Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Abbot’s Lodging

IMG_1614Abbots of larger monasteries were on a similar social status to a temporal lord – indeed there was every chance that they were the younger sons of the nobility. Their role within local and national society required that they should have quarters fit for entertaining their peers and if Cromwell’s list of misdeeds recorded by his commissioners during their Visitation of 1536 are anything to go by sufficient privacy to entertain numerous ladies of ill-repute.

Sometimes the abbot’s quarters were built into the west range above the cellarium (an undercroft where provisions were stored – think very large pantry). The abbot would have his own chapel, a hall for entertaining and two or three other rooms.

DSC_0044Elsewhere, and as time progressed, the abbot might expect to have his own separate dwelling – sometimes with a private necessarium as at Netley Abbey near Southampton (abbot’s lodging shown at the start of this paragraph). There is no particular rule as to where the lodgings might be. Cistercians tend to put their lodgings to the south of the cloister, though strictly speaking Cistercian abbots had no business being anywhere other than the dormitory with the rest of the monks. As well as a garderobe an abbot’s lodging might reasonably be expected to include a fireplace to warm distinguished guests, in some cases they had their own kitchen and stables. The fireplace shown at the opening at the post can be found at Monk Bretton Priory – the remnants of a Cluniac foundation.  In Kirkstall a rather grand staircase led to the abbot’s lodging and at Fountains there was a monastic prison in the basement complete with three cells and means of restraining prisoners.  At Fountains the abbot’s ‘modest dwelling’ underwent considerable expansion at the beginning of the sixteenth century on the orders of Abbot Huby who added an office and bay windows.

In Carlisle, which had a bishop so the abbot was technically a prior there was a pele tower where the prior and his officers could flee in the event of marauding Scots.DSCF1133

The abbot’s lodging often survived the dissolution of the monasteries in the guise of a manor house.  In York the abbot’s lodging of St Mary’s Abbey was retained by Henry VIII and used during his visit north.  It played host to King Charles I and is now part of the University of York.DSC_0107-6

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Cloisters, carrels, dorters, reredorters and nightstairs – or, how not to get lost in a monastery.

IMG_4438 - Version 2Monasteries tended to be built to largely similar plans. The cloisters of a monastery are usually on the south side of the church. Cloisters are built in a square shape and the middle is open to the elements – lovely on a sunny day not so great for the rest of the year. Each of the four sides of the cloister was called a walk and usually covered by some kind of roofing to protect the monks from wind and rain. Cloisters in modern cathedrals tend to be completely covered but this would not have been the case in medieval monasteries they would have been open to the elements.  Monks would have studied here, dried their laundry and had their tonsures cut.  The novice master would have taught the novices here as well.  The tranquil ruins we see today do not give us a picture of the day-to-day business of the cloisters – albeit largely silent business. Benedictine monasteries and Cistercians used different layouts. This post is principally about Benedictine monasteries.

The north walk usually lies with its back to the church wall. This was the most important walk because it was south facing. It is on this wall that visitors to medieval ruins can often find stone benches or the remains of individual study areas called carrels. Gloucester Cathedral has some lovely stone built carrels rather than wooden enclosures. Light came through the upper part of the carrel.

There’s usually an entrance to the church at the top end of the east walk. There would usually also be a door leading in the direction of the infirmary. All along the rest of the east walk there were rooms for monks who held office within the monastery to go about their business such as the treasury. It was on this side of the cloister that most conversation occurred. The south walk led in the direction of the kitchens whilst the west range led to the areas of the monastery where the lay brothers and members of the public who had cause to be there might be found.

The dorter – the monks’ sleeping quarters are usually on the upper floor of the eastern range. There would usually be a parlour beneath the dorter as well as a common room or warming room with a fire and offices such as the treasury. The chapter house also lay in the east range but more of that in another post as they come in all shapes and sizes.

