Houses of Benedictine monks: The abbey of Sherborne

Pages 62-70

A History of the County of Dorset: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.

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The foundation of the abbey of St. Mary is usually attributed to Bishop Aldhelm at or about the time of the establishment of the episcopal see at Sherborne in 705, (fn. 1) and though, according to an ancient record mentioning a grant to the house of 100 hides of land at 'Lanprobi' by Cenwalch, king of the West Saxons, who died in 672, (fn. 2) it might be said to claim even greater antiquity, this is the date popularly accepted.

Among the grants enumerated in a list of the names and benefactions of the 'kings, founders of the church of Sherborne,' (fn. 3) are lands, many of which figure later in the possessions of the monks on the reconstruction of the house originally built for secular canons, and must have formed its earlier endowment: 5 hides of land at Oborne the gift of King Edgar; 5 hides out of 36 at Bradford, 'Cerdel,' Halstock, and Yetminster, with Netherbury and 'Ethelaldingham' granted by King Æthelwulf (Athulfus); King Athertus gave the liberty of 140 hides, and in Up Cerne 12 hides, in Tavistock 8, in Stalbridge 20, in Compton 8; King Kenewulf gave 5 hides at Affpuddle and 1 hide in Lyme; King Cuthred 12 hides in 'Lydene,' 10 in Corscombe, 25 at 'Menedid'; King Kenewulf 6 hides in Chard stock, 8 in Toller Whelme, in 'Wegencesfunte' and Alton 30 hides, in 'Crutesdune' 36 hides and 'Wytecumbe' and 'Wluene'; King Offa Potterne with its appurtenances; King Egbert 10 hides near Cerne, &c.; King Sigeberht 5 hides in 'Boselington' and 7 in East Cann; King Ine gave 7 hides near 'Predian' and in 'Conbusburie' 20 hides; King Geroncius gave 5 hides in 'Macnir by Thamar'; King Æthelred gave 'Atforde' and 'Clethangre,' and gave and restored Corscombe in oblatum, which Canute afterwards restored. (fn. 4) It is recorded in addition to these grants (fn. 5) that King Æthelstan by charter gave to the familia at Sherborne land at Bradford Abbas on condition that they should say psalms and masses for the redemption of his soul on the feast of All Saints, (fn. 6) and at Weston with the stipulation that they should pray for his soul and the soul of Beorhtwulf the earl; (fn. 7) about the year 903 King Eadred granted to Bishop Wulfsige 8 carucates of land at Thornford, with the reversion of the estate on his death to the monastery. (fn. 8)

In the ninth century the abbey seems to have shared with Wimborne the honour of giving burial to the kings and bishops of Wessex. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that King Æthelbald was buried here in 860, and Æthelbert, who succeeded him, in 866. (fn. 9) Leland, writing in the sixteenth century, says the two kings were buried 'yn a place behinde the highe altare of S. Marie chirche, but ther now be no tumbes, nor no writing of them sene.' (fn. 10) In 867, after he had held the bishopric 'fifty winters,' died Bishop Ealhstan, 'of great power in worldly affairs and eminent in counsel,' who took a personal share in the wars of Egbert, and by his example and generosity inspired king and people to continue the struggle against the Danes; (fn. 11) 'his body lies in the town.' (fn. 12)

The reconstruction of the house and the substitution of monks for the secular canons, who had occupied it for nearly two centuries, took place in the reign of Æthelred by the agency of Bishop Wulfsige, 992-1001. (fn. 13) The king's charter, dated 998, recites that by the persuasion of Archbishop Ælfric and the advice of his nobles he has licensed the bishop to ordain and institute a rule of monks in the monastery of Sherborne according to the constitution of St. Benedict, and enacts that none of the bishop's successors should in consequence usurp the temporal possessions of the monks, but as shepherds, and not tyrants nor with wolfish rapacity, should govern according to pastoral authority and for the benefit of the community, while any question creating discord between the shepherd and the flock should be referred to the archbishop, who should advise the king as to any necessary amendments; and whereas it was not usual to constitute an abbot in the episcopal see, the bishop in virtue of his office should be abbot and father to the brethren, who should be obedient to him as sons and live as monks, in chastity, humility, and subjection. (fn. 14) The charter of Bishop Wulfsige declares that having expelled the clerks in pursuance of the king's order, he has ordained and constituted worthy (sapientes) monks in their place in the church of St. Mary of Sherborne, and restored to them the lands and possessions or those who from the beginning served in this holy place to the praise and glory of God, together with a carucate of land in the vill of Sherborne, the tithe of the bishopric and every tenth field in the whole of the said vill, and 24 cart-loads of wood yearly. (fn. 15)

On comparing the estates confirmed to the reconstituted house by King Æthelred, at the close of the tenth century, with the lands in the possession of the monks in the return of 1086, it will be found that the monastery had passed through the social and political changes following the Norman Conquest without incurring any serious territorial loss or deprivation. (fn. 16) The possessions enumerated in the confirmation charter of Æthelred in 998 consist of a hundred fields in a place called Stockland in Sherborne itself, with the estate (praedium) of the monastery as Bishop Wulfsige had inclosed it with hedges and ditches; 9 cassates of land in a place called 'Holancumb,' 15 in Halstock, 7 in Thornford, 10 in Bradford, 5 in Oborne, 8 in Weston, 20 in Stalbridge, 10 in 'Wulfheardingstoke,' 8 in Compton, 2 in 'Osanstoke,' and a manor near the sea-coast called 'At Lyme.' (fn. 17) The nine manors specifically assigned to the living of the monks, apart from the 'land of the bishop of Salisbury,' in the Domesday Survey are returned as follows:—Sherborne with 9½ carucates of land valued at £6 10s., Oborne with 5 hides, Thornford with 7, Bradford with 10, Compton with 6 hides and 3 virgates, Stalbridge with 20 hides, Weston with 8, Corscombe with 10 hides less 1 virgate, Stoke Abbas with 10 hides; the value of the whole amounting to £63 10s. (fn. 18) It was reported that 3 virgates of land in the manor of Stalbridge, held by Manasses, had been taken from the church by W. the king's son, without the consent of the bishop or the monks.

The loss of influence and position that might have been expected to follow the removal in 1075 of the episcopal see from Sherborne to Old Sarum was in a great measure obviated by the readjustments initiated by Roger of Salisbury in the succeeding century. The bishop in 1122, with the consent of Henry I, united the former abbey of Horton to Sherborne as a dependent cell, and raised the latter house, of which he as diocesan was titular head, to the dignity of an abbey, (fn. 19) Thurstan being consecrated the same year its first abbot. (fn. 20) Various other arrangements and agreements on the part of successive abbots and the bishop and chapter of Salisbury followed this change. Clement, then abbot, quitclaimed to Jocelin the bishop and the cathedral church of Salisbury, about the year 1160, the castle of Sherborne, formerly built by the great Roger of Salisbury; (fn. 21) and the same bishop by his charter recited and confirmed the rights and privileges of the abbot as holder of a prebend in the cathedral, constituted by Bishop Osmund from the parish church of Sherborne and its tithes and chapels, which entitled the superior of the abbey to a stall in the cathedral choir and a place in the chapter, the grant expressly stipulating that on the decease of an abbot no portion of the profits of the prebend should fall to the communa because it was conferred on the monastery itself and not expressly on the abbot. (fn. 22) The patent rolls record that on 22 July, 1386, the abbot and convent leased their house in the cathedral close in favour of John de Chilterne, canon of Salisbury. (fn. 23) In 1191 the monks made over the churches of Lyme and Halstock to the bishop and chapter to constitute a prebend in the cathedral church of Salisbury to the honour of God and the 'glorious virgin,' (fn. 24) and on the same date received a grant appropriating the church of Stalbridge and Stoke to the use of the abbey—saving a reasonable sustenance to be provided for the perpetual vicar ministering in the aforesaid churches—and a licence to receive 2 marks annually from the church of Corscombe when it should next become vacant. (fn. 25) Though by no means inconsiderable, the rent-roll of the abbey of Sherborne was comparable at no time to that of Shaftesbury, and even at this early date 'the poverty and narrowness of means of the house of Sherborne' are alluded to in the bishop's grant. In 1238 a composition between the convent and the bishop of Salisbury released to the former all amercements of the assize of bread and ale in the hundred of Sherborne and Beaminster which had been claimed against them, in return for which they agreed to pay the bishop and his successors half a mark annually at Easter. (fn. 26) The bishop claimed the right to instal all superiors on their appointment; and in or about the year 1217 Philip, abbot of Sherborne, acknowledging that he had incurred the displeasure of the diocesan by entering on the abbacy without his authority, pledged himself that no abbot in future should be enthroned save by the bishop of Salisbury or by his special mandate. (fn. 27) The cathedral chapter, too, had their prerogative, and in 1242 the prior and convent were required to certify that the rights of the church of Salisbury should not in future suffer infringement because the abbot-elect, John de Hele, had recently received the benediction at Ramsbury on account of the ill health of the diocesan instead of in the cathedral. (fn. 28)

The bull of Pope Eugenius III in 1145 recites that at the request of the monks he has confirmed to the monastery of St. Mary of Sherborne, which he has taken under the protection of St. Peter, the following possessions:—The monastery itself with all its lands, rents, and liberties conferred by the kings of England and the bishops of Salisbury; the church of Stalbridge and of Horton with its chapels of Knowlton and 'Chesilberie'; the chapel of Oborne; the church of St. Mary Magdalen by the castle with its two chapels and appurtenances; the church of St. Andrew in Sherborne; the churches of Bradford, Halstock, Corscombe, and Stoke with the chapel and all its appurtenances; the churches of Lyme and Fleet (Dorset), Littleham and Carswell (Devon), and 'Cadweli' or Kidwelly in Caer marthenshire, (fn. 29) cell to Sherborne; the towns of Stalbridge, Weston, Oborne, Thornford, Bradford, Wyke, and 'Hloscum' with all their appurtenances; Compton with Over and Nether Compton, 'Propeschirche' and Stockland with woods, meadows and two mills; the street before the monastery in Sherborne, extending as far as the church of St. Andrew, with the mill by the monastery and the mill by St. Andrew's church; three taxable houses in Sherborne with other houses belonging to them, the taxable houses round the court (atrium) of the monastery with their orchards and appurtenances; all the taxable houses in the burgh of Wareham with the chapel of St. Andrew; the towns of Horton, Kington, Halstock, Coringdon, Corscombe, Stoke, Bromley, 'Laurechestoc,' Fleet, Beer, and Seaton with their salt-pits and other appurtenances; the fisheries of Fleet, Beer, and Seaton; Littleham with its fisheries, meadows, woods, &c.; Carswell and Bromley; various tithes with three cart-loads of hay yearly in Bere, and one cart-load from the demesne of the bishop; the sepulture of the place free for those who should desire to be buried there, except for such as should die excommunicated and saving the rights of the mother church. On the death of the abbot or any of his successors no one should be set over them except by the common consent of the brethren or the counsel of the wiser of them. (fn. 30) The bull of Alexander III, with some additions, confirms to the abbey in 1163 the possessions enumerated in the bull of 1145. (fn. 31) The Taxatio of 1291 gives the abbot and convent pensions amounting to £9 12s. 6d. from the churches of Stalbridge, Holy Trinity Wareham, and Corscombe in the diocese of Salisbury; (fn. 32) their temporalities assessed at £126 15s. 2d. included lands and rents valued at £23 4s. 8d. in the diocese of Exeter (fn. 33); £5 in the diocese of Bath and Wells (fn. 34); and £66 2s. 2d. in the deanery of Shaftesbury in the Salisbury diocese. (fn. 35)

