Houses of Austin canons: The abbey of Lesnes or Westwood

Pages 165-167

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

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Richard de Luci, justiciary of England, on 11 June, 1178, laid the foundations of a conventual church in honour of St. Thomas the Martyr in a place called ' Westwode.' (fn. 2) The first abbot was blessed by Walter, bishop of Rochester, in 1179; (fn. 3) and in the same year after Easter the founder became a canon there, dying soon afterwards. (fn. 4)

Besides the site the founder granted to the abbey the churches of Newington and Marden. Robert de Luci granted the church of Elmdon in Essex; Roger son of Reinfrid the church of Ramsden Bellhouse in Essex; Jordan the chamberlain the church of 'Coldreia'; and Fulk Painel and Henry II the church of Rainham in Essex. The same king also granted a charter of confirmation, (fn. 5) as also did Richard I on 3 July, 1190, and John on 4 April, 1206; (fn. 6) and these charters were afterwards confirmed by Edward II in 1317, (fn. 7) and Edward III in 1331. (fn. 8) Various liberties are specified in the charter of John; and in addition Edward I on 5 December, 1280, granted to the abbot free warren in his demesne lands of Lesnes, Tonge, and Acol. (fn. 9)

Several accounts, court rolls, &c., of the abbey are preserved, in which its possessions are set out in considerable detail. (fn. 10) In the Taxation of 1291 it is returned as owning temporalities worth £7 6s. 8d. in the diocese of Canterbury, £22 18s. 8d. in the diocese of Rochester, £1 in London, £2 3s. 4d. in Essex, and £1 4s. 6d. in Cambridgeshire, making a total of £34 13s. 2d. yearly. The church of Wenden Lofts (fn. 11) in Essex, and a moiety of the church of Godstone in Surrey, belonged to it from an early period; and the church of Aveley in Essex was acquired from John de Brianzoun and appropriated by licence of Edward II. (fn. 12) The abbot and convent had licence in 1344 to grant a rent of 6 marks (6s. 8d.) yearly from the manors of Lesnes and Acol to the prior and convent of Rochester to find a chaplain to celebrate divine service daily in the cathedral for Hamo, bishop of Rochester, and for his soul after death, the bishop having paid them £106 13s. for this purpose. (fn. 13) In 1345 John de Whatton had licence to grant to them the reversion of the manor of Nethewode on the death of Joan, late the wife of William Faunt, to find a secular chaplain to celebrate divine service daily in their church for John and Joan, and for their souls after death, and the soul of William. (fn. 14) In 1432 they had licence (fn. 15) to exchange the manor of Tonge for land in Plumstead called ' Fulhammes Place.'

Archbishop Peckham wrote on 24 October, 1283, to Thomas, bishop of Rochester, that when lately passing by the monastery of Lesnes on his metropolitical visitation, he had found the abbot notorious for injuring the property of the house, and the latter when questioned had given unsatisfactory answers. He ordered, therefore, that three brethren of the house should be chosen by the convent, and all the property of the house, except that assigned of old to certain offices, should come into their hands, the abbot and other officials receiving the necessary expenses from them and giving accounts in return. Further, he had found that the canons did not eat flesh in the common refectory, but in chambers and other places; and he ordered that they should eat flesh in the refectory on three days in the week, as he had observed to be done in other places of the order, unless this conflicted with the custom of the house, in which case not more than a third of the convent might leave the refectory. Nuns were on no account to pass the night within the cloister. In other matters the abbot was to be allowed full exercise of his office. (fn. 16)

Archbishop Winchelsey also issued injunctions after a visitation of Lesnes in 1299. The principal points were that all were to eat in the refectory, no money was to be given for vestments, alms were to be properly distributed, only professed canons were to be appointed to offices, the statutes were to be read regularly, and women were to be excluded. (fn. 17)

Abbot John was accused of immorality before the bishop in 1336, and, acknowledging his fault, was condemned to penance. (fn. 18) The bishop made visitations of the abbey in 1340, when the abbot was convicted of gross misgovernment and deprived in consequence, and again in 1349, when it was found to be so destroyed that it seemed as though it could hardly be repaired by the Day of Judgement. (fn. 19) Discipline was probably very slack about this time, for on three occasions the aid of the crown was asked for the arrest of vagabond and apostate canons, (fn. 20) John de Hoddesdon (perhaps the late abbot) in 1341, Edmund Baudri in 1344, and John de Garton in 1349.

