Thursday, 21 August 2014

Nuns, priests and prioresses

Hall Close, Harrold today (source
There are no visible archaeological remains of Harrold Priory.  After its successor Harrold Hall burned down in 1961 the estate was cleared and new exective homes were built in what is now Hall Close.  There appear to have been no archaeological excavations, although older local residents remember that what was called the dining hall had been used as stables and garaging.

It is likely that the old priory would have adjoined St Peter's church, or at least had a chamber attached where the nuns could take part in the services and receive communion from the canons, probably through a narrow window or other opening.  As a typical nunnery the community would consist of a head (in the case of Harrold the Prioress) and a maximum of 12 nuns (Venarde 1997).  The Gilbertines (such as those at nearby Chicksands) often had communities numbering into the hundreds, but these were exceptions.  Larger nunneries such as these would have had cloisters, but these are not mentioned in Harrold.

We have few traces of who lived and prayed at Harrold Priory, although in 1390 a Clerical Subsidy record was made which listed three chaplains to the house  - Robert Lary, William Yelden and Adam Seyyor.  They all had their own parishes (Lary is described as parson of both Stoke Goldington and Walton (a church now physically part of the Open University in Milton Keynes), and Seyyor of Great Brickhill (also adjoining modern Milton Keynes) in contemporary deeds.  Presumably they served as chaplain by rotation. At this time the women at the priory comprised the prioress and nine nuns, the latter being: Joan Causom; Joan Trokesforde; Elizabeth Bewmys; Leticia Tuttebyry; Margaret Wyks; Margaret Northwode; Emmota Drakelowe; Margaret Crouston; Emmota Wendylborogh.  Emmota (or Emma) Drakelowe went on to become prioress fourty years from 1394 and so must have been a relatively young woman at the time of the survey.  The other nuns and novices would have been from families of minor nobility, and the Clerical Subsidy would not have recorded the names of lay servants.

50 years later (1443) a visitation by the Bishop of Lincoln recorded a prioress and a sub-prioress and six nuns who were: Emma Welde; Alice Dekun; Agnes Grene; Agnes Tyringham; Thomasine Courteney; Grace Melton; Elizabeth Cotyngham.  Thomasine or Thomasina went on to become prioress.

Little more is said about the ordinary nuns until the end.  Thomas Cromwell's agent Dr. Layton reported in 1535 that there were at Harrold merely a prioress and four or five nuns, of whom one had 'two fair children' and another 'one child and no more'.

The Bedfordshire County History has extracted the names of many of the prioresses from the Harrold Cartulary in the British Museum. The list details where available the dates of election as Prioress, their resignation or merely the year when they are mentioned. Clearly the list is incomplete.  Further revision was made by Dr Herbert Fowler in 1935 as follows:
  • 1188: Gila - she came from the Arrouaisian priory of Maroueil near Arras;
  • c.1190-1210: Jelita or Julitta who came from the Arrouasian house in Boulogne;
  • 1227-1245: Agnes - she died in 1245;
  • 1245-1254: Basile Mauduit or Basile de la Lee or Legha, a nun from the priory instituted on the death of Agnes; daughter of Guntolda Mauduit, sister of Harrold landowner Ralph Morin;
  • 1262-1268: Amice;
  • c.1270: Juliana;
  • c.1270-1304: Margery of Hereford; she resigned in 1304; a serious scandal occurred under her rule;
  • 1304-1311: Cecily de Cancia; her election was at first declared void but was ultimately approved by the Bishop of Lincoln; she may have been daughter of Thomas de Kent or Cancia and Cecily de Birkin;
  • 1335-1354: Petronilla de Rydeware; her institution and resignation dates are all that is known of her;
  • 1354-1357: Cristiana Murdac or Murdak; a nun of the priory; she resigned in 1357;
  • 1357-1362: Matilda de Tichmersh;
  • 1367-1394: Katherine de Tutbury;
  • 1394-1434: Emma Drakelowe; a nun of the priory noted in the 1390 Clerical Subsidy;
  • 1440-1442: Alice Wautre or Wauter;
  • 1452: Thomasina Courtney; a nun of the priory appointed a vicar (though not able to administer the sacraments) of Harrold church on 15 Dec 1452 under the title "administrator of the priory and convent there" - which probably means she was the prioress;
  • 1464-1470: Elizabeth Chilteron or Chilton; she resigned in 1470;
  • 1470-1474: Margaret Pycard; a nun of the priory;
  • 1495-1501: Elena Crabbe; she died in 1501;
  • 1501-1509: Eleanor Pygot or Paget; she died in 1509;
  • 1509: Agnes Gascoigne or Gascony; a nun from "Shiphay" - if Sheppey is meant it is unusual as it was a Benedictine rather than an Augustinian house;
  • 1536; Eleanor Warren: prioress on the dissolution of the priory.


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