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No very important event is recorded as having ever happened to the nuns. They seem to have been fond of gadding about and going out for holidays, and so perhaps to have suffered a little in repute, for in 1320 the bishop found it necessary to dispatch a long injunction to both Canonsleigh and to Polslo, upon the question of maintaining stricter order and as to the visiting to be permitted to novices, etc.?
This seems to have had the desired effect on the community; or perhaps the next abbess, who is named Margaret Aunger, or Auchur, was more strict and trustworthy, for in 1329 we find that Bishop Grandisson, who had succeeded in the meanwhile, was so satisfied with the management of the convent, and had such confidence in her, that he gave her permission to grant dispensations to her nuns for visiting; and in 1330 he bequeathed five marcs to the abbey. The satisfactory condition of the community at this period is testified by the fact that during the whole of his twenty years' tenure of the see Bishop Stapledon only made one visitation, viz., March 12th, 1323. This is in strong contrast to Bishops Bronescombe's and Quivil's frequent appearances among the canons.
At this time the abbey had become rich and prosperous. Though we do not know how it came by all of them, yet the patronage of the livings of Hockworthy, Little Hempston, Oakford, and Northleigh, besides Dunsford and Sampford Arundel, already accounted for, belonged to it; also the entire manor and church of Burlescombe, including the presentation.
In 1400 Bishop Stafford officially visited the abbey, having previously addressed his mandate, or formal notice, to Lucy Warre, the Abbess of St. John the Evan. and St. Etheldreda the Virgin, for its visitation on 19th June. This visitation was only partially fulfilled, for he commissioned his chancellor, Richard Hals, to discharge the duty, which he did on the 25th June. The bishop, however, had been at the convent, for on June 20th he granted there a license for private oratories to Elinor de Fizpayn, and to Thomas Horsey and Alice his wife.5
The mention of these Somerset names proves what is clear from other documents, that the Bishops of Exeter had, and exercised, authority in the Diocese of Bath and Wells. In 1402 Stafford appointed Gregory, rector of Raddington (in the Diocese of Bath and Wells), to be confessor to the community.
See OLIVER, Monasticon, p. 163. See Stapledon's Reg. op. cit. pp. 95, 316.
3 “Margaret Aucher; her Benediction as Abbess, at Clyst, 24 Aug. 1320 (by Bp. Stapledon). Present: Richard de Coletone, Walter Gifford, Thomas de Kentone, Thomas Herewarde, Rich. de Wideslade, Rob. Hereward — all Diocesan Officials. (Stapledon's Register (Hing ESTON-RANDOLPH), p. 199.)
* See Stafford's Reg., op. cit. p. 41 ; also Quivil's Reg. p. 318. 5 Stafford's Reg. (HINGESTON-RANDOLPH), p. 49.
On July 25th, 1410, he granted a licence to the abbess, Lucy Warre, for a private oratory within the abbey. This tends to show the extent of the conventual buildings. She was then probably very old or in bad health, and so unable to attend the abbey church—no doubt some distance from her apartments; for on October 11th in the same year she died; and we have particulars of the election of her successor, which seems to have been a matter of much deliberation and formality.
The sub-prioress (Christina Roges), on behalf of the whole community, sent William Baunton to inform the bishop that they had elected Mary Beauchamp, one of their number, to succeed. We have the names of many Devonshire families among those of the clergy, nuns, and female officials of the abbey: these are John Barel, R. of St. Illogan; Thomas Gylle, clerk; Katharine Tambroke (cantorissa), Joan Downes (sacrista), Meliora Okinforda (celeraria), Joan Laury, Thomasia Tracy, Elizabeth Fitzwater, Joan More, Margery Cheselden, Walter Stalworde, chaplain; William Jew, Alice Werthe.
The formal election took place on November 24th, 1410, and required a mandate for its confirmation, and a certificate of its due proclamation in the parish church of Burlescombe. After which another mandate, on December 13th, was issued to the Archdeacon of Exeter for her induction and installation.7
Joan Arundel succeeded Mary Beauchamp on March 19th, 1449. The form of consenting to her election, which is of much interest, is, from Lacy, Reg. vol. ii. fo. 250, as follows:
“I suster Johan Arundell, mynchen of the monastery of Synt John the Apostell and Evangeliste and Etheldrede the virgin of Canonlegh and the order of Seynt Austyn in the diocesis of Excet, order and rule of the holy Fader Seynt Austyn in the saide monastery expresse professid, yn laful age ysette, electe yn abbasse of the said monastery and ofte wt instaunce and grete requeste yn the party of my susteryn and mynchyns of the saide monastery requirid that to the eleccion of ham of me I made that I scholde yeve my consente, I the forsaide Johan willyng not to withstande ne
6 See Stafford's Reg. (HINGESTON-RANDOLPH), p. 49. ? Ibid. pp. 49, 153.
contradie the will of Almyghty Godde, to the worshipp of the Blessed Trinite, Fader, Sone, and Holy Gost, also to the worshipp of Seynt Johan Apostell and Evangeliste and Seynt Etheldrede the holy virgyn yn whos namys and worshipp owre conventuall churche abovesaide is worthely and holily is halwid, beyng yet ynne the tyme of laws, as I am enformed, to yeve my consent aforesaide to the foresaide eleccion by my susteris abovesaide of me made, I consente by this present wrytyng.”
