Houses of Benedictine monks: The priory of St Mary Magdalene, Lincoln

Pages 129-130

A History of the County of Lincoln: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1906.

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The priory of St. Mary Magdalene at Lincoln was probably founded some time during the reign of Henry II, (fn. 1) as a cell of St. Mary's Abbey at York; the name of the founder is unknown. It was only intended to support a prior and one or two monks, to look after the estates belonging to the abbey; and near the time of the dissolution. the abbot stated he was not bound by the foundation to keep any monks there at all. (fn. 2) As. might be expected, the history of the cell is uneventful.

In 1275 the abbot was accused of having; closed the king's highway and other common land on his manor at Lincoln; probably on the land where this priory stood. (fn. 3) Not long after this, the lands belonging to the abbey at Sandtoft and Henes were annexed to those at Lincoln.

In 1312 the abbot had to complain that: certain men had assaulted one of his monks. in the cell of ' La Maudeleyne without Lincoln.' (fn. 4) In 1461 the church of St. Peter ad fontem was appropriated to the priory. (fn. 5) The episcopal registers tell us nothing of the history of the house, as the right of visitation and of appointing priors was entirely in the hands of the abbot. In 1531 King Henry VIII wrote to the abbot to say that he considered this cell to be a ' mean to provoke liberty and conversation not decent and meet for religious persons'; and in replying the abbot explained that he was not bound to keep any monks there, and was quite willing to recall the prior and brethren, and to support three more students at the university from the revenues of the house. (fn. 6) It is a little difficult to understand the purpose of these two letters and the events which followed. At any rate nothing was done immediately, either by the king or the abbot, for in 1533 the latter wrote to Cromwell, acknowledging that the prior of St. Mary Magdalene had managed his house ' so liberally' that he had brought the abbey into great expense and trouble. It was not intended, however, as yet, to put him ' from his good governance,' but only to admonish him 'to look the better to it.' (fn. 7) Then there are two letters dated 1535 which sound strangely contradictory. There is one from the abbot to the king, almost identical with that which is dated 1531, only the persons are changed. It is ' we,' the convent of York, who now find the cell ' a mean to provoke liberty and conversation not decent and meet for religious persons '; and it is the king who is asked to call home for ever the brethren resident at Lincoln, that the revenues might be applied as before suggested. (fn. 8) Yet in the same year the abbot writes to Cromwell, speaking of the king's letter, and saying that the brethren at York are much divided in opinion as to the suppression of the cell. (fn. 9) A year later Sir Thomas Audley wrote to Cromwell saying that there were no longer any monks in St. Mary Magdalene's Priory. (fn. 10) Nevertheless, on 1 March, 1539, the abbot wrote again to Cromwell, acknowledging a letter in which it had been complained that there were but one or two monks, and sometimes none; ' no hospitality kept, nor Almighty God served, nor any religious order.' He protested that from time out of memory there had been a prior and two monks, and ' as at this day God well served, religion kept, and poor folk relieved ' after the ability of the brethren, as all the country could testify, and especially at the last commotion (the Lincoln rebellion). So he asked that the cell might be spared. (fn. 11) There are other letters in March, May, and November which seem to show that the brethren were withdrawn, and the cell leased to a dependent of Cromwell. (fn. 12) At the time of its suppression the priory was valued at £23 6s. 3d. clear, consisting mostly of small rents in and about the city of Lincoln, and a few small pensions in divers churches. (fn. 13)

The only name of a prior of this house at present known is that of John de Bryne, (fn. 14) who occurs 1297.


  • 1. This is only a conjecture of Tanner's, there is no charter extant to prove it. Picot, son of Colsuan gave 4 acres of land and the church of St. Peter, Lincoln, to St. Mary's Abbey (Sympson, Lincoln, 363).
  • 2. L. and P. Hen. VIII, viii, 943.
  • 3. Hund. R. (Rec. Com.), i, 310.
  • 4. Pat. 5 Edw. II, pt. ii, m. 21 d.
  • 5. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Chedworth, 81.
  • 6. L. and P. Hen. VIII, v, 313.
  • 7. Ibid. vi, 747.
  • 8. Ibid. viii, 943.
  • 9. Ibid. 944.
  • 10. Ibid. xi, 10.
  • 11. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiv (1), 415.
  • 12. Ibid. 591, 963, and xiv (2), 522.
  • 13. Valor Ecdes. (Rec. Com.), v, 10.
  • 14. Pat. 25 Edw. I, pt. i, m. 13 d.