Guy Beauchamp died in 1360 leaving two young daughters by his wife Philippa Ferrers who was descended from King Edward I. He predeceased his father by almost a decade. Rather than the Warwick estates and earldom passing to Katherine Beauchamp – Guy’s daughter the estate passed to Guy’s brother Thomas who became Earl of Warwick after his father’s death. It’s possible that Guys daughters were forced to become nuns so that their uncle could inherit. One daughter died during infant whilst the other, Katherine, had become a nun at Shouldham by 1369. At that time she was just sixteen.
Shouldham in Norfolk was a Gilbertine priory – a double house containing both monks and nuns separated down the middle of the priory church. It’s founder was Geoffrey FitzPiers – an earl of Essex who made his settlement upon the house circa 1197 during the reign of King Richard I. As well as a large manor and lands he also arranged for the new priory to receive a number of shops in London (Blomefield, An Essay, vol 7, pp.414-15 in Elkins, Holy Women, p.122). FtizPiers was buried there in 1212 with his first wife, Beatrice, who whose body was moved to Shouldham from Chicksands. FitzPiers’ son, William de Mandeville continued to patronise the foundation and was also buried there – it was this Earl of Essex who was noted for siding with the barons against King John . By 1248 Henry III granted a weekly market to the foundation.
A licence paid in 1386 to King Richard II revealed that the Beachamp family gave the priory lands in order for its inhabitants to pray for Guy Beauchamp who died in 1360, for his wife Philippa Ferrers and for Katherine their daughter who was still alive at the time. Katherine was not alone, her aunt Margaret was also a nun at Shouldham. Tilotson described Shouldham as ‘a convenient repository for embarrassing members of the family’ (Tillotson:p.4).
The link to the Beauchamp Earls of Warwick had been created when William Beauchamp, the 9th earl (who was a personal friend of King Edward I and noted for his military campaigns in Wales) married Matilda FitzJohn who was a great-great grand daughter of Geoffrey FitzPiers. Two of the couple’s daughters became nuns at Shouldham. The family continued to be associated with the priory until the reign of Henry VII.
Shouldham became associated with the imprisonment of Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March’s daughters Margaret and Joan in 1324 but had been notorious before when Richard Mail bought a case against the prioress and the sisters claiming that they had assault him and ransacked his house.
The priory was dissolved during the reign of King Henry VIII having found to be worth £138, 18s, 1d and was the second wealthiest nunnery in Norfolk which is why it was saved from the first round of dissolution. Its respective wealth was in part because of the earlier patronage of the Beauchamp family. The priory’s Cromwellian visitors were Thomas Legh and John Ap Rice who described impropriety by two nuns. None-the-less the prioress received a pension in 1539 when the house was eventually dissolved. The priory manor remained in Crown hands until the reign of King Edward VI. It was sold in 1553 to Thomas Mildmay.
Blomfield, Francis, An Essay Towards the Topographical History of the County of Norfolk, volume 7, (London, 1807)
Ellins, Sharon K, Holy Women of Twelfth Century England, (1988)
Tillotson, John, H. Marrick Priory, A Nunnery in Late Medieval Yorkshire, (York, University of York, 1989)
‘House of Gilbertines: The priory of Shouldham’, in A History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2, ed. William Page (London, 1906), pp. 412-414. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/norf/vol2/pp412-414 [accessed 12 January 2022].