The History of the Priory
The 12th century was a period in which many monasteries were founded by wealthy men and women, who saw in this massive expenditure a means of ensuring perpetual prayer, and thus salvation, for themselves and their
Butley Priory was founded in the momentous year of 1171. It was the year when the Christian country was rocked by a clash between Church and State which culminated in the murder of its able archbishop, Thomas Becket. Whether or not Henry II was directly responsible, he made visible atonement and established a number of religious foundations. That same year, his courtier, Ranulph de Glanville, founded Butley Priory, no doubt copying the royal lead in the
aftermath of the murder. Ranulph was
rising rapidly in favour, both as a successful general and as a constitutional lawyer. The King
rewarded him with manors, including that of Benhall. Ranulph in turn continued to enrich his religious and charitable foundations until his death at Acre in 1190 whilst accompanying Henry’s son, Richard I, on a crusade to recapture Jerusalem.
On the priors of Butley fell the administration of large and scattered possessions acquired piecemeal through donations and purchases. On them lay responsibility for riding political storms and ensuring that successive kings and popes ratified the grants made by their predecessors. Over a span of 357 years there were both able and lax priors, priors who struggled with mounting debts, a prior
who committed suicide and a prior who gave supper to the devil in the form of Thomas Cromwell, in order to secure his own future.