A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
A HISTORY OF SOMEREST
21. THE PRECEPTORY OF MINCHIN BUCKLAND
In 1166 William de Erlegh, lord of the manor of Durston, founded at Buckland in the parish of Durston a small house of Austin Canons, and endowed it with his lands at Durston, and also gave it the church of North Petherton with the appendant churches or chapels of Chedzoy, Pawlett, Huntworth, Earl's Newton, Thurloxton, Shurton, King's Newton, and the churches of Beckington and Kilmersdon. (fn. 1) The only prior of this house whose name is known is Master Walter, prior of Buckland, who witnessed the grant by Alan de Fornellis of the church of Cudworth to St. Andrew's, Wells, (fn. 2) and also witnessed a grant to Stowey Church. (fn. 3)
John Stillingflete, one of the brothers of the preceptory, in 1434 wrote a chronicle (fn. 4) of the early history of the house. He says that sentence of outlawry was passed on the house because of the murder of the steward, and the building and the possessions of the foundation being forfeited to the Crown, Henry II granted it to Garner the Prior of the hospital of St. John of Jerusalem in England. This grant, which was confirmed by King John, 30 August 1199, (fn. 5) was made in or about 1186 for the purpose of founding a preceptory and a house for the sisters of the Order. (fn. 6) For some time the matter was delayed, the canons with their deposed prior Walter continuing to reside on the spot. (fn. 7) But at last, with the judicious assistance of William de Erlegh, the change was made and Garner the prior removed three of the canons to the hospital at Clerkenwell where they took the habit of the order, two others went to Taunton, one to Barlynch and one to the priory of St. Bartholomew at Smithfield. (fn. 8)
Soon after the sisters of this order that were scattered in several commanderies in England were gathered together in one house at Buckland, so there was attached to the preceptory the only priory in England of Sisters of the Order of St. John. In later times, because they adopted the rule of the Austin Canonesses for their daily life, these sisters have sometimes been referred to as sisters of that order. The sisterhood began with eight members. Milsant was transferred from the commandery at Standon in Hertfordshire; Johanna also from Standon; Basilia from Carbrooke in Norfolk; Amabilia and Amica de Malketon from Shingay in Cambridgeshire; Christina de Hogshaw from Hogshaw in Bucks; Petronilla from Gosford, and Agnes from Clanfield in Oxfordshire. (fn. 9) These were now gathered at Buckland. The house however was not independent. It was a preceptory with preceptors in charge, and a priory of sisters dependent on it, but governed by a prioress.
The priory generally consisted of fifty sisters who wore the habit of the Hospital, a black mantle with a white cross in front. (fn. 10)
The earliest endowment for the sisters, as distinct from the hospital of Buckland, was granted by Matilda Countess of Clare, who in 1192 (fn. 11) gave an annual pension to the sisters of 13s. 4d. from the church of St. Peter at Carbrooke. Other early grants of which the dates are not quite certain are those of Ralph, the son of William de Briwere, who gave the sisters the church of Tolland (c. 1180); Alan Russell gave them the church of Donington in the diocese of Lincoln; Robert Arundell the church of Halse; and Muriel de Bohun land in Sherborne and Primesley.
In 1198 (fn. 12) Gilbert de Vere, the prior of the Hospitallers, gave to the sisters an annual pension of 100s. out of the manor of Rainham in Essex, and about 1240 Prior Terri de Nussa ordained a yearly payment of 38 marks (12s. 8d.) to be made by the Preceptor of Buckland for the support of the sisters. (fn. 13)
On 16 July 1227 (fn. 14) Loretta Countess of Leicester granted land at Nottiston and elsewhere to God and to St. Mary and St. John the Baptist and to the blessed poor of the hospital of St. John of Jerusalem at Buckland for the upkeep of the sisters of Buckland and to find a proper chaplain for that house, who should say daily mass in honour of the Blessed Virgin 'in majori ecclesia' for her soul and for Robert the late Earl of Leicester.
In the Valor of 1535, (fn. 15) the property of the priory is valued at £223 7s. 4¼d., Katherine Bowghshere being prioress at the time.
The spiritualia consisted of the rectory of Buckland and the chapel of St. Michael Church, the rectories of Kilmersdon and North Petherton; tithes of Broomfield, and payments in lieu of tithes in Horsey Mead, Bridgwater and 'Stondenhay.' In Lincolnshire Kirton and Donington; in Essex payments from the preceptory of Rainham; in Somerset from the preceptory of Templecombe; in Kent from the preceptory of Swinfield; in Norfolk from the preceptory of Carbrooke. The alms of the king, payable by the sheriff of Herefordshire, were valued at £6 13s. 4d., and in Somerset there were pensions from the churches of Pawlett, North Petherton, Tolland and Beckington.
About 1267 Roger de Vere, the prior of the Hospitallers in England, visited Buckland, and found discord prevailing between the knights and the ladies. He ordered that the sisters should henceforth have their own steward, with a groom and a riding horse. If he proved unfaithful or incompetent the prioress might suspend him, but she could not remove him from office without the consent of the prior. The sisters were also to have a chaplain to celebrate for the souls of benefactors and of Fina, the first prioress. Their steward and chaplain had rooms and board in the preceptory. (fn. 16) The larger church belonged to the sisters, and was dedicated to the honour of the blessed Virgin Mary and of St. Nicholas (fn. 17); the smaller church belonged to the Hospitallers.
