Alien houses: Priory of Avebury

A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.

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'Alien houses: Priory of Avebury', A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3, (London, 1956), pp. 392-393. British History Online [accessed 20 June 2024].

. "Alien houses: Priory of Avebury", in A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3, (London, 1956) 392-393. British History Online, accessed June 20, 2024,

. "Alien houses: Priory of Avebury", A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3, (London, 1956). 392-393. British History Online. Web. 20 June 2024,

In this section



Avebury was one of two English cells of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Georges de Boscherville near Rouen (Seine Inférieure), the other one being at Edith Weston in Rutland. (fn. 1) Lands at Avebury, Winterbourne near Salisbury (perhaps Winterbourne Dauntsey), and Barbury in Wroughton, with a rent in Catcomb, in Hilmarton, were given to the Abbey by William de Tancarville in 1114, (fn. 2) and a priory was established at Avebury soon afterwards. A charter of Henry I gave the French monks freedom from the shire and hundred courts and from hidage in their lands of Avebury and Edith Weston and confirmed the gifts of Tancarville and others. These privileges were confirmed by Henry II and by Richard I in 1189 and 1198. (fn. 3) Jocelin de Bohun, Bishop of Salisbury (1142-84), granted the monks a chapel in their manor house (curia) at Avebury, where divine service might be said, provided that nothing was done to the prejudice of the parish church and its tithes. For although the monks came to hold a manor at Avebury, they never secured the advowson of the parish church, which belonged to Cirencester Abbey. This situation led to a series of disputes between the two abbeys about the payment of tithes and the status of the monks' chapel. The first recorded dispute was settled in 1253 through the arbitration of the Bishop of Worcester. An elaborate scale of tithes, payable in kind by the priory, was laid down, revealing incidentally that the monks there might be expected to have as many as 750 sheep. In 1307 the two abbeys agreed to an exchange of lands in Avebury, and two years later a further settlement of tithes was necessary. Finally, in 1336 the abbey of Cirencester challenged the French monks' right to hold divine service in their manor. Arbitrators decided in favour of the priory, declaring, however, that the rights of the parish church in all other matters must be respected. As part of the settlement further arrangements about tithes were agreed, and the monks of St. Georges replaced their prior. Perhaps a tactless prior had provoked the challenge from Cirencester. (fn. 4)

He was not the first Prior of Avebury to get into trouble, for in 1249 his predecessor was said to be in Marlborough jail on a charge of murder. (fn. 5) With him were Robert, his brother, and Ralph, his nephew. Perhaps this explains why in 1254 the abbey of St. Georges had only one monk in England. (fn. 6) Five years later this number had risen to four, and it remained at three or four during the few years for which there is evidence. (fn. 7) No doubt the normal arrangement left two monks at Avebury and two at Edith Weston. With other alien priories Avebury was taken into the king's hands in 1294, 1324, and several times thereafter. According to an extent compiled on the first occasion the annual value of Avebury manor, with its members of Catcomb, in Hilmarton, and Barbury, was £53 15s. 0½d., whilst the Winterbourne holding was worth £5 15s. (fn. 8) In both 1294 and 1324 an exhaustive inventory of the goods and chattels was made, (fn. 9) their total value being £85 3s. 5d. in 1294 and £227 12s. in 1324. Most of the increase was due to the growth in the numbers of livestock, especially sheep, which constituted the real wealth of the priory. In 1324 there were about 600 of them, rather less than the number suggested in 1253. Beside the farm stock and store of grains there was a horse for the prior and one for his socius. Indoors the brethren had a missal, a breviary, furnishings for their chapel, two beds, tables, and kitchen utensils. In 1324 they had also a chess set, the only luxury in their simple and lonely life.

Except for a few months in 1341, when Richard de Wath, a king's clerk, secured possession, (fn. 10) a succession of priors managed to hold on to their property until 1378, in spite of the wars. The king attempted to exact from them an annual payment which rose from £24 in 1337 to £36 in 1377, when Avebury was committed to brother Stephen Fosse, the last prior. (fn. 11) Fosse was one of the many foreign monks who were expelled from England in the following year. With him went John Santell, also a monk of St. Georges, and William Brisey and Thomas Durant, their servants. They were allowed to take with them their horses and personal possessions, and 40s. for expenses. (fn. 12) At this time a number of royal servants, the first of a long line of similar tenants, had a grant of the priory. Besides maintaining it they undertook to find a chaplain to perform divine service, and to pay an annual rent of £55 6s. 8d. (fn. 13) The fact that it was necessary to provide a chaplain suggests that the priory had won its battle with Cirencester, and come to provide for some of the spiritual needs of the parish. In 1391 the Abbey of Boscherville sold Edith Weston Priory, and had licence to sell Avebury to Winchester College, (fn. 14) but nothing appears to have come of this. In 1411 the reversion was granted to Fotheringhay College, which held the lands of Avebury until the Dissolution, when they were valued at £98 5s. 2d. annually. (fn. 15)

