Houses of Austin canons: Wymondley priory

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

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'Houses of Austin canons: Wymondley priory', in A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 4, (London, 1971) pp. 440-443. British History Online [accessed 25 April 2024]

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The hospital (fn. 1) or priory of Austin canons at Little Wymondley, dedicated to the honour of St. Mary, (fn. 2) was founded by Richard de Argentein, (fn. 3) the lord of the manor, apparently at the beginning of the reign of Henry III, but of the endowment nothing is known except that it included land in Wymondley (fn. 4) and the church of Little Wymondley, of which the master of the hospital was put in possession in 1218 on the resignation of the parson and vicar. (fn. 5) The patron's rights did not include a voice in the selection of the head of the house, for although Giles de Argentein, Richard's son and successor opposed the election of a canon of Dunstable as Prior of Wymondley in 1247, he was unsuccessful. (fn. 6)

The convent acquired various property during the first seventy years of its existence. In 1232 Henry III granted them a virgate of land in Dinsley (fn. 7) for 5s. a year and the maintenance of his anniversary and that of King John; in 1275 they owned a carucate of land in the hundred of Hertford, bought of Ivo de Hoverile (fn. 8); they then had land also in Beeston, co. Nottingham, (fn. 9) and in 1278 held in Tewin 40 acres, (fn. 10) to which 80 acres more were added in 1285 by the gift of Walter de Neville. (fn. 11)

The resources of the house, however, were still inadequate to its needs. William Dalderby, Bishop of Lincoln, in 1315 wrote to the rectors and vicars throughout the archdeaconries of Buckingham, Oxford, Bedford and Huntingdon, requesting them to permit the proctors of the poor canons of Wymondley to solicit the alms of the faithful within their districts, and offering an indulgence of forty days to those who gave to them (fn. 12); and in 1323 Bishop Burghersh sent similar letters to the clergy of his diocese and granted an indulgence for the benefit of the canons. (fn. 13)

The house seems also to have had other difficulties at the beginning of the 14th century. John de Wymondley, the prior, who had ruled for ten years, (fn. 14) was removed in 1300, (fn. 15) and after a long delay, (fn. 16) which points to disagreements among the canons, John de Mordon, a former prior, was reinstated. (fn. 17) Mordon died in 1304, and was succeeded by Elias de Wheathampstead, (fn. 18) but it was not until 1310 that John de Wymondley at last formally resigned. (fn. 19)

The canons, in electing John de Buckden prior in 1340, seem hardly to have chosen a person circumspect in temporal affairs, as advised by their bishop. (fn. 20) He was accused, with others, in March 1345 (fn. 21) of 'attempting things very prejudicial to the king and his crown, which if allowed to proceed will be not only to the king's prejudice and the subversion of laws and the rights of the crown, but also to the manifest lesion of ecclesiastical liberty.' Unfortunately the offence for which his arrest was ordered is not stated, but it possibly was connected with the suit brought against him at that date by Joan daughter of the late John de Argentein for detaining a charter entrusted to Elias his predecessor. (fn. 22)

The Argentein deeds caused a later Prior of Wymondley some unpleasantness. As he was on his way to Halesworth, co. Suffolk, in 1382, to assist at the funeral of John de Argentein, he was seized at Newmarket by the partisans of one of the heirs and forced to surrender certain muniments which John had deposited in the priory for safety. (fn. 23)

The inconsiderable bequests made to the priory by Argentein (fn. 24) were apparently but a small portion of what the convent obtained at his death, for under the will of Ann Maltravers, John's mother, (fn. 25) they were then to receive (fn. 26) a great cup with a cover, a dragenall, 6 dishes, 6 pottingers, 6 saucers, 2 pitchers and 2 pottles, all of silver, as well as a 'dozer' of green powdered with dolphins and 4 'cousters' of the same suit.

