Houses of Austin canons: Priory of Drax

A History of the County of York: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1974.

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, 'Houses of Austin canons: Priory of Drax', in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, (London, 1974) pp. 205-208. British History Online [accessed 28 May 2024].

. "Houses of Austin canons: Priory of Drax", in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, (London, 1974) 205-208. British History Online, accessed May 28, 2024,

. "Houses of Austin canons: Priory of Drax", A History of the County of York: Volume 3, (London, 1974). 205-208. British History Online. Web. 28 May 2024,

In this section


This house was founded by William Paynel in the reign of Henry I, (fn. 1) with the advice of Archbishop Thurstan. In the foundation charter William Paynel records that he had given to the canons serving God and St. Nicholas in the territory of Drax the island (insulam) (fn. 2) called Hallington and Middleholm, on which the priory church was founded, as well as other land in the neighbourhood.

In addition the founder gave the parish church of Drax, the churches of. Bingley, Middle Rasen, and two others in Lincolnshire, and that of Saltby in Leicestershire.

From other benefactors the priory received gifts, scattered over a wide area, (fn. 3) most of which have been carefully extracted by Burton from the chartulary of Drax. (fn. 4) Edward I granted the canons free warren in their lands of Carlton, Camblesforth, and Newhay, if not in his forest. (fn. 5)

On 10 August 1280 (fn. 6) Archbishop Wickwane visited the priory of Drax, and delivered a number of injunctions in the chapter house. First, he directed that henceforward, in transacting the common affairs of the house, the prior was not to be influenced by the heedless and disordered counsel of anybody, as he had hitherto been, inducing the contempt of seculars, offending his brethren, and injuring the monastery. He was to act according to the counsel of the convent. Further, the prior was enjoined to avoid all malicious plotting with evil wishers of the monastery, and quarrels and foolish rebukings of his brethren, at least in the presence of laymen, but he was to correct and chastise in a convenient and private place, and was to be more diligent and circumspect in the spiritual rule and temporal business of the house. Brother William de Snayth, who had lately been dismissed from being sub-prior, was not to hold any office, but was to give himself to monastic contemplation, be more courteous to his brethren, and not so much addicted to his bed, &c. Hugh de Rykhale, on account of his contentions which had distracted the convent, was to have the lowest place among the priests in cloister and convent, was to conform to rule, and hold no office or solempnis honor of the monastery, without the archbishop's express assent. As he had inordinately eaten flesh meat, he was to abstain from flesh on Sundays during the current year.

Elyas, the sub-cellarer, who wandered about to the injury of the monastery, was not to go outside cloister or church. The archbishop removed from the house a layman, John de Weland, on account of his demerits, and denounced him as excommunicate, for having laid violent hands on Laurence de Lincolnia, (fn. 7) one of the canons.

Elyas, a canon who violently struck John de Lincolnia (fn. 8) his fellow-canon and was not yet absolved, was daily, till the feast of All Saints, in full chapter to humble and prostrate himself before God, in the presence of John de Lincolnia, heartily imploring his prayers, and those of the whole convent.

Twice a year the prior sub congruo testimonio was to open and examine everyone's carol, and anything found therein was to be appropriated to the common use of the house.

No base persons were to be admitted to meals in the refectory, and no laymen, except lawyers and doctors, were to interfere with the private affairs of the infirmary. No meals or drinkings except such as were absolutely necessary were to take place after general compline, and all warming and unlawful relaxation at the infirmary fire was wholly forbidden at all times. Further, the monastery was not to be burdened by the relatives of the prior, and no canon or brother was to receive money or payment for work. Other punishments for faults discovered, the archbishop deferred, hoping for amendment. Fifteen years later Archbishop Romanus held a visitation of the priory on 13 October 1295, (fn. 9) and in a decretum sternly forbade the presence of any unworthy (inhoneste) persons in the refectory. Only worthy (honeste) persons were to have their meals there, according to the judgement of the president. Gossiping and relaxations, especially in the prior's chamber and the refectory after compline, or after the convent had retired to bed, were forbidden. No corrodies were to be sold without the archbishop's special licence. The bursar was to render accounts twice a year to the seniors, and they were to make the state of the house known to the convent.

