Ernest Harold Pearce.

Walter de Wenlok, Abbot of Westminster online

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1 572-1641. A Study in Vocation. By E. K.
Sanders. (Ecclesiastical Biographies.) Cloth
boards, los. 6d. net



By H. F. Westlake, M.A., F.S.A. (English
Towns Series.) \\rith numerous Illustrations.
Cloth boards, 4s. net.

I Westminster.

M By Ernest Harold Pearce, LittD., F.S.A.,
A^i Bishop of Worcester. Paper cover, is. net ;
cloth boards, is. 9d. net.


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JUN 1 1921




D. D.


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The name of Walter de Wenlok is attached to a very
large number of the Abbey muniments, and the organisa-
tion of the Convent's multifarious interests was never more
methodical than during his reign. A monograph about
his doings and about the conditions of the Monastery
during his time might therefore run to a considerable
length, and when I first took it in hand, I laid my plans

But, first, the War brought administrative work that
filled my days, so that t^^e Abbot could be only the solace
of my evenings. And then I was transplanted to what he
would call the " partes occidentales," which he knew so
well — ^Pershore and Longdon and Castle Morton and Wich
. and Malvern ; with the result that all I could hope to do
was just to make an end, and realise sadly that never
again should I be able to write books based on unedited
Westminster documents. I have lived with Wenlok so
long that it is a real grief to send him away.

Since I left the Abbey, I have been kindly allowed by
my dear friend, the Dean, to pay an occasional visit to the
beloved Muniment Boom, and have received much help
from the Bev. H. F. Westlake, F.S.A., upon whom the
mantle of Dr. Edward Scott has suitably fallen. But
borrowing a key is not quite the same joy as using your
own ; and, if any leisure can be found amid the tasks that
now fall upon me, I must devote it, say, to the doings of
some Bishop of Worcester, a dignitary on whom Abbots
of Westminster were apt to keep a shrewd, watchful eye.


Ths Gastlb,


Maundy Thursday, 1920.


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In the Flores Historia/rum ^ there stand side by side two
records which may serve as a fitting introduction to our
story, the more so as they refer to the year in which it
opens. The first relates how on St. George's Day, in the
year 1283, there passed away one John de Bradfield, Bishop
of Eochester, to be succeeded by Thomas de Ynglestop or
Inglethorpe, Dean of St. Paul's : and it proceeds to explain
what an uncomfortable state of things then prevailed at
Eochester between the Bishop and the monks. The
Bishop appointed monks as officials in his household and
conferred sergeancies to the disadvantage of the church ;
he also asserted his right to receive the dole or gift of St.
Andrew.^ This was resented by the Prior on behalf of
the monks and was resisted to the extent of an appeal to
the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Peckham, nothing
loth, as a Franciscan, to find himself called upon for a
ruling in this squabble of regulars. His Grace's reply was
immediate and ominous. "Descendam et videbo," ^ so
he told the Prior, not at all unmindful that this was the
phrase in which the Vulgate represents the Almighty's
announcement to Abraham of an intention to examine the
sinfulness of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Archbishop
having assured the Eochester monks on his arrival that he
came not as Metropolitan, to the prejudice of the Bishop

1 Rolls Ser. HI, 69 f.

* Ezhexmium sanoti Andrese. For exhennium of. E. H. Pearce,
WiUiam de Colchester, pp. 18, 62 ; and Monks of Westminster, pp. 21 f.»
92 f.

» Gen. xviii. 21.


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or the chnrch, but as patron of the church, proceeded to
question the brethren about their grievance, and decided
that the right of the case lay with them rather than with
the Bishop's officials. He summoned the Bishop and ex-
pressed to him the view that he was evil intreating the
church of Bochester in siding with his officials and going
counter to the wishes of the Prior and the senior brethren.
"You do wrong, my lord," said the Archbishop. "My
predecessors," the Bishop pleaded, " have done the like."
But the Archbishop would accept no such plea ; the thing
would not be right, if an angel had done it ; two blacks do
not make a white.^ So the Bishop went away, a wiser and
a poorer man.' The chronicler of the Flores Historiarum
has no prejudice against this Bishop ; on the contrary, he
simis him up ' as praiseworthy, gentle and easy of address,
merry and joyful and hospitable ; and into the midst of
these various attributes, which he borrows from Edmund
of Hadenham,^ inserts a statement that he was also

But the chronicler, as a Westminster man, passes with
evident satisfaction to the next and concluding item ^ in
his record of the year 1283, which relates that ** about St.
Andrew's Day there died Bichard de Ware Abbot of West-
minster, treasurer of our lord the King; after whose
decease, on the eve of the Circumcision, Brother Walter
de Wenlac was unanimously elected in his stead by way of
compromission ". It is as if the chronicler would say:
we manage things better at the Abbey, where there is no
Bishop to trouble us, and we can go straight to the Pope
for lack of justice without calling in his Grace of Canter-
bury. But it will be the eflfect of our present story to re-
veal that Westminster was by no means the home of
ancient peace that the chronicler's contrast seems to imply

^ ** Quia satis snooedit in yitium, qui alterius injmiam oontinnat et

* " Se retraxit, et laniori consilio adhaerere coepit."

s iii 78. « Anglia Sacra, L S58 (ed. 1091). • iii. 60.

