A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1971.
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4. THE PRIORY OF GREAT MALVERN
The priory of Great Malvern is stated in the Annales to have been founded in 1085 by Alwy, a monk. (fn. 1) William of Malmesbury narrates how one Aldwin or Alwy, a monk of St. Wulfstan, lived as a recluse with a single companion named Guy ' in that vast wilderness which is called Malvern.' (fn. 2) Guy deemed it needful as the shortest road to glory to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to visit the Lord's sepulchre or meet a blessed death at the hand of the Saracen. Aldwin was also drawn by the same desire, but sought first the counsel of Wulfstan his spiritual father, who dissuaded him, saying, 'Do not, I beseech thee, Aldwin, go anywhere, but remain in this place; believe me you would wonder, if you knew what I know, how much God is about to perform through you in this place.' He relinquished his project and remained to found Malvern. One after another devotee came to Aldwin until the number rose to 300. 'Abundant store of provisions flowed in on them from the neighbouring inhabitants, who counted themselves happy in being permitted to minister to God's servants—nay, if they lacked aught, faith supplied the want, for they deemed it a small thing to be without carnal food when they were nourished on spiritual joys.' (fn. 3)
An account of the foundation of Great Malvern in Giffard's register states that the hermit Aldwyn dwelt in the time of Edward the Confessor in a place where the priory was situated, and that at his petition the earl of Gloucester, Hudde by name, granted him the site together with the wood as far as Baldeyate, whereupon the hermit collected monks and adopted the rule of St. Benedict, and made one Andrew sub-prior. Afterwards, but without the consent of his diocesan, he made the priory subject to the abbot of Westminster 'for the time being.' (fn. 4) He is said to have died in 1140. (fn. 5) The monastery thus founded was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but occurs occasionally under the patronage of St. Mary and St. Michael, (fn. 6) as in a charter of an early benefactor, Richard Fitz Pontii, which recites that the donor for the good of his soul and of his family has granted to God and St. Mary and St. Michael of Malvern and the monks serving God there the church of Eastleach with appurtenances in Gloucestershire. (fn. 7)
Henry I. was a great benefactor to the monastery, and by a charter, inspected and confirmed later by Edward III., confirmed to God and the church of St. Mary of Malvern the yardland in Baldenhall which William his father had previously granted for the good of his soul, together with the rent of 4s., 2 hides of land, one in Worcestershire and the other at Quatt in Staffordshire, land in Worfield and ' Limberga' bestowed on the monks by Gislebert, abbot of Westminster, the church of the castle of Richard Fitz Pontii in Cantarabohan with 2 carucates of land, the church of Eastleach with land and tithe of the demesne of the said Richard, and the town of Hatfield in Herefordshire obtained by the brethren in exchange from Roger de Chandos, with other grants. (fn. 8) By another charter, dated 1127, Henry I. confirmed to the church of Malvern all its possessions granted by his predecessors Edward the Confessor and the Conqueror, to be held by the brethren in free alms with the liberties of soc, sac, thol, theam, and infangnethef, and freedom from the payment of geld or other exaction, and from all suits and quarrels of the shire and hundred courts. (fn. 9)
The prior was summoned in the reign of Edward I. respecting his right to hold a court of view of frankpledge within his manor of Longney with exemption from all secular service. He obtained a verdict on the ground that the priory of Great Malvern as a cell of Westminster could claim these privileges by virtue of the charter of Henry III. to the abbot granting that the abbey of Westminster with all its cells should be free from all exactions and fines and should have the right to hold a court of view of frankpledge within all its lands. (fn. 10) The prior was impleaded for a corrody in Michaelmas Term, 1318, and stated that before the Conquest there was a congregation of hermits at Malvern, and that the foundation of the priory was laid by Urse d'Abitôt; subsequently by the consent of the founder the abbot of Westminster constituted there a prior and monks, and gave them the manors of Newland, Worfield, and Powick. Henry I. confirmed previous gifts, and added £10 worth of lands in Baldenhall, Malvern, Northwood, and Fulford, to be held free of all charges and secular service. (fn. 11)