Silence was to be duly observed, and no claustral canon was to go out without leave, and those who did were to be punished. They were on the other hand to be carefully engaged in divine service, the mass of the Blessed Virgin, and the study of books. The cloister and infirmary were not to be open to lay people, specially women. The carols of everyone were to be inspected once a year, so as to exclude all suspicion of private possessions. A lamp was to burn continually every night in the dormitory to remove any possible chance of fault. The sick were to be properly tended and useless servants removed. The almoner was cautioned to be more careful. Gifts were not to be received by any member of the convent without leave. Old clothes were to be given to the poor. Canons of ill repute were not to have leave to go out, nor were they to be promoted to office. No intercourse was to be held with women, and especially not with those who were suspected. The prior and sub-prior were to correct faults equitably, and licence to go out was not to be granted except for good reasons.

At the archbishop's previous visitation (concerning which the Register is silent) J. de Eboraco only partly cleared himself of crimes alleged against him, and J. de Neuhay not at all. The archbishop therefore ordered that for four years J. de Eboraco was, each Friday, to have bread, ale, and vegetables only, and Brother J. de Neuhay for seven years the same, except on Fridays in Lent and Advent when he was to have bread and water only. They were both suspended from the celebration of divine services, and were to take the lowest places among the priests, while undergoing this penance. A memorandum is added, that on 31 December 1295, the archbishop left it at the discretion of the prior to dispense these penances when he deemed proper.

In 1324 (fn. 10) Archbishop Melton issued a letter on behalf of the priory, in which he stated that the priory, because of the inundations of the Rivers Ouse and Aire which surrounded it, the frequent invasions of the Scots and other enemies, and the loss of cattle, had become so impoverished that it was hindered from its works of piety and hospitality.

The church of Bingley, as already noted, was one of the founder's gifts to the priory. (fn. 11) The gift was confirmed by Archbishop Roger, and the prior and canons appear to have frequently appointed one of their number to serve it. A strange episode is related in this connexion in the Register of Archbishop Bainbridge, (fn. 12) in which John Wilkynson, canon of Drax, was involved. A rumour had been set about that, as Wilkynson in his examination put it, 'there was a grete good in the cuntrey which myght be gote, if there was any connyng men in the cuntrey.' In other words, that there was some hidden treasure at a place called Mixenden near Halifax, which could be obtained by a series of incantations. It is, perhaps, one of the most extraordinary stories of mediaeval necromancy on record. Six persons were charged with the offence, the chief of whom was Thomas Jameson, who had served the office of Sheriff of York in 1497, and been lord mayor in 1504, but the canon of Drax had taken no small share in the venture.

One of the witnesses, Henry Banke, chaplain of Addingham, said that he had heard Brother John the parish priest of Bingley state in the house of Christopher Hardwick of Addingham 'that there was as moch goode in a place besides Halifax as wold raunsome a kyng; and that oone Leventhorp nowe dede had seene the foote of the kist, and the devell sitting upon it, and that he had put a swerd to remove it, and he nypped it a soundre in the myddist, as it had been a rish; and the said Sir John said it coold never be gott but with losse of a Cristen sole.' The evidence of 'Sir John Wilkynson chanon of Drax, sworne and examyned,' is entered in the Register. He admitted having made 'a cerkill' of 30 ft. compass, and that he had agreed to call up a spirit called Belphares, and he related how, when a boy of twelve, he had been present at an invocation made at Wakefield by 'a scolar of Orlyaunce' (Orleans), for a pair of bedes; he had seen 'in a glasse, a woman that had the beides in her hand, and a sprite, crouned like a Kyng, in a chare of gold, and the clerke said that he was a sprite.' He admitted that he and Jameson, and another priest, James Richardson, 'were sworne upon a booke, and confered togadir to make a lamina for invocation of a sprite called Obirion,' that Jameson had agreed to send a horse for him to Otley 'the Fridaie afore the first chaunge of Marche, to come to Yorke to hyme (Jameson), to make the lamyna, which must be made betwixt the chaunge of the mone and the pryme, and that was Mondaie, Tuysdaie, and Wednesdaie; and to make their invocation on Thursday after at v of the cloke in the mornyng, at Yorke, in a chambir to be provided to the said Sir James (Richardson), havyng iiij wyndowes, that is to say in every quarter oone.' He said that Jameson came to Bingley on St. Matthew's Day, and showed him that Richardson had made all ready, and desired him to go to York, and 'wirke the warke' with Richardson. He admitted that his books were at Drax Abbey, and that Richardson had brought eighteen singing loaves, which he himself had given to one of the others; but he denied that he had ever said that he would consecrate them, or that they should appear in the likeness of a child to the sprite, but he confessed that they were all agreed that the ground where 'the cerkyll' was should be hallowed, and that a collect was copied out of the mass book, to be recited at the hallowing of the incense and fire, and that in the 'book of experiment' was the collect for the hallowing of the 'great holy water.' He admitted that he had said that their works might be done as well in one place as in another, for he 'cowde make the spirite Belphares carye it wherdir he wold,' and he also said that he had stated 'opynely that the goode cowde not be had without losse of a Cristen Saule, and therefore he wold not execute it.' The story is too long to be dealt with here, as it only bears incidentally on Drax, whose canon figured so conspicuously in it. All the six persons charged were found guilty, and punishments were awarded. They had to walk through the streets of York on the Sunday following, carrying banners with grotesque characters and symbols, and were to be publicly scourged by the dean of Christianity at certain stages. On the Thursday before the Nativity of St. John the Baptist much the same penance was to be performed at Bingley.

By a deed dated 5 December 1531, (fn. 13) the prior and convent covenanted with Robert Threpland and Alys his wife that they should dwell at a grange called the Abbey Grange, and be servants to the prior and convent. Robert Threpland was to be 'sergeaunte and oversear' of all their husbandry, as other 'sergyauntes' had been, and Alys his wife was to 'kepe the deyry house of the sade pryor and cohventes at the sade graunge.' For this service done 'in the most commodyous and profitable maner that they can for the sade pryor and convent,' they were to receive as follows:—Robert was to have meat and drink in their hall as had been in times past, but if he happened to be impotent, and unable to come to the hall, then he was to have his reasonable meat and drink delivered by the cook and butler to such persons as he might send. In addition he was to have 13s. 4d. yearly 'and a cote clothe.' His wife was to have every week 'two lofes of white breyde, and two lofes of browne breyde, ij galons of the best ale, and foure galqns of the worse ale, and one meile of meite from the kechyn, ons on the day, every day in tyme of lent, and also al other days in the yere except Wednysdays, Frydays, and Saturdays and all fastynge days,' and 6s. 8d. for her wages, 'and a garthynstede to sawe too pekkes of hemp sede in.' If she was unable to do her work, then she was to provide 'an honest woman to do the sade office, and huswyfery, so that hit be done after a clenly and profitable fashion.' Robert and Alys, during their lives, were to have 'gressynge for ij whyes that never bare calfe.' After the death of Robert or Alys one whye was to belong to the prior and convent. Also Robert and Alys might keep 'one swyne' on condition that after their deaths the pig so kept should belong to the prior and convent. For this appointment they paid the prior and convent £10 in ready money. It is an interesting and characteristic example of the way in which such monastic appointments were negotiated.

The priory was supervised on 15 June 1535, (fn. 14) and suppressed on 24 August following. Among the charges then paid were 30s. pro vadiis novem confratrum from the Nativity of St. John Baptist, each receiving 3s. 4d. At the suppression on 24 August 1535 (fn. 15) there were ten canons, two of whom received 26s. 8d. each and the others 23s. 4d. each. There were also twenty-nine servants and boys.

