A nuns’ priests’ tale: the foundation of Easebourne Priory (1216-1240)

A nuns’ priests’ tale: the foundation of Easebourne Priory (1216-1240)

By Nicholas Vincent

Sussex Archaeological Collections, Vol.147 (2009)

Abstract: A charter recently brought to light in the British Library sheds light upon the foundation of Easebourne Priory, established first, c. 1216, as a college of priests rather than as a nunnery, only later, c. 1230, transformed into a community of nuns, as a dependency of Benedictine Rusper. The charter assists in the reconstruction of the history of the Bohon family of Midhurst. The circumstances of its preservation also shed light upon the provenance of the copy of Magna Carta today displayed in the Australian Parliament at Canberra.

Introduction: Thanks to the endeavours of Henry MayrHarting and more recently of Philippa Hoskin, the 500 or so charters issued by the bishops of Chichester between 1066 and the introduction of registration to the diocese in the early fourteenth century have all been published and supplied with learned commentary: all, that is, save for those few which still await discovery in obscure or poorly catalogued archives. One such charter — in effect the foundation charter of Easebourne Priory — forms the subject of this article. Although housed in a well-known collection, amongst the series of Additional Charters in the British Library, it is ranked there amongst those deeds which were never properly indexed and which, as a result, are all too easily overlooked. Our particular charter, or rather the two original exemplars of our particular charter, are amongst a dozen deeds which, according to the Library’s own catalogues, were gifted to the British Library (previously the British Museum) in 1905 by a Mr F. Quekett Zouch. Mr Zouch was clearly a generous benefactor. He has also proved an elusive one, untraced in any directory or work of reference outside the British Library’s own records of his bequest. It was only at a late stage, and thanks to the detective work of Christopher Whittick, that it became apparent to me that these records lie. Mr Quekett Zouch never existed. Instead, into his place there steps a Mr Francis Quekett Louch (1856–1922), born at Drayton in Somerset as the eldest of four children of John Louch (1825–1905), an attorney and solicitor at Drayton, and his wife Lucy Isabel Quekett (1837–1913), herself the daughter of Edward Quekett (1804–1875), a banker at Langport in Somerset. Schooled in Taunton, by 1884 Francis Louch had qualified as a solicitor and was living at Shaw cum Donnington in Berkshire, from where he conducted what appears to have been a successful legal practice in nearby Newbury. In 1912, and by now Town Clerk of Newbury, Louch acted as treasurer of the fund for the excavation of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Little Shefford in Berkshire. He died on 25 January 1922, leaving a widow, Edith Maria née Shaw whom he had married in 1885, and one surviving daughter, Edith Blanche Quekett Louch (1889–1970), who in 1914 had married her distant cousin Arthur Scott Quekett (1881–1945), a barrister and from 1921 Parliamentary counsel to the government of Northern Ireland.

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