A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1926.
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12. THE PRIORY OF MINSTER IN SHEPPEY
Sexburga, a daughter of Anna, king of the East Angles, married Ercombert, king of Kent. After his death in 664 she ruled the kingdom until their son Egbert was grown, and then, probably about 670, founded a nunnery at Sheppey, endowed it, and settled there with seventy-seven disciples. About 675, in consequence of a dream, she departed from Sheppey, leaving her daughter Ermenilda in her place, and went to Ely, where she succeeded her sister Etheldreda as abbess in 679. Ermenilda married Wulfhere, king of the Mercians, and succeeded her mother at Ely in 699. Sexburga was afterwards canonized, and eventually shared the dedication of Sheppey with St. Mary. (fn. 1)
Very little is known of the intermediate history of the monastery; but Sheppey was a favourite landing-place of the Danes, and it probably suffered severely from them. About the end of the eleventh century, it is said, there were certain nuns at the manor of Newington, whose prioress was strangled in bed at night by her cook, and in consequence the king took the manor into his own hands and removed them to Sheppey. (fn. 2) Nothing else is known of this monastery of Newington, and it seems likely that it may have been merely a refuge of some of the nuns from Sheppey. In 1186, Roger, abbot of St. Augustine's, Canterbury, gave to Agnes, prioress of Sheppey, certain tithes in the parish of Bobbing for a rent of 10s. yearly, and in 1188 he gave the tithes of ' Westlonde ' for a rent of 14s. yearly. (fn. 3)
Henry III in 1225 gave three marks to the prioress in aid of the repair of her houses burnt, (fn. 4) and on 7 April, 1234, granted to the nuns a charter (fn. 5) confirming their possessions and liberties in detail, pursuant to a charter of Richard I. Edward III confirmed this in 1329, and at the same time confirmed the tenor of a similar but longer charter of Henry III, which had been carried off when the castle of Leeds was besieged by Edward II, and granted additional liberties. (fn. 6) He granted confirmation again in 1343, (fn. 7) as the nuns complained that they had been hindered in holding their yearly fair at Minster, and exercising other liberties; and further confirmations were obtained from Richard II in 1381, (fn. 8) Henry IV in 1400, (fn. 9) Henry V in 1414, Henry VI in 1429 (fn. 10) and Henry VII in 1504. (fn. 11) The prioress had complained in 1332 that her pillory in Minster had been cut down, (fn. 12) and in 1339 that she had been besieged for more than five days in the priory. (fn. 13)
Sir Roger de Northwode, who died in 1286, did much to relieve the poverty of the house, which had fallen into ruin, and was buried before the altar there. (fn. 14) In 1303 licence was granted to the prioress and nuns to acquire land from Henry de Northwode to find a chaplain to celebrate divine service daily in their church for the souls of Roger and Bona his wife for ever. (fn. 15)
Archbishop Peckham wrote to the prioress and convent on 11 May, 1286, forbidding them to receive secular women, young or old, without his special licence, as the priory had been much troubled before by the long stay of these. (fn. 16) Archbishop Winchelsey made a visitation in April, 1296, and ordered that silence should be observed in the choir, cloister, refectory, and dormitory, and that the nuns should not be garrulous or quarrelsome, hold secret conventicles, or acquire money without express licence from the prioress. These faults were to be punished by solitary confinement, and, if necessary, by more severe measures. (fn. 17) He gave further orders in 1299 that the nuns were not to leave the monastery, noting that the rule had become very lax on this point. (fn. 18) In 1322 the church and cemetery were polluted by bloodshed and required re-consecration. (fn. 19) Archbishop Reynolds in 1326 gave orders that disputes with the parishioners of Minster were to cease. (fn. 20)
Archbishop John de Stratford in 1340 confirmed the appropriation to the priory of the churches belonging to it; the convent producing as evidence for the church of Minster letters of John de Peckham, archbishop, mentioning that he had inspected letters and muniments of William and Theobald, archbishops, for the church of Bobbing grants of Richard and John, kings of England, and for the church of Gillingham with the chapel of Grain the grant of Richard, archbishop elect of Canterbury. Archbishop William confirmed the same in 1396; and added that as he had found from documents that by the foundation of the priory there should be a prioress and a certain number of canonesses professing the order of St. Augustine, but the prioress and sisters lived under the habit and rule of St. Benedict without professing that order, he restored them to the habit and rule of St. Augustine and received the profession of the order from them. His letters were confirmed by Henry IV in 1400. (fn. 21) This statement about the order is difficult to understand, as the original monastery could not have belonged to the Augustinian order. Perhaps it may refer to some re-foundation by Archbishop William de Corbeuil, who had himself been an Augustinian canon.
