A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.
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4. THE ABBEY, LATER PRIORY, OF AMESBURY
In the last days of the Edgarian revival, Alfrida, relict of King Edgar, founded Benedictine nunneries at Amesbury and at Wherwell, Hants. (fn. 1) Contrition for the murder of Edward the Martyr (for which, however, she is no longer held to have been personally responsible) is said to have been the motive, and, if this is true, the date (979) assigned by the Melrose chronicler is appropriate enough. (fn. 2) Amesbury was plainly a sacred place in pre-Christian times and there are also legends that a house of monks had been established before the Norse invasions. (fn. 3) Even if those legends are worthless one is tempted to believe that it was an existing cult of St. Melor, co-patron of the conventual church, that led Alfrida to choose Amesbury. Melor, the son of a duke of Armorican Cornouaille and a child-martyr, was venerated in the region of Morlaix, Brittany. His body was buried at Lanmeur (dep. Finistère), but according to a later tradition some of his relics were afterwards brought to Amesbury by 'preachers of foreign extraction' and placed upon the altar of the church. Their preaching done, the preachers tried to remove the relics, but, finding that they adhered to the altar 'like adamant', they sold them to the abbess. (fn. 4) Stripped of its miraculous element the story is plausible. There was much intercourse between Brittany and Britain in the 10th and early 11th centuries. Incursions of Northmen into Brittany had been followed by a migration of Bretons into England, and there is evidence that they brought relics with them and left some of them in English convents. Melor, like Edward, was a boy-martyr and if his relics already lay in Amesbury church Amesbury was the natural home for Alfrida's new foundation. It is an objection to this theory that the 12th-century life of St. Melor declares that the nunnery was founded before the relics were acquired.
In a 15th-century Exchequer suit the then prioress profferred a charter of King Ethelred in favour of a predecessor called Heahpled. (fn. 5) This, she said, had been confirmed by subsequent kings. There is no evidence of this confirmation, and the charter, which in other respects gives rise to suspicion, may well be spurious. On the other hand, Ethelred and his council were at Amesbury on Easter Day 995, when they chose Elfric as Bishop of Wiltshire, (fn. 6) and a grant from the king to the abbey on such an occasion is not impossible.
Nothing more is heard of the nunnery until 1086. The abbey then held, and had held in King Edward's time, manors in the adjacent villages of Bulford, Boscombe, 'Allentone', (fn. 7) Choulston, and Maddington—a group estimated in the Survey at 27 hides. (fn. 8) Under Hackpen Hill was the manor of Rabson in Winterbourne Bassett of 6 hides. (fn. 9) In Berkshire were 'Ceveslane' in the north-west part of Challow parish, Fawley, (fn. 10) Kintbury (including, perhaps, Elcot with Wormstall and Clapton), (fn. 11) and the church of Letcombe Regis. (fn. 12) The Wiltshire estates had slightly increased in value since King Edward's time; the value of those in Berkshire (except Kintbury) was unchanged.
In relation to that of other nunneries the gross income of the house was not high. It is estimated to have reached £54 15s., which puts it only above Wherwell and Chatteris (Cambs.) and well below its nèighbours Wilton, Shaftesbury (Dors.), and Romsey (Hants). (fn. 13) The depredations of certain magnates, recorded in the Survey, (fn. 14) may have been responsible for this poverty, of which there are certain other indications. In 1129-30 and in 1157-8 the sheriffs of Wiltshire and Berkshire were allowed for contributions to danegeld, dona, or other contributions pardoned to the abbess. (fn. 15) There is some evidence that the abbess had been forced to borrow from officials of the papal court. (fn. 16)
With many other monasteries Amesbury is mentioned in the death rolls of Maud, the Conqueror's daughter, Abbess of La Trinité of Caen (Calvados) (ob. 1113), and of Vital, Abbot of Savigny (Loir-et-Chér.) (ob. 1122). (fn. 17) This suggests a certain international repute. On the whole, however, the monastery was probably unimportant. William of Malmesbury who lived but 30 miles away had little to say about it, though he devoted long passages to Wilton and Shaftesbury. He knew the name of its foundress and asserted that St. Melor was buried there. (fn. 18) But he confessed ignorance of the saint's lineage and sanctity and ignored his Life, which must have been written by his time. (fn. 19)
The foundation of Alfrida came to a sudden end in 1177 when Henry II decided to dissolve it and refound it as a house of his favourite Order of Fontevrault, of which there were already three communities in England. A bull was procured from Alexander III on 15 September 1176 in which the Pope approved the king's desire to institute the Order at Amesbury, to enlarge the convent, and to increase its endowment. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the bishops of London, Exeter, and Worcester were to visit the convent and notify the sisters that the new Order was to be admitted. Any sister who proved obdurate was to be received into another monastery and to be kindly treated. This done, the Order was to be instituted, and the abbess and sisters of the mother house were to visit the convent as soon as the prelates should summon them. (fn. 20)
Accordingly in the octave of Hilary 1177 the Bishops of Exeter and Worcester, both experts in reform, (fn. 21) went forth to Amesbury on the king's instructions. They found the condition of affairs scandalous. They deposed the abbess for her incontinent life and pensioned her off. They expelled those nuns whom rumour had besmirched, but allowed others who were willing to renounce their evil lives and embrace the new Order to remain. (fn. 22) The king then sent to Fontevrault for a convent of nuns. They came to the number of 21 or 24 led by a former sub-prioress of Fontevrault. On 22 May they were installed by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the presence of the king and several bishops. The 30 nuns of the former foundation seem all to have been expelled. (fn. 23) Some nuns came from the sister house of Westwood (Worcs.) to join their French cousins. (fn. 24)
Gerald de Barry explains the circumstances of the refoundation as follows. In 1174 Henry had vowed to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem; three years later he sent to Rome to ask for absolution from it; he would found instead three monasteries; the Pope assented to the compromise and the king thereupon expelled the nuns of Amesbury and replaced them with others from overseas. With characteristic rancour Gerald adds that by this and like acts the king was able to carry out his pledge with little cost to himself. (fn. 25) Neither in this account nor in the foundation bull is there any mention of incontinence. Probably the moral state of the convent, if suspected, could not be established before the episcopal visitation; while to admit incontinence would have made Gerald's attack on Henry less pointed.
Amesbury was now no longer an isolated community but a part of an international Order directly subject to the Holy See. It was also under the patronage of the existing royal line. It profited from both connexions. Henry II granted a charter of wide scope, (fn. 26) bestowing Amesbury church upon the ordo and religio of Fontevrault and confirming to the nuns of Amesbury their Domesday manors (fn. 27) and the church of Letcombe. He also granted them de novo the capital manor of Nether Wallop (Hants) valued at £37, (fn. 28) the churches or chapels, with the tithe, of Amesbury, Bulford, Durrington, Maddington (Wilts.), Kintbury (including Inglewood and 'Godingeflode'), Denford, and Fawley (Berks.), tithes in Fosbury (in Tidcombe), Woodhill (in Clyffe Pypard), North and South Tidworth, 'Alletona', (fn. 29) Choulston, Rockley, Bromham, Newton Tony, and 'Deverell Puellarum' (fn. 30) (Wilts.), and in Hampstead Marshall (Berks.), lands in Boscombe, Ratfyn (in Amesbury), Brigmerston, Cholderton, 'Aldintona', (fn. 31) 'Wilsford', Milston, and Newton Tony (Wilts.), rent in Dauntsey (Wilts.), and 'Barroc' wood, (fn. 32) and pannage in 'Barroc' and Bentley woods and Chute Forest. The nuns were also suffered to take five cartloads of wood daily from Chute, Grovely, Winterslow, Bentley, and Wallop woods without impeachment of waste. (fn. 33) They were to hold their lands with wide judicial and administrative immunities, to be quit of toll, passage, and all other customs except justice of death and members, to be protected against molestation and only to be impleaded before the king himself. This charter was wholly or partly reissued or confirmed on twelve occasions between 1189 and 1512. In 1189 the abbey of Fontevrault received a grant from the Crown of the priories of Amesbury, Nuneaton (Warws.), and Westwood (Worcs.), and this was in like manner confirmed in 1198 and 1200, and frequently inspected at later dates. (fn. 34) It was paralleled by a papal confirmation of which a mutilated inspeximus of 1231 survives. (fn. 35) By a separate grant (not extant) the nuns received the increase of Shelveley mill (in Eling, Hants) in 1177-8. (fn. 36)
Henry also set to work to build a house and church for the convent. Boards, planks, and posts were brought from Southampton in 1178-9, timber from Lewes (Suss.) in 1182-3, lead from Shrewsbury (Salop) between 1182 and 1184, and there are many payments of a more general kind for works done to church and houses. (fn. 37) Altogether £880 was spent; so Gerald's claim that Henry fulfilled his vows cheaply is insubstantial. (fn. 38) On 30 November 1186 all was ready, and the nuns were installed in their new home in the presence of the king and the Abbess of Fontevrault. (fn. 39) During this time of preparation the king had furnished the nuns with bedding (calcitris) and wine in 1177-8 and more wine was sent in the year when the new buildings were opened. (fn. 40) Eleanor of Aquitaine on the king's death gave 20 marks for her late husband's soul and Richard I in 1189 £10 to buy corn. (fn. 41) Though old tradition affirms that male religious accompanied the nuns in 1177 there is no express mention of them before the charter of 1189. (fn. 42) A chaplain is first mentioned in 1180 (fn. 43) and a prior in 1194. In deeds of c. 1215, (fn. 44) 1221, (fn. 45) and 1228 (fn. 46) the prior conveys or attests jointly with the prioress—an arrangement which did not persist.
