A History of the County of London: Volume 1, London Within the Bars, Westminster and Southwark. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1909.
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HOUSE OF CISTERCIAN MONKS
4. EASTMINSTER, NEW ABBEY, OR THE ABBEY OF ST. MARY DE GRACIIS
In 1350 King Edward III founded in the parish of St. Botolph without Aldgate a monastery to be called St. Mary of Graces in honour of the Virgin, to whose mediation he attributed his escape from many perils by land and sea. (fn. 1) The site was a place called the New Churchyard of Holy Trinity, because it had been acquired by a certain John Corey, clerk, from Holy Trinity Priory for a burial ground during the plague. (fn. 2) St. Mary's was made subject to Beaulieu Regis, (fn. 3) and from this abbey came the five Cistercian monks (fn. 4) who under Walter de Santa Cruce, (fn. 5) as president, formed the convent of the new foundation.
The original endowment consisted of some lands and tenements in East Smithfield and Tower Hill which, like the site, had been bought by the king of John Corey, (fn. 6) and a sum of 20 marks to be received annually from the tellers of London for their ferma-gilda. (fn. 7) In 1358, however, the income thus derived being found insufficient, the king ordered 40 marks a year to be paid to them out of the Exchequer until he should provide otherwise for them, but he stipulated at the same time that another monk should be added to their number. (fn. 8) He moreover granted to them in 1367, (fn. 9) together with some small rents in London, the advowsons of St. Bartholomew's the Little and of Allhallows Staining, (fn. 10) and two years later he gave them lands, tenements, and rents in London worth about 60 marks a year which had been forfeited to the crown under the Statute of Mortmain. (fn. 11) But the king must have felt that the income of the abbey fell far short of the thousand marks with which he had intended to endow it, (fn. 12) and towards the end of his reign he took steps to supply the deficiency.
Before his death (fn. 13) he granted to the abbey the reversion of the manors of Westmill, Little Hormead, and Meesden, co. Herts., with the advowsons of the churches; and he enfeoffed John, duke of Lancaster, and others trustees of the manors of Gravesend, Lenches, Leybourne, Wateringbury, Gore, Parrocks and Bicknor, co. Kent, the manor of Rotherhithe and the reversion of the manor of Gomshall, co. Surrey, and the advowsons of the churches of Gravesend, Leybourne, and Bicknor, so that they might ultimately convey them to the convent in frankalmoign. (fn. 14) The trustees gave the property to the abbey in 1382 for a term of forty years, (fn. 15) the convent then leased it to Sir Simon de Burley, on whose death for treason in 1388 it fell to the crown. (fn. 16) King Richard, however, had no wish to benefit at the expense of the monastery, and committed the manors to certain persons who were to pay the revenues arising from them to the monks. Finally, in 1398, he made them over to the convent in frankalmoign. (fn. 17) King Edward had also bequeathed to the abbey in a similar way the reversion of the manors of Bovey Tracey, 'Northlieu,' (fn. 18) Holsworthy, 'Longeacre,' co. Devon; Blagdon, Lydford, (fn. 19) Staunton, co. Somerset; and 'Takkebere' co. Cornwall, with the advowsons of Blagdon, Lydford, 'Northlieu,' and Holsworthy; but when Sir James d'Audele, the life-owner, died, Richard II gave them to his half-brother John Holland, earl of Huntingdon, granting to the abbey instead 110 marks to be received every year from Scarborough church as long as the schism and the war with France lasted, and afterwards from the Exchequer. (fn. 20) John Holland was executed in 1400, and his estates forfeited, whereupon Henry IV revoked the letters patent of his predecessor and gave the manors in question to the abbey in frankalmoign. (fn. 21) It is difficult to say what occurred afterwards, for though the abbey had possession of at least one of the manors after the Hollands had been restored in blood, (fn. 22) it appears to have held none of them in the next century.
