A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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HOUSES OF BENEDICTINE MONKS
1. THE ABBEY OF ABINGDON
Wonderful, but quite baseless, legends were once current with regard to the very early history of the abbey of Abingdon, as to its being founded by King Lucius and destroyed by the Emperor Diocletian; as to the Emperor Constantine receiving here his education as a youth; or as to the five hundred monks who lived by the labours of their hands in the surrounding wilds and woods, returning to the abbey on Sundays and festivals, whilst sixty quire monks continuously maintained a round of services. (fn. 1) Sweeping aside, however, all such fond inventions, the genuine history of the abbey is well established from an exceptionally early date. The story of the rise and growth of this ancient religious house is told, with much circumstance, in two valuable manuscripts of the Cotton Collection, which cover the period of its first five hundred years. These two copies of the Historia Monasterii de Abingdon, both of the thirteenth century, though one is about fifty years older than the other, were selected as one of the first subjects to be treated in the 'Chronicles and Memorials,' or Rolls Series, founded in 1857; they were ably transcribed and collated, with useful introductions by the late Mr. Stevenson. (fn. 2)
From these chronicles, the general authenticity of which Mr. Stevenson saw no reason to doubt, it would appear that the abbey was traditionally founded about 675 by Cissa, and the foundation furthered by Ceadwalla and Ina, all three successive kings of the West Saxons. It was established in honour of the Blessed Virgin, for the support of twelve monks. Cissa, a chieftain who ruled in Berkshire and Wiltshire under Centwin, had a nephew, Hean, who, with his sister Cilla, resolved to lead a life of poverty and humility. Obtaining a large grant of land to the south of Oxfordshire they added to it their patrimonial inheritance. Cilla speedily founded a nunnery, dedicated to St. Helen, on a site named Helenstow (part of the future Abingdon), which was moved after her death higher up the Thames to Wytham. There the nuns continued for about a century, but in the war between Offa and Kinewolf they were dispersed and never reassembled.
When Cissa first granted the land round Abingdon to Hean, it was on the understanding that a monastery should be there founded; but delays arose. On Cissa being succeeded by Ceadwalla, the grant to them was confirmed and considerably augmented. In 688 Ceadwalla departed to Rome and was succeeded by Ina, who—possibly irritated at the delay in building the abbey—withdrew the conditional grants made by his two predecessors; but at a later period a reconciliation between Hean and King Ina took place, and at last the long-delayed foundation of Abingdon was accomplished, and its precinct walls were raised within view of the hostile kingdom of Mercia, on the verge of the remote limits of the reduced see of Winchester.
Hean became the first abbot and outlived Ina, dying in the reign of his successor Athelwulf. He was followed in the abbey by Cumma. Owing to its situation on the frontiers of Wessex and Mercia the early history of this abbey was one of conflict, for important battles were fought in its immediate neighbourhood. In 752 Cuthred, king of Wessex, gained a great victory over Ethelbald, king of the Mercians, at Durford in Oxfordshire; but twenty years later the reverse was the case, when Offa routed Cynewulf of Wessex at Bensington. One result of this was the disruption of the nunnery at Wytham. In the time of Offa a certain bishop of Leicester, by name Hrethun, renounced his bishopric, and becoming a monk at Abingdon was elected its third abbot. Hrethun obtained certain important privileges from the king and journeyed to Rome to obtain their confirmation.
After flourishing for about two hundred years the abbey was destroyed by the Danes. According to one of the early chronicles of Abingdon the original monastic church, as built by Hean, was 120 ft. long, and had both a western and an eastern apse. (fn. 3) The high altar stood on the site afterwards occupied by the lavatory. There were twelve small chambers for the twelve monks, with an oratory attached to each. The whole was surrounded by a high wall. Both church and buildings had undergone much alteration and reconstruction ere they were swept away in the Danish incursion.
King Alfred for some reason did not see fit to restore this ancient monastery, but granted its estates away.
St. Ethelwold (who was afterwards bishop of Winchester, 963-84) was instructed by Edred to supervise the re-establishment of the monastery, though the work was not accomplished until the days of King Edgar. Ethelwold was appointed abbot during the reconstruction. He caused the new church to be rebuilt with a chancel apse; the nave also, which was twice the length of the chancel, had an apse and a round tower. With his own hands he made organs, and caused to be constructed a great wheel, or crown, of gold, from which hung twelve lamps and innumerable little bells. Among his other gifts were a tablet of pure gold and silver, sculptured with the Twelve Apostles, over the altar, worth £300, and three crosses of gold and silver 4 ft. high. With his own hands he also made two bells and various ecclesiastical vessels of brass. Among other works of Ethelwold were the mills on the river, and the aqueduct that brought water under the river. (fn. 4)
In 963, when Ethelwold left Abingdon to be bishop of Winchester, he was succeeded by Osgar. Ethelwold returned to Abingdon to be present with Dunstan and other bishops at the consecration of the completed monastery. Osgar died in 984, in the same year as his predecessor Ethelwold.
