Houses of Austin canons: Priory of Selborne

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 Selborne', in A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 2, (London, 1903) pp. 175-180. British History Online [accessed 11 April 2024]

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The priory of St. Mary, Selborne, was founded in 1233 by Bishop Peter des Roches for Austin canons. The original foundation charter of the bishop, with the confirmation of the king, are still extant, together with a vast store of other evidences pertaining to the priory, among the muniments of Magdalen College, Oxford. Selborne is one of the very few cases in which the entire store of original monastic muniments have come down to our own times. They were transferred en bloc to Magdalen College at the time of its foundation, and are faithfully preserved in the Founder's Tower. They were calendared some years ago by the Rev. W. Dunn Macray, M.A., F.S.A. (fn. 1) In 1891 the Hants Record Society issued a printed calendar of the charters and documents relative to Selborne and its priory, the more important of them being given in extenso, which was edited, with a valuable preface, by Mr. Macray. In 1894 this society issued a second volume, edited by the same gentleman, giving a calendar of the deeds relating to lands of the priory in other places than Selborne itself. To these scholarly volumes we are indebted for all the information given in this brief notice, save where it is otherwise stated. Much, too, of the history of this priory has long been accessible in the fairly accurate account given of it by the immortal Gilbert White in his Natural History of Selborne.

By the foundation charter, dated 20 January, 1233-4, the canons acquired the manor of Selborne, with every possible privilege, the lands which the bishop had obtained by the gift of James de Acangre, James de Norton, and King Henry III., and the churches of Selborne, Basing and Basingstoke were at the same time appropriated to their use. In September, 1235, Pope Gregory IX. confirmed the foundation and conferred certain privileges.

The first prior was John, whose name occurs in charters from 1234 to 1258. In 1250 there is an early instance of a corrody. Roger de Cherlecole conveyed to the prior, in free alms, two messuages, a mill, and divers acres of land and meadow, on condition that the priory should provide him and his wife Isabel with the weekly allowance, during life, of 18 canons' loaves, 28 servants' loaves, 15 gallons of the convent beer, 14 gallons of the second beer, and 12d. for meat and pottage; the allowance was to be reduced by one half on the death of either of them.

In July, 1254, the vicarage of Selborne was formally ordained. The vicar was to receive the tithes of gardens and plots tilled by spade husbandry, as well as all the small tithes, oblations, legacies, and other obventions that pertained both to the mother church and to the chapels of Oakhanger and Blakemore. The vicar was to reside at the mother church, and pay annually 100s. to the priory. He was to be provided with a suitable manse near the church, and also to hold the land with garden and a curtilage at Oakhanger. The priory was to be responsible for all episcopal, archidiaconal, and other dues, to keep the chancel in repair, and to make good all present defects in books, vestments and other ornaments of the church, for which however the vicar was to be responsible in the future.

The second prior was Richard of Kent. (fn. 2) He succeeded in 1261, and ruled the convent till 1267. Prior Richard granted leave, on 24 June, 1262, to Sir Adam Gurdun arid his wife Constance to construct an oratory in their manor house at Selborne and to celebrate mass therein. This Sir Adam Gurdun became the outlawed adherent of Simon de Montfort, who fought in 1266 his famous duel with Prince Edward. (fn. 3)

Whilst Peter de Disenhurst was prior, there were special bequests for maintaining the light of the high altar and the light of St. Katherine in the conventual church. In 1270 Henry III. granted a weekly market and yearly fair to the priory, to be held in the town of Selborne in a place called 'La Pleystowe,' to the south of the church. (fn. 4) Inquests at the beginning of the reign of Edward I. show that the prior had the right to gallows, assize of bread and ale, and view of frank-pledge on the manor of Selborne, and also the right of chasing fox and hare within the king's forests. (fn. 5)

In 1285 Prior Richard and the convent of Selborne granted to Lady Ela Longespeye, Countess of Warwick, in return for 100 marks, that one canon should always celebrate for her at the altar of Sts. Stephen, John Baptist, and Thomas the Martyr, specifying the collects to be used. It was also provided that high mass should be celebrated for her monthly at the high altar, that her name should be written in every missal and in the martyrology, and her soul mentioned in all prayers when the soul of the founder was mentioned; and that on the news of her death the classicum with all the bells should be tolled, as for a prior, every priest-canon celebrating thirty masses and saying ten psalters, and every lay-brother one hundred and fifty 'Our Fathers' and the like number of 'Hail Marys.'

In 1290 Bishop Pontoise re-ordained the vicarage, specifying the small tithes, and adding to the former endowment 10 acres of arable land and I acre called Orchard's Crop which the rector used to hold. The prior and convent were also ordered, at their own expense, to erect anew sufficient buildings for the vicar, and yearly to deliver to him three quarters each of wheat, of barley, and of oats, good measure, and if three months in arrear after Michaelmas, to give double. The priory was to receive all the great tithes, that is the sheaves only, and they were to provide candlestick, books, and bread for the celebration, as well as to repair the chancel and be responsible for all dues.

The taxation roll of 1291 gives the annual value of the church of Selborne and its chapel at £22; whilst the priory is credited with an income of £9 16s. 2d. in the archdeaconry of Winchester under temporalities.

William de Basing, the fifth prior, was elected in 1299. (fn. 6) His name occurs in the evidences from 1299 to 1323. Pardon was granted on 11 May, 1302, to Prior William and his convent for acquiring in mortmain 32 acres of land and 5 acres of wood in Bromdene by feoffment of Walter Launcel, and 18 acres of land there by feoffment of Richard de la Putte. (fn. 7) In 1305 royal confirmation was obtained of a grant (made long before the statute of mortmain) by John de Vernuz to the priory, of 20 acres of land in East Worldham and the advowson of the church of that town. (fn. 8) In January, 1307, licence was obtained for the alienation in mortmain, by William Turner and Alice his wife to the priory of Selborne, of a messuage and 24 acres of land in La Rode. (fn. 9) In the following May, William and Alice Turner granted to the priory all their land in La Rode, after the death of Alice, on condition of their granting to William and Alice for life the livery of one canon, namely one white loaf and one gallon of beer or cider of the better drink of the convent.

Bishop Orlton visited the priory on 21 February, 1336, and preached in the chapter house from the text ' Quicunque fecerit voluntatem Patris mei qui in coelis est.' (fn. 10) In June, 1338, the bishop wrote to the prior and convent with respect to the transference to their house, in consequence of his excesses, of William de Preston, a canon of Breamore. (fn. 11)

In January, 1339, Prior Walter entered into an agreement with Roger Tichborne, son of Sir John Tichborne, whereby the priory, in consideration of a grant to them of Roger's whole tenement in La Rode, with its messuages, gardens, and woods, covenanted to pay six marks a year to a chaplain celebrating for the soul of Roger, and John and Amicia his parents, and their ancestors and successors, in a chantry which he had established in the chapel of his manor of Tichborne. The priory also covenanted to admit from time to time one fit person, presented by the said Roger, as a canon of their house, and to provide a chaplain to celebrate daily in their conventual church, at the altar of St. Stephen, for the souls of Roger, John and Amice. In the same year the king, when at Southampton, confirmed a considerable number of recent grants to the priory. (fn. 12)

On 5 June, 1352, there was another alteration in the ordination of the vicarage of Selborne, when Prior Edmund and Vicar Adam Seyncler entered into an agreement, ratified by the diocesan, for the increase of the latter's stipend, so as to avoid a lawsuit. The recent pestilence and the consequent scarcity of the times had rendered an alteration imperative. The chief additions of a permanent character were four cartloads of wood from Priorswood, a cartload of hay from the tithe hay at Norton, and a cartload of straw at the courtyard of Gurdun, each load to be such as three horses could draw; and all the tithes, great and small, from the tenements and lands of the prior and convent which were formerly Sir Adam Gurdun's, Alice Roberd's, and of the manor of Rode, and of the moiety of oblations at the chapel of Waddon. The vicar was to find a chaplain to celebrate in the chapels of Oakhanger and Blakemere. In addition to this, there were certain special provisions made for Vicar Seyncler only for his life, such as a rent of 2s. 6d., and the tithes of wool and the mills, excepting those of the convent.

In 1376 that energetic diocesan William of Wykeham suspended Prior Nicholas for waste and lax administration of the spiritualities and temporalities of the convent, placing the rule of the priory's affairs in the hands of the sub-prior and another of the senior canons. On 7 August the bishop sent his mandate to the rural dean of Alton to serve the prior with three formal monitions required by the canons. (fn. 13)

Eventually Prior Nicholas resigned through old age and infirmity on 18 February, 1378. (fn. 14)

