A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1906.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
HOUSE OF KNIGHTS HOSPITALLERS
18. THE PRECEPTORY OF DINGLEY
There was a preceptory of the Knights Hospitallers at Dingley as early as the reign of Stephen. William de Clopton, and his wife Emma, gave to this preceptory in the reign of Henry II. a messuage, with divers rents and 169 acres of land, all in Clopton. To the same preceptory William, earl Ferrars, and Letitia Ferrers gave much land in Passenham; and Roger, earl of Hereford, a mill at Towcester. (fn. 1)
In 1296 Hugh de Dingley held one manor at Dingley, and the Knights Hospitallers another and smaller manor; this division continued till the dissolution of the order. (fn. 2) The lords of the principal manor presented to the rectory of Dingley until 1448, when the prior of St. John of Jerusalem presented; (fn. 3) the presentation remained in the knights' hands until their suppression.
The report of Prior Philip de Thame to the Grand Master Elyan de Villanova, for 1338, giving full particulars of all the English possessions of the order, is fortunately extant, and was well edited for the Camden Society in 1857; it shows for this commandery a total income of £79 4s., and a total expenditure of £37 0s. 4d., leaving the handsome balance of £42 3s. 8d. for the general treasury of the grand prior of England. This return also specifies that Sir William Waldechef was preceptor or commander, and that the two who held corrodies in the house were Hugh le Chaplain and Robert de Braibrock, 'scutifer.'
The order of St. John was divided under three separate heads—knights, chaplains, and serving brothers. The serving brothers were sub-divided into two classes, the one included those who entered this rank of the order with the hopes of winning their spurs under the White Cross banner, and afterwards advancing to the class of knights, whilst the other was formed of men of lower birth, who had no such expectation. To the former of these two divisions Robert of the Dingley preceptory must have belonged, for he is termed both 'armiger' and 'scutifer.' At a chapter-general, however, held in 1357, this sub-division was abolished, it being ruled that no serving brother should henceforth be eligible for knightly rank.
A court roll of the Hospitallers' manor of Dingley, dated 18 March, 1482, names Sir Henry Halley as preceptor. The chief finding of the jury on that occasion related to the ruinous condition of a spring (fons) called 'a horse-well,' used by the whole town; it was ordered to be repaired before the next feast of Trinity, under pain of a fine of 6s. 8d. (fn. 4)
Sir Giles Russell was the last commander of Dingley; he was also commander of the preceptory of Battisford, Suffolk. He was summoned on 16 February, 1530-1, by Sir William Weston, prior of St. John of Jerusalem, to attend the provincial chapter at Clerkenwell, on Thursday after Whit-Sunday, and to pay his dues to the common treasure. (fn. 5) Russell was evidently a man of considerable importance in the order, for two days after the summons was dispatched the prior's secretary writes to him saying that if he has any business of importance to bring before the chapter, and will let him know, such matter should be expedited. (fn. 6) A year later the prior wrote to Sir Giles in favor of John Launde, an old servant of the religion, who held by copy a tenement called Freres, in Russell's commandery, and received a speedy reply. (fn. 7)
In May, 1532, the prior wrote to Sir Giles, stating that a bull, under lead, had arrived from the council in Malta, ordering the payment of their responsions for 1532. He desires him to pay as soon as possible, 'for the religion has right great need.' (fn. 8)
In September of the same year Sir Giles, who was then in London, received a letter from Sir Ambrose Cave, commander of the preceptory of Stydd, Derbyshire, asking him whilst in town to arrange for a visitation of Stydd, and expressing a hope that he (Sir Giles) may be one of the visitors. He deprecated the visitors bringing a large company with them, for if they did so it meant dice and cards at the fireside for their servants. (fn. 9) Sir Robert Croftes, commander of Baddesley, Hants, wrote to Sir Giles in the following November, consulting him as to the non-payment of tithes on apples, pears, ducks, and walnuts. (fn. 10)
In a debtor and creditor account of the sums of money called 'responsions,' paid by the knights of St. John in England to the common treasury of the order for the year 1535, the name of Sir Giles Russell is entered as paying for Dingley preceptory. The Valor Ecclesiasticus of this year yields no information with regard to this preceptory. The Northamptonshire return states that the necessary information would be given under Battisford, Suffolk, as Sir Giles held both preceptories, but nothing is entered pertaining to Northamptonshire under that head.
In 1539 Sir Giles Russell was nominated lieutenant turcopolier. Turcopolier was a title peculiar to the head of the ancient langue or province of England, and was much valued. This officer was commander of the turcopoles or light cavalry, and had also the care of the coast defences of the island of Rhodes, and afterwards of that of Malta. There are two interesting letters extant from Sir Giles at Malta, one to Sir John Mablesteyn, sub-prior of the order in England, and the other to his brother, Lord Russell, both dated 27 October, 1539. (fn. 11) In the latter he refers to the stuff at his Dingley preceptory, stating that it was good and ought to be recovered, and added that he was writing to the parson of Dingley and his chaplain, Thomas Borow, on the same subject. The parson or rector of Dingley at that time was another brother of Sir Giles, Thomas Russell, who had been presented by him to the rectory in 1530. (fn. 12) Sir Giles Russell died in 1543; at his death it was decreed by the chapter-general at Malta that there should be no further nomination to the dignity of turcopolier until the (Roman) Catholic religion should be re-established in England.
It is infinitely to the credit of the knights of St. John that they refused the degrading terms offered them in 1538 by Henry VIII. to save their broad acres in England. In 1540 the whole of their property in this country was confiscated, and those who declined to yield spiritual obedience to the king were bitterly persecuted and imprisoned, whilst several suffered death on the scaffold. Those who yielded had pensions assigned them out of the confiscated property. Among these occurs the name of Sir Giles Russell, who is entered for a pension of £100. (fn. 13)
The priory manor of Dingley was granted by the crown in 1540 to Edward Hastings for twenty-one years; the reversion of the manor and the advowson of the rectory were purchased of the crown in 1543 by Edward Griffin for £360 8s. 2d. The patent mentions the dovecote, garden, orchard called 'Paradyse,' and cemetery, as well as arable, pasture, and woodlands. (fn. 14)
On the accession of Queen Mary there was a brief revival of the order, by patent of 2 April, 1557. This revival was of special interest in Northamptonshire, for Sir Thomas Tresham, of Rushton, was appointed grand prior of St. John Angliæ.
There were 'cameræ' belonging to the order at Harrington, Blakesley, and Guilsborough, Brother Nicholas occurring as 'the master of the hospital' at the last-named place in 1285. (fn. 15)