A History of the County of Cumberland: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1905.
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'Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Holmcultram', in A History of the County of Cumberland: Volume 2, (London, 1905) pp. 162-173. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cumb/vol2/pp162-173 [accessed 29 February 2024]
HOUSES OF CISTERCIAN MONKS
3. THE ABBEY OF HOLMCULTRAM (fn. 1)
The abbey of Holmcultram, situated in the low-lying district between Carlisle and the Solway, was founded as an affiliation of the great Cistercian house of Melrose by Prince Henry, son of David, King of Scotland, in the year 1150, (fn. 2) while he was ruler of the province ceded to Scotland by King Stephen and afterwards known as the county of Cumberland. In this great work he was assisted by Alan son of Waldeve, the lord of Allerdale, who relinquished to the new foundation the tract of territory which Henry had given him for a sporting domain. The act of the prince of Scotland and his vassal was confirmed by King David. It is difficult to account for the statements of the chronicles which mention the name of the founder. Scottish writers, in exuberant admiration of his benevolence, have ascribed the foundation to David himself. (fn. 3) Of these perhaps Fordun is the most positive, for he states that Earl Henry, on the suggestion of Waltheve, abbot of Melrose, enriched with ample possessions the illustrious abbey of Holmcultram which his father had founded, and brought the work to a successful issue by applying to the Scottish house for its first superior. (fn. 4) Leland on the English side, with the foundation charter before him, recognized Alan son of Waldeve as the originator of the scheme, and credited Earl Henry only with its completion. (fn. 5) In after years when the district was recovered from Scotland, and Henry II. had taken the abbey under his protection and confirmed it in his possessions, the King of England was reputed as its legal founder. (fn. 6)
There is much to be said in favour of the theory that Alan son of Waldeve was the real originator of the institution. In the charter of foundation which gave the scheme practical shape Earl Henry declared that he had given in perpetual alms to the abbot and monks the two parts of Holmcultram (Holme Coltria), which he had caused to be marked with bounds at the time he had granted the third part to Alan as a hunting ground. 'But besides I have confirmed,' the charter proceeds, 'the donation of the said Alan, son of Waldeve, and of Waldeve his son, that is, the third part of Holmcultram which I had given Alan for his hunting and which he in the presence of my father, myself, and my barons gave and confirmed by his charter at Carlisle to the abbot and monks of the said place.' It is clear that Alan son of Waldeve was a participator in the foundation, though Earl Henry, his superior lord, has properly got all the credit, inasmuch as it was he who granted the foundation charter, by which the whole of the lordship was assigned to the monks. In addition, the founder granted materials from his forest of Inglewood (Engleswoda) for the purpose of constructing the buildings of the new monastery, and within the bounds of Holmcultram he established all the liberties and privileges which his father had conferred on the abbeys of Melrose and Newbottle. The deed was witnessed by 'Adulf,' Bishop of Carlisle, and Walter, prior of the same, together with several Scottish and Cumbrian dignitaries. (fn. 7)
Of the numerous royal confirmations of its possessions which the house obtained it is not necessary to notice more than those of the early kings to whom allegiance was due. David I. confirmed his son's donation of Holmcultram 'and also that third part of Holm(cultram) which Alan son of Waldeve had given to the monks for the health of his soul.' The charter of Malcolm IV. dealt more at length with the separate gifts, and confirmed them 'as the charter of my father and the charter of Alan himself testify.' Malcolm also sanctioned 'the confirmation of David, King of Scotland, my predecessor.' Both of these confirmations are short and have the same witnesses, Adelulf, Bishop of Carlisle, and Walter, prior of the same, who had been parties a few years before to the foundation charter of Prince Henry. The English king, Henry II., ignoring all previous charters, took into his custody and protection the abbey and all its belongings, and gave and confirmed to the monks the island of Holmcultram with its appurtenances, Raby with its boundaries, the right to take wood in his forest for the building of their houses, pasture for their swine without pannage and the bark of fallen trees. By the charters of succeeding kings, notably those of Richard I. and John, the house was endowed with many valuable privileges and immunities. (fn. 8)
