Houses of Cistercian monks: Jervaulx

A History of the County of York: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1974.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


, 'Houses of Cistercian monks: Jervaulx', in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, (London, 1974) pp. 138-142. British History Online [accessed 26 May 2024].

. "Houses of Cistercian monks: Jervaulx", in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, (London, 1974) 138-142. British History Online, accessed May 26, 2024,

. "Houses of Cistercian monks: Jervaulx", A History of the County of York: Volume 3, (London, 1974). 138-142. British History Online. Web. 26 May 2024,

In this section


The story of the origin and foundation of the abbey of Jervaulx is told at great length in the lost Register of Byland Abbey, quoted in the Monasticon. (fn. 1) The writer records that a certain knight, Akarius Fitz Bardolph, gave to a monk of Savigny, Peter de Quinciaco by name, and other monks of that house who were for some reason then residing in the neighbourhood, part of his land at Fors, in Wensleydale, where they might found an abbey. How these monks came to be in those parts is not explained, but it seems not unlikely that they were sojourning, for some reason or other, at the court of Alan, Earl of Richmond. The lands which Fitz Bardolph gave them, and other grants, made or to be made, Alan as his over-lord confirmed.

Alan instructed Peter to inform him when the first building was to be erected, that he might be present. All being ready, Peter sought the earl as he had been told to do, and the latter, coming to the place where the first building was to be raised, summoned by name four or five of the knights who had accompanied him, and said jocundo vultu quasi in ludendo, 'We all have great lands and possessions, now therefore let us help with our own hands and build this house in the name of Our Lord, and let each of us give land, or revenue, in perpetual alms for the maintenance of the part which each shall have raised.' (fn. 2) Some readily assented, but' others refused, except conditionally. In this way the first house of wood was built in 1145.

Soon after this Earl Alan, visiting Savigny, informed the abbot that Brother Peter and the other monks had begun an abbey in his lordship, not far from his castle of Richmond, and he gave the abbey, then it is said rather planned than in being, to the abbot, who accepted it but unwillingly, not being favourably disposed to the scheme.

Peter, the zealous promoter of this new plantatio, wrote to the Abbot of Savigny asking him to send an abbot and convent to inhabit the new monastery. The Abbot of Savigny, however, remembering the dangers, labours and injury which his monks had sustained who had been sent to different places in England to construct abbeys, wrote to Brother Peter that he had acted most foolishly in beginning the abbey without the advice of the house of Savigny. (fn. 3)

In 1146 (fn. 4) Abbot Roger of Byland set out to attend a general chapter at Savigny, and Brother Peter begged him to take a letter to the abbot and bring back a reply.

The matter was brought before the chapter general, at which, besides Abbot Roger, the only abbots present from England were those of Quarr and Neath, and the question was discussed by the fifteen abbots present.

Eventually the Abbot of Savigny, to whom Jervaulx had been confirmed by Conan, Alan's heir and successor, decided not to send an abbot and convent of monks from Savigny. The chapter general decided, however, that the new abbey should be subjected to Byland, the nearest house of the order to it. As Abbot Roger could not stay longer, he constituted the Abbot of Quarr his proxy. When the chapter was over, Serlo, the Abbot of Savigny, delivered to the Abbot of Quarr the charter of the gift of Jervaulx to Byland, and enjoined the abbot to visit all the order in England that year, and if he found that a convent could be maintained at Fors, then he was to deliver the charter to the Abbot of Byland and put him in full possession of Fors. If, however, he found that Fors could not maintain a convent, then he was to retain the charter and tell Brother Peter to take good care of Fors and develop it for the proper use of the Abbey of Savigny. At the following Easter the Abbot of Quarr visited Byland, accompanied by a monk of Savigny named Matthew. When the formal visitation was over, Brother Peter conducted the Abbots of Quarr and Byland to Jervaulx, and there the Abbot of Quarr gave Brother Peter the sealed letters of the Abbot of Savigny and told him that the new plantatio had been committed to Byland.

Brother Peter addressed the Abbot of Quarr, telling him that he and his two associates to whom the site had been given in the first instance had toiled there much, and that, blessed be the Most High, they had 5 ploughs at work, 40 cows with their young, 16 mares with their foals given by the earl, 5 sows with their young, 300 sheep, and 30 skins in tan, and wax and oil for two years, and they were confident that they could find bread, ale, cheese and butter for the first year, and they believed that an abbot and convent could begin with what there was in the place till it should please God to provide more bountifully for them. He added that if the Abbot of Byland promised to send an abbot and convent with perpetual succession, they would hand over the place with all its substance. This the Abbot of Byland promised to do. Upon this the charter of Serlo was read by the Abbot of Quarr.

