Campsey Priory

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Campsey Priory
Campsey Priory is located in Suffolk
Campsey Priory
Location within Suffolk
Monastery information
Order Canonesses Regular of St Augustine
Established 1195
Disestablished 1536
Dedicated to House of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Diocese Norwich
Founder(s) Theobald de Valognes II
Important associated figures Maud of Lancaster, Countess of Ulster
Location Campsea Ash, Suffolk, England
Coordinates 52°08′23″N 1°23′11″E / 52.1396°N 1.3865°E / 52.1396; 1.3865
Visible remains possibly parts of chaplains' house
Public access no

Campsey Priory was a priory of Augustinian nuns located some 1.5 miles (2.5 km) south west of Wickham Market in Suffolk, England. Founded by a charitable bequest shortly after the year 1195, it was in effect confiscated by the crown in 1536.


The priory was founded about the year 1195 when Theobald de Valognes II (also Valoines or Valeines or Velaines) bequeathed his Campsey estates to his sisters, Joan and Agnes, on condition that they built a nunnery there in honour of the Blessed Virgin. Theobald's descent is unclear.[1] What is known is that he was a justice, and sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk and that already a decade earlier, in 1185, he had founded Hickling Priory, a house of Augustinian Canons regular, located in Norfolk.[2]

Theobald was to die before Michaelmas 1209. In accordance with his wishes, his sisters built the priory and established a community of canonesses following the monastic Rule of St. Augustine. Joan herself was the first prioress and Agnes the second.

Maud of Lancaster, Canoness[edit]

The sisterhood was joined in 1347 by the twice-widowed Maud of Lancaster, Countess of Ulster (died 1377), sister of Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster and aunt to his daughter Blanche of Lancaster, who was to become the mother of King Henry IV of England. Maud's second husband was Sir Ralph de Ufford,Justiciar (chief governor) of Ireland. Ralph had a close connection with the priory, since his mother Cecily was of the Valognes family, the original founders of the monastery.

From about at least 1343 to her death some time before February 1349, Maud's younger sister, Isabel of Lancaster, was Prioress of Amesbury, a house of nuns belonging to the Fontevrault Benedictine reform. Amesbury had been refounded in 1177 by Henry II as a double priory, i.e. with parallel houses of men and women, run respectively by a prior and a prioress.[3] In the year of Maud's arrival at Campsey, a college of five priests was founded at Campsey Priory so as to provide chaplains to the nuns.[4]

Maud stayed at Campsey Priory till 1364, when she would have been about 54 years of age. She then transferred to the Poor Clares community at Bruisyard Abbey, where on 5 May 1377 she died aged about 67. She was buried at the Abbey.

Endurance of the Community[edit]

The community at Campsey Priory appears initially to have had 21 nuns, a number which probably increased in the 13th century but varied over the years. In 1492 and 1514 there were 19 nuns plus the prioress, in 1520 and 1526 some 20 nuns plus the prioress. The last figure recorded before the suppression, in 1532, was of a total of 18 nuns.[5]

Prioresses of Campsey[edit]

  • Joan de Valoines, mentioned in the records 1195 and 1228-1229[6]
  • Agnes de Valoines, mentioned 1234
  • Basilia, mentioned 1258
  • Margery, mentioned 1318
  • Maria de Wingfield, mentioned 1334
  • Maria de Felton, died 1394
  • Margaret de Bruisyard, mentioned 1394
  • Alice Corbet, mentioned 1411
  • Katharine Ancel, mentioned 1416
  • Margery Rendlesham, mentioned 1446
  • Margaret Hengham, mentioned 1477[7]
  • Katharine, mentioned 1492
  • Anna, mentioned 1502
  • Elizabeth Everard, mentioned 1513
  • Elizabeth Blennerhasset, mentioned 1518[8]

Priory Seal[edit]

The fourteenth-century seal of the priory depicts the Blessed Virgin Mary, crowned and seated on a throne, the Child Jesus standing on her right knee, within a triple arched canopied niche. Below, between two flowering branches, is a shield with heraldic device. The inscription on the seal reads: “Priousse et Conventus S. Marie de Campissey”[10]


The house fell victim to the greed of King Henry VIII and was suppressed in 1536 as part of the first wave of Dissolution of the Monasteries.[11] It appears to have had a healthy income of over 182 pounds in 1535,[12] but this was below the requirement fixed for avoidance of suppression in the first wave of the Dissolution.

