A History of the County of London: Volume 1, London Within the Bars, Westminster and Southwark. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1909.
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19. THE MINORESSES WITHOUT ALDGATE
The house of the Grace of the Blessed Mary was founded outside Aldgate in the parish of St. Botolph in 1293 (fn. 1) by the brother of Edward I, Edmund earl of Lancaster, for inclosed nuns of the order of St. Clare. (fn. 2) The first members of the convent were brought to England by the earl's wife Blanche, queen of Navarre, in all probability from France, since the rule prescribed for their observance by Pope Boniface VIII was that followed in the nunnery of the Humility of the Blessed Mary at Saint Cloud. (fn. 3) The original endowment consisted of lands and tenements in the suburbs of London and £30 rent in St. Lawrence Lane, Cordwainer Street, and Dowgate; (fn. 4) but in 1295 the earl made a further grant of land in the field of Hartington, co. Derby, and the advowson of the church there, (fn. 5) and in the Taxatio of Pope Nicholas, Hartington and 'Northburgh' churches both are said to be appropriated to the nuns. (fn. 6) Some more property in London was soon acquired from Henry le Galeys, who endowed a chantry in the chapel of St. Mary built by him in the conventual church where he was buried. (fn. 7)
From the earliest foundation the house enjoyed important privileges. The king exempted them in 1294 from summonses before the justices in eyre for common pleas and pleas of the forest. (fn. 8) The pope, Boniface VIII, ordered that nothing should be exacted from them for the consecration of church and altars, or for sacred oil or sacraments, but that the bishop of the diocese should perform these offices free of charge; that in a general interdict they might celebrate service with closed doors; that sentences of excommunication and interdict promulgated against them by bishops or rectors should be of no effect, (fn. 9) and he declared them free from all jurisdiction of the archbishop of Canterbury and of the bishop of London, (fn. 10) and acquitted them of payment of tenths (fn. 11) to the pope.
The house indeed seems to have been at first richer in privileges than in revenue: in 1316 the nuns were exempted by the king from tallage on their land in London on account of their poverty; (fn. 12) in 1334 they petitioned the king that according to the papal bulls to them they might be quit of all papal impositions on the clergy or grants to the king, saying that otherwise they could not live; (fn. 13) and in 1338 (fn. 14) and 1345 (fn. 15) they were pardoned from contributing both to tenths and fifteenths out of pity for their straitened condition. At length in 1347 (fn. 16) the king granted that they should henceforth be quit of all tallages, explaining in 1353 (fn. 17) that the grant exempted them from payment of both lay and clerical subsidies.
It is possible that in these exemptions may be seen a sign not only of the nuns' poverty, but also of powerful influence exerted on their behalf, since the house always had a particular attraction for persons of rank. (fn. 18) Queen Isabella gave the nuns in 1346 the advowsons of the churches of Kessingland and Framsden, co. Suffolk, and Walton-on-Trent, co. Derby, with licence to appropriate them, so that they would pray for the soul of King Edward II, (fn. 19) and showed herself their friend in other ways. (fn. 20) She was not the only patron of the Grey Friars to extend her benefactions to the sisters of the order: Elizabeth de Burgh Lady Clare bequeathed in 1355 £20, ornaments, and furniture to the house, £20 to the abbess Katherine de Ingham, and 13s. 4d. to each of the sisters, (fn. 21) and Margaret countess of Norfolk granted to the convent in 1382 a rent of 20 marks from the Brokenwharf, London, for the term of the life of William de Wydford, a friar. (fn. 22) William Ferrers, lord of Groby, left to his daughter Elizabeth, a nun at the Minories, £20, and to the abbess and nuns 10 marks; (fn. 23) John of Gaunt in 1397 bequeathed £100 to be paid among the sisters; (fn. 24) and Joan Lady Clinton left to them by will in 1457 £45 to keep her anniversary. (fn. 25)
Margaret de Badlesmere, who was living in the nunnery in 1323, (fn. 26) was not the only widow of her position to find a retreat from the world there; for Margaret Beauchamp, after the death of her husband, the earl of Warwick, had an indult from the pope in 1398 to reside there with three matrons as long as she pleased, (fn. 27) and two of the abbesses had taken the veil after widowhood, Katherine wife of John de Ingham, (fn. 28) and Eleanor Lady Scrope, daughter of Ralph de Neville. (fn. 29) Henry earl of Lancaster in 1349, (fn. 30) and Matilda Lady de Lisle in 1353, (fn. 31) received leave from the pope to visit the convent with a limited number of attendants. The relations between the nunnery and the family of Thomas de Woodstock, duke of Gloucester, appear to have been of the closest kind. It was the duke who obtained for the nuns in 1394 the advowson of Potton church from the prior and convent of St. Andrew, Northampton, and arranged for its appropriation