Royal mistresses since 1066, this week, if you please. We’ll leave Elizabeth I’s romantic attachments to one side and Queen Anne’s as well. Some monarchs are remarkably discreet, others less so. Henry VII for example was not known for his mistresses – but his account book reveals payment to “dancing girls” …they may just have been dancing. Other mistresses have achieved notoriety and in the case of Henry VIII’s mistresses, in many instances, the Crown itself. You may find yourself dealing with potentially bigamous monarchs as well this week. Good luck.
The first image in the History Jar’s new quiz is, of course, the Alfred Jewel which can be found in the Asmolean Museum in Oxford. The words around the end of the jewel read, “Alfred ordered me to be made.” The jewel is the ornate end of an aestel -that’s a pointer to you or me. The socket formed by the dragon’s head at the bottom of the jewel is where the ivory pointer would have sat.
The jewel was found a few miles from Athelney Abbey in Somerset in 1693 when it was ploughed up. Athelney Abbey is very near the site where King Alfred made his counter attack against the Great Viking army in 878. The king had been forced to retreat into the marshes in 877 and built a fort near Athelney before launching his counter attack.
Asser, who was Alfred’s chaplain, described the site as being a small island. And it was Alfred who is often credited with the founding of Athelney Abbey. However, there is a distinct possibility that there was already some sort of monastic foundation on the site as the name and the charter suggest enlargement rather than foundation.
William of Malmesbury writing later describes the abbey as poor but that the Benedictine brothers who lived there loved solitude. By the fourteenth century the quiet and solitude seems to have turned Athelney into a retirement home for royal pensioners. The archives contain a protest from the monks about Gilbert de Reagan who had been sent to the abbey to live as a pensioner. The monks replied that there were already two aged servants of the king living at the expense of the abbey.
In 1314 the abbey was used a prison for another Benedictine, William de Walton, who according to the Bishop of Lincoln, had been very wicked and should be kept locked in fetters in his cell at all times. Eventually William was returned to Peterborough Abbey, where he originally came from, as he had escaped a couple of times much to the consternation of the Athelney brothers.
In 1349 the plague hit the abbey killing two abbots in swift succession.
By 1536 the abbey was in debt to the Crown to the tune of £33 but that might have been because in 1497 the abbot had supported Perkin Warbeck against Henry VII and the abbey had been fined 100 marks. Cromwell’s commissioner found the abbot and his eleven monks to be leading good lives but on the 20th February 1539 the abbey surrendered.
https://www.ashmolean.org/alfred-jewel Follow the link for a closer look at the Alfred Jewel.
‘Houses of Benedictine monks: The abbey of Athelney’, in A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2, ed. William Page (London, 1911), pp. 99-103. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/som/vol2/pp99-103 [accessed 5 June 2020].
It was much easier to set the question than to produce the answer. Nor does it help that I’m losing track of the days of the week – I’m now functioning on today, yesterday, tomorrow and a shrug of the shoulders.
I hope that this challenge encouraged you to think of some of the places that you’ve visited and read about. I began with the challenge of 23 monastic houses – one for each letter of the alphabet with XYZ counting as one rather than 3 – I struggled for a little while with O. How did you all do? The only reason that I’ve got Quarr on the Isle of Wight is because I’ve visited it. Rather than produce a second separate list I’ve added as many abbeys and priories as I can against each letter of the alphabet – that is not to say that there are 625 of them. If you have them all then all I can say is “How lovely to meet you Mr Cromwell.”
A = Armathwaite, Appleby, Abbotsbury (there’s a huge monastic barn at this site), Alnwick, Abingdon, Axholme, Athelney, Amesbury, Alvingham, Aylesford and Arden. Anglesey Abbey in Camridgeshire was not in actual fact an abbey – it was more of a hermitage. As with Calke Abbey in Derbyshire it was retrospectively enlarged by its secular owners!
B = Brinkburn, Bermondsey, Blakeney, Baysdale, Bolton, Burscough, Blyth, Breadsall, Beauvale, Buckland, Bardney, Barlings, Battle, Beaulieu, Brooke, Bayham, Binham, Bamburgh, Boscobel, Boston, Bungay, Barking, Bath, Beauvale, Beauchief, Bridlington, Bury St Edmunds, Birkenhead, Boxgrove and Byland.
C= Carlisle, Chester, Calder, Cartmel, Conwy, Cardigan, Carmarthen, Cardiff, Clifford, Chepstowe, Cannington, Canonsleigh, Cranbourne, Creake, Canons Ashby, Crowland, Cirencester, Canterbury, Coggeshall, Coventry, Croxton, Clare and Chatteris.
