Houses of minoresses: Abbey of Denney

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 minoresses: Abbey of Denney', A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 2, (London, 1948), pp. 295-302. British History Online [accessed 18 June 2024].

. "Houses of minoresses: Abbey of Denney", in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 2, (London, 1948) 295-302. British History Online, accessed June 18, 2024,

. "Houses of minoresses: Abbey of Denney", A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 2, (London, 1948). 295-302. British History Online. Web. 18 June 2024,

In this section


The manor of Denney was in 1327 granted to Mary de St. Pol, Countess of Pembroke, for life; (fn. 1) a grant which in 1336 was changed to one to her and to her heirs for ever. (fn. 2) In the latter year Mary had granted her life interest in the manor to the sisters at Waterbeach, but she may have obtained the grant of Denney in perpetuity with the intention of making a more ambitious benefaction to the Order of Minoresses. As early as 1333 she had obtained papal permission to enter monasteries of either men or women with a suite of six matrons, (fn. 3) and all her life she sought and received similar licence, culminating in one for Denney in particular. (fn. 4) She had tried before she founded Denney to found a Carthusian house on at least two occasions, (fn. 5) but her only other actual foundations were the chantry-hermitage of St. Giles at Cripplegate in London and Pembroke College (or rather Valence-Marie Hall) at Cambridge.

In 1339 she received licence, (fn. 6) on the ground that the site at Waterbeach was narrow, low, bad, and insufficient, to build afresh at Denney, and to transfer the community thither. By 1342 the abbess and certain of the sisters were in their new abbey, and on 25 January the foundress dated her deed, transferring the manor to them, from that house, and Bishop Simon Montacute witnessed the deed, (fn. 7) which was confirmed on 24 February by Edward III. (fn. 8) Mary de St. Pol seems to have spent much of 1342 at Denney establishing her new house. In that year she gave it the church and advowson of Gooderstone in Norfolk, (fn. 9) and in the autumn she received four papal indults, two directly concerned with Denney, and two probably connected with her stay there. One permitted six of her chaplains and clerks to enjoy the fruits of their benefices for 3 years while engaged in her service; (fn. 10) one licensed her confessor to give leave to religious to eat meat at her table on all days when it was not forbidden to Christian people in general; (fn. 11) a third gave a hundred days' indulgence to benefactors of Denney who visited the house on the great festivals or on the feast of St. Clare, and the fourth gave the countess licence to enter Waterbeach, Denney, or any other convent in the diocese of Ely, with the permission of the superior, and to have with her eight honest women. (fn. 12) In January 1343 the abbess and convent of Denney were exempted from the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan, (fn. 13) as Waterbeach had been in 1295; in recognition of this favour they were to pay the Pope himself a pound of wax yearly: on the same day they were granted the Rule 'of the Sisters of St. Clare near St. Cloud at Paris', that is, of Longchamp. (fn. 14) In 1342 also, Mary obtained royal licence to grant her manor of Strood in Kent to religious of either sex, and that they might dwell there; (fn. 15) but 2 years later she gave the manor to Denney. (fn. 16) In January 1343 the valuable church of Gransden in Huntingdonshire was given to Denney by Lady Clare. (fn. 17)

In 1346 Mary de St. Pol received licence for the complete union of the two abbeys (fn. 18) which gave rise to the final obstinate struggle with Waterbeach (q.v.): in 1347 she attempted to obtain for Denney the appropriation of Chesterton Church, (fn. 19) which had been the subject of negotiation on the part of Waterbeach Abbey nearly 50 years before, but the negotiations again broke down, and the church continued to belong to the abbey of Vercelli in Lombardy. She was at Denney on 10 December 1346, (fn. 20) on 20 April 1349, (fn. 21) on 8 October 1357, (fn. 22) and probably on many other occasions.

In 1348 Denney received papal exemption from the payment of tenths. (fn. 23)

There is no evidence about the incidence of the Black Death in Denney, except the permission (one of a great number granted in consequence of the epidemic) given in 1351 to Emma Beauchamp and Joan Morteyn, nuns of Denney, to choose a confessor who might give plenary absolution in the hour of death; (fn. 24) this Emma was almost certainly afterwards Abbess of Bruisyard.

In 1360 'of special grace' on account of his 'devotion for the Abbess and Minoresses of Denney' Edward III exempted them from payment of 'any subsidies, taxes, or contributions of any kind'. (fn. 25) The countess in response gave the advowson of the abbey to the king in the following year, (fn. 26) whereby the Crown became patron. The enforced union of Waterbeach with its daughterhouse brought to the nuns of Denney not only the manor of Waterbeach but also the appropriated churches of Ridgewell and Biddenham; and in 1362 the nuns had licence to appropriate that of Eltisley, which was said to be held by them of John de Mowbray; (fn. 27) four years later it was found that the advowson really belonged to the countess, who was then licensed to grant it to the convent; (fn. 28) but the nuns did not finally obtain possession of that church until 1518. (fn. 29) In 1364 the countess gave them her manor of Eye Hall in Horningsea, (fn. 30) and at the same time various gifts of land and houses were made to the abbey, all by clerics and all in Waterbeach, Histon, and adjoining parishes. (fn. 31) Richard Dunmow, one of the donors concerned, occurs later in connexion with Sir Philip Tilney's gift of the manor of Histon, and it would seem probable that some at least of these clerical benefactors were acting as agents of the Countess of Pembroke.

