Houses of Benedictine monks: Redbourn Priory

A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1971.

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'Houses of Benedictine monks: Redbourn Priory', in A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 4, ed. William Page( London, 1971), British History Online [accessed 23 July 2024].

'Houses of Benedictine monks: Redbourn Priory', in A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 4. Edited by William Page( London, 1971), British History Online, accessed July 23, 2024,

"Houses of Benedictine monks: Redbourn Priory". A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 4. Ed. William Page(London, 1971), , British History Online. Web. 23 July 2024.

In this section


The cell of St. Amphibalus at Redbourn was established as the result of the miraculous discovery of the remains of St. Amphibalus and his fellow-martyrs in 1178. (fn. 1) St. Alban appeared at night to an inhabitant of St. Albans called Robert, and told him that he wished to make known the burial-place of Amphibalus, who had converted him to Christianity. Robert rose, was led by the saint to Redbourn, and shown the spot where Amphibalus and his companions lay. After marking the place for future identification, Robert returned with St. Alban, who disappeared when they arrived at his church. The story was spread abroad, and in the end reached Abbot Simon, who sent some monks with Robert, and set a guard over the ground, the holiness of which was attested by miracles of healing. Exploration there was rewarded by the discovery of several bodies, one of which was identified as that of St. Amphibalus from the received account of the manner of his death. The remains were removed to the abbey, and on their way were met by a procession of monks with the shrine of St. Alban, who showed his joy by wonderful signs.

The foundation by the Abbot of St. Albans of the cell on the portion of Redbourn Heath which included the grave of St. Amphibalus and the chapel of St. James (fn. 2) is left unnoticed, possibly because it was regarded as part of the events just recorded, (fn. 3) but the house existed in the time of Simon's successor, Warin (1183-95), who used it as a health resort for the convent of St. Albans. (fn. 4) The priory and monks were plundered unmercifully by the soldiers of Louis of France on 1 May 1217. (fn. 5) One of the treasures, however, a silver-gilt cross containing a piece of the holy cross, was soon recovered. The man who, unknown to his fellows, had stolen it was seized with a fit after leaving the priory, and became so violent that his comrades had to bind his hands and take him thus to Flamstead Church, which they meant to raid. At the entrance the cross fell from his bosom, and was picked up by the parish priest, who inquired what it was. The robbers, recognizing that their companion's seizure was a punishment for sacrilege, were terrified and begged the priest to take the cross back at once to the monks. It was possibly to compensate for losses then sustained that Abbot William de Trumpington (1214-35) gave to the house a beautiful psalter and ordinal and two gilded shrines. (fn. 6) For the safety of the shrines and the relics in them he appointed a monk with a colleague to relieve him to guard them continually. During the time of this abbot the conventual church was consecrated by John Bishop of Ardfert. (fn. 7)

The regulations made by Abbot Roger in 1275 with regard to monks who died at Redbourn (fn. 8) show that there was no cemetery here. The cell was, as in Abbot Warin's day, a place where the monks could have a brief relief from strict discipline.

The constitutions of Abbot Richard de Wallingford (1326-35) for Redbourn (fn. 9) aimed chiefly at preventing too great relaxation of the rule. The three monks taking their turn there were to remain a month, and were neither to go nor return on foot; a brother at Redbourn who by permission came to St. Albans must be accompanied by his prior; the brothers were to go to matins, say together the canonical hours, and hear the mass of the day, and those who were priests must not omit for four days to celebrate mass; constant transgressors of these rules were to have their stay shortened; they were to take the air together in places removed from public concourse and return in good time for dinner; they were forbidden to visit neighbouring houses and friends or go beyond the boundaries without the prior's leave, and to go on foot a mile beyond the priory, or stay the night anywhere without the abbot's permission; they must not eat before the common meal or sup in time of regular fast without leave of the prior, who was to be very careful how he gave it; their food was to be served daily from the kitchen of the abbey as for monks at St. Albans; the prior and brothers were not to keep huntingdogs, hunt, look on at the sport, or leap over the hedges of their neighbours; they must not bring into the house persons of doubtful reputation to eat or talk with them, or have intercourse with such outside.

