Houses of Benedictine nuns: The abbey of Malling

A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1926.

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, 'Houses of Benedictine nuns: The abbey of Malling', in A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2, (London, 1926) pp. 146-148. British History Online [accessed 19 May 2024].

. "Houses of Benedictine nuns: The abbey of Malling", in A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2, (London, 1926) 146-148. British History Online, accessed May 19, 2024,

. "Houses of Benedictine nuns: The abbey of Malling", A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2, (London, 1926). 146-148. British History Online. Web. 19 May 2024,

In this section


Gundulf, bishop of Rochester (1077-1108), towards the end of the twelfth century founded this monastery in the manor of Mailing, which had been in the possession of the bishopric before the Conquest. William II confirmed the grant by a charter which is witnessed by R. bishop of Durham, and must therefore belong to the years 1099 of 1100; and it seems probable that the foundation was not much earlier. Henry I confirmed the grant of the manor to the nuns by charter early in his reign; and by another charter, witnessed by Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury (1093-1109), he confirmed to them the manor of Cornard in Suffolk, which Robert son of Hamo had granted to them. These three charters were confirmed by Edward III in 1347. (fn. 1) John on 12 April, 1206, confirmed the church of East Mailing to the abbey; (fn. 2) and a vicarage was ordained there in 1339. (fn. 3) The possessions and rights of the abbey, which was dedicated to St. Mary, were also confirmed by several bishops of Rochester; (fn. 4) and the abbess paid ten pounds of wax and a boar yearly to them. (fn. 5)

On 27 July, 1190, the monastery and nearly all the town were consumed by fire. (fn. 6)

The Taxation of 1291 mentions temporalities of the abbey valued at £45 yearly in the diocese of Rochester, £3 0s. 10d. at West well, £33 19s. 11d. at Cornard in Suffolk, and £1 2s;. 6d. at Wimbish and 6s. 8d. at Sible Hedingham in Essex, making a total of £83 9s. 11d.; besides spiritualities of £5 6s. 8d. in Wouldham (fn. 7) and 10s. in Wimbish. In 1318 the abbess and convent had licence (fn. 8) to make an exchange of lands in Suffolk with Thomas Grey, but the transaction does not appear to have been finally settled until 1446. (fn. 9)

The abbess successfully claimed view of frankpledge and various other liberties at East Mailing and Mailing in 1293 (fn. 10) and 1313; (fn. 11) and on the latter occasion she also claimed and was allowed to have markets at Mailing on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and three fairs there yearly, viz. on the vigils and the days of St. Peter, St. Martin, and St. Leonard.

Archbishop Winchelsey issued long injunctions after a visitation of the abbey in 1299, in which he expressed his approval of the statutes made by Thomas, bishop of Rochester. In addition he ordered the profession of nuns after probation, regular attendance at divine service, the frequent presence of the abbess in the cloister, and the exclusion of seculars from thence, arid forbade the sale of bread and ale. Two of the seniors were appointed to the office of treasurer, and four incontinent nuns were punished. (fn. 12)

William de Dene mentions Mailing several times in his history of the church of Rochester. In 1321 he narrates (fn. 13) how the king directed the bishop to go to Mailing, which according to the complaints of all the nuns had been ruined by the abbess, a sister of the rebel Bartholomew de Badlesmere, and to correct the defects and depose her. The bishop made a visitation (fn. 14) in November and heard many complaints. All the officials were made to give up their keys, and the abbess was called upon to render an account, but could not do so and was removed from administration. The office of cellarer, which she had held, was given to Alice de Gaunt, and the abbey was committed to the custody of the prioress and sacrist, the rector of Off ham and a layman. Agnes de Leyburne was elected abbess, though rather informally, according to Dene; and he says that on her death in 1324, about the time of the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, at the unanimous desire of the nuns the bishop unwillingly appointed Lora de Retlyng abbess, though knowing her to be unfit and ignorant, but forbade her to give a corrody to her maid according to the bad old custom and sequestrated the common seal. (fn. 15)

In 1336 the bishop inhibited the nuns from receiving seculars in the abbey and from going out of it themselves. (fn. 16) In 1349, the year of the plague, two abbesses were appointed, both of whom died, and there only remained four professed nuns, and four not professed; and the bishop committed the temporalities to one, and the spiritualities to another, as none was fit to be abbess. (fn. 17) In the next year the monastery was found at his visitation to be so ruined by bad management, that it seemed unlikely that it could be repaired by the Day of Judgement. (fn. 18)

