A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.
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7. THE PRIORY OF WROXALL
The Benedictine nunnery of Wroxall, dedicated in honour of St. Leonard, was founded about the end of the reign of Henry I. (fn. 1) Dugdale gives an interesting legendary account of its foundation from a manuscript then in the possession of Sir John Burgoyne, penned as he supposed by some official of the nunnery in the fifteenth century. (fn. 2)
According to this account, one Richard, who held the lordships of Hatton and Wroxall, shortly after the Conquest, of Henry, earl of Warwick, had issue a son Hugh of great stature. Hugh was taken prisoner in the Holy Land, and continued in durance for seven years. At length, remembering that St. Leonard was the saint to whom his parish church was dedicated, and the many miracles that God had wrought through his confessors in times past, he prayed earnestly to him for deliverance; whereupon St. Leonard, in the garb of a black monk, appeared to him in his sleep, bade him arise, and go home and found at his church a house of Benedictine nuns. The knight awakening thought it a mere dream, but on the vision being repeated the next night, he made a vow to God and St. Leonard that he would fulfil St. Leonard's command. Thereupon he found himself miraculously carried with his fetters into Warwickshire, and set down in the forest not far from his home at Wroxall. He had grown so hairy and disfigured during his long imprisonment that his wife and children did not recognize him until he showed her a piece of a ring that they had broken between them at his departure. Special directions were vouchsafed as to the exact site of the house he was to found by stones, placed without man's hand, where the high altar was to be erected. After the buildings were completed, two of his daughters, Cleopatra and Edith, were professed as nuns, and a lady from Wilton nunnery, Wiltshire, of the name of Edith, came to instruct them in the rule of St. Benedict. Among the relics of the church were the broken ring and part of Hugh's fetters.
Records show that Hugh the founder gave the nuns all his lands at Wroxall and in the vicinity, and at Hatton, together with the church at Hatton; Roger, earl of Warwick, the church of Shuckburgh; Ralph the son of Wigan, lands at Caldecote; Richard Foliot, rents at Warden, Northamptonshire; Robert, earl of Leicester, rents at Hinckley; and Henry II, 10 marks yearly out of the Exchequer for the health of his soul. (fn. 3)
Robert de Alvers confirmed to the nuns the church of Shuckburgh and certain lands by an undated charter circa. 1158. (fn. 4)
In 1269 Henry III issued a writ to Bishop Giffard and his successors to deliver yearly to the prioress and nuns of Wroxall 6 marks out of the 10 marks which they were accustomed to receive by gift of Henry II, payable by the bishop to the king under the charter to the late bishop of Worcester for having the right to hold pleas in his lands in the counties of Warwick, Worcester, and Gloucester. The remaining 4 marks were to be paid henceforth by the sheriff of Warwickshire. (fn. 5)
The Valor of 1535 states the clear annual value at £78 10s. 1½d.; the 10 marks assigned by Henry II were still paid in their due proportions by the bishop of Worcester and the sheriff of Warwick. (fn. 6)
In 1284 the prioress and her convent sustained their claim to have court leet, gallows, and waif, &c., on their manors of Wroxall and Hutton. (fn. 7)
The nunnery was visited by Bishop Giffard in 1269. The same bishop visited the nuns on 11 August, 1284, and preached to them from the text, Filie tibi sunt serva corpus illarum, &c. (Eccles. vii, 26). On 30 January, 1290, the bishop again visited the nuns, and preached to them from Oleum effusum nomen tuum (Canticles, i, 3). There is record of another visitation by Giffard in 1300. (fn. 8) The bishop found nothing to reform at any of his visits.
