A History of the County of Chester: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1980.
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THE ABBEY OF CHESTER
In 1092 Hugh I, earl of Chester, took the first steps towards the transformation of a church of secular canons dedicated to St. Werburgh into a Benedictine abbey. The early history of the church of canons and its connection with St. Werburgh is a matter of 'legend and guesswork'. (fn. 1) The legend is preserved in the writings of two monks of Chester: Ranulph Higden's Polychronicon, of the mid 14th century and Henry Bradshaw's life of St. Werburgh, of the early 16th. According to that tradition the body of St. Werburgh, daughter of Wulfhere, king of Mercia (657-74), was carried to Chester in 874 from its resting place at Hanbury in Staffordshire by nuns fleeing from the Danes; the shrine was received into the mother church of Chester, dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul and founded 'soon after Lucius and afore Kynge Arthure'. (fn. 2) The details of the story are suspect. Chester was possibly uninhabited at that period. The saint's remains, which were at Chester before the end of the 10th century, (fn. 3) may have been acquired with Hanbury and its church, which belonged to St. Werburgh of Chester in 1066 but had been lost to Henry de Ferrers by 1086. (fn. 4) There are further doubtful legends concerning the foundation at Chester of a church of secular canons dedicated to St. Werburgh: according to Henry Bradshaw, Æthelflaed, sister of Edward the Elder, enlarged the original church for secular canons in honour of St. Werburgh and transferred the original dedication to a new parish church in the centre of the city, but Bradshaw also mentions that a tablet in St. John's church ascribed the foundation of the house of canons to Æthelflaed's nephew, Edmund. King Athelstan has also been credited with the foundation, since Higden states that there were secular canons serving St. Werburgh at Chester from the time of Athelstan until the arrival of the Normans. Of the three rival founders Æthelflaed, who, with her husband Ethelred, restored the city in 907, is the most likely, although there is no definite evidence of the existence of a church of canons dedicated to St. Werburgh at Chester before 958. (fn. 5) In that year Edgar, king of the Mercians, granted to the familia of St. Werburgh 17 hides of land in Hoseley (Flints.), Cheveley, Huntington, Upton, Aston, and Barrow. Barrow and Upton were lost before 1066. (fn. 6) Apart from the statement by Florence of Worcester that Leofric, earl of Mercia, enriched the house with valuable ornaments nothing further is known of it before the Norman Conquest. (fn. 7) In 1086 the church had 13 houses in Chester, one occupied by the custos or warden and the others by the canons. Three holdings outside Chester, in Burwardsley, Stanney, and Hanbury, had been lost between 1066 and 1086 but the remaining 21 holdings, in Hoseley, Cheveley, Huntington, Middleton Grange, Saighton, Boughton, Iddinshall, Wervin, Croughton, Lea-byBackford, Sutton, Saughall, Shotwick, Neston, Raby, Bridge Trafford, Ince, Pulford, Wepre and Lache, provided an annual income of over £11. (fn. 8) Hugh I, earl of Chester, who was a noted monastic benefactor and wished to have an impressive religious house in the centre of his power, repeatedly sought the help of St. Anselm in reforming the college of secular canons at Chester. In 1092 Anselm answered Earl Hugh's third invitation and spent some time (plures dies) at Chester supervising the preliminary stages of the transformation of the college into a large and well-endowed Benedictine abbey. (fn. 9) Earl Hugh did not eject the pauculos clericos, as alleged by William of Malmesbury, (fn. 10) but arranged that as the canons died their prebends should pass into the possession of the new monastery. (fn. 11) The earl provided buildings suitable for monks and the nucleus of the new community was probably formed from the monks who had accompanied Anselm from Bec; Richard, the first abbot, was certainly a monk of Bec and, according to Higden, had been Anselm's chaplain. (fn. 12) During his visit Anselm probably witnessed the original foundation charter and the gift of Weston upon Trent which Countess Ermentrude, on her husband's orders, placed on the altar of St. Werburgh and he later showed a paternal interest in the progress of the house and the activities of the monks. The founder himself became a monk three days before his death in 1101 and was buried in the graveyard of St. Werburgh's. (fn. 13)
The major endowments of the abbey are recorded in charters of confirmation by the first four earls of Chester. All four charters are irregular in form and it has been argued that they are forgeries. A more likely explanation is that these 'home-made' charters were based on a historia of the foundation and endowment of the house begun under the founder and continued, corrected, and amplified under his successors. Although several features of the charters are extremely suspicious, not least the very completeness of the series, the authenticity of the grants they record is unquestioned. (fn. 14) The gifts of Earl Hugh I and his men are recorded in the charter known as Sanctorum prisca which is not a true foundation charter but rather a narrative of the foundation of the house and a confirmation of its endowments drawn up a few years before the founder's death. (fn. 15) It has been estimated that before the death of Earl Hugh the house had been given as much new land as it inherited from the extinguished college of canons and in addition it had acquired a substantial income from tithes. (fn. 16) As well as the gift of the Derbyshire estate of Weston upon Trent made by Countess Ermentrude at the foundation ceremony, Earl Hugh gave land in Chester, the manor of Irby in Wirral, two manors in Anglesey, one in Rhos (Denb.) and some land at Maltby (in Lindsey, Lincs.); the Welsh lands were quickly lost and the abbey does not seem to have retained the Lincolnshire property beyond the later 13th century. In addition the founder gave the tithes of eleven of his demesne manors: Eaton, Frodsham, Eastham, Upton, and Weaverham in Cheshire; Hawarden, Coleshill, and Bistre (Flints.); Leek and Rocester (Staffs.); and Chipping Campden (Glos.). To these he added the tithes of the fisheries of Frodsham, Rhuddlan, Anglesey, and Eaton with the right to fishing boats in Anglesey and at Eaton. A later gift, probably after 1095, was the church and tithes of Denford (Northants.). In addition Earl Hugh granted extensive privileges to his new foundation: freedom from tolls and other services for all its possessions, the right to a court for its tenants, and the right to hold a three-day fair in Chester. The abbey also acquired the demesne tithes of Macclesfield. (fn. 17) Earl Hugh and his wife encouraged their men to follow their example and give generously to the new foundation; they were licensed to give lands not exceeding 100s. in annual value and enjoined to bequeath their bodies for burial in the abbey accompanied by post obit gifts of a third of their goods. At least eighteen of Earl Hugh's tenants followed this advice and their gifts ranged from the grant by William Malbank of the manor of Whitby in Wirral, one-third of Wepre (Flints.), the church and tithes of Tattenhall and the tithes of Saughall, 'Clayton', and 'Yraduc' to a carucate of land in Macclesfield from Robert Pultrel. Among the more generous benefactors were Robert FitzHugh, Hugh and Ralph FitzNorman, Richard de Vernon, Richard de Rollos and Scirard, an ancestor of the Lancelyn family; (fn. 18) a notable absentee was William FitzNeal, who had shared Neston and Raby with the canons of St. Werburgh's and later effected an exchange with Abbot Richard by which he became the sole lord of Neston and the abbey of Raby. (fn. 19) By the death of Earl Hugh in 1101 the abbey had acquired, in addition to the gifts of Earl Hugh and his wife, the churches of Astbury, Coddington, Tattenhall, and Waverton, the chapels of Bebington and Christleton, tenements in Chester and lands at Bebington, Cotton Abbotts, Crewe (in Farndon), Greasby, Lostock Gralam, Macclesfield, Ness, Peckforton, Redcliff (in Chester), Tilstone Fearnall, Whitby, and Woodchurch, and at Broughton and Wepre (Flints.). Tithes were, however, the most popular form of benefaction and gifts included those of Ashton by Tarvin, Barnston (in Wirral), Lower Bebington, Blacon, Bramhall (in Wrenbury), Great Caldy, Clotton, Coddington, Greasby, Hatton, Lea Newbold, Ledsham, Picton, Prenton, Saughall, Storeton, Tattenhall, Wallasey, Waverton, Willaston (in Nantwich), and Worleston. (fn. 20)