Some changes in the priory estates took place between the deaths of Henry II and John. In 1197 78 acres were acquired in Barford St. Martin. (fn. 47) In 1198 ½ hide in Wigley (in Eling, Hants) was quitclaimed to the prioress. (fn. 48) In 1199 Amiria, sister of Hugh Pantulf, an attendant upon and foster-child (domicilla et nutrita) of Eleanor of Aquitaine, gave the convent half Winterslow manor, its church and the curia capitalis of the town, and promised to take the veil and die within the convent. Eleanor confirmed the gift. (fn. 49) Already in 1192-3 Amiria had given half her land in Winterslow to Fontevrault Abbey. The gift of 1199, therefore, so far as it relates to that moiety, was presumably no more than the application of a precedent gift to the benefit of Amesbury. (fn. 50) John Bonet, perhaps he who was Undersheriff of Wiltshire 1202-7, gave 3 virgates in Durrington. (fn. 51) This was the nucleus of the convent's Durrington property which in 1420 had risen to 3 messuages and 6 virgates. (fn. 52) In 1215 Hugh de Nevill, crassus, quitclaimed Durrington chapel, which he appears to have been wrongly holding. (fn. 53) Between c. 1215 and c. 1220 the convent parted with some land in the parish of St. Peter in the East, Oxford, to Osney Abbey (Oxon.). (fn. 54)
There is little else by which to judge the convent's prosperity at this time. John decreed that the profits of Wiltshire in the year his mother died (1202) should go to the prioress to clear her debts. He gave her £18 out of the farm of Wilton for 1207. (fn. 55) In 1204 (fn. 56) the prioress gave the Crown 10 marks. (fn. 57) In 1208 the Pope intervened in an apparently protracted dispute between the convent and two citizens of Rome, to whom the former were in debt, ordering the repayment to a papal messenger of the principal without interest or damages. (fn. 58)
In 1203 the prioress was made the channel for paying to the Abbess of Fontevrault a rent out of the Exchequer for the support of a chaplain praying for the health of Eleanor of Aquitaine's soul. (fn. 59) A letter of June 1215 shows that during the then recent baronial turbulence the priory, with other religious houses, had been used for storing the royal treasure. (fn. 60)
Henry III maintained the Plantagenet interest in the Fontevraldines. He visited Amesbury in 1223, 1231, 1241, and 1256. (fn. 61) In 1223 he issued a writ for the protection of the convent's liberties. In 1228 he sanctioned the appropriation of Ludgershall rectory. (fn. 62) Estovers in Wallop wood (fn. 63) and the levy of swine in Chute Forest (fn. 64) were confirmed in 1223 and 1246 respectively. In 1270 the king inspected and renewed Henry II's charter. (fn. 65) These acts do not necessarily represent royal favour of a personal sort. Others, however, bear that interpretation. In 1224 10 marks were granted out of the Bishop of Salisbury's carucage, (fn. 66) and in 1230 and 1255 the prioress was authorized to raise an aid. (fn. 67) In 1231 firewood was granted out of Buckholt, Chute, and Grovely and 6 quarters of nuts out of Clarendon. More firewood came from Grovely next year for the priory kiln and from Chute in 1256. (fn. 68) Liveries of wine were made in 1241 and 1246. (fn. 69) In 1240 an accountant was allowed the cost of a gilt communion cup which the king had presented. (fn. 70)
Links with the royal house of a more personal kind began to be forged. Before 1233 Alpesia, the king's cousin, had been admitted as a nun. (fn. 71) In 1241 Eleanor of Brittany, who had died a nun of St. James's, Bristol, bequeathed her body to Amesbury. It was translated thither in the same year. (fn. 72) In 1268, for the repose of Arthur of Brittany (Eleanor's brother) and of his own sister Eleanor, the king gave to Amesbury the fee farm rent of £48 at which Amice, Countess of Devon, held Melksham manor for life. After the countess's death the convent were to hold the manor in free alms and to have estovers in Melksham, with the proviso that they should celebrate the obits of Arthur and Eleanor and eventually of the king and queen, and should render to the Exchequer any excess over the manor's computed annual value of £50. (fn. 73) This was probably the most valuable addition to the convent's property since the gift of Wallop.
With royal aid the buildings of the convent were enlarged. Timber was given in 1226 to build the infirmary chapel, (fn. 74) in 1231 to repair the cloister and the nuns' stalls, (fn. 75) in 1234-5 for work on the church, (fn. 76) and in 1241 and 1249 for unspecified uses. (fn. 77) In 1246 lead was granted to roof the church of the brethren. (fn. 78)
The convent continued to purchase from common persons or attract their bounty. In 1223 they leased the tithes of the Abbot of Hyde (Hants) in Maddington. (fn. 79) Abbot and prioress were neighbours in that manor. Three-quarters of a century or so later Amesbury was commemorated in the abbey church. (fn. 80) A pension of 6s. 8d. was paid regularly to the abbot in 1316-18. (fn. 81) The process of accumulating land in Amesbury itself began in 1237, when Henry the carpenter and Christine his wife gave a small estate. (fn. 82) In 1268 Roger le Convers gave 105 acres in West Amesbury. (fn. 83) In 1212 the priory lands in Barford were adjudged to the prioress after an assize of novel disseisin, (fn. 84) but a virgate and a half was given away in 1221. (fn. 85) In 1220 the prioress successfully maintained her claim to 4 carucates in Wallop against Peter Fitzherbert. Her title, however, seems to have been shaky, for in 1273 she purchased a quitclaim from a presumed descendant for 200 marks. (fn. 86) In 1227 the capital messuage and demesnes of the east end manor in Durrington were leased to the priory on stock and land lease terms for three years. (fn. 87) In 1267 Robert de Kareville, Treasurer of Salisbury Cathedral, bequeathed 5 marks to the convent. (fn. 88) In 1272 Alice de Heyham quitclaimed a messuage and lands in Biddesden (in Chute) and Berryfield (in Melksham). (fn. 89)
Despite a general disposition on Henry III's part to patronize the convent there are signs that during his reign the prioress encountered difficulties with the royal officers. Throughout Henry II's reign, in the early years of Richard I, and in 1227-8, the chartered privileges of the convent, duly exercised, were recognized at the Exchequer. (fn. 90) In 1236, however, the prioress found it necessary specially to claim the amercements of her men imposed at the Wiltshire eyre. The claim was allowed three years later. (fn. 91) It seems, however, that the Exchequer still hoped to contest it. At any rate in 1241 the Sheriff of Hampshire was directed to ascertain whether the prioress's privileges had in fact been used. It was found that they had, except that her men had paid toll in certain markets without the knowledge of prioress and convent. (fn. 92) In 1249 the Sheriffs of Wiltshire and Berkshire were enjoined not to distrain the prioress and her men for failure to contribute towards fines and amercements at the eyres. (fn. 93) This inhibition was issued on the ground that the prioress was quit of suit of shires and hundreds by charter, and is perhaps no more than a reiteration of the injunction of 1239.
In May 1255 the Sheriff of Wiltshire was ordered to amerce the prioress for defect of measures, next month to respite his demand until it had been established whether or not the prioress was exempt from such amercements. (fn. 94) A similar demand was respited in November next year until Easter 1257 when the prioress had a day on which to state her case for exemption at the Exchequer. (fn. 95) No proceedings in the Exchequer have, however, been traced.