D = Droitwich, Dunster, Dunkerswell, Denny, Dorchester, Dieulacresse, Deeping St James, Dover (x2) Dunstable and Durham.
E = Easby, Egglestone and Evesham.
F = Furness, Forde, Fountains and Faversham,
G= Gisborough, Glastonbury, Gloucester, Garendon, Great Malvern, Great Yarmouth and Godstow
H= Holmecultram, Hornby, Hailes, Haughmond, Hexham, Hurley and Horsham.
I= Ingham and Isleham
J= Jarrow and Jervaulx
K= Kersal, Kirkham, Kirkstall, Kirkstead, Kidwelly and Kennilworth
L= Lancercost, Lytham, Lack, Lenton, Lewes, Lilleshall, Lindisfarne, Leicester and Leominster
M= Malmesbury, Maxstoke, Meaux, Monk Bretton, Monkwearmouth, Mount Grace, Much Wenlock, Milton Abbas, Minster-in-Sheppey and Morville
N= Norton, Netley, Norton, Newark, Nun Monkton and Newstead.
P= Penrith, Pershore, Prittlewell, Plymouth and Peterborough
Q= Quarr (Isle of Wight)
R= Rievaulx, Roche, Ramsey, Romsey, Reading, Repton, Richmond, Rosedale, Royston and Rufford
S= St Bees, St David’s, Seton, Sawley, Selby, Shap, Swine, Sherbourne, Syon House and Shrewsbury
T= Thornhome, Titchfield, Tavistock and Tupholme.
U= Upholland and Usk.
V= Vale Royal, Vale Crucis
W= Warrington, waltham, Watton, Waverley, Whitby, Wymondham, Welbeck, Wetheral, Wigmore and Winchester.
X,Y,Z = York (x2) and Yedingham.
This is clearly not a complete list so if you have any others don’t forget to add them to your tally. If you have more than 50 then you are doing very well indeed!
I shall now have no excuse not to update the History Jar list of abbeys and priories. I started sometime ago but never finished, unlike Thomas Cromwell’s commissioners who did a very speedy job indeed.
Ordinance Survey produced a two volume map (a north and a south sheet) showing monastic houses in 1950. This is not in publication at the moment. There was also a Jackdaw folder produced about the Dissolution of the Monasteries. One of the documents was a map of the monastic houses of England and Wales.
The Abbey Explorer’s Guide by Frank Bottomley contains a comprehensive gazetteer of monastic houses. There is also a book by English Heritage on Abbeys and Priories.
As always you are more than welcome to add relevant quotes via the comments box. This week’s quotes are very loosely about all things monastic.
- “My imagination is a monastery and I am a monk.” The author of this quote was prone to writing odes about urns and autumn days.
- “Living in a monastery, even as a guest rather than a monk, you have more opportunities than you might have elsewhere to see the world as it is, instead of through the shadow that you cast upon it.” The protoganist of this novel is call Odd and it’s writer is an American known for science fiction, horror and fantasy.
- Francis Grose describes this abbey as “undoubtedly light and elegant, it wants that gloomy solemnity so essential to religious ruins.” History and literature remembers the abbey much better from the lines written by a romantic poet better associated with the Lake District. Where is the abbey and who is the poet?
- “Her passion for ancient edifices was next in degree to her passion for Henry Tilney– and castles and abbeys made usually the charm of those reveries which his image did not fill.” Which author penned these words mocking the gothic novel and which fictional abbey is the title of the book where you can find Henry Tilney?
- “Here grandeur triumphs at its topmost pitch In gardens, groves, and all that life beguiles; Here want, too, meets a blessing from the rich, And hospitality for ever smiles: ” The romantic poet who wrote these lines at the beginning of Milton Abbey ended his days in a “mad house.” Who is he?
- Who says “Get thee to a nunnery?”
- “What ? did not regret, he found grave difficulty in remembering to confess.” Which well-known fictional monk located during The Anarchy has difficulty in remembering to confess and who was his prolific creator?
- “They told of dripping stone walls in uninhabited castles and of ivy-clad monastery ruins by moonlight, of locked inner rooms and secret dungeons, dank charnel houses and overgrown graveyards, of footsteps creaking upon staircases and fingers tapping at casements, of howlings and shriekings, groanings and scuttlings and the clanking of chains, of hooded monks and headless horseman” The writer of The Woman In Black.
