Houses of Benedictine monks: The priory of Dover

A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1926.

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'Houses of Benedictine monks: The priory of Dover', A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2, (London, 1926), pp. 133-137. British History Online [accessed 19 June 2024].

. "Houses of Benedictine monks: The priory of Dover", in A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2, (London, 1926) 133-137. British History Online, accessed June 19, 2024,

. "Houses of Benedictine monks: The priory of Dover", A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2, (London, 1926). 133-137. British History Online. Web. 19 June 2024,

In this section


Two short accounts of the early history of this house are preserved, (fn. 1) from which it appears that Eadbald, king of Kent, who died in 640, ordained twenty-two secular canons to serve God in the chapel of St. Mary in the castle of Dover, subject to no one except the court of Rome and the king, and granted to them prebends with all liberties. Wihtred, king of Kent, in 696 removed them from the castle to the church of St. Martin in the town, but confirmed to them their prebends, possessions and liberties with a moiety of the toll of the port. The names and possessions of the canons are set out in the Domesday Survey, (fn. 2) which moreover tells us that in the time of Edward the Confessor the prebends were held in common and worth £61 yearly, but that they had since been divided up by the bishop of Bayeux.

Nothing more is known of the history of these secular canons, but they remained undisturbed until the latter part of the reign of Henry I. Archbishop de Corbeuil, who had himself been a canon regular of St. Osyth's in Essex, then procured their removal on the ground that they led evil lives, arid proposed to replace them by canons regular. The king granted the church to Christchurch, Canterbury, on the occasion of the dedication of the latter house in 1130; but in 1131 he complicated matters by a charter (fn. 3) in which he formally granted it to the archbishop and the cathedral for the construction of a monastery of canons regular which was to be under the archbishop alone. Having secured this charter, the archbishop proceeded to build a new monastery (fn. 4) with stone from Caen in Normandy and placed canons regular (fn. 5) in it, sending the bishops of Rochester and St. Davids to institute them; but although he obtained the assent of the prior of Christchurch the chapter had been left in ignorance, and when the news was known the sub-prior, Jeremiah, defied the bishops and appealed to Rome. The death of Corbeuil in 1136 gave the victory to Christchurch and the canons were forced to withdraw; and during the vacancy of the see in the same year the convent of Christchurch sent a colony of twelve monks to Dover, appointing William de Longueville as prior. (fn. 6)

Theobald, a monk, succeeded to the vacant archbishopric in 1139; and though he seems not to have recognized the action of the convent he practically confirmed it, sending twelve monks to Dover in that year with Ascelin, sacrist of Christchurch, as prior. (fn. 7) He ordained by charter (fn. 8) that Dover should always be a cell to Canterbury, the prior was to be a professed monk of Canterbury, monks taking the habit at Dover should make their profession at Canterbury, and the appointment of the prior of Dover was to be reserved to the archbishop. Pope Innocent II confirmed Dover to him and the church of Canterbury by bull in 1139, and ordered that the Benedictine order should always be observed there; (fn. 9) and Henry II granted a charter to the same effect. (fn. 10) Archbishop Richard, who had himself been prior of Dover, later granted a charter confirming the possessions of the priory in detail. (fn. 11) The subjection of Dover to Canterbury was also confirmed by John in 1199 (fn. 12) and Henry III in 1237; (fn. 13) and general charters of confirmation were granted by Edward II in 1315, (fn. 14) Richard II in 1380, (fn. 15) Edward IV in 1461 (fn. 16) and Henry VII in 1504. (fn. 17)

