Houses of Benedictine monks: Priory of Earl's Colne

Pages 102-105

A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.

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Colne Priory was founded (fn. 2) as a cell to the abbey of Abingdon in Berkshire. Godfrey de Vere, the eldest son of Aubrey de Vere and Beatrice his wife, had been cured of an illness by Faritius, abbot of Abingdon, and when later he died of another illness he was buried in the abbey. On his deathbed he granted to the monks the church of Kensington in Middlesex, and his parents confirmed this; but, on account of the distance of Abingdon from Essex, they determined, instead of making further grants, to found a monastery on their own land of Colne, to be subject to Abingdon. The consent of the king and of Maurice, bishop of London, was obtained, and the foundation was confirmed by a charter of the king in 1111. (fn. 3) Faritius became abbot in 1101 and Maurice died in 1107, and so the date of the priory can be placed between fairly narrow limits.

Abbot Faritius placed six monks at Colne originally, and afterwards increased (fn. 4) the number to twelve. The founder himself became a monk in the priory and was buried there, as were also his youngest son William and a large number of his successors and their relatives, including thirteen earls of Oxford. The patronage of the priory remained with the de Veres through the whole of its history.

A transcript (fn. 5) of a small chartulary is preserved at the British Museum, by which the early pos sessions of the priory can be traced. The founder granted the church of St. Andrew and lands in Earl's Colne, the churches of Dovercourt, Great Bentley, Belchamp Walter and Camps (Cambridgeshire), and various lands and tithes. The church of Camps, however, afterwards belonged to Abingdon, while the church of Great Bentley appears to have come back to the de Veres, for the prior and convent had licence (fn. 6) in 1320 to acquire the advowson from the earl of Oxford and to appropriate it. (fn. 7) The church of Edwardstone in Suffolk was granted to Abingdon by Hubert de Monte Caniso in 1115, Abbot Faritius placing two monks there to pray for his soul; but later Abbot Walchelin (1159-1164) transferred them to Colne, and Hugh de Monte Caniso, the son of Hubert, granted the church to the priory. Colne also owned the churches of White Colne and Messing in Essex and Waldingfield in Suffolk, and tithes in Halstead, Castle Hedingham, Sible Hedingham, Stansted, Maplestead, Beauchamp Roding and Aythorpe Roding in Essex, Aldham, Bures and Lavenham in Suffolk, and Wadenhoe in Northamptonshire. The churches of Wilbraham in Cambridgeshire and Lamarsh were granted to it, but the grants do not appear to have taken effect. The temporalities of the priory amounted in 1291 to £49 4s. 9d. yearly, of which £10 17s. 6d. came from White Colne, £10 12s. 7½d. from Monk's Colne, sums of over £1 from Great Bentley, Halstead, Aythorpe Roding, Sudbury, Ashingdon, Aldham, Beauchamp William, Alphamstone, Great Tey and Sible Hedingham, and the remainder from nearly twenty other places.

The prior and convent had licence (fn. 8) on 4 July, 1354, to acquire land and rent in Little Colne, White Colne, Earl's Colne and Alphamstone; and on 26 November, 1361, to acquire the advowson of the church of Wickham in Cambridgeshire from the earl of Oxford and to appropriate it. (fn. 9)

The priory church was dedicated (fn. 10) to St. Mary and St. John the Evangelist in 1148 by Robert, bishop of London, who invoked a long and detailed curse on all who should rob it of its possessions, while indulgences of relaxation from penance were promised (fn. 11) by successive bishops of London to persons who should visit it on the day of dedication.

The doings of Prior William, early in the thirteenth century, were thought worthy of special mention (fn. 12) in the Abingdon Chronicle. The churches of Edwardstone, Waldingfield and Messing were appropriated in his time. He made a conduit and lavatory, and afterwards repaired it when broken, surrounded the whole court with a wall, covered the church with shingles, instituted the monks' chamber, renewed the organs, and built the tower. All the unfruitful land he improved with a composition of marl. He caused the feasts of St. Gregory in Lent and St. Augustine to be celebrated with greater solemnity. The chronicler appears, however, to have considered that his greatest achievement was the increase of allowances of food and wine to the convent.

