Houses of Premonstratensian canons: The abbey of Langley

Pages 418-421

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

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The founder of the Premonstratensian abbey of Langley, dedicated to the honour of the Blessed Virgin in 1195, was Sir Robert FitzRoger Helke, who was lord of Langley by marriage with Margaret, daughter and co-heir of William de Cheney, and relict of Sir Hugh de Cressi. The founder was sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk 1192-3. His descendants, with whom the patronage of the abbey rested, assumed the name of de Clavering from their lordship of that name in Essex.

The house was colonized by brethren from Alnwick, the abbot of Alnwick thus becoming the father abbot to Langley.

Pope Innocent's bull of confirmation names amongst the abbey endowments the churches of St. Michael, Langley; St. Helen, Ranworth; the Holy Trinity, Loddon; St. Margaret, Trickley; St. Mary, Rushall; St. Mary, Kirkby; and St. Mary, Ewra. (fn. 1)

In the first year of his reign King John confirmed the grants of the founder and all other benefactions with full exemptions from every manner of toll and custom. He also granted to the abbots and canons, in the same year, a fair of two days on the vigil and the feast of Saints Philip and James, and a Tuesday market. (fn. 2)

In 1235 Abbot Hugh obtained the appropriation to the convent of the church of St. Mary, Kirkby, from Thomas, bishop of Norwich, a stipend of eight marks being assigned to the vicar. (fn. 3)

A letter of Richard (or Rycher) the abbot, dated 21 January, 1276, recites the confirmation by Roger, bishop of Norwich, of the appropriation and patronage of the churches of the Holy Trinity, Loddon; St. Gregory, Heckingham; St. Mary, Rushall; St. Mary, Kirkby; St. Helen, Ranworth; St. Botolph, Limpenhoe; and St. Margaret, Trickley; to the uses of the abbot and convent of Langley, excepting the collation to the church at Ranworth, which belonged to the bishopric of Norwich. (fn. 4) Three years later, in 1279, Walter de Turkeley gave to the abbot and canons the advowson of the church of Bodham, with two acres of land. (fn. 5)

Anthony, bishop of Norwich, and the prior and convent of Norwich, gave their sanction to the appropriation of the church of Bodham in August 1330 (fn. 6) but the crown licence for the same was not granted until 1332. (fn. 7) In 1338 licence was also given to appropriate the church of Thurton of their advowson, (fn. 8) but apparently advantage was not immediately taken of this, as in 1343 the abbot and convent of St. Mary's, Langley, signified to the pope that their income from the market had been much reduced by floods both of river and sea, as well as by the number of people asking hospitality, and therefore prayed that the parish church of Thurton, in their patronage, value not exceeding twelve marks might be appropriated to the monastery, notwithstanding that of custom the bishop takes the fruits of the first year, they being ready to come to terms with him. As the church was only half a mile distant from the monastery, they also prayed that it might be served by one of their own canons. The diocesan was instructed by the pope to arrange for this appropriation, but to reserve a fitting vicar's portion. (fn. 9)

The taxation of 1291 shows that the abbey had much prospered in the first century of its existence. It had at that date possessions in sixty-two Norfolk and thirteen Suffolk parishes, and its annual income was estimated at £178 5s. 0¾d.

Further additions continued to be made to the abbey's endowment in rents and lands; thus Edward I, in 1302, inspected and confirmed a quit claim made by Roger le Bygod, earl of Norfolk, to the Premonstratensian church and canons of St. Mary, Langley, of 6s. rent and suit at the earl's hundred of Ersham from three weeks to three weeks, for lands which they hold of the earl's fee in Riverhale, Brokedys Redenhall, Poringland, Yelverton &c. (fn. 10)

Abbot Richard and his canons acknowledged by an undated deed that they owed Sir William Monchesney homage and relief on the appointment of each abbot of their house for a certain tenement, and an aid to knight his son and marry his daughter, as they did in the time of Sir Warin Monchesney. (fn. 11)

The abbot of Langley was the collector for the diocese of Norwich of the crusade tenth imposed for three years by Boniface VIII; the amount, £200, was handed in to the king's clerk and a receipt obtained on 10 February 1304. (fn. 12) The like sum was forwarded by the abbot from Norwich diocese in the following year, and £229 11s. 6d. in the third year. In discharging this onerous office the abbot of Langley did not give satisfaction, and on 10 December 1306, Walter de Norwich was appointed by the king to examine, in the presence of the abbot, the acquittances given by him to the various contributors. The abbot and his fellow canon, Thomas de Jernemuta, had been lately presented at Westminster for entering as arrears divers sums which certain defaulting clerks and religious asserted that they had fully paid. Walter was instructed to enrol all the sums received by the abbot during the whole time he was engaged in the collection, with the names of those who paid, and those to whom he had failed to give acquittances, and to certify to the auditors. The bishop of Norwich was ordered to give notice to all aggrieved persons to be present. (fn. 13)