IMG_4462There were usually two sets of stairs leading to and from the dorter. There would be a day stairs- usually to be found near the chapter house in Benedictine monasteries but in Cistercian monasteries, especially the later ones they exit at the juncture with the south range of buildings. The night stairs led straight from the dorter into the transept of the church. My favourite examples of night stairs are those in Hexham (black and white photo to the right of this paragraph) and Wells Cathedral (picture at the start of this paragraph).IMG_2034

The dorter started off as a large room but later on was partitioned into cubicles with wooden wainscoting. The monasteries built later in the medieval period provided a small window for each cubicle.

It should be added that not every monastery was designed on the principle of the four ranges. In Durham the dorter is above the west range of buildings.

The reredorter lay beyond the dorter. Another name for the reredorter was the necessarium. The size of the reredorter depends on the wealth of the monastery in question and the water supply. The monks availed themselves of the facilities on the first floor, the drainage and engineering required to carry the waster off is usually an impressively deep ditch to modern eyes but in medieval times the covered in drain began its journey away from the monastery by running parallel to the undercroft.

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Byland Abbey

DSCN3786-2In 1135 twelve monks left Furness Abbey to found a daughter house.  Their leader was Abbot Gerald and their destination was Calder Abbey.  Sadly their neighbours, the Scots, proved rather rowdy. Three years later Abbot Gerald and his little band returned to Furness.  Gerald had no intention of stopping being an abbot so he and his followers were refused admittance.

Impoverished and homeless the monks set off for York believing that they might gain some help from Thurstan, Archbishop of York.  Footsore and weary the little band arrived in Thirsk – some twenty miles short of their destination.  In Thirsk they met Lady Gundreda de Mowbray who took a shine to the monastic posse.  She suggested that the monks go to Hood at the foot of Sutton Bank.  Her uncle, she explained, had a jolly nice cave that they could use.  His name was Robert d’Alney and he had been a monk at Whitby but had left to become a hermit.  Clearly she’d forgotten that hermits like their own company.  In any event Gerald and his monks joined Robert on the understanding that as soon as Gundreda’s son was of age that he would endow a monastery for them.

Gerald took the opportunity to travel to Savigny where the monks from Furness Abbey originated.  He negotiated the new abbey’s independence from Furness.  The abbey which he would build would not be a daughter house.  It would be independent.  Gerald, parchment of independence in hand hurried home – where he promptly died.DSCN3794

Robert d’Alney  clearly wasn’t cut out to be a hermit because having shared his cave with the monks not only did he throw in his lot with them he became their next abbot.  He would remain in charge for the next fifty-four years.

Robert’s great-nephew, Roger de Mowbray, now come into his inheritance, gave the monks land at Old Byland.  Unfortunately the new monastery was too close to the abbey at Rievaulx.  This in itself wouldn’t have been a problem.  The difficulty lay in the fact that the monks kept slightly different hours.  The bells of one abbey interrupted the services of the other.  The monks of Old Byland who’d only been there a year moved once more in 1147 to more land provided by Roger de Mowbray.

By 1150 Byland had a reputation equal to that of Rievaulx and Fountains. It was at this point that the abbot of Furness Abbey tried to reassert the authority of Furness over Byland- presumably the abbot had his eye on reflected glory and lots of loot.  By this time the Savignac monks had merged with the Cistercians.  The case was sent to Aelred of Rievaulx for judgement. Aelred ruled that his neighbours were independent.  It probably helped that Abbot Aelred was friends with the abbot of Byland at that time.

DSCN3800If internal political wrangles weren’t bad enough the monks of Byland (they moved the name with them) also had to drain marshes and cope with those rowdy Scots.  In 1322 the rather disastrous King Edward II spent the night at Byland Abbey.  His army was firmly trounced by the Scots and he fled to York on hearing the news, leaving the monks to face the victors of the battle who were intent on a spot of pillage.

