Published online by Cambridge University Press: 29 July 2016
A most pernicious problem contributing to the economic woes of English monasteries in the early-fourteenth century was mismanagement. This condition was usually, if not almost universally, present and derived in part from the fact that the administrators of religious houses, especially the small ones, were not well trained for the complexities of their tasks. The official records of the royal chancery abound with notices that monasteries suffered from this malady, and the entries in these records follow a pattern, repeating time and time again a variety of standard charges. Having perhaps endured internal dissension that had contributed to the economic difficulty, monasteries became impoverished by indiscreet rule, their goods were wasted, and they experienced mismanagement. In addition, the documents assert that these troubled monasteries suffered from indebtedness, that lax discipline prevailed, and that lands of religious corporations were alienated illegally. Finally, the entries maintain that the ill-advised sale of corodies, and the unwarranted grants of pensions contributed to a depressed monastic economy. To illustrate these observations upon defective monastic administration, reference to specific examples is needed.
1 Calendar of Patent Rolls… [cited hereafter as CPR] 1327–1330, p. 136.
2 CPR 1327–1330, p. 384.
3 CPR 1327–1330, p. 391.
4 CPR 1327–1330, p. 525.
5 CPR 1334–1338, p. 211.
6 CPR 1345–1348, p. 391.
7 CPR 1348–1350, pp. 175–176.
8 CPR 1330–1334, p. 579.
9 CPR 1340–1343, p. 444.
10 See Knowles, David, The Religious Orders in England I (Cambridge 1948) 55–63, for a discussion of monastic administration.
11 Brown, W. (ed.), Register of Thomas of Corbridge … I (Surtees Society Publ. 138; Durham and London 1925) 228–230, 280–282. The prior of Newstead, together with two canons — two of the wiser monks in the house — and the prior of the house of Felley, were to constitute this committee for overseeing the finances of Newstead. No expenditures were to be undertaken without the knowledge, assent, counsel, and wishes of these individuals. After expenditures had been decided upon by the committee, the proposed action of the four was to be explained, discussed, and agreed to in the chapter of the monastery. Thus, all monks of the house were to have an opportunity to voice their opinions on how revenues were to be spent.
12 The obedientiary system assigned revenues from specified sources to the various monastic officials in such a way that each officer used the proceeds of enumerated properties in making the expenditures required by his position. The system was inefficient during the fourteenth century, when centralized direction and organization of both expenditures and receipts was needed so that the returns from resources could be maximized. Restrictive stipulations in endowments inhibited change from the system, for donors often indicated how the proceeds from their gifts were to be used.
13 Register of Thomas of Corbridge I 272–279. Indeed, the archbishop maintained that he had taken steps which would have made it easier for the prior to effect reform, for he had found during his visitation that there had been living in the priory certain brethren who were contumacious and refractory, and that he had sent them away to other houses in order that the prior might have a better chance to improve conditions at Thurgarton. There had been no such improvement, however, and the archbishop found it necessary to remove the prior, and gave orders to the convent to elect a more judicious monk to the position of leadership.
14 Thompson, A. H. (ed.), Register of William Greenfield … IV (Surtees Society Publ. 152; Durham and London 1938) 28–31.
15 Page, William (ed.), The Victoria History of the County of York III (London 1913) 97–98.
17 Victoria History (cit. n. 15) III 97–98.
18 Goodman, A. W. (ed.), Registrum Henrici Woodlock … (Canterbury and York Series; Oxford 1934–1940) 316–317.
19 See Knowles, , Religious Orders I 47 and 104, for comments on John of Rutherwyk, also Registrum Henrici Woodlock 533–537 (an entry under the year 1314).