Houses of Premonstratensian canons: The abbey of Newhouse or Newsham

Pages 199-202

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

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The abbey of Newhouse was the first of this order established in England, the founder being Peter of Gousla, who held in Newsham 'one knight's' fee of Ralf de Bayeux, and founded the abbey, (fn. 1) and Ralf wishing to share in the foundation enfranchised that fee. (fn. 2) The dedication of the house was to the honour of St. Mary and St. Martial, and the date of foundation 1143. (fn. 3) Ralf de Bayeux, as well as Peter de Gousla, received the honours of a founder, being admitted to the fraternity of the house; the absolutions of the dead and other like offices were said for him as for the canons. William de Romara, earl of Lincoln, and Elias d'Albini were also benefactors of the monastery. (fn. 4)

The canons of Newhouse were involved in a long suit with the nuns of Elstow during the twelfth century as to the advowson of the church of Halton-on-Humber. The nuns claimed it about 1170, and, in spite of the award given by the abbot of Rievaulx and the prior of Bridlington, persisted in their suit till a bull from Pope Alexander III ordered them to molest the canons no further. (fn. 5)

In 1385 the canons complained of poverty due to pestilence, barrenness of lands, and heavy burdens of hospitality. Recent storms had almost reduced the monastic buildings to ruins. (fn. 6)

Early in the sixteenth century the abbot was involved in a suit with Sir Thomas Burgh, who had violently possessed himself of a certain grange, granted some time before to his father by a former abbot for protection under a charge of murder. Sir Thomas, however, declared that the grange was his right for 'general council in all lawsuits, which he had always given and would still give,' and not in recompense for any particular favour. (fn. 7)

The house was dissolved under the first Act of Suppression, the abbot receiving £20 pension and the ten canons the usual allowance for secular apparel, with wages due. (fn. 8)

The abbey of Newhouse was a daughter house of the abbey of Lisques, near Calais, and itself the parent of eleven others, amongst which Barlings, Tupholme, and Newbo were numbered; (fn. 9) and this position gave the abbots a good deal of dignity within the order. They had indeed to be consulted at the election of abbots in all their daughter-houses, but they were also chosen from time to time to represent the order generally in important matters. There were no less than five Premonstratensian abbeys in the county of Lincoln, and it is not surprising to find that provincial chapters w.ere frequently held in this part of England—at Lincoln in 1310, 1459, 1476, 1485, and 1495; at Legbourne in 1489; at Grantham in 1492. (fn. 10) As early as 1279 the abbot of Newhouse acted jointly with the abbot of Hales Owen on affairs of the order in Wales. (fn. 11) In the memorable quarrel of the English abbots with Abbot Adam of Prémontré as to the payment of subsidies demanded by the mother-house, but forbidden by the kings of England on pain of treason, the Lincolnshire abbots played a prominent part. In 1311 the abbots of Newhouse and Croxton, being visitors for the order in that year, used their point of vantage for the purpose of collecting opinions from their brethren and concerting plans of action. A canon of Newhouse, homo solidus in ordine et lingua approbatus, was deputed to receive the confidences of the English abbots and report them to his superiors. (fn. 12) The same two abbots, also in 1311, (fn. 13) sent a summons to all their brethren of the midlands to contribute towards the expenses of the appeal then lodged at Rome against Abbot Adam's exactions and unfeeling disregard of the dilemma in which he had placed all the English houses of the order. Again, in 1346, another abbot of Newhouse was commissioned to reform the abuses of the order throughout England, and received royal licence to send £40 subsidy to Prémontré, but no more. (fn. 14) Some similar commission about 1382 very nearly brought a successor of his into serious trouble. He was arrested and summoned before the king's council on suspicion of a purpose to go beyond seas and 'sue things prejudicial to the king.' (fn. 15)

In 1472 the abbot of Newhouse was censured for not providing an abbot for the daughterhouse of Alnwick. (fn. 16) Just about this time (fn. 17) we learn more in detail of the actual condition of the house from the visitation reports of Bishop Redman.

