A History of the County of Dorset: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.
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HOUSES OF BENEDICTINE MONKS
1. THE ABBEY OF ABBOTSBURY
Coker states in his Survey of the Countie of Dorset, quoting the register of the monastery, unfortunately destroyed with the mansion-house of the Strangeways at Abbotsbury in the civil wars of Charles I, that here
was built in the verie infancie of Christianitie amongst the Britains a church to St. Peter by Bertufus an holie priest unto whom the same saint had often appeared and amongst other things gave him a charter written with his owne Hande,
professing therein 'to have consecrated the church himself and to have given it to Name Abodesbyry.' Afterwards
King Canute gave to Sir Ore his Houscarle this Abotsbury as alsoe Portsham and Helton; all which the said Ore and Dame Thole his wife having no issue gave unto the church of St. Peter at Abotsbury, longe before built but then decayed and forsaken by reason the Rovers from the sea often infested it. (fn. 1)
In the above account we have the name of the founder of Abbotsbury as generally accepted: 'Sir Ore' or Ore, Orcus, Orcy or Urce, steward of the palace of King Canute and Tola or Thola his wife. The date of their foundation however varies with different historians. Reyner, in his history of the Benedictine order in England, gives the year 1026, (fn. 2) Tanner states that about 1026 Orcus instituted a society of secular canons here which he or Tola his widow changed to a monastery of the Benedictine order in the reign of Edward the Confessor (fn. 3) Again, according to Coker, the monastery was built by Orcus in 1044 and 'stored' with Benedictine monks from the abbey of Cerne. (fn. 4) It would seem from the rules drawn up by Orcus for his gild or fraternity of St. Peter at Abbotsbury (fn. 5) that a society existed here previously which was later converted into a monastic establishment.
Canute by charter dated 1024 bestowed Portisham on his servant Orcus. (fn. 6) Tola or Thola, the wife of Orcus, and a native of Rouen, Normandy, purchased Tolpuddle, and with her husband gave it to the monks together with Abbotsbury, Portisham, Hilton and 'Anstic.' (fn. 7) Edward the Confessor by one charter gave to Orcus, who was his housecarl as he had been Canute's, the shore in all his lands and all wrecks of the same, (fn. 8) and by another charter notified Herman the bishop and Harold the earl that he had granted a licence to Tola the widow of Orcus to bequeath all her land and goods to the monastery of St. Peter of Abbotsbury, according to an agreement that on the death of husband and wife their possessions should pass to the house, of which the king now declared himself the guardian and protector. (fn. 9) William the Conqueror testified by his charter to the same bishop and Hugh Fitz Grip, the Norman sheriff, that, for the love of God and the soul of his kinsman King Edward, he had granted to the abbot and brethren of Abbotsbury their land as free and quit as it was held in the time of his predecessor together with the right of soc, sac, tol, team, infangnetheof and wreck of the sea, and he desired the abbey should lose nothing unjustly but should be honourably treated. (fn. 10)
In the Domesday Survey the abbey held the following manors: Abbotsbury, Tolpuddle, Hilton, Portisham, Shilvinghampton, Wootton Abbas, Bourton and Stoke Atram. The monks complained at the same time that a hide belonging to the manor of Abbotsbury, which had been assigned to their living in the time of Edward the Confessor, had been unjustly reft from them by the Norman sheriff Hugh Fitz Grip, and that his widow had taken six; in the same manner they had been deprived of a virgate of land in Portisham. (fn. 11) In a letter to the king about his assessment in the year 1166 Abbot Geoffrey deposed that Roger the bishop when he had the custody of the abbey gave to Nicholas de Meriet 2 hides of land at Stoke Atram for the marriage of a niece, the deed being contrary to the wish of the convent. (fn. 12)
