Houses of Austin canons: Priory of St Denis, Southampton

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

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'Houses of Austin canons: Priory of St Denis, Southampton', in A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 2, (London, 1903) pp. 160-164. British History Online [accessed 12 April 2024]

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The priory of St. Denis was founded by Henry I. about the year 1124 for Austin Canons. The foundation charter, directed to Bishop Gifford, William de Ponte Arche, the sheriff, and the burgesses of Southampton, granted to God and the church of St. Denis and the canons serving God there, for the health of his soul and of the souls of his father and mother, Maud his wife and William his son, a parcel of land between Portswood and the Itchen, having a rental of 11s. 6d., together with another parcel of land near the sea to the east of the borough, having a rental of 41s. 6d. Girard, the canon named in this charter, was doubtless the first prior. (fn. 1) King Stephen confirmed to the canons the grant of land at Baddesley made by Robert de Limesey. (fn. 2)

William son of Audoenus gave to Adelard the prior and the canons in 1151 the manor of Northam, which grant was confirmed by charters of Henry II., Bishop Blois and St. Thomas of Canterbury. Henry II. also granted to the canons his chapels of St. Michael, the Holy Rood, St. Lawrence and All Saints within Southampton. The possessions of the priory during this reign consisted of three ploughlands in Portswood, three groves of woodland, 100 acres of pasture, 40 acres of meadow, and 400 acres of marsh. (fn. 3) On 8 September, 1189, Richard I. gave to the priory Kingsland and the wood called Portswood. The chartulary has a most interesting mention of the customary work which the men of Portswood did for the king as lord of the manor before Henry I. gave it to the canons. Subsequently the same services were rendered to the prior. (fn. 4)

Hadewise, Abbess of Romsey (1130-55), granted a perpetual corrody of meat and drink, such as was served for one of their nuns, to her brothers and benefactors, the canons of St. Denis. (fn. 5) Geoffrey Hose, one of the justices of Henry II., about 1180 granted to the priory a parcel of land at Edboldington and the church of Little Faccombe. (fn. 6)

In 1201 King John granted a confirmation charter, and in 1204 Bishop Godfrey de Lucy confirmed the gift of William Aliz, which consisted of a tithe of his yearly rents and pannage at Aldington, 5s. annually from the mill of Aldington, and pannage in his woods for thirty pigs. Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, confirmed in the time of Edward I. the gift made by his father of the church of Chilworth with all its appurtenances. William Musard, about 1290 gave 3s. rents in the village of Eldon on condition of the canons always burning a wax taper before the Lady altar of their conventual church, where his wife Isabel was buried. There were also numerous bequests of houses, tenements and messuages in the town of Southampton during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. (fn. 7)

The taxation of 1291 gives the total annual value of the priory in Hampshire at £13 16s. 8d. In the archdeaconry of Sarum they held temporalities yielding an annual income of £7 4s. 8d.; in the deanery of Maryborough, the rectory of Chiselbury was entered at £2 13s. 4d,; and there was a holding at Burbage worth an annual rent of 10s.

Henry de Hamelton held the office of prior for fourteen years. On 18 August, 1294, the bishop sanctioned his resignation on the grounds of infirmity of both mind and body. (fn. 8) On 21 August the king's assent to the election of Richard de Chacombe, one of the canons, was sent to the bishop, and on the morrow the bishop's mandate to the archdeacon to induct, and to the sub-prior and convent to obey their new prior were sent forth. (fn. 9) At the beginning of the year 1298 Prior Richard was in poor health, and by reason of his weakness obtained leave from the Crown to nominate brother Robert de Stanham and Roger de Preselande his attorneys for two years. (fn. 10) In 1300 the prior, by reason of his continued feebleness, was allowed to renew the nomination of the same two attorneys for another two years. (fn. 11) Bishop Woodlock had to interfere with the rule of this house on several occasions, whilst the feeble Richard de Chacombe was prior. In March, 1307, the selling of corrodies without episcopal licence was forbidden; in September of the same year the bishop wrote about the internal management of the house; in April, 1300, he held a visitation of the priory and promulgated certain statutes for its better regulation, and he caused the house to be again visited by commission in May, 1309. (fn. 12)

Prior Richard resigned at the close of the year 1313, and on 23 January the king notified the bishop of his assent to the election of Robert de Stonham, cellarer, and the temporalities were restored to him on 22 February. (fn. 13)

In 1318, Edward II. sent Walter de la Marche, who had long served him and his father, to the priory to provide him with the necessaries of life in food and clothing. (fn. 14) A return of the same year as to the value and stock of the episcopal manors at the death of Bishop Sandale, mentions, under Bitterne, that the jury reported brother William Fymarc, a young canon of St. Denis, who had been ordained deacon in 1316, for breaking into the lord's warren with four others, and taking young rabbits. (fn. 15)

In January, 1328, Bishop Stratford wrote to the priory stating that as he was about to attend the meeting of parliament at York, he could not give immediate attention to the reformation of the defects he noticed at his recent visitation, but that, God willing, he would speedily do so on his return; meanwhile he enjoined that none be permitted to leave the house without the express sanction of the prior or sub-prior. (fn. 16) John de Vienne, clerk, was sent to the priory by the king on 4 March to have such maintenance there as John de Ash, deceased, had at the request of Edward I.; a year later John atte Lane, yeoman of the king's kitchen, was sent to fill the same vacancy, so that apparently John de Vienne (fn. 17) went elsewhere.

On 9 March, 1328, the sub-prior and convent obtained licence to elect, on the resignation of Robert de Stonham, and their choice fell on Thomas de Newton; the royal assent was signified on 12 April. (fn. 18) The bishop however declined to confirm this election for some irregularity of procedure. It was a serious matter for a small convent to have a prolonged voidance, for during that time the revenues went to the Crown; but on the petition of the priory the king granted to them on 13 May, in consideration of their poverty and debt, the custody of their temporalities, save the knights' fees, advowsons and escheats, yielding to the king for this privilege eight marks until the feast of the Assumption, and if the voidance should last longer, then at the rate of £10 a year. (fn. 19) On 28 June the convent gave way to the bishop, and put the selection of a prior from among their canons into his hands, with the result that William de Wareham was appointed, and received the episcopal benediction on 18 July. (fn. 20)

In 1330, the priory received letters patent granting that on the death of the royal pensioner John atte Lane, who took the place of John de Ash, deceased, they should not be called upon to admit any one in his place. (fn. 21) This grant was made on 10 May, but on 1 June the king insisted on his right to send a new pensioner clerk on the new creation of a prior, and sent to them Master William de Kirkham. (fn. 22)

Edward III. granted the priory of St. Denis a charter to secure to them yearly a tun of wine, between Christmas and the Annunciation, for use at masses for the souls of the faithful departed; and in February, 1334, Richard de la Pole, the king's butler in the port of Southampton, had orders to deliver to the prior a tun of red wine of the first wines brought to the port. (fn. 23)

Bishop Orlton visited St. Denis on 22 November, 1334, and preached in the chapter house from the text, 'Israel shall dwell safely.' (fn. 24) In the same month the bishop confirmed to the priory the appropriations of the churches of East Tytherley, Shirley and Chilworth, and the chapels of Holy Trinity and St. Andrew, Southampton, also pensions from the following Southampton churches: St. Michael, 60s.; St. Cross, 13s. 4d.; St. Lawrence, 13s. 4d.; and All Saints, 26s. 8d. (fn. 25)

In 1346, Bishop Edingdon licensed for celebrations an oratory lately built over the outer gateway in honour of St. Katherine. (fn. 26)

A commission of three was issued by Bishop Wykeham in September, 1381, to visit the priory of St. Denis on the Saturday after Michaelmas Day; as no injunctions followed there could have been no serious defect. (fn. 27) In the same year, John Stamford, one of the canons, was appointed coadjutor in consequence of the infirmities of Richard de Stamford, the prior. (fn. 28)

On 19 May, 1382, Richard II. inspected and confirmed in favour of John Machon of Quidhampton, and Edith his wife, three indentures for corrodies with the priory of St. Denis: (a) A grant, dated 1365, for the life of Edith of a white loaf and a gallon of ale daily, a canon's pittance of food and drink daily from the kitchen, and six yards of coloured cloth of the suit of esquires for her robe on All Saints' Day, provided that John did not leave the convent's service. (b) A grant, dated 1376, to John Machon and Margery his daughter for their lives and the life of the longer liver, of a white loaf and a black loaf called 'sweynlof' daily, and of the reversion on the death of Edith of the livery granted to her. (c) A life grant, dated 1372, to the said John of the chamber over the middle gate of the priory, with free ingress and egress for himself and his household, a white loaf such as a canon had, and a gallon of ale daily, a canon's pittance daily from the kitchen, and a robe yearly such as one of the free servants of the prior had, or 10s. in lieu thereof, also two cartloads of firewood yearly, with power, in case of default, to distrain on their manors in Hampshire. (fn. 29)

The town of Southampton was a long time in recovering from the serious damage done in 1338, when a large portion was sacked and burnt by the French. In April, 1385, protection was granted to the priory of St. Denis and its possessions, it being recited that much of its property had been burnt and destroyed by the French, putting the convent to immense cost in repairing their tenements and in fortifying the town, so that they were deeply in debt and had not the means to pay pensions and corrodies or to maintain their canons. Thomas, Earl of Nottingham, and three others were appointed to the custody of its temporalities. (fn. 30) The same custodians were reappointed for two years in 1387. (fn. 31)

William of Wykeham left by his will twenty marks for the repair of the church of the priory of St. Denis.

In 1465 Edward IV. inspected and confirmed to the priory a great variety of charters from Henry I. to Richard II.

This priory was visited on 15 March, 1501, by Dr. Hede, the commissary of the priory of Canterbury, in the vacancy of the sees of both Canterbury and Winchester. Robert Wode, the prior, reported that Canon John Somerset was absent through sickness. He stated that at the time of his entry into office there was a debt on the priory of a hundred marks; the common seal was kept under three keys, one in the custody of the prior, and the two others in the charge of the senior canons. Thomas Wardle testified that the house in the time of the predecessor of the present prior was burdened to the extent of £60, of which the present prior paid £30; and that a certain silver vessel called a ' spice plate' was pledged by him to one Dorothy of Southampton, but for what sum he knew not. Brief statements as to the debts incurred by the late prior were also made by Canons William Thurley, John Scott, Walter May and Richard Lynton. (fn. 32)

On the death of Wode in February, 1509, Walter May, the last prior, was elected. (fn. 33) Soon after this election Bishop Fox visited the priory, and subsequently sent them a decree of twenty-four articles, enjoining a stricter observance of their rule in various details; the canons were also ordered to go about two by two and never to frequent towns, nor were they to go to Portswood or Southampton to dine, except by leave, lest by secular conversation their quiet be disturbed, and they be tempted to worldly thoughts and desires. (fn. 34)

The Valor of 1535 gave the clear annual value of the house as £80 11s. 6d. At the time of the dissolution in the following year there were nine canons in addition to Prior May. The prior obtained a pension of £13 6s. 8d., and also the free chapel of the Blessed Mary with its appurtenances for life. (fn. 35) The holding of this chapel (which belonged to St. Denis) was a post of some value, for it was a place of pilgrimage known as St. Mary of Graces; here in 1510 Henry VIII. made an offering in person of 6s. 8d. (fn. 36)

From the first ministers' account, after the dissolution of the monastery, we find that it held various possessions in Southampton, including the manor of St. Denis, and pensions from the churches of the Holy Rood, All Saints, St. Laurence and St. Michael's, the manors of Northam, 'Leverley,' 'Berfords,' 'Bremerton ' and Quidhampton, the rectories of ' Estadderley, Aulworth' and Shirley, and lands, rents, pensions, etc., in Aldington, Portswood, East Dean, Broughton, Houghton, King's Somborne, Romsey, Ablingeton, Appleshawe, Burbage, Chisbury, 'Brinknoll,' 'Shreton,' and Stapleford together with Wilton in the county of Wilts, and Sturminster and ' Lichette' in the county of Dorset. (fn. 37)

The site and certain possessions of the priory were granted in 1538 to Francis Dautry, namely, the house and site of the grange and lands at South Stoneham; two gardens, the tenement called ' le Bordelhouse' and three cottages in Southampton, and the manor of Lockerley in East Dean. The clear annual value of these was estimated at £32 15s. 0d., and the rental for the same was 65s. 6d. (fn. 38)

The sole relic of this ancient priory, so closely connected with the history of the town for four centuries, is a fragment of grey ruined wall on the right bank of the Itchen, about three miles above the dock entrance.

The pointed oval early fourteenth century seal, of which an illustration is given, represents St. Denis standing on a corbel, holding a book to his breast. The background is diapered lozengy. Legend: . . . LLUM: COMMUNE: MONAST . . . JUXTA: SUTHAM . . .

Priors Of St. Denis

Girard, 1124
Adelard, 1151
Nicholas, (fn. 39) resigned in 1280
Henry de Hamelton, (fn. 40) 1280-94
Richard de Chacombe, (fn. 41) 1294-1313
Robert de Stonham, (fn. 42) 1314-28
Thomas de Newton, (fn. 43) 1328 (elected, but not confirmed)
William de Wareham, (fn. 44) 1328-49
Richard de Stamford, (fn. 45) 1349-91
John Stamford, (fn. 46) 1391-97
John Ryal, (fn. 47) 1397-1412
Thomas Winchester, (fn. 48) 1412
Thomas Arnewode, 1435-57
William Norman, (fn. 49) 1457-62
Thomas Robys, (fn. 50) 1462
John Foster, (fn. 51) 1490-99
Robert Wode, (fn. 52) 1499-1509
Walter May, (fn. 53) 1509-36