In 1364, too, negotiations began for the founding of the last of the English houses of minoresses, by Lionel, Duke of Clarence, at Bruisyard in Suffolk. It was settled with nuns, some, if not all, of whom were from Denney; and the papal mandate for the transfer of the nuns was sent to the Provincial Minister of the Friars Minor. (fn. 32) Emma Beauchamp, the first abbess of the new community, may possibly have been the Emma who was Abbess of Waterbeach in 1348. (fn. 33) There was a contemporary inmate of Denney, Elizabeth Beauchamp, (fn. 34) whose parents, Sir John and Elizabeth, (fn. 35) had licence in 1363 to visit her and to enter Denney Abbey once a year. The Franciscan nun of either branch of the Order was inclosed with special strictness; only the resident chaplains of the sisters, their confessors, ministers of the Friars Minor, cardinals, and bishops were to enter their houses except by express papal licence. Such licence was, at first, given only to persons of high birth who had some relationship, as of 'founder' or benefactor, with the community. Already in 1353 Maud, wife of Sir John Lisle, lord of 'Ridgmont' in the diocese of Ely, had permission from Innocent VI to enter the monasteries of St. Clare by Aldgate and of Denney, accompanied by two matrons; (fn. 36) Elizabeth de Burgh had licence in 1355 to enter any monastery of the Order in England. (fn. 37) Later the conditions seem to have become easier: Margery and Grace Tylney, 'noblewomen' of the diocese of Lincoln, had an indult in May 1398 to enter Denney Abbey with six matrons as often as they pleased; (fn. 38) and early in the 15th century when Margery Kempe of Lynn desired to visit Denney, where the abbess was most anxious that she should visit them, there was no need, so far as she tells us, to seek any special permission, nor, except that she missed the boat for Cambridge and delayed her visit, was there any obstacle to it. The visit was duly made, though she records no details of it. (fn. 39) Perhaps in this country the more stringent regulations were only taken to apply to great ladies arriving with a retinue, and not to women who merely visited the nuns in the parlatorium for spiritual colloquy, and went away again. Of both 'parlour' and 'turn' or 'gate' there is some evidence at Denney. (fn. 40)

On 16 March 1377 Mary de St. Pol died. In the draft statutes of her college of Pembroke she had desired that the fellows should act as confessors to her nuns, (fn. 41) and in her last farewell she bound them on their sworn faith to assist and help the sisters in her abbey in all things at all times, and to be good to all cloistered folk, and chiefly to the Friars Minor. (fn. 42) By her will she left Edward III a ring set with gems in memory of her, praying him to have the charity of his great goodness to aid and maintain her 'poure maison de Deneye'. She was buried, in accordance with the further terms of her will, in the habit of a minoress before the high altar of the church of her abbey, (fn. 43) but although the position of her tomb was identified with great probability a few years ago, her body was not found.

In 1379 there were 41 nuns at the abbey. (fn. 44) At the same date there were only 42 in the four Benedictine nunneries of the diocese put together. (fn. 45) Denney was far from being, as it has sometimes been described, a small or unimportant house. The names of the nuns as given in the lists of the clerical poll-tax of 1378-9 suggest some interesting Cambridge and East Anglian family connexions. Some are those of notable Cambridge burgess families—Beneyt, Hunte, de Welle, and de Lynne have counterparts in the Gild records: (fn. 46) Alice Carlel and Isabel de Kendale have names, which, though of north-country origin, belonged to taxpayers and Gild members in the borough during the 14th century; (fn. 47) the place-names used by others 'in religion', though they mostly come from East Anglia and the neighbouring counties of Hertford, Bedford, Essex, and Northampton, are drawn from a wider area than those of the Benedictine nuns, or even of the monks of Ely. This is natural, considering how few houses of minoresses were available. Thomasine Philipot, a nun at Denney in 1381, was daughter of the Mayor of London; (fn. 48) the sisters of Denney, though they were not always of the exclusive birth of the ladies of Longchamp, belonged either to substantial burgess families or to the lesser nobility. Further cases in point are those of Felbrigg of Norfolk, (fn. 49) and of the Keteryches, who were neighbours of the abbey in Landbeach and kinsfolk of the Pastons; William Keteryche, father of at least one Abbess of Denney in the 15th century, (fn. 50) describes himself as 'gentleman, of Landbeach', where he held the manor of Bray of the Bishop of Ely, (fn. 51) and his immediate family played a large part in the history of Denney.

Chatteris and Denney were the only Cambridgeshire nunneries in 1379 over the value of 100 marks a year, and both were under 200 marks. This was not great wealth, but for a house of nuns it was not poverty. The list of secular clergy paying poll-tax, which follows the particulars of the various religious houses, contains no reference to Denney, probably because the resident chaplains at Denney were friars. (fn. 52)

At the end of the 14th and beginning of the 15th centuries there is a gap in both copies of the Denney Court Rolls, which elsewhere give valuable information about the abbey. (fn. 53) The absence of court records for the earlier part of this time may be due to the troubles of 1381, but there is no record of the rising having affected the abbess's manors or of any disturbance about Waterbeach.

In 1392 Sir Philip Tilney and others, including William Wynter, one of the executors of the Countess of Pembroke, (fn. 54) and Richard Dunmow, clerk, (fn. 55) conveyed to Denney the manor of Histon (Colvilles) and the advowson of the church of St. Andrew which went with it. (fn. 56) The manor came to Sir Philip from his wife as heiress of the family of Bainard. Sir Philip Tilney's daughter Grace was one of the two ladies of his family who had licence in 1398 to enter Denney as often as they pleased. The convent, or their benefactors, had paid to the king 250 marks for this Histon grant, including permission to appropriate the church of Histon St. Andrew, but the appropriation, for which licence was again granted in 1416, (fn. 57) was not completed until 20 February 1419, presumably on the death or cession of the rector, when Bishop Fordham finally ordained the vicarage, reserving the right to raise the vicar's stipend if it were insufficient. (fn. 58) In 1368 Edward III, as patron, had granted the abbey freedom from purveyance, free warren in all its demesne lands, and to hold its lands under the immediate protection of the Crown, as well as the right of electing the abbess; (fn. 59) he and his successors confirmed their charters on several occasions; (fn. 60) and in 1398 Richard II gave the nuns of Denney 2 tuns of Gascon wine every year from the prise of his port of Lynn. (fn. 61) This gift was still being made in 1518. (fn. 62) In 1412 the king intervened on behalf of the house, and it was at the special request of Henry IV that Agnes Massingham (probably identical with the Agnes 'Bernard' of the Court Rolls) (fn. 63) received papal permission to be elected Abbess of Denney, although she had been married before her profession. (fn. 64) Her licence to become abbess in a house of minoresses was necessitated by the recent reforms of St. Colette by which none but virgins might become Franciscan nuns. (fn. 65) In the following year the Provincial Minister was at Denney. Fish costing 17d. was bought for the occasion. (fn. 66)

