Houses of Cluniac monks: Priory of St James of Dudley

Pages 158-162

A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1971.

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The Cluniac priory of Dudley was founded about the middle of the twelfth century (fn. 1) and furnishes an interesting example of a religious establishment annexed to a baronial castle and subordinate to the lords of the manor. The founder, Gervase Pagnell, states in his charter for the new foundation that, bearing in mind the intention of his father, Ralph Pagnell, to establish a religious community at Dudley, he has fulfilled the design for the good of his father's soul chiefly and of his ancestors and for the good estate of himself, his wife and son, and has granted and confirmed to God and St. James of Dudley, St. Milburga of Wenlock, and to the monks serving God at Dudley, in free alms the site of their church with the churches of St. Edmund and St. Thomas of Dudley, and the churches of Northfield, Sedgley, and Inkpen. Also the church of Bradfield, half a hide of land in Churchill with the other half which Agnes de Somery bequeathed to the church of St. James with her body, the whole of which was in his fee. He confirmed all gifts made to the monks by any tenant or knight of his, reserving to himself and his heirs all services due to them, and granted that their cattle should feed in whatever pastures his own were pastured except in his parks, that they should have pannage in the forests for their pigs and those of their tenants residing within the limits of his gift, 'in elemosyna mea resedentium,' and a tithe of his bread, venison, and fish while he resided at Dudley or Harden. Under the supervision of his steward they should take whatever wood they required for their buildings and other 'easements' except from his hedges and parks. These liberties were granted with right of soc, sac, thol, thac, and theam. (fn. 2) The founder further ordained that the prior of Wenlock should select monks for the new house, and by the consent of the founder and his heirs appoint a prior from his own chapter. When the house could support a convent he was authorized to constitute one, subject to the consent of his convent and the founder and his heirs. This liberty was shortly afterwards exercised and a deed, witnessed by Robert his son, reciting the former grant states that 'we John, prior of Wenlock, and the convent of the same do ordain a convent, so that Osbert, now prior of St. James, and Robert and Hugh his brothers do make wholly and fully a perfect convent.' (fn. 3)

Guido or Wido de Hoffeni or Offeni, together with Christiana his wife and William his son, conferred on the monks of Dudley in free alms the church of Wombourn and its appurtenances 'for the redemption of our souls.' (fn. 4) Subsequently a question seems to have arisen as to whether this donation included the parishes of Trysull and Seisdon. An inquisition held at Stafford found that these two chapels belonged of right to the church of Wombourn, and they were confirmed by Bishop Richard Peche of Coventry and Lichfield to God and St. James of Dudley and St. Milburga of Wenlock 'as of the pious gift of Wido de Offendi and William his son.' (fn. 5)

Pope Lucius III. in the first year of his pontificate (fn. 6) issued a bull on behalf of Everad, the prior of Dudley, and his brethren ordaining that in their church the order of St. Benedict should be observed according to the constitutions of Cluny, and confirming to them all previous possessions together with a licence to retain in canonical possession whatever might hereafter be added to them. (fn. 7) The possessions enumerated in the bull included the church of St. James of Dudley with the chapels [or churches] of St. Edmund and St. Thomas, the churches of Sedgley and Northfield with the chapel of Coston Hackett, (fn. 8) the churches of Ingle . . . . and Bradfield with the chapel of Inglefield the gift of Gervase Pagnell the founder, (fn. 9) the church of Wombourn with the chapel of Trysull given by Guy de Offeni, the church of Selly (Seille) by Ralph de Seille, the town of Churchill by Agnes de Somery, the town of Saredon by Osbert de Kenefare, a virgate of land in the town of 'Wolynton' the gift of Robert de Chanden, and lands in Inkpen the gift of John Mansell. (fn. 10) The monks also obtained right of sepulture for all who desired to be buried in their church, unless they were excommunicated or under interdict, saving the rights of those churches to whom the said bodies should belong, with the privilege that in the event of a general interdict the monks might in a low voice celebrate divine offices, the doors being closed, bells not sounded, and all excommunicated and interdicted persons excluded. The exaction of tithe of lands cultivated by them or at their expense was prohibited, and the brethren were authorized to present clerks or priests for the parish churches which they held to the diocesan for institution. They might also receive and keep clerks or laymen fleeing from the world, and it was prohibited for anyone having made his profession in the house to depart except for a more rigid rule. The pope also decreed that all ancient and reasonable customs observed up to the present should be retained in future, and that no one should molest or in any way vex them saving the authority of the pope, diocesan law, and reverence due to the church of Cluny. (fn. 11)

