A History of the County of York: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1974.
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47. THE PRIORY OF BRIDLINGTON
The great Augustinian priory of Bridlington was founded by Walter de Gant in the reign of Henry I. (fn. 1) The priory received gifts from a large number of donors, and soon became one of the richest religious foundations in the county. Burton has given a list of its possessions, (fn. 2) occupying no less than thirty-four folio pages of his work. The founder himself, besides 13 carucates, &c., at Bridlington, gave five churches, and the moiety of another, and at the Dissolution the priory possessed sixteen churches besides several chapelries. In addition to its temporalities King Stephen gave 'the port and harbour of Bridlington, with all kinds of wreck of the sea which shall in future happen on or issue in all places within the Dykes called Earl Dyke, and Flaynburg Dyke.' (fn. 3)
Ralph son of Ralph de Neviil granted the canons stone from the quarry of Filey for building their monastery and its offices, with access for fetching the stone over his land. (fn. 4)
The founder's gift of the church of Grinton in Swaledale led to a strange complaint on the part of the prior and convent to the pope. The Archdeacon of Richmond had, they said, travelled on his visitation with a retinue of ninety-seven horses, twenty-one dogs, and three hawks, and in a brief hour (hora brevi) had consumed more than would have maintained their house for a considerable period. This led to a mandate from Innocent III (1198-1216), protecting the canons from undue exactions from archbishops, bishops, archdeacons, and their officers, and restricting the equipages of those persons to what the eleventh Lateran Council had permitted, which only allowed an archdeacon to travel with seven horses on such occasions. (fn. 5)
On 30 January 1279-80 (fn. 6) Archbishop Wickwane held a visitation of Bridlington and issued a number of injunctions. First he ordered that the monastic alms were not to be put to any illicit uses, but were to be duly distributed. No one, without reasonable cause, was to go into the infirmary, or pretend that he was not able to attend the service of God. The prior was not to give leave to any brother to wander about the country, or to visit friends or relations, without need; and in giving leave to go out, the prior was to be careful that scandal was not brought on the monastery. Suspected boxes with locks were forbidden. (fn. 7) The prior was to see to the repair of the roof of the dormitory without delay. No canon was to dwell alone in any manor, or elsewhere, particularly not at Blouberhous, (fn. 8) to the injury of his reputation. Under pain of anathema, any persons who were professed, and had appropriated anything, were to restore it at once to the prior for the common use of the house. The prior was to direct his convent with zeal, and to follow the counsel of the elders, and not that of the young members of the house, and was not to be an acceptor of persons. A worthy and industrious sub-prior was to be appointed (ordinari) (fn. 9) without delay. The canons and conversi were not to keep the sporting dogs or horses of other persons. Odo, the brother of Thomas de Aunewycke, was not to remain longer in the office of granetarius, unless it pleased the convent otherwise. The prior was to see that the office of sacrist was more diligently fulfilled than hitherto, and that useless and mean persons, who consumed the goods of the monastery, were expelled.
Following on this the archbishop, on 1 March 1279-80, (fn. 10) sent Reynold de Thyrnum, one of the canons, to Nostell, to undergo the due rigour of regular discipline; he was not to be permitted, either in the prior's chamber, or elsewhere in private places, as had been his wont, to lead an easy life, unless sickness or other necessity existed.
Six months later (1 September 1280) (fn. 11) Archbishop Wickwane wrote to the prior and convent that having regard to the slender state of their monastery, and the restricted space of their dormitory, &c., they were to take no one as canon or conversus before the next visitation, without his special licence. No corrodies, meanwhile, were to be granted, and all their canons living outside in manors were to be immediately recalled unless their fidelity, and also their absence, was unanimously approved by all. In April 1286 (fn. 12) Archbishop Romanus visited Bridlington, and formulated the following (among other) injunctions. The cloister, in which the regular life flourished, was to be well kept from the going to and fro of secular persons, and no mean, but worthy persons only, were to take their food there, according to the judgement of the superior. The sick were to be better tended. Nuns, or secular women, were not to be received within the precincts of the monastery, great ladies alone excepted, who could not be refused without grave inconvenience. The almoner was to be more careful. No one was to receive presents without the leave of the president. The old clothes of the canons were to be given to the poor, and no liveries, corrodies, or annual pensions were to be sold without the archbishop's special leave. Drinking after compline was forbidden. The superfluous and suspected exits towards the new cloister of the vivarium were to be speedily closed. Useless servants of the house (and especially the useless servants in the infirmary and hostelry) were to be removed. Jews were not to be admitted to the hospice of the monastery. This the archbishop deemed to be senseless and absurd (absonum et absurdum). The convent was not to eat meat on Wednesdays, as that was inhonestum. A reader (lector) was to be provided for the canons, who would instruct and teach them in the Sacred Page.
