A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1971.
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21. THE PRIORY OF ASTLEY
At the time of the Domesday Survey the manor of Astley was in the possession of Ralph de Todeni, of whom it was held by the abbot of St. Taurinus, Evreux, in France. Four hides were held free of all custom according to the grant of the Conqueror when Ralph bestowed them on the monastery. (fn. 1) Probably Ralph de Todeni was the founder of this priory (fn. 2) although the date of its foundation cannot be definitely stated; it was a cell subject to the abbey in France and endowed with the manor and church of Astley. Among the deeds of the abbey of St. Taurinus is a charter granted by Richard I. in January 1195-6 confirming to the abbot and convent all gifts already bestowed on them. (fn. 3) Among the benefactors named appears Ralf de Toencio, who gave in England Astley (Heseleia) with its appurtenances by consent of William, king of the English. (fn. 4) Of the early history of this cell there seems no record available. During the reign of Richard I. the priors of Malvern and Esseley (probably Astley) were commissioned by the pope to arbitrate in a dispute between the church of Worcester and Sir Thomas Ruppe of Harvington respecting certain tithes. (fn. 5) Frequent mention is made of this little community in the register of Bishop Giffard. Perhaps the most interesting feature in its connexion is the pleasant relation it contrived to maintain with the great ecclesiastical magnates of the diocese. No friction seems ever to have existed between the bishops of Worcester and the abbots of St. Taurinus or priors of Astley, and on the only occasion when the bishop was called on to exert superior authority in the management of the affairs of the priory with respect to the provision made by the brethren for the vicarage of the appropriated church of Astley (fn. 6) he 'asks them amiably' instead of summoning them peremptorily. Other slight incidents testify to the wish of the diocesan to conciliate and win the confidence of the alien community, while the brethren on their side appear to have submitted willingly to episcopal jurisdiction, admitted the bishop for the visitation of their priory, and on one occasion at least appealed to him for protection in the invasion of their rights. (fn. 7) This good understanding between the diocesan and an alien house will not be found so general as to pass without notice. The practice appears to have been, when the priory became vacant, for the abbot of St. Taurinus or his deputy to present a monk selected for the office by the convent to the bishop for admission and institution, profession of obedience having been made to him as diocesan. In April 1268 Bishop Giffard proposed to visit the priory, but was prevented by some cause not stated; (fn. 8) however, at Michaelmas in 1282 he visited it in the chapel of Worcester, (fn. 9) and again in 1287 at Michaelmastide he visited it and received procuration there. (fn. 10) An incident which occurred in 1280 illustrates the connexion of the priory with the descendants of the attributed founder Ralph de Todeni. Prior Simon appealed to the bishop that although the goods of the house had for certain causes been sequestrated, certain 'sons of iniquity,' representing that the house was void when it was not so, by command of the noble lady Petronilla de Thony had carried off goods and possessions, and these were being consumed and detained to the prejudice of the priory and the contempt of the bishop's jurisdiction. The bishop caused a monition to be published threatening the invaders of ecclesiastical property with excommunication and summoning them to appear before him. (fn. 11) Probably the lady who was the instigator of this marauding expedition desired to assert her right in the house during a supposed vacancy. The prior received a dispensation from the bishop in 1286 to absent himself in parts beyond the sea until the Feast of the Assumption; (fn. 12) probably this was for the purpose of visiting the parent house.
The Taxation Roll of 1291 states that the income derived by the brethren from temporalities in the See of Worcester amounted to £7 15s. 4d. (fn. 13) The church of Astley is rated at £8, (fn. 14) but is not included in the possessions of the priory. In a document of a later date it is stated to have been appropriated to the brethren by Walter sometime bishop of Worcester, (fn. 15) probably Walter de Cantilupe, as the prior presented to the vicarage of the church of Astley in March, 1295-6, (fn. 16) and again in the year 1300. (fn. 17)
The estates of the prior were not extensive enough perhaps to bring them much within the region of dispute, and one other difference only is recorded between the community and their neighbours. In 1326 Bishop Cobham wrote to admonish the rector of the church of Witley that the dispute between himself and the prior of Astley respecting certain tithes should be amicably settled. (fn. 18)
During the vacancy of the see in 1303 the abbot of St. Taurinus wrote to the prior of Worcester to inquire as to the behaviour of Ralph de Portes, monk of Astley, (fn. 19) and received a favourable report. (fn. 20)
The supervision exercised by the diocesan over this alien cell seems to have included the duty of receiving the resignation of its head; in October, 1313, Stephen de Meisiaco resigned the office of prior before the bishop in his chapel in London. (fn. 21)
It is impossible to gather what the community numbered. During the reign of Edward III. the prior had but one companion; the number had, however, probably fallen considerably owing to the war with France and consequent difficulties. The brethren probably suffered from lessened resources, as Bishop Wulstan remitted half the sum due to him for procuration during a visitation of the priory in 1339. (fn. 22) No mention is made of the state of the house either in this or any previous visitation, but absence of comment may be generally interpreted favourably.
