In Benedictine abbeys abbots were responsible for the running of an abbey and its material wellbeing as well as the spiritual health of the monks in their charge. They were lords of the manor, so important on a local political and social level as well as often being prominent figures in secular government. They were also patrons of art and architecture.

Abbots were selected from within the abbey. The result had to be confirmed by an ecclesiastical superior and, under the terms of many charters, by the patron. During the reign of William Rufus this was problem as he kept a number of posts vacant in order to draw the income from the land, based on the principle that when the land was vacant of its tenant ( a role fulfilled by the post of abbot) that the Crown, which was the owner, took the profit. And clearly elections were not always as straight forward as the basic description suggests. There were all sorts of internal and external political shenanigans that didn’t necessarily have a great deal to do with piety.

Originally the abbot filled the role of father figure but as time passed many abbots were taken to task for not eating in the refectory with the rest of the monks or living away from the cloister. As well as not having oversight of the monastic foundation which they were supposed to be running they were also effectively invisible in terms of the example they were supposed to be setting. And if they were present the example was not necessarily positive – one of the abbots of Selby was taken to task for being drunk most of the time and for womanising.

As the medieval period progressed abbots were celebrated not for their piety but for their administrative capacities and control of the finances. This in its turn led to some interesting, not to mention creative, accounting in terms of pasturing their sheep on common land or pocketing the proceeds for themselves rather than the chapter.

Heale, Martin. (2016) The Abbots and Priors of Late Medieval and Reformation England Oxford: Oxford University Press

Monastic hospitality

The Abbot’s Lodge, Kirkstall Abbey

All who arrive as guests are to be welcomed like Christ, for he is going to say, ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me. (Rule of Saint Benedict 53:1)

Monastic hospitality was of key importance during the medieval period for travellers, pilgrims and rulers. For the monastery it was an opportunity to fulfil its spiritual obligations, find out what was going on in the outside world and also to gain patronage. Reputation for hospitality was an important thing – abbots wished to be seen as generous to their guests.

Houses in York and London could find themselves swamped with guests – the Cluniac priory at Bermondsey being an excellent example of how its location just off the London-Dover road did it’s finances no good at all because it was such a popular stopping off place. In Reading the number of guests resulted in the abbey finding itself in debt. The result of this being that rich guests continued to be welcome but the poorer ones were turned away. Eventually a new hospice was built for poorer travellers outside the abbey gates.

It was also possible for guests to outstay their welcome. It was expected that visitors at larger houses would leave on the third day unless they were ill or travel was made difficult by bad weather. Visiting monks would be permitted to stay longer and of course it’s hard to tell a monarch or a bishop to go away.

The abbot would be expected to dine with guests and on those occasions he didn’t have to stick to the monastic diet – which didn’t help monastic reputation for clerical abuses. By the end of the twelfth century most abbots had their own lodgings and ate separately from the rest of the brethren. I have posted about the abbot’s lodge on a previous occasion:

It was the responsibility of the guest master and the cellarer to accommodate and supply the guests. They would be housed according to their rank. Those with fourteen or more horses in their retinue would find themselves in the abbot’s house whilst those on foot would be provided with a space in the communal hall. Guests were provided with candles and given tours of the monastery where appropriate. There were restrictions of females entering monastic cloisters and on monks interacting with female guests. There were rules about when male visitors could enter different parts of the monastery as well so that the monastic day was not interrupted.

At Kirkstall near Leeds (A Cistercian foundation) there was a separate guesthouse and kitchens and even piped water, elsewhere the guest chambers were within the abbey precincts. Guest quarters would also have fires in them, unlike the monastery itself where a warming room was provided for use by elderly and infirm monks at given times of the year.

Burton, Janet. (1994) Monastic and Religious Orders in Britain 1000 – 1300, Cambridge, 1994

Kerr, Julie. Monastic Hospitality: The Benedictines in EnglandC.1070-c.1250 (Studies in the History of Medieval Religion)

Newstead Abbey

Newstead Abbey

First things first – it should actually be Newstead Priory rather than Newstead Abbey given that it was the home to Austin Canons or Augustine Canons. They are also described as Black Canons because of their robes. All Austin Canons were priests as well as monks. They were not an enclosed order they believed that they should serve within the wider community.