The arrangement about food did not work at all well: hot dishes sent from the abbey were naturally not very palatable when they reached Redbourn, about 3 miles off, and when sold at St. Albans fetched little; so that the monks at Redbourn were reduced to all kinds of shifts for their maintenance. (fn. 10) This state of things was ended by Abbot Thomas de la Mare (fn. 11) (1349-96), and the sum of 5s. a week was given in lieu of food. (fn. 12) He also simplified the matter of the convent's supply of fuel, ordaining that they should have sixteen cartloads of wood at Michaelmas instead of the two logs a day from 1 November to 2 February allowed them by his predecessor, Michael de Mentmore. (fn. 13) Abbot Thomas did much for the priory, giving vestments, plate, furniture and books, (fn. 14) rebuilding the chapel of St. James, (fn. 15) which had been burned down many years before, (fn. 16) and among other improvements to the buildings (fn. 17) constructing a house (fn. 18) which he could use both as a wardrobe and study when he visited Redbourn. He was very fond of the place and frequently stayed there, though he was careful that his presence should not cause constraint or be burdensome in any way to the convent. (fn. 19)

It was no doubt through his endeavours that Thomas de Beauchamp Earl of Warwick in 1383 renounced his claim to Redbourn Health. (fn. 20) The dispute on the point had for years (fn. 21) caused the priory great inconvenience, for the Flamstead men, relying on their lord's support, had kept up a continual feud with the convent; on one occasion they had seized the cart with the monks' provisions and taken it to Flamstead, and the prior had been so frightened lest his food supply might be cut off that he had bought another less public approach to the priory. (fn. 22)

The stone walls round the outer court were repaired by Abbot John Wheathampstead (1420-40), who also gave £7 to the fabric of the kitchen (fn. 23) and contributed to decorate the chapel and improve the altar. (fn. 24) From the regulations, however, which he would have introduced in 1439, (fn. 25) internal amendment seems to have been what the house most needed. Sometimes there were only two monks there, sometimes the place was left empty. Wheathampstead ordered that with the prior they must number at least four, and they were to remain their appointed time without interruption unless recalled by their superior; they were to go to the chapel every day and say together the canonical service; at festivals mass and vespers were to be sung, (fn. 26) and to help in the singing two clerks (fn. 27) were to be added to the house, due provision being made for the expense of the increased convent (fn. 28); St. Amphibalus was to be commemorated at Redbourn as at the abbey; the brothers were each to celebrate mass daily, and that they might be the readier for their duty they were to go to bed earlier (fn. 29) and abstain from late potations, superfluous repasts, from roaming about and excessive recreation; they were to avoid doubtful places while on their way to the priory and were to bring nobody into the house from whom scandal might easily arise. The abbot, moreover, exhorted them to employ their leisure time there in reading, learning, or other useful employment to prevent idleness. These rules in essentials differed very little from Richard de Wallingford's, yet they were so strongly opposed by a section of the convent at St. Albans as encroachments on their liberty and novelties that the abbot had to let the matter drop. (fn. 30)

Beyond the mention of the prior in 1492 (fn. 31) nothing more is heard of the house until 1535, when apparently it was already abandoned. (fn. 32)

The priory received small gifts from time to time from secular persons, (fn. 33) but as far as can be seen practically all its resources were derived directly or indirectly from the abbey. The tithes of Winslow, co. Bucks., of old belonging to the almoner, were assigned by Abbot Thomas de la Mare to Redbourn, (fn. 34) which appears to have held also the manor of Beamonds. (fn. 35) The place was said to be worth £9 2s. a year in 1535, (fn. 36) but it is impossible to say what was then meant by the priory.

Priors of Redbourn

Gilbert de Sisseverne (fn. 37)

Vincent, died January 1248-9 (fn. 38)

Geoffrey de St. Albans, occurs November 1290 (fn. 39)

Richard de Hatford, occurs January 1302, deposed soon afterwards (fn. 40)

J. Woderove, occurs before 1383 (fn. 41)

William de Flamstead, occurs 1380 (fn. 42)

William Wylum, occurs October 1396 (fn. 43) and December 1401 (fn. 44)

Hugh Legat, resigned 1427 (fn. 45)

William Bryth, appointed 1427 (fn. 46)

Richard Myssendene, appointed 11 November 1428 (fn. 47)

Thomas Westwode, occurs 16 January 1452 (fn. 48) and 25 February 1465 (fn. 49)

Thomas Albon, occurs 5 August 1476, (fn. 50) 30 June 1480 (fn. 51) and June 1492 (fn. 52)