This great abbey, which overshadowed in riches and influence the rest of the religious houses in Cumberland and Westmorland, had many friends and benefactors on both sides of the Border before the rupture with Scotland in 1296. Endowments were freely lavished upon it by landowners, large and small, in various parts of the two counties. It would not be easy to single out a family of distinction within its sphere of influence which had not sooner or later some dealings with its monks. Though districts of the county like Penrith and Coupland may be regarded as the special preserves of the priories of Carlisle and St. Bees and the abbey of Calder, it was not unknown that the monks of Holme trespassed on their brethren and secured firm footholds in these places. Into the barony of Gillesland, specially devoted to the interests of the priory of Lanercost, they do not seem to have penetrated; but in the great lordship of Allerdale, the fief of Alan son of Waldeve, they obtained many possessions outside their own extensive franchise of Holmcultram. The house kept up friendly relations, as long as it was politically prudent, with the kings and magnates of Scotland, and procured from them lands and liberties of considerable value to the community. The Scottish possessions were chiefly in Annandale, the fief of the Brus or Bruce family, and in Galloway, the principality of Fergus. Free trade with Scotland was conceded by William the Lion and free passage through the Vale of Annan by Robert de Brus. The kings of Man allowed the ships of the monks to visit the ports of the island and to buy and sell free of toll. (fn. 9) Some idea of the rapid rise to wealth of this house, in comparison with other houses in the county, may be gathered from the fact that before 1175, or about thirty years from its foundation, the monks had established no fewer than seven granges within their lordship, viz. the old grange and the granges of 'Ternis,' Mayburgh, Skinburness (Schineburgh), 'Sevehille,' Raby and Newton Arlosh (Arlosk), possessions which Pope Lucius thought of sufficient importance to be placed in the forefront of his charter of confirmation. (fn. 10)
It cannot be said that Holmcultram was ever wealthy in spiritual endowments. The neighbouring church of Burgh-by-Sands was bestowed by Hugh de Morvill for the purpose of finding lights, wine and all things necessary for the adornment of the abbey church, the ministers of the altar and the sacraments of Christ. In sanctioning the appropriation Bishop Hugh provided that the monks should appoint a fit vicar to have the cure of souls and pay episcopal dues, and assign him a competent maintenance. (fn. 11) Burgh-by-Sands was the only church in England that the monks possessed till 1332, when the Lady Margaret de Wigton gave them the church of Wigton in consideration of their great losses by the perpetual forays of the Scots. For this grant the house was under obligation to find four monks of the Order to celebrate divine offices daily in the abbey church and to found a chantry of two secular chaplains to do the same at Wigton. (fn. 12) The relations of the abbey with the Scottish church of Kirkwynny were often disturbed by political or ecclesiastical contingencies. In a roll dated 17 June 1391, presented to the anti-pope Clement VII., it was stated that this church, which used to be served by one of the monks of Holme, had been for some time neglected and committed to laymen; it was therefore petitioned that the monastery of Glenluce might serve it. (fn. 13) This church was committed to Holmcultram free of synodals and all episcopal burdens by Joceline and other Bishops of Glasgow. (fn. 14)
Though the papal bulls are lengthy and numerous, there is little of special or local interest in the privileges which the monks of this house enjoyed. By these bulls (fn. 15) the bishop in whose parochia the abbey was founded was prohibited to call the abbot or monks to synods or outside conferences; nor should he presume to visit the monastery for the purpose of celebrating orders, trying causes, or calling public assemblies; nor should he meddle with the election, institution, or removal of an abbot contrary to the statutes of the Order. But the bishop should be requested with becoming respect to give benediction to new abbots, and on these occasions the abbots were instructed not to go beyond the form of profession allowed by the Cistercian institutes. In the matter of the consecration of altars, churches and holy oil, the ordination of monks, or of any other ecclesiastical sacrament, the diocesan bishop would bestow all these things upon them. In 1357 Hugh Pelegrini, the papal nuncio, requested Bishop Welton to search his registers carefully and make a report on the number of churches, monasteries and other places in his diocese exempt from episcopal jurisdiction and immediately subject to the Holy See. The bishop replied that there were no such places in his diocese except the monastery of Holmcultram of the Cistercian Order and the monastery of Shap of the Premonstratensian Order. (fn. 16) Notwithstanding this immunity it was usual for the abbot to attend at Carlisle soon after his election and make his profession of canonical obedience. (fn. 17) In the ordination lists of the diocese of Carlisle the monks of this house are found in comparatively large numbers.
