Houses of Benedictine monks: The priory of Snelshall

A History of the County of Buckingham: Volume 1. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1905.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.

'Houses of Benedictine monks: The priory of Snelshall', in A History of the County of Buckingham: Volume 1, (London, 1905) pp. 352-353. British History Online [accessed 12 April 2024]

In this section


There is no record of the existence of this priory earlier than 1219 (fn. 1); and the charter of confirmation granted by Henry III. in 1228 names Ralf Martel as the founder, and donor of the demesne land with the chapel of Tattenhoe. Several smaller benefactions were confirmed at the same time, but they are not connected with any well-known names. The priory was dedicated to St. Leonard, and it is probable that it was never intended to support more than about half a dozen monks. Like the other Benedictine houses of this county, it has very little history. A visitation of Bishop Burghersh, dated 1321, (fn. 2) describes it as so poor that the monks had scarcely the necessaries of life, and had to beg even for these; an indulgence was granted at this time to those who should contribute to their support. Again in 1490 (fn. 3) the prior of Snelshall was presented to the archdeacon for not paying tithes to Shenley Church for lands which lay in that parish. In 1529 Bishop Longland (fn. 4) visited the house and evidently found some irregularity amongst the two or three monks who remained. He ordered the prior, William Maltby, on pain of deprivation, to observe the purpose of the foundation and to see that others did the same: and enjoined him also within ten days to dismiss all women, married or unmarried, from the precincts of the monastery, (fn. 5) retaining only two of more than forty-eight years and of unexceptionable character as servants. There were to be three brothers in the house besides the prior, and no strangers were to be entertained except in the way of hospitality.

In 1535, after the passing of the first Act of Suppression, the local commissioners reported that there were only three monks in the house, two priests and one only a novice, and none of them guilty of immorality; that there were eight servants also living in the monastery, as well as the prior's father and mother, who had brought all their goods with them, and hoped to spend their old age there. The house was said to be 'wholly in ruin': but it was not in debt. (fn. 6)

William Maltby, the prior, with two monks had signed the Acknowledgment of the Royal Supremacy in the same year. (fn. 7) At the surrender of the house, which must have been before 28 July, 1535, he received an annual pension of £5. (fn. 8)

The original endowment of the priory by Ralf Martel comprised the land on which it stood, with 'husbote and haybote' in the woods of Tattenhoe, sufficient for fuel and building purposes, and of underwood enough for making bread and beer, and quittance of pannage for hogs. The chapel of Tattenhoe was also granted to the monks with a virgate of land, and some small parcels of land in the neighbourhood and in Northamptonshire. (fn. 9) The temporalities of the priory in 1291 amounted to £8 14s. 8d. (fn. 10); the chapel of Tattenhoe seems only to have been worth 13s. 4d. A taxation of 1383 only amounted to £6 19s. 3d. besides the chapel. (fn. 11) The commissioners of 1535 reported the clear value of the monastery to be £18 1s. 11d.; on the second survey £19 14s. 8d.; bells, lead, etc., were worth £10 16s. 8d. (fn. 12) The Minister's Accounts of the same year give a total of only £15 7s. 10d. (fn. 13)

Priors of Snelshall

William, (fn. 14) occurs 1219

Hugh, (fn. 15) occurs 1226

Nicholas, (fn. 16) occurs 1232

John, (fn. 17) occurs 1240

Hugh of Dunstable, (fn. 18) elected 1251, resigned 1272

Warin, (fn. 19) elected 1272

Nicholas of Hanslope, (fn. 20) resigned 1300

Richard of Eye, (fn. 21) elected 1300, resigned 1302

Nicholas of Hanslope (fn. 22) re-appointed 1302, died 1319

John of Conesgrave, (fn. 23) elected 1319

Hugh of Leckhampstead, (fn. 24) elected 1334, died 1357

Richard de Nibbeley (fn. 25) (or de Nuble), elected 1357, died 1367

Roger of Oving, (fn. 26) elected 1367, died 1393

John Middleton, (fn. 27) elected 1393

Simon London, (fn. 28) resigned 1431

William Whaddon, (fn. 29) elected 1431

Hugh Fuller, (fn. 30) occurs 1461

John Medburn, (fn. 31) occurs 1478

John Wells, (fn. 32) occurs 1488, resigned 1492

Thomas Broke, (fn. 33) elected 1492, resigned 1503

Hugh Brecknock, (fn. 34) elected 1503, died 1529

William Maltby, (fn. 35) last prior, elected 1529

A seal of this priory is attached to the Acknowledgment of Supremacy (No. 105). It is in red wax and represents a prior standing with a staff in his right hand and an open book in his left. Legend: S. PRIORIS ET C . . . DE SNELLESHALL.


  • 1. Chron. of priory of Dunstable (Hearne ed.), ii. 680.
  • 2. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Burghersh, 39d.
  • 3. Dugdale, Mon. iv. 233 (from visitations of Bucks).
  • 4. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Longland, 196d.
  • 5. This does not necessarily imply that there had been scandal, but only that there had not been proper care to avoid scandal. Bishop Longland was not in the least afraid of making plain and simple accusations when necessary. The local commissioners of a few years later report quite simply—'Monks three, incontinent none.'
  • 6. Browne Willis, Hist. of Abbies, ii. 36, 7.
  • 7. P.R.O. Acknowledgment of Supremacy No. 105.
  • 8. Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. 232, f. 29. The pension was to begin from 28 July, so that the house must have been dissolved before that date.
  • 9. Cal. of Chart. R., i. 67, and Dugdale, Mon. iv. 235.
  • 10. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.).
  • 11. Dugdale, Mon. iv. 233.
  • 12. Dugdale, Mon. iv. 234, from Browne Willis.
  • 13. Ibid.
  • 14. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), iii.
  • 15. Dugdale, Mon. iv. 233.
  • 16. Ibid.
  • 17. Feet of F. Bucks, 14 Henry III. 4.
  • 18. Linc. Epis. Reg. Rolls of Grosstête.
  • 19. Ibid.
  • 20. Ibid. Memo. Dalderby, 12.
  • 21. Ibid. Inst. Dalderby, 175.
  • 22. Ibid. 176.
  • 23. Ibid. 192d.
  • 24. Ibid. Memo. Burghersh, 281d. A disputed election.
  • 25. Linc. Epis. Reg. Inst. Gynwell, 264d.
  • 26. Ibid. Inst. Bokyngham, i. 414.
  • 27. Ibid. ii. 408.
  • 28. Ibid. Inst. Gray, 45.
  • 29. Ibid.
  • 30. Dugdale, Mon. iv. 233.
  • 31. Ibid.
  • 32. Ibid. 234, and Linc. Epis. Reg. Inst. Russell, 126d.
  • 33. Ibid.
  • 34. Ibid. Inst. Smith, 371.
  • 35. Ibid. Inst. Longland, 197d.