The possessions of the abbey rendered it liable to various services and taxations, and the demands incidental more especially to houses of the Benedictine order and of the royal patronage. The abbot in 1156 and 1160-1 acquitted himself to the king for the holding of two knights' fees. (fn. 36) In 1166 the fees of the house were certified by charter thus:—Richard Fitz Hildebrant holds of the abbey half a knight's fee, Thomas de Hasweria one fee, Jordan de Netherstock half a fee, Geoffrey de Stokes one-fifth of a fee, the above constituting fees of the old feoffment; of the new feoffment Simon de Cherd holds two parts of a fee, Walter Fitz Hugh one-fifth, Robert de Thorncombe one-fifth. (fn. 37) From that date the abbot appears to have rendered service for two knights' fees and a fifth part of a fee. (fn. 38) In the course of the war with Scotland he was summoned by writ to send his service against the Scots, and in 1324 was requested to raise forces in defence of the duchy of Aquitaine; (fn. 39) his tenure entitled him to a seat in Parliament, (fn. 40) and he received the usual notifications to attend. The convent on frequent occasions received requests or orders from Edward II and Edward III to supply maintenance in their abbey for boarders of the king's nomination, (fn. 41) and in accordance with the usual custom, were expected to provide a pension for a clerk whenever a new abbot was appointed. (fn. 42) An order was issued to the escheator in July, 1310, respiting until Michaelmas a demand of a palfrey and a silver cup from the abbot of Sherborne by reason of the last voidance, the abbot protesting that he was not chargeable, as his predecessors had been quit of this special payment 'from time out of mind.' (fn. 43) On more than one occasion the monastery was used as a depository for taxes and subsidies collected in the county, (fn. 44) a strong and suitable room being requisitioned within the abbey in 1334 for the reception of the moneys collected in Dorset for the tenths and fifteenths voted to the king for the expenses of the war, with free ingress and egress to be permitted to the collectors, who were bound to answer for the amount. (fn. 45)

The history of Sherborne, from the date of its elevation in the twelfth century to the dignity of an abbey down to the stirring incident which led to the destruction of the church by fire in the fifteenth century, is very uneventful, and consists chiefly of small disconnected incidents. Henry II, by one charter, confirmed a composition between G., abbot of Sherborne, and Richard Fitz Hildebrand restoring to the abbey the towns of Bradford and Corscombe on the death of the said Richard, in accordance with a deed of Bishop Roger of Salisbury testifying that he had unjustly taken them away from the church to give to his brother Humphrey, and afterwards restored them; (fn. 46) and by another charter, subsequently confirmed by Edward I, bestowed the church of Stalbridge on the office of the sacristan. (fn. 47) The abbey was in the king's hand in the first year of Richard I, when Thomas de Husseburna rendered account of £100 2s. 5d. for the fixed rent of the house; (fn. 48) and again in 1213, John, on 15 July of that year, notifying the custodian of the monastery that he had given instructions for the prior and convent in the voidance of the abbey to choose and send him suitable candidates from whom an abbot could be selected, and desiring that their expenses should be provided. (fn. 49) In the month preceding his death in 1216 John gave instructions for the abbey of Shaftesbury to be committed during voidance to the custody of the abbot of Sherborne. (fn. 50) Henry III, on 7 January, 1223, issued an order for John, almoner of Sherborne, to be allowed twenty rafters in aid of the almonry in course of building, (fn. 51) and by another grant in 1246 the monks were allowed two cart-loads of dead wood weekly from the forest of Pamber. (fn. 52) Letters of protection were obtained in 1241 by Abbot Henry going beyond seas, until he should return from his pilgrimage, (fn. 53) licence to elect being granted to the convent the following year on his resignation. (fn. 54) Edward I, in 1290, granted the abbot and convent licence to hold a market and fair at Stalbridge, and to have right of free warren in their demesne lands of Weston, Oborne, Stalbridge, Wyke, Bradford, Thornford, Corscombe, and 'Stawel,' in Dorset, and their lands in Devonshire. (fn. 55) Edward II granted permission in 1317 for the abbot and convent to acquire lands and rents to the yearly value of £10, provided they should find a monk or chaplain to celebrate daily in the abbey for the soul of the late king, of Robert Fitz Payne, and all Christians; (fn. 56) in part satisfaction of this grant the convent obtained lands in Beer and Seaton (Devonshire). (fn. 57) On payment of a fine of 50 marks, Richard II granted a licence in 1392 for the alienation of lands in Coringdon, and the reversion of lands and rent in Stoke Abbott to the abbey. (fn. 58) The episcopal registers record an indulgence granted by Bishop Mitford in 1397 for a chantry founded at the altar of St. Nicholas within the conventual church. (fn. 59) Various other indulgences were obtained by the community at the beginning of the thirteenth century, no doubt with the object of supplementing insufficient revenues with the alms of the faithful. Pope Boniface IX, in 1401, granted an indulgence to those visiting the conventual church of Sherborne on the Annunciation, the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel, and the Sunday following the latter feast, from the first to the second vespers and giving alms, together with an indult to the abbot and eight priests chosen by him, secular or religious, to hear confessions and grant absolution. (fn. 60) The abbot in 1412 received an indult to dispense four of his monks for promotion to holy orders. (fn. 61) The following year the pope published an indulgence with relaxation of seven years and seven quarantines of enjoined penance, to penitents who, on the principal feasts of the year, and 100 days to those who on other days, should visit and give alms for the conservation of the altar of Holy Trinity and All Saints, in the church of Sherborne. (fn. 62)

