Houses of the Gilbertine order: The priory of Sempringham

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

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'Houses of the Gilbertine order: The priory of Sempringham', in A History of the County of Lincoln: Volume 2, (London, 1906) pp. 179-187. British History Online [accessed 11 April 2024]

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The Order of Sempringham had its origin in 1131. (fn. 1) In or about that year Gilbert of Sempringham left the household of Alexander, bishop of Lincoln, and returned to serve the parish church of Sempringham, of which he was rector. (fn. 2) He found there seven maidens, who had learnt the way of holiness from him as children, and longed to live a strict religious life. Gilbert, having inherited from his father lands and possessions in Sempringham, resolved to give such wealth as he had for the use of those maidens. With the help and advice of Alexander, he set up buildings and a cloister for them against the north wall of the church, which stood on his own land at Sempringham. He gave them a rule of life, enjoining upon them chastity, humility, obedience, and charity. Their daily necessaries were passed to them through a window by some girls chosen by Gilbert from among his people. His friends warned him that his nuns ought not to speak with secular women, who by their gossip might rekindle in them an interest in the world which they had renounced. On the advice of William, abbot of Rievaulx, he decided to yield to the request of the servingmaids, who begged that they too might have a dress and rule of life. Soon afterwards he took men as lay brothers to work on the land, giving them too a dress and a rule.

The little community grew in numbers, and amongst its earliest benefactors was Brian of Pointon. (fn. 3) In 1139 Gilbert accepted three carucates of land in Sempringham from Gilbert of Ghent, his feudal lord. (fn. 4) His first building had proved too small, and Sempringham Priory, with its double church, cloisters and buildings, was erected on the new site given by Gilbert of Ghent, not far from the parish church, and dedicated to the Virgin. In virtue of his gift Gilbert of Ghent was held to be the founder.

In 1147 Gilbert went to the general chapter at Citeaux to ask the abbots to bear rule over his nuns. This they refused. Yet his journey was not unfruitful, for at Citeaux he met Bernard, abbot of Clairvaux, and Eugenius III, the latter of whom conferred on him the care of the order. Bernard invited him to Clairvaux, and there helped him to draw up the Institutes of the Order of Sempringham, which were afterwards confirmed by Eugenius III. Gilbert returned to England in 1148, and completed the order, by appointing canons to serve his community as priests, and to help him in the work of administration.

Within a brief space it is impossible to do more than point out a few of the distinguishing features of the order. (fn. 5) Gilbert gave to the canons the rule of St. Augustine, and added many statutes from the customs of Augustinian and Premonstratensian canons. The chief officers were the prior, sub-prior, cellarer, precentor, and sacrist. In a double house the number of canons varied from seven to thirty, but afterwards at Sempringham they were increased to forty. (fn. 6) The lay brothers followed the rule of the Cistercian lay brothers.

The nuns of the order kept the rule of St. Benedict, and followed in every way the customs of the canons, 'so far as the weakness of their sex permitted.' Each house was under three prioresses, who for a week in turn held the chapters of nuns and sisters, presided in the frater, and visited the sick in the farmery. The other officers were the sub-prioress, cellaress, subcellaress, sacrist, and precentrix. The lay sisters were bound to serve and obey the nuns in all things. They cooked for the whole community under the supervision of a nun, who served for a week at a time. They also brewed ale, sewed, washed, made thread for the cobblers, and wove the wool of the house. All the clothes, except the shirts and breeches of the men, were cut out and made by the women.

The general administration of the property of the house was in the hands of a council of four proctors, consisting of the prior, cellarer, and two lay brothers. The expenditure was controlled by the nuns. The treasury was in their buildings, and the keepers were three mature and discreet nuns, who each had charge of a different key. (fn. 7)

Communications about business, food, and other matters were made at the window-house, which was so constructed that the speakers could not see each other. (fn. 8) The supreme ruler of the order was the master, who, subject to good behaviour and health, was elected for life at a general chapter by representatives of nuns and canons from all the houses. The privilege of freedom of election was granted by Henry II, (fn. 9) and confirmed in 1189 by Richard I, (fn. 10) and the custody of the order, its houses, granges, and churches, was legally vested in the priors during the vacancy, which, in fact, lasted only a few days. (fn. 11) The master was not attached to any house, but continually went from one to the other on his visitation. He appointed the chief officers and admitted novices. According to the rule his consent was necessary for all sales and purchases of lands, woods, and everything above the value of three marks, and his seal was affixed to all charters, but these provisions were afterwards modified in practice. He had no benefices or other property set aside for the expenses of his visitations and other duties which might devolve on him. In the middle of the thirteenth century it appears that the houses of the order were contributing to the communa magistri in proportion to their means, (fn. 12) and in 1535 a fixed payment to the master 'of ancient custom' is mentioned in the outgoings of each house. (fn. 13)

The general chapter met each year at Sempringham on the Rogation Days, (fn. 14) and was attended by the prior, cellarer, and two prioresses from each house, the scrutators general, and the scrutators of the cloister.