Licence was granted in 1344 for the prioress and convent to appropriate the church of Wichling, but this appears never to have taken effect. (fn. 22)
Peter Cleve, who died in 1479, left money for the repair of the chapel of St. John the Baptist, and for the belfry on the priory side and that on the side of the parish church. (fn. 23)
Archbishop Warham made a visitation of the priory on 2 October, 1511. (fn. 24) Agnes Revere, prioress, said that everything was in good order, except that she doubted whether Avice Tanfeld, chantress, behaved well to the nuns and provided properly for the observances in the choir. She had heard that there had been seventeen nuns, and knew of fourteen, and wished to increase the number to this if she could find any wishing to enter religion. Evidence was also given by Agnes Norton, sub-prioress, Avice Tanfeld, Elizabeth Chatok, Elizabeth Stradlyng, Mildred Wigmor, Dorothy Darell, Agnes Bolney, Anne Petitt, and Ursula Gosborn. These said that they had no maid called the convent servant to serve them with food and drink and other necessaries, but the house was served by an outsider, a woman from the town; there was no infirmary, but those who were ill died in the dormitory; the gate of the cloister was closed too strictly, not only after supper, but at the time of vespers; and the prioress never gave any accounts. One said that the menservants of the prioress spoke contemptuously and dishonestly of the convent. The prioress was ordered to render accounts and to make an inventory, to provide an honest woman servant, to make up the number of the nuns to fourteen as soon as possible, and to build an infirmary at her earliest convenience. The chancel of Bobbing was to be repaired before Midsummer.
The priory is not mentioned in the Taxation of 1291, but in 1385 it owned temporalities worth £66 8s. yearly. (fn. 25) In the Valor of 1535 the gross value of its possessions, including the manors of Minster, ' Upberye' in Gillingham, and Pitstock in Rodmersham, the parsonages of Gillingham, Grain, Bobbing and Minster, and the chapel of Queenborough, was £173 9s. 3½d., and the net value £129 7s. 10½d. yearly, besides £10 from a marsh then in dispute between the priory and Sir Thomas Cheyne. (fn. 26) It was accordingly dissolved with the rest of the lesser monasteries, the prioress receiving a pension of £14 yearly. (fn. 27) On 27 March, 1536, an inventory (fn. 28) was taken of the goods in the church and various chambers of the priory, and of the corn and cattle belonging to it, with a list of the servants of the house and their wages; and eight nuns are mentioned besides the prioress, viz. Agnes Bownes, Marg . . . ocks, Dorothy Toplyve, Anne Loveden, Elizabeth Stradlyng, Anne Clifford, Margaret Ryvers, and Ursula Gosbore, sub-prioress.
The site of the monastery and part of its possessions were granted to Sir Thomas Cheyne in fee on 12 December, 1539. (fn. 29)
Abbesses Of Minster In Sheppey
Prioresses Of Minster In Sheppey
Agnes, occurs 1186 (fn. 30)
— de Burgherssh, occurs 1343 (fn. 31)
Joan de Cobham, died 1368 (fn. 32)
Isabel de Honyngton, elected 1368 (fn. 33)
Joan Cobham, occurs 1446 (fn. 34)
Agnes Ryvers or Revers, occurs 1504, (fn. 35) 1511 (fn. 30)
Alice Cranmer (fn. 36) or Crane, (fn. 37) the last prioress
The names of the following prioresses are given in an obituary list (fn. 38) :—
The seal (fn. 39) (early twelfth century) is a pointed oval measuring 2¾ by 1¾ inches, representing St. Sexburga full-length with mantle and crown, holding in the right hand a sceptre and in the left a book. Legend:—