 19) On his death (fn. 20) he gave it and an estate at Evesty to St. Peter's minster. While Wulfwold was abbot we meet with Ælfig, also described as abbot, (fn. 21) and Ælfig is succeeded by Sewold, Wulfwold being still alive, and then Ælfsige succeeds Sewold and in 1084 Wulfwold and Ælfsige are mentioned together. (fn. 22) Then Wulfwold died and Ælfsige ruled alone until 1087, when his death opened the way for the union of the monastery with the bishopric of Wells. In the Domesday (fn. 23) record of the lands of the church of Bath Wulfwold and Sewold are both mentioned as abbots in 1066, Wulfwold being entered as abbot T.R.E. in reference to Evesty in Wellow, and Sewold, also as abbot T.R.E., in reference to Corston.
The post which Wulfwold held in Bath and which he vacated by his death soon after 1084 was not filled up and in 1087 his colleague Abbot Ælfsige also died. (fn. 24) The church of Bath was thus bereft of both its abbots when William Rufus succeeded to the throne of England. Early in the summer of 1088 the bishopric of Wells (fn. 25) also became vacant through the death of Bishop Giso.
In 1088 William Rufus conferred the bishopric on John de Villula, a native of Tours (fn. 26) and a rich and skilled physician, and he was consecrated by Archbishop Lanfranc in July of the same year. Immediately afterwards and with the help of Archbishop Lanfranc (fn. 27) the king made Bishop John a grant of the abbey of Bath and all its endowments in augmentation of the income of his bishopric. At the time perhaps the gift was of little value, for in the summer of 1088 Bath had been burnt by Robert de Mowbray, (fn. 28) and Bishop John received a ruined church and devastated estates. The gift, however, facilitated the transfer of the bishopric from Wells to Bath, and this was made forthwith under sanction apparently of the king and the archbishop. (fn. 29) Neither the canons of Wells nor the monks of Bath were consulted, though the change affected both very seriously.
In addition to this grant of the church and its endowments the bishop obtained by purchase or by a bribe a grant of the city of Bath (fn. 30) so that the city of Bath should be as the vill of Wells his own property as bishop of the see. There were thus three grants made to John de Villula. There was the gift of the church of Bath (fn. 31) and its endowments made in 1088. Then followed immediately the licence to transfer the bishopric from Wells (fn. 32) to Bath and assume the title of Bishop of Bath instead of that of Bishop of Wells, and lastly in 1091 there was the transaction which ended in his obtaining possession of the city of Bath. (fn. 33) This grant Bishop John was careful to have confirmed by Henry I (fn. 34) in 1101, for which he paid the sum of five hundred pounds of silver.
Thus the church of Bath was raised to the rank of a cathedral church and the monks attached to it were brought into close relationship to their abbot bishop. (fn. 35) William of Malmesbury has little to say of Bishop John de Villula to his credit. (fn. 36) He was accused of having confiscated the monastic endowments and clung to them even on the approach of death. Certainly he met with opposition and he acted in a somewhat high-handed manner. The monks resented what seemed like a confiscation and he did not consult them in the management of their endowments as perhaps their abbots had. He saw in them the enemies of reform and he counted them as ignorant and of barbarous habits. As opportunities occurred he sent away English monks and filled their places with his Norman friends.
It was a time of great reform and magnificent building schemes, and in Bath the bishop seems to have been busy in both directions. The small family of monks under his fostering direction developed into a well-organized monastery with the new officers, called obedientiaries. The ignorance which had prevailed gave place to literary activity, and it has been claimed as under his abbotship that the scholar Adelard or Æthelhard of Bath acquired the knowledge that made him famous. (fn. 37) When the monastery was recrganized there in 1106 Bishop John began to place in the hands of the monks the estates which he had managed for them. He obtained also for them an estate of five hides at Weston which King Edmund had given the church and which had been lost, and he also procured for them the manors (fn. 38) of Claverton, Dogmersfield, Batheaston, Warleigh and Arnwood (Hernewuda on the Sea). The enumeration of these estates is somewhat perplexing. During the next fifty years some disappear and are not recovered and to trace their fate seems beyond our province.
Like most contemporary bishops, John de Villula had great building schemes, and for this purpose he devoted the revenues he derived from the city as well as those he could save from the endowments of the church. (fn. 39) On a scale much larger than the earlier churches he set about rebuilding the abbey church (fn. 40) and had completed it as far as the lower vaultings before his death. His influence seems to have brought to the monks the assistance of two great Norman barons of Somerset. William de Moion (fn. 41) gave them the church at Dunster and all that belonged to it, and Walter de Douai (fn. 42) gave the church of Bampton in Devonshire and half a hide of land. The bishop also built for himself something more than an abbot's lodging. (fn. 43) It was outside the monastery and was known as the Bishop's Bower, and Leland (fn. 44) said that when he visited the place one great tower still remained amid the rapidly increasing ruins.
