A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1903.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
7. THE ABBEY OF BEAULIEU
It would appear that in 1203 King John granted to the house of St. Mary of Citeaux, as the head of the Cistercian order, the manor of Faringdon in Berkshire, where some monks of this order had established themselves, upon the condition that a monastery should be built there. (fn. 1) In the following year the king founded in the New Forest the monastery of St. Mary of Beaulieu of the same order with provision in it for thirty monks. (fn. 2) The foundation charter is dated 25 January, 1204-5. (fn. 3) By this charter the bounds of the precincts are accurately defined, and the monks were endowed with the manors of Great and Little Faringdon, Great and Little Coxwell, Shilton and Inglesham, and the churches of Shilton and Inglesham and the chapel of Coxwell, and all that the king had in Langford. Beaulieu being thus founded the monks of Faringdon were transferred to it, and Faringdon was made a cell to Beaulieu.
The small chartulary of 179 folios, in the Cotton collection, (fn. 4) opens with a transcript of the charter of King John, dated 2 November, 1203. This is followed by three charters of Henry III. and an elaborate confirmation charter of Edward III., dated 23 February, 1328. The particulars with regard to the different vicarages, and more especially as to the customs of the numerous manors (Shilton, Great and Little Faringdon, Great and Little Coxwell, Langford, Inglesham and Westbrook), which are given in great detail, are of considerable interest but pertain to the history of Berkshire.
Among the Harley MSS. is a transcript of a register or chartulary of Beaulieu, copied from one in the possession of the Duke of Portland, in 1739, and collated with the original in 1836 by Sir F. Madden. (fn. 5) It opens with the long foundation charter by John, relative to the important cell at Faringdon. This is followed by the charter of Henry III., regarding the New Forest, and confirming the grants of Bishop Peter and William Briwer. The third charter is that of the same king confirming 239 acres of land in the New Forest, granted at the dedication of the church, when the king and Queen Eleanor and Prince Edward were present. The charters referring to the possessions of the abbey in Berkshire are numerous; there are also many pertaining to Soberton, Bucks; Blacheford, Hants; the town of Southampton, and the church of St. Keverne, Cornwall.
In 1204 John gave the monks a hundred marks towards the construction of the abbey, a gold chalice, and a hundred cows and ten bulls for their dairy; in 1205 they obtained the royal gifts of twenty additional cows and two bulls, further money, and a large grant of corn; in 1206 came the first gift of a tun of wine for the use of the church from the officers of the king's prisage at Southampton; and in 1207 further large grants of oxen and corn. (fn. 6) On 16 August, 1205, the king sent letters to all the Cistercian abbots entreating their assistance in the building of the new abbey. (fn. 7)
In March, 1208, came the famous interdict of Innocent III. over all England which lasted until the king's submission in May, 1213, at which time Hugh, the first abbot of Beaulieu, acted as an intermediary between the king and the pope. On 4 April, 1208, the abbot obtained the royal passport for the conveyance of himself and servants and five horses across the Channel at Dover, evidently on a mission to Rome touching this business. (fn. 8) In the following month the pope issued a monition to King John to fulfil his promise to the abbot of Beaulieu to receive the cardinal Archbishop of Canterbury and to make due restitution, and again in the following August he instructed the Bishops of London, Ely and Worcester to warn and induce the king to carry out at once his various promises made to the abbot of Beaulieu. (fn. 9) Meanwhile the king, whilst staying at Waverley, the earliest of the English Cistercian foundations, on the immediate confines of the county, issued an order by which he restored to the monks all the lands which had been seized by occasion of the interdict. Abbot Hugh returned to England in November, and received from the king 30 marks for himself, 30 marks for fees and vails, and 40s. to buy himself a palfrey.
