A History of the County of Buckingham: Volume 1. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1905.
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11. THE ABBEY OF NUTLEY
The Abbey of Nutley, or Crendon Park, was founded early in the twelfth century by Walter Giffard and Ermengarde his wife, for Austin Canons following the customs of Arrouaise. (fn. 1) It was dedicated to the honour of St. Mary and St. John Baptist. The exact date of foundation cannot be given, but it seems probable that it was about the same time as that of Missenden, and it must certainly have been before 1164, to fall within the lifetime of Walter Giffard. It was the richest monastery in Buckinghamshire: its income at the dissolution was very little short of £450, and it had even then the patronage of eleven churches.
Yet it has very little history. There are one or two suits of importance during the thirteenth century, and these constitute the whole of our information for this period. There was a long suit in connection with a moiety of the manor of Lower Winchendon, for which it seems that the abbot advanced an unwarranted claim. It began in 1207, when Agnes Wake had the land secured to her as a marriage portion, and the canons were ordered not to molest her in any way. (fn. 2) It was reopened in 1221, when Agnes showed the foregoing charter, while the abbot pleaded the custom of an earlier date (fn. 3); and it was finally settled in 1238, when the abbot quitclaimed it to Hugh Wake, but received it back again at a yearly rent of sixteen marks. (fn. 4) There was another suit in 1214, when the canons secured the church of Bottesham in Cambridgeshire against Richard de Clare, by showing the charter of Walter Giffard. (fn. 5)
Abbots of this house during the fourteenth century were several times commissioned by the pope to inquire into the circumstances of appeals and petitions (fn. 6); and on this abbey as well as Missenden, Edward II. and Edward III. used occasionally to quarter their old servants. (fn. 7) At the beginning of the same century there must have been some dispute concerning jurisdiction between Bishop Dalderby and the canons of Nutley: for the bishop complained in a letter to the Dean of Waddesdon that the infirmarian and three others had dared to try and hinder him from administering the sacrament of confirmation in the conventual church; they had attacked his servants, beaten and trampled upon them, and committed other enormities; and another canon in his malice defended these evildoers. The entry is unfinished, so the conclusion of the affair is unknown (fn. 8) : but it seems that this house, though not exempt, was seldom visited by the bishops of Lincoln.
Richard of Crendon, who was abbot in 1333, was mixed up in a very discreditable affair in that year: the Prior of Walron in Norfolk complained to the king that the Abbot of Nutley and another canon with certain knights carried away two of his horses and other goods of his at Kelling and Sherringham. (fn. 9) An inquiry was made in 1345 as to the rights by which the canons of Nutley held so many churches in proprios usus, as they were found to be destitute of vicars (fn. 10); and it was noticed more than a century later that the churches belonging to this house were ruinous and badly served. (fn. 11) In 1374 it was formally stated that the abbey had suffered severely from the Great Pestilence, and was not able to maintain its wonted hospitality. (fn. 12) In 1383 the conventual church was attacked by a band of armed men, who were excommunicated in consequence; nothing more is known of the affair or its causes. (fn. 13)
In 1461 the priory of Chetwode and its lands were granted to the canons of Nutley, (fn. 14) on condition that they should fulfil all the obligations attached to the suppressed foundation. Just before the dissolution the abbey came into the king's hand, on account of the attainder of the Duke of Buckingham, who had been its patron. (fn. 15) The last abbot, Richard Ridge, signed the Acknowledgment of Royal Supremacy in 1535, (fn. 16) and surrendered his house on 9 December, 1538. The Deed of Surrender is signed by the prior and thirteen other canons besides the abbot; it takes the form of an enfeoffment of the house to Dr. London for the king's use. (fn. 17) London had been busy in the neighbourhood just before, taking the surrender of Eynsham, and defacing various shrines. (fn. 18) The pension list for Nutley Abbey, as given by Browne Willis, is to the abbot £100, to the prior £6 13s. 4d., to the sub-prior £6, to Thomas Webb £6, and to twelve others £5 6s. 8d. (fn. 19) As the house possessed many churches, it is possible that some of the pensions were commuted for benefices. Valentine Bownde, the prior, became chaplain of Long Crendon, (fn. 20) and another canon was cantarist of the fraternity of Buckingham until its suppression. (fn. 21) The lastmentioned canon was the only one who survived till 1552, when he claimed two pensions: £5 6s. 8d. from Nutley, and £4 for the chantry.