Wulfgar, the tenth abbot, obtained an important charter of privileges and confirmation from King Ethelred II in 993. Siward, the twelfth abbot, was consecrated bishop of Rochester in 1058. Sparhavoc, the fourteenth abbot, a monk of St. Edmund's, was a wonderful artificer in gold and silver. Of him the early chronicler of Abingdon tells the discreditable tale that he was entrusted with gold and gems to make a crown for Edward the Confessor, but decamped with the materials. (fn. 5) Sparhavoc was not, however, abbot at that time, for he had then just been promoted to the bishopric of London and was succeeded in the abbacy in 1050 by Ralph, a Norwegian bishop, who was a relative of King Edward. (fn. 6)
Ealdred, the seventeenth abbot, was ruling at the time of the Norman Conquest. He made early submission to King William, but in 1071 he was deposed, committed for a time to prison in the castle of Wallingford, and then suffered to end his days in the custody of Walkelin, bishop of Winchester. (fn. 7)
The two following abbots were both Norman monks from Jumièges. It was in the days of Rainald, the latter of these, that the Domesday Survey was taken; it has already been shown what a large and rich portion of Berkshire the abbey then held, as well as a considerable tract in Oxfordshire, and manors in Gloucestershire and Warwickshire. (fn. 8)
Motbert is entered as the twentieth abbot in Bishop Kennett's list, and in this he is followed in the enlarged Dugdale. But Motbert was only prior of Abingdon; he was appointed abbot of Milton Abbey in the year 1100, when Faricius became twentieth abbot of Abingdon. (fn. 9) Faricius was a distinguished benefactor. He rebuilt the nave of the church, with two great towers, and almost the whole of the conventual buildings. The materials were brought from Wales, six wagons, each drawn by twelve oxen, being engaged in the work. The journey there and back took six or seven weeks. A fine list is given of the ornaments and vestments that he supplied for the church. A considerable catalogue of the books that he caused to be transcribed for the abbey library, in addition to the service books, begins with St. Augustine's De Civitate Dei, and concludes with multos libros de physica. (fn. 10) His own skill in medicine was considerable. In two instances the abbey benefited by his success as a physician. One Miles Crispin, in the year 1106, sent his steward and chaplain to place on the high altar at Abingdon the title-deeds of a hospice and adjacent lands at Colnbrook, Buckinghamshire, on account of the service rendered to him in his illness by the abbot. For a like cause Geoffrey de Vere conferred on the abbey the church of Kensington. (fn. 11)
Vincent, the twenty-first abbot, another Jumièges monk, who ruled from 1121 to 1130, by his timely boldness obtained an important charter from Henry I. Understanding that the abbey had no legal right to certain of its privileges, the king instructed his officials to take the whole abbey into the crown's hands whilst its claims were being investigated. Vincent hastened to court, taking the charter of Edward the Confessor with him, which secured to the abbey the market of Abingdon, and their rights over the hundred of Hornmere. The king ordered it to be read aloud by the bishop of Salisbury, his chancellor, whereupon the abbot instantly asked for confirmation under the royal seal, offering 300 marks to secure it. The king closed with the offer, but the required sum could only be obtained by breaking off some of the beautiful gold and silver work wherewith St. Ethelwold had adorned the back of the high altar. (fn. 12)
Vincent's successor, Ingulf, who had been prior of Winchester, ruled the abbey for nearly twenty-nine years (1130-59). During his day and that of his successor, Walkelin, who died in 1164, there was much conflict as to the valuable market privileges of Abingdon granted to the abbey by the Confessor and confirmed by Henry I. On the accession of Henry II the inhabitants of Wallingford united with the townsfolk of Oxford in an attack on this market privilege, disputed the charters, and obtained from the king, when on the eve of sailing for Normandy, an ad interim prohibition of the Abingdon market, saving for a few trifling commodities. Armed with this authority, the men of Wallingford, under the constable of the royal castle, marched to Abingdon, and in the king's name proceeded by force to clear the market, but the abbot's retainers were strong enough to put their enemies to the rout and drove them from the town. Thereupon the proctors of Wallingford crossed the seas, laid their side of the case before Henry II, and returned with a writ addressed to the Chief Justiciary. This writ summoned a county court from which thirty-two aged men were selected to testify as to the usage in the time of the king's grandfather. Their finding was that they had all distinct and personal knowledge of a full market for the sale of every kind of vendible product. Thereupon the men of Wallingford appealed on the ground that some of the jury were connected with the abbey. A new writ was accordingly issued addressed to the whole county of Berkshire, save those who were tenants of the abbey. The cause was heard at Oxford. The men of Wallingford swore that in the reign of Henry I the market was only for bread and beer. Other jurors supported the abbey in all save the important point of produce conveyed by boats other than those of the abbot. The earl of Leicester, who sat as Chief Justiciary, pronounced no sentence, but took the report to the king at Salisbury, adding his own testimony that he had seen the market in full operation in the time of Henry I and earlier, for his memory took him back to the time of the Conqueror, in whose reign he had been educated within the abbey walls. The aged earl's testimony turned the scale, and the king affirmed the former judgement.
The next step of the opponents of the abbey's rights was one of singular rashness. They appeared before the king at Reading and told him that if the market at Abingdon was continued they could no longer fulfil their feudal tenures. This aroused the indignation of the king, who drove them tumultuously from his presence and commanded that from that day forward a full weekly market was to be continued at Abingdon under the abbey's rule. (fn. 13)
After a succession of three superiors of no particular mark, Hugh, the twenty-ninth abbot, was elected in 1189, and ruled until his death in 1221. The annalist gives him an unstinted character for modesty, liberality, and kindness. He was a considerable benefactor to the monastery, and his obit was always observed by the convent. (fn. 14)
Another occasional annalist of this house now appears on the scene. The Chronicle of the Monastery of Abingdon (1218-1304), in the University Library, Cambridge, makes special mention of the death of Abbot Hugh in 1221. The annalist describes him as a noble and liberal man.