When the trouble of the interdict was over the building at Beaulieu was immediately resumed. In 1213 orders were made by the king for 400 marks towards the building at Michaelmas, and 500 marks at Michaelmas of the next year, and in 1214 an additional £200. (fn. 10) In 1214 a prior was elected, Anastasius by name; to him the second donation of £100 of that year was addressed, when the abbot was probably absent. (fn. 11) On 9 April, 1215, John made his last donation, 50 marks, to the monks of Beaulieu. (fn. 12)
The abbot of Beaulieu was the fourth of the envoys sent by John to Pope Innocent in September, 1215; and in that capacity, as one of the king's proctors, he exhibited articles against the Archbishop of Canterbury at the fourth Lateran Council. (fn. 13)
On 24 February, 1219, Abbot Hugh was consecrated Bishop of Carlisle in York Minster. (fn. 14) He died in 1223. His successor, Azo of Gisors, was a good deal engaged in diplomacy, and was dispatched by the king to France in the year of his appointment.
Henry III. carried on his father's work at Beaulieu with vigour. On 15 March, 1217, he instructed the keeper of his herd of horses in the New Forest to hand over all the profits to the monks of Beaulieu until November, 1220. (fn. 15) In 1220 the king gave 50 marks, in 1221, 17½ marks, and in 1222, £100 to the building. (fn. 16)
The annals of Waverley, which can scarcely in such a matter be wrong, describe the monks of Beaulieu as entering with great joy into their new church on the vigil of the Assumption, 1227. (fn. 17) This entry has been supposed to clash with the definite statement of the same annals and of Matthew Paris twenty years later. The term ecclesia however is sometimes used to apply to the whole of a religious house, and the explanation seems to be that the great conventual church was opened in 1227, but that the cloister and conventual buildings as a whole were not ready for occupation until 1246.
The king's generosity to the Cistercians of Beaulieu continued year by year; it would be tedious to reiterate the specific benefactions. At last the whole of the great fabric was finished, the monks quitted their temporary building (doubtless of wood), and on 17 June, 1246, the conventual buildings were dedicated by the Bishop of Winchester in the presence of the king and queen, the Earl of Cornwall, and a great concourse of prelates and magnates of the realm. At the feast of the dedication the abbot made an offering of 500 marks. The young Prince Edward was also present at the dedication, but was seized with illness, and the queen stayed at the abbey three weeks to nurse him, in contradiction, as the annalist says, of the Cistercian rule. As a proof of the strict observance of their rule, it is recorded that at the next visitation both prior and cellarer were deposed from their offices, because they had supplied seculars with meat on the occasion of the dedication festival. (fn. 18)
Pope Gregory IX., in 1231, granted a licence, at the request of Henry III., to the abbey of Beaulieu to appropriate the churches of Shilton and Inglesham, with the chapel of Coxwell, in the dioceses of Salisbury and Lincoln. (fn. 19) The same pope, in 1235, licensed, at the request of the king and his brother, the Earl of Cornwall, the appropriation by the abbey of the church of St. Keverne, Cornwall, the patronage of which, together with ten marks rent in Helston, the earl had already granted for the health of his soul and that of his father King John, due provision being made for a vicar. (fn. 20) This appropriation led in 1236 to a dispute between the rector and the convent as to the right of presentation. The convent sent a proctor to Rome, asserting that the Earl of Cornwall had given them the patronage, and alleging that they needed money for hospitality; but they concealed the fact that they had a £1,000 of yearly rents, and being in a desert place had little or no hospitality to exercise. It was stated on behalf of the rector that the convent of Beaulieu revelled in their goods, which could support many more monks, and that they had turned the church of St. Keverne into a grange, and admitted scarcely a single guest. (fn. 21)
In the first instance Gregory seems to have been willing to listen to any attack on the monks of Beaulieu, and in his original mandate to the legate Otho (given in full in the chartulary) he denounces them, writing of them as debachantes in their monastery. Naturally the abbot as well as the Earl of Cornwall protested. The result announced in the pope's name by Otho in February, 1237, was that Beaulieu retained the appropriation, and that the rector was to receive from the monks a pension of 20 marks until he obtained a competent benefice. (fn. 22)
Isabel of Gloucester, the wife of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, died on 17 January, 1239; and was buried before the high altar of the new church of Beaulieu, her heart being sent to Tewkesbury. (fn. 23) The Earl of Cornwall, among his various deeds of piety, founded the monastery of Hales, for the establishment of which in 1246 twenty monks and thirty lay brothers were sent from Beaulieu. (fn. 24) About the same time another party of monks left Beaulieu to colonize the newly founded monastery of Newenham in Devonshire. The monastery of Netley had already been colonized from Beaulieu in 1239. (fn. 25)
At the end of the chartulary proper, already referred to, (fn. 26) come certain memoranda, among which is one to the effect that in 1274, at the general Council of Lyons, when a subsidy for a crusade for six years was enjoined, the pope granted to the Cistercians that the abbot of Citeaux should be responsible for the contributions of their whole order. The abbot, with the advice of the chapter-general, taxed each individual house of the order, according to his will, for the six years. Beaulieu, with its three daughters of Netley, Hales and Newenham, for the first and second year were to pay £26; namely Beaulieu, £13; Hales, £5 6s.; Netley, £4 14s.; and Newenham, £3. In 1276, when the English Cistercian houses paid £1,000 to Edward I., twothirds of which were due from Canterbury province, Beaulieu's share came to £23 6s. 8d.; Netley, £12; Hales, £14 13s.; and Newenham, £5. Beaulieu's share was higher than any other of the forty-nine Cistercian houses of the province; the next on the list was Warden, rated at £22 13s. 4d.
