A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.
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17. THE ABBEY OF BAYHAM (fn. 1)
It has just been related in the history of the abbey of Otham that about 1208 the canons of that abbey were transferred to Bayham, on the borders of Kent and Sussex, where Sir Robert de Turnham was establishing a monastery. Hither, too, Sir Robert brought the canons of the small Premonstratensian house of Brockley in Deptford, of which he was patron. The two convents were united under Jordan, previously abbot of Otham, and their respective endowments combined, Bayham thus holding the church of West Greenwich and various lands and rents in Kent as well as the Sussex property originally given to Otham. Further grants were made by the founder of lands in Yorkshire and elsewhere, and these were increased from time to time by other benefactors, so that in 1291 the abbey's possessions in Sussex were valued at £37 2s. 4d., with an additional £35 from other counties.
While many of the gifts received were unhampered by conditions, many others carried with them obligations of a religious nature— such as the maintenance of a canon to pray for the donor's soul, as in the case of a grant by Sybil de Icklesham (fn. 2)—or secular. Of the latter a good instance is the corrody granted to Simon Payn, who had given the convent 150 acres of land in Friston, in 1290. By this the canons covenanted not only to support Simon and his wife for the rest of their life, making the usual detailed allowance of food, beer, clothing, &c., but also to support his son Henry, a crippled clerk, who was to minister to them so far as his health allowed, to teach his two younger sons some trade within the precincts until they could support themselves, to give certain moneys to his four daughters, and to pay off various debts. (fn. 3) In the same way Master Eustace de Wrotham, apparently their legal adviser, was given an annual pension, or retaining fee, of 4 marks with free accommodation whenever he wished to visit their house for relaxation (fn. 4); and a similar grant was made to Master William de Tonebrig in 1275. (fn. 5)
The position of law officer to the canons was no sinecure, as they were often involved in suits, of which the most noteworthy was that concerning the church of Hailsham. The advowson of this church had been granted to Michelham priory in 1229 by Gilbert de Laigle, and Master Robert de Blachington had been presented as rector apparently about 1260, but some years later the abbot of Bayham claimed the church as a chapel of his church of Hellingly. Having failed in the royal law courts he appealed to the ecclesiastical courts in 1279, but was ordered by the king to desist. The bishop of Chichester, siding with the priory, excommunicated the abbey, upon which the abbot appealed to the king, maintaining that this was an infringement of the liberties of their order (fn. 6); the bishop, however, in January, 1280, successfully invoked the secular arm to remove these 'sons of perdition' from Hailsham church, (fn. 7) and accordingly the prior and Master Robert with some thirty others drove out by armed force the four canons and four lay brethren of Bayham who were in possession. (fn. 8) An appeal to an ecclesiastical court in 1282 resulted in a decision by the archdeacon of Southwark in favour of the abbot, but this was set aside by the archbishop, and Master Robert had peaceful possession for a short time, but in the spring of 1287 the canons again seized the church and held it in spite of the archbishop's excommunication; the secular arm was again invoked and the church forcibly recovered. The abbot now came to terms with the prior of Michelham, who surrendered his claim to the advowson in exchange for an annual payment of £16 13s. 4d. charged on the manor of Otham. (fn. 9) The secular rectors, however, continued to dispute the abbot's title until 1296, when Archbishop Winchelsey decided in the latter's favour. Even this was not the end, for about 1458 there was another long suit between the abbey and priory over the payment of the £16 13s. 4d. from Otham; in the end victory lay with the priory, but it was a Pyrrhic victory, for the canons of Michelham were so impoverished by it that they had to sell their jewels, (fn. 10) and even when the sheriff had put them into possession of the abbey's manor of Exceit the abbot by a legal trick endeavoured to force them to undertake a new trial, which he as a wealthy and influential prelate could better afford than they. (fn. 11)
The abbot of Bayham in 1225-6 was employed by the king on business in France, (fn. 12) and in 1232 was selected by the pope as one of the three visitors of the exempt monasteries in the province of Canterbury, (fn. 13) but the monasteries successfully refused to submit to this visitation, (fn. 14) and the bishop of Chichester was equally unsuccessful in his attempt to cause the abbot to visit Battle Abbey. (fn. 15) The abbot, again, was chosen by the archbishop in 1240 to publish his excommunication of the monks of Christ Church, Canterbury. (fn. 16) This abbot appears to have been a friend of St. Richard, bishop of Chichester, who stayed here in September, 1242, when he granted an indulgence to those who gave alms to the church, similar to one granted by his beloved master St. Edmund. When the latter's body was exhumed for translation Bishop Richard wrote to the abbot of Bayham giving an account of the state in which it was found. (fn. 17) After his death the bed in which the sainted bishop had slept at the abbey was declared to possess miraculous qualities.
