A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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26. THE ABBEY OF WALTHAM HOLY CROSS (fn. 1)
The story of the foundation and early history of Waltham is told in the manuscript (fn. 2) De Inventione Sanctœ Crucis Nostrœ written by one of the canons in the twelfth century. A miraculous cross was discovered through a vision at Montacute in Somersetshire, and a wealthy landowner named Tovi or Tofig built a church for its reception at Waltham. He appointed two priests to the church and gave endowments for their maintenance. On his death his son succeeded to part of his possessions but lost others, including Waltham, which King Edward the Confessor granted to Harold son of Godwin.
Harold determined to enlarge the foundation of Tofig, and he did so in a notable manner. The fashion of the time was all in favour of monastic establishments, but with a wider view he resolved to found a college of secular canons. He rebuilt the church and confirmed and increased its endowments. To the two priests placed there by Tofig he added ten others, and over these twelve appointed a dean, Wlwin by name. A Teuton named Athelard, a native of Liège and a student of Utrecht, who is said to have been sent by the emperor to cure Harold of paralysis and to have done so by the help of a miracle from the Waltham cross, assisted him in the settlement of the laws, institutes, and customs of the college and presided over the education of the canons. In this he was afterwards succeeded by his son Peter.
The church was solemnly dedicated in the presence of King Edward by Cynesige, archbishop of York, most probably on 3 May, 1060. It was endowed by Harold with Northland in Waltham and seventeen manors, Passelow in High Ongar, South Weald, Upminster, Walkfares in Boreham, Debden and Alderton in Loughton, Woodford, Nazing, Netteswell and Loughton in Essex, Lambeth in Surrey, Brickendon, Wormley and Hitchin in Hertfordshire, Millow and Arlesey in Bedfordshire, and West Waltham in Berkshire 5 and the king in 1062 granted a long charter confirming these to the college and adding liberties.
Four of the manors, Weald, Passelow, Arlesey and West Waltham, were allotted to the dean and one to each of the canons. Each canon had also fifteen acres of land in Northland assigned to him and 40s. yearly for dress from the shroudlands of the college, lying in Nazing, Walkfares and Loughton, and 40s. yearly from the offerings and tithes. The victuals were provided out of the prebendal estates, each of which was charged with this burden for a certain time. Each canon had a daily allowance of three loaves, six bowls of beer and six dishes of meat, besides pittances of game and poultry at the various festivals. At Christmas, Easter and Whitsuntide and the two festivals of the Cross wine and mead were distributed. Provision was evidently made for each canon to maintain an establishment of several persons, and it would seem probable that they were on much the same footing as canons of a cathedral church at the present day.
Harold was killed in the battle of Hastings in 1066, and his body is said to have been recovered and buried at Waltham, though this has been disputed. (fn. 3) The canons do not appear to have been disturbed by William the Conqueror, but he despoiled them of part of their lands, and later William II carried off to Caen a quantity of their most valuable goods. Their Essex possessions mentioned in the Domesday Survey have already been given; (fn. 4) and it is probable that they also retained Netteswell, which is completely omitted. Their lands in Surrey, however, were granted to the count of Mortain and those in Bedfordshire with Waltham in Berkshire to the bishop of Durham; and Hitchin in Hertfordshire also no longer belonged to them. Out of the three hides of Northland in Waltham the canons only retained half a hide, the remainder being in the possession of the bishop of Durham, and Geoffrey de Mandeville got half a hide in South Weald. The Bedfordshire and Berkshire estates afterwards came back to the canons. Henry I granted Waltham to his queen, Maud, and she gave the mills there to them in exchange for the site on which she founded the priory of Holy Trinity, Aldgate, in 1108. She also granted to them the two and a half hides in Northland which Walcher, bishop of Durham, had taken away from them and two fairs on the feasts of the Holy Cross. Waltham belonged later to several other queens of England, and afterwards the canons held it at farm by grant of King John, after whose death they were ordered to pay the rent in future to Isabel the queenmother, (fn. 5) and in 1281 they paid the rent of £57 10s. 8d. yearly to Queen Eleanor.
