Houses of Benedictine nuns: The priory of Ivinghoe

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

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'Houses of Benedictine nuns: The priory of Ivinghoe', A History of the County of Buckingham: Volume 1, (London, 1905), pp. 353-355. British History Online [accessed 24 June 2024].

. "Houses of Benedictine nuns: The priory of Ivinghoe", in A History of the County of Buckingham: Volume 1, (London, 1905) 353-355. British History Online, accessed June 24, 2024,

. "Houses of Benedictine nuns: The priory of Ivinghoe", A History of the County of Buckingham: Volume 1, (London, 1905). 353-355. British History Online. Web. 24 June 2024,

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The date of the foundation of this priory is very uncertain, but it seems on the whole most probable that it was in existence before Ankerwyke or Little Marlow. It was most commonly called the priory of St. Margaret's in the Wood. Leland gives the tradition that it was founded by Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winchester, about the year 1160: but a charter of St. Thomas of Canterbury given in Dugdale confirms the grants of William, Bishop of Winchester, who died in 1129, confirmed by Henry de Blois his successor. (fn. 1) The manor of Ivinghoe had for a long time been part of the endowment of the see of Winchester, even before the Conquest. (fn. 2)

The benefactors of the priory were not numerous, either in its earlier or later days: (fn. 3) in the thirteenth century King Henry III. granted to the nuns the church of Merrow in Surrey, (fn. 4) with other smaller gifts, such as an annual fair on the feast of St. Margaret, and ten acres of assart in Hemel Hempstead. (fn. 5) There are several allusions in the episcopal registers to the poverty of this house, and in 1277 the prioress seems to have been thankful to be acquitted even of so small a fine as two marks, which she had incurred by privately settling a dispute which ought to have come before the king's justices. (fn. 6)

The priory was dissolved under the first Act of Suppression, and contained at that time only five nuns, of whom three were novices. The prioress, Margery Hardwick, received a pension of £4. (fn. 7)

Bishop Dalderby granted indulgences on three different occasions (fn. 8) to those who should give alms for the maintenance of the 'poor nuns of St. Margaret's priory'; from which we may surely infer that he had visited the house and was satisfied with its condition in other respects. (fn. 9) Poverty and obscurity are indeed in no sense a reproach to a convent of nuns. Again in the fifteenth century (during which only two names of prioresses can at present be recovered) there is indirect evidence of the faithful observance of the Benedictine rule in this house. During the episcopate of Bishop Alnwick a nun of some years' standing at the Augustinian priory of Grace Dieu sought and obtained permission to leave her own monastery and retire to St. Margaret's, Ivinghoe. After she had actually gone there, her original superior sent and fetched her back again; whereupon she appealed to the bishop. He examined the matter, and finding that she had made the change not from levity of mind, but from a motive always sanctioned by the Church— the desire, namely, of passing a minore religione ad majorem, causa arctioris aut durioris vitae—ordered that she should be allowed to remain at St. Margaret's. (fn. 10) Bishop Alnwick was an energetic visitor of the monasteries in his diocese, (fn. 11) and would soon have discovered if the priory of Ivinghoe did not really offer to the nun in question the stricter life which she desired.

Bishop Longland visited the house in 1530 (fn. 12) and found there a prioress with three or four nuns. The house was said to be in debt, but under no other reproach, except that one of the ladies had visited her friends without permission, and stayed away from her monastery from the Feast of St. Michael till Passion Sunday in the next year. She was enjoined not to go out again without permission from the prioress: and for a penance she was to say the seven penitential psalms every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday, with an additional Pater, Ave and Credo every day. (fn. 13)

In 1535 the local commissioners found five nuns here, of whom two were professed and three only novices: three of these were sufficiently attached to their religious life to decline the opportunity of returning to the world, and asked permission to enter another house of the order. There were four servants living in the monastery, which was said to be of competent estate and no longer in debt. (fn. 14)

