Omnes barones qui fundaverunt abbatias, unde habent cartas regum Angliae, vel antiquam tenuram, habeant earum custodiam cum vacaverint, sicut habere debent.
All barons who have founded abbeys for which they have charters of the kings of England, or ancient tenure, are to have the custody of them when they are vacant, as they should have.
Clause 46 is the only one in Magna Carta to be solely concerned with the ecclesiastical rights of laymen (there is also a phrase devoted to the same subject in Clause 53). The descendants of barons who founded religious houses inherited various rights in them, spiritual and secular. They could expect to benefit from their prayers, during their lives and after their deaths, when they were usually buried in them alongside their forebears. They could hope to be able to provide their clerks with livelihoods by appointing them to churches which had been granted to the monasteries of which they were patrons, and they also commonly had custody of those monasteries after the death of an abbot or prior, and had a role (its terms varied greatly) in the choice of his successor. The king enjoyed the same rights in monasteries founded by his predecessors, and also added to them from time to time, permanently when a baron’s lands reverted to him for lack of heirs or through forfeiture, temporarily when a baron died and his lands, with the rights attached to them, came into the king’s hands because the heir was a minor and consequently in his wardship. But this was not always enough for Henry II and his successors, and there is evidence that they regarded themselves as having superior rights over all monasteries described as abbeys, that is, the larger and wealthier houses. When the canons of Woodham Ferrers had their priory made an abbey by Richard I in 1190, their action was bitterly resented by the patron, Geoffrey FitzPeter, who saw it as significantly compromising his own interests there.
King John twice made grants of the crozier (`the pastoral staff’) in terms which suggest that he regarded patronal rights as his to dispose of. When a papal interdict was imposed on England in 1208, he responded with widespread confiscations of monastic property, which he often then placed in the hands of the patrons of the houses concerned, but as an act of royal grace, not as a matter of right. Evidence is scarce for his usurpation of patronal rights in specific cases (there are serious gaps in the records for the period 1208-13), but sufficient to show what could happen. At Kenilworth Priory a disputed election gave John an excuse to impose his own candidate as prior and receive the revenues of the house for several years, ignoring the rights of the patron completely. At Whitby Abbey those rights had come to be shared by two members of the Percy family, one of whom was a royal ward. This gave John the opportunity to exploit all the resources of the abbey, not just half of them, and to present to its churches when these fell vacant. And at Tewkesbury and Keynsham Abbeys, both founded by lords of the honour of Gloucester in the twelfth century, John withheld patronal rights when the lands of the honour were conveyed to Geoffrey de Mandeville, earl of Essex, following his marriage to Isabel of Gloucester, who happened to be the king’s own first wife. If in acting thus John showed that he understood the value of a patron’s rights in a monastery, he also displayed his own insensitivity concerning matters which could have significant emotional appeal as well as economic value. Clause 46 shows that the barons saw their rights in similar terms, and were determined to preserve them.
Clause 46 follows no. 43 among the Articles of the Barons very closely. It differs from it in spelling out that its beneficiaries are to be all the barons who have founded abbeys, and in adding that these are to have the transmitted right `as they should have’, as if to underline the king’s delinquency in withholding it, but there are no differences of substance. Both Clause and Article are, however, oddly placed in their respective documents. The immediate predecessor of each is the same, the king’s undertaking to appoint as his officials only men who know the law of the land and can be trusted to maintain it. But whereas among the Articles, no. 42 is the third of a small group primarily concerned to exclude foreigners from positions of power and influence, whether as soldiers or administrators, around the king and in the government of the realm, Clauses 45 and 46 of the Charter are sandwiched between clauses dealing with the royal forests, and the two further clauses prescribing the exclusion of aliens come later. As a result, both Article 43 and Clause 46 have the appearance of a measure dealing with an issue which was regarded as needing a remedy, but which had no obvious context in either document within which it should be placed. This may have been because Clause 46 is the only clause in the Charter to be solely concerned specifically with baronial rights in the church, and it is also the only one relating to monasteries (a short passage in Clause 53 which also deals with these issues appears to be linked to Clause 46, though the clumsiness of its phrasing obscures its purpose – it is discussed below).