The priory of St. Mary of Newstead in Sherwood was founded by Henry II in about 1170. The charter granted the manor of Papplewick, it’s church and mill to the new priory as well as meadowland at Bestwood and 100s. of rent in Shapwick and Walkeringham.

The charter was confirmed by King John and added to by other Plantagenet monarchs including Henry III, Edward I, Edward II and Edward III. Queen Joan of Scotland left many of her goods to the priory.

Despite this the priory faced a variety of financial difficulties across the decades. So it wa probably just as well that the Austin Canons who had a reputation or being good hosts entertained Edward I when he was hunting in Sherwood Forest and also Edward II. The royal hunting lodge at Clipstone isn’t that far away but the relationship between the Plantagenets and the priory protected the canons from the problems of financial constraint.

The Plantagenet desire to ensure that the canons of Newstead Priory could meet their financial obligations meant that they gained more church livings, mortmain lands, tenements, and rents. They were also excused many of the fees that were liable to the Crown due to the priory’s status as Lord of the Manor.

Richard II continued the Plantagenet patronage of the Austin Canons at Newstead by granting them an annual allowance of a tun of wine in the port of Hull in aid of the maintenance of divine service.

Both Henry VI and Edward IV continued the tradition of granting lands to the priory. The rent that Henry VI charged for eight acres within Sherwood Forest was one midsummer rose to be delivered to the exchequer.

There were various visitations across the centuries. Archbishop Ludham of York visited personal in 1259 and whilst he approved the rule of the prior he added a note that the canons shouldn’t drink after compline and they shouldn’t wander around the cloister. In 1280 Archbishop Wickwane required the prior to be more earnest about divine service, canons shouldn’t keep private property and they were still drinking after compline. Later a visitation said that the canons should maintain silence and that when anyone took a new set of clothes they had to return the old ones to the common store.

By 1535 and the Valor Ecclesiasticus that gave a value to the wealth of the monasteries, Newstead was worth £167 16s 11 1/2d of which 20s was given on a Maundy Thursday to the poor in commemoration of Henry II who founded the priory. It was clearly worth less than £200, making it a lesser monastery. The act for their suppression was passed in 1536.

The canons managed to avoid this by paying a fine of £233 6s 8d but on the 21st July 1539 they succumbed to the inevitable. Cromwell’s commissioner – London- took the surrender. The prior received £26 pension, the sub prior £6 and the ten canons who also signed the surrender document received a pension ranging between £3 and £5.

In 1540 the property passed into the possession of the Byron family – as in mad, bad and dangerous to know.

In later years, the eighteenth century, whilst the monk’s fish pond was dredged a medieval lectern was discovered. It appears to have been thrown there by the canons hoping to save it from Henry VIII’s commissioners. It can now be seen in Southwell Minster.

In 1817 the property was sold to Colonel Thomas Wildman and from him into the Webb family. It was finally bequeathed together with its gardens to the City of Nottingham in 1931.

‘Houses of Austin canons: The priory of Newstead’, in A History of the County of Nottingham: Volume 2, ed. William Page (London, 1910), pp. 112-117. British History Online [accessed 27 December 2020].

East Lenham – another monastic manor

In my last post I talked about the manor of Lenham which belonged to St Augustine’s Abbey. Today I shall discuss East Lenham. Queen Ediva, the second or even third wife of King Edward (son of King Alfred) lived in the tenth century. She was a patron of the priory of Christ Church in Canterbury. A picture belonging to Christchurch bears the legend:

To Christs church of Canterbury did give indeed, Mooketon and Thorndenne the monks there to feed, Mepham, Cleeve, Cowling, Osterland,
East farleugh and Lenham as we beleeve

The year Domio MLXI of Christy incarnation.

She effectively chopped out part of the manor of Lenham – to the tune of five plough lands and gave it to the priory creating East Lenham in the process. Importantly she gave it to the monks free from secular service aside from the repair of bridges on the land and the repair of any fortifications.

In 1066 William the Conqueror (and I know that the people of Kent are very proud of their county motto invicta meaning unconquered) declared all the land was his. He retained 1/5 for his own use and gave a 1/4 to the church. The Archbishop of Canterbury became his tenant-in-chief. So just as the manor of Lenham was returned to St Augustine’s the manor of East Lenham was returned to Christchurch. Archbishop Lanfranc is identified as William’s tenant in chief – which is fine so long as the archbishop and the monarch were getting along without any problems. Unfortunately the Normans and the Plantagenets weren’t always known for their smooth working relationships with the Church.