History darkened Bylands door once more in 1536 when Cromwell sent his commissioners to survey all the monasteries.  Byland had an income of £295.  In addition to the abbot there were twenty-five choir monks. According to Page, “The abbey received, it is not known why, Letters Patent dated 30 January 1537,  to continue, but it surrendered 30 Henry VIII, when pensions were granted to the abbot (£50) and twenty-three monks; one other, John Harryson, received no money pension quia habet vicariam de Byland.”  The ink well thought to have been used at the signing of the surrender can be seen in the museum attached to the abbey ruins.

Today the ruins, in the care of English Heritage, are set in a tranquil vale on theDSCN3805 edge of Sutton Bank.  The church, which follows the basic Cistercian floor plan is cross shape.  It’s majesty lies on its West Front with the ruins of what was once a glorious rose window.  By the time the monks of Byland built their church the Cistercians were moving away from the austerity of their early years.  It must have been a magnificent building with its symmetric green and white tiles. Tiles from Byland Abbey are on display in the British Museum as well as being found in situ.  Click on the image of the  circular pattern of tiles to the right to open up a photograph of the British Museum tiles in a new page.

The size of the church reflects the two groups of monks that populated Cistercian monasteries.  The choir monks were literate and spent most of their time in prayer and reflection.  They used the east end of the church.  Unlike the Benedictines who used tenant farmers and servants the Cistercians used a second tier of monks.  Lay brothers took monastic vows but their role was that of labour.  For them there were simplified services at the beginning and the end of the day.  They learned their prayers and they were not permitted to learn to read or write.  The lay brothers used the west part of the church.  DSCN3830

The two groups of monks remained separate not only in their worship but also in their quarters.  Cistercian monasteries follow a different pattern to Benedictine establishments. The huge cloister was at the heart of the monastery.  The choir monks had their quarters to the east.  This range of buildings included a first floor dormitory with a staircase leading into the south transept of the church facilitating the night services.  The south range of the cloister housed the kitchens and the refectory whilst the west range was home to the lay brothers.  Like the choir monks they had their own reredorter (monastic toilet block).

Harrison, Stuart A. Byland Abbey. London: English Heritage

‘Houses of Cistercian monks: Byland’, in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, ed. William Page (London, 1974), pp. 131-134 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/vol3/pp131-134 [accessed 22 July 2015].

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Nicholas and Ralph Fitzherbert – a glimpse of the Wars of the Roses.

DSCF1562Norbury in Derbyshire is mentioned in the Domesday Book. By 1125 it was in the hands of the Fitzherbert family who initially rented the estate from Tutbury Priory. The remains of the Fitzherbert’s medieval hall stands next door to the church. It was in this building, according to George Elliot’s imagination that milk maid Hetty Sorrel could be found. Historically speaking the building is a mishmash of reconstruction including a beam dated to 1483. One side of the beam is beautifully worked the other, not meant for public view, is still covered by bark.

The Fitzherberts built a fine hall and an even finer church. The glass dated originally from the beginning of the fourteenth century – not much of it remains but the chancel is a beautiful ‘lantern’ flooded by light on three sides. Three alabaster tombs dominate the church. The stone came from just nine miles away and with the right camera traces of the original paints can still be glimpsed.

IMG_6007Nicholas Fitzherbert, shown left, died in 1473. He was the eleventh lord. He’s wearing a collar decorated with suns and roses. The suns are representative of the sun in splendor reflecting Edward’s victory at Mortimer’s Cross in 1461 when a parhelion, which could have struck mortal dread into his army, was used by Edward as a sign of forthcoming victory – each one of the suns represented one the Earl of March’s surviving sons – Edward, George and Richard. The roses are, of course, the white roses of York. At the bottom of Nicholas’s collar, a pendant can be glimpsed beneath marble hands raised in prayer. It is a pendant of a lion. The white lion is representative of the House of March – and Edward’s Mortimer descent: a reminder that the House of York came from a line senior to that of the House of Lancaster. Anne Mortimer, Edward IV’s grandmother, was the great-granddaughter of Lionel of Antwerp. He was the second son of Edward III.IMG_5997

So Nicholas, even in death, is declaring his allegiance to the House of York. He is also fully dressed in plate armour and his head rests on his helm but as Mercer states in The Medieval Gentry: Power, Leadership and Choice During the Wars of the Roses history does not know what Nichols’s role was during the Wars of the Roses or how he demonstrated his loyalty to Edward IV.