No canon or conversus was to have horses, or a horse in turn, without the expressed assignment of the prior. No woman was to approach the place of the canons in the quire; and the minor or young canons were to exhibit reverence and obedience to the older ones. The prior was to keep convent, be present at chapters, and sleep in the dormitory. The prior and sub-prior were to punish faults equitably in chapter, and the subprior was to guard the cloister more vigilantly. John de Swaledale, who occupied the office of sacrist against the will of the prior and convent, was to be removed. Geoffrey 'Niger' of Kilham and Walter de Spaunton were forbidden to go out of the cloister for a year, and Walter, whose most recent demerits had notoriously accumulated, was to be kept alone in safe custody, and on one day each week was to fast on bread and water, till the archbishop should order differently. Geoffrey 'Rubeus' of Kilham and Peter de Herrington were to be kept within the precincts of the monastery for half a year, Adam de Wyhton for a quarter of a year, and Reginald de Thyrnum for two months. And by 'cloister' the archbishop stated that he understood the four inside angles by which the dormitory, chapter-house, and refectory were contained.
On 27 April 1291 (fn. 13) the archbishop directed the sub-priors of Kirkham and Warter to proceed to Bridlington and make inquiry concerning a certain Simon, a novice, whose disregard of the duties of his profession as regarded divine service, &c., had caused murmurs to arise among the canons.
On 8 October 1295 (fn. 14) the archbishop wrote to the prior and convent in respect of Brother J. de Ockham, one of the canons, whom they had suspected of suffering from leprosy, in consequence of which they had foolishly suspended him from ministering at the high altar or celebrating the Lady mass, not considering how full of peril such a censure was, if not made on reasonable grounds. The archbishop had had the canon carefully examined by doctors, who found that he was wholly free from the disease, and he enjoined the convent to admit him 'ad omne genus communionis fraterne, illo non obstante.'
On 25 February 1301-2 (fn. 15) Archbishop Corbridge sent Peter de Melbourne, who had resigned the priory of St. Oswald's Gloucester, to Bridlington for a time.
In 1309 (fn. 16) Archbishop Greenfield wrote respecting Canon Simon le Constable, who, priding himself on his noble birth, refused to conform to the rule, and as a corrupter of morals was to be transferred to Guisborough, whither the prior was ordered to send him, with a decent equipage, necessary habit, and honest company. In another letter the Prior of Guisborough was ordered to receive him; the latter exhibited some reluctance in the matter, which is perhaps explained by the nature of Simon le Constable's offence, indicated by the terms of his penance. A rather long correspondence took place in regard to the case. (fn. 17) The penance imposed on Simon le Constable, while at Guisborough, was briefly as follows: (fn. 18) he was not to minister in any office at the altar, and was to abstain from receiving Holy Communion. Every day, secretly prostrating himself before one of the altars, he was to say the seven penitential psalms and litany, with grief and lamentation, and continual smiting of his breast, in expiation of his heinous sins. Every day from the prior, sub-prior, or president he was to receive, in the spirit of humility, privately, a discipline. In addition he was to read daily attentively, by himself, in secret, the eighteenth and nineteenth chapters of Genesis and the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. From these portions of the Bible which he had to read it is manifest what his sin had been.
On 20 February 1313 (fn. 19) Archbishop Greenfield promulgated a general sentence against all those who adored a certain image of the Blessed Virgin in the monastery of Bridlington.
