The Ledger Book of Vale Royal Abbey. Originally published by Manchester Record Society, Manchester, 1914.
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Part I - History of the Abbey (fn. 1)
Chronicle of the foundation of the Abbey of Vale Royal and of the pleas made as to the manors and churches to the same belonging and of the papal privileges granted to the Cistercian Order.
Since ignorance, the mother of all errors, is found to exist (witness the sacred writings) to the highest degree in priests of God and men dedicated to holy religion, and since in man, the noblest of all created forms, who was wholly made in the image of God, nothing is thought more noble than to know himself and his Creator, just as nothing is more contemptible than crass and supine ignorance of both: wherefore if in laymen want of knowledge or ignorance is esteemed intolerable, according to the canonical decrees, how much more in those who have charge of them; in this case there is no excuse, no pardon. And therefore, on account of the fleeting nature of man's memory, writing was devised by God for the behoof of those who come after us, for without such memorials ignorance of what has gone would overwhelm all in the future. Wherefore the Divine Wisdom, willing wholly to do away with this curse, commanded John in the Apocalypse, saying: "What thou seest, write in a book"; and David in the psalm says: "In Thy book are all things written." And the laws of the Emperors decree that a judicial sentence which is not written shall have no force in law. Having this, therefore, in view, and having first called upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, with the aid of His most beloved Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, I have thought fit to insert in the presents, as a future memorial of the matter, certain things (useful for the avoiding of ignorance) concerning the foundation of the abbey of Vale Royal, so that nothing of its antiquity may remain unknown in times to come. Not by Ciceronian method, nor with words of eloquence, do I intend to conjure, nor to set forth my matter in inflated terms; because I deem it sufficient for me to record things here in unpolished words, so that the history of what was done may be understood easily by all who read these pages; for of two imperfect things, it is much better to have an upright rusticity than an erring eloquence.
With these few introductory words, let us inquire first concerning the commencement of the foundation of this abbey, and in what year and by whom it was founded, [for] he deserved to be distinguished by the recording of his name. Then we must see the pleas and quarrels that were set on foot in the times of divers abbots concerning the manors and churches granted to the aforesaid abbey, from the time of the foundation thereof, which all appear separately and plainly in the margin of this present book. For instance, if there were any disturbance about the manor of Dernehale, whatever was done will be found under that title. In like sort the arrangement followed will make matters clear with regard to all the other manors and churches. In the following pages also will be found inquisitions concerning the abbey itself and other inhabitants of the county of Chester; and the diligent reader will find many other things to interest him, which I have not thought it worth while to set forth in this preface. At the end of the volume also the apostolic privileges granted to the Cistercian Order are written out at length.
Here ends the preface.
1. Of the beginning (fn. 2) of the foundation of the Abbey of Vale Royal, and of the King's vow.
The beginning of the foundation of the Abbey of Vale Royal was foreshadowed by the Virgin Mary by a miracle on behalf of the Lord Edward, Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, who had for his father the most holy Henry, King of England, who was son of King John; and this Henry reigned fifty-six years. Now this same Edward was so keen a warrior that, for love of the Crucified, he had several times visited the Holy Land to exterminate the pagans. (fn. 3) And on one occasion, when he was returning, he came down to the sea, where he and all his people were duly taken on board ship; and while he was on his way to England, accompanied by a great concourse of people, storms suddenly arose at sea, the ship's rigging was all torn to pieces in a moment, and the crew were helpless and unable to do anything. Utterly despairing of their safety, the sailors called loudly upon the Lord, and persuaded those who were in the ship [fo. 6d (243d)] with them that each one should vow to the Lord whatsoever the Holy Ghost might put in his mind; but, when this had been done by them all most devoutly, the storms still did not cease, but rather waxed greater and greater. Then, seeing death approach so near, all those who were in the ship, with tears and earnest entreaties, besought the prince, who had not vowed anything with the others, to make some vow; for thereby he might both please the Lord and deliver his companions from the imminent peril in which they stood. The most holy prince acceded to their tearful prayers, and most humbly vowed to God and the Blessed Virgin Mary that, if God would save him and his people and goods, and bring them safe to land, he would forthwith found a monastery of white monks of the Cistercian order in honour of Mary the Mother of God in some suitable place in the kingdom of England, which he would so richly endow with goods and possessions that it should be sufficient for the maintenance of one hundred monks for ever. And behold, the power of God to save His people was forthwith made manifest; for scarce had the most Christian prince finished speaking when the tempest was utterly dispersed and succeeded by a calm, so that all marvelled at so sudden a change. Thus the ship, with all that was in it, though she was broken, torn and disabled in many places, being much endangered by the water that rushed in everywhere, was miraculously borne to land by the Virgin Mary, in whose honour the prince had made his vow, without any human aid whatsoever. And when all saw these things, they marvelled and rejoiced, and with glad minds venerated the glorious Virgin, who never suffers her servants to perish. But in addition to all this another marvel is said to have taken place in that same hour, which cannot be passed over in silence; for until they had all carried their goods safe out of the ship, the prince remained behind them in the ship, but as soon as the ship was empty, he left it and went on shore; and as he left, in the twinkling of an eye, the ship broke into two pieces. Whereby it might be understood that the holy man, so long as he remained in her, by his merits preserved the ship whole. For, after the said ship had broken in two, it plunged into the depths of the sea and made no further manifestation that men could notice.
