Houses of Benedictine monks: The priory of Molycourt

Pages 349-350

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

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The small Benedictine priory of St. Mary of Molycourt, also called the chapel of St. Mary de Bello Loco, stood in the parish of Outwell, on the right hand of the road from Downham to Outwell. According to Blomefield it was founded in pre-Norman days, but very little is known of its history. In the time of Henry III, Adam, son and heir of Sir John de Brancastre, granted the patronage of this priory to Robert de Hale, rector of Aylington, for the sum of ten marks.

In September, 1273, the sheriff of Norfolk was directed to restore to the monks of Molycourt the lands and chattels of the priory, which had been taken into the king's hands by reason of the larceny and other trespasses of Oliver, keeper of the priory, a clerk, whereof he was indicted before the justices, and he had purged his innocence before the bishop of Norwich according to the ecclesiastical manner. A like document was sent to the sheriff of Cambridge. (fn. 2)

The taxation of 1291 gives its annual value at £9 2s. 8d.; it then held possessions in three Norfolk townships.

In 1313, Henry de Hale, clerk, granted the patronage of the priory to John FitzGilbert de Beaupré of Outwell. Nicholas, the greatgrandson of John FitzGilbert, by his will, dated 1380, left his body to be buried in the conventual chapel of Molycourt, and the residue of his movable goods to his wife Margaret, and to Thomas de Walton, prior of Molycourt, to be disposed of for the honour of God and for his soul's health. Nicholas died in 1402, and was succeeded by a son of the same name, whose will, dated 24 September, 1428, leaves 20s. to the monks of Molycourt. Thomas de Beaupré, son and heir of the younger Nicholas, married Margaret, daughter of John Meers. Margaret, by her will of the year 1439, left her body to be buried in the chapel of the priory of St. Mary, before the image of St. John Baptist.

The great storm and, inundations of the fourteenth century were most disastrous to the low lying lands of this poorly endowed priory. On 23 February, 1385, the bishop of Ely granted forty days' indulgence to all benefactors of the priory on account of its poverty. Though the priory site was in Norfolk, most of the parishes of Outwell and Upwell, including the greater part of the priory lands, were in Cambridgeshire, in the Isle of Ely, and hence under that bishop's jurisdiction.

On the death of Prior Walton, in 1427, there was only one monk left in the house, namely Stephen de Wyse, and the bishop out of pure favour (gratiose) collated him as prior. (fn. 3)

Eventually the lands became so impoverished by the continued incursions of water, both salt and fresh, that there was barely maintenance enough for a single monk. Licence was, therefore, obtained, in 1446, from Henry VI to permit the appropriation of this priory by the prior and convent of Ely. Its chief endowment at that time consisted of a messuage and 24 acres of land in Wiggenhall, and eight messuages in Outwell, Upwell and Downham in the counties of Cambridge and Norfolk. (fn. 4)

There was some delay in carrying out the formal appropriation, but the bishop of Norwich's consent was obtained on 4 December, 1449, the church of Ely paying to the church of Norwich a yearly pension of 3s. 4d.

Henceforth Molycourt was a cell of Ely. It would not have obtained that title unless divine worship had been carried on in the old priory; probably, therefore, one or two Ely monks lived in the old house, the senior of whom would be termed the prior.

A Valor of Ely monastery, taken soon after the dissolution, names under Outwell, the houses and site, with lands and tenement of the late cell of Molycourt, and declares its clear annual value at £6 14s. 11d.

Priors Of Molycourt

Simon, (fn. 5) occurs 1248

Edward, (fn. 6) occurs 1276

Robert, (fn. 7) occurs 1297

Andrew, (fn. 8) occurs 1306

William de Merstone, (fn. 9) elected 1316

John de Malteley, (fn. 10) elected 1320

David de West Dereham, (fn. 11) elected 1333

John de Dereham, (fn. 12) elected 1369

Thomas de Walton, (fn. 13) elected 1390

Stephen Wyse, (fn. 14) elected 1427


  • 1. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. vii, 4767; Dugdale, Mon. iv, 588-9; Taylor, Index Monasticus, 6.
  • 2. Close, 1 Edw. I, m. 3.
  • 3. Norw. Epis. Reg. ix, 25.
  • 4. Dugdale, Mon. i, 490.
  • 5. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. vii, 47. He is also mentioned in 1250 as predecessor of the then prior; Assize R. 560, m. 35 d.
  • 6. Blomefield, loc. cit.
  • 7. Ibid.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. Norw. Epis. Reg. i, 66.
  • 10. Ibid. i, 83.
  • 11. Ibid. ii, 62.
  • 12. Ibid. v, 5.
  • 13. Ibid. vi, 152.
  • 14. Ibid. ix, 25.