The Arrouasian canons had a great reputation for strictness of life at the first foundation of their order; but there is very little to show us how far this house was faithful to its original ideal. The Abbot of Nutley was one of those deprived by Bishop Grosstête in 1236, (fn. 22) a fact which suggests unsatisfactory administration at that time, if nothing worse. The elections of 1268 and 1271 were both annulled by Bishop Gravesend, not because of the unfitness of the persons elected, but because of some informality in the procedure. (fn. 23) The entry in Bishop Dalderby's register already alluded to does not give us a favourable impression of the house in 1300; but not enough is known of the circumstances to enable us to judge the matter fairly. (fn. 24) A commission was issued by the same bishop a few years later for the visitation and correction of the abbey of Nutley, but no report is preserved. (fn. 25) In 1323 an order was given for the readmission of an apostate monk after absolution by the bishop. (fn. 26) In 1350 there was certainly no unfriendly feeling between the abbot and his diocesan, for the former was commissioned to examine the election of a prioress of Little Marlow in that year. (fn. 27) The first formal report of visitation is dated 1379. It does not point to any special laxity, but only to some defects of administration. It was enjoined that two bursars should be elected annually by the abbot and the 'greater and wiser part' of the convent, who should receive all moneys and render an account of the same. The officers of the monastery were to be appointed and removed by the abbot with the concurrence of the 'greater and wiser part' of the brethren; but all should render due obedience to the abbot. No pensions or doles should be given without consent of the abbot and the 'greater and wiser part.' The kinsmen of the abbot or the canons were not to be chargeable to the monastery without consent of the abbot and the 'greater and wiser part.' (fn. 28)
The exact value of these injunctions cannot be estimated without more knowledge of the contemporary history of the house. They read like a temporary expedient to check the power of an abbot who had not shown sufficient consideration for his brethren, nor consulted them duly; for the stress laid upon the consent of the majority is very unusual.
In 1391 an indult was granted by the pope to the canons of this abbey, that they might adopt the Use of Sarum for the recitation of the divine office, that of St. Augustine having become 'too burdensome' for them. (fn. 29) The discipline of the order seems however to have been in full force in this house towards the end of the fifteenth century; for in 1471 Henry Honor of Missenden asked permission to send the disobedient among his own canons to Nutley to be punished, 'for the preservation of order.' (fn. 30) A visitation of Bishop Atwater in 1519 reveals no laxity and very few causes of complaint. It was alleged that the abbot did not pay the accustomed annuities, nor consult the senior canons as he ought to do; and a proper infirmary was not provided for the sick. (fn. 31) No visitation of Bishop Longland is preserved. The abbot in 1525 was accused of having falsified a lease of the parsonage of Hillesden; but the accusation was made in the course of a family quarrel, and may have been without foundation. (fn. 32) There is every reason to suppose that the house had an honourable reputation during its last years. The election of 1528 was made under the approval of Cardinal Wolsey (fn. 33); and the king himself stayed at Nutley in 1529 while he was making progress through the Midlands. (fn. 34) Dr. London accused the canons of nothing worse than superstition, and that only by inference: he tells us how the chaplain of Caversham fled home to Nutley with the only 'relic' he had been able to save from destruction—' an aungell with oon wyng that browght to Caversham the spere hedde that percyd our Saviour is syde upon the crosse '—and adds, 'butt I sent my servant purposely for ytt.' The surrender of the house followed in a few days. (fn. 35)
The original endowment of Nutley Abbey included the demesne land called Crendon Park, the churches of Long Crendon, with the chapels of Lower Winchendon and Chearsley, Princes Risborough, Hillesden, Ashendon, Chilton with the chapel of Dorton; the church and chapel of Caversham, and Stokelyle in Oxfordshire; Sherringham and Choseley in Norfolk, Bottesham in Cambridgeshire, Bradley in Wiltshire. (fn. 36) To these were added at a later date the churches of Netherswell in Gloucestershire, Coleshill and Blakeborough in Norfolk, (fn. 37) Lillingstone (Dayrell) in Buckinghamshire (fn. 38); and in 1461 the lands of the priory of Chetwode, with the churches of Chetwode and Barton Hartshorn, and the chapel of Brill. (fn. 39) In the time of Bishop Lexington (1254-8) the whole value of the abbey in spiritualities and temporalities was stated as £80 7s. (fn. 40); in 1291 its temporalities amounted to £48 16s. 6½d., (fn. 41) but the value of its churches cannot be exactly given, as they are not all mentioned in the Taxatio.