2. How the King took to himself a convent from the monastery of Dore; and of the time when the same convent came to Dernehale and thence to a small abbey near Vale Royal.
After these things the prince set out towards England. Now dissension had arisen between King Henry his father and the English nobles, the earls and barons, and the said prince fought them with a strong hand. But it happened that, in a certain battle, the aforesaid Edward was taken and sent to a prison in the city of Hereford, there to be kept by his enemies; and though, after a little while, by the merciful providence of God, he escaped out of the hands of his keepers, he was for a time under custody in the said city. (fn. 4) Now there were some truly religious and holy men living near by in the Abbey of Dore, who frequently came to console the said prince in his captivity to the best of their ability, like Martha, often ministering to his necessities; and they deserved indeed to find grace with him in return for the regard they had shown him. Therefore the said Edward, when he had come to his right, began to consider how to fulfil the vow he had made at sea to the Virgin Mary; and, in consequence of the devotion he cherished for the monastery of Dore, for the kindnesses rendered him in his captivity, he took to himself his (new) convent from the said monastery [fo. 7 (244)]. (fn. 5) The convent quitted the monastery of Dore for Vale Royal 5 Ides of January A.D. 1273 [9 Jan. 1273–4], and 19 Kalends February [14 Jan.] that same convent arrived at Dernehale, where it dwelt for eight years and more; this being the time between the day of their coming and the day of St. Robert, whereon they first went from Dernehale to Vale Royal. Then in A.D. 1277, to wit, 9 Kalends August [24 July] that place which used to be called Wetenhalewez and Munechenewro was consecrated for the building of a new abbey by the venerable father Anian, Bishop of St. Asaph; and the aforesaid Edward gave to it the name of Vale Royal, thus plainly giving all to understand what was his will—that there should be no monastery more royal that this one, in liberties, wealth and honour, throughout the whole world. But, alas, death cut him off before he had realized this his wish.
3. How the King laid the first stone in the new work, and of those who were present there.
Afterwards in the same sixth year, to wit, on the Ides of August [13 Aug.], A.D. 1277, the aforenamed Edward, then most illustrious King of England, in an assembly of all the greatest people of the kingdom, with his own hands put the first stone in the place where the great altar was to be built. Eleanor, also, the Queen of England, who was likewise present there, placed two stones, one for herself and the other for her son Alfunso, in the same spot. The venerable father, Robert de Burnell, then Bishop of Bath and Wells and Chancellor of the King, with the assistance of Anian, Bishop of St. Asaph, solemnly celebrated mass. With the King also were the underwritten:—Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, Edmund, Earl of Cornwall, John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, William de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, Sir Maurice de Croun, Oto de Grandison, John de Greyly, Robert Tipethoth, Robert de Ver; who all, after the King, set stones in the aforesaid site of the great altar. And the King laid his stone in honour of our Lord Jesus Christ and the glorious Virgin Mary, and of the holy confessors and bishops Nicholas and Nicasius, and thenceforward he had the place called Vallis Regalis, or in English Kingesdale. There were also there with the King at that time two counts from over the sea.
4. Of the small abbey in which the monks dwelt during the time of four abbots, and when they were transferred to the new monastery.
