A History of the County of Buckingham: Volume 1. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1905.
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5. THE PRIORY OF ANKERWICK
The priory of Ankerwick (fn. 1) seems to have been founded during the reign of Henry II., probably not before 1160, (fn. 2) by Gilbert de Muntfichet, lord of Wyrardisbury, whose son Richard was also reckoned as a founder and benefactor. This is another poor and small monastery of which very little is known; it was dedicated to the honour of St. Mary Magdalene. At the beginning of the sixteenth century there were six or seven nuns besides the prioress: an income of about £20 would probably never have supported more. And yet we find here, as at Ivinghoe and Little Marlow, the names of some well-known county families among the prioresses.
Of the external history of the house absolutely nothing is known: it probably went through the same struggles as other small monasteries during the fourteenth century, (fn. 3) and the death of a prioress (unnamed) is recorded in 1349. (fn. 4) We may surely hope that in the course of three or four hundred years it was in some sense a source of blessing to the neighbourhood, although of this we have no record. It was surrendered some time before 8 July, 1536, when the prioress, Magdalen Downes, received a pension of £5 a year. (fn. 5)
What we know of the internal history of this house we must frankly own is not greatly to its credit; yet the recorded episcopal visitations are separated by considerable spaces of time, and it would be rash to conclude from their tone that the monastery was never in a very satisfactory condition. As early as 1197 (fn. 6) a single runaway nun managed to give the priory a good deal of trouble. She is described as 'A. the daughter of W. Clement,' and had been fifteen years professed; at the end of that time she grew weary of the cloister and returned to her friends. Now if she had only asked them for shelter and protection, very little might have been heard of the affair: she would have been ordered to return, and excommunicated if she did not obey; and that might have been the end of the matter. But she was bold enough to claim a share in her father's property on the ground that she had been forced into the monastery against her will by a guardian who wished to secure the whole inheritance; and this roused her own relations against her. They appealed to no less a person than the pope himself, Celestine III., who first appointed delegates to hear the case, and then, as the nun still proved difficult to deal with, sent a formal letter to be published by the Abbot of Reading and the prior of Hurley, ordering her to return to her monastery on pain of excommunication. The affair came at last into the Curia Regis, (fn. 7) and side by side with the papal letter is the official declaration of the prioress that 'A.' had actually been fifteen years professed, had been precentrix in the choir, and had lived all the time 'as a nun among nuns'; with a mandate to the dean and archdeacon of Lincoln and the Archbishop of Canterbury to excommunicate 'A.' and a certain W. de Bidun, who had aided and abetted her. The story serves to show how even in the twelfth century, when the religious houses of England were in their first fervour, there were cases of unfaithfulness to the religious ideal; further, in what a serious light apostasy was regarded; and again, the tremendous ecclesiastical machinery that might be brought to bear upon one insignificant nun.
Bishop Burghersh issued a commission in 1338 (fn. 8) for the visitation of this monastery, both head and members, to correct, punish and reform in all points needed. The entry is merely formal, and the results are not given. In 1382 Bishop Bokyngham excommunicated a nun of Ankerwick for leaving the monastery by night, and all those who aided her in any way: as well as certain who had carried away goods belonging to the priory. (fn. 9)
In 1441 in the course of his general visitation Bishop Alnwick came to this house, and called all the sisters, according to custom, into the chapter house. The prioress, Dame Clemence Medford, had no complaint to make, except that the nuns were given to eat and drink between meals, contrary to the rule of St. Benedict; the sub-prioress answered Omnia bene; but the other sisters had a good deal to say. Dame Margery Kirby declared that the house was ruinous, that a barn had been lately burnt down, and that the prioress kept the convent seal in her own hands and disposed of the goods of the priory without consulting her sisters at all. Dame Julian Messenger said that the prioress wasted the goods of the monastery, often invited guests of her own but would never let the other nuns invite any one, and was very austere in her dealings with them generally: she also said that the novices had no informatrix to instruct them in the rule and in the choir office. Another sister, who had been ill, complained that she had not proper coverings for her bed nor warm clothes for herself, nor such food as might make her strong enough to 'endure the burden of religion.' There were three others of tender age and much simplicity (perhaps these were the novices) who said nothing at all.