He did many good things, for the new building was commenced and finished in his time, and before his death he solemnized mass there; he lies buried in the northern part. To him succeeded Robert de Henreth then the chamberlain. (fn. 15)
Licence was granted by the crown in 1227 to the abbot to inclose with ditch and hedge, so that wild animals (deer) could either enter or depart, six acres of wood at Shaw, which the convent had cleared and cultivated. (fn. 16) The abbot of Abingdon in 1229, at the request of the king, granted timber from his wood of Shaw for the making of piles in the work of walling the town of Oxford, and for the work then in progress at the castle of Oxford. In return for this the king granted the abbot full power to clear and cultivate the 26½ acres of wood whence this wood had been taken. (fn. 17)
In February, 1232, the abbot and convent of Abingdon obtained a faculty from Pope Alexander IV to wear caps suited to their order at divine offices, the cold of those parts being vehement. (fn. 18)
In 1258 King Henry came to visit Abingdon after the feast of the Holy Trinity, for the first time since his return from Gascony, and was received with a grand procession. About the same time the chapter gave the church of Sutton to Peter de Wylebi, which the pope had conferred on an Italian youth, Richard Hannibal. Matthew Hannibal, the youth's father, happened to be in England when he was nobly entertained by the king; he proceeded at once to Salisbury and demanded the institution of his son. But Peter, who was a brother of Abbot John of Abingdon, declined to resign; whereupon the bishop of Salisbury sent the archdeacon of Berkshire and the rural dean with the Italians to carry out Richard's institution. On their arrival, however, at Sutton the church was found to be full of armed men, who attacked the Italians, beating and wounding them. The Italians were furious with the abbey (ira maxima inflammati), but at this crisis John Mansel, keeper of the king's seal and about the most influential man in the kingdom, arrived on a visit to the abbey; he was able to allay the animosity and persuaded the monastery to give way to the pope. (fn. 19)
Immediately after Michaelmas, 1260, Henry III again visited the abbey and was honourably entertained; in 1261 he came once more to the house, arriving on the Sunday before the feast of St. Barnabas, and tarrying there for three days. At Martinmas, in the former of these years, this monastery was the scene of the inquiry into certain miracles stated to have been performed by Richard, bishop of Chichester, in consequence of a petition for his canonization; the inquiry was conducted by the bishop of Worcester and certain Dominican and Franciscan friars, and all the miracles were pronounced to be genuine. (fn. 20)
Henry de Fryleford, the thirty-second abbot, died suddenly on Trinity Sunday, 1262, after dinner; he had celebrated high mass that morning. The baronial war was now being waged; on 2 November of this year Henry III, with his whole army, arrived at Abingdon with banners flying. The king himself was received within the abbey. (fn. 21)
On 17 May, 1265, a violent thunderstorm broke over Abingdon; the south-west tower of the abbey was struck with lightning and much damaged; the building caught fire and the flames were with difficulty extinguished. (fn. 22)
In March, 1274, Abbot Richard de Henred obtained the king's licence to cross the seas to attend the council of Lyons, and appointed John de Cernay, his fellow monk, and William de Sparsholt to make attorneys in his place in all pleas until St. Peter ad Vincula, unless he should return to England by an earlier date. (fn. 23)
Edward I sojourned for several days at Abingdon Abbey in December, 1276, and also for two nights in March, 1281.
A chapel of St. Edmund—not St. Edmund the king, but St. Edmund Rich of Abingdon, treasurer and prebendary of Salisbury, and archbishop of Canterbury from 1234 until 1240—was founded by Edmund, earl of Cornwall, in the parish of St. Helen, in the year 1288, on a site where St. Edmund was known to have been born. The abbey, recognizing the earl of Cornwall as 'a kind of bounteous defender and protector,' covenanted always to maintain within this chapel two priests to celebrate for the souls of the earl and his ancestors. (fn. 24) The annals of Worcester state that many miracles took place in this chapel at Abingdon in 1289, the year after its foundation; (fn. 25) hence the chapel became famous, and the greater portion of its revenues were at one time derived from oblations on the altar. In 1404-5 these offerings amounted to £6 13s. 5d., and in 1405-6 to £5 10s. 5d.; but afterwards the amount fell off: it was 30s. in 1422-3, 58s. 10d. in 1466-7, 45s. 5d. in 1469-70, and only 12s. 8d. in 1478-9. As the offerings diminished, the receipts from tenements in Abingdon appropriated to the chapel fell off. Adjoining the chapel was a house containing hall, pantry, buttery, upper chamber, kitchen, and dormitory, where the two wardens lived.
