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The Dependent Priories of Medieval English Monasteries

The Dependent Priories of Medieval English Monasteries

Volume: 22
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    The Dependent Priories of Medieval English Monasteries
    Book Description:

    Although hundreds of dependent priories were founded across medieval Europe, they remain little studied and much misunderstood. Usually dismissed as just administrative units, many were in fact genuine religious houses set up for spiritual reasons. This study charts for the first time the history of the 140 or so daughter houses of English monasteries, which have always been overshadowed by the French cells in England, the so-called alien priories. The first part of the book examines the reasons for the foundation of these monasteries and the relations between dependent priories and their mother houses, bishops and patrons. The second part investigates everyday life in cells, the priories' interaction with their neighbours and their economic viability. The unusual pattern of dissolution of these houses is also revealed. The experience of daughter houses sheds a great deal of light on the world of the small religious house, and suggests that these shadowy institutions were far more central to medieval religion and society than has been appreciated. MARTIN HEALE is Lecturer in Late Medieval History, University of Liverpool.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-231-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
    Martin Heale
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  6. Maps: The Dependent Priories of the Benedictine Monasteries of Medieval England (England and Wales)
    (pp. xiv-xx)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Of all the groups of religious houses in medieval England and Wales, the dependent priories of English monasteries are the least studied. This neglect can largely be attributed to the widespread belief that small daughter houses were unimportant appendages to their parent abbeys with no independent history of their own and often mere instruments of estate management. The more exotic ‘alien priories’, the satellites of French abbeys founded in England after the Conquest, have been able to attract considerable attention, primarily because of their dramatic suppression over a century before the general Dissolution;¹ but English dependencies have been much less...

  8. PART I: The Dependent Priory as Daughter House

    • 1 The Foundation of English Cells
      (pp. 15-63)

      The daughter house is as old as cenobitic monasticism itself. The first communal Christian monastery, established at Tabennisi in Egypt by Pachomius (286–346), soon became the head of a small but tightly-knit group of houses founded as its offshoots.¹ Yet although this structure held together after Pachomius’ death, it does not seem to have greatly influenced the development of Eastern monasticism. In the West, too, independent monasteries predominated. The first Frankish Council at Orléans in 511 and subsequent councils forbade the grouping together of monasteries under a single abbot, and the Rule of St Benedict (c.530×540) made no mention...

    • 2 The Constitutional Affairs of English Cells
      (pp. 64-113)

      The recorded history of English dependencies is littered with disputes. The many altercations involving cells, including some of the most interminable litigations known to medieval England, arose largely because daughter houses fell awkwardly between competing jurisdictions. The mother house, the cell itself, its patron and the ordinary (and to a lesser extent king and pope) all competed first to establish and then to defend the rights they believed were justly theirs. The normal relations between a monastery, its patron and its ecclesiastical overseer were thrown into confusion by the insertion of an additional jurisdiction, a mother house, whose jealous control...

    • 3 ‘A Source of Weakness’? Mother Houses and Their Daughters
      (pp. 114-156)

      To modern eyes, the possession of a family of cells has usually seemed a considerable burden to a monastery. The financial strain of preserving the fragile existence of a small dependency, the unrelenting contentions with bishop, patron or the cell itself, and above all the enormous potential for disciplinary problems at tiny isolated daughter houses; these disadvantages, it has always been thought, must surely have outweighed any benefits the ownership of a cell could have conferred. Professor Knowles’ judgement that the vast majority of dependencies were inevitably ‘a source of weakness to the house that owned them’ has rarely if...

  9. PART II: The Dependent Priory as Small Monastery

    • 4 Monastic Life in Dependent Priories
      (pp. 159-193)

      In the conclusion to the second volume of his Religious Orders in England, Professor Knowles lamented that monastic history had inevitably to be drawn largely from the affairs of a small number of great houses. Although remarking that ‘it is natural . . . to desire some knowledge of the life and social relations of a smaller house’, he concluded that ‘the inner life and personal activities of such places must almost always elude observation’.¹ Since nearly two-thirds of the monasteries of late medieval England enjoyed an annual income of under £200 and therefore came under the government’s definition of...

    • 5 Dependent Priories and their Neighbours
      (pp. 194-228)

      The importance of the role played by monasteries in local society is one of the most difficult questions of monastic history. Due to deficiencies in evidence, basic issues like the economic impact of religious houses on their locality, the extent of the social services they provided or how much layfolk showed an interest in the monks’ religious activities remain very hard to elucidate. Perhaps most difficult of all to establish is the degree of favour with which monasteries were viewed by their secular neighbours. This issue has appeared particularly urgent to historians of the Dissolution seeking to explain why the...

    • 6 The Economy of English Cells
      (pp. 229-276)

      The economic activity of dependent priories has very often been considered their primary function. Some historians have likened these small houses to granges and for others the term ‘cell’ has virtually become synonymous with bailiwick.¹ Both comparisons, however, are misleading as far as English cells are concerned. Although a tiny dependency might superficially resemble a grange, the purely agricultural rationale of the latter is in stark contrast to the multi-faceted life of the daughter house. The bailiwick analogy is more profitable and is particularly appropriate for the mass of tiny alien priories. The classic account of such houses remains Dr...

  10. Epilogue: The Dissolution of English Cells
    (pp. 277-288)

    Although the dissolution of the alien priories has understandably attracted far more attention, the manner in which English cells were suppressed was also highly unusual. This peculiar course of dissolution has never before been traced, and the main source of information for the suppression of daughter houses remains the statistics assembled in Knowles and Hadcock’s Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales. These figures present an intriguing picture. Of the sixty-eight Benedictine and twenty-three Augustinian cells which are said to have survived into the sixteenth century, nine are listed as dissolved before 1536, thirteen in 1536, eight in 1537, twenty-two in...

  11. Appendix One: The Foundation of English Cells, c.1017–c.1250
    (pp. 289-294)
  12. Appendix Two: Later Foundations/Acquisitions Of English Cells, c.1250–1533
    (pp. 295-296)
  13. Appendix Three: Numbers of Religious in English Cells
    (pp. 297-300)
  14. Appendix Four: Dependent Priories and Shared Churches
    (pp. 301-304)
  15. Appendix Five: The Dissolution of English Cells
    (pp. 305-314)
  16. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 315-346)
  17. Index
    (pp. 347-378)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 379-380)