Houses of Austin canons: Priory of Maxstoke

Pages 91-94

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

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Sir William de Clinton, afterwards earl of Huntingdon, in the year 1330 purchased the advowson of the parish church of Maxstoke, valued at 8 marks in 1291, proposing to found therein a large chantry or college of priests. In pursuance of his intention he made John Lynie, the recently-appointed rector, warden, and associated with him five other secular priests. On 12 October, 1331, Sir William obtained licence to alienate in free alms £20 yearly in lands and rents in Maxstoke, together with the advowson of the church, to a warden and chaplains to celebrate divine service daily for the soul of the king, the bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, and for William and Juliana his wife and their kinsfolk and ancestors. (fn. 1)

In the following year the founder added five acres of land to this endowment for the six chaplains. (fn. 2) But in 1336 Sir William de Clinton changed his mind and decided to turn the college of chantry priests into a priory of Austin Canons. Licence was granted by the crown on 24 September, 1336, for the alienation of the lands and rents in Maxstoke already bestowed on the college to the new prior and canons, together with the appropriation of the churches of Maxstoke and Long Itchington. (fn. 3)

Bishop Northburgh also gave his sanction in 1336 to the appropriation of the churches of Long Itchington and Maxstoke to the newly founded priory. The consent of the two chapters of Lichfield and Coventry had been previously obtained and pensions assigned to the chapters as well as to the bishop. In each case a vicarage was reserved. (fn. 4)

In 1343 the church of Shustoke was appropriated on the petition of the patron, William de Clinton, the founder of Maxstoke, to augment his priory. The consent of the chapter of Coventry was appended to the episcopal licence. (fn. 5)

In 1345 the church of Fillongley was also appropriated to Maxstoke Priory by the gift of William de Clinton. (fn. 6)

The actual charter of foundation of the new priory was dated 10 March, 1337. This charter, and the confirmations of the bishop, the prior and convent of Coventry, and the dean and canons of Lichfield were all formally enrolled and confirmed by Edward III, on 4 March, 1338. (fn. 7) This charter gave the fullest particulars of the intentions of the founder and the rule of the priory. The house was dedicated to the honour of the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin, St. Michael, and All Saints, and was to consist of an elected prior and twelve Austin Canons, who were day and night to glorify God in their round of worship. They were to wear as their outer garb, both in winter and summer, a black cloak (cappa) and cowl, and under the cloak a linen garment and other vesture such as were worn by regular canons. The prior was not to have any portion of goods distinct from the rest of the convent, but all were to fare alike, in order that by thus possessing everything in common they might be the more united. When the office of prior was vacant the sub-prior and convent, within five or six days of such vacancy, after celebrating the mass of the Holy Spirit in quire, were to proceed to a free election without seeking any licence from the founder or his successor. During the vacancy the sub-prior and convent were to have custody of the temporalities. No one was to be admitted canon unless free-born or free at the time of his admission, of good and honest life, sufficiently learned for the condition of a canon regular, and possessed of a competent voice for singing the divine service, of at least eighteen years of age, and having no impediment to entering on the priesthood when of canonical age. At the end of the first year the novice, before being professed, was to declare openly and publicly his intention of abiding honourably in all the observances of the rule and of the house.

The founder desired that so soon as £200 of yearly income had been provided by churches, lands, or rents, the number of twelve canons and a prior should be filled; and that afterwards, when ten more marks of annual income had been bestowed, another canon should be at once added to their number; this was to be done within a month if a fit colleague could be found. Of the thirteen canons and prior, nine, so far as was possible, were always to be priests. If it should happen that there should be any further augmentation of their income, then another canon was to be added for each additional ten marks. No corrody nor pension was to be granted, save under pressing circumstances and with the consent of the diocesan. All officials were to make an annual return of their accounts. The anniversary of the founder was to be specially observed. On the day of his obit distribution was to be made to 100 poor of the parish of Maxstoke and neighbourhood of a loaf weighing fifty shillings. Every day, in addition to the customary distribution of bread, there was to be given a dinner to some one poor person at the discretion of the prior or almoner, consisting of a white conventual loaf, a mess of meat from the kitchen, and a flagon of beer.

