Alien house: Ware priory

Pages 455-457

A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1971.

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The foundation of the Benedictine priory at Ware was due to Hugh de Grentemaisnil's gift of the church, tithe and 2 carucates of land here (fn. 1) to the abbey of St. Evroul in Normandy. (fn. 2) There is no evidence when the house was built, but the large amount of property in England granted by the Conqueror's Norman followers to St. Evroul's must soon have made the establishment of a cell expedient, if not necessary. (fn. 3)

Apparently the earliest reference to the house occurs in a charter of William Bishop of Lincoln c. 1203-6, (fn. 4) ratifying as a grant of Earl Robert of Leicester to Hubert Prior of Ware a gift that had been made by the earl's mother, Parnel, to St. Evroul's. (fn. 5) But it seems likely that the Prior of Ware had long transacted the abbot's business in England, for from this time onward he is spoken of as the owner of the English possessions of the Norman monastery. (fn. 6)

Of the priory there is never much information. Something, however, is heard of its relations with its patrons, the manorial lords, in the 13th century. Through the marriage of Parnel, Hugh de Grentemaisnil's great-granddaughter, Ware Manor had passed to the Beaumonts. (fn. 7) Robert Earl of Leicester (fn. 8) dying without issue in 1204, it fell to his sister and co-heir Margaret wife of Saher de Quency Earl of Winchester. The Countess Margaret built in the priory a great hall, a large chamber, and a chapel for her greater convenience when she chose to stay there, and in this hall she held her manorial courts. (fn. 9) Her son Roger, (fn. 10) who succeeded her in 1235, (fn. 11) made the same use of the priory, as did also his brother Robert, to whom he transferred the manor. (fn. 12) In 1271 Robert's daughter Joan, wife of Humphrey de Bohun, became lady of the manor of Ware. (fn. 13) The inconvenience to the monks of a semi-public hall must by this time have become apparent, for the prior built a small one for their own use during Humphrey's frequent visits. (fn. 14) After her husband's death Joan added another chamber to ensure herself better accommodation during residence at Ware. She died in November 1283, (fn. 15) and when the escheator arrived at the priory to take possession of her property in the king's name he found the windows and doors of these houses in the close barred against him by the prior. Afterwards with the help of the Earl of Gloucester's men a forcible entrance was effected, but meanwhile the prior had had Joan's new chamber pulled down, and a suit was brought against him in consequence by Joan's heir, her sister Hawise Wake. (fn. 16) The prior's action seems unjustifiable, but it may have been a protest against the patron's real or supposed encroachment.

The head of an alien priory was not in an easy position. The fulfilment of his duty to his superior sometimes meant unfairness to the people among whom he was living; on the other hand, if he did not uphold his rights firmly he might certainly have lost them all. The pension of 10 marks demanded by the prior from the vicar of Ware made it almost impossible to get a priest to serve the church. The parishioners therefore appealed to Pope Gregory IX, and the Bishop of London and Dean of St. Paul's, appointed by him to settle the matter, decided in 1231 that the prior was not to require the pension in future, and if he did the vicar should have certain tithes. (fn. 17)

In the dispute between Fulk Prior of Ware and the Abbot of Cumbermere in 1281-2 over the church of Drayton, in Hales, co. Stafford, (fn. 18) the abbot was undoubtedly in the wrong. After judgement had been given by the Archbishop of Canterbury for the prior, he was dispossessed of the church by the secular authority through the abbot's misrepresentations. However, he won in the end, (fn. 19) for the church figures in the list of the Prior of Ware's property in 1297. (fn. 20)

Fulk's predecessor, William, had been excommunicated by Archbishop Kilwardby, but the reason is not disclosed. (fn. 21) Archbishop Peckham absolved him in August 1279, the penance enjoined being that every sixth day to the number of forty he should fast on bread, fish and ale, feed ten poor, and on that day and the following say fifty psalms.

During the war with France, 1295-8, the priory was taken into the king's hands. (fn. 22) In these circumstances a warden was put into the house to see that the monks had no communication with France, to answer at the Exchequer for the issues of the property and receive from the Exchequer what was necessary to maintain the convent. (fn. 23) Ill-feeling with France in 1324 caused Edward II to seize the priory's possessions. Two men were appointed to account to the Crown from 8 October to 10 December for the monastic manor and the church at Ware, but these, it was found, had been previously let on lease. (fn. 24) The prior at this time was probably in difficulties, (fn. 25) because in July 1319 the king had borrowed of him 100 marks which he did not repay. (fn. 26)

Under Edward III the war with France stopped for a long while the usual relations between the priory and the abbey. The transmission of money to St. Evroul's was forbidden in January 1337, (fn. 27) and the property of the house, then in the king's hands, was farmed, with the exception of the advowsons, to the prior for £230 a year. (fn. 28) In April 1348 the king at Queen Isabella's request and on payment of 100 marks granted the prior the advowsons, (fn. 29) but from September 1349 Edward again presented to the convent's livings, (fn. 30) a fairly sure proof that the prior had fallen a victim to the Black Death. (fn. 31)

