Survey of London: Volume 9, the Parish of St Helen, Bishopsgate, Part I. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1924.
I.—HISTORY: PRE-REFORMATION PERIOD
The parish church of St. Helen, Bishopsgate
The Church of St. Helen, Bishopsgate, was probably founded before the Conquest, (fn. 1) though of this there is no proof. Nothing is really known about it until the middle of the 12th century, (fn. 2) when it is mentioned as one of the churches in the jurisdiction of St. Paul's Cathedral. (fn. 3) At this time it was customary for the chapter to make over its churches to men who became responsible for the cure of souls and for the payments due to the canons. By an agreement of a date after 1140, (fn. 4) a certain Ranulf and Robert his son, who themselves appear to have been canons of St. Paul's, (fn. 5) were to hold the church of St. Helen for their lives paying 12d. yearly to the chapter, and after the death of both, a third member of their family or community chosen by them was to have the church, paying, however, 2s. a year to the chapter. On the death of this third person the canons were to enter into complete possession of the church. (fn. 6) The three successive holders must have all died before 1181, for in the time of Dean Hugh (fn. 7) the canons granted St. Helen's to Peter, son of Edmund the Alderman, who was to pay them 10s. yearly. (fn. 8)
A few years later Dean Ralph de Diceto and the chapter of St. Paul's gave to William, son of William Goldsmith, and his heirs the patronage of St. Helen's, providing that the priest chosen by them should be presented to the canons and should swear fealty to them for the church and promise to make an annual payment of a mark, which they for their part undertook not to increase, and providing that William and his heirs should not alienate the advowson to any religious house. (fn. 9)
During the 12th century two visitations of the church are recorded. At the first visitation, c. 1160–81, (fn. 10) when Alberic was priest, (fn. 11) the church possessed a missal, the third part of a breviary, an antiphonary, a manual, a hymnary, a complete vestment with chasuble of cloth, two altar towels, an altar-cloth and a silver cross. (fn. 12) The return made after the second visitation, circ. 1181–86, (fn. 13) recites that the church of St. Helen belongs to the canons and pays 20s. to them by the hand of Master Cyprian, 12d. for synodals, and 12d. to the archdeacon. It has a cemetery. The ornaments of the church are as follows: a silver chalice gilded inside weighing 16s.; a good and new antiphonary of the use of St. Paul; a copy (fn. 14) of the four gospels; a cross with relics; a painted picture; part of a breviary; a complete vestment with silk chasuble; a silk altar frontal; two maniples; a banner; two altar frontals, one of silver, the other linen; two old altarcloths; (fn. 15) one mass vestment (fn. 16); a good iron-bound chest for storing books and vestments. At this time the church was served by Ailnod. (fn. 17)
The priory of St. Helen, Bishopsgate
Early in the 13th century (fn. 18) [circ. 1210] Dean Alard and the chapter of St. Paul's gave William, son of William Goldsmith, permission to establish a nunnery in the church of St. Helen and to confer on the convent the advowson of the church. They ordained that the prioress on election was to be presented to the dean and chapter and to swear fealty to them for the church and promise to make the annual payment to them of half a mark. She was to undertake not to alienate the right of patronage nor to subject herself to any other community. The dean and chapter for their part gave the convent leave to convert to their own uses all the obventions of St. Helen's except the pension. (fn. 19) The nunnery thus founded was of the Benedictine Order.
At some time a form was drawn up as to the procedure to be observed on the death of a prioress of St. Helen's and the election of her successor. (fn. 20) This ordered that on the death of the prioress the convent through their steward and chaplains were immediately to inform the dean and chapter as their patrons. Two canons were then to be sent from St. Paul's to take possession of the priory, in token of which they were to be given the keys of the church by the sub-prioress. After the body of the prioress had been committed to the grave by the two canons, the convent had to send their confessor, steward and household chaplains with their letters patent under their common seal to ask leave of the dean and chapter to elect, and leave was to be granted without delay. When the election had taken place notice was to be sent to the dean and chapter who appointed a day for the convent to present the prioress elect at St. Paul's. The election being examined and confirmed, the prioress elect was to be led to the high altar during the singing of the "Te Deum Laudamus," and while she knelt on the steps a psalm was to be sung and certain prayers (fn. 21) were to be said.
The prioress was then to be led back to the chapter, the charge of the monastery was to be committed to her and she was to swear fealty and obedience to the dean and chapter, promising to subject her house to no other, and to pay the half-mark due yearly.