Brother Peter then handed all over to the Abbot of Byland, and with his two fellow monks and a conversus made profession to him. Another conversus refused this profession and returned to Savigny with the monk Matthew. The Abbot of Byland then entrusted Brother Peter with the care of the place, which he often visited, and he appointed one monk to the office of the hostelry and a conversus as tanner.

On his way to a general chapter of the Cistercian order in 1147 Abbot Roger of Byland went to Savigny, and was told that if he wished to fulfil his engagement with the Abbot of Quarr and Peter de Quinciaco no obstacle would be raised. He then promised that shortly after his return home he would fulfil his engagement.

On the third day of the general chapter at Citeaux, the Abbot of Citeaux, according to rule, ordered that the names of the abbeys founded during the year should be entered in the Cistercian Table, and at the suggestion of St. Bernard and of the Abbot of Savigny, the name of the abbey of Jervaulx was inscribed in the table of Citeaux. When Abbot Roger returned home to Byland he ordered the cellarer to convey the better bell of the parish church of Old Byland, on a wagon, to the abbey of Jervaulx. This was speedily done, and after the feast of the Circumcision (1 January) Abbot Roger went to Jervaulx and stayed there till the Purification (2 February), arranging the external and internal affairs of the place. Then, leaving, he ordered Brother Peter and his two associate monks to be at Byland on the first Sunday in Lent. When that Sunday arrived, Abbot Roger said that he had delayed completing his promise in order to do it better and more securely, and now invoking the divine grace he ordained and constituted in the name of the several persons of the Holy Trinity Brother John de Kinstan abbot. Upon this nomination all rose at once, and lifting John de Kinstan on their arms, bore him to the high altar, exclaiming ' Tu es abbas Jorevallis.' John de Kinstan was one of those who left Calder with Abbot Gerald and began the Abbey of Byland.

Then Abbot Roger named Brother Peter and his two associates and nine monks of the convent, absolving them from their profession to him that they might make profession to Abbot John, and on Wednesday, 8 March 1150, (fn. 5) Abbot John with the twelve monks set out for Jervaulx. Abbot John was received by Akarius the founder and many nobles. He appointed Brother Edwald his prior and Brother Peter cellarer.

Although throughout this account the new foundation has been generally spoken of as that of Jervaulx, it must be borne in mind that it was the earlier house at Fors, some 16 miles higher up the valley than the subsequent site of Jervaulx Abbey, that is alluded to. It was afterwards called Vallis Grangia, and is still known as Dale Grange. For four years the new abbot and convent lived there, but in the fifth year such heavy rains fell in those parts at Michaelmas that, when the monks ought to have been harvesting, all their seeds perished.

In consequence of this, Abbot Roger sent them five measures (skeppas) of grain for sowing, and they bought more elsewhere. Still they were in need, and seeing the sterility of the land, which on account of rain and intemperate atmosphere would not mature their crops, they often contemplated returning to their mother house, but were prevented by fear of the scorn of the men, who would say ' These monks began to build, but were not able to finish.' When Abbot Roger came, according to custom, to visit them, he found Abbot John and his convent in dire distress for the reasons mentioned. They had spent that year more than all the money they had received for wool and beasts, in buying corn. Abbot Roger, therefore, to relieve their necessity, sent them again five measures (skeppas) of grain, and ten of malt, against the autumn. Moreover, with the assent of the convent of Byland, he gave them 10 bovates of land in Ellington.

Peter, the cellarer, urged against returning to Byland and went to Earl Alan in Brittany, where he showed the earl, with tears, their desolation, so that the latter wrote to Abbot John not to leave Jervaulx, and that he would assist them well on his return to Richmond. Alan, however, was a long time in coming to England, and as Abbot John had nothing with which to maintain his convent for a whole year, he sent five of his monks to board at Byland and three to Furness. Nearly two years elapsed before Earl Alan came to Richmond, when Abbot John showed him the grave defects from which the convents were suffering, and asked his help, because if he did not afford them assistance the convent would have to leave the sterile district. Alan replied that he would speak to his steward and others as to the complaint, and would do what they advised. He took Peter the cellarer with him and granted him a large pasturage in Wensleydale. Conan, his son, as the site appeared to him useless and insufficient for building the abbey, gave to Abbot John his waste and uncultivated land in East Witton, and in 1156 Abbot John and the convent moved from Fors to the site in East Witton.

