Ledger Book: The abbots of Vale Royal

Pages 20-23

The Ledger Book of Vale Royal Abbey. Originally published by Manchester Record Society, Manchester, 1914.

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The Abbots of Vale Royal

The monastic historian has omitted dates in his account of the early abbots. The following notes from other parts of the Ledger-Book and from available records will afford an outline of the succession:

Walter was the first abbot (of Darnhall, not Vale Royal), as appears by a pleading cited below. The name is also given as Henry in Harl. MS. 2072, fo. 50.

John Champneys is named as abbot in 1278 (Cal. Charter Rolls, 1257–1300, p. 207; Cal. Close Rolls, 1272–9, p. 497). He occurs also in 1282 (Deputy-Keeper's Report xxvi, App. (Chester Plea R.) 38). In 1276, as John, abbot of Dernhall, he demised the hey of Langwath in Yorkshire to the priory of Warter, and this was confirmed by Edward I (Magnum Registrum Album (York Minster), iii. fo. 24b).

Walter de Hereford (fn. 1) was abbot in 1294 (Harl. MS. 2072, fo. 50) and in the time of William de Ormsby (about 1306); see p. 121 below. He is also stated to have been abbot in the time of Edward I in Cal. Patent Rolls, 1307–13, p. 402. He granted a charter to Over. He was probably the abbot referred to in 1307–8, when one Richard Payne's claim to be free and not the abbot's "native" came up for decision. It was alleged that Richard's ancestor came from Salop in the time of Randle, Earl of Chester; he was a free man, but took land held in villenage. Hence the doubt as to his descendant's position. In the pleadings it was stated that the land was in the time of Henry III given to Walter, abbot of Darnhall, to whom succeeded John, and next the abbot then ruling (Chester Plea Roll 20, m. 5).

John de Hoo was abbot as early as 1305 (p. 149). He also occurs in 1310 (Harl. MS. 2079, fo. 126), in 1311 (p. 91 below), and in 1314–5 (Deputy-Keeper's Report xxxvi, App. (Chester Recog. Rolls), 482).

Richard de Evesham or Eynsham was abbot in 1316 (ibid.) and in 1320 (p. 84 below).

Peter, one of the most noteworthy of the line, began to rule about 1322, as appears from pp. 37, 74 in the text. In 1326 he was defendant in a suit (Harl. MS. 2079, fol. 136), and in the same year acknowledged the receipt of a cask of wine from the Earl of Chester (afterwards Edward III); p. 117. About the same time he sold the acorns of Bradford Wood to Richard de Bulkelegh for 40s. (p. 122). In 1328 he attended the parliament at Northampton to claim redress against the justiciar and other officials who had encroached upon the liberties of the abbey, and succeeded (p. 45). Dealings with the bondmen are recorded in 1329 and 1330 (pp. 28, 31). The list of presents he received at the feast of the Assumption (15 August), 1330, is printed herein, p. 179; this was the dedication festival of the abbey. In the same year he acknowledged a small debt (Deputy-Keeper's Report xxxvi, App. 482). In 1336 he drew up a brief statement of income and expenditure (see p. 161) for the information of the head of the order. There was then a bare maintenance for twenty monks instead of the hundred originally intended. In the same year began his severe struggle with the bondmen of Darnhall, which lasted a long time and compelled him to make many journeys, in one of which he was assaulted and carried off, ignominiously enough, by "the bestial men of Rutland" to Stamford. In the end his resolution triumphed and the bondmen came to terms. In 1337 he had to encounter a foe of knightly rank, Sir William de Clifton, who quarrelled with the monks over the tithes of Kirkham, and conducted the dispute in very high-handed fashion. Here again the abbot's courage secured the victory, and Sir William and his abettors had to do public penance. The abbot was himself a defendant in 1337 (Deputy-Keeper's Report xxviii, App. 32). He received the homage of Thomas de Swettenham in 1338; below, p. 116. He was still abbot in August, 1339 (Harl. MS. 2072, fo. 124/177), but soon afterwards, in or before 1340, he came to a violent end, Thomas de Venables, Alan le Norreys, and others being implicated in some way (p. 164; Deputy-Keeper's Report xxxvi, App. 429—Shavington, 1341). About the same time (viz. on 4 Jan. 1339–40) an order was issued to arrest certain men of the district who had burned the houses and crops of the abbot (not named), stolen his goods, and taken to flight (Cal. Patent Rolls, 1338–40, p. 485). A dispute which he tried to avoid was that with the abbot of Shrewsbury concerning the advowson of Kirkham, as related in the text; the chronicler takes occasion to describe him as a man of the greatest wisdom and prudence.

