House of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Rufford

A History of the County of Nottingham: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1910.

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, 'House of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Rufford', in A History of the County of Nottingham: Volume 2, (London, 1910) pp. 101-105. British History Online [accessed 19 May 2024].

. "House of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Rufford", in A History of the County of Nottingham: Volume 2, (London, 1910) 101-105. British History Online, accessed May 19, 2024,

. "House of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Rufford", A History of the County of Nottingham: Volume 2, (London, 1910). 101-105. British History Online. Web. 19 May 2024,

In this section



Rufford Abbey was founded towards the end of the reign of Stephen by Gilbert de Gaunt, Earl of Lincoln. (fn. 1) It was dedicated to the honour of the Blessed Virgin, and colonized from Rievaulx Abbey with Cistercian monks. By the foundation charter, the house was at first endowed with all the founder's lands and appurtenances at Rufford, with thirty acres on the banks of the Trent, and also with lands at 'Cratel,' Barton, and Willoughby. A short subsequent charter of Robert de Gaunt, brother of the founder, testifies to the justices, sheriff, and other officials of the king that his brother had given to the abbey the whole of his lordship of Eakring. (fn. 2)

Harleian MS. 1063 is a full transcript of the chartulary or register compiled by John, Abbot of Rufford, in the year 1471, from the various charters and muniments of the monastery; it covers 188 paper folios and is clearly written.

It begins with charters of confirmation of Stephen, (fn. 3) Henry II, and later kings.

An inspeximus confirmation charter granted to the abbey in 1462 by Edward IV supplies a comprehensive survey of the more important Rufford charters. They were as follows:—(1) two charters of Stephen; (2) a charter of Henry II confirming the original grants of Earl Gilbert; (3) a charter of the same king exonerating them from toll, passage, and pontage; (4) a charter of Richard I, exonerating them from toll; (5) letters patent of John, licensing them to erect a dyke between their wood of Beskhall and the town of Wellow (Welhagh), and to build keepers' lodges; (6) two confirmatory charters of Henry III; (7) two charters of Edward I confirming grants of Rotherham; (8) a demise of 1278 by Abbot Bono and the convent of Clairvaux to Rufford of a moiety of the church of Rotherham, of the gift of John de Lexinton at a rent of £20; (9) the record of a forest inquisition, 15 Edward I, whereby it was found that the men of Clipston and Edwinstowe ought to take nothing in the woods of the abbot and convent within Sherwood Forest; (10) grants by Robert de Waddesley and Edmund de Dacre to Elias, then abbot; (11) a charter of free warren grants, 13 Edward I; (12) two letters patent of Edward I granting special wood rights; and (13) letters patent 28 Edward III as to the acquisitions in mortmain. (fn. 4)

There are a large number of original grants, charters, bulls, and agreements pertaining to this abbey among both the Harleian and Cotton charters of the British Museum. Most of these are either of minor importance or are also referred to in the patent rolls or chartulary. Among the bulls, however, is one of the English Pope Adrian IV, of the year 1156, confirming all the donations and privileges of Rufford; (fn. 5) and another of his successor Alexander III, dated 1161, whereby it was declared that no tithes were to be paid on lands brought into cultivation by the monks of Rufford with their own hands or at their own expense. (fn. 6)

In the year 1159 an agreement was entered into between the Abbot of Rufford and Thomas Paul, Canon of York, in the presence of Roger, Archbishop of York, and Ailred, Abbot of Rievaulx, that the church of Rufford as a mother church should pay no more tithes after the death of the said Thomas. The abbot paid Canon Thomas ten marks for the tithes of the past ten years, and covenanted to pay a mark of silver yearly during his life. (fn. 7)

A grant was made by Henry III in 1233 to the Abbot and monks of Rufford, confirmatory of the gift of Ralph son of Nicholas of all his land in 'Werkenefeld,' (fn. 8) accompanied by licence to inclose the said land with a dyke and hedge, so that beasts of the chase might have free entry and exit, and to cultivate the said land, build on it, or dispose of it as they will. (fn. 9)

In the same year the king licensed the abbot and monks to enlarge the courts of their house by taking in an acre of the king's wood, without any interference from the forest ministers. (fn. 10)

In 1251 Henry III granted a charter confirming the abbey in numerous additional benefactions, particularly of lands at Morton near Bothamsall, Eakring, Hockerton, Kirton, Willoughby, Walesby, Besthorpe, Maplebeck, and Kelham, Nottinghamshire, and Abney and Brackenfield (Britterithe), Derbyshire. By the same charter there were also confirmed to the monks the rights in Sherwood Forest granted them by Henry II, and approved by Geoffrey de Langley, forest justice, namely licence to take green or growing wood throughout the forest so far as it was necessary for their own use, and estovers for all their granges both within and without the forest, and to have their own forester to guard their own wood, who was to render fealty to the king's foresters and verderers. (fn. 11)

