Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Whalley

A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.

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'Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Whalley', A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 2, (London, 1908), pp. 131-139. British History Online [accessed 17 June 2024].

. "Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Whalley", in A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 2, (London, 1908) 131-139. British History Online, accessed June 17, 2024,

. "Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Whalley", A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 2, (London, 1908). 131-139. British History Online. Web. 17 June 2024,

In this section


The abbey of Stanlaw, after wards of Whalley, was founded by John, constable of Chester (died 1190) on a site of more than Cistercian austerity in the mud-flats, at the confluence of the Gowy with the Mersey, a spot until then in the parish of Eastham. The founder's charter, in which he expresses a wish that the place should be re-named 'Benedictus Locus,' is dated 1178. (fn. 1) Several chronicles, however, ascribe the foundation to 1172, which may be the date when the first steps towards the creation of the new monastery were taken. (fn. 2) The monks were doubtless drawn from Combermere Abbey, of which Whalley was afterwards considered a filiation. (fn. 3)

Besides the two vills of Great Stanney and Meurik Aston, (fn. 4) and a house in Chester, the founder gave them exemption from multure in his mills and from toll throughout his fief. Hugh, earl of Chester, confirmed his gifts, and added freedom from toll on goods purchased in Chester for their own use. (fn. 5)

Earl Ranulf de Blundeville ratified his father's grants, freed the monks from all toll, even that on salt, throughout his lands, and disafforested the site of the abbey and its grange of Stanney. (fn. 6) Cheshire tenants of the constable and earl added further endowments, including the whole vills of Acton (Acton Grange) (fn. 7) and Wellington. (fn. 8)

But the rising fortunes of its patrons were already transferring the centre of the abbey's interests to Lancashire. The constables of Chester had long held a fief in the south-west of that county, and Roger, the founder's son, in or before 1205, gave Stanlaw the vill of Little Woolton in his Widnes fee. (fn. 9) The abbey's rights were, however, contested, and ultimately with success, by the knights of St. John. (fn. 10) Roger's inherit ance of the great honours of Pontefract and Clitheroe, on the death in 1193 of his kinsman, Robert de Lacy, whose surname he assumed, opened a new epoch in the history of Stanlaw. From Roger himself, who died in 1211, the house received a grant of the valuable rectory of Rochdale (fn. 11) and lands in that parish. (fn. 12) The appropriation of the church was confirmed, subject to the rights of the existing incumbent, by Pope Honorius III in 1218, (fn. 13) and by Bishop Cornhill of Lichfield, who in 1222 ordained a vicarage of 5 marks with 4 oxgangs of land and a house. (fn. 14) A few years later Bishop Stavenby instituted the first vicar, and the abbey entered into full possession of the rectorial tithes. (fn. 15)

Roger's son John de Lacy, who became earl of Lincoln in 1232 and died in 1240, was an even greater benefactor of the house. In or before 1228 he gave the advowson of one of the two medieties of the rectory of Blackburn, which Bishop Stavenby appropriated to the uses of the abbey, (fn. 16) and some years later he conferred the second mediety upon the monks, to whom it was appropriated by Bishop Roger Longespée in 1259, subject to the ordination of a vicarage of 20 marks. (fn. 17)

John de Lacy was also the donor of the advowson of the church of Eccles. A licence for its appropriation to the abbey was obtained from Bishop Stavenby in 1234. (fn. 18)

These gifts led to grants of land by various persons in the three parishes. Another instance of John de Lacy's generosity, the gift of the vill of Staining (with Hardhorn and Newton) in Amounderness, (fn. 19) involved the abbey in frequent litigation over the tithes with Lancaster Priory, the appropriates of Poulton, in which parish it lay. In 1234 Stanlaw undertook to pay 5 marks a year for them. As the area of cultivation extended the question was re-opened and the commutation was gradually raised to 18 marks (1298). (fn. 20) Edmund de Lacy gave the whole township of Cronton near Widnes. (fn. 21)

The preponderance of the Lancashire property of the house among its possessions increased the growing discontent of the monks with the desolate and sea-beaten site of their monastery. A more than usually destructive inundation in 1279 perhaps brought matters to a head, (fn. 22) and four years later Henry de Lacy, third earl of Lincoln, consented to the removal of the abbey. On the plea that none of their existing lands afforded a suitable site, they persuaded him to grant them the advowson of Whalley with a view to the appropriation to their use of the whole of the tithes of this extensive parish (of which they already held a fourth part as parcel of their rectory of Blackburn) and to the reconstruction of the monastery on its glebe, which comprised the whole township of Whalley.

A licence in mortmain was obtained from the king on 24 December, 1283, (fn. 23) and on the first day of the new year Lacy formally bestowed the advowson and authorized the translation on condition that the ashes of his ancestors and others buried at Stanlaw should be removed to the new abbey and that it should be called Locus Benedictus de Whalley. (fn. 24) The bishop of Lichfield's consent to the transference was not granted until two years afterwards; (fn. 25) the papal approval was still longer delayed. A draft petition to the pope recites that the land on which the house stood was being worn away by every tide and must in a few years become totally uninhabitable and that each year at spring tides the church and monastery buildings were flooded to a depth of three to five feet. (fn. 26) This assertion contained obvious exaggeration, the rock on which the principal buildings stood being 12 ft. above the level of ordinary tides, (fn. 27) and it was afterwards softened into a statement that the offices, which lay below the rock, were inundated to a depth of 3 ft. (fn. 28) Other considerations laid before the pope were that the greater part of their possessions were situated near Whalley, that the new site, lying in the midst of a barren and poverty-stricken country, would afford great scope for hospitality and almsgiving, and that it was proposed to increase the number of monks by twenty, whose duties would include prayers for his soul. Three or four monks were to be kept at Stanlaw so long as it remained habitable. (fn. 29)

On this understanding Nicholas IV granted a licence on 23 July, 1289, for the translation of the abbey and the appropriation of Whalley church on the death or resignation of its aged rector, Peter of Chester, who had held the benefice for 54 years. A vicarage, however, was to be endowed out of its revenues. (fn. 30)

The rector could not apparently be induced to resign and did not die until 20 January 1294-5. (fn. 31) Even then fourteen months elapsed before the monks were transferred to Whalley. Certain formalities must be gone through and preliminary arrangements made; some difficulties were raised.

Between February and August the Earl of Lincoln, the bishop of Lichfield, and the king confirmed the appropriation and translation. (fn. 32) But the bishop, the archdeacon of Chester, and the chapters of Coventry and Lichfield had to be compensated for the loss entailed by the disappearance of secular rectors. (fn. 33) The patron exacted from the monks a renunciation of the rights of hunting in his forests hitherto enjoyed by the parsons of Whalley and of all claims upon the castle chapel at Clitheroe, (fn. 34) and his officers took possession of some lands which belonged to the benefice. (fn. 35) As early as March William, lord of Altham, entered a claim to the advowson of its church, which Stanlaw held to be one of the chapels of Whalley, and obtained a writ for an assize of darrein presentment. (fn. 36) Meanwhile the bishop and archdeacon sequestered its tithes and offerings and excommunicated the monks when-they tried to take possession. The abbot appealed to the archbishop, whose official ordered the ecclesiastical authorities in question to suspend their action and appear before his court in October. (fn. 37)

Some even questioned the validity of the appropriation of Whalley itself. (fn. 38) The claims of Pontefract Priory could not, however, be regarded very seriously, and on the monks of Stanlaw presenting John of Whalley for institution as vicar, Bishop Roger on 6 December ordered an inquiry into the value of the benefice with a view to fixing the vicar's portion; (fn. 39) but Roger's death ten days later caused further delay. The inquiry was begun on 20 April, 1296, by the instructions of Archbishop Winchelsey. (fn. 40) By that time the monks, no doubt anxious to secure the advantage of actual possession, had removed from Stanlaw to their new home. On 4 April, St. Ambrose Day, they made their entrance into Whalley. (fn. 41) The foundation stone of the new monastery was laid by their patron the earl on 12 June. (fn. 42)

The monks who entered into residence in the parsonage and temporary buildings under the rule of their abbot, Gregory of Norbury, numbered twenty. Robert Haworth, who had recently resigned the abbacy after holding it for twenty-four years, remained with five other monks at Stanlaw, which continued to be a cell of Whalley down to the Dissolution. One monk lived at the grange of Stanney, two each at those of Staining and Marland, and another was a student at Oxford. (fn. 43)

The delays which the monks experienced might have been prolonged had news reached England earlier of a step taken by Pope Boniface VIII, who was elected a month before the death of Peter of Chester. One of his earliest acts was to quash all provisions and reservations to take effect on a future vacancy which Nicholas IV had granted. (fn. 44) Nicholas's bull appropriating Whalley church to Stanlaw on the death or demission of the rector could therefore be held to be annulled. (fn. 45) As soon as this new difficulty was grasped the good offices of the king and the Earl of Lincoln were secured, Richard of Rudyard, one of the monks, was sent to Rome, and after some negotiation and considerable disbursements obtained a renewal of the grant from Boniface on 20 June, 1297. (fn. 46) Meanwhile the king's court had upheld their contention that Altham was a chapel of Whalley, not a parish church. (fn. 47) This involved further expense; altogether the abbey spent £300 in England and at Rome in making its title to Whalley and Altham secure. (fn. 48) Even now they were not at the end of their troubles. The older Cistercian abbey at Sawley, six miles to the north-east, complained to the general chapter of the order that the new house was nearer to their own than their rules permitted, that its monks consumed the tithe corn of Whalley parish which the late rector used to sell to Sawley, and that the increased demand for corn and other commodities had so raised prices that their monastery was permanently poorer to the extent of nearly £30 a year. Arbitrators appointed by the chapter arranged a compromise in 1305; each house agreed to promote the other's interests as if they were its own; monks or conversi of either doing injury to the other were to be sent there for punishment; Whalley was to give the monks of Sawley the preference in the purchase of their corn provided they were willing to pay the market price. (fn. 49)

Some years before this settlement the abbey entered on a long dispute, or series of disputes, with Roger Longespée's successor as bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, Edward I's well-known minister Walter de Langton. The details of the quarrel are obscure, but it perhaps originated in an attempt of the monks to recoup themselves for the heavy expenses which their acquisition of Whalley had entailed. From May, 1301, to June, 1303, Bishop Langton was suspended from his office by Pope Boniface, pending the hearing of serious charges against his character. (fn. 50) About this time the vicarage of Whalley fell vacant, and the monks, seizing their opportunity, obtained the pope's permission to appropriate the vicarage to their own uses. (fn. 51) On 26 May 1302, the abbot of Rewley, in virtue of a papal commission, put them in possession, but the bishop or his representatives apparently appealed to the Court of Arches, which launched sentences of excommunication, suspension, and interdict against the intruders. Early in December the abbot of Rewley instructed the abbots of Furness and Vale Royal to pronounce these sentences null and void. (fn. 52) The order was carried out, but Langton's reinstatement and the death of Boniface proved fatal to the abbey's ambition. Not only did it lose the appropriation, but Langton obtained judgement against the abbot and convent for 1,000 marks, which seems to have included the estimated value of the revenue of the vicarage, which ought to have gone to the bishop during the vacancy, and the bishop's costs. (fn. 53) A letter of Abbot Gregory is preserved in which he complains bitterly that though they have paid 100 marks on account their goods are to be sold to meet the rest of the debt. (fn. 54) In the absence abroad of their patron he writes to his son-in-law Earl Thomas of Lancaster that, owing to the bishop's long illwill they are unable to carry out the provisions of their founders and benefactors, and begs him to use his influence with the king to secure them a grant of some 'convenable cure.' (fn. 55) Langton was imprisoned by Edward II from 1307 to 1312, but it was not until Abbot Gregory had been dead nearly three months that he at last consented (11 April, 1310) to withdraw his claims against the abbey. (fn. 56)

At one moment in the course of this quarrel the abbot and convent had seriously contemplated leaving Whalley, but Pope Clement V ordered them (January, 1306) to remain, or the church would revert to the presentation of the Earl of Lincoln. (fn. 57) They were still dissatisfied, however, with their new home, and ten years later made another attempt to remove elsewhere. Thomas of Lancaster, in consideration of the lack of timber at Whalley to rebuild their monastery and of fuel for their use, together with the difficulties of transporting corn and other necessaries in that neighbourhood, gave them (25 July, 1316) Toxteth and Smithdown, near Liverpool, part of his forest, with licence to translate their house thither. (fn. 58) The king confirmed the grant, (fn. 59) but, perhaps owing to episcopal or papal opposition, no action was taken upon it.