While Gilbert was master there were two serious crises in the history of Sempringham and the other houses of the order. Early in 1165 Gilbert and all the priors were summoned to Westminster to answer a charge of having sent money abroad to Thomas, archbishop of Canterbury, and of having helped him to escape from England, the penalty for which was exile. The accusation, however, was false, though Gilbert scrupled to swear to his innocence. Meanwhile messengers arrived from Henry II to say that he would judge the case on his return from Normandy, and that Gilbert and his priors could go in peace. (fn. 15)

In 1170 a rebellion took place among the lay brothers, who complained of the harshness of the rule, and insisted on more food and less work. Two of them went to Rome, with ill-gotten gains, and slandered Gilbert and the canons to Alexander III, who intervened on their behalf. As Gilbert's cause was warmly espoused by Henry II and several of the bishops, the pope was convinced that he had been deceived. When the lay brothers found that they had failed to move Gilbert by violence, they asked for pardon and humbly entreated him to relax the rule for them. Accordingly, certain changes in their food and dress were solemnly made about 1187, in the presence of Hugh, bishop of Lincoln, with the consent of the general chapter of Sempringham. (fn. 16)

On 4 February, 1189, (fn. 17) Gilbert died at Sempringham, and was buried on the 7th in the presence of a great concourse of people. His tomb was placed between the altars of St. Mary and St. Andrew, in the priory church, and could be seen on either side of the wall which divided the men from the women. Many miracles of healing were reported to have been worked at the tomb in the next few years, and in 1200 Hubert Walter, archbishop of Canterbury, set about obtaining his canonization. (fn. 18) After due inquisition into the truth of the alleged miracles, canonization was decreed by Innocent III. The translation of St. Gilbert took place on 13 October, 1202, in the presence of great crowds, an indulgence of forty days to pilgrims to his shrine being granted by the archbishop of Canterbury, and 110 days by several other bishops. (fn. 19)

The convent of Sempringham at first suffered poverty, but several benefactors had compassion on the nuns. (fn. 20) In 1189 the possessions of the priory included the whole township of Sempringham, with the parish church and the chapel of Pointon, the granges of Kirkby, Marham, Cranwell, Fulbeck, Thorpe, Bramcote, Walcote, Thurstanton, the hermitage of Hoyland, a mill in Birthorpe, half a knight's fee in Laughton (Locton), the mills of Folkingham, and the churches of Billingborough, Stowe with the chapel of Birthorpe, Hanington, Aslackby, Buxton, Brunesthorp, Kirkby, Bradstow, and moieties of Trowell and Laughton. (fn. 21) Probably in consideration of this endowment Gilbert limited the number of nuns and lay sisters to 120, and of canons and lay brothers to 60. (fn. 22)

It is worthy of notice that original grants of whole manors to the Gilbertines were very rare. They received lands within the manors of their benefactors and their feudal lords, usually in frankalmoign, owing no service to the lord's court. Henry II granted them full manorial rights throughout their own lands, (fn. 23) and thus a number of smaller manors were created, though except in royal charters (fn. 24) these bore the ecclesiastical name of granges. Until the Black Death the Gilbertines cultivated their own lands to a great extent. Wherever they received a sufficient grant of land or pasturage they built a grange which was in itself a small religious house, with its oratory, frater, cloister, common room, and guest hostel. Workshops for smiths, carpenters, cobblers, tailors, and others all stood within the walled enclosure, but stables and sheds for cattle and sheep might be built outside. Only the lay brothers lived at the granges with the hired servants; they were under the rule of the grainger, a lay brother who fulfilled some of the same duties as the prior at the monastery. The supply of lay brothers fell far short of the demand for them, especially as the thirteenth century went on, and, indeed, the importance of hired labour, as early as 1164, was recognized in the agreement which was concluded between the Cistercian and Gilbertine orders. (fn. 25)

Grants of pasturage were numerous, and the chief source of revenue of the Gilbertines, as of the Cistercians, was their wool. In some houses the wool was made into cloth, not only for the dress of the convent, but for sale. (fn. 26) Cloth of Sempringham was noted in John's reign. (fn. 27) In 1193 all the wool of the order of Sempringham for one year was taken for Richard I's ransom. (fn. 28) The Gilbertines were tempted by their exemptions from all tolls and customs (fn. 29) to act, like the Cistercians, as factors in the wool trade throughout the county; ecclesiastical (fn. 30) and royal prohibitions alike failed to check them from disobeying their own rule. The jealousy of other traders stirred Henry III and Edward I to threaten correction in 1262 (fn. 31) and 1302, (fn. 32) but in 1342 (fn. 33) and 1344 (fn. 34) the same complaints reached Edward III, who also bade the Gilbertines desist utterly from such trading.

In spite of increasing possessions the convent was at no time wealthy; though the standard of life seems always to have been simple the revenues were small for the number of inmates. The numbers fixed by St. Gilbert represented no ideal complement, indeed the tendency was to exceed them, as at Sempringham, and the burden of maintaining so large a number of nuns is mentioned in more than one papal privilege. In 1226 Henry III gave the master a present of 100 marks for their support. (fn. 35) In 1228 he relieved the priory of the expense of providing food during the meeting of the general chapter at the mother-house on the Rogation Days by his gift of the church of Fordham, which was worth fifty-five marks a year. (fn. 36) Ten years later the revenues were materially increased. The Scotch house at Dalmulin on the north bank of the Ayr, which was founded and endowed by Walter FitzAlan about 1221, was abandoned, (fn. 37) and its possessions were transferred to the abbot and convent of Paisley in consideration of a yearly payment of forty marks to Sempringham. (fn. 38) The parish churches of Sempringham, Birthorpe, Billingborough, and Kirkby were already appropriated. (fn. 39) Yet in 1247 Innocent IV granted to the master the right to appropriate the church of Horbling, because there were 200 women in the priory who often lacked the necessaries of life. (fn. 40) The legal expenses of the order at the papal curia perhaps accounted for their poverty. (fn. 41) The annual payment of forty marks was felt as a grievous burden by the abbot and convent of Paisley, and seems to have been ignored in several years, for in 1246 the prior and convent of Sempringham appealed to Innocent IV to right them. (fn. 42) They were obliged to pay the whole of the expenses of the suit and remit half the arrears of the debt on condition that the abbot and convent of Paisley should make regular payments from that time onwards.

