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at North Elmham. There was only one bishop of Norfolk and Suffolk
till the reign of Etheldred in 993. After the death of Humbert, the tenth
and last bishop of Elmham, both sees laid vacant more than 100 years,
owing to the devastations of the Danes. In the year 995, the sees were
united, as they have ever since remained. The episcopal chair was fixed
at Elmham till 1075, when Harfast removed the see to Thetford, where it


continued till 1C88 iu the reign of William Eufus. The Venerable Bede,
in his " Ecclesiastical History/' says : " Sigebert, the King of the Angles,
with the advice of Felix, the bishop, instituted within his kingdom, a
school for the advancement of learning, in imitation of what he had seen
in France. This school is presumed to have been fixed in Cambridge.
It is certain that, from an early period, it was the abode of numerous
students, who at first resided in apartments, and afterwards in inns or
hostels, where they lived in community, under a principal, at their own
charge." A Hst of these hostels, with a description of their sites, is pub-
lished iu "^^ Fuller's History of the University of Cambridge," annexed to his
"Church History." In the third year of his reign, Theodore assembled a
synod of bishops (at Hertford) and many other teachers of the Church,
who were acquainted with the canonical statutes of the fathers. Bisi, the
bishop of the East Angles, who is said to have been in this synod, was
successor to Boniface, before spoken of, a man of much sancity and
religion, for when Boniface died, after having been bishop seventeen
years, he was appointed by Theodore bishop in his place. Whilst he
was still alive, but hmdered by much sickness from administering his
episcopal functions, two bishops, Ecci and Badwin, were elected and con-
secrated in his place."


After the introduction of Christianity by monks of the Church of
Rome, the clergy soon exercised their influence for the erection of
monasteries, and many were built in the Eastern Counties during the
Anglo-Saxon period. Most of them were very common-place buildings,
intended more for use than ornament, and owed little to the art of
architecture. But for the stone cross over their gates, many of them
might have been mistaken for ordinary houses. We must not suppose,
however, that this poverty of art v/as symbolic of the condition of their
inmates, most of whom lived on the fat of the land, their convents being
richly endowed.

There was nothing at all good in European or Enghsh life in the middle
ages if monasteries were not beneficial at first to some extent. Agricul-
ture owes its importance and dignity to the monks, who became great
landholders and diffused a taste for the cultivation of the soil. Until the
monks arose the land was tilled by slaves ; they removed the chain,
granted the formerly useless land on lease, and the serf became a husband-
man. The site of every monastery was determined with a view to this
end. The monks themselves taught the serfs to use the plough, till the
time came when the monks need not do manual work at all.


The monks were at first the most advanced agriculturists^ and the first
landlords in the best meaning of the word. Connected by the ties of
ecclesiastical dependence and intercourse with Eome_, they kept alive the
embers of past learning and civilisation^ which were threatened with utter
extinction^ and though the practical knowledge of agriculture^ supplied
by classic literature might be scanty, yet its mental influence would be
more or less perceptible over the lands of proprietors and of a tenantry
exempt from military service, and encouraged by the permanent tenure
and security of these estates of the religious orders.

A new activity was opened before the monasteries — untamed nature
first, next untamed humanity. They became the schools of England and
all Europe. Suspected at their origin by the Church, they rose into such
importance that Popes, and Archbishops, and Cardinals, and Chancellors
of kingdoms, were sought amongst those who had received their training
within the walls of convents, and they existed for no particular class.
Self-supported by their lands, they could afford to receive whoever had
an aptitude for instruction. Monasteries were also the houses of refuge
for travellers and for the destitute poor.

