Houses of Cistercian monks: Roche

Pages 153-156

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

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The abbey of Roche derived its name ' de Rupe ' from a supposed miraculous sculpture of a crucifix, found by one of the monks on a rock, adjacent to which the monastery was afterwards built. (fn. 1) It was the joint foundation of Richard de Buili and Richard Fitz Turgis, who gave two adjoining sites, divided by a small stream, agreeing with each other that both should be accounted founders, irrespective of the position selected for the abbey buildings.

The site actually selected was that granted by Richard de Buili on the Maltby side of the stream, and the monks who colonized it came from Newminster, the abbot of which, in consequence, became the pater abbas of Roche. (fn. 2)

On 7 April 1186 Pope Urban II confirmed to Osmund, the fifth abbot, and his monks some twenty gifts of land, in addition to the sites given for the building of the abbey by the two co-founders.

John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, regarding the magnificence of the stonework of the abbey, and also the paucity of its monks, gave the church of Hatfield to the abbey for the main tenance of thirteen additional monks, (fn. 3) and on 13 May 1346 (fn. 4) Archbishop Zouch made a formal appropriation of Hatfield Church to the abbey, and ordained a perpetual vicarage in the church. Hatfield Church was the only spirituality which the abbey of Roche possessed. (fn. 5) The abbey also obtained many other gifts of land and other properties, which are set out alphabetically in detail by Burton. (fn. 6)

Not much is known of the internal affairs of the house until the period of the Dissolution. The patronage, which had descended to John son of William Lyvett of Hooton Levitt, was sold on 20 February 1377-8 to Richard Barry, citizen and merchant of London. (fn. 7) In 1380-1 the abbot was taxed at 45s. 0¼d., Hugh Bastard was prior, and he and twelve other monks forming the convent were taxed at 3s. 4d. each; there was one conversus taxed at 12d. At the time of Pope Nicholas's taxation, a century earlier, the only spirituality was Hatfield Church, valued at £46 13s. 4d., while the temporalities amounted to £138 11s. 10d. In the Valor Ecclesiasticus, the church of Hatfield was set down at £41 14s. 8d., and the temporalities at £220 4s. 8d., making a total of £260 19s. 4d. Among the ' Elemosina' was £1 distributed every Maundy Thursday, 29s. for wax daily burnt before the sacrament of the altar, of the foundation of Richard Furnival, and 5s. yearly on the obit of Thomas de Bellewe.

Drs. Layton and Legh reported in 1536 that pilgrimage was made to the image of the crucifix discovered (as it was believed) in the rock, and that it was held in veneration. Charges of gross immorality, as usual, were brought against five of the monks, (fn. 8) and another monk, John Robynson, suspected of treason, was imprisoned at York, but his signature is appended to the deed of surrender with those of the other seventeen monks, who with their abbot were supposed to have signed the document in the chapter-house on 23 June 1538. (fn. 9)

The abbot was assigned £33 6s. 8d. as his yearly pension, and was to have his books, the fourth part of the plate, the cattle and household stuff, a chalice and vestment and £30 in money at his departure. The sub-prior (Thomas Twell) received a pension of £6 14s. 8d. and the bursar (John Dodesworth), one of the monks charged with gross misconduct in the notorious comperta, £6. Eleven other monks who were priests received £5 each; and four novices 66s. 8d. each. (fn. 10)

By far the most important and interesting document relating to Dissolution times is a graphic account of the despoiling of the monastic buildings, written in 1591. (fn. 11) No doubt it describes scenes which, with varying details, took place all over the country after the dissolution of the religious houses.

So soon [the account reads] as the Visitors were entred within the gates, they called the Abbot and other officers of the House, and caused them to deliver up to them all their keys and took an inventory of all their goods both within doors and without; for all such beasts, horses, sheep, and such cattle as were abroad in pastures or grange places, the Visitors caused to be brought into their presence: and when they had done so, turned the Abbot with all his convent and household forth out of doors.

Which thing was not a little grief to the Convent, and all the servants of the House departing one from another, and especially such as with their conscience could not break their profession; for it would have made a heart of flint to have melted and wept to have seen the breaking up of the House, and their sorrowful departing, and the sudden spoil that fell the same day of their departure from the House. And every person had every good thing cheap, except the poor Monks, Friars, and Nuns, that had no money to bestow of anything: as it appeared by the suppression of an Abbey hard by me, called the Roche Abbey, a House of White Monks: a very fair builded House, all of freestone; and every house vaulted with freestone and covered with lead (as the Abbeys was in England as well as the Churches be). At the breaking up whereof an Uncle of mine was present, being well acquainted with certain of the monks there . . . But such persons as afterward bought their corn and hay or such like, found all the doors either open, or the locks and shackles plucked away, or the door itself taken away, went in and took what they found, filched it away. Some took the Service Books that lied in the Church, and laid them upon their wain coppes to piece the same: some took windows of the Hayleith and hid them in their hay; and likewise they did of many other things: for some pulled forth the iron hooks out of the walls that bought none, when the yeomen and the gentlemen of the country had bought the timber of the Church. For the Church was the first thing that was put to the spoil; and then the Abbot's lodging, Dorter, and Frater, with the cloister and all the buildings thereabout within the Abbey walls; for nothing was spared but the oxhouses and swinecoates, and such other house of office, that stood without the walls; which had more favour showed them than the very Church itself: which was done by the advice of Cromwell, as Fox reporteth in his Book of Acts and Monuments. It would have pitied any heart to see what tearing up of lead there was, and plucking up of boards, and throwing down of the sparres: when the lead was torn off and cast down into the Church, and the tombs in the Church all broken (for in most abbeys were divers noble men and women, yea and in some Abbeys, Kings, whose tombs were regarded no more than the tombs of all other inferior persons: for to what end should they stand, when the Church over them was not spared for their cause), and all things of price either spoiled, caryed away, or defaced to the uttermost.

The persons that cast the lead into the fodders, plucked up all the seats in the choir, wherein the monks sat when they said service, which were like to the seats in minsters, and burned them and melted the lead therewith all: although there was wood plenty within a flight shot of them; for the Abbey stood among the woods and the rocks of stone: in which rocks was pewter vessels that was conveyed away and there hid; that it seemeth that every person bent himself to filch and spoil what he could: yea, even such persons were content to spoil them, that seemed not two days before to allow their religion and do great worship and reverence at their Mattins, Masses, and other Service, and all other their doings: which is a strange thing to say, that they that could this day think it to be the House of God, and the next day the House of the Devil; or else they would not have been so ready to have spoiled it. For the better proof of my saying, I demanded of my father, thirty years after the Suppression, which had bought part of the timber of the Church, and all the timber in the steeple, with the bell-frame, with others his partners therein (in the which steeple hung viii, yea ix bells; whereof the least but, one could not be bought at this day for xxli, which bells I did see hang there myself more than a year after the Suppression), whether he thought well of the Religious persons and of the Religion then used? And he told me, Yea: for, said he, I did see no cause to the contrary. Well, said I, then how came it to pass that you was so ready to destroy and spoil the, thing that you thought well of? What should I do? said he. Might I not as well as others have some profit of the spoil of the Abbey? for I did see all would away; and therefore I did as others did.

Abbots Of Roche

Durand (first abbot), 30 July 1147, ruled twelve years

Denis (1159), ruled twelve years

Roger de Tickhill (1171), ruled eight years

Hugh de Wadworth (1179), ruled five years

Osmund (1184), ruled twenty-nine (?) years

Reynold (1213?), occurs 1223, (fn. 12) ruled fifteen years

Richard (1228?), occurs 1229, 1240-1, ruled sixteen years

Walter (1244?), occurs 1246-7, ruled fourteen years

Alan (1258?)


Philip, occurs 1276-7 (fn. 13)

Robert, (fn. 14) occurs 1280-1, 1282

Thomas, (fn. 15) confirmed 1286

Stephen, (fn. 16) confirmed 3 November 1286, occurs 1293 (fn. 17)

Robert, (fn. 18) confirmed 18 December 1299

John, (fn. 19) confirmed 30 May 1300

William, (fn. 20) confirmed 9 December 1324

Adam de Gykeleswyk, (fn. 21) confirmed 4 November 1330

John, (fn. 22) occurs 1341

Adam, (fn. 23) confirmed 1347 (?)