The mass of our Lady and the chapter mass were to be celebrated daily at the wonted hours and places that are customary in other priories of the order; so that in all masses, besides those solemnly celebrated in quire on the greater festivals, the founder and Juliana his wife, &c., were held in memory. The Hail Mary was always to be recited by the officiant after mattins of our Lady, after Lady mass, and after all hours, the rest responding Amen. If the prior transgressed his duty, each canon was to consider himself bound to report the delinquency to the bishop. The prior had power to prevent any delinquent canon from holding any office for the space of five years. The prior, previous to his installation, was to openly and publicly promise to honourably observe all the statutes. Those of his heirs or successors who might attempt to advantage themselves out of the possessions of the priory were to be held accursed.

Licence was granted to William de Clinton in 1340 to alienate in mortmain to the new priory the advowson and appropriation of the church of Tanworth; the priory of Kenilworth granted this advowson to William de Clinton, saving to themselves an annual pension of two marks and a stone of wax. (fn. 8)

The grand and stately buildings of this house were not finished sufficiently for dedication until 8 July, 1342, which the register gives as the date of the consecration. (fn. 9)

Pope Clement VI, in April 1344, at the request of the founder, confirmed the foundation of Maxstoke, with exemplifications of letters dated 1336 and 1340. (fn. 10) In the following year the pope sent his mandate to the bishop of Lichfield, at the request of William de Clinton, for the appropriation to Maxstoke of the church of Fillongley already in their patronage. In 1347 there was a further papal confirmation of this appropriation, as though some difficulty had arisen. (fn. 11)

The founder in his first petition stated that Maxstoke Priory was for the accommodation of a prior and thirteen canons; in his second petition he informed the pope that if the appropriation of Fillongley was granted it was proposed to increase the canons to nineteen (? fourteen).

In 1349 confirmation was granted by the same pope of the appropriation to this priory of the church of Yardley, which had been assigned to them in 1307. (fn. 12) The advowson of Aston Cantlow, followed by the appropriation of the church, was among the further endowments, the prior and convent of Studley releasing all their right to the same. (fn. 13)

In 1343 the manor of Shustoke, with the advowson of the church and of the chapel at Bentley, were purchased by the priory from John Lord Mowbray. (fn. 14) In exchange for this manor they soon afterwards obtained from Sir John de Clinton, son and heir of the elder brother of the founder, the ancient moated manor-house of Maxstoke, with the adjacent park. The canons turned the house into barns, and kept up the moat to turn a water-mill. (fn. 15)

The prior of Maxstoke was commissioned by Bishop Stretton in January, 1360, to inclose an anchorite, Brother Roger de Henorebarwe, who desired to retire from the world, at the chapel of Maryhall by Torworth, in the building assigned for the purpose. (fn. 16)

William, earl of Huntingdon, the founder, resided a considerable distance from the priory and from the small adjacent parish church; the manor-house, or castle, that he built, being on the edge of the parish. In 1350 he petitioned Pope Clement that he might there build a chapel and have chaplains who should baptize the children of the lords of the manor and administer the sacraments to him, his wife, the lords and ladies of the manor, their households and guests, without prejudice of the parish church. In his petition the earl stated that he and his wife and family spent much of their time on the manor, and that they could not, without much danger, in the winter when the road was flooded, get to the church, the road to which lay through more than a league of wood. (fn. 17)

In February, 1400, complaint was made by Sir William Beauchamp that John, friar of Maxstoke, and others had broken into his close and house at Aston Cantlow, assaulted his men and carried off goods to the value of 200 marks and £90 in money. On payment of 2 marks he obtained a legal commission of inquiry. This was probably a rough-and-ready way of claiming some overdue rents. (fn. 18) A more serious act of violence, however, occurred within the priory in the previous year, when one of the canons was attacked by another and compelled to kill him in self defence. (fn. 19)

In 1408 William, Lord Clinton, granted the priory £10 yearly rents issuing out of lands in Dunton Bassett, Leicestershire. (fn. 20) In 1459 Humphrey, duke of Buckingham, bequeathed the canons £100 to purchase lands to the end they might be augmented by one canon more (thirteen in all, in addition to the prior), and that one of the number should daily celebrate for his soul and those of his wife, children, and ancestors at the altar in the north aisle of their conventual church. (fn. 21)

