A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1971.
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5. THE PRIORY OF LITTLE MALVERN
The Annales record that the priory of St. Giles of Little Malvern was founded in 1171 by two brothers who were born at Beckford, the name of the one who became the first prior being Jocelin, and that of the second Edred. They adopted the habit and rule of St. Benedict, and customs (consuetudines) from the chapter of Worcester. (fn. 1) This brief account has been amplified into a story much resembling that of Great Malvern, according to which the first colony was composed of a union of monks who had forsaken the priory of Worcester with the intention of leading in the forest, 'the wilderness of Malvern,' the more austere life of hermits. Of these Jocelin and Edred, 'brethren by nature and religious profession,' either by drawing recluses together or by the bestowal of their temporal goods before they entered into religion, became the founders of this priory dedicated to St. Giles and built within the see of the bishop of Worcester. The subsequent history of Little Malvern differs considerably from that of its greater neighbour, and from the earliest time it was subject to the diocesan and united to the fraternity of the cathedral church in no ordinary degree. In a ledger of the priory of Worcester exists a deed whereby Simon, bishop of Worcester, decreed that Little Malvern and the church of St. Giles should be eternally united in frankalmoign with the church of Worcester, that no person should be admitted to the monastic habit without the joint consent of the bishop, prior, and chapter of the cathedral church, that the prior of Worcester might remove the monks of Little Malvern by way of correction and replace them by others from the cathedral chapter, and that the prior of the smaller monastery should be elected in the chapter of Worcester. (fn. 2)
The principal benefactors of Little Malvern are said to have been William de Blois, Henry III., and it is conjectured Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester and lord of Malvern Chase, from the fact of 'his honourable coat appearing in the church.' (fn. 3) A still earlier benefactor was Mauger, bishop of Worcester, who in 1200 assisted the poverty of the little community by bestowing on them as much fuel from his wood of Malvern as they needed for domestic requirements, with the yearly grant of an oak tree, the only condition attaching to this gift being that the brethren should celebrate their obsequies and anniversaries on the death of the donor and all future bishops of Worcester. (fn. 4) The grant was confirmed by the chapter of Worcester, with the addition of 20s. pension from the church of Hasfield in Gloucestershire, given by the bishop with the consent of Richard de Pauncefote the patron. (fn. 5) Early in the thirteenth century Giles, bishop of Hereford, confirmed assarts 'de la Dirfaud,' the gift of William his predecessor, and land at 'Horton' given by John de Stanford. (fn. 6) Gilbert the cook of Longdon gave all his land at Longdon and 5s. yearly for the provision of a light before the altar of the Blessed Mary in Longdon church; (fn. 7) two further grants placed them in possession of the manor. (fn. 8) The advowson and the chapel of Eldersfield in Longdon was granted to the convent by Reginald Folet: (fn. 9) a charter of William Folet confirmed to the church of God and St. Giles 'my patron' of Little Malvern the gift of land in the town of 'Bichemers' with further grants, the donor concluding his deed of gift by commending himself and his family to the same church, desiring that the brethren should receive him as a monk. (fn. 10) The prior of Little Malvern acquired the manor of Pendock by purchase, (fn. 11) and held lands at Naunton in Gloucestershire with the advowson of the church of St. Andrew there, which advowson he made over to Bishop Giffard, reserving a pension of 8s. (fn. 12) In Worcestershire the monastery possessed the manor of Horwell, (fn. 13) a yearly allowance of 40s. from Elmley Castle, and the patronage of the church of Coberley in Gloucestershire. (fn. 14) The abbot and convent of Lyra in France conveyed to the priory of Little Malvern the churches of Hanley Castle and Eldersfield, (fn. 15) and in addition the convent held the rectory of Welland with the chapel said to have been bestowed by Simon, bishop of Worcester, (fn. 16) the advowson of the church of Cold Ashton, (fn. 17) and later on portions in the chapels of Nafford and Birlingham. (fn. 18) According to the Taxation Roll of 1291 the priory had an income of £17 1s. 6½d. derived from spiritualities and temporalities in the diocese of Worcester, (fn. 19) and 10s. from temporalities in the diocese of Hereford. (fn. 20) Besides their English possessions the prior and convent had property in Ireland, though by what means this was acquired cannot be stated. (fn. 21)