Concerning relations with the mother house at this time not much can be collected. In 1221 the abbess corroborated with her seal a gift made by the convent. (fn. 96) Adela of Brittany, a member of the ducal house and Abbess of Fontevrault 1228-44, is said to have been brought up at Amesbury. (fn. 97) In January 1256 the convent was visited by John, the sacrist of Fontevrault. Calling prioress, prior, cellaress, chaplains, and lay brethren (conversi) before him, he audited the prior's accounts. The receipts were £100 from rent and £40 from wool. The issues exceeded them by £40, but the house was not in debt. It was short of corn. The convent consisted of a prioress and 76 nuns, a prior and 6 other chaplains, a clerk, and 16 lay brethren, living either on the spot or in granges. The house owned 200 oxen, 23 horses, 7 cows, 4 calves, 4,280 sheep, and 300 swine over a year old. Reckoning was also taken of 59 charters, 4 chalices of silver gilt, 2 silver cups, 2 silver crosses, and 2 censers. The record states that the last audit had been taken so recently as 21 September 1255, and, since Westwood was visited the next year, (fn. 98) it may be supposed that the English houses were then inspected fairly constantly.
The renown of Amesbury reached its zenith with the accession of Edward I, who retained the family affection for Fontevrault. Edward first went to Amesbury in 1275. (fn. 99) In 1285 Mary, his sixth daughter, then aged seven, entered the convent, and was ceremoniously veiled with thirteen noble ladies in the presence of her father and the whole royal family. From the first she was amply endowed with lands and from time to time received from the Crown further estates, and gifts of fuel and wine. Mary's life, the whole of which was spent as a nun of Amesbury, was spiritually unedifying, devoted, as it was, to travel, junketing, and dicing. The presence of so illustrious a person, however, helped to preserve a close connexion between the priory and the Crown. (fn. 100)
This connexion was reinforced by the entry of Eleanor of Provence into the priory a few months after her granddaughter. For some years she had been a visitor and patron. In 1279 she had procured a royal gift of fuel out of Clarendon Forest for the kiln (fn. 101) and in 1280 timber from Chute, Clarendon, and Melksham Forests for certain works she was having done. (fn. 102) In 1281 she moved the king to procure letters of protection for the convent. (fn. 103) It was she who persuaded the king to send Mary, for her lifetime, to. Amesbury in preference to Fontevrault, which had been the original choice. Eleanor of Brittany, another granddaughter, had already entered the convent. For her support the queen mother bought Chaddleworth manor and the advowson of Poughley Priory (Berks.). The manor was afterwards given to the convent, who in 1284 had licence to hold it in mortmain, (fn. 104) though it was arranged that Eleanor of Brittany should enjoy the issues for life. (fn. 105) Edmund, Earl of Cornwall, enlarged the gift by granting a rent and view of frankpledge. (fn. 106) Thus did the convent benefit permanently from the temporary endowments of its inmates.
Edward I visited Amesbury repeatedly—in March 1281, January and March 1286, October and November 1289, April 1290, and February 1291. (fn. 107) In June 1291 his mother died after winning a reputation for great piety, and the following September her body was buried in the convent church before the high altar in the presence of the king and most of the prelates and nobles. (fn. 108) An obit was founded in her memory at the king's instance and maintained for 36 years at the convent's expense, (fn. 109) and a rent out of lands in Combe and Littlecote (both in Figheldean) and Enford was given by William de Estdene for the salvation of her soul. (fn. 110) Eleanor of Brittany, who had been veiled at Amesbury in November 1291 in the king's presence, (fn. 111) migrated on her grandmother's death to Fontevrault, of which she ultimately became abbess.
The convent continued to secure and accumulate privileges and lands. In 1272 certain clauses of the charter of 1189 were inspected and exemplified, (fn. 112) and in 1281 the whole charter of 1179: (fn. 113) In 1286 in consideration of Mary's veiling the king granted view of frankpledge, amends of assizes of bread and ale, pillory, tumbril, gallows, amercements of the prioress's men, chattels of felons and fugitives, and murders; all of which were to be levied by the convent's own officers. The prioress and nuns were to plead all pleas of withernam in their lands and to have return of writs. (fn. 114) This charter no doubt reiterated in more modern and expressive language many of the privileges conceded by Henry II. A few days later the king, by two charters, granted the nuns free warren in their demesnes. (fn. 115)
In 1290, by authority of Parliament, the prioress was granted fines and reliefs of her men and tenants and issues of their lands, the right to take estovers in woods without view of the forest officers, the disafforestation of all her woods, and a general confirmation of the charters. (fn. 116) Henry III's gift of the Melksham rent was confirmed by Edward, who in 1274 successfully requested the Countess of Devon to lease the manor to the nuns at once, in consideration of their undertaking to answer first to her for its value over £48, and after her death to the king for its value over £50. (fn. 117) In 1276 they were excused the excess value over £30. (fn. 118) In 1280-1 the prioress became involved in litigation over the manor. On a quo warranto the Crown claimed that the foreign hundred of Melksham was not appurtenant to the mánor. (fn. 119) Evidence of judgement has not been found, but the difficulties were removed in 1285 by a comprehensive charter (fn. 120) which settled two major points of doubt: first, that return of writs extended to the foreign hundred; secondly, that the manor was ancient demesne. The charter also secured both hundred and manor to the convent for a rent of £30. By a separate instrument issued in 1285 this rent was reduced by £27 8s. (fn. 121) and £9 9s. of accumulated arrears were written off in 1291. (fn. 122) Finally Princess Mary lent her support to efforts that the convent made to ensure that its tenants in Melksham were not deprived of their common of pasture (and, in the original application, of their pannage) in the course of the arrentation of Melksham Forest Notwithstanding orders issued in 1301 and 1302 that the common rights were to be respected, (fn. 123) the prioress was still awaiting redress in 1305. (fn. 124)
Two contacts with Fontevrault at this time are worthy of report. Abbess Joan de Dreux or Brenne (1265-76), who had fallen into difficulties with her own convent, is said to have withdrawn to Amesbury on Edward I's advice, taking with her two nieces and another nun. She governed the Order from there. (fn. 125) In 1293 a vacancy in the office of prioress caused a conflict with the mother house. The convent held an election and filled the vacancy. Princess Mary (acting on behalf of the abbess) and the prior disputed the election, which, they claimed, belonged to Fontevrault. The newly elected prioress naturally asserted the rights of Amesbury. Certain prelates and nobles moved the king to intervene. He instructed the Bishops of Durham and Lincoln to choose a nun to join with them in the spiritual government of the convent pending a settlement. The temporalities, which had suffered in consequence of the dispute, were committed first to 'N. de C.' (fn. 126) and then to the Abbot of Stanley. (fn. 127) The king then asked the abbess to send one of her own nuns to Amesbury as prioress, and Joan de Gennes, a wise and vigorous woman, in whom her superior had great confidence, arrived in 1294. (fn. 128) Thereupon orders were issued for the surrender of the temporalities (fn. 129) and the king confirmed the election by letters patent— the first time, so far as is known, that this was done. The king had visited Amesbury in August 1293 soon after the commitment of the temporalities. (fn. 130) He visited it again in August 1294 (fn. 131) and found the new prioress conducting herself with energy. He found it necessary to remonstrate with the abbess, who appears to have tried to dispose of the temporalities over the prioress's head. (fn. 132)
These acts testify to Edward's continuing interest in Amesbury. His visits, however, became less frequent as he and Mary grew older, though he was there in 1297, 1302, and 1305. (fn. 130) On the last occasion he was accompanied by Margaret of France and a large train. (fn. 133) His last recorded gift of timber was in 1300. (fn. 134) His son to some extent maintained the family interest. On Edward I's death the princess Eleanor, daughter of Margaret of France, was admitted to the convent and put in charge of her aunt Mary. She died in Amesbury in 1311 in her fifth year. (fn. 135)
As an exempt house Amesbury from its refoundation had little enough to do with metropolitans or diocesans. Richard Poore, Bishop of Salisbury, visited it for an unknown purpose in 1220. (fn. 136) Pecham held an ordination there in May 1285, (fn. 137) and Peter Quivil, Bishop of Exeter, was there in July of that year. (fn. 138) In 1300 Amesbury refused, because of its exempt status, to contribute to the provincial subsidy for the Archbishop of Canterbury's expenses in Rome. (fn. 139) In 1303 Simon of Ghent, Bishop of Salisbury, enjoined the enclosure of the nuns in accordance with the bull Periculoso. (fn. 140)
War with France had broken out in 1294 and the king at once ordered that the Fontevraldine houses should be taken into his hand. They were restored, however, the same year, (fn. 141) and since the directions were given while the king was at Amesbury it is plausible to assume that Princess Mary moved the king. But though the priory did not suffer materially by the war, intercourse with the mother house must have been impeded. It has been surmised that it was in order to mitigate the consequences of this that the abbess, some time before March 1300, had appointed the Princess Mary her vice-gerent in England. (fn. 142) This appointment outlasted the war, which ended in 1303, and secured that when the next vacancy in the office of prioress occurred in 1309 the rights of the abbess were protected. This time there was no unauthorized election by the convent; but the succession was not without its difficulties. Mary asked the abbess to appoint an Amesbury nun. The abbess, however, favoured a French prioress and prior, and the claustral prioress was obliged to join with Mary in petitioning the king to veto the project. The efforts succeeded. (fn. 143) Mary's visitatorial functions lapsed in unexplained circumstances about 1317 and were only renewed in 1319 after Edward II had intervened with the Pope. (fn. 144) Mary herself continued as a nun of Amesbury until her death in 1332, when an obit was founded in her memory. (fn. 145) She never became prioress, though in 1463 the convent tried to claim that office for her. (fn. 146)
For the years 1315-18 there survive four receivers' accounts for the priory. They appear to cover the periods 12 May to 29 September 1315, 29 September 1315 to 11 April 1316, 11 April to 29 September 1316, and 29 September to 24 June 1318. (fn. 147) The receiver was evidently the chief accounting officer, though accounts are known also to have been kept by the prioress arid the preceptor. The receiver was doubtless answerable to Fontevrault, which he is known to have visited in 1317-18. Hugh the clerk paid a similar visit the same year to certify the state of Amesbury to the abbess. The visitors probably took with them the four documents, which are still preserved in France. Each account shows a small deficit and was perhaps retained on that ground. (fn. 148) These are the only obedientaries' accounts to survive. For the year 1333-4, however, we have part of an account kept by the household officers of Isabel of Lancaster, a nun of the cloister, (fn. 145) and for 1356-7 part of a minister's account for Melksham. (fn. 149) From these sources we can piece together something of the economy of the house in the middle years of the 14th century.