In 1228 (fn. 18) Henry III granted to the prioress and sisters 2½d. daily to be paid by the sheriff of Hereford and 2d. daily which Margaret, the nurse of Isabella, the king's sister, was wont to receive, for the support of three girls in the priory. Next year (fn. 19) the sisters were granted a weekly cart-load of dead wood from the park of Newton, and also three cart-loads of faggots. This grant of wood was confirmed in 1387, (fn. 20) but in 1408 the question of the legal position of these sisters was raised. (fn. 21) It was argued that the sisters, as such, were incapable of accepting such a grant since they were only obedientiaries under the prior of Clerkenwell. Bracton (fn. 22) quotes them as an instance of legal inability on the part of women to act as distinct from the prior and head of their order. On 14 November 1408 (fn. 23) Henry IV conveyed the gift afresh to the prior of Clerkenwell, Walter Grendon, for the use of the sisters of Buckland, defining the wood to be taken as thorn, alder, maple and hazel. The importance of a supply of fuel was recognized in 1382, when the prior of the Hospital granted the sisters 15 acres at Buckland, where furze (firresyn) grew, for fuel. (fn. 24) In the previous century the needs of the brethren of the preceptory had been considered by Henry de Erlegh, who granted them 30 wagon-loads of brushwood yearly from his moors of North Petherton. (fn. 25)
In 1232 (fn. 26) we find William Earl of Arundel granting 40s. a year from his land for the support of his daughter Agnes as a sister at Buckland, and after his death Henry III ordered the continuance of the payments for the rest of her lifetime. In 1234 (fn. 27) the treasurer and chamberlain were ordered by the king to see that each sister received yearly a tunic and a pair of slippers.
In 1234, (fn. 28) the house was partially burnt down, and the sisters received a grant from the Crown of thirty oak trees from the park at Newton for its repair, and a further forty oaks were given them in 1236. (fn. 29)
In 1311 (fn. 30) Thomas de Berkelee gave £4 a year rent from lands at Ham for the maintenance of his daughter Isabel, during her life as a sister of the priory.
In the accounts of the Hospital for 1338, (fn. 31) the management of the estates of the preceptory seems to have been very careless. All the buildings called for a very great outlay of money in order thoroughly to repair them. The court or manor-house required a new roof, the bakehouse was ruinous, and the manor-house at Halse seemed to be almost destroyed. The estate consisted of 268 acres of arable land, and 42 acres of meadow, three of the latter being held by the sisters, and the brethren had one small church and two mills. The property at Halse consisted of 318½ acres. The 'confraria,' or amounts collected in the district assigned to the preceptory, barely amounted to eighty marks. Special days were assigned for the annual collections at the different villages. Thus they collected at Camley on the Friday after Easter, and at Selworthy on St. John the Evangelist's Day. (fn. 32)
The preceptory consisted of the preceptor, John Diluwe, three chaplains, and two sergeantsat-arms, one of them being the steward of the sisters, and John le Port holding a corrody by deed of the chapter.
The sisters then were said usually to number fifty, and the preceptor and his colleagues complained that they had no help but rather a burden attached to them by the presence of the sisters on the estate, for by a fixed ordinance their steward and the three chaplains to serve their church were to be at the expense of the preceptory. But for some time longer the dual arrangement continued, special injunctions being given by the Grand Master of the Order in 1398 for the exercise of care in selecting a preceptor whose age and character should prevent any scandal arising from his association with the nuns. (fn. 33) And when the separation was at last made it was the preceptory that fell and the priory that continued.
On 20 January 1500 (fn. 34) at a grand chapter of the order at Clerkenwell, it was decided to close the preceptory at Buckland and let it out to farm, and a lease was granted to John Vernay of Fairfield at a yearly rent of £93 6s. 8d. Vernay was to provide honest hospitality and to keep five chaplains on the estates of the house, one of whom was to serve the chapel of the sisters, and another the chapel of the preceptory.
Again, on 10 March 1508 another lease was granted (presumably on the death of Vernay) to Edmund Myl of Wells and Anne, his wife. Edmund however must have died very soon, for his wife in 1514 married Lionel Norres, and surrendered the lease, receiving an annuity of £10 a year.
In 1516 the estate was again leased for forty years to Henry Thornton, at a rental of £103 6s. 8d. or the old rent with the annuity added to it. Nominally the preceptory had continued, but the chaplain was only in name the preceptor. The brethren had already departed.
On 10 February 1539 (fn. 35) the sisters appeared in their chapter-house and formally surrendered their house and its endowments to the king at the hands of John Tregonwell and William Petre. The Popham family had obtained a large amount of their property on lease, and the action of the prioress accounts probably for the favourable arrangements which were made for her and the sisters. The prioress received a pension of £50 a year, and pensions were granted to thirteen sisters as well as to Sir William Mawdesley, confessor to the house. (fn. 36) The prioress also received a gift of £25 (fn. 37) by way of gratuity.
Preceptors of Buckland (fn. 38)
Robert Normanton, occurs 1402 (fn. 39)
Henry Cromhale, occurs 1432 (fn. 40)
Prioresses of Buckland (fn. 41)
Joan Coffyn, occurs 1506 (fn. 42)