After 1416 the minoresses acquired no more real property, except the chantry in their church at Histon, founded by Philip de Colevile, and the appropriation of Eltisley. At the end of that year they had spiritualities in five counties and four dioceses, consisting of the churches of Ridgewell in Essex and Biddenham in Bedfordshire, of which the advowsons had originally been given to Waterbeach, Gooderstone in Norfolk, Histon and the advowson of Eltisley in Cambridgeshire; they had four manors, Waterbeach with Denney, Histon and Eye Hall in Cambridgeshire, and Strood in Kent, and they had a good deal of scattered land and house-property in most of these places as well as in Cambridge, Chesterton, Impington, Landbeach, and Milton—at the time of the Dissolution it was said to lie in about twenty parishes (fn. 67) — much of which came to them in 1364 when large purchases were made by them or on their behalf. (fn. 68) The possession of the rectory of Biddenham, where they also held a messuage and 8 acres of land, (fn. 69) involved the nuns in the payment of a fine of 20 marks to the Bishop of Lincoln on every vacancy in the abbey; (fn. 70) to the Bishop of Ely, of whom the abbess held the manor of Eye Hall by knight-service, a fine of 50s. was similarly payable, (fn. 71) and in 1419 an entry is found in the register of Bishop Wakering of Norwich that the firstfruits of Gooderstone were owing to him that year by reason of the last vacancy in Denney Abbey; (fn. 72) later in the century the abbess put the fine owing to the Bishop of Norwich on a vacancy at as much as that to the Bishop of Lincoln. (fn. 73)

In the Franciscan system the minoresses were conceived rather as complementary to the Friars Minor than as their imitators. Whereas the friar had 'the world for his cloister' the minoresses were more strictly inclosed than other nuns, and whereas the friars were bound to corporate as well as individual poverty, the sisters never made any pretence of being other than 'possessioners'. (fn. 74) There is evidence of doweries or profession-fees paid on the entry of novices at all three English houses, and at the Minories the practice of granting corrodies and receiving paying-guests became at least as common as among less strictly inclosed Orders. (fn. 75) No corrodies involving residence have, however, been traced at Denney. The nuns themselves were partly supported by what has been called a 'prebend' system: certain pieces of fen were appropriated to individuals, and the profits arising from these allotted to their maintenance. Proof of this arrangement is found in the courtrolls of the manor, for when such land was leased the consent of the nun for whom it had been allotted was duly sought. In 1418 'a close with osiers called Letszerd by the Depe' was leased to Edmund Berhillot for 10 years, with the consent of Isabel Seyntour 'one of the Sisters of the Lady Abbess', to whom he was to pay 12s. yearly; and land called 'Hetes holt', with osiers, was leased for the same term to Edmund Bartlett (probably the same person), with the consent of Isabel Winter, another nun, who was to have 9s. a year from him. (fn. 76) In 1423 the abbess, with the consent of the chapter, granted an acre and a rood of fenland called 'Lughallough' to Joan Colchester and Margaret Histon, two of the sisters, for their lives; and in the same year John Abell took of the Lady for 2 years a messuage in Waterbeach, with a croft adjoining, 40 foot of turf, and 'one foderfen, sometime the lady Joan Steynton's', rendering for them to the abbess and the lady Joan Steynton, in the name of Pitancier of Denney, 9s. by the year, two capons, and a suit to the court on the Leet Day. In this case it seems that Joan Steynton had the rent of her 'foderfen' in right of her office of Pitancier. There is mention of a 'pitancie of St. Katherine' in Denney in 1427, charged upon a messuage on Waterbeach green, and of 'land of St. Katherine' in 1523: 'land of Our Lady' occurs in 1514 and 'land of St. Mary Magdalen' in 1519, but these are probably connected with gilds in the parish church. In 1436, perhaps after the death of Isabel Seyntour, 'Letsyerde nigh the Depe' was leased to Richard Lawde, by consent of Isabel Wyne, to whom the rent of 12s. was now to be paid.

About 1446 Denney, like Syon and other communities whose property encroached on the site which Henry VI planned to use for his College of St. Mary and St. Nicholas, lost some of its possessions in Cambridge. (fn. 77) These parcels of land are described as 'granted' by the abbess to the king, but such grants were hardly spontaneous, (fn. 78) though the king gave the nuns in compensation 10 acres in the fields of Chesterton. (fn. 79)

Between 1452 and his death in 1470 the sisters at Denney were engaged in a long struggle over the rights of the abbey in their manor at Histon with Thomas Burgoyne, lord of the adjoining manor of Impington. In 1459, in the midst of the dispute, Joan Keteryche, newly elected abbess, wrote to her kinsman, John Paston, who was executor of Sir John Fastolf, to ask for alms out of the goods left in Paston's hands by Sir John for charitable uses. (fn. 80) She declared that her house had been reduced to such straits that her predecessor, Katherine Sybyle, had broken down under the strain, and the sisters, finding it necessary to elect a new abbess, had incurred the fine of 20 marks to the Bishop of Lincoln 'and to the Bishop of Norwich as much, and as to the payment of the Bishop of Lincoln we be so straitly bound that the said lord may strain our goods of which we have our necessary sustenance'. She and her sisters had been forced to mortgage even their altar-vessels and the jewels and ornaments of their conventual church, (fn. 81) and to let their buildings fall into such disrepair that 'we may not well repair them again, and so our tenants are the more poor, and the worse may they pay to us the debt of their farms'. She reminded her kinsman that the strict inclosure of the minoress hampered her in worldly business—'consydre how we be closyd withynne the ston wallys, and may no odyr wyse speke with you but only be wrytynge'—and pleading that she is 'full simple and young of age' begs for help 'the qwyche we wolde thynke to us a newe fundacion, and so to our suffrages wolde annexe the sowle of that worthy knyght syr John Fastolf, and swych odyr as ye wyll desyr, unto the soule of oure blyssid foundatrice'.

