Records : The Abbey in the thirteenth century

Pages 126-136

Register and Records of Holm Cultram. Originally published by T Wilson & Son, Kendal, 1929.

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VIII. The Abbey in the Thirteenth Centurt.

First in this period we continue the story of the growth of Holm Cultram abbey's possessions as given in the Register.

In the early years of the century lands and pasture at Wigton (nos. 114, 115) and at Waverton (nos. 101, 103) were acquired; at the latter place additional property was granted about 1230. More ample fishing-rights were obtained near the mouth of the Derwent (no. 51) and, rather later, land and pasture for a settlement of fishers at the same place (nos. 56, 64); also fisheries at the mouth of the Ellen (no. 65) with a house and land (no. 82).

At some date not definitely fixed, but after 1210, all the land of Lekeley or Seaton in South Cumberland, not already in possession of the nunnery there, was granted (no. 85); which land was let to the nunnery in 1450 (no. 86c). About 1212, a meadow at Rudchester, Northumberland (no. 96), and after 1211 the whole of Newby near Carlisle (no. 31) were acquired; and in 1215 the hermitage of St. Hilda (no. 217), since called Islekirk, in Cumberland. During Alice de Romeli's widowhood, 1210–23, she granted besides the quarry already named, additional pasture on Broughton moor for the grange at Flimby (no. 54). Between 1215 and 1247 more iron ore was given, for a consideration, in Copeland (no. 50e) and about that period various lands in Caldbeck (nos. 68 to 69c, 297). About 1220 land at Harras near Whitehaven (nos. 87, 88) and about 1227 arable and pasture at Distington (nos. 89 to 92) were added to the monks' possessions. Across the Solway the land of Mabie, east of Kirkgunzeon, was let before 1234 (nos. 142 to 146, 148) and about 1276 given to the abbey (no. 153). A fishery on the Nith was acquired (no. 149) in the earlier part of the century.

About 1230 the abbey got land in Dundraw (no. 204) and additional cornland and pasturage at Bromfield (nos. 234, 236 to 243), with another meadow there about 1260 (no. 246). About 1230 and 1250 they got land in Ormesby near Allerby (nos. 200, 201) which afterwards they let to a tenant (no. 203). In 1232 they had from John Francigena, the rector of Caldbeck, certain land at Warnell (nos. 220 to 224, 248). And in 1235 they acquired land and houses in Newcastle-upon-Tyne (no. 98) and further land and houses there in 1237 (no. 100).

About 1234 to 1240 additional land and rights were granted at Burgh-by-Sands (nos. 1, 2, 4a, 25a, b, c, e) and still more before 1270 (no. 4).

From William f. Orme, the rector of Gilcrux, and others they acquired about 1240 a house and lands at that place (nos. 104 to 106), part of which was let to Calder Abbey (no. 106b). In Galloway, besides Kirkgunzeon and Mabie they had a grant of land at Kirkconnel by about the middle of the century (no. 116) and bought more land there a little later (no. 119).

About 1250 they received from Bricius of Penrith the land and pasture of St. Wilfrid's Holm at Bramwray on the Eamont (nos. 48, 251), and from the Turp family of Edenhall fourteen acres, a vaccary and a considerable amount of pasturage (nos. 44 to 47a); also from Adam and Christiana de Langrigg a small plot in Blencogo (no. 102).

About 1260 they acquired some pieces of arable and right of pasture in Setmurthy (no. 107) and in 1262 a house at Allonby (no. 202).

In 1270 they came to an agreement with Sir Walter de Wigton about pasturage and right of way at Wigton (no. 108a). In 1277 they won their case at Westminster against Robert de Haverington giving them full manorial rights in Flimby (no. 59); and about that time got more land adjacent from Henry Dauney of Wenrigg (no. 65d). By this time they must have owned the tenement and mill at Blindcrake (no. 106c), disputed in 1297.

