Houses of Cistercian nuns: The priory of Legbourne

Pages 153-155

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

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The priory of Legbourne was founded by Robert FitzGilbert (fn. 1) of Tathwell somewhere about 1150; it seems to have been built for the reception of some Cistercian nuns already formed into a convent at Carledale, (fn. 2) elsewhere called the ' nuns of Keddington ' (fn. 3) or of Hallington. (fn. 4) Whether these earlier nuns had separate foundations, or whether one convent is spoken of under different names, it is difficult now to decide; but at any rate the nuns of Legbourne inherited the possessions of all their predecessors.

The nuns had some difficulty during the early part of the thirteenth century in securing their appropriate churches. Alice Constable, daughter of the founder, impleaded the prioress in 1204 and claimed the advowson of Saltfleetby church, which she said was made part of her marriage portion before the priory was built. Her nephew Robert, however, when called to warrant, supported the prioress's claim. (fn. 5) Alice afterwards impleaded Robert and induced him to say that her charter was made out before the church was given to the nuns; his evidence, however, cannot have been very valuable, as the prior of Legbourne summoned him just after to prove the contrary. (fn. 6) For the time being the dispute was settled in favour of Alice, and Robert granted the prior certain lands in exchange for a moiety of the church, (fn. 7) but it afterwards returned to the nuns. There were other suits in 1205 and 1226 in connexion with the churches of Hallington and Farlesthorpe. (fn. 8)

Having an income of less than £200 a year, this priory was dissolved before Michaelmas, 1536; the prioress received a pension of £7 a year, and the nine nuns who remained 20s. each to buy secular apparel. (fn. 9) The house was not, however, entirely dismantled at the time of the outbreak of the Lincoln rebellion; the king's commissioners, Millicent and Bellow, were still in the priory and busy ' at their work, when they were dragged out of it by the excited mob. (fn. 10) During the course of the rising a gentleman of Lincoln wrote to Cromwell and informed him that the insurgents had ' made a nun' in the ' abbey of Legbourne.' It is just possible that they may have made an attempt to restore the ejected religious to this house, as we know the Pilgrims of Grace did in some cases in Yorkshire; but the statement may be based on a mere rumour. (fn. 11)

The priory (fn. 12) was visited probably all through its history by the bishops of Lincoln, but there is no report preserved earlier than that of Bishop Alnwick in 1440. (fn. 13) At this time certain irregularities required correction, but the bishop found most fault with the prioress. She had indeed greatly reduced the debts of the house— they had amounted at her election to £63 and now stood at £14—but she had been too fond of entertaining her own relations, and had partly supported them from the revenues of the monastery. She had once admitted a chaplain, not duly licensed, to preach in the conventual church; and when notice of the visitation came she had called the sisters into chapter and counselled them not to report anything that was amiss. There does not seem to have been anything very much amiss except her own conduct. The commemorations of St. Benedict and St. Bernard were not regularly made at mattins, mass, and vespers; a secular boarder slept in the dormitory and disturbed the nuns by the noise she made, and certain servants were also allowed there. The nuns did not wear scapularies at their work as the rule enjoined. There were also one or two complaints, as usual, of a merely personal character. (fn. 14)

The injunctions which followed were much the same as those delivered to other nunneries at this time. The omitted memorials must be said; the dormitory must be cleared of seculars; scapularies must be worn at work; the prioress must not support her own kinsfolk, and must rule with impartiality. Her punishment, however, for admitting an unlicensed chaplain and for desiring to conceal faults at the visitation was a more serious matter, and was reserved to the bishop. (fn. 15)

Bishop Atwater in 1519 found nothing to correct, except that the infirmary was out of repair. It was stated at the same time that the nuns often worked at haymaking, but only in the presence of the prioress. (fn. 16)

When in 1536 the news came to Legbourne of the passing of the Act of Suppression, it caused great distress and consternation to the nuns. As Cromwell himself happened to be patron of their house at this time, they thought perhaps he might be able to use his influence on their behalf.

' Please yt your goodnes,' wrote the prioress to him, ' to understonde that whereas almyghty God hath indued you with just title of Founder . . . to the great comfort of me and all my systers, we doo and shall alweyes submit cure selfes to youre most rightuouse commaundement and ordre, oonly puttyng oure comfort in your goodnesse. And whereas we doo here that a grete nombre of abbyes shalbe punysshid, subprest and put downe, bicause of their myslyvyng, and that all abbyes and pryoryes under the value of ccli be at oure moste noble prynces pleasure to subpresse and put downe, yet if it may pleas your goodness we trust in God ye shall here no complayntes agaynst us nother in oure lyvyng nor hospitalitie kepyng.'

She promises him, if he will be a suitor for his own poor priory, 'you shalbe a more higher Founder to us than he that first foundid our howse. (fn. 17) It was an unhappy thing for the poor ladies of Legbourne that they had ' noon othir comfort nor refuge but oonlyunto' Cromwell's goodness, for that was likely to help them little. Their petition was unheeded, and their house dissolved.