The Abbot of Rufford in 1275 maintained his right to all manner of chartered privileges for his house and its tenants on their Nottinghamshire lands, including freedom from every form of secular exactions on all that they bought or sold and on all that was conveyed to them, whencesoever it came, whether by land or water. The right of free warren in all their lordships was also upheld. (fn. 12)

Four years later the abbot was equally successful in maintaining his full manorial rights at Rotherham, including assize of bread and ale, tumbrel, pillory, standard measure and gallows, as well as free warren at Rotherham and Carlecotes. (fn. 13)

Reference has already been made to Archbishop Wickwane's action in ordering the release in 1280 of two conversi of this house from the civil prison of Nottingham and their transference to canonical confinement. (fn. 14)

Early in the reign of Edward I John de Vescy granted to Thomas de Stayngreve, Abbot of Rufford, and to his monks eight bovates of land at Rotherham, together with the manor of the same, the advowson of the mediety of the church, the fair, market, mills, ovens, courts, and other appurtenances. (fn. 15)

In August 1288 Henry, Abbot of Rufford, obtained a licence to cross the seas to attend the general chapter of his order, and to be absent until a fortnight after Easter. (fn. 16) Edward I spent September 1290 in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, and Northamptonshire; on the 18th he was at Rufford Abbey, where he sealed a variety of documents. (fn. 17)

Licence was granted to the abbot in 1291, after an inquisition ad quod damnum by John de Vescy, justice of the forest, to fell and sell the wood growing on 40 acres of his wood within Sherwood Forest. (fn. 18)

In 1292 the Abbot of Rufford again obtained royal licence to leave the kingdom, from May until All Saints tide, to attend a general Cistercian chapter. (fn. 19) In 1300 the abbot was allowed to cross the seas from July until Christmas for a like cause. (fn. 20)

The Taxation Roll of 1291 gives the annual income of the temporalities from the three counties of Nottingham, Lincoln, and Derby as £118 4s.; by far the largest part of this (£110 5s.) came from the county in which the abbey was situated. (fn. 21) The valuable church of Rotherham is entered in the text of the MS. as subdivided without any mention of Rufford, but a variant reading states that it was appropriated to the Abbot of Rufford in totum. (fn. 22)

References to the woods by which the abbey was surrounded occur with some frequency in the rolls. Thus in 1300 the abbot and convent obtained licence to sell the cablish or windfalls in their woods, although they were within the metes of the forest of Sherwood. (fn. 23) In 1323 the abbot was licensed by Edward II to grant to Henry le Scrop twelve oaks fit for timber in his wood within the king's forest of Sherwood, and for the same Henry to fell them and carry them away. (fn. 24) Again, in 1328 Edward III licensed the abbot to give twelve oaks from his wood to John de Roos, who might fell them and take them to his manor of Eakring. (fn. 25) In 1334 the king licensed the same John de Roos to fell and take away whither he will twelve living oaks and twelve old oaks not bearing leaves given him by the Abbot and convent of Rufford. An indemnity was given so that they might not hereafter be charged by the ministers of the forest in respect of the same. (fn. 26) John de Horton, who had served the late king well and faithfully, was sent by Edward II in 1307 to Rufford Abbey, there to receive sustenance. (fn. 27) William le Lound, king's clerk, was licensed in the same year to fell three oaks in the woods of the Abbot of Rufford, and two in the woods of the Prior of Newstead, respectively given him by the two houses, and to take them wherever he will. (fn. 28)

It would be tedious to continue enumerating many like entries during the 14th century, but perhaps an exception may be made in mentioning that in 1336 the abbot was licensed to grant to Henry de Edwinstowe, king's clerk, trees out of his woods within the forest of Sherwood, sufficient to make a hundred quarters of charcoal. (fn. 29)

The references to the rorest woods are fairly frequent in the chartulary. The Abbot and monks of Rufford claimed to cut and take green wood in their wood within the regard of Sher wood Forest for whatever was necessary for their own use and for the use of all their granges both within and without the forest, in return for warding the wood. (fn. 30)

