Houses of Cistercian nuns: Priory of Whistones

Pages 154-156

A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1971.

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The nunnery of the White Ladies of Aston, otherwise known as the house of St. Mary Magdalene, at Whistones, of the order of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, stood in the parish of Claines, on the north side of the cemetery of the hospital of St. Oswald. It was founded by Walter de Cantilupe before 1255, in which year the site 'et cætera eis collata' were confirmed to the nuns by the prior and convent of Worcester. (fn. 1) Further details of this confirmation are given in the Liber Albus, showing the endowment to have included 51 acres of arable land and 2 acres of meadow at Aston Episcopi, or White Ladies' Aston, together with the tithes of the demesne lands at Northwick (Worcester) and Newland (Worcester), and of the land of Richard Blund and Peter de la Flagge in Claines (Worcester). (fn. 2) By 1291 the nuns had also acquired a portion in the chapel of Claines, granted by Bishop Giffard in 1283, (fn. 3) and the tithes of the chapel of Aston Episcopi, or White Ladies' Aston. (fn. 4) In 1301 the king granted the bishop licence to alienate to the prioress and convent 12 acres of land and 1 acre of wood in Northwick. (fn. 5) In 1329 he granted them licence to acquire in mortmain land and rent not held in chief to the value of 100s. (fn. 6) In 1331 Joan Talbot, widow of Sir Richard Talbot, of 'Richard's Castle,' Hereford, gave them one messuage, 15 acres of land, 1d. rent, and half an acre of meadow, with appurtenances, in Flagge, in the manor of Northwick. (fn. 7) This grant was confirmed by Bishop Orleton in the November of the same year, (fn. 8) and by the prior and convent of Worcester in the December. (fn. 9) In 1334 20 acres of land in Northwick were alienated to the prioress and convent by William de Beauchamp, and 2 acres by Hugh de Hanford, chaplain. (fn. 10) In 1335 Thomas atte Mulne was given licence to alienate to Whistones 6 acres of land and half an acre of meadow in Northwick, of the yearly value of 14d. (fn. 11) In 1400 came a royal grant of £10 yearly from the issues of the county of Worcester, (fn. 12) and in 1476 Margery Swinfen, prioress, promised in consideration of this grant to cause a mass to be done four times a year 'for the solle of the noble prince of blessed memorie Richard, late Duke of York, father to our sayde soverayne lord'; also three days in the year mass for the 'prosperitie and welfare of our sayde soverayne lord, the quene, my lord prince, and there noble issue'; also every Friday in the week the prioress and convent would 'goo a procession sayinge the lateneye for the tranquylite and peas of this roialme of England . . . . and remembryng our founder the bishop of Worcester in the same.' (fn. 13) The £10 annual grant was confirmed to the house by Henry VII. in 1486, and in 1488 the king ordered the sheriff to pay all arrears of the said grant, and to pay the annuity itself from time to time in accordance with the grant. (fn. 14) With the help of this gift from the king the temporalities of the house by 1535 had reached the value of £33 9s. 8d., while their spiritualities were valued at £22 13s. 11d., and included the rectory of Weston (Warwick), (fn. 15) appropriated to Whistones in 1407 by Bishop Clifford, (fn. 16) and confirmed by Bishop Carpenter in 1445 or 1446. (fn. 17)

