House of Premonstratensian canons: The abbey of Welbeck

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

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'House of Premonstratensian canons: The abbey of Welbeck', in A History of the County of Nottingham: Volume 2, (London, 1910) pp. 129-138. British History Online [accessed 25 April 2024]

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Joceus de Flemmaugh is said to have formed one of the train of William of Normandy at the time of the Conquest; he acquired the third part of a knight's fee in Cuckney. Joceus begat a son named Richard who married a Nottingham lady. There was living in Cuckney a man called Gamelbere, (fn. 1) described as a 'dreng,' who held, before the Conquest, two carucates of land of the king in chief by the service of providing a palfrey for the king, shod on its four feet at the king's forge, whenever he visited his manor of Mansfield, and by attending him in the time of war. Gamelbere died without heir, and his land escheated to King Henry I. The king gave this land to Richard the son of Joceus. Richard had a son of the like name by his first wife, and on her death he took for a second wife Avice, a kinswoman of Earl Ferrers, granting her as dower the two carucates of land at Cuckney. By his second wife Richard had a son called Thomas. Thomas was brought up in the king's court, and on his father's death inherited the two carucates. Thomas is described as a most warlike man, who followed the king (Stephen) throughout his campaigns; but when there was peace in the kingdom, in the reign of Henry II, founded the abbey of Welbeck. (fn. 2)

This is the first part of the account set forth at length towards the end of the Welbeck chartulary as to the history of the foundation and of the founder's ancestry and progeny; but it represents a very confused tradition as to the origin of the house, for another shorter account, which immediately follows, makes Richard the son of Joceus the original founder of the abbey. (fn. 3) This latter statement is nearer the truth, for the abbey was begun by Richard in 1153, and finished by his son Thomas in the reign of Henry II; (fn. 4) but, even so, the fact remains that 'Joceus' cannot be identified in the more authentic records of the period to which this tradition would assign him.

Nevertheless, as Thomas carried out and fulfilled his father's intentions with definite endowments, he is generally regarded as the founder; but it was in his father's lifetime that a colony of Premonstratensian canons from the abbey of Newhouse, Lincolnshire, established themselves in this north-west corner of the county of Nottingham. Thomas's charter, addressed to Roger, Archbishop of York, and to all faithful sons of the Church, sets forth that he has granted to Berengarius, Abbot of Welbeck, and his successors, by the counsel of Serlo, Abbot of Newhouse, the site of the abbey of Welbeck, where the church of St. James is founded, and all the land from that site to the place called Belph, between the rivulet and the wheel road (viam quadrigarum) from the abbey to Belph. He also granted all the meadows, pastures, groves, and cultivated ground in Belph, and all his adjacent wood land where Geoffrey and Hugh and Drenghe dwelt; together with the church of St. Mary of Cuckney, the church of St. Helen of Etwall (Derbyshire), and the church of St John Baptist of Whitton (Lincolnshire), the mill of Langwith, all his lands at Hirst, and common pasture throughout his demesnes. The charter concludes with the statement that all this was done with the assent of Emma his wife and of his three brothers, Ralph, Silvan, and Richard. The first of a large group of witnesses is William, Prior of Radford (Worksop). (fn. 5)

Thomas son of Richard had by his wife Emma a daughter Isabel. After her father's death Isabel was a royal ward and given in marriage by the king to Simon son of Simon. This Simon and his wife gave the mill of Cuckney to the abbey. (fn. 6) To Simon and Isabel were born three daughters, Agnes, Isabel, and Petronilla, who were respectively married to Walter de Falcomburg, Walter de Riboef, and Stephen de Falcomburg. These three heiresses and their husbands confirmed to the abbot and canons all the gifts they had received from their ancestors.

From their heirs and descendants, John Hotham, Bishop of Ely, 30 September 1329, bought the whole manor of Cuckney, together with other lands and advowsons of the abbey. (fn. 7) On 4 December following the Bishop of Ely granted to the abbey the whole manor of Cuckney, together with the towns or hamlets of Cuckney, Langwith, Bonbusk, Holbeck, Woodhouse, Milnthorpe, Clowne, and Norton by Cuckney. (fn. 8) On 9 December John de Nottingham, Abbot of Welbeck, entered into a composition with the Bishop of Ely, whereby the abbey undertook to add at least eight canons to their number, whose special duty it should be to act as chantry priests in saying masses for the king and his royal ancestry, for Bishop Hotham and his parents, and for other specified benefactors or relatives. It was covenanted that the Abbot of Newhouse, their father abbot, should always at his annual visitation inquire into the due observance of this composition. (fn. 9)

A memorandum in an early hand in the midst of the Welbeck chartulary briefly records the fact that the church of Whitton, Lincolnshire, was dedicated by Robert, Bishop of Bangor, on 27 April, when he consecrated three altars, namely the high altar in honour of St. John Baptist, the altar in the body of the church (in corpore ecclesie) in honour of the Blessed Mary the Mother of God, and the altar in the north aisle in honour of St. Mary Magdalene. (fn. 10) Robert de Shrewsbury was Bishop of Bangor from 1197 to 1215. The following are among the more important entries from the chartulary, the episcopal registers at York, and other sources, relative to other property of the abbey, both in temporalities and spiritualities:

Richard de Furnival released all his right in the chapel of Bothamsall to the abbey of Welbeck, acknowledging it to belong to the mother church of Elkesley in the abbey's patronage. (fn. 11)

Robert de Meinill, lord of Whitwell, Derbyshire, gave to the canons a quarry on his land, wherever most convenient, for building the church of St. James and the necessary buildings, with free ingress and egress for those thus engaged. Walter de Goushill also granted a quarry for the like purpose on the moor between Whitwell and Belph, or elsewhere in the common pastures of Whitwell parish, after the same manner as had been done by his ancestor Robert de Meinill. (fn. 12)

