Alien houses: Priory of Ogbourne

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 Ogbourne', in A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3, (London, 1956) pp. 394-396. British History Online [accessed 19 April 2024]

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No precise date of foundation can be assigned for the alien priory of Ogbourne. The manor of Ogbourne St. Andrew was given for the wardrobe of the monks of Bec in 1107-33 by Brian FitzCount and Maud of Wallingford; a second charter of a date between 1122 and 1147 refers to the grant of both Ogbourne St. George and Ogbourne St. Andrew; and a confirmation of the grant of both manors and their churches was given by Maud in her widowhood, between 1150 and 1154. (fn. 1) The appropriation of both churches was granted by Hubert Walter in 1189-93, when he was Bishop of Salisbury; (fn. 2) and in 1208 Bishop Herbert Poore erected the churches of both Ogbournes with the churches of Wantage and Hungerford and the chapel of Shalbourne into a prebend of Salisbury. (fn. 3)

There are no records for the 12th century, but the evidence suggests that a small priory in fact as well as in name existed at Ogbourne during the 13th century. In 1206 Ranulf, Prior of Ogbourne, paid £100 for the right to hold in his custody the English lands and possessions of Bec. (fn. 4) There were for a time two administrative centres, and possibly two small monastic cells, at Ogbourne and Ruislip, but by the time of Prior William de Guineville (1239-54) Ogbourne had become the administrative centre for all the English lands of the abbey not definitely attached to one of the other English dependencies of Bec. (fn. 5) The property included 24 manors scattered from Norfolk to Dorset, and a very large number of tithes. (fn. 6) The priors personally supervised the estate management, and together with a companion monk went on periodic journeys round the property. They were responsible for transmitting the revenues from the estates to Bec, and in addition were usually proctors general in England of the abbey. It was customary for the Abbot of Bec to appoint priors in all the English dependencies and present them to the patrons and diocesan bishops. As the honor of Wallingford escheated to the Crown after the death of Maud the priory was regarded as being in the royal patronage; proctors were presented to the king on appointment and paid £200 into the royal coffers to keep the custody of their property after the death of each abbot. (fn. 7) The exemption of the prebend of Ogbourne from episcopal control secured the exemption of the priory also; after Robert Kilwardby had spent some days at the manor in 1277 he certified that he had merely stayed as a guest whilst visiting Queen Eleanor at Marlborough, and did not wish to establish a precedent harmful to the prior and monks. (fn. 8)

Kilwardby's letter implies that a small community of at least two or three monks was then established at Ogbourne; further evidence comes from the inventory of goods made by royal officials when the alien priories were seized for the first time in 1294. This inventory includes a chalice valued at £1 6s. 8d., 2 missals, a gradual, and a vestment with 2 towels, as well as silver plate to the value of £10 4s. (fn. 9) But indications of religious life are few, and the position of some of the proctors was anomalous even in the 13th century. William de Guineville showed keen interest in securing the abbey's hunting rights, and on his retirement in 1254 from the duties of proctor he was granted for life the revenues of nine manors in the bailiwick of Ogbourne. (fn. 10) The career of Robert de Leone is even more difficult to explain. From the public records and the formulary of the abbey it appears that he was attorney and general proctor in England from 1276 until 1285, when he resigned. In 1286 the abbot unwillingly reappointed him proctor general, and the last letters appointing him for three years are dated 28 September 1289. (fn. 11) During the period 1275-85, however, a monk named Robert de Leone, formerly Prior of Stokeby-Clare, appears as Claustral Prior of Bec; (fn. 12) and however nominal the attachment to Ogbourne may have been it is difficult to see how the duties of Prior of Bec could possibly have been combined with those of Proctor of Ogbourne. On the other hand, 1285, the year given by Dom Jouvelin for Prior Robert's death, (fn. 13) is the year when the Proctor Robert de Leone resigned his office in England. Jouvelin gives no authority for his statement, and if he based it on the fact that another prior appears in that year it may be that one man did in fact hold both offices and resign both simultaneously, for reasons that can only be conjectured. If so, the spiritual duties of the Prior of Ogbourne must have been few.

