Houses of Cistercian monks: Abbey of Combe

Pages 73-75

A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.

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The Cistercian abbey of Combe, 4 miles east of Coventry, was founded on 10 July, 1150, by Richard de Camvill, who married the widow of Robert Marmion, founder of Polesworth Abbey. (fn. 1) It was colonized from Waverley, the oldest of the English houses. The endowments of the abbey consisted in the main of a considerable number of small parcels of land and rents in Warwickshire. The only advowson that the monks held, until they obtained that of Naseby in the fifteenth century, was a moiety of the church of Wolvey. In Coventry they had many houses and 'divers parcels of small rent given to them by sundry persons.' An exceptionally interesting gift was that of certain lands in Marston charged with the finding of shoes for the poor that were daily relieved at the gate.

In 1279 the grant and quitclaim of Robert, son of Odo de Herberbyry, for the health of his soul and that of Elizabeth his wife, of considerable lands and tenements in Harbury and Chesterton, was enrolled. The first witness was Robert de Verdon, then sheriff. (fn. 2) In 1290 the monastery obtained grants of lands in Harbury, Bilney, and Hopsford. (fn. 3) In the same year Edward I granted the abbot free warren over his manors of Combe, Bilney, Copston, Ernsford, Radbourn, Withybrook, and Wolvey. (fn. 4)

The taxation of 1291 valued the moiety of the rectory of Wolvey at £6 13s. 4d. a year. The only temporal possession they held outside the county was £1 6s. 8d. in rents at Norwich. The rest of their property was near at hand, being all in the deanery of Coventry. The upper and lower granges of their house were valued at £39 13s. 4d. a year; four other granges were estimated at £26 5s. 9½d.; and other property in the same deanery at £65 16s. 9d. The abbey of Combe was thus, at that date, by far the wealthiest house in Warwickshire.

In 1325 Edward II granted the abbot of Combe a Wednesday market at Wolvey, and a three days' fair at the feast of St. Mark. (fn. 5)

Notwithstanding the comparative wealth of this house and the advantage of having its landed property and manors so close to the abbey, the monastery was in considerable financial troubles about this period.

On 18 March, 1332, protection during pleasure was granted for the abbot and convent of Combe, a house of royal foundation, inasmuch as it was burdened with debt, and reduced to much distress by defective rule. William de Clinton and Robert de Stretford were appointed to the custody of it, to apply all the issues in discharge of the debts and relief of the estate, saving only reasonable sustenance for the house. (fn. 6) Abbot Richard in January, 1332, acknowledged his indebtedness to John de Pulteney, citizen of London, to the amount of £40, to be levied in default of payment on his lands and chattels in Warwickshire. (fn. 7) Abbot Geoffrey, in August, 1332, made formal acknowledgement of his debt of £140 to John de Merynton; to be levied in default of payment on his lands and chattels in Warwickshire. (fn. 8)

Henry VI in 1429 granted the advowson and afterwards the appropriation of the church of Naseby, Northamptonshire, to this abbey. (fn. 9) The ordination of the vicarage was rearranged in 1435, and again for a third time in 1467, when the bishop of Lincoln decided that the vicar should have a stipend of 12 marks, with a suitable vicarage house and garden; all the other profits of the living, with the glebe and manse, were assigned to the monks. (fn. 10)

Sir Edward Raleigh of Farnborough by his will bearing date 20 June, 1509, bequeathed £30 to build the south side of the cloister at Combe, and to glaze the windows: to the abbot of the same house he left 20s., to every priest 6s. 8d., and to every professed monk not in priest's orders 3s. 4d. In return they were to keep the yearly obit of Sir Edward and of Margaret his wife. (fn. 11)

The Valor of 1535 gave the clear annual value of the house as £211 15s. 1d. (fn. 12) The monastery distributed in alms on Maundy Thursday every year 4s. 8d. in money; 10 quarters of rye made into bread at 5s. the quarter; 3 quarters of malt made into beer at 4s. the quarter; and 300 herrings at 20d. the 100, distributed to the poor people at the gate of the monastery.