Robert de Cheyneston, who was in 1337 one of the chief officials of the house (p. 27), succeeded. In the present volume he is mentioned as abbot in 1340 (pp. 29, 163), 1341, 1343, and 1349. In 1344 he acknowledged a debt (Cal. Close Rolls, 1343–6, p. 380).

Thomas, the next abbot, occurs frequently from 1351 to 1366. It was in his time that the church of Llanbadarnfawr was appropriated to the abbey. See Rolls of Parliament, iii. 182; Ancient Petitions (P.R.O.), 1349. He died in the summer of 1369 in "the third great pestilence," according to an inquisition cited by Helsby in Ormerod's Cheshire, iii. 384. He is called Thomas Ragon, ibid. ii, 213 note.

Stephen is mentioned in the present volume from 1373 on to 1401. See also Deputy-Keeper's Report xl, App. 522—abbot in 1384. In 1389 he gave evidence at the Scrope-Grosvenor trial in favour of his tenant, Robert Grosvenor. He occurs also in 1395 (Cal. Patent Rolls, 1391–5, p. 606). About the same time the abbot was accused of making waste in the houses and lands belonging to his monastery (Ormerod, Cheshire, ii, 150). Named in 1400–1 (Dep.-Keeper's Rep. xxxvi, App. 483; Cal. Patent Rolls, 1399–1401, p. 508; Pal. of Lanc. Plea Roll 1, m. 30b). He was dead in 1414 (Cal. Patent Rolls, 1413–6, p. 201; p. 147 below). The abbey appears to have been in the king's hand in November, 1408, which affords an approximate date for the vacancy (p. 148).

Thomas was abbot in 1414 (Chester Plea Roll 118, m. 10b). The abbey was vacant in 1428–9 (Deputy-Keeper's Report xxxvii, App. 735).

Henry Warrington seems to have been elected at that time, occurring 1428–34; see below, pp. 155-6. He is also named as abbot in 1433 and 1436 in Deputy-Keeper's Report xxxvii, App. 735. As stated in the Introduction, the house was at that time in serious difficulties, owing to its past misgovernment. Possibly Henry found himself unable to make headway against them and resigned.

An abbot William is inserted by Ormerod in this place, but erroneously. The date 17 Hen. VI should be 16 Hen. VII, as appears by the document cited by him and printed below, p. 153.

Thomas Kirkham was abbot in 1438–9 (pp. 157, 170), and also in 1442 (Rolls of Parliament, v, 43; Ancient Petitions (P.R.O.), 7218). Again in 1445, 1446, and 1451 (Deputy-Keeper's Report xxxvii, App. 735). In 1446 he obtained a general pardon (Augmentation Office Misc. Books, xxxiii, No. 63), and in 1451 he visited the Roman Curia (DeputyKeeper's Report). He was plaintiff in various Lancashire cases from 1456 onwards, being styled "Thomas bishop of Sodor and Man and abbot of Vale Royal" in 1465, and "Thomas Kirkham abbot of Vale Royal" in 1469 (Pal. of Lancaster Plea Roll 19, m. 2; 27, m. 7; 29, m. 12; 35, m. 6). He appears to have been promoted to the bishopric in 1458, holding it till his death about 1475 (Le Neve, Fasti, iii. 326 (no authority cited); A. M. Moore, Sodor and Man (Dioc. Hist.), 95). In Cheshire pleas he was styled bishop and abbot in April 1475, but bishop only in the following January (Chester Plea Roll 179, m. 11b, 51b). Nevertheless in the reply to a writ of Quo Warranto in 1500 he is stated to have held the abbey till his death (Chester Records (P.R.O.), Quo Warranto, Vale Royal, 5). Richard Oldham, abbot of St. Werburgh's, Chester, succeeded to the bishopric before December, 1478 (Chester Plea Roll 182, m. 25, 32b).

