A History of the County of York: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1974.
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HOUSES OF AUSTIN CANONS
46. THE PRIORY OF BOLTON
The priory of Austin canons, afterwards moved in 1151 (fn. 1) to Bolton, was originally founded at Embsay (fn. 2) in Skipton, by William Meschines and Cecilia de Romeli his wife, lady of Skipton, in 1120. (fn. 3) The foundation charter, (fn. 4) addressed to Archbishop Thurstan, records that they had given to Reynold, the prior, the church of Holy Trinity of Skipton, with the chapel of Carleton and the whole vill of 'Emmesey,' for a church of regular canons.
By a separate charter, (fn. 5) Cecilia de Romeli granted to the church of St. Mary and St. Cuthbert of Embsay, and the canons there, the whole vill of Kildwick, and her son-in-law William, nephew of the king of Scotland, and Aeliz de Romeli his wife, (fn. 6) confirmed to the church of Embsay the church of All Saints of Broughton in Craven.
In 1151, (fn. 7) with the consent of Aeliz de Romeli, then patroness, (fn. 8) the canons were moved to Bolton, where she gave, with consent of her son William, the capital manor of Bolton in exchange for other lands. This exchange was confirmed by Henry II. (fn. 9) A charter of Aeliz de Romeli, confirming the gifts of William de Meschines and her mother, gives full details of the boundaries of the lands given to the canons 'ecclesiæ tunc apud Embesiam, nunc apud Boelton commorantibus.' (fn. 10)
There was some connexion between Bolton and the priory of Huntingdon which is not very clear. The church of Skipton was part of the foundation gift of William de Meschines and Cecilia de Romeli to the canons when at Embsay, but in a charter of confirmation by Henry I to the priory of Huntingdon is included (fn. 11) 'ecclesiam S. Trinitatis de Scipeton cum omnibus sibi pertinentibus sicut idem Willelmus [Meschin] eam eis [canonicis de Huntingdon] dedit et confirmavit.' There are two charters printed (fn. 12) relating to the 'subjection' of Bolton to Huntingdon, which, however, throw little light on the matter, especially as the church of Skipton seems to have belonged without any real interruption to Bolton. Neither makes allusion to the church of Skipton as the reason of the subjection, or states what the Prior and canons of Huntingdon meant by their claim; but the second of the deeds, entitled 'Carta de Absolutione Prioris de Boelton de Subjectione Priori de Huntendone,' (fn. 13) addressed to G[eoffrey], Archbishop of York 1191 to 1206, by R[oald], Prior of Guisbrbugh, and W [ ], (fn. 14) Prior of Marton, states that as the apostolic commissaries of Celestine III (1198 to 1216) they had declared the Prior and canons of Bolton free from all subjection to Huntingdon. However, in the Compotus Roll, Michaelmas 1324 to Michaelmas 1325, (fn. 15) the canons of Bolton paid £5 6s. 8d. pro pensione de Huntyngdon. The whole affair is, unfortunately, obscure.
Dr. Whitaker, speaking of the establishment as revealed from the accounts of the priory from 1290 to 1325, (fn. 16) says that it consisted of a prior, who had lodgings with a hall and a chapel, stables, &c., detached from the main building, and that there were fifteen canons and two conversi, (fn. 17) besides the armigeri or gentlemen dependent on the house, who had clothing, board, and lodging, the liberi servientes within and without, and the garciones or villeins. Of free servants, intra curiam, there were about thirty, such as the master carpenter, the master and inferior cook, brewer, baker, &c., and Dr. Whitaker's estimate is that the establishment consisted of more than 200 persons, but many of them were engaged on distant manors and granges.
On 2 December 1267 (fn. 18) Archbishop Giffard visited the priory of Bolton, when it was found that Brother Hugh de Ebor' possessed private money, which it was said he had placed at deposit, or handed to his brother at York, or his sister, a nun of St. Clement's. He was also charged with incontinence, but that charge was not proved. The whole convent had conspired by oath against the predecessor of William de Danfield, the existing prior. John de Pontefracto, the cellarer, was not fit for his office, and there were many others much better suited for it. Silence was not duly kept, and the sick not well attended to, nor duly and humanely visited. John de Ottele, a novice, did not willingly do his duty according to rule. The cellarer and sub-cellarer, whenever they could, absented themselves from divine service, and did not take their meals with the convent, but frequently, after the refection of the convent, feasted themselves in the refectory. The prior appointed custodians of the manors without consulting the convent, and these it was believed rendered no accounts. The accounts of the obedientiaries were not rendered to the convent. It appeared by the prior's own admission and by a writing which he delivered to the archbishop, attested by his seal, that he had excommunicated brothers William Hog and Hugh de Ebor'.