Permission was then to be given to the prioress and nuns accompanying her to visit their friends for the three days following, since except on the election of a prioress the nuns never went outside the nunnery's walls. (fn. 22) On the fourth day, two canons from St. Paul's were to meet the prioress and nuns at the gates of the quire of St. Helen's, and leading the prioress between them up the quire were to place her in front of the altar. After two or three prayers had been said, they were to conduct her to the stall, chanting meanwhile the psalm "Levavi oculos," and install her by authority of the dean and chapter. Subsequently she was to be led into the nuns' chapter house and assigned the highest seat; then the chief canon was to deliver to her the rule of St. Benedict with the spiritual government and afterwards the common seal with the temporal government of that house, enjoining the nuns to obey her as their spiritual mother. The nuns were then to kiss her and do obedience as was customary.
The early history of the house is scanty. With the exception of a dispute, soon after the foundation, (fn. 23) about property included in the endowment, the first mention of the nunnery seems to be in the will of William Longespee, Earl of Salisbury, in 1225. (fn. 24) In the same year (fn. 25) the prioress of St. Helen's put in a claim to half the advowson of Eyworth church under a grant of Maud de Bussy. (fn. 26) Shortly afterwards the prioress figures in a suit about half a mill called Old Ford Mill on the Lea, (fn. 27) which apparently had been recently bought by the convent. Then come two or three grants or events of more intimate concern to the house. Such is an agreement in 1242–43 (fn. 28) over the will of Mary Duket, which provides for a chantry to be established in the priory of St. Thomas of Acon, or that of St. Helen in London. Of domestic importance too was the leave given by the king to the convent in March, 1249, to enclose a lane which crossed their property. (fn. 29) This must have been the lane described at the inquisition of 1274–75 as leading to the church of St. Mary Axe and as having been blocked some years before with an earthen wall. (fn. 30)
Edward I on 4th May, 1285, went on foot with a company of nobles and bishops to present to the nuns of St. Helen's the Holy Cross called "Neit," apparently a piece of the True Cross, (fn. 31) which he had found in Wales. (fn. 32) This gift may have caused an addition to the dedication of the house, for c. 1299 the nunnery is mentioned as the priory of Holy Cross and St. Helen, London. (fn. 33)
During the interdict on the City in 1290 by John Peckham, Archbishop of Canterbury, the prioress and convent as a special favour were granted permission to have service in the nunnery on the Day of the Invention of Holy Cross. (fn. 34) Then comes a link between the nunnery and the social life of the trading community. The Fraternity of Puy, established at the end of the 13th century by Gascon merchants in London, chose this priory for the annual celebration of a solemn mass for dead companions of the brotherhood. (fn. 35)
About this time the convent seems to have been in need of financial help, probably for building. In 1290 Pope Nicholas IV granted relaxation of a year and 40 days of enjoined penance to penitents visiting the nuns' church on the feasts of St. Helen and Holy Cross; (fn. 36) and sixteen years later Ralph Baldock, Bishop of London, offered an indulgence of 40 days to those of his diocese who should go to the conventual church of St. Helen for devotion or pilgrimage, hear the divine office there, or give aid to the fabric or to the maintenance of the ornaments. (fn. 37) The will of Thomas of Basing, (fn. 38) enrolled in 1300, implies that he and his brother Salomon had erected the church or nunnery buildings: the remainder of a rent of 45s. 8d. after deduction of 5 pittances of 6s. 8d. each to the convent of St. Helen's was to be devoted to the maintenance of their church which, he says, Salomon my brother and I "construximus." (fn. 39) Whatever the exact meaning of these words may be, they signify undoubtedly that the benefactions to St. Helen's of Salomon and Thomas Basing were considerable. (fn. 40)
The connexion of this family with the priory extended over a long period: Felicia of Basing was elected prioress in 1269; (fn. 41) Dionisia of Gloucester, granddaughter of Thomas Basing, was a nun there; (fn. 42) and Henry of Gloucester, goldsmith of London, a relative of Thomas Basing, was a benefactor to the house by his will in 1332, leaving 11 marks a year to the prioress and convent for 12 years to provide two chantries in the church of St. Helen during that time, (fn. 43) and providing for the perpetual payment of a silver mark to the convent every year for a pittance. (fn. 44)
