HOUSES OF AUSTIN CANONS
6. THE PRIORY OF ST. MARY, HUNTINGDON
There seems little reason to doubt that
the priory of St. Mary, Huntingdon, was
founded about the beginning of the 12th
century by Eustace de Lovetot, (fn. 1) whose career
as sheriff of the county is so strikingly
censured in the Domesday Survey. It may
be that he hoped, like others of his time, to
atone for some of his misdeeds, or to lessen
the difficulties of his heirs, by devoting a
portion of his ill-gotten gains to the Church.
At any rate he left the priory well endowed,
and William de Lovetot, who succeeded him,
had the lands secured by royal charters and
papal bulls. (fn. 2) Maud, the queen of Henry I,
and the Scottish earls of Huntingdon were
also benefactors of the priory. (fn. 3)
The direct line of the house of Lovetot came
to an end with the 12th century, and the
patronage of Huntingdon priory passed
through the eldest of the three co-heiresses
into the family of Amundeville. (fn. 4) By the
beginning of the 16th century it was in
the hands of the Duke of Buckingham, and
through his attainder fell to the Crown. (fn. 5)
The large number of churches appropriated
to the priory, with its other endowments,
made it a house of some importance in the
town of Huntingdon. Like other religious
foundations, it had its share of lawsuits; (fn. 6) and
there was a perpetually recurrent difficulty
with the inhabitants of the town of Hartford
as to the repair of the bridge over the Ouse:
the final concord made in 1486 closed a long
series of disputes. (fn. 7)
In the 14th century the prior was considerably in debt: (fn. 8) it was a hard time for
all religious houses. In 1380 the appropriation of Southoe church was petitioned
for on the ground that the monastery was on
the highway, daily resorted to by multitudes
of guests, and had been much damaged by
tempests. (fn. 9) It had suffered loss also by
the Great Pestilence, when the prior died (fn. 10)
and doubtless some of his canons with him.
The earliest reported visitation of the
priory was that of Bishop Fleming in 1420. (fn. 11)
At this time regulations were issued for the
better administration of the revenues of the
house and for the repair of the buildings.
There had been some scandal caused by the
too easy admission of the women who served
as laundresses to the priory. They were in
future not to come farther than the outer
door, and then to be received by secular
servants, not by the canons. The roof of
the infirmary chapel was to be repaired and
the prior was to have 100s. a year for the
adornment of his chamber. The number of
canons, which had been originally sixteen,
had diminished by this time.
Bishop Grey in 1435 reminded the canons
of these injunctions, which had apparently
been disregarded. He recalled to them their
duty of reciting the canonical hours, and
keeping silence. If these duties, the foundation of all religious life, were well attended
to, there would be no further trouble. The
jewels of the house were not to be pledged
to meet the debts of the house; hunting
dogs were not to be kept. The house of
John Clerk near the priory was an unsafe
place to visit; his wife was not above
suspicion. (fn. 12)
The visitation of Bishop Alnwick in 1440
brought more scandals to light. The prior
had been setting a very bad example to his
subjects; he was found guilty of unchaste
living, with nine different women, one of
them the wife of the above-mentioned John
Clerk; another of the canons had sinned in a
similar way. The buildings were out of
repair, and the moveable goods of the house
had been alienated without consultation of
the chapter. (fn. 13)
Probably the appointment of a new prior
soon after this brought some improvement.
