Houses of Knights Hospitallers: Preceptory of Shingay

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1948.

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, 'Houses of Knights Hospitallers: Preceptory of Shingay', in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 2, (London, 1948) pp. 266-269. British History Online [accessed 26 May 2024].

. "Houses of Knights Hospitallers: Preceptory of Shingay", in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 2, (London, 1948) 266-269. British History Online, accessed May 26, 2024,

. "Houses of Knights Hospitallers: Preceptory of Shingay", A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 2, (London, 1948). 266-269. British History Online. Web. 26 May 2024,

In this section


Early in the 12th century land in Clerkenwell had been promised to the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, (fn. 1) but the first house of the Hospitallers actually founded in the west was that of St. Gilles in Provence, between 1099 and 1113, (fn. 2) and the house at Clerkenwell dates from about 1144. (fn. 3) Walter, first prior in England, held office 1144-62, and it was he who acquired the land at Shingay and at Quenington in Gloucestershire, on which the earliest preceptories were established. (fn. 4) Between 1154 and 1159 Hadrian IV approved a composition made between the monks of Old Wardon and the Hospitallers concerning land in Shingay, (fn. 5) and in 1159 the Hospitallers were pardoned 9s. 11d. in the hundred of Armingford, where Shingay lay, being their share of a fine of 10 marks imposed upon it for murder. (fn. 6) The manor of Shingay was held by Roger Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury, in 1086. (fn. 7) In King John's charter of 1199 confirming the hospital in its lands Shingay is said to have been given by Sybil de Rames, or Raynes, and the Earl of Gloucester: (fn. 8) the lady may have been identical with the Sybille de Rame to whom the Grand Master leased a house in Jerusalem in 1177. (fn. 9) It is not impossible that 'Sybille de Rame' retired to Jerusalem in her widowhood to live, as the earliest sisters of the hospital were beginning to live, alone but under Rule. At about the same time two sisters were living at Shingay itself. Nine are recorded in England before the foundation of their house at Minchin Buckland, to which they were all removed about 1185. The two who had been at Shingay were named Amabilis and Amice de Malketon. (fn. 10) Early references to the preceptory are few. (fn. 11) About 1200 'the Master of Shingay that then was' lent 80 quarters of barley to an ancestor of Ralph Pyrott, lord of the manor of Sawston in 1279, the church of Sawston being pledged as security for repayment: when he defaulted, the church, with its endowment of a messuage, 50 acres, and a virgate, remained with Shingay. (fn. 12) Shingay Church had previously belonged to the Abbot of Séez. (fn. 13) In 1338 the vicar took his meals at the preceptor's table, and the Abbot of Séez 'formerly patron of Shingay church', received from it 20s. a year. (fn. 14) The church of Wendy came to the preceptory with the fall of the Templars, and in 1338 was worth 20 marks, (fn. 15) but the manor of Wendy, worth £11 6s., had been given to Shingay by Sir Robert d'Engayne, (fn. 16) whose widow, Agnes, made a final concord with Robert de Manneby, Prior of the Hospital, about one-third of it—probably her claim for dower— in 1262-3. (fn. 17) The prior's proctor on this occasion was Brother William de Marl', possibly the preceptor.

When the Order was suppressed in 1540 the Hospital, as represented by Shingay, had property in forty-two parishes within the county, as well as in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, and Huntingdonshire. From very early days the preceptors carried out a remarkably thorough policy of inclosure, which reduced the village of Shingay to a mere handful of houses, there being to this day no inhabitants other than those belonging to the farm which lies within the moat on the site of the 'Great House' which took the place of the preceptory. The ordinatio (fn. 18) made in 1452, after a long dispute about Peter's Pence, is stated in its preamble to have become necessary 'because the preceptor possessed crofts in which once were houses whose inhabitants used to pay Peter's Pence'; and the fact that the revenues of Shingay Church would no longer support a vicar, so that it was in future to be served by a chaplain, suggests that by then the old village had been largely cleared.

In 1303 William de St. Leonard, who appears as preceptor in legal proceedings between 1298 and 1305, (fn. 19) was enrolled as a Brother of the Gild of St. Mary in Cambridge, paying, probably because he was master of this rich preceptory, the unusually large entrance fee of 3 quarters of corn. (fn. 20) In 1338 the prior, Philip Thame, drew up a report on all the possessions of the Order in England, with a balance-sheet for every manor, and Shingay, with its 'members' Wendy, Arrington, and Croydon, came fourth in all England and Wales in point of wealth. (fn. 21) The individual knight served much of his active life abroad, and even the small personnel of religious in any given preceptory was constantly changing. Preceptors were entirely subordinate to the prior, who was required by the constitutions of his Order to visit the houses in his Langue, and provision was made for his travelling expenses; 121 days in each year were allotted to the actual business of visitation: the duration of a visitation varied from 1 day to 6, that of Shingay lasting for 4 days. (fn. 22)

