Houses of Austin canons: The priory of Lanercost

A History of the County of Cumberland: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1905.

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'Houses of Austin canons: The priory of Lanercost', in A History of the County of Cumberland: Volume 2, (London, 1905) pp. 152-161. British History Online [accessed 19 April 2024]

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On the banks of the Irthing close to the Roman wall, in the country which we now associate with the genius of Sir Walter Scott, Robert de Vaux son of Hubert de Vaux, lord of Gillesland, founded the priory of Lanercost for regular canons of the Order of St. Augustine. Tradition places the foundation in 1169, which agrees with the evidence of the earliest charter of the house. (fn. 1) The church was entitled in the name of St. Mary Magdalene, a dedication of singular rarity in Cumberland and Westmorland. Early in the seventeenth century John Denton mentioned, but seems to have rejected, the legend which ascribed the foundation to the remorse felt by the noble founder for having slain Gille son of Boet who owned the fief before it was given to Hubert his father. The story, however, has found its way into some of the editions of Camden, and been often repeated on his authority. Denton rightly appealed to Robert's charter of foundation, which states that the benefaction was made for the sake of Henry II., who had enfeoffed his father with the barony and confirmed it to himself, and for the health of the souls of his father Hubert and his mother Grace.

Before Robert de Vaux granted the charter, the scheme must have reached almost to the verge of completion, so full and comprehensive are its terms and references and differing so conspicuously from the successive charters which marked the various stages in the foundation of Wetheral and St. Bees. The grantor assigned to God and St. Mary Magdalene of Lanercost and to the regular canons there the lawn (landa) of Lanercost between the ancient wall and the Irthing and between Burth and Poltros, the vill of Walton by stated bounds, the church of that vill with the chapel of 'Treverman,' the churches of Irthington, Brampton, Carlaton and Farlam, certain lawns by bounds as 'Gille son of Bueth' held them, besides numerous immunities and privileges throughout the whole barony. The tenor of the charter (fn. 2) betokens a generous disposition and a liberal hand in the multiplication of gifts for the start of the new institution, and the concourse of witnesses, who assembled to subscribe their names to the deed of endowment, is a striking evidence that the occasion was regarded as one of unusual dignity and importance. In addition to many tenants and clergy of Gillesland, the foundation charter was witnessed by Christian, Bishop of Whithern in Galloway, suffragan to York during the vacancy at Carlisle, Walter prior of Carlisle, and Robert archdeacon of the same place, as representative of the ecclesiastical authority at that date. The marginal note in the register of the house which states that the church was dedicated by Bernard, Bishop of Carlisle, in 1169, the sixteenth year of Henry II. and the twelfth of his pontificate, is not worthy of credit, for though the year of foundation must be approximately correct, it is not true that Bernard was Bishop of Carlisle in 1169. The note belongs to a class of legends about Bishop Bernard that arose at an early period.

The liberality of the founder was not confined to the endowments granted in the first charter. The register of the priory contains many other deeds of gift and confirmation extending over his long tenure of the barony. In several of these charters, when he had occasion to refer to his territorial title, he reverted to the old phrase (fn. 3) employed by Henry II. in the original enfeoffment of his family and repeated by himself in his foundation charter, 'infra baronian quam dominus rex Henricus Anglie dedit patri meo et mihi in terra que fuit Gille filii Bueth.' Few of the religious houses founded by subjects in the northern counties can point to a patron more distinguished in personal qualities than Lanercost, for Robert de Vaux, immortalized by Jordan Fantosme, (fn. 4) his contemporary, was a valiant soldier, a great judge, a prudent statesman, and a munificent benefactor of his church and country. The example he set was infectious, for his family, kindred and descendants rank foremost among those who contributed to the prosperity and welfare of the priory. It would carry us beyond the limits of this notice to refer to all the benefactors who assisted in its endowment, members of the families of Morville, Engayne, Windsor, Denton, Castelcayroc, Neuton, le Sor, Tilliol, de la Ferte, Ireby and others. In common with the other religious houses of the county, the small proprietors were as forward in making bequests according to their station as the great magnates.

The priory was rich in the possession of churches, for over and above the five churches probably all that were at that time in the barony granted by the founder, the church of Grinesdale was given by Richard de Neuton and Robert le Sor, that of Lazonby was brought into relations with the priory by Ada Engayne and afterwards bestowed by her son Hugh de Morvill, and that of Denton by Buethbarn, the lord of the place. Ada Engayne granted an annuity of three marks out of the revenues of the churches of Burgh-by-Sands and Lazonby for the souls of William Engayne her father and Eustachia her mother, and for the soul of Simon de Morvill her late husband, to which Christian, Bishop of Whithern, and Robert, Archdeacon of Carlisle, were parties. (fn. 5) This pension was afterwards the occasion of scandal to the canons of Lanercost, involving them in a contest with the monks of Holmcultram about the church of Burgh, (fn. 6) as the pension out of Lazonby led to an estrangement with the abbey of Kelso. (fn. 7) The policy of appropriation was pursued with as much vigour at Lanercost as elsewhere. The Bishop of Whithern confirmed to the canons the churches Robert de Vaux gave them at the foundation of the priory. Americ, Archdeacon of Carlisle, issued a licence at a later period for their appropriation, including those of later donation on the death or resignation of the incumbents in possession, the canons undertaking to discharge all diocesan obligations. The bishops, when the succession was restored, carried on the tradition. Bishop Hugh was the first Bishop of Carlisle who espoused the interest of the parishioners in the matter of appropriations and made it a principle of diocesan administration, a policy which brought him into disrepute with the religious corporations. He made it the usual condition of his assent that fit vicars should be presented to the bishop for the service of the churches and that a competent portion should be set aside out of the revenues for their maintenance. Subsequent prelates imitated his example, and as the power of the episcopate began to strengthen after the prolonged vacancy, the vicarages of appropriated churches were taxed, that is, the sources of the incumbent's income were set out with legal exactness in the deed of episcopal confirmation. The canons of Lanercost obtained ecclesiastical recognition in customary form for the appropriation of all their churches.

