The fourteenth century: Prior John de Kensington

The Records of St. Bartholomew's Priory and St. Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield: Volume 1. Originally published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1921.

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'The fourteenth century: Prior John de Kensington', in The Records of St. Bartholomew's Priory and St. Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield: Volume 1, (Oxford, 1921) pp. 140-149. British History Online [accessed 13 April 2024]

In this section




Although the priorate of John de Kensington commenced in the year 1295, he remained prior until 1316, and may therefore be considered as a fourteenth-century prior. The licence granted to him and the convent to elect is, as has been shown above, duly recorded; but there is no record of the approval of his election. The first intimation that he was the new prior does not occur until eleven years later, when it is stated in the Rent Roll in the Bodleian of the year 1306 (in the first paragraph) that 'brother John de Kensington was then prior there'. (fn. 1)

Neither is there any record on the Patent Rolls, as usual, of the return of the temporalities, but among the Ancient Petitions in the Record Office (fn. 2) there is a petition in old French by the prior and convent, the date of which must be either 1296 or 1297, and it may be translated as follows:

'Unto our Lord the King, whom God preserve, and to his council, showeth the prior and convent of the poor house of St. Bartholomew London that Ralph de Broughtone, clerk, entered the house aforesaid as escheator after the death of Hugh prior of the same place, last predecessor of the prior who now is, and there remained with horses and several grooms at the costs of the house, and went to their poor manors and fined their poor tenants and took possession of the increase of the cows and of the sheep; and the offerings of their church of St. Sepulchre without Newgate he caused to be collected by divers lay persons. And before he would relinquish the ward of the house he charged them, by writing indented, to answer to the king for all these matters at what time it should be demanded of them. And for the reason that the prior of the same place had nothing separate from his convent, and that, before this time, in time of vacancy there was never but one serving man to maintain the king's estate, who had his maintenance with the convent without their having to make any manner of account of the profits to the king. Unto our Lord the King prayeth the aforesaid prior and the convent, who are his chaplains of his demesne chapel, founded by his ancestors, that by his grace they may of charity be relieved of the charge aforesaid and that he be willing to grant unto them the estate aforesaid and to maintain them therein.'

The king hereon instructed the exchequer to inquire what had been customary to be done heretofore and to let charges be levied accordingly; but, having to go to Flanders to avoid making the concession in person of the Confirmatio Cartarum of 1297, he gave orders to the exchequer to respite until his return the demand made upon the prior for £6 7s. 11d., as he wished to show favour to the prior and convent 'out of reverence for St. Bartholomew, in whose honour the priory was founded'. (fn. 3)

On the king's return the prior produced the charter of 33 Henry II (1187), which (as already stated (fn. 4) ) granted that after the death of a prior no man, clerk or layman, should usurp the lordship of the place, or should interfere with their lands or men or chattels, except with the goodwill of the whole convent. The king thereupon wrote to the treasurer and barons of the exchequer (fn. 5) that he recollected that it was contained in the charter of King Henry his father and in his confirmation thereof lately shown before him and his council, that it was granted to the prior and convent of St. Bartholomew's, that no one ought to intermeddle with the lands, goods, or possessions of the priory in times of voidance without the special licence of the prior and convent; whereupon the king, wishing to be fully certified, ordered the treasurer and barons to certify him fully as to the truth of this matter. By the certificate it was considered, before the king and his council, that the custody of the priory ought not to pertain to the king by reason of the voidance thereof; and the king therefore ordered that the prior and convent be acquitted of the £6 7s. 11d. exacted from them by summons of the exchequer, and that they be permitted to hold the priory when it should be void hereafter and to receive the issues thereof in accordance with the tenor of the charter.

The same question came up again several times in later years. Thus in the year 1350, on the death of Prior Pekesden, who succeeded John de Kensington, the escheators again took possession; but the king, having inspected the charters, once more ordered the escheators to remove the king's hand, quoting the above case of Edward I. (fn. 6)

In the year 1361, on the death of John de Carleton, the king's letters patent especially entrusted the wardship of the priory to the sub-prior and convent, on the condition that they should answer to the king for the revenues accruing. The next year, the prior, not having so accounted, was distrained upon by summons of the exchequer; whereupon the prior declared that before his election he was ignorant of the charters and he therefore petitioned the king for redress; the king, being unwilling that the prior should be unjustly charged, commanded the barons of the exchequer (by writ of 5 November, 1362) to examine the charters and the memorials of the exchequer on the subject. On the morrow of St. Martin, in the following year (12 November, 1363), the prior appeared in person before the court, produced the charter of 1187, and also the above writ. The barons searched their memorials; found the release of 27 Edward I; considered the matter; and on the morrow of St. Hilary (14 January) decided that, as the charters had not been revoked, the prior should be discharged of the account. This is all set out at great length in the Memorandum Roll of 37 Edward III (fn. 7); on which is also entered the charter of 33 Henry I.