One thing is sure, livery badges as these collars are often known were important indicators of political affiliation during the Wars of the Roses. It is known that King Richard III gave away huge numbers of his livery badges made from cloth at the time of his coronation in 1483.   Richard’s personal badge – the white boar- a play on the Latin ebor  meaning York and a reminder of Richard’s northern powerbase has been found on pendants and hat badges across the country including Richard’s home at Middleham Castle in Yorkshire.

IMG_5973In Norbury, on the opposite side of the chancel from Nicholas there is a second alabaster tomb. It depicts Nicholas’s son Ralph, shown left and in the first picture in this post, and his wife. Like his father Nicholas is wearing a collar depicting suns and roses but the pendant is different. Nestled under Ralph’s hands is a tiny boar. Ralph died in 1483 shortly after making his will requesting that he should be buried in Norbury Church so he could not know that a mere two years later the white boar would be evidence of untrustworthiness so far as the new Tudor kings of England were concerned.

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The Fitzherberts did not thrive under the Tudors; not because of their Yorkist fealties but because of their Catholicism. Like many of the old established families the Fitzherberts were conservative in their religious beliefs.  By the reign of Elizabeth I the Fitzherberts faced severe financial penalities for their continued beliefs and Sir Thomas Fitzherbert would spend thirty years in prison because of his faith.

Mercer, Malcolm. (2012). The Medieval Gentry: Power, Leadership and Choice During the Wars of the Roses. London: Continuum Books.

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Princess Elizabeth (Stuart)

 elizabethPrincess Elizabeth was born on 28 December 1635.  She was the second daughter of King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria.  The princess, a sickly child, died in her fifteenth year after being caught in a shower on the bowling green at Carisbrooke Castle. Her sad end completed the turmoil of her life. She was a prisoner of Parliament, albeit a well cared for one, from the age of six along with her brother Prince Henry – Duke of Gloucester until her death.

Parliament ensured the children were educated as befitted their rank and Elizabeth demonstrated a flair for languages and religion while she was separated from her family. Numerous academics took to dedicating books to the princess and there are accounts of her growing beauty.  In addition, she was known within her family for her tolerance and kindness.  This fairy tale princess didn’t see her father from 1642 until 1647. Elizabeth and two of her brothers spent two days with the king but then he fled to the Isle of Wight. This ultimately led to his trial and execution. Henry and Elizabeth were permitted to see their father for one last time without hope of any happy ever afters.   Elizabeth, aged thirteen wrote an account of the meeting that ought to move the hardest of hard-hearted Parliamentarians which was found with her possessions after her death. “He told me he was glad I was come, and although he had not time to say much, yet somewhat he had to say to me which he had not to another, or leave in writing, because he feared their cruelty was such as that they would not have permitted him to write to me.”  The king had to ask whether Elizabeth would be able to remember everything he said to her because she was crying so hard but she assured her father she would remember everything – clearly she wrote it all down in order to help keep her promise to her father.  It is from this source we see that Charles was aware of the role that some Parliamentarians might have had in mind for his captive son. “Heed, my child, what I say: they will cut off my head and perhaps make thee a king. But mark what I say. Thou must not be a king as long as thy brothers Charles and James do live; for they will cut off your brothers’ heads when they can catch them, and cut off thy head too at the last, and therefore I charge you, do not be made a king by them.’ At which my brother sighed deeply, and made answer: ‘I will be torn in pieces first!’ And these words, coming so unexpectedly from so young a child, rejoiced my father exceedingly.”