Roger Deincourt gave to the church of Welbeck, for the sustenance of three canons who were to specially celebrate for himself and his family, all his lands and meadows and right of pasture except the advowson of the church in North Wingfield, Derbyshire. This gift was confirmed by John Deincourt, rector of North Wingfield, Roger's brother. (fn. 13)

In 1213 the Abbot of Welbeck brought the king four palfreys to secure his confirmation of the gift of the church of Flintham, together with lands and tenements at the same place, which Agatha daughter and heiress of Hugh Bretel had made to the abbey. (fn. 14) This Agatha was first married to Geoffrey Monachus, and afterwards to Humphrey, King John's cook. The gift was accompanied by pasture rights for 300 sheep at Flintham. (fn. 15)

Geoffrey, Archbishop of York (1191-1212), sanctioned the appropriation of the church of Whitton to the abbey, providing that a third part of the income was to be assigned to the vicar as a competency. (fn. 16)

A fine was levied in 1204 between Richard, Abbot of Welbeck, and Alexander, Prior of Shelford, whereby it was arranged that the advowson of the church of Kelham was to be held in moieties between them. (fn. 17)

A royal grant was made to the church of Welbeck in 1250 of 5 acres and a rood of inclosure in the Peak Forest at 'Cruchill,' to be held by rendering 21d. yearly at the Exchequer; also a grant of the pasture of 'Cruchill,' by the wood of Ashop and up the valley to Derwenthead, and also of all the pasture of Ashop up that water to its head, and thence to Kendalhead, which pasture the canons held by a charter of King John. (fn. 18)

The abbot succeeded in 1276 in maintaining his rights to freedom from passage and pontage dues, and from all manner of hundred and other court contributions, &c., as well as rights of free warren on his Derbyshire estates at Duckmanton, North Wingfield, Newbold, and Cresswell, and the like over all his numerous Nottinghamshire possessions, by the production of early charters. (fn. 19)

Grant of free warren was obtained or confirmed by the Abbot and Convent of Welbeck in 1291 throughout all their demesne lands in the counties of Nottingham, Derby, and Lincoln. (fn. 20)

A considerable and long-sustained controversy was maintained in the reign of Henry III and in the days of Abbot Hugh between the abbey of Welbeck and the burgesses of Retford as to the mills of that town; eventually in 1297 the mills were taken into the king's hands and granted to the abbey at £10 a year. (fn. 21)

In 1299 the Archdeacon of Nottingham resigned into the hands of the Archbishop of York the presentation to the church of Elkesley which he had received from the abbot and canons of Welbeck. (fn. 22)

There are various entries in the chartulary as to the rights of the abbey in Sherwood Forest, and perambulations both of Sherwood and of the Peak Forests in the reign of Edward I are recorded. (fn. 23) In 1307 the abbey obtained leave from the Crown, on paying a fine of 200 marks, to break and inclose and make a park of 60 acres in Rumwood. The site is described as lying between the park of Thomas de Furnival and the abbot's wood, extending by the highway that led from Worksop to Warsop. (fn. 24)

The church of Elkesley was appropriated to the abbey in December 1348. In giving his sanction Archbishop Thoresby provided that 10s. was to be paid annually by Welbeck to the quire deacons of York Minster. (fn. 25)

The church of Flintham was appropriated to the abbey in 1389: at the date when Archbishop Richard le Scrope sanctioned this appropriation the abbot's chair was vacant, and William Staveley was prior. (fn. 26)

According to the Taxation Roll of Pope Nicholas in 1291, the temporalities of this abbey in the three counties of Nottingham, Derby, and Lincoln yielded an annual income of £56 13s. 10d.; whilst the spiritualities produced a further income of £52, namely the church of Whatton £30, the church of Cuckney £20, and a pension from the church of Rawmarsh in the deanery of Doncaster 40s. The total income recorded amounts to £108 13s. 10d. (fn. 27)

A taxation roll entered in the chartulary of only two years' later date shows a considerable increase in income over that just recorded, making the total £140 18s. 2d. The increase chiefly arises from the rectories of Littleborough (Notts.), £3 6s. 8d.; of Etwall and Duckmanton, Derbyshire, which are respectively entered as yielding incomes of £16 0s. 2d. and £5 6s. 8d.; and of Whitton and Coates, Lincolnshire, with the respective incomes of £18 6s. 8d. and £3. (fn. 28) It would therefore appear that these five churches were appropriated to the abbey between 1291 and 1293.

A later hand has added the annual value of later appropriations, namely Flintham £30, and Elkesley rectory 38 marks, and the vicarage 6 marks. (fn. 29)

The return as to Welbeck in the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1534 possesses much interest. The office of the general visitorship of the Premonstratensian Order in England and Wales brought in the annual sum of £14. At each general chapter held every four years all the houses of White Canons throughout England paid 10s. to Welbeck as the head house, producing (every fourth year) a further sum of £14 10s. 'whiche draweth yerely to the summe of lxxijs. vjd.' Cuckney Manor and rents, with rents from Retford mills and divers places in Nottinghamshire, produced £128 10s. 11d.; Derbyshire temporalities at Newbold, Duckmanton, and Etwall, £33 5s. 1d.; and Lincoln temporalities, £10. The Nottinghamshire parsonages or rectories of Cuckney, Elkesley, Bothamsall, Whatton, Aslockton, Flintham, and Littleborough produced £66 19s. 7d.; whilst from the same county there was an annual pension out of Shelford Priory of 20s. and a payment in wax of eight pounds at 6d. a pound. Other appropriated churches were Anstey, Yorks. (with a pension out of Rawmarsh); Whitton and Coates, Lincolnshire; and Etwall and Duckmanton, Derbyshire. The total annual income from all these sources was entered at £298 4s. 8d. Outgoings, however, brought down the clear income to £249 6s. 3d. Under this head was included the sum of £8 13s. 4d. expended in obligatory alms, namely 3s. 4d. to the poor of Anstey on Good Friday, and the remainder in ale and bread weekly at the abbey in commemoration of Thomas Cuckney the founder. (fn. 30)

