Alien houses: The priory of Frampton

Pages 113-116

A History of the County of Dorset: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.

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The Domesday Survey records that the manor of Frampton in Dorset was held by the church of St. Stephen, the Norman abbey of Caen founded by William the Conqueror 'for the weal of himself, his wife, his children, and his relatives,' (fn. 1) and that 2 hides of land adjoining the manor were the gift of his queen Matilda, the whole being worth 40s. (fn. 2) Henry II, confirming to the monks of Caen the gifts of his predecessors, enumerates the manor of Northam in Devonshire with its appurtenances, including wreck of the sea and dues of the ships calling there, given by Matilda in her last illness; the manors of Frampton and Bincombe in Dorset, the gift of the Conqueror together with 7 hides of land in East Hendred, Berkshire; the manor of Burton Bradstock, Dorset, given by Henry I, partly for the redemption of his soul and those of his father, mother and relatives, and partly in lieu of the crown and other ornaments belonging to it which William his father had bequeathed to the abbey; and the little manor (maneriolum) of Pantfield in Essex. (fn. 3) Richard, archbishop of Canterbury, 1172-84, confirming to the abbot and convent of St. Stephen's all their possessions in the province of Canterbury, includes the churches of Frampton, Bincombe, Winterborne, and Bettiscombe—saving the rights of the bishop of the diocese—according to the charter of Jocelin bishop of Salisbury. (fn. 4) Henry III in 1252 granted to the prior and monks of Frampton the right of free warren within their demesne lands of Frampton, Ernley, Bettiscombe, Mosserigg, Burton Bradstock, and Bincombe, Dorset, and Northam (Devonshire), provided their lands should not lie within the king's forest. (fn. 5)

The Taxatio of 1291 gives the prior temporalities in this county amounting to £62 2s.; £7 3s. 4d. from Northam, Devonshire, and £3 10s. from East Hendred, Berkshire. (fn. 6) The spiritualities of the priory are omitted. In the same year an order was sent to the treasurer and barons of the exchequer to acquit the prior of a fine of 100s. in which he had been amerced for his claim for wreck of the sea within his manor of Northam. (fn. 7)

The cell of Frampton as a typical example affords very good material for a study of these alien dependencies, and from its history we may learn in a measure the vicissitudes of fortune that during the greater part of their existence alternately despoiled and restored them. As regards the attention they evidently attracted in this county it should be noted that their number and position near the coast made them legitimate objects of suspicion, and we have to remember that their prayers were naturally engaged, or supposed to be engaged, not for the armies of England and her king, but for her adversaries and an alien cause. (fn. 8) On the seizure of lands held by Normans in England following the loss of Normandy in 1204, the prior of Frampton is said to have secured his property from John by promising to pay a fine of 100 marks in two moieties, the first at Michaelmas, 1204, and the second at the Feast of St. Hilary following, and afterwards £80 yearly at the usual four terms, in return for which he was allowed the custody of the lands of the abbot of Caen in Somerset and Dorset. (fn. 9) From this time £80 per annum, or a proportionate fraction of it, seems to have been the sum demanded by the crown on the vacancy of the parent house occasioned by the death or cession of the abbot of Caen. (fn. 10) Hugh de Neville was ordered 10 April, 1208, to restore to the prior of Frampton all his lands taken into the king's hands by reason of the interdict. (fn. 11) The reign of Henry III passed without incident, but early in the reign of Edward I the cell excited suspicion, and the prior was required on a summons from the sheriff, April, 1275, to certify that neither he nor his house were in any way bound to any foreign merchant, nor had received from them money or 'arras' in exchange for their wool, which on the contrary the prior declared had been sold to Geoffrey and Thomas de Aune, burgesses of 'Corcestree,' and to Stephen Bray, burgher of Sefton. (fn. 12)

In 1294 the prior obtained letters of protection from Edward I for a year with other ecclesiastics who had granted a moiety of their benefices and goods to the crown, (fn. 13) and, in accordance with the principle of allowing the foreigner to escape none of the burdens imposed on the native clergy, in 1332 he was requested to assist the subsidy raised on the occasion of the marriage of the king's sister. (fn. 14) In December, 1295, the protection granted to him the previous year was renewed, with the restoration of his lands and goods on condition that he should pay yearly a fixed sum at the exchequer for the custody, (fn. 15) the grant being repeated March, 1297, on the same terms. (fn. 16)