without expense to the abbey. (fn. 32) His house adjoined the conventual church, and the abbess and sisters allowed him to make a door between the two buildings so that he could enter the church as he pleased, a privilege they were not prepared to extend to the lady who took the house after the duke's death. (fn. 33) The duchess died in the nunnery, (fn. 34) and one of the daughters, Isabel, who had been placed in the nunnery at a very youthful age, (fn. 35) though she had permission from the pope to leave if she would, chose to remain, (fn. 36) and in the end became abbess. (fn. 37) All the nuns could not have been as contented with their lot, for in 1385 the king had ordered his serjeant-at-arms to arrest an apostate minoress, Mary de Felton, and deliver her to the abbess for punishment. (fn. 38)
This connexion with the Gloucester family would in itself be sufficient to account for the favour shown to the minoresses by Henry IV, who almost immediately after his accession gave them the custody of the alien priory or manor of Appuldurcomb during the war with France, with permission to acquire it in mortmain from the abbey of Montebourg in Normandy, (fn. 39) and in 1401, in a confirmation of privileges granted to them by his predecessors, added another, that no justice, mayor, or other officer should have any jurisdiction within the precinct of the house except in the case of treason or felonies touching the crown. (fn. 40) The nuns did not succeed in purchasing Appuldurcomb, (fn. 41) and they had the custody (fn. 42) only until in 1461 Edward IV granted them the manor in mortmain. (fn. 43) He did so 'on account of their poverty,' though during the preceding century they must have acquired a good deal of property by bequests (fn. 44) and in other ways. (fn. 45) Either therefore the house must have had special difficulties at that time, or, as is more probable, its income was always rather small for the number it supported. In 1515 twentyseven of the nuns died of some infectious complaint, (fn. 46) so that there could hardly have been less than thirty or thirty-five before the outbreak. The sum expended there on food (fn. 47) in 1532 was very little less than had been spent on the food of convent and guests at Holy Trinity Priory.
It must have been shortly after the outbreak of plague that the convent buildings were destroyed by fire. The mayor, aldermen, and citizens of London contributed 200 marks besides the benefactions of private persons, but at the special request of Cardinal Wolsey to the Court of Common Council, it was decided in 1520 to give 100 marks more to complete the building. (fn. 48)
The king also gave £200 at this time. (fn. 49)
The abbey was surrendered in March, 1539, (fn. 50) and the terms granted to the nuns were not disadvantageous when compared with those given to others. To the abbess, Elizabeth Salvage, was assigned a life pension of £40 a year, four nuns received life pensions of £3 3s. 8d. each, ten £2 13s. 4d., nine £2, and a novice £1 6s. 8d.; (fn. 51) no provision appears to have been made for the six lay sisters. (fn. 52)
Stow estimated the house to be worth £418 8s. 5d. per annum, (fn. 53) but according to the Valor its income amounted to £342 5s. 10½d. gross, and £318 8s. 5d. net. (fn. 54) Its possessions included rents and ferms in London (fn. 55) parishes: St. Mary-le-Bow, (fn. 56) Allhallows Thames Street, (fn. 57) St. Michael Crooked Lane, (fn. 58) St. Botolph without Aldgate, (fn. 59) St. Magnus, (fn. 60) St. Martin Vintry, (fn. 61) St. Nicholas Shambles, (fn. 62) St. Andrew Undershaft; (fn. 63) messuages and shops in Whitechapel, (fn. 64) co. Middlesex; the manor of Appuldurcomb in the Isle of Wight; the manor of Woodley, co. Berks.; (fn. 65) lands called 'Brekenox' in Cheshunt, co. Herts.; (fn. 66) messuages in Ringwould, co. Kent, and Marchington, co. Stafford; the rectories and tithes of Hartington, (fn. 67) co. Derby, Potton, co. Beds., (fn. 68) Kessingland and Framsden, co. Suffolk; tithes in Wrestlingworth, co. Beds., and 'Quenton,' co. Bucks., (fn. 69) and a pension from the church of Leake, co. Notts., (fn. 70) one of the earliest grants to the abbey, (fn. 71) as it is mentioned in the Taxatio.
Abbesses of the Minories
Margaret, occurs 1294 (fn. 72)
Juliana, occurs 1301 (fn. 73)
Alice de Sherstede, occurs 1313 (fn. 74)
Katharine de Ingham, occurs 1355 (fn. 75)
Isabella de Lisle, occurs 1397 (fn. 76)
Eleanor Scrope, (fn. 77) died 1398 (fn. 78)
Margaret Helmystede, occurs 1400 (fn. 79)
Isabella of Gloucester, occurs 1421–2 (fn. 80)
Margaret, occurs 1441 (fn. 81)
Joan Barton, occurs 1479 (fn. 82) and 1480 (fn. 83)
Alice Fitz Lewes, occurs 1501 (fn. 84)
Dorothy Cumberford, occurs 1524, (fn. 85) 1526, (fn. 86) and 1529 (fn. 87)
Elizabeth Salvage, surrendered the house 1539 (fn. 88)
A seal used by Dorothy Cumberford, the abbess, in 1526, (fn. 89) is a pointed oval. It represents the Coronation of the Virgin, and in the base on the left the abbess kneeling in prayer under a carved arch. Another seal of the same abbess (fn. 90) represents a female saint, full length, holding in her right hand a pair of pincers and in her left a book. Legend:—
SIGILLVM ORD' MINORIS