Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Hayles

Pages 96-99

A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.

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The Cistercian monastery of Hayles was founded in 1246 by Richard, earl of Cornwall. (fn. 1) When in great peril in a storm at sea on his way home from Gascony to Cornwall, he vowed that if he came safely to port he would found a monastery. (fn. 2) He fixed upon a site in his manor of Hayles. On 17 June, 1246, he was present with his brother, Henry III, at the dedication by William de Raleigh, bishop of Winchester, of the Cistercian church at Beaulieu. (fn. 3) The abbot of Beaulieu consented to send twenty monks and ten lay brothers to found a new monastery. (fn. 4) Thus Hayles became the daughter house of Beaulieu, and in virtue of that tie was subject to the regular visitation of the abbot. In 1251 the church, cloister, dorter, and frater were finished at the sole cost of the founder, amounting to from 8,000 to 10,000 marks. (fn. 5) The church was dedicated on 5 November by Walter Cantilupe, bishop of Worcester, assisted by thirteen other bishops, who each dedicated an altar. (fn. 6) For the endowment of the monastery Richard gave the manor and church of Hayles, (fn. 7) and 1,000 marks to be expended either on the purchase of land or on buildings, (fn. 8) and Henry III granted a yearly rental of 20 marks. (fn. 9)

As a house of the Cistercian Order Hayles was exempt from the bishop's visitation. It has been recently stated that Giffard, bishop of Worcester, disregarded the immunity of the Cistercians, and visited their houses. (fn. 10) It is clear, however, from his register that he received procuration in food and drink at their houses solely in virtue of his visitation of the parish churches which they held, (fn. 11) and on other occasions he received a fee instead. (fn. 12) It was on account of a dispute concerning the parish church of Didbrook that in 1275 he laid an interdict upon the abbot of Hayles. (fn. 13) Probably the abbot yielded, for the bishop shortly afterwards removed it. (fn. 14)

The revenues did not suffice to meet expenses, and the building of granges for the lay brothers and servants, an essential step in the development of a Cistercian house, was doubtless a heavy charge. When James, abbot of Beaulieu, visited the monastery in 1261, he decreed that no further increase should be made in the number of monks or lay brothers until the debts were diminished. (fn. 15) He bade the cellarer and his colleague pay greater heed to the administration of property. Nine years later, when John, abbot of Beaulieu, came to Hayles he insisted that the alms which used to be given away at the great gate should not be withdrawn. (fn. 16) His other injunctions were directed towards keeping the rule of silence that quarrels among the brethren and vain chatter might be avoided, and the better care of the sick in the farmery. In 1276 Hayles was reckoned among the more prosperous houses of the Cistercian Order in the south of England, and paid £14 13s. 4d. out of the 'courtesy' granted to Edward I, which was the same amount as that given by the house of Bordesley in Worcestershire, and more than either Kingswood or Flaxley contributed. (fn. 17)