In 1254 the spiritualities of Sempringham were assessed at £170, the temporalities at £196 9s. 1d. (fn. 43) In 1253 the prior and convent obtained a grant of free warren in all their demesne lands, (fn. 44) and in 1268 the right of holding a fair in the manor of Stow. (fn. 45)

The order was under the special protection of the papacy, (fn. 46) and was exempt entirely from episcopal visitation. Accordingly, evidence of its internal history must be sought in papal bulls and registers. It would appear that on or before 1220 the general chapter petitioned that the sole power of making changes in the rule might be confirmed to them, and that the master and priors should not alter their liberties and constitutions. (fn. 47) Complaints were also made of the extravagance of priors who travelled with servants and baggage horses, and used silver cups, and other pompous vessels. In 1223 a visitation of the order was conducted by the abbot of Warden by order of the legate Otho. (fn. 48) The injunctions of the abbot of Warden showed that there was a tendency to relax the rule in somewhat unimportant matters. He directed that the cowl of the nuns should not be cut too long, that fine furs should not be used for the cloaks of canons and nuns, that the canons' copes should be made minime curiose. Variety of pictures and superfluity of sculpture were forbidden. The rule of silence was to be more strictly observed. The proctors were bidden to provide the same food and drink for the nuns as for the canons, and not in future to buy beer for the canons when the nuns had only water to drink. A very important papal visitation was undertaken when Ottoboni was legate in England from 1265 to 1268. He went to Sempringham in person, but delegated the duty of visiting other houses of the order to members of his household. (fn. 49) In 1268, after a careful study of the reports of the visitors, a series of injunctions was drawn up by Ralph of Huntingdon, a Dominican chaplain in the service of the legate, with the aid of Richard, chief scrutator of the order. (fn. 50) The democratic principles of the order had obviously been violated, and the master and heads of houses had shown arbitrary tendencies. It was necessary to insist that the master should strive to rule by love rather than fear, and to threaten priors and sub-priors who were stern to the verge of cruelty with deposition. The master was forbidden to receive men and women into the order without the advice of its members. The priors were warned against conducting business and manumitting servile lands and serfs without consulting their fellow proctors and seeking the consent of their chapters. The lucrative practice of collecting wool and selling it with the produce of their own flocks, was strictly, though in vain, forbidden. It was ordered that discipline should be firmly maintained among the regular servants of the priory and granges, and servants and labourers were forbidden to go off the monastery lands without special leave. Lay brothers who were skilled in surgery might only practise their art by the prior's leave, and if the patients were men. A tendency to treat the nuns with less consideration than the rule required was sternly repressed. They were to have all their rights and privileges, and no plea of urgent business might avail to deprive them of their assent to all transactions. Pittances provided for the nuns were not to be assigned to other purposes for any reason, and money given on the admission of a nun was to be devoted to their needs. The master was to see that they were not stinted in clothes and food.

In 1291 the assessment of the temporalities had risen to £219 17s. 11½d. (fn. 51) The property continued to increase, as several licences were obtained subsequently to appropriate numerous small grants of land in mortmain. (fn. 52) The right of holding a fair in the manor of Wrightbald was conceded in 1293. (fn. 53) At the beginning, of the fourteenth century the annual sales of wool amounted to twenty-five sacks a year, (fn. 54) and, whatever the net profits may have been, added largely to the income of the convent. It was doubtless on account of the important share of the order in the wool trade that Edward II asked in 1313 for a loan of 1,000 marks, (fn. 55) and in 1315 for £2,000, (fn. 56) for the assessment of all its spiritualities and temporalities scarcely exceeded £3,000. (fn. 57)

In 1303 the prior held in Lincolnshire half a knight's fee in Horbling, half in Irnham, half less one-twelfth in Laughton and Aslackby, a quarter in Cranwell, a quarter in Bulby, onefifth in Bulby and Southorpe, one-eighth in Fulbeck, one-eighth in Scredington, one-sixteenth in Osbournby, one-twentieth in Bitchfield. In 1346 he held also a knight's fee in Stragglethorpe, one-sixth in Walcote, and one-thirtysecond in Aunsley, and in 1428 in Leicester onequarter of a fee in Thrussington. (fn. 58)

