Houses of Austin canons: Abbey of Kenilworth

A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.

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'Houses of Austin canons: Abbey of Kenilworth', in A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 2, ed. William Page( London, 1908), British History Online [accessed 15 July 2024].

'Houses of Austin canons: Abbey of Kenilworth', in A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 2. Edited by William Page( London, 1908), British History Online, accessed July 15, 2024,

"Houses of Austin canons: Abbey of Kenilworth". A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 2. Ed. William Page(London, 1908), , British History Online. Web. 15 July 2024.

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The priory of Austin Canons of Kenilworth, afterwards an abbey, was founded in honour of the Blessed Virgin in 1122, by Godfrey de Clinton, chamberlain and treasurer of Henry I, about the same time that he erected a castle at the same place. By the foundation charter he gave to the canons all his lands and woods at Kenilworth, save those reserved for the castle and its surrounding park; together with the manors of Salford, Idlicote, and Newnham in Warwickshire; the church of Wootton and a hide of land, the church of Clinton and two hides in Lilenton, Oxfordshire; and the church of Barton, Northamptonshire. By a later charter the founder gave the canons the tithe of everything brought to his castle, whether to the cellar, larder, kitchen, granary, or hall, although they might have been elsewhere tithed before; as well as the whole of the lamb-skins throughout his manor, both of those that died casually as well as those killed for eating. By a third charter he granted to the priory the manor of Hitchenden, Buckinghamshire, and the church of Stone, Staffordshire. Geoffrey de Clinton, the founder's son, was also a great benefactor. He gave the canons land at Newton, the manor of Packington with church and mill, the greatest part of Leamington with the church and mill, the mill of Guy's Cliff, the cell of Bretford, lands at Wridfen and Wootton, together with the churches of Wormleighton, Harbury, Radford, and Budbrooke, Warwickshire, and the church of Stewkley, Buckinghamshire. The most important of other early grants were the church of Stoneleigh, by Henry I; the church of Iffley, Oxfordshire, by Julian de St. Remigio; the church of Heath, Oxfordshire, by Lescelina, daughter of Geoffrey, the founder, and wife of Norman de Verdon; the churches of Brailes and Wellesbourne by Roger, earl of Warwick; the churches of Hampton in Arden and Smite (Combe), by Roger de Mowbray; and the churches of Chesterton, Fenny Compton, Eatington, Langford (Derbyshire), and Charlton Camville (Somerset), by various donors. (fn. 1) In 1232, Walter Espigurnell and Celestina his wife gave to the priory the church of Milverton. In 1232, Pope Gregory IX confirmed to the canons of Kenilworth the grant of the church of Elindon, due provision being made for a vicar. (fn. 2) In 1253 Peter de Mora gave to the canons the greatest part of Loxley, Westcote, and Marton, together with the advowson of the church of Loxley. (fn. 3)

The siege of Kenilworth Castle in 1266 was very prejudicial to the priory and caused much impoverishment. In September of that year, though they allowed the king's forces 300 quarters of corn and much besides to secure protection for the rest of their goods, yet they were by no means free from the soldiers' oppressions. To relieve their wants Henry III, on 24 January, 1267, after the surrender of the castle, addressed letters patent to all their tenants requiring them to contribute thereto in such manner as they would expect that God should bless them. (fn. 4)

The Valor of 1291 showed that the priory was possessed of considerable endowments. The appropriations and pensions from churches in the county alone amounted to the annual sum of £114 5s. 2d. (fn. 5)

From early days the prior of Kenilworth had a right to take a daily load of brushwood out of the woods of Kenilworth, but in June, 1308, Thomas, earl of Lancaster, assigned the convent 15 acres of his wood at Kenilworth in lieu of this right. (fn. 6)

The priory obtained licence to appropriate the church of Colynton in October, 1331. (fn. 7) In 1333 the advowson of the church of Churchover was given to the priory. (fn. 8) The last grant of any importance made to the priory was in 1511, when licence in mortmain was obtained for acquiring lands to the annual value of £40, for the support of the mass of the Name of Jesus every Friday except Good Friday, for the good estate of the king and Katherine his wife, and for their souls after death. This grant was made by Henry VIII under privy seal, in terms of unusual devotion with the remission of the usual fees. (fn. 9)

