A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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8. THE PRIORY OF STUDLEY
The Benedictine Priory of Studley is mentioned first about the year 1176, when Bernard of St. Walery granted to the nuns of Studley half a hide in Horton, (fn. 1) a tithing of Beckley. The grant was during the time of 'Robert, sheriff,' no doubt Robert de Turevile, sheriff of Oxford, 1175-9. It may be that Bernard of St. Walery, having resigned his patronage of Godstow nunnery to the king about 1175, founded another nunnery, or as the language of the charter might suggest, endowed a community of women, which was already in existence at a spot called Studley in Bernwood. It is noticeable, however, that in 1279 his son Thomas was considered to have been the founder of the house; (fn. 2) and Dugdale prints a deed by which the nuns recognize him as their patron, and in return receive privileges from him. (fn. 3) We may suggest that the first prioress died after 1195, and that when it became necessary to elect a successor, Thomas of St. Walery, the lord of Beckley, was definitely recognized as the founder; it seems also as if the site of the nunnery was transferred to the half-hide in Horton.
The chartulary is unfortunately lost, but the extracts made from it by Brian Twyne (fn. 4) prove that Studley was a popular house with the leading citizens of Oxford, and received liberal gifts from them. In 1279 Studley held almost as much property in Oxford as the nuns of Godstow, though its whole income was far less. It possessed the church of Seacourt, Berkshire, in 1200, but for some reason lost it in 1208; (fn. 5) the church of Ilmer, Buckinghamshire, was given by Thomas, son of Bernard, before 1205, (fn. 6) and the church of Beckley by Robert, Count of Dreux, in 1226; (fn. 7) but this latter was only obtained after a lawsuit with the king and the Templars. (fn. 8) Afterwards, the nuns resigned the patronage to Bishop Gravesend 'because by the weakness (fragilitatem) of our sex, and from the fact that we do not mix with men, we might be ignorant who was suitable for the post of parson,' (fn. 9) but by the ordinance of Hugh Wells, made in 1230, they took all the tithes of the hamlet of Horton, and some of the tithes of Nash. (fn. 10) The most liberal benefactor was Godfrey de Craucumb, no doubt a relation of Alice de Craucumb, prioress in 1251. He gave the nuns the two manors of Crowcombe, Somersetshire, and Corsley, Wiltshire, which in 1536 produced more than a third of the income of the house. (fn. 11) One gift more deserves mention: Henry de Anna, rector of St. Mildred's, Oxford, gave rents in Oxford sufficient for each 'of the fifty nuns belonging to Studley' to have 12d. on his anniversary. (fn. 12) As the number of inmates was only nine in 1445 and ten in 1520, and as the revenues of the house never reached £100, we are astonished that the nuns were as many as fifty; but the value of the property bequeathed indicates that there is no error in the number; and at Goring, we have another instance of fluctuations as great. The numbers there fell from 36 to 7, at Studley from 50 to 10. In the Taxation of 1291 there is no mention of Studley; and if from this fact we should guess that the house was excused through poverty, we should not be at fault; for in 1292 Michael, vicar of Hanslope, was appointed master of Studley, at the request of the prioress, to administer the temporalities and spiritualities. (fn. 13) The next year and again in 1294 the bishop wrote to the prioress that the presence of John of Sevekworth, clerk, had brought discredit on the house, and that he was not to be allowed to abide there longer. (fn. 14)