By the Statute of Mortmain 'de religiosis,' Edward I in 1279 forbade the gift of land to the clergy, because in their hands the land was no longer liable to feudal dues. But the same king made special exception for Holm Cultram in 1282, allowing them to receive land at a place not named (no. 3a), in 1283 land at Carlisle and Thursby (no. 43p) and in 1285, to permit them to get more at Burgh-by-Sands (no. 3); also in 1292 he made them a grant of various lands in Scotland worth 300 marks a year, sequestrated from his enemies (no. 156e). The Statute did not prevent their acquisition of further property in Scotland; such as various houses and plots in Dumfries (nos. 156 to 156d) about 1280 and in 1294 a lease of fisheries and salt works at Rainpatrick from Melrose abbey (no. 95g). Nor did it prevent their improving their position in two towns where they had interests; for though in 1293 the abbot had a house in Carlisle (no. 43l) in 1300 arrangements were made for the tenant of another plot to build a better house for the abbot and his suite (no. 43r); and at Boston, Lincolnshire, the lodging they had shared, more than fifty years earlier, with the monks of Melrose, was transferred, about 1296, (no. 257) to Holm Cultram for use at the great fair, when they brought their goods to market—as Melrose, since the Scottish troubles, could hardly do. Nearer home, Holm Cultram had a free burgh, a fair and a market at Wavermouth,' that is to say Skinburness, granted in 1301 (no. 267c, d), the site which very shortly afterwards was destroyed by the sea.

These entries show the great extension of the abbey's interests and property by the end of the thirteenth century, its arable land, sheep and cattle farms and trade in various parts of the British Isles no doubt chiefly in wool (nos. 267d, e). The accounts rendered by the abbot as collector of the subsidy for the Crusade in 1294–5 (nos. 294–294a) and his dealings with Italian bankers at that time (no. 252) show the financial business done by this great Cistercian house.

We now continue various notices of the abbey's history during the thirteenth century.

1201. The abbot of Holmcoltram owes 50 marks and 2 palfreys for the confirmation of King Richard's charter, and 10 marks for two protections of quittance of toll, etc. (Pipe Rolls).

1201. The monks of Holkoltram render account of 3 marks "pro tribus acris hospitandis de grangiis suis in communi pastura sua" (for building on the common pasture land of their granges). They are further to pay 2s. yearly for these 3 acres, and this payment is thenceforward made year by year until 1214. (Ibid.)

1208. The abbot of Holcoltram pays the second year's rent of 4s. for Hothweit, which is then paid year by year until 1230. A yearly sum of 6s. is entered from the abbey, apparently these 4s. and the two shillings mentioned under 1201. (Ibid.)

1211. The abbot of Holcoltram renders account of 100s. for having respite. He has paid it into the Treasury and is quit. (Ibid.)

1213. The abbot owes 100s. for a respite; he has paid it and is quit. (Ibid.)

1216. The Scots under Alexander II invaded Cumberland in revenge for King John's invasion of Berwick, Feb. 1216; and although Alexander had given a promise of peace to religious houses, part of his troops plundered Holm Cultram, carrying off books, vestments and the vessels of the altar, as well as the horses and cattle of the abbey. It is added that they stripped of his coverlet a monk who lay sick to death in the infirmary. On their way home the raiders, to the number of nearly 2000, were drowned in fording the Eden near the point where it falls into the Solway. (Chronicles of Melrose and Lanercost).

1221–23. The Pope appointed the abbot of Holm Cultram with others to arbitrate in a dispute between Carlisle priory and the bishop (Cal. Papal Letters, i, 81, 91; ii, 112, 256. V.C.H. Cumb. ii, 23, 168).

1224. Leave to the abbot to send his ships where he pleases with a cargo of wool (V.C.H. Cumb. ii, 167).

1225, May 13. The abbot makes a fine with the king of 20 marks for assarting 10 acres at Warnell (Register no. 248).

1227, April 7. Five grants by the Crown to the abbey (Cal. Charter Rolls i; Register nos. 211, 215, 216, 218).

1235, Aug. 19. The king, having heard that the abbot etc. of Holm suffer great damage from malefactors in the places where their granges are, grant them leave to have, outside the forest, servants armed with bows and arrows to guard them and their goods. Thomas de Multon, sheriff, is commanded to allow this for two years from Christmas next (Cal. Doc. Scot. i).

