THE PRIORESSES OF WROXALL
Wroxall has always been associated with women. The Priory of St Leonard was established in 1141 as a Benedictine order of nuns, known as black nuns due to their attire. The nuns were custodians of the priory for 395 years; from the establishment by Hugh de Hatton in 1141 until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536 – when the last Prioress, Agnes, was pensioned with £7 10s for life. We know that Agnes was still living and drawing her pension in 1553. (Source: British History online)
The Priory of St Leonard was also known as the Monastery of St. Leonard at Wroxall. Walter de Maydenflon, Bishop of Worcester, dedicated the high altar of the Priory Church in 1141 AD. Twenty-two years later, on June 10th 1163, a charter was granted to Wroxall Priory by Pope Alexander III giving the Prioress, Sabina, wide powers over the whole of the Wroxall Estates and parts of Hatton (see image right: Pope Alexander III and the Council of Tours). King John also granted Wroxall a Charter in June of 1199 (pictured right).
In 1501 Isabella Shakespeare, a great aunt to William Shakespeare, was Prioress.
Much later, the site became the Woxall Abbey Girls’ School (1936 to 1995) and photographs show the students re-enacting the life of their ancestral sisters (pictured right).
The Prioresses are recorded in British History online (the footnote links describe the source of the information) as follows:
Erneburga, occurs 1141
Sabina, occurs 1163
Ida (fn. 21)
Avice or Amice, occurs 1270-2 (fn. 22)
Alice Abtot (fn. 23)
Agnes de Kynewarton, occurs 1284 (fn. 24)
Sibilla D’Abetot, elected 1285, (fn. 25) resigned 1311
Agnes de Alesbury, elected 1311 (fn. 26)
Isabel de Clinton, died 1325 (fn. 27)
Agnes de Broy, elected 1325, (fn. 28) resigned 1339
Isabel de Fokerham, elected 1339, (fn. 29) resigned 1351
Alice de Clinton, elected 1351, (fn. 30) resigned 1356
Joan Russell, elected 1356 (fn. 31)
Horabile de Aylesbury, appointed 1361 (fn. 32)
Alice de Aylesbury, resigned 1425 (fn. 33)
Isolda Walshe, 1425-31 (fn. 34)
Isabel Astley, elected 1431 (fn. 35)
Isolda, occurs 1489 (fn. 36)
Isabel, occurs 1501 (fn. 37)
Jocosa Brome, resigned 1525 (due to old age – she died 21 June 1528) (fn. 38)
Agnes Little, 20th November 1525-36 (fn. 39)
The Prioresses and the nuns were under the authority of the Bishops – and were often directed or chastised for what were considered misdemeanours. In 1323, Prioress was ordered ‘to stay more at home’ and in 1338 the nuns of Wroxall were ordered not to go on foot to Coventry or to Warwick. They were also warned to ‘cease from scoldings, reproofs and other evil words’ and were particularly told not to speak ill of Dame Margaret de Acton who had been deemed guilty of some fault. It was reported that Bishop Cobham visited in 1323 and found “Isabel Lady Clinton of Maxstoke, widow of the patron of the house, had retired thither and had evidently taken with her a not too modest opinion of her own importance. She found it impossible to forget that she was a Clinton and to realise that she, who had in time gone by given her easy patronage to the nuns and lodged with them when she would, was now a simple sister among them. Was she to submit to the rule of Prioress Agnes of Alesbury, she without whose goodwill Prioress Agnes had never been appointed? Was she to listen meekly to chiding in the dorter, and in the frater to bear with sulks? Impossible. How she comported herself we know not, but the bishop “found grave discord existing between the Prioress and dame Isabel Clinton, some of the sisters adhering to one and some to the other.” Evidently a battle royal. The bishop, poor man, did his best. He enjoined peace and concord among the inmates; the sisters were to treat the prioress with reverence and obedience; those who had rebelled against her were to desist and the prioress was to behave amicably to all in frater, dorter, and elsewhere. And so my lord went his way. He may have known the pertinacity of the late patroness; and it was perhaps with resignation and without surprise that he confirmed her election as prioress on the death of the harassed Agnes.” from: Eileen Power. Medieval English Nunneries c. 1275 to 1535 (Kindle Locations 1012-1015). (Note: OSL Members – this text is available for free download in the Academia Library).