House of Cistercian nuns: Priory of Wintney

A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1903.

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'House of Cistercian nuns: Priory of Wintney', in A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 2, (London, 1903) pp. 149-151. British History Online [accessed 12 April 2024]

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A small priory of Cistercian nuns, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and St. Mary Magdalene, was founded at Wintney in the twelfth century. Occasionally its superiors were termed abbesses. According to the obituary of the convent calendar, Richard Holte and Christine his wife, the daughter of Thomas Cobreth, founded the house and Geoffrey Fitz Peter the first church towards the end of the twelfth century. Leland names Roger Cobreth and his son Thomas as the founders. (fn. 1) Various members of the Cobreth family were benefactors; and we find that Dame Diana Cobreth had her heart buried before the high altar.

In 1234 the temporary church or chapel of wood was succeeded by a stone church, which was dedicated on 4 October. (fn. 2) Richard de Herriard was the founder of this church; his obit was kept on April 6. Several other members of that family, who took their name from an adjacent parish, were also benefactors of this convent.

Among the Cotton MSS. is a handsome twelfth century volume in excellent preservation which belonged to the nuns of Wintney. (fn. 3) Its chief contents is the rule of Benedictine nuns set forth both in Latin and English in parallel columns. At the end is a fine calendar, in which are entered the names of benefactors, prioresses and sisters of the convent according to their several obits. This obituary (fn. 4) mentions six Bishops of Winchester, beginning with Godfrey de Lucy (1189-1205); two Bishops of Bath; six abbots of Reading, beginning with Elias (1200-13); two priors of Southwick; and Adam, abbot of Waverley, 1216-29. There are a few entries of the fifteenth century. Eleven prioresses of Wintney are named, but in no case is any year given; they are in calendar order, Emma, Sabina, Isilia, Clarice, Lucy, Julia, Alice, Lucy II., Havisia, Cecily and Rose. The last prioress commemorated in the obituary is Alice de Dunmore, elected in 1301. There is also mention of Maud de Quincy, who founded the dorter.

In 1302 Bishop Pontoise visited the house, (fn. 5) and in 1308 the official of the diocese, Peter de Grunmill, issued a mandate to the convent citing them to a visitation by Bishop Woodlock. (fn. 6) No injunctions followed the visitations of 1302 or 1308, so that the inference may be fairly drawn that neither bishop found any cause of complaint. Bishop Woodlock held another visitation of Wintney in December, 1315, and in the following January he sent a series of injunctions of the usual kind as to stricter observance of their rule to the convent as the result of the visit. (fn. 7) On 14 May, 1316, only a few weeks before his death, Bishop Woodlock received a letter from Walter, Archbishop of Canterbury, as to the reports that had reached him concerning the nuns of Wintney and the decay of their house. The archbishop stated in his letter that through negligence and bad administration the affairs of the house were reduced to such a state that it might altogether collapse unless staying hands speedily intervened, inasmuch as the nuns, vowed to abandon a secular life, were dispersing themselves in the world because no proper provision was made for their food. The archbishop urged his suffragan to take prompt action to correct and reform these abuses, and to recall the scattered flock. (fn. 8) Immediately on receipt of the primate's letter, namely on 16 May, the bishop issued a commission to Master Gilbert de Middleton, canon of St. Paul's and vicar-general of the diocese, associating with him Master Andrew de Bruges, canon of Chichester, who frequently acted as bishop's official, and Master Stephen de Dene, rector of Abbbtstone, to hold a visitation at Wintney, with full power to correct and to amend whatever was amiss. (fn. 9) Meanwhile Bishop Woodlock died on 28 June, and commissions of his appointment ceased to be valid. The archbishop evidently thought the scandal of the dispersion of the Cistercian nuns of Wintney a grave and urgent matter, and on 20 July, during the vacancy of the see, he issued a commission to Andrew de Bruges and three others with full powers to visit the nunnery and to inquire, correct, reform and punish the excesses of delinquents. (fn. 10) There is possibly some degree of excuse to be found for the deplorable condition of the Wintney convent and the lack of food for the inmates, when it is recollected that a most grievous famine afflicted England in 1315 and continued for three years.

