Houses of the Gilbertine order: The priory of St Catherine outside Lincoln

Pages 188-191

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

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The Gilbertine priory of St. Catherine, outside Lincoln, was founded by Robert de Chesney, bishop of Lincoln, probably soon after the confirmation of the order of Sempringham by Eugenius III in 1148. (fn. 1) The bishop endowed it with the prebend of Canwick, the mother church of Newark, and the chapel in Newark Castle, houses and lands and a tenth of the toll of the borough except during fairs, and the churches of Norton Disney, Marton, Newton on Trent, and Bracebridge. (fn. 2) There was therefore some justice in the charge of Giraldus Cambrensis that he favoured the regulars at the expense of his see. (fn. 3) He also handed over to the canons the custody of the hospital of St. Sepulchre at Lincoln and its property. (fn. 4)

This hospital was an older endowment founded by Robert Bloet, bishop of Lincoln (1094-1123). Baldwin Wake (circa 1205-13) granted certain parcels of land to the brethren and poor of the hospital. The hundred rolls show that the lay brethren held separate estates. (fn. 5)

The priory was founded as a house for canons, but it seems probable that lay sisters were soon introduced to undertake the care of the sick. St. Gilbert limited the number of women in the house to twenty, while there might be sixteen men. (fn. 6) It is unlikely that there were nuns at this house to bear rule over the lay sisters, although in 1314 Edward II requested the prior and convent to grant to Eleanor Darcy the allowance of a canoness of that house for life, having sent her to them at the instance of Henry de Beaumont. (fn. 7) The lay sisters appear to have been continuous. In 1319 Edward II sent Christiana de Hauville, whose husband and three sons Were slain by the Scotch rebels, to have her maintenance among the sisters of that house until she was able to live of her own again, her lands and goods having been laid waste and utterly destroyed. (fn. 8) The lay sisters were remembered in a will of 1392, (fn. 9) and five of them served the hospital at the dissolution. (fn. 10)

Compared with other houses of the order, the endowment and later benefactions were considerable. In 1254 the spiritualities were assessed at £91 13s. 4d., the temporalities at £180 12s. 4d. (fn. 11) At the, beginning of the fourteenth century the profits of the wool trade were very large, for the sales then averaged 35 sacks a year. (fn. 12) However, the claims of the poor and sick were obviously unlimited, and in the fourteenth century it was the custom of the canons to send out collectors. In 1309 Bishop Dalderby notified to the archdeacons of the diocese that divers persons were fraudulently seeking alms, whereas the prior had only sent out three collectors. (fn. 13) A few years later he granted an indulgence to all who should contribute to the fabric of the hospital or the maintenance of the sick. (fn. 14) In 1328 Edward III issued a mandate for five years to sheriffs, bailiffs, and others to arrest unauthorized persons who were converting the contributions to their own use. (fn. 15)

There is evidence of considerable activity at the end of the thirteenth century. In 1285 the prior and convent got a licence to build a windmill on the east of the priory gate. (fn. 16) A few years afterwards the first of the Eleanor crosses was erected on Swines Green, opposite the gates, as the body of the queen rested at the priory in November, 1290, on the first night of the journey from Harby to London. (fn. 17) In 1291 the prior and convent obtained a papal indulgence for visitors on the feasts of St. Catherine, St. Gilbert, and St. James. (fn. 18) In 1294 they were allowed to enclose a plot of land for the enlargement of the priory, (fn. 19) and twelve years later to build an aqueduct for a water supply. (fn. 20) In 1306 they paid as much as 60 marks for a royal licence to appropriate in mortmain Stapleford church by Norton Disney. (fn. 21) In 1308 they appropriated the church of Newark. (fn. 22) In 1316 they obtained a further licence to appropriate lands in mortmain to the value of £40 a year, (fn. 23) but too late to prevent them from being fined five marks for receiving twenty-one small benefactions without licence. (fn. 24)

The result of somewhat reckless speculation in lands and wool was apparent early in the reign of Edward III. In 1330 the house owed to one merchant of Genoa £408 6s. 1d., (fn. 25) and two years later no less than £956 to several Italian merchants. (fn. 26) However the obligations were met, and the bonds subsequently cancelled. (fn. 27)