In January, 1275, the takers of the king's wines at Southampton were ordered to serve the abbot with three tuns of wine at a cost of 60s. for use in his church, for the first three years of the king's reign, in accordance with claim made under a charter of Henry III, Order was issued yearly for this tun of wine until 1279, when a mandate was served on Matthew de Columbariis, the king's wine-taker at Southampton, and his successors to deliver the tun yearly without having to obtain a special letter or other mandate. (fn. 27) In February, 1275, the abbey received a further or second tun of wine from Southampton, in lieu of the tun that the king's steward received from the warden at Beaulieu for the use of the royal household on the occasion of the king's last visit. (fn. 28)
Edward I. frequently sojourned at Beaulieu; he was there in 1275 and 1276, and again in 1285. It seems somewhat inconsistent with subsequent royal visits to find that in July, 1276, protection was granted by letters patent for the abbey of Beaulieu, in accordance with the ordinances passed in the first parliament of Edward I., when it was ordained that no one should be lodged in a house of religion, or take victuals or carriage therein, or in any of its manors. (fn. 29)
About this period the abbots of Beaulieu were frequently abroad on the business of their house and order. In March, 1274, the abbot (probably Dennis), who held the king's licence to cross the seas, appointed two of his brother monks to act as his attorneys until the following feast of All Saints. In May, 1276, he appointed two other monks as his attorneys, for a like reason, until Christmas, unless he returned in the interval, and in April, 1279, a like arrangement was made. (fn. 30) The abbot also obtained leave to cross the seas from 8 September to Midsummer in 1282; from 7 September to Christmas in 1285; and from April to All Saints in 1286. (fn. 31) These absences would be mainly to attend the general chapter which was held at Citeaux every year, opening on 14 September. Every abbot was bound to attend, under pain of a severe penance, unless there was a legitimate excuse, in which case he was to acquaint some neighbouring abbot and to send letters. From this duty of yearly attendance, exemptions were made from time to time on the score of the poverty of the house or its distance, notably at the general chapters of 1260, 1263 and 1270. (fn. 32)
Some light is thrown upon the history of the monastery as a trading community by the grant of a protection and safe conduct to the abbey in 1281 for taking a ship laden with corn and other goods from time to time to Gascony and other places within the king's power, and bringing thence wine and other goods. (fn. 33)
From the taxation roll of 1291 we find that the temporalities of Beaulieu in the archdeaconry were then valued at producing an annual income of £100, of which the immediate environs of the abbey supplied £66 13s. 4d. The temporalities in the archdeaconry of Berks produced an income of £91 1s. 8d.; those of the archdeaconry of Oxford £32 1s. 10d. There was also £11 11s. 8d. from St. Keverne in Cornwall, and £6 13s. 4d. from houses and fisheries in Little Yarmouth. In spiritualities there was the rectory of Shilton with an income of £7 6s. 8d., and Inglesham with an income of £4 6s. 8d.