The poverty of Whistones, as of Cookhill, was proverbial. In 1240 Henry III. ordered the bailiffs of Tewkesbury to deliver a cask of the king's wine to the White Sisters of Worcester. (fn. 18) In 1275 Bishop Giffard, who was a generous benefactor to the house, wrote to the papal legate, on behalf of the nuns of Whistones, pleading their inability to support their own needs, much less to pay heavy taxation. (fn. 19) In 1284 the bishop gave a quarter of corn and another of barley, with half a mark to buy herrings, to all the nuns of Worcester, on account of their poverty, (fn. 20) and on his death he bequeathed to the nuns of Whistones vestments for their great altar and 100s. in money. (fn. 21) During the vacancy that followed Bishop Gainsborough's death, the Lady Agnes de Bromwych, prioress of Whistones, died, and the proceedings on the election of the Lady Alice de la Flagge as her successor are given with remarkable detail, and incidentally show the poverty of the house. (fn. 22) In 1308 the sub-prioress, Lucy de Solers, wrote to the bishopelect of Worcester, pleading that in consideration of the smallness of the possessions of the nuns of Whistones, 'which compelled the same nuns formerly to beg to the scandal of womankind and the discredit of religion, for the honour of religion and the frailness of the female sex,' he should grant them by their proctor licence to elect their new prioress, and should confirm the same election. (fn. 23) This appeal, addressed strangely enough to the bishop-elect, and not to the prior of Worcester, evidently implied that the nuns had not sufficient means to pay the fees that were due to the bishop on a new election. John, prior of Worcester, wrote to W. Burston, begging him to promote the business of the Whistones nuns, (fn. 24) and also to the rector of Hartlebury, praying him that he would 'testify the extreme poverty of the nuns of Whistones to the elect of Worcester,' in order that he might 'incline to the prayer of their proctors' for licence to elect a new prioress, and commit the confirmation of the same to any of the neighbouring prelates that so he might 'relieve the necessity and serve the honour of the order.' (fn. 25) On this the bishop-elect wrote giving the prior and the rector of Hartlebury, his commissary general, power to receive and examine the election of a prioress of Whistones, and confirm the same according to the canonical institutions. (fn. 26) He also wrote to Lucy de Solers, giving her licence to elect, and as the patronage belonged to the bishop, he claimed to grant the licence 'without prejudice to the church of Worcester, and without making it a custom.' (fn. 27)

Further details of this election and that of Agnes de Monynton in 1349 give almost the only events recorded of the history of the monastery. Lucy de Solers sent a full description to the bishop reciting how on the vigil of the Apostles Peter and Paul she and the whole convent had assembled in their chapter house, and had appointed the Monday following to treat of the election. On that day, mass being over, being instructed in the form of election by two sisters of the priory, Alice de Seculer and Isabel de Aston, all who were present, unanimously, 'as if inspired by the Holy Ghost,' chose Alice de la Flagge, 'a woman of discreet life and morals, of lawful age, professed in the nunnery, born of lawful matrimony, prudent in spiritual and temporal matters.' (fn. 28) But, as yet, Alice, with a modesty befitting her virtues, could not be persuaded to agree to the election. But, 'weeping, resisting as much as she could, and expostulating in a loud voice as is the custom,' she was carried to the church and her election proclaimed. At length, on the following Wednesday, 'being unwilling to resist the Divine will,' she consented, and after reference to the bishop's commissary and the prior of Worcester the election was confirmed. (fn. 29) In 1349, on the death of Juliana de Power, Agnes de Monynton, sub-prioress, with six other nuns, who probably constituted the rest of the convent, (fn. 30) petitioned the bishop that the new prioress might be chosen from among themselves (que le soit une de nous sus nomes). The bishop, as patron, chose Agnes de Monynton. (fn. 31)

Little is known of the internal state of the house as regards the maintenance of order and discipline. The injunctions issued by Bishop Wittesleye in 1365 to the prioress and nuns of the diocese showed a marked departure from the rules of the order in the nunneries of the diocese in general, and probably in Whistones among them. (fn. 32) However, in no case is there record of special injunctions or corrections following on any of the frequent episcopal visitations to the house.

