Omnes barones qui fundaverunt abbatias, unde habent cartas regum Angliae, vel antiquam tenuram, habeant earum custodiam cum vacaverint, sicut habere debent.
All barons who have founded abbeys for which they have charters of the kings of England, or ancient tenure, are to have the custody of them when they are vacant, as they should have.
Clause 46 was concerned to protect the rights of barons who were patrons of monasteries founded by their ancestors. These were valued for reasons spiritual and secular, both for the prayers they offered and for their being places of family burial over several generations, and because the churches attached to them could be used to provide livings for the clerks of a patron, who could also expect to have temporary custody of them after the death of an abbot or prior, and a role in the choice of his successor. The king had all these rights in monasteries of royal foundation, and in those founded by others when circumstances – for instance when he exercised rights of wardship after a lord died leaving a minor as his heir – brought them into his hands. There is also some evidence that Henry II and his sons claimed a patron’s rights over all monasteries which were abbeys – in other words the most important ones. Evidence is scarce for King John’s usurping a patron’s rights at a time of vacancy, but sufficient to show that it could happen (gaps in the records may well conceal other cases). At Kenilworth Priory, for instance, a disputed election gave John the opportunity to install a prior of his own, and to take the revenues of the monastery for several years, without the least reference to the patron, Henry de Clinton, who subsequently rebelled against the king. Barons and knights set a high value on their rights in monasteries associated with their families. A wiser king than John would have known better than to infringe them so blatantly.
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