- “The day has come not only to abolish forever those unnatural laws, but to punish, with all rigour of the law, such as make them; to destroy convents, abbey, priories and monasteries and in this way prevent their ever being uttered.” He nailed his ideas to the cathedral door at Wittenburg.
10. Let me take this other glove off
As the vox humana swells,
And the beauteous fields of Eden
Bask beneath the Abbey bells.
Here, where England’s statesmen lie,
Listen to a lady’s cry.
Gracious Lord, oh bomb the Germans,
Spare their women for Thy Sake,
And if that is not too easy
We will pardon Thy Mistake.
But, gracious Lord, whate’er shall be,
Don’t let anyone bomb me.
What is the title of this poem and who wrote it?
And finally just to keep you thinking – how many novels/series can you identify that feature a monk or nun as its main protagonist?
This week I am sticking with an ecclesiastical theme. In 1529 there were more than 800 monastic houses in England and Wales. By 1547 when Henry VIII died there were none left thanks to Thomas Cromwell’s organised approach to the administrative processes that dissolved them between 1536 and 1540. The first wave of suppressions came in 1536 with the dissolution of smaller monastic houses valued at less than £200 per year. Having said that many, particularly the nunneries, received a stay of execution because there was nowhere else for the inhabitants to go. The Second Act of Suppression followed in 1539 which saw all monastic houses whatever their size or value being closed. By 1540 fifty monastic houses a month were being suppressed and dismantled.
I’m not expecting you to list all of them! Indeed, 200 of the monastic houses were friaries which brings the number down to a more modest 625. Of those, 200 were nunneries.
Firstly can you list 23 of the monastic houses – one for each letter of the alphabet with XYZ counting as one rather than 3?
And secondly how many can you name? I’m not totally sure how many I can think of, so its a bit of a challenge for me as well. You do have a slight head start as my post about cathedrals listed former abbey churches which were turned into cathedrals at the time of the Reformation.
Have you checked out the History Extra website? It’s the home of the BBC History Magazine so contains some interesting articles as well as a podcast and information about historical tv and film. Here’s a link to get you started – it’s about clerical abuses of the kind that Thomas Cromwell’s commissioners were looking for as they set off to compile the Valor Ecclessiasticus.
Garendon Abbey in Leicestershire was founded in 1133 by Robert, Earl of Leicester. It was a daughter house of Waverley, the earliest Cistercian monastery to be established in England. As well as holding land in Leicestershire it extended its grand holdings into Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire – Roystone Grange near Ashbourne was gifted to the monks by Adam de Harthill.
By 1225 the abbot had obtained permission to export wool to Flanders which is typical of the order and a reminder of the great Cistercian houses in Yorkshire. The monks weren’t always the best example of monastic chastity or sobriety – one of the abbots was married and another had a bit of a drink problem. Abbot Reginald was murdered in 1196 according to the Monastic Anlicanum. By the reign of Edward III the abbey had got itself into severe financial difficulties and seems to have been harbouring robbers.
By 1535, the year in which Cromwell sent his commissioners to the monastic houses of England and Wales, Garendon was worth less than £160 p.a. There was also the matter of three monks wishing to escape their vows and two more being deemed guilty of unnatural vices. There were only 14 monks at the time. However, they were also providing a home for old people and children. This didn’t save it from dissolution the following year.
The estate and it’s buildings were granted by Henry VIII to Thomas Manners, the Earl of Rutland. He paid £2,356 5s 10d for his new property. Garendon remained in the hands of the Earls of Rutland until 1632 when it formed part of Lady Katherine Manners dowry. She was the sole surviving heir of the 6th Earl. She ended up married -by trickery- to the Duke of Buckingham. https://thehistoryjar.com/2018/01/20/witchcraft-scandal-and-the-duke-of-buckingham/
Katherine’s son sold Garendon in 1683 to Ambrose Phillipps, a successful London barrister.
I have posted about Garendon before: https://thehistoryjar.com/2016/11/14/garendon-abbey-granges-and-a-spot-of-drunkenness/
Roystone ended up in the hands of Roland Babington. Roland was born in Dethick along with his brother Thomas. Thomas tried to secure land from Beauchief Abbey in Sheffield upon its dissolution. Thomas’s descendent is the more famous Sir Anthony Babington.
In 1176 the Cistercians arrived in Cotton but three years later relocated to nearby Croxden. The land was given by Bertram de Verdun, the lord of nearby Alton. He was concerned not only for his own soul but also for those of his predecessors and also his descendants. Bits of Alton Castle (not open to the public) date to the twelfth century so are also part of Bertram’s building schemes. Croxden is the oldest of Staffordshire’s Cistercian houses. There were twelve monks and their abbot, an English man known as Thomas of Woodstock. They acquired endowments in Staffordshire, Leicestershire and in Hartshorne in Derbyshire amongst other locations from Bertram. The land at Hartshorne was known as Lees and measured as a carucate. A carucate is of Norse origin and it signifies the amount of land that can be ploughed by one plough team of eight oxen in a season. Carucate is my word of the day! The monks also held Riston and Trusley in Derbyshire.
The choice of Croxden fits with the site selection that is almost uniform to Cistercian monasteries:
- by a river – River Churnet. Usually the monks looked for a bend in the river where they had been granted land. This method of siting the monastery meant that on most occasions the land was level and that there was agricultural land nearby as well as the opportunity for fish and the creation of fish ponds.
- in a valley (aren’t most rivers in a valley or on a plain?)
- remote – Staffordshire moorlands.
The Cistercians arrived in England in 1128 in Waverley. Their foundations demonstrate a simplicity of design in harmony with the idea of obedience to their conformity to the Rule of St Benedict. Most Cistercian churches for example have a “square” end of the kind that most medieval parish churches exemplify. However, Croxden doesn’t. It has an apse- not that much remains aside from the footprint and it has been separated from the main body of the church by the road that was driven through the village after the suppression of the monasteries. I don’t think that any Cistercian Church survives in tact – possibly because of their habit of building in the middle of nowhere, thus there benign population in need of a parish church at the time of the dissolution – but I could be wrong.
The other feature of Croxden’s architecture to often appear in commentaries is the abbot’s lodging. The first lodging appears between 1270 and 1290 but the following century Abbot Richard rebuilt a much more splendid dwelling – demonstrating the inevitable shift from poverty and simplicity.
In 1199 they received lands in Ireland from King John – the following year the abbot persuaded him to swap the lands for an annual annuity of £5. In 1205 this was swapped again for land in Shropshire and in 1287 it was swapped for Caldon Grange near Leek.
The thirteenth century saw Croxden at its most prosperous. There may have been as many as forty monks at one time. Revenues came from sheep and charcoal burning. As a result there was extenisve building work as well as other purchases in William of Over purchased a house in London for £20.00. However, the fourteenth century saw significant changes. As well as the Hundred Years War, Edward II and the Scottish levy there was also the fact that the abbey lost their key patrons. The de Verdun family had supported them from the time of their foundation but in 1316 the last male of the family died so the title and estates were inherited by Joan de Verdun and her husband Thomas de Furnivalle. He didn’t appear to understand the role of a patron and instead insisted on stabling his hoses and hounds at the abbey – not to mention the necessity of the abbey feeding seven of his bailiffs every Friday. He also confiscated livestock and a cart. Alton became a no go area resulting in the monks barricading themselves into Croxden for sixteen weeks beginning in March 1319. Eventually matters settled down – in 1334 Joan was buried at Croxden when she died in childbirth. Stone coffins remain in the apse of the ruins.
In 1349 the plague arrived in Croxden. It is recorded in the abbey’s chronicle but not how many of the monks succumbed. Let us not forget famine and sheep moraine to add to the general joy of the fourteenth century.
Aside from the local bigwigs there was also the issue of dodgy royalty and the Scottish wars of independence. In 1310 the Crown required loans for a Scottish expedition and the abbey also had duties with respect to its landholdings. In 1322 for example the abbot was taken to court for refusing to pay his share for the maintenance of foot soldiers. By 1368 the abbey owed £165. Nor did it help that the church roof had been releaded and the abbot’s house rebuilt (nice to know he got his priorities right.) The following year the section of the abbey adjoining the church collapsed. The list of problems facing the abbey continued to be chronicles. There were also floods and storms. By 1381 the abbot was in charge of six monks.
Somewhere along the line – the abbey was able to acquire more land on the Derbyshire/Staffordshire border. Hulton Abbey sold 90 acres of waste ground at Bradnop in the middle of the fourteenth century. They also managed to acquire Sedsall. In 1402 they gained a house in Ashbourne from Henry Blore. All these transactions are recorded in the form of royal licences. Despite these new land acquisitions Croxden struggled to maintain its former wealth and it probably didn’t help that there were a series of law suits.