Robert de Kendall, constable of Dover Castle, and warden of the Cinque Ports was ordered, on 8 August 1316, to permit Geoffrey, abbot of Langley, Bartholomew, abbot of Dereham, and two other abbots of the Premonstratensian order, to pass the sea from the port of Dover to attend their chapter general at Prémontré, provided that they carried with them no money in the name of apport, 'census,' or imposition, contrary to the late king's statutes. (fn. 14)

Robert de Maners, an old soldier, who served the late king in his wars in Scotland and was then too infirm for further service, was sent to the abbey of Langley, in 1317, there to receive his life maintenance. (fn. 15)

On Ascension Day 1345, William, abbot of Langdon (Kent) as commissary for the abbot of Prémontré, sent John de B. and Thomas de C., canons of Wendling, to the abbot of Langley with a letter of request that they might be admitted to the house of Langley, as the abbey of Wendling was in such very straitened circumstances, mainly owing to the war, that it could not support its own canons. In the spring of that year, when Langley was formally visited by the abbot of Langdon, as Premonstratensian commissary, with the help of the abbots of Alnwick (as father abbot), Dereham, and Leyton, canons John de London, John de Binham, and Thomas de T., were sent away to other houses of the order in consequence of their faults. But on 6 May of the same year, the abbot of Langley was instructed by the abbot of Langdon to receive the temporarily banished brothers back again. (fn. 16)

Licence was granted by the crown in 1346, to the abbot and convent of Langley to build a belfry within the abbey and crenellate the same. (fn. 17)

Sir James de Audeley, councillor of the Prince of Aquitaine and Wales, petitioned Urban V in 1366, for an indulgence to those who visited on Trinity Sunday and during the Octave the chapel of the Holy Trinity in the Premonstratensian monastery of Langley, wherein his ancestors are buried, and where three priests celebrate the divine offices. In response to this petition the pope granted an indulgence of a year and forty days. (fn. 18)

Bishop Redman's first visit was paid on 1 July, 1475; he left on 3 July, dining at Beccles at the expense of Langley Abbey. (fn. 19) The abbey was again visited by this bishop as commissarygeneral, on the same day of the month in 1478. In answer to the visitation questions the precise date of the foundation was returned as 19 February, 1195, and the dedication as the Assumption of the Virgin. The abbot of Alnwick was named as their father abbot, and Wendling as their daughter house. They had fourteen churches of moderate value; in some of them the canons served the cure, but not as perpetual curates. Nicholas was the name of their abbot, and Richard Fynes (who died in 1486) their patron. (fn. 20)

The visitor found the abbot bowed down by age and sickness, and hence the discipline was bad. Prior John Bristow was remiss in correction. Two of the canons were appointed to look after the spiritualities and temporalities of the house. Thomas Russell, for evil living, was sentenced to forty days bread and water, and to be banished to another house for three years. Two others were apostate, going out without leave, and were also sentenced to forty days of penance. The fastening of any room so as to prevent the entrance of the superior was forbidden. All recreation outside the precincts was stopped until the next general chapter. The prior was to attend that chapter and report as to observance of injunctions. (fn. 21)

Redman's next visit to Langley was on 20 August, 1482; John Myntynge the abbot, John Bristow the prior, and fifteen others (including a novice and an apostate) were in attendance. There was again much scandal. The abbot was accused of some incontinence and waste; and his powers were temporarily transferred to two of the canons under the abbot of Wendling. Common taverns near the monastery were not to be visited. No one was to leave the precincts save those responsible for services in churches. The injunctions also included a variety of minor and usual orders. (fn. 22)

During his tour in the early summer of 1486, Bishop Redman reached Langley at supper time on 27 June. (fn. 23) Two years later, when Walter Alpe the abbot, John Shelton the prior, and thirteen other canons were present, he found matters going on excellently, and the debt reduced from £200 to £100.

There must, however, have been some irregularities, for he left behind him injunctions against hunting or fishing by night, against illicit desertion under pain of the greater excommunication.

