A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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HOUSE OF PREMONSTRATENSIAN CANONS
27. THE ABBEY OF BEELEIGH BY MALDON (fn. 1)
The Premonstratensians first settled in Essex at Great Parndon. The date of this is not known, but it must have been before August, 1172, when Robert, abbot of 'Perhendune,' appears (fn. 2) as a witness to a charter of Ralph de Marci to St. John's, Colchester. The abbey was colonized from Newhouse in Lincolnshire, the first house of the order in England, which had itself been colonized about 1143 from Licques near Boulogne, a daughter house of Prémontré. But afterwards, probably on account of the number of daughters of Newhouse, the supervision and dignity of 'father abbot' of Beeleigh were transferred to the abbot of Durford in Sussex, a much smaller house than Beeleigh.
In 1180 (fn. 3) the canons migrated from Parndon to Maldon; Robert Mantell granting to them land in Maldon, Totham and Goldhanger, the churches of St. Peter and All Saints, Maldon, and St. Lawrence in Dengie and half the church of St. Margaret, Bures. This seems to have been considered as a new foundation, for the patronage of the abbey remained from henceforward until the dissolution with his heirs, the lords of the manor of Little Maldon. Henry II granted (fn. 4) in frankalmoin to the canons, after the migration, 140 acres of assarted land in the forest between Roydon and Epping and between Parndon and Epping. Richard I on 7 December, 1189, confirmed the above grants and others, including grants of land in Parndon from Picot de Perundune, Robert son of Roger de Perundune and Ralph de Marci, and granted various liberties; and his charter was subsequently confirmed by later kings in 1364, (fn. 5) 1392 (fn. 6) and 1472. (fn. 7) The abbey was at first called Maldon, the name Beeleigh in its various forms not occurring till the next century. It was dedicated to St. Mary and St. Nicholas.
The temporalities of the abbey were valued in the Taxation of 1291 at £41 17s. 9½d. yearly; the principal amounts being £7 9s. 7d. in Goldhanger, £6 8s. 4d. in Parndon, £6 7s. 10d. in Maldon, £5 16s. 2d. in Purleigh, £3 1s. 4d. in Burnham, £2 15s. 6d. in Stow, £2 13s. 2d. in Tollesbury, £1 15s. 8d. in Great Totham, £1 7s. 2d. in Woodham Mortimer and £1 3s. in London; with smaller sums in Woodham Walter, Moulsham, St. Lawrence, Tolleshunt Tregoz, Langford, Chignal Zoyn, Magdalen Laver, Tillingham, Wickford, Writtle, Norton, Ulting and Roxwell, Pensions of £2 in the church of Laindon and £1 in the church of Great Parndon are also mentioned as belonging to the abbey. It also owned the advowson of the rectory of Laindon. The church of St. Lawrence was appropriated to it and a vicarage endowed, but in 1438 the rectory was restored. (fn. 8) The two churches of St. Peter and All Saints, Maldon, granted by Robert Mantell, were united (fn. 9) in 1306, when a vicarage was ordained. Hugh de Neville granted the advowson of the church of Great Wakering, which was confirmed by his brother John and again on 4 July, 1291, by Edward I. (fn. 10) The church was appropriated (fn. 11) to the abbey in 1284 by the bishop, who however reserved the collation of the vicarage to himself. In 1307 (fn. 12) the prior of Prittlewell claimed that he held the fourth part of the church of his own advowson; but the bishop reported that the church belonged to one rector and that the abbot and convent had long held it to their own use. The last church to be acquired was that of Ulting, which was granted (fn. 13) by Robert Fitz Walter and appropriated (fn. 14) in 1299.
In 1257 Dame Hawisia de Neville, wife of Sir John de Gatesden, granted 40 marks to R., then abbot, and the convent to purchase land for the maintenance of a canon to celebrate divine service. The abbot and convent acknowledged (fn. 15) the grant under their seal; and in 1258 the Premonstratensian chapter confirmed (fn. 16) the agreement and admitted her to participation in the prayers of the order. Andrew, abbot, and the convent at Easter, 1265, agreed (fn. 17) with the executors of the will of Master Stephen de Sandwych, archdeacon of Essex, to celebrate certain services for his soul. Henry de Wengham, bishop of London, who died in 1262, left (fn. 18) 360 marks sterling by his will to the abbot and convent to find two chaplains in the church of St. Paul, London, to celebrate for his soul, each of them to have six marks yearly, and four marks to be distributed on the day of his obit between the canons and the servants of the said church, and 25s. to the poor on the same day, and half a mark to the chapter of St. Martin le Grand, London, every year. The abbot bound himself and his convent to the observance of this on the feast of St. Katharine the Virgin, 1298. But they seem not to have kept it, and many lawsuits on the matter are recorded on the De Banco rolls until a later agreement was made (fn. 19) between the dean and chapter of St. Paul's and John Boston, abbot, and the convent in 1451.