The original endowment of the priory consisted of certain lands of Robert Fitz Gilbert's fee in Tathwell, Legbourne, Hallington, with mills, crofts, &c., and the churches of Farlesthorpe, St. Peter Saltfleetby, Raithby (Robert the prior and the convent of Legbourne quit-claimed all right to the advowson of Raithby church to Robert son of William de Lekeburn in 1205 (fn. 18) ), Hallington, Somercotes, Conisholme, and half that of Legbourne. (fn. 19) In 1291 the nuns had temporalities valued at £20 19s. 11¾. (fn. 20) In 1395 the value of the priory was reckoned at about 60 marks. (fn. 21) In 1428 the prioress held a knight's fee in Legbourne and elsewhere jointly with the abbot of Louth Park. (fn. 22) In 1534 the value of the revenues was given as £38 8s. 4d. clear. (fn. 23) The Ministers' Accounts give a total of £73 17s. 9¼d., including the profits of the rectories of Hallington, North Somercotes, Farlesthorpe, with half those of Saltfleetby and Legbourne. (fn. 24)

Prioesses Of Legbourne

Mabel, (fn. 25) occurs 1219

Beatrice, (fn. 26) occurs 1226, resigned 1247

Alice of Hoyland, (fn. 27) elected 1247

Alice of Conisholme, (fn. 28) elected 1274

Parnel of Saltfleetby, (fn. 29) resigned 1296

Joan Chamberlain, (fn. 30) elected 1296, resigned 1315

Beatrice of Dunholm, (fn. 31) elected 1315

Denise of Selby, (fn. 32) resigned 1326

Julian or Joan of Ashby, (fn. 33) elected 1326, resigned 1336

Margaret de Wythern, (fn. 34) elected 1336

Elizabeth Chamberlain, (fn. 35) resigned 1368

Julian of Retford, (fn. 36) elected 1368

Isabel Wrangel, (fn. 37) died 1408

Maud Louth, (fn. 38) elected 1408

Joan Polvertest, (fn. 39) occurs 1440

Agnes Otteby, (fn. 40) occurs 1513, died 1529

Joan Gudband, (fn. 41) elected 1529, occurs 1534

Joan Missenden, (fn. 42) last prioress, occurs 1536


  • 1. It is uncertain whether this Robert was brother of Ralf FitzGilbert, founder of Markby; but it seems fairly clear that neither was connected in any way with Baldwin FitzGilbert, the founder of Bourne.
  • 2. Dugdale, Mon. v, 634; and Dodsworth MS. lxxv (Chartulary of Legbourne), fol. 23.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Dodsworth MS. lxxv, 26.
  • 5. Abbrev. Placit. (Rec. Com.), 40.
  • 6. Ibid. 73.
  • 7. Boyd and Massingberd, Abstracts of Final Concords, i, 69.
  • 8. Ibid. i, 61, ii, 216-17; and Curia Reg. R. (Rec. Com.), i, 273.
  • 9. Mins. Accts. (27-28 Hen. VIII), No. 166.
  • 10. Gasquet, Hen. VIII and the English Monasteries, ii, 47. The value of the bells, lead, &c. is not given in the accounts dated Michaelmas, 1536, which shows the dissolution was not quite completed.
  • 11. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xi, 225.
  • 12. There was a prior here as well as a prioress at the end of the thirteenth century. Boyd and Massingberd, Abstracts of Final Concords, i, 61, 69; and Abbrev. Plac. (Rec. Com.), 52. Later, the Lincoln Registers record the appointment of several masters from 1294 to 1343, and in 1366 the same official apparently is called ' yconomus' of Legbourne: Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Bokyngham, 33d.
  • 13. Visitations of Alnwick (Alnwick Tower), fol. 66.
  • 14. One nun said she had not been allowed to visit her aged parents when they were dying.
  • 15. It was mentioned in the course of the visitation that the nuns here were allowed, as in most nunneries of the time, a loaf daily and a pottle of beer, with a portion of flesh, replaced in Advent and Lent by two herrings. Sometimes in summer they had a little butter; two stone of cheese and one pig were allowed to each lady annually.
  • 16. Visitations of Atwater (Alnwick Tower), fol. 52 b.
  • 17. Wright, Suppression of Monasteries, 116. The letter is signed by the prioress Joan Missenden, 'and systers of the pryory of Legborne.'
  • 18. Boyd and Massingberd, Abstracts of Final Concords, 61.
  • 19. Dugdale, Mon. v. 634-5; Dodsworth MS. lxxv, 23-7.
  • 20. Dugdale, Mon. v. 634.
  • 21. Cal. of Pap. Letters, iv, 521. In this year a moiety of the church of Legbourne was appropriated to the prioress and convent, on the ground of heavy losses through pestilence and dearth of labourers.
  • 22. Feud. Aids, iii, 302.
  • 23. Valor Eccles. iv, 52.
  • 24. Mins. Accts. 27-28 Hen. VIII, No. 91.
  • 25. Boyd and Massingberd, Abstracts of Final Concords, 133.
  • 26. Ibid. and Linc. Epis. Reg. Rolls of Grosseteste.
  • 27. Linc. Epis. Reg. Rolls of Grosseteste.
  • 28. Ibid. Rolls of Gravesend.
  • 29. Ibid. Inst. Sutton, 22.
  • 30. Ibid.
  • 31. Ibid. Memo. Sutton, 322.
  • 32. Ibid. Inst. Burghersh, 16 d.
  • 33. Ibid.
  • 34. Ibid. 75. Margaret was provided by the bishop, Denise being re-elected uncanonically by the nuns.
  • 35. Ibid. Inst. Bokyngham, 26 d.
  • 36. Ibid.
  • 37. Ibid. Inst. Repingdon, 35.
  • 38. Ibid.
  • 39. Visitations of Alnwick (Alnwick Tower).
  • 40. Dugdale, Mon. v, 634; and Linc. Epis. Reg. Inst. Longland, 25.
  • 41. Ibid. and Valor Eccles.
  • 42. Wright, Suppression of Monasteries, 116.