Houses of Cistercian monks
Fountains

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Victoria County History

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William Page (editor)

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1974

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134-138

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'Houses of Cistercian monks: Fountains', A History of the County of York: Volume 3 (1974), pp. 134-138. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=36236 Date accessed: 28 July 2014.


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22. FOUNTAINS ABBEY

At the time that the work of St. Bernard had begun to make itself felt in England, when the abbey of Rievaulx had just been founded, (fn. 1) the great Benedictine house of St. Mary in York, under the rule of its third abbot, Geoffrey, was somewhat lax as to its internal discipline, (fn. 2) and as the reports reached the brethren of the more rigorous form of monasticism being observed in such places as Rievaulx, the monks of St. Mary began to long for a stricter rule. The one first influenced seems to have been the sacrist, Richard, and others soon joined him. The prior of the house, also named Richard, shared their views, and before long became the leader of the dissatisfied group of thirteen brethren. (fn. 3) The abbot remonstrated, but the thirteen, led by the prior, made their wishes known to Archbishop Thurstan, who at once sympathized with them. The archbishop paid a visit to the abbey on 9 October 1132, accompanied by Dean Hugh (fn. 4) and many others. On their arrival at the chapter-house they were refused admission and a tumultuous scene followed, the archbishop placing the abbey under an interdict and himself and friends having to seek refuge in the church. When they left they were accompanied by the thirteen malcontent monks; Richard the prior, (fn. 5) Gervase the subprior, (fn. 6) Richard the sacrist, (fn. 7) Walter (fn. 8) the almoner, (fn. 9) Robert the precentor, (fn. 10) Ranulph, (fn. 11) Alexander (?), (fn. 12) Geoffrey, (fn. 13) Gregory, Thomas, Hamo, Gamel and Ralph, (fn. 14) and they were joined by Robert, a monk of Whitby. (fn. 15)

For nearly three months these brethren were the guests of the archbishop. But during that time the abbot did his utmost by force, threat, entreaty and other means to persuade them to return. Two of them yielded, Gervase and Ralph, but the former rejoined the group, whilst the latter ' made terms with his flesh, and his belly clave to the ground.' These thirteen brethren—the twelve and Robert of Whitby— spent Christmas Day with the archbishop at Ripon, and the following day he led them along the valley of the Skell to a spot 3 miles from Ripqn, which with land adjacent he gave to them as the site of their future monastery. Richard the prior was elected the first abbot of the abbey of Fountains, (fn. 16) on the morrow of the Feast of the Nativity, 1132. (fn. 17)

They formally decided to adopt the Cistercian rule, and put themselves in communication with St. Bernard, (fn. 18) explaining their circumstances and origin and asking that they might be admitted to the order. St. Bernard replied expressing his delight at their decision, and wrote also to the archbishop, extolling him for his goodness to the suffering monks. (fn. 19) He dispatched one of his monks, Geoffrey, to initiate them into the new rule, who, on his return to Clairvaux, gave so glowing a report (fn. 20) of all he had witnessed in the valley of the Skell that the little society was at once augmented by the addition of seven clerks and ten novices. (fn. 21)

Great suffering lay before the infant community, however. A famine arose, and so scarce was food that they had to cook for themselves herbs and leaves, and the famous elm under which they sheltered ' conferred on them a twofold blessing, affording protection in winter and providing food in summer.' (fn. 22) But after two years of this privation, the brethren felt that they must seek relief, and the abbot repaired to St. Bernard, asking that he and his community might be received at Clairvaux. To this request the saint acceded, one of the Clairvaux granges being destined for their use. (fn. 23) But just at this time, during Abbot Richard's absence, the Dean of York, Hugh, resigned his deanery and retired to Fountains, carrying with him his great wealth, (fn. 24) and a collection of scriptural works, and the contemplated migration to France was abandoned. (fn. 25)