The founder's son, Earl Richard, gave little to the abbey during his short tenure of the earldom; apart from the grant of a mill at Bache, his gifts were restricted to the city and its suburbs. (fn. 21) There was a tradition in the abbey that he quarrelled with the abbot over the manor at Saighton and that he 'intended to alter and change the foundation of the said abbey to another religion' but was only prevented by his providential death in the White Ship; there may be some substance to the story as the abbacy was left vacant during the last three years of Earl Richard's life. (fn. 22) The flow of gifts to the abbey continued, however, from other benefactors: Hugh FitzNorman added the vills of Goostrey and Church Lawton to his earlier benefactions and William FitzNeal made a belated first gift of Newton (by Chester), reputedly as the result of a vow to St. Werburgh. (fn. 23) At that period the house also acquired four more churches: St. Olave's, Chester, Northenden, Bodfari (Denb.), and Holywell (Flints.), (fn. 24) salt houses in Nantwich and Fullwich, more tenements in Chester, and lands at Bebington, Hoole, Noctorum, Northenden, and Plumley; the last grant was made by Roger Mainwaring when his son became a monk, the first recorded example of a new recruit bringing a gift of land to the community. (fn. 25) Four similar grants were made under Earl Ranulph I, including that of the church of Thurstaston in Wirral by Matthew of Rhuddlan when his brother became a monk. (fn. 26) Among the more significant of the acquisitions confirmed by Ranulph I were the moiety of Lea Newbold given by William de Mold and the church of Dyserth near Rhuddlan given by the earl's brother, William le Meschin; the latter property was, however, later lost like most of the abbey's Welsh possessions. (fn. 27) Earl Ranulph himself made the important post obit gift of the manor of Upton to celebrate his removal of the body of the founder from the graveyard to the newly-completed chapter house. (fn. 28) He also confirmed the founder's grant of a fair, extended the abbey's rights of jurisdiction during the fair, and emphasized the exclusive jurisdiction of the abbot's court by accepting its judgement in a case to which he was a party. (fn. 29) Earl Ranulph II was a less consistent friend of the abbey than his father. A noted monastic benefactor, he solemnly confirmed the gifts of his predecessors and their men to St. Werburgh's and added of his own gift the church of St. Mary-on-the-Hill, several tenements in Chester, the monopoly of trade in Chester during the three days of the annual fair, a tenth of his revenues from the city, and the tithes of all his mills in Cheshire and of Leek mill (Staffs.); he also licensed Abbot Ralph and his successors to hunt stags and other wild animals throughout Cheshire. (fn. 30) Yet at his death in 1153 Ranulph II admitted that he had done great harm to the abbey and offered in compensation the valuable manors of Eastham and Bromborough. (fn. 31) He had certainly tried to enrich his new foundation at Basingwerk (Flints.) at the expense of St. Werburgh's; Earl Hugh II restored to the monks of Chester the church of Holywell which Robert de Pierrepont had granted to Basingwerk with the consent of his lord, Ranulph II, (fn. 32) and he also confirmed their lease of West Kirby and its church from the abbey of Saint-Évroul (Orne) which had first been entered into by Abbot William but later nullified by Ranulph II's grant of West Kirby to Basingwerk. (fn. 33) Nor does Ranulph II appear to have encouraged his men to respect or to increase the possessions of the abbey. The grants made during his tenure of the earldom were few and meagre and Ralph de Mold, steward of Chester, granted the church of Neston in the late 1170s to atone for the injuries done to the abbey by himself and his predecessors, especially in Lea Newbold. (fn. 34) The flow of gifts of churches and lands began to diminish towards the end of the 12th century: Earl Hugh II gave the church of Prestbury, Simon FitzOsbern the church of St. Peter's, Chester, Alan de Boydell the churches of Handley and Dodleston, and Earl Ranulph III the church of Chipping Campden (Glos.) and the tithes of Rhuddlan (Flints.), thus completing the rich endowment of Chester abbey by the first five earls of Chester and their men. (fn. 35)
Evidence of the internal state of the house and the progress of its buildings during its first century is sparse. The names of some of the monks who brought lands with them into the community have survived; among the humbler recruits were the priests Leofwine, Leofnoth, and William the Palmer, the services from whose lands Earl Hugh II relinquished to the abbey. (fn. 36) Henry Bradshaw has preserved the story of a pious and studious monk who was prevented by a vision of St. Werburgh from leaving the community to escape persecution by malicious and jealous fellow monks. (fn. 37) The prohibition of the withdrawal of monks from the abbey without the abbot's permission was one of the additional rights granted to the abbot and convent by Pope Clement III, together with the privilege of agreeing to requests for burial in the abbey, provided that the rights of the parish churches of the deceased were respected. (fn. 38) The abbey appears to have become a popular burial place; in return for the grant of half of the church of Wallasey, William, son of Richard de Waley, and his wife and heirs were to be received into the fraternity of the abbey and be buried in its graveyard with his ancestors. (fn. 39) These profitable burial rights were later threatened by the establishment of new religious communities in Chester and the monks were obliged, with the canons of St. John's, to protect their rights by entering into agreements with the nuns of St. Mary's, the brethren of St. John's Hospital, and the Dominican Friars. (fn. 40) In 1183 a colony of monks was sent to Ireland. John de Courcy gave ten carucates of land to the abbey in order that it should supply a prior and monks to replace the secular canons whom he had expelled from the church of St. Patrick in Downpatrick; he stipulated, however, that the new cathedral priory should be free of any dependency on Chester. (fn. 41) One dependent cell had been established on Hilbre Island, a former hermitage which had been leased with West Kirby from Saint-Évroul; in the 1230s John the Scot, earl of Chester, granted 10s. from the exchequer of Chester for the light of St. Mary in the chapel of Hilbre to the monks living there. There were still two monks on the island in the 16th century. (fn. 42) During the 12th century the Anglo-Saxon church was rebuilt and much of the resources of the house must have been devoted to the cost. (fn. 43) At the accession of Abbot Robert II in 1175 most of the abbey's income from tithes was assigned to the fabric (ad provectum operis eclesie) and he added, with the consent of the convent, the income from further property, including the church of Bebington, half the church of Wallasey, and a pension of 10s. from the church of Chipping Campden. Bishop Peche licensed the abbey to increase the pensions due from its churches and chapels when vacant. (fn. 44) Robert died in August 1184 leaving the abbacy vacant. During the next six months the custodians received a total of £81 19s. 7d. from the lands of the abbey, including £4 9s. 1d. in profits from manorial courts, and spent £21 12s. 6d. on food for the monks and other domestic expenses in the abbey, £6 9s. on the monks' clothing, and £5 10s. 4d. on the wages and food of the servants on the abbey's manors. (fn. 45) The vacancy was ended by the appointment in 1186 of Robert of Hastings, a monk of Christ Church, Canterbury and a partisan of Archbishop Baldwin. (fn. 46) His appointment was not popular with the monks of Chester; the general confirmation of possessions and privileges obtained from Clement III contained a provision for the orderly election of abbots and in 1194, after protracted litigation, Robert of Hastings' rival, Geoffrey, obtained the abbacy with the help of Earl Ranulph III and at the price of a pension of 20 marks a year for Hastings. (fn. 47)
It was probably in Abbot Geoffrey's time that Lucian, a monk of St. Werburgh's, wrote his description of Chester, De Laude Cestrie, which contains, in addition to some fulsome praise of the virtue and learning of the monks, an account of the hospitality provided both to fellow religious and to travellers: 'The seats about their table are worn by reason of the many meals given to strangers, such is their innate liberality. Here travellers to and from Ireland find rest, companionship and shelter while waiting for wind and tide.' (fn. 48) The costs of hospitality and almsgiving must have been a considerable burden but also, like the costs of building, a stimulus to the development of a more elaborate internal administration. Over a long period portions of the abbey's revenues came to be ear-marked for particular purposes. In the second half of the 12th century provision was made for the fabric fund and pensions totalling £16 5s. from eleven of the abbey's churches and chapels were reserved to meet the costs of clothing the monks. (fn. 49) Separate provision was also made for hospitality and almsgiving: in 1188 Clement III licensed the abbey to devote the revenues of the churches of Eastham, Neston, and Aston upon Trent to the support of the monks, their guests, and the poor, and early in the 12th century the appropriation of the churches of Shotwick and Prestbury was licensed to enable the house and that