Premonstratensian houses: Abbey of Coverham

Pages 243-245

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

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Towards the end of the reign of Henry II, Helewise, daughter and heiress of Ranulph de Glanville, chief justice of England, founded a monastery of Premonstratensian canons at Swainby in the parish of Pickhill, (fn. 1) with the consent of her son and heir, Waleran, then living. She died in 1195 and was buried at Swainby, but afterwards her remains were removed to Coverham and buried in the chapter house. The first foundation at Swainby is said to have been in the year 1190, but there is evidently an error in the date in the account of the foundation of the house, printed by Dugdale from a roll in St. Mary's Tower, York, (fn. 2) for Henry II, who confirmed the gifts made to the canons of Swainby, died in July 1189. There is, however, no reason to doubt the other statements in the account. The roll goes on to relate that Ralph the son of Robert, lord of Middleham, removed the canons to Coverham, (fn. 3) and granted them the church of Coverham, and many lands and tenements by fine in the king's court in 14 John (1212-13). The charter of Henry II is set out in full in an inspeximus of 22 Edward III (fn. 4) (1338-9), by which it appears that Henry II confirmed the gifts described as those of Waleran (Helewise's son) to the church of St. Mary of ' Sweinesby ' and the canons there. These were the church of Coverham, the land of Swainby, 16 acres in Kettlewell, with pasturage there for 1,000 sheep and 40 beasts, with tithes and lands elsewhere, all of which his mother had given to the canons.

After the removal to Coverham in 1212, gifts of land in several other places were made to the canons. These are arranged in alphabetical order by Burton. (fn. 5) Besides their temporal possessions, the church of Downholme was given to them about 1300 by the Scropes of Bolton, and the gift was confirmed by Archbishop, Corbridge, but no vicarage was ordained. (fn. 6) They also became possessed, but when or by whom it was given is unknown, of a moiety of the church of Kettlewell. It must have been early in their history, for according to Burton (fn. 7) the canons presented to this moiety in 1229, although in the printed volume of Archbishop Gray's Register (fn. 8) no mention is made of their presentation, and it is said that the patronage was in dispute. The other moiety of the church belonged to the patronage of the Lords Gray of Rotherfield, and on 4 December 1344 (fn. 9) this moiety was appropriated by the archbishop's authority to the abbey, and a perpetual vicarage with cure of souls was ordained in the patronage of the abbot and convent. In 1388, the moieties of the church having become united in the possession of Coverham, Archbishop Alexander Nevill made a new appropriation of Kettlewell to the abbey, reserving annual pensions of 8s. 4d. to the archbishop, and 5s. to the Dean and Chapter of York. The vicar was to have the rectorial mansion and £5 annually from the abbot and convent.

Sedbergh Church was given to the abbey by Sir Ralph le Scrope, and a perpetual vicarage ordained there in 1332. (fn. 10) The abbey also possessed the church of Seaham in the bishopric of Durham. (fn. 11)

From a licence in mortmain granted by Edward II in 1331-2, (fn. 12) it appears that the abbey had been destroyed by the Scots, who had also greatly impoverished its possessions.

In 1350 (fn. 13) one of the canons, John de Eboraco, like many other religious in other houses, left his monastery, without leave of his superior, in order to visit Rome and obtain the general indulgence offered to those who went there for the Jubilee. On 1 May 1351 he obtained from Pope Clement VI leave to return to his monastery which he had left in the August previous.

In 1380-1, (fn. 14) besides the abbot, who was taxed at 15s. 9d., there were fifteen canons taxed at 3s. 4d. each, and one conversus taxed at 12d.

The list of the community in 1475 shows, besides the abbot, sixteen canons and two novices; (fn. 15) of the canons all held some office; one was parish priest, others were vicars of Kettlewell, Sedbergh, Thoralby, Redmire, and Downholme; the obedientiaries mentioned are sub-prior, subcellarer (neither prior nor cellarer is entered), cantor, succentor, sacrist, sub-sacrist, circator, fraterer, and storekeeper. On the occasion of Bishop Redman's visitation in 1478, the abbey of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Coverham was recorded to be a daughter of the abbey of Newhouse. (fn. 16) At this visitation one of the canons confessed incontinence, another accused of the same offence was acquitted, and a third, about whose life, while vicar of Sedbergh, suspicion had arisen, was unanimously given a good character. Silence and other ceremonial observances were not well kept, but the bishop evidently had a good opinion of the abbot, John Bromfeld, as he appointed him his sub-delegate for the north. (fn. 17) A visitation in 1482 (fn. 18) revealed no faults of importance, but in 1486 one canon was punished for incontinence, another, apparently a novice, had abandoned the order and was expelled, and the sub-prior was rebuked for laxity and not rising for matins. (fn. 19) Two years later, in December 1488, John Bromfeld resigned the abbacy (fn. 20) and John Askogh was elected in his place. The ex-abbot was assigned a pension of 20 marks, a room, a liberal allowance of food, two attendants, and the use of the abbot's horses; he was also exempted from attendance in quire, and was allowed to visit his friends when he chose. (fn. 21) The generous provision made for the ex-abbot proved demoralizing, and in 1491 (fn. 22) Bishop Red man found that he had incurred by his demerits certain punishment which the bishop remitted on promise of amendment; Another canon was also restored to the position which he had forfeited, and the visitor gave great praise to Abbot Askogh for his good rule, and especially for the way in which he had restored the buildings. At his visitations in 1494, 1497, and 1500, (fn. 23) the bishop found the abbey in excellent condition, the convent on the last occasion thanking God that they had chosen so good an abbot.

