Houses of Benedictine monks: The priory of Binham

Pages 343-346

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

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


In this section


Before the end of the eleventh century Peter de Valoines and Albreda his wife began the foundation of a priory or cell of Benedictine monks at Binham which was to be subordinate to the great abbey of St. Albans. Matthew Paris mentions the existence of this cell as an accomplished fact in the year 1093; (fn. 1) but the foundation charter, with which the extant chartulary opens, is of the reign of Henry I, and probably of the year 1104. (fn. 2)

The manner in which the priory of Binham, dedicated to the Honour of the Blessed Virgin, was to be subject to the abbey of St. Albans, whilst retaining a certain degree of independence, was exactly stipulated at the time of its founding. It was to pay yearly, on St. Alban's Day, a silver mark to the parent house; the abbot was allowed to stay at the priory once a year for eight days, but no longer save at the request of the prior; the visitor on such occasions was not to have more than thirteen horses in his train. There were to be not fewer than eight monks from St. Albans maintained at Binham, and the heirs or successors of the founders were to be the patrons of the cell. The original endowments of the priory, which had a completely independent monetary existence save for the small pension, comprised the manor of Binham, two-thirds of the tithes of Dersingham and Ingoldisthorpe, and the tithes of the manors of Ryburgh, Snaring Tofts, Testerton, Little Ryburgh, Wood Dalling, Saxlingham, Walsingham, Barney, Babingley, Appleton, and Pattesley. These gifts were confirmed by the son, grandson, and great grandson, of the founder, as well as by papal, episcopal, and regal charters.

Henry I granted the monks a Wednesday market at Binham, together with a fair of four days beginning on the Vigil of the Annunciation, and free warren on all their lands.

In May, 1251, the priory obtained papal confirmation of the gift of the church of Westley, in the diocese of Ely, to their own uses, notwithstanding the collation thereof by previous papal mandate to Henrigeitus, clerk of Genoa. (fn. 3)

The taxation of 1291 shows that Binham Priory held property, mainly spiritualities, in twenty-one Norfolk parishes, which was declared of the annual value of £103 7s. 5¼d., which value was maintained with little increase down to the date of the dissolution of the priory. In 1527, when John Albon was prior, a full return was made to Cardinal Wolsey of the condition of the priory from midsummer 1526 to midsummer, 1527. The arrears from the last account were £31 4s. 2d.; the receipts in money £119 12s. 4d.; pensions and portions of tithes £13 6s. 8d.; sales of wool, &c., £8 9s. 2d.; court fees and church offerings, £6 8s. 10d. Among the outgoings were £4, as stipend for the prior, and 40s. each for four monks; these payments were probably intended in the main for clothing, of which there is no entry. (fn. 4) The clear annual value of Binham Priory, according to the Valor of 1535, was £140 5s. 4d.

Thomas was prior in 1199 and 1200. (fn. 5) The removal of this prior from his office by the abbot of St. Albans provoked considerable dispute, which is recited at length by Matthew Paris. Robert Fitzwalter, a powerful baron, was a friend of Prior Thomas. Resenting his dismissal, the baron asserted his claim to be patron of the cell, and alleged that he possessed a deed from the parent abbey by which it was stipulated that no prior could be removed without the patron's assent. He therefore impleaded the abbot in the king's court, (fn. 6) charging him with coming to the priory of Binham to lodge there with more men and horses than he ought to have, and also with increasing the number of monks there resident, and extorting much money from the men of the priory, from which he ought only to receive one mark yearly. Finally he alleged that the abbot had infringed his rights by removing the prior during his absence with the king in Ireland (in 1210). The defence was apparently a denial of Fitzwalter's claim to the patronage, and seems to have been successful. Having therefore obtained no satisfaction from the law he assembled his retainers, and so closely beset the priory that the monks then in residence could not get anything to drink save rain water, or anything to eat save bread made of bran. When King John heard of this outrage he sent an armed force to relieve Binham, and Fitzwalter fled the kingdom. He died some years later, in the reign of Henry III, but to the last persisted in retaining the deed by which he claimed a right over the appointment of the prior. On his death, his friend and fellowsoldier, Adam Fitzwilliam, having learnt where the forged deed had been concealed, delivered it up to the abbot of St. Albans, and presented a silver-gilt pix for the high altar in expiation of his share in the crime, having been privy to the transaction. (fn. 7)

