Mention has already been made that the importance of the priory of Lenton was enhanced by the proximity of centres of population. In the manor of Lenton as well as in the priory, the prior was the chief figure.1 In Nottingham he had great influence in ecclesiastical affairs. At the foundation of Lenton Priory, Peverel had bestowed upon the monastery the churches of St. Mary, St. Peter and St. Nicholas—the three churches of Nottingham in the Middle Ages.2 St. Mary’s was a valuable acquisition but the other two were of little financial value. According to the Valor Ecclesiasticus 1534, St. Mary’s brought to Lenton £27 a year, St. Peter’s 16s. and St. Nicholas’s 10s.3 As St. Mary's was so valuable the monks took the whole of the income and appointed a vicar to do the work of the parish priest, paying him a stipend much smaller than the income they received. The incumbents of St. Peter’s and St. Nicholas’s were allowed the whole of the tithes, the monks contenting themselves with a yearly pension from each. Thus, to-day, there is in Nottingham a Rector of St. Peter’s, a Rector of St. Nicholas’s, but a Vicar of St. Mary’s.

The prior and convent of Lenton received an additional pension from St. John's Hospital, Nottingham. When, in 1234, this hospital was allowed to have a chapel and chaplain for divine worship, the chaplain had solemnly to swear not in any way whatsoever to defraud the prior and convent of any kind of due or offering.4 In 1400 the control which the priory exercised over ecclesiastical affairs in Nottingham was increased by the foundation instrument of Plumtree’s Hospital, at Nottingham Bridge. According to this, the presentation of the two chantry chaplains was to be in the hands of the prior and convent of Lenton.5

During the first two centuries of its existence Lenton Priory continued to receive valuable privileges. Of great value was the right to hold an annual fair. According to Thoroton this right was granted by Henry I, but it is more likely that Henry II was the benefactor. In April, 1230, Henry III increased the duration of the fair from eight to twelve days, but about 1300 the four additional days were surrendered.6 In 1199 King John confirmed to the priory the privilege of sending into the forest of Bestwood daily, one cart to take dead wood and two carts to take heather. Towards the end of the same reign the monks were granted a tithe of all the game taken in the royal forests of Nottingham and Derby.7 Perhaps the quaintest privilege of all was that granted by Pope Alexander IV in the winter of 1257-8 which allowed the monks to wear caps suited to their order at divine offices, “in consequence of the vehement cold of those parts.”8 In December, 1264, the prior of Lenton received a summons to attend Parliament—the famous Simon de Montfort’'s Parliament of 1265. In view of the personal piety characteristic of Henry III, it is no surprise to find that he was generous towards the monks of Lenton. His extension of the Martinmas fair has already been cited, but his generosity is more plainly marked in the numerous grants of stone and wood he made to enable the monks to reconstruct a number of the monastic buildings. It is clear from these grants that, from 1229 to 1256, extensive rebuilding was carried out at Lenton. In 1228 the tower of the monastic church fell, and in the next year the king gave the monks quarry rights in Nottingham Forest to help them repair the damage. About the same time five oaks were assigned to them out of the king's hay at “Willey” to make shingles for the roofing of their dormitory. This gift was followed very soon by a grant of twenty-five tie beams out of Mansfield and two oaks out of Linby to make shingles for the refectory. In 1232 the monks obtained thirty oaks out of Sherwood towards the building of the church. The year 1236 saw another gift of timber, this time for the repair of the infirmary. Four years later fifteen oaks were given to the monastery to be used for building purposes, but the entry does not state the part of the monastic buildings for which they were intended. In 1242 came a grant of stone to be used for the fabric of the tower of the church, and in 1244 several grants of oak trees for the work of building the chapter house and a chapel. Additional grants of wood or stone were made in 1246, 1249, 1250, 1252, 1253, 1255 and 1256. In 1249 and 1250 the materials were required for the fabric of the tower; in 1256 for the prior's chamber.9

The greatest of the priors of Lenton was Thomas Elmham who occupied the position early in the 15th century, but the men who filled the position of prior in the reign of Henry III were men of considerable influence and were frequently employed upon the king's business. Among the Patent Rolls there are several mandates to the prior of Lenton to go to Blyth in the north of Nottinghamshire to ensure the observance of the royal prohibition of tournaments arranged to be held there. Two of these mandates were issued in 1234, two in 1235, one in 1241 and another in 1251. Although, apparently, the tournament field at Blyth was one of five places in England licensed by Richard I for holding public tournaments, Henry III seemed determined to stamp them out. The prior of Lenton was usually accompanied by another monk, the prior of Blyth, the abbot of Roche (Yorkshire), the cellarer of Lenton, the prior of Shelford and the prior of Worksop, all receiving, at one time or another, a mandate from the king to proceed to Blyth. In 1241 the sheriff of Nottingham was ordered not to permit anyone to sell victuals or other things to those tourneying at Blyth.10

Additional evidence of the influence and importance of the prior of Lenton in the reign of Henry III, may be seen in his frequent appointment to act in a judicial capacity.11

