A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.
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HOUSE OF TRINITARIANS
16. THE PRIORY OR HOSPITAL OF EASTON (fn. 1)
Stephen of Tisbury, son of Sir Adam of Easton, incumbent of Easton church from the year 1210 and later Archdeacon of Wiltshire, founded at Easton in 1245 a hostel in which three priests should serve and poor travellers should be received. The site lay, probably, on a Roman road from Old Salisbury which crossed the Vale of Pewsey on its way towards Cirencester. The patronage of Easton church had been in dispute between Bradenstoke Priory and the abbey of Mont-Ste-Catherine, near Reims, (fn. 2) and Robert Bingham, Bishop of Salisbury, was at length accepted as arbitrator. He resolved the dispute, and confirmed the establishment of the hostel, by an interim award and by his ordinance of 9 May 1246. (fn. 3) He directed that Stephen, his heirs and assigns, should present to the bishop from time to time one of the three chaplains as master and rector of the 'hospital'. He awarded to Bradenstoke the tithes of wheat, hay, and cheese on its demesne, and to the hospital the patronage and remaining income of the church. The master was to promise obedience to the bishop. The Minister General of the Trinitarian Order had recommended one of his friars as master or minister, and the bishop had admitted him on Stephen's presentation. The ordinance was approved by the king at Marlborough on 1 July 1251, (fn. 4) and the priory or hospital of the Holy Trinity, Easton, became the sixth English Trinitarian house.
Stephen had two sisters, of whom one married Henry Esturmey and the other Sir William Drueys. The Esturmeys, hereditary wardens of Savernake Forest, inherited for nearly two centuries the advowson of the hospital; (fn. 5) in 1250 Sir Geoffrey Esturmey gave to it 50 acres of wood in the forest, and in or after 1254 his son Sir Henry confirmed his gifts of the wood, of a messuage and 1½ virgate of land in Easton, and of a rent of 10s. (fn. 6) At some date before 1257 Geoffrey Drueys, Sir William's son, quitclaimed to the brethren Stephen's property at Easton, and he and his brother confirmed the archdeacon's gift of houses and land. (fn. 7) About 1261 the leper hospital of St. Mary Magdalene outside Hertford was occupied by the friars of Easton, and in 1287 the same man became minister of the two houses. (fn. 8) The grant of a wood in Amwell (Herts.) to Easton was authorized in 1301. (fn. 9)
In 1308 John of Backham sold to the hospital, for £10 silver, a messuage and 2 virgates of land in Easton. (fn. 10) Robert Drueys, Sir William's grandson, had licence in 1324 to grant the reversion of 2 messuages and 2 virgates of land in Easton; (fn. 11) he also gave a rent of 12s. and 200 sheep, and built (or rebuilt) a chapel on the north side of the church, to be served by a chaplain from the hospital. (fn. 12) Licences were granted in 1331 to Vincent of Tarrant, Parson of Everley, to cede to the hospital an acre of land at Tidcombe 'Huse' (worth 3d. a year) and the advowson of the church (worth £4 a year, with leave to appropriate); (fn. 13) and to Sir Robert de Hungerford in 1336 to grant a messuage and a carucate of land and rents of 3s. 6d. a year in Grafton, worth in all £1 os. 4d. a year. Hungerford contracted for the maintenance and payment of an additional priest brother to pray for his late wife Geva and others; for daily refreshment for seven poor persons; for £3 a year to himself for life; and for penalties on breach of the conditions. He stated that the house then maintained six priests and one lay brother. (fn. 14)
The Trinitarian Order was founded for the ransom of Christian captives in pagan lands, and each convent was bound to devote a third of its income to this purpose. Duty to the sick and the wayfaring poor was also emphasized in the Constitutions. The mother house was at Cerfroy, near Château-Thierry. It must be assumed that until the passing of the Statute of Carlisle in 1307—or perhaps until the invasion of France in 1337—the English houses sent their dues to Cerfroy; there is no evidence that they took any personal share in the work of ransom. During the Hundred Years War and the Great Schism their surplus income was probably spent on the poor and the wayfaring.
