Houses of Cistercian monks: Abbey of Merevale

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

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'Houses of Cistercian monks: Abbey of Merevale', in A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 2, (London, 1908) pp. 75-78. British History Online [accessed 29 February 2024]

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The Cistercian abbey of Merevale, colonized from Bordesley, was founded in 1148 by Robert, Earl Ferrers. (fn. 1) He endowed it with that part of Arden Forest which pertained to him, with lands in Whittington, with the manors of Weston and Orton on the Hill, Leicestershire, with Hardwick, Derbyshire, and with common pasture at Hartington and Pilsbury in the same county. A confirmation charter of Henry II confirmed the grants of the founder, and of Gerard de Limesi, Walter de Camvill, Ralph de Baskerville, and Pain de Baskerville, subsequent benefactors. (fn. 2) Later in the same reign the church of Orton on the Hill, with the chapels of Twycross, Gopsall, and a moiety of the manor with the advowson of Baxterley were given to the monks.

In 1205 Pope Innocent III confirmed to the monks the church of Orton on the Hill and its two chapels (fn. 3) but it was not until April, 1344, that Clement VI granted to the abbey the appropriation of this church with the chapels of Twycross and Gopsall, due provision being made for a vicar. This was done in response to the petition of Henry of Lancaster, earl of Derby, in consequence of the house of Merevale having lately suffered from fire. It was stated that the value of the rectory did not exceed 30 marks, in addition to the 40s. already due to the monastery as a pension. (fn. 4) In 1450, when John Buggeley was abbot, the abbey obtained licence to appropriate the church of Mancetter. (fn. 5)

Crown licence was obtained by the abbot and monks of Merevale in 1238 to buy in the town of Banbury, by one of the lay brothers, ox-hides red and otherwise for the use of their house, and to take the same to the abbey; provided that the lay brother said in word of truth that they were for the use of his house. (fn. 6)

The taxation of 1291 states that the abbot of Merevale held three carucates of land at Woodburn in the deanery of Arden, of the annual value of 15s.; also at the same place curtilage worth 3s. a year; 2 dove-cotes 3s.; a mill 6s.; 9 acres of meadow 18s.; and timber 20s. At Whittington he held half a carucate, 6s.; 2 acres of meadow 2s.; and pasturage 4s. At Orton on the Hill half a carucate, 8s.; 3 acres of meadow 6s.; and a mill 4s. At Pilsbury grange, in Ashbourne deanery, 4 carucates 10s., and profits of the stock £15. At Croxden in temporalities £12. At Chelmorton (Selmardon), in the deanery of the High Peak, 1 carucate 12s. and profits of the stock £3 10s. in other temporalities.

The circumstances of the abbey became at this time much straitened. Peter de Leicester, at the request of the chapter, was appointed by the crown in 1297 as custodian of the temporalities during pleasure, as the house had fallen into decay. No sheriff, bailiff, or other minister of the king was to be lodged there or in any of the abbey granges during Peter's custody, without his consent. (fn. 7)

In February, 1328, Petronilla Oliver, of Leicester, obtained licence to alienate to the abbey two messuages, three shops, and a yearly rent of 12s. in Leicester, to find a chaplain to celebrate daily in the conventual church for her soul and those of her ancestors and others. (fn. 8)

Edward III granted to the abbey, in March, 1332, at the request of Edmund de Shireford, pontage for three years on wares passing over the bridge of Feldenbrigg, by Atherstone, across the River Avon, for the repair of the said bridge. (fn. 9) In 1343 the monks were granted a market and fair at Atherstone. (fn. 10)

John de Lisle, in 1357, granted to the abbey a messuage and a virgate of land at Bentley, of which manor he was lord, to find fifteen tapers to burn in the chapel of our Lady near the abbey gateway. (fn. 11) Four years later, in June, 1361, Bishop Stretton commissioned Brother Thomas de Leycester, a monk of Merevale, to act as penitentiary for the pilgrims who frequented the chapel of St. Mary at the gate of that monastery, which is still standing. It is stated in the licence that the bishop had been informed that large numbers of pilgrims of both sexes were coming to the chapel, and by reason of the crush and various prevalent diseases, many were brought to the point of death. Full power was therefore granted to absolve those penitents who were in extremity, even in reserved cases, enjoining on them salutary penances. It is interesting to remember that the Secunda Pestilencia of the fourteenth century raged in England during the summer of 1361. This appointment was made during the bishop's pleasure, but we find it renewed to the same monk for penitents at the gate chapel ten years later. (fn. 12)