The nuns made an agreement in 1344 with Walter Dieuboneye of Bletchingley, cheesemonger of London, in return for his benefits to them, to establish a chantry for him in their church and give the chaplain a salary of two marks a year besides food and drink and a suitable house within the priory such as the parish priest had. (fn. 45) Property was left to the convent to endow chantries in their church for varying periods under the will of John of Etton, rector of Great Massingham, in 1346 (fn. 46); by Robert Atte Hyde, rector of St. Mary Wolnoth, in 1348 (fn. 47); and by Walter of Bilyngham by will enrolled in 1349. (fn. 48) Although the income of the house must have been increased by these legacies and in other ways, there was evidently little margin beyond ordinary expenditure. In 1350, as a result of a petition to the Pope, a papal indulgence of a year and 40 days was granted to those who visited the nuns' church on Good Friday or on the feasts of the Invention and Exaltation of the Cross, or who made a substantial contribution to the fabric of the church, "which was in danger of going to ruin." (fn. 49) The truth of this statement receives corroboration from the will of William of Thorney (fn. 50) in 1349, in which bequests were made to the priorcss and nuns of St. Helen's not only for the establishment of chantries, but for repairing their church, dormitory and cloister. (fn. 51)
An important addition to the church was made a few years later when Adam Francis, (fn. 52) mercer, of London, built a chapel in honour of the Holy Ghost. In August, 1363, he obtained from Pope Urban V an indulgence for those who visited the chapel at Christmas and other great festivals, and on the feasts of Holy Cross and All Saints. (fn. 53) Francis by his will in August, 1374, (fn. 54) left directions for the establishment of a perpetual chantry of St. Mary and of another in the chapel of his foundation. The chaplain of the first chantry was to celebrate a mass by note daily at the high altar of the conventual church, and at the conclusion he was to commemorate the faithful departed and Adam Francis by name; this mass was to be said before the nuns' hour of prime, (fn. 55) and six nuns chosen by the prioress every Saturday (fn. 56) were to be present and remain until the commemoration of the dead was over; each nun for her attendance and services was to receive 4d. at the end of the week. The chaplain of the St. Mary chantry was to be paid £8, the other chaplain £7 a year. Francis's anniversary was to be observed by special services in the nuns' quire and the parish church, and by the feeding of 13 poor persons in the priory.
It is interesting to note that Richard II, alleging a crown right after coronation, nominated a nun to St. Helen's. (fn. 57) If the king had such a right, this seems to have been the sole instance of its exercise, and the conclusion may be drawn that entrance to the convent was at that time considered a privilege.
An affair which occurred shortly afterwards (fn. 58) certainly indicates that the priory was supposed to possess ample means. Joan Heyroun, one of the nuns, represented to Pope Urban VI that she was suffering so badly from gout that she was unable to perform her canonical duties, and asked that she might be excused from them, and that on account of her great poverty he would grant her food and clothing from the monastery's goods. In response the pope in February, 1384, ordained that she should have for life two corrodies from the prioress, (fn. 59) such as two other nuns received, that she should be cared for as they were, and should have a suitable dwelling, viz. a hall with two chambers annexed within the precinct of the cemetery of the parish church. Joan, however, met with opposition from the prioress, and seems then to have obtained other bulls ordering the prioress to answer in the papal court. The prioress and two of her supporters retaliated, it was said, by keeping her a close prisoner on insufficient food, (fn. 60) whereupon the dean and chapter of St. Paul's intervened, ordering the prioress to release Joan, and to permit her to have the comforts sent her by friends and to communicate with her relations. The prioress and the other two nuns, who had meanwhile appealed to the court of Canterbury, refused, pending their appeal, to recognise the jurisdiction of the dean in the matter, and were on 18th July, 1385, declared by him to have incurred the threatened sentence of excommunication. Here information ceases, so how the case ended is unknown. The facts as disclosed are not favourable to Joan. If she was poor, her friends were obviously rich or influential, and she was apparently trying to benefit herself at the expense of the convent and in defiance of the authority of the prioress. On the other hand her action may have been a protest against injustice or favouritism: an attempt to get what had been given to others and denied to her.