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and that it was liable to have to deal with the Archbishop.
No doubt Walter de Wenlok's election was unanimoas, but
unanimity was seldom the mark of Abbey life under his
rule. The times were unquiet and critical ; we remember
how Mr. J. B. Green takes this very year, 1283, with its
completion of the conquest of Wales, as the text of a dis«
course on ^* the new England " ^ and on Edward's judicial,
legislative and parliamentary developments. 3tit our
concern here is with a little company of religious, about
fifty strong, situated hard by the administrative centre of
these national changes, and still quarrelling and bickering
about its own concerns, the Abbot and his particular friends
in the House at serious cross-purposes with the Prior and
his supporters. And the pity id that what we have to
relate seems often to be so remote from the sacred and
spiritual issues for which the Abbey stood, especially in
troublous times. It appears almost as if the strong soul
of the place were being smothered, first beneath the trivial
details that are the staple of Abbot Ware's Consuettulinary,
and then beneath the notarial warfare of Abbot Wenlok
and his brethren.

We return, then, to the statement of the Flores His-
toriarum, that on 31 December, 1283, the unanimous
election of Bichard de Ware's successor took place. There
is no mention of Walter de Wenlok in our muniments be-
fore that date.' The splendid system by which the names

^ J. B. Green, Short History of the English People, ed. 1882, p. 163.

'This is true as regards the rolls of the obedientiaries, but since the
Monks of Westminster was issued I haTe oaref ally examined the account
rolls of a number of Abbey properties, and haTe found several references to
Wenlok's activity in the oversight of the estates. The earliest is in a roU
about Ashwell Manor, 1280-1 {Mtm. 26252, 26253), where his name is given
as W. Walnock. He received payments from Fering Manor, along with
Adam de Wyoumbe, 28 September, 1281—1 August, 1282 {Mun, 25581) ;
and from Ashford Manor, 24 June, 1282->6 January, 1288 {Mun. 26660) ;
while he and William de Watford are entered in the place usually occupied
by the Convent Treasurers in an account of the Manor of Knightsbridge,
June - 8eptember, 1283 {Mun. 16376). It is also recorded in Mun. 26660
that four bushels of com were provided *' in prebendis fratris J. de Sutton

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of all our monks were recorded from the time of their
profession onwards to their departure or decease was still
a long way oflf.^ But for the moment the State Papers
come to our aid and fill some gaps in our own document&
They tell us,^ first, that on 8 December, 1283, Malcolm de
Harleye, the King's clerk, was appointed Warden or
** Gustos " of the Abbey of Westminster during the pleasure
of the Crown. This means that the Court, being then at
Leominster, had been informed by this date that the
Abbacy was vacant ; whereupon all the issues of the ab-
batial property fell as of right to the King, till such time
as they should be restored by him after the due election
and consecration of a successor. Now we remember that
the Flores gave the date of Abbot Ware's death as being
"circa festum sancti Andreae apostoli," and it is curious
that a Westminster man should be in the uncertainty im-
plied by that ** circa ". Another Westminster historian of
a much later day, John Flete — ^he was a member of our
foundation from 1420 to 1466 ^ — states that Ware died on
8 December.* If so, the appointment of Malcolm de
Harleye as " Custos '* was antedated from the day on which
the news reached the Court at Leominster to the day on
which the death occurred. But the State Papers also tell
us how the news came. For on 11 December, the King,
being still at Leominster, issued his licence to the Prior
and Convent to elect a new Abbot, by reason that there
had come to him three chosen representatives of the House
to convey the tidings of Ware's death. Leominster is
distant some 140 miles from Westminster and, if Ware
died on 8 December, the three monks lost no time on the
road, and the Court scrivener made haste with his work in
order to have the licence duly executed within three days.

et W. de Wenlok in generale oapitulum de Badyng," 1282-3. Clearly he
was already oi importance in the husiness of the House.
1 Monks of Westminster, p. 16, etc.

* Kal. Pat. Rolls, Edw. 1, 1281-92, p. 107.
» Of. Monks of Westminster, pp. 187 f .

* Flete, History of Westminster Abbey, ed. J. Armitage Bobinson, p. 115.

