Houses of Cistercian monks: Abbey of Sibton

Pages 89-91

A History of the County of Suffolk: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1975.

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The Cistercian abbey of the Blessed Virgin of Sibton was founded by William Cheney, sometimes called William Fitz Robert, and was colonized by an abbot and twelve monks from the abbey of Warden in Bedfordshire.

The advowson of the church of Westleton was given to the abbey in 1272, (fn. 2) and it was appropriated in 1332. (fn. 3)

The taxation roll of 1291 shows that this abbey held lands or rents in ten parishes of the city of Norwich, and in twelve parishes of the county of Norfolk, which brought in an income of £29 7s. 5½d. There were also considerable temporalities in upwards of twenty-five Suffolk parishes, yielding £103 8s. 6½d. The spiritualities consisted of the rectory of Sibton with the chapel of Peasenhall, and portions from four other churches, producing £11 7s. 4d. The total income of the abbey was thus £144 3s. 4d. (fn. 4)

The Valor of 1535 gave the clear annual value as £250 15s. 7½d. The spiritualities, which then produced £41 19s., consisted of the rectories of Sibton-cum-Peasenhall, Westleton, Rendham, and Tunstall, Norfolk, with a portion from Cransford. (fn. 5) The churches of Tunstall and Cransford had been appropriated in the reign of Edward I, and were confirmed to the abbey by his successor. (fn. 6)

In 1316 Robert Petit was sent by Edward II to receive the allowance previously enjoyed by William de Wendelesburgh. (fn. 7)

The abbot and convent, at the supplication of Ralph, son of the Earl of Stafford, were licensed in 1385 to acquire lands in mortmain not exceeding the yearly value of £10. (fn. 8)

The accounts of John de Merton, bursar of the abbey from 1362 to 1372, yield various interesting particulars. (fn. 9) For the first of these years the total receipts amounted to £162 5s. 10d. The visitor of the order for that year was the abbot of Warden. The total expense of the visitation was £4 7s. 3d. Bread, beer, wine, fish, and horse-meat for the abbot and his train to Bury St. Edmunds cost 13s. 8¾d.; from thence to Eye, 23¼d.; from Eye to Woodbridge, and returning to Ipswich, 20d.; and for tarrying a night at Ipswich and returning, 12s. 6½d. The remainder was spent on entertaining at the abbey the abbot and his two monks, together with his two squires and three servants.

The receipts for 1363-4 were £185 15s. 11d., and the expenses £183 10s. 1½d. The repairs for this year to the monastic buildings are interesting; they included 3s. 4d. for 200 tiles for mending the furnace of the bakehouse, 8s. for six weeks' work in dressing and carving stones for the monks' lavatory (cisterna), and 14s. 8d. for seven lime trees for the new chamber of the abbot. In the following year three windows of the abbot's new lodging were glazed. The receipts that year came to £204 4s. 11¾d., and the expenses to £199 12s. 1d.

In 1365-6 the receipts rose to £241 12s. 1d., but the expenses increased to £262 1s. 11¼d. The last year of these accounts, 1371-2, the receipts were £204 16s. 5½d., and the outgoings £213 10s. 10½d.

A detailed list of payments to the abbey sacrists in 1369-70 shows that the full number of the servants for this year was forty-four, and the expenditure in money £23 14s. 11d.

The abbot of Warden filled the obligation imposed on him by the Cistercian statutes of visiting the daughter house of Sibton year by year. The average cost of this visit to the Suffolk abbey was £3 10s. No Cistercian abbey was ever visited by the diocesan, and there are therefore only few references to Sibton in the Norwich registers. But in 1426 a bull of Pope Martin authorizing Robert Aldeby, abbot of Sibton, to hold a benefice, was transcribed in the bishop's register. (fn. 10)

Henry, abbot of Sibton, was summoned to attend convocation in 1529. (fn. 11)

An undated memorandum among the State Papers, but clearly of the year 1536, gives the names of the religious of this house, namely, William Flatbury, abbot; Robert Sabyn (alias Bongay), prior; and six other monks. It is noted that the vicar-general was to be asked to commission some person to take the abbot's resignation, with capacity to change his habit, and to take two benefices with cure without residence, and a licence for the same from the chancellor. The abbot was willing to purchase these privileges. Also for the monks, save Prior Sabyn and another of the name of John Fawkon, all desired 'capacities,' and to take a benefice each with cure. (fn. 12)

The value of this house being well over £200 a year, it would not have fallen for another two years; but the recently-appointed abbot, William Flatbury, had apparently been put in through the influence of the Duke of Norfolk, and with the connivance of Cromwell, on purpose to bring about a speedy surrender. At all events the abbot and convent sold their house and possessions to Thomas, duke of Norfolk, some time in 1536, and this action was confirmed by Act of Parliament in 1539. (fn. 13) In the duke's annual receipts for 1538 entry is made of 'Sipton £200, whereof to the quondam (abbot) and other monks £72.' (fn. 14) It therefore appears that all the monks of this house obtained a pension.

