Articles from the Thoroton Society Newsletter

Ratcliffe on Soar’s 14th century spat with the Pope

By Ray State

Holy Trinity Church, Ratcliffe on Soar in the snow of 2021.Holy Trinity Church, Ratcliffe on Soar in the snow of 2021.

Ratcliffe on Soar, a small village to the west of the county, has a large church dedicated to the Holy Trinity. At the beginning of the 14th century its advowson was vested with the Priory of Norton, Cheshire, who had acquired it in 1135 in dubious circumstances.1/2 The church underwent rebuilding and extending under Norton’s direction resulting in a church far too large for its community which has never exceeded 136 persons. It was, however, considered wealthy probably due to it being on the major northern crossing point of the river Soar, the raising of tolls and the possible location of a refuge for travellers.1/2 The medieval Lords of the Manor kept up a running war with Norton in an attempt to recover the advowson with limited success. In 1198 the lordship rested with the Picot (Pycot) family, the descendants of whom retained the manor until at least 1313. Only in one year (1272) were the family able to recover the advowson but this was reversed the following year by Papal decree.3 The presence of a Picot descendant in Exeter may be influential to what happened in 1381.

In 1317 Ratcliffe’s priest, John de Claro, died and his replacement, William de Alminsland, was given a 2-year leave of absence to complete his studies before he could take up the post.This left the living seemingly vacant and, as common in such cases, the Pope in Avignon moved to grant Ratcliffe to a French cleric, Cardinal Bertrand. Bertrand moved to appoint his own nominee and actioned the Prior of Lenton to fulfil the transfer. This was against the policy of King Edward II who, on learning of the transfer, prohibited the Prior from taking any action. Matters rumbled on into 1319. A letter to the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of Hereford and Rigoud de Asserio, Bishop elect of Winchester, placed a mandate to cite before the Pope the Cluniac Prior of Lenton in the Diocese of York who had refused to obey the papal order directing him to induct the proctor of Bertrand, Cardinal of St Marcellus, into the rectory of Ratcliffe on Soar in the Diocese of York6. A second letter cited Walter de Alminsland who ‘. . . by lay power had thrust himself into the parish church of Ratcliffe on Soar of which Papal provision was made to Cardinal Bertrand’. In consequence,the Prior was summoned to York to explain his lack of action. Obeying Edward II’s instruction, he did not attend and was promptly excommunicated.7 Again the Prior was summoned, this time to attend the Pope at Avignon. On the 28th April 1320, Edward II wrote to the Prior of Lenton (Geoffrey de Chintriaco) issuing him with a prohibition order preventing him going beyond the sea or of his presumption to send an attorney without consulting the King who wrote “in answer to his refusal to admit a parson to the church of Radeclive on Sore the king having prohibited his admitting a parson to that church pending the suit in the kings court between Thomas, Earl of Lancaster and the Prior of Norton concerning the advowson of the said church as the king understands that he is cited to answer concerning the same without the realm and that he is preparing to go out of the realm to answer”8. It would appear that Geoffrey had been instructed to attend the Papal court (in Avignon) to explain and being under a travel prohibition he had appealed to the other Cluniac Priories in England to support him. He claimed that “Lenton has being caught up in this dispute and it was causing great destruction of his house there”. The matter dragged on and by 1323 was getting rather nasty. On the 7th November 1323 the Pope wrote “To the Archbishop of York, the Abbot of St Mary’s York and the sacristan of Narbonne. Mandate to cite Geoffrey de Chintriaco, Prior of Lenton, who has disobeyed the Pope’s order to carry out the provision made to Bertrand, cardinal of St Marcellus of the church of Ratcliffe on Soar in the diocese of York. Geoffrey having been excommunicated by Peter, cardinal of St Sasaunds, has for three years been contentious and has tried to extort from Cardinal Bertrand a part of the tythes belonging to the cardinals prebend of Croperi in the church of Lincoln and has otherwise harassed him”.9 The letter seems to suggest Geoffrey had attempted to extract revenue from Cardinal Bertrand in respect of a church in Lincoln. In the meantime William de Alminsland had finished his studies and returned to Ratcliffe with the village seeming to have continued as normal, oblivious of the dispute raging at a high level.