The double grant of the priory by Henry I to the archbishop and the chapter of the cathedral produced complications between the four parties concerned which were not settled for two centuries. (fn. 18) The system of appointing priors from the monks of Christchurch was found to be injurious to Dover, and Edward I directed Ralph de Hengham, the chief justice, to find a way out of the difficulty. (fn. 19) Accordingly the king in 1286 claimed the advowson against the prior of Canterbury and, as the latter claimed nothing in the advowson except that the archbishop in time of vacancy assigned a monk out of his house as prior, judgement was given for the king. It had been intended to stop here and, by thus excluding the prior of Canterbury, to leave the archbishop in possession of the advowson; but one of the justices issued a writ to the sheriff to take seisin of the advowson in the king's name, and by this ' fatuous and ill-conceived writ,' as the chief justice calls it in a letter to the chancellor, the archbishop was effectually barred. The suit was then reopened, and when the prior of Canterbury produced the ordinance of Theobald, the counsel for the king and the archbishop both argued that it was not binding because it had not been confirmed and because the royal charter declared that no one but the archbishop should meddle with the advowson. The ordinance was declared not to be binding, and the prior of Canterbury was excluded from any right in the advowson. (fn. 20) In the vacancy of the archbishopric following the death of Winchelsey in 1313 the cathedral chapter endeavoured to assert authority over Dover, excommunicated the monks on their refusal to submit, prevented them from electing a prior when a vacancy occurred, and appealed to the court of Rome; but the king again in 1321 secured judgement against them, (fn. 21) and granted the advowson unconditionally to the archbishop. (fn. 22) The chapter did not, however, give up their claims against the priory; and Archbishop Sudbury made an ordinance on 20 May, 1350, which the king confirmed on 26 May, (fn. 23) that at every vacancy of the archbishopric the prior of Dover, by reason of the parish churches of Hougham, Appledore, and Cold red with the chapel of Popeshall, appropriated to the priory, should render canonical obedience to the prior of Canterbury and should not prevent the vicars, chaplains, and ministers of these churches from rendering canonical obedience and from making procession, in Christchurch, Canterbury, on the third day in Whitsun week. The monastery of St. Martin, Dover, and the prior and convent as well as the prebendal church of St. Martin, Dover, and the churches and chapels in Dover annexed to or dependent from it, which the prior and convent had by royal grant before the foundation of the monastery and at all time since, were free from all ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the chapter except so far as related to the rendering of obedience as above; but judgement was reserved in the case of the churches of Deal, Buckland, Guston, and St. Margaret's, as it was doubtful whether these were prebendal. In compensation, for the sake of peace and quiet, the chapter were to pay to the prior and convent a rent of 100s. out of the manor of Shepherdswell.

Pope Gregory IX in 1234 exempted the priory from liability to be vexed with ecclesiastical censures by papal legates and nuncii passing through Dover, and ordered that the prior should not be molested on account of his opposition to the election of the archbishop. (fn. 24) Urban V in 1369 granted relaxation of penance to visitors giving alms for the repair of the church on the principal feasts of the year. (fn. 25) John XXIII in 1412 granted that as the fruits of the old parish church of St. Martin, appropriated to the prior and convent and served by an archpriest, were insufficient for his maintenance, they might upon his resignation or death have it served by one of their monks. (fn. 26)

Geoffrey, archbishop of York, who landed in disguise at Dover on 14 September, 1191, was recognized and forced to take refuge in the priory; but after five days' blockade the party of the chancellor, his rival, dragged him away from the altar by force on 18 September. (fn. 27)

The temporalities of the priory were valued at £188 10s. yearly in the Taxation of 1291.

Henry I granted to the prior and convent by charter a moiety of the issues of the port of Dover and a third of the toll of the market at Dover on Saturday. They had these without interruption until the end of the thirteenth century, when the allowance was refused in the Exchequer, and at their complaint the king in 1306 ordered the matter to be investigated, A. certificate in support of their claim was found in the Red Book, but it was held not thus to be sufficiently established; and an inquisition was taken, by which it was found that the charter had been granted to them and they had received the profits, but that lately the French had landed at Dover and plundered the priory, carrying off the charter among other things. Some of the jury testified to having seen the charter; and judgement was given for the prior and convent, who obtained an exemplification of it in 1338. (fn. 28) The income from the port was seriously diminished about this time on account of the French war. (fn. 29)

On the evening of Sunday before St. Vincent the Martyr, 1308, Edward II was in his chamber in the priory and there received the great seal from the chancellor and took it with him when he crossed the sea next morning; and delivered to the chancellor a new seal to be used in his absence. (fn. 30)