The abbey of Melrose was brought into intimate relations with Holmcultram, and often exercised an effective jurisdiction over the affairs of the monastery. Its influence in the choice of an abbot must have been considerable, inasmuch as no election could be canonically conducted without the presence of the abbot of the mother house. When Abbot Robert died in 1318 the convent petitioned the king for a safe conduct for the abbot of Melrose to attend the election of his successor, as the abbey, being domus filialis domûs de Meuros in Scocia, could not otherwise fill the vacant post. (fn. 18) In various ways we see the subjection of Holmcultram to the Scottish house. In 1326-7 the abbot obtained licence from Edward III. to visit Scotland during the truce on the ground that he wished to survey his grange in Galloway and treat with the abbot of Melrose, his superior, about the rule of his house. (fn. 19) During a vacancy at Holmcultram Abbot Richard of Melrose, when visiting the house by virtue of his ordinary jurisdiction and presiding at the election of a new pastor by virtue of the same jurisdiction, delivered to the monks a code of injunctions, which he caused to be read in the chapter house of the monastery in presence of them all on the last day of November 1472. The injunctions were concerned with the internal rule of the house in the regulation of the services of the church and the discipline of the monks. It was ordered that the daily and nightly offices of the Blessed Virgin and the Canonical Hours should be skilfully and devoutly celebrated, and that the form delivered to them by their father Bernard should be observed in the reading, intoning, chanting and other ceremonies. The priests of the monastery were expected to receive the Eucharist four times a week (quater septimana) unless hindered by some sufficient impediment, and those who were not priests twice at least within the space of fifteen days (bis saltem infra quindenam). As the cloister would be a tomb without learning—'quia claustrum sine literatura vivi hominis est sepultura'—the study of the Holy Scriptures should be indefatigably pursued, for in them they had, as Bernard taught, the surest refuge in all their troubles. The abbot was recommended to observe the greatest circumspection that no monk should visit persons or places beyond the monastic bounds, unless he was attended by a companion of honest conversation, and that no woman should be allowed to pass through or make a stay within the precincts lest the good name of the house should be blackened to the detriment of religion. In addition to strict rules for the regulation of diet, fasting and discipline, the abbot was ordered to procure a man learned in grammar for the instruction of the younger brethren in the Holy Scriptures, to rebuild the infirmary (cellam pro fratribus egrotantibus) as quickly as possible and to refit it with the necessary utensils, and also to supply the inner doors of the monastery with locks to keep out unwelcome visitors. Furthermore, as monks by the traditions of the sacred canons and the monastic rule were dead to the world and forbidden to mix themselves up with secular affairs, no one professed within that monastery should be allowed to exercise the office of bailiff or forester, which savoured of irregularity; and as complaints were made about the occupations of Brother John Ribtoun, the abbot was desired to withdraw him from secular business till the next visitation, unless some other order was signified to him in the meantime. (fn. 20)
The fame of the abbey as a religious institution may be gathered in some measure from the frequency with which men of position and influence bequeathed their bodies to be buried within its precincts. Of the notable personages who were buried there, we may give the most distinguished place to Christian, Bishop of Candida Casa or Whithern, and to the father of Robert Bruce, King of Scotland. The bishop was held in such high esteem by the monks that the charter, in which he declared that he had given his allegiance to the Cistercian Order and become an inmate of that house, where he willed his body to be buried, was rubricated as the 'confirmation of St. Christian the bishop.' His interest in the affairs of the abbey may be judged by the vigorous language of excommunication with which he invoked eterni incendii penas on all who presumed to damage the monks or their possessions. (fn. 21) The historian of Lanercost was shocked at the impiety of Bruce, because in his devastating expedition of 1322 he spoiled the monastery though the body of his father had been buried there. (fn. 22) It might be expected that Hugh de Morvill, the lord of Burgh, who had been in such close association with the house, should select it as his burial place. The monks cannot have been averse to a custom which gave them a claim upon the benevolence of the deceased man's descendants. Thomas son of Andrew de Kirkconnell, at the request of Robert, abbot of Holmcultram, where the body of his father was entombed, made a grant to the abbey for his father's soul. (fn. 23) In all such cases the rights of parish churches were invariably recognized by the payment of parochial dues. When Adam de Bastenthwayt, whose will was proved at Rose in January, 1358-9, bequeathed his body to be buried in the cloister of the monastery near to his father and mother, if the consent of the convent could be obtained, he stipulated that the mortuary due to the parish church of St. Bees, 'Bastenthwayt,' should be delivered. (fn. 24) These examples will be considered sufficient to illustrate the custom.
This abbey was one of the Cumbrian houses at which Edward I. stayed from time to time while on his expeditions against Scotland. It was to Holmcultram that Robert Wisheart, Bishop of Glasgow, came of his own free will to meet the king in October 1300, and to renew his broken vow of allegiance. For the fourth time the bishop took the oath upon the consecrated Host, upon the Gospels, upon the Cross of St. Neot, and upon the Black Rood of Scotland, in the presence of Bishop Halton of Carlisle, the abbot of Holmcultram, and many of the great lords of England and the envoys of France. (fn. 25) It is not easy to account for the king's presence at Burgh-by-Sands, where he died on 7 July 1307, as it was impossible that he should propose to lead his army into Scotland by that route. It is probable that as the host was encamped at Carlisle, the king was on his way thither from Holmcultram (fn. 26) when he was seized with the fatal sickness.