The matter was all gone into again at Michaelmas in the third year of Henry V when, on the 17th August, 1414, the king issued a mandate (fn. 8) to the escheators for the restitution of the temporalities of the priory, who replied that the property had not been in their possession because the prior claimed exemption. (fn. 9) Thereupon the prior was ordered to appear before the barons of the exchequer to show cause why he ought not to account for the revenues to the king. This time the prior produced the first charter (33 Henry I), which granted that the church should be free from every earthly service as being the demesne chapel of the king; and that no person should intrude upon the possessions of the church without the consent of the prior and convent. He also produced the charter of Richard II, declared the release of Edward I, and referred to the inquiry of the thirty-seventh year of Edward III (as above). The various entries in the Memoranda Rolls were again examined and found to be as the prior stated. The prior, therefore, asked for judgment, but, as the court desired to consider the premises further, they reserved their decision for six months until the Easter following, when, on the prior appearing, their decision was further postponed until the following Michaelmas; and this process of postponement was carried on until the king died in the year 1422. Even this event did not close the case, for the prior and convent declared that they wished to maintain their plea; so further days were fixed up to Easter 1424. The prior by his attorney had then appeared twenty times in eight years; surely a very striking instance of the law's delay!

Twenty-two years later, namely, on the 5th May, 1444, Henry VI issued Letters Patent, (fn. 10) at the request of the prior and convent, because certain enemies were disturbing them in connexion with their exemption, and because they feared the vagueness of the words in their charters. This grant of the king was that the sub-prior and convent might have the keeping of the priory during voidances and not be forced to answer touching the rents and profits by summons of the Exchequer, the production of these Letters Patent being sufficient warrant; and this finally settled the matter, which is not referred to again.

To return to the chronological order:

In the year 1303 Archbishop Winchelsey, who, in the year 1297, had headed the revolt of the clergy, which had resulted in their being outlawed by Edward I, exercised his right, as metropolitan, of visitation of the priory. The result of this visitation was that he deemed it necessary to issue injunctions, of which the following is a translation (fn. 11) (this is the only instance of the issue of injunctions in connexion with the priory, though there were several in regard to the hospital):

'Robert, by divine compassion Archbishop of Canterbury, primate of all England, unto his beloved sons the prior and convent of St. Bartholomew next Smethefelde London, for lasting memorial of the matter and regard to religion, sends greeting.

'In visiting your monastery, your persons and property by our metropolitan right, we have found certain irregularities which are contrary to the honour of religion, for the correction and remedy whereof we do order and enjoin upon you as is hereunder written:

'In the first place hereafter let not any release (or grant) at all of the goods of the monastery be sold for any cause whatever, unless the licence of the diocesan or metropolitan, or others whose consent can suffice, shall, in some case of necessity, have been first asked and obtained. And in such case let not the powers of such licence so granted be in any case exceeded in the sale of the grants, on any pretext whatever.

'Also that no money be given to the brethren for their garments, but let the garments themselves, when necessity arises, be delivered unto those who need them by some one of the brethren to be deputed for the providing of garments and clothes, and they shall forthwith give back and hand over the old garments or cloth to him delivering the new.

'Also that the brethren keep—better than they have been wont to do—silence according to the observance of their rule, at the fitting places and seasons, and that the prior, or the persons holding his place, impose upon any brother who markedly and frequently breaks the rule of silence and is convicted thereof, for every time when he shall so have broken silence, one day's Friday fast of bread and water, or mark one so convicted by punishing him according to the frequency of the fault committed. Also that the gates of the close and of the houses within it be more strictly guarded and kept shut at the due hours lest, by the frequent coming of seculars, as has been wont to happen, the brethren be disturbed in the divine offices.

'Also that, according to the resources of the monastery, the sick brethren in the infirmary be treated with (meat) dishes and, more freely than the whole brethren, with suitable cereal food.