The accounts of the priory at the opening
of the 16th century were evidently kept with
care, and show no unsatisfactory signs. The
churches of the monastery, its other buildings,
bridges and farms were all being repaired
at considerable expense. The bishop had
made a recent visitation, and so had the
visitor appointed by the general chapter of
the order. The bishop had expected a more
expensive entertainment than 'the visitor
of our religion': the former had cost the
canons in bread, wine and good ale as much as
£17 12s.; the latter only the modest sum of
4s. 2d. for 'malvesey and sugre.' (fn. 14) This
was in the time of prior Thomas Herford,
who died 1518. His successors were not so
capable, for at the resignation of William
Gidding in 1532, Bishop Longland wrote
to Cromwell that the house was left almost
'as poor as Job' by his negligence. (fn. 15) The
convent had referred the election to the
bishop, with whom they were apparently
on good terms. (fn. 18)
The clear revenue of the priory was under
£200, so that it would have been suppressed
under the first Act if the canons had not
loved their habit well enough to pay a heavy
fine for license to continue. This cost them
£133 6s. 8d., and was granted on 17 August
1536. (fn. 17) It was, however, only a respite. The
surrender had to be made finally on 11 July
1538. (fn. 18) There had been twelve canons
besides the prior in 1534, (fn. 19) but now there
were only eight; or perhaps the others
received no pension. The prior's annuity
was £26 13s. 4d.; the eight canons received
from £5 6s. 8d. to £4. (fn. 20) In 1554 the prior
and four of the canons were still alive. (fn. 21)
The Red Book of the Exchequer states
that the canons of Huntingdon had one and
a half knights' fees under Nigel de Lovetot
before the death of Henry I. (fn. 22) Henry III
confirmed to the canons the original endowment with the churches of St. Mary, St.
Botulf, St. Bennet, St. Martin, St. John,
St. Edmund, and All Saints. (fn. 23) In 1291 the
revenue of the prior in spirituals and temporals was given as £69 13s. 10d.; (fn. 24) in
1535 as £197 13s. 8¼d., including the rectories of Hartford, Great Gidding, Stukeley,
Hemingford Grey, Southoe, Southwick, Evenley, and Winwick. (fn. 25) The first account of the
Crown Bailiff gave a total of £237 13s. 9d.,
including the manor of Papworth Agnes in
Cambridgeshire. (fn. 26)
Priors of Huntingdon
Robert, (fn. 27) 1147.
William. (fn. 28)
John, (fn. 29) resigned 1225.
Roger Frisby, (fn. 30) elected 1225.
Richard, (fn. 31) occurs 1250.
John, (fn. 32) resigned 1302.
Walter de Evenley, (fn. 33) elected 1302, died 1308.
Robert de Stamford, (fn. 34) elected 1308, died
Reynold de Bluntisham, (fn. 35) elected 1322,
John de Weston, (fn. 36) elected 1349.
Thomas Sheningdon, (fn. 37) died 1375.
Henry Rokesden, (fn. 38) elected 1375, died 1404.
John Hemingford, (fn. 39) elected 1404.
John Madingley, (fn. 40) elected 1420, occurs till
Ivo, (fn. 41) occurs 1461.
John Bury, (fn. 42) confirmed 1466.
John Cokfield, (fn. 43) occurs 1486.
Thomas Fort, (fn. 44) elected 1496, resigned 1503.
Gregory Norwich, (fn. 45) elected 1503.
Nicholas Smith, (fn. 46) resigned 1510.
Thomas Herford, (fn. 47) died 1518.
Robert Broughton, (fn. 48) . elected 1518, died
William Gidding or Williams, (fn. 49) resigned
Hugh Oliver or Whit wick, (fn. 50) last prior,
A circular seal of the 14th century (fn. 51) showing the Coronation of the Virgin in a cusped
quatrefoil enclosed in a circle. Above is the
head of Christ with A and O and a crescent
and star. On either side is a four-winged
angel and below is a representation of the
Resurrection of the Dead. Legend:
S: COMMUNE: . . . RUM . . .: MARIE: HVNTINGDONE
On the reverse is a circular seal showing the
priory church with central spire under which,
below a trefoiled arch, is the seated figure of
St. Augustine with his right hand in benediction and his left holding a crozier. In a
panel on the left is the head of St. Peter,
adjoining which to the left are two keys, his
emblem, and in a panel on the right is the
head of St. Paul with his emblem, a sword.
Below these panels are two canons praying,
and under the central figure are heads in
an arcade. Above the roof of the church
are the letters CLEV, v, referring to Pope
Clement V [1305-14]. Legend:
CANPICIS: LEGES: PS: AVGVS . . . . . . . . DE . . . . . . . . . . . . H'PIA: DONA TUIS