The position of the abbey on the southern shore of the Solway jeopardized its safety at every outbreak of hostilities between the two kingdoms. The story of its losses and sufferings would necessitate a detailed narrative of Border feuds. The fact that the house was of Scottish foundation did not save it from attack or in any way mitigate its hardships. As early as 1216 the Scots, in revenge for King John's invasion, broke into Cumberland by way of the Solway and pillaged the abbey of Holmcultram in spite of the orders of Alexander II. who had extended his peace to religious houses. The chronicles of Melrose and Lanercost describe the mischief done in almost the same words. It was a wholesale spoliation. The Scots took everything they could lay hands on, the holy books, vestments, chalices, horses and cattle, utensils and garments, going to the extremity of stripping a monk who was lying at his last gasp in the infirmary. But their impiety did not pass unpunished. On their return homewards with the spoils, nearly two thousand Scots were drowned in the tide as they forded the river Eden. (fn. 27) At a later date the sufferings of the monks were more protracted owing to continuous warfare. (fn. 28) In addition to the forfeiture of their Scottish possessions, the house was impoverished by losses at home. In 1315-6 they petitioned the king for the advowson of the church of Kirkby Thore in Westmorland, as the abbey was plundered, their houses burned, their lands wasted, and their cattle, horses and oxen were driven away. (fn. 29) The strain was so great at this period that the resources of the house were unable to support the community as aforetime. In 1319 some of the monks were dispersed in different abbeys of their own order until Holmcultram was relieved of its oppressions. (fn. 30) On one occasion, in 1385, the monks paid £200 to the Earl of Douglas as an indemnity for the ransom of their church and lands from destruction. (fn. 31) In fact, up to the very time of the dissolution, the abbey was in danger of spoliation. As late as 1527 the monks petitioned parliament that they might be discharged from the office of collectors of tenths, aids, loans and other exactions, and from the payment of taxes and tallages, as their house was situated on the frontier and often in great danger from the Scots. (fn. 32)
It must not be taken that the abbey was in a perpetual state of siege and never enjoyed periods of repose. Like the rest of the country on the immediate frontier, its prosperity depended on international relations. At one time the ships of the convent traversed the Irish Sea and carried on a brisk trade with Ireland and the Isle of Man. In 1224 leave was given that the abbot might send his ship where he pleased with a cargo of wool. (fn. 33) On the patent rolls of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries numerous licences are on record to permit the buying of victuals in Ireland, Gascony and elsewhere. The monks had a good port at Skinburness within their own franchise, which was used as a naval base for the supply of provisions and stores during the wars with Scotland, (fn. 34) and so great was its use on these occasions that Edward I. gave the monks the liberty to have a free borough and a fair and market there in 1300, with an allowance for wool seized to the king's use. (fn. 35) The monks like other practical men looked after the affairs of their house and were not afraid to assert their rights when occasion demanded. In 1263 the abbot impleaded the Archbishop of York for hindering the free passage of his carts and carriages beyond the bridge of Hexham which his predecessors had always obtained when needful. (fn. 36) Before the justices itinerant in 1292 the convent successfully maintained its title to all the lands and privileges which were claimed as belonging to the house. (fn. 37) There was no fear that a powerful personage like the abbot of Holmcultram should tamely submit to unjust treatment from the secular magnates of the land. In 1300 a commission of oyer and terminer was appointed to try a cause on his complaint that William de Mulecastre, lately while he was sheriff, and others at divers times, took some of the abbot's carts, laden with victuals and other goods, on the high road in the middle of the city of Carlisle and town of Torpenhow, with the oxen drawing them, and refused to let them be replevied, so that a great number died, sold a palfrey the abbot had lent him, broke his grange at Ellenborough (Alneburgh) and carried away his oats, took away a boat with its gear at Skinburness, led away some of his beasts and sheep at Holmcultram, distrained his men and tenants of Ellen borough by their carts and draught cattle and detained them till they extorted ransom. (fn. 38)
The disturbed state of the Border did not divert attention from the need of monastic discipline. We read of John de Foriton forsaking his habit in 1352 and William de Levyngton escaping from the monastery by night in 1354, but these refractory monks were not permitted to return until they had received a papal dispensation to be reconciled. When John de Monte took it into his head to visit the Roman Court without the leave of his superior, the abbot of Holmcultram was instructed to carry out the ordinances against apostates as the monk wished to be reconciled to his Order. It is pleasing to find that some of the monks like Richard Gray, who was made a papal chaplain in 1402, had attained to ecclesiastical distinction. (fn. 39)
The exercise of the king's right to grant corrodies for good service was often a burden to the religious houses. An instance of one of these may be given to illustrate the custom. Edward II. informed the abbot and convent in 1309 that he had caused Thomas de Ardern, who served the king and his father, to be sent to them, and requested them to admit him to their house and to find him and a yeoman and two grooms serving him, food and clothing according to their stations, and to provide reasonable sustenance for his two horses. Letters patent for his lifetime to this effect were to be given him under their chapter seal and a speedy report made to the king on what they had done therein. (fn. 40) A royal pensioner of this sort could not have been a welcome visitor at Holmcultram in the crippled condition of their finances at that period.
Some idea of the hardships that houses so near the frontier had endured may be gathered from a comparison of the valuations of the temporalities of the monastery in 1291, just before the outbreak of the Scottish wars, and in 1319, the palmy days of Robert Bruce after the battle of Bannockburn. At the former period the annual revenue was returned at £206 5s. 10d., and at the later date it amounted only to £40. (fn. 41) This abbey was the wealthiest house in the counties of Cumberland and Westmorland, and owing to its exposed situation it sustained greater losses than any of the others, with the exception perhaps of Lanercost. In 1535 (fn. 42) the gross valuation of the temporalities amounted to £370 17s. 0d. and the total revenues of the house to £535 3s. 7d. After the deduction of necessary outgoings, the clear net value was taxed at £477 19s. 3d.
The abbots of Holmcultram were employed in general affairs and went about the world more than any of the heads of the local religious houses. In the great dispute between the bishop and the priory about the division of the revenues of the church of Carlisle in 1221-3, the abbot of that date was associated with the prior of Hexham as papal assessor. (fn. 43) When differences arose between the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Durham in 1329-30 touching the question of jurisdiction and the cognizance of causes, the pope appointed the abbot of Holmcultram, the prior of the friar preachers of Carlisle, and the archdeacon of the same place to act as mediators, but they petitioned to be excused as there were no lawyers thereabouts to consult, the people were ill-disposed, and Carlisle was so far from the diocese of York. (fn. 44) In 1340 and 1341 the king appointed the abbots of Holme and Calder and three laymen as collectors of the ninth of lambs, fleeces and sheaves in Cumberland. (fn. 45) During the vacancy of the see in 1352, while John de Horncastle was the elect and confirmed but not the consecrated Bishop of Carlisle, the abbot of Holme acted as vicar-general of the diocese and was re-appointed on the accession of Bishop Welton. (fn. 46) Again and again safe conducts were issued to the abbot when he wished to attend the chapter general of his order at Citeaux, and the keeper of Dover was instructed to allow him to embark at that port. (fn. 47) The daughter house of Grey Abbey and a small property in Ireland brought the abbot from time to time to that country, (fn. 48) and the fealty he owed to Melrose as well as his oversight of the grange in Galloway (fn. 49) necessitated occasional visits to Scotland in time of truce. Though the house is not reckoned among the mitred abbeys of the kingdom, the abbot was summoned to parliament and to the great Councils of State between 1294 and 1312. (fn. 50) In days of national mourning the house was selected among the greater monasteries to celebrate the obsequies of the deceased. The abbot was requested to pray for the soul of Edmund, Earl of Cornwall, in 1296, for Joan, Queen of France, in 1305, and for Philip the Fair in 1314. (fn. 51) From these circumstances we may conclude that Holmcultram occupied a pre-eminent position among the religious institutions of the county.
Some of the superiors of this monastery attained individual distinction or notoriety from various causes. Everard, the first abbot, ruled the house for the long period of fortytwo years from the date of its foundation in 1150 till his death in 1192. His name is often found in the records of that time. It was probably at Holmcultram that Huctred son of Fergus executed the deed whereby he gave a carucate of land in Crevequer to the hospital of St. Peter, York, several of the witnesses being local men, such as Everard the abbot, Robert the prior, and William the cellarer of Holmcultram, Robert archdeacon of Carlisle, Ralf clerk of the same place, Robert son of Trute sheriff of the same, Richard his brother, Hubert de Vaux, Peter del Teillos, Christian, Bishop of Whithern, who often visited the house, besides others from Galloway near to the English border. (fn. 52) Robert de Brus and Eufemia his wife (mulier) gave a fishery in Torduff to Everard and the brothers of Holme which was afterwards confirmed by Robert their son. (fn. 53) Abbot Everard perambulated the boundaries of his land of Kirkwinny in company with Christian, Bishop of Whithern, and Huctred son of Fergus, (fn. 54) and was present at Peebles when William the Lion granted the great charter to the abbey of Jedburgh. (fn. 55) The greatest function in which he ever took part was the coronation of King Richard, (fn. 56) which he attended on 3 September 1189. It was to Abbot Everard in 1185 that Pope Lucius confirmed all the possessions of the house. (fn. 57) Fordun has left us a beautiful picture of his saintly life from childhood to old age, (fn. 58) and tradition has supplemented it by ascribing to him many scholarly accomplishments. It is said that he wrote the life of St. Adamnan, of St. Cumen, and of St. Waltheve, the latter being his old superior at Melrose, but the manuscript of none of these biographies is known to be extant. (fn. 59) In 1192 he entered into rest in a good old age, full of days and virtues. (fn. 60)