The abbey purchased in 1386 six messuages in Atherstone, and certain rents in Whittington and Baxterley, and in 1390 four messuages in Tamworth and Wilnecote, and two other messuages in Atherstone. (fn. 13) But in spite of these and other accessions to the endowment of the abbey additional assistance was needed, and in 1401 the pope granted indulgence of the Portiuncula to all contributing to the repair of the abbey church during the next ten years. (fn. 14)

Like other religious communities the monks of Combe were not exempt from the disturbing influence of the quarrels and litigation which are the almost inevitable accompaniment of landed proprietorship.

In the year 1250 the prior of Lenton seized the sheep of the monks of Merevale at Chelmorton, in Derbyshire, on pasturage which had been recently granted them by Robert de Esburne, and took tithe of them for two years, namely, for that year and the previous one. Having taken this double tithe, the men of Godfrey, the prior of Lenton, suffered the rest of the flock to return to pasturage. Thereupon the monks summoned the prior to the king's court by brief quare vi et armis. (fn. 15)

In 1286 a serious charge against Andrew de Estleye and six others of assaulting the men of the abbot of Merevale, taking corn and victuals, with five carts and fifteen horses, which they were bringing to the abbot's manor at Broughton, Leicestershire, and imprisoning the men there, was referred to a commission of oyer and terminer. (fn. 16)

In 1292 John son of John de Overton brought a complaint against the abbot, four monks, and five brethren of the abbey, and others for having caused the death of his brother Robert. (fn. 17) Seven years later John, with six others, probably in revenge, pulled down the abbot's house and pillory at Overton by Twycross, on the confines of the counties of Warwick and Leicester, and carried away the timber by night. (fn. 18) At a visitation of the priory of Dunstable, held by Bishop Grosteste on 25 July, 1248, Henry de Bilenda, one of the canons, unable to clear himself, secretly fled by night fearing the austerity of the bishop. On 8 September he entered the nominally far severer Cistercian rule at Merevale. Bishop Grosteste, of whom the irregular religious had a wholesome dread, visited the Austin priory of Caldwell on 2 August of the same year, when Prior Eudo, taking the advice of the prior of Dunstable and others, resigned his rule, and on 6 August this canon was also professed as a Cistercian monk at Merevale. (fn. 19) Probably both these admissions were made by order of or at least with the tacit consent of the bishop.

William, Earl Ferrers, who died at Evington, near Leicester, on 28 March, 1253, was buried in the chapter-house of Merevale on 31 March. (fn. 20)

Edward I stayed at the abbey of Merevale in the year 1275 on 16 and 17 August, and on 17 September, (fn. 21) and Edward III was there in March 1322. (fn. 22)

In July 1285, the abbot obtained leave to cross the seas and tarry till the following Easter. (fn. 23)

In a list of debtors that Thomas Cromwell drew out in February 1522, occurs the name of William (Arnold), abbot of Merevale. A letter of William Brabazon to Cromwell in September of the same year gives a broad hint as to the nature of the debt, which, to put it plainly, was an unpaid promised bribe. The letter states that the abbot of Merevale is very short of money, but at Christmas he will pay most part of his 'duty' to Cromwell; meanwhile he forwarded 53s. 4d. as a reward for Cromwell's trouble about his election. (fn. 24) In January, 1532, he sent the sum of 4 marks to Cromwell for his own use, stating he was sore charged that year through barrenness of corn. (fn. 25) In a very long list of bribes received from religious houses in 1536, occurs the abbot of Merevale, £4. (fn. 26)

On 30 July, 1535, Nicholas Austen, abbot of Rewley, Oxfordshire, wrote to Cromwell, begging his favour for one of his brethren to secure for him the appointment as abbot of Merevale, which he understood to be vacant. A considerable bribe was promised Cromwell if this was done. (fn. 27)

