Houses of Benedictine nuns: The priory of Stainfield

Pages 131-132

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

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The priory of Stainfield was founded by William or Henry de Percy, in or before the reign of Henry II. (fn. 2) It was the only Benedictine nunnery in Lincolnshire; but it was neither large nor wealthy, and probably did not contain more than about twenty nuns at any time. Little is known of its history. A suit is recorded in 1200 concerning the church of Quadring, of which the prioress succeeded in recovering a moiety from Walter de Rochford, son-in-law of a benefactor of the house. (fn. 3) About 1319 the nuns, being poor, tried to escape a burden which the king wished to lay upon them, the maintenance for life of a certain Mary Ridel; but their excuses were deemed insufficient. They were peremptorily ordered to receive her, to supply her with food, clothing, shoe-leather and other necessaries, and to draw out letters patent specifying exactly what she ought to have, that the king might be certified of their obedience to his wishes. (fn. 4) In 1378 the prioress and convent received permission to appropriate the church of Quadring on account of their poverty. (fn. 5) In 1392 Bishop Bokyngham forbade merchants to sell their wares in the conventual church or churchyard under pain of excommunication; it seems strange that such a prohibition should have been necessary. (fn. 6) There are no notices, however, of any special laxity of the house. In 1440 Bishop Alnwick found the priory in good estate; the prioress and all her nuns (eighteen in number) answered omnia bene. One sister, however, said that seculars were allowed to sleep in the dormitory —an irregularity which seems to have been very common at this time in monasteries where boarders were received. There were only three ' households' in the monastery; one belonging to the prioress, another to the cellaress, and another to the lay sisters; so that the nuns here seem to have avoided another abuse which was very prevalent in the fifteenth century. (fn. 7)

In 1519 the report was not so good. Bishop Atwater found the monastery in need of a proper infirmary, the house used for this purpose not being healthy or quiet enough. It was complained that the nuns were not punctual in coming to choir, and that half an hour sometimes elapsed between the last stroke of the bell and the beginning of the office. Some of the nuns, when in choir, did not sing but dozed; partly because they had not candles enough to see their breviaries by, and partly because they did not go to bed promptly after compline. (fn. 8) Then on feast days they did not stay in church and occupy themselves in devotion, between the hours of our Lady and the high mass, but came out and wandered about the garden and cloisters. Inclinations and other ceremonies at office were omitted often or negligently performed. The rules of the refectory were not well kept; instead of sitting in rows, the nuns sat in little groups and talked together over their meals. The prioress frequently invited three young nuns to her table and showed partiality to them. (fn. 9)

It was enjoined in consequence that all the nuns should be diligent and punctual at the canonical hours and careful in performing all due ceremonies and ritual; that all should go to bed immediately after compline; that sufficient candles should be provided; that silence should be kept in the refectory, though the bishop did not forbid them to sit there as they had been wont to do; and that no seculars should be admitted to the monastery except for a few days as guests. The prioress was to invite all the senior sisters in order to her table, and to see that a proper infirmary was built. (fn. 10)

It seems probable that these injunctions were obeyed, and that the convent soon recovered its credit, for in 1536, after the passing of the first Act of Suppression, this house at first received a licence to continue. (fn. 11) The king, however, on second thoughts, foresaw ' certain inconveniences' that would arise if. the priory were allowed to stand, and ordered its dissolution. The nuns were not, however, to suffer on account of his change of purpose. They were to enter the dissolved priory of Stixwould, after it had been emptied of its original inhabitants. (fn. 12) The prioress, however, Elizabeth Bursby, appears to have been pensioned at this time, (fn. 13) and probably did not go to Stixwould with the rest. Twelve of the Stixwould nuns were paid arrears of wages, and 20s. apiece besides to buy secular apparel, from the revenues of Stainfield. (fn. 14) When Stixwould was refounded later, as a Premonstratensian priory, one of the Stainfield nuns, Mary Missenden, became prioress. (fn. 15)

The original endowment of the house cannot be precisely stated. It seems at any rate to have included the two churches of Quadring and Gisburn, Yorks. (fn. 16) The prioress had the advowson of Somerby and of Maidenwell. (fn. 17) In 1428 the prioress held with others half a fee in Marton and in Sturton. (fn. 18) The temporalities of Stainfield in 1291 were valued at £69 3s. 3d. (fn. 19) In 1534 its clear value was £98 8s. 1d. (fn. 20) The Ministers' Accounts give a total of only £61 11s. 2d. including the manor of Maidenwell and the rectories of Quadring, Gisburn, Apley and Kingthorp. (fn. 21)

Prioresses of Stainfield

Parnel, (fn. 22) died before 1223

Constance, (fn. 23) elected before 1223

Agnes of Thorn ton, (fn. 24) elected 1244

Maud, (fn. 25) died 1258

Eufemia Constable, (fn. 26) elected 1258, died 1258

Katherine of Dunham, (fn. 27) elected 1258, occurs 1272

Isolt, (fn. 28) resigned 1297

Christine le Vavassour, (fn. 29) elected 1297, died 1309

Agnes de Longvilles, (fn. 30) elected 1309

Margaret Lisieux, (fn. 31) occurs 1378, died 1393

Alice de St. Quintin, (fn. 32) elected 1393

Margery Hall, (fn. 33) occurs 1440

Katherine Bland, (fn. 34) occurs 1491

Elizabeth Bainsfield (fn. 35)

Elizabeth Bursby, (fn. 36) occurs 1521 to 1536

The twelfth-century pointed oval seal (fn. 37) of Stainfield represents the Virgin, crowned, seated on a carved throne, with finials of peculiar shape; the Child, with a nimbus, on the left knee, in the right hand a sceptre fieury.