of Ince to give better hospitality to the poor and indigent. (fn. 50) Earl Ranulph III not only provided a house in each of his manors for the monks themselves when they attended his courts but also made additional grants of money for almsgiving and the feeding of 100 poor people in the abbey on his father's anniversary. (fn. 51) At that period the cook was a layman who held lands in Chester, Newton, and Lea in return for finding a master cook in the abbey kitchen and who also had the right to perquisites from its abundant provisions. (fn. 52) In his description of the abbey Lucian gives few concrete details of its administration apart from a rather highflown account of the duties of the abbot, prior and subprior, (fn. 53) but the administration apparently became more complex during the 13th century. The growth of an obedientiary system can be traced in the assignment by the abbot and convent of the revenues from churches or pieces of property to particular funds or departments and the grants of new property, usually by citizens of Chester, to specific offices. The development appears to have been slow and haphazard and the surviving visitation records for the 14th century reveal that the system needed adjustment and supervision. At various times in the late 12th century and the 13th mention is made of the wardrobe, chamber, kitchen, refectory, almonry, infirmary, sacristy, library, and fabric, each with its own fund or holding of property. (fn. 54) The abbot had a separate household and table and by 1300 the proceeds of a small group of properties in Chester had been assigned to the abbot's chamber. (fn. 55) When Abbot Walter of Pinchbeck (1228-40) added six monks to the establishment he assigned the revenues from the church of Shotwick to the convent kitchen and when his successor Abbot Roger Frend (1240-9) increased the number of monks to 40 he assigned the chapel of Wervin to the kitchen and made additional grants to the chamber and infirmary and to the prior and sacrist. (fn. 56) There was in addition a separate fund known as the charities of the monks which was augmented in the 13th century by citizens of Chester and by various abbots who endowed celebrations on feast days and anniversaries. (fn. 57) The fund was regulated after a visitation in 1323: two monks were to be chosen to distribute necessities to the monks 'out of the money set aside for the use of the brethren'. (fn. 58) The injunctions issued after visitations in the 14th century provide further details of the operation of the obedientiary system. In 1315 it was ordered that the officers of the house should be appointed in chapter in accordance with custom and that the abbot should surrender the money which he had received for the fabric; in 1323 all office-holders were ordered to render annual accounts and five officers, the subprior, the subcellarer, the subsacrist, the almoner, and the keeper of the fabric and kitchener, were dismissed for incompetence or dishonesty. (fn. 59) Offices seem to have been rotated briskly among the members of the convent and the number, and even the names, of offices seem to have varied from year to year: in 1379 mention is found of a prior, subprior and sacrist, third prior, infirmarer, master of works, kitchener, refectorer, almoner, and cellarer and in 1382 of a prior, subprior, infirmarian, kitchener, almoner, cellarer, precentor, and chamberlain. (fn. 60) There was also continuing flexibility in the 14th century in the financing of departments; in 1340 the church of Chipping Campden was appropriated and its revenues assigned to the cellarer but when, in 1379, a chantry was established for the souls of Abbot William Bebington and Abbot Thomas Newport the cellarer was ordered to pay the wages of the chantry monks from the revenues and also pay 20s. to the almoner on the anniversary of Abbot Thomas's death for the provision of alms for the poor and wine for the monks. (fn. 61) After his metropolitan visitation in 1400 Archbishop Arundel attempted to reform this confused system by ordering the establishment of a central fund; two treasurers were to be elected annually to distribute the revenues of the house to the officeholders and with the obedientiaries to render quarterly accounts to the abbot and a committee of four. (fn. 62) Little more is known of the administrative system of the abbey in the late Middle Ages but a custodian of the works is found collecting rents and tithes directly in the later 15th century. (fn. 63) In 1518 the abbot employed a secular clerk to arrange music for services in the abbey and to teach singing and organ-playing to the monks and instruct six boy choristers. (fn. 64)
The fortunes of the abbey in the 13th and early 14th centuries fluctuated and were affected both by the ability of individual abbots and by political events. After the rapid expansion of the community and the development of the administration in the earlier 13th century there were setbacks during the period of baronial rebellion when the disgruntled heirs of benefactors and others took advantage of the lack of strong central authority to challenge and attack the privileges and property of the house; (fn. 65) its fortunes revived, however, under the long and vigorous rule of Abbot Simon Whitchurch (1265-91) and his successor, Thomas Birchills (1291-1323). (fn. 66) Although there were few new major endowments at that period many small properties were given particularly in Chester and its neighbourhood and especially during the abbacy of Simon Whitchurch. (fn. 67) Many of those grants were made to specified departments or for the endowment of chantries in the abbey or elsewhere; the vill of Chelford, perhaps the most important acquisition of the 13th century, was given by Robert de Worth in 1267 in return for the provision of a chantry chaplain to celebrate at Chelford or at Chelford and Prestbury (fn. 68) and John Arneway, mayor of Chester, who died in 1278, gave property in Chester and its neighbourhood in return for burial in the abbey and the establishment of chantries in St. Bridget's, Chester and at the altar of St. Leonard in the abbey church. (fn. 69) In addition the holdings of the abbey in Cheshire and Derbyshire were consolidated by additional small grants from lesser landholders, by exchange, and by purchase. (fn. 70) Agreements were concluded during the 13th century with other religious houses, such as Stanlow, Dieulacres (Staffs.), Rocester (Staffs.), Combermere, and Vale Royal, concerning exchanges of tithes and other property and the settlement of disputed boundaries. (fn. 71) The abbey's hold on its property and its relations with the heirs of benefactors and other religious houses were disturbed by the unsettled political conditions after 1258. Sir Roger de Mold, justice of Chester, attempted to deprive the house of its right of presentation to Neston church which had been given by his ancestors; in 1258 he forced a one-sided settlement on the abbey by which it lost Broughton, near Hawarden (Flints.) and on account of which, according to the abbey's chronicler, de Mold met with a succession of misfortunes. (fn. 72) Two other incidents at that period also aroused the annalist's indignation: in 1259 Roger Venables challenged the abbey's right to the advowson of Astbury church and began a long legal dispute which was not finally settled in the abbey's favour until 1299, (fn. 73) and in 1264 William de la Zouch, justice of Chester, destroyed the abbey's gardens and some of its houses while defending the city for the king. (fn. 74) In the latter case it took the abbey eleven years to secure compensation and in other disputes, such as that between St. Werburgh's and Basingwerk Abbey in the 1280s over the advowson of the church of West Kirby, the civil wars had long-lasting effects. (fn. 75) Abbot Simon Whitchurch and Abbot Thomas Birchills were obliged to be vigilant defenders of the interests of the abbey and constant and resourceful litigants, though they did not always succeed in defending the rights of their house against the disgruntled heirs of benefactors. (fn. 76) On occasion victory was costly: the renunciation by Sir Philip Burnell and his wife of their claim to the manors of Saighton, Huntington, Cheveley, and Boughton cost the monks £200, met by the establishment of a chantry in the abbey. (fn. 77) As well as defending the spiritual possessions of the monastery by litigation, the monks exploited them; by the end of the 13th century five churches had been appropriated and pensions had been secured from those which had not yet been appropriated. (fn. 78) Much of the income obtained from the spiritualities of the house and from the exploitation of its demesne lands must have been devoted to the building works then undertaken although apart from some grants of rents and tithes to the fabric fund, (fn. 79) the works are poorly documented. The architectural style of surviving portions of the church and conventual buildings suggests that the cloisters, the refectory, and the chapter house, slype, and parlour with the dormitory above were rebuilt in the mid 13th century and that Abbot Simon built the Lady Chapel and began the rebuilding of the presbytery; the new presbytery and St. Werburgh's shrine were probably completed in the time of Abbot Birchills. (fn. 80) Major building works were certainly in progress in 1277 when the abbot and convent sent 100 workmen to help with the king's works at Flint and in 1284 Edward I made a gift of venison for the support of the monks occupied 'on the great work of the building of the church'. (fn. 81) In 1278 and 1283 Abbot Simon was given permission to improve the abbey's water supply by piping water from Newton and Christleton through the city wall. (fn. 82)