By the thirteenth century the patronage of monasteries in England had proliferated widely. Out of 425 religious houses for which the necessary evidence survives, 106 may be reckoned as falling within the patronage of the crown. A further twenty-seven had bishops as patrons, but far more had lay patrons – eighty-nine had earls, and at least 203 had barons and lesser landowners, as their patrons.1 Patronage in this context entailed a wide range of rights and privileges, usually resulting from descent from the original founder of the religious house concerned, though they could also be transferred from person to person like any other form of property. They included important spiritual benefits, notably the right to burial in the monastic church, and prayers and good works for the well-being of the soul of the founder and of his or her descendants.2 When Hugh (ii) Mortimer of Wigmore died in 1180/1, and was buried in his foundation of Wigmore Abbey, it was a source of comfort to his son and heir to learn that his father’s commemoration there included a daily mass, the singing each week of the office of the dead, accompanied by distributions of bread and ale to the poor, and every year on the anniversary of his death a further distribution to 100 paupers, each of whom received a loaf of bread, two herrings and soup.3
But the secular advantages inherent in the patronage of a monastery were no less important. In general terms, a well-run monastery could be a source of prestige for its founder and his heirs. Links between a lord and his retainers or tenants could be forged or strengthened by a shared interest in a monastery, if they united to confer benefits upon it or had relatives among its inmates. A religious house could be expected to provide its lord with hospitality if he needed it, and if it had had churches appropriated to it, then these could be used, by agreement, to provide the means of support for the patron’s clerks, a point clearly illustrated by events in the history of the Benedictine priory (later abbey) of Walden. The foundation charter which Geoffrey (i) de Mandeville, earl of Essex, granted to Walden in Stephen’s reign conveyed no fewer than nineteen churches to the monks,4 causing Geoffrey’s second son William, his eventual successor as earl, to complain later that `his father had confirmed all the churches of his fee to our monastery, so that he had been unable to grant a single one of these to his own clerks ...’.5 It was to solve this difficulty that William made an agreement with the monastery which gave him, `personally’, the right to present the clerk of his choice to any one of seven specified churches which fell vacant during his lifetime. This agreement lapsed on the earl’s death in 1189, but the issue clearly remained a contested one, for one of the by-products of the quarrel between the monks and Geoffrey FitzPeter, William’s successor as earl of Essex and patron of Walden (described in more detail below), was a dispute over Geoffrey’s right to present to the abbey’s churches, one which was resolved by a compromise similar to the earlier agreement with Earl William. Geoffrey relinquished his claims, but on condition that he and his first-born son should have the right to present suitable persons to nine named churches (only three of them had appeared in the earlier agreement) during their lifetimes.6
Some lords had the right to nominate an inmate, which could be useful, for instance, for a father needing to provide for an unmarried daughter or a younger son. And above all, although the land granted to an abbey or priory at or after its foundation could seldom be recovered, it could still be controlled, with appropriate discretion, through the founder’s ability to influence the election of its head when the house fell vacant, and to administer its estates for as long as a vacancy lasted. The importance to a patron of his role in the choice of a monastic superior is well brought out by the emphatic complaint of the Lincolnshire landowner Thomas Darcy in 1200, that the canons of Nocton, a small Augustinian house a few miles south-east of Lincoln, had elected their prior and presented him to the bishop, `who admitted him when he should not have done so, because that house is situated on his inheritance and his ancestors who were founders have elected and presented etc.’7 Such a claim, implying straighforward nomination, was becoming outmoded by this time, but many monastic founders clearly expected, or even demanded, to play at least an indirect part in elections, and no doubt they usually made their preferences clear and obtained the results they wanted (which must often have been those the monks wanted as well).
There is no reason to suppose that the king had been in any way involved in the foundation of Nocton Priory, or of most other monasteries founded by lay lords (Darley Abbey in Derbyshire, which was founded by Robert de Ferrers, second earl of Derby, on royal demesne late in Stephen’s reign, was probably an exception).8 The terms in which the link between monasteries and their founders is set out by Clause 46 are consequently unexpected. Its beneficiaries are the barons, not the monasteries, and it makes the former’s right to custody dependent on their having either royal charters or ancient tenure. But although royal charters for monasteries are very common, charters for barons as patrons of monasteries are very rare indeed. Charters for laymen occasionally include such phrases as in advocacionibus ecclesiarum et capellarum or in ecclesiis et capellis among the terms under which a privileged grant of land is to be held, but not only do such expressions appear but rarely, they are also irrelevant to monasteries. It seems possible therefore, that the reference to charters was primarily included for the sake of completeness, and that for most religious houses ancient tenure – that is from before 1135, since the reign of Stephen did not count – was the principal justification for a founder’s rights.
The king’s right to appoint to a vacant monastery when forfeiture, escheat or wardship brought a lay founder’s other lands and rights into his hands was unquestioned. Thus the monastic chronicler who recorded the death of Abbot Robert of Chester in 1184 entered no complaint when he described how the assets of the monastery were seized into the king’s hands and entrusted to a royal clerk, who accounted for them at the exchequer (they did not yield much). Earl Ranulf (iii) of Chester was a minor, and had been in the king’s wardship since the death of his father in 1181, and so control of the abbey passed to Henry II, who in 1185 cooperated with the archbishop of Canterbury in appointing Abbot Robert’s successor.9 But kings were seldom content only to maintain their traditional rights, Angevin kings least of all, and were constantly on the look-out for opportunities to extend them. In around 1176 Henry II was able to take over the small Augustinian priory of Woodham Ferrers in Essex (later known as Bicknacre) by pardoning debts of some £275 owed to the crown by its founder, Maurice FitzGeoffrey of Tilty, a former sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire – in his charter for the canons, the king confirmed them in the lands granted them by Maurice, which in future they were to hold `as if of my own gift’ (sicut de meo proprio dono).10
Woodham Ferrers remained a priory throughout its history. Clause 46 spoke of abbeys, perhaps deliberately, for there is evidence that both Henry II and Richard I claimed that all abbeys were, or should be, in the king’s gift.11 Indeed, an explicit statement to that effect was recorded by Adam of Eynsham, in his account of how in the mid-1190s Bishop Hugh of Lincoln defended his own right to appoint a new abbot of Eynsham against the crown, whose representatives warned him that `Henry, the king’s father, had made a general ordinance (generali constitutione) by which all the abbeys of the kingdom were to be in his gift’, and added that King Richard was unlikely to allow the bishop `to exercise his privilege although it had been obtained in the days of his ancestors, in spite of his father’s decree (decretum) ...’.12 That Hugh nevertheless persevered in his claim and obtained a judgment in his favour in the Curia Regis may indicate that Henry II’s `decree’ was more a statement of intent, or even of wishful thinking, than a formal enactment. But that he and his successor were indeed thinking in such terms is suggested by another case, involving the Essex priory of Walden.
