Houses of Austin canons: Priory of St Mary of Merton

A History of the County of Surrey: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1967.

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


, 'Houses of Austin canons: Priory of St Mary of Merton', in A History of the County of Surrey: Volume 2, (London, 1967) pp. 94-102. British History Online [accessed 20 May 2024].

. "Houses of Austin canons: Priory of St Mary of Merton", in A History of the County of Surrey: Volume 2, (London, 1967) 94-102. British History Online, accessed May 20, 2024,

. "Houses of Austin canons: Priory of St Mary of Merton", A History of the County of Surrey: Volume 2, (London, 1967). 94-102. British History Online. Web. 20 May 2024,

In this section



Various dates have been assigned for the foundation of this Austin priory. Stowe states that it was founded in 1092, but the Annals of Waverley (fn. 1) and Matthew Paris give the year 1117, (fn. 2) which seems the generally accepted date. The foundation charter of Henry I., (fn. 3) dated 1121, granting the royal town of Merton to canons regular to enable them to erect a permanent church and conventual buildings in honour of the Blessed Virgin, speaks of them as already established there. An early MS. of the College of Arms gives however some interesting details which appear to reconcile varying accounts. (fn. 4) According to that narrative Henry I. gave the manor of Merton to Gilbert Norman, sheriff of Surrey, who in the year 1115 built a temporary monastery of timber at this place. He then requested and obtained the king's patronage for accomplishing the work, and applied to the prior of the regular canons at Huntingdon for assistance. The prior of Huntingdon assigned Robert Bayle, the sub-prior, to superintend the work. On his arrival at Merton, Gilbert delivered to him the newly erected buildings, of which Robert became prior, and bestowed two plough-lands, a mill of 60s. rent and some villeins, promising eventually to grant the whole manor. The founder brought prelates and nobles of the land to see the place and recommended it to their patronage. Among others Queen Maud expressed her interest in the welfare of the new foundation. After two years the prior, expressing his dissatisfaction with the site, which seems to have been close to the parish church, obtained the founder's consent to remove to the spot where the priory eventually stood. A chapel of wood was speedily built there and consecrated by William Giffard, Bishop of Winchester. The prior went in procession, with fifteen brethren, to the new monastery two years and five months after his appointment, the founder and an immense crowd being present. Queen Maud and her son visited the new habitation. The queen's death in 1118 was a great blow to the rising house for the king was at that time averse to the settlement of lands on religious houses, and refused his consent to the bestowal by the founder of the manor of Merton. In 1121, a crusade was being prepared, and a meeting of prelates and nobles was held at Winchester. Gilbert and Prior Robert attended and promised as a contribution that the convent would raise the sum of one hundred pounds of silver and six marks of gold. This generous contribution towards the crusade won the king's consent, and a definite charter for the establishment of the priory under royal patronage and for its endowment with the manor of Merton to be held free and quit of all exactions as it was held by the Crown with right of soc, sac, tol, theam and infangnethef (fn. 5) was the result. On their return from Winchester Gilbert assembled all the men of the village in the convent and surrendered the manor and its villeins to the prior and canons, who then numbered twenty-three brethren.

The first stone of the new priory church was not laid until 1130, the founder laying the first stone, the prior the second, and the brethren, who then numbered thirty-six, each laying one in succession. Gilbert died in July of that year and was buried within the convent walls. (fn. 6) He is stated by Dugdale, on the authority of Leland, to have added to the endowment of the priory the church of Kingston-on-Thames with the chapelries of Thames Ditton, East Molesey, Petersham and Sheen. (fn. 7) The cloister and other buildings were completed in 1136, when the canons were inducted by the Bishops of Rochester and St. Asaph, deputed for that purpose by William de Corbeuil, Archbishop of Canterbury. (fn. 8) In 1156, during the rule of Robert, the second prior, (fn. 9) Henry II. gave to the canons the manor of Ewell in Surrey with its members, Kingswood and Selswood. (fn. 10) In 1252 Henry III., inspecting and confirming the charters granted by his predecessors to the priory, confirmed, among others, a charter of Henry II., granting that all the goods of the canons of St. Mary of Merton should be free of toll and passage and all custom throughout England, that they should have pasturage for their breeding mares and pannage for their swine in all royal forests, and that they should not be impleaded by any tenant holding of their demesne except before the king or his chief justice. (fn. 11) A charter of Richard I. confirmed to the canons all gifts made to them to be held fully and freely as other abbeys and religious houses held with right of soc, sac, tol, theam and infangnethef, free of all secular service and quit of suits, plaints of the shire and hundred court, the payment of geld and danegeld and money pertaining to murder and theft. (fn. 12)

