Houses of Austin canons: The priory of Pentney

Pages 388-391

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

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The Austin priory of Pentney, founded in the twelfth century by Robert De Vaux, was dedicated in honour of the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin, and St. Mary Magdalen. The founder endowed it for the health of the souls of himself and his wife Agnes and his ancestors, with the manor of Pentney in the isle of Eya, with all its appurtenances, and especially with the mill of Bridgemill; with two salt pans, the one at Lynn and the other at South Wootton; the whole rent of Fulk de Cougham; the assart belonging to the hermitage of Walney, with Offsey and Shortwood; fifteen acres of land at Wadington, called Crundale; thirteen acres of Richard the weaver at Wadington; the mill at Shotesham; the land of Ralph the son of the priest; and the advowsons of his churches of Thurton, Chediston, Ketteringham, Shotesham St. Botulph, Houghton, and Shotesham All Hallows. (fn. 1)

William the eldest of the three sons of the founder, confirmed his father's grants with a small addition. William de Vaux, in his turn, left three sons, and was succeeded by Robert, as William his eldest son took holy orders, and eventually became prior of Pentney. John de Vaux, great-grandson of Robert, died in 1288, leaving two daughters, his co-heirs. Petronel the elder daughter, who married Sir William de Nerford, brought her husband the patronage of the priory.

In 1291 this priory held property in thirtyfour Norfolk parishes, in addition to Chediston, Suffolk, and was held to be of the annual value of £68 1s. 9¼d.

Licence was granted in May, 1305, for the alienation in free alms by William de Ros of Hamelak and Maud his wife to the prior and convent of Pentney, of an acre of land in Shotesham and the advowson of the church of St. Mary in that town. (fn. 2) In 1316 the priory paid a fine of ten marks to secure the alienation in mortmain by Petronel de Nerford of the church of Little Abington, Cambridgeshire, and a moiety of an acre adjoining the church. (fn. 3) In the same year the bishop of Ely sanctioned the appropriation of this church to the priory. (fn. 4)

The church of Bilney was irregularly appropriated by Pentney Priory without royal sanction. When the benefice was vacant in 1344, Edward III presented to the rectory, claiming that it was in the crown's gift by reason of the appropriation being made, after the publication of the mortmain statute, without the the licence of any. of the king's progenitors. (fn. 5) Another irregularity, this time on the part of the crown, came to light in the following year, when pardon was granted by Edward III to Pentney priory—at the request of Peter de Brewes, Icing's yeoman—for entering upon and appropriating the church of Little Abington, of their patronage, which the king remembers he granted them licence to appropriate, after the death of the late rector, before obtaining formal letters of licence. (fn. 6)

Pentney during the years 1166-7 played a part of some importance in the struggle between the ecclesiastical and royal authorities— Becket and Henry II. Hugh, earl of Norfolk, had cast covetous eyes upon the priory's lands, and had seized them on the pretext of a recovery made, apparently by collusion, against William de Vaux, the patron and son of the founder; against this seizure the prior and canons appealed to Rome, and the pope ordered the sentence of excommunication to be pronounced by the bishop of London against the earl. The bishop, however, finding himself in the dilemma of either disobeying his ecclesiastical superior or offending the king, endeavoured to persuade. Earl Hugh to restore the lands; he seems to have offered other lands to the canons in exchange, but they refused his offers, declining to give up a site which had been dedicated to God's service. The earl continuing obdurate, the pope sent an order for his excommunication and that of William de Vaux to Becket, who ordered the bishops of Norwich and Ely to publish it, while he at the same time wrote to the canons comforting them and urging them to have courage and to make no rash compromise with the earl. (fn. 7) The exact course of subsequent events is difficult to trace, but victory eventually must have rested with the canons, as they continued in possession of their lands at Pentney.

Vincent de Caldecote, one of the canons of St. Mary Magdalen, Pentney, obtained an indult in 1349 to choose a confessor for plenary remission at the hour of death. (fn. 8) In the following year Henry de Yakesle, another of the canons, obtained a like indult. (fn. 9)

In 1468, Walter bishop of Norwich, with the consent of the priors and convents of both houses and of John earl of Northumberland, patron of the priory of Wormegay, united Wormegay, on account of its poverty, with the priory of Pentney, of which it was henceforth considered a cell.

