Houses of Benedictine nuns: The priory of Blackborough

Pages 350-351

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

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Roger de Scales and his wife Muriel, about the year, 1150, founded a small priory for monks (fratribus) at Blackborough in Middleton Parish, dedicated to the honour of the Blessed Virgin and St. Katharine. It was endowed with lands and woods, etc., in the immediate neighbourhood of the house. The confirmation and extension grant of Robert de Scales, son of the founder, shows that the establishment was at that time for the support of religious of both sexes (sororibus et fratribus), but the house was finally assigned about 1200 to the sole use of Benedictine nuns. Robert de Scales, great-grandson of the founder, confirmed to the nuns the churches of Middleton and Santon, with a moiety of the Church of Wetherden, Suffolk. (fn. 1)

The taxation of 1291 showed that the priory had property in twenty-five Norfolk parishes, to the annual value of £26 4s. 3½d. In spiritualities they had the appropriated churches of Middleton and St. Martin's, Rainham, valued respectively at £5 6s. 8d. and £10, and a portion of the church of Wetherden, worth £5. The total clear value for taxation purposes came to £36 19s. 1d., because there were deducted from the full total £4 13s. 5½d. for habits for the nuns, 25s. for the fabric of their church, and 57s. 7d. in payment to various lords. At that date, in addition to those entertained from time to time at the guest-house, the number of the nuns and their servants living in the priory was forty-four. (fn. 2)

The prioress and nuns of Blackborough obtained in 1329 a licence, by a fine of ten marks, for the alienation in mortmain by William de Salleford, chaplain of the advowson of the church of Paddlesworth, Kent, to find a chaplain to celebrate daily in Blackborough church for the good estate of Isabella de Scales and the said William in life and for their souls after death. (fn. 3)

In 1350 Robert de Scales confirmed to the prioress and convent the advowson of the church of Islington.

In 1377 the church of Paddlesworth was appropriated to the priory. (fn. 4)

A return made to the crown in 1416 of the appropriated churches of the diocese, names the following as belonging to the nuns of Blackborough, with the dates of their appropriation:— Illington (1388), Middleton (1360), South Keynham (1370), and a mediety of Wetherden. (1349). (fn. 5)

The Valor of 1535 gave the clear annual value of the priory at £42 6s. 7½d.

Edward III, in 1347, pardoned the prioress and nuns their share for two years and the tenths granted him by the clergy, because they were, through no fault of their order, in so miserable and depressed a condition. (fn. 6)

Margaret de Bristede, a nun of this house, obtained an indult in 1352 to choose a confessor to give, if penitent, plenary remission at the hour of death. (fn. 7)

On 7 July, 1514, the nuns were visited by Bishop Nicke. The prioress and five of the sisters were severally examined. Margaret Gygges stated that the day and night offices were duly said and silence observed and that her sole complaint was that the prioress, to save the expense of an auditor, did not present an annual statement of accounts. Margaret Hollins, sacrist, bore witness to the good repair of the: manors, but said that the cloister and church, were somewhat defective. Agnes Guy said that: they had had no sub-prioress for four years, that: they were ignorant of their foundation numbers, that the prioress rendered no account, and that: the house was said to be in debt. Margaret Cobbes said that the church porch was in ruins, that the prioress rendered no balance sheet, but gave the sisters a verbal account of the house, that religion was less duly observed on account of there being no sub-prioress or proper officials, that the nuns did not have their customary recreation, and that the prioress had had one chaplain for three years. The prioress and Elizabeth Bullwar contented themselves with omnia bene. (fn. 8)

At the visitation of 1520 all things were found satisfactory at Blackborough nunnery, and an inventory of goods was duly exhibited. (fn. 9)

The last visitation of this house before the dissolution took place on 1 August, 1532, when Master Miles Spencer, the bishop's principal official was the visitor. The prioress, Elizabeth Dawney, stated that all was well (fn. 10) so far as the condition of the house would allow. Margaret Giggs, subprioress, said that the house was in great decay. Agnes Guy, Margaret Colman, Margaret Hasilley, Elizabeth Bulwere, Katherine Sooge, Dorothy Sturges, Elizabeth Caws, Joan Pyndre, and Joan Bate, all reported favourably and had no complaints to make. (fn. 11)

