A History of the County of Suffolk: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1975.
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HOUSE OF MINORESSES
44. THE ABBEY OF BRUISYARD
A brief account is given under the nunnery of Campsey of the founding by Maud countess of Ulster, in 1346, of a perpetual chantry of four chaplains and a warden in the chapel of the Annunciation, within the conventual church of Campsey. (fn. 1) Eight years later this chantry or college was removed from the nunnery to the manor place of Rokehall, in Bruisyard parish, where a chapel of the Annunciation was built and rooms provided for the warden and four priests. The sound reasons alleged for the change were that the residence for these five chaplains was in the village of Ashe, some distance from the priory church of Campsey, and that this going backwards and forwards for the various divine offices in wintry and rainy weather was unduly onerous for the older chaplains; moreover it was thought more expedient that their chapel should be in some other place, 'ubi non est conversatio mulierum.' (fn. 2)
This chantry or collegiate church at Bruisyard had, however, but a brief life; for in 1364, on some complaints, at the instance of Lionel duke of Clarence and with the consent of king and bishop, it was agreed that this establishment should be surrendered for the use of an abbess and sisters belonging to the order of Nuns Minoresses or Sisters of St. Clare. (fn. 3) The actual surrender to the nuns was not accomplished until 4 October, 1366.
Sir Nicholas Gernoun, knight, in his old age and infirmity, was allowed to dwell at the house of the Nuns Minoresses of Bruisyard ex devocione, and he obtained leave from the crown in 1383 to continue to hold his rents and farm from Drogheda to the amount of £66 13s. 4d. yearly, which had been forfeited for the defence of Ireland by virtue of the statute of 3 Richard II touching non-residence. (fn. 4)
Licence was granted in May, 1385, to the executors of the Earl of Suffolk to alienate to the abbey the manor of Benges, Suffolk. (fn. 5) In the following February the abbess and convent of Bruisyard were licensed to alienate this manor of Benges to the prioress and convent of Campsey, in exchange for the manor and advowson of Bruisyard, together with leave to appropriate the church. (fn. 6) In 1390 the abbey acquired various plots of land in Bruisyard and adjacent parishes, and in Hargham, Norfolk, as well as the advowson of the church of Sutton, Suffolk. (fn. 7)
The Valor of 1535 shows that the abbey then possessed temporalities of the clear annual value of £43 15s., namely the manors with members of Bruisyard, Winston, Alderton, South Repps, Hargham, and Badburgham (Camb.). The clear value of the spiritualities, comprising the churches of Bruisyard, Sutton, and Bulmer, amounted to £12 7s. 1d., leaving a full total of £56 2s. 1d. (fn. 8)
This house seems to have been exempt from episcopal supervision; at all events it does not appear in the visitation registers of Bishops Goldwell and Nykke.
In 1535, when dissolution was in the air,
some complaint was made to the Lord Privy
Seal as royal visitor-general, with regard to the
action of this abbey, whereupon the abbess and
convent wrote to Cromwell:—
We your oratrices and humble subjects, thank you for your worshipful letter, whereby you have comforted us desolate persons. We assure you we have not alienated the goods of our house, or listened to any but discreet counsel. We have not wasted our woods beyond the usage of our predecessors in times of necessity. We beg you to intercede for us with the King, our founder, that we may continue his bedewomen, and pray for him, the queen, and the princess. (fn. 9)
The Suffolk commissioners for the suppression of the smaller religious houses visited Bruisyard Abbey on 22 August, 1536, and drew up an inventory. The ornaments of the church included a variety of vestments and altar cloths, a table of alabaster, two great candlesticks of latten, and 'a payor of lytell orgaynes very olde, att xs.' The parlour, several chambers, buttery, kitchen, bakehouse, and brewhouse were but poorly furnished. The church plate was valued at £28 12s. 4d.; it included six chalices, two paxes, and a pair of cruets. The total inventory, signed by Mary Page, abbess, reached the sum of £40 13s. 4d. (fn. 10)
The abbey, on payment of the sum of £60 to the king, was able to stave off the evil day, being specially exempted from suppression, and Mary Page confirmed as abbess by patent of 4 July, 1537. (fn. 11)
On 17 February, 1539, came the final surrender of the house and all its possessions, signed by Mary Page, abbess, in the presence of Dr. Francis Cove. (fn. 12)
The site and precinct of the abbey, with the whole of its possessions, was assigned by the crown to Nicholas Hare and Katharine his wife, on 9 March, 1539, at a rental of £6 4s. 1d. (fn. 13)
Abbesses of Bruisyard
Emma Beauchamp, (fn. 14) occurs 1369 and 1390
Agnes, (fn. 15) occurs 1413
Ellen Bedingfield, (fn. 16) occurs 1421 and 1425
Katharine, (fn. 17) 1444
Elizabeth Crane, (fn. 18) occurs on 29 August, 1481
Alice Clere, (fn. 19) 1489
Margaret Calthorpe, (fn. 20) 1497
Mary Page, (fn. 21) 1537