Abbot William obtained licence in 1283 and 1289 to cross the seas to attend the general Cistercian chapter, appointing attorneys in his absence. (fn. 13) A like leave was granted in 1292 from July to Christmas. (fn. 14)

On 3 May, 1313, the abbot obtained protection until St. Peter ad Vincula (1 August) as he was going beyond the seas on the king's business. (fn. 15) On 6 August he again obtained permission to cross the seas to attend the general chapter at Citeaux, the crown directing the constable of Dover to supply him with 20 marks for his expenses. (fn. 16)

On 8 August, 1328, the abbot of Combe going to the next general chapter of Citeaux, had letters nominating Brother Walter de Wodeeton and Brother Walter de Tresham his attorneys for the year. (fn. 17) The keeper of the port of Dover was ordered to permit Richard abbot of Combe to cross the seas with his men, horses, and equipments. (fn. 18)

In August, 1333, John, abbot of Combe, master of theology, was appointed by Pope John XIII to the vacant Irish see of Cloyne. He had been consecrated by Anibald, bishop of Tusculum. (fn. 19) There was, however, some difficulty raised by the crown as to accepting this nomination; but in September, 1335, the king issued his mandate for the restoration of the temporalities of the see of Cloyne to John, late abbot of Combe, who had become bishop on the death of Maurice, by virtue of a provision of John the late pope, as appeared by a bull directed to the king. Abbot John had, however, in the first instance to do fealty to the king and publicly renounce all words in the bull prejudicial to king and crown. (fn. 20)

In June, 1339, the abbot of Combe received a letter from Boniface XII commanding him to carry out the papal ordinances concerning apostates touching Bartholomew Ace, Cistercian monk of Cleeve (Somerset), who having left the order desired to be reconciled to it. (fn. 21)

In 1345 Abbot Geoffrey of Combe met with a violent death. On 6 July Edward III issued letters patent to six of his justices 'de inquirendo de morte abbatis de Combe.' The inquiry was to be conducted by at least two of their number and the jury were to be selected from good and lawful men of the adjacent county of Northampton, probably with a view of securing greater impartiality. The inquiry was to ascertain what malefactors or disturbers of the peace had committed the felony. The abbot had been slain at Combe apparently by violence. The result of this inquest cannot now be ascertained. (fn. 22)

When Dr. London was on his Warwickshire visit of suppression and about to visit the Carthusians of Coventry, he wrote to Cromwell (December 1538) reminding him that Combe was only two or three miles from Coventry, that the abbot and all his friends were at Cromwell's commands, and that he would be glad to 'go through' with that house also. He supposed that the abbot would leave his house and lands 'like an honest man' and it would be well to take the house while it was at its best. In another letter he stated that Cromwell could not have a more commodious house than Combe Abbey, and that the longer he waited in seizing it the worse it would be. (fn. 23)

The abbey was surrendered by Abbot Kynner alias Bate, by Oliver Adams, the ex-abbot, and by twelve other monks, to Dr. London for the king's use, with all its possessions in the counties of Warwick, York, Leicester, and Northampton, on 21 January, 1539. (fn. 24) The abbot had only held office for a year, having been merely placed there by Cromwell's influence in lieu of Abbot Adams 'to secure a voluntary surrender.' He met with his reward by obtaining the very considerable pension of £80. Five of the monks had pensions of £6, and eight of £5 6s. 8d. The late abbot received nothing. London, writing on the day of the surrender to the Chancellor of the Augmentation, begged for the speedy ratification of the pensions he had assigned to encourage others. (fn. 25) Writing somewhat later to Cromwell, London acknowledged that this abbot had endeavoured to trick him. Harford, the sheriff of Coventry, informed him that the abbot had £500 in a feather bed at his brother's house. London searched the bed, but could only find £25, and the abbot's story was that he had placed it there to pay certain debts at Candlemas, as he had no servant that he could trust. (fn. 26)

Abbots of Combe

Martin, c. 1150-77

Ralph, 1177-80

Erminfrid, 1180, deposed 1183

William, 1183-91 (fn. 27)

Michael, 1191, resigned 1234

Robert, 1234

William, 1234-(1237 ?) (fn. 28)

Roger, 1237-8 (fn. 29)

Roger II, 1238-(1241 ?) (fn. 30)

William de Chester, 1241-62 (fn. 31)

Warin, 1262, resigned 1279

Jordan de Twangham, 1279 (fn. 32)

William, c. 1283

Richard, 1328-32

Geoffrey, 1332 (fn. 33)