It should be borne in mind that this was a group of women who had achieved a notable degree of autonomy in running their lives in an entirely peaceful manner for almost three and a half centuries, successfully governing themselves and handling their religious and business affairs, only to have everything they possessed seized under duress and desecrated by violent men to finance not the common good but male schemes of display and gross personal aggrandizement.

The inventory of goods compiled on 28 August 1536 by the king's commissioners active in Suffolk notes that the household furniture was simple, signifying that the nuns lived poorly. What attracted the greed of the commissioners (all men) were the items connected with divine worship, at which the nuns spent a major part of their day. Listed are the following: The high altar of the priory church, with its white silk frontal, a carved wooden reredos, four great candlesticks of latten (probably sheet brass), a lamp of the same, and a pix of silver gilt weighing 9 oz. The Lady Chapel had an alabaster reredos. There were numerous vestments, altar cloths, frontals, and silk curtains, possibly the work of the nuns themselves, as well as a silver cross worth £5, a silver censer £4 13s. 4d., and a silver-gilt chalice £2 7s. 8d. The rest of the plunder consisted of cattle and stores, for a total inventory of £56 13s. [13]

Fate of the Property[edit]

After the dissolution, the land on which the nunnery stood was allocated to Sir William Willoughby, later Lord Willoughby, who was probably the man of the same name who was a servant of Henry Fitzroy, the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII. It is perhaps significant that this boy had died at St. James's Palace on 23 July 1536, leaving Willoughby unemployed. Henry was buried secretly in Framlingham Church, in the same county of Suffolk, though later he was given an ornate tomb.

After Willoughby the property passed through several hands, including Sir William Chapman, Bt, High Sheriff of Suffolk for 1767. The site of the priory itself is now occupied by a farmhouse.[14]

Abbey House, a grade II* listed building standing near to the site of the nunnery, possibly incorporates in its fabric part of the living quarters of the chaplains. [15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ William Dugdale, The Baronage of England, reprint 1977, vol. 1, p. 441; R. Mortimer, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 54 (1981), 7-9. See discussion in 'The Valognes Fee', in W. Farrer and C.T. Clay, Early Yorkshire Charters, Vol. 5, The Honour of Richmond, Part 2 (reprint), (Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 234-37.
  2. ^ "Houses of Austin canons: The Priory of Hickling". British History Online. Retrieved 6 October 2012. 
  3. ^ 'Houses of Benedictine nuns: Abbey, later priory, of Amesbury', in R.B. Pugh and E. Crittall (edd.), A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3 (London 1956), pp. 242-59 (British History Online accessed 22 August 2017).
  4. ^ D. Knowles and R. Neville Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses, England and Wales (Longmans Green, London 1953), p. 227.
  5. ^ David Knowles & R. Neville Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses, England and Wales, Longmans Green, London, 1953, p. 227.
  6. ^ Augustine Page, A Supplement to the Suffolk Traveller, 1844, p. 85
  7. ^ William Dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum, vol. 6, part 1, 1846, p. 585.
  8. ^ William Dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum, vol. 6, part 1, 1846, p. 585.
  9. ^ William Dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum, vol. 6, part 1, 1846, p. 585
  10. ^ William Page (ed.), “Houses of Austin nuns: Priory of Campsey”, in A History of the County of Suffolk: Volume 2, London, 1975, pp. 112-115, footnote 42. British History Online [accessed 22 August 2017].
  11. ^ "A History of the County of Suffolk: Volume 2". British History Online. Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  12. ^ David Knowles and R. Neville Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses, England and Wales, Longmans Green, London, 1953, p. 227.
  13. ^ Houses of Austin nuns: Priory of Campsey, in William Page (ed.), A History of the County of Suffolk: Volume 2, London, 1975, pp. 112-115, footnote 25. British History Online [accessed 22 August 2017].
  14. ^ "The History of Campsea Ashe" (PDF). Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  15. ^ "Name: ABBEY HOUSE List entry Number: 1030828". English Heritage. Retrieved 30 March 2014. 

Coordinates: 52°08′23″N 1°23′11″E / 52.1396°N 1.3865°E / 52.1396; 1.3865