Disputes arose after a time between Colne and Abingdon, because the abbot and convent used to recall learned monks from Colne to the abbey at their pleasure and send ignorant ones of their own in their stead, and lay the charges of their journey on the priory although the abbey had lands assigned to this purpose. This was rectified at last by Robert Winchelsey, archbishop of Canterbury, in his metropolitical visitation (fn. 13) in 1303. But disputes on this and other points still continued until an agreement was come to in 1311 by the mediation of the earl of Oxford. It was settled that the prior and convent should receive into the monastic habit what clerks they pleased without consulting the abbot, and for the future none of the convent of Abingdon should be sent to Colne to be admitted as monks, and such as were there at present might within three years return to the abbey if they pleased and be there admitted, and the monks at Colne should be professed by the prior. On the vacancy of the priory the convent might elect one of their fellow monks, to be named and sent to the abbot and the patron, to be presented if fit to the bishop, or if not fit to be sent back for another to be elected. The right of visiting the priory and receiving procurations for the same was reserved to the abbot, and the prior renounced all claim to the church of Kensington and all interference in the election of the abbot. This agreement was confirmed (fn. 14) by the king on 7 September, 1321.

At the end of the fourteenth century there was a dispute about the priorship. Henry Colne or Kebell had been elected by the monks, but Maud, countess of Oxford, the patron, objected to the election; and the king on 26 March, 1394, ordered the bishop to survey the house and its possessions and make order for its custody. (fn. 15) Henry on 16 December placed his resignation in the hands of the bishop, who on 1 February ordered the convent to proceed to a fresh election, and on their omission to do so appointed Henry as prior on 6 May, 1395. (fn. 16) But William Courtenay, archbishop of Canterbury, conferred the priory upon John Preston by metropolitical authority; and although Henry made divers appeals to the court of Rome, John recovered it by a judgement (fn. 17) in that court, and on 7 April, 1399, obtained a ratification (fn. 18) from Richard II. He also had the support of the countess. Meanwhile Henry appears to have been in possession and to have brought the case before the bishop, whose delegate, Robert Wytton, decided (fn. 19) in favour of Henry, but the adherents of John refused to accept his decision. Henry IV on 12 October, 1400, ordered (fn. 20) a serjeant-at-arms to arrest the rival claimants and bring them before the council; and on 10 November issued a commission (fn. 21) of oyer and terminer, on complaint by Prior Henry that the countess and Preston and others had trespassed on the possessions of the priory, breaking in by night and carrying him off 'shamefully clad,' and imprisoned him until he had sworn on the Host never to disturb Preston in his claim or divulge the fact that he had taken the oath under compulsion. On 19 November the justices of the peace were ordered to go to the priory and arrest the adherents of Preston. But after this things went the other way. The countess obtained a commission (fn. 22) of oyer and terminer on 27 May, 1401, complaining of trespass by Henry Kebell and John Sudbury, monks, and others. Kebell was charged before the justices of the Common Bench with having obtained a provision to the priory from Rome and failed to appear, and though he afterwards surrendered' it is probable that Preston was left in possession.

Richard II dated letters patent at the priory on 22 November, 1395; (fn. 23) which was probably the day of the funeral of his favourite Robert de Vere, duke of Ireland, who had died in exile at Louvain three years before. The king is said to have attended the funeral in the company of the duke's mother and many bishops, and to have been much affected. (fn. 24)

On 12 March, 1449, in consideration of their alleged poverty, the prior and convent were exempted (fn. 25) from being made collectors of tenths, etc. On 7 February, 1489, at the instance of their patron, the earl of Oxford, they were granted licence (fn. 26) to acquire property in mortmain to the value of £40 yearly. It is not known how much use was made of this licence.

