House of Cistercian nuns: The abbey of Tarrant Kaines

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

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


'House of Cistercian nuns: The abbey of Tarrant Kaines', A History of the County of Dorset: Volume 2, (London, 1908), pp. 87-90. British History Online [accessed 20 June 2024].

. "House of Cistercian nuns: The abbey of Tarrant Kaines", in A History of the County of Dorset: Volume 2, (London, 1908) 87-90. British History Online, accessed June 20, 2024,

. "House of Cistercian nuns: The abbey of Tarrant Kaines", A History of the County of Dorset: Volume 2, (London, 1908). 87-90. British History Online. Web. 20 June 2024,

In this section



The Cistercian nunnery of Tarrant Kaines, commonly said to be of the foundation of Richard le Poor of Salisbury, owed its early origin to the 'ancient and renowned familie of Keines,' a member of which—Ralph de Kahaynes—according to Coker, 'in Richard the first's time built neare his mansion house a little monasterie for nunnes which his son William de Kahaynes much encreased.' (fn. 2)

Accepting the tradition which identifies these nuns with the sisters to whom was addressed that famous treatise, the 'Ancren Riwle,' that modern authority has attributed to Bishop Poor, (fn. 3) and assuming that the 'Riwle' was written about the commencement of the thirteenth century, we find that the community at that time consisted of three ladies with their domestic servants, and that they are described as being 'for your goodness and nobleness of mind beloved of many, sisters of one father and of one mother, having in the bloom of your youth forsaken all the pleasures of the world and become anchoresses.' (fn. 4) It also appears that the sisters, though they had renounced the world to apply themselves to pious exercises and devout meditations, had not as yet joined any existing order, for the bishop advises them 'if any ignorant person ask you of what order you are, say that you are of the order of St. James,' which indeed had no existence in actual fact, but whose rule (Epist. i, 27), and especially the latter part of it, 'to keep unspotted from the world,' was specially to be observed by them. It was probably by the counsel and consent of their benefactor that the community finally adopted the Cistercian rule, and it may account for the tradition soon after prevailing that the bishop was their actual founder. The step must have been taken before his translation to Durham in 1228, for the profession of Clarice, abbess of Tarrant Kaines, to Bishop Richard le Poor as ordinary can still be seen at Salisbury. (fn. 5)

The earliest of a series of charters granted to the abbess and convent during the reign of Henry III is dated 24 July, 1235, and confirms to God, the church of All Saints, and the nuns serving God there all previous gifts, including those of the original founder and his son. Of the gift of Ralph de Kahaynes: the church of All Saints, the manse before the church and the croft near it, the mill before the manse, all the downs called 'Thorendon,' 'Holdeley,' and 'Bushenden,' 4½ acres of land in Goldecroft, the land called Medgare, and 2 acres of meadow at the hedge of Crawford, 2 acres of wood at Fordham Serlon, (fn. 6) 2 acres of wood in Chetred, and pasture for a plough-team of oxen with the oxen of the grantor, a virgate of land in Spettisbury. William de Kahaynes added to his father's benefactions a tithe of all the bread made in his household wherever he should be in any part of his demesne 'saving the bread of Renges,' a tithe of all salt meat whether of pigs, sheep, or cows killed in his household each year, one barrel of his prime and good ale for Christmas with another barrel of second ale, or malt to make as much, yearly; the prior and convent of Christchurch, Twyneham, among other gifts gave two mills in Tarrant and pasturage for sheep and cattle, &c.; the manor of Woodyates was the gift of William de Woodyates; Richard, bishop of Durham, bestowed all the right which John de Reygate gave to him in the third part of a hide and in a messuage and garden in Pimperne. (fn. 7)

Bishop Poor's interest in the house he had practically re-founded did not diminish on his translation to Durham; he made over to the sisters the custody of the manor of Tarrant Kaines granted to him by Henry III during the minority of William, son and heir of William de Kahaynes, the king sanctioning the transfer on 7 February, 1237, and at the same time granting letters of protection to the abbess of the 'Blessed place upon the Tarrant.' (fn. 8) Two months later the bishop turned his steps homeward to die in his native place. (fn. 9)

