Houses of Benedictine nuns: St Giles in the wood priory, Flamstead

Pages 432-434

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

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About the middle of the 12th century Roger de Todeni or Tony (fn. 1) founded at Flamstead a priory in honour of St. Giles for Benedictine nuns and endowed it with land and certain small tithes in the parish. (fn. 2) He ordained that the assent of himself and of his heirs must be obtained at the election of the prioress, and that without their consent there should never be more than thirteen nuns in the house.

The priory, to which a pension of 5 marks out of Dallington rectory was assigned in 1220, (fn. 3) received from Agatha de Gatesden in 1228 some land in Hemel Hempstead (fn. 4) and acquired before 1244 (fn. 5) land and 30s. rent in Edlesborough (co. Bucks.) from Nicholas son of Bernard, whose granddaughter Isabella afterwards sold to the nuns all that she owned in that place (fn. 6); property in Potsgrove (co. Bedford) was made over in 1257 to the convent, (fn. 7) who in 1270 held 20 virgates of land in Wingrave given to them by William de la Hyde. (fn. 8)

The statute of Pope Boniface VIII for the stricter cloistering of nuns, obedience to which was enjoined upon them in 1300, (fn. 9) added restrictions to a life already sufficiently hard, for there is no doubt that the nuns were very poor. William Dalderby, Bishop of Lincoln, in appointing delegates in July 1308 to examine a recent election at St. Giles's, commissioned them to act for him in choosing a prioress if necessary, evidently from a desire to save the nuns expense, (fn. 10) and on 17 June 1316 (fn. 11) he granted an indulgence of thirty days to all who gave alms to the priory.

Careful administration was of paramount importance, and it was at the earnest supplication of the prioress and convent that the Bishop of Lincoln on 17 March 1336-7 appointed as master of the house a priest called Roger de Croule, of whose prudence and industry he was assured. (fn. 12)

Pestilence with its agricultural consequences must have aggravated the nuns' difficulties (fn. 13) in the latter part of the 14th century. The petition of the convent to Pope Urban VI (fn. 14) begging that the church of Dallington might be appropriated to them (fn. 15) represents that their original endowment had been so slender and the place of foundation was so sterile that the rents did not exceed 15 marks a year, and each nun was allowed only 2s. a year for her clothing and ½d. a week for food; so many of the people serving the priory had died, and the houses were in such a bad state and the live stock so diminished, that the conventual lands were left uncultivated, and unless some remedy were provided the nuns would have to beg the necessaries of life from door to door. The Bishop of Lincoln vouched for the truth of these statements, and the pope gave the necessary licence in August 1381, (fn. 16) a vicarage at Dallington being ordained a few months later. (fn. 17) Beyond one or two notices of the election of a prioress and the commission of Bishop Grey for a visitation (fn. 18) nothing is heard of the priory during the 15th century.

When the chancellor of the diocese on behalf of Bishop Longland visited Flamstead in May 1530 (fn. 19) there were seven nuns (fn. 20) besides the prioress. Three of them said that all was well, another reported that young girls were allowed to sleep in the dormitory, and another that the prioress had a nun to sleep with her, apparently because she was afraid of being late for matins. The prioress was enjoined to give up this practice and to exclude children of both sexes from the dormitory. From the second injunction it may be inferred that the nuns kept a school. The priory came to an end on 3 March 1537 (fn. 21) under the Act of the previous year dissolving monasteries of less than £200 annual value. The conduct of the nuns was irreproachable, the commissioners returning them as 'of very good report,' (fn. 22) and the management of the place had evidently been efficient, since the house was in good repair.

Agnes Croke, the prioress, received a pension of £6 a year, (fn. 23) but the seven other nuns seem to have been dismissed with a small sum of money. (fn. 24)

The income of the priory was estimated in 1526 at £39 6s. 8d. gross and £17 17s. 6d. net, (fn. 25) in 1535 at £30 19s. 6½d. clear (fn. 26) and in 1537 at £37 net (fn. 27); it was derived from the manor of Woodhall in Hemel Hempstead, land and rents in Flamstead, Gaddesden and St. Albans (co. Herts.), in Studham and Hockliffe (co. Beds.), Cholesbury, Dagnall, Edlesborough and Wingrave (co. Bucks.), and the rectories of Tilsworth (co. Beds.) and Dallington (co. Northants). (fn. 28) The goods and chattels of the nunnery with the ornaments of the church were sold for £44 8s. 3½d. (fn. 29); the plate was valued at £6 4s. 7½d. (fn. 30) and the three bells at £10. (fn. 31)

Prioresses of St. Giles, Flamstead

Agnes, occurs June 1244, (fn. 32) died 1254-5 (fn. 33)

Petronilla de Lucy, elected 1254-5, (fn. 34) occurs 1256 (fn. 35)

Loretta, occurs 1270 (fn. 36)

Laura, died 1291 (fn. 37)

Joan de Whethamsted, elected 1291 (fn. 38)

Cecilia de Morteyn, elected July 1308, (fn. 39) resigned 1316 (fn. 40)

Helen de Dunstaple, elected 1316 (fn. 41)

Maud Lucy, elected 1415 (fn. 42)

Joan Mourton, died 1454 (fn. 43)

Catherine Colyngryge, elected 1454 (fn. 44)

Joan Bone, occurs 12 March 1498-9 (fn. 45)

Agnes Tryng, elected 1509, (fn. 46) occurs 1510 and 1514, (fn. 47) resigned 1517 (fn. 48)

Agnes Croke, elected 1517, (fn. 49) occurs 1530, (fn. 50) and at the dissolution of the house, March 1537 (fn. 51)