'Also that the prior for the time being shall not walk alone in the garden or elsewhere in a lonely place, but let him take with him a fitting honourable companion when he shall desire to walk or stroll, so that if he fall he will have with him one to help him.

'Also we order and command and enjoin that these said injunctions and ordinances be read aloud openly and exactly four times in the year, to wit in every quarter once, in the presence of the whole convent, to the end that, being so often inculcated in the ears of the brethren, they may be the more retentively held in their memories.

'Now these aforesaid injunctions, ordinances, and decrees we will, order, and enjoin upon you, in virtue of your obedience and on pain of the greater excommunication to be strictly observed.

'In witness of all whereof our seal has been set to these presents.

'Given at Chatham on the 5th day of the Kalends of October. (fn. 12) In the year of our Lord the one thousand three hundred and third and of our consecration the tenth.'

It is interesting to see that there were no graver faults calling for correction than those indicated. The great stress laid in the first clause on the importance of not disposing of any possessions of the monastery without licence may indicate that such sales had been made, either to fulfil the demands of the king in 1296 and 1297 (so strenuously opposed by Winchelsey) or for some other cause.

There cannot have been much at fault with the discipline of the house, for, as has been seen, (fn. 13) the monk who was implicated in the robbery of the king's treasury at the abbey, the same year that these injunctions were issued, was sent to St. Bartholomew's for safe custody. And the rule and government of the priory under John de Kensington must have been good, for when, in the year 1306, Richard de Cerne, the prior of the Augustinian hospital of St. Mary Spital without Bishopsgate, was canonically deprived, and when the canons had chosen a successor wrongfully and against the law of the general council of the order because the prior had been notoriously deposed, the bishop made choice of the sub-prior of St. Bartholomew's, Philip of London, to be prior of St. Mary Spital. (fn. 14) Subsequently (27 December, 1307) this Philip of London granted a corody, with the bishop's consent, to his predecessor at St. Mary's, the late prior Richard de Cerne. It consisted of the food of two canons in bread, beer, and kitchen dishes, and 40s. a year for other needs, and one room near the infirmary for his dwelling, so that the friends of the hospital might be hospitably entertained.

A further indication of the good government of the house is found in the fact that in the year 1308 (fn. 15) a canon of St. Osyth's, Robert de Stratford, was sent by the Bishop of London to the prior and convent of St. Bartholomew's for penance. He had been convicted on grave charges which tended to the scandal of the order. On the second and fourth days of the week he was to have only bread, broth, and beer, and on the sixth day bread and water only. He was to be present at all canonical hours, day and night; to celebrate mass every day, and to be last in quire, chapter, and refectory. On the fourth and sixth days he was to receive discipline from the president in chapter. He was not to be allowed to go outside the bounds of the monastery, and was to be kept carefully from the conversation and intercourse of women. He was to be received kindly and the penance was to last until the bishop should ordain otherwise. The Abbot of St. Osyth paid 12d. a week for the expenses.

There must have been considerable works in progress during Prior John's time, for pardon was granted of the trespasses committed by one William de Wibsuade in bequeathing to the prior and convent in mortmain without licence, about the year 1307, land with houses in St. Sepulchre's parish for the building and the maintenance of the church. The like was granted for a similar trespass by John de Honnesdone, chaplain, for a bequest of six shops with a garden in the same parish, also for the works of the church. (fn. 16) This John de Honnesdone's will (fn. 17) was dated in the year 1314. He bequeathed other shops to one Richard de Ewelle, who, dying the same year, left by will (fn. 18) two shops to the prior and convent, also for the maintenance of the church. The only work we know of likely to have been in progress at that time was the sacristy, as it seems too early for the commencement of the new Lady Chapel, which was not completed until 1335.

Prior John de Kensington caused an exact rental to be made of all the possessions of the priory, both in London and in the country. This was done by Roger de Luda, under the prior, and is dated on the feast of Easter, 34 Edward I (3rd April, 1306). (fn. 19) It must have been a work of great labour and expense, and Roger de Luda must have been a professional surveyor or lawyer to have accomplished the work. In 1323 Roger witnessed the release of the advowson of Hemel Hempstead by the prior; in 1327 he witnessed a grant of lands in Acton to the prior and convent, and in 1347 he appears as holding land in Tewin. (fn. 20)

