A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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7. THE PRIORY OF CASTLE HEDINGHAM. (fn. 1)
This nunnery was founded some time in the latter half of the twelfth century by Aubrey de Vere, first earl of Oxford, and Lucy his wife. Their son Aubrey, by a charter dated 21 February, 1191, confirmed the grants that his father had made to the nuns and added the church of Castle Hedingham and a wood in Gosfield. The advowson of the priory belonged always to the de Veres. It was dedicated to St. Mary, St. James and The Holy Cross.
Lucy the foundress was also the first prioress. The Bede Roll (fn. 2) is still preserved which her successor Agnes and the convent sent after her death to various religious houses asking for their prayers. More than a hundred monasteries recorded their answers on the roll, including most of those in Essex. (fn. 3) In it Lucy is described as foundress, although the endowment of the house seems to have come from her husband alone.
The priory is not mentioned in the Taxation of 1291, and not much is known of its possessions. Alice de Say, sister of Robert de Vere, earl of Oxford, about 1229 gave the nuns 12 acres of land towards their vesture. (fn. 4) Morant says (fn. 5) that by a roll of their revenues he found that they had above 250 acres of land, in small parcels of not more than 12 or 14 acres, in the parishes of Bumpstead Steeple, Birdbrook, Tilbury, Hempstead, Toppesfield, Finchingfield, the Hedinghams, Gosfield, Halstead, Great Maplestead, Belchamp Otten and Walter, Pebmarsh, Bulmer, Foxearth, Gestingthorpe, Sudbury, Clare, Haverhill, Waldingfield, Camps and Westley Waterless. Besides the church of Castle Hedingham they also owned that of Gosfield, the former being served by a curate, while in the latter a vicarage was ordained. In 1318 they had licence (fn. 6) to acquire lands in mortmain to the value of 10 marks yearly.
Archbishop Peckham in 1279 ordered the prioress and convent to admit and receive as their sister, Agnes, daughter of Sir Roger Beauchamp; and upon their refusing to do so, wrote them a very stern letter, (fn. 7) threatening that if they did not at once receive her he would punish them so as to strike terror into other offenders, and also pointing out that the queen was particularly interested in the said Agnes, which, if they were wise, would make them glad to receive her.
Pope Gregory XI on 26 October, 1373, granted (fn. 8) relaxation of penance to penitents who at certain times of the year should visit and give alms for the repair of the nunnery church. On 20 October, 1412, licence (fn. 9) was granted by the king for the foundation of a chantry in the church for the souls of Sir John Haukewode (the famous military adventurer), and John Olyver and Thomas Newenton, esquires.
The priory was valued at only £29 12s. 10d. yearly in the Valor of 1535. It was dissolved in accordance with the Act of 1536, the prioress receiving a pension (fn. 10) of 100s. yearly, and on 13 June an inventory (fn. 11) was taken of the goods in the various chambers and buildings, these being valued at £21 14s. 7d., besides cattle worth £9 17s. 2d. and corn worth £17 11s. 4d. Nothing was owing to the house, but it was in debt to the amount of £8 9s. 11d. There were 71 ounces of plate, valued at £13 10s. 6d.
On 20 July in the same year the priory was granted (fn. 12) to John de Vere, earl of Oxford, in tail, with the rectories of Castle Hedingham and Gosfield and all other possessions belonging to it in Castle Hedingham, Sible Hedingham, Gosfield, Great and Little Yeldham and elsewhere.
Prioresses Of Castle Hedingham
Lucy de Vere, the first prioress, occurs 1198. (fn. 13)
Agnes, the second prioress. (fn. 14)
Juliana de Chepford. (fn. 15)
Joan Clovill, admitted 1331. (fn. 16)
Joan Waltham, resigned 1476. (fn. 19)
Margaret Fages, appointed 1476. (fn. 20)
Agnes Castell, died 1519. (fn. 21)
Mary Stanbroke, elected 1519. (fn. 22)
Mary Baynbrygge, the last prioress. (fn. 23)