Among other grants to the prior and canons were lands in Alconbury and Upton confirmed by Henry III., (fn. 13) and the church of Effingham, said to have been bestowed by William de Dammartin. (fn. 14) the father of Odo de Dammartin, founder and benefactor of the Austin Hospital of Tandridge. (fn. 15) Frequent mention in the records of the reign of John show that the canons had at this time secured an influential position and full recognition. An order was sent by the king in 1205 to the bailiffs of the port of Portsmouth directing them to find a passage for the king's nuncios, one of whom was a canon of Merton, proceeding on the king's business to Normandy, and to take from them security that they were leaving on no sinister pretext and that they carried nothing beyond personal provision. (fn. 16) In 1214 Henry, canon of Merton, was elected prior of Carlisle. (fn. 17) The priory seems at one time to have been entrusted with articles of considerable value. John granted letters patent on 27 June 1215, testifying that he had received at Winchester by the hands of Adam, the cellarer of Merton, valuables committed to the custody of the prior of Merton by royal command. (fn. 18) In 1218 Prior Walter, 'spurning the pomp and riches of the world and loving the quietness of solitude,' resigned his office in order to assume the habit of a Carthusian monk. (fn. 19) The sub-prior and canons received a licence from the king to elect a successor to their late head, (fn. 20) and on 6 November the royal assent was given to the election of Thomas the cellarer. He was one of the arbitrators in the settlement of a dispute in 1222 between Eustace, Bishop of London, and the abbot of Westminster as to the subjection of the abbey to the see of London. (fn. 21) His death occurred in September of the same year. In the December following during a great tempest which raged throughout England, causing many deaths and untold damage, the tower of Merton priory was blown down, (fn. 22) and to assist in repairing the damage thus caused the prior received permission from Henry III. in 1225 to take six old oak trees from Windsor Forest. (fn. 23) On 1 December 1230 Archbishop Richard consecrated Elias of Radnor Bishop of Llandaff in the conventual church of Merton; this raised a protest from the monks of Canterbury at the ceremony not taking place in the cathedral church. (fn. 24) Prior Giles de Bourne resigned in 1231 in order to become a Cistercian monk at Beaulieu, and was succeeded in his office by Henry de Basinges, subcellarer of that house. (fn. 25)

During the rule of this prior several striking scenes in connection with national history took place at the monastery. Hither in 1232 fled for sanctuary Hubert de Burgh, the great justiciar of England, whereupon the king ordered him to come forth and abide the issue of the law, but Hubert, distrusting the king, declined to leave his asylum. Henry III. being enraged ordered the lord mayor of London to summon all citizens that could bear arms and to take Hubert alive or dead. An armed mob of 20,000 speedily assembled and marched on Merton. As they neared the priory the hunted man took up his station before the high altar to await what might befall, but to the great relief of the prior and canons wiser counsels prevailed with the king, and at the eleventh hour the array was dismissed. Eventually Hubert de Burgh left the priory under what he believed to be a royal safe-conduct. (fn. 26) The large buildings of the monastery were used in 1236 for the holding of the Parliament which passed the famous Statutes of Merton, thus named from the place of assembly. (fn. 27) It was here also that in 1217 Cardinal Gualo, the pope's legate, concluded the peace between Henry III. and the French prince. (fn. 28) Prior Henry died at the close of 1238, and was succeeded in January 1238-9 by Robert de Hexham, in whose time the seal of the priory was renewed in silver; it was received on 11 December 1241. (fn. 29) The prior of Merton, together with the abbot of Malmesbury, was suspended for opposing the demands of the papal emissary sent to England in 1244 to extort money from the clergy by every means, especially from the religious orders, and armed with plenary powers to excommunicate, suspend and punish. (fn. 30) A charter of Eustace, who became prior in 1249, granted to Sir John de Haunsard and Lady Gundreda his wife the right of participating in all the spiritual blessings in the house and of choosing their place of sepulture within the church, before the altar of which two canons should be assigned successively to celebrate for their souls. On the news of the death of one or the other the convent engaged to receive the body with tolling of bells and obsequies to be made as for a prior. Their names should be entered in the martyrology of the house, their anniversary kept, and a pittance made for both to the value of one mark. (fn. 31)

A sum of 600 marks was bequeathed by Peter Chaseporc, who died on the eve of Christmas 1255, to buy land in England to build a house of canons from Merton. (fn. 32)

During the rule of Gilbert de Asshe in 1258 convocation of Canterbury was summoned to meet at Merton Priory under the presidency of Archbishop Boniface, when articles of much importance were promulgated. (fn. 33) In the same year the archbishop granted a licence to the prior and convent permitting them to appropriate the church of Patrixbourne to their own use, and ordained that in future the prior of Merton should present a canon whom the archbishop and his successors should admit to the church. (fn. 34) The convent at the request of Walter de Merton, founder of Merton College, consented to remit to the use of its scholars the advowson of the church of Malden. (fn. 35) The canons obtained a licence from the Crown in 1299 to appropriate the church of Effingham in their own patronage and of the annual value of twenty marks. (fn. 36)

The taxation roll of 1291 affords abundant evidence of the wealth of this house. In addition to a very large number of advowsons, appropriations and ecclesiastical pensions the priory then held temporalities in thirty-two London parishes of the annual value of £39 1s. 6d. (fn. 37); their temporalities in the diocese of Winchester amounted to £43 9s., (fn. 38) and they held property in twelve counties outside the dioceses of London and Winchester.