William Stratford, S.T.P., his successor, was abbot in 1476 (p. 150), and from August 1477 appears in the pleadings (Chester Plea Roll 181, m. 25b, 32). He is mentioned several times from 1486 to 1500 in the text, and also in the Deputy-Keeper's Report xxxvii, App. 735. In 1486 a general pardon was granted to William abbot of Vale Royal, &c. (Augmentation Office Misc. Books, xxxix, No. 151). He appears to have been displaced for a time on two occasions. Thus William was abbot in 1494, but Thomas in 1495 and 1496 (Chester Plea Rolls 196, m. 14b, 29, 41; 197, m. 5). William as abbot answered a writ of Quo Warranto concerning the abbey's rights in Kirkham in 1498 (Pal. of Lanc. Plea Roll 86, m. 1), and occurs in Cheshire from 1500 onwards (Chester Plea Roll 205, m. 22b), but a Richard was called abbot in 1505 (Deputy-Keeper's Report, loc. cit.). Then William recurs, and in 1510 and 1515 he secured grants of timber for the repair of the abbey buildings (ibid. xxxix, App. 268). He was defendant in suits of 1506 onwards (Chester Plea Rolls 207, m. 27; 210, m. 31b; 213, m. 22b; 214, m. 60). He must have resigned about 1516, (fn. 2) for at Easter 1517 he was described as "William late abbot of Vale Royal, otherwise William Stratford, S.T.P., brother-monk of John abbot of Vale Royal" (ibid. 218, m. 806).

John Buckley or Butler was abbot 1517, as above; also in 1521 and 1523 (Deputy-Keeper's Report). In 1524 as John "Buttler" he had a protection for five years (Letters and Papers of Hen. VIII, iv, No. 62). In Stowe MS. 141 (fol. 12) there is a letter from Oliver, abbot of Cumbe, in Warwickshire, to the recorder of Coventry, stating that he and the abbot of Whalley had been joined with Dr. Lee by order of Cardinal [Wolsey] to inquire into accusations made by the convent of Vale Royal against the abbot. Dr. Lee wanted the abbot to promise resignation, but he refused, though he submitted himself to the Cardinal's judgment. Dr. Lee afterwards alleged that the abbot had subscribed a bill of articles [of accusation], but the abbot of Cumbe knew nothing of that. This is no doubt the matter referred to by one of Bonner's correspondents in May, 1530: "My lord of the Vale Royal is in his possession again with the king's favour and letters, and some of his brethren [are] in the castle of Chester—not at all to their pleasure; no thanks to Mr. Lee" (Letters and Papers, iv, No. 6411). In April 1535 there is mention of " the liberty of John Boteler, abbot of Vale Royal" (Chester Plea Roll 237, m. 46b). In June, 1535, it was notified that the abbot of Vale Royal had died (Letters and Papers, vii, No. 868; corrected in viii, p. 417 note). A paper of somewhat earlier date names Henry Saxson as abbot of "Vale Riall" (Letters and Papers, vii, No. 923, xxiv), but the name of the abbey may have been written down in mistake, for a monk of that name seems to have been of Vaudey, in Lincolnshire.

John Harwood or Harware, the last abbot, occurs 1535–38 (Deputy-Keeper's Report xxv, App. 28). He had been abbot of the small house of Hulton in Staffordshire (Letters and Papers, vii, No. 1094). A surrender of Vale Royal was obtained on 7 September 1538, but the abbot's signature appears to be a forgery (ibid. xiii (pt. 2), No. 297, 314). See also Ormerod, who prints various documents (Cheshire, ii, 152). The abbot had been accused of consent to the slaying of Hugh Chaloner, one of the monks, (fn. 3) and convicted in the local court; but there can be little doubt that this was a device to force him to surrender, and Ormerod is in error in stating that no pension was allowed him. In 1539 a pension of £60 a year was assigned to John Harwood or Harvar the abbot, and it was paid down to 1546 (Letters and Papers, xiv (pt. 1), p. 599; xvi, p. 354, &c.).

Abbots Stratford, Buckley, and Harwood are named as the last abbots in the report about Whitegate parish quoted in Appendix B.


  • 1. One of the same name was in charge of the building works, as appears by the accounts printed in the Appendix; and see Abbrev. of Plea Rolls, 280.
  • 2. In a pleading of 1538 relating to the advowson of Frodsham it was stated that the deceased vicar had been presented by William, abbot of Vale Royal. This was in February 1514–5. John, the succeeding abbot, on 14 December 1517 assigned the next presentation to Thomas Hatton (Chester Plea Roll 240, m. 13).
  • 3. The coroner's jury at the time found that Chaloner had stabbed himself in the refectory, September, 1536, and had died of the wound a few days later (Chester Plea Roll 238, m. 34).