The house suffered from serious assaults resulting in considerable damage and loss to property. In 1316 the prior complained that nineteen persons entered his close at Scopwick, assaulted his men and servants, drove away his cattle, impounded 500 sheep and detained them so long that most of them died of hunger. (fn. 28) In 1333 the abbot of Kirkstead, two of his monks and others, took away four ships worth £40 from the prior's ferry at Timberland, and ten nets from his fishery. (fn. 29) However not a month later a commission of oyer and terminer was appointed on the complaint of the abbot of Kirkstead, who charged the prior of St. Catherine's with poaching on his fisheries and trampling down his corn at Canwick. (fn. 30)

In 1303 the prior held a knight's fee in Houghton and Walton, half a fee in Toft, half in Pointon, one-third in Syston, a quarter in Friskney, a quarter in Harmston, a quarter in Fulletby and Oxcombe, a quarter in Bracebridge, a quarter and one-eighth in Stapleford, one-fifth of half a fee in Navenby, one-tenth in Hagworthingham, one-twelfth in Boothby, onetwentieth in Toft Newton, one-twentieth in East Hykeham, one-twentieth and one-twelfth and one-thirty-second in Haddington, one-fortieth in Timberland, one-fortieth and one twohundredth in Boultham. In 1346 he also held half a fee in Welby, a half in Pointon, a quarter in Foston and Bennington, and one-twentieth in Claxby. (fn. 31)

The Black Death affected the fortunes of the house very severely. Even in 1348 the prior urged that the possessions of the house were not sufficient for its burdens, (fn. 32) and in 1391 the house was poor and in debt, labour was scarce, wages high and taxation heavy, while hospitality and the care of the sick were serious charges. (fn. 33) Bishop Bokyngham accordingly allowed the prior and convent to appropriate the church of Mere. (fn. 34) They were favoured just at that time by Lincoln citizens and county knights, and acquired several benefactions on the condition of services and masses. (fn. 35) In 1393 they added another five marks to their revenues by appropriating the church of Harmston. (fn. 36)

In 1390 the prior was released from the obligation of collecting the tenths of the clergy in the diocese, (fn. 37) an office very frequently held by his predecessors. (fn. 38)

Attempts to economize at the expense of the secular clergy and their parishioners brought the convent into conflict with the bishops in the fifteenth century. (fn. 39) In 1463 the prior had neglected to provide a chaplain at Saxby. (fn. 40) Four years later he was compelled to increase the stipend of the vicar of Alford by six marks a year. (fn. 41) Papal intervention enabled him to set aside ordinations of vicarages and to send canons whom he could recall at will to serve the churches of Newark and Mere. (fn. 42)

Just before the dissolution the house was unfortunate in its priors. Robert Holgate, who afterwards became the last and most unworthy master of the order, robbed it of a chalice and a pair of censers of some value, and was cited by his successor, William Griffiths, to answer the charge before the king's commissioners. (fn. 43) Griffiths was a turbulent person. He was said to have been deprived for promoting the rebellion in Lincolnshire in 1536, and for dissipating the goods of his house. (fn. 44) He entered the priory by force, expelled the new prior, and maintained his position until the surrender, when in spite of his conduct he secured a pension of £40. (fn. 45)

The priory was surrendered on 14 July, 1538, (fn. 46) two months before the other Gilbertine houses in the county. The thirteen canons were pensioned, (fn. 47) but the lay sisters got nothing.

In 1535 the clear yearly value of the property was £202 5s. 0½d. (fn. 48) It included the granges or manors of Harmston, Wellingore, North Hykeham, Stapleford, Long Bennington, Belchford, Cherry Willingham, and Saxby; in Nottinghamshire, Coddington, and in Yorkshire Brampton, lands and rents in many other places in Lincolnshire, and the rectories of Stapleford, Alford with Rigsby Chapel, Marton, Bracebridge, Canwick, Hackthorn, Mere, Friskney, Harmston, North Hykeham and Saxby. Granges and rectories alike were let, and the canons lived on their rents. The cost of the maintenance and education of some orphans in the hospital, of five lay sisters to look after them and the sick amounted to only £21 13s. 4d. a year.

