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Hathbrand, Robert (d. 1370), prior of Christ Church, Canterbury, is of unknown origins. In 1323 he joined the monastic community as one of a group of six novices, making his vows of profession on 18 October 1325. Before becoming prior Hathbrand held a number of responsible offices within the priory, including those of treasurer, sub-chaplain to the prior, guardian of the Corona chapel (containing a relic of Thomas Becket's severed cranium), warden of manors and, most importantly, subprior. In 1335 he was assigned to attend parliament on the chapter's behalf, and he also went on assignments abroad. On 6 December 1333 he was appointed as a proctor to take letters to the pope seeking authority for John Stratford's translation from the bishopric of Winchester to the archbishopric of Canterbury (1333–48). He was charged, too, with obtaining a loan, ‘from the curia or elsewhere’ (Greatrex, Biographical Register, 192), and was also required to bring back the archbishop's pallium. The experience and knowledge gained through these offices and responsibilities, within a well-organized administrative system, gave him a thorough preparation for the position of prior, to which he was appointed on 11 September 1338. He was not, however, required to run the monastery's affairs unaided, for Prior Henry of Eastry (1285–1331) had done much to set the priory's finances on a stable footing and had improved a system of appointing a council of senior monks to advise the prior.

During his priorate (whose early years are fitfully illuminated by the remains of a day-book surviving among the leaves of the priors' registers), Hathbrand acquired manors and marshlands on the priory's behalf, together with ‘arable lands, fields and pasture for cattle’, as his lengthy obituary records (BL, Arundel MS 68, fol. 32v). At the priory itself, he modernized the infirmary table hall in 1342, built ‘seven adjacent chambers for the sick’ (ibid.), and was responsible for many other building projects.

The archbishop of Canterbury was titular abbot of Christ Church Priory, and in theory the monks enjoyed the privilege of electing him. But although the interests of the papacy and the crown had by the fourteenth century largely rendered this fictitious, there could still be grounds for conflict between the primate and the monks, for instance over an archbishop's right to approve the admission of novices, or to appoint certain of the monastery's senior obedientiaries (office holders). But during Hathbrand's priorate any disputes that arose seem to have been settled by compromise and without lasting rancour.

Hathbrand saw the election of no fewer than eight archbishops, six of whom were elected during his priorate. (Two died of plague in 1349.) Archbishop Stratford, in particular, appears to have found Hathbrand a congenial ally, even though they were not in accord in all matters. During the troubles of 1340 and 1341, when Stratford's relations with Edward III were severely strained, it was to Christ Church Priory that the archbishop withdrew. At a more personal level, Stratford offered medical advice to Hathbrand, which appears to have been efficacious against ‘the worst of fevers’ (Sheppard, 2.95–6). Following Stratford's death in 1348, Hathbrand wrote a letter of condolence to Stratford's brother Robert, bishop of Chichester, lamenting the archbishop's demise and describing him as ‘a member of the Canterbury community, its leader and guardian’ (Haines, 360). He asked the bishop to inform him concerning arrangements for the burial, and later notified him that an eminent position had been allotted to the archbishop's tomb.

Hathbrand was concerned to maintain the rights and standing of his house. For priors of Christ Church, one highly prized privilege was the entitlement to the use of the pontificalia (the vestments and ornaments reserved to prelates)—a valued symbol of their prestige. In 1341 and again in 1355, in the time first of Archbishop Stratford and then of Archbishop Islip (1349–66), Hathbrand expressed his concern that other cathedral priors enjoyed the use of various pontificalia which he did not possess. This was perceived as a serious injustice and Hathbrand sought remedy from the pope on the grounds that ‘the priors of Christ Church excel all other priors in England in dignity and honour’ (Sheppard, 2.241–3, 328–32). The anomaly was finally rectified in 1378. Hathbrand was also determined to maintain the priory's independence of the triennial general chapter of the English black monks. Christ Church had long resisted any summons requiring them to attend this, despite allegations of persistent contumacy—a charge strenuously refuted by Hathbrand. The publication of Pope Benedict XII's reforming constitutions Summi magistri of 1336 made it increasingly difficult for the Christ Church community to ignore such summonses, and in 1340 Hathbrand sent two monks to Rome, admitting past contumacy. But he later renewed his claims to independence, and persisted in them with the support of patrons who included the Black Prince, John of Gaunt, and Edward III, though here, too, victory was only achieved after his death, in 1379.