Edward III in 1327 (fn. 31) sent John Pyk to the prior and convent to receive such maintenance in the priory as William de Kent had by order of Edward I; but in 1328 he gave the corrody to Richard de Dovorr, to whom they had previously granted it at the request of Queen Isabel. (fn. 32) John Pyk secured it in 1331 on the death of Richard; (fn. 33) but the king in 1333 promised that this grant of maintenance should not be taken as a precedent. (fn. 34)

In 1372 a register (fn. 35) of the priory was compiled by Robert de Welle and John Hwytefeld, monks, by the consent and at the expense of John Newenam, prior; and in this the possessions of the house are set out in full, charters of many kings, popes, bishops, and others being given.

Archbishop Warham issued ordinances in 1507, because he had found that the rule was very laxly observed in the priory. No monk was to absent himself from divine office by day or night or to go out of the cloister without licence, and silence was to be kept. Offenders were to be put on bread and water. (fn. 36)

The same archbishop made a visitation (fn. 37) of Dover in September, 1511, when John, bishop of Cyrene, was prior and Thomas Shrewsbury sub-prior, with ten other monks besides two apostates. The sub-prior said that the monastery was in ruins in many places for lack of repairs. Several monks said that the mayor and citizens of Dover deprived the monastery of the mortuaries of the church of St. Martin, belonging to it from its first foundation for the repair of the chancel of the church; and other complaints were made against the town. The cellarer and other officers had access to the town, so that the monastery was defamed there. There were three novices who were not taught grammar and had no teacher but the sub-prior; he read, the Gospel to them twice a week and nothing else. The sheets were of linen and not of wool. The archbishop ordered the prior not to let his brethren go into the town without the special licence of himself or the sub-prior, and they were on no account to eat or drink in any house there, lest dissension arise. They were to go to the dormitory immediately after leaving the refectory. The officers were to render accounts regularly. The prior was to provide an instructor to teach grammar, and the novices were to work in the grammar-school on three day in. the week. The monks were to use woollen both for sheets and shirts. The prior and officers were to make a full account of the state of the monastery and an inventory of its goods, jewels, and ornaments before Easter.

A full balance-sheet of the monastery, drawn up by Thomas Lenham, prior, for the year ending at Michaelmas, 1531, is preserved. (fn. 38) In this £65 7s. 8d. were received from spiritualities, £100 19s. 8d. from farms of manors and lands, £75 2s. 8¾d. from rents of houses, £3 13s. 4d. from dues of the court of the monastery and £12 12s. 6d. from sale of wools and hides, and the stock, including 700 sheep and 120 quarters of wheat, was valued at £185 16s. 8d., making a total to the credit side of £443 12s. 6¾d. On the other hand rents, pensions, stipends, wages, repairs, presents, and general expenses of the household, implements, and cattle (including a large item of £65 14s. for expenses of the brewer) amounted to £557 11s. 4½d., so there was a considerable deficit.

The acknowledgement of the royal supremacy was signed in December, 1534, by John, prior, and twelve others. (fn. 39)

In the Valor (fn. 40) of 1535 the temporalities of the priory, including the manors.of Farthinglowe, Frith, Guston, ' Ryche,' Barton, Dudmancombe, and Westcourt, amounted to £171 3s. 9½d. yearly, and the spiritualities, including the parsonages of St. Margaret's, Guston, Hougham, Appledore, Ebury, Coldred, and Buckland, to £60 17s. 8d. yearly, so that the gross income was £232 1s. 5½d. The deductions included 53s. 4d. each to the schoolmasters of the grammar-school and the song-school, £13 19s. 2d. distributed in alms on various days, and £6 9s. 6d. allowance for rents and pensions decayed and long unpaid, and amounted in all to £61 6s. 6d. yearly; the net income being thus £170 14s. 11½d.

