Pages 78-80

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

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THERE are clear records of the existence of monasteries in Lincolnshire, many of them famous in their day, from the first years of the conversion of the North of England to Christianity. The greater number of these earlier foundations, known or unknown, perished in the period of Danish invasion. Bardney and Crowland rose again from their ruins, (fn. 1) but Ikanho, Barrow, and Partney were never rebuilt.

Besides these ancient monasteries Dugdale names four others as having a traditional existence. (fn. 2) Leland says 'where the Deane of Lyncolne's howse is in the Minstar Close of Lyncolne and thereabout was a Monasterye of Nunes afore the time that Remigius began the new Mynstar of Lyncolne: and of this Howse yet remayne certayne tokens of it.' (fn. 3)

A monastery at Kyrketon is said to be mentioned in Pipe Roll, 5 John, m. 9a, but no such membrane now exists.

Rooksby is said to have been mentioned in Cott. MS. Tib. E 5, which was burnt in the Cotton fire; it is certainly not mentioned in Pat. 19 Ric. II, pt. 1, m. 20, which is the other reference given.

St. Bartholomew's Priory, if not the same as the hospital of St. Bartholomew without Lincoln, cannot at present be traced.

Whatever may be said of these particular cases, it may very well be that several other monasteries did exist in Lincolnshire, as elsewhere, before the Danish invasion, though their names and number have not been preserved. (fn. 4)

With the revival of monasticism at the Conquest, however, the county was again filled with religious houses, every one of the great orders except the Cluniacs being represented here. There were ten monasteries for Benedictine monks, three of them—Bardney, Crowland, and Spalding—being of considerable size and importance, with one small priory at Stainfield for Benedictine nuns.

William of Newburgh states that during the reign of Stephen more religious houses were built than in all the previous hundred years. (fn. 5) The twelfth century witnessed the capture of this county by the Cistercian order; (fn. 6) the rule of Bishop Alexander saw the rise of five Cistercian abbeys: Kirkstead and Louth Park in 1139; Revesby founded in 1142 by William de Romara, earl of Lincoln; Vallis Dei, or Vaudey, in 1147; and Swineshead in 1148; while Cistercian nuns found a home at Stixwould, in the early years of the same century. Houses of Austin Canons were founded at Grimsby or Wellow in the reign of Henry I; at Thornton in 1139; and at Nocton and Thornholm during the reign of Stephen. This order had in all in Lincolnshire eight houses for men and a priory of nuns at Grimsby. The Arrouasian reform of the order was represented at Bourne.

The first English house of Premonstratensian Canons was founded at Newhouse about 1143, Barlings Abbey following in 1154; ultimately they had in this county five abbeys for men and a priory of nuns at Orford.

The Gilbertine order, the only order of English origin, was founded at Sempringham by St. Gilbert of Sempringham in 1139, under the favour and patronage of Bishop Alexander. Of the twenty-six houses of this order existent in England, eleven were situated in Lincolnshire, and eight of these were founded in the reign of Stephen. Sempringham, the original house, was followed by Haverholme and Bullington, Alvingham, Sixhills, Cattley, and Nun Ormsby. St. Catherine's Priory without Lincoln was an early foundation of Bishop Robert de Chesney; Tunstall was founded before 1164, and Newstead and Holland Brigg followed later.

The Carthusians had a priory in the isle of Axholme. Templars and Hospitallers both had preceptories, and all the orders of friars were found in the county. The number of hospitals existing in the thirteenth century was probably very large, though the names of only twenty-two can as yet be recovered. Three collegiate churches were founded in the fourteenth or fifteenth century.

It has been said that the solitary life was specially congenial to the inhabitants of the North of England. We are not surprised therefore to find frequent mention, in the episcopal registers and elsewhere, of hermits and recluses in Lincolnshire. St. Guthlac and St. Pega had numerous followers of humbler rank as long as the religious life was honoured in England. We hear of hermits at Thimbleby Moor, (fn. 7) Asfordby, (fn. 8) Saltfleethaven, (fn. 9) Freiston, (fn. 10) and Burreth (fn. 11) during the thirteenth century; of John, the son of Geoffrey of Knaresborough, who was a recluse by the church of Carlton in Moorland in 1346; (fn. 12) of Emma of Stapleford, a recluse by the chapel of St. Peter at Grantham in 1339; (fn. 13) of Parnel de Wotton, a recluse by Thornton Abbey Church in 1367, (fn. 14) of Beatrice Frank, a nun of Stainfield, who became an anchoress in a cell by Winterton church in 1435, (fn. 15) and of Emmota Tonge, similarly enclosed by the church of St. Paul, Stamford, (fn. 16) in the same year. These are but a few instances out of many that a more diligent search might discover.

There are two points of special interest in connexion with the religious houses of Lincolnshire. One is the relation of the religious themselves to the rising of 1536, which will be seen from the following pages. The other is the evidence of the episcopal registers as to the internal condition of the monasteries. The episcopal visitations are specially full and clear for this county, and a careful study of them leads to two general conclusions. First, it is evident that the religious life in the diocese had reached its low-water mark in the early part of the fifteenth century: but it is equally clear that the last eighty years or so before the suppression saw a steady improvement, and a gradual restoration of order and discipline. With only a few exceptions, (fn. 17) the reports of Bishop Atwater in 1519 are very much more satisfactory than those of Bishop Alnwick from 1437 to 1444. The lately published records of the White Canons, kept by a visitor of their own order, point to the same conclusion.


  • 1. The name of St. Leonard's, Stamford, might have been added; but the records of its existence before the Conquest are too uncertain to be relied upon.
  • 2. Dugdale, Mon. vi, 1621.
  • 3. Leland, Itin. viii, 4.
  • 4. St. Higbald was abbot of a monastery in Lindsey, according to Bede; and the same author speaks of a nunnery not far from Bardney, over which the abbess Ethelhild ruled in his own day. Bede, Eccles. Hist, iii, c. 11, p. 148.
  • 5. Chron. of the reign of Stephen, &c. (Rolls Ser.), i, 53. Mr. Howlett in his preface to the above work (iii, xiii, xiv), adds that estimating the rough total of the houses founded in England at 968, 247 were built before the reign of Stephen, 115 during the nineteen years of his reign, 113 during the 55 years of Henry's reign, and 223 in later times. While reducing the analysis and counties he shows that during the period now under review Lincoln just escapes heading the list with nineteen religious foundations.
  • 6. This is explained by the fact that as the rich and fertile plains of England were already occupied, there remained only for the Cistercians, at least in the infancy of their order, the rocky highlands of Yorkshire . . . or the glean ing of grapes in the dismal flats and unclaimed swamps of Lincolnshire. Brewer; Pref. to Girald. Cambren. Op. (Rolls Ser.), iv, xxii.
  • 7. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Burghersh, 232 d.
  • 8. Ibid. Memo. Bokyngham, 30 d.
  • 9. Ibid. 37.
  • 10. Ibid. 372.
  • 11. Ibid. 423.
  • 12. Ibid. Memo. Beck, 91.
  • 13. Ibid. Memo. Burghersh, 379.
  • 14. Ibid. Memo. Bokyngham, 53 d.
  • 15. Ibid. Memo. Repingdon, 186 d.
  • 16. Ibid. 187 d.
  • 17. These are of the more value because they show that the difference does not arise from the fact of Bishop Atwater being of an easier disposition than his predecessor.