Some land in Hertford was given to the convent in 1330 by Roger de Luda to maintain a chantry in Tewin Church, (fn. 27) and four cottages in Shefford (in Campton, co. Beds.) in 1392 by John Cokkowe for a chantry in the priory. (fn. 28) An indulgence for their relief granted by the Bishop of Ely in 1394 (fn. 29) shows that they then needed help. When the house was visited by Bishop Alnwick in 1442 (fn. 30) its general state was quite satisfactory, none of the four canons having any complaints to make. It had then an annual income of £20 clear, which cannot have offered much margin for extra expenditure.

At the visitation of May 1530 (fn. 31) the one question of importance was the financial situation, which was certainly gloomy in the extreme. The prior had just spent 100 marks on the belfry, and other parts of the church were still badly in need of repairs, (fn. 32) while to add to the difficulties of the convent eighty of their sheep had died that year, and only eighteen were left.

The acknowledgement of the royal supremacy was signed on 14 October 1534 by the prior and four canons, (fn. 33) and there were five religious living there, (fn. 34) according to the royal commissioners 'of slender report,' on 6 April 1537, when the house was dissolved (fn. 35) as one of the smaller monasteries. The prior, John Atewe (fn. 36) or Yate, (fn. 37) was given a pension of £5 (fn. 38); the other canons received a present only. (fn. 39) It is not surprising to find that in 1537 the buildings were in ruin and decay. (fn. 40) The only piece of plate there then was a chalice valued at 72s. 9d., (fn. 41) but a few years before the convent had certainly had more. (fn. 42) The four bells, weighing 24 cwt., (fn. 43) were probably those noted in 1442 as lately bought. (fn. 44)

The income of the house in 1526 was said to be £46 gross and £23 8s. 6d. net (fn. 45); in 1535 it was reckoned at £29 19s. 11½d. net, (fn. 46) and at the Suppression £23 clear, apart from demesne lands worth 107s. (fn. 47) The canons were rectors of Little Wymondley, the church of which was served by one of them as curate. (fn. 48)

Priors of Wymondley

William, occurs c. 1218 (fn. 49)

Hugh, occurs 1233-4 (fn. 50)

Martin, instituted 1246, died 1247-8 (fn. 51)

Richard de Waldia, elected March 1247-8, (fn. 52) occurs 1251 (fn. 53)

John de Mordon, resigned 1290 (fn. 54)

John de Wymondley, elected 1290, (fn. 55) deprived 1300 (fn. 56)

John de Mordon, re-elected 1300, (fn. 57) occurs 1302, (fn. 58) died 1304 (fn. 59)

Elias de Wheathampstead, elected 1304, (fn. 60) occurs 1310, (fn. 61) died 1340 (fn. 62)

John de Buckden, elected 1340, (fn. 63) occurs 1345, (fn. 64) died 1347 (fn. 65)

William Legat, died March 1349 (fn. 66)

Roger de Beston, elected 1349, (fn. 67) resigned 1 May 1374 (fn. 68)

John Anabull, resigned 1404-5 (fn. 69)

John Stevens, instituted February 1404-5 (fn. 70)

Richard Chapman, occurs November 1442 (fn. 71)

John Bawdry, died 1478 (fn. 72)

William Howse or Hawes, elected 1478, (fn. 73) occurs 1488, (fn. 74) resigned 1513 (fn. 75)

Robert Ellys, elected 1513, (fn. 76) resigned 1520 (fn. 77)

William Weston, elected in 1520, (fn. 78) occurs 1530, (fn. 79) died 1531 (fn. 80)

John Dorchester, elected 1531, (fn. 81) occurs 14 October 1534 (fn. 82)

John Atue or Yate, occurs 4 March 1537 (fn. 83)

The oval 14th-century seal of this house (fn. 84) represents the Virgin crowned and standing with the Child on her left arm in a niche, with a pinnacled and crocketed canopy. The field is powdered with slipped roses. Legend: [s'] CAPITVLI BEA(TE MAR) IE DE WILMVNDE . . .