On Saturday after the feast of St. John of Beverley 1314 (fn. 20) Archbishop Greenfield held a visitation of Bridlington, and issued the following injunctions. The services of our Lady, and those for the departed, and others said without music, were to be distinctly and clearly recited; there was to be no gabbling of the verses of the psalms, one side beginning before the other had finished. None were to make any innovations in the habit worn within or without the house. Alms were to be duly collected by the almoner, and given to the poor in charity, &c. The prior was to keep convent in church, cloister, refectory, and dormitory, unless looking after notable guests, or otherwise lawfully hindered. The prior and sub-prior were not to license claustral canons to wander about the country. In recreations the prior was to be circumspect, and grant the greater favour to those whom he saw most to need it. He was to take counsel with his canons in difficult matters, and was not to permit canons to dwell, as members of the household, with secular persons without the archbishop's special licence.
The archbishop, as usual, found the house heavily in debt, and he forbade the sale of pensions, liveries, or corrodies, and exhorted all to use such economy that their house might speedily recover itself. The archbishop, while visiting the house on 13 May 1314, (fn. 21) admonished Gerard, the prior, that within a year he should cause a competent chamber, with a chimney and other necessaries, to be made for the prior, and for the reception of the archbishop when visiting the priory, under a penalty of £20.
Archbishop Melton held a visitation of Bridlington on 6 April 1318, (fn. 22) and issued a series of general injunctions. One item, that the canons were to keep no superfluous dogs or horses, is apparently the only thing out of the common. The house was then heavily in debt, as before, and the same restrictions and exhortations were made. Rather later in the year one of the canons, Richard de Kirkeby, was sent to Bolton for correction. (fn. 23)
In 1321 (fn. 24) there was another visitation, when a short and unimportant series of injunctions was issued; but it must have been a time of some internal disorder or mismanagement, for the subprior and cellarer were removed from office, the prior resigned somewhat later, and Richard de Kirkeby was again sent away, this time to Shelford, but what was the cause of all the trouble does not appear. There is, however, an unusual and perhaps significant order, addressed to the sub-prior and convent on 3 September, (fn. 25) that as Peter de Wynthorp had resigned the office of prior and his resignation had been accepted by the archbishop, his seal of office ought no longer to remain unbroken in his possession, and that having summoned him to chapter they were to receive the seal from him, and in the presence of the whole convent break it, and reduce it to a mass (et in massam redigatis).
On 15 July 1324 (fn. 26) Archbishop Melton held another visitation of Bridlington, when he directed that the sub - cellarer was to render weekly accounts of the daily expenses, and of all kinds of food. All were to abstain from inviting strangers, and to refrain from all superfluous expenses; whatever was left of the food in the refectory or other places was to be given as alms to the needy poor.
On 3 January 1362-3 (fn. 27) Archbishop Thoresby issued a commission to confirm the election of a prior who was destined, not long after his death, to receive formal canonization. John de Thweng belonged to an old Yorkshire family which derived its name from Thwing, a small parish in the East Riding. The Thwengs also owned Kilton and Kirkleatham in Cleveland, and another member of the family rendered himself conspicuous, (fn. 28) as patron of the church of Kirkleatham, in opposing the papal encroachment on the rights of patrons. Members of the family were benefactors to the priory of Guisborough, and a shield bearing their arms (three popinjays) is still to be seen carved on the splay of the noble east window of the priory church there.
John de Thweng was noted for his sincere piety and genuine goodness of life. He ruled the priory with zealous care for many years, and soon after his death stories began to be told of miracles he had wrought in his lifetime, and of others which had taken place at his tomb. Eventually Archbishop Alexander Nevill (fn. 29) issued a commission to inquire into the matter, which reported to the pope, and on 24 September 1401 (fn. 30) Pope Boniface IX issued a decree formally canonizing the late Prior of Bridlington, who was henceforth known as St. John of Bridlington. In the decree the pope declared that the Blessed John, sometime prior of the Augustinian priory of Bridlington, although born of honourable parents, (fn. 31) had from his tender years frequented churches. Before he had completed his fourteenth year he had made his profession as a canon of Bridlington. After being promoted to holy orders he filled divers offices, and was elected prior, showing an example of a severe and holy life. The pope mentions some miracles worked by him before and after his death, viz., the multiplication of corn in the priory barn, his walking on the sea to rescue certain men in a rowing-boat caught in a storm, his raising to life five persons. He had healed a woman ill of the plague, a cousin of one of the canons, also a halt and impotent man, as well as others possessed with devils, and others deaf and dumb. For other of his miracles the pope referred the faithful to the authentic books in which they were set forth, and for a proof of them to the votive offerings at the tomb and the pictures (ymagines) placed there. Further the pope ordained 10 October, the day of his death, as his feast day, and for his office the office of a confessor, not a bishop. To all penitents who on the saint's feast day visited his sepulchre the pope granted relaxation of seven years and seven quadraginae of enjoined penance.
