Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Boxley

A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1926.

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'Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Boxley', A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2, (London, 1926), pp. 153-155. British History Online [accessed 23 June 2024].

. "Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Boxley", in A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2, (London, 1926) 153-155. British History Online, accessed June 23, 2024,

. "Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Boxley", A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2, (London, 1926). 153-155. British History Online. Web. 23 June 2024,

In this section



The abbey of St. Mary, Boxley, was founded, according to Manrique, (fn. 1) on 28 October, 1146, by William of Ypres, son of the count of Flanders, and colonized from Clairvaux in France, one of the four principal daughter-houses of Clteaux. The founder was the ruler of practically the whole of Kent under Stephen, and a man of evil reputation; and it is said that the Cistercians promised him absolution from his sins if he would give them the manor of Boxley, which the king had given him, for the foundation of a monastery. (fn. 2)

The abbey is mentioned occasionally in the early chronicles. In 1171 the abbot was one of those who hastily buried Thomas Becket, the murdered archbishop of Canterbury. (fn. 3) In 1175 he attended the council held at Westminster on 18 May. (fn. 4) In 1193 the abbots of Boxley and Robertsbridge were sent abroad to search for Richard I, whom they found in Bavaria on Palm Sunday. (fn. 5) In 1233 the abbot was appointed with two colleagues by the pope to make a visitation of some exempt Benedictine monasteries; but this was strongly resented, especially by St. Augustine's, Canterbury, and in consequence the commission was superseded. (fn. 6)

In the general Cistercian chapter in 1198 the abbot was sentenced to three days' punishment, one of them on bread and water, for having received gifts from houses where he had made visitations. (fn. 7)

The abbot was summoned to Parliament several times under Edward I, but not afterwards. (fn. 8)

Richard I on 7 December, 1189, granted to the monks a charter confirming their possessions, which was renewed by him on 10 November, 1198, and confirmed by Henry III on 24 April, 1253. (fn. 9) The latter king also in the same year granted to them free warren in their demesne lands in the counties of Kent and Sussex, (fn. 10) These charters were also confirmed by Edward I in 1290, (fn. 11) and Edward IV in 1473. (fn. 12) In 1279, before the justices in eyre at Canterbury, the abbot claimed (fn. 13) various liberties, some of which were allowed, citing the charters of Richard I and Henry III. The jury found, however, that he had no user of free warren except in the manor of Boxley. Edward III on 24 September, 1359, at the request of Richard de Cherteseye, a lay-brother of the abbey, granted to the abbot and convent free warren in certain of their demesne lands. (fn. 14)

In the Taxation of 1291 the temporalities of the abbey in the diocese of Canterbury, including the manor of Boxley, were valued at £62 14s. 7d. yearly; and it also owned temporalities worth £9 4s. 10d. in Hoo, £1 18s. 8d. in London, £1 4s;. in Chessington in Surrey, and 13s. 4d. in Yarmouth, making a total of £,75 15s. 5d. The church of Stoke was appropriated to it by Richard, bishop of Rochester, in 1244, and confirmed by Pope Clement IV and Boniface, archbishop of Canterbury. (fn. 15) The abbot and convent had licence in 1314 to acquire from the Cistercian abbey of Dunes in Flanders land and the advowson of the church of Eastchurch in Sheppey, and to appropriate the church. (fn. 16) They were also pardoned for acquiring lands in mortmain without licence in Boxley, Hoo, and Chingley in 1309, (fn. 17) and in Upchurch, Hoo, Chessington, Ticehurst, Goudhurst, Staplehurst, Wrotham, Maidstone, and Eastchurch in 1329. (fn. 18) The parish church of Boxley belonged to the cathedral priory of Rochester before the foundation of the abbey. The Cistercians claimed exemption from payment of tithes, but Pope Alexander III ordered the monks to pay the tithes due to the church, (fn. 19) and an agreement between the two houses was made in 1180, and confirmed by Richard, archbishop of Canterbury. (fn. 20)

A number of accounts (fn. 21) are preserved of obedientiaries of the abbey in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, including the bursar, cellarer, sub-cellarer, sacristan and keepers of the bakery, granary, infirmary, and mills; and in these the expenses are set out in considerable detail.