Prior John had to appeal to the courts in regard to the possessions of the house on several occasions. In the year 1309 it is recorded, in the De Banco Rolls, that he was the plaintiff and Adam de Herewynton the defendant concerning land and rent at Acton (Middlesex), referred to above, which later, in 1327, Adam granted to the prior and convent. He also received several grants of land; thus in the year 1314, William Pypard of Little Stanmore was granted licence by the king for the alienation in mortmain to the prior and convent of a messuage and 182 acres in Little Stanmore. (fn. 21) Fourteen years previously this William Pypard had lent the prior thirty marks against the prior's bond, probably in anticipation of this grant. (fn. 22) In 1316 a similar licence was granted by fine of five marks to John Barnevyle to grant a further 198 acres and 7s. 6d. of rent in Little Stanmore. (fn. 23)

It was at this period that small chapels or altars, called chantries, were beginning to be endowed for the maintenance of a priest to pray for the souls of the founder and his friends.

In the year 1315, John son of Reginald de Grey (second Baron Grey of Wilton) desired to found a chantry in the chapel of his manor of Portepoll (or Portpool, now Gray's Inn Chapel). He therefore obtained licence (fn. 24) for the alienation in mortmain of 30 acres of land, 2 acres of meadow and 10s. of rent in 'Kentisheton' and in the parish of St. Andrew's, 'Holebourne', to the prior and convent of St. Bartholomew's to find a chaplain to celebrate daily (at Portpool) for the souls of himself, his ancestors, and all Christians. The Portpool manor house, owned by Reginald de Grey and his descendants, stood where Gray's Inn now stands; Gray's Inn Road was formerly called Portpool Lane. (The corps of the prebend of Portpool belonging to St. Paul's also lies in and about Gray's Inn Road.) At the time of the suppression in 1539, the convent was paying the benchers of Gray's Inn for the chaplain celebrating in the chapel there, with 20s. paid yearly to the master and benchers, £7 13s. 4d., and were receiving £10 from the 'Portepole' estate. (fn. 25) After the suppression an annuity was paid to Robert Urmeston, the treasurer of Gray's Inn, for 'a stipend of a priest singing in the chapel of Grays Inne, out of St. Bartholomew's'. (fn. 26)

A similar case occurred in the same year (1315), when Sir Nicholas Hosebond (or Husebond), a chaplain, and later a minor canon, of St. Paul's, obtained licence (fn. 27) to alienate three messuages and eight shops in the parish of St. Sepulchre to the prior and convent of St. Bartholomew's to find a chaplain, who was to be one of the canons of the priory, to celebrate daily in St. Paul's Cathedral for the souls of himself and others. The king granted the licence but pointed out that after inquisition made it was shown that it would be to the prejudice both of the king and of the citizens, because whenever there was an assessment in aid the king would receive no portion from this property and, whenever the tenants of lands and tenements in London should be summoned to the King's Court in pleas of land, the parishioners of St. Sepulchre's would be burdened more heavily than before. Sir Nicholas Hosebond died in the year 1347 and bequeathed to the dean and chapter of St. Paul's (fn. 28) an annual quit rent of eight marks and 'two doves, for the most part white, shut in a wooden cage, which he had been accustomed to receive yearly from the prior and convent of St. Bartholomew's' for the above property, after the Maundy supper in St. Paul's, for lighting the Easter taper on Easter Eve, on the condition that a minor canon was appointed to celebrate for the good of his soul and those of others. (fn. 29)

Between the years 1436 and 1471 these 8 marks were the subject of a lawsuit between the prior of St. Bartholomew's and the dean and chapter of St. Paul's. (fn. 30) The latter had distrained on the messuages that yielded the 8 marks for the sum owing, which was two years in arrear. The prior (Reginald Collier) said the tenements were outside the ownership of the dean and chapter. The latter pleaded the grant by Sir Nicholas under licence from the king. The prior pleaded it was not lawful for Sir Nicholas to bequeath the rent into mortmain because he was not a freeman of the city; but the jury's verdict was that Sir Nicholas was a freeman; that the dean and chapter were the lawful owners and were not dispossessed by the prior.

Prior John de Kensington on four occasions gave his consent to the election of masters of the hospital, namely of Hugh de Rothwell in the year 1300; Adam de Rothing in 1305; John Terefelde in 1309; and William de Acton in 1312. (fn. 31)

In a list of benefices of London made in the year 1303, and entered in the Liber Custumarum, (fn. 32) occurs Sanctus Bartholomaeus Magnus de Smethefelde; whether this refers to the church of the monastery or to the parish chapel only is not clear, but in either case it is the earliest occasion met with of the term 'St. Bartholomew the Great'.