The visitation of 1535/36 valued them at less than £200 a year so they should have been suppressed with the smaller monasteries but the abbot paid a fine of £100 for a licence to continue. Their income placed them as 67thout of 75 Cistercian houses according to Knowles and Hadcock cited in Klemperer. None the less in August 1538 Archbishop Cranmer wrote to Cromwell asking for a commission to be sent to Croxden, and on 17 September Dr. Thomas Legh and William Cavendish received the surrender of the abbey from the abbot and twelve other monks. One of the reasons that Cranmer was so interested in the fate of Croxden was because the much of the site of Croxden including the watermill was leased to his servant Francis Bassett (who assisted with the destruction of St Anne’s Well in Buxton.) In 1545 the estate was sold to the Foljambe family.
As for the monks, they all received their pensions. One of them became the vicar of Alton and he was still in receipt of his pension during the reign of Queen Mary.
Cromwell was always on the look out for tales of naughty monks but it seems that for much of Croxden’s history aside from the land deals and court cases that the abbots ran a tight ship. Tompkinson records that when in 1274 a lodger called Thomas Hoby was killed in a fight between grooms the entire household of the abbot’s servants were dismissed.
The Victoria County history details its landholdings: the manor and grange of Oaken, Lee Grange in Crakemarsh, and granges at Musden, Caldon, and Trusley; lands and rents in Croxden, Combridge, Great Gate, Ellastone, Alton, ‘Whytley’ in Leek, Onecote, Cotton, Dog Cheadle, Uttoxeter, Denstone, Calton, Caldon, Stafford, Orberton (in St. Mary’s, Stafford), Walton (Staffs.), Ashbourne, Doveridge, Derby, Hartshorne, Thurvaston (in Longford), Langley (Derb.), Burton Overy, Tugby, Mountsorrel (in Barrow-upon-Soar and Rothley, Leics.), Casterton, Stamford, Misterton (? Leics.), London, and ‘Sutton Maney’; the appropriated churches of Croxden, Alton, and Tugby and the tithes of Oaken, Lee, Musden, Caldon, and Trusley Granges; and a ‘wichehouse’ in Middlewich and Hungarwall smithy in Dog Cheadle. The list doesn’t include the mills and fish ponds nor the saltpan in Cheshire by which method the monks added to their self sufficiency.
G C Baugh, W L Cowie, J C Dickinson, Duggan A P, A K B Evans, R H Evans, Una C Hannam, P Heath, D A Johnston, Hilda Johnstone, Ann J Kettle, J L Kirby, R Mansfield and A Saltman, ‘Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Croxden’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3, ed. M W Greenslade and R B Pugh (London, 1970), pp. 226-230. British History Onlinehttp://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol3/pp226-230 [accessed 30 July 2018].
William D. Klemperer Excavations at Hulton Abbey, Staffordshire 1987-1994
Tomlinson, John L. (2000). Monastic Staffordshire. Leek: Churnet Books
Brinkburn is an Augustinian Priory. Usually I’m not terribly keen on buildings that have been restored during the Nineteenth Century. The Victorians were not always terribly sensitive in the changes that they made. However, in this instance the priory church is a truly splendid thing.
Augustinian monasteries, as a rule, were always smaller than their Benedictine and Cistercian counterparts. Exceptions include Carlisle and Hexham. The twelfth century was the apex of the monastery building period in England and Brinkburn fits nicely into the timeframe being founded in the early 1130s, during the reign of Henry I, by William Bertram.
The first prior came from Pentney Priory in Norfolk. In addition to their riverside dwelling which can be accessed down a tree dappled hill the monks also owned approximately 3500 acres nearby. They had other pastureland elsewhere in Northumberland as well as buildings in Newcastle including an inn. Pilgrim Street in Newcastle is supposed to have gained its name from the pilgrims who lodged there. They came to worship at Our Lady’s chapel at Jesmond. There was also a Franciscan Friary where there were supposed to be relics of St Francis. In the copy of a grant of a house to Brinkburn Priory in Northumberland, dated 1292, this street is called Vicus Peregrinorum. In 1564, after the Dissolution of the monasteries the inn, or one of the inns on the street, was mentioned for coining false money. In any event whilst the canons at Brinkburn may have not had the huge amount of acres of their Cistercian counterparts they knew how to turn a profit as in addition to the inn they also owned a shop in Corbridge. More traditionally they gained income from bequested advowsons, that is to say the right to appoint the priest, at Felton and Longhorsely.