The body of the saint was removed to a shrine at the back of the high altar, which became a place of pilgrimage. In this case, without accepting the marvels recorded in the papal decree, Bridlington's sainted prior was much more worthy of the distinction than others elsewhere. Possibly because of the glory which St. John's life shed on the house of which he had but recently been prior, Pope Alexander V (fn. 32) on 15 October 1409 granted that Prior Thomas and his successors should wear the mitre, ring, and other pontifical insignia in the priory and in subject places and churches belonging to it; they could also give solemn benediction after mass, vespers, and matins, provided that no bishop or papal legate were present.
On 12 July 1448 (fn. 33) Henry VI granted to the prior and convent, besides many franchises and immunities, that they should have three fairs yearly, viz., on the vigils, feasts, and morrows of the Nativity of the B.V.M. (8 September), the Deposition of St. John late prior of 'Brydelington,' and the Translation of the same St. John. Seven years later (20 July 1452) (fn. 34) the prior and convent agreed that in return for exemptions made by Letters Patent, releasing them from contribution of tenths, aids, subsidies, &c., they would, in every mass sung at the high altar and also in all masses said by any of the canons, pray for the good and prosperous estate of the king and of Queen Margaret, with the collect 'Deus in cujus manu corda sunt Regum,' in which special mention was to be made by name, of the king and queen, while living, and when they had departed this life they would sing a mass of Requiem.
On 18 July 1444 (fn. 35) the prior and canons entered into an agreement with the inhabitants of Bempton in the parish of Bridlington. The inhabitants had of old, with licence of the prior and convent, built a chapel in Bempton in honour of St. Michael, and at their own charges had undertaken to have it and the cemetery consecrated, in order to receive the sacraments and be buried there. They further undertook to keep the chapel in repair. It was arranged that their chaplain was to have a penny at the purification of women, and at the burial of the dead, and in singulis missis suis a penny, commonly called hevedmesse peny, with other commodities accustomed before the consecration of the chapel. The prior and convent were to find bread and wine, and 2 lb. of wax to be made into four tapers, two at Michaelmas, and two at Easter. This agreement is interesting as showing the position of inhabitants in a parish served by a monastery. (fn. 36)
At a visitation held by Archbishop Kemp in 1444, (fn. 37) Robert Warde, the prior, being no longer able to perform the duties of his office, resigned, and a pension was assigned him during the remainder of his life. He was to have, inter alia, the habitation called the chamber of John Gisburn, formerly prior, with its garden and easements. Each day he was to receive two 'honest' services of flesh or fish, or other meats from the kitchen, such in quantity as that served to two canons, also a service called the 'Yomanmesse' for himself, or those who ministered to him; and from the cellar, daily, two white loaves of the greater weight and one white loaf of the lesser weight, with a loaf called the 'yomanlofe.' At every tonellacio in the monastery he was to have (blank) flagons of conventual ale from the brewery, and daily from the cellar two flagons of the same, and unam quartam of wine except on Wednesdays and the vigils preceding festivals of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On the days when wine was customarily served to the brethren he was to be content with the same allowance as that given to the others. In addition he was to have a yearly allowance of 100s.
The church of St. Mary of Scarborough, which had originally been granted to the abbey of Cîteaux, was granted (on the seizure of the properties of alien houses) to Bridlington. (fn. 38) By a charter addressed to Peter Ellard (fn. 39) (prior 1462-72) Edward IV confirmed this grant of his predecessors out of veneration for St. John of Bridlington. Thus it has come about that Scarborough although in the North Riding is within the archdeaconry of the East Riding.