Pope Boniface IX on 5 December, 1400, ordered the abbess and convent to assign a -room within the precincts of the monastery to Cecily Batesford, one of the nuns, and a nun chosen by her to be her companion for life; as a certain infirmity prevented her from being present at the canonical hours in choir and chapter without great affliction. (fn. 19) Cecily appears to have recovered, for she died abbess in 1439; and in the next year her sister Joan Brincheslee made grants to the convent, who agreed in return that on 14 July, the day of Cecily's death, there should be celebration for Cecily and Joan with a distribution of three flagons of wine, one to the abbess if present and two to the convent. (fn. 20)

The bishop gave notice of visitation of the abbey in August, 1441, (fn. 21) but the result is not recorded.

In the Valor (fn. 22) of 1535 the possessions of the abbey were valued at £245 10s. 2½d. yearly, from which rents, pensions, and fees amounting to £27 6s. had to be deducted, leaving the net income £218 4s. 2½d.; and it was thus rich enough to escape the first dissolution. Elizabeth Rede was then abbess, and had trouble in the early part of the year in connexion with the stewardship of the abbey, which she had promised to her brother-in-law Sir Thomas Willoughby for his son, (fn. 23) and then granted to Sir Edward Wotton, another brother-in-law. (fn. 24) Cromwell wished it to be given to his nephew Richard, (fn. 25) and Sir Thomas Neville was another applicant, (fn. 26) but the king promised it to Thomas Wyatt. Wotton wrote to Cromwell on 27 February to protest against being deprived of it, (fn. 27) but soon recognized the uselessness of this, and a week later (fn. 28) wrote to say that he had returned his patent to the abbess, who was not at all pleased. This affair was probably one of the reasons that brought about her resignation in the following year. The details are not known; but on 24 September she made application (fn. 29) through Sir Thomas Willoughby to Cromwell that she might have the lodging in the monastery which her predecessors ' that have likewise resigned ' had had, and also the plate which her father had given her for her chamber. The new abbess was Margaret Vernon, who had shown herself to be a capable administrator when prioress of the recently dissolved nunnery of Little Marlow, (fn. 30) but whose principal recommendation was the fact that she was an old personal friend of Cromwell. (fn. 31)

When the abbey was seen to be doomed, attempts to secure possession of it were made by Sir Thomas Neville and Sir Thomas Wyatt and others, (fn. 32) but we know no more of its history until it was formally surrendered (fn. 33) on 29 October, 1538. The abbess asked leave to sell the manor of Cornard to make provision for the nuns instead of pensions, pay off her servants and buy herself a living with such of her friends as would take her; (fn. 34) but this was not granted. In the next year pensions were given, (fn. 35) of £40 yearly to herself and smaller sums to eleven other nuns, Felex Cockes, Arminal Gere, Margaret Gyles, Joan Randall, Lettice Bucke, Beatrice Wylliams, Juliana Wheatnall, Joan Hull, Elizabeth Pympe, Agnes West, and Rose Morton.

The site of the monastery and most of its possessions, including the manors of West Mailing, Ewell, East Mailing, Parrock, Leyton, and Great Cornard and the rectories of West Mailing, East Mailing, and Great Cornard were granted on 28 April, 1540, to the archbishop of Canterbury. (fn. 36)

Abbesses Of Malling

Avice, (fn. 37) the first abbess
Elizabeth de Badlesmere, deposed 1321 (fn. 38)
Agnes de Leyburne, elected 1321, (fn. 39) died 1324 (fn. 40)
Lora de Retlyng, elected 1324, (fn. 41) died 1345 (fn. 42)
Isabel de Pecham, elected 1345, (fn. 42) died 1349 (fn. 43)
Benedicta de Grey, elected and died 1349 (fn. 44)
Alice de Tendrihg, elected 1349 (fn. 45)
Marjory de Pateshull, died 1309 (fn. 46)
Isabel Ruton, occurs 1414 (fn. 47)
Joan, occurs 1420 (fn. 48)
Cecily Batesford, died 1439 (fn. 49)
Katharine Weston, elected 1439, (fn. 50) occurs 1469 (fn. 51)
Joan Mone or Moone, occurs circa 1484, (fn. 52) died 1495 (fn. 53)
Elizabeth Hulle, elected 1495, (fn. 54) died 1524 (fn. 55)
Elizabeth Danyell, elected and died 1524 (fn. 56)
Elizabeth Rede, elected 1524, (fn. 57) resigned 1536 (fn. 58)
Margaret Vernon, appointed 1536, (fn. 59) the last abbess (fn. 60)