On Burgoyne's death in 1470 the convent brought an action against his executors. (fn. 82) He seems to have had them at his mercy during his life, for he had forbidden the sisters' tenants to attend their manorial courts, forbidden their officers to take strays in certain fields, impounded their cattle, occupied fens belonging to the abbey, arrested their servants and 'being himself Justice of the Peace' had caused them to be indicted before himself and when writs were sued 'returned that there were no such records', putting the nuns to legal expenses of £200 by a persecution of over 20 years' duration, besides by his 'insatiable covetiss' causing them damage which they estimated at £883. It was finally arranged between the abbess and John Burgoyne, son of the justice, that she should have her leets and law days at Impington and that she and her Histon tenants should inter-common there with Burgoyne and his tenants. (fn. 83)

During this dispute the minoresses had sought and obtained the appropriation of the chantry founded in their church of Histon St. Andrew by Philip de Colvile and augmented by Sir James de Roos, William Thyrning, and John Tyndale. (fn. 84) The chantry was for one priest to celebrate in perpetuity at the altar of St. Mary for the souls of Philip, his wife, and certain of their progenitors, but the nuns' contention was that for 10 years past no chaplain had served it, or resided there, and that the endowment was so diminished that none was likely to do so in future. John Poket, Prior of Barnwell, was appointed by a papal mandate of 26 July 1453 to carry through the union. This laid down that ten masses in every year were to be celebrated at Histon by a secular priest or a Franciscan friar, and all the other masses, or obligations, in accordance with the terms of the foundation, in the conventual church at Denney, because 'it was the Pope's will that the nuns should bear the customary burdens of the chantry'. John Poket's successor, John Whaddon, who was vicar of Waterbeach from 1460 to 1464, (fn. 85) may have befriended the abbey in the troubles about Histon and Impington, for on 3 February 1469, after he had become prior, the abbess, Joan Keteryche, and her convent, admitted him to the confraternity of the house to share in all their prayers and in the merit of their good works 'in like manner as our brethren, sisters, friends and benefactors' on account of 'much loving kindness frequently shown to our convent'. (fn. 86)

At the beginning of 1466 Bishop Gray of Ely, in licensing Dr. Thomas Trumpington, O.F.M., 'Presidens Religionis Minorissarum monasterii de Denney', to perform a marriage ceremony in the conventual church, stipulated that the banns were to be published in the parish church of Waterbeach. (fn. 87) The wedding was that of William Keteryche the younger and Marion Hall, familiares domesticos of the exempt jurisdiction of Denney Abbey. In 1472 this William Keteryche had succeeded his father in the manor of Bray in Landbeach. He made his will 20 October 1479 and left £3 6s. 8d. outright to the abbess and convent for the anniversary of his parents and benefactors, and £10 'for his father's debt'; £13 6s. 8d. was left for the marriage of his daughter Katherine, with reversion to Denney to continue the anniversary in perpetuity if she died before she was of full age. He desired that his sisters, the Lady Abbess and Dame Agnes, and Dame Elizabeth, his daughter, should each have £2, and that the abbess and convent should have a further £2 for the profession and 'entry into religion' of the said Dame Elizabeth, his daughter. (fn. 88) The Abbess of Denney died in this same year and the relief of 50s. was duly paid on her manor of Eye Hall; (fn. 89) her name is given in the account-roll of the bishop's bailiff as 'Alice' Keteryche, presumably a slip for 'Joan'.

At the Dissolution all three houses of minoresses had the full, or nearly the full, complement of officials which had been growing up in monasteries. Denney had a head steward, whose office was by this time a sinecure, (fn. 90) though he received £2 13s. 4d.; an under-steward, who held the manorial courts, paid £1 13s. 4d.; a bailiff, whose salary is not given; a receiver, or collector of rents and dues, taking £4; and an auditor who had 2 marks. In addition to these officials, and to their farm-labourers and tenants, every monastery had a considerable staff of servants of both sexes and varied status. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish the one class of 'servant' from the other. In 1430 the abbess granted a tenement to Ivo Cley and Agnes his wife, one of the conditions being that they should 'ferry in their boats all the ministers, officers and stewards of the Lady and her successors freely'; (fn. 91) but William Keteryche and Marion Hall, familiares domesticos, who were married in the conventual church in 1466, were far from being what is meant to-day by 'domestic servants'. (fn. 92) John, the cook of the abbey had a salary of £1 6s. 8d. in 1412-13, and in the same year 5d. was spent on a coat and tunic for the kitchen boy. (fn. 93) As, by the composition with the vicar of Waterbeach, outdoor servants only were to be reckoned as his parishioners, provision must have been made for those who lived in the precincts at the conventual church, and accordingly in 1470 there seem to have been two resident chaplains. In their struggle with Burgoyne the nuns were forced to pawn all their plate except 'the chalice that the chaplains daily sing with'. It would not appear to have been consonant with Franciscan tradition for these chaplains to be secular. The 'confessors' of a house of women religious were not necessarily their chaplains, and the request of Mary de St. Pol that the fellows of her college would act as confessors to her nuns was little more than putting them in a position to befriend the sisters. Moreover, Franciscan and Dominican nuns had, perhaps in all cases, a 'President', as in some other Orders a 'Master' was appointed. (fn. 94) In 1465 Thomas Trumpington, S.T.P., a Friar Minor, was President of Denney, (fn. 95) and in 1492 Brother Cuthbert, President of Denney, presented several persons in the manors of the abbey in the bishop's court on a charge of heresy: they all abjured and were absolved. (fn. 96) In 1512 the learned Richard Brynkeley, later Provincial Minister, acted for the sisters in the complicated matter of the Eltisley advowson as their proctor and 'President of the Monastery'. (fn. 97)

