Houses of Austin canons: Priory of St Botolph, Colchester

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

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'Houses of Austin canons: Priory of St Botolph, Colchester', in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2, (London, 1907) pp. 148-150. British History Online [accessed 11 April 2024]

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The early history of the priory (fn. 1) of St. Julian and St. Botolph, Colchester, the first of the Augustinian houses in England, is told (fn. 2) in the register of Holy Trinity Priory, Aldgate. A Kentishman called Norman studied under Anselm in France, and on his return to England came to Colchester and joined certain priests congregated in the church of St. Botolph. These while he was there unanimously resolved to join a religious order; and Ainulf, their head, asked his advice on the matter. Norman suggested the Augustinian order, then unknown in England, and recommended that two of their number should be sent abroad to learn the rule. Ainulf and his fellows approved of this and sent him to Anselm, then archbishop of Canterbury, who gave him a letter of recommendation to the abbot of Mont St. Elois. Norman accordingly crossed the sea, taking with him a companion, carefully learned the rule in all its details, first at Chartres and afterwards at Beauvais, and returned to teach it at Colchester. In 1108, with the permission of Prior Ainulf, he left Colchester to become the first prior of Holy Trinity.

It thus appears that the Augustinian settlement at St. Botolph's was not a new foundation, but a voluntary transformation of a secular into a religious establishment, somewhat resembling the forced change at Waltham in 1177. The date of this can be placed within narrow limits. William II granted to the canons a charter of protection, and consequently it must have been before his death in 1100; but, on the other hand, it was later than the consecration of Anselm in 1093. The church was both parochial and conventual until the dissolution.

Pope Paschal II in August, 1116, granted to the canons a bull (fn. 3) conferring great privileges, which can hardly, however, have had much effect. As they were the first of the order in England, they were always to be held first in dignity, and to have authority over all houses which were to be ruled by the form of their life and institutions. The church of Holy Trinity, London, commended to them by Queen Maud, was to be obedient to them. They were to be free from the jurisdiction of any person, secular or ecclesiastical; and on the death of Ainulf or any of his successors a new head was to be elected by the majority of the brethren and presented to the bishop of London for consecration with special powers; or, if this could not be done, to anyone else. The claim of Colchester to authority over Holy Trinity was disputed by the latter house, and after a suit before arbitrators appointed by Pope Honorius III the matter was referred by the parties to the bishop of London, who decided (fn. 4) in 1223 that Holy Trinity should be free from visitation.

Henry I granted to the canons the tithes of his demesne at Hatfield. This led later to disputes with the priory of Hatfield Regis, until an agreement was come to in 1194. (fn. 5) The same king also granted to them a third of the mill called 'Midelmeln,' under the castle of Colchester, (fn. 6) and confirmed the grants made by Hugh FitzStephen, under the condition that they should supply him when on any expedition into Wales with a horse worth 5s., a sack and a pike; and by other charters he confirmed the grants made by Count Eustace of Boulogne and others, and granted liberties. Stephen and Henry II also granted charters of confirmation. Richard I on 4 December, 1189, granted a long charter, in which he extended the list of liberties and confirmed their possessions in detail, these including the churches of Gamlingay (Cambridgeshire), Layer de la Hay and Mark's Tey. These and other charters were confirmed by Henry IV in 1400, (fn. 7) and by Henry VI in 1427. (fn. 8)

The temporalities of the priory were valued in the Taxation of 1291 at £42 16s. 5½d. yearly, the principal items being £18 1s. 10d. in Colchester, £6 2s. 6d. in Layer de la Hay, £5 6s. 8d. in Gamlingay, £3 in Colne Engaine and £2 17s. 4d. in Ardleigh; and it also owned spiritualities worth £10 15s. 4d. in Hatfield Regis, Witham, Boxted and Frating in Essex, and Reydon in Suffolk. The church of St. Peter, Colchester, was appropriated to the priory in 1318, (fn. 9) and that of Chigwell in 1440; and the advowsons of the rectories of All Saints, St. James, St. Martin and Mile End, Colchester, and Frating belonged to it. The church of Gamlingay, which has already been mentioned, was surrendered (fn. 10) in 1415 to Merton College, Oxford.

The stock of the priory at Colchester at Michaelmas, 1295, was valued (fn. 11) for the taxation of a seventh granted to Edward I, and was found to consist of 4 quarters of rye, 12 quarters of barley, 8 quarters of oats, 4 plough cattle, 4 oxen, a bull, 6 cows, 32 sheep and 7 lambs, worth altogether £10 12s. 6d. A similar valuation (fn. 12) taken five years later amounted to £6 19s. 8d.

In return for benefactions by Master Simon de Eylondia, Prior Simon and the convent bound themselves in 1281 (fn. 13) to maintain for ever an additional canon, to be nominated by him and his assigns, to celebrate divine service daily at the altar of St. Thomas in their church for his soul and the souls of Robert and Cecily his parents. This agreement was confirmed by the bishop and by the dean and chapter of St. Paul's. Master Simon afterwards granted additional rents and tenements, from which he assigned half a mark for the vesture of the canon, 3s. for the pittance of the convent, and 2s. 6d. for the maintenance of thirty poor men on his anniversary, and the remainder for the maintenance of the altar. In 1296 he assigned the nomination of the canon to the abbot of Colchester. A fresh agreement, with the necessary alterations and in greater detail, was afterwards drawn up by Prior John de Colum, and ordered to be read yearly in chapter by the prior, sub-prior and sacrist. The prior and convent undertook (fn. 14) in 1406 to find a canon to celebrate divine service daily in the chapel of St. Katharine, within the conventual church, for the soul of William Colchester, abbot of Westminster, after his death, and the souls of his father and mother; and also to celebrate his anniversary with chant and solemn tolling of bells in the conventual church and the parish church of St. Nicholas, Colchester. They were to pay 6d. weekly to the canon, and distribute 26s. 8d. on the day of the anniversary between the rector of St. Nicholas, the ministers and officers of the two churches, the poor and the prisoners in the castle of Colchester, and keep the tombs of the abbot's parents in repair. In any case of failure to keep this agreement, they were to pay to the abbot or his successors a rent of £10, leviable on their manors of Layer de la Hay, Peldon and Abberton.

In the middle of the fourteenth century a serious riot took place between the priory and St. John's Abbey. The abbot and convent complained to the pope that prior John, with John Noreys and Thomas de Gipwico, two of his canons, and several laymen attacked one of the monks with sword and dagger and blockaded them in the abbey, and also instigated a third canon and some laymen to enter the abbey and injure the abbot and convent. Pope Urban V on 1 July, 1363, ordered (fn. 15) the archbishop of Canterbury, if the facts were as stated, to publicly excommunicate the offenders. It seems probable that this riot arose out of disputes about the church of St. Peter and other matters in Colchester and Layer de la Hay, which were amicably settled (fn. 16) in the next year.

In 1380 the prior and canons complained to the king that several people pretending to be their attorneys and proctors had collected money by means of forged letters in their name, and the king gave orders (fn. 17) for the offenders to be arrested and sent to Newgate gaol, and the forged letters delivered to the archbishop of Canterbury.

Pope Martin V on 20 February, 1421, granted relaxation of penance to penitents who on the feast of St. Denis should visit and give alms for the conservation and repair of the priory, which was founded and sufficiently endowed for a prior and twelve canons, but had been impoverished. (fn. 18)

Prior John Depyng was made abbot of St. Osyth's in 1434, and with the consent of the convent he took with him goods of considerable value belonging to the priory. These he never returned, and after his death the priory brought a suit (fn. 19) in Chancery for their recovery, though it seems very doubtful whether they were successful.

Early in 1534 the prior and seven canons, Robert Bawde, Richard Parker, William Shyrwyn, John Garrard, John Gyppys, Robert Rand and William Patche, took the oath of fealty under the Act of Succession. (fn. 20)

The priory was returned in the Valor as being worth £113 12s. 8d. yearly, and was consequently dissolved in accordance with the Act of 1536. On 26 May in that year it was granted (fn. 21) with all its possessions, including the manors of Blindknights, Canwikes and Dilbridge, to Sir Thomas Audeley. The whole, with a rent of 10 marks out of the manor of Blindknights, formerly paid by the prior to the priory of Woodbridge, in Suffolk, was stated to be of the yearly value of £134 3s. 4d., and was to be held at a rent of £13 8s. 4d. yearly. Audeley had licence (fn. 22) on 12 September, 1540, to grant the site of the priory to John Golder and Anastasia his wife.

Priors of St. Botolph's, Colchester

Ainulf or Eynulph, the first (fn. 23) prior, occurs 1116. (fn. 23)

John, occurs 1145. (fn. 24)

Henry, (fn. 25) occurs 1205, 1206.

Robert, (fn. 26) occurs 1222.

Hasculph, (fn. 27) occurs 1224, 1235, 2240.

John, occurs 1246, (fn. 28) 1259. (fn. 29)

Simon, (fn. 30) occurs 1281.

Richard, occurs 1290, (fn. 31) 1295. (fn. 32)

John de Colum. (fn. 33)

Richard le Brom, occurs 1323. (fn. 34)

John, occurs 1326, (fn. 35) 1338. (fn. 36)

Thomas Sakkot, (fn. 37) died 1361.

