A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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46. THE PRIORY OF WEST MERSEA
Mersea was granted to the abbey of St. Ouen at Rouen by Edward the Confessor; the date of the grant, according to a doubtful charter given by Morant, (fn. 1) being 1046. It was therefore the oldest of the Essex religious houses with the exception of Barking.
The possessions of the house at the time of the Domesday Survey have already been given. (fn. 2) In 1202 they were leased (fn. 3) to William, bishop of London; and he acknowledged that he had received, besides a list of live stock, 166 acres sown with wheat, 106½ of rye, 266½ of oats, 11½ of barley and 7½ of beans and peas and 221 of summer fallow. The temporalities were valued in the Taxation of 1291 at £46 16s. 5d. yearly, viz. £26 8s. 10d. in West Mersea, £19 5s. 5½d. in Fingringhoe, 12s. 1½d. in Colchester, and 10s. in Peldon.
In 1294 (fn. 4) a more exact valuation of the priory was taken, with detailed extents of the three manors belonging to it. It was stated that two monks dwelt there. The manor of Mersea was worth £11 10s. 6d. yearly, including rents of 12s. 8d. in Colchester and 10s. in Peldon; the manor of Peet £6 4s. 3d.; and the manor of Fingringhoe £52 0s. 4d., including £43 9s. 6d. in rents of assize belonging to this and the two preceding. The temporalities thus amounted to £69 15s. 1d. yearly; and the priory also owned the churches of West Mersea and Fingringhoe, worth £6 13s. 4d. and £5 6s. 8d. respectively. The grain and live stock were valued at £59 17s. 9½d. At Mersea there were 12 stots, 4 oxen, 12 cows, 6 calves, 120 sheep, 16 weak sheep, 120 lambs, 21 pigs, 1 boar, and 24 piglets; at Peet 6 stots, 2 oxen, 1 cow, 108 sheep, and 1 pig; and at Fingringhoe 5 plough horses, 5 oxen, 5 cows, 1 bull, 7 bullocks, 135 muttons, 100 wethers, 93 hogasters, 3 pigs and 1 boar. The large number of sheep, for which the salt marshes were well suited, will be noticed.
An account (fn. 5) was rendered by the keeper of the priory from 8 October to 10 December, 1324, during which period it was in the king's hands. An allowance of 3s. weekly was made to the prior, but there is no mention of any other monk.
Little is known of the history of the priory. The hundred of Winstree belonged to it. (fn. 6) Free warren at Fingringhoe was granted to it by Henry I, and at Mersea by Henry III in 1270. (fn. 7) In 1300 (fn. 8) there was trouble about a whale which the bailiffs of Colchester had taken to the king's use and which the prior and others seized in defiance of the king's claim. Another whale was stranded on the soil of the priory in 1381, and the sheriff was ordered (fn. 9) to seize it to the king's use. In 1328 a commission was appointed (fn. 10) to inquire into a complaint against the prior of trespass at Fingringhoe.
The priory, being alien, was frequently taken into the king's hands or restored at farm in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. A special case, however, occurred in 1330. The escheator was ordered (fn. 11) on 4 May to restore to the prior the priory, the manors of Mersea, Fingringhoe and Peet and the half hundred of Winstree, which had been seized on account of the late vacancy of the abbey of St. Ouen. The prior had complained of this, and it was found by inquisition that the abbot held the premises of the gift of King Edward the Confessor and by confirmation of Kings William and Henry II in frankalmoin, without rendering any service, and they had never been taken into the hands of any king on account of any vacancy of the abbey. For the rest, the priory was restored at farm in the usual manner, the yearly rent paid rising from £50 in 1338 (fn. 12) to £60 in 1378. (fn. 13)
On 20 June, 1400, the abbot and convent of St. Ouen, with licence (fn. 14) from Henry IV, granted the priory and all its possessions to John Doreward and Isabel his wife and Henry, bishop of Annaghdown in Ireland, for life. They were to maintain divine service in the priory as of old, keep the buildings in repair, for which they should have timber, though not for erection of new buildings, and maintain all liberties and customs, and they were to make a new roll containing the names of the tenants and the sums of money and services due from them, and to send a copy of the roll in Latin to the abbey. (fn. 15) The king confirmed the grant on 27 June; and on 28 March, 1401, he released (fn. 16) them from payment of rent to him. The reversion of the priory came to Henry V by the Act of Parliament passed in the second year of his reign dissolving all alien priories; and on 2 May, 1422, he granted this to Henry Chichele, archbishop of Canterbury, and William Chichele, archdeacon of Canterbury, for the college which the archbishop had licence to found at Higham Ferrers in Northamptonshire. (fn. 17) Isabel Doreward surrendered her life interest to them in 1423, her husband and the bishop being then dead; and the archbishop on 4 August, 1426, granted the priory to the college. The transaction was confirmed (fn. 18) by Henry VI on 7 November, 1427.
The priory and its possessions belonged to the college of Higham Ferrers until the dissolution; and on 7 August, 1542, they were granted (fn. 19) to Robert Dacres in fee.
Priors of Mersea
Ralph, occurs 1233. (fn. 20)
James, (fn. 21) occurs circa 1240.
Gilbert, occurs 1297. (fn. 22)
Walter, occurs 1328. (fn. 23)
Stephen de Caus, occurs 1370. (fn. 27)