In obedience to a papal mandate in 1238 the bishops of Worcester and Coventry and Lichfield came to an important agreement as to the bounds of their respective dioceses whereby it was decreed that the town of Dudley with its churches and appurtenances should belong to Worcester, while the castle and priory should remain under the jurisdiction of the bishop of Coventry and Lichfield. (fn. 12) The Taxation Roll of 1291 gives the priory an income of £27 11s. 4d., including temporalities at Dudley within the diocese of Worcester to the value of £5 14s. 6d., and temporalities and spiritualities of the value of £21 16s. 10d. in the Coventry and Lichfield diocese. (fn. 13)

The barony of Dudley in default of male heirs passed from the Pagnell family to the Somerys (fn. 14) on the death of Roger de Somery in 1290. Roger, bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, granted an indulgence of forty days to all who having truly repented and confessed their sins should say devoutly the Lord's Prayer with the Angelic Salutation for the soul of Roger de Somery, knight, whose body lay buried in the conventual church of Dudley ' of our diocese.' (fn. 15) In 1300, on the death of another Roger de Somery, Pope Boniface VIII. offered another indulgence to the faithful on similar conditions. (fn. 16)

The monks seem for the most part to have led a quiet uneventful life under the protection of the great house to which they were so closely united. On various occasions they made known their grievances. The archbishop of Canterbury, in 1281, wrote to the bishop of Salisbury respecting a complaint of his neglect to institute to the church of Inkpen the clerk presented by the prior by the special concession of the archbishop to whom collation had 'hac vice' devolved, attributing this refusal to the false representations of a certain John Russel. The archbishop warned his suffragan to delay the matter no longer. (fn. 17) The register of Bishop Giffard of Worcester records that the monks of Dudley in 1274 presented the rector of the church of Wyn', Lincoln diocese, to the church of Northfield to be held by him 'in commendam' on account of the poverty of the rectory. (fn. 18) It is also recorded in the same register that the archbishop of Canterbury on 24 September, 1292, confirmed sentence of excommunication passed upon brother Robert de Mallega, 'rector of the parish church of Dudley and prior of the same, for manifest offences.' (fn. 19) There appears to have been some trouble in connexion with the church of Northfield. On 3 March, 1292-3, person Malcolm de Harleye formally renounced a quarrel which he had with Peter de Estcot touching the church in question and undertook to procure a like renunciation from the prior and monks of Dudley. On the 7th of the same month he acknowledged receipt on behalf of himself and the religious men of the sum of twenty marks at the hands of two parties, one of whom was this same Peter de Estcot, in part payment of 100 marks in which the bishop of Worcester was bound by reason of certain business in connexion with the church of Northfield. (fn. 20) The conservator of privileges of the Cluniac order (fn. 21) in September, 1294, ordered the archdeacon of Worcester to annul the sentence of excommunication passed by the bishop of Worcester and Peter de Estcot, his chaplain, against the late archdeacon of Westminster, procured by the monks of Dudley; (fn. 22) the reason for the sentence is not stated. The brethren contended with the abbot of Halesowen in 1297 for a fourth part of the chapel of Frankley as belonging to the church of Northfield. They were compelled however to relinquish this claim and to content themselves with the patronage of Northfield. (fn. 23) Robert de Mallega, who gives the impression of an energetic head, occurs again in May, 1298, when his assent was given to the presentation by John Deobul of Suckley of a clerk to the rectory of Churchill near Kidderminster. (fn. 24)

The prior of Dudley, like other superiors of Cluniac foundations, (fn. 25) was probably suspected or implicated in the rebellion of Thomas, earl of Lancaster, in 1322; he was arrested 'for certain reasons' by the king's order, but released in October, 1323, and his goods restored. (fn. 26)

The commissary-general acting for the prior of Worcester during a vacancy in March, 1338-9, reported that he had cited the prior of Dudley to appear to answer for his appropriation of an annual pension of six marks from the rectory of Northfield in the diocese of Worcester without sufficient title, and on his non-appearance had pronounced him in contempt and sequestered the aforesaid six marks. (fn. 27) The bishop of Worcester in 1342 summoned the community to exhibit their title for the appropriation of the church of Dudley, which was allowed. (fn. 28) In January, 1351-2, a certain Robert de Wymersfeld was attacked at the suit of William, prior of Dudley, for taking 'vi etarmis' goods and chattels belonging to the priory at Dudley, during a vacancy in the priory in 1349. Robert appeared in person, and denied the charge. The case was heard for the third time at Bromwich at Whitsuntide and a verdict given for the plaintiff. (fn. 29)

