A History of the County of York: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1974.
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61. THE ABBEY OF ST. AGATHA, EASBY
The abbey of St. Agatha, Easby, was founded by Roald, Constable of Richmond Castle, in 1152. (fn. 1) Another generous benefactor was Thorphin son of Robert de Burgo, whose daughters, Maud and Agnes, gave the churches of Manfield and Warcop (Westmorland). (fn. 2)
In the year 1284 a complaint was made by John de Hellebeck arid John de Bellerby that the abbot, John, and his fellow canons had deprived them of the use of a mill at Bolton-on-Swale. The abbot claimed an annual rental of 2s. from the mill, which he had as a gift from Robert de Hellebeck. The jury found that the abbot's servants had stripped off the iron and other instruments of the mill, so rendering it useless. The verdict was given against the abbot, and the damages were assessed at 10s. (fn. 3) On 28 September 1294 the abbot, with the heads of a number of other religious houses, received a grant of protection for one year, which was renewed on 10 December 1295, the grant being made to these persons because they had given a tenth to the king. (fn. 4)
In 1301 the abbot was feeble, and on 28 January he received a letter from the king, because 'of his debility,' nominating as his attorneys for three years two of his fellow canons, Thomas de Catering and Roger de Wautz. (fn. 5) The abbot's name is not given, but it is evident that it was John de Novo Castro, who had been abbot for forty years.
In 1309 the Abbot of St. Mary's complained that ' Roger (fn. 6) the Abbot of St. Agatha's, Robert de Latton, Hugh de Laton, Thomas de Cateryk, William de Langeton, John de Byscopton, and John Belle, canons of St. Agatha's' with many others, carried away his goods at Bolton, ' Bereford,' and 'Apelby,' co. York, whilst he was under the king's protection. (fn. 7)
There must have been a change in the abbacy soon after this, for on 12 May 1313 'A. Abbot of St. Agatha's' is one of a number of witnesses named in a royal confirmation of one of the charters of Egglestone. (fn. 8) This ' A ' does not occur in any list of the heads of the abbey. There seems at this time to have been a considerable amount of unrest and change in the headship of the house. (fn. 9) In fact, in the year 1311 there were living the Abbot William Burelle and three exabbots, Richard de Bernyngham, William de Ergom, and Roger de Walda. This we know from a very curious story related by Whitaker. (fn. 10) In 1311 Robert de Eglisclive, who, with his father and grandfather, had long detained from the abbot and canons 220 acres of moorland in Barden, on examining the abbey charters acknowledged the wrong and made restitution. The dispute had continued during the time of five abbots, the four above-named and John de Novo Castro. Eglisclive sought and obtained absolution, but he was anxious for the souls of his ancestors, and he persuaded the abbot and the three ex-abbots to go to the graves of his father, his grandfather, and his mother (Emma), and pronounce the sentence of absolution over them all. In consideration of this gracious act, Eglisclive released to the abbey the moorland in question according to the boundaries set forth in the charter.
In 1316 and 1317 (fn. 11) 'protection ' was again granted to the abbot, and in 1320 he was appointed one of several to audit the accounts of the collectors of a ' tenth' for the Scotch war, which had been levied in the tenth year of the king's reign and ' paid to the Scots ' by reason of the truce entered into with them. (fn. 12)
Some time before the reign or Edward III Thomas de Burton, the lineal descendant of the founder Roald, sold his patrimony to Henry, Lord Scrope of Bolton, (fn. 13) and with it passed the patronage of the abbey, the Lords Scrope being afterwards the reputed founders. (fn. 14)
During the reign of Edward III, c. 1330, the donations previously conferred upon the abbey received the royal confirmation. These donations included the gifts of the founder, of Roger de Mowbray, Alan Bygod, the Scropes, and many others. (fn. 15) In 1380 licence was granted to Richard le Scrope to concede to the canons his manor of Brompton-on-Swale, (fn. 16) and then in 1392 or 1393 (16 Richard II) (fn. 17) the community was considerably enlarged by the same benefactor, who received the king's licence to bestow upon the house an annual rental of £150. This benefaction was made for the purpose of maintaining ten additional canons and two secular priests, and they were to celebrate divine service for the good estate of the king and his heirs during their lives, &c., and also to support twenty-two poor men in the said abbey for ever. (fn. 18)
Just before this donation the famous armorial controversy of 1385-90 had been waged between the Scropes and the Grosvenors. During an expedition into Scotland in 1385 Lord Scrope, it appears, carried his accustomed arms, 'azure a bend or,' when to his amazement he found the same arms borne by Sir Robert Grosvenor. Scrope challenged Grosvenor's right, and a suit was commenced, at first before the Lord High Commissioner, and afterwards before John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. The evidence brought forward throws much light on the history of the times, and it gives us a glimpse inside the monastic church. One of the chief witnesses was the Abbot John, (fn. 19) whose evidence was very valuable to the cause of Lord Scrope. (fn. 20)
At first it was decided that Grosvenor was to difference the arms by the addition of a silver border. (fn. 21) This Sir Robert refused to do, and made an appeal to the king, who declared that Grosvenor was not entitled to the arms at all. Grosvenor then threw the blame upon his counsellors, and sought the pardon of Lord Scrope, which was readily granted, including the heavy costs. (fn. 22)
This Lord Scrope, who during his life had so greatly benefited the abbey, added to his benefactions in the will which he made in 1400, (fn. 23) the provisions of which were carried out after his death in 1402. (fn. 24) He bequeathed, inter alia, a cup with a cover, which had been presented to him by the Lord Prince, (fn. 25) two gilt candlesticks, two gilt cruets, a chalice, a censer, a little gilt bell, and an embroidered alb, amice and stole. (fn. 26) A second cup was bequeathed to Lord Roger, the heir, and he in 1403 left it to his son Richard, who in 1419 bequeathed it to Marmaduke Lumley to be made into a chalice. (fn. 27)
In May 1424 a commission was issued to Nicholas, Bishop of Dromore, to dedicate the conventual church of St. Agatha. (fn. 28) Probably there had been considerable alterations made about the beginning of the 15th century, and this episcopal act was a kind of re-dedication; or, as the churchyard is specially mentioned, the matter may have been primarily concerned with that.
In 1475 there were, besides the abbot, William York, nineteen canons, of whom one was ' canon of Garsdale,' a parish in the West Riding where the abbey had a grange with a chapel, (fn. 29) and two others were vicars of Easby and of Manfield. (fn. 30) Three years later, when Bishop Redman visited the abbey, (fn. 31) there was practically no change in the constitution of the house except that William Ellerton, who at the earlier date had been cellarer, was now abbot. He was ordered to deal generously with his predecessor, who had resigned: presumably this was William York, but his name does not appear in the list of canons. The state of the abbey was excellent, and a similarly satisfactory report was made at the next visitation, in 1482, except that one of the brethren, John Nym, had to be excommunicated for apostasy. (fn. 32) John Nym evidently repented of his bad ways, as we find him in 1488 acting as 'circator.' William Ellerton was still abbot in 1488 and had under him sixteen priest canons, three deacons, and two novices. (fn. 33) Bishop Redman found the general state of the house satisfactory but had to imprison one of