Houses of Cistercian monks: Sawley

Pages 156-158

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

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Sawley Abbey was founded by William Percy II, son of Alan Percy the Great (fn. 1) on 6 January 1147-8, (fn. 2) when Abbot Benedict with twelve monks and ten conversi came from Newminster.

Dr. Whitaker, (fn. 3) however, has printed a charter from the Towneley MSS. (which is not free from certain difficulties), according to which Swain the son of Swain had sold to Robert Abbot of Newminster 11 carucates in 'Sallaia' and land and wood beyond Suaneside and Cliderow, (fn. 4) for the foundation of an abbey of the Cistercian order.

In the foundation charter (fn. 5) William de Percy states that he has given to God and the church of St. Mary, and to Benedict the abbot and the monks of the abbey of Mount St. Andrew, which he had built, Sawley and 'Dudelant,' and ' Helwinesthorp ' and all their appurtenances, as well as a carucate in Rimington, which Norman the son of Huchtred had given them, and two bovates in ' Hilleclaia,' given by Robert his steward, which two latter gifts he confirmed.

Forty years (fn. 6) later a question arose whether the monks would not have to abandon Sawley, owing to their inability to obtain the necessary sustenance from the land, the climate being so cloudy and wet that the crops, when white unto harvest, rotted on the stalk. The Abbot of Clairvaux and the abbots visitors of the house had the matter in consideration, when Maud de Percy, Countess of Warwick, daughter of the founder, in order to save the abbey from demolition or removal, granted the monks the church of St. Mary of Tadcaster with the chapel of Hazlewood, and an annual pension from the chapel of Newton, and a carucate of land at Catton (' in qua secundum carnem nata fui').

William Percy, who according to the Genealogia Perciorum, (fn. 7) printed in the Monasticon, in the account of Sawley, was the great-grandson of the founder, granted his manor of Gisburn in Craven to the abbot and convent, for the maintenance of six monks, who were to be priests, in the abbey, (fn. 8) and in 1313 (fn. 9) his son Henry de Percy, considering their poverty, gave to the abbot and convent the church of St. Andrew of Gargrave. Its value had been 50 marks, but owing to the Scottish wars was in 1320 only 30 marks. (fn. 10) Many other grants were made to the abbey, and several of the deeds relating to them are printed in the Monasticon. (fn. 11)

Unlike other houses of the Cistercian order, the situation of that of Sawley was not secluded, but was by the highway passing north and south. In consequence of this the monks had to show more hospitality to travellers than was perhaps the lot of other houses, and it was specially exposed to the raids made by the Scots.

In 1296 (fn. 12) Stanley Abbey was removed to Whalley, not far from Sawley, and this led to a complaint that the new position of the abbey at Whalley was prejudicial to Sawley, and moreover was in contravention of the customs of the Cistercian order. The monks of Sawley further complained (fn. 13) that the monks of Whalley had obtained a lease of the tithes of the church of Whalley, which the monks of Sawley had hitherto farmed for their maintenance; that the monks of Whalley went round Craven and bought in the Abbot of Sawley's market all kinds of grain, and had thus raised the price of grain; and not only had they to pay a higher price, but they had to carry the grain over 40 or 60 miles of very bad road. Butter and cheese, fish, poultry, salt, iron, &c., since the coming of the monks to Whalley, were sold dearer to the monks of Sawley. The timber, with which the monks of Sawley ought to build and keep up their buildings, was dearer because the monks of Whalley were building, and intended to build for the future, and the sellers of bark (tanae) in those parts, hoping that the monks of Whalley were going to have a big tannery, charged more for bark, in consequence of which the tannery of Sawley was almost destroyed. It may be noted, in passing, that the need of purchasing grain confirms the report of the infertile character of the land about Sawley at that period.

This complaint was dealt with in a general chapter of the Cistercian order in 1305, (fn. 14) when it was decided that if the monks or conversi of either abbey transgressed against the other, the delinquents were, without delay, to be sent to the injured party to be punished in chapter there, at the judgement of the president. If the monks of Whalley had any saleable tithes (decimas venales) which the Abbot and convent of Sawley considered needful for their use, they should be as speedily and freely sold to them as to other persons, but for the price which others would give. The decision might reasonably be expected to have given rise to continual disputes between the two monasteries. There is, however, no evidence that any further disputes actually arose.