Richard Layton visited Dover in the autumn of 1535 and reported that the prior and monks were immoral and as bad as others. (fn. 41) It was no doubt in consequence of this that the house was sequestrated on 31 October, and an inventory (fn. 42) of its jewels, plate, ornaments, and other goods and chattels taken by Christopher Hales, general attorney to the king, and Sir John Tompson, master of the Maison Dieu. Three days later the prior wrote an appealing letter to Cromwell, perceiving that complaints had been made to the king of his negligence and evil governance. (fn. 43) He was thirty-one years old and had been in possession of the house only three years, ' the foresaid house being but of the yearly stent of £206 by the year £12 13s. 4d. was seven score pounds in debt' at his predecessor's departure. He was at great expense in repairing the church; the glass in the windows which was rusty and dark was taken down and scoured, and new glass added where necessary at his expense; he paved the church, bought new vestments for £16, and spent other sums, and mended the bakehouse and dorter. He had procured new brass and pewter at his own cost, and no marvel though it be simple and scarceness thereof, for the strangers resorting be such wasteful streyars that it is not possible to keep any good stuff long in good order, and many times and specially strangers ambassadors have such noyous and hurtful fellows that have packed up table cloths, napkins, sheets, coverpanes, with such other things as they could get.

He had been at great cost with English and foreign ambassadors; and asks Cromwell to consider deeds more than words which may not be true. From the negligence and destroying of hired servants he had been at great charges in buying and renewing oxen, horses, carts, ploughs, &c, and through their untrustworthiness was compelled to let his husbandry to farm and give his brethren 20 nobles each a year to go to commons together, that he might get the house out of debt.

The appeal was useless, and on 16 November the priory was surrendered by John Lambert or Folkeston, prior, and eight others; (fn. 44) but it seems probable that the prior's letter was correct, especially in that part relating to the visitors, for Thomas Bodyll, Henry Poisted, and John Antony, who took the surrender, reported (fn. 45) to Cromwell that the house was well repaired and the prior had reduced the debt from £180 to £100, 'of whose new case divers of the honest inhabitants of Dover show themselves very sorry.' The monks were dispersed after the surrender, two of them being sent to Christchurch, Canterbury. (fn. 46) They evidently left early, for in January, 1536, the master of the Maison Dieu went to the priory to see in what order it was and found that it had been ransacked. (fn. 47) The prior received a pension of £20 yearly. (fn. 48)

The site of the priory was granted on 31 July, 1538, to the archbishop of Canterbury. (fn. 49)

Priors Of Dover

William de Longueville, appointed 1136 (fn. 50)
Ascelin, appointed 1139, (fn. 51) resigned 1142 (fn. 52)
William, resigned 1149 (fn. 53)
Hugh de Cadomo, succeeded 1149 (fn. 54)
Richard, appointed 1157, (fn. 55) resigned 1173 (fn. 56)
Warin, appointed 1174, (fn. 57) died 1180 (fn. 58)
John, succeeded 1180 (fn. 59)
William, appointed 1187 (fn. 60)
Osbern, succeeded 1189, died 1193 (fn. 61)
Robert, resigned 1197 (fn. 62)
Felix de Rosa, (fn. 63) succeeded 1197, (fn. 64) died 1212 (fn. 65)
Reginald de Schepeya, (fn. 66) succeeded 1212, (fn. 67) died 1228 (fn. 68)
William de Staunford, (fn. 66) elected 1229 (fn. 68)
Robert de Olecumbe, elected 1235, (fn. 66) died 1248 (fn. 68)
Eustace de Faversham (fn. 66)
John de Northflet, (fn. 66) resigned 1251 (fn. 69)
Guy de Walda, (fn. 70) succeeded 1253, (fn. 71) resigned 1260 (fn. 72)
William de Bucwelle, succeeded 1260, (fn. 72) died 1268 (fn. 73)
Richard de Wencheape, succeeded 1268, (fn. 74) resigned 1273 (fn. 75)
Anselm de Eastria, appointed 1275 (fn. 76)
Robert de Whetekre, appointed 1289 (fn. 77)
John de Scholdone (fn. 78)
Robert de Hathbrand (fn. 79)
Richard de Hugham, appointed 1350, (fn. 80) resigned 1351 (fn. 81)
William de Peryton, appointed 1351, (fn. 82) resigned 1351 (fn. 83)
Thomas Beanys, appointed 1351 (fn. 83)
William de Chartham, appointed 1356, (fn. 84) died 1366 (fn. 85)
James de Stone, appointed 1366, (fn. 85) died 1371 (fn. 86)
John Newenham, appointed 1371, (fn. 86) occurs 1380 (fn. 87)
William Dover, occurs 1392 (fn. 88)
Walter Causton, appointed 1392, (fn. 89) removed 1416 (fn. 90)
John Wotton, appointed 1416 (fn. 91)
John Combe, elected 1435 (fn. 92)
John Asheford, succeeded 1446, (fn. 93) resigned 1453 (fn. 94)
Thomas Dover, elected 1453 (fn. 94)
Humphrey Tutbury, occurs 1468 (fn. 95)
Robert Norborne, occurs 1504 (fn. 96)
John Thornton, bishop of Gyrene, occurs 1509, (fn. 97) resigned 1513 (fn. 98)
William, occurs 1529 (fn. 99)
Thomas Lenharn, occurs 1530-1 (fn. 100)
John Lambert or Folkeston, surrendered 1535, the last prior (fn. 101)

