A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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HOUSES OF CISTERCIAN MONKS
9. THE ABBEY OF COGGESHALL (fn. 1)
Coggeshall, founded by King Stephen and Queen Maud, was one of the thirteen English houses of the order of Savigny, the whole of which joined the Cistercians in 1147. Savigny itself was situated within the county of Mortain, and to this connexion with Stephen, as count of Mortain, the selection of the order of the new abbey was no doubt due. The choice of the site, on the other hand, came from the queen, Coggeshall being one of the manors held by her father, Count Eustace of Boulogne. In her foundation charter (fn. 2) she granted the manor to the monks to hold as fully as she and her father had held it, and the grant was confirmed by charters of Stephen and their son William, count of Boulogne.
The date of the foundation is given in different annals in years varying from 1137 to 1142; but the most probable seems to be 1140, as given by the historian Ralph, the sixth abbot, who states that the convent assembled on 3 August. (fn. 3) He is certain to have had good evidence, and moreover correctly records an eclipse in the same year. This date is consistent (fn. 4) with the evidence of the queen's foundation charter. Ralph tells us that the high altar was dedicated to St. Mary and St. John the Baptist on 15 August, 1167, by Gilbert Foliot, bishop of London, who on the same day solemnly celebrated mass at that altar, Simon de Toni being the abbot. (fn. 5) Later, we learn from him that on the day of the Circumcision, 1216, while tierce was being said, some of King John's army violently entered the abbey and carried off twenty-two horses of the bishop of London and others. (fn. 6) But he gives no further information towards the history of the abbey beyond mentioning the succession of the early abbots and a mysterious occurrence, that was never cleared up, in the time of Peter, the fourth abbot. A lay brother, Robert, who had the care of the guests, entered the guest hall as usual before the hour of refection and there found several persons dressed as Templars. He conversed with them and reported their arrival to the abbot, but on his return found no one, and the porters said that no such persons had passed the gates. (fn. 7)
Henry II, by a charter dated at Rouen early in his reign, granted protection and liberties to the abbey, and confirmed several grants made to it; and this charter was confirmed by Edward I in 1290. (fn. 8) Richard I on 15 September, 1189, granted a charter of liberties; John on 1 January, 1204, granted licence for the abbot and convent to enclose their wood in their manor of Coggeshall (fn. 9); and Henry III on 2 April, 1257, granted licence for them to enclose woods in Tolleshunt Major, Tolleshunt Tregoz, Inworth, Childerditch and Little Warley, with various detailed provisions. (fn. 10) The same king also on 26 May, 1247, granted to them free warren in their demesne lands at Coggeshall; on 10 October, 1250, a fair at Coggeshall on the vigil and day of St. Peter ad Vincula and the six days following; and on 6 April, 1256, a market there on Saturdays. All these charters, as well as Queen Maud's foundation charter, were confirmed by Edward II in 1325, (fn. 11) and by Richard II in 1389. (fn. 12)
The Taxation of 1291 mentions temporalities of the abbey amounting to £131 11s. 6d. yearly, of which £67 11s. 10d.—or more than half— came from Coggeshall itself. The next largest sums were £14 3s. 2d. from Tolleshunt Major, £9 9s. 1d. from Childerditch, £8 from Barkway in Hertfordshire, and £6 13s. 4d. from Inworth. Goldhanger, Warley, Feering, Tolleshunt Tregoz, Springfield, Easthorpe, Horndon, Colchester and Marks Hall each contributed over £1, and fourteen other places smaller amounts.