1242. Of prelates who conceded to the king for his expedition to Gascony … the abbot of Holmcultram … 3 palfreys (Testa de Nevill).

1248, Jan. 16. In a dispute between the bishop and the prior of Carlisle, the abbot was appointed by the Pope to arbitrate. He gave his verdict in favour of the bishop, but the Pope was not satisfied and appointed another enquiry (Papal Letters).

1252 Easter Term. The abbot, etc. of Holm to pay 200 marks for trespass on the king's forest of Englewode, whereof they were accused before Geoffrey de Langele[y] and other justices of the last iter of pleas of the forest of Cumberland. They had been granted a delay of 100 marks until the quinzain of St. John Baptist; shortly afterwards, on Saturday next before the feast of St. George [April 23] they paid. (P.R.)

1255, June 3–10. The abbot of Holm Coltram appears by attorney in a plea, complaining that G., archbishop of York, and Roger de Saxton hinder him of the free passage of his carts and carriages beyond the bridge of Hexham, which his predecessors have ever had when needful. Neither parties being present, the sheriff is to produce them at the octave of St. Michael. (See further under 1263.)

C. 1256. Pleas of divers counts at Newcastle upon Tyne on the morrow of St. John Baptist. Hugh f. Richard Rydell summoned to answer to the abbot of Holm Coltram in a plea that he held the agreement made between Richard Rydell his father and John, former abbot of Holm Coltram, concerning the manor of Benger and Hatoncrow, and half the manor of Moderby. Hugh comes and they agree and he gives 20s. for leave by pledge of the abbot. Afterwards he acknowledges a debt to the abbot of 40 marks, whereof he must pay at Pentecost 14 marks, at the feast of St. Martin 13, and the further 13 marks at the following Pentecost, under penalty of alienation by the sheriff (Pleas at Westminster; Northumberland).

1257–8. The abbot owes 20 marks for leave to agree upon a suit (P.R.).

1263. The abbot impleaded the archbishop of York for hindering the free passage of his carts, etc. beyond the bridge of Hexham (V.C.H. Cumb. ii, 167).

1272. The abbot of Holm Cultram is said to have complained to bishop Robert de Chausé of distresses levied by Richard de Crepping [sheriff from 8 May 1272 to 17 Oct. 1274]. The bishop, who seems to have been unable to take the oath of allegiance to the new King Edward I from the sheriff (then at Appleby), ended by excommunicating Richard on the ground of extortion from a religious house (Nicolson & Burn, ii, 258).

1277. Protection and safe conduct granted for one year to the men of the abbot of Holm Cultram bringing victuals by sea or fresh-water for the sustenance of the abbey (Cal. Rolls, 5 Ed. I).

1285, Nov. 3. The abbot of Holm has his studs in the forest of Allerdale, throughout the whole extent between Caldew and Ellen, and the number is fourscore and upwards, whereby the pasture of the deer is much overburdened. And because it is found that the abbot has his studs there by the king's charter, let him have them duly and in peace. (Inquisition of the Forest.)

1291. The annual revenue of the abbey was returned at £206 5s. 10s. (Taxation of Pope Nicholas).

1292. Inquisition before 25 men, knights, verderers and foresters of Inglewood. If the island [Holm] was disafforested it would be a loss to the king and a nuisance to the forest of Inglewode by causing destruction and damage to the deer in many ways; for there are two marshes thick with alders, which join at the same island, viz. Brimselmire and Swaleby mire, (fn. 1) and these marshes extend from the island up to the great covert of the forest, so that hinds and other of the king's deer can come and go under the covert and the main cover of the forest as far as the island and back again; and there is another marsh there called Ellerby; so that the king's deer commonly frequent and go about in these marshes, especially about mowing-time; and all the deer which frequent these marshes go upon the island to the grass and wood contained within Holm Cultram, viz. Leaholm, Bronewra [Brunshaw moss ?], Aykesom [Aikshaw ?], Kyngesetemire [Eingside]. And if the said island were disafforested, these deer would be hunted and taken with nets and hounds whenever they came upon the island; so that the king's venison which went about on those marshes would be destroyed, especially the great stags. And if these marshes were destroyed the whole forest of Allerdale would be destroyed in consequence. Moreover they say that the whole island is the separate land of the abbot and convent, so that no others come there except their men, farmers at their will; and they say that the island is 8 leagues in length, and in breadth at its widest 3 leagues, in other places two, and half a league at its narrowest. Also they say that the island is distant two leagues from the main covert. And they say that two towns [vills] viz. Dundraye and Blencogou lie directly between the island and the great covert (C. & W. Trans. N.S. v, 58).

