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Medieval Period

DARTFORD PRIORY

DARTFORD'S UNIQUE DOMINICAN NUNNERY

One of the major developments in medieval times was the rapid spread and growth of religious houses, monasteries, abbeys, priories and nunneries, of which there were over a thousand in England. They flourished until the Dissolution enforced by Henry VIII when they were demolished and their lands and properties seized

Dartford was the location of England’s only house of Dominican nuns. Dartford Priory has been identified as one of the most important nunneries in medieval and Tudor England in terms of its size, income, and the number of resident nuns and lay sisters. Nothing remains of the priory today, other than sections of the solid stone boundary walls that enclosed the priory site and afforded the nuns the privacy they needed. These walls front onto Priory Road and Victoria Road in Dartford; some sections of wall are of Tudor or nineteenth century date.

Dartford Priory was famous as a centre for prayer, contemplation and education. It came under the supervision of King’s Langley Priory in Hertfordshire. The priory attracted women of noble birth; daughters of the aristocracy; close relations of some prominent Carthusian martyrs; and even a royal princess, Bridget, seventh daughter of King Edward IV. Dartford Priory enjoyed royal patronage from its foundation in 1346 until the final Dissolution in 1559.

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Priory Lease

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LAND HOLDINGS AND INCOME ATTACHED TO DARTFORD PRIORY

For more than 180 years, the nuns of Dartford went quietly about their business, performing the daily office and serving God in the community. The prioress of Dartford owned extensive tracts of land, woodland, grazing marsh, chalk quarries, several mills, tenements and inns in North Kent and throughout the county of Kent. Additional properties, lands and church advowsons were held in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Glamorgan, Herefordshire, Hertfordshire, the City of London, Norfolk, Suffolk, Surrey and Wiltshire. Much of the income from these lands and properties was diverted to King’s Langley Priory. Dominican friars from King’s Langley were based at Dartford to ensure that the daily business of the priory was conducted properly.

Some of the priory’s income came from donations from individual benefactors, who in return, were permitted to be buried in or close to the priory chapel. In 1452, Agnes, wife of Richard Fagg of Dartford, was buried in the priory cemetery. Richard Bolton of Dartford directed in 1456 that his body was to be buried ‘within the monastery of Dertford’. He bequeathed to the nuns twenty shillings, as well as an additional twelve pence for prayers and masses. Some individuals gave land or property to the priory in exchange for prayers being said for the donor and their family after their decease.

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CHARITABLE WORK UNDERTAKEN BY THE NUNS

ARISTOCRATIC NUNS AT DARTFORD PRIORY

Margaret Beaumont Prioress in 1446 and 1460. Reputedly the daughter of Henry, Lord Beaumont, and Elizabeth, daughter of William, Lord Willoughby of Eresby. Her brother was Earl of Boulogne.
Elizabeth Botraus Nun in 1412. Reputedly the illegitimate daughter of noble parents. Possibly connected with the Botreaux family of Boscastle, Cornwall, and Somerset.
Alice Branthwaite Lady Alice Branthwaite. Prioress in 1461 and 1479 A manuscript preserved in the British Library is dedicated to her.
Katherine de Breous Nun in 1378. Daughter of Sir Thomas de Norwich. She resigned the lordship of Sculthorpe on entering Dartford Priory.
Princess Bridget Plantagenet Nun 1492-1517. The seventh daughter of Edward III. Died and was buried at the priory in 1517.
Elizabeth Exmewe Nun in 1539. Sister of William Exmewe, Carthusian martyr and procurator of the London Charterhouse.
Joan Fane Prioress in 1537 and 1539. Probably a daughter of Humphrey Fane of Hilden near Tonbridge, related to the earls of Westmorland.
Lady Fineux Sub-Prioress in 1524. Probably a relative of Sir John Fineux of Herne, Kent, chief justice of the king’s bench in the 1490s.
Beatrice Marchall Nun in 1530. Formerly gentlewoman to the countess of Salisbury.
Margaret Mountenay Nun in 1530. Formerly gentlewoman to the countess of Salisbury.
Sister Newdigate Nun in 1559. Sister of Sebastian Newdigate one of the Carthusian martyrs.
Agnes Roper Nun 1524-1559. Daughter of John Roper of Eltham, formerly attorney general to Henry VIII.
Elizabeth White Nun in 1539. Half-sister of Cardinal John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester who was executed at Tower Hill in 1535.

 

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