A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1906.
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HOUSE OF AUSTIN NUNS
16. THE NUNNERY OF ROTHWELL
A small nunnery of the Austin rule was founded here in the thirteenth century and dedicated to the honour of St. John the Baptist. The founder cannot be ascertained, but Bridges is probably correct in assuming him to be one of the great Clare family whose successors in the manor of Rothwell were patrons of this foundation. (fn. 1) The superiors entered in the Lincoln diocesan registers were elected by the community with the consent of the patron, and presented to the bishop for confirmation and institution.
The house from the first appears to have been but slenderly endowed. In 1318 Bishop Dalderby licensed the nuns to beg for alms on account of their poverty. (fn. 2) In 1385, during the rule of Millicent of Kybworth, they obtained the royal assent to the appropriation of the neighbouring rectory of Desborough to the convent. (fn. 3)
The mandate of Pope Boniface IX. in 1392 to the abbot of Pipewell to inquire and if necessary augment the portion assigned to the vicarage, on complaint by the vicar that it was insufficient, sets forth the almost abject poverty of the poor nuns of Rothwell, and its causes. The pope's letter recites that it was represented to Urban VI. on behalf of the Augustinian prioress and convent of St. John Baptist, Rothwell, that Richard Clare, earl of Gloucester, founded the priory, but died before he had sufficiently endowed it. As he left no male issue his patrimony was divided among his daughters, who neglected to assign a fitting endowment, on account of which the prioress and convent, fourteen in number, (fn. 4) could not expend for their food and clothing and that of their servants beyond four marks and the produce of four fields (agris) of land, in one of which the priory was situated, so that some of them were compelled, for the support of themselves and the other nuns, to incur the opprobrium of mendicity and to beg alms after the fashion of friars of the mendicant orders, and for this reason King Richard granted them his patronage of Desborough in order that it might be appropriated to them, a fitting portion for a perpetual vicar being reserved. (fn. 5)
The sisters rebuilt the priory church during the latter half of the fourteenth century: in 1363 Bishop Bokyngham licensed it for celebrations, though it had not yet been consecrated. (fn. 6) It was not till the year 1379 that we hear of its consecration. The bishop ordered the day, 4 July, to be kept as the day of dedication. (fn. 7)
Very little is recorded of this small nunnery, and nothing which throws light on its internal condition. The Valor of 1535 shows that it possessed no temporalities other than the site of the buildings and a garden and orchard. The rectory of Desborough produced £10 10s. 4d.; out of this the outgoings were: 6s. 8d. pension to the bishop of Lincoln, 10s. 7½d. in synodals and procurations to the archdeacon, 20s. pension to the vicar of Rothwell, and £2 13s. 4d. in a stipend to the chaplain. (fn. 8) The clear annual value of the house amounted to £5 19s. 8½d.: with the best and most careful management these ladies could hardly have contrived to live had it not been for the offerings and bequests of the faithful, and the 'dower' probably brought by some of the inmates of the house. Small bequests to each of the sisters of St. John Baptist, Rothwell, are not infrequent among Northamptonshire wills in the reign of Henry VIII. A quaint bequest to the community occurs in one of 1521, 'to the convent off Nunnys a Browne Kowe.' (fn. 9)
This nunnery furnishes another case, and there are many in the county, of an apostate nun. Bishop Repingdon in 1414 issued a mandate to the prioress desiring her to re-admit Joan, an apostate canoness, who had retired from the convent. The prioress at first declined to receive the delinquent, alleging that she had by her own confession lived for three years with one William Suffewyk. The bishop thereupon cited the prioress for disobedience and enjoined her to receive the penitent Joan, who was to do penance for three years confined with iron chains within the priory; on Wednesdays her fare should be bread and cheese and pulse, on Fridays bread and cheese only. (fn. 10)
The house being of a less yearly value than £200 came under the earlier measure for suppression of religious houses. The actual date is not given, but Rothwell is entered in a list of monasteries lately suppressed, returned 11 February, 1537-8. (fn. 11) The site of the priory and plot of land around it was granted to Henry Lee in 1545. (fn. 12) Bridges states that 'the site of the nunnery was a high ground on that side of the town nearest to Desborough, and was then occupied by a house, the residence of Mr. W. Stevens.' (fn. 13)
Prioresses of Rothwell
Agnes, (fn. 14) died 1305
Alice of Cravenho, (fn. 15) elected 1305, resigned 1313
Amicia of Navesby, (fn. 16) elected 1313
Catherine of Isham, (fn. 17) elected 1349
Catherine Grene, (fn. 18) died 1381
Millicent of Kybworth, (fn. 19) elected 1381
Alice Brimington, (fn. 20) died 1395
Alice Langton, (fn. 21) elected 1395
Margaret, (fn. 22) occurs 1476, died 1479
Joan Chase, (fn. 23) elected 1479
Margaret Loftus, (fn. 24) occurs 1534 and 1535