By an inquisition before the king's escheator John le Moyne, and Andrew Wake sheriff of Dorset, at Uggscombe, Wednesday before the Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude (28 Oct.), 1268, as to the rights and privileges of the abbey, it was declared that the abbot and his predecessors had all liberties and free customs with soc, sac, tol, team and infangnetheof within their lands in the hundred of Uggscombe but not in their other lands at Hilton, Tolpuddle, 'Oth,' and Wootton Abbas 'which last is in the hundred of Whitchurch,' that they were free of the suit of that hundred by grant of Robert de Mandevile, formerly lord of the hundred, except that their villeins were bound to come thrice a year to la lagh-day to present the pleas of the crown without hindrance. The abbot and his predecessors were discharged from all military service to the king by the service of one knight; (fn. 13) wreck of the sea was said always to have belonged to them, and they had always enjoyed it. The jury further declared that the abbey had acquired grants of land in the following places: Granston, Wytherstone, 'Deneham,' 'Poeyeto,' Bexington, Shipton, Poorton, East and West Chaldon, Morebath, Wraxall, Winterborne Steepleton, Wareham, Upway, Broadway, Langton, Bridport, Dorchester, 'Brigge,' Preston in co. Somerset, and Hornington. (fn. 14) Henry III by charter dated 15 November, 1269, inspected and confirmed the charters previously granted to the abbey by his predecessors the kings of England, William the Conqueror, Henry I, Stephen, and Henry II, with all privileges and gifts. (fn. 15) The convent obtained from the king two years later a grant enabling them to hold a weekly market and yearly fair in their manor of Hilton. (fn. 16) Edward I gave them leave to hold a market at Abbotsbury. (fn. 17) Edward II in 1315 confirmed anew their right to wreck of the sea in connexion with a whale (crassus piscis) cast up on the coast. (fn. 18) Edward III confirmed their right of free warren over their lands at Abbotsbury, Portisham, Granston, Wootton Abbas, Wytherstone, Hilton, Tolpuddle, Ramsbury (Dorset), and Holwell (Somerset. (fn. 19) Edward IV in the first year of his reign, 1461, made a grant to the abbot and convent of St. Peter's, Abbotsbury, of the hundred of Uggscombe, with view of frankpledge and all issues pertaining thereto, rendering the true yearly value at the exchequer. (fn. 20)
According to the Taxatio of 1291 the spiritualities of the abbey amounted to £13 9s. 4d., including £12 from the church of Tolpuddle assigned to the pittance of the monks; their temporalities were valued at £81 10s. 10d. in the deanery of Bridport including £31 7s. 2d. from Abbotsbury with 'Luk' and Langton, £3 1s. from the deanery of Dorchester, £36 7s. 6d. from the deanery of Whitchurch and £1 6s. 8d. from the deanery of Shaftesbury, the whole income of the convent being assessed at £135 15s. 4d. (fn. 21)
At the beginning of the thirteenth century, the abbey in common with other ecclesiastical appointments was kept vacant by John who, in the meantime, enjoyed the proceeds or bestowed them on his followers. We read that in April, 1212, the king presented to the church of Hilton, the abbey being void and in his hands. (fn. 22) The January following, the custody of the house was granted during pleasure to Roger de Preauton; it was not until 15 July, 1213, that an order was directed to the prior and convent to send certain men out of their number whom they should choose to the king for an abbot to be appointed. (fn. 23) A few days later the custodians of the abbeys of Abbotsbury, Milton and Sherborne were notified that the king had sent to them eighteen cart-horses and seven sick palfreys, and that all charges both for them and the men accompanying them should be accounted for at the exchequer. (fn. 24)