The college is mentioned a few times in the twelfth century. In 1144 Geoffrey de Mandeville was at feud with William de Albini and burned the town, including the canons' houses; although the abbey chronicle bears witness that he took care lest the church should be burnt and also that he was much grieved at the burning of the canons' houses, but was unable to save them as they adjoined the other houses. (fn. 6) It is with not unnatural satisfaction that the chronicler afterwards notes that Geoffrey received his death wound at the very time when the intervention of the Holy Cross, whom he had thus injured and refused to recompense, was being implored. (fn. 7) About the same time Henry of Blois, bishop of Winchester, held the deanery and confirmed the parish of Waltham and Epping to the commons of the college. Dean Guy Rufus was sent as one of the king's ambassadors (fn. 8) to the pope at Sens in 1164. He quarrelled with archbishop Thomas Becket in 1168, and in 1174 he was suspended (fn. 9) in his absence by Richard, archbishop of Canterbury. These events may have helped to bring about his acquiescence in the change which followed.
In 1177 Harold's foundation was completely overthrown by Henry II. The story of this is told in more or less detail by most of the chroniclers. (fn. 10) The king had vowed to build an abbey of canons regular in honour of Thomas Becket, the murdered archbishop of Canterbury, for the remission of his own sins; and obtained licence from the papal legate to remove the secular canons from Waltham and place regulars there; thinking no doubt this would be cheaper than founding a new house. Excuse was found in the alleged immorality of the secular canons; but there is no doubt that this charge rested on nothing more than the fact that some of them were married, and was due to monastic jealousy. One writer goes so far as to say that the virtue of the foundation of a house of regulars was doubled by the expulsion of the seculars. (fn. 11)
Dean Guy surrendered his deanery to the king in the council held at Northampton in January, and a few days later the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishops of Ely and London were sent to Waltham to receive his formal resignation. They directed the canons to go to the king to receive an exchange for their prebends, and drew up in writing a rental of the possessions of the church. The king went to Waltham on 11 June and was there met by the bishops of Rochester, London, Norwich and Durham, who with the authority of Pope Alexander formally introduced the canons regular. These had been chosen by the king, six from Cirencester, six from Oseney and four from St. Osyth's; and he appointed from their number a prior, a cellarer, a sub-prior, a sacrist and other ministers. The prior was Ralph, one of the canons of Cirencester. (fn. 12) The dean and almost all of the secular canons were present and received compensation, the dean getting a manor and the others the value of their prebends. Those who wished it were allowed to retain their prebends for life. The new house, at first a priory, was converted into an abbey in 1184, when the king went to Waltham and appointed (fn. 13) Walter de Gant, a canon of Oseney, as the first abbot. Considerable sums were contributed by the king (fn. 14) towards the rebuilding of the church, which went on for half a century. Mention is made in 1229 (fn. 15) of a ship laden with marble for the abbot. The church was re-dedicated (fn. 16) on 30 September, 1242, by William, bishop of Norwich, in the presence of other bishops and prelates.
Four large registers or chartularies of Waltham are preserved (fn. 17) at the British Museum, and in these its possessions can be studied in detail. Henry II granted to the canons regular a long charter, (fn. 18) in which he confirmed to them the possession of the old foundation by name, added Sewardstone and Epping, and granted various liberties. Richard I on 18 September, 1198, granted a similar charter, (fn. 18) in which he added the right of free election of the abbot at each vacancy. By another charter (fn. 19) he granted to them quittance of assarts over a large area of their lands. Henry III on 30 March, 1253, granted to them two fairs at Waltham at the feasts of the Invention and Exaltation of the Cross, a market and fair at Epping, a market and fair at Takeley, free warren in various lands in Essex and seven other counties, and other liberties. (fn. 20) Edward III required the convent to grant sustenance for life to Agnes de Wygeton, but undertook that this should not be made a precedent; (fn. 21) and Richard II on 8 December, 1385, in consideration of their celebrating anniversaries of Richard I, the king's father, and the king himself after his death, granted (fn. 22) that they should not be charged with any corrody except at the creation of an abbot, notwithstanding the possession which the king or his progenitors have had of a corrody held successively by David Onhond, Nicholas Wyght, John Kent, Roger Loggore, and Edmund Fauconer, the present holder, whose right during his life was reserved; and on 14 May, 1393, he granted that no lord or great person except the king and queen should be lodged in the abbey. (fn. 23) Many other grants and confirmations are recorded. (fn. 24)
