House of Benedictine monks of the Order of Tiron: The abbey of Humberston

Pages 133-134

A History of the County of Lincoln: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1906.

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The abbey of Humberston was founded probably during the reign of Henry II by 'William son of Ralf, son of Drogo, son of Hermer;' (fn. 1) a son, that is, of one of the farmers of the crown lands in this part of Lincolnshire, and a descendant of the Domesday tenant of Humberston, who held under Ivo Tailbois in 1086. (fn. 2)

This abbey was distinctly stated to be ' of the Order of Tiron,' in the fifteenth century, (fn. 3) but the records of Tiron do not name it among the daughter-houses existing in 1516 or earlier. (fn. 4) Nor is there any evidence in the documents relating to Humberston itself that it was in any way dependent upon a foreign superior, as were the abbeys of St. Dogmael and Selkirk, of this order. (fn. 5) The bishop of Lincoln in 1422 said that the monks of Humberston took their origin from St. Mary's, Hamby (diocese of Courances), (fn. 6) but implies at the same time that they wore a different habit from other Benedictines, as the monks of Tiron are indeed said to have done for some time. (fn. 7) The abbey was never taken into the king's hands as an alien cell.

The monastery was never a rich one, and probably could not at any time support more than about a dozen monks; in the fifteenth century there were only ten, and at the dissolution four. There are but a few scattered notices referring to its external history. In 1203 the abbot secured the advowson of the church of Waithe in a suit with Ingram and Robert sons of Simon. (fn. 8) In 1305 the monastic buildings were reduced to ashes by a great fire, and the brethren were obliged to beg alms before they could rebuild them, (fn. 9) and had to sell the advowson of one of their churches to the prior of Holy Trinity, Norwich. (fn. 10) The last abbot, Robert Coningsby, signed the acknowledgement of supremacy in 1534, with four monks and a lay brother. (fn. 11) In 1536 he received an annual pension of £5, (fn. 12) and three monks had 53s. 4d. divided between them, to provide them with secular clothing, besides their arrears of ' wages,' amounting to 331. 4d. (fn. 13)

The abbey was regularly visited by the bishops of Lincoln, and seems to have been more than once in an unsatisfactory condition. Early in his episcopate, Bishop Gynwell ordered a visitation, and ordered the prior of Markby to conduct it; the difficulty at this time seems to have been caused by one monk, Gilbert, of whom the abbot complained that he was rebellious and disobedient and given to wandering out of the monastery without leave. The prior of Markby was to swear all the monks separately and find out exactly what was wrong, and if necessary he might visit Gilbert with ecclesiastical censure. (fn. 14) The visitation seems to have brought other troubles to light, for in 1358 a new commission was issued for the correction of the house, on account of the ' crimes, excesses, and other insolences ' daily committed there. (fn. 15) After this there was apparently a distinct improvement, (fn. 16) for Bishop Flemyng in 1422 remarked that the prior, William Swynhopp, was discreet and circumspect. It was enjoined that the clothing of the monks should be on the model of that used at St. Mary's, Hamby. (fn. 17)

In 1440 Bishop Alnwick visited the abbey. The abbot complained that five of his brethren had become apostates in his time, of whom one was now dead, and another had entered a mendicant order. Those who remained were disobedient and unruly, and two of them had been guilty of conspiracy; but one had repented when he heard of the coming visitation. In chapter they were so quarrelsome and noisy and rebellious that even seculars could hear them from the road without the monastery, and mocked at the unseemly din. The abbot also complained that the monks would give him no account of how they spent their allowances (16s. 8d. yearly), and he feared that they had more personal property than they ought, especially the unrepentant conspirator. One monk, alas, often went to bed again after he was called !

For their part the brethren complained that the abbot did not sleep in the dormitory, did not show any accounts or consult them in the disposal of property, pledged the jewels of the house, did not visit the sick, revealed to strangers things which had been corrected in the chapter of faults. He did not preside in chapter himself, nor appoint any one else to do so; and naturally, in consequence, every man declaimed according to his own desire. The rule was not read in chapter, and the obits of founders and benefactors were not kept; and the abbot only celebrated mass once a fortnight. One monk remained an acolyte because the abbot would not prepare him for higher orders. One was suspected of immorality. The house was gravely burdened with debt. (fn. 18)

The bishop enjoined in consequence that the rule should be read at least four times a year, in any language that the monks best understood. The brother who remained an acolyte because he was unlearned must be instructed at once and prepared for the higher grades of the ministry. Mass and the canonical hours were to be duly celebrated and attended. On fast days the brethren must eat in the refectory; on other days elsewhere if they would; the blessing of the table was to be properly said. Accounts were to be shown annually; no corrodies were to be granted or anything of importance done without consulting the bishop.

Four years later, brother William Wainfleet of Bardney was sent to visit the house again, for its reformation; it was described as in ' a state of collapse, spiritual and temporal.' (fn. 19)

In 1519 Bishop Atwater visited the abbey. There were then four monks besides the abbot. It was alleged that the brethren did not rise to mattins, and sometimes slept outside the monastery; that the abbot showed no accounts; that the anniversary of the founder was not kept; and that a gentlewoman called Fleming was allowed to lodge in the infirmary. The buildings of the monastery were in good repair, and there was no debt; all the furniture of the church and altar too was good and sufficient. (fn. 20)

There are no later accounts of the house. The original endowment of the abbey cannot be exactly given, as there are no foundation charters extant. The temporalities of the house were valued in 1291 at £19 15s. 4d., (fn. 21) and the brethren at that time probably held four rectories, Humberston, Holton le Clay, Waithe, and Westhall, Suffolk: the last was alienated in 1315 to the prior of Holy Trinity, Norwich. (fn. 22) In 1346 the abbot held part of a knight's fee in Clee, and the same in 1428. (fn. 23) In 1534 the income of the house was valued at £32 1s. 3d. clear, including the rectories of Humberston, Holton, and Waithe. (fn. 24) At the dissolution the bells, leads, &c., of the monastery only fetched £51, less than any other house surrendered at this time, except Newstead by Stamford. (fn. 25)

Abbots of Humberston

Simon, (fn. 26) occurs 1203 and 1224

William of Kirkweld, (fn. 27) elected 1226, died 1261

Geoffrey, (fn. 28) elected 1261

William, (fn. 29) died 1339

John of Horkstow, (fn. 30) elected 1339

Henry of Brinbrooke, (fn. 31) elected 1355

Ranulf, (fn. 32) occurs 1380

William West, (fn. 33) occurs 1440

William Swynhopp, (fn. 34) occurs 1422

Nicholas Derby, (fn. 35) occurs 1456

Thomas, (fn. 36) resigned before 1519

William Connyby, (fn. 37) occurs 1522

Stephen, (fn. 38) occurs 1529

Robert Coningsby, (fn. 39) last abbot, occurs 1534

The pointed oval thirteenth-century seal (fn. 40) of Humberston represents the Virgin seated on a throne with trefoiled canopy, over which is a turret, the Child on the left knee.

. . . IL' SVENTV . . . D'HVMBERSTAN . . .


  • 1. Assize Roll Lines. 29 Hen. III. No. 12.
  • 2. The descent of William Fitz-Ralf was kindly supplied by Mr. Round.
  • 3. Cal. of Pap. Letters, v, 495; Visitations of Alnwick (Alnwick Tower), 67.
  • 4. Lucien Merlet, Cartulaire de I'Abbaye de Tiron, i, 234-7, and elsewhere.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Flemyng, 234. Hamby is given as Benedictine in Round. Cal. Doc. France.
  • 7. Dugdale says that the monks of Tiron originally wore a light grey habit (Mon. iv, 128, note a from Tanner).
  • 8. Boyd and Massingberd, Abstracts of Final Concords, i,52.
  • 9. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Dalderby, 84 d.
  • 10. Pat. 8 Edw. II, pt. ii, m. 21.
  • 11. L. and P. Hen. VIII, vii, 1121 (30).
  • 12. Ibid. xiii (1), 576.
  • 13. Mins. Accts. 27 & 28 Henry VIII, No. 166. Only a pension of 100s. annually is here assigned to the abbot; it was perhaps augmented later.
  • 14. Linc. Epis. Reg. Inst. Gynwell, 25d.
  • 15. Ibid. Memo. Gynwell, 124d.
  • 16. The request of one monk in 1402 to transfer himself to a stricter house (Cal. of Pap. Letters, v, 495) and the apostasy of another in 1408 (Dugdale, Mon. iv, 430) prove nothing as to the state of the monastery. Such cases might occur anywhere at any time.
  • 17. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Flemyng, 234.
  • 18. Visitations of Alnwick (Alnwick Tower), 67.
  • 19. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Alnwick, 56.
  • 20. Visitations of Atwater (Alnwick Tower), 56.
  • 21. Dugdale, Mon. iv, 430.
  • 22. Pat. 8 Edw. II, pt. ii, m. 21.
  • 23. Feud. Aids, iii, 230, 256, 292.
  • 24. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv, 68.
  • 25. Mins. Accts. 27 & 28 Hen. VIII, No. 166. The inventory given in Bishop Atwater's visitations points to a small house. They had in 1511 two chalices, vestments for priests, a pastoral staff 'valde sumptuosus,' sufficient books and a ' ciphus argenteus'; their stock comprised only fourteen sheep, sixteen oxen, thirteen cows, and three pigs.
  • 26. Boyd and Massingberd, Abstracts of Final Concords, i, 52, 168.
  • 27. Linc. Epis. Reg. Rolls of Wells.
  • 28. Ibid. Rolls of Gravesend.
  • 29. Ibid. Inst. Burghersh, 80.
  • 30. Ibid.
  • 31. Ibid. Inst. Gynwell, 67 d.
  • 32. Pat. 3 Ric. II, pt. iii, m. 6.
  • 33. Visitations of Alnwick (Alnwick Tower).
  • 34. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Fleming, 234.
  • 35. Lans. MS. 207, B. fol. 204.
  • 36. Visitations of Atwater (Alnwick Tower). He is called 'late abbot.'
  • 37. Lines. N. and Q. v, 36.
  • 38. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv (3), p. 2698.
  • 39. Ibid. vii, 1121 (30) and xiii (1), p. 5 76. Browne Willis calls 'Thomas Harphan' last abbot; but Robert Coningsby appears on the pension list as well as in Mins. Accts. (27 & 28 Hen. VIII), No. 166.
  • 40. B.M. Seals, lxvii, 6.