A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.
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HOUSE OF BONHOMMES
The monastery at Edington was founded by William of Edington. (fn. 1) Probably a younger son of the leading family of that village, he rose by way of the Church to a leading place in the counsels of Edward III. In 1332 he was in the service of Adam of Orleton, then Bishop of Worcester, (fn. 2) and in the following ten years he emerged from the service of the minister into that of the king, as Keeper of the Wardrobe. (fn. 3) He became Treasurer of England in 1344, (fn. 4) and in 1346 succeeded his old patron in the see of Winchester, the most important of his many ecclesiastical preferments. From 1347 until he died in 1366 he was a member of the council of Edward, the Black Prince, (fn. 5) and in 1356 he exchanged the office of Treasurer for that of Chancellor. When his career was made and riches began to flow in, Edington decided to found a chantry in his native place in order that prayers might be said for himself, Roger his father, Amice his mother, John his brother, the kings of England, and the bishops of Salisbury and Winchester. (fn. 6) Before he could carry out this design he had to free the church of Edington from Romsey Abbey, to which it is said to have been given by King Edgar in 968. (fn. 7) Certainly Romsey held Edington at the time of Domesday, and in the succeeding centuries the church there, with the chapel of North Bradley, came to be recognized as a prebend in Romsey Abbey. (fn. 8) This meant, at least in theory, that the Rector of Edington, who was represented both there and at North Bradley by vicars, was able to act as chaplain to the nuns at Romsey. In 1351 the prebendary and rector was John de Edington, not necessarily a relation of the bishop.
Early in that year the bishop began buying small parcels of land in Edington, (fn. 9) through the agency of his brother John, not the rector, from the Abbess and Convent of Romsey, and on 29 October the chantry was set up. John, the rector, resigned, and William Scarlet was inducted as the first warden. (fn. 10) On the same day the chantry was united with the prebendal church, and Joan, the Abbess of Romsey, having transferred the advowson, agreed that the warden should in future be a canon of her house in place of the Rector of Edington. (fn. 11) If the prebendary had ever served the nunnery in person, it is evident that as the head of a chantry he would not be able to do so henceforth. However, his successor, the Rector of the Bonhommes of Edington, was represented by Isabel Morgan, a nun and afterwards Prioress of Romsey, at the re-election of Elizabeth Broke as abbess of that house in 1478. (fn. 12)
The chantry, dedicated to the Virgin, St. Katherine, and All Saints, was originally designed to consist of three chaplains including the warden, but this number was almost immediately doubled. Each day the warden and chaplains were expected to say together the office of the dead, the usual hours according to the Use of Salisbury, and masses for the persons mentioned above. The warden, who was to be presented by the Bishop of Salisbury, was instructed to reside continuously and to appoint his brother chaplains, to whom he was to give £2 twice yearly and a robe. He himself was to have 4 silver marks a year and a robe, or £1 in lieu. Each year he was to make an inventory of the goods of the chantry. He was not to sell the property of the chantry, and there was no common seal. He had a separate house, but all the chaplains had to eat together. The warden could entertain guests freely, but if the other chaplains brought in visitors they had to pay 3d. each for their dinners or 2d. each for other meals. The chaplains were told to avoid taverns, and not to enter other houses without leave of the warden. (fn. 13)
At the time of its foundation the chantry had a number of properties in Edington, £10 rent in Coleshill (Berks.), the advowsons of both places and the chapel of North Bradley. (fn. 14) The founder continued to add to his gifts. He gave more land in Edington to enlarge the chaplains' house and the churchyard in 1352, (fn. 15) and in the next year the advowson of Buckland (Berks.), which enabled a further three chaplains to be added. (fn. 16) In 1354 lands in Market Lavington, with the advowson, were acquired, (fn. 17) and shortly afterwards the chantry had possessions in Cutteridge, in North Bradley, and Tinhead also. (fn. 18) A second warden, Walter de Sevenhampton, succeeded Scarlet in March 1357, (fn. 19) but his tenure of office was destined to be short, for William of Edington had decided to transform his chantry into a regular religious house.