In 1269 contentions and discords arose between the abbot Reginald and the convent, and in consequence the king, on 6 November, took (fn. 20) the abbey into his protection and committed the custody of it to John le Moine and William de Aumbly. It is very likely that Reginald was removed, for Andrew appears again as abbot in 1272, protection being granted (fn. 21) to him on 30 July. Edward I dated letters patent from Beeleigh on 10 September, 1289. (fn. 22)
The abbot of Beeleigh was summoned (fn. 23) to Parliament under Edward I, though not at any later time.
Several mentions of Beeleigh are to be found among the Premonstratensian records. (fn. 24) The abbot was present at the council of the order which met at Revesby in 1310 to inform the abbot of Prémontré that payment of tribute was forbidden by the statute of Carlisle in 1307. The abbots of Beeleigh, Durford and Titchfield were present at Bayham on 8 April, 1454, at a meeting held by the abbot of Bayham, the commissioner of the abbot of Prémontré, when they summoned a chapter general to meet in the church of the Friars Preachers at Northampton on 10 July. The abbot of Beeleigh was one of the definitors elected in the provincial chapter held at Lincoln on 28 September, 1489, and again in the chapter at Grantham on 30 April, 1492. Richard Redman, bishop of St. Asaph and abbot of Shap, the commissioner of the order in England for thirty years, visited Beeleigh several times, and his reports are exceptionally favourable, comparing well in every way with those on other houses of the order.
In answer to a set form of questions it was stated that the abbey was dedicated to St. Mary and St. Nicholas; the abbot of Newhouse was formerly father abbot, but now the abbot of Durford; the abbey had three churches, all served with secular canons, and the earl of Essex was patron. In 1475 William Kyrkeby was abbot and Thomas Scarlett sub-prior, and there were seven other canons. Two canons of Barlings in Lincolnshire were at Beeleigh, having probably been sent there for discipline. In 1478 Redman reached Beeleigh at the dinner-hour on 7 July, but the record of his visitation is missing. On the ninth he proceeded by Tilbury ferry to Rochester, where he spent the night at the expense of the abbot of Beeleigh, and the next day he was at the abbey of Langdon in Kent.
In 1482 he visited Beeleigh on 25 August. Thomas Lambe had to say the whole psalter within forty days for striking one of his brethren. Nicholas Brige was sentenced to one day on bread and water for rebellion against the circator and for breaking silence in the cloister. Nothing else had to be reformed, and all things spiritual and temporal were in good order under the new abbot. A general precept was issued as to diminution of the size of the tonsure, and order was given that all going out of the dormitory without licence after compline were to be put on bread and water for one day. The debt of the house had been twenty marks at the last visitation, but it was now £116, chiefly on account of great expenses at the infirmary. Ten canons are mentioned, of whom three were novices.
In 1488 he visited on 8 July. Nothing worthy of reformation was detected, and all things were being done to the glory of God through the prudent rule of the abbot. He had, however, ocular demonstration of carelessness as to the tonsure, and it was not decent to have such abundance of hair. The debt was now reduced by the providence of the abbot to £76, and there was a sufficiency of cattle, grain, and other necessaries. The name of the abbot is left blank, but thirteen other names are given, four being those of novices.
In 1491 the visitation was made on 3 October. Everything within and without was in most laudable condition, and there was nothing of any kind to reform nor any precept to be made. The debt, which at the last visitation had been £76, was now cleared off, and the house was peroptime stuffata with grain and cattle.
In 1497 the bishop visited on 9 October. Thomas Skarlett was abbot, Thomas Frebrige sub-prior, and there were eleven other canons, three of them being novices. Everything was in every way satisfactory, and he could find nothing to reprimand. There was no debt, and a sufficiency of grain and cattle.
In 1500 he again visited on 9 October, and noted the excellent repairs to the windows and other buildings of the church, but yet there was no debt and the house was well supplied with grain and cattle. There was nothing to correct and no precept. Thomas Skarlett was abbot and Richard Ynglande sub-prior, with nine other canons, three of them being novices.
