Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Louth Park

Pages 138-141

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

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The abbey of Louth Park was founded in 1139 by Alexander, bishop of Lincoln. (fn. 1) The founder at first offered to Fountains Abbey a site on the Isle of Haverholme, but when the monks arrived they asked leave to settle themselves in the bishop's park at Louth instead. Alexander accordingly issued a new charter, announcing his desire, ' since it is very profitable and necessary, considering the wickedness of these days . . . to provide some deed of justice and purity in this most miserable life,' to found an abbey, affiliated to Fountains, on the south side of the town of Louth. (fn. 2) The reasons for the exchange of place have been variously presented; but it is scarcely likely that a colony led by Gervase, one of those who had been through all the hardships of the first foundation of Fountains, (fn. 3) would have been influenced by any unworthy motives; and the Cistercians of that day were not much moved by thoughts of comfort or convenience. It seems most probable, as Canon Venables suggested, that the transference was made because the park at Louth was more suitable for agriculture (the main occupation of the first Cistercians) than the swamps of Haverholme. (fn. 4)

The first endowment received considerable additions from other benefactors—notably, Ralf, earl of Chester, Hugh and Lambert de Scotney, and Hugh of Bayeux. (fn. 5) At the end of the thirteenth century the temporalities of the abbey were worth more than £200 a year. (fn. 6) Its prosperity had not, however, been uninterrupted during this time, for the chronicler of the house tells us that Richard of Dunholm, who became abbot in 1246, raised his house ' from dust and ashes.' (fn. 7) It is said that the extortions of King John from this abbey alone amounted to 1,680 marks. (fn. 8) Towards the end of the century the abbot had to maintain a long suit to secure the profits of his wool—the most important source of revenue at this time for the houses of his order. (fn. 9) In another suit with William of Ghent he had to complain of the loss of 100 sheep which William's servants had destroyed by rough handling, in what he called ' his usual quarterly scrutiny,' to see if the right number and no more were being pastured on his lands at Binbrooke. (fn. 10) In 1279 the abbot was accused of harbouring a felon, (fn. 11) and about the same time of encroaching on the king's highway. (fn. 12) Like many other houses, this abbey had occasionally to provide maintenance for the king's servants who were past work, (fn. 13) or a horse to carry the rolls of chancery. (fn. 14) During the time of Walter of Louth (1332 to 1349) there were some heavy losses. A complaint was made in 1336 that a certain Thomsa of Lissington had carried off 20 horses, 30 oxen, and 300 sheep belonging to the monks of Louth; he had hunted in the abbot's free warren, set cattle to depasture his grass, and assaulted his servants. (fn. 15) In 1338 it was shown that the valuation of the house made in 1291 no longer represented its income fairly. The abbot, on appeal to the pope, had it reduced to £106, after a careful scrutiny by the archbishop of York. (fn. 16) It seems that the house was never quite so well off again as it had been during the thirteenth century.

In 1333 a suit concerning the repair of a causeway at Flixburgh was lost by the abbot, but in 1341 the sentence was reversed. (fn. 17) In 1344 the depressed condition of the abbey was reported to Parliament, and it was in consequence taken under the king's protection and placed in the hands of Thomas Wake, that he might assist the abbot in discharging his debts. (fn. 18) The gift of the manor of Cockerington in the same year, instead of proving a relief to the monks in their embarrassments, only brought about further litigation. The case has considerable human interest, and is worth giving in some detail. Sir Henry le Vavasour, a knight belonging to a family well known in Lincolnshire, was taken ill, and was advised by his physician to go and stay in the monastery of Louth Park; in the hope (as his wife afterwards naïvely explained) that he might get well there more quickly than at his own home, which was perhaps not a very peaceful one. But he did not recover his health, and finally died in the monastery. On the day before his death he sent for a certain John de Brinkhill, and there, sitting up in his bed in a dark coloured tunic, he showed a deed by which he conveyed his manor of Cockerington to the abbot and convent, on condition that they should admit ten more monks to the monastery, and celebrate divine service for his soul for ever. John de Brinkhill and others were made executors of the deed, and charged to carry it into effect at once. The dying knight had not, however, quite sufficient courage to confide his purpose to his wife, Dame Constance. She was, indeed, sent for to be present at the signing of the deeds; but their contents were not read to her, and she imagined that they were being made for her advantage. Her husband meanwhile sat silent in his bed and watched the proceedings. He died the next day, and to her dismay Constance found his executors already in possession of the manor. (fn. 19) She was not inclined to take her losses quietly. It was soon rumoured abroad that the abbot had forged the conveyance; and not long afterwards he had to complain that Constance and others had broken his closes and carried away some of his goods, especially a box containing deeds and muniments. (fn. 20) Constance retaliated by a countercharge of violence done to herself. (fn. 21) In consequence of these disturbances of the peace an inquisition was held in 1345, and the witnesses who were called proved beyond doubt that the deeds were genuine and that Henry le Vavasour had acted of his own free will An exemplification of the results was made in the following November: the manor was to remain in the possession of the abbot, but he was to pay Constance and her son Roger 100 marks yearly, and to Roger after his mother's death 20 marks, out of its profits. The abbot had to give a bond of £1,000 as security that he would fulfil this agreement. (fn. 22) Later the Vavasours were still in possession of the manor of Cockerington, the abbot holding lands there. (fn. 23)

A few years later the great pestilence carried off the abbot and many of his monks, (fn. 24) and brought fresh losses to the house. In 1404 the church of Fulstow was appropriated on account of the poverty to which the abbey was reduced. (fn. 25) It is said that in the thirteenth century there were 66 monks and 150 lay brethren, (fn. 26) but in 1536, when the house surrendered, there were only ten besides the abbot. (fn. 27) Being of less value than £200 a year it was dissolved under the first Act of Suppression on 8 September, 1536. (fn. 28) George Walker, the last abbot, received a pension of £26 13s. 4d.; his monks had £4. 6s. 8d. divided among them as ' wages due,' with 20s. apiece to buy them secular apparel, and ' capacities' to serve as secular priests—if, indeed, they could find an altar anywhere to serve. (fn. 29) One of the monks thus disbanded played an active part in the rising of the following October. In his depositions at the trial he gives a picture of those unquiet days which is full of lifelike touches. He tells how he and his brethren received ' capacities,' with scanty hope of ever finding opportunity to use them; and how they lived for a while as near as they might to their old monastery, only going out to hear mass in the parish church, and once or twice to meet and speak with one another. On the Monday of the outbreak at Louth, when he was at breakfast with Robert Hert, one of his late brethren, at the house of a butcher, he heard the alarm bell rung for the first time. The history of the events which followed does not belong to this place. It only needs here to note that this monk, William Moreland or Borrowby, made his deposition with frankness and simplicity, and no attempt to save himself at the expense of others. He was swept into the mob at Louth whether he would or not, but afterwards seems to have played his part willingly enough. He did what he could to prevent acts of violence, saving the life of John Heneage, the chancellor's proctor, under the market cross, and thrusting through the crowd a little later to shrive and help the fallen servant of Lord Burgh. He owned that he had for a while worn sword and buckler; at another time a ' breastplate and sleeves of mail with a gorget.' (fn. 30) It is scarcely wonderful that when conspicuous examples were selected for execution his name could not be passed over. He was condemned to a traitor's death in March, 1537, with the abbot of Barlings and others. (fn. 31)

There are no episcopal visitations from which to gather materials for the history of this monastery on the interior side. It must have begun happily with Gervase of Fountains as its first abbot. In the thirteenth century it had an honourable reputation when Richard of Dunholm ' appeared in the sight of his people as it were a second Moses, lovable and exceeding meek,' and by his good governance greatly increased the resources of the house, adding to its buildings, and supplying it with books and vestments. (fn. 32) At the time of the dissolution no complaint is recorded against the monks of Louth, nor do they seem to have been overjoyed at their release from conventual discipline.