There is an interesting register of this priory among the MSS. of Trinity College, Oxford. The more salient points have been given in a paper by Mr. J. R. Halliday on Maxstoke Priory. (fn. 22) The book includes copies of the charters of foundation and deeds certifying to subsequent benefactions; but it is much more diversified than a regular chartulary, as it contains rough copies of the annual account rolls for many years, as well as other memoranda. These accounts begin with the year 1432; they are in five or six different hand-writings; the latest are of the year 1493. There are also at the Public Record Office a variety of documents pertaining to Maxstoke, from the foundation down to 1504. These also were made good use of by Mr. Halliday in the same paper. They chiefly consist of various accounts of the prior, treasurer, cellarer, sacrist, and other officers of the house.

From these documents it appears that at Aston Cantlow, Fillongley, Itchington, and Yardley, the rectory or glebe-land formed an ecclesiastical manor, in respect of which the prior held his court. In each of the outlying estates there was a resident bailiff of the manor who occupied the grange, received the rents, accounted to the priory for the same, and presided at the courts.

Many of the entries in the accounts relate to the repairs and alterations of the buildings. During the time that John Grene was prior, 1432-50, the large sum of £314 6s. 8½d. was spent on building. The payments were almost entirely for labour, stone and wood being obtained on the estates. A particularly interesting and unusual class of entries in the accounts are those that pertain to the visits of minstrels, jesters, and players, who from time to time entertained the large establishment of the priory, and doubtless the adjoining tenantry and labourers who would be bidden for the purpose. Throughout the rule of Prior Grene such entertainments were fairly frequent; much no doubt would depend upon the character and disposition of the superior. (fn. 23)

The accounts show that the prolonged litigation which the priory had with the priory of Studley with respect to the right of the church of Aston Cantlow, at the beginning of the fifteenth century, (fn. 24) was most burdensome. The money necessary to carry on the suit was raised from loans and by sale of certain of the treasures of the house. In 1399 the prior received from loans and from the sale of jewels £205 2s. 9d. In 1400 three books and a silver basin were sold for £7. In 1404 the prior pledged a cope to Lady Elizabeth Clinton for the great sum of £25, and sold jewels to the amount of £17 13s. 6d.

The Valor of 1535 (fn. 25) estimated the annual worth of this house at £130 11s. 8½d; out of this sum came the daily conventual loaf, dish of meat, and flagon of beer to a poor person, valued at 4d. a day, or £6 1s. 8d. a year. Money, bread, and beer distributed to the poor on Maundy Thursday at the priory gates cost £4 a year. Other deductions brought down the clear annual value to £81 13s. 7½d. William Dicons was at this time prior.

The commissioners of 1536 reported of 'the Priorie of Maxstoke, Chanons of Seynt austyns order and rule' that its annual value was £112 9s. 4¾d. The religious were seven with the prior, of whom six were priests: 'ii suspect of incontynency and the others of good and vertuous conversation.' Five desired capacities to serve as secular priests if it was the king's pleasure to dissolve the house. There were twenty-six dependants, namely two priests to serve the church of Maxstoke and sing mass in the chapel of Bentley in the parish of Shustoke, nine yeomen servants, twelve hinds, and three women servants. The value of the bells and lead and buildings was estimated at £352 4s. 10¼d., 'the house beyng a very stately and goodly house in most part buyleyd with hard stone and in good repaire.' The stocks and stores and movable goods were valued at £115 7s. 8d., and there were 186 acres of wood. The debts were £196 12s. 5½d., 'whereof a Cli. is debbt to parson Lison by obligation as the prior affirmeth for so muche money to hym lent.' (fn. 26)

George Gifford, one of the commissioners, wrote to Cromwell on 3 August, 1536, telling him of the completion of the survey of this priory; it seems to have been speedily suppressed. (fn. 27)

William Dicons, the prior, received a pension of 20 marks. (fn. 28)

In 1538 this priory was granted, with a multitude of other church lands, to Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk, who speedily sold it to a London goldsmith. (fn. 29)

Priors of Maxstoke (fn. 30)

John Deyville, occurs 1336 (fn. 31)

Robert Walford, 1341 (?), (fn. 32) 1346

Reginald de Bn' (? Birmingham), 1370, (fn. 33) occurs 1383 (fn. 33)

John Birmingham, 1389-1401 (fn. 33)

John Daventry, 1401-11 (fn. 33)

John Nasington, 1424-32 (fn. 33)

John Grene, 1432-50 (fn. 34)

Richard Evesham, 1451 (fn. 35) -59 (fn. 35)

John Freeman, 1472 (fn. 36) -93 (fn. 36)

William Dyson or Dicons (Symson), 1505 (fn. 37) -38 (fn. 27)

The seal is a pointed oval: within a carved and canopied niche, Michael the Archangel in combat with the dragon. In base, an arch containing a figure.