In 1338 there was a dwelling-house with a garden at each of the 'members', or subordinate manors, of Shingay, as well as at the preceptory or 'bailly' itself. That at Shingay, valued at 20s. a year, was inhabited by the preceptor, who was a servitor, and two other Hospitallers, a knight and a priest respectively, with their servants, and a corrodarian Roger Basset, also called 'le Port' and probably acting as gatekeeper. The house at Wendy was valued at only 6s.; that at Arrington, with its dovecote, at 13s. 4d., and that at Croydon 6s. 8d. (fn. 23) At Shingay there were two dovecotes, a water-mill and windmill, the whole manor being worth £96 7s. 4d. and the church £10 13s. 4d. The fraeria, or freewill offering, which brought in the considerable sum of £23 6s. 8d., was apparently collected through one preceptory in each diocese—in this case by Shingay for Ely. (fn. 24) It seems to have admitted subscribers to the great spiritual privileges of the hospital. John Layer wrote in the 17th century of Shingay that 'in auncient tyme they had there a carte called a fairy cart with which they fetched those from Cambridge that were executed, and buried them there—such blinde devotion they imputed to that place'. (fn. 25) The 'fairy' cart has been explained as the feretorium, but it may well come from a confusion of feretorium and fraeria, for the Hospitallers had the privilege of burying corpses of persons who had given alms to their Order which could not otherwise be laid in consecrated ground—suicides, and such as died during an interdict, as well as executed criminals. (fn. 26) The fraeria included corporate members, secular and religious, and among the customary dues paid by the chamberlain of the Prior of Ely in 1427-8 was 13d. to the Master of Shingay 'for the fraternity of St. John for the year'. (fn. 27)

The General Chapter of the Hospital in England met once, at least, in 1371, at Shingay. (fn. 28) It was called for 28 October by the Grand Preceptor Raymond Berengar, locum tenens of the master, Roger de Dinibus, and his vicar-general in England and Ireland, who had been sent to London on the master's business on 12 June; John Paveley was Prior, and John de Dampford Preceptor of Shingay. Unhappily the Acts of this chapter containing a detailed valuation of all the estates of the Order in England are lost. (fn. 29) The accounts were probably drawn for the information of the vicar-general in making a levy on the province for the prosecution of the critical struggle in the East. (fn. 30)

On 15 June 1381 the insurgent peasants, under John Hanchach, attacked the property of the hospital at Duxford and Shingay, destroying the preceptory. (fn. 31)

The division of the Order into 'Tongues', and the appointment of the Turcopilier, originally Captain of the Syrian light cavalry, as head of the whole Tongue of England, took place at about that time. Sir Thomas Skipwith was Turcopilier in 1417, resigned that office on being appointed Governor of Cyprus in 1421, and died in 1422, being then Preceptor of Shingay and Beverley. (fn. 32) Sir John Ergham, who was preceptor at least from 1427 to 1452, in December 1441 obtained a papal indult for a portable altar, and to choose his confessor. (fn. 33) Certain heraldic records and fragments of which account is preserved by Cole (fn. 34) once commemorated some of the later Preceptors of Shingay, among them Sir Robert Dalison, who died 5 September 1504 and was described on his tombstone at Shingay as recently Preceptor of Halston and Templecombe [1492-9] and at one time Preceptor of Shingay; and in 1525 Thomas Dalison was steward of Shingay. (fn. 35) Dalison's arms were shown on his gravestone, and the arms of three other preceptors were in the hall at Shingay as late as 1747; yet another coat, that of Sir Thomas Sheffield, was in Wendy Church in 1684. In 1507 Sir Thomas Sheffield was present, as Preceptor of Beverley and Shingay, at a chapter held in Clerkenwell. (fn. 36) A letter from the Lieutenant of the Grand Master to Henry VIII, dated from Rhodes 15 November 1513, announced that 'by virtue of their obedience' Thomas Newport, Bailiff of Eagle, and Thomas Sheffield, Preceptor of Shingay and Treasurer of the Order, had arrived at Rhodes, and requested that they might remain there. (fn. 37) Another letter of 16 July 1515, in which Sheffield is called Preceptor of Beverley, requested that the same two knights might still remain at Rhodes. (fn. 38) In October 1518 Henry VIII received a letter from Saragossa announcing that 'an ambasade is come thither from Rhodes, being a Lord of France and Sir Thomas Shefelde, for the reforming of their Religio in those parts'. (fn. 39) Sheffield was perhaps at his preceptory early in 1522, for an heraldic window, which seems to have been in Wendy Church in 1684, showed his arms—a cheveron between 3 garbs—quartering those of Lound of Butterwick in Lincolnshire, with the inscription 'Orate pro bono statu Thome de Sheffield militis magni seneschalli Rhodi et Preceptoris Preceptorii de Shengay ac Beverley qui istam capellam de novo prima fundatione reedificavit in an: 1522'. (fn. 40) He was present with thirteen other English knights during the greater part of the siege of Rhodes, and commanded the Palace battery. (fn. 41) On 4 May 1523 he was appointed Grand Seneschal, that is, the master's right-hand man in all but chancery work, and is said to have died at Viterbo on 10 August 1524. (fn. 42)