The bishop passed over the minor complaints—probably he had heard the like elsewhere—and simply ordered the prioress to consult her sisters as to the disposal of property; the common seal was to be in the custody of two sisters, of whom Dame Margery Kirby was to be one: two keys were to be made, one for the prioress and the other for a sister who should be elected by the rest of the convent. (fn. 10)
In 1519 Bishop Atwater visited the priory. (fn. 11) Two cases of apostasy were recorded: one who had worn the habit four years had forsaken her monastery; another had not only left the monastery, but had married, and was living in sin (fn. 12) in the house of a relative. There were two novices at this time in the priory, of whom one was Magdalen Downes, afterwards prioress; and the unhappy examples she saw before her at this time may have left their mark upon her. For she has the unenviable distinction of being the only nun in Buckinghamshire who married after the dissolution of the house—she was still living in 1552 and drawing her annual pension. (fn. 13) The note affixed to her name in the pension list— 'Is married and so remains'—whatever it may really be intended to convey, (fn. 14) has cer tainly a sinister suggestiveness about it: for indeed it might seem worthy of remark that one who had so lightly broken her ancient vows should have stability enough to keep a new one.
The original endowment of the priory comprised the demesne called Ankerwick in Wyrardisbury parish, with small parcels of land in the same neighbourhood, as well as in Egham (Surrey), Greenford and Stanwell (Middlesex), Henley, Windsor, etc. (fn. 15) King Henry III. in 1242 granted the nuns licence to pasture sixty pigs every year in the king's forest of Windsor, quit of herbage and pannage. (fn. 16) The temporalities mentioned in the Taxatio were only worth 10s., (fn. 17) and they had no spiritualities at all. The Valor Ecclesiasticus reports the value of the revenue of this monastery as £22 0s. 2d. clear (fn. 18); the ministers' accounts give a total of £44 12s. 6d., including the demesne land and the manors of Alderbourne, Bucks, Greenford and Stanwell Park, Middlesex, and a manor in Egham, Surrey. (fn. 19)
The revenues of this priory were granted by the king for the foundation of the new abbey of Bisham, which was destined to be so shortlived. (fn. 20)
Prioresses of Ankerwick
Lettice, (fn. 21) occurs 1194
Emma, (fn. 22) occurs 1236, died 1238
Celeste, (fn. 23) elected 1238
Julian, (fn. 24) elected 1244
Joan of Rouen, (fn. 25) elected 1251
Margery of Hedsor, (fn. 26) occurs 1270, resigned 1305
Alice de Sandford, (fn. 27) elected 1305
Emma of Kimberley, (fn. 28) elected 1316, died 1327
Joan of Oxford, (fn. 29) elected 1327, died 1349
Joan Godman, (fn. 30) elected 1384, died 1390
Maud Booth, (fn. 31) elected 1390, resigned 1401
Elizabeth Golaffre, (fn. 32) elected 1401
Clemence Medford, (fn. 33) occurs 1441
Margery Kirby, (fn. 34) elected 1443
Margaret Peart, (fn. 35) died 1478
Eleanor Spendlow, (fn. 36) elected 1478
Alice Worcester, (fn. 37) occurs 1526 and 1535
Magdalen Downes, (fn. 38) last prioress
A round seal attached to a charter (fn. 39) of Letia or Lettice, Prioress of Ankerwick, dated 5 Richard I. The colour is mottled green, the edge of the seal is chipped. It represents the priory church with half timbered walls, round-headed doorway, thatched roof, bell turret topped with a cross, and a cross at each gable end. Legend: +SIGILL' ECCL' E IBE M[A]RIE MĀG DE ANK'WIC.
A similar seal, dark brown in colour, the sides much broken and the edge chipped away, may be found attached to a charter of the Prioress Margery and the convent, (fn. 40) dated Conversion of St. Paul. Legend: SIG . . . E . . . DE. ANK'WIC.