A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1971.
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HOUSE OF CISTERCIAN MONKS
7. THE ABBEY OF BORDESLEY
Although Worcestershire was so great a Benedictine centre the Cistercians obtained a footing within it at Bordesley in the middle of the twelfth century. They came to England in a period of anarchy and unsettlement, which greatly affected the progress of the movement and left a minor trace in the contradictory charters to the various houses of the Cistercian order. Bordesley abbey was undoubtedly founded in 1138 (fn. 1) by Waleran de Beaumont, count of Meulan and Worcester, and a foundation charter to that effect is to be found among the Hatton manuscripts. (fn. 2) Yet it is difficult to reconcile this with the fact that the Empress Maud also gave a charter of foundation and endowment in 1136, stating that by this she and Henry her son founded and endowed the abbey of Bordesley 'for the love of God and of King Henry my father, and Geoffrey count of Anjou my lord, and the queen my mother,' to which Waleran de Meulan was a witness. (fn. 3)
When this charter was quoted in an inspeximus made by Richard II. no mention was made of any former charter or endowment, but Maud with her son Henry were looked on as sole founders. (fn. 4) Moreover, Henry II. in 1157 took the monastery into his custody, considering himself and his mother the founders. (fn. 5) The only way to account for these inconsistencies is to suppose that the real foundation was made by Waleran in 1138, in which year he is known to have been in England. (fn. 6) But from 1138 onwards to 1141 he was too fully occupied with fighting on Stephen's side to carry out his proposed foundation. (fn. 7) After the battle of Lincoln he forsook the cause of Stephen and joined the empress, after having made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1145. (fn. 8) It may well be that it was not until then that the planned foundation of Bordesley was remembered, and the count, now subservient to the empress, gave up his right as founder to her.
In both charters the endowment was the same, and included the whole land of Bordesley (Worcester) and 'Cornehall' (fn. 9) (Worcester) and Tardebigge (Worcester), the church of Tardebigge, and the whole land of Hollowell (Holloway?). There were also gifts of lands in Warwick and Worcester made by William and Stephen de Beauchamp, the bishop of Worcester, the earls of Chester and Warwick, and a few others. By 1291 the value of their temporalities was £43 2s. 0d., (fn. 10) while their spiritualities were valued at £2 15s. 4d. (fn. 11)
The history of the lands of the abbey is to be found in the long list of grants, confirmations, and exchanges which took place in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In comparatively few cases does the monastery seem to have been involved in the usual quarrels over its right to its lands, (fn. 12) and never in a serious quarrel. Thus, although Bordesley was never richly endowed, its possessions were safe, and by 1535 its temporalities had reached the annual value of £348 9s. 10½d. (fn. 13)
However, the revenues of Bordesley, as of so many of the Cistercian houses, depended to a great extent on its wool-growing, and its position in the forests of Feckenham and Arden was favourable for it. Signs of extensive wool-growing by the monks are to be found in notices of the exportation of their wool to foreign parts and their dealings with the merchants of Florence. In 1224 Henry III. granted to the monks of Bordesley that the thirteen sacks of wool which they had in London should be transported to foreign parts 'sine impedimento.' (fn. 14) In 1278 the abbot and convent petitioned in Parliament concerning an obligation made by a former Abbot John with some Florentine merchants who had lent him 300 marks of silver, which the abbot proposed to repay in wool, forty-two sacks of which were worth 300 marks. The present abbot complained that the monastery had paid one hundred of the marks and also the forty-two sacks of wool, so that the merchants had received twelve sacks of wool to the good. (fn. 15) There is an interesting note in 1341 of the determination of the abbot and convent to maintain their rights against unjust taxation. They pleaded against 'the assessors and collectors of the wool last granted in that county that they had tried to levy wool of the abbot's moveable goods therein,' whereas his temporalities were taxed as annexed to his spiritualities. (fn. 16) A further stand against excessive taxation was made in the reign of Henry VII. when William, then abbot of Bordesley, stood out against 'a double contribution on the part of the monasteries,' but the abbot of Stratford wrote to him advising him 'to be conformable to the same and not to run in danger of censure, and in conclusion be compelled thereto with further cost and little thank.' (fn. 17)
As a royal foundation Bordesley received many privileges from the crown. Henry II., as part founder of the abbey, granted that the monks should not be impleaded for any of their lands except before the king; (fn. 18) that they should have all the villeins and fugitives belonging to their lands, (fn. 19) and should enjoy their lands without encroachment. (fn. 20) In 1205 John granted that the monks of Bordesley, 'qui sunt de propria elemosina nostra,' might be quit of toll and all customs both for the things they bought and the things they sold. (fn. 21) Rights in the forest of Feckenham, especially right to make assarts or clearings which would serve as pasture land for their sheep, must have been invaluable to the monastery, and were granted in 1230 by Henry III. (fn. 22) and in 1464 by Edward IV. (fn. 23) and confirmed by Henry VIII. in 1536. (fn. 24)
Of the internal history of the house in the twelfth century it is difficult to find any trace. A visitation of the English Cistercian abbeys is recorded in 1188, and as a result William, abbot of Bordesley, resigned, probably on account of some irregularity, and was succeeded by Richard, sub-prior of the house. (fn. 25) A brief but fairly detailed description (fn. 26) of the state of the abbey in 1332 shows that at that date there were thirtyfour brethren, inclusive of the abbot, and one novice, seven lay brothers, and seventeen serving men, with a very considerable quantity of stock. The rent of their farms brought in over £45, and their wool produced nearly £33, the total receipts amounting to £175 10s. 2d. On the other hand their expenses and debts came to £257 18s. 1d., showing a deficit of £82 7s. 11d., which, however, thanks to debts paid off and increase of stock, was £55 better than the previous year. The episcopal registers give some vague indications of the state of the house between the thirteenth and fifteeth centuries, but little that is definite. A letter from the bishop of Worcester on behalf of a novice of Bordesley imprisoned at Newgate in 1286, (fn. 27) another letter to the abbot of Bordesley in 1312 acquainting him with the complaint of Alice de Estach of the grievous wrong she had suffered from one of the monks, Thomas de Eryngdon, and of the scandal thereby occasioned, (fn. 28) and a pardon granted in 1339 to Henry son of William Mason, a monk of Bordesley, for the death of William de Wandone, monk, (fn. 29) hardly speak well for the monks, though it is hard to judge by cases whose very mention goes to prove they were exceptional; and it is significant that although Bishop Giffard, ignoring the exemption of the Cistercians from ordinary visitation, five times visited the monastery, (fn. 30) he issued no injunctions or adverse report concerning the state of the house. Again, it is hardly likely that if the house had not been in good repute the pope would have made the abbot of Bordesley his mandatory so often as he did. (fn. 31)
However this may be, there is certainly no evidence against the house to be found at the time of the Dissolution. A commission (fn. 32) to visit certain monasteries of the Cistercian order issued in 1535 included Bordesley, (fn. 33) but the result is not known. No further clue to the steps the commissioners were taking with regard to the abbey appears until 1538. In the May of that year Richard Whittington, cellarer of Bordesley, wrote to Thomas Evaunce (fn. 34) that their father and master John Day intended to resign, or had already resigned, the abbey, 'for that he is aged, impotent, sick, and also not of perfect remembrance.' Further, he desired letters to the lord Cromwell, and promised to obey Evaunce's advice, surrendering the monastery into the king's hands, 'trusting in Cromwell for a means of living.' (fn. 35) On 8 July, 1538, Evaunce wrote to Cromwell to hurry on the final surrender since harvest was at hand and the rye would be fallen in ten days and wheat anon after, and 'the king had better sell the corn standing to the tenants than in the barn.' (fn. 36) Evidently the abbot had already made an informal submission, since Evaunce complained that the abbot 'since his submission' had falsely sold most of the crops to his servants, but he himself had 'cautioned them not to meddle.' As for the state of the revenues of the house, Evaunce stated that the abbot would leave it £200 in debt, with much of its timber felled and its 'household implements' purloined. He therefore advised that a commission should be sent to inquire into the case or a clause inserted in the commission of suppression. (fn. 37) On 17 July, 1538, John Day finally surrendered the abbey with all its possessions into the king's hands, (fn. 38) and by 31 July the house had been 'defaced and plucked down, and the substance thereof sold to divers persons without profit or lucre paid or answered to the king's majesty's use for the same.' (fn. 39) The authorized sale, however, was not made until 23 September of the same year. Evidently much of the fabric of the church and cloisters had been stolen by that time, since the sale of all the glass and iron that remained, of the pavement and out-buildings and of 'one little bell,' only reached just over seventy shillings. (fn. 40) In October, 1539, the pension list for Bordesley was issued. It shows the number of the monks as nineteen besides the abbot, but does not give any particulars as to their respective offices in the monastery. (fn. 41)
Abbots of Bordesley
William, occurs about 1160. (fn. 42)
Hamo, occurs about 1170. (fn. 43)
William, resigned 1188. (fn. 44)
William de Pershore, occurs 1205. (fn. 49)
Philip, occurs 1244. (fn. 52)
John, occurs about 1273. (fn. 53)
Henry, occurs 1275. (fn. 54)
Thomas Orlecote, elected 1277. (fn. 55)
William de Heyford, elected 1293. (fn. 56)
John de Edveston, elected 1309. (fn. 57)
John de Acton, elected 1361. (fn. 60)
John Braderugge, elected 1383. (fn. 61)
Richard, occurs 1384. (fn. 62)
John, occurs 1415. (fn. 63)
Richard Feckenham, occurs 1433. (fn. 64)
John Wykin, occurs 1445. (fn. 65)
William Halford, elected 1452. (fn. 66)
William Bidford, 1460. (fn. 67)
Richard, 1511. (fn. 68)
The common seal of Bordesley represents the coronation of the Virgin in a carved niche with two trefoiled arches. Below, under another arch, is an ecclesiastic kneeling to the left in adoration.
[SIGI]LL': ECL'E: BEATE: MARIE: DE: BORD[ESLE] (fn. 71)
There are two other seals connected with the monastery extant—one a seal of an abbot of Bordesley and the other a seal of Abbot William Halford. The former represents the abbot standing on a carved corbel with a pastoral staff in his right hand and a book in his left.
SIGILL': ABBATIS: DE: BORDESLEY (fn. 72)
The second represents the Virgin standing in a carved canopy with the Child in her left hand.
. . . . S: DE: BOR . . . . (fn. 73)