The benediction of Maud le Prude and eleven others as nuns of Wroxall is recorded in Bishop Reynolds's register. (fn. 9)
In 1311 Prioress Sibilla resigned through bodily infirmity, and was succeeded by Agnes de Alesbury. (fn. 10) During Agnes's tenure of office the conventual church was rebuilt or extended, so that consecration became necessary. Bishop Walter Maidstone dedicated the church and the high altar on 9 July, 1315. (fn. 11)
Bishop Cobham visited this nunnery in 1323, when he found grave discord existing between the prioress and Lady Isabel Clinton, some of the sisters adhering to the one and some to the other. He also found that cups and other vessels and utensils intended for hospitality had been sold, that hospitality and almsgiving were insufficient, and that there were scarcely enough necessaries for the sisters. The diocesan, in his consequent orders, strictly enjoined peace and concord among all the inmates, that all the sisters were to be pure and of noble condition, that the prioress was to remain more at home, that two sisters were to be chosen by the chapter to do the business of the convent in the receiving of the rents, &c., that nothing was to be alienated without the chapter's consent, that the sisters were to treat the prioress with reverence and obedience, that those who had rebelled against her were to desist, and that the prioress was to behave amicably to them all in refectory, dormitory, and elsewhere. (fn. 12)
It would seem that the party of Isabel de Clinton obtained the victory, for Agnes was succeeded by Isabel, widow of Sir John de Clinton of Maxstoke, patron of the house. On the death of Isabel the temporalities were seized by the too great zeal of the county escheator. On 13 November, 1325, John de Bolingbrok, escheator for Warwickshire, was ordered to meddle no further with the priory of Wroxall or any of its possessions, which he had taken into the king's hands at the late voidance, alleging that the custody thereof pertained to the king through the minority of the earl of Warwick, and to restore the issues and profits to the nuns without diminution. The king had learnt by inquisition that the priory was founded by one Hugh the son of Richard, and was then of the patronage of John de Clinton of Maxstoke, his heir; and that the nuns thereof have been wont, from its foundation, to have all issues and profits on each voidance, and to dispose and ordain of the priory without Hugh or his heirs intermeddling in any way. (fn. 13)
The Sede Vacante register of the priors of Worcester, from 1301 to 1435, records several instances of the visitation of this house. On only one occasion was there anything to reform. The commissary of the prior visited Wroxall on the Saturday after the Purification, 1339. The following injunctions were subsequently sent to the prioress, proving that the discipline of the house had been decidedly lax. The document is in French, the language generally used in official communications with nunneries. It is of sufficient interest to give in extenso:—.
Robert de Clyfton, precentor of the cathedral church of Worcester, commissary-general of the prior of Worcester, the official and administrator of the spirituality of the city and diocese of Worcester, the see being vacant, to the religious ladies, lady Agnes de Broy, prioress of Wroxall, and the convent of the same place, salutation in God. Whereas lately in our visitation at Wroxall we found certain things among you to redress and amend to the honour and glory of God, and the integrity of your religion, and the health of your souls, so we have made certain reasonable ordinances and injunctions, according to law after the tenor which follows.