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There is a further item in the State Papers which implies
that the date of death was earlier than 8 December, for on
9 December ^ a warrant was issued to Master Henry de
Bray, escheator this side the Trent, to deliver to Bobert
de Dymmok, Abbot Ware's clerk, a sum of £50 that was
found in his coffers after his death, in order that the ex-
penses of the funeral may now be discharged and that
payment may be made of the yarious gifts to his servants
that were specified in his last will and testament The
issue of such a warrant is clearly more consistent with
** about St. Andrew's Day " as the date of dece$bse, than
with 8 December, as given by Plete.

But our concern is with the three Westminster mes-
sengers on a journey to Leominster, of whom Walter de
Wenlok was the third ; the other two were William de
Hanynton and John de Sutton ; and if Walter, of whom
thus far we know little, was of anything like equal status
in the Convent with the other two, we can gather some
reasons for his unanimous election. William de Hanyn-
ton, whose entry into the House cannot be dated, appears
three years after this (1286) as the Sub-Prior ; ' that is to
say, he was next in rank to the Prior and in all likelihood
the senior of the monks. When Wenlok was made
treasurer to Queen Alianore,' taking charge of her bene-
factions to the Abbey, he nominated John de Coleworth,
the. Prior, and Hanynton, the Sub-Prior, as his vicegerents
in that office. The latter had probably filled many con-
ventual posts before he rose to the dignity in which we
now find him, but the survival of Abbey documents for the
thirteenth century is not general enough to give us the
details. We know much more of John de Sutton. His
place-name was one that occurred frequently in the
Monastery at this time, and in all likelihood there were
three brethren who bore it among Abbot Ware's contem-

1 Kal. Close Rolls, p. 247.

« Monks of Westminster, p. 69. • Mun. 23629.

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porarie& Geofl&rey de Sutton,^ who had served Abbot
Orokesley, accepted in or about 1258, the year of Ware's
election, the headship of the Priory of St Mary. Hurley,
an office always filled by one of our monks, which to his
credit he resigned in 1267, being then, as he pleaded,
" borne down with bodily infirmity, and weary by reason
of old age". He would still be spoken of among the
brethren as a Westminster monk, and was doubtless
known to Brother John of the same name. Philip de
Sutton,* the third of the trio, had been long enough in the
Convent in 1272 to have the responsibility of holding
manorial courts in the Abbey's Hertfordshire property,
and he was much engaged upon the financial and admini-
strative work of the Convent as Cellarer, Infirmarer,
Treasurer and Monk-Bailiff. Incidentally he passed
through the excitements of the robbery of the Treasury in
1303 and shared the general imprisonment in the Tower.
But he lived to be senior monk in 1328-9, and, though we
do not know how long before 1272 his profession took
place, yet when he fades quietly out of the picture in 1328-9,
we must think of him as being then not less than eighty
years of aga But Brother John, the midmost of these
three Suttons, was a more important factor in the con-
ventual life than the others^ and may well have been a
serious rival to Walter de Wenlok when the election drew
on. We come upon him first in 1260 when he was Monk-
Bailiff,' an office of such trust that he must have been
proved as a true monk for ten or twelve years before he
could attain to it. He was equally in the confidence of
Abbot Ware and of his successor. The former employed
him as his proctor in law suits and in his monetary tran-
sactions with Sienese bankers in London, or, as we should
say, with Lombard Street. It was he who was entrusted
with the care of the abbatial treasures on Ware's death

^ Monks of WtstmwMter, p. 50; (cf. J. Armitage Bobinson, QiUbtrt
Ctispm, p. 82 f .).

«iWd., p. 67. »It««.,p. 64.

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and who handed them eight months later to Ware's suc-
cessor when fully confirmed in his office. It was he whom
Wenlok appointed as his plenipotentiary when he went
across the seas in 1286.^ The brethren held him in equal
honour, for besides being Monk-BaiUff in earlier life, he
was afterwards Chamberlain, and he twice held the im-
portant post of Sacrist. One other detail in his work
should not be forgotten. In a chartulary which is not now
forthcoming, but from which there is an extract in Stanle/s
Memorials of Westminster Abbey, ^ and also in a similar
but not identical entry in our Liber Niger Quaternus (f .
92 6.), there is a record of those brethren who gave thought
and money for the adornment of various chapels and de-
tails in King Henry m's great f abria At the end of this
list of benefactors stands ** Frater Johannes Sutton," so
much out of hi9 right order that he is really the earliest of
them all. The actual figure of his contribution is lacking,
but what he did was to provide for the altar in St. Paul's
Chapel a picture of the dedication of the Abbey Church
with appropriate texts, and another picture for the altar-
tomb of King Sebert.

