The Burton cartulary: Introduction

Pages 1-6

Staffordshire Historical Collections, Vol. 5 Part 1. Originally published by Staffordshire Record Society, London, 1884.

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The Burton Chartulary.


Burton was a Benedictine Abbey, founded between A.D. 1002 and A.D. 1004 (fn. 1) by Wulfric Spott, who endowed it, according to the "Annals of Burton," with the whole of his possessions. The date and magnitude of the endowment, which took place shortly after the general massacre of the Danes, who, unsuspicious of danger, were dwelling peaceably within the Saxon territories, makes it not improbable that it was the result of the remorse felt by one of the ministers of King Ethelred for his share in that treacherous transaction. The King's confirmation of Wulfric's grant is the first deed in the Chartulary, and is dated A.D. 1004. The Church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and to Saint Modwen, an Irish female anchorite, who had dwelt for many years on one of the islands of the Trent near Burton.

Like all the Saxon foundations, Burton was greatly shorn of its splendour by the Norman Conquest. Of seventy-two manors named in Wulfric's will, there remained to the monks at the date of Domesday thirty-two only, and seven of these had been given to them by the Conqueror. (fn. 2)

The great reduction in the revenues of the religious houses of Saxon foundation after the Conquest, was not owing so much to the rapacity of the Normans, as to the policy of the Conqueror. These monasteries had amassed enormous possessions during that superstitious era immediately preceding the close of the eleventh century, and these were held by them for the most part free from all secular obligations.

The Conqueror, with a view of increasing the military strength of the Kingdom, which had been greatly impaired by the alienation of so much land to religious uses, subjected the monastic possessions to the feudal law, and compelled the monks to furnish a certain number of Knights in time of war, or to relinquish a part of their endowments. The monks of Burton appear to have chosen the latter alternative, for none of the tenants of this monastery after the Conquest held their lands by military service. In this they probably acted wisely, for monastic bodies derived little or no benefit from lands in which military tenants were enfeoffed. The feudal obligations such as the aid on the knighthood of the eldest son, or on the marriage of the eldest daughter of the feudal lord, were obviously inapplicable in the case of a religious superior, and the only benefit which accrued to an ecclesiastical lord in the case of military tenures was the rare and uncertain contingency of the wardship of a minor; and against this advantage had to be placed certain undefined obligations, for in most, if not in all cases, the great religious houses paid the expenses of their Knights when in the service of the King. (fn. 3)

The manors or lands in possession of the monks at the date of Domesday were:—

In Staffordshire—

Burton and its members, Branstone, Shobnall, Stretton in Burton, Horninglowe and Wetmoor; Anslow, Pillatonhall, Whiston (in Penkridge), Darlaston (in Stone), Abbots Bromley, Leigh and Field, Ilam, Okeover and Casterne, Hampton in Blithfield, and land in Tatenhill and Stafford

In Derbyshire they held—

Cotes, Winshill, Bersicote (Brislingcote ?), Ticknall, Stapenhill, Appelby, Cauldwell, Mickleover, Littleover, Henover (Heanor), Finden, Portlock, and Willington.

In Warwickshire—

Austrey, and land in Wolston.

The above list is taken from the Confirmation of Pope Lucius at p. vii. of the Chartulary. (fn. 4) This specifies that all the lands named in it had been given to the monks by their founder, Wulfric Spott, or by William the Conqueror. These lands must therefore have been in the possession of the monks at the date of the Survey, but the list differs in some respects from the extant Domesday. Some valuable manors such as Anslow in Staffordshire and Willington in Derbyshire are not mentioned in the Survey; and it is not unlikely that the monks either by interest or by bribery had obtained the suppression of some of their estates in the Survey as finally codified.

On one important point, however, I think they have been maligned. Eyton states in his Staffordshire Domesday that they had procured the suppression of the whole of their home estate of Burton, amounting to nearly 6,000 acres. I am inclined to believe that the following entry from Domesday refers to the abbatial manor of Burton, and the other members of Burton are included in the Domesday Survey.

Under the Hundred of Pirehill, it will be seen that Domesday gives the following account of an estate of the Abbey in Stafford:—

In villâ de Stadford, Abbatia Sanctæ Mariæ de Bertone tenet 1 hidam et dimidiam. Terra est 2 carucatæ valet £3 10s.