In 1312 licence for alienation in mortmain, in favour of Beaulieu, was obtained for messuages and lands in Upton and Holebury, on payment of a fine of 30s. (fn. 34) In 1316 the abbey obtained a valuable grant of a messuage, mill, 60 acres of land, 10 acres of meadow, and 6 acres of wood at Hipley, (fn. 35) and in March of the following year confirmation was given to six small grants to the abbey. (fn. 36)
The advowson of the church of Ringwood was granted to the abbey in February, 1329, by Edward III. in fulfilment of a wish of the late king; and on condition that four monks should be maintained beyond the thirty-two then at Beaulieu, to celebrate mass daily for the souls of himself, his mother and his heirs. (fn. 37) In 1332 this grant of Ringwood made by the procurement of Roger de Mortimer was revoked. (fn. 38) By the return of knights' fees of 1346 we find that the abbot of Beaulieu held one fee in Over Burgate in perpetual alms. (fn. 39) In the return for Berkshire for the feudal aid of 1316 he held the hundred and vill of Faringdon with Coxwell, Inglesham, and Little Faringdon, and he and others held Langford, Shilton and 'Bernynton.' (fn. 40)
The abbot of Beaulieu, whose predecessors had sat in Parliament since 1260, by fine of ten marks, obtained in 1341 the king's sanction to be freed, for himself and his successors, from attendance at Parliament, inasmuch as all the abbey lands were held in free alms, and not by barony or otherwise of the king in chief. (fn. 41)
Abbot Herring presided for twenty years, and on his death the custody of the abbey was assigned, on 6 January, 1392, to Thomas, Earl of Kent, and Tideman de Winchecombe, one of the monks. (fn. 42) After some delay Tideman de Winchecombe was elected abbot, but he only ruled for a very brief period; for in August, 1393, he was elected Bishop of Llandaff, at the instigation of the pope.
A grant of Edward III. in 1468 gave the monks of Beaulieu a weekly Thursday market within the precincts, and confirmed their rights of pasturage in the forests of Bere and Porchester, with other former privileges. (fn. 43)
On 15 December, 1483, the abbot of Beaulieu was summoned, together with two of his community, by Richard III. to appear at Westminster, and bring with him all muniments and writings by which he claimed special sanctuary rights, within six days after the receipt of the mandate. (fn. 44) It has been conjectured, with much probability, that this summons arose from the abbey having given shelter to the enemies of the Yorkist faction. Every church and churchyard had certain temporary sanctuary rights pertaining to them; but in a few instances, of which Beaulieu was the most celebrated English example in the south, these rights were extended for an indefinite period and over a far wider area than the actual consecrated site. At Beaulieu Innocent III. had granted these special sanctuary rights to the whole of the original grant of land to the monks made by John, the bounds of which were clearly defined in the charter. Among those of note who availed themselves of this sanctuary may be mentioned Perkin Warbeck, Lady Warwick, after the field of Barnet in 1471, and according to some writers, Margaret of Anjou.
Abbot Thomas Skevington was consecrated Bishop of Bangor at Lambeth on 17 June, 1509, but he continued to hold the abbey in commendam until his death in 1533.
The abbey's share towards the ' king's personal expenses in France to recover the Crown,' in 1522, was the large sum of £66 13s. 4d. (fn. 45)
In a butlerage account of customs paid on wine out of various ships at Southampton and Portsmouth, in 1526, which yielded a sum of £15 10s. on 155 tuns, it is stated that the total prisage of wine was fifteen tuns, whereof five tuns (one tun each) were delivered to the monasteries of Beaulieu, Tichfield, Netley, Waverley and St. Denis. (fn. 46)
The abbot of Beaulieu was summoned to Convocation in 1529, but he was not present. (fn. 47)
In a list of ' fines made with divers persons by the king's commandment' of 1531 occurs the name of ' the Bishop of Bangor otherwise called the abbot of Beaulieu,' for the heavy sum of £333 6s. 8d., for his offences against the statutes of provisions and præmunire. (fn. 48) In the following year however we find the abbot-bishop was put on the commission of the peace for Hampshire. (fn. 49)
On 17 August, 1533, Abbot Skevington died, and on the following day Harry Huttoft wrote to Cromwell begging that the post might be given ' to one of the same religion, a good man, the abbot of Waverley,' adding, ' he will do his duty every way, and if you knew of his manner of living you would be his assured good master.' On 20 August, Sir William Fitzwilliam wrote from Windsor to Cromwell concerning the abbot's death, and stating that he was in the king's displeasure for offences against the royal game. 'I chanced, in communication with the king, to mention one who a virtuous man and a good husband(man), and had ever been good to his game though the forests of Wolmer and Windsor and other places are about his house, and I thought he would make a good abbot of Beauley. On his asking who he was, I replied, the abbot of Waverley. He said it was truth, and willed me to write to you to put him in remembrance, on his coming to London, that he might take order for the same. I assure you the suggestion came from myself alone, and not from any solicitation of the abbot.'