A gift from Edmund, earl of Cornwall, proved to be a constant source of revenue on account of the attraction which it offered to pilgrims. In 1267 he purchased from Florey V, count of Holland, a relic which was authenticated under the seal of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, afterwards Pope Urban IV, as some of the blood of Christ. (fn. 18) On 14 September, 1270, he gave a portion of this relic to Hayles. A polygonal apse of five chapels was added to the church to contain the shrine of the relic, (fn. 19) and the new work was dedicated by Giffard, bishop of Worcester, in 1277. (fn. 20) In 1277 Earl Edmund petitioned the bishop of Lincoln to appropriate to Hayles the churches of Hemel Hempstead and Northley, of which he had given the advowsons, (fn. 21) and Northley was appropriated in 1304. (fn. 22) It is probable that the well endowed churches of St. Paul and St. Breage in Cornwall were also his gift. In 1300 he granted his manor of Lechlade to Hayles at a fee farm rent of 100 marks. (fn. 23) When the manor reverted to the crown after his death in 1301, Edward I increased the rent to £100. (fn. 24) Hayles derived the greater part of its income from the profits of the wool-trade, and about the beginning of the fourteenth century twenty sacks a year were sold on an average, at prices varying from 10 to 7 marks a sack, according to the quality. (fn. 25) However, until the middle of the fifteenth century, the financial condition of the monastery was very unstable, and its history is a record of difficulties and of efforts to overcome them. The expenses of Lechlade were so heavy that it was useless to the monks, and they were obliged to give it up. (fn. 26) They had licence to exchange it in 1318 with Hugh Despenser the elder for the manor of Siddington by Cirencester and a rental of 10 marks in Chelworth, Wiltshire. (fn. 27) In 1317 they received a licence from Edward II to acquire in mortmain lands and rents not held in chief, to the value of £10 a year, (fn. 28) and before 1318 they had possession of the manor of Great Wormington in Gloucestershire. (fn. 29) In 1324 Hugh Despenser granted the advowsons of the churches of Longborough and Rodborne, (fn. 30) and the abbot and convent saw an opportunity to add to their revenues. In 1325 they set forth their distress in a long petition to Thomas Cobham, bishop of Worcester, urging him to appropriate Longborough to them. (fn. 31) The burden of it was that unless they could increase their income they must diminish the number of their brethren, and withdraw some of that hospitality which they had hitherto maintained 'according to the laudable custom of the kingdom of England.' Their buildings had been left unfinished by the founder and his son, they had not the promised rental of £200 a year, Lechlade had proved unprofitable, other endowments were in distant dioceses, and they had great difficulties in collecting their revenues. In the years of the great famine, (fn. 32) from 1314 to 1321, they had suffered heavily from sterile lands and murrain among cattle, and in 1325 Bishop Cobham consented to the appropriation of Longborough. In 1345 Abbot Thomas complained that Sir Walter Dastyn and others broke into his close and houses at Wormington, drove away horses, oxen, sheep, and swine which were worth 100 marks, and assaulted his men and servants. (fn. 33)

In 1347, at the request of Edward prince of Wales, Edward III granted a licence for the acquisition of lands and rents to the value of £20 a year, (fn. 34) and in 1392 the abbot and convent had secured them. (fn. 35) There is no indication of the effects of the Black Death in 1349, but when the pestilence recurred in 1361-2 many of the monks and lay brothers died. (fn. 36) The abbots of Hayles had often found some difficulty in collecting the revenues which accrued to the convent as rectors of the churches of St. Breage and St. Paul in Cornwall. It was usual for the abbot to send two of his monks to serve the churches and to receive the profits for his use. (fn. 37) In 1337 the king's aid was invoked against persons who threatened and assaulted their men and servants and carried away their goods. (fn. 38) Later in the fourteenth century the abbot leased the churches at a rent of 120 marks a year. (fn. 39) In 1395 there were arrears of 140 marks, and the tenants of the abbot were outlawed for nonpayment. (fn. 40) When in 1386 Hayles was in sore need of a further source of revenue the abbot and convent commented on the difficulty of collecting their Cornish (fn. 41) rents. They petitioned Wakefield, bishop of Worcester, to appropriate the church of Toddington, with the chapel of Stanley Pontlarge, to their uses, putting forward the usual pleas of religious houses in the years after the Black Death. Their lands were sterile, their tenants and villeins had died in great numbers, they had lost their cattle by murrains. They even lacked necessary food and clothing; they were bound with a load of debt, while taxation was ever increasing. It is probable that as at Meaux and other Cistercian houses the lay brothers died out before the end of the fourteenth century. After inquiring into the truth of these statements, Bishop Wakefield granted the petition of the abbot and convent of Hayles. In 1394, when Herman, abbot of Stratford, came to Hayles as the visitor-general of the Cistercian order, he found but little to criticize. (fn. 42) In 1398 John, abbot of Beaulieu, (fn. 43) desired that better care should be taken of the sick, and that one of the monks should be chosen to provide the clothes of the brethren out of the proceeds of the parish churches of Rodbourne and Northley. Misfortune dogged the footsteps of the convent. In 1397 Henry of Alcester was elected abbot, (fn. 44) but six years later another abbot, Robert of Alcester, appealed to Henry IV to seize a vagrant monk, by name Henry of Alcester. (fn. 45) In 1413 Pope John XXIII granted for ten years a relaxation of ten years and ten quarantines of penance to penitents who on Whitsun Day and Corpus Christi and during those octaves visited the church of Hayles and gave alms for the maintenance of the fabric. (fn. 46) It was alleged that on account of the dilapidations left by the late Abbot Henry the monastery was in debt to the sum of 1,000 marks. The buildings were ruinous, the revenues scarcely amounted to £100 a year, and were insufficient for the sustenance of twentytwo monks, for hospitality, and other burdens. About 1431 Abbot William set out for the papal curia with the object of obtaining further aid. (fn. 47) He deputed Prior John of Alcester to govern during his absence, with two monks as his council, and power to summon others to advise him. All jewels and other valuables were to be kept in the treasury, and the convent seal was put in safe custody. A revival in the attraction of the relic of the Holy Blood was the result of the abbot's journey. Eugenius IV granted lavish indulgences to all who gave alms to the worship of God and the Precious Blood of Hayles. (fn. 48) Further indulgences were granted in 1458 by Calixtus III, who exhorted all the faithful to help the monks of Hayles in repairing their ruined abbey, (fn. 49) and again by Paul II in 1468. (fn. 50)

