A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1971.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
11. WYMONDLEY PRIORY
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)
John de Mordon, resigned 1290 (fn. 54)
William Legat, died March 1349 (fn. 66)
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)
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 . . .