Pope Gregory XI in 1371 granted relaxation of penance to penitents who at certain times of the year should visit and give alms towards the repair and decoration of the chapel of St. Mary in the abbey. (fn. 21) Pope John XXIII in 1412 granted licence for Roger Palmeri, a canon of Lesnes, to return to the priory of Christchurch, London, in which he had originally been professed and from which he had come to Lesnes, notwithstanding that he had taken an oath never to return. (fn. 22) The abbey is here spoken of as Arrouasian.

At the beginning of the fifteenth century the abbey had fallen into a bad state of impoverishment and debt through the misgovernance of the abbots, many pensions and corrodies having been charged on it, and many of its possessions having been indiscreetly demised at farm and otherwise alienated; (fn. 23) and the king, on 1 February, 1402, sequestrated it, appointing the prior of Christchurch, Canterbury, and others to its custody, with orders that all issues beyond the necessary maintenance of the abbot and canons and their servants should be applied to its relief. (fn. 24) The resignation of the abbot in the next year (fn. 25) was doubtless connected with this. The Commons complained in Parliament that the abbot of Lesnes and others sold annuities and corrodies under the common seal of their houses, and then purchased protections from the king in order to defraud the buyers. (fn. 26)

Lesnes was one of the monasteries suppressed by Wolsey: in accordance with the bull of Clement VII, dated 11 September, 1524, and the assent of Henry VIII on 1 October. (fn. 27) It was dissolved by his agent, William Burbank, on 13 February, 1525, (fn. 28) and granted to Cardinal's College, Oxford, on 10 February, 1526. (fn. 29) Its spiritualities were valued at £75, and its temporalities at £111 5s. 8d. yearly; (fn. 30) and by an inquisition (fn. 31) taken on 28 July, 1525, it was found that there were at the monastery five canons under the abbot, and that these had been transferred to other places, and that it owned the manors of Lesnes, ' Fantz,' 'Baudewyns ' and Acol in Kent.

After Wolsey's attainder the site of the monastery was granted, on 5 March, 1534, to William Brereton in tail. (fn. 32)

Abbots of Lesnes

Fulk, occurs 1197 (fn. 33)
Hugh, occurs 1237 (fn. 34)
Richard, occurs 1266 (fn. 35)
Robert, occurs 1279 (fn. 36)
Thomas de Sandwico, occurs 1315 (fn. 37)
Adam de Hanifeld, elected 1319, (fn. 38) died 1321 (fn. 39)
Roger de Derteford, elected 1321, (fn. 40) died 1327 (fn. 41)
John de Hodisdon, elected 1327 (fn. 42)
Robert de Clyve, occurs 1345, (fn. 43) died 1347 (fn. 44)
Richard de Gaytone, elected 1347, (fn. 45) died 1362 (fn. 46)
William de Hethe, elected 1362 (fn. 46)
John Haunsard, died 1386 (fn. 47)
Henry Heliere, or Holcote, elected 1386, (fn. 48) resigned 1403 (fn. 49)
William Sampson, appointed 1403, (fn. 50) died 1405 (fn. 51)
John Brokhole, elected 1405, (fn. 51) died 1423 (fn. 52)
John Elmedon, elected 1423, (fn. 53) died 1426 (fn. 54)
Thomas Plymton, appointed 1426 (fn. 55)
Adam Say, occurs 1455 (fn. 56)
John Colman, occurs 1472 (fn. 56)
William, occurs 1474 (fn. 57)
Thomas, occurs 1483 (fn. 58)
William Bright, occurs 1496 (fn. 59)
Robert Marten, appointed and died 1502 (fn. 60)
Henry Blakmore, elected 1502, (fn. 61) resigned 1513 (fn. 62)
William Tisehurste, elected 1513, (fn. 63) the last abbot (fn. 64)

The seal (fn. 65) of the abbey (thirteenth-century) is a pointed oval measuring 2¾ in. by 1¾ in.

Obverse—St. Thomas Becket full-length with mitre and pall, lifting up the right hand in benediction and holding in the left a crosier. In the field on each side a luce or pike haurient palewise (in allusion to. the arms of the founder), and on the right also a pierced mullet of eight points. Legend:—


Reverse—A small round counterseal measuring ⅜ in. representing St. Thomas half-length. Legend:—