The abbey came into closer contact with the Crown on the lapse of the earldom of Chester in 1237. Henry III continued a payment of £3 a year to support a chantry chaplain celebrating in the abbey for the soul of Earl Ranulph III and also continued to allow the abbey the tithe of the issues of the city of Chester and of its mills and fishery; (fn. 83) by 1300 the 'ancient alms' due to the abbey had been fixed at £19 10s., comprising £10 for the tithe of the issues of the city; £5 for the tithe of the Dee fishery; £4 in compensation for tithes from Frodsham transferred to Vale Royal and 10s. for the light in Hilbre chapel. (fn. 84) The abbey still claimed, and was allowed, the tithes of all venison taken in Cheshire but in 1285 Abbot Simon agreed to a restriction of the extensive hunting rights in Cheshire granted by Ranulph II; (fn. 85) in addition the abbey was allowed the right of free warren on most of its demesne lands. (fn. 86) The Crown used the abbey occasionally as a safe deposit for money from Ireland and from the 1290s regularly appointed royal servants to corrodies; (fn. 87) in return Abbot Simon was granted permission in the 1280s to buy food for the abbey overseas and his servants were put under royal protection when they took the abbey's wool to Boston fair. (fn. 88) Relations were less harmonious over the question of the rights of the Crown during a vacancy in the abbacy. Nothing was taken during vacancies in 1241 and 1249 but there was a dispute when Simon Whitchurch was elected abbot in April 1265 at the height of the civil wars. The justice of Chester, Luke de Tanai, delayed the admission of the new abbot for three weeks while he wasted the abbey's goods; in May Simon de Montfort ordered the restitution of everything taken during the vacancy and himself invested the abbot with the temporalities of the house. This assumption of authority infuriated the Lord Edward who denied Abbot Simon access to the abbey until August when he relented and handed over the goods and revenues of the house. (fn. 89) On a visit to Chester in 1283 Edward I swore to preserve the liberties of St. Werburgh but that did not prevent his taking the revenues into his own hands for three months on the death of Abbot Simon in 1291 and demanding a pension of £5 for a royal clerk; that was the usual practice during vacancies in abbeys held of the Crown. The revenues were restored and the pension cancelled after an inquisition established that in previous vacancies the Crown had only taken the expenses of a sergeant and two subkeepers, one at the gate and the other in the cellar, placed in the abbey to safeguard its goods and revenues during the vacancy; in 1292 Edward I formally renounced his claims to any further rights during vacancies. (fn. 90) Relations between the abbey and the city authorities were generally amicable at that period, although the city challenged the abbey during the later Middle Ages over its claim to extensive jurisdiction within the city, its highly privileged fair and other trading rights, and its position near the city walls. Disputes arose in 1289 over fairs (fn. 91) and over courts for the abbey's tenants, (fn. 92) and in 1322 over the defences of the city; (fn. 93) both sides, however, were willing to compromise, perhaps because the abbey's position in the city was so strong. It was intimately connected with the city in another way as many of the inhabitants of Chester were not only tenants of the abbey but also worshipped in its church. The original parish church of St. Werburgh's, the altarage of which, with its dependent chapels of Bruera and Wervin, was appropriated to the abbey in the early 13th century, became known as St. Oswald's from the name of the altar at which its vicar officiated in the nave of the abbey church. In the second half of the 13th century the bishop of Coventry and Lichfield decided that the parishioners of the altar of St. Oswald should be responsible for repairing the wall, windows, and roof of the 'nave aisle' of the abbey church and enclosing their cemetery which adjoined it. (fn. 94) At some point in the later Middle Ages, possibly in the mid 14th century, the parishioners were moved out of the abbey church into the chapel of St. Nicholas which stood in the south-west corner of the precinct. In 1488 the abbot and convent agreed to share with the mayor and parishioners the cost of completing an extension to St. Nicholas's chapel, otherwise known as 'the new church of St. Oswald'. (fn. 95) The move seems only to have been temporary, connected with the rebuilding of the nave, and shortly before the dissolution the parishioners of St. Oswald's moved back into the abbey church, this time into the south transept. (fn. 96)
Evidence about the internal state of the monastery becomes more plentiful from the beginning of the 14th century. In 1379 27 monks, including the abbot, were listed for taxation purposes and it has been calculated that there were 28 monks in the house at its dissolution. (fn. 97) Those numbers were rather below the total of 40 monks for which provision was made in the 13th century and the abbot of Tewkesbury, who visited the house on behalf of the Provincial Chapter in the 1390s, reported that its numbers were insufficient but that the abbot's proctor had promised to reform the matter. (fn. 98) The names of the monks which have survived in ordination lists and other sources suggest that the majority of the recruits in the later Middle Ages came from Cheshire or Shropshire or from the manors of the house and were of relatively humble origin, although a Robert Venables, 'of noble race', obtained a papal dispensation to hold a benefice in 1442. (fn. 99) Although the endowments of the house were not significantly increased after 1300, (fn. 100) they sufficed to maintain the inmates and to pay for continued building; any financial problems were due to the incompetent or dishonest management of resources rather than to their inadequacy. (fn. 101) During the declining years of Abbot Birchills the house was visited on behalf of the bishop in 1315 and 1323 and the injunctions issued thereafter reveal concern that the superior was extravagant and not acting in the best interests of the house. (fn. 102) In 1315 he was rebuked for having too many personal servants, holding too many feasts, eating meat on fish days with a few favourite monks in his own apartments, and using the convent's money to buy legal books; in future he was to take the advice of the major et sanior pars of the convent on important matters and no corrodies were to be granted or sold without the consent of the whole chapter. In 1323 the abbot was again rebuked for showing favouritism and laxity in controlling his servants. He was too old to hear confession and, in view of his bodily weakness, the prior and cellarer, who behaved with commendable austerity, were appointed his co-adjutors in the government of the house. In spite of the abbot's declining powers the abbey does not appear to have been generally undisciplined and compares favourably with other houses at that period. In 1315 three monks who had been undisciplined were transferred to other houses and in 1323 three more who had been accused of incontinence and violence were confined to the abbey until the charges against them were proved or dismissed and one of them was forbidden to talk to any woman except in the presence of a senior member of the convent. Concern was shown that the monastic enclosure should be observed: in 1315 the prior was forbidden to hunt and monks living on the abbey's manors were recalled, and in 1323 it was ordered that no monk was to leave the abbey except with special permission and a fellow monk of good reputation as a companion; at least one monk, however, was to be sent to Hilbre Island to support Brother Robert of Marketon who had unwisely vowed to become an anchorite. Within the monastery no fashionable clothes were to be worn and no individual allowances were to be given for clothes as some monks had attempted to show their superior status by their dress. There was to be no drinking after compline, silence was enjoined in the refectory and any left-overs were to be distributed to the poor and not used to feed the greyhounds and other hunting dogs which the visitors noted with disapproval both in 1315 and 1323. Hunting remained popular with the monks and, although the abbot was persuaded to reduce his allowance of game from Delamere Forest in 1351 and relinquish his hunting rights in Cheshire entirely in 1354, the