It is difficult now to gather the nature and origin of the serious dispute that arose almost immediately after the nomination, by Abbot Hugh, of William de Somerton to the priory in 1318, but it was sufficiently grave to cause the king to write to the pope on the subject in April of that year. The prior appealed to the sheriff of Norfolk to supply him with a lay force sufficient to resist the intrusion of the abbot of St. Albans into the priory, and the application was granted; but on 28 May the king ordered the sheriff, on the appeal of the abbot of St. Albans, immediately to withdraw the force, as the abbot could lawfully exercise jurisdiction there as ordinary by apostolic authority. (fn. 8) The dispute continued, and the abbot removed Prior William from his office; but the prior, supported by all his monks, refused to leave the house. Thereupon, on 28 October, 1320, the king ordered the sheriff to proceed to the priory of Binham to arrest Brother William de Somerton, who called himself prior, and thirteen other monks, and to deliver them to the abbot of St. Albans, to whom they are subject, by him to be corrected according to the rule of St. Benedict. In the letter to the sheriff it was recited that Simon, abbot of Ramsey, recently presiding over the general chapter of the Benedictines of Canterbury Province held at Northampton, had informed the king that the chapter had found that the monks of Binham were living in disobedience and insolence, had taken up arms and made assemblies of aiders to foment their boldness, and paid no heed to the canonical censures of the abbot of St. Albans, and that consequently the chapter prayed the aid of the secular arm to repress the malice of the offenders. (fn. 9)

Meanwhile the priory of Binham appealed to Rome, and on 16 July, 1321, Pope John XXII addressed a letter to the English primate on the subject. It was therein recited that Nicholas de Wimundham, sub-prior, and the convent of Binham had complained to the pope that William de Somerton, their prior, who had appealed to the pope on a matter at issue between them, the priory, and the abbey of St. Albans, had his cause committed to Arnold, the king's chaplain and papal auditor, who sent his letters of commission to the abbot. Whereupon the abbot caused the messenger and a notary who accompanied him to be so grievously beaten that their blood was sprinkled on the walls of the church, and the letters were taken from them. The prior was also ejected, and some monks who appealed to the pope were imprisoned and kept without food for six days. The pope ordered the archbishop of Canterbury to inquire into the matter, and if the allegations were true, to cite the abbot to appear before the pope. (fn. 10) Among the Ormsby-Gore MSS. at Brogyntyn is a letter from Edward II to the pope saying that bad men on the side of the prior of Binham had tried to get the abbot of St. Albans summoned before the pope on a charge of treating the papal nuncios with violence. The king espoused the cause of the abbey, and lauded the abbot, alleging that William Somerton, whom the abbot had made prior, had tried to subtract the cell from its obedience, and for that cause visited the papal court. Edward asked for the pope's support of the abbot. (fn. 11)

It does not now seem possible to trace the eventual issue of this disturbance, but in about 1322 the king placed William de Leycester, clerk, and Nicholas de Flamstede, monk of St. Albans, in custody of the priory of Binham, by reason of divers destructions therein; but in August, 1323, the custodians were ordered to meddle no further with its affairs, because the king understood that the priory and its estates were improving. (fn. 12) In the latter year Nicholas de Flamstede was definitely appointed prior by the abbot. It was the custom of the cells of the great abbey to make considerable presents to a newly elected abbot; but on the election of Richard de Wallingford as abbot, in 1326, it is recorded that the priory of Binham was in considerable straits, and found a difficulty in sustaining its own monks, so that it was only able to offer 40s. to the new abbot. (fn. 13)