In 1284 the abbot held one third of a knight's fee in Hillesden (fn. 42); in 1302 the same, with the whole manor of Lower Winchendon (fn. 43); in 1346 both of these, with the addition of a portion of a fee in Long Crendon. (fn. 44)
In the Valor Ecclesiasticus the clear value of the house was given as £437 6s. 8½d. (fn. 45); the Ministers' Accounts amount only to £402 19s. 4½d., including the churches of Long Crendon, Chilton, Chearsley, Caversham, Princes Risborough, Ashendon, Hillesden, Lower Winchendon, Chetwode, Barton Hartshorn, Stokelyle, Sherringham, Maiden Bradley, Netherswell; and the manors of Long Crendon, Chilton, Lower Winchendon, Chearsley, Canonend, Chetwode in Bucks; and Stragglethorpe, Lincs. (fn. 46)
Abbots of Nutley
Osbert, (fn. 47) occurs under Henry II.
Robert, (fn. 48) occurs 1189
Edward, (fn. 49) occurs 1203 and 1221
John, (fn. 50) occurs 1223, deposed 1236
Henry of St. Faith, (fn. 51) elected 1236
John of Crendon, (fn. 52) elected 1252, died 1268
John of Gloucester, (fn. 53) elected 1268, died 1269
Richard of Dorchester, (fn. 54) elected 1269, resigned 1272
Henry called Medicus, (fn. 55) elected 1272
William of Sherringham, (fn. 56) died 1309
John of Thame, (fn. 57) elected 1309
Richard of Crendon, (fn. 58) occurs from 1331 to 1357
John of Winchendon, (fn. 59) occurs 1367 and 1376
John of Chearsley, (fn. 60) occurs 1379, died 1389
Nicholas Amcotes, (fn. 61) occurs 1390 and 1395
Thomas, (fn. 62) occurs 1397
William, (fn. 63) occurs 1400
Nicholas Redding, (fn. 64) occurs 1447
William Stanton, (fn. 65) occurs 1457 till 1479
Peter Caversham, (fn. 66) died 1503
Richard Peterton, (fn. 67) elected 1503, died 1513
John Marston, (fn. 68) elected 1513, resigned 1528
Robert Brice, (fn. 69) elected 1528, died 1529
Richard Ridge, (fn. 70) last abbot, elected 1529
Pointed oval seal of the twelfth century, taken from cast at the British Museum, (fn. 71) represents the Blessed Virgin with crown, seated on a carved throne, the Holy Child on her left knee, in her right hand a flower. +SIGILLVM: SANCTE: MARIE: DE: NVTLE.
A round seal of the fifteenth century taken from a cast, (fn. 72) represents three Gothic niches, with canopies crocketed and pinnacled, the Blessed Virgin standing with nimbus and crown, the Holy Child with nimbus on her right arm, in her left hand a ball or orb, two saints on either side, the one on the left with nimbus holding a plaque, the other on the right with nimbus and mitre holds apparently a wheel. On tabernacle work at each side a shield of arms: that on the left, quartering 1, 4, France (modern), 2, 3, England, that on the right uncertain. In base, under a squareheaded arch, a shield of arms: a lion rampant. Legend: SIGILLUM C . . . MONAST' GĒ MARIE ET SBI' IOHANIS' BAPTISTE DE NOTTELE.
Another seal of the fifteenth century, the cast of which has been taken from an imperfect impression, (fn. 73) represents the Blessed Virgin standing on a corbel in a niche holding the Holy Child on her right arm, in her left hand a sceptre fleur-de-lizê. Legend: . . . BEATE MA. . . .