Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Sawtry

A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 1. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1926.

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'Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Sawtry', A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 1, (London, 1926), pp. 391-392. British History Online [accessed 21 June 2024].

. "Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Sawtry", in A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 1, (London, 1926) 391-392. British History Online, accessed June 21, 2024,

. "Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Sawtry", A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 1, (London, 1926). 391-392. British History Online. Web. 21 June 2024,

In this section



The abbey of Sawtry was founded in 1147 by Simon de Senliz, Earl of Northampton, grandson of Earl Waltheof and Judith, the Conqueror's niece, who held the manor when the Domesday Survey was compiled. A colony of monks from Warden in Bedfordshire came to the new monastery, which was at once established, after the manner of the Cistercian order, as an independent abbey. (fn. 1)

The grants of the founder were confirmed by his successors in the manor; by Malcolm IV of Scotland between 1153 and 1165, by William the Lion and David, Earl of Huntingdon before the end of the 12th century. (fn. 2) Several papal bulls of the same period are also extant, placing the traditional account of the foundation beyond doubt. (fn. 3) Ivo Le Moyne and other local lords added to the original endowment; (fn. 4) but the house seems never to have been a large or wealthy one.

In the 13th century came the inevitable lawsuits. There was a suit with the son of David, Earl of Huntingdon, about eight virgates of land in Conington which had been given to the. abbey when the earl chose it for his burial-place. (fn. 5) Disputes with the abbots of Ramsey and Thorney were only too probable where the lands and fisheries of all three houses lay so close together; numerous suits of this kind are on record, settled sometimes in favour of one monastery and sometimes of another. (fn. 6) There were suits with the rectors of parishes, where the monks had property, on the subject of tithes; (fn. 7) the Cistercian privilege of immunity being here as elsewhere constantly called in question.

About 1278 the abbot of Sawtry was made proctor for the abbot of Bon Repos in Brittany, and had to guard his rights in the churches of Honingham (Norf.) and Fulbourn (Camb.). The abbot of Sawtry was to pay £40 annually for the farm of the two churches. (fn. 8) But in the 13th century he had little profit by this bargain, as the property of aliens was constantly being seized by the Crown in time of war, even though Bon Repos was within the English dominions. In 1345 the abbot had to pay the £40 to one of the king's creditors; (fn. 9) and in 1378 it was finally made a part of the revenue of King's Hall, Cambridge. (fn. 10)

During the 14th century the abbot of Sawtry was often in debt; (fn. 11) but the cause is unknown. Practically nothing is recorded of the inner history of the house. It was complained in 1303 that the abbot admitted apostates from the Dominican order without sufficient inquiry; (fn. 12) it seems to have been a common fault of Cistercian houses at this time, that they were too ready to admit those who sought an escape from another kind of discipline than their own.

In 1534 abbot William Angell wrote to Cromwell, thanking him for past kindnesses, and begging to know the reason of his present displeasure. The letter was accompanied by one of those little gifts which were being showered upon Cromwell by many religious at this time, in the hope of securing his favour. (fn. 13) As the abbey was worth less than £200 a year it had, however, no chance of escape save by payment of fine for continuance. Bedyll's letter from Ramsey suggests that the house had been much thinned by the first visitation: Dr. Legh, he said, had given leave to 'half the house of Sawtry' to depart. (fn. 14) What this 'leave to depart' from Dr. Legh may mean is hard to say. The whole convent was disbanded before December 1536, only the abbot receiving a pension of £10 (fn. 15)

The original endowment included the whole manor of Sawtry Judith, with the church of St. Mary; smaller parcels of land were added later, and the churches of Honingham (Norf.) and Fulbourn (Camb.). The temporalities of the abbot in 1291 amounted to £122 11s. 7¾d. (fn. 16) In 1534 the clear value of the house was £141 3s. 8d., including the lands in the counties of Cambridge, Norfolk, Bedford, Lincoln, Northampton, and the churches above-named. (fn. 17) A survey taken, just after the Dissolution, of all the furniture and household stuff is still preserved; it does not suggest any luxurious appointments, though the abbot's chamber had a feather bed and white curtains. (fn. 18)

Abbots of Sawtry
Hugh, (fn. 19) occurs 1157 and 1164.
Payn, (fn. 20) occurs about 1164 and 1176.
Alexander, (fn. 21) occurs 1195.
Ralf, (fn. 22) occurs before 1228.
Adam, (fn. 23) occurs 1278.
William, (fn. 24) occurs 1289.
Laurence, (fn. 25) occurs 1299.
John, (fn. 26) elected 1303.
John, (fn. 27) elected 1314.
Roger of Hertford, (fn. 28) occurs 1320 to 1338.
Ralf Beville, (fn. 29) elected 1340, occurs to 1348.
William, (fn. 30) occurs 1351.
Thomas de Spalding, (fn. 31) occurs 1391.
Robert de Spalding, (fn. 32) occurs 1409 to 1413.
John Fulborne, (fn. 33) occurs 1444.
John Alconbury, (fn. 34) occurs 1452.
Henry, (fn. 35) occurs 1524, 1527.
Richard, (fn. 36) occurs 1529.
Robert, (fn. 37) occurs 1531 and 1533.
William Angell, (fn. 38) occurs 1534.