In 26 Henry VIII (1534-5) (fn. 24) the total value of the abbey was £207 11s. 8d., and the clear annual value £160 18s. 3d. The temporalities were wholly derived from property in Yorkshire, and amounted to £116 14s. 8d. (This included £12 allowed for the site of the abbey and its demesnes.) The spiritualities were the churches already named, viz., Coverham £20, Sedbergh £41 10s., Downholme £7 10s., Kettlewell £8 10s., and Seaham in Durham £13 10s.

Among the reprises were alms (fn. 25) given for the soul of Ralph, Earl of Westmorland, 20s; and 40s. given to poor folk on Maundy Thursday, according to ancient custom, in bread and red and white herrings, and money to boys (pueris), hermits, and other poor folk.

The gift of the church of Coverham to the abbey involved the cure of souls in the parish, and among the conventual leases relating to Coverham there is an indenture dated 9 April 1530 (fn. 26) between the Abbot and convent of Coverham and fifty-two persons, mostly heads of families in the parish, as to service in the chapel of Horsehouse. It witnesses that the abbot and convent . . ' is fully agreyd yt a Brother off ye foresayd monastery off Coverham shall remane and mynyster the servyce off God, yt is to say Matyns, Messe, and Evynsong, at ye chapell off Sanct Botulphe at Horshows, except syche days as hayth bene accustomyd before tyme to cum downe to ye parysche chyrche, at ye commandment off ye aforesayd Abbot or Curatt. So yt ye dewtes belongyng to the ye parysche chyrche be no thyng mynesched. Yt is agreyd yt ye days off custom is Cristymes day, Candyllmes day, Palme Sunday, Ester day, Weit Sonday, Trynyte Sonday, and the dedication day, wt other days necessary for ye well off ye chyrche, and helthe off yr sowles, and that ye aforesayd abbot and convent schall pay 3erely to the afore sayd Brother iiij nobles off ye party, and the aforesayd nabores and yr successores schall pay 3erely to y fore sayd brother iiij marcs, at fower tymes in ye 3ere, by evyn porcons, by fower men apontyd by ye sayd abbott & brotheres,' &c.

In the Minister's Accounts of Christopher Mansell for the year 27-8 Henry VIII, (fn. 27) the demesne lands of Coverham were valued at £13 19s;. 10d.; they included a close called 'Cristecrosse' and a water-mill. The temporalities, which were derived from lands in a number of parishes, mostly in Richmondshire or the neighbourhood, realized £81 5s. 7d., while the spiritualities, comprising the rectories of Coverham (£26), of Sedbergh (£50), of Downholme (£7 16s. 8d.) of Kettle well (£ 10 9s. 4d.), and Seaham (£14 13s. 4d.), reached £108 19s. 4d.

There were reprises, £6 to the chaplain of Redmire, 100s. to the chaplain of Thoralby, and the same to the chaplains of Downholme and Coverham, the latter being also styled parish curate. It is said that nothing was paid to the chaplain celebrating in the chapel of St. Botolph, called Horsehouse, beyond 3s. 4d. paid by the inhabitants of Coverdale of the 26s. 8d. annually due, according to the agreement between them and the abbot and convent, because the Prior of Coverham had paid it.

Drs. Layton and Legh (fn. 28) recorded that the abbot and convent had the iron girdle (cingulum) of Marie Nevell offered to women in child-bed, and that the abbot Christopher Rokesby was 'vehemently suspected' of incontinence.