Edmund de la Beche, king's clerk, was appointed by the crown in September following the election of Prior Warmington to the yearly pension that the priory was bound to grant a clerk on the king's nomination at the election of a new prior, until they could provide him with a fitting benefice. (fn. 10) It was very rarely that the crown provided for any male servants in their old age save by assigning them corrodies in religious houses, and still more exceptional to send a woman elsewhere than to a nunnery, but in March, 1317, Alice, widow of Henry de Morton, was sent by the king to the prior and convent of Kenilworth to receive the maintenance of a free servant. This was done on account of her late husband's good service to the king in Scotland, where he died in the king's service. (fn. 11) In January, 1330, Nicholas le Veutrer, king's yeoman, was sent to the priory to receive such life-sustenance as had been granted to Walter Joice, deceased. (fn. 12) Letters patent were, however, granted in the following month to the effect that their providing sustenance for life for Nicholas le Veutrer was not to prejudice their house as a precedent. (fn. 13) But on 5 July, 1327, the priory was requested to admit into their house as a life-pensioner Thomas le Veutrer, the king's serjeant, in the place of John Powys, deceased. (fn. 14) On the election of Abbot Walle in 1516 Richard Dolphyn was appointed to the pension which the abbot-elect of Kenilworth was bound to give to a clerk of the king's nomination. (fn. 15)

There was a rather indefinite connexion between this priory and that of Stone, Staffordshire. About 1135 Evisan de Waleton gave the church of Stone to Kenilworth Priory; his grant being confirmed by Ernald his son, by Nicholas son of Robert de Stafford, and later by Henry II, Archbishop Becket, and Pope Alexander III. (fn. 16) The exact degree of authority over the priory of Stone obtained by the grant is not clear, but in 1260 a composition was entered into between Nicholas, prior of Kenilworth, and Roger de Wygorn, prior of Stone, and confirmed by the bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, touching the exemption of the priory of Stone. It was then agreed that the prior of Stone be ever free to receive and profess canons, and may freely dispose of the possessions of the priory; that the prior and canons are free from all subjection to Kenilworth, save that the prior of Kenilworth may once a year visit Stone with a train of ten horses, and dwell there for two days. Further, that when the house of Stone is vacant two of the canons of Kenilworth shall be present at the election; that licence to elect be obtained from the prior of Kenilworth; that during a vacancy the prior and convent of Kenilworth, as patrons, should have custody of the said house by one of their canons or servants; and that when Kenilworth is vacant the prior of Stone shall be present and have a place in chapter and choir. It was also agreed that all the Kenilworth charters relating to Stone should be delivered under seal of the bishop. (fn. 17)

On 6 March, 1278, a mandate was sent by the crown to the prior of Kenilworth and to William Hamelyn, sheriff of Warwick and Leicester, to send £600 out of the fifteenth which was in their custody in the priory of Kenilworth to the king at Quenington, so that he might receive the money on the ensuing Thursday. The receipt that was granted the prior and sheriff for £619 2s. on 16 March shows that it was the second moiety of the fifteenth arising from the two counties, and it was paid to Master Thomas Bek, the keeper of the wardrobe. (fn. 18)

In March, 1290, Pope Nicholas IV granted relaxation of a year and forty days' enjoined penance to penitents who visited the church of the Austin monastery of Kenilworth on the feasts of the Blessed Virgin and of St. Augustine, in whose honour the church had been built. (fn. 19) In the same month the pope commissioned the bishop of Coventry to grant a dispensation to Richard de Brumsgrave, priest, canon of Kenilworth, of illegitimate birth, so that he might minister in the orders he received and accept the office of prior or any other administration of his order. (fn. 20) About the same time the pope, on the petition of the prior and convent of Kenilworth, ordered the bishop of Coventry, when visiting that priory, not to bring seculars into the inclosure, and no more than two or three of his canons in fitting habit. (fn. 21)