In 1475 there were nineteen canons professed besides the abbot, but no particular complaints were made. It seems that the age and increasing infirmities of the abbot, who resigned three years later, prevented him from understanding fully the state of his own house and giving a satisfactory report of it; (fn. 18) for in 1478 five of the brethren were charged with incontinence and apostasy, and two of these had conspired to break into the cellarer's chamber and do him some hurt. At the petition of the resigning abbot, the abbot of Barlings, and the whole convent, all seven were respited for a time in hope of amendment. John Swift, abbot of Barlings, was elected abbot in place of Thomas Ashton. He was ordered to increase the number of canons (then fifteen only, with two novices) as soon as possible; to provide the ex-abbot with a pension, a chamber of his own, and a canon to say the divine office with him; and to supply one of the brethren with food and fatherly affection. (fn. 19)

In 1482 one canon was again found guilty of incontinence and apostasy; he was excommunicated a second time. The numbers had increased by three. Injunctions were given as to keeping of silence, 'the very key of the religious life,' as to drinking after compline, regular attendance in choir, and speaking in chapter without leave; all faults were to be corrected and punished, and no one was to go out without a companion. (fn. 20)

In 1488 four canons were found guilty of going out without leave, and on submission were ordered to say the whole psalter within a week; if the offence were repeated they were to have forty days of penance gravioris culpae and seven years' banishment. (fn. 21)

In 1491 one of the canons excommunicated in 1478 was declared apostate for the third time. Another had grievously sinned with a nun of Irford. Yet the visitor pronounced the tone of the house generally to be good, and the abbot and canons were living in real harmony. (fn. 22) In 1494 two canons were slightly punished for mistakes at mass, and another for unnecessary adornment of his habit and for wearing slippers. The numbers had then fallen to eleven. (fn. 23) In 1497 there were again seventeen, and in this year, as well as 1500 and 1503, the report of the house was extremely satisfactory. By the last visitation the abbey was in excellent order, both temporal and spiritual, and the bishop expressed his astonishment at the beauty and extent of the new buildings which the abbot had been able to erect. (fn. 24)

It is pleasant to record an improvement so marked and so steady during the thirty years of Bishop Redman's administration of the order, and that at a time when the monasteries of England are popularly supposed to have been in a very bad way. There is no reason to suppose that the standard thus attained was lost before the dissolution; on the contrary, the little we know is to the credit of the convent. The last abbot but one was chosen by Archbishop Cranmer as his suffragan, and at his death in 1534 Cranmer wrote himself to urge the appointment of the sub-prior to the vacant post —his own ' friend and old acquaintance.' (fn. 25)

It seems probable that at the dissolution the canons of Newhouse for the most part took refuge in other houses of the order; for in 1537 two young canons sent a petition to Cromwell, in which they stated that, ' being under twentyfour years of age, they were dismissed from their order ' when the house was dissolved: as if their elder brethren had fared differently. (fn. 26)

The original endowment of the abbey of Newhouse included a knight's fee at Newhouse, and lands of William de Romara at Killingholme and Cabourne, with the churches of Habrough, East Halton, one-third of Saxilby and one-sixth of Brocklesby. (fn. 27) Other churches were granted later. In 1303 the abbot of Newhouse held half a knight's fee in Killingholme, the same in Melton and Ulceby, one-third in Brocklesby, one-quarter in Keelby, one-quarter in Nettleton, one-sixth in Hardwick and East Wykeham, with smaller fractions in Hundon (in Caistor), Crosby, Stapleford, Glentworth. (fn. 28) In 1346 the return was much the same; (fn. 29) in 1428 again almost the same, with half a knight's fee also in Huttoft. (fn. 30) In 1534, however, the clear annual value of the abbey was only £99 2s. 10½d. (fn. 31) The Ministers' Accounts of 1536 amount to £182 11s. 0½d., including the rectories of Brocklesby, East Halton, Killingholme, Kirmington, Glentworth, Saxilby. (fn. 32)

Abbots of Newhouse

Gerlo, (fn. 33) first abbot, 1143-60

Amblardus, (fn. 34) occurs 1177

David, (fn. 35) occurs 1177-83

Gervase (fn. 36)

Adam, (fn. 37) occurs 1199

Lambert, (fn. 38) occurs 1200-03

Walter (fn. 39)

