A History of the County of Suffolk: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1975.
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10. THE PRIORY OF REDLINGFIELD
The foundation charter of this priory of Benedictine nuns, dated 1120, shows that it was founded by Manasses count of Guisnes and Emma his wife, who was the daughter and heiress of William de Arras, lord of Redlingfield. It was endowed with the manor of Redlingfield and all its members and all such customs as William de Arras held. (fn. 1)
The assignment of the parish church of Redlingfield to the priory is an exceptionally early instance of appropriation. In the official list of appropriated churches of this diocese drawn up in 1416, it was stated that the nuns of Redlingfield had held this church to their own use (in proprios usus) from the year 1120. (fn. 2)
Redlingfield is one of the very few religious houses omitted from the taxation roll of 1291; it was probably exempted on the ground of exceptional poverty. In 1343, it was stated that the prioress held part of the tithes of corn, wool, and lambs of Redlingfield worth two marks a year, and also forty acres of land worth 14s. 4d. (fn. 3)
The prioress and convent obtained licence, in 1344, to acquire land or rents to the annual value of £10 under the privy seal. (fn. 4) It was not, however, until 1381 that grants were obtained covered by this licence; in that year Sir William de Kerdiston assigned to the priory a third part of the manors of Hickling and Rishangles, of the yearly value of £7 13s. 4d., in full satisfaction of the licence of 1344. (fn. 5) A further licence to this priory, described as of the patronage of Queen Anne, was granted in 1383 to obtain property to the value of £20 a year, (fn. 6) and other small grants were subsequently made. (fn. 7)
The Valor of 1535 shows that the clear annual value of this priory was at that time £81 2s. 5½d. The temporalities in Suffolk and Norfolk, chiefly from lands and rents at Redlingfield, Rishangles, and Thorndon, amounted to £68 10s. 11d. The spiritualities consisted of portions of the churches of Redlingfield, Walpole, Melton, and Levington, amounting to £12 11s. 6d. The daily dole of pence, bread, beef, and herrings, according to ancient use, and certain alms to aged poor at Easter and Lent cost the nuns £9. (fn. 8)
The foundation charter states that the house was dedicated to God and St. Andrew, but the Valor of 1535 gives the joint invocation of the Blessed Virgin and St. Andrew. In 1418 the Bishop of Norwich transferred the feast of the conventual and parish church of Redlingfield from 24 December to 24 September. (fn. 9) The cause assigned for this change was that there ought to be an abstinence from work on the day of the dedication feast, but that immediately before Christmas there were so many worldly occupations and social duties pressing on both the nuns and the parishioners that the day could not be duly observed. The reason given by the bishop for selecting 24 September was that on that date the feast of the dedication of Norwich Cathedral was observed.
More than one scandal came to light in connexion with the episcopal visitations of this nunnery; but it is satisfactory to find that the house had recovered its good tone when the last of the series was held. The sad irregularities disclosed in 1427 supply another proof of the evil result of the rule of an unprincipled superior; the result shows the genuine character of such investigation. An inquiry was held on 9 September, 1427, in this convent by Dr. Ringstede, dean of the collegiate church of St. Mary-in-the-Fields, Norwich, as commissary of the bishop, concerning alleged excesses and dilapidations. Isabel Hermyte (prioress), Alice Lampit (sub-prioress), five professed sisters, and two novices, assembled in the chapter-house, when the deputy visitor read his commission first in Latin, and then in the vulgar tongue, in order that it might be the better understood by the nuns. The prioress confessed that on 25 January, 1425, she had promised on oath to observe all the injunctions then made; she admitted that since that date she had never been to confession, nor had she observed Sundays or double principal feasts as ordained. The prioress further admitted for herself and for Joan Tates, a novice, that they had not slept in the dormitory with the other nuns, but in a private chamber contrary to injunctions; that there ought to be thirteen nuns, but there were only nine; that there ought to be three chaplains, but there was only one; that she had laid violent hands on Agnes Brakle on St. Luke's Day; that she had been alone with Thomas Langelond, bailiff, in private and suspicious places, such as a small hall with windows closed, and sub heggerowes; that no annual account had been rendered; that obits had been neglected ; that goods had been alienated, and trees cut down and sold without knowledge or consent of the convent; and that she was not religious or honest in conversation. On Joan Tates being questioned as to incontinence, she said that it was provoked by the bad example of the prioress.