The Taxation of 1291 gives the priory an income of £87 13s. 2d. derived from temporalities and spiritualities within the dioceses of Worcester, (fn. 12) Hereford, (fn. 13) Sarum, (fn. 14) Coventry and Lichfield, (fn. 15) Lincoln, (fn. 16) and Llandaff, (fn. 17) by far the largest portion issuing out of Hereford. (fn. 18) The prior and convent obtained from William de Whittlesey in the fifth year of his translation a certificate for their title to the appropriation of the parish churches of St. Thomas the Martyr of Malvern, of Powick, and of Longney. (fn. 19)
The main feature of interest in connexion with the priory of Great Malvern is to be found in its position forming the local stronghold of the abbot of Westminster in the midst of the diocese of Worcester, and the long struggle which resulted between the bishop as diocesan and the abbot as superior to establish more complete supremacy therein. (fn. 20) The dispute seems at first to have resulted in a triumph for the bishop, though his authority was evaded whenever possible by the abbot and the community itself. During the reign of Henry II. the monks of Malvern, with the object of throwing off the yoke of the diocesan, elected a certain Walter as their prior who was secretly instituted by the abbot, whereupon the bishop, Roger de Gloucester, suspended the prior until he and his superior had made satisfaction for their 'excess,' and then ordered him to be instituted by his own official. (fn. 21) In 1191 another Walter is said to have received the cure of souls and administration of the spiritualities of Great Malvern at the hands of Robert Fitz Ralph, then bishop of Worcester. (fn. 22) The register of Giffard also records that Silvester, bishop of Worcester, 1216-1218, made Thomas de Wicke, a monk of Great Malvern, prior and confirmed him. (fn. 23) In 1222 William de Blois promoted William Norman, prior of Great Malvern, in the place of Simon prior of Worcester whom he had deposed (fn. 24); the appointment was temporary, but the conference which met to settle the controversy on 3 October, 1224, decided that the sometime prior of Malvern should receive the manor of Cleeve Prior for life on his enforced retirement from Worcester. (fn. 25) On Quinquagesima Sunday, 1233, a difference arose between the bishop and his former nominee as to the visitation of the priory; the bishop, however, gained his point, and was solemnly admitted with procession to the monastery and received procuration, and on the morrow entered the chapter-house and preached the cause of his visitation. (fn. 26) In 1234 after the death of William Norman the bishop visited his successor, arriving at the abbey as before on Quinquagesima Sunday, and receiving procuration. (fn. 27) In the first year of his succession Walter de Cantilupe visited Great Malvern with other religious houses and corrected what required correction, (fn. 28) and in the following year he came again to the priory. (fn. 29) On the death of Prior Thomas in 1242 the bishop assumed the custody of the house and examined the election of John who succeeded to the rule, and confirmed him in the presence of the abbot and convent of Winchcomb, and caused him to be installed by his official, having first received his profession of obedience. (fn. 30) The Annales state that the abbot of Westminster protested, but apparently without avail. (fn. 31)
The vexed question of jurisdiction received final settlement during the rule of Giffard after one of the most bitter ecclesiastical quarrels recorded in English history. The bishop in accordance with the precedent established by his predecessors came to the priory 22 September, 1282, apparently in the ordinary course of visitation, though probably summoned by the complaint of the monks as to the conduct of their prior, William de Ledbury. (fn. 32) In the chapterhouse he preached to the assembled community from the text 'I will come and descend upon you,' and afterwards proceeded to examine the charges brought against the superior, who was then and there convicted of the grossest crime and immorality. (fn. 33) Giffard left without taking any decided action, and returned to Kempsey, probably to turn the matter over. Some days later as he was at table messengers arrived bearing fresh complaints. The bishop hesitated no longer, but inflamed with righteous anger he returned to Great Malvern and deposed the offender, who it is said fled and added to the scandal by becoming apostate. (fn. 34) The attitude of the community on this decisive action is not stated, but several of the monks incurred sentence of excommunication for their contumacy, from which they were soon afterwards released. (fn. 35) Giffard's action in removing Ledbury might have commanded more general sympathy, but his next step was