On 29 June, 1387, Wykeham commis sioned Lydeforde, his official, and John Ware to visit Selborne and other monasteries. Their report was apparently a serious one, for it resulted in a personal and searching visitation made by the bishop himself. On 27 September, Bishop Wykeham issued an exceptionally long series of injunctions, thirty-six in number, which afford evidence of laxity and neglect of rules. Mr. Macray says, but without sufficient warranting evidence: 'The prior and canons, without being guilty of any gross and crying scandal, had become a society of worldly gentlemen living carelessly and very much at their ease.' The following is a summary of the injunctions, which in many respects are the same as those laid down by Wykeham for observance by the monks of St. Swithun, and may therefore be taken as a matter indicating Wykeham's ideal for a monastic house rather than necessarily directed against specific offences. The night and day hours and the customary masses were to be attended by all; contumacious absentees to fast on Fridays on bread and water; the rules of silence to be observed; masses for founders and benefactors to be duly celebrated; the cloister not to be used by lay persons of either sex on pain of the greater excommunication; the doors of church and cloister to be duly closed; ignorant brethren who could not read Holy Scripture aright were to be duly taught; the papal constitutions of the Austin Order were to be read twice a year in chapter, and the novices were to learn the rule of the order by heart; no allowance in money was to be made for clothes and shoes, and the old clothes were to be given to the poor; the canons and brethren were not to leave the priory without special leave, nor without a canon as a companion; hunting and the keeping of hunting dogs (saving any customary right) were strictly prohibited; two canons were to visit the manors twice a year; the full number of fourteen canons was to be kept up; the prior was to inquire twice a year into private ownership of property on the part of the canons; annual accounts were to be rendered; dilapidated buildings of the priory and granges were to be repaired; no corrodies nor pensions were to be granted without the bishop's leave; chantries were to be duly served; alms were to be duly distributed to the poor, as well as the fragments left from meals; offenders were to be duly corrected without respect of persons, officers liable to be suspended, and special penance inflicted on the prior for neglect; pittances on anniversaries were to be duly distributed; no important business was to be transacted without the consent of the majority of the chapter; the common seal was to be kept under five keys; the statutable boots were to be worn, and not coloured shoes nor leggings, and all luxurious dress forbidden in detail; sacred vestments and vessels were to be kept clean, and the sacramental wine to be pure and good and not sour (acetosum); relics and sacred vessels were not to be pawned; diligent private reading of Holy Scripture was to be maintained; and the injunctions were to be written out, and read before the whole convent twice yearly.

Apparently Bishop Wykeham was satisfied that his visitation injunctions were being observed at Selborne; otherwise he could scarcely have issued a mandate, in March 1389, to the prior and convent of Selborne to receive John Chertese, a canon of Newark, guilty of a grave scandal, to do penance there, and to be kept in seclusion until further orders. (fn. 15)

Wykeham's registers afford, however, a better and later proof of that bishop's good opinion with regard to Selborne. At the time of the appointment of Weston as prior, namely in 1377, the generous diocesan had discharged the debts of the house, which then amounted to £73 19s. 10d. Some years after the visitation Wykeham again saw fit to extend his generosity to this house, for in May, 1401, Prior Weston sent a formal acknowledgment on behalf of his chapter of the bishop's great goodness and liberality in presenting them with a hundred marks; he promised (though that seems to have been no condition of the gift) that two of the canons should for ten years say masses daily for the good estate of Wykeham, or for his soul when he died. (fn. 16)

John Stepe, the twelfth prior, was elected about 1415, and his name occurs in evidences down to 1453. Among the Magdalen muniments is an interesting and full inventory of vestments and church goods delivered to Peter at Berne, sacrist, by Prior John Stepe, on 7 October, 1442, as well as one of a somewhat later date. The inventory included sixteen copes, seventeen chasubles, three white chasubles for Lent, five albes without apparel for Lent. The relics enumerated are a pax with a bone of the little finger of St. John; a gold ring of St. Hippolitus; a silver gilt ring of St. Edmund of Canterbury, and a comb and pome (calefactorium) of St. Richard of Chichester. (fn. 17)

The affairs of the priory became much in volved about the middle of the fifteenth century. From an estimate of the revenues and debts of the house, drawn up in 1462, it appeared that the total income was £86 10s. 6d., and the clear value £71 10s. 8d. The house then sustained only four canons and their four servants, the cost of whose board and clothing was estimated at £30; divers creditors had received £15 15s. 4d.; the repairs of churches, houses, and the walls and cloister of the priory had also consumed £15 13s. 4d.; whilst £10 was the annual life pension assigned to the prior. In 1463-4 the prior was twice sued for debts in the sheriff's court.

In 1468 Prior Richard resigned, and John Morton was elected fourteenth prior. (fn. 18) He held office till 1471, when William Windsor was appointed; but owing to irregularity of election this appointment was almost immediately annulled, and Thomas Farwill or Fairwise elected as fifteenth prior in his place. In 1472 Peter at Berne was reappointed prior, and held office for the second time until 1478. On 21 April, 1478, a visitation was made of the priory by the priors of Breamore and Tortington, under the authority of the general chapter of the Augustinian Order.

Prior Assheford seems only to have been appointed to further the suppression of this overburdened house. On 2 September, 1484, Bishop Waynflete appointed Richard, prior of Newplace, and two others to hold a commission for the annexing of the priory to Magdalen College of the bishop's founding. The greatest care was taken to justify this action to the church and the world by the elaborate nature of the evidence taken on oath before the commission. The evidence of the prior (an old man of seventy-two), of the bishop, and many others as to the hopeless condition of the priory, which was then destitute of a single canon and utterly dilapidated, was conclusive, and the decree of annexation was pronounced on 11 September. In the following year the transfer was confirmed by Pope Innocent VIII.

