Alien houses: The priory of Folkestone

Pages 236-238

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

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Eadbald, king of Kent (616-40), is said to have built here for his daughter Eanswith a monastery dedicated to St. Peter. Nothing is known of the history of this house, but it would seem to have been the earliest nunnery in England, with the possible exception of Barking. In 927 King Athelstan made a grant of Folkestone to Christchurch, Canterbury, describing it as the place where there was formerly an abbey of nuns, and where St. Eanswith was buried, and adding that it had been destroyed by the Danes. (fn. 1) The account (fn. 2) of the life of St. Eanswith says that the site of the church was swallowed up by the sea.

In 1095 Nigel de Munevilla, lord of Folkestone, and Emma his wife granted the church of St. Mary and St. Eanswith, Folkestone, and all the churches of their demesne pertaining to the honour of Folkestone, with various other possessions, to the Benedictine abbey of Lonlay in France, thus founding a new monastery. Their daughter and heiress Maud married Rualo de Abrincis, and later William de Abfincis, lord of Folkestone, granted a charter of confirmation to the monks. (fn. 3) In 1137, with his permission, they moved from the castle of Folkestone, where they were founded, to a new church outside. Pope Innocent III on 26 May, 1204, confirmed the possessions of the priory, including the churches of Hawkinge and Alkham. (fn. 4)

In 1294 a grant of protection was made to the prior while going beyond the seas. (fn. 5)

Folkestone, being alien, was taken into the king's hands during the war with France, but generally granted at farm to the prior, who paid £30 yearly for it in 1338 (fn. 6) and £35 yearly in 1342. (fn. 7) In 1390 the priory was granted (fn. 8) during the war to the prior, bailiff, and sacrist of Westminster Abbey at a yearly rent of £20; and in 1393 a monk of Westminster was appointed prior by the king. (fn. 9) In 1399 the priory was restored to him under the condition that during the war he should pay to the king the tax paid of old to the abbey, and should properly maintain the priory and pay tenths and other subsidies. (fn. 10) Folkestone appears afterwards to have been made denizen, and it escaped the dissolution of alien priories, though the tax of 6 marks yearly was paid regularly to the king. (fn. 11)

Prior John brought an action in Chancery in 1433 against Robert Walton and others, with William Clerk, vicar of Folkestone, for assault at mass in Folkestone church. (fn. 12)

Archbishop Warham visited (fn. 13) the priory on 22 September, 1511, when apparently there was no prior, but James Burton had been appointed administrator. He was ordered to make a full account and inventory. Nothing else was noticeable except the curious fact that the other three monks had originally been professed in different houses and orders, William Weston in the Augustinian monastery of St. Mary Overy, Thomas Scale in the monastery of Bermondsey, and John Carter in the Premonstratensian monastery of St. Radegund.

In the Valor (fn. 14) of 1535 the gross income of the priory, including a disputed annuity from the college of Wye, amounted to £63 0s. 7d. and the net income to £41 15s. 10d.; after deductions of £21 4s. 9d. in rents and fees, the old tax of 6 marks being paid to Eton College pending a lawsuit.

In the same year Folkestone was visited (fn. 15) on Friday, 22 October, by Richard Layton, who reported that there were there a prior and a sick monk. The priory was in the gift of the archbishop of Canterbury, and Lord Clinton was the patron. The parish church belonged to the priory, and with the glebe formed almost its whole revenue. The house was in utter decay; it consisted of one hall, one chamber, a kitchen, and a little parlour underground, not meet for a monk; the barns were well filled with corn, and there were a few cattle, but no household stuff. The prior and monk were both guilty of serious offences. This unfavourable report was probably one of the reasons why the priory was surrendered (fn. 16) on 15 November, before the Act of Dissolution was passed in the next year; though Thomas Bedyll, who received the surrender, describes it as a little house well repaired, and the prior a good husband and beloved by his neighbours. (fn. 17) It is difficult to say which of the two versions is correct. The prior complained (fn. 18) at first that he had nothing given to him but a bed lacking both pillows and blankets; but on 20 March, 1537, he received a pension (fn. 19) of £10, dating from the preceding Michaelmas.

