Houses of Premonstratensian canons: The abbey of Barlings

Pages 202-205

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

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The abbey of Barlings was founded in 1154 by Ralf de Haya, (fn. 1) son of the constable of Lincoln Castle, and lord of Burwell and Carlton. It was at first placed at a site called Barling Grange, but afterwards removed to Oxney, within the same vill of Barlings. (fn. 2) Hugh, Hamelin, and Robert Bardolf were early benefactors of the abbey. Maud, the wife of William Longespee, gave it the manor of Caenby for the support of four more canons, in addition to the original thirteen. Alice de Lacy, countess of Lincoln and Salisbury, gave the manor and church of Swaton. (fn. 3)

In 1209, in a suit with Robert de Montbegon, the abbot lost the advowson of Broughton church, but gained that of Tuxford. (fn. 4) Towards the end of the thirteenth century the abbots of Barlings and Peterborough had some trouble in determining the bounds of a common pasture, and received a licence to divide it by ditches and other landmarks. (fn. 5) In 1318 the abbot of Barlings, like so many other religious of this period, had to complain of trespasses upon his property. (fn. 6) During the reign of Edward III two abbots were under the special favour of the king and of Queen Philippa, and in aid of the re-building of the conventual church at this time they were exempted for several years from payment of tenths. (fn. 7) In 1343, nevertheless, the canons were in a good deal of difficulty, and had to petition for the appropriation of a church. (fn. 8) In 1412 it was stated that there were about twentyseven canons in the monastery, but its revenues were so diminished by poverty, debt, and the burden of hospitality, that they could scarcely be sustained, and they received an indult allowing them to celebrate 'private masses called annuals' in the conventual church at the request of the faithful who should contribute to their needs. (fn. 9) It seems that the abbey recovered its prosperity somewhat during the fifteenth century, as Bishop Redman in 1497 praised the administration of the abbot, and noticed that it was in good temporal estate. (fn. 10)

The revenue of this abbey only, of the Premonstratensian order in Lincolnshire, was above £200 in 1534, and it might therefore for a while have survived the first Act of Suppression. Popular rumour, however—in this case an excellent prophet—said that the greater houses would not stand long after the fall of their less favoured neighbours. Abbot Mackarel therefore thought it well to provide for emergencies, and placed in the hands of certain trustworthy persons about £250 in money and £100 in plate, vestments &c., so that in case of dissolution he and his brethren might not be left destitute. When a prisoner in the Tower, after the insurrection of 1536, he confessed to having taken these precautions: he had gathered his brethren in chapter and told them what was commonly reported, and advised them to do as others had done; that is, to set apart some of their best plate and vestments, so that they could be sold, if need were, for the benefit of the whole convent, adding, 'I promise you of my faith and conscience, ye shall have your part thereof, and of every penny that I have during my life.' (fn. 11) There will, of course, be diverse opinions as to these proceedings; yet it should at least be remembered that the revenues of the monastery had been originally granted for the maintenance of divine service in the abbey, and for the support of the canons there; and if divine service had to cease by no fault of theirs, the canons might well feel entitled to such share in the endowments as would keep body and soul together till better days should come. And hitherto, at the dissolution of the minor houses, no one but the superior had received any pension. The rank and file had been dismissed with 20s. and ' capacities' of very doubtful value. However this may be, there is no doubt that this confession told heavily against the abbot at his trial, and that the attempt was an offence unpardonable in the eyes of the king and Cromwell, who had other designs for the disposal of monastic property.