The administration of the house caused grave dissatisfaction to the abbots of Waverley and Beaulieu, when they visited it in 1442. (fn. 51) The strict provisions of the Cistercian rule about finance were disregarded, so they bade the abbot render his accounts by Michaelmas, and immediately afterwards to appoint two bursars to receive all the moneys and supervise the expenditure of the house. They ordered that repairs, internal and external, of the monastery, should be carried out as quickly as possible, and they censured the general relaxation of discipline. It may be surmised that a period of prosperity began about the middle of the fifteenth century; much rebuilding took place, and at the dissolution the commissioners were loud in their praises of the administration of the property of the monastery. (fn. 52)

In 1535 Cromwell appointed Anthony Saunders, the curate of Winchcombe, to read to the monks of Winchcombe and preach in the parish. (fn. 53) On 2 November he complained to Cromwell of the abbot of Hayles—

I have small favour and assistance amongst Pharasaical papists. The Abbot of Hayles has hired a great Golyas, a subtle Dun's man, yea a great clerk, as he sayeth, a bachelor of divinity of Oxford to catch me in my sermons.

He added that this preacher rather maintained than spoke against the usurped power of the bishop of Rome. However, Abbot Stephen was not openly hostile to Cromwell. On 28 January, 1536, he wrote asking him to dispense with some of the new injunctions which were most galling to the religious. (fn. 54) Since Cromwell had visited the house, he wrote—

The number of my brethren is sore decayed. I have buried three, two are sore sick, one had licence to depart, and I have three in Oxford at divinity. I beg that I may take in more to help the choir.

On 18 June he told Cromwell that in accordance with his wish he had granted the farm of Longborough to Robert Hopper. (fn. 55)

In 1538 commissioners were appointed in every county to destroy the shrines. Latimer, bishop of Worcester, reported to Cromwell that the relic of the Holy Blood of Hayles seemed, after examination, to be 'an unctuous gum and a compound of many things.' (fn. 56) It was dispatched to London, and on 24 November Hilsey, bishop of Rochester, preached at Paul's Cross, and there showed the Blood of Hayles, affirming it to be 'honey clarified and coloured with saffron, as had been evidently proved before the king and his council.' (fn. 57) Abbot Stephen wrote to Cromwell praying that he might destroy the empty shrine, 'lest it should minister occasion for stumbling to the weak.' (fn. 58)

On 24 December, 1539, the abbot and twenty-one monks surrendered the monastery. (fn. 59) Dr. London and his fellow-commissioners reported to Cromwell that they found—

the father and all his brethren very honest and conformable persons, and the house clearly out of debt. . . . The father had his house and grounds so well furnished with jewels, plate, stuff, corn, cattle, and the woods also so well saved, as though he had looked for no alteration of his house. (fn. 60)

A pension of £100 a year, with the manorhouse of Coscomb, was assigned to the abbot; the prior and one monk got £8; the rest received pensions varying from £7 to £1 6s. 8d. a year, and two monks were given vicarages. (fn. 61) Wages were paid to seventy servants of the household. (fn. 62)

In 1535 the clear yearly value of the property of Hayles amounted to £357 7s. 8½d. (fn. 63) The possessions of the monastery included the manors of Hayles, Pinnockshire, Nether Swell, Wormington, Coscomb, Longborough; rents in the towns of Gloucester and Winchcombe; lands and rents in Didbrook, Challingworth, and Farmcote, in Gloucestershire; the manor of Rodbourne in Wiltshire; pastures at Heathend in Worcestershire; and the rectories of Hagley in Suffolk, Northley in Oxfordshire, St. Breage and St. Paul in Cornwall, Rodbourne in Wiltshire, Hayles, Didbrook, Longborough, and Toddington in Gloucestershire.

