(iii). From 1392 to the end of the 15th Century.

The charter of naturalisation of 1392 had placed relations between the priory of Lenton and the Crown on a better footing, but the problem of relations with Cluny remained. The Papal Schism of 1378 found France recognising the pope at Avignon, and England the pope at Rome, and for a time relations between Cluny and its English province were broken off. When, in 1409, Pope Alexander V was recognised by England and France the abbots of Cluny aimed at recovering all their lost rights. But throughout the 15th century the English Cluniac houses strove to shake off the yoke of the mother houses in France. Crown and Papacy granted them special privileges and some of the houses became directly subject to the Pope.

Outstanding among the privileges sought by the English Cluniacs was the freedom of election. Thetford, at some date before 1376, had been granted this privilege by a Papal bull. In 1399 Bermondsey was created an abbey by Pope Boniface IX, and at the same time the monks were granted the right to elect their own abbot. It has been said that early in the 15th century, Lenton had its constitution changed, and no longer owed obedience to Cluny, but probably to Bermondsey.1 If this change took place at all, its duration was short. The abbot of Cluny refused to recognise Bermondsey as an abbey, and in the middle of the 15th century he still nominated to the priory of Lenton. Northampton in 1405 and Montacute in 1413 gained the freedom of election from the king.2

This privilege was never attained by the monks of Lenton in spite of an appeal by Henry V prompted by the influential Thomas Elmham, who was made prior of Lenton in 1414.3 It is clear, however, that the method of choosing the prior of Lenton underwent changes during the 15th century. Thomas Elmham was appointed by the prior of St. Pancras, Lewes, chamberlain and vicar-general of the abbot of Cluny in England and Scotland.4 In 1427 John Elmham was also appointed to Lenton by the prior of Lewes, vicar-general, but, according to Patent Rolls, the abbot of Cluny himself appointed John Middylburgh, in 1450, to the priory of Lenton.5

Over the next appointment still another procedure was followed. The Patent Rolls reveal that the king, instead of accepting the collation of the abbot of Cluny or of his vicar-general, on July 15th, 1459, granted the priory to Thomas Wollore for life, and on July 30th gave permission to the prior of Lewes, vicar in spiritualities to the abbot of Cluny, to do all that pertained to his office in connection with the appointment of Wollore.6 A rather lengthy letter to Wollore from the Pope7 throws additional light on the appointment of the prior. Being the son of unmarried parents, Wollore should have secured a special papal dispensation before accepting the office, but had failed to do so. The Pope absolved him from sentence of excommunication, rehabilitated him, but required him to resign. At the same time a letter was dispatched to the prior of Newstead, not to the vicar-general of the abbot of Cluny, instructing him to assign Lenton Priory to Wollore after he had resigned in accordance with the Pope's wishes. In the letter to Wollore there is confirmation of the evidence in the Patent Rolls. The king had originally presented Wollore to Lenton, and the vicar-general in spirituals of the abbot of Cluny had carried out the institution of the prior. It would appear that both king and Pope were attempting to deprive the abbot of Cluny of his right to present to Lenton Priory. The king was successful. Subsequent appointments were made by the king or his ministers.8 By the end of the 15th century, the bonds which had bound the English Cluniac houses to the mother house were completely severed. The process was a gradual one, and the severance cannot be ascribed to one year or one act.9 In 1401 the English Cluniac priors had refused to pay a penny to the abbot of Cluny’s envoy on the grounds that the French Cluniacs were schismatics,10 but the sending of a visitation report to Cluny in 1405 suggests that before the Papal Schism had come to an end, Cluny’s authority over its English houses had been reasserted with some success11 In 1409 England and France both recognised the same Pope. In 1410 the abbot of Cluny appointed the prior of Lewes to be his vicar-general with power to nominate the heads of English houses. Permission to hold this important office of vicar-general was, in 1415, granted by Henry V to Thomas Elmham who, the previous year, had been made prior of Lenton. Among the priors of Lenton of whom much is known, Elmham may be regarded as the greatest, if influence in national affairs is considered the mark of a great prior. He is certainly the only English Cluniac of the 15th century who has attracted the attention of historians.12 Elmham himself was an historian of note. He was also a valuable servant of the king, and, as vicar-general of the abbot of Cluny in the province of England and Scotland, displayed a practical ability which left its mark upon the affairs of the English Cluniacs. Elmham's historical works are:—

  1. Historia Monasterii Sancti Augustini Cantuariensis.
  2. Gesta Henrici Quinti; an account of the French wars of 1415, regarded as a first-rate authority.
  3. Liber Metricus de Henrico Vio; apparently a supplement to the previous book.