Three years afterwards the domestic affairs of the convent again called for the dean's intervention. One of the nuns, a certain Joyce, who had taken the veil of her own free will, became so discontented a year or two later as to cause a rumour that she wanted to leave the priory. Examined on this point by the dean in July, 1388, Joyce declared that she had never repented her profession, but in September she escaped by stealth from the priory, put off the nun's habit, and in October was reported to have married. The dean and chapter therefore ordered her to be denounced as excommunicated until she returned to her cloister. (fn. 61)
A set of inquiries and injunctions for a visitation of St. Helen's, though undated, may in all probability be referred to the time of this same dean, John of Appelby, (fn. 62) possibly between 1385 and 1389. Notification of a visitation to be held at St. Helen's on Thursday before the feast of St. Nicholas was given to the convent by John the dean, and the inquiries were to be made at a visitation on a Thursday; moreover, in the Joan Heyroun case Thomas Feckenham is mentioned as one of three clerks prosecuting the appeal of the prioress and her supporters, while questions about grants to "Feckenham" were among the inquiries. These are as follows: 1. On Thursday former injunctions given to the prioress are to be shown. 2. Restitution of the quit-claim made to Feckenham at the time of the visitation is to be required as was formerly enjoined on the prioress. 3. The state of the house is to be shown: the rental and accounts with a copy of those accounts for delivery to the dean and chapter. 4. The said Feckenham is to show the corrody formerly granted to him before the time of the present prioress, in which Feckenham is bound, as is said, to do certain services to the prioress and convent for life, in order that it be known whether he has duly performed them, and can thus perform them in future. 5. Full inquiry is to be made of the prioress and each nun whether the house is burdened of old or lately with any other corrody and if so with a corrody to what person, notwithstanding inquiries and full replies made before in this matter. 6. It is to be enjoined on them publicly in chapter that they shall sing and say divine service day and night, and especially Placebo and Dirige, (fn. 63) fully and distinctly, and not too fast as up to now they have been accustomed to do; nay rather with due and proper pauses. 7. It is to be enjoined on them that henceforth they abstain from kissing secular persons, a custom to which they have hitherto been too prone. 8. The prioress is to give up little dogs (fn. 64) and to be content with one or two. 9. The nuns are to wear veils according to the rules of their order and not such as are unduly ostentatious unless necessity so demands. 10. Margaret Senior, one of the prioress's maids, is to be removed from the service and company of the prioress owing to certain causes moving the dean and chapter, and this for the better reputation of the prioress. 11. The prioress is to be enjoined that in future she is not to have or keep with her any guests either at table or otherwise. 12. The prioress is to show missals and books, chalices and all other ecclesiastical ornaments, and to say who has the custody of them and how they are kept, and if by indenture, that indenture is to be shown. 13. Inquiry is to be made how many seals they have, whether two, viz. one, common, and the other "ad causas," and whether by the seal "ad causas" the house can be bound.
These injunctions show perhaps that life in the priory, especially in the case of the head, was not very austere, but that on the whole there was not much fault to be found. About fifty years later there was a great deal that needed amendment, to judge from the ordinances issued by Dean Reginald Kentwood on 21st June, 1439, after a visitation of the priory. (fn. 65)
1. He ordered that divine service was to be performed by the convent night and day, and that silence was to be kept in due time and place as prescribed by their rule. 2. He enjoined the prioress and every nun to make due and complete confession to the confessor assigned by him. 3. The prioress and convent were ordered to appoint a place for an infirmary, where the sisters in sickness might be properly kept and tended at the expense of the house, as is customary. 4. The prioress was enjoined to keep her dormitory and lie therein by night according to the rule, except when the rule permits otherwise. 5. The prioress and convent were not to allow secular persons to be locked within the bounds of the cloister, nor to enter after the compline bell except women servants and little girls at school ("mayde childeryne lerners") there. No women were to be allowed to reside there without the dean's permission. 6. The prioress and sisters were not to frequent any place within the priory through which evil suspicion or slander might arise, such places to be notified later by the dean to the prioress; and there was to be no looking out, through which they might "fall in worldly dilectation." 7. A serious and discreet woman of the Order, of good conduct and repute, was to be appointed to shut the cloister doors and keep the keys, so that nobody could enter or leave the place after compline bell nor at any other time by which the place might be slandered in future. 