A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1970.
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40. THE PRIORY OF LAPLEY
In 1061 Burchard, son of Alfgar, Earl of Mercia, fell ill at Rheims on the return journey from Rome whither he had accompanied Aldred, Archbishop of York, on an embassy. When he realized that he was dying Burchard expressed a wish to be buried in the Benedictine abbey of St. Remy at Rheims and promised that land should be given to the abbey on his behalf. Very soon after his son's death Earl Alfgar gave to St. Rémy four estates in Staffordshire — Lapley, Hamstall Ridware, Meaford, and a hide at Marston in Church Eaton — and one in Shropshire — Silvington — for the welfare of Burchard's soul. (fn. 1) It was stated in 1415 that the original grant was made to St. Rémy 'to find two chaplains celebrating divine service daily in the infirmary of the abbey before the infirm there'. (fn. 2)
Henry I confirmed St. Remy in its property at Marston and in Shropshire and granted the monks exemption from attendance at hundred and shire courts. (fn. 3) He also confirmed the church of Lapley, with tithe and burial rights, to the monks after Godric, a monk of St. Remy, had gone before the king at Tamworth and proved the claim against Robert, a royal chaplain; Godric contended that the church had formed part of Alfgar's grant. (fn. 4) St. Remy secured confirmation of all its possessions from Pope Alexander, probably Alexander III (1159-81); the English property comprised Lapley with the church, Wheaton Aston (in Lapley parish), the hide at Marston, 'half of Wilnifort, Wilifort, and the vill of Ridware', all in the diocese of Chester, and Silvington and the tithe 'de Roniaco' in the diocese of Hereford. (fn. 5) Although Meaford was not mentioned, it continued among the abbey's possessions. (fn. 6)
A medieval abbey which held distant estates normally administered them by establishing a small cell or priory of two or three monks to manage a manor or group of manors and send the profits to the mother-house. The hide at Marston was held in 1086 by two men of St. Rémy, (fn. 7) and this may indicate that a cell of two monks had already been established by St. Rémy in England. The Godric of Henry I's reign may well have been an early prior. Lapley, the most central of the manors and the one in which St. Rémy also held the church, was the natural place for the monks to establish a priory. It is not, however, until the time of Peter of Celle, Abbot of St. Rémy (1162-81), that the existence of a priory at Lapley can be proved. (fn. 8) The priors of Lapley administered all the English possessions of their mother abbey and were normally instituted by the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield on the presentation of the Abbot of St. Rémy. (fn. 9)
Unlike the outlying manors Lapley and the land at Marston were never leased out; Marston in fact probably came to be regarded as part of Lapley manor. An inquiry in 1272, made on a complaint by the prior that his privilege of exemption from the courts of hundred and shire was being infringed, showed that for the hide in Marston the monks of St. Remy owed suit, worth ½ mark a year to the Crown, to the county court every month and the hundred court of Cuttlestone every three weeks; for Lapley and Wheaton Aston, however, they had never done suit, being acquitted by royal charters from time immemorial. For a long time they paid nothing for this exemption. After 1248 the sheriff sometimes took 10s. 'by extortion', and from 1258 he exacted 5 marks a year. (fn. 10) Hamstall Ridware, Meaford, and Silvington were leased out, presumably being too far from the priory to be worked directly by the monks. (fn. 11) Ridware was held by serjeanty, the tenant being bound to come to the priory each Christmas Eve and perform the service of marshal there on 24, 25, and 26 December; on the 27th he placed 5s. 4d. on the table and left after breakfast. (fn. 12)
It was part of Godric's claim in the early 12th century that Earl Alfgar had given a church at Lapley with the vill; certainly Henry I recognized the appropriation of the church. (fn. 13) A vicarage had been ordained by 1266 when the bishop, having found it inadequately endowed, secured a more generous provision for the vicars from the prior. (fn. 14) The right of presenting the vicar lay with the prior, but during the long periods of the 14th century when alien priories were in the king's hands the presentation was made by the Crown. (fn. 15) The priory's right to the church and also to a dependent chapel at Wheaton Aston was confirmed by the bishop in 1319 after a visitation. (fn. 16)