Waltham was always a royal free chapel and exempt from episcopal control. Its privileges were confirmed by Pope Alexander III, and many of his successors. (fn. 25) Clement III in 1188 granted among other things that in time of any interdict on the land they might celebrate mass suppressa voce. (fn. 26) Innocent III in 1199 authorized them to refuse undue exactions by archdeacons. Innocent IV in 1249 granted indulgence against provisions of pensions or benefices. (fn. 27) Urban IV in 1262 gave permission to the abbot to absolve members of the monastery from sentences of suspension, interdict or excommunication; and forbade the abbot and convent to pledge their goods to creditors. (fn. 28)
By a charter of Richard I, dated 1 December, 1189, (fn. 29) the churches of Old and New Windsor (fn. 30) and All Saints, Hertford, were assigned to the hospitality of the abbey, and those of Arlesey and Nazing to the clothing of the canons. William, bishop of London, on 11 July, 1218, (fn. 31) confirmed grants made to them of the churches of Alphamstone and Lambourne and ordered that they should have the presentations to both churches, and should receive 40s. yearly from each for the use of the poor maintained in a hospital built in their court. The churches of Epping, Woodford, Netteswell and Loughton were devoted to the use of the sacristy. They also owned the rectories or advowsons of the church of South Weald and the chapel of St. Nicholas, Stanford le Hope, in Essex, and the churches of Babraham and Shudy Camps in Cambridgeshire, Wormley in Hertfordshire, Croxby, Leverton and Wrangle in Lincolnshire, Guestwick, Guist and Seaming in Norfolk, and Caterham in Surrey. Edward III on 20 February, 1365, granted to them a third of the manor of Great Parndon with a third of the advowson of the church as compensation for tithes from land in Windsor which had been imparked. (fn. 32) The possessions of the abbey in the diocese of London are omitted from the Taxation of 1291, but it appears from one of the registers that these amounted (fn. 33) in 1266 to £21 17s. 3d., lying in Waltham, Sewardstone, Nazing, Epping, Stansted, Netteswell, Passelow, Boreham, Stanway, London, Takeley, Stanford, Thorndon, Weald, Upminster, Loughton, Woodford and Wormley. The grant by John de Tany of the manor of Theydon Bois was confirmed by the king in 1297. (fn. 34) The abbot and convent had licence (fn. 35) on 12 March, 1350, to exchange their manors of Boreham, Shudy Camps and Horseheath, for the manors of Copped Hall and Shingle Hall; and on 6 October, 1387, they had licence to acquire the manor of Cullings in Cheshunt. (fn. 36) John Sunday, parson of St. Mary Woolchurch, London, left to the abbot and convent nine shops and some other tenements, all said to be ruinous, in Soaperslane and Needlerslane, in the parish of St. Antoninus in London, but as the said John was not a freeman of the city, and also as the abbey had not obtained licence to hold this property, the tenements were seized into the king's hand (fn. 36) and granted away in 1401. (fn. 37)
The abbey had numerous privileges (fn. 38) in Waltham Forest. Richard I and Henry III granted that the canons might enclose the park called Harold's Park and hunt all beasts that they might find therein, and also that they might take the hare, fox, and cat in Essex and at West Waltham in Berkshire, and that their dogs should not be lawed anywhere in the forests. (fn. 39) The right of hunting, however, would seem afterwards to have lapsed, for Richard II on 10 January, 1378, in consideration of his having dwelt for some time in the abbey in his nonage, (fn. 40) granted for life to the abbot that he might (fn. 41) hunt the fox and other vermin in the forest of Essex and also hunt two deer each year. (fn. 41) On 30 April, 1379, he granted to him, also for life, three bucks and six does yearly in the forest. (fn. 42) In 1383 the abbot and convent had licence to acquire the forestership of the hundred of Waltham. (fn. 43) They had licence in 1229 to enclose their woods of Nazing and Epping; (fn. 44) and in 1257, 1286, 1332 and 1380 to increase their parks. (fn. 45)
Fuller in his history of Waltham gives a long account of a dispute between the abbot and the townspeople about the right of pasturage over Waltham Marsh. In the first year of Abbot Simon the men of Waltham came into the marsh, which the abbot and convent had formerly enjoyed as several to themselves, killed four mares, and drove away the rest. The abbot took no notice for the time; but on Thursday before Easter in the next year some of them went to him and desired him to remove his mares and colts from the marsh. He deferred his answer until the Tuesday following, and then told them that he was going into Lincolnshire and that they must wait until his return. They reviled him, drove out the mares and colts, drowning three and wounding ten more, and beat the keepers. On the return of the abbot they desired a love-day and offered damages, but next day went to the king and complained that the abbot would disinherit them. The abbot excommunicated them, whereupon they impleaded him in the King's Bench, but finally lost their case. This story is only the version of the canons, and so comes from a notoriously untrustworthy source. In 1512 it was found by inquisition that the tenants and inhabitants of the manor of Waltham had common of pasture in the marsh.