Astley was included with other religious houses of the order of St. Benedict which had protection granted to them by Edward I. (fn. 23) It was seized into the king's hand as an alien foundation during the French war in the reign of Edward III. (fn. 24) Ralph de Walle or Valle, then prior of Astley, was summoned personally in July, 1345, to appear before the council on the morrow of St. Peter ad Vincula next at latest, to speak with them upon matters that would be fully set forth to him there. (fn. 25) In December, 1354, Edward III. caused an inquiry to be made into the possessions of this house, certain of whose estates he understood had been fraudulently retained to the prejudice of the Crown. (fn. 26) The return made by the prior of Worcester in 1374 to the king's writ requiring to be certified as to the ecclesiastical benefices held by aliens and their true value, stated that 'brother John, prior of Astley, monk of Couches, occupies the said priory and resides there with another monk. The value of the said priory is estimated at £20 a year.' (fn. 27) A list of alien houses with a description of their property in 1379-80 gives the priory of Astley with the manor, church, and advowson of vicarage. (fn. 28) The king issued an order in September, 1380, for an inquiry to be made touching the removal of goods and chattels from the priory (fn. 29); suspicion was at that time easily aroused in the case of alien cells, lest they should be conveying money and valuables out of the kingdom. Astley was placed in the custody of Richard de Hampton, and by a further grant in February, 1380-1, the appointment was made for life as long as he should continue to pay a yearly rent of £20. (fn. 30) Notwithstanding this, the abbot of St. Taurinus seems to have made other arrangements, and in October, 1384, John Beauchamp, esquire of the chamber, obtained a licence from Richard II. to hold the priory of Astley, which had been granted him by the abbot of St. Taurinus in Normandy, for a term of many years on payment of a large sum of money, rent free during the continuance of the war with France and the papal schism, his good services and the expense he had already incurred in connexion with the cell being taken into consideration. (fn. 31) Two years later this grant was confirmed and further amplified; pardon was granted to those who had acquired the priory and the advowson of the church of Astley without licence, and they were permitted to grant the premises to Sir John Beauchamp, Knt., and Joan his wife and his heirs, with the provision that neither he, she, nor their heirs should be called on to pay any yearly farm at the Exchequer during the present or any future war, and should be exempt from the payment of all ecclesiastical dues. (fn. 32)
From the date of its severance from the parent house the history of Astley as a religious house ceases. By his attainder in 1386-7 the lands of John Beauchamp de Holt became forfeited into the king's hands. (fn. 33) In July, 1389, on payment of a sum of 1,200 marks, Thomas, earl of Warwick, obtained a grant of the manor ' called Astley priory, together with other lands of the late John Beauchamp of Holt. (fn. 34) This priory was one of the alien monasteries suppressed and confiscated by order of the Parliament held at Leicester in 1414. (fn. 35) By a grant of Edward IV. on 11 November, 1468, at the request of Thomas his kinsman, cardinal archbishop of Canterbury, the priory or manor of Astley, sometime cell and parcel of the possessions of the abbey of St. Taurinus, in Normandy, with all its appurtenances, manors, and possessions, was bestowed on Henry Sampson, the dean and college of Holy Trinity, Westbury, in the county of Gloucester, to be held by them in free alms for ever. (fn. 36)
List of Priors of Astley
Simon, (fn. 37) occurs 1280.
Robert de Sanarvill, (fn. 38) 1290.
Guy de Villaribus, (fn. 39) 1294.
Ralph de Porters, (fn. 40) occurs 1300, resigned 1304.
Stephen de Meisiaco, (fn. 41) 1305, resigned 1313.
Robert de Loueris, (fn. 42) 1313, died 1330.
John Heribel, (fn. 43) 1330, resigned 1334.
William Busquet, (fn. 44) 1334.
Ralph de Valle, (fn. 45) 1341.
William Prevot, (fn. 46) 1343, resigned 1349.
Hugh de Valle, (fn. 47) 1349.
John Egerii, (fn. 48) 1360-1, resigned 1361.
John Bomet, (fn. 49) 1361.
William de Atrio, (fn. 50) 1361-2.
John, (fn. 51) occurs 1374.
Richard de Hampton, (fn. 52) custodian, 1380.
John Beauchamp, (fn. 53) custodian 1384.
Thomas, earl of Warwick, (fn. 54) custodian, 1389.
Conferred on college of Holy Trinity, Westbury, 1468. (fn. 55)