After these things had been done thus, the King had an abbey prepared for this his convent, not far from the new work of Vale Royal. There the abbot and convent remained for a long while, because there were as yet no buildings raised at all near the aforesaid new work. To this small abbey the convent was transferred from the manor of Dernehale 3 Kalends (fn. 6) of May, to wit, on St. Robert's day, [29 April] 1281. And in that place they remained for all the time of four abbots, to wit, John Cheampeneys, the first abbot, and also Walter de Hereford, who was the second, and John de Ho, who was the third in order, and Richard de Evesham, who was the fourth. At last, by the intervention of the most glorious Virgin Mary, that reverend convent was transferred with great honour from this unsightly and ruinous abbey abovesaid to the new monastery of Vale Royal, to wit, on the feast of the Assumption of the most Blessed Mary, Mother of God, [15 August] A.D. 1330 [fo. 7d (244d)]. And the abbot then ruling specially invited certain nobles and prelates and other people of the neighbourhood to this solemnity; and they came together in so great a multitude that the new monastery could scarcely contain them. And amongst them came Master Richard, abbot of Dore, (fn. 7) of good memory, who solemnly celebrated mass himself on that day, and making a sermon to the people touching the Blessed Virgin, refreshed them most devoutly in his accustomed way with food of special nourishment. The convent thus celebrated the feast of the Virgin in company of those prelates who had come, and those men of renown, with jubilant singing of hymns and psalms, and with spiritual canticles, also with the organs and with almost all kinds of music; and they most devoutly blessed her in whose honour the place was consecrated, and by whose miracle at sea it had first been solemnly vowed.
Now in that feast of the Assumption there happened a wonderful thing, that is worthy of being related. For beforehand, during almost forty days and nights, there had been so great a flood all round about, that it was thought God had brought another deluge upon the earth, as in the days of Noah. Then a marvellous thing happened. For on the vigil of the Assumption and the two following days the weather was so bright that not a drop of water fell upon the earth; but, when all things necessary to the celebration of so solemn and great a feast had been fully accomplished, and all the people had returned home, the flood broke out again as before, and did not cease for a long while afterwards. And who can doubt but that this bright weather was most truly obtained by the merits and prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, lest those who were devoutly serving her in these solemnities should be hindered in their service by the inclemency of the weather? And thus it is made to appear still more clearly how acceptable to her was the advent and coming of her monks to her monastery founded in honour of her miracle in the peril at sea. And so, I believe, each of the monks, when they came at last to this long-desired place, cried: "Here is my resting-place for ever. Here will I dwell, since I have chosen her." To all of whom the Blessed Virgin spoke, saying, as is described in the Apocalypse: "They shall walk with me in white raiment for they are worthy, and I will not wipe their names out of the Book of Life."
5. What sort of place it was before the foundation of the Abbey.
Old men say that the place where the said monastery is now set was the dwelling-place of bandits; now by the power of the Virgin Mary it has been made the home of holy monks, and not of any monks, but of white monks. (fn. 8) For such are all those professed in the Cistercian order, as the Court of Rome holds, and therefore abroad the White Monks are called the Monks of the Blessed Mary. Pope Benedict XII was one of them, and a number of other chief pontiffs came from the Cistercian order. Those, therefore, who presume to call them the Grey Monks, in contempt of the Apostolic see, are contemptible and foolish; for at the present time there are to be found few or none of the order of the Grey Monks. According to canonical institutes, as regards renunciation of property, the White Monks hold in the Church the place of the twelve apostles, and they can admit to their order those coming to them from any other (with very few exceptions), while they themselves cannot enter other orders or they would be considered to have lowered themselves.
6. Of the change [fo. 8 (245)] which the King made in the name of the place where the abbey is now set.
The place where the abbey is now set had two names in ancient days. It was called Munechenwro, which means Monks' Wood, to indicate that in the future the place would truly be religious, or applied to religious purposes, because munechene means monk or nun, while wro means wood. The place was also called Quetennehalewes, which means Holy Wheat or Wheat of the Saints; and this was a fitting name for it, because the sacred body of Christ [in the Eucharist] is made of the pure grain of wheat, and of no other; in that place was thereafter to be blessed that wheat concerning which it is written in the Gospel: "Unless the grain of wheat falling to the earth die, it abideth alone." And so the place was well called Quetennehalewes. Otherwise, the name is interpreted Wheat of the Saints (for quetenne is wheat and halewes saints), as implying that in this place wheat would be cultivated by means of which holy and religious men, dwelling in this vale of tears, should as to the body be literally fed; that thus by temporal aid they should come as saints to the kingdom which shall last for ever. Very fittingly also the King had the place called Vallis Regalis, or in English Kingesdale, (fn. 9) to signify that every rational creature preordained by God Himself to life eternal ought to be Kingsdale, that is to say, a king ruling himself well in the vale of humility, who thus may deserve to hear these words from Christ: "Come, spouse of Christ, receive the crown which the Lord has prepared for thee for ever." And none will receive this crown save those who have been willing to strive lawfully in the Vale Royal, that is to say, in the humility of Christ.