In 1330 the abbey induced Bishop Northburgh to cut down the vicar of Whalley's portion, as fixed in 1298, on the ground that it was excessive. (fn. 60) Northburgh also allowed them to present three of their own monks in succession to the vicarage. (fn. 61) A general licence for this practice was obtained from Pope Innocent VI in 1358 on the plea that the residence of secular clerks within the monastic in closure led to disturbances. (fn. 62) The vicars continued to be taken from the monastic body down to the Dissolution. (fn. 63)

The troubles in which the abbey became involved by its acquisition of Whalley were not even yet exhausted. Among the direct consequences of this aggrandizement were disputes with its mother house of Combermere and with its own lay patrons.

With Combermere it came into conflict over its assessment to the Cistercian levy. In this order the filial tie was strong; (fn. 64) not only had the mother house the right of visitation, (fn. 65) but the contributions imposed by the general chapter at Citeaux were partitioned among the groups (generations), consisting of a mother house with its daughters, and re-partitioned by the abbot of the former. Abbot Norbury of Whalley complained that the abbot of Combermere had raised their share to a figure out of proportion to the increase in their income. The possession of Whalley was attended with so many expenses that it yielded little net profit. (fn. 66) After appealing to the abbot of Savigny, the mother house of Combermere, and to the general chapter, Norbury secured an undertaking from the father abbot to consult the filial abbots before fixing their contributions. (fn. 67) The matter was reopened in 1318, when the abbot of Combermere in apportioning a levy of £212 upon his 'generation,' called upon Whalley to pay as much as Combermere and its other filiations, Dieulacres and Hulton, put together. Whalley appealed, and in 1320 delegates appointed by the abbot of Savigny reduced its share to £80. (fn. 68)

The question at issue between the abbey and its patrons related to the status of the chapel of St. Michael in the Castle at Clitheroe. The Earl of Lincoln, having obtained a quitclaim of it from the monks before they settled at Whalley, treated it as a free chapel and not one of the chapels of Whalley church which he conveyed with that church to Stanlaw. On the next vacancy of the chaplaincy he gave it to his clerk William de Nuny, 'not without grave peril to his soul,' in the opinion of the monks. (fn. 69) There is nothing to show, however, that they ventured to put forward their own claim in Lacy's lifetime or that of his son-in-law Thomas of Lancaster. After the attainder of the latter and the forfeiture of his estates, Edward II appointed two chaplains in succession, (fn. 70) and when Edward III conferred the honour of Clitheroe on his mother Queen Isabella she filled up several vacancies. But in a petition to the king in 1331 Abbot Topcliffe claimed that St. Michael's had always been a chapel dependent upon Whalley until the earl of Lincoln wrongfully abstracted it, and that possessing no rights of baptism or burial it could not be a free chapel. (fn. 71) An inquiry was held, and on 18 March 1334, the king conceded the superior right of the abbey, (fn. 72) which nevertheless had to pay 300 marks for the recognition. (fn. 73)

In addition to this Richard de Moseley, to whom Queen Isabella had given the chaplaincy a fortnight before Edward's letters patent, had to be bought out by a pension of £40 a year for life. (fn. 74)

The abbey's title was afterwards several times attacked and the convent put to much trouble and expense. In 1344 an inquiry was ordered into allegations that Peter of Chester had held the chapel in gross, not as a dependency of Whalley, and that the abbey had quitclaimed its pretensions to the Earl of Lincoln. (fn. 75) It was not until May, 1346, that Abbot Lindley induced the king to confirm his recognition of its rights. (fn. 76) The question was reopened when Queen Isabella's tenure of Clitheroe determined and it reverted to Henry, earl and afterwards duke of Lancaster, nephew of Earl Thomas. Henry did indeed resign his claims on the advowson in 1349, (fn. 77) and collated at least one chaplain. (fn. 78) Several clerks also had obtained papal provisions of the chaplaincy, (fn. 79) and after the death of Duke Henry Edward III put in John Stafford on the plea that the duke had alienated the advowson to the abbey without his licence. (fn. 80) On 12 December, 1363, he restored the advowson to Duke John and his wife. In 1365 Abbot Lindley was proceeding in the Court of Arches against Stafford, (fn. 81) and three years later Urban V ordered an investigation of the claim of John de Parre, who had a papal provision. (fn. 82) The rights of Whalley seem to have been upheld. (fn. 83) In 1380 they were once more, and as far as we know for the last time, called in question. The officers, of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, alleged the existence of an endowed chantry in the chapel which Queen Isabella, they said, gave to Whalley on condition of its maintaining daily service therein. As service was only held three times a week and the chapel had become ruinous the abbey, it was urged," had forfeited its rights. A local jury, however, decided in its favour. (fn. 84)

The heavy expense to which the convent was put in defence of its claims may perhaps help to explain the slow progress of the new monastery buildings. In 1362 the monks were excused their contribution to the Cistercian levy until their church should be finished and the dormitory and refectory built. (fn. 85) But despite this and some valuable gifts of land the financial position of the house continued to be precarious. In 1366 its expenditure exceeded, its receipts by £150 and its debt amounted to over £700. Much of this was incurred in consequence of the unsuccessful attempt made in October, 1365, by Richard de Chester, abbot of Combermere, supported by a party among the monks and 'other malefactors' to get rid of Abbot Lindley and replace him by William Banaster. Lindley called in the civil authorities against his opponents, who for a moment held the monastery against the sheriff and 'posse comitatus' with ' watch and ward.' (fn. 86) There were only twenty-nine monks instead of the sixty contemplated on the removal to Whalley. (fn. 87) An attempt to secure the appropriation of another valuable benefice had not been successful. Henry, earl of Lancaster, who died in 1345, or his son and namesake before he was raised to the ducal dignity, bestowed upon them the advowson of the rectory of Preston in Amounderness, and the archbishop of York was petitioned to allow its appropriation, reserving a vicarage or £20 a year. (fn. 88) But he did not give this permission and even the advowson was not retained.