There is no trace of the actual surrender of Whistones at the time of the Dissolution. It probably took place in 1536 under the statute of that year granting the king the smaller religious houses whose annual value was under £200. (fn. 33) It appears in the list of these houses made in 1536, (fn. 34) and in 1538 in a list of the houses lately dissolved in the country. (fn. 35) Jane Burrell, the last prioress, received a pension of £5 10s. on her surrender, (fn. 36) and enjoyed the same until 1553. (fn. 37)

Prioresses of Whistones

Juliana, occurs 1262. (fn. 38)

Agnes de Bromwich, died 1308. (fn. 39)

Alice de la Flagge, elected 1308, (fn. 40) died 1328. (fn. 41)

Juliana de Power, elected 1308, (fn. 42) died 1349. (fn. 43)

Agnes de Monynton, elected 1349. (fn. 44)

Elizabeth Hanbury, resigned 1427, (fn. 45) died 1427. (fn. 46)

Elizabeth Tewkesbury, elected 1427. (fn. 47)

Elizabeth Wotton, elected and died 1472. (fn. 48)

Margery Swinfen, elected 1473, (fn. 49) died 1485. (fn. 50)

Joan Morton, elected and died 1485. (fn. 51)

Jane Burrell, surrendered in 1536. (fn. 52)


  • 1. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), iv. 443.
  • 2. Liber Albus, Worc. f. 62.
  • 3. The tithes of Claines were granted on condition that the nuns were answerable for the services of the church by a fit priest Worc. Epis. Reg. Giffard (Worc. Hist. Soc.) p. 190).
  • 4. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 239, 216.
  • 5. Cal. of Pat. 1297-1301, 595.
  • 6. Ibid. 1327-30, 457.
  • 7. Liber Albus, Worc. f. 139, 140.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. Ibid.
  • 10. Cal of Pat. 1334-8, 47.
  • 11. Ibid. 185.
  • 12. Ibid. 1399-1401, 374.
  • 13. Worc. Epis. Reg. Alcock, f. 167.
  • 14. Mat. for reign of Hen. VII. (Rolls. Ser.), ii. 375.
  • 15. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii. 230.
  • 16. Nash, i. 222.
  • 17. Worc. Epis. Reg. Carpenter, i. f. 31d.
  • 18. Close, 25 Hen. III. m. 8.
  • 19. Worc. Epis. Reg. Giffard (Worc. Hist. Soc.), p. 78.
  • 20. Ibid. p. 231.
  • 21. Liber Albus, Worc. f. 62.
  • 22. Sede Vac. Reg. (Worc. Hist. Soc.) 111-114.
  • 23. Ibid. 112.
  • 24. Ibid. 113.
  • 25. Ibid.
  • 26. Ibid.
  • 27. Sede Vac. Reg. (Worc. Hist. Soc.), 112.
  • 28. Ibid. 114.
  • 29. Ibid. 113.
  • 30. Their names are as follows:—Ellen Ryons, Joan Pope, Agnes Groos, Sibyll Shelle, Ellen Spelly. Hence it would seem the house consisted of six nuns and a prioress and sub-prioress.
  • 31. Worc. Epis. Reg. Bransford, ii. f. 156.
  • 32. Ibid. Wittesleye, f. 7.
  • 33. Stat. of Realm, 27 Hen. VIII. c. 27.
  • 34. L. and P. Henry VIII. x. 516.
  • 35. Ibid. xiii. ii. 502.
  • 36. Ibid. xiii. i. 576.
  • 37. Bks. of. Ct. of Aug. (P.R.O.) 232, f. lxii.
  • 38. Liber Albus, f. 67.
  • 39. Sede Vac. Reg. (Worc. Hist. Soc.), 112.
  • 40. Ibid.
  • 41. Worc. Epis. Reg. Orlton, ii. f. 21.
  • 42. Ibid.
  • 43. Ibid. Bransford, ii. f. 156.
  • 44. Ibid.
  • 45. Ibid. Poulton, f. 14d.
  • 46. Ibid. f. 34.
  • 47. Ibid.
  • 48. Ibid. Carpenter, ii. f. 48d.
  • 49. Ibid.
  • 50. Ibid. Alcock, f. 167. According to Tanner (Notitia, Preface xlviii.) Elizabeth Wotton died in 1478, and Margery Swinfen succeeded her in that year, but this is impossible in the light of the evidence of the register.
  • 51. Ibid. f. 153d.
  • 52. L. and. P. Hen. VIII. xiii. i. 576.