On the general seizure of the property of aliens in 1324, the issues of the manors belonging to Frampton Priory taken into the hands of custodians by the king's orders from 8 October to the 10 January following were valued at £260 7s. 4d. (fn. 17) An inquisition held to inquire as to the yearly value of the priory lands estimated Frampton with the advowson of the vicarage at 100s. and the church held 'in proprios usus' at £13 6s. to be worth £58 4s. 9d. (fn. 18) This measure, however, did not satisfy the king, and in September, 1326, in anticipation of a French landing, Edward II addressed a letter to the bishop of Salisbury pointing out the danger that lay in the position of the enemy's confederates near the coast, and desiring certain brethren dwelling in these parts to be transferred to other houses of the same order further inland. The bishop in his reply notified the king that in obedience to his order he had sent William Pyequier of the priory of Frampton up country to the monastery of Sherborne. (fn. 19) As Edward III restored the lands and possessions of 110 alien houses a few days after his accession the following January, Frampton belonging to the abbey of Caen being of the number, this transference was probably not of long duration. (fn. 20)

A period of tranquillity ensued till the year 1337, when an outbreak of war caused foreign dependencies to be again seized, and Henry de Haydok, clerk, was deputed to take into the king's hand the lands and rents 'of foreign religious men of the power and dominion of the king of France' in this county, the sheriff to whom they had been delivered accounting for the issues of Frampton Priory then valued at £294 19s. 7d. (fn. 21) The prior meantime was granted protection and allowed the custody of his house on condition of paying a yearly farm of £90 and 10 marks. (fn. 22) This payment included all incidental charges, and the king's escheator in 1341 was ordered not to meddle further with the priory, which he sought to enter on the excuse of the voidance of the abbey of Caen by the death of Simon the last abbot, as it was being farmed by the prior for the king; (fn. 23) in the same way the collectors of the tenth granted by the clergy in 1338 were ordered to exact no more from the prior of Frampton, as he was already paying £90 for his farm. (fn. 24) In December, 1341, the foreign superior was ordered to appear before the council, and to bring with him all accounts and memoranda of payments made by him. (fn. 25) The following month he received a promise that a quantity of wool requisitioned by the crown officials commissioned to take a moiety of wool in Dorset for the king's use should be paid for. (fn. 26) An extent of the priory was ordered to be made at the close of 1344, (fn. 27) and in 1346 Edward III granted £100 of the farm of the priories of Frampton and Loders to William de Groucy, (fn. 28) Thomas de Lancaster receiving a grant of £100 of the farm of Frampton alone the following year. (fn. 29)

The waste and destruction attending the occupation of alien cells in the reign of Edward III resulted in a harvest of inquisitions under Richard II with the object of ascertaining the cause. A commission in 1381 was appointed to survey Frampton and its lands and to make inquiry into the damage done therein. (fn. 30) The king, the year after, on the payment of 100 marks, licensed John Devereux, knt., to acquire the priory from the abbot of St. Stephen's, Caen, for life with successive remainder to Margaret his wife, John their son, and Joan their daughter, paying £80 yearly farm at the Exchequer while the war should last. (fn. 31) The lessee presented in 1387 to the church of Frampton, which, except for an interval following the restoration of alien houses in 1361, had been in the king's hands since 1337, and in 1385 the farm paid for the custody of the priory was remitted by letters patent of Richard II. Henry IV in 1400 confirmed the manor or priory of Frampton with its issues to Joan, the daughter of John Devereux, who had survived her mother and brother, and with her husband, Walter FitzWauter, 'chivaler,' entered into possession in 1398. (fn. 32) In 1402 after the restoration of alien houses, Frampton Priory, 'which is conventual,' was restored to Ralph de Nubibus, monk of the abbey of St. Stephen, Caen, on condition that he should maintain its former condition and pay to the king during the war the ancient apport due to the head house in time of peace, with other charges. (fn. 33)