The supremacy claimed by Worcester over the small community was rigorously exercised by Bishop Giffard. In May, 1269, he appointed William de Broadway on the death of Richard, late prior of Little Malvern, (fn. 22) and similarly in 1280, (fn. 23) 1287, (fn. 24) and 1299 (fn. 25) a vacancy was supplied by the bishop's provision. In 1274 he published a grant whereby Prior John and his brethren gave to Henry, son of Geoffrey Bernard, in return for benefits conferred on them the right of presenting two secular clerks to the monastery who should pray for the souls of the said Henry and various members of his family. The right of presentation should descend to Nicholas de Mutton and his heirs and assigns after the death of the said benefactor. (fn. 26) Five years later this undertaking was revised, and a chantry ordained at the altar of the Holy Cross within the priory church for the benefit of the said Henry and his family. (fn. 27) The church was probably rebuilt about this period, as in the course of Giffard's visitation of the diocese in 1282 he stayed two days at the monastery of Little Malvern, and visited the chapter and dedicated their church, the charge of the two days' entertainment being borne by the convent. (fn. 28) During the rule of Giffard an inquiry was made concerning one Simon Chamberlayn, who was reported to have entered the monastery of Little Malvern and become professed therein as a monk of the order of St. Benedict, but who, notwithstanding, had returned to the world and married, when he was in no way capable of paternal inheritance, to the prejudice of his brother. (fn. 29) The bishop, being appealed to in the face of a serious family problem, made reply 'that of old custom the prior of Malvern is as it were the bishop's minister in that place,' so that the bishop could nominate or put there whom he would without the election of the monks, but that without his consent the prior could not give the habit to anyone or receive anyone for profession' which makes the monk more than the habit,' and that the said Simon had not made profession to the bishop or to any other in his name. (fn. 30) This did not end the matter, but the final conclusion is not recorded.
John de Dombleton, who was appointed prior in 1299, (fn. 31) did not retain the office long. (fn. 32) After his resignation the annalist who records the appointment of his successor, William de Molendinis or Mills, states that he was not admitted to his former estate by the chapter of Worcester. On being recalled for the election of Giffard's successor in 1302, he sent renouncing all right or voice in the election on the ground that he had been translated to Malvern and there made prior, 'wherefore because of his present condition the same John tarries at the schools of Oxford at the expense of the prior and chapter of Worcester.' (fn. 33) The latter received an order from the presidents of their general chapter to re-admit their former member, and quickly complied. (fn. 34)
The convent appears to have suffered various losses from time to time. Giffard, in a licence for the appropriation to the brethren of the church of Stoke Giffard, states that it was granted on account of their sufferings during the Barons' War and the war in Wales. (fn. 35) Thomas, earl of Warwick, bestowed on them the advowson of the church of Notgrove with the rent of a pound of pepper in 1338, (fn. 36) and the prior and convent were permitted to appropriate the church of Whatcote in 1368, in consequence, it is said, of the loss of divers possessions in Ireland. (fn. 37)
These distant possessions of the priory proved a charge in many ways, involving the personal residence of the prior or the appointment of attorneys to represent him. One of the monks was as a rule appointed, but the post does not appear to have been much sought after by the brethren. Bishop Cobham, after his visitation in 1323, reproved one of the community for refusing to go, in consequence of which a less suitable person had to be sent, to the loss and injury of the convent; (fn. 38) and in 1336 brother Nicholas de Upton, upon whom the duty had devolved, obtained a dispensation from the bishop absolving him from the office on the ground that it was to the danger of his life to cross the Irish Sea. (fn. 39) Cobham suggested that it was not fitting for a monk to live alone, and advised that in future two brethren be sent, means permitting. (fn. 40) After much loss and expense the brethren were finally relieved of a troublesome charge in 1484, when Bishop Alcock permitted them to lease all their lands, churches, and chapels in Ireland to the abbot and convent of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Cistercian Order in Dublin in perpetuity for the annual sum of 450 marks. (fn. 41)
