Houses of Benedictine monks: Priory of Monk Bretton

Pages 91-95

A History of the County of York: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1974.

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The priory of Monk Bretton was founded early in the reign of Henry II by Adam Fitz Suain for monks of the Cluniac order. (fn. 1) He gave to God, St. Mary Magdalene of Lund, and Adam, at that time Prior of Bretton, and the monks there, the whole of Bretton with some mills and other property. (fn. 2) From the mention of an existing prior, this foundation charter must be later in date than the letter which the Prior of La Charité-sur-Loire addressed to him as his 'dear and special friend and benefactor,' and in which he granted leave for the founder to choose a prior and other monks to form the convent from St. John's Pontefract and other houses of the Cluniac order in England. (fn. 3) On the strength apparently of this Pontefract claimed jurisdiction over Monk Bretton almost as if it were a cell only, and not merely, as seems to have been contemplated, an independent daughter house.

In his letter to Adam Fitz Suain, the Prior of La Charité, to whose house Pontefract was affiliated, had granted that the monks of Bretton should freely elect their prior, but the Prior of Pontefract if requested by the convent of Bretton should attend the chapter, with the patron, for the election.

These relations between Pontefract and Bretton led to disputes and ill feeling, and Pope Alexander IV (fn. 4) in 1255 issued a mandate directing the Dean and Archdeacon of Lincoln to make inquiry and decide between the two houses. The monks of Pontefract had, rightly or wrongly, regarded Monk Bretton as a cell of their house, and the Prior of Pontefract had claimed a right to the appointment of the Prior of Monk Bretton, which Monk Bretton had refused. As a consequence the sub-prior of Monk Bretton reported in 1267 that this convent had been without a prior for fifteen years, the monks claiming the free election of their prior, and the Prior of Pontefract claiming to present to the post, and actually presenting Adam de Northampton, whom the daughter house refused to accept. (fn. 5) An agreement was arrived at in 1269 as follows: Monk Bretton was to pay 20s. a year to Pontefract ad pitantiam, and the monks of Bretton were to have the free election of their prior and were to be free from all kind of subjection or obedience to Pontefract.

When, however, the monks of Bretton elected a prior they were to send for the Prior of Pontefract to Pontefract, and not elsewhere, that the elect might be installed by him. If the prior was not at Pontefract, the Prior of Bretton was to be installed by the sub-prior, or third Prior of Pontefract, but the Prior and convent of Pontefract were to have no right of objecting to the elected Prior of Bretton. The Prior and convent of Pontefract were to obtain a confir mation of this order by the Priors and convents of Cluny and La Charité and the monks of Bretton then at Cluny were to be set free and return to Bretton.

Either the Prior and convent of Pontefract failed to leave Bretton to itself, or the monks of the latter house decided that their independence could only be secured by a total and complete severance of their house from the Cluniac order. For at a visitation of the English Cluniac houses made in 1279 (fn. 6) by order of the Abbot of Cluny the visitors reported as follows, regarding Monk Bretton:—

On Monday preceding the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin (8 September) we arrived at the priory of Monk Bretton, accompanied by certain officers of the sheriff . . .

Knocking at the outer gate, we demanded admittance in the name of our Lord Abbot, on whose service we had come to carry out the visitation of the house. To this we received no answer. Again and again the knocking was repeated, but to our continued demand for admission the portal-gate remained persistently closed. A certain person, however, whose name was William de Riole, seemed to be acting for the prior and sub-prior and the rest of the convent, on this occasion, and upon him, in presence of all, we proceeded to pass sentence of excommunication; which being done publicly and in writing, we took our departure. The same day we immediately reported the matter to the king, and to the sheriff, and in due course received the following commands and instructions:—By the king we were ordered to take into custody the above William de Riole; and the sheriff directed us to force or make good our entrance into the priory. As for myself, I quitted the spot, but left the Prior of Montacute to await the necessary warrants and summonses. On their arrival we returned to Monk Bretton Priory, accompanied by the bailiff and other sheriff's officers. On entering the priory, he at once proceeded to the church, and knocked at the door of the chapter-house. Certain of the inmates, habited in the dress of the order, were there; some were sitting in the cloisters. The visiting prior then entered the chapter-house, in order to carry out the duties of his office, but. not a single monk appeared, and being asked the reason, the fraternity affirmed, one and all, that they had no intention of attending; their prior was away, and they would not attend without him. Upon this the Prior of Montacute, in presence of the entire assemblage, proceded to pass sentence of excommunication upon the said William, the prior, the sub-prior and the whole contumacious community, proclaiming them so excommunicated on the part of the Abbot of Cluny, and revoking at the same time the compact or agreement which was in existence between the priories, declaring it null and void. Upon this the Prior of Pontefract withdrew at once, without either eating or drinking or holding any further communication between them. It will be imperative to interfere very seriously in this matter, and consider what measures are to be adopted.

This revolt was followed up at the beginning of the following year by the subjection of the monks as Benedictines to Archbishop Wickwane. It has hitherto escaped attention that within just a century after its foundation the priory of Monk Bretton ceased to be a Cluniac house, and remained Benedictine, pure and simple, till the Dissolution. Four months after the refusal of the convent to respond to the demands of the Prior of Montacute as Cluniac visitor, Archbishop Wickwane visited the house, and on 4 January 1280-1, (fn. 7) was received by William de Richale, the prior, and the ' whole concourse' of the convent in the chapter-house, where the prior, sub-prior, and all the monks, individually, promised canonical obedience to the archbishop and embodied their vows in a deed, signed and sealed by the prior with his seal, the seal of the convent being also appended unanimi conventis nostri assensu. The archbishop then proceeded with his visitation, and those things which he found worthy of correction he expounded ' vive vocis oraculo eisdem, medicinaliter corrigenda.'

From this time forward special emphasis seems to be laid on the fact that Monk Bretton was a Benedictine priory, both in the Papal Letters and also in the Archiepiscopal Registers. An attempt was, however, made to re-assert jurisdiction over the house for the Abbot of Cluny in 1289-90, (fn. 8) which Archbishop Romanus strenuously contested, with the result that afterwards no more seems to have been done in the way of trying to force Monk Bretton to continue its connexion with the order of Cluny. The house continued, however, to pay £1 yearly to the priory of Pontefract up to the time of the dissolution of the latter. (fn. 9) Archbishop Romanus wrote to Henry, Earl of Lincoln, that certain persons of the Cluniac order were endeavouring to hold visitacionem absurdam in the monastery of Monk Bretton which belonged to his jurisdiction, and in which he and his predecessors had hitherto been in full and peaceable possession of visiting and correcting. (fn. 10) The archbishop called upon the earl not in any way to aid the Cluniacs on this occasion. This letter to the Earl of Lincoln was accompanied by another (fn. 11) to the Dean of Doncaster, and Mgr. William de Stokes, vicar of Felkirk, enjoining them to repair to Monk Bretton, and the doors of the monastery being closed against such presumers, they were to warn them when they arrived to retract their error and withdraw. Otherwise they were to denounce these disturbers solemnly excommunicate.

What actually took place does not appear, but on 10 May 1290 (fn. 12) the archbishop gave Brother William, Prior of the monastery of Monk Bretton, ' nobis et ecclesie nostre Ebor' immediate subjectum et ab obediencia ordinis Cluneacensis exemptum,' who for long time had gained praise within and without the diocese for his religious life and for a long period had borne rule in the monastery, a general letter of commendation to those whom he might visit. There is another letter dated 29 May (fn. 13) from the archbishop to the king on behalf of the prior, who is again said to be exempt from Cluniac jurisdiction and directly subject to the archbishop. The archbishop informed the king that William de Richale ' non est fugitivus aut vagabundus,' and he prayed the king to revoke a letter sent to the Sheriff of York, on behalf of the Cluniae order, so that neither the monastery nor the archbishop's jurisdiction over it should be weakened. The next information is the resignation of Prior Richale on 21 September 1291, (fn. 14) and the confirmation in the chapter-house of Monk Bretton of William de Eboraco, one of the monks, elected in his stead.

In 1293 (fn. 15) the archbishop held a visitation of the house and sent on 6 September his decretum thereon. The prior was not to be an acceptor of persons, and was to remember that the goods of the house were common property. The brethren were to be punished for their faults, but not in the presence of laymen. The cellarer, when not occupied with business inside or outside the house, was to sleep in the dormitory, and be present at matins and say mass. Brother William de Waddeworth, whose fault is not stated, was to be sent to Whitby, (fn. 16) to undergo a penance there. The sub-cellarer was to abstain from upbraiding the brethren, and to behave more respectfully (honestius) than he was wont to do to the archbishop. If any monks were incorrigible, the prior was to inform the archbishop. Brothers Roger de Kelsey, Walter de Holgate, and Nicholas de Pontefracto, were to undergo their penances devoutly. It is not said what faults they had been guilty of, but Roger de Kelsey was not to go out of the cloister for a year, and was to take the last place in the convent. Walter de Holgate was not to go out for half a year, and was to be the third last (tercius ultimus) in the convent, during that time. Nicholas de Pontefracto was to keep his place in the convent, but was not to go out for a quarter of a year; and on Wednesdays and Fridays all three were to fast on bread, ale and vegetables.

Richard de Halghton succeeded William de Eboraco as prior in November 1304. (fn. 17) His rule, though a long one, did not end happily. On 2 July 1323 (fn. 18) Archbishop Melton wrote to John de Collyngham, sub-prior, and John Boyle, precentor of the monastery, as to the wasteful expenditure of their house, and directed them to demand, in his name, from their prior, the keys of the treasury and of other buildings, to lock up all the property belonging to the house, in the sight of three or four of the older and wiser of their brethren. He further enjoined that all the money for their wool or any other money coming to them was to be safely kept in the manner above noted, so that the prior meantime could not lay hands upon it. Boyle appears to have been also one of the bursars, and on 16 July (fn. 19) the archbishop wrote that it was reported that brother John Boyle was not of sufficient industry to hold the office of bursar, and if this were so, they were to remove him, and choose another better fitted for the office. The archbishop also intimated his intention of visiting the monastery, when other matters would be corrected. There is no record of the proceedings at such a visitation, but on 22 August (fn. 20) the archbishop deposed the prior, charging him with wasting the goods of the monastery and perjury committed in the chancery court of the king, by pledging the priory in £ 1,000 to Godfrey de Staynton and William Scot, and other misdeeds. Richard de Halghton's deposition was followed by the election of his successor, (fn. 21) at which twelve monks recorded their votes, the late prior not being one of them.

William de Went received five votes, and William de Staynton three. The archbishop quashed the double election of William de Went and William de Staynton, made in discordia. As, however, most voted for William de Went, the archbishop on 26 September appointed him to the office. (fn. 22)

Richard de Halghton after his deposition left the house for a time, which accounts for his vote not being recorded at the election. He returned, however, shortly afterwards, absque magno strepitu, as the archbishop described it in a letter to the prior and convent dated 20 November 1323. (fn. 23) He was to have his former order as a monk, and if he conducted himself well and served God laudably, the archbishop intended, at the instance of the queen and others, to provide more generously for him. On 3 January following (fn. 24) the archbishop directed that Richard de Halghton was to have a separate chamber within the monastery and one of the monks as his chaplain, according to the ordinance of the prior, as well as a double portion of allowance of the food of a monk, 20s. a year pro speciebus and clothes from the convent, as well as a portion for a servant.

The troubles of the house did not, however, cease, although unfortunately little more than hints are given as to what was going on. Pope John XXII issued a mandate, dated in November 1326, (fn. 25) to the Prior of Thornholme to go to the Benedictine monastery of Bretton and inquire as to a charge by Henry de Sandal, one of the monks, against William de Went the prior, of dilapidation and other crimes. The prior was charged with having made William Bassett, an apostate Friar Preacher, sub-prior, against the will and protest of the monks. Robert de Langestoft, who was excommunicate and a forger of papal letters, had been made cellarer, and the monks who would give evidence on these points had been shut up, and in the archbishop's absence the prior had obtained favour by gifts to nobles and powerful men of the city and diocese. A report was to be sent to the pope and the prior cited before him. What report was sent is not known, but William Bassett, the apostate Friar Preacher, was no credit to Monk Bretton and caused a great deal of trouble. On 20 August 1331 (fn. 26) Archbishop Melton sent him to Whitby for punishment as a sower of discord in the convent, and as having admitted the sin of incontinence. In his letter to Whitby the archbishop said that Bassett had been found guilty de excessibus enormibus. He returned after a while to Monk Bretton, and in 1340 made complaint of the excessive correction from which he had suffered in the monastery of Monk Bretton. (fn. 27) The complaint against William de Went cannot have been substantiated, for he retained office for the next seven years and resigned in July 1338. (fn. 28)

In 1380-1 the prior was taxed at 27s. 0¼d., and there were ten other monks each taxed at 3s. 4d. (fn. 29)

In 1404 another complaint reached Rome from the convent itself against its prior, and on 19 April 1404 (fn. 30) Boniface IX issued a mandate to the Archbishop of York to summon William, Benedictine Prior of Monk Bretton, and if he found, as the recent petition of the convent contained, that he had dilapidated and alienated its goods and continued to do so, to deprive him, license the convent to elect another prior, and confirm the election. Apparently the complaint of the convent was substantiated, for on 20 December 1404 (fn. 31) Archbishop Scrope confirmed the election of John de Crofton as prior, vice William de Ardesley resigned.

Monk Bretton was one of the greater houses, which escaped dissolution under the earlier Act. Its temporalities (fn. 32) were derived from property, mostly in its immediate neighbourhood, but including a few small possessions in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, and Lancashire. The spiritualities were the two consolidated moieties of the church of Bolton-on-Dearne, the churches of Monk Bretton alias Lund, Darton, Royston, and Hickleton. The gross annual revenue was £323 8s. 2d., and the clear value £239 3s. 6d.

The house was surrendered on 21 November 1539 (fn. 33) by the prior and thirteen monks. Their goods and cattle were sold for £347 3s. 8d., the lead of the church amounted to 39 fodders and there were seven bells.

The plate (fn. 34) belonging to Monk Bretton at the time of the Dissolution was as follows: ' Item. j crosse of wodd plated wt silver. Item. an oder wodd crosse having the iiij evangelistes enameled. Item. fyve chalices. Item. j little pixe gylt. Item. ij crewetes. It. j gret squair salt wt cou' parcell gilt. It. j oder squair salt wtout cou' parcel gilt. Item. xij spoones. It. j standing piece wt cou' gylt. It. j pounced piece. It. ij little pieces. It. iij masors. It. j goblet wt cover parcell gilt.'

There were fourteen monks pensioned at the Dissolution. (fn. 35) William Browne the prior received £40 a year; Thomas Normanton, subprior, and William Roieston, cellarer, each £7; three others £6 each, seven £5 6s. 8d., and one (John Pontefract) £6 13s. 4d.

Priors Of Monk Bretton


Adam (the first prior) (fn. 36)

Roger, early 13th century (fn. 37)

Adam II, occurs 1227 (fn. 38)

Adam de Norhampton, intruded, occurs 1259 (fn. 39) and 1266 (fn. 40)

R— 1267 (fn. 41)

William de Richale, occurs 1279 (fn. 42)


William de Richale, occurs 1280, (fn. 43) resigned 1291 (fn. 44)

William de Eboraco, confirmed 1291, (fn. 45) occurs 1297 (fn. 46)

Richard de Halghton, confirmed 1304, (fn. 47) deprived 1323 (fn. 48)

William de Went, 1323, (fn. 49) resigned 1338 (fn. 50)

William de Appleby, confirmed 1338 (fn. 51)

William de Staynton, occurs 1347, (fn. 52) died 1349 (fn. 53)

Hugh Brerley, confirmed 1349 (fn. 54)

John de Birthwaite, 1363, (fn. 55) occurs 1370 (fn. 56)

William de Ardesley, 1387, (fn. 57) resigned 1404 (fn. 58)

John de Crofton, 1404, (fn. 59) resigned 1407 (fn. 60)

Thomas Dolldale or Dowdale, confirmed 1407, (fn. 61) died 1425 (fn. 62)

John de Crofton (second time), elected 1425 (fn. 63)

Richard de Ledes, occurs 1435, (fn. 64) 1442, (fn. 65) 1452, (fn. 66) 1484 (fn. 67)

William Batley, elected 1486, (fn. 68) died 1494 (fn. 69)

Robert Drax, confirmed 1494 (fn. 70)

Roger (fn. 71)

Thomas Tickhill, confirmed 1504 (fn. 72)

William Browne, confirmed 1523 (fn. 73)

A seal, apparently of the 12th century, is a vesica, 2¾ in. by 2 in.; showing a full-length figure of St. Mary Magdalene, the patron saint. Of the legend only the word MARIE remains. (fn. 74)