1292, March. The abbot of Holm wrote to Robert, bishop of Bath and Wells, the king's chancellor:—" The king commands him to send the bishop a horse to carry the rolls of chancery, before the month of the Purification now past; but he has been delayed in Scotland on the affairs of his house till the morrow of St. Matthias the apostle, whereby as God knows he is at present unprovided with one fit to work. From the short notice and the wonderful scarcity of horses he begs the bishop to excuse him at present; but he will provide one in all haste after Easter." (Cal. Doc. Scot. ii, 196).

1294, Oct. 21. Among the collectors of subsidy was the abbot of Holm, etc. (Close Rolls, 22 Ed. I; and see the Register, no. 294).

1294–1312. The abbot summoned to parliament and great councils of state (V.C.H. Cumb. ii, 168).

1294, 4 Kal Mar. At Stanwix church the bishop of Carlisle ordained, among others, brother John de Wirkington, monk of Holm, as sub-deacon; as deacons, brother Hugh de Geynesford, John de Semer, William de Bouir and Hugh de Gyseburn; and as priests, brothers Alan de Talkan, John de Irthington, John de Kilvigton, Radulph de Burgo and Geoffrey de Bampton, all of Holm Cultram (Bp. Halton's register).

1296, August 28. Robert, abbot of Holm, did homage to John Balliol (Ragman Roll).

1297, July 31. Licence to the bailiff of Holm Cultram to leave the port of Dover (Close Rolls, 25 Ed. I).

1298. Among requests for prayer for peace the abbot of Holm Cultram is named (Close Rolls, 26 Ed.; St. Albans).

1298, Oct. 12. A commission sat, consisting of John de Lygleveyries [read Langlifergh] and Adam de Crokedake, to enquire by oath of the verderers and foresters of Inglewode and other men of the county of Cumberland, whether the abbot of Holm Cultram has common of pasture for the stud, draught-oxen and other necessaries for the same, with the lands which Geoffrey de Nevill and William de Vesci, heretofore justices, caused to be enclosed for the king's profit.

1299. Exchequer accounts:—the smith at Holm for 100 horse-shoes and nails and shoeing the horses, 9s. 4d. A lock for the cellar at Holm to store the wine, 6d. Cleaning the cellar, 2d. A groom going from Holm to Flemingby with letters from Richard de Alyndene to the abbot of Holm to provide carriage, 4d. (Compotus of Master Richard de Alyndene, the king's receiver in Carlisle, 27 Ed. I.)

Adam Hugson and another, for watching 55 casks of wine lying on the seashore at Selathe, saved from the wreck of the 'Holy Cross' of Lyme there, viz. Aug. 2 to Aug. 21, each at 2d. a day, 6s. 8d.

A quantity of oats and malt, damaged in the wreck of three vessels at Workington, Alonby and Skinburnays, sold at 1s. 6d. a quarter.

[In 1299 Skinburness was the chief port for the collection of stores, and base for the navy, in the expeditions against Scotland, which until 1303 were not pushed with vigour, owing to the difficulty found by Edward I in collecting forces.]

1300, July 23. The fleet from Winchelsea came to anchor off Kirkcudbright. It consisted chiefly of vessels from the Cinque Ports, but included 'La Mariotte,' probably of Whitehaven, 'La Mariotte' of Workington and 'La Sauvage' of Allonby; no ships from Skinburness. King Edward I was at Sweetheart Abbey on Aug. 23, and at Caerlaverock on the 25th; but on receiving the Pope's message by Robert de Winchelsea, archbishop of Canterbury, he left Scotland, and the fleet followed in September. During Sept. 2 to 16, and on the 28th and from Oct. 3 to 11, King Edward was at Holm Cultram (Chron. Lancrcost).

