Houses of Benedictine monks: The priory of St Faith, Horsham

Pages 346-349

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

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The priory of Horsham, dedicated to the honour of St. Faith, and usually known by the name of that Virgin Martyr, was founded by Robert Fitz-Walter and Sybil his wife, daughter and heiress of Ralph de Cheney, in the year 1105. An old English MS., quoted by Dugdale, gives an interesting story as to the origin of this foundation. Robert and Sybil, returning through France from a joint pilgrimage to Rome, were set upon by brigands and imprisoned in their stronghold. Offering devout prayers to God and St. Faith, the saint appeared to them in a vision, loosed their chains, and brought them out of prison bearing their fetters with them. Thereupon they made their way to the abbey of Conches, in the diocese of Evreux, where St. Faith was enshrined, and there offered up their fetters, 'which remain within this place at this day (1598).' (fn. 1) The abbot and his brethren of this renowned Benedictine house, which had been founded in 1050, received them joyfully with great cheer for twelve days. During their rest at the abbey, Robert and Sybil 'reade the life of Saint Faith and the miracles that God shewed for her ther daily and hourely' with the result that they vowed, on their return to their manor of Horsford, to build there a monastery in the worship of God and St. Faith, which should be a cell to the abbey of Conches. They took with them, on their departure, two of the monks, Barnard and Girard. When they had come home building was begun upon a certain ground at Horsford, 'called at this day Kirkescroft,' but the work that was done in the day fell down in the night, so that it was removed to a site at Horsham where the enterprise prospered.

By the foundation charter, this priory or cell was endowed with the advowsons of Horsford, Reydone, and Moi, and certain tithes from sixteen other churches. In 1163 the foundation charter was confirmed by Pope Alexander III. The revenues were afterwards considerably increased, chiefly by successive lords of Horsford and Horsham.

At the time of the 1291 taxation, this priory had possessions, mostly of a small amount, in no fewer than seventy-seven of the Norfolk parishes, yielding an annual income of £78 6s. 10¼d.

In 1325 an extent of the land and possessions of this alien priory was drawn up. The site of the priory was valued at 5s.; arable lands, meadows, pastures, dovecote, wind and water mills, rents and court perquisites of Horsham and Horsford were valued at a yearly income of £24 7s.; the church of Horsham, £11; the church of Horsford, £7 10s.; tenements in Helgheton, 62s.; tenements, rents, and services in Ryburgh, 26s. 8d.; rents in Styberdde, 10s.; the church of Helgheton, £10; the manor of West Rudham, 104s. 8d.; the church of Hoxton, £7 10s.; the church of Heveringland, £14; the church of Corpusty, 100s.; the church of Freethorpe, £7 10s.; the church of Runham, £12; the church of Tibenham, £15; a portion (of the church) of Wellingham, 6s. 8d.; of the church of Faverham, 3s.; of the church of Branston, 13s. 4d.; of the church of East Tuddenham, 6s. 8d.; of the church of Saxlingham, 20s.; of the church of Newton Flotman, 20s.; of the church of Ling, 10s.; rents in Norwich, 50s.; and a tenement at Intwood, 40s. (fn. 2)

The clear annual income of the priory, as certified for taxation in 1535, was £162 16s. 11½d. An unusually large share of this income came from spiritualities; there were appropriations or pensions from twenty-three churches in Norfolk, from fourteen in Suffolk, and from one in London.

St. Faith's being thus dependent upon the foreign abbey of Conches, its priors were not infrequently obliged to be absent from England for periods of varying length; thus William, prior of St. Faith's, nominated two attorneys to act for him for two years, in April, 1303, and obtained simple protection for a like period during his absence. (fn. 3) In 1307 the same prior again obtained protection for two years, (fn. 4) and protection was granted, in 1344, to Prior Pontius de Cerveria, going beyond the seas for causes concerning him, and for his men, horses and harness, with reasonable expenses in gold; provided he make no payment of tribute, nor carry with him gold or silver plate, or jewels. (fn. 5)

On 1 December, 1307, a commission was appointed in connexion with an outrage on the priory of St. Faith. It was alleged that Robert de Barwe, Hubert le Warner, with twenty-five others, in the time of the late king, forcibly entered the priory, consumed the victuals and other goods, and guarded the gates of the priory for four months, so that the prior could not enter nor the monks within get out; that they carried off his palfrey worth 10 marks; killed in his wood seven swine worth 40s.; threw a monk from off a horse on the king's high road, carried him off to Horsford, spoiled him of his habit and shoes, and imprisoned him; further, that they entered the prior's market at the town of Horsham, collected the toll, pickage, and other dues there, took away from his servants their goods and wares, seized twelve cart-horses worth 30 marks, which were to carry his corn in the autumn, and impounded them for four weeks, whereby most of the corn being left in the fields was trampled under foot by cattle, and the monks had to carry on their backs the small residue that escaped; threw from off a horse his servant appointed for the gathering in of the corn, and carried off the horse; felled his trees, broke his ditches and closes, drove off his cattle, and entered and hunted in his warren, and carried away his hares. (fn. 6)

Edward III granted the custody of the alien priory of St. Faith, when it was taken into the hands of the crown, to the prior on condition of his paying £100 a year; but in 1337 he remitted for that year half the amount. (fn. 7) In 1338 the prior, on the petition of the cardinals of St. Praxed and St. Mary's in Aquiro, was pardoned the payment of £80 out of the £100 yearly so long as the priory remained in the king's hands. (fn. 8)

In 1345 the king appointed Sir John Dufford, knt., patron of Horsham Priory, to collect all farms, rents, tithes, pensions, etc., due to the priory, now committed to the custody of the prior, at farm, as the king was informed that many of these were in arrear, and unless they are got in, the prior would be unable to answer for his rent. (fn. 9)

In 1372 Pope Gregory wrote to the bishop of Norwich commending to him four monks, the bearers of the letter, of the monastery of Conches, whom Abbot Draymond was sending to live in the priory of Horsham. (fn. 10)

Thomas de Berthelet, appointed in 1389, was the first prior elected by the monks of Horsham, and in December, 1390, a crown grant was made, at the request of the king's uncle, the Duke of Lancaster, and of the king's brother, the Earl of Huntingdon, of denization to the Benedictine priory of Horsham, wholly discharging; them from all fines and impositions as aliens. No prior was to be placed over them but a true Englishman, and on all points they were to be as free as the prior and monks of Thetford, on. Condition that they paid the king 2 marks a year, as they formerly did to the abbey of Conches, and that they prayed for the king and queen and for the good estate of the realm. In their petition begging to be thus naturalized, the monks stated that their priory was almost ruined, divine service nearly abandoned, and where there used to be a prior and twelve monks to celebrate three masses daily, and to give every poor beggar a loaf and two herrings (in addition to other charities), they had at present but a prior and eight monks who could hardly subsist, because they had to pay £50 yearly to the exchequer as; long as the war with France lasted. (fn. 11) Horsham was henceforward recognized as an English priory.

In 1462, a grant was made by Edward IV in free alms to the provost and college of Eton of the pension or apport of 2 marks, which the priory of St. Faith used to render to the abbot of Conches. (fn. 12)

John Sarisbury was prior on 17 August, 1534, when he signed the acknowledgement of the king's supremacy, in conjunction with six of his monks. (fn. 13)

In November, 1535, Dr. Legh and John ap Rice paid several visits to St. Faith's at Cromwell's request. The former wrote to Cromwell on 19 November, saying that the house was a commodious one and spent about 300 marks a year; there were but five monks with the prior, and two wished to be dismissed. Two days, later Prior Sarisbury wrote to Cromwell complaining that his visitor had sequestrated the possessions and movables of the house without any just cause, which had been brought about by the sinister reports of his enemies. 'Being of your advancement,' he adds, 'I should be sorry to use myself unbecomingly.' (fn. 14)

The county commissioners for suppression reported of Horsham, in 1536, that it was 'a hede howse of thordre of seynt Benett'; that the clear annual value was £163 13s.; that there were only four religious, all priests, 'whereof the priour hath a dyspensacion and ys a suffrican and bysshoppe of Thetford and the residue requyre dispensaciones'; that the neighbours' report of them was all to their credit; that there were eighteen dependent on the house besides the monks, one of whom was a priest, six waiting servants, and eleven hinds who had wages, clothes, and 'levynges of the howse'; that the buildings, with lead and bells, were worth £250, and the church and cloister were in good repair; that the movable goods and cattle and corn were worth £69 15s. 11d.; that £15 6s. 8d. was owing to the house, and £35 4s. owed by the house; and that there were 100 acres of wood worth £200. (fn. 15)

On 18 August, 1536, Richard Southwell wrote to Cromwell as to 'the house of Saint Feythe now viewed and at a point to be dissolved.' He specially wrote in favour of the prior there, who being a suffragan bishop had neither house nor living, and prayed that he might receive an adequate pension and some other preferment. (fn. 16)

On 23 September Cromwell wrote to the prior that the king intended to reform the houses of religion in Norwich diocese; for the abuse of religion and excess of living certain were to be deposed, of which St. Faith's had been billed and named to be one. However, through the labour of the prior's friends and his (Cromwell's) own diligence, his house had been taken out of the king's books, and was now free from danger till the return of his chaplain, the bearer of the letter, whom he was to receive and treat well. (fn. 17)

According to a certificate of the four Norfolk commissioners, dated 27 January, 1537, all the goods and chattels of the house were sold for £27 7s. 1d. and the plate, valued at £37 2s. 2d., reserved in the custody of Richard Southwell. The debts of the house amounted to £35 4s. 8d. (fn. 18)

Immediately after its suppression the priory, with its demesne lands, the manors of Horsham and West Rudham, and the rectories of Horsham and Tibenham were granted on lease, to Richard Southwell, one of the suppression commissioners. (fn. 19)

Prior Sarisbury, or Salisbury, was made dean of Norwich, and in 1570 bishop of Man.