In the early days of the foundation the endowment was probably little more than sufficient for the maintenance of the monks, so that the construction of the necessary buildings did not proceed very rapidly. The abbey church dedicated to St. Anne was aided by a relaxation of penance offered by the pope in 1374 to those who on the principal feasts during a period of ten years visited it and gave alms. (fn. 23) But the cloisters and houses were possibly not begun in 1368, (fn. 24) and were certainly not completed in 1379, for the trustees then made the convent an annual grant of 100 marks from the manors in Kent (fn. 25) partly to meet this expense, and in 1391 the abbot and monks received a pardon from the king for selling wood belonging to the manor of Wateringbury to raise funds for their new building. (fn. 26)
The abbey before the end of the fourteenth century appears to have occupied a position of some importance, for when Pope Boniface IX issued letters (fn. 27) exempting the Cistercian Order in England, Wales, and Ireland from the jurisdiction of the abbot of Citeaux as an adherent of the anti-pope Clement VII, the abbot of St. Mary's was ordered, with those of Boxley and Stratford, to convoke the order, and the abbey was named as the meeting place of the chapter-general. The royal foundation and patronage of the abbey may partly account for this and other tokens of papal favour: between 1390 and 1400 the pope conferred on three of the convent the dignity of papal chaplain, (fn. 28) and in 1415 the use of the mitre, ring, and other pontifical insignia was granted to the abbot and his successors. (fn. 29)
A case which occurred about 1401 shows that unruly spirits were sometimes found even within the walls of a monastery. Ralph Bikere, a monk of St. Mary, Swineshead, had been sentenced to imprisonment for violence to his abbot and breach of the rule concerning private property. He fled to St. Mary Graces, made his profession and was allowed to remain. (fn. 30) Soon afterwards the abbot of Beaulieu, during a visitation of St. Mary Graces, found that he had turned William de Wardon, the abbot, out of the dormitory, laid violent hands on him, hindered him from disposing of the goods of the monastery, and applied many of these goods to his own purposes, that he had then apostatized, appealed to the secular tribunal, and caused the appeal to be notified to his abbot. (fn. 31) He was sentenced by the abbot of Beaulieu to be imprisoned, and the judgement against him was finally confirmed by the pope, (fn. 32) though at first he had obtained letters of rehabilitation. (fn. 33) The house in 1427 was so much impoverished owing to the mismanagement of Abbot Paschal, who seems to have obtained his position wrongfully (fn. 34) and to have taken advantage of it to plunder the abbey, (fn. 35) that it was committed by the advice of the council to Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, the bishop of Winchester, the abbot of Beaulieu, and others. (fn. 36) A question as to the custody of the temporalities arose in 1441, the abbey being called upon to answer for £566 18s. 10d. said to be due to the king from its lands in London and Middlesex during the vacancy on the death of the last abbot, John Pecche. The abbot and convent appealed to the king, who acknowledged that his predecessors had never had the custody at such times, and promised for himself and his heirs that the convent should in future be unmolested in this respect. (fn. 37)
The civil wars do not seem to have affected the position of the abbey at all; its charters were confirmed by both Edward IV (fn. 38) and Henry VII, (fn. 39) and the abbot served on the various commissions for the administration of the district adjoining the abbey, both under Edward IV (fn. 40) and Henry VIII. (fn. 41) It was probably during the reign of Edward IV that the Lady Chapel was added at the expense of Sir Thomas Montgomery. (fn. 42) After the difficulties with Rome had arisen the king appointed Henry More the abbot of St. Mary's, among others, (fn. 43) to visit the houses of the Cistercian order in England, Ireland, and Wales, and More received the thanks of Margaret, marchioness of Dorset, in 1533 for the zeal he had shown in the reformation of the house of Tiltey. (fn. 