A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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HOUSE OF AUSTIN NUNS
20. THE PRIORY OF GORING
The priory of Goring for women was of the Austin rule. (fn. 1) Though no chartulary exists, yet we have some knowledge of its early history from a confirmation charter (fn. 2) issued about 1181 by Henry II to 'the church of St. Mary at Goring and the nuns of that place.' It tells us that the priory was founded in the reign of Henry I by Thomas de Druval, who granted the church a carucate of land at Goring. (fn. 3) Walter de Bolebech had given the churches of Crowmarsh and Nuffield, and a hide of land at the latter place; Alan, son of Renbert, had given a hide of land at Foxcott, Oxon., and the church of Nettlestead, Kent; (fn. 4) two hides in Stoke had been given by Thomas Basset and Adelis his wife; the mill of Streatley by William de Mandeville, earl of Essex; the church of Hampstead (Norris), Berkshire, by William de Siffrewast; the church of Stantonbury, Buckinghamshire, by William and Ralf Barre, brothers; the church of Moulsoe, Buckinghamshire, by Geoffrey, son of William, and Emma de Langetot; Roger of Whitchurch had given a hide of land in Sulham, Berkshire, and there were other small gifts of land and rent. The list of possessions is unexpectedly long, and it seems as if Goring was richer at the end of the twelfth century than at any subsequent period. By the time of Bishop Hugh de Wells the priory had been allowed to appropriate the churches of Goring, Crowmarsh, Nuffield, and Stantonbury, the last of these in the year 1220; (fn. 5) and in 1291 it also had a portion in the church of Moulsoe, Buckinghamshire, and somewhat from the chapel of Theale, Berkshire. But these churches were poor, and the whole income in 1291 was only £44.
At first the patronage of the priory must have belonged to the family of Druval, who held two knights' fees in Goring belonging to the honour of Wallingford. But at the election of the prioress in 1268 the patron was Richard, king of the Romans, who held that honour. When his son Edmund died in 1300, the honour, and with it the patronage of Goring, came into the hands of the king.
With means so small, we are surprised to hear that the house at one time contained thirty-six inmates. It would have been impossible to maintain one-half of this number on £44 a year, but nunneries were often able to supplement their income by the payments that a relation would make for the support of a nun. This was especially the case in the earlier centuries, when there was more competition to be allowed to enter religious houses. We actually have the record of this practice at Goring, when in 1339 two nuns of Burnham, Buckinghamshire, Margery de Louches and Eleanor de Medham, for the peace of their house were removed to Goring Priory, and it was enjoined that £5 a year should be paid for the support of each, the payment in the one case being made by a relative, in the other case by the house of Burnham. (fn. 6)
It was in February, 1301, that the number of nuns was thirty-six. The prioress, Agatha of Oxford, had resigned, and there was a disputed election; fourteen voted for Margery Neal, the cellarer, thirteen for Agnes of Ludgershall, five for Isabel of Westwell, one for Petronilla of Hadesaghe. Without any election being made (we quote the record in the bishop's register), the supporters of the first two conducted their candidates from the chapter-house to the high altar, each party singing 'Te Deum,' causing no little disorder; yet neither of them could have been elected, as neither had secured a majority of the votes of the house, there being thirty-six members. (fn. 7) The bishop, of course, declared the election null and void, took the matter into his own hands and nominated Margery Neal. It is noticeable how frequently nuns were unable to effect a canonical election; the rules to be observed were intricate, and by some bishops were interpreted with strictness; and the bishop's secretary speaks with little respect for the business capacity of nuns. In one place he remarks that the nuns kept no rules at all (nullum jus) in one of their elections; in another place he says that they began quarrelling as usual (suo modo in discordiam). If, as was often the case, monks failed to keep the rules for an election, it is not surprising that nuns were even more unsuccessful.
In February, 1301, the bishop granted an indulgence of twenty days to all who gave to the fabric of the conventual church of Goring. (fn. 8) Three years later he issued an excommunication of those who had assaulted Henry, chaplain of Goring, and John le Waleys, lay brother, to the effusion of blood, and had entered the conventual church with their horses as far as the high altar, and had abducted Isabel of Kent, found in the belfry of the church. (fn. 9) In December, 1309, no doubt owing to the mismanagement of affairs, the bishop appointed Nicholas, rector of Checkendon, to be master or manager of the priory, (fn. 10) and about the same time issued orders for the arrest of an apostate nun of Goring, who had remained obdurate for half a year, despising the powers of the church. (fn. 11) In 1358 we hear of another case where a nun of Goring had apparently fled with some one who was also under a vow of celibacy, as her sin is called 'incest'; on repentance she was absolved. (fn. 12)
At the visitation in May, 1445, the inmates were the prioress and seven others, and there was no complaint. (fn. 13) In June, 1517, another visitation was held; the number of nuns is not given, and nothing is said but that the house, owing to lawsuits, was too poor to keep the buildings in repair, and that nuns were in the habit of going out without leave. (fn. 14) We have a fuller record of a visitation, held in September 1530, by Henry Morgan, commissary of the bishop. At that time Alice Colshill was prioress, ruling over three professed and four unprofessed sisters; of the latter one had been in the priory for nineteen years. On all sides there was agreement on two points, that the buildings were utterly out of repair, in particular the choir, cloister, and dormitory; also that Sister Margaret Woodhall was useful to the monastery, especially in singing, and that when she was absent from the choir there was no one to take the lead. The prioress complained that one of the sisters persisted in sending messages to her friends and paid no heed to rebukes, but the sister replied that the prioress was unfairly severe with her. The debts of the house were stated to be £8 or £10. In 1526 the gross income was £69, and the convent was assessed at the special rate allowed for the poorest houses— namely, one twenty-fifth. (fn. 15) In 1535 the gross income was £63, net £60. (fn. 16) We learn that by this time the priory had been allowed to appropriate the church of Hampstead Norris, but that the appropriations of Nuffield, Crowmarsh, and Goring had proved almost valueless.
Prioresses of Goring
Margaret, occurs 1200 and 1203 (fn. 17)
Matilda, occurs 1229 (fn. 18)
Christina de Marisco, elected 1268, (fn. 19) resigned 1271
Eularia, elected 1271, resigned 1277 (fn. 19)
Christina de Walingford, elected 1277 (fn. 19)
Sarah de Exeter, elected 1283, (fn. 20) died 1298
Agatha de Oxford, elected 1298, (fn. 21) resigned 1301
Margery Neel, appointed 1301, (fn. 22) resigned 1305
Agnes de Lutgareshalle, elected 1305, (fn. 23) resigned 1313
Clarice de Morton, elected 1313, (fn. 24) died 1345
Alice, occurs 1390 (fn. 27)
Lucy, occurs 1393, (fn. 28) died 1394
Alice Resford, elected 1394 (fn. 29)
Lucy Colshill, occurs 1497 (fn. 32)
Alice Colshill, resigned 1530 (fn. 33)
Margaret Woodhall, elected 1530 (fn. 33)
The twelfth-century seal is a large pointed oval; the Virgin seated with the Child under a round arch supported by pillars; overhead a central tower with two side turrets. Legend (fn. 34):—