Bayham and St. Radegund's were the only two English houses that were actually daughters of the abbey of Prémonstré, that is to say, colonized direct from the mother-house of the order; and it was possibly for this reason that we find these two houses alone taking no part in the refusal of the English abbots to attend the general chapter at Prémonstré in 1310. (fn. 18) In December of the same year, however, all the abbots seem to have been united in their chapter at Lincoln in withstanding the demand for a subsidy made by the abbot of Prémonstré, (fn. 19) and it was the abbot of Bayham's proctor who subsequently appealed to Rome on behalf of the order, (fn. 20) with the result that in May, 1312, the abbot of Bayham recovered 80 florins against the father abbot, (fn. 21) who appears to have endeavoured to stop his action by excommunicating and even deposing him. (fn. 22)
Edward II paid a visit to the abbey in August, 1324, (fn. 23) and in the previous year the canons were asked to receive one of the canons of the abbey of Egglestone in Yorkshire which had been so ravaged by the Scots that it was no longer fit for habitation. (fn. 24) The hardships of war had also befallen the mother-house, and in 1354 the abbot of Bayham, as commissioner of the order in England, summoned a chapter at Grantham to consider the question of making a gift to the abbot of Prémonstré. (fn. 25)
An abbot of this house was again commissioner of the order in 1421 when he asked leave to go to Flanders to meet the abbot of Prémonstré's agents to arrange various matters. (fn. 26) Another abbot contested the same post with the celebrated Richard Redman, abbot of Shap, in the spring of 1459. This abbot, Thomas, had been appointed commissioner about 1444 (fn. 27) and again sometime before 1454, when he summoned a general chapter of the order at Northampton, at which certain orders were made concerning the dress of the canons. (fn. 28) In March, 1458-9, however, the father abbot cancelled his commission and appointed the abbot of Shap instead; (fn. 29) Abbot Thomas, however, appears to have concocted charges of extortion and oppression against Redman (fn. 30) and temporarily recovered his position; (fn. 31) but upon further inquiry the father abbot reinstated Redman, who in April, 1459, appointed certain abbots to inquire into the abbot of Bayham's conduct and if necessary depose and excommunicate him. (fn. 32) Either this abbot or a successor subsequently held office, but was again deprived, on a charge of negligence, in favour of the abbot of Shap in 1466. (fn. 33)
Of the inner history of this house we have few early details, but in 1305 orders were issued by the abbot of Prémonstré for the arrest of three canons of Bayham for rebellion and disobedience, (fn. 34) and in 1315 Abbot Laurence was compelled to resign as the result of a visitation. (fn. 35) Of the visitations made by Richard Redman, abbot of Shap and bishop of St. Asaph, accounts are preserved in the Bodleian Library. (fn. 36) In the case of that of 1472 we learn that there were seven canons, besides the abbot and one novice; several of these were serving cures and were ordered to return at once into residence; the house was deeply involved in debt by the mismanagement of recent abbots. In September, 1478, the visitor found the buildings in utter ruin, the number of canons insufficient and three of them apostate, whom he forthwith excommunicated; the abbot, however, was praised for his success in reducing the debts and increasing the stock of the community. Similar praise was earned by the abbot in 1488, but again the number of canons in residence was too small and orders were given to recall those who were serving cures other than churches belonging to the abbey. Strictures were also passed upon the canons for wearing fashionable boots and shoes like those of laymen, and the cellarer was absolved for having struck one of his brethren. In 1491 the same good providence in temporal matters was found joined with the same slackness in things spiritual, orders being given to restrict the wandering habits of the canons and to celebrate mattins and the other canonical hours more regularly; one brother was on this occasion banished to Newhouse, in Lincolnshire, for incontinence. In 1494 also one canon had to be banished for incontinency and another excommunicated as apostate, and the number of canons was ordered to be increased, but in 1497 the visitor had nothing but praise for the excellent management of the abbot. Finally, in 1500 nothing is found amiss and the visitor is able to 'render thanks to God for the laudable providence of the abbot'; he, however, renewed his injunction for increasing the number of canons, the community at this date consisting of the abbot and ten brethren, of whom two were apostate, one a novice and another serving the cure of Pembury.
In 1524 when Wolsey, at the height of his power, obtained the papal licence to suppress a number of small monasteries and bestow their endowments upon his colleges at Oxford and Ipswich, Bayham was one of the houses appointed to be thus suppressed, (fn. 37) but the fall of this house, which was dissolved in May 1525, (fn. 38) was greatly resented by the neighbourhood, and a large force assembled under the leadership of Thomas Towers, a late canon, whom they reinstated as abbot, holding the abbey with armed force for some little time; (fn. 39) but in the end the resistance seems to have flickered out and died a natural death, the ringleaders being captured and imprisoned.
Abbots of Bayham
Jordan (fn. 40)
Benedict, occurs 1245 (fn. 43)
Reginald, occurs 1246-9 (fn. 44)
John, occurs 1256 (fn. 45)
Thomas, occurs 1263 (fn. 46)
John, occurs 1272 (fn. 47)
Reginald, occurs 1277 (fn. 48)
Simon, occurs 1345 (fn. 55)
Solomon, occurs 1352 (fn. 56)
Robert Frendesbury, occurs 1405 (fn. 59)
Thomas, occurs 1454-9 (fn. 65)
Thomas Cottingham, occurs 1475 (fn. 66)
Robert Hertley, occurs 1478 (fn. 67)
Robert Nasch, occurs 1488-91 (fn. 68)
William Galys, elected 1522 (fn. 71)
Reginald.—Pointed oval: the abbot on a corbel; in the right hand a pastoral staff, in the left hand a book. (fn. 72) Legend:—
John Cheteham.—Pointed oval: the abbot, standing in a canopied niche; in the left hand a pastoral staff, curved outwards. In a smaller canopied niche on each side, an angel. In base, a shield of arms:—in chief a lion passant, in base a pastoral staff, on the sinister side two lozenges in pale. (fn. 73) Legend:—