The election of superiors and their benediction by the ordinary are recorded in the episcopal registers, but the official records of the bishops of Salisbury throw little light on the internal condition of the house, as they contain no visitation reports for Sherborne. We may perhaps infer from this omission that its management was on the whole satisfactory. Up to the incident of 1436 existence seems to have flowed on peacefully and harmoniously, with but few interruptions. A small break is reported among the last entries of Bishop Mortival's register in 1329, in connexion with the election of John de Compton; the sacristan and a certain number of monks appealing to the apostolic see and the Court of Canterbury against his appointment on the ground that at the time of his election he had incurred sentence of excommunication for the violent laying of hands on a clerk. The official of the Court of Canterbury ordered the bishop to cite the said John to appear before the court in London, and to proceed no further till the case had been decided. (fn. 63) Nothing further is recorded, and John de Compton remained in office till his death in 1342. A dispute arose in 1331 between the convent and the rector of the church at Stalbridge of their advowson, respecting a yearly pension of 10 marks claimed by the monks which the rector had neglected to pay for two years. (fn. 64) The parishioners of the church of Compton 'Hawy,' who had hitherto been obliged to carry their dead for burial at Sherborne, in 1437 obtained a bull from the pope conferring the right of sepulture on their church. (fn. 65) It is probable that during the latter part of the abbey's existence, owing to financial strain, the community sank far below the original number of its inmates; the voting body of professed monks at the election of John Saunders in 1459 numbered only fifteen, (fn. 66) and about that number assembled for the election of John Mere in 1504. (fn. 67) At the Dissolution the surrender deed of the abbey was signed by fifteen brethren besides the abbot and prior, and including the priors of the subordinate cells of Horton (Dorset) and Kidwelly (Caermarthenshire). (fn. 68)

That oft-quoted incident, the destruction or partial destruction of the abbey by fire in a riot in 1436, was the sequel of a violent and bitter dispute between the monks and townsmen as to their respective rights within the minster or conventual church of Sherborne, the mother church of the district, a portion of which, at the extremity of the nave, served the inhabitants as their parish church. (fn. 69) The register of Bishop Neville sets forth the dispute in full, reciting the appeal of the abbot and convent to the diocesan against the parishioners, who, to the detriment and injury of the monastery, had set up a new font in their parish church, and had caused the monks much annoyance by ringing the parish bells for mattins at unreasonable hours. The bishop visited Sherborne before taking steps, with the object of hearing both sides, and sitting in the hall of the abbot there appeared before him, 12 November, 1436, John Bazet, John Kayleway, Richard Rochett, and John Sprotert on the part of and in the name of all the parishioners, who set before him their grievances, namely, that the monks had removed the font from its old position in the nave, and had narrowed the doorway in the intermediate wall between the parishioners' portion and the body of the church by which the baptismal processions were wont to pass, and they prayed him to restore the font to its original place and all things to their ancient use. The bishop having heard all that could be said on the part of either disputants announced his decision, decreeing in the first instance on behalf of the religious men, that the new font, 'which had been then newly and with daring rashness erected,' should be altogether destroyed, removed, and carried out of the church by those who had caused its erection, and that the bells of 'Alhalowes' should not be rung for mattins, except on the solemn feasts of All Saints, Christmas, Epiphany, and Easter, until after the striking of the sixth hour by the clock of the monastery and not before; on behalf of the inhabitants he ordered the font to be replaced in its old and accustomed place, and the door for the entrance of the procession of the parishioners to the font to be enlarged and arched so as to give more space and restored to its previous form, the manner and form of the procession round the font to be still retained, and a partition to be made in the nave between the section of the monks and that of the parishioners at the expense of the monastery, the font to be replaced and the door enlarged by Christmas Day following, and all things to be inviolably observed by both parties under pain of the greater excommunication. (fn. 70) Practical and wise as the bishop's decision sounds, it failed at the moment to soothe the bitter feelings which had been roused during the controversy, and a riot ensued, which is described by Leland in his account of Sherborne—