As a suitable introduction to a brief account of monastic institutions in
Eastern England, it will be necessary to glance at the monastic system in
its origin, and as it was subsequently exercised, a subject so fertile in
inquiry, that the difficulty is how to condense the innumerable points for
discussion, to which a detailed examination of it must give rise. As to
the origin of monachism, it should be borne in mind that the love of
religious retirement and seclusion from the world prevailed long befoi'e
the Church of Rome attained its predominant ascendancy. Monachism,
then, i^er se, is not identified with Popery, and in its origin must be
considered apart from the Church of Rome. But to the lamentable
perversions of the Roman Church may be referred that nascent departure
from primitive simplicity and comparative purity, which in after ages
issued in gross abuse, blind superstition, and imperious bearing, and
obtained for the monasteries the scorn and indignation of every reflecting

Whatever may be thought of the matter now, it is certain that for
many centuries monastic institutions obtained considerable favour from
devout people, both lay and clerical. Not only were religious houses
amongst the first works of the wealthy and powerful who hoped to atone
for their sins by their good deeds, but new orders were multiplied with a
marvellous rapidity. Nearly a hundred orders arose in the middle ages,
and had converts all over Europe and in every county and town in
England, being most numerous in Eastern England.

The fighting men who obtained possession of lands by force of arms


had no more right to those than the monks and clergy who in the course
of time received so many grants from Kings and nobles ; and it is certain
that the monks were tlie best cultivators of the soil, most of which was
originally a barren waste. For many centuries after the Christian era,
the whole Eastern district was a vast howling wilderness, very little of the
land being under tillage, and, but for the monks, would not have been
cultivated at all, and they were the first promoters of agriculture.

They were also the chief promoters of architecture in their buildings
as well as of other useful arts. It should be remembered that if mona-
chism was not necessary to a due attainment of the Christian life, it had
other claims to our respect. To the monasteries we owe, in a great
degree, much that is valuable in literature, science, and art, during a long
night of mental darkness. But for them, we should have lost the literary
treasures of ancient times, to which the scholar turns with ever new

Nor is it in reference to such results alone that monasteries had a claim
to the regard of those who cared for the poor. The charity which formed
a part of the monastic profession was not an empty vaunt, but practical,
liberal, and extensive. Hard would have been the fate of thousands of
the indigent at a period when no public provision was made for them in
seasons of need and suffering, but for the monasteries. Degraded to the
lowest point of social existence, the poor might have perished unnoticed
and unknown but for the abbeys and priories, whose gates were open to
the destitute poor who found shelter, food and raiment, or medicine, as
the case might be. The same liberal spirit pervaded all the intercourse
of the monastic inmates with the world around them, the poor, however
humble, reaped the full advantage of their charity; the rich wayfarer was
received with hospitality. No wonder then that on this plea alone,
strong feeling should prevail among the poorer classes in favour of
religious houses, at the time of their suppression.

Enormous as were the revenues generally accruing to such establish-
ments, it would be untrue to say that they were wholly devoted to purposes
of luxurious enjoyment, of selfish ease, or mere superstition, and it is a
question whether a tithe of the wealth acquired by a tyrannous and
wholesale spoliation was ever again directed into a more beneficial channel.
Thus far then monastic institutions are entitled to respectful consideration,
a sentiment which cannot be so freely extended to their internal economy.

The general duties which applied to the monastic profession may be
stated in a few words — prayer, humiliation, bodily mortification, and
active charity, but to attain pre-eminence in the fraternity, other things
were indispensable; namely, a rigid observance of appointed duties,
silence, implicit obedience, poverty, mutual love, no repinings, and strict


adherence to the cloister. Whoever succeeded in a punctilious conformity
to the standard was regarded as a character of no common order.