There seems little doubt that very shortly afterwards the 'priory of Ogbourne' had become no more than a legal fiction. On 22 December 1305 Pope Clement V provided Cardinal Raymond de Got to the priory of Ogbourne, ordering the recall of any prior or proctor in England. The monks appealed against this appointment, claiming that although the proctor general bore the title of Prior of Ogbourne there was in fact no priory there. (fn. 14) Proctors continued to be appointed in the usual form, and the dispute was terminated by the death of Raymond in 1310. It is significant that though to the world at large the Proctor of the monks of Bec in England was 'Prior of Ogbourne' the proctors at times refer to themselves as 'dictus prior de Ogbourne'; (fn. 15) and the inventory of goods made in 1324 mentions only silver worth 5s. and no service books at all. (fn. 16)

The proctors were frequently men who had been obedientiaries or priors in other houses of the order, and some held office for a very long time. William de St. Pair, general proctor from 1285 to 1286, (fn. 17) occurs as Claustral Prior of Bec in 1304. (fn. 18) Nothing further is known of Theobald de Cambremer, who acted as attorney in England from 1291 and received his last letters of admission for three years in 1305; (fn. 19) but William de Pont l'Evêque, 1307-22, was possibly the William who resigned the Priory of Cowick in 1301. (fn. 20) An attempt to remove him in favour of John de Pont l'Evêque failed; (fn. 21) and he was succeeded in 1322 by Richard de Beauseville, who held office until at least 1347. (fn. 22) Peter de Falk, proctor general from 1349 to 1361, had been Prior of St. Neot's from 1341 until possibly 1349. (fn. 23)

From 1294 communications between Ogbourne and the mother house of Bec were repeatedly interrupted by royal confiscations during the French wars, and the Prior of Ogbourne, in common with other alien priors, was allowed to hold his property only in return for a heavy annual farm. (fn. 24) The farm was assessed at £500 in 1295; raised to £520 when the second seizure occurred in 1324; and raised again to 1,000 marks in 1350. (fn. 25) As the difficulties of communication increased, the Abbot of Bec was driven to appoint a proctor for an exceptionally long term of office. William de St. Vaast, who had been granetar of the abbey in 1363, was nominated Prior of Ogbourne and proctor general in England in March 1364, and in 1366 was given tenure of the office for life. He proved long lived: in 1377 the custody of St. Neots Priory was added to that of Ogbourne; and after the Great Schism cut off the English cells of Bec from the discipline of the mother house he was able to hold together the estates until his death in 1404 or 1405. (fn. 26)

After him no other monk held the office of Prior of Ogbourne; for in 1404 John, Duke of Bedford, had been granted custody of the property jointly with William de St. Vaast, and he continued to hold it alone after William's death. As he was troubled in his conscience at administering spiritual goods he succeeded in transferring the spiritualities to St. George's, Windsor, in 1421, retaining only the temporalities until he died in 1436. For a few years afterwards the manors were farmed by various laymen; in 1440 their gradual dispersal began, and they were finally divided between St. Nicholas (later King's) College, Cambridge, St. Mary's, Eton, and other ecclesiastical foundations. (fn. 27)

Priors or Proctors of Ogbourne

Ranulf, occurs 1206. (fn. 28)

William de Guineville, 1239-54. (fn. 29)

John de Plessac, 1254-8 or 1259. (fn. 30)

Richard de Flammaville, c. 1259-7[6]. (fn. 31)

Robert de Leone, 1276-85, 1286-[91]. (fn. 32)

William de St. Pair, 1285-6. (fn. 33)

Theobald de Cambremer, 1291-130[7]. (fn. 34)

Cardinal Raymond de Got, 1305-[10]. An appeal was made against the provision, and it remained ineffective. (fn. 35)

William de Pont l'Evêque, 1307-22. (fn. 36)

Richard de Beauseville, 1322-4[9]. (fn. 37)

Peter de Falk, 1349-6[4]. (fn. 38)

William de St. Vaast, 1364-1404 or 1405. (fn. 39)


