Lordship, prestige and piety : charitable donations of the Anglo-Norman aristocracy

Chandler, Victoria, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia

Among the obligations of the nobility in the central Middle Ages was the support of charitable institutions by grants of lands, materials and rights. The monastic orders were the most important such institutions and kept the best records; consequently, any study of donations to charity will emphasize gifts to houses of monks, canons and nuns. In this study the donations of six Anglo-Norman families, who flourished from c. 1030 to c. 1180, will be examined.

The families used were the Aubigny, Beaumont, Chester, Clare, Montgomery and Warenne. Brief historical sketches and genealogical charts of these families are given in the first chapter. When all lines of descent are considered and in-laws counted, the number of individuals in the sample is over 400, of whom 200 left record of their benefactions. Among the families are those who had lands in all parts of the Anglo- Norman realm and beyond; some had unbroken succession in the senior male line, other descended through collateral branches. Some maintained their property throughout the period, others suffered forfeiture. All had large land-holdings and rose through service to the dukes (or kings) at court and in the field.

The reasons most frequently expressed for making donations were those which pertained to piety: for the souls of ancestors or liege lords, in fulfillment of vows, out of dedication to a specific abbey or a saintly person. Restitution for damages to abbeys could have been motivated by feelings of guilt or legal coercion. Patronage was also influenced by personal and family pride. Other transactions between the monks and the donors, such as loans, sales and exchanges, had nothing to do with piety.
The items given by the barons were as diverse in their nature as the barons' resources. Tangible property granted included lands, buildings, supplies, even villeins. Intangible property such as services, rights and privileges, and quittance of payments were given. The nobles gave away churches and tithes, and their own bodies after their deaths.

In the late eleventh century the unchallenged supremacy of the Benedictines in the West came to an end. By the mid-twelfth century, a donor could choose from among more than a dozen orders of contemplatives, of whom the most successful were the Augustinians, Cistercians and Savigniacs. Although each family and donor had their own preferences, such as the Warennes for the Cluniacs and the earls of Chester for the Augustinians, it is clear that the Benedictines remained the most popular order. The decline in black-monk foundations belies the strength of the houses which were already established.

The final chapter reviews the statistics compiled from the gifts of these families, illustrates them in graphs, and speculates on external factors—monarchs' behavior, political activities, economic circumstances—which could affect patterns of patronage. Unfortunately unavailable are precise figures on the value of the barons' grants, even the extent of their fortunes. Nevertheless, the large numbers of gifts and foundations by major donors show that the barons performed the duty of patronage with care, piety and even enthusiasm.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Charities -- Great Britain -- History, Charities -- France -- History, Nobility -- Great Britain, Nobility -- France
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