unwise and the reason assigned unjustified. In the vacancy thus created he took the custody of the house in his own hands, stating that he did so 'as patron,' and put in his officer as custodian. (fn. 36) This roused the opposition of some of the monks, and they were again excommunicated for contumacy. (fn. 37) With the bishop's approval and concurrence the convent elected William de Wykewane in the place of Ledbury, and he was sent to the abbot and convent of Westminster for confirmation. Hitherto the abbot had remained in apparent inactivity; probably he utilized his position (fn. 38) to give the king his version of the affair and enlist his support. On the arrival of the prior elect he was seized by the abbot's orders and thrown into prison with his companions. Giffard wrote to the bishop of Bath and Wells, at that time chancellor, acquainting him with what had occurred and asking him to tell the king the truth of the matter. (fn. 39) The following day Edward I. addressed a letter to Giffard stating that the abbot had satisfied him as to the justice of the claim of the abbey to be immediately subject with all its members to the holy see and exempt from ordinary jurisdiction, consequently in deposing the prior and removing sundry officers, etc. the bishop had violated the abbot's undoubted rights and should forthwith cease from such molestation and restore the priory to its original state. (fn. 40) The letter of Giffard to the abbot threatening him with the consequences of continued detention of the prior elect only evoked a retort from the abbot that the allegations contained in the letter were untrue, nor did the order of Peckham, archbishop of Canterbury, for the release of the prisoners produce the slightest effect. (fn. 41) Giffard's high-handed action in seizing the temporalities of the priory moved the king to order the sheriff of Worcester to turn out the bishop's official and take possession of all revenues, manors, etc. for the king. (fn. 42) This was a decided rebuff, but Giffard, stating that he 'did not propose to dispute the claim on account of the king being occupied in warfare,' re-appointed his clerk to keep the spiritualities only. (fn. 43) On 23 November 1282 the king went further and ordered the sheriff to restore the priory to Ledbury ' now prior of the same,' threatening him with a heavy fine unless he should fully execute the writ. (fn. 44) In the meanwhile Giffard ordered the abbot of Westminster to be cited to appear before him and the excommunication of the monks of Malvern to be published in every church throughout the deanery. (fn. 45) This again produced no effect; the abbot did not appear, and was declared contumacious, though under the circumstances the penalty was postponed. (fn. 46) The bishop wrote again to the archbishop of Canterbury and addressed a petition to the king praying that he might be allowed to have the temporalities and spiritualities of Great Malvern during a vacancy. (fn. 47) On 16 November, 1282, he passed sentence of interdict upon the priory, and the dean of Powick was ordered to sequestrate the issues of the parish church appropriated to Great Malvern. (fn. 48) This was shortly followed by an interdict laid on all the towns, monasteries, priories, churches, and chapels of the abbot of Westminster within the diocese, (fn. 49) and a prohibition under penalty of excommunication against buying, selling, eating, drinking, or holding any communication with Ledbury and the monks of Malvern who were excommunicate. (fn. 50) In December, 1282, Peckham signified his intention of visiting the diocese. (fn. 51) The tour began on the morrow of the Feast of the Purification, and the archbishop arrived at Malvern on the Saturday following. Having preached in the chapter-house, he asked in due form for admission to visit the brethren, whereupon the proctors of the abbot of Westminster rose up and formally protested on the grounds that the priory was privileged and neither archbishop nor bishop had jurisdiction therein. (fn. 52) Peckham gave them a day for the exhibition of the alleged privileges, and, in accordance with the agreement made with the abbot's representatives, wrote that night from Wyke to the official of Canterbury, the dean of Arches, and the examiner of the court of Canterbury, ordering them to proceed at once to Westminster to examine what evidence could be produced in favour of the claim preferred. (fn. 53) All this while the prior elect was kept in prison loaded with fetters, and on 9 February, 1282-3, Giffard wrote to Cardinal Hugh of Evesham begging him to use his efforts for the release of his nephew, stating that one of his companions had already succumbed to the cruel treatment meted out to the prisoners. (fn. 