7. Of the vision which was seen by shepherds and others in the place where the abbey now stands.
Catholic and thoroughly trustworthy men relate that, while the place now called Vale Royal was an empty solitude, many years before the abbey was founded there, they have often heard their fathers tell how, on the solemn festivals of Mary the Mother of God, in that same place, about the middle of the night, they and their shepherds would hear voices which seemed to be singing in heaven, and how a great light would appear to them, transforming the darkness of night into day; and this would be accompanied by the ringing of bells. And after the church was built, some who survive to this day declare that in the blackness of night they have seen a light so great that many thought the whole church was in flames. And it came to pass that people came running up in the greatest wonder to see so magnificent a sight; others, dwelling a long way off, have been fetched out of their houses by their neighbours and have praised God for the wondrous vision. Indeed, I may say it is evident to all men that that place was duly preordained by Christ from all eternity for a monastery, seeing it was thought worthy to be the scene of so many miraculous events before the eyes of mortals.
And, in further proof of this, I will not omit in conclusion something worthy of mention: to wit, that when the King of England, the founder of the said abbey, had charged his monks, who were then living as a convent in the manor of Dernehale, to provide for themselves, out of all the kingdom of England, a place in which an abbey could be suitably established, seeing that that place was not suitable for an abbey; and when they, in obedience to the King's commands, had gone about at great cost inspecting possible sites in divers places, still they never found rest until they came to the place called Munechenewro and Quetennehalewes, which had been fixed by God from the beginning, as no man can doubt, for them to set up their tabernacles there for ever.
8. Of the portion [fo. 8d (245d)] of the wood of the Holy Cross, brought by the King from the Holy Land, and given to the monastery with other things.
We will now cease speaking of the secret things of heaven, and declare further how the most pious King provided for the fulfilment of his vow. We have narrated shortly above how the aforenamed King, while Earl of Chester, in his father's lifetime had gone to the Holy Land; but we have told nothing of what he did while there. Now, while he was there the King never ceased to war against the Paynims and Saracens in the name of Christ his Lord, and, like a good soldier of Christ, he dedicated himself to death on behalf of his Master. Nor did his foot rest until he came to the place where was kept the wood of the cross on which the Saviour of the world was hung; and he violently carried off with great joy a beautiful piece of it, which he brought back with him to England with much rejoicing. By virtue thereof he overcame all those who rose up against him on all sides so utterly that there was none like unto him of the kings of all the world; nor was this to be wondered at, for in every battle round his bare neck he bore with him the most sacred ensign of Christ, whereby the devil was overcome and the world redeemed by the blood of Christ. This most sacred portion of the Holy Cross he gave with great devoutness to the abbey at its first foundation, so that it might strike terror into its persecutors and confer the gift of eternal life on those living holy lives. And besides this most precious jewel the devout King sought everywhere for relics of the saints canonically approved, and most graciously conferred them on his monastery, and endowed it most nobly moreover with hallowed vessels and whole-silk vestments and precious books. And moreover the most sweet Lady Eleanor, above all to be loved in Christ, then Queen of England, like a second Mary who desists not from praying for sinners, did not desist to implore the King for the confirmation of the monastery. And this did not satisfy her desires, for she unceasingly adorned the monastery and the monks with immense honours and gifts. (fn. 10) Therefore those most holy and devout men, noble-minded and grateful for such great benefits, resolved among themselves that every year, on the feast of the Translation of St. Thomas the Martyr, (fn. 11) the anniversary of the aforesaid King should be solemnly celebrated in their monastery, and that the same should be done for the Queen 3 Kalends of December, on the vigil of St. Andrew [29 Nov.]. Moreover, it was determined and ordained that a special mass should be celebrated every day for ever in the monastery for the aforesaid King and Queen; and that every one celebrating at the altar should say a special collect for the King, in addition to the special mention which they were bound to make daily of the King and Queen in the "memory" for the dead. At the canonical hours, also, the appointed collect is said for them by all. Moreover, at the end of grace after the meal, the president has ever been used to say: "May the souls of King Edward and Queen Eleanor and of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace"; to which let all make answer, saying Amen.
9. Of the church of Kyrkham: how the King granted it to his monastery; also of the plea between the King and Sir Theobald le Botiler and of Otto de Grandison.
