Premonstratensian houses: Egglestone Abbey

Pages 249-251

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

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The Praemonstratensian abbey of St. John the Baptist of Egglestone lay in the parish of Rokeby on the extreme northern edge of the ancient earldom of Richmond. Documentary and structural evidence points to the years 1195 to 1198 as a probable date, and a member of the Multon family was in all likelihood the original donor. Camden says Conan IV, Duke of Britanny and Earl of Richmond, founded this house, but as he died in 1171 this is not probable. The first document relating to Egglestone is a fine, dated 1198, between Ralph Multon and his overlord Ralph Lenham on account of the former having alienated all the lands which he held of him at Egglestone without his sanction to the abbot and convent there. This Ralph Multon was probably the founder. (fn. 2) Ralph Lenham confirmed Multon's gift to the abbot, to be held of him in perpetuity for the annual payment of 6 marks of silver for the sixth part of one knight's fee for all services; for this concession Ralph Multon gave 15 marks. (fn. 3) About 1200 Gilbert Lee conveyed to the abbey the manor of Kilvington, for the support of nine canons in addition to those already there (probably three). We find, in consequence, that in 1478 the abbey was said to have been founded in 1200 by Gilbert de Leya. (fn. 4) This gift led to a serious dispute in 1248, when Philip son of Gilbert claimed that the nine canons should be of his presentation, and produced a charter to that effect from Abbot Nicholas, complaining that owing to the refusal of his nominees he had suffered damage to the extent of 40 marks. The jury found that the charter of Nicholas had not been signed with the common seal, but nevertheless in 1251 Philip's claims were recognized and a compromise arrived at, and the abbot paid £5 for all arrears and damages incurred by the loss of service due from the knight's fee. Robert Stichill, Bishop of Durham (1260-74), confirmed Gilbert's grant of Kilvington, reserving to the church of Thornton-le-Street in fee farm the sum of 5 marks a year. In 1272 John of Britanny, Earl of Richmond, founded a chantry for six chaplains, to be supplied from Egglestone, to celebrate divine service daily in the chapel of Richmond Castle. For its maintenance he gave property in Moulton worth £25 yearly.

Egglestone Abbey remained very poor, and taxes in arrear were remitted from time to time, £27 8s. 4½d. in 1318, £16 2s. 7d. in 1328, and £3 13s.4d. in 1333. Various archbishops tried to assist the abbey by authorizing the appropriation of churches. In 1330 Archbishop Melton, for the yearly payment of 2s., allowed the abbey and convent to appropriate the church of Startforth, given them early in the 13th century by Helen of Hastings. In 1340 Maud, widow of Brian Fitz Alan, granted the advowson of Rokeby Church and lands there, and this was also appropriated in 1342 by the leave of Archbishop Zouch. In 1348, to compensate for damage done by the royal army before the battle of Neville's Cross, Sir Thomas Rokeby gave the church of Great Ouseburn, and the same archbishop authorized its appropriation for 15s. a year. Sir Thomas Fencotes gave the abbey the advowson of Bentham Church with £10 a year in 1357, but notwithstanding these additions to their income the abbey was removed from the Clerical Subsidy Roll in 1380. Thomas Greenwood, canon of York, left 26s. 8d. to the 'poor ' monastery to pray for his soul in 1421. In 1535 all the temporalities and spiritualities of Egglestone amounted to £65 12s. 6d. The total expenses of the abbey, including £3 6s. 8d., to each of the chaplains at Startforth, Ellerton, Romaldkirk, and Richmond, amounted to £28 18s. 3d., leaving a net income of £36 8s. 3d.

Of the internal history of the abbey we have a few particulars. About 1285 a report reached the Abbot of Prémontré that the Abbot of Egglestone had been guilty of incontinence. (fn. 5) Commissioners were at once sent to inquire into the matter and found that the whole scandal had been concocted by three canons. Of these the chief offender was already doing penance at Welbeck for other misdeeds, and was now sentenced to be banished to 'some fardistant church of the order'; the second canon was sent to Torre Abbey, in Devon; and the third was to do penance at Egglestone. (fn. 6) Some twenty years later there was again dissension in the house. William de C. seems to have resigned the abbacy, possibly under pressure, about 1309, and to have been treated by his successor and the canons with harshness, his good name defamed, and himself expelled from the abbey. The Abbot of Prémontré therefore ordered the Abbots of Dale and St. Agatha's to go to Egglestone and persuade the brethren to receive their late abbot back as a member of their house; failing this they were to place him in Welbeck Abbey at the expense of Egglestone. (fn. 7) The Abbot of St. Agatha's apparently thought that there was something to be said on the other side; (fn. 8) and in any case the convent of Egglestone refused either to receive William de C. or to pay for him. The Abbot of Welbeck likewise refused to take him in without pay, (fn. 9) and two or three years passed before the unfortunate man found a home in the abbey of Torre. (fn. 10)