The crown claimed corrodies in the abbey. In 1331, when summoned before the King's Bench to answer for their refusal to admit John Maunsel to a corrody in their house, such as Andrew Trayour, deceased, had, the abbot and convent produced charters of the king's progenitors proving that they held their lands in frankalmoign discharged of all secular charges and demands. (fn. 22) But, nevertheless, in 1432 Thomas Barton was sent to the abbey for such maintenance as Richard Durant, deceased, had. (fn. 23)

In 1395 the abbots of Stratford, Boxley, and St. Mary Graces held a chapter of the order at London, and visited the other houses in England, Wales, and Ireland by authority of Pope Boniface IX, the abbot of Citeaux being a schismatic. (fn. 24)

In 1411 a chantry was founded at the altar of St. Stephen in the abbey for the souls of John Freningham, Alice his wife, Ralph his father, and Katharine his mother, buried there. (fn. 25)

In 1422 a commission was appointed to inquire whether the abbot and convent had been ejected from any lands belonging to them. (fn. 26)

There appear to have been dissensions in the abbey in 1512-13, for Abbot John appealed then to the crown for the arrest of four monks, William Milton, William Sandwich, Robert Blechenden, and John Farham, as rebellious and apostate. (fn. 27)

Boxley is best known through its celebrated Rood of Grace, a cross with an image supposed to be miraculously gifted with movement and speech. More than a century before the Dissolution the abbey is spoken (fn. 28) of as 'called the abbey of the Holy Cross of Grace.' Archbishop Warham, writing (fn. 29) to Wolsey in connexion with claims against the abbey, says that it was much sought after by visitors to the Rood from all parts of the realm, and so he would be sorry to put it under an interdict. He calls it 'so holy a place where so many miracles be showed.' But the image proved to be a gross imposture. Geoffrey Chamber, employed in defacing the monastery and plucking it down, wrote (fn. 30) to Cromwell on 7 February, 1538, that he found in it certain engines and old wire, with old rotten sticks in the back, which caused the eyes to move and stir in the head thereof, 'like unto a lively thing,' and also, the nether lip likewise to move as though it should speak, ' which was not a little strange to him and others present.' He examined the abbot and old monks, who declared themselves ignorant of it; and considering that the people of Kent had in time past a great devotion to the image and used continual pilgrimages there, he conveyed it to Maidstone that day, a market day, and showed it to the people, ' who had the matter in wondrous detestation and hatred so that if the monastery had to be defaced again they would pluck it down or burn it.' The image was afterwards taken to London and exhibited during a sermon by the bishop of Rochester at St. Paul's Cross, arid then cut to pieces and burnt. (fn. 31) The news of the exposure appears to have been widely spread, and probably nothing was more damaging to the case for the monasteries.

Cardinal Campeggio passed the night of Monday, 26 July, 1518, at the abbey on his way to London. (fn. 32) Three years later we hear of a priest sent to prison at Maidstone for pulling down writings and seals set up at the abbey against the ill opinions of Martin Luther. (fn. 33)

Thomas, abbot of Ford, was commissioned (fn. 34) to visit Boxley among other Cistercian houses in 1535, but nothing is known of the result of his visitation. In the Valor (fn. 35) of that year the gross value of all the possessions of the abbey, including the manors of Hoo, Ham in Upchurch, Chingley in Goudhurst, and Friern in Chessington, and the parsonages of Eastchurch and Stoke, amounted to £218 19s. 10d. yearly, besides 25 quarters of barley; from which deductions of £14. 14s. 11d. were made for rents and fees, leaving the net value £208 4s. 11d. besides the barley. The abbey thus just passed the limit of wealth drawn for the first dissolution. But it did not survive long; on 29 January, 1538, it was formally surrendered (fn. 36) by John Dobbes, abbot, and the convent. A pension of £50 yearly was assigned (fn. 37) to the abbot on 12 February and, smaller sums to nine others. The site of the monastery and other possessions, including the manors of Boxley, Hoo and Newnham Court, were granted (fn. 38) to Sir Thomas Wyatt on 10 July, 1540.