Matthew Paris describes the scene at Tarrant on 13 April, 1237, when, surrounded by the household, at the hour of compline, devoutly following the prayers, Richard le Poor at the words, 'I will lay me down in peace and sleep' passed peacefully away. (fn. 10) Before his death he had sought to secure the welfare of this loved community by placing the house under the patronage of Queen Eleanor, wife of Henry III, who is afterwards occasionally termed the founder, the house becoming popularly known as Benedictus Locus Regine super Tarant. In October following the death of their benefactor Henry III confirmed to the sisters the grants set out in his previous charter of 1235 with fresh additions, including the gift by William de la Prentice of all his right in the hermitage of Mannington, at the same time notifying that he had taken under his protection the abbey of Tarrant 'which Richard, sometime bishop of Durham, founded.' In 1265 the king bestowed on the abbess and convent—styled 'of the Cistercian order'—for the good of his soul and the soul of Eleanor, queen of England, 'our consort,' his manor of Hurstbourne Tarrant in Hants for the service of half a knight's fee. (fn. 11)

The year following the bishop's death the abbey was called on to give burial to a sister of Henry III, Joan the wife of Alexander II of Scotland, who fell ill while on a visit south to her brother, and dying 4 March, 1238, bequeathed her body to the nuns for burial; (fn. 12) the king in the same month testified that he was bound to assign to the abbess and convent, within fifteen days of Easter next, land to the value of £20 a year according to a bequest made to them by his sister Joan, sometime queen of Scotland. (fn. 13) A few years later, in 1246, a grant was made to the Abbess Maud that the sheriff of Dorset should henceforth be charged with the provision of two wax lights to burn day and night in the abbey, one before the host and the other before the place where the body of the late queen lay buried. (fn. 14)

It would be impossible to enumerate all the gifts made to this favoured house in the course of the thirteenth century. A charter dated 21 April, 1242, sets out at considerable length all previous grants, many of which had been included in the charters of 1235 and 1237 already mentioned. (fn. 15) On 5 December, 1252, Henry III granted to the nuns for the soul of his sister Joan that they and their men should be quit of suits of the county and hundred court and of sheriff's tourn, that they might claim the amercements of their men before the king's justices whether in eyre or on the bench; the right of free election 'as fully as obtains in the Cistercian order,' and the right of free warren in all their demesne lands in Dorset, Wilts., and Sussex, provided they should not be within the king's forest. (fn. 16) Edward I exhibited the same regard shown by his father, and at the instance of his wife, Eleanor of Castille, restored to the nuns the wood of Beer which John de Bohun had formerly bestowed on them without licence of the king, with the result that it had escheated to the crown. (fn. 17) The manor of Binderton, the gift of Bernard de Sauve, was included in a charter of confirmation granted in the eighth year of the king. (fn. 18)

According to the Taxatio of 1291 the yearly income of the convent came to £126 16s. 4½d., including spiritualities from the churches of Tarrant Kaines, Little Crawford, and Woodyates amounting to £12 6s. 8d. (fn. 19) Their temporalities were assessed at £13 in the deanery of Dorchester, £33 10s. 8½d. in the deanery of Whitchurch, £19 9s. 7d. in the deanery of Pimperne, £22 16s. 5d. in the manor of Hanford within the Shaftesbury deanery. (fn. 20) The total value of their possessions within this county came to £101 3s. 4½d., and they had £15 from the manor of Binderton in the diocese of Chichester, (fn. 21) and £10 3s. from the manor of Hurstbourne Tarrant in the Winchester diocese. (fn. 22) In spite of the respectable rent-roll represented by these figures we read that in 1292 the abbess obtained leave from the king to sell forty oaks from her manor of Hurstbourne to whomsoever she would in order to pay her debts. (fn. 23)

Save for the record of their temporal possessions the community rarely emerge from the obscurity that veils their history. It is evident that the name by which they continued to be known, 'the poor nuns of Tarrant,' (fn. 24) was something of a misnomer if it should be read to imply absolute poverty. The time had long gone by since the days when the sisters were warned by the bishop to avoid the holding of personal property: 'Ye shall not possess any beast, my dear sisters, except only a cat,' or, when seeking their pittance in the hall of their early founder, were bidden 'be glad in your heart if ye suffer insolence from Slurry the cook's boy who washeth dishes in the kitchen.' (fn. 25) As belonging to the Cistercian order the house was technically 'exempt,' and beyond forwarding a copy of the Constitutions of Pope Boniface for enforcing the stricter inclosure of nuns in 1301 the bishop, so far as we can gather from the registers, made no attempt to impose his authority therein. (fn. 26) At all events history does not deprive us of the hope that these ladies remained true to the ideal of the Christian life pointed out to them by their early friend.