Meanwhile East Lenham was a world in itself. It was an economic and political unit – not the same as a parish. It had to be self sufficient and to administer the law – in this case a mixture of Church law and common law. In the medieval period you had to know where you were as to which laws applied to you. There were also issues of who held the right to a fair, woodlands and mills. The use of the mill, the bakery or even a cider press was subject to the customary laws of the manor as were the rights to hunt, forage or to graze your animals. All of this would be recorded by the manor court.

In East Lenham the hierarchy shifted early on to add a secular lord to the dimension. In 1066 the archbishop was the tenant but by 1087 and Domesday Godifred, or as we would call him Godfrey, Dapifer who had previously been the archbishop’s steward was now holding East Lenham as a sub tenant to the value of a knight’s fee. So in time of conflict Godfrey had to present himself in return for his manor at East Lenham demonstrating that Ediva’s generous terms weren’t returned exactly the same way. Further investigation reveals that the archbishop’s knight held lands in Sheppey as well.

East Lenham was taxed at the rate of two shillings, it was composed of two carucates of demesne land – so the lord’s own land worked by villeins of whom there were 15 and 2 borderers or cottagers who held an additional four carucates between them. So think three field strip system. There were also six acres of meadow, a mill and a wood that would provide pannage for ten hogs. The villeins had 4 plough teams whilst the lord had a further 2 teams. Interestingly the two teams are described as belonging to the priory suggesting that perhaps the change of landlord was a recent transition – but that is only speculation and could have course been a secondary source assumption.

Essentially although there are secular tenants in the role of lord of the manor throughout the medieval period- the family of Godfrey Dapifer was superseded by the Hornes for example- the land remains Church land. Feudal incidents become more important with the passage of time. Rather than military service knights paid scutage or shield tax.

The social hierarchy shifted with the Black Death that reduced the number of available labourers, the Peasants revolted destroying, in many cases, the manor court records which recorded who was free and who was not.

Then along came Henry VIII with his marital difficulties. The priory of Christ Church was dissolved along with all the other monastic foundations but Cromwell recognised that the dioceses and the archbishops needed to be maintained so rather than the land being sold off or becoming Crown estate an act of parliament passed East Lenham back to the church. The archbishop duly let the manor for a term of 21 years at the annual rate of £55. East Lenham moved from the feudal system to the more modern lease hold.

By 1557 when the Wotton Survey was undertaken East Lenham had changed a little. Thomas Wotton held land on twenty manors including Robyns Tenement in East Lenham and Goldhurdfield.

Over time the field system shows piecemeal enclosure of some of the common land – those 6 acres of meadow mentioned in the Domesday Book.

By 1643 Sir Robert Honywood of Charing held the lease and from there it passed into the hands of Philip, Earl of Chesterfield. After his death the lease was sold to George Gipps who sub-let the manor to the Knatchbull family taking us to the eighteenth century with the Church still being the landlord. The Kent History Centre holds a bundle of Knatchbull papers pertaining to the Manor of East Lenham.

And before you ask does the Church of England still own land at East Lenham? The honest answer is I don’t know unless I applied to the land registry for information. Currently the Church owns 0.5% of England – which isn’t bad going. At the Reformation it received back from Henry VIII some two million or so acres – and that is the number based on Victorian glebe land calculations. By 1976 this number had dropped to 111,628 acres. In 2004 Shrubsole estimated that there was about 70,000 acres of land left but a 2019 figure was higher – because land is rather valuable these days if it’s in a prime location to be built upon. And it should be noted that the Church Commissioners aren’t required to publish a map of their landholdings.

Edward Hasted, ‘Parishes: Lenham’, in The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 5 (Canterbury, 1798), pp. 415-445. British History Online [accessed 30 November 2020].

Guy Shrubsole Who Owns England? 

Lenham a Medieval monastic Manor

St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury

In AD 804 Cenulf, or Coenwulf, of Mercia together with Cudred of Kent gave the abbey of St Augustine’s in Canterbury the manor of Lenham in Kent. There’s a bit of a back story in that Cenulf as the overhang had a bit of a problem painting overall sovereignty of Mercia in Kent and at one point had tried to move the chief English see from Canterbury to London. He gave up on the idea in 798 when he installed Curdred as King of Kent. Cudred was his brother.

