Houses of Cluniac monks: Priory of Mendham

Pages 86-87

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

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There are two charters of William de Huntingfield, the founder of Mendham Priory, in the chartulary of Castle Acre. By the first of these he gave to the Cluniac monks of Castle Acre the isle of St. Mary of Mendham, with 'Ulordage,' and the granges there, together with certain land in 'Crodustune' on condition that as many brethren as might be requisite for ruling the island should be placed there, and their number afterwards increased until a secular convent of monks was properly established. The cell of the island of Mendham was to show such subjection to St. Mary of Castle Acre, as Castle Acre did to the priory of St. Pancras, Lewes, and as Lewes did to the mother house of Cluni; and it was to pay half a mark yearly to Castle Acre, as an acknowledgement of submission. By his second charter the founder described more in detail his gifts of land; and at the same time he confirmed the gifts of Roger de Hammesirl, William the son of Hoscetel, and Sigar, and provided that the bequests of these three should only be used towards providing the monks with a church of stone. (fn. 1) The exact date of these charters is not known; but the founder died in 1155, and his wife Sibyl in 1186. (fn. 2)

Roger de Huntingfield, the son of the founder, who died in 1204, materially increased the endowments of Mendham. He gave to the monks the church of St. Margaret, Linstead, a moiety of the church of St. Peter, Linstead, and all his right in the church of Mendham. The convent of Mendham was by this time complete; and Roger appointed John de Lindsey the first prior. An agreement was at the same time entered into between Hugh, prior of Castle Acre, and his convent and Roger de Huntingfield, that the prior of Mendham was not to be deposed, save for disobedience, incontinence, or dilapidation of the house, and that such deposition was not to take place without the advice of the monks of Mendham and the patron. It was also agreed that the convent of Mendham was to consist of at least eight monks, four of whom were to be sent from Castle Acre. Any man betaking himself to Mendham through fear of death was to be received; but no one in health to be admitted without the consent of the prior of Acre. If the house at Mendham so increased as to sustain its whole congregation, they were to be at liberty to receive any according to their own discretion. (fn. 3)

The taxation of 1291 showed that Mendham priory had an income of £19 18s. 6½d. Of this sum, £11 came from a portion of the rectory of Fressingfield, and the remainder in lands or rents from ten parishes in Suffolk and Norfolk. (fn. 4)

During the wars with France Mendham was treated as an alien priory; but in 1337 Edward III ordered the restoration to the prior of Mendham of the priory with all its lands, benefices, goods and chattels (in like manner as with Castle Acre, of which Mendham was a cell), as the prior and all his monks were Englishmen, and the priory was founded by an Englishman, and sent no 'apport' or contribution across the seas. (fn. 5)

The visitors from Cluni reported of Mendham, about 1405, that it was a cell subordinate to Castle Acre. The brethren then numbered nine; there were three daily masses, two sung and one said. (fn. 6)

A writ was issued in November, 1534, to the sheriff of Suffolk to the effect that Sir Humphrey Wingfield, kt., and others had recovered in the king's court the manors of Mendham and Kingsshall, with other rents and lands against Thomas, prior of Mendham. (fn. 7)

There is no entry with regard to this priory in the Valor of 1535.

This house and its revenues were given by Henry VIII, together with the possessions of several dissolved priories to the short-lived Benedictine abbey of Bisham, Berks, established in 1537. In the following year, when this abbey was suppressed, the Mendham possessions were granted by the crown to Charles duke of Suffolk.

Priors of Mendham

John de Lindsey, c. 1170 (fn. 8)

John, occurs 1239 (fn. 9)

Simon, occurs 1250 (fn. 10)

John, occurs 1307 (fn. 11)

Nicholas Cressi, died 1336 (fn. 12)

John de Walton, 1340 (fn. 13)

Henry de Berlegh, 1342 (fn. 14)

William, 1353 (fn. 15)

John de Tornston (fn. 16)

Robert, 1400 (fn. 17)

John Betelee, 1420 (fn. 18)

Thomas Rede, 1449 (fn. 19)

Thomas Pitte, 1487 (fn. 20)

Thomas Bullock, 1501 (fn. 21)

Simon, 1523 (fn. 22)

Thomas, 1534 (fn. 23)

An impression of the seal of John, prior of this house, A.D. 1307, shows the Blessed Virgin seated on a throne, under a canopy supported on slender shafts, with the Holy Child on the left knee. In the base, under a trefoiled arch, a shield of arms, on a fesse three plates, for William de Huntingfield the founder. Legend:—

S' FRIS JOHIS . . . . MENDHAM. (fn. 24)


  • 1. Cited in Dugdale, Mon. v, 58.
  • 2. Harl. MS. 972, fol. 113.
  • 3. Charters cited, Dugdale, Mon. v, 58-9.
  • 4. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 92b, 94b, 104, 104b, 105, 107, 115b, 118b, 126b, 127b.
  • 5. Close, 11 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 39.
  • 6. Duckett, Visitations and Chapters-General of Order of Cluny, 40.
  • 7. Ibid. 229.
  • 8. Dugdale, Mon. v, 59.
  • 9. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. iii, 254, from Mendham Ct. R.
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. Maddox, Form. Angl. 360.
  • 12. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. iii, 254.
  • 13. Ibid.
  • 14. Ibid.
  • 15. Ibid.
  • 16. Ibid.
  • 17. Ibid.
  • 18. Ibid.
  • 19. Ibid.
  • 20. Ibid.
  • 21. Ibid.
  • 22. Ibid.
  • 23. Bodl. Chart. Suff. 229.
  • 24. Dugdale, Mon. v, 57; B.M. Cast lxxii, 8.