In 1334 Walter of Kingsettle quitclaimed to the hospital the 2 messuages and 2 virgates in Easton given by Robert Drueys in 1322. (fn. 15) Sir Henry Esturmey and three others had licence in 1349 to grant a messuage and a carucate of land in 'Middleton' (Milton Lilborne) and Easton, worth 33s. 4d., and William of Urchfont and three others to grant 13 acres in East Grafton worth 2s. 6d. (fn. 16)
The Black Death, which fell heavily on the Trinitarians of Knaresborough and wiped out the community at Oxford, probably did not do great harm at Easton. Edmund of Pollesden had been prior or minister since 1344, and his surname was taken from a farm on the Esturmey properties. During the winter of 1363-4 Henry Esturmey presented to the bishop for institution as minister a secular priest, Robert England; he stated that Edmund had left the house, after wasting and embezzling its revenues, and he assumed a voidance. The bishop, after long and careful inquiries, found that masses and hospitality had been suspended for fifteen years; Edmund had wasted the priory's revenues, had built in it a stable for his horse, and departed to Hertford four years ago, with the common seal. The bishop and Esturmey agreed that Edmund had forfeited his office; the brethren had deserved expulsion, but should be restored to their house under disciplinary safeguards. Robert England resigned his rights; one of the brethren, Robert Pilkington, was presented by Esturmey and instituted by the bishop. Edmund appealed to the Holy See, and obtained definite support from the minister general of the Order. The bishop, the patron, and the brethren did not give way. The new statutes and ordinances were issued by the bishop in 1368, and they included a direction to follow the Use of Sarum. (fn. 17)
Apostasies were noted in 1366 and 1378, (fn. 18) and in 1368 Easton and Hertford obtained the king's order for the arrest of false questors, who had collected and embezzled great sums of money by the use of forged letters of procuration. (fn. 19)
Easton church was pulled down by the brethren in 1369, and the material used to enlarge their own church, barely 60 yards away. The parishioners, reduced in numbers and unable to maintain the building, had asked for its demolition, but they undertook to maintain the conventual nave, chancel, and cemetery if they might use them. The archdeacon, the patron, the bishop, and the dean and chapter agreed. (fn. 20)
The patron was still active on behalf of Easton. Sir Henry Esturmey had licence in 1371 to grant to it 2 messuages, a toft, a mill, 3 carucates and 20 acres of land, 6 acres of meadow and 8 of pasture and 30 of wood, with £4 6s. rent, in or arising from Wootton Rivers, Milton Lilborne, Pewsey, Upavon, and Little Bedwyn, worth in all £10 a year, on condition of prayers for the royal family and the donor. He described the brethren as canons in these proceedings. (fn. 21) In 1372 he again defied the mother house of the Order. An office of provincial minister had been created by Clement IV in 1267; Edmund of Pollesden had been described as provincial of England by the minister general in 1364; the minister of Mottenden (Kent) was now appointed provincial, and when he claimed authority over Easton Esturmey caused him to be attached in the Common Pleas. The same provincial, in 1382, cited the minister of Easton to a chapter in London. (fn. 22) The subsequent proceedings do not seem to be recorded in either case. But Urban VI granted to the English houses the choice of their own provincial.
Sir William Esturmey, in 1389, ratified his uncle Henry's grant to Easton of all his lands and tenements at Puthall (in Little Bedwyn) on minutely detailed conditions as to distributing pence and halfpenny white loaves, and washing the feet of the poor, and as to providing candles and celebrating obits. (fn. 23) In 1390 Sir William had two licences: the first, for £5 which the Prior of Easton paid, to grant the advowson of Tidcombe in exchange for the manor of Wyke; the second, to cede to the hospital the manor (worth £4) and advowson (worth £5) of Froxfield in exchange for Crofton Braybeuf Manor (in Great Bedwyn) and lands and tenements in Burbage. (fn. 24) But the brethren were still able to plead poverty and buildings out of repair owing to poor harvests, murrain, the increasing expenses of hospitality, and the severity of taxation; on these grounds they obtained in 1392 the bishop's leave to appropriate Tidcombe church. (fn. 25) They borrowed £40 from the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury, and compounded in 1412 by an undertaking to pay 13s. 4d. a year, in perpetuity, to two chaplains celebrating certain obits on St. Luke's Day in the church of St. Thomas. (fn. 26) They obtained from John XXIII in 1414, in consideration of their heavy expenses, leave to appropriate three churches, to a value not exceeding 100 marks, and to serve them in person. (fn. 27) A widow at Salisbury left £2 in 1414; John Chandler, Bishop of Salisbury, bequeathed to them 10s. in 1427, John Chitterne, Canon of Salisbury, a legacy in 1419, and John Frankes £2 in 1434. (fn. 28) John Benger had licence in 1444 to grant to them the advowson of Stapleford church. (fn. 29) They kept faith with Sir Robert Hungerford and his house: in 1410 they presented Brother John Exeter to Sir Walter as his chantry priest, and in 1426 their 'prior', Stephen Yateley. (fn. 30)
The 'prior and convent' obtained in 1424 a general amnesty, granted (it was said) at the request of the last Parliament, but excepting certain felonies; and they were included in a general pardon of 1446. (fn. 31) There seems to be no evidence of recent offences.