The prior of Merton was summoned with other prelates to the Parliament held in 1264 to consult with Simon de Montfort on the affairs of the realm. (fn. 39) He was also summoned to attend the Parliaments held in 1295 and 1299. (fn. 40) There was a large exodus of ecclesiastics from England in 1274 to attend the Council of Lyons, and early in that year Prior Gilbert of Merton received letters of protection to last until midsummer. (fn. 41) In 1285 the king, being as he represented in urgent need of money, borrowed £500 from a tenth (fn. 42) collected from the clergy of the province of Canterbury in aid of the Holy Land and deposited in Merton Priory, promising by letters patent that the loan should be repaid within a certain time, and in the meantime to hold the convent harmless against the pope and any nuncio. The canons had to wait a considerable time before the borrowed money was returned. A petition, undated, addressed to the king by the prior urgently requested that he would restore the £500 in which he was bound by letters obligatory; two-thirds of the money had been paid already, and he was bound to furnish the remaining sum by Easter under pain of interdict. (fn. 43) On 1 March 1302-3 the king, reciting the circumstances under which the money was taken, confirmed his letters patent of the previous October, assigning to the prior and canons for eight years in return for the money which they had been obliged to find, the farm of £30 paid by the prior of Banwell for the manor of Chesterton, and a rent of assize of £32 18s. 10d. in the city and suburbs of London forfeited by the notorious Adam de Stratton. These grants amounting to £503 10s. 8d., the king exacted a return of 70s. 8d. at the end of the term. (fn. 44) The prior of Merton received in common with other religious houses frequent requests for aid during the reign of Edward II. Thus in December 1307 he was asked to furnish two good carts and horses to be at Westminster on St. Stephen's Day to carry part of the royal equipment to Dover, the king promising to pay the expenses of the man leading the carts and of the horses in going and returning. (fn. 45) In June 1310 came a request for victuals in aid of the Scotch war, (fn. 46) and a demand in the following August for the sum of twenty marks to be paid to the keeper of the king's wardrobe, which sum the king had previously requested the prior to pay, and his excuses for not complying with the royal request were considered insufficient. (fn. 47) A certain slackness at this time may have been due to want of funds; the Close Rolls of Edward II. record the acknowledgment of large debts on the part of the convent to citizens and merchants of London, foreign lenders and others. In 1309 the prior and canons obtained a licence from the Crown for the appropriation of the church of Cuddington of their own advowson. (fn. 48) The Bishop of Winchester in confirming the appropriation refers to the 'manifest poverty' of the house occasioned by no fault of the convent, but the result of the care displayed in ministering to the poor and the exercise of frequent hospitalities. (fn. 49) In 1317 the priory mortgaged to Philip de Barthon, archdeacon of Surrey, all tithes of corn and fruit and the great tithes of the church of Effingham for a term of six years, thus securing a loan of £26. (fn. 50) The charges on the house by way of corrodies and pensions must have been great, and the king seems to have exercised to the full his prerogative in this respect as patron. On 25 January 1312-3 Lambert Clays, who had long served the king and his father, was sent to the prior and convent to receive maintenance in their house for life. (fn. 51) Similarly in June 1317 Alan de Sancto Botulpho, (fn. 52) and in December 1318 Geoffrey de Thorpe (fn. 53) were bestowed there as royal life pensioners. During the reign of Edward III. Thomas Holbode, carrier (portitor), of the king's wardrobe was sent in April 1331 to receive such maintenance in the house as John de Bul, deceased, had had by the late king's request, (fn. 54) and again in 1340 Bartholomew de Langele was sent to receive the maintenance which the convent provided for Nicholas de la Garderobe at the request of Edward I. (fn. 55) John Mareys was sent as a pensioner in March 1342-3 in the place of John Nichol, deceased. (fn. 56) In accordance with the practice of imposing a king's clerk on houses of royal patronage on the occasion of the creation of a new prior, the convent received in May 1335 following the election of Thomas de Kent, Richard Murymouth, until such time as he should be provided by them with a suitable benefice. (fn. 57) On similar conditions Henry de Borewell was granted a pension in 1340 on the succession of Thomas de Lytlynton as prior. (fn. 58) Besides these charges Stephen de Staplebrigg, a Templar, was sent to do penance in the monastery of St. Mary Merton, and in 1313 Henry de Cobham, keeper of the late Templars' lands in Surrey, was ordered to pay to the Bishop of Winchester the arrears for his maintenance, to wit 4d. a day from the time of his appointment as keeper and to continue to pay the same. (fn. 59) A few years later the Bishop of London, in accordance with a bull of Pope John XXII., sent to the convent Thomas Totty, a lay brother of the late order, to end his days there. (fn. 60)