During the whole of the middle ages monasteries were built all over
the Eastern counties. Of these religious houses^ Essex contained no less
than forty-seven, of which two were mitred abbeys, six common abbeys,
twenty-two priories, three nunneries, three colleges, two preceptories of
templar knights, and nine hospitals for lepers. The two mitred abbeys
were Waltham Holy Cross and St. John's, Colchester. The six other
abbeys were at Beleigh, Coggeshall, St. Osyth, Stratford, Tilty, and
Saffron Waldon. The priories were at Burden, Blackmore, Colchester,
Bicknacre, Maldon, Chelmsford, Dunmow, Earls Colne, Hatfield Broad
Oak, Sutton, Hatfield Peverell, Little Horkesley, Little Leigh, West
Mersea, Panfield, Prittlewell, Stunsgale, Takeley, Tiptree, Thoby, and
Thremwell. The nunneries were at Barking, Hedingham, and Wix. The
colleges were at Halsted, Pleshy, and Layer Marney. The preceptories
of templars were at Crossing and Little Maplestead, and the hospitals of
lepers were at Colchester, Booking, Brook Street, Southweald, Castle
Hedingham, Hornchurch, Ilford, Newport, and Maldon. The number of
religious houses showed the influence of the Church of Eome in the
middle ages.

The parish of St. Osyth is in the Hundred of Tendriug, North Division
of Essex, eleven miles (south-east) from Colchester. This place, re-
markable for the remains of its noble monastery, derives its name from
St. Osyth, daughter of Kedwald, King of East Angha, who having made
a vow of virginity, retired hither, where she founded a church and a
nunnery, which were afterwards plundered by the Danes who beheaded
the foundress near an adjacent fountain. Canute, the Danish King, gave
St. Osyth to the celebrated Godwin, Earl of Kent, who granted it to
Christ's Church, Canterbury. At the time of the Domesday survey
(1068) it belonged to the see of London, the bishop of which, Richard
de Beliners, about 1118 established a priory for Augustine canons on the
supposed site of the nunnery which he dedicated to St. Osyth. At the
dissolution a prior, an abbot, and eighteen canons were on the foundation,
the revenues of which were £758 Ss. 8d. per annum, or £7680 of our
present money.

Beside the monasteries in Essex, hundreds existed in Norfolk and
Suffolk, at Norwich, Ipswich, Bury St. Edmund's, Thetford, and in all
parts of the two counties. Some of these were richly endowed, and
luxury kept pace with their increasing wealth. In the course of time,
they became possessed of a third part of all the land in England, when
pride, magnificence, and licentiousness, with all their train, entered their
sacred walls, and hast'Oned their dissolution. Norwich alone contained


nineteen of tliese institutions, whose inhabitants enjoyed a cheerful if not
a merry life.

In the middle ages the monk enjoyed a good social position. In those
happiest days of his history, he was the adviser of men, the confidant of
women, the friend in overy house, the welcome guest at every feast. The
sight of his gahardino, so far from inspiring sad ideas, was the immediate
cause of mirth. His religion was no hindrance to his enjoyment of the
social board, or of whatever else served to make life pleasant. Like a
man of the world, he came and went at pleasure, and enjoyed only too
much liberty of action.

Sigebert, fifth King of the East Angles in 636, is said to have founded
a monastery at Burgli Castle in Suffolk, under the. direction of Felix, his
bishop, who had been consecrated by Honorius, primate of Canterbury,
at the request of the King. Felix zealously employed himself in spreading
Christianity, which was beginning to dawn through the darkness of
Paganism that then obscured the whole kingdom of the East Angles. To
assist him in his spiritual task of instructing the barbarous Anglians, he
invited over to his assistance from France, Furseus, an Irish monk, who,
assembling a community of religious persons under the monastic vow,
placed them in the monastery at Burgh, then named Cnobherstown or
Cnobersburgh, from one Cunoberi TJrbs, an East Anglian chief, who
formerly resided there. The monastery is said to have been placed within
th.e walls of Gariannonum, although some writers have supposed that a
fragment of masonry, still remaining near the church, formed a part of
this foundation. The latter opinioji is, perhaps, incorrect, as regular
buildings for religious purposes were then unknown among the Saxons.
It was probably nothing more than a hut of clay, covered with sods of
straw, and supported by stakes. The churches at this early period, like
the idol temples of the Druids, were composed of wicker work or hurdles,
and were thought to be sufficiently durable for men, who as a provincial
historian has well observed, might perhaps in compliment to the next
prince return to Paganism. Furseus, upon the death of his patron
Sigebert, who was slain in a battle with Penda, the Mercian King, retired
from his monastery at Burgh to France, leaving behind him the monks,
who endued with more constancy than himself, maintained their situation
for several years but at last abandoned it, at a period that is now uncertain.