The farm due to the king seems to have been sometimes in arrears (fn. 32) because the prior's tenants did not pay, and between 1342 and 1356 payment of rents to the priory had more than once to be enforced by collectors appointed by the Crown. (fn. 33) On the Peace of Brétigny in 1360 royal control over Ware ceased, (fn. 34) but when the war was resumed in 1369 the priory was taken into the king's hands and again committed to the prior at a rent. (fn. 35)

Richard II in November 1377 made William Herbert, the prior, custodian of the house for £245 a year, (fn. 36) and on 20 May 1381, at the request of the Princess of Wales, (fn. 37) confirmed the grant to him for life or as long as the war continued. But when the princess, his patron, died in 1385 Herbert's rights were disregarded, and the custody was given at the same rent to John Golofre, one of the gentlemen of the king's chamber. (fn. 38)

In March 1398 the king assigned the house during the war to his nephew, Thomas Holland Duke of Surrey, without rent, (fn. 39) and it was probably the duke (fn. 40) who made it over to Mount Grace Priory, co. York. (fn. 41)

Henry IV in February 1400 gave the Abbot of St. Evroul leave to grant in mortmain the priory of Ware with all its property to the abbey of St. Mary, Leicester, (fn. 42) but this cannot have been done, for in December the king gave Philip Repyndon, Abbot of Leicester, for life the rent paid by the Prior of Ware as farmer of his house. (fn. 43)

In August 1405 Queen Joan received the custody of the priory, valued at £240 a year. (fn. 44)

The prior, Nicholas Champene, in February 1410 had licence to bring a monk from St. Evroul's with a servant to live in the priory for life for the maintenance of divine service. (fn. 45) Ware was leased on 24 November 1413 to Champene, a fellow-monk of his called Richard Baussain, the Earl of Arundel and others for 400 marks a year, (fn. 46) but in 1414 it was suppressed with other alien priories, and finally passed to the king, who granted it and all its possessions on 1 April 1415 to his new foundation at Sheen. (fn. 47)

The establishment at Ware appears at one time to have been fairly large, for the prior was accompanied on a journey to France in 1343 by ten of his household. (fn. 48) Of the convent nothing is known, but it is probable that it dwindled considerably during the 14th century. (fn. 49)

The property of the priory was valued in 1297 at about £200 per annum, (fn. 50) but as this amount at least was paid for its custody in the 14th century it must then have been worth more.

Priors of Ware

Richard (?), occurs 1174 (fn. 51)

Hubert, occurs c. 1203-6 (fn. 52)

A., occurs 1219 (fn. 53)

William, occurs 1231 (fn. 54) and 1234 (fn. 55)

Nicholas, occurs c. 1235-9 (fn. 56)

John, occurs January 1259-60 (fn. 57)

William, occurs 1278-9 (fn. 58)

Fulk, occurs 1281-2 (fn. 59)

Ralph, occurs June 1297 (fn. 60)

Hugh, occurs 1327-8 (fn. 61)

William Herbert, occurs November 1377 May 1381 (fn. 62) and 1385 (fn. 63)

Nicholas Champene, occurs February 1410, (fn. 64) 24 November 1413, (fn. 65) and at the dissolution of the priory (fn. 66)

A seal, a pointed oval in shape, attached to an agreement of 1260, (fn. 67) shows the prior vested for mass and standing on a carved corbel with a book in his hands. Legend: s' IOHANNIS : PRIORIS : DE : WARE.

On the seal of Ralph, prior of this house, (fn. 68) two figures are represented standing in a double niche under a canopy, the one a king, the other a bishop or abbot; in the field on each side are three roses. In the base, under a pointed arch the prior kneels in prayer. Legend: . . . M : RADVLPH . . . ORIS : DE . . .