Abbots of Hayles (fn. 64)

Jordan, 1246 (fn. 65)

Hugh, occurs 1280 (fn. 66) and 1305 (fn. 67)

John of Gloucester, 1305, (fn. 68) occurs 1333 (fn. 69)

Thomas, occurs 1345 (fn. 70)

Nicholas of Hayles, 1351 (fn. 71)

Thomas, 1354 (fn. 72)

John of Gloucester, 1368 (fn. 73)

Robert, occurs 1380 (fn. 74)

Henry of Alcester, 1397 (fn. 75)

Robert of Alcester, occurs 1403, (fn. 76) ob. 1420 (fn. 77)

William Henley, 1420, (fn. 78) occurs 1435 (fn. 79)

Robert Laurak, 1451 (fn. 80)

William Whitchurch, 1464 (fn. 81)

Richard Wotton, 1479 (fn. 82)

John Combeck, occurs 1483 (fn. 83)

Thomas Stafford, 1483, (fn. 84) occurs 1503 (fn. 85)

Anthony Melton, occurs 1515, (fn. 86) ob. circa 1527 (fn. 87)

Stephen Sagar, 1527 (fn. 88) -39

A seal of the fifteenth century represents a monk standing on a flight of three steps, in his right hand a globular bottle with cylindrical neck or ampulla, with cross issuing from the mouth in allusion to the Holy Blood; in the left hand a sprinkler; the field resplendent with wavy branches of foliage with pierced cinquefoil flowers. (fn. 89)