Thomas Wilkinson, abbot of Welbeck, made a general visitation of the order in England in 1506, reaching Beeleigh in October on his way from Kent to Suffolk, according to the following extract from his progress:
Pope Boniface IX on 22 July, 1391, granted (fn. 25) relaxation to penitents who on the feast of St. Roger should visit and give alms to the church of the monastery.
Abbot Thomas became entangled in the conspiracy of the countess of Oxford and others against Henry IV in 1403-4, though he does not seem to have taken any active part in it. The story is told in detail in his own confession. (fn. 26) In the week before Christmas, as he was riding home from London, a man of the abbot of Colchester met him with a letter praying him to come to Colchester and there sing a mass in the abbey, where there should be all the gentles of the country. He went accordingly and there met a gentleman called Beloyne and a man called William Blithe, and they went with the abbot of Colchester into his chapel. Blithe was asked for news, but refused to give any until after Candlemas, though he read from a paper divers things which the abbot forgot. The abbot heard no more of him until the Friday before Clean Lent Sunday, when he came to Beeleigh Abbey between ten and eleven and asked to speak with the abbot, praying him to send for one John Pretilwell to meet a gentleman from London. Pretilwell came on Sunday to mass, and Blithe came the night before 'yn gise of a kneyzt with a grete gylde girdil,' and on Sunday after they had eaten they walked in the garden, where Blithe spoke first with Pretilwell and afterwards all together. He said that King Richard was coming out of Scotland, and Queen Isabel and the duke of Orleans were on the sea proposing to arm at Orwell, and Glendower out of Wales with a strong power, and all his people should meet together at Northampton, and he brought messages and proclamations from King Richard. He wished to borrow a horse, a spear and other harness from the abbot, who would not lend them, and after supper on Sunday he went his way. Afterwards he asked the abbot by letter to lend him four marks, and the abbot, thinking that 'if hit happid othir than well he meyzt have desesid me and oure place,' sent him two marks, and later 20s. more. The abbot of Colchester also told him that King Richard was alive and coming out of Scotland, and that the countess of Oxford and men of the country were ordained to receive him. But nothing happened, and some time later a yeoman of the abbot aroused him out of bed at midnight saying that fourscore men were come, and he heard that many had been taken and more would be ere daybreak, and 'for drede that y was ferid to have be take and desesid bodeli y woidede.' A warrant (fn. 27) was issued for his arrest on 5 June, and he shortly afterwards surrendered, and on St. Alban's day (June 22), at Codham manor, wrote out a full confession before the king's commissioners. Pardon was granted (fn. 28) to him on 13 November at the instance of the queen, but he was probably removed not long afterwards, for he is described as 'late abbot' in a warrant (fn. 29) dated 29 July, 1405, for the arrest of John Ultyng, a fellow canon, charged with felony in Surrey. John Ultyng afterwards in 1418 became abbot of Durford.
On 17 May, 1481, the hospital of St. Giles, Maldon, was granted (fn. 30) by the patrons and others to Thomas Scarlot, abbot, and the convent of Beeleigh. The king's licence had been obtained (fn. 31) on 18 February, and on 25 November the bishop sanctioned (fn. 32) the appropriation of the hospital to the abbey. The abbot and convent made petition for the appropriation on the ground of the dilapidation of their buildings, the destructive effect on their lands of inundations of the sea, and the general evils of the times; all which causes had so impoverished them that they found it almost impossible to maintain their daily hospitality, which was a necessity as they were so close to the king's highway.
Henry Bourchier, earl of Essex, who died in 1483, and Isabel his wife were buried in the chapel of St. Mary in the abbey. Their son Sir John Bourchier by his will (fn. 33) proved on 3 November, 1495, left his body to be buried in the abbey near them, beneath their sepulchre and tomb, and willed that a tomb be made there for him and both his wives, according to his degree. He was, however, buried in the church of Stebbing. His widow, Dame Elizabeth Bourchier, by her will (fn. 34) proved on 14 May, 1498, left her body to be buried within Our Lady's chapel in the monastery, and willed that the bones of her husband be taken up from Stebbing and carried there. William Malb by his will (fn. 35) proved on 21 February, 1505, left considerable sums to the abbey.
