Houses of Benedictine nuns
The priory of Higham or Littlechurch


Victoria County History



Willam Page (editor)

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'Houses of Benedictine nuns: The priory of Higham or Littlechurch', A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2 (1926), pp. 145-146. URL: Date accessed: 27 November 2014.


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Mary daughter of King Stephen appears to have settled in the nunnery of St. Leonard, Stratford at Bow, accompanied by some nuns of the abbey of St. Sulpice, at Rennes in Brittany, of which she was abbess, (fn. 1) and bringing with her as endowment the manor of Lillechurch. But quarrels with the English nuns resulted, and a writing (fn. 2) of Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, records that in the presence of himself, Queen Maud, Hilary, bishop of Chichester, and Clarembald, abbot of Faversham, an agreement was made that Mary and the nuns of St. Sulpice should leave Stratford and dwell at Lillechurch, and the nuns of Stratford should release all claim to that manor.

Abbot Hugh and the convent of Colchester granted the church of Lillechurch to the nuns, (fn. 3) and it was appropriated to them by Walter, bishop of Rochester. (fn. 4) Queen Maud had granted land in Colchester in compensation, but the exchange does not appear to have been completely settled until an agreement was made a few years later, when Walter was abbot and Juliana prioress. (fn. 5)

Consideration of the various persons concerned indicates 1148 as the probable year of the foundation of the priory. It seems originally to have been considered a cell to St. Sulpice. William son of Stephen by charter (fn. 6) confirmed to his sister Mary and the nuns of St. Sulpice the grant of Lillechurch by his father, mother, and brother. Henry II granted to the abbess and nuns of St. Sulpice the church of Hoo, and the grant was confirmed by Henry III in 1232, (fn. 7) but a few years later the church passed by exchange to the cathedral of Rochester. (fn. 8) Henry III on 6 July, 1227, confirmed to the prioress and nuns of Lillechurch several gifts of lands, (fn. 9) and on the same day he granted (fn. 10) to the abbey of St. Mary and St. Sulpice and the prioress and nuns of Lillechurch the manor of Lillechurch in frankalmoign with a yearly fair on Michaelmas and the two days following, pursuant to charters of John. Edward I granted the same fair to the nuns on 4 September, 1289, but it was to be one day earlier. (fn. 11) The house is not mentioned in the Taxation of 1291.

The bishop made a visitation of the priory in 1343. (fn. 11a)

The prioress and nuns had licence in 1346 to make a conduit to their priory, (fn. 12) and to acquire land in Higham; (fn. 13) and in 1392 to acquire land. (fn. 14)

Higham came to an end before the general dissolution. Margaret, countess of Richmond, had begun the foundation of the college of St. John the Evangelist at Cambridge, but died while it was in progress, leaving the completion of the work to her executors, of whom John Fisher, bishop of Rochester, was one; and as the priory was now in a very bad state he procured its suppression and appropriation to the college. The process (fn. 15) of dissolution was begun in 1521. Inquiry showed that there had been originally sixteen nuns at the priory, but for many years past only three or four, and there were now only three, Agnes Swayne, Elizabeth Penney, and Godliff Laurence; and the last two were convicted of gross immorality by several witnesses. The three nuns formally resigned all claim to the priory at the end of the year; and on 21 October, 1522, the king made a grant (fn. 16) to the college of the priory, and all its possessions in Higham, Lillechurch, Shorne, Elmley, Dartford, Yalding, Brenchley, Pympe, Lamberhurst, Cliffe, Hoo, Horndon on the Hill, and 'Hylbrondeslands' in the counties of Kent and Essex. The commissary of the bishop carried out the appropriation on 19 May, 1523, (fn. 17) and it was confirmed by the bishop and the dean and chapter in March, 1524, and by the archdeacon of Rochester on 1 May, 1525. Pope Clement VII confirmed it by a bull dated 28 September, 1524. (fn. 18)