54) The dowager queen Eleanor, probably at the cardinal's instigation, also appealed to the king for the release of William 'because he is the nephew of the cardinal'; (fn. 55) the king thus petitioned relented so far as to summon the bishop to appear before him at Montgomery touching the dispute between him and the abbot. (fn. 56) Giffard continued to urge his appeal at the Roman Court (fn. 57) and went on excommunicating. (fn. 58) The inspection of the evidence failed to convince Peckham of the justice of the priory's claim to exemption, and he ordered the bishop to excommunicate the prior, sub-prior, precentor, sacristan, cellarer, and chamberlain of Great Malvern for contumacy. (fn. 59) The meeting at Montgomery, if it took place, (fn. 60) had no appreciable effect on the condition of the unhappy prior elect and his companions, and on 6 May, 1283, Giffard again petitioned the king on their behalf. (fn. 61) Repeated excommunications were followed in June by a notification to the sub-prior and convent of Great Malvern of the bishop's intention to visit them; (fn. 62) in the same month he took the further step of sequestrating all pensions, portions, etc. belonging to the monks. (fn. 63) The long-delayed bull from Rome arrived at last appointing the priors of Chertsey and St. Frideswyde of Oxford with the precentor of Wells to hear the appeal; the two priors, probably a little shy of the task, delegated others to act in their place. (fn. 64) Judgment delivered on 23 July, 1283, confirmed the sentence of excommunication against Ledbury and the sub-prior of Malvern, and communication with them was forbidden until they had obtained absolution. (fn. 65) Matters remained much as they were until the autumn, when the king determined on the termination of the quarrel, (fn. 66) and ordered the two parties to appear at Acton Burnell, where he himself superintended the compromise at which they finally arrived. The bishop was shown apostolic letters stating the abbey of Westminster with all its cells and priories, and especially that of Great Malvern, to be exempt from diocesan law and ordinary jurisdiction, on the strength of which he acknowledged the exemption of the priory, (fn. 67) and agreed to absolve Ledbury and all the monks from the sentence of excommunication and interdict together with their servants. (fn. 68) The abbot of Westminster agreed that the prior and convent should make over to the bishop the manor of Knightwick to indemnify him for the loss he had incurred, (fn. 69) and on 15 November, 1283, Edward I. wrote to the sheriff of Worcester to announce that a 'firm peace' had been established between the two disputants, and that he should put the bishop into possession of the manor granted him by the prior and convent, and maintain, protect, and defend him therein. (fn. 70)
In reviewing this great fight it is impossible to feel greatly edified by its results; the bishop lost a point so strenuously upheld by his predecessors, the right of jurisdiction in the priory, though the loss was sweetened to him by the substantial gain of a manor. It would be ridiculous to assume that the cause of religion was served by the retention of such an ornament to monasticism as Ledbury, (fn. 71) the slurring over of his offence seems a blot on all concerned in the affair, and it is to be observed that Peckham, who had so actively upheld the right of his suffragan, with whom he was in other respects so frequently at variance, was left out in the final agreement. On hearing of it he wrote an annoyed letter to Giffard, asking for information respecting a settlement reported to be simoniacal, and warning him if that were the case to revoke it instantly, and refrain from making similar ones in future. (fn. 72) The bishop replied to the letter, and the matter was then dropped.
Subsequent efforts to establish jurisdiction over the priory were made by the bishop or chapter of Worcester without success. In 1290 the monks of Great Malvern obtained a writ for the confirmation of their acquittance from visitation, or, failing that, the restoration of the manor of Knightwick. (fn. 73) Archbishop Winchelsey was engaged in visiting the prior and convent of Great Malvern in July, 1301, when articles of complaint against Bishop Giffard were presented to him by the chapter of Worcester. The precise nature of this visit is not stated. Among the procurations due to the church of Worcester, 'sede vacante,' was the sum of 40s. which the prior of Great Malvern or his deputy had to place on the high altar within fifteen days of the notice of a vacancy. (fn. 74) The monks were cited to appear at Pershore to answer for their resistance to the prior of Worcester's visitation during a vacancy in 1333. (fn. 75) In June of the same year the pope sent a mandate to the bishop of Worcester respecting the king's request for the appropriation of the church of Longdon to the abbot and convent of Westminster, to which the bishop had refused consent, unless the abbot would release to him jurisdiction over the priory. (fn. 76) The privilege was not yielded by the abbey, as appears in a list of 'houses exempt' appended to a bull of Innocent VI., for the visitation of the diocese during the rule of Reginald Brian. (fn. 77)
