Houses of Austin nuns: Priory of Flixton

Pages 115-117

A History of the County of Suffolk: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1975.

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An Austin nunnery was founded in honour of the Blessed Virgin and St. Katharine at Flixton, in the year 1258, by Margery, daughter of Geoffrey de Hanes and relict of Bartholomew de Crek, to whom Robert de Tatesale, son of Robert de Tatesale, knt., in 1256, granted licence to found a home of religion upon the fee which she held of him in Flixton, wheresoever she would in that town. He also granted her the fee, which she held of him there on nominal service, to appropriate to the said house. She endowed it with the manor of Flixton, and subsequently with her moiety of the advowson of Flixton, the advowson and appropriation of Dunston and Fundenhall, Norfolk. (fn. 2)

The same Robert de Tatesale subsequently granted to Beatrice, the first prioress, and the convent, the tenement that Margery de Crek held of him at Flixton, in pure alms, and Robert son of Bartholomew and Margery de Crek released to the prioress and the nuns all his right in the manor of Flixton (formerly his mother's) with the advowson of the moiety of the church.

Particulars as to this nunnery do not appear in the taxation roll of Pope Nicholas, 1291, but a survey of the priory lands and possessions in the following year supplies many interesting particulars. We there learn that the number of the nuns was limited by the founders to eighteen, in addition to a prioress, and that everyone received yearly 5s. for garments. The manor and part of the church at Flixton was worth 40s. a year, and the moiety of Flixton church, £4 13s. 4d., and the church of Dunston, £5; various lands, rents, and services brought the annual value up to £43 18s. 2¼d. (fn. 3)

A general return of the appropriated churches of the diocese, with the date of vicarage ordinations made in the year 1416, names only two under Flixton priory: Fundenhall 1347, and Flixton 1349. The advowson of Dunston is named as given to the priory in 1274, but not appropriated. (fn. 4)

At the instance of Master Robert de Cisterna, the king's leech, licence was granted in 1311 to the prioress and nuns of Flixton, on account of their income being insufficient for their sustenance, to acquire lands and tenements to the value of £10 a year. (fn. 5)

In 1321 the Bishop of Norwich effected an exchange with this priory of a moiety of the advowson (with permission to appropriate) of the church of Flixton for the advowson of the church of Helmingham, held by the nuns of the gift of Cicely, widow of Robert de Ufford. (fn. 6)

At the time of the Black Death (1349) the value of this house greatly deteriorated, and it dwindled to half its former income, a position from which it never recovered. The Valor of 1535 gave the total clear annual value, including the appropriations of the churches of Flixton, Fundenhall, and Dunston, as £23 4s. 0½d. Among the considerable outgoings the largest item was £8 3s. 4d., distributed to the poor on the anniversary of Margery the foundress. (fn. 7)

Among the rolls at the Bodleian is one of 1370, of articles, and depositions relative to a dispute pending in the Roman court between the parishioners of Fundenhall, Norfolk, and the prioress and convent of Flixton, concerning the repairs of Fundenhall church. (fn. 8)

Katharine Pilly, the prioress, who had laudably ruled this house for eighteen years, resigned in 1432, on account of old age and blindness. In the following year the bishop as visitor made careful provision for her sustenance. The exprioress was to have suitable rooms for herself and maid; each week she and her maid were to be provided with two white loaves, eight loaves of 'hool' bread (whole bread), and eight gallons of convent beer; with a dish for both, daily from the kitchen, the same as for two nuns in the refectory; and with 200 faggots and 100 logs, and eight pounds of candles a year. Another kindly provision was that Cecilia Creyke, one of the nuns, was to read divine service to her daily, and to sit with her at meals, having her portion from the refectory. (fn. 9)

Towards the close of the life of this house, the average number of the nuns was about eight, instead of the eighteen named by the founders. No evil was brought to light at the visitations of Bishops Goldwell and Nykke.