The legend is:—



  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. v, 686; Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 337.
  • 2. Dugdale, op. cit. v, 688.
  • 3. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 337.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Dugdale, op. cit. v, 688.
  • 6. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 343.
  • 7. Dugdale, op. cit. v, 688.
  • 8. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 343.
  • 9. Ibid. Probably the manor of Pinnockshire was then granted by Henry III to the abbot and convent. Cf. Pipe R. 44 Hen. III, m. 2.
  • 10. V.C.H. Worcestershire, ii, 26, 'Ecclesiastical History'; and 153, 'Religious Houses.' Worc. Epis. Reg. Giffard (Worc. Hist. Soc.), xcii, xciii, xcvi, 66–7, 81. There is absolutely no evidence that, as stated in the introduction to Giffard's register, the bishop attempted to enforce internal reforms at Hayles. On no occasion is it stated that the bishop 'visited' any Cistercian house, though in the printed text, p. 77, 'hospitare' is loosely rendered as 'visit.'
  • 11. Worc. Epis. Reg. Giffard (Worc. Hist. Soc.), 22, 235, 239.
  • 12. Ibid. 141.
  • 13. Ibid. 66–7.
  • 14. Ibid. 81.
  • 15. M.S. Reg. xii, E. xiv. 73–4 (B.M.).
  • 16. Ibid. fol. 75.
  • 17. Harl. MS. 6603, fol. 384 (B.M.).
  • 18. Brist. and Glouc. Arch. Soc. Trans. xxiii, 277; Harl. MS. 3725, fol. 13 v. (B.M.).
  • 19. Ibid. 278.
  • 20. Dugdale, Mon. v, 687; Harl. MS. 3725, fol. 15.
  • 21. Linc. Epis. Reg. Dalderby, Institutions, fol. 145.
  • 22. Ibid.
  • 23. Cart. R. 12 Edw. II, No. 17.
  • 24. Ibid.
  • 25. Cunningham, Growth of English Industry and Commerce, i, 634 (ed. 1905).
  • 26. Worc. Epis. Reg. Cobham, fol. 106.
  • 27. Cal. of Pat. 12 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 23.
  • 28. Ibid. 10 Edw. II, pt. ii, m. 30.
  • 29. Ibid. 12 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 17 d.
  • 30. Ibid. 17 Edw. II, pt. ii, m. 6.
  • 31. Worc. Epis. Reg. Cobham, fol. 106.
  • 32. Harl. MS. 3725, fol. 21.
  • 33. Cal. of Pat. 19 Edw. III, pt. iii, m. 9 d.
  • 34. Ibid. 21 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 17.
  • 35. Ibid. 16 Ric. II, pt. i, m. 17.
  • 36. Brist. and Glouc. Arch. Soc. Trans. xxii, 259.
  • 37. Cal. of Pat. 6 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 2; cf. other references in Cal. of Pat.
  • 38. Ibid. 11 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 21.
  • 39. Ibid. 19 Ric. II, pt. ii, m. 36.
  • 40. Ibid.
  • 41. Worc. Epis. Reg. Wakefield, fol. 116.
  • 42. MS. Reg. xii, E. xiv, fol. 84 v. (B.M.).
  • 43. Ibid. fol. 89 v.
  • 44. Worc. Epis. Reg. Winchcombe, fol. 16d.
  • 45. Cal. of Pat. 5 Hen. IV, pt. i, m. 27 d.
  • 46. Cal. Papal L. (Rolls Ser.), vi, 376.
  • 47. MS. Reg. xii, E. xiv, fol. 75 v. (B.M.).
  • 48. Brist. and Glouc. Arch. Soc. Trans. xxiii, 279.
  • 49. Ibid. 279, xxii, 260.
  • 50. Ibid. 280.
  • 51. MS. Reg. xii, E. xiv, fol. 81 v. (B.M.).
  • 52. Wright, Suppression of the Mon. (Camden Soc.), 236-7.
  • 53. L. and P. Hen. VIII, ix, No. 747.
  • 54. Ibid. No. 192.
  • 55. Ibid. x, No. 1163.
  • 56. Glouc. N. and Q. iv, 576.
  • 57. Wright, op. cit. 237 n.
  • 58. Glouc. N. and Q. iv, 575.
  • 59. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xv, No. 139, iv.
  • 60. Wright, op. cit, 236-7.
  • 61. Dugdale, Mon. v, 689.
  • 62. Aug. Off. Bk. 494, fol. 70.
  • 63. Valor Eccles. (Rec. Com.), ii, 456.
  • 64. The abbots of Hayles have been confused with the abbots of Hales Owen in Shropshire. A list of the abbots of Hales Owen is included in Gasquet, Coll. Angl. Premonstratensia (R. Hist. Soc.), ii, 237. Of these Walter de Hagge and Bartholomew are wrongly set down as abbots of Hayles by Dugdale, Mon. v, 687.
  • 65. Harl. MS. 3725, fol. 33 v. (B. M.).
  • 66. Brist. and Glouc. Arch. Soc. Trans. xxii, 258.
  • 67. Worc. Epis. Reg. Gainsborough, fol. 7.
  • 68. Ibid. fol. 30.
  • 69. Cal. of Pat. 6 Edw. III, pt. iii, m. 1.
  • 70. Ibid. 19 Edw. III, pt. iii, m. 9 d.
  • 71. Worc. Epis. Reg. Thoresby, fol. 35.
  • 72. Ibid. Brian, fol. 10.
  • 73. Heref. Epis. Reg. Charlton, fol. 32.
  • 74. Dugdale, Mon. v, 687.
  • 75. Worc. Epis. Reg. Winchcombe, fol. 16 d.
  • 76. Cal. of Pat. 5 Hen. IV, pt. i, m. 27 d.
  • 77. Worc. Epis. Reg. Morgan, fol. 15 d.
  • 78. Ibid.
  • 79. Ibid. Bourchier, fol. 10.
  • 80. Ibid. Carpenter, i, fol. 95.
  • 81. Ibid. fol. 185.
  • 82. Ibid. Alcock, fol. 52; on death of W. Whitchurch.
  • 83. Ibid. fol. 120 d.
  • 84. Ibid.
  • 85. Ibid. Silvester de Giglis, fol. 33.
  • 86. Ibid. fol. 142 d.
  • 87. Ibid. de Ghinucci, fol. 75 d.
  • 88. Ibid. fol. 75 d.
  • 89. Birch, Catalogue of Seals in British Museum, i, 580.