Houses of Benedictine nuns: Priory of Bungay

Pages 81-83

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

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


In this section



About the year 1160 Roger de Glanville and the Countess Gundreda, his wife, founded the priory of Bungay, in honour of the Blessed Virgin and the Holy Cross, for nuns of the Benedictine order. The first endowment consisted of benefices, lands, and rents, the greater part of which had been part of the dower of Gundreda on her marriage, and included the four churches of All Saints, Mettingham, Ilketshall St. Margaret, Ilketshall St. Andrew, and Ilketshall St. Laurence. (fn. 1) An elaborate charter of confirmation by Henry III in 1235 marks a great variety of other benefactions chiefly of small plots of land, made since the foundation, including the church of St. Mary Roughton, by Roger de Glanville, and the mill of Wainford by Roger Bigod, earl of Norfolk. (fn. 2)

It is not a little remarkable that there is no mention of the possessions of the nuns of St. Cross, Bungay, throughout the taxation roll of Pope Nicholas in 1291. We can only conclude that the house obtained at that date the rare privilege of exemption from such taxing.

On the complaint of the prioress of St. Cross, Bungay, a commission of inquiry was issued in February, 1299, as to Robert, prior of Coxford, with various men, carrying away her goods at Roughton and Thorpe Market, county Norfolk, and assaulting her men. (fn. 3) On the other hand, in May, 1301, a commission was appointed on the complaint of the abbot of Barlings, that Joan, prioress of Bungay, Simon, parson of the church of St. John by Mettingham, and many others, had carried away the abbey's goods at Bungay and other places. (fn. 4)

The prioress obtained licence in 1318 to appropriate the church of St. John Baptist, Ilketshall, which was of their own advowson, (fn. 5) and in consideration of their poverty the prioress and convent obtained licence, without fine, in 1327, to acquire in mortmain land and rent to the yearly value of £10. (fn. 6) Edward de Montacute and Alice his wife assigned the advowson of the church of Redenhall to the priory of Bungay in 1346, together with licence for its appropriation. (fn. 7) In 1441 this church was disappropriated, a pension of 40s. being reserved for the nunnery. (fn. 8)

In 1416 a list was drawn up of all the churches of Norwich diocese appropriated to nunneries, with the date of the appropriation. Under Bungay priory appear the names of the four churches originally given by the founder, as well as Bungay St. Thomas and Roughton, and the date assigned to the appropriation of these six and the establishment of vicarages is temp. Lat. Conc. (fn. 9) To these six the list adds Redenhall, giving 1349 as the year of the ordaining of a vicarage. (fn. 10)

The Valor of 1535 gives the clear annual value of the temporalities, which were chiefly in Suffolk, as £28 1s. 8¾d. The clear value of the spiritualities came to £33 10s. 0½d., giving a total income of £61 11s. 9¼d. The spiritualities included the appropriated churches of St. Mary and St. Thomas, Bungay; St. John, St. Laurence, St. Andrew, and St. Margaret, Ilketshall; Mettingham and Roughton, Norfolk; and portions of 10s. and 40s. respectively, from Morton and Redenhall. (fn. 11)

The advowson or patronage of this priory, implying the assent of the patron (usually formal) to the prioress chosen by the chapter, and certain rights during a vacancy, belonged in the reign of Edward I to Roger Bigod, earl of Norfolk. William de Ufford, earl of Suffolk, died seised of it in 1381; and John, duke of Norfolk, in 1432, as pertaining to the manor of Ilketshall. (fn. 12)

The visitations of Bishops Goldwell and Nykke were entirely to the credit of this nunnery. The numbers of the religious of this house were considerably less towards the close of its history than had been the case in the thirteenth century. In 1287 there were a prioress and fifteen nuns, (fn. 13) but probably Bungay, like many other religious houses, never recovered from the pauperizing effects of the Black Death, as when Nicholas Goldwell visited Bungay on 31 January, 1493, as commissary for his brother the bishop, besides Elizabeth Stephynson, the prioress, nine sisters were resident. Nothing was then found worthy of reformation. (fn. 14) Bishop Nykke visited this priory in August, 1514; the register page beyond recording the visit is blank. (fn. 15) The next visitation entry was of that made by two of the bishop's commissaries in August, 1520; the prioress, Elizabeth Stephynson, did not appear on account of infirmity, as well as another of the sisters; seven other nuns replied both as to the state of the house and the essentials of religion, omnia bene. (fn. 16) At the visitation of 1526 Maria Loveday, the prioress, stated that everything was praiseworthy both in spiritualities and temporalities, and in this estimate the visitor and seven nuns concurred. (fn. 17) Equally satisfactory was the visitation of 1532, when Cecilia Falstolf was prioress; there was nothing to reform. (fn. 18)

This priory came, of course, under the Act of 1536 for the suppression of the smaller houses. The exact date on which it was dissolved is not known. In April of that year a memorandum in the hand of the Duke of Norfolk was forwarded to Cromwell, wherein he stated that he had obtained possession of Bungay, worth £60 last St. Andrewtide. The nuns seem to have forestalled forcible action and deserted the house, knowing what was in store for them, for at that date the duke found ' not one nun left therein.' He stated that he had previously shown the king that the nuns would not abide, so 'the house being void, I, as founder, (fn. 19) lawfully entered thereunto.' (fn. 20)