It is, as a rule, extremely difficult to get any real idea of the internal condition of a foreign cell, and Frampton is no exception in this respect. The episcopal registers record that priors were presented by their superiors, the abbot of Caen or his proxy, to the bishops of Salisbury for institution, letters being subsequently issued to the archdeacon of Dorset for their induction. The resignation of a prior was also made into the hands of the ordinary, but though the house was of the Benedictine order and consequently could not claim exemption, there is no record that he exercised the right of visitation. A very common cause of misgovernment, the frequent and arbitrary withdrawal of the head of a dependent cell by the foreign superior, seems to have been present here, for in 1343 the bishop successfully petitioned the pope to confirm the presentation of Lawrence de Sancto Brioco to the priory in order to strengthen his position and prevent his arbitrary removal by his superior. (fn. 34)

Previous to the suppression of alien cells in 1414 the priory or manor of Frampton was made over by Henry IV to John, duke of Bedford, and Thomas Langley, clerk, keeper of the privy seal, for as long as the war should last for a yearly farm of £93 6s. 8d., the grant under date of 2 March, 1414, providing that a reduction should be made at the Exchequer in the event of the priory being injured and destroyed by the enemy (quod absit); it was followed in December of that year by another grant which remitted the payment of this rent and included William, prior of Ogbourne, as holding jointly with the duke and Thomas Langley, and again in 1410 by a licence enabling the duke to acquire from the chief houses in Normandy the whole, or part, of all the temporalities pertaining to the priories of Ogbourne and Frampton. (fn. 35) Henry V confirmed the grants of his father in the first year of his reign, (fn. 36) but on the reversion of the priory of Frampton to the crown by the death of the duke of Bedford, it was given by Henry VI, 16 No vember, 1437, to the dean and canons of the royal college of St. Stephen, Westminister, (fn. 37) the gift being confirmed to them in 1445, (fn. 38) and again on the accession of Edward IV. (fn. 39) The Valor of 1535 gives the possessions of Frampton as still held by the college, who retained them down to the Reformation. (fn. 40)

Priors of Frampton

William Humez, 1207-14. (fn. 41)

Guimund, 1261 (fn. 42)

Robert (fn. 43)

Richard (fn. 44)

Martin, (fn. 45) occurs 1296 and again in 1302

James de Troarno, presented 1302 (fn. 46)

Richard de Montigney, presented 1317, resigned 1329 (fn. 47)

William de Rusca Villa, presented 1329, resigned 1335 (fn. 48)

Lawrence de Sancto Brioco or Breoto, presented 1335, (fn. 49) occurs 1345 and 1347, (fn. 50) he presented to the vicarage in 1363

John Letour, collated by the bishop, 1377 (fn. 51)

Ralph de Nubibus, collated by the bishop 1400 (fn. 52)

The fourteenth-century pointed oval seal of Prior Richard found at Sydling, near Frampton, represents the Virgin half-length, the Holy Child on the left knee, in the field on the left a crescent, on the right a star. In base, under a pointed arch with a carved gable topped by a cross on either side, the prior, half-length, in prayer. (fn. 53) Legend:—



