A History of the County of Buckingham: Volume 1. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1905.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
THE RELIGIOUS HOUSES OF BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
The Religious Houses of Buckingshamshire, though fairly numerous, were for the most part small and insignificant: only three of them indeed fell outside the range of the first Act of Suppression in 1534. Not one of them was built before the Conquest, nor is record preserved of any religious foundation at all in the county before the end of the eleventh century. The Cluniac priory of Tickford was probably the earliest, and that was not in existence before the compilation of the Domesday Survey. The next in order of foundation seems to have been the abbey of Missenden, which followed the Arrouasian form of the Augustinian rule; its earliest charter is dated 1133. Nutley Abbey, of the same order, was probably founded about the same time, the Cistercian abbey of Biddlesden in 1147, five small Benedictine priories—at Luffield, Bradwell, Ankerwick, Ivinghoe and Little Marlow—and the Premonstratensian abbey of Lavendon in the course of the twelfth century. As many as six Religious Houses of different orders were founded during the thirteenth century in this county: Medmenham (Cistercian) in 1204; Snelshall (Benedictine) about 1219; Chetwode (Augustinian) in 1245; Ravenstone (Augustinian) in 1255; Burnham (Augustinian nuns) in 1266; and Ashridge (Bonhommes) as late as 1283. There were no friars in the county till the Earl of Ormond established a house of Minorites at Aylesbury in 1387. A Commandery of Knights Hospitallers was founded at Hogshaw some time during the reign of Henry II. and there was a small Preceptory of Knights Templars at Bulstrode. Two alien priories at Wing and Newton Longville make up a total of twentyone Religious Houses in all. Besides these there were at least twelve hospitals, all dating from the twelfth or early thirteenth centuries: two at Buckingham, two at Aylesbury, two at Newport Pagnel, three at High Wycombe, and three more at Ludgershall, Stony Stratford, and Wendover. Doubtless there were others besides of which no record has yet been found: it seems probable that all large towns had one or two, during the thirteenth century at any rate.
The chief interest of the Buckinghamshire houses lies in the contribution which they make towards the study of the smaller monasteries of England. There have been writers who, though they condemned the wholesale destruction of all monasteries by Henry VIII., have yet been disposed on the whole to accept the statements contained in the preamble to the First Act of Suppression; and there is indeed at first sight something very plausible in the theory that the smaller houses were worse than the large ones, as less influenced by public opinion both within and without. The question however is not what might have happened, but what actually did happen; and so far as this county is concerned, there is no evidence that the smaller houses were more degenerate than the greater; they were nearly all well spoken of at the last by the local commissioners. Nor do we find here any signs that one order was on the whole worse than another, though the latest reports of the abbey of Missenden tend to justify Wolsey's efforts to reform the Augustinians. But indeed it very often happened that two houses (fn. 1) of the same order, separated by only a few miles of country, might be in a very different condition; and the same house which at one visitation was censured might a few years later be praised; not because of any fault in the times, or in the order, but simply because of the change of superiors. This fact has not perhaps received as much consideration as it deserves: duly weighed, it will account for a good deal that would otherwise be difficult to understand.
Five of the Buckinghamshire monasteries were destined to come to an end before the general dissolution. The priory of Luffield was suppressed in 1494 to endow Henry the Seventh's new chapel at Westminster; and the priories of Tickford, Ravenstone, and Bradwell formed part of the endowment of Cardinal's College in 1524. The priory of Chetwode had been absorbed into the abbey of Nutley in 1461.