About the same time there was another dispute between the abbey and Peter of Savoy concerning the boundary between Waltham and Cheshunt, (fn. 46) which was settled but broke out again and was still undetermined at the dissolution.
The abbot of Westminster complained in 1279 that his mill and tenements in Amwell in Hertfordshire had been flooded and damaged by the raising of sluices belonging to the abbot of Waltham at Amwell and Stansted. A commission was appointed (fn. 47) to settle the dispute, and the abbot of Waltham was required to repair the damage to the mill. (fn. 48) Arbitrators were sent (fn. 49) in 1283 to see whether this had been properly done.
Edward III granted (fn. 50) £40 in aid of the repair of the abbey church in 1336, and in 1342 allowed the abbot to cut £200 worth of timber in Waltham Forest, the abbey being depressed by debts and misfortunes. (fn. 51) In 1366 the abbot and convent had licence to crenellate their belfry, which was ruinous. (fn. 52)
The abbey appears to have been severely visited by the plague in the fourteenth century, for Pope Gregory XI on 18 September, 1373, on account of the scarcity of priests in the monastery through that cause, granted (fn. 53) a faculty to Abbot Nicholas to dispense twelve of the canons, aged twenty, to be ordained priests.
The abbey was threatened (fn. 54) at the time of the insurrection of the peasants in 1381; and in 1410 (fn. 55) it was attacked and forcibly entered. In 1423 (fn. 56) the bondsmen of the manors of Waltham, Nazing, Epping and Loughton refused to perform their accustomed services.
Waltham, on account of its size, royal patronage and proximity to London, was one of the most important houses in England; certainly the most important of those of the Augustinian order. It is frequently mentioned in chronicles and records. The abbot was mitred, with a seat in Parliament. In 1214 (fn. 57) Abbot Nicholas, sent by the papal legate, deposed the abbot of Westminster; and in 1219 (fn. 58) the abbot was a judge delegate in the disputed election to Ely. The abbot was one of those appointed by Henry III in 1252 (fn. 59) to keep the feast of St. Edward in his absence. In 1258 (fn. 60) he was requested by the king to become surety for a large sum of money, and the story of his answer to the king's messenger and secret communication with the abbot of St. Albans is told in detail by Matthew Paris. In 1281 (fn. 61) the abbot was one of those who appealed against the summons by Archbishop Peckham of all abbots, whether exempt or not, to a provincial council at Lambeth. In 1287 (fn. 62) he was in attendance on the king in Gascony. The body of Edward I was brought (fn. 63) on 4 August, 1307, to Waltham, where it remained for a short time until its final removal to Westminster. Abbot Thomas presided (fn. 64) at the chapter of the Augustinian order held at Oseney in 1353. Abbot Nicholas was one of the council appointed (fn. 65) on 19 November, 1386, to inquire into the governance of the realm; and in 1389 he was president of the English Augustinians. (fn. 66) In 1406 (fn. 67) the abbot was one of those who subscribed the act settling the succession to the crown. Later the abbots appear regularly on the commissions of the peace. The abbot was one of those who officiated at the funeral (fn. 68) of Queen Jane Seymour in November, 1537.
On 1 November, 1531, the abbot and convent granted (fn. 69) to Henry VIII the manor of Stansted Abbot and various lands in Stansted in Hertfordshire and Roydon in Essex; and in return the king on 1 January, 1532, granted (fn. 70) to them the priory of Blackmore and various possessions lately belonging to it, and also the manor of Wormingford, lately belonging to Wix Priory, and the churches of Blackmore, Margaretting and Wormingford in Essex, and Hormead in Hertfordshire. A further exchange of lands with the king was made (fn. 71) in 1534, the abbey surrendering lands in Copped Hall for lands in Waltham and Fyfield. The possibility of St. Bartholomew's Priory being appropriated to Waltham is mentioned (fn. 72) about the same time, but this never happened.
