All Saints Church, Lapley. Much of the building goes back to the 12th century, around the time the priory was established, and the priory had advowson of the church. The priory stood on the site of the timber-framed manor house, behind the church.
|Established||Land donated in 1061
Priory established before 1100
|Mother house||Abbey of Saint-Remi, Reims, Northern France.|
|Founder(s)||Land donated by Burchard, the son of Ælfgar, Earl of Mercia|
|Location||Lapley, Staffordshire, United Kingdom.|
Lapley Priory was a priory in Staffordshire, England. Founded at the very end of the Anglo-Saxon period, it was an alien priory, a satellite house of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Remi or Saint-Rémy at Reims in Northern France. After great fluctuations in fortune, resulting from changing relations between the rulers of England and France, it was finally dissolved in 1415.
The origins of the priory lie in the period around the Norman Conquest.
In 1061, Burchard, the son of Ælfgar, Earl of Mercia, accompanied Ealdred, Archbishop of York, on a diplomatic mission overseas. Presumably, this was on Ealdred's quest to get his appointment to the archbishopric confirmed by the Pope, although he still held the see of Worcester in Mercia. They stayed at the great cathedral city and monastic centre of Reims, named after St Remigius, apostle of the Franks, who is buried there in a large Romanesque Basilica. Burchard fell mortally ill and requested burial in the Benedictine Abbey, in return for a donation of land on his behalf. To fulfil his son's desire, and to benefit his soul, Ælfgar gave to St. Rémy five pieces of land: at Lapley, Hamstall Ridware, Meaford, and Marston in Church Eaton, all in Staffordshire, and at Silvington in Shropshire. So the abbey of St. Rémy at Reims already held these lands in the reign of Edward the Confessor, before William the Conqueror arrived, a fact that was recorded clearly in Domesday Book in 1086.
It is unclear when the Abbey decided to go further and establish a house to exploit its estates in Staffordshire and Shropshire. Domesday Book records that
- "The Church of St. Rémy holds Lapley from the King. It held it similarly before 1066. With dependencies 3 hides. Land for 6 ploughs. In lordship 3 ploughs; 5 slaves; 18 villagers and 9 smallholders with 8 ploughs. Meadow, 16 acres; wood 3 furlongs long and as many wide. Value 50s."
This is clear recognition of Ælfgar's donation, but gives no clue about a priory. However, at Marston it says "Two of St. Rémy's men hold 1 hide. Land for 1 plough. Value 5s." So it seems that there was already a small delegation of monks from the abbey present in Staffordshire in 1186. The land at Silvington is listed, and so are the lands at Meaford and Hamstall Ridware, with confirmation that they were donated by Earl Ælfgar.
By the reign of Henry I (1100–1135), we have at least one name of a monk. Godric, perhaps an early prior, went to petition the king at Tamworth because Robert, a royal chaplain, had laid claim to the church at Lapley. It seems that the church at Lapley had belonged to the church at Penkridge and it is possible that Robert was a canon of Penkridge. Henry found on the Abbey's behalf, but clearly the monks were concerned that further challenges might occur, and they appealed to the Pope to confirm their titles to land and property, which Pope Alexander III (1159–81) apparently did. By this time, when Peter Cellensis was abbot of St. Rémy, it is certain that the priory was in operation.
The priory and its monks
The priory stood at Lapley, next to the parish church, and both were surrounded by a moat. Beyond this stretched its own estate, and that at Marston was so close that they were run as one by the monks. There were only a few monks - usually two or three - and they were mostly, but not entirely, from France.
Essentially the small monastic community acted as the local lord of the manor. They were only too willing to do this when it generated revenue for the parent abbey but they tried to avoid duties that they felt compromised their Benedictine rule, especially its non-violent implications. It was in the mid-13th century that the surrounding society generally started to put pressure on them to discharge their wider obligations.
One irksome and potentially difficult issue was that the lord would normally be expected to attend the local hundred court and shire court, where they might be forced to countenance the shedding of blood. The monks were exempt from this, as recognised by Henry I, but it was alleged that they were supposed pay for the exemption, which they naturally tried to avoid doing. From 1248, the Sheriff simply came and took 10s. a year, and after 10 years he upped his demand to 5 marks. Despite this policy of abstention from the ordinary courts, the monks maintained their own right to a view of frankpledge, i.e. the right to make their own tenants jointly responsible for law and order, and their right to erect gallows on their manors, as well as free warren, the right to hunt on their demesne.
Another right established by Godric's appeal to Henry I was that of advowson, the right to nominate a priest, to the church at Lapley. This could be profitable, as incumbents generally paid to be installed, although this strictly forbidden as the sin of simony. The drawback was that the secular world, including the local ecclesiastical authorities, increasingly expected patrons of parishes to make sure they were well-supported and well-run. In 1266, the bishop made a visitation, found the vicarage poorly-financed and forced the priory to make a larger investment in it.