The priory was involved from the days of John in frequent suits which must have harassed them to some extent if it resulted in no pecuniary loss. In Michaelmas term 1202 a suit was impending between Simon, son of Richard, and the prior of Merton respecting half a virgate of land in Fifhide. The prior claimed that the plot in question was parcel of Ewell, a manor which had been granted to the canons by Henry II. to be held in free alms as the king held it in desmesne, and the plea being maintained the assize did not proceed. (fn. 61) In Easter term 1206 William, clerk of Tunbridge, was sued by the prior and canons for an annual rent of 2s. claimed by them as the gift of Roger, son of Odo, who confirmed by charter to the church of Merton in free alms his gift of all that land which the widow Alditha held of him. Judgment was deferred till certain inquiries could be made. (fn. 62) In the same term the prior summoned Brian, son of Ralph, and Gunnora his wife for the advowson of the church of Malden as that which Eudo de Meldon gave with his body in free alms to the convent. The verdict is not given, (fn. 63) but as the church was bestowed later, on the scholars of the college founded by Walter de Merton, it would appear that the convent were able to maintain their claim. The prior of Merton brought a suit against Samson de Molesey in Trinity term 1212 for having diverted the course of the water at Molesey to the injury of the free tenant of the priory there. (fn. 64) During the reign of Henry III. there appears to have been some violence in connection with the chapel of Ropley. The sheriff of Southampton was ordered to remove the lay force by which the men of the prior of Merton were being obstructed, so that they might have free entry to the chapel, and to take pledges from those causing the obstruction to appear before the king to answer for their violence. The sheriff was further commanded to attach Master Alberic, the official of the archdeacon of Winchester, to answer for his action in collating and instituting to the chapel contrary to the claim of the king, in whose hands the right of presentation had devolved by reason of the voidance of the see of Winchester, and enjoined to remove all force cleric or lay, and to take all who obstructed to answer for what they had done. (fn. 65) In the year 1253 a dispute arose between the king's bailiff and the convent, and on the morrow of the Feast of St. Martin, Henry de Tuglur, the prior's bailiff, was attached to answer to the king why they had neglected to convey the king's treasure through the district of Kingston as required by his bailiff, why they neglected to keep vigil in the aforesaid vill which pertains to the preservation of the king's peace, and why they refused to appear with arms before the king's constables according to their assignment. The king's bailiff said he had duly admonished them and gone round from house to house, but brother Stephen, the prior's bailiff, went to each house and forbad them to fulfil these demands. The prior's bailiff asserted that the prior had a charter of King Richard which acquitted him of such service. The king's bailiff further alleged that they refused to keep watch or do service at hue and cry except at a certain place. To this it was answered that they kept watch in the town of Kingston and suit of hue and cry where and when they were bound, but that they were never required to keep watch beyond the water outside the town of Kingston, but within the town as the other men of the town do 'pro homine mortuo,' and not beyond the water which is at the end of the market towards Guildford. (fn. 66) The prior and canons secured a recognition of their liberties by the justices itinerant of Edward I. in 1278, (fn. 67) but they had to sustain frequent suits for the possession of property in different counties. They were successful in obtaining verdicts in suits brought against them for their right to hold a court in connection with the church of Patrixbourne, (fn. 68) for their sake within the city and suburbs of London, (fn. 69) and for the possession of the manors of Worth, Kingswood, Selswood, and Ewell of ancient demesne. (fn. 70) Judgment was reserved for hearing before the Treasurer and barons of the Exchequer in suits respecting courts held by them within the counties of Buckingham (fn. 71) and Hertford, (fn. 72) and for their right to hold a view of frank pledge and erect gallows in their manor of Alconbury in county of Huntingdon. (fn. 73) In the reign of Edward III. they were summoned to show their right to hold a view of frank pledge in Meppershall in the county of Bedford, the king's attorney contending that it was not claimed in the last iter. Judgment was given against the prior who was amerced. (fn. 74) These suits are perhaps only such as might be expected in connection with a house acquiring large property in different counties, but it shows a vigorous determination not to relinquish any of the rights or profits of the house. Edward III. in 1345 ordered inquiries to be made in Surrey 'whether as is said, the prior and convent of Merton and their predecessors have unduly acquired to them and their house lands held of the king and others beyond the lands granted to the house at its foundation,' (fn. 75) but the result of the inquiries is not known. The prior was impleaded by his tenants of Selswood, member of the manor of Ewell, in Michaelmas term 1316, for demanding of them more service than was due of custom, to which he made reply that no more was required than that which a predecessor recovered by law in a former suit and that the tenants themselves had failed to perform the service to which they were bound and judgment was given to the prior accordingly. (fn. 76) A petition to the king from his 'poor tenants of ancient demesne of manor of Merton' indicates a very harsh and summary method of dealing with their tenants by the canons. The petitioners recite that, whereas the manor had been made over by King Henry on condition that the tenants should hold their lands by certain services and customs according to ancient usage, the prior who then was and William de Kent, his fellow monk, came to the houses of the tenants and broke open their chests and took away the muniments and charters belonging to the said tenants and carried them away and had further assaulted them. The tenants claimed redress, and prayed that the prior should be summoned to show why he had abused them of their heritage, 'of which their predecessors had been enfeoffed by King Harold, and that the king would grant protection to his poor tenants of Merton,' so that no man might do them wrong or molest or do bodily harm to them or their chattels. (fn. 77) In addition to the large estates already held by the prior and canons of Merton they obtained a licence in 1337 from Edward III. to acquire in mortmain land and rent not held in chief to the yearly value of £10, (fn. 78) and a similar grant was made them in January 1388-9 by Richard II. (fn. 79)

During the reign of Edward III. an important recognition was obtained from the Crown respecting the custody of the temporalities of the priory during voidance. On 27 March 1335 the sub-prior and convent complained that during the voidance occasioned by the death of Prior William de Brokesburn the issues of the temporalities had been received and levied by the king's escheator, whereas they and their predecessors had hitherto received all issues on such occasions, time out of mind, without the king or his progenitors receiving anything, and they prayed for the restoration of the issues accordingly. The king ordered an inquiry to be made into the matter, (fn. 80) with the result that the escheator was ordered not to intermeddle further with the temporalities of the priory of Merton, but to permit the subprior and convent to receive and dispose of the issues thereof without hindrance as they had done in times past, the inquisition having proved that it was the custom for the king's officer immediately after the death of a prior to enter the priory and place a man to guard the outer gate, which is called the great gate of the priory, in the king's name, to stay there during the voidance without receiving anything except his reasonable maintenance. (fn. 81)