Most of what is known of Denney Abbey during the last 25 years of its existence is bound up with that 'venerable lady Dame Elizabeth Throckmorton' who was abbess from 1512 (fn. 98) to its dissolution. She was of the new landed gentry of the 15th century, and her family had established themselves at Coughton in Warwickshire in the time of her father, Thomas, who died in 1472. (fn. 99) Her brother Sir Robert was received into the confraternity of the Augustinian Canons at the Chapter of 1506 (fn. 100) and the Francis Throckmorton who was involved in the plot of 1583 was her great-nephew. (fn. 101) Erasmus, when he was at Basle during 1525, was persuaded by Thomas Grey, a former pupil, to write to the community at Denney where his sisters were nuns. (fn. 102) His letter was answered by a gift, but it was stolen on its way to Basle and never reached him. When Erasmus found what had happened, he wrote again expanding his first letter into a little sermon on the theme 'in quietness and confidence shall be your strength'. He spoke of the troubles of the time— war everywhere, and wrath of princes, famine, and plague and divisions in the Church which tore families apart—but comforted the ladies with the thought of the humility and strength of St. Francis and St. Clare and asked their prayers, not only for himself but for the conversion of the thief. He sent his greeting to the 'most religious lady' abbess, and begged her to greet Grey's sisters for him by name. (fn. 103) Erasmus had been 4th Lady Margaret Reader from 1511 to 1514. In 1518 Tyndale translated his Enchiridion Militis Christiani. In 1528 this English version brought trouble upon a friend of the abbess, who lent her the book in this forbidden form. Henry Monmouth, an alderman of London, was imprisoned in that year for helping to distribute Tyndale's books. He petitioned Wolsey for release, with many 'disculpations', declared that he had spent more than £50 on the nunnery, and had lent Tyndale's translation of her friend's Enchiridion to Elizabeth Throckmorton at her own request. (fn. 104)

In 1520 the abbess and convent leased the manor of Waterbeach and their demesne there to Richard Seggeborowe for 15 years. (fn. 105) The change of landlords seems to have been the signal for a good deal of violence and fence-breaking, (fn. 106) but by 1533 the nuns had leased the whole of their property in Waterbeach. (fn. 107)

Many legacies were left to the minoresses of Denney during the last years of the house. In 1492 Margaret Odeham left 12d. each to every nun in Denney: (fn. 108) in 1493 Henry Lane left the abbess 2s. 'for divers trespasses on her conies', as well as 20s. to her and her convent for prayers. (fn. 109) Richard Brocher, rector of Landbeach and fellow of Corpus, left 20s. to the convent in 1489; (fn. 110) John Swayn, another priest and benefactor of the same college, in 1496 left 10s. to Denney: (fn. 111) John Sewet of Clayhithe, in 1518, left 'to mylady, the Abbess of Denney, and her Sisters 40s. this year and 40s. next year to pray for my soul'; and to Alice Payne, nun of Denney 3s. 4d. 'every year for her life'. (fn. 112) In 1524 Sir Richard Sutton, one of the founders of Brasenose, left 40s. 'to my lady of Denney' for prayers. (fn. 113) In 1532 Dame Maud Parr, who died on 1 September, gave 100 marks to the house of Denney, but her legacy only became payable in the event of the death of her son William without issue, and the death of her two daughters before marriage: it does not seem that the nuns received it; (fn. 114) perhaps the last bequest which came to them was that of 20s. from William Rolff, husbandman, in 1534. (fn. 115)

In 1535 the annual value of Denney and its property was returned as £174. (fn. 116) In the 'View' of the profits of the abbey drawn up in 1537-8 the value is stated at £251 3s. 11d. (fn. 117)

From 21 to 30 October 1535 Dr. Legh was at Denney and on the last of these dates he wrote to Cromwell in detail that he found 'half-a-dozen' nuns who 'instantly desired with weeping eyes to go forth . . . and so by this ye may see that they shall not need to be put forth, but that they will make instance themselves to be delivered'. Sir Giles Strangeways's sister was one of the halfdozen nuns of Denney who 'instantly kneeling upon their knees desired to be delivered of such religion as they have ignorantly taken upon themselves'. She 'was and is married to one Ryvel, a merchant ventrer of London, with whom she had four children, and now moved of scruple of conscience, as she saith, desireth most humbly to be dismissed and restored to her husband'. (fn. 118)

Although Denney was listed among the lesser houses under the value of £200, (fn. 119) licence for its continuation, under Elizabeth Throckmorton as abbess, was granted on 28 August 1536. (fn. 120) No record of its surrender has survived, but on 28 October 1539 the site and possessions of the abbey were granted to Edward Elrington. (fn. 121)

The remaining 8 years of Elizabeth Throckmorton's life were spent at Coughton, and the record of her last years of faithfulness to her 'religion' was preserved by two of her family both named George Throckmorton. The first of these probably set up over her tomb the brass (fn. 122) which is now let into the tomb of Sir Robert Throckmorton (1862) which covers the site of the vault where the abbess and two nuns are buried: it records that Dame Elizabeth Throckmorton, the last Abbess of Denney and aunt of Sir George Throckmorton, knight, lies buried under it and that she died 13 January 1547. (fn. 123) The style of the inscription and the prayer for her soul 'and all chryssten soules' which it contains (fn. 124) suggests that it dates from Queen Mary's reign. There is no mention of the other nuns who are said to have lived with her.