It was impossible with the care of all the diocese on his shoulders that he could supervise the internal affairs of the monastery, and he gave the monks as their especial ruler a prior, about whom we only know that he was a Norman and that his name was John. (fn. 45)
On 29 December 1122 (fn. 46) John de Villula died and was buried in his cathedral church before the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Bishop John's organization of the monastery at Bath, giving the monks a prior and surrendering to them in 1106 the estates which their church had possessed before the Conquest, placed them in a state of comparative independence. They had certainly more power and they must now be consulted by the bishop. Their church was his cathedral church, he indeed was their abbot and their prior was appointed by himself, but the prior and the monks formed a chapter which as years went on became more and more independent.
John de Villula was succeeded (fn. 47) by Godfrey, Queen Adelais' chaplain, whom the king nominated as Bishop of Bath at the Easter Council 1123. He was consecrated at St. Paul's on 26 August 1123. (fn. 48)
Bishop Godfrey's successor was Robert of Lewes, the first appointment made by King Stephen, in 1136, and of him we are told (fn. 49) 'Canonica prius electione precedente,' a statement which seems to show that the monks of Bath were formally consulted by the Crown.
On 29 July 1137 the church of Bath was burned, (fn. 50) and soon after in the struggle between the party of King Stephen and the empress, Bishop Robert, who was an adherent of King Stephen, had the misfortune to be captured by the Bristol garrison. (fn. 51) A short time before, the bishop's following at Bath had captured Geoffrey Talbot, one of the supporters of the empress, and the exchange of Talbot for the bishop so enraged King Stephen that he meditated depriving Bishop Robert of the temporalities of his see.
The bishop was as great a builder in Bath as he was an organizer in Wells, and he erected in Bath (fn. 52) a chapter-house, cloister, dormitory, refectory and infirmary and other conventual buildings for his monks. He certainly did not meditate a return to Wells or a raising of the canons of Wells into an equal position with the monks of Bath as the members of his diocesan chapter. In 1157 (fn. 53) he obtained from Pope Hadrian IV a formal recognition that Bath was the seat of the bishopric and that his title was Bishop of Bath and a confirmation of his possessions as bishop of the diocese. In 1166 Bishop Robert (fn. 54) died and the see was vacant for seven years.
In 1173 the monks of Bath at the instigation of Henry II (fn. 55) elected as their abbot and bishop Reginald Fitz Jocelin.
Though Bishop Reginald in his endowments of the church of Wells seemed to be preparing the way for its recognition as jointly with Bath the cathedral church of the diocese, yet he did not regard it as such. In 1180 appealing for the Whitsuntide offerings to the faithful of the diocese for the repair of the church of Bath, he called it the cathedral and mother church of the whole diocese, (fn. 56) and he endowed it with many relics and ornaments and books, and the body of St. Euphemia and two precious copes and he acquired also for the monastery a precious alb of cloth of gold and the amice and mitre of St. Peter of Tarentaise.
In the autumn of 1191 Bishop Reginald (fn. 57) was elected to the see of Canterbury, rendered vacant by the death of Archbishop Baldwin. (fn. 58) His appointment had been materially advanced by Savaric Archdeacon of Northampton, by race a Burgundian and a kinsman of the Emperor Henry VI.
In November 1191, Reginald left Bath on his way to Canterbury, and Walter the prior accompanied him on his journey. At Dogmersfield, Reginald was taken seriously ill and perceiving that his end was drawing near, he clothed himself in the dress of a Benedictine monk, exclaiming to his faithful prior, (fn. 59) 'It is not the will of God that I should be Archbishop, neither is it my will, but God wills that I should be a monk and such is my will also.' He died on 26 December, 1191. It is said that during his last illness Reginald procured from the prior a promise to nominate Savaric for the see of Bath, and after his death Prior Walter seems to have had no difficulty in inducing his fellow monks to elect Savaric as their bishop.
Savaric designed to make himself in every way bishop of the diocese; for this purpose it was necessary for him to gain authority over all the Benedictine monasteries in Somerset. He was Abbot of Bath and so could influence the monks there. Within a year he surrendered to the Crown the city of Bath and received in exchange the abbacy of Glastonbury (fn. 60) and the right to call himself Bishop of Bath and Glastonbury. Then he induced the Abbots of Athelney and Muchelney (fn. 61) to become canons of the church of Wells and members of his chapter there. Thus while Savaric had recognized at first the monks of Bath as the members of his cathedral chapter, his action towards the church of Wells tends to show that he did not ignore its ancient claims.
On his death on 8 August 1205, (fn. 62) the arrangements for the election of a successor which had been foreshadowed by Bishop Robert were loyally adhered to. (fn. 63) The prior, the sub-prior, and two monks, were chosen to represent the convent of Bath, and the dean, precentor, subdean and Canon Ralph de Lechlade the chapter of Wells, and the unanimous choice of the delegates fell on Jocelin Trotman of Wells. This election by compromise was then formally ratified by both chapters and each ratification was signed by the full body of the canons of Wells and the monks of Bath. The Bath notification (fn. 64) gives us the names of all the monks of the abbey at the time. The convent of Bath then consisted of forty-one monks.
The life as of a community connected with and yet distinct from the household of the bishop began when Bishop John de Villula gave them about 1106 (fn. 65) their first prior, by name John. This act of the bishop probably shows the completion of their organization as a Benedictine priory with the usual monastic officers or obedientiaries. The convent would have thus a complete organization and could act through its various officers as a compact household.