A hermitage for female recluses in the parish churchyard founded and endowed by Henry, duke of Lancaster, and supplied with provisions from the abbey kitchen led to some disorders. In 1437 Henry VI dissolved the hermitage oh representations from the convent that several of the anchoresses had returned to the world and that their maid-servants were often 'misgoverned.' The endowment was applied to the support of two chaplains to say mass daily for the souls of Duke Henry and the king and for the celebration of their obits by thirty chaplains. (fn. 89)

In the last quarter of the fifteenth century a fierce quarrel raged between the abbey and Christopher Parsons, rector of Slaidburn, who disputed its right to the tithes of the forest of Bowland and of certain lands in Slaidburn. Though in the county and diocese of York and completely isolated from the parish of Whalley these districts formed part of the ancient demesne of Clitheroe and their tithes were included in the endowment of the Castle chapel of St. Michael. (fn. 90) The two parties soon came to blows. On 22 November, 1480, while engaged in driving away tithe calves from the disputed lands Christopher Thornbergh, the bursar of the abbey, was set upon by a mob instigated by the rector with cries of 'Kill the monk, slay the monk,' and severely beaten. Parsons made the forest tenants swear on the cross of a groat to pay no tithes except to him. (fn. 91)

As each party appealed to his own diocesan the dispute was ultimately referred to Edward IV, who in May, 1482, decided in favour of the abbey. (fn. 92) The rector was ordered to pay all arrears and £200 towards the expenses incurred by the convent. Richard III in 1484, and Henry VII in 1492, confirmed the finding, (fn. 93) but Parsons was still giving trouble in 1494, (fn. 94) and nine years later a royal order commanded the men of the forests to pay their tithes to Whalley. (fn. 95)

Little is known of the state of the abbey on the eve of the Dissolution. John Paslew, the last abbot, was afterwards accused of having sold much- of the plate of the house to defray the cost of his assumption of the position of a mitred abbot and of a suit for licence to give 'bennet and collet' in the abbey. (fn. 96) A comparison of its accounts for the years 1478 and 1521 shows a large increase of expenditure in the latter year, especially in the items of meat and drink, though this may possibly have been due, in part at least, to an increase in the number of monks or to some exceptional hospitality. It is noteworthy that the income derived from the appropriated rectories in 1521 exhibits a more than proportionate augmentation. (fn. 97)

Only one of the monks was singled out for immorality by the visitors of 1535. (fn. 98) Cromwell subsequently relaxed in their favour the injunctions laid upon them by the visitors. Some restrictions on their movements were removed and only three divinity lectures a week were insisted on. (fn. 99)

In the autumn of the next year Abbot Paslew became implicated in the Pilgrimage of Grace. The abbey of Sawley, close by, was the centre of the movement in Craven and the adjoining parts of Lancashire. At the end of Pctober, 1536, Nicholas Tempest, one of the Yorkshire leaders of the rising, came to Whalley with 400 men and swore the abbot and his brethren to the cause of the commons. (fn. 100) Paslew is alleged to have lent Tempest a horse and some plate; (fn. 101) Aske, however, said he had no money from the abbot as he had from other abbots and priors, but intended to have. (fn. 102) It may be that Paslew yielded reluctantly to the disaffection by which he was surrounded. A grant by the convent of a rent of £6 13s. 4d. to Cromwell on 1 January, 1537, perhaps marks an attempt to make their peace with the government. (fn. 103) But such offences as theirs were not overlooked. Yet as they were covered by the pardon granted in October there must have been subsequent offences. Shortly after Paslew sent a message to the abbot of Hailes that he was 'sore stopped and acrased.' His letter was intercepted and may have contained something incriminatory. (fn. 104) Doubtless he involved himself in the last phase of the 'Pilgrimage.' (fn. 105) He was tried at Lancaster and executed there on 10 March. (fn. 106) His fellow monk William Haydock shared his fate, but was sent to Whalley for execution. (fn. 107) The Earl of Sussex, royal commissioner with the Earl of Derby, wrote next day to Cromwell the accomplishment of the matter of Whalley was God's ordinance; else seeing my lord of Derby is steward of the house and so many gentlemen the abbot's fee'd men, it would have been hard to find anything against him in these parts. It will be a terror to corrupt minds hereafter. (fn. 108)

The possessions of the house were held to be forfeited by the abbot's attainder, and the king gave orders that as it had been so infected with treason all the monks should be transferred to other monasteries or to secular capacities. He wrote vaguely of a new establishment of the abbey 'as shalbe thought meet for the honour of God, our surety and the benefit of the county,' (fn. 109) but it remained in the hands of the crown until 6 June, 1553, when the site and the manor of Whalley were sold to John Braddyl (to whose custody they had been committed after the forfeiture and who had leased them since 12 April, 1543,) and Richard Assheton. (fn. 110) A partition was at once arranged by which Braddyl took most of the land and Assheton the house.

