A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1906.
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12. THE PRIORY OF CANONS ASHBY
A priory of Austin canons dedicated to the honour of the Blessed Virgin was founded here in the reign of Henry II. by Stephen de Leye, lord of the manor. He bestowed on the new foundation the church of Ashby with four virgates of land, together with a fish pond and mill, 'Rudemede,' the enclosure of 'Segeho,' 26 acres in Ashby field, and houses and crofts as far as the principal gate, half the church of Podington in Bedfordshire, and all the tithes of his court. By another deed he gave for the soul of his father half a hide of land near the church of Ashby, in confirmation of which he laid his sword upon the altar of the parish church, calling on all the parish to witness the donation, and by a third deed he gave all the church of Podington and 7s. from the mill of 'Snelston' (Bedfordshire). (fn. 1)
Various further benefactions were added to the endowment by the family of the founder, the most important of these being the church of Thurleigh, Bedfordshire, by Hugh his eldest son, and the dovecot of Podington and other grants by Anna, widow of Bartholomew de Leye, son of Hugh, for the maintenance of a lamp to burn perpetually in the chapel of St. Bartholomew where their bodies rested. (fn. 2) Bartholomew de Leye himself by an early thirteenth-century will left his body to be buried in the church of St. Mary, Canons Ashby, and bequeathed to the canons his piebald horse and his tawny horse to be used in their horse mill. (fn. 3) From the Pateshull family they acquired lands at Bolnhurst, and the church of Puttenham, Hertfordshire, from the Wale family. (fn. 4) Nicholas, archdeacon of Huntingdon, 1155-1184, at the presentation of Richard son of Galo instituted the prior and canons of Ashby as parson of the church of Puttenham in the presence of Richard, parson of the same church; the said Richard was to pay 12d. yearly to the canons in the name of the said canons. (fn. 5) This is an early instance of a quasi-appropriation. By an undated charter of warranty Robert son of Ralph de Everdon granted to the prior and canons the mill of Cotes in perpetuity according to the tenor of a charter of his father. (fn. 6)
In 1282 Elias the prior of Ashby entered into an agreement with Beatrice, prioress of Sewardsley, Thomas Wale, lord of Eydon, Sir Henry, rector of the same, and other free tenants, to the effect that the prior and prioress should enjoy common pasture in the east field of Eydon in fallow time, and Thomas Wale and his free tenants the same in the west field. (fn. 7) In the year 1285 William St. John released certain lands in Plumpton and Blackwell to Prior Elias and his convent on condition that they should celebrate the anniversaries of himself and his wife. (fn. 8)
Bishop Dalderby in 1309 sanctioned the appropriation of the church of Moreton Pinkney of their advowson to the priory, a royal licence for the same having been obtained the previous year, (fn. 9) on the ground that the house was situated next to the highway used by clerks and others going to Oxford to study, as well as by noblemen, so that there was a heavy demand on the hospitality of the canons. (fn. 10) The diocesan a few years previously, in 1304, granted an indulgence to further the building and repair of the fabric and bell tower of their church. (fn. 11) The dispute between Prior Adam of Canons Ashby and Roger de Mussynden relative to the advowson of the church of Culworth was settled in 1325 by an arrangement whereby Roger was to have the presentation on the present occasion, but all future presentations should be in the hands of the prior. (fn. 12) The appropriation of the church of Culworth to the priory was sanctioned by the diocesan in 1342. (fn. 13)
The Norwich Taxation of 1254 gave the annual value of the spiritualities of the priory, including the churches of Canons Ashby, Culworth, and Moreton Pinkney, at £37 6s. 8d., and the temporalities, situated in Ashby, Plumpton, and Litchborough, at £17 16s. 4½d. (fn. 14) In 1329, when Walter de Neyrnuit was appointed prior, an inventory was drawn up of the goods in the houses and at the manors belonging to the canons at Adstone, Moreton Pinkney, and Podington. Details are given of the three granges at Ashby, including eight horses with four carts, and nine ploughs with twenty-six oxen, of the sheepcote, the mill worked by four horses, of which three were old, and of the carpenter's shop near the granary, the smithy, the bakehouse, the brewhouse, the cellar, the furnace kitchen, and the great kitchen. (fn. 15)
There is little information as to the internal condition of this house. Bishop Burghersh in 1322 sent a mandate to the prior for the readmission of a canon who had left the monastery, but now sought leave to return as a penitent. (fn. 16) On 21 March, 1389, Walter Gibbes, clerk, commissary-general of the archbishop of Canterbury for the visitation of the clergy, laity, and religious foundations of the Lincoln diocese, came to visit the priory of Canons Ashby. While there he issued a certificate that the prioress and convent of the neighbouring house of Catesby rightfully possessed the parish churches of Catesby and Ashby. (fn. 17) Bishop Gray, 1431-6, made a visitation of the house in the first half of the fifteenth century. He afterwards issued the formal injunctions usually enjoined on Austin houses, but added in addition that the prior was forbidden to consort with three women whose names he gave out; parents, brothers, and relatives of the inmates living near at hand had caused grave dissension. Thomas Walsingham was not to be removed from the office of sub-prior without the bishop's leave. (fn. 18)
The acknowledgement of the king's supremacy was signed on 13 August, 1534, by Richard Randall, prior, Richard Colles, sub-prior, and ten other canons. (fn. 19) Richard Randall resigned in October of the same year, and the convent petitioned for licence to elect. (fn. 20) Richard Colles, the former sub-prior, is entered as prior in the Valor of 1535, which gives the priory a clear annual income of £109 0s. 4¾d. (fn. 21) The house was suppressed the following year among the lesser monasteries. (fn. 22) The report of the commissioner who visited in 1535 stated that the house was £160 in debt by the preferment of the late prior, that the present head, though unlearned, was disposed to do well, and had a learned and religious sub-prior under him. (fn. 23) The house and site were granted in 1537 to Sir Francis Bryan for £790 3s. 4d., but licence to alienate the same to John Cope was granted the following year. (fn. 24)
When the house was spoiled the commissioners made special mention of a suit of vestments of cloth of silver, with fleur-de-lys and angels worked on it, which was delivered to Thomas Typlady, of London, embroiderer, in discharge of a debt of the said priory for £30. (fn. 25)
Priors of Canons Ashby
William (fn. 26) occurs during reign of Henry II.
Alexander (fn. 27) occurs during reign of John
Hugh (fn. 28) occurs 1214
Griffin of Eketon (fn. 29) instituted 1226
Geoffrey (fn. 30) occurs 1236 and 1244
Adam (fn. 31) occurs 1253 and 1261
Osbert (fn. 32)
Elias of Chalcombe (fn. 33) instituted 1272, died 1294
Robert of Wardington (fn. 34) instituted 1294, resigned 1311
Robert Lovel (fn. 35) instituted 1311, died 1319
John of Dodford (fn. 36) instituted 1319
Robert of Gavecote (fn. 37) instituted 1320-1, resigned 1323
Adam of Buckingham (fn. 38) instituted 1323
Walter de Neyrnuit (fn. 39) instituted 1329, died 1344
Thomas of Higham (fn. 40) instituted 1344, died 1349
Robert of Ashby (fn. 41) instituted 1341
John Burton (fn. 42) occurs 1417
William Coleworth (fn. 43) occurs 1434
John Nantwich (fn. 44) occurs 1441
Thomas Boteler (fn. 45) occurs 1448
Thomas Greenway (fn. 46) occurs 1500
Richard Randall (fn. 47) occurs 1534, resigned 1534
Richard Colles (fn. 48) occurs 1535
A pointed oval sulphur cast (fn. 49) of the original twelfth-century seal shows the Blessed Virgin seated on a throne, with nimbus, the Holy Child on her lap, in her right hand a sceptre fleur-de-lizé.
An imperfect later fourteeth-century seal with the Virgin seated and the Holy Child on her knee is given in Dugdale. (fn. 50)
There is also a fourteenth-century pointed oval seal ad causas, of which there is a cast at the British Museum, (fn. 51) which represents the Blessed Virgin with crown, the Holy Child on the left arm, standing on a shield of arms; very imperfect. On the right the prior kneeling with uplifted hands in prayer, on the left a tree. In field above on the right a crescent and estoile of six points.