Houses of Austin canons: The priory of Fineshade or Castle Hymel

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

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, 'Houses of Austin canons: The priory of Fineshade or Castle Hymel', in A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 2, (London, 1906) pp. 135-136. British History Online [accessed 21 May 2024].

. "Houses of Austin canons: The priory of Fineshade or Castle Hymel", in A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 2, (London, 1906) 135-136. British History Online, accessed May 21, 2024,

. "Houses of Austin canons: The priory of Fineshade or Castle Hymel", A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 2, (London, 1906). 135-136. British History Online. Web. 21 May 2024,

In this section


Leland, in his delightful gossiping Itinerary, when passing in 1538 from Deene to Collyweston, on his way through Northamptonshire, says:—

'Almost yn the Middle Way I cam by Finshed, lately a priory of Blak Canons, leving it hardly on the righte hond, it is four miles from Stamford. Here in the very place where the Priory stoode was in times past a Castel caullid Hely, it longgid to the Engaynes: and they dwellid yn it, ontylle such tyme that one of them for lak of childern of his owne began a Priory ther, gyving them Landes even thereabout: whereby after the Castelle was pullid doune to make up the Priory, so that now there remaynith almost no token that ever ther was any Castel there.' (fn. 1)

Castle Hymel was demolished at the commencement of John's reign, when Richard Engayne the elder founded the priory for Austin canons at a little distance to the north-east of the castle. His son's confirmation charter (Leland was mistaken about the founder being childless) is given in the Monasticon, from which we find that the priory was originally known as the church of St. Mary of Castle-Hymel, and though soon afterwards popularly known as the priory of Fineshed, the official title of the foundation charter was retained on the common seal of the convent up to the dissolution. The founder endowed the priory with lands and messuages in Blatherwycke and Laxton, and died on 23 April, 1208. His elder son Richard, who was a bachelor, confirmed and increased the endowment, and dying soon after his father was buried at Huntingdon. He was succeeded by his brother Vitalis, who gave Linwood to the convent. Vitalis in his turn was succeeded by his son Henry, who died in 1261. Henry Engayne gave to the canons the churches of Blatherwycke and Laxton and the manor of Woodnewton, which donation was subsequently confirmed with additional lands by his nephew, John Engayne. (fn. 2)

On 2 May, 1223, Honorius III. issued a grant of protection and confirmation of their possessions to the prior and canons of St. Mary, Castle Hymel, with various privileges and immunities, and in the same year the pope confirmed an ordinance made by Richard Engayne their founder and patron, whereby the convent obtained the right to elect priors without the consent of the said patron or his successors. (fn. 3) Pope Alexander IV. in 1255 granted to the prior and canons of St. Mary's, Fineshade, described as 'wholly founded and built on the public road,' licence to appropriate the church of the Holy Trinity at Blatherwycke of their patronage, and of the annual value of eight marks, the grant to take effect on the next voidance, with the assent of bishop or archdeacon, a due portion being reserved for the vicar. (fn. 4)

With the exception of entries recording the election or appointment of successive heads, little information can be gathered respecting this priory. The name of the first prior has been lost. William Engayne of the founder's family, the third son of Vitalis, is the first superior who can be identified; he was probably the second prior. (fn. 5) A commission was appointed in 1319 to hear the complaint of William de Bernak that Richard, prior of Fineshade, and Robert de Benyfeld, his fellow canon, with many others, had broken his close at Blatherwycke, felled his trees, and carried away timber and other goods. (fn. 6) Prior Richard held office for over thirty years, and on his death, in 1341, was succeeded by John Bacon, a canon of the house. (fn. 7) He died within two years, and the bishop, who in the previous year had ordered a commission to inquire into alleged excesses within the house, (fn. 8) appointed in 1343 William Spalding as prior on the plea of irregularity of election. (fn. 9) A disastrous fire occurred at the priory early in the episcopate of Bishop Fleming, 1420-1431, and in December, 1422, the bishop sanctioned the appropriation of the church of Laxton on this account; the advowson had belonged to their house. (fn. 10) Only one visitation of this house is recorded, that of Bishop Gray, 1431-1436. His injunctions are of a purely formal character and throw no special light on the internal condition of the house. (fn. 11)

During the rule of Prior John Markfield in 1522 the house was called on to contribute the large sum (for so small a house) of £20 as a loan towards the king's expenses in connexion with his claim to the French throne. (fn. 12) The clear annual value of the house according to the Valor of 1535 at that time amounted to £56 10s. 11½d. (fn. 13) Christopher Harringworth, who became prior in 1526, subscribed with six fellow canons to the acknowledgement of the king's supremacy on 26 August, 1534. (fn. 14) The house came under the statute for the suppression of the smaller monasteries. On Palm Sunday, 1536, Humphrey Stafford wrote to Cromwell from Blatherwycke to beg for the gift of the priory of Fynshed, a house of canons in the county of Northampton. In the same letter he preferred a request for the house of canons of Worspring (Somerset) for his father. (fn. 15)