While Lapley and Marston continued to be managed by the monks themselves, with lay assistance, the farther estates were leased out. Ridware was held by serjeanty - an arrangement by which the lessee had to perform certain services for his lord. In this case the tenant was expected to act as marshal at the priory over the Christmas period, from Christmas Eve to St Stephen's Day and to leave 5s. 4d. when he left after breakfast on 27 December. For a time in the late 13th century, the priory had the right to hold a weekly fair and annual market at Aston, within Lapley.
The revenues seem never to have been large. In theory, the priory was supposed to remit a considerable sum each year to Reims. In 1367 it did manage to send a bond for 120 marks, a remarkable sum in the troubled circumstances then prevailing. However, the priory generally struggled financially, mainly because, as an "alien house", a monastery belonging to an abbey in a foreign country, it was constantly subject to seizures, impositions and pressure in time of war or international tension.
A leadership dispute between Baldwin de Spynale and Gobert de Lapion in the 1330s made the priory particularly vulnerable to secular intervention. Gobert was sent over by the abbot to head the priory, accompanied by another monk, John Lange. Baldwin claimed to have a prior claim to the position and vindicated his cause in 1334 in the bishop's court, which excommunicated Gobert. However, the king tried to achieve a pause in proceedings by granting both men royal protection for a year and styling each Prior of Lapley in the documents. This was to no avail, for, shortly afterwards, Baldwin complained that the Vicar of Lapley and other men had raided his home, stolen all his documents and driven off large numbers of cattle and pigs. Then there was a second raid, with Gobert and his clerk among the assailants. The king instituted enquiries into both events, but the dispute raged on for years.
Difficulties and dissolution
Lapley, of course, was an Alien priory, and this made it increasingly vulnerable as the sense of English national identity developed - particularly as this was often in contradistinction to Frenchness. All the alien houses were subjected to increasing royal depredations during the 13th and 14th centuries.
In 1204, after the loss of Normandy to Philip Augustus of France, king John seized the priories - or at least declared them seized in the hope of recouping some of the costs of his campaign. The prior of Lapley was forced to pay the price of three palfreys to regain legal control over the priory. Thereafter, the prior was required to pay for a licence to go overseas. In 1288 the priory was seized for a time because the prior made an unauthorised trip abroad, and in 1324 it was seized again on the outbreak of war with France. This time the priory was restored only on the understanding that it would pay the Crown 55 marks per annum. In 1327, Edward III came to the throne, vowing to wipe the slate clean by restoring all the alien houses and abolishing the annual payments.
Edward's resolution was not to last. The Hundred Years War, beginning in 1337, was to result in repeated seizures and, ultimately, the dissolution of nearly all the alien houses, including Lapley. The Crown seized Lapley immediately, like the other alien houses, but in this case it was able to play a game of divide and rule with the competing leadership contenders, who were still awaiting a resolution to their dispute. Lapley was rented back first to Gobert and Robert de Shareshull, who were recognised as proctors of the abbey of St. Rémy, for a farm of 55 marks. Then it was given to Baldwin at greatly reduced farm, on the claim that the previous regime had run the property down, and under guarantees of good conduct from the Bishop of Lichfield. It was later transferred to the Earl of Derby. By 1342, Robert of Shareshull was again in control, but in 1346, it went again to Baldwin, on the request of Isabella of France, the king's mother.
By 1354, the Black Death and a great fire had brought the priory to extremity. Baldwin owed arrears of £77 13s. 3¾d, and an inquiry established that the manor of Lapley was worth only £11 14s. 10d. Baldwin was pardoned the arrears, although he needed to ask for this to be repeated several more times before his death, around 1361. The next prior, Peter de Gennereyo, a monk of St. Rémy, made the remarkable contribution of 120 marks to the parent abbey in 1367 but was forced to redeem the priory when it was seized again in 1369. He came to a regular arrangement and this spared him a further problem when most of the other alien houses were seized in 1378 and their occupants expelled from the country. He was permitted to stay and manage Lapley. This was short-lived relief, however, as the Richard II gave the priory to his esquire, Robert de Hampton in 1384, and Peter was forced to rent it back from him for two years.
This tedious to-ing and fro-ing continued into the next century, with the priory now assigned to the prior, now to a royal lackey. However, Henry V put an end to the story in 1415. Already planning what was to become the Agincourt campaign, and strongly committed to presenting himself both as a distinctively English king and a defender and purifier of the Catholic faith, he determined to suppress all the alien houses in England. This measure was presented to the Fire and Faggot Parliament of 1414, alongside measures to suppress Lollardy. Henry reassured lay beneficiaries that this was to be final: there would be no restoration of the priories on conclusion of peace with France. The suppression was carried through in the following year.
- Victoria County History: A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3, M W Greenslade, R B Pugh (eds), G C Baugh, Revd L W Cowie, Revd J C Dickinson, A P Duggan, A K B Evans, R H Evans, Una C Hannam, P Heath, D A Johnston, Professor Hilda Johnstone, Ann J Kettle, J L Kirby, Revd R Mansfield, Professor A Saltman, 1970, chapter 40.
- VCH Staffordshire, volume 3, chapter 34.
- E.F. Jacob: The Fifteenth Century, Oxford University Press, 1961, p.134-135.