Houses of Benedictine monks: The priory of Dunster

A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.

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'Houses of Benedictine monks: The priory of Dunster', in A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2, (London, 1911) pp. 81-82. British History Online [accessed 12 April 2024]

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William de Mohun and Adeliza his wife gave in 1090 to John de Villula, just appointed Bishop of Bath, and to his new cathedral church of St. Peter at Bath (fn. 1) the church of St. George of Dunster with various lands and tithes.

The donor, William de Mohun, who was sheriff in 1086, expressly states in his deed of gift that he had conferred this church on the monks of the cathedral church that they might build and edify it (ædificent et exaltent).

This gift was confirmed to the monks by Archbishop Theobald (1139–61), and the archbishop states (fn. 2) in his charter that there had been a previous confirmation by Archbishop Anselm and King William Rufus. There is also among the Bath charters another confirmation (fn. 3) by a William de Mohun, probably the fourth, which gives the boundaries of the monastic estate at Alcombe.

The church and property was so far from Bath that they could not be managed and served from the mother priory, and there must have been from the earliest times a cell formed there. The Bath records (fn. 4) show very clearly that the revenues of Dunster were administered at Bath, leases of lands were made out in the name of the priors of the mother convent, (fn. 5) and though we read of the prior's garden and his vineyard, yet the cell had no separate existence with its own prior and family of monks until the 14th century. In 1282 (fn. 6) there was a dispute concerning the tithes of Shurton in the parish of Stogursey which had been given to the priory of Dunster but which were claimed by the monks of Stogursey. The Prior of Dunster is mentioned in the process, but he takes no part in the litigation. The Prior of Bath is the plaintiff, and the Prior of Stogursey the defendant, and judgement was given in favour of the monks of Bath as owners of the priory of Dunster.

In the Taxatio (fn. 7) of Pope Nicholas IV, 1291, the priory is valued as enjoying an income from lands and rents of £5 13s. 3d., and from churches and ecclesiastical dues of £13 7s. 4d. The spiritualia came from the churches of Dunster and Carhampton, and pensions due to the prior from the churches of Stogumber, Cutcombe and Luxborough. The temporalia were derived from lands etc. at Doverhay, Timberscombe, Wynard, Kyrington, Wylaler, Cowbridge, Cutcombe, Kenwardston and Lollokesworth.

The appointment of Robert de Sutton (fn. 8) as prior of Dunster in 1332, of which the announcement was made by the Prior of Bath to Ralph of Shrewsbury, Bishop of Bath and Wells, marks probably the beginning of the existence of Dunster as a distinct priory, dependent on Bath but able to a certain extent to manage its own affairs. Robert de Sutton had been elected by the monks of Bath as their prior in succession to Robert de Clopcote, who died March 1332. It would seem that Clopcote had forwarded something like a deed of resignation to the pope when he unexpectedly died in Bath. (fn. 9) Whatever had actually occurred Pope John XXII claimed the right to appoint the new prior and appointed Thomas Crist. Provision had therefore to be made for Robert de Sutton, who had been so hurriedly elected prior and so unexpectedly removed from office. So he was appointed by Crist as Prior of Dunster. He was allowed an income of £20 and to have such companions (socios) as he chose. If any of those sent him at Dunster should prove himself troublesome or should not be pleasing to the prior he was to be recalled, and another sent from Bath in his place. When Prior Sutton became old and infirm he might return at any time to Bath. Such terms as these were of course only personal, and would not apply to future priors.

The priory began now a new and distinct existence. It was to consist of a prior and four monks, and a charter in the Bath Chartulary (fn. 10) points to this change as largely due to Sir John de Mohun and Ada his wife, whose assistance made the change possible, and who certainly befriended the cell. A fragment of the tomb of Sir John, (fn. 11) it is conjectured, is still to be seen in the monastic portion of the church. A grandson of this John de Mohun, of the same name, in 1342 (fn. 12) remitted to the prior and monks some of the rent due by them for burgages at Dunster.

The priory was not certainly free from interferences or burdens which the mother house might wish to lay upon it. In 1345, (fn. 13) the Prior of Bath, borrowing for his priory, pledged the Prior of Dunster for £32 of silver. Simon de Wynton was (fn. 14) granted by the Prior of Bath a corrody and lodging 'in his house at Dunster' so long as he should live. In 1330 (fn. 15) Sir John de Chueberri, chaplain, received a corrody out of the funds of the house at Dunster, and in 1357 (fn. 16) John Osebern received a similar corrody.