Prioresses Of Higham

Mary daughter of Stephen, the first prioress (fn. 19)
Juliana, (fn. 20) occurs circa 1170
Alice (fn. 21)
Joan de Merliston, elected 1247 (fn. 22)
Acelina, occurs 1266, (fn. 23) resigned 1275 (fn. 24)
Amfelisia de Dunlegh, elected 1275, (fn. 24) died 1295 (fn. 25)
Maud de London, elected 1295, (fn. 26) died 1301 (fn. 27)
Joan de Handlo, elected 1301, (fn. 28) died 1329 (fn. 29)
Maud de Grenestede, or Colcestre, (fn. 29a) elected 1329, (fn. 30) died 1340 (fn. 31)
Elizabeth de Delham, elected 1340, (fn. 32) died 1361 (fn. 33)
Cecily Leyham, elected 1361 (fn. 34)
Olive, died 1388 (fn. 35)
Joan de Haleghesto, elected 1388 (fn. 36)
Joan Cobham, elected 1390, (fn. 37) died 1394 (fn. 38)
Joan Sqne, elected 1394 (fn. 39)
Alice Pecham, elected 1418, (fn. 40) died 1419 (fn. 41)
Isabel Wade, elected 1419, (fn. 42) died 1462 (fn. 43)
Margaret Boteler, elected 1462, (fn. 44) died 1475 (fn. 45)
Christina, died 1486 (fn. 45a)
Elizabeth Bradforth, or Bradfeld, occurs 1494, (fn. 46) 1496, (fn. 47) resigned 1501 (fn. 48)
Agnes Swayne, elected 1501 (fn. 49)
Marjory Hilgerden, occurs 1509 (fn. 50)
Anchoreta Ungothorpe, appointed 1514, (fn. 51) died 1521 (fn. 52)


1 Gallia Christ, xiv, 787.
2 Dugdale, Mon. iv, 381.
3 Ibid. 382.
4 Reg. Roff. 476.
5 Ibid. 475; Chartul. of St. John's, Colchester (Roxburghe Club), 525.
6 Dugdale, Mon. iv, 382.
7 Chart. 17 Hen. III, m. 15.
8 Pat. 12 Edw. IV, pt. 2, m. 14.
9 Chart. 11 Hen. III, pt. 2, m. 17.
10 Ibid. The nuns paid £100 for the charter of John for the manor (Fine Roll, 3 John, m. 6).
11 Chart. 17 Edw. I, No. 8.
11 a Wharton, Angl. Sac. i, 375.
12 Pat. 20 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 31.
13 Pat. m. 30.
14 Pat. 16 Ric. II, pt. 1, m. 32.
15 Printed in Mon. iv, 379.
16 L. and P. Hen. VIII, iii (2), 2630.
17 Reg. Roff. 418.
18 L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv (1), 686.
19 See above. According to Matthew Paris (Chron. Maj. [Rolls Ser.], ii, 216) she was afterwards abbess of Romsey in Hampshire and then married Matthew, son of the count of Flanders, in 1160; but according to Gallia Christiana, xiv, 787, she was abbess of St. Sulpice and died in 1159.
20 Chartul. of St. John, Colchestser (Roxburghe Club), 525.
21 Dugdale, Mon. iv, 378.
22 Pat. 32 Hen. III, m. 13.
23 Pat. 50 Hen. III, m. 25.
24 Pat. 3 Edw. I, m. 29.
25 Pat. 23 Edw. I, m. 13.
26 Pat. m. 12.
27 Pat. 29 Edw. I, m. 31.
28 Pat. m. 27.
29 Pat. 2 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 1.
29 a Wharton, Angl. Sac. i, 369.
30 Roch. Epis. Reg. i, fol. 87 d. 149 d.
31 Ibid. 181.
32 Ibid. She was sub-prioress. There were then thirteen nuns.
33 Ibid. 308.
34 Ibid; Pat. 35 Edw. III, pt. 3, m. 38. Cecily died in 1386 (Pat. 10 Ric. II, pt. 1, m. 27).
35 Escheators' Inq. Ser. I, file 1001.
36 Ibid. Joan died in 1390 (Pat. 14 Ric. II, pt. 1, m. 10).
37 Ibid. m. 4.
38 Pat. 17 Ric. II, pt. 1, m. 1.
39 Ibid. pt. 2, m. 37. Joan died in 1418 (Pat. 6 Hen. V, m. 11).
40 Ibid. m. 10.
41 Pat. 7 Hen. V, m. 8,
42 Ibid. m. 6.
43 Pat. 2 Edw. IV, pt. 1, m. 13.
44 Ibid. m. 7.
45 Pat. 15 Edw. IV, pt. 3, m. 9.
45 a Pat. 1 Hen. VII, pt. 2, m. 14 (12).
46 Roch. Epis. Reg. iv, fol. 14d.
47 Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Morton, fol. 16od. There were then five other nuns.
48 Roch. Epis. Reg. iv, fol. 30.
49 Ibid. 30d.
50 Ibid. 51. She appears as a nun of Mailing in 1524 (ibid. 112).
51 Ibid. 72. By the bishop.
52 L. and P. Hen. VIII, iii (1), 1173. Licence for election was granted on 20 February, but appears never to have been made use of.