House of Benedictine nuns: The priory of Langley

A History of the County of Leicestershire: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1954.

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'House of Benedictine nuns: The priory of Langley', in A History of the County of Leicestershire: Volume 2, (London, 1954) pp. 3-5. British History Online [accessed 4 March 2024]

In this section



Langley Nunnery was founded by William Pantulf and his wife Burgia, about the middle of the 12th century. (fn. 1) William Pantulf endowed the priory with the Leicestershire churches of Somerby (fn. 2) and Little Dalby, (fn. 3) and with lands at Somerby, Little Dalby, Langley, and Tonge. Burgia gave lands at Kettleby, and tithes at Tonge and Wilson. (fn. 4) The priory also received, before 1205, (fn. 5) gifts from other donors of property at Diseworth, Prestwold, Somerby, Burrough, Long Whatton, and Nottingham. (fn. 6) Before 1220 the nuns had acquired the advowson of Diseworth (Leics.), which was appropriated with the consent of Bishop Hugh de Welles. (fn. 7) During the 13th century Langley received further numerous gifts of land at Diseworth. (fn. 8) In 1291 the priory's temporalities in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire were assessed at £20. 0s. 9d. (fn. 9)

The claim of Langley's mother house, (fn. 10) Farewell Priory, to exercise a measure of control over Langley led to disputes between the two nunneries. By an agreement concluded in the early 13th century it was provided that the Prioress of Farewell should have the right to participate in the election of prioresses at Langley, while in return the nuns of Farewell renounced their other claims on Langley. (fn. 11) The quarrel was subsequently resumed, but in 1248 peace was again established by an arrangement under which Langley agreed to pay the sum of 4 marks to Farewell. (fn. 12) Farewell seems to have been a Benedictine house, (fn. 13) but in the 12th century, at least, the nuns of Langley claimed that their lands were exempt from tithe in accordance with the privileges of the Cistercian Order. As Langley lay within the parish of Breedon, these claims led to disputes between the nuns and the canons of Breedon Priory, to which Breedon parish church was appropriated. (fn. 14) A document of Pope Alexander III specifically refers to the nuns as Cistercian, and although the nuns' claim to belong to that Order was disputed by the Prior of Breedon, papal judges delegate decided in favour of Langley. (fn. 15) The nuns, however, were unable to maintain their claim to the exemption of their possessions from tithe. A later decision by judges delegate provided that the nuns were to pay tithes to Breedon Priory for a carucate of land held and cultivated by them within Breedon parish, though some of their other possessions in the parish were to be free from tithes. (fn. 16) An agreement of 1229 between Langley and Breedon Priory laid down that the nuns should give to Breedon a toft, an acre of land, and 7 marks in money, in return for the exemption from tithe of all the lands they held in Breedon parish. (fn. 17) In the late 13th century it was agreed that the nuns were to pay 2s. yearly to the canons in composition for tithes from their lands in the parish, and for some other matters, and in 1429 another agreement provided that the nuns should similarly pay 4s. 6d. a year. (fn. 18) It therefore seems that the nuns were forced to abandon their claims to Cistercian privileges in connexion with tithe exemption. In the later Middle Ages Langley is mentioned as a Benedictine house. (fn. 19)

Nothing is known of the internal affairs of the house before the 14th century. When Bishop Gynewell visited Langley about 1354 he found the house in good order, and occupied by twelve nuns, but the priory's lands were then barren for lack of cultivation, probably owing to the pestilence. (fn. 20) In 1440 the priory was visited by Bishop Alnwick. (fn. 21) There were then eight nuns in the, house, including the prioress. The priory's revenues had been greatly reduced and it was £50 in debt, so that the convent only supplied the nuns with food and drink, with nothing for their raiment, and not even fuel was provided for them. The nuns maintained separate households in pairs, but ate in the frater daily. A lay boarder, Lady Audely, was the cause of some disturbance, and secular women or girls slept in the nuns' dorter. No serious faults were revealed, though some of the nuns dressed in a way rather unsuitable for religious. It is, however, obvious that the priory was very poor. Its rents were said to be worth only £20 annually, although besides this revenue some lands were evidently being cultivated on behalf of the nuns. (fn. 22)