To secure the union and consolidation of the two priories, the prior and convent of Pentney covenanted to pay 40d. per annum to the prior of Norwich for a moiety of the church of Fordham, which had been appropriated to Wormegay in 1346; and 20d. per annum for the church of Westbrigg, which had been appropriated to them in 1416. The rectories of East Tuddenham and Wormegay were also appropriated to the same priory.

Pentney Priory was visited on 7 November, 1492, by Archdeacon Nicholas Goldwell, as commissary for his brother the bishop. Ralph Midylton the prior, John Lyncoln the sub-prior, and sixteen canons were present. Nothing was discovered that required reformation.

On 6 July, 1514, Dr. Thomas Hare visited the priory as commissary of Bishop Nicke. The prior and twelve canons were severally examined. John Woodbridge, the prior, said that he had not made any return of his accounts to his brethren for the last two years. Thomas Wormegay and William Maltershale complained that they had no schoolmaster for two years.

The other ten canons contented themselves with omnia bene. No injunctions followed this visitation.

The suffragan bishop of Chalcedon and other commissaries visited Pentney on 5 July, 1520. After a sermon in the chapter-house by Master Dry from the text Fraternitatem diligate, the prior and ten other members of the convent were separately examined, when each testified that all was going on well.

At another visitation held in August, 1526, when Robert Codde was prior, the five canons and four novices who were examined gave an equally satisfactory report.

The final visitation of Pentney before its dissolution was on I August, 1532. Prior Codde, Sub-Prior Richard Stafford, and eleven canons testified omnia bene. Canon Richard Bowgynn, who was in charge of the cell of Wormegay, said that that priory was much out of repair. Canon Thomas Lytyll, who was also at the cell of Wormegay, made no complaint. Canon Richard Lynn complained of the capacity of the schoolmaster. (fn. 10)

The Valor of 1535 gave the annual income of Pentney Priory, including Wormegay, as £170 4s. 9¼d.

The secret comperta of Legh and Ap Rice, early in 1536, recorded that Prior Codde had carried on an intrigue with the abbess of Marham, and we are asked to believe that the prior and five of his canons confessed their incontinency to these two visitors, themselves of scandalous lives. (fn. 11) In the face of the report of the county gentlemen who visited the house a few months later, and of the several satisfactory reports made at the searching episcopal visitations of this house during the sixteenth century, it is impossible to give the least credence to the slanders. The county commissioners reported that 'the priory of Chanones of Pentney and Wormegay of the Order of Seynt Augustine' had a clear annual value of £180 19s. 0¾d.; that the religious persons in the house numbered nine, 'alle Prystes of very honest name and goode religious persones who doue desyre the kynges highness to contynue and remayne in religione'; that eighty-three other persons had their living there—namely, twenty-three hinds, thirty household servants, and thirty children and other poor servants; that the lead and bells were worth £180, and that the house was in very good and requisite repair; that the goods were worth £119 5s. 6d.; that the woods were worth £20; and that £16 was owing to the house. (fn. 12)

In March, 1536, Richard Southwell, himself a county commissioner, and Robert Hogen wrote to Cromwell, specially commending to his notice the prior of Pentney, who, according to Legh and Ap Rice, was guilty of a grievous crime and the head of a dissolute set of canons. Southwell and Hogen assured Cromwell that the 'prior relieved those quarters wondrously where he dwells, and it would be a pity not to spare a house that feeds so many indigent poor, which is in a good state, maintains good service, and does so many charitable deeds. (fn. 13)

On 6 October, 1536, the county commissioners, Messrs. Townsend, Paston, Southwell, and Mildmay, were at Pentney; in a subsequent report they stated that they did not then suppress it because of the insurrection in the north parts; probably thereby meaning that they were afraid of exciting further hostility by suppressing a house that bore so good a repute and did so much for the poor of the district. (fn. 14)

The county commissioners sold to 'my Lorde of Rutland,' on 16 February, 1537, 'alle the stuff in the Quyre for xls. the stuffe in Lady Chappell fo. xs., and the stuffe in the vestry for £13 6s. 8d.' He also purchased the contents of the conventual buildings, cattle, corn, hay, and growing crops; the total amounting to £114 15s. 9d. In addition to this the plate, in the custody of Richard Southwell, was valued at £22 11s. 4d. The debts of the house amounted to £16. (fn. 15)

In March, 1537, ex-Prior Codde was not only awarded a pension of £24, but was appointed warden of the hospital of St. Giles, Norwich. (fn. 16)

The priory was granted on 14 February, 1538, to Thomas, earl of Rutland. (fn. 17)

Priors Of Pentney

Geoffrey, (fn. 18) occurs 1167

William de Vaux, (fn. 19) temp. Hen. II

Ralph, (fn. 20) occurs 1225

Simon, (fn. 21) mentioned 1228, 1250

Geoffrey, (fn. 22) c. 1260

William, (fn. 23) temp. Edw. I

Richard de Marham, (fn. 24) elected 1302

Giles de Whitwell, (fn. 25) elected 1338

Thomas de Helgeye, (fn. 26) elected 1342

Ralph de Framlingham, (fn. 27) elected 1349

Vincent de Caldecote, (fn. 28) elected 1351

Peter Bysshop, (fn. 29) elected 1353

Walter de Tyrington, (fn. 30) elected 1381

John de Wilton, (fn. 31) elected 1397

William Swaffham, (fn. 32) elected 1414

John de Tyrington, (fn. 33) elected 1416

Richard Pentney, (fn. 34) elected 1449

Ralph Medylton, (fn. 35) elected 1464

John Woodbridge, (fn. 36) elected 1496

John Hawe, (fn. 37) elected 1518

Robert Codde, (fn. 38) occurs 1526, last prior

The thirteenth-century seal ad causas of this house is oval (2 in. by 1½ in.), and shows Christ standing, in his left hand a cross, his right hand raised towards the kneeling figure of Mary Magdalene; over his head the crescent moon and stars, between the two figures the conventional tree, in the field NOLI ME TANGERE. Below is the half length figure of a monk in adoration. (fn. 39) Legend:



  • 1. The foundation charter is given in Dugdale, Mon. vi, 67-70, from a chartulary at Belvoir; Blomefield (Hist. of Norf. ix, 38-41), cites largely from the same source.
  • 2. Cal. of Pat. 33 Edw. I, pt. ii, m. 24.
  • 3. Ibid. 9 Edw. II, pt. ii, m. 32.
  • 4. Cat. of Camb. Univ. MSS. v, 291, 457.
  • 5. Pat. 18 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 44.
  • 6. Ibid. 19 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 20.
  • 7. Hist. of Abp. Becket (Rolls Ser.), vi, 543-59.
  • 8. Cal. Papal Reg. iii, 359.
  • 9. Ibid. 404.
  • 10. Jessopp, Norw. Visit. (Camd. Soc.), 29, 106, 167, 251, 312.
  • 11. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, 143.
  • 12. Chant. Cert. Norf. No. 90.
  • 13. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, 221.
  • 14. Ibid. xii (1), 218.
  • 15. Suppression Papers (P.R.O.), 832/5.
  • 16. Aug. Off. Bks. ccxxxii, fol. 49; L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii (1), 352 (33).
  • 17. Aug. Off. Bks. ccxi, fol. 22.
  • 18. Hist. of Abp. Becket (Rolls Ser.), vi, 262.
  • 19. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. ix, 41; almost certainly an error.
  • 20. Ibid.
  • 21. Ibid.
  • 22. Ibid.
  • 23. Ibid.
  • 24. Ibid.
  • 25. Norw. Epis. Reg. iii, 14.
  • 26. Ibid. 62.
  • 27. Ibid. iv, 96.
  • 28. Ibid. 133.
  • 29. Ibid. iv, 147.
  • 30. Ibid. vi, 76.
  • 31. Ibid.
  • 32. Ibid. vii, 89.
  • 33. Ibid. viii, 6.
  • 34. Ibid. xi, 19.
  • 35. Ibid. 143.
  • 36. Ibid. xii, 192.
  • 37. Ibid. xiv, 148.
  • 38. Rymer, Foedera, and Jessopp, Norw. Visit.
  • 39. Ackn. of Supr. (P.R.O.), No. 101*.