In the account of Leonard Beckwith, from Michaelmas 1535 to Michaelmas 1536, (fn. 16) the revenue derived from Drax was £141 10s. 10d. This may be compared with the clear value of £78 15s. 1d. in 1522, (fn. 17) and that of £92 7s. 5d. clear value in the Valor Ecclesiasticus. (fn. 18) Leonard Beckwith's account states that there were six bells in the 'campanile,' valued at £20, and William Emson, the late prior, received a pension of £18. There were of plate wholly gilt two chalices with patens, and three maser bands, together 42 oz.; and of silver parcel-gilt a chalice and paten, and two salts, with one cover, together 32 oz.

Priors Of Drax

Norman, occurs 1178 (fn. 19)

Alan, occurs 1205, (fn. 20) 1226 (fn. 21)

Robert, succeeded and occurs 1227, (fn. 22) 1234 (fn. 23)

John de Rasen, occurs after Prior Robert (fn. 24)

Gernagan, c. 1243 (fn. 25)

Robert, occurs 1252 (fn. 26)

Adam, occurs 1272 (fn. 27)

Thomas de Camesale, occurs 1282, (fn. 28) resigned 1286 (fn. 29)

Elyas de Burton, confirmed 1287, (fn. 30) occurs 1289 (fn. 31)

War . . ., occurs 1291 (fn. 32)

John de Lincoln, confirmed 1291, (fn. 33) occurs as John only 1295 (fn. 34)

Henry de Shirewoode, 1301, (fn. 35) died 1332 (fn. 36)

Gilbert de Ounsby, confirmed December 1332 (quaere, alias de Eboraco), (fn. 37) 1334 (fn. 38)

John de Saxton alias Sapertun, (fn. 39) elected 1349 (fn. 40)

John de Wiggeton, occurs 1354 (fn. 41)

Thomas de Shirburn, occurs 1360, (fn. 42) 1368, (fn. 43) 1388, (fn. 44) died 1391 (fn. 45)

Richard de Ledes, elected 1391 (fn. 46)

John de Usflet, occurs 1393, (fn. 47) 1398 (fn. 48)

William Selby, died 1429 (fn. 49)

William Chippyndale, elected 1429 (fn. 50)

John, occurs 1465, (fn. 51) 1475 (fn. 52)

Thomas Hankoke (fn. 53)

Richard Wilson, elected 25 October 1507, (fn. 54) occurs thence till 1529-30 (fn. 55)

William Emson, occurs 1531 to 1536, (fn. 56) last prior (pensioned)

The 12th-century seal (fn. 57) is a vesica, 25/8 in. by 1¾ in. It shows a figure of the patron saint in his pall, blessing and holding his crozier. The legend is:—


The 12th-century seal (fn. 58) of the chapter is similar in design, but larger, and the legend is longer. All that remains of it is:—


The prior's seal (fn. 59) of the same date is a vesica, 15/8 in. by 11/8 in., and has a half-length figure of the prior praying. The legend is:—