The general chapter of the Benedictine monks of England was held in this abbey in July, 1290. (fn. 26)
At the king's request, in 1292, the abbot and convent granted sustenance, by letters patent sealed under their chapter seal, in their house for life to Nicholas de Teweng, on account of his services to Margaret, sometime queen of Scotland, the king's sister; the king notified the abbot that he would not charge them with the maintenance of any other person during the life of Nicholas. (fn. 27)
In January, 1296, Edward I sent his mandate to the abbot and convent requesting them to receive his servant Wobrodus, and to admit him with two horses and two grooms into their house until the ensuing Michaelmas, and to find them meanwhile all necessaries. (fn. 28)
Edmund de la Beche, clerk, in 1315 obtained the king's letters to the abbot and convent to have the pension that they were bound to grant to one of the king's clerks by reason of the new creation of the abbot. (fn. 29)
On the election of Garford, the crown nominated William de Elmham, clerk, to receive a pension at the hands of the convent until they could appoint him to a benefice, according to custom on the new creation of an abbot. (fn. 30)
There were various appointments of old servants of the crown to receive life sustenance in Abingdon Abbey during the years 1329 and 1330. Sometimes such servants received the king's letters to this effect for more than one religious house, showing that there must occasionally have been a money commutation for the food and clothing. Thus Henry de Dytton, late usher of the king's chamber, sent to Abingdon on 5 April, 1329, to take the place as pensioner of Vivian de Luke, deceased, had like letters to Waverley Abbey and to St. Andrew's, Northampton, whilst Vivian de Luke had been a pensioner of St. Albans as well as of Abingdon. (fn. 31)
A commission of inquiry was granted in December, 1295, on the complaint of the abbot of Abingdon. A grant of a yearly fair at their chapel of St. Edmund in the town of Abingdon, for the octave of the translation of that saint, had been heretofore allowed by the king; but Richard de Shupene, Thomas le Spicer, and nineteen others named, together with a multitude of malefactors, drove away men who were coming to the fair from the place of the chapel where it was appointed to be held. They also assaulted the three bailiffs appointed by the abbot as keepers of the fair, who were bearing wands according to custom, broke their wands, prevented the fair being held according to the king's grant, and caused it to be held in the hundred of Sutton, outside the town and the abbot's liberty. (fn. 32)
In 1318 the abbey found itself in financial difficulties, and the king, at the request of the abbot and convent, took it into his protection. William de Monte Acuto was appointed keeper during pleasure on 14 August. This appointment also included protection for the town of Abingdon. (fn. 33) Two years later, in August, 1320, dissensions arose with respect to a composition entered into by the abbey and convent for the division of the goods of their house and the satisfying of their debts. Thereupon the king again took the administration of the temporalities into his hands, and appointed Master Robert de Aileston, king's clerk, to be keeper; and the bishop of Salisbury and Hugh le Despenser the elder were ordered to inquire into the state of the abbey. (fn. 34) In November of the same year the crown appointed the abbot of Reading and another to make a thorough investigation of the abbey's affairs, and to order what amount was to be set aside for the maintenance of the convent, for the relief of the poor, and the discharge of its debts. The composition made by the abbey without the king's authority or consent was set aside as illegal. (fn. 35)
John de Sutton, the thirty-sixth abbot, was elected in 1315. In the sixth year of his rule the convent protested against his administration, and carried their remonstrances to Rome. After the matter had been successively examined by Nicholas cardinal of St. Eusebius, and Peter cardinal of St. Stephen's on the Coelian, Pope John XXII, in February, 1322, on the strength of their report (which was based on the depositions of witnesses) suspended Abbot John de Sutton, on the charge made against him by the prior and convent of alienating property to the amount of £1,000, and abstracting the documents relative thereto. The abbey of Westminster was ordered to administer the monastery of Abingdon during the suspension; whilst the abbots of Eynsham and Oseney, and Master Henry de Goldingham, canon of Ossory, were to publish the sentence of suspension, and to cite Sutton to appear before the pope within three months. (fn. 36) Sutton, however, died whilst under suspension, and his successor, John de Cannynges, was elected in June, 1322. (fn. 37)
In May, 1327, a commission of oyer and terminer was issued to Thomas le Blount and four others, on complaint that a large number of malefactors of the counties of Oxford and Berks. had lately, in confederation, attacked the town and abbey of Abingdon, entered and burnt houses, assaulted and beat the monks and abbey servants, killing some and detaining others in prison until they had paid fines for their release, and had also carried away chalices, vestments, and ornaments of the church with other goods. (fn. 38) In the following month protection was granted for one year to the monastery, the house having been so wasted by incursions of malefactors that the monks had for the most part withdrawn, and dared not for fear approach the place. The sheriff was ordered to cause proclamation to be made that the abbey was under his official protection. (fn. 39) Moreover, Gilbert de Ellesfeld and Thomas de Coudry were appointed by the crown, in August, 1327, to the custody of the abbey, which is described as having been devastated by the rioters, and consequently abandoned by the monks. The custodians had power assigned them to arrest malefactors who injured the abbey and hand them over to the sheriff. (fn. 40) In November the abbot was licensed to receive divers goods, such as chalices, books, vestments, ornaments, jewels, charters and muniments, of which the abbey had lately been despoiled, from certain of those who took them, and from others into whose hands they had come. (fn. 41) A further commission was issued in the same year empowering Fulk Fitz Waryn and others to do justice to those arrested and imprisoned for their share in the Abingdon disorders. (fn. 42) It is stated in the Close Rolls that the value of the spoiled goods of the abbey amounted to £10,000. (fn. 43)
The commission issued in January, 1328, on complaint of the abbot, gives many more particulars of the affray and those concerned in it. About eighty names are set forth, in addition to many unrecognized. Among these various tradesmen of Oxford are named, such as bakers, butchers, chandlers, fishmongers, skinners, and taverners, in addition to Thomas de Legh, the town clerk, and Master Matthew de Alverchurch, notary public. The rioters also included various tradesmen and others of Abingdon. It is stated that the mob besieged the abbey in a warlike manner, burnt the gates and certain of the houses within the abbey precincts, destroyed other houses of the abbot at Barton and Northcote, broke the walls of the abbey and the stalls (seldas) of a house of the abbot in Abingdon called Newhouse, dragged the timber of the stalls to the ground, and entering the abbey carried off plate, vestments, and other church goods, together with divers charters, writings, and other muniments. Further, they carried off Robert de Halton, the prior, who was then sick within the abbey, to Bagley Wood in Radley, and there threatened him with the loss of his head unless he did their will; afterwards they carried him back to the abbey, broke open the coffer containing the common seal, and compelled him under fear of death to seal three writings obligatory, by one of which the convent became bound to them in £1,000, by another they were released and quitclaimed from all trespasses, whilst a third granted the men of Abingdon power annually to elect a provost and bailiffs for the custody of the town, together with power to make a profit of the wastes opposite their houses towards the king's highway through the town.