This action seems to have led to a better state of affairs, and, for the assistance of the house, letters of protection for the goods and crops of the prioress and nuns for one year were granted on 6 February, 1321. (fn. 11)

In 1367 Bishop Wykeham licensed the prioress of Wintney to receive Beatrice Paynell as a paying guest. (fn. 12) The licence, without which, according to the Benedictine rule, no visitor even on payment could be entertained, describes Beatrice as a woman devoted to God and honourable, and sister to Sir John Foxley, a neighbour, a friend, and favourably inclined to the prioress, at whose special request the permission was granted. The licence, dated 20 December, was to permit Beatrice's residence at Wintney until the next feast of St. John Baptist. Sir John Foxley lived at Bramshill, about four miles from the priory; he was the son of Thomas Foxley, constable of Windsor Castle, under whose directions Wykeham had been in his earlier days. Both father and son were among the bishop's most intimate friends, and he was doubtless glad of the opportunity of serving Sir John's sister. (fn. 13)

Bishop Wykeham licensed John Lydezorde, rector of Elvetham (a parish adjoining the priory) in April, 1380, as confessor to the prioress and nuns. (fn. 14)

In 1398 the prior of Christchurch was appointed to collect throughout the diocese the second moiety of the tenth voted by convocation, with the sole exemption of the priory of Wintney. (fn. 15) A like exemption was made in favour of this priory when another moiety of a tenth was being collected in January, 1404. It is there stated that Wintney was exonerated from the payment because it is a house of poor nuns heavily encumbered. It is also stated that the appropriation of the church of Herriard by the priory in Bishop Orlton's time was permitted for a like reason. (fn. 16)

In April, 1404, the bishop commissioned John Elmere, one of his two recently appointed coadjutors, and Robert Ketone, his chancellor, to visit the priory. (fn. 17)

On 16 October, 1420, an inventory was taken of the goods pertaining to the frater in consequence of the death of Alice Preston, who was in charge of the hall. The goods were—two worn tapestry hangings for the wall at the back of the high table; two choice seat cushions; fifteen table napkins; four tablecloths of Paris work; two linen tablecloths; ten hand towels; a worn basin at the lavatory; a pewter salt-cellar; and two latten and one pewter candlesticks. (fn. 18)

Wintney was visited on 3 April, 1501, by Dr. Hede, commissary of the prior of Canterbury. Anne Thomas, the prioress, stated that the income of the house was £50, that on entering into office the house was in debt 20 marks, 15 of which had been paid; Joan Swayne, sacrist, testified that in the time of the former prioress a certain blank form (fn. 19) of charter under the common seal was given to the vicar of Herriard without the knowledge of the sisters. (fn. 20)

On 7 April, 1534, Henry, Marquis of Exeter, wrote to Cromwell, understanding that the election of the prioress of Wintney was in his hands, begging that he would give it to his wife's kinswoman; she was well able to execute the office, and would fully content the king in all his wishes. (fn. 21)

The first commissioners appointed by the king to survey the religious houses of Hants were far too favourable and apparently honest in their views to give any satisfaction to the intending spoilers. On 23 May, 1536, Sir James Worsley and John Poulet, George Poulet and William Berners reported that they had visited the priory of Wintney, 'a hedde house of nuns, order of Cisteaux.' They estimated its annual value at £52 5s. 8d. and found there ten nuns, 'by reporte of good conversation, which trooly desieren to contynue in the same religion.' The other inmates were two priests, a waiting servant, thirteen hinds, nine woman servants, and two 'corediers' with their two servants. The church and mansion were in good repair save the tiling, but the kitchen and brewhouse were in great decay. The lead and bells were worth £28 1s. 4d. the plate and jewels, £35 0s. 10d.; the ornaments, £52 11s. 6d.; stuff, £13 0s. 6d.; grain of all kinds, £16 19s. 8d.; stocks and stores, £114 4s. 6d.; and woods, £42 13s. 10d. There was also the sum of £72 16s. owing to the house. (fn. 22)

On 24 September, 1536, Cromwell's amenable tools and commissioners, Dr. Legh and John Ap-Rice, were at Wintney, and wrote to their master from the priory. (fn. 23) The actual surrender took place on 22 July, 1536. (fn. 24)