John, 1333, resigned 1335

Geoffrey, died 1345

Alexander, elected 1454 (fn. 34)

William Whittington, end of 15th century

John Tolton

Oliver Adams, occurs 1516, resigned 1538

Robert Kynner alias Bate, 1538-9 (fn. 35)

The thirteenth-century seal is a pointed oval: in two niches with trefoiled canopies supported on slender shafts, on the left the Virgin, crowned, the Child on the left arm; on the right an abbot, probably St. Bernard, in the right hand a pastoral staff, in the left a book. In the field on each side a tree. In base a shield of arms:—Three leopards, in chief a label of five points; supporters two lions. Legend:—


A thirteenth-century abbot's seal, pointed oval; shows the abbot, full length, with pastoral staff and book. Legend:—

...... GILL' ABBATIS . . . MAR . . . . (fn. 37)

This occurs with two counterseals; pointed oval: a right hand and vested arm issuing from right, holding a crutch or cross tau.

Legend on a bevelled edge:—

✠. . . . M . A[BBA]TIS DE CVMBA (fn. 38)

Pointed oval: similar but holding a pastoral staff. Back-ground diapered lozengy with a rose in each space. Legend:—



  • 1. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 233; Cott. MS. Vit. A. i. There is an elaborate early fourteenthcentury chartulary of this abbey, somewhat damaged by fire. . . . According to the table at the beginning of the volume it comprises copies or extracts of no fewer than 360 charters, which are classified according to the place to which they pertained. The benefactions named therein are largely cited in Dugdale, Warw. ii, 222-6, and requoted in the Mon: v, 582-3. At fol. 101b is a taxation of 27 Edw. I. Amongst the muniments of the earl of Warwick are a variety of early charters pertaining to this abbey; they are all (save one of 1294) undated and pertain to different periods of the thirteenth century. One of them bears the seal of Abbot William (1234-7); Rev. Harvey Bloom, privately printed Abstract of Earl of Warwick's charters.
  • 2. Close, 7 Edw. I, m. 8 d.
  • 3. Pat. 18 Edw. I, m. 16.
  • 4. Chart. R. 18 Edw. I, m. 89.
  • 5. Ibid. 19 Edw. II, m. 11.
  • 6. Pat. 6 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 15.
  • 7. Close, 6 Edw. III, m. 37 d.
  • 8. Ibid. m. 15 d.
  • 9. Pat. 8 Hen. VI, pt. ii, m. 16.
  • 10. Bridge, Northamptonshire, i, 577.
  • 11. Dugdale, Warw. i, 530.
  • 12. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii, 54.
  • 13. Pat. 11 Edw. I, m. 19; 17 Edw. I, m. 11.
  • 14. Ibid. 20 Edw. I, m. 6.
  • 15. Ibid. 6 Edw. II, m. 11.
  • 16. Close, 7 Edw. II, m. 26 d.
  • 17. Pat. 2 Edw. II, pt. ii, m. 25.
  • 18. Close, 2 Edw. III, m. 20 d.
  • 19. Cal. Papal Let. ii, 384.
  • 20. Pat. 9 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 21.
  • 21. Cal. Papal Let. ii, 543.
  • 22. Pat. 19 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 30 d.
  • 23. Cott. MS. Cleop. E. iv, 207-8.
  • 24. Dep. Keeper's Rep. viii, App. ii, 16.
  • 25. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiv (1), 111-12.
  • 26. Ibid. 113.
  • 27. The first four abbots are given in Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 241, 242, 243.
  • 28. a Ibid. 315.
  • 29. b Ibid. 317.
  • 30. c Ibid. 319.
  • 31. d Ibid. 328, 353.
  • 32. e Ibid. 392.
  • 33. f Close, 6 Edw. III. m. 15d.
  • 34. Lich. Epis. Reg. Hales, fol. 10.
  • 35. The last four names are given by Dugdale, Mon. v, 583. For the last two, see Conventual Leases, Warw. ptfo. 16.
  • 36. Dugdale, Mon. v, 583 (legend incorrect); B. M. lxxiii, 4.
  • 37. B. M. lxxiii, 5.
  • 38. Harl. Chart. 84 D. 21.
  • 39. B. M. lxxiii, 6. There are two other seals in the B. M. doubtfully attributed to this house; lxxiii, 9, 10.