A separate complaint of the abbot, which brought about the issuing of another separate commission at the same date, referred to forcible interference with his Monday market, with his seven days' fair at the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, and with a court called 'portemot,' held fortnightly by his bailiffs. (fn. 44) These commissions were renewed in the following March.
The disturbances brought about the death of the abbot, and on 18 January, 1324, the temporalities were restored to Robert de Garford, one of the monks, whose election as abbot had been confirmed. (fn. 45)
The trial of some of the rioters does not appear to have been finished even as late as May, 1330. In that month a writ of aid was issued for Robert Marye and Richard Peper, in conveying to Windsor Castle John le Spicer and five others, all of Abingdon, indicted for divers felonies and trespasses at Abingdon Abbey, and for whom Robert and Richard had given bail. (fn. 46)
In 1343 Pope Clement VI granted a faculty to the abbey of Abingdon to appropriate the church of Lewknor, Oxon.; in his instruction to the bishop of Lincoln the pope stated that the abbey had suffered losses amounting to £6,000. (fn. 47)
As a sequel to this attack the monks decided to strengthen their house as a matter of precaution, and royal licence to crenellate the whole of their site, including the hospital of St. John and the church of St. Nicholas within the precinct, was obtained in July, 1330. (fn. 48)
Edward III granted to the abbey in July, 1332, to have full administration of its temporalities during a vacancy, saving only the knights' fees and advowsons of churches, upon their rendering during such voidance at the rate of 100 marks per month. (fn. 49)
When the archbishop of Canterbury visited the abbey in 1390, he granted faculty to the abbot and his successors to reconcile, if necessity arose, the conventual church, the chapel of St. Helen, and the chapel of St. Nicholas, and their cemeteries, the water having been blessed by some Catholic bishop. (fn. 50)
In February, 1391, Boniface IX issued his mandate to license a cemetery for the parishioners of St. Helen's, Abingdon, in response to the petition of the vicar, Henry Bryt, and the parishioners. The petition set forth that they had no graveyard of their own, and that the funerals took place within the monastery precincts; that the abbot and convent were annoyed with the tumult made by those who followed the funerals, which interrupted their worship; that the monks did not allow the office for the dead to be said in the monastery; that lately, when the vicar celebrated the office of the dead in the parish, the monks closed the monastery gates and refused the body burial for three days and nights; that the gates being often carelessly kept, pigs had got into the cemetery and dug up corpses; and that the monks, without consent of friends or executors, removed, sold, and appropriated to their own use the costly tombstones. The proposed cemetery adjoined the parish church, and was inclosed by a stone wall. (fn. 51) The papal mandate for licence was addressed to the prior of Llanthony, near Gloucester. Meanwhile the abbot and convent of Abingdon complained to Rome on the prior granting the licence, that they had not been cited by the prior, and that they had obtained the committal of the cause to Master Brander, papal chaplain and auditor, who had proceeded to a number of acts short of a conclusion. Therefore, Boniface, in February, 1392, called in the case to himself. (fn. 52)
A mandate was issued by Pope Boniface IX in 1396 for the restoration of certain burial rights pertaining to the abbey. The petition of the abbot and convent stated that of ancient custom they had on the death of parishioners of the parish church (called a chapel) of St. Helen, and on their burial in the cemetery of the monastic church, the right of taking: (i) legacies and bequests made to them on account of burial there, (ii) for each body a candle and a farthing, and (iii) all oblations and other emoluments arising out of obits and anniversaries. When Henry Bryt, the perpetual vicar, and the parishioners tried to get a place adjoining the parish church for burials, and to take the said legacies and emoluments, they appealed to the apostolic see. Afterwards, when the vicar and parishioners, under protest that special licence had been granted by the said see, got the place dedicated, the abbot again appealed. The cause was committed by Boniface to Master Branda de Castilione, papal chaplain, before whom Master John Lane, the abbey's proctor, appeared, stating that since the new cemetery had been dedicated the bodies of sixty-seven persons had been buried therein. (fn. 53) For these persons there buried the vicar had celebrated mass and other divine offices, despoiling the abbey of its rights.
Proctor Lane produced public instruments and other muniments, and prayed for the revocation of such proceedings. Thereupon Proctor Scrivani, on behalf of the vicar and parishioners, took certain exceptions to the proofs of the other side. The commissioner cited Scrivani to hear sentence on a certain day, and on his not appearing, pronounced unlawful and annulled the said licence, dedication, consecration, burials and burial dues, and went so far as to order the exhumation of all the bodies and their reburial in the conventual cemetery. The burial rights of the abbey were fully restored, the vicar was ordered to make restitution, and the vicar and parishioners were to pay the costs of the suit.
