A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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13. THE PRIORY OF PRITTLEWELL. (fn. 1)
The earliest known mention of the monastery of St. Mary, Prittlewell, is found in a confirmation (fn. 2) of the possessions of the priory of Lewes, in Sussex, by Ralph, archbishop of Canterbury, in 1121; where it is said to have been granted to Lewes by Robert, son of Sweyn. Sweyn appears as the holder of Prittlewell in Domesday (fn. 3); and so its foundation can certainly be placed between 1086 and 1121, and probably in the latter half of this period after his death. It appears later among the possessions confirmed to Lewes by Stephen. (fn. 4) Robert's son, Henry of Essex, probably added to the endowment of the priory; for he is called the founder in a petition, (fn. 5) probably of the fourteenth century, where the prior, protesting against the demand from the Exchequer of £100 yearly when the priory is only worth £150 yearly and there are eighteen monks to maintain, says that they do not send any contribution abroad to the mother house of Cluni, but spend all their revenues upon their own house in England according to the form of the charter which they had from their founder, Henry of Essex.
The founder, Robert, by charter (fn. 6) granted to the priory the church of Prittlewell with the chapels of Sutton and Eastwood, and the tithes of the hamlet of Milton, and ordered that the prior should pay a mark of silver yearly on the feast of St. Pancras to the prior of Lewes as an acknowledgement of subjection. Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, confirmed (fn. 7) to the priory the above, and also the churches of Rayleigh, Thundersley, the two Shoeburys, Canewdon, (fn. 8) Wickford, (fn. 9) Stoke, Clavering and Langley. Prittlewell was, for its size, unusually rich in church spoils, for it held, appropriated at various times, the churches of Canewdon, Clavering with Langley, Eastwood, (fn. 10) Prittlewell and the two Shoeburys in Essex, and Stoke with the chapel of Nayland in Suffolk, (fn. 11) and it also owned the advowsons of the rectories of Great Horkesley, East Mersea, Rayleigh, Rawreth, Thundersley and Wickford, and portions in these and in the churches of Hockley, North Benfleet, Bumpstead Helion and Great Warley.
The temporalities of the priory mentioned in the Taxation of 1291 were valued at £37 16s. 4½d. yearly, of which £20 8s. 8d. came from Great Shoebury, £6 19s. 2d. from Prittlewell, £3 3s. 6d. from Clavering, £1 11s. 8d. from Hadleigh and £1 2s. 6d. from Little Shoebury, with smaller sums from Nevendon, Bowers Gifford, Paglesham, Rayleigh, Hawkwell, Maldon, Great Stambridge, Pitsea, Ramsden Bellhouse, Leigh, Stoke Nayland, Shipbourne in Kent, and London. The greater part of the income of the priory, however, came from its spiritualities, the rectory of Stoke Nayland alone being valued at £40.
In 1203 the prior and convent, in return for a quitclaim of a moiety of the advowson of the church of North Shoebury, granted to Reginald de Cornhill and his heirs the presentation for ever of one clerk to be a monk in their house. (fn. 12) Hamo de Bocland was admitted as a monk in 1281 at the presentation of Sir John de Rochford, (fn. 13) and in 1343 the prior and convent record the admission of Henry de Southcherche, an illegitimate son of Sir Peter de Southcherche, and his subsequent apostasy. (fn. 14)
In the years 1299-1301 the prior was engaged on behalf of the king on the construction of a new prison at Rayleigh and the repair of houses at Eastwood and Nayland and a mill at Rayleigh. (fn. 15)
Corrodies were claimed by the crown in the priory; John Swetyng being sent there in 1343 to receive such maintenance as Peter Burgulon had had. (fn. 16)
In 1359 the prior and convent had licence to acquire land and rent in Prittlewell for the celebration of a memorial for the soul of William de Dersham, servant of William de Bohun, earl of Northampton. (fn. 17)
In the Cluniac visitation of England in 1276 (fn. 18) John, prior of Wenlock, and Arnulph, constable of the abbot of Cluni, report that they were at Prittlewell on March 21. There were there fifteen monks, and the house owed £100 sterling. The priors of Mont Didier and Lenton visited it on 17 September, 1279, (fn. 19) and found fourteen monks leading good lives. The prior was rebuilding his church; the other buildings were in good condition. The house had no other debt than 100 marks, for which it was responsible through Miles, the present abbot of Vezelay, when he was prior of Lewes; and its goods, though not abundant, were sufficient for it until the new harvest. The prior was a person of good life and fame. In 1305 (fn. 20) the visitors found that four monks were lacking from the accustomed number, and the prior of Lewes was ordered to make up the deficiency unless prevented by some reasonable cause. In case of his negligence the number would be made up by the lord abbot.
In an enumeration (fn. 21) of the Cluniac houses in England (about 1450) Prittlewell is said to be subject to the priory of Lewes and in (the jurisdiction of) the city of London. There should be there fourteen monks. The only alms distributed are the fragments collected in the refectory and the prior's chamber. Four masses are celebrated there and written down in the table, and of these three are with and one without chant.