  • 1. Select Documents of English Lands of Abbey of Bec (Camd. Soc. 3rd Ser. lxxiii), 20, 24–25.
  • 2. Ibid. 2, 4.
  • 3. Reg. S. Osmund (Rolls Ser.), i, 189 seq.
  • 4. Rot. de Ob. et Fin. (Rec. Com.), 314; Pipe Roll 1206 (Pipe Roll Soc. N.S. xx), 40; see also Pipe Roll 1207 (Pipe Roll Soc. N.S. xxii), 155; Pipe Roll 1208 (Pipe Roll Soc. N.S. xxiii), 198.
  • 5. Marjorie Morgan, English Lands of Abbey of Bec, 24, 39–43. The titles 'Prior of Ruislip', 'Proctor of Ruislip', 'Prior of Ogbourne', and 'Proctor of Ogbourne' were for a time applied indifferently to the same man, and this ambiguity of title persisted until at least 1260.
  • 6. Ibid. 22, 40.
  • 7. Ibid. 31.
  • 8. Hist. MSS. Com. Var. Coll. vii, 30–31.
  • 9. E 106/2/3.
  • 10. Morgan, English Lands of Abbey of Bec, 43.
  • 11. Cal. Pat. 1272–81, 163, 323, 361; ibid. 1281–92, 158, 323; B.M. Cott. MS. Domit. A. XI ff. 110b–11a; 136a-b; SC 1/15/45, 15/48.
  • 12. Chronique du Bec, ed. A. A. Porée, 44–45; A. A. Porée, Histoire de l'Abbaye du Bec, ii, 1.
  • 13. Bibl. Nat. Latin 13905, f. 106a.
  • 14. Porée, Histoire de l'Abbaye de Bec, ii, 60–65; Marjorie Morgan, 'Inventories of Three Small Alien Priories', Jnl. Brit. Arch. Assoc. 3rd ser. iv, 142, n. 6.
  • 15. Morgan, English Lands of Abbey of Bec, 123, n. 1.
  • 16. Morgan, 'Inventories of Three Small Alien Priories' Jnl. Brit. Arch. Assoc. 3rd ser. iv, 145–6.
  • 17. B.M. Cott. Domit. A. XI, ff. 111ab; Cal. Pat. 1281–92, 219; SC 1/15/47.
  • 18. Bibl. Nat. Latin 13905, f. 106a.
  • 19. Cal. Pat. 1281–92, 444; 1292–1301, 327, 349, 444; 1301–7, 68, 324.
  • 20. Bibl. Nat. Latin 13905, f. 45b.
  • 21. Cal. Close, 1313–18, 330.
  • 22. Cal. Pat. 1321–4, 197; 1324–7, 157; 1327–30, 17, 193; 1330–4, 184; 1334–8, 225; 1338–40, 434; 1340–3, 399; 1343–5, 200; 1345–8, 446; Cal. Fine R. 1327–37, 64, 72, 443.
  • 23. Cal. Pat. 1348–50, 343; 1350–4, 191; 1354–8, 414; V.C.H. Hunts. i, 388.
  • 24. Marjorie Morgan, 'Suppression of the Alien Priories', History, xxvi, 204–12.
  • 25. Morgan, English Lands of Abbey of Bec, 121; Cal. Pat. 1354–8, 470; ibid. 1358–61, 447.
  • 26. Ibid. 126–7.
  • 27. Ibid. 131–2.
  • 28. Pipe Roll 1206 (Pipe Roll Soc. N.S. xx), 40.
  • 29. Porée, Histoire de l'Abbaye du Bec, ii, 216; Cal. Pat. 1232–47, 272, 291; Close R. 1256–9, 345.
  • 30. Cal. Pat. 1247–58, 390; Close R. 1256–9, 345.
  • 31. G. C. Gorham, History and Antiquities of Eynesbury and St. Neot's, Supplement, p. liv; MSS. of King's College, Camb. Q 4; Cal. Pat. 1258–66, 135, 507; 1266–72, 408; 1272–81, 75.
  • 32. See p. 395, n. 11.
  • 33. See n. 17.
  • 34. See n. 19.
  • 35. See p. 395, n. 14.
  • 36. Cal. Pat. 1301–7, 529; 1317–21, 70; 1321–4, 52.
  • 37. See n. 22.
  • 38. See n. 23.
  • 39. See n. 26.