A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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HOUSES OF CISTERCIAN MONKS
9. THE ABBEY OF BRUERN
The Cistercian abbey of Bruern was founded by Nicholas Basset in 1147. (fn. 1) Unfortunately no chartulary is extant, (fn. 2) but many of the original deeds are preserved at the Record Office, (fn. 3) and a few at the British Museum and the Bodleian Library; we have also valuable confirmations by Henry II (about 1170), by Richard I in 1189, and by John in 1205. (fn. 4) From these we learn that the original name of the abbey was 'the church of St. Mary of the heath of Tretone (de brueria Tretonie),' (fn. 5) Treton being the manor which in Domesday Book is called 'Draitone.' The first grant of Nicholas Basset must have consisted of a tract of open pasture (brueria) on which the abbey was erected; but at some time after the confirmation charter of Henry II, and probably about 1173, the founder gave the whole of his manors of Treton and Nethercote, together with the church of Treton. (fn. 6) From that time the name of Treton and the parish church almost disappeared; as the Cistercians paid no tithes on land which they farmed, there would have been no income for the parson, and in 1535 the parish church was represented by Sandbrook (fn. 7) chapel, and the manor itself was ultimately called Bruern.
The property of the monastery lay in the western part of Oxfordshire and the eastern part of Gloucestershire, and also at Priddy in Somerset. Among early grants may be mentioned a gift of land at Holwell in Swalcliffe, attributed by Madox to the time of Bishop Robert Grosteste, but in reality of the time of Robert de Chesney (1148-66). (fn. 8) There is also a deed by Robert de Witefeld, sheriff of Oxford 1181-5, by which he gives two hides at Milton-underWychwood, mentioning that Peter his uncle was a lay brother at Bruern. (fn. 9) Much of the property of the abbey, especially in Gloucestershire, was suitable for sheep-farming; (fn. 10) and Bruern, even more than most Cistercian houses, must have trusted to the wool trade. It is noticeable that in 1233 the monks obtained a grant from the king, that no one should distrain them for a debt by their sheep, so long as they have other beasts or goods by which they may be distrained. (fn. 11) Of churches they possessed only Treton and Denchworth in Berkshire, the latter having been appropriated before 1376, (fn. 12) but after 1291. (fn. 13) At the latter date the income of the abbey was stated to be £73, but the return does not seem to be complete.
We have but little knowledge of the history of this abbey. In 1232 there were building operations in connexion with its church, (fn. 14) and in 1250 the bishop of St. Asaph consecrated the altar of the Virgin Mary and St. Edmund the Confessor. (fn. 15) In 1252, as the abbot had neglected to make a visitation of the abbey of Beaulieu, which had been imposed upon him by the general chapter of the Cistercian order, it was ordered that by way of punishment he should be deposed from his stall for twenty days. (fn. 16) In 1279 the same chapter issued an injunction to the abbots of Ford, Tintern, and Neath to examine into the promotion of the abbot of Bruern, who was said to be guilty of intriguing (conspirator). (fn. 17) Next year we have the entry that 'Augerus,' late abbot of Bruern, is said to have been deposed unjustly; therefore the abbot of Tintern and others are to visit the abbey and make a report. (fn. 18) Finally, in 1281 they report that Augerus is eligible for the post of abbot at Bruern or elsewhere, and the five monks who had traduced him are ordered to fast 'on bread and water' every Saturday until further notice. (fn. 19) There is no doubt that this 'Augerus' is to be identified with the 'Rogerus' who was deposed in 1279, (fn. 20) Robert de Estal being chosen in his place. Whether Roger, or Auger, was re-appointed in 1281 we do not know, but we find that the abbot in 1290 was named Robert. From 1284 to 1340, as we learn from the Close Rolls, the monastery owed large sums of money, amounting in the former year to 2,100 marks, in the latter to 1,100; and in 1304 it was so oppressed with debt that it was put into the custody of W. de Rodeston. (fn. 21) It also had the trouble of a disputed succession; for in 1363 Robert de Stoe, monk of Bruern, who had been proctor at the papal court for the monks against John de Dunster, formerly abbot, when the verdict was given in favour of the abbot, so that he was reinstated, petitioned the pope that he might become a monk of Beaulieu, fearing the anger of Abbot John, if he returned to Bruern. (fn. 22) Three years later the abbot himself made a petition for an indulgence for those who contribute to the repair of the monastery, as it had been occupied for five years by an intruded person, who had so wasted the property of the abbey that it could only support six persons instead of sixty monks and sixty lay brothers. (fn. 23) These numbers, however, are incredible, if we remember how slender the income of the house was.
Brighter days came in 1382, when licence was given to acquire the manor of Fifield, in Oxfordshire, and other lands to the value of £10 a year. (fn. 24) In 1440 King Henry VI granted them at a rent of £8 a year the advowson of the church of Wootton with licence to appropriate; but in 1461 Edward IV revoked the gift. (fn. 25) In 1529 and 1530 we hear of riots at Bruern, and attempts to unseat John Chaffcombe, the abbot. (fn. 26)
In 1526 the gross income was £134, net £120; in 1535, at which date the house contained twelve monks in priests' orders and three that were not ordained, the income was returned at £136 net. Cromwell's commissioner at this time reported that the abbot was well learned in Holy Scripture, and had repaired the damage done to the house by his negligent predecessor, and had brought the convent into good order. (fn. 27) This abbot was Richard King, (fn. 28) possibly a relation of Dr. Robert King, abbot of Bruern in 1527, when he was promoted to the abbacy of Thame. (fn. 29) The house was suppressed and the monks expelled in October, 1536, (fn. 30) the abbot receiving a pension of £22. (fn. 31)
Abbots of Bruern
David, occurs in 1163 (fn. 32)
Christopher, elected January 1176-7, resigned 1187 (fn. 33)
J., occurs 1203 (fn. 36)
W., occurs 1217 (fn. 37)
Richard, appointed 1218, died 1228 (fn. 38)
Thomas, occurs 1229 and 1242 (fn. 39)
John, occurs 1246 (fn. 40)
Roger, deposed 1279 (fn. 41)
Robert de Estal, appointed 1279 (fn. 41)
Robert, occurs 1290 (fn. 42)
Thomas, occurs 1320 and 1327 (fn. 47)
Robert, occurs 1330 and 1340 (fn. 48)
Roger, occurs 1350 (fn. 49)
Geoffrey, occurs 1352 (fn. 50)
John de Dunster, occurs before 1358 and after 1366 (fn. 51)
John Assheley, occurs 1447 (fn. 56)
John, occurs 1464 (fn. 57)
Peter Wynborne, appointed 1468 (fn. 58)
Robert King, appointed 1515, resigned 1527 (fn. 59)
Richard King, (fn. 62) occurs 1535, last abbot
A seal belonging to the house is in the British Museum, pointed oval, the abbot standing on a corbel, in the right hand a pastoral staff, in the left hand a book. (fn. 63) Legend:—