About 1400, when Robert Stoke was prior, an ordinance was drawn up by the abbey of various payments due from the different cells. The annual contribution of Binham to the provincial chapter was 13s. 8d., and as a pension for the schools 53s. 4d., in addition to 20s. as an acknowledgement of their obedience. (fn. 14)

In 1454 there was an unusual occurrence in the annals of St. Albans. A number of monks who had left the abbey in the time of Abbot Whethamstede's predecessor returned. Among them was one Henry Halstede, who had formerly been prior of Wymondham, and of quarrelsome repute. He entreated with much persistency to be reinstated as a monk of the abbey, and to be made prior of Binham; promising that, in that event, he would entirely rebuild the dorter of Binham Priory, which had at that time fallen into ruins. The monks of St. Albans, however, objected to this proposal, as the character of Halstede was odious to many of them; but the abbot recommended that he should be appointed if he would give sureties in writing not only to rebuild the dormitory, but also to clear off all the debts of the priory of Binham. To these proposals Halstede readily assented, but the brethren still objected to his readmission, and sent the kitchener of the convent to the sacrist as a deputation to express their views. The abbot, considering them to be self-willed, remonstrated with them at considerable length, taking a high religious line of forgiveness. His arguments prevailed, the convent assented to Halstede's readmission, who was forthwith sent as prior to Binham. (fn. 15) Another brother, John Middleton, who had for several years deserted his monastery, was also sent to Binham shortly after Halstede's appointment. (fn. 16)

The scandalous comperta of Legh and Ap Price, drawn up early in 1536, alleged three confessions of incontinency from the monks of Binham. When the county commissioners for suppression reported later in the same year, they gave no details of this house, merely stating that: 'The Priory of Bynhame namyd to be a cell to the monastery of Seynte Albounes hath a Prive Seale to appere before yore incontynent upon the syght thereof.'

As a cell it escaped the suppression of the smaller monasteries. In March, 1538, Sir Richard Rich, one of the visitors, wrote to Cromwell, saying that he was intending to suppress Binham before his return, for though it claimed to be a cell of St. Albans, it made leases under its own seal without any mention of the abbot. (fn. 17) The actual suppression did not, however, take place until May, 1539, when Thomas Williams, the last prior, received a pension of £4. (fn. 18)

Thomas Paxton, a gentleman of the king's privy chamber, obtained a grant in September, 1539, of almost all the priory's property, including the manor and advowson of Binham. The clear annual value was estimated at £101 8s. 4¾d. He had to pay a rent of £10 3s. (fn. 19)

Priors Of Binham

Osgod, 1106

Enisandus, (fn. 20) c. 1125

Ralph, (fn. 21) occurs 1174

Peter, (fn. 22) occurs 1189, 1193, 1197

Ralph Gubion, (fn. 23) occurs 1198-9

Thomas, (fn. 24) occurs 1129-1200

Richard, (fn. 25) occurs 1214

Miles (fn. 26)

William de Gedding, (fn. 27) died 1227

Richard (II) de Parco, (fn. 28) elected 1227, resigned 1244

Richard (III) de Selford, (fn. 29) occurs 1244

William, (fn. 30) occurs 1262

Adam de Motu, (fn. 31) occurs 1264, 1267

Milo (fn. 32)

Peter (fn. 33)

Robert de Waltham, (fn. 34) occurs 1279, 1289

Walter, (fn. 35) occurs 1296

William de Somerton, (fn. 36) occurs 1318

Nicholas de Flamstede, (fn. 37) 1323

John de Caldewell, (fn. 38) elected 1337

Adam, (fn. 39) occurs 1354

Robert Stoke, (fn. 40) occurs 1396

Michael Cheyne, (fn. 41) elected 1424.

