Houses of Benedictine monks: Gloucester College, Oxford

A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.

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'Houses of Benedictine monks: Gloucester College, Oxford', A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 2, (London, 1907), pp. 70-71. British History Online [accessed 21 June 2024].

. "Houses of Benedictine monks: Gloucester College, Oxford", in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 2, (London, 1907) 70-71. British History Online, accessed June 21, 2024,

. "Houses of Benedictine monks: Gloucester College, Oxford", A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 2, (London, 1907). 70-71. British History Online. Web. 21 June 2024,

In this section


In the year 1283 John Giffard of Brimpsfield, having bought a house in Stockwell Street, Oxford, from the Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem, presented it to the community of the Benedictine order of the province of Canterbury, that thirteen monks might study there. (fn. 1) The abbots who presided over the conference of the order requested the abbey of St. Peter, Gloucester, to take charge of this gift, and accordingly monks were sent from Gloucester under the charge of Henry de Heliun as prior; and in 1284 we find H. 'prior Oxonie,' voting as the prior of a cell of Gloucester. (fn. 2) In 1291, when John Giffard granted four more tenements, the conference of the Benedictine order decided that an independent priory should be established under Henry de Heliun as first prior, the patron saints being St. John the Evangelist and St. Benedict. The abbey of Gloucester released him from all subjection and renounced all special claim upon the premises; and in consequence the abbots of the order consented to make contributions towards the erection of buildings, on condition that they should have the privilege of sending monks to reside there for a course of study. Besides these temporary inmates there were to be other permanent members of the priory, probably monks who had taken their degrees; and when the office of prior became vacant both alike should have the privilege of voting, and whoever was chosen was to be presented to John Giffard or his heirs, as the founder and patron of the priory. (fn. 3) It is clear, therefore, that Gloucester College was not, like Durham College, a cell of another house; and the title 'Gloucester' adhered to it merely because for the first eight years it was affiliated to Gloucester Abbey. On 6 July, 1291, an agreement was made between Oseney Abbey, which held the parish churches of St. Mary Magdalen, Saint George, and St. Thomas, and the prior 'of the monks of St. Benedict in Stockwell St.' that the priory, which was situated in these three parishes, should be exempt from tithe by a payment of 6s. 8d. a year, (fn. 4) and that the monks might build a chapel for their own use with the right of sepulture.

As the priory had no endowments, each monastery not only built its own tenement, but repaired it, if necessary, and always retained the ownership. Thus, in 1371, Christ Church, Canterbury, conveyed its rooms to the abbey of Westminster, (fn. 5) and in 1412 and 1440 Malmesbury Abbey granted two of its rooms, being between those of Winchcombe on the north, and Tewkesbury on the south, to the priory of Worcester in perpetuity. (fn. 6) The monasteries were also called upon to support their own students; it is said that the allowance given by Gloucester Abbey was £10 to each monk; (fn. 7) but Eynsham only allowed £6 10s. (fn. 8)

The ordinance made by Pope Benedict XII in 1337, that all Benedictine houses should send students to a university, one for every twenty monks, and that even if the number was less than twenty they must send one student if their numbers were more than six, (fn. 9) must have increased the attendance at Gloucester College. For, though some of the Benedictine houses sent their monks to Cambridge, notably St. John's at Colchester, yet they had no college there for many years, and most of the students came to Oxford. At a meeting of the Benedictine order in 1343 it was decided that no rooms at Gloucester College were to be kept vacant more than half a year if there was any applicant for them; but that the monastery 'that had built them or repaired them liberally (nobiliter)' might claim them back for its students at any time. (fn. 10) From speeches made by the prior at meetings of the Benedictine order in 1423 and 1426, we learn that the ordinance of Pope Benedict was not being loyally kept, not from a dislike of learning, but because it was expensive to support monks at Oxford; that Evesham ought to supply two monks, Abingdon two, Malmesbury two, St. Augustine's, Canterbury, four, Chertsey one, Coventry one, Whitby one, Burton one, and Tavistock one; Chester, Muchelney, Hide, Abbotsbury and Westminster are also mentioned, but the numbers are not given; (fn. 11) also we know that Worcester sent two in 1346. (fn. 12) But we must not conclude that all these resided at Gloucester College; both Durham College and Canterbury (fn. 13) College admitted monks from other monasteries, and we hear of some turbulent students who betook themselves to Gloucester College when expelled from Canterbury College. (fn. 14) But there can be no doubt that Gloucester College was the chief seat of Benedictines; we have seen that Malmesbury, Worcester, Westminster, Tewkesbury, and Winchcombe had rooms there, and Wood gives reasons for adding St. Albans, Reading, Ramsey, St. Peter's Gloucester, Glastonbury, Norwich, Rochester, and Bury St. Edmunds; (fn. 15) so that the number of its students must have been considerable. The prior of the college, generally called 'Prior Oxonie,' was in some sense set over all Benedictine students, those from the northern as well as from the southern province; on one occasion he complained of breach of Benedictine rules at Canterbury College; and though Durham College would not own obedience to him, yet they allowed that he was the representative of the order in Oxford. (fn. 16)