Welbeck was a highly important house of the English branch of the order, on account of its numerous offspring, for the abbot was the father abbot of no fewer than seven abbeys, and, somewhat irregularly, stood in a like relationship to one of its grandchildren, the Abbey of Titchfield, Hampshire, founded in 1231 by a colony from the recently-formed house of Halesowen. The abbey of Talley, Carmarthenshire, was founded from the monastery of St. John's, Amiens, but was subsequently made subsidiary to Halesowen on account of the distance from the father's house; and when that arrangement proved unsatisfactory owing to its povertystricken and desolate condition, this small Welsh abbey was transferred to the guardianship of Welbeck. (fn. 31) Welbeck's seven direct children, naming them in the order of their birth, were Dureford, Sussex, c. 1160; Harnaby, Lincolnshire, 1175; Leiston, Suffolk, 1183; Beauchief, Derbyshire, 1183; West Dereham, Norfolk, 1188; Torre, Devonshire, 1196; and Halesowen, Salop, 1218. There must have been indeed a most marvellous vitality and fervour in this Nottinghamshire abbey, to have been able to send out seven swarms into distant parts of England within less than half a century.

The abbots of Premonstratensian houses, though exempt from diocesan visitation, usually made submission to their diocesan after election, promising canonical obedience in all things saving the rights of their order. Many of these submissions of the abbots of Welbeck to their diocesan appear in the archiepiscopal registers of York.

The entry recording the obedience of John de Duckmanton on his election in 1309 states that he was a canon of the Austin Order. (fn. 32) When William de Kendall was elected in 1316 the see of York was vacant, but the abbot duly proceeded to that city and made his promise of obedience to the dean and chapter on 25 July of that year. (fn. 33)

A commission was appointed in 1334 on the complaint of Elizabeth widow of the late Thomas Furnival, alleging that John de Nottingham, Abbot of Welbeck, with one of his fellow canons, his chamberlain, and severalothers, had broken into her park at Worksop, and there hunted and carried away deer. (fn. 34)

Robert de Spalding, one of the canons of the house, was elected abbot in 1341. Whereupon the Abbot of Langdon, as commissary of the Abbot of Prémontré, wrote to the Abbot of Sulby stating that Spalding had lately been convicted of conspiracy and other crimes before him and other visitors in the church of Welbeck, and that he was to be peremptorily cited to appear before him at Langdon. A certificate was in due course forwarded to the commissary that on 21 July the new abbot of Spalding had been served with the citation in his own chambers, which was exhibited and read to him by two canons of Sulby, in the presence of three of the discreet canons of Welbeck, John de Retford, John de Blyth, and William de Gedling. (fn. 35) We know nothing further of these charges, but at all events Abbot Robert was allowed to continue in office until he was carried off by the plague in 1349.

There is no necessity for entering here at any length into the general question of the disputes at the beginning of the 14th century between the Abbot-General of Prémontré and the houses of the English province, for Welbeck took no exceptional part in this prolonged dispute. (fn. 36) Suffice it to say that Prémontré made three claims from the English White Canons:— (1) The attendance of the abbots at the general annual chapter at the mother house; (2) The appointment of a visitor to report to the abbotgeneral; (3) The taxation of the houses for the benefit of the order in general and of Prémontré in particular. It was the last claim that was the source of so many disputes. A royal proclamation of 1306 forbade the payment of any subsidy by religious orders in England to a foreign superior. The English abbots, however, were all summoned in 1310 by Adam de Crecy (abbot-general from 1304 to 1327) to Prémontré and strictly ordered to bring with them the arrears of tallage. Thereupon the English abbots met, including John de Cesterfeld, Abbot of Welbeck, and sent word to the abbot-superior that they could not obey him, for Parliament had forbidden them to leave the kingdom, and if they disobeyed they would certainly be outlawed and unable to return to their respective houses. Two of their number, the Abbots of Newhouse and Sulby, were, however, permitted to go as proctors of their brethren. Eventually, at a general chapter held in 1316, an agreement was arrived at whereby the English abbots, owing to their distance from the foreign centre, were permitted to be represented at the annual chapter at Prémontré by certain delegates, and the question of apport or tallage to the mother house was held in abeyance until the law of England should be changed. Subsequently during both the 14th and 15th centuries no impediment was placed in the way of the delegated Premonstratensian abbots crossing the seas, provided the Crown licence was obtained in each case. The entries on the Patent Rolls granting permits of this kind to successive abbots of Welbeck are sufficiently frequent to show the importance of this abbey.

The granting of corrodies to royal pensioners by this abbey was insisted on by the autocratic Edward III. John de Norton was sent by the king in 1353 to receive such maintenance at Welbeck as Richard del Almoignerie, deceased, had there at the king's order. (fn. 37) But all this was changed in the succeeding reign. By the advice of the council Richard II in 1383 released the abbot and convent in respect of any corrody at the request of the king and his heirs, notwithstanding the enjoyment heretofore at the special request of Edward III of such corrody or maintenance by John atte Lane, by Richard de Merton, by Agnes the late king's laundress, and by others. This release was granted on the petition of the abbey to the effect that their house was founded by Thomas de Cuckney, and was then in the patronage of his kinsman and heir John de Cuckney; that it was never in the patronage of any of the king's progenitors, and that it was always free of corrodies up to the time of the special requests of the late king. (fn. 38)

At the general provincial chapter of the order held at Northampton in July 1454 it is recorded that Brother Robert Staveley, sub-prior of Welbeck, was allowed to be present as proctor of that house. Abbot Greene of Welbeck was at that time across the seas on business of the order. (fn. 39)