The other is the family tradition recorded by Cole who had had it from his 'most worthy friend' George Throckmorton. According to this the abbess and two or three of her nuns occupied an upper room with a passage opening into the hall— in which it seems possible that the 'dole-gate' bearing her name (fn. 125) may have been fixed to ensure their inclosure—living a conventual life and wearing their proper habits. They hardly ever appeared in the family—by which it need not be understood that they even then left their chamber —and never if there were any company present, 'but prescribed to themselves the Rules of the Order as far as it was possible in their present situation, where their whole employ was attendance in the oratory and work at their needle'. (fn. 126)

The only book known to have been connected with Denney is a copy of William of Nassington's Speculum Vitae, in English rhymed couplets, written in the late 15th century. (fn. 127) It contains the inscription: 'Iste liber est venerabilis domine dompne Elesabeth Throgkmorton abbatisse de Denney, Teste Thoma Gylberd in eodem monasterio olim manenti.' A second inscription shows that it had belonged to John Fakun, presumably he who was vice-warden of the Grey Friars and signed the surrender. (fn. 128)

Abbesses of Denney (fn. 129)

Katherine de Bolewyk, first abbess 1342, occurs 1351 (fn. 130)

Margaret, occurs 1361 (fn. 131)

Joan Colcestre, occurs 1379 (fn. 132)

Isabel Kendale, occurs 1391, 1404 (fn. 133)

Agnes Massingham, elected 1412 (fn. 134)

Agnes Bernard, (fn. 135) occurs 1413

Margery Milley, occurs 1419, 1430-1 (fn. 136)

Katherine Sybyle, occurs 1434, 1449

Joan Keteryche, (fn. 137) occurs 1459, 1462, died 1479

Margaret Assheby, occurs 1480, 1487, (fn. 138) 1493

Elizabeth Throckmorton, occurs 1512, last abbess

The original seal (fn. 139) of the abbey is a large pointed oval (27/8 in. by 1¾ in.). It shows, under an elaborate canopy with side niches, the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin. Below is a shield of the arms of the foundress, the Countess of Pembroke. Legend: S' COMVNITATIS: SORORUM . MINORVM . INCLVSARVM . APVD . DENEYE.

A 15th-century seal (fn. 140) of the abbey is vesicashaped, showing the Blessed Virgin seated under an elaborate canopy, holding the Child on her right arm and a sceptre in her left hand; in a niche below is a kneeling figure. Legend: SIGILLŪ: COM: . . . ABBATIE: DE: DENYE.