The charter of foundation, which still exists at Studley, is undated, but as William the dean was a witness, (fn. 26) it was not drawn up, evidently, until Hugh the dean had retired to the abbey. Before Fountains reached her majority (fn. 27) she was the mother abbey of seven Cistercian establishments—Newminster, (fn. 28) founded 1138; Kirkstead, (fn. 29) 1139; Woburn, (fn. 30) 1145; Lisa, (fn. 31) 1146; Vaudey, (fn. 32) 1147; Kirkstall, (fn. 33) 1147; and Meaux, (fn. 34) 1150. Thirteen was the regulation number of monks, according to the Cistercian Consuetudines, for commencing a new abbey of that order, and these various emigrations from the parent house would be a drain upon the monks; but the abbey of Fountains suffered no diminution of vigour, and with the passage of the years the supply of brethren seemed to increase. In 1147 there was a great contention about William Fitz Herbert's deposition from the northern primacy. The Cistercians had opposed his election, and the Abbot of Fountains, Murdac, led the opposition. When William was suspended his partisans rushed to Fountains to seize the abbot, but though he was in the church, prostrate in adoration before the altar, he was missed; the church was set on fire, and the abbey sacked. (fn. 35) Abbot Murdac became archbishop in William's stead, and the fabric rose ' far more beautiful than it had been before.' (fn. 36) Before the end of the century the conventual buildings were well advanced, and in 1204 Abbot John of York began the work of enlarging the church eastwards.' The church was finished in 1245 by Abbot John de Cantia, (fn. 37) who built and finished the nine altars, the cloister, infirmary, pavement, and guest-house for poor and rich. (fn. 38)

Near the end of the 12th century, during an outbreak of the plague, the poor crowded to the abbey in such numbers that the ordinary accommodation was inadequate, and improvised tents were fitted up. Nurses and priests were provided for their temporal and spiritual needs, and whilst in many places ordinary Christian burial was dispensed with, at Fountains those who succumbed to the plague were buried with the full rites of the Church. (fn. 39)

During the 13th and 14th centuries, but specially during the 13th, there was scarcely a year that was not characterized by some considerable grant or donation to the abbot and convent. A long list, consisting of 61 folio pages, of these various gifts is supplied by Dr. Burton. (fn. 40)

But, notwithstanding all these riches lavished upon the abbey, there was still need for economy and care, and towards the end of the 13th century the monks were found to be in great poverty, This was partly due to the great expenses that had been incurred in the costly building, (fn. 41) and partly because of internal laxity, (fn. 42) the archbishop at that time writing to the Cistercian houses in England that the monks at Fountains had become the diversion of all men. (fn. 43)

In their financial troubles the convent, it seems, had gone for relief to the Jews, and in 1274 we find Philip de Wylgheby appointed abbey custodian because the house was in debt to the king, by reason of a loan in the king's Jewry, and also owing money to divers creditors. (fn. 44) In the same year, on 9 November, a grant was made to Anthony Bek, clerk of the household, of all debts, &c., wherein the abbot and convent are bound to Jews. (fn. 45) On 24 June 1275 Edward I acquitted the abbey of £900 owed by them to Joces and Bonamies, Jews of York, which the king gave to Antony Bek, to whom the money had been paid by the abbot and convent. (fn. 46) The debt on the abbey had been £6,373, but in 1290 this liability had been reduced to £1,293. (fn. 47) In the following year, 1291, John de Berewin, king's clerk, was appointed by Edward I to the custody of the abbey, to apply the revenues to ' the relief of the impoverished condition into which it had fallen.' (fn. 48) And that no additional debt might be incurred, 'no sheriff, bailiff or other minister or other person whatsoever was to lodge in the abbey or its granges during the said custody.' (fn. 49) The monks suffered considerably through the invasions of the Scots, (fn. 50) so much so that on 25 November 1319 the king exempted them from taxation. (fn. 51)

In the year 1317 some of the abbey granges were in a ruinous condition, (fn. 52) and frequent invasions were made by the Scots. Edward III therefore in 1327 issued a mandate to the abbot ordering him and other abbots to stay at home and give their attention to the custody of their respective abbeys, inasmuch as the Scots, 'our foes and rebels,' were making attacks on the kingdom, ' perpetrating murders, robberies, fires, and other inhuman evils.' (fn. 53)

In 1344 certain ' satellites of Satan, unmindful of their salvation,' had irreverently invaded the granges, manors, and other properties of the abbey, and on 26 August the chapter of York in the dean's absence issued a mandate to excom municate all such felonious intruders into the monastic possessions. (fn. 54)