We spoke above a little about various things given to the monastery; now we will tell something of those omitted. Now, at a certain time, the King, wishing to be informed of the value of all the rents belonging to the aforenamed place of Vale Royal, gave it in command to certain of his justices to inquire diligently the truth concerning the premises, and they certified to him accordingly. And when all this had been done, the King came to the conclusion that there was not sufficient to bear all the charges falling upon [fo. 9 (246)] the said monastery. Therefore, having declared his mind, the King decreed that the advowson of the church of Kirkham should be bestowed upon it. When he heard this Sir Theobald Walter openly defied the King's Majesty, declaring that that advowson was his by hereditary right and producing many arguments for his contention. Then the King summoned his council together, omitting those who did not make for his purpose, and alleged that his father last presented a certain clerk of his to the aforesaid church, by royal right, in name of his crown, as King; which clerk was admitted and instituted therein, and this not by reason of the custody of the heir of Theobald Walter. And the aforenamed Theobald by his attorney before the justices of the King acknowledged that the King had presented in his own name, as is set forth above, and not by reason of custody; wherefore the advowson was adjudged to the King, and Sir Theobald was in mercy. (fn. 12) Now there was at that time with the King a good and holy man, and a most strenuous knight in arms, named Otto de Grandison, whose memory be blessed for ever. Once he was sent as ambassador to the Apostolic see touching the business of the kingdom. And when he arrived there, led, I believe, by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, he obtained from Pope Honorius IV (fn. 13) the appropriation of the church of Kyrkham to the monastery of Vale Royal for ever. And when he returned to England, after having favourably accomplished all the King's business, he most devoutly gave to the abbot of Vale Royal the bull of the said church of Kyrkham. And the abbot, on his side, mindful of such great benefits, and considering that he held no knights in his own pay, offered a not inconsiderable quantity of gold and silver to the aforenamed knight. But he, preferring to be rewarded by God rather than by man, utterly refused to accept these things as vanities. Wherefore the abbot, with the unanimous consent of his convent, determined and decreed that the memory of the said knight should be specially preserved and cared for in the said monastery for ever. And for that reason the deeds of that knight are recorded here, that thereby those who shall come in the monastery may be induced to pray without ceasing that he may receive an eternal reward in heaven for all his labour here on earth.
10. Of the consecration of the place where the Abbey now stands, and of the penalty to those entering otherwise than by the gates of the monastery.
And now the most sacred King, considering that the blessing of the father strengthens the houses of his sons, and wishing, for that reason, to leave a blessing behind him, called together the archbishops, bishops and other prelates of his kingdom, to bless the site of Vale Royal, and they came together from their own districts at the King's commands, and consecrated that place with their most holy benedictions. (fn. 14) And afterwards they celebrated at the altar, and devoutly offered there (it is related) the sacred vestments in which they had been arrayed, to preserve their memories for ever there. And there was at that time among them a certain great man, very dear to the King, Anthony de Beck, Patriarch of Jerusalem and Bishop of Durham; and he, with the others, gave his benediction and celebrated mass. And after the benediction had been solemnly performed, each of the aforenamed bishops released forty days of the penances enjoined as an indulgence for ever to all who should frequent the aforenamed place for love of Christ and of the most glorious Virgin Mary, His Mother.
Moreover the King ordained the bounds of his same abbey in these quadrangular precincts; to wit, beginning at that place where the gate and outer bar of the Abbey (called) Wlgodre (fn. 15) are situated, and so following along a great ditch as far as the newly built convent grange and the cross standing upon it, put there by the King as a sign of the limit at the first foundation, proceeding onwards as far as the water of Weuere, and so following along the water of Weuer as far as [fo. 9d (246d)] the end of the ditch newly made about the park, which [ditch] also takes its rise from the water of Weuer, and then following along the ditch round the park as far as the Abbey mill, and from the Abbey mill ascending in a straight line as far as the aforesaid gate (and) outer bar (sic), where it began. And in order that that holy place, consecrated by fathers so many and so great, should not hereafter suffer disrespect or be trampled by the feet of the impious, all and singular the aforesaid prelates and fathers at the King's suggestion declared that henceforward none should enter save by the gates of the monastery, and solemnly fulminated the sentence of the greater excommunication upon those who should contravene this rule; the which sentence is to be feared by all the inhabitants of the monastery, and also by all those who disregard it, to the present day. A long time afterwards the Bishop of Anaghdown (Enachdunensis) consecrated six altars, (fn. 16) which had been completed in the new work, and of his great favour provided them with indulgences.
11. Of the four first abbots who ruled in the same monastery; how they exercised their rule, and the manner of their lives.
Fo. 6, 7.