The writer having related all these incidents as to the origin of Jervaulx Abbey lapses into the marvellous, but it is a very pretty story that he tells. He says that after Abbot John and his monks had set out from Byland, as they spent the night in a village, the name of which he had often heard but had forgotten, Abbot John had a dream or vision. He seemed to be in the cloister at Byland, and Abbot Roger had directed him to set out with a number of monks for a far-off place, there to receive orders (ad ordines recipiendos), and as he was passing out he beheld in the middle of the cloister a most noble lady, richly clothed, whose beauty excelled all earthly beauty, and who bore on her left arm a beautiful boy, whose face was as the brightness of the moon. The boy plucked a branch from a tree in the middle of the cloister and then they vanished from his sight. The abbot and his companions departed, but when they had gone a little way they found themselves straitly shut in within a place surrounded with thorns and brambles and rocks, and there seemed no escape. In despair the abbot suggested that they should siy their office. No sooner had they done so than there appeared the beautiful lady with her boy whom Abbot John had seen in the cloister. A colloquy proceeded between the abbot and the lady; eventually the abbot addressed her: ' Good lady, I humbly ask thee that thou wilt guide me and my companions, wandering in this unknown and straitened place, into the way to that city where the monks with God's help ought to be established. This I ask for the love of thy friends at Byland, to which house we all belong.' The lady replied that they had been of Byland, but were then of ' Jorevall.' When she named ' Jorevall' he greatly marvelled, and said, ' Good lady, show us the way to Jorevall, for thither are we bent,' Then she looked at her son and said, 'Most sweet son, for the love thou hast ever to me, be thou their guide.' And the boy, holding out the branch he had plucked at Byland, said, with a bright and joyous countenance, ' I am going forward, follow me without fear.' At length they reached an uncultivated and forbidding spot, where the boy planted the bough, saying, ' Here shall God be adored and invoked after a short time.' In a moment the bough grew into a most beautiful tree, full of white birds. The monks were to rest there, for that was the place they sought. Having planted the bough the boy vanished. Abbot John slept no more that night, but rose early in the morning, and he and his monks went on by moonlight. At daybreak they reached a village, and as some of the inhabitants looked out of their' windows, they saw a number of persons in white pass by, and one of them said, ' What a number of white men are passing ' Abbot John hearing this hid in the shade by a wall, to learn what else might be said, and another man asked his companion, ' Do you know who these are? ' and the other said, 'No.' Then he replied, ' It was told me yesterday at the hall that an abbot and twelve monks were migrating from Byland to Jorevall.' A third man who heard this, came out of his house, and took observations of the moon and stars and signs of the heavens, and said, ' These men are moving at a propitious time, and in a short period of thirty or forty years they will be in such a condition as to suffer from no deficiencies.' Abbot John hearing these words, it is said, hastened to his companions well comforted. The latter part of the story of the monks passing through the village has a matter-of-fact look of truth about it, while the vision or dream is one of those pretty mediaeval tales which tend to relieve the monotony of monastic history.

Hervey, son and heir of Akarius, (fn. 6) by charter consented to the removal from Fors to the new and better site, on condition that he did not lose his patronage of the house or cease to be a partaker in the prayers and good works done in it. In 1156, (fn. 7) therefore, the construction of the new abbey at Witton began, and the new house soon received fresh gifts from different donors. (fn. 8)

In 1268 (fn. 9) John, Duke of Britanny and Earl of Richmond, confirmed to the monks their abbey of Jervaulx, built in honour of the B.Iessed Mary, and he also confirmed all the gifts which the monks had of his ancestors, or any other persons in a number of places which are named, and by a later charter, dated 1281, (fn. 10) he enlarged the rights of the monks very considerably in his forest of Wensleydale.

Little, however, is known for a long period ot the history of Jervaulx. As a Cistercian house it was exempt from archiepiscopal visitation, and like the other houses of the order there are very few entries in the Registers as to it, and none which throw light on its internal life.