  • 1. Cal. Pat. 1327–30, p. 27.
  • 2. Ibid. 1334–8, p. 250.
  • 3. Cal. Papal Letters, ii, 393.
  • 4. See below.
  • 5. H. Jenkinson, 'Mary de Sancto Paulo', Archaeologia, lxvi, 418.
  • 6. Cal. Pat. 1338–40, p. 242. The unsatisfactory nature of the site seems indicated in the papal letter approving the foundation at Waterbeach in 1295, which contains clauses providing for securing the inclosure against attack and inundation and for transferring the community if necessary to some other place: Cal. Papal Letters, i, 562.
  • 7. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. vi, 1550.
  • 8. Cal. Pat. 1340–3, p. 381.
  • 9. Ibid. pp. 417, 436. The ordination of the vicarage was made 10 June 1345 by Bp. Bateman of Norwich (Norwich Epis. Reg. Bateman [Inst. Bk. IV], 20, 28d). By this the vicar was to have £10 a year and the nuns £5 in lieu of first-fruits. This agreement was revised 30 Jan. 1359 (Norwich Epis. Reg. Percy [Inst. Bk. V], 2, 2d), and the church declared appropriated to Denney.
  • 10. Cal. Papal Letters, iii, 89.
  • 11. Ibid. 68.
  • 12. Ibid.
  • 13. Ibid.
  • 14. Bourdillon, 'Order of Minoresses' in Brit. Soc. Franc. Studies, xii, 8.
  • 15. Harl. Chart. 46 I, 26.
  • 16. Cal. Pat. 1343–5, p. 340.
  • 17. Ibid. 3; Gransden was worth £40; this appropriation was Elizabeth de Burgh's only gift of real property to minoresses, but in other ways she was a lavish benefactress of the London house, where she was buried.
  • 18. Ibid. 1345–8, p. 119.
  • 19. Ibid. 369.
  • 20. Archaeologia, lxvi, 431.
  • 21. Exch. K.R. Accts., bdle. 92, no. 30.
  • 22. Archaeologia, lxvi, 431.
  • 23. Bull. Fran., Sbaralea and Eubel, vi, 452.
  • 24. Cal. Papal Letters, iii, 409.
  • 25. Cal. Chart. R. v, 168.
  • 26. Cal. Pat. 1361–4, p. 134; Cal. Close, 1361–4, p. 404.
  • 27. Cal. Pat. 1361–4, p. 179.
  • 28. Ibid. 1364–7, p. 221.
  • 29. Ely Epis. Reg. West, fol. 61–8, 71: full transcript of MS. in Ely archives in Cole MS. xlvi, fol. 186; summary of proceedings (1512–13) in Coll. Top. et Gen. vi, 362–5.
  • 30. Cal. Pat. 1364–7, p. 48.
  • 31. Ibid.
  • 32. Cal. Papal Letters, iv, 38.
  • 33. See above, p. 295.
  • 34. Cal. Papal Letters, iv, 31.
  • 35. As the parents were 'of the Diocese of Worcester' it is probable that John Beauchamp of Powick, cousin of the Earl of Warwick, was the father of Elizabeth, and he may have been the brother of Emma. He died between 1378 and 1401, his wife Elizabeth in 1411.
  • 36. Ibid. iii, 488, 511.
  • 37. Bull. Fran. vi, 673.
  • 38. Cal. Papal Letters, v, 91.
  • 39. The Book of Margery Kempe (E.E.T.S.), 202.
  • 40. In 1377 there was a conference regarding the tithes of Eye Hall in the Denney parlatorium between the Master of St. John's Hospital at Cambridge and Joan Colcestre, Abbess of Denney. Joan Colcestre seems to have come to the parlour to speak with a religious, whereas her successor, Joan Keteryche, is at pains to remind a secular correspondent that she can only communicate with him in writing: see below, p. 299. For possible evidence of a 'gate' see p. 302.
  • 41. Pembroke College Deeds, Coll. A 12.
  • 42. Archaeologia, lxvi, 421.
  • 43. R. R. Sharpe, Cal. of Wills . . . Court of Hustings, London, ii, 194; Archaeologia, lxvi, 432.
  • 44. W. M. Palmer, 'Subsidy Rolls' in East Anglian, xiii, 122. There were 46 monks at Ely and 28 at Thorney. Monasteries of men were generally larger than nunneries at this time, and that at Ely was one of the greatest in the country.
  • 45. Ibid. pp. 122, 123.
  • 46. M. Bateson, Cambridge Gild Records (C.A.S.), passim.
  • 47. Ibid. Cf. P.R.O. Subsidy Roll (file 81, no. 5), of 1314–15 for the Borough of Cambridge.
  • 48. R. R. Sharpe, Cal. of Wills . . . Court of Hustings, London, ii, 275–7 (Will of Sir John Philipot).
  • 49. Sir Simon Felbrigg, who left a rent to the Abbess of Denney during the life of one of her nuns (Add. Charter 14523), was standard-bearer to Richard II and his wife was the daughter of the Duke of Silesia. His daughter Anne was Abbess of Bruisyard in 1431: Bourdillon, op. cit. 52.
  • 50. i.e. Joan Keteryche, 1459; his other daughter Agnes was a nun of Denney, and may be identical with the Alice Keteryche, the Abbess.
  • 51. Early Chanc. Proc. xl, no. 30; Cal. Pat. 1461–7, p. 239. Cf. A. Gibbons, Ely Epis. Records, 433.
  • 52. East Anglian, xiii, 122–3; for Franciscans in houses of minoresses cf. Bourdillon, op. cit. 8.
  • 53. Transcripts of the Denney Court Rolls exist as follows: (1) Copies made by Cole and contained in his 36th vol. from an earlier transcript on paper, 1327– 1630; (2) an MS. vol. compiled by the Rev. Evelyn Young, of Toft, from a vellum original in the parish chest at Waterbeach, covering the years 1326–76, 1413–15, 1462–73, 1513–29, 1538. The copy is with the Society of Genealogists.
  • 54. Archaeologia, lxvi, 434. His daughter Isabel was a nun at Denney. She was dead before the end of 1415: Add. Chart. 14523.
  • 55. See above, p. 296.
  • 56. Cal. Pat. 1391–6, p. 74. This seems to have been a sale rather than a gift (W. K. Clay, Hist. of Waterbeach, 107–8), possibly the investment of part of the £100 left to the nuns by their foundress in 1377.
  • 57. Cal. Pat. 1413–16, p. 389.
  • 58. Clay, op. cit. 108.
  • 59. Cal. Charter R. v, 168.
  • 60. An omnibus inspection and confirmation was granted 1 May 1462: Cal. Pat. 1461–7, p. 239.
  • 61. Ibid. 1396–9, p. 338.
  • 62. L. and P. Henry VIII, ii, 4461.
  • 63. e.g. Cole MS. xxxvi, 140, 141: she occurs 1413, 1414, 1415.
  • 64. Cal. Papal Letters, vi, 283.
  • 65. Bolland: Acta Sanctorum, i, March, p. 565.
  • 66. Accounts of Denney Abbey, P.R.O. Mins. Accts., bdle. 1287, no. 2.
  • 67. Grant of Denney and its possessions to Edward Elryngton, 28 Oct. 1539: L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiv, pt. 2, 435 (49). Cf. P.R.O. Mins. Accts. Hen. VIII, no. 7295.
