The Medieval Review 10.04.02

Legg, Katrina J. The Lost Cartulary of Bolton Priory: An Edition of the Coucher Book and Charters. Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Record Series, 160. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell, 2009. Pp. xxxiv, 335. $95 ISBN 978-1-903564-16-5. .

Reviewed by:

Marie Lovatt
Wolfson College, University of Cambridge
mbl20@cam.ac.uk

This book is, essentially, the story of a mediaeval religious house in North Yorkshire, as told through its charters. The priory of St Mary and St Cuthbert, Bolton, a house of canons regular, was originally founded at Embsay (near Skipton, in the Yorkshire Dales) from the Augustinian priory of St Mary, Huntingdon (Huntingdonshire) in 1120- 1121 by William le Meschin and his wife Cecily de Rumilly. Always a relatively small house, the canons were subsequently transferred in 1154-1155 to a better site at Bolton in Craven, some six miles due east on the river Wharfe, and their house gradually became known as Bolton Priory. The early status of Embsay is unclear. Was it a daughter house or founded in its own right? Its main endowment--the church of Holy Trinity, Skipton, with its chapel of Carleton-- certainly seems to have been given in the first place to St Mary's priory Huntingdon, to whom Meschin was already a benefactor. But the fact that its transfer--possibly together with Reginald, canon of Huntingdon and Embsay's first prior--appears to have been peaceful probably implies mutual consent: and although in the 1190s Huntingdon still claimed some rights over Bolton Priory, as it had then become, Bolton had gained independence by the end of the century. Thereafter, apart from the effects of Scots raids and the serious financial implications of Bolton's acquisition of Appletreewick after 1274, the house continued relatively steadily until its dissolution in January 1539--following which, incidentally, William Blackbourne, one of the canons, may be found acting as chaplain to the earl of Cumberland, one of the main beneficiaries of its demise (see Claire Cross and Noreen Vickers, Monks, Friars and Nuns in Sixteenth Century Yorkshire, Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Record Series, Volume CL for the years 1991 and 1992, Huddersfield 1995, p.245.)

The core of Dr Legg's book is an edition of the Coucher Book of Bolton Priory, now at Chatsworth House. Written on paper, this was almost certainly compiled soon after the Dissolution of the Monasteries as the partial copy of another, earlier cartulary, now lost. The aim of the compiler would seem to have been essentially practical: to record for future reference, probably for the benefit of the new lay proprietors of the priory's estates, the charter evidence relating to the priory's legal claims to (certain of) the very miscellaneous collection of lands and properties which it had amassed since its foundation. This presumably explains the (unusual) presence in the Coucher, interspersed between the charters, of very many lengthy memoranda, which appear designed to give historical continuity to a collection of acta which might otherwise have seemed strangely disjointed. The Coucher contains 467 items in all (as shown by Legg's very full transcripts), but the selection of these items is odd. The manuscript contains, for instance, no specific acta of any twelfth century archbishop of York, even of Archbishop Thurstan under whom Embsay was founded (although the founders' own notification to the archbishop is extant). It also contains no papal letters and comparatively few early royal charters, even though we know from Legg's notes that many of these acta once existed elsewhere. Thurstan's charter confirming Embsay's foundation still exists, for instance, in a later inspeximus preserved in the Hatton Library, as does his confirmation to Embsay of the church of St Andrew, Kildwick and the appropriation thereof. For both charters, see Charles Travis Clay, Early Yorkshire Charters volume VII: The Honour of Skipton Wakefield 1947, nos.3 and 8.

For the sake of completeness, Legg has also calendared, in Appendix I, a further 60 Bolton charters which do not appear in the Coucher. These were seen in chartulario prioratus de Bolton in Craven and copied therefrom by the antiquary Roger Dodsworth at some time between 1627 and 1643 (to give the widest possible date limits). We know for certain that Dodsworth inspected this cartulary (which was then in the possession of William Ingilby) in 1638 and 1643. His extensive copy exists today in what is now Oxford, Bodl. ms. Dodsworth 144. In this, Dodsworth notes the original folio numbers in the cartulary for almost every actum which he recorded, and the textual meat of much of the contents. While other stray Bolton Abbey charters were copied by Dodsworth elsewhere, ms. 144 was his only copy of an entire Bolton cartulary. That Ingilby cartulary is now lost, perhaps tragically destroyed in 1644 during the Civil War, together with St Mary's Tower, York, where (together with other cartularies) it may subsequently have been preserved. But Legg has reconstructed, impressively, the probable layout of this lost cartulary, and has produced a table to illustrate which acta were subsequently copied by the Coucher scribe, which survive in ms. Dodsworth 144, and where these two sources overlap (or not). In Appendix II, she has also printed a further 70 original charters concerning Bolton Priory, many of which are still preserved at Chatsworth House; and in Appendix III she has included two transcripts of charters of the family of the founders of Bolton for which the originals are no longer extant.