Abbotsbury escaped none of the burdens incidental to a religious house of any importance and under the royal patronage. In 1244 Henry Lombard was sent to the abbot and convent with a request that they would find him the necessaries of life in their house. (fn. 25) Edward II in 1309 sent Norman Beaufiz to receive maintenance, and a robe or 20s. yearly. (fn. 26) During the period of the Scotch wars the abbey received the usual requests for aid, and a little later for shelter for disabled warriors. (fn. 27) William Spyney, crossbowman, was transferred here in January, 1317; (fn. 28) William Deyvill was sent in August, 1331, to receive such maintenance as Norman Beaufiz, deceased, had had; (fn. 29) and six years later a request was made that the abbot and convent would give maintenance to John de Sancto Albano. (fn. 30) It is evident that demands of this kind were not welcomed by the different religious houses. On 20 April, 1339, the abbey of Abbotsbury was ordered to receive and provide maintenance for two hostages of the town of Berwick-on-Tweed to be sent to them from the abbey of Glastonbury, (fn. 31) and on 6 October of the same year they were ordered to transfer them to the abbey of Tavistock. (fn. 32) The monks of Tavistock appear to have flatly declined to receive the hostages, (fn. 33) who consequently remained at Abbotsbury. On 3 December orders were issued for their removal to the priory of Bruton; (fn. 34) on 16 January next, 1340, to the abbey of St. Augustine, Bristol; (fn. 35) on 15 February the abbot and convent of Chertsey were ordered to receive these unwelcome guests; (fn. 36) the abbot and convent of Shrewsbury received a similar order the following day. (fn. 37)
Nor did this exhaust the calls made upon the house; the community who enjoyed the royal patronage were required on the creation of an abbot to grant a pension to a clerk of the king's appointment, and in December, 1321, following the election of Peter de Sherborne, we read that the pension was claimed by John Bellymont, king's clerk; (fn. 38) in 1324, on the election of William Fauconer, Peter de Mount Toure obtained letters entitling him to the same; (fn. 39) and in 1344, on the election of Walter de Saunford, the abbot was ordered to grant the customary pension to Jordan de Cantuaria. (fn. 40) These various grants and liveries were still claimed in the succeeding century. Thomas Ryngwode in 1400 was sent to the convent to receive such sustenance as Thomas Stanes deceased, had had, (fn. 41) and a corrody in the monastery was granted in 1517 to Robert Penne, gentleman of the Chapel Royal vice Edward Jones deceased. (fn. 42)
The abbey was frequently chosen as a place of burial, and for the foundation of chantries. A licence was granted in 1323 to Robert le Bret for the alienation of certain lands in Holwell to the abbot and convent for the provision of a chaplain to celebrate daily in the abbey church for the soul of Richard le Bret, the father of the founder, for the souls of his ancestors, and all the faithful departed; (fn. 43) and in 1392, on payment of £20 by the monks, Robert, vicar of Portisham, and others were licensed to alienate two messuages in Dorchester, &c., for the provision of a monk chaplain who should celebrate daily at the altar of St. Andrew in the abbey for the good estate of Elizabeth, late the wife of John Mautravers, knt., for her soul after death, and that of her husband, for the maintenance of their anniversary, and for certain other charges and works of piety. (fn. 44) The Clopton chantry, founded by Sir Walter Clopton, was valued at the time of its suppression at 108s. 4d. (fn. 45) The Strangeways chantry was founded in 1505 in the chapel of St. Mary within the abbey, the abbot by a tripartite deed between himself and the convent of the one part, William abbot of Milton of the other part, and Thomas Strangeways, executor of Alianor, late the wife of Thomas Strangeways, senior, of the third part, engaging in return for certain benefactions to provide a chaplain to celebrate daily for the good estate of Henry VII and Edmund, bishop of Salisbury, &c., and for the souls of the said Alianor and Thomas Strangeways and their friends and ancestors. (fn. 46) This does not exhaust the number of those who made considerable bequests to the community in order to receive the benefit of their prayers.