Bishop Carpenter paid a visit to the priory in July, 1340, for the purpose of consecrating altars within the conventual church. He was received with great ceremony, and remained the night with his household at the charge of the convent. The following day he consecrated the high altar in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Michael, St. John the Evangelist, SS. Peter and Paul, and St. Benedict the Abbot; an altar to the right of the choir, in honour of St. Wulfstan and St. Thomas of Hereford; and another on the left, in honour of Edward King and Confessor, and St. Giles the Abbot. A fourth was dedicated in honour of SS. Peter and Paul and All Apostles, St. Katharine and All Virgins; a fifth in honour of St. Lawrence and All Martyrs, St. Nicholas and All Confessors; a sixth in honour of the Blessed Virgin and St. Anne, and a seventh in honour of St. Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins. (fn. 78)
With the exception of the long struggle terminating in the furious fight of 1282-1283, which dragged the priory into prominence, its history is uneventful. Much of their property appears to have been lost or alienated by the community between 1217 and 1368, (fn. 79) and the brethren found the house unable to bear the charges incumbent on it, (fn. 80) and set themselves to the task of adding to their estates. They obtained from Edward I. and his two immediate successors frequent licences for the acquisition of land, and were permitted by Bishop Maidstone, in 1314, to appropriate the church of Powick already of their advowson. (fn. 81) The prior and convent shared the incidents of aid and subsidy imposed on religious houses generally, and admitted the pensioners which the kingly prerogative presented to foundations of royal patronage. In February, 1309-1310, Edward II. sent John de Waltham, 'who had long served the late and present kings,' to the priory to receive the necessaries of food and clothing, according to the requirements of his estate, including a chamber to be set apart for his use within the enclosure of the priory. (fn. 82) On the death of John de Waltham, Henry de Thornhill, the king's cook, was sent on 2 March, 1317-18, to take his place. (fn. 83) In 1346, Edward III. granted a patent for the appropriation of the churches of Upton Snodsbury and Eastleach to the prior and convent. (fn. 84) From a letter cited by Nash, (fn. 85) we read that the appropriation of Upton Snodsbury church was not confirmed by the bishop of Worcester till 1392, and then at the special request of the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishops of London and Hereford. The letter of the archbishop sets forth that the convent being situated near the public way, and but slenderly endowed from the foundation, the monks have petitioned him on the ground of maintaining their accustomed hospitality. (fn. 86)
The custom of the house during a vacancy occasioned by the death or cession of a prior was fully recognized by the king, who desired his escheator in July, 1340, not to intermeddle with the custody of the priory, as it was proved that since the days of Richard I. no entry was ever made for a time of voidance, and divers inquisitions showed that the sub-prior and convent were accustomed from its foundation to elect a prior without licence of the king, and to dispose of its issues without interference from the king or his ministers, so that the custody ought not to belong to the king, save of lands which might be acquired or those held of him in chief. (fn. 87)
Entries relating to Great Malvern during the fifteenth and early sixteenth century are brief and without great interest until we come to the eve of the Dissolution. The priory was in all probability visited by Dr. Legh in 1535; the prior of Worcester, writing to Cromwell on 1 August, says 'Dr. Lee, who was with us this week on the king's visitation, departed on Saturday to Much Malvern'; (fn. 88) no report is given of his 'finding' here. According to the Valor of 1535, the income of the prior and convent amounted to £375 0s. 6½ d.; (fn. 89) Avecote, in Warwickshire, a cell of Great Malvern, was returned in 1536 as under a less yearly value than £200, (fn. 90) and came under the earlier act for suppression.