On 19 September 1306, (fn. 15) for some reason which so far has not been discovered, Archbishop Greenfield passed sentence of excommunication on John de Houeden, abbot, John de Eton, prior, William de Stokesleye, sub-prior, Robert de Kereby, cellarer, Henry de Bolton, subcellarer, John Tempest, sacrist, Richard de Ebor, sub-sacrist, John de Semer, frater conversorum, Richard de Edesford, bursar, William de Osbal[ton . . .?], William de Nodesaye, porter, Robert de Fontibus (conversus), hostilar, Simon de Lytton (conversus), master of the Forest, Roger de Hoton, master of Tadcaster, and Roger de Crathorn, master of Bereghby.

In 1350 (fn. 16) Pope Clement VI, who in 1343 had ordered that the Jubilee at Rome, first observed in 1300, should be kept every fiftieth year, issued a grant to a monk of Sawley, Richard de Fishwyk, to return to his monastery, which he had left without leave, in order to visit Rome for the general indulgence of the Jubilee of that year. In 1381 (fn. 17) the receipts of the abbey appear to have been £347 14s. 7½d., and the expenditure £355 13s. 10½d. At that time (fn. 18) there were in the abbey besides the abbot sixteen other monks. At the suppression there were twenty-one monks and thirty-seven servants. (fn. 19) In 1412 (fn. 20) the abbot and convent obtained an indult from Pope John XXIII to eat flesh meat on lawful days, whenever they left their monastery for reasonable causes.

The Abbots of Sawley were summoned to Parliament on nine occasions from 1294 to 1307. (fn. 21) According to the Taxatio of 1291, the spiritualities of the abbey were the church of Tadcaster, valued at £36 13s. 4d., and that of Gargrave, valued at £33 6s. 8d. The temporalities of the abbey were valued at £54 10s. (fn. 22)

There is no full account of the possessions of Sawley in the Valor Ecclesiasticus, merely a statement that the clear annual value, in spiritualities and temporalities, reached the sum of £147 3s. 10d. (fn. 23) A rather earlier return, made in 1522-3, (fn. 24) gives the clear annual value at £159 16s. 7d. Sawley Abbey, therefore, came within purview of the earlier Act, 27 Henry VIII, cap. 28, which dissolved all the monasteries whose annual revenue was below £200. In 1536 (fn. 25) Thomas Bolton was abbot, but William Trafford must have succeeded him in that year, for he took part as abbot (with his prior) in the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536. (fn. 26) There is no record of his election in the York Registers, and it was possibly never formally confirmed. On 10 March 1537 (fn. 27) he was hanged at Lancaster for high treason. Abbot Trafford (fn. 28) belonged to an old Lancashire family, and was the second son of Sir John Trafford of Trafford, by Elizabeth daughter of Sir Thomas Assheton of Ashton-under-Lyne.

Among the Suppression Papers (fn. 29) one records the 'goodes praysed at Sawlaye and gyven by the Kinges highnes unto Sir Arthur Darcy Knight' as follows: ' Belles, lead, vestymentes and copes, and other necessaries praysed unto' £109 10s. 11d. 'Item. Corne in the garners, and in the ffeldes' £62 15s. 4d.; total £172 6s. 3d. In another paper, much of which is lost, (fn. 30) the total of the stock and goods reaches the sum of £300 12s. 7d.

Abbots Of Sawley

Benedict, 1147 (fn. 31)

Geoffrey de Eston, 1186 (fn. 32)

Adam, before 1193 (fn. 33)

Stephen, occurs 1226, (fn. 34) 1230 (fn. 35)

Walter, occurs c. 1236 (fn. 36)

Warin, occurs 1246, (fn. 37) 1255 (fn. 38)

William (?) (fn. 39)

Hugh, occurs 1265, (fn. 40) 1269 (fn. 41)

Thomas, occurs 1278, (fn. 42) 1280, (fn. 43) 1290, (fn. 44) de Driffield (fn. 45)

Roger, occurs 1299, (fn. 46) 1302 (fn. 47)

John de Houedon, confirmed 1303, (fn. 48) excommunicated 1306, (fn. 49) absolved 1313 (fn. 50)

John de Heton, confirmed 1321 (fn. 51)

John, occurs 1351, (fn. 52) John de Gisburne, 1354 (fn. 53)

Geoffrey, occurs 1366 (fn. 54)

John, occurs 1372, (fn. 55) 1381, (fn. 56) 1394 (fn. 57)

William, (fn. 58) 1418

William, occurs 1433, (fn. 59) 1443, (fn. 60) William de Ingylton, died 1453 (fn. 61)

Thomas Bradley, 1453, (fn. 62) died 1467 (fn. 63)

Robert Wode, 1467 (fn. 64)

William Holden, confirmed 1468 (fn. 65)

Richard, occurs 1480 (fn. 66)

Thomas Burton, confirmed 1502 (fn. 67)

Henry Hammond, occurs 1506 (fn. 68)

Thomas Bolton, confirmed 1527, (fn. 69) occurs 1 January 1536 (fn. 70)

William Trafford, 1537 (fn. 71) last abbot

A 12th-century seal (fn. 72) of the abbot is a small vesica, 15/8 in. by 1 in., showing his figure at full length holding crozier and book. The legend—


is carelessly cut, the two last words being reversed.


