Houses of Austin canons: The priory of Tonbridge

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

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'Houses of Austin canons: The priory of Tonbridge', in A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2, (London, 1926) pp. 167-169. British History Online [accessed 11 April 2024]

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It was found by an inquisition taken in 1326 that Richard de Clare, earl of Hertford, founded a priory in his manor of Tonbridge and granted to the canons regular there 10 marks yearly from the manor, and 51s. 5d. yearly from his corn lands of ' Dennemannesbroke,' and also granted that they should have one hundred and twenty swine pastured in his forest at Tohbridge, two wagon-loads of dead wood daily from the forest, and a buck yearly at the hands of his men at the feast of St. Mary Magdalen. They duly received these benefits until the manor and forest came to the crown by the forfeiture of Hugh de Audeley the younger; and Edward II then ordered that they should be allowed to continue to do so. (fn. 1) The number of swine appears, however, to have been afterwards reduced to sixty. (fn. 2)

The date of the foundation of the priory, which was dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen, can therefore be assigned to the last quarter of the twelfth century. Pope Celestine III, by a bull (fn. 3) dated 2 January, 1192, confirmed the foundation and the grants made by the founder, including the church of Yalding with the chapel of Brenchley, the church of Stradishall (Suffolk), and the church of Mereworth.

A number of early deeds and other documents relating to the priory are preserved in the Bodleian Library, (fn. 4) and the substance of the more important of these has been given by Mr. J. F. Wadmore in an article in Archaeologia Cantiana. (fn. 5) Among the possessions of the priory were a moiety of the manor of Bottisham in Cambridgeshire, granted by the founder, (fn. 6) and the church of Tudeley, where a vicarage was ordained. (fn. 7) In the Taxation of 1291 the temporalities were valued at £21 8s. yearly in the diocese of Rochester, £20 3s. 4d. in Bottisham, £8 in Norfolk, £1 11s. 8d. in Surrey, 15s. in Sussex, and 6d. in Suffolk, making a total of £51 18s. 6d. In 1353 a payment of one halfpenny for each mark from the goods of the Augustinian houses according to their taxation for the support of the order produced 6s. 2½d. from Tonbridge, (fn. 8) corresponding to a total of about £99 6s. 8d.

On 11 July, 1337, the church, chapter-house, dormitory, refectory, library, vestry, and other buildings of the monastery, and the books, vestments, ornaments, and relics, were destroyed by fire. John, archbishop of Canterbury, granted indulgence of forty days to all who should assist in rebuilding the priory, (fn. 9) and further indulgences, amounting in all to 8 years and 230 days, were obtained from the pope and bishops. (fn. 10) The convent also made petition (fn. 11) to the king, the bishop, and the pope to be allowed to appropriate the church of Leigh, which was of their own advowson, in consideration of their losses; and licence was obtained from the king in 1348, (fn. 12) but the appropriation was not actually carried out until 1354. (fn. 13) Licence was also obtained in 1352 (fn. 14) for Ralph, earl of Stafford, to grant the advowspn of the church of High Hardres and the chapel of Stelling to the prior and canons for the maintenance of certain chantries in the priory, and for them to appropriate the church and chapel; but disputes arose afterwards, and the licence appears never to have taken effect. (fn. 15)

The priory was visited by the priors of Leeds and Combwell in 1312 (fn. 16) and 1317, (fn. 17) and by the priors of Leeds and St. Gregory, Canterbury, in 1356, (fn. 18) as visitors of the houses of the Augustinian order in the dioceses of Canterbury and Rochester; and the prior of Tonbridge was himself one of such visitors in 1322, 1334,1339, and 1353. (fn. 19)

The founder was buried in the priory, (fn. 20) as was also Ralph, earl of Stafford, in the fourteenth century. (fn. 21) Clarice and Alice, the daughters and heirs of Sir Roland de Hokstede, presented their clerk Robert Quyntyn for admission to the priory as a canon in 1319; (fn. 22) and in 1329 the prior received Laurence de la Wealde at the instance of Sir Hugh Audeley and his consort Margaret, countess of Cornwall. (fn. 23) Among other miscellaneous information we have small grants by. the prior and convent of corrodies and pensions, (fn. 24) though they pleaded poverty when applied to by a nominee of the archbishop of Canterbury, (fn. 25) details of the dress and equipment of a novice (fn. 26) and of the weekly consumption of food in the priory, (fn. 27), stipends of servants, payments, allowances, &c. (fn. 28)

Application was made to the crown by the prior for the arrest of Robert, an apostate canon, in 1280, (fn. 29) and of Thomas Starky, another apostate, in 1502. (fn. 30)

In 1393 it was found by inquisition that John Osprengg, William Frendesbery, and William Mallyng, former priors, had acquired messuages, shops, gardens, and lands in Tonbridge, Brenchley, Bidborough, Leigh, and Shipborne, under a general licence by letters patent of the late king and entered thereon without proper formalities; and the prior had to pay 100s, for pardon. (fn. 31)

Tonbridge was one of the monasteries suppressed by Wolsey for the foundation of his colleges. It was dissolved by his agent William Burbank on 8 February, 1525, (fn. 32) and granted by him to Cardinal's College, Oxford, on 10 February, 1526. (fn. 33) By an inquisition (fn. 34) taken on 28 July, 1525, it was. found that there were at the priory seven canons under the prior, Richard Tomlyn, and these were transferred to other places, and that its possessions in Kent included the manors of Tonbridge, Langport, Shipborne, 'Nysells,' Leigh, 'Hallond' in Speldhurst, Brenchley, and ' Lomwod,' and the ' rectories of Tudeley, Brenchley, Leigh, and Yalding. The whole of the spiritualities of the priory were valued at £48 13s. 4d., and the temporalities at £120 16s. 11d. yearly; (fn. 35) although a detailed valuation, (fn. 36) perhaps incomplete, amounts to rather less.