The abbey was dedicated to St. Mary. The most important of the new endowments bestowed upon the house in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries have already been noticed. Few additions were made after the acquisition of Whalley. Thomas of Lancaster gave half the adjoining township of Billington in 1318, (fn. 111) and the other moiety was granted with the manor of Le Cho in 1332 by Geoffrey de Scrope. (fn. 112) The gift of Toxteth by Earl Thomas seems to have been cancelled when the project of removing the abbey thither was abandoned. A third of the manor of Wiswell and a tenth of that of Read, both in the vicinity of the abbey, were acquired respectively in 1340 and 1342. (fn. 113) Some smaller gifts of land were made to the abbey in the parish of Rochdale. Its temporalities before the removal to Whalley had been assessed in 1291 for the tenth at just over £75. (fn. 114) In 1535 they were worth £279 a year, almost exactly the figure at which they had appeared in the 'compotus' of 1478. (fn. 115)

Its four appropriated churches, Eccles, Rochdale, Blackburn, and Whalley, were rated in the taxation of 1291 at something less than £150 a year, but their real value was greater. (fn. 116) In the 'compotus' of 1478 the income derived from them is stated to be £356, which rises in 1521 to £592. (fn. 117) In 1535 it was £272 7s. 8d. (fn. 118) The gross income of the abbey's temporalities and spiritualities in that year amounted therefore to £551 4s. 6d. After the deduction of certain fixed charges the abbey's new assessment for the tenth was £321 9s. 1½d. The fixed charges included £43 10s. in pensions to the four vicars of its churches, a contribution of £2 3s. 4d. to the Cistercian College of St. Bernard at Oxford, (fn. 119) over £46 in fees to stewards and other officers headed by the Earl of Derby, chief steward, with £5 6s. 8d. (fn. 120) The abbey employed five receivers and eleven bailiffs. Over £116 was allowed for almsgiving and the support of the poor. By a provision of John de Lacy the house was bound to keep twenty-four poor and feeble folk. This cost nearly £49, the relief of casual poor coming to the monastery over £62, and the residue came under the head of alms on special occasions. (fn. 121)

The abbey produced no chronicle. The 'Liber Loci Benedicti de Whalley,' a miscellaneous register extending from 1296 to 1346, includes two political poems of the early years of Edward III. (fn. 122) An account of the early history of Whalley church is well-known under the title of Status de Blagbornshire. (fn. 123)

Abbots of Stanlaw and Whalley (fn. 124)

Ralph, first abbot, died 24 Aug. 1209
Charles, (fn. 125) occurs 1226-44
Simon, (fn. 126) occurs Oct. 1259, died 7 Dec. 1268
Richard of Thornton, (fn. 127) died 7 Dec. 1269
Richard Norbury (fn. 128) (Northbury), died 1 Jan. 1272-3
Robert Haworth, (fn. 129) resigned before 8 June, 1292, died 22 April, 1304
Gregory of Norbury (fn. 130) (Northbury), occurs 1292, died 22 Jan. 1309-10
Eliasof Worsley, (fn. 131) S.T.P., resigned; died 1318
John of Belfield, died 25 July 1323
Robert of Topcliffe, (fn. 132) resigned in or before 1342, died 20 Feb. 1350-1
John Lindley, (fn. 133) D.D., occurs 1342-77
William Selby, (fn. 134) occurs 19 March, 1379-80, and 25 April 1383 (?)
Nicholas of York, (fn. 135) occurs 1392, died 1417 or 1418
William Whalley, (fn. 136) occurs 7 April, 1418, and 5 Aug. 1426, died 1434
John Eccles, (fn. 137) died 1442 or 1443
Nicholas Billington, (fn. 138) occurs c. 1445 and Aug. 1447
Robert Hamond (fn. 139)
William Billington
Ralph Clitheroe (or Slater), (fn. 140) occurs 1464-7
Ralph Holden, (fn. 141) elected 1472, died 1480 or 1481
Christopher Thornbergh, (fn. 142) elected 1481, died 1486 or 1487
William Read, (fn. 143) elected 1487; died 13 July, 1507
John Paslew, (fn. 144) elected 7 August, 1507; executed 10 March, 1537

The common seal of the abbey was round; in the middle the Virgin seated with the Child on her left knee, under a Gothic canopy; on each side of her a shield, that on the dexter bearing 3 garbs with a star over it (Chester), the one on the sinister a lion rampant (Lacy), over it a crescent surmounted with a fleur-de-lys; in a niche beneath, the abbot with pastoral staff. (fn. 145) Legend:—