In the year 1363, a petition sent to the abbey of Clairvaux, asking that the brethren at Fountains might convert many of their ruined granges into ' vills' and farm them out to secular persons, was granted. These granges, now ' perished, burnt and reduced to nothing' by the 'wars of the Scotch and English,' were at Aldborough, Sleningford, Sutton, Cowton, Cayton, Bramley, Bradley, Kilnsea, and Thorpe. (fn. 55)

On the death of Abbot Robert Burley, in 1410, Roger Frank, one of the monks, was appointed on 30 July as his successor. (fn. 56) There was a great disturbance in consequence, Frank being expelled and John Ripon (fn. 57) elected abbot. Ripon petitioned Parliament in 1414 that the expelled abbot should be made to restore certain properties of great value which he had appropriated. But he was informed that sufficient remedy was to be obtained from the common law. Then Frank petitioned Parliament asking for restoration to his abbacy, declaring that Ripon had been appointed by a bull purchased from the pope by means of which he himself had been ousted. (fn. 58) In the end the king referred the matter to his ambassadors at the council of Constance, but their decision is not known, though Frank was certainly not restored, Ripon retaining the abbacy till his death in 1434. (fn. 59) Sometime (1410-15) during the great papal schism the anti-pope John XXIII granted an indult to the Abbot John and his successors at Fountains to use the mitre and ring and pastoral staff and all other episcopal insignia, and to give in the monastery and in the churches of its daughter monasteries, &c., solemn benediction after mass, vespers, and matins, provided that no bishop or papal legate were then present; to consecrate altars, vessels, chalices, corporals, &c.; to promote monks of the order to all minor orders, &c., to rehabilitate the monks, &c. This indult, however, was annulled on 5 May 1428 by Pope Martin V. (fn. 60) But the privilege must have been renewed subsequently, for certainly the Abbots of Fountains wore the mitre, and in the inventory of church goods made just before the Dissolution the mitre figures more than once. One mitre had ' edges of silver and gilt and set with round pieces of silver, white like pearl, and flower'd of silver, and gilt in midward.' It weighed 12 oz. and was valued at £2 12s. Another mitre was of silver gilt and set with pearl and stone. Its weight was 70 oz. and it was valued at £15 3s. 4d. The pastoral staff and ring and the other ' episcopal insignia' are also found in the inventory, (fn. 61) and are clear evidence that the head of Fountains, in later times at all events, was a ' mitred abbot.'

In 1443 Sir John Neville was charged before the Privy Council, on pain of £1,000, to bring the men who had been lately making a riot at the abbey. He pleaded ignorance of the parties, but promised to have them brought, and he was charged to keep the peace with regard to the house, ' so that by him, nother by his, nother by their abettement, nother procuring, any harme in body, nother in goods, be done to the saide Abbot, convent, nother to their servantz, nother welwillers.' (fn. 62) A commission was issued the next year by Archbishop Kemp against certain anonymous 'sons of iniquity' who had infringed the liberties of the house; they were to be warned that within three months they must make restitution under pain of the greater excommunication. (fn. 63)

William Thirsk, who was at the head of the house in 1526, (fn. 64) was evidently not a great success. About 1530 (fn. 65) the Earl of Northumberland wrote through Thomas Arundel to Cardinal Wolsey complaining of his bad rule, and suggesting, with the evident approval of the brethren, that if ' matter of deprivation ' could be found, he should be removed from the abbacy and a new election be made. (fn. 66) Thirsk, it appears, was visitor-general of the Cistercian houses, and when the Abbot of Rievaulx was deposed, the king asked Thirsk to confirm the act. He hesitated to undertake this and certain other contingent matters, (fn. 67) and when afterwards he took part in the ' Pilgrimage of Grace,' he was tried and found guilty and was hanged at Tyburn in 1537. Thirsk had resigned the abbacy on 20 January 1536 to Legh and Layton, who accused him of incontinence and theft and termed him an idiot, but promised him a pension of 100 marks. (fn. 68) After his enforced resignation he retired to the abbey of Rievaulx and ' appears to have been partly persuaded to join the Pilgrimage' by hopes of regaining his abbacy. (fn. 69)