An inventory of 1485 gives a list of the books, vestments, and fittings in the priory church. It shows that the priory's relics then included a piece of the Holy Cross. (fn. 23) In 1518 the priory was visited by the bishop's commissary. Some minor faults on the part of several nuns were noted, and the prioress was warned to render account to her sisters yearly, but there were no serious abuses. (fn. 24) In 1535 the priory's clear yearly income was assessed at £29. 7s. 4½d. Its possessions at that date included the appropriated rectories of Dalby and Somerby. (fn. 25) The appropriated rectory of Diseworth probably also remained in the possession of the priory until the Dissolution. (fn. 26) It was reported in June 1536 that the priory, which was dedicated to God and to the Blessed Virgin, contained six nuns besides the prioress, who was very old and impotent. All the nuns desired to continue in religion, and all were virtuous, though one was over 80 and another was feeble-minded. There was a priest attached to the nunnery, and the lay servants consisted of ten men and four women. The priory was small and old but in good repair. (fn. 27) Langley was presumably dissolved with the other small religious houses in 1536, (fn. 28) though there is no record of the exact circumstances of its suppression. (fn. 29) The First Minister's Account shows a total gross revenue of £47. 4s. 2½d., and a net revenue of £42. 10s. 8½d. (fn. 30)

Prioresses of Langley

Rose, occurs 1229. (fn. 31)
Burgia, elected 1229-30. (fn. 32)
Isabel of Leicester, elected 1236-7, (fn. 33) occurs 1265. (fn. 34)
Juliane of Winchester, appointed 1269. (fn. 35)
Alice of Tatyrsal, occurs 1275, (fn. 36) died 12756. (fn. 37)
Margaret of Leicester, elected 1276, (fn. 38) occurs 1278-9. (fn. 39)
Christine of Winchester, occurs 1284, (fn. 40) resigned 1294-5. (fn. 41)
Amice de Burgh, confirmed 1295, (fn. 42) died 1302. (fn. 43)
Alice Giffard, elected 1302. (fn. 44)
Elizabeth of Caldwell, elected 1306, (fn. 45) occurs to 1332. (fn. 46)
Joan of Outheby, occurs from 1333 (fn. 47) to 1336. (fn. 48)
Matanye, (fn. 49) occurs 1350. (fn. 50)
Maud, (fn. 49) occurs 1355. (fn. 51)
Margaret de Sulveye, (fn. 49) occurs 1355 to 1374. (fn. 52)
Margaret Salhowe, occurs 1430. (fn. 53)
Margaret Pole, occurs 1441, (fn. 54) resigned 1447-8. (fn. 55)
Margaret Bellairs, elected 1447-8, (fn. 56) resigned 1485. (fn. 57)
Anne Shafton, elected 1485. (fn. 58)
Dulcia Bothe, occurs from 1507 (fn. 59) to 1535. (fn. 60)

A 12th-century seal (fn. 61) of the priory, a pointed oval measuring 1⅞ by 1⅛ in., shows the Virgin Mary seated on a throne, holding the Child on her lap. The legend runs:


A 13th-century seal of the same shape, (fn. 62) 1¼ by ¾ in., shows the seated figure of the Virgin with the Child on her lap, and bears the legend:


A larger seal (fn. 63) of the same shape, measuring 2⅛ by 1¾ in. and belonging to the 15th century, shows the same design, but with the addition of the kneeling figure of a nun in the base of the seal. The legend is:



  • 1. A document issued by Pope Alexander III, c. 1170-80, orders an inquiry as to whether the nuns of Langley had paid certain tithes for 30 years previously. It might be rash to deduce that Langley had been in existence for 30 years before the issue of this document, but it is certainly implied that the nunnery had existed for some time. For the text of Alexander's mandate, see Dugd. Mon. iv, 221, and on its date, see Regesta Pontificum Romanorum, ed. P. Jaffé, ii, p. 353, no. 13528. The nuns of Langley came from Farewell Priory, Staffs. (Dugd. Mon, iv, 221), which was founded by Roger, Bp. of Chest. 1129-48, probably c. 1140 (Dugd. Mon. iv, no). Langley must have been established before the death, in 1160, of Robert de Chesney, Bp. of Linc., who confirmed the priory's possessions (ibid. iv, 222, no. iii). Langley must therefore have been founded 1129-60, and probably c. 1150.
  • 2. Appropriated by 1220: Rot. Hugonis de Welles, ed. W. P. W. Phillimore, i, 269.
  • 3. Appropriated 1354. Linc. Reg. Gynewell, Inst, f. 317a; see also Cal. Pat., 1340-3, 397.
  • 4. Dugd. Mon. iv, 222; F. M. Stenton, Doc. Illustrative of Social and Econ. Hist. of Danelaw, 308.
  • 5. i.e. before the death of Abp. Hubert Walter.
  • 6. Dugd. Mon. iv, 222.
  • 7. Rot. Hugonis de Welles, i, 251.
  • 8. Cat. Anct. D. i, 331, 333-8; Dugd. Mon. iv, 223-4.
  • 9. Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 66, 339.
  • 10. Dugd. Mon. iv, 221.
  • 11. Ibid. iv, 112, no. v. The date of the agreement is probably 1210, for the consecration of Hugh de Welles, which took place Dec. 1209, is mentioned, apparently as a recent event.
  • 12. Dugd. Mon. iv, 112, no. vi.
  • 13. Ibid. no.
  • 14. The ch. was described c. 1220 as having been appropriated ab antiquo: Rot. Hugonis de Welles, i, 252.
  • 15. Dugd. Mon. iv, 221-2; Regesta Pontificum Romanorum, ii, 353.
  • 16. T. Madox, Formulare Anglicanum (1702), 23; this doct. may be provisionally dated 1183-8, as of the 2 judges delegate mentioned in it, 'M' Prior of Coventry is probably Prior Moses, elected 1183 (V.C.H. Warw. ii, 58), and 'N' Abbot of Stoneleigh is probably Abbot Nicholas, died 1188 (ibid. 81).
  • 17. Dugd. Mon. iv, 222-3. This agreement was witnessed by Mathias, Abbot of Leic., elected 1229 (Cal. Pat., 1225-32, 237, 243), and confirmed by the Prior of Nostell in a doct. dated 1229 (Dugd. Mon. iv, 222).
  • 18. John Rylands Libr., Manchester, Latin MS. 222, ff. 57b, 54-55.
  • 19. Visitations of Religious Houses in the Dioc. of Linc. [1420-49], ed. A. Hamilton Thompson, ii, 173; L. & P. Hen. VIII, x, p. 497.
  • 20. Linc. Reg. Gynewell, Inst., f. 317a.
  • 21. Visitations in Dioc. Linc. [1420-49], ii, 173-7.
  • 22. There were said to be 2, sometimes 3, plough teams at the priory: ibid. 175.
  • 23. 'Inv. of St. Mary's Benedictine Nunnery at Langley', ed. M. E. C. Walcott, Assoc. Arch. Soc. Rep. and Papers, xi, 201-6.
  • 24. Visitations in Dioc. Linc., 1517-31, ed. A. Hamilton Thompson, ii, 178.
  • 25. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv, 176.
  • 26. In 1535 it was noted that Langley possessed a third of the tithes of Diseworth: ibid. As the par. of Diseworth only included part of the village of that name, the rest being in 2 other pars. (Nichols, Leics. iii, 755) this probably indicates that Langley still held the appropriated rectory.
  • 27. L. & P. Hen. VIII, x, p. 497.
  • 28. Ibid., p. 515.
  • 29. It was dissolved before June 1537: Hist. MSS. Com., 8th Rep., App. ii, 21b.
  • 30. Dugd. Mon. iv, 225-6; S.C. 6 / Hen. VIII / 1825, mm. 28-29.
  • 31. Ibid. iv, 222-3. On the date see n. 17 above.
  • 32. Rot. Hugonis de Welles, ii, 312.
  • 33. Rot. Roberti Grosseteste, ed. F. N. Davis, 393.
  • 34. Cat. Anct. D. i, B212.
  • 35. Rot. Ric. Gravesend, ed. F. N. Davis, 149. Her election was quashed, and the appointment made by the bishop.
  • 36. Cat. Anct. D. i, B1288.
  • 37. Rot. Ric. Gravesend, 158.
  • 38. Ibid.
  • 39. Cat. Anct. D. ii, B3496.
  • 40. E329/144.
  • 41. Rosalind Hill, 'Bishop Sutton and the Inst. of Heads of Religious Houses in the Dioc. of Linc.': E.H.R. lviii, 209.
  • 42. Ibid.
  • 43. Linc. Reg. Dalderby, Inst., f. 199b.
  • 44. Ibid.
  • 45. Cal. Pat., 1301-7, 445.
  • 46. Cat. Anct. Deeds, ii, B3836.
  • 47. Ibid. i, B1258.
  • 48. E. 326/8202; E. 326/12547.
  • 49. These 3 prioresses may be the same person appearing under varying names. 'Mathama' occurs as the name of the prioress in 1363: Cal. Papal Pet., 13421419, 419.
  • 50. Cat. Anct. D. i, B887.
  • 51. Ibid. B478.
  • 52. Ibid. B1246, B423; E. 326/9027.
  • 53. John Rylands Libr., Manchester, Latin MS. 222, ff. 54-55.
  • 54. Visitations in Dioc. Linc. [1420-49], ii, 174. She was elected less than 6 years before 1441: ibid. ii, 174, n.3.
  • 55. Ibid. i, 157, where, however, she is called Margery.
  • 56. Ibid.
  • 57. Assoc. Arch. Soc. Rep. and Papers, xi, 202.
  • 58. Ibid.
  • 59. Hist. MSS. Com., Hastings, i, 94.
  • 60. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv, 176.
  • 61. B.M. Harl. Chart. 44 F13; D.C. E27, lxvi, 56.
  • 62. E. 329/205.
  • 63. B.M. Seals, lxvi, 57.