A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1906.
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2. THE PRIORY OF LUFFIELD
Robert Bossu, earl of Leicester, in the reign of Henry I. (fn. 1) founded a small priory of Benedictine monks at Luffield within the forest of Whittlebury. The conventual buildings and offices were situated chiefly in the parish of Lillingstone Dayrell (Bucks), but the church stood in Northamptonshire, and from this fact the establishment was usually reckoned as pertaining to that county. (fn. 2) The new foundation, dedicated to the honour of the Blessed Virgin, and built, according to the charter of the founder, for the good of the soul of William, king of the English, and Matilda his wife, as well as of the founder and his family, obtained charters of royal favour and protection from Henry. I and Queen Maud, but from the outset was only poorly endowed. In 1171 the monks obtained a bull from Alexander III. (fn. 3) confirming their possessions, among which was reckoned the church of Dodford with other gifts. At the time of the Taxation of 1291 the prior and convent held the churches of Thornborough and Padbury, Evershawe and Steeple Claydon in Bucks, with a pension of 10s. from the church of Mursley. (fn. 4) Their temporalities amounted to £24 19s. 7½d., of which £13 19s. 8d. was derived from lands in the archdeaconry of Bucks, and £10 6s. 3½d. from the archdeaconry of Northampton. (fn. 5)
Little is known of the early history of the priory. In 1230 Henry III. granted a licence for the brethren to hold a yearly fair at Luffield commencing on the vigil of the Exaltation of Holy Cross and lasting three days. (fn. 6) The king showed much practical sympathy with the little community on the occasion of an outrage at the priory which occurred in the autumn of 1244. A band of twenty-five robbers broke into the monastery and stripped it of all on which they could lay hands, including gold and silver vessels and even the ornaments of the church. (fn. 7) The king, on hearing of their misfortune, ordered that three chalices and ornaments for three chaplains should be supplied to the brethren, together with £15 in money. (fn. 8)
Of the internal condition of the houses no hint is given till the year 1280. Early in that year the visit of Archbishop Peckham brought about the resignation of the prior, William de Esteneston, who had succeeded to the rule of the house on the resignation of Ralf of Silverston in June 1275. (fn. 9) On 17 March, 1279-90, the archbishop wrote to Oliver Sutton, bishop-elect of Lincoln, (fn. 10) setting forth the deplorable excesses of the late prior and his perverse misbehaviour, even on the very day of the archbishop's departure from the priory and in defiance of his injunction. (fn. 11) The latter forbade women to frequent the cloister, and desired that no pension or portion should be assigned to the late superior, unless indeed the bishop should think fit to send him elsewhere to do penance for his offences. In that case the cost of his maintenance was left to the bishop's discretion lest another house should become chargeable. In the course of a year or two, however, the ex-prior prevailed on his diocesan to grant him the usual privileges of a retired superior, and a special chamber in the infirmary, together with certain liberties, was assigned to him with episcopal sanction so long as he should behave honestly and regularly. The archbishop visited this forest priory 14 November, 1284, and on the following day issued his decree to the prior and convent with regard to their former superior, who was found to have grossly abused his privileges. Brother William of Esteneston, so ran the archbishop's order, was to be deprived of his chamber, which should be restored to the use of the sick as before; he should have his meals with the brethren in the frater and partake of the same diet, and should sleep in the common dorter; unless obviously ill he should attend all the night and day offices in the church, and in the event of sickness or infirmity should receive the same treatment as the ordinary brothers in the infirmary. His servant should lodge with the other servants of the monastery and not in the cloister. (fn. 12) Peckham also ordered that the door from the chamber occupied by the late prior, which led into the orchard, should be locked and the key kept by the prior until a wall had been built round the orchard. After that the sick should be allowed to go freely in and out of the orchard until sunset, when the door should be locked and the key given into the immediate custody of the prior. If the ex-prior refused to comply with these regulations he should be separated from the community and kept in seclusion, as their rule provided, until he yielded humble obedience. If he showed signs of apostasy or attempted to renew his former sinful career he was to be at once placed in close custody (in arcto carcere). (fn. 13)
It was not, however, easy to obviate the consequences of the evil example of such a superior, and William of Esteneston seems to have inaugurated a period of discord combined with irresolution and feebleness of purpose that apparently affected the whole house. On the resignation of Adam de Hanred in December, 1284, the monks, having obtained licence to elect, chose William of Brackley, one of their number, who received the royal assent to his election. (fn. 14) The bishop, however, on the ground of internal discords at the time, annulled the choice of the convent and suspended their power to elect, with the intention of providing himself to the house. He found none fit for the rule save brother Adam, whom he straightway reappointed, not without protest from the king, who pointed out that for this second choice no licence had been asked or obtained; nevertheless, pitying the state of the house, by his special grace he directed the escheator of the county to restore the temporalities to the said Adam till the time of the next Parliament, when the matter should be finally settled. (fn. 15) Adam, thus reappointed, remained in office till 1287, but in the meantime the financial affairs of the house became embarrassed and the burden of debt so serious that the king interfered and appointed Richard de Rothewell, a royal clerk, to the custody of the temporalities during his pleasure, describing the house as being of the king's immediate patronage. (fn. 16) On the resignation of Prior Adam in 1287 Richard of Silveston was elected, (fn. 17) but the vacillating policy of the house showed itself, and on the same day that the king notified his assent to the bishop of Lincoln a messenger arrived from the priory bearing the resignation of the newly-elected prior. (fn. 18) Having obtained another 'congé d'élire' the convent this time wisely went outside their own ranks and elected John of Houton, a monk of the Cluniac house of Daventry. (fn. 19) But in less than two years the office was again vacant, Prior John having resigned to join the Friars Minor. It seems difficult to credit the lack of steady purpose that characterized the community at this period, but no sooner had the royal assent been obtained to the election of Gilbert de Merse than the newly-elected head decided to resign. (fn. 20) Eventually choice was made of Peter of Suldeston or Shalstone, but he only retained office for four years, and was deposed by the diocesan in October, 1284, for disobedience to canonical injunctions for the rule of the house. (fn. 21) William of Brackley, whose election ten years previously had been annulled by the bishop, now succeeded, (fn. 22) and the priory entered on a period of greater quiet and security, as the prior retained his office for twentytwo years.