It is quite likely, as Leland said, (fn. 20) that it was the Black Prince, whose councillor he was, who persuaded William to model Edington on the College of Ashridge. For the prince claimed to be a founder of that college, (fn. 21) which had originally been set up in 1285 by Edmund, Earl of Cornwall; and when the change at Edington was made the name of the prince was added to the list of those for whom the brethren were bound to pray. These brethren, who followed the rule of St. Augustine, were commonly called Bonhommes. As to how the Bonhommes originated, and whether they were canons or friars, there has been much discussion, (fn. 22) but only negative conclusions may be drawn. They were not apparently connected with any of the continental orders of the same name, although they have sometimes been described as of the Order of Grammont. (fn. 23) Edington was the second house of the Order, and there were no more. It is not correctly described as an abbey, a priory, or a college, and its inmates were never called monks, canons, or friars. They were known as the rector and brethren of the convent, conventual house, or monastery of Edington. (fn. 24)
It was in March 1358 that the chantry was converted into a house of Bonhommes, the statutes of the new foundation, promulgated by the Bishop of Salisbury, being similar to those of Ashridge, as was also the dress of the brethren. At their head was the rector, elected by the brethren, and assisted by a corrector. He was bidden to submit his accounts to the elder brethren twice a year. The rule of St. Augustine was to be observed, and normal monastic service conducted according to the Salisbury Use. Vacancies in the Order were to be filled by admitting, after a year's novitiate, unmarried men of good character and sufficiently learned. (fn. 25)
Walter de Sevenhampton was induced to resign the wardenship of the chantry on 5 April 1358, and on the following day John de Aylesbury became the first Rector of Edington, (fn. 26) he and another brother having left Ashridge in order to organize the new house. (fn. 27) All the other chaplains of Edington are supposed to have entered the Order of the Bonhommes. In the following year the House of the brethren of St. Augustine at Edington received a royal charter of foundation, (fn. 28) of which the most remarkable feature was the grant of exemption from the payment of clerical tenths. This exceptional privilege had previously been granted by Edward II to the Carthusian priories of Hinton and Witham in Somerset. (fn. 29)
All the property of the chantry was transferred to the new foundation, (fn. 30) and the founder and others proceeded to add largely to it. More holdings in Edington were acquired in 1358 and 1359, (fn. 31) the manors of Alvescot and Albury (Oxon.) in 1360, (fn. 32) and the manors of Tormarton (Glos.) and Westwell (Oxon.), together with the advowson of the former place, (fn. 33) three parts of the manor of Kimpton (Hants), with the advowson (fn. 34) and lands in Buckland (Berks.) and Edington, Tinhead, Cutteridge, Bratton, Milbourne, Stoke, and Erlestoke, all in Wiltshire, in 1361. (fn. 35) In the same year the monastery acquired some rents in Kingston Deverill from John Husee, (fn. 36) and the life interest of Benedicta, relict of John de Mandeville, in the manors of Bratton and Eastrop. (fn. 37) This was very soon converted into a permanent holding. The estates continued to grow. The manor of West Ilsley (Berks.) was granted by Richard de Penley in 1362. (fn. 38) In some places manors were secured where the house had previously held but small tenements, and in others where they had the advowson and some lands their holdings came in the course of time to be regarded as 'rectory manors'. Examples of the latter class of new manors were Edington itself, where the original manor was still held by Romsey Abbey, and Buckland (Berks.). Old manors acquired were Tinhead (fn. 39) and Eastcott in Urchfont (fn. 40) in 1363, Highway in Hilmarton, afterwards exchanged for Bremridge in Dilton, in 1364, (fn. 41) Coleshill in 1367, (fn. 42) and Market Lavington in 1368. (fn. 43) There the period of expansion ended. William of Edington had given up the Great Seal in 1363, and when in 1366 his name was put forward for the vacant see of Canterbury he was already too ill to accept it. He died in the same year still Bishop of Winchester, leaving his foundation probably very much as it was to be until the end. In his will he left £20 to the rector, and 100s. to each brother, to pray for his soul, whilst a share in the residue of his wealth was to be given to the monastery. (fn. 44) Its endowment was to be very little changed in the ensuing years and its building may well have been in like case, for the founder had not neglected them.