The Burton Chartulary contains at folio 3 what purports to be a copy of the Domesday Return of their estates. It is headed: Sic continctur super Domesday apud Wintoniam.

Ecclesia Sanctæ Mariæ de Burtone in Staffordsire. In ipsâ villâ habet hidam et dimidiam. Terra est 2 carucatæ valet xl. solidos.

It is not probable that the monks held so large an estate in the town of Stafford, and we find no trace of it in after years; (fn. 5) the error has arisen no doubt from a mistake of the clerk who compiled the fair copy of the Survey, and who confounding Staffordsira with Staffordia, has assumed that the words ipsa villa referred to Stafford instead of Burton. The Hundreds are wrongly rubricated in several other instances in the Survey. (fn. 6)

The Chartulary is essential for the history of the above named places; but some of its contents have more than a local interest: it contains for instance a nominal list of all the Burton tenants of the time of the Abbot Nigel, who died A.D. 1113. Many of these tenants must have been born before the Conquest, and all of them within a few years after it. This part of the Chartulary has therefore an ethnological interest, for the names of these tenants supply us approximately with the relative proportions of the Saxon and Danish races in this part of the Kingdom. No doubt any assumption based on baptismal names only must be received with caution, for these races had become much blended by inter-marriage by this date; but it is impossible not to be struck by the large proportion of Danish or Scandinavian names amongst the Burton tenantry; and this tends to confirm an opinion which has been long held by the writer, that men of Danish descent formed a very large proportion of the English race at the Norman Conquest, and that this important political and ethnographical fact has not received sufficient attention in recent histories of the English people.

The social habits and condition of the people receive many illustrations in the pages of the Chartulary. Thus the "corrodium" or allowance of food and clothing made by religious houses in exchange for a gift of land, was the method by which an annuity was secured in the middle ages, and the details of the charges on this head throw some light on the mode of life and food of the middle classes in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

The legal proceedings (folios 86–93) between the monks and their customary tenants of Mickle-Over, who claimed to be free tenants, are very curious and interesting. Although the villains were unsuccessful in their suit, they appear to have found influential protectors, and on two occasions obtained access to King Edward I. and laid their grievances in person before him.

The prosecution of the Abbot for appropriating the missing treasury of Thomas Earl of Lancaster, attainted and beheaded A.D. 1323, is noteworthy, when taken in connection with the finding of a large number of coins (over 100,000) in the River Dove near Tuttebury in the year 1831. It is evident that the bulk of the treasure had disappeared, and a part of it had been traced to the possession of the monks. They were therefore suspected very naturally of secreting the remainder. A mixed Staffordshire and Derbyshire jury found the Abbot guilty, and a fine of £300 (fn. 7) was set upon the monastery; which on appeal was afterwards remitted by the King. The monks state that the jury was entirely composed of men badly disposed towards them; and this seems likely to have been the case, for their rapacity and unjust encroachments on their neighbours, of which their own Register affords many examples, must have made them very unpopular with all classes.

The dates of the accession of the Abbots after the Conquest according to the Annals of Burton are as follows:—

Leuric or Leveric, elected Abbot A.D. 1051, died A.D. 1085.

Geoffrey de Mala Terra, was deposed A.D. 1094.

Nigel, died in May, 1113.

Geoffrey, elected A.D. 1114, died A.D. 1150.

Robert, was deposed A.D. 1159.

Bernard, elected A.D. 1160, died A.D. 1175.

Robert his predecessor was re-appointed, and died A.D. 1177.

Roger Malebraunch, elected A.D. 1178, died May, 1182.

Richard, died A.D. 1188.

Nicholas, died A.D. 1197.

William de Melbourne, elected A.D. 1200, died A.D. 1210.

Roger, elected A.D. 1215, died A.D. 1216.

Nicholas de Walingford, died A.D. 1222.

Richard de Insula, elected June, 1222, died A.D. 1233.

Laurence de St. Edward, died A.D. 1260.

John de Stafford, elected July, 1260, resigned A.D. 1280.

Thomas de Pakinton, elected February, 1281, died October, 1305.

John Fisher, or de Stapenhull, died A.D. 1316.

William de Bromley, elected July, 1316, died A.D. 1329.