Three other facts may be learnt from the records in Reyner; first, that the original mode of electing the prior was soon changed; such strife had there been about it that the students were forbidden to take any part in it; anyone who broke this rule was to be sent back immediately to his monastery; (fn. 17) and we gather that it was the custom for the presidents of the Benedictine synod to appoint to the post. Secondly, we learn that the buildings progressed but slowly; in 1343 it had been decreed that the students should attend the chapel on holy days, but this can only have referred to an oratory, such as was licensed in many halls, since the chapel was still unfinished in 1426, though it had been many years in building. (fn. 18) Thirdly, we notice how much preaching was done at the college; it was repeatedly ordained at the synods of the order, that those monks who went to Oxford 'solely that they might be able to preach, when they return to their monasteries,' should practise frequently 'in the common place of our order' (i.e. Gloucester College).

Priors of Gloucester College, Oxford

Henry de Heliun, (fn. 19) occurs 1283 and 1292 (fn. 20)

Thomas Ledbury, occurs 1420 and 1423 (fn. 21)

Edmund Kirton, occurs 1426 (fn. 22)

John Bevere, appointed 1429 (fn. 23)

John Whetehampstede, before 1444 (fn. 24)

John Amundesham, c. 1450 (fn. 25)

Richard Ringsted, occurs 1452 (fn. 26)

John Fordam (fn. 27)

Dr. Stangwell in 1502 (fn. 27)

John Winchcombe in 1512 (fn. 27)

Anthony Kitchin, occurs 1526 and 1529 (fn. 28)


  • 1. Cartul. of S. Peter's, Glouc. (Rolls Ser.), i, 32; Reyner, Apostolatus Benedictinorum, App. 54; Annals of Worc. (Rolls Ser.), 488.
  • 2. Cartul. of Glouc. (Rolls Ser.), iii, 26.
  • 3. From Reyner, who obtained his facts from Cott. MS. Tib. E. iv, fols. 43, 44; Wood (Life and Times, iv, 105) thought the manuscript had additional facts, but in reality Reyner copied the whole.
  • 4. MS. among muniments of Ch. Ch. Oxf.
  • 5. Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. v, 451.
  • 6. Ibid. xiv, App. viii, 182.
  • 7. Dugdale, Mon. i, 534.
  • 8. Harl. Roll F. 20.
  • 9. Reyner, Apostol. App. 199.
  • 10. Reyner, op. cit. 162.
  • 11. Ibid. 176, 186.
  • 12. Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. xiv, App. viii, 168.
  • 13. See the accounts of them.
  • 14. Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. v, 451.
  • 15. Wood, City of Oxford, ii, 255.
  • 16. Collectanea (Oxf. Hist. Soc.), iii, 19.
  • 17. Reyner, op. cit. 134.
  • 18. Reyner, op. cit. 176, 186.
  • 19. Cott. MS. Tib. E. iv, fol. 43, gives Heliun, not Helm, as in Reyner.
  • 20. Close, 20 Edw. I, m. 11d.
  • 21. Reyner, op. cit. 176.
  • 22. Reyner, op. cit. 186; he was elected abbot of Westminster in 1444. The date 1435, given in Wood, City of Oxf. (ed. Clark), ii, 262, is only a conjecture, as may be seen by a reference to the Hist. of Univ. of Oxf. (ed. Gutch), i, 587.
  • 23. J. Amundesham, Annales (Rolls Ser.), i, 40.
  • 24. Wood, City of Oxf. ii, 262.
  • 25. Ibid. ii, 260.
  • 26. Charter at Ch. Ch. Oxf.
  • 27. Wood, City of Oxford (ed. Clark), ii, 261 and 263, on authorities which it has not in all cases been possible to test.
  • 28. Foxe, Book of Martyrs (ed. 1684), ii, 439; Wood, op. cit. ii, 263.