In 1315-16 the convent of nuns numbered 101, in 1316 105, and in 1317-18 117, in which totals are possibly included a few lay sisters. In 1316 12 sisters were in the infirmary. The male religious, known as 'the habit', were reckoned as 11 chaplains and clerks and 6 lay brethren in 1315-16, 12 chaplains, including the prior, in 1316, and 14 chaplains and clerks and 6 lay brethren in 1317-18. Two fresh clerks were ordained in 1315-16. Besides the prioress, the female officers of the convent consisted of a claustral prioress, an infirmarian, and a cellaress. Three male officers are named besides the prior: the preceptor, the dispensator or cellarer of 'the habit', and the receiver. From 1316 to 1318 the receivership was held by the prior. The prior did not necessarily hold his office for life; for there is a reference in 1316 to a former but still-living prior. The priory also had at least three male lay officials: a steward, and keepers of the liberties in Wiltshire and Berkshire. Most of the administrative work, however, was done by 'the habit', whose members were employed on various errands or acted as attorneys in the courts. It was the special function of the preceptor to buy food and necessaries for the convent and 'habit' and to pay the servants' wages. In 1356-7 the prior attended the tourns and hockday-court of Melksham manor and viewed the stock, and the preceptor and other brethren conveyed produce thence to Amesbury. Both prioress and prior had clerks of their own, cooks and the prioress's cook are mentioned in 1333-4, and in 1315-16 there were convent messengers who went that year to Paris, perhaps to take the Abbess of Fontevrault a gold tablet (tabula) that the prioress had had made for her. In 1315-16 there were two, and between 1316 and 1318 three, female boarders; Piers Gaveston's daughter, Joan, apparently also a boarder, died in the convent aged 15 in 1325; (fn. 150) and Isabel of Lancaster had several children living with her in 1333-4. In 1315-18 a few laymen were living in the convent, apparently as corrodians.
The brevity and inequality of the periods which they cover deprive the accounts of any real value as a means of computing the prosperity of the house. The account for 1315 records many sales of produce: the largest sums are for wool (£80) in Melksham, for corn (£43) in Letcombe, and for corn and beans (£29) in Wanborough. In the third period wool (£115 3s. 6d.) was again sold in Melksham—apparently for the clothing of the convent, for it was delivered to the preceptor— beans (£27 13s.) in Challow, and corn (£58 4s.) in Letcombe. In the fourth period 24 sacks of wool were sold for £156 6s. 8d. The convent larder appears to have been stocked from the manors of Amesbury and (in 1315-16) Bulford, and the convent cook to have purchased the fleeces and hides off the carcases. Visits were paid to Winchester fair in the first and third periods, presumably to buy necessaries. The convent was apparently self-subsistent except in the last period, when oats and a little meat had to be purchased. In 1356-7 straw, oats, wool, fleeces, cheese, 296 cocks, a cartload or more of hens, 6 cows, 20 pigs, and an ox were taken from Melksham for the convent's use and foals and lambs from that manor sold under the superintendence of one of the brethren.
The accounts of 1315-18 supply the most reliable list of the priory lands that exists between 1086 and 1541. The priory then enjoyed perquisites of courts in Alton (with Choulston), Amesbury, Barford, Boscombe, Bulford, Maddington (with Bourton, Elston, and Winterbourne Stoke), Melksham, Rabson, Chaddleworth, Fawley (with West Challow and Petwick), Kintbury (with Sheepbridge), Wallop, and Wigley; it also held lands in West Amesbury, Durrington, Fosbury, and Salisbury, Portsmouth (Hants), and Kempsford (Glos.), the churches or chapels of Aldbourne, Amesbury, Bulford, Durrington, Ludgershall, Maddington, Wanborough, and Letcombe Regis, and a portion in Clyffe Pypard.
Other documents of this generation serving as partial terriers are the charter of 1286 specifying the demesnes in which free warren is to be enjoyed and the Taxation of Pope Nicholas. From the former there are certain curious omissions, though at the same time places are included that do not figure in the accounts. The Taxation only covers spiritualities or temporalities in the archdeaconries of Berks and Salisbury. The pension or portion in Clyffe Pypard first appears c. 1291. (fn. 151) The Salisbury lands also appear first at this time. In 1301 the convent was pardoned for entering upon 2 messuages in the city given by Gilbert Shyne and Peter Quivil, sometime Bishop of Exeter. (fn. 152) The rectories of Aldbourne and Wanborough had evidently been appropriated shortly after the advowsons had been acquired in 1296 from the Earl and Countess of Lincoln. (fn. 153) The charter of 1286 is the earliest source for priory tenements in Cadnam and Winsor (in Eling, Hants), Seend, Seend Row, Whitley, Woodrow, Beanacre, and Woolmore, though the last six of these were mere appurtenances of the manor and hundred of Melksham. (fn. 154) The Taxation mentions that the priory enjoyed pensions in 'Aldyngton' (fn. 155) and Boscombe. The estates in West Amesbury had been enlarged in 1309. (fn. 156) The lands in Kempsford were presumably held on lease; in 1337 the priory was paying a quit-rent for the whole manor. (fn. 157)
In March 1317 the charters of 1179 and 1305, the latter a partial confirmation of the former, were inspected and confirmed. (fn. 158) Next month the charter of 1286 was likewise confirmed and the clause licet and quittance of chiminage and the expeditation of dogs added. (fn. 159) At the same time a Saturday market and a fair on the feast of St. Melor (probably 6 May) and the two preceding days were granted. (fn. 160) These are the last marks of royal favour for some time. In 1327 the convent tried to persuade Edward III to endow the chantry which they had founded for Eleanor of Provence. They prayed by bill in Parliament for a commission to ascertain the facts and this was granted in council. The commissioners found that Edward I had promised the convent £100 of land or rent to maintain the chantry but that neither he nor his son had fulfilled the pledge. The convent thereupon asked for Corsham manor or Kingsclere church (Hants), but nothing seems to have been done in pursuance. (fn. 161) A licence to acquire in mortmain lands to the yearly value of £20 was granted in 1336. (fn. 162) In 1343 there was a general confirmation of all the charters, including Edmund, Earl of Cornwall's, with the addition of the clause licet, and quittance of murage, pavage, picage, and barbicage was granted in extension. (fn. 163)
On Ascension Day 1327 36 professed nuns of the convent were consecrated by the Bishop of Bath and Wells. They included two future prioresses, Isabel of Lancaster and Margery of Purbrook, and representatives of local families such as Florack and Kytewyne. (fn. 164) Isabel was the daughter of Henry, Earl of Lancaster. In extreme youth she had been placed under the Princess Mary's protection and with her she went upon a pilgrimage. (fn. 165) Some picture of her early life is discernible from a fragmentary account which her officers kept in 1333-4. (fn. 166) This shows her to have been maintained by her friends in fair affluence with an establishment of her own. At times, however, she commoned with the nuns. She spent a considerable time away from the convent. She used her inheritance generously, partly for the convent's benefit. In the persons of her father and brother she brought new patrons. Their bounty replaced the royal favours that seem to have declined on the Princess Mary's death if not before. In 1331-2 Henry, Earl of Lancaster (d. 1345) was paying the prioress a pension at the rate of £9 yearly. (fn. 167) In 1343 the clause licet was added to the charters out of consideration for him. (fn. 168) In 1344 his son, also Henry, soon to become Earl of Lancaster in his turn, successfully moved the Pope to license religious to eat flesh at his sister Isabel's table. (fn. 169) Next year out of his affection for his sister he granted the convent the advowson of East Garston (Berks.), and secured a papal licence for the appropriation of the rectory. (fn. 170)
