A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1926.
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18. THE PRIORY OF COMBWELL (fn. 1)
The monastery of St. Mary Magdalen, Combwell, was founded as an abbey by Robert de Turneham in the reign of Henry II. (fn. 2) His son Stephen de Turneham by a charter (fn. 3) which was confirmed by Henry III in 1227, (fn. 4) and by Richard II in 1381, (fn. 5) confirmed the grant by his father of ' Henle,' the site of the abbey, the churches of Thornham and Brickhill (Bucks.) and various lands; and added further lands and tithes. The grants of the founder were confirmed by a charter (fn. 6) of Walkelin de Maminot, his overlord; and several grants by Stephen and his daughter Mabel de Gatton are preserved. Richard, archbishop of Canterbury (1174-84), at the petition of Stephen granted the church of Thornham to the monastery after the death of the incumbent and settled a dispute between the latter and Stephen. (fn. 7)
The same archbishop confirmed the gift of the advowson of the church of Biausfeld (Whitfield near Dover) by Denise (fn. 8); and about the same time William son of Helto granted the church of Aldington. (fn. 9) Richard de Lunguil granted the church of Little Woolstone (Bucks.) (fn. 10); and William son of Walter de Hevre the church of Hever, (fn. 11) his grant being confirmed by Archbishop Stephen in 1225. (fn. 12) The monastery also owned the church of Benenden (fn. 13); and in the Taxation of 1291 its temporalities were valued at £20 15s. 10d. yearly in the diocese of Canterbury and £3 3s, in the diocese of Rochester.
About 1220 the possessions of Combwell were found to be too small properly to maintain its estate as an abbey. Abbot William was induced to resign, being in bad health, and with the consent of Mabel de Gatton, the patroness, and Stephen, arch bishop of Canterbury, the house was reduced to a priory, the rights of the patroness and archbishop being reserved. (fn. 14) The advowson descended later to the family of Say, and in 1432 it came into the possession of Sir John Fenys. (fn. 15)
Henry III on 6 July, 1227, granted to the prior and convent a fair yearly at Combwell on the feast and the morrow of St. Mary Magdalen (fn. 16); and on 5 February, 1232, he granted to them a market there on Fridays, (fn. 17) but on 27 February, 1233, altered the day to Tuesday. (fn. 18)
The abbot of Bayham charged the prior and convent with having deserted the Premonstratensian order; and Clement, abbot of Prémontré, in 1229 referred the matter to the archbishop of Canterbury, who decided in 1230 after a visitation that they followed the rule of St. Augustine as practised at Waltham. (fn. 19)
In 1317 Robert Henry, a servant of the king and his father, was sent to the priory to receive maintenance in food and clothing according to the requirements of his estate. (fn. 20)
The prior of Combwell was visitor with the prior of Leeds of the Augustinian houses in the dioceses of Canterbury and Rochester in 1311 and 1317 (fn. 21); and in 1353 the priory of Combwell was visited by the priors of Leeds and Tonbridge. (fn. 22)
Archbishop Langham made a visitation of the priory on 3 July, 1368, when many charges were brought against the prior. He had gone to Rome without leave, had sold corrodies and wood improvidently, led an immoral life, followed the advice not of his brethren but of secular officials, and wasted the stock of the priory. He was ordered to render an account, and was admonished. (fn. 23) A similar state of things was found by Archbishop Courtenay at another visitation on 16 September, 1387. (fn. 24) Roger Tyshurst, prior, was absent, having gone away on Tuesday before St. Laurence and taken goods of the priory with him. He was charged with having cut down trees and made dilapidations, and with being adulterous and apostate; and was removed from office, but received back into the priory as canon. Simon Mudiston succeeded him as prior; but after a long suit at Rome Roger obtained a definitive sentence by which Simon was condemned and he himself restored. Simon was excommunicated for obstinacy, but at last in 1395 was received back into the church. (fn. 25)
Archbishop Warham made a visitation of the priory in 1512. Thomas Patenden had been prior for thirty-two years, and there were six other canons, who stated in their evidence that the infirmary was in great need of repairs and nobody attended to the sick, who had to lie in the dormitory. They had not enough food and drink or clothing, the prior never rendered any accounts, and there was no teacher of grammar. The manors of Benenden and Thornham needed great repairs. John Lanny said that the prior and convent laid him under a debt of £40 in an obligation without any condition to two outsiders, now remaining in the hands of the minister of Mottenden, and arranged that the house should not be indebted by this. The prior said that the obligation was cancelled, and was ordered to show it to the archbishop; and he was also ordered to make a proper account and inventory, to make sufficient repairs to the infirmary before All Saints and to correct the other points mentioned. (fn. 26)
The oath of acknowledgement of the royal supremacy was taken on 23 December, 1534, by Thomas Vyncent, prior, and five other canons. (fn. 27) In the Valor of the next year the net value of the possessions of the priory, including the manors of Lofeherst in Staplehurst, Hoke in Thornham and Goldred, was only £80 17s. 5¼d. yearly; (fn. 28) and it was consequently suppressed in 1536, the prior receiving a pension of £10 yearly. (fn. 29)
Abbots of Combwell
Priors of Combwell
Hugh, occurs 1227 (fn. 36)
Henry, occurs 1236 (fn. 37)
Robert, occurs 1249 (fn. 38)
Walter, occurs 1271 (fn. 39)
John de Meredenn, occurs 1275 (fn. 40)
John de Lose, elected 1315 (fn. 41)
Stephen, died 1324 (fn. 42)
John de Hawe or Hagh, appointed 1324, (fn. 43) died 1363 (fn. 44)
William de Chert, elected 1362 (fn. 45)
Roger Tyshurst, occurs 1387, (fn. 46) 1395, (fn. 47) 1399 (fn. 48)
Simon Mudiston (fn. 49)
William Bourgeys, died 1420 (fn. 50)
Henry Talo, elected 1420 (fn. 51)
Henry Cranebroke, occurs 1460 (fn. 51)
Thomas Chester, occurs 1476 (fn. 52)
Thomas Patenden, c. 1480, occurs 1512, (fn. 53) died 1513 (fn. 54)
Thomas Vincent, elected 1513, (fn. 54) the last prior (fn. 55)
The seal (fn. 56) (late twelfth century) is a pointed oval measuring 2¼ by 1⅜ in., representing the head of St. Mary Magdalen with nimbus and long hair under a round-headed arch of a church, having a central tower topped with a cross, and two smaller side towers. Legend:—
SIC' SATE MARIE MAGDAL' D CUMBWELL.
Another seal (fn. 57) (1133 for 1233).
Obverse.—The church of the monastery with a large trefoiled arch having in the pediment a circular panel and two small trefoiled panels, each containing a head, and two narrow windows, with a circular tower, at each side. Under the arch St. Mary Magdalen at the feet of our Lord, who is seated at a banqueting table between two disciples, each with nimbus. On the front edge of the table the inscription
MARIA FIDES TUA TE SALVAM FECIT.
Below the table on the right are the demons who have been cast out of the saint, and in the centre a small box of precious ointment. In the field over the roof on the left a crescent inclosing a star, on the right a wavy star. Legend:—
SIGILL' ECCLESIE SANCTE MARIE MAGDALENE DE CUMBWELL.
Reverse.—Our Lord appearing after His resurrection to St. Mary Magdalen in the garden, holding in His right hand a long cross with banner, the saint prostrating herself before Him under two trees. Over the group a carved, round-headed arch, supported by two clustered shafts with pinnacles. In the field on each side a small round panel containing a head. Legend:—
FACTUM ANNO GRATIE M° C° XXX TERCIO MENSE NOVEMBRI.