This photo shows the remains of a Cluniac priory near Barnsley. It was the monks who gained a market charter for Barnsley which helped ensure the growth of the town. The eleventh century endowment included the advowsons (the right to appoint the vicar) of Ledsham, All Saints, Kippax, Darrington, and Silkstone.
It did not go well for the monks during the Anarchy when they were unceremoniously booted out. Gilbert de Gaunt who had claimed the estates eventually acknowledged himself in error by then the original monastic buildings had been demolished. He was required to compensate the monks for his over enthusiasm and gave a property at South Ferriby, Lincs. This left the monks with nowhere to live so in about 1153 the monks moved to a temporary residence at Broughton donated by Alice de Rumelli. Being Cluniac was problematical as was Monk Bretton’s relationship with Pontefract so it eventually turned into a Benedictine priory and stayed that way until it was dissolved on 23 November 1539. None of the monks put up any resistance preferring to accept their pensions.
The abbey of St Mary at Jervaulx was a Cistercian foundation which had a reputation for its horse breeding and cheese making – it also got itself tangled up with the Pilgrimage of Grace during the Dissolution of the monasteries. Abbot Sedbergh was required to join the pilgrims having hidden for four days on Witten Fell before threats to his abbey and his brethren forced him into the pilgrimage. The fact that he was coerced was quietly ignored and he was hanged at Tyburn for treason in June 1537 – the monastery being forfeit under the rules of treason which Cromwell bent to suit his purposes for the occasion.
Jervaulx was not without its moments in former times as in 1279 the abbot was murdered by one of his monks. His successor Abbot Thomas was accused but was acquitted of the crime.
By the beginning of the thirteenth century the abbey was experiencing some financial difficulty and by 1535 Cromwell’s Valor Ecclesiasticus revealed that its income came to just over £234. Part of the Jervaulx’s glass was allegedly transferred to Bedale, the choir stalls made their way to Aysgarth parish church and the lead which was melted down buried and forgotten about was used to repair the York Minster after the disastrous fire of 1984. The building was surveyed as part of the dissolution process at the beginning of July 1537. The Duke of Norfolk who had assisted with the suppression following the Pilgrimage of Grace corresponded with Cromwell about the matter:
As James Rokebye and William Blytheman should be present with Mr. Pollerd at the survey of Jervaulx (three weeks hence) to instruct him in divers things, I beg you will see them despatched with speed. Sheriffhutton, 19 June. (‘Henry VIII: June 1537, 11-20’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 12 Part 2, June-December 1537, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1891), pp. 25-42. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol12/no2/pp25-42 [accessed 23 April 2022].)
An earlier correspondence sent by Norfolk to Cromwell on the 2 June revealed that not only was it part of the government’s strategy to remove the lead from the abbeys to prevent the monks moving back in but that Jervaulx was in debt – the commissioners needed to clear those debts:
The house of Jervaulx was much in debt, but the moveables will discharge that, and likewise at Bridlington, especially if plumbers be sent down to take the lead off the houses and cast it in sows. Sheriff Hutton, 2 June. (‘Henry VIII: June 1537, 1-5’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 12 Part 2, June-December 1537, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1891), pp. 1-13. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol12/no2/pp1-13 [accessed 23 April 2022].)
What they had not calculated was that the price of lead took a tumble because there was so much monastic lead and plumbing being sold on.
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)
Peverel, the alleged son of William the Conqueror, was at Hastings and rewarded by the Conqueror with large land holdings in the Midlands. As well as founding Lenton Priory in Nottinghamshire he also founded St James’ and provided it with land near Duston as well as the mill and advowson of Duston. The advowson means that the monks had the right to appoint the priest at Duston. The abbey grew so that it held the advowson of ten churches as well as farms and other land holdings.
The abbey founded at the beginning of the twelfth century was for the black canons of St Augustine but it wasn’t until 1173 that the buildings in stone were completed. Building work continued into the next century with Henry III supplying two oaks for the building of the church tower. The king also granted rights to an annual fair which continued after the Dissolution in Northampton itself. In 1291 the abbey took control of landholdings outside their walls that belonged to the exiled jewish community and a new building project began.