Simon de Bankwell, (fn. 24) confirmed 25 October 1349

John de Aston, (fn. 25) confirmed 1358

John de Dunelmia, (fn. 26) occurs 1364

Robert (fn. 27) de Kesseburg, (fn. 28) elected 1396, occurs 1404 (fn. 29)

William, (fn. 30) occurs 1413, 1438

John Wakefield, (fn. 31) confirmed 1438

John Gray, (fn. 32) confirmed 1465, resigned 1479

William Tykell, (fn. 33) 1479

Thomas Thurne, (fn. 34) 1486

William Burton, (fn. 35) confirmed 29 February 1488

John Merpath, (fn. 36) confirmed 1491

John Heslington, (fn. 37) confirmed 1503

Henry Cundal, last abbot

The 15th-century seal (fn. 38) is a vesica, 2 in. by 1¼ in. It is much damaged. The device appears to be a figure of our Lady, the patron saint. The legend cannot be read.

A seal (fn. 39) of a 13th-century abbot is a vesica, 15/8 in. by 11/8 in., with a full length figure of him, holding crozier and book, between on either side a crescent and two stars. The legend is:



  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 505.
  • 2. John de Buili confirmed his father's gift, and allowed the monks to inclose the land between ' Maltebi' (Maltby) and 'Sanbec ' (Sandbeck) except two roads, viz. ' Bolgate' and the road from Blida (Blythe); B.M. Add. Chart. 20583.
  • 3. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 502 n.; Cal. Pat. 1345-8, P. 16.
  • 4. York Archiepis. Reg. Zouch, fol. 13.
  • 5. It is remarkable that in the taxation of 1291 the church of Hatfield is set down as appropriated to Roche Abbey; Pope Nick. Tax (Rec. Com.), 299.
  • 6. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 319-23.
  • 7. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 501.
  • 8. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, p. 138.
  • 9. Ibid. xiii (1), 1248.
  • 10. Ibid. (2), App. 25.
  • 11. Ellis, Orig. Letters (Ser. 3), iii, 32-4, from Miss Graham, St. Gilbert of Sempringham and the Gilbertines, 199-202.
  • 12. Lincs. Fines, 165.
  • 13. Pat. 5 Edw. I, m. 18d. All the preceding names are derived from the ' Successio Abbatum,' printed from the copy in St. Mary's Tower (Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 505, no. xiv). A thirty-nine years' rule is assigned to Abbot Osmund, which would bring the date of the accession of Reynold (who ruled fifteen years) to 1223, and the accession of Richard, the immediate successor of Reynold, to the year 1238. It is known, however, that Abbot Richard was in office in 1229 (Cal. Pat. 1225-32, p. 305). Probably xxxix is an error for xxix, as the number of years during which Abbot Osmund was abbot. This seems to bring all into order, and is therefore followed. This document also states that in the abbacy of Hugh de Waddeworth the house became heavily indebted to the Jews, and that in the time of Osmund the fifth abbot, who had been cellarer of Fountains, King Richard released to the house 1,300 marks owed to the Jews.
  • 14. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 183.
  • 15. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 501.
  • 16. York Archiepis. Reg. Romanus, fol. 11, 29.
  • 17. a Cal Close, 1288-96, p. 323.
  • 18. York Archiepis. Reg. Corbridge, fol. 8.
  • 19. Ibid. fol. 42.
  • 20. Ibid. Melton, slip between fol. 162 and 163.
  • 21. Ibid. slip between fol. 187 and 188.
  • 22. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 184.
  • 23. York Archiepis. Reg. Zouch, slip between fol. 118 and 119.
  • 24. Ibid. fol. 13.
  • 25. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 501.
  • 26. York Archiepis. Reg. Thoresby, fol. 131. There appears to have been a sentence of the papal court (not here recorded) in a case of John de Dunelmia, ' se asserens abbatem monasterii de Rupe,' against a certain brother John de Retford, 'pro monacho dicti monasterii se gerentem.' It looks as if John de Retford had done harm to the goods of the monastery and its abbatial dignity, besides molesting John de Dunelmia. It may have been a dispute as to the priorship, but the entry in the Register does not say. The archbishop was one of the commissioners delegated to pronounce the sentence of the court.
  • 27. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 501.
  • 28. Test. Ebor. i, 213.
  • 29. Cal. of Papal Letters, v, 626.
  • 30. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 183.
  • 31. York Archiepis. Reg. Kemp, fol. 392.
  • 32. York Archiepis. Reg. Geo. Nevill, fol. 11.
  • 33. Ibid. L. Booth, fol 104.
  • 34. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 501.
  • 35. York Archiepis. Reg. Rotherham, i, fol. 232.
  • 36. Ibid. fol. 241.
  • 37. Ibid. Savage, fol. 96.
  • 38. Cat. of Seals, B.M. 3917, lxxv, 3.
  • 39. Ibid. 3918, lxxii, 99.