When the religious houses were visited, Fountains of course was easily seen to be among those not to be dissolved in the first instance. The Dean of York and Edward the Abbot of Rievaulx made an inventory of the abbey plate, goods, &c., which is given in full by Burton (fn. 70) and the Surtees Society's publication. (fn. 71) The total value of the plate was over £900, that in the church alone being valued at £519 15s. 5d. The number of cattle of various kinds is also given. Of horned cattle there were 2,356, of sheep 1,326, horses 86, swine 79. The total annual revenue from various rents, &c., at this time was £1,239 6s. 3½d., the outgoing £123 8s. 1½d., and the clear remainder £1,115 18s. 2d. (fn. 72)

The surrender of the abbey was made on 26 November 1539 (fn. 73) by Abbot Marmaduke Bradley, the prior, and thirty brethren, (fn. 74) all priests. On 28 November pensions were assigned to the abbot (£100), prior (£8) and monks (£5 to £6 13s. 4d.). (fn. 75)

It was intended that the revenues of Fountains should be applied to the foundation of a bishopric of Fountains to include the archdeaconry of Richmond with jurisdiction over Lancashire. A draft of the scheme, (fn. 76) which embraced a bishop, dean, six prebendaries, and six minor canons, besides choristers and masters of the grammar and song schools and other contemplated officers and charges, estimated the total cost at £589 6s. 8d. Allowances were also made for tenths and firstfruits, making the total £669 13s. 9d. This, together with the amount of, pensions, £277 6s. 8d., would nearly have exhausted the 'clear remainder' of the abbey revenues, which was £998 6s. 8½d. (fn. 77) But the scheme was not consummated.

Abbots of Fountains (fn. 78)

Richard, first abbot, (fn. 79) elected 1132, died 1139 (fn. 80)

Richard, succeeded 1139, died 1143 (fn. 81)

Henry Murdac, succeeded 1143, died 1153 (fn. 82)

Maurice, succeeded 1146, resigned

Thorold, (fn. 83) succeeded 1146, resigned (fn. 84)

Richard, (fn. 85) died 1170

Robert de Pipewell, (fn. 86) succeeded 1170, died 1179

William, (fn. 87) died 1190

Ralph Haget, (fn. 88) died 1203

John de Eboraco, (fn. 89) elected 1203, died 1209 (fn. 90)

John Pherd, (fn. 91) Bishop of Ely 1220

John de Cancia, succeeded 1220, died 1247

Stephen de Eston, (fn. 92) occurs 1251-2, died 1252

William de Allerton, occurs 1256, died 1258

Adam, died 1259

Alexander, died 1265

Reginald, occurs 1268-9, died 1274

Peter Aling, elected 1275, resigned 1279 (fn. 93)

Nicholas, elected 1279, died 1279

Adam, (fn. 94) elected 1280, died 1284

Henry de Otley, elected 1284, died 1289(?)

Robert Thornton, occurs 1289, (fn. 95) died 1306

Robert Bisshopton, occurs 1307, (fn. 95a) died 1310

William Rigton, succeeded 1311, (fn. 96) resigned 1316

Walter de Cokewold, occurs 1316, (fn. 97) resigned 1336

Robert Copgrave, occurs 1336, (fn. 97a) 1342, (fn. 97b) died 1346

Robert Monkton, occurs 1346, died 1369

William Gower, succeeded 1369, (fn. 98) resigned 1383 (fn. 99)

Robert Burley, succeeded 1383, (fn. 100) died 1410

Roger Frank, succeeded 1410, expelled

John Ripon, occurs 1413, died 1434

Thomas Paslew, succeeded 1435, (fn. 101) resigned 1442

John Martin, succeeded 1442, (fn. 102) died 1442

John Greenwell, occurs 1444, 1471 (5 February)

Thomas Swynton, (fn. 103) occurs 1471, resigned 1478

John Darneton, succeeded 1478 (fn. 104)

Marmaduke Huby, (fn. 105) occurs 1494, 1516

William Thirsk, occurs 1526, (fn. 106) hanged 1537

Marmaduke Bradley, occurs 1537, last abbot.

