About the year 1155 William Martel, in conjunction with Albreda his wife, and Geoffrey their son, gave the manors of Snape and Aldeburgh to the abbot and convent of the Benedictine house of St. John, Colchester. The founders intended that a prior and monks should be established at Snape subject to St. John’s, Colchester, and this was speedily accomplished. The priory, by the foundation charter, was to pay the abbey annually half a mark of silver as an acknowledgement of its submission. The monks of Snape were to say two masses every week, one of the Holy Spirit and the other of our Lady, for the weal of William and Albreda, and after their death masses for the departed. The abbot of Colchester was to visit the cell twice a year, with twelve horses, and to tarry for four days.
In 1163 Pope Alexander III confirmed to the prior and brethren of St. Mary, Snape, the churches of Freston and Bedingfield.
The taxation roll of 1291 shows that there were then appropriated to this priory the churches of Snape, Bedingfield, Freston, and Aldeburgh with its chapel, producing an income of £23 6s. 8d. The lands, rents, and mill brought in £21 12s. 1d. a year, and other temporalities £11 19s. 7½d.; so that the total annual income was £56 18s. 4½d.
Upon complaint made by Isabel, countess of Suffolk and patroness of the abbey, to Boniface IX, that the abbot and convent of Colchester did not maintain a sufficient number of religious at Snape, according to the founder’s directions, the pope, by bull dated 10 January, 1399-1400, made this prior independent and exempt from all control by the Colchester abbey. But whilst this matter was still in hand, the abbey of Colchester had sufficient influence to stir up the crown against this papal action. On 3 May, 1400, commission was issued to John Arnold, serjeant-at-arms, to arrest John Mersey (monk of St. John’s, Colchester, and prior of Snape), which Henry IV claimed as of the king’s patronage, as Mersey had obtained divers exemptions and privileges prejudicial to the abbey from the court of Rome, and was proposing to cross the seas to obtain further privileges. He was to be brought before the king in chancery, and to find security that he would not leave the kingdom without the royal licence, or obtain anything prejudicial to the abbey in the court of Rome. On 16 July, Mersey was still at large, for the commission to arrest him was renewed and its execution entrusted to four serjeants-at-arms. The upshot of the dispute was favourable to the abbey; but the final agreement was not reached until 1443.
Pope Sixtus IV, in 1472, confirmed the priory in its possession and privileges, but with no statement as to independence.
Archdeacon Nicholas Goldwell visited this priory, as commissary of his brother the bishop on 20 January, 1492-3; Prior Francis produced his accounts, and the commissary found nothing worthy of reformation. There is record of another visitation of this small house in July, 1520; the visitor reported that everything was praiseworthy considering the number of the religious and the income of the priory; the prior was ordered to provide another brother, and to exhibit an inventory of the condition of the house at the synod to be held at Ipswich at the ensuing Michaelmas.
This priory was one of those numerous small religious houses of East Anglia for whose suppression, in favour of a great college at Ipswich, Cardinal Wolsey obtained bulls in 1527-8. It was at that time valued in spiritualities at £20 per annum, and in temporalities at £79 1s. 11½d., yielding a total income of £99 1s. 11½d.
After Wolsey’s attainder, the site and possessions of this priory were granted to Thomas, duke of Norfolk, on 17 July, 1532.
Priors of Snape
John Colcestre, 1307
Gilbert, occurs 1311
Thomas de Neylond, 1327
Simon de Elyton, 1349
John de Colne, 1349
Robert (? Richard) de Colne, 1360
Richard de Bury, 1372
John de Grensted, 1385
John de Mersey, 1394
John Wetheryngsete, died 1439
John Norwych, 1439
William Cambrigge, mentioned 1441
Henry Thurton, resigned 1489
John Barney, 1489
Thomas Mondeley, 1491
Francis, occurs 1493
Richard Bells, 1504
Richard Stratford, 1514
Richard Parker, 1526