On 18 December, 1537, Thomas, duke of Norfolk, obtained a grant of the site of this priory, with the whole of its property and advowson, from the crown at the modest rental of £6 4s. 3d., about a tenth of its annual value. (fn. 21)

Prioresses of Bungay

Mary de Huntingfield, 1220 (fn. 22)

Alice, occurs 1228 (fn. 23)

Mary, occurs 1270 (fn. 24)

Sara de Strafford, 1291 (fn. 25)

Joan, occurs 1301 (fn. 26)

Elizabeth Folyoth, 1306 (fn. 27)

Mary de Felbrigge, 1308 (fn. 28)

Mary de Castello, died 1335 (fn. 29)

Katharine Fastolf, 1335 (fn. 30)

Ellen Becclesworth, resigned 1380 (fn. 31)

Katharine de Montacute, 1380 (fn. 32)

Margaret Smalbergh, 1395 (fn. 33)

Margaret Park, 1399 (fn. 34)

Sara Richeres, 1407 (fn. 35)

Margaret Takell, 1433 (fn. 36)

Emmota Roughed, 1439 (fn. 37)

Ellen Tolle, occurs 1451 (fn. 38)

Emma, occurs 1455 (fn. 39)

Anne Rothenhall, occurs 1459 (fn. 40)

Margaret Dalenger, 1465 (fn. 41)

Elizabeth Stephynson, 1490 (fn. 42)

Maria Loveday, occurs 1526 (fn. 43)

Cecilia Falstolf, occurs 1532 (fn. 44)

The conventual seal of the priory of Holy Cross, Bungay, was engraved in the Gentleman's Magazine of May, 1810, from an impression attached to a deed of 1360. The design is our Lord on the cross, with a man kneeling on each side at the base. Legend:


The matrices of the seals of two early prioresses are also extant; in each case the design is suggested by the name of the prioress. On the one, circa 1200, appears the Blessed Virgin, crowned and seated under a trefoiled arch, with the Holy Child on left knee. In the base, under a pointed arch, is the half-length kneeling figure of the prioress. Legend:


On the other, circa 1300, appears the figure of St. John Baptist, right hand raised in benediction, in the left hand the Agnus Dei on a plaque. In the base, half-length of prioress kneeling. Legend:



  • 1. A confirmation charter of Henry II, cited in inspection charter 3 Edw. III, No. 48.
  • 2. Chart. R. 19 Hen. III, m. 13. Cited in Dugdale, Mon. iv, 338-9.
  • 3. Pat. 27 Edw. I, mm. 37d. 25d.
  • 4. Pat. 31 Edw. I, m. 24 d.
  • 5. Ibid. 11 Edw. II, pt. ii, m. 27.
  • 6. Ibid. 1 Edw. III, pt. iii, m. 16.
  • 7. Ibid. 20 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 6; Norw. Epis. Reg. iv, fol. 27, 28.
  • 8. Norw. Epis. Reg. x, fol. 48.
  • 9. The fourth Lateran Council, 1215, insisted on the proper founding of vicarages in the case of appropriations.
  • 10. Norw. Epis. Reg. viii, fol. 28.
  • 11. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii, 430-1.
  • 12. Inq. p. m. 35 Edw. I, No. 46; 5 Ric. II, No. 57; 11 Hen. VI, No. 43.
  • 13. Tanner, Not. Mon. Suff. viii.
  • 14. Jessopp, Visit. 39-40.
  • 15. Ibid. 144.
  • 16. Ibid. 189.
  • 17. Ibid. 261.
  • 18. Ibid. 318.
  • 19. i.e. descendant or inheritor of the founder or patron.
  • 20. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, 599, 1236.
  • 21. Ibid. xii (2), 1311.
  • 22. B.M. Topham Chart. 13.
  • 23. Feet of F. Suff. Add. MS. 19111, fol. 158.
  • 24. Ibid.
  • 25. Ibid.
  • 26. Pat. 31 Edw. I, m. 24d.
  • 27. Add. MS. 19111, fol. 158.
  • 28. Ibid.
  • 29. Norw. Epis. Reg. ii, 76.
  • 30. Ibid.
  • 31. Ibid, vi, 73.
  • 32. Ibid.
  • 33. Ibid. vi, 217.
  • 34. Ibid. vi, 256.
  • 35. Ibid. vii, 6.
  • 36. Ibid. ix, 67.
  • 37. Ibid. x, 31.
  • 38. Add. MSS. 14111, fol. 158.
  • 39. Ibid.
  • 40. Ibid.
  • 41. Norw. Epis. Reg. xi, 151.
  • 42. Ibid. xii, 145.
  • 43. Jessopp, Visit. 260.
  • 44. Ibid. 318.
  • 45. B.M. Cast 1xxi, 88.
  • 46. Ibid. lxxi, 85.