Houses of Cistercian monks: Abbey of Netley

A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1903.

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'Houses of Cistercian monks: Abbey of Netley', in A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 2, (London, 1903) pp. 146-149. British History Online [accessed 11 April 2024]

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The abbey of Netley, Letley (Lœtus Locus), or Edwardstow (Loci Sancti Edwardi), dedicated to the honour of the Blessed Virgin and St. Edward the Confessor, was founded for Cistercian monks by Henry III. in 1239. It appears that Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester (1205-38), purchased the land of ' Hanseta ' and ' Cedrigia' from William, Bishop of Angers, and the dean and chapter of Angers; lands in Wellow from the abbot of St. Mary de Pratis, Leicester; lands at Kingston Deverel from the bishop and chapter of Le Mans; land called 'Ayhsleg' in Dorsetshire from the abbot of Croix St. Leufroy; and some other parcels of land, apparently with the object of founding this monastery. The bishop, however, died in 1238, before the completion of his object, and the actual foundation was carried out by Henry III. in the following year. (fn. 1) Hence the king was usually referred to as the founder. So soon as the monastery was completed it was colonized by monks from the Cistercian abbey of Beaulieu, who arrived at their new home on St. James' Day, 1239. (fn. 2)

In August, 1243, Roger de Clare sold to the abbey for 300 marks the tilled land and pasture which lay between their manor of Gomshall and the highway from Guildford to Dorking, and also the advowson of the church of Shere, (fn. 3) which grant was confirmed by John de Warren, Earl of Surrey, in 1252.

In 1244 Innocent IV. sanctioned Under certain conditions the appropriation by the abbey of Netley of the churches of Shere and Wellow, valued at £30 per annum. (fn. 4) The same pope in the following year confirmed to the abbot and convent of Netley the privileges of not being compelled by bishops or others to attend synods or assemblies outside their order, save only pro fide, and of exemption from sentences of excommunication, suspension or interdict. (fn. 5)

In the same year Robert, abbot of Netley, released to the Bishop of Winchester the manor of Esher, with the advowson of the church and all its appurtenances, save 100s. worth of land in Dorsetshire. (fn. 6) In August, 1247, the abbot and convent of Lieu Dieu, in the diocese of Amiens, sold to the abbey of Netley for 600 marks their English manor of Nordley, their rents in Oxford, their rents and rights in Chaddleworth and their rent of five marks from the church of Henton. (fn. 7)

Henry III. on 7 March, 1251, confirmed to Netley Abbey (Sancte Marie de Loco Sancti Edwardi) the site of the monastery with the lands of Netley, Hound, Wellow, Totton, Gomshall, Nordley, Kingston Deverel, Waldon, Aynsley and Lacton, with rents in Charleton, Southampton and Southwark, a hundred acres in Shere manor and the church there, as well as many liberties and privileges. A fortnight later the king granted to the abbey free warren on their lands in Netley, Hound, Shotteshale, Westbrook and Sholing (Hants), Waddon and Aynsley (Dorset), and Gomshall and Shere (Surrey), a weekly market at Hound on Monday and a two days' fair at Wellow on the vigil and day of St. Margaret. (fn. 8) Henry III. continued his benefactions to the abbey, and on 24 July, 1253, granted to it three carucates of land, of 100 acres each, in the New Forest, with licence to enclose and cultivate them; and in 1256 he gave special licence to enclose the same against the king's deer. (fn. 9) He also further granted to the abbey a tun of wine yearly out of the prisage at Southampton, to be used for the celebrations in the abbey. Edward I. instructed the taker of the king's wines at Southampton in 1276, 1277 and 1280 to duly supply this wine according to the late king's charter (fn. 10); but in 1281 Edward I. granted 20s. yearly in alms in lieu of the wine, as the prisage at Southampton was assigned to Eleanor, the king's mother, as part of her dower. (fn. 11)

In June, 1290, Abbot Walter de Cheseldene, who had just previously been elected, obtained permission to attend his general chapter. (fn. 12)