full entitlement to game and coursing rights granted to the abbey by Edward I was confirmed once more in 1425. (fn. 103) Despite the visitors' concern about the monks' extra-mural activities and preoccupation with fashionable clothing the abbey remained a centre of intellectual activity. In 1323 the obedientiaries who were dismissed for incompetence were ordered to devote themselves once more to reading in the cloister. (fn. 104) There was presumably a considerable library at their disposal. The librarian, custos almarioli librorum, who was allotted a rent charge of 4s. at the beginning of the 13th century, maintained a collection which, to judge from Lucian's work, must have contained several classical authors, such as Ovid, Seneca, and Virgil; in 1347 the collection was augmented by a bequest of over 20 volumes from Richard of Chester, a canon of York minster. (fn. 105) During the visitations of 1315 and 1323 Ranulph Higden was at work on his Polychronicon, St. Werburgh's 'greatest contribution to medieval learning'. There is no evidence that Higden, who probably died early in 1364 after living 64 years in religion, went outside the abbey for his education and he displays in his works a certain local patriotism. His Polychronicon, which was probably based partially on a small collection of annals produced at St. Werburgh's in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, was an immediate success and in 1352 he was summoned to Westminster with his chronicles to advise the king and his council. (fn. 106) After the death of the exceptional Higden the abbey achieved little intellectual distinction apart from the Chester miracle plays doubtfully attributed to Henry Francis, a monk of Chester, and Henry Bradshaw's poetry at the beginning of the 16th century. (fn. 107) In 1423 it was reported to the Provincial Chapter that the abbot had sent no scholars to university for twelve years and it was decided to punish him severely for such negligence. (fn. 108)
Although there were few faults in the administration and discipline of the house in the early 14th century which could not have been dealt with by an able superior, the attentions of the visitors were probably unwelcome. It was probably to avoid interference from the conscientious Bishop Roger Northburgh and his officials that Abbot William Bebington sought papal exemption from episcopal visitation and thus began more than a century of internal faction and misrule. In 1344 he obtained a papal indult to use the pastoral staff, ring, and mitre, together with a licence to exercise episcopal and archidiaconal jurisdiction over his servants and the parishioners of St. Oswald's, and in the following year he obtained the exemption from ordinary, archiepiscopal, and archidiaconal jurisdiction of the abbey and St. Oswald's, which became immediately subject to the papacy. (fn. 109) His opponents later alleged that Bebington was scheming to avoid correction by the bishop 'so that he might give himself up to dissolute living' and that he and his party in the abbey did not obtain the consent of the whole convent or the permission of the abbey's patron, the Black Prince. (fn. 110) Opposition to the abbot was led by four monks who were said to be among the older members of the house and to be concerned about both the financial cost of the exemption and the potential spiritual damage to the house. (fn. 111) Since the exemption denied them the right to complain to the bishop, they sought the help of the Black Prince and his father; in 1346 the abbot was summoned before the king and his council and in the following year the Black Prince asked the abbots of Westminster and Chertsey to give temporary refuge to the four monks who were bringing a case against their abbot and who did not dare go near their own house until it was finished. (fn. 112) The factional dispute disrupted the administration of the house and in August 1347 the Black Prince, on the advice of his father, appointed four keepers to help the abbot govern the abbey with the advice of three or four monks who were 'not too favourable to the abbot'. (fn. 113) Two of the keepers were ordered to examine each member of the convent in secret on the matter of the exemption and report to the prince. (fn. 114) No further action was taken by the secular powers and in July 1348 Abbot William obtained papal protection from deposition and sequestration by any bishop. (fn. 115) The episode left a legacy of bitterness: one of the four ringleaders was transferred to Birkenhead Priory and another was said in 1351 to be apostate and wandering; when Abbot William died, probably in 1349, the convent bound itself by oath to secure the revocation of the exemption before electing Richard Sainsbury as his successor. (fn. 116) Sainsbury was prevented by the war with France from securing immediate confirmation of his election from the pope and made his oath of obedience to the archbishop of Canterbury; he later claimed that the archbishop proceeded to interfere in the administration of the house. (fn. 117) He secured papal confirmation and rehabilitation in 1352 and in 1354 was given royal permission to go to Rome where Innocent VI was asked to revoke the exemption and return the abbey to the jurisdiction of the ordinary. (fn. 118) The petition was not granted but the revocation was obtained in 1363 from Urban V on the petition of the Black Prince, the bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, Abbot Thomas Newport, and the convent; that revocation was in its turn revoked by Boniface IX who renewed both the exemption and papal protection 'to meet the persecution to which exemption of the monastery exposed the abbot'. The abbey remained exempt from episcopal visitation for the rest of its existence. (fn. 119)
The abbacy of Richard Sainsbury was turbulent and ended with the re-opening of divisions within the convent and his forced resignation. He was obliged to take vigorous action to protect the rights and privileges of his house and in doing so he aroused much hostility. He inherited expensive building works as the rebuilding of the church had continued after the death of Abbot Birchills. When the abbot and convent first petitioned the bishop of Worcester for permission to appropriate their church of Chipping Campden, probably early in the 1330s, they explained that they had recently rebuilt the choir from its foundations and intended to continue with the nave and the bell tower which was ruined and dangerous; they complained that with losses caused by the Welsh wars and by flooding their resources were insufficient to maintain hospitality and pay for the building work. (fn. 120) Abbot Sainsbury continued, but was unable to complete, the rebuilding of the nave and the enlargement of the south transept. There is little surviving evidence of the progress or cost of this building work but in 1354 Sainsbury obtained letters of protection from impressment into the service of the Black Prince for twelve of the carpenters, masons, and other workmen who were then continuously working on the church. (fn. 121) After his resignation, however, the church and houses of the abbey were said urgently to need repair and his successor was permitted to employ six masons, a quarryman, and four stone-workers. (fn. 122) Abbot Sainsbury continued the policy of his three predecessors in exploiting the demesne lands of the abbey by felling timber and inclosing and cultivating large areas of waste; in pursuing the policy he frequently encountered the opposition of the officials of the Black Prince and found that their master was not prepared to allow the abbey's claims to freedom from the operation of forest law without question. (fn. 123) In general the prince and his council did not look kindly on the abbot's activities and were prepared to allow only such claims to privileges as he could substantiate by producing charters; in the course of a long-drawn-out dispute over the approvement of waste at Rudheath the abbot was reminded that 'no right can accrue from wrongful encroachments'. (fn. 124) There was another protracted quarrel on the question of the abbey's liability to contribute to the repair of the Dee Bridge with the prince repeatedly questioning its claim to be free of all secular demands; (fn. 125) in a similar dispute in 1351 over the repair of a sluice between the abbey's manor of Ince and the prince's manor of Frodsham the abbot was forced to capitulate and pay half the cost of reconstructing it and maintaining it in repair. (fn. 126) Abbot Richard also had to face attacks by the prince's officials and by the city authorities on his claims to jurisdiction in Chester. (fn. 127) On several occasions the abbot or his officials were accused of attempting to settle disputes with their tenants or the prince's forest officials by violence. (fn. 128) In 1361 Thomas Newport, later abbot, instigated two of the monks to attack Abbot Sainsbury in his own chamber, giving the Black Prince and his council the opportunity to interfere in the internal affairs of the abbey. (fn. 129) In February 1362 the prince requested a visitation of the abbey and in March he took into his protection three of the monks, two of whom had been involved in the attack on Sainsbury. (fn. 130) At the same time the sheriff and escheator were ordered to take the administration of the abbey's property out of the abbot's hands and to hand over the common seal of the house, under the prince's own seal, to the convent for safe-keeping. (fn. 131) Before the beginning of May Thomas de la Mare, abbot of St. Albans and president of the Provincial Chapter, had visited Chester; he forced Abbot Sainsbury, whom he found guilty of dilapidation, encouragement of vice, and mockery of the Rule, to resign and made suitable provision for him from the goods of the house; with the consent of the bishop and the monks he chose another superior and temporarily removed some of the monks to St. Albans at his own expense to be instructed in regular observance and taught to live peacefully with their fellows. (fn. 132) In appointing a new abbot de la Mare exceeded his powers. Apparently Sainsbury claimed papal protection but offered to resign his office to the pope. The next abbot, Thomas Newport, was not installed until autumn 1363 after he had obtained papal provision to his office and the revocation of the bull of exemption. In addition the Black Prince forced the community to purge its contempt in choosing a new abbot without his permission. (fn. 133) In May 1362 he had taken the prior and convent into his protection and committed the administration of the house to Sir John Delves, the lieutenant of the justice of Chester, and to one of the monks, with full power to remove the officials of the house for negligence or dishonesty. (fn. 134) Richard Sainsbury continued to dispute his resignation until 1374 or later. (fn. 135)
By the end of the 14th century the state of the house and, in particular, the abbot's irresponsibility again caused concern. In March 1400 a royal protection was issued to some of the monks of the house and to the abbot of St. Augustine's, Canterbury, who intended to visit the abbey to investigate reports that Abbot Henry Sutton had wasted its possessions, removed many of its goods, and refused to return to Chester. (fn. 136) If the visitation took place it was soon followed by the arrival of Archbishop Thomas Arundel on his metropolitan visitation in October 1400. When Abbot Sutton claimed exemption from visitation the archbishop waited in Chester for a day until the abbot submitted and requested visitation, although he did not renounce his claim to exemption from visitation by the bishop of Coventry and Lichfield and the archdeacon of Chester. (fn. 137) The injunctions issued after the visitation were mainly concerned to restore the finances of the house and control the behaviour of the abbot. He was to report on his debts and assets to the whole chapter, or to a committee of the monks, and to hand over all essential documents; the common seal was to be kept in a chest to which he, the prior, and three monks chosen by the chapter should each hold a key; the abbot was not to lease, sell, or give away any lands without the chapter's consent, and the permission of the whole chapter, or a majority of it, was to be obtained for any expenditure over £10; finally, a central treasury and accounting procedure was set up. (fn. 138) Some evidence survives of the financial policies of Abbot Sutton and his predecessors which provoked such stringent reforming measures. Abbot Thomas Newport seems to have been as exacting and unpopular as a landlord as Abbot Sainsbury (fn. 139) and in the summer of 1381 his bond tenants in Wirral, doubtless emboldened by news from the south, held secret meetings to raise money to buy 'help and maintenance' in pursuing a quarrel with the abbot; when warned at the end of July to refrain from such meetings a group of them rose in arms and assembled at Lea-byBackford where they were seized and taken to Chester castle. (fn. 140) At that period, however, the monks were finding it difficult to continue to exploit their demesne lands directly; they claimed in the 1390s that 'the rents and services which their tenants and serfs used to pay have been irrecoverably diminished and withdrawn under pretext of pestilences'. (fn. 141) A policy of leasing the former demesne lands was begun which was to continue for the rest of the abbey's existence and, in addition, its manors were occasionally mortgaged to pay annuities to creditors. (fn. 142) Of more concern to the ecclesiastical authorities and to the Crown as patron of the abbey was the attempt by Abbot Sutton and his predecessors to increase the revenues of the abbey from its spiritualities. The alienation by Abbot Newport of the advowsons of the abbey's churches in Cheshire to Sir John Delves and Thomas and John Davenport without the permission of the earl of Chester resulted in an armed skirmish at Bebington in 1381 and the intervention of the Crown in the 1390s in a dispute over the advowson of Astbury. (fn. 143) In the 1390s the abbey sought to appropriate its remaining churches; it had already appropriated Chipping Campden in 1340. (fn. 144) The appropriation of the churches of Astbury and St. Mary on the Hill, Chester, was secured from the bishop of Coventry and Lichfield allegedly by means of forged papal bulls and permission was obtained from the Crown to appropriate the churches of Aston and Weston upon Trent in return for the alienation of the advowson of Denford (Northants.) to the bishop of Coventry and Lichfield. (fn. 145) In addition, in an attempt to obtain even greater financial advantages, licences were obtained to appoint monks or secular chaplains to serve the parishes of St. Oswald's and St. Mary on the Hill in Chester and of Prestbury, Astbury, Bromborough, Aston, and Weston upon Trent. (fn. 146) Such unscrupulous exploitation provoked the intervention of the ecclesiastical authorities and the appropriations secured by Abbot Sutton were either ineffective or revoked after the visitation in 1400. (fn. 147) Although mainly concerned with the abbot's financial maladministration, the injunctions issued in 1400 also attempted to control his behaviour within the abbey: he was ordered to avoid the company of a suspect woman and to reform his household; two of the monks were to supervise his religious observances and to sleep with him in his chamber to safeguard his reputation; he was also enjoined to treat his fellowmonks kindly, not to imprison them without the consent of the chapter, and to leave punishment for breaches of the Rule to the prior or subprior. (fn. 148) The injunctions are less informative on the behaviour of the members of the convent probably because the shortcomings of the superior diverted attention from his fellow monks. The monks were piously enjoined to keep the silence, say their offices regularly, show due deference to their seniors, and maintain almsgiving. The practices of wearing fashionable clothes and eating privately were condemned, as they had been after the visitations in 1315 and 1323; they had probably become more common since then and may even have been encouraged by the arrangements made in 1379 for a chantry for Abbots Bebington and Newport which included provisions to pay wages to the monks celebrating at the altars of St. Mary, St. Peter, and St. Stephen and of clothing allowances to all the monks. (fn. 149) A final injunction in 1400 ordered that lay people who visited the abbey were not to have private rooms or special food and were not to linger; the memory must have been fresh of the violent intrusion into the abbey in 1394 of members of the royal household purveying victuals for the Irish expedition and of the resulting quarrel with the city authorities. (fn. 150)
Abbot Sutton survived the metropolitan visitation of 1400 but his government of the monastery continued to cause concern and finally provoked the intervention of the General Chapter of English Benedictines. Opposition to the abbot within the monastery was led by two monks who were accused of apostasy and various other crimes both inside and outside the abbey, including plotting the death of their abbot, but who obtained a royal pardon in 1412 with the help of the General Chapter. (fn. 151) The president of the General Chapter, having established the extent of the abbot's mismanagement of the affairs of the house, appointed proctors in Rome to proceed against him. (fn. 152) The death of Abbot Sutton in 1413 forestalled any further action and he was succeeded by Thomas Yardley, since 1403 the leader of the opposition. In 1415 Henry V took the abbey into his own hands and committed its custody to Henry Beaufort, bishop of Winchester; after allowance had been made to maintain the abbot and convent and their servants, all the revenues were to be used to relieve the abbey which was said to have been impoverished by the policy of former abbots in burdening it with annuities, pensions, and corrodies, in wasting its goods and jewels, and in leasing its property improvidently. (fn. 153) One improvident lease was evidently thought necessary in 1418 to help clear the abbey's debts: the manor of Weston upon Trent was leased to the bishop of Durham for twelve years in return for 800 marks paid 'beforehand out of commiseration for the indigence of the abbot and convent'. (fn. 154) The Provincial Chapter in 1426 ordered a special visitation by the prior of Worcester after the regular visitors had reported that the house needed reform. (fn. 155) Factional strife revived and in 1437 the abbey was again taken into royal custody, 'by reason of it having been wasted by misrule', and committed to the bishop of Bath and Wells and the earl of Stafford. (fn. 156) No further attempts at reform were made during the 15th century by the lay or ecclesiastical authorities, although in 1446 the abbot and his successors were freed from official duties in collecting clerical subsidies 'in order that he and his convent may attend to divine service more quietly'. (fn. 157) Evidence is lacking on the finances of the house in the later 15th century though, since building operations were revived at the end of the century, they possibly improved. (fn. 158) The abbey and its individual members were, however, frequently involved with the citizens of Chester during the 15th and the early 16th centuries. On several occasions monks were indicted in the mayor's court for attacks on fellow religious and citizens; (fn. 159) in 1478 Abbot Richard Oldham, who had been imprisoned in Chester castle in 1461 for an unspecified offence, had to enter into a bond for £1,000 to keep the peace towards the mayor and in 1480 Oldham and twelve others, of whom at least half can be identified as monks, were bound over to keep the peace with a large body of tradesmen. (fn. 160) At the same period some women were indicted for being 'whores to several monks' and in 1505 the abbot complained that a draper of Chester had induced one of his monks to rob him and apostasize. (fn. 161) Some efforts were made to regulate the access of lay people to the precincts: in 1414 the abbot complained that public access to the convent gardens was inconvenient, and was given permission to close the postern gates super muros and hold the keys; the licence was renewed in 1451 (fn. 162) but in 1536 when the royal visitors ordered that the only entry to the abbey should be through the main gate the abbot complained that another gate in the monastery wall which he had closed up had been thrown open by some citizens of Chester, 'who come into the monastery at their pleasure'. (fn. 163) Another quarrel which had smouldered since the end of the 13th century reached its climax in the early 16th. In the 1499 quo warranto enquiry the abbot claimed the right to hold a court every fortnight at the chapel of St. Thomas the Martyr outside the North Gate but that was challenged by the city authorities with new confidence after they had obtained a charter from Henry VII in 1506. A dispute in 1507 over the abbot's right to demand recognizances to keep the peace after a brawl in Northgate Street led to the submission of the question of the extent of the abbot's jurisdiction in the city to arbitration. The arbitrators' award in 1509 deprived the abbot of the right to hold a court during the fair, limited his rights of jurisdiction within the precincts and in Northgate Street, and established the superior authority of the mayor, sheriffs, and coroners of the city. (fn. 164)
The fortunes of the abbey revived under the vigorous abbots Simon Ripley (1485-93) and John Birkenshaw (1493-1524). Apart from the building of the choir stalls in the late 14th century, little work had been done on the church fabric since Abbot Sainsbury's time. Abbot Ripley revived the abbey's claim to timber from Delamere Forest for building and completed the rebuilding of the south transept and the central tower; he also completed the south aisle of the nave, rebuilt the north arcade to match that of the south and built the stone pulpitum at his 'sole expense'. (fn. 165) Abbot Birkenshaw, an even more ambitious builder, probably built the nave clerestory and the roof of the north transept and certainly the west front of the church, probably before 1500; he also extended the north and south choir aisles to overlap the Lady Chapel and built the lower stage of the south-western tower and the adjoining porch. The rebuilding of the cloisters was begun by him and continued by Abbot Highfield and Abbot Marshall; in 1526 William Danald ordered his executors, two monks of the house, to glaze one of the new windows in the cloister. (fn. 166) Abbot Birkenshaw's vigorous and arrogant exercise of his rights provoked a hostile reaction not only from the city but also from the ecclesiastical authorities. The right of the abbot of Chester to use the mitre and pontifical staff which was first granted to Abbot Bebington in the 14th century was challenged by Bishop Geoffrey Blythe; in the course of a suit promoted by the bishop at Rome Abbot Birkenshaw refused to produce the relevant documents, was excommunicated, and later secured public absolution by a local priest 'in contempt and derision of the apostolic see'. In 1516 Pope Leo X invoked the help of Cardinal Wolsey in dealing with the overbearing abbot but Wolsey was not prepared to intervene until 1524 when Birkenshaw was forced to resign his office; the ostensible reason was his infringement of the Statute of Praemunire by obtaining papal confirmation of the exemption of the abbey from ordinary and metropolitan jurisdiction but he had also, as was later alleged in the charges against Wolsey, incurred the wrath of the Cardinal over a collusive lease of the manor of Prestbury involving Sir John Stanley and George Legh of Adlington, who was said to be the husband of Wolsey's mistress. (fn. 167) Birkenshaw was replaced briefly by Thomas Highfield, who died in 1527, and then by Thomas Marshall, who had formerly been prior of Wallingford (Berks.) and who was said to have paid Wolsey 1,000 marks for the abbacy of Chester. (fn. 168) After the fall of Wolsey Abbot Birkenshaw was restored to his office and he later complained bitterly to Thomas Cromwell of the behaviour of the 'pretensed abbots' who, during his absence, had oppressed the poor tenants of the abbey and leased the demesne lands which he and his predecessors had kept in hand to maintain the hospitality of the abbey. (fn. 169) During the declining years of Abbot Birkenhsaw the involvement of the abbey with the gentry families of Cheshire, which had been marked from the mid 15th century, (fn. 170) became even closer and the factions in the monastery reflected the feuds in the county. (fn. 171) Like Abbot John Butler of Vale Royal, Birkenshaw may have owed his restoration to office to the influence at court of William Brereton of Malpas; Brereton, who held the annual audit of his estates in the abbey in 1531, received an annual pension of £20 from the abbot from 1531 and obtained from him the advowson of Astbury. (fn. 172) A letter to Brereton from a disgruntled servant of the abbot reveals that the convent was split in the early 1530s into opposing factions struggling to gain influence over Abbot Birkenshaw and control of the office of prior; Brereton had his 'friends and lovers' in the monastery but they were opposed by those who were in alliance with his enemies in the shire. (fn. 173) Brereton was informed that one of the monks, Thomas Clarke, was 'a man singularly well taken with the masters of the monastery and all your friends in these parts' and when the 'aged and impotent' Birkenshaw was forced to resign by Dr. Thomas Legh in 1538 another Brereton, Sir William Brereton of Brereton, advocated, with the support of the mayor and citizens of Chester, that Clarke should succeed as abbot. (fn. 174) Thomas Clarke became the last abbot of Chester and Abbot Birkenshaw was allowed a pension of £100 and the cost of the upkeep of a chaplain, three servants, and five horses, provided he took over the responsibility for debts incurred during his abbacy. (fn. 175) Abbot Clarke paid the abbey's annual fee of £20 to Thomas Cromwell more promptly than his predecessor (fn. 176) but he also had to resist pressure from Cromwell for leases for his friends of the remaining demesne lands of the abbey; in 1538 he pointed out that the manors of Sutton and Ince had been leased according to Cromwell's instructions before he became abbot and 'nothing remains but the manor of Huntington without which hospitality cannot be kept'. (fn. 177) Later in the same year the abbot and convent leased or re-leased most of the remaining lands and rectories of the house in anticipation of dissolution; in September and October 1538 15 leases were concluded, including one of the manor of Huntington to Dr. Thomas Legh, and at least one of the leases contained the condition that it would be void if the monastery was not dissolved. (fn. 178) By the summer of 1539 St. Werburgh's was the last remaining religious house in Cheshire, apart from St. Mary's nunnery, and rumours were circulating that it was intended to erect some of the surviving abbeys into bishoprics; in November 1539 the abbot sent a servant to London with letters 'to know what will become of the monastery, and whether any suit will serve to stay the dissolution by alteration, as many shall be'. (fn. 179) No suit served and the abbey and all its possessions were surrendered by Abbot Clarke on 20 January 1540. (fn. 180) It has been calculated that there were about 28 monks in the abbey at the time of its dissolution and of these eleven, including the prior of the cell on Hilbre, were awarded pensions and ten, including the abbot, remained to staff the new cathedral established in 1541. (fn. 181)
