A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1906.
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HOUSE OF CLUNIAC NUNS
7. THE ABBEY OF DELAPRÉ
The religious house of Delapré or abbey of St. Mary de Pratis, near Northampton, according to the confirmation charter of Edward III. was founded by Simon de St. Liz the younger in the reign of Stephen. (fn. 1) The nuns followed the rule of Cluny. Leland states that they were in the first instance placed at Fotheringhay, but afterwards removed to Delapré. (fn. 2) The sisters retained the church of Fotheringhay, their original endowment, until the founding of the college at that place.
The founder endowed the abbey with large possessions in Hardingstone and with the churches of Barton, Great Doddington, and Fotheringhay. Edward III. confirmed to the nuns also the churches of Wollaston and Filgrave and the advowson of the church of Fyfield. (fn. 3) Among innumerable smaller gifts may be mentioned the grant by the founder of a 'tun' of wine yearly at Pentecost for celebration of the mass, of 2s. rent and two days' work the gift of Ingelram Fitz-Henry and Alice his wife, and a donation by Richard, warden of the hospital of St. John, Northampton, and the brethren of 3s. annual rent to be received by the abbess by the hands of the cellarer of the hospital from the said warden and brethren in perpetuity. (fn. 4) Malcolm and William, kings of Scotland, confirmed to the nuns the church of Fotheringhay, and John de Balliol acquitted them and their tenants from suit of his court of Fotheringhay; David, brother of the king of Scotland, bestowed on them the liberty of having a cart to pick up firewood in the wood of Yardley for the necessities of the house. (fn. 5) Notwithstanding the long list of benefactors the gross annual value of the abbey, according to the Valor of 1535, only amounted to £126 16s. 3d., its clear value being £119 9s. 7d. (fn. 6)
Little is recorded of the history of the nunnery beyond entries relating to the election or appointment of superiors. These, notwithstanding the custom of the order, which ordained that the superiors of all cells and dependent houses should be nominated by the abbot of Cluny as supreme head, were elected by the community itself, a royal licence having been previously obtained, the king subsequently signifying his assent to the diocesan and issuing instructions to his escheator to restore the temporalities. In 1294 the abbess received a grant of royal protection from Edward I. together with abbots and priors of the Benedictine order. (fn. 7) John de Feriby, clerk, was sent with letters to the abbess and convent in February, 1327-8, entitling him to receive the pension due from them to one of the king's clerks by reason of the new creation of the abbess. (fn. 8)
No mention occurs of the visitation of this Cluniac house by delegates appointed by the general chapter for the purpose of visiting English houses of the order; the subjection of the nunnery to the diocesan, on the other hand, seems never to have been disputed. He confirmed the election of the abbess, on two occasions annulled the choice of the convent on the ground of a defect in the process of election, but subsequently confirmed the appointment on consideration of the merits of the abbess-elect. In January, 1333-4, Isabel de Cotesbrok on the death of Margaret de Grey was chosen by the community and obtained the royal assent to her promotion; the bishop, however, formally quashed the election and appointed Katherine Knyvet. (fn. 9) She was one of the many heads of religious foundations who fell a victim to the terrible visitation of the plague in 1349, (fn. 10) and the bishop, again on the ground of a defect in election, appointed her successor Isabel de Thorp. (fn. 11)
The condition of the house appears in a somewhat unsatisfactory state at the commencement of the fourteenth century. The bishop in 1300 issued a mandate to the archdeacon of Northampton to denounce Isabel de Clouville, Maud Rychemers, and Ermentrude de Newark, professed nuns of Delapré, who had discarded the habit of religion and notoriously lived a secular life, as apostate nuns, also to inquire as to who had aided them in their apostasy. (fn. 12) In 1311 another sister, Agnes de Landwath, was denounced for apostasy and for forsaking the habit of religion. (fn. 13) Simul taneously with these irregularities it is evident that the material condition of the abbey had suffered, and in 1303 the bishop granted an indulgence for those who should assist the construction and repairs of the conventual church of St. Mary de Pratis without Northampton. (fn. 14) In 1316 Simon, vicar of Thorp, was appointed by