On 19 May 1536 Cromwell’s commissioners arrived to find the monastery in good repair, the abbot a godly man and the black canons all doing what they should have been doing – so not music to Cromwell’s ears. The king believed that the commissioners had been bribed and although it was valued at more than £200 a year came under the scope of the SuppressionAct of 1536. The abbot died the same year but the canons paid the fine that gained them the right to remain open. It was an eye-watering £333 6s 8d. Eventually Dr Layton arrived at the end of Augst 1538 and the surrender document was signed. Abbot Brokden who oversaw the final years of the abbey was paid a pension of £11 6s 8d and gained the rectory of Watford.
The area where the abbey once stood is still known as St James’ End. The Abbey Works was built on the site of the abbey so there’s not much in the way of evidence above ground.
Brinkburn Priory, an Augustinian foundation, is near Rothbury, hidden at the bottom of a valley – and we went it was a glorious sunny day. Brinkburn was founded in 1135 at the end of the reign of Henry I. it was probably a daughter house of Pentney in Norfolk. Brinkburn’s story is largely pieced together from its chartulary.
It’s location meant that in 1419 it was raided and robbed by the Scots. Slightly more than a hundred years later it had still not recovered so was designated a lesser monastery and dissolved. It was granted by Edward VI to John, Earl of Warwick who became Duke of Northumberland when the Duke of Somerset was toppled from power on the regency council.
I was delighted to find a batch of photographs I recognised today.
Fountains Abbey is a Cistercian Abbey. Apparently in the 12th century there was an outbreak of illness which saw people sleeping in tents because there was no space in the infirmary.
Fountains has many wealthy patrons as testified by the account books of the thirteenth century. despite this the abbey got into debt. This was partly because of their building projects. Edward I appointed a clerk to resolve the matter and ensure that the monks didn’t get into any deeper debt. It didn’t help that during the reign of Edward II the Scots turned up in Yorkshire to plunder and to burn. In 1319 Fountains was excused it’s taxes.
In 1443 John Neville was given the job of finding out who was “lately making a riot at the abbey.” Neville had no idea but the following year a commission was issued against “anonymous sons of inquiry” who had infringed upon the liberties of the monks. They were told that they needed to give back anything they had taken within three months or they would be excommunicated.
By 1535 the total value of the plate at Fountains was over £900. There were herds of cattle, flocks of sheep, 86 horses and 79 pigs.
Eventually the abbot and his monks were forced to surrender on 26th November 1539. It hadn’t been an easy couple of years. In addition to the abbot there was a prior and thirty monks – all of whom were required to sign the surrender in the chapter house. The abbot received a pension of £100.
Did you know there was a plan to turn Fountains into a bishopric with control of Lancashire (someone didn’t check the map methinks.)
And the original charter for the abbey is held at nearby Studley.
The Gilbertine Order was founded by Gilbert of Sempringham in 1130. Most of the priories associated with the order are in Lincolnshire and on the eastern side of the country.
Eleven of the twenty-six houses were double houses, in that they accommodated both men and women but there were strict rules about segregation. The priory at Ravenstonedale does not appear to have been a double house.
It was founded circa 1200 when the manor was granted to Watton which was a double house with some 150 women and 70 men. It seems that Ravenstonedale never grew large – there were three canons and some lay brothers. The men followed the Augustinians and were all canons whilst the women were Benedictine.
There was a fish pond and a rabbit warren to feed the canons at Ravenstonedale. Effectively the canons were the Lords of the Manor so had to fulfil that role including dispensing justice.
Gilbert of Sempringham founded the Gilbertine Order. It was the only English founded order and it was also the only one with double houses. Gilbertine nuns followed the Benedictine pattern whilst the monks followed the Augustinian pattern of canons. Not all houses were double but the one at Watton in East Yorkshire was.
The story was recorded by Ailred of Rievaulx in the early 1160s. Essentially the nun in question was an oblate in that she had been in the priory since she was four years old. Interestingly, the Gilbertines had an age requirement for entry to their order – 24 for men and 20 for women. However, our nun gained admittance as a child at the request of the Bishop of York.
The nun became enamoured of either a lay brother or one of the canons. The attraction was reciprocated. They arranged to meet. The inevitable happened. The nun was found to be pregnant. The nun was beaten and imprisoned and when her lover captured she was forced to castrate him herself. He was returned to the male side of the house at Watton and disappears from the story.