The abbey is only mentioned a few times in the records of the borough. In 3 Henry VII Fullbridge was in need of repair, and the bailiffs accordingly ordered wood to be felled in the common streets and lanes of the borough. When the wood was felled in the lane leading from Woodham Walter park gate to Lymborne brook, Abbot Thomas Scarlot and his canons came and would have carried it away, but the bailiffs and honest persons of the town went thither and 'lettid the abbot and brought awey the wode to the toune, and the abbot hadde there never a stykk and his cartis went home ayeyn idill.' The matter was 'in travarsse' between the abbot and the town for nine or ten weeks. Evidences were produced on both sides, and it was proved that the lane was a bound of the town and common for the town before the abbey was an abbey. The abbot was, however, allowed by the town to make bars to keep his cattle out of Woodham Mortimer lands.
The abbey is returned in the Valor as being worth £157 16s. 11¼d. yearly, the gross value (fn. 36) being £196 6s. 5d. It consequently came under the operation of the Act of 1536, and was dissolved, the abbot receiving a pension (fn. 37) of £18 yearly. An inventory (fn. 38) of its goods was taken on 6 June by the king's commissioners. They consist of tapestry and other articles of furniture in the different chambers, viz., the great chamber, the children's chamber, the dining chamber, etc.; beds and bedding; malt and implements in the brewhouse; a table of alabaster at the high altar (valued at 13s. 4d.), with altar-cloths, mass-books, etc., in the choir; ornaments of the Lady chapel (including a pair of organs at 100s.), the Jesus chapel, the rood chapel, the chapel of St. Katharine and the vestry; articles in the kitchen, buttery and infirmary; and cattle, with some plate remaining in the hands of the commissioners. The goods were valued at £74 18s. 10d., besides cattle worth £31 15s. and corn worth £14 3s. 8d. The debts due to the house amounted to £32 11s. 2d., and those due by it to £121 18s. 4d., a strangely large amount in view of its prosperous condition a few years before. There were 129¾ ounces of plate, valued at £23 16s. 6d. An inventory was also taken of cattle left in the hands of Lancelot Madeson at the monastery on 24 July.
A complete rental of the possessions of the abbey, taken soon after the dissolution, is preserved. (fn. 39) The spiritualities amounted to £22 2s. yearly. The demesne lands of the abbey were valued at £30 0s. 4d., and the manor of Canons in Great Parndon at £16 2s. The net value of the whole of the temporalities was £145 15s. 2d. yearly, after deductions of £4 2s. 1½d. for rents, £2 13s. 4d. for the fee of the chief steward, £1 6s. 8d. for the fee of the understeward, and £3 6s. 8d. for the fee of the bailiff and collector; and exclusive of £22 2s. 8d. for the farm of lands called Jankenes Maldone in Hazeleigh, which had been granted to the queen by Act of Parliament. (fn. 40) This makes the net value of the abbey £189 19s. 10d., appreciably more than in the Valor.
Henry, earl of Essex, writing (fn. 41) to Cromwell on 13 January, before the dissolution, thanks him for his goodness to the abbot, though what is meant does not appear. On 23 March he writes (fn. 42) to ask Cromwell, inasmuch as the Act is passed that all places of religion being under 300 marks be wholly in his Grace's hands, to remind the king that the little house of Byleygh, of which he is founder, lies entirely within his own lands. He will give 1,000 marks, to be paid in three years, for its recovery, and promises that it shall never be used as a religious house again.
The earl did not get what he wanted. The possessions of the abbey were leased or granted away to various persons. The monastery itself with the mill there and the rectory of St. Peter, Maldon, were leased (fn. 43) on 8 January, 1537, to John Gate of Garnetts, High Easter; and on 15 July, 1540, the king, for £300, granted (fn. 44) to him in fee the monastery and various possessions in Beeleigh, Maldon, Woodham Walter, Langford, Ulting, Great Totham and Purleigh, and the rectories and advowsons of the vicarages of St. Peter and All Saints, Maldon, the whole being valued at £35 10s. 11½d. yearly, at a rent of 71s. 2d.
Abbots Of Beeleigh
Robert, (fn. 45) occurs 1172.
Walter, occurs 1253. (fn. 50)
Andrew, occurs 1265. (fn. 54)
Reginald, occurs 1269. (fn. 55)
R. occurs 1298. (fn. 58)
William, occurs 1331. (fn. 59)
John. (fn. 60)
Thomas Cokke (fn. 61) [? 2384-1405].
John Boston, occurs 1451. (fn. 68)
The seal (fn. 76) of the abbey (1257) is a pointed oval of green wax measuring about 1½ in. by 1 in., representing an abbot holding a crosier. Legend: