The twelfth century: Priors Thomas and Roger

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 twelfth century: Priors Thomas and Roger', in The Records of St. Bartholomew's Priory and St. Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield: Volume 1, (Oxford, 1921) pp. 93-100. British History Online [accessed 22 April 2024]

In this section



A.D. 1144–1174.

After the death of Rahere, which, as we have shown, (fn. 1) probably occurred in the year 1143, there seems to have been some difficulty in finding a suitable successor; for we are told that the post was vacant for a year. This is not surprising when we consider the troubles that had occurred in the monastery. These troubles, too, may have been the cause of a member of another monastery being elected prior, instead of some canon of the house of St. Bartholomew.

Prior Thomas, who eventually succeeded Rahere, came from St. Osyth's, or Chick, a priory of Augustinian canons in Essex. St. Osyth's—the extensive ruins of which still remain—had been founded in the year 1118 by Richard de Belmeis, the Bishop of London who had befriended Rahere in obtaining the grant of the Smithfield site from the king. The first prior of St. Osyth's, William Corbuil (or de Corbellio), made Archbishop of Canterbury in the year of the founding of St. Bartholomew (1123), is reported to have been a great friend of Rahere (though on what evidence is not clear). But as Corbuil was evidently a man of some distinction to have been raised from a monastery to the primacy, Rahere would probably have met him at the king's court. Thomas must have been a man of about 70 years of age when he became prior, for when he died, in the year 1174, he was, we are told, ' in age an hundrid wyntir almost'. The following account of him is a translation from the Latin of the Book of the Foundation: (fn. 2)

' So when the space of a year had rolled by there succeeded in the priorate of this new foundation by the hands of Robert Bishop of London, Thomas, one of the canons of the church of St. Osyth, in the year of our Lord 1144, the seventh indiction, in the reign of Stephen, son of Stephen Earl of Blois, who promoted Theobald of Bec to be Archbishop of Canterbury.

' This Thomas, as we have proved for all, was a man of good company and of social cheeriness, of great eloquence and varied knowledge, learned in philosophy and versed in sacred books; whence also he had the power of readily uttering metrically what soever he attempted, and his practice was on every solemnity (holy day), as occasion demanded, to dispense the word of God to the people; and as crowds collected for that purpose, He that gave him this inward grace added to him outward glory. He was our prior with humility for about thirty years, and being about a hundred years old, with his senses unimpaired, he was laid beside his fathers with a Christian solemnity, belonging to the grace of Christ, in the year of our Lord one thousand one hundred and seventy-four, the fifteenth year of the papacy of the blessed Alexander the third, the twentieth year of the coronation of the most invincible king of the English, Henry the Second, on the 17th day of the month of January in the very year of the election of our lord Richard, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the presence of the brethren set there and praying, whom the grace of God had increased from the aforesaid small number (13) to thirty-five (fn. 3) with a corresponding increase of temporal possessions; which the giver of all good things promised should be added to those who seek the Kingdom of God. In his time also the plant of his apostolic vine grew in glory and grace before God and before men, and the curtains of our tabernacles were extended with more ample buildings to the praise and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom is honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.'

We refer fully in a later chapter (fn. 4) to the growth of the church, and of the monastic buildings, in his time; we show that the crossing and transepts, and the bay of the quire on the east side of the crossing, also the bay of the nave on the west of the crossing (which is included in the conventual quire), are the work of his period—also the filling in of the triforium arches of the quire, with a subsidiary arcade; they date from about the end of the second, or from early in the third quarter of the twelfth century—and that, having completed the conventual quire, instead of continuing the nave, Prior Thomas commenced the monastic buildings and probably completed at any rate the east walk of the cloister. He commenced the chapter-house, and possibly the frater, but of the latter we have no record. The base of the shaft on the eastern jamb of the cloister arch and the twelfth-century remains discovered in the year 1912 on the site of the chapter-house afford proof of the correctness of this assumption, and of the statement of the chronicler that 'the curtains of the tabernacles were extended with more ample building'. The extension of Rahere's quire westward would have made room for the thirtyfive stalls required for the increased number of canons. The chronicler, as so often happened in medieval times, seems to have mistaken the year of the prior's death; for the 17th January 1174, in old style, would be 1175 in our reckoning, as the new year did not begin until the 25th March; but January of the fifteenth year of Pope Alexander III (fn. 5) was the year 1174, new style; and the twentieth year of the coronation of King Henry II (fn. 6) was 1174; and the 17th January of the year of the election of Richard Prior of Dover (fn. 7) was also 1174, new style, so we must consider that Prior Thomas died on the 17th January 1174, new style.