The monastery owed various creditors the sum of £324 5s. 7d., but the debt was not one of usury, as it was not owed to merchants but to neighbours. It had been incurred by the predecessors of the present prior. Nicholas de Broc, sub-prior, was aged and feeble, and not competent for the spiritual rule of the house, and voluntarily resigned. The convent was directed to elect another fit for the charge, but as the canons were not at first unanimous, the archbishop induced them to agree, and Ralph de Eston was elected. The prior then confessed, certain of the convent attesting it, that the statement contained in the writing he had handed to the archbishop, saying that he had excommunicated William Hog and Hugh de Ebor', was untrue. The archbishop reserved the punishment to be inflicted on the prior for the untruthful writing. Brothers William Hog and Hugh de Ebor' were ordered to amend their ways, which had perturbed the convent, under threat of removal to other houses. Possibly the prior was deposed, for Richard de Bakhampton was prior in January 1274-5, when he resigned, and a yearly pension of £20, with the use of certain dwellings at Ryther, was assigned him in recognition of his services. (fn. 19) His successor was William Hog, the previous disturber of the peace of the convent, to whose election the royal assent was given on 18 March 1274-5. (fn. 20) He must have come into collision with the archbishop almost immediately, for he was suspended, and on 29 September 1275 (fn. 21) the archbishop issued a notice of an intended visitation for 7 October (fn. 22) following, when a number of articles of inquiry as to the prior were to be propounded, among them being one as to whether he had continued to act as prior after his suspension. The visitation was duly held on the day appointed, and it was then found by the confession of William Hog and that of other of the canons that they had conspired contrary to canon law against the archbishop. The prior admitted that after his suspension he had caused himself to be ministered to 'in mensa cum tuallia ut priori,' and in the prior's chamber as before, also that he had gone to York to secure the liberation of certain canons whom the archbishop had in custody for correction, and that he had invoked the lay authority, both that of the Sheriff of York and of others, and had caused the common seal to be set to a certain proxy for this end, by reason of which the goods of the monastery were squandered. It was further found that, owing to his neglect, certain properties had been lost because fealty had not yet been made to the Countess of Albemarle. (fn. 23) Moreover, after notice of the visitation had been given he had commanded the canons in virtue of their obedience to agree with one another in what they said at the visitation. Further, he had turned out of the priory the archbishop's servant who brought the letters thither. All these offences proved, the archbishop then and there pronounced sentence of deposition on the prior. On 19 October all the canons, to the number of thirteen, including the sub-prior, whose names are given, recorded their votes in favour of John de Lund, except the latter, who voted for Thomas de Alna, and on 3 November 1275 the king signified to the archbishop his assent to the election thus made. (fn. 24)
Five years later Archbishop Wickwane held a visitation of Bolton, on 16 May 1280, (fn. 25) when he issued a series of injunctions. Carols with locks, and boxes (those of the obedientiaries alone excepted) were forbidden, and the locks of any, wherever suspected, were to be opened by the prior and three approved members of the house. Money payments for clothes and shoes were not to be made, but such were to be delivered to each from the common tailor's shop.
The entrances to and exits from the cloister and church were to be kept from the incursions of outsiders. If any attempted to go out with out good reason he was to fast on bread and water on the day following. Wanderings over the moors and in the woods totaliter interdicimus ab hoc hora.
Each canon and conversus was to confess regularly to the prior according to rule. No drinking, &c., was allowed after compline, except in cases of necessity, and at all times drinking and food which tended to pleasure or lasciviousness, with any unlawful and disordered actions, was wholly proscribed. Gossiping, which had prevailed in the absence of the prior, the archbishop also forbade. Silence was to be observed according to rule, and no letter received or sent by anyone without leave of the president; Faults were to be proclaimed in love and not vindictively, and not more than was necessary was to be said. Worn-out clothes were to be given to the poor, and no one was to be admitted canon or conversus without the archbishop having first approved of his behaviour. No boarder was to be taken without the archbishop's express permission.
Certain serious defects in church, chapterhouse, and other buildings, were to be speedily repaired.
Corrections in chapter were to be made without favour, with good zeal, and the sweetness of charity. All were to obey the prior, and the prior was to direct, and deal with all in true affection.