The impression of the fourteenth-century seal attached to a charter of 1406 shows the Blessed Virgin under a pinnacled and crocketed niche; on each side is a flowering branch, as well as a star on one side and a crescent on the other; in the base under an arch is a lion's face, a possible allusion to the arms of the founder's family. Legend:—

. . . COM . . . . . ET CONV . . . . . .

SIBETON . . . (fn. 15)

Abbots of Sibton

Constantine (fn. 16)

Laurence, c. 1200 (fn. 17)

Alexander de Walpole (fn. 18)

Ralph, occurs 1253 (fn. 19)

Richard, occurs 1269 (fn. 20)

Walter, occurs 1289 (fn. 21)

John, occurs 1303 (fn. 22)

Eustache, occurs 1313 (fn. 23)

Ralph, occurs 1334 (fn. 24)

Walter, appointed 1375 (fn. 25)

Robert Aldeby, occurs 1426 (fn. 26)

Henry, occurs 1529 (fn. 27)

William Flatbury, occurs 1536 (fn. 28)


  • 1. A register book (Add. MS. 341560) giving an extent of lands, &c., of this abbey, of early fourteenth century date, was purchased by the British Museum in 1894 of the late Rev. C. R. Manning. It consists of 139 vellum folios. The most important MS. relative to this abbey is the chartulary or register (Arundel 221) formerly in the Earl of Arundel's collection, afterwards in the library of the Royal Society, but transferred to the British Museum in 1831. It was drawn up towards the end of the fourteenth century, and contains 153 parchment folios. From fol. 32 to fol. 143 is a chartulary proper; the charter transcripts are followed by a series of papal bulls granted to the abbey of Sibton, twenty-two in number, ranging from Alexander III, 1160, to Innocent IV, 1254. The earlier part of the volume contains a variety of entries, such as copies of Magna Charta and the Forest Charter, the names of the kings of England down to Edward III, list of the towns in Blything hundred, and various pleas and inquisitions relative to the abbey in the reigns of Edward III and Richard II. Of this chartulary there are several transcripts. A portion, on paper in an Elizabethan hand, appears in Cott. MS. Vitel. fol. xii. Add. MS. 8172 (vol. v. of Jermyn's Suffolk Collections) is entirely occupied with Sibton parish, and most of it with transcripts of the abbey charters and evidences. Add. MS. 19082 (part of Davy's Suffolk Collections) concerns Sibton from fol. 1 to 249, mainly about the abbey. Most of Davy's transcripts correspond with Arundel 221, but others, with some variants, are taken from a chartulary and two bursar's account books of the fifteenth century, then in possession of the Bishop of Salisbury. Rawlinson MS. B. 419, of the Bodleian, is a transcript of Arundel 221. A further chartulary, cited by Jermyn and Davy, in the possession of Mr. Scrivener of Sibton, appears also to correspond with the Arundel register. Other miscellaneous extracts are to be found in the Dodsworth MSS. of the Bodleian, and in the Harley Collection (2044 and 2101) of the British Museum.
  • 2. Feet of F. Suff. 1 Edw. I, No. 83.
  • 3. Pat. 5 Edw. III, m. 5.
  • 4. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 91, 95b, 99b, 103, 103b, 104, 104b, 105, 108, 115, 118b, 125, 125b, 126, 126b, 127, 127b, 128, 128b, 130, 132b.
  • 5. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii, 434-6.
  • 6. Pat. 13 Edw. II, m. 9.
  • 7. Close, 10 Edw. II. m. 24d.
  • 8. Pat. 8 Ric. II, pt. ii, m. 8.
  • 9. Add. MS. 34560, fols. 65-137. See first note.
  • 10. Norw. Epis. Reg. ix, fol. 23.
  • 11. L. and P. Hen. VIII, v, 6047.
  • 12. Ibid. x, 1247.
  • 13. 31 Hen. VIII, cap. 13.
  • 14. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii, pt. ii, 1215.
  • 15. Harl. Chart. 83, D. 1.
  • 16. Add. MS. 8172, fol. 173.
  • 17. Ibid.; Harl. Chart. 44 I, 25.
  • 18. Ibid.
  • 19. Chart. R. 37 Hen. III, m. 9.
  • 20. Add. MS. 19082, fol. 49.
  • 21. Ibid. fol. 42.
  • 22. Ibid. 8172, fol. 173.
  • 23. Ibid.
  • 24. Close, 8 Edw. III, m. 17 d.
  • 25. Norw. Epis. Reg. vi, 43.
  • 26. Ibid. ix, 32.
  • 27. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv, pt. iii, 6047.
  • 28. Add. MS. 19083, fol. 18.