The oath of supremacy was taken (fn. 27) on 3 July, 1534, by Robert Abell, prior, John London, sub-prior, John Bery alias Colne, John Bylston, William Thorpe, John Attylborow, Robert Wyttam, John Maldon, Reginald Maldon, John Bockyng and John Sonne.

The net value of the priory was returned in the Valor as £156 12s. 4½d. yearly; the gross value (fn. 28) being £175 14s. 8¾d. It thus came under the operation of the Act of 1536 and was dissolved, the prior receiving a pension (fn. 29) of £20 yearly. The site of the priory and most of its possessions, including the manors of Colne Priory in Earl's Colne, Barwyke in White Colne, Ingesthorpe and Ingeston (Cambridgeshire), the rectories and advowsons of Earl's Colne, Great Bentley, Belchamp Walter, Dovercourt, Harwich, Messing and White Colne in Essex, and Wickham in Cambridgeshire, and various tithes and lands, were granted (fn. 30) in tail to John de Vere, earl of Oxford, on 20 July, 1536.

An inventory (fn. 31) was taken on 10 June, 1536, of the goods in the various chambers and buildings of the priory. These were valued at £89 1s. 4d., the cattle at £6 9s. 4d., and the corn at £17 18s. 4d. The debts due to the house amounted to £2, and those due by it to £15 13s. 9d. The whole of the stuff—goods, corn and cattle—in the priory was sold to the earl of Oxford for £69 11s., exclusive of the plate, which reached the large amount of 307 ounces and was valued at £58 16s. 8d.

Priors of Colne

Reginald. (fn. 32)

Mainard. (fn. 32)

Hugh. (fn. 33)

Anchetil, (fn. 34) occurs circa 1185.

Osbert. (fn. 35)

William, (fn. 36) occurs 1209, 1224.

Richard, (fn. 37) occurs 1227, 1236.

Henry, (fn. 38) occurs 1255, 1262.

John de Campeden, occurs 1321. (fn. 39)

Richard de Sudbury, died 1371. (fn. 40)

Elias de Bello Campo, elected 1371. (fn. 41)

Thomas Maldon, died 1390. (fn. 42)

Adam de Fornham, elected 1390, (fn. 43) died 1394. (fn. 44)

Henry Colne or Kebell, (fn. 45) elected 1394.

John Preston. (fn. 45)

John Occle, died 1426. (fn. 46)

John Wickham, elected 1427, (fn. 47) died 1430. (fn. 48)

John Colchester, elected 1430. (fn. 49)

John Horkesley, elected 1434, (fn. 50) resigned 1438. (fn. 51)

William Thaxstede, occurs 1454. (fn. 52)

William Aldham, occurs 1464. (fn. 53)

John Holme, occurs 1490. (fn. 54)

John Eyer, occurs 1503, (fn. 55) died 1513. (fn. 56)

Thomas Cheltenham, collated 1514, (fn. 57) died 1526. (fn. 58)

Robert Abell, elected 1526, (fn. 59) the last prior. (fn. 60)

The seal of the priory attached to the acknowledgement of supremacy (fn. 61) is a pointed oval of red wax measuring about 15/8 by 11/8 inches when complete. It represents the Virgin seated in a canopied niche with tabernacle work at the sides, crowned, holding the infant Jesus on her right arm and a sceptre in her left hand. Legend:—



