A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.
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16. THE PRIORY OF STAVORDALE
Stavordale lies about 3 miles north-east of Wincanton, and about the same distance south-east of Bruton. It is a secluded dale running into the western slopes of the uplands of Selwood. The origin of the house is not very clear, and it is difficult to understand the reason for the foundation of a house of Austin Canons within 3 miles of the house of the same order at Bruton.
The earliest notice of the priory occurs in 1243, (fn. 1) when Roger Tyrel gave to it lands at Shalford, near Charlton Musgrove, and was received, with his wife Sarah, into the spiritual fellowship of the priory. In the same year the prior defended his right to lands at Clayhanger, (fn. 2) and proved that they were a gift from Christina Cleyhenger six weeks before her death.
In 1263 (fn. 3) we find the canons purchasing Cuddlesome (Churchelesham) by means of a gift of 40 marks from John de Axebridge, the sub-dean of the cathedral church of Wells, and, in return, the sub-dean received an annuity of 30s. and, after his death, the canons were to continue the payment to the Dean and chapter of Wells for masses at the altar of St. Mary Magdalene in the cathedral church.
In 1345 (fn. 6) Robert de Mandeville of Coker granted to the priory a rent-charge of 6s. 8d. on his land at Buckhorn Weston, for the support of a chaplain to say mass in the chapel of St. Andrew at Marsh, near Wincanton, and to keep a taper burning before the altar of St. Mary in the priory.
In 1350 (fn. 7) Richard Lovel, the last of the house of the lords of Castle Cary, obtained licence to give lands at Priestley, in the parish of Doulting, to endow a chaplain in the priory church to say daily mass for the founder.
In March 1374 (fn. 8) Bishop John Harewell of Bath and Wells confirmed an earlier appropriation of the rectory of Wincanton; the duty of a resident vicar was laid upon the canons, and mass was to be said at the altar of St. James under the bell tower among others for members of the Stourton family.
The endowments prove the existence of the priory, but give us no hint as to its origin. Undoubtedly it was due to the generosity of the Lovel family, and it is probable that it was founded by Henry, Lord Lovel, who died about 1199.
In 1322 (fn. 9) Bishop Drokensford issued a commission for the visitation of the priory to inquire into the complaints as to Prior Eton's neglect of its possessions. He was accused of being wasteful of the goods of the priory, and the result of the inquiry was that he resigned. In 1361 (fn. 10) Richard St. Maur, son and heir of Nicholas St. Maur and Muriel, his wife, was declared patron of the priory, and in 1400 (fn. 11) he was buried 'in the new chapel of the priory.' At this time the canons are said to have been eight in number. The reconstruction of the conventual buildings and of this church seems to have been due not to Alicia, the wife of Lord Zouch and great-granddaughter of Richard Lovel, but to John Stourton, uncle of the first Lord Stourton. He left in his will, 1439, (fn. 12) provision that the church and the cloister at Stavordale should be completed in all things and the windows glazed, and that his and his wife's body should be buried in the middle of the choir of the said church. The rebuilding was completed in 1443, when it was consecrated by the suffragan of Bishop Stafford, (fn. 13) whose commission was 'to dedicate the nave and the conventual church of Stavordale with the choir and chancel which John de Stourton, while yet alive, had caused to be rebuilt at his own cost, and to concede to him the right of sepulture in the said church.'
The priory however was always hampered by its poverty, and in 1452 Bishop Beckington granted permission, as Bishop Bowett had done in 1403, (fn. 14) for one of the canons to gather alms throughout the diocese on behalf of his house. Certainly in the 15th century the number of canons seems to have been reduced as much as possible, and it would appear as if the Zouch family had begun to look upon the place as one they could make their own private house.
In 1526 the will (fn. 15) was proved of John, Lord Zouch, who, as a Yorkist fighting against Henry VII, had lost all his property after the battle of Bosworth Field. He appears in the latter years of his life to have settled at Stavordale, and he speaks in his will of his title, interest, lodging and other ground within the priory of Stavordale. He directs that his body should be buried within the priory in the chapel of the chantry of Jesus there, founded by himself, and he seems to have endowed this chantry with land at Pitcombe and Cole.
In 1524, after the canons had had the benefit of Richard Crie, a canon of Bruton, as their prior, they elected in his place William Grendon, canon of Taunton, and so great was the poverty of the house that Grendon was able to induce the remaining canons to apply for the union of the house with the priory of Taunton. This took place in 1533 (fn. 16) and six years afterwards the house fell with the dissolution of the priory at Taunton on 12 February 1539. Had the house remained independent it would naturally on account of its poverty have fallen in 1536.
In that same year, Richard, the son of John, Lord Zouch, wrote the following letter to Cromwell, (fn. 17) but he was unable to undo what had been accomplished two years before, and the Zouches did not get hold of Stavordale as their private residence:—
Sure plesyt yor goode masterchipe to underston yt wer I dwelle ys a pore pryery, A fundacion off my nawynsetres wyche ys my lord my fatheres ynerytens ande myne and be the reson off a lowyde pryor wt was ther whyche was a schanon off Tawnton a for browytt hytt to be a sell unto Tawnton. Ande now his hytt dystryde and ther ys but to chanons wyche be off no goode luyng ande yt ys gret petty the pore howyse scholde be so yll yntretyde werfor yff ytt may plese yor goode masterchype to be so goode master to me to gett me the pore howse wyche ys callyde Staverdell I wer bownde to pray for yor masterchyp. And also I schal bere you my harty seruys nexte the kynge ys gras and be at yor commayndment be the gras off Gode he ever presserue yor goode masterchype yor howyne pore seruantt ande bedman Rycharde Zouche.
We find however in 1548 (fn. 18) confirmation of this action of the Zouch family in the certificate concerning the chantry in the conventual chapel which is described as 'the chapel of the chantry being situate within the said Lord Zouch's house at Stavordale.'
Priors of Stavordale
Walter, occurs 1249 (fn. 19)
Robert, occurs 1254, 1263 (fn. 20)
Robert de Cherleton, died 1310 (fn. 21)
Walter de Eton, elected 1310 (fn. 22)
William de Nymefield or Nymsfield, on resignation of previous prior (fn. 23)
Henry de Nymefield, elected 1333 (fn. 24)
John Bodman, died 1361 (fn. 25)
John de Wincanton, elected 1361 (fn. 26)
Robert (fn. 27)
Oliver (fn. 28)
John Penne, 1418 (fn. 29)
John Selke or Sylk, 1468, died 1520 (fn. 32)
Andrew Grey, elected 1501 (fn. 33)
John Legge, 1508, resigned 1513 (fn. 34)
Richard Creed or Crie elected 1513 (fn. 35)
William Grendon, elected 1524 (fn. 36)
The 13th-century seal of the house of Austin Canons at Stavordale (fn. 37) is a vesica, 21/8 in. by 13/8 in., with a full-length figure of St. James the greater, the patron saint, standing on a corbel, having in his right hand his pilgrim's staff and in his left a book. At his side hangs a wallet upon which is his emblem of a scallop shell. The legend is:—SIGILL' ECCLESIE S[ANCT]I IACOBI DE STAVERDALE.