Abbots of Boxley

Lambert (fn. 39)
Thomas, (fn. 40) elected 1152-3
Walter (fn. 41)
John (fn. 42)
Denis (fn. 43)
Robert, occurs 1197, (fn. 44) died 1214 (fn. 45)
John, elected 1216, (fn. 46) resigned 1236 (fn. 47)
Simon, occurs 1243 (fn. 48)
Alexander, occurs 1248 (fn. 49)
Henry, occurs 1279 (fn. 50)
Gilbert, elected 1289 (fn. 51)
Robeit, occurs 1303 (fn. 52)
William de Romenee, occurs 1345 (fn. 53)
John de Heriettisham, occurs 1368 (fn. 54)
Richard Shepey, elected 1415 (fn. 55)
John, occurs 1446 (fn. 56)
John, Wormsell, occurs 1474, 1481 (fn. 57)
Thomas Essex, occurs 1489 (fn. 58)
Robert Rayfelde or Reyfeld, occurs 1494, (fn. 59) 1498 (fn. 60)
John, occurs 1513, (fn. 61) 1516, 1527 (fn. 62)
John Dobbes, occurs 1533, (fn. 63) the last abbot (fn. 64)

The seal (fn. 65) of the abbey (1336) is of red wax measuring 2½ in.

Obverse,—The Virgin, crowned; in the right hand a cinquefoiled rose, in the left the Child, wearing nimbus and lifting up his right hand in benediction, in his left hand an orb. She is seated on a carved throne under a canopy or arcade of three pointed arches, trefoiled, pinnacled, and crocketed, supported with a column of tabernacle work on: either side, in each arch a small quatrefoiled opening containing a saint's head. In base, under a trefoiled arch, with arcading in the spandrels, three monks half-length, in profile to the right in prayer. In the field at the side two box trees. Above the crocketings of the canopy two small birds. Legend in two rings:—



Reverse.—Two abbots standing in two niches with trefoiled arches, each holding a book in the outer and a pastoral staff in the inner hand. Over them a church-like canopy, supported by a slender column in the centre, and at the sides by carved buttresses, pinnacled and crocketed. In the field at the sides two box trees. Legend in two rings:—



Illegible legend on the rim.


