Malvern, Worcestershire, England, a district covered by a lofty range between the Severn and Wye, known as the Malvern Hills. On its eastern side were formerly two houses of Benedictine monks, the priories of Great and Little Malvern.
(I) GREAT MALVERN began soon after the death of St. Werstan, a monk of Deerhurst, who, flying from the Danes and taking refuge in the woods of Malvern, was there slain, and afterwards honored as a saint. A hermitage was established there before the Norman Conquest; one Aldwyn, who had been made a monk at the cathedral priory of Worcester by St. Wulstan, bishop of that see, and a companion called Guy, were apparently the first to settle here. Aldwyn, by St. Wulstan’s advice, gave up his contemplated pilgrimage to Jerusalem and began a monastery at Malvern, the saint promising him that the place would be wonderfully favored by God. A convent of thirty monks gathered there under Aldwyn’s direction (1135); the usual number was twenty-six (and thirty poor men), and four at the dependent cell, Avecot Priory, Warwickshire, established by William Burdet in 1159. Aldwyn was succeeded by Walcher, a Lorrainer, a man celebrated as an astronomer, divine, and philosopher. He was probably one of those sent by Abbot Gilbert of Westminster to establish a regular community at Malvern on land previously given for the purpose by Urso D’Abitot and Edward the Confessor. William the Conqueror confirmed these grants and was himself a benefactor, as also was Henry I. This connection with Westminster led later on to a famous and protracted conflict between the bishops of Worcester and the Abbot of Westminster. For a long time the bishop’s right of visitation over Great Malvern had been unquestioned. on the election however of a prior John in 1242, the abbot opposed the bishop’s action in confirming and installing the new superior. Under his successor, William de Ledbury, matters came to a head. Ledbury was accused of serious crimes by some of his monks and was promptly deposed by Bishop Godfrey Giffard. On this the monks chose instead the bishop’s nephew, William de Wykewan, prior of Avecot. Wykewan proceeded to Shrewsbury, where the Abbot of Westminster was then on a visit, for confirmation in his new office. The abbot arrested him land his followers and sent them in chains to Westminster. The bishop retaliated by suspending and excommunicating Ledbury and his adherents, and the whole countryside was made to feel the inconveniences of a disputed jurisdiction. Westminster claimed exemption by papal grant for itself and all its dependencies, and in this was supported by the king; the bishop was supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to some extent by other bishops.
An appeal to the Holy See led to fuller enquiry, and for some time things went as the bishop wished; but his harsh dealing with the monks went so far that they, the unfortunate victims of all this litigation, were taken under the king’s protection. Finally an end was put to a long and intricate process, wherein all powers and parties in Church and State were involved, by a truce agreed to at Acton Burnell. Ledbury was reinstated and then deposed by his abbot; the monks gave the bishop the manor of Knightwick, and he on his part released them absolutely from his own jurisdiction, “in accordance with privileges heretofore granted by divers Roman pontiffs”. The episcopal jurisdiction was retained only over their parish churches. Peace was arrived at, and all was amicably settled in 1314, when Bishop Walter Maydeston gave the monks the church of Powyke to reimburse them for all their losses, and confirmed the grant to them of that of Langley, for the maintenance of the great charity shown by them to the poor and pilgrims. A long period of prosperity followed. The church was magnificently rebuilt (c. 1460); it is cruciform with a central tower—Sir Reginald Bray, designer of Henry VII’s chapel, Westminster, is believed to have been the architect. It is 171 feet long, 63 wide and high. Its stained glass is famous, as are its ancient tiles, made at the priory. Both are memorials of many royal and noble benefactors. The church, St. Mary’s, was purchased by Richard Berdes and others at the dissolution, and the old parish church (St. Thomas the Apostle) has now disappeared. The priory rental was £308 (Dugdale) or £375 (Speed). Latimer pleaded in vain for the preservation of the monastery as a refuge for learned and studious men.
(2) LITTLE MALVERN PRIORY (Our Lady and SI. Giles), three miles south of the former, was a small monastery founded from Worcester cathedral about 1171. The choir and tower of its church alone remain; portions of the monastery are incorporated in The Court, an old Catholic mansion, the seat of the Beringtons.