1300, Oct. 13. Commission of Oyer and Terminer, at Carlisle. To Adam de Crokedake and Michael de Hercla, on a complaint of the abbot of Holm Cultram that William de Mulcastre lately, while he was sheriff, and others took some of the abbot's carts laden with victuals and other goods on the highroad in the middle of the city of Carlisle and in the town [vill] of Torpennow with the oxen and other beasts drawing them, and refused to let them be replevied [restored on bail] so that a great number died; that he sold a palfrey worth 5 marks which the abbot had lent him, broke his grange at Alneburgh [Ellenborough] and carried away his oats, took away a boat with its gear worth 100s. at Skynburness, led away some of his beasts and sheep at Holm Coltrain, distrained the tenants of Alneburgh by their carts and draught cattle and detained the same until he extorted 10s. of them. (Cal. of Pat. 1292–1301, p. 554; V.C.H. Cumb. ii, 167).

1300, October. The abbot of Holm Cultram was present when Robert Wishart, bishop of Glasgow, renewed for the fourth time his allegiance to Edward I at the abbey (V.C.H. Cumb. ii, 166).

During the thirteenth century the abbots of Holm Cultram were:—

Gregory, 1192–1214 (?), said to have been previously subcellarer.

William de Courcy, 1214 (?)—Dec. 16, 1215, when he was translated to Melrose, It has been supposed that he was son of John and Africa de Courcy, who founded Gray Abbey, but of this we have no confirmation. On Aug. 30, 1216, he was translated from Melrose to Rievaulx, where he died in February 1223.

Adam de Kendal, 1215–23; of whom the legend is told, in Fordun's Scotichronicon, that he spent the money of the abbey in bribes to get himself elected bishop of Carlisle, and being deposed, with his cellarer, on this charge by the Superior-general of the Order at Cîteaux, he resided at Islekirk, formerly the hermitage of Roger Goki but in 1215 acquired by Holm abbey (see the Register, nos. 217–219). When the news came of the death of bishop Hugh de Beaulieu [who died from an accident at the abbey of Ferté in Burgundy, on his return from Rome in 1223] Adam expected to hear that he had been elected. The disappointment sent him out of his mind; he was taken back to the abbey and confined there until, after an outburst of madness, he died on the Ascension Day following. The date of his resignation, 1223, is given by the Chronicle of Melrose which, however, does not recount his faults. Some colour is given to the tradition that he was not altogether a satisfactory abbot by his irregular arrangement with Lanercost priory, which was quashed in 1220 as uncanonical (see the Register, nos. 17, 18, and 23a).

Radulph, 1223, who had been abbot of Gray Abbey, was translated to the mother house on the resignation of Adam de Kendal. He is mentioned in the Register (no. 32) but without details that fix the length of his tenure.

William, of whom it is known only that he resigned in 1233 (Melrose Chronicle).

Gilbert, 1233–37, was formerly master of the conversi at Holm Cultram. He is named in a suit about land at Islekirk with Thomas de Lacell in 19 Henry III (F.F.), and he died at Canterbury on his way home from a chapter-general of the Cistercian order.

John, 1237–55, translated from Gray Abbey. He appears in the Register of St. Bees as making an agreement to pay the priory 6d. a year for the use of a mina (mine or quarry) at Whitehaven. Canon Wilson (St. Bees 412n) notes that one of his acts was under discussion in the king's court in 1269 (Coram Rege Roll, 53 Hen. III, no. 146, m. I; see alsoCal. Doc. Scot. i, 509.)

Henry, 1255—after 1267, had been a monk of Holm Cultram. The date of his election is given by the Melrose Chronicle, which also says that he was deposed by Adam de Maxstun, abbot of Melrose, who was himself deposed in 1267 at a Chapter-general of the Order, when Henry was reinstated. He occurs in the Register, nos. 99, 202, 254b; in the last he is called "third predecessor of the present abbot," i.e. Robert de Keldesik in 1305.