Apart from these Lancastrian privileges the priory's possessions were little augmented under Edward III and Richard II. In 1324 licence was granted for the acquisition of the rectory and advowson of Alderstone in Whiteparish, the priory finding in return two chaplains to celebrate in Shipton Bellenger church and Snoddington chapel (Hants). (fn. 171) It is, however, doubtful whether this licence took effect, for in 1339 the advowson and rectory were granted by a different donor to St. Edmund's College, Salisbury. (fn. 172) In 1327 the priory was holding in Shelveley a watermill, woodland, and other lands, where formerly they had only a rent. (fn. 173) In 1340 Gilbert de Berwyk was licensed to alienate East Winterslow manor to the convent in free alms, but it is doubtful whether he did so. (fn. 174) In 1383 four persons, at least two of them Amesbury men, conveyed 8 messuages, a watermill, and other lands in Bulford (fn. 175) under the mortmain licence of 1336. (fn. 176) In 1380 the convent had been licensed to alienate a rent in Bulford for the support of a chantry in St. Thomas's, Salisbury, for the souls of Edward III and of Robert de Godmanston of that city and members of his family. The conveyance of 1383 may have been some kind of compensation for this gift, though the newly acquired lands were of somewhat lower value. (fn. 177) In 1392 a small extension was made to the convent's wooding rights in Chute and Grovely. (fn. 178)
In 1333-4 the proctor of the Abbess of Fontevrault was visiting Amesbury. (fn. 179) Such visits were soon to be curtailed, for in 1337 war with France broke out again. As before, Amesbury did not itself suffer any confiscation of property, but in 1341 the king in a letter to the convent contested the abbess's right to exercise spiritual jurisdiction, to grant corrodies and liveries in the monastery, or to send to it nuns, brethren, chaplains, and other changeable visitors. The abbess was not expressly forbidden to introduce visitors but was to do so moderately and thus avoid overcharging the house. Her nuns were no longer to be admitted and corrodies were not to be granted at her bidding. (fn. 180) The Pope rallied to the abbess's support and in 1344 confirmed her possession of Amesbury, Wallop, Letcombe, Winterslow, and 'Arton' (? Alton). (fn. 181)
On the death of a prioress about 1349 the escheator took the temporalities into the king's hand, but in February 1349 was directed to amove it, as the king had learned that it had not been customary for his predecessors to enjoy the issues during a vacancy. (fn. 182) The convent none the less sought his licence to elect. The abbess was able to maintain a tenuous connexion with her English property through the Prior of Amesbury, who in 1355 visited the mother house (fn. 183) and in the two following years was her proctor in England. (fn. 184) After Bretigny the English estates were restored and the queen herself wrote to the abbess to ask her to instruct the prioress to appoint to the priorship William of Amesbury, whose character she extolled. The abbess at once sent a commissioner to England to install him. He arrived in the summer of 1361, did his office, made the prior swear allegiance to the abbess, and, but for the plague, would have held a congregation of English priors at Amesbury. In 1363 the Black Prince confirmed in general terms the gifts made to Fontevrault. (fn. 185) In 1365 the Prior of Amesbury conducted an inquiry on behalf of the abbess into certain crimes committed at Nuneaton. (fn. 186) No elections to the office of prioress were made during the renewed period of warfare with France between 1369 and 1374, but the pattern of future elections had now been set and was followed in 1379 and 1391. (fn. 187) In 1396 the election of Prioress Sibyl Montague was confirmed by the Pope instead of the Abbess of Fontevrault, who was in schism. (fn. 188) Between 1391 and 1399 Charles VI of France besought Richard II to clear off the arrears in the customary payments to Fontevrault and to suffer the English houses to be visited and corrected as had been done before the French wars. (fn. 189)
In 1347 the prioress contributed four sacks of wool towards the loan raised by Edward III. (fn. 190) If this was an unpalatable consequence of the French wars there was some compensation later in the year when the king granted her the custody of the alien priory of Ellingham (Hants), at a yearly rent of £4, so long as the war should last. (fn. 191) A conflicting commitment to the Prior of Ellingham next year was set aside in her favour. (fn. 192) In the same year the prioress was relieved at the Exchequer from paying £2 out of Wallop for a royal aid which had been demanded in the mistaken belief that that manor was held by knight service. (fn. 193) Perhaps the good relations and affinity between the Lancasters and the throne were responsible for these benefits. Richard II began to use the Amesbury revenues for the support of his friends and retainers. As a Crown right a nun was nominated at his coronation; (fn. 194) on the election of Margery of Purbrook the convent were ordered to pay a pension to a king's clerk; (fn. 195) and in 1382 the office of porter was granted as a corrody. (fn. 196)
Of the domestic life of the convent at this time there is little to relate. Twenty-eight nuns, besides the prioress, 8 brethren, one a priest, and one lay brother were rated to the poll tax of 1381. (fn. 197) If this represents the total strength of the convent, the population had fallen markedly since 1315-18. Indults to choose confessors were granted in 1353 and 1399 to nuns of the convent, in the latter case for the prioress herself. (fn. 198) In 1381 commissioners were directed by the Crown to arrest and deliver to the prioress her confrater, an apostate Austin friar, who in secular habit was wandering from place to place. (fn. 199) In 1397 papal absolution was granted to a nun of the convent who, after her profession, had borne a child to an unmarried man. (fn. 200)
The years of Sibyl Montague's government were troubled. In May 1398 the king commissioned nine persons, including the Bishop of Salisbury and Henry Chichele, to examine the government of the priory and reform it according to the ordinances and constitutions. (fn. 201) No return to this commission has been found and it is not therefore clear whether the changes that ensued were consequent upon its findings or whether it was the prioress's revolutionary proceedings that provoked the commission. It is known, however, that before January 1399 Prior Dawbeney had been expelled and that the prioress and convent were ranged against him and were submitting their case to the arbitrament of Archbishop Arundel. The archbishop had awarded the aged Dawbeney a weekly pension pendente lite, but, hearing rumours that Dawbeney had misconducted himself, he appointed commissioners to inquire into his life and morals. If Dawbeney was found innocent the convent was to continue the pension until there was a settlement. The commissioners summoned the disputants before them on 9 February in Amesbury church but only Dawbeney came. They also summoned certain brethren and servants of the convent and some neighbouring secular priests who had known Dawbeney when in office. All these testified to his character and declared that his removal had meant the loss of £200 to the house. Six of the elder and weightier nuns, interrogated on the same day, gave as good a testimonial. (fn. 202) This evidently convinced Arundel, and in October the convent was ordered to pay the pension from 8 September. (fn. 203)
Trouble was not over. On 14 March 1400 several hooligans, perhaps organized into two separate bands and including a Salisbury carpenter and Thomas North, a holywater-clerk, entered the convent about curfew and imprisoned the prioress. Two of them were said to have been incited to these outrages by a group of five nuns and three brethren who rang the convent bells to urge the malefactors on. (fn. 204) Three of the nuns and the three brethren (all aged 30 or so) were amongst those who had supported Dawbeney at the archiepiscopal inquiry; so the late prior had evidently gathered a faction around him. Two days later North entered the prioress's chamber, pulled her out of it and drew his bow upon the Under-sheriff of Wiltshire while doing his office. On the next day but one he similarly resisted the sheriff. (fn. 205) With remarkable dispatch the injured prioress caused a commission of inquiry to be issued on 16 March, which found the foregoing facts. (fn. 206) On 26 March a like commission was issued at the suit of her opponents. This alleged that not only had Sibyl expelled Dawbeney but that she had reduced the 12 'canons' to 4, replacing the remaining 8 by secular chaplains, had without the chapter's assent taken sole charge of the common seal which ought to have been in the joint custody of herself and two other nuns, and had wasted convent property to the value of £100. (fn. 207) The return to this commission cannot be found.