At the general chapter in 1304 it was decided, 'on account of frequent and continuous royal and papal tenths, contributions and exactions,' that in each house a grange, church, or fixed rent should be set aside to meet those demands. (fn. 59) The Gilbertines had been exempted by Henry II from all gelds and taxes, (fn. 60) and John especially mentioned, in his charter of confirmation, the aids of the sheriffs, tallage, and scutage. (fn. 61) However, in the reigns of Henry III and Edward I the popes taxed both spiritualities and temporalities, and sometimes handed over the proceeds to the crown. In this way the order lost its privileges, and afterwards voted grants with the rest of the clergy in convocation. At this time the interests of farming and trading did not predominate to the exclusion of all else. In 1290 Nicholas IV granted a licence to the prior and canons of Sempringham to have within their house a discreet and learned doctor of theology to teach those of their brethren who desired to study that science. (fn. 62) For some years the master had sent certain canons of the order to study at Cambridge, (fn. 63) and in 1290 a house of residence was secured in the town, and contributions were afterwards levied from all the houses of the order for the support of canons as scholars. (fn. 64) Two years later Robert Lutterel, rector of Irnham, gave a house and lands at Stamford that canons from Sempringham Priory might study divinity and philosophy at the university which was then flourishing in that town. (fn. 65) In 1303 a canon named Robert Manning of Bourne began to write, in the cloister at Sempringham, his book called Handlyng Sinne, (fn. 66) which was an English version of Waddington's Manual des Péchés, a satire on the failings and vices of English men and women of all classes of society. He had then lived fifteen years in the monastery, and had previously studied at Cambridge. The annals of the house were recorded in French from 1290 to 1326. (fn. 67)

In 1301 Prior John de Hamilton began to build a new church for the priory, (fn. 68) as the earlier one had fallen into disrepair. Ten years before Nicholas IV had granted lavish indulgences to penitents who visited the priory church and chapels of St. John, St. Stephen, and St. Catherine, (fn. 69) so the proceeds from their offerings were available. The rebuilding of other parts of the monastery was also in contemplation, for in 1306 the prior and convent obtained a papal bull enabling them to appropriate the churches of Thurstanton and Norton Disney for that purpose. (fn. 70) However, the church was still unfinished in 1342, when Bishop Bek granted an indulgence for the fabric, 'which had been begun anew at great cost.' (fn. 71) There were a number of reasons for the delay. The price of corn was very high in the years of famine from 1315 to 1321. (fn. 72) Owing to the Scotch wars the payment of forty marks from the abbey of Paisley ceased altogether, probably before 1305, (fn. 73) and it was not until 1319 that the prior and convent were able by way of compensation for their loss to appropriate the church of Whissendine, worth fiftyfive marks, for the expenses of clothing forty canons and 200 women. (fn. 74)

Probably by reason of its position as the head house of a purely English order, Sempringham was in high favour with the three Edwards, who sent thither wives and daughters of their chief enemies. Wencilian, daughter of Llewellyn, prince of Wales, was sent to Sempringham as a little child, after her father's death in 1283, and died a nun of the house fifty-four years later. (fn. 75) Edward I allowed the acquisition of certain lands in mortmain because he had charged the priory with her maintenance, (fn. 76) and in 1327 Edward III granted £20 a year for her life. In 1322, by order of the Parliament at York, Margaret, countess of Cornwall, was sent to live at Sempringham among the nuns. (fn. 77) In 1324 Joan, daughter of Roger Mortimer, was received at the priory. (fn. 78) Two daughters of the elder Hugh Despenser were also sent to take the veil at Sempringham, and in 1337 an allowance of £20 a year was made for their lives. (fn. 79)

The unsettled state of the country in the reign of Edward II and the earlier years of Edward III was very unfavourable to many monasteries. In 1312 Sempringham Priory was attacked by Roger of Birthorpe, Geoffrey Lutterel of Irnham, Edmund of Colville, and other knights; they broke into the monastery, assaulted the canons and their men and servants, and carried away their goods. (fn. 80) However, Prior John and some of his canons and servants raided the park at Birthorpe to recover their animals which had been impounded. (fn. 81) In 1330 the priors of Sempringham and Haverholme, accompanied by several of their canons and other persons, were charged by William of Querington and Brian of Herdeby with raiding a close at Evedon, cutting down the trees, carrying away timber, and depasturing and destroying corn with plough cattle. (fn. 82) The next year the prior lodged a complaint against Brian of Herdeby and others who had assaulted a canon and a lay brother at Evedon, consumed his crops and grass at Burton, hunted in his free warren there, and carried off hares and partridges. (fn. 83)

In 1320 the priory was in money difficulties and owed £1,000 to Geoffrey of Bramton, a clerk. (fn. 84) Speculations in wool with Italian merchants followed. (fn. 85) Inability to pay the king's taxes marked a financial crisis in 1337, (fn. 86) and again in 1345. (fn. 87) Consequent probably upon the poverty of the house, the Master of Sempringham, in 1341, obtained exemption from future attendance at Parliament. (fn. 88) He had been regularly summoned from the great Parliament of 1295, until 1332, (fn. 89) but, as in the case of other abbots and priors, attendance was doubtless found to be a great burden and expense.

No record remains of the ravages of the Black Death at Sempringham or any other house of the Giibertine order, although there is some evidence of distress in the priory in 1349. On the eve of Trinity Sunday in that year there was a great storm and flood, the water in the church rose as high as the capitals of the pillars, and in the cloister and other buildings it was six feet deep. Many of the books were destroyed and eighteen sacks of wool were damaged. (fn. 90) On 9 November the king granted a licence to the nuns to appropriate Hacconby church, which was valued at twenty-four marks a year, for their clothing. (fn. 91)

There is little doubt that none of the Giibertine houses ever recovered from the effects of the Black Death. They were constrained to abandon almost entirely the cultivation of their own lands, and to let their numerous granges on leases.