The two of them gave 20 plough lands, 12 denns (wood) of acorns and 40 tenements to St Augustines. Or put another way they became patrons of the abbey. A further 5 plough lands were added at a later date when the monks extended the manor of Lenham.

The Domesday book reports:

In Haibornehundred, the abbot (of St. Augustine) himself holds Lenham, which was taxed at five shillings and an half. The arable land is eighteen carucates. In demesne there are two carucates, and forty villeins, with seven borderers, having sixteen carucates. There is one servant, and two mills of six shillings and eight pence, and eight acres of meadow, and wood for forty bogs.

In the time of king Edward the Confessor, it was worth twenty-eight pounds, and afterwards sixteen pounds, now twenty-eight pounds. Of this manor Robert Latin holds one yoke, which is worth five shillings.

To make clear the process by which the monks of St Augustine’s held on to the manor William the Conqueror (but not in Kent because they came to terms) held all the land but he returned the land which the monks of St Augustine’s had previously held but now they received the land in return to service to him- which to be clear meant that for every knight’s fee of land they held they were required to put one knight in the field if William so required.

The monks of St Augustine’s continued to to benefit from Plantagenet patronage throughout the medieval period.

Once the abbey was dissolved, the land effectively went into the administration of the Court of Augmentations. In this case, Lenham became Crown estate until Elizabeth I gave it to her very capable chief minister William Cecil who alienated it to Thomas Wilford.

William Cecil (National Portrait Gallery)

Alienation means that the land was sold or transferred. Most land in alienable but it demonstrates that the ownership of the land has moved out from the feudal system. In a feudal system land is transferred by sub-infeudination i.e. the monarch would still be the tenant in chief and William Cecil would have been Elizabeth’s vassal. Thomas Wilford would have been a sub tenant and a vassal of William Cecil. This was not the case.

Wilford’s grandson passed the land to Sir Thomas Brown, Lord Montagu whose wife was a FitzAlan. We can see that once the land passed out of Crown ownership that the manor of Lenham transferred through inheritance, marriage or sale. The Montagu family alienated the manor to the Hamilton family – specifically the widow of Sir George Hamilton. Elizabeth Hamilton’s maiden name was Colepepper or Culpepper. I am currently not going to chase down the links with the Thomas Culpepper who was executed in 1541. Suffice it to say that the Culpeppers were an important part of Kent’s gentry.

Edward Hasted, ‘Parishes: Lenham’, in The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 5 (Canterbury, 1798), pp. 415-445. British History Online [accessed 29 November 2020].

words, words, words – monastic words

It’s been a few weeks so hopefully you’ll have a nice long list of monastic terms. This isn’t exhaustive and I may add to it over time but how did you do?

abbey – larger monastic house indicating independence. The head the house was an abbot (male) or an abbess (female). Abbot comes from the Latin word abba meaning father. In the Benedictine order the abbot’s rule over his house is absolute.

advowson – the right to appoint to an ecclesiastical job i.e. the vicar.

alien priories – monastic houses which were subsidiary or dependent i.e a daughter house of a continental monastery. This houses were gradually suppressed particularly during the reign of Edward III.

almoner – monk or nun responsible for charitable giving. In larger houses there may have been a specific building that people could come to for alms and food called an almonry. In some foundations you might also find an almshouse where the poor and elderly could find shelter.

anchorites, anchoresses and hermits – monks and nuns who withdrew from the world to live alone. They lived in very enclosed accommodation away from the rest of the world. Some of them were sealed into their homes.

Austin Canons -the so-called “black canons- because of their destinctive habits.

The rule of St Benedict All monks and nuns, no matter what their order, follow the rule of St Benedict, which governs their day and their devotions.

Benedictines an order of monks and nuns .

Benefactors patrons contributing to the building and extension of monastic foundations usually in return for prayers and as a method of shortening a stay in purgatory.

Boarders wealthy patrons had a tendency to send their old servants or extended family members to live in monastic houses. These people would not take holy orders, they were living in the monastic house as a retirement home.

Brewhouse – all ale was home-brewed.

Brigettines – often double communities – i.e. monks on one side and nuns on the other- there was only one house in England, of nuns only, at Syon they had a reputation for learning and zealousness.

Bursar- official role looking after the money.

Canonical hours – The seven specific services of the day – Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline, Mattins and Lauds.

Carrells – study cubicles often found in the cloister.

Carthusian – monastic order Their monastic foundations are often referred to as charterhouses.

Cell – this could either be the individual living space of a monk such as the Carthusian cells that can be seen at Mount Grace or it can also describe a very small house of four or fewer monastics which is entirely dependent on it’s mother house. A cell of this kind may be placed to grow a daughter house or to keep oversight of a property or as a location for punishment.

Cellarer – Second in charge, responsible for food and drink and fuel. The domain of the cellarer was the cellar or cellarium which simply means storehouse. In most monasteries this is a very large space, sometimes vaulted, in the west wing of a monastic foundation. It would be on this side of the abbey that you would find all the administration for running the abbey.

Chantry – A chapel or altar given by a donor in expectation that the monks and nuns would say masses for the donor’s soul after his or her death.

Chapter – the morning briefing that took place every day in monastic houses where the work of the day would be allocated, punishments given, notices read and the rules of St Benedict read – one each day. This all took place in the chapter house.

Cisterican – monastic order, the so-called “white monks”

Cloister – the enclosed area with a walk all the way round its perimeter at the heart of a monastic house.

Cluniac – monastic order. In total there were 32 cluniac houses in England. They were alien priories because they were all daughter houses to the mother house at Cluny.

Compline The last of the canonical hours laid out by the Rule of Benedict. The canonical hours are also referred to as Divine Office.

Conduit Water supply, either a spring (as at Mount Grace) or a large raised tank in the conduit house.

Corrodian – lay person who paid the monastic house a sum of capital in order to live in the monastic house, all inclusive, until their death.

Cowl – A long cloak with an attached hood.

Crypt – chamber below floor level – in a church contains graves or holy relics.

Daughter house – As monastic houses received endowments they wanted to expand the number of houses so they would send a group of monks or nuns to another part of the country to develop a house. The original house was the mother house, the dependent house the daughter house and over the passage of time there were even grand daughter houses.

Day room – place where monks and nuns went during their times of recreation.

Day Stair – the way that the monastic inhabitants got from their dormitories to the cloister. Lay brothers and sisters had their own wings that mirrored those of the monks and nuns.

Dorter or dormitory – sleeping quarters

Double orders – foundations which included both men and women in their monastic houses. The only time the two groups came together was during worship.

Drying Room – most associated with Cistercians who provided a room for the lay brothers to dry out after a day working.

Foundation – 12 monastics plus their superior were required to found a monastic house. They would also require the funds to survive and to build a monastic house. This was provided by the founder.

Frater or refectory – dining room.

Friars – rather than living in enclosed houses this group of religious orders travelled around the country begging and preaching.

Grange– a manor or farm that sent all its proceeds to the monastic house that owned it and whose organisation was dependent on the monastic house for instructions as to what to do.

Guest-house hospitality was an underpinning requirement of the Rule of Benedict.

Habit – religious attire

Hours – canonical hours

Infirmarer -responsible for the preparation of medicines and tonics as well as the care of patients in the infirmary. Infirmaries are also called farmeries.

Lady Chapel – chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary

Lay brother and lay sister – monastic servants who said some divine offices but who had permission to say the rest of the offices where they worked. Their accommodation mirrored that of the “choir” monks and nuns but in a separate wing – usually the western range associated with the practical administration of the monastic house. Lay brothers are also sometimes described as conversi.

Laver/lavabo – washing trough

Library– does what it says on the tin.

Mendicant – monastics who beg for their livings.

Military orders

Misericord – perch to rest upon during long religious services. Found in the choir stalls. The choir or quire is the part of the church between the nave and presbytery where the monks and nuns would have their services.

Night Stair – access from the dorter to the church for night offices – mattins and lauds – these two services are sometimes called the Nocturns. Hexham has a very fine example.

Novice Master– monastic responsible for the care, tuition and discipline of novices who had not yet taken their final vows. Novices served a probationary period before taking their vows.

Oblate – child given by its parents to religious life.

Officers – also called Obedientiaries– monastics who held offices for the running of the monastery; either its spiritual life or its working life e.g. cellarer.

Parlour – room where monks and nuns could meet and speak.

Pittance – a food treat given in addition to standard monastic rations usually to celebrate a liturgical feast day.

Porter – door keeper.

Precinct – area around the abbey belonging to the abbey. Usually enclosed by a wall.

Prior – second in command to the abbot in Benedictine houses; where the monastic foundation was a daughter house the prior was the person responsible for the house reporting back to the abbot in the mother house. Some orders did not have abbots, so the prior was the superior.

Priory – smaller than an abbey usually a daughter house. All Austin Canons lived in priories, so it also depends on the order who lived there!

Sacristry – room for storing sacred vessels cared for by the sacrist.

Warming-house – room with a fire where monastics could warm themselves.

A 1614 map of Earl Sterndale

1614 map of Earl Sterndale

Earl Sterndale is part of the parish of Hartington Middle Quarter in the Derbyshire Dales.  It was created as an ecclesiastical parish from a chapelry in 1763.  It’s church, St Michael’s and All Angels, has the distinction of being blown up by the Luftwaffe with a stray bomb in 1941.

I’m posting about Earl Sterndale today because I came across this 1614 map in a file of documents – it’s a random find and to be honest it has no reference on so I don’t even know which book it was taken from by whoever copied it. It’s a reminder though that whilst I tend to teach history in a neat linear pattern that history itself is much more untidy. The fields shown are a mixture of open strip farming and enclosed land. Enclosure was something that began more or less in the thirteenth century and escalated until at the end of the eighteenth century farming practises and land ownership wrought wholesale enclosure.

Records indicate that the farms around Earl Sterndale were largely monastic granges belonging to Basingwerk Abbey, Flintshire, Wales.  The abbey was a Cistercian foundation and it’s lands including the granges near Earl Sterndale were sold following the Dissolution of the Monasteries.   Basingwerk was a lesser monastery with an income of less that £200 per year.  It is perhaps not surprising that Basingwerk Abbey held property and the rights to churches in other parts of Derbyshire including Glossop.   But it’s not completely a monastic story – again history tends to be taught or written about in neat units but the distribution, in this case literally on the land, tells of different administration systems abutting one another and in some cases overlapping.

Within the medieval Manor of Hartington, of which Earl Sterndale was part land belonged in part to the Duchy of Lancaster – the land in Earl Sterndale once having been in the holding of the de Ferrers’ Earls of Derby until the 6th earl fell foul of Henry III and the land was given to Henry III’s second son – Edmund Crouchback, Earl of Lancaster. edmund’s great grand daughter Blanche (the daughter of Henry Grosmont the 1st Duke of Lancaster) married John of Gaunt – for those of you who like to make links.

Meanwhile the manor of Hartington of which Earl Sterndale was part worked on the three field open system where strips of land were allocated to various tenants (villeins).  Rent was paid along with labour for the lord.  In addition to which part of the manor functioned as demesne land which was farmed on behalf of the Duchy of Lancaster itself rather than the income all coming from tenants.  By the fourteenth century sheep had become an important part of the venture for the Duchy – as it was for the Cistercian granges. I’ve read elsewhere that as the Black Death plotted it’s course in 1348 demsesne farming was abandoned in the parish of Hartington; it being more profitable to rent land out.

It’s also worth noting that the village of Earl Sterndale held common grazing rights to a portion of land adding yet another dimension to the equation of who held the land.

The map of 1614 pictured above demonstrates that the three field system with its open strips didn’t suddenly stop here at the end of the medieval period nor was the dissolution of the monasteries sufficient to bring about total enclosure. It is  evident that strip farming around Earl Sterndale continued into the seventeenth century – although there is also evidence of enclosure in the form of Mr Thomas Nedham’s land.  Enclosure when it finally came was at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

words words words 3- monastic habits

Sorry can’t resist the very bad pun. How many words pertaining to monasteries can you identify – could be architectural or to do with monastic life and roles?

History Jar Challenge 13

Fair Rosamund Clifford, the mistress of King Henry II by Dante Gabriel Rosetti. In 1174 Henry II acknowledged his relationship with Rosamund having probably turned to her when Queen Eleanor was pregnant with the couple’s final child – John. She retired to Godstow Nunnery where she had been educated in 1176. Fable says that Henry hid his mistress from Queen Eleanor in a maze at Woodstock but that Eleanor found her and offered her a choice between a dagger and a bowl of poison. Rosamund drank the poison. The story does not appear before the fourteenth century. rosamond’s tomb was moved from inside Godstow Church on the orders of Hugh of Lincoln but the tomb itself was only finally lost with the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

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.

History Jar picture quiz 1 – answer – The Alfred Jewel

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. 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 [accessed 5 June 2020].