House of Gilbertines: The priory of Shouldham

Pages 412-414

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

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This Gilbertine priory, dedicated conjointly to the Holy Cross and the Blessed Virgin, was founded by Geoffrey FitzPiers, earl of Essex, in the reign of Richard I, for canons and nuns of the order of St. Gilbert of Sempringham.

The foundation charter is cited in confirmation grants of both Edward III and Henry IV, and has been printed in the Monasticon, (fn. 1) The founder granted to the house his manor of Shouldham, with its members, the churches of All Saints and St. Margaret's in Shouldham, and those of Carbaysthorp, Stoke Ferry, and Wereham.

Geoffrey FitzPiers was chief justiciary of England. On the foundation of the priory he removed the body of his first wife, Beatrice, eldest daughter and co-heir of William de Say, to this church from the Gilbertine priory of Chicksands, Bedfordshire, in which chapter-house she had been originally buried. He died on 2 October, 1212, and was buried by his first wife.

By a further charter, temp. John, Geoffrey bestowed on this priory twelve shops, with the rooms over them, in the parish of St. Mary's Colechurch, London, for the purpose of sustaining the lights of the church and of providing the sacramental wine. (fn. 2)

William de Mandeville, earl of Essex, second son of the founder, not only confirmed his father's gifts but gave to the priory the messuage and demesne lands, &c., which the founder had reserved for his own use; he was buried at the priory in 1227. His widow Christiana made further bequests. (fn. 3)

In 1248 Henry III granted the priory a Friday weekly market at Stoke Ferry, and a yearly fair there on the morrow and feast of St. Nicholas. (fn. 4)

The jury of the hundred of Clakelose found, in 1275, that the prior of Shouldham had had grant of free warren from Henry III, and also that the tenants, by another charter of the same king, need not answer for their lands in any court save that of the king before his chief justice. (fn. 5) About the same time the prior's right to the advowson of All Saints, Shouldham, and 20s. rent there was called in question, and referred for judgement to the next Hilary term at Westminster. (fn. 6) His rights were eventually maintained.

The taxation roll of 1291 showed that this priory had an annual income of £207 7s. 9½d., holding property in twenty-six Norfolk parishes, in addition to the shops in the city of London.

Licence to appropriate the church of Fincham, by gift of John Bardolf, was also granted in 1344. (fn. 7)

Gervase de Willeford, rector of Burwash, and Roger de Dersingham obtained licence for alienation to this priory, in 1344, of 40s. rent in Shouldham, &c., to maintain a lamp to burn daily in the church and to say a collect at masses for their souls and their parents' souls. (fn. 8)

Pardon was granted to the priory in 1313 on payment of the heavy fine of 40 marks for appropriating in mortmain without licence the church of Stanford, which was of their patronage. (fn. 9) It had been appropriated in 1301, and was the gift of William Mortimer of Attleborough. The ordination of the vicarage and leave to appropriate were duly granted and registered by the bishop, but civil sanction had either been forgotten or deliberately overlooked on account of the attendant expense.

The rectory of Fincham St. Martin was appropriated to the priory and a vicarage ordained in 1350. For obtaining the bishop's assent a pension of 26s. 8d. was assigned to him and his successors. (fn. 10) The priory paid 100s. to the king in 1386 for licence to hold considerable lands in Shouldham for celebrating yearly in their priory church the obits of Guy de Beauchamp, knight, and Philippa his wife, deceased, and of Katharine their daughter when she had departed this life. (fn. 11)

Robert de Syvington occurs as prior on 10 July, 1387, when his signature was appended to a deed securing a pension of 23s. 4d. to the bishop of Norwich on the appropriation of the church of Holy Trinity, Caister, which had been granted to the priory by Lord Bardolf. (fn. 12) Pope Boniface in 1392 confirmed the appropriation of Caister church, valued at 40 marks, the priory being valued at 200 marks. The confirmation states that the other priory buildings had been recently overthrown, almost from their foundations, by floods of river and sea (aquarum et maritimorum fluctuum), by fires, and a great gale, and its possessions in great part destroyed. A fitting portion was to be assigned for a vicar, who was to be a secular clerk. (fn. 13)

A return made to the crown of the appropriated churches of this diocese in 1416 names three churches appropriated to Shouldham Priory, viz. Stanford, Fincham St. Martin (1350), and Holy Trinity, Caister (1387); the priory held also at that date the advowson of the churches of Carleton St. Peter, Stoke All Saints, Wereham, Shouldham, and Wiggenhall St. Peter.