Walden was founded in Stephen’s reign by Geoffrey (i) de Mandeville, earl of Essex, who died in 1144 when in rebellion against King Stephen and consequently forfeited his lands. Early in the next reign these were restored to his son Geoffrey (ii) by Henry II, along with the comital title, but Henry `did not grant him the monastery of St James as well, but kept it and all its appurtenances in his own hands ...’.13 Consequently when Prior William died in 1164, the monastery passed into the hands of the king, who appointed a successor after his officers had administered it for over a year (they did not account for any revenue at the exchequer).14 Around the same time Earl Geoffrey died, to be succeeded by his brother William de Mandeville, who with the earldom `succeeded wholly and fully to the manors and all other rightful possessions, with the sole exception of the Tower of London ...’.15 It is unclear whether those `rightful possessions’ included the patronage of Walden Priory, and no opportunity to put the matter to the test arose during Earl William’s lifetime, since when he died, late in 1189, the prior was still that Reginald whom Henry II had nominated in 1166. But that the king had retained at the very least a commanding say in the affairs of the monastery is shown by events in the following year, when the monks, on Prior Reginald’s initiative, appealed to Richard I to have the status of their house raised to that of an abbey. Clearly they believed that the king was the proper person to decide upon this, and Richard, who was then in Poitou, manifestly agreed with them, for in a writ to the justiciar, William de Longchamp, he commanded him to inquire whether the priory was sufficiently endowed, whether it was free from subjection to any other monastery, `and whether my father of good memory, King Henry, had the last presentation to it, and instituted Prior Reginald who is installed in the same priory ...’. If these conditions were met, he concluded, `then we desire, command and direct that that priory from this time forward and for ever more be made an abbey in the name of the Lord’. Longchamp’s report must have been satisfactory, for on 1 August 1190 Walden Priory became Walden Abbey.16
A few months earlier the extensive Mandeville barony had been granted to Geoffrey FitzPeter, but he did not also obtain the patronage of Walden, which the king retained for himself. That Richard did this because the monastery had become an abbey is suggested by Geoffrey’s bitter response to its elevation. He clearly claimed to have rights at Walden, for in 1191 he made it a formal visit and, then, standing at the chapter-house door, `he turned to the abbot in great indignation and burst out with these words, in the hearing of everybody: “My lord abbot, you and your monks have disinherited me and mine by turning my priory into an abbey. You have cast me aside and subjected yourselves completely to the power of the king” ...’.17 He therefore conducted a sustained campaign of persecution against the monks and their property, and when in 1199, by now justiciar, he helped to secure Count John’s succession to the throne, and was made earl of Essex at the coronation feast, he tried to take advantage of the new king’s favour by asking him to make the abbey a priory again. When John refused, Geoffrey made a direct appeal for a leading role in the process whereby abbots were in future chosen – in the words of the abbey chronicle (probably with a fair amount of exaggeration), `he wanted to be allowed to deprive our house, at some future time, of its pastor, to hold it in his own hand as an hereditary right, to make provision for the abbot to be elected formally by the brethren, and thereafter, in so far as it seemed permissible for a layman, to institute the abbot of his own choice ...’.18 For Geoffrey FitzPeter, and no doubt for other monastic patrons too, control of an abbey during a vacancy, and then a formal role in the election of its superior, were the most important of their rights, and the ones most seriously compromised by royal usurpation.
In 1199 King John had granted his justiciar’s request, being unwilling, according to a confirmation charter issued by Archbishop Hubert Walter, `to withhold another’s right unjustly’.19 Probably John was less concerned with the justice of the case than to win the support of the man at the head of the government of England, and another grant which he made early in his reign, relevant to the issue of monastic patronage, may have been influenced by similar considerations. On 16 August 1200 John showed his gratitude (fulsomely expressed) for the services of William Marshal by granting him, inter alia, `the right of presentation of the pastoral staff of Notley Abbey’ (donacionem baculi pastoralis abbacie de Nuthlegha), this being `of his fee’20 – one of the rights that had come to the Marshal with his wife Isabel de Clare, a kinswoman of Earl Walter Giffard and his wife Ermengard, the founders of the abbey. Notley was one of the few Augustinian houses to be styled an abbey.21 This may have been due to its being one of the wealthier such monasteries, and also to its affiliation to the Arrouaisian order, but it may also have owed something to its having apparently acquired close links to the crown. In a confirmation charter for the canons issued on 19 April 1200, John referred to his father as having `taken the same canons and all their things and possessions from the hand of the aforementioned earl into his own hand, protection and custody, to be specially ruled as canons under his lordship (suos dominicos canonicos) ...’.22 The history of Notley is very badly documented, and it is only possible to say that there is no evidence that Henry II himself made the house an abbey as his son did Walden. But the wording of Henry’s charter, as repeated in his son’s, nevertheless suggests that the king’s position vis-à-vis the monastery entailed something more than mere benevolence, and it seems clear that John believed that the right to present its head, given physical form in the abbot’s crozier, was his to give away, and in his own charter he spelt out that the Marshal would thereafter hold that right from the crown.