The papal confirmation of Pope Adrian IV, which at some time between 1156 and 1159 (fn. 66) the bishop obtained for them and which secured for them all their possessions and privileges, completed the process which gave them an independent existence. Certainly the 12th century was for Bath the period of its greatest development and probably of its greatest influence. Bishop Reginald (1174–91) was as friendly as Bishop Robert had been and gave them also a prior, Walter, (fn. 67) a man of remarkable piety, who had been sub-prior of the Benedictine monastery of Hyde and was noted for his learning. After a time Prior Walter grew dissatisfied with his life at Bath and retired to the seclusion of Witham, intending apparently to adopt the Carthusian habit. It chanced however that while at Witham a monk of the abbey of Hyde (fn. 68) arrived and seeing Prior Walter, and recognizing him as his former obedientiary, accosted him somewhat enigmatically—'pater, quod facis est kere, quod tractas kirewiwere.' (fn. 69) The remark, whatever its exact meaning, went home to Prior Walter, and he returned to Bath (fn. 70) and resumed the work to which Bishop Reginald had appointed him and which he had rashly forsaken.
Bishop Savaric, 1192–1205, like his predecessors was a kind friend to the monks, and when collections were made from the churches and monasteries of England for the payment of King Richard's ransom (fn. 71) he paid the demand made on the monks out of the revenue of the see.
It was in 1204 during the episcopate of Bishop Savaric that the priory of Bath became possessed of lands in Ireland. (fn. 72) The brethren of the Hospital of St. John at Waterford surrendered their house and estates in Ireland to the monks of Bath, in order that they might become affiliated to them as a priory belonging to a great English monastery. There were four brethren and three sisters to be maintained and they were known as the brethren and sisters of St. Leonard. Their Irish property at Waterford and other places in Ireland was of no real advantage to the monks. The rents barely supported the brethren of the hospital. The estates demanded considerable attention and the presence from time to time either of the prior or his proctors, and a hundred years later we are not surprised to find that the monks tried to rid themselves of it.
From 1208 to 1213 Bishop Jocelin of Bath and Glastonbury was abroad in exile (fn. 73) and during that period the priory suffered heavily from the vengeance of King John, (fn. 74) who was himself in Bath 13–14 May 1209, 17 October 1212, and 13 March 1213. The prior and monks were forced by the king's servants to make a free grant in 1213 to the king of all that he had taken forcibly from them for the maintenance of his court, and the monks found themselves in such straits for their own sustenance that they had to borrow from Canon Ralph de Lechlade of Wells for the purpose of buying corn for the monastery.
In 1241 in obedience to the summons of Cardinal Otho, (fn. 75) the papal legate, the priory sent a representative to the Council summoned by Pope Gregory IX to assemble at Rome, but apparently the Bath delegate suffered the same fate as his English colleagues who were captured by Pisan and Sicilian sailors acting under orders from the Emperor Frederick II. (fn. 76)
It was only to be expected that the vast expenditure that had been incurred by the monks of Bath in their contest for precedence with the canons of Wells should greatly impoverish them. The gift by Matilda de Champflour (fn. 77) of the advowson of Batheaston and by Bishop Roger of Bath and Wells of the fines coming to him from the manor of South Stoke (fn. 78) were at this time extremely welcome and we find that soon after Bishop William Button I (fn. 79) granted them an indulgence for the furtherance of their effort to complete and beautify their chapel of the blessed Virgin Mary.
This bishop also in May 1261 (fn. 80) granted to the monks permission to elect their own prior, and in that year they chose on 26 November Walter de Anno the cellarer of the priory, in succession to Thomas de Scolton who had died on 23 June of that year.
During the Civil War 1264–6 Walter the prior, in the name of the monks, had to seek for absolution from the papal legate Cardinal Ottoboni (fn. 81) from the excommunication which had fallen on them owing to the assistance they had given to the barons against the king. When in 1197 Bishop Savaric obtained for himself the abbotship of Glastonbury he surrendered to the Crown his right over the city of Bath, but when Robert Burnell, Chancellor of England, became Bishop of Bath and Wells in 1275, Edward I at once began negotiations with him for the surrender of this patronship of Glastonbury, (fn. 82) and in exchange Burnell received a regrant of the city of Bath which Bishop Savaric had surrendered, charged however with a rentcharge on the barton at Bath. (fn. 83)
Edward I looked well after the property of the Crown. He visited Bath on two occasions, (fn. 84) on 15 September 1276 and on 23 January 1285. Immediately after and probably because of what had been seen on the first visit there was an inquisition ad quod damnum, (fn. 85) when the jury at Bath presented the prior as unlawfully acting as patron of the church of Walcot and as having pulled down a building on the wall of the city and taken the materials into the monastery, and though bound to keep in repair the king's bath and lodgings, as having allowed them to fall into a ruinous condition. (fn. 86)
In June 1295 the position of the prior was recognized by the State in the writ (fn. 87) that was sent to him to attend the Great Council at Westminster in the following August, and from this time the prior took his place in Parliament and in the deliberations of the nation.