The servants of John Bankwell, Abbot of Welbeck, were concerned in a singular and serious affray in 1393 under the following circumstances: Robert Veel, keeper of the rolls of the King's Bench, and John Wynchecombe, appointed to take carts for the carriage of the rolls, were directed on Saturday before the feast of St. Katherine, by Walter Clopton, chief justice, to take the rolls from York to Nottingham by the following Tuesday. The excessive rainfall much impeded them, and they found that they could not reach Nottingham without additional horses. Whereupon, by virtue of their commission and of the chief justice's order, they took two horses of John Levet and John Turnour of Norton by Welbeck, to be paid for in due course. This action was so fiercely resented that a number of the abbey servants raised all the men of Norton in insurrection, and at dusk, armed with bows and arrows and swords and clubs, set upon the said Robert and John (instigated by one of the canons of Welbeck and by the vicar of Cuckney), assaulted them, shot at and pierced the rolls in the carriage, took the horses and would have carried them away 'but that by the grace of God and help they made too good a defence.' Eventually the delinquents in February 1392-3 obtained a royal pardon. (fn. 40)

The general Premonstratensian register contains a full account of the exceptional method of electing John Greene to the abbacy in 1450 on the death of John de Norton. The election was held under the direction of Robert, Abbot of Newhouse. Almost immediately after the burial of the late abbot, namely on 13 April, the absent brethren having been duly summoned, the electoral proceedings began. The mass of the Holy Spirit having been sung, all assembled in the chapter-house, John, Abbot of Dale, being present as the coadjutor of the Father Abbot of Newhouse. The aid of the Holy Spirit having been invoked and the statute of their order relative to elections recited, the whole of the brethren for certain reasonable causes, of their own free motion, not under any compulsion or suggestion, but of their own absolute free will, declined to exercise their franchise personally, but besought the two Abbots of Newhouse and Dale to select an abbot for them. Thereupon the abbots, after much consideration, chose John Greene, one of the Welbeck canons, a prudent and discreet man, and much to be commended in his life. The consent of the elect having been humbly accorded, the election was duly approved, ratified, and confirmed by decree in chapter. The abbot was then conducted by his brethren before the high altar, the Te Deum being solemnly sung. He was invested with corporal possession of the church, installed in the abbot's seat, and brought back to the chapter-house, where each of the brethren made formal acknowledgement of obedience, placing his hands, when on his knees, within those of the abbot (obedientiam manualem), as his father and pastor, without any objection from anyone; meanwhile the obedientiaries laid their respective keys at his feet, in token of obedience and subjection. So soon as the election was complete, the abbot first of all made oath to observe in all its articles the composition made between the house of Welbeck and John Hotham, Bishop of Ely, for the manor of Cuckney. (fn. 41)

A letter has been preserved addressed to Abbot Greene by one Richard Clerk, of Coventry, touching the appointment of Harry the abbot's nephew; it is dated 28 September 1454. The particular interest of this homely letter lies in the writer's intended pilgrimage to Our Lady of Doncaster, and to the cause which prevented his making it. Welbeck lay on the north-western confines of Sherwood, and was approached from the south by a road through the forest.

'I hade proposede to a vysset you, and to hafe soght that blessyd Virginne oure Lady of Doncastre now this Flesch-Tyme; but (os I was enformid) ther was so grete wynde in Schirwod, that hit hade bene no sesenabull tyme for me (at that tyme made be the persones aboveseyde), and I hade cummen with xl horses I schulde hafe bene overthrowne, os it was sayde.' (fn. 42)

Shortly after the receipt of this letter, Abbot Greene wrote a dimissorial letter on behalf of John Lessbryke, a professed canon of Welbeck, who had become a Trinitarian friar of Thelsford, Warwickshire. The abbot declared that he left them to aim at the perfecting of a better life, that he was free from any obligation to their house and order, and they to him. (fn. 43)

Another letter, addressed to the same abbot in 1458, affords proof of the possession of a most tender conscience by one of the beneficed secular clergy. Thomas Hill, rector of Chesterford, Essex, wrote to the abbot at some length, about two books, the one a breviary (bibliam portativam) and the other a book of the Archbishop of Genoa on the Sunday Gospels. (fn. 44) These two books Hill had borrowed from Richard Scott, formerly a chaplain of the Archbishop of Canterbury, but (as he afterwards heard) one William Danyell left them to the monastery of Welbeck. Through the influence of Scott and other friends, Hill obtained possession of these two volumes in 1420 from the then Abbot and Convent of Welbeck by purchase, paying for them 60s. Hill writes to say that he was at that time young and given to worldly gain, but that since he has been led to think that he did not give a sufficiently good price for the books, and he is willing either to return the books on receipt of £3 or to pay to the convent another 20s. so that the books should remain at his disposition. On receipt of a message under their seal, the 20s. would be forwarded. If his proposals were not pleasing, he would arrange to charge his executors after his death to hand the books to an accredited messenger on receipt of the 60s., but otherwise to sell the books for the best price they could obtain, and to forward the balance to Welbeck. He was directing his executors to spend the 60s. for the good of his soul, that is in masses. The old rector is careful to tell the abbot his exact address; he was 7 miles beyond Cambridge and 2 miles distant from Saffron Walden. He adds, out of the kindness of his heart, that if there was any scholar from their parts reading at Cambridge, who was accustomed to pay occasional visits to parents or friends in Nottinghamshire, he would be glad to entertain him at Chesterford Rectory, which would be a less expense. (fn. 45)

The most interesting man who appears in connexion with the Premonstratensian order in England during the 15th century was the zealous official, Richard Redman, abbot of the small house of Shap in Westmorland. At an early age he was appointed commissary-general by Simon Abbot of Prémontré. We first meet with him in connexion with Welbeck in 1458. Writing on 11 September, Redman warns Abbot Greene of Welbeck to present the subsidies due from him for the past and present years at the visitation which he proposed to hold at that abbey on 9 December. He ordered that dinner should be provided for him and his suite at Papplewick, adding that he expected to be thence safely conducted by the right road to Welbeck, which he hoped to reach in time for supper. (fn. 46) Papplewick lies about 8 miles north of Nottingham. From thence to Welbeck is 13 miles as the crow flies. At that period the abbot would have to pass through the densest part of Sherwood Forest, leaving the Austin Priory of Newstead on his left hand and the Cistercian Abbey of Rufford on his right. The way could not fail to be intricate, and we wonder at his courage in undertaking it after dinner (probably at noon) in the depth of winter. He naturally suggested that he should be conducted from Papplewick, for this was his first visitation, and in all probability he had not previously traversed the great forest.