The taxation of 1291 gives the income of the abbey in temporalities in the Winchester archdeaconry at £17 1s,; namely Netley Grange £2 2s., Wellow Grange £3, Raydon Grange £1, Gomshall Grange £10, and 19s. of rents in Winchester and Southampton. At the same time the rectory of Hound, with its chapel of Netley, was valued at £6 13s. 4d. the year. The churches of Shere and Wellow, which were appropriated to the abbey, were respectively valued at £23 6s. 8d. and £10. The abbot also held property in Salisbury diocese of the annual value of £24 1s. The total revenue of the abbey amounted at that time to the substantial income of £81 2s. (fn. 13)

The abbot of Netley was summoned to the parliaments of 1295, 1296, 1300 and 1302.

On 10 February, 1311, licence for alienation in mortmain to the abbot and convent of Netley was obtained by a fine of 100s. for various plots of land in Wellow and Hound, together with a salt pit in the latter parish. (fn. 14) In the following year similar licence was obtained for two messuages and 45 acres of land in East Wellow. (fn. 15) And in May, 1328, Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford, obtained licence by a fine of ten marks to alienate to the abbey in mortmain the Hampshire manor of Mansbridge of the yearly value of twentyfour marks. In return for this the abbey was to find two monks as chaplains to celebrate daily mass in the abbey church for the souls of the earl, his ancestors and heirs; and the earl was to obtain licence to present two secular clerks to the abbot for admission as monks, promotion to the priesthood and appointment to the said chantries. (fn. 16)

Notwithstanding this increase of property, on 25 May of the same year letters of protection had to be obtained by the request of the chapter, as the house was burdened with debt and impoverished by bad government. At the same time the king appointed John of Mere to the custody of the abbey, during pleasure, by whose advice the abbot was to apply the revenues to the payment of debts. Meanwhile no minister nor sheriff of the king nor any other person was to lodge at the abbey or in any of its granges, or to meddle with anything thereto belonging, without the king's consent. (fn. 17) It was probably in consequence of their embarrassed position that the abbey, soon after this date, parted with a considerable share of its property. Letters patent of January, 1331, confirmed to Henry Darcy and Hugh Totehill, his brother, a grant made by Abbot William and the convent of their mill at Stone and all their possessions in Laghton, Morthing, Hoton Ker, Torcroft, Brokehouse and Stone, absolutely, with villeins, chattels and services of free tenants. (fn. 18)

The abbot and convent again petitioned the Crown (as a house of royal foundation) for relief in 1338, alleging as one of the causes of the impoverishment of this estate the situation of the abbey on the sea coast and the frequent coming and going of mariners. Letters patent were consequently granted enabling them to assign to Roger of Petersfield and Henry Deverel of Netley and their heirs, at an annual rental of £40, 30 acres of meadow, 110 acres of heath and 40 acres of turbary, together with their fisheries on Terstwood and Totton, as well as forty bondmen in villenage in the same towns. (fn. 19)

The taxation of February, 1341, shows that the church of Hound, with the chapel of Netley, was endowed with two messuages, a curtilage, a yardland of arable worth 10s. yearly; the tithes of milk, hay, fish and salt, valued at 13s.; the oblations on appointed days, 10s.; and tithes of gardens, orchards, pigs and mortuaries, 11s. The ninths of Iambs and wool were that year 10s. below the average, because sailors and others appointed to guard the coast had robbed the parishioners of sheep and lambs. The ninths wanted 8s. of their usual value, as a good part of the corn land was left fallow through dread of foreign invasion and the marauding of the king's sailors. (fn. 20) In 1346 Netley was returned as holding half a knight's fee in Wellow in perpetual alms. (fn. 21)

On 7 December, 1461, Edward IV. inspected and confirmed three charters of Henry III. and letters patent of Richard II. (fn. 22)