In 1359 the abbot was charged with having completely laid waste the wood of Beskhall, cutting down and selling the oaks over 20 acres and 3 roods of land. It was pleaded that the charters of Kings Edward I and Edward II sanctioned this action, and the abbot obtained licence to fell and sell to the extent of 40 acres. The total receipts from the wood sale of 40 acres amounted to just over £400, and the expenses to £31. (fn. 31)

An apparent outrage was participated in by two of the monks of this house in 1317, as to which we have only the statement of complaint. On 10 December 1317 a commission was appointed to inquire into the charge made against Andrew le Botiller, Richard de Balderton, John de Rodes, Thomas de Rodes, together with Brother William Sausemer and Brother Thomas de Nonyngton, monks of the house of Rufford, of gathering to them a multitude of men and seizing Thomas de Holme, as he was passing between the abbey of Rufford and the grange of Roewood (Rohagh), robbing him of his goods, and taking him to some unknown place and there detaining him until he should satisfy them with a ransom of £200. (fn. 32)

Edward III in 1328 confirmed a grant of Henry, former Abbot of Rufford, whereby Henry de Shirley for life, at a rose rent, obtained their grange of Brackenfield (Brithrichfeld), Derbyshire, with the houses there, and the moiety of the town of Brackenfield belonging to the grange and certain common of pasture. (fn. 33)

In 1331 a curious case from this abbey was reserved to the pope. John XXII issued his mandate to the Abbot of Rufford to grant a dispensation to Thomas de Nonington, one of his monks, touching the irregularity he had contracted by having pointed out to a bailiff a thief, who was taken and executed. The monk had been appointed guardian of a manor and a town belonging to the monastery; one day, two years before, being hailed 'master,' on entering the town, a bailiff said that a thief, whom he was following, had escaped him, and on the thief's clothes being described the monk identified him. (fn. 34)

Licence was granted in mortmain in 1349, at the request of the king's yeoman John Braye, for the abbey of Rufford to charge their lands in the county of Nottingham with 12 marks yearly for two chaplains, to wit 6 marks for one in the parish church of Upton by Southwell, and 6 marks to another in the parish church of Newark, to celebrate divine service daily, as they shall be ordained. (fn. 35)

In 1331 licence was obtained at the request of Henry de Edwinstowe, king's clerk, for the abbot and convent to appropriate a moiety of the church of Rotherham which was of their advowson. (fn. 36)

Notification was made on the Patent Rolls on 5 June 1343, at the request of the Abbot of Rufford, that by a certificate of the treasurer and barons of the Exchequer it is shown that the farm of the mediety of the church of Rotherham, of which he was bound to pay yearly to the alien Abbot of Clairvaux £20, was taken into the king's hands on 16 July 11 Edward III on account of the war with France, and that the abbot has since paid the farm at the Exchequer. (fn. 37) In November of the same year there is an entry to the effect that although the king had lately presented Richard de Wombewell, king's clerk, to a mediety of the church of Rotherham, believing the same to be void and in his gift, yet because it has been found by inquisition that the Abbot of Rufford long before the statute of mortmain acquired from the Abbot of Clairvaux a mediety of the church at a rent of £20, and that the Abbot of Clairvaux previously held it appropriated, the advowson of the same does not belong to the king, and he has seen fit to revoke the presentation. (fn. 38)

Henry Beaumont, king's esquire, obtained a royal grant in August 1438, for the joint duration of his life and of the war with France, of the annuity of £20 which the Abbot and Convent of Rufford paid to the house of Clairvaux in Burgundy; previously granted to Richard Crecy, deceased, and then at the king's disposal. (fn. 39) In the following October Beaumont obtained a renewed grant of this annuity, as the previous one was invalid on account of errors; this sum of £20 a year was a payment made by the Abbot of Rufford to the king for the keeping of a mediety of the church of Rotherham belonging to the alien Abbot of Clairvaux. (fn. 40) In 1440 peace was made between England and France, but the grant of this annuity was renewed jointly to Beaumont and to two clerks his nominees, buildings and divine service to be maintained by the grantor; in this third grant it is asserted that the grant of 1438 was incorrect, as it did not belong to the Abbot of Clairvaux. (fn. 41)

A grant for life of £10 a year was made by the Abbot and Convent of Rufford in 1461 to one William Spencer, out of the church of Rotherham. (fn. 42) A second reference to this pension shows that it was in reality a grant by the Crown out of the £20 paid by the abbey. (fn. 43)

The Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1534 gives the gross income of the abbey as £254 6s. 8d. and the clear annual value as £176 11s. 6d. The temporalities were spread over a large area, viz. at Ompton, Babworth, Besthorpe, Bothamsall, Boughton, Coddington, Eakring, East Retford, Holme, Kelham, Kersall, Kirklington, Kirton, Littleborough, Maplebeck, Nottingham, Rufford, Southwell, Staythorpe, Walesby, Warsop, Welham, Willoughby, and Winkburn, Notts.; Abney, Brampton, Brackenfield, Chesterfield, Palterton, and Shirebrook, Derbyshire; Alkborough and Barton upon Humber, Lincolnshire; and Rotherham (£76 13s. 11d. clear) and Penistone, Yorkshire. The only spirituality was the rectory of Rotherham, of the annual value of £67 13s. 4d.; but from this there were very large deductions, the heaviest of which was a pension of £36 13s. 4d. to the dean and canons of Windsor, bringing it down to the net income of £23 6s. 8d.

The monks had at this time granges at Kirkton, at Parkleys in Kelham parish, at Babworth, at Foxholes, at Roewood in Winkburn parish, at Maplebeck, and at Abney in Derbyshire. (fn. 44)

The abbey was visited in 1536 by those notorious royal commissioners, Legh and Layton, who reported that there were six monks guilty of disgraceful offences, and the abbot had been incontinent with two married and four single women. They further stated that six of the monks desired exemption from their vows. Under the head of Superstitio it is recorded that the abbey claimed to possess some of the Virgin's milk. The annual value was declared to be £100 and the debts £20. (fn. 45)

Abbot Doncaster obtained a pension on the dissolution of the house among the lesser monasteries, of £25 a year; but it was voided on his speedy appointment to the rectory of Rotherham on 2 July 1536. (fn. 46) It is therefore absolutely impossible to believe that any attention was given to the slander of Legh and Layton.

George, Earl of Shrewsbury, in October 1537 obtained a grant in fee of the site, &c. of the late abbey, with all the lordships, manors, messuages, &c. in the counties of Nottingham, York, and Derby, whereof Thomas Doncaster, the late abbot, was seised in right of his monastery. (fn. 47)

There is a sulphur cast of a fine impression in the British Museum of a 13th-century seal of an Abbot of Rufford. The abbot stands on a platform, with pastoral staff in the right hand and book in the left. Legend:—


Another abbot's seal, c. 1260-70, bears an eagle rising:—

+ AVE MARIA GRACI (fn. 49)

A third abbot's seal, of the year 1349, bears the Virgin and Child, with an abbot kneeling, holding up a flowering branch:—


A counterseal of the year 1323, bearing a dexter hand and vested arm holding a pastoral staff; in the field, on the left a crescent, on the right a star.

SIGILL' RUDFOIRD . . . (fn. 51)

Abbots of Rufford

Philip de Kyme, temp. Stephen (fn. 52)

Edward, occurs 1203 (fn. 53)

Geoffrey, occurs temp. John, 1218, &c. (fn. 54)

Thomas (fn. 55)

Simon, occurs 1232 (fn. 56)

G—, occurs 1239 (fn. 57)

Geoffrey, occurs 1252 (fn. 58)

William, occurs 1259 (fn. 59)

Henry, 1278 (fn. 60)

Thomas de Stayngreve, occurs 1283 (fn. 61)

Henry, occurs 1288 (fn. 62)

Henry de Tring, occurs 1315 (fn. 63)

Elias, occurs 1332 (fn. 64)

Robert de Mapelbek, 1352 (fn. 65)

Thomas, 1366 (fn. 66)

John de Harlesay, 1372 (fn. 67)

John de Farnsfeld, 1394 (fn. 68)

Thomas Sewally, occurs 1400 (fn. 69)

Robert de Welles, 1421 (fn. 70)

Robert Warthill, died 1456 (fn. 71)

William Cresswell, 1456 (fn. 72)

John Pomfrat, died 1462 (fn. 73)

John Lilly, 1462 (fn. 74)

John Greyne, 1465 (fn. 75)

Roland Bliton, 1516 (fn. 76)

Thomas Doncaster, last abbot (fn. 77)