Gervase, 1274 (Newminster Chartulary, 238) and 1278 (this Register no. 60); in 1292 he was 'late abbot' (Register no. 254).

Robert de Keldesik in 1289, Feb. 21, perambulated the bounds of Kirkgunzeon with Sir Thomas f. Gilbert de Culwen and others (Register no. 255). It was he who said he could not find a horse for the king's service in 1292 (p. 131). On August 28, 1296, he did homage to King John Balliol (Ragman Roll), no doubt for the abbey's lands in Scotland. On August 12, 1318, a safe conduct to the abbot of Melrose to come to Holm Cultram to preside at the election of a successor, fixes the end of his abbacy (V.C.H. Cumb. ii, 172). At the church are two slabs of late 13th century style, one bearing a sword and the inscription HIC iacet : maths : de keldesyk; and the other bearing shears and the inscription— HIC : IACET : IVLIANA : DE : KELDSIK, probably of the abbot's family; Kelsick is a little to the east of Abbeytown.

It was during Robert's abbacy that the Scottish war broke out and Edward I was a guest at the abbey (1300 and 1307), to which he showed great favour. During this time also the legend of the 'wizard' Michael Scot is placed, though it appears that the Rev. J. Wood Brown in 'An Enquiry into the Life and Legend of Michael Scot' makes him earlier, and born c. 1175, dead by 1235. Michael's death is usually dated 1291, and he is said to have been an inmate of the abbey in his old age. The earliest extant source of this story seems to be Camden's Britannia as translated by Philemon Holland (edition of 1610, p. 773):—"David the first King of Scots built the Abbey de Vlmo, commonly called Holme Cultrain; and the Abbots thereof erected Vlstey [Wolsty Castle] a fortresse neere unto it, for a treasury and place of surety to lay up their bookes, charters and evidences against the sodain invasions of the Scottish: wherein the secret workes, they say, of Michael the Scot, lie in conflict with mothes, which Michael professing here a religious life, was so wholly possessed with the study of the mathematikes and other abstruse arts, about the yeere of our Lord 1290, that beeing taken of the common people for a Necromancer, there went a name of him (such was their credulity) that he wrought divers wonders, and miracles." Camden's own Latin of 1600, giving the first results of his visit to Cumberland in the previous year, says nothing about Michael Scot, but merely that the abbot built Wolsty as a treasure-house and safe deposit for books and papers.

The Rev. G. E. Gilbanks in Some Records of a Cistercian Abbey (p. 69) says:—"Satchells, in his history of the name of Scott (vide Rev. Jas. Taylor, author of the Pictorial History of Scotland) affirms that in 1629, happening to be at Burgh-under-Bowness in Cumberland, he was shown by a person named Lancelot Scott an extract from Sir Michael Scot's History, a work which 'was never yet read through, nor never will, for no man dare it do.' He was then taken to the Castle and shown the work, as large as the Book of Martyrs, or the History of the Turks, hanging on an iron pin, and had also pointed out to him, in the church, Michael Scot's gravestone." Such is the legend.

It is not at all impossible that some monk had introduced a copy of a work by Michael Scot, though it might hardly be kept at the abbey. Dante put him into hell (Inferno, XX, stanza 39) because "indeed he knew the trick of magic frauds." But we need more proof before reckoning Michael Scot as an inmate of Holm Cultram abbey. That books were kept at Wolsty we know from the survey of 1573, which mentions the Evidence House there, obviously meaning a muniment chamber; but as the castle was licensed in 1348 it was not in existence in the lifetime of the wizard. In the 17th century one of the rooms was called Michael Scot's chamber (James Jackson's diary, 1654), which adds to the evidence that a book of his was known to have been kept there; and so much of the legend we can reasonably accept.


  • 1. The more easterly of the marshes which met to form the island of Holm Cultram. "Hugh Tredgold and Adam son of Agnes de Langrigg killed a hind in Swalebymire on Thursday next after Michaelmas in the 52nd year [1268] and carried it to the house of Adam; and it was eaten at his wedding-feast." (Pleas of the Forest; C. & W. Trans., N.S. vii, 10).