In 1301 Robert de Clopcote succeeded Thomas de Winton as prior. He seems to have been both an ambitious man and a bad financier and soon strong discontent prevailed in the monastery on account of the way he was administering the funds of the house. On 22 February 1311 Bishop Drokensford attempted to stop the reckless extravagance of the prior and sent a commission (fn. 88) of his officials to inquire into it. He was met however by a conspiracy of silence so that he felt compelled to pronounce excommunication against all who withheld the truth.
In 1321 Bishop Drokensford (fn. 89) wrote to the prior to say that he had heard of the scandalous waste of the revenues and the stinting of the monks' diet, and urged him to be a more careful steward of the priory; and on 5 November 1321, (fn. 90) he appointed a commission of two canons of Wells and one other to hold an inquiry concerning the evil reports against the Prior of Bath. In 1323 the sub-prior and convent, who apparently had been authorized by their abbot bishop to write directly to him, informed him that the new ordinance concerning the kitchen, which was probably the result of their commission, was working smoothly and they asked him to confirm it. (fn. 91) The prior himself seems to have submitted in part, as he wrote in November 1321, (fn. 92) promising to consult the bishop on certain points, and on 6 July 1323 (fn. 93) he wrote thanking the bishop for postponing the visitation and asking for it in the following August.
The ambition of the prior is shown in his desire to obtain the right to wear the pontifical insignia. On 25 October 1321 Pope John XXII (fn. 94) wrote to Edmund Earl of Kent that he should not take it amiss that he is unable to grant to the Prior of Bath the right to wear the pontifical insignia.
On the death of Prior Clopcote, 26 February 1332, (fn. 95) the convent proceeded at once to elect Robert de Sutton, on 7 March 1332, as prior, but the election appears to have been irregular, for the resignation of Clopcote or a promise to that effect had been forwarded to the pope and the pope's acceptance of it had not arrived in Bath when he died. The pope (fn. 96) therefore claimed to appoint to the priorship and Thomas Crist was chosen by him, and on 24 September 1332 Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury confirmed Crist in his appointment as prior. (fn. 97) To compensate Sutton he was made Prior of Dunster and that distant property became a dependent priory rather than an isolated cell. He was granted also a pension of £20 and permission to have with him at Dunster such friends as he desired. If any of them should prove troublesome Sutton had only to complain and the offender would be summoned to Bath 'et alius magis quietus et maturus loco sui subrogetur.'
During the priorship of Robert de Clopcote, the priory suffered not only from his wastefulness but from the estates in Ireland, i.e. the three small dependent priories at Waterford, Cork and Youghal. In 1306 Clopcote himself went over there to inquire into the cause of the poverty and to put an end to the mismanagement. Bishop Drokensford also had hoped that Hugh de Dover, who had done well as sacristan at Bath, would prove there an able warden. But Dover disappointed him and proved as inefficient there as Clopcote was at Bath, and when Archbishop Mepeham heard of the appointment of Sutton he wrote in March 1332 (fn. 98) to bid him recall Hugh de Dover, the incompetent Irish warden.
Thomas Crist filled the office of prior for eight years only. (fn. 99) The disorders in the monastery seem to have been greater than he could cope with, and in August 1340 (fn. 100) he retired on an ample pension consisting of a life interest in the manor and church of North Stoke, a chaplain, a squire and a groom to attend him, sufficient meat and drink for them all and a supply of wood for his fire.
His successor John de Iford or Ford does not seem to have checked the steady increase of the monastic debt and was in every way unworthy of the high post to which he had been elected. To pay off old debts the convent became involved in a bond for £1,300 (fn. 101) with some Lucca merchants. He provided for friends and relations in England and Ireland at the expense of the priory. In 1346 Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury had his attention called also to his immoral character. (fn. 102) The priory held the manor of Hameswell in Gloucestershire within the diocese of Worcester, and on 7 August 1346 Bishop Wulstan of Worcester wrote from Henbury near Bristol, to inform the Bishop of Bath and Wells that he had found at Hameswell one Agnes Cubbel who was living there as the prior's mistress. The bishop seems to have discovered something of the scandal before he received this letter, but we know nothing of the punishment that was inflicted on the unworthy prior. He was certainly not removed from his office, for he died as prior in 1359.
His term of office extended through the period when England was visited in 1348 and 1349 by the Great Pestilence. We know nothing of the details of the havoc in Bath. The pestilence reached there probably viâ Bristol as well as viâ Bruton and Frome and the convent never recovered the loss it then sustained. The average number of monks during the 12th and 13th centuries seems to have been about forty. (fn. 103)
As late as 1344 (fn. 104) thirty monks joined the prior in a power of attorney executed on October 5 and this list did not include those who were at Dunster or those who were looking after the Irish priories, and there may have been some sick monks at Bath who did not sign. After the plague the priory never seems to have had more than half this number. In a Clerical Subsidy of 1377 (fn. 105) there were only sixteen monks and that number was never greatly exceeded till the dissolution of the priory in 1539.