The Pope now appealed directly to the King. On the 3rd May 1325 Pope John XXII wrote “To the King. Touching the provisions made by the Pope to Bertrand, cardinal of St Marcellus papal legate, of the church of Ratcliffe on Sore in the diocese of York, the executors deputed by the cardinal were hindered by royal prohibition made at the instance of Walter de Alisande (Alminsland) also occupied the said church from obtaining possession of it. The Pope begs the king to grant possession of the church to the cardinal’s proctor to remove it from the said occupier’.10 However, the King had more pressing matters than a dispute over a rural church as his dispute with his queen,Isabella, was developing into open rebellion.

This ultimately led to his abdication and death on 21st September 1327. The dispute again rumbled on. On the 25th January 1327 Edward III came to the throne but was under the dominance of Roger Mortimer and his lover, Edward’s mother. On the 15th May 1327 Edward III passed through Nottingham probably staying at the castle.11 Geoffrey saw his opportunity and waited on the King and appealed for help. Edward wrote to the Pope and to Cardinal de St Susanna explaining the situation and defending the Prior as recorded in the Close Rolls. This had no effect. This dispute which had gone on for 11 years was finally resolved when Geoffrey Chintriaco resigned from the Priory at Lenton and was made Prior of Mentoule. Pope John XII wrote to Peter, bishop of Porto ‘regarding a mandate to absolve Geoffrey de Chintriaco, Prior of Lenton, in the diocese of York, from the sentence of excommunication issued against him by the said Peter, then cardinal of St. Susanna's, in the cause between Geoffrey and Bertrand, bishop of Ostia, then cardinal of St. Marcellus, about the church of Radeclive on Sore.’

Geoffrey de Chintriaco’s place is taken by a monk of Cluny, Guichard de Jou (but the appointment may not have been taken up until 1331). It is not known who succeeded the rectory at Ratcliffe but may be John Gerard as he is recorded as rector on the 1st November 1331.12Having gained some retribution and with the departure of Walter de Alminsland, the Pope drew a line under the issue. Peace descended on the village but it was not to last. In 1349 the Black Death struck. How this affected Norton is unclear but it seems its finances were disrupted which brought the Priory to the attention of the Bishop of York. He referred the matter to his treasurer John de Wynwyck. John had become treasurer in York in 1349 having held the prebendary of South Muskham from 1347. That is not all, as Frederick Crooks described in 192513“John de Wynwyck was actively devoted to the service of Edward III and honours and wealth were showered upon him’.14 The Calendar of Patent Rolls has an entry for 1st December 1358 which reads: ‘John of Winwick (sic), treasurer of York to grant the canon of Norton 40/- a year rent from the lands in Burgh in Lonsdale in Licence granted by return for the church of Ratcliffe on Soar.’ It would appear that John had secured the prebend of Ratcliffe for a purpose the details of which were disclosed in his will with a date of the 3rd October 1359 which reads; ‘The advowson of the church of Radeclive upon Sore shall be assigned to the chapter of Lichfield upon condition that they found and find for me and my benefactors a perpetual chantry of two chaplains in the cathedral church of Lichfield and that a distribution shall be made there every year on the day of my death to 300 poor people each receiving 1d and providing also that the chapter shall not make any demand upon my executors in respect of pension out of the church of Wygan during the time I have had it.’ He also made bequests in Oxford. There were a number of executors the chief amongst them being John’s brother, Richard. On the 7th December 1359 John made his last appointment when Henry de Blakeburn was made rector of Ratcliffe. A few months later John died. Later, when the Will was proved on the 28th June 1360, Ratcliffe was mentioned again. Proved: That the advowson of the church of Radclyve (sic) on Sore should be assigned to the maintenance of scholars dwelling in Oxford in a hall to be built by his executors. It is uncertain as to how this codicil came about but it was to have major repercussions for Ratcliffe church. As stated, the leading executor was Richard de Wynwyck and he set about his duties to implement John’s wishes after he died early in 1360. He appears to have redirected the advowson of Ratcliffe from Lichfield to Oxford but on whose authority remains unclear but in 1361 the Inquisition Post-mortem confirmed the change and also named the hall to which the bequest was to be made. The Writs of Westminster record: It is not the loss or prejudice of the King or any other if he grants to Richard Wynwyck brother and heir of John Wynwyck executor of the will of the same John, that he may give the advowson of the church of Radeclive on Sore to the Provost and scholars of the King’s Hall of the Blessed Mary at Oxford called “le Oriole" to find and maintain certain poor scholars dwelling in the aforesaid hall students of the said university forever. The aforesaid advowson is held of Ralph Bassett Knight as of his manor aforesaid by the service of the 20th part of a knight’s fee. The same church is worth, according to the true value of the same, 40 marks (£26.13.4d) a year and the extent of the same is 50 marks.’