In 1279 the Cistercian Annals (fn. 11) record the murder of Philip, Abbot of Jervaulx, by one of his monks. His successor, Abbot Thomas, was accused of complicity but was acquitted, the jury finding that the crime had been committed by William de Modither, one of the monks, who had fled and was outlawed. (fn. 12)

The abbey was so impoverished in 1403 (fn. 13) that Boniface IX granted a dispensation to Abbot Richard [Gower] that, seeing he could not decently keep up his estate and burdens, he might hold for life a benefice in the gift of himself and the convent, or any other benefice with cure, even if of lay patronage.

On 7 July 1409 (fn. 14) Pope Alexander V granted that Abbot Richard, who had been sent by the clergy of York to the general council then recently held at Pisa, and his successors, might wear the mitre, ring, and other pontifical insignia, and in the monastery and its subject priories and the churches belongingto it give solemn benediction after mass, vespers and matins, provided that no bishop or papal legate were present.

The gross annual value of the house, including temporalities and spiritualities, in 1535 (fn. 15) was £455 10s. 5d., but the reprises reduced the clear value to £234 18s. 5d. Among the reprises were the pensions of three chaplains celebrating at the altar of St. Stephen in the metropolitical church of York, of the foundation of the lord of Upsall, £20; £10 13s. 4d. to two chaplains in the chapel of Lazenby, of the foundation of John Lithgranes. Among the alms distributed were bread and white and red herrings, given to poor hermits and boys (pauperibus hermitis et pueris) costing £4 13s. 4d. yearly; alms on Maundy Thursday to parishioners of Aysgarth 6s. 8d., East Witton 6s. 8d., and Ainderby Steeple 3s. 4d.

The last abbot, Adam Sedbergh, joined the Pilgrimage of Grace, and suffered death by hanging at Tyburn in June 1537, (fn. 16) when the-monastic property was forfeited to the king. (fn. 17)

The letter of Richard Bcllycis, written on 14 November 1538 (fn. 18) to Cromwell, may well conclude this account of Jervaulx. He writes:

I have taken down all the lead of Jervaux, and made it into pecys of half fodders, which lead amounteth to the number of eighteen score and five fodders, with thirty and four fodders and a half that were there before: and the said lead cannot be conveit [conveyed] nor carried until the next sombre, for the ways in that countre are so foul and deep, that no caryage can pass in wyntre. And as concerninge the raising and taking down of the House, if it be your lordship's pleasure, I am minded to let it stand to the next spring of the year, by reason of the days are now so short, it would be double charges to do it now. And as concerninge the selling of the bells, I cannot sell them above fifteen shillings the hundred [weight]; wherein I wolde gladly know your lordship's pleasure, whether I sholde sell them after that price, or send them up to London; and if they be sent up surely the caryage will be costly from that place to the water.

Abbots of Jervaulx (fn. 19)

John de Kinstan 1150, (fn. 20) occurs 1170 (fn. 21) (first abbot) (fn. 22)

John Brompton, occurs 1193 (fn. 23)

William, occurs 1198, (fn. 24) 1209, (fn. 25) (third abbot) (fn. 26)

Thomas, occurs 1218 (fn. 27)

Eustace, occurs 1224 (fn. 28) to 1254 (fn. 29) (fifth abbot) (fn. 30)

Thomas, occurs 1258 (fn. 31)

Philip, murdered 1279 (fn. 32)

Thomas, occurs 1280 (fn. 33)

Ralph, occurs 1289, (fn. 34) 1300 (fn. 35)

Simon de Miggelle, confirmed 1304 (fn. 36)

John, died (or resigned) 1312 (fn. 37) (eighth abbot) (fn. 38)

Thomas de Gristhwayte, confirmed 1312 (fn. 39) occurs 1338 (fn. 40)

Hugh, occurs 1342 (fn. 41)

John, occurs 1349 (fn. 42)

John de Rokewyk, occurs 1398 (fn. 43)

Richard Gower, elected 1399 (fn. 44)

Peter de Snape, elected 1425 (fn. 45) (seventeenth abbot) (fn. 46)

John Brompton II, confirmed 1436, (fn. 47) occurs 1464 (fn. 48)

William Jerome, occurs 1469 (fn. 49)

William Heslington, (fn. 50) elected 1475 (fn. 51)

Robert Thorneton, elected 1510 (fn. 52) (twentysecond abbot) (fn. 53)

Adam Sedbergh, elected 1533 (fn. 54) (last abbot) (fn. 55)

The 14th-century seal (fn. 56) is a vesica, 2½ in. by 1½ in., showing the abbot standing in a canopied niche holding staff and book. On his right is a shield of the arms of St. Quintin—three cheverons with a chief vair, and on his left another shield charged with a saltire. The legend is broken away.

