Houses of Augustinian canons: Priory of Tortington

Pages 82-83

A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.

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This house of Austin canons was founded in honour of St. Mary Magdalene before 1200 (fn. 2) by a certain Hadwissa Corbet, (fn. 3) for whose soul the canons caused an obit to be celebrated every month in the cathedral of Chichester, paying therefor to the dean and chapter 100s. yearly. (fn. 4) Besides the church of Tortington, obtained from the abbey of Séez, the canons held those of Tyneham in Dorset, apparently by gift of the founder; North Stoke, given by the earl of Arundel, (fn. 5) who had succeeded to the patronage of the priory in 1337, and appropriated the same year (fn. 6); 'Medlers,' or Madehurst, obtained from the priory of Lewes (fn. 7); and Islesham (now part of Climping) (fn. 8) and St. Swithun's, Candlewick Street, London, both granted by Sir Robert Aguillon, the latter church being temporarily seized into the king's hands and re-granted to them through the earl of Arundel in 1379. (fn. 9) The total value of their property in 1291 was just under £30, (fn. 10) a sum which was trebled before the dissolution came.

In 1331 Henry Tregoze complained that the prior and two of his canons, with certain others, had broken his park of Wiggonholt. (fn. 11) Irregularities of an even more serious nature were alleged against the prior of Tortington in 1376, when Pope Gregory XI issued a bull stating that 'on account of the evil rule of our beloved son John Palmere—if indeed he ought to be called "beloved,"' the priory had fallen into a bad state and its goods had been wasted; the prior, 'careless not only of property, but also of his own good fame,' was living dissolutely outside the monastery, and orders were given for his trial and deposition if guilty. (fn. 12)

It has already been noticed in the account of Hardham that Tortington was selected as a place of banishment for disobedient canons; it was also chosen in 1376 as the retreat of more worthy residents, for the earl of Arundel left commands in his will that lands to the value of 200 marks should be given to the priory to the intent that any chaplain of the college or chantry which he desired to found in the castle of Arundel who should be disabled by illness should have his sustenance at Tortington. (fn. 13) The scheme for the foundation of the college being changed this was never carried out.

The prior of Tortington complained in 1402 that one of his canons had withdrawn himself and carried off various muniments and jewels of the house. (fn. 14) The visitation of 1478 (fn. 15) revealed little seriously wrong, though it was noted that the brethren were disobedient, a bad example being set by the sacrist, Ellis Parker, who on Relic Sunday told the prior that he committed idolatry in honouring and worshipping relics of saints and putting them on the high altar, and so caused unseemly dispute, for which he was duly penitent. It may be noted that this Ellis Parker had a reputation outside his own monastery as a good and religious man, the canons of Michelham especially requesting that he might come to them as sub-prior, which office he duly filled, afterwards becoming prior of Pynham. It was also mentioned that 'Faith Lucas has the office called Day, and makes cheese and butter and comes to the house sometimes; she is, however, believed to be of good conversation.' The priory appears to have been vacant in 1521, as the visitation only names the sub-prior and two canons (fn. 16); from the other visitations it seems that there were usually five canons besides the prior, and in 1380 there were seven. (fn. 17) The last visitation in 1527 shows the house in bad repair, books lacking, and servants incompetent and unskilled. (fn. 18)

Shortly before the dissolution in June, 1536, Sir William Goryng wrote to Cromwell (fn. 19) that he had been to Tortington Priory as ordered, and had examined a canon, and afterwards 'all four of them,' the result of which examination he was sending with 'a copy of the book which the prior did read as a prophecy.' He adds:—

I have sent you a bill in the prior's hand, sent to Sir William Bury of Tortington, late prior of Shulbrede, on 21st June, one day before I received your letter. It was copied out of a book of one Mayys of Southwark, grocer, the prior's brother. Harry Rynghede, one of the canons, told me that when the prior was in the court, by means of my cousin Palmer, he wrote to the said Harry to burn all such letters as his brother May had written to him, which he did.

This reads like a case of treasonable correspondence, but no more particulars appear. The brother referred to was probably Robert May of Southwark, who by his will of 1536 left '2 ryalles of golde' to his brother Thomas, prior of St. Mary Magdalene of Tortington. (fn. 20)

The property of the priory reaching only the clear annual value of £75 12s. 3½d. in 1535, and £82 9s. 3½d. in a later valuation, (fn. 21) it fell with the smaller houses, but the exact date of its surrender is unknown. The goods of the house, including five bells and 171 ounces of silver, fetched £144 12s. 10½d., (fn. 22) from which £10 was allowed to the five canons. (fn. 23) A pension of £10 was granted to the prior, and a similar amount to a former prior, who had been living in the priory since his resignation some years earlier. (fn. 24)

Priors Of Torington

Reyner, occurs 1230-49 (fn. 25)

Matthew, before 1263 (fn. 26)

William de Launcel (?), occurs 1278 (fn. 27)

Walter, occurs 1320, (fn. 28) 1331 (fn. 29)

William, occurs 1361 (fn. 30)

John Palmere, occurs 1376 (fn. 31)

John, occurs 1380 (fn. 32)

Robert atte Lee, occurs 1402 (fn. 33)

Thomas, occurs 1417 (fn. 34)

Robert atte Lee, died 1440 (fn. 35)

John Losecroft, elected 1440 (fn. 36)

John Page, occurs 1478 (fn. 37)

John Gregory, occurs 1524, (fn. 38) 1529

Thomas Maye, occurs 1534, (fn. 39) last prior


  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. iv, 597.
  • 2. Gervase of Cant. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 419.
  • 3. For discussion of her identity, see Suss. Arch. Coll. xxiii, 203–7.
  • 4. Rentals (P.R.O.), No. 659.
  • 5. Pat. 11 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 10.
  • 6. Chich. Epis. Reg. Sherborn, fol. 73.
  • 7. Ibid.
  • 8. Ibid. fol. 72b.
  • 9. Pat. 2 Ric. II, m. 8; 8 Ric. II, pt. ii, m. 4.
  • 10. Taxatio (Rolls Ser.), 137.
  • 11. Pat. 5 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 37 d.
  • 12. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Sudbury, fol. 26.
  • 13. Ibid. fol. 92b.
  • 14. Ibid. Arundel, fol. 110.
  • 15. Chich. Epis. Reg. Story, fol. 32.
  • 16. Ibid. Sherborn, fol. 107.
  • 17. Cler. Subs. 1 / 19.
  • 18. Chich. Epis. Reg. Sherborn, fol. 100.
  • 19. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, 207.
  • 20. P.C.C. Dyngeley, 2.
  • 21. Suss. Arch. Coll. xliv, 65.
  • 22. Ibid. 59.
  • 23. Ibid. 63.
  • 24. Mins. Accts. 28 & 29 Hen. VIII, No. 183.
  • 25. Feet of F. (Suss. Rec. Soc.), Nos. 219, 464.
  • 26. Assize R. 912, m. 4.
  • 27. Coram Rege R. 39, m. 16.
  • 28. Assize R. 938, m. 36.
  • 29. Pat. 5 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 35 d.
  • 30. Cal. Papal Pet. i, 367.
  • 31. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Sudbury, fol. 26.
  • 32. Cler. Subs. 1 / 19.
  • 33. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Arundel, fol. 110.
  • 34. Ibid. Chicheley, fol. 206; Assize R. 1528, m. 24.
  • 35. Ibid. Praty, fol 64b.
  • 36. Ibid.
  • 37. Ibid. Story, fol. 32.
  • 38. Ibid. Sherborn, pt. ii, fol. 96.
  • 39. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv, 2701.
  • 40. Ibid. vii, 1498 (22).