The vicar and parishioners' appeal against this decision was committed to Andrew, late bishop of Llandaff, who was a papal chaplain; he confirmed Master Branda's decision as good, save in the matter of the exhumation of two of the bodies, namely, those of Edith the wife of Patrick Workman, and of John son of Richard Proute, who had been buried after the appeals. A further appeal of the vicar and parishioners was permitted, which was committed to Master Nicholas de Bovrellis, who was also a papal chaplain. The appeal failed, and Masters Branda and Nicholas condemned the vicar and parishioners in costs to the respective amounts of sixty and forty gold florins in regard to the causes heard by them. Thereupon the pope ordered the three chaplains to publish the sentences, restoring all rights to the abbey, making satisfaction to the abbot and convent in respect of candles, legacies, costs, &c., and ordering the exhumation of the bodies save of the two named in the bishop of Llandaff's judgement. (fn. 54)
Innocent VII, in 1406, received a petition from Abbot Richard, to the effect that the then bishop of Salisbury, with the consent of Hugh, the late abbot, and the convent, made a statute, on the assertion that contentions and scandals arose as to the removal of claustral priors, that as in the election of priors the common consent of all was required, so in their removal for just cause the vote of all should be required; and that afterwards Alexander IV confirmed this statute, together with an ordinance as to the prior's groom, horse, stable, and a room to receive monks and visitors; but that the result of this statute had caused the priors to repute themselves perpetual and irrevocable, and brought about disturbance and disobedience to the abbot, and that therefore he pleaded for the recall of the statute and its confirmation. Thereupon the pope, considering the statute to be contrary to the canons and institutes of the order, annulled it, and decreed that the present prior and his successors were removable at the sole pleasure of the abbot. (fn. 55)
An important privilege was granted to this abbey by Alexander V in 1409. The pope authorized the abbot and his successors for twenty years to choose six priests, secular or religious, who might, on the feasts of Christmas and the Annunciation, from first to second vespers, and also during the whole octaves of both feasts, hear confessions, and absolve all who visited the monastery church, save in cases reserved to the Apostolic see. (fn. 56)
Richard de Boxore, who was abbot from 1422 to 1427, was licensed by the bishop on 30 September, 1423, to be absent at the schools of an English university for three years to gain further knowledge for the defence of the Catholic faith. (fn. 57)
On the resignation of Abbot Ralph Hamme, an election was held to appoint his successor on 12 January, 1435-6. The account of the proceedings in the episcopal register is exceptionally full; William Ashendon and thirty-one monks were present in the chapter-house, and the election was by way of inspiration (una voce et uno spiritu), or general acclaiming, the choice falling on Ashendon. (fn. 58)
On 2 January, 1442-3, Bishop Aiscough issued his mandate to the abbot as to an approaching visitation, but no record is extant of the actual visit. (fn. 59)
Pardon was granted by the crown in June, 1481, to John Sante, abbot of Abingdon, John Dunster, prior of Bath, and others, for the acceptance and publication of certain apostolic bulls, with licence to accept and publish the same. (fn. 60) In October of the same year a general pardon to the abbot and convent was granted under the privy seal. (fn. 61)
Abbot Thomas (?) and the convent obtained licence in November, 1482, to acquire in mortmain lands, rents, and other possessions, to the annual value of £40, for the support of four scholars of the monastery to pray for the good estate of King Edward and Elizabeth his queen, and for their souls after death. (fn. 62)
At the election of an abbot on 12 April, 1496, when John Kennington, the prior, presided over a chapter of twenty-eight monks, the proceedings were conducted by way of scrutiny, when ten voted for Kennington, and the rest for Thomas Rowland, S.T.B., who was then prior of Luffield. (fn. 63) The number of inmates was evidently on the decrease, as the chamberlain's roll for 1418 shows that there were then thirty-five monks. (fn. 64)
Thomas Pentecost alias Rowland supplicated for his B.D. degree at Oxford on 17 May, 1514; he had been elected abbot of Abingdon in 151112, being the fifty-third and last who attained to that dignity. (fn. 65)
The new year's gifts of Henry VIII in 1532 included £20, in a white leather purse with gold buttons, to the abbot of Abingdon. (fn. 66)
A noteworthy letter was written by Abbot Thomas to Cromwell in May, 1533. Cromwell had requested him to present one Mr. Keytt to the church of Sunningwell. The abbot replied that he did not think he could get it out of his convent without much trouble. The convent had complained of his giving away other presentations without consulting them, and of the ingratitude of the parsons presented, several of whom had put the house to trouble by refusing to pay the due pension. He had refused this same benefice to my lady of Norfolk, promising her the next that should fall. He begged Cromwell to have patience with him. (fn. 67)
Cromwell's next move was to endeavour to interfere with the internal administration of the house. He wrote to the abbot in June, 1534, asking that Richard Berall, one of the monks, might have the office of chamberlain for life. The abbot replied with some dignity that Cromwell was mistaken in thinking that 'the chamberer's office and the collector's of this house' was void; and it would be inconsistent with the rules to give any office to one of the monks for life under the convent seal. If any monk had such a grant it would be the abbot's duty to take it from him, and he therefore desired Cromwell to excuse him. (fn. 68)