Adam de Kendal has been made famous in a Scottish chronicle as the unfortunate abbot of Holmcultram. The new abbot, who succeeded about 1215, seeing the Bishop of Carlisle crippled with age and infirmity and at the gates of death, conceived the lofty ambition of gaining the episcopate at an early period. By secret intrigue and public bribery he squandered the revenues of the monastery in order to make friends of those who might be able to influence the election. Intelligence of his methods in due time reached the ears of the superior-general of the Cistercian order, who caused inquiries to be made which ended in the deposition of the abbot. Throwing himself on the mercy of the chapter, he was permitted to take up his abode at Hildekirk in the forest of Inglewood, a hermitage belonging to the abbey. When the Bishop of Carlisle died and the day for the election of his successor arrived, the deposed abbot sent a secret messenger to learn the result. But the name of Adam de Kendal was not mentioned. The disappointment so preyed on his spirits that he became insane and died in great misery at Holmcultram as a terrible warning to the ambitious. (fn. 61) The Chronicle of Melrose is silent on Adam's faults, mentioning only his resignation (suo cessit officio) in 1223. While he was abbot he made a grant of ten measures of salt annually at Martinmas to the priory of Lanercost. (fn. 62)
Another abbot of Holmcultram, deserving a special notice, was Robert Chamber, who flourished during the religious revival which preceded the dissolution of the monasteries. He was a local man of the family of Chamber of Raby Cote in that lordship and is commemorated by many fragmentary memorials scattered in various parts of that neighbourhood, either built into farm houses or still existing about the abbey church. Over the arch of the present porch of the church there is inscribed—' Robertus Chamber fecit fieri hoc opus A° Dni M.D.VII.' Upon the pedestal of a statue of the Virgin may be seen the 'chained-bear,' the well-known rebus of his name with the legend beneath, 'Lady deyr save Robert Chamber.' The inscription 'orate pro anima Roberti Chamber abbatis,' which Bishop Nicolson observed in the church at his visit in 1703, has disappeared. (fn. 63) In almost every considerable house of the parish some remnant of Abbot Chamber's work may be seen, bearing his name, initials, or some enigmatical conceit about him. In the bitter disputes which followed the suppression of the monastery, the great days of Abbot Chamber were often referred to by witnesses and their recollections recorded on the depositions. But inferences about the dates of his tenure of office are very conflicting, and no reliance can be placed on such evidences. On 12 March 1512 he was joined in a commission with the Bishop of Carlisle and William Bewlay to inquire into the possessions of George Kyrkebryde, deceased. (fn. 64) He established an alms in the abbey church for priests singing yearly masses at the altar of our Holy Saviour Jesus for the souls of Henry II. and Henry VIII. and for his own soul. (fn. 65) Robert Chamber is said to have 'rygned' as abbot of Holmcultram for thirty years.
As soon as the destruction of the religious houses became a subject of agitation in the country, it was almost impossible to preserve discipline in large communities. In Holmcultram a discreditable state of anarchy was disclosed. During the seven years before the surrender no fewer than four abbots ruled the monastery. Dan Matthew Dyves or Deveys, a monk of the house, became abbot in 1531 through the instrumentality of Robert Cokett of Bolton Percy in Yorkshire, an honour which cost the new abbot £100 in fine to the Crown. His death took place in the following year under suspicious circumstances. Sir John Lamplugh, in a letter bearing date 16 September 1532, told Cromwell that Gawyn Borradale, one of the brethren, was suspected of being implicated in the death of the abbot of Holme. The monk was arrested and imprisoned in the abbey of Furness, where he remained for about half a year. The depositions of the religious and temporal men connected with the abbey of Holmcultram have been preserved, from which it may be gathered that Borradale was suspected of poisoning Abbot Deveys in a fit of jealousy or disappointment after the election. Borradale had powerful friends and eventually attained the object of his desires. It was he who afterwards surrendered the house to the king's commissioners. (fn. 66)