On 1 December, 1352, (fn. 106) Andrew Brooke was proposed by the Crown for John le Harpour's lodging and the convent replied that they could not receive him since the substance of the monastery was exhausted. The Great Pestilence had emptied many chambers but had also greatly reduced the income of the house. This was one of numerous examples of corrodies which were merely pensions for old servants, or relatives of monks, but there were others which carried rooms and accommodation for servants. In 1296 (fn. 107) Richard de Wedmore was granted a corrody and lodging in the chamber called Cork and stabling for two horses. About the same time Roger de Depeford (fn. 108) was taken into the monastery. In 1328 John de Bathon, (fn. 109) a physician, was granted a chamber within the gate of the priory and a corrody and he was appointed physician to the monastery. A similar condition was attached to the corrody granted John Wulfrich. (fn. 110) He was to serve the priory all his life as plumber and glazier. In 1336, (fn. 111) John de Combe was granted, by a formal deed witnessed by three witnesses, which looks as if he had bought this refuge of his old age, a corrody of 20s. a year, one furred robe or suit of an esquire, and a chamber for himself and his grooms; and the same year Sir Tristram de Hanvyll (fn. 112) was granted another next the chamber which John de Combe expected to occupy within the court of the prior. In December 1349 Sir John Garrard, (fn. 113) chaplain, was granted a corrody and living and the chamber which Peter de Derby had. This probably was the ordinary provision for a priest necessary from the small number of priests among the monks, a provision common enough at the present time in our colleges at Oxford and Cambridge. When the convent received in December 1299 Brother Eugenius, (fn. 114) formerly an abbot in Germany, at the request of Margaret Queen of England, they did not grant him a corrody but enrolled him among the monks of the convent.
In 1352 (fn. 115) we find Prior Ford involved with Robert Gyene, to whom the convent had granted some years before a lease of their manor of Olveston and at a later date that of the advowson of the church. Robert Gyene was a Bristol merchant and had lent the convent £100, and when afterwards he was outlawed and his property became forfeit to the Crown the prior of Bath took him into the priory. The Crown claimed also to appoint to the church of Olveston, and in 1352 brought an action against the prior in that he and Gyene and others had assembled in a chamber of the priory and had bound themselves to uphold each other's claims against the Crown. Prior John de Ford was arrested, but was acquitted, and the advowson of Olveston ultimately came back to the priory.
The date of Ford's death cannot be definitely fixed, but it may have been in 1359, for on 31 July of that year we find the sub-prior acting where certainly the prior would have acted had there been one at the time. (fn. 116)
He was succeeded in the priorship by John Berewyck, and he by John Dunster, and the latter in 1412 by John Tellesford. In 1423 under John Tellesford there were four novices admitted as monks by Bishop Bubwith. (fn. 117)
In 1412 (fn. 118) a dispute arose between the city authorities and the monks concerning the ringing of the church bells. It had been customary for the bells of the priory to begin and end the day. In 1408 the mayor and corporation of the city broke through this custom and caused the bells of the parish churches to be rung earlier and later than those of the monastery. The quarrel thus begun resulted four years afterwards in litigation and it did not end until 1421 when the king gave judgement in favour of the monks.
From 1425 to 1447 William Southbroke was prior. From the action of Bishop Stafford (fn. 119) it is evident that the discipline of the monastery deteriorated under him. On 24 June 1445, Bishop Beckington (fn. 120) wrote to reprove the prior for allowing a monk Robert Veyse to live a secular life alone at the church of Stokeney and a life of adultery also. He had not been recalled by the prior, though it was against all rules of monasticism for a monk to live alone. So notorious was the man's evil life that Bishop Beckington obtained a royal writ to have him arrested as an apostate and had him sent under custody to the prior for punishment and imprisonment, and for a perpetual diet of bread and water. So careless however was the prior that on 27 December the bishop had to write to say that he heard Veyse was again at large and had gone back to live at Stokeney his old life of sin.
There had never been any great object of pilgrimage in Bath, though there is not wanting evidence that the monks were trying to create it. The canons of Wells had endeavoured to encourage pilgrimages to the tomb of William de Marchia, and the growing legend of St. Joseph of Arimathea and his tomb at Glastonbury was attracting greater numbers to that sanctuary. When under Bishop Robert of Lewes the monastic church at Bath was completed and rededicated there seems to have been an attempt to stamp with peculiar sanctity a cross erected in some unspecified part of the church. Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury and the Bishops of Llandaff and Clonmacnoise, (fn. 121) as well as the bishop of the diocese, all granted indulgences to those who should go and worship and make their offerings at it. In the 15th century there appears to have been another object of special veneration, some representation of the Trinity, probably the reredos of the altar of that dedication, and the efforts to promote this veneration in accordance with the spirit of the times created an opposition. A certain Agnes, wife of Thomas Cold or Baker of Norton St. Philip, (fn. 122) had openly denounced it and said it 'was waste time to offer to the Trinity at Bath.' For this she was brought up before the bishop's consistory court, and on 18 January 1459 before the Chancellor of Wells in the Lady Chapel at Wells she publicly confessed her crime and abjured her errors.
On the death of William Southbroke in 1447 the monks were unable to agree as to a successor and they appealed to Bishop Beckington, who chose for their prior Thomas Lacock, then the Prior of Dunster. (fn. 123)
Twice during his episcopate Bishop Beckington held a visitation of the priory, in 1449 and in 1454. (fn. 124)
In 1476 Bishop Stillington gave notice of a visitation, and in 1499 Bishop Oliver King (fn. 125) held another visitation just before the death of Prior Cantlow.