Merton, like other houses following the Augustinian rule, was subject to episcopal jurisdiction and open to diocesan visitation. Towards the end of 1304 a visitation of the priory during the voidance of the see of Winchester was held by the Archbishop of Canterbury, when various irregularities were alleged against the prior, Edmund Herierd. Eventually, in consequence of these charges, the prior, whilst vehemently protesting his innocence, was compelled to resign on 25 September 1305. Permission was granted him to occupy rooms within the priory suitable for himself and any one member of the house whom he might choose to live with him; he was also assigned a squire of the body and a servant to attend on him, with a suitable allowance for each. (fn. 82) The Bishop of Winchester notified the vacancy to the king, as patron, and licence was granted to elect a successor. The chapter met on 1 December, but could not agree, some voting for the re-election of the late prior and the rest making choice of William de Brokesburn. Apparently the numbers for each were equal, and a double return was made to the bishop, who endeavoured to bring about a compromise, but without success, and on 3 December certified their proceedings to the king. (fn. 83) Edward I. issued a mandate to the bishop to provide a head for the priory of Merton 'out of the bosom of that church,' in order to settle the discords that had arisen since the cession of Prior Herierd. By the king's ordinance the elected persons came before the bishop, and of their own free will renounced all right they might claim from their election; but the proctors of the parties elected not having come with power of renunciation or of submitting to the bishop's ordinance, the bishop dismissed the elected persons. Thereupon the sub-prior and convent unanimously consented to the provision of a prior by the bishop if the royal assent were given. (fn. 84) The bishop's choice fell upon Geoffrey de Alkemondbury, one of the canons, and to him the temporalities were restored on 6 March 1305-6. (fn. 85) During these proceedings the ex-prior endeavoured to strengthen his party among the canons by lavish entertainment and bringing counter-charges against his opponents, with the result that he was reduced to the position of an ordinary canon, and ordered to spend the remainder of his days with his brethren in the cloister. (fn. 86)

In July 1316, the see of Winchester being again void by the death of Henry Woodlock, the Archbishop of Canterbury commissioned certain clerks to visit all religious houses in the diocese with the exception of the priory of Merton, specially reserved to the visitation of the archbishop himself. (fn. 87) The succeeding Bishop of Winchester, John de Sandale, held large ordinations in the conventual church of Merton in March 1316-7 and in September 1318. (fn. 88) William, Bishop of Nantes, acting for the diocesan, visited the priory in June 1382, and dedicated three altars and two altar tops (altaria portatilia seu super-altaria). (fn. 89) Notice of the bishop's intention to hold a visitation of the priory was forwarded to the prior from Southwark on 28 June 1387. (fn. 90) In the following September the bishop addressed letters to the convent, exhorting them to adhere more closely than they had been doing to the original constitutions of St. Augustine. (fn. 91) In the absence of any gross scandal, however, perhaps the most serious blame attached to the monastery by Bishop Wykeham was their neglect to keep in fitting repair the churches and chapels of which they were the rectors. On 6 November the bishop commissioned the Dean of Ewell to cite the prior and convent and the vicar of Kingston-on-Thames to appear before him or his commissary to answer for dilapidations in the chancels of East Molesey, Sheen and Thames Ditton, dependants of the church of Kingston. (fn. 92) In the case of the church of Effingham their neglect seems to have been successfully carried on for some years, for when the bishop, on 20 April 1388, issued a monition to the prior of Merton, he stated that at several visitations of the church it was apparent that the chancel was notoriously in a ruinous state in respect to roof, walls and windows, and complaints were made by the parishioners that no one could enter, and service could not be held in the chancel. He added that he had refrained from interfering in the hopes that the work would be undertaken, but the prior was then peremptorily admonished to have the chancel repaired before the feast of St. Michael next ensuing, in default of which he should himself cause the same to be repaired at the cost of the monastery, and should proceed against the canons for contempt of his mandate. (fn. 93)

During the fifteenth century entries of interest relating to this house become scantier. Licence was granted in 1424 during the rule of Thomas Shirfeld, at the request of Katherine, the king's mother, for William Cheyne and others to convey to the priory of Merton the manor of Combe, Surrey, in order that celebration might be maintained in the conventual church for the good estate of the king and his mother while living, and for their souls after death, and for the souls of the king's progenitors, Henry IV. and Henry V., and of Charles, the father of the queen dowager, and of all the faithful departed. The sum of £40 was paid by the convent to obtain this licence. (fn. 94) The prior and canons were called on in 1477 to pay an annual pension of 100s. to William Clyfton, one of the king's trumpeters. (fn. 95)

The monastery was visited on 30 April 1501, during the voidance of the sees of Winchester and Canterbury, by Dr. Thomas Hede, commissary of the prior of Canterbury. The prior and canons were severally examined. John Gisbourne, then prior, said that divine services were suitably ordered, the house was not in debt, and the seal was kept under three keys, of which one was in the custody of the prior, and the others of the sub-prior and precentor respectively. William Sandwyche, sub-prior, Robert Doo, precentor, and the master of the chapel of the Blessed Virgin, with fifteen of the canons, all testified omnc bene. William Smyth, sub-deacon, thought that the master of the novices was not sufficiently strict in correcting them, and Canon John Marshall stated that there was not due provision made for the sick in the infirmary. (fn. 96) In July 1513 a licence to alienate in mortmain to the priory of Merton 24 acres of meadow and 116 acres of pasture in Cornburgh was obtained by John Norton and John Baker, clerk. (fn. 97)

The Valor of 1535 estimated the clear annual value of this wealthy foundation at £960 16s. 6d.