Bishop Goldwell personally visited' this priory on 20 June, 1493. Elizabeth Vyrly, the prioress, Margaret Causten, the sub-prioress, and four other nuns were severally examined, and nothing was found worthy of reformation. The nuns were attending mass at the parish church because their chaplain had broken his arm and was unable to celebrate. (fn. 10)

Bishop Nykke made his first visitation to this priory on 11 August, 1514. Various complaints were made as to the caprice and severity of the prioress, the laxity of discipline and administration, and of the frequent access of John Wells, a relative, to the prioress. The bishop ordered that John Wells (who seems to have been the chaplain) should leave the house and town, before All Saints' day, and adjourned the visitation to the following Easter. (fn. 11)

The visitation of 14 August, 1520, was held by the suffragan Bishop of Chalcedon and other commissaries. Alice (Elizabeth) Wright, prioress, complained of the disobedience of Margaret Punder, her predecessor, but gave a good report of everything in the house. The late prioress complained of non-receipt of her proper pension, board, and winter fuel. The sub-prioress stated that no annual account was presented. Isabel Asshe said that when she and her sisters were unwell, the prioress compelled them to rise for mattins, in which complaint three other nuns agreed. The visitation was adjourned, and the prioress was ordered to present the accounts and inventory before Christmas. (fn. 12)

The visitation was resumed on 20 August by Nicholas Carr, the chancellor of the diocese, and another commissary, when each inmate was again severally examined. The prioress pleaded that no accounts had been presented, as she was not accustomed to figures and had not written down what she had expended. Margaret Punder, the ex-prioress, repeated her complaint of niggardly treatment, adding that she was unwilling to yield obedience to the prioress as contrary to the rules of religion. Five other sisters testified omnia bene, save the non-presentment of accounts. The chancellor enjoined on the prioress that all dogs were to be removed from the priory within a month, save one; that the prioress was to have a sister with her if she slept outside the dormitory; that she was to render a yearly account before the senior sisters of the state of the houses and of all receipts and expenses, under pain of deprivation; and that she was to discharge Richard Carr from the priory's service. (fn. 13)

At the visitation of August, 1526, the prioress, ex-prioress, and four other sisters all testified omnia bene, save that the sub-prioress complained of the defective roofs of the cloister and refectory which the prioress was ordered to repair as quickly as possible. (fn. 14) The visitation was equally satisfactory in every respect in 1532, when the same prioress and ex-prioress and six other sisters were all examined. (fn. 15)

Flixton Priory was among those numerous small houses of East Anglia, &c., that were authorized to be suppressed in 1527-8 by bulls of Pope Clement VII, to enable Cardinal Wolsey to found great colleges at Ipswich and Oxford. Wolsey's fall, however, prevented the accomplishment of this plan, so that Flixton was included in the general suppression of the smaller houses by the legislation of 1536. The Suffolk commissioners visited this nunnery on 21 August, 1536, when they drew up an elaborate inventory of the goods and chattels of the house. 'In the Chiste wt. in the quire' were a great array of vestments, but many of them very old; 'Seynt Kateryn's cote of clothe of gold lyttle worth att iiiid.' The chambers were well supplied with bedding. The pewter in the buttery, the table linen in the refectory, and the utensils in the kitchen were much battered and worn, and of small value. The church plate was valued at £5 15s. 4d., the most valuable item being 'a crosse cette with Glasse of Sylvar and parcell gilt with Mary and John, pond, xx oz. att iiis. iiiid. the oz. lxvis. viiid.' The conventual or table plate was valued at £8 7s.; it included a maser with a silver foot, and two other masers with silver bands. The cattle, hay, and corn were worth upwards of £10, and the whole inventory amounted to £20 9s. 5d. (fn. 16)

Elizabeth Wright, the prioress, surrendered the house on 4 February, 1536-7. (fn. 17)

The priory and its possessions were granted by the crown on 10 July, 1537, to Richard Warton. (fn. 18)

Prioresses of Flixton

Eleanor, (fn. 19) occurs 1258

Beatrice de Ratlesden, (fn. 20) occurs 1263, &c.