The seal (fn. 61) of the abbey (fifteenth century) is a pointed oval measuring 2⅝ by 1¼ inches, representing the Virgin, with crown and nimbus, seated in a canopied niche with tabernacle work at the sides, holding the Child on the right knee and a sceptre in the left hand. In base, under a round-headed arch, an abbess with pastoral staff. The inner border engrailed. Legend:—



  • 1. Chart. 21 Edw. III, No. 22; Dugdale, Mon. iii, 383; Thorpe, Reg. Roff. 486.
  • 2. Chart. 7 John, m. 2; Reg. Roff. 480.
  • 3. Reg. Roff. 484.
  • 4. Ibid. 480.
  • 5. Ibid. .62.
  • 6. Gervase of Canterbury, Opera (Rolls Ser.), i, 485.
  • 7. A detailed account of the tithes in Wouldham is printed in Reg. Roff. 694.
  • 8. Pat. 11 Edw. II, pt. 2, m. 28.
  • 9. Close, 24 Hen. VI, pt. 2, m. 11d.
  • 10. Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Coin.), 356, 363.
  • 11. Ibid. 312.
  • 12. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Winchelsey, fol. 70.
  • 13. Wharton, Angl. Sac. 1, 362.
  • 14. Roch. Epis. Reg. 1, fol. 84d.
  • 15. Wharton, Angl. Sac. 1, 364.
  • 16. Roch. Epis. Reg. 1, fol. 212.
  • 17. Angl. Sac. 1, 375.
  • 18. Ibid. 377.
  • 19. Cal. Papal Let. iii, 355.
  • 20. Roch. Epis. Reg. iii, fol. 157d.
  • 21. Ibid. 162d.
  • 22. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 106. The abbey owed £80 to Bishop Fisher at the time of his death (L. and P. Hen. VIII, viii, 888, (2.)).
  • 23. L. and P. Hen. VIII, viii, 230.
  • 24. Ibid. 249.
  • 25. Ibid. 230.
  • 26. Ibid. 249.
  • 27. Ibid. 275.
  • 28. Ibid. 349.
  • 29. Ibid, xi, 490.
  • 30. V.C.H. Bucks, i, 359.
  • 31. Many letters from her are preserved in the L. and P. Hen. VIII.
  • 32. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (1), 808, 1228, 1251.
  • 33. Ibid, xiii (2), 717.
  • 34. Ibid. 716.
  • 35. Ibid, xiv (1), p. 599.
  • 36. Ibid, xv, 613 (32).
  • 37. Dugdale, Mon. iii, 384.
  • 38. Roch. Epis. Reg. i, fol. 84 d.
  • 39. See above.
  • 40. Roch. Epis. Reg. i, fol. 64.
  • 41. Ibid. 65. She was prioress, and fifteen nuns voted for her and twelve for Joan de Chellesfeld, one being absent and one ill. But another version is given above.
  • 42. Ibid. 220 d.
  • 43. Ibid. 245.
  • 44. Ibid. 245 d.
  • 45. Ibid. 246.
  • 46. Ibid. 339. Marjory was abbess in 1355 (ibid. 263).
  • 47. a Exch. K.R. Acct. bdle. 214, No. 5.
  • 48. Cal. Pap. Let. vii, 337.
  • 49. Roch. Reg. Epis. iii, fol. 144.
  • 50. Ibid. 144 d. Katharine occurs as abbess in 1480 (Reg. Roff. 695).
  • 51. a Pardon R. 8-9 Edw. IV, m. 4.
  • 52. Early Chan. Proc. 59 (66).
  • 53. Roch. Epis. Reg. iv, fol. 10.
  • 54. Ibid. She was prioress.
  • 55. Ibid. 111 d.
  • 56. Ibid. 112, 120 She was elected in March, seventeen nuns voting, and died in October.
  • 57. Ibid. 120 d. Fourteen nuns voted. She was a daughter of Sir Robert Rede, chief justice of the Common Pleas (Dict. Nat. Biog. xlvii, 374).
  • 58. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xi, 490.
  • 59. Ibid. She had been prioress of Marlow in Buckinghamshire.
  • 60. Ibid, xiv (1), p. 599.
  • 61. B.M. Seals, lxv, 87.