In this recognition of course there was included the papal sanction, an opportunity rarely neglected for advancing the papal influence. The confirmation of Alexander III. in 1181 is an interesting document. With alacrity the pope took the church of Lanercost under the protection of the blessed Peter and decreed that the rule of St. Augustine should be observed inviolate therein for ever. After reciting and confirming the grants to the priory, licence was given to receive clerks and laymen flying from the world and to retain them in the religious life. No brother after profession was allowed to depart without leave of the prior. For their appropriated churches the canons were authorized to select suitable priests and present them to the bishop of the diocese for institution to the cure of souls, the priests answering to the bishop in spiritual matters and to the canons in temporal. In times of general interdict, it should be lawful to celebrate divine offices in the priory with low voice and closed doors and without the ringing of bells. The right of burial to all those who desired it was granted to the church, (fn. 8) except for those under excommunication or interdict, with due respect to the rights of other churches. The liberty of free election of the prior, conceded by the founder, was also recognized and confirmed. Later popes laid down strict rules for the regulation of the priory in its relations to the diocese. It was stipulated by Honorius III. in 1224 that the chrism, holy oils and ordination of clerks should be procured from the diocesan bishop if he be a catholic and in communion with the holy Roman See, and no one should be allowed to erect a new chapel or oratory within the bounds of any of their churches without the bishop's licence, saving only the privilege of the Roman pontiffs. (fn. 9)

Notwithstanding the privileges of the Holy See, the priory of Lanercost was an integral portion of the diocese of Carlisle, and the bishop's ordinary power of visitation was effective and unimpaired. Again and again was it exercised by successive bishops for the correction of abuses and the maintenance of discipline. The author of the Chronicle of Lanercost describes the first visitation of Bishop Ralf Ireton on 22 March 1281, the year after his consecration. The canons vested in their copes met the new prelate at the gates of the priory, as they had met King Edward and Queen Eleanor a few months before. Having given his benediction, the bishop received them to the kiss of peace, kissing first their hands and then their lips. In the chapter house he preached from the text, 'Lo, I myself will require'; the preaching being ended, the bishop proceeded with his visitation, 'during which,' says the chronicler, 'we were compelled to accept new constitutions.' (fn. 10)

There are several monitions on record in the episcopal archives by which intimations were given of visitations by various bishops. Bishop Kirkby gave notice on 1 February 1344-5 that he intended to visit the priory, in head and members, in their chapter house on a stated day. (fn. 11) The like was done by Bishop Welton in 1356 and 1358, (fn. 12) and by Bishop Appleby in 1368 and 1373. (fn. 13)

In many ways the bishop of the diocese exercised a pastoral oversight of the house other than by the function of visitation. It was his office to confirm the election of the canons when the priory was vacant, to institute the new prior and to lay down rules, if need be, for his future guidance. According to custom he required the nominee of the canons to be in priest's orders, of canonical age and legitimate birth. Having been satisfied in these matters, the bishop administered the oath of canonical obedience and then issued his letters to the Archdeacon of Carlisle or some diocesan official like a rural dean to induct the new prior into the temporal possessions and to assign him his stall in the choir and his place in the chapter. The form of the oath of obedience to the diocesan is of some interest: 'In the name of God, Amen. I, Brother Thomas of Hexham, prior of the priory of Lanercost of the Order of St. Augustine, of the diocese of Carlisle, will be faithful and obedient to you my venerable father in Christ and lord, the Lord Gilbert, by the grace of God, Bishop of Carlisle, and to your successors canonically appointed, your officials and ministers, in canonical and lawful demands. So help me God and these holy Gospels of God, and this I subscribe with my own hand.' (fn. 14) Sometimes the bishop dismissed the new prior with the injunction to promote amity among the brethren and exercise mildness, as his station required, in the internal administration of the convent.

According to the idiosyncracies of the bishop or the necessities of the occasion, more stringent obligations had to be undertaken by a new prior before his institution. Bishop Welton exacted a formidable list of promises in 1354 from Prior Thomas of Hexham (Hextildesham) in addition to the cherishing of goodwill among the brethren and the practice of gentleness in his government of the house. Some of these conditions may be mentioned: that he should not by any means transact important business without the consent of the convent: that the common seal should be faithfully kept in the custody of three canons or two at the least: that he should keep only a few dogs (canes nisi paucos): that he should not frequent or mix himself up with common sports (communibus venationibus): that no religious or secular man of the priory should keep dogs of any sort: and that, as a pension had been allotted to his predecessor, he should abide by the award the bishop had made. (fn. 15) The peculiar provisions in restraint of the sporting proclivities of the canons can be easily understood in a country which abounded in game. The priory was not always at peace with the lords of Gillesland about the rights of hunting in the barony. In 1256 a final concord was accepted by Thomas son of Thomas de Multon before the justices itinerant at Lancaster whereby the litigating parties came to an understanding about the hunting of their respective demesnes. (fn. 16) By this agreement, which contains many interesting features of forest law, the convent was entitled to enclose with a ditch and low hedge their part of Warth-colman and to maintain a deer-leap (saltorium) therein for the purpose of enabling the big game to enter the enclosure and of preventing them coming out again: and besides to keep a pack of hounds consisting of four harriers cleporarios) and four swift brachs (brachettos (urrentes) to take, as often as they wished, foxes, hares and all other animals known as 'clobest.' It was natural that the canons, as large landowners, should regard with jealousy any encroachments on the sporting rights of their estates, game being an important article of food, but there was just a possibility that the ways of the world might invade the quiet seclusion of the cloister. Bishop Welton was apparently of opinion that things were going too far at Lanercost, for on his coming to the see in 1353 he took the first opportunity that presented itself to curb the sporting propensities of the brethren and to keep the ruling passion within the line of moderation.