Not long after its foundation the abbey had a dispute about the church of Coggeshall with the Cluniac priory of Rumilly, near Boulogne, which Count Eustace of Boulogne had founded in 1105, (fn. 13) and to which he had probably granted the church. The matter is referred to in two letters (fn. 14) from John of Salisbury to Pope Adrian IV (1154-9). The abbot and convent said that they had the church canonically by agreement with Prior Theobald and the convent of Rumilly, for a pension to be paid to Rumilly, and that certain monks of Rumilly would bear witness to this. These were not to be found, and the Coggeshall party alleged that they had been sent away by the prior lest they should testify to the truth. The abbey retained the church, and the tithes were appropriated to it by Eustace, bishop of London, on 8 January, 1223; (fn. 15) but a yearly rent of 10 marks was paid to Rumilly. (fn. 16) The abbot and convent were pardoned in 1385 for having obtained a release of this without licence. (fn. 17)
The manor of Childerditch belonged to the abbey, and a complete inventory (fn. 18) is preserved of the farm utensils, goods, stock, grain, etc., there on the Nativity of St. Mary, 1295, with the amounts of wages paid to the farm labourers. The manor of Tillingham Hall in Childerditch was acquired in 1377, for the maintenance of a taper burning daily before the high altar at high mass. (fn. 19) The church of Childerditch was appropriated (fn. 20) to the abbey on 13 June, 1380, by Simon, archbishop of Canterbury, in accordance with a bull of Pope Urban VI dated 17 Kal. September, 1379; and on Thursday after Easter week, 1382, the abbot and convent granted to Sir John Thornbery, knight, Master William Bryon and John Myte, for expenses incurred in this matter at the Roman court and elsewhere, a yearly pension of 10 marks until the death of John de Haverhulle, a monk of the monastery, and also to John de Haverhulle for life the whole solar at the old hall in the monastery, the grantees agreeing to defend the right of the abbey to the rectory. This grant was confirmed by the abbot of Warden at his visitation at Coggeshall on the same day, and by the king on 16 October, 1384; (fn. 21) but the royal licence for the appropriation of the church had not been obtained, and for this the abbot and convent had to pay a fine of 100s. in 1406. (fn. 22)
The manor of Tolleshunt Major was granted by charter by Philip son of Nicholas de Boville to Abbot Thomas Quintyn and the convent in 40 Henry III. These held the manor and had view of frankpledge there as Nicholas and Philip had done; and on the death of Thomas his successor William de Tolleshunt, abbot, and the convent had the same for twenty-six years and more, until in 20 Edward I the king's bailiff in Dengie hundred prevented their having the view. But the abbot and convent never released their claim, and their right was eventually upheld by inquisition in 1327, when Richard de Pantfeld was abbot. (fn. 23) It was not, however, until 12 February, 1341, that they got a formal grant of the view of frankpledge at the manor, for a fine of 60s. made by Abbot William Joldayn. (fn. 24)
In 1260 the abbot is mentioned as going beyond seas as the king's envoy; (fn. 25) and in 1308 (fn. 26) and in 1311 (fn. 27) as going to the chapter general at Citeaux, being allowed to take £20 with him for expenses on the latter occasion.
The crown claimed corrodies in the abbey. Richard de Ry was sent there by the king on 23 May, 1299. (fn. 28) The abbot and convent granted that he should eat in their house, and though nothing was said of robes and shoeleather, they afterwards gave him this at the king's request. He was still not satisfied, however, and used threats; and they wrote to the king for compassion, declaring that they were in debt to the amount of £540. (fn. 29) Walter le Ewer was sent there in 1312 for maintenance in the place of John de Totehill. (fn. 30)
In 1308 the abbot was charged with the repair of the bridge of Stratford between Braintree and Coggeshall, but proved that neither he nor his predecessors had ever repaired it, and no rents or tenements had ever been given to the abbey for its repair. (fn. 31)
Pope Clement VI on 18 June, 1352, granted to Abbot Roger an indult to eat out of his monastery and give licence to two monks his companions to eat flesh on lawful days, there being few fish in these parts; (fn. 32) and Pope Boniface IX on 12 May, 1402, granted that as often as any of the monks left the monastery for a reasonable cause they might eat flesh on lawful days. (fn. 33)
Pope Martin V on 17 April, 1427, granted an indult to the Abbot John to wear the mitre, ring and other pontifical insignia; and to give solemn benediction after mass, vespers and matins in the monastery and the churches belonging to it, provided no bishop or papal legate be present. (fn. 34) There is no mention of his successors, so probably the grant was only for life.
