The Ronton Chartulary.
Ronton, or St. Mary des Essarz, (fn. 1) was an Augustine Priory,
founded about the middle of the twelfth century by Robert fitz
Noel of Ellenhall. This Robert Noel, or Robert fitz Noel, as he
is indifferently styled in cotemporary documents, was a person
of considerable estate in Staffordshire, holding Ellenhall, Seighford,
Clanford, Bridgeford, Podmore, Milnmease, and other lands of the
Bishop; and Ronton (fn. 2) and its members of the Barons of Stafford.
In Warwickshire also he held the Manor of Granborough of the
Prior of Coventry. This latter manor as well as those held of the
Bishop were doubtless acquired by episcopal favour and influence,
for the Priory of Coventry was in subjection to the Bishops, and
the service rendered to the Episcopal See by the Noels for their
Staffordshire manors was quite incommensurate with their value
and extent. For the whole of the Staffordshire estate held by this
family of the See of Coventry and Lichfield, the service due to
the Bishops was half a Knight's fee.
The Monks of Ronton at p. 12 of their Chartulary give the
following account of the origin of their benefactor:—
In primis, quidam Noel nominc, et Celestria uxor ejus, venerunt
in exercitu Willielmi Bastard in Angliâ, et habuerunt dictum
manerium de Elinhale cum membris ex donatione ejusdem Willielmi
Bastard. De predicto Noel descendit jus et hereditas cuidam
Roberto Noel tanquam filio et heredi, qui desponsavit quandam
Aliciam nomine, et fundavit Prioratum de Ranton vivente
Celestria matre suâ.
This account of the origin of the Noels has hitherto passed
unquestioned, and has been introduced into all the genealogies of
this family. It can, however, readily be shewn to be fictitious.
Putting aside the chronological difficulties in it, it may be
safely affirmed that Ellenhall could not have been given by the
Conqueror to Noel, for we know, on the authority of Domesday,
that manor was in the possession of the Bishops of Chester both
before and after the Conquest. This account of the ancestors of
the Noel family was not written in fact before the fourteenth
century, and must be looked upon as one of those pious fabrications
based on oral tradition which the inmates of religious houses usually
compiled in honour of their founders. A curious feature in it is
that the monks, regarding Celestria as their chief benefactress, and
wishing to do her memory as much honour as possible, in accordance with the prepossessions of their age, have represented her,
somewhat grotesquely, as accompanying the Conqueror to England
in the train of his victorious army.
Leaving fiction for fact, we find from a document printed in
the appendix to Hearne's "History of Glastonbury," that Celestria
was daughter of Robert de Limesi, (fn. 3) who succeeded Peter as Bishop
of Chester circa A.D. 1088, and died A.D. 1117. Here we have at
once an explanation of the favourable feoffments made to Noel out
of the Episcopal estates, and a date which coincides with the
authentic epoch of Noel as handed down to us on the authority
of cotemporary charters.
As Noel held no manors by hereditary descent, Ronton having
been given or sold to him by Nicholas de Stafford, (fn. 4) and all his
other estates acquired in marriage with Celestria, he was probably
a cadet of one of the vassal houses of the see of Chester, and I
believe him to have been a brother or son of Robert, who A.D.
1086 held Handsacre of the Bishop. (fn. 5)
As regards the date of the foundation of Ronton, all that can
be said positively on the subject is, that it was founded prior to
A.D. 1166, for some of the witnesses to the foundation deed were
dead at the date of the Liber Niger, the feodary of that year.
Sometime after the death of Robert Noel his foundation of
Ronton was ratified by Baldwin, Archbishop of Canterbury, who
was consecrated A.D. 1184, and died A.D. 1190. In this deed, the
Archbishop confirms the grant, which "vir nobilis Robertus Noel,
piæ memoriæ, fecit de loco dicitur ad Sanctam Mariam de Essarz,
sicut cum WILLIELMUS NOEL vel aliquis predecessorum ejus
unquam mclius tenuit. ("Monasticon.")
On the authority of this deed, Mr. Eyton has expressed an
opinion that Noel the father of Robert fitz Noel was named
William Noel, and that the name of Noel was employed both
as a prenomen and agnomen, not an uncommon practice at this
The Chartulary of which an abstract is here given, is a folio
volume of sixty-one pages of vellum written in a hand of the
fourteenth century. (fn. 6) A memorandum on the first page states it
had been the property of Thomas Povey, Esq., by whom it had
been presented to Sir Robert Cotton. Its official designation at
the British Museum is Cottonian MS. Vespasian C.XV.
Besides the families of Noel and their descendants, the
Harcourts and D'Oyllis, the Chartulary contains much useful
information respecting the Staffordshire families of Haughton,
Knightley, de Burgh, Coyney, Handsacre, Duston, Knighton, Flashbrook, Adbaston, and Ellaston.
In making the abstract, care has been taken to introduce all
matter which may be useful to the compiler of a County History.
The writer of the Chartulary has unfortunately omitted in most
cases the names of the witnesses to the deeds; these, whenever
they occur, have been given at full length in the abstract.