In the fourteenth century certain chantries were founded in the conventual church that prayers might continually be offered for the souls of royal and distinguished benefactors. In 1347 in consideration of the sum of 46s. 8d., Thomas Baret obtained a licence to bestow certain messuages and lands in Charlton and Little Crawford for the provision of a chaplain to celebrate every Monday in the abbey church at the altar of St. Mary for the good estate of the king, for his soul when dead, the souls of his progenitors, the grantor and his heirs. (fn. 27) Thirty years later, by an indenture dated 'Nuns Tarent, Saturday, St. Mark,' the nuns granted to 'Sir' Thomas Gilden, chaplain, a weekly corrody for life from their abbey, with a chamber in the houses lately built by Thomas Baret to be kept in repair by the abbess, and assigned to him the office of chaplain of the parish church of All Saints, Little Crawford, 'otherwise called St. Margaret's Chapel,' in return for £20 paid by him to the abbess and for other benefits. (fn. 28) In 1383 Sir Robert Rous, whom Leland mentions as a great benefactor of the sisters, (fn. 29) desired by his will to be buried in the abbey, 'the place of St. Richard the Bishop;' among other legacies bequeathing to every nun at Tarrant 40d., to every sister 2s., and an annual rent of 8 marks for the provision of four priests to celebrate at the altar 'near the body of St. Richard in St. Michael's church in Tarrant Kaines,' and two priests in the church of St. Mary at Tarrant Crawford; to the abbess he left a pair of gold beads with other plate engraved with his own and his wife's arms. (fn. 30) On 23 February, 1389, a licence was granted for the alienation of the manor of Tarrant Keynston by Robert, bishop of London, Walter Clopton, William Gascoigne, and John, parson of Keynston, to the abbess and convent for the ordination of a chantry of two chaplains in the abbey to celebrate daily for the souls of Robert Rous, knt., Joan his wife, his parents and friends, and to perpetuate various acts of piety for the benefit of their souls and the souls of the father and mother of Joan, according to the ordinance of the bishop. (fn. 31)

The fifteenth century is almost bare of records relating to this house. Henry IV on 3 March, 1403, inspected and confirmed letters patent of Richard II in 1394, confirming the charter of Henry III for the right of free warren within all the demesne lands of the abbey. (fn. 32) The grant may have been specially made in consequence of a complaint lodged by the Abbess Joan in May, 1402, that Robert Turbulville, 'chevalier,' and others had transgressed her right of free warren at Beer, hunted and fished her preserves, felled her trees, and assaulted her servants. (fn. 33) The episcopal registers record that a dispensation was granted to the abbess on 9 September, 1406, allowing her to have divine service celebrated for herself and her household wherever she might be within the city and diocese of Salisbury. (fn. 34)

'Terenta of the Nuns' was included among religious houses of the Cistercian order to be visited by the abbot of Ford in virtue of the royal commission, January, 1535, (fn. 35) but no report is recorded of its condition.

The Valor of the same year gives the abbey a clear annual income of £214 7s. 9d., the abbess claiming to be discharged of a yearly allowance of £3 for an annual distribution of bread to the poor on Maundy Thursday in commemoration of 'Eleanor, sometime queen of England, the foundress.' (fn. 36) The convent held the parsonages of Little Crawford, Woodyates, and Hanford, with a portion out of the church of Tarrant Keynston. (fn. 37) The abbey was at that time void, congé d'èlire on the death of Edith, last abbess, being granted in August of the same year. (fn. 38) The names of the principal officers are given as follows:—Margaret Lynde, prioress; Anna Cheverell, sub-prioress; Joan More, cellarer; Alicia Hart, sacrist. (fn. 39)