At the end of 1533 Sir William Weston, Prior of England, was called upon to order the Turcopilier (who was at this time normally resident in England), Sir Edward Hill, Commander of Shingay, and another preceptor to proceed to Malta, if they were not already on their way thither, and on 17 March 1535 Hill, Sir Ambrose Cave, and Sir Thomas Copuldyke were again peremptorily called to the convent. (fn. 43) Ambrose Cave had been admitted into the Order at a Provincial Chapter in England on 3 October 1524, together with Robert Dalison the younger, Thomas Copuldyke, and eleven others. (fn. 44) When Shingay fell vacant by the death of Edward Hill in 1536 he applied for that preceptory as his meliorment. His application was opposed by Sir Antony Rogers and Sir John Babington, the younger, on the ground that he had not resided in his Commandery of Yeveley and Barrow for five years, and Sir Thomas Dingley, Preceptor of Baddesley and Mayne, was instituted by Weston, the prior, who was his uncle. (fn. 45) There was an irregularity about the nomination of Dingley, (fn. 46) and shortly after his appointment he was attainted of treason, apparently for showing sympathy with the Pilgrimage of Grace, (fn. 47) and executed on 8 July 1539. (fn. 48)

Under the Act of Attainder the king seized Dingley's preceptories as the property of a traitor, and a private act was passed shortly afterwards granting assurance of the Commandery of Shingay to Sir Richard Longe, and of the Commandery of Baddesley, Hampshire, to Sir Thomas Seymour in tail male. (fn. 49) The Hospital in England was dissolved by Statute in April 1540; on 22 April Sir Henry Longe was confirmed in possession of 'the preceptory or lordship' of Shingay at a rent of £17 10s. 6d., and a long list of parishes in which the property lay was given; (fn. 50) but on 20 July 1541 Bishop Goodrich, still referring to the estates under that name, ordained that, as the revenues of the church of Shingay were no longer sufficient to support a vicar, the preceptory must provide a chaplain and indemnify the bishop and archdeacon by annual payments of 2s. and 8s. 4d. respectively. (fn. 51) Sir Ambrose Cave had been appointed by the Grand Master but had never obtained effective possession of Shingay, but on 29 December 1540, when pensions were granted to eleven preceptors, Ambrose Cave received an annuity of 100 marks out of the possessions of the hospital in Leicestershire. (fn. 52) The house had been valued at £175 4s. 6d. in 1535. (fn. 53)

The chapel of the preceptory, for the serving of which Goodrich made provision in 1541, was still standing in 1643 when Dowsing saw 'a crucifix and three of the Marys with her children and 12 pictures more', probably in stained glass, (fn. 54) but was pulled down about 1697. (fn. 55)

Preceptors of Shingay (fn. 56)

Nicholas de Wrotham, (fn. 57) before 1260

William de St. Leonard, occurs 1296, 1305

Nicholas Basset, occurs 1338

John de Dampford, occurs 1371

William Thweyt, before 1378

John Cavendish, occurs 1381

Thomas de Skipwith, died 1422

John Ergham, occurs 1427, 1452

Thomas Green, occurs 1481, died 1502

Robert Dalison, died 1504

Thomas Sheffield, occurs 1507, died 1524

Edward Hill, or Hills, occurs 1533, died 1536

Thomas Dingley, irregularly appointed, 1536, attainted 1539

Ambrose Cave, appointed 1537(?), never held the position.