During Lent, 1535, Cromwell wrote to Abbot Thomas desiring him to appoint a day before Easter for the auditors to examine the matter of accounts between him and John Audelett, the steward of the abbey lands. The abbot replied, on 17 March, stating that in the following week he was bound by his religion to attend daily to the service of God, and asking that the question might be defered until after Easter. On 4 June the abbot wrote to Cromwell saying that he was in readiness for the commissioners who were to sit between him and John Audelett, suggesting 14 June as the date, and hoping that the matter might be finally settled before the king and Cromwell left Abingdon. The dispute, however, between the abbot and the steward (who had been appointed for life by the crown) dragged on for a long time, the latter apparently putting every impediment in the way of a settlement. At last it was terminated by the death of John Audelett in November, 1536. His wife, Katherine, who from time to time sent 'poor tokens' to Cromwell whilst the matter was sub judice, wrote one of these flattering letters with a token on 8 November, stating that her husband was sickly; it is endorsed, in Cromwell's hand, 'Katherine Audlett, widow, Nov. xxiii.' (fn. 69)
Meanwhile, Dr. Leyton visited Abingdon as commissary of Cromwell, and issued the injunction, then generally set forth, of strictly confining the monks all the year to their precincts. On 27 September, 1535, the abbot wrote to Cromwell, naming this, and adding: 'So I and my brethren continue within, although we have been accustomed at Michaelmas to look over our farms, see what wastes have been done, and keep courts in the manors.' He desired liberty to do this at times. (fn. 70)
In October of the same year the abbot wrote again to Cromwell, but on a very different matter. His officers had arrested at Abingdon a priest, a suspect person with a book of conjurations for finding hidden treasures, for consecrating rings with stones in them, and for consecrating a crystal in which a child may see many things. There were also many figures in it, one of a sword crossed over a sceptre. The book he sent to Cromwell, and desired his instructions whether he should send the priest to Oxford Castle, to Wallingford Castle, or elsewhere. (fn. 71)
The abbot and convent had been much embarrassed by the long-sustained lawsuit with their steward, and by the ever-growing exactions of Cromwell. (fn. 72) The 'surrender' that was at last wrung from them was probably as genuine a one as any of the whole series, though the way for it was smoothed by a lavish expenditure of money, most of which would probably fall to the abbot's share.
On 7 February, 1538, the round sum of £600—equal to at least £6,000 of our money— was paid by royal warrant to Doctors Tregonwell and Petre 'to be spent by them to bring about the dissolution of the monastery of Abingdon.' (fn. 73)
Two days later the surrender was signed by Thomas Rowland, abbot, Richard Eynsham, prior, and twenty-four other monks. (fn. 74) The abbot was rewarded for his complacency after a most unusually lavish scale. By letters patent of 23 February he had the great pension of £200 assigned him, and in addition to this was allowed to hold the manor-house of Cumnor as his residence for life. The prior obtained a pension of £22, and the sub-prior £20; four of the monks £8; seven £7; two £6 13s. 4d.; two £6; and five £5 6s. 8d. (fn. 75)
The Comperta of visitors Legh and Layton made the most terrible accusations against Abbot Pentecost, and his memory has been specially defiled, as the charges were printed both by Bale and Speed. It is almost impossible to believe in their truth, and if true the assigning of this great pension to the criminal by those who well knew the charges is the greater sin. Bale, however, himself lays down the principle that 'where the religious had pensions, it was a proof of their innocence,' for the king and his visitors were only too willing on any pretext to discard them. (fn. 76)
Henry VIII had some thoughts of turning this abbey into a royal residence. Sir Richard Rich forwarded his report on 22 February to Cromwell as to the condition of the deserted monastery. He stated that the buildings were in great decay; the abbot's lodgings were unfit for habitation, and would require a large expenditure to make them fit for the king, and there was no ground suitable for a park. He asked what part of the church, cloister, dorter, chapter-house, and frater should be defaced. 'I think,' he adds, 'a great part thereof may be defaced and sufficient left to the king's contentation.' (fn. 77)
In 1548 the lead on the buildings at Abingdon pertaining to the late monastery was estimated to weigh 47 fodders, at 15 ft. square to the fodder; the lead had long before that date been stripped from the church and cloister. (fn. 78)
The wealth and extensive influence of the abbey of Abingdon, together with the sway that it formerly exercised as a great mission centre, are plainly shown in the Pope Nicholas Taxation returns of 1291.
The Berkshire churches that were appropriated to the monastery have been already set forth in the Ecclesiastical History, and allusion has been made to the remarkable extent of the pensions or portions paid to it by other churches. So far as Berkshire is concerned these pensions are chiefly from the adjacent deaneries of Abingdon and Newbury, and there can be no doubt that they were survivals of the time when Abingdon was the mother church or minster of a great number of Christian settlements or chapelries, which gradually became parishes. The following is the list of the twenty-one Berkshire churches that paid tribute to Abingdon in 1291:—
There were also pensions from five Oxfordshire churches amounting to £9, and another £9 from the single church of Dumbleton, Gloucestershire. The temporalities from the Oxfordshire manors of Lewknor and Tadmarton, and from various other places in that county, were considerable, and produced an annual revenue of £89 2s. 9½d. The temporalities of Dumbleton, Gloucestershire, brought in the round annual sum of £20, whilst from Kensington, in London diocese, came a further revenue of £5 8s. 4d.
The temporalities in Berkshire are of particular interest, as they set forth the way in which at that date certain rentals and issues were assigned to particular administrators or officials of the great monastery, although by far the larger part is entered under 'abbas.' The abbot drew the following annual sums for his own or the common use:—
|Welford and Chieveley||54||15||0|
From various lands and tenements in the county, which were chiefly within Abingdon itself, the following annual sums were allotted to particular obedientiaries:—The cook, £66 19s. 5d.; the chamberlain, £9 2s.; the cellarer, £2 6s. 10d.; the refectorian, £1 2s.; the infirmarian, 15s.; the sacrist, £2 14s. 8d.; the precentor, 8s.; the master of the works, £15 6s. 8d.; the gardener, 20s.; and the lignar, £10 13s. 8d. It follows then that the gross annual receipts of the abbey in 1291 amounted to £711 14s. 1½d., exclusive of the few appropriated churches.