The crozier was thus a symbol of ecclesiastical lordship, as it was again in March 1208, when John responded to the imposition of an interdict on England and Wales by ordering a wholesale confiscation of ecclesiastical property, including that of monasteries – in 1213 a litigant referred to the king as having placed a keeper in the Norfolk abbey of St Benet of Hulme, `as he did in all the religious houses in England’.23 John soon began to relax his grip, and most religious houses were handed back to the superiors who had been directing their affairs before the interdict, having first paid for their release.24 According to the Meaux chronicler, every religious house made fine to recover its possessions except for his own, where Prior Alexander refused to pay the 1000 marks (£666. 13s. 4d.) demanded in the king’s name by Richard Marsh, with results disastrous for himself and the monks.25
Some monasteries, however, along with their possessions, were placed in the hands of their lay patrons. One of the latter who was favoured in this way was Roger Bigod, earl of Norfolk. On 6 April 1208 the king ordered that he should have `all the lands, rents and things of abbots whose crozier is in his gift (unde crocia pertinet ad donacionem suam)’, as well as those of clerks and of priories and other religious houses.26 Most (not all) of these grants (which did not otherwise make reference to a crozier) were made to men of power and influence. Thus Cartmel was entrusted to William Marshal, Walden to Geoffrey FitzPeter, and Sele and Rusper to William de Briouze, while William Brewer, who had founded three monasteries between 1196 and 1201, received `the abbeys, priories and churches which are of his fee ...’.27 There is no reason to suppose that any of these houses, or others which were treated in this way, were vacant at this time, and they could therefore have been placed in the keeping of their abbots or priors. In entrusting them to their patrons, many of them men he might reasonably have wished to conciliate, or at least to avoid offending, John may have thought he was making effective use of a source of patronage which the interdict had given him. But he was also underlining the extent to which he regarded religious houses, like the croziers which symbolized control over them, as being potentially at his own disposal. It is significant in this context that when in Easter term 1208 proceedings between Ralph de Clere and Lewes Priory over Atlingworth church, Sussex, were suspended as a result of the interdict (as happened in a number of lawsuits involving religious houses at this time), the reason given was that `the priory is in the hand of Earl Warenne through the lord king’.28 As a descendant of the founder Warenne was the patron of the monastery (he was later buried there, as were almost all his forebears and descendants), but it was not this but an act of royal favour which placed it in his hands in 1208.
Although Clause 46 could be construed as implying that John went in for large-scale usurpation of the rights of founders and their kin in monasteries of their foundation, before and after the interdict, there is no clear evidence that he did so – it suited him better, and was more in keeping with his style of government, to let it be known that he had the power to seize upon rights of custody, and to commandeer monastic property and revenues, and to keep the threat of his doing so hanging over patronal heads. But there are three cases where he does seem to have intruded upon the rights of others, and to have exploited monastic vacancies at patrons’ expense. The three cases, involving Kenilworth Priory, Whitby Abbey and the monasteries founded by the ancestors of John’s first wife, Isabella of Gloucester, were different in character, however, for in the first John exploited an opening created.for him by others, whereas the second and third look more like straightforward acts of usurpation, in the case of Whitby one that was probably made easier by the patronal rights having become divided.
The Augustinian priory of Kenilworth was founded in around 1125 by Henry I’s chamberlain, Geoffrey de Clinton, who in his foundation charter gave the priory `the whole expanse (planam) of land of Kenilworth ... except for the parts of it which I have retained to make my castle and park ...’.29 Henry II’s confirmation charter, issued in 1163/4, extended the exceptions to include the borough and a fishpond.30 In 1173 or shortly afterwards, however, Henry took over the castle, having doubtless been alerted to its strategic value during the recent rebellion against his rule, and in 1179 made his possession permanent by forcing Henry de Clinton, Geoffrey’s grandson, to accept the Buckinghamshire manor of Swanbourne in exchange for Kenilworth Castle.31 Clinton may have tried to resist what was by any standard a most inequitable deal, but royal power was too great, and sometime between 1199 and 1203 he quitclaimed the castle to King John, while reserving his other property at Kenilworth with all its attendant liberties. Nothing was said about Clinton’s rights as patron of Kenilworth Priory, however, an omission which may have helped pave the way for the difficulties which followed.
Prior Silvester died on 6 August of a year which the priory chronicler, whose account of subsequent events is often hard to follow, and is also sometimes marred by imprecise chronology, records as 1203,32 but which is more likely to have been 1204, since on 8 August of that year the king entrusted custody of the vacant priory to two of his officers, before confirming Walter, formerly the cellarer of the house, as prior on the 21st.33 The chronicler described Walter as having been `truly elected and confirmed’, before telling how almost at once three discontented canons approached the king, and suggested to him `that he was the true patron, and the priory belonged to his gift, and that an adversary of his was now elected as prior ...’. As far as it is possible to tell, the dissidents’ claim was without the least foundation, but John lent a willing ear to their allegations, and when Walter came before him to obtain confirmation (perhaps a personal grant, to follow the earlier mandate), he was sent away again, while the `most wicked’ of his enemies, one William, was made prior in his stead and confirmed in office by an obliging bishop (unnamed, but most likely Geoffrey de Muschamp, bishop of Coventry).
