Houses of Augustinian canons: Priory of Longleat

Pages 302-303

A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.

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In the 12th century there were brothers or canons living at a house dedicated to St. Mary at Langley in Somerset. (fn. 1) This place was in Selwood Forest, probably near West Woodward, where St. Algar's farm now stands, and within 2 miles of the site of Longleat. (fn. 2) This house disappeared very quickly, leaving a manor of Langley with a chapel dedicated to St. Algar, held by the abbey of Cirencester. (fn. 3) No connexion between Langley and Longleat has been established, but it cannot be disproved, for the foundation of the Austin priory at Longleat is obscure. The earliest known reference to it is a bull of protection issued in 1235. (fn. 4) A few years later the priory received a grant of lands in Selwood Forest from Sir John Vernon. (fn. 5) This Vernon, the ancestor of the 15th-century patron of the house, Peter Stantor, (fn. 6) is believed to have been the founder of Longleat. (fn. 7) Twenty years later another Vernon, Robert, added to his grants. (fn. 8) Sir John also gave the priory 4 acres in Ansty, (fn. 9) and by 1257 it also held lands in Baycliff in Horningsham, (fn. 10) but its endowment can never have been adequate. In 1291 the lands of the priory in Longleat and Stourton and in Nunney, Batcombe, Rodden, Lullington, and Laverton (Som.) were valued altogether at £5 17s. 7d. (fn. 11) These holdings were greatly increased in 1324 by Robert le Bor, who gave to the canons lands in Codford, Warminster, Hill Deverill, Longbridge Deverill, Horningsham, and Ansty. (fn. 12)

The priory, which was dedicated to St. Radegund, was always very small. In 1312 John Thurstan, one of the canons, is said to have kept a chronicle there. (fn. 13) In the early years of Richard II, when Richard Axebridge was prior, there were five other canons, (fn. 14) but even for this small number the revenue was probably inadequate. In 1393 the church of Lullington was appropriated, (fn. 15) and in 1402 an indulgence was granted to such persons as should visit the priory and give alms for the repair of the priory and church. The prior and four priests, secular and religious, were to hear confessions. (fn. 16) Five years later Sir Walter Hungerford added to the priory revenues by the gift of the advowson of the church in his manor of Rushall. (fn. 17)

John Frome, Prior of Longleat, died on 14 October 1404. On 22 December the canons proceeded to elect one of their number, Peter Sampson, as prior. He was presented to Peter Stantor, patron of the house, and confirmed in the office by John Chandler, Dean of Salisbury, on 7 January 1405. (fn. 18) Chandler's confirmation was needed because Longleat was situated in the peculiar of the Dean of Salisbury, and Dean Chandler's register records a visitation of the priory four years later. (fn. 19) Chandler visited Longleat on 1 October 1408. Peter Sampson was still the prior, and there were four other canons. They declared that all was well with the priory, and no more is known of its history until 1529, when it was suppressed and its property appropriated to the Carthusian House of Hinton in Somerset. (fn. 20) In 1534 Longleat, Lullington, and Beckington were valued amongst the possessions of Hinton at £21 16s, 8d. (fn. 21) The steward of that house, Sir Walter Hungerford, hoped to secure possession, (fn. 22) but in 1540 Longleat was granted first to Sir John Horsey and afterwards to the Earl of Hertford. (fn. 23) In June 1541 the earl had licence to sell to John Thynne, (fn. 24) and the remains of the priory must now be sought in the cellars of Longleat House, the home of Thynne's descendants, the Marquesses of Bath.

Priors of Longleat

Richard, occurs temp. Henry III. (fn. 25)

William, occurs 1322. (fn. 26)

Henry, occurs 1334. (fn. 27)

Richard Axebridge, occurs 1381. (fn. 28)

John Frome, died 1404. (fn. 29)

Peter Sampson, elected 1404, still prior 1408. (fn. 30)

John Pert, occurs 1419. (fn. 31)

John Mapull, occurs 1489-90. (fn. 32)

John Hore, occurs 1498. (fn. 33)

Thomas Pumbery, occurs 1518. (fn. 34)

An engraving of a seal of the priory is reproduced in Hoare's Wiltshire. (fn. 35) It shows the figure of the patron saint surrounded by the inscription:



  • 1. Cirencester Cartulary, in possession of Lord Vestey, Stowell Park, Glos., nos. 57, 605-10.
  • 2. Collinson, Hist. of Som. ii, 189.
  • 3. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), ii, 465; L. & P. Hen. VIII, xvii, p. 260; SC 6/Henry VIII/1204 m. 55.
  • 4. Sar. Chart. & Doc. (Rolls Ser.), 233-4.
  • 5. Ibid. 234.
  • 6. Hoare, Mod. Wilts., Heytesbury Hund. 47-48.
  • 7. Ibid. 55.
  • 8. Sar. Chart. & Doc. (Rolls Ser.), 234-5.
  • 9. Longleat Chart. (Bath MSS.), no. 8026.
  • 10. Cat. Anct. D. iii, D 319.
  • 11. Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 186, 203. Sterton is tentatively identified as Stourton, and Radene as Rodden.
  • 12. Cal. Pat. 1321-4, 361; 1324-7, 27.
  • 13. Cal. of Inq. p.m. vii, no. 540, p. 380.
  • 14. E 179/52/12.
  • 15. Cal. Pat. 1391-6, 338.
  • 16. Cal. of Pap. Lett. 1362-1404, 349.
  • 17. Cal. Pat. 1405-8, 384.
  • 18. Sar. Dioc. Regy., Reg. Dean Chandler, ii, f. 7v.
  • 19. Ibid. f. 120v.
  • 20. L. & P. Hen. VIII, iv, p. 2502.
  • 21. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 157.
  • 22. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xiv (1), p. 518.
  • 23. Ibid. xv, p. 174; xvi, p. 381.
  • 24. Ibid. xvi, p. 463.
  • 25. Longleat Chart. no. 8022.
  • 26. Ibid. 8018.
  • 27. Ibid. 8016.
  • 28. E 179/52/12.
  • 29. Sar. Dioc. Regy., Reg. Dean Chandler, ii, f. 7v.
  • 30. Ibid. 7v., 120v.
  • 31. Longleat Chart. no. 8031.
  • 32. Ibid. no. 8030.
  • 33. Longleat, Thynne papers, Book 63, p. 153.
  • 34. Ibid. p. 31.
  • 35. Hoare, Mod. Wilts., Heytesbury Hund. 57.