  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. vi, 194.
  • 2. Ibid. 195, no. 1. 'The site of this house was on the south side of the River Ouse, nearly opposite where the Derwent enters therein. The land being so low that it would be overflowed by every little flood, nay, I believe I may say, by the highest springtides, if not prevented by the height of strong banks: but the ground whereon the house was built is a little ascent above the rest, and was moted (sic) about; most of which, especially on the south and east sides, is very apparent.' Burton, Mon. Ebor. 100.
  • 3. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. vi, 194.
  • 4. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 100-12.
  • 5. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. vi, 194.
  • 6. York Archiepis. Reg. Wickwane, fol. 246, 134.
  • 7. On 11 Dec. 1288 Archbishop Romanus granted licence to Laurence de Lincolnia and another canon, Bartholomew de Donecastria, that 'ad arciorem religionem se transferant,' York Archiepis. Reg. Romanus, fol. 32.
  • 8. Probably the same person of the name who soon afterwards was elected prior.
  • 9. York Archiepis. Reg. Romanus, fol. 47b.
  • 10. Ibid. Melton, fol. 161b.
  • 11. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. vi, 195, no. i.
  • 12. York Archiepis. Reg. Bainbridge, fol. 70, etc. All the documents relating to the case, transcribed by Canon Raine, are printed in the Arch. Journ. xvi, 72-81.
  • 13. Conventual Leases, Yorks. (P.R.O.), no. 176.
  • 14. K.R. Aug. Views of Accts. bdle. 17.
  • 15. Ibid. In 1380-1 besides the prior there were seven canons; Subs. R. (P.R.O.), bdle. 63, no. 12.
  • 16. K.R. Aug. Views of Accts. bdle. 17.
  • 17. Subs. R. (P.R.O.), bdle. 64, no. 300.
  • 18. Valor Eccl. v, 65.
  • 19. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 114, note a.
  • 20. Yorks. Fines, John, 93.
  • 21. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 114, note b.
  • 22. Ibid. note c.
  • 23. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 38.
  • 24. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 114, note d.
  • 25. Ibid. note e.
  • 26. Ibid. note f.
  • 27. Ibid. note g.
  • 28. Ibid. note h.
  • 29. York Archiepis. Reg. Romanus, fol. 28.
  • 30. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 114, note i.
  • 31. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 38.
  • 32. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 114, note l. Burton places him after John de Lincoln. Mr. Baildon has altered this order, and his change is followed here.
  • 33. York Archiepis. Reg. Romanus, fol. 38.
  • 34. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 38.
  • 35. Ibid.; Cal. of Inq. p.m. 10-20 Edw. II, 264.
  • 36. York Archiepis. Reg. Melton, fol. 191b.
  • 37. Ibid. Zouch, fol. 35b.
  • 38. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 38.
  • 39. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. vi, 195.
  • 40. York Archiepis. Reg. Zouch, fol. 35b, where he is said to have succeeded Gilbert de Eboraco, deceased.
  • 41. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 114, note p.
  • 42. York Archiepis. Reg. Thoresby, fol. 106b.
  • 43. Ibid. fol. 138b.
  • 44. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 38.
  • 45. Burton, Mon. Ebor, 114, note q.
  • 46. Ibid.
  • 47. Ibid. note r.
  • 48. York Archiepis. Reg. Scrope, fol. 18b.
  • 49. Ibid. Kemp, fol. 346.
  • 50. Ibid.
  • 51. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 114, note t.
  • 52. Ibid.
  • 53. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. vi, 195.
  • 54. York Archiepis. Reg. sed. vac. fol. 519b.
  • 55. Conventual Leases, Yorks. (P.R.O.), no. 114, 146, 148, 153, 157, 160, 164, 170. In 1523 he became Bishop of Meath by papal provision and 'died about 1529' (Cotton, Fasti Eccl. Hibernicae iii, 115). In leases 157 (6 Nov. 1529) and 160 (31 Dec. 1529) he is called 'Richard Bishop late of Meath, prior,' &c. In 1533-4 he was in possession of land in Roxby, co. Lincoln (Conv. Lease, no. 158), and is then called 'my Lorde Richarde Bushopp of Meth.' He had, before then, resigned the priory of Drax. On 28 June 1531 he was commissioned by Wblsey to bless William Wode, Prior of Bridlington (York Archiepis. Reg. Wolsey, fol. 623). His name as Prior of Drax appears for the last time in lease 160 (31 Dec. 1529).
  • 56. In about twenty Conventual Leases between the above dates inclusive. In only 172 (4 May 1533), and 175 (13 Apr. 1535) does his surname, Emson or Empson, appear.
  • 57. Cat. of Seals, B.M. 3073, lxxiv, 39.
  • 58. Ibid. 3074, lxxiv, 41.
  • 59. Ibid. 3075, lxxiv, 12.