the bishop to be master of the abbess and convent of Delapré. (fn. 15) During the rule of Bishop Repingdon (1405-1419) an indenture was entered into between the abbess of Delapré and the diocesan as to a pension from the church of Great Doddington appropriated to the abbey. (fn. 16) Bishop Gray visited the house in the course of his episcopate (1431-1436), and enjoined that certain nuns, who after many years of probation had not been professed, should be professed without further delay; the rest of his injunctions are purely formal and throw no light on the condition of the house. (fn. 17) We may infer, however, that its condition in the middle of the fifteenth century was satisfactory from the fact that the bishop in January, 1459-60, sanctioned the appropriation to it of the priory of Sewardsley, the income of the latter house being insufficient to maintain its inmates. (fn. 18)
The last abbess of Delapré, Clementina Stock, elected in January, 1504-5, (fn. 19) managed to obtain a respite for her house when the smaller monasteries were dissolved. At the cost of a sum of £266 13s. 4d. and the reservation to the crown of a close of pasture and a wood called Gorefeld at Hanslope, Bucks, she obtained a re-grant of her convent on 6th December, 1536, together with her own reappointment as abbess. (fn. 20) But the respite was merely temporary, and the aged abbess and her community were forced into a surrender on 15th December, 1538. No signatures are appended to the deed of surrender made out to 'John London, Clerk to the King's use,' but it bears the common seal. (fn. 21) On 23 December London wrote from Northampton to Sir R. Riche announcing that he and Dr. Baskervyle had taken the surrender of Delapré, that the abbess was sickly and aged, and that they had assigned her a pension of £40 which she could not long enjoy; the house, he added, was so well endowed that the goods and chattels sufficed to defray the debts notwithstanding the great cost of obtaining the king's late charter. (fn. 22) An extract from another letter of London's is interesting as illustrating the aims and motives of many or most of the officials entrusted with the carrying-out of the plans of Henry VIII. 'At Delapray I had ii chalyces and a pyxe, and the house wasse grately storyd wt. cattill and corn. Ye shall see me make you a praty bank by that time I come next upp.' (fn. 23)
The aged abbess was treated liberally, (fn. 24) but the prioress and seven other nuns received miserably poor pensions. In 1553 five of these pensioners were still on the list; Elizabeth Welsher, the late prioress, was receiving £2 13s. 4d., another lady £1 13s. 4d., a third £1 6s. 8d., and two more 20s. each.
The site of the abbey and its demesne lands was granted 12th February, 1542, by the crown to John Marsh. (fn. 25) In the reign of Elizabeth they passed to the family of Tate. Bridges in 1720 says that the modern house stood on the site of the old convent, 'of which there remain only some battlements at the west end, and what is supposed to have been a part of the chapel.' (fn. 26)
It was the custom of the weavers' gild at Northampton to make an annual procession on Easter Monday to the conventual church of Delapré. The following is taken from the ordinances of the gild, 1431-2:—'First that all the Maistres and journeymen of the seide crafts that nowe ben and shall ben ev'ry yere the Monedday in the Morowe after pasch day after the good and comendable custom of her craft goo honestly with her tapers of wex as it hath been continued of olde Auncyen tyme to the house of our lady seynt Mary de la pré besyde Northampton there offeryng up here seide tapers before the ymages of the Trynitie and our Lady ther.' (fn. 27)
Abbesses of Delapré
Azelina (fn. 28)
Cecilia de Daventry, (fn. 29) elected 1220
Agatha, (fn. 30) died 1274
Emma Malore, (fn. 31) elected 1274, died 1282
Margery de Wolaston, (fn. 32) elected 1282, died 1296-7
Margery de Broke, (fn. 33) elected 1297, resigned 1319
Agnes de Poveley, (fn. 34) elected 1319, died 1327
Margaret de Grey, (fn. 35) elected 1327-8, died 1333-4
Isabel de Cotesbrok, (fn. 36) elected 1333-4, annulled by the bishop
Katherine Knyvet, (fn. 37) appointed 1333-4, died 1349
Isabel de Thorp, (fn. 38) appointed 1349, resigned 1366
Joan Mallore, (fn. 39) elected 1366, died 1394
Margery Dayrell, (fn. 40) elected 1394
Gonora Downghton, (fn. 41) died 1481
Joan Doghty, (fn. 42) elected 1481
Joan Chese, (fn. 43) elected 1492
Clementina Stock, (fn. 44) elected 1504-5, surrendered 1538
The oval seal of the abbey, of which there is a poor impression in the P.R.O., (fn. 45) represents the coronation of the Blessed Virgin under a carved canopy. Legend:—