The history of the Priory was generally uneventful. It was too remote, too poor and too small to have much influence. However, on a number of occasions, the Prior and monks petitioned the reigning monarch with their grievances and were granted new rights and privileges. Two Royal Charters of 1318 and 1330 guaranteed the Priory the right to run the ferry service. They could charge passengers for the ferry and also for food and accommodation.
In 1201, the Priory came to the attention of King John (1199 – 1216). He was seeking safe moorings on both sides of the Mersey, from which his ships could sail to Ireland. Anxious to get the support of the monks, he granted them ‘writs of protection’ in 1201 and 1202. These proclaimed that they and all their possessions were in the King’s safe-keeping and that they should not be hurt or injured in any way.
During the reign of Henry III (1216 – 1272), the King demanded that Birkenhead and other religious houses in Cheshire, provide money and ‘horses for drawing carts’ to support his war with Wales. In return, his son Edward Earl of Chester, granted the Priory a license to clear woodland for cultivation within the forest of Wirral.
King, Edward I (1272 – 1307) stayed at the Priory twice. In September 1275, the royal household were based at the Priory for five days, while the King conducted public business. Two months after receiving their hospitality, the monks cannot have been very pleased when the King demanded that the Priory make a donation towards his royal projects.
The King returned in 1277, leaving his wife, Queen Eleanor at Shotwick Castle. This was a very lavish occasion. The King, accompanied by his household and his ‘wardrobe’ or treasury, arrived on 31 July. The King probably stayed in the Priory buildings, whilst his retinue camped in tents and pavilions nearby. He met envoys from the King of Scotland to settle a border dispute. 63 poor people came from Birkenhead to receive the King’s alms of free food and drink. They were fed at a cost of 1s 2d each.
The bill for entertaining the royal party for six days came to £72 17s 5d – roughly £40,000 in today’s money! Luckily, most of the expenses were paid by the Crown, but almost certainly the Priory would have been out of pocket after two royal visits in two years!