  • 1. In the parish of Erith.
  • 2. Roger of Wendover, Flor. Hist. (Rolls Ser.), i, 108; Matt. Paris, Chron. Maj. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 301; Ralph de Diceto, Opera Hist. (Rolls Ser.), i, 425.
  • 3. Gervase of Canterbury, Opera (Rolls Ser.), i, 292.
  • 4. Ibid. 293; Gesta Henrici Secundi (Rolls Ser.), i, 238; Roger de Hoveden, Chron. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 190; Ralph of Coggeshall, Chron. (Rolls Ser.), 19.
  • 5. Printed in Dugdale, Mon. vi, 457.
  • 6. Chart. R. 7 John, m. 2.
  • 7. Ibid. 10 Edw. II, No. 11.
  • 8. Ibid. 5 Edw. III, No. 61.
  • 9. Chart. R. 9 Edw. I, No. 85.
  • 10. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv, 3537; Rentals and Surv.; Court Rolls.
  • 11. Newcourt, Repert. ii, 648.
  • 12. Ibid. 21; Pat. 7 Edw. II, pt. 2, m. 4.
  • 13. Pat. 18 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 45; Wharton, Anglia Sacra, i, 375; Thorpe, Reg. Roff, 324, 329.
  • 14. Pat. 19 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 15.
  • 15. Ibid, 11 Hen. VI, pt. 1, m. 13.
  • 16. Reg. Epist. J. Peckham (Rolls Ser.), ii, 625.
  • 17. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Winchelsey, fol. 73b.
  • 18. Roch. Epis. Reg. i, fol. 186.
  • 19. Wharton, Anglia Sacra, i, 374, 377.
  • 20. Chan. Warrants, 1762.
  • 21. Cal. Papal Let. iv, 163, 165.
  • 22. Ibid. vi, 282.
  • 23. a An account of Henry Holcote, abbot, for the year 1386-7 gives the total receipts as £564 1s. 9d. and the expenses as £614 7s. 6¾d. (Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. ix, App. pt. i, 352).
  • 24. Pat. 3 Hen. IV, pt. 1, m. 15.
  • 25. Ibid. 4 Hen. IV, pt. 2, m. 17.
  • 26. Rolls of Parliament (Rec. Com.), iii, 520.
  • 27. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv, 697.
  • 28. Ibid. 1137 (8).
  • 29. Ibid. 1964.
  • 30. Ibid. 3538.
  • 31. Exch. Inq. (Ser. ii), file 480 (15).
  • 32. L. and P. Hen. VIII, vii, 419 (6).
  • 33. Feet of F. Kent, 9 Ric. I.
  • 34. Ibid. 21 Hen. III.
  • 35. Ibid. 50 Hen. III.
  • 36. Ibid. 7 Edw. I.
  • 37. B.M. Cott. MS. Nero, E. vi, 202 d.
  • 38. Roch. Epis. Reg. i, fol. 54.
  • 39. Ibid. 79 d.
  • 40. Ibid. 53d. 79.
  • 41. Ibid. 149.
  • 42. Ibid. 87, 149. John was abbot in 1336 (see above). The abbot was deprived by the bishop for misgovernment in 1340 (Wharton, Angl. Sac. i, 374).
  • 43. Close, 18 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 8d.
  • 44. Roch. Epis. Reg. i, fol. 227b.
  • 45. Ibid. 226b. He, was prior.
  • 46. Ibid. 309 d.
  • 47. Pat. 10 Ric. II, pt. 1, m. 33. John was abbot in 1378 (Anct. D. A. 7372).
  • 48. Pat. 10 Ric. II, pt. 1, m. 31. He was prior.
  • 49. Ibid. 4 Hen. IV, pt. 2, m.18.
  • 50. Roch. Epis. Reg. iii, fol 38d. He was a canon of Tonbridge, and was appointed by the bishop, to whom the convent submitted.
  • 51. Ibid, ii, fol. 189.
  • 52. Ibid; iii, fol. 54d.
  • 53. Ibid. 55. He was sub-prior. John Stebbyng was elected, but renounced.
  • 54. Ibid. 75d.
  • 55. Ibid. 75. The convent submitted to the bishop to save expense.
  • 56. Rentals and Surv. R. 357; Pardon R. 33-4 Hen. VI, m. 30.
  • 57. Pat. 14 Edw. IV, pt. 1, m. 20 d.
  • 58. Ibid, 1 Ric. III, pt. 5, m. 4d.
  • 59. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Morton, fol. 160. William occurs in 1500 (Pat. 16 Hen. VII, pt. 1, m. 5 (22)).
  • 60. Roch. Epis. Reg. iv, fol. 32 d. 33 d. The convent submitted to the bishop.
  • 61. Ibid. 35.
  • 62. Ibid. 61d.
  • 63. Ibid. 62 d. He was prior of Bilsington.
  • 64. Ibid. 129 d.
  • 65. B.M. Seals, L.F.C. xiv, 23.