Houses of Austin canons: The priory of Elsham

Pages 171-172

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

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The priory of Elsham was at first intended to be a hospital for the poor, in charge of one or two canons of the order of St. Augustine. It was founded by Beatrice d'Amundeville, and her sons Walter, William, and Elias increased its endowment before 1166. (fn. 1) Early in the next century Jocelyn d'Amundeville, son of Elias, confirmed the gifts of his predecessors to the priors and canons, and from this time forward there is no mention of the hospital. (fn. 2)

Near the end of the twelfth century the knights hospitallers laid claim to the endowments of the canons of Elsham, and obtained letters from Pope Alexander III to secure it to themselves, by the help of Jocelyn d'Amundeville; but he afterwards repented of his share in the transaction, and wrote to a subsequent pope to explain the true rights of the case. He gave the canons at this time the confirmation charter above mentioned, and promised that they should never be subject to the jurisdiction of another house of religion. (fn. 3)

Little more than this is known of the history of the house. The prior, Thomas Kerver, signed the acknowledgement of supremacy in 1534, (fn. 4) and his successor surrendered the house under the first Act of Suppression before Michaelmas, 1536. The prior received a pension of £10; the six canons their arrears of wages and 20s. apiece, except the one who was a novice, to whom only 10s. was given. (fn. 5)

A visitation report dated 1440 shows that the standard of life in the monastery at that time was distinctly low. The prior complained (not much to his own credit) that the canons were unlearned, and that they ate and drank largely, to the great expense of the monastery: the rule was altogether ill-kept. Two chapels appropriate to the monastery were not sufficiently served. The canon who did the work of a cellarer complained of the daintiness of the brethren, and one in particular drank too much and then became insolent and difficult to handle.

The bishop remarked that as the brethren seemed to be neither docile nor well instructed, the prior had better find someone to instruct them in the rule. The brethren, for their part, must be diligent and obedient and content with their food and clothing. Anyone guilty of drunkenness must fast on the Wednesday and Friday following—first on bread and beer, then (in the case of a second offence) on bread and water; and this penance might be continued for a month or more as the case might ask. (fn. 6)

The house probably recovered somewhat with change of rulers. In a general chapter of the order, held at Leicester, the priors of Elsham and Kyme were appointed masters of the ceremonies for the great procession to the church of St. Martin, and the prior of Elsham was further constituted one of the visitors for the archdeaconries of Leicester, Lincoln, and Stowe. (fn. 7) In 1535 Bishop Longlands wrote to Cromwell to suggest a new prior for Elsham in terms which do not imply that he had any fault to find. (fn. 8)

The original endowment by the Amundevilles included the vill and church of Elsham, and the churches of Kingerby, Kirkby (cum Osgodby), Snartford, Winthorpe, with a mill and smaller parcels of land. (fn. 9) The temporalities of the prior in 1291 were taxed at £39 14s. 10½d. (fn. 10) In 1303 he held one-third of a knight's fee in Elsham; (fn. 11) in 1346 a small fraction also in Scottlethorpe. (fn. 12) In 1534 the clear revenue of the priory amounted to £70 0s. 8d., including the rectories of Kirkby, Kingerby, Ulceby, Elsham, and certain payments from the churches of Winthorpe and Croxton. (fn. 13) The bells and lead of the monastery were only worth £91 17s. 6d.; it was probably not a very large place.

Priors of Elsham

William Clement, (fn. 14) occurs 1208

Henry, (fn. 15) occurs 1218

William Elerop, (fn. 16) elected 1229

William of Barton, (fn. 17) occurs 1295, died 1303

Robert Newsham, (fn. 18) elected 1303

Stephen of Keelsby, (fn. 19) died 1332

Richard of Thornton, (fn. 20) elected 1332, died 1339

John of Torksey, (fn. 21) elected 1339

Ralf of Crossholm, (fn. 22) elected 1340, resigned 1343

William of Grimsby, (fn. 23) elected 1343

Alexander Disney, (fn. 24) elected 1347, resigned 1352

Simon of Duffield, (fn. 25) elected 1352

Richard Ouresby, (fn. 26) died 1412

John Cowyck, (fn. 27) elected 1412

William Clifton, (fn. 28) occurs 1440

Robert Parke, (fn. 29) occurs 1522

Thomas Kerver, (fn. 30) occurs 1529 until 1534

John Baxter, (fn. 31) last prior, elected 1535

The common seal with counterseal of Prior William de Barton (fn. 32) is of the thirteenth century. The obverse is pointed oval representing the Virgin crowned and with a nimbus, the Child on her knee, in the right hand a sceptre, fleur-delizé.

✠ . . . . . . . . . . . . RIE DE ELLESHAM

The reverse is a smaller pointed oval counterseal showing the Virgin sitting in a canopied niche, crowned, holding the Child. In base the prior, half-length to the left in prayer.

S . WILL'I . DE . BARTONA PRIOR' · D . . . . . N and A are conjoined.

The thirteenth-century pointed oval seal of Prior Robert (fn. 33) represents the Virgin seated with the Child, in a carved niche. In base, below a trefoiled arch, the prior half-length to the right praying.

S' ROB'TI P[R]IOR[I]S BĒ . . . .


  • 1. A confirmation charter of Henry II limits the date to 1166, Harl. Chart. 45 A. 4. The history of the foundation is contained in Harl. Chart. 45, C, 32; 45 C, 33; Harl. MS. 2,044, fol. 126 d.; and Dugdale, Mon. vi, 559.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Dugdale, Mon. vi, 559. 'Pope Alexander' must be the third of that name. There is no other near the end of the twelfth century.
  • 4. L. and P. Hen. VIII, vii, 1121 (51).
  • 5. Mins. Accts. 27-28 Hen. VIII, 166
  • 6. Visitations of Alnwick (Alnwick Tower), 73. This visitation is of interest as showing that when there was a definite charge of drunkenness a definite penance was assigned; and that such a charge is not necessarily implied when it is only said that the canons (or nuns) 'are given to drinking after compline.'
  • 7. Cott. MS. Vesp. D. i, fol. 63 d. 66.
  • 8. L. and P. Hen. VIII, viii, 328. The bishop simply suggests John Baxter as 'very fit to be head.'
  • 9. Harl. Chart. 45, C 32, and elsewhere.
  • 10. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 69.
  • 11. Feud. Aids, iii, 140.
  • 12. Ibid. 193, 216.
  • 13. Valor Eccles. (Rec. Com.), iv, 72.
  • 14. Boyd and Massingberd, Abstracts of final Concords, i, 83.
  • 15. Ibid, i, 124.
  • 16. Linc. Epis. Reg. Rolls of Wells.
  • 17. Harl. Chart. 44, D 32.
  • 18. Linc. Epis. Reg. Inst. Dalderby, 9.
  • 19. Ibid. Inst. Burghersh, 41.
  • 20. Ibid.
  • 21. Ibid. 79.
  • 22. Ibid. 93 d.
  • 23. Ibid. Inst. Bek. 3.
  • 24. Linc. Epis. Reg. Inst. Bek, 27.
  • 25. Ibid. Inst. Gynwell, 53.
  • 26. Ibid. Inst. Repingdon, 61 d.
  • 27. Ibid.
  • 28. Visitations of Alnwick (Alnwick Tower), 73.
  • 29. Linc. N. and Q. v, 36.
  • 30. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv (3), 2698, and vii, 1121 (51).
  • 31. Ibid. viii, 328.
  • 32. Harl. Chart. 44, D 32.
  • 33. Ibid. 45, C 25.