Medieval Strife

Medieval Strife

There were many disagreements between the Vicar and the Prior, as can be seen in the Priory records now at Eton College.  On July 23, 1289, an ordinance was made regarding the keys and opening of the door of the chapel of St. George, as follows:
That the doors be opened only on Mass and Feast days, and on those days and on no other and in the presence of the Wardens to be appointed by the said Prior and Vicar. There at the same time, the lesser tithes to be brought in my the parishioners into the same chapel according to the custom practised until now.
But on all other days, because of the integrity of a monastic order and in order that in this part of the matter, all sinister suspicion of wrong doing must be avoided, we instruct that it always be closed unless the Patron be present, and for him, out of respect for his patronage we wish the same door to be opened by the Prior’s and Vicar’s keys whenever he wishes to enter the same chapel to worship.
Nevertheless with the proviso that of the aforesaid Mass and Feast days, when Mass is being celebrated, or the word of the Lord is being preached in the parish church of the Blessed Mary, where parishioners come together to hear divine service, there be no way open into the chapel for those parishioners, so that they may be free to focus more carefully on the service n the parish church itself and attend’.

This ordinance also states:
‘All doors around the church to have two separate locks, each having different wards: One key with the Vicar, one with the Prior’.

In 1336 an order was issued prohibiting the burial of any bodies on the north side of Modbury  church.  It appears that the parishioners were purposely annoying the prior by polluting the air under his windows while burying their dead.  Another recorded argument concerned John de Michel, Prior, and William Dalton, Vicar, as to whose duty it was to strew the church floor with straw.  Thomas, Bishop of Exeter, awarded a third part of the duty to the vicar, and two-thirds to the prior.

During the Hundred Years War the alien priories were often seized into the hands of the king, who then claimed the revenues.  Queen Joan, the King’s consort, was awarded the revenues in 1409.  The arguments continued until the time of the last prior, William Benselyn, who protested against molestation after being given a licence by the vicar to hold divine service in the Chapel of St. Margaret, Penquit.

At the time of the suppression of alien priories, 1441, Modbury Priory was granted to Eton College by Henry VI, although William Benselyn stayed as lessee for life.  He lived on until at least 1479.  The Provost and Fellows became the patrons and presented the vicars until 1967.  The College is still responsible for the ancient duty of keeping the chancel end of the church ‘water and wind proof’.