Priors Of St. Faith, Horsham

Austorgius, (fn. 20) occurs c. 1125

Savernius, (fn. 21) occurs in 1130

Bertrand, (fn. 22) occurs c. 1145

Bernard, (fn. 23) occurs 1163

Deodate, (fn. 24) occurs 1210

Eustace, (fn. 25) occurs 1227

Berengar, (fn. 26) occurs 1246

Carbunel, (fn. 27) occurs 1268

Reymund, (fn. 28) occurs 1281

William, (fn. 29) occurs 1303

Hugh Targe, (fn. 30) elected 1313

Pontius de Severa, (fn. 31) elected 1338

Hugh de Pardinos, (fn. 32) elected 1349

Gerard Sencoll, (fn. 33) elected 1349

Berengar Nathas, (fn. 34) elected 1356

Thomas de Berthelet, (fn. 35) elected 1389

Geoffrey Langele, (fn. 36) elected 1401

Nicholas, (fn. 37) occurs 1452

Ralf Norwich, (fn. 38) 1462

John Risley, (fn. 39) 1469, 1492

William Castleton, (fn. 40) occurs 1524

John Stokes, (fn. 41) occurs 1525

Lancelot Wharton, (fn. 42) occurs 1532

John Sarisbury, (fn. 43) occurs 1534

An impression in red wax of the interesting early thirteenth-century seal of this priory is attached to the deed of acknowledgement of supremacy. (fn. 44) It is oval (2½ × 1¾ in.), and is divided into two parts; the upper shows under a simple canopy, a figure (fn. 45) seated, with a sword, or sceptre, in right hand, and an open book in the left, on either side is a monk kneeling under a pinnacled canopy, above which are two angels censing the central figure; at the top is shown a cruciform church with central tower. The lower division shows an embattled fortress flanked on either side by a tower in which is a figure, that on the right is shooting a crossbar (that on the left is injured); in the centre of the building an arched compartment in which is a crowned female figure stooping to raise up a woman sitting on the ground. Legend:—



  • 1. Dugdale, Mon.; taken from a MS. 'Penes sampsonem Leonard fecialem.'
  • 2. Add. MS. 6164, fol. 130.
  • 3. Pat. 31 Edw. I, m. 28.
  • 4. Ibid. 1 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 6.
  • 5. Ibid. 18 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 30.
  • 6. Ibid. 1 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 7 d.
  • 7. Close, 2 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 15; pt. ii, m. 37.
  • 8. Pat. 12 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 38.
  • 9. Ibid. 19 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 16.
  • 10. Cal. of Pap. Reg. iv, 114.
  • 11. Pat. 14 Ric. II, pt. ii, m. 39.
  • 12. Ibid. 1 Edw. IV, pt. iii, m. 24.
  • 13. Dep. Keeper's Rep. vii, App. 2, No. 94.
  • 14. L. and P. Hen. VIII, ix, 271, 284, 291, 849, 865.
  • 15. Chant. Cert. Norf. No. 90.
  • 16. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xi, 134.
  • 17. Ibid. 197. There seems some doubt as to the genuineness of this letter; it is neither in Cromwell's hand nor in that of his clerk.
  • 18. Suppression Papers (P.R.O.), 832/5.
  • 19. Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. ccix, fol. 106b; ccx, fol. 75.
  • 20. Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. (Lothian MSS.), 10.
  • 21. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. x, 440.
  • 22. Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. (Lothian MSS,), 12.
  • 23. Ibid.
  • 24. Ibid.
  • 25. Ibid.
  • 26. Ibid.; called 'Belengar Carbunel' in that year; Assize R. 560, m. 47.
  • 27. Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. (Lothian MSS.), 7.
  • 28. Blomefield, loc. cit.
  • 29. Pat. 31 Edw. I, m. 28.
  • 30. Now. Epis. Reg. i, 54.
  • 31. Ibid. iii, 12.
  • 32. Ibid. iv, 115.
  • 33. Ibid.
  • 34. Ibid. v, 17.
  • 35. Ibid. vi, 139.
  • 36. Ibid. 267.
  • 37. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. x, 440.
  • 38. Ibid.
  • 39. Ibid.
  • 40. Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. (Lothian MSS.), 20.
  • 41. Ibid.
  • 42. Ibid.
  • 43. Dep. Keeper's Rep. vii, App. No. 94.
  • 44. Ackn. of Supr. (P.R.O.), No. 94.
  • 45. The figure is apparently female but is much like that of Christ as shown on the early seals of the bishops of Chichester; there seems, however, to be no nimbus.