The Augustinian canons of Plympton Priory and their place in English church and society, 1121-c. 1400
By Allison Dawn Fizzard
PhD Dissertation, University of Toronto, 1999
Abstract: In the twelfth century, the religious order known as the Augustinian canons flourished in England. Despite the fact that over two hundred Augustinian houses were founded in England, this order has received relatively little attention from scholars of English monasticism.
The present dissertation contributes to the knowledge of the Augustinian canons through a study of the weaithiest house of this order in the South-West of England, Plympton Priory. It explores the monks which connected the canons of Plympton with the laity, clergy, and episcopacy of the Diocese of Exeter.
The dissertation begins with a discussion of the background and context of the fomdations of Augustinian houses in England in the twelfth century. Chapter One questions the view that patrons founded these houses with the expectation that the canons would engage in pastoral care. It is suggested here that a significant factor in the popularity of the order amongst patrons and benefactors – especially bishops – was the dedication of the canons to divine worship and celibacy.
Chapters Two and Three discuss how Plympton Priory built up and maintained its endowment. The Priory not only received generous donations from its patrons, the Bishops of Exeter, but also from the chief barons of Devon and their tenants. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Plympton effectively “managed” its inheritance in the face of usually unsuccessful challenges to its possessions by heirs of its benefactors and by Bishop Walter Bronescombe of Exeter.
Chapters Four and Five explore the implications of the Priory’s rights over churches on its relations with parishioners and its involvement with secular clergy. This dissertation challenges some of the assumptions scholars have had about the roles and activities of the Augustinian canons as well as the motives and status of their patrons and benefactors.
The sources used for this research–unpublished and published charters, episcopal registers, and judicial and chancery records–have provided a wealth of information on an important Priory and on the intersection of religious and social history in medieval Devon and Cornwall.