A History of the County of Buckingham: Volume 1. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1905.
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HOUSES OF BENEDICTINE NUNS
4. THE PRIORY OF IVINGHOE
The date of the foundation of this priory is very uncertain, but it seems on the whole most probable that it was in existence before Ankerwyke or Little Marlow. It was most commonly called the priory of St. Margaret's in the Wood. Leland gives the tradition that it was founded by Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winchester, about the year 1160: but a charter of St. Thomas of Canterbury given in Dugdale confirms the grants of William, Bishop of Winchester, who died in 1129, confirmed by Henry de Blois his successor. (fn. 1) The manor of Ivinghoe had for a long time been part of the endowment of the see of Winchester, even before the Conquest. (fn. 2)
The benefactors of the priory were not numerous, either in its earlier or later days: (fn. 3) in the thirteenth century King Henry III. granted to the nuns the church of Merrow in Surrey, (fn. 4) with other smaller gifts, such as an annual fair on the feast of St. Margaret, and ten acres of assart in Hemel Hempstead. (fn. 5) There are several allusions in the episcopal registers to the poverty of this house, and in 1277 the prioress seems to have been thankful to be acquitted even of so small a fine as two marks, which she had incurred by privately settling a dispute which ought to have come before the king's justices. (fn. 6)
The priory was dissolved under the first Act of Suppression, and contained at that time only five nuns, of whom three were novices. The prioress, Margery Hardwick, received a pension of £4. (fn. 7)
Bishop Dalderby granted indulgences on three different occasions (fn. 8) to those who should give alms for the maintenance of the 'poor nuns of St. Margaret's priory'; from which we may surely infer that he had visited the house and was satisfied with its condition in other respects. (fn. 9) Poverty and obscurity are indeed in no sense a reproach to a convent of nuns. Again in the fifteenth century (during which only two names of prioresses can at present be recovered) there is indirect evidence of the faithful observance of the Benedictine rule in this house. During the episcopate of Bishop Alnwick a nun of some years' standing at the Augustinian priory of Grace Dieu sought and obtained permission to leave her own monastery and retire to St. Margaret's, Ivinghoe. After she had actually gone there, her original superior sent and fetched her back again; whereupon she appealed to the bishop. He examined the matter, and finding that she had made the change not from levity of mind, but from a motive always sanctioned by the Church— the desire, namely, of passing a minore religione ad majorem, causa arctioris aut durioris vitae—ordered that she should be allowed to remain at St. Margaret's. (fn. 10) Bishop Alnwick was an energetic visitor of the monasteries in his diocese, (fn. 11) and would soon have discovered if the priory of Ivinghoe did not really offer to the nun in question the stricter life which she desired.
Bishop Longland visited the house in 1530 (fn. 12) and found there a prioress with three or four nuns. The house was said to be in debt, but under no other reproach, except that one of the ladies had visited her friends without permission, and stayed away from her monastery from the Feast of St. Michael till Passion Sunday in the next year. She was enjoined not to go out again without permission from the prioress: and for a penance she was to say the seven penitential psalms every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday, with an additional Pater, Ave and Credo every day. (fn. 13)
In 1535 the local commissioners found five nuns here, of whom two were professed and three only novices: three of these were sufficiently attached to their religious life to decline the opportunity of returning to the world, and asked permission to enter another house of the order. There were four servants living in the monastery, which was said to be of competent estate and no longer in debt. (fn. 14)
The house was originally endowed with only a small portion of land in the wood of Ivinghoe: to which was added later the church of Merrow in Surrey with lands attached, and ten acres of assart at Hemel Hempstead. (fn. 15) The priory is not mentioned in the Taxation of Pope Nicholas: its revenue is given in the Valor Ecclesiasticus as £14 3s. 1d. clear. (fn. 16) The survey of the local commissioners returned it first as worth £13 3s. 4d. and later as £19 8s. 9d.; the bells, lead, etc., were valued at £8 10s. 6d., and the moveable goods at £1 13s. 4d. The Ministers' Accounts only give a total of £10 4s. 1½d. (fn. 17)
Prioresses of Ivinghoe
Alice, (fn. 18) occurs 1237
Isolt, (fn. 19) died 1262
Cicely, (fn. 20) elected 1262, resigned 1275
Maud de Hockliffe, (fn. 21) elected 1275, died 1296
Isolt de Beauchamp, (fn. 22) elected 1296
Sibyl de Hampstead, (fn. 23) resigned 1340
Maud de Cheyney, (fn. 24) elected 1340
Eleanor Cross, (fn. 25) died 1467
Eleanor Symmes, (fn. 26) elected 1467
Elizabeth Wyvill, (fn. 27) occurs 1530, died 1534
Margaret Hardwick, (fn. 28) last prioress, elected 1534
A pointed oval seal of Prioress Isolt de Beauchamp, attached to a charter (fn. 29) dated Feast of St. Valentine, 1325-6, represents the Virgin Mary, full length, the Holy Child with nimbus on her left arm. The legend, which is defaced, runs: . . . P. . . . DICAT. VGO MAR[IA].