It was not, however, until 1 October 1466 that Redman was formally appointed visitor of all the houses of the order in the British Isles; at that date the commission as visitor granted to the Abbot of Bayham was cancelled because he had wholly neglected its duties. (fn. 47) Redman was consecrated Bishop of St. Asaph in 1471, translated to Exeter in 1496 and to Ely in 1501, dying in 1505. During all that period he was allowed to be Abbot of Shap in commendam, and he also acted with much zeal and diligence as vicar-general to the Abbot of Prémontré. He visited, as a rule, each house of the order every three years.

In Redman's register particulars are given of eleven of his visits to Welbeck, which occurred in the years 1462, 1472, 1475, 1478, 1480, 1482, 1488, 1491, 1494, 1497, and 1500.

On 6 May 1462 Bishop Redman, visitor of the White Canons of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, on behalf of the Abbot of Prémontré, made his formal visitation of Welbeck. He found nothing of which to complain save slight breaches of the rule of silence. Contrariwise, he entered in his register unstinted praise of the way in which the divine offices were conducted (ad unguem perfectos) day and night, under the most serene rule of their venerable abbot, who himself day by day observed the rule with the most faithful minuteness, truly bearing in all things the burden and heat of the day. The visitor was so much struck with the faithful zeal of the aged abbot, whom he noted to be almost broken down with age and weakness, that, entirely of his own motion and special grace, he exempted the venerable father of the monastery from obligatory attendance at any of the quire offices, save of his own good pleasure, and he also left the use of woollen underclothing entirely to the latter's discretion. At the last visitation there was a debt on the house of £40, but he found it rèduced to £20. The house was abundantly supplied (peroptime staurata) with grain and all necessaries.

The bishop further ordered, for the honour of God, the convenience of this house, and for the good of religion, that the abbot should without delay select the most suited in life and knowledge of his fellow canons, and send him up before Michaelmas to the university of either Oxford or Cambridge, there to be supported at the expense of the house. (fn. 48)

The next recorded visit of Bishop Redman was in 1472, when he freed Robert Ouston, one of the canons, from the obligation of attending quire offices, on account of his infirmities and age. (fn. 49)

In the record of the visitation of 1475 the names of all the community who were present are set forth. William Burton was abbot, Robert Stanley prior, and Richard Symondson sub-prior; there were also ten other professed canons, and two novices. In addition to these there were five vicars and a chaplain present who were also still reckoned as White Canons and subject in certain particulars to the rule. The Premonstratensians were the only religious order who held the privilege of presenting their professed brethren to livings in their gift and appropriation, without the need of any dispensation. When once episcopally instituted these vicars could not be recalled, but they were expected always to wear the habit of their order, to attend visitations at their own abbey, and in all ways possible to keep the rule. On this occasion there were present the vicars of Cuckney, adjoining Welbeck; of Littleborough, on the opposite side of the county near the Lincolnshire borders; of Whatton, (fn. 50) in the south-east of the county; of Whitton and Coates, both in Lincolnshire; and a chaplain in conventu Watton, which must mean 'in residence at Whatton,' unless it be the Gilbertine priory of Watton, Yorkshire. (fn. 51)

The general answers to the usual questions at the visitation of 1478 show that the abbey at that time held ten churches and two chapels. Redman on this occasion appointed certain of the canons to extra-official positions to help the abbot, namely circator, provisor exteriorum, succentor, and magister grangie, whose titles at once show the duties expected of them. It was enjoined on the circator to see that the doors of the cloister were firmly locked and shut at nights and at appointed times during the day. Brethren were to wear almuces under their capes; the abbot was to supply better bread and ale for the convent, and to provide an infirmary where a vicar was then residing, those premises being vacated at once. All were to rise in time for mattins; delinquents in this respect to be punished. None were to go into the woods for shooting or hunting. At the previous visitation the house had been found in debt to the extent of £90, and the debt had not been lessened owing to the great trouble there had been in defending the rights and liberties of the monastery. There was only a moderate supply of grain and other necessaries. The community present on this occasion numbered twenty-four, including two deacons and three novices; four vicars appeared, and two others who are entered as the respective chaplains of Bothamsall, near Welbeck, and of Aslockton, a chapelry of Scarrington parish. (fn. 52)

The visitation of 1482 shows a grievous decline; Abbot Burton proved a sad successor to the virtuous Abbot Greene. Under an evil superior any religious house would naturally go downhill. The abbot was found guilty of incontinence, as well as of dissipating the goods of the monastery, pledging the jewels and plate, and suffering the buildings to go into ruin; he was formally deposed before the whole convent and the Abbot of Beauchief, and sent to Barlings Abbey, there to undergo certain years of penance. Two other canons were also found guilty. The care of the monastery was temporarily assigned to John Colby, one of the canons, who held the offices of sacrist and circator. (fn. 53)

Matters were not much better when Bishop Redman visited Welbeck in 1488. One of the canons was found guilty of incontinence; he admitted the sin with great contrition, and was subjected to severe penance for forty days, to be followed by three years' banishment to some other house of the order. (fn. 54) Another canon, William Hankyn, guilty of disobedience, of absence from divine offices, and of hunting, was warned that for every repetition he would be put on discipline for forty days; he was never to be allowed out of the precincts lest he should return to his evil habits, and he was meanwhile ordered to say through the whole psalter by heart within the year. John Colby, who was then vicar of Cuckney, was charged to pay yearly to the abbot and convent 20s. at the feast of the Assumption, according to custom, and for this was to have his meals provided within the house and not outside. Games for money were prohibited. Better provision was to be made for the infirm. The abbot was to see that the community had their usual pensions, but if they did not spend sufficient on their clothes he was to stop the payment, and himself buy what was necessary. (fn. 55)