For three years William wasted the goods of Kenilworth Priory, which was also in 1207 required to provide temporary accommodation for one of the king’s illegitimate sons,34 until at last the bishop conducted a visitation of the house. Hoping to forestall an investigation William appealed to the papal curia, but this recourse was in vain, for judges-delegate were appointed to examine his rule, and in February 1208 they deposed him.35 When William went back to Rome in the hope of being restored to office, Innocent III turned a deaf ear, but he had more success with King John, to whom his complaint that he had been deposed `in dishonour and enmity to him [the king]’, when combined with insinuations about the extension of papal power at the expense of royal authority, became all the more plausible later in the year following the imposition of the interdict. Walter appears to have been restored to office, but his rule was largely nominal, for John installed William in the best of the priory’s manors and entrusted the custody of the house to a royal clerk, who with William and his two accomplices disposed of the monastery’s properties at their pleasure. In fact most of the revenues must have gone to the king, for the appointed clerk, Henry of Cerne, to whom the priory was committed on 20 August 1209, accounted for receipts totalling nearly £1300 between the following November and February 1213.36 Not until William died of a stroke on 2 September 1221 did the confusion come to an end and a regular succession of priors recommence.
Twice in January 1208 and again in December 1213 John treated the priory as vacant by presenting to churches impropriated to it (one of the beneficiaries was Henry of Cerne),37 even though in the latter year he himself owned to uncertainty as to his own rights in the monastery. On 30 August 1213 he ordered the constable of Kenilworth Castle and two other men to go to the priory together with a clerk of the archbishop of Canterbury, and there to `diligently inquire what right we have had and should have in the priory and the election of the prior, and what seisin we have had of it ...’.38 These instructions were probably the sequel to a mandate to elect a prior which John issued on 25 July 1213,39 and which resulted in William, the sub-prior of Osney Abbey, being chosen. This second William was not elected, however, until the summer of 1214,40 and the interval may have been due to reservations as to the validity of John’s order, or to his rights in the monastery, which therefore remained in the king’s hand in the meantime.
The man who was almost entirely overlooked during these events was the priory’s patron, Henry de Clinton, whose interests were acknowledged only in some modest payments for `services to the lords of the ground (fundorum) of the church of Kenilworth’.41 His rights in vacancies, and in the elections to the priorate which concluded them, were in fact extremely limited. In two letters to Archbishop Langton, undated but without much doubt to be associated with the investigation of the king’s claims in 1213, Clinton himself reported that from the time of its foundation the patrons of Kenilworth Priory had not claimed any `custody or lordship in that house or its possessions’, but only that after an election `the presentation of the elect’ belonged to them – the phrase suggests that they played a formal part in each new prior’s installation. A report made at the same time by the canons of Baswich, near Stafford, another Augustinian priory, added to this that following the death of a prior, the custom at Kenilworth was for the convent to proceed immediately to the election of his successor, without asking for consent or counsel from anybody.42
These limitations were such that strictly speaking Clause 46 could hardly have applied to Kenilworth Priory, since its patron did not claim the right protected by it. Nevertheless it seems unlikely that the clause’s drafters would have regarded what happened at Kenilworth as irrelevant to their concerns, involving as they did the installation of an unelected prior, presentations to the priory’s churches, and the appointment of a royal custodian who administered the possessions of the house for the benefit of the king. Indeed, when John intruded himself into the affairs of Kenilworth, he claimed far more than either the priory’s founder or his successors had done. But the issue was not a purely material one. Although Henry de Clinton’s ability to intervene in the monastery’s affairs, at elections to the priorate or any other time, was very restricted, this did not prevent his being an attentive patron, who issued a number of charters on the priory’s behalf, and following his death, sometime before 17 March 1218,43 he was buried in its chapter-house, alongside his father and grandfather – the priory chronicler referred to him as the `third founder’ of the house.44 For him, and no doubt for many other monastic patrons, there must also have been an important emotional attachment at stake, one closely associated with the role often played by monasteries as places of burial for the families of their founders. The latter function was one which kings tampered with at their peril, and it is not surprising that by September 1216 Clinton had joined the king’s enemies.45 He had a number of other grounds for resentment. A tenant-in-chief, albeit on a small scale, he is unlikely to have welcomed the loss of that status which followed John’s transfer of his service to William Brewer on 15 April 1204, with instructions that in future he should answer to William as his lord,46 and his family’s loss of Kenilworth Castle probably also continued to rankle. John’s treatment of Kenilworth Priory doubtless constituted a significant additional grievance.