The seal (fn. 102) (thirteenth century) of the priory measures 3 in.

Obverse.—St. Martin with nimbus seated on a horse pacing to the left and dividing his cloak with his sword. On the right a beggar receiving the gift of the cloak. Legend:—


Reverse.—St. Martin lying on a bed with arcaded plinth; overhead our Lord, half-length, issuing from clouds, with nimbus, holding the cloak in his right hand and in the left a book. Legend:—



  • 1. B.M. Cott. Jul. D. v; Vesp. B. xi. See Dugdale, Mon. iv, 528.
  • 2. V.C.H, Kent, iii.
  • 3. Mon. iv, 538.
  • 4. It is often afterwards called the priory of St. Martin of the new work.
  • 5. According to Gervase of Canterbury, Opera (Rolls Ser.), i, 96; ii, 287, 383, where the fullest account of the affair is given, they came from Merton in Surrey; but according to Cott. MS. Vesp. B. xi, from St. Osyth's, which seems more probable.
  • 6. Gervase, Opera, i, 99.
  • 7. Ibid. 109.
  • 8. Ibid, ii, 288; Lit. Cant. (Rolls Ser.), iii, 370.
  • 9. Ibid. 369.
  • 10. Ibid. 371.
  • 11. Ibid. 372.
  • 12. Ibid. 374.
  • 13. Chart. 21 Hen. III, m. 5.
  • 14. Pat. 8 Edw. II, pt. 2, m. 12.
  • 15. Pat. 3 Ric. II, pt. 3, m. 14.
  • 16. Pat. 1 Edw. IV, pt. 6, m. 24.
  • 17. Pat. 20 Hen. VII, pt. 1, m. 30 (7).
  • 18. Many details in this elaborate case will be found in Gervase of Canterbury, Opera; Lit. Cant.; and Reg. Epist. J. Peckham (Rolls Sen).
  • 19. Lit. Cant. (Rolls Ser.), iii, 378.
  • 20. Pat. 8 Edw. II, pt. 2, m: 12.
  • 21. Pat. 11 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 20.
  • 22. Pat. 14 Edw. II, pt. 2, m; 9.
  • 23. Pat. 24 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 7.
  • 24. Lit. Cant. (Rolls Ser.), iii, 374; Cal. Papal Let. i, 139.
  • 25. Cal. Papal Let. iv, 77.
  • 26. Ibid, vi, 281.
  • 27. Gervase of Canterbury, Opera (Rolls Ser.), i, 505.
  • 28. Pat. 12 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 31.
  • 29. Close, 12 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 37; 15 Edw. III, pt. 3, m. 17d; Pat. 21 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 19.
  • 30. Close, 1 Edw. II, m. 11.
  • 31. Close, 1 Edw. III, pt. 2, m; 8d.
  • 32. Ibid. 2 d.
  • 33. Close, 5 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 7d.
  • 34. Pat. 7 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 26.
  • 35. Lambeth MS. 241. The same two monks in the next year compiled a register of the hospital of Buckland.
  • 36. Ibid. fol. 258b.
  • 37. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Warham. fol. 38.
  • 38. L. and P. Hen. VIII, v, 446.
  • 39. Ibid. vii, 1594 (7).
  • 40. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 53; Dugdale, Mon. iv, 539.
  • 41. L. and P. Henry, VIII, ix, 669.
  • 42. Ibid. 717; Mon. iv, 541; Arch. Cant, vii, 281.
  • 43. L. and P. Hen. VIII, ix, 756.