8. The prioress and convent were enjoined that no secular women were to sleep by night in the dormitory without special permission given in chapter among them all. 9. They were not to speak nor commune with secular persons; they were also not to send letters or gifts to secular persons nor receive such from them without permission of the prioress, and except in the presence of another nun assigned by the prioress to hear and report the rectitude of both parties, and except the letters and gifts have a good not bad motive and cause no scandal to the nuns' reputation and Order. 10. The prioress and convent were to admit to office only such sisters as were of good name and fame. 11. They were to choose one of the sisters, upright, competent and tactful, who could undertake the task of training the nuns who were ignorant, so that they might be taught their service and the rule of their religion. 12. Forasmuch as various perpetual fees, corrodies and liveries had been granted in the past to officers of the house and others to the injury of the house, and because of the dilapidation of the goods of the house, they were forbidden to make any such grants without the consent of the dean and chapter. 13. All dancing and revelling in the priory were forbidden except at Christmas and other proper times of recreation, and then only in the absence of seculars. 14. The prioress was commanded to have a door at the nuns' quire so that strangers could not look at them, nor they at strangers while they were at divine service; she was also to have made "a hache of conabyll heythe, crestyd withe pykys of herne" before the entrance to their kitchen, so that no strangers might enter, "with certeyne cleketts avysed be yow and be yowre steward to suche personys as yow and hem thynk onest and conabell." 15. The prioress alone was to have the keys of the postern door leading from the cloister to the churchyard, "for there is much coming in and going out unlawful times." 16. No nun was to receive children or keep them in the house unless "the profite of the comonys turne to the vayle of the same house." 17. These injunctions were to be observed in their entirety and were to be read four times a year in the nuns' chapel before them, so that they were remembered and kept, under pain of excommunication and other lawful penalties.
It is clear that some of the nuns were inclined to frivolity, or at any rate had not taken their profession with sufficient seriousness. There is also no doubt that the financial affairs of the house had at some period been mismanaged, and the priory was then suffering from the consequences. If the house righted itself, it was not for long. It was again in monetary difficulties in 1459, for the prioress and convent then assigned to their steward £76 16s. 8d. in part payment of a larger sum, to be taken by him from rents which were due to them, and in the collection of which he was promised the help of their rent collector. (fn. 66)
The will of Sir John Crosby (fn. 67) proves that the house in 1471 was still in economic straits and that money was then especially needed for contemplated alterations of the church. After arranging for his burial and tomb in the chapel of the Holy Ghost, Crosby bequeathed to the high altar of the church £66 1s. 4d. for offerings delayed or forgotten, (fn. 68) 400 marks to endow a chantry for 40 years; 100 marks for keeping his anniversary; and in consideration of "the great damages that the prioress and convent stand in by means of the great duties they owe" . . . £40 to diminish their debts; "also upon the renewing and reforming the said church 500 marks sterling."
Practically nothing more is heard of the priory's affairs (fn. 69) until 1528, when a vacancy gave rise to much intriguing for the position of prioress. A nun named Margaret Vernon, not a member of the convent, was promised it by Wolsey, and she and her friends made assiduous application to Cromwell. (fn. 70) Meanwhile "Parson Larke," no doubt the rector of St. Ethelburga, (fn. 71) pressed at court the claims of the sub-prioress, (fn. 72) and in the end was successful. The incident offers more than one point for comment. The dignity was sufficiently important to attract several candidates ready to pay a considerable sum. (fn. 73) Presumably the nuns had ceded the nomination willingly or otherwise to Wolsey or the king, (fn. 74) for there is no mention of the convent's right to elect. Altogether the transaction is not very creditable to any of the parties concerned, and was not calculated to improve discipline in the house. Still the spread of the new doctrines or fear of recent legislation rather than laxity of conduct may account for the flight of some of the nuns about 1534. (fn. 75)
The prioress and convent did their best to propitiate the authorities: in September, 1534, they gave Cromwell an annuity of four marks for life (fn. 76) and they also subscribed to the declaration of the king's supremacy. (fn. 77)
In 1537 and 1538, either to provide for their friends while they could, or as a kind of insurance for themselves, they completely set aside the Kentwood injunction and granted annuity after annuity: December, 1537, to their auditor a life annuity of 40s. (fn. 78); 21st January, 1538, one of 4 marks to John Sewstre, gent.; 30th March, one of 40s. to Edward Rollesley, gent. (fn. 79); 26th June, one of 4 marks to John Rollesley, gent. (fn. 80); 30th June, an annual rent of 10s. and an annuity of 2 marks to Henry Bowsell, gent.; 9th July, an annuity of 4 marks to Jerome Shelton, gent.; one of 20s. to Roger Hall, and another of 4 marks to John Staverton, gent.; and 1st October, an annuity of 20s. to John Melsham, gent. (fn. 81) These were about the last recorded acts of the convent.