Sir William Esturmey died in 1427 and was buried in the priory church. He bequeathed inter alia to the priory a volume of Decretals and two volumes of Higden's Polychronicon. (fn. 32) The advowson of Easton passed, with Sir William's younger daughter, to the Seymours (fn. 33) and their cousins the Ringebornes. (fn. 34) The house at Hertford had become independent of Easton by 1448. (fn. 35) In 1459 William Bradker of Debenham Market (Suff.), proctor of the hospital, gave his bond to the prior and convent for £200, to be repaid in ten years by half-yearly instalments. (fn. 36) The transaction remains obscure; but the Trinitarian house of Thelsford was active in collecting alms in the churches, and Easton apparently had its own collector. The Order continued its first duty, the ransom of Christian captives, and Robert Gaguin, who ruled it from 1473 to 1507, did his best to revive its ancient fervour. The English houses did no more than contribute money; it is doubtful whether they did as much, for the Statute of Carlisle was still in force.
In 1493 the whole priory—the church with its vestments and ornaments, the houses and buildings, the brethren's possessions—was swept by fire and destroyed. The Archbishop of Canterbury gave a letter certifying the facts, and an indulgence of 40 days to benefactors during the next twelve months; the king gave protection without term to the proctors of the prior and convent; the vicar general of the diocese issued notarial copies of both documents. (fn. 37) The church and buildings were described as ruinous in 1535.
On a voidance in (apparently) 1499 Henry VII wrote to the patrons recommending for appointment as minister his chaplain, the minister of Hounslow. Hounslow was wealthier than Easton, and plurality may have been intended. The patrons and the vicar general seem to have refused the king's request, in spite of a second letter from Henry, and John Topping, a secular priest, received the office. (fn. 38) The next, and last, minister was presented by Sir John Seymour in 1528. (fn. 39)
The return of endowments made in 1535 showed an income from spiritualities (the rectories of Easton, Stapleford, Tidcombe, and Froxfield) of £32 17s. 6d.; from the manors of Easton and Froxfield and property in Grafton and Milton Lilborne, £22 16s. 10d. From the gross income of £55 14s. 4d. pensions were paid of £5 to the Bishop of Hereford and 13s. 4d. to the church of St. Thomas, Salisbury; fees of £1 6s. 8d. to the steward and £2 to the receiver; and other dues and rents £4 2s. 4d. The clear income was therefore £42 12s. 0d. (fn. 40) The house at Hertford had become independent before 1448, (fn. 41) and in the end it was reckoned as a cell of Mottenden.
The priory or hospital was dissolved 'by virtue of' the Act of 1536. (fn. 42) The surviving Trinitarian houses were all in the category against which the Act was aimed; if they were friaries, they were not within its scope, but none of them questioned their fate. Easton was described by the county commissioners in 1536 as a 'hedde house of crosse channons of Seint Augustynes rule', worth £45 14s. 0d. a year with £4 11s. 8d. for the demesne, containing 2 priests (by report, of honest conversation, desiring to continue religious), 6 hinds, and 2 women servants; their church and mansion in ruin, in default of covering, and the outhouses in great decay; their movable assets worth £144 6s. 8d., their 50 acres of wood in Savernake Forest and their 6 acres of coppice worth £17 13s. 4d.; their lead worth £6 (but the bells in the steeple belonged to the parish); their indebtedness £22 2s. 2d. (fn. 43) Sir Edward Seymour, Viscount Beauchamp, had a grant in tail male of their property; and the 'prior' had a pension of £6 13s. 4d. (fn. 44)
The brethren at Easton seem always to have been English, and usually Wiltshiremen. Their number was fixed by Stephen of Tisbury at three; there were (without the minister) five in 1364, (fn. 45) and four in 1473. (fn. 46) They proceeded to the priesthood in the regular course of ordination; (fn. 47) in March 1428 one of them was ordained acolyte, and in December St. Margaret's Priory at Marlborough presented him for deacon. (fn. 48) They were authorized by John XXIII in 1414 to appropriate three churches not exceeding £66 13s. 4d. in value, and to serve them in person; (fn. 49) Sixtus IV authorized the prior in 1483 to serve a church, and he served Stapleford from 1487 to 1491. (fn. 50) Their Order was brought in 1308 into direct dependence upon the Holy See; but Robert Bingham's direction to obey the bishop held good in 1364, when the bishop, the patron, and the convent refused to comply with the minister general's ruling.
Ministers or Priors of Easton
Nicholas of Norfolk, instituted 1245. (fn. 51)
William, occurs 1287. (fn. 52)
John of Titchfield, occurs 1308-28. (fn. 53)
William Beccles, instituted 1329. (fn. 54)
Edmund of Pollesden, occurs 1344-64. (fn. 55)
Robert England, nominated 1364. (fn. 56)
Robert Pilkington, instituted 1364. (fn. 57)
Robert Newington, occurs 1389. (fn. 58)
John of Hacklestone, occurs 1391-1412. (fn. 59)
Stephen Yateley, occurs 1427, resigned 1448. (fn. 60)
John Charlton, instituted 1448, occurs 1459. (fn. 61)
William Marshall, instituted 1474, occurs to 1493. (fn. 62)
John Topping, instituted about 1498, died 1528. (fn. 63)
Henry Bryan, instituted 1528, retired 1536. (fn. 64)