The gross income of the abbey in 1535 was given as £1,073 17s. 7½d., of which £720 12s. 6½d. came from temporal possessions, including £71 10s. 5½d. from property in Chester, and £353 5s. 1d. from spiritualities. The net income was £1,003 5s. 11d. after the allowance of £70 11s. 8½d. for expenses which included £14 for alms distributed for the souls of the kings of England on Maundy Thursday, £9 13s. 4d. for the maintenance of three chantries, and £31 on fees for the earl of Derby, the abbey's steward, (fn. 182) for the auditor or 'clerk of the chekker' and ten bailiffs. (fn. 183) In 1525 the abbot administered an annual income of £741 2s. 8d. which included £59 received in payments for herbage; his expenses in that year totalled £609 14s. and included payments of £243 9s. 4d. for bread and ale for the convent and guesthouse, for wine for his household, and for the expenses of his kitchen; £21 was paid in fees to his steward, marshal, and carver, £6 in wages to his servants in the abbey, including a slater, baker, and carter, £14 16s. 8d. in wages and fees to the officers of his guest house and £26 13s. 4d. on clothing for the abbot and his servants; outside the abbey the abbot paid £18 in wages to his stewards, bailiffs, and parkers, £66 13s. 4d. in husbandry expenses, and £9 6s. 8d. to stipendiary chaplains serving at Bromborough and Ince; £80 was spent on building work and almost as much, £70, on legal fees and 'fees to magnates'. (fn. 184) After the abbey's estates had passed to the Crown £114 9s. continued to paid in fees and annuities, ranging from £40 to the Chancellor, Sir Thomas Audley, to 26s. 8d. to the abbey's porter, while only £21 13s. 4d. was spent on the wages of chaplains serving at Bromborough, Ince, Shotwick, and Wervin, and St. Oswald's and St. Bridget's in Chester. (fn. 185) Apart from the substantial bailiwick of Weston upon Trent in Derbyshire which included lands and rents in Weston upon Trent, Aston upon Trent, Wilne, Shardlow, Morley, and Derby, and small rents from Rufford (Lancs.) and Newcastle-underLyme (Staffs.), the temporal possessions of the dissolved abbey were concentrated in Cheshire. There were substantial holdings of property in Chester and in the surrounding area, including the manors of Huntington and Cheveley, of Saighton (including lands and rents in Saighton, Huxley, and Coddington), of Ince (including lands and rents in Ince, Elton, Cattenhall, Manley, Ichincote, Helsby, Bridge Trafford, and Plemstall), of Upton (including lands and rents in Upton, Boughton, Newton, Wervin, Croughton, Stamford Mill, Christleton, Chorlton, Backford, Lea-by-Backford, Moston, Saughall, Shotwick, and Crewe in Farndon), of Cotton Abbotts (including lands and rents in Crabwall, Heath Houses in Newton, Puddington, and Poulton Lancelyn) and the bailiwick of Sutton (including lands and rents in Little Sutton, Great Sutton, Overpool, Hooton, Childer Thornton, and Whitby). In the Wirral peninsula there were the manors of Sutton in Wirral (including lands in the parish of Bromborough), of Bromborough (including lands and rents in Bromborough, Bebington, Eastham, and Plymyard) and of Irby (including lands and rents in Irby, Thurstaston, Greasby, Frankby, West Kirby, Noctorum, Woodchurch, and Wallasey). In the east of the county the abbey held the manors of Church Lawton, of Tilstone Fearnall (including lands and rents in Tilstone, Fearnall, and Iddinshall) and of Barnshaw (including lands and rents in Barnshaw, Goostrey, Lees, Cranage, Chelford, Astle, Northwich, Hulse, Winnington, Over Tabley, Plumley, and Northenden) and rents from Acton and Nantwich. The spiritual possessions of the abbey consisted of the appropriated churches of Chipping Campden (Glos.), St. Oswald's, Chester, Shotwick, Bromborough, West Kirby, (fn. 186) Neston, Ince, and Prestbury, tithes from Crabwall and Heath Houses, and pensions from the churches and chapels of St. Peter's, Chester, St. Mary on the Hill, Chester, Christleton, Bebington, Eastham, West Kirby, Thurstaston, Wallasey, Dodleston, Coddington, Tattenhall, Waverton, Handley, Astbury, Northenden, and Weston upon Trent, Aston upon Trent, and Morley (Derb.). (fn. 187)
Abbots (fn. 188)
Richard of Bec, the first abbot, died 1117. (fn. 189)
William, elected 1121, died 1140. (fn. 190)
Ralph, elected 1141, died 1157. (fn. 191)
Robert I, son of Nigel, elected 1157, died 1175. (fn. 192)
Robert II, elected 1175, died 1184. (fn. 193)
Robert III of Hastings, appointed 1186, resigned 1194. (fn. 194)
Geoffrey, elected 1194, died 1208. (fn. 195)
Hugh Grylle, elected 1208, died 1226. (fn. 196)
William Marmion, elected 1226, died 1228. (fn. 197)
Walter of Pinchbeck, elected 1228, died 1240. (fn. 198)
Roger Frend, elected 1240, died 1249. (fn. 199)
Thomas of Capenhurst, elected 1249, died 1265. (fn. 200)
Simon Whitchurch (de Albo Monasterio), elected 1265, died 1291. (fn. 201)
Thomas Birchills, elected 1291, died 1323. (fn. 202)
William Bebington, elected 1324, dead by 1352. (fn. 203)
Richard Sainsbury, elected before 1352, resigned 1362. (fn. 204)
Thomas Newport, elected 1363, died 1386. (fn. 205)
William Merston, elected 1386, died 1387. (fn. 206)
Henry Sutton, elected 1387, died 1413. (fn. 207)
Thomas Yardley, elected 1413, died 1434. (fn. 208)
John Saughall, elected 1435, died 1455. (fn. 209)
Richard Oldham, elected 1455, died 1485. (fn. 210)
Simon Ripley, elected 1485, died 1493. (fn. 211)
John Birkenshaw, elected 1493, resigned 1524. (fn. 212)
Thomas Highfield, elected 1524, died 1527. (fn. 213)
Thomas Marshall, or Beche, elected 1527, displaced 1529 or 1530. (fn. 214)
John Birkenshaw, restored 1529 or 1530, resigned 1538. (fn. 215)
Thomas Clarke, elected 1538, surrendered the abbey in 1540. (fn. 216)
The common seal of the monastery was taken out of the hands of the abbot in 1362 and in 1400 arrangements were made by Archbishop Arundel to safeguard the seal and regulate its use. (fn. 217) A seal ad causas is mentioned in 1461 (fn. 218) but no impression appears to have survived.
A seal in use in the late 12th and early 13th centuries (fn. 219) is a pointed oval 3¼ by 21/8 in. and depicts St. Werburgh in grave-clothes. Legend, lombardic: SIGILLUM SANCTE WEREBURGE VIRGINIS.
Another seal in use in 1271 and 1538 (fn. 220) is circular, about 3½ in. in diameter. The obverse shows an elaborately detailed Gothic church, partly in elevation and partly in section, with transepts and a pinnacled tower at the angles of which are flags. Under the tower arch is the figure of St. Werburgh, seated on a throne, with a pastoral staff in her right hand and a book in her left; in the transepts on either side is the standing figure of a monk facing inwards in prayer with a monk's head enclosed in a quatrefoiled panel above. On the carved plinth at the base is a monk's head in a quatrefoiled panel with two lancet-shaped niches on either side. Legend, lombardic: SIGILLUM CONVENTUS ECCLESIE SANCTE WERBURGE VIRGINIS DE CESTRIE.
The reverse shows a similar building with the figure of a king on a throne below the round-headed tower arch; he holds a sceptre fleury in his right hand and an orb surmounted with a cross in his left hand. In the transept on the right is the full-length figure of St. Paul and on the left the figure of St. Peter. On the carved plinth at the base is a monk's head in a quatrefoiled panel with three lancet-shaped niches on either side. Legend, lombardic; PARTITUR PROPRIUM CUM MARTIRE VIRGO SIGILLUM.
The seal of Abbot Hugh Grylle (1208-26) (fn. 221) is a pointed oval 2½ by 1½ in. and depicts the abbot with a staff in his right hand and a book in his left hand. Legend, lombardic: SIGILLUM HUGONIS ABBATIS CESTRIE.
The secretum is a classical gem showing a monk's head. Legend, lombardic: GRACIA DEI SUM ID QUOD SUM.
The seal of Abbot Henry Sutton in use in 1394 (fn. 222) is a pointed oval 31/8 by 2 in. and depicts the abbot wearing a jewelled mitre, with a book in his right hand and a pastoral staff in his left; he stands in a carved and canopied niche with tabernacle work on brackets at the sides on which are shields of arms: on the left those of France and England quartered and on the right that of Hugh I, earl of Chester, a wolf's head erased. Legend: . . . SANCTE WERBURGE CESTRIE.
A prior's seal, said to be 13th century in date, (fn. 223) is a pointed oval 17/8 by 1¼ in. and depicts the Virgin seated in a niche under a trefoiled arch with the Child on her left knee. On the right is an angel holding a candle in a candlestick; the figure on the left is broken away. In the base, under a trefoiled arch, with church towers at the sides, is a half-length figure in prayer facing to the left. Legend, lombardic: . . . PRIORIS . . .