  • 1. Coucher, 1. The extant 'Coucher Book' or chartulary of Whalley was drawn up in the time of Abbot Lindley. A few later deeds were inserted. It was edited by W. A. Hulton for the Chetham Society, 1847-9, in four volumes. A large number of documents, many of which are not in the Coucher, were transcribed by Christopher Towneley (d. 1674) into a manuscript volume now in the possession of W. Farrer. Another of Towneley's MSS., now also in the same hands, contains the original accounts of the abbey bursars for the years 1485-1506 and 1509-37. References to other materials may be found in Tanner's Notitia Monastica.
  • 2. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), i, 187; Tanner, op. cit. sub Stanlaw. One MS. carries the foundation back as far as 1163; Whitaker, Hist. of Whalley (ed. 4, 1872), i, 83.
  • 3. Ormerod, Hist. of Ches. iii, 403.
  • 4. Probably Aston Grange; Ormerod, op. cit. i, 730.
  • 5. Coucher, 8-9.
  • 6. Ibid. 10-12.
  • 7. Ibid. 385.
  • 8. Ibid. 467.
  • 9. Ibid. 801.
  • 10. Ibid. 809.
  • 11. Coucher, 135.
  • 12. Including the hamlet of Marland, which became a grange of the abbey; ibid. 591. The Lacys and their tenants gave at one time or another much land in Castleton, Rochdale, Whitworth, and Spotland; ibid. 595, sqq.; 637, sqq. Several members of local families were monks of the house in the later years of the thirteenth century, and one of them (Robert Haworth) abbot. This no doubt tended to divert land there into the possession of the abbey.
  • 13. Coucher, 168.
  • 14. Ibid. 139.
  • 15. Ibid. 145.
  • 16. Ibid. 72, 78.
  • 17. Ibid. 74, 80. The appropriation followed a re-grant by Edmund de Lacy in 1251 which was afterwards regarded as the title; ibid. 77, 252.
  • 18. Ibid. 36-7.
  • 19. Ibid. 419.
  • 20. Ibid. 425-42.
  • 21. Ibid. 811.
  • 22. Ormerod, Hist. of Ches. ii, 398.
  • 23. Coucher, 186.
  • 24. Ibid. 189.
  • 25. Ibid. 195.
  • 26. Ibid. 191.
  • 27. Ormerod, op. cit. ii, 400.
  • 28. Recital of the petition in Pope Nicholas's bull.
  • 29. a Coucher, 192.
  • 30. b Coucher, 182; Cal. Pap. Letters, i, 499, 501. Nicholas fixed four as the number of monks to remain at Stanlaw. The inq. p.m. of Abbot Eccles (c. 1443) speaks of an obligation to maintain twelve chaplains there to celebrate divine service; Ormerod, op. cit. ii, 399.
  • 31. Coucher, 293. The chartulary of St. John's Priory, Pontefract, gives 15 Dec. 1294 as the date of death.
  • 32. Coucher, 198, 196, 202.
  • 33. .£100 was ultimately paid to the bishop, though, if we can trust a hostile writer, thrice that sum was at first demanded and agreed to; Dugdale, Mon. v, 642; Whitaker, Hist. of Whalley, i, 176.
  • 34. Ibid. i, 174, 258; Towneley MS. fol. 388.
  • 35. Coucher, 280. They were restored by Thomas, earl of Lancaster, in 1313.
  • 36. Ibid. 302. The abbot had tried to buy off this claim; Cal. of Close, 1288-96, p. 440. It had been dismissed by a papal delegate in 1249 on the appeal of Peter of Chester; Coucher, 298-300.
  • 37. Ibid. 304.
  • 38. The Cluniacs of St. John's Priory, Pontefract, claimed to be the true patrons of Whalley in virtue of a grant by Hugh de Laval during the temporary dispossession of the Lacys in the reign of Henry I. Their pretensions were antiquated, for those who asserted that they had presented Peter of Chester could easily be refuted; Coucher, 292. It is noteworthy that they retained the advowson of Slaidburn although it was part of Hugh de Laval's gift, and in 1250 presented Peter of Chester (already rector of Whalley) to that benefice as 'our clerk'; Towneley MS. fol. 267. There is no evidence that they actively pressed their claim to Whalley at his death, but about 1357 they obtained a writ of 'quare impedit' in the Duchy court against Whalley Abbey. On 21 September in that year, however, they resigned all their claims on the benefice; ibid. 267-8. Their chartulary contains a rather malicious account of the difficulties of Stanlaw in obtaining possession. The bishop's action at Altham, for instance, is distorted into a sequestration of Whalley; Dugdale, Mon. v, 642.
  • 39. Coucher, 202.
  • 40. Ibid. 204.
  • 41. Whitaker, op. cit. i, 86. But the 'Status de Blagbornshire' gives 7 April as the date; Coucher, 188. The unfriendly Pontefract writer says they were greeted by a crowd crying, 'Woe to ye, Simoniacs.'
  • 42. Dugdale, Mon. v, 639.
  • 43. Ormerod, op. cit. ii, 404, from Cott. MS. Cleop. C. 3, 'with some additions from an obituary of the convent.' Whitaker (op. cit. i, 88), following Cott. MS. Titus, enumerates thirty-five monks. Most of them bore Cheshire names, but five seem to have come from places in Rochdale parish. The maximum number at Stanlaw was forty, which was to be raised to sixty at Whalley.
  • 44. Coucher, 207.
  • 45. Ibid. 208. It was taken for granted that Boniface's constitution preceded the death of Peter of Chester. He accepted assurances that the monks were unaware of it when they removed to Whalley.
  • 46. Whitaker, op. cit. i, 162-5; Coucher, 209.
  • 47. 13 October, 1296; ibid. 303. Nevertheless the abbey thought it prudent in 1301 to buy off the claim from Simon of Altham at a cost of £20; ibid. 305; Towneley MS. fol. 486.
  • 48. Whitaker, op. cit. i, 176. The editor of the Coucher (305), who mis-read the sum as 300s., took it to be the cost of the Altham litigation only, but this was not carried to Rome.
  • 49. Dugdale, Mon. v, 641; Whitaker, op. cit. i, 84.
  • 50. Dict. Nat. Biog. xxxii, 130.
  • 51. Towneley MS. fol. 268. The wording of the document points to an attempt to get rid of the endowed vicarage and to serve the church by monks or chaplains. 'Appropriation' would hardly be applied to a temporary sequestration of the vicarage in their favour during the vacancy. A passage in the Pontefract chartulary may perhaps refer to this transaction; Dugdale, Mon. v, 642.
  • 52. Towneley MS. fol. 268-9.
  • 53. Ibid. 262; Whitaker, op. cit. i, 150.
  • 54. Ibid.
  • 55. Ibid. 150-1.
  • 56. Towneley MS, fol. 262-3. He received the new abbot's profession of obedience next day; See below p. 139.
  • 57. Cal. Pap. Letters, ii, 7.