Efforts were made to save the priory from the fate impending; the prior wrote to the commissioner entreating his favour, stating that he and his brethren deem it 'expedient to ask the king's pleasure how they shall order themselves. (fn. 91) Bishop Latimer's letter to Cromwell is a striking testimony to the management of the convent and the character of its then head. The good bishop, writing 'at the request of an honest man, the prior of Great Malvern, of my diocese,' pleads for the 'upstandynge' of his house, and continuance of the same to many good purposes, 'not in monkery . . . but to maintain teaching, preaching, study with praying, and (to the which he is much given) good "howsekepynge," for to the "vertu" of hospitality he hath been greatly inclined from his beginning, and is very much commended in these parts for the same . . . The man is old, a good "howsekepere," feeds many, and that daily, for the country is poor and full of penury. Alas, my good lord, shall not we see two or three in each shire changed to such remedy? . . Sir William Kingston can report of the man further.' (fn. 92)
This appeal, backed by an offer to find 500 marks for the king and 200 for Cromwell himself, failed of its object. The actual date of the surrender of the house is not given, but the pensionlist for the late prior and monks of 'Much' Malvern is dated 12 January, 1539-40, and assigns to the prior the sum of £66 13s. 4d., (fn. 93) to the sub-prior £13 6s. 8d., to the sexton £8, to four monks £6 13s 4d. each, £6 each to three monks, to another monk £6 6s. 8d.; Christopher Aldewyn, alias More, scholar at Oxford, received £10.
Priors of Great Malvern (fn. 94)
Aldwin or Alwy, (fn. 95) 1085.
Walcher Lotharingus, (fn. 96) occurs 1125, died 1135.
Roger, (fn. 97) occurs 1151 and 1159.
Walter, (fn. 98) elected 1165.
Roger Malebranche, (fn. 99) made abbot of Burton 1178.
Thomas de Wicke, (fn. 100) occurs 1217.
William Norman, (fn. 101) occurs 1222, died 1233.
Thomas, (fn. 102) died 1242.
John de Wigornia, (fn. 103) elected 1242.
Thomas de Bredon. (fn. 104)
William de Wykewane. (fn. 105)
William de Ledbury, (fn. 106) 1279, deposed 1287.
William de Wykewane, (fn. 107) durante lite 1282.
Richard de Eston, (fn. 108) elected 1287, died 1300.
Hugh de Wyke, (fn. 109) occurs 1305 and 1314.
Thomas de Leigh, (fn. 110) 1340, died 1349.
John de Painswick, (fn. 111) elected 1349, died 1361.
Simon Bysley or Byscheley, (fn. 112) elected 1361.
Richard Rolle or Polle, elected 1397. (fn. 113)
John Malverne, (fn. 114) occurs 1435.
J. Bennet, (fn. 115) occurs 1449.
Richard Mathern or Mathon, resigned 1457. (fn. 116)
Richard Dene, (fn. 117) elected 1457, occurs 1463.
Richard Bone. (fn. 118)
Richard Frewen. (fn. 119)
Maculinus Ledbury, (fn. 120) occurs 1503.
Thomas (Kegworth), (fn. 121) occurs 1511.
Thomas Dereham or Dyrham, (fn. 122) occurs 1533 and 1538.
Richard Whitborn, alias Bedyll, Bedle or Bedill, (fn. 123) received a pension 1539-40.
The twelfth-century pointed oval seal of the priory is taken from a cast at the British Museum. The obverse represents the Virgin with crown, seated on a carved throne, in her lap the Holy Child, a sceptre fleur-de-lizé in her right hand. Her feet on a foot-board, ornamented with an arcade of round-head arches. The Child with nimbus lifting up the right hand in benediction, in the left hand a book. (fn. 124) Legend:
The reverse, a smaller pointed oval counterseal, represents the archangel Michael, half-length, with wings expanded, holding a crown of three points before him, in the act of casting it down on the 'sea of glass,' here shown by three wavy lines. (fn. 125) Legend:
The later seal is a white, pointed oval seal, attached to a deed of Prior Richard at the close of the thirteenth century. (fn. 126) Obverse represents the Virgin, with crown and head-dress of unusual form, seated on an elaborately carved throne, the Child on her left knee. Legend imperfect:
Reverse, as in the previous seal. (fn. 127)
The probable seal of Thomas de Wicke, 1217, is (fn. 128) a thirteenth-century, white, pointed oval seal representing the Virgin with crown, seated on a throne under a carved canopy of pyramidal form, the Child on her left knee between Michael the archangel on the left, with nimbus and shield, and a saint, perhaps St. John the Baptist, on the right, with nimbus, lifting up the right hand in benediction, in the left hand the Agnus Dei (?), above his head a wavy estoile. In base, under a trefoiled arch; with a sunken quatrefoil on each side, the prior half-length, praying.
E+SIGILLVM : THOME : PRIORIS : MAIO[RIS : [M]ALVERN' (fn. 129)