Dr. Legh, as Cromwell's agent, visited Merton, which owing to some mistake he termed an abbey, in September 1535 and dismissed two canons. Writing to Cromwell he said he would have dismissed ten more, but waited to know his pleasure, as then there would only have been eight left. (fn. 98) The reason for this dismissal he does not state.

Three years later, on 13 April 1538, the priory was surrendered by John Ramsey, prior, John Debnam, sub-prior, and thirteen other inmates, among whom is entered John Page, scholar of Oxford, to Richard Layton and Edward Carne. (fn. 99) On the day of the surrender Layton wrote to Cromwell to the effect that there were at 'Merton Abbey' 18 fat oxen, whereof Sir Nicholas Carew desired part, 40 fat sheep, 200 quarters of malt and £30 in ling and haberdyne. Cromwell was to certify him by the bearer if he wanted any of these things reserved for his own household. (fn. 100) Rich pickings for those who would divide the spoil! On 9 May pensions were assigned to the dispossessed canons. To the prior was granted a pension of 200 marks, to the sub-prior and another £8, to Thomas Paynell £10, and £6 13s. 4d. each to eleven of the others. Cromwell signed the pension list, and added a note to the effect that he had promised a house and garden in Trinity Lane, London, to the prior for life. (fn. 101) The fabric of the church and conventual buildings were at once pulled down, and the materials used in the building of Nonsuch Palace.

Priors of Merton

Robert Bayle, (fn. 102) circa 1115-50

Robert II., (fn. 103) 1150-67

William, (fn. 104) 1167-77-8

Stephen, (fn. 105) 1177-8

Robert, (fn. 106) -1186

Richard, (fn. 107) 1190-8

Walter, (fn. 108) 1198-1218

Thomas de Wllst, (fn. 109) 1218-22

Giles de Bourne, (fn. 110) 1222, resigned 1231

Henry de Basinges, (fn. 111) 1231-8

Robert de Haxham, (fn. 112) 1238-9-49

Eustachius, (fn. 113) 1249-52

Gilbert de Asshe, (fn. 114) 1252-92

Nicholas Tregony, (fn. 115) 1292-6

Edmund de Herierd, (fn. 116) 1296, resigned 1305

Geoffrey de Alkemondbury, (fn. 117) 1305-6-7

William de Brokesburn, (fn. 118) 1307-34-5

Thomas de Kent, (fn. 119) 1334-5-9

John de Lytlynton or Littleton, (fn. 120) 1339, deposed 1345

William de Friston, (fn. 121) 1345-61

Geoffrey de Chaddesley, 1361-8

Robert de Wyndesore, (fn. 122) 1368-1403

Michael Kymptone, (fn. 123) 1403-13

John Romeney, (fn. 124) 1413-22

Thomas Shirfeld, 1422, resigned 1432

William Kent, 1432

John Kingston, (fn. 125) occurs 1479, died 1485

John Gisbourne, (fn. 126) 1485-1502

William Sayling, (fn. 127) 1502-20

John Lacy, (fn. 128) 1520-30

John Ramsey, (fn. 129) 1530-8

A very fine pointed oval seal exists of this monastery. (fn. 130) Matrix made in 1241. Obverse—The blessed Virgin crowned seated on a throne, with Holy Child crowned on left knee; in the right hand a short sceptre. The background is diapered with quatrefoiled flowers. Above is an elaborate canopy, representing the conventual church, with central tower, and spire, and pinnacles at each end. On each side is a vesicashaped countersunk panel, containing the head or a tonsured canon facing the Virgin. Legend: · SIGILL': ECCLESIE: SANCTE: MARIE: DE: MERITONA. Reverse— St. Augustine on a corbel, holding a crozier in the left hand, and giving the blessing with the right. Above is a canopy, representing a church very similar to the one on the obverse. Legend: MUNDI: LUCERNA: NOS: AUGUSTINI: GUBERNA. On the rim of the seal is the legend: AUGUSTINE · PATER · QUOS · INSTRUIS · IN · MERITONA · HIS · CHRISTI · MATER · TUTRIX · EST ATQUE · PATRONA.