From a butlerage account of 1526 it seems that the annual payment to Netley Abbey of a tun of wine for sacramental purposes, out of the prisage wine of the port of Southampton, had been resumed in kind; at all events in that year Netley was one of the five monasteries that received a tun of wine from the king. (fn. 23)

In 1529 Thomas Stevens, abbot of Netley, was summoned to Convocation; he did not appear personally, but was represented by the prior of Breamore. (fn. 24)

The ominous Thomas Cromwell appears on the scene in 1533. In December of that year he wrote to Abbot Thomas, desiring him to grant his friend John Cooke a new lease for sixty years, at the old rent, of the farm called Roydon; being near the seaside it would be convenient for Cooke to serve the king in his office of the Admiralty in those parts. (fn. 25)

A royal commission was issued in 1535, which empowered Thomas, abbot of Forde, to visit various Cistercian houses, including Netley and all those of Winchester diocese.

The Valor of 1535 estimated the gross revenue of Netley Abbey at £160 2s. 9½d., whilst the clear income was only £100 12s. 8d.; it therefore came under the heading of the lesser monasteries. Being of exempt jurisdiction, no particulars are given in the return.

On 30 May, 1536, Sir James Worsley and his brother commissioners presented their report on the religious houses of Hampshire. Netley is described as 'A hedde house of Monkes of thordre of Cisteaux, beinge of large buyldinge and situate upon the Ryvage of the Sees. To the Kinge's Subjects and Strangers travelinge the same Sees great Relief and Comforte.' (fn. 26) The commissioners estimated its total revenues at £181 2s. 8d. They found there seven monks, all priests, ' by Raporte of good Religious conversation, whereof desieren to Contynne Religiar vj, and to have capacite j.' There were thirty-two other inmates, namely ' ij freeres observantes comytted by the Kinge's highnes,' four waiting servants, four officers of the household, eleven officials of the convent, seven hinds and three ' for the dayery.' The church, mansions and buildings were in good repair. The lead and bells were worth £57; plate and jewels, £43 2s. 11d.; ornaments, £39 4s. 8d.; stuff, £9 3s. 4d.; corn, £10 17s.; stocks and stores, £103 13s. 4d. The woods were worth £81. The debts of the house were £42 3s. 4d., but there was £28 5s. owing to the house. (fn. 27)

The abbey of Netley retained most of its early endowments, and at the time of its dissolution the lands belonging to it were, besides the site, the manors of Wellow, Totton, Roydon, Nordley, Gomshall, Kingston Deverel and Hound; and lands and possessions in Southampton, West Setley, Mitcomb Regis, Charleton, Shottishale, Sholinge and Shamelhurst. (fn. 28)

On 3 August, 1536, the king gave to Sir William Poulett, the comptroller of his household (two of whose brothers had been the commissioners who reported so favourably of this house in the previous May), the site and buildings of the suppressed abbey, together with the grange, mill and lands in Netley; the manor of Hound; lands and windmill, etc., in Hound and Sholing; the manor of Townhill; lands, etc., in Townhill and Shamelhurst; and the manor of Waddon and the farm of Aisheley in Dorsetshire. (fn. 29) The manor of Kingston Deverill (Wilts) was bestowed on Sir Edward Seymour in the following year. (fn. 30) The reversion and rent reserved upon a lease granted in 1502 by Abbot John Burges of the manor of Gomshall, Surrey, was given in 1538 to Sir Edward Braye. (fn. 31) The tithes of Wellow rectory and land there were granted in 1539 to Sir Richard Lyster, chief baron. (fn. 32)

The pointed oval seal, illustrations of which and the counterseal are given, of the year 1329 represents an abbot, with crozier in right hand and book in left, standing between four monks, two on each side. The legend reads: COMMUNE ˙ ABB . . . . . DE ˙ LETTEL . . .

The reverse has a smaller pointed oval counterseal. The full length abbot has crozier in right hand and book in left.

Legend: + s' ABB'IS ˙ LOCI ˙ SCI ˙ EDWARDI.