On the same day Lord Audeley wrote to the Duke of Suffolk as to the vacancy at Beaulieu, for which much suit was being made. He did not make any specific suggestion, but urged that whoever was appointed abbot should be ' a man of great gravity and circumspect, and not base of stomach or faint of heart when need shall require, the place standeth so wildly; and it is a great sanctuary, and boundeth upon a great forest and upon the sea coast, where sanctuary men may do much displeasure if they be not very well and substantially looked upon.' (fn. 50) In accordance with the king's wish John Browning, abbot of Waverley, the preserver of the king's game, was speedily made abbot of Beaulieu. In September Huttoft wrote a grateful letter as to the appointment to Cromwell.
The Valor of 1535, taken when Browning was abbot, gave the gross annual value of Beaulieu as £428 6s. 8¼d., and the net value £326 13s. 2¾d.
Under the Act of 1536, dissolving the lesser monasteries, more than two-thirds of the Cistercian abbeys were suppressed. Their inmates were, as a rule, transferred to the larger houses of the order. In March, 1536, Abbot Browning died, and Thomas Stevens or Stephens, abbot of Netley, was appointed his successor. In the following February Netley was suppressed, and the whole of the monks went to their mother house at Beaulieu. (fn. 51)
Lord Lisle was most anxious to obtain the fine spoils of Beaulieu, and wrote both in February and June of 1536 to servants of Cromwell to endeavour to secure them. On the first occasion he was told that there was no likelihood that Beaulieu would be suppressed; and on the second application he was assured that it would be lost time to sue for it, and recommended to try for St. Mary's, Winchester, or for ' Waverley, which is a pretty thing.' (fn. 52)
Shortly after Stevens' appointment as abbot, we find him eager to curry favour with Wriothesley. Hearing through a servant that he wanted a horse—' My Lord of Beaulieu said he had nothing but should be at your commandment, and sent his men to take up for you his own riding horse, which you will receive herewith. His only fault is that he is too little for you, though the biggest in all his park.' (fn. 53)
With regard to the ancient right of sanctuary at Beaulieu, it is not surprising to find that neither Cromwell nor his royal master had any scruple as to its violation. In September, 1537, the abbot received a letter from Cromwell demanding the delivery to the bearers of the body of James Manzy, a Florentine. He replied that he would have done so, but that Manzy had left sanctuary on the previous Sunday when he was absent from home. On hearing further from the Lord Privy Seal, the abbot wrote to say that in conjunction with Master Huttoft he had gathered together all the conveyers of James Manzy, and had so used them that he thought they would ' love the worse hereafter to steal sanctuary men from Beaulieu.' Manzy hid day and night in woods, bushes and old barns, and the abbot indignantly repudiated the suggestion that he had connived at his escape. At the same time Huttoft wrote to like effect to Cromwell. 'I have made search with my lord of Beaulieu these two days, both aboard ship and in all the forest, and have this night (28 September) found the said James in a hay loft on a farm besides Hampton. He was hidden half the mow deep, and when discovered seemed more dead than alive. After a while he fell to weeping, saying his abuse was only for fear of your lordship, and that his keepers menaced him to be carried up like a prisoner. I beg you will have pity on him for he has been severely handled. The bearer Parpoynt has spoken many words more than needeth. My Lord of Beaulieu has used very good diligence in this matter, and is also much discouraged by the reports made of him.' (fn. 54)