Wolsey proposed to found a grammar school at Tonbridge for forty scholars, with exhibitions to his college at Oxford; but it appears from some letters of Archbishop Warham that a section of the townspeople wished for the restoration of the priory instead. (fn. 37) Warham called a meeting at Tonbridge in June, 1525, to explain the scheme to them; but they appear to have been very apathetic, only sixteen appearing before him, of whom thirteen were in favour of the priory, but desired a few days' notice to discuss the matter with their neighbours. A lukewarm resolution in favour of the restoration of the canons was reported to Wolsey, but nothing was done, and with his fall Tonbridge lost both priory and grammar school.

After Wolsey's attainder the priory came into the possession of the crown, and was granted with most of its possessions to the dean and chapter of Windsor on 27 September, 1532. (fn. 38)

Priors of Tonbridge

John, occurs 1248 (fn. 39)
Peter, occurs 1272 (fn. 40)
David, occurs 1273, 1274 (fn. 41)
John, occurs 1286, 1305 (fn. 42)
Roger, occurs 1311 (fn. 43)
John Osprengg (fn. 44)
William Frendesbery (fn. 45)
William de Mallyng, occurs 1352 (fn. 46)
John de Pecham, appointed 1361 (fn. 47)
Robert Mallyng, resigned 1379 (fn. 48)
Robert de Maidenstan, elected 1379 (fn. 49)
John London, occurs 1455 (fn. 50)
Thomas Burton, occurs 1463 (fn. 51)
Ralph Langton, occurs 1482, 1485 (fn. 52)
Edmund, occurs 1493 (fn. 53)
Richard Thomlyn or Tomlyn, occurs 1509, (fn. 54) the last prior (fn. 55)


  • 1. Close, 19 Edw. II, m. 20.
  • 2. Cal Bodl. Chart. 140.
  • 3. Printed by Thorpe in Reg. Roff. 666.
  • 4. For details see the Cal. of Chart, and Rolls in the Bodl. Lib. ed. Turner and Coxe.
  • 5. Vol. xiv, pp. 326-43.
  • 6. Cal. Bodl. Chart. 135.
  • 7. Ibid. 136; Roch. Epis. Reg. ii, fol. 120; Reg. Roff. 664.
  • 8. Cal. Bodl. Chart. 135.
  • 9. Ibid. 132.
  • 10. Ibid. 134.
  • 11. Cal. Bodl. Chart. 137.
  • 12. Pat. 22 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 4.
  • 13. Reg. Roff. 464.
  • 14. Pat. 26 Edw. III, pt. I, m. 5.
  • 15. Cal. Bodl. Chart. 136, 138.
  • 16. Ibid. 125.
  • 17. Ibid. 128.
  • 18. Ibid. 139.
  • 19. Ibid. 127, 130, 131, 135.
  • 20. Ibid. 127.
  • 21. Ibid. 136.
  • 22. Ibid. 126.
  • 23. Ibid. 129.
  • 24. Ibid. 126, 129, 130.
  • 25. Ibid. 140.
  • 26. Ibid. Preface.
  • 27. Ibid.
  • 28. Ibid. 141.
  • 29. Pat. 8 Edw. I, m. 1.
  • 30. Chan. Warrants, 1762.
  • 31. Pat. 16 Ric. II, pt. 2, m. 2.
  • 32. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv, 1137 (16).
  • 33. Ibid. 1964.
  • 34. Exch. Inq. (Ser. 2), file 480, No. 14.
  • 35. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv, 3538.
  • 36. Ibid. 1672.
  • 37. Ibid. 1459, 1470-1.
  • 38. Ibid. v, 1351.
  • 39. Feet of F. Kent, 32 Hen. III.
  • 40. Ibid. Camb. 56 Hen. III.
  • 41. Cal. Bodl. Chart. 117, 136.
  • 42. Ibid. 118, 114.
  • 43. Ibid. 125.
  • 44. See above. John occurs as prior from 1320 to 1336 (Cal. Bodl. Chart. 118, 133).
  • 45. See above. William occurs as prior in 1337 and 1348 (ibid. 131, 121).
  • 46. Ibid. 139. William occurs as prior in 1358 (Anct. D., A. 7971).
  • 47. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Islip. fol. 226. John occurs as prior in 1372 (Cal. Bodl. Chart, 110).
  • 48. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Sudbury, fol. 57b.
  • 49. Ibid. Robert occurs as prior in 1386, 1396 (Cal. Eodl. Chart. 111), 1404 (Assize R. 1512), and 1408 (Assize R. 1521).
  • 50. a Pardon R. 3 3-4 Hen. VI, m. 21. John occurs in 1430 (De Banco R. Mich. 9 Hen, VI, 170).
  • 51. Pardon R. 1-6 Edw. IV, m. 10.
  • 52. a Exch. of Pleas, Plea. R. 1 Hen. VII, m. 7.
  • 53. Roch. Epis. Reg. iv, 4.
  • 54. Cal. Bodl. Chart. 123. Richard was prior in 1502 (Chan. Warrants, file 1762).
  • 55. See above. In the surrender the prior is called William.