As to the abbot's part in the insurrection, a good deal has been said about it already, but it is really impossible now to arrive at any positive conclusions. There is not a shred of evidence, at any rate, that he had any connexion with the murder of the chancellor; nor does there seem to be any real probability (fn. 12) in the story that he actually wore harness or joined the host in person. His own account of his dealings with the insurgent leaders is very similar to that given by the monks of Bardney and Kirkstead. Under threats he provided meat and lodging on Wednesday night, 4 October, for a large company. On the morrow, being bidden to join the host, he refused on the ground of his religion, but offered to go and sing the litany for them. By Friday, after news that several of the neighbouring gentry had been compelled to join the host, he took provisions to them on a large scale, and on Saturday sent six canons. (fn. 13) By Sunday, 15 October, he and his brethren were lodged as prisoners in Lincoln Castle. (fn. 14) On his way to prison he bade his servants shift for themselves, and save something for him if possible out of the wreck that was coming. (fn. 15) His cellarer was let out on bail later to collect rents &c., (fn. 16) but he himself was sent up soon after Christmas to the Tower. He was examined there twice, on 12 January and 23 March, but neither there nor in Lincoln ever owned to having aided the rebels any more than their violence compelled him to do. He said he would have fled at the beginning of the rising, but that he feared for his house; and denied repeatedly having bidden the host to ' go forward.' He had indeed promised to bring more provisions later in another place, hoping thus to make his escape. (fn. 17) This is his own story, and the assertion that he encouraged the rebels and bade them go forward rests only on the evidence of men who, like himself, were in danger of their lives, and strongly tempted to save themselves at the expense of others. It is only necessary to add that the canons examined told much the same story as their superior, and that finally, on 26 March, 1537, he with six others was condemned to death, and suffered the extreme penalties of the law. (fn. 18) The attainder of the house followed; and the remaining canons were dismissed with a pittance even smaller than that accorded to their brethren already adrift upon the world. (fn. 19)

Of the internal history of the abbey we know little in detail till the end of the fifteenth century. It was, however, evidently in good standing with the order at all times, and the abbots were prominent among the English Premonstratensians. It was in this abbey that the superiors of the province met in 1311 to discuss the question of their duty to the mother house. (fn. 20) William of Kirkton, a canon of this house, was chosen as proctor-general for the English abbots of Lincolnshire and the abbot of Welbeck, and made the appeal to Rome in their name against the abbot of Prémontré. (fn. 21) It was to him, therefore, that William of Steeping, the proctor who had been sent to Rome, wrote reporting progress and requesting further supplies of money. (fn. 22) In 1383 the abbots of Barlings and Welbeck were visitors for the order throughout England. (fn. 23)

In 1488, when Bishop Redman visited Barlings, there were twenty canons besides the abbot, and apparently there was very little to correct. (fn. 24) In 1491 two cases of apostasy were reported. One canon was put to penance for incontinence. The brethren generally were warned against the adoption of new fashions and unnecessary ornamentation of their habits. (fn. 25) In 1494 the visitor had nothing to censure except the disregard of these admonitions as to the habit of the brethren, and especially the wearing of slippers. (fn. 26) In 1497 very high praise was accorded to the abbot and convent, and the good temporal estate of the house was judged to be the result of faithfulness to rule and to the spirit of the religious life. (fn. 27) When Thomas Belesby died in 1503, Bishop Redman wrote of him to the brethren in terms of cordial sympathy. (fn. 28)

The last abbot, Matthew Mackarel, was bishop of Chalcedon and suffragan to Bishop Longlands. He was beatified, with a number of his fellowsufferers, by the late Pope Leo XIII.

The original endowment of this abbey consisted of the vill of Barlings and its church; of lands and mills in Langworth, Walmsgate, Kirkby, Riseholme, Buslingthorpe, and elsewhere in the county, and the churches of Broughton, Tuxford, Scothorn, and Bungay, Suffolk. (fn. 29) In the next century the manor of Caenby was added. (fn. 30) In 1312 Simon le Chaumberleyn of Edlington had licence to alienate to the abbey the manor and church of Stainton. (fn. 31) In the fourteenth century the abbey was found in possession of manors at Barlings, Scothorn, Stainton, Revesby, Fulstow, Glentham, Carlton Wildeker, Middle Carlton, South Carlton, Mumby, Great Carlton, Carlton by the Sea, Reepham, Walmsgate, and Swaton, (fn. 32) as well as the churches of Scothorn, Snelland, Reepham, Caenby, Sudbrook, with Bungay, Suffolk, Middleton, Oxon, and Allington, Wilts. (fn. 33)

In 1291 the temporalities of the abbey were worth £137 13s. 9d. a year. (fn. 34) In 1303 the abbot held a knight's fee in Carlton Paynel, half a fee in Carlton, and divers fractions in Mumby, Theddlethorpe, Boothby, Dunston, Burwell, Newbold, Stainton, Swaton. (fn. 35) The only considerable addition at a later date was the manor of Riseholme. (fn. 36)