Geoffrey, (fn. 40) occurs 1219

Osbert, (fn. 41) occurs 1226-30

Thomas, (fn. 42) occurs 1242-75

John de Cave, (fn. 43) occurs 1278-94

Thomas de Hedon, (fn. 44) elected 1296, occurs to 1310

Ralf, (fn. 45) occurs 1327

Alan, (fn. 46) elected 1334, occurs to 1354

Robert of Thornton, (fn. 47) elected 1355

William of Teleby, (fn. 48) occurs 1377-83

Hugh, (fn. 49) occurs 1395-1419

Henry of Limber, (fn. 50) elected 1420, occurs to 1435

Robert, (fn. 51) occurs 1446-62

Thomas Ashton, (fn. 52) occurs 1475, resigned 1478

John Swift, (fn. 53) elected 1478, resigned 1497

William Sawndalle, (fn. 54) elected 1497, occurs to 1503

Thomas, (fn. 55) resigned after 1503

John Max, (fn. 56) occurs 1518

Christopher Lord, (fn. 57) occurs 1522 and 1529, died 1534

Thomas Doncaster or Harpham, (fn. 58) last abbot, elected 1534

The twelfth-century pointed oval seal of Newsham (fn. 59) represents St. Martial, bishop of Limoges, patron saint of the abbey, full length, with mitre and vestments partly embroidered, lifting up the right hand in benediction; in the left hand a pastoral staff. From the left hand a long maniple of morse hangs down.


An early thirteenth-century pointed oval seal (fn. 60) represents St. Martial, with mitre, standing on a corbel, in the right hand a pastoral staff, in the left hand a book. In the field on each side an elegant scroll of conventional foliage, and on the right a mullet, on the left a crescent.


Another thirteenth-century seal (fn. 61) represents St. Martial with mitre, seated on an ornamental throne, the sides of which terminate in animals' heads and necks, beneath a trefoiled canopy; lifting up the right hand in benediction, in the left hand a pastoral staff. In the field on each side a crescent between a group of four pellets en losange above it, and a mullet and three pellets fesse wise below it. In base, under a carved arch with the foiled openings in the spandrels, the abbot, half length, in prayer, to the right.

S'ECCL'LE: SCI - MA . . . . IS: APL'I: DE: NEVHV . . . .

The borders are beaded.

A small pointed oval counter-seal of a thirteenth-century abbot (fn. 62) represents the abbot standing on a carved corbel, in the right hand a pastoral staff, in the left hand a book. The field replenished with an estoile of six points between two groups of small pellets, on the left a crescent between two corselets, and as many groups of pellets on the right.


An early thirteenth-century seal of Abbot Osbert (fn. 63) represents on the pointed oval, obverse, the abbot standing on a carved corbel, in the right hand a pastoral staff, in the left hand a book. In the field on each side a small quatrefoil.


The reverse, a small heptagonal counter-seal, bears a dexter hand and vested arms, crossing from the base, holding a pastoral staff. In the field on the left an estoile of seven points.


The border is cabled.

The pointed oval seal of a later abbot (fn. 64) represents two saints standing in a double-arched niche, with carved canopy and narrow central shaft. In base, under a carved round-headed arch, the abbot, half length, with pastoral staff, in prayer, to the left,

. . . . . . II - ABBAT . . . . . .


