House of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Garendon

A History of the County of Leicestershire: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1954.

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'House of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Garendon', in A History of the County of Leicestershire: Volume 2, (London, 1954) pp. 5-7. British History Online [accessed 12 April 2024]

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Garendon Abbey was founded in 1133 by Robert, Earl of Leicester. (fn. 1) It was in all probability a daughter house of Waverley, the earliest Cistercian monastery to be established in England. (fn. 2) The founder endowed the abbey with 5 carucates and 3 virgates of land at Garendon, a burgage tenement at Leicester, and other lands at Dishley, Shepshed, and Ringolthorp. (fn. 3) During the 12th century various benefactors granted to the abbey lands at Eastwell, (fn. 4) Ibstock, (fn. 5) Welby, (fn. 6) Burton on the Wolds, (fn. 7) and Stanton under Bardon, (fn. 8) in Leicestershire, at Costock (fn. 9) (Notts.), and at Heathcote (fn. 10) (Derbys.). The wild country of Charnwood Forest, in which Garendon lay, gave the monks opportunities for agricultural development of the type accomplished by many other Cistercian houses. Before the end of the 12th century granges had been established in the vicinity of the abbey at Garendon itself, Stanton, Dishley, and Ibstock, and farther afield at Burton on the Wolds, Ringolthorp, (fn. 11) Goadby, and Welby, (fn. 12) in eastern Leicestershire, the Peak, (fn. 13) and at Costock and Rempstone (Notts.). (fn. 14) The abbey seems to have carried on sheep farming on a considerable scale; in 1225 the abbot obtained permission to export wool to Flanders or elsewhere, (fn. 15) and there are references to sheep-folds at the granges. (fn. 16) So far as can be discovered from the extant cartulary of the house, (fn. 17) Garendon did not in the 12th century acquire such property as tithe, rents, and advowsons. (fn. 18) About the middle of the 13th century, however, the abbey was granted rents at Anstey. (fn. 19) In 1296 the grange at Rempstone was let out to farm, (fn. 20) and Swannington grange was farmed out in 1343. (fn. 21) In 1341 the abbey was granted the royal chapel or hermitage of Cripplegate, at London, and in 1343 the abbey had licence to acquire 4 messuages in London. (fn. 22) The advowson of Dishley was obtained in 1458, and the church was appropriated in the same year. (fn. 23)

Two daughter houses were founded from Garendon—Bordesley (1138) and Bittlesden (1147). (fn. 24) There are indications, however, that in the late 12th century the Cistercians of Garendon failed to live up to the highest standards of their Order. One of the abbots, Geoffrey, seems to have been a married man, (fn. 25) and one of the monks is said to have become a Jew. (fn. 26) The resignation of Abbot William in 1195 (fn. 27) was perhaps due to the displeasure of the general chapter of the Order at the Garendon lay brothers' habit of drinking beer. (fn. 28) A serious incident occurred in 1196, when the new abbot, Reynold, was attacked in the infirmary, and gravely wounded, by a lay brother. In consequence the general chapter of Citeaux ordered all the abbey's lay brothers to be dispersed. (fn. 29) The command was not carried out at once, and in 1197 the abbots of two other Cistercian houses were instructed to proceed to Garendon and enforce the will of the general chapter. (fn. 30) The abbey continued to contain lay brothers after this incident. (fn. 31) In 1219 the conventual church was dedicated by the Bishop of St. Asaph. (fn. 32) At the end of the 13th century the finances of the house seem to have been in an unsound condition; in 1295 the king, at the request of the abbot and convent, appointed a special keeper to apply the revenues of the abbey to the relief of its debts, providing reasonable maintenance for the abbot and monks meanwhile, (fn. 33) and two years later the abbot acknowledged that the house owed debts totalling £160. (fn. 34) The depredations of a powerful neighbour, John Cornyn, Earl of Buchan, may have contributed to the abbey's difficulties at this period. (fn. 35) In the middle of the 14th century matters seem to have improved under the rule of Abbot Walter Seint Croys, an especial favourite of Edward III. (fn. 36) Nevertheless in 1360 the abbey was in need of reform, and the king appointed several laymen as guardians. (fn. 37) In 1368 a monk of the house was said to have harboured robbers and to have assisted them in the commission of various offences, (fn. 38) while in 1382 the conventual church was polluted by two monks. (fn. 39)

In the 16th century, if not earlier, the Holy Cross at Garendon was an object of pilgrimage locally. (fn. 40) In 1535 the clear yearly value of the abbey's revenues was assessed at less than £160. (fn. 41) Cromwell's investigators, visiting Garendon in the following year, alleged that five of the monks were guilty of unnatural vice, and that three sought release from religion. (fn. 42) The county commissioners, who visited the house in June of the same year, gave a much more favourable report, stating that all the fourteen monks of the house desired to continue in religion, and that twelve of them were priests, of good conversation. Divine service was well maintained, though the large old monastery was partly ruinous. Five children and five impotent persons were maintained by the monks' charity, (fn. 43) and there were also two corrodiaries. (fn. 44) The abbey, however, was listed amongst the smaller monasteries dissolved in 1536. (fn. 45) The abbot obtained a pension of £30. (fn. 46) The First Minister's Account shows a net income of £100. 18s. 10½d. (fn. 47)

Abbots of Garendon

Robert, occurs 1144-5. (fn. 48)
Geoffrey, occurs 1147. (fn. 49)
Thurstan, occurs between 1155 and 1164. (fn. 50) Died 1189. (fn. 51)
William, elected 1189, (fn. 52) resigned 1195. (fn. 53)
Reynold, elected 1195, (fn. 54) occurs 1196. (fn. 55)
Adam, resigned 1219. (fn. 56)
William, resigned 1226. (fn. 57)
Reynold, elected 1226, (fn. 58) resigned 1234. (fn. 59)
Andrew, elected 1234. (fn. 60)
Simon, occurs 1251. (fn. 61)
Robert, occurs 1275. (fn. 62)
Roger, occurs before 1281, (fn. 63)
Eustace, occurs 1290 (fn. 64) and 1294. (fn. 65)
John, occurs from 1299 (fn. 66) to 1330. (fn. 67)
Walter Seynt Croys, occurs 1340, (fn. 68) resigned in, or shortly before, 1350. (fn. 69)
John, occurs 1360. (fn. 70)
Thomas of Lughtburgh, (fn. 71) elected 1361, (fn. 72) occurs 1382. (fn. 73)
John, occurs 1406. (fn. 74)
Richard, occurs early 15th century. (fn. 75)
John Scarburghe, occurs 1418. (fn. 76)
John of London, occurs 1439. (fn. 77)
John Clareborough, occurs 1487. (fn. 78)
William Leycestre, occurs 1490. (fn. 79)
Thomas, occurs 1513. (fn. 80)
Thomas Siston, occurs 1535. (fn. 81)
Randolph Arnold, last abbot. (fn. 82)

A 13th-century seal (fn. 83) of the abbey is a pointed oval, 1¼ by 1 / 316 in., showing a hand and clothed arm holding a crosier. The background is powdered with stars. The legend is:


A second seal (fn. 84) of the same century has the same design of the arm and crosier, but omits the powdering of stars. Its legend reads:


Its dimensions are 1⅝ by 1 in.

A 14th-century seal, (fn. 85) 1¾ in. in diameter, of the abbey shows the figure of the abbot within a cusped quatrefoil, with his right hand raised in blessing, and holding a pastoral staff in his left. At the left side of the figure is a shield charged with three stars. Of the legend only the letters . . . REN ... . remain.

A pointed oval 14th-century seal, (fn. 86) about 2¼ by about 1½ in., shows the Virgin Mary standing beneath a columned canopy with the Child on her left arm. The sides of the field are diapered, and at the bottom under a pointed arch there is the half-length figure of an ecclesiastic praying. Most of the legend is gone but the following letters remain:

. . . VET ... E ... EROUDON

Another seal (fn. 87) of the house is a small oval, 1¼ by ⅞ in., bearing a figure in a canopied niche.


  • 1. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), i, 186; ii, 223; B.M. Lansd. MS. 415, f. 35a. Hen. Knighton, Chron. (Rolls Ser.), i, 147, gives the date erroneously as 1168-9.
  • 2. The Waverley Annals, printed Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), ii, do not specifically state that Garendon was a dau. of Waverley, but they give many details about Garendon. It was to Waverley that Wm. Gerbertus, who claimed that his father had been unlawfully disseised of Garendon, gave up his claims: Nichols, Leics. iii, 814. See also Statuta Capitulorum Generalium Ordinis Cisterciensis, ed. D. J. M. Canivez, i, 299.
  • 3. Nichols, Leics. iii, 791; Dugd. Mon. v, 331; B.M. Lansd. MS. 415, ff. 2a, 11.
  • 4. Ibid., f. 7; Hist. MSS. Com., Rutland, iv, 3-7.
  • 5. B.M. Lansd. MS. 415, f. 2.
  • 6. Ibid., f. 8b.
  • 7. Ibid., f. 5a; Nichols, Leics. iii, 809.
  • 8. Nichols, op. cit. iii, 806; B.M. Lansd. MS. 415, f. 12b.
  • 9. Nichols, op. cit. iii, 806; B.M. Lansd. MS. 415, ff. 3a, 14a; Pipe R. 1160 (Pipe R. Soc. ii), 43; Pipe R. 1163 (Pipe R. Soc. vi), 2.
  • 10. Nichols, op. cit. iii, 812; B.M. Lansd. MS..415, f. 9b.
  • 11. Near Scalford, Leics.
  • 12. 'Alebi' or 'Haleby' in 12th-century docs.
  • 13. The grange at the Peak, referred to as 'the new grange' in a doc. of Alexander III (Nichols, Leics. iii, 813-14), was no doubt established to exploit the pasture rights granted by the Earl of Derby around Heathcote. See John Rylands Libr., Manchester, Latin MS. 222, f. 23a.
  • 14. Nichols, op. cit. iii, 813-14; B.M. Lansd. MS. 415, ff. 2b 3a, 5b, 8b, 10b, 11a, 20a. For a list of the abbey's granges, with the number of carucates attached to each, see Nichols, op. cit. iii, 826-7.
  • 15. Cal. Pat., 1216-25, 522.
  • 16. Nichols, Leics. iii, 806; B.M. Lansd. MS. 415, f. 17b.
  • 17. B.M. Lansd. MS. 415.
  • 18. The burgage in Leic., granted to the abbey by its founder, was given for a specific purpose (ut hospitetur eos).
  • 19. Nichols, Leics. iii, 824; B.M. Lansd. MS. 415, f. 26b. The rents were kter surrendered: Nichols, op. cit. iii, 824.
  • 20. Ibid. iii, 830; B.M. Lansd. MS. 415, f. 38b.
  • 21. Ibid.
  • 22. Cal. Pat., 1340-3, 145; 1343-5, 133.
  • 23. A. Hamilton Thompson, Abbey of St. Mary in the Meadows, Leic. 129-30.
  • 24. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), i, 186; D. Knowles, Monastic Order in Engl. 248; Dugd. Mon. v, 367, no. ii; Stat. Capitulorum Generalium Ordinis Cisterciensis, iii, 89.
  • 25. Chartularium Abbathiae de Novo Monasterio (Surtees Soc. lxvi), ed. J. T. Fowler, p. xvii, n. 1. It is not quite certain whether the Abbot Geoffrey was the Abbot of Garendon of that name, but it seems probable.
  • 26. Knowles, Monastic Order in Engl. 657, citing Giraldus Cambrensis, Opera (Rolls Ser.), iv, 139.
  • 27. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 250.
  • 28. Knowles, Monastic Order in Engl. 657; Stat. Capitulorum Generalium Ordinis Cisterciensis, i, 202.
  • 29. Stat. i, 202; Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), i, 23; ii, 250.
  • 30. Stat. i, 216; cited Knowles, Monastic Order in Engl. 657-8. A lay brother of Garendon was a fugitive in Lincs., not later than 1202: The Earliest Lincs. Assize R., ed. D. M. Stenton, 134.
  • 31. Cal. Pat., 1225-32, 473.
  • 32. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 291-2.
  • 33. Cal. Pat., 1292-1301, 154.
  • 34. Cal. Close, 1296-1302, 118.
  • 35. B.M. Lansd. MS. 415, f. 33a; Nichols, Leics. iii, 827; Abbrev. Plac. (Rec. Com.), 230; Farnham, Leics. Notes, vi, 356.
  • 36. Cal. Pat., 1340-3,145; Cal. Close, 1349-54, 371, and 1354-60, 22.
  • 37. Cal. Pat., 1358-61, 358.
  • 38. Ibid. 1367-70, 121.
  • 39. B.M. Lansd. MS. 415, f. 32b.
  • 40. Hist. MSS. Com., Middleton, 384; A. Hamilton Thompson, Hist. of the New Coll. of the Annunciation of St. Mary in the Newarke, 199; Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv, 173; Nichols, Leics. iii, 797; Dugd. Mon. v, 336.
  • 41. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv, 173.
  • 42. L. & P. Hen. VIII, x, p. 138.
  • 43. By the will of Ralph Shirley the abbey was bound to maintain 4 poor persons: Nichols, Leics. iii, 713.
  • 44. L. & P. Hen. VIII, x, pp. 487, 496.
  • 45. Ibid. x, p. 515. For a list of the ornaments of the abbey ch., see Nichols, Leics. iii, 797-8.
  • 46. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xiii (1), no. 575.
  • 47. S.C. 6/Hen. VIII/1825, mm. 19-26.
  • 48. Nichols, Leics. iii, 813; Reg. Antiquissimum of the Cath. Ch. of Linc., ed. C. W. Foster, ii, 216.
  • 49. Reg. Antiquissimum, iii, 263.
  • 50. Nichols, Leics. iii, 805.
  • 51. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Set.), ii, 246.
  • 52. Ibid.
  • 53. Ibid. ii, 250.
  • 54. Ibid. Formerly Abbot of Merevale.
  • 55. Ibid. i, 23; ii, 250.
  • 56. Ibid. ii, 292; he then became Abbot of Waverley.
  • 57. Ibid. ii, 302.
  • 58. Ibid. He is said to have been the tenth abbot (ibid.), so that the names of 2 early abbots must be missing from the list.
  • 59. Ibid. ii, 315.
  • 60. Ibid.
  • 61. B.M. Harl. Chart. 44 D47.
  • 62. Rot. Ric. Grave send, ed. F. N. Davis, 157; Farnham, Leics. Notes, ii, 27.
  • 63. i.e. in the lifetime of Margaret, Countess of Derby: Nichols, Leics. iii, 824; B.M. Lansd, MS. 415, f. 26b.
  • 64. Ibid., f. 36a.
  • 65. Farnham, Leics. Notes, vi, 356.
  • 66. Cal. Pat., 1292-1301, 431.
  • 67. Cal. Chart. R., 1327-41, 196.
  • 68. Hist. MSS. Com., Hastings, i, 7; Cal. Chart R., 1327-41, 472.
  • 69. Cal. Pat., 1348-50, 560.
  • 70. Ibid. 1358-61, 358, 412.
  • 71. i.e. Loughborough.
  • 72. Linc. Reg. Gynewell, Memo., f. 153b.
  • 73. Cal. Pat., 1381-5, 101.
  • 74. Cal. Papal Letters, 1404-15, 79.
  • 75. Hist. MSS. Com., Hastings, i, 33.
  • 76. Visitations of Religious Houses in the Dioc. of Linc. [1420-49], ed. A. Hamilton Thompson, ii, 126.
  • 77. Ibid. i, 8.
  • 78. Ibid. i, 111.
  • 79. Ibid. i, 40, 111.
  • 80. Nichols, Leics. iii, 710.
  • 81. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv, 173. Possibly the same person as the Thomas who occurs 1513.
  • 82. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xv, p. 345.
  • 83. B.M. Harl. Chart. 44 D48.
  • 84. B.M. Seals, lxvi, 51.
  • 85. Ibid., 50.
  • 86. S.C. 13/D. 143.
  • 87. B.M. Seals, lxvi, 51. Another seal of the abbey is illustrated in Nichols, Leics. iii, 786, pl. cxi, fig. 5, but the original on which it was based has not been discovered.