A warrant was issued in 1336 to arrest, wherever found in the counties of Stafford and Derby, William de Boydyn, canon of Kenilworth, then apostate and vagabond, and to deliver him to his prior to be chastised according to the discipline of his order. (fn. 22)

In 1351 Pope Clement VI issued his mandate to the archdeacon of Wells and two colleagues to carry out the ordinances touching apostates in regard to Henry de Quenton, canon of Kenilworth, who had left his order but desired to return to it. (fn. 23)

In May, 1361, Bishop Stretton directed a mandate to Prior John de Peyto, announcing that he was shortly about to visit the house in person by special direction of the king, as its unsatisfactory state had become notorious. The prior was directed to see that all the brethren, whether dwelling in cells pertaining to the monastery or elsewhere, were present in the chapterhouse on 21 June. (fn. 24) The result of the visitation is not recorded, but it apparently brought about the resignation of the prior.

During the voidance preceding the election of Thomas de Merton as prior in 1386 there was an inspection and confirmation of letters patent of 4 Edward III, which were a grant to the priory, in consideration of the great losses sustained by the house in consequence of the frequent visits of that king and his father, that at every voidance the sub-prior and convent should have the custody, at the rate of £117 2s. 8d. a year. (fn. 25)

In 1426 Bishop Heyworth removed Thomas Norton, sub-prior of Kenilworth, from his office, and sent him to the cell of Brooke, Rutlandshire, for having shown himself obstinate and contumacious to the prior. Two of the other canons, Thomas Holygreve and Roger Stone, adherents of the sub-prior, who, without leave, had gone out of the cloister in contempt of obedience, were also sent to the cell in disgrace. (fn. 26) One of these rebellious canons, probably at this time a very young man, appears subsequently in a more honourable light, for it was during the rule of Thomas Holygreve that the house was raised to the rank of an abbey. (fn. 27)

In 1454 Abbot Thomas and the convent of Kenilworth demised to Abbot William and the convent of Bordesley the rectory of Bidford for twenty years, for which Bordesley was to pay 22 marks the first year and 60s. yearly for the rest of the term. (fn. 28)

The abbot of Kenilworth was put on the commission of the peace for Warwickshire in 1524, and his commission was renewed in 1529, 1532, and 1534; he was the only religious superior of the shire who received this civil honour. (fn. 29)

The Valor of 1535 gave the clear annual value of this wealthy house as £538 19s. 4d. The total amount distributed in alms yearly was £23 17s. 7d. (fn. 30)

Abbot Walle yielded to the solicitations of Cromwell and granted a lease of the manor of Brooke to a friend of the vicar-general's. In March, 1536, he wrote to Cromwell saying that he was informed that the prior of the cell of Brooke, supported by some gentlèmen of the neighbourhood, trusted to remain there and be at his liberty rather than to be under the rule of Kenilworth. He was about to send for him, and if he disobeyed would inform Cromwell and ask his aid in his reformation. (fn. 31) On 17 June of the same year the abbot wrote again to the vicar-general saying that he and his poor house were much disquieted about their manor or cell of Brooke, owing to the canon he sent to rule there giving up the title of the house to the king because he had not so large a pension assigned to him as he wished. He reminded Cromwell that when in reply to his letter he offered the lease of Brooke to his friend, he gave a bond of 1,000 marks to the lessee for his surety, and was then in danger of that sum. He begged therefore that he would influence the king to let them retain the manor, or that they might have it at a reasonable rent, especially as his highness, for his good service at the insurrection at Coventry, promised him his favour in any reasonable suit. (fn. 32) The 'mixed commission' that reported on Rutlandshire in that same month described Brooke as a head house for anything they could hear to the contrary. They found only a prior and no more, 'as the abbot of Kyllingworth compelled two other canons there to come to Kyllingworth.' (fn. 33)

The prior and convent obtained a congè d'èlire on the death of their late abbot on 3 January, 1537, and assent was given to the election of Simon Jekys, a canon of the monastery, as abbot on 15 January, the temporalities being restored on the 29th. (fn. 34) On 1 February the new abbot was placed on the commission of the peace for Warwickshire. (fn. 35)