To the fact that Prior John had, in the year 1308, to provide a good horse and cart to carry the baggage of Edward II to Dover to meet his young bride, and to his being called upon in 1310 to lend victuals for the Scotch expedition, we have already referred. (fn. 33)

In 1307 the prior was ordered by Edward I, together with the Abbot of Waltham and the Prior of Holy Trinity, to proceed in the plea, in Court Christian, of the Abbot of Bileigh against the Prior of Prittlewell concerning certain tithes of his parish church. (fn. 34)

Prior John died in office in the year 1316, and on November 4 Roger de Hertford, a canon of the church, brought news of his death to the king, who granted letters of licence to the sub-prior and convent to elect his successor. (fn. 35)

John de Kensington, we may infer, was an old man when he died, seeing that the archbishop had enjoined, thirteen years before his death, that the prior should only walk with a companion in case he should fall. (fn. 36) Eighteen years after his death, in the year 1334, a chantry was endowed at St. Bartholomew's for a chaplain to celebrate daily at the altar of St. Bartholomew for his soul (as mentioned below). (fn. 37)


  • 1. App. I, p. 428. In Feudal Aids, ii, 434, occurs 'John Godefrei prior of St. Bartholomew's', apparently an error.
  • 2. Ancient Petitions, p. 312, E. 2, R.O.
  • 3. Cal. Close, 25 Edw. I, m. 9 d, 23rd July (1297).
  • 4. See above, p. 103, quoting Mem. Roll, L.T.R., 37 Edw. III, and App. I, p. 481, Charter No. 8.
  • 5. Cal. Close, 27 Edw. I, 22nd Apr. (1299).
  • 6. Cal. Close, 24 Edw. III, 25th May (1350).
  • 7. Mem. R., L.T.R., 37 Edw. III, m. 41, No. xxiii.
  • 8. Cal. Pat., 2 Hen. V, part ii.
  • 9. Mem. R., L.T.R., 3 Hen. V, Mich. Rot. LV (1415).
  • 10. Cal. Pat., 22 Hen. VI, 5th May (1444).
  • 11. Reg. London, Baldock, f. 6, Cant. and York Soc., Diocese London, vol. i, p. 34.
  • 12. September 27th.
  • 13. See above, p. 8.
  • 14. Reg. London, Baldock, f. 6 d (transcript, Cant. and York Soc., London, i, p. 35).
  • 15. Ib., f. 6 d (transcript, Cant. and York Soc., London, i, p. 77).
  • 16. Cal. Pat., 14 Edw. II, 9 June (1321).
  • 17. Cal. Hust. Wills, i, 245 (1314).
  • 18. Cal. Hust. Wills, i, 249 (1314).
  • 19. More fully described p. xxi above; printed in extenso, App. I, p. 428.
  • 20. See below, p. 159.
  • 21. Cal. Pat., 7 Edw. II, 8 May (1314).
  • 22. Cal. Close, 28 Edw. I, 29 Mar. (1300).
  • 23. Cal. Pat., 10 Edw. II, 10 Oct. (1316).
  • 24. Ib., 8 Edw. II, 10 May (1315).
  • 25. Valor Eccles. i, 407. See also below, p. 345.
  • 26. Cal. State Papers, xvi, No. 258, Aug. off. (1541).
  • 27. Cal. Pat., 9 Edw. II, 24 Oct. (1315).
  • 28. St. Paul's MSS. A, Box 66, Wills No. 32. Hist. MSS. Com., 9th Report, p. 47 a. Cal. Hust. Wills, i, 496.
  • 29. This occurs in the Statuta Maiora (a list of obits observed at St. Paul's). See Camden Soc., N.S., xxvi, 96.
  • 30. St. Paul's MSS., Box 70, 1782 (undated).
  • 31. These are the dates given in N. Moore, Hist. St. B.'s Hosp. i, 533, 539, 545, 546.
  • 32. Fol. 179 b; Riley, Mem. Geldhalle, vol. ii, pt. i, p. 228.
  • 33. See p. 4.
  • 34. Cal. Close, 35 Edw. I, 18 June (1307).
  • 35. Cal. Pat., 10 Edw. II, 4 Nov. (1316).
  • 36. Above, p. 144.
  • 37. Below, p. 157.