Among works of charity it is esteemed not to be the least to set forth in all their details the deeds of brave men fighting for Christ in the Church, for the information of others. For herein we are encouraged by the example of Christ, who willed that we should be informed of His doings by the holy Gospels, that so, by their means, we might be instructed how to overcome the world. Therefore we have thought fit to insert here some brief accounts of the virtues of the abbots, who ruled before us, in order that those now present and to come, instructed by their example, may learn in the temple of Christ ardently to desire like things, so that by the assistance of the merits of these men they may be led to attain eternal joy.
Now the first of all the abbots of Vale Royal was John Chaumpeneys. And in truth by virtue both of his Christian name and of his surname he was rightly first abbot of the aforenamed place; for John means He in whom is grace, or The grace of God; and by that grace of God the monastery had been founded by the King's vow made at sea, by virtue of which innumerable people were marvellously saved from the peril of death. And therefore our Saviour willed that John should be the first pastor to rule His monastery, in order that it might be made manifest through this to all men that not only the abbot elected by God, but also the holy place itself, should enjoy grace; and because the grace of the Lord had saved the King in the waves of the sea, by the same grace He governed the Abbot John on land. And the abbot resembled that disciple who leaned upon Jesus' breast at supper; for, among the other virtues he possessed, he was the most humble of men, following Him who says: "Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart, and you shall find rest to your souls." Those also, who knew him in this life, say that he never would avenge injuries done to him by those who were under him, but, according to our Lord's precept, he left them to the Lord to avenge; therefore he deserved to find rest for his soul. And as John the Evangelist was chief of the apostles and disciples of Christ in chastity, so also this John, taking the vow of chastity, persevered purely therein to the end. And he is well called John, i.e. "the grace of God," for in the King's sight he deserved to be decorated with so much grace that the King endowed the monastery over which he ruled with such gifts and possessions that there was no prelate found like unto him in all the earth.
His surname also of Chaumpeneys became him well, for it means Champion. And indeed he was the boldest Champion, for he overcame manfully the three enemies,—the world, the flesh, and the devil;—the world by the renunciation of worldly riches, the flesh by the maceration of his own, and the devil by the renunciation of his own will. And in addition to this he graciously overthrew other enemies, who would have attacked his house; and so he was not unworthy of this name of John, or the grace of God, and of this surname of Chaumpeneys, who by the grace of God so bore himself; and he justly deserves the title of Champion of Christ, who obtained the victory everywhere. And so all these things were a presage [fo. 10 (247)] of things to come, to wit, that the place of Vale Royal should be found so gracious before God and man, so terrible and fearful to the persecutors of the Church and the enemies of Christ, that it could infallibly be said of the place, "Behold, this is of a certainty the house of God and the gate of heaven."
Afterwards there succeeded to John, the first abbot, the
second abbot, Walter de Hereford. He was a man of most
beautiful appearance, as regards externals, but seeing that such
beauty is compared to vanity unless it be accompanied by the beauty
that is hidden within, we will speak briefly of his other qualities.
He was greatly venerable in his life, always and everywhere
devoted to God and the Blessed Virgin Mary; and in good
works also he fought a good fight for Christ, for he used a
hair shirt to conquer the flesh, and by this discipline subdued
it to the spirit. He rarely or never ate meat, except on the
occasions permitted (e.g. on account of sickness); and he gave
himself up, even to death, like the Good Shepherd, on behalf
of his church, so that he deserves to be counted with Him
[who] says: "I am the Good Shepherd . . . and I lay down My
life for My sheep." For once it came to pass that the greater
part of the district in which he dwelt, at the instance of a
certain tyrant, then justiciar there, raised the standard of
revolt against him and his monastery; and when he came
into the court before the abovesaid tyrant, and had brought
with him a great number of notable people, they were all
struck with terror and fled, leaving the abbot, their lord,
alone. But he, though deserted, intrepidly persevered to the
end, being founded on the rock, and defended the cause of his
church aforesaid. And for this reason he is rightfully called
Walter, which being interpreted means Untamed (valde ferus),
for it is never recorded that he feared the reproaches of men
for Christ's sake. On another occasion a certain knight came
with a great multitude of armed men, and maliciously claimed
the right of taking his way straight through the monastery;
and, when the abbot heard this, he went out unarmed with
a few attendants, and so bravely upheld the rights of his
monastery that, in a moment, they all turned and fled;
which was brought about, there can be no doubt, by the
merits of the man. And therefore this Walter, that is to
say the Untamed, was right worthy to be made abbot of this
new monastery, for it was necessary, if on account of its
newness it was to be assailed by all men, that he should be
untamed who might stand like a wall against them and
thwart their malice, according to that saying :
Resist beginnings; all too late the cure
When ills have gathered strength by long delay.