In May 1400 the king committed the government of the priory to a mixed body of clerks and laymen, most of them from the neighbourhood, until the dispute should end. (fn. 208) They were to keep the common seal and sustain the convent. In fact they wasted the property and in February next were superseded by Archbishop Arundel. (fn. 209) Shortly afterwards Arundel apparently commissioned the Prior of Christ Church, Canterbury, and the Archdeacon of Salisbury to visit the convent on his behalf. The results of the visitation, which seems to have been timed for 27 April 1403, are not known. (fn. 210)
The Abbess of Fontevrault is, not reported to have intervened in this business. The Hundred Years War had impaired the discipline and administration of her Order and ruptured her relations with England. In particular she could not visit the English houses and in 1413 the Pope commissioned the Bishop of Salisbury to exercise her visitatorial functions over Amesbury and Westwood. (fn. 211) It cannot be shown whether this measure was provoked by the events of 13981400 or was of a routine character. In any case there is no evidence that the bishop obeyed the injunction. (fn. 212) In 1432 the Bishop of Salisbury confirmed the priory in its spiritual property, (fn. 213) possibly to remove doubts occasioned by the French wars and the recent alienation of those possessions which Fontevrault held direct. On a change of prioresses in 1420 the sub-prioress and convent had again to submit to a royal congé d'élire and the temporary confiscation of the temporalities, (fn. 214) which were only restored after a protracted Exchequer suit. (fn. 215)
Thirty-seven years afterwards the whole Fontevraldine Order was to be stirred by the reforming zeal of Mary of Brittany, abbess from 1457 to 1477. Her plans developed slowly and by the time of her death only three houses, all in France, had been reformed. Her successor, however, Anne of Orleans, at once tried to revive the English connexion. Early in 1479 preparations were being made for a mission to the English houses. One of the priors of the Order was to go to England with a courteous letter of introduction to Edward IV, explaining the nature and history of the Order, and seeking the renewal of customary payments out of the Exchequer, licence to visit the convents in his kingdom, and other benefits. A terrier of the English property, so far as Angevin documents could show it, was prepared, and several ancient charters were hunted up and viewed. (fn. 216) Unhappily it is not known whether the proctor set sail or, if so, how he was received.
Next year the new constitutions promulgated by Sixtus IV were extended by the Pope to the whole Order. By these the office of prior was abolished and replaced by that of a confessor chosen in each convent by the prioress with the consent of the nuns after hearing the advice of the brethren. The confessor was not to meddle with the temporalities, which were to be in the charge of a secular proctor. (fn. 217) So far as Amesbury was concerned the new constitution may merely have regularized existing facts. No prior is known by name after Dawbeney's dismissal. After the commissions of 1400 and 1401 even the office is not mentioned if a single (presumably erroneous) allusion of 1531 (fn. 218) be excepted. On the other hand, the prioress appointed two proctors in 1400. (fn. 219) Licence to appoint confessors was granted in 1474. (fn. 220) The lesser brethren are no more in evidence than the prior. Chaplains and priests are indeed referred to, but these are to be expected in every nunnery. In actions at law the prioress was no longer represented by clerks. At least two of her three attorneys in Durrington manor court in 1428 were evidently laymen. (fn. 221) In 1474 she was represented by an Amesbury squire. (fn. 222) By contrast it was the prior who in 1325 had moved the same court to condone an offence for which she had been presented. (fn. 223) It is quite possible that by the Dissolution few could recall that the monastery had once been a double house or had had any connexion with Fontevrault. The last recorded contact with the mother house is in 1486, when Alice Fisher on her election as prioress sent her chaplain to the abbess with presents in token of submission. She received a friendly letter in reply, outlining the nature of the Order, confirming her in her office, and enjoining her to observe the statutes and to keep the obits of Robert d'Arbrissel, Henry II, Richard I, and Eleanor of Aquitaine. (fn. 224) Tanner asserted that the priory 'was at length made denizen and became again an abbey'. (fn. 225) Fontevrault certainly raised no recorded protest at the Dissolution, but there is no evidence of denization.
Concerning the spiritual and moral life of the convent in the last 140 years of its existence there is little to relate. In January 1409 the Bishop of Salisbury held a consecration in the priory church. (fn. 226) A papal indult was issued for the plenary indulgence of two nuns in 1423. (fn. 227) In 1424, 1429, and 1474 the Pope issued mandates for the absolution of nuns guilty of fornicating with male religious. (fn. 228) Such incidents may have encouraged the movement for reducing the size and influence of the male community. Secular ladies were doubtless also a disturbing influence. By direction of the Chancellor, Margaret, Lady Hungerford and Botreux, was in residence between 1459 and 1463. While she was there her lodgings, covered with lead, were burnt, and all her chattels to the value of £ 1,000 or more consumed. The restoration of the buildings cost her £200. (fn. 229) In 1474 the Pope relaxed in perpetuity 7 years and 7 quarantines of enjoined penance to penitents who should visit Amesbury at the Annunciation and the Invention of the Holy Cross from the first to the second vespers and give alms. In the priory church was a chapel of the Virgin with an image of the Saviour crucified, to which image Sir Thomas de la Mare and many others were said to resort. By the same instrument the prioress was licensed to choose confessors who should grant absolution to the pilgrims. (fn. 230)
It is not easy to assess the convent's economic condition, though the foregoing indulgence may indicate growing poverty. The grant of another corrody in 1403 is capable alike of indicating the convent's then prosperity or a reason for its decline. (fn. 231) In 1412 the prioress was amongst those summoned to appear before the papal nuncio for many years' arrears in papal procurations. (fn. 232) In July 1472 and August 1474 the collector of the royal tenth for Canterbury province was ordered to excuse the prioress from contributing because she could not afford the customary burden of £60. She was, however, to make a reduced contribution of £40. (fn. 233) It was presumably to help her out of her difficulties that in 1491 two yearly fairs in Nether Wallop and Melksham were granted to her. (fn. 234) On the other hand, in 1522 she was making an annual payment of £200 towards the cost of the French war, a sum equalling that paid by St. Mary's, Winchester, and exceeding the contributions of Romsey and Wherwell. (fn. 235) In 1527 the priory lost the patronage of Poughley Priory, which was suppressed and impropriated to Cardinal College, Oxford. (fn. 236) In 1535 the gross revenues were £558 10s. 2d. and the net £482 1s. 10d. Thus at the time of the Valor Amesbury was second in numbers and fifth in wealth among the nunneries of the realm. (fn. 237)
Perhaps the truth is that the priory fell on evil days in the earlier part of the 15th century, but restored its fortunes towards its close, partly, like other monasteries, by granting beneficial leases, of which there are a few examples. Bulford manor was let to farm in 1453. (fn. 238) All the demesne lands and rectories were so leased in 1535, except the demesnes of Amesbury and Barford. The evidence of inquisitions post mortem would also suggest that in its last years the priory held in service the manors of 'le Conygar' in Amesbury (1502), (fn. 239) Rockley (1471), (fn. 240) and Woolmore (1502). (fn. 241) Later inventories show that the priory held lands in these places but do not describe them as manors. The inquisitions also record tenements in service in North Tidworth (1487), (fn. 242) East Kennet (1509), (fn. 243) and Romsey (Hants) (1485), (fn. 244) but except for the last these are not again mentioned.