A 15th century circular seal (fn. 39) showing under a triple canopy with diapered background, the Virgin crowned and seated on a throne with the Child in her left arm. On the left side is a vine and on the right a lily growing out of a pot. Legend:


A 13th century pointed oval seal of an abbot (fn. 40) showing the full length figure of the abbot with a book in his left hand and a pastoral staff in his right. Legend:

SIGILL' ABB . . . . . . . TEREIA

A pointed oval seal of abbot Henry (fn. 41) attached to a document dated 1527, showing the figure of the abbot standing on a corbel under a canopy with a pastoral staff in his left hand.


  • 1. Cott. Ch. vii, 3, and Cart. Mon. de Rames. (Rolls Ser.), 1,160-6. The charter is fully rehearsed in Pat. 6 Edw. II, pt. 1, m. 1, and there seems no question about the date, 1147, in the Cotton charter and 1146 in the Annals of Louth Park. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. V, 521. The confirmation charter of King Malcolm states also that the first monks came from Warden.
  • 2. Cott. Ch. xii, 78, 79; Add. Ch., 34031, 34032.
  • 3. Cott. MS. Aug. A II, 111, 114,115,121-5.
  • 4. Add. Ch., 34036-8.
  • 5. Assize Roll, 341, m. 3d.
  • 6. Dugdale, op. cit. V, 525 gives two such disputes; others may be found in the Ramsey documents.
  • 7. Harl. Ch. 83 A 40; Add. Ch., 34039.
  • 8. Pat. R. 6 Edw. I, m. 16.
  • 9. Ibid. 18 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 34.
  • 10. Ibid. 2 Rich. II, pt. I, m. 46.
  • 11. Close R. 14 Edw. II, m. 23; 6 Edw. III, m. l8d.; 12 Edw. III, pt. 1, 39d.
  • 12. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Dalderby, 59d.
  • 13. L. and P. Henry VIII, VII, 1518.
  • 14. Wright, Suppression of Monasteries, 98.
  • 15. L. and P. Henry VIII, xiii (1), 575.
  • 16. Pope Nick. Tax. (Rec. Com.).
  • 17. Valor Eccles. (Rec. Com.), IV, 265.
  • 18. Aug. Off., Misc. Bks., no. 405, fol. 42-48. There were several other feather beds in the house: in the 'new chamber,' the ' kitchen chamber ' and other rooms named. The chamber next after 'my lord's' was probably the guest chamber, as it was hung with tapestry, and the bedstead had a ' net for knats,' which were doubtless troublesome on summer nights in the old fen country.
  • 19. Harl. Ch. 83 B 2, 83 B 12; Cott. MSS. Aug. II, 116.
  • 20. Round, Anct. Ch. (Pipe R. Soc. X), p. 61; Cott. Ch., Aug. II, 125. The first of these two charters is dated by Mr. Round about 1162, but it may be a little later. The latest reference to abbot Hugh is quite clearly dated 1164.
  • 21. Cott. MS. Aug. II, 115.
  • 22. Add. MS. 5844, fol. 204d.
  • 23. Pat. R., 6 Edw. I, m. 16.
  • 24. Add. Ch. 33468.
  • 25. Pat. R. 27 Edw. I, m. 33.
  • 26. Line. Epis. Reg. Memo. Dalderby, 60d.
  • 27. Ibid. 270d.
  • 28. Close R. 14 Edw. II, m. 23d.; 12 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 39d.; Add. Ch. 33478.
  • 29. Add. MS. 5827, fol. 204d. The reference to his consecration, during the vacancy of the see of Lincoln, was taken from the Ely Registers by Browne Willis.
  • 30. Add. Ch. 34229.
  • 31. Harl. Ch. 83 B. 30.
  • 32. Add. Ch. 34039-34055.
  • 33. Add. MS. 5827, fo. 204d. This is another of Browne Willis's collection. He probably took his information from a charter now inaccessible.
  • 34. Add. Ch. 34098.
  • 35. Add. Ch. 39415.
  • 36. L. and P. Hen. VIII, IV (3), p. 2698.
  • 37. Ibid, xii (2), 1311, g. 20.
  • 38. Ibid.
  • 39. Add. Ch. 3966; Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 522; B.M. Seals, lxiv, 98.
  • 40. B.M. Seals, lxiv, 99.
  • 41. Ibid. 100.