A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1971.
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3. HERTFORD PRIORY
The Benedictine priory of St. Mary of Hertford, a cell of St. Albans Abbey, was built about the end of the 11th century (fn. 1) by Ralph de Limesi for six monks who were to be sent from St. Albans. (fn. 2) Ralph gave as endowment a good hide of land at Hertford, the church of Pirton with tithe of his land and that of his men and 2½ hides of land, (fn. 3) the mill, pasture for the oxen of the monks' ploughs with his own and feed for their pigs in his woods; a carucate of land in Itchington (co. Warw.) and certain tithes there and in Ulverley in Solihull (co. Warw.), (fn. 4) Cavendish (co. Suffolk), Bibbesworth in Kimpton (co. Herts.), Epperstone (co. Notts.), and 'Torp.'
The charter was confirmed between 1108 and 1123 (fn. 5) by Henry I, who granted the priory sac and soc, tol and team, infangthef and its own court. The monks received from Ralph later the church of Amwell with tithe, (fn. 6) and from his wife Avice land of her dower in Bradwell, on condition that she had three corrodies (fn. 7) from the priory while she lived, and that after her death another monk was added to the convent. Several other members of the Limesi family figure as protectors and benefactors. Alan, Ralph's son, besides confirming his father's gifts to the monks, granted the church of Itchington (fn. 8); Gerard, his son, (fn. 9) gave them land in Cavendish and Itchington and forbade interference with their jurisdiction in places owned by them (fn. 10); John son of Gerard de Limesi (fn. 11) acquitted their tenements within his fee of scutage and made over to them the church of Cavendish, (fn. 12) while from his sister Amabel de Limesi they acquired land in Bibbesworth. (fn. 13)
Their possession of the benefits granted was not always left unquestioned. In the reign of John they had to prove by their charters their exemption from services demanded of them in Amwell by Ralph de Limesi. (fn. 14) About the same time Wiscard Ledet, owner of the chapel of Ramerick in Ickleford, disputed their right to the sum of 5s. payable apparently as tithe from the mill there. The monks, however, agreed to supply a chaplain to celebrate mass four days a week in Wiscard's chapel (fn. 15) and were allowed the 5s. and 20d. more.
The question whether the Abbot of St. Albans or the Bishop of Lincoln ought to have jurisdiction over the priory was settled in 1219, (fn. 16) when it was decided that the prior must be presented to the bishop and do canonical obedience to him for benefices in his diocese, but that he was to be appointed by the abbot, who also had the right to select and remove the rest of the convent and to check abuses there.
Gilbert, Earl Marshal, after the accident in the tournament at Ware, June 1241, was carried to Hertford Priory, where he died and his viscera were buried. (fn. 17) Contrary to expectation, the occurrence was the reverse of profitable to the house: the earl's brother Walter at the time promised the convent a rent of 60s., but afterwards refused to fulfil his obligation, and subjected the prior to some persecution into the bargain. (fn. 18)
Small gifts were occasionally made to the monks for special purposes. Thus Richard de Puteo c. 1200 gave them 12 acres of land in Bibbesworth for their kitchen, (fn. 19) and in 1258, at the instance of Abbot John, (fn. 20) once Prior of Hertford, (fn. 21) a rent of 2s. was assigned to maintain the ornaments and lights of an altar, probably that of St. Mary, in their church. (fn. 22)
The indulgence of ten days granted by the Bishop of Lincoln in 1302 to those going to the altar of St. Theobald in the priory and making offerings (fn. 23) suggests that money was then needed for building. The fact that in 1318 (fn. 24) and 1321 (fn. 25) the prior was borrowing points in the same direction, though the extortions of the abbot from the cells at that time (fn. 26) would account for debts.