On the suppression of the priory an annual pension of £6 13s. 4d. was assigned to Assheford, and a chantry priest was maintained at Selborne, who received yearly from the College £9 6s. 8d. The founder of the priory was also, by Waynflete's order, commemorated at one of the quarterly obits observed at Magdalen College. (fn. 19)

An inventory of goods remaining at the priory in May, 1490, in the custody of Simon Hiltofte, chaplain there, shows that there were then a full equipment of church service books, altar plate, vestments, and other ornaments. There were also some books remaining in one of the chambers, including a copy of the Acts of the Apostles, and commentaries on the Gospels and on the Book of Job.

In 1534 a grant was made by the president and scholars of Magdalen to Nicholas Langerige, M.A., of the chaplaincy in the late priory of Selborne, for forty years, if he should live so long, to celebrate there for the souls of all the benefactors of the priory and college, assigning him an annual pension of £8 with two chambers on the north side of the chapel, with a kitchen, a stable for three horses, and the orchard; also 26s. annually to find a clerk to serve him at the altar and in other necessary matters; and ten cartloads of wood to be given him at the Easter progress of the president and fellows, provided he did not sell or give away any of it. It was further provided that Nicholas was not to absent himself from the priory more than two months in the year without special leave from the college, and when absent must provide a sufficient substitute.

Priors of Selborne

John, about 1234, 1250
Richard of Kent, (fn. 20) 1261-7
Peter de Disenhurst, 1267, 1271
Richard, 1277, 1291
William de Basing, (fn. 21) 1299-1323
Walter de Insula, (fn. 22) elected 1323
John de Winton, 1339
Edmund, 1352, 1357
Nicholas de Wynton, (fn. 23) 1361-78
Thomas Weston, (fn. 24) 1378-1410
John Winchester, (fn. 25) 1410, 1413
John Stepe, 1415(?)-59
Peter at Berne, (fn. 26) 1459-68
John Morton, (fn. 27) 1468-71
William Windsor, 1471, election annulled
Thomas Farwill or Fairwise, 1471-2
Peter at Berne, 1472-8
John Scherpe, elected 1479
Thomas Assheford, 1484-5


  • 1. Hist. MSS. Commission, Eighth Report, pp. 263-4.
  • 2. Dugdale in the Monasticon gives Nich. de Cantia, which is a misprint for Rich, de Cantia.
  • 3. Mr. Macray corrects the errors into which Gilbert White fell with regard to the pedigree of Gurdun of Selborne (Charters and Documents of Selborne Priory, I. x.)
  • 4. Charter R. 54 Henry III., pt. i. m. 3; Macray's Selborne Charters, i. 64.
  • 5. Hund. Rolls (Rec. Com.) ii. 224.
  • 6. Winton. Epis. Reg., Pontoise, f. 22.
  • 7. Pat. 30 Edw. I. m. 22.
  • 8. Ibid. 33 Edw. I. pt. 1 m. 15.
  • 9. Ibid. 35 Edw. I. m. 40.
  • 10. Winton. Epis. Reg., Orlton, i. f. 33.
  • 11. Ibid. 61b.
  • 12. Pat. 12 Edw. III. pt. 3 m. 3.
  • 13. Winton Epis. Reg., Wykeham, iii. f. 144a.
  • 14. Ibid. i. f. 90.
  • 15. Winton. Epis. Reg., Wykeham, iii. f. 242b.
  • 16. Ibid. iii. f. 334; Moberly's Life of Wykeham, 262-3.
  • 17. Macray's Selborne Charters, i. 111, 112.
  • 18. Winton. Epis. Reg., Waynflete, i. f. 1576.
  • 19. The commemoration of Peter de Roches at Magdalen, long forgotten, has recently been revived, and is now regularly maintained.
  • 20. Dugdale gives Nich. de Cantia, which is a misprint for Rich. de Cantia.
  • 21. Winton. Epis. Reg., Pontoise, f. 22.
  • 22. Pat. 17 Edw. II. pt. 1, m. 14; Winton. Epis. Reg., Stratford, f. 6. In the margin there is a curious entry relative to customary episcopal fees in kind. It is stated that the official who inducted Prior Walter received, in nomine episcopi, his palfrey, saddle, bridle, cloak and boots.
  • 23. Winton. Epis. Reg., Edingdon, f. 113.
  • 24. Ibid. Wykeham, i. f. 90.
  • 25. Ibid. Beaufort, f. 23.
  • 26. Ibid. Waynflete, i. f. 69b. Peter at Berne resigned in 1468, and was re-elected in 1472.
  • 27. Ibid. f. 1576.