The body of the abbay chirch dedicate to our Lady servid ontille a hundrith yeres syns for the chife paroche chirch of the town. This was the cause of the abolition of the paroche chirch there. The monkes and the townes men felle at variance by cause the townes men took privilege to use the sacrament of baptism in the chapelle of Alhalowes. Wherapon one Walter Gallor, a stoute bucher, dwelling yn Shirburn, defacid clene the font-stone and after the variance growing to a playne sedition and the townesmenne by the meanes of an erle of Huntendune, lying yn those quarters and taking the townes-mennes part, and the bishop of Saresbyri the monkes part, a prest of Alhalowes shot a shaft with fier into the toppe of that part of St. Marys chirch that divided the Est part that the monkes usid, from that the townes-men usid; and this partition chauncing at that tyme to be thakkid yn the rofe was sette afire and consequently al the hole chirch, the lede, and belles meltid, was defacid. (fn. 71)

The abbot at that time, William Bradford, 'persecuted' this injury, we are told, and the inhabitants of the town were forced to contribute to the 're-edifying' of their church. (fn. 72)

For the remainder of the fifteenth century the community were fully occupied in the task of restoration. Henry VI at their petition granted a licence for them to acquire more lands to the yearly value of £10 in aid of rebuilding. (fn. 73) The east end of the church was rebuilt in the time of Abbot Bradford or of John Saunders his successor. (fn. 74) Peter Rampisham, elected in 1475 built the west part 'not many yeres syns,' says Leland. (fn. 75) From the time of the fire down to the Dissolution, when the abbey church was sold by Sir John Horsey to the parishioners, and the chapel was pulled down as being no longer required, Alhalowes' was legally and definitely assigned to the inhabitants of Sherborne as the parish church. (fn. 76) The income of the abbey on the eve of the Reformation was declared by the Valor of 1535 at £682 14s. 7¾d. net. (fn. 77) The churches in the possession of the monks included the parsonages of Bradford and Horton (Dorset), Carswell and Beer and Seaton (Devon); (fn. 78) and among their temporalities were the manors of Stoke Abbott, Corscombe, Halstock, Bradford, Wyke, 'Stawell,' Thornford, Oborne, Weston, and Stalbridge (Dorset), Carswell, Littleham and Exmouth, Beer and Seaton (Devon). (fn. 79) The amount assigned for distribution in alms to the poor on the anniversary of founders, &c., shows that the brethren did not neglect one of the main duties of a religious community. In Thornford, assigned to the office of the almoner, there was a yearly charge of £6 6s. as follows:—4s. in bread distributed annually to the poor of Sherborne on the day of St. Cadast (?) for the soul of John Send (Saunde or Saunders), sometime abbot; 6s. 8d. in bread distributed on the feast of St. Benedict for the soul of Alfric Thornecomb; £5 in a daily distribution from the house of the almoner for the soul of the aforesaid Alfric; 2s. in bread distributed on Palm Sunday for the soul of Richard Chynnock; 13s. 4d. in bread, ale, fish, and money distributed to the poor on Maundy Thursday for the soul of the aforesaid founder. (fn. 80) From the rectory of Corscombe 2s. 8d. was assigned in bread to the poor at Sherborne for the soul of Ralph Vatrell on the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul. (fn. 81) From the manor of Stalbridge a distribution of 2s. 4d. was yearly made to the poor for the soul of the mother of William de la Wyll by the foundation of the said William. (fn. 82) The sum of £4 11s. was laid out in a distribution of bread for the soul of Peter Rampisham, late abbot of Sherborne, and 6s. 8d. for the soul of Roger Gylden; (fn. 83) on the feast of St. Bartholomew bread to the value of 10s. was annually distributed for the soul of Robert Ayam, knt., and alms were daily distributed at the door of the refectory, called 'le frayter,' for the soul of Philip, sometime abbot of Sherborne, viz. one loaf of monks' bread and a measure of ale, at a yearly charge of £2 5s. 9d. (fn. 84) Among the charges on the abbey was the sum of 78s. for the exhibition of three scholars in the grammar school of Sherborne of the foundation of Alfric Thornecomb, (fn. 85) and £5 for a corrody for a person to be nominated from time to time by the king, and at that time held by William Burn.

In the promotion of John Barnstable as abbot on the resignation of John Mere in 1535, (fn. 86) the policy of securing superiors unlikely to lend opposition to the new order of things is not far to seek. 'I thank you,' writes Sir John Horsey, to whom the dissolved abbey was afterwards granted, to Cromwell on 9 May from Sherborne, 'for offering my friend Dan John Barnstable to be abbot of Shyrborne on the resignation of Dan John Mere late abbot,' 'the monastery,' he adds, 'are well pleased with the appointment.' (fn. 87) The new abbot, in a letter to the 'Visitor General of the monasteries' thanking him for his appointment, expresses his willingness to follow various directions as to the management of the house, (fn. 88) his compliance receiving due reward in the measure of liberty allowed him. (fn. 89) On the fall of the house 18 March, 1539, the abbot, who had surrendered with sixteen of his brethren, received a pension of £100, the priors of Horton and Kidwelly £8 each, the subprior of Sherborne and another monk £7 each, seven of the brethren £6 13s. 4d. each, and four monks £6 each. (fn. 90) Henry VIII on 4 January, 1540, made over to Sir John Horsey the house and site of the late dissolved monastery together with certain of its possessions. (fn. 91) Sir John, on 26 March following, sold to the parishioners of Sherborne, for the sum of 100 marks, the conventual church, which has from that time been the parish church of the town.