The seal (fn. 107) of an abbot of the beginning of the 13th century is a vesica, 15/8 in. by 1 in. It has a figure of the abbot standing and holding staff and book, with the legend—

SIGILLVM ABBA .... ONTANIS

The 16th-century seal (fn. 108) of the court is circular, 7/8 in. in diameter, with a design of our Lady holding the Child. The legend is—

✠CVRIA B. MARIÆ DE FONTIBVS

Footnotes

1 In 1131 (Surf. Soc. Publ. lxvii, 116).
2 Ibid.
3 Surt. Soc. Publ. xlii, p. xxvi.
4 He afterwards retired to Fountains, where he died.
5 First Abbot of Fountains.
6 Afterwards Abbot of Louth Park.
7 Second Abbot of Fountains.
8 Waltheof is given in Surt. Soc. Publ. xlii, p. xxv.
9 Abbot of Kirkstead.
10 Surt. Soc. Publ. xlii, p. xxix.
11 Abbot of Lisa (ibid. p. xlvii).
12 First Abbot of Kirkstall.
13 Abbot of Haverholme (Surt. Soc. Publ., xlii, p. xli).
14 Ibid. p. xxxiii.
15 Saint Robert of Newminster, of which he was abbot.
16 The dedication was St. Mary, the ordinary appellation being Fountains.
17 Surt. Soc. Publ. xlii, p. xxxiv.
18 Raine, St. Mary's Abbey, 51.
19 Surt. Soc. Publ. xlii, p. xxxv.
20 Raine, St. Mary's Abbey, 52.
21 Surt. Soc. Publ. xlii, p. xxxvi. Burton in Mon. Ebor. 142, says ' ten priests and laymen.'
22 Hospitium in hyeme, in aestate pulmentum (Surt. Soc. Publ. xlii, 49).
23 Burton, Mon. Ebor. 142.
24 Drake, Eboracum (small ed.), v, 158.
25 Surt. Soc. Publ. xlii, p. xxxvii.
26 Ibid. 156.
27 Fasti Ebor. 214.
28 Surt. Soc. Publ. xlii, 58.
29 Ibid. pp. xl, xli.
30 Yorks. Arch. Journ. xv, 273.
31 In Norway, Surt. Soc. Publ. xlii, 89.
32 Ibid. 93.
33 Burton, Mon. Ebor. 287.
34 Surt. Soc. Publ. xlii, 94. Meaux was ' novissima filiarum quas genuit mater nostra, et cessavit iterum parere ' (Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 302).
35 Fasti Ebor. 216.
36 Yorks. Arch. Journ. xv, 276.
37 Lawton, Relig. Houses, 55; Burton, Mon. Ebor. 142.
38 Surt. Soc. Publ. xlii, 136.
39 Ibid. 61.
40 Mon. Ebor. 148-209.
41 Ibid. 142.
42 Ibid.
43 York Archiepis. Reg. Romanus, fol. 98.
44 Pat. 2 Edw. I, m. 7.
45 Ibid. m. 2.
46 Ibid. 3 Edw. I, m. 17.
47 Surt. Soc. Publ. lxvii, p. vi.
48 Pat. 19 Edw. I, m. 13.
49 Ibid.
50 So much damage was done by destruction, fire, and robbery that the whole communa of the abbey did not suffice for the daily sustentation of the brethren. York Archiepis. Reg. Melton, fol. 129 (under date 26 July 1318).
51 Rymer, Foedera, iii, 802.
52 Surt. Soc. Publ. lxvii, p. vii.
53 Scotch R. 1 Edw. III, m. 3 d.
54 Surt. Soc. Publ. xlii, 199, 200.
55 Ibid. 203, 204, quoting the original licence at Studley Royal.
56 Ibid. lxvii, p. vii; York Archiepis. Reg. Bowett, fol. 265.
57 Abbot of Meaux: Surt. Soc. Publ, xlii, 211.
58 Ibid. 212.
59 Baildon, Mon. Notes; Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 288.
60 Cal. of Papal Letters, vii, 144.
61 Burton, Mon. Ebor. 144.
62 Surt. Soc. Publ. xlii, 222, 223.
63 Ibid. 223-5.
64 Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 288.
65 Ante 4 Nov. 1530, the date of Wolsey's arrest.
66 Surt. Soc. Publ. xlii, 252.
67 Ibid. 260.
68 L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, 137.
69 Ibid, xiii (2), 500.
70 Mon. Ebor. 143-7.
71 Surt. Soc. Publ. xlii, 288-95.
72 Burton, Mon. Ebor. 146, 147.
73 Surt. Soc. Publ. lxvii, p. x.
