Alien houses: Priory of Wootton Wawen

Pages 133-136

A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.

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Not long after the Conquest, Robert de Tony gave the church of Wootton Wawen with all its tithes and oblations, and an adjacent hide of land, together with a hide at Doversele, to the Benedictine abbey of Conches, Normandy, which had been founded by his father Roger de Tony. These grants were confirmed by Nicholas de Stafford, the founder's son, temp. Henry I, and by Robert de Stafford his grandson, temp. Henry II. A small cell or priory of monks from Conches was established here by the founder. Henry I granted to the abbey of Conches that all men on their English lands were to be free, and that they were to be exempt from all manner of service and toll; moreover the monks were always to have free passage from the port of Dieppe.

The church was appropriated to the priory in 1178, and a vicarage ordained, which remained in the gift of the priory of Wootton or the abbey of Conches until it was made over to King's College, Cambridge, in the fifteenth century.

Among other benefactions to this priory were several parcels of land at Ullenhall, in this parish, by Robert de Stafford; a mill at Henley in Arden, by Henry de Montfort; lands at Mockley and Ullenhall, by Robert de Chaucombe; a virgate of land with croft and messuage and chapel at Burley, by William de Burley; lands at Buckley, by Godfrey de Pouncefote; and the manor of Monkenlane, and other tithes and lands in the county of Hereford. (fn. 1)

About the beginning of the reign of Edward I Peter de Altaribus was prior. His life was anything but creditable, and at last he became involved in a brawl which brought about the interference of the bishop. The circumstances are related with considerable detail in the episcopal registers.

An inquisition was held at Warwick on Tuesday after Palm Sunday, 1281, by the official of the archdeacon of Worcester, by command of Bishop Giffard, upon certain articles touching the prior of Wootton, Peter de Altaribus, and brother Roger his monk. William, vicar of Wootton, deposed that on Friday after the feast of St. Matthew, at the hour of evensong, he was fetched by Lorekyn, the prior's groom, to the priory, to stay a discord; that he met the prior coming out of the hall door; that in the hall he found brother Roger sitting in a chair bleeding at the nose; that the prior immediately returned and accused Roger of drawing blood by fraud, by wounding himself in his nose with his own finger; that the said Roger contrariwise asserted that the prior had hit him on the nose with his fist to the drawing of blood; and that this was corroborated by others who saw the affair, and who stated that Roger did not return the blow. He further deposed that the priors had been in the habit of making two distributions to the poor each week, but that this prior had given up the custom; that he had also abandoned the exercise of hospitality previously exercised; that he wasted the priory's goods, and was customarily drunk and pugnacious with his household, sometimes chasing them from their beds in the night; and that his conduct was a matter of notoriety in Wootton as well as in the neighbouring villages. Richard, chaplain to the vicar of Wootton, deposed to a like effect. John, a servant of the vicar's, said that he saw the prior strike monk Roger between the eyes with the keys, calling him a leprous clown. William, clerk to the vicar, Walter Gopyl, a thresher, who happened to be in the priory grange, Walter, the prior's miller, Thomas, the carter, John, the wheelwright, Walter, the porter, Jory, the cook, and several others also deposed, all save two laying the blame on the prior, but admitting words of provocation on the part of Roger. The prior was held guilty of laying violent hands on Roger de Pauiliac, his monk, and Roger for doing the same to the prior, and the sentence of greater excommunication was pronounced against them both. Shortly afterwards, namely on Wednesday next before the feast of St. Mark, an inquisition was taken in the church of Wootton concerning the dilapidations made by the same prior. William the vicar deposed that the prior pawned a chalice of his house and afterwards sold it; he believed that he also parted with a vestment. Roger Premer deposed that the prior sold in perpetuity certain land to Roger le Clerk and his heirs, at the rent of one gilliflower only, which was accustomed to render 3s. rent and aid in the autumn.

The abbot and convent of Conches, through John Barket, their monk and proctor, called upon Prior Peter de Altaribus to depart from the priory, but the prior resisted and appealed to the bishop. The cause was first heard by Bishop Giffard, then by the bishop's official, and afterwards before the official of the archdeacon of Worcester on 23 April, 1281. At length both parties submitted to the bishop's ordinances to the following effect:—absolution granted to Prior Peter and brother Roger from their sentence of excommunication, ordaining that they should remit all rancour; that both Peter and Roger should retire to the monastery of Conches, there to receive condign penance from their abbot; and that Peter, as he only continued in the rule of the priory at the bishop's command after his recall, was not to be imprisoned, but honestly treated as his behaviour should merit. (fn. 2)

It is exceptional to find an alien priory subject to diocesan visitation, but it was thus visited by Bishop Giffard in 1269, 1284, and 1290.

On 12 March, 1285, a bond was entered into by John de Barqueto, prior of Wootton and proctor-general of the abbot of Conches in England, to pay to Richard, vicar of Tysoe and rural dean of Warwick, on behalf of the bishop, 31 marks. In July of the same year the bishop wrote to the abbot of Conches touching the appointment of the prior of Wootton and the rule of the house.