On the death of Cantlow the convent proceeded to an election of a successor before they had obtained the bishop's licence. Bishop King therefore quashed the election and then himself postulated the nominee of the convent, William Birde. (fn. 126) Bishop King in his visitation censured the lax discipline in the priory. There was feasting out of the refectory, (fn. 127) idleness prevailed among the monks, and women were very often and at unseemly times allowed within the precincts of the monastery. The church too had been neglected by the former prior Cantlow and was grievously dilapidated. The bishop therefore enjoined on the monks that they should eat their meals only in the appointed places, and meat was not to be allowed except to those who were physically weak. (fn. 128) One of the monks was to set out for the others their appointed portions of food, and their clothes were to be of coarse and inexpensive material. Lastly each monk was to produce an inventory of the things he was using himself and what was superfluous was to be sent back into the common store.
The bishop found that the yearly revenue of the priory was about £480, and having allowed sufficient for the support of the prior and his sixteen monks he set aside about £300 a year for the repair or rather, since it seems to have been in a hopelessly ruinous condition, for the rebuilding of the monastic church. William Birde therefore pulled down the earlier church, which had been begun by Bishop John of Tours and completed by Bishop Roger, and on the site of the original nave began the building of the present church.
He died however on 22 May 1525 and left the work to his successor. In the instrument which (fn. 129) records the election of his successor the names of twenty-two monks are entered, a larger number than at any other period since the visitation of the Great Pestilence in 1349. The choice of the monks fell on William Holleway or Gybbs, who held the office of pittancer.
It was in the summer of 1535 that Dr. Richard Layton came to Bath to discover material for that Black Book of the Monasteries which Cromwell hoped would procure their dissolution. On 7 August (fn. 130) he wrote to the Vicar-General a letter, for the statements in which there seems to have been no authority but his desire to stand well with the man who employed him.
Hit may please yor goodnes to understande that we have visited Bathe wheras we found the prior a right vertuose man and I suppose no better of his cote a man simple and not of the gretesteste wit, his monkes worse then I have any fownde yet both in bugerie and adulterie sum one of them haveyng x women sum viii and the reste so fewer. The house well repared but foure hundreth powndes in dett. . . the prior of Bathe hath sent unto yowe for a tokyn a leisse of Yrisshe Laners brede in a selle of hys in Yrelonde, no hardier hawkes can be as he saythe.
Layton had been in the monastic library to look out ancient literature which would help on his cause and continues in his letter (fn. 131)—'Ye shalle receve a bowke of or lades miracles well able to mache the canterberie tailles. Such a bowke of dremes as ye never sawe wich I fownde in the librarie.'
The visitors acted in every case as if the dissolution of the monastery was decided on. They took steps to prevent any alienation of monastic property and they left behind an injunction forbidding the prior and his monks to leave the precincts of the monastery. So Prior Holleway wrote on 24 September (fn. 132) of the same year to Cromwell to protest against this restraint and to ask permission to leave the monastery to defend an action brought at that time by some woman in the king's court—'I hartlie desire yor honorable maistershipp to know by yor lres or other insinuacion whethre I may sit yn suche commyssions,' and then follows as a bribe—'I have send yor maistershipp hereyn an old Boke Opera Anselmi whiche one William Tildysleye after scrutinye made here in my libarye willed me to send unto youe by the kynge ys grace and commawndment.'
In 1537, (fn. 133) the convent endeavoured to gain the goodwill of Cromwell by granting him an annuity of £5, and the prior wrote to thank him for his protection against some secret and hostile efforts against him.
One year was to go by before the end came. It was a year during which the prior and convent seem to have done more than they were justified in doing in order that they might win for themselves friends among the noble families of the neighbourhood. Prior Holleway's Register (fn. 134) gives us details of this action which could be pardoned only because the dissolution of the house was regarded as inevitable. Next presentations to benefices, corrodies, leases of estates, tenements and cottages, the register is filled with a painful succession of surrenders of property which they knew would soon be absorbed by the Crown.
On 27 January 1539 (fn. 135) Drs. Tregonwell and Petre came to Bath to receive the surrender of the priory. For four years the monks had been under restraint and the prior had been confined to the house. Resistance would only bring trouble upon them, for they knew how unscrupulous were the men with whom they had to deal. And so they surrendered, and the noble foundation well-nigh a thousand years of age was blotted out from the history of this most ancient city. The deed of surrender was signed by the prior, sub-prior, Prior of Dunster and eighteen monks.
The prior William Holleway received a pension (fn. 136) of £80 a year and a house in Stall Street; the sub-prior a pension of £9, and the next three received pensions of £8 each, and all the others pensions varying from £6 13s. 4d. to £4 13s. 4d.
In 1553 all the monks are mentioned in Cardinal Pole's pension list, (fn. 137) except the prior, Thomas and Nicholas Bathe, John Edgar and John Humylyte.
William Clement had become vicar of St. Mary de Stalls at Bath and perhaps Thomas Powell rector of Tellesford. The fate of Prior Holleway (fn. 138) was very sad. In a poem of 1 January 1557 called 'The Breviary of Natural Philosophy,' Thomas Charnock the alchemist refers to the great learning of the last prior, stating how he used the bath of Bath in the place of fire in his chemical experiments.