Thomas Luffenham, recently elected, was prior at the time of the actual surrender and received a pension of 10 marks. (fn. 16) After the dissolution the site and demesne of the priory were granted to John, Lord Russell, from whom they passed shortly to Sir Robert Kirkham, (fn. 17) who turned the conventual buildings into a residence. (fn. 18)

Priors of Fineshade

William Engayne, (fn. 19) elected 1226

Philip of Bedford, (fn. 20) elected 1233

Philemon, (fn. 21) occurs 1248

Ralph le Messag, (fn. 22) occurs 1248

John, (fn. 23) occurs 1258

William of St. Neots, (fn. 24) elected 1265, died 1275

Arnold of Slawston, (fn. 25) elected 1275, resigned 1289

Thomas of Tachebrok, (fn. 26) elected 1289, died 1305

Stephen of Stamford, (fn. 27) elected 1305, resigned 1310

Richard of Hold, (fn. 28) elected 1310, died 1341

John Bacon, (fn. 29) elected 1341, died 1343

William of Spalding, (fn. 30) appointed 1343

Robert, (fn. 31) died 1356

John de Piry, (fn. 32) appointed 1356

Henry Sutton, (fn. 33) died 1421

Richard Hemmingford, (fn. 34) elected 1421

Simon Bulwyk, (fn. 35) occurs 1480, died 1502

Robert of Exilby, (fn. 36) appointed 1502, died 1503

John Markfield, (fn. 37) appointed 1503, died 1526

Christopher Harringworth, (fn. 38) appointed 1526

Thomas Luffenham, (fn. 39) occurs at surrender of the house

A very fine thirteenth-century pointed oval seal of the priory, attached to the deed acknowledging the king's supremacy in 1534, now in the Record Office, (fn. 40) represents the Virgin seated on a carved throne under a canopy supported by two columns, the Holy Child with nimbus sitting on her left knee. On each side of her head is an estoile of eight points. Her feet are resting on a carved corbel. Legend:



  • 1. Itin. (Hearne ed.), i. 23.
  • 2. 'Ex rotulo quondam penes Edwardum Vaus anno 1620,' cited by Dugdale, Mon. vi. p. 450.
  • 3. Cal. of Papal L. i. 91, 92.
  • 4. Ibid. i. 318.
  • 5. Linc. Epis. Reg. Roll of Wells.
  • 6. Pat. 12 Edw. II. pt. 2, m. 6d.
  • 7. Linc. Epis. Reg. Inst. of Burghersh, f. 240.
  • 8. Ibid. Memo. of Beck, f. 19d.
  • 9. Ibid. Inst. of Beck, f. 59.
  • 10. Ibid. Memo. of Fleming, f. 220.
  • 11. Ibid. Memo. of Gray, f. 201d.
  • 12. L. and P. Hen. VIII. iii. pt. 2, 2483.
  • 13. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv. 297.
  • 14. P.R.O. Acknowledgement of Supremacy, No. 51.
  • 15. L. and P. Hen. VIII. x. 643.
  • 16. Misc. Bks. (Aug. Off.), 232, f. 28b.
  • 17. Pat. 33 Hen. VIII. pt. 1, cited by Bridges, Hist. of Northants, ii. 308.
  • 18. Ibid.
  • 19. Linc. Epis. Reg. Roll of Wells.
  • 20. Ibid.
  • 21. Cited by Bridges, Hist. of Northants, ii. 307, from Liber Swapham, f. 171b.
  • 22. Soc. of Antiq. MS. No. xxxviii. f. 94.
  • 23. Cited by Bridges from Liber Swapham, f. 280.
  • 24. Linc. Epis. Reg. Roll of Gravesend.
  • 25. Ibid.
  • 26. Ibid. Roll of Sutton.
  • 27. Ibid. Inst. of Dalderby, f. 109
  • 28. Ibid. f. 118.
  • 29. Ibid. Inst. of Burghersh, f. 240.
  • 30. Ibid. Inst. of Beck, f. 59.
  • 31. Ibid. Inst. of Gynwell, f. 166.
  • 32. Ibid.
  • 33. Ibid. Inst. of Fleming, f. 57.
  • 34. Ibid.
  • 35. Cal. Anct. D. (P.R.O.), B. 373.
  • 36. Linc. Epis. Reg. Inst. of Smith, f. 205d.
  • 37. Ibid. f. 211.
  • 38. Ibid. Inst. of Longlands, f. 97.
  • 39. Misc. Bks. (Aug. Off.), 232, f. 28b.
  • 40. P.R.O. Acknowledgement of Supremacy, No. 51.