Prince Charles, the penniless eldest son of King Charles I who’d sought refuge n the Low Countries was now a penniless king in the Low Countries but Parliament could not rest easy especially when the aforementioned king arrived in Scotland in 1650 and got himself crowned King of Scotland. Elizabeth was now an important pawn in a desperate political game. She was moved from the English mainland to Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight where her father had been imprisoned and where he’d failed to escape not once but twice. The Princess was not well when Parliament ordered this move but Parliament did not heed her pleas to be left alone. According to legend she was caught in a shower on the bowling green and this led to a chill which in turn led to pneumonia but it is possible that she was already ailing.

(c) Carisbrooke Castle Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) Carisbrooke Castle Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation.

Romantic accounts say that Elizabeth was discovered with her head resting on a Bible which her father had given her during their last meeting. It was this story that the Victorian artist Cope recorded in his picture “The Royal Prisoners.” The picture in this blog was accessed from http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/the-royal-prisoners-16672 (14th July 2015 at 20:01).  In the image Prince Henry and a guard discover the dead princess with her head on the open Bible and a miniature of her father in her hands.  Her learning is signified by the books around her and her love of music in the lute that is also pictured.  The open bird-cage is symbolic of the flight of Elizabeth’s soul.  Henry’s hands are clutched in those of the guard who has dropped his still smouldering pipe.  Parliament quickly buried the princess in the parish church of Newport in a largely unmarked grave. She was rediscovered in 1793 during building works and was reburied with a plaque to mark her resting place. Prince Henry was finally released into the care of his family in 1652.

That might have been the end of it but in the next century Queen Victoria was horrified to discover that her distant relation had not received a burial befitting to a princess. The princess was disinterred from her resting place in St Thomas’s Church and a suitable monument erected. Whilst building work was being completed the mortal remains of the princess were kept in a locked shed. A local Doctor- Ernest Wilkins- decided that the skeleton should be examined in the interests of science. He deduced that the princess suffered from rickets and having made his research departed from the shed with a rib and some of the princess’ hair which shortly, to the horror of the citizens of Newport, found themselves on public display in a curio shop owned by a certain Mr. Ledicot according to the June edition of The Isle of Wight Life.

Ledicot refused to remove them from public display despite a deputation asking him to think of propriety. He changed his mind rather rapidly when he received a visit from a distinctly unamused Queen Victoria and Princess Beatrice who took the grisly artefacts no doubt amid much bowing and scraping. The rib was returned to Elizabeth’s grave but Victoria kept Elizabeth’s faded locks of hair, which can be seen in the Carisbrook Castle museum.

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Sir George Carey, Second Baron Hunsdon

george_carey_by_nicholas_hilliard_16014Henry Carey was the son of Mary Boleyn. He may or may not have been the son of Henry VIII. He in his turn married Anne Morgan and went on to father ten children with his wife and to work loyally for his royal cousin Elizabeth I.

George Carey, pictured here in 1601 by Nicholas Hilliard the celebrated miniaturist,  was born in 1547. One of his younger brothers was Robert Carey who wrote an account of his time as warden on the marches between England and Scotland. He is without a shadow of a doubt my most favourite Tudor, so it was with delight that I discovered that big brother George who went on to become the second Baron Hunsdon upon his father’s death was the governor of Carisbrooke Castle for some twenty years.

George, a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge began working on his royal cousin’s (or possibly royal auntie if you think that Henry was the illegitimate son of Henry VIII) behalf in his early teens when he travelled north for the baptism of the infant Prince James of Scotland who would one day become King James I of England. He turns up in Scotland again to discuss the possible marriage between Mary Queen of Scots and the Duke of Norfolk and later during the Rebellion of the Northern Earls when he assisted his father in cleansing the borders of undesirables. He was knighted in the field and went on campaign in the Netherlands. In short he did all the ‘Flasheartish’ things that Tudor gentlemen were supposed to do including a spot of light‘privateering.’