The existence in our House of these three men of Sutton
practically at the same time is a reminder of the method by
which the Convent was recruited. For Sutton almost cer-
tainly refers to a manor in the Abbot's portion of the estates.
Originally reckoned as part of the County of Gloucester, it
subsequently passed to Warwickshire, where it was situated
within the Hundred of Westminster.' Its full name is
Sutton-under-Brailes and the properties allied with it were
Todenham and Bourton-on-the-Hill, both Gloucestershire
villages near Moreton-in-the-Marsh, which our documents
generally call " Morton in Hennemers ". The Abbot and

^Domesday f. 500: *' Tenons locum Abbatis ipso Abbate in partibus
transmarinis existente *\

* 8xd edition, p. 641 ; of. McmuacHpts of Westmimter Abbey, pp. 101 f .

* Having been for some time in the diooese of Glouoeeter, it has just been
transfeiTed to that of Goyentzy {London QaMetU, 31 Oct., 1919).

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Convent had market-rights at Moreton by royal charters
from Henry HI. One charter^ gave Abbot Bichard
de Berking and his brethren the privilege of a fair there
every Tuesday, of coarse with the usual restriction that
the right must not be exercised to the annoyance of
neighbouring fairs or to the detriment of local commerce.'
This grant is dated 13 February, 1228 ; it was executed
by Balph de Neville, Bishop of Chichester and Lord
Chancellor, and among the witnesses are Eustace de
Fauconberge, Bishop of London, who died in the following
October ; Jocelin de Wells, Bishop of Bath and Wells ;
Bichard Poor, Bishop of Sarum, who was mainly respon-
sible for the erection of Salisbury Cathedral; Walter
Maiiclerk, Bishop of Carlisle, then the King's Treasurer ;
the Earls of Kent, Pembroke and Gloucester; and
** William de Cantil," whom we may identify with the
adherent of John and Henry HI, who became the first
Lord Cantelupe. The other grant ' belongs to the days of
Abbot Bichard de Grokesley and bears date 21 January,
1253 ; it added, if it did not substitute for the other, the
privilege of one fair at Moreton lasting six days in each
year— on the vigil, the day, and the morrow of St. Matthew
and three succeeding days, 20-25 September. The Con-
vent's rights in this district included the advowson of
Todenham, and we have a record ^ of Mauger, Bishop of
Worcester, Bichard Ts Norman physician, admitting one
Master Simon to this benefice on the presentation of Abbot
Balph de Arundel and the Convent.

But Sutton-under-Brailes was familiar to all West-
minster monks as a part of this Gloucestershire estate and
as a favourite residence of the Abbots when they went on

1 Domesday, f. 822 b. The document is entered there as belonging to
the time of Abbot Bichard I, according to a custom which made the scribe
write of Bichard de Berking, Bichard de Grokesley, and Bichard de Ware,
as Bichard I, II, and III.

* *' Nisi predicta feria et predictum mercatum fuerint ad nooumentum
vicinarum feriarum et yicinorum meroatoram."

» Domesday, f. 823. * Ibtd., 824 b ; no date, c. 1200-12.

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their peregrinations through the various properties. Ever
since the Abbacy of William Humez (or de Humeto), 1214-
22, there had been a charge of twenty shillings yearly on
the land then occupied by Bobert Basset, in the vill of
Sutton, with the object of providing a feast for the Convent
on 9 June, the Feast of the Translation of St. Edmund,
which this Abbot, out of his reverence for the saiiit, desired
to be celebrated in copes.^ Flete ' states that the manor-
house was built (he probably means rebuilt) by Abbot
William de Curtlington (1316-33). Anyhow the Abbots
were frequently there, and according to custom would
choose the lads'of promise in the village as recruits for the
Convent. Hence these three de Suttons.

We may assume, then, that William de Hanynton,
John de Sutton, and Walter de Wenlok, having concluded
their mission to Edward t at Leominster, and obtained the
royal permission to fill the vacant chair, returned to West-
minster and laid the document before Prior Coleworth and
the seniors. It would rest with them to settle the pre-
liminaries of the election. Which of certain recognised
processes should they adopt? There might be some
brother who possessed the requisite qualities so obviously
and beyond compare that there would be none to dispute
his right to succeed Abbot Bichard. If so, they could
resort at once to election " per viam Spiritus sancti '*. In
other words, they could say : It seems good to the Holy
Ghost and to us that such a man should bear rule over us.
This had come to pass at the election of Bichard de
Crokesley,^ in 1246. ^ut if there was likely to be any
doubt, it was better, they would say, not to have adivided
vote, with, perhaps, several candidates, and with the Con-
vent thus split up into the parties that sided with each ; and
the alternative was election by compromission, " per viam

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Online LibraryErnest Harold PearceWalter de Wenlok, Abbot of Westminster → online text (page 1 of 21)