Henry of Eastry (DNB00)

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HENRY of Eastry (d. 1331), prior of Christ Church, Canterbury, doubtless came from the village of Eastry, between Canterbury and Sandwich, the manor of which belonged to the monks of Christ Church, and which sent a constant supply of recruits to that house. The Henry of Eastry who in 1279 was presented to the vicarage of Littlebourne, Kent, by the abbot of St. Augustine's is not, however, likely to have been a monk of a rival foundation like Christ Church (Peckham, Letters, iii. 1001, 1016). The future prior became a monk in early youth, and was remarkable for his zeal for scriptural learning. In September 1285 the retirement of Prior Thomas Ringmer, who having quarrelled with the Christ Church monks sought a stricter rule in the Cistercian house of Beaulieu, was followed by the election of Eastry himself as prior on 10 April 1268 (Cott. MS. Galba E. iv. f. 35 b).

Eastry remained prior of Canterbury for forty-six years. He was respected by the monks as a useful and prudent head. He relieved the convent from the crushing burden of three thousand marks of debt, and laid out very large sums on improving the estates and ornamenting the cathedral. He adorned the choir of Christ Church by ‘very beautiful stonework subtly carved.’ He gave his church many precious vestments and ornaments. He repaired the chapter-house, rebuilt or repaired the chapels on most of the manors of the see, and added large rents, lands, and woods to its resources, while enriching the library with costly books treating of a great variety of subjects. A list of his numerous buildings and repairings is given in his ‘Memoriale’ (ib. iv., ‘nova opera in ecclesia et in curia,’ f. 101; ‘nova opera in maneriis,’ f. 102 b). His zeal for the rights of his church led him to deny the crown's right to the custody of the church during a vacancy. He revived the old claims of the priors to exercise spiritual jurisdiction over the province of Canterbury during vacancies in the archbishopric. He quarrelled with the citizens of Canterbury and with the rival abbots of St. Augustine, and came pretty well out of both contests. He had more difficulties in the course of a bitter quarrel with a faction of his monks (Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. i. 438). He obtained from ‘Bassianus of Milan, count-palatine of the empire,’ a grant of the right to appoint three imperial notaries of his own nomination. But the crown forbade such exercise of power on the ground that the emperor had no jurisdiction in England (Somner, Antiq. Cant. pt. i. App. lii. a. b. c.). In 1297 he followed Archbishop Winchelsey in refusing to pay Edward I's taxes, but Edward took possession of the monastery, sealed up the granaries and stores, and starved Eastry and his brethren into submission (Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. i. 433). Eastry remained on friendly terms with Winchelsey, who, before returning to England after his exile, appointed him his vicar-general.

Eastry's relations to the weak and incompetent Archbishop Reynolds gave him peculiar political importance. Eastry was reputed to be a man of great wisdom and foresight, and he was consulted by Reynolds in his chief difficulties. His letters to Reynolds form a large and the most important part of the first volume of the ‘Literæ Cantuarienses,’ or ‘Letter Books of Christ Church,’ published in 1887 by Dr. Sheppard in the Rolls Series. Some of Reynolds's letters to Eastry are calendared in Hist. MSS. Comm.'s 5th Rep. i. 447. The most important bear on the archbishop's conduct during the last period of the reign of Edward II. Eastry gave him judicious, if vague and worldly advice. Probably Eastry was no very great friend of the king's, for in 1322 he had written to Henry of Lancaster (1281?–1345) [q. v.] urging him to continue the efforts which his brother Earl Thomas had made before his execution to obtain the canonisation of Archbishop Winchelsey (Lit. Cantuar. i. 71). Eastry could sometimes be independent, for in 1325 he strongly urged Reynolds to end the scandal which the unsettled state of Winchelsey's estates twelve years after his death was exciting among the people (ib. i. 135). But in the great question he temporised, and showed a nervous anxiety that his letters should be burnt when read and shown to no one but their recipient. In February 1325 he suggested to Reynolds a plausible excuse for not accompanying the queen on her ill-omened journey to France (ib. i. 137). He would not say whether he thought the king or his son ought to go over to France to do homage (ib. i. 145). He supplied the archbishop with early news of what was going on abroad (ib. i. 181), but his greatest anxiety at the time seems to have been to get rid of the expense of keeping the queen's pack of hounds which she had left at Canterbury, to remove which he humbly besought the favour of the Despensers at the time when he was hinting that the archbishop should break with the queen's party. He shrank on pretext of illness from an interview with Reynolds (ib. i. 190), whom he urged not to fight on Edward's behalf, but rather to mediate, and aim at a compromise. If Edward persisted in fighting he advised Reynolds to take refuge in his cathedral (ib. i. 196). But as soon as the party of the queen got the upper hand he wrote to her wishing her ‘good and long life and grace on earth, and glory in heaven’ (ib. i. 197). He practically commended Reynolds for his speedy desertion to the queen, though excusing himself from personal attendance at the parliament which deposed Edward (ib. i. 203). He, however, suggested to Reynolds the advisability of sending a solemn deputation of the three estates to Kenilworth to induce the imprisoned king to face his parliament (ib. i. 205). This measure was subsequently adopted, doubtless on Reynolds's proposal. Eastry was accused by some of the archbishop's household of betraying his council. Eastry wrote to the next archbishop, Simon Meopham, in a curious tone of querulous patronage. Once he refused to give more advice, as his last confidential letter was picked up in Eastry Church (ib. i. 287). When rebuked by the archbishop he only answered by more good advice (ib. i. 303). In a letter of January 1330 he becomes positively insolent (ib. i. 304–5).

Eastry had long suffered from the infirmities of age. In 1324 he begged Reynolds to allow the sub-prior to act for him (ib. i. 117), though soon after a skilful doctor cured him (ib. i. 120). In 1326 pains in the side prevented him from riding, and in 1329 he obtained from Flanders ‘a little easy-going mule not tall and big’ (ib. i. 190, 297). In 1329 and again in 1331 he requested power to appoint a general attorney (ib. i. 291, 355). He died suddenly on 8 April 1331 while celebrating mass. He was believed to be ninety-two years old. He was certainly nearly eighty.

Eastry's zeal for the interests of his house caused him to procure the examination, endorsement, and arrangement of all the ancient charters and muniments of Christ Church (Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. i. 427). The earliest existing registers of the convent were also compiled in their present form during Eastry's priorship (ib. 8th Rep. i. 316). It is from his own register that Dr. Sheppard has drawn his rich supply of Eastry's correspondence. There is also preserved in the British Museum a large and handsome manuscript called the ‘Memoriale Henrici Prioris,’ and described in the catalogue as a register of Eastry's; though the register properly so called is of course at Canterbury. It contains a great variety of different matters, including many charters and documents of general or local interest, records of the possessions of Christ Church and of the work of Eastry as prior, and ‘various commonplaces concerning conscience, physiognomy, and many chapters of sacred and philosophical argument’ (Cotton. MS. Galba E. iv.)

[Literæ Cantuarienses, vol. i. with Dr. Sheppard's Introduction; 5th, 8th, and 9th Reps. Hist. MSS. Comm.; Wharton's Anglia Sacra, ‘Hist. Priorum Ecclesiæ Cantuar.,’ i. 141; Somner's Antiquities of Canterbury, i. 144–7, App. lii. liv.; Stevens's Hist. of Ancient Abbeys, &c., i. 381; Dugdale's Monasticon, i. 88, 112, ed. Caley; Martin's Registrum Epist. J. Peckham (Rolls Ser.); Registrum sive Memoriale Henrici Prioris Monast. Christi Cantuar. in Cotton. MS. Galba E. iv. ff. 1–186.]

T. F. T.