  • 1. J. Delaville Le Roulx, Cartulaire général des Hospitaliers (Paris, 1906), i, no. 2. Cf. E. J. King, Knights Hospitallers in the Holy Land, 81-3.
  • 2. King, op. cit. 19, 23-4.
  • 3. Le Roulx, op. cit. nos. 2, 148, 149; cf. King, op. cit. 81-3.
  • 4. Le Roulx, op. cit.
  • 5. G. Herbert Fowler, Cartulary of Old Wardon, 20, no. 14b.
  • 6. Pipe R. Soc. i, 54. In 1167 they were similarly pardoned 3s. 4d. out of a fine of 40s. Ibid. x, 166.
  • 7. V.C.H. Cambs. i, 372.
  • 8. Le Roulx, op. cit. i, no. 1093; Rot. Cart. (Rec. Com.), i, 16. Sybil is said by John Stillingfleet in 1434 to have been the daughter of Earl Roger (Dugdale, Mon. Angl. vi, 834), but this is very doubtful.
  • 9. Le Roulx, op. cit. i, 349, no. 508; iv, 317.
  • 10. Cott. MS. Nero E. VI, fol. 457 v. Cf. Le Roulx, op. cit. i, p. ccxxx; id. Hospitaliers en Terre Sainte, 299, 300; W. M. Palmer, 'Hist. of Shingay', Cambs. and Hunts. Arch. Soc. i, 133.
  • 11. But several of the early charters of the hospital in England are witnessed by Brother William de Shengay, Chaplain: cf. Le Roulx, ii, nos. 1233, 1452; iv, 972, 1238. These cover the period 1195-1216.
  • 12. Rot. Hundr. (Rec. Com.), ii, 575.
  • 13. For Roger de Montgomery's original grants to Séez in Shingay see Round, Cal. Doc. France, 233-4, and Palmer, op. cit. 130-1.
  • 14. Larking, Hospitallers in Engl. (Camden Soc.), 77.
  • 15. Ibid. 167.
  • 16. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. vi, 834.
  • 17. Rye, Cambs. Fines, 41.
  • 18. Ely Epis. Reg. Bouchier, fol. 32; E.D.R. (1903), p. 89.
  • 19. Palmer, op. cit. 133–6.
  • 20. Bateson, Cambridgeshire Gild Records (C.A.S.), 4.
  • 21. Larking, op. cit. 75–7.
  • 22. Ibid. 77: cf. pp. xxxviii, 211.
  • 23. Ibid. 75–6.
  • 24. Ibid.
  • 25. W. M. Palmer, John Layer (1586–1640) of Shepreth (C.A.S.), liii (1935), 108.
  • 26. Cal. Pat. 1272-81, pp. 174-5.
  • 27. Chamberlain's Acct. R. at Ely.
  • 28. W. Burton, Description of Leicestershire (ed. 1622), 85.
  • 29. They were seen by Burton about 1622; he extracted the details about the Leicestershire preceptory of Dingley from them, and printed the preamble of the document, but no more.
  • 30. John V, Emperor of Byzantium, who had formally made his submission to the church of Rome in 1369, was vainly scouring Europe for help against the Turks, and the Knights of Rhodes were, in 1371, almost the last bulwark of Christendom against the invaders.
  • 31. Powell, Rising in East Anglia, 44, 45.
  • 32. W. K. R. Bedford and R. Holbeche, Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, 191.
  • 33. Cal. Papal Letters, ix, 234, 243.
  • 34. Cole, MS. ix, 114v., from Herald's Visitation of 1684. See Shimiald, 'Preceptory at Shengay', C.A.S. vii, 140-2.
  • 35. Will of John Thorney, chantry-priest of Clopton, transcribed in East Anglian, x, 284. Cf. W. H. Palmer, History of Clopton (C.A.S. xxxiii), 38: he left to Sir Wm. Brymley, chaplain in Shingay preceptory, 20s., a new gown, and a jacket. Brymley was presented to Arrington by the King after the suppression.
  • 36. Palmer, Hist. of Shingay, 141. About this time Sheffield's name begins to appear in the State papers; he was employed on several diplomatic missions.
  • 37. L. and P. Hen. VIII, i, 4562.
  • 38. Cott. MS. Otho C. IX, fol. 28.
  • 39. Cole MS. ix, fol. 114v., quoting Harl. MS. 295, fol. 53.
  • 40. Cole MS. ix, fol. 114v., from Herald's Visitation of 1684.
  • 41. Mifsud, op. cit. 149.
  • 42. Ibid. 147.
  • 43. Ibid. 152.
  • 44. Ibid. 32.
  • 45. Ibid. 160-1.
  • 46. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (1), 947.
  • 47. Ibid. 1104.
  • 48. Ibid. xiv (1), 867, 1227.
  • 49. Ibid. xv, p. 218; Statutes of the Realm, iii, p. xxxiii.
  • 50. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xv, 613 (1).
  • 51. Ely Epis. Reg. Goodrich, fol. 141; E.D.R. (1912), p. 90.
  • 52. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xvi, 379 (57).
  • 53. Valor Eccl. iii, 503.
  • 54. C.A.S. vii, 145.
  • 55. Ibid.
  • 56. W. M. Palmer, loc. cit. 140-1. See also above.
  • 57. Called 'Master of the Hospital of Shingay'. An anonymous 'Master' of Shingay occurs in 1253: Abbr. Plac. (Rec. Com.), 134.