A second seal, (fn. 57) somewhat similar but more elaborate in design, has an additional shield of arms in the base which appears to be barry.


  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 569-74.
  • 2. Ibid. no. iii.
  • 3. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. no. v.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. This and the previous nomination and election of John de Kinstan as abbot give the year 1150 as that of the formal inauguration of the new abbey, and the commencement of the abbacy of John de Kinstan.
  • 6. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 573, no. xii.
  • 7. Ibid. 567.
  • 8. A charter of Hen. III, 12 Feb. 1228, confirms a number of grants of lands, &c., mostly in the immediate, district which different persons had made to the Abbot and monks of Jervaulx. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 576, no. xxi.
  • 9. Ibid. 575, no. xvi.
  • 10. Ibid. no. xvii.
  • 11. Martene, Thesaurus Anecd. iv, 1465.
  • 12. Assize R. 1064, m. 31 d.
  • 13. Cal. of Papal Letters, v, I. Three years previously (1400) the same pope had granted Richard Abbot of Jervaulx an indult for him and his successors and. for the monks when they went out of the monastery for a reasonable cause to eat meat on lawful days. Ibid. 329.
  • 14. Cal. of Papal Letters, vi, 159. The grave-slab of Abbot Peter de Snape (d. 1436) at Jervaulx has a mitre on it (Cutts, Manual of Sepulchral Slabs and Crosses, plate lxv, where it is figured); as has also the grave-slab of Abbot Thornton, now in Middleham Church. An illustration of the latter is given in Atthill's Collegiate Ch. of Middleham (Camd. Soc.), p. xx.
  • 15. Vahr Eccl. (Rec. Com.), v, 241.
  • 16. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 567.
  • 17. Exch. Inq. p.m. (Ser. 2), file 237, no. 24.
  • 18. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 567; Burton, Mon. Ebor. 372, &c.
  • 19. There were twenty-three abbots of Jervaulx, and the grave-slabs of six which remain record their order of succession, and are valuable helps towards arranging a complete list. There seems to have been one abbot whose name is not now known. The six whose grave slabs are preserved are John de Kinstan, William, Eustace, John, Peter de Snape and Robert Thornton.
  • 20. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 571, no. vi.
  • 21. Ibid. 567, quoting Cole MS.
  • 22. Grave-slab at Jervaulx.
  • 23. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 567, quoting Willis.
  • 24. Ibid.
  • 25. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 92.
  • 26. Grave-slab at Jervaulx.
  • 27. a Le Neve's MS. Cal. Feet of F. 2 Hen. III.
  • 28. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 92.
  • 29. Feet of F. file 47, no. 20, Hil. 38 Hen. III.
  • 30. Grave-slab at Jervaulx.
  • 31. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 92.
  • 32. Assize R. 1064, m. 31 d.
  • 33. Ibid; Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 92.
  • 34. Dugdale, Mon, Angl. v, 567, quoting Willis.
  • 35. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 92.
  • 36. York Archiepis. Reg. sed. vac. fol. 33.
  • 37. Ibid. Greenfield, ii, slip between fol. 17 5 and 176.
  • 38. Grave-slab at Jervaulx: should, apparently, be eleventh.
  • 39. York Archiepis. Reg. Greenfield, ii, slip between fol. 175 and 176.
  • 40. a Cal. Pat. 1338-40, p. 178.
  • 41. York Archiepis. Reg. Zpuch, fol. 65.
  • 42. Dugdale, Mon, Angl. v, 567 (Query Me Newby' mentioned 1378, Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 92.)
  • 43. Cal. of Papal Letters, v, 121.
  • 44. York Archiepis. Reg. Scrope, fol. 100b.
  • 45. Ibid. sed. vac. fol. 408.
  • 46. Grave-slab at Jervaulx.
  • 47. York Archiepis. Reg. Kemp, fol. 392b.
  • 48. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 92.
  • 49. a Ibid.
  • 50. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 567.
  • 51. York Archiepis. Reg. G. Nevill, fol. 175
  • 52. Ibid. Bainbridge, fol. 20b.
  • 53. Grave-slab, Middleham Collegiate Ch.
  • 54. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 567.
  • 55. Ibid.
  • 56. Cat. of Seals, B.M. 3315, lxxxiv, 68.
  • 57. Ibid. 3316, lxxiv, 69.