Bishop Redman visited Egglestone in 1478, when he found little to complain of except that some of the canons were lax in rising for matins and that silence was not properly observed. There were at this time fourteen canons besides the abbot, and one of these, Thomas Burton, was allowed in 1481 to go to either Oxford or Cambridge for study. It was probably this student who was found next year to have appropriated and pawned three books. (fn. 11) Both in 1482 and 1488 the bishop found fault with the canons for not keeping silence and for not wearing their cloaks at proper times. (fn. 12) From the list of the brethren in 1491 we find that only the abbot and six canons were continually in residence, eight other canons serving the churches of Great Ouseburn, Rokeby, and Startforth, and the chapels of Ellerton, Richmond, Romaldkirk, Arkendale, and Askrigg. (fn. 13) In 1494 the question of the cloaks was still the most important matter dealt with, (fn. 14) but in 1497 one of the canons had taken part in a quarrel which had resulted in the death of his adversary, (fn. 15) and although not directly responsible he was banished for seven years to Halesowen, (fn. 16) to appease the anger of the dead man's friends; another canon had also to undergo penance for being present at the fatal quarrel, though he had done his best to keep the peace. The canon who had been vicar of Startforth had turned apostate and had made over his vicarage to Thomas Tollerton, who was recalled as unsuitable. The bishop forbad the brethren to go out without leave, and especially to visit the town of Barnard Castle, a prohibition which he repeated in 1500, (fn. 17) adding that none were to carry long knives either within or without the abbey. Provision was to be made for the cantarist of Richmond, that he should not in future have to go about like a beggar. The last recorded visitation, in 1502, (fn. 18) revealed many serious defects, and the canons were ordered to cease from quarelling and not to go out of the abbey without leave; boys were not to sleep in the dormitory, and the abbot was not to lease estates for long terms without consulting the convent.

The abbey was exempted at the suppression of 1535 and re-founded in 1537, but finally surrendered in 1540. A pension of £13 6s. 8d, was granted to the abbot, and smaller sums, in all amounting to £30 13s. 4d., to the sub-prior, six priests, and one sub-deacon.

Abbots of Egglestone (fn. 19)

Ralph de Moleton, occurs 1198 (fn. 20)


Nicholas, c. 1200

Stephen, c. 1205 (fn. 21)

Robert, occurs 1216

William, occurs 1226

Hamo, occurs 1235, (fn. 22) 1239

Robert, occurs 1250-4 (fn. 23)

Roger, (?)

John of Easby, occurs 1296, died 1307

Thomas of Durham, elected 1307

William, elected 1309

Bernard of Langton, elected 1313

John of Theakston, elected 1330

Alexander of Easby, elected 1349

William of Startforth, elected 1351

John, occurs 1364

Peter of Easby, elected 1377

John English or Inglys, occurs 1401, (fn. 24) died 1411

John of Wells, elected 16 Feb., ob. 27 Sept. 1411

Thomas Morton, elected 27 Sept. 1411

Thomas Rayner, elected 1445, retired 1449

Richard Hilton, elected 1449

John Woolston, elected 1455

Robert Ellerton, elected 1476

William Westerdale, elected 1495

John Wakefield, elected 1503

Thomas Darnton alias Shepherd, 1519-40


  • 1. This account is taken from Yorks. Arch. Journ. xviii, 129-83, except where other references are given.
  • 2. A descendant, Thomas Multon, ob. 1314, was patron of the abbey. His daughter and heiress, Margaret, married Lord Dacre. A Lord Dacre was patron in 1478 and at the Dissolution.
  • 3. Yorks. Arch, Journ. ut sup. quoting Feet of F. Yorks. file 1, no. 17.
  • 4. Gasquet, Coll. Anglo-Premonstratensiana (Roy. Hist. Soc.), no. 397.
  • 5. Gasquet, op. cit. 389.
  • 6. Ibid. 390.
  • 7. Ibid. 391.
  • 8. Ibid. 392.
  • 9. Ibid. 393-4.
  • 10. Ibid. 396.
  • 11. Ibid. 401. The offender is called William Burton, but no such name appears in the list of canons.
  • 12. Gasquet, op. cit. 401, 403.
  • 13. Ibid. 405.
  • 14. Ibid. 406.
  • 15. Ibid. 408.
  • 16. He was back at Egglestone in 1500; ibid. 410.
  • 17. Ibid.
  • 18. Ibid. 411.
  • 19. The authority for this list is Yorks. Arch. Journ. xviii, 129-83.
  • 20. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 51.
  • 21. a Cott. MS. Nero D. iii, fol. 52 d.
  • 22. b Egerton MS. 2823, fol. 31.
  • 23. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 51.
  • 24. Cal. of Papal Letters, v, 414. Granted leave to resign his abbacy if he so desired.