The house was originally endowed with only a small portion of land in the wood of Ivinghoe: to which was added later the church of Merrow in Surrey with lands attached, and ten acres of assart at Hemel Hempstead. (fn. 15) The priory is not mentioned in the Taxation of Pope Nicholas: its revenue is given in the Valor Ecclesiasticus as £14 3s. 1d. clear. (fn. 16) The survey of the local commissioners returned it first as worth £13 3s. 4d. and later as £19 8s. 9d.; the bells, lead, etc., were valued at £8 10s. 6d., and the moveable goods at £1 13s. 4d. The Ministers' Accounts only give a total of £10 4s. 1½d. (fn. 17)

Prioresses of Ivinghoe

Alice, (fn. 18) occurs 1237

Isolt, (fn. 19) died 1262

Cicely, (fn. 20) elected 1262, resigned 1275

Maud de Hockliffe, (fn. 21) elected 1275, died 1296

Isolt de Beauchamp, (fn. 22) elected 1296

Sibyl de Hampstead, (fn. 23) resigned 1340

Maud de Cheyney, (fn. 24) elected 1340

Eleanor Cross, (fn. 25) died 1467

Eleanor Symmes, (fn. 26) elected 1467

Elizabeth Wyvill, (fn. 27) occurs 1530, died 1534

Margaret Hardwick, (fn. 28) last prioress, elected 1534

A pointed oval seal of Prioress Isolt de Beauchamp, attached to a charter (fn. 29) dated Feast of St. Valentine, 1325-6, represents the Virgin Mary, full length, the Holy Child with nimbus on her left arm. The legend, which is defaced, runs: . . . P. . . . DICAT. VGO MAR[IA].


  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. iv. 268.
  • 2. See Domesday translation.
  • 3. The name of Miles Neirenuit is the only one well known in the neighbourhood during the thirteenth century.
  • 4. Cal. of Chart. R., i. 186 (17 Hen. III. m. 2).
  • 5. Ibid. i. 27 (11 Hen. III. pt. 1, m. 13).
  • 6. Close, 5 Edw. I. m. 5.
  • 7. Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. 232, f. 20d.
  • 8. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Dalderby, 44, 58d, 368d (1301, 1303 and 1318).
  • 9. Bishop Dalderby knew the nunneries of his diocese pretty well, as he had visited them all early in his episcopate to explain the statute Pro clausura monialium.
  • 10. Ibid. Memo. Alnwick, 69.
  • 11. There is a series of visitations of Bishop Alnwick's still preserved at Lincoln; they are not all noticed in his Memoranda, and are probably very little known: many of the heads of houses mentioned in them are not found in any of the lists in Dugdale.
  • 12. Visitations of Bishop Longland, 1530. Many of these also are not noticed in his Memoranda. They are in the same form as those of Bishops Alnwick and Atwater: the bishop sat in the chapter house and interrogated each religious in turn as to the state of the house, so far as she was able to speak of it; at the end of the conference he delivered his injunctions. Only a summary of the injunctions is usually entered in the Memoranda: but the original visitation report gives the actual answer of every monk or nun in the house—and very quaint answers they sometimes are.
  • 13. It is characteristic of Bishop Longland that he does not say 'a pater, ave, and credo,' but 'the Lord's Prayer, the angelic salutation, and the symbol of the apostles.'
  • 14. Dugdale, Mon. iv. 269; from Browne Willis.
  • 15. Cal. of Chart. R. i. 27, 186.
  • 16. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv. 227.
  • 17. Dugdale, Mon. iv. 269.
  • 18. Cal. of Chart. R. i. 226.
  • 19. Linc. Epis. Reg. R. of Gravesend.
  • 20. Ibid.
  • 21. Ibid.
  • 22. Ibid. Inst. Sutton, 119d.
  • 23. Dugdale, Mon. iv. 268.
  • 24. Ibid.
  • 25. Linc. Epis. Reg. Inst. Chadworth, 153. It is a tempting conjecture that this may be the Augustinian nun who came in 1447 to Ivinghoe in search of a stricter life. Her name however is given in Bishop Alnwick's Memoranda as Margaret Cross.
  • 26. Ibid.
  • 27. Visitations of Longland, 1530.
  • 28. Linc. Epis. Reg. Inst. Longland, 1534.
  • 29. Harl. Chart. 84, f. 54.