. . . . VS: DE . . . . . . . . KE (fn. 38)


  • 1. Pat. 5 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 12.
  • 2. Pat. 6 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 12.
  • 3. Pat. 10 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 26.
  • 4. Lich. Epis. Reg. Northburgh, ii, fol. 55, 55b, 76.
  • 5. Ibid. ii, fol. 62.
  • 6. Ibid. ii, fol. 117.
  • 7. Pat. 12 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 22. This is given in extenso in the Monasticon, vi, 524-6.
  • 8. Pat. 14 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 30.
  • 9. Maxstoke Chart. Trin. Coll, Oxf.
  • 10. Cal. Papal Let. iii, 116; Cal. Papal Pet. 1, 50.
  • 11. Cal. Papal Let. iii, 216, 253; Cal. Papal Pet. i, 192.
  • 12. Cal. Papal Pet. ii, 333.
  • 13. Madox, Formulare Anglicum, 70, 264; Pat. 5 Hen. IV, pt. ii, m. 14.
  • 14. Pat. 17 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 24.
  • 15. Dugdale, Warw. ii, 998.
  • 16. Lich. Epis. Reg. Stretton, fol. 41.
  • 17. Cal. Papal Pet. i, 192.
  • 18. Pat. 1 Hen. IV, pt. v, m. 4d.
  • 19. a Cal. Papal Let. v, 322.
  • 20. Pat. 10 Hen. IV, pt. i, m. 6.
  • 21. Dugdale, Warw. ii, 999.
  • 22. Trans. Birm. and Midland Inst. (Arch. Sect.), 1874, pp. 55, 105.
  • 23. Reference is made to several of these visits and extracts are given in Warton's Hist. of Poetry, ii, 97-8, but he misread Ruggeley as Rugby and made other mistakes. Mr. Halliday points out that the Ruggeley mummers would be those in the service of Nicholas Ruggeley, who lived at Dunton Hall, near Curdworth. The following are the entries under this head for two consecutive years:— 11 Henry VI Itm' cuidam mimo de domino Warwyk, viid; Itm' cuidam mimo de Ruggeley, viid; Itm' lusoribus de Coventry, viiid; Itm' duobus citharist' de Coventry, viiid; Itm' dat' duobus mimis de Ruggeley, viiid; Itm' dat' mimismo de Stafforde, xvid. 12 Henry VI Itm' dat' lusoribus de Coventr' viiid; Itm' dat' lusoribus de Daventry, viiid; Itm' Tho' harper de Coventry, viiid; Itm' iiii mimis dni de Warwyk, xviiid; Itm mimis de Coventry, xiid; Itm' duobus mimis dni de Asteley, xiid; Itm' cuidam nigromantico cum socio suo ludenti in camera picta, xd; Itm' dat' mimo ceco, iid.
  • 24. Cal. Papal Let. vi, 236, 279.
  • 25. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii, 37.
  • 26. Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. clxiv, 131.
  • 27. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xi (1), 227.
  • 28. Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. ccxxxii, 52b.
  • 29. Pat. 30 Hen. VIII, m. 4.
  • 30. a Trans. Birm. and Midland Inst. 1874, p. 88.
  • 31. Anct. D. (P.R.O.), B. 2259.
  • 32. Lich. Epis. Reg. Northburgh, fol. 34 d.
  • 33. Anct. D. (P.R.O.), B. 3730.
  • 34. Lich. Epis. Reg. Heyworth, fol. 12b.
  • 35. Ibid. Booth, fol. 12.
  • 36. Ibid. Hales, fol. 22b.
  • 37. Ibid. Blyth, fol. 11d.
  • 38. Harl. Chart. 75, G. 8; Dugdale, Mon. vi, 524; where shields of arms on the seal are described.