Property of the Priory.
There is no surviving account of the original endowment of the house, nor does the priory figure in the Taxatio Papae Nicholai, c. 1297, so that a comparison of its possessions and income at different periods is impossible. The Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535 gives the most satisfactory summary of its property at the end of its existence, and details that are lacking here can sometimes be supplied from the Ministers' Accounts, 32 Hen. VIII. (fn. 82)
|CITY OF LONDON AND MIDDLESEX.||£||s.||d.|
|Rents of assize with other rents within the city of London and suburbs (fn. 83)||312||6||4|
|Manor of Bordeston (fn. 84)||9||0||0|
|Wood in the demesne of Edmonton, (fn. 85) usually||1||8||0|
|Rectory of St. Helen in the hands of the Lady Prioress with tithes there||11||0||0 (fn. 86)|
|Eyworth, (fn. 87) rent of assize, etc.||12||10||6|
|Barming, (fn. 88) rents of assize, etc.||4||0||0|
|Wood in the demesne, 5 acres, price per acre 1s.||0||5||0|
|ESSEX. (fn. 89)|
|Manor of Marck||10||6||8|
|Rents of assize, etc., in Ware (fn. 90)||2||0||0|
|Firm of the manor of Datchett (fn. 91)||8||12||0|
|The sum of the whole value (fn. 92) is||376||6||0|
|Rents paid from the above, (fn. 93) mainly to religious houses||6||14||5½|
|To James Butteyn, Knt., chief steward of the priory||2||0||0|
|To Richard Berde, receiver of all the demesnes, etc.||8||0||0|
|To John Dodington, auditor||2||8||8|
|To David Netley, chaplain of the chantry of B. V. Mary founded in the church of St. Helen||8||0||0|
|To Thomas Criche, chaplain of the perpetual chantry of the Holy Ghost in that church||7||0||0|
|To the wardens of B. Mary Bothaw for the salary of one chaplain||6||0||0|
|To the wardens of the fraternity (fn. 94) in the church of St. Mary le Bow||4||0||0|
|To Thomas More, chaplain of the chantry of St. Michael Cornhill||4||13||4|
|In money paid to poor people in the City of London praying for the soul of Adam Francis on his anniversary in St. Helen's||0||6||8|
|And for the soul of Robert Knollys (fn. 95) on his anniversary||0||3||4|
|To the vicar of Eyworth||4||0||0|
|To the Bishop of Lincoln per annum||1||0||0|
|For sinodals and procurations paid to the same bishop||0||10||8|
|Sum total of reprises||55||10||3½|
|There remains clear||(fn. 96)320||15||8½|
To the priory belonged, then and in 1303, (fn. 97) the advowsons of four city churches: St. Mary Axe, St. Mary Wolnoth, St. John on Walbrook and St. Ethelburga.
A letter from the convent about some property was taken by D., the prioress, to A. the dean; (fn. 98) and there is another letter on the subject from D. the prioress to A. the dean. (fn. 99) As the priory was founded in the time of Dean Alard (d. 1216) this appears to be the first prioress. A document at St. Paul's, (fn. 100) of a date not later than the beginning of the 13th century, records that Aliz the prioress and the convent of St. Giles of Woodchurch, i.e. St. Giles's in the Wood, Flamstead, granted to the church of St. Helen and the nuns dwelling there Dionisia, a nun of their house, free from all subjection to their church. It seems possible that the first prioress D. was Dionisia from Flamstead.
The sale of a quitrent by this prioress was witnessed by William FitzAlice and John Travers. (fn. 101) William FitzAlice was sheriff in 1200–1201; John Travers was sheriff 1215–16; 1223–24 and 1224–25.
The Prioress Helen in 1230–31 was party to a transaction about property in "Popleset," co. Midd.; in 1236–37 and 1249–50 about property in "Herghes," and 1244–45 about tenements in Greenford. (fn. 102) A grant of land in the parish of St. Mildred, Canterbury, was made to the master and brethren of the hospital of Ospreng in 1247 by a prioress called Helen. (fn. 103) In 1248 E. (? Elena) the prioress figures in an agreement about suit of court for land in Stepney. (fn. 104) The nuns on 9th May, 1255, asked leave to elect a prioress in place of H., their late prioress, deceased. (fn. 105)
The Prioress Scolastica in 1261–62 bought a rent of 100s. in Southminster and Althorne, co. Essex, from Holywell Priory. (fn. 106) A grant was made to the Prioress Scolastica and the convent in 1265–66. (fn. 107) She died July, 1269. (fn. 108)
Felicia of Basing (1269).