So far, so straight forward. Unfortunately Brinkburn is north of Newcastle and it became apparent during the reign of Edward II that living anywhere near the Scottish border wasn’t necessarily a very good idea. In 1315 Robert Bruce destroyed Brinkburn and its thirteen canons had to flee their home and beg for their bread.
The story goes that on one occasion the Scots raided as far south as Brinkburn but the priory was spared because of a thick fog. The raiders passed them by. The canons being a grateful sort of bunch rang the bells to give thanks to God and in so doing directed the Scots to priory. The canons having realised that ringing the bell wasn’t necessarily the smartest move they could have made had fled to the other side of the River Coquet. The story continues to say that as the Scots burned the priory the bell which had summoned them ended up in the river – I’m not sure if this was as the result of the fire or some enterprising Scottish person trying to remove them for their scrap value. In yet another version of the story it was the monks who hid the bell in the river – presumably not wanting one of their number to ring it anymore. And finally, the poor monks were so strapped for cash that they sold the bells to the Bishop of Durham but when they moved the bells up the hill one of them ended up in the river. Take your pick!
The canons must have been delighted by the news that the Scots had been defeated at the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346. Unfortunately three years later the Black death arrived and killed half of Northumberland. Things really seem to have gone from bad to worse for the canons. During the early years of the Fifteenth century they suffered from reiver cattle raids and in 1484 the Scots turned up again and having stripped the place burned it to the ground. Then there was the murder. In 1521 Richard Lighton, one of the Canons, was killed by Humphrey Lisle in a property dispute.
When Cromwell’s visitors arrived the priory was valued at only £69 so it was suppressed in 1536. There were only six canons left at that time. After the dissolution Brinkburn changed hands several times. On two occasions, Brinkburn’s owners lost their heads. For a fair portion of the time the property was in the hands of the Fenwick family. Eventually it passed into the hands of Richard Hodgson. His son did some demolition work on the old manor house which contains the west range of the monastery. The manor house he rebuilt was designed to be a picturesque building so much of the monastic masonry remains in situ.
The style of the church, for those folk who like to know these things, is somewhere between Norman and Gothic – the correct term is transitional.
Eneas Mackenzie, ‘The present state of Newcastle: Streets within the walls’, in Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827), pp. 160-182. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/newcastle-historical-account/pp160-182 [accessed 6 July 2018].
English Heritage (2003) Brinkburn Priory
Roche Abbey near Maltby was founded in 1147 by Richard de Bully of Tickhill and Richard Fitz Turgis. The valley where the monastery stands is narrow and split by the fast flowing Maltby Dyke- rather thoughtfully the patrons did not specify which side of the dyke the abbey would be built on which is why there are two funders because the valley was owned by both men with the dyke as the boundary of their lands.
Initially monks from Newminster in Northumbria settled the site on behalf of the so-called white monks, the Cistercians, who sought remote locations so that they could better adhere to the rule of St Benedict. Newminster was itself the daughter house of Fountains Abbey. Initially there would have been twelve monks and an abbot as well as a larger group of lay brothers. The numbers have a direct correlation to the number of apostles. The monastic population at Roche peaked in 1175 (ish) with fifty or so monks and twice as many lay brothers. Unfortunately the economic wellbeing of the monks dwindled the following century when their sheep flocks became contaminated with a murrain and this was followed up at the turn of the fourteenth century with the Black Death which carried off the monks and the lay brothers. In between times they had to contend with Scottish raiders during the reign of Edward II. By 1350 the monks had returned to virtually the same as they had been at their founding with only fifteen brothers. In 1380 we know that the abbot of Roche – a certain Hugh Bastard – was taxed 45 shillings by Pope Nicholas.
It would have to be said that the early monks must have felt they had chosen their spot well when one of them found a cross carved into the rocks near their new home – hence the name de rupa. The cross remained a source of holy inspiration and pilgrimage until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536. Cromwell’s visitors to Roche noted the self-same cross under their list of superstitions.
Over time various other patrons bequeathed land or entitlement to the monks. John de Warenne, the Earl of Surrey – and holder of nearby Conisbrough Castle gave the monks the advowson of Hatfield church meaning that they had the right to appoint the incumbent and levy the appropriate ecclesiastical taxes in that location. Unusually for most monastic foundations Hatfield Church was Roche’s only ecclesiastical living.
However Roche did acquire other lands and gifts. Armethorp is described as “A knight’s fee held by the abbot of Roche (de Rupa)” in Inquistions Post Mortem of Edward III. They also held land at Hallaby in the West Riding, territory in Nottinghamshire and Linconshire, Rossington in East Sussex, Derbyshire, Lincoln and York. In Derbyshire the monks held granges at Oneash and Moneyash. Monks who had committed sins in Roche were sometimes sent to Derbyshire as part of their punishment. For a complete list of Roche’s lands and granges click here https://www.dhi.ac.uk/cistercians/roche/lands/appendix.php
Realistically not much more is known about Roche, possibly because Cromwell\s commissioners sold manuscripts and parchment by the cartload for kindling, until the Dissolution.
Cromwell’s visitors were the dreaded Thomas Layton and Legh. In addition to noting the cross carved in the rock they charged five monks with the usual kind of immoralities and carted another off to York Castle on charges of treason. He must have been allowed to return from York after the Pilgrimage of Grace because his signature is on the deed of surrender along with the rest of his bretheren. It was signed in the chapter-house on 23 June 1538. (fn. 9)
Come to think of it the sinning can’t have been that terrible because all the monks were in receipt of their pensions. The abbot was given £33 6s. 8d. a year. He wasl also allowed his books, the fourth part of the plate, the cattle and household stuff, a chalice and vestment and £30 in money at his departure. He may well have regretted having to say farewell to his house, his own personal cloister and his kitchen.
The sub-prior (Thomas Twell) received £6 14s. 8d. and the bursar (John Dodesworth), one of the monks charged with gross misconduct in the notoriouscomperta, £6. Eleven other monks who were priests received £5 each; and four novices 66s. 8d. each.
Michael Sherbrook, rector of nearby Wickersley recorded the suppression of Roche recalling the words of his father and uncle, “as the Visitors were entred within the gates, they called the Abbot and other officers of the House, and caused them to deliver up to them all their keys and took an inventory of all their goods both within doors and without; for all such beasts, horses, sheep, and such cattle as were abroad in pastures or grange places, the Visitors caused to be brought into their presence: and when they had done so, turned the Abbot with all his convent and household forth out of doors.”
He continues to describe the destruction of centuries of craftsmanship – the Roche Limestone being a prized form of masonry in many ecclesiastical buildings. “It would have pitied any heart to see what tearing up of lead there was, and plucking up of boards, and throwing down of the sparres: when the lead was torn off and cast down into the Church, and the tombs in the Church all broken… and all things of price either spoiled, caryed away, or defaced to the uttermost.”
Sherbrook notes that his father was sympathetic to the plight of the monks but like many other men still took part in the destruction. His response was an honest one. “Well, said I, then how came it to pass that you was so ready to destroy and spoil the, thing that you thought well of? What should I do? said he. Might I not as well as others have some profit of the spoil of the Abbey? for I did see all would away; and therefore I did as others did.”
Another source for Roche’s state in 1536 comes from the inventory taken by the commissioners. It included everything from crucifixes to carthorses.
By 1627 the land upon which Roche stood had passed into the hands of the ancestor of the Earls of Scarborough. By the eighteenth century the picturesque and ruined site was described by Horace Walpole as a “venerable chasm,” the fourth earl was so suitably impressed with this gem of information that he hired Capability Brown to make the place even more picturesque – this involved some further levelling of the stonework on the grounds that not all ruins are picturesque. Scarborough then built the so-called Banqueting Lodge so that he and his guests could admire the view whilst partaking of a fine dining experience and discussing suitably intellectual matters having been driven a mile and a half from the earl’s residence.
The remains of Roche, despite the remedial work of Lancelot Brown, adhere to the standard Cistercian plan beginning with the gatehouse to the west of the site.It was designed to impress visitors as they made their way down the valley to the abbey. The quarries from which the Roche Limestone come make for a rather splendid backdrop. The area between the gatehouse and the church has been levelled so that the earl of Scarborough and his guests could enjoy the view but this is the area that visitors would have been made welcome. Hospitality was an essential part of the monastic ethos. Visitors would have been able to access the church which dated from the abbey’s foundation but which was remodelled and extended during the wealthiest times of the abbey’s existence. Today the nave is an open vista punctuated by masonry stumps. There is no sign of the night stairs that would have allowed the monks to access the church from their dormitory other than a handily placed sign.
The grandest part of the ruins are the remnants of the three storey transepts. Each of the transepts contains two chapels of which rib vaulting and ruined piscinas remain as do the altar platforms. The presbytery between the precepts has been largely robbed away. As Lawrence explains the plans of Cistercian abbeys are standard and would have been inspected to ensure that there was no deviation. The buildings to the south side of the abbey church contained the library and the cloister. Buildings to the west of the cloister were for the lay brothers whilst on the other side of the cloister the library, chapter house and parlour could be found – the “engine” end of the abbey. The southern side of the cloister housed the choir monks. Like the lay brothers their refectory was on the ground floor with the dormitory running above it. Next to the refectory was a warming room with a hearth for the elderly and infirm to warm themselves. The latrines, hanging over the dyke, provided a ready made flush – quite what the abbot would have made of that is another matter as his own dwelling lay directly opposite the latrines on the other side of the dyke. He had his own house, cloister and hall in which to entertain important guests. There was also a second kitchen and bakehouse situated nearby.
Lawrence, C.H. (2000) Medieval Monasticism: Forms of Religious Life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages.
‘Houses of Cistercian monks: Roche’, in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, ed. William Page (London, 1974), pp. 153-156. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/vol3/pp153-156 [accessed 22 June 2018].
J E E S Sharp and A E Stamp, ‘Inquisitions Post Mortem, Edward III, File 5’, in Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem: Volume 7, Edward III (London, 1909), pp. 41-56. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/inquis-post-mortem/vol7/pp41-56 [accessed 22 June 2018].
I often refer to Bolton Priory, standing on the edge of the River Wharfe, as Bolton Abbey – it’s a fairly common mistake but the fact is that Bolton was home to a priory of Augustinian Canons. They had originally set up home at Embsay having travelled to Yorkshire from Huntingdon in 1120. The Augustinians were not only monks they were all also ordained priests.
It had a varied history which the History Jar has skirted in other posts. In 1154 Lady Alice de Romille, the owner of nearby Skipton Castle, gave the land where the priory now stands to the Augustinian order. The story goes that Lady Alice’s son Egremond had drowned in the the Strid, where the Wharfe narrows it heads downstream. The land near where Egremond drowned was given to the monks – Wordsworth waxed lyrical on the subject. A cynic might think that the real reason for the support of the Augustinians was that Henry I was keen to promote them and his aristocracy were keen to get in their monarch’s good books.
There was a Bishop’s Visitation in 1267 when Archbishop Gifford came to check the monastic accounts and to ensure that the inhabitants were following the Rule of St Benedict. The Victoria County History reveals that everything was not running smoothly Brother Hugh de Ebor’ rather than living in poverty and money which he had handed to a member of his family in York for safekeeping. There were also charges of incontinence. Generally speaking the visitation did not go well. the cellarer was not fit for office, the monks talked too much, a novice called John de Ottele wasn’t keen on some of the rules and had no desire to enter the monastic life and the sick weren’t looked after. Gifford was the broom that undertook a clean sweep, appointed a new prior and told the malefactors to buck up their ideas.
Unfortunately a later visitation, made in 1280, reveals that monks were buying clothes and shoes that failed to meet the monastic ideal. A number of them had private property. The monks also seem to have continued with unnecessary chatter. The Bishop told them to stop gossiping and start paying more attention to divine service.
The Augustinians got on with running their priory until the fourteenth century at which point the Anglo-Scottish Wars went rather badly for the English when Edward II took over from his father and demonstrated a singular lack of skill at the Battle of Bannockburn. Scottish raiders did some serious damage to the buildings. An existent priory account roll details the cost of repairing the vandalism. The site was temporarily abandoned in 1320 after a skirmish at Myton-on-Swale called the “White Battle”the previous year when some 12,000 Scots led by the Earl of Moray arrived on the scene.
The Black Death did not help matters. The hay day of Bolton Priory was over but this did not prevent the Augustinians from returning to their monastery and beginning building work.
Building work was still going on at the Dissolution funded from the extensive sheep farms that the monastery owned. The accounts also reveal that the monks owned a lead mine. A new tower was begun in 1520 which was not yet finished. The land was initially acquired by the Clifford family as their ancestors were interred there but it then passed into the hands of the Cavendishes – where it remains to this day.
Ultimately a wall was built across the east end of the nave in the monastery church so that it could function as a parish church.
The image from the start of the post was painted by Turner in 1825. It is in possession of the Tate.
Butler, Lionel & Given-Wilson, Chris. (1979) Medieval Monasteries of Great Britain. London: Michael Jospeh
‘Houses of Austin canons: Priory of Bolton’, in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, ed. William Page (London, 1974), pp. 195-199. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/vol3/pp195-199 [accessed 9 June 2018].