Houses of Cistercian nuns: The priory of Heynings

Pages 149-151

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

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The priory of Heynings or Heveninges was founded by Rayner de Evermue, probably early in the reign of Stephen, (fn. 1) and the patronage of the house remained with the lords of Knaith through most of its history.

The endowment of the priory was meagre— 'notoriously insufficient,' it was alleged in 1348 —on account of the death of the founder before its completion (fn. 2); and the scanty notices of it which occur from time to time usually refer to its poverty. In 1331 the nuns were discharged of part of the tithe due to the king, because their house was ' impoverished by divers misfortunes,' (fn. 3) and again in 1347. (fn. 4) In this latter year Master Simon of Islip and Nicholas of Buckland granted them an acre of land and the advowson of Womersley church for the relief of their necessities, (fn. 5) and in 1349 Sir John Darcy, then patron of the house, gave them the advowson of Knaith. (fn. 6) The land of Leadenham Braylond was also granted to them in 1377, (fn. 7) and in 1397 they were again absolved from payment of tenths. (fn. 8) But in 1401 a petition to. the pope repeated the complaint made in 1348 of poverty caused by barrenness of lands, multiplication of guests and corrodies, and burdens laid on all religious houses, which had compelled them to mortgage all their possessions for a long time. (fn. 9)

Being small and poor, the priory of Heynings might have been dissolved in 1536, but for some reason it was spared, and continued until 11 July, 1539, when it was surrendered by the prioress, Jane Sanford, and eleven nuns. (fn. 10) The prioress received a pension of £6 13s. 4d., two aged nuns 33s. 44 d., and nine ' young women ' 30s. a year. (fn. 11)

Heynings, like Stixwould, was founded for ' brethren and sisters,' (fn. 12) but the brethren are only mentioned in the foundation charter. By the end of the thirteenth century it was ruled by a prioress alone, with a warden or master who might be a secular priest or a religious of some other order. (fn. 13) The earliest recorded visitation is one of Bishop Gynwell in 1347. He drew attention to certain matters requiring reform, and said the 'rule of St. Benedict with the observances of St. Bernard,' in which they were founded, was not well kept. The divine office had not been carefully attended, and there had been negligence as to rules of silence, as to the visits of friends, and the admission of children and seculars to the cloister and dormitory. A special injunction was added, that Dame Margaret Darcy was not on any account to pass beyond the cloistral precincts or to speak to any stranger; her offence, however, is not mentioned. (fn. 14)

Later in the same century we meet the common difficulty which arose from the admission of lady boarders to the monasteries. A few were allowed by special licence of the bishop, (fn. 15) but the practice was generally to be avoided; an injunction continually repeated, but almost always evaded under the pressure of poverty. In 1393 Bishop Bokyngham held a visitation at Heynings. He ordered that any sister absent from the divine office should be deprived of food the next day; all breaches of discipline were to be punished by fasting on bread and water for periods varying from a day to a week. The children of the convent school were not to sleep in the dormitory, accounts were to be duly rendered, and the common seal carefully kept. The sisters were exhorted to behave with affection one towards the other. These injunctions were repeated constantly in visitations of all nunneries, and are usually considered to be a matter of formal routine when there was nothing special to correct. No nun was to have a room to herself except Dame Margaret Darcy, on account of her nobility; and she was to have no further privilege beyond the rest. (fn. 16)

Bishop Alnwick visited in 1440. There were no serious complaints, and nearly all answered omnia bene. The house was in debt, but then it had been recently repaired at great cost. One nun complained that the prioress was not impartial in her dealings with the sisters, and that she spoiled her servants. A lay sister complained that secular boarders occupied the infirmary, so that the sisters had nowhere to go when they were bled, and that servants of the house slept in the dormitory.

The bishop ordered that the number of nuns was not to be increased without his permission; the rest of his injunctions were merely forma, and he had the good sense not to make much of complaints that seemed dictated by mere discontent. (fn. 17)

Bishop Atwater visited in 1519, but left no injunctions; there can have been nothing much to notice. (fn. 18)

At the time of surrender Dr. London alleged of this house, as well as of Irford, Fosse, and others, that many of the nuns had been professed very young and had since lived in imperfect chastity, so that now they were delighted to think that they might return to the world and marry. Of Heynings in particular he only stated that there had been ' much waste in the woods.' (fn. 19) The value of this report is lessened by the fact that there were at this time twelve nuns and a prioress in this house, living on an income of less than £50, which could not have supported them in great luxury; and they might have surrendered three years before under the first Act of Suppression, if they had really been so weary of their habit. Moreover six of them lived on till 1553, and were then still unmarried. (fn. 20)

The original endowment of the priory consisted mainly of the demesne land, with the church of Upton. (fn. 21) In 1348 the church of Womersley, Yorks., was appropriated to the nuns, (fn. 22) and in 1349 they were granted the advowson of Knaith (fn. 23); in 1377 the manor of Lerdenham Braylond was added to their possessions. (fn. 24) In 1303 the prioress was returned as holding part of half a knight's fee in Ingleby. (fn. 25) The income of the priory in 1534 was £49 5s. 2d. clear (fn. 26); at the surrender the Ministers' Accounts show a total of £74 11s. 7d., (fn. 27) including the manor of Heynings and the farm of the rectories of Upton in Lincolnshire and Womersley in Yorkshire.

