A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.
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6. THE PRIORY OF RUSPER (fn. 1)
The Benedictine nunnery of St. Mary Magdalene of Rusper was founded before the end of the twelfth century, apparently by a member of the family of Braose, as William de Braose was patron when Seffrid II, bishop of Chichester (1180-1204), confirmed the nuns in possession of their estates. (fn. 2) At this time the priory held the churches of Warnham, Ifield, and Selham, to which John de Braose added that of Horsham in or before 1231. (fn. 3) The spiritualities, which in 1291 were worth £31 6s. 8d., were considerably more valuable than the lands and rents held by the nuns, which at the same date were only worth £13 1s. 1½d. (fn. 4) No additions appear ever to have been made to their property, and the clear annual value of the priory in 1535 just failed to reach £40. (fn. 5)
Poor though the house was its inmates were often women of good family, for we find such names as Lewknor, St. John, Okehurst, Michelgrove, and Sydney amongst them, and, unlike their Augustinian sisters at Easebourne, they lived placid and honourably uneventful lives.
The prioress of Rusper in 1278 is recorded to have acted with a somewhat higher hand than we should have expected of a religious woman, for when certain tenants were imprisoned for poaching she seized their lands and ejected their wives and children, who had to be restored by the king's writ; (fn. 6) possibly we may attribute the harsh act to her bailiffs rather than herself. In 1353 the affairs of this remote priory attracted the pope's attention; the bishop of Chichester had appointed one Juliana Young to be prioress, but the pope, understanding her to be under age, and also believing that the appointment had been so long delayed that it had lapsed to himself, ordered the bishop of Winchester to appoint Joan de Kingesfold or some other fit nun in place of Juliana. (fn. 7)
A visitation held in January, 1442, shows a prioress and seven sisters, two not yet professed. The only fault found was that the prioress did not render account of her administration, which she was ordered to do in future. (fn. 8) In 1478 also the report was excellent, the only blemish being in the observance of the rule of silence. The prioress, Agnes Snokeshall, who had held office since 1436, (fn. 9) must have been a splendid manager, for the income of the house was slender for the support of even the five ladies who now constituted the community, yet no defects in the buildings are recorded, and more was due to the nuns than was owed by them. (fn. 10) On 8 August, 1484, Bishop Story came to the priory and received the profession of three nuns, Elizabeth Lewknor, Elizabeth Sydney, and Elizabeth Hays. (fn. 11) By 1521 the community had shrunk to a prioress and three sisters, two not being professed, although one of them had been there three years and the other twelve, so that evidently the bishop had been negligent of visiting the priory. The house was now in bad repair, and the constant visits of the prioress's friends and kinsfolk were a cause of great expense; otherwise all was well. (fn. 12) In 1524 the only complaint was that a certain William Tychenor came frequently and stirred up discord between the prioress and her sisters. (fn. 13) Finally, in 1527, when there were only two nuns besides the prioress, the only presentment made was that the house was somewhat ruinous. (fn. 14) At last in 1537 the poor old prioress, Elizabeth Sydney, and her one remaining companion, Elizabeth Hays, who had knelt by her side and taken the monastic vows with her fiftythree years before, were turned out of their house into that world which they had shunned so long, the prioress receiving a pension of 100s, (fn. 15) and her aged sister a gift of 60s. (fn. 16)
Prioresses of Rusper
Katherine, occurs 1232 (fn. 17)
Alice de Bissopeston, occurs 1247 (fn. 18)
Alice, occurs 1256 (fn. 19)
Isabel, occurs 1326 (fn. 20)
Agnes, occurs 1343 (fn. 21)
Juliana Young, appointed 1353 (fn. 22)
Joan de Kingesfold, nominated 1353 (fn. 22)
Agnes Baret, occurs 1403-8 (fn. 23)
Elizabeth, occurs 1418 (fn. 24)
Elizabeth Lewkenore, occurs 1487 (fn. 27)
Elizabeth Sydney, occurs 1521, (fn. 28) last prioress