The surname of the next abbot of Holmcultram was variously written as Yerbye, Jerbye and Irebye, but he probably belonged to the Cumberland family of Ireby or originated from the parish of that name. Thomas Ireby succeeded soon after the death of Abbot Deveys and gave promise of ruling the house 'according to right and conscience,' as John Lord Husey expressed it to Cromwell on 19 November 1532. The new abbot had restitution of the temporalities on 11 March 1533, for which he paid a fine of £50. The discipline of the monks was a great concern to him, and something was done during his term of office to restore confidence and promote charity after the disaster to his predecessor. Thomas Graham, a refractory brother, who held a proctorship in the church of Wigton, was called to account for neglect of his duty and his seal was revoked. Some of his letters are preserved at the Record Office, and his signature may still be read with that of Christopher Slee, prior of Carlisle, in attestation of an inventory of the 'moveables' of Lord William Dacre, seized in 1534 by the Earls of Westmorland and Cumberland and Sir Thomas Clifford, the king's commissioners. It 'pleased Gode almyghtt to call unto his mercy Thomas Irebye, our discreitt father and laitt abbot of our monasterye, whiche dyde depart from this present lyffe the xt day of August (1536), whosse sowlle Gode pardon, leivyng' the monks of Holmcultram a 'powre floke without heide or governore.' (fn. 67)
On 11 August 1536, the day following the death of Abbot Ireby, the whole monastery consisting of the sub-prior and twentyone monks signed a petition to Cromwell 'to suffer us to have our free and liberall election accordyng to the statutes and rewlles of our holly religion to elect one of the brethern of owre monastery to be heide and governore of the same,' alleging as an excuse for haste their nearness to the Scottish border and the fear 'leist the ravyschyng wolffe doo enter into the floke' in the event of any delay in the appointment of their head. (fn. 68) Intrigues were on foot. Sir Thomas Wharton recommended Graham, the monk already referred to, who offered to give 400 marks to the king's highness for the office besides his first fruits, but other arrangements were made. Thomas Carter, who was apparently not a member of the chapter of Holmcultram, was placed over the house. (fn. 69) His name appears loaded with infamy, a few months after his appointment, in that 'cleane' but unreliable 'booke of compertes' which the royal visitors presented to Parliament. In the insurrections of 1537 Abbot Carter was a prominent figure, urging his tenants to join the commons, organizing processions in his church as a supplication for their success, and going in person as an envoy on their behalf to demand the surrender of Carlisle. (fn. 70) Thomas Graham, the monk who was foiled in his ambition to become the head of the monastery at the last vacancy, was employed by the civil power as a spy on the doings of the new abbot. (fn. 71) Out of the many charges made against the abbot, Graham's depositions only may be selected:—
At the furst Insurreccon agan the Abbott.
Item, yt the abbot sent to W. Alanbe yt he schuld scend to James Hounter to warn all abowt hym to be at Waytlynghow upon payn of hayngynge too meet ye comanes there.
Item, the abbot was mayde comyssyonr to Carlell ffrom ye comanes and rode towert Carlell as nere as he durst and send to them yt was wth in ye cetee and askytt delyver of ye town to ye comones,
Item, the abbot rod to Pereth to ye comanes yt rod to Yorke, and ther the said abbatt gayve them ample to ther expensys.
Item, the said abbot spake with one Hew Will'mson at the last Insurreccon, the day afor the comanes lade siege to Carlell, and askytt hym 'qwhat newys' and the said Hew answerd & said to hym agayn, 'ther was never sayke agatheryng to ye brodfeld as ther was yt day afore': and the abbot answerytt & sayde, 'All myghty god prossper them, for yffe they sped not this abbe ys lost:' and upon the sayng he sent for ys subprior and comandyt hym to cawse the brether to goo daly wt processcon to speed ye comones jorney.
The Articles of brakyng of ye Kynges graces
Iniunccons as her after folloys:
Item, yt the abbot hays broght dyvers woman in the inwart partes of or monistry to dyn and suppe agans or Iniunccons.
Item, yt the said abbott hays sold, wthoute ony lycens of ye kynges grace or of his vicittores, as myche platt as com to houndreth poundes & more.
Item, the said Abbat hays gyffyng or covent seyll agayns iij or iiij of ye bredrs myndes agayns or monisty profett,
Item, the said abbatt gayffe too ye abbott of Byland, ffor helpyng hym too ys promocon, a salt of gold & sylver to valoo of xxte markes & more.
Item, yt the abbot haithe sold or joelles of or kyrke.
Item, the said abbot hays lattyng or demaynes agans ye kynges grace Iniunccon.
Item, the abbot, sens the kynges graces pardon was gyffyng, cawsytt hys tennands a gayns ther wyll to mustr afor hym in the kyrke, & therby wold hayve them to ryddyng to ye brodfell to the comanes, & ye denyett hym & said they wold not go, excepe he went wth them hys selffe: and befor them all the said abbot comandytt Cudbert Musgrave, of ye comones nayme, to take the tennandes & go to the brod fell, & so bothe Cudbert & all tenands denyett ye abbot comandment & wold not go: & yis aforsaid I will refere me to tennandes qwether it was so or nay: & this comandment & mettyng was the day befor the comanes laid sieges to Carlell.