Dudley though subordinate to the alien house of Wenlock seems to have escaped seizure into the king's hands during the French war, probably as being reckoned parcel of the estates of the lordship of Dudley. (fn. 30) An entry in the patents under date of 7 July, 1346, states in reference to the church of Northfield that it was of the patronage of Dudley notwithstanding any right the king could claim therein. (fn. 31) There is no record of its visitation by the delegates appointed for that purpose by the abbot of Cluny, or the prior of La Charité-sur-Loire to which affiliation it belonged, until the middle of the fifteenth century, when in a fragment enumerating the English and Scottish foundations of Cluny, apparently forming part of a report, it is stated that at the priory of Dudley there should be four monks, and two masses celebrated daily, one with music. (fn. 32) The house being exempt from episcopal jurisdiction and visitation, entries relating to it in the registers of the diocese are rare, but occur occasionally. (fn. 33) In April, 1400, the bishop confirmed an indenture between (1) Richard of Stafford, prior of Dudley, and his brethren; (2) the vicar of the church of Sedgeley, which was appropriated to the priory; and (3) the rector of the church or chapel of Darlaston, whereby it was agreed that the priory and convent should receive 10s. from the rector, and that vicar and rector should divide the offerings for the dead, the vicar receiving all the wax and candles. (fn. 34) In February, 1402-3, the brethren obtained a certificate from the bishop for their appropriation of the parish churches of Sedgeley and Wombourn and an annual pension of 10s. from the chapel of Darlaston. (fn. 35)

According to an entry in the patent roll of that year, on 14 July, 1421, the prior of St. Milburga, Wenlock, on the death of brother John Billingburgh, presented William Canke to the priory of St. James, Dudley, to whom the king gave up the temporalities which were in his gift by reason of the minority of John, son of Thomas Sutton, late baron of Dudley. (fn. 36) His rule proved a very short one, and in the following October the prior of Wenlock presented three monks of his house to the king praying him to admit one of them to the priory, which was vacant by the resignation of William Canke, and the king admitted John Brugge. (fn. 37) A charter and lease by this prior dated in the chapter house of Dudley the Feast of the Nativity of St. John Baptist, 1434, is still in existence. (fn. 38) The inhabitants of Dudley in 1483 gave ' three score okes ' out of the forest of Kinfare towards the building of their ' chauncell.' (fn. 39)

John Webley occurs as prior in the Valor of 1535, giving the annual value of the priory at £36 8s. 0d.; (fn. 40) the pension list of the dissolved priory of Wenlock, 26 January, 1539-40, assigns a pension of £10 to Thomas Shrewsbury, prior of the cell of Dudley. (fn. 41) The site of the priory was granted as parcel of the late monastery of Wenlock in Salop to Sir John Dudley in 1545. (fn. 42)

Priors of Dudley

Osbert, (fn. 43) occurs circa 1160.

Everad, (fn. 44) occurs 1182.

William. (fn. 45)

Robert de Mallega, (fn. 46) occurs 1292 and 1298.

Thomas de Londiniis, (fn. 47) occurs 1338 and 1346.

William, (fn. 48) occurs 1351-2 and 1354

Richard de Stafford, (fn. 49) occurs 1400.

John Billingburgh, (fn. 50) died 1421.

William Canke, (fn. 51) appointed 1421, resigned in the same year. (fn. 52)

John Brugge, (fn. 53) appointed 1421, occurs 1434. (fn. 54)

John Webley, (fn. 55) occurs 1535.

Thomas Shrewsbury, (fn. 56) received a pension 1539-40.

The pointed oval thirteenth-century seal of Dudley, chipped at the bottom, taken from a cast at the British Museum, represents St. James or a prior, full length, in his right hand a long cross, in his left a book. (fn. 57) Legend:—


A later seal, of which only a fragment remains attached to a charter dated 1434, represents St. James in profile to the right standing under a canopy, with flat cap, staff and book. Legend wanting. (fn. 57)