Priors of Avebury

Richard Botayl, recalled 1336. (fn. 16)

Robert Menart, Maynard, appointed 1336, (fn. 17) occurs 1342, 1345, and 1346. (fn. 17)

Walter Barre, occurs 1343. (fn. 18)

Hugh de Abifago, occurs 1350. (fn. 19)

John de la Haye, occurs 1350 and 1353. (fn. 20)

Robert de Verretot, occurs 1354. (fn. 21)

Stephen Fosse, occurs 1370 and 1377. (fn. 22)


Reynold de Paveley founded a Premonstratensian abbey at L'Isle Dieu, an island in the River Andelle in the Vexin (Eure), about 1187, and gave to it some small properties in England, of which the most important was the manor of Charlton by Upavon. (fn. 23) There is, however, but little evidence for the existence of a cell of the abbey at Charlton. The extent of alien priories of 1294 describes the holdings of the prior, and the inventory compiled at the same time shows that he had a chalice, a missal, and a breviary, as well as vestments and domestic utensils. (fn. 24) However, the extent of 1324, whilst showing that the hall and chamber were well furnished by the standards of the time, calls brother William only the keeper (custos) of Charlton. (fn. 25) The annual value was £25 10s. 3½d. in 1294, and the movables were worth £45 19s. 10d. in that year and £83 10s. 11d. in 1324. There was a prior in 1323, for he had a protection for one year then, (fn. 26) but the title is hardly found again. The advowson of Charlton was held by the neighbouring priory of Upavon, but L'Isle Dieu had the rectory of Upchurch in Kent, and during the 14th century the abbey developed the habit of appointing one of its own canons to be Rector of Upchurch, and keeper of Charlton manor. Such was brother Peter Hughes (or Hugonis) in 1337-8, (fn. 27) and brother Richard Beton in 1376-7. (fn. 28) In 1380 the abbey had licence to alienate both the manor and the church of Upchurch to the hospital of St. Katharine by the Tower, (fn. 29) and Charlton's relations with L'Isle Dieu ended, but as late as 1474 the manor had still not found a regular tenant. (fn. 30)


  • 1. V.C.H. Rutland, i, 163–4.
  • 2. Cal. Pat. 1313–17, 475; Dugd. Mon. vi, 1066; Cal. Doc. France, ed. Round, p. 66.
  • 3. Cal. Doc. France, ed. Round, pp. 67, 69–71.
  • 4. Cirencester Cartulary, in the possession of Lord Vestey, Stowell Park, Glos., passim.
  • 5. Close R. 1247–51, 135.
  • 6. Reg. Visitationum archiepiscopi Rothomagensis (Eudes Rigaud), ed. T. Bonnin, 191.
  • 7. Ibid. 352, 501, 547, &c.
  • 8. E 106/2/2.
  • 9. E 106/2/3 & E 106/8/26.
  • 10. Cal. Fine R. 1337–47, 28, 234, 237, 241, 261.
  • 11. Cal. Close, 1337–9, 162; Cal. Fine R. 1369–77, 405.
  • 12. C 76/61, m. 6.
  • 13. Cal. Fine R. 1377–83, 83; 1383–91, 109, 212; 1391–9, 87, &c.
  • 14. Cal. Pat. 1388–92, 390.
  • 15. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv, 287; Cal. Pat. 1408–13, 358.
  • 16. Cirencester Cartulary, no. 736.
  • 17. Cal. Fine R. 1337–47, 261; Cal. Close, 1343–6, 636; E 106/5/4.
  • 18. Cal. Fine R. 1337–47, 330; from 8 May 1343, E 372/194.
  • 19. Cal. Fine R. 1347–56, 220, 251.
  • 20. Ibid. 251; Cal. Pat. 1354–8, 4; E 372/204.
  • 21. Cal. Fine R. 1347–56, 390; from 10 Mar. 1354, E 372/204.
  • 22. Cal. Fine R. 1369–77, 83, 405.
  • 23. Bourbon, Inventaire des archives départementales, Eure, série H, pp. iii, 66 (H. 353); Bk. of Fees, 741.
  • 24. E 106/2/2 and 3.
  • 25. E 106/8/26.
  • 26. Cal. Pat. 1321–4, 347.
  • 27. Cal. Fine R. 1337–47, 27; Cal. Close, 1337–9, 336, 503.
  • 28. Cal. Fine R. 1369–77, 135, 358, 396–7; 1377–83, 27.
  • 29. Cal. Pat. 1377–81, 559.
  • 30. Ibid. 1467–77, 461.