Two records of corrodies or grants seem to refer to the building of the priory. In 1345 (fn. 17) John the Prior of Bath granted to Adam de Cheddar, Prior of Dunster and chamberlain of the church of Bath, in consideration of his sumptuous buildings which he had made, and other many and notable good works that he had done, an annual rent of 50s., payable out of the priory of Dunster and soon after Adam de Barry of Dunster (fn. 18) obtained a corrody and 'the lower chamber next the great gate.'

During the 15th century the priory did not lack friends. In 1417, (fn. 19) Canon Richard Bruton of Wells left 26s. 8d. to the Prior and convent of Dunster. In 1392 (fn. 20) Peter de Bratton gave some lands in Sparkhay to the priory.

In the Valor of 1535 (fn. 21) the priory is valued at £37 4s. 8d.

Leland, (fn. 22) in his Notes of Perambulations (c. 1540) says, 'the late priory of Blake Monkes stoode yn the rootes of the north west side of the Castelle and was a celle to Bathe.

' The hole chirche of the late priory servith now for the paroche chirch. Afore tymes the monkes had the Est parte closid up for their use.'

The priory was not called upon to surrender but was included in the surrender of the priory of Bath on 27 January 1539, and in that deed the signature of Richard Griffith, Prior of Dunster, is third on the list.

Priors of Dunster (fn. 23)

Martin, 1274 (fn. 24)

Richard, 1301 (fn. 25)

Walter, 1308 (fn. 26)

Robert de Sutton, 23 October 1332 (fn. 27)

Adam de Cheddar, 1337 (fn. 28)

William Tover, 1355

John Hervey, 1376 (fn. 29)

William Bristow, 1411 and 1417 (fn. 30)

John Buryton, 1423

John Henton, 25 July 1425 (fn. 31)

William Cary, 1437

Thomas Laycock, 1447 (fn. 32)

Richard, 1449 (fn. 33)

William Hampton, 1463

William Bristowe, 1470

John Abyndon, 1489 (fn. 34)

Thomas Brown, 1498 (fn. 35)

Richard Pester, 1504 (fn. 36)

Thomas Bath, 1525 (fn. 37)

Richard Griffiths, 1539 (fn. 38)


  • 1. Two Bath Chartularies (Somers. Rec. Soc. vii), pt. i, 38.
  • 2. Ibid. 61.
  • 3. Ibid. pt. ii, 170; Maxwell - Lyte, Hist. of Dunster, 385.
  • 4. Somers. Pleas (Somers. Rec. Soc. xi), 202.
  • 5. Two Bath Chartul. pt. ii, 55.
  • 6. Ibid. 169.
  • 7. Pope Nich. Tax (Rec. Com.) 198, 205.
  • 8. Ralph of Shrewsbury's Reg. (Somers. Rec. Soc. ix) 121.
  • 9. Cf. Two Bath Chartul. Introd.
  • 10. Two Bath Chartul. (Somers. Rec. Soc. vii) 132.
  • 11. Cf. Hancock, Dunster Church, 51.
  • 12. Dunster Castle MSS.; Maxwell-Lyte, Hist. of Dunster, 392.
  • 13. Two Bath Chartul. (Somers. Rec. Soc. vii) 175.
  • 14. Ibid. 93.
  • 15. Ibid. 133.
  • 16. Ibid. 181.
  • 17. Ibid. 175.
  • 18. Dunster Castle MSS.
  • 19. Somers. Med. Wills (Somers. Rec. Soc. xvi), 95.
  • 20. Cal. Pat. 1391–6, p. 70.
  • 21. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 220.
  • 22. Itin. (ed. Hearne) ii, 100.
  • 23. Cf. Hancock, Dunster, 65; Maxwell-Lyte, Hist. of Dunster.
  • 24. Wells Cath. Wills 57.
  • 25. Two Bath Chartul. (Somers. Rec. Soc. vii) 112.
  • 26. Ibid. 109.
  • 27. R. of Shrewsbury's Reg. (Somers. Rec. Soc. ix) 121.
  • 28. Two Bath Chartul. 147.
  • 29. Dunster Castle MSS.
  • 30. Ibid.
  • 31. Bath Epis. Reg. Stafford.
  • 32. Ibid. Beckington, folio unnumbered.
  • 33. Dunster Castle MSS.
  • 34. Bath Epis. Reg. Fox, fol. 25.
  • 35. Ibid. King, fol. 45.
  • 36. Will of T. Upcot (P. C. C. 9 Holgrave).
  • 37. Dunster Castle MSS.
  • 38. Bath Deed of Surrender.