The next visit was made on 14 August 1491, when Redman found that Abbot Acastre was ruling well both in external and internal matters; the buildings of the church and cloister as well as outer buildings were then so fair, instead of being ruinous and foul, that the abbot might be regarded not so much as a repairer as a new founder. A canon of Sulby who had been sent in punishment to Welbeck was found guilty of disobedience and not attending divine offices either night or day; he was adjudged to be put on discipline for forty days, and then to be removed to St. Agatha's for ten years, but meanwhile to be kept in strict custody. William Hankyn, who had been warned three years before, was convicted of apostasy, and of eating meat in secular houses; he was now put on discipline for forty days. Other canons were punished for eating meat with seculars and not rising for mattins, whilst the sub-prior was blamed for not at once correcting these things. The tonsure was to be in accordance with the form approved by the order. Neither deacon nor sub-deacon was to genuflect at the elevation of the Host, but only reverently to incline. At the election of the abbot the debt of the house was 300 marks; it had been reduced to £30. The house was abundantly supplied with necessary stores. There were twenty-four present at the visitation, including six vicars, but the minister of Bothamsall is entered as a vicar and not as a chaplain. (fn. 56)

Three years later Bishop Redman was again at Welbeck, where twenty-two inmates offered themselves for visitation, including six vicars. He happily found everything in good order, and nothing to correct; but he pronounced excommunication on one canon who had fled. (fn. 57) Redman was here again in 1497, when twenty-three inmates or canon vicars were visited. Two canons were punished for the extravagance of their tonsures (pro enormitate tonsure); one of them had to say the whole psalter, but the other Salvum me fac nightly. Everything else was in an admirable state; there was unity, concord, and love between the head and the members, and no complaints; there was an admirable provision of every kind of grain and cattle and of all necessaries. (fn. 58)

When the abbey was visited on 22 November 1500, the community were ordered to have their meals together in the refectory on fast days and during the seasons of Advent and Lent. One canon had broken the rule and got into debt; he was to see that he was clear of debt before the next provincial chapter. For the rest all was in good order; there was mutual goodwill between the abbot and household, with filial obedience. (fn. 59) Here the visitation records of this house come to an end.

Thomas Wilkinson, who was elected abbot in 1503, became commissary-general and visitor for the Abbot of Prémontré on the death of Richard Redman (who was at that time Bishop of Ely) in 1505. (fn. 60)

Shortly before the dissolution of all the English monasteries, namely in the year 1512, singular honour was done to the abbey of Welbeck, for it was placed both by pope and king at the head of all the houses of White Canons in England and Wales. The abbot (Thomas Wilkinson) and his successors were declared ex-officio visitorsgeneral; a provincial chapter was to be held annually at Welbeck, or some other place appointed by the abbot, and its power was to be the same as that of the general chapters hitherto attended by the English abbots at Prémontré. The order was henceforth to be exempt in England and Wales from any foreign jurisdiction, and the Abbot of Welbeck was always to be numbered amongst the king's chaplains. (fn. 61)

John Maxey, the penultimate Abbot of Welbeck, was appointed in 1520. In 1525 he was consecrated Bishop of Elphen, but allowed to remain abbot in commendam; he did homage to the king and took the oath on Sunday 23 July, when he was graciously received by Henry. (fn. 62) This abbot was a favourite of Wolsey's, and formed part of his suite in 1527. (fn. 63) Two years latter the cardinal gave him a valuable spoon of crown gold. (fn. 64) When Wolsey in the following year proceeded to his manor of Southwell, the Abbot of Welbeck was entrusted with the duty of providing corn for bread, and drink for the household. (fn. 65)

After the fall of Wolsey and the rise of Cromwell there are no more gifts for the Abbot of Welbeck, and the correspondence with the Lord Privy Seal bears the almost invariable characteristic of forcing money or money's worth from the religious houses placed under his control. On St. Matthew's Day 1533 the abbot wrote to Cromwell from Welbeck saying that he sent him his poor fee, and also 'according to your desire I send you a good bay gelding, the best I have.' At their next meeting he promised to further show him his mind concerning religion (i.e. the Premonstratensian Order). He had heard that in the lower house an act had been conceived touching vicars, which would profit no one but the bishops. 'My religion was mostly founded in spiritualities, and if the vicars are called home and their benefices given to secular priests, it would undo the third part of our houses. By the pope's bulls and the king's grants, we may give our vicarages unto our religious brethren.' (fn. 66)

The abbot of the Premonstratensian house of West Dereham, Norfolk, died on 26 October 1535, and when the certificate reached Abbot Maxey at Welbeck he wrote on 2 November to Cromwell desiring to know his pleasure in writing, although the king had granted him and the monastery of Welbeck the elections of all of their religion within the realm. (fn. 67) He was evidently determined to do his best to deserve well of the despot. In January 1536 Maxey again wrote to Cromwell, sending him £10, 'as your fee for my religion,' a 'fee' for which there could be no shadow of pretence. (fn. 68)

The abbey had to submit in 1536 to a visitation from the notorious royal commissioners, Legh and Layton. According to their statement three of the canons were guilty of unnatural offences and one was incontinent. Three of them sought release from their vows. The annual income was returned at £280, and the debts at £40. (fn. 69)

Abbot Maxey, Bishop of Elphen, died in August 1536, and the Earl of Shrewsbury wrote to Cromwell on the 18th telling him of the death and saying that the brethren were going up to the king to make suit for free election. The earl begged Cromwell that he would favour them, believing that there were several among them discreet and able to be master. (fn. 70)

In the spring of 1537 the Abbot of Barlings was accused of concealing various items of property pertaining to his own and other religious houses in order that it might escape confiscation at the hands of the Crown commissioners. Information was given to the council that he had deposited over £20 worth of plate with the vicar of Scothern near Barlings, which was laid in pledge by the Abbot of Welbeck, deceased. (fn. 71)