She was elected on the Tuesday before the feast of St. James (25th July), 1269. (fn. 109)
Joan of Winchester (d. 1324).
The convent on 30th July, 1324, asked leave to elect to the vacancy caused by her death. (fn. 110)
Beatrix le Boteler (d. 1332).
The convent informed the dean and chapter of her death on 3rd November, 1332. (fn. 111)
Eleanor of Winchester (1332–44).
Notification of the election of Eleanor of Winchester, the sub-prioress, was made to the dean and chapter on 10th November, 1332. (fn. 112) She is mentioned by name as prioress in documents concerning property, 1334–35 (fn. 113); and in the agreement with Walter Dieuboneye, June, 1344. (fn. 114)
Margery of Honeylane (1354–55).
In December, 1354, Margery of Honeylane, prioress of St. Helen's, London, was granted a papal indult to choose a confessor who might give her plenary remission at the hour of death. (fn. 115) She gave an acquittance for a rent on 16th December, 1355, to the wardens of London Bridge. (fn. 116)
The prioress during the case of Joan Heyroun in 1385 was named Constance. (fn. 117)
Constance Somerset (d. 1398).
The date of her death, 15th April, 1398, is given in the convent's petition for leave to elect. (fn. 118) This lady was probably not the Prioress Constance of 1385. One of the injunctions, which appear to have been made by Dean John of Appelby, (fn. 119) and therefore not later than 1389, concerns a corrody granted before the time of the present prioress to a man called Feckenham. But as Feckenham had acted for and supported Prioress Constance in 1385 she is the most likely person to have given him the corrody.
This prioress presented in May, 1399, to the chantry of the Holy Ghost. (fn. 120)
Margaret Stokes (1446–49).
Margaret Stokes as prioress on 21st July, 1446, gave a formal acquittance for a rent. (fn. 121) A grant in mortmain of property in East Barming was made to the Prioress Margaret on 26th February, 1449. (fn. 122)
Alice Wodhouse (1459).
Her bond for payment of a debt is dated 20th April, 37 Hen. VI (fn. 123) . She appears to have resigned, for she witnessed as a nun the lease granted to Crosby in 1466, her name coming next to that of the prioress. (fn. 124)
Alice Ashfield (1466).
She figures as prioress in the lease to Crosby. (fn. 125)
Alice Tracthall (1498).
Isabel or Elizabeth Stamp (1512–28).
Isabel Stamp as prioress granted leases of conventual property on 3rd December, 1512, and 1st November, 1526. (fn. 128) In 1518 Elizabeth Stamp, prioress of St. Helen's, was enrolled a member of the Fraternity of Parish Clerks. (fn. 129) An entry in the Lord Treasurer's Memoranda Roll 32 Hen. VIII states that Isabel Stamp resigned on 12th November, 20 Hen. VIII . (fn. 130)
Mary Rollesley (1528 or 1529–38).