In 650, Anna, King of the East Angles, founded at East Dereham a
nunnery of Benedictines for Withburga, his youngest daughter, whom
he made prioress. This house is said to have been so very poor at its
institution that by the prayers of their prioress, the nuns are said to have
been miraculously supported by two does, which came constantly to
be milked at a certain time and place. This supply was soon stopped,


for the bailiflf of the town, maliciously hunted the does away with his
hounds, and as a judgment upon him, he soon after broke his neck as he
was hunting. Withburga died and was buried in the churchyard at
East Dereham, after which the Danes coming into England, the nun-
nery was destroyed and the church made parochial, about fifty-five years
after her death.

About 789, her body being found uncorrupted as alleged, was taken up
and put into the church, where it remained near 200 years, when to
complete her story, we are told, that Brithunt, Abbot of Ely, and his
monks, concocted a wicked scheme for conveying her body from thence to
Ely, which robbery they effected by having men and carriages stationed
upon the road ready to receive it from those appointed to steal it away.
Their scheme succeeded, and they brought the body to Brandon ferry,
where it was put on board a wherry and from thence conveyed to Ely
and there enshrined, before the men from Dereham could take any step
to recover it. This is styled by the " Historia Eliensis " " Sanctum Sacri-
legium — Fidelefurtum — Salutaris rapina." That is a sanctified sacrilege,
a pious fraud, a soul-saving robbery. It was indeed robbing Peter to
pay Paul.

Ethelreda, daughter of Anna, King of the East Angles, founded a
monastery at Ely in 673 for monks and nuns, which she dedicated to the
Virgin Mary, and though married to Egfrid, King of Northumberland,
devoted herself to a monastic life and became its first abbess. This mo-
nastery was destroyed by the Danes in 870 ; for at that period they were
enabled to sail their ships close up to the walls of the town, the river being
much deeper ; in fact it is supposed to have been an arm of the sea.

In the reign of Edgar the Anglo-Saxon King, Ethel wald. Bishop of
Wmchester, granted the whole hundred of Mitford in Norfolk, with the
manor of East Dereham, to the monastery of St. Etheldreda or St.
Audrey, at Ely. The abbot and convent were lords of it in the reign of
Edward the Confessor, and it was valued at sixty shilhngs per annum.
Edgar granted to it very great privileges, which were confirmed by King
Edward and other Kings, and on the erection of the bishopric of Ely in
1109, it was settled on that see as part of its revenues.

In the reign of Richard I., the following royalties belonged to it : —
soc, sac, thot, theam, infang theof and outfang theof, frishurti, serdwite,
grithbrith, and all forfeitures which he confirmed as his father Henry II.
had done. The bishop's men were free from toll passage, gelt and Dane
gelt, and acquitted from all fines for murder in the said Hundred, as due
to the bishop except they who held of a different see and except treasure
trove. The Hundred of Mitford remained in the see of Ely till granted
to the crown bv Act of Parliament in the first year of Elizabeth.


In 963 ill the reign of Edgar the Anglo-Saxon King, the inaiiur of
East Dereham in Norfolk was granted to the monastery of Ely, by
Ethelwold, Bishop of Winchester. This lordship continued to be a part
of the possessions of the monastery of Ely till the foundation of the
bishop's see there in 1109, when it was assigned to the bishop and made
part of his barony. In Domesday Book it is said to have belonged to
the church or monastery of Ely, and to consist of