We therefore have a clear idea of the value of Ratcliffe. St Mary’s Hall Oxford was founded in 1326. It had an association with Oriel College which existed next door. Ratcliffe manor was now in the hands of the Basset family and from the reference above it seems that John de Wynwyck and his executor had come to an understanding over the advowson of the church probably from 1358. In 1363 Richard petitioned the Pope to confirm the bequest. This turned out to be a mistake as the Papacy had been inherited by Urban V who had been trained in the law and although a supporter of universities would not tolerate corruption and, in particular, diversion of revenues. In a response (Avignon 1 Urban V 1st Sept 1363) he granted the petition in regard to the foundation made from the goods of the deceased but not for the appropriation of the church.So complex was this decision that it runs to 60 pages. Richard refused to obey this and in 1365 sought support of Edward III. The Calendar of Patent Rolls for 20th October 1365 recorded at Sandwich, Kent, that the King grants a:‘License for the alienation in mortmain by the king’s clerk John de Wynwyck treasurer of the church of St Peter York or his executor after his death of £50 yearly of lands, rents or advowsons of the churches not held in chief, to support poor scholars in the University of Oxford or other chantrys or works of piety (Vacated because surrendered, the executors of his will having on &h July 40 Edw III (1365) acquired the advowson of the church of Redeclyf on Sore in full satisfaction of the £50)’

Once again Ratcliffe was embroiled in a battle over its advowson. In all this the Ralph Lord Basset the Lord of the Manor of Ratcliffe kept out of the dispute. Later the manor was to come to Hugh de Shirley. Nothing much happened in the early 1370s with the Pope grumbling about the advowson and, with his own local troubles, took no action except to grudgingly accept the appointment of Henry de Blakeburn as rector of Ratcliffe. There then appears an entry in the Richard II’s Patent Rolls for 20th May 1375. ‘Commission to all sheriffs to arrest Walter Levenaunt, clerk, Westminster and Ralph Daventre and Baldwin Taillour, his proctors and all his aiders and abettors and have them presented before the king and council by sufficient mainprise, bail or other pledge, together with the cause of their taking all letters, processes and other things prejudicial to the king found with them. As the King has learned that, although Henry Blackeburn (sic), clerk, canonically obtained the church of Radecleve upon Sore, by virtue of the presentation of John de Wynwyck, now deceased, the patron thereof and long possessed it peacefully, the said Walter, well knowing the right of the said patron suggested in the court of Rome that the church was void and pertained to the provision of the apostolic see, whereas it did not and could not procured a provision thereof to him and various processes and personal citations against the said Henry to appear without the realm upon his right to the possession of the church and by the colour thereof by himself and his proctors strives to intrude into the said church and expel therefrom William Julyan who has been admitted and canonically instituted therein on the resignation of the said Henry by the presentation of Richard de Wynwyck, brother and heir of the said John and patron of the church.’ It would appear that Henry Blakeburn resigned and Richard de Wynwyck appointed William Julyan as rector. The Patent Rolls have an entry for 6th December 1380 citing the Levenaunt, Daventre and Taillour for an undisclosed misdemeanour in Buckinghamshire for which they had been fined 20s and which they had not paid. There is no proof that this was in relation to a church but it is likely to have been so. A similar order was repeated in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and in Lancashire at about the same time for things that happened several years earlier. Again what they did is not stated. It is not known if the Buckinghamshire fine was paid but it does appear that the three were some form of roving enforcers. Their attack on William Julyan and Ratcliffe’s church appears to have been in writing and their crime, reporting the events to the Pope without royal assent. It is not known if the group appeared before the court but in 1377 the Papacy returned to Rome. The knowledge concerning the appointment of William Julyan seems to have incensed the Pope who was now Urban VI who demanded his removal. Richard, with his support from the King, ignored the command. Walter Levenaunt however seems to have decided on direct action. On the afternoon/evening of the 9th October 1381 the church at Ratcliffe was attacked by the gang. This appears to have been encouraged by someone close to the Bishop of Exeter as Walter was a man of Devon and was then recorded as a clerk in the employ of the bishop. The Calendar of Patent Rolls for 1381 record that: Walter, a clerk of Exeter, who averring in the court of Rome that the church was void (living was vacant) and pertaining to the Pope’s provision, procured provision thereof in his favour. It appears that Walter was not going to let the matter drop. Someone in Exeter was prevailed upon by the Pope to remove the Wynwyck appointee by force if necessary.15The gang finding the church doors barred attempted to burn them down. William Julyan was inside and departed up onto the roof. The attack failed for reasons not explained but since the church was immediately opposite the manor house the noise must have roused the Basset household to intervene. Retribution was swift. The King appears to have had enough of the gang’s activities as the Close Rolls of Richard II dated 24th October 1381 record: ‘Memorandum.The kings writ was publicly delivered to Walter Levenaunt, clerk, forbidding him under pain of forfeiture to depart to any foreign parts without special licence to sue ought thee by himself or others which may tend to (be) contempt of the King or to prejudice of the people and realm or the law.’