However, the nun returned to her prison, was visited by the now deceased archbishop and two women who took the baby leaving the teenage nun in her original state of virtue. At which point she was allowed out of prison – a miracle having occurred.
It would have to be said that the Gilbertines had strict rules about segregating the canons from the nuns. Nonetheless the priory at Watton which was one of the most important Gilbertine Foundations was said to have many secret passages.
Watton was where Marjory Bruce, the eleven year old daughter of Robert the Bruce, was imprisoned by Edward I in 1306. She regained her freedom after the Battle of Bannockburn.
G. Constable, ‘Aelred of Rievaulx and the Nun of Watton: an episode in the early history of the Gilbertine order’, Medieval women, ed. D. Baker, SCH, subsidia, 1 (1978), 205–26
Armathwaite can be found in the Eden Valley near Croglin. It’s said to have been founded by William Rufus in 1089. Unfortunately Rufus wa snot known for his links with the Church and it’s now generally thought that the charter was a forgery. The nuns of Armathwaite weren’t the only ones to make their founding patron or history seem more important or to gain more definite legal ownership of property so let’s not hold a spot of light forgery against them.
Edward IV accepted their documents which included freedom from toll throughout England and there was also a claim for sanctuary. Someone claiming sanctuary had to be inside the boundary of the nunnery – there’s a pillar near the nunnery to bolster this.
Detective work finds the nunnery in 1200 mentioned in the St Bees charter when Roger de Beauchamp gives the monks lank near that belonging to the nuns of Armathwaite.
The Scottish Wars of Independence were not kind to the nuns which was why Edward II gave them leave to pasture their cattle in Inglewood Forest and excused them a debt for food purchased because their lands and income had been virtually destroyed by marauding Scots.
It’s generally accepted that nunneries weren’t so well supported as their male counterparts. Although there were some foundations and patronage by royalty and the nobility the bulk of funds seem to have come from local gentry often in the form of will bequests:
“From the fourteenth century wills on record in the diocesan registers, we learn that this nunnery had some friends and received bequests as well as the other religious institutions in the county. In 1356 Dame Agnes, the consort of Sir Richard de Denton, bequeathed 10s. and in 1358 John de Salkeld 40s. to the prioress and her sisters of ‘Hermythwayt.’ Richard de Ulnesby, rector of Ousby or Ulnesby, was good enough in 1362 to bequeath them a cow which he had in that parish, while a citizen of Carlisle, William de London, in 1376, and a country gentleman, Roger de Salkeld, in 1379, made them bequests of money.”
Today I’m combining February’s calendar page information (yes, I know its the middle fo the month) with monasticism. Bloodletting was an important part of medieval health. If you were a monk you would pop along to the warming-house/room, usually in the late morning or early afternoon having had a snack in the refectory first. Monastic blood letting seems to have been akin to letting a vampire do his worst because accounts suggest that monks might lose up to four pints of blood during a letting. In fact monks were so weakened by the experience that they needed to spend time recuperating without the requirement for labour and with a relaxed dietary regime. On the third day after the bloodletting, the monk joined the rest of the community for some of the offices and might start doing a spot of light reading.
Monks, certainly Cistercians, were bled four times a year including February. Basically the idea was that blood letting was a restorative that sharpened the mind and quenched the kind of urges that might get monks into trouble. If the truth was told the quarterly blood letting probably meant that the monks had more blood taken than they had baths each year.
Candlemas on the 2nd of February ended the Medieval Christmas cycle. It was also often depicted as a time to rest – there are many images of agricultural labourers toasting their feet and warming their hands in front of a roaring fire in February.
The astronomical signs for the month began with Aquarius and ended the month with Pisces. Books of hours contained the astrological symbol for each month because it helped decide on medical practices – so letting blood from mid January to mid February was good because it is good to do things that last only a short while under Aquarius. But once the star sign changed it wasn’t a good idea to have anything medical done to your feet- not sure where you stand on clipping your toe nails as my medieval medical understanding isn’t that well defined.
In fact whilst we’re on the subject of blood letting – it depended on the month as to where blood should be taken and also what condition it was good for.
There is a name for the way in which parts of the body are associated with different zodiac symbols – melothesia – if you please. It had a Babylonian background so we are back to the transference of knowledge via the Arab world.