In August, 1536, Sir William Poulet, comptroller of the king's household and brother of two of the commissioners of May, 1536, obtained a grant of the site and lands of the monastery lately held by Elizabeth Martyn as prioress of Wintney. (fn. 25)

In May, 1538, the king granted to Richard Hill and Elizabeth his wife the house and site of the dissolved priory of Wintney, with the church, steeple and churchyard of the same, the manor and rectory of Hartley Wintney and all lands pertaining of the annual value of £26 14s. 9d., at an annual rental of 53s. 6d. (fn. 26)

An undated letter of Richard Poulet, of the year 1538, to Mr. Hill, sergeant of the king's cellar, ordered him, in the name of the king's commissioners, to cease to deface any of the buildings of the late priory of Wintney besides those which the king had given him, which were only the cloister and the dorter. (fn. 27)

Prioresses of Wintney

Lucy, 1225
Cecily, 1294
Lucy II., 1294-
Alice de Dunmore, (fn. 28) 1301
Christiane, died 1329
Alice Westcott, (fn. 29) 1329-36
Camina de Mareys, (fn. 30) 1336
Emma de Wynterburn, (fn. 31) 1349
Alice Fyshill, resigned 1414
Joan Bunbury, (fn. 32) 1414
Eleanor Squerell, 1452
Alice Somerset, (fn. 33) 1452-60
Petronilla Pigeon, (fn. 34) 1460
Anne Thomas, (fn. 35) 1497
Elizabeth Martyn, about 1536 (fn. 36)

In addition to the above names we have in the obituary of the priory the following who are entered as having been prioresses, but without date or order: Sabina, Isilia, Clarissa, Julia, Cecily, Hawisia and Rose.


  • 1. Leland's Collectanea, i. 69.
  • 2. Cott. MSS. Claud. B. iii.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. This obituary was printed, though with many mistakes, by Thomas Hearne in 1729, among the notes to Trokelowe's Annales Edwardi II. pp. 38493.
  • 5. Winton. Epis. Reg., Pontoise, f. 23.
  • 6. Ibid. Woodlock, f. 85.
  • 7. Ibid. f. 197.
  • 8. Cant. Archiep. Reg., Reynold, f. 39b.
  • 9. Winton. Epis. Reg., Woodlock, f. 206.
  • 10. Cant. Archiep. Reg., Reynold, f. 117b.
  • 11. Pat. 14 Edw. II. pt. 2, m. 21.
  • 12. Winton. Epis. Reg., Wykeham, iii. f. 2a.
  • 13. Moberly's Life of Wykeham, 21, 22.
  • 14. Winton. Epis. Reg., Wykeham, iii. f. 185b.
  • 15. Ibid. iii. f. 300.
  • 16. Ibid. f. 361.
  • 17. Ibid. f. 394.
  • 18. This inventory is on the back of the first folio of Cott. MS. Claud, B. iii.
  • 19. Quedam pecia pergamene voc'. 'A blank.'
  • 20. Sede Vacante Register, Christ Church, Canterbury.
  • 21. Cott. MS. Vesp. F. xiii. 97.
  • 22. Aug. Off., Certif. of Chantries and Colleges, 112.
  • 23. Letters and Papers, Hen. VIII. ix. 423, 424.
  • 24. Aug. Off., Misc. Books, cccc. 23.
  • 25. Letters and Papers, Hen. VIII. xi. 385 (3).
  • 26. Pat. 30 Hen. VIII. pt. 1, m. 16.
  • 27. Letters and Papers, Hen. VIII. xiii. 1292.
  • 28. Winton. Epis. Reg., Pontoise, f. 23.
  • 29. Ibid. Stratford, f. 115.
  • 30. Ibid. Orlton, ii. f. 46b.
  • 31. Ibid. Edingdon, i. f. 54b.
  • 32. Ibid. Beaufort, f. 50.
  • 33. Ibid. Waynflete, f. 58b.
  • 34. Ibid. f. 102b.
  • 35. Tanner's Notitia, xiii.
  • 36. Letters and Papers, Hen. VIII. xi. 385(3).