44) Reform, however, was not what the king wanted, and the abbey of Coggeshall must have been given to More in commendam in 1536, (fn. 45) either because his precarious health made a speedy recurrence of first-fruits likely, (fn. 46) or more probably because he could be relied on to surrender when required. More indeed gave it up to the king in about eighteen months, (fn. 47) and made a good bargain, for he was reimbursed for all his expenses and received a pension of 100 marks for life from Sir Thomas Seymour who obtained the site and lands. (fn. 48) The surrender of St. Mary Graces seems to have taken place in September, 1538. (fn. 49) At that time there were ten monks including the abbot, only one more than there had been in 1376, (fn. 50) before the richest endowments had been made. They all received pensions for life: the abbot 100 marks, the sub-prior £6 13s. 4d., and the others £5 6s. 8d. each. (fn. 51) More was still living in 1544. (fn. 52)
The income of the abbey in 1535 amounted to £602 11s. 10½d. gross and £547 0s. 6½d. net, (fn. 55) of which more than £300 was derived from rents and ferms in London and the suburbs, (fn. 56) and the rectory and tithes of Allhallows Staining. (fn. 57)
The convent owned two water-mills called 'Crasshe Mills' in East Smithfield (fn. 58) by the bequest of Sir Nicholas de Loveyne in 1375, (fn. 59) and the manor of Poplar, (fn. 60) co. Middlesex; the manors of Westmill, Meesden, and Little Hormead, (fn. 61) co. Herts; the manor and castle of Leybourne, (fn. 62) the manors of Wateringbury, (fn. 63) Fowkes, (fn. 64) Gore, Bicknor, Gravesend, Parrocks, 'Herber,' and Lenches, (fn. 65) Swancourt, (fn. 66) Slayhills Marsh, (fn. 67) tenements in Woolwich, (fn. 68) and land in Cobham (fn. 69) and Rainham, (fn. 70) co. Kent; the manors of Gomshall, and Rotherhithe, (fn. 71) and land in Ewhurst, (fn. 72) co. Surrey. They also possessed the advowsons of St. Bartholomew's by the Exchange, (fn. 73) Westmill, (fn. 74) Hormead, Meesden, (fn. 75) Ridley, (fn. 76) Gravesend, Leybourne, and Bicknor, (fn. 77) and received a yearly pension of 40s. from the church of Emley, (fn. 78) co. Kent. In 1428 the abbot held half a knight's fee in Meesden, and in conjunction with John Tewe two knights' fees in Westmill. (fn. 79)
Abbots of St. Mary of Graces
William de Sancta Cruce, occurs 1350 (fn. 80) and
1358 (fn. 81)
William de Warden, elected 1360, (fn. 82) occurs 1402 (fn. 83)
Ranulf, occurs 1417 (fn. 84)
Paschalis, occurs 1421 (fn. 85) and 1422 (fn. 86)
William, occurs 1423 (fn. 87)
John Pecche, died c. 1440 (fn. 88)
Robert, occurs 1442–3 (fn. 89)
Edmund, occurs 1480 (fn. 90)
John, occurs 1483, (fn. 91) 1503, (fn. 92) 1508, (fn. 93) and 1511 (fn. 94)
Henry More, elected 1516, (fn. 95) occurs 1527 (fn. 96) and 1532, (fn. 97) surrendered 1538 (fn. 98)
The common seal of the monastery in the fourteenth century (fn. 99) represents the Virgin, crowned, seated in a canopied niche, the Child on her right knee. In a smaller niche with pent roof on the left, King Edward III, the founder, kneels in adoration; in a similar niche on the right two monks, one offering a book to the Virgin. In the base, on a square carved plinth, a shield of the royal arms of Edward III. Legend:—
SIGILLE. COMVNE MONACHOR BEATE MARIE DE GRACIIS
An abbot's seal of the fourteenth century (fn. 100) is a pointed oval, and represents the abbot with mitre standing in a canopied niche, with smaller niches at the sides; he lifts up the right hand in benediction and holds a pastoral staff in the left hand. At each side a shield of arms: left Edward III; right, per pale, dextra, per fesse, in chief a lion's face, in base a fleur-de-lis, sinistra, a pastoral staff in pale, for the monastery. Legend wanting.
A seal of Abbot Paschal, 1420–21, (fn. 101) is a pointed oval, and bears a representation of the abbot standing in a canopied niche, with smaller niches at the sides. He wears a mitre, and holds in the right hand a pastoral staff, in the left hand a book. At each side a shield of arms: left Edward III; right, City of London. In the base under a depressed arch, with masonry at the sides, a shield of arms like the shield on the right in the preceding seal. Legend:—
SIGILLE: PASCHALIS: ABGIS: MONASTERII: GHE: MARIE: DE: GRACIIS