  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. iv, 95.
  • 2. Chron. of Abingdon (Rolls Ser.), ii, 57-61.
  • 3. Ibid. 59.
  • 4. Ibid. 288.
  • 5. Cole MS. lix, 215-274.
  • 6. Pat. 13 Edw. II, m. 11.
  • 7. Ibid. 14 Edw. II, pt. 1, m. 11.
  • 8. Ibid. 28 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 18.
  • 9. Ibid. 35 Edw. III, pt. 3, m. 16.
  • 10. Chartul.
  • 11. Chron. of Abingdon (Rolls Ser.), ii, 294-5.
  • 12. Lond. Epis. Reg. Baldock, f. 16.
  • 13. Pat. 15 Edw. II, pt. 1, m. 14.
  • 14. Close, 17 Ric. II, m. 10.
  • 15. Lond. Epis. Reg. Braybrook, 298 b.
  • 16. Cal. Papal Letters, v, 150.
  • 17. Pat. 22 Ric. II, pt. 3, m. 41.
  • 18. Close, 2 Hen. IV, pt. 1, m. 30.
  • 19. Pat. 2 Hen. IV, pt. 1, m. 39d.
  • 20. Ibid. m. 13 d.
  • 21. Ibid. pt. 3, m. 14d.
  • 22. Ibid. 4 Hen. IV, pt. 2, m. 30.
  • 23. Ibid. 19 Ric. II, pt. 1, m. 7.
  • 24. Walsingham, Historia Anglicana (Rolls Ser.), ii, 219.
  • 25. Pat. 27 Hen. VI, pt. 2, m. 25.
  • 26. Ibid. 4 Hen. VII, m. 19 (13).
  • 27. L. and P. Hen. VIII, vii, 1024 (4).
  • 28. According to Speed.
  • 29. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (1), 1520.
  • 30. Ibid. xi, 202 (45).
  • 31. Ch. Gds. (Exch. K. R.) xii, 31, 32, 33. See Trans. Essex Arch. Soc. ix. 280, 330.
  • 32. Chartul.
  • 33. Ibid. In the time of Gilbert, bishop of London [1163–1188].
  • 34. Chron. of Abingdon (Rolls Ser.), ii, 243. He successfully opposed a suggested reduction of the enormous household of the abbey.
  • 35. Chartul. In the time of Aubrey, second earl.
  • 36. Cal. Feet of F. (Essex Arch. Soc.), 43, 67.
  • 37. Ibid. 77, 88–90, 101, 114.
  • 38. Feet of F. 39, 46 Hen. III.
  • 39. Pat. 15 Edw. II, pt. 1, m. 14.
  • 40. Lond. Epis. Reg. Sudbury, 128–130. On 3 March.
  • 41. Ibid. On 1 May.
  • 42. Lond. Epis. Reg. Braybrook, 289, 290.
  • 43. Ibid. His election was confirmed by the bishop on 2 August.
  • 44. Ibid. 298.
  • 45. See above. These two disputed the priorship for some years.
  • 46. Ibid. Gray, 62-4. On 31 December. Licence for election was given by the king, through the minority of the earl of Oxford, on 16 January. (Pat. 5 Hen. VI, pt. 1, m. 16.)
  • 47. Ibid. On 4 February, by way of compromise. He was sub-prior.
  • 48. Ibid. 72. On 18 June.
  • 49. Ibid. On 6 July.
  • 50. Ibid. FitzHugh, 45. His election was confirmed by the bishop on 24 August. He was prior of St. John's, Colchester.
  • 51. Ibid. Gilbert, 115. He was made abbot of Walden on 14 December.
  • 52. De Banco, Easter, 32 Hen. VI, 428.
  • 53. De Banco, Hil. 3 Edw. IV, 289.
  • 54. Trans. Essex Arch. Soc. vi. 241.
  • 55. Testamenta Vetusta, 445. He was executor of the will of Sir George Vere.
  • 56. Lond. Epis. Reg. FitzJames, 51.
  • 57. Ibid. By the bishop through lapse of time, on 22 May.
  • 58. Ibid. Tunstall, 103, 108.
  • 59. Ibid. On 28 May by seven monks, by way of scrutiny. He was a monk of Abingdon.
  • 60. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (1), 1520.
  • 61. Acknowledgements of Supremacy, S.A. 1, 35.