A History of the County of Lincoln: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1906.
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HOUSE OF BENEDICTINE NUNS
16. THE PRIORY OF STAINFIELD (fn. 1)
The priory of Stainfield was founded by William or Henry de Percy, in or before the reign of Henry II. (fn. 2) It was the only Benedictine nunnery in Lincolnshire; but it was neither large nor wealthy, and probably did not contain more than about twenty nuns at any time. Little is known of its history. A suit is recorded in 1200 concerning the church of Quadring, of which the prioress succeeded in recovering a moiety from Walter de Rochford, son-in-law of a benefactor of the house. (fn. 3) About 1319 the nuns, being poor, tried to escape a burden which the king wished to lay upon them, the maintenance for life of a certain Mary Ridel; but their excuses were deemed insufficient. They were peremptorily ordered to receive her, to supply her with food, clothing, shoe-leather and other necessaries, and to draw out letters patent specifying exactly what she ought to have, that the king might be certified of their obedience to his wishes. (fn. 4) In 1378 the prioress and convent received permission to appropriate the church of Quadring on account of their poverty. (fn. 5) In 1392 Bishop Bokyngham forbade merchants to sell their wares in the conventual church or churchyard under pain of excommunication; it seems strange that such a prohibition should have been necessary. (fn. 6) There are no notices, however, of any special laxity of the house. In 1440 Bishop Alnwick found the priory in good estate; the prioress and all her nuns (eighteen in number) answered omnia bene. One sister, however, said that seculars were allowed to sleep in the dormitory —an irregularity which seems to have been very common at this time in monasteries where boarders were received. There were only three ' households' in the monastery; one belonging to the prioress, another to the cellaress, and another to the lay sisters; so that the nuns here seem to have avoided another abuse which was very prevalent in the fifteenth century. (fn. 7)
In 1519 the report was not so good. Bishop Atwater found the monastery in need of a proper infirmary, the house used for this purpose not being healthy or quiet enough. It was complained that the nuns were not punctual in coming to choir, and that half an hour sometimes elapsed between the last stroke of the bell and the beginning of the office. Some of the nuns, when in choir, did not sing but dozed; partly because they had not candles enough to see their breviaries by, and partly because they did not go to bed promptly after compline. (fn. 8) Then on feast days they did not stay in church and occupy themselves in devotion, between the hours of our Lady and the high mass, but came out and wandered about the garden and cloisters. Inclinations and other ceremonies at office were omitted often or negligently performed. The rules of the refectory were not well kept; instead of sitting in rows, the nuns sat in little groups and talked together over their meals. The prioress frequently invited three young nuns to her table and showed partiality to them. (fn. 9)
It was enjoined in consequence that all the nuns should be diligent and punctual at the canonical hours and careful in performing all due ceremonies and ritual; that all should go to bed immediately after compline; that sufficient candles should be provided; that silence should be kept in the refectory, though the bishop did not forbid them to sit there as they had been wont to do; and that no seculars should be admitted to the monastery except for a few days as guests. The prioress was to invite all the senior sisters in order to her table, and to see that a proper infirmary was built. (fn. 10)
It seems probable that these injunctions were obeyed, and that the convent soon recovered its credit, for in 1536, after the passing of the first Act of Suppression, this house at first received a licence to continue. (fn. 11) The king, however, on second thoughts, foresaw ' certain inconveniences' that would arise if. the priory were allowed to stand, and ordered its dissolution. The nuns were not, however, to suffer on account of his change of purpose. They were to enter the dissolved priory of Stixwould, after it had been emptied of its original inhabitants. (fn. 12) The prioress, however, Elizabeth Bursby, appears to have been pensioned at this time, (fn. 13) and probably did not go to Stixwould with the rest. Twelve of the Stixwould nuns were paid arrears of wages, and 20s. apiece besides to buy secular apparel, from the revenues of Stainfield. (fn. 14) When Stixwould was refounded later, as a Premonstratensian priory, one of the Stainfield nuns, Mary Missenden, became prioress. (fn. 15)
The original endowment of the house cannot be precisely stated. It seems at any rate to have included the two churches of Quadring and Gisburn, Yorks. (fn. 16) The prioress had the advowson of Somerby and of Maidenwell. (fn. 17) In 1428 the prioress held with others half a fee in Marton and in Sturton. (fn. 18) The temporalities of Stainfield in 1291 were valued at £69 3s. 3d. (fn. 19) In 1534 its clear value was £98 8s. 1d. (fn. 20) The Ministers' Accounts give a total of only £61 11s. 2d. including the manor of Maidenwell and the rectories of Quadring, Gisburn, Apley and Kingthorp. (fn. 21)
Prioresses of Stainfield
Parnel, (fn. 22) died before 1223
Constance, (fn. 23) elected before 1223
Agnes of Thorn ton, (fn. 24) elected 1244
Maud, (fn. 25) died 1258
Eufemia Constable, (fn. 26) elected 1258, died 1258
Katherine of Dunham, (fn. 27) elected 1258, occurs 1272
Isolt, (fn. 28) resigned 1297
Christine le Vavassour, (fn. 29) elected 1297, died 1309
Agnes de Longvilles, (fn. 30) elected 1309
Margaret Lisieux, (fn. 31) occurs 1378, died 1393
Alice de St. Quintin, (fn. 32) elected 1393
Margery Hall, (fn. 33) occurs 1440
Katherine Bland, (fn. 34) occurs 1491
Elizabeth Bainsfield (fn. 35)
Elizabeth Bursby, (fn. 36) occurs 1521 to 1536
The twelfth-century pointed oval seal (fn. 37) of Stainfield represents the Virgin, crowned, seated on a carved throne, with finials of peculiar shape; the Child, with a nimbus, on the left knee, in the right hand a sceptre fieury.
A thirteenth-century seal, (fn. 38) also pointed oval, shows the Virgin seated on a throne, the Child, with nimbus, on the left knee, in the right hand a sceptre fleur-de-lizé.