The bull Summi magistri also recommended that one in twenty of the more academically gifted monks in each Benedictine community of appropriate size should attend university. But although the Benedictines were convinced of the benefits of educating their ablest members at Oxford, as far as Canterbury was concerned there was a no less pressing need to remain independent of any common Benedictine studium at Oxford and to resist the imposition of any external authority over its university monks. Hathbrand did much to achieve these dual goals. Despite numerous delays, it was finally agreed in 1369 that the monks of Christ Church were to be granted sole use of Canterbury College, Oxford, the process of establishment being completed by Archbishop Courtenay's statutes of 1384.

In 1361 the Black Prince and his wife, Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent, undertook to found two chantries in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral to expiate their having married within the permitted degrees of consanguinity. The prince's choice of Christ Church was probably influenced both by its association with the Trinity, to which he had a particular devotion, and also by his personal attachment to the place ‘which we have cherished from the cradle’ (Wilson, 494). It is likely that the Black Prince spent a period of his boyhood at Christ Church under Hathbrand's supervision. An anonymous fifteenth-century chronicle states that Hathbrand was ‘tutor to two of the king's sons and a man very acceptable to the king and to the nobles of the realm’ (Woodruff, ‘Monastic chronicle’, 29, 56). The prince was buried in the Trinity chapel in 1376.

Hathbrand died on 16 July 1370, having held office, so his obituary recorded, for thirty-one years and forty-six weeks. His obituary declared him to be of ‘exemplary character, great virtue and fine manners … modest, benign and affable to all’. He reconstructed the ‘altar of Blessed Thomas’, cared ‘for the ornament of the church’ and bequeathed ‘books, annals and various precious jewels’—all this despite being burdened with ‘heavy and intolerable expenses for the king and queen and their guests on many occasions’ (BL, Arundel MS 68, fol. 32v). He was buried in St Michael's chapel in the south-west transept of Canterbury Cathedral and was commemorated by a memorial brass (now lost).

Meriel Connor


BL, Arundel MS 68, fol. 32v · J. Greatrex, Biographical register of the English cathedral priories of the province of Canterbury, c.1066 to 1540 (1997) · R. B. Dobson, ‘The monks of Canterbury in the later middle ages’, A history of Canterbury Cathedral, ed. P. Collinson, N. Ramsay, and M. Sparks (1995), 69–153 · R. A. L. Smith, Canterbury Cathedral priory: a study in monastic administration, 1st edn, 1943 (1969) · C. Woodruff and W. W. Danks, Memorials of the cathedral and priory of Christ in Canterbury (1912) · R. M. Haines, Archbishop John Stratford: political revolutionary and champion of the liberties of the English church, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies: Texts and Studies, 76 (1986) · R. B. Dobson, ‘The black monks of Durham and Canterbury Colleges’, Benedictines in Oxford, ed. H. Wansbrough and A. Marrett-Crosby (1997), 61–78 · C. Wilson, ‘Medieval monuments’, A history of Canterbury Cathedral, ed. P. Collinson, N. Ramsay, and M. Sparks (1995), 451–510 · J. Greatrex, The English Benedictine cathedral priories: rule and practice, c.1270–c.1420 (2011) · C. E. Woodruff, ‘A monastic chronicle lately discovered at Christ Church Canterbury, with an introduction and notes’, Archaeologia Cantiana, 29 (1911), 47–84 · J. B. Sheppard, ed., Literae Cantuarienses: the letter books of the monastery of Christ Church, Canterbury, 3 vols., Rolls Series, 85 (1887–9) · I. J. Churchill, Canterbury administration: the administrative machinery of the archbishopric of Canterbury, 2 vols. (1933)


BL, Arundel MS 68, 32v