Leland had apparently good authority for saying that the foundations of the house were laid in 1352, and that the church was dedicated in 1361. (fn. 45) The church, a building 'all of one date', remains to this day 'practically unaltered' as the parish church of Edington. (fn. 46) On a tomb in the south transept the effigy of an ecclesiastic, probably a Bonhomme, may still be seen. (fn. 47) The monastic buildings were on the north side, the aisle windows being placed high up to clear the roof of the cloister walk. The only visible remains of the claustral buildings are a buttress and doorways embodied in the old manor house, now known as Edington Priory. In the north transept are two blocked doorways which communicated with the monastic buildings, one in the east wall, the other in the north. (fn. 48)
The first rector, John of Aylesbury, lived until 25 March 1382, (fn. 49) by which time the brethren numbered eighteen. This is the only occasion, until the Dissolution in 1539, when the names of all the brethren or even their numbers are known. At the later date there were only thirteen. When Aylesbury died, they proceeded, as their rule enjoined, to elect three candidates, John Boklonde, Thomas Odyham, and Thomas Lavynton. These were presented to the Bishop of Salisbury, who chose Odyham, and he was instituted as rector on 1 April 1382. (fn. 50) Lavynton, who had acted as the rector's attorney in the collection of the double tenth of the clergy in 1378, (fn. 51) lived long enough to succeed Odyham as rector in the closing years of the century. It is noteworthy that at this time almost all the brethren bore names associated with Wiltshire and the neighbouring counties, including Edington, Tinhead, Amesbury, and Westbury. In 1400, during Lavynton's rectorship, Richard Metford, Bishop of Salisbury, carried out a visitation of Edington. His injunctions suggest that there was some lack of discipline but nothing seriously wrong. The brethren were enjoined to attend their services, neither they nor the rector staying away without reasonable cause; to maintain their rule of silence, and behave properly in choir, refectory, and cloister; and to take care of their archives. The rector was to consult with 4 or 6 of the senior brothers before taking important decisions. (fn. 52) Archbishop Courtenay had visited Edington ten years earlier but unfortunately left. no account of his findings, (fn. 53) and no more is known about the normal conduct of the house, but it was not without its own criminals. In 1202 John Hortone, a brother of the house of Edington, was accused of breaking into the house of the rector on two occasions in the previous year. On the first occasion he had carried off, it was said, silverware to the value of £13 10s., and on the second a book called 'Byble' worth £20. (fn. 54) Two other brothers of the house ran away at different times. (fn. 55)
A few more lands were added to the holdings of the Bonhommes before the end of the century. The reversion of the manor of Imber was received from Nicholas de Bonham in 1373. (fn. 56) Parts of the manor of Dilton were secured in 1381, (fn. 57) and the advowson of Keevil in 1393. (fn. 58) In 1402 when the brethren were called upon to contribute towards the aid for marrying the king's daughter, Blanche, ten manors were listed as their holdings. Market Lavington (1 knight's fee), Bratton, Dilton, Eastrop, Tormarton, Alvescot, and Westwell (½ fee each), and Tinhead (serjeanty) were held in chief. West Ilsley was held of the duchy of Lancaster by ¼ fee, and Coleshill of the abbey of St. Mary, Winchester, in socage. (fn. 59) After this date, apart from the manor of Baynton in Edington parish, given by John Rous in 1444, (fn. 60) most of the acquisitions were small, though not negligible. (fn. 61)
Although exempted from the payment of clerical tenths by their foundation charter, which was confirmed by successive kings at their accessions, (fn. 62) the Bonhommes were not exempt from the task of collecting the tenths, at which they took their turn alongside neighbouring foundations. (fn. 63) Moreover, the rector sat in the convocation of Canterbury where such grants were made. (fn. 64) Such an exemption cannot have been popular either with the officials of the Exchequer or with their neighbours whose subsidies they helped to collect. A number of attempts were made to get them to pay, (fn. 65) culminating in a case brought in the court of Exchequer in 1441. (fn. 66) The then rector was summoned for non-payment, but although there was much learned argument no decision in the case appears to survive. No evidence that they ever did pay has been found, and ten years later they secured exemption from collecting tenths. This was the direct consequence of the one recorded act of violence in the otherwise uneventful history of the house.