A papal confirmation made in 1401 of a grant of the archbishop of Canterbury when visiting Abingdon in 1390, upon proof before him of the abbey's right to the following appropriated churches within the archdeaconry of Berkshire, is of interest as showing with exactness the churches and chapels of the county then within the control of that ancient foundation. They were: Cumnor, with the chapels of North Hinksey, South Hinksey, and Wootton; St. Helen's, Abingdon, with the chapels of Drayton, Radley, Sandford, and Shippon; Marcham, with the chapel of Garford; Chieveley, with the chapels of Beedon, Leckhampstead, Winterbourne, and Oare; Uffington, with the chapels of Woolstone and Balking; and St. Nicholas, Abingdon. The advowson or presentation to eleven other rectories in the county were also in the abbey's gift. The abbot and convent at the same time made good their claim to a number of pensions or portions. (fn. 79)
Pope Gregory IX, in 1231, permitted the appropriation to the abbey of the church of Cuddesdon, for the uses of hospitality, a vicar's portion being reserved, and a yearly pension to the rector. A somewhat later repetition of this papal licence states that the appropriation was to be devoted to the uses of the monks' infirmary. (fn. 80)
In 1308 the abbey obtained the royal licence for the appropriation of the church of Chieveley, with the chapels of Beedon, Leckhampstead, Winterbourne, and Oare pertaining to that church. (fn. 81)
The abbot obtained licence in 1380 to alienate a messuage and 3s. rent in Oxford to the warden and scholars of Canterbury Hall. At the same time licence was granted to John de Reynham and Thomas de Bolton to assign two Oxford messuages to the abbot and convent of Abingdon in aid of the fabric of their church. (fn. 82) In December of the same year Abbot Peter, by payment of 30s., obtained an interesting licence from the crown, whereby he was permitted to acquire a toft or garden in Stokwellestreet, Oxford, adjoining houses of the abbot used for the lodging of his monks when studying in the university; the land to be used for the enlargement of their houses, and those of certain other black monks studying at the university. (fn. 83)
Thomas de Hanney, rector of Longworth, brother of Abbot Peter de Hanney, obtained licence in 1381 to bestow on the abbey three messuages and other property in Abingdon and Marcham, for finding two wax candles to burn daily at mass in the Lady Chapel of their conventual church. (fn. 84)
The abbot of Abingdon from early days had the right of appointment of the woodwards of both Cumnor Wood and Bagley Wood, as well as of the keeper of Radley Park by Abingdon. In 1387 the crown filled up these offices, but in the following year the letters patent of appointment were revoked on the petition of the abbot, as it was shown that the grants were based upon faulty inquisitions of surveyors of the county of Oxford, whereas the woods and park were all in the county of Berks. (fn. 85)
In May, 1389, there was a large increase in the endowment of the abbey, the gift of Thomas de Hanney, rector of Longworth, in aid of the maintenance of the fabric of the conventual church. (fn. 86) The rector of Longworth was brother of Abbot Peter.
The original Valor Ecclesiasticus of Henry VIII for Berkshire is lost. The summary merely states that the clear or net annual value of the whole of the spiritualities and temporalities of this monastery was £1,876 10s. 9d. Speed gives the gross total as £2,042 2s. 8¾d.
Abbots of Abingdon
Hean, (fn. 87) 675
Robert de Henreth, (fn. 88) 1221
John de Blosmevil, 1241
William de Newbury, 1256
Henry de Fryleford, 1260
Richard de Henred, 1262
Nicholas de Coleham, (fn. 89) 1289
Richard de Clive, (fn. 90) 1306
John de Sutton, (fn. 91) 1315
John de Cannynges, (fn. 92) 1322
Robert de Garford, (fn. 93) 1329
William de Cumnor, (fn. 94) 1332
Roger de Thame, (fn. 95) 1334
Peter de Hanney, (fn. 96) 1361
Richard de Salford, (fn. 97) 1401
John Dorset, 1415
Richard Boxore, 1421
Thomas Salford, (fn. 98) 1427
Ralph Hamme, (fn. 99) 1428
William Ashendon, (fn. 100) 1435
John Sante, S.T.P., (fn. 101) 1468
Thomas Rowland, S.T.B., (fn. 102) 1496
Alexander Shottisbrook, (fn. 103) 1504
John Coventry, (fn. 104) 1508
Thomas Pentecost alias Rowland, (fn. 105) 1511-12
The pointed oval seal of the eleventh century bears the seated crowned Virgin, with sceptre in right hand and ring in the left, with the Holy Child on her knees. Legend:—
+SIGILL . . . SANC . . . DONIÆ.
There are casts of seals of Abbot Robert, 1231, and Abbot William, 1371, in the British Museum.
The pointed oval seal of John Sante, abbot and papal commissary, 1469-95, bears the Virgin and Child in a canopied niche between St. Peter and St. Paul in smaller niches. In the base are three shields of arms: (1) a fruit tree, eradicated; (2) a lion rampant; and (3) a cross pattée between four martlets (Abingdon Abbey). The legend is:—
SIGILLE : DRĪ : JŌDIS : ABBATIS : ABENDONIE : S : D : N : PAPE : COMMISSARII.