At the visitation of 1491 the grave case of Canon Thomas Ludham came before the visitor. In a quarrel he had cut off a man's right hand; he was sentenced to forty days penance and to perpetual imprisonment. (fn. 24) The visitation of 1494 was attended by the same abbot and prior as in 1482, but there were only eight other canons. (fn. 25) The discipline of the house was bad, and the abbot was threatened with punishment and deprivation. (fn. 26) During his tour in 1497 the bishop reached Langley at supper time on 20 June; he held his visitation the next day, but did not leave until the 23rd, when he slept at Norwich at the expense of Langley. This unusually long stay of the bishop and his retinue was probably intended as a kind of punishment for the laxity he had found at this abbey. (fn. 27) At the visitation made in October, 1500, attended by Abbot Alpe, Prior Shelton, and eleven other canons, a scandal about the prior was repeated, but the visitor does not seem to have considered it serious. (fn. 28)

In the year 1500 William Curlew was elected abbot; but in 1502, for some delinquencies which are not named, he was obliged to resign, and on 10 December, 1502, Robert abbot of Alnwick, as father-abbot of Langley, being too aged and infirm to ride or in any way visit his daughter church personally, wrote to Richard the bishop of Ely, giving him full authority to act in his name, and to conduct an election of a new abbot. He told the bishop in his letter that the house of Langley was in sore financial straits, being much in debt, and not having sufficient for its domestic needs, or for the spiritual benefices that it held. He also anticipated certain difficulties or discord as to the election, and authorized the bishop as his representative to excommunicate any who might be rebellious. (fn. 29) Richard Redman, abbot of Shap, was consecrated bishop of St. Asaph in 1471; in 1495 he was translated to Exeter, and in 1501 to Ely.

On 9 April, (fn. 30) Thomas abbot of Welbeck, as commissary general of the abbot of Prémontré, instructed John Maxe, abbot of Langley, and William and Thomas Garrad, canons of the same house, to peremptorily cite William Curlew, the late abbot, under pain of suspension and excommunication, to appear personally at the provincial chapter in the town of Nottingham on 9 April, in certain causes and articles concerning his soul's health and reformation. In case the said William showed contumacy or rebellion they were /?/to deal with him after the full rigour of their statutes, according to their rule and judicial process. (fn. 31)

In 1513, John, abbot of Langley, was collated by the bishop of Norwich to the rectory of Chedgrave. Robert Walkington occurs as abbot in 1517, in which year Pope Leo gave him permission to hold another abbey and two ecclesiastical benefices, or three ecclesiastical benefices without another abbey. (fn. 32) In 1523 he was rector of Carleton, and in 1529 of Claxton.

Thomas Kerdeston, archdeacon of Norfolk, was buried in the church of this abbey before the altar of the holy rood in 1276. Margaret, wife of Sir William Kerdeston, was buried near the archdeacon in 1328, and Sir Roger Kerdeston in 1337. Other burials in this conventual church were John de Clavering (patron of the house), Sir Robert Grey, Sir Robert Hodington, Sir Robert Ufford, Sir Thomas Ufford, Sir Hugh Gurney, Sir Robert de Vallibus, Sir Simon Grey, Sir James Bradley, Sir William Poole, and several of their wives. (fn. 33)

The clear annual value of the abbey in 1534, according to the Valor Ecclesiasticus, was only £104 16s. 5½d.

The county commissioners for suppression reported in 1536 that there were at Langley of religious persons 'vj alle prystes whereof one desyrethe to contynue in Religione and the rest require capasaties, they been of goode name.' There were also twenty-one servants who had their living there, namely two priests, seven waiting servants, and twelve hinds. The lead and bells were estimated at £160, and the goods at £36 14s. 3d. The house was in debt to the extent of £ 120 16s. 8d. (fn. 34)

An inventory of the abbey's possessions taken this year shows that there were in the church and vestry a cross of copper, three chalices and patens, a crozier staff, six pewter cruets, twelve copes, ten vestments, and ten albs.

Abbot Robert Walkington obtained a pension of £13 6s. 8d. (fn. 35)