John Edmund, he being then prior, was instituted to the rectory of Fincham St. Michael on 18 February, 1502, on the presentation of Castle Acre Priory; he died in 1504.

Robert Swift was prior in 1535 when the Valor Ecclesiasticus was drawn up; the clear annual value of the priory was then declared at £138 18s. 1d.

A commission was granted in 1281 to inquire into the complaint of Richard Maillie, who alleged that he was assaulted at the door of the church of Northwold, maimed and imprisoned by Benedict, prior of Shouldham, Brother John de Shouldham, and ten others, who are named; and that afterwards the same persons came to his house at Stoke Ferry, broke open the doors, and carried away his goods. (fn. 14) In 1294 there was a renewed charge by the same complainant for trespass at Stoke Ferry against Nicholas, prior of Shouldham, and others. (fn. 15)

William Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, married Maud, eldest sister and co-heir of Richard, Lord FitzJohn, who was great-grandson of the founder of the priory. By this marriage the patronage of Shouldham remained with the earls of Warwick until the time of Henry VII. This William, who died in 1298, had two daughters, nuns at Shouldham, to whom (or rather to the convent) he left by his will 50 marks. (fn. 16)

Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, who died in 1369, left to Margaret, his daughter, widow of Guy de Montfort, and then a nun at Shouldham, a ring, a covered cup, and 40 marks. He also bequeathed to Katharine, daughter of his son Guy (who had pre-deceased him), a nun of Shouldham, a gold ring and £20. (fn. 17) This Guy Beauchamp, who made his will before going to the wars, and died in France in 1351, left his fourth best ring to his daughter the nun Katharine, and the church of Necton to the priory to serve for the maintenance of Katharine and Elizabeth his two daughters, and after their death as stipend for a priest to say daily mass for the souls of his father and mother, himself, and his wife and his daughters. (fn. 18)

Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, who succeeded his father of the same name, incurred the displeasure of Richard II in 1397-8, was banished to the Isle of Man and forfeited his estates; whereupon his niece Katharine, the nun of Shouldham, petitioned the king in her own behalf, as having had no share in her father's inheritance, with the result that an annuity of 40 marks was granted her from the exchequer, which, of course, went to the convent. Her uncle, the earl, died in 1400, and instructed his executors to bestow some suitable gift upon Katharine. (fn. 19)

In 1321 a strange and fatal accident occurred at this Gilbertine house. One of the canons, William de Spalding by name, was playing at football; during the game a lay friend of his, also called William, ran against him and wounded himself on a sheathed knife carried by the canon, with the result that he died within six days. No blame was attached to the canon, who felt deeply the death of his friend, and on appeal to the pope a dispensation was granted. (fn. 20)

On 7 April, 1324, the sheriff of Hampshire was ordered to cause Margaret, the eldest daughter of Sir Roger de Mortimer of Wilmore, to be conducted to the priory of Shouldham. At the same time the sheriff ordered the convent to receive and keep her safely amongst the nuns, informing them that they would receive from the king's treasure 15d. weekly for her maintenance and a mark yearly for her robe. Margaret's younger sisters, Joan and Isabella, were in like manner severally despatched to the Gilbertine houses of Sempringham and Cockersand, 12d. a week being paid for their maintenance. (fn. 21)

The untrustworthy comperta of Ap Rice and Legh, presented in 1536, alleged confessions of incontinence by two nuns and three canons of this house. (fn. 22)

The house was surrendered on 15 October, 1538; it was signed by Robert Swift, prior, Richard Foster, sub-prior, and eight other canons, and also by Elizabeth Fincham, prioress, Joan Plomstede, sub-prioress, and five other nuns. (fn. 23)

On 24 November the prior obtained a pension of £20, and eight canons smaller amounts; at the same time a pension of £5 was assigned to the prioress, and smaller sums to eight nuns. (fn. 24)

After the dissolution this priory and its possessions remained in the hands of the crown until 1553, when it was sold to Thomas Mildmay for £1,049 9sd.