A visitation was held by Archbishop Romanus on 15 July 1286, (fn. 26) when John de Lund resigned and was specially commended for his services, an annual pension and provision being made for him. The archbishop, however, found the priory so heavily in debt that it could not conveniently support its members. It would seem that certain of the goods had been assigned to individual members. This allocation he revoked, in order to relieve the depression from which the house was suffering, but it is not clearly stated what it was that had been done and which he annulled. His injunctions, which are very brief, find no other fault with the condition of the monastery. On 30 May 1291 (fn. 27) the archbishop wrote to the prior and convent to readmit William de Insula, an apostate canon of the house, and two years later (18 April 1293), (fn. 28) as the canons were suffering from losses owing to floods and mortality of their cattle so that they were unable to maintain their customary hospitality, he allowed them to consolidate the chapelry of Carlton in Craven with their church of Skipton. On 25 October 1320 (fn. 29) Archbishop Melton wrote to the Prior and convent of Worksop that the monastery of Bolton, of their order, had been so wasted by the invasion of the Scots, who on various occasions had destroyed its live stock and set fire to its property, that it could no longer support its college of canons, or maintain due hospitality; and he therefore sent William de Rotherham, one of the canons, to reside with them for a time, at an annual charge of 5 marks payable by Bolton. In like manner Thomas de Menyngham was sent to Nostell, Thomas de Coppelay (soon afterwards prior) to Thurgarton, Laurence de Wath to Shelford, Robert de Ripon to Guisborough, Symon (or Richard) (fn. 30) de Ottelay to Drax, John de Selby to Warter, and Stephen de Thirneholm to Kirkham. How long the dispersion lasted is not exactly known, but the house seems to have soon recovered, and according to the account already alluded to of its revenues and reprises from Michaelmas 1324 to Michaelmas 1325, the income was £444 17s. 4¾d., whereas in 1535 the revenues were only £302 9s. 3d., in the whole, and but £212 3s. 4d. clear.
In 1367 (fn. 31) Archbishop Thoresby confirmed a chantry founded in the conventual church by Thomas de Bradeley and John de Otteley. It was to be served by a secular chaplain, or failing a secular, by a regular, who was to do service for the souls of Thomas de Ottirburn and Maud his wife, and those of John de Bradeley and Mary his wife.
On 14 November 1471 (fn. 32) Archbishop George Nevill confirmed the election of Christopher Lofthouse as prior, in succession to William Man', resigned, when the following provision was made for the latter. He was to receive £7 6s. 8d. yearly in money, and was assigned a chamber for his habitation at the west end of the common hall of the priory, with a garden and the easements belonging to it, sufficient fuel to burn in his chamber, and fourteen loaves of white bread called lez miches, of like weight to those which each of the canons was wont to receive, and fourteen lagenas of the better ale, and flesh, fish, and other eatables, to the amount which two canons were wont to receive. Besides this, William Man' was, during his life, to have a servant to attend him, who every week was to be supplied with seven loaves called le leverey loves, half of them to be of white bread, and the other half de mediocri sive de medio pane, also seven loaves deterioris panis of the same weight as the loaves which the chief forester of the priory was accustomed to receive, and meat, fish, and other food such as the chief forester had, and two lagenas of the better ale, and two deterioris cervisie.
In 1482 (fn. 33) Archbishop Rotherham issued a set of injunctions; the majority are in general terms, and refer to the due observances of the canonical life. The frequent access to and gossiping at the priory of women is forbidden, as grave scandal had arisen from it in regard to the prior and some of the canons. Neither the prior nor canons were to hold private confabulations with any suspected women, either in the church or other secret places, within or outside the priory, by which evil report might arise. The priory was heavily in debt, and the prior and convent were enjoined to abstain from burdensome expenses, as far as possible, for the honour of the house, so that it might soon be freed from debt. Owing to its debts they were forbidden to grant pensions, fees, or annual rents to any persons whatsoever under the common seal or otherwise, or to sell corrodies, or liveries, or to make grants or alienations of their possessions, or of their woods, or to grant long leases of their manors, without archiepiscopal licence.
All the moneys, accruing from whatever source, were to be delivered to the prior, and be in his custody, and at his disposal, and a trustworthy and discreet canon was to be deputed to keep an indentured roll, in which all the receipts were to be entered. No one was to keep a useless servant, who was a burden to the house, or one super incontinencie vicio graviter diffamatus.
