Sunday, 16 September 2012

Dispute over the Advowson of St Martin's Church Eynsford

Dispute over the Advowson of St Martin's Church Eynsford,
Around March 1163.

At about this time a quarrel arose as to who had the right to present a cleric to the advowson of the church and living of St Martin's at Eynsford, in Kent, a church within the See of Canterbury. Generally it was considered to be customary for the right of patronage for advowsons to belong to lords of the manor, by ancient rights leading back as far as the Conquest and perhaps even earlier . These lords generally claimed their right to nominate the priests of all churches on their fiefs, just as they would do so for tenants of farms on their lands, administering this right of patronage at their pleasureBut Becket, as archbishop of the See of Canterbury, as overlord in this case also considered himself  fully entitled to the right of patronage for all churches situated on estates held under his control. It should be noted when understanding cases of this kind that advowsons in feudal times along with all such appointments had real financial values. Upon nomination to an advowson, the nominee was usually expected to pay over to the owner of the right of patronage, the nominator, the first year's gain from the living.

William the Conqueror, following his coronation in 1066, had rewarded all the Norman knights who had fought for him at the Battle of Hastings with lands in England. A knight called Unspac had been given the lands of Eynsford, in Kent. Later his son had erected a castle here, and styling himself William d'Eynesford. He had also rebuilt the church of St Martin's on the site of an old Saxon church on these lands. It was the advowson of this church which was in question. On his death he had bequeathed his lands and this church to the monks of Christ Church, in Canterbury.

At the time of the dispute the living of the above church had fallen vacant. Becket, being overlord and archbishop of the See, exercised what he believed to be his right; he presented a clerk of his own choice named Laurence to its advowson. But this was in defiance of one of the most ancient customs recognised and respected since the Conquest. William d'Eynesford III, grandson of the above William, who as the lord of the manor, objected to this nomination. Exercising his right of patronage, William  forcibly ejected Laurence, Becket's nominee and all his agents. In consequence Becket excommunicated William for having done violence to a priest, and presumably also for having violated the sanctity and sanctuary of a consecrated church.

But William was also a tenant-in-chief of the king, for other lands, to whom he appealed. Henry, who was at Windsor at the time, ordered Becket to rescind the excommunication, reminding him of a principle which had long since been established by and under William the Conqueror, that tenants-in-chief of the crown ought not to be excommunicated without first consulting the sovereign and gaining his consent, contending that without previous reference to him, when one of his tenants-in-chief is excommunicated, this could be a man liable to be called to his Council and court, and entitled to present himself before him at all times and in all places. This could lead to the very embarrassing circumstance that would expose his royal person to the spiritual danger of coming unwittingly in contact with an excommunicated man.

Henry declared the excommunication null on these grounds that his dignity had been had been injured. Becket unwillingly assented to this decision and absolved William, but Henry was heard to say of Becket, "now he has my favour no more".


Henry Hart Milman (1854). History of Latin Christianity: including that of the popes to the pontificate of Nicolas V.. John Murray. pp. 458–. 

James Craigie Robertson (1859). Becket, archbishop of Canterbury: A biography. J. Murray. pp. 72–.

Frank Barlow (16 August 1990). Thomas Becket. University of California Press. pp. 93–. ISBN 978-0-520-07175-9.

"St Martins ,Eynsford." <>

Eynsford in Domesday Book

 Legendæ Cantianæ. William de Eynsford, the excommunicate; a Kentish legend. 1842. pp. 7–.


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