the canons for continual disobedience; another was suspected of incontinence, but cleared himself by the oaths of four compurgators. In 1491 one of the brethren, William Bramptone, had to be sent away from the house for various reasons; at the same time fault was found with the abbot for the careless way in which the seal was kept, and orders were given for the better instruction of the younger members of the convent. (fn. 34) Not long after this visitation Abbot Ellerton died, and on 6 March 1492 Bishop Redman, by authority of the father-Abbot of Newhouse, superintended an election at St. Agatha's, when William Clyntes, the sub - cellarer, was unanimously elected. (fn. 35) Clyntes, however, died within a year of his appointment, (fn. 36) and on 6 February 1493 William Lynghard was elected. A visitation in 1494 showed a certain laxity in the observance of the rules of the order, (fn. 37) but neither on this occasion nor in 1497 (fn. 38) were any grievous faults discovered. At the last recorded visitation, however, in 1500, Canon Thomas Bukler, who was acting as vicar of Manfield, was found to have broken the rule by making a will, disposing of property as his own which of right belonged to the abbey. With this exception the state of the house was satisfactory. (fn. 39)
Various grants were made to the canons from time to time for the purpose of enabling them to give relief to the poor. Once a week they were to distribute to five such people as much meat and drink as cost £3 15s. 11d. per annum. This charity had been founded ' for the soul of John Romaine,' Archdeacon of Richmond. (fn. 40) For the same benefactor they provided also 15s. a year to be similarly expended on one poor person ' every day,' and the abbey was to give to ten poor people on the anniversary of the archdeacon's death a meal of the value of 10d., and to various chaplains the sum of 10s. on that day. Another charity provided for the giving to one pauper every day a loaf of bread called 'Payseloffe,' or ' Loaf of Peace,' together with a flagon of ale and a mess of food, from the feast of All Souls to the feast of Circumcision each year, the sum provided being £ 1 6s. 8d. On St. Agatha's Day £4 was to be distributed in corn and salted fish to the poor and indigent, and a similar distribution was to be made on Maundy Thursday and the two following days. (fn. 41)
An interesting document has been handed down from the year 1534—interesting because drawn up just before the Dissolution, and also because it shows the friendly relations existing between the abbey and the Scrope family. In 1533 Lord Scrope died. On 2 August of the next year the abbey authorities issued this charter: ' Be it known unto all people present and to come, that we, Robert, the abbot of the monasterie of our blessed Lady S. Marie and Saynt Agatha, virgyne and martyre, nye unto Rychmonde, of the order of Premonstratense, have recevede the. day of making hereof the Rt. Hon. John Lord Scrope of Bolton as our veray trewe and undoubted founder of our said monasterye, with procession and such other solempnitie and ceremonies as doth perteyne and belong thereunto, according as our predecessors have heretofore at all times receyvede his noble ancestours, as founders of the same: Grantinge unto the sayde John Lord Scrope of Bolton, and his heires for ever, by these presents, as much as in use is, not only to be partakers of our praers, suffragies, and other devoute and meritorious actes and good deids, but also all other customes, dueties, pleasours, and comodites, which dothe apperteyne and belonge unto the just title and right of a founder, and as haith bene accustomede and done by our predecessours unto his auncestors, our founders heretofore. In witness whereof, we, the said Abbot and Convent, have put our seale to these presents the Seconde day of Auguste, in the 26th yere of the reigne of our most drede Sovereigne Lord King Henr the 8th.' (fn. 42)
It was in the following year that the Act was passed—March, 1535—for dissolving the smaller monasteries. The visitors, Legh and Layton, found a considerable amount of immorality at Easby, as they said: '5 sod., 1 incon., 2 seek release, founder, Lord Scrope, rents £200.' (fn. 43) St. Agatha's came, therefore, under the Act.
The date of the dissolution of St. Agatha's is variously given. Clarkson says it took place in 1535, being surrendered by ' Robert Bampton, last abbot, and seventeen canons.' (fn. 44) The house appears in the list of ' Monasteries under £200 ' in 1536. (fn. 45) The Dissolution had practically taken place before 22 September 1536, for on that date Chr. Lasselles offered to the Treasurer and Court of Augmentations the fine of £600 (fn. 46) 'for S. Agathes, let to Lord Scrope for £300.'
The canons at St. Agatha's did not take the Dissolution without resistance, however. On 22 February 1537 Henry VIII wrote to the Duke of Norfolk that he was to 'see to the lands and goods of such as shall be now attainted, that we may have them in safety, to be given, if we be so disposed, to those who have truly served us. ... As these troubles have been promoted by the monks and canons of these parts, at your repair to .... S. Agatha's and such places as have made resistance, ..... you shall without pity or circumstance, now that our banner is displayed, cause the monks to be tied up without further delay or ceremony.' (fn. 47)
In a letter from Norfolk to Cromwell, dated 28 June 1537, the duke wrote: 'You will also receive by the bearers in a bag, sealed with my seal, the Convent Seal of S. Agatha's. (fn. 48)
Among the monastic leases for 1537-8 appears one to ' John, Lord Scrope; S. Agatha's Mon., Yorks., with the rectories of Manfield, Stanwyks, and Easby, and certain tithes and pensions.' (fn. 49)
In the Augmentation Office for 1538 there are the following St. Agatha items among the treasurer's accounts: a vestment or ' albe' of cloth of gold and red velvet; a suit of copes and vestments of red silk adorned with archers; two tunicles and a cope adorned with kings and bishops, vestments with albes and a cape of crimson velvet upon velvet adorned with ' strykes ' of gold. (fn. 50)
The value of the various properties belonging to the abbey at the Dissolution was £188 16s. 2d. (fn. 51) The deductions in pensions, charges, alms, &c., amounted to £76 18s. 3d., leaving a clear balance of £111 17s. 11d. The charges include payments to chaplains celebrating at St. Saviour's, York, for the soul of Richard Walter; at Wensley for Richard Scrope; at Middleham for Richard Cartmell and Richard late Earl of Salisbury; at Kirkby Lonsdale for William Middleton; at Melsonby for Master Alan de Melsamby; (fn. 52) in St. Silvester's chapel in Skirpenbeck for John Romayn, archdeacon of Richmond. (fn. 53) There is no mention of the chaplain whom they were bound to maintain at St. James, Stapleton, for the soul of Nicholas de Stapleton. (fn. 54) There were seventeen canons, (fn. 55) besides the abbot, and there would be the usual poor dependants and servants. The abbot, Robert Bampton, received a pension of 40 marks. (fn. 56)
Abbots of St. Agatha (fn. 57)
Martin, c. 1155 (fn. 58)
Ralph, 1162, (fn. 59) 1191
Geoffrey, occurs 1204-9 (fn. 60)
Roger de St. Agatha, instituted 17 Oct. 1237 (fn. 63)
Henry, occurs 1241-6 (fn. 64)
John de Novo Castro, occurs 1260, (fn. 65) 1300
Richard de Bernyngham, instituted I Nov. 1302, (fn. 66) died 1307
William de Burelle, elected 1310, occurs 1311 (fn. 71)
A., occurs 1313 (fn. 72)
Nigel de Ireby, appointed 25 Aug. 1320 (fn. 73)
William Isaac, occurs 1375 (fn. 77)
William Langle, occurs 1412 and 2 Feb. 1429 (fn. 80)
Thos. Rayner, occurs 11 Sept. 1449 (fn. 86)
Richard Hilton, occurs 11 Sept. 1459 (fn. 87)
Robert Preston, occurs 1469-70 (fn. 88)
William Yorke, occurs 4 Apr. 1470-5 (fn. 89)
Roger de Newhouse, occurs 28 Dec. 1475 (fn. 90)
William Ellerton, occurs 1478, died 1491 (fn. 91)
William Clintes, appointed 1491 (fn. 92)
William Lingard, appointed 6 Mar. 1492 (fn. 93)
The late 12th-century seal, 2½ in. by 1½ in. is a pointed oval, showing St. Agatha standing on a carved corbel under a canopy with trefoiled arch and turrets, supported on slender columns, in the right hand a book, in the left hand a palm branch. (fn. 96) Legend:—
SIGILLVM EC[C]LESIE: SANCTE: AGATHE (fn. 97)
S' COE ABBIS MONASTERII + SB E + AGATE (fn. 98)
. . . GILLVM .A ..... SANCTE . AGATHE (fn. 99)