It is recorded also, that on one occasion, when the holy man was kneeling at prayer in his cell in his accustomed way, when he rose from his knees, behold, he saw a demon blacker than pitch sitting on the window of his cell, and when he had looked at it carefully he asked him who he was; and he answered him: "I am Legion." And the holy man bade him forthwith depart, and molest henceforth no one devoted to God in that place. And the evil spirit, not being able to contend against his sanctity, immediately departed, and did not dare to show himself there any more to the sight of man, according to the word of this man of God. And it was therefore not without reason that this Walter, that is, the Untamed, succeeded second in order to John, that is, The grace of God, for by this means it might be made clear to all that the dauntless nature of Walter, by which he resisted his enemies and evil spirits, was not to be ascribed to himself but to the grace of God, so that in truth he might say with the apostle: "By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace was not in vain in me." Nor was it without purpose that he took his origin from Hereford, for from ancient times that noble and royal city has been the dwelling-place of holy men, among whom indeed he was brought up from his infancy, among whom he had learned to be the humble servant of Jesus Christ, so that thus through the merits of the Saints he himself might also be made [fo. 10d (248d)] a saint, according as it was written: "With the holy thou shalt be holy, and with the innocent man thou shalt be innocent." And holiness came to him, not only from dwelling among holy men, by also by his natural "imitation," whereby of his progenitors we may understand what of a certain holy man was said: "His whole kindred lives on in his holy life."
And to this noble and religious man there succeeded as
third in order a man, good, gentle and simple, John de Oo by
name, who also ruled himself and the holy convent committed
to his charge with great integrity, even as his predecessors had
done. He was by God's help so gracious and merciful to all, that
he justly deserved to be called John, that is, He in whom dwells
grace; for he was of such an affectionate disposition that very
often he was unable to restrain his tears for erring brethren; and
yet so stern was he at times, though gentle withal, that those
whom he found straying from the path of God were removed
for the time from his flock, that by this means their souls
should be saved in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. And
this John, moreover, was in great favour with the King, (fn. 17) who
many a time said to him: "Ask of me what you will, and
I will give it you"; and he, guiltless of avarice and utterly
innocent of any other evil thing, in simplicity asked the King's
permission to resign his office; and, when the King would not
give his consent, he used always to allege his infirmity of body
and the ill-will of the common people, preferring rather to risk
the King['s disfavour] than to forsake the solitudes of contemplation, desiring to be numbered with those of whom our Lord
speaks in the gospel, saying: "You, who have left all things and
followed Me, shall receive a hundredfold and shall possess eternal
life." At last the King, being overcome by the importunate
requests of the man of God, directed to the abbot of Dore
his special letters for receiving the abbot's resignation as soon as
possible; moreover, in compassion for his simplicity, in reverence
to God and for love of the Abbot John, he wholly released to
the monastery £400 in which they were bound to the aforenamed
King for a certain escheator, who had become a lay brother; (fn. 18)
likewise desiring that he should always be provided with all things
necessary during his life, at his own discretion, as he had so well
deserved: which was done accordingly. This John therefore was
not unworthy to be called One in whom dwells the grace of God,
for he obtained such grace in the King's sight as no one had
obtained before. His surname was Hoo, which being interpreted
means Rousing-up, for if one wants to rouse a man up, one calls
out Hoo! that is to say : "Arise and make ready." And he was
fittingly called Hoo, because he had been roused by the voice of
God, and had heard Him saying: "Unless a man shall renounce
all that he has, he cannot be My disciple"; and, having heard
this, he left all things and followed Christ the Redeemer, for
which reason he deserves to be called John, that is, The grace of
God. So it was fitting that this gracious John succeeded Walter,
who according to the interpretation of his name was the Untamed,
for, unless prelates be merciful, men will not be found to bear the
penalties canonically appointed for their sins. But this John
appeared so merciful and gentle, that he would even conceal
men's sins by awarding secret penance, bearing in mind the words
of our Lord, when He said: "Be ye merciful, even as your
Father is merciful"; and "Judge not and ye shall not be
Be slow to damn the sinner; all make slips
Ourselves, and may be, were, or are his like.
But seeing that it is written : "Praise not a man while he lives, but praise him after his death,"—the aforesaid venerable man John being still alive we will not speak further of him, lest the writer be charged with hypocrisy, for the hypocrite deceives his friend with his lips, and lest he who is praised be uplifted with pride. Rather when he had done all things well he had to acknowledge that he was an unprofitable servant, as he was taught by the axiom of the chief teacher, Christ our Lord; so that thereby he merits to be called out for his humility in order to take a higher place with glory.