In 1534 theclear revenue was £242 5s. 11½d., (fn. 37) including the churches of Scothorn, Reepham, Stainton by Langworth, Swaton, and Bungay; and the manors of North Carlton, Caenby, Glentham, Scothorn, Swaton, Market Stainton, and Snelland occur in the first Ministers' Accounts of the abbey, which amount to £316 9s. 2d. (fn. 38) A large number of bequests to the poor on the abbey lands were duly paid till the dissolution: £18 to thirteen poor persons every year in memory of Alice de Lacy, countess of Lincoln; 6s. 8d. in memory of John of Gaunt and his wives; on Maundy Thursday and the feasts of St. Nicholas and St. Thomas of Canterbury, to every poor person who came to the gate, a loaf of bread and a herring, and bequests of less interest. (fn. 39)

Abbots of Barlings

Adam, (fn. 40) twelfth century

Ralf, (fn. 41) between 1156 and 1166

David (fn. 42)

Akarius, (fn. 43) 1190

Robert, (fn. 44) occurs 1205 and 1216

Clement, (fn. 45) occurs thirteenth century

Robert, (fn. 46) occurs thirteenth century

Ingelram, (fn. 47) occurs 1267

Ralf, (fn. 48) occurs 1277

Richard of Sutton (fn. 49) (or of Hanworth), occurs 1281 to 1317

Thomas of Edenham, (fn. 50) occurs 1322 to 1340

Alexander of Ramsey, (fn. 51) elected 1341, occurs to 1367

John of Kirkton, (fn. 52) occurs 1367 to 1396

Hugh, (fn. 53) occurs 1400

Thomas Maryng, (fn. 54) occurs 1403 to 1433

John Spalding, (fn. 55) elected 1438, occurs to 1452

William Lincoln, (fn. 56) elected 1459, occurs to 1479

Thomas Belesby, (fn. 57) occurs from 1478, died 1503

William Forman, (fn. 58) elected and resigned 1503

John Bayns, (fn. 59) elected 1503

Matthew Mackarel, (fn. 60) last abbot, occurs 1529

The fourteenth-century pointed oval seal of Barlings (fn. 61) represents on the obverse the Virgin crowned, seated on an elegantly-carved throne, under a canopy in form of a church with trefoiled arch supported on four slender columns, and holding the Child. In the field on the left a crescent, on the right an estoile. In base, under a pointed arch with carved foliage at the sides, an ox's head to the right, in allusion to the second name of the abbey.


The small oval signet of Abbot Thomas de Maryng (fn. 62) represents in a carved border of eight cusps, our Lord on the cross, with the letters T . H . O . M . E in the field.


A small pointed oval counter-seal of the fifteenth century (fn. 63) represents the Virgin crowned, seated in a canopied niche, in the right hand a sceptre, on her left knee the Child standing up. In a small niche in the canopy the Almighty seated, lifting up the hands. In a carved niche on the left St. John Baptist full length, in the left hand the Agnus Dei; in the right hand a chalice and in the left hand a palm branch. In the base, in a niche with round-headed arch, the abbot, with pastoral staff, head slightly turned to the right, kneeling in prayer, between two shields of arms: on the left three cinquefoils, on the right an estoile of sixteen points.


The pointed oval seal of Abbot Akarius (fn. 64) represents an ox passant guardant issuing from the left, in front of it a long cross. The legend is defaced.


  • 1. Dugdale, Mon vi, 915; Cott. MS. Faustina B, i, 108 d; Sloane MS. 4935, fol. 108. The house was dedicated in honour of the Assumption of Blessed Mary.
  • 2. Dugdale, Mon. vi, 915.
  • 3. Ibid. and Cott. MS. Faustina B, i.
  • 4. Boyd and Massingberd, Abstracts of Final Concords.
  • 5. Pat. 18 Edw. I, m. 46.
  • 6. Ibid. 12 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 28d, 24d.
  • 7. Close, 20 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 12; 21 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 3; Pat. 12 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 17. A special protection for life was granted to Abbots Thomas and Alexander. Pat. 15 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 14.
  • 8. Cal. of Pap. Petitions, i, 29. The petition was made by Queen Philippa, on the ground of the singular devotion she, the king, and nobles had to this house.
  • 9. Ibid. v, 545.
  • 10. Ashmole MS. 1519, fol. 155.
  • 11. Cott. MS. Cleop. E, iv, fol. 245.
  • 12. The accusation that the abbot was in harness is only found in Chapter House Book, 118, fol. 1. ' The abbot of B. and divers of his canons ' accused by Edward Dymmoke and other gentlemen that ' they' were among the commons in harness. The actual words of these depositions are not given, and the word they may refer merely to the canons generally. None of the depositions recorded speak of the abbot as having joined the host himself, though they dwell much on his 'comfortable words' and 'great presents.'
  • 13. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xi, 805.
  • 14. Ibid. 834.
  • 15. Cott. MS. Cleop. E, iv, fol. 245.
  • 16. Ibid.
  • 17. Ibid. Chapter House Book, 119, fol. 11-13; and L. and P. Hen. VIII, xi, 805; xii (1), 702; Ibid. 765. The story is given at greater length from the above sources by Gasquet, Hen. VIII and the English Monasteries, ii, 74-80.
  • 18. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii (i), 734 and 764 and xiv (1), 402. The six canons were condemned at Lincoln with the monks of Bardney and Kirkstead. Controlment Roll, 30 Hen. VIII, m. 6.
  • 19. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii (1), 700 and xiii (2), 1,195.
  • 20. Gasquet, Coll. Anglo-Premonstratensia, i, 18-20.
  • 21. Ibid. i, 22.
  • 22. Gasquet, Coll. Anglo-Premonstratensia, i, 45.
  • 23. Pat. 6 Ric. II, pt. ii, m. 2.
  • 24. Ashmole MS. 1519, fol. 70 d.
  • 25. Ibid. 94-113.
  • 26. Ibid. 119d.-27.
  • 27. Ibid. 135-55.
  • 28. Gasquet, Coll. Anglo-Premonstratensia, ii, 118-20. His predecessor, William Lincoln, had presided with Bishop Redman at a provincial chapter in 1479.
  • 29. Cart. Antiq. H, 20; Dugdale, Mon. vi, 916.
  • 30. Dugdale, Mon. vi, 916.
  • 31. Cal. Pat. 1307-13, p. 482.
  • 32. Cott. MS. Faustina, B, i, fol. 116.
  • 33. Ibid. 165d.
  • 34. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 70.
  • 35. Feud. Aids, iii, 133-67.
  • 36. Ibid. 359.
  • 37. Valor Eccles. (Rec. Com.), iv, 130.
  • 38. Dugdale, Mon. vi, 916.
  • 39. Valor Eccles. (Rec. Com.), iv, 130.
  • 40. Harl. Chart. 58 H, 4.
  • 41. Ibid. 51 B, 51
  • 42. Cott. MS. Vesp. E, xx, fol. 38.
  • 43. Gasquet, Coll. Anglo. Prem. ii, 29.
  • 44. Dugdale, Mon. vi, 916; Cott. MS. Faustina, B, i, fol. 108.
  • 45. Harl. Chart. 51 D, 24.
  • 46. Cott. Chart. xxix, 89.
  • 47. Cott. Chart. xxvii, 60.
  • 48. Cott. MS. Vesp. E, xx, fol. 95.
  • 49. Ibid. Faustina, B, i, fol. 108d.; Sloane MS. 4934, fol. 27; Exch. T. R. vol. lxxi, fol. 24.
  • 50. Pat. 16 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 34; Cott. MS. Faustina, B, i, fol. 170.
  • 51. Pat. 15 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 15; Exch. T. R. vol. lxxi, fol. 25.
  • 52. Exch. T. R. vol. lxxi, fol. 29-31. In Coll. Anglo. Prem. ii, 29, mention is made of Abbot George ante 1393 without reference.
  • 53. Exch. T. R. vol. lxxi, fol. 31.
  • 54. Ibid. fol. 28, 31-2; Harl. Chart. 44 A, 12; and Durham Obit. Rolls (Surtees Soc ), 105.
  • 55. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Alnwick, 34 d. Harl. Chart. 44 B, 15.
  • 56. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Chedworth, 53d.; Sloane MS. 4935, fol. 51.
  • 57. Ashmole MS. 1519, fol. 96; Gasquet, Coll. Anglo-Premonstratensia, i, 118-20.
  • 58. Gasquet, Coll. Anglo-Premonstratensia, i, 120.
  • 59. Ibid.
  • 60. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv (3), 2698.
  • 61. Harl. Chart. 44 A, 16.
  • 62. Ibid. 44 A, 11.
  • 63. Ibid. 44 A, 12.
  • 64. Ibid. 45 A, 4.