Mary Rollesley was a nun at St. Helen's in 1513, when her mother, Elizabeth Rollesley, bequeathed £5 to her and £5 to the prioress and convent. (fn. 131) She became sub-prioress, and according to the Lord Treasurer's Memoranda Roll (fn. 132) was elected prioress on 22nd August, 21 Hen. VIII. She was certainly, however, acting as prioress before, for on 21st December, 20 Hen. VIII , a lease was granted by Dame Mary "Rowlisley," prioress of St. Helen's. (fn. 133)
Other offices held by nuns were those of sacristan and cellarer, the first being mentioned in 1344 and both in 1375. (fn. 134)
In the "form of electing a prioress" mention is made of the nuns' confessor and the household chaplains. (fn. 135) Probably the foundation of the two chantries for Adam Francis made more than one conventual chaplain unnecessary. It is certain that in the last days of the priory only one priest, Thomas Wynstanley, was actually called the nuns' chaplain. He had a salary of £6 13s. 4d., (fn. 136) and as a quarter of this sum, 33s. 4d., was entered in the convent's accounts of an earlier date as owing "to the chaplain celebrating high mass," (fn. 137) it looks as if for some time there had been only one household chaplain. Wynstanley evidently continued to officiate in the church until the suppression of chantries, (fn. 138) and was then given an annual pension of 100s. which he was still receiving in 1556. (fn. 139)
Sir James Bolleyne, kt., was appointed steward in December, 1534, at a salary of 40s. a year (fn. 142); and in January, 1535, Richard Berde, citizen and girdler of London, who rented from the convent The Black Bull in the parish of St. Ethelburga, was made steward, receiver and collector for life at a stipend of £12 a year and 20s. for his livery, an allowance of food and drink, 2 cartloads of fuel and 10 qrs. of charcoal, and use of an apartment within the priory precinct. (fn. 143) John Dodyngton is mentioned as auditor in the Valor and in 1537. (fn. 144)
There were probably also minor officials. (fn. 145)
The house was surrendered on 25th November, 1538, but there are no signatures to the document. (fn. 146) The sixteen members of the convent were allotted pensions on 29th January, 1538–39, as follows:— (fn. 147)
|Mary Rollesley (Rowlesley), prioress||£30|
|Mary Shelton (fn. 148) nun||£4|
|Agnes Stavarton (fn. 149) "||66s. 8d.|
|Anne Webbe "||"|
|(fn. 146)Joan Pawntlyver (fn. 150) "||"|
|Godclyff Laurence "||"|
|(fn. 146)Eleanor Hannam "||4 marks|
|Elizabeth Marten "||"|
|(fn. 146)Margaret Samson "||"|
|Alice Gravenar "||"|
|(fn. 146)Katharine Glossop "||"|
|(fn. 146)Elizabeth Graye "||"|
|Ursula Thwaytes "||"|
|Joan Holdernes "||"|
|Cecilia Cope "||66s. 8d.|
|(fn. 146)Anne Aleyne (fn. 151) "||4 marks|
The six whose names are prefixed by an asterisk were still receiving their pensions in 1556. (fn. 152)
The priory may be described as essentially a London religious house. It was founded by a London goldsmith, nearly all its benefactors were London citizens and merchants, and the convent was most probably recruited mainly from London homes and families. One of the prioresses belonged to the important City family of Basing; the name of another, Margery of Honeylane, proves her a native of the City; Joan of Winchester may have been a relative of Nicholas of Winchester, sheriff in 1280–81, and Beatrix le Botiller, a relative of James le Botiller, sheriff 1308–9; Constance Somerset probably came from the parish of St. Mary Somerset, and the last prioress was almost certainly a Londoner. (fn. 153) Nearly all existing references to individual nuns point in the same direction. Most of these occur in wills proved in the Court of Husting. Besides the granddaughter of Thomas Basing already noticed, Lucy the daughter of John de Bancquell (fn. 154) was thus mentioned in 1328, (fn. 155) the sister of John of Etton in 1355, the sister of John atte Pole in 1361 and the sister of Thomas of Frowyk in 1374. (fn. 156) Property in Sopers-lane left to St. Helen's in 1373, was charged with an annual payment of 40s. to one of the nuns, Katharine Wolf, (fn. 157) so probably she was a Londoner. It may be remarked that Chausier or Chaucer, the name of the lady nominated to the convent by Richard II, was by no means uncommon in London at that period, and moreover that Chaucer the poet, himself a Londoner, was related in some fashion to the Heyrouns, (fn. 158) hence a possible connexion of Joan Heyroun's family with the City. The one exception is that of the nun Joan of Bures mentioned in 1418 in an agreement to pay during her lifetime to the prioress and convent 100s. from lands in Great and Little Whelnethan. (fn. 159) It seems clear that she was a native of Suffolk, but even in this case there was a close connexion with London if, as seems likely, Joan was related to Andrew of Bures who in 1331 established a chantry in the Crossed Friars. (fn. 160)
The Seal of the Convent, a pointed oval, bears a representation of the Cross with St. Helen on the left, turning towards the right. She has her left arm round the shaft of the Cross and holds the three nails in her left hand. On the right, turning towards the left, are several women, two on their knees, some with arms extended to the Cross. Under an arch below is a half figure in prayer.
Note—This seal, attached to a deed of 1333–34 in the Augmentations Office, described in Dugdale (Mon. Eng., IV, 552), evidently exactly resembles that appended to Harl. Chart. 44, 45, dated 1344, and the seal attached to a document of 1534, depicted in Malcolm's Londinium Redivivum, III, 548.