William Bryt, (fn. 42) elected 1430

William Spygon, (fn. 43) elected 1436

Nicholas Wellys, (fn. 44) elected 1438

Henry Halstead, (fn. 45) elected 1454

William Dixwell, (fn. 46) occurs 1461

John Peyton, (fn. 47) LL.D., elected 1464

Richard Whitingdon, (fn. 48) elected 1480

Thomas Sudbury, 1481

William Fresell, (fn. 49) elected 1585

John Albon, (fn. 50) elected 1509

Thomas Williams, last prior, 1539

There is a twelfth-century cast of the pointed oval seal of this priory at the British Museum bearing the Annunciation legend:



  • 1. Matt. Paris, Vita Abb. S. Albani, 1002.
  • 2. Cott. MS. Claud D. XIII, is a substantial folio written in the first half of the fourteenth century. The more important charters have been transcribed in Dugdale, Mon. iii, 345-51, where there is also a synopsis of its contents. The rents and services of the tenants on the manors and lands of the priory are of much interest. The facts given above as to the endowments of the priory are all taken from this chartulary.
  • 3. Cal. Papal Reg. i, 272; see also Matt. Paris.
  • 4. Set forth in full in Dugdale, Mon. iii, 351-2, from Aug. Off. Books, 18 Hen. VIII.
  • 5. Cott. MS. Claud. D. XIII, fol. 125b, 126b, 131.
  • 6. Cur. Reg. R. 68, m. 1 d.
  • 7. Matt. Paris, Chron. Majora (Rolls Ser.), vi. 390.
  • 8. Close, 12 Edw. II, m. 6d.
  • 9. Close, 14 Edw. II, m. 17.
  • 10. Cal. Papal Reg. ii, 213-14.
  • 11. Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. iv, 384.
  • 12. Close, 19 Edw. II, m. 39.
  • 13. Gesta Abb. S. Albani (Rolls Ser.), 187.
  • 14. Cott. MS. Claud. E. IV, fol. 346.
  • 15. Reg. Whethamstede (Rolls Ser.), i, 139-43.
  • 16. Ibid. i, 144-7.
  • 17. Harl. MS. 604, fol. 67.
  • 18. Aug. Off. Books, ccxxxii, fol. 43b.
  • 19. Pat. 31 Hen. VIII, pt. i, m. 32.
  • 20. Cott. MS. Claud. D. xiii, fol. 24.
  • 21. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. ix, 210.
  • 22. Cott. MS. Claud. D. xiii, fols. 24, 126, 164.
  • 23. Ibid. fols. 126, 132.
  • 24. Ibid. fols. 125, 126, 131.
  • 25. He is probably the Richard 'de Kancia ' named in 1250 as a former prior (Assize R. 560, m. 52).
  • 26. Miles is also mentioned in 1250 as a former prior (ibid.).
  • 27. Matt. Paris, Chron. Majora (Rolls Ser.), vi, 292.
  • 28. Ibid. v, 177; also called Richard Rufus (ibid. note), or le Rus (Assize R. 560, m. 5, 4d. 52).
  • 29. Cott. MS. Nero. D. i, 154.
  • 30. Ibid. Claud. D. xiii, 179.
  • 31. Ibid. 152, 171.
  • 32. Ibid. 55, 94.
  • 33. Ibid. 128, 133.
  • 34. Ibid. 150, 152.
  • 35. Harl. MS. 970, fol. 113.
  • 36. Rymer, Foedera (Rec. Com.), iii, 364.
  • 37. Gesta Abb. S. Albani (Rolls Ser.), 187.
  • 38. Norw. Epis. Reg. iii, 8.
  • 39. Cott. MS. Claud. D., xiii, 53.
  • 40. Newcome, Hist, of St. Albans, 277.
  • 41. Norw. Epis. Reg. viii, 87.
  • 42. Ibid. ix, 87.
  • 43. Ibid.
  • 44. Ibid. x, 18.
  • 45. Ibid. xi, 77.
  • 46. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. ix, 211.
  • 47. Ibid.
  • 48. Ibid. xii, 81.
  • 49. Ibid. xiv, 36.
  • 50. Ibid. 90.
  • 51. B.M. lxix, 8; given in Dugdale, Mon. iii, 345.