In 1399 Boniface IX gave permission to the master, priors, canons, lay brothers, nuns and sisters of the order of Sempringham to farm, to fit laymen or clerks for a fixed time, their manors, churches, chapels, pensions, stipends and possessions, without requiring the licence of the ordinary. (fn. 92) Thus they lost their profits from the wool trade, which had probably exceeded their revenues from all other sources. (fn. 93) The sheep everywhere died in thousands from the pestilence, and it was in fact impossible for the Gilbertines to carry on their former occupations of farming and trading with any success.

There are indications of a decline in discipline and morals, as well as in numbers. In 1363 the master, Robert of Navenby, was seeking to obtain from Urban V the rights of a mitred abbot that he might himself give benediction to his nuns. (fn. 94) The bishop of Lincoln however protested. In 1366 many nuns of Sempringham had hot received benediction, and as the master, William of Prestwold, refused to listen to the prioress, they petitioned Bishop Bokyngham, who came to Sempringham, to right them. (fn. 95) The number of nuns had then fallen to sixtyseven. In 1382 (fn. 96) Richard II granted a licence for the master and priors of the order to seize and detain all vagabond canons and lay brothers, and in 1383 (fn. 97) and 1390 (fn. 98) mandates were issued to the sheriffs and others to arrest an apostate canon. In 1397 Boniface IX sent a mandate to the archbishops of Canterbury and York and the bishop of Ely, to investigate the charges against William of Beverley, (fn. 99) who was elected master in 1393. It was reported that on his visitation he took immoderate procurations, burdened the houses by the excessive number of the members of his household and of his horses, and committed many grievances and enormities against the statutes of the order. The bishops were to punish him if guilty, to visit the houses, correct and reform what was amiss, to revise the statutes of the order, and frame others if expedient. In 1405 the pope issued another mandate, (fn. 100) stating that William of Beverley, master of the order, had dilapidated divers goods, movable and immovable, had enormously damaged it, reduced it to great poverty, and continued in the same course. If found guilty he was to be deprived. However, whether the order obtained any redress is not known; the next master was not elected until 1407. (fn. 101)

The history of Sempringham Priory, and of the order generally, in the fifteenth century, is very obscure. In 1400 a papal indulgence was granted for the repair of the priory church, (fn. 102) and in 1409 a legacy was left for the fabric of the bell tower. (fn. 103) In 1445 Henry VI granted to Nicholas Resby, master of the order, that the houses of Sempringham, Haverholme, Catley, Bullington, Sixhills, North Ormsby, and Alvingham should be free and exempt from all aids, subsidies, and tallages, and should never contribute to any payments of tenths or fifteenths made by the whole body of the clergy or of the provinces of Canterbury and York separately. (fn. 104) However, the prior and convent of Sempringham were compelled to pay £40 in 1522 as their share of a grant from the spirituality towards Henry VIII's personal expenses in France for the recovery of that crown. (fn. 105)

With the abandonment of farming, except on the immediate demesne, the need of the order for lay brothers disappeared; they probably died out altogether early in the fifteenth century, and there is no record of any at the dissolution. Servants, too, probably very largely took the place of the lay sisters.

At a general chapter held at St. Catherine's, Lincoln, in 1501, it was resolved that the number of canons, which 'in those days was less than usual,' should be increased. (fn. 106) The priors were to seek suitable persons, that with greater numbers religion might prosper. This attempt at revival was to some extent successful, for in several houses, as at Sempringham itself, the number of canons fixed at this chapter was reached before the dissolution. In all the houses of the order there were, in 1538, only 143 canons, 139 nuns, and 15 lay sisters. Nothing was alleged by the crown visitors against the Gilbertines in Lincolnshire, and they appear to have been living blameless lives, neither in poverty nor in wealth.

Robert Holgate, chaplain to Cromwell, who became master of the order in 1536, (fn. 107) exerted his influence to prevent the surrender of the Gilbertine houses under the Act for the Suppression of the Smaller Monasteries in 1536, for only four out of twenty-six houses had revenues over £200 a year. No resistance was offered in 1538, when Dr. William Petre came down to take the surrenders. On 18 September, Robert the master, Roger the prior, and sixteen canons surrendered Sempringham Priory. (fn. 108) The prior received Fordham rectory and £30 a year, the canons and prioresses and sixteen nuns were also pensioned.

In 1535 the clear yearly value of the house was £317 4s. 1d. (fn. 109) Of this sum £128 16s. 7d. was drawn from the rectories of Sempringham with the chapel of Pointon, Stow with the chapel of Birthorpe, Billingborough, Horbling, Walcote, Loughton, Cranwell, Norton Disney, Kirkby Laythorpe, and Hacconby, in Lincolnshire; Whissendine in Rutlandshire; Fordham in Cambridgeshire; Thurstanton in Leicestershire; and Buxton in Norfolk. The remainder of the property included granges or lands and tenements at Sempringham, Threckingham, Stow, Pointon, Dowsby, Ringesdon Dyke, Billingborough, Horbling, Walcote, Newton, Pykworth, Osburnby, Kysby, Folkingham, Aslackby, Woodgrange, Kirkby, Bulby, Morton, Wrightbald, Brothertoft, Wilton, Kirton Holme, Wrangle, Cranwell, Stragglethorpe, Carlton and Fulbeck, and a few other places in Lincolnshire; Ketton, Cottesmore, and Pickwell in Rutland; Thurstanton and Willoughby in Leicestershire; Bramcote, Trowell, and Chinwell in Nottinghamshire; and Walton in Derbyshire. Six granges appear to have been farmed by bailiffs for the monastery and the rest were let on lease. The demesnes of Sempringham were worth £26 13s. 4d. a year.

