Houses of Benedictine nuns
The priory of Wothorpe

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Victoria County History

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R.M. Serjeantson, W.R.D. Adkins (editors)

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1906

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101

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'Houses of Benedictine nuns: The priory of Wothorpe', A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 2 (1906), pp. 101. URL: http://british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=40224 Date accessed: 02 October 2014.


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4. THE PRIORY OF WOTHORPE (fn. 1)

It is impossible to ascertain with certainty when and by whom this small Benedictine nunnery, dedicated to the honour of the Blessed Mary, was founded. According to the pseudoIngulf, a foundation existed here as early as the reign of Henry I. (fn. 2) The earls of Kent were the patrons of the convent, and its superiors, chosen by the community and approved by the patron, received confirmation from the bishop on their appointment. The names of different prioresses are entered in the Lincoln episcopal registers.

The priory itself was situated at Great Wothorpe on the hill, and the only endowment that it appears to have possessed was the rectory of the adjacent parish church of Wothorpe which has long since disappeared. (fn. 3) A vicarage was formally ordained and the rest of the proceeds assigned to the nuns in accordance with the decrees of the third Lateran Council of 1215. The bishop in 1292 granted an indulgence to all penitents who should contribute alms towards the repair of the buildings of the prioress and nuns, then in a ruinous condition. (fn. 4) In 1323 Bishop Burghersh ordered an inquiry to be made into certain irregularities within the priory caused by discords raised among the nuns by sister Joan de Bonnwyche. (fn. 5)

All the inmates of this house, save one, died or were dispersed after the Black Death of 1349, and so disastrous was the effect of this terrible visitation on the finances of the priory that on 11th March, 1353-4, Sir Thomas Holland and Joan his wife, daughter of Edward of Woodstock earl of Kent, the patrons, obtained from the king a licence for the bishop to unite this slenderly endowed foundation with the adjacent nunnery of St. Michael, Stamford, making over to the latter the appropriation of the church of Wothorpe, together with all other possessions of the deserted house. (fn. 6) The bishop of Lincoln, who seems to have made the surviving nun of Wothorpe, Agnes Bowes, prioress, in order to maintain that convent's rights, sanctioned the union on 11 June, 1354, to take place so soon as the prioress should die, resign, or be removed, (fn. 7) the prioress and convent of St. Michael in their petition for the annexation setting forth the losses they had sustained and the difficulty of maintaining accustomed hospitality. The diocesan stipulated that the proceeds of the priory, with the rectory of Wothorpe, should be applied to the support of the infirmary and kitchen of St. Michael's, and that the prioress and convent should maintain a chaplain in the parish church of Wothorpe to celebrate daily and to minister to the spiritual needs of the parishioners there day and night. (fn. 8)

At the dissolution the manor, rectory, and advowson of the vicarage of Wothorpe were granted by the crown to Richard Cecil. (fn. 9)

Prioresses of Wothorpe

Denise of Caldwell, (fn. 10) 1224

Maud of Glinton, (fn. 11) died 1290

Isoda or Isolda of Wyrthorp, (fn. 12) elected 1290, died 1313

Emma of Pinchbeck, (fn. 13) elected 1313

Agnes Bowes, (fn. 14) collated 1349

Footnotes

1 There are considerable varieties in the early spelling of this township of the parish of St. Martin's, Stamford: Wyrthorp, Wirthorp, Wrythorp, Wridthorp, Wridtorp, Wulsthorp, Worthorp, and Wothorp are all found in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
2 Gale, Rerum Anglic. Script. 115.
3 Peck, Annals of Stamford, lib. xi. 51.
4 Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. of Sutton f. 13.
5 Ibid. Memo. of Burghersh, f. 103d.
6 The king's licence states that 'the convent, being poorly endowed, was, by the pestilence which lately prevailed, reduced to such poverty that all the nuns but one, on account of their penury, had dispersed.' Pat. 28 Edw. III. pt. 1, m. 16.
7 This same Agnes deserted the convent of St. Michael in 1359; a commission was appointed to inquire and bring her back. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. of Gynwell, f. 117.
8 Linc. Epis. Reg. Gynwell, cited by Dugdale, Mon. iv. 268.
9 Pat. 32 Hen. VIII. pt. 7.
10 She was a nun of St. Michael, Stamford. Linc. Epis. Reg. Roll of Wells.
11 Ibid. Roll of Sutton.
12 Ibid. Bridges (Hist. of Northants, ii. 593) states that Isoda was probably succeeded by Ascelina, who through levity of mind resigned her office; but the register of Bishop Sutton with two entries desiring the prioress and convent to receive back sister Ascelina, who 'through levity of mind and irreligiousness went out of the monastery,' does not state that she held office. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. of Sutton, f. 154, and Inst. of Sutton, f. 218.
13 Ibid. Inst. of Dalderby, f. 122d. Bridges in his list makes her to be preceded by another Isolda, but this is probably the same Isolda who was elected in 1290. Hist. of Northants, ii. 953.
14 Dugdale, Mon. iv. 267.