Edward III on 3 August, 1337, suffered the prior to retain charge of his alien house, but on the condition of paying 10 marks annually for the custody in addition to £20 from the profits to the crown. On 28 August the sheriff of Warwickshire was instructed at once to demand both sums, and if refused, to levy on the goods and chattels of the priory and to arrest the prior. (fn. 3)

The parish church of Wootton Wawen, as of large size and convenient position, was usually made the centre for the parochial visitation of the whole or a moiety of the deanery of Warwick. On 16 January, 1339, the clergy and people of the whole deanery of Warwick were visited at Wootton by the commissary of the prior of Worcester. The usual procuration due on such occasions was 4 marks, for which the rector or appropriator of the church where the visitation was held was considered responsible. At this visit the fee was not paid, and on 22 January Nicholas Maurice, sub-prior of Worcester, issued his mandate to the prior of Wootton, as rector of that church, to pay the procuration of 4 marks before the feast of the Purification to the prior of Worcester, by reason of the late visitation. (fn. 4)

In 1342 trouble arose as to the sequestration of this priory to the crown during the wars with France. The king directed his precept to the sheriff of Warwickshire, reciting that he had committed the custody of the priory to Prior John for a certain sum to be paid yearly into the Exchequer so long as the war should last, but that on the prior neglecting to pay this rent it had again been seized by the crown; nevertheless, at the humble request of the prior, who desired no more than a sufficient allowance for himself and one monk his coresident, the king desired the sheriff to pay the prior 3s. a week and the monk 18d. a week out of the issues of the priory till the war should cease. (fn. 5)

Edward III, on 6 March, 1374, directed a writ to the keepers of the spiritualities of the bishopric of Worcester to certify as to benefices in the hands of aliens. The first entry in the certificate, forwarded by the prior of Worcester, was to the effect that brother John Maubert, monk of Conches, occupied the monastery of 'Waweynes Wotton' and resided there with another monk; that the true value of the priory was estimated at 40 marks a year; and that Roger Harewell occupied the priory by letters patent of the king and received the profits, but whether in the name of the said aliens or other manner, or for what time, was not known. (fn. 6)

The custody of it was then committed to the joint wardenship, under the crown, of Hugh, earl of Stafford, John Maubert the prior, and Michael Cheyne proctor of the abbot of Conches. (fn. 7) In 1379 Richard II granted the sole custody of it to Prior Maubert upon condition of his paying £40 per annum into the Exchequer so long as the war should endure. (fn. 8) Three years later, probably on the death or removal of Prior Maubert, Richard II granted the farm of the priory to Robert Selby, priest, and to John de Burley, on their paying the increased rental of £46 13s. 4d. (fn. 9)

An extent of the priory's property in 1380 assigned no value to the rectory house (priory), garden, and fish-pond at Wootton, but returned a dove-cote as of the annual value of 5s.; a carucate of land, consisting of 60 acres with the adjacent meadow, 13s. 4d.; a water-mill, 12s.; tithes of corn and hay, 4 marks; and rents of both free tenants and natives, 3s. 4d. At 'Molkeleye,' the lands and rents of the priory were worth £2 18s. 10d. a year; tithes and rents at Henley and Bulkeley, £1 6s. 8d.; tithes and rents at Ellenhall, £4 14s.; tithes at Edstone, 53s. 4d.; tithes at Burley, half a mark; tithes at 'Waunesude,' 13s. 4d.; tithes at 'Whyteleys,' 13s. 4d.; and the tithes of wool and lambs at Wootton and its hamlets 28s. The total clear value was £19 1s. 2d. The jury also certified that the advowson of the vicarage of Wootton belonged to the priory. (fn. 10)

An inquisition of 1387 gave the annual value of the extent or survey as 48 marks 5s. The goods and cattle were estimated as worth £16 15s. The jury also reported that the repair of the dilapidations of the houses of the priory and of the chancel of the church would cost £20. (fn. 11)

