A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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11. THE ABBEY OF TILTY (fn. 1)
Tilty Abbey was founded by Maurice Fitz Geoffrey and his overlord Robert de Ferrers, earl of Derby, in the middle of the twelfth century. According to the Louth Park Chronicle it was colonized from the abbey of Warden in Bedfordshire, which had itself been colonized from Rievaux in Yorkshire; (fn. 2) and this is borne out by the fact that Walter, abbot of Colchester, made grants (fn. 3) of a mill to Hugh, abbot of Warden, and to Auger, abbot of Tilty, in almost identical terms. The year of foundation, according to a list (fn. 4) of the Cistercian houses and the best of the evidence from the chronicles, (fn. 5) was 1153; another list (fn. 6) adds the date 22 September.
The Dunmow Chronicle tells us that 'the work of St. Mary of Tilty,' that is to say, the building of the church, was begun by Abbot Simon on 16 March, 1188. (fn. 7) The abbey appears to have thriven greatly in the next few years, for Ralph of Coggeshall describes this abbot as having from a very poor grange made a most beautiful and opulent abbey in which zeal of religion and secular prudence rivalled each other. (fn. 8) The same historian says that on Christmas Day, 1215, a part of King John's army violently entered the church and offices of the abbey while mass was being celebrated, overthrew the furniture, broke open chests, and carried off booty. (fn. 9)
A number of grants relating to the abbey are to be found in a small register (fn. 10) of two volumes compiled by brother John Feryng, who was at one time collector of the rents. He began in 1444 to make abstracts of certain charters relating to possessions of the abbey in Newport, and afterwards extended his work to other places. The grants are mostly small, and none of the more important charters are given, the register having evidently been made for his special purpose. Several grants, including one of 2s. rent in Canfield from Robert de Vere, earl of Oxford, are stated to have been made at the time of the dedication of the abbey church, which would appear to be about 1220. The register also contains numerous extracts from rentals and court rolls of various dates, and details of the expenses of John Feryng on several journeys.
Richard I by a charter (fn. 11) dated 3 February, 1199, confirmed all grants made to the monks, including the land of Tilty where the abbey was founded as granted to them by Robert de Ferrers and Maurice Fitz Geoffrey, the granges of Duddenhoe, Chrishall, Duxford and Ringmer, and various other lands, and granted liberties. Henry III on 13 March, 1251, confirmed the same and many more grants, including the granges of Radwinter and Aythorpe Roding; (fn. 12) and further confirmations were obtained from Edward III in 1361 (fn. 13) and from Edward IV in 1475. (fn. 14) Henry III also confirmed a grant by Ralph le Moyne for the support of sick monks, (fn. 15) and a grant by the earl of Derby of land and liberties in Lancashire between the Ribble and the Mersey, (fn. 16) which they seem afterwards to have parted with. On 26 March, 1246, he granted to the abbot free warren in his demesne lands adjoining the abbey in Easton, Chaureth, Little Broxted and Chickney. (fn. 17)
The possessions of the abbey were widely distributed. The temporalities mentioned in the Taxation of 1291 amounted to the value of £163 13s. 5d. yearly. Of this £100 0s. 2d. came from Essex; the principal items being £17 4s. 6d. in Steeple, £9 19s. 10½d. in Debden, £9 9s. 9½d. in Chrishall, £8 2s. 8d. in Chawreth, £7 17s. 6d. in Chickney, £5 19s. 0d. in Radwinter and £5 1s. 8d. in Great Chishall, while sums of over £1 came from Chigwell, Aythorpe Roding, Littlebury, Elmdon, High Easter, Wenden Lofts, Easton, Takeley and Thaxted, and smaller sums from twenty-three other places. Cambridgeshire contributed £48 6s. 5d., chiefly from Duxford, Ickleton, Fulmer and Melbourn; Hertfordshire £8 13s. 10d.; Suffolk £5 19s. 8d. and London 13s. 4d. The church of Tilty was appropriated to the abbey. The abbot and convent had licence on 10 February, 1332, to acquire two messuages in London for a monk to celebrate divine service in their church for the souls of the donors; (fn. 18) and on 5 May, 1361, to acquire land in Great Easton for the maintenance of two lamps in the church and one in the dormitory. (fn. 19)
The abbot was summoned (fn. 20) to Parliament under Edward I, but not afterwards. He is mentioned as going to the general chapter of the order at Cîteaux in 1308. (fn. 21) Tilty, like other Cistercian houses, did a considerable trade in wool with the Italian merchants, and a bargain amounting to 340 marks is recorded in 1288. (fn. 22) Similar dealings afterwards proved expensive; for the abbot and convent repaid a debt of £64 6s. 8d. to the Ricardi of Lucca, not knowing that the goods and debts of the latter had been confiscated by Edward I in 1296, and consequently they had to pay it over again at the Exchequer. In 1328 they were allowed (fn. 23) to pay the balance still due in yearly instalments of 40s., their poverty having been testified to in open Parliament.
Pope Boniface IX on 12 November, 1402, granted (fn. 24) an indult for the abbot and monks, whenever they should leave the monastery for a reasonable cause, to eat flesh on lawful days.