  • 44. a Ibid. 816.
  • 45. b Ibid. 829.
  • 46. c Ibid.x, 13.
  • 47. Ibid, x, 146.
  • 48. Ibid, xiii (1), p. 575.
  • 49. Ibid. 1519 (68).
  • 50. Gervase of Cant. Opera (Rolls Ser.), i, 99.
  • 51. Ibid. 109. He was sacrist of Christchurch.
  • 52. Wharton, Anglia Sacra, i, 343. He was made bishop of Rochester.
  • 53. Gervase, i, 141. He became abbot of Evesham.
  • 54. Ibid.
  • 55. Cott. MS. Jul. D. V. 23. He was chaplain of the archbishop.
  • 56. Gervase, i, 244. He became archbishop of Canterbury.
  • 57. Ibid. 251. He was cellarer of Christchurch.
  • 58. Ibid. 295.
  • 59. Ibid. He was cellarer of Christchurch.
  • 60. Ibid. 365.
  • 61. Cott. MS. Jul. D. V. 24.
  • 62. Gervase, Opera, i, 543. He was elected abbot of Eynsham.
  • 63. Lit. Cant. (Rolls Ser.), iii, 376.
  • 64. Gervase, Opera, i, 544. He was sacrist of Christchurch.
  • 65. Cott. MS. Jul. D. V. 243.
  • 66. Lit. Cant. (Rolls Ser), iii, 376.
  • 67. Cott. MS. Jul. D. V. 24b.
  • 68. Ibid. 25.
  • 69. Gervase, Opera, ii, 203.
  • 70. Lit. Cant. (Rolls Ser.), iii, 377.
  • 71. Gervase, Opera, ii, 204. He was sacrist of Christchurch.
  • 72. Ibid. 211.
  • 73. Ibid. 247.
  • 74. Ibid. He was sacrist of Christchurch.
  • 75. Ibid. 275.
  • 76. Ibid. 282. He was sub-prior of Christchurch.
  • 77. Ibid. 295. He was the first monk of Dover to become prior. Robert occurs as prior in I 317 ( Pat. 2 Edw. II. pt. i, m. 19) and died in 1319 (Close, 13 Edw. II. m. 3).
  • 78. Lit. Cant. (Rolls Ser.), iii, 377. He was deposed by Archbishop Simon ( 1328-33 ).
  • 79. Lit. Cant. (Rolls Ser.), iii, 377. He was appointed by the same archbishop.
  • 80. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Islip, fol. 253b.
  • 81. Ibid. 50b.
  • 82. Ibid. He was a monk of Battle.
  • 83. Ibid. 51.
  • 84. Ibid. 272b.
  • 85. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Langham, fol. 96b.
  • 86. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Whittlesey, fol. 85b.
  • 87. Pat. 3 Ric. II. pt. 3, m. 14.
  • 88. Hasted, Hist, and Topog. Surv. of Kent.
  • 89. Ibid.
  • 90. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Chicheley, fol. 79. Through old age.
  • 91. Ibid.
  • 92. Ibid. 211b.
  • 93. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Stafford, fol. 23b.
  • 94. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Kemp, fol. 325b.
  • 95. B.M. Add. Chart 16437. Humphrey occurs in 1490. (Materials for History of Henry VII [Rolls Ser,], ii, 546.)
  • 96. Pat. 20 Hen. VII, pt. 1, m. 30 (7).
  • 97. Aug. Off. Conv. Leases, Kent, 50.
  • 98. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Warham, fol. 353. He became prior of Folkestone.
  • 99. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv (3), 6047.
  • 100. Ibid, v, 446.
  • 101. Ibid. ix, 816.
  • 102. B. M. Seals, lxv, 47, 48, and 49, 50.