Abbots of Langley

Gilbert, (fn. 36) temp. John

Hugh, (fn. 37) occurs 1233, 1249

Richard, (fn. 38) occurs 1276

Simon, (fn. 39) occurs 1251, 1267

Geoffrey, (fn. 40) occurs 1316

John de Strumpeshagh, (fn. 41) elected 1340

William, (fn. 42) occurs 1350

Geoffrey, (fn. 43) elected 1368

Peter, (fn. 44) elected 1375

John de Norwich, (fn. 45) elected 1392

John Walsham, (fn. 46) elected 1399

John Waterden, (fn. 47) occurs 1422

Nicholas de Wenyngton, (fn. 48) occurs 1428 and 1463

Nicholas Wamerton, (fn. 49) occurs 1467 and 1478

John Myntynge, (fn. 50) occurs 1482

Walter Alpe, (fn. 51) occurs 1488

William Curlew, (fn. 52) elected 1500

John Maxe, (fn. 53) elected 1503

Robert Walkington, (fn. 54) elected 1516, last abbot

An imperfect impression of the first seal of this abbey is attached to a charter of 1267. Obverse, the abbot seated has a crozier in right hand and a book in the left; on each side a hand and arm issuing and holding a candle in a candlestick. Reverse, the Virgin seated with Holy Child on left knee; candles in candlesticks the same as the obverse. (fn. 55) A cast in the British Museum from a fine impression gives the legend on the obverse:


Of a second fourteenth-century seal there is also a cast at the British Museum. The crowned Virgin, seated in a tabernacled niche, has the Holy Child on left knee, and in the right hand a fleur-de-lis sceptre. (fn. 57)


  • 1. Add. MS. 5948, pp. 12, 12b. The bull is imperfect and lacks the date. This MS. is a thirteenth-century chartulary of the abbey of 58 folios, but is imperfect in several places.
  • 2. Chart. R. I John, m. 8.
  • 3. Cal. of Bodl. Chart. 192.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Add. MS. 5948, fol. 55b.
  • 6. Cal. of Bodl. Chart. 171.
  • 7. Pat. 6 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 3.
  • 8. Ibid. 12 Edw. III, pt. iii, m. 23.
  • 9. Cal. Papal Pet. i, 29; Col. Papal Reg. iii, 138.
  • 10. Cal. of Pat. 30 Edw. I m. 19.
  • 11. Anct. D. (P.R.O.) A. 2978.
  • 12. Cal. of Pat. 32 Edw. I, m. 25.
  • 13. Ibid. 35 Edw. I, m. 43.
  • 14. Close, 10 Edw. II, m..28 d.
  • 15. Ibid. m. 14d.
  • 16. Add. MS. 4935, fol. 40.
  • 17. Pat. 20 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 4.
  • 18. Cal Papal Pet. i, 519.
  • 19. Redman, Visit. (Bodleian), fol. 5.
  • 20. Add. MS. 4935, fol. 41.
  • 21. Redman, Visit. (Bodl.), fols. 13, 21.
  • 22. Ibid. fols. 34 and 44b.
  • 23. Ibid. fol. 71.
  • 24. Redman, Visit (Bodl.), fol. 99. Thomas Ludham seems to have escaped. He was summoned to appear before the General Chapter at Grantham in 1492; not appearing he was excommunicated. About ten years later he was again cited to appear before Redman, when he was bishop of Ely. Gasquet, Collectanea Anglo Premonstratensia, i, 172, 249.
  • 25. Redman, Visit. (Bodl.), fol. 118.
  • 26. Ibid. fol. 124.
  • 27. Ibid. fol. 141.
  • 28. Ibid. fol. 151.
  • 29. Ibid. fol. 42.
  • 30. No year is given, but it is probably 1503.
  • 31. Redman, Visit. (Bodl.), fol. 43.
  • 32. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. x, 150.
  • 33. Harl. MS. 972, fol. 79.
  • 34. Chant. Cert. Norf. No. 90.
  • 35. Aug. Off. Bks. ccxxxii, 31b.
  • 36. Chart. R. 1 John, m. 8.
  • 37. Add. MS. 5948, fols. 3b, 5.
  • 38. Cal. of Bodl. Chart. 192.
  • 39. Add. MS. 5948, fols. 5, 5b.
  • 40. Close, 10 Edw. II, m. 29d.
  • 41. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. x, 150.
  • 42. Add. MS. 6275, fol. 126.
  • 43. Norw. Epis. Reg. v, fol. 80.
  • 44. Ibid. vi, fol. 43.
  • 45. Ibid. fol. 170.
  • 46. Ibid. fol. 246.
  • 47. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. x, 150.
  • 48. Ibid.
  • 49. Ibid.
  • 50. Redman, Visit (Bodl.), fol. 44b.
  • 51. Ibid. fol. 72.
  • 52. Ibid.
  • 53. Add. MS. 4935, fol. 43.
  • 54. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. x, 150.
  • 55. Add. Ch. 19291; Dugdale, Mon. vi, 930; Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. iv, 1137.
  • 56. B.M. lxix, 28.
  • 57. B.M. xlvii, 612.