Margaret Russell, who succeeded, held office till 13 March, 1539, when with the sub-prioress and eighteen of her nuns she surrendered the abbey into the hands of the royal commissioner, John Smyth. A pension of £40 was assigned to the abbess, to the prioress £6 13s. 4d., to the subprioress 100s., and to the seventeen remaining sisters sums ranging from £4 to 66s. 8d. each. (fn. 40) William Joliffe, chaplain, later received a pension of 53s. 4d. (fn. 41)

After the Dissolution the abbey, with the manor of Preston or Tarrant Crawford, was granted in reversion to Sir Thomas Wyatt; (fn. 42) a few years later it came into the hands of Richard Savage and W. Strangways. (fn. 43)

Abbesses of Tarrant Kaines

Claricia, elected about 1228 (fn. 44)

Emelina (fn. 45)

Maud, occurs 1240 (fn. 46)

Isolda, occurs 1280 (fn. 47)

Elena, elected 1298 (fn. 48)

Anne, occurs 1351 (fn. 49)

Clemence de Cernyngton, occurs 1377 (fn. 50)

Joan, occurs 1402 (fn. 51)

Avice, occurs 1404 (fn. 52)

Edith Coker, died in 1535 (fn. 53)

Margaret Russell, elected 1535, (fn. 54) surrendered March, 1539 (fn. 55)

The thirteenth-century pointed oval seal attached to the surrender deed of the abbey represents on a corbel the Virgin with crown, standing, the Holy Child on the left arm. Before her the abbess kneeling holds up a flowering branch. In the field two trees. (fn. 56)