  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 131.
  • 2. Ibid. 136, no. i.
  • 3. Ibid. no. ii.
  • 4. Ibid. 137, no. iii.
  • 5. Assize R. 1050, m. 13.
  • 6. Yorks. Arch. Journ. xii, 398, quoting Duckett, Visit. of Engl. Cluniac Houses.
  • 7. York Archiepis. Reg. Wickwane, fol. 135b.
  • 8. Ibid. Romanus, fol. 35.
  • 9. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), v, 42, 'de priore et conventu de Monk Burton 1l.'
  • 10. York Archiepis. Reg. Romanus, fol. 35. ' Nos et predecessores nostri.' This a distinct over-statement of the case, as it was his immediate predecessor, Wickwane who, as already recorded, was first received by the prior and monks only nine years before, and then in the face of the opposition of the representatives of the Abbot of Cluny.
  • 11. York Archiepis. Reg. Romanus, fol. 35.
  • 12. York Archiepis. Reg. Romanus, fol. 35b.
  • 13. Ibid. fol. 36.
  • 14. Ibid. fol. 40.
  • 15. Ibid. fol. 44.
  • 16. Whitby Chartul. (Surt. Soc.), ii, 626. Monk Bretton was to pay 50s. yearly for his maintenance at Whitby.
  • 17. York Archiepis. Reg. sed. vac. fol. 44b (1304, not 1305 as Mon. Angl. v, 135).
  • 18. Ibid. Melton, fol. 158b.
  • 19. Ibid. fol. 159.
  • 20. Ibid. fol. 160.
  • 21. Ibid.
  • 22. Ibid.
  • 23. Ibid. fol. 160b.
  • 24. York Archiepis. Reg. Melton, fol. 160b.
  • 25. Cal. of Papal Letters, ii, 254. The deliberate description of Monk Bretton as Benedictine should be noted. Other similar allusions occur in Cal. of Papal Letters, ii, 254; iv, 303; v, 117, 200, 604, and are almost universal in the Archiepiscopal Register when Monk Bretton is mentioned.
  • 26. York Archiepis. Reg. Melton, fol. 187. Monk Bretton was to pay 5 marks a year to Whitby for his keep.
  • 27. Ibid. sed. vac. fol. 49b.
  • 28. Ibid. Melton, fol. 215b.
  • 29. Subs. R. bdle. 63, no. 12.
  • 30. Cal. of Papal Letters, v, 604.
  • 31. York Archiepis. Reg. Scrope, fol. 43.
  • 32. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), v, 42.
  • 33. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 135.
  • 34. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (2), 1172.
  • 35. Ibid. xiv (1), p. 67.
  • 36. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 136, no. i.
  • 37. Harl. Chart. 83, C. 36.
  • 38. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 140.
  • 39. Harl. Chart. 112, F. 28.
  • 40. Assize R. 1050, m. 13.
  • 41. Archbp. Giffard's Reg. 155.
  • 42. As William de ' Riole,' Yorks. Arch. Journ. xii, 398.
  • 43. York Archiepis. Reg. Wickwane, fol. 35b.
  • 44. Ibid. Romanus, fol. 21.
  • 45. a Ibid.
  • 46. b Lansd. MS. 405 (Cartul. of Monk Bretton), fol. 14d.
  • 47. York Archiepis. Reg. sed. vac. fol. 44b.
  • 48. Ibid. Melton, fol. 160b.
  • 49. Ibid.; Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 140, gives ' Wentbrig' as an alternative form of his name, but it is always 'Went' only in the Registers, where it frequently occurs.
  • 50. York Archiepis. Reg. Melton, fol. 215b.
  • 51. Ibid.
  • 52. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 140.
  • 53. York Archiepis. Reg. Zouch, fol. 39.
  • 54. Ibid.
  • 55. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 135.
  • 56. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 140.
  • 57. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 135.
  • 58. York Archiepis. Reg. Scrope, fol. 43.
  • 59. Ibid.
  • 60. Ibid. sed. vac. fol. 290.
  • 61. Ibid.
  • 62. Ibid. fol. 408b.
  • 63. Ibid.
  • 64. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 140.
  • 65. Ibid.
  • 66. Cott. Chart. xxviii, 88.
  • 67. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 99.
  • 68. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 135.
  • 69. York Archiepis. Reg. Rotherham, i, fol. 83.
  • 70. Ibid.
  • 71. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 99.
  • 72. York Archiepis. Reg. Savage, fol. 37.
  • 73. Ibid. Wolsey, fol. 71b.
  • 74. Cat. of Seals, B.M. 3657; Harl. Chart. 84, B. 28.