Richard Bentley was the name of the abbot eventually nominated by Cromwell to succeed Abbot Maxey. On 20 June 1538 he signed the surrender of his house; the deed of surrender was also signed by William Hatfield, the subprior, and by the following sixteen other canons: Thomas Sysson, John Cheenys (cook), John Rawlinson, William Rotheram, Richard Awsten, Thomas Hyll, Richard Hogley, Edward Thomson, William Almunde, John Lychfeld, Nicholas Bolland, James Casson, Richard Halifax, Christopher Bentlay, Thomas Castell, and William Wilson. (fn. 72)

In the following month pensions were assigned to the dispossessed canons. The abbot obtained a pension of £50, William Hatfield the subprior and one other £6, and the rest sums varying from £4 to £40. (fn. 73) The pension list omits altogether five canons who signed the surrender: they were probably holders of the abbey's vicarages; but three others who did not sign, and who were most likely absent at granges, gained pensions; it therefore follows that there were twenty canons of Welbeck, in addition to the abbot, at the time of its dissolution.

It is noteworthy, as discrediting the scandals of Legh and Layton, that of the four canons accused by them of terrible offences three received pensions, of £6, £5, and 7 marks respectively, whilst the fourth retained his vicarage.

In February 1539 Richard Whalley of Shelford obtained the grant in fee, on payment of £500, of the church, steeple, churchyard, water-mill, &c., within the site of the dissolved abbey of Welbeck, together with the granges called Bellers Grange and Hurst Grange, and various closes and pastures in the parish of Cuckney, Rumwood and other woods, and the reversion of other of the monastic property, of an annual rent of 56s. 2d. (fn. 74)

The first seal of Welbeck Abbey was a pointed oval, bearing St. James in episcopal vestments, right hand raised in benediction, and pastoral staff in left hand. The somewhat indistinct impression in the British Museum has the marginal legend: + SIGILLUM: CONVENTUS . . . OBI. APOSTOLI DE WELLEBE. . . (fn. 75)

A small second seal (late 13th century) is a pointed oval having St. James, with bonnet, wallet, and staff, standing on a platform, and an abbot with a pastoral staff kneeling before him. Above the figures is a trefoiled canopy, and in the field an estoile of six points. Remains of legend:—. . . IGI . . . SCI. JACOBI . D . . . WELLEBE . A. (fn. 76)

A later 14th-century seal has St. James in similar pilgrim dress standing on a carved corbel; the wallet is charged with an escallop. Only a few letters of the legend remain. (fn. 77)

There are also impressions extant at the British Museum of the seals of Abbot Adam (1193) and of Abbot Richard (13th century). (fn. 78)

Abbots of Welbeck

Berengar, occurs between 1153 and 1169 (fn. 79)

Adam, occurs between 1183 and 1194 (fn. 80)

Richard, occurs between 1194 and 1224 (fn. 81)

William, occurs 1229, 1236, 1243 (fn. 82)

Richard, occurs 1250, 1252, 1256-7 (fn. 83)

Adam, occurs 1263, 1272, 1276 (fn. 84)

Thomas, occurs 1281, 1292 (fn. 85)

John de Duckmanton, 1309 (fn. 86)

John de Cestrefeld, 1310 (fn. 87)

William de Kendall, 1316 (fn. 88)

John de Nottingham, 1322 (fn. 89)

William de Aslakeden, 1335 (fn. 90)

Robert Spalding, 1341 (fn. 91)

John de Wirksop, 1349 (fn. 92)

Hugh de Langley, 1360 (fn. 93)

George de Gamelston, occurs 1369, 1383, 1387 (fn. 94)

William de Staveley, occurs 1389 (fn. 95)

John Bankwell, occurs 1393 (fn. 96)

John de Norton, occurs 1412, dies 1450 (fn. 97)

John Greene, 1450 (fn. 98)

William Burton, occurs 1475, 1482 (fn. 99)

John Lancaster alias Acastre, occurs 1488, 1491 (fn. 100)

John Copper, occurs 1492 (fn. 101)

Thomas Wydur, occurs 1494, 1497, 1500 (fn. 102)

Robert, occurs 1502 (fn. 103)

Thomas Wilkinson, 1503 (fn. 104)

John Maxey, 1520, (fn. 105) died 1536

Richard Bentley, surrendered 1538 (fn. 106)