It is clear from the above evidence that both the scribe of the Coucher and Roger Dodsworth were indeed using the same source. Dodsworth even reproduces the various memoranda of the Coucher, and the first 10 folios of ms.144 resemble it closely. Where the Coucher reproduces family charters of grants, some large but many comparatively modest, Dodsworth often inserts family trees to illustrate the genealogy of individual donors. It is also clear, however, that whatever Dodsworth and the Coucher scribe were using, that cartulary, in view of its many lacunae, is highly unlikely to have been the original cartulary of Bolton Priory. Document Q is, as it were, still lurking in the background. Surely we are actually dealing here with at least two lost originals: one (Legg's Lost Cartulary) written around 1300, perhaps in the time of Prior John of Laund and after the acquisition of Appletreewick, and one compiled much earlier. This is suggested by the odd selection of acta in the Coucher and by Dodsworth (whose omissions of papal and early York archiepiscopal acta have already been noted), and is surely confirmed by the exceedingly interesting set of original charters which Legg prints in Appendix II. How, for instance, could numbers 44, 55 and 56 (all important royal charters) and numbers 38 and 40 (acta regarding the advowson of the church of Keighley), all in Appendix II, have been omitted from any properly comprehensive cartulary? Dodsworth, at least, would surely not have overlooked such plums.

Dr Legg's valuable printed edition of so many previously somewhat inaccessible Bolton charters fills a substantial gap in our knowledge of this northern religious house. One could-perhaps unfairly-have wished in Appendix I for fuller texts, in line with her edition of the Coucher and of Appendices II and III, rather than just a calendar of Dodsworth's chartularium--though in fact Legg's accounts of the contents of the individual acta which Dodsworth records are extensive and include all witnesses. Also, it is not sufficiently clear from her introduction that there must have been more than one lost cartulary. In other words, a little more background information would have proved illuminating. For instance, it is well known that William le Meschin, Embsay's joint founder, was a man of considerable power on the Scottish Borders (and elsewhere in England). Meschin himself was lord of Copeland and his wife Cecily de Rumilly was lady of Skipton. Might it therefore have been mentioned that Embsay was founded from Huntingdon Priory, to whom Skipton church was initially given, perhaps because of Meschin's strategic importance to the Scottish royal family, and vice versa? David I King of Scotland--whose nephew, William son of (King) Duncan (II), married le Meschin's daughter and heiress, Alice de Rumilly-was, after all, also Earl of Huntingdon. Indeed, King David heads the witness-list to Henry I's 1126/7 or 1130 confirmation of Meschin's grant of Skipton church to Huntingdon Priory, for which see Charles Travis Clay, Early Yorkshire Charters vol. VII: The Honour of Skipton no. 1, pp. 50-52. Might Meschin's grant to Huntingdon even suggest a previous family link? More might have been said about this, especially since William son of Duncan subsequently made, confirmed or witnessed several grants to Bolton (see Coucher Book nos. 11-14, 108, 276-7, 415, 449). More information might also have been given about the other important family connections which appear in these charters, and to this end a genealogy (along the lines of Clay's genealogy for the Lords of the Honour of Skipton) would have been helpful. A map would likewise have been useful. The index is sometimes unsatisfactory (viz. "Norwich, archbishop of, see Gray, John"), and the descriptions of the contents of the charters might have pointed out some interesting and unusual features (such as Drogo, the scribe of Coucher Book nos. 12 and 277, describing himself as "brevifactore." and the phrase "contra omnes homines et feminas" in Coucher Book no. 83). Finally, confusing dates are given for some royal charters (cf. Coucher Book nos. 33, 123) and slight oddities of usage (cf. Eborum in Coucher Book nos. 212, 227). But these are minor irritants. In general, this book is a considerable and valuable achievement, a most informative read, and clearly the result of much comprehensive and painstaking research. Disentangling Dodsworth's charters from those of the Coucher must, in itself, have been an arduous task. Legg is to be congratulated on having made a significant contribution to our knowledge of the ecclesiastical history of the north of England.