  • 68. For details of these, and other grants, see Bourdillon, op. cit., Appendix II.
  • 69. Cal. Pat. 1313–17, p. 341.
  • 70. Lincoln Epis. Reg. Alnwick, fol. 44 v: cf. Joan Keteryche's letter, below.
  • 71. The fine was paid in 1479 on the death of the abbess Alice Keteryche; A. Gibbons, Ely Epis. Records, 433 from Bailiff's Rolls D 6 (Compotus Rolls, 19–20 Edw. IV).
  • 72. Norwich Epis. Reg. Wakering (Inst. Bk. VIII), fol. 43.
  • 73. Joan Keteryche's letter.
  • 74. St. Clare fought hard for the principle of community-poverty for Franciscan women, but the recognition won on her death-bed was lost again almost immediately after her death. Cf. A. R. Martin, Franciscan Architecture, 255.
  • 75. Cf. Bourdillon, op. cit. 40–2.
  • 76. Ibid. 39–40, for this whole subject.
  • 77. Rolls of Parlt. v, 162.
  • 78. The present Lady Abbess of Syon (1937) informs us that the name of Henry VI is omitted from their special prayers for their founder and his house 'because he took from us what his father gave, in order to found King's'.
  • 79. Cal. Pat. 1446–52, p. 159.
  • 80. The letter is printed in full by A. F. C. Bourdillon, op. cit. 30: from Camden's Britannia (1806), ii, 235–6, and Gough MS. iii, 227 (Blomefield Collections) in the Bodleian; also in Clay, Waterbeach, 112-13.
  • 81. '. . . oure jeuells qwyche were ordeynid of our fyrste fundacion to araye oure chyrche and to stere usse and provoke others to worshipe God and to have oure benefactoris in more fresche remembraunz are now for nede leyde in morgage, and sume loste for ever.'
  • 82. Early Chancery Proc. 40, no. 30.
  • 83. Cal. Pat. 1476–85, p. 304.
  • 84. Cal. Papal Letters, x, 650–1; Epis. Reg. Ely, Goodrich, fol. 138; E.D.R. 1912, p. 74; Vetus Liber Archidiaconi Elien. (ed. Feltoe and Minns), pp. 198, 279.
  • 85. Clay, Waterbeach, 58.
  • 86. Ibid. 114.
  • 87. Ely Epis. Reg. Gray, fol. 56; E.D.R. 1905, p. 128; Gibbons, Ely Epis. Records, 224.
  • 88. Clay, op. cit. 115.
  • 89. Gibbons, op. cit. 433. See Clay, op. cit. 111.
  • 90. The office had not always been a sinecure, for in 1415 the abbess made a grant of land in Waterbeach 'by Nicholas Hycoyshe, her chief steward': Court Rolls, ut supra, fol. 143 d.
  • 91. Cole MS. xxxvi, fol. 146. Clayhithe, or Bechewere, ferry had always gone with the manor of Denney.
  • 92. They may have been wards of the abbess, who was Keteryche's sister, living in the precincts.
  • 93. P.R.O. Mins. Accts. 1257/2.
  • 94. Cf. Arch. Journ. xxxix, 177–8 and L. and P. Hen. VIII, xi, 1322. There are also analogies with the position of the Brigettine 'Confessors general'.
  • 95. Trumpington was a theologian and 'limitour' of some importance: in 1460 the Bishop of Ely manumitted a nativus at Stretham at his instance: Gibbons, Ely Epis. Records, 145; MS. Balliol Coll. 133, fol. 1v.
  • 96. Clay, op. cit. 110.
  • 97. See Gibbons, loc. cit., for the 'beautiful MS. of 32 pages' in which the final settlement of the appropriation is embodied. Handsome MSS. of this nature were in fashion at the time; a similar appropriation relating to Syon is at Westminster Abbey.
  • 98. Clay, op. cit. 115.
  • 99. Dugdale, Warwickshire, ii, 755; V.C.H. Warw. iii, 81.
  • 100. Salter, Chapters of Augustinian Canons, 126.
  • 101. Guiday, English Catholic Refugees, 27, 150; Cath. Rec. Soc. Misc. ix, 148.
  • 102. P. S. Allen, Letters of Erasmus, i, 174. There are indications that the Greys belonged to the noble family of that name, who were heirs of Massingham and Coleville, thus, perhaps carrying on the family tradition at Denney.
  • 103. Ibid. vii, 283–4, no. 1925. Printed among the Epistolæ Consolatoriæ at Basle, in 1528.
  • 104. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv, 4282.
  • 105. Clay, op. cit. 115.
  • 106. Ibid. 116. The lease was dated 6 Oct.; before the end of the year one tenant was fined for breaking into the manor and removing 18 cattle and a cart, and another for breaking the pound and taking out his own cattle and others, mowing fen, and treading down pasture held by the lord in severalty.
  • 107. Ibid. 25.
  • 108. Bury Wills (Camden Soc.), 73.
  • 109. Clay, Landbeach, 86.
  • 110. Ibid. 107.
  • 111. Ibid. 86.
  • 112. Clay, Horningsey, 47–8.
  • 113. Clay, Waterbeach, 110.
  • 114. Cambs. Ant. Soc. ii, 338.
  • 115. Clay, Waterbeach, 54.
  • 116. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii, 499.
  • 117. Rentals and Surv. (P.R.O.), bdle. 6, no. 6. Cf. Martin, Franciscan Architecture, 260.
  • 118. L. and P. Hen. VIII, ix, 651, 694, 708.
  • 119. Ibid. x, p. 516.
  • 120. Ibid. xi, 385 (35).
  • 121. Ibid. xiv (2), 435 (49).
  • 122. E. A. B. Barnard, 'A 16th Century Dole-Gate', C.A.S. xxix, p. 73; Dugdale, Warwickshire, ii, 755; Bourdillon, op. cit. 83.
  • 123. Fifteen days before Henry VIII.
  • 124. V.C.H. Warw. iii, 85.
  • 125. Ibid. 78.
  • 126. Cole MS. xxxii, p. 180.
  • 127. Hatton MS. 18; no. 4109 in the Bodleian Summary Catalogue, from which these particulars are taken.
  • 128. See above, p. 281.
  • 129. Clay, Waterbeach, 110–11.
  • 130. Cal. Pat. 1340–3, p. 381; ibid. 1350–4, p. 72.
  • 131. Cal. Close, 1360–4, p. 404.
  • 132. East Anglian, xiii, 122.
  • 133. Harl. Chart. 44D. 15.
  • 134. Cal. Papal Letters, vi, 283.
  • 135. Presumably the same; held a Court Baron 1413. Robert Braunche in 1420 left 3s. 4d. to 'the Lady Vernard late abbess': P.C.C. Marche, 48.
  • 136. Cal. Pat. 1429–36, p. 16; Harl. Chart. 44D. 16.
  • 137. See above, p. 299.
  • 138. Harl. Chart. 44D. 17.
  • 139. H. S. Kingsford, 'Seals', in Brit. Soc. Franc. Stud. xix, 89 and pl. 111, no. 5.
  • 140. Figured in Clay, Waterbeach, 105 from a deed of 1494.