An oath of Gilbert Marsden, the prior, follows the injunctions, by which he promised that he would not waste or dissipate the goods of the priory, and would fulfil all the injunctions of the archbishop, and if he failed in this, then he undertook to resign his office, and forgo all claim to a pension. It may be surmised that all did not proceed satisfactorily, (fn. 34) for the next year Gilbert Marsden resigned, and on 10 July Archbishop Rotherham confirmed the election of Christopher Wood in his place. Whether Prior Marsden resigned under compulsion, or voluntarily, is not clear, but a dispute arose between the prior and convent on the one part, and the two retired priors, Christopher Lofthouse and Gilbert Marsden, on the other, which was settled on 29 October 1483 (fn. 35) by William Poteman, the archbishop's vicar-general. Christopher Lofthouse was to be appointed to the vicarage of Long Preston and have a chaplain with cure of souls in charge of the parish for him, who was to occupy the vicarage house and have glebe to the value of 53s. 4d. annually, Lofthouse receiving a pension of 21 marks yearly, and all the profits of the church of Harewood, till 2 February next ensuing. Gilbert Marsden was to have an annual pension of 25 marks and arrears of 53s. 4d., and, it is oddly added, the use of a certain silver bowl as long as he wished; but he was to redeem that bowl with another he had pledged within a year, or pay the prior and convent their value, and as long as he lived, unless the archbishop with consent of the prior and convent directed otherwise, was to urge no other claim against the prior and convent.
In 1528 (fn. 36) Prior Richard and the convent of Bolton granted to William Wall the office of porter, assigning him certain wages and livery of food. 'The sayd Wylliam shall loke upon all strangears and take and brynge thame to oyr offycers wt in, for ye well and ye worshyp of ye sayd hows of Bolton. Also yt he or hys servaunt shall loke upon ye gest beddes as hays beyn accustomyd, and to loke upon all meyn persons comyng to ye sayd hows, and se yt thay be logyd accordyng to yr degre. Arid also ye sayd Wylliam shall se yt all pore folkes resortyng to ye sayd hows for Almes shalbe servyd as custome hays beyn. And also yt ys covenantyd and grantyd betwyx ye sayd parteys, yt ye sayd Wylliam shall not have wt in ye demayns of ye sayd hows nother cow nor hors wt owt a specyall lycence, and yt he shall not kepe in ye yate hows nother hys wyff, ne no other woman, except he be agyd or dyseasyd and may not help himselff.' He was further to suffer no misrule, or allow the presence of any suspected person, under pain of forfeiting his appointment. William Wall was living at the Dissolution, when this appointment was commuted at 53s. 4d. annually.
A lease made in 1537 (fn. 37) deals with property at Embsay, and described the boundaries of the land there 'by meres or boundes from oon certeyn stone lying on Byrkbanke, wherupon ther is wrought by a mason oon Anlett of that oon syde and a Toone and a bolte (fn. 38) on that other syde, and so frome that stone to other stones so marked.'
The will of Richard Moone, the last prior, was proved at York 28 July 1541. (fn. 39) He bequeathed his body to be buried in the chancel of the church of Catton (in the East Riding, near Stamford Bridge). The will proceeds: 'I give and bequeath xx marc at Bolton, and in the parishinge wher I was borne to power people. Itm. my chales to Preston (fn. 40) churche wher I was borne, to serve the parishe with. Itm. my vestment, silver crewettes, and all other thinges belonginge to my altare, to serve theme that commes to her, [hear] service at Bolton. Item to the repayringe of the saide churche of Bolton vjli xiijs viijd.'
Prior Moone and fourteen canons surrendered the house on 29 January 1540. A yearly pension of £40 was assigned to the prior, and sums varying from £6 13s. 4d. to £4 were granted to the canons.
Priors of Bolton
Reynold, 1120 (fn. 41)
Thomas, occurs 1233 (fn. 46)
Adam, occurs 1255 (fn. 47)
Henry, occurs 1263 (fn. 48)
Thomas de Coppeley, died 1340 (fn. 58)
John Farnhill (again) 1430 (fn. 70)
Lawrence, occurs 1439 (fn. 71)
Christopher Lofthouse, confirmed 1471 (fn. 76)
Gilbert Wilson, occurs 1477 (fn. 77)
The seal (fn. 86) of Bolton Priory bore a representation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Child. Legend:—
SIGILLUM SANCTE MARIE DE BOLTON