  • 1. This family held Flamstead from the time of the Domesday Survey until the 14th century (V.C.H. Herts. ii, 194).
  • 2. Dugdale, Mon. iv, 299, no. i. This is evidently the charter shown by the prioress at a visitation in 1530.
  • 3. Bridges, Hist. of Northants, i, 494.
  • 4. Dugdale, Mon. iv, 300, no. ii.
  • 5. In that year Margery widow of Nicholas renounced her claims in dower in return for a life grant of a messuage, a mark of silver, 3½ qrs. of wheat and 12 cartloads of wood a year (Feet of F. Bucks. 28 Hen. III, no. 47).
  • 6. Dugdale, Mon. iv, 301, no. iii. Confirmation by Henry III in 1267-8.
  • 7. Feet of F. Bucks. 40 & 41 Hen. III, no. 147.
  • 8. Ibid. 55 Hen. III, no. 134. William was the grandfather of the tenant of 1270.
  • 9. Linc. Epis. Reg. Dalderby, Memo. fol. 10 d.
  • 10. Ibid. fol. 112 d.
  • 11. Ibid. fol. 327.
  • 12. Ibid. Burghersh, Memo. fol. 355 d. On the same day he gave them as confessor a Dominican friar.
  • 13. The extreme poverty of the house may have been the reason why Helen Lovell, a novice there, decided in 1352 not to take vows (ibid. Gynwell, Memo. fol. 7).
  • 14. If, as Dugdale says, the bull to the Bishop of Lincoln for inquiry was issued by Pope Urban IV (Mon. iv, 301), its date must be March 1263, and in this case the nuns over a century later presented a petition containing precisely the same details (Linc. Epis. Reg. Buckingham, Memo. pt. ii, fol. 232 d.). But it seems most unlikely that history repeated itself so exactly, and the bull should probably be dated March, the second year of Urban VI, i.e., 1380.
  • 15. They obtained the king's permission in 1313 (Cal. Pat. 1307-13, p. 591).
  • 16. Linc. Epis. Reg. Buckingham, Memo. pt. ii, fol. 232 d.
  • 17. Apr. 1382 (ibid. fol. 233).
  • 18. Ibid. Grey, Memo. (1431-5), fol. 89.
  • 19. Doc. of Bp. of Lincoln at Exchequer Gate.
  • 20. Five 'ladies' and two sisters.
  • 21. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii (1), 571 (3).
  • 22. Transcript of Land Rev. Rec. bdle. 66, no. 3.
  • 23. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (1), p. 577. She was still receiving it in 1555 (Add. MS. 8102, m. 9).
  • 24. The sum of £16 12s. 10d. was divided among the seven nuns and ten servants (Mins. Accts. Hen. VIII, no. 1606).
  • 25. Salter, A subsidy collected in the diocese of Lincoln in 1526, p. 193.
  • 26. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv, 276.
  • 27. Transcript of Land Rev. Rec. bdle. 66, no. 3.
  • 28. Rentals and Surv. (Gen. Ser.), portf. 8, no. 41; Mins. Accts. Hen. VIII, no. 1606.
  • 29. Counting the wheat sown in the demesne lands, which sold for £15. The stuff in the parlour fetched 5s., that of the quire 6s. 8d., of the vestry 66s. 8d., of the kitchen 15s., of the high chamber 30s., of the middle chamber 36s. 4d., of the buttery 20s. and of the bakehouse 26s. 8d., a table of alabaster 20s., another for our Lady altar 3s. 4d., the glass in the church windows 20s., the timber in the quire 26s. 8d. The nuns had 6 horses, 7 kine and 2 heifers, 7 swine and 28 sheep (Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. ccclxi, fol. 65).
  • 30. Ibid. It consisted of a silver salt, six silver spoons, a chalice and paten gilt, and the garnishing of a mazer band.'
  • 31. Mins. Accts. Hen. VIII, no. 1606.
  • 32. Feet of F. Bucks. 28 Hen. III, no. 47.
  • 33. Linc. Epis. Reg. Lexington's Rolls (Huntingdon Archd. Anno, 2).
  • 34. Ibid.
  • 35. Feet of F. Bucks. 40 Hen. III, no. 147.
  • 36. Ibid. 55 Hen. III, no. 134.
  • 37. Linc. Epis. Reg. Sutton, Inst. fol. 85 d. She is mentioned in the Lay Subsidy Roll of 1290-1 (bdle. 120, no. 2).
  • 38. Linc. Epis. Reg. Sutton, Inst. fol. 85 d.
  • 39. Ibid. Dalderby, Memo. fol. 112 d.
  • 40. Ibid. fol. 327.
  • 41. Ibid.
  • 42. Ibid. Repingdon, Inst. fol. 361 d.
  • 43. Ibid. Chedworth, Inst. fol. 186.
  • 44. Ibid.
  • 45. Aug. Off. Convent. Leases, iv, no. 118.
  • 46. Linc. Epis. Reg. Smith, Inst. fol. 423.
  • 47. Aug. Off. Convent. Leases, iv, no. 116, 120.
  • 48. Linc. Epis. Reg. Wolsey and Atwater, Inst. fol. 47.
  • 49. Linc. Epis. Reg. Wolsey and Atwater, Inst. fol. 47.
  • 50. Doc. of Bp. of Lincoln at Exchequer Gate, Visit. of Bp. Longland. She also occurs several times between March 1521 and June 1534 (Aug. Off. Convent. Leases, iv, no. 114, 115, 119, 120-30, 133, 134).
  • 51. Mins. Accts. Hen. VIII, no. 1606.