The net value of the abbey is given in the Valor as £900 4s. 3d., the gross value (fn. 73) being £1,079 2s. 1d. yearly. It was thus the richest house in Essex. But though the most important of the English Augustinian houses it was not quite the richest, being surpassed by Cirencester, Merton, Leicester and Plympton. No event of any importance occurred in connexion with the dissolution. The abbot appears to have paid the usual bribes to Cromwell, as much as £50 being received (fn. 74) from him in 1535. Waltham managed to outlast every other abbey in England, and it was not until 23 March, 1540, that it was formally surrendered (fn. 75) by Robert, abbot, Thomas Waryn, Robert Wodleff, Robert Reed, William Lelle, Thomas Hawkyns, George Sollys, Edmund Sander, Robert Parkar, Edward Story, Hugh Yonge, Humphrey Martyn, Miles Garrard, John Noris, John Sander, John Homstyd, Robert Hull and Edmund Freke. The last three of these were at Leighs and Martyn was at Dunmow in 1534, all, apparently, having been transferred to Waltham after the dissolution of their priories. On the day after the surrender pensions (fn. 76) were awarded; the abbot receiving the large amount of £200 yearly in lands and other possessions, and the prior, chaunter, sub-prior, sexton and other canons sums varying from £20 to £5 yearly. The abbot had a grant (fn. 77) for life accordingly, on 6 May, of the manors of Woodford, Theydon Bois, Netteswell, Passelow, Stanford le Hope, Wormingford, Stanway, Cullings and Arlesey, and the rectories and advowsons of the churches of Wormingford and Arlesey 5 besides other lands which had belonged to St. Bartholomew's Priory.
In the original scheme (fn. 78) for the establishment of new bishoprics at the dissolution it was intended that Waltham should be raised to the position of a cathedral, but this was never done. Its possessions were dispersed after the surrender. The demesne lands of the monastery were leased (fn. 79) to Anthony Denny on 12 April, 1541, He was made keeper (fn. 80) of the site on 9 January, 1542; and on 28 June, 1547, this was granted (fn. 81) to him in fee.
An extensive inventory (fn. 82) was taken of the goods of the abbey. Most of the vestry stuff is marked as given to the parish church of Waltham and other poor churches round. The church and household plate was mostly reserved for the king, and Sir John Williams, master of the jewels, received 1,169 ounces to his use on 18 March, 1541; but part of the household plate was given to the abbot and part sold to Denny. Part of the goods were received by the abbot, Denny and others, and rewards of a year's wages were given to a large number of servants.
The following is a list of the heads of the house. Waltham being a royal foundation, the elections of the abbots are recorded on the Patent Rolls in the reign of Henry III and later. The abbots elect were originally confirmed by the pope, but in consideration of the danger and expense of the journey to Rome Pope Boniface IX granted (fn. 83) on 28 January, 1399, that they should be true abbots without further confirmation, and also that they might be blessed by any bishop. In compensation for first-fruits and other dues the abbot and convent were to pay to the papal collector thirty gold florins every Michaelmas
Deans (fn. 84) of Waltham.
Geoffrey, (fn. 85) occurs before 1118.
Priors of Waltham
Ralph, appointed 1177. (fn. 86)
Abbots of Waltham
Nicholas, occurs 1214. (fn. 90)
Simon de Saham, elected 1248. (fn. 95)
Adam de Wiz, elected 1264. (fn. 96)
Reginald de Maidenheth, elected 1274. (fn. 99)
William de Hertford, elected 1420. (fn. 114)
John Lucas, resigned 1474. (fn. 115)
The seal of the abbey attached to the deed of surrender (fn. 128) is of dark brown wax, circular in shape, with a diameter of rather less than 3½ in. The obverse contains a pointed oval bordered with open tracery and foliage with a cross within a circular panel on each side. In the oval is the cross of Waltham upon a mount, upheld by two angels with expanded wings; and round it is the legend—
The reverse also shows upon a circular field a pointed oval, here placed between two shields supported by lions passant guardant, that on the left displaying the arms of England, and that on the right those of the abbey — on a cross engrailed five crosses crosslet fitchées. The oval is filled by three intaglio gems, (1) in the centre, two covered Byzantine busts facing each other, probably Tovi and Harold, (2) at the top, a man and a dolphin, and (3) at the base, a tiger passant. Around it is the legend—