There was, however, no vacancy, William Arnold was returned as abbot in the Valor Ecclesiasticus report of this year and remained to the end. The report gave the clear annual value of Merevale as £254 1s. 8d. The two churches of Mancetter and Orton on the Hill were valued conjointly at £73 4s. 8d. The considerable sum of £50 from the rents of their demesne lands were reserved for the use of their hospice, that is to be expended on hospitality for wayfarers or other guests. The offerings at the image of our Lady averaged £2 a year. Their alms on Maundy Thursday, by order of the general chapter of Citeaux, were 5s. in money; twelve quarters of barley made into loaves, and given to the poor at the gates, at 4s. 8d. the quarter; three quarters of barley made into beer, and given to the same, at 4s. the quarter; and 3,000 herrings at 1s. 8d. the hundred, amounting to the sum of £6 3s. In addition to this there was a weekly dole at the monastery gate of oaten bread and beer, which cost the house £5 13s. 8d. a year.

On 20 July, 1537, Abbot Arnold wrote to Cromwell acknowledging the receipt of the Lord Privy Seal's orders to lease Newhouse Grange to Richard Cromwell his nephew, for sixty years. The chapter had no option but to submit, and the abbot wrote that Lord Ferrers, their patron, would shortly bring the sealed lease with him to town. He added that Cromwell's aid had before prevented Mr. Robert Finder's suit for their grange, which could not really be spared as they had leased other pastures to divers of Mr. Richard Cromwell's friends at his request. They begged his lordship to ponder this, a request that the Lord Privy Seal apparently ignored. (fn. 28)

On 13 October, 1538, the surrender of this house was signed, being made over to Visitor Legh for the king's use. The signatures are those of William Arnold, the abbot, John Ownsbe, the sub-prior, and eight of the other monks. (fn. 29) The subservient abbot obtained the considerable pension of £40; the sub-prior and four monks each £5 6s. 8d.; three monks £5 each, and one only 3s. 4d.

A full inventory (fn. 30) of this monastery was made by a jury under the direction of Dr. Legh and William Cavendish, auditor of the Court of Augmentations. In the church were:—

A table of allablaster 5s.; ii candelstykes of latten, 5s.; one laumpe of latten, 8d.; the monkes seates of tymber, 1s.; a payre of organys, 20s.; vi olde alters with imagis, 2s.; the particion of olde tymber in the body of the curche, 1s.; thre iron candelstykes before the alters, 1s.; a holywater stoke of brasse, 1s.; the glass and the iron in the wyndeys of the curch, 2s.; all the pavent in the curche, 10s.; vi grave stones wyth brasse in them, 5s.

The total of these church goods and spoiled graves came to £4 11s. 8d. The vestments in the vestry were valued at £6 9s. 8d. 'The Cloyster and the Chapter house' realized £4 14s. 8d., including 'xxviii panys of payntyd glasses,' and 'a laver of ley mettall and leade before the same laver.' The inventory specifies the contents of the hall, the buttery, the chief parlour, the inner chamber, the great old chamber, the chamber next the old chamber, the chamber called 'ye Bredames,' the white chamber, the porter's chamber, the kitchen, the larder, the brew-house, the malt-house, the hive-house, the barn, and the smithy. The grain at the monastery was valued at £34 7s. 8d. and that at Newhouse Grange at £29 9s. 4d. There were fifty loads of hay, worth £8 6s. 8d. at 3s. 4d. the load. The cattle at the monastery and Newhouse Grange were valued at £21 0s. 8d. and the sheep at 'Crouxston in ye Pecke' at £6 13s. 4d. Fortyseven ounces of silver plate were sold for £8 12s. 4d. The total for all the goods found within the monastery and sold was declared at £133 12s. 4d. Of unsold goods there remained 132 oz. of silvergilt plate, and 26 oz. of silver plate, lead worth by estimation £32, and four bells, £30.

Md. there remayneth all the houses and edifices of the scite of the said late monastery, the glasse, yron in the wyndows, pavements, and vi gravestones in the churche, the rofe slatte, pavements and glasse in the cloyster, and glasse in the chapiter house only exceptyd and soulde.