On 10 March, 1538, Abbot Simon wrote to Cromwell acknowledging his letters in favour of Mr. John Greville for the tithes of Wellesbourne, appropriate to the house, which he held by Cromwell's preferment. He stated that these tithes were the only source of corn that his house had, and begged to retain them, for to pay their debts he had let out all except the park of Rudfyne where their cattle were kept. If these tithes went they would have to buy the whole sustenance of their household. (fn. 36) However, Kenilworth had only to wait a few weeks before all was taken. On 15 April the canons were called upon to surrender. The abbot, Simon, John Lister the prior, and fourteen canons signed the surrender of their monastery with all its possessions in the counties of Warwick, Gloucester, Worcester, Northampton, Buckingham, Somerset, and Oxford. (fn. 37)

On 6 May, 1539, Abbot Jekys had the handsome pension of £100 assigned to him, the prior, John Lister, obtained £8, while small pensions of rather more than the usual amount, varying from £7 to £5, were bestowed on twelve of the canons. (fn. 38)

The site and demesnes were soon afterwards granted to Sir Andrew Flamock. (fn. 39)

Priors of Kenilworth

Bernard, c. 1122-30 (fn. 40)

Laurence, temp. Stephen

Robert, c. 1160-80 (fn. 41)

Silvester, occurs 1202 (fn. 42)

Walter, 1204 (fn. 43)

Henry, c. 1232; resigned 1236 (fn. 44)

David, 1236 (fn. 45)

Nicholas, 1258 (fn. 46)

Humphrey, 1266

Robert de Esteley, 1266 (fn. 47); resigned 1276

William de Evesham, 1276 (fn. 48)

Richard de Tyvelesford, 1279 (fn. 49) -92

Robert de Salle, 1292 (fn. 50) -1312

Thomas de Warmyngton, 1312 (fn. 51)

Thomas, occurs 1340 (fn. 52)

John de Peyto, 1345 (fn. 53)

Henry de Bradweye, 1361-75 (fn. 54)

Walter de Cherlton, 1375-85 (fn. 55)

Thomas de Merston, 1385-1400

Walter de Brayles, 1400, (fn. 56) resigned 1403

Thomas Kidderminster, 1403 (fn. 57) -39

Thomas Holygreve, 1439 (fn. 58)


Thomas Holygreve, 1458

John Yardley alias Erdeleye, (fn. 59) 1458 (fn. 60)

Ralph Maxfield, 1495 (fn. 61) -1516

William Walle, 1516 (fn. 62) -37

Simon Jekys, 1537 (fn. 63) -39

First Seal: The Virgin, crowned, and with nimbus, wearing embroidered dress and mantle, in the right hand a book. She is seated on the roof of the priory church, which is shown from the south, with western tower, south door, south transept, and lantern tower, the pinnacle of which she is grasping with the left hand. On her left wrist a long maunch. Legend:—

SIGILLV . . ECCL . . . . . . ILDEWRDA (fn. 64)

R. A smaller round counterseal. An angel, half-length, lifting up the right hand. Legend:—


The second seal (attached to a deed of 1512) is a pointed oval: the Virgin, crowned, and with nimbus, seated in a canopied niche of the style of the Renaissance, the Child on the left knee, in her right hand a sceptre. In the field, on each side, a wavy scroll of foliage. In base, an ornamental shield of the royal arms of England. Legend:—


The seal of Abbot William Walle, 1533, is oval: the Virgin crowned, seated in a canopied niche with tabernacle work at the sides, the Child on the left knee, in the right hand a sceptre. In base, under a round-headed arch with masonry at the sides, the abbot, half-length, in prayer. Legend:—

S * WILLIAM * WALLE (fn. 66)