The spirit of devotion which animated the early founders of the priory does not appear to have largely inspired their successors. It should be remembered that, though the community had their estates apart from the church of Worcester, the terms of the federation which bound them placed the convent in the position of being used as a house of correction by the larger monastery, and no instance is recorded of the head of the smaller house resigning his post to take up a position of greater dignity and responsibility. The bishops of Worcester claimed to hold a veto on all admitted to the monastery, and in 1290 Giffard stopped at Little Malvern to receive the profession of two monks, and remained a day at his own expense. The following day being Sunday he dedicated three altars at Redmarley, but remained on at the priory at the prior's charge. (fn. 42) In October, 1303, Bishop Gainsborough warned the convent of his intention to visit their monastery. (fn. 43) The prior, William de Molendinis, resigned his office on the occasion of this visitation, and his resignation 'for certain and legitimate causes' was accepted by the diocesan, and appointment made of Roger de Pyrie or Pyribrok to succeed him. (fn. 44) The brethren were admonished a year later not to alienate the goods of their house. (fn. 45) The priory was visited on the death of the bishop in 1307 by the commissioners of the prior of Worcester, at the special request, it is said, of all the convent. (fn. 46) Probably the best description of the state of the monastery may be gathered from Bishop Cobham's injunctions after his visitation in 1323. (fn. 47) In regard to the rule of the house the bishop ordained that a sub-prior be appointed to take the place of the prior when absent, that the cellarer and principal officers be appointed by the prior with the consent of the convent or the greater and wiser part of it, 'that it is not usual to choose young leaders whose worth has yet to be proved,' and for that reason the monk who filled the office of bursar, and was but in deacon's orders, should be removed, and a senior monk in priest's orders substituted. The cellarer should be deposed, and the steward (villicus) who was suspected of wasting the goods of the house either removed or compelled to render account of his stewardship. The prior was forbidden to dispose of timber, goods, or valuables without the consent of the chapter, and prohibited from fishing in the fishpond belonging to the sick unless approved by the whole community, and then he should make good what he had taken. The brethren were enjoined to take better care of the sick, and especially of brother Hugo de Crombe, and to restore the ancient portion of the poor on obit days, reported to be reduced by one half. The bishop desired brother Henry de Wigorn, studying at Oxford at the sole discretion of the prior, and spending money which had better be applied to the needs of the sick, to be recalled, 'since whoso does not work in the Lord's vineyard should have no share in the daily wage,' but directed that he and others of studious tastes should have liberty after the completion of the hours to read good works. The novices should have a master to instruct them diligently in manners and habits of discipline. That general discipline was lax appears evident. Several members were warned against meeting to discuss secretly the affairs of the convent and criticize the prior and his friends, etc. The voice of scandal was not unheard, and the prior was enjoined to admit brother Hugh de Pyribrok to purgation respecting a charge of immorality. It is to be hoped that brother Hugh was able to clear himself of the imputation, as he became prior a few years later. (fn. 48) The bishop finally forbade the expenditure of any of the goods of the house on relations either of the prior or any member of the convent, or their appointment to offices save by the consent of the greater part of the community.
Notices of succeeding visitations are very brief in character and throw no light on the condition of the house (fn. 49) until we come to the year 1480. The decisive action taken by Bishop Alcock in that year implies that it had been for a considerable time in urgent need of reform. He says 'As it is notary known through all my diocese to the great displeasure of God, disworship of the Church . . . the misliving and dissolute governance of the brethren that hath been inhabit in the place of Little Malvern, being of my foundation and patronage; the rules of that holy religion not observed nor kept, but rather the said brethren in all their demeanance hath been "vagabunde" and lived like laymen to the pernicious example of all Christian men.' (fn. 50)