Now, while these three pearls offer themselves to the end on the altar of Christ, as a holy offering pleasing to God, and rest in the peace of the Church with God, we will leave them so, and hasten to set forth the praises of the fourth abbot, to wit, the wise and just man who was the fourth to rule over the monastery of Vale Royal. This was Richard de Evesham [fo. 11 (248)], who from the flower of his youth up had loved his Creator with all his heart, and at length succeeded in winning from God the better part, which, like Mary, he had chosen. Well did he hide his virtues under a bushel, lest he should receive praise from men in this world instead of the reward [he hoped for]. And because that man is perfect who does not offend with his mouth, he became as dumb, with no reproach on his lips, and never opened his mouth for vanity. Moreover, he spent his time day and night in the law of the Lord, that thereby he might keep his body and soul spotless to God; for he had read that a holy man, loving the knowledge of the Scriptures, will not love the vices of the flesh. He overcame his body by vigils and by fasting no less than by the harshness of a hair shirt, and he himself, by his continual meditations upon the things of heaven, left this world wholly behind. Nor is it wonderful that he became oblivious of it, for we [are taught] by the apostle that no one fighting for God troubles himself about the affairs of this world, for according to the voice of the Truth no man can serve both God and Mammon. And so this man of God, willingly renouncing his dignity in favour of his love of virtue, remained in holiness of living without ceasing to the last moment of his life. He may therefore truly be called blessed, for he did not seek for gold nor place his hope in treasure of money.
He did wonderful things in his life, as appears by what follows: A certain monk of this man of God was attacked by very severe illness, while he himself was far away; a confessor came to him, and to him the monk solemnly confessed all his sins, and immediately afterwards went the way of all flesh. After this the abbot returned to his own monastery, and when he heard of the death of that brother of the house, the depths of his heart were moved with sorrow. And on the following night it is recorded that the monk who had died appeared to him as he was resting, a little after matins. Taking form in the white garments of his habit, and bending his whole body to the earth, the dead monk, with pious prayers, humbly besought absolution from the abbot; who rose at once from his place, and, after having narrated all things to the brethren as they happened, absolved the aforenamed deceased in the chapter, and so compelled him to fly forth free to heaven. From this it is very plain that his life was most pleasing to God, because a man who had already put off the things of this world came so earnestly to seek the benefit of his absolution.
There is also another miracle which we are told, on good authority, happened in the time of this man of God. It came to pass that for three years there was a famine in the land so terrible that great numbers of people died of want, and there was great danger from the stench of the dead bodies; (fn. 19) but he defended his people so effectively from this plague, when he had in truth little or no means, that no one doubted but that the means were sent down from heaven to earth by Almighty God on account of the merits of this blessed man. At another time, before he became father of the monastery, this man of God was sent by his abbot against certain tyrants to collect tithes in a place not far distant from the said monastery. And when he reached that place, the tyrants rose up and would have killed him, but they could not; they shot arrows into the horse on which he sat, but he himself, by God's mercy, miraculously escaped unhurt. By these and other tokens this man of the Lord, Richard, proved that he could truthfully be called Richard, which means Laughing, dear and sweet, for in this life he himself abstained from laughing, and now, like our Lord, his sadness has been turned to joy. Sweet also he was, for he had clung perfectly only to Him of whom the Church sings, saying: "Good and upright is the Lord, therefore will He teach sinners in the way"; and again: "My spirit is sweeter than honey"; and because of that sweetness of holiness, which he derived from our Lord himself, he can be called dear to God. Therefore lest malice should pervert his understanding he has been taken away from the evil world and called by God to the heights of heaven, where he reigns with Him in glory for ever and ever.
And therefore these four abbots, who fought, each in his own day, so manfully for the abbey of Vale Royal that for its sake they were ready even to penetrate iron walls, may be compared to the four angels which [fo. 11d (248d)] John saw in the Apocalypse, standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of heaven, lest they should blow upon the earth or hurt any one. And the sound of them, like that of the four Evangelists, went out into all the earth, to overcome the peoples and all the enemies of the said monastery. And to them may be applied the words spoken by the angel to John: "These who are clothed in white garments are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb"; and it is added —so that they may not seem to have toiled in vain in the Lord's vineyard, and without their daily penny—"Therefore are they before the throne of God and the Lamb, and serve Him day and night in His temple; where they shall hunger no more nor thirst, neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat, for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall rule them and lead them unto the fountains of the waters of life"; with whom they are now crowned and shall live for ever and ever. Amen.