Firstly, in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we command and enjoin you all by virtue of obedience, that from henceforth in the cloister and in the church, the frater and the dorter, you keep silence, according to your rule of St. Benedict, better than you have hitherto done, and that you cease from brawling, reproofs, and bad words, and from disorderly vigils after curfew, and that none of you under pain of excommunication speak reproachfully or abusively of your sister lady Margaret Acton, whom we have duly corrected for the things for which we had to correct her, and we give and grant you, lady prioress, full power to abridge her penance according to her contrition at such time as you see good to do so; and we exhort you, lady prioress, not to be thoughtless as to give permission to your sisters to go out of the cloister, and particularly the priory, as you have hitherto done, without true and reasonable occasion and cause, and moreover that two young sisters shall not go out together for fear of evil suspicion which might thereby easily arise, which God forbid; and that you, lady prioress, and you, sub-prioress, be more diligent to amend the disorderly conduct of your sisters than you have hitherto been, and arrange that two parts of the convent at least eat every day in the frater, and that between now and the feast of St. John Baptist no secular persons shall eat in the frater because of the penance enjoined on each of your sisters for all that time, in order to avoid slander which by their presence might easily grow. Moreover we command all and firmly enjoin you that you have no servant (boy) among you of the age of twelve years and more, and that you have an ordinal of your service without waiting or delay, and that nothing be taken from the due and necessary sustenance of the said lady Margaret by reason of the penance enjoined on her by us, and that the ladies never go on foot to Coventry or. Warwick, as against the rules they have hitherto done, and that all the doors of the cloister be locked at the sound of curfew by view of you, lady sub-prioress, so that no lady shall go out or enter the cloister after curfew without grave reason, and without the presence of the prioress or sub-prioress under a heavy penalty, which shall be inflicted on her who shall do so after that time; and that no secular person in the night-time be within the door leading to the infirmary after curfew sounds, and that after that time you shall have the convent served from the kitchen by the window of the frater, as is fitting for religious persons, under fit penance. In witness whereof, etc. (fn. 14)
As a result of this visitation Prioress Agnes resigned in October, 1339. (fn. 15)
In 1479 the bishop of Worcester appointed William Sheldon, of the Dominican Friars of Warwick, to hear the confessions of the prioress and nuns of Wroxall. (fn. 16) Jocosa or Joice Brome resigned her office through old age in September 1525; she died on 21 June, 1528. On her resignation she was assigned a chamber with her own furniture, provisions suitable for a prioress, and a pension of £3 a year for life, to be paid in quarterly instalments on the high altar of the conventual church. (fn. 17) There used to be a window (extant in 1820) on the south side of the church with representations of broom-stalks and the initials J. B. over the place of her sepulchre.
Consequent on this resignation, Agnes Little was elected prioress, and her election confirmed on 20 November, 1525. (fn. 18) She was still prioress at the time of the Dissolution.
The commissioners of 1536 reported the annual value of this nunnery as £67 2s. 0½d. They found five religious with the prioress: 'all of good conversation and lyvyng, and desyer all, yf the howse be suppressed, to be sent to other religious howses.' There were eleven dependants, namely one priest to serve the cure at Wroxall, seven hinds, and three dairywomen. The bells and lead were worth £37 5s., and 'the howse a proper little howse and in convenyent and good repaire.' The stocks, stores, and goods were worth. £69 17s. 10d., and there were 293 acres of wood. There were no debts, and nothing was owing to the house. (fn. 19)
Agnes Little, the prioress, obtained a pension of £7 10s.; the rest of the nuns seem to have been left penniless. (fn. 20) Agnes was living and drawing her pension in 1553.
Prioresses of Wroxall.
Ida (fn. 21)
Avice or Amice, occurs 1270-2 (fn. 22)
Alice Abtot (fn. 23)
Agnes de Kynewarton, occurs 1284 (fn. 24)
Sibilla D'Abetot, elected 1285, (fn. 25) resigned 1311
Agnes de Alesbury, elected 1311 (fn. 26)
Isabel de Clinton, died 1325 (fn. 27)
Agnes de Broy, elected 1325, (fn. 28) resigned 1339
Isabel de Fokerham, elected 1339, (fn. 29) resigned 1351
Alice de Clinton, elected 1351, (fn. 30) resigned 1356
Joan Russell, elected 1356 (fn. 31)
Horabile de Aylesbury, appointed 1361 (fn. 32)
Alice de Aylesbury, resigned 1425 (fn. 33)
Isolda Walshe, 1425-31 (fn. 34)
Isabel Astley, elected 1431 (fn. 35)
Isolda, occurs 1489 (fn. 36)
Isabel, occurs 1501 (fn. 37)
Jocosa Brome, resigned 1525 (fn. 38)
Agnes Little, 1525-36 (fn. 39)
The twelfth-century seal shows a section of a monastic church with central towers topped with a knob. Under a large round-headed arch, St. Leonard, three-quarter length, in the right hand a pastoral staff obliquely, in the left hand a book. Legend:—
SIGILLE S . . . . ONARDI DE W . . KESHA LA. (fn. 40)