Houses of Benedictine monks: The priory of Luffield

A History of the County of Buckingham: Volume 1. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1905.

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'Houses of Benedictine monks: The priory of Luffield', in A History of the County of Buckingham: Volume 1, (London, 1905) pp. 347-350. British History Online [accessed 21 April 2024]

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The priory of Luffield was probably the first house of this order in Buckinghamshire, (fn. 1) and was dedicated to the honour of St. Mary; the name of the founder, Robert de Bossu, Earl of Leicester, shows the date of foundation to have been earlier than 1133. (fn. 2) Gifts of land for the support of the monastery were confirmed by Henry I. and the Empress Maud, and also by bulls of Eugenius III. and Alexander III.: (fn. 3) there is no well-known name among its benefactors except that of Hamo son of Meinfelin. (fn. 4) The endowments in the twelfth century were not extensive, and no considerable gifts were added at any later time, so that the number of monks must always have been small. The house seems to have been reckoned almost from the first as a royal foundation, and the royal patronage was of real advantage in at least one case of need. For we are told by the chronicler of Dunstable (fn. 5) that in the year 1244 a band of fiveand-twenty robbers burst into the monastery while the monks were singing vespers, and carried away all the portable ornaments of the church, with everything else they could lay hands on, not even sparing the sacred vessels: whereupon the king not only consoled the monks with kind words, but sent them three new chalices and the necessary vestments for three chaplains, as well as £15 in money. In November 1286 the debts of the house had become so serious that Edward I. took the priory under his protection and appointed a royal clerk, Richard de Rothewell, to the custody of the temporalities during his pleasure. (fn. 6) The house is here described as being of the patronage of the king. As pertaining to his prerogatives the king exercised the right of imposing boarders, and on 20 August, 1316, John de Ditton, clerk, obtained letters to the prior and convent entitling him to receive the pension they were bound to grant to one of the king's clerks by reason of the new creation of a prior. (fn. 7) Some years later, in February 1333-4, Robert de la Chapelle was sent to the house to receive such maintenance as John Close, deceased, had had. (fn. 8)

Not much is known of the external history of the priory, though the names of the priors are found in regular succession both in the episcopal registers and the patent rolls. There is no record even of any important lawsuit connected with this house. Finally, in the year 1493, when the number of inmates was reduced to three, King Henry VII. petitioned Pope Alexander VI. to allow him to suppress the house and apply its revenues, the yearly value of which was estimated at 260 florins auri de camera, to the chapel and chantry which he had founded next to St. George's, Windsor, together with a hospital for the poor and other 'miserable persons' in the town of the same. The Bull which granted this request describes the monastery as situated in a deserted place, and inhabited for some time past by a prior with only two monks, who had not even been professed in the house: the buildings had fallen into almost irreparable ruin through the neglect of those who had charge of them. (fn. 9) A subsequent Bull of Julius II. allowed the king to apply the revenues of the priory to his new chapel at Westminster instead of to Windsor, (fn. 10) and this plan was carried into effect four or five years later.

Archbishop Peckham visited the priory early in 1280 and found the conduct of the prior, William de Esteneston, so bad that he absolved him from office. (fn. 11) The monks obtained leave to elect, and on 8 March, 127980, the king signified his assent to the election of Adam de Hanred or Henred. (fn. 12) The archbishop wrote to Oliver Sutton, then bishopelect of Lincoln, forbidding him to assign any pension or portion to the late prior of Luffield beyond the common share, unless he should think fit to send him to do penance for his excesses in another monastery, stating that in the face of his express prohibitions and on the very day of the archbishop's departure the prior had admitted women into the cloister of the monastery and had wasted the goods of the house on them. (fn. 13) Archbishop Peckham visited the priory again in the autumn of 1284, and found that William de Esteneston had prevailed on his diocesan to grant him the usual privileges of a retired superior for so long as he should behave himself honestly and regularly. This indulgence the archbishop found he had grossly abused, and on 15 November Peckham issued a decree that brother William de Esteneston should be deprived of the special chamber assigned to him in the infirmary, which should henceforth be restored for the use of the sick, that he should take his meals with the monks in the refectory, and share the food of the ordinary brothers, should sleep in the dormitory and attend the day and night offices in the church unless obviously ill, should receive the same treatment in the infirmary if he should fall ill as any other brother, and that his servant (garcio) should lodge with the other servants of the community and not within the cloister. The archbishop, in order to prevent the abuse spreading, ordered that the door leading from the chamber occupied by the late prior into the orchard should be locked and the key kept by the prior until a wall could be built round the orchard. After that the sick should have liberty to go in and out of the orchard until sunset, when the door should be locked and the key placed in the custody of the prior. If the culprit refused to adhere to these regulations he was to be separated from the community and kept in seclusion according to their rule until he rendered humble obedience. If he should show signs of apostasy, as was to be feared, or attempt to renew his crimes, he was to be placed in close custody. (fn. 14)

There was much discord in the house at the close of the century, which showed itself in several successive elections. In 1285 Bishop Sutton deprived the brethren of their right of election, because of the dissensions which arose at the resignation of the prior: and finding no one in the house whom he thought capable of holding office, he on his own authority re-appointed Adam de Hanred, the monk who had just resigned. (fn. 15) In 1287 Adam again resigned, and on 26 May a licence to elect having been obtained, the brethren elected Richard de Silveston. The royal assent to his election was signified on 18 June, but on that day a messenger arrived from the convent bearing the resignation of brother Richard and requesting another licence to elect. (fn. 16) This having been obtained, the choice of the priory fell on a brother from another monastery—John of Houghton, from the priory of Daventry. (fn. 17) He in his turn resigned two years later, and became a Friar minor: the monk elected in his place resigned the office, (fn. 18) and Peter of Saldeston or Shalstone was finally appointed. (fn. 19) In 1294 the bishop visited the house, and deposed Peter of Shalstone, (fn. 20) because he would not obey the injunctions then given as to the management of the property of the convent, and William of Brackley was elected. After this the house must have enjoyed greater peace, for William ruled it nearly twenty years, and his successor twenty-eight years.

The only other recorded visitation of this monastery was in 1311, by order of Bishop Dalderby (fn. 21); its results are not entered in the episcopal registers. In 1347 the prior was enjoined to receive back an apostate monk, who wished to resume the habit of religion. (fn. 22) The death of the prior is recorded in the year of the Great Pestilence, and it is stated that all the monks died of the plague. (fn. 23) It may be that, like many other small houses, the priory of Luffield never fully recovered its original numbers or prosperity after this year. The last prior, Thomas Rowland, on the suppression of the house in 1494, retired to the abbey of Abingdon, of which he died Lord Abbot in 1504. (fn. 24)

The original endowment of the priory consisted of the demesne land at Luffield, with other parcels of land in Thornborough, Shalstone and Evershaw in this county, at 'Flechamsteda' in Warwickshire, and at Dodford in Northamptonshire; with the churches of Thornborough, Beachampton and Water Stratford and the Chapel of Evershaw. (fn. 25) The total value of temporalities in 1291 was £24 19s. 17½d. (fn. 26); the spiritualities could not have amounted to much, as the churches of Thornborough and Water Stratford were both of less than £10 value, and vicar's portions had to be paid out of this.

In 1316 the prior of Luffield was returned as holding half the vill of Shalstone, half the vill of Evershaw, and one third of Thornborough. (fn. 27) In 1346 he held the same portion of Thornborough, and shared with the abbot of Biddlesden one eighth of a knight's fee in Evershaw. (fn. 28)

The value of the house, as stated in the bull of Alexander VI. for its annexation, is stated to have been 260 golden florins.

Priors of Luffield

Mauger, (fn. 29) first prior, occurs before 1133

William, (fn. 30) occurs 1151

Ralf, (fn. 31) occurs 1174

John (fn. 32)

William, (fn. 33) before 1218

Roger, (fn. 34) died 1231

William de Brackley, (fn. 35) elected 1231

Ralf de Silveston, (fn. 36) elected 1263, resigned 1275

William de Esteneston, (fn. 37) elected 1275, resigned 1279-80

Adam de Hanred, Henred or Heured, (fn. 38) 1279-80, resigned 1284

William de Brackley, (fn. 39) elected 1284-5, election annulled

Adam de Hanred, Henred or Heured (fn. 40) reappointed 1285, resigned 1287

Richard de Silveston, (fn. 41) elected 1287, resigned same time

John de Houghton, (fn. 42) elected 1287, resigned 1289

Gilbert de Merse, (fn. 43) elected 1289, resigned same time

Peter de Saldeston or Shalstone, (fn. 44) elected 1289, deposed 1294

William de Brackley, (fn. 45) elected 1294, resigned 1316

John de Westburg, (fn. 46) elected 1316, died 1344

William de Skelton, (fn. 47) elected 1344, died 1349

William de Horwood, (fn. 48) elected 1349, resigned 1383

John Pirye, (fn. 49) elected 1383

John Horwood, (fn. 50) elected 1396

John Hals, (fn. 51) elected 1420, died 1444

John Pinchbeck, (fn. 52) elected 1444, resigned 1468

William Rogers, (fn. 53) elected 1468, resigned 1488

Thomas Rowland, (fn. 54) elected 1488, resigned the house 1494 (fn. 55)

Seal: A pointed oval seal (fn. 56) of the thirteenth century represents the Virgin seated on a throne, a sceptre in her right hand, the Holy Child on her left knee with cruciform nimbus, lifting up the right hand in benediction and holding a book in the left. In the upper part of the seal is the representation of a church, in base a prior is kneeling in prayer. Legend: S' COMMVNIS: SAMCTE: MARIE: D'LVFFEITT.


  • 1. It is partly in Northamptonshire as well as in this county.
  • 2. Tanner gives the year 1124, Notitia, Northants, xxii.
  • 3. Dugdale, Mon. iv. 348.
  • 4. He gave 5½ hides in Thornborough and the church. Hund. R. (Rec. Com.), ii. 351.
  • 5. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), iii. 165. The priory of Beverley was robbed in the same year. Such acts were by no means uncommon at this time.
  • 6. Pat. 14 Edw. I. m. 4.
  • 7. Close, 10 Edw. II. m. 27d.
  • 8. Ibid. 8 Edw. III. m. 35d.
  • 9. Dugdale, Mon. iv. 346.
  • 10. Ibid. and Rymer, Fædera, xii. 563, and xiii. 97.
  • 11. Reg. of Archbishop Peckham (Rolls Ser.), i. 101.
  • 12. Pat. 8 Edw. I. m. 21.
  • 13. Reg. of Archbishop Peckham (Rolls Ser.), i. 102.
  • 14. Ibid. iii. 584-5.
  • 15. Linc. Epis. Reg. Rolls of Sutton. According to entries on the patent and fine rolls the monks, on the resignation of Adam de Henred or Hanred in December 1284, elected William de Brackley, a brother of their house, as prior, and on 2 January, 1284-5, the king signified his assent (Pat. 13 Edw. I. m. 31). The bishop annulled the election and reappointed Adam, without however obtaining another licence from the king, who of his special grace directed the escheator to restore the temporalities of the house to Adam until Parliament, to be held after Easter, when the matter should receive final settlement. Fine R. 13 Edw. I. m. 16, cited by Dugdale, Mon. iv. 346, n.z.
  • 16. Pat. 15 Edw. I. ms. 9, 11.
  • 17. Linc. Epis. Reg. Rolls of Sutton.
  • 18. His name was Gilbert de Merse. Pat. 17 Edw. I. ms. 18, 20.
  • 19. Linc. Epis. Reg. Rolls of Sutton and Pat. 17 Edw. I. m. 18.
  • 20. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Sutton, f. 111.
  • 21. Ibid. Memo. Dalderby, 202d.
  • 22. Ibid. Inst. Bek. 12d.
  • 23. Cited by Browne Willis (Hist. of Mitred Abbies, ii. 27) from Camden. See also Gasquet, Black Death, 137.
  • 24. Browne Willis, Hist. of Mitred Abbies, ii. 27. His companions were probably transferred to other monasteries according to the ordination laid down in the bull of Alexander VI. Dugdale, Mon. iv. 352.
  • 25. Ibid. and Hund. R. (Rec. Com.), ii. 343, 351.
  • 26. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 45-47, etc.
  • 27. Feud. Aids, i. 108-9.
  • 28. Ibid. 125-6.
  • 29. Foundation Charter, Dugdale, Mon. iv. 346.
  • 30. Bull of Eugenius III., ibid.
  • 31. Bull of Alexander III. ibid.
  • 32. Browne Willis, Hist. of Mitred Abbies, ii. 25
  • 33. Ibid.
  • 34. Pat. 15 Hen. III. m. 2.
  • 35. Ibid.
  • 36. Linc. Epis. Reg. Rolls of Gravesend.
  • 37. Ibid. and Pat. 3. Edw. I. m. 19.
  • 38. Ibid. 8 Edw. I. m. 21.
  • 39. Ibid. 13 Edw. I. m. 29.
  • 40. Ibid. m. 23, and Linc. Epis. Reg. Rolls of Sutton.
  • 41. Pat. 15 Edw. I. m. 9.
  • 42. Linc. Epis. Reg. Rolls of Sutton.
  • 43. Pat. 17 Edw. I. m. 18.
  • 44. Ibid.
  • 45. Ibid. 23 Edw. I. m. 18.
  • 46. Ibid. 9 Edw. II. m. 15.
  • 47. Ibid. 18 Edw. III. pt. ii. m. 15.
  • 48. Linc. Epis. Reg. Inst. Gynwell, f. 240d.
  • 49. Ibid. Inst. Bokyngham, i. f. 230.
  • 50. Ibid. ii. f. 184.
  • 51. Ibid. Inst. Fleming, f. 49d.
  • 52. Ibid. Inst. Alnwick, f. 131.
  • 53. Ibid. Inst. Chadworth, f. 72d.
  • 54. Ibid. Inst. Russell, f. 63.
  • 55. Browne Willis, Hist. of Mitred Abbies, ii. 27.
  • 56. Dugdale, Mon. iv. 348.