  • 1. Liber Niger and Yarborough Roll, Linc, N. and Q. vii, 20.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Dugdale, Mon. vi, 865; Sloane MS. 4935, fol. 49.
  • 4. Ibid. 875.
  • 5. Harl. Chart. 44, I, 3; 43 G, 23, 24. A pension was paid to the nuns from the church till the dissolution.
  • 6. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Bokyngham, 318.
  • 7. Star Chamber Proc. 16 Hen. VIII, bdle. 33, No. 30.
  • 8. Mins. Accts. 27-28 Hen. VIII, No. 166.
  • 9. Sloane MS. 4935, fol. 49. The abbots of Newhouse had also some jurisdiction over the nunnery of Broadholm, Notts, of this order (Cal. of Pap. Letters, vi, 159).
  • 10. Gasquet, Collectanea Anglo - Premonstratensia, i, 125-73.
  • 11. Pat. 7 Edw. I, m. 24.
  • 12. Gasquet, op. cit. i, 31.
  • 13. Ibid. 32-35.
  • 14. Pat. 20 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 35; and pt. iii, m. 3.
  • 15. Ibid. 5 Ric. II, pt. i, m. 21 d.
  • 16. Gasquet, op. cit. i, 94.
  • 17. The only earlier visitation recorded is one conducted in 1343 by the abbots of Halesowen and Haganby in the name of the abbot of Prémontré. They reported a 'state of mutual peace between head and members, and between the members themselves,' and nothing which required correction. The house, however, was considerably in debt (Harl. Chart. 44, E. 15).
  • 18. Ashmole MS. 1519, fol. 6.
  • 19. Sloane MS. 4935, fol. 50-4.
  • 20. Ashmole MS. 1519, fol. 39-44.
  • 21. Ibid. 69-70. The common phrase in monastic visitations, 'poena gravioris culpae,' seems to carry much the same meaning in all religious orders. It implied separation from the common life of the brethren at all points: a separate place, with other signs of humiliation, both in refectory and choir; a certain measure of fasting and abstinence; and sometimes the offenders were prohibited from any speech with the brethren during the term of penance. Penalties of the kind are found in the Rule of St. Benedict, cap. xxiv-xxv, where there is a distinction made between culpae leviores and graviores. The modern distinction, illustrated in the Constitutions of the abbey of Solesmes (1901), is between culpae graves, graviores, and gravissimae. The present writer was kindly informed by the Rev. Dr. Cox that this ancient severity of discipline is still enforced among the White Canons of to-day, as he had found from his acquaintance with a member of the order living in England in 1878.
  • 22. Ibid. 94-113.
  • 23. Ibid. 127.
  • 24. Ibid. 134, 155, 160.
  • 25. L. and P. Hen. VIII. vii, 685, 686.
  • 26. Ibid. xii (2), 1341.
  • 27. Dugdale, Mon. vi, 865.
  • 28. Feud. Aids, iii, 140-212.
  • 29. Ibid. 216-57.
  • 30. Ibid. 271-97.
  • 31. Valor Eccles. iv, 74.
  • 32. Mins. Accts. (27-28 Hen. VIII), No. 91.
  • 33. Dugdale, Mon. vi, 865.
  • 34. Ibid. and Harl. Chart. 43 B, 14.
  • 35. Harl. Chart. 43 A, 22, 25.
  • 36. Ibid. 50 I, 4.
  • 37. Addy's Beauchief, 29, 39.
  • 38. Boyd and Massingberd, Abstracts of Final Concords, 21.
  • 39. Harl. Chart. 50 E, 50.
  • 40. Boyd and Massingberd, Abstracts of Final Concords, 120; Harl Chart. 52 D, 13; 44 G, 24.
  • 41. Ibid. 184; Harl, Chart. 52 E, 40.
  • 42. Harl. Chart. 44 G, 48, 49, 52; 44 H, 10; Close, 5 Edw. I, 7d.
  • 43. Ibid. 44 H, 9; 52 D, 20.
  • 44. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Sutton, 159; Harl. Chart. 44 H, 16.
  • 45. Harl. Chart. 44 H, 21.
  • 46. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Burghersh, 285d.; Cal. of Pap. Letters, vi, 159.
  • 47. Ibid. Memo. Gynwell, 77.
  • 48. Harl. Chart. 44 H, 29; Pat. 5 Ric. II, pt. i, m. 21 d.; Linc. Epis. Reg. Inst. Buck. 125.
  • 49. Stafford, Exeter Epis. Reg. 263; Exch. Trans. of Receipts, vol. 71, fol. 19.
  • 50. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Flemyng, 246.
  • 51. Ibid. Memo. Chedworth, 22, 33 d.; Harl. Chart. 43 F, 2.
  • 52. Sloane MS. 4935, fol. 50.
  • 53. Ibid. 51d.; Ashmole MS. 1519, 52d. fol. 56.
  • 54. Ashmole MS. 1519, 529, 541.
  • 55. Gasquet Coll. Anglo-Premonstratensia, i, 122.
  • 56. Harl. Chart. 45 A, 11.
  • 57. Linc. N. and Q. v, 36; L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv (2), 2698.
  • 58. L. and P. Hen. VIII, vii, 686.
  • 59. Harl. Chart. 44 G, 15.
  • 60. Ibid. 55.
  • 61. Harl. Chart. 44 G, 47.
  • 62. Ibid. H, 3.
  • 63. Ibid. G, 27.
  • 64. Ibid. H, 24.