In 1398, when Richard II was augmenting the foundation of the newly founded house of Carthusians at Coventry, Wootton was one of the several alien priories conferred upon them. (fn. 12) But this grant was not of long continuance, as it was shortly afterwards reversed by Henry IV, and the monks re-established. Accordingly John Soverain, monk of Conches, was instituted to the priory and its estates on 11 August, 1400. It was granted to him and his successors on the conditions of paying into the Exchequer, during the continuance of the war, the tribute that was paid to the abbey of Conches in times of peace; of maintaining there as many monks, secular priests, and English servants as had been ordained at its first foundation; and of paying all tenths, fifteenths, and other subsidies required of the clergy and commonalty as often as there should be occasion. (fn. 13) But in 1403 Parliament interfered with regard to the alien houses, when it was decided that all, save those which were conventual, should be again seized into the king's hands. The sheriff of Warwickshire was directed to summon the prior of Wootton and the other alien priories of the shire to Westminster in Hilary term, bringing with them all charters and evidences that it might be known whether they were conventual or not. (fn. 14) Wootton had never had a chapter of its own, so could not possibly claim exemption under that head; but the action taken in 1400 for its re-establishment probably caused it to be spared. In 1414 came the general action with regard to alien priories of the Parliament at Leicester, when it was decided that all alien priories, save those specially exempt, were to be made over to the crown. Wootton ought not to have been included under this action, but through colour of some wrong information, the crown granted Wootton Priory and its possessions to Sir Rowland Lenthall, and divine service is said to have ceased in the house. This, however, was probably not the case, for John Soverain, who had been duly instituted prior in 1400, still retained the office. When his death came on the morrow of Easter, 1437, Sir Rowland Lenthall hastened to present one William Saunders, clerk, as prior to the bishop, which proves that in his opinion the priory still existed. The bishop accepted the presentation, and in April the first prior with an English name was duly instituted. (fn. 15) Upon this the proctor of the abbot of Conches appealed to the king, Henry VI, who, to the intent that God's service and works of charity should be duly performed, for the good estate of himself and for the souls of his ancestors and heirs, annulled the institution of Saunders, and presented for institution a monk termed John de Conches, whom the bishop instituted on 17 June, 1438. (fn. 16)

Sir Rowland Lenthall received, as compensation for his dispossession, a rental of £20 in the county of Hereford. The priory, however, did not long enjoy its new lease of life, for in December, 1443, the fickle king bestowed it, with all its possessions, on the provost and scholars of his new foundation of King's College, Cambridge. Four years later the college obtained a formal release from Prior John of all his right, claim, and title in the priory, and soon after strengthened their position by a further special patent. (fn. 17) There must have been some doubt as to the validity of the first patent, for in 1445, and again in 1446, institutions were made to the vicarage of Wootton Wawen, at the presentation of 'the prior and convent of Wootton Wawen.' (fn. 18)

Priors of Wootton Wawen (fn. 19)

Robert, temp. Stephen


Ernulph, temp. Henry II

Roger de Bretoil

Roger de Conches

Ralph, temp. John

Taurinus, temp. Henry III

Peter de Altaribus, temp. Edward I

John de Barqueto, -1285 (resigned)

Roger de Pavilliaco, 1285-88 (fn. 20) (resigned)

John de Broyca, 1288 (fn. 21)

John de Avrion, 1300-5 (fn. 22) (resigned)

John de Broyca, 1305 (fn. 23)

William de Laverceye, 1309

John de Tonnelier, 1328

John de Loto, -1341 (resigned)

John de Silvaneto, 1341

Michael de la Bouche, -1349

Guillerimus (Pinchart), 1349 (fn. 24)

William de Senye (Chesney), 1367-71 (resigned)

John Maubert, 1371-82 (fn. 25)

John Soverain, 1400-37

William Saunders, 1437 (fn. 26)

John de Conches, 1438-47 (fn. 27)


  • 1. MSS. of King's Coll. Camb. cited in Dugdale, Warw. ii, 815, and in the Mon. vi, 994-5.
  • 2. Giffard's Reg. (Worc. Hist. Soc.), 131-3.
  • 3. Close, 11 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 37, 30.
  • 4. a Sede Vac. Reg. (Worc. Hist Soc.), fol. 154, 156.
  • 5. Close, 16 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 17.
  • 6. Sede Vac. Reg. (Worc. Hist. Soc.), fol. 169b, 174.
  • 7. Rot. Fin. 48 Edw. III, m. 12.
  • 8. Ibid. 3 Ric. II, m. 31.
  • 9. Ibid. 6 Ric. II, m. 15.
  • 10. Add. MSS. 6164, fol. 354.
  • 11. Ibid. fol. 495.
  • 12. Pat. 22 Ric. II, pt. iii, m. 4.
  • 13. Ibid. 2 Hen. IV. pt. i, m. 19; Worc. Epis. Reg. Winchcomb, fol. 52b.
  • 14. Close, 4 Hen. IV, m. 30.
  • 15. Pat. 16 Hen. VI, pt. iii, m. 36; Worc. Epis. Reg. Bourchier, fol. 32b, 46.
  • 16. Dugdale, Warw. ii, 816-17.
  • 17. Pat. 22 Hen. VI, pt. ii, m. 15; 1 Edw. IV, pt. iii, m. 23, and Close, 26 Hen. VI, m. 10 d.
  • 18. Worc. Epis. Reg. Carpenter, i, fol. 35b.
  • 19. Dugdale, Warw. ii, 815.
  • 20. Worc. Epis. Reg. Giffard, fol. 245b.
  • 21. Ibid. fol. 294b.
  • 22. Ibid. fol. 448.
  • 23. Ibid. Gainsborough, fol. 30b.
  • 24. Sede Vac. Reg. (Worc. Hist. Soc.), fol. 133b.
  • 25. Worc. Epis. Reg. Whittlesey, fol. 17b.
  • 26. Ibid. Bourchier, fol. 32b, 46; Pat. 16 Hen. VI, pt. 3, m. 36.
  • 27. Dugdale, Warw. ii, 816-17.