  • 1. The date is approximately fixed by a charter of Walter Durdent, bishop of Coventry and Lichfield 1149-1160, confirming to the monks the church of Wombourn: Harl. MS. 3868, f. 274.
  • 2. Harl. MS. 3868, f. 274.
  • 3. Dodsworth MS. ix. p. 132, cited by Erdeswick in his Surv. of Staff. p. 341.
  • 4. Harl. MS. 3868, f. 274.
  • 5. Ibid. f. 275. The same bishop confirmed to the monks the church of Sedgeley, the gift of Gervase Pagnell. Ibid. f. 274.
  • 6. Dugdale dates this bull 1190, but Lucius III. became pope in September, 1181, so the correct date should be 1182.
  • 7. Harl. MS. 3868, f. 275.
  • 8. See Habington's Surv. of Worc. (Worc. Hist. Soc.), i. 168.
  • 9. Dugdale, Mon. v. 83.
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. Ibid.
  • 12. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.) iv. 429.
  • 13. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.) pp. 228, 243, 251. Many possessions previously mentioned are omitted in this reckoning. Dugdale states that the priory is included in the taxation as being within the diocese of Worcester; probably confusion has arisen between the priory and the churches of Dudley, which, according to the convention of 1238 already mentioned, are placed in Worcester.
  • 14. Robert, the son of Gervase Pagnell, founder of Dudley priory, died before he could succeed, and Hawysia, daughter of Gervase, became his heir. She took for her first husband John de Somery, and Dudley came into the hands of Ralph her son and heir.
  • 15. Dugdale, Mon. v. 84.
  • 16. Ibid. This Roger was succeeded by John de Somery his brother, who dying without issue, his estates were divided by his sisters and co-heiresses Margaret and Joan. Margaret, who had for her share the castle of Dudley which included the priory, married John de Sutton, and through her the barony of Dudley lapsed into the Sutton family.
  • 17. Reg. of Peckham (Rolls Ser.), i. 218.
  • 18. Worc. Epis. Reg. Giffard (Worc. Hist. Soc.), p. 65.
  • 19. Ibid. p. 426.
  • 20. Ibid. p. 441-2. The name of Peter Estcot, rector of the church of Northfield, occurs in a list of those promoted to deacon's orders by the bishop of Worcester at Hartlebury on the Vigil of Holy Trinity 1293. Ibid. p. 431.
  • 21. The archdeacon of Westminster.
  • 22. Worc. Epis. Reg. Giffard (Worc. Hist. Soc.), 449.
  • 23. From the Lyttleton charters cited by Nash, Hist. of Worc. ii. 192. The monks presented to this church up to the year 1438. In 1479 bishop Alcock of Worcester presented by right of devolution. Ibid.
  • 24. Worc. Epis. Reg. Giffard (Worc. Hist. Soc.), p. 496.
  • 25. See V.C.H. Surrey, ii. 71.
  • 26. Close, 17 Edw. ii. m. 35.
  • 27. Reg. Sede Vac. (Worc. Hist. Soc.), 271.
  • 28. Worc. Epis. Reg. Bransford, i. f. 59, cited by Nash, Hist. of Worc. i. 361.
  • 29. De Banco R. Hil. 25-26, Edw. iii. m. 135, cited in Coll. for Hist. of Staffs (Wm. Salt, Arch. Soc.), xii. (1) iii.
  • 30. The escheator was ordered in February, 1322-3, to restore to Margaret co-heiress of the late Roger de Somery the advowson of the priory of Dudley, co. Stafford, of the yearly value of forty marks. Close, 16 Edw. ii. m. 13.
  • 31. Pat. 20 Edw. iii. pt. ii. m. 16.
  • 32. Duckett, Chart. and Rec. of Abbey of Cluni, ii. 213.
  • 33. Isabel de Sutton, countess of Dudley, in her will dated 1396 left directions for her body to be buried beside her husband Richard de Dudley in the church of the Carmelites at Coventry, with bequests to the churches of Sedgeley, and St. Edmund and St. Thomas of Dudley. Lichfield Epis. Reg. Lescrope, f. 49.
  • 34. Ibid. Burghill, f. 170.
  • 35. Ibid. f. 177d.
  • 36. Pat. 9 Hen. V. pt. i. m. 2 and Harl. MS. 6962, p. 160.
  • 37. Pat. 9 Hen. V. pt. ii. m. 18.
  • 38. Cott. ch. xxi. 14.
  • 39. Harl. MS. 433, f. 102.
  • 40. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii. 104.
  • 41. L. and P. Henry VIII. xv. iii.
  • 42. Ibid. xvi. 678 g. 47.
  • 43. He was the first prior when the new foundation, built between 1149-1160, was constituted a convent. Dodsworth MS. ix. p. 132, cited by Erdeswick in his Survey of Staff. p. 341.
  • 44. The bull of Pope Lucius III. in the first year of his pontificate is addressed to Everad, prior of Dudley, and his brethren. Harl. MS. 3868, f. 275.
  • 45. Lyttelton Charters (Ed. Jeayes), no. 15.
  • 46. He was excommunicated in 1292. Worc. Epis. Reg. Giffard (Worc. Hist. Soc.), pp. 426, 496.
  • 47. His name occurs among the witnesses to a charter of John de Sutton, lord of Dudley, granted in that year (Dugdale, Baron, ii. 215). In 1346 Thomas, prior of Dudley, brought an action against certain persons for breaking his close at Trysull. De Banco R. 20 Edward III. m. 440.
  • 48. De Banco R. Hill, 25-26 Edward III. m. 135. At Michaelmas, 1354, William, prior of Dudley, was sued with others for trespass. De Banco R. Mich. 28 Edw. III. m. 75d.
  • 49. Lichfield Epis. Reg. Burghill, f. 170.
  • 50. Pat. 9 Hen. V. pt. i. m. 2.
  • 51. Ibid.
  • 52. Ibid. pt. ii. m. 18.
  • 53. Ibid. 8 Cott. Chart, xxi. 14.
  • 54. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii. 104.
  • 55. L. andP. Hen. VIII. xv. iii.
  • 56. Brit. Mus. xxii. 27.
  • 57. Cott. Chart, xxi. 14.