The business the prior of Lenton transacted for the king was not confined to England. In 1224 he was one of those sent to France to treat with Louis VIII for the continuation of the truce between the two countries. Three years later the prior was appointed to negotiate with the Pope in Rome. Letters of protection were provided and 20 marks allowed for expenses.12 After Henry III’s death the prior continued to discharge important duties. In 1276 he was one of the men ordered by the king to make a scrutiny of the chest of the Jewry of Nottingham, and it appears that in 1280 he was jointly responsible for the collection in Nottinghamshire of the fifteenth granted by the clergy to Edward I.13

It has already been said that, as far as may be judged from the evidence available, relations between Lenton and Cluny were normal during the period under discussion. At the beginning of the century the organisation of the Cluniac Order had been modified. It was divided into provinces, of which England with five Scottish priories formed one. One or more monks were to be appointed yearly by the Abbot of Cluny to visit each province and to present a report at the general chapter which was held at Cluny on the third Sunday after Easter. All heads of priories, whether they were directly dependent on the mother house or not, were bound to attend the general chapter, but the presence of those from England, Spain and Lombardy was only required once in two years.14

It is difficult to decide how regularly the prior of Lenton attended the general chapter at Cluny. There is evidence that the priors of English Cluniac houses regarded the journey to Cluny as burdensome and expensive, and letters giving a variety of excuses for absence reached Cluny.15

On March 11th, 1264, protection was granted by the king to the prior of Lenton, who was going beyond the seas, and on July 8th of the same year safe conduct was afforded him on his journey to England. Although the two entries make no mention of attendance at a general chapter, it will be observed that the time for holding a general chapter would fall between the dates given.16 It has been suggested that the appointment of a special proctor by the prior of Lenton in 1285, to present in his name to vacant benefices, was made necessary by the visit of the prior to the general chapter at Cluny17, and it appears that in 1289 Peter de Sirinico, although recently deprived of the office of prior of Lenton, was at Cluny for the election of an abbot.18 In April, 1294, William, prior of Lenton, was granted protection until Michaelmas by Edward I expressly for the prior's visit to the General Chapter at Cluny.19

An entry in the Patent Rolls of 1260 shows the 13th-century method of appointing the prior of Lenton. On the death of Dalmatius, prior of Lenton, the abbot of Cluny chose Roger, prior of Montacute, to fill the vacancy. Having learned of the appointment from the abbot's letters, the king accepted the collation, admitted Dalmatius to the priory and accepted his fealty.20 Visitations also seem to have been carried out in accordance with the arrangements made at the beginning of the 13th century. Of the visitation reports of this century, those of 1262, 1275-6 and 1279 are available. For each of the years mentioned two visitors were appointed, one from an English Cluniac house and one from a foreign house. Each report showed the monastery to be in debt, but criticism of the conduct of the monks was concerned with minor breaches of the rules.21 In 1279 the monks were reported to be leading good and commendable lives, living according to rule, and solemnly conducting their devotional exercises. The prior was said to be “a worthy good man, of blameless repute.” This was an excellent report which would carry greater conviction had not the prior of Lenton himself been one of the visitors responsible for it.

(1) Godfrey:  p. 140,  for rights and  privileges exercised  by the prior in his manor of Lenton.
(2) Godfrey:  p. 62.
(3) Valor Ecclesiasticus, Vol. V, p. 147.
(4) V.C.H., Notts., Vol. II, p. 169.
(5) Ibid., p. 98
(6) A fuller account of the fair is given below p. 68.
(7) V.C.H., Notts., Vol. II, p. 98, quoting Dugdale, Mon. V, 112. 218.
(8) Cal. of Papal Letters, I, 141, quoted in   V.C.H., Notts., Vol. II, p. 94.
(9) These grants are recorded in the Close Rolls. Several of these are mentioned in the V.C.H., Notts., Vol. II. p. 93. All may be found in the Col. of Close Rolls according to the year in which the grants were made.
(10) Cal. of Patent Rolls, Henry III, Vol. 1232-47; pp. 119, 131, 266. Vol. 1247-58, p. 115. Mellors: In and about Notts., p. 58. White: Dukery Records, pp. 61-69, quoting Rymer Foedora. (Record Edition), Vol. I, p. 65.
(11) Cal. Patent Rolls, Vol. 1225-32, p. 69 ; Vol. 1216-1225 ; Vol. II, I p. 108.
(12) Patent Rolls, Vol. I, p. 484; Vol. II, p. 108. Liberate Rolls, Henry III. Vol. 1226-40.
(13) Cal. of Patent Rolls, 1280.
14) “The Cluniac Order and its English  Province,”  Journal of British Archaeological Association, 1922, p. 172.
(15) Ibid.
(16) Cal. of Patent Rolls, Henry III, Vol. 1258-60, p. 306 and 332.
(17) V.C.H.,  Notts., Vol. II, p. 95, quoting York Epis. Reg.
(18) V.C.H., Notts., Vol. II, p. 95, quoting Cal. of Pat. Rolls. (19) Cal. of Patent Rolls, Ed. I, 1294, p. 66. This took place after Edward I’s wars with France had begun. The date falls within the second period, but in the dividing of history into periods, it is necessary to remember that one gradually merges into the next, and no hard-and-fast line may be drawn. (20) Cal. of Pat. Rolls, Henry III, Vol. 1258-66, p. 93. (21) The full reports may be read in Duckett: Visitations of English Cluniac Foundations and V. C. H., Notts., Vol. II, p. 94.