Prior Thomas's name occurs very seldom in the records. In the year 1145, in company with the Abbot of St. Albans, the Abbot of Colchester, and with the priors of Holy Trinity, Aldgate, of St. Botolph's, Colchester, and of Merton Priory, Surrey, his name occurs as Prior of St. Bartholomew's, as a witness to the deed in St. Paul's library which has been already quoted as evidence of the date of the death of Rahere. (fn. 8)

In the year 1147, Prior Thomas made a formal announcement by charter (as we have seen) (fn. 9) that he had admitted one Adam, a mercer, into the fraternity. No doubt he had done this because he considered him, though a layman, a suitable man to be the head of the hospital and to regulate its affairs. Prior Thomas, evidently a strong man himself in spite of his years, grappled vigorously with the questions which, after the death of the founder, had begun to arise; and he laid down rules and regulations for the guidance of the new master.

This ordinance was fortunately copied by John Cok in the cartulary of the hospital; (fn. 10) otherwise it would not have been preserved to us. A copy will be found in the Appendix, (fn. 11) the following being an epitome of its contents.

It commences:

' Thomas prior of the church of St. Bartholomew of London and the convent of the same church to all the sons of mother church, greeting—

' To all of you we make it known that we have received Adam, mercer, into our brotherhood to partake of the corporal and spiritual benefits which are to be found in our church. And since he is a layman and we know that he cannot fill a place in the convent of the clerical brethren, we have committed the care of the hospital house to his brotherly prudence with this charge: That whatsoever in lands or rents that he shall acquire to the advantage of the house shall remain payable wholly to the hospital house.

' That if he particularly wishes to assume the canonical habit entirely out-of-doors, his wish shall be satisfied.

' That because Adam has done fealty and is bound by an oath to the church of St. Bartholomew and has promised obedience to Prior Thomas and his successors (without prejudice to an agreement in this charter concerning the guardianship of the hospital house) therefore we confirm the care of the house to him and give him full authority to abound with bowels of mercy towards the orphans, outcast children, the poor in the neighbourhood, and to any who are sick or homeless.'

It further ordains that he may admit any of the household or of the benefactors of the house to help him from time to time; but he is not to admit any one to food and clothing permanently without the consent of the prior, nor make a practice of giving out-door relief.

That he may complete the chapel which was commenced almost at the same time as the hospital; but the gateway towards the horse market he must brick up and place an alms-box therein.

That he will demolish the chapel in the midst of the hospital so that the house may appear more beautiful and have more room.

That at his death the brethren, having been summoned to chapter, shall elect by common consent, and the authority of the prior, some one from the house who is worthy, honourable, and profitable to be set over them.

That his successors are always to have the same charge as this and to be bound with a like oath of fealty and obedience.

Prior Thomas further grants to Adam and the brethren that they may have a chaplain other than a canon to say the divine office continuously in the hospital.

That the brethren may go out to obtain things necessary, as has been their custom.

That the prior and convent will grant them a tenth of their bread and what they leave of bread and meat, fish and drink, with greater cheerfulness even than heretofore and more abundantly. (fn. 12)

It continues:

' And if, which God forbid, that house shall lack anything in which we abound, or if the said house shall abound in any things which our church lacks, they shall assist each other in turn without reluctance on either side.

' And whatever chaplain shall go into the church of our church or of the hospital, shall observe faith towards the things solemnly herein set forth.

'In order therefore that it may appear to all with what ardour and with how unbreakable a bond of affection we have desired that that house shall be allied and abide in unity with our church—I Prior Thomas and the convent curse and excommunicate all who shall try to make division and separation.


Stephen, prior of the church of Holy Trinity.

Robert, prior and canon of the church of St. Mary Overy.

Adam, his canon. Richard, priest of St. Mildred.
Ishmael, priest of St. Thomas. Master Clement, grandson of William Grand.
William de Coveham. Ralph Buetel.
Robert of Cornhull. David his brother.
Peter FitzWalter. William the Great.
Edward White. William de Blemunt.
Goce Vinitor (the vintner). Andrew Bukerell.'
[and 19 others named.]