  • 1. Dugdale, Warw. i, 238-9; Mon. vi, 220-4. The register or chartulary of Kenilworth from which these are cited is now Harl. MS. 3650, 'Registrum Cartarum Canonicorum S. Marie de Chenilleworda,' consisting of 176 leaves. It was the only manuscript saved out of the fire of Mr. West's library in 1737.
  • 2. Cal. Papal Let. i, 146.
  • 3. Harl. MS. 3650, fol. 43, 44.
  • 4. Pat. 51 Hen. III, m. 29.
  • 5. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), passim.
  • 6. Pat. 1 Edw. II, pt. ii, m. 6.
  • 7. Close, 5 Edw. III, pt. iii, m. 18.
  • 8. Pat. 7 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 27.
  • 9. Rymer, Foedera, xiii, 310.
  • 10. Close, 6 Edw. II, m. 28 d.
  • 11. Ibid. 10 Edw. II, m. 13 d.
  • 12. Ibid. 4 Edw. III, m. 42 d.
  • 13. Pat. 4 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 40.
  • 14. Close, 11 Edw. III, m. 21 d.
  • 15. Rymer, Foedera, xiii, 310.
  • 16. a Cott. Chart. xiii, 6.
  • 17. Giffard's Reg. (Worc. Hist. Soc.), 105.
  • 18. Pat. 1 Edw. I, m. 20.
  • 19. Cal. Papal Let. i, 512.
  • 20. Ibid. i, 153.
  • 21. Ibid. i, 513.
  • 22. Pat. 10 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 32 d.
  • 23. Cal. Papal Let. ii, 461.
  • 24. Lich. Epis. Reg. Stretton, fol. 43b.
  • 25. Pat. 8 Ric. II, pt. ii, m. 23.
  • 26. Lich. Epis. Reg. Heyworth, fol. 188b.
  • 27. Ibid. Boulers, fol. 27 d.
  • 28. Anct. D. (P.R.O.), B. 3572.
  • 29. L. and P. Hen. VIII, ii, 2421, 2490, 2571, 2638.
  • 30. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii, 66b.
  • 31. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, 444.
  • 32. Ibid. 1151.
  • 33. Ibid. 1191.
  • 34. Ibid. xii (1), 311.
  • 35. Ibid. 539.
  • 36. Ibid. xiii (1), 478.
  • 37. Dep. Keeper's Rep. viii, App. ii, 25.
  • 38. Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. ccxxxii, 226.
  • 39. Dugdale, Warw. i, 242.
  • 40. a Cott. Chart. xiii, 6 (8); Add. Chart. 21494.
  • 41. b Harl. Chart. 84, D. 13; Cott. Chart. xiii, 6 (15); Cott. Chart. xi, 7.
  • 42. c Le Neve's Indexes (P.R.O.), xxiv, 4.
  • 43. Harl. MS. 6957, fol. 7.
  • 44. Pat. 20 Hen. III, m. 5.
  • 45. Ibid. m. 4.
  • 46. Harl. MS. 6957, fol. 130.
  • 47. Pat. 51 Hen. III, m. 37.
  • 48. Ibid. 4 Edw. I, m. 29.
  • 49. Ibid. 7 Edw. I, m. 24, 23, 22.
  • 50. Ibid. 20 Edw. I, m. 5, 4.
  • 51. Pat. 6 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 23, 20.
  • 52. a Cott. Chart. xi, 23.
  • 53. Harl. MS. 6595, fol. 202; Lich. Epis. Reg. Northburgh, ii, fol. 426.
  • 54. Lich. Epis. Reg. Stretton, fol. 9.
  • 55. Harl. MS. 6960, fol. 98, 248.
  • 56. Lich. Epis. Reg. Burghill, fol. 8; Pat. 1 Hen. IV, pt. iii, m. 14, 12.
  • 57. Lich. Epis. Reg. Burghill, fol. 8; Pat. 4 Hen. IV, pt. i, m. 2; pt. ii, m. 40.
  • 58. Lich. Epis. Reg. Heyworth, fol. 37b.
  • 59. a Harl. Chart. 44 E. 52.
  • 60. Lich. Epis. Reg. Boulers, fol. 27.
  • 61. Lich. Epis. Reg. Boulers, fol. 27, 141b.
  • 62. L. and P. Hen. VIII, ii, 2421, 2490, 2571, 2638.
  • 63. Ibid. xii (1), 311.
  • 64. Add. Chart. 21416.
  • 65. B.M. lxxiii, 15. Dugdale, Mon. vi, 220.
  • 66. Cott. Chart. xxi, 20.