A History of the County of Buckingham: Volume 1. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1905.
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HOUSE OF PREMONSTRATENSIAN CANONS
15. THE ABBEY OF LAVENDON
The abbey of St. Mary and St. John Baptist at Lavendon was founded, probably during the reign of Henry II., by John de Bidun, (fn. 1) who was sheriff of the county in 1154. The abbey was much troubled by law suits during the first century of its existence, and lost nearly all the churches with which the founder had endowed it. The charters of John de Bidun and other benefactors, as Sibyl de Aungerville, Ralf Earl of Chester, Ralf de Bray, Richard de Beauchamp, were confirmed by Henry III. in 1227: but the church of Stowe had already been quitclaimed to John de Rochford (fn. 2); and the place called Snelshall, with the chapel of Tattenhoe, was given in the next year to the Benedictine priory of that name. (fn. 3) In 1231 two of the daughters of John de Bidun claimed the churches of Wootton and Shelton in Northamptonshire. The case was difficult to settle, as the last incumbent of Wootton had been presented by John de Bidun; but while the abbot said he was presented before the charter was made, the heirs declared that he was presented after the charter. The abbot vouchsafed to warrant two other daughters of John, but the case was not settled at that time for want of further evidence (fn. 4) : and it seems that it was finally decided against the abbot, for he certainly lost the churches from this time forward. Again in 1225 he lost the church of Tombstone in Norfolk, because it was finally proved that the de Biduns had no right in the church at all, and could not grant it to the abbey; the last presentment, which had been made by Sarah de Bidun, had been irregular. (fn. 5) In 1237 the abbot secured the church of Lavendon against John de St. Medard (fn. 6); in 1272 the church of Lathbury was claimed by Robert Raynel, (fn. 7) and again in 1281 by Andrew de Gatesden. (fn. 8) The church of Kirkby must have been lost some time during the same century.
In 1339 a quarrel arose with Simon of Norwich, a near neighbour of the abbot's in Lav endon. Simon complained that whereas he had impounded certain cattle in his fee of Lavendon for default of service, the abbot had rescued the cattle, broken his close houses and doors, assaulted him, and carried away his goods. (fn. 9) A month later the abbot brought a complaint against Simon for having prevented his tenants coming to his court leet, impounded his sheep, plotted against his servants so that they dared not go out to till his land, buried a boat with nets for taking fish in his fishery, and compelled his men to swear that they would no longer serve him. (fn. 10)
There are a few notices of protection granted to abbots of Lavendon among others to cross the seas for the general chapters at Prêmontrê. (fn. 11) In 1226 an abbot of this house was the bearer of a special message from Henry III., granting favours to the order, and asking the benefit of their prayers at the coming chapter. (fn. 12) The wars of the next century made these gatherings difficult for English monks to attend. A petition sent to the pope in 1397 from Lavendon shows that the house, never very rich, had fallen into great distress. It was hard by the high road, and there were constant demands upon it for hospitality; but its revenues had been sorely diminished by the results of the Great Pestilence: lands had become barren for want of cultivation, labourers were few and wages very high, and great exactions had been made from religious during the wars, in spite of the burdens they had to sustain in maintaining the poor and infirm. The church of Aston in Northamptonshire, not two miles from the monastery, was appropriated at this time for their support. (fn. 13)
At the time of the dissolution there were ten or eleven canons in this house, (fn. 14) but as its revenue was under £200 it fell under the first Act of Suppression. The surrender was taken some time before 28 July, 1536, when William Gales, the abbot, received a pension of £12. (fn. 15) Perhaps some of the others may have received benefices, but as the house was poor, no other pensions were assigned.
All Premonstratensian houses were free of episcopal jurisdiction, and the benediction of the diocesan was not necessary even at the election of a new abbot: consequently there are few entries relating to them in the Lincoln registers. As Bishop Bokyngham wrote a letter to the pope however in 1397 on behalf of the canons of Lavendon, we may conclude that he was prepared to endorse their plea of poverty, and had no reason to disapprove the house. (fn. 16) The general visitation of the whole order in 1478 tells us very little of this abbey: its report simply states that the Abbot of Soleby was its father abbot, and that the canons had four churches to serve; no details as to the order of the house are given. (fn. 17)
The original endowment of the abbey included the site and adjacent fields, with 29 acres besides, and a park and a mill; the churches of Lavendon, Lathbury in this county; Wootton and Shelton in Northamptonshire; Stowe, Kirkby, Tombstone in Norfolk; the place called Snelshall and the chapel of Tattenhoe; with other parcels of arable land, wood and meadow in the neighbourhood. (fn. 18) The churches of Wootton, Shelton, Kirkby, Stowe and Tombstone, as well as Snelshall and Tattenhoe, passed out of the abbot's hands in the thirteenth century. The churches of Aston near Bozeat (Northants), and Shotwell (Warwicks) were appropriated during the fourteenth century. (fn. 19) In 1284 the Abbot of Lavendon answered for half the vill of Lathbury and one sixth of a knight's fee in Lavendon (fn. 20); in 1302 for half a fee in Willen (fn. 21); in 1346 for only one quarter of a knight's fee. (fn. 22) The temporalia of the abbey were valued in 1291 at £34 4s. 2d. (fn. 23); in 1535 its whole revenue amounted only to £79 13s. 8d. (fn. 24) The Ministers' Accounts after the dissolution amount to £90 0s. 4d., including the rectories of Lathbury, Lavendon, Aston and Shotwell. (fn. 25)
Abbots of Lavendon
David, (fn. 26) first abbot
Austin, (fn. 27) occurs 1236 and 1237
Jordan, (fn. 28) occurs 1254 and 1271
Philip, (fn. 29) occurs 1279
John of Lathbury, (fn. 30) elected 1312
Richard of Emberton, (fn. 31) occurs 1350, died 1380
William of Leicester, (fn. 32) elected 1380
Nicholas of Lathbury, (fn. 33) occurs 1413
Robert Helmdon, (fn. 34) occurs 1478
William Curlew, (fn. 35) occurs 1491
William Gales, (fn. 36) last abbot, occurs 1529
Pointed oval twelfth century seal, taken from a cast at the British Museum, the impression of which is imperfect, (fn. 37) represents St. John baptizing our Lord. Overhead a trefoiled arch with a spire capped by a cross. Legend: +SIGILL' . . . BAPTISTE DE LAVENDUNE.
A fragment of a seal still exists attached to a charter dated 1375, (fn. 38) the colour is creamy white, and it is very imperfect and indistinct.