There is a letter, dated 13 October 1453, (fn. 40) from Archbishop William Booth, addressed to Robert, the prior, and canons of Bridlington acknowledging the receipt of a certain libellum which they had sent to him, de regularibus observanciis of the monastery. The libellum contained forty folios, and the archbishop approved it, with the exception of the chapter as to the sale of corrodies. Such were not to be sold without his special licence, but except that chapter the libellum was to be read before the convent in chapter twice a year, during Advent and Lent. On 27 October (fn. 41) following the archbishop granted the prior licence to hear confessions. On 20 December 1463 (fn. 42) the same archbishop commanded the prior to warn all the officials and administrators of the goods of the house to render a true account before the auditors whom he had appointed.
There is not much of importance to add as to the later history of the priory. In 1380-1 there had been twenty-four canons taxed besides the prior, and a single conversus. (fn. 43) In 1526 the clear annual value was returned as £524 15s. 8½d., (fn. 44) and at the Dissolution £547 6s. 11¼d. (fn. 45) Twice a Prior of Bridlington was summoned to Parliament, viz., Geoffrey de Nafferton in 1295 and Gerard de Burton in 1299. (fn. 46)
The last prior, William Wood, took part in the Pilgrimage of Grace, was attainted of high treason on 17 January 1537, (fn. 47) and with the Abbots of Fountains and Jervaulx, the exAbbot of Rievaulx and the ex-Prior of Guisborough, was put to death, the property of the house being then treated as forfeited to the Crown. (fn. 48)
A letter is extant from Prior Wood to Thomas Cromwell, (fn. 49) the exact date of which is uncertain, in reply to one advising the prior to recognize Henry VIII as patron and founder, or to appear before one of the king's councillors. Prior Wood pleaded that he was 'deteyned with divers infirmities' of body 'and in lyke manner am feble of nature, so that without great jeopardie of my lyffe, I cannot, nor am not hable to labor in doing of my deuty to appere before your mastershipp,' &c. The prior therefore sent his brother to represent him.
Another letter, printed more than once elsewhere, is from Richard Bellasys, one of the commissioners for the suppression of monasteries, (fn. 50) to Cromwell, and bears date 14 November 1538. After relating how he had treated Jervaulx Abbey, the writer goes on to say, 'As for Byrdlington I have doyn nothing there as yet, but spayrethe itt to March next, bycause the days now are so short, and from such tyme as I begyn I trust shortly to dyspatche it after such fashion that when all is fynished, I trust your Lordshipp shall think that I have bene no evyll howsbound in all such things as your Lordshipp haith appoynted me to doo.'
Priors of Bridlington
Guicheman, (fn. 51) occurs before 1124
Adebold, (fn. 52) occurs before 1141
Bernard, (fn. 53) occurs between 1147 and 1168
Robert (fn. 54) (cognomento Scriba), 1160
Gregory, (fn. 55) occurs before 1181
Hugh, (fn. 56) occurs 1189-92
Helyas, (fn. 57) occurs 1199-1202
Thomas, (fn. 60) occurs 1231-49
Geoffrey de Nafferton (fn. 65) (second time), confirmed 4 August 1289
Peter de Appleby, (fn. 72) 1342, resigned 1356
Peter de Cotes, (fn. 73) 1356, resigned 1362
William de Newbould, 1379 (fn. 76)
John, occurs 1408 (fn. 79)
Thomas, occurs 1409 (fn. 80)
Robert Willy, elected 1444 (fn. 85)
William Browneflete, (fn. 98) confirmed 1521
William Wode, (fn. 99) confirmed 1531
Robert, (fn. 100) occurs 1537.
The 14th-century seal (fn. 101) is a vesica, 3¼ in. by 2¼ in., with a design of the coronation of our Lady. The counterseal, a vesica 23/8 in. by 15/8 in., has a crowned figure of our Lady in a niche, holding the Child in her left hand and a flower in her right. The legend is:—
The 12th-century seal (fn. 102) of Gregory, Prior of Bridlington, is a vesica, 23/8 in. by 1¾ in., having four heads of saints, each in a circular band inscribed with a name. These are MARIA, PAVLVS, AVGVSTINVS, NICHOLAVS. Of the legend there only remains:—