Gilbertine houses: Priory of Watton

Pages 254-255

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

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The double house of St. Mary of Watton, near Beverley, was founded in 1150 by Eustace Fitz John as a penance for having fought on the Scottish side in the battle of the Standard. He built a house for the nuns and canons of Sempringham, and endowed it with the township of Watton; his gift was confirmed by his wife Agnes, daughter of William, Constable of Chester, whose marriage portion it was, and also by William Fossard, the superior lord, who remitted the service of two knights, for the support of thirteen canons who should always serve the nuns and provide for them in divine and earthly things. (fn. 1) A few years later Fossard gave the nuns 3 carucates in ' Howald ' for the remission of his sins, instead of going on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Alexander of Santon gave 1,600 acres in Santon, and Richard of Santon confirmed the gift; Robert Constable of Flamborough granted lands in Hilderthorpe to the nuns and brothers, clerk and lay, and the right of collecting masts for their own ship. King John confirmed the grant of Henry II of lands in Langdale and ' Butresdalebeck.' (fn. 2)

Walter Gray granted the nuns an annual payment of 5 marks out of the church of Santon. for a pittance, and made them patrons of the whole church of which they had heretofore held only a moiety. (fn. 3)

Royal protection was accorded to Watton in more than one instance; in 1272 Henry III had to interfere on behalf of the prior against Agnes de Vescy, who came to the priory with a great number of women and dogs, and other things, and disturbed the devotions of the sisters and nuns; and in 1314 Edward II granted the prior a year's immunity from the purveyors for his Scottish wars, because 'certain persons, feigning that they are purveyors of victuals . . . frequently come to the priory and granges and there take, in the king's name, animals, carts, corn, and other victuals.' In 1305, Margery, the daughter of Robert Bruce, dwelt at Watton by the king's order, and the Sheriff of York paid her 3d. a day, and 1 mark a year for her robe.

Archbishop Melton blessed fifty-three nuns at Watton in 1326, (fn. 4) and lent the priory money because it was in debt. In spite of these gifts the poverty of Watton was notorious, the revenues were not sufficient for the expenses of the inmates, and in 1444 Henry VI exempted the priory from all aids, subsidies, tallages, tenths, and fifteenths. (fn. 5) During the next century the financial position must have improved, for in 1535 the gross revenue was £453 7s. 8d., and the clear annual value £360 16s. 10½d. (fn. 6)

The Pilgrimage of Grace created much dissension at Watton; the Gilbertines were accused of taking part, and the prior, Robert Holgate, fled to Cromwell ' being one of his promotion,' and left sixty or eighty (fn. 7) brethren and sisters without 40s. to succour them. During his absence Sir Francis Bigod incited the canons to a new election, and the Prior of Ellerton was appointed; various insurrectionary captains took carts, horses, and men, but obviously the canons were unwilling. One man gave evidence that the canons were setters forth of sedition, there was ' never a good one of all the canons of that house,' but there is no proof of their treason, and certainly Watton was not forfeited to Henry VIII. (fn. 8) In 1539 Holgate surrendered with seven canons, two prioresses, and twelve nuns; each canon received a pension of £4, the prioresses £5 each, and the others smaller sums. Holgate himself was given a life grant of Watton Priory except the nuns' church, the manor of Watton, and seven other manors belonging to the priory. (fn. 9) In the Ministers' Accounts the possessions of Watton Priory amounted to £730 6s. 10d.

Priors of Watton

Robert, occurs 1194 to 1202 (fn. 10)

Peter, occurs 1206, (fn. 11) 1208 (fn. 12)

Richard, occurs 1219, (fn. 13) also 1223-5 (fn. 14)

William, occurs 1226, (fn. 15) 1238 (fn. 16)

Roger, occurs 1240 (fn. 17)

Patrick, occurs 1251-2 (fn. 18) to 1260, (fn. 19) elected Master of Sempringham 1261-2 (fn. 20)

Roger (? de Dalton), occurs 1267-72 (fn. 21)

Reginald, before 1278 (fn. 22)

Robert de Cave (fn. 23)

Patrick de Middleton, occurs 1277 (fn. 24) -80 (fn. 25)

John de Hoton, occurs 1300 (fn. 26)

Richard de Watton, occurs 1327, (fn. 27) 1350 (fn. 28)

John de Ecton, occurs 1355 (fn. 29) (as ' John ' only), 1368, 1372 (fn. 30)

William, occurs 1378 (fn. 31)

John de Whitby, occurs 1382 (fn. 32)

Robert Stegyll, occurs 1398 (fn. 33)

John, occurs 1423 (fn. 34)

William, occurs 1455 (fn. 35)

William Cayton, occurs 1473 (fn. 36)

James Boulton, (fn. 37) occurs 1482, (fn. 38) 1497 (fn. 39)

Thomas, occurs 1530 (fn. 40)

Robert Holgate, before 1536 (fn. 41) (commendator)

James Lowrance (Prior of Ellerton), elected 1536-9 informally, (fn. 42) and did not take office

Robert Holgate, surrendered 1539


  • 1. Add. Chart. 20561 (c. 1154-5).
  • 2. Dugdale, op. cit. vi, 956.
  • 3. Graham, op. cit. 109.
  • 4. Ibid. 103. In 1378-9 there were three prioresses and sixty-one nuns; Subs. R. (P.R.O.), bdle. 63, no. 11.
  • 5. Ibid. 89.
  • 6. Graham, op. cit. 167 n.
  • 7. a These numbers must include all the servants and labourers employed by the convent.
  • 8. Graham, op. cit. 182.
  • 9. Ibid. 199.
  • 10. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 215; Yorks, Fines, John (Surt. Soc.), 4, 12, 67, 68.
  • 11. Yorks. Fines, John, 98, 144.
  • 12. Ibid.
  • 13. Baildon, loc. cit.
  • 14. Feet of F. file 17, no. 21.
  • 15. a Cott. MS. Nero D. iii, fol. 53 d.
  • 16. Baildon, loc. cit.
  • 17. Ibid.
  • 18. Feet of F. file 45, no. 144 (Hil. 36 Hen. III).
  • 19. Ibid. file 48, no. 44 (Mich. 44 Hen. III).
  • 20. Dugdale, op. cit. vi, 947.
  • 21. Baildon, loc. cit.
  • 22. Ibid.
  • 23. Assize R. 1055, m. 75b. (Patrick de Middleton's immediate predecessor is there said to have been Robert de Cave.)
  • 24. Close, 5 Edw. I, m. 7.
  • 25. Feet of F. file 59, no. 69 (Hil. 8 Edw. I).
  • 26. Baildon, loc. cit.; Cal. of Inq. p.m. 10-20 Edw. 11, 264.
  • 27. a Plac. de Banco, East. I Edw. III, m. 70, (P.R.O. Lists), 775.
  • 28. Test. Ebor. (Surt. Soc.), i, 63.
  • 29. Cal. of Papal Letters, iii, 588.
  • 30. Baildon, loc. cit.
  • 31. Ibid.
  • 32. Ibid.
  • 33. Cal. of Papal Letters, v, 230.
  • 34. Baildon, loc. cit.
  • 35. Ibid.
  • 36. Reg. Corpus Christi Guild, York, 86.
  • 37. So described in a licence to preach of 1482; York Archiepis. Reg. Rotherham, i, 22.
  • 38. York Archiepis. Reg. Rotherham, i, 22.
  • 39. Anct. D. (P.R.O.), iii, D. 773: as James only.
  • 40. Test. Ebor. v, 299.
  • 41. Graham, op. cit. 174.
  • 42. Ibid. 182, 183.