The priory was at first leased (fn. 20) to Edward, Lord Clinton; and on 9 January, 1539, it was granted to him in fee simple. (fn. 21)

Priors of Folkestone

Peter, occurs 1296 (fn. 22)
Robert de Stokeyo, occurs 1326 (fn. 23)
William Medici (fn. 24) or Waterham, (fn. 25) appointed 1344, (fn. 24) occurs 1345 (fn. 25)
Thomas, died 1361 (fn. 26)
James de Suessione, appointed 1361 (fn. 27)
John de Husceu, occurs 1370 (fn. 28)
Sampson Sennys, appointed 1372, (fn. 29) resigned 1376 (fn. 30)
Nicholas Barbarot, appointed 1376 (fn. 31)
Nicholas Chiriton, appointed 1393, (fn. 32) resigned 1426 (fn. 33)
Richard Longe, elected 1426, (fn. 34) died 1427 (fn. 35)
John Ashforde, elected 1427, (fn. 35) resigned 1446 (fn. 36)
John Combe, elected 1446 (fn. 37)
Thomas Banys, occurs 1467, (fn. 38) deprived 1493 (fn. 39)
Thomas Sudbury, occurs 1502-3 (fn. 39)
John Thornton, appointed 1513, (fn. 41) died 1516 (fn. 42)
George Goodharst, collated 1516 (fn. 43)
Thomas Barret, the last prior (fn. 44)

The seal (fn. 45) of the priory (fifteenth century) is a pointed oval, measuring 2⅛ by 1⅜ in., representing St. Eanswith standing crowned in a niche with round-headed arch, holding in the right hand a book and in the left a sceptre or palm branch. In a smaller niche above with ogee arch, pinnacled and crocketed, is the Virgin standing crowned, holding in the right hand the Child and in the left a sceptre. Tabernacle work at the sides. In base, under a flat arch, the prior half-length in prayer. Legend:—



  • 1. B.M. Cott. MS. Tib. A. ii, fol. 12b.
  • 2. Nova Legenda Angliae.
  • 3. Exch. K.R. Mem. R. Mich. 4 Hen. IV, m. 10d.
  • 4. Cal. Papal Let. i, 17.
  • 5. Pat. 22 Edw. I, m. 24.
  • 6. Close, 12 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 20.
  • 7. Pat. 16 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 16.
  • 8. Ibid. 13 Ric. II, pt. 2, m. 27.
  • 9. Pat. 16 Ric. II, pt. 2, m. 9.
  • 10. Ibid. 1 Hen. IV, pt. 2, m. 13.
  • 11. Ibid. 6 Edw. IV, pt. 2, m. 4.
  • 12. Early Chan. Proc. bdle. 12, No. 226.
  • 13. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Warham, fol. 39.
  • 14. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 52.
  • 15. L. and P. Hen. VIII, ix, 668-9.
  • 16. Ibid. 816.
  • 17. Ibid. 829.
  • 18. Ibid. xi, 1437.
  • 19. Ibid. xiii (1), p. 577.
  • 20. Ibid. p. 585.
  • 21. Ibid. xiv (1), 191 (10).
  • 22. Pat. 24 Edw. I, m. 21.
  • 23. Exch. K.R. Alien Priories, bdle. 5, No. 4.
  • 24. Cal. Papal Let. iii, 214. By the abbot of Lonlay.
  • 25. Close, 19 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 22d.
  • 26. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Islip, fol. 292.
  • 27. Ibid.
  • 28. Exch. K.R. Alien Priories, 10, No. 10.
  • 29. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Whittlesey, fol. 90b. He is also called Sampson Senis (Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. ix, App. pt. i, 355), and in a list of aliens is called Sampson Veillard, and said to have two monks under him (Chan. Misc. 18, file 3, No. 32).
  • 30. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Sudbury, fol. 118b.
  • 31. Ibid.
  • 32. Pat. 16 Ric. II, pt. 2, m. 9. He was a monk of Westminster, and was appointed by the king.
  • 33. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Chicheley, fol. 46.
  • 34. Ibid.
  • 35. Ibid. fol. 46b.
  • 36. Ibid. Stafford, fol. 23. He became prior of St. Martin's, Dover.
  • 37. Ibid.
  • 38. a Exch. of Pleas, Plea R. 7 Edw. IV, m. 64.
  • 39. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Morton, fol. 32.
  • 40. a Early Chan. Proc. 262, No. 22.
  • 41. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Warham, fol. 353. He was prior of St. Martin's, Dover.
  • 42. Ibid. 361.
  • 43. Ibid.
  • 44. L. and P. Hen. VIII, ix, 816.
  • 45. B.M. Seals, lxv, 65.