On 2 April, 1538, the subservient abbot signed the surrender of this great monastery of royal foundation to the notorious commissioners Layton, Petre and Freeman, and induced twenty of the monks to do the like. (fn. 55) The site was immediately granted to Thomas Wriothesley (afterwards Earl of Southampton). Crayford, one of the sub-commissioners for suppression of monasteries, wrote to him on 17 April, saying that Abbot Stevens, immediately before his surrender, let out the mill, parsonage, etc., of Beaulieu, and the lodge at St. Leonard's grange to his sister. (fn. 56) On 26 April, the ex-abbot wrote to Wriothesley, protesting against the detraction of his ' lewd monks, which now, I thank God, I am rid of.' (fn. 57)
At the time of the dissolution the monastery held in Hampshire the manors of Colbury, Hilton, Upton, 'Ippeley,' Holbury, and the manor of Frerencourte in Fordingbridge, the rectories of Beaulieu, and lands, rents, etc., in Southampton, Lymington, ' Esthamlode' in the Isle of Wight,' Gooreley,' ' Blayshford, Bremmer' and Avon, and Newchurch in the Isle of Wight; in Berkshire the manors of Great Faringdon, Little Faringdon, Inglesham, Shilton and Wyke, and rents in Westbroke and Langford; in Cornwall the manor of St. Kirian, a mill at Tregonon, and rent in Helston; and a messuage in Southwark in Surrey. (fn. 58)
Stevens obtained a pension of 100 marks, but in February, 1540, was instituted to the rectory of Bentworth near Alton. In 1548 he was collated to the treasurership of Salisbury Cathedral, and died in 1550 seized of both these preferments. Seventeen of the monks also obtained small pensions.
With the suppression came the end of the historic sanctuary rights throughout what was termed ' the Great Close of Beaulieu.' On the day of the surrender the commissioners wrote to Cromwell stating that there were thirty-two sanctuary men there for debt, felony and murder, who had their houses and grounds where they lived with their wives and children. They declared that if sent to other sanctuaries they would be undone, and desired to remain there for their lives, provided no more were admitted. The commissioners wished to know the king's pleasure. The ex-abbot also wrote to Wriothesley, begging him to be a good master to the Beaulieu sanctuary men who were there for debt. He said they had been very honest while he was their governor, and it would be no profit to the town if they were to leave, for the houses would yield no rent. Crayford also wrote to Wriothesley about the same time, asking for the king's protection for the ' miserable debtors,' stating that all the inhabitants of Beaulieu were sanctuary men, and urging the immediate departure of the murderers and felons as ' hopeless men.' In the end the debtors were allowed to tarry for their lives, under protection, at Beaulieu; and one, Thomas Jeynes, who had slain a man at Christchurch, was granted a pardon. (fn. 59)
The circular elaborate fifteenth century seal, of which an illustration is given, represents the crowned Virgin seated in a canopied niche with the Holy Child on left knee; on each side, in canopied niches, are five kneeling monks. In base is a crown enfiled with a crozier. Legend : Sigillum : Commune : Monasterii : Belli : Loci : Regis.
Abbots of Beaulieu
Hugh, (fn. 60) about 1208-19
Azo of Gisors, 1238
Dennis, (fn. 61) about 1274-80
William de Gisors, cellarer, (fn. 62) 1281
Robert de Boclonde, died in 1302
Peter de Chichester (fn. 63)
William de Hameldon (fn. 64)
Walter Herring, (fn. 65) 1372-92
Tideman de Winchecombe, about 1392-3
Richard de Middleton, (fn. 66) 1394-7
John Gloucester, (fn. 67) 1397-1400
Richard de Middleton, (fn. 68) 1400
Richard Bartelmelo, (fn. 69) 1415
William Salbury, (fn. 70) 1425-9
William Woburn, 1429
Thomas Skevington, (fn. 71) 1509, 1533
John Browning, abbot of Waverley, 1533-6
Thomas Stevens, abbot of Netley, 1536-8