It is pleasing to note that at Lanercost as well as at Carlisle the head of the house, when feeble in health or broken down with age, was able to retire from the cares of office and to pass the evening of his life in comfort within the precincts of the priory. The procedure on the resignation of a prior was no doubt regulated by the rule of the Augustinian Order. It was customary at Lanercost for the convent to name the pension and submit it to the Bishop of Carlisle for his approval, or at least the matter was arranged between the bishop and the canons. In 1283 Prior John retired on a pension confirmed by Bishop Ralf Ireton. (fn. 17) The nature of the retiring allowance which John de (Bothecastre) Bewcastle received in 1354 throws a much needed light on the simple habits of cloistered life in the fourteenth century. It was ordained by Bishop Welton that Brother John, broken with old age and burdened with weakness of body, should have for the term of his life a fit place to dwell within the confines (septa) of the priory: two canonical allowances (libratas) daily of meal and drink, two pairs of new boots and two pairs of new socks at such times of the year when these articles of apparel were usually delivered, a sufficient supply of fire and light, and 46s. 8d. in lieu of clothing and other necessaries payable at three terms of the year, viz. at Christmas, 13s. 4d.; at Pentecost, 20s.; and at Michaelmas, 13s. 4d. The bishop also, out of respect to his former station, required the convent to make him an allowance for a valet (minister) with a suitable livery (roba) or half a mark in lieu thereof. (fn. 18)

When a vacancy occurred by the death or resignation of the prior, jurisdiction over the house at once passed to the sub-prior till the office was filled by the free election of the canons. At times the bishops did not fail to impress this on all concerned. When Prior Thomas of Hexham died in 1355, Bishop Welton sent the vicars of Irthington and Brampton to inform the canons that the care of the convent was entrusted to the sub-prior 'as well of right and custom as by our authority it is known to belong.' If disputes arose over an election, the bishop was the sole referee, by whose kindly mediation an amicable arrangement was made. When Richard de Ridale, a canon of Carlisle, and John de Nonyngton, a canon of Lanercost, were postulated to the priory in 1355 by two parties in the house, the bishop cited them to Rose Castle, where he gave judgment in favour of the former candidate and confirmed him in the office. (fn. 19)

Soon after the foundation of the house, Robert de Vaux, the founder, granted to the canons the right of free election, so that when the lord prior died the person on whom the choice of the canons or the greater part of them fell should be elected in his place. To this concession Robert, archdeacon of Carlisle, Walter, prior (of Carlisle), and others were witnesses. (fn. 20) It was not always that the patron of the house acted with such consideration to the canons. At later periods the lords of Gillesland betrayed an interest in the internal affairs of the priory which was, to say the least, not a little embarrassing to the inmates. In 1261 the Bishop of Carlisle was obliged to invoke the power of the Crown to eject Sir Thomas de Multon, who had held the priory for a year or more by lay force to the exclusion of the bishop and his officers and to the detriment of the discipline of the house. It is curious to find at this period the phrase laicalis insolentia used to denominate lay interference in ecclesiastical affairs. (fn. 21) The same practical interest in the affairs of the priory was again manifest in 1524, when, at a time of great monastic activity, Lord Dacre reprimanded the prior for occupying himself so much in building and outward works that he was apt to neglect the more serious duties of his vocation. The following 'copie of a lettre to the prior of Lanrecost' throws a welcome light on monastic institutions at this date:—

Maistar Prior of Lanrecost and convent of the same, I recōmende me to youe, and at my being last wt youe I shulde have spokin wt youe and shewed youe my mynde and opynyoñ in diverse mattiers most proufitable and beneficiall to youe and yor monastery, whiche for lak as well of leaser, the bushop being ther, as also for the mattiers of importaunce concernyng the Kinge busines in hand to be fulfilled, that I couthe not have tyme and space so to doo. Albeit a parte of my mynde is that forasmiche as youe, Maister Prior, being soo often occupied aswell in outward warkes and businesses as buylding, oversight of warkmen, quarriours, maisons, wrightes, wallers as others nedefull to be sene to for the cōmon weale of youe all, yor monastery, servante and store, cannot have tymes convenient and space to see to the inwarde parte of yor chirche as to take hede and see the service of God contynually maignteyned, the order of Religion wt the Cerymoneys of the same wt in the Chirche, Closter, Dortor and frater observed and kept so weale as nedefull it were. Therfore expedient it is that ye have eas and help of a parte of yor said charge to be taken of youe, bereason that two persounes may the better take hede to the execution of many businesses than one person. And in as muche as I am yor Foundor and bounde in consciens to see for yor weales and geve unto youe my most fruytfull counseill, woll therfore and hertely prey youe that wt convenient diligence after the recept herof, ye woll assemble youe to gidders in yor chapitor Hous and ther lovingly condescend aggre youe and elect ooñ of yor selfe to be yor supprior, siche as ye in yor consciences most assuredly truste may and shalbe most beneficiall aswell to the mayntenance of Godde service wtin yor monastery, conversacion in his owne person, as prouffitable to yor said monastery yerely and frome tyme to tyme herafter. So as the same person so choseñ may have the charge of the service of the churche and ordor of his bretherñ undre youe, maister Prior, trusting therby that persounes now highe mynded, wolfull and obstacle there, may and woll fro thensfurthe knaw their selfe the better, And use the vowe of obedience according to profession. And youe, maister Prior, to reasorte to the charge of the churche, chapitor Hous, and frater at all tymes that ye conveniently may. And not wtstanding the obstinacie som tyme used by Sr Richard Halton aftre his profession contary thordor of Religion, whiche he all utterly has refused, and be the help of the holy goost is vertuously reduced of his owne good mynde to my singular pleaser, comforth, and consolacion above any temperall man, seing the good qualities in hym and his inward goodness and mynde to yor House and me knowen, faithfully professed in his hert to God, Mary Magdalen, and that Hous. In Myn opynyon, upon my feith and conscience, I think unfeynedly that the said Sr Richard Hlton is most dyscrete, sufficient, and able to be yor supprior. And for my parte, as far as in me is, being yor foundor, I assent to his election, trusting ye woll all or the most parte of youe assent to the same, yor most prouffet and weales perfitely remembred, notwtstanding he having a vicary, whiche makes him more able to occupie the same Rowme. And upon a parte of yo more towardly, humbly, and obedient demeanors to be used hereafter then has bene of late, may and shall have me to be yor better good lord and com to promotion upon yor good demerette, wtout whose help I see not as yt shall cum therunto. Wherefore I counseill youe all thus to be contented and elect hym wtout any obstinacie or grudge as ye intende to pleas me. At Morpath the penult day of February Anno xvo H. VIII. (fn. 22)

From these evidences it will appear that the advowson of the priory, which passed from one lord of Gillesland to another as a piece of real property, (fn. 23) existed in reality as well as in name, and was a potential force in the regulation of the house.

From its geographical position the priory was exposed to constant dangers from the attacks of Scottish marauders. Its unprotected condition so close to the frontier served as an invitation to the Border clans to harass it in retaliation for the depredations of their English enemies. After the outbreak of the War of Independence its real troubles began. In 1296, the year of the rupture with Balliol, the Scottish army encamped at Lanercost after burning the priory of Hexham and the nunnery of Lambley, and laying waste the valley of the Tyne. (fn. 24) By a timely alarm, no doubt created by the artifice of the canons, the Scots retreated through Nicolforest with their plunder, having burnt only certain houses of the monastery but not the church. (fn. 25) No words were too strong on the lips of English writers to describe the cruelties and impieties practised by the enemy on that occasion. The poet historian of Bridlington (fn. 26) narrates that Corbrigge is a toun, the brent it whan thei cam: Tuo hous of religioun, Leynercoste and Hexham, Thei chaced the chanons out, ther godes bare away, And robbed alle about: the bestis tok to pray.

The devastation, added the chronicler of Lanercost, cannot be imputed to the bravery of warriors, but to the cowardice of robbers, who invaded a thinly-populated country where they were sure to find no resistance. (fn. 27) The bold initiative taken by the Scots in this and in the following year under Wallace caused a sensation throughout the northern counties. Their savage deeds provoked loud calls for reprisals on the part of the English. One writer declared that as the house of Lanercost had suffered innumerable evils, inexorable vengeance should be enacted in return. Fordun, the Scottish historian, regarding the whole thing with complacency, remarked that Wallace returned safe and sound to his own country after a successful expedition. (fn. 28)

Several visits of Edward I. to the priory in the latter part of his reign are on record. A few days were spent there with Queen Eleanor in the autumn of 1280 on his way to Newcastle, when the convent met him at the gate in their copes and the king graciously made a votive offering of silk cloth to the church. It was reported that during his short stay he took 200 stags and hinds while hunting in his own domain of Inglewood. Again, soon after midsummer 1300, as he passed through Carlisle with the nobles and magnates of his kingdom on his way to the siege of Carlaverock, he turned aside and made a short stay at Lanercost. On his last fateful visit to the north in 1306, he came to the priory with Queen Margaret at Michaelmas and continued there till the following Easter, the journey having been completed by easy stages in a horse litter owing to age and infirmity. It was while he sojourned at Lanercost that the brothers of Robert de Brus and other Scottish captives were sent to Carlisle for execution, the stern old warrior having with his own mouth sentenced Thomas de Brus to be dragged at the tails of horses from Lanercost to Carlisle before the dread sentence of hanging and beheading was carried out. The heads were suspended on the three gates of Carlisle, except the head of Thomas de Brus, which was reserved to decorate the keep of the castle. (fn. 29)

If the king was too unmindful of the trouble and expense his prolonged stay had caused the priory, the canons were not slow in refreshing his memory. They begged him, having regard to the reduced state of their house and the damages they suffered by him and his attendants, which a great sum would not suffice to restore, that by way of recompense he would grant them the church of 'Hautwyselle,' worth about 100 marks a year, but as the abbot of Aberbrothok, to whom the church belonged, indignantly refused to accept an allowance in exchange, the proposal fell through. (fn. 30) Before his departure however the king granted his licence for the appropriation of the churches of Mitford in Northumberland and Carlatton in Cumberland, for the relief of their necessities. In his letter to the pope the king alleged, as reasons for his liberality, the special devotion he felt to St. Mary Magdalene in whose honour the convent was founded, the long stay he was forced to make on account of illness, the burning of their houses and the robbery of their goods by the Scots, insomuch that the priory was much impoverished and depressed. (fn. 31) The same motives were repeated in his letters patent. (fn. 32) In confirming the appropriations, the bishops of Durham and Carlisle told the same mournful tale of the distressed condition of Lanercost. (fn. 33) It seemed as if, at that time, burnt houses and an exhausted treasury were the distinguishing characteristics of this once flourishing foundation.

The fate of Lanercost henceforward depended on the political relations of the two kingdoms. In times of truce the house was at rest and employed the breathing space for the repair of its waste places; when hostilities broke out, it was the objective of raid and robbery. In August, 1311, Robert Bruce, King of Scotland, came to the monastery with a great army and made it his headquarters for three days, imprisoning several (plures) of the canons and committing infinite evils. At length however he set the canons at liberty. (fn. 34) In fulfilment of the treaty between the same king and Edward III. in 1328, a mutual interchange of good offices was effected between the priory of Lanercost and the abbey of Kelso in respect of their common revenues out of the church of Lazonby. (fn. 35) One of the worst trials experienced by the house occurred in 1346, when David II. ransacked the conventual buildings and desecrated the church. Fresh from the overthrow of the fortalice of Liddel and the unchivalrous slaughter of Walter of Selby, its gallant defender, the Scots, with theatrical manifestations of joy, David cum diabolo being their leader, marched to the priory of Lanercost, where the canons, men venerable and devoted to the Lord, dwelt. They entered the holy place with haughtiness, threw out the vessels of the temple, stole the treasures, broke the doors, took the jewels, and destroyed everything they could lay hands on. (fn. 36) One of the priors was taken prisoner by the Scots in 1386, and set at ransom at a fixed sum of money and four score quarters of corn of divers kinds. There was a difficulty in conveying the corn to Scotland, which added somewhat to the prior's misery and the prolongation of his imprisonment. (fn. 37)

An effort was made in 1409 to retrieve the fallen fortunes of the house by an appeal to the Archbishop of York for letters of quest (fn. 38) throughout the northern province. In response Archbishop Bowet sent a monition to his suffragans, inviting them to give facilities to the proctors of the priory for making the requisite collection; the bishops were also enjoined to see that the object of the alms should be properly explained by the parish priests in the churches, and that the money collected should be delivered without diminution to the questors. The causes which reduced the canons to such straits were recounted to the archbishop in doleful tones by the prior; the monastery with its principal buildings were threatening ruin; their possessions were in a state of dilapidation or consumed with fire by the frequent incursions of the Scots; their lands, especially those near the confines of Scotland, were lying uncultivated and practically useless. With these and other burdens and expenses, the canons had sunk to such a condition of poverty and want that they were unable to live and serve God according to the profession of their order without the help of other Christians. An indulgence of forty days was granted to all persons who contributed of their goods to the repair of the monastery or to the maintenance of the poor canons. (fn. 39)

The priory was in comparatively affluent circumstances before the outbreak of the war between the two kingdoms in 1296. The annual revenue of the house was returned at £74 12s. 6d. in the valuation of Pope Nicholas IV. in 1291, whereas at the time of the new taxation in 1318 the valuation of the temporalities had fallen to nothing, like that of several parish churches on the frontier, inasmuch as their goods were utterly wasted and destroyed by Scottish incursions. (fn. 40) It has been already stated that the prior's benefice was assessed at £20 for the royal subsidy in 1379-80. The gross revenues of the house in 1535 amounted for spiritualities and temporalities to £79 19s., which, after deducting such necessary outgoings as synodals, fees and salaries, left a net annual revenue of £77 11s. 11d. (fn. 41) It is quite evident that the value of the priory fluctuated from time to time according to the peaceful or disturbed state of the Borders.

From the records of the great Scrope and Grosvenor controversy, which lasted from 1385 to 1390, we get a curious glimpse into the conventual buildings under the guidance of the prior. Among the superiors of the religious houses in the north of England, who gave evidence relative to the antiquity of the arms of Scrope from windows, seals, monuments and embroidered vestments, William, prior of Lanercost, was called. His depositions are of great local interest. William, prior of the house, stated that he was thirtyfour years of age, and that on a window in the west end of his church were the arms of Scrope within a bordure or, and the same arms were placed in the refectory between those of Vaux and Multon, their founders; and that in the refectory and west window of their church were the old arms of the King of England, the arms of France, the arms of Scotland, and the arms of Scrope, azure a bend or, the which arms had been in the said window since the building of their church in the time of Henry II., and by common report throughout the country they were the arms of Scrope; that there remained banners used at the funerals of great lords and embroidered with their arms, amongst which were those of Scrope. He also deposed that the arms of Scrope were entire in an old chapel at Kirkoswald, and that they had at Lanercost the said arms embroidered on the morse of a cope with a white label for difference, and that the same had been in the priory from beyond the time of memory. Being asked how he knew that the said arms belonged to Sir Richard Scrope, the prior said that such had always been the tradition in their house, and that he had heard his predecessor, who was an old man, say that he had heard from ancient lords, knights and esquires that the Scropes were come of a noble race and high blood from the time of the Conqueror, as appeared by evidences, and the prior who preceded him also said that they were cousins to one Gant who came over with the Conqueror, and that their arms were descended in right line to Sir Richard Scrope, as was known by common report in all parts of the north. As to Sir Robert Grosvenor, the prior deposed on oath that he had never heard of him or his ancestors until the day of his examination. The suit, which commenced at Newcastle on 20 August 1385, was finally closed in 1390 when the 'coat' was awarded to Scrope by the king in person in his palace of Westminster. (fn. 42)

Amid the sorrows and confusion attending the fall of the religious houses, John Robinson, the last prior of Lanercost, managed to keep his name unsullied from the aspersions of the royal visitors which blackened the characters of so many of his contemporaries and to steer a clear course through the political troubles which followed the dissolution. In 1534 Prior John was deputed with other gentlemen of the county to make an inventory of the 'moveables' of Sir Christopher Dacre when he was in disgrace. (fn. 43) As 'Leonardecoste' was one of the northern houses suspected of complicity in the insurrection of 1537 it is to be feared that hard fate awaited some of the canons. The king writing to the Duke of Norfolk in that year said—

Forasmoche as all thise troubles have ensued by the sollicitation and traitorous conspiracyes of the monkes and chanons of those parties, we desire and pray you, at your repaire to Salleye, Hexam, Newminster, Leonerdecoste, Saincte Agathe, and all suche other places as have made any maner of resistence, or in any wise conspired, or kept their houses with any force, sithens th' appointement at Dancastre, you shall, without pitie or circumstance, now that our baner is displayed, cause all the monkes and chanons, that be in anywise faultie, to be tyed uppe, without further delaye or ceremony, to the terrible exemple of others, wherin we thinke you shall doo unto us highe service. (fn. 44)

There was no charge made against the prior in this wrathful missive. When the priory of Lanercost was brought to an end, John Robinson its last head was awarded in 1539 a retiring allowance of £8 a year. (fn. 45)

Some difficulty was experienced by the authorities in the gift of the possessions of the dissolved priory. At first they were demised or leased to Sir William Penison, a court favourite, a proceeding which was hotly resented by the Dacres, who considered that their family claims were pre-eminent. (fn. 46) A lively correspondence ensued. Sir William complained that—

my lorde Dacre, contrarie to my will and pleasure or ony promise to him therof made, dothe usurpe the ferme of Lanercoste demaynes and benefice therto appropriat, taking all thinges as his owne, puttyng out and in tennantes and prestes, so that by his maintenances the hole convent do confeder and flok to gither there in their chanons cotes very unsemely.

Lord William Dacre, replying to the charges made against him—

by the relacion of maister Penison being the Kinges maiesties fermour of Lanercoste,

assured Cromwell that he had not exceeded the commands of the king's commissioners—

and as unto the flocking of any chanons ther or empeching to be made to his deputies by me or any oder for me in the receipte of the revenues or any oder prouffettes ther, I did never nor no one for me medled therwithal. (fn. 47)

The priory was subsequently granted to Thomas Dacre of Lanercost, the king's servant, by letters patent dated 22 November 1542. It was a grant in tail male of the house and site of the dissolved priory of Lanercost with the water mill there, the 'tannehowse,' gardens, closes, messuages and all the demesne lands of the said late priory, all which lie in Lanercost parish and belonged to the said priory; except the church and churchyard of Lanercost and the mansion called the Utter Yate House there for the dwelling of the curate or vicar, to be held of the king by the service of one twentieth of a knight's fee rendering for the same 9s. yearly. (fn. 48)

Priors of Lanercost

Symon, circa 1181-4 (fn. 49)

John, 1220 (fn. 50)

Walter, 1256 (fn. 51)

John of Galloway (de Galwythia), circa 1271, resigned with a pension in 1283, died in 1289 (fn. 52)

Symon de Driffeld, elected 16 August 1283 (fn. 53)

Henry (de Burgo), circa 1310, died 9 December 1315 (fn. 54)

Robert de Meburne, elected in December 1315 (fn. 55)

William de Suthayk, died in 1337

John de Bowethby, elected in 1337, died in 1338 (fn. 56)

John de Bewcastle (Bothecastre), elected in 1338, resigned with a pension in 1354 (fn. 57)

Thomas de Hexham (Hextildesham), elected 2 December 1354, died in July 1355 (fn. 58)

Richard de Ridale, elected in 1355, custody of the priory delivered to Martin de Brampton, canon of the house, in 1360, during Prior Richard's absence (fn. 59)

Peter Froste, circa 1379 (fn. 60)

John, 1380 (fn. 61)

William, circa 1385-90

Alexander Walton, 1434 (fn. 62)

John Werke, installed in 1465 (fn. 63)

Richard Cokke, received benediction in 1492-3

John Robinson, circa 1534-9

The seal of Lanercost (fn. 64) is of the usual monastic pattern, pointed oval with the figure of Mary Magdalene on a platform holding a palm branch in her right hand and a covered unquent pot in her left. In the field on each side a wavy branch of flowers and foliage, above which is on the left a crescent and on the right a star. The legend is S: CAPIT'LI: SCE: MARIE: MAGDALENE: DE: LANRECOST.