As has been previously mentioned, this priory was regarded as of royal patronage, and the king exercised the right of imposing pensioners, as in cases of other houses of royal foundation. On 20 August, 1316, following the recent election of John of Westbury, John de Ditton, clerk, was sent to the prior and convent of Luffield to receive the pension they were bound to give to one of the king's clerks by reason of the new creation of a prior. (fn. 23) In 1334 Robert de la Chapelle was sent to the priory to receive such maintenance as John Cloer had enjoyed at the request of Edward I. (fn. 24)
This house suffered severely under the visitation of the Black Death in 1349; the prior and all the monks are said to have died, (fn. 25) and the rental of the house was declared inadequate for its support. The benefactions of Sir Henry Greene are recorded during the rule of Prior William of Horwood, who succeeded in 1349. Among other gifts he gave 100 marks to re-roof the choir of the church with lead; in return for his kindness the monks promised to celebrate for him and his family. (fn. 26) The priory, however, never attained to any degree of prosperity, and at the request of Henry VII. in 1494 Alexander VI. issued a bull for its annexation to the college and hospital of St. George's, Windsor. (fn. 27) The bull stated that the priory being of the patronage of the kings of England, founded in a desert place, and for a long time now only able to support a prior with two monks who had not been professed in the house, was with the church and buildings now in a ruinous condition. The pope stipulated that licence should be obtained from the diocesan for its union, and that the prior and monks should be transferred to other houses with a fit pension from the issues of this foundation. (fn. 28) The execution of the bull was stayed till after the death of the prior in 1504 at Abingdon, whither he had become transferred, and died as lord abbot. (fn. 29) Immediately after Henry VII. procured another bull from Pope Julius II. cancelling the previous grant to Windsor in favour of the king's chapel at Westminster Abbey, which was carried out. (fn. 30)
Priors of Luffield
Mauger (fn. 31) occurs before 1133
William (fn. 32) occurs 1151
Ralph (fn. 33) occurs 1174
John (fn. 34)
William (fn. 35) occurs before 1218
Roger (fn. 36) died 1231
William of Brackley (fn. 37) elected 1231
Ralf of Silverston (fn. 38) elected 1263, resigned 1275
William of Esteneston (fn. 39) elected 1275, resigned 1279-80
Adam de Hanred, Henred or Heured (fn. 40) elected 1279-80, resigned 1284
William of Brackley (fn. 41) elected 1284-5, election annulled
Adam de Hanred, Henred or Heured reappointed 1285, (fn. 42) resigned 1287
Richard of Silveston (fn. 43) elected 1287, resigned same time
John of Houghton (fn. 44) elected 1287, resigned 1289
Gilbert de Merse (fn. 45) elected 1289, resigned same time
Peter of Saldeston or Shalstone (fn. 46) elected 1289, deposed 1294
William of Brackley (fn. 47) elected 1294, resigned 1316
John of Westbury (fn. 48) elected 1316, died 1344
William of Skelton (fn. 49) elected 1344, died 1349
William of Horwood (fn. 50) elected 1349, resigned 1383
John Pirye (fn. 51) elected 1383
John Horwood (fn. 52) elected 1396
John Hals (fn. 53) elected 1420, died 1444
John Pinchbeck (fn. 54) elected 1444, resigned 1468
William Rogers (fn. 55) elected 1468, resigned 1488
Pointed oval seal of the thirteenth century taken from a cast at the British Museum, (fn. 58) represents the Virgin seated on a throne under a trefoiled arch with church-like canopy which is supported on two columns, in her right hand a sceptre fleur-de-lizé, on the left knee the Holy Child with cruciform nimbus lifting the right hand in benediction, in the left hand a book. In base a prior kneeling in prayer.
Legend : S' : COMMVNIS : SANCTE : MARIE : D' LVFFEILT.