From the middle of the second decade of the century there is evidence of several bequests. Bishop Chandler of Salisbury left 40s. in 1427, (fn. 245) Robert Warmwell, citizen of Salisbury, 20s, to the prioress and 40s. to the convent for an obit in 1442, (fn. 246) Robert Hungerford 2 white damask copes in 1459, (fn. 247) Thomas Bundy 6s. 8d. to the prioress in 1492, (fn. 248) John Mompesson the elder a pair of embroidered satin vestments in 1500, (fn. 249) John Dicker of Wells sundry small gifts to the prioress and individual nuns in 1503, (fn. 250) Robert Maton of Durrington the like to the prioress, 'every lady householder and every lady veiled' in 1509. (fn. 251) Prioress Katharine Dicker gave rents of 30s. out of Maddington and Kintbury for a distribution to the nuns on her anniversary. (fn. 252)
In 1535 the yearly alms of the priory to the poor comprised a cask of red and a barrel of white herrings (19s.), a bread dole of 12 bushels of corn and 12 of barley at Quinquagesima (16s.), and 4 quarters of barley on St. Thomas the Martyr's day (£1 8s.)—all distributed for the souls of Henry II and other founders. (fn. 253) The lands in West Amesbury were charged with a rent of £2 to Lacock Abbey—doubtless the same rent as that which was valued at £1 in 1340-1. (fn. 254) A rent of 2s. was also paid to the priory at Easton. (fn. 255) At an uncertain datea corrody of £1 14s. 8d. had been granted to the Prior of Ivychurch and was accounted for in 1535-6. (fn. 256) Other issues included fees and allowances payable to the three leading servants of the convent. These were Tristram Fauntleroy, the chief steward, doubtless a kinsman of a former prioress, Robert Sewey, the receiver general, and Richard Matthew, the auditor and deputy steward. (fn. 257) To Fauntleroy the tithes of North Tidworth had been leased for 60 years in 1525. (fn. 258) Sewey appears to have succeeded John Huddesfeld, a man of substance and from 1517 the co-lessee for 41 years of the rectorial tithe of Durrington. In his will made in 1528, many years before his death, he speaks of his 'partner' John Beltton or Bolton, who shared the Durrington tithes with him and served the parish church of Amesbury. (fn. 259)
There is little in this period to suggest that the Crown kept up a personal link with the priory. Henry VI visited the priory in 1435 and in 1501. (fn. 260) Princess Katharine of Aragon on her way from Exeter to London was met by a party of bishops, lords, and ladies 4 miles on the Shaftesbury side and conducted to the 'abbey' for the night of 2 November. (fn. 261) The charters were renewed in 1423,1463,1488, and 1512, and the prioress was included in a general pardon of 1510. (fn. 262)
On 29 March 1539 John Tregonwell, (fn. 263) William Petre, and John Smyth visited the convent after taking the surrenders of Shaftesbury and Wilton. They failed to persuade the 'abbess' Florence Bonnewe to surrender. She declared that if the king commanded her to leave her house she would gladly go, though she begged her bread; she cared for no pension and only asked to be left in peace. In August other commissioners visited the convent and successfully moved the prioress to resign. They told Cromwell this on 9 August without delay, so that if he chose to prefer his nominee to the vacancy he might not be anticipated. Florence Bonnewe reported her resignation to him next day and applied for a pension 'during the litle tyme that it shall pleas God to graunte me to lyve'. Her name, however, is absent from the first pension list. On 4 December next Joan Darrell surrendered the priory to yet another body of visitatorial commissioners who found the prioress and her sisters 'very conformable'. There is a difficulty about the last two prioresses. Florence Bonnewe was holding office probably in 1530 and certainly in 1535 and 1539. It has therefore usually been concluded that her tenure was continuous until Joan Darrell's brief term began. It is known, however, that on 22 March, 1537 Cromwell received a fee for the election of a prioress. (fn. 264) It is also on record that on 8 September 1533 Joan Darrell as prioress leased the reversion of Rabson manor and other lands, (fn. 265) and that on 20 January 1538 she granted John Butler of the Exchequer an annuity out of the priory's Wiltshire lands for good counsel and favours due. (fn. 266) Joan was presumably a resident in the priory of some years' standing; for she had her own chamber there and was therefore either a privileged nun or a lodger. Did she enjoy some brief spell of supreme authority before she was put in to engineer the surrender?
The clear yearly value of the monastery at the surrender was £525 9s. 3½d. Silver gilt (206 oz.), silver parcel gilt (140 oz.), and silver white (312 oz.) were reserved to the Crown. By patent of 4 February 1540 pensions to the total value of £258 6s. 8d. were granted to the prioress (who received £100 as her share) and to 33 nuns, (fn. 267) several of whom bore local names. (fn. 268) Twenty-one nuns were still receiving pensions in 1555-6 (fn. 269) and one (Cecily Eyre) as late as 1605. (fn. 270) Aubrey repeated an old wives' tale that one of the nuns lived to be 140. (fn. 271) Certain ad hoc payments were made to 33 nuns additionally and to 4 priests and 33 servants for their wages and liveries. (fn. 272)
In 1541 the Wiltshire lands of the priory consisted of Amesbury manor and rectory with tithes in Ratfyn; rents, sheep pasture, a fishery, two inns, three mills, and the gate house or porter's lodge in Amesbury, all appurtenant to the monastery site; tolls of St. John's fair; Bulford manor and rectory with a mill and tithes there and in 'Hindurington'; Melksham manor and hundred with churchscot, rents, certainties of tourns there and in 'Ile', Bowerhill and Newtown (in Melksham), Beanacre, Whitley, Shaw, Woodrow, Woolmore, Seend Row, Seend, Poulshot, and Bulkington; sheriff's aid in Hilperton and Erlestoke and a fishery, a forge in Melksham, and two mills in Beanacre; Maddington manor and rectory with rents appurtenant in Winterbourne Stoke and Bourton; Barford St. Martin manor, and tithes in North Tidworth; the capital messuage of Biddesden and lands there and in Berryfield; the advowson of Ludgershall and a pension out of the rectory; Durrington rectory; 'Alton' (fn. 273) rectory and demesnes; Choulston manor; the rectories, rectorial manors, and advowsons of Wanborough and Aldbourne; Rabson manor with tithes in Woodhill and Rockley; rents in Orcheston St. George, Salisbury, and Enford; tithes in Milston; Boscombe manor with tithes; and tithes, certainties, and courts in Newton Tony. The Hampshire lands comprised Nether Wallop and Fifehead (in Nether Wallop) manor, with rents in Over and Nether Wallop, Oakley (in Mottesfont), a meadow by Romsey, 400 rams, and the tithe of their wool in Wallop, certainties, and the tolls of Danebury Hill fair in Nether Wallop; the capital messuage, certainties, and courts in Wigley with rents there and in Shelveley, Cadnam, and Winsor. The Berkshire lands comprised the manor of Kintbury Amesbury, the rectory and advowson of Kintbury, with a mill, fishery, pannage of pigs, and rents, and churchscot in Clopton, Elcot, and Walcot (in Kintbury) and out of lands in Hurst, Hinton (in Hurst), Didenham (in Shinfield), and Farley (in Swallowfield); Chaddleworth manor; Fawley manor and rectory; West Challow and Petwick manor with the rectory of and rents in West Challow; Letcombe Regis rectory and advowson, tithes of East Challow chapel, and East Garston rectory and advowson.
The priory buildings had before 22 April 1540 been committed to Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford. He exchanged them with the Crown together with the priory lands in Amesbury itself (fn. 274) and certain priory woods in Buckholt (in Wallop) by indenture of 16 February 1541 confirmed by letters patent next April. (fn. 275) Sir Thomas Seymour received most of the Melksham lands and the advowson and rectory of West Challow. (fn. 276) The rectories of Durrington, Wanborough, Aldbourne, Letcombe, and East Challow, tithes in Tidworth, and the advowsons of Letcombe and Wanborough went to the Dean and Chapter of Winchester. (fn. 277) The rest of the property was subdivided.
The precinct of the priory, with its paled park (containing the graveyard), gardens, orchards, and fishponds, covered 12 acres. The buildings lay athwart the site on which the present mansion stands and therefore some 220 yards from the parish church and village street. The ground plan cannot be reconstructed, but we know a little of the individual buildings. (fn. 278) The great church of the monastery consisted of a nave (120 ft.), choir (51 ft), north and south transepts (39 and 40 ft.), all with pitched leaden roofs, and a vestry (22 ft.), with a flat leaden roof. There were chapels, similarly roofed, dedicated to Our Lady (32 ft.) and St. John, as befitted a church of the Fontevraldine Order. (fn. 279) The choir roof was ceiled; the transept and vestry roofs were timbered. The choir, south transept, and vestry, or parts of them at least, were tiled. An octagonal steeple, timber-framed and coated with lead, measured 61 ft. Each side of the octagon was 10 ft. at the base and tapered to 6 in. at the top. Four bells (weighing 14 cwt.) hung in the steeple. (fn. 280) Before the high altar and in the north transept there were tombstones. There was a door in the south transept and possibly another on 'the coventsyde'.
The main conventual buildings consisted of a cloister, with a flat timber-framed roof covered with lead, each tiled walk measuring 104 by 12 ft. and flanked by low stone seats; a frater (100 by 15 ft), a tiled dorter (200 by 18 ft), with 'partitions' below, each with a flat leaden roof; a tiled chapter-house; a 'Jesse' (identified by Sir H. Brakspear with the reredorter) (110 by 16 ft), (fn. 281) with flat leaden roof, which contained Mistress Darrell's ceiled chamber, and, at the lower end, Mistress Warder's chamber; (fn. 282) a convent kitchen, probably stone-roofed, (fn. 283) and a hall (70 by 14 ft), similarly roofed, which was connected to the kitchen by a 'little entry' with a leaded spiral staircase. There were perhaps two convent kitchens, for a 'new' one was eventually reroofed with lead from other parts of the buildings. The hall is perhaps the same as the 'leaden hall' with a wooden floor upon which on the garden side two chambers abutted. There are, however, also references to a little chamber called 'the leaden chambers'. The convent kitchen formed one side of a quadrangle around which the prioress's lodging, consisting of hall, buttery, pantry, kitchen, and gatehouse, was ranged. An abbess's chamber (24 by 14 ft.) with flat leaden roof is mentioned, but its relationship to this range is not clear, and Prioress Joan Darrell seems to have lived in the 'jesse'. There were also lodgings for steward, receiver, and priests. Kent's chamber (65 by 10 ft), (fn. 284) with flat leaden roof, Joan Horner's chamber, with a roof crested with lead, the ceiled White Chambers, Jane Hildesle's and Maurice Halcombe's chambers, all the last three having wooden floors, and Christine Hildesle's parlour chamber, with a partition and a little buttery in it, occur. There are also references to a tiled parlour (22 ft square), sometimes called the 'old' parlour, with a leaden 'bastard' roof and an inner chamber in it; a sacristy with lodgings adjacent; the 'old' infirmary, with chapel, cloister, and adjacent lodgings and outhouses. The infirmary cloister is perhaps the same as the 'little cloisters', beside which were two chambers, one tiled and the other measuring 17 by 15 ft. Finally there are references to the chapel chamber, the high hall chamber, the 'long stake' with a haybarn adjoining, and the 'old' stables of 4 rooms, built of stone with a tiled 'cutting' at one end; a wheat barn, the 'great barn', a gatehouse and houses in the base court, a bakehouse, a laundry, Master Homer's house and chambers with leaden roof, and the Middle House by the Park. The last was built of stone, roofed with slates, and was of two floors with a staircase.