  • 1. Reg. of Lanercost, MS. i. 1. In 1761 George Story, vicar of Lanercost, erected a stone tablet in the church to the memory of Robert de Vaux, founder of the priory, and of his wife Ada Engaine, on which he inscribed 1116 as the year of foundation. The vicar evidently took his date from a note in the register of the priory on the foundations of the religious houses in the diocese of Carlisle (ibid. f. 267). Story's error has been often repeated.
  • 2. Reg. of Lanercost, MS. i. 1. It is scarcely necessary to call attention to the distinction between the Register or Chartulary of Lanercost and the Chronicon de Lanercost or Chronicle of Lanercost. The Register is a collection of deeds of the usual character belonging to a religious house and still remains in manuscript, a copy of which is in the custody of the dean and chapter of Carlisle. The Chronicon belongs to the class of medieval chronicles and has been printed by the Maitland and Bannatyne Clubs.
  • 3. Ibid. i. 13, viii. 17.
  • 4. Chron. of the War between the English and the Scots in 1173 and 1174 (Surtees Soc. No. 11), 1370–1460, etc.
  • 5. Reg. of Lanercost, MS. v. 4–6; ii. 15–6; iii. 1–2; xii. 26.
  • 6. Reg. of Holmcultram, MS. ff. 12–3. It is rarely that we meet with a bishop using such emphatic language as Bishop Hugh of Carlisle employed on that occasion. He stated that danger was likely to accrue to his diocese by reason of the collusion between the brethren of the two houses. In gross and reckless ignorance of the canons of the church they had made compositions and meddled with matters with which they had no concern and over which they had no power. The bishop pronounced the whole transaction unlawful, and forced John, prior of Lanercost, to renounce on behalf of his house the claim to an annual pension from the church of Burgh. Having heard all the arguments and seen all the evidences, he also awarded the patronage to the abbey of Holmcultram.
  • 7. Reg. of Lanercost, MS. xiii. 25–6; Liber de Calchou (Bannatyne Club), ii. 351.
  • 8. Robert de Vaux son of Ralf de Vaux bequeathed his body to the canons of Lanercost, 'ubicunque et quandocumque ex hac vita migraverim' (Register of Lanercost, MS. ii. 4).
  • 9. The whole of these ecclesiastical confirmations will be found in the eighth part of the Register of the priory of Lanercost, where they form an interesting series.
  • 10. 'Finita prædicatione, visitationem suam prosecutus est in qua coacti sumus novellas constitutiones recipere' (Chron. de Lanercost [Maitland Club], p. 106). This passage is fatal to Stevenson's contention that the Chronicon de Lanercost was written by a Minorite of Carlisle and not by an inmate of Lanercost. The visitation referred to was clearly that of the priory and not of the diocese. He has mistaken the meaning of the passage altogether. The new constitutions were issued 'finita prædicatione,' when his sermon, not his visitation, was ended (Chron. pp. vii. viii.).
  • 11. Carl. Epis. Reg., Kirkeby, f. 477.
  • 12. Ibid. Welton, ff. 26, 44.
  • 13. Ibid. Appleby, ff. 197, 254.
  • 14. Ibid. Welton, f. 12. The form of obedience subscribed by Prior Richard de Ridale in 1355 is as follows: 'In Dei nomine amen. Ego frater Ricardus de Ridale, ordinis sancti Augustini, in Priorem Prioratus de Lanercost, Karliolensis dioceseos, postulatus, et in eiusdem loci Priorem canonice confirmatus, ero fidelis et obediens vobis venerabili in Christo patri et domino meo, domino Gilberto, Dei gracia, Karliolensi episcopo, vestrisque successoribus canonice intrantibus, officialibus et ministris, in canonicis et licitis mandatis. Sic Deus me adiuvet, et hec sancta Dei evangelia, et hoc propria manu mea subscribo' (ibid. f. 20).
  • 15. Carl. Epis. Reg., Welton, f. 12.
  • 16. Pedes Finium (Cumberland), case 35, file 2, No. 68; Reg. of Lanercost, MS. ix. 4.
  • 17. Chron. de Lanercost, 113.
  • 18. Carl. Epis. Reg., Welton, f. 13.
  • 19. Ibid. ff. 20–1.
  • 20. Reg. of Lanercost, MS. i. 14. This privilege was afterwards confirmed by Pope Alexander III. in 1181 (ibid. viii. 17) and by Robert de Vaux, son of Ranulf (ibid. i. 22).
  • 21. As the letter of Bishop Robert de Chause has many points of interest and seems to be little known locally, it may be useful to give the full text: 'Serenissimo principi et domino reverendo H(enrico). Dei gratia, regi Anglorum illustri, devotus suus R(obertus), permissione divina Karleolensis ecclesiæ minister humilis, salutem et promptum ad obsequia famulatum, cum omni reverentia pariter et honore. Cum dominus Thomas de Multon prioratum de Lanercost jam per annum et amplius per vim laicalem tenuerit occupatum, ita quod nec nobis aut officialibus nostris ad ea exercendum quæ officio nostro incumbunt, nec priori ejusdem, quem ibidem præfecimus, ad corrigendum canonicorum suorum excessus, seu ad disponendum de utilitatibus ejusdem prioratus aliquo modo patere potest ingressus, vestræ majestati regiæ omni qua possumus devotione humiliter supplicamus, quatenus vicecomiti Cumberlandiæ vestris velitis dare literis in mandatis, ut vim laicalem a prioratu predicto auctoritate regia studeat amovere: ne locus ille divino cultui dedicatus per laicalem insolentiam ulterius profanetur. Valeat et vigeat excellentia vestra regia per tempora longiora. Datum apud Bellum Locum, sexto idus Martii, anno Domini millesimo ducentesimo sexagesimo primo et pontificatus nostri anno quinto. Domino regi Angliæ illustri' (Royal and Hist. Letters, Hen. III. (Rolls Ser.), ii. 167). Sir Francis Palgrave gave an abstract of this letter in 1843 (Dep. Keeper's Rep. iv. 142).
  • 22. B.M. Add. MS. 24,965, f. 218.
  • 23. The advowsons of religious houses founded by subjects descended to their heirs, unless alienated or forfeited, as the houses of royal foundation remained with the Crown. For instance, the advowson of Lanercost was reckoned in the 'extent' of the Dacre possessions in 1340 and 1485 (Inq. p.m. 13 Edw. III. 1st Nos. 35; Cal. of Inq. p.m. Hen. VII. i. 157). Similarly the advowsons of St. Bees and Calder descended among the lords of Egremont (Inq. p.m. 15 Edw. II. No. 45; 39 Edw. III. 1st. Nos. 17). These examples might be easily multiplied.
  • 24. Chron. de Melsa (Rolls Ser.), ii. 261.
  • 25. Heminburgh, Chron. (Engl. Hist. Soc.), ii. 102.
  • 26. Quoted by J. Raine as the lines of Peter Langtoft in The Priory of Hexham (Surtees Soc.), i. p. lxxxii.
  • 27. Chron. de Lanercost, 174, 193.
  • 28. Scotichronicon (ed. W. Goodall), ii. 172.
  • 29. Chron. de Lanercost, 105, 194, 205–6. On the last day of June 1300, Edward I. sent an oblation by the hand of Henry de Burgo, canon of the priory, to be offered on the great altar of the church of Lanercost (Liber Quot. Garderobœ [Soc. of Antiq.], p. 40).
  • 30. Cal. of Doc. Scot. ii. 503.
  • 31. Rymer, Fœdera (new ed.), i. 1012.
  • 32. Pat. 35 Edw. I. m. 25.