  • 1. Dugdale's Monasticon, vi. 213.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Add. MS. 15314, f. 100. The references to the above-named and subsequent charters are taken from this MS., which is a chartulary of the priory, of 126 folios, purchased by the British Museum in 1844. It lacks some folios both at the beginning and end. Good use was made of it in Davies' History of Southampton (1883), pp. 433 -42.
  • 4. Add MSS. 15314, f. 99b.
  • 5. Madox's Formulare Anglicanum, p. 241.
  • 6. Ibid. p. 278, also chartulary.
  • 7. A large number of these grants are among the Ancient Deeds of the Public Record Office, which have been recently calendared.
  • 8. Winton. Epis. Reg., Pontoise, f. 14.
  • 9. Pat. 22 Edw. I. m. 11, and Winton. Epis. Reg., Pontoise, f. 14.
  • 10. Pat. 26 Edw. I. m. 28.
  • 11. Ibid. 28 Edw. I. m. 5.
  • 12. Winton. Epis. Reg., Woodlock, ff. 56, 64b, 152b, 107b.
  • 13. Pat. 7 Edward II. pt. 2, m. 25, 24, 21.
  • 14. Close, 12 Edw. II. m. 19d.
  • 15. Hants Record Society, Sandale's Register, p. 244.
  • 16. Winton. Epis. Reg., Stratford, f. 34b.
  • 17. Close, 2 Edw. III. m. 14d.; 3 Edw. III. m. 27d.
  • 18. Pat. 2 Edw. III. pt. 1, m. 16, 13.
  • 19. Pat. 2 Edw. III. pt. 1, m. 5.
  • 20. Ibid. 2 Edw. III. p. 2, m. 29; Stratford's Register, ff. 108b, 109b, 110. The bishop's scribe makes the mistake in two places of describing the late prior as Peter de Stanham.
  • 21. Pat. 4 Edw. III. pt. 1, m. 24.
  • 22. Close, 4 Edw. III. m. 30d.
  • 23. Ibid. 8 Edw. III. m. 37. This order to the king's butler at Southampton was repeated in 1336, 1337 and 1338. The last time that there is evidence of the delivery of this wine is in 1528.
  • 24. Winton. Epis. Reg., Orlton, i. f. 11.
  • 25. Ibid. f. 12b.
  • 26. Ibid. Edingdon, ii. f. 2b.
  • 27. Ibid. Wykeham, iii. f. 190.
  • 28. Ibid. f. 194a.
  • 29. Pat. 5 Ric. II. pt. 2, m. 11.
  • 30. Ibid. 8 Ric. II. pt. 2, m. 16.
  • 31. Ibid. 10 Ric. II. pt. 2, m. 25.
  • 32. Sede Vacante Register, Christ Church Priory, Canterbury.
  • 33. Winton. Epis. Reg., Fox, ii. ff. 108b, 110.
  • 34. Ibid. f. 119.
  • 35. Aug. Offic., Misc. Books ccxxxii. 17b; ccccxlii. 406.
  • 36. Davies' History of Southampton, p. 231-2.
  • 37. Dugdale's Monasticon, vi. 214.
  • 38. Pat. 30 Hen. VIII. pt. 6, m. 19.
  • 39. Ibid. 8 Edw. I. m. 9.
  • 40. Ibid. mm. 8, 6.
  • 41. Ibid. 22 Edw. I. m. 11; and Winton. Epis. Reg., Pontoise, f. 14.
  • 42. Ibid. 7 Edw. II. pt. 2, mm. 25, 24, 21.
  • 43. Ibid. 2 Edw. III. pt. 1, mm. 16, 13.
  • 44. Ibid. pt. 2, m. 29; Winton. Epis. Reg., Stratford, ff. 108b, 109b, 110.
  • 45. Winton. Epis. Reg., Edingdon, i. f. 43b.
  • 46. Ibid. Wykeham, ff. 210, 211.
  • 47. Ibid. ff. 280, 281; Add. MSS. 15314, f. 80.
  • 48. Ibid. Beaufort, f. 38.
  • 49. Ibid. Waynflete, i. f. 80; Add. MSS. 15314, f. 79b.
  • 50. Winton. Epis. Reg., Waynflete, i. f. 123b; Pat. 2 Edw. IV. pt. 2, mm. 18, 13.
  • 51. Winton. Epis. Reg., Courtenay, f. 11.
  • 52. Add. MS. 15314, ff. 94b, 101.
  • 53. Winton. Epis. Reg., Fox, ii. ff. 108b, 110.