The case of Whitby Abbey, an important Benedictine monastery on the North Yorkshire coast, was very different. The abbey had originated as a hermitage, established in around 1077 with the support of the Percys, the lords of Topcliffe, in the ruins of a famous Anglo-Saxon monastery, and after some years of uncertainty and strife the Percys also gave their backing, along with substantial benefactions, when in 1109 the hermitage became an independent Benedictine abbey, with a member of their family named William as its first abbot.47 The Percys were the founders and patrons of Whitby, recognised as such – in successive confirmation charters for the abbey, Henry II, Richard I and John all referred to `William de Percy and Alan his son its founders ...’.48 It is possible that the crown was regarded as having special rights of some kind where the abbey was concerned. From the thirteenth century onwards it was one of the monasteries whose heads were summoned to perform military service, but there is no evidence either that they did so,49 or that the abbey held land directly from the crown,50 and overall the Percy interest was clearly paramount - that William (ii) de Percy, who died in 1174/5, should have been referred to as the `advocate’ of the house underlined its close association with his family.51 His death, however, precipitated serious problems, for his heirs were his two daughters, Maud and Agnes, married to William de Newburgh, earl of Warwick, and Jocelin de Louvain respectively.52 In a partition of William’s lands made at Easter 1176 it was agreed that his rights in Whitby Abbey should be shared – Abbacia de Wytheby in communi53 – but this did not stop Henry II taking over the monastery, with its possessions, during a two-year vacancy in 1181-2,54 or Richard I doing the same in 1195.55
In 1204 Countess Maud died, and her heir was her great-nephew William (iii) de Percy, who was a minor – King John granted his wardship to William Brewer. Agnes had died a year earlier, and her heir was her younger son, Richard de Percy, who was of full age. There is no certain record of the death or resignation of Abbot Peter of Whitby, but it probably occurred between 26 October 1205, when the king gave a charter for the abbot and convent of Whitby, confirming them in the hermitage of Goathland,56 and Michaelmas 1206, when the prior, who had presumably since become the acting head of the house, was recorded as owing three palfreys for it.57 This would also explain why the abbey was again taken into the king’s hands, and its resources once more exploited on his behalf. In 1209 William of Wrotham accounted for £414. 1s. 9d., issues of the monastery from the previous three years once allowance had been made for the maintenance of the abbey and its occupants.58 In 1212 Gilbert FitzReinfred accounted for the revenues of a further two years, totalling £205. 2s. 8d.,59 while between that year and 1214 John presented to three of the abbey’s churches, together with a chapel.60 The fact that young William de Percy was under age could plausibly have given the king the right to half the monastery’s revenues during either his minority or the abbey’s vacancy (which did not end until 1214), but under the partition of 1176 the other half should have gone to Richard de Percy, making him at least £300 better-off. The fact that there is no evidence that John even considered giving Richard his share, or compensating him for it, must help to explain why he, too, became active in enmity to the king, and was one of the twenty-five barons appointed to enforce Magna Carta.
It would doubtless be going too far to suggest that Richard de Percy was solely responsible for the addition of Clause 46 to Magna Carta, not least because one other magnate can be shown to have had a direct interest in its inclusion. Letters sent to the sheriffs of Somerset and Gloucestershire on 23 and 24 June 1215 ordered each of them to put Geoffrey de Mandeville, earl of Essex and recently married to John’s first wife, Isabella of Gloucester, in possession of `the advowsons of the abbeys and religious houses which earls of Gloucester have founded in your county, and the liberties in the same which W[illiam] earl of Gloucester, the father of Isabella, the wife of the same G de Mandeville, had and ought to have.’61 The most important of the monasteries concerned was certainly Tewkesbury Abbey, Gloucestershire, with its daughter-houses of St James, Bristol, and Cranborne, Dorset, but Geoffrey could also claim the patronage of Keynsham Abbey, Somerset, along with that of Margam Abbey, Glamorgan. Tewkesbury, Keynsham and Margam were wealthy houses, with large monastic populations, and in the light of royal claims it may also be significant that all three were abbeys.
These monasteries had hitherto been under John’s own patronage, since following the annulment of his marriage to Isabella he kept control of nearly all her lands and rights.62 When she remarried, the advowsons were clearly not placed at the disposal of her second husband – on the evidence of the king’s directives, it was only the lands of the honour of Gloucester which were handed over.63 Those lands were taken back for several months when Mandeville failed to keep the terms for the payment of the huge fine demanded of him for his marriage by the king, but although the manor of Tewkesbury was returned to him on 9 August 1214,64 shortly after 18 August it was the justiciar Peter des Roches, acting in the name of the absent king, who ordered the royal custodians of Tewkesbury abbey, which had been vacant since 7 May, to give seisin of it to the newly elected Abbot Hugh.65 Still more tellingly, Keynsham Abbey, recorded as being vacant and in the hands of royal keepers at various times in May, August and October 1214,66 was finally given into the hands of a new abbot on 15 January 1215 on the direct orders of the king.67 In neither case was Geoffrey de Mandeville said to have been consulted or in any way involved – he could reasonably have expected, for instance, to be asked to licence the monks of Tewkesbury to proceed to the election of a new abbot, as Isabella’s third husband, Hubert de Burgh, was in 123268 – and he had clearly had no sort of custody of either Tewkesbury or Keynsham during their vacancies. John’s reluctance to lose control of what he, as well as the barons, clearly regarded as valuable rights of patronage, is demonstrated by his having at first ordered an investigation of the advowsons claimed by Mandeville,69 before he decided to make a virtue of necessity, cancelled the order, and commanded that he be put in possession of his rights without delay.
Evidence for other examples of the malpractice which Clause 46 aimed to remedy is undeniably scarce, although with this one, perhaps more than with most, the possibility has to be kept in mind that there were notorious cases which have been lost to sight, thanks to the disappearance of the chancery records of the years between 1208 and 1212, and of the pipe roll for 1213. . During the interdict John presented clerks to a large number of churches.70 Many of them were his own to dispose of, or had become so after 1204 because their patrons were Normans. Many other churches had been in the patronage of bishops who left the country following John’s excommunication, and were seized as a result. Where churches impropriated to monasteries were concerned, they were variously the property of vacant houses of which the king was the patron (except for Whitby and Kenilworth), or at his disposal as a result of a wardship or escheat, or had been forfeited by outlaws like William de Briouze, or sequestrated from the rebels of 1215/16.