The poverty which befel Abbotsbury in the fourteenth century, though largely due to its situation—exposed on the one hand to the attack of invaders, and eaten up on the other by the forces sent to defend the coast—was at the same time greatly fostered by the bad government of one of the abbots, Walter de Stokes (1348-54). (fn. 47) The attention of the bishop was drawn to the house during his rule, and on 29 October, 1353, he wrote to the abbot and convent that since visiting their monastery 'for various causes' and being at considerable pains to reform what he had found amiss, it had come to his ears that against 'good obedience' the community had deliberately spurned his orders to the danger of souls and the scandal of the neighbourhood; he therefore summoned them to appear before him or his official in the chapter-house of their abbey on Monday, after the feast of St. Martin the Bishop (11 November) to answer for their conduct. (fn. 48) A letter from Edward III to the bishop soon followed, stating that he had committed the custody of the goods of the house, which, owing to the defective rule of the abbot, were insufficient to maintain the community or to meet its debts, to Robert de Faryngdon, prior, and Henry de Tolre, monk, Walter Waleys, clerk, Thomas Carey, and John de Mautravers. (fn. 49) This arrangement was not destined to run as smoothly as might have been desired. Among the collection of Ancient Petitions is a letter addressed by the abbot, whose bad rule had caused him to be set aside, to the archbishop of York, in which, complaining bitterly of his treatment at the hands of the above custodians, he states that they had withdrawn from him all the privileges to which he was entitled—his accustomed chamber, competent board and clothing, the services of a squire, two chamberlains and two grooms to attend to his horses—so that, 'insufficiently clad' (indecenter vestitus) and with his shoes 'enormously in holes' (enormiter infractis) he had been compelled to proceed more than 18 miles on foot in order to execute his business. (fn. 50) The prior and other custodians had also their tale of complaints. According to them, the abbot had declined to fall in with the arrangements made for the whole community to lodge in one convenient house until the debt on the abbey, amounting to £534, had been wiped off; he omitted to attend the offices, would not come to the refectory, required all his meals to be served at his own convenience in his own chamber, and was spending money in divers parts of the county, heaping up debts and obligations which the house was wholly unable to meet; at the same time the seal of the abbey had been stolen by his adherents, and affixed to various deeds and grants prejudicial to the monastery. (fn. 51) These complaints were not groundless, as was found by an inquisition held on 25 March, 1354, to inquire as to the lands and rents illegally alienated; the jury reported that among various grants by the abbot before the custody had been taken out of his hands was one for a corrody and a robe for which he had received £20; he was also said to keep hunting dogs, to have retained an excessive number of servants and retainers, and to be in the habit of giving unnecessary presents; the injury he had thus done to the house being estimated at £855 10s. 8d. (fn. 52) Fortunately for the community the abbot's career was cut short by death the same year. The following year the church of Winterborne St. Martin was appropriated to the monastery; (fn. 53) in 1361 the church of Toller Porcorum was annexed on account of poverty, and the charges incurred by the reception of numerous guests. (fn. 54) In 1386 Pope Urban VI, in reply to a petition from the abbot and convent representing their house, which was situated on the coast, as frequently invaded by Spaniards, Normans, and Bretons, and eaten up by the defenders of the kingdom, so that unless help could be afforded it must be destroyed and divine services cease, requested the bishop of Salisbury to appropriate the church of Tolpuddle to the uses of the brethren. (fn. 55) The convent in 1390 obtained from Boniface IX a grant appropriating anew the parish churches of Abbotsbury, Portisham, Winterborne St. Martin, Toller Porcorum, and Tolpuddle, 'of which the first two were of old and the next 3 over 40 years ago incorporated by authority of the ordinary, and the last 2 by papal authority.' Their revenues, after deducting vicars' portions, came to 400 marks, the revenues of the monastery being 500, and 14 marks were to be assigned to each vicar. (fn. 56)
With the exception of the appointment of abbots, references to Abbotsbury in the fifteenth century are rare. (fn. 57) We have the decrees published by Bishop Chandler after visiting the abbey in 1436. The community were warned generally against making grants rashly, and greater formality in their drawing up was enjoined. The abbot was directed, 'as wine and women cause men to err,' not to buy more wine than was absolutely necessary for the use of the monastery; he was to be permitted to have sweet wine for his table and the entertainment of his guests 'in small and minute vessels' (vasis); the entrance of women was prohibited, the abbot, if convicted on the evidence of two witnesses, should be suspended for a month; the brethren were forbidden to resort to a certain chamber for the purpose of 'confabulation.' (fn. 58)
The notorious Dr. Legh appears to have visited this house on the eve of the Dissolution, for in a letter headed 'Thos. Legh, visitor of Abbotsbury,' he appoints a certain Vincent to be prior in the house, and desires the inmates to be attentive and obedient to him. (fn. 59) Thomas Bradford occurs, however, as prior in the surrender deed of the house.