The prior in May 1309 went abroad, (fn. 27) probably to obtain the pope's confirmation of the election of Abbot Hugh de Eversden. Another prior, Nicholas de Flamstead, a notably good and able man, accompanied Richard de Wallingford, abbot-elect, to the papal court in 1327. (fn. 28) His connexion with the priory seems then to have terminated. As cellarer of the abbey he came to the priory in 1331 to make provision for the entertainment there of the justices of Trailbaston. (fn. 29)
As far as can be judged, the house throughout the 14th century was quietly prosperous. It was one of the three cells to give a present to Abbot Richard in 1327, (fn. 30) and made its contribution to the expenses incurred by Abbot Thomas de la Mare in obtaining the substitution of a fixed annual payment for the sums due to the king and pope, when some cells had to be excused owing to debt. (fn. 31) Yet it was not among the richest of the St. Albans cells: its share of the above yearly payment was fixed by Abbot John de la Moote (1396-1401) at 30s., the smallest but one. (fn. 32)
The house in 1461-2 (fn. 33) was extremely unlucky in its prior, Thomas Walden. The payments made to him within this time and not entered in his accounts amounted to £50 at least, and the goods (fn. 34) alienated by him, not counting jewels, to £46 more. The priory was ill able to stand such malversation of its funds. The accounts for 1488-9 show that the receipts, £115 10s. 0¼d., did not quite cover expenses, (fn. 35) and in 1497-8 the income of £90 10s. 3½d. barely sufficed. (fn. 36)
The priors during this period were not always well chosen. John Bensted, (fn. 37) prior in 1489, apparently left the house £12 poorer than he found it. (fn. 38) William Waterman, prior a little later, had a suit brought against him in Chancery for appropriating plate valued at 20 marks and £5 in money entrusted to him by a widow named Alice Newbury. (fn. 39) He declared that she had given them to him to reimburse him for paying her debts, but this she absolutely denied, though she acknowledged she owed him 5 marks which she professed herself ready to pay on the restoration of her property. Even if the case against Waterman was not so bad as it seems, it was not to his credit. (fn. 40)
The proportion of income spent in law and travelling expenses in 1497-8, £11 16s. out of £90 10s., is also rather significant, considering the past record of the prior, William Dyxwell. (fn. 41) The receipts in 1525-6, £85 15s. 9½d., were £5 above the expenditure, (fn. 42) but whether the financial soundness of the house was due to wise administration is doubtful. The convent apparently numbered only four, including the prior, (fn. 43) and £42 had been spent on the kitchen and hospice, (fn. 44) so that unless food was at famine prices hospitality there must have been on a lavish scale.
The grant of the priory and its property by the king to Anthony Denny on 9 February 1538 (fn. 45) appears to prove that the house was then already dissolved. Yet from a settlement about the tithes of Amwell it was presumably still in existence in July 1539 (fn. 46); if so its end was no doubt delayed till the fall of St. Albans.
Priors Of Hertford
Ralph, the first prior (fn. 49)
Nigel, c. 1200 (fn. 50)
Richard, instituted 1237 (fn. 55)
Nicholas, instituted 1241 (fn. 56)
Simon, died September 1247 (fn. 57)
Thomas Martel, instituted 1254-5 (fn. 60)
William de Hertford, instituted January 1270-1 (fn. 61)
Mark de St. Edmund, instituted September 1276 (fn. 62)
William de Romeseye, instituted 1299 (fn. 63)
Richard de Hertford, instituted July 1303, (fn. 64)
Richard occurs 1309 (fn. 65)
William de Kirkeby, instituted 1312 (fn. 66)
John de Walsingham, instituted 1315 (fn. 67)
William de Kirkeby, instituted 1316 (fn. 68)
Stephen de Withenden, instituted 1317 (fn. 69)
Richard de Wathamstede, instituted 1318 (fn. 70)
Geoffrey de St. Albans, instituted 1323 (fn. 71)
Nicholas de Flamstede, occurs 1327 (fn. 72)
Adam de Doncaster, instituted 1350 (fn. 73)
Robert Nony, instituted 1352 (fn. 74)
John de Colby, occurs April 1389 (fn. 75)
William Giles, occurs 1420 (fn. 80)
William Ellis, occurs 1423 (fn. 81)
William Brit, occurs 1429 (fn. 82)
John Welles, occurs 16 January 1452 (fn. 83)
Thomas Walden, occurs 25 March 146125 December 1462 (fn. 84)
John Bensted, occurs 25 March-29 September 1489 (fn. 90)
William Waterman, occurs c. 1490-3 (fn. 91) (?)
William Dyxwell, occurs 29 September 149729 September 1498 (fn. 92)
The seal attached to a charter of 1520 (fn. 100) is a large 13th-century vesica. On it is represented a half-length figure of the Virgin standing, and holding on her left arm the Child, whose head is surrounded by a cruciform nimbus. All that remains of the broken legend is . . . . . . SANCTE. [M]ARIE. [DE.H]ERTO. . . . .