The commissioners further stated that Lord Ferrers was put in possession of the late monastery and all its demesnes on 15 October, 1538.

Reference has already been made to the charge of peculation made against Legh and Cavendish in connexion with this surrender. (fn. 31)

Abbots of Merevale

William, died 1192 (fn. 32)

Reginald, elected 1192, (fn. 32) resigned 1194 (fn. 33)

Henry, sub-prior, elected 1194 (fn. 33)

William, occurs 1285 (fn. 34)

John, elected 1294 (fn. 35)

Robert, occurs 1351 (fn. 36)

John Baggeley, occurs 1450 (fn. 37)

John Freeman, occurs 1463 (fn. 38)

John, occurs 1497 (fn. 39)

John Baddesley, occurs 1517-18 (fn. 40)

William Arnold, occurs 1525 (fn. 41) -1538

The thirteenth-century seal is pointed oval; the Virgin, with crown, seated on a throne, under a trefoiled canopy, pinnacled and crocketed, supported on slender shafts; the Child on the left knee. In base, an ornamental corbel. In the field, on the left, a dexter hand and arm issuing, grasping a pastoral staff; on the right a crescent between two stars. Legend:—

. . ABBATIS ET CONVE . . . IREVALL . . . (fn. 42)

There is also a thirteenth-century abbot's seal: pointed oval: the abbot standing on a carved corbel, with pastoral staff and book. In the field, on the left, three indistinct flowers or stars, the corresponding devices on the right broken away.



  • 1. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), i, 186.
  • 2. Dugdale, Warw. ii, 1086-8; Chart. R. 21 Edw. I, m. 2, per inspex.
  • 3. Burton, Leic. 215.
  • 4. Cal. Papal Let. ii, 141; Cal. Papal Pet. i, 50.
  • 5. Pat. 28 Hen. VI, pt. i, m. 1.
  • 6. Pat. 28 Hen. III, m. 10.
  • 7. Pat. 25 Edw. I, m. 9.
  • 8. Pat. 2 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 27.
  • 9. Pat. 6 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 16.
  • 10. Inq. p.m. 17 Edw. III, No. 73.
  • 11. Dugdale, ex autog. penes Job. Lisle ar.
  • 12. Lich. Epis. Reg. Stretton, fol. 24, 43.
  • 13. Inq. a.q.d. 10 Ric. II, No. 100; 16 Ric. II, pt. i, No. 141.
  • 14. Cal. Papal Let. v, 443.
  • 15. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), iii, 180.
  • 16. Pat. 14 Edw. I, m. 17d.
  • 17. Pat. 20 Edw. I, m. 12 d.
  • 18. Pat. 27 Edw. I, m. 10d.; Pat. 28 Edw. I, m. 12d.; Pat. 29 Edw. I, m. 4d.
  • 19. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), iii, 178, 179.
  • 20. Ibid. i, 317.
  • 21. Pat. and Close Rolls of that year.
  • 22. Close, 15 Edw. II, m. 18.
  • 23. Pat. 12 Edw. I, m. 8 and 7.
  • 24. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv, 5530, 5944.
  • 25. Ibid. v, 740.
  • 26. Ibid. xi, App. 16.
  • 27. L. and P. Hen. VIII, viii, 689, 980.
  • 28. Ibid. xii (2), 290.
  • 29. Dep. Keeper's Rep. viii, App. ii.
  • 30. Dugdale, Mon. v, 404-6.
  • 31. See above, 'Eccl. Hist.' p. 27.
  • 32. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 248.
  • 33. Ibid.; Reginald was transferred to the abbey of Garendon.
  • 34. Assize R. 956, m. 32.
  • 35. Linc. Epis. Reg. Sutton, fol. 109.
  • 36. Cal. Papal Let. iii, 447.
  • 37. Pat. 28 Hen. VI, pt. i, m. 1.
  • 38. a Conventual Leases, Warw. ptfo. 17.
  • 39. b Add. Chart. 48169.
  • 40. c Conventual Leases, Warw. ptfo. 17.
  • 41. Ibid.
  • 42. B.M. lxxiii, 20; Dugdale, Mon. v, 482.
  • 43. Add. Chart. 5992.