The prior paid 3 marks towards the tallage of 1199, although he did not complete payment until 1201-2. (fn. 17) To the aids of 1235-6 and 1242-3 he paid 4 marks and 40s. (fn. 18) In 1291 the temporalities in Lapley and Wheaton Aston were valued at £28 19s. and Lapley church at £13 6s. 8d. (fn. 19) The king granted a new charter in 1292, conferring on the abbey of St. Rémy a Tuesday market and a fair on 31 July and 1 August in the manor of Aston and free warren in all the demesne lands in Lapley, Aston, Edgeland (in Lapley), and Marston. (fn. 20) In the following year, however, when the prior was called upon to show his title to pleas of the Crown, free warren, a fair, and a gallows in these places, he claimed free warren in Marston only and the right to view of frankpledge and a gallows in Lapley manor and its members, Edgeland and Aston. He produced the charter and the king allowed it, also accepting the view of frankpledge since the sheriff received 5 marks a year for it. (fn. 21)
As an alien priory Lapley was frequently in: he hands of the king. After the loss of Normandy in 1204 King John seized the priory, and in 1205-6 the prior acknowledged that he owed three palfreys as a fine for recovering seisin and paid 10 marks in respect of two of them; in the following year he paid off the remainder of the fine, 5 marks. (fn. 22) In 1288 the escheator was ordered to take the priory into the king's hands because the prior had gone overseas without licence; (fn. 23) in 1318 the prior was granted letters of protection to go abroad. (fn. 24) Presumably these journeys were visits to the mother abbey. In 1325, after the outbreak of war with France the previous year, the priory was again in the king's hands; the prior secured restoration by agreeing to pay the Crown 55 marks a year. An inventory made at the restoration shows the priory in possession of a store of grain, pots and pans, a psalter, a missal, and the furnishings of the chapel. (fn. 25) During the Hundred Years' War the priory was repeatedly seized by the Crown.
Shortly before the outbreak of war in 1337 the priory was troubled by a dispute between two rival claimants to the office of prior, Baldwin de Spynale and Gobert de Lapion. Gobert and another monk, John Lange, had evidently been sent by the Abbot of St. Rémy to administer the priory, (fn. 26) but in 1334 Baldwin upheld his claim in the bishop's court and Gobert was excommunicated. (fn. 27) Each of them, however, received a grant of royal protection for one year in 1335, and each was described as Prior of Lapley in his grant. (fn. 28) In the same year the king appointed a commission of inquiry as a result of Baldwin's complaint that a number of people, including the Vicar of Lapley, had broken into his house and driven off 40 oxen, 15 bullocks, 15 heifers, and 40 swine, cut down trees, broken 12 chests and carried off 30 deeds and other muniments. (fn. 29) Later in 1335 Baldwin complained of a further raid; this time Gobert, his clerk and his servant appear amongst the raiders, and their presence shows the real reason for the raids. The king thereupon appointed a second commission of inquiry, (fn. 30) followed by a third two months later, (fn. 31) but the dispute continued.
With the outbreak of the Hundred Years' War in 1337 the Crown seized Lapley as an alien priory and committed it to Gobert and Robert de Shareshull as the proctors of the Abbot of St. Remy for a farm of 55 marks. (fn. 32) Baldwin petitioned the king and in 1338, after another inquiry, not only obtained possession but also secured a reduction of the farm to £26 5s. 7½d., this being the value placed on the property by the commissioners; knights' fees and advowsons were reserved to the king. The bishop stood surety that Baldwin would pay the farm, be of good behaviour, not withdraw the goods of the priory, and not send revenue abroad. Two months later the farm was reduced to 10 marks on the ground that the priory had suffered severely at the hands of the previous keepers; the prior had to meet the cost of supporting the monks and servants of the priory. (fn. 33) The farm was raised to 20 marks in 1341. (fn. 34) A month later the king announced that others were offering 30 marks for the custody of the priory but that he was unwilling to remove the prior provided he paid as much. (fn. 35) The prior, however, surrendered the priory which was then committed to Henry, Earl of Derby, still at 20 marks. (fn. 36) By the end of 1342 Robert de Shareshull again held the custody, (fn. 37) but in 1346 it was once more committed to Baldwin, still at a farm of 20 marks. (fn. 38) The grant was made at the request of Isabel, the queen mother, and it was perhaps her patronage that enabled Baldwin to survive as prior. In 1347 the king summoned him to France 'upon certain special affairs', and he was allowed to defer the payment of his farm. (fn. 39) Later the same year £18 arrears were remitted altogether. (fn. 40)