The last years of the abbey were troubled. In 1530 it was found necessary to depose Abbot Roger Beverley, a pension of £20 being granted (fn. 25) to him for life by the convent on 3 August. His successor, Edmund Emery, also resigned after a short time, and on 13 March, 1533, arbitrators awarded pensions of £14 to him and £10 to Beverley. (fn. 26) In 1533 there appears a new abbot, John Palmer, who writes (fn. 27) to complain to Cromwell that the bishop of London has intruded a clerk into the benefice of Easton, which the abbots have had for several years, so that in addition to being charged with two great pensions he is deprived of the benefice. Beverley left England, and on 17 May, 1535, he wrote (fn. 28) from Dublin to Cromwell asking for help. 'The late marquess of Dorset sent to the fathers of the religion to cause him to resign, and assured him £20 under the convent seal, which had not been truly paid. He was content to take £10, but had had nothing since Michaelmas.' He offered bribes and information to Cromwell, and asked for a benefice. After the dissolution, however, it appears that he was still in receipt of his pension of £10. (fn. 29)
Some letters from Margaret, marchioness of Dorset, to Cromwell, written from Tilty about this time, are preserved. In one (fn. 30) she thanks him for his goodness of late in quieting the poor house of Tilty, which otherwise would have been destroyed. In another (fn. 31) she thanks him for the reformation of this poor house of Tilty, now completed by the abbots of Tower Hill and Coggeshall and Mr. Watkyns, who have deposed the old unthrifty abbot and chosen a new one of the house, and begs that he will thank the abbot of Tower Hill for his zeal. It is not plain, however, whether she refers to the resignation of Beverley or of Emery. Her interferences do not seem always to have been well received, for at another time she writes: (fn. 32) ' I assure you, Mr. Secretary, it does me not a little trouble to hear that you should think this abbey of Tiltey is impaired by me. This is some sinister report, and I beg you will not give it credence till I come to my answer.' On 6 October, 1535, the abbot and convent granted to her a lease (fn. 33) for sixty years of the grange, demesne lands, and manor of Tilty, including the house standing against the west end of the church of the monastery of old time called the founder's house, otherwise the Gestes Hall. Such grants made shortly before the dissolution were naturally suspected; but on an inquiry being made afterwards it was found by the jury that the lease was such as used to be granted and in no way fraudulent, and it was consequently allowed by a decree of the Court of Augmentations on 20 October, 1538, and confirmed on 4 November. (fn. 34)
The net value of the abbey is given in the Valor as £167 2s. 6d. yearly, the gross value being £177 9s. 4d., and consequently it did not reach the limit fixed by the Act of 1536 for survival. But, as in a few other cases, the monks did not wait for this to come into operation, and on 28 February, 1536, a deed (fn. 35) of surrender was signed by John Palmer, abbot, John Thaxsted, John Chechelay, George Chambryghem, Richard Gybson and George Casse. This was formally acknowledged by the abbot and convent in their chapter-house on 3 March before the king's commissioner, and an order (fn. 36) was made on the same day. The abbot and his five brethren were to remain in the abbey till the king's further pleasure, and other regulations were laid down for the management of the house by the abbot, who was to retain his five servants and continue to support Alice Mills (his mother), Agnes Lucas, widow, and Thomas Ewen, impotent persons. An inventory of the goods of the monastery was taken on the same day. A portion of another inventory, (fn. 37) taken probably in June, 1536, is also preserved. Goods were sold to the value of £19 19s. 0½d., and there were forty-three ounces of plate, valued at £7 18s. 8d. The debts of the house amounted to £126 13s. 11d. A pension (fn. 38) of £16 yearly was granted to the abbot on 29 June.
The possessions of the abbey were dispersed after the dissolution. The reversion of the lease of the monastery itself, the mansion called 'le Founders Lodging and the Gest Hall,' Tilty Grange and the manor of Tilty, the rectory and chapel of Tilty, and some lands, was granted (fn. 39) to Sir Thomas Audeley on 24 April, 1542.
Abbots of Tilty
Auger, (fn. 40) occurs circa 1170.
Adam, occurs 1295. (fn. 50)
Edmund, occurs 1318. (fn. 51)
John de Warden, occurs 1347. (fn. 52)
Richard Chishull, (fn. 53) occurs circa 1370.
William. (fn. 54)
John Cresshale, (fn. 57) resigned circa 1420.
Simon Pakenham or Pabenham, occurs 1438. (fn. 60)
Thomas Thakeley, occurs 1465. (fn. 63)
John, (fn. 64) occurs 1487.
Richard, (fn. 65) occurs 1501, 1504.
John Oxford, (fn. 66) occurs 1504.
John London, (fn. 67) elected 1515.
The seal (fn. 74) of the abbey taken from a brass matrix in the possession of St. John's College, Cambridge, measures 17/8 in. In a carved niche with pinnacled canopy and balustrade the Virgin is seated crowned, with the infant Jesus standing on her left knee, holding in her right hand a sceptre with three flowering branches. On each side is a penthouse containing three monks. Legend: