A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.
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2. THE ABBEY OF ALCESTER
About half a mile north of Alcester, in the year 1140, Ralph le Boteler of Oversley founded a Benedictine abbey dedicated to the honour of the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin, St. Anne, St. Joseph, St. John Baptist, St. John the Evangelist, and All Saints. The site was encompassed by the River Arrow on the north and east and by a connecting moat on the south and west, so that it became known as the church of Our Lady of the Isle. It was founded specially for the souls of William the Conqueror, William Rufus, Henry I, and their consorts, various magnates of the land, and for the souls of Ralph the founder and Avice his wife. Robert, a monk of Worcester, was appointed the first abbot at Martinmas, 1140, the founder enjoining that his successor should be chosen from the chapter of Worcester or that of Alcester as might seem most meet.
The endowments, besides the island site, consisted in the main of the founder's churches of Alcester, Tanworth, Marston and Glen (Leicester), and the chapel of his castle of Oversley; the whole tithe of his lordship of Oversley, Dorsington, Milcote, Broom, and 'Whitlasford,' half of the tithe of Pebworth and 'Cherleton,' various mills and lands at 'Cockmerse,' Pebworth, 'Waltford,' 'Chalbruge,' and 'Blinchesfelde'; reserving a yearly rent of 60s. which the abbot was to pay to the monks of Bec, Normandy. This foundation charter was confirmed by Robert, earl of Leicester (the founder's overlord), and by Stephen and Henry II. Among other early benefactions were the churches of Beoley, Worcestershire; Pebworth, Gloucestershire; and Edgbaston, Warwickshire. (fn. 1)
Simon de Cotton (Coughton) and Alexander de Kynewarton, in the time of Henry II, granted the monks leave to have a load of wood weekly for fuel out of their woods at Coughton, with liberty to erect pig-styes (hogscotes) in the same woods. (fn. 2)
By an undated charter of about 1158-60 Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, certified that the monks of Alcester had the right of free election of their abbot as against the claim of the bishop and monks of Worcester. (fn. 3)
In 1283 an agreement was entered into between John, abbot of Owston (Osolveston) and Walter, abbot of St. John the Baptist's, Alcester, concerning the advowson of the chapel of St. Giles, Stretton, in Leicestershire, by which the former gave up all claim to the advowson on condition of Alcester paying an annual sum of 40s. to Owston for the quitclaim. (fn. 4)
In 1307 the monks had a grant from William le Boteler of Wem of 60 acres of heath at Hinstoke, Salop, with the advowson of that church, together with common pasture for 8 oxen, 6 kine with their calves, and 200 sheep, in addition to an annuity of 100s. issuing out of lands in Shaftesbury, Dorset. (fn. 5) There were very few subsequent benefactions.
In 1216 William, sub-prior of Worcester, was elected abbot, but without his consent. On his refusing to accept the office, Maurice, another Worcester monk, was chosen in his place. (fn. 6) Abbot Maurice was present at the dedication of Worcester cathedral church in 1217. (fn. 7) Upon his death in 1232 he was succeeded by Bartholomew, cellarer of Worcester. On his election he gave to the sacristan of Worcester (apparently as a due) his cope with a vestment of little worth; he also sent to the convent of Worcester, by his cellarer, half a mark for procuration. (fn. 8) While he was abbot, namely in 1238, the reconstructed conventual church of Alcester was dedicated by Bishop Walter de Cantilupe. (fn. 9)
On Septuagesima Sunday, 1283, while Archbishop Peckham was staying in the abbey of Alcester, the men of the town for some unknown reason attacked his servants and beat them, pursuing them even up to the gate of the abbey. The official of the archdeacon of Worcester was therefore ordered to excommunicate the offenders. (fn. 10) Peckham paid another visit to the abbey on 11 August, 1284. (fn. 11)
The monks were visited by Bishop Giffard on 27 July, 1284, when he preached to them from the text Aufer rubiginem de argento (Prov. xxv, 4), and tarried that day at the charge of the house. (fn. 12) On 3 February, 1290, the bishop paid another visitation at the cost of the house. (fn. 13) He stayed over the following day to visit from thence the Cistercian nuns of Cookhill, Worcestershire, but at his own charge.