Prioresses Of Heynings

Margery Pocklington, (fn. 28) resigned 1300

Margery of Marton, (fn. 29) elected 1300

Margaret Swalecliffe, (fn. 30) resigned 1315

Joan of Cottingham, (fn. 31) elected 1315, resigned 1319

Margaret Cause, (fn. 32) elected 1319, resigned 1347

Eleanor Joyce, (fn. 33) elected 1347, resigned 1352

Alice of Cuxwold, (fn. 34) elected 1352

Joan Humberstone, (fn. 35) occurs 1419

Joan Stanford, (fn. 36) last prioress, surrendered 1539

The thirteenth - century common seal (fn. 37) is pointed oval, representing the Virgin seated upon a carved and trefoiled canopy supported on slender shafts, with a crown, in the left hand the Child with nimbus; her feet rest on a carved corbel. In the field below the canopy, a sun, a crescent enclosing an estoile, two cinquefoils, a quatrefoil, and a crescent. Above the canopy, two angels holding censers.


Letters A: R of Marie and E: N of Conventus are conjoined.


  • 1. The name of Rayner de Evermue occurs in the Great Roll of the Pipe (Rec. Com.), 6, 102, 121, probably 1129-30, but not later, and he may possibly be the same as Rainold de Envremou who occurs about 1115 in Round, Cal. of Doc. France, i, 133.
  • 2. Cal of Pap. Letters, v, 347.
  • 3. Close, 5 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 8.
  • 4. Pat. 21 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 6.
  • 5. Ibid. pt. ii, m. 6.
  • 6. Ibid. 22 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 37.
  • 7. Ibid. 50 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 13.
  • 8. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Bokyngham, 456 d.
  • 9. Cal. of Pap. Letters, v, 347.
  • 10. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiv (1), 1251.
  • 11. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiv (1), 1280.
  • 12. Foundation Charter, Dugdale, Mon. v, 723. It seems probable that these brethren were monks and not mere lay brethren, or they would not have held the property of the convent with the nuns, and would scarcely have been mentioned first.
  • 13. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Sutton.
  • 14. Ibid. Memo. Gynwell, 34.
  • 15. Eleanor Francke received such a licence in 1387. Ibid. Memo Bokyngham, 341 d.
  • 16. Ibid. 397. This can scarcely be the same person as the one put to penance in 1351. The Darcys were patrons of the house, and members of their family would be frequently found among the nuns.
  • 17. Visitations of Alnwick (Alnwick Tower), fol. 22. The lay sister mentioned above also alleged that the nuns went secretly after compline to drink in the guest-house with the guests. The bishop ordered that after compline they should go without tarrying to the dormitory. As to the drinking, the same remarks which were made on this point as to Stainfield Priory will be equally applicable here; the matter needing correction was a breach of rule, not the sin of immoderate drinking.
  • 18. Visitations of Atwater (Alnwick Tower).
  • 19. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiv (1), 1321.
  • 20. Add. MS. 8102; and Exch. Accts. bdle. 76, No. 26.
  • 21. Dugdale, Mon. v, 723.
  • 22. Cal. of Pap. Letters, v, 347.
  • 23. Pat. 22 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 37
  • 24. Ibid. 50 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 13.
  • 25. Feud. Aids, iii, 136.
  • 26. Valor Eccl (Rec. Com.), iv, 132.
  • 27. Dugdale, Mon. v, 723.
  • 28. Linc. Epis. Reg. Inst. Sutton, 42.
  • 29. Ibid.
  • 30. Ibid. Inst. Dalderby, 96.
  • 31. Ibid.
  • 32. Ibid. 100.
  • 33. Ibid. Inst. Gynwell, 104.
  • 34. Ibid. 116. The election of another prioress (unnamed) occurs Ibid. Memo. Bokyngham, 75.
  • 35. Ibid. Inst. Repingdon, 135 d, The register seems to say Joan ' Hebberston' resigned and Joan ' Humberstone ' was elected; it is probable that the same name has been put into both places by a slip of the pen, and so it is hard to say whether it is the name of the one who resigned or the one elected.
  • 36. L. and P. Hen. xiv (1), 1251.
  • 37. Add. Chart. 29698.