In the hands of the crown bailiff four years later the property brought in £383 5s. 5d. (fn. 110)

Masters of the Order of Sempringham

St. Gilbert (fn. 111)

Roger, elected 1189

John, elected 1204

Gilbert, elected 1205

Robert, elected 1225

William, elected 1251

Patrick, elected 1262

John de Homerton, elected 1276

Roger de Bolingbroke, elected 1283

Philip de Burton, elected 1298

John de Glinton, elected 1332, resigned 1341

Robert de Navenby, elected 1341

William de Prestwold, elected 1364

William de Beverley, elected 1393

John de Hanworth, elected 1407, occurs 1425 (fn. 112)

Walter Iklyngham, elected 1435 (fn. 113)

Nicholas Resby, occurs 1445 (fn. 114)

James, occurs 1501 (fn. 115)

Thomas, occurs 1508 (fn. 116) and 1511 (fn. 117)

Thomas de Hurtesby, occurs 1535 (fn. 118)

Robert Holgate, 1536 to 1538 (fn. 119)

Priors (fn. 120) of Sempringham

Torphim, occurs 1164 (fn. 121)

Roger, occurs 1204 (fn. 122)

Thomas, occurs 1242 (fn. 123)

Roger, occurs 1282 (fn. 124)

John of Hamilton, occurs 1301 (fn. 125) and 1312 (fn. 126)

John of Glinton, occurs 1325 (fn. 127) and 1332 (fn. 128)

William of Prestwold, occurs 1364 (fn. 129)

William Cusom, occurs 1366 (fn. 130)

John Jordan, occurs 1522, 1529, and 1535 (fn. 131)

Roger, occurs 1538 (fn. 132)

Prioresses of Sempringham

Edusia of Pointon, Elizabeth of Arderne,

Matilda of Willoughby, occur 1366 (fn. 133)

Agnes Rudd and Margery Marbury, occur 1538 (fn. 134)

The seal attached to a deed of 1457 (fn. 135) is in shape a pointed oval, and represents the Annunciation of the Virgin, and in the base there is a carved corbel. (fn. 136)

The seal of the master is a pointed oval, and represents him three-quarters length to the right, holding a book. (fn. 137) The legend is SIG . . . . V· GILLEBERTI . MAGISTRI.