Although these presentations no more provide evidence for extensive usurpations than other sources do, John’s withholding of Geoffrey de Mandeville’s rights, together with his treatment of Kenilworth and Whitby, and his apparent persistence in the general claim to the patronage of abbeys asserted by his father and elder brother, suggest that the barons were well-advised to want to secure their rights in abbeys founded by their ancestors. This is also argued by the inclusion of this issue, albeit in a rather different form, in Clause 53 of Magna Carta, where it was one of the points concerning which John was granted the crusader’s three-year remission before he could be required to deal with it. Referring in a convoluted way to `abbeys which were founded on a fee other than our own, in which the lord of the fee has claimed his right ...’, the ungainly Latin phrasing of Clause 53, taken together with the fact that it has no corresponding entry among the Articles of the Barons, may indicate that it was a late addition to Magna Carta, inserted by barons who were dissatisfied with some of the latter’s clauses. Where rights over monasteries were concerned, they may have objected to Clause 46’s making no mention of redress, and being confined to vacancies – the relevant phrase in Clause 53 seemingly envisaged numerous claims against the crown, over unspecified matters, on which `full justice’ was in due course to be done.
Monastic patronage may have counted for more than has sometimes been appreciated – not only by scholars but also by King John, it is arguably a sign of his lack of political wisdom that he failed to understand what their patronage of an ancestral foundation could mean to those whose rights he infringed. It could have been a matter of status, as it doubtless was for Robert FitzWalter, as he made strenuous efforts to retain control over Binham Priory,71 or it might have entailed emotional issues of the kind that surely moved the Clintons in their relations with Kenilworth Priory, described above – the fact that monasteries often acted as family mausoleums inevitably gave them a special value to their baronial patrons. Since John’s opportunistic style of government meant that the threat to the latter’s rights was ever present, and was occasionally realised, both policy and feeling led to his adversaries taking precautions against it.
S. Wood, English monasteries and their patrons in the thirteenth century (Oxford, 1955), 6-7. What follows is indebted throughout to this excellent book.
Apart from Wood, op. cit., passim, see also E. Mason, `Timeo barones et dona ferentes’, D. Baker (ed.), Religious motivation: biographical and social problems for the church historian, Studies in church history 15 (Blackwell, Oxford, 1978), 61-75.
J.C. Dickinson and P.T. Ricketts, `The Anglo-Norman chronicle of Wigmore Abbey’, Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club, Herefordshire 39 (1967-9), 413-45, at 437.
British Library, MS Harley 3697, fol. 18r.
D. Greenway and L. Watkiss (eds. and trans.), The book of the foundation of Walden monastery (Oxford, 1999), 46-7.
British Library, MS Harley 3697 fols. 20r-v. That a good deal of care was taken to make this settlement legally watertight is suggested by its witness list having been headed by three royal justices.
Curia Regis Rolls i, temp. Rich. I – 2 John (1922), 307.
R.R. Darlington (ed.), The cartulary of Darley Abbey, 2 vols. (Kendal, 1945), i, iii-iv, ii, 571.
R.C. Christie (ed. and trans.), Annales Cestrienses; or, Chronicle of the abbey of S.Werburg, at Chester, Lancashire and Cheshire Record Society 14 (1886), 28-35; PR 31 Henry II (1185), 142.
Wood, English monasteries, 24; VCH Essex ii (1907), 144; PR 22 Henry II (1176), 2; N. Vincent (ed.), The letters and charters of Henry II, king of England (1154-1189) (Oxford, forthcoming), no. 227.
Wood, English monasteries, 98-9.
D. Douie and H. Farmer (eds.), The life of St Hugh of Lincoln, 2 vols (1961-2), ii, 39-42.
The book of the foundation of Walden monastery, 24-7.
Ib., 94-101. Richard himself seems to have regarded the change as taking effect a few months earlier, since he referred to land `adjacent to the abbey’ in a charter for Walden given on 7 May 1190, British Library MS Harley 3697, fols. 30r -v.
The book of the foundation of Walden monastery, 116-17.
C.R. Cheney and E. John (eds.), English episcopal acta iii: Canterbury, 1193-1205 (Oxford, 1986), no. 639 (pp. 284-5). John’s own charter has not survived.
J.C. Dickinson, The origins of the Austin canons and their introduction into England (1950), 156.
Curia Regis Rolls vii, 15-16 John, 1213-1215 (1935), 6.
For details see C.R. Cheney, `King John’s reaction to the interdict on England’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 4th series 31 (1949), 129-50.
E.A. Bond (ed.), Chronica monasterii de Melsa, 3 vols. (Rolls Series, 1866-8), i, 326-9.
T.D. Hardy (ed.), Rotuli litterarum clausarum i, 1204-1224 (Record Commission, 1833 – Rot.Lit.Claus. i), 109.
Ib., 107 (FitzPeter), 112 (Brewer), 114 (Briouze and Marshal).
Curia Regis Rolls v, 8-10 John, 1207-1209 (1931), 174.
British Library MS Harley 3650 fols. 2r-v.
Ib., fols. 74r-75v.