Cade's rebellion in 1450 was accompanied by a number of outbreaks of violence in the southern counties, and it was at Edington that the bestknown incident took place. It was there that 'William Ascoghe, bisshop of Salisbury was slayn of his owen parisshens and peple . . . aftir that he hadde saide Masse, and was draw from the auter and lad up to an hill the beside, to his awbe and his stole aboute his necke; and their they slow him horribly, thair fader and thair bisshoppe and spoillid him unto the nakid skyn, and rente his blody shirte in to pecis.' (fn. 67) Why the unpopular bishop was at Edington is not known, but the Bonhommes petitioned two years later that they had 'sustained intolerable damages through the sons of perdition who dragged William, late bishop of Salisbury, from the monastery and slew him, and breaking down the houses and buildings of the monastery, took, and carried away their goods and jewels', and that therefore they should be freed from the burden of collecting the tenth, which was granted. (fn. 68) In the early years of Edward IV's reign they were specifically exempted from payment each time that a tenth was granted by the clergy. (fn. 69)
Of the administration of the monastery's estates very little is known. An account roll (fn. 70) of some of the outlying manors for the year ending at Michaelmas 1506 shows that in these manors at least almost all the revenue was made up of fixed rents and farms, although there is evidence that the house had its own flock of several hundred sheep. The rector is described as 'Receiver of the House' and appears to have visited the manors with the auditors to hear the accounts and collect the revenues. The largest manor, Coleshill, had both a collector of rents and a farmer of the demesne, who accounted separately; but elsewhere one officer accounted for all the revenues of each manor. So far as can be judged from the accounts for only five manors, the rents and farms were already fixed at very much the same figures as were later to appear in the Valor Ecclesiasticus. (fn. 71) The different circumstances of each manor make valueless any general comparisons either with the Valor or with the rather different revenues of the postdissolution ministers' accounts, (fn. 72) when already new people were renting some of the estates. In the Valor the possessions of Edington were valued at £521 12s. 5½d. gross, or £422 9s. 7¾d. net, whilst the total gross revenues for which the king's ministers accounted in the first year after the Dissolution was under £450. (fn. 73) The spiritualities comprised the rectories of Edington, North Bradley, Buckland, Market Lavington, Keevil, Coleshill, and Newton Valence. The temporalities were listed with suspicious tidiness as nineteen manors. Many of the smaller holdings of the convent have disappeared, and some of the 'manors' now listed had not been so called a century before. Even allowing for the changes of 150 years the word 'manor' is perhaps used somewhat loosely. Of the £393 at which these manors were valued, £6 came from the profits of courts, £44 from the profits of demesne and other lands in the hands of the rector, and all the rest from rents and farms. The lands in the rector's hands were in Edington, Tinhead, Baynton, in Edington, and Bratton, all places close to their house, and in Westwell and Coleshill. The same survey shows to whom the house paid rents, and who were the officials of its estates. There was a chief steward in each of the counties of Wilts., Berks., and Oxon., two of them, Henry Longe and John Briggs, being knights. Six bailiffs and two auditors were also named. John Catcote, bailiff of all the manors near the house, went on administering them for several years after the Dissolution.
It is difficult to discover very much about the remaining history of the house. Even the succession of the rectors is not quite certain. About 1463 William Wey, a fellow of Exeter and Eton colleges, settled at Edington after his second journey to the Holy Land, in order to write the story of his travels. (fn. 74) After that there is nothing until John Ap Rice, Cromwell's visitor, wrote to him from Edington in 1535, that he had found the rector, John Ryve, a man of good name, but not so his brethren. (fn. 75) However, it was only against one of the brethren that he brought a specific charge. John Ryve had the good fortune to die in 1538, when at the instance of Walter, Lord Hungerford, Cromwell secured the appointment of Paul Bush. (fn. 76) Bush, who was corrector at the time, had studied at the Austin Canons at Oxford. On 31 March following he surrendered his house, (fn. 77) Hungerford having meanwhile got himself appointed steward, (fn. 78) but he did not live long enough to obtain the Edington estates for himself; the bulk of them were secured by Sir Thomas Seymour in 1541. (fn. 79) As for Bush, since he received a yearly pension of £100 as well as the rent of some houses in Coleshill, (fn. 80) and became Bishop of Bristol, in which capacity the manor of Buckland was assigned to him, (fn. 81) whilst Dilton Manor was sold to John Bush of Dilton, probably his brother, (fn. 82) he had but little cause for complaint. The other brethren did not fare so well. Their pensions ranged from £2 for the novices to £10 for John Scott, the corrector. (fn. 83)
Wardens of the Chantry
William Scarlet, inducted 1351. (fn. 84)
Rectors of the House of Bonhommes
Thomas Lavynton, occurs 1400. (fn. 91)
William Hull, replaced by St. John 1494. (fn. 99)
Paul Bush, proposed 1538, (fn. 101) surrendered the house 31 March 1539.
A conventual seal used in the 16th century is a pointed oval and measures 2¾ by 1¾ in. (fn. 102) The impression shows St. Peter and St. Paul each under an elaborately pinnacled and panelled canopy. St. Peter holds the keys and a book, and St. Paul a sword and book. Over them, also under a canopy, the Virgin is seated with the Child, and under an arch in the base is a kneeling figure with a crosier. The inscription is:
+ S' · COMMUNE : RECTORIS : & : CONVENTUS DE EDYNDON.