After the death of Adam the mercer, his successor Stephen, a secular priest, was elected master in his place by the common consent of the brethren, as provided by Prior Thomas in his charter; (fn. 13) and there is a record among the St. Paul's MSS. that Stephen also observed the charter of Prior Thomas by obtaining the consent of the prior before granting away two pieces of land in the parish of St. Nicholas Shambles (by Foster Lane). (fn. 14)

In addition to thus arranging the governance of the hospital and conducting the large building operations at the church, the prior dispatched on two, if not on three, separate occasions special emissaries to Rome. These succeeded in obtaining the grants of privileges (as has been already shown) (fn. 15) from Anastasius IV in the year 1153–4; from Adrian IV, some time before 1159; and from Alexander III, either before 1162 or after 1173.

It was, moreover, Prior Thomas who obtained the confirmation charter from St. Thomas of Canterbury; for Becket was only archbishop from May 1162 to December 1170, in which year he was murdered, and both of these dates are within the years of the priorate of Thomas. It seems to have been customary both for bishops and archbishops to grant confirmation charters. William of Blois, Bishop of Lincoln (1203–1206), granted such a general charter to St. Frideswide's, Oxford; and there are records that Walter Reynolds, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the year 1319, and Thomas Arundel, in 1411, also granted like charters.

In this charter (fn. 16) to St. Bartholomew's, St. Thomas takes the church and canons regular there beneath the protection of the Lord and himself, and assures to them the place in Smithfield where the church and hospital are built, as granted to them in frankalmoign by King Henry I and confirmed by his charter. He also confirms to them all the churches and possessions which they held then and would in future obtain, and all dignities which they had in the time of King Henry I.

Prior Thomas also obtained, apparently in the year before his death, a charter from King Henry II (fn. 17) confirming all the privileges granted by King Henry I in 1133. It differs in detail from the earlier charter and omits any reference to Rahere himself, but is otherwise without special interest beyond the fact that the king specially emphasizes that the church is his 'demesne' chapel and the canons are his 'demesne' canons; 'this church', he says, 'shall be free as being my demesne chapel' and the priory be protected as belonging to ' the king's demesne'. It was given at Rouen, but no month or year is mentioned; it must, however, have been when Henry was in France to quell the rebellion of his sons, for among the witnesses is the Earl of Clare, who died in 1173, the same year as the king went to France; and as no one date of the other witnesses controverts that date, 1173 was doubtless the year of the charter. It was witnessed by—

Rotron (bishop of Evreux).

A. Albinic (bishop of Avranche).

Thomas (the chancellor).

William, Earl of Aumale (d. 1176; served under Henry II against Prince Henry, 1173).

Hugh (the Earl).

Wm. d'Aubigny (d. 1189).

Roger de Clare (Earl of Hertford; d. 1173).

Richard de Humet (the constable).

M. Biset (the sewer).

W. de Keisneto.

Stephen de Turonis (the chamberlain, by the hand of—)

Stephen de Fulgerius.

Also at Rouen, and probably at the same time, a short reminder charter (fn. 18) was granted, consisting of the substance of the longer charter, but with this additional privilege in the final clause, viz., ' I order that they shall not make answer for any matter, nor be set to plead, save by me, and in my presence ', i.e. in the Curia Regis or King's Bench.

It was witnessed by Richard de Humet, the constable, and Manasser Biset, the sewer, and no one else.

The various miracles chronicled in the Book of the Foundation as having occurred in connexion with the church in the time of Prior Thomas and his successor, have already been briefly referred to, (fn. 19) and, as they are printed in the Appendix, (fn. 20) no further reference to them here is necessary.


A.D. 1174–1201.

We have no exact record as to who succeeded Prior Thomas. The writer of the Book of the Foundation, although he wrote after the death of that prior, does not mention his successor by name. In fact, the only record we have of a prior's name between the year 1174, when Prior Thomas died, and 1201, when Prior Richard's name appears in the king's court, is that of a Prior Roger which occurs twice only; once among witnesses to ' a grant by William de Ram' (Ramis, Raimes, or Reymes) (fn. 21) to Adam son of Ranulph son of Adam, of half his land at Egeswere (Edgware) and Stanmore, including the church and a meadow. (fn. 22) Among the other witnesses was a Geoffrey Bucuint (Boycoynte or Bocointe), but neither he nor any of the other witnesses help to date the grant. At the Record Office the grant is attributed to some time in the reign of Henry II.