As royal chaplain, Elmham was employed on the king's business at Westminster, and so immersed was he in state affairs that Henry V refused to spare him to attend the Council of Constance in the autumn of 1414. During the next year, this energetic prior of Lenton, in attendance upon the king, was present at the siege of Harfleur and the Battle of Agincourt. At some period in the year 1414 the priors of the English Cluniac houses, having discussed their position in relation to the mother house, framed a number of proposals for consideration by the abbot of Cluny. According to a great authority on the English Cluniacs, the final draft of the document was made probably by Elmham.13 Although busily occupied with the king's business, the prior fulfilled his duties as vicar-general with energy and thoroughness. Having made a visitation of the Cluniac houses in England, apparently in June or July of 1415, he complained the next year to the abbot of Cluny that he had received no reply to his report of the visitation. With the complaint were sent general suggestions for the improvement of the Order in England, copies of documents about other matters and a request for further instructions. In 1417 Elmham was chosen vicar-general by the abbot of Cluny for a second term of two years. In 1426 Elmham was made commissary-general for all vacant benefices belonging to the Cluniac Order in England, Scotland and Ireland, but during the same year resigned his position as prior of Lenton, being succeeded by John Elmham, possibly a relative.14 The proposals sent by the English priors to Cluny, at first unfavourably received, were eventually seriously considered. Although some of the suggestions were finally rejected, several important changes were made. The vicar-general was given power to summon provincial chapters, and the attendance of the English priors at the general chapters at the mother house was not required. Evidence shows that even French monks could not travel in safety to their general chapters, and that the machinery of the central govern­ment in the Cluniac Order had broken down.15

The gradual dwindling of their authority over the English houses was not the only disappointment the abbots of Cluny had to face. From 1424 to 1436 financial difficulties distressed the mother house. Attempts by the English vicar-general to collect money brought little result, the refusal of priors to pay receiving support from the royal prohibition against the sending of gold and silver out of the kingdom.16 When Jean de Bourbon became abbot of Cluny in 1456 he openly aimed at the restoration of the Order to its former position. Two years later the complaint was made at the general chapter that many monasteries were in a ruinous condition, and that more than sixty years had elapsed since the provinces of England and Scotland, Spain, Italy, Hungary and Poland had been visited. A visitation was arranged and three distinguished monks were appointed to visit England. In spite of elaborate preparations made at Cluny for the success ot the venture, no satisfaction was obtained. Much time was spent waiting for an audience with the king. One of the visitors died. After four months the two others had little left beyond five gold crowns, a scanty sum for the long return journey to Cluny.

The statement by the prior of Vaucluse after the failure of the mission, that Cluny had lost the obedience of her thirty priories, does not mark, as was at one time supposed, the end of the influence of Cluny in England. Priors of Lewes continued until 1473 at least, to receive appointment as vicars-general, but the abbot of Cluny after 1459 took little interest in the English provinces.

In 1480, in response to a petition asking that the priory ot Lewes and all its dependencies might be released from dependence on Cluny, Pope Sixtus IV made the monastery directly subject to the Papal See. To the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1490 Pope Innocent VIII, at the request of King Henry VII, gave power to visit, correct and reform all exempt monasteries, including Cluniac houses.17 By the end of the century the English Cluniac houses were Cluniac only in name.

(1) E.L. Guilford: Nottingham, p. 104. Gasquet: English Monastic Life, 1905, p. 181, states that Lenton obtained the right of election. All the evidence is against this view.
(2) See R. Graham: “The English Province of the Order of Cluny in the Fifteenth century," Trans, of Royal Hist. Soc., 1924, p. 98.
(3) Transactions of Royal Hist. Soc., 1924. p.  107.
(4) Cal. of Patent Rolls, 1414.
(5) Cal. of Patent Rolls, 1422-29, p. 392.
(6) Cal. of Patent Rolls. Henry VI, 1452-61.
(7) Cal. of Papal Registers:   Papal Letters, XIII, p. 63.
(8) Cat. of Patent Rolls, passim.
(9) Trans. Royal Hist. Soc.. 1924, pp. 119/120 and p. 126.
(10)  Ibid., p. 99.
(11)  Duckett:  Visit, of Eng. Cluniac Houses. For the Report on Lenton see V.C.H., Notts., Vol. II. p. 98.
(12) Trans, of Royal Hist. Soc., 1924, p. 104.
(13) Miss Rose Graham, M.A., F.S.A., F.R.Hist.S. “The English Province of the Order of Cluny in the Fifteenth Century,” Trans, of the Royal Hist. Soc., 1924, p. 106.
(14) Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. VI, p. 727. R. Graham: “The Eng. Prov. of the Order of Cluny,” Trans, of the Royal Hist. Soc., 1924, pp. 104-10. Godfrey: History of the Parish and Priory of Lenton, pp. 182-189.
(15) “The Eng. Prov. of the Order of Cluny in the Fifteenth Century,” Trans, of the Royal Hist. Soc., 1924, p. 109.
(16)  Ibid., pp. 110-113.
(17)  Ibid., pp. 117-126.