A thirteenth-century seal, (fn. 38) also pointed oval, shows the Virgin seated on a throne, the Child, with nimbus, on the left knee, in the right hand a sceptre fleur-de-lizé.

. . . LVM CAPITVLI . . . RIE. D . . .


  • 1. The doubt expressed by Tanner and others as to the order to which Stainfield belonged has been removed by reference to the episcopal registers. In the Institutions of Bishop Bokyngham it is stated to be 'Ordinis S. Benedicti.'
  • 2. There is no foundation charter to certify which of the de Percys founded the monastery; but the land was of their fee from Domesday onwards. A charter of exemption from suits of shires, hundreds, &c., dated 1230, alludes to an earlier confirmation of Hen. II, Cal, of Chart. R. i, 109.
  • 3. Abbrev. Plac. (Rec. Com.), 32.
  • 4. Close, 4 Edw. II, m. 19d.
  • 5. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Bokyngham, 167.
  • 6. Ibid. 387d.
  • 7. Visitations of Alnwick (Alnwick Tower), fol. 75.
  • 8. It is said that they ' sat drinking' after compline; but a comparison with similar accusations against other convents, and the injunctions of bishops on the subject, is quite against the conclusion that any immoderate drinking is implied. It was a breach of rule to take any food or drink, or to break the great silence in any way after compline; and the nuns. here are apparently rebuked only for a breach of rule, not in itself a sin—i.e. instead of going straight to the dormitory they sat idly talking over a cup of the light ale which in those days took the place of tea and coffee. The bishop's injunctions in this and similar cases are: not that they should avoid moderate drinking, but simply that they must go to bed directly after compline.
  • 9. The names of these are given: Mary Missenden, Paga Overton, and Katherine Ayer. Mary Missenden lived to be prioress of the newly-founded Stixwould Priory, and Paga Overton went there with her and was pensioned at its final surrender; so that they must have been quite young in 1519. Mary Missenden was still alive in 1553.
  • 10. Visitations of Atwater (Alnwick Tower), fol. 51 d.
  • 11. See Dugdale, Mon. iv, 308 (quotation from Pension Book) and L. and P. Hen. VIII, xi, App. 4.
  • 12. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xi, App. 4.
  • 13. Mins. Accts. 27-28 Hen. VIII, No. 166.
  • 14. Ibid.
  • 15. Pat. 29 Hen. VIII, pt. I, m. 29.
  • 16. Dugdale, Mon. iv, 308, Charters ii and iii.
  • 17. Lines. N. and Q. vi, 170; and Bishops' Institutions.
  • 18. Feudal Aids, iii.
  • 19. Dugdale, Mon. iv, 308.
  • 20. Valor Eccles. (Rec. Com.), iv, 82.
  • 21. Dugdale, Mon. iv, 308.
  • 22. A letter to H. bishop of Lincoln announcing her death and the election of Constance points to the time of St. Hugh, or else Hugh of Wells: but another letter which names Constance as a contemporary of Walter archbishop of York, and R. master of Stainfield, makes it almost certain that Hugh of Wells is meant, as he was a contemporary of Archbishop Walter Gray, and Robert de Saumer was made master in 1223. Dugdale, Mon. iv, 308, and Linc. Epis. Reg. Rolls of Wells.
  • 23. Dugdale, Mon. iv, 308.
  • 24. Linc. Epis. Reg. Rolls of Grosteste. There was an election also in 1237, but the name is left blank (ibid.).
  • 25. Ibid. Rolls of Gravesend.
  • 26. Ibid.
  • 27. Ibid. and Dugdale, Mon. iv, 308.
  • 28. Ibid. Inst. Sutton, 22 d.
  • 29. Ibid.
  • 30. Ibid. Inst. Dalderby, 32.
  • 31. Ibid. Inst. Bokyngham, 167 d. and in 1393.
  • 32. Ibid.
  • 33. Visitations of Alnwick (Alnwick Tower).
  • 34. D. & C. Linc. Chapter Acts, 1479-92, fol. 63.
  • 35. Dugdale, Mon. iv, 308.
  • 36. Mins. Accts. 27-28 Henry VIII, No. 166.
  • 37. Harl. Chart, 44 A, 23.
  • 38. B.M. Seals, xvii, 34.