  • 1. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), ii. 216.
  • 2. Matt. of Paris, Hist. Minor (Rolls Ser.), i. 222.
  • 3. Cart. Antiq. R. U. 5.
  • 4. College of Arms MSS. No. xxviii.; Lysons, Environs of London, i. 339-41.
  • 5. Cart Antiq. R. U. 5.
  • 6. College of Arms MSS. No. xxviii.; Lysons, Environs of London, i. 339-41.
  • 7. Dugdale, Mon. vi. 425.
  • 8. Decem. Scriptores, 1664.
  • 9. Robert II. followed Robert Bayle, who died in 1150. A list of priors up to 1307 is given in the Merton Chartulary (Cott. MS. Cleop. C. vii. f. 196).
  • 10. Cart. Antiq. R. U. 5.
  • 11. Cart. R. 36 Hen. III. m. 11, and Add. MS. 6166, p. 464.
  • 12. Ibid. and Cart. Antiq. R.G.G. 18. This pancarta of Henry III. was inspected and confirmed by Edward III (Cart. 10 Edw. III. no. 44) and Henry VI. (Pat. 3 Hen. VI. pt. ii, m. 10).
  • 13. Cart. R. 36 Hen. III. m. 11.
  • 14. Dugdale. Mon. vi. 245.
  • 15. A charter of Walter, seventh prior of Merton, dated 1217, testified that he and the canons of Merton had admitted into the fraternity of their house Odo de Dammartin, the founder, and all the brothers and sisters and benefactors of the Hospital of St. James of Tandridge, to be participants in all their prayers, alms, fastings, vigils, and in all other acts and benefits in their house (Cott. MS. Cleop. C. vii. f. 86).
  • 16. Close, 6 John, m. 4.
  • 17. Ibid. 16 John, m. 2.
  • 18. Pat. 17 John, m. 22.
  • 19. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), ii. 290.
  • 20. Pat. 2 Hen. III. m. 1.
  • 21. Matt. of Paris, Chron. Major (Rolls Ser.), iii. 75.
  • 22. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), iii. 76.
  • 23. Close, 9 Hen. III. m. 7. In 1343 the priory contributed twelve oaks from its woods at Kingswood for the king's chapel at Westminster. John de Baddeley and William de Hesle were appointed to fell the oaks and to cause them to be taken through the wood and thence to Westminster, the carriage being provided at the king's charge by the counsel and advice of the sheriff of Surrey and Sussex (Pat. 17 Edw. III. pt. 1, m. 11).
  • 24. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), 1-77.
  • 25. Ibid. iii. 128. He was the second prior to leave his order for one of more rigid discipline. The communities of the order of St. Augustine, while leading a quiet, regular, religious life, do not seem to have made any aim at the severity and self-mortification which distinguished some of the other orders.
  • 26. Matt. of Paris, Chron. Major. (Rolls Ser.), iii. 224-5-6.
  • 27. Ibid. Hist. Minor. (Rolls Ser.), ii. 386-7, and Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), i. 249-53.
  • 28. Lambarde's Dict. 212.
  • 29. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), ii. 329.
  • 30. Matt. of Paris, Chron. Major (Rolls Ser.), iv. 284-5.
  • 31. Cott. MS. Cleop. C. vii. 115d.
  • 32. Matt. of Paris, Chron. Major (Rolls Ser.), v. 484.
  • 33. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), i. 411-22.
  • 34. Cott. MS. Cleop. C. vii. f. 117.
  • 35. Ibid. f. 142.
  • 36. Pat. 27 Edw. I. m. 30.
  • 37. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 10.
  • 38. Ibid. p. 206.
  • 39. Rymer, Fœdera (Rec. Com.), i. pt. 1, 449.
  • 40. Parl. Writs (Rec. Com.), i. 737.
  • 41. Pat. 2 Edw. I. m. 20.
  • 42. Ibid. 14 Edw. I. m. 17.
  • 43. Anct. Pet. 6318.
  • 44. Pat. 31 Edw. I. m. 33. The convent was not even allowed to retain this bare return of the loan undisturbed. In June 1306 the king, having assigned the farm of Chesterton to Margaret, queen consort, for life from Easter 1304, so that the prior and convent had only received £45, granted them in lieu thereof £50 yearly, which Henry de Cobham rendered at the Exchequer for the farm of the city of Rochester and the castle guard rents there until the loan should be cleared off (Pat. 34 Edw. I. m. 16).
  • 45. Close, 1 Edw. II. m. 12d.
  • 46. Ibid. 3 Edw. II. m. 5d.
  • 47. Ibid. 4 Edw. II. m. 4.
  • 48. Pat. 2 Edw. II. pt. ii, m. 4.
  • 49. Cott. MS. Cleop. C. vii. f. 146.
  • 50. Ibid. f. 184. This ecclesiastic figures in the records of many of the religious houses in the diocese, and he seems on many occasions to have accommodated them in the way of loans; to Chertsey he left a large bequest to found a chantry.
