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A Democratic Movement in the Abbey of Bury St. Edmunds in the late twelfth and early thirteenth Centuries

  • Antonia Gransden (a1)
Extract

According to the Rule of St. Benedict the powers of an abbot, who stands in the place of Christ, are virtually absolute. It is true that the Rule has general injunctions for an abbot's good behaviour. He must always be mindful of the words of the apostle, ‘ye have received the spirit of the adoption of children, in which we cry Abba, Father’. He should study to be loved not feared, and the Rule states that he ‘should not harass the flock committed to him, nor exercise his power in an arbitrary, unjust way, but should always remember that for all his decisions and acts he must render account to God’. Nevertheless, there are no sanctions to enforce this code of conduct. In the abbot's hands lies the ultimate control of the administration. The Rule specifies that the abbot is to appoint the prior, and that the cellarer is bound by his commands.

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page 25 note 1 Rule of St. Benedict, ii. 2–3: Benedicti Regula, ed. R. Hanslik (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, lxxv), 19–20.

page 25 note 2 Ibid., lxiv. 15: Hanslik, 151.

page 25 note 3 Ibid., lxiii. 2–3: Hanslik, 145–6.

page 25 note 4 Ibid., lxv. 15: Hanslik, 154.

page 25 note 5 Ibid., xxxi. 4, 12: Hanslik, 87, 88.

page 25 note 6 Ibid., lxiv. 1: Hanslik, 148.

page 26 note 1 Select Charters, ed. Stubbs, W. (ninth edition, ed. Davis, H. W. C., Oxford 1913), 283–4, 292–3.

page 26 note 2 Rule of St. Benedict, lxii. 6: Hanslik, 144.

page 26 note 3 Ibid., iii: Hanslik, 27–9. The prior was to be chosen with the counsel ‘of brethren fearing God’; ibid., lxv. 15: Hanslik, 154.

page 26 note 4 On the monks’ duty of obedience see, for example, ibid., iv. 61; v; lxviii: Hanslik, 33, 35–8, 158–9.

page 26 note 5 Ibid., iii. 12: Hanslik, 28. On the position of the senior monks see, for example, ibid., xxiii. 1–2; xlvi. 5; Iviii. 6; lxiii. 16: Hanslik, 78–9, 113, 134, 147.

page 26 note 6 See Knowles, M. D., The Monastic Order in England (second edition, Cambridge 1963), 412–7.

page 27 note 1 See, e.g., below, 28.

page 27 note 2 See, e.g., below, 28, 37.

page 27 note 3 Cf. below, 38 and n. 3.

page 27 note 4 The case is fully discussed in Knowles, op. cit., 331–45. Professor Knowles's main source of evidence is the chronicle of Evesham abbey by Thomas, of Marlborough, ; Chronion Abbatiae de Evesham, ed. Macray, W. D., Rolls Series, 1863, 102222.

page 27 note 5 Cf. Cheney, C. R., Episcopal Visitation of Monasteries in the thirteenth century, Manchester 1931, 90–1. Monks, in order to avoid a visitation, which they regarded as an intrusion, readily entered into a conspiracy of silence with their abbots in exchange for concessions; see ibid., 89. At St. Albans in 1251 the abbot promised ‘to amend whatever needed amending’ in return for the monks revealing nothing to the visitors; but, as Matthew Paris records, he did not keep his word, and kept the pittances which he and his predecessor had usurped from the convent despite his promise to return them; Chronica Majora, ed. Luard, H. R., Rolls Series, 18721883, v. 258–9

page 27 note 6 Chron. Evesham, 130.

page 27 note 7 Ibid., 202.

page 28 note 1 Ibid., 202–5.

page 28 note 2 Ibid., 206. The right to appoint the sacrist and cellarer was one of the points at issue between the monks of Christ Church, Canterbury, and archbishop Baldwin in their dispute from 1186–9; Chronicles and Memorials of the Reign of Richard I, ed. W. Stubbs, Rolls Series, 1864–5, ii. Epistolae Cantuarienses, 89, 92–3, 291, 299–300, 316. For the dispute in general see Knowles, op. cit., 318–22. The Magna Carta Beati Thome, which the monks of Christ Church forged probably 1235–6, includes (item v) the confirmation of the monks’ right to appoint and remove their officials and servants; see C. R. Cheney, ‘Magna Carta Beati Thome: another Canterbury Forgery’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, xxxvi (1963), 2, 11 n. 5, 16, 23 (the article is reprinted in his Medieval Texts and Studies, Oxford 1973, 78110). For the same source of conflict at Bury St. Edmunds see below, 32, 37.

page 28 note 3 Chron. Evesham, 207.

page 28 note 4 Ibid., 221–2.

page 28 note 5 Gesta Abbatum Monasterii Sancti Albani, ed. Riley, H. T., Rolls Series, 1867–9, i. 247–57 passim.

page 29 note 1 The Chronicle of Jocelin of Brakelond, ed. Butler, H. E. 1949, (henceforth referred to as Jocelin), 11–23.

page 29 note 2 Ibid., 18. Cf. below, 34 n. 7.

page 29 note 3 Ibid., 19.

page 29 note 4 Ibid., 26, 36–7.

page 29 note 5 Ibid., xiii, 129.

page 30 note 1 Ibid., 89–90. Cf. ibid., 136–7.

page 30 note 2 Ibid., go.

page 30 note 3 Ibid., 74–5.

page 30 note 4 The copy on fols. 210v–211v in Harleian MS. 1005 (together with another page of the same copy now on fol. 1 of Harleian MS. 743), collated with the copy on fol. 44v of Harleian MS. 1005, are described and printed in The Customary of the Benedictine Abbey of Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk, ed. Gransden, A. (Henry Bradshaw Soc, xcix, 1973, henceforth referred to as the Bury Customary) xxxix, 100–7.

page 30 note 5 Ibid., 100, II. 3–4; 106, II. 13–14.

page 30 note 6 Ibid., 100, II. 4–7.

page 30 note 7 On the difficulty historians may incur in trying to decide whether a document represents the minutes of discussions, a draft of proposed legislation, formal legislation itself, or subsequently amended legislation, see Cheney, C. R., ‘The “Paper Constitution” preserved by Matthew Paris’, English Historical Review, LXV (1950), 215–6 (the article is reprinted in Medieval Texts and Studies, 231–41), and the same author's ‘Textual Problems of the English Provincial Canons’, La Critica del Testo (Atti de 2° Congresso internazionale della Società Italiana di Storia del Diritto, Florence, 1971), 165–188, especially 176–186 (the article is reprinted in Medieval Texts and Studies, 111–37).

page 31 note 1 Bury Customary, 106, II. 14–25 passim.

page 31 note 2 Printed and discussed in ibid., xxix, xxxiii-vii, 1–62.

page 31 note 3 For the date of the Bury Customary see ibid., xxxiii-iv.

page 31 note 4 For references to the passages in the agreement copied into the Bury Customary see ibid., xxxv n. 1.

page 31 note 5 Ibid., 36, II. 10–23.

page 32 note 1 Ibid., 100, II. 7–16.

page 32 note 2 Jocelin, 125–9.

page 32 note 3 Ibid., 89.

page 32 note 4 Ibid., 30.

page 33 note 1 Ibid., 79–80.

page 33 note 2 Bury Customary, 104, II. 15–16.

page 33 note 3 Jocelin, 35.

page 33 note 4 Ibid.

page 33 note 5 Bury Customary, 104, II. 16–28 (cf. ibid., 5–6 and n. 1); Jocelin, 39.

page 33 note 6 Bury Customary, 101, I. 26–102, I. 2 (cf. ibid., 3, II. 4–14 and n. 1).

page 34 note 1 Jocelin, 73–4 (cf. ibid., 136–7).

page 34 note 2 Bury Customary, 103, II. 1–6.

page 34 note 3 Jocelin, 105–6.

page 34 note 4 Bury Customary, 102, II. 2–4 and n. 2.

page 34 note 5 Jocelin, 77–9.

page 34 note 6 Bury Customary, 102, II. 9–11.

page 34 note 7 Jocelin, 100. It should also be noted that the agreement (Bury Customary, 100, I. 18–101, I. 1) stipulated that no one was to be received as a monk unless the convent had been consulted; this corresponds with part of the promise to be taken, at Samson's suggestion, by an abbot elect: see above, 29 and n. 2.

page 35 note 1 Bury Customary, 104, I. 28–105, I. 2.

page 35 note 2 Printed in Memorials of St. Edmund's Abbey, ed. Arnold, T., Rolls Series, 1890–6, ii 133–4.

page 35 note 3 Bury Customary, 30, II. 2–5 and n. 1, 35 n. 2.

page 35 note 4 The Electio (henceforth referred to as Electio Hugonis) is printed: The Chronicle of the Election of Hugh abbot of Bury St. Edmunds and later bishop of Ely, ed. Thomson, R. M., Oxford 1974.

page 35 note 5 See Electio Hugonis, 12, and Knowles, M. D., ‘Essays in Monastic History, i, Abbatial Elections’, Downside Review, XLIX (1931), 272 and n. 1.

page 35 note 6 The Gesta Sacrislarum states that Robert de Graveley had in fact been elected by some of the monks; Arnold, op. cit., ii. 293. Cf. Bury Customary, xxiii-iv and nn.

page 35 note 7 See the division list; Electio Hugonis, 84–6. Cf. ibid., xxxviii-xl, 136.

page 35 note 8 Ibid., xxxiii, 32–4, 88, 124, 156.

page 36 note 1 Ibid., xxxii, 58.

page 36 note 2 Ibid., 42–4, 144.

page 36 note 3 Ibid., 16, 48.

page 36 note 4 Ibid., 68.

page 36 note 5 Ibid., 84–6.

page 36 note 6 See Bury Customary, xxvi-vii.

page 36 note 7 Chronica Majora, ed. Luard, v. 455.

page 36 note 8 See Documents Illustrating the Activities of the General and Provincial Chapters of the English Black Monks, ed. Pantin, W. A. (Camden third series, XLV (1931), xlvii (1933), liv (1937)), i. 7–8 (cf. ibid., i. 20–1).

page 36 note 9 Above, 30.

page 37 note 1 Above, 31.

page 37 note 2 See the text of Alexander IV's confirmation of the customs of Bury St. Edmunds printed in Bury Customary, 63, II. 28–30.

page 37 note 3 See above, 27.

page 37 note 4 Electio Hugonis, 50–2 (cf. ibid., 62–4).

page 37 note 5 Ibid., 78. For the legation of Richard prior of Dunstable and his fellows see Sayers, J. E., Papal Judges Delegate in the Province of Canterbury 1198–1254, Oxford 1971, 297.

page 37 note 6 The 1234 statutes are printed in Graham, R., ‘A Papal Visitation of Bury St. Edmunds and Westminster in 1234’, English Historical Review, XXVII (1912), 729–37. For references to the 1214 statutes, referred to as those of the abbot of Warden and his colleagues, see ibid., 730, 735.

page 37 note 7 Ibid., 729.

page 38 note 1 See Roger, of Wendover, Flores Historiarum, ed. Hewlett, H. G., Rolls Series, 1886–9, ii. 111–2. Professor Holt considers it improbable that this meeting took place; see Holt, J. C., Magna Carta, Cambridge 1965, 138. However, I have discussed elsewhere the reasons why I think his doubts are unjustified; see Bury Customary, xxv n. 5. Mr. Thomson also believes that the meeting took place, and suggests the date 20 November, the feast of St. Edmund, 1214: Electio Hugonis, 189–92.

page 38 note 2 Electio Hugonis, 168.

page 38 note 3 For the influence of this mode of thought on Matthew Paris's political ideas, see Gransden, A., Historical Writing in England, c. 550 to c. 1307, London 1974, 371–2.

page 38 note 4 For Hugh de Northwold's disputes with Henry in see Matthew Paris, Chronica Majora, ed. Luard, v. 29, 85, 95, 330–2. He was one of the ecclesiastics who excommunicated the violators of Magna Carta: ibid., 375. For his part in monastic reform see above, 36.

page 38 note 5 Electio Hugonis, 128. Cf. xliv-xlv.

page 39 note 1 Ibid., 116.

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