Four years later in the hands of the crown bailiff the property brought in £209 5s. 9d. (fn. 49)

Priors of St. Catherine without Lincoln

Adam, (fn. 50) occurs 1164

Gilbert, (fn. 51) occurs 1202

William, (fn. 52) occurs 1218

Vivian, (fn. 53) occurs 1225

Hugh, (fn. 54) occurs 1232

Roger, (fn. 55) occurs 1236

Ralph, (fn. 56) 1245

Henry, (fn. 57) 1269

Gilbert, (fn. 58) occurs 1323

William, (fn. 59) occurs 1333

Richard de Stretton, (fn. 60) ob. 1334

Walter de Shireburn, (fn. 61) 1334

Robert de Navenby, (fn. 62) occurs 1340

William, (fn. 63) occurs 1344

Roger de Houton, (fn. 64) occurs 1348

Hamo, (fn. 65) occurs 1390

Walter Iklyngham, (fn. 66) occurs 1428 and 1435

Richard Misyn, (fn. 67) 1435

John Busseby, (fn. 68) occurs 1447

Robert, (fn. 69) occurs 1511

John Jonson, (fn. 70) occurs 1522

Robert Holgate, (fn. 71) occurs 1529

William Griffiths, (fn. 72) occurs 1538

Several seals of the thirteenth century are attached to deeds in the British Museum. (fn. 73) In shape they are pointed ovals. One represents St. Catherine seated on a throne with a nimbus, in her right hand a sceptre, in her left hand a book. (fn. 74) Overhead is a small round-headed arched canopy. The legend is SIGILL' ECCLESIE BEATE KATERINE VIRGINIS LINCOLIE. Another represents St. Catherine standing on a platform with crown and nimbus, in her right hand a sword, in her left hand a book, and at the right side a wheel. (fn. 75) The legend is . . . OR ET CONVENTOS . . . S. STE KATRINE LI . . . A seal ad causas represents St. Catherine crowned standing slightly turned to the right on a corbel, in her right hand a book, in her left a wheel, is in the style of the fourteenth century and of the date 1522. (fn. 76)