Abbots of Netley

Robert, (fn. 33) 1245
Walter de Cheseldene, 1290
William, (fn. 34) 1311
Henry de Inglesham, (fn. 35) 1371-4
John Stelhard, 1374-87
Philip de Cornhampton, (fn. 36) 1387
John de Glocester, (fn. 37) after 1396
Richard de Middleton, (fn. 38) after 1396
Thomas, (fn. 39) 1468
John, (fn. 40) 1475
Thomas, (fn. 41) 1496
John Burges, 1502
William, (fn. 42) 1507
John Corne, (fn. 43) 1516
Thomas Stevens, (fn. 44) 1529-36


  • 1. Charter Roll, 24 Hen. III. No. 34. The latter part of this charter is faded and torn. See also Pat. 1 Rich. II. pt. 4, m. 35.
  • 2. Annales Monastici (Rolls Series), ii. 323. In this Peter des Roches is referred to as the founder.
  • 3. Woodward's Hist. of Hants, iii. 365.
  • 4. Cal. of Papal Letters, i. 211, 286.
  • 5. Ibid. i. 212.
  • 6. Pat. 10 Edw. II. pt. 2, m. 1, cited in confirmation at that date.
  • 7. Ancient Deeds, P.R.O., D. 153, 302.
  • 8. Ancient Deeds, P.R.O., A. 3239 (1).
  • 9. These charters are cited in an inspection and confirmation of Edward IV. (Pat. 1 Edw. IV. pt. 6, mm. 26, 25).
  • 10. Close, 4 Edw. I. m. 16; 5 Edw. I. m. 8.
  • 11. Pat. 10 Edw. I. m. 21.
  • 12. Ibid. 18 Edw. I. m. 25.
  • 13. The editors of Dugdale make the curious mistake of only noticing the first of these items, and then estimating the income at ' scarcely more than £17.'
  • 14. Pat. 4 Edw. II. pt. 2, m. 24.
  • 15. Ibid. 5 Edw. II. pt. 1, m. 13.
  • 16. Ibid. 2 Edw. III. pt. 1, m. 9.
  • 17. Ibid. pt. 2, m. 32.
  • 18. Ibid. 4 Edw. III. pt. 2, m. 17.
  • 19. Pat. 12 Edw. III. pt. 1, m. 4.
  • 20. Woodward's Hist. of Hants, iii. 367.
  • 21. Feudal Aids, ii. 323.
  • 22. Pat. 1 Edw. IV. pt. 6, mm. 26, 25.
  • 23. Letters and Papers, Hen. VIII. iv. 2528.
  • 24. Ibid. iv. 6047.
  • 25. Ibid. vi. 1502.
  • 26. There seems little doubt that the monks of Netley, as well as those of Quarr, maintained a light for the guidance of mariners (vide supra, p. 56).
  • 27. Aug. Off., Certif. of Coll. and Chant. 112.
  • 28. From the first minister's account cited in Dugdale's Monasticon, v. 696.
  • 29. Letters and Papers, Hen. VIII. xi. 385 (3).
  • 30. Ibid. xii. 617 (1).
  • 31. Ibid. xiii. 646 (39).
  • 32. Aug. Off., Misc. Books, ccx. f. 59.
  • 33. Cal. of Papal Letters, i. 212.
  • 34. Ancient Deeds, P.R.O., D. 630.
  • 35. Winton. Epis. Reg., Wykeham, iii. 38.
  • 36. Cole's MSS.
  • 37. Dugdale's Monasticon, v. 695.
  • 38. Ibid.
  • 39. Pat. 7 Edw. IV. pt. 1, m. 22.
  • 40. Ibid. 15 Edw. IV. pt. 1, m. 26.
  • 41. Ancient Deeds, P.R.O., B. 2724.
  • 42. Ibid. D. 815.
  • 43. Ibid. D. 1216.
  • 44. Letters and Papers, Hen. VIII. iv. 6047.