A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
8. THE PRIORY (fn. 1) OF WIX
Wix Priory was founded by Walter Mascherell, Alexander and Edith, the children of Walter the deacon, who is mentioned (fn. 2) as holding the manor of Wix in Domesday. No register or chronicle of the priory is known, but a large number of original deeds relating to it are preserved. (fn. 3) A charter of Henry I, belonging to the last decade of his reign, recites that Walter and Alexander, at the petition of their sister and for the safety of their souls and for the remedy of their sins, have given the church of St. Mary, Wix, for the institution of a religious order of nuns for ever, and have granted to these in frankalmoin two carucates of land and seven villeins in Wix, and their garden and mansion round the church, 10s. of land in Frating and the isle of Siricheseie, and the tenths of their lordship of Purleigh. The king confirms this grant and also the land in Hintlesham (Suffolk) which Adam the clerk held, and grants liberties to the nuns. This and other royal charters were confirmed by Henry VI in 1438. (fn. 4)
Stephen also confirmed (fn. 5) the foundation. Henry II at the beginning of his reign confirmed the above grants and others, including the church of Chattisham (Suffolk), and granted five acres of essarts in Tolleshunt and liberty of essart up to 100 acres in Essex. He also granted additional liberties, including the right to have two greyhounds and four braches to take hares through the whole of the forest of Essex; and later granted a second charter. Richard I on 28 November, 1189, confirmed the possessions of the nuns and granted to them a fair for three days yearly at Michaelmas. On 28 April, 1204, John granted (fn. 6) a market at Wix on Tuesdays. Charters of confirmation were also granted (fn. 7) by Theobald and Richard, archbishops of Canterbury, and Robert, Richard and Gilbert, bishops of London. The advowson of the priory appears always to have pertained to the manor of Wix.
William Fitz Robert confirmed (fn. 8) in frankalmoin all the grants by Walter Mascherell and Alexander. The church of Swilland (Suffolk) was granted by Walter de Windlesores; (fn. 9) and Duncan de Lascelles and Christina his wife granted (fn. 10) land in Beaconsfield (Bucks.) and a moiety of the church of Burnham. The priory also owned the church of Wormingford, granted by Walter de Windlesores, and portions in the churches of Bildeston and Preston (Suffolk). Land in Tendring and the advowson of the church there were granted (fn. 11) to the nuns in 1363 by Sir John de Sutton and confirmed (fn. 12) by his son Richard three years later, and they had licence (fn. 13) to appropriate the church; but this was not done, and they do not appear ever to have presented to it.
In May, 1193, Pope Celestine III by a bull promised indulgence to all who should assist the nuns, as their revenues were insufficient for their support. In the next century it appears that they had improvidently alienated some of their possessions, for in February, 1283, Pope Martin IV directed (fn. 14) the prior of Letheringham to inquire into the matter and order restitution to be made. The Taxation of 1291, however, mentions temporalities belonging to the priory amounting to £16 10s. 5½d. yearly, and spiritualities amounting to £11 15s. exclusive of the churches of Wormingford and Wix. Of this, 13s. 4d. came from Beaconsfield in Bucks., and the bulk of the property was fairly evenly divided between Essex and Suffolk. The Essex property lay in Wix, Wormingford, Purleigh, Maldon, Fordham, Tolleshunt Mauger, Frating, Bergholt, Colchester, Barnston, Norton, Tolleshunt Tregoz, Rawreth, Boxted and Mistley; and the Suffolk property principally in Chattisham, Swilland, Bildeston, Otley and Preston. A further grant of 300 acres in Great Oakley and Wix was made by the rector of Great Oakley and others in 1381. (fn. 15)
Anne Debnam (fn. 16) on 21 February, 1480, left her body to be buried where the prioress should please, and bequeathed 6s. 8d. to each of the sisters of the priory and to Sir Henry Fytton, and the rest of her estate to be disposed of by the prioress for her soul, and especially for the support of a chaplain to celebrate for her in the priory. The will was proved on 13 March.
The priory was visited (fn. 17) by Bishop Fitz James in 1509, Mary being then prioress, and the consequent injunctions were issued on 8 September. The nuns were forbidden, under pain of excommunication, to permit any public spectacles of seculars, javelin-play, dances or trading in the streets or open spaces (of Wix), to the injury of holy religion; nor were they to undertake pilgrimages or visits to other places without having first sought and obtained the consent of the diocesan. Other injunctions related to dress; silver or gilt hairpins and kirtles of fustian or worsted being forbidden.
Several miscellaneous items of expenditure are given in the account (fn. 18) of the bailiff for the halfyear from the Annunciation to Michaelmas, 1424. He made some small purchases of fish, including oysters and mussels for 3d., and a cade of sprats for 12d. Two bushels of salt cost 13d. Various sums were paid to labourers for ploughing, harrowing, ditching, hewing bushes, felling wood, keeping off rooks, mowing, reaping, and carting the harvest and threshing. 3s. 3d. was paid to a smith for making plough-irons, 2s. for a new plough, 2s. 2d. for shoeing horses, 2d. for making four betels to clod with, and 4d. for four halters. 3s. 3d. was spent when my lady (the prioress) was at Colchester with my lord (the bishop) of London, and 2s. 7d. for riding at two diverse times to Dunmow for the priest. The account is unfinished, so that we cannot tell how much of the whole expenses it represents.
Wix was the largest of the six Essex priories suppressed by Wolsey, its spiritualities being valued (fn. 19) at £26 16s. 8d. and its temporalities at £65 15s. 7d. yearly. It was dissolved (fn. 20) by his agent, John Alen, on 1 March, 1525; and by an inquisition (fn. 21) taken on 8 August it was found that there were at the time of the suppression three nuns under the prioress and that these had been transferred to other places. The possessions of the priory included the manors of Wormingford and Wix. The prioress received a pension (fn. 22) of £10 yearly. Wolsey granted the priory first to his college at Oxford, and afterwards on 1 August, 1528, it was transferred to his second foundation at Ipswich. (fn. 23)
Prioresses Of Wix
Idonia, occurs 1198. (fn. 24)
Christina. (fn. 25)
Basilia, occurs 1257. (fn. 28)
Isabel de Braham, occurs 1284. (fn. 29)
Agnes Carbonel, occurs 1303. (fn. 30)
Sarah de Burghille, occurs 1317. (fn. 31)
Amy Reydon, died 1418. (fn. 38)
Agnes Wellyng, occurs 1465. (fn. 44)
The seal of the priory, attached by a thread of red silk to a deed (fn. 50) in the time of Prioress Constance, is a pointed oval of green wax measuring 3 in. by 2 in. The obverse represents the Virgin seated, with the infant Jesus on her knees, holding in the right hand a palm branch, and in the left a model of a church. Legend:—