74 The number of monks varied. In 1380-1 the abbot was taxed at 10s. 7½d., thirty-three monks at 3s. 4d. each, and ten convent at 1s. each (Subs. R. 63, no. 12).
75 Mon. Angl. v, 313.
76 Aug. Off. P. xxiv, fol. 77.
77 Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 312.
78 This list is taken from Baildon's Mon. Notes except where otherwise specified.
79 Surt. Soc. Publ. xlii, 130.
80 Buried at Rome (ibid.).
81 Ibid.
82 Apparently held the primacy and abbacy conjointly.
83 Maurice and Thorold were appointed by Archbishop Murdac, and in the ' President's Book ' are not called fourth and fifth abbots. Richard is called fourth abbot.
84 Thorold came from Rievaulx, to which he returned after his resignation.
85 Richard, like Maurice and Thorold, until 1153 ruled the abbey ' under the Archbishop.'
86 Formerly Abbot of Pipewell.
87 Formerly canon of Guisborough and Abbot of Newminster.
88 Originally a soldier, Abbot of Kirkstall 1182-90.
89 ' President's Bk.' Surt. Soc. Publ. xlii, 154.
90 Died 14 June 1209 (Surt. Soc. Publ. xlii, 133), Formerly Abbot of Louth Park.
91 Called ' Johannes Elien' in President's Bk.
92 Formerly cellarer of Fountains, afterwards Abbot of Sawley and then Abbot of Newminster.
93 'Cessavit aut depositus fuit Petrus' (Surt. Soc. Publ. xlii, 139).
94 'Adam Ravenswath' (Surt. Soc. Publ. xlii, 140).
95 Ibid.; Cal Pat. 1281-92, p. 319.
95 a Ibid. 1301-7, p. 547.
96 He was blessed in the sixth year of Archbishop Greenfield's pontificate, which seems to point to 1310 as the date of his appointment (York Archiepis. Reg. Greenfield, a slip between fol. 52 and 53), but the President's Book says he was made abbot 6 Apr. 1311 (Surt. Soc. Publ. xlii, 141).
97 The Dean and chapter of York asked R. the Bishop of Durham, the primacy being then vacant, to bless Walter de Cokewold, Abbot of Fountains, in some church or chapel in York diocese (York Archiepis. Reg. sede vac. fol. 84).
97 a Duchy of Lane. Misc. Bks. vii, i.
97 b Year Bk. 16 Edw. III (Rolls Sen), 283. The plea quoted gives Adam as abbot in 1290, followed by Robert, Hugh, and William, temp. Edw. I, and Walter, temp. Edw. II. It seems impossible to reconcile this succession with our list.
98 He was blessed, 25 Nov. 1369, in the chapel at Bishopthorpe (York Archiepis. Reg. Thoresby, fol. 293b).
99 Gower was blind in his old age and died in 1390 (Sort. Soc. Publ. xlii, 145}.
100 Ibid.
101 On 26 Mar. 1435 the Bishop of Dromore was commissioned to bless Thomas Passelew, Abbot of Fountains and receive his oath of obedience; York Archiepis. Reg. Kemp, fol. 392 d.
102 Oath of obedience, 14 Sept. 1442 (ibid. fol. 45).
103 Called Thomas Wynston in York Archiepis. Reg. Alex. Nevill, fol. 136b, but in 1478 he is called Thomas Swynton (ibid. Booth, fol. 87), as he is in 1476; Cal. Pat. 1467-77, p. 602.
104 He was cellarer when he was unanimously elected (Surt. Soc. Publ. xlii, 150 n.).
105 In his time was built the 'noble tower still remaining. He was 'made Abbot' in 1494 (ibid. 230 n.), York Archiepis. Reg. Rotherham, i, fol. 83.
108 A commission was given, 22 Oct. 1526, to Matthew, Bishop of Calcedon, to bless Bro. William Thriske, Abbot of Fountains. (York Archiepis. Reg. Wolsey, fol. 84.)
107 Cat. of Seals, B.M. 3170; lxxiv, 46.
108 Ibid. 3169; D.C.H. 35.