A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
10. THE ABBEY OF REWLEY
The Cistercian Abbey of Rewley, under the patronage of St. Mary, was founded by Edmund, earl of Cornwall. His father, Richard, king of the Romans, who died in 1272, the founder of Hayles Abbey, had intended to establish a college or chantry of three secular priests to pray for his soul, but his son Edmund substituted 'six Cistercian monks, having more confidence in them.' (fn. 1) If this was the original plan, it was soon enlarged. In 1280 he offered the general chapter of the Cistercian order to found a college (studium) for Cistercians at Oxford, and the chapter accepted the offer, and decreed that the college should have the same privileges as the college of St. Bernard at Paris, and that it should be under the abbot of Thame, as the other was under the abbot of Clairvaux. (fn. 2) It was not at first intended that it should be an abbey, but next year the chapter decreed 'out of due respect to the earl of Cornwall' that the abbot of Thame should be empowered to appoint an abbot of his own choice for the house of study at Oxford, and that there should be a daily memory of the late earl of Cornwall at mass at the college (studium) of Oxford, according as the abbot of the place shall ordain. (fn. 3) In August, 1281, there was an agreement (fn. 4) between the abbeys of Oseney and Thame that, in consideration of an annual payment of 36s. 8d., the former should withdraw all objections which they were entitled to make to the foundation of a monastery within the parish of St. Thomas, the church of which was appropriated to them; and as there is no mention of an abbot of Rewley, we conclude that he had not yet been appointed. In December, 1281, the building was dedicated by Robert Burnell, bishop of Bath and Wells, the first monks being obtained from Thame. (fn. 5) Next year the chapter of the Cistercians gave it the title 'Sancta Maria de regali loco,' and decreed that houses which sent students to Rewley for study should make them an allowance. (fn. 6)
The name Rewley (de regali loco) was derived from its situation. The island of Oseney, lying west of the castle, was divided equally between Robert d'Oilly and Roger d'Ivri. The abbey of Oseney obtained from the former the southern half of the island, and from Bernard of St. Walery a part of the northern half; the remainder, coming with the honour of St. Walery to Richard king of the Romans, acquired from him the name regalis locus, and retained the title ever afterwards.
The abbey obtained from its founder the manor of Yarnton, mills in Cassington, the hamlet of Wyllanston in the parish of Mixbury, two parks in Nettlebed called Great and Little Hymer (now Highmore), tenements in London, and the advowson of the church of St. Wendron in Cornwall (now called Wendron). (fn. 7) Of this church the abbey had the appropriation as early as 1324. (fn. 8) Subsequently Edward the Black Prince gave the advowson of St. Stithians, Cornwall, and in 1354, the bishop granted them the appropriation. (fn. 9) Before 1291 the abbey also had possessions in Chesterton, Oxon, doubtless given by the founder, who owned that manor. (fn. 10) The Valor shows that by 1535 it had rents in Coventry, but had acquired little beyond its original endowments.
In 1299 they had licence from the king to enclose sixteen acres belonging to them in North Oseney, (fn. 11) and in 1320 to acquire land to the value of £10 a year.
The number of inmates, which at first was fifteen, by the year 1294 was raised to sixteen, (fn. 12) but it is noticeable that the abbey seal gives the former number, an abbot and fourteen monks. In 1292 an order was issued by the abbot of Cîteaux that the Cistercian houses in the province of Canterbury should send students to the 'studium Oxonie,' one from every monastery with twenty monks. They were to grant their students an allowance (bursa) of 60s.; some abbeys which had sent students had withdrawn them; this was forbidden. (fn. 13) How long Rewley remained a place of study is not certain. The fact that there was a dispute in 1300 as to what precedence the monks of Rewley should have in university processions shows that the monks were students then, (fn. 14) and an entry in the Patent Rolls for 1315 concerning damage done at Rewley contains the words 'the monks residing there are scholars.' Probably it ceased to be a place of study when Bernard College was built, and King Henry VIII, patron of the abbey, seems to have ordered that a grammar master should be kept at Rewley, and that one or two of the monks should be supported at Bernard College. (fn. 15)
In 1324 there seems to have been some question whether Rewley was an English monastery or alien, for the Patent Rolls record that Rewley is not subject to any religious house of France and that all the monks there are English except the abbot, Peter de Duvone. As with other Cistercian houses, the bishops' registers give us no information about Rewley, and its history is practically blank.
In 1426 the chapter of Cistercians ratified the promotion of 'Thomas Bronus' to be abbot 'Caroli loci juxta Oxon.' One of the foreign Cistercian abbeys bore the name 'Caroli loci,' but the addition of 'juxta Oxon' suggests that 'regalis loci' is what should have been written. (fn. 16)
Its net income in 1526 was reckoned at £107, and in 1535 at £174. (fn. 17) It is said by Anthony Wood that at the dissolution the number of monks had risen to twenty-one, but this was merely tradition.
The approaching storm of the dissolution ruffled the usually placid water of monastic life at Rewley some time before it burst upon the abbey and swept it away. As early as 1532 the aged abbot, John Ryton, wrote to Cromwell complaining bitterly of the insolence and oppression of the king's servants who quartered themselves and their horses upon him, adding 'if I shall be accompanied with Italians I shall not be long in the world.' (fn. 18) Apparently this or some other fate did speedily befall him, as next year Nicholas Austen was abbot and wrote to Cromwell that the youngest member of the convent had accused a brother of quoting a sentence from Agrippa's book De Vanitate Scientiarum, with treasonable application to the king's divorce, and had laid information of the same to the mayor of Oxford; the abbot desired that the punishment of the parties might be committed to him or to the abbot of Tower Hill as visitor of the order. (fn. 19) The same abbot, early in 1536, offered Cromwell £100 to save the monastery if only by converting it into a college, (fn. 20) but it was useless, and Abbot Nicholas was pensioned off with £22, (fn. 21) and retired to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, to study. (fn. 22)
Abbots of Rewley
William de Gizors, elected 1282 (fn. 23)
Richard (Bartone), occurs 1284 (fn. 24)
Warin, occurs 1286 (fn. 25)
Richard, occurs 1294 and 1297 (fn. 28)
Richard II, appointed 1302 (fn. 29)
Thomas, appointed 1310 (fn. 30)
John, occurs 1402 (fn. 37)
? Thomas Brown, appointed 1426 (fn. 38)
Henry Skiris, appointed 1444 (fn. 39)
William Colshull, appointed apparently 1453 (fn. 40)
Gilbert Bilbey, occurs 1480 (fn. 41)
Henry, occurs 1505 and 1513 (fn. 42)
John, occurs March, 1521 (fn. 43)
John Kylner, occurs 1528 (fn. 44)
John Ryton, occurs 1532 (fn. 45)
Nicholas Austen, occurs 1533, (fn. 46) last abbot
The seal, of which only an imperfect specimen is known, (fn. 47) is round; the lower part represents a teacher instructing fourteen pupils; the upper part is defective.