  • 1. Annales Cistercienses, ii, 48. Lists in Cott. MS. Faust. B. vii, and Vesp. A. vi, and the Louth Park Chron. give the same date. Some annals give the year 1144.
  • 2. Giraldus Cambrensis, Opera (Rolls Ser.), iv, 201.
  • 3. Matt. Paris, Hist. Angl. (Rolls Ser.), i, 369.
  • 4. Walter of Coventry, Memoriale. (Rolls Ser.), i, 239.
  • 5. Ibid, ii, 25.
  • 6. Matt. Paris, Chron. Maj, (Rolls Ser.), iii, 239; Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), iii, 133; Cal. Papal Let. i, 132-3.
  • 7. a Martene, Thesaurus Novus Anecdotorum, iv, 1292.
  • 8. Report on the Dignity of a Peer; App. 1.
  • 9. Chart. R. 37 Hen. III, m. 6.
  • 10. Ibid. m. 14.
  • 11. Ibid. 18 Edw. I, No. 48.
  • 12. Pat. 12 Edw. IV, pt. 2, m. 2.
  • 13. Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Com.), 344.
  • 14. Chart. R. 33 Edw. III, No. 4.
  • 15. Thorpe, Reg. Roff. 620-1.
  • 16. Pat. 7 Edw. II, pt. 2, m. 18.
  • 17. Ibid, 2 Edw. II, pt. 2, m. 12.
  • 18. Ibid. 3 Edw. III, pt. I, m. 32.
  • 19. Materials for Hist, of Becket (Rolls Ser.), v, 129.
  • 20. Thorpe, Reg. Roff. 178-9.
  • 21. a Mins. Accts. bdles. 1251-6.
  • 22. Pat. 5 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 5.
  • 23. Close, 10 Hen. VI, m. 5d.
  • 24. Pat. 18 Ric. II, pt. 2, m. 21.
  • 25. a B.M. Add. Chart. 16464; Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. viii, App. 329.
  • 26. Pat. I Hen. VI, pt. I, m. 28 d.
  • 27. Chan. Warrants, 1761.
  • 28. Close, 10 Hen. VI, m. 5d.
  • 29. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv, 299.
  • 30. Ibid, xiii (1), 231.
  • 31. Ibid. 339, 348, 754.
  • 32. Ibid. iv (2), 4333.
  • 33. Ibid. (3), 1353.
  • 34. Ibid, viii, 74 (2).
  • 35. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 79.
  • 36. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (1), 173.
  • 37. Ibid. p. 583.
  • 38. Ibid, xv, 942 (49).
  • 39. Gervase of Cant. Opera (Rolls Ser.), ii, 385. He was blessed abbot by. Archbishop Theobald (1139-61).
  • 40. Ibid, i, 151. He .was. blessed by the archbishop in Christchurch, Canterbury, on 3 March, 1153.
  • 41. Ibid, ii, 385. Blessed by Archbishop Theobald.
  • 42. Ibid. Blessed by Archbishop Richard (1174-84).
  • 43. Ibid. Blessed by Archbishop Baldwin (1184-90).
  • 44. Feet of F. Kent, 8 Ric. I.
  • 45. Ann. Mon. ii, 282.
  • 46. Harl. MS. 247, fol. 47. He was prior of Robertsbridge.
  • 47. Ann. Mon. ii, 316. He was made twentieth abbot of Citeaux, the second Englishman to occupy the position.
  • 48. Feet of F. Kent, 27 Hen. III.
  • 49. a Ibid. 32 Hen. III.
  • 50. Ibid. 7 Edw. I.
  • 51. a Gervase, op. cit. ii, 294.
  • 52. Thorpe, Reg. Roff. 622.
  • 53. Cal. Papal Pet. i, 93.
  • 54. Carte Misc. (Aug. Off.), vol: i, No. 155. Abbot John was one of the visitors of Meaux Abbey in 1362 (Chronica Monasterii de Melsa [Rolls Ser.], iii, 150), and occurs in 1379 (Anct. Deeds, D.. 923), and 1397 (Pat. 20 Ric. II, pt. 3, m. 13).
  • 55. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Chicheley, pt. 1, fol. 9b. Richard occurs in 1427 (Pat. 5 Hen. VI, pt. 1, m. 6).
  • 56. Pardon, R. 24-5 Hen. VI, m. 29.
  • 57. Brit. Arch. Assoc. Journ. xlvii, 320.
  • 58. a Harl. R. cc. 16.
  • 59. Hasted, Hist, and Topog. Surv. of Kent, ii, 124.
  • 60. Pat. 14 Hen. VII, pt. 3, m. 18 (3). He received a grant of the deanery of the college of Shrewsbury. Robert occurs in 1509 (Pardon R. 1 Hen. VIII, pt. 3, m. 32).
  • 61. See above.
  • 62. a Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. xcii, fol. 31 d. 37d.
  • 63. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (1), 888 (5).
  • 64. Ibid. 173.
  • 65. B.M. Add. Chart. 20008; Seals, lxv, 2, 3.