  • 1. The Chronicle of Louth Park gives 1146 as the exact year, but the Chester Chronicle 1148. See Dugdale, Mon. v, 517–18.
  • 2. These charters are cited in full in Dugdale, Mon. v, 518.
  • 3. Three confirmation charters of Stephen are cited in Thoroton, Notts. iii, 336.
  • 4. Pat. 1 Edw. IV, pt. v, m. 20.
  • 5. Harl. Chart. 111 A. 2.
  • 6. Ibid. 111 A. 3.
  • 7. Harl. MS. 1063, 6–7.
  • 8. The site of this place is unknown, but it lay somewhere near Bilsthorpe.
  • 9. Chart. R. 17 Hen. III, m. 10.
  • 10. Close R. 17 Hen. III, m. 11.
  • 11. Chart. R. 36 Hen. III, m. 22.
  • 12. Plac. de Quo War. (Rec. Com.), 632–3.
  • 13. Ibid. 206–7.
  • 14. York Epis. Reg. Wickwane, fol. 178 d.
  • 15. As set forth in a confirmation and inspection charter of 1283; Chart. R. 11 Edw. I, m. 6.
  • 16. Pat. 16 Edw. I, m. 10. The rule obliging all abbots to attend each annual chapter was relaxed in favour of England owing to distance. A deputation attended yearly from England. On this occasion the Abbot of Rufford was accompanied by the abbots of Pipewell, Calder, Kirkstead, Vaudey, and Combermere.
  • 17. Pat. 18 Edw. I, m. 10, 8, 7d.; Close, 18 Edw. I, m. 3.
  • 18. Pat. 19 Edw. I, m. 15.
  • 19. Pat. 21 Edw. I, m. 12.
  • 20. Pat. 28 Edw. I, m. 11.
  • 21. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 72, 262, 312.
  • 22. Ibid, 299b, 300.
  • 23. Pat. 28 Edw. I, m. 15.
  • 24. Pat. 18 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 1.
  • 25. Pat. 2 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 20.
  • 26. Pat. 8 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 16.
  • 27. Close, 1 Edw. II, m. 15 d.
  • 28. Pat. 9 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 23.
  • 29. Pat. 10 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 23.
  • 30. Harl. MS. 1063, fol. 4.
  • 31. Ibid. fol. 5, 6.
  • 32. Pat. 11 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 13 d; pt. ii, m. 26 d.
  • 33. Pat. 2 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 30.
  • 34. Cal. of Papal Letters, ii, 369.
  • 35. Pat. 23 Edw. III, pt. iii, m. 12.
  • 36. Pat. 5 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 16.
  • 37. Pat. 16 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 35.
  • 38. Pat. 16 Edw. III, pt. iii, m. 15.
  • 39. Pat. 16 Hen. VI, pt. ii, m. 15.
  • 40. Ibid. 17 Hen. VI, pt. i, m. 25.
  • 41. Ibid. 18 Hen. VI, pt. ii, m. 8.
  • 42. Pat. 2 Edw. IV, pt. ii, m. 1.
  • 43. Pat. 4 Edw. IV, pt. i, m. 16. The second half of this £20 was soon afterwards granted to another of the king's courtiers.
  • 44. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), v, 171–3.
  • 45. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, 364.
  • 46. Aug. Off. Bks. ccxxxii, 19b.
  • 47. Pat. 29 Hen. VIII, pt. i, m. 10.
  • 48. B.M. Seal Casts, lxx, 55.
  • 49. Harl. Chart. 83, C. 46.
  • 50. Ibid. 48.
  • 51. Ibid. 47.
  • 52. Dugdale, Mon. v, 126. Witness to a Pontefract charter; probably first abbot.
  • 53. Harl. MS. 1063, fol. 28.
  • 54. Ibid. fol. 19, 20, 23b.
  • 55. Ibid. fol. 71.
  • 56. Ibid. fol. 26.
  • 57. Ibid. fol. 86b.
  • 58. Ibid. fol. 72.
  • 59. Harl. Chart. 112, F. 38.
  • 60. a At the general chapter in 1278 the Abbots of Cogshall and Jervaulx, who had been appointed to inquire into the recent election of an abbot at Rufford, reported that Henry, a monk of that house, had been duly elected, but had been unduly rejected. The chapter ordered that Henry should be accepted as abbot. Martene, Thesaurus, iv, 1458.
  • 61. Chart. R. 11 Edw. I, m. 6.
  • 62. Pat. 16 Edw. I, m. 10.
  • 63. Harl. MS. 6972, fol. 11.
  • 64. Harl. Chart. 112, F. 42.
  • 65. Harl. MS. 6971, fol. 161.
  • 66. Ibid. 6972, fol. 20.
  • 67. Ibid.
  • 68. Harl. MS. fol. 23.
  • 69. Ibid. 1063, fol. 88b.
  • 70. Ibid. 6972, fol. 24.
  • 71. Ibid. fol. 30.
  • 72. Ibid.
  • 73. Ibid. fol. 31.
  • 74. Ibid.
  • 75. Ibid. fol. 34.
  • 76. Ibid. fol. 45.
  • 77. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), v, 171.