  • 1. 1131 is the date given in the Annals of Sempringham in MS. Barberini 2689 (Transcripts from Rome, 16 P.R.O.), also in the Annals of Derley, Mon. vii, p. xcvii. The later date, 1139, given by Dugdale and Tanner, was the date of Gilbert of Ghent's gift.
  • 2. The text of the life of St. Gilbert is printed in Dugdale, Mon. vii, pp. v-xxix. For an English life cf. R. Graham, St. Gilbert of Sempringham and the Gilbertines, i, 28.
  • 3. Genealogist (new ser.), xvi, 31.
  • 4. Dugdale, Mon. vii, 948, No. 1.
  • 5. The rule of Sempringham is printed in Dugdale, Mon. vii, pp. xxix-xcvii. It is briefly summarized in R. Graham, St. Gilbert of Sempringham and the Gilbertines, 48-77.
  • 6. Cal. Pap. Letters, ii, 273.
  • 7. For a fuller account of the financial management of a Gilbertine house of. The Finance of Malton Priory, Roy. Hist. Soc. Tram. (New Ser.), xviii, 133-56.
  • 8. The complex arrangements of a Gilbertine monastery can be easily understood with the aid of the plan of Watton Priory, printed and described by W. H. St. John in Arch. Journ. lviii, 1-34.
  • 9. This grant by Hen. II is only known by confirmation of Ric. I, in which the date of his father's charter is not specified.
  • 10. Genealogist (New Ser.), xvi, 226; Cott. MS. Claud. D, xi, fol. 28 v.
  • 11. Transcripts from Rome (P.R.O.), No. 16, fol. 1-3.
  • 12. Royal Hist. Soc. Trans. (New Ser.), xviii, 152.
  • 13. Valor Eccles. (Rec. Com.), iv, 34, 63, 83, 103, 123, &c.
  • 14. Dugdale, Mon. vii, 947.
  • 15. R. Graham, St. Gilbert of Sempringham and the Gilbertines, 16-19.
  • 16. Ibid. 19-23.
  • 17. Ibid. 24.
  • 18. R. Graham, St. Gilbert of Sempringham and the Gilbertines, 25-7.
  • 19. Cott. MS. Cleop. B. i, fol. 140.
  • 20. The chartulary of Sempringham perished in a fire at Staple Inn. A valuable series of Sempringham charters has been printed by Major Poynton in the Genealogist (New Ser.), xv, xvi, xvii.
  • 21. Genealogist, xvi, 226-8.
  • 22. Dugdale, Mon. vii, p. xcvii, cap. vi. The numbers fixed in the statute represented no ideal complement, but a real limit. The fixing of the numbers of nuns is ascribed to St. Gilbert in a Bull of Honorius III in 1220 (Cott. MS. Claud. D. xi, fol. 9).
  • 23. Cott. MS. Claud. D. xi, fol. 28.
  • 24. e.g. Chart R. 36 Hen. III, m. 10, a grant of free warren in eleven manors belonging to Sixhills Priory. Several of these occur as granges in. the Valor Eccles. (Rec. Com.), iv, 83, and in Mins. Accts. in 1539, Dugdale, Mon. vii, 965.
  • 25. Stowe MS. 937, fol. 146.
  • 26. Dugdale, Mon. xliv, cap. iv.
  • 27. Doc. illustrative of Engl. Hist. (Rec. Com.), 267.
  • 28. Roger of Hoveden, Chron. (Rolls Ser.), iii, 211.
  • 29. Cott. MS. Claud. D, xi, fol. 28.
  • 30. Douce MS. (Bodl. Lib.), 136, fol. 89.
  • 31. Parl. R. (Rec. Com.), i, 156-7; cf. Hund. R. (Rec. Com.), i, 317.
  • 32. Ibid. 156b.
  • 33. Cal Pat. 16 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 39 d.
  • 34. Ibid. 18 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 37.
  • 35. Ibid. 10 Hen. III, m. 6.
  • 36. Dugdale, Mon. vii, 947.
  • 37. John Edwards, The Gilbertines in Scotland, 7.
  • 38. Cott. MS. Claud. D, xi, fol. 227.
  • 39. Liber Antiq. (ed. A. W. Gibbons), 54, 55.
  • 40. Cal. Pap. Letters, i, 232.
  • 41. Ibid, i, 284; cf. Roy. Hist. Soc. Trans. (New Ser.), xviii, 155.
  • 42. John Edwards, The Gilbertines in Scotland, 17; Reg. de Passelet (ed. Cosmo Innes), i, 24.
  • 43. Cott. MS. Claud. D, xi, fol. 278 v.
  • 44. Cal. Chart. R. 37 Hen. III, m, 11.
  • 45. Ibid. 52 Hen. III. m. 4.
  • 46. Dugdale, Mon. vii, p. xiii.
  • 47. Cott. MS. Claud. D, xi, fol. 9.
  • 48. Douce MS. (Bodl. Lib.), 136, fol. 100.
  • 49. Douce MS. (Bodl. Lib.), 136, fol. 88.
  • 50. Et seq. ibid. fols. 88 to 91.
  • 51. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 70 etc.
  • 52. e.g. Cal. Pat. 18 Edw. I, m. 43; 27 Edw. I, m. 20.
  • 53. Chart. R. 21 Edw. I, m. 12, on the vigil, feast, and morrow of the Nativity of the Virgin.
  • 54. W. Cunningham, Growth of Engl. Industry and Commerce, i (ed. 1905), 635, the prices varying at Sempringham from twenty marks to nine, according to the quality. For the importance of wool as a source of revenue in the Gilbertine priory of Malton, cf. Roy. Hist. Soc. Trans. (new ser.), xviii, 150.
  • 55. Parl. Writs (Rec. Com.), ii, pt. ii, 66, No. 9.
  • 56. Cal. Close, 8 Edw. II, m. 12 d.
  • 57. Cal. Pat. 6 Edw. I, m. 24.
  • 58. Feud. Aids (P. R. O.), iii.
  • 59. Douce MS. (Bodl. Lib.), 136, fol. 96 v.
  • 60. Cott. MS. Claud. D. xi, fol. 28.
  • 61. Chart. R. (Rec. Com.), 1 John, m. 14.
  • 62. Cal Pap. Letters, i, 516.
  • 63. Ibid. i, 514.
  • 64. Valor Eccles. (Rec. Com.), iv, e.g. 34, 63, 83, 103, 123, &c.
  • 65. Dugdale, Mon. vii, 947-8.
  • 66. Handlyng Sinne (Roxburgh Club).
  • 67. Le Livere de Reis de Brittanie (Rolls Ser.), 323-55. The annals end abruptly in the unique MS. Barberini, 2689 (Vatican).