The legend runs:—



  • 1. In the modern parish of Tarrant Crawford.
  • 2. Particular Surv. of Dorset (1732), 106. As Ralph de Kahaignes is returned in the Great Roll of the Pipe of 1167–8 for the knights' fees at which he was assessed in the county, and William de Chahaygnes in the Roll of 1186–7, it seems more than probable that this 'little monasterie' was founded during the reign of Henry II. Red Bk. of the Exch. (Rolls Ser.), i, 44–64.
  • 3. The 'Ancren Riwle' (The King's Classics), 1905. Preface.
  • 4. Ibid. p. 145.
  • 5. Among a number of 'professions' kept in the muniment room of the cathedral. The nuns are described as belonging to that order in a royal mandate of 1233 prohibiting the exaction of any subsidy from the Cistercians. Close, 17 Hen. III, m. 13d.
  • 6. The church appears originally under the dedication of All Saints, but as all abbey churches of the Cistercian order were ipso facto dedicated in honour of the Blessed Virgin the church of Tarrant Crawford subsequently appears under the double dedication of St. Mary and All Saints (See Tanner, Notitia, Dorset, xxviii), though it is also given as the church of St. Mary only. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 265.
  • 7. Chart. R. 19 Hen. III, m. 4.
  • 8. Pat. 21 Hen. III, m. 10.
  • 9. Tarrant is generally assumed to be his birthplace. Leland, Itin. iii, 62.
  • 10. Matt. Paris, Chron. Maj. (Rolls Ser.), iii, 479.
  • 11. Rot. Fin. 50 Hen. III, m. 8.
  • 12. Matt. Paris, Chron. Maj. (Rolls Ser.), iii, 479. The sheriff of the county lodged an account in the Exchequer for 100s. which at the king's command he had paid for having an effigy of a queen carved in marble stone, for the carriage of the same to the abbey of Tarrant and there placing it over the tomb of the queen of Scotland.
  • 13. Pat. 22 Hen. III, m. 8.
  • 14. Ibid. 30 Hen. III, m. 3.
  • 15. Chart. R. 26 Hen. III, m. 3. Among other gifts the charter includes the church of St. Nicholas of Woodyates with a virgate of land, the gift of the prior and canons of Breamore (Hants), the manor, advowson of the church, and mill of Hanford given by John de Mares and Agatha his wife, which the king had confirmed, quit of all suit and foreign service, 26 February, 1240 (ibid. 24 Hen. III, m. 3), with licence to hold a weekly market on Tuesday, and a yearly fair on the vigil, feast, and morrow of St. James (ibid. 25 Hen. III, m. 3).
  • 16. Chart. R. 37 Hen. III, m. 18. On 1 July, 1245, a royal licence was granted for the abbess to hold free of service and in frankalmoign all the land in Gussage All Saints, which by a former grant the king had permitted Imbert Pugnes to give to them for the same service for which he had held it. Ibid. 29 Hen. III, m. 3.
  • 17. Close, 4 Edw. I, m. 10.
  • 18. Chart. 8 Edw. I, No. 35.
  • 19. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 178.
  • 20. Ibid. 184b, 185.
  • 21. Ibid. 138b.
  • 22. Ibid. 213b.
  • 23. Close, 20 Edw. I, m. 9.
  • 24. The name by which the sisters are designated in the reigns of Henry III and Henry IV, and later still when they were declared to be 'exempt' by ancient custom from the payment of tax and subsidy. Close, 17 Hen. III, m. 13 d.; Pat. 1 Hen. IV, pt. 2, m. 17, 28; Sarum Epis. Reg. Beauchamp, fol. 187d.
  • 25. The 'Ancren Riwle' (the King's Classics), 316, 287.
  • 26. Sarum Epis. Reg. Simon of Ghent, fol. 73. The abbess, in common with Bindon and the heads generally of Cistercian houses, was blessed by the bishop, to whom she made profession on her election.
  • 27. Pat. 21 Edw. III, pt. 2, No. 21.
  • 28. The corrody was to consist of a weekly allowance of bread and ale, with a daily pittance of fish or flesh 'such as each nun received,' a cart-load of wood and a cart-load of litter yearly at Michaelmas. Pat. 5 Ric. II, pt. 1, m. 31. By inspeximus.
  • 29. Leland, Itin. iii, 62.
  • 30. The terms of the will, if correctly reported by Hutchins (Hist. of Dorset, iii, 122), are somewhat perplexing, as the bishop of Durham, Richard Poor, was buried in the church of Tarrant Crawford or Little Crawford, and not in the church of Tarrant Kaines. The two churches are described as 'not 4 furlongs apart,' and were united in the seventeenth century. Ibid. iii, 122. See a paper of the Rev. E. Highton, Last Resting Place of a Scottish Queen and a great English Bishop.
  • 31. Pat. 12 Ric. II, pt. 2, m. 20. This foundation is not entered in the list of chantries suppressed by the Acts of Henry VIII and Edward VI.
  • 32. Ibid. 4 Hen. IV, pt. 2, m. 37.
  • 33. A commission was appointed to investigate the case. Ibid. 3 Hen. IV, pt. 2, m. 17 d.; 5 Hen. IV, pt. 1, m. 12 d.; pt. 2, m. 29 d.
  • 34. Sarum Epis. Reg. Mitford, fol. 115d.
  • 35. L. and P. Hen. VIII, viii, 74.
  • 36. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 265–7.
  • 37. Ibid.
  • 38. L. and P. Hen. VIII, ix, 236.
  • 39. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 267.
  • 40. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiv (1), 515.
  • 41. Add. MS. 19047, fol. 6.
  • 42. Dugdale, Mon. v, 628.
  • 43. Tanner, Notitia, Dorset, No. xxviii.
  • 44. Her profession to Richard le Poor, bishop of Salisbury, cannot be later, as in that year he was translated to Durham.
  • 45. Her profession on election, undated, can be seen in the muniment room at the cathedral at Salisbury.
  • 46. Chart. R. 24 Hen. III, m. 3.
  • 47. Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, iii, 121.
  • 48. In that year she did homage to the bishop on her election; Sarum Epis. Reg. Simon of Ghent, i, fol. 33.
  • 49. Cal. of Pap. Letters, iii, 407.
  • 50. Pat. 5 Ric. II, pt. 1, m. 31.
  • 51. Ibid. 3 Hen. IV, pt. 2, m. 17 d.
  • 52. Ibid. 5 Hen. IV, pt. 2, m. 29d.
  • 53. L. and P. Hen. VIII, ix, 236.
  • 54. Both Dugdale and Tanner make the mistake of giving Margaret Lynde, who was prioress when the Valor of 1535 was taken, as abbess; Dugdale, Mon. v, 620; Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, iii. 121.
  • 55. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiv (1), 515. This list, with the addition of fresh names and some corrections of date, closely follows that of Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, iii, 121.
  • 56. Deeds of Surrender, No. 233.