  • 33. Carl. Epis. Reg., Halton, f. 140. This appropriation involved the canons of Lanercost in a dispute with the priory of Durham on the issue whether the church of Meldon was a chapel dependent on Mitford or a parish church separate from it. In 1310 an amicable arrangement was made at Lanercost whereby Prior Henry on behalf of his house acknowledged the independence of Meldon. The deeds of this acknowledgment still exist at Durham, and have been printed by Hodgson, History of Northumberland, ii. pt. iii. 54–6.
  • 34. Chron. de Lanercost, 218.
  • 35. Close, 2 Edw. III. m. 16; Cal. of Doc. Scot. (Scot. Rec. Pub.), iii. 173–4.
  • 36. Chron. de Lanercost, 345–6. This reference to Lanercost has been omitted from Stevenson's argument on the authorship of the Chronicle. It is certainly the description of an eye-witness.
  • 37. Rot. Scotiœ (Rec. Com.), ii. 86.
  • 38. Abstracts of many of these letters of quest, referring to institutions at home and abroad, have been recorded in the fourteenth century registers of the Bishops of Carlisle. One of these, taken at random, may be given here as an illustration: 'Memorandum quod septimo die Novembris, anno M'CCC'LIX o, apud manerium de Rosa, renovate fuerint littere pro questoribus fabrice ecclesie collegiate beati Johannis Beverlacensis sub sigillo domini Karliolensis episcopi, durature per unum annum extunc immediate sequentem, ad prosecucionem Thome de Coketon, procuratorem dicte ecclesie Beverlacensis' (Carl. Epis. Reg., Welton, f. 60). As the practice often led to great abuses, it needed the constant vigilance of the bishops. In 1342 Bishop Kirkby issued a warning to the clergy of his diocese to beware of false and fraudulent questors (Carl. Epis. Reg., Kirkby, f. 446). A noble was the usual fee to the diocesan registrar for the bishop's licence or its renewal to make the collection. For instance, Master Robert Whelpedale, Bishop Bell's registrar, returned the following sum in his diocesan accounts in 1480: 'Fines Questorum. Set respondet de xxxiiis. iiijd. receptis de finibus questorum sanctorum Thome Rome, vis. viiid. Antonii vis. viiid., sancti Roberti iuxta Knaresburgh, vis. viiid., et sancti Johannis Beverlaci, vis. viiid., et sancti Lazari, vis. viiid., pro licencia questandi per unum annum integrum, etc. Summa, xxxiiis. iiiid.' (Accounts of Bp. Bell, MS.).
  • 39. The Priory of Hexham (Surtees Soc.), i. p. xcv.-xcvi.
  • 40. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 320.
  • 41. Valor Ecc. (Rec. Com.), v. 277.
  • 42. The depositions of William, prior of Lanercost, were considered of sufficient interest to entitle them to special mention by the able writer who reviewed Sir Harris Nicholas' edition of 'The Controversy between Sir Richard Scrope and Sir Robert Grosvenor in the Court of Chivalry, A.D. MCCCLXXXV-MCCCXC, folio, London, 1832,' in the Quar. Rev. (April, 1836), lvi. 24–5.
  • 43. L. and P. Hen. VIII. vii. 646. The only charge made in the Black Book against the inmates of Lanercost was one of personal uncleanness against Edward Ulwalde and Thomas Rideley, two of the canons. The girdle of St. Mary Magdalene was stated to be amongst the relics of the house.
  • 44. Ibid. xii. (i.) 479; Priory of Hexham (Surtees Soc.), App. No. ci.
  • 45. L. and P. Hen. VIII. xiv. (i.) 596.
  • 46. Ibid. xiii. (i.) 588; xiv. (i.) 604.
  • 47. Ibid. xiii. (i.) 304, 522.
  • 48. Pat. 34 Hen. VIII. iii. m. 23; L. and P. Hen. VIII. xvii. 1154 (76).
  • 49. Reg. of Lanercost, viii. 9, 14, 17, 18. Symon was probably the first prior, for it was to him that Bishop Christian of Whithern confirmed the churches given by Robert de Vaux at the foundation of the house.
  • 50. Reg. of Holmcultram, MS. ff. 14–6. The award of Bishop Hugh of Carlisle between John, prior of Lanercost, and the monks of Holmcultram is dated in 1230 by a clerical error in the copy of the register with the dean and chapter of Carlisle. The correct date of 1220 is given in the Harleian copy (3891).
  • 51. Reg. of Lanercost, vii. 21, ix. 4.
  • 52. Ibid. ix. 14, xii. 13, xiii. 9; Chron. de Lanercost, 113, 133.
  • 53. Symon appears to have ruled the house for a long period, as a prior of that name exemplified a papal dispensation in 1306 to a canon of Lanercost (Carl. Epis. Reg., Halton, f. 101).
  • 54. Chron. de Lanercost, 232. There is good reason to believe that this prior was the same person as Brother Henry de Burgo, or Brother H. as he was oftener called in the Chronicle of Lanercost, who was the poet of the house for some time before his election to the priorate, and whose muse supplies a perpetual source of diversion to the readers of the Chronicle. The verses between 1280 and 1290 may be regarded as his best, notably his ironical effusion on the subsidy exacted by Bishop Ireton from the clergy in 1280 and the accounts he wrote of his detention in prison for three days at Durham in 1282. The versification introduced after 1290 was anonymous, and contributions of this sort ceased altogether after 1315, the year of Prior Henry's death.
  • 55. Carl. Epis. Reg., Halton, f. 180.
  • 56. Ibid. Kirkby, ff. 356-7.
  • 57. Ibid. ff. 379-80; Pat. 32 Edw. I. m. 10.
  • 58. Ibid. Welton, ff. 12, 20, 21.
  • 59. Ibid. ff. 20, 21, 73. Bishop Welton stated in his commission that Prior Richard had forsaken his post and withdrawn himself to some remote and distant place, and as the bishop wished to provide for the house during his absence, he committed the priory to Brother Martin with the injunction that he should give the bishop, while the prior was absent, or to the prior when he was present, a faithful account of his administration.
  • 60. Exch. Cler. Subs. bdle. 60, No. 1, dioc. of Carl. The value of the prior's benefice was set down at £20, the amount of his assessment being 10s. The canons of the house were Thomas Prest, Richard Felton, John Forth and Robert Estwake, who paid 12d. each to the subsidy.
  • 61. Ibid. No. 22. Prior John of Lanercost and Abbot Robert of Shap were commissioned by Bishop Appleby to collect the sixteenth granted by the clergy of Carlisle to Richard II. in the third year of his reign.
  • 62. Jefferson, Leath Ward, 495.
  • 63. In the compotus of William Raa, registrar of the diocese, from the morrow of Michaelmas, 4 Edw. IV. to the vigil of Easter, 5 Edw. IV., that is for a year and a half, we find this entry: 'Et de xls. receptis de Johanne Werke (Clerk cancelled) canonico pro installacione sua in prioratum de Lanercoste, etc.' In a similar compotus of Robert Fisher, registrar, from 6 March, 7 Henry VII. to 11 March, 8 Henry VII., there is recorded this item of episcopal revenue: 'Benedictiones abbatum et priorum. Et de xls. receptis pro benedictionibus Ricardi Cokke, prioris de Lanercost hoc anno.'
  • 64. Attached to deeds dated 1310 respecting an arrangement made between the canons of Lanercost and the priory of Durham, which are now in the possession of the Dean and Chapter of Durham. See also B.M. Seals 3395. Hodgson in his History of Northumberland, ii. pt. iii. 54-6, has reproduced a poor impression of this seal.