Edward III on 11 January, 1345, granted a tun of red wine yearly to the abbot and convent, they having undertaken to find a monk to celebrate divine service daily in their church for him and his queen Philippa and his children; (fn. 35) and this grant was confirmed in 1379, (fn. 36) 1400, (fn. 37) and 1463. (fn. 38) On 27 January, 1408, they had licence to acquire rent in Springfield and Sandon for the maintenance of a monk to celebrate likewise for the souls of Sir Hugh de Badewe and Margaret his wife and Thomas Coggeshale. (fn. 39)
In 1370 the abbey was reported to be greatly impoverished by grants of corrodies, excessive expenditure and improvident alienations of lands, and the king on 26 October directed the escheator to inquire into the matter. Inquisitions were taken accordingly at Chelmsford, Brentwood and Rayleigh, and several facts were brought to light. Rents in Leighs and Chelmsford were considerably in arrear. Abbot Roger and the convent had granted a parcel of the manor of Kewton Hall in Springfield, which manor the Earl Mandeville had given to the convent, to Roger Sawene for ever at a rent below its value for a payment of 10 marks. Abbot Roger Porte in 26 Edward III without the king's licence had granted 40 acres of land in Chadwell and Thurrock to William Horneby for 100 years at a rent of 12d., though worth 40s., and for this William had paid him £18. Abbot Thomas and the convent in 1257 had granted a marsh in Little Wakering, formerly in the possession of the abbey of the gift of Peter de Hebreg and Walter de Barkyng, to Robert de Bohun and his heirs and assigns at a certain rent, and Abbot William and the convent had released this rent to Giles de Stanbregg, into whose possession the marsh had come. (fn. 40)
During the peasants' revolt in 1381 some of the insurgents entered the abbey and carried away goods and charters, writings and other muniments; (fn. 41) a fact which appears to indicate its unpopularity at the time.
The rents from the possessions of the abbey in Coggeshall are given in great detail in the account (fn. 42) of the bailiff for the year ending Michaelmas, 1531. We have only a part (fn. 43) of the complete return to the Valor Ecclesiasticus in 1535. In this the gross income of the abbey amounts to £298 0s. 8d.; and deductions of £12 6s. for rents, £8 0s. 8d. for pensions, £20 13s. 4d. for fees, including those to John, earl of Oxford, and Henry, earl of Essex, as chief stewards, and £5 18s. 8d. for alms on three anniversaries, reduce the net income to £251 2s. The abbey was thus rich enough to escape the first dissolution in 1536.
Thomas, abbot of Ford, was commissioned (fn. 44) to visit Coggeshall and other Cistercian houses in 1535, but nothing is known of his visitation. The abbey was visited at the end of 1535 by Doctor Thomas Legh. The report of the visitation has not been preserved; but it appears that there were serious dissensions between some of the monks and the abbot. Definite articles (fn. 45) of accusation were brought against him:—
1. Knowing that he should be visited, he counselled the brethren not to be known of certain plate that was in the house, that the king might not have it.
2. Expecting that the king would have the lands of the house, he let many under their value.
3. He neglected to say a collect at high mass for the king and queen Anne, though the king is our founder.
4. He read a book of a certain prophecy amongst us, his brethren, containing words such as Novus papa erit a Deo electus.
5. He practised immorality.
6. He has used divination.
Richard Clerke, alias Brayntre, monk, aged 31, was examined on 23 January, 1536, and gave details, quoting the late abbot in support. John Bokkyng, monk, also examined, corroborated his evidence. Another document (fn. 46) gives depositions of certain of the convent against the abbot, supplementing the above:—
1. For maintaining the power of the pope contrary to our oath and the statutes.
2. For secreting jewels and evidences belonging to the place, in anticipation of the king's visitation.
3. For using unlawful means to know of things to come, by means of a key and a book and a man's name.
4. For having obtained his office by simony. He says himself it cost him 300 marks, which is a great charge to the house.
5. He pretends that the house owes him 300 marks, though hospitality was never so ill kept.
6. He is an ill husband for our commonwealth, having sold all the corn and cattle we had on our farms and much more than we know of, while divers of the brethren have been like to perish for lack of keeping. He has been heard to say he cares not to go to the devil for money. He has often betrayed confession. Of late, when there was conversation about heretics, in which Luther, Barnes and others were mentioned, the abbot said the maintainers of all heretics were Master Cromwell and Friar George Browne. 'Wherefore help good Master Doctor for a charitable reformation' and get us a head who will be true to the king's succession.