  • 51. Close, 6 Edw. II. m. 15.
  • 52. Ibid. 10 Edw. II. m. 5d.
  • 53. Ibid. 12 Edw. II. m. 19d.
  • 54. Close, 5 Edw. III. pt. 1, m. 16d. The following year the prior of Merton was requested with other ecclesiastics to aid Edward III. with a subsidy in connection with expenses incurred by the marriage of the king's sister Eleanor to the Count of Guelders (ibid. 6 Edw. III. m. 16d).
  • 55. Ibid. 14 Edw. III. m. 27d.
  • 56. Ibid. 17 Edw. III. pt. 1, m. 18d.
  • 57. Ibid. 9 Edw. III. m. 25d.
  • 58. Ibid. 14 Edw. III. m. 25d.
  • 59. Ibid. 7 Edw. II. m. 20.
  • 60. London Epis. Reg., Gravesend, f. 45.
  • 61. Abbrev. Plac. (Rec. Com.), 35.
  • 62. Ibid. p. 50.
  • 63. Ibid.
  • 64. Ibid. p. 86, 91.
  • 65. Ibid. p. 113.
  • 66. Abbrev. Plac. (Rec. Com.), 136.
  • 67. Plac. de quo war. (Rec. Com.), 281.
  • 68. Ibid. pp. 313, 342.
  • 69. Ibid. p. 473.
  • 70. Ibid. p. 739.
  • 71. Ibid. pp. 85-6.
  • 72. Ibid. p. 289.
  • 73. Ibid. 303.
  • 74. Ibid. p. 39.
  • 75. Pat. 19. Edw. III. pt. 1, m. 12d.
  • 76. Abbrev. Plac. (Rec. Com.), 325. In the course of the suit it was alleged by the prior that he possessed the right to claim from each tenant one pig in every ten and two pigs in every twenty, and if a tenant had less than ten pigs a penny could be claimed for every pig. For examples of a similar customary claim in Domesday see V.C.H. Surr. i. 291.
  • 77. Anct. Pet. 3007.
  • 78. Pat. 2 Edw. III. pt. iii, m. 30.
  • 79. Ibid. 12 Rich. II. pt. ii, m. 28.
  • 80. Close, 9 Edw. III. m. 30.
  • 81. Ibid. m. 28.
  • 82. Winton. Epis. Reg., Woodlock, f. 34.
  • 83. Ibid. ff. 31-2.
  • 84. Pat. 34 Edw. I. m. 38.
  • 85. Ibid. m. 33.
  • 86. Winton. Epis. Reg., Woodlock, f. 33.
  • 87. Reg. of Sandale (Hants Rec. Soc.), 341. The visitation of this priory appears to have been reserved to the archbishops in the voidance of the see of Winchester.
  • 88. Winton. Epis. Reg., Sandale, ff. 53-61d.
  • 89. Ibid. Wykeham, ii. f. 198.
  • 90. Ibid. f. 230d.
  • 91. The rules, extending to a great length, were to be enrolled and recited twice a year (Bodl. Library Laud. MS. 723, f. 52).
  • 92. Winton. Epis. Reg., Wykeham, ii. f. 82d.
  • 93. Ibid. f. 236.
  • 94. Pat. 2 Hen. VI. pt. iii, m. 24.
  • 95. Ibid. 16 Edw. IV. pt. ii, m. 13.
  • 96. Canterbury Sede Vacante Register.
  • 97. L. and P. Hen. VIII. i. 4335.
  • 98. Ibid. ix. 472.
  • 99. Deeds of Surrender, No. 152.
  • 100. L. and P. Hen. VIII. xiii. (1), 783-5.
  • 101. Ibid. xii. 1, 963. The name Bowle or Bowlle was an alias of Ramsey.
  • 102. A list of priors and the date of their death or resignation is found up to the year 1307 in the Merton Chartulary (Cott. MS. Cleop. C. vii. f. 196). The Chronicles of Merton in the Bodleian give a list of priors from the foundation up to 1432.
  • 103. Cott. MS. Cleop. C. vii. f. 196.
  • 104. Ibid.
  • 105. Ibid.
  • 106. Ibid.
  • 107. Ibid.
  • 108. Ibid. Prior Walter resigned to take the Carthusian habit. Pat. 2 Hen. III. m. 1.
  • 109. Cott. MS. Cleop. C. vii. f. 196; he was cellarer of his house (Pat. 3 Hen. 111. m. 6).
  • 110. Cott. MS. Cleop. C. vii. f. 196; Pat. 6 Hen. III. m. 2. Prior Giles resigned his office in order to become a Cistercian monk at Beaulieu (Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), iii. 128.)
  • 111. Pat. 16 Hen. III. m. 10; Cott. MS. Cleop. C. vii. f. 196.
  • 112. Ibid.
  • 113. Ibid.
  • 114. Ibid. Pat. 20 Edw. I. m. 15.
  • 115. Ibid. 20 Edw. I. m. 14; Cott. MS. Cleop. C. vii. f. 196.
  • 116. Ibid. Pat. 25 Edw. I. m. 23.
  • 117. Ibid. 34 Edw. I. m. 33; Cleop. C. vii. f. 196.
  • 118. Ibid. Pat. 35 Edw. I. m. 12.
  • 119. Ibid. 9 Edw. III. pt. i, m. 29.
  • 120. Ibid. 13 Edw. III. pt. ii, m. 18.
  • 121. Ibid. 19 Edw. III. pt. ii, m. 22.
  • 122. Winton. Epis Reg., Wykeham, i, pt. 1, f. 12. Pat. 1 Hen. IV. pt. v. m. 38.
  • 123. Ibid. f. 335.
  • 124. Ibid. Beaufort, i. f. 49.
  • 125. Pat. 19 Edw. IV. m. 31; 20 Edw. IV. pt. i, m. 25; Harl. MS. 433, f. 200.
  • 126. Pat. 2 Ric. III. pt. ii, m. 19.
  • 127. Winton. Epis. Reg., Fox, i. f. 17.
  • 128. Ibid. iv. f. 26; L. and P. Hen. VIII. iii. 753.
  • 129. L. and P. Hen. VIII. iv. 6172, 6200, 6296.
  • 130. Cott. Chart. xxi. 25; Manning and Bray, Hist. of Surr., i. 258; Dugdale, Mon. vi. 246.