4. THE PRIORY OF HINCHINBROOK
The little priory of Hinchinbrook, or, as it
was more commonly called, the priory of St.
James without Huntingdon, is said to have
been founded by William the Conqueror.
This tradition was preserved in the priory
itself at the time of its dissolution, when
alms were still distributed yearly at the gate
of the almonry for the soul of the founder. (fn. 1)
Leland adds that the nunnery had been
originally built at Eltisley in Cambridgeshire,
eight miles away from Hinchinbrook. But
there is at present no earlier evidence of this
transfer. (fn. 2)
The nunnery was at all times small and
poor, and therefore its history is not easy
to trace. Two grants were made by
Henry III of oak trees from the forest of
Sapley 'to the poor nuns of St. Michael
near Huntingdon,' which probably refer to
this house. (fn. 3) In the 13th century the
prioress was taking in paying guests as a
means of augmenting the income of the
house. Amabilia de Alnestowe, one of her
boarders, had a chamber in the court of the
priory and claimed a corrody for life. Owing
to differences with the prioress about 1261,
she was ejected from her chamber; by an
action at the assizes, however, she recovered
possession of her chamber, but failed to
maintain her claim to a corrody. (fn. 4) The
advowson of this priory was in the hands of
Devorguilla de Balliol in the 13th century. (fn. 5)
An indulgence was granted to those contributing to the repair of the fabric of the
church in 1307. (fn. 6) In 1359 Bishop Gynwell
assigned a suitable penance to an apostate
nun of this monastery. (fn. 7) In 1425 we read of a
complaint made by the prioress, that a number
of malefactors had broken her closes, stolen
her cattle, and ill-treated her servants. (fn. 8)
Such are the few scattered facts that can
be gathered concerning the history of a
house afterwards famous as the birthplace
of Oliver Cromwell. There are no records
of visitations of Hinchinbrook in the Episcopal Registers. In 1536, at the Dissolution,
there were three nuns here besides the
prioress. (fn. 9) The site was granted to Richard
The priory had apparently only a small
endowment besides the demesne land. It
is not mentioned in the Taxation of Pope
Nicholas IV, and in the valuation of 1534
the prioress was said to have a few houses and
rents in Cambridgeshire, Rutland, Northamptonshire, and tithes from the parishes of
St. John, St. Peter and St. Michael. (fn. 10) The
church of St. Peter, while it stood, was
appropriated to the priory, as well as the
chapel of St. Michael; (fn. 11) but they were both
in ruins by 1534. The clear revenue was
only £17 1s. 4d.
Prioresses of Hinchinbrook
Ernma, (fn. 12) died 1275.
Helen Waleys, (fn. 13) elected 1275, died 1293.
Alice de Berewyk, (fn. 14) elected 1293, died 1315.
Joan de Raundes, (fn. 15) elected 1315.
Amice de Ardern, (fn. 16) elected 1334.
Isabel de Ulleswit, (fn. 17) elected 1336.
Isabel de Blythe, (fn. 18) elected 1349.
Joan Tichmersh, (fn. 19) died 1392.
Catharine Multon, (fn. 20) elected 1392.
Anne Chesterford, died 1449.
Joan Porter, (fn. 21) elected 1449.
Alice Wilton, (fn. 22) last prioress, occurs 1534.
A pointed oval seal, (fn. 23) showing a figure,
probably that of St. James, with a pilgrim's