It will be noted that no mention of the B. V. Mary is here made.
So far as is known the following are all the abbesses whose names have remained. Matilda de Tablere
1284 Prioress. Matilda de Clare
1285 Abbess. Petronilla de Clare
do. Joan de Radyngtone
1319 Coadjutor. Margaret Aunger.
1320 Abbess. Juliana Lampre
Date not recorded.
1410 do. Joan Arundel
By his will, proved July 12, 1498, Dr. John Caldbek, Vicar of Wellington, left
“Abbatisse et conventui de Canonlegh xxs." nd seeing that the testator had in his time been a learned don at Oxford, as well as a famous preacher holding the Archbishop's licence to preach in several dioceses, it is more than probable that he, like Gregory of Raddington before him, was the appointed confessor to the community; and thus there is shown another link between Exeter and Bath and Wells. Probably too at this time the abbey was—like Ford, at the climax of its prosperity, and ready for the greedy grasp of the spoiler-soon to be fastened upon it. We know who
— was the abbess at the time, but do not know under what
8 OLIVER, Monasticon, p.s 225.
9 See “Notes on Wellington,” Som. A. and N. H. Society's Trans. vol. xxxviii. 1892.
pretext the suppression was decreed ; that doom, however, fell upon it February 16, 1538-9, and on December 30 in the same year the king granted a lease for 21 years, at a rental of £23 14s. 2d., of the site and precincts of the late monastery of Canonsleigh, also the tithes of sheaf, and the rectories of Oakford and Burlescombe, to Thomas de Soulemont, of London, and thus the priory and abbey ignominiously finished a life which had then existed 353 years.
The inmates were not, as has been alleged, driven out into the world to beg or starve, but to each was assigned a pension for life, as follows:
£ To Elizabeth Fowell, Abbess. 40 0 O per annum. Thomesyn Sutton, Prioress
5 0 Sabyne Cobilstone
4 0 Alice Bonde
4 0 Philuppe Fortescue
4 0 0 Helen Ayssheforde
4 0 0 Agnes Percy
4 0 0 Johane Bowyer
4 0 0 Margaret Sydenham
4 0 0 Elizabeth Chudeley
4 0 0 Agnes Bratton
4 0 0 Johane Abree
4 0 0 Elizabeth Carewe .
5 0 0 Margaret Pollerd.
5 0 0 Christian Holbene
4 0 0 Agnes Dulond
4 0 0 Mary Pomeroy
4 0 0 Sibell Fowell
2 0 0
0 per annum.
The subsequent history of the place is a mere record of spoliation and destruction, which has left only just enough of ruin to keep alive the name of one of Devon's great religious houses.
In 1544 Henry VIII. granted the site to Sir John St. Leger, from whom it passed to the Columbs, who held it till 1658. From the latter it passed to a Mr. Smith, then to Sir William Breton, of London, who sold it in 1765 to Mr. John Browne. The mansion, which some of these purchasers had erected out of the spoils of the abbey, was finally demolished in 1821.
The Essex property was granted to Sir John Rainsforth in 1541 ; and the manor of Dunsford, with its church and rectory, was conveyed by Henry VIII. to Sir John Fulford and Mr. Henry Colles in 1544.
The following items are of interest as showing some of the sources whence the abbey got its income from endowments, as well as some of its liabilities :
Edwardi IV. decimo sexto.)
unius exclusi (sluice) fixi ad terram domini
per annum iijd. 1
Verus valor &c. predicte abbatie unde Elizabeth
26 2 Manerium de Rockebear .
31 8 0 Manerium de Netherton
18 18 11 Manerium de Hockford
19 6 8 Manerium de Canonlegh .
30 16 11 Chilloman et South Tawton
2 12 5 Godelefford in comitatu Suffolk
7 18 0 Manytre in comitatu Essex
0 5 Mourdon in comitatu Dorset
Among other items of detail are the following:
per annum cum lxxiijs de redditu assise
IX8 de redditu terrarum dominicalium £ ibidem per annum Summa
iiij xiij Inde resolutum annuatim Anne regine Anglie et heredibus suis de quodam annuali redditu
xiija Et eidem regine et heredibus suis pro hurdesylva
shurdsilver per annum Et" Ricardo Warr militi et heredibus suis pro capitali redditu exeunte de premissis per
iija jd Et Edwardo Stradlyng et heredibus suis de
quodam annuali redditu ibidem per annum
de precio quatuor modis sigali pro quodam
iij' iiijd Summa solucionis
vija ixd Et remanet
iiij vs. iija 1 OLIVER'S Monasticon, p. 125.
2 p. 232 et seq.