William le Auvergnat, monk of Lewes, was appointed prior in 1311. (fn. 22) He was accused of incontinency in the city of London in 1314, and the Cluniac visitors, not being able to get full information, ordered the prior of Lewes to inquire into the matter and punish him if guilty. (fn. 23) The prior of Lewes decided to deprive him, and in 1315 presented Guichard de Caro Loco (fn. 24) or Cherlieu to the priory, but the latter was rejected by the king as William was already in possession. (fn. 25) William obtained protection from the king in 1315, (fn. 26) and again in 1316. (fn. 27) In February, 1316, the priory was sequestrated by the king on account of its poverty and Adam de Osgodeby appointed to its custody. (fn. 28) James de Cusancia, (fn. 29) monk of Lewes, was appointed prior in December, 1316, by the prior of Lewes and admitted by the king, (fn. 30) and a keen fight raged between him and William for the possession of the priory. Both were summoned to appear before the council in August, 1318, and William there renounced his claim, (fn. 31) but nevertheless afterwards made forcible entry into the priory. (fn. 32) He appealed to the archbishop of Canterbury, and the prior of Dunmow, to whom the case was committed, decided in his favour. James then appealed to the archbishop, and pending the appeal ejected William and his party. (fn. 33) The judges of the archbishop's court again decided in favour of William; upon which James again appealed, first to the archbishop and then to the pope. Pending the appeal some monks of Lewes by order of the prior came in force to the priory, wounded William in the head while he was celebrating mass at the high altar, and dragged him and three of his monks off bound hand and foot to Lewes. (fn. 34) The matter was finally settled by the death (fn. 35) of William in 1321, probably from the wound, and James occupied the priory. He resigned in 1334 (fn. 36) and appears later as prior of Thetford.
Prittlewell, being a Cluniac house, was considered alien, and so was frequently taken into the king's hands in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. It was generally let to the priors at farm, the rent paid in 1338 being £40 yearly. (fn. 37) But in May, 1373, Lewes and its cells were made denizen. (fn. 38)
Pope Boniface IX in 1400 granted indulgences to all penitents visiting the church at certain times and giving alms for its repair, and gave licence for the prior and five other confessors chosen by him to hear their confessions and grant absolution. (fn. 39)
The net value of the priory is given in the Valor as £155 11s. 2½d. yearly, the gross value (according to Speed) being £194 14s. 3½d. It was consequently dissolved in accordance with the Act of Parliament of 1536, the prior receiving a pension (fn. 40) of £20 yearly, and an inventory (fn. 41) of the goods in the various chambers and buildings was taken on 8 June. These were valued at £110 18s. 0d., besides cattle worth £38 14s. 0d. and corn worth £27 17s. 2d. There were 196¼ ounces of plate, valued at £37 11s. 2d. The house was free from debt, and had £6 owing to it.
The site of the priory with the manor of Prior's Hall in Prittlewell was granted on 28 May, 1537, to Sir Thomas Audeley, the chancellor. (fn. 42)
The patronage of the priory passed to the crown with 'the honour of Essex'; (fn. 43) and the priors were appointed by the prior of Lewes and admitted by the king after their fealty had been taken. At each vacancy the escheator went to the priory and took simple seisin of it in the king's name and deputed a porter at the gate. The king received nothing of the issues during the vacancy, and the escheator and porter departed when the new prior brought the king's letters of admission. (fn. 44) The priors are generally said to be monks of Lewes, and were probably almost always so.
Priors of Prittlewell
William, occurs 1203. (fn. 45)
Simon de Waltham, appointed 1241. (fn. 46)
Peter, occurs 1258. (fn. 47)
William de Verge, appointed 1261. (fn. 48)
William, occurs 1275. (fn. 49)
Peter de Montellier, appointed 1290. (fn. 52)
John de Monte Martini. (fn. 53)
Henry de Fautrariis, appointed 1308. (fn. 54)
Giles de Seduno, appointed 1309. (fn. 55)
Thomas de Shelevestrode, appointed 1310. (fn. 56)
William le Auvergnat, appointed 1311. (fn. 57)
John Saver, appointed 1363. (fn. 64)
Ralph Miouns, (fn. 65) occurs 1362, 1368.
Richard Ysewode, appointed 1376. (fn. 66)
James Wygepole, appointed 1385. (fn. 67)
Laurence Bristowe, occurs 1454. (fn. 72)
The seal (fn. 82) of the priory is a pointed oval, 2½ in. by 1½ in., representing the Assumption of St. Mary in a canopied niche. At the sides in four canopied niches are four angels. In the base under a carved round-headed arch is a saint lifting up the right hand in benediction and holding a sword in the left. Legend:—
SIGILLŪ PRIORIS T CŌVĒTUS MONASTERII BdE MARIE DE PRITWE. .