In 1354 Baldwin claimed that he was impoverished as a result of the recent plague and a fire which had burnt down all the priory buildings except for one chamber and three barns; the church too had suffered. He was promptly pardoned arrears amounting to £77 13s. 3¾d. and granted a new inquiry. This revealed that the total annual value of the manor of Lapley, including 6 marks from the church, was £11 14s. 10d., and a further half-year's farm was remitted. (fn. 41) In 1356, again at the request of Queen Isabel, Baldwin was excused payment of the farm for three years, after which he was to pay 10 marks instead of 20. (fn. 42) Finally in 1357 he was excused another 40 marks of arrears. (fn. 43)
In 1361 after the restoration of peace with France the prior was allowed to resume full possession without payment and the arrears were remitted. (fn. 44) Baldwin probably died the same year: the priory became vacant in November 1361, and Peter de Gennereyo, monk of St. Rémy, was presented to Lapley by the abbot and instituted the following January. (fn. 45) The resumption of the war in 1369 once more brought alien priories into the king's hands, and the prior was given custody of Lapley at the old farm of 20 marks; this was raised to 25 marks in 1377. (fn. 46) The prior was evidently among those exempt from the expulsion of foreign monks in 1378. Another general survey was made of the priory's possessions in 1379. Their total annual value was given as £26 17s. 8d. from demesne lands, rents and other revenues at Lapley, Wheaton Aston, Bickford (in Lapley and Penkridge), Marston, Hamstall Ridware, and Silvington. (fn. 47) In 1384 the king granted the priory for the duration of the war with France to his esquire, Robert de Hampton, rent free. (fn. 48) Peter, 'sometime prior', secured a lease from Hampton two years later at the greatly increased farm of £40 13s. 4d. (fn. 49) In 1388, however, the king once more committed Lapley to Peter as prior at a rent of £20 for the duration of the war. (fn. 50) It was committed to Peter and to Geoffrey Stafford, canon of Ranton, in 1397, and later the same year to Peter, John Bally his fellow monk at Lapley, and Thomas Marton, clerk. (fn. 51) The £20 farm was assigned to another royal esquire, William Walshale, for life in 1398, a grant which was confirmed in 1404; he was still receiving the £20 in 1413. (fn. 52)
In 1402 Prior John Bally, who had succeeded in 1399 after the death of Prior Peter, was summoned before the Council to show whether his priory was conventual and so not liable to be taken into the king's hands with non-conventual priories. (fn. 53) He was unable to do this, and in 1403 the priory was committed to him and two others at a farm of 40 marks. (fn. 54) In 1413 it was committed to Bally, William Kanc his fellow monk, and Richard Knightley of Brough in Gnosall at a farm of 42 marks. (fn. 55) Ten marks from the farm was granted to the queen in 1409; this was raised to 12 marks in 1414, whilst in 1415 the remaining £20 was granted to another esquire, John Vale. (fn. 56)
In the 14th century the connexion with the mother abbey of St. Rémy must have been less important to the priors than their relations with the Crown. In 1367 during the period of peace the prior gave a bond for 120 marks to St. Rémy, (fn. 57) but the abbey can have had little profit from its English lands. The history of the priory ended in 1415 when all its possessions were granted to Tong College (Salop.), founded in or soon after 1410 by Isabel, widow of Sir Fulk Pembrugge. (fn. 58) In 1417 the king pardoned John Bally and other late keepers of the priory all arrears. (fn. 59)
The priory buildings evidently adjoined the church on the north side, and part of the site is now occupied by the timber-framed Old Manor House. The church itself contains much 12th-century work. The priory site and the church were enclosed within a moat. (fn. 60)
Godric, possibly prior temp. Henry I. (fn. 61)
P., prior at some time between 1162 and 1181. (fn. 62)
Absalon, replaced Prior P. by 1181. (fn. 63)
Inganus, occurs by 1181 and in 1206-7. (fn. 64)
John, presented 1233. (fn. 65)
Walcher, occurs 1266. (fn. 66)
Reynold, occurs 1297. (fn. 67)
Peter de Passiaco, resigned 1305. (fn. 68)
John de Tannione, admitted 1305, resigned 1320. (fn. 69)
Gobert of Brabant, admitted 1320, resigned 1322. (fn. 70)
John de Aceyo, admitted 1322, resigned by 1328. (fn. 71)
Baldwin de Spynale, prior probably from 1328 and certainly from 1332; occurs to 1357, probably in office until November 1361; Gobert de Lapion occurs as rival prior 1334 to 1337. (fn. 72)
Peter de Gennereyo, admitted 1362; he may be the Peter Romelot who occurs as prior from 1377 and was dead by 1399. (fn. 73)
John Bally, admitted 1399; prior until the suppression. (fn. 74)
No seal is known.