Abbots of Coverham

Philip, occurs 1202 (fn. 29)

Conan, occurs 1222-31 (fn. 30)

John, occurs 1252 (fn. 31)

William, occurs 1262 (fn. 32)

Nicholas, occurs 1287 (fn. 33)

John, occurs 1300, (fn. 34) also 1307 (fn. 35)

Bernard, occurs circa 1320 (fn. 36)

William de Aldeburg, confirmed 1331 (fn. 37)

Gilbert, occurs between 1345 and 1348 (fn. 38)

Robert, occurs 1351 (fn. 39)

Elias, occurs 1371 (fn. 40)

John, occurs 1406, (fn. 41) 1414, (fn. 42) 1415 (fn. 43)

Cuthbert de Rydemer, confirmed 21 May 1414, (fn. 44) occurs 1426 and 1430 (fn. 45)

Gauden, occurs 1435, (fn. 46) 1437 (fn. 47)

John Bromfeld or Brownflete, confirmed 1470, (fn. 48) resigned 1488

John Askogh, confirmed 1488 (fn. 49)

Thomas Sides, confirmed 1511 (fn. 50)

Christopher Salley, confirmed 1519 (fn. 51)

Christopher Halton, confirmed 1521 (fn. 52)

Christopher Rokesby, 1528 (fn. 53)


  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. vi, 920.
  • 2. Ibid. no. i.
  • 3. Coverham is r I miles from Swainby in a direct line, and considerably farther by any possible road. The connexion of the canons of Swainby with Coverham before they were moved there is indicated by the foundation gift of Coverham Church to the canons. The site of the original monastery at Swainby is marked ' Site of Priory' on the one-inch map of the Ordnance Survey, 1870. In 1840 it was said that ' no traces of the building now remain, except in the unevenness of the ground where it is supposed to have stood.'—White, Hist. Gazetteer and Dir. of the E. & N. Ridings, 569.
  • 4. Dugdale, loc. cit. no. ii.
  • 5. Mon. Ebor. 418-25.
  • 6. Ibid. 419.
  • 7. Ibid. 420.
  • 8. Archbishop Gray's Reg. (Surt. Sdc.), 20.
  • 9. Burton, op. cit. 420.
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. Burton, op. cit. 425 (a wrong pagination for 421).
  • 12. Dugdale, op. cit. vi, 921, no. ii.
  • 13. Cal. of Papal Letters, iii, 386.
  • 14. Subs. R. (P.R.O.), bdle. 63, no. 12.
  • 15. Gasquet, Coll, Anglo-Premonstratensiana (Roy. Hist. Soc.), 310.
  • 16. Ibid. 311.
  • 17. Ibid. 312.
  • 18. Ibid. 314.
  • 19. Ibid. 316.
  • 20. Ibid. 60, 319.
  • 21. Ibid. 69.
  • 22. Ibid. 322.
  • 23. Ibid. 324, 327, 328.
  • 24. Burton, op. cit. 425 (for 421).
  • 25. Ibid. 422.
  • 26. Conventual Leases, Yorks. (P.R.O.) no. 142.
  • 27. Mins. Accts. Yorks. 27-8 Hen. VIII, 119, m. 5.
  • 28. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, p. 137.
  • 29. Yorks. Fines, John (Surt. Soc.), 72.
  • 30. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 34.
  • 31. Ibid.
  • 32. Ibid.
  • 33. Ibid.
  • 34. York Archiepis. Reg. Corbridge, slip betw. fol. 59 and fol. 60.
  • 35. Baildon's MS. Notes.
  • 36. Occurs in a notice dated ' apud Sanctam Agatham die Lune in crastino Sancti Bartholomei' in conjunction with John, Abbot of Newhouse, and Thomas, Abbot of Egglestone, recording the election of Nigel de Ireby as Abbot of Easby, in succession to Abbot Philip, resigned, but no year is mentioned. York Archiepis. Reg. Melton, fol. 445b.
  • 37. Ibid. fol. 452.
  • 38. Cal. Pat. 1345-8, p. 453.
  • 39. Assize R. 1129, m. 17.
  • 40. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 34.
  • 41. a Cott. MS. Nero, D. iii, fol. 52.
  • 42. Baildon, loc. cit.
  • 43. Ibid.
  • 44. York Archiepis. Reg. Bowett, fol. 30b.
  • 45. Yorks. D. (Yorks. Arch. Rec.), 141.
  • 46. Baildon, loc. cit.
  • 47. Baildon's MS. Notes.
  • 48. York Archiepis. Reg. G. Nevill, fol. 121.
  • 49. Ibid. Rotherham, i, fol. 58.
  • 50. Ibid. Bainbridge, fol. 21.
  • 51. Ibid. Wolsey, fol. 42b.
  • 52. Ibid. fol. 54b.
  • 53. Dugdale, op. cit. vi, 920. (On 6 Apr. 1586, a witness in a lawsuit, whose memory extended for sixty years, mentioned two abbots, Horseman and Raper, of Coverham, as within his recollection. It would seem that those names were probably aliases for Halton and Rokesby, respectively. Other witnesses mentioned Abbot Horseman.—Exch. Dep. East. 28 Eliz. no. 3.)