The blocked priest’s door in the chancel which was the one probably attacked on the 9thOctober 1381. The opening on the right is carved out of a solid block of stone.That on the left was a cavity some 2m long now partially blocked. Before 2010 when the church was restored, both openings were filled with hard plaster flush with the wall. In 1381 the cavity on the left would have held the fouling bar 4 to 5 inches square which would have been drawn across the door and inserted into the right cavity. The door would have opened inwards. The outline of the priest’s door in the east face of the tower can be seen in the pictures on the next page.

The roof was lowered circa 1440 and, in the other picture below, the top of the door and the original roof line can be seen. It would have been to the roof that William Julyan would have fled when faced with the Bishop of Exeter’s men in 1381.

In the meantime, Walter Levenaunt had fled to his estates in a remote part of Devon but was sought by the King for on the 7th May 1383 the Calendar of Patent Rolls records:’Mandate to sheriffs, mayors, bailiffs and other ministers to arrest and bring before the King or council, Walter Levenaunt, clerk and Ralph Daventre and Baldwin Taillour, his proctors, to stand their trial for proceedings at the Roman court in breach of a late ordinance of Parliament (25 Ed III) in respect of the church at Reddeclive on Sore from which church the said Walter was attempting to expel (William Julyan) by fire on the doors under colour of a papal provision alleging that the right belongs not to a lay patron but to the Pope.16/17 Walter was not captured for the records of petitions in the records that he appealed to Richard II to be released from the charge of outlawry in 1384. The petition is stamped Windsor Castle, 30th July. This was successful as the Close Rolls for 17th February 1385 state: ‘Walter Levenaunt, clerk, (in recompense) to Richard Wynnewyke (sic) and Henry Blakebune (sic) clerks (proctors). General release of all actions real and personal all claims and demands - a memorandum of acknowledgement. Master Walter Levenaunt, canon of Exeter cathedral, to Master Richard de Wynwyke, Canon of the cathedral church of St Mary’s Lincoln. Recognisance for 1500 marks to be levied in Devon.The memorandum of defeasance upon condition that the said Walter Levenaunt shall not directly or indirectly by himself or another trouble the prior and convent of Burscough of the order of St Augustine in the diocese of Lichfield or any other touching the title or possession of the parish church of Radeclif upon Sore in the diocese of York or any cause or claim depending thereupon.’ This was a massive fine amounting to £1000 in silver. Why Henry Blakeburn was mentioned is unclear. This was not the end for Ratcliffe as the reference to Burscough indicates that Richard had second thoughts about the bequest to St Mary Hall in Oxford. Ratcliffe was disposed of to the penurious leper priory in Lancashire probably because it was the closest one to Huyton where John de Wynwyck was interred.

The Prior was delighted stating the acquisition of Ratcliffe staved off the bankruptcy of his priory. Thus ended a tumultuous century for a Nottinghamshire rural parish church. One final word. In 1925 Frederick Crooks wrote to Oriel College to seek information as to why they never took up the bequest. The Rev G C Richards responded saying that the college knew the bequest had been made but had no information as to why it never made a claim. It was never mentioned again.