When Edmund, earl of Cornwall, died in 1300, the patronage of the priory came into the hand of the king, with the rest of the honour of St. Walery. In 1352 the nuns obtained the appropriation of Beckley church, (fn. 15) and in 1389 'in relief of their poverty' were allowed to acquire two carucates of land in Nash; (fn. 16) two years later they were allowed to sell 10 marks worth of timber in their demesne wood 'for the repair of their house, which is ruinous.' (fn. 17) In 1445, at the visitation of Bishop Alnwick, there were nine inmates. There was no fault with the state of the house: the bishop appointed as their confessor the vicar of Bicester, forbidding them to have a scholar of Oxford 'as it is not seemly that scholars of Oxford should come to the nunnery.' At the visitation of 1520 the nuns were ten in all; the income was reckoned at £84; there were complaints that the brother of the prioress and his wife stayed within the monastery; the prioress did not consult the sisters on important matters; the house was in debt to the amount of 40 marks. The state of the house was perhaps less satisfactory than the record suggests; for the bishop instead of closing his visitation, adjourned it to another day. At another visitation, held in Sept. 1530, by Dr. Rayne, vicar-general of the bishop of the diocese, the house was found to be in poverty, with debts amounting to £60; the choir, the dormitory, and the nave of the church were out of repair; the number of inmates was 10, but an injunction was made that it should be increased; the woods of the priory had been much diminished by the late prioress and also by 'Thomas, Cardinal of York, for the construction of his college in the University of Oxford.' There were complaints about the food. The nuns said that
they be often tymes served with beffe and no moton upon Thursday at nyght and Sondays at nyght, and be served often tymes with new ale and not hulsome; and we gather from these words and from the similar remarks of other nuns that beef for supper was considered to be unwholesome. It was ordered that no corrody should be given to the mother of the prioress, until more was known of her manner of life. (fn. 18) A few months later, when the bishop had received the report of the visitor, he sent injunctions to the nuns, that as the monastery was in great debt and the buildings out of repair, a more economical mode of living was to be adopted, with fewer servants; also 'the number of ladies' was to be augmented and they were to use veils which came down to the eyelids. (fn. 19)
There is a conflict of evidence about the date of the suppression of the house. As early as June, 1536, the king made a grant of the manor of Corsley in Wilts, 'parcel of the late priory of Studley, Oxon, dissolved by Parliament' (fn. 20); but as the deed of surrender by the prioress, Joan Williams, is dated 19 November, 1539, (fn. 21) and all the possessions of the house, with the exception of Corsley, were sold in February, 1540, (fn. 22) we are driven to the conclusion that Studley was refounded after its first dissolution. To add to the difficulty, there is mention in 1536 of 'Mary Baynbrig, late prioress of Studley,' (fn. 23) whereas there is no room for her in the list of prioresses, nor was there any sister of that name at the visitation of 1530.
Prioresses of Studley
Petronilla, occurs 1200 and 1227 (fn. 24)
Alice de Craucumbe, elected 1251 (fn. 27)
Elizabeth, occurs 1258, (fn. 28) died 1276
Margery Clement, elected 1276 (fn. 29)
Mabel, elected 1288, (fn. 30) died 1292
Clementia Oweyn, appointed 1292, (fn. 31) resigned 1322
Agnes Husee, (fn. 32) elected 1322
Margaret, died 1378 (fn. 34)
Elizabeth Freemantle, elected 1378, (fn. 35) died 1388
Agnes Attehalle, elected 1388 (fn. 36)
Agnes, occurs 1424 and 1436 (fn. 37)
Eleanor Cobcot, occurs 1445 (fn. 38)
Eleanor, occurs 1472 and 1487 (fn. 39)
Elizabeth Samwell, died 1515 (fn. 40)
Catherine Cobcot, elected 1515, (fn. 40) died 1529
Joan Williams, appointed 1529, (fn. 41) surrendered 1539
The twelfth-century seal is a pointed oval, representing the Annunciation; two figures standing on each side of a tree or pillar; the Virgin on the right with a book in her left hand and the right resting on her bosom; the angel Gabriel with nimbus is on the left, with the word AVE issuing from his mouth. Legend:—
This seal was in use in 1370, (fn. 42) but if we may credit Dunkin, (fn. 43) there was another seal in the sixteenth century. The subject is the same, but the central object is definitely a tree, not a pillar, and the angel is represented as saying AVE MARIA. Legend:—