The task of reform was energetically carried out, the prior, John Wyttesham, resigned his office, and was sent to the abbot of Abingdon, as president of the order, with a request that he might be transferred to Batsel (Battle) where he had been professed, the bishop bestowing on him 13s. 4d. from the common fund of the monastery. (fn. 51) Four of the brethren were dismissed for their 'demerits' and sent to St. Peter's, Gloucester, there to be instructed in the rule of St. Benedict and the vow of their profession; to each the bishop gave out of his own purse 10s. (fn. 52) In September following, Henry Morton, a monk of Tewkesbury, was appointed prior in charge on the grounds that the community by crimes and excesses had shown themselves unfit to elect a superior. (fn. 53) The bishop's care did not end here. In the two years which elapsed before the recall of the brethren he rebuilt their church and repaired their lodging, and in October, 1482, wrote that having been for two years 'in worshipful and holy places' he considered they should now be sufficiently instructed in their religion. He laid down regulations that none of the brethren should go into the town or fields without a companion or without obtaining leave of the prior, and asked as sole return for his benefactions that a mass should be said for him daily at 'Our Lady Aulter.' (fn. 54) From this time the conventual church appears by his ordinance to have been dedicated to St. Mary, St. Giles, and St. John the Evangelist. On the resignation of Henry Morton in 1484 the convent agreed to elect as his successor whoever the bishop should appoint, and confirmed his subsequent nomination of Thomas Colman, a monk of Great Malvern. (fn. 55) The convent received the formal visitations paid by the vicars-general of the four Italian prelates who occupied the see of Worcester in succession, but their record contains no hint of the state of the priory. In 1533 a complaint was lodged against John Bristowe, prior of Little Malvern, for a trespass in Malverne Chase for the purpose of killing the king's deer. (fn. 56) Among the signatures of those subscribing to the king's supremacy in 1534 appear the names of John Bristowe and seven others dated 31 August, (fn. 57) and we are told that the convent assented unanimously. The clear income of the priory amounted at that time to £98 10s. 9d., consequently it fell within the scope of the earlier Act for the suppression of religious houses of less yearly value than £200. (fn. 58) The precise date of its surrender is not known. John Bristowe, the last prior, appears in a pension list for 1536-7 down for a yearly pension of £11 13s. 4d. (fn. 59) The possessions of the priory were much coveted by John Russell, secretary of the Council of the Marches of Wales. (fn. 60) The site of the monastery was granted however with lands in other counties to Richard Andrews and Nicholas Temple; (fn. 61) subsequently the manor and demesne of Little Malvern came into the hands of Henry Russell in the reign of Philip and Mary. (fn. 62)
Priors Of Little Malvern
Jocelin, (fn. 63) 1171.
Edred. (fn. 64)
Richard, (fn. 65) died 1269.
William de Broadway, (fn. 66) appointed 1269.
John de Shockeley, (fn. 67) occurs 1274 and 1279 died 1280.
John de Colevylle or Colewell, (fn. 68) appointed 1280, resigned 1286.
John de Wigornia, (fn. 69) appointed 1287, died 1299.
John de Dombelton, (fn. 70) appointed 1299, resigned 1300.
William de Molendinis or Mills, (fn. 71) appointed 1300-1, resigned 1303.
Roger de Pirie or Pyribrok, (fn. 72) appointed 1303, resigned 1326.
Hugh de Pyribrok, (fn. 73) appointed 1326, died 1360.
Henry de Staunton, (fn. 74) appointed 1360, died 1369.
John de Wigornia, (fn. 75) appointed 1369.
Richard de Wenlock, (fn. 76) occurs 1378, resigned 1392.
Richard Brewer, (fn. 77) appointed 1392.
William Brewer, occurs 1435. (fn. 78)
John Estnor, (fn. 79) occurs 1445.
John Clement, (fn. 80) occurs 1462.
John Wyttesham, (fn. 81) resigned 1480.
Henry Morton, (fn. 82) appointed 1480, resigned 1484.
Thomas Colman, (fn. 83) appointed 1484.
John Bristowe, (fn. 84) occurs 1529.
A description of the twelfth-century pointed oval seal of this house, about 2¾ by 1¾ in. when perfect, is taken from a cast in the British Museum. (fn. 85) The impression is indistinct, but represents St. Giles the Abbot full-length holding in his right hand a book, in his left hand probably a pastoral staff. Legend:—
. . . LLVM : SBI : E[GIDII : ABB]ATIS : NOVE : MELVE . . . .
A fourteenth-century pointed oval seal 2½ by 1¾ in., represents the Virgin with nimbus standing, in her right hand the Holy Child, in her left hand a sceptre fleur-de-lizé; on her left St. Giles with a fawn, on her right St. John the Evangelist, in a niche with triple canopy and tabernacle work at sides. In base a shield of arms: on a fesse between three cocks' heads, a mitre, Bishop ALCOCK, benefactor. (fn. 86) Legend:—
S'+COE+DOMUS+SIUE+PRIORATUS MALUARNIE : MIOR
The seal for peculiar jurisdiction, a pointed oval, represents St. Giles in a canopied niche with pastoral staff caressing a fawn under a tree, the corbel carved with a triple branch. (fn. 87) Legend:—
SIGILL'V JVRISDICCIONIS PARVE MALVERNIE