John de Wynwyck’s alabaster effigy in Huyton church, Lancashire, This is believed to be carved from Chellaston Derbyshire Stone.


1/2. Ratcliffe (then Redeclive) was acquired by Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester in reward for assisting William II to the throne in 1087 over his Elder brother Robert, later coming to the Baron of Halton (1101), the Priory of Runcorn (1117) and thence to Norton (1134).

Data as per Patrick Greene, Norton Priory - The Archaeology of a Medieval Religious House, 1989. Norton also owned another Nottinghamshire church, Kneesall near Ollerton, and two other churches, Burton Stather, in Lincolnshire and Castle Donington in Leicestershire .

The original ford was less than 50m from the church until it was moved in an attempt to make the river navigable in 1636.

In 1786 the ford was moved again to its current location when the Ratcliffe Cut was dug for the Loughborough Navigation.

3.  The Calendar of Patent Rolls for 13th May 1318, Westminster. The Ratcliffe Chronicles p 19 and an order from Henry III to the Bishop of York held in the Register of the Archbishop of York dated 15th October 1270 (but not enacted until 1272)

4. Calendar of Papal Registers - Letters Avignon Pope John XXII

5. Calendar of Papal Registers - Letters Avignon Pope John XXII dated 10th February 1319

6.  This is not the only time that the Prior of Lenton was excommunicated over the appointment of a priest to a local church south of the Trent. In 1263 the Pope appointed Bartholomew de Agnani to the living of Barton in Fabis. Unfortunately the prior had other ideas and wished for a man called Thomas de Raley to be appointed telling the villagers that Bartholomew had died. This was untrue and that fact was apparent when Bartholomew’s proctor appeared to take possession. He was met by a mob comprising the prior and the servants of Thomas de Raley who robbed the proctor of his Papal letters and murdered him in the churchyard. The prior was called to appear before Pope Urban IV and when he declined was promptly excommunicated.

7.  Close Rolls Edward II National Archives (document is held as SC8/196/9759) in the National Archives) Victorian History of the County of Nottinghamshire Vol II page 95.

8. Calendar of Papal Registers - Letters at Avignon

9. Calendar of Papal Registers - Letters 3rd May 1325

10. Edward was later to move against Roger Mortimer and his mother in 1330 in the same castle.

11. Calendar of Papal Registers - Letters Avignon. Regesta 100 1330 to 1331

12. John de Wynwyck and his Chantry in Huyton Church, 29th October 1925,,uk

13. The exact date of his death is not known but was in the first three months of the following year. Some sources quote 1359 but it must be remembered that the year did not start until April making John’s year of death 1359/60.

14. F Crooks, John Winick and his charity at Huyton Church’. Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, (1926) 26-38.

15. The Bishop of Exeter in 1381 was Thomas de Brantyngham but there is no evidence he was involved. Suspicion fell on a relation of the Picots (or Pycot) the former Lords of the Manor of Ratcliffe, who were influential in the affairs of the diocese of Exeter and so it is possible that it was a member who made one last attempt to meddle in the advowson of Ratcliffe. Someone seems to have persuaded Walter to act on behalf of the Pope but the group’s activities elsewhere indicate they were meddling in church appointments at least from 1375. The association between the Pycot family and the Exeter cathedral going back to the 13th century when John Pycot was elected dean. This was disputed by the bishop who asked one of his hard men Walter Lechlade to have John removed. In a fight Lechlade was stabbed to death. John was later banished to a monastery. However, the Pycot connection with Exeter endured. There is an unsubstantiated rumour that Richard II moved to limit the Pycot influence in Exeter after 1383 but this cannot be proved.

No other explanation as to why Exeter was involved in a church some 200 miles away over which it had no jurisdiction, is forthcoming.

16. National Archives 8/183/9/133

17. In July 2010 during a SPAB working party recesses were found in the sidewall on both sides of the blocked up door of the chancel.These appear to relate to a sliding bar which could be drawn across the inside of the door and some oak remnants were discovered. This has raised speculation that this was the door that was assaulted by Walter de Levenaunt in October 1381 which was barred by the priest.