John, occurs 1363, (fn. 38) 1364. (fn. 39)

John Neylond, occurs 1374, (fn. 40) 1384, (fn. 41) resigned 1391. (fn. 42)

John Okham, elected 1391, (fn. 43) resigned 1393. (fn. 44)

William Westbrome, elected 1393, (fn. 45) occurs 1412. (fn. 40)

William Colchester, occurs 1416. (fn. 40)

John Depyng, occurs 1424, (fn. 46) resigned 1434. (fn. 47)

John, occurs 1437. (fn. 48)

Thomas Colman, occurs 1450. (fn. 49)

John Wardhous, occurs 1457. (fn. 40)

John Flyngaunt, occurs 1462. (fn. 40)

John Stampe, occurs 1497. (fn. 41)

William, occurs 1514. (fn. 40)

William Gooche, died 1527. (fn. 50)

Thomas Turner, elected 1527, (fn. 51) the last prior. (fn. 52)

The seal (fn. 53) of the priory (1298) is a pointed oval of yellow brown wax, 2½ in. by 1¾ in., representing Christ seated blessing two figures, one on the right a bishop (St. Julian), and the other on the left an abbot (St. Botolph). Legend:—



  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. vi, 104. St. Denis is sometimes mentioned as sharing the dedication.
  • 2. See Trans. Essex Arch. Soc. iii (New Ser.), 267.
  • 3. Printed in Mon. vi, 106.
  • 4. Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. ix, 24.
  • 5. See p. 108.
  • 6. In 1227 the prior claimed that the convent had held a third of the mill of Colchester for over a hundred years, and from before the building of the castle, but as he could show no title it was seized with the king's lands (Assize Roll, 229, m. 17d.).
  • 7. Pat. 2 Hen. IV, pt. 1, m. 31.
  • 8. Ibid. 5 Hen. VI, pt. 2, m. 15, 14.
  • 9. Pardon for having appropriated it without royal licence was granted in 1336 (Pat. 10 Ed. III, pt. 1, m. 45).
  • 10. Close, 3 Hen. V, m. 13 d.
  • 11. Rolls of Parl. i, 228.
  • 12. Ibid. 253.
  • 13. Chartul. of St. John's abbey, Colchester, 5 70-6.
  • 14. Pat. 7 Hen. IV, pt. 2, m. 25.
  • 15. Cal. Papal Letters, iv, 35.
  • 16. St. John's Chartul. 498-502.
  • 17. Pat. 4 Ric. II, pt. 1, m. 27 d.
  • 18. Cal. Papal Letters, vii, 172.
  • 19. See p. 160.
  • 20. Benham, Red Paper Book, 92.
  • 21. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, 1015 (29).
  • 22. Ibid. xvi, 107 (8).
  • 23. See above.
  • 24. Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. ix, 66.
  • 25. Cal. Feet of F. (Essex Arch. Soc.), 35, 37, 39,40.
  • 26. St. John's Chartul. 534.
  • 27. Cal. Feet of F. (Essex Arch. Soc.), 66, 73, 111, 123, 139.
  • 28. Feet. of F. Camb. 30 Hen. III.
  • 29. St. John's Chartul. 511. He became abbot of St. Osyth's in January, 1280 (Reg. Epis. Peckham (Rolls Ser.) iii, 1063).
  • 30. St. John's Chartul. 570-6.
  • 31. Ibid. 491-3.
  • 32. Rolls of Parl, i, 228.
  • 33. St. John's Chartul. 552.
  • 34. Coram Rege, Trin. 16 Edw. II, 77.
  • 35. Pat. 19 Edw. II, pt. 2, m. 14 d.
  • 36. St. John's Chartul. 502.
  • 37. Morant, Essex.
  • 38. Cal. Papal Letters, iv, 35.
  • 39. St. John's Chartul. 498-504.
  • 40. Morant, Essex.
  • 41. B. M. Add. Ch. 15,601.
  • 42. Lond. Epis. Reg. Bray brook, 292. Through infirmity and chronic paralysis.
  • 43. Ibid.
  • 44. Ibid. 295.
  • 45. Ibid.
  • 46. De Banco, Mich. 3 Hen. VI, 150.
  • 47. He became abbot of St. Osyth's. See there.
  • 48. Lond. Episc. Reg. Gilbert, 80.
  • 49. Morant. Thomas was prior in 1439 (Lond. Episc. Reg. Gilbert, 87 d.).
  • 50. Lond. Epis. Reg. Tunstall, 226-130. On 17 November.
  • 51. Ibid. On 23 November, by way of inspiration by eight canons.
  • 52. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, 1015 (29).
  • 53. Ch. Ho. Deeds. SC. i, 27.