We need to go back to the reign of King Henry I to start our story to a time when a man named William De Lacy decided to live his life as a hermit after seeing a beautiful spot in the Black Mountains near the Brecon Beacons. He lived his life there in the worship of God and was in a few years joined by the chaplin of Queen Maud. The two brothers decided to build a monastery and so Llanthony Prima was formed. The monastery prospered until the death of King Henry I.
It was during the reigns of King Stephen and Queen Matilda that troubles began, in fact it was during this time that there was trouble throughout England and Wales. There were approximately 40 canon monks living at Llanthony Prima and although their Augustine rule was to live in peace troubles landed at their dorr. We know that the monks of Llanthony had various problems with their Welsh neighbours, it may have been that the Welsh resented their presence as the monastery would have been seen as Norman, run by Normans and it was not Wales which had been conquered as yet. We don’t know exactly what happened but we do amazingly enough have an accounting from the Monk of Llanthony writing in the 12th century to help us work it out. He tells us of the Welshmen fighting with each other and how Llanthony became involved.
“A Welshman, a neighbour of theirs, when he and his family were terrified on all hands by the enemy’s threats and weapons, and had no way to escape or hide himself, he fled with his whole household to Llanthony, to seek refuge in that consecrated place; but his enemies prosecuted him with inexorable malice, and having way-laid him in the outer courtyard, they vent their poinsonous fury on him. He flees with the women of his family into the innermost offices; and the women seize the room where the brethren were accustomed to eat, and were not ashamed to sing, and prophane that place with their light and effeminate behaviour. What should the soldiers of Christ do? They are surrounded without by the weapons of their enemies; there are arms without doors, and frights within: they cannot procure sustencance from abroad to satisfy their hunger, nor can they attend divine services with accustomed reverence, by reason of the vain insolence of those ungrateful guests. A great confusion appears in the monastery, lest some of the weaker brethren should be deluded to commit sin. In the multitude of evils which surround them, they know not what to do; they send to the Bishop of hereford to ask advice in those difficult circumstances, and resolve to observe whatsoever he shall direct.”
In 1136 the monks of Llanthony primarily left the priory and went to the Bishop of Hereford as he beseeched them to do. He took them in but was not without his own troubles at the time. It was initially hoped that the troubles would end soon and they would be able to return to Llanthony Prima but as time went on and the situation did not improve a solution had to be found.
The 12th century monk of Llanthony speaks about the state of the country.”no hopes of redrefs of their evils did appear, and that the storm might blow over, and that they might again return in peace to their own home; but rather on the contrary new broils did every day arise in the nation, and the enemies of peace raged with fury: For cruel wars were carried on between King Stephen and his cousin Maud the Empress, and her son Henry, about the title of the crown, which caused bloodshed and destruction in all parts, and no expectation of better days.”
The Bishop of Hereford had previously been the Prior of Llanthony, he knew these monks personally and must have felt responsible for them. And so it came to pass that a man named Milo Fitz Walter who’s father had previously retired from life to become one of the canon monks of Llanthony, whether by his own free will or by coercion gave the monks of Llanthony further lands mainly in Gloucester where they could build for themselves a new church. In his charter dated 1136 Milo gives the monks not only the lands in Gloucester but many other small parcels of property, rights to tithes and churches. In this charter the monks are given two parts of the tithes of Caldicot.
The monks of Llanthony had decided and it was agreed that once the troubles were over they would be able to return to the Mother house of Llanthony Prima. It was planned that once the new church of Llanthony, which they would call Llanthony Secunda (secunda meaning second in latin) was built that it would remain a daughter house. Plans however don’t always go smoothly and it was very unfortunate that it was to become an issue which would split the brethren of Llanthony.
The monk of Llanthony tells us that “The church which they had newly built was called Llanthony, by the name of the former church, least posterity should call it into question, whether this new church was a branch of the other, and a tree out of the old root? Or whether a church which had its original in this manner out not to be esteemed the daughter or cell of the other. it is true the patron did not give the site to the church of St. John in Wales, but he gave it to the monks belonging to that church; and what does a church consist of? Not of the stones, but rather of the faithful prosessors of Christ: But I will give offence to no man; I stop my mouth, and will not say a word more.”
This was the argument and its easy to see how it came about. On the one hand you have the monks of Llanthony who want to return to the mother house in Wales. It was after all what had been intended all along. One the other hand you had the monks who did not, who saw living in Gloucester not only the easier option but the better for finance, safety, prosperity and convenience So the argument came down to what was planned those who wanted to return said this was how it was intended and those who did not said but the church was given to the monks and not to Llanthony so we can have this as the main house if we choose.
This wasn’t settled for many years but it is this argument which lead to the two comminutes separating in 1205. All these years later what is great about these dates is that Llanthony Secunda Manor can prove that it was a working grange between the dates of 1136 and 1205. It does this because it paid a portion of its income to both houses after they had split and only the properties which were jointly owned before 1205 did this.
* I have used The Ancient and Present State of Gloucester as my source for the text of the monk of Llanthony which is a 12th century manuscript that is part of the Cotton Library.