Emma de Welholm, (fn. 21) 1301-28

Margery de Stonham, (fn. 22) died 1345

Isabel Weltham, (fn. 23) elected 1345

Joan de Hemynhall, (fn. 24) occurs 1357

Joan Marshall, (fn. 25) occurs 1371

Margery Howel, (fn. 26) elected 1375

Katharine Hereward, (fn. 27) elected 1392

Elizabeth Moor, (fn. 28) died 1414

Katharine Pilly, (fn. 29) elected 1414

Maud Rycher, (fn. 30) elected 1432

Mary Dalangehoo (Delanio), (fn. 31) died 1446

Cecilia Creyk, (fn. 32) elected 1446

Helen, (fn. 33) resigned 1466

Margery Arteys, (fn. 34) elected 1466

Isabel, (fn. 35) occurs 1483

Elizabeth Vyrly, (fn. 36) occurs 1493

Margaret Punder, (fn. 37) occurs 1510-16

Elizabeth Wright, (fn. 38) occurs 1520, surrendered 1537 (fn. 39)

Impressions of the seal, lozenge-shaped, with a semicircular lobe on each of the four sides, are affixed to several Flixton charters of the Stowe collection of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. (fn. 40)

It bears our Lord on the Cross between St. Mary and St. John, with sun and moon; in the base, under an arch, the Agnus Dei; in each of the lobes one of the symbols of the evangelists.


  • 1. Stowe MS. (B.M.), 1083, is a miscellaneous volume of extracts and abstracts, with a few original documents. Nos. 56 to 84 are abstracts of a number of Flixton priory evidences. Those bearing the names of successive prioresses seem to have been selected for citation. The writing of these abstracts is in a hand of about the middle of the sixteenth century. Nos. 79, 80, and 81 are undated abstracts of charters temp. Edw. I, all giving the name of Prioress Beatrice. The originals of these charters are in the hands of the Earl of Ashburnham. Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. viii, pt. ii, 27.
  • 2. Lansd. MS. 477, &c., cited in Suckling, Hist. of Suff. i, 190.
  • 3. Jermyn MSS. cited in Suckling, Hist. of Suff. i, 191.
  • 4. Norw. Epis. Reg. viii, fol. 125.
  • 5. Pat. 4 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 24.
  • 6. Pat. 14 Edw. II, pt. ii, m. 21.
  • 7. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii, 446.
  • 8. Bodl. Rolls, Suff. 13.
  • 9. Norw. Epis. Reg. ix, 87.
  • 10. Jessopp, Visit. 47-8.
  • 11. Ibid. 144.
  • 12. Ibid. 185-6.
  • 13. Ibid. 190-1.
  • 14. Ibid. 261.
  • 15. Ibid. 318-19.
  • 16. Proc. Suff. Arch. Inst. viii, 89-90.
  • 17. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii, pt. i, 510.
  • 18. Misc. Bks. (Aug. Off.), ccix, fol. 114.
  • 19. Tanner MSS.
  • 20. Stowe MS. 1083.
  • 21. Norw. Epis. Reg. i, 7.
  • 22. Ibid. iv, 52.
  • 23. Norw. Epis. Reg. iv, 52.
  • 24. Stowe MS. 1082, No. 62.
  • 25. Ibid. No. 83.
  • 26. Norw. Epis. Reg. vi, 43.
  • 27. Ibid. vi, 170.
  • 28. Ibid. vii, 84.
  • 29. Ibid.
  • 30. Ibid. ix, 58.
  • 31. Ibid. xi, 3.
  • 32. Ibid.
  • 33. Ibid. 155.
  • 34. Ibid.
  • 35. Stowe MS. No. 74.
  • 36. Jessopp, Visit. 48.
  • 37. Ibid. 105.
  • 38. Ibid. 190.
  • 39. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii (1), 510.
  • 40. Nos. 44, 47, 50, 64, 70, and 72.