It is difficult to say how much truth there was in these charges. The earl of Essex writes (fn. 47) to Cromwell on 13 January that the abbot is accused of misdemeanour by a simple person, supported by one who was formerly abbot there, as Doctor Lye, the visitor, will certify. He himself and the earl of Oxford have examined the abbot, and find him a true subject. The two earls can hardly be regarded as impartial judges, for they were both connected with the abbey, having held the stewardship (fn. 48) of it successively. But that the dissensions originated with Abbot Sampford is highly probable. The charge of simony probably refers to nothing more than the usual bribery and payments in connexion with the election, that of immorality was very likely exaggerated or even groundless, and that of divination simply raises the question whether the credulity of the abbot or the monks was greater. On the other hand, the charges of sedition, concealment of goods, and cheap letting of lands are likely enough to have been true.
The decision went against the abbot; and on 31 August the abbot of Tower Hill was granted (fn. 49) the abbey to hold in commendam when it should be vacant. He appears to have taken charge immediately, for two days later he tells (fn. 50) of treasonable words spoken by the porter. After this, with the exception of a significant note (fn. 51) in Cromwell's remembrances—'to speak with the abbot of Tower Hill for Coggeshall for Thomas Seymer'—we hear little more of the abbey until 5 February, 1538, when it was finally surrendered, (fn. 52) heavily in debt.
Besides the manors already mentioned those of Lyons (in Great Leighs), Chedingsell and Tutwyke (in Inworth), Holfield Grange (in Coggeshall), and Wiston Hall (in Suffolk) belonged to it at the time of the dissolution. The abbey itself and all its possessions were granted (fn. 53) in fee to Sir Thomas Seymour on 23 March, 1538, at a rent of £25 2s. 2½d. yearly. Part, including the site, were sold (fn. 54) back by him to the crown on 12 May, 1541. In a survey (fn. 55) taken preparatory to this in April it is noted that the church is prostrate and defaced, but that the lodgings and cloister yet remain untouched. The charges on lands included pensions of £5 and upwards to the three last abbots, John Sampford, William Love and Henry More, and four other monks, Thomas Brykelsey, John Roydon, George Cokenell and Thomas Bysshom.
Abbots Of Coggeshall
William, occurs 1148. (fn. 56)
Geoffrey, the eighth abbot, elected 1223. (fn. 69)
Richard, occurs 1236, 1248. (fn. 70)
John, occurs circa 1300. (fn. 75)
William, occurs 1310. (fn. 76)
Richard de Pantfeld, occurs 1327. (fn. 77)
William Joldan, occurs 1341. (fn. 78)
Roger Porte, occurs 1352. (fn. 79)
John Taseler, occurs 1437. (fn. 86)
Simon Pakenham, occurs 1448. (fn. 87)
John, occurs 1480. (fn. 94)
William, occurs 1482. (fn. 95)
John, (fn. 96) occurs 1492.
William Cowpere, occurs 1506. (fn. 97)
John, occurs 1507. (fn. 98)
William, (fn. 99) occurs 1508, 1510.
John Sampford. (fn. 100)
Henry More, appointed 1536, (fn. 103) the last abbot.
The seal (fn. 104) of the abbey (about 1235) is a pointed oval of green wax, 1¾ in. by 1 in., representing an abbot standing with a crozier. Legend:
SIGILL' ABBATIS DE COGGESHALE.
The seal attached to the deed of surrender (fn. 105) is of white wax, measuring about 21/8 in. The Virgin crowned is seated in a canopied niche, with the infant Jesus on her knee; and in a smaller canopied niche on each side is a group of six kneeling monks. In the base, under an arch, is a shield of arms, France and England quartered. The other side is now broken, but according to the Monasticon there was there a shield of arms of the abbey—three cocks. Legend:
SIGIL . . . . DE CO . . . .