The monastic church after the surrender of the priory was offered by the Crown to the citizens of Bath for the sum of 500 marks, and when they refused to pay that price the lead was stripped from the roof and melted and sold. Eight bells in one tower were sold to Francis Edwards and three bells elsewhere to Richard Morian. (fn. 139) The materials of the dormitory were bought by Robert Cocks, those of the fratry by Sir Walter Denys, and the cloisters by Henry Bewchyn, while Ralph Hopton purchased in a lump the superfluous buildings. The glass and iron were sold for £30, and the great church which Prior Holleway had spent all the time of his priorship in completing was allowed for some years to go into ruin. (fn. 140)
Leland (fn. 141) visited the monastery probably about 1540 before the work of demolition had begun. His description of what he saw is not only interesting but of value.
This John (i.e. John of Tours) pullid down the old church of S. Peter at Bath and erected a new and much fairer one and was buried in the middle of the Presbyteri thereof whos image I saw lying there an 9 yere sins at the which tyme al the Chirch that he made lay to waste and was onrofid and wedes grew about this John of Tours sepulchre.
I saw at the same tyme a great marble tumbe ther of a bisshope of Bath out of which they sayid that oyle did distill: and likely: for his body was enbaumid plentifully. There were other divers bisshops buried ther. Oliver King bisshop of Bath began of late dayes a right goodly new chirch at the west part of the olde church of S. Peter and finished a great peace of it. The residue of it was sins made by the priors of Bath: and especially by Gibbes the last prior ther, that spent a great summe of mony on that Fabrike.
The estates in Somerset reckoned as belonging to the church of Bath in 1086 (fn. 142) consisted of over 80 hides of land. The manors and lands were situated in Priston, Stanton Prior, Wilmington in Priston, Weston, Bathford, Monkton Combe, Charlcombe, Lyncombe, Batheaston, Bathampton, Woodwick in Freshford, Corston, Evesty and Ashwick. In addition to these, there were estates at Tidenham, Cold Ashton and Olveston in Gloucestershire comprising about 40 hides. Much of this was of the gifts of English kings and the donors are all mentioned in the chartularies already published. (fn. 143) Bishop John also obtained from William II the temporal lordship of the borough of Bath and this was confirmed to him by Henry I in 1101, (fn. 144) and the details of this lordship, which was probably purchased and not freely granted, are given in the confirmation. The estates of the monastery were then all in the bishop's hand by grant of the Crown, but in 1106 (fn. 145) when he had organized the convent he gave back the estates and appointed a prior to rule the monastery in his absence. Some of the estates he did not restore because in the troubles during the reign of Rufus they were lost, as the manor of Tidenham, (fn. 146) which was overrun by the Welsh and afterwards got into the hands of the Earl of Pembroke, and as the manor of Dogmersfield, (fn. 147) which was seized by Ralph Flambard.
The priory also gained greatly from the fact that it had become the cathedral church of the diocese. William de Mohun gave the church of Dunster (fn. 148) and all that pertained to it. This in later times was formed into a dependent priory with its own succession of priors. Walter de Douai gave them the church of Bampton (fn. 149) in Devonshire, half the tithes of Castle Cary and the church of Brigge or Bridgwater. Bishop John had obtained from Henry I the manor of Dogmersfield (fn. 150) and Bishop Godfrey obtained from King Stephen its restitution and also got back the manor of Monkton Combe. In 1153 the monks purchased from Alexander de Alno the manor of Camely, (fn. 151) and between 1156 and 1159 Bishop Robert procured for them from Pope Adrian IV a confirmation of their possessions, (fn. 152) privileges and diocesan status. In 1180 Bishop Reginald (fn. 153) gave them the Hospital of St. John in Bath which he had built and endowed. This was for the benefit of the sick poor that thus they might take the Bath waters and go through a treatment.
He also gave them permission to appropriate the church of Bathford (fn. 154) for the maintenance of the fabric of the monastic church, and assigned the Whitsuntide offerings of the diocese to the rebuilding of it.
Bishop Savaric (1192–1202) did not forget Bath in his ambition to secure Glastonbury. He gave them the rectories of Chew (fn. 155) and of Weston and confirmed the gift of Fulco de Alneto of the church of Compton Dando. In memory of his many benefactions a hundred poor people were fed annually by the monastery on the anniversary of his death.
It was during his episcopate, 1204, that the brethren of the hospital of St. John at Waterford in Ireland (fn. 156) surrendered their house and lands to become affiliated to Bath. (fn. 157) This was the beginning of that list of estates and churches in Ireland which the priory possessed and of which afterwards in the time of Edward III they would have been glad to be rid. (fn. 158) In addition to certain lands there were the advowsons and rectories of Rathmoylan, Kilkee, Kilcop, Balycohyn and Ballytruckle. Soon after there came to the monastery in a similar way a small priory at Cork, (fn. 159) and about 1333 another at Youghal. The rents of these foundations seem barely to have supported the brethren for which they were established and in 1333 (fn. 160) an attempt was made to exchange the lands in the counties of Waterford and Cork for other lands in England or to lease them to any person in the king's fealty.