In 1599, he accompanied the Earl of Essex on his ill-fated trip to Ireland. His job was treasurer and he seems to have done rather well out of the whole venture, certainly he came home substantially richer than when he set out. Interestingly he was part of the Cecil faction – so quite what he was doing tagging along with the Earl of Essex is a matter for speculation as the two groups did not see eye to eye.

He also served as an MP on several occasions. His interest in Mary Queen of Scots seems to have continued as he is recorded as being part of the committee that discussed her fate.

George became governor of the Isle of Wight and captain-general of Hampshire. His period in office lasted for twenty years and included the Spanish Armada threat. Carey was known for his hospitality and his concerns about the defence of the island. He was, it turns out, unpopular with the local gentry. A chap called Robert Dillington took umbridge about his use of the title governor and his high-handed approach to getting what he wanted. A list of complaints was compiled. However Dillington’s timing was poor. England was being menaced by the Spanish Armada. The Privy Council sided with Carey and the following year Dillington found himself incarcerated in the Fleet.

George and his wife, a relation of the poet Edmund Spenser, had one daughter called Elizabeth to whom he left most of his wealth when he expired according to Wikipaedia of venereal disease and mercury poisoning in 1603–which is I suppose still rather Flasheartish.

(http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1558-1603/member/carey-sir-george-1547-1603 accessed 7/7/2015 21:24)

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Quarr Abbey

DSC_0202According to the Wotton Bridge Historical website medieval Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight was originally called the Abbey of our Lady of the Quarry because there was a stone quarry in the nearby Binstead. Also according to the website, and quite interestingly, Quarr stone was used in the Tower of London, Winchester Cathedral and Chichester Cathedral.

Baldwin de Redvers, Earl of Exeter and fourth lord of the Isle of Wight founded the abbey in 1132. The abbey was founded originally as a daughter house of Savigny. Savignac monks joined with the Cistercians in 1147 -white monks on the Isle of Wight. Their monastery, the largest on the island, was enclosed by a wall which stretched around the thirty-acre site- much of the wall still stands. Part of the reason for the sturdy wall, which can be seen from the sea, was the monastery’s maritime nature. Ready to offer care to passing mariners the monks were also prepared to defend themselves from passing marauders- principally fourteenth century French types. The wall apparently contains two of the earliest gunports in Britain (http://www.gatehouse-gazetteer.info/English%20sites/1571.html accessed 2/7/2015 21:59).

It is a matter of contention as to whether Princess Cecily, daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville was buried in Quarr Abbey. She was married first to Viscount Welles (if we discount the marriage that Uncle Richard III arranged to Ralph Scrope which was annulled in 1485 so that Henry VII could marry her off to his adherent).  Her second marriage was to Thomas Kyme of the Isle of Wight unfortunately this love match irritated Henry VII because Thomas was no match for a Plantagenet princess especially when she hadn’t asked nicely first. However, apparently, Cecily got on very well with Margaret Beaufort –Henry’s illustrious mother. She intervened on Cecily’s behalf. The problem is that Thomas Kyme’s links to the Isle of Wight are unclear and Cecily died on the mainland in 1507 – in Hatfield.

More practically demonstrable is the fact that in June 1513 Lord Howard, in command of the Mary Rose took station off Quarr.

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At its height there were fishponds, granges and extensive abbey buildings of which very little remains today. In 1535 the annual net income of the abbey was valued at £134. It’s value meant that it was suppressed in 1536. The islanders tried to save the abbey by demonstrating to the commissioners that the monks who lived there did much to relieve the poor as well as offering food and shelter to passing seamen.  Their words fell on stony ground.  By 1540 the abbey had been completely demolished and the stone used to build new coastal fortifications at East and West Cowes. There are few remains of the monastic buildings apart from a section of the lay brothers’ dormitory which is now part of a barn.DSC_0205

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