  • 1. Whitby Chartul. 688, n. 7; Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 516, no. xxii.
  • 2. Harl. MS. 112 (Chartulary of Sawley), fol. 1.
  • 3. Hist. of Craven, 36.
  • 4. Dr. Whitaker's suggestion that Cliderow is probably an error for Grindleton seems not unlikely.
  • 5. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 512.
  • 6. Ibid. no. v, ' per quadraginta annos et amplius.'
  • 7. Ibid. v, 511 n.
  • 8. a Percy Chartul. (Surt. Soc.), 145.
  • 9. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 512, no. iv.
  • 10. Harland, Hist. Acct. of Salley Abbey, 8.
  • 11. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 512-15.
  • 12. Ibid. 639.
  • 13. Ibid. 641.
  • 14. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 641.
  • 15. York Archiepis. Reg. Greenfield, fol. 76b; see also fol. 57b.
  • 16. Cal. of Papal Letters, iii, 382.
  • 17. Harland, Hist. Acct. of Salley Abbey, 25; quoting Whitaker.
  • 18. Subs. R. 63, no. 12.
  • 19. K.R. Aug. Views of Accts. belle. 17.
  • 20. Cal. of Papal Letters, vi, 391.
  • 21. Harland, Hist. Acct. of Salley Abbey, 43.
  • 22. Ibid. 36.
  • 23. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), v, 144.
  • 24. Subs. R. 64, no. 300.
  • 25. Aug. Off. Views of Accts. bdle. 17.
  • 26. Harland, Hist. Acct. of Salley Abbey, 48.
  • 27. Ibid.
  • 28. Ibid. 47.
  • 29. Suppression P. iii, no. 62.
  • 30. Ibid. 75.
  • 31. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 511.
  • 32. Ibid.
  • 33. Harland, Hist. Acct. of Salley Abbey, 42 (temp. Robt de Lacy, who died that year).
  • 34. Archbp. Grey's Reg. (Surt. Soc.), 328.
  • 35. York Archiepis. Reg. Greenfield, fol. 85; as a witness, ' S.'
  • 36. Anct. D. (P.R.O.), A. 317; is a co-witness with Sir Richard, then Abbot of Roche. For reasons stated under Roche Abbot Richard's date has been put at 1228-44.
  • 37. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 190.
  • 38. a Percy Chartul. (Surt. Soc.), 52.
  • 39. Ibid. 90.
  • 40. Whitaker, Hist. of Craven, 56.
  • 41. Feet of F. Trin. 53 Hen. III, file 53, no. 20.
  • 42. Ibid.
  • 43. Ibid. file 60, no. 116, 132.
  • 44. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 511.
  • 45. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 190.
  • 46. Ibid.
  • 47. Ibid.
  • 48. York Archiepis. Reg. Corbridge, fol. 16b.
  • 49. Ibid. Greenfield, fol. 57b.
  • 50. Ibid. fol. 76b.
  • 51. Ibid. Melton, slip between fol. 152 and 153.
  • 52. Cal. of Papal Letters, iii, 407.
  • 53. Ibid. 534.
  • 54. Harland, Hist. Acct. of Salley Abbey, 42, who says that he was sponsor to Thomas Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham, in that year.
  • 55. Harl. MS. 112, fol. 51 d.
  • 56. Harland, Hist. Acct. of Salley Abbey, 42.
  • 57. a Harl. MS. 112, fol. 107 d.
  • 58. Ibid.; but query whether he was prior only.
  • 59. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 190.
  • 60. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 511.
  • 61. York Archiepis. Reg. W. Booth, fol. 381b.
  • 62. Ibid. An account of his election was sent to the archbishop by the Abbot of Newminster.
  • 63. Ibid. G. Nevill, fol. 15b.
  • 64. Ibid.
  • 65. Ibid. fol. 108b.
  • 66. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 511.
  • 67. York Archiepis. Reg. Savage, fol. 89b.
  • 68. Harland, Hist. Acct. of Salley Abbey, 42.
  • 69. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 511.
  • 70. Aug. Views of Accts. bdle. 17.
  • 71. Harland, Hist. Acct. of Salley Abbey, 48.
  • 72. Cat. of Seals, B.M. 3965, lxxv, 5.