  • 58. Dugdale, Mon. v, 646.
  • 59. Towneley MS. fol. 222.
  • 60. Coucher, 217. He was henceforth paid £44 in money. The receipts under the old ordination can hardly have been much more, but the vicar had now to find chaplains for eight chapels, which, with some other new deductions, left no great margin. The glebe and rights of common were also reduced. In 1411 the value of the vicarage was said not to be above 12 marks; Cal. Pap. Letters, vi, 276. By 1535 the abbey compounded by a payment of £12, rather more than half of which was absorbed by fixed charges; Val. Eccl. v, 220. The building of the abbey church was begun in the year of Northburgh's reduction of the vicarage; Whitaker, op. cit. i, 93.
  • 61. Cal. Pap. Letters, iii, 595.
  • 62. Ibid.
  • 63. The presentation of monastic vicars was prohibited by statute in 4 Hen. IV, but this was held not to apply to appropriations prior to the Act; Phillimore, Eccl. Law, 276. In the fifteenth century the abbey occasionally put in monks as vicars of Blackburn and Rochdale.
  • 64. Engl Hist. Rev. viii, 642.
  • 65. For an undated visitation of Whalley by the abbot of Combermere in the first half of the fourteenth century, in which charges were brought against the abbot and the question of his retirement raised, see Whitaker, op. cit. 1, 175. This may belong to the attempt to supersede Abbot Lindley in 1365; see below.
  • 66. Whitaker, op. cit. i, 175. Norbury reckoned the increase in their ordinary annual expenses at £93 18s. 9d., of which £66 13s. 4d. was the cost of maintaining twenty extra monks. But it is doubtful whether the number of monks had been raised to the maximum promised. For Norbury's dealings with recalcitrant monks see ibid. i, 153.
  • 67. Ibid. i, 153, 177. Ormerod (op. cit. iii, 403) gives the date as March, 1315, probably a mistake for 1305. Norbury died in 1310. Licences for abbots of Whalley going to the general chapter occur on the Close Rolls.
  • 68. Whitaker, op. cit. i, 177.
  • 69. Coucher, 227. It is here asserted that they were in possession until the appointment of Nuny, but it was not included in the chapels of Whalley in the valuation made for the vicar's portion in 1296; ibid. 206; cf. Whitaker, op. cit. i, 258.
  • 70. Whitaker, op. cit. i, 257.
  • 71. Coucher, 227.
  • 72. Coucher, 229, confirmed by Isabella on 13 May. The extant evidence is rather conflicting. The chapel was separately endowed by Robert de Lacy towards the end of the eleventh century with half a plough-land in Clitheroe (reduced later to two oxgangs), and the tithes of his demesne lands in Blackburnshire and of animals, &c. in the forests of Bowland and Blackburnshire. A chaplain named William obtained letters of protection for the chapel (described as 'justly collated to him') and its endowments from Pope Urban II (1088-99), or Urban III (1185-7), probably the former; Towneley MS. fol. 210. Whitaker, however, says (op. cit. i, 257) that Richard de Towneley held the chaplaincy about 1215 by gift of his brother Roger, the dean of Whalley. But no authority is given for this statement.
  • 73. In the inquisition after the death of the Earl of Lincoln in 1311 the annual value of the chapel is given as £14 6s. 8d.; Three Lancs. Doc. (Chet. Soc.), 5. If this be correct the transaction of 1334 practically amounted to a purchase of the advowson by the abbey. The pension granted to Moseley suggests, however, an understatement; see above. In 1380 the yearly income of the endowment was estimated to be £27 13s. 4d.; Towneley MS. fol. 212. The Pontefract Chartulary no doubt exaggerates in stating its annual value as 100 marks; Dugdale, Mon. v, 642.
  • 74. Coucher, 234. A dispute at once arose with the vicar of Whalley as to who was responsible for the cure of souls and the provision of a chaplain. The bishop decided in 1339 that the cure belonged to the vicar but the abbey must find the chaplain and clerk; Whitaker, op. cit. i, 178; Coucher, 235.
  • 75. Cal. of Pat. 1343-5, p. 425; Coram Rege R. 342, m. 78 d.
  • 76. Cal. of Pat. 1345-8, p. 85; Coucher, 331.
  • 77. Towneley MS. fol. 381; Cal. of Pat. 1348-50, p. 469.
  • 78. Whitaker, op. cit. i, 257; cf. Cal. Pap. Letters, iv, 70.
  • 79. Ibid.; Cat. Pap. Pet. i, 264, 324, 384.
  • 80. Whitaker, op. cit. i, 257, 261; Lich. Epis. Reg. Stretton, fol. 46b.
  • 81. Towneley MS. fol. 215-16.
  • 82. Cal. Pap. Letters. iv, 70.
  • 83. But at a heavy cost. Duke John exacted £500; Whitaker, op. cit. i, 97, 262.
  • 84. Towneley MS. fol. 212-14. The stipend paid to the chaplain in 1521 was £4; Whitaker, op. cit. i, 257.
  • 85. Ibid. i, 96. Part of the church was in occupation by 1345; Lancs. Final Concords (Rec. Soc.), ii, 135 n.
  • 86. Coram Rege R. 426, m. xv; Whitaker, op. cit. i, 97. Banaster was probably a kinsman of John Banaster of Walton, one of the 'malefactors.'
  • 87. Ibid. But those resident at the granges are perhaps not included. There was only one 'conversus.'
  • 88. Whitaker, op. cit. i, 168; Towneley MS. fol. 384. The monks pleaded that their new buildings would cost £3,000, that they had lost 200 marks a year by the inroads of the sea at Stanlaw, that their other Cheshire lands were unprofitable, and 'malefactors' there had caused them to lose £200 a year. In 1339 the officers of the king's eldest son, created earl of Chester in 1333, had seized one of the lay brethren and distrained the abbot's cattle on the ground that the abbey had been removed from Stanlaw to Whalley without the earl's licence. The king interposed in their favour; Cal. of Close, 153941, p. 246.
  • 89. Whitaker, op. cit. i, 97, 102.
  • 90. Ibid. i, 104; Towneley MS. fol. 208.
  • 91. Ibid.
  • 92. Ibid. fol. 206. In January 1481 a statement of the abbey's case was drawn up and attested by a representative body of Lancashire clergy and laymen, the mayors of Wigan and Preston attaching their borough seals; ibid. fol, 207-9.
  • 93. Ibid. fol. 206, 207.
  • 94. Ibid. fol. 225.
  • 95. Ibid. fol. 228.
  • 96. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii (1), 621.