  • 1. During the 13th century it was often styled 'hospital' (Rolls of Hugh de Welles [Cant. and York Soc.], i, 141; iii, 43; Cal. Close, 1231-4, p. 84; Cal. Pat. 1281-92, p. 195; Pipe R. 19 Edw. I), but apparently not afterwards.
  • 2. The house seems generally to have been called the priory or hospital of St. Mary in the 13th and 15th centuries (Rot. Lit. Claus. [Rec. Com.], ii, 88; Cal. Close, 1226-57, p. 159; Cal. Pat. 1281-92, p. 195; B.M. Seals, lxiv, 74), but Tanner (Notit. Mon.) says it was dedicated to St. Lawrence. Possibly it had a double dedication, for the two altars in the church mentioned by name at the dissolution of the priory were those of St. Lawrence and our Lady (K.R. Church Goods, 12/90;).
  • 3. Visit. of Bp. Alnwick, 1442 (Doc. of Bp. of Linc. at Exchequer Gate).
  • 4. Hund. R. (Rec. Com.), i, 183.
  • 5. Rolls of Hugh de Welles (Cant. and York Soc.), i, 141. The prior and brothers presented a vicar in 1223 (ibid. iii, 43), so they evidently did not at first serve the church themselves.
  • 6. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), iii, 175.
  • 7. Cal. Chart. R. 1226-57, p. 159. It was before committed to them during pleasure (Rot. Lit. Claus. [Rec. Com.], ii, 88).
  • 8. Hund. R. (Rec. Com.), i, 191.
  • 9. Ibid. ii, 314.
  • 10. Assize R. 323, m. 13 d.
  • 11. Cal. Pat. 1281-92, p. 195.
  • 12. Linc. Epis. Reg. Dalderby, Memo. fol. 311.
  • 13. Ibid. Burghersh, Memo. fol. 109 d.
  • 14. Ibid. Sutton, Inst. fol. 84 d.
  • 15. Ibid. Dalderby, Inst. fol. 231.
  • 16. Ibid. Dalderby, Memo. fol. 11.
  • 17. He must have been a man of good character or the bishop would not in 1302 have made him confessor of the nuns of Rowney (ibid. fol. 44).
  • 18. Ibid. Dalderby, Inst. fol. 235 d.
  • 19. Ibid. fol. 242.
  • 20. Ibid. Burghersh, Memo. fol. 371.
  • 21. Cal. Pat. 1343-5, p. 501.
  • 22. Plac. de Banco East. 19 Edw. III, rot. 144, given in Year Bk. 19 Edw. III (Rolls Ser.), 23, n. 6, &c.
  • 23. Cal. Pat. 1381-5, p. 260.
  • 24. 20s. for the repair of the priory and 20s. to the convent to celebrate for his soul (Gibbons, Early Lincoln Wills, 25).
  • 25. Chan. Inq. p.m. 49 Edw. III, pt. ii, no. 17.
  • 26. The articles were left to John for his life with remainder to the priory (Nicolas, Test. Vetusta, 91).
  • 27. Cal. Pat. 1333-4, p. 17.
  • 28. Ibid. 1391-6, p. 187.
  • 29. Gibbons, Cal. of Ely Epis. Rec. 399.
  • 30. Visit. of Bp. Alnwick (Doc. of Bp. of Linc. at Exchequer Gate).
  • 31. Visit. of John Rayne, chancellor of the diocese (ibid.).
  • 32. The chancel and nave were both in a ruinous state, and they were not the only buildings in this condition; yet £12 had been spent on repairs in 1526 (Salter, A subsidy collected in the diocese of Lincoln in 1526, p. 192).
  • 33. Dep. Keeper's Rep. vii, App. ii, 306. This seems to have been the usual number, for there were five brothers in the priory in 1442 (Visit. of Bp. Alnwick) and five also in 1530 (Visit. of Chancellor Rayne), if John Atue, curate of Little Wymondley, is included.
  • 34. Transcript of Land Rev. Rec. bdle. 66, no. 3.
  • 35. Mins. Accts. Hen. VIII, no. 1606.
  • 36. Ibid.
  • 37. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (1), 1520.
  • 38. Ibid.
  • 39. The sum of £9 1s. 8d. was divided among them and eleven servants (Mins. Accts. Hen. VIII, no. 1606).
  • 40. Transcript of Land Rev. Rec. bdle. 66, no. 3.
  • 41. Aug. Off. Misc. Bk. cccxli, fol. 66. The total of the goods and plate is given at £13 12s. 9d. In the inventory made by the commissioners just before the Suppression (K.R. Church Goods 12/30) it was estimated at £6 19s. 5d, and this sum included 44s. for crops sown and 25s. for five cart-horses. The stuff in the quire was very poor, the article of the highest value being a pair of organs priced at 5s., while the only vestments were apparently a very old one of blue silk valued at 20d., two others, one of baudekin, the other of red silk, reckoned at 3s., and an old cope at 8d. (ibid.).
  • 42. At the visitation of 1530 they had more than one chalice and a silver ship.
  • 43. Mins. Accts. Hen. VIII, no. 1606.
  • 44. Visit. of Bp. Alnwick. The canons in 1530 said they had, and had of old, four bells (Visit. of Chancellor Rayne).
  • 45. Salter, op. cit. 192.
  • 46. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv, 276.
  • 47. Land Rev. Rec. bdle. 66, no. 3.
  • 48. Parochial Visit. of 1527 (Doc. of Bishopric of Linc. at Exchequer Gate); Mins. Accts. Hen. VIII, no. 1606.
  • 49. Temp. Mabel Abbess of Elstow (Cott. MS. Nero, E vi, fol. 128).
  • 50. Feet of F. Herts. 18 Hen. III, no. 168.
  • 51. Clutterbuck, Hist. and Antiq. of Herts. ii, 548.
  • 52. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), iii, 175.
  • 53. Richard Prior of Wymondley (Anct. D. [P.R.O.], D 506).
  • 54. Linc. Epis. Reg. Sutton, Memo. fol. 2.
  • 55. Ibid. Inst. fol. 84 d.
  • 56. Ibid. Bp. Dalderby, Inst. fol. 231.
  • 57. Ibid.
  • 58. Ibid. Bp. Dalderby, Memo. fol. 44.
  • 59. Ibid. Dalderby, Inst. fol. 235.
  • 60. Ibid.
  • 61. Ibid. fol. 242.
  • 62. Ibid. Burghersh, Memo. fol. 371.
  • 63. Ibid.
  • 64. Cal. Pat. 1343-5, p. 501.
  • 65. Ibid. 1345-8, p. 262.
  • 66. Linc. Epis. Reg. Gynwell, Inst. fol. 344.
  • 67. Ibid.
  • 68. Ibid. Buckingham, Memo. pt. i, fol. 134 d.
  • 69. a Clutterbuck, op. cit. ii, 549.
  • 70. Ibid.
  • 71. Visit. by Bp. Alnwick (Doc. of Bp. of Linc.).
  • 72. Linc. Epis. Reg. Rotheram, Inst. fol. 119.
  • 73. Ibid.
  • 74. Early Chan. Proc. bdle. 366, no. 1.
  • 75. Linc. Epis. Reg. Smith, Inst. fol. 427.
  • 76. Ibid.
  • 77. Ibid. Wolsey and Atwater, Inst. fol. 49. He was receiving a pension in 1526 (Salter, op. cit. 192).
  • 78. Linc. Epis. Reg. Wolsey and Atwater, Inst. fol. 49.
  • 79. Visit. of Chancellor Rayne (Doc. of Bp. of Linc. at Exchequer Gate).
  • 80. Linc. Epis. Reg. Longland, Inst. fol. 224 d.
  • 81. Linc. Epis. Reg. Longland, Inst. fol. 224 d.
  • 82. Dep. Keeper's Rep. vii, App. ii, 306.
  • 83. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii (1), 571 (4).
  • 84. B.M. Seals, lxiv, 74.