Bishop Cobham in 1325 had occasion to impose salutary penance on the abbot of Alcester for incontinency. (fn. 14)
Bishop Montacute visited the abbey in January, 1336-7, and received procuration; he preached from the text ' Abba, Father.' (fn. 15)
Abbot Robert de Adbrython on 11 August, 1335, was summoned to appear in person before the king at York, on the morrow of the Nativity of the Virgin, to inform the king upon certain affairs specially touching him, and to do what further should be ordained there by the king and council. (fn. 16)
The bishop of Worcester in 1339 wrote to the rectors of Alcester, Haseley, and Billesley, concerning the grievous complaint of the abbot and convent of Alcester that certain sons of iniquity had cut down and extirpated their woods; they were commissioned to find out and excommunicate the offenders. (fn. 17)
Bishop Whittlesey (1364-8) visited the house; his subsequent orders directed that a competent refection according to the facilities of the house was to be served in the refectory; all kinds of brawling were forbidden, and also all wandering outside the precincts except by the abbot's special leave. (fn. 18)
Richard de Tutbury, the last abbot, resigned his office 22 April, 1467. (fn. 19) This resignation came about through the absorption of the abbey by the great neighbouring abbey of Evesham. Technically Tutbury ceased to be abbot in March, 1465, though he may have been allowed to retain the title and act as prior. The property of the abbey of Alcester had been so mismanaged that about this time there was actually no monk to keep the abbot company. The neglect of divers abbots was the reason assigned for the suppression of the independent life of this house on 19 March, 1465, when Edward IV granted to Richard, abbot of Evesham, and his convent, in free alms, the right of patronage and the advowson of the abbey of Alcester, with licence to treat it henceforth as a cell of Evesham. (fn. 20) This absorption of the smaller abbey was consummated on 2 April, 1466, by Bishop Carpenter, when it was arranged that three of the Evesham monks in priest's orders, whereof one was to be termed prior, were to reside at Alcester to say daily mass, remembering the souls of the founders, and other divine offices. The bishop reserved for himself a pension of 13s. 4d.; for the prior and convent of Worcester one of 6s. 8d.; and the like for the archdeacon of Worcester. (fn. 21)
In 1515 the abbot of Evesham obtained the sanction of the bishop of Worcester to rebuild the conventual church of Alcester, much of which was then in ruins, changing its form and reducing its size, as more fitting for the monks who were resident. (fn. 22)
The Valor of 1535 mentions Alcester as a priory cell of Evesham, but gives its value apart from that of the abbey. Its clear annual value is stated as only £65 7s. 11d. (fn. 23) John Norton was then prior. (fn. 24) The commissioners of 1536 delivered a privy seal to Charles Bradweye, prior of Alcester, on 15 August, as he alleged that his house was a cell of the abbey of Evesham, ordering him to appear before the Court of Augmentation in London at the ensuing Michaelmas. (fn. 25)
Eventually the old abbey of Alcester that had been a mere priory cell for nearly a century, was suppressed among the smaller houses, 27 Henry VIII. (fn. 26) In the list of pensions assigned to the abbot and brethren of Evesham, dated 27 January, 1539-40, occurs the name of C. Bradwaye, cellarer, sometime prior of Alcester, £20. (fn. 27)
Abbots of Alcester
Robert, (fn. 28) appointed 1140
Maurice, elected 1217, (fn. 29) died 1232
Bartholomew, elected 1233 (fn. 30)
Hugh, elected 1253 (fn. 31)
William de Whitchurch, elected 1254, (fn. 32) resigned 1266
Hugh, elected 1266, (fn. 33) died 1275
William de Ilmedon, elected 1275, (fn. 34) died 1276
John de Ippeley, elected 1276, (fn. 35) died 1279
Maurice de Mynstreworth, elected 1362, (fn. 40) died 1369
John Bradewey, elected 1369, (fn. 41) died 1390
John Merston, elected 1390, (fn. 42) died 1413
Thomas Gloucester, elected 1413, (fn. 43) resigned 1426
William Pole, admitted 1426, (fn. 44) died 1436
William Berdon, elected 1436, (fn. 45) died 1444
Richard Barton, elected 1444, (fn. 46) resigned 1454
Richard de Tutbury, elected 1454, resigned 1467 (fn. 47)
PRIORS OF ALCESTER
William Upton, elected abbot of Evesham 1477 (fn. 48)
William Grafton, occurs 1517 (fn. 49)
John Norton, occurs 1535 (fn. 50)
Charles Bradweye, surrendered 1536
The seal of this abbey is a pointed oval: St. John Baptist in carved niche, pointing to the Agnus Dei held in his left hand, diapered background. In the field a [crescent and] star, and on each side a wavy sprig.
SIGI . . . . ALENCESTRIE (fn. 51)