Alien houses: Priory of Arundel

Pages 119-120

A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.

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Roger de Montgomery, earl of Shrewsbury, not long after he had obtained the earldom of Sussex, gave certain lands and advowsons to the abbey of Séez, with a vacant site in Arundel to erect a priory, which was done in 1102 when Gratian, a monk of Séez, became first prior. The priory continued here for some seventy years, but in 1177 the then earl of Arundel removed the English secular canons from the church of St. Nicholas at Arundel, and introduced in their place this small priory of four or five monks, which continued a cell to St. Martin of Séez. (fn. 1) Of its history very little is known. Its endowment eventually included the advowsons of the parish churches of Arundel, Yapton, Rustington, Billingshurst, Kirdford, Cocking, and half Littlehampton, as well as the manor of Yapton and lands and rents in other West Sussex parishes, but of individual benefactors and their grants there is no record. The church of Cocking was also claimed by the monks of Séez in 1200 as belonging to the prebend of Arundel, given them by Earl Roger. (fn. 2) In 1291 the temporalities of the priory were valued at £14 10s. 6d., with an additional £5 in pensions arising from various tithes. (fn. 3)

In 1340 the prior of St. Nicholas obtained royal licence to acquire lands to the value of 60s., (fn. 4) and at the same time the earl of Arundel had leave to grant to the same prior a plot of land in Arundel 40 ft. long by 36 ft. broad, with an oratory built thereon in honour of St. Mary. (fn. 5) Apparently the monks found that this oratory was a source of expense and not of income, as three years later the earl obtained a fresh licence to grant to them 30 acres in Arundel that they should celebrate service daily in honour of Christ and the Blessed Virgin in the chapel newly founded at the north gate of the town, (fn. 6) which was presumably the same as the oratory above mentioned.

Practically nothing is known of the inner history of this small monastery, the most interesting fact being an arrangement made in 1269, by which the priory granted Master William de Wedon, in return for various gifts, board and lodging, and a room in the priory in which he might conduct a school. (fn. 7)

As an alien house Arundel Priory was frequently seized into the king's hands during the wars with France, the prior, as a rule, being allowed to farm it of the king. When Edward I took it into his hands it was valued at £54 3s. 11½d. and was committed to the prior, Denis, for an annual payment of £35, but as this only left £19 3s. 11½d. for the support of the prior and five monks he obtained a deduction of £8. When, however, Edward III seized the priory in 1337 he again raised the farm to £35, and it was not until 1340 that, out of favour to the earl of Arundel, he lowered it again to £27, and also ordered the prior to be credited with the £24 extra farm which he had paid during the last three years. (fn. 8)

The farm exacted at the beginning of Richard II's reign was 20 marks, and at this time the patronage of the priory was in the king's hands, by descent from his father, (fn. 9) who had no doubt obtained it through Queen Isabella, to whom it was granted by Robert de Morley, heir of Robert de Montalt, in 1335. (fn. 10)

When Richard earl of Arundel died in 1376 he left 1,000 marks for the founding of a chantry within the castle of Arundel; but his son, considering the vicissitudes to which a castle is exposed, and that a chantry in a castle was likely not to be permanent, and seeing also that owing to the long war with France the alien monks had all, with the exception of the prior, abandoned the priory of St. Nicholas, so that service was no longer performed there, decided to found the chantry in the church. He accordingly obtained the king's leave in 1379 for messengers to go to Séez and treat with the abbot for the suppression of their cell of Arundel. (fn. 11) The sanction of the abbot, the pope, (fn. 12) and King Richard having been obtained, and the earl having undertaken to pay the 20 marks farm due to the crown so long as the war with France should last, the priory was dissolved in 1380 and replaced by the college of the Holy Trinity, (fn. 13) whose history has been traced above.

Priors of Arundel

Gratian, appointed 1102 (fn. 14)

Walter, occurs 1200 (fn. 15)

Warner, occurs 1241 (fn. 16)

Gervase, occurs c. 1255 (fn. 17)

Denis, occurs 1269 (fn. 18) -1303 (fn. 19)

Michael de Nauchal, occurs 1351, (fn. 20) 1354 (fn. 21)

John Messier, occurs 1364 (fn. 22)

John Mercer, occurs 1377 (fn. 23)


  • 1. Cal. Papal Let. iv, 239; Inq. a.q.d. 3 Ric. II, No. 160, printed in Tierney, Hist. of Arundel, 747-57.
  • 2. Curia Regis. R. 20, m. 10 d.
  • 3. Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 141.
  • 4. Pat. 14 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 12.
  • 5. Ibid. m. 21.
  • 6. Pat. 17 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 26.
  • 7. Add. MSS. 5701, fol. 18.
  • 8. Close, 14 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 38.
  • 9. Pat. 3 Ric. II, pt. iii, m. 12.
  • 10. Pat. 9 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 3.
  • 11. Pat. 3 Ric. II, pt. i, m. 12.
  • 12. Cal. Papal Let. iv, 239.
  • 13. Pat. 3 Ric. II, pt. iii, m. 12.
  • 14. See above.
  • 15. Feet of F. (Suss. Rec. Soc.), No. 48.
  • 16. Ibid. No. 379.
  • 17. Dugdale, Mon. viii, 1171.
  • 18. Add MSS. 5901, fol. 18.
  • 19. Assize R. 1330, m. 18.
  • 20. Pipe R. 25 Edw. III. Apparently elected in 1349; Suss. Arch. Coll. xxxv, 118.
  • 21. Pat. 27 Edw. III, m. 3 d.
  • 22. Cal. Papal Let. iv, 46.
  • 23. Trevelyan, The Peasants' Rising, 67.