Priors of Shouldham

William, (fn. 25) occurs 1250

Richard, (fn. 26) occurs c. 1270

Benedict, (fn. 27) occurs 1281

Nicholas, (fn. 28) occurs 1294

Thomas de Carmirton alias Carmelton, (fn. 29) resigned before 1305

Robert de Syvington, (fn. 30) occurs 1387

Robert, (fn. 31) occurs 1404

Nicholas Feriby, (fn. 32) occurs 1413

Hugh Hull, (fn. 33) occurs 1435

Thomas, (fn. 34) 1439

John Wenham, (fn. 35) 1455

Thomas Stanton, (fn. 36) occurs 1479

Thomas, (fn. 37) 1493

John Edmund, (fn. 38) occurs 1502

John Bray, (fn. 39) occurs 1517

Robert Swift, (fn. 40) occurs 1534

Prioresses of Shouldham

Margaret Cecily occurs 1404 (fn. 41)

Anna, (fn. 42) 1453

Joan, (fn. 43) 1465

Elizabeth Fincham, (fn. 44) 1531


  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. vi, 974-5.
  • 2. Duodecim soppas cum soliis. (Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. vii, 418-19.)
  • 3. Duodecim soppas cum soliis. (Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. vii, 418-19.)
  • 4. Chart. R. 32 Hen. III, m. 6.
  • 5. Hund. R. (Rec. Com.), i, 458, 519, 532, 538.
  • 6. Quo Warranto Rolls, 489.
  • 7. Pat. 18 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 5.
  • 8. Pat. 18 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 2.
  • 9. Cal. of Pat. 7 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 3.
  • 10. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. vii, 424.
  • 11. Pat. 10 Ric. II. pt. i, m. 23.
  • 12. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. vii, 424-5.
  • 13. Cal. Papal Reg. iv, 438.
  • 14. Pat. 9 Edw. I, m. 12. This cause was still pending in 1292 (Pat. 20 Edw. I, m. 13).
  • 15. Cal. of Pat. 22 Edw. I, m. 12d.
  • 16. Dugdale, Baronage, i, 226, 229.
  • 17. Ibid. 233, 235.
  • 18. Ibid. 235.
  • 19. Ibid. 237-8.
  • 20. Cal. Papal Reg. ii, 214.
  • 21. Cal. of Close, 17 Edw. II, m. 15. Sir Roger de Mortimer had escaped out of the Tower of London. Chron. de Sempringham, fol. 351.
  • 22. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, 143.
  • 23. Rymer, Foedera (Rec. Com.), xiv, 620.
  • 24. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiv (1), 600.
  • 25. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. vii, 424.
  • 26. Ibid.
  • 27. Pat. 9 Edw. I, m. 12.
  • 28. Pat. 22 Edw. I, m. 12 d.
  • 29. He essoins as 'formerly prior' in this year; Assize R. 1235, m. 38 d, 45.
  • 30. Pat. 10 Ric. II, pt. i, m. 23.
  • 31. Memo. R.K.R. Trin. 5 Hen. IV, m. 5.
  • 32. Norw. Epis. Reg. vii, 60.
  • 33. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. vii, 424.
  • 34. Norw. Epis. Reg. x, 27.
  • 35. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. vii, 424.
  • 36. Ibid.
  • 37. Norw. Epis. Reg. xii, 175.
  • 38. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. vii, 424.
  • 39. Ibid.
  • 40. Ibid.
  • 41. They are named jointly as prioresses; Memos. R.K.R. Trin. 5 Hen. IV, m. 5.
  • 42. Tanner, Norw. MSS. i, 579.
  • 43. Ibid.
  • 44. Ibid.