  • 97. Whitaker, op. cit. i, 116-31. Owing to some error or misreading of a rubric Dr. Whitaker refers the whole meat and fish bill of the abbey (which in 1478 was over £97, in 1521 nearly £144) to the abbot's own table. Comparison with the manuscript 'Compoti' of the bursars for 1484-1505 and 1507 to the end, preserved in a Towneley MS., leaves no doubt on this point.
  • 98. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, 364.
  • 99. Whitaker, op. cit. i, 107.
  • 100. This step was decided on as early as 22 October (L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii (1), 1020), but the only recorded occupation of Whalley by the rebels took place on the last day of the month; ibid. xi, 947. They dispersed the same day on hearing of the truce concluded at Doncaster.
  • 101. Ibid. xii (1), 853, 879.
  • 102. Ibid. 853.
  • 103. Whitaker, op. cit. i, 108.
  • 104. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii (1), 389.
  • 105. This seems implied in L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii (2), 205.
  • 106. Stow, Chron. 574. Whitaker (op. cit. [ed. 3], 82, 140, corrected ed. 4, i, 109) accepted the tradition that he was executed at Whalley and gave the date as 12 March, referring to a register of the abbey. But Stow's accuracy is established by Sussex's letter from Lancaster on 11 March and the king's reply; L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii (1), 630; S.P. Hen. VIII (Rec. Com.), i, 542. A letter of Paslew is in Bodl. MS. 106, fol. 22.
  • 107. Stow, loc. cit. He adds that John Eastgate, another monk of the house, was executed with the abbot and his quarters set up in various Lancashire towns. But he seems to have confused him with Richard Eastgate, a monk of Sawley; L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii (1), 632; S.P. Hen. VIII (Rec. Com.), i, 542.
  • 108. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii (1), 630.
  • 109. S.P Hen. VIII (Rec. Com.), i, 542. An inventory of its goods made on 24 March is in the Appendix to the Coucher 1255. A letter to Cromwell implies that the monks were given 40s. and their 'capacities' to enter secular life; L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii (2), 205.
  • 110. Coucher, 1175. The purchase-money was £2,132. Braddyl was a servant of that devourer of monastic lands Sir Thomas Holcroft; Lancs. Pleadings, ii, 215.
  • 111. Coucher, 939.
  • 112. Ibid. 998.
  • 113. Ibid. 1082,1092.
  • 114. Pope Nich. Tax, 259, 309.
  • 115. Valor Eccl. v, 229; Whitaker, op. cit. i, 117 sqq. Their most valuable lands were those of Staining, Billington, Rochdale, Stanney, and Cronton in the order given. Their manors were Stanney, Ashton, Acton, and Willington in Cheshire; Whalley, Marland, Staining, Cronton, and Billington in Lancashire. For their ecclesiastical jurisdiction see ibid. 174-5, 263, 270; Coucher, 1173; Act Bk. of Whalley (Chet. Soc. [New Sen], xii).
  • 116. Pope Nich. Tax. 249.
  • 117. Whitaker, op. cit. i, 116. The latter year was probably exceptional.
  • 118. Valor Eccl. v, 227. Whalley, £91 6s. 8d.
  • 119. In addition to the keep there of a scholar from the abbey, which seems to have cost £5 a year, and the expenses of his graduation. The bachelor graduation expenses of a scholar in 1478 appear in the accounts as £1, but in 1521 £9 6s. 8d, is charged; Whitaker, loc. cit.
  • 120. The fees given to gentlemen who did not hold abbey offices—referred to by Sussex in the letter quoted above—may be seen in the 'compoti.' In 1521 Lord Monteagle, Master Marney, Hugh Sherborne, esq., John Talbot, and others received sums from £2 downwards; Whitaker, op. cit. i, 121.
  • 121. Valor Eccl. v, 230.
  • 122. a Add. MS. 10374; Whitaker, op. cit. i, 155; a Whalley lectionary is printed, ibid. 193-9.
  • 123. b Coucher, 186.
  • 124. Where not otherwise stated the authority for the following names and dates is the professedly complete list of abbots in Cotton MS. Titus, F. 3, fol. 2 5 8, printed (with some discrepancies in detail) by Whitaker (Hist. of Whalley [ed. 4], i, 88 sqq), and [abbots of Stanlaw only] by Ormerod (Hist. of Ches. ii, 398 sqq.).
  • 125. Cal. of Pat. 1225-32, p. 71; Coucher, 883.
  • 126. Ormerod, loc. cit.
  • 127. Ormerod is inclined to affiliate him to the family of Le Roter of Thornton near Stanlaw.
  • 128. 'Nocte circumcisionis'; Whitaker, op. cit. i, 88; 7 Kal. Jan.; Ormerod, loc. cit.
  • 129. Coucher, 810.
  • 130. Ibid. Summoned to the Parliament of 6 Jan. 1300; Whitaker, op. cit. i, 151. By an error with regard to the feast of St. Vincent Martyr observed in England the editors (ibid. 91) place his death on 9 June, 1309.
  • 131. He made his profession of obedience to Bishop Langton on 12 April, 1310; Lich. Epis. Reg. Langton, fol. 57b. According to the Cotton MS. he died at the monastery of Bexley, which may be identified with the Cistercian abbey of Boxley in Kent.
  • 132. Sub-prior in 1306; Whitaker, op. cit. i, 93, 95.
  • 133. Ibid. i, 95.
  • 134. Towneley MS. fol. 273, 324-6. The date 1323 must be an error. Previously vicar of Whalley.
  • 135. Whitaker, op. cit. i, 100, from Inq. p.m.
  • 136. Ibid.; Towneley MS. fol. 264.
  • 137. Whitaker, op. cit. i, 103, from Inq. p.m.
  • 138. Lich. Epis. Reg. Booth, fol. 45b; Pal. of Lanc. Plea R. 10, m. 7b.
  • 139. Whitaker (op. cit. i, 103) suggests that this is a mistake for Harwood, but Hamond or Haymond is a name which occurs at Combermere; Ormerod, op. cit. iii, 404).
  • 140. Pal. of Lanc. Plea R. 4 Edw. IV, m. 22. Whitaker places him before the three preceding abbots.
  • 141. Part of 1479 fell in his seventh year (Whitaker, op. cit. i, 104).
  • 142. His fourth year extended into 1485; Towneley Compoti, sub anno.
  • 143. His first year extended into 1488; ibid.; Whitaker, op. cit. i, 105.
  • 144. Ibid. His execution took place in the thirtieth year of his abbacy. Stow (Ann. 574) reckons him as the twenty-fifth abbot. He was between 60 and 70 in 1530 and his health was already broken; Lancs. Plead, i, 204-5.
  • 145. B.M. Cat. of Seals, i, 806. Figured in Whitaker, op. cit. i, 201. See ibid. for the canting arms of the abbey, three whales with croziers issuing from their mouths.