Alien houses: The priory of Spettisbury

Pages 119-121

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

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Robert de Bellomonte or Beaumont, earl of Leicester and count of Meulan, in the reign of William Rufus granted to the abbey of St. Peter of Préaux in Normandy, twin foundation to the other abbey of St. Leodegar or Leger on whom his father Roger had bestowed Stour Provost in this county, (fn. 1) the manor of Toft, Norfolk, with the tithes of Charlton Marshall and Spettisbury, Dorset, the churches of these two vills, and the lands belonging to them; (fn. 2) the earl by another charter testifying that his gift, made for the souls of the Conqueror and Matilda his queen, for the weal and prosperity of William king of the English, as well as for the souls of his own parents, Roger and Adelina, for himself and Henry his brother and all his predecessors, had been allowed and confirmed by King William at Whitsuntide when he first held his court in his new hall at Westminster. (fn. 3) The valuation in the reign of John of the lands of Normans in England seized into the king's hand states that Spettisbury belonging to the abbot of Préaux was worth £12 unstocked, and with the stock already there £15; if stocked to the extent of its capacity it should be worth £20; nothing had been removed therefrom. (fn. 4) In 1291 the church of Spettisbury, in the deanery of Whitchurch, together with the chapel of Charlton Marshall was assessed at £10. The prior of Spettisbury had a pension therein of 30s., and received £4 6s. 8d. from tithes; the temporalities in Spettisbury were reckoned to the abbot of Préaux or de Pratellis as worth £12 6s. (fn. 5) On 27 October, 1312, Thomas de Marisco of Spettisbury obtained a licence from the king enabling him to alienate a moiety of a mill in Spettisbury to the abbot and convent of Préaux in exchange for 2 acres of land and 1 rood of meadow in the same town. (fn. 6)

Little is known of the history of this alien cell up to the period, at any rate, of the French wars. Edward II in 1317 ordered his escheator to restore the manors of Toft (Norfolk), Spettisbury (Dorset), Warmington (Warwickshire), and Aston (Berkshire) belonging to the abbot and convent of Préaux, which had been seized into the king's hand on the pretext of the vacancy of the abbey, alleging that these were originally granted by Robert, earl of Leicester and count of Meulan, with the consent of his progenitors, and that neither he nor they had been accustomed to receive any of the profits on the death of the foreign superior. (fn. 7) The abbey seems to have placed a monk here at an early date to look after the property and conduct divine service, for the prior of Spettisbury is included among those ecclesiastics who in 1294 received from Edward I a grant of protection in return for a contribution to him from their goods and benefices; (fn. 8) and in 1328 protection for a year was conceded by Edward III. (fn. 9) Previous, however, to the year 1324 the foreign superior annexed this manor to the priory of Toft in Norfolk, the head house of the abbey in England; and in the capacity of proctor to the abbot the prior of Toft presented to the rectory of Spettisbury in March, 1327, the king directing the bishop of Salisbury not to institute until it had been ascertained whether the late rector, Ralph Moreb, an alien, had died before or after 5 February, on which date Edward III restored the possessions of alien religious men seized during the late king's reign. (fn. 10)

On the seizure of aliens' lands under Edward II the issues of the manor of Spettisbury, taken into custody as parcel of the temporalities of the prior of Toft, 8 October, 1324, and restored to his proctor the following 25 February, were valued at £61 4s. 8d. (fn. 11) On their re-seizure by Edward III in 1337 the issues with which the sheriff was charged amounted to £25 17s. (fn. 12) The goods belonging to the rectory, held by a Frenchman (Gallicus), were seized at the same time and estimated at £12 0s. 4d. (fn. 13) They were subsequently restored to the foreign incumbent on condition that he should pay the king annually a farm of 100s. (fn. 14)

Towards the end of the century the abbot of Préaux was successful in letting his English property. Lewis de Clifford obtained a licence from the crown, 12 October, 1390, to acquire for life, with remainder to his son, the manor of Toft with Spettisbury and other possessions of the abbey of Préaux, on condition that he should pay annually during the continuance of the French war the sum of £80 to the king's exchequer, the payment of this farm being remitted later in the year. (fn. 15) Henry IV, in 1403, confirmed a grant of these manors by Lewis de Clifford to Thomas Erpingham, (fn. 16) in whose possession they remained down to the suppression of alien houses by the Parliament of Leicester in 1414, after which they were held in trust to the use of the said Thomas for the term of his life; (fn. 17) and subsequently, with the approval of Henry V, made over to the priory of Witham (Somerset), the first house of the Carthusian order in England. (fn. 18) Edward IV, in the first year of his reign, confirmed to the Carthusian house the manors of Spettisbury (Dorset), Warmington (Warwickshire), and Aston (Berkshire), lately belonging to the alien priory of Toft, together with all fees and advowsons pertaining to the same. (fn. 19) The following February (1462) he transferred the possessions of Toft to the college of St. Mary and St. Nicholas—now King's College—Cambridge, (fn. 20) with the exception of Spettisbury, which remained in the possession of Witham Priory down to the Dissolution, the Valor of 1535 (fn. 21) stating that the prior of Witham had rents here amounting to £35 0s. 10d., besides the sum of 26s. 8d. as the fee of William Frye the steward, and a pension of 30s. similar to the one paid to the prior of Spettisbury in 1291.


  • 1. Tanner, Notitia, Dorset, xxvii.
  • 2. Cal. Doc. France, 111.
  • 3. Cal. Doc. France, 111. By a subsequent charter in the reign of Henry II, Robert count of Meulan confirmed to the monks of Préaux all the land bestowed on them in Charlton by the gift of his knight Hugh, named the villein (cognomento Villanus); ibid. 117–18. Henry II confirmed the grant made to the abbey, his charter being inspected and confirmed by Edward I. Chart. R. 13 Edw. I, m. 21, No. 69.
  • 4. Rot. Norman. (Hardy), 122.
  • 5. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 178, 184b.
  • 6. Pat. 6 Edw. II, pt. 1, m. 13. The following May the monks, on payment of a fine of 20s., were pardoned their trespass in having acquired the above premises without obtaining a royal licence. Ibid. pt. 2, m. 6.
  • 7. Close, 11 Edw. II, m. 22.
  • 8. Pat. 22 Edw. I, m. 8.
  • 9. Ibid. 2 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 17.
  • 10. a Close, 1 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 9; see also Rymer, Foedera, iv, 246–7.
  • 11. Mins. Accts. bdle. 1125, No. 7.
  • 12. Ibid. No. 9.
  • 13. Ibid.
  • 14. Close, 15 Edw. III, pt. 3, m. 6d.; 17 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 27d.
  • 15. Pat. 14 Ric. II, pt. 1, m. 21; ibid. pt. 2, m. 46.
  • 16. Ibid. 4 Hen. IV, pt. 2, m. 8.
  • 17. Ibid. 1 Hen. VI, pt. 4, m. 15.
  • 18. Ibid. 7 Hen. VI, pt. 1, m. 12.
  • 19. Pat. 1 Edw. IV, pt. 4, m. 6.
  • 20. Ibid. pt. 3, m. 23.
  • 21. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 157–8.