The inquiry was adjourned to 11 September, when the prioress, to avoid great scandal, made her resignation in a written document witnessed by all the nuns. The commissary's secretary set down the details of this solemn scene, with curious particularity, describing even the difference in dress between the professed sisters and the novices. Dr. Ringstede considered that all the religious were to blame, and ordered the whole convent to fast on bread and beer on Fridays. Joan Tates having confessed to incontinence, was to go in front of the solemn procession of the convent next Sunday, wearing no veil and clad in white flannel. The full form of resignation and confession of the prioress was entered in the diocesan register, and she was sent in banishment to the priory of Wykes. (fn. 10)
Bishop Nykke personally visited Redlingfield on 7 August, 1514, when certain minor irregularities were brought to light. The prioress complained of the disobedience of some of the sisters. Several of the nuns complained that the sub-prioress was cruel and too severe in discipline, even to the often drawing of blood. It was objected by others that no statement of accounts had been rendered for some years; that there were no curtains between the beds in the dormitory; that boys slept in the dormitory; that they had no proper infirmary; and that the refectory was unused for meals, being put to other purposes. The visitor ordered the prioress to exhibit an inventory of the valuables, of the cattle, and of all movables before the feast of All Saints, and a statement of accounts at Michaelmas, 1515. The refectory and infirmary were to be put to their proper uses, and a warden of the infirmary appointed. The subprioress was to correct and punish with discretion and not cruelly. Curtains were to be provided between the beds, and boys were not to sleep in the dormitory. (fn. 11)
The suffragan Bishop of Chalcedon and Dr. Cappe visited this priory, as commissaries of Bishop Nykke, in August, 1520. Margery Cokrose, the prioress, and nine other nuns were all examined, with the result that not a single complaint nor any remissness was brought to light; a full inventory of all the goods was exhibited, and the annual account would be presented at Michaelmas. (fn. 12) There was an equally satisfactory visitation in July, 1526, when there was nothing to redress; the visitation was attended by Grace Sansome (alias Sampson), prioress, and by five professed sisters and three novices. (fn. 13) The last visitation of this house, undertaken by Bishop Nykke, with Miles Spenser as auditor and principal official, was held on 5 July, 1532, when the same prioress and nine other nuns testified; all returned satisfactory answers, and the bishop could find nothing needing reformation.
This house coming under the Suppression Act of the smaller monasteries of 1536, the Suffolk commissioners visited Redlingfield on 26 August to draw up an inventory. The ornaments of the altar were only valued at 7s. 8d. A pair of organs and four books in the quire were estimated at 5s. The contents of the vestry 8s. 4d., including a silver chalice, many old altar cloths and linen cloths, and a pair of censers and a ship of latten. The contents of the Lady chapel only added 8d. to the total. The hall, parlour, chambers, &c., were but poorly furnished. The only substantial items were the cattle £11 14s., and the corn £11 16s. The total of the inventory was £130 7s. 11¼d. (fn. 14)
Grace Sampson, the prioress, on the day before the taking of this inventory, deposed to Sir Anthony Wingfield and the other commissioners that the house had seven religious and twentythree servants, of whom two were priests, four women servants, and seventeen hinds.
The priory was surrendered on 10 February, 1536-7, when each nun received the trifling sum of 23s. 4d., the two priests 25s. each, and thirteen other servants sums varying from 15s. to 2s. 6d. The nuns were turned out penniless save for their 'rewards.' The prioress obtained no reward, but then she had been well pensioned on the preceding 20 January at twenty marks a year. (fn. 15)
The house and site of the dissolved monastery, with the whole of its property, were granted on 25 March, 1537, to Sir Edmund Bedingfield and Grace his wife. (fn. 16) Sir Edmund was a large purchaser of the church furniture from the inventory of 10 February. The lead and bells were valued at £90. (fn. 17)
Prioresses of Redlingfield
Emma (probably daughter of the founder), c. 1120 (fn. 18)
Alice Davolers, temp. Henry III (fn. 19)
Margery, 1303-14 (fn. 20)
Agnes de Stuston, 1314 (fn. 21)
Julia de Weylond, 1331 (fn. 22)
Alice Wynter de Oxford, 1349 (fn. 23)
Eleanor de Bockynge, 1394 (fn. 24)
Ellen Hakon, died 1416 (fn. 25)
Margaret Hemenhale, 1416 (fn. 26)
Elizabeth Clopton, died 1419 (fn. 27)
Isabel Hermyte, 1419 (fn. 28)
Alice Lampit, 1427 (fn. 29)
Alice Brakle, 1459 (fn. 30)
Margaret, died 1482 (fn. 31)
Alice Legatte, 1482 (fn. 32)
Margery Cokrose, 1520 (fn. 33)
Grace Sampson, 1524 (fn. 34)
There is a poor impression of the twelfth-century seal of this house attached to a charter. It is a pointed oval, and represents the Blessed Virgin with the Holy Child on her knees. The only word of the legend remaining is Radeling. (fn. 35)