R.A. Brown, `A note on Kenilworth Castle: the change to royal ownership’, Archaeological Journal 110 (1953), 120-4.
For what follows the fundamental source is British Library, MS Additional 35295, fols. 250r-251v.
T.D. Hardy (ed.), Rotuli litterarum patentium 1201-1216 (Record Commission, 1835 – hereafter Rot.Lit.Pat.), 44-5.
Rot.Lit.Claus. i, 86.
Also recorded H.R. Luard (ed.), `Annals of Dunstable’, Annales monastici, 5 vols. (Rolls Series, 1864-9), iii, 30.
PR 12 John (1210), 5-6; PR 13 John (1211), 197-8; PR 14 John (1212), 10.
Rot.Chart., 176, 195, 205.
Rot.Lit.Claus. i, 148.
Ib., 207. There must be some doubt as to whether the new prior ever took up his office.
PR 12 John (1210), 5-6.
British Library, MS Harley 3650, fols. 62v-63r.
Rot.Lit.Claus. i, 356 ordered the return of his inheritance to Henry de Clinton’s son, another Henry. His widow Amice litigated at the 1221/2 Warwickshire eyre, D.M. Stenton (ed.), Rolls of the justices in eyre for Gloucestershire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire, 1221, 1222, Selden Society 59 (1940), nos. 369, 473, 481, 710.
British Library, MS Additional 35295, fols. 251v-252r. The chronicle’s statement that Henry died on 30 October 1224 cannot be correct, but may be a mistake for his burial. His son Henry died in 1232/3.
Rot.Lit.Claus. i, 288.
Details from J. Burton, The monastic order in Yorkshire, 1069-1215, 32-8.
M.T. Martin (ed.), The Percy chartulary, Surtees Society 117 (1911 for 1909), 149-50, 152-3; Rot.Chart., 121.
H.M. Chew, The ecclesiastical tenants-in-chief and knight service (Oxford, 1932), 11, 76-7.
Rot.Chart. 25, a charter of John for Whitby issued in the autumn of 1199, contains a phrase which refers to the possibility of either the abbot or the monastery holding land in chief (I owe this reference to David Carpenter). But there is no clear evidence that they did so. In 1250 the abbot was said to be holding a toft worth 12d. per annum from a serjeanty,but it is impossible to believe that even King John would have regarded this as constituting a tenancy-in-chief – Liber feodorum. The book of fees commonly called Testa de Nevill, 2 vols, in 3 (1920-31), ii, 1201.
Burton, Monastic order in Yorkshire, 183.
Details from I.J. Sanders, English baronies: a study of their origin and descent, 1086-1327 (Oxford, 1960), 148.
Percy chartulary, 461-4.
PR 27 Henry II (1181), 50; PR 28 Henry II (1182), 62.
PR 7 Richard I (1195), 28.
PR 8 John (1206), 208. What little is known of the sequence of abbots of Whitby is set out in D.Knowles, C.N.L. Brooke, V.C.M. London, Heads of religious houses, England and Wales, 940-1216 (2nd edn., Cambridge, 2001), 78.
PR 11 John (1209), 124.
PR 14 John (1212), 5.
Rot.Lit.Claus.i, 94, 96, 105, 108.
Rot.Lit.Claus. i, 216.
Details concerning Isabella from Robert B. Patterson, `Isabella, suo jure countess of Gloucester (c. 1160-1217), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn., Oct 2005 [http://oxforddnb.com/view/article/46705, accessed 1 June 2015].
Rot.Lit.Pat., 109. In withholding the advowsons John was also showing himself less than sensitive towards the interests, and indeed the feelings, of his former wife, who may well have cared greatly about the family monasteries – Isabella is reported to have died at Keynsham Abbey.
Rot.Lit.Claus. i, 209.
Ib., 204, 211; Rot.Lit.Pat., 122.
Rot.Lit.Claus. i, 187.
Sir W. Dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum, ed. J. Caley, H. Ellis and B. Bandinel, 6 vols. in 8 (1817-30), ii, 80.
Rot.Lit.Claus. i, 216.
Details from Rot.Lit.Claus. i, passim.
Discussed in commentary on Clause 40.
Please note: commentaries are presently available only for clauses marked with *; more commentary to be added in due course.
Clause 46 was concerned to protect the rights of barons who were patrons of monasteries founded by their ancestors. These were valued for reasons spiritual and secular, both for the prayers they offered and for their being places of family burial over several generations, and because the churches attached to them could be used to provide livings for the clerks of a patron, who could also expect to have temporary custody of them after the death of an abbot or prior, and a role in the choice of his successor. The king had all these rights in monasteries of royal foundation, and in those founded by others when circumstances – for instance when he exercised rights of wardship after a lord died leaving a minor as his heir – brought them into his hands. There is also some evidence that Henry II and his sons claimed a patron’s rights over all monasteries which were abbeys – in other words the most important ones. Evidence is scarce for King John’s usurping a patron’s rights at a time of vacancy, but sufficient to show that it could happen (gaps in the records may well conceal other cases). At Kenilworth Priory, for instance, a disputed election gave John the opportunity to install a prior of his own, and to take the revenues of the monastery for several years, without the least reference to the patron, Henry de Clinton, who subsequently rebelled against the king. Barons and knights set a high value on their rights in monasteries associated with their families. A wiser king than John would have known better than to infringe them so blatantly.