  • 1. Matt. Paris, Chron. Maj. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 301-8. The remains, there is little doubt, were those of a pagan Anglo-Saxon burial. See V.C.H. Herts. i, 256-8.
  • 2. Gesta Abbat. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 400.
  • 3. An agreement of 1383 concerning the heath says the priory was built immediately after the translation of St. Amphibalus (ibid. iii, 260).
  • 4. Ibid. i, 211.
  • 5. Matt. Paris, Chron. Maj. iii, 16-17.
  • 6. Gesta Abbat. i, 282, 294. The shrines were those made to receive the remains of St. Amphibalus and his companions.
  • 7. Ibid. 289. An indulgence of forty days was granted on this occasion.
  • 8. Ibid. 452. By tradition the bodies of the monks dying at Redbourn were brought to St. Albans by the River Ver.
  • 9. Ibid. ii, 202-5.
  • 10. Gesta Abbat. ii, 397-8.
  • 11. Ibid.
  • 12. This seems the inference from ibid. 400. Bread and ale probably continued to be supplied from the abbey (Amundesham, Annales [Rolls Ser.], ii, 206).
  • 13. Gesta Abbat. ii, 398.
  • 14. His gifts included spoons, tables, napkins, hangings for the hall, graduals, a complete volume of Legends of the Saints commemorated throughout the year, red silk curtains for the altar and a frontal to match and precious frontals and drapery for the altar in Lent (ibid. 399).
  • 15. Brother John de Bokedene and William Stubard, a lay brother, carried out this work (ibid.).
  • 16. Ibid. 400.
  • 17. He spent 100 marks here in building and payment of debts (ibid. 391).
  • 18. Ibid. 399.
  • 19. Ibid. 400.
  • 20. Ibid. iii, 259-60.
  • 21. It had gone on in the time of the previous earl, who died in 1369.
  • 22. Gesta Abbat. iii, 258.
  • 23. Amundesham, Annales, ii, 264, App. A.
  • 24. Amundesham, Annales, ii, 200. It was perhaps the parochial, not the conventual, church, over the nave of which a chamber was built at this time.
  • 25. Ibid. 203-11.
  • 26. Abbot Thomas had had mass sung there on Sundays and the principal feasts (Gesta Abbat. ii, 401).
  • 27. They were besides to serve the monks at table and do anything they were asked in reason (Amundesham, op. cit. ii, 206).
  • 28. The sum of 9s. a week for food was allowed, besides extra bread and ale from the refectory, the money and the clerks' stipends being paid by the master of the works out of the issues of the manors of Radwell and Burston and messuages in Sleap and Sandridge assigned to him for that purpose (ibid.).
  • 29. The abbot in 1423 had ordered them not to sit up too late, since from this cause they omitted to keep the vigils they were bound to observe (ibid. i, 113).
  • 30. Ibid. ii, 211-12.
  • 31. Add. Chart. 34350.
  • 32. It is described as a cell annexed to St. Albans (Valor Eccl. [Rec. Com.], i, 451). The king's commissioners in 1537 returned it as uninhabited by religious persons (Transcript of Land Rev. Rec. bdle. 66, no. 3. This document, owing to rearrangement of the class to which it belongs, cannot now be traced).
  • 33. The secular benefactors are given in Lansd. MS. 260, fol. 302. Of the donations the chief were 5 quarters of wheat from Sir John Bibbesworthe, kt., 66s. 8d. from William Hemelhemstead, 20s. each from Sir Adam Newenham and Alice Lightfoote, and 20s. to the work of the kitchen, and 7s. for a pittance bequeathed by Emma Imayne.
  • 34. Gesta Abbat. ii, 413.
  • 35. The site of the house was granted in 1540 with the manors called 'the Priory' of Redbourn and Beamonds as if they were connected (L. and P. Hen. VIII, xv, g. 611 [46]).
  • 36. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 451.
  • 37. He was prior at the time of the dedication of the church, which was performed by John Bishop of Ardfert in the presence of Abbot William de Trumpington, and therefore took place between about 1215, when John settled at St. Albans (Matt. Paris, Chron. Maj. iv, 501), and 1235, the date of William's death.
  • 38. Cott. MS. Nero, D vii, fol. 112 d.
  • 39. Gesta Abbat. ii, 6-7.
  • 40. Ibid. 53-4.
  • 41. No definite date can be assigned to the transaction in which his name appears, viz., the buying of the new road through fear of the Flamstead men (ibid. iii, 258). He seems to have been the man made sub-prior of St. Albans in 1349 (ibid. ii, 381).
  • 42. Cott. MS. D vii, fol. 81 d.
  • 43. Gesta Abbat. iii, 258.
  • 44. Ibid. 480.
  • 45. 'Chron. Rer. Gest.' in Amundesham, Annales, i, 13.
  • 46. Ibid.
  • 47. Lansd. MS. 375, fol. 26 d. He had been Prior of Beaulieu (Amundesham, op.cit. i, 30).
  • 48. Reg. of St. Albans (Rolls Ser.), i, 12.
  • 49. Ibid. ii, 30.
  • 50. Ibid. 145.
  • 51. Ibid. 228-31.
  • 52. Add. Chart. 34350.