Item, all the sterryng of ye tennandes wthin the Holme lordscheppe was euer be ye commandment of ye abbot, bothe at the furst insurreccon & also at ye last, qwhen he cawst them to com to ye abbey.
At ye last Insurreccon qwhen he comandytt them to ryde too ye brod feld wth Cudbert Musgrave.
per Tho. Graym, monicum.
(Endorsed.) The Abbot of Holm to incite his Tenants to come wth the Rebells at the broadfeild. (fn. 72)
It is probable that the life of Abbot Carter was forfeited by his complicity in the insurrection, for before the year 1537 was ended another abbot reigned in his stead.
Gawen Borudale or Borradale, the monk previously suspected of poisoning Abbot Deveys, was appointed a few months before the dissolution of the monastery. In a letter to Cromwell, dated 23 January 1538, Sir Thomas Wharton stated he had seen in the abbot of Holme 'ryght honest procedynges and a good borderer in ye kynges graces affayres.' On 6 March following, the house was surrendered to Thomas Leigh, LL.D., in the presence of John Leigh, William Blithman, James Rookesby, William Leigh, Thomas Dalston and others. The deed of surrender was signed by the abbot and twenty-four monks and sealed with the seal of the convent. Within a fortnight after the surrender, 18 March, the community was turned adrift, or in the words of Dr. Leigh, the monastery was 'withe moche quyetnes and contentacion of the cuntry dissolvyd and the monckis in secular apparell, having honest rewardis in ther purses, be disparsyd abrode.' The late abbot continued in spiritual charge of the lordship of Holmcultram and had 'for his logyng,' with which he was 'ryght well contentyd, the chambre that he was in before he was abbot, then called the selleras chambre, and the chambre at the stayr hed adjoynyng to the same.' The brethren received pensions in varying sums from 40s. to £6 and returned to secular life. (fn. 73) On the earnest supplication of the inhabitants of Holme the abbey church was not destroyed. It was not only to them their parish church, they pleaded, 'and little ynoughe to receyve all us your poore orators, but also a grete ayde, socor, and defence for us ayenst our neighbors the Scotts, withe out the whiche few or none of your lordshipps supplyants are able to do the king is saide hieghnes our bounden duetye and service.' (fn. 74) Since that date the church has been shorn of many of its glories and suffered many misfortunes.
Abbots of Holmcultram
Everard, 1150-92 (fn. 75)
Gregory, 1192 (fn. 76)
William de Curcy, translated to Melrose in 1215, (fn. 77) thence to Rievaulx in 1216
Adam de Kendal, 1215-23 (fn. 78)
Ralf, 1223 (fn. 79)
William, resigned in 1233 (fn. 80)
Gilbert, 1233-7 (fn. 81)
John, 1237-55 (fn. 82)
Robert de Rawbankes or Rabankes, 1365, 1379 (fn. 96)
(?) Gregory, (fn. 97) temp. Richard II.
(?) Robert Pym, ascribed to the fifteenth century (fn. 98)
William Reddekar, circa 1434 (fn. 99)
John Nicolson (fn. 105)
Matthew Dyves or Deveys, 1531 (fn. 106)
Thomas Ireby, Yerbye, or Jerbye, 1533, 1536
Thomas Carter, 1537
Gawen Borudale (Borrodale), last abbot, 1538
The seal of the convent attached to the deed of surrender (fn. 107) bears a full length figure of the Blessed Virgin with the Child on her left arm and the inscription slightly mutilated: SI: COMUNE: ABBATIS: ET: CONVENTUS: DE: HOLM: COLTRAM.
In the British Museum there is the cast of a seal, injured in places by pressure, and ascribed to the thirteenth century, (fn. 108) which may have belonged to Abbot Gervase (1274, 1279), or to either of his predecessors, Gregory or Gilbert. It is a pointed oval. The Virgin with a crown holds the Child on the left arm and stands on a shield of the arms of England under a trefoiled canopy supported on slender shafts.' At the base of the shield are two busts with hands supporting it. On each side is a small niche containing on the left a saint with crown and sceptre, on the right a bishop or abbot. In the base is a lion dormant. The legend has been mutilated: S. C . . . . . . . . . BATIS ET CONVENTVS DE HOLMCOLTRAM.
There is in the British Museum the cast of a seal ascribed to Abbot Thomas, (fn. 111) of date about 1350. The abbot is standing under a canopy supported on slender shafts with a pastoral staff in his right hand and a book in his left. In the base is a lion's face and outside the shafts on each side is a wavy sprig of foliage. This legend is imperfect: SIGILLUM ABBA . . . HOLMCOLTRAM.