  • 1. Charter of William I from Ordericus Vitalis (Dugdale, Mon. [ed. 1682], ii, 966).
  • 2. Hugh and his relatives refounded the abbey (ibid.).
  • 3. For a list of the possessions of the monastery in England see Round, Cal. Doc. France, 229 et seq.
  • 4. Round, op. cit. 227.
  • 5. A house at Charley (co. Leics.) and a carucate of land in the essarts of Anstey (co. Herts.) (Round, op. cit. 228).
  • 6. R. of Hugh de Welles (Cant. and York. Soc.), ii, 274, 319; see also Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), passim.
  • 7. Round, op. cit. 229.
  • 8. Parnel's son.
  • 9. Assize R. 1256, m. 39 (12 Edw. 1).
  • 10. Called William in the Assize R.
  • 11. Excerpta e Rot. Fin. (Rec. Com.), i, 274.
  • 12. Assize R. 1256, m. 39.
  • 13. V.C.H. Herts. iii, 386.
  • 14. Assize R. 1256, m. 39.
  • 15. Chan. Inq. p.m. 12 Edw. I, no. 27.
  • 16. Assize R. 1256, m. 39.
  • 17. Lond. Epis. Reg. Gilbert, fol. 169-70.
  • 18. Reg. Epist. John Peckham (Rolls Ser.), i, 209-10 ii, 432.
  • 19. After an appeal to Rome.
  • 20. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 243b.
  • 21. Reg. of John Peckham (Cant. and York Soc.), 140.
  • 22. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 249b. Protection was granted to the prior from 1294 to 1298 (Cal. Pat. 1292-1307, pp. 91, 97, 176, 270).
  • 23. Ordinances for the alien religious in 1295 (Cal. Fine R. 1272-1307, pp. 362-4). Though principally concerned with the houses near the coast, certain provisions must have been intended for all.
  • 24. Mins. Accts. bdle. 1125, no. 11.
  • 25. In 1327 he was sued for a rent of 4 marks, which had been unpaid for years (De Banco R. 269, m. 48).
  • 26. Anct. Pet. (P.R.O.), no. 7868. The debt was paid by Edward III (Cal. Close, 1327-30, p. 6).
  • 27. Cal. Close, 1333-7, p. 643.
  • 28. Cal. Pat. 1334-8, pp. 466, 519.
  • 29. Ibid. 1334-50, p. 51.
  • 30. Ibid. 394.
  • 31. H. P. Pollard, 'The Alien Benedictine Priory at Ware,' East Herts. Arch. Soc. Trans. iii (2), 126.
  • 32. On 25 June 1343 he was threatened with the loss of the custody if he did not pay £160 immediately to one of the king's creditors (Cal. Close, 1343-6, p. 69).
  • 33. Cal. Pat. 1343-5, pp. 226, 385; 1345-8, p. 303; 1348-50, p. 525; 1354-8, p. 340.
  • 34. Cal. Close, 1360-4, p. 318.
  • 35. Close, 44 Edw. III, m. 3.
  • 36. Cal. Pat. 1381-5, p. 13.
  • 37. She became lady of the manor and patron of the priory in 1381 on the death of Blanche Lady Wake (V.C.H. Herts. iii, 386).
  • 38. Anct. Pet. (P.R.O.), no. 7262.
  • 39. Cal. Pat. 1396-9, p. 332. The duke was then patron of the priory.
  • 40. Mount Grace was of his foundation.
  • 41. Cal. Pat. 1399-1401, p. 532.
  • 42. Ibid. 221.
  • 43. Ibid. 206. The prior was farming the property of Ware in May (ibid. 276).
  • 44. Cal. Pat. 1405-8, p. 48.
  • 45. Ibid. 1408-13, p. 157.
  • 46. Parl. R. iv, 313b. The farm was paid until March 1415.
  • 47. Parl. R. v, 365.
  • 48. Cal. Pat. 1343-5, p. 35.
  • 49. If the monks were French the number of the convent must have decreased through the restriction on the admission of aliens during the French wars. But in any case the higher rent paid by the prior for the custody as time went on indicates less expense in the house itself or in other words a smaller convent, since it is not likely that the property of the priory increased much in amount or value.
  • 50. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 31b, 38, 38b, 45b, 49b, 56, 57, 59b, 63, 63b, 64, 64b, 65, 65b, 67, 69b, 100b, 114, 162, 165b, 196b, 219, 223, 227, 228, 237b, 243b, 249b, 251, 251b, 270; Harl. MS. 60, fol. 12b, 29b.
  • 51. He was then proctor of St. Evroul in England (Round, op. cit. 226), and therefore probably Prior of Ware.
  • 52. Ibid. 227.
  • 53. R. of Hugh de Welles (Cant. and York Soc.), i, 49.
  • 54. Lond. Epis. Reg. Gilbert, fol. 169-70.
  • 55. R. of Hugh de Welles (Cant. and York Soc.), ii, 323.
  • 56. Anct. D. (P.R.O.), A 2447.
  • 57. Harl. Chart. 84 D 56.
  • 58. Reg. of Archbp. Peckham (Cant. and York Soc.), 140.
  • 59. Reg. Epist. John Peckham (Rolls Ser.), i, 209-10; ii, 432.
  • 60. Cal. Pat. 1292-1301, p. 270.
  • 61. De Banco R. 1 Edw. III, m. 42; 2 Edw. III, m. 237.
  • 62. Cal. Pat. 1381-5, p. 13.
  • 63. A petition from the prior, who must have been Herbert (Anct. Pet. [P.R.O.], no. 7262), speaks of the Princess of Wales as dead, and is therefore later than Aug. 1385.
  • 64. Cal. Pat. 1408-13, p. 157.
  • 65. Parl. R. iv, 313b.
  • 66. 20 July 1414 he is called Prior of Noion of Newmarket, alias Prior of Ware (Cal. Pat. 1413-16, p. 89).
  • 67. Harl. Chart. 84 D 56.
  • 68. B.M. Seals, lxiv, 72.