Deepings Heritage – The Welsh Princess at Sempringham Abbey

Gwenllian, who lived from 1282 until 1337, was the last native-born Princess of Wales. While still a baby, she was sent to the nunnery at Sempringham, about eight miles north of Bourne, by order of King Edward I, and was confined there until her death at the age of fifty-four. Her remarkable life story is the subject of Nancy Davenport’s talk at our meeting on Friday, 14th April.

The monastery at Sempringham had separate accommodation for around 60 monks and 120 nuns. Only part of the Abbey church still remains.

It may feel like a distant era, yet it is possible to piece together some fragments of local life in the 1300s. There are taxation records and court cases naming Deeping people, and evidence that sheep rearing was a source of prosperity in this area.

During 1337 when Gwenllian died, one of the King’s officials defrauded a farmer named William of Frognall by extorting fourteen sheep from him, and in the same year he stole sheep from John Snow, Audrey White, Thomas Lymberner and John Faber of Market Deeping. The sheep were valued between 17 pence and 20 pence each, at a time when there were 240 silver pennies in a £1.

The following year at Deeping St James, two other dishonest officials took large quantities of wool illegally from Geoffrey Bettes, John Pollard and the Prior, among other people. Local farmers exported their wool from Boston docks, but complained of being cheated there when it was weighed inaccurately.

During the 1330s, the King financed his wars by levying additional taxes. People were already paying tithes and other fees to the church, and dues to their Lord of the Manor. The amount of the royal subsidy was based on an individual’s assets, and shows that the wealthiest man by far in the Deepings was John Knight, who was charged seventeen shillings – the equivalent of ten sheep. A few people paid five shillings, but most of the population paid considerably less and some as little as eight pence.

The royal tax return of 1332 lists 118 people throughout the Deepings who were liable for payments, but no doubt there were other residents too poor to be charged. At that time, not everyone had an hereditary surname. Some tax payers were identified by their occupation, such as Alan the tanner and William the cleric. Other people were named after their dwelling place, – Alice at the guildhall and Robert at the bridge – or after the village they came from, like John of Barholm, but one tax payer’s surname lived on in the Deepings for another five hundred years. William Godhale (Goodale) was charged one shilling and six pence, and his descendants were still farming here in the late 19th century.

Nancy Davenport will be giving more insights into medieval life, through the experiences of Princess Gwenllian. Her talk starts at 7.30 pm in the main hall of the Community Centre, Market Deeping. Everyone is welcome. Admission £3 for non-members.

Leave a Reply