According to the secret report of Legh and Leyton, drawn up early in 1536, Prioress Dawney and two of her nuns (Bulwere and Sturges) were suspected of incontinency (fn. 12); very different was the report of the county gentlemen who drew up a detailed statement of the house later in the same year, which was presented in January, 1537; they stated that the priory contained nine religious persons 'of good name and fame.' There were also living in the house a priest, eleven men servants and eight women servants. The clear yearly value was estimated at £44 0s. 1½d. The house was somewhat in decay; the lead and bells worth £60; the movable goods, stocks and stores, £59 4s., and 10 acres of wood, £13 6s. 8d. The debts due by the house amounted to £79 4s. 8d. (fn. 13)

The depositions entered by the commissioners at the time of their visit show that the prioress and her eight nuns all asked for dispensation. (fn. 14)

In this year Anne, Lady Oxford, half-sister to the Duke of Norfolk, wrote to Cromwell, understanding that religious houses under £200 a year were 'at the king's gracious pleasure to oppress,' requesting to have the farm of a place of nuns in Blackborough, net worth £100 a year as she supposed. (fn. 15) On 27 March of the same year Richard Southwell wrote to Cromwell, stating that Blackborough nuns, like those of Crabhouse and Shouldham, were making away with all they could, making such pennyworths that all their goods will be dispersed, and there would be nothing left to pay any part of their debts. (fn. 16)

The site and possessions of the priory were leased to James Joskyns for twenty-one years (fn. 17); in 1550 they were granted, with the manor and fair of Blackborough, to the bishop of Norwich and his successors at an annual payment of £1 3s. 9d. (fn. 18)

Prioresses of Blackborough

Avelina, (fn. 19) occurs c. 1200

Margaret, (fn. 20) occurs 1222, 1228

Katherine de Scales, (fn. 21) occurs 1238

Alice, (fn. 22) occurs c. 1250

Mary de London, (fn. 23) occurs 1259, 1261

Katherine de Fitton, (fn. 24) occurs c. 1277

Ida de Middleton, (fn. 25) elected 1304

Lettice, (fn. 26) occurs 1332, resigned 1342

Winnesia de Hoyton, (fn. 27) elected 1342

Isabel de Stanton, (fn. 28) elected 1344

Isabel de Hynton, (fn. 29) elected 1352

Matilda de Dunton, (fn. 30) 1384

Mary de Bersingham, (fn. 31) 1389

Elizabeth Beaupre, (fn. 32) occurs 1428

Alice Erle, (fn. 33) 1434

Margaret Geyton, (fn. 34) 1480

Matilda de Lupe, (fn. 35) occurs 1482

Margaret Fyncham, (fn. 36) occurs 1514

Elizabeth Dawney, (fn. 37) occurs 1532


  • 1. The more important documents from a fourteenthcentury chartulary of Blackborough, then in the possession of Mr. Hudson Gurney, of Keswick Hall, Norfolk, are given in full in Dugdale (Mon. iv, 206-9), see Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. xii, pt. ix, 122.
  • 2. These particulars are given in the chartulary.
  • 3. Cal. of Pat. 1327-30, p. 400.
  • 4. Cat. of Camb. Univ. MSS. v, 482.
  • 5. Norw. Epis. Reg. viii, 127.
  • 6. Pat. 21 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 3.
  • 7. Cal. Papal Reg. iii, 451.
  • 8. Jessopp, Norw. Visit. (Camd. Soc.), 107.
  • 9. Ibid. 168.
  • 10. The list in Dugdale gives by mistake Margaret Holme as prioress at this date.
  • 11. Jessopp, Norw. Visit. (Camd. Soc.), 311.
  • 12. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, 243.
  • 13. Chant. Cert. Norf. No. 90.
  • 14. Suppression Papers, 835/46.
  • 15. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, 155.
  • 16. Ibid. 220.
  • 17. Aug. Off. Bks. ccix. fol. 54.
  • 18. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. ix, 33.
  • 19. Chartul. cited Mon. iv, 207.
  • 20. Ibid.
  • 21. Ibid.
  • 22. Ibid.
  • 23. Ibid.
  • 24. Ibid.
  • 25. Norw. Epis. Reg. i, 16.
  • 26. Ibid. iii, 63.
  • 27. Ibid.
  • 28. Ibid. iv, 108.
  • 29. Chartul.
  • 30. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. iv, 656.
  • 31. Chartul.
  • 32. Ibid.
  • 33. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. iv, 656.
  • 34. Chartul.
  • 35. Ibid.
  • 36. Jessopp, Norw. Visit. 107.
  • 37. Ibid. 168.