Abbots of Sherborne (fn. 92)

Thurstan, consecrated 1122 (fn. 93)

Peter, occurs about 1142 (fn. 94)

Clement, occurs about 1160 (fn. 95)

Henry, occurs about 1165 (fn. 96)

E., occurs in reign of Henry II (fn. 97)

G., occurs in reign of Henry II (fn. 98)

Philip, occurs about 1217 (fn. 99)

William of Tewkesbury (fn. 100)

Henry, elected 1227, (fn. 101) resigned 1242

John de Hele, elected 1242 (fn. 102)

Lawrence de Bradford, elected 1246 (fn. 103)

John de Saunde, elected 1261, died 1286 (fn. 104)

Hugh de Staplebridge, elected 1286, (fn. 105) died 1310

John Thornford, elected 1310, (fn. 106) died 1316

Robert de Ramsbury, elected 1316, (fn. 107) died 1329

John de Compton, elected 1329, (fn. 108) died 1342

John de Henton, elected 1342, (fn. 109) died 1348

John de Frith, elected 1348 (fn. 110)

Edward Goude, elected 1371, (fn. 111) died 1385 (fn. 112)

Robert Bruynyng, elected 1385, (fn. 113) died 1415

John Bruynyng, elected 1415, (fn. 114) died 1436

William Bradford, elected 1436, (fn. 115) died 1459

John Saunders, elected 1459, (fn. 116) died 1475

Peter Rampisham, elected 1475, (fn. 117) died 1504

John Mere, elected 1505, (fn. 118) resigned 1535

John Barnstable, elected 1535, (fn. 119) surrendered the abbey 18 March, 1539 (fn. 120)

An eleventh-century seal of the monastery (round) gives a fine impression of the abbey church from the north with apse, towers, and porch; the windows of the clearstory and towers and the doorway are round-headed. (fn. 121) Legend:—


A broken example of the above seal is to be found attached to the surrender deed of the abbey in 1539. (fn. 122)

The pointed oval seal of Abbot Clement (circa 1160) represents St. Benedict, half-length, holding in his right hand a scroll inscribed: VERTITE FILII AVDITE ME. In bars under two round-headed arches are two half-length monks looking upward. (fn. 123)

The legend is defective owing to the edge of the seal being rubbed.

. . . EMENTIS DE . . . . . . . BVRN . . . .

The seal of Abbot Laurence de Bradford (1246-59), pointed oval, the impression very imperfect, gives the abbot standing on a carved corbel, in his right hand a pastoral staff, in his left a book. The background diapered lozengy with a reticular pattern and small annular depression in each space. On the left is a countersunk quatrefoil containing a monk's head, the subject on the right corresponding is broken away. (fn. 124)

. . . . . . RNI . . . . . . . .

A small pointed oval seal, with very fine impression but imperfect, represents on a church with pinnacled turrets at the sides the Virgin, half-length, holding the Child on the right arm. In base, under a trefoiled arch, is an abbot with pastoral staff, half-length, in prayer. (fn. 125)

The legend, which is defective, runs:—

. . . . CRA : DEI . . . . . MEM . . . .

The signet of Abbot John de Flixton, attached to an indenture dated 1347, small, oval, chipped at the top, represents in a finely-carved and pointed quatrefoil St. Margaret standing on a dragon and piercing its head with a long cross held in her right hand. (fn. 126)

The legend is partly defective:—


The signet of Abbot John Frith attached to a deed dated 1371, red, represents in a finely-carved and pointed quatrefoil a dog sitting between two trees. (fn. 127)

The green pointed oval seal of William the prior, attached by a woven cord of red silk strands to a document dated 1242, (fn. 128) represents the prior full length, holding in his right hand a pastoral staff, in his left hand a book. The legend runs:—