In the middle of the 13th century when the priory was exhausted with its long contest with Wells, Matilda de Champflour (fn. 161) made some exchanges of pasture land with them greatly to the advantage of the monks, and sold them the advowson of Batheaston, giving back a considerable portion of the price. Sir Alexander de Alneto and Sir Hubert Husee were also benefactors towards whom the convent showed their gratitude by their prayers. (fn. 162)
In 1275 Bishop Burnell (1275–92) exchanged with the Crown the patronship of Glastonbury for the city of Bath which Bishop Savaric had surrendered. (fn. 163) The farm of the royal barton for which a fixed charge of £20 was due yearly to the Crown was generally profitable.
This bishop also gave the monks £10 to build two fishponds, and the advowson of the church of St. James in Bath. (fn. 164) The dispute about Bampton Church (fn. 165) and the church of Uffculme which was attached to it did not end until 1295 when the right of the priory was at last acknowledged.
In the Taxatio Ecclesiastica (fn. 166) in 1291 the temporalia of the priory are valued at £71 11s. 11d. and the spiritualia at £11 7s. 8d. The temporalia are recorded as issuing from lands at Weston, North Stoke, Bathford, Lyncombe, Monkton Combe and Combe Down, Compton Dando, Corston, Priston, Stanton Prior, Newton St. Loe and Ashwick in the diocese of Bath and Wells, the manor of Melford in the diocese of Winchester, the manors of Hameswell and Olveston in Gloucestershire and in the diocese of Worcester and Stapleford in the diocese of Salisbury. The spiritualia in the diocese of Worcester were portions due to the prior from the churches of Olveston, Hawkesbury and Cold Ashton; in the diocese of Bath and Wells pensions from Camely and Radstock Churches, pittances for the monks from Cannington, allowances for the cook and the almoner from Kelston Church and for the almoner and sacrist from Batheaston and for the firmarius from Walcot Church. The prior had also a pension from Bathwick and the convent certain pittances from St. Mary de Stalls. There were also pay ments due to the monks for pittances from Englishcombe, Newton St. Loe and Corston.
In 1302 the convent, which had already the grant of a fair in Bath, obtained a licence to hold two fairs on their manor of Lyncombe on the festival of the Invention of the Cross (3 May) and on the feast of St. Lawrence (10 August).
In 1308 they obtained licence to appropriate Batheaston Church (fn. 167) and Bishop Drokensford enriched the church with many costly eucharistic vestments. Bishop Ralph Shrewsbury, (fn. 168) who is described as a citizen of Bath and afterwards a professed monk, gave them a precious reliquary, built for them two great towers at a cost of one hundred marks and completed the principal tower of the church.
In 1535 (fn. 169) the net revenues of the foundation were estimated as worth £617 2s. 3d. a year, Bath being the second in the value of its endowments of the monasteries of Somerset.
Abbesses of Bath
Bertana, 676 (fn. 170)
Bernguidis, 681 (fn. 171)
Æscwig (fn. 172)
Ælfhere (fn. 173)
Wulfwold, 1061–84 (fn. 174)
Ælfwig (fn. 175)
Sewold, 1066 (fn. 176)
Ælfsige, died 1087 (fn. 177)
John de Villula, Bishop of Wells, 1088 (fn. 178)
John, occurs 1122 (fn. 179)
Benedict, occurs 1151 (fn. 180)
Peter, occurs 1157 (fn. 181)
Hugh, 1174–c. 1180 (fn. 182)
Gilbert, appointed 1180 (fn. 183)
Walter, occurs 1191, died 1198 (fn. 184)
Robert, appointed 1198 (fn. 185)
Thomas, 1223–61 (fn. 186)
Walter de Anno, appointed 1261, occurs 1263 (fn. 187)
Thomas de Winton, occurs 1290 (fn. 190)
Robert de Clopcote, 1301–32 (fn. 191)
Thomas Crist, 1332 (fn. 192)
John de Iford, alias Ford, appointed 1340, died 1359 (fn. 193)
John de Berewyk, 1359–77 (fn. 194)
John Dunster, died 1412 (fn. 195)
John Tellesford, 1412–24 (fn. 196)
William Southbroke, 1425–47 (fn. 197)
Thomas Lacock, appointed 1447 (fn. 198)
John, occurs 1468 (fn. 199)
John Dunster, occurs 1481, 1482 (fn. 200)
Peter, occurs 1482 (fn. 201)
Richard, occurs 1476 (fn. 202)
William Birde, 1499–1525 (fn. 205)
Willam Holleway or Gybes, 1525–39 (fn. 206)
The first seal of the Chapter of Bath (fn. 207) is believed to belong to the period of the refounding of the Abbey in the 10th century. It is circular, 2¼ in. in diameter, with a conventional representation of the house with three towers, pointed roofs and pinnacles, and this legend:—
A counterseal of Prior Thomas (fn. 208) (c. 1226) is vesica-shaped, 1¾ in. by 1 in., shewing St. Paul holding sword and book. The legend is:—
The second seal, (fn. 209) which seems to belong to the latter part of the 13th century, is a very large vesica, 4¼ in. by 2¼ in., with the figures of St. Peter and St. Paul under a triple canopy holding between them the abbey church. Below are three monks adoring the Saints. The legend is:—