In 1171 another Bocointe, Henry, who held an estate in Stanmore Parva (or Whitchurch) under William de Reymes, paid one mark into the king's exchequer, that he might implead William de Reymes for that manor; (fn. 23) and about the year 1176, an undated charter, referred to below, was granted to the prior and convent confirming certain gifts made to them, among which was a gift by Roger de Raimis of whatever William de Raimis had conceded to them in Edgware. William de Raimis had therefore given part of his Edgware property to the prior and convent before the date of this charter of about 1176. In view of this and of the above facts it is not unreasonable to assume that it was about the same time that William de Raimis was dealing with other portions of his Edgware lands, to the granting of half of which to Adam son of Ranulph, Prior Roger was a witness. This would make the date of the grant about 1176 and sufficiently near the date of the death of Prior Thomas to warrant the assumption that Prior Roger succeeded Prior Thomas about 1174. It is also possible that he was the only prior between Prior Thomas and Prior Richard.

The other occurrence of Roger's name is on a grant by John Becointe and two others to the hospital of land adjoining thereto. The agreement was made coram Rogero priore sancti Bartholomei. Sir Norman Moore, since the publication of his history of the Hospital, has attributed the date of this deed to about the year 1181, and if that is a correct surmise it leaves twenty years only before Prior Richard appears.

Some confusion has been caused by Alan the master of the hospital having styled himself prior about this time. He did so in a deed at St. Paul's, (fn. 24) 'Ego Alan prior et Fratres Hospitalis Bartholomoei', whereby he acknowledges that they hold certain lands of the canons of St. Paul's. The deed is undated, but it must have been executed between 1182, when Alan, styled ' the priest', was elected proctor, and 1191, when Nicholas the Archdeacon, one of the witnesses, ceased to be archdeacon. The late Dr. J. C. Cox pointed out that it was not an uncommon occurrence for the master of a hospital to call himself prior, as was the case in about the year 1160, when the master of 'Domus Dei' of Derby, is called ' the prior ' in one place in the Derby cartulary. There are other instances, as at ' God's House' at Portsmouth; at St. Thomas's, Birmingham; and at Southampton. That Alan was proctor of the hospital and not the prior of the church there is no doubt, because Pope Lucius III, in his letters of the years 1183 and 1184, and Pope Celestinus III in his letter of 1191 (fn. 25) address him as ' Alan the priest and proctor of the hospital', and he is mentioned in the hospital cartulary as proctor from 1182 to 1211. (fn. 26) In the year 1185, Pope Lucius, in his letter to the Abbot of Boxley and others, (fn. 27) not only refers to Alan the proctor, but also directs that the prior (whose name unfortunately is not given) shall be suspended, if found in the wrong for not reporting an appeal against his authority to excommunicate those of the hospital involved in the dispute over the burial of one of the brethren already referred to. (fn. 28)


  • 1. Above, p. 58.
  • 2. Fol. lxxix.
  • 3. For number of canons in later years see below, p. 232.
  • 4. Vol. II, chaps. i and viii.
  • 5. Consecrated 24 Sept. 1159.
  • 6. Crowned 19 Dec. 1154.
  • 7. Elected 3 June 1173.
  • 8. Above, p. 58.
  • 9. See above, p. 78.
  • 10. Hosp. Cart., f. 46.
  • 11. App. I, p. 490.
  • 12. This has already been referred to when describing the dissensions between the priory and the hospital. See above, p. 87. For notes on the witnesses see N. Moore, Hist. St. Barth. Hosp. i, 55.
  • 13. Hosp. Cart., f. 62.
  • 14. St. Paul's Lib., Box A. 21, No. 396 (no date).
  • 15. Above, p. 56.
  • 16. Hosp. Cart., f. 39 b. For Latin transcript see App. I, p. 490.
  • 17. App. I, Charter No. 4, p. 478.
  • 18. Ib., Charter No. 5, p. 479.
  • 19. Above, p. 64.
  • 20. App. I, p. 396 et seq.
  • 21. Below, p. 102, No. 9; also p. 355.
  • 22. Catl. Anc. Deeds, R.O. II, A, 2146.
  • 23. Lysons, Environs, vol. ii, pt. 1, p. 155. See also p. 352. below.
  • 24. St. Paul's Lib. MSS. A, Box 71, No. 1798.
  • 25. Hosp. Cart., ff. 47, 48, 49, quoted p. 79, above.
  • 26. Ib., f. 62.
  • 27. Ib., f. 48 d.
  • 28. See p. 81.