  • 1. Wm. of Malmes Gesta Pontif. (Rolls Ser.), 375–8. Leland states that it was founded by King Æthelred [c. 870], but probably confuses its foundation with its reconstruction; Coll. i, 66; Tanner, Notitia, Dorset xxv.
  • 2. Cott. MS. Faust. A. ii, fol. 23.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Cott. MS. Faust. A. ii, fol. 23.
  • 5. The charters of the monks include one by Cenwalch of Wessex, 643–72, granting various privileges to the pontifical see at Sherborne and the community there; it is witnessed, however by Laurentinus, archbishop of Canterbury, who died in 619, and of more than doubtful authenticity; Birch, Cart. Sax., i, 46.
  • 6. Ibid. ii, 392.
  • 7. Ibid. ii, 394.
  • 8. Ibid. iii, 52. Hutchins in addition cites (Hist. of Dorset, iv, 228) two charters by King Æthelwulf, the first dated in 841, reciting a grant in perpetual alms of 15 cassates of land in the place called 'Halganstoc' (Halstock) 'for the honour of God and love of St. Michael the archangel, whose church remains in the said little monastery, to Eadberth the deacon for his faithful service there; the other recording the grant in 844 of 2 cassates of land in a place called 'Osanstoc' for the redemption of the soul of King Æthelwulf and the souls of his sons Æthelbald and Æthelbert.
  • 9. Angl.-Sax. Chron. (Rolls Ser.), i, 129, 130.
  • 10. Itinerary, ii, 48.
  • 11. Angl.-Sax. Chron. (Rolls Ser.), i, 120–1.
  • 12. Ibid. i, 132.
  • 13. Leland, Coll. iii, 150.
  • 14. Ibid. Itin. ii, 51, 52.
  • 15. Ibid.
  • 16. The omission of Halstock in the Domesday Survey is curious, as it was one of the earliest possessions of the house, and is entered in the bull of Pope Eugenius III in 1145, and remained in the possession of the abbey down to the Reformation; Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, iv, 403.
  • 17. Leland, Itin. ii, 51, 52.
  • 18. Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i, fol. 77.
  • 19. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), i, 10. William of Malmesbury, who mentions other changes, by mistake ascribes it to the fourth year of King Stephen, 1139; Gesta Regum (Rolls Ser.), ii, 559.
  • 20. Cott. MS. Faust. A. ii, fol. 25 d.
  • 21. Reg. St. Osmund. (Rolls Ser.), i, 235.
  • 22. Ibid. 250. The abbot is mentioned among those prebendaries present at the framing of the New Constitution (Nova Constitutio) in 1214 (ibid. 374). The prebend was assessed at £40 in the Taxatio of 1291. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 182.
  • 23. Pat. 10 Rich. II, pt. 1, m. 35.
  • 24. Reg. Rubrum, fol. 335.
  • 25. Ibid. fol. 333–4.
  • 26. Ibid. fol. 158.
  • 27. Reg. St. Osmund. (Rolls Ser.), i, 265.
  • 28. Reg. Rubrum, fol. 160.
  • 29. Roger, bishop of Salisbury, gave a carucate of land at Kidwelly and 'the mountain called Salomon's'; the churches of Pennalt, Kidwelly, and Penbray were granted to the abbey by Richard Fitz William. Dugdale, Mon. i, 424.
  • 30. Leland, Itin. ii, 53, 54; Dugdale, Mon. i, 335. Chart. of Sherborne, No. v.
  • 31. Ibid. No. vi, i, 339.
  • 32. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 178–9.
  • 33. Ibid. 151.
  • 34. Ibid. 203.
  • 35. Ibid. 184–5.
  • 36. Red Bk. of the Exch. (Rolls Ser.), i, 15, 27.
  • 37. Ibid. 213.
  • 38. Ibid. 34, 64, 80, 101, 125, 166; ii, 344.
  • 39. Parl. Writs (Rec. Com.), i, div. viii, 1427–8.
  • 40. Ibid.
  • 41. In 1309 William Beausamys was sent to the abbey to receive maintenance for himself, a horse and groom (Close, 2 Edw. II, m. 12). Hugh Cade was sent in 1315 to receive such allowance as Richard le Potager had had (ibid. 8 Edw. II, m. 11 d.). From the manner in which on the death of one boarder another was sent to take his place, it would seem that two was the number maintained at a time (ibid. 10 Edw. II, m. 22 d.; ibid. 11 Edw. II, m. 9 d.; 12 Edw. II, m. 30; 6 Edw. III, m. 2 d.). A complaint was lodged in 1335 that the abbey declined to provide full and proper maintenance, and contented itself with merely admitting the king's candidate. Pat. 9 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 21 d.
  • 42. Close, 4 Edw. II, m. 18 d.
  • 43. Ibid. m. 26.
  • 44. Ibid. 4 Edw. I, m. 3d.
  • 45. Parl. R. (Rec. Com.), ii, 451.
  • 46. By inspeximus of Edward I. Chart. R. 20 Edw. I, No. 3.
  • 47. Ibid.
  • 48. Madox, Hist. of the Exch. i, 311.
  • 49. Close, 15 John, m. 7.
  • 50. Ibid. 18 John, m. 3.
  • 51. Ibid. 7 Hen. III, m. 22.
  • 52. Pat. 30 Hen. III, m. 6.
  • 53. Ibid. 25 Hen. III, m. 8.