  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. vii, 969. In virtue of the foundation it became customary for the bishops of Lincoln to spend the night before their installation in the cathedral at this priory. Linc. Cath. Stat. (ed. H. Bradshaw and C. Wordsworth), pt. ii, 273, 553.
  • 2. Ibid. Norton was transferred to Sempringham, temp. Bishop Hugh of Grenoble (Assac. Archit. Soc. Rep. xxvii, 273).
  • 3. Angl. Sacr. (ed. Wharton), ii, 417.
  • 4. Archit. Soc. Rep. xxvii, 323; Dugdale, Mon. vii, 969.
  • 5. Archit. Soc. Rep. xxvii, 266.
  • 6. Dugdale, Mon. p. xcvii, cap. vi.
  • 7. Cal. Close, 7 Edw. II, m. 6d. Henry de Beaumont in 1307 received the manor of Folkingham near Sempringham. (Cal. Close, 1 Edw. II, m. 19.) He was a benefactor to Sempringham Priory (Cal. Pat. 4 Edw. II, pt. ii, m. 27), and therefore in a position to know the constitution of St. Catherine's outside Lincoln.
  • 8. Ibid. 12 Edw. II, m. 20 d.
  • 9. Early Linc. Wills (ed. A. W. Gibbon), 86.
  • 10. Valor Eccles. (Rec. Com.), iv, 34.
  • 11. Cott. MS. Claud. D. xi, fol. 278 v.
  • 12. W. Cunningham, Growth of Engl. Industry and Commerce (ed. 1905), i, 635, the price varying from 22½ marks the sack to 10, according to the quality.
  • 13. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Dalderby, fol. 129.
  • 14. Ibid. fol. 385.
  • 15. Cal. Pat. 2 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 2.
  • 16. Ibid. 13 Edw. I, m. 23.
  • 17. Arch. Journ. xxxiii, 187.
  • 18. Cal. Pap. Letters, i, 523.
  • 19. Cal. Pat. 22 Edw. I, m. 28.
  • 20. Ibid. 35 Edw. I, m. 46.
  • 21. Ibid. 6 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 14.
  • 22. Harl. MS. 6970, fol. 235.
  • 23. Cal. Pat. 9 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 8.
  • 24. Ibid. 10 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 31.
  • 25. Cal. Close, 4 Edw. III, m. 41 d. and 22 d.
  • 26. Ibid. 6 Edw. III, m. 25 d. and 11 d.
  • 27. Ibid.
  • 28. Cal. Pat. 10 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 3 d.
  • 29. Ibid. 17 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 19 d.
  • 30. Cal. Pat. 17 Edw. II, pt. ii, m. 18 d. Final Concords, 293. The church of Saxby was given by William Foliot and confirmed by his nephew Jordan in 1236.
  • 31. Feud. Aids, iii, passim.
  • 32. Cal. Pat. 22 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 16.
  • 33. Linc. Epis. Reg. Bokyngham, fol. 391.
  • 34. Ibid.
  • 35. Cal. Pat. 13 Ric. II, pt. i, m. 4; 13 Ric. II, pt. ii, m. 12; 15 Ric. II, pt. i, m. 13; 16 Ric. II, pt. i, m. 34; pt. ii, m. 2.
  • 36. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Bokyngham, fol. 397 d.
  • 37. Cal. Pat. 14 Ric. II, pt. ii, m. 30.
  • 38. e.g. Ibid. 22 Edw. I, m. 8; 24 Edw. I, m. 22; 1 Edw. II, pt. ii, m. 13, &c.
  • 39. Linc. Epis. Reg. Chedworth, fol. 81 d.
  • 40. Ibid.
  • 41. Ibid. fol. 85 d.
  • 42. Ibid. Memo. Smith (1496-1509), fol. 6d. An entry of a bull of Boniface IX, dated 1394.
  • 43. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (1), No. 1103.
  • 44. Ibid. No. 397.
  • 45. Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. 233, fol. 78b.
  • 46. Dep. Keeper's Rep. viii, App. ii, 27.
  • 47. Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. 233, fol. 78 b.
  • 48. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv, 30.
  • 49. Dugdale, Mon. vii, 969.
  • 50. Stowe MS. 937, fol. 146b.
  • 51. Assoc. Archit. Soc. Rep. xxvii, 271.
  • 52. Final Concords, 133.
  • 53. Ibid. 180.
  • 54. Ibid. 248.
  • 55. Ibid. 293.
  • 56. Linc. N. and Q. vii, 41.
  • 57. Assoc. Archit. Soc. Rep. xxvii, 273.
  • 58. Cal. Pat. 17 Edw. II, pt. ii, m. 18 d.
  • 59. Cal. Close, 7 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 14d.
  • 60. Assoc. Archit. Soc. Rep. xxvii.
  • 61. Ibid.
  • 62. Transcripts from Rome, 16 (P.R.O.), fol. 2. Robert became master of Sempringham in 1340.
  • 63. Assoc. Archit. Soc. Rep. xxvii, 297.
  • 64. Cal Pat. 22 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 16.
  • 65. Ibid. 14 Ric. II, pt. ii, m. 30.
  • 66. Assoc. Archit. Soc. Rep. xxvii, 304.
  • 67. Warton, Hist. Engl. Poetry, i, 265.
  • 68. Assoc. Archit. Soc. Rep. xxvii, 305.
  • 69. Ibid. 307.
  • 70. Linc. N. and Q. v, 36.
  • 71. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv (3), No. 6047.
  • 72. Dep. Keeper's Rep. viii, App. ii, p. 27.
  • 73. Ibid. Harl. Chart. 57 F, 51; Eg. Chart. 480.
  • 74. Cf. the similar seal attached to the Deed of Surrender (Aug. Off.), No. 97.
  • 75. Birch, Cat. of Seals, i, 628.
  • 76. Ibid.