In the Valor of 1535 the spiritualities of the abbey were returned at £45 9s. 3d. from the churches of Tolpuddle, Portisham, Abbotsbury, Winterborne St. Martin, and Toller Porcorum (fn. 60); the temporalities were valued at £356 6s. 7d., (fn. 61) making a total income of £401 15s. 10d. It would seem, from the list of anniversaries kept by the monks, that the community were faithful in the observance of one of their main duties, the obligation to commemorate for the souls of their founders and benefactors. (fn. 62)
A curious document, cited by Hutchins in full, (fn. 63) brings certain charges against the last abbot of Abbotsbury, Roger Roddon, elected in 1534. (fn. 64) Headed 'of the monasterye of Abbotsburye and of the saide Abbate thereof, of the mysse-usynge of hymselfe,' it runs, 'whereas he doth breke the kyng's foundacons and the injuncyons of the same,' and proceeds to denounce the superior for nonobservance of the conditions on which the monastery had received land from benefactors; for wasting and wrongfully selling woods; for making away with jewels and plate out of the treasury of the value of which no record has been kept;
also that he hath an abhomynable rule wyth kepyng of wymen nott wyth i, ii or iii but wyth manie more . . . and no relegon he kepyth nor bye day nether bye nyghte.
Unfortunately we have no information as to the veracity of the writer (fn. 65) who signs himself 'Dan. Will. Grey, Muncke of Abbatsburie.' He is included in the list of those who received pensions on the surrender of the abbey, 12 March, 1539; the abbot who surrendered with the prior and eight brethren receiving a pension of £80; the prior, Thomas Bradford, £9; Thomas Tolpuddle, £7; six other brethren, among whose names are entered William Grey and John Vynsant, £6 to £5 each; Thomas Holnest, 40s. (fn. 66)
The site of the abbey was afterwards granted to Sir Giles Strangeways, knt., by Henry VIII. (fn. 67)
Abbots of Abbotsbury
William tempo Henry ii (fn. 68)
Geoffrey occurs about 1166 (fn. 69)
Roger occurs 1201 (fn. 70)
Hugh occurs 1204-5 (fn. 71)
Hugh occurs 1238 (fn. 72)
Roger de Brideton elected 1246 (fn. 73)
John de Hilton elected 1257 (fn. 74) died 1284
Philip de Sherborne elected 1284 (fn. 75) died 1296
William de Kingston elected 1297 (fn. 76) but his election quashed by the bishop
Benedict de Loders appointed 1297 (fn. 77) died 1320
Ralph de Sherborne elected 1320 (fn. 78) died 1321
Peter de Sherborne elected 1321 (fn. 79) died 1324
William de Faukener or Fauconer elected 1324 (fn. 80) died 1343
Walter de Saunford or Samford elected 1343 (fn. 81) died 1348 probably of the plague
Walter de Stokes elected 1348 (fn. 82) died 1354
Henry Tolre elected 1354 (fn. 83)
Henry de Thorpe died 1376 (fn. 84)
William Cerne elected 1376 (fn. 85) died 1401
Robert Bylsay elected 1401 (fn. 86) died 1426
Richard Percy elected 1426 (fn. 87) resigned 1442
Edward Watton elected 1442 (fn. 88) died 1452
William Wuller elected 1452 (fn. 89) died 1468
Hugh Dorchester elected 1468 (fn. 90) died 1496
John Abbotsbury elected 1496 (fn. 91)
John Portesham elected 1505 (fn. 92)
Roger Roddon elected 1534 surrendered 1539 (fn. 93)
A round eleventh-century seal attached to the surrender deed of the abbey, the impression of which is fragmentary, represents one of the fronts of the abbey church with porch and side towers. At base is an arcade of round-headed arches. The legend is destroyed. (fn. 94)
The seal of Abbot Walter  represents in a quatrefoiled panel St. Catherine with a wheel, the abbot kneeling before her. (fn. 95) The legend is very defective.