The chief profit from the monastery buildings was the lead (230 fothers) which was sold to Hertford. The metal sheeting was stripped first from the spire and melted in the frater. The roofs of such other buildings as were considered superfluous were removed in August and September 1542 and 'cast' in the 'mydquere'. A plumbery was formed for these operations. Glass, iron, timber, grain-stone, gravestones, and large quantities of tiles, whole and broken, were sold. The chapel chamber was used to keep safe the glass and iron. The north transept was used as a dump, first for tiles, and then for timber.
The spire was pulled down in April 1541 and its timbers fired with gunpowder, doubtless to ease the removal of the lead. Later a part of the great cloister was broken down. Otherwise, however, even the 'superfluous' buildings do not seem to have been systematically destroyed. The great houses of the monastery were 'in great ruin and decay' by 1560, and the priory church was still a source from which Lord Hertford could take stone and lead. (fn. 285) The receiver's house still stood in 1590. (fn. 286) The prior's lodging, the long stable and adjacent hay-barn, the wheat-barn, the bakehouse, and gate-house in the base court had all been reserved for Lord Hertford's use and are conjectured to have formed the nucleus of his house when it was repaired in the early 17th century. (fn. 287) At this time, as Inigo Jones records, a stone coffin containing a corpse, richly apparelled, was found. Built into a wall the coffin was still visible in 1662. (fn. 288) Lord Hertford's house was rebuilt in 1661 and with it went most vestiges of the priory buildings. The Duchess of Queensberry busied herself in overthrowing some old walls in 1733. Some walls with round-headed windows which stood between the west front of the mansion and the river could be remembered by old people living in 1853. A piece of loopholed wall which still stands near Grey Bridge is thought to have been part of the precinct boundary; and the old vicarage which until the end of the 19th century stood partly on the site of the Antrobus burial ground is said to have been another relic. Some old stones and a 'niche' were still embedded in the vicarage garden wall in 1926. (fn. 289)
Building operations in 1840 exposed some tiled paving and other medieval remains and thus established anew the forgotten fact that the mansion stood upon part of the priory site. In 1859-60 the foundations of a room (c. 25 × 21 ft.), paved throughout with 13th-century tiles, some of them decorated with the arms of patrons of the convent, were uncovered, together with smaller traces of other rooms less elaborately paved. Edward Kite, who recorded the excavations, suggested that they had formed part of the infirmary, though on unconvincing grounds. (fn. 290) W. C. Kemm, who had already furnished a less particular description, argued that they marked the site of the chapterhouse. (fn. 291) In later years excavations appear to have been extended eastward and the tiled pavement was found to continue. (fn. 292) The abundance of tiles found during these excavations and the reappearance of the same designs in other places near Amesbury have led to the belief that there was a tile factory attached to the priory. Red and white clay is available on the spot and a kiln existed in 1256. (fn. 293) It has been conjectured that the manufacturers were monks from Stanley. (fn. 294)
In 1867 Canon Jackson advanced the theory, apparently for the first time, that the existing parish church might be the original convent church. (fn. 295) In 1876 J. H. Parker asserted the view more positively, and his, assertion, though persuasively combated, has been frequently repeated. (fn. 296) Some have held that the building might have been the church of the Benedictine Abbey, superseded in 1177 by a more splendid building for the nuns, but continued as a place of worship for the brethren, (fn. 297) and subsequently for the parishioners. This theory is without documentary support, though it is clear that in 1246 (fn. 298) the brethren had a separate church of their own. The considerable distance separating the present parish church from the remains discovered in 1840-60 is an objection to identifying it with the nuns' church. At the present time the controversy must be regarded as unsettled.
One strand of the Arthurian legend represents Queen Guinevere as withdrawing to and dying in an abbey. (fn. 299) In the old French Mort Artur this abbey is anonymous. (fn. 300) The 14th-century English metrical romance, however, Le Morte Arthur, identifies it with Amesbury. (fn. 301) The identification was given wider publicity in Malory, who in this part of his narrative is considered to have drawn upon the same source as the 14th-century versifier. He embroiders the story with the details that she wore a white and black habit, fasted, prayed, and did alms deeds, finally became abbess, and was carried by Lancelot and his companions to Glastonbury for burial. (fn. 302) Tennyson embodied Malory's version in the Idylls of the King and so impressed it upon the public mind. (fn. 303) The legend is of no importance in itself, but it doubtless had a considerable propaganda value at the time it was coined.
Abbesses of Amesbury
(?) Heahpled, 979 × 1013. (fn. 304)
Beatrice, occurs 1177. (fn. 305)
Prioresses of Amesbury
Joan d'Osmont, traditionally the first prioress, occurs temp. late Hen. II. (fn. 306)
Felise, occurs 1227 and 1237. (fn. 309)
Alice, occurs 1290. (fn. 312)
Margaret, occurs 1293. (fn. 312)
Joan de Gennes, appointed 1294, occurs 1309.
Priors of Amesbury
John, occurs 1194. (fn. 339)
Robert, occurs 1198. (fn. 340)
John de Vinci, occurs 1227. (fn. 343)
Th. occurs 1255. (fn. 344)
Peter, occurs 1293. (fn. 345)
John of Figheldean, occurs ante Apr. 1316. (fn. 346)
William of Amesbury, instituted 1361. (fn. 350)
John Winterbourne, occurs c. 1379. (fn. 351)
Robert Dawbeney, occurs ante 1399. (fn. 352)
No impression of the common seal of the priory
is known. An engraving of a seal similar to but not
the same as the seal of Prioress Isabel of Lancaster
described below which bears the legend
S. PRIORISSE ET CONVENTUS DE AMBRESBURI
is reproduced by Hoare. (fn. 353)
In 1292 the king ordered the prioress and convent to send their common seal, then newly made, by the hand of one of their people qualified to explain the reasons for making it and during its impoundage to use their old seal. (fn. 354) The wording of the mandate suggests that this had something to do with the disputed election of 1293.
The pointed oval seal of Prioress Ida, 13/8 by 7/8 in., shows a full-length robed and veiled figure between four small stars. The legend reads:
SIGILL. SECRET. YDE. XPI. ANCILLE. (fn. 355)
The pointed oval seal (c. 2 by 13/8 in.) of Prioress Isabel de Geinville shows the prioress, kneeling, looking to the dexter. Above is a king, seated, flanked by two banners, that to the sinister charged with a fesse. The prioress grasps the, dexter banner. The two figures are surmounted by a rounded canopy with crocketed pinnacles, enclosing a square-headed canopy. Above the canopy is a church. The legend reads:
. . . ELLE GENNVIL PRIORISSE AMBRISB . . . (fn. 356)
The pointed oval seal (c. 2½ by 15/8 in.) of Prioress Isabel of Lancaster shows the prioress standing in a carved niche, a sceptre in her left hand; on the tracery at each side a shield of arms: quarterly 1, 4 France, ancient, 2, 3 England (dexter); party palewise Plantagenet and Chaworth (sinister): above 2 seated figures (? the Coronation of the Virgin). The legend reads:
S. ISABELLE D . . . ABRESBURI [sic] (fn. 357)
A pointed oval counterseal of the same is of very similar design but without any legend or representation of the Coronation of the Virgin. (fn. 358)
A seal about 2 in. long, stated to be that of Prior John de Vinci, with illegible device and legend, exists at Winchester College. (fn. 359)
The seal of Princess Mary, as the Abbess of Fontevrault's vice-gerent in England, shows the princess, kneeling, looking to the sinister, between the arms of England (dexter) and Castile and Leon (sinister). Above are the seated figures of a man and woman, the former crowning the latter— ? the Coronation of the Virgin. No legend. (fn. 360)
A book of hours, two psalters, a breviary, a copy of Lydgate, and an exhortation in English, all surviving, are believed to have belonged to the priory library. (fn. 361) The book of hours contains a calendar in which some characteristic Fontevraldine saints are commemorated.