The original endowment of the abbey by Bishop Alexander seems to have consisted simply of the demesne land with some pasturage and a mill. (fn. 33) The long list of benefactors in the confirmation charter of Henry III (fn. 34) shows how many gifts were added soon after, mostly in the county of Lincoln. Hasculf Musard gave the manor of Brampton, Derbyshire. (fn. 35) The churches of Fulstow (fn. 36) and Harpswell (fn. 37) also belonged to the abbey at a later date. The temporalities of the abbey in 1291 amounted to £246 9s. 3d. (fn. 38) In 1303 the abbot held a quarter of a knight's fee in Gayton, one-quarter in Newton, three-quarters in East Ravendale, one-third in Lissington, onesixth in Croxby and in Keddington, as well as smaller fractions in Thorganby, Ormsby and Ketby, Keddington, Wold Newton, Cockerington, Lissington, Tathwell, Croxby, Fulstow, Binbrooke, Covenham, and Messingham. (fn. 39) In 1346 he held the same, except for the lands in Gayton, and one twenty-sixth in Croxby. (fn. 40) In 1428 he shared one fee with the prioress of Legbourne in Legbourne and Cawthorpe; he held with others half a fee in Farlesthorpe and Thurlby, and had fractions of fees in Alvingham, Keddington, Cockerington, Saltfleetby, Aby, Strubby, Legbourne, and Skidbrooke. (fn. 41) The clear value of the abbey in 1534 was only £147 14s. 6¼d. (fn. 42) At the dissolution in 1536 the churches of Fulstow and Harpswell belonged still to the abbey, with the manors of Grimoldby, Fulstow, Croxby, Alvingham, Huttoft, Thurlby (Lines.), Burley (Derbyshire), and Hoke (Yorks), as well as several granges: valued by the crown bailiff at £267 5s. 2d. in all. (fn. 43)

Abbots of Louth Park

Gervase, (fn. 44) first abbot, 1139

Ralf, (fn. 45) occurs 1155

John, (fn. 46) occurs 1197 and 1202

Warin, (fn. 47) occurs 1207

Richard (fn. 48)

Bernard (fn. 49)

Richard of Dunholm, (fn. 50) elected 1227, died 1246

John of Louth, (fn. 51) died 1261

Walter Pylath, (fn. 52) elected 1261, resigned 1273

Alan of Ake, (fn. 53) elected 1273, occurs 1281

Gilbert Peacock, (fn. 54) elected 1294, resigned 1308

Robert of Algarkirk, (fn. 55) elected 1308, resigned 1312

Adam of Louth, (fn. 56) elected 1312, resigned 1320

Gilbert Peacock, (fn. 57) re-elected 1320, died 1332

Walter of Louth, (fn. 58) elected 1332, died 1349

Richard of Lincoln, (fn. 59) elected 1349, occurs 1355

Robert, (fn. 60) occurs 1380

William, (fn. 61) occurs 1391 and 1405

Thomas Wale, (fn. 62) died 1467

George Walker, (fn. 63) last abbot, occurs 1529

The thirteenth-century pointed oval seal of Louth Park (fn. 64) shows a dexter hand and vested arm issuing from the right, holding a pastoral staff. In the field two small estoiles.


Abbot Warm's thirteenth - century pointed oval seal (fn. 65) shows the abbot standing on a corbel or bracket, in the right hand a pastoral staff; in the left hand a book.



  • 1. Chronicon Abbat. de Parco Ludae (Linc. Rec. Soc.), under 1139.
  • 2. Ibid. Introd. xxvi.
  • 3. Lans. MS. 207 c. 132 d. He had been sub-prior of St. Mary's York.
  • 4. Chron. Abbat. de Parco Ludae (Linc. Rec. Soc.), xxiv. Lans. MS. 404, fol. 19, simply says the place ' displeased' the monks. Tanner said that they pretended not to like the situation and the bishop easily found others to accept it—namely, the ' new and strict order of St. Gilbert.' The Gilbertines at this time could not have been much stricter than the Cistercians.
  • 5. Chron. Abbat. de Parco Ludae, App. ix, and Dugdale, Mon. v, 413.
  • 6. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 67.
  • 7. Chron. Abbat. de Parco Ludae, under 1246.
  • 8. Ibid. A° 1210.
  • 9. Close, 4 Edw. I.
  • 10. Chron. Abbat. de Parco Ludae, App. xii.
  • 11. Pat. 7 Edw. I, m. 12 d.
  • 12. Hund. R. (Rec. Com.), i, 295.
  • 13. Close, 9, 11, and 17 Edw. II.
  • 14. Ibid. 1 Edw. III, m. 17 d.
  • 15. Pat. 10 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 42 d.
  • 16. Cal. of Pap. Letters, ii, 395, 528, 542; Pat. 2 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 36.
  • 17. Pat. 15 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 37.
  • 18. Ibid. 18 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 30 and 28.
  • 19. The story may be gathered from the depositions made at the inquisition of 1345. Ibid. 19 Edw. III, m. 14, 15.
  • 20. Pat. 19 Edw. III, m. 31d.
  • 21. Ibid. m. 29 d.
  • 22. Ibid. m. 14-15. The chronicler of the abbey remarks that the abbot 'underwent a very great persecution on account of the manor of Cockerington; and was buried' (when he died in the great pestilence) ' before the high altar near Sir Henry Vavassour, Kt.'
  • 23. Ingoldmells Ct. R. xxv.
  • 24. Chron. Abbat, de Parcos Ludae, A° 1349.
  • 25. Cal. of Pap. Letters, v, 611.
  • 26. Chron. Abbat. de Parco Ludae, A° 1246.
  • 27. Mins. Accts. 28-29 Henry VIII, No. 166.
  • 28. The date is given in the course of the depositions of a monk after the Lincoln Rebellion. Chapter House Book 119, fols. 91-129.
  • 29. Ibid.
  • 30. The whole story is set out in detail in Gasquet, Henry VIII and the English Monasteries, ii, 55-61.
  • 31. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii (i), 734; he is here called William Burreby of Louth, ii, 83.
  • 32. Chron. Abbat. de Parco Ludae, A° 1246.
  • 33. Ibid. xxvi.
  • 34. Dugdale, Mon. v, 413.
  • 35. Chron. Abbat. de Parco Ludae, xxvii.
  • 36. Pat. 7 Rich. II, pt. i, m. 3.
  • 37. Ibid. 10 Hen. IV, pt. I, m. 9.
  • 38. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 67.
  • 39. Feud. Aids, iii, 133-73.
  • 40. Ibid. 217-39.
  • 41. Ibid. 256-302.
  • 42. Valor Eccles. (Rec. Com.), iv, 58.
  • 43. Mins. Accts. (27-28 Hen. VIII), No. 91. The valuation of the bells and lead of this monastery at the large sum of £598 13s. (ibid. No. 166), twice as much as any of the other houses dissolved at this time, shows how very extensive and handsome the monastic buildings must have been in earlier and more prosperous days. The vestments and other movable property are also said to have realized another large sum. Gasquet, Hen. VIII and the English Monasteries, ii, 47.
  • 44. Lans. MS. 207 C, fol. 132d.
  • 45. Ibid. fol. 163.
  • 46. Boyd and Massingberd, Abstracts of Final Concords, 8, 30.
  • 47. Ibid. 75.
  • 48. Lans. MS. 207 E, fol. 219.
  • 49. Ibid. fol. 522.
  • 50. Chron. Abbat. de Parco Ludae.
  • 51. Ibid.
  • 52. Ibid.
  • 53. Ibid. The occurrence 1281 is Pat. 9 Edw. I, m. 7.
  • 54. Ibid. His election is also found in Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Sutton, 109; and another abbot (unnamed) received the episcopal benediction in 1291 (ibid. 34), possibly at the resignation of Alan, who did not die till 1304.
  • 55. Chron. Abbat. de Parco Ludae and Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Dalderby, 123 d.
  • 56. Ibid. 241.
  • 57. Ibid.
  • 58. Ibid.
  • 59. Ibid. and Lans. MS. 207 C, fol. 253.
  • 60. Pat. 14 Rich. II, pt. ii, in. 37d.
  • 61. Ibid. and Cal of Pap. Letters, vi, 10.
  • 62. Harl. MS. 6952, fol. 88 d. (from Linc. Epis. Reg.).
  • 63. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv (3), 2698.
  • 64. Harl. Chart. 45 H, 19.
  • 65. Ibid. 44 H, 49.