  • 1. See the Conqueror's charter for the abbey, Cal. Doc. France, 155.
  • 2. Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i, 78b.
  • 3. Cal. Doc. France, 155–60. The charter of Richard I in 1190, contained in the inspeximus charter of Henry IV (Pat. 2 Hen. IV, pt. 1, m. 33), confirms the two manors of Frampton and Bincombe with their members; the manor of Northam, Devon, 7 hides of land at East Hendred, Berks; Pantfield in Essex; Burton Bradstock, Dorset; and a grant by Henry II of all kinds of fish cast up on their land.
  • 4. Cal. Doc. France, 162.
  • 5. Chart. R. 37 Hen. III, m. 21.
  • 6. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), fol. 132b, 183, 184, 196.
  • 7. Close, 19 Edw. I, m. 7.
  • 8. This reason is set out among others in a letter of Edward II to the bishop of Salisbury in 1326 respecting the foreign cells in his diocese. Sarum Epis. Reg. Mortival, i, 274d.
  • 9. Rot. Norman. (Hardy), 126; Rot. de oblatis et finibus (Hardy), 199. In Oct. 1209, the king notified the sheriff that the first moiety had been paid into the Camera at Winchester on the Monday following the Feast of St. Michaelmas. Close, 6 John, m. 15.
  • 10. Close, 8 Edw. II, m. 30.
  • 11. Ibid. 9 John, m. 3.
  • 12. Anct. Corresp. xvii, 125.
  • 13. Pat. 22 Edw. I, m. 8.
  • 14. Close, 6 Edw. III, m. 16d.
  • 15. Pat. 24 Edw. I, m. 21.
  • 16. Ibid. 25 Edw. I, m. 12d.
  • 17. Mins. Accts. bdle. 1125, No. 7.
  • 18. B.M. Add. MS. 6164, fol. 270. The allowance made by the king to those foreign ecclesiastics whose goods and benefices he had seized was at the rate of 18d. a week with 40s. per annum for clothing and boots. Sarum Epis. Reg. Mortival, i, fol. 236.
  • 19. Ibid. fol. 274.
  • 20. Rymer, Foed. iv, 245–6. In fact the prior in 1338 was ordered to take up his station near the sea for the protection of the coast under penalty of being regarded as an adherent of the enemy. Rymer, Foed. (Rec. Com.), ii (2), 1062.
  • 21. Mins. Accts. bdle. 1125, No. 9.
  • 22. Close, 11 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 13; Pat. 11 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 37.
  • 23. Close, 15 Edw. III, pt. 3, m. 4. There was evidently some delay in complying, for the order was repeated in 1343. Ibid. 17 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 17.
  • 24. Ibid. 12 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 20.
  • 25. The order was transmitted to the sheriff the following month. Ibid. 15 Edw. III, pt. 3, m. 5d. 6d. In 1345, and again in 1347, the prior, Lawrence de Brioco or Breoto, was summoned by name. Ibid. 19 Edw. III, m. 22d.; 21 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 6d.
  • 26. Pat. 15 Edw. III, pt. 3, m. 2.
  • 27. Ibid. 18 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 12d.
  • 28. Ibid. 20 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 1.
  • 29. Ibid. 21 Edw. III, pt. 3, m. 34.
  • 30. Ibid. 4 Ric. II, pt. 1, m. 27d.
  • 31. Ibid. 5 Ric. II, pt. 2, m. 19.
  • 32. Ibid. 2 Hen. IV, pt. 1, m. 8. The February following, the king cancelled his previous grant of the profits of Frampton rectory to John Cheyne, knt., and Thomas Horston, clerk. Ibid. pt. 2, m. 31.
  • 33. Ibid. 3 Hen. IV, pt. 2, m. 22.
  • 34. Cal. Pap. Letters, ii, 26; iii, 187.
  • 35. By inspeximus of Henry V, Pat. 1 Hen. V, pt. 3, m. 41.
  • 36. Ibid.
  • 37. Pat. 16 Hen. VI, pt. 1, m. 14.
  • 38. The confirmation of 11 July, 1445, was given as the result of a petition of William Walesby dean, and the canons of St. Stephen, setting forth that by an inquisition held at Dorchester 1402, it was found that a carucate of land within the manor had been granted by Henry IV on condition that a distribution of certain alms should be made to 'poor men,' that the carucate was valued at 44s, but that the distribution had ceased previous to the inquisition and the canons knew nothing of it, though the escheator continued to distrain them for the value of the land, and they prayed a remedy. The king in his reply stated that the possessions of the priory had been granted to the dean and canons in free alms and that, therefore, no exaction could be made from them. Ibid. 23 Hen. VI, pt. 2, m. 8.
  • 39. Ibid. Edw. IV, pt. 6, m. 1, 2.
  • 40. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 428.
  • 41. According to a Cole MS. he was prior here until he was made abbot of Westminster in 1214; Dugdale, Mon. vi, 1000.
  • 42. Ibid.
  • 43. This name is also given, but with no date and by no authority, in Hutchins and Dugdale.
  • 44. A seal found at Sydling in 1849 with the legend S. Ricardi Prioris de Fruntune, appears to be of thirteenth-century work; Journ. of Arch. Assoc. vii, (1852), 162.
  • 45. As authority for these dates, Hutchins gives a fine paid by the prior, 25 Edw. I, and a presentation to the vicarage; Hist. of Dorset, ii, 300.
  • 46. Sarum Epis. Reg. Simon of Ghent, ii, fol. 33d.
  • 47. Ibid. Mortival, fol. 172.
  • 48. Ibid. Wyville, ii (Inst.), 40.
  • 49. Ibid. Wyville.
  • 50. Close, 19 Edw. III, m. 22d.; 21 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 6d.
  • 51. Sarum Epis. Reg. Erghum, i (Inst.), fol. 15.
  • 52. Ibid. Mitford, fol. 67d.
  • 53. B.M. Seals, lxii, 41b.