  • 54. Ibid. 26 Hen. III, pt. 2, m. 2.
  • 55. Chart. R. 18 Edw. I, No. 66. A grant was made to the bishop of Salisbury of a four days' fair at Sherborne. Chart. R. 24 Hen. III, m. 2.
  • 56. Pat. 11 Edw. II, pt. 1, m. 34.
  • 57. Ibid. 17 Edw. II, pt. 1, m. 6.
  • 58. Ibid. 16 Ric. II, pt. 1, m. 35.
  • 59. Sarum Epis. Reg. Mitford, fol. 121 d.
  • 60. Cal. of Pap. Letters, v, 406.
  • 61. Ibid. vi, 282.
  • 62. Ibid. vi, 378.
  • 63. Sarum Epis. Reg. Mortival, ii, fol. 364d.
  • 64. Sarum Epis. Reg. Wyville, i, fol. 178.
  • 65. Ibid. Neville, fol. 88d.
  • 66. Ibid. Beauchamp, i (2), fol. 53.
  • 67. Ibid. Audley, fol. 125.
  • 68. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiv (1), 336.
  • 69. Professor Willis in a paper on the minster or church of Sherborne says:—'At the west end of the minster are fragments which clearly show that the nave was prolonged in the 14th century by a building closely resembling a parish church with 3 aisles, the plan of which can be pretty accurately traced. This is known as the church or chapel of Alhalowes.' Arch. Journ. xxii, 180.
  • 70. Sarum Epis. Reg. Neville, fol. 108 d.
  • 71. Leland, Itin. ii, 48.
  • 72. Ibid.
  • 73. Pat. 24 Hen. VI, pt. 1, m. 6.
  • 74. 'All the est parte of St. Mary Chirch was reedified in abate Bradeford's tyme,' says Leland in one place, 'saving a chapelle of Our Lady, an olde peace of work that the fier came not to by reason that it was of an older building' (Itin. ii, 48). In another place he says, 'Peter Ramsunne, next abbate save one to Bradaford, buildid al the west part of the chirch' (ibid. iii, 90).
  • 75. According to Leland the same abbot 'sette a chapelle caullid our lady of Bowe harde to the south side of the old Lady Chapplle' (ii, 49).
  • 76. From the parish register of Sherborne quoted by Dugdale, Mon. i, 335.
  • 77. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 285.
  • 78. Ibid. 281.
  • 79. Ibid. 282–4.
  • 80. Ibid. 2.
  • 81. Ibid. 282.
  • 82. Ibid. 286.
  • 83. Ibid. 284.
  • 84. Ibid. 285.
  • 85. Ibid.
  • 86. L. and P. Hen. VII, viii, 852. John Mere secured a pension of £40 on his resignation.
  • 87. Ibid. 693.
  • 88. Ibid. 852.
  • 89. Ibid. ix, 256.
  • 90. Ibid. xiv (1), 556.
  • 91. Ibid. xv, 562.
  • 92. Of the early superiors of Sherborne who presided in the capacity of praepositus primus or decanus over the secular canons, and on their removal as priors over the monks substituted in their place, no record seems left prior to the erection of Sherborne into an abbey in the year 1122, when Thurstan was consecrated abbot. Cott. MS. Faust. ii, fol. 25 d.
  • 93. Ibid.
  • 94. Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, iv, 232.
  • 95. When he quitclaimed to Bishop Jocelin of Salisbury and the cathedral church the castle of Sherborne (Reg. St. Osmund. [Rolls Ser.], i, 235). Willis gives the year 1163; Hist. of Mitred Abbeys, ii, 71.
  • 96. About that date Jocelin, bishop of Salisbury, by charter to Henry the abbot and convent of Sherborne, recited the rights of the abbot as the holder of a prebend in the cathedral; Reg. St. Osmund. (Rolls Ser.), i, 249.
  • 97. The abbots E. and G. occur in charters of Henry II, inspected and confirmed by Edward I; Chart. R. 20 Edw. I, No. 3.
  • 98. Ibid.
  • 99. Reg. St. Osmund. (Rolls Ser.), i, 265.
  • 100. Hutchins, without a date (Hist. of Dorset, iv, 232) from the Kennett MS.
  • 101. Pat. 11 Hen. III, m. 15.
  • 102. Ibid. 26 Hen. III, pt. 2, m. 2.
  • 103. Ibid. 31 Hen. III, m. 9.
  • 104. Ibid. 14 Edw. I, m. 17.
  • 105. Ibid. m. 12.
  • 106. Ibid. 3 Edw. II, m. 6; Sarum Epis. Reg. Simon of Ghent, ii, fol. 89.
  • 107. Ibid. Mortival, i, fol. 182; Pat. 10 Edw. II, pt. 1, m. 6.
  • 108. Ibid. 3 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 15.
  • 109. Ibid. 16 Edw. III, pt. 3, m. 6.
  • 110. Ibid. 22 Edw. III, pt. 3, m. 10; Sarum Epis. Reg. Wyville, ii, fol. 198.
  • 111. a Hutchins, op. cit. iv, 233.
  • 112. Pat. 9 Ric. II, pt. 1, m. 39.
  • 113. Ibid. m. 40.
  • 114. Ibid. 2 Hen. V, pt. 3, m. 7.
  • 115. Ibid. 15 Hen. VI, m. 38.
  • 116. Sarum Epis. Reg. Beauchamp, i (2), fol. 53.
  • 117. Pat. 15 Edw. IV, pt. 3, m. 1.
  • 118. Sarum Epis. Reg. Audley, fol. 125.
  • 119. L. and P. Hen. VIII, viii, 802 (27).
  • 120. Ibid. xiv (1), 556.
  • 121. B.M. Seals, lxii, 53.
  • 122. Deeds of Surrender, No. 112.
  • 123. B.M. Seals, lxii, 54.
  • 124. Add. Chart. 13969.
  • 125. B.M. Seals, lxii, 55.
  • 126. Add. Chart. 6082.
  • 127. Ibid. 6083.
  • 128. Add. Chart. 20372.