  • 68. Ibid. 327.
  • 69. Cal. Pap. Letters, i, 516, 524.
  • 70. Ibid. ii, 14.
  • 71. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Bek, fol. 6.
  • 72. Le Livere de Reis de Brittanie (Rolls Ser.), 331-7.
  • 73. John Edwards, The Gilbertines in Scotland, 18. In August, 1296, the abbot of Paisley acknowledged for himself and the convent that a sum of forty marks was owing to the master of Sempringham. He promised to pay ten marks on 30 August and thirty marks at Michaelmas. The ten marks were paid, but there are no later receipts.
  • 74. Cal. Pap. Letters, ii, 273.
  • 75. Dugdale, Mon. vii, 959; Peter of Langtoft, Chron. (ed. Hearne), ii, 243.
  • 76. Cal. Pat. 30 Edw. I, m. 34; 1 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 27.
  • 77. Le Livere de Reis de Brittanie (Rolls Ser.), 345.
  • 78. Ibid. 351.
  • 79. Cal. Pat. 11 Edw. III, pt. iii, m. 27.
  • 80. Ibid. 6 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 20 d.
  • 81. Ibid. 23 d.
  • 82. Ibid. 4 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 26 d.
  • 83. Ibid. 5 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 39 d.
  • 84. Cal. Close, 14 Edw. II, m. 18 d.
  • 85. Ibid. 18 Edw. II, m. 28 d.; 19 Edw. II, m. 26 d; 20 Edw. II, m. 13 d.; 3 Edw. III, m. 6 d.
  • 86. Cal. Pat. 11 Edw. III, pt. iii, m. 18.
  • 87. Ibid. 19 Edw. III, pt. iii, m. 6.
  • 88. Rymer, Foedera, v, 248.
  • 89. Parl. Writs (Rec. Com.), ii, pt. 3, fol. 1420.
  • 90. Transcripts from Rome (P.R.O.), 16, fol. 3.
  • 91. Cal. Pat. 23 Edw. III, pt. iii, m. 19; cf. Cal. Pat. 16 Ric. II, pt. i, m. 22.
  • 92. Cal. Pap. Letters, v, 200.
  • 93. Cf. Roy. Hist. Soc. Trans. (new ser.), xviii, 156, App.
  • 94. Cal. Pap. Pet. i, 413.
  • 95. Linc. Epis. Reg. Gynwell, fol. 48 d.
  • 96. Cal. Pat. 6 Ric. II, pt. ii, m. 29.
  • 97. Cal. Pat. 6 Ric. II, pt. ii, m. 11 d.
  • 98. Ibid. 13 Ric. II, pt. ii, m. 2 d.
  • 99. Cal. Pap. Letters, v, 15.
  • 100. Ibid. vi, 96.
  • 101. Transcripts from Rome (P.R.O.), 16, fol. 3.
  • 102. Cal. Pap. Letters, v, 403.
  • 103. Early Linc. Wills (ed. A. W. Gibbon), 127.
  • 104. Pat. 23 Hen. VI, pt. i, m. 4.
  • 105. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iii (2), 1048.
  • 106. Douce MS. (Bodl. Lib.), 136, fol. 106.
  • 107. Misc. Laud MS. (Bodl. Lib.), 642, fol. 118; Emily Day, Notes on the Life and Portrait of Robert Holgate.
  • 108. Dep. Keeper's Rep. viii, App. ii, p. 40; Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. 233, fol. 32.
  • 109. Valor Eccles. (Rec. Com.), iv, 102. Shortly after the dissolution of the Gilbertine houses in Lincs. a report was sent up to Cromwell of their value. The gross yearly value was estimated as £1,407, but out of this sum pensions to the amount of £574 6s. 8d. were granted to the priors and canons, prioresses and nuns. The sum realized by the sale of household stuff, stock and store, with the plate, was £266 3s. 2d., but wages, rewards, costs, and all manner of charges reached the high figure of £756 9s. 8d. The value of the bells and lead was estimated at £3,972 13s. 4d., so the capital sum realized was £4,729 3s. The pensions were considered a heavy charge on the annual revenue, but as there were a good number of benefices it was suggested that as they all fell vacant they should be given to the canons in lieu of their pensions. Tanner MS. (Bodl. Lib.), 105, 63b.
  • 110. Dugdale, Mon. vii, 948.
  • 111. The list of masters to 1407 is taken from Transcripts from Rome (P.R.O.), 16, fols. 1-3.
  • 112. Cal. Pap. Letters vii, 418.
  • 113. Assoc. Archit. Soc. Rep. xxvii, 304.
  • 114. Pat. 23 Hen. VI, pt. i, m. 4.
  • 115. Douce MS. (Bodl. Lib.), 136, fol. 106.
  • 116. Dugdale, Mon. vii, 947.
  • 117. Douce MS. (Bodl. Lib.), 136, fol. 110.
  • 118. Valor Eccles. (Rec. Com.), iv, 34.
  • 119. Dugdale, Mon. vii, 947; Misc. Laud MS. (Bodl. Lib.), 642, fol. 118.
  • 120. Owing to their exemption from episcopal control the election of the Gilbertine priors is not recorded in the Lincoln registers, hence the incomplete lists.
  • 121. Stowe MS. 937, fol. 146 v.
  • 122. Add. MS. 6118, fol. 405 v.
  • 123. Orig. Chart. (Bodl. Lib.), No. 247.
  • 124. Elected master. Transcripts from Rome (P.R.O.), 16, fol. 2.
  • 125. Le Livere de Reis de Brittanie (Rolls Ser.), 327.
  • 126. Ibid. 329.
  • 127. Cal Close, 19 Edw. III, m. 26d
  • 128. Elected master. Transcripts from Rome (P.R.O.), 16, fol. 3.
  • 129. Ibid. 16, fol. 3.
  • 130. Linc. Epis. Reg. Gynwell, fol. 48 d.
  • 131. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv, iii, No. 6047; Linc. N. and Q. v, 36; Valor Eccles. (Rec. Com.), iv, 102.
  • 132. Dep. Keeper's Rep. viii, App. ii, 40.
  • 133. Linc. Epis. Reg. Gynwell, fol. 48 d.
  • 134. Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. 233, fol. 32.
  • 135. Harl. Chart, 111, C. 37.
  • 136. The seal attached to the Deed of Surrender (Aug. Off.), 210, is bad.
  • 137. Harl. Chart. 44, A.