Robert de Longedon, elected September, 1330, died March, 1340.

Robert de Brykhull, elected March, 1341, died A.D. 1348.

John de Ibestock, elected A.D. 1348, died A.D. 1366.

Thomas de Southam, elected A.D. 1366, resigned A.D. 1400.

John de Sudbury, elected A.D. 1400, resigned A.D. 1423.

William Matthewe, resigned A.D. 1430.

Robert Ownesby, elected September, 1430, resigned Jan., 1432.

Ralph Henley, elected February, 1432, resigned A.D. 1455.

William de Bronston, died A.D. 1474.

Thomas de Felde, elected April, 1474, died A.D. 1494.

William Fleghe, elected A.D. 1494, died May, 1502.

William Bone or Beyne, elected A.D. 1502.

John Beaton or Boston, was Abbot up to A.D. 1534.

William Edys or Edes, elected 13th April, 1534, surrendered the Abbey 14th November, 1539.

The Abbots were mitred and summoned to the House of Peers.

The Chartulary or Registrum Burtonense, in the possession of the Marquis of Anglesey, and of which an abstract is now given, is a quarto or small folio volume of 156 leaves of vellum bound in white calfskin. It has no title page, but the word "Bourtoun" in large old blackletter of the Tudor period can be deciphered with some difficulty on the outside of the cover. The original Chartulary is beautifully written in double columns, with red initial letters to the paragraphs: the handwriting dating from the beginning of the thirteenth to the end of the fourteenth century; but the blank sides of the leaves have been filled in with writing of a later date, and additional folios have likewise been interpolated, filled with writing of a later period. These parts can readily be distinguished from the original Chartulary, not only from the difference of the writing, but also from the fact of the writing extending across the whole page in place of the usual arrangement of double columns. They have been shown in the abstract now printed by italic letters.

In the preparation of the abstract everything has been introduced which can be useful to a county historian, and in the case of the Staffordshire manors I have left in any details which may be of interest to the parish historian. All matter previously printed in the "Monasticon" or in Shaw's "History of Staffordshire" has been omitted, but reference has been made to these authorities whereever such matter occurs. In the Latin abstract the ipsissima rerba of the original has been retained in every case, but I have thought it best to put the narrative portions of the Chartulary into English. This part of the Chartulary contains matter interesting to the general reader, and few of our subscribers would care to peruse it if left in its original Latin.


  • 1. Two of the Chronicles name A.D. 1002 as the date of the foundation of Burton. The "Annals of Burton" gives the date as A.D. 1004. The massacre of the Danes took place in the former year.
  • 2. See Confirmation by Pope Lucius, folio vii. The list in Domesday is incomplete.
  • 3. There is direct evidence of this in the case of the Evesham and Croyland Monasteries, and by analogy it may be assumed to be true of the other Houses. The Evesham Chartulary thus describes their military tenants:— "Hic notantur milites et liberi tenentes de Abbatiâ de Evesham, multi injuste fefati, pauci vero juste. Isti nullum servitium faciunt Ecclesiæ nisi servitium Regis, et hoc tepide." And in the Feodary of A.D. 1166, the Abbot states after each of his Knights named, "Abbas invenit ei expensas quamdiu fuerit in servitio Regis."
  • 4. I have added Cotes to this list, the monks having been deprived of that manor between the date of Domesday and the Confirmation by Pope Lucius.
  • 5. The Confirmation of Pope Lucius names amongst their possessions terram in Staffordiâ; but this may refer to the burgage tenements of the monks in Stafford, and which are named elsewhere in the Survey; Wetmoor, Stretton, and Winshill, members of Burton, and which formed portions of the home estate, are accounted for in Domesday.
  • 6. There is another copy of the Domesday Return of the monks endorsed on King Ethelred's Confirmation of Wulfric Spott's will now at Beaudesert. This copy, which from the character of the handwriting appears to be coeval with Domesday, agrees in every particular with the Eeturn in the Chartulary above quoted.
  • 7. This would be probably equivalent to a fine of more than £20,000 at the present date. Hallam in his "Middle Ages" shows that the value of the knight's fee fixed at £20 per annum by Edward I. would represent about £1,500 a year at the present time, taking into account the difference of nomenclature of money and its purchasing power.