  • 1. The name is pure Danish; see V.C.H. Notts. i, 243, where also reference is made to the significance of the title 'dreng.'
  • 2. Harl. MS. 3640, fol. 160-1. This MS. is a valuable but irregular and imperfect register or chartulary of Welbeck Abbey of 175 folios, in hands of the end of the 13th and of the 14th and 15th centuries; it is the one cited by Thoroton in his history of the county, but parts are missing since that date. Harl. MS. 5374, fol. 1-18, contains a number of excerpts from Lord Chesterfield's chartulary of this abbey relative to benefactions of the de Vylers family, of Lincoln.
  • 3. Harl. MS. 3640, fol. 161 d, 162.
  • 4. Ashm. MS. 1519, cited in Dugdale, Mon. vi, 872.
  • 5. Harl. MS. 3640, fol. 38.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. Ibid fol. 148.
  • 8. Ibid. fol. 150.
  • 9. Ibid. fol. 147.
  • 10. Ibid. fol. 25 d.
  • 11. Thoroton, Notts. 444.
  • 12. Harl. MS. 3640, fol. 164.
  • 13. Ibid. fol. 164 d.
  • 14. Pipe R. 14 John.
  • 15. Thoroton, Notts. 133.
  • 16. Ibid. 143.
  • 17. Ibid. 331.
  • 18. Chart. 35 Hen. III, m. 13.
  • 19. Plac. de Quo War. (Rec. Com.), 138, 147, 613.
  • 20. Chart. 19 Edw. I, m. ii.
  • 21. Harl. MS. 3640, fol. 23 d-25.
  • 22. Ibid. fol. 16.
  • 23. Ibid. fol. 16 d, 17, 20.
  • 24. Ibid. fol. 29 d, 30.
  • 25. Ibid. 6971, fol. 110.
  • 26. Ibid. 102 d.
  • 27. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec Com.), 72, 265, 299b, 311, 311b, 312, 321, 333.
  • 28. Harl. MS. 3640, fol. 35.
  • 29. Ibid.
  • 30. a Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 170-1.
  • 31. Harl. MS. 3640, fol. 18d.
  • 32. Ibid. 6970, fol. 145.
  • 33. Ibid. fol. 156 d.
  • 34. Pat. 8 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 34 d.
  • 35. Coll. Anglo-Premon. ii, 167-9.
  • 36. The matter has been dealt with at some length in the account of Sulby (V.C.H. Northants, ii, 138-42). It is fully discussed and all the documents cited at length in Abbot Gasquet's three valuable volumes, Collectanea Anglo-Premonstratensia (1904-7), where Bishop Redman's register (Ashm. MS. 1519) and Peck's collections in the B.M. are fully set forth. Future references in this survey of Welbeck will be given to these volumes instead of to the MSS.
  • 37. Close, 27 Edw. III, m. 23 d.
  • 38. Pat. 12 Ric. II, pt. i, m. 8.
  • 39. Coll. Anglo-Premon. i, 129-30.
  • 40. Pat. 16 Ric. II, pt. ii, m. 5.
  • 41. Coll. Anglo-Premon. iii, 169-71.
  • 42. Ibid. 171-3.
  • 43. Coll. Anglo-Premon. iii, 175.
  • 44. Librum Jannensis in suo Catholicon. This was a popular collection of 13th-century sermons by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa (i.e. Gennensis, usually corrupted into Jannensis). When printing came in, this book passed through nine editions before the end of the 15th century, it was found so useful to preachers.
  • 45. Coll. Anglo-Premon. iii, 176-7.
  • 46. Coll. Anglo-Premon. i, 67-8. The levy expected to be paid yearly to Prémontré by Welbeck about this time was 66s. 8d.; ibid. i, 76.
  • 47. Ibid. 73-4.
  • 48. Coll. Anglo-Premon. iii, 177-8.
  • 49. Ibid. 179.
  • 50. In the north aisle of Whatton Church is a 14thcentury effigy of a priest in the habit of the White Canons.
  • 51. Coll. Anglo-Premon. iii, 179-80.
  • 52. Ibid. 182-3. The canon who served the chapel of Bothamsall lived in the abbey; and this also seems to have been generally the case with the vicar of Cuckney.
  • 53. Ibid. 184-5.
  • 54. Ibid. 186-7.
  • 55. Coll. Anglo-Premon. iii, 186-9.
  • 56. Ibid. 189-92.
  • 57. Ibid. 192-3.
  • 58. Ibid. 193-4.
  • 59. Ibid. 195-6.
  • 60. Harl. MS. 6972, fol. 49b; Coll. Anglo-Premon. i, 123.
  • 61. Rymer, Foedera, xiii, 338-9.
  • 62. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv, 1511.
  • 63. Ibid. 3216.
  • 64. Ibid. 5341.
  • 65. Ibid. 6329.
  • 66. L. and P. Hen. VIII, vi, 1142.
  • 67. Ibid. ix, 745.
  • 68. Ibid. x, 110.
  • 69. Ibid. 364.
  • 70. Ibid. xi, 326.
  • 71. Ibid. xii (1), 765.
  • 72. Dep. Keeper's Rep. viii, App. ii, 47.
  • 73. Aug. Off. Bks. ccxxxii, (2), fol. 62-4.
  • 74. a Pat. 30 Hen. VIII, pt. ii, m. 33.
  • 75. Harl. Chart. 45 A. 30.
  • 76. Wolley Chart. i, 52.
  • 77. Harl. Chart. 45 A. 31.
  • 78. Ibid. 6; Seal Casts, lii, 12, 13.
  • 79. Harl. Chart. 45 A. 30; Addy, Beauchief, 25.
  • 80. Nott. Bor. Rec. i, 8; Harl. Chart. 45 A. 6.
  • 81. Addy, Beauchief; Harl. Chart. 49 I. 16.
  • 82. Pat. 13 Hen. III, m. 10d.; Welbeck Chart. fol. 88; Wolley Chart. (B.M.), i, 49.
  • 83. Welbeck Chart. fol. 84, 86, 87, 89.
  • 84. Ibid. 85-6, 89, 90.
  • 85. Dep. Keeper's Rep. l, 110; Wolley Chart. (B.M.), i, 52.
  • 86. Harl. MS. 6972, fol. 18; 6970, fol. 145.
  • 87. Ibid. 6970, fol. 146b.
  • 88. Ibid. fol. 156b; 6972, fol. 20.
  • 89. Ibid. 6972, fol. 23.
  • 90. Dugdale, Mon. vi, 872.
  • 91. Coll. Anglo-Premon. iii, 167.
  • 92. Harl. MS. 6972, fol. 25b.
  • 93. Ibid. fol. 27b.
  • 94. Dugdale, Mon. vi, 872; Pat. 6 Ric. II, pt. ii, m. 2; 18 Ric. II, pt. ii, m. 20.
  • 95. Dugdale, Mon. vi, 872.
  • 96. Pat. 16 Ric. II. pt. ii, m. 7.
  • 97. Coll. Anglo-Premon. iii, 165.
  • 98. Harl. MS. 6972, fol. 35b.
  • 99. Coll. Anglo-Premon. iii, 179, 186.
  • 100. Ibid. 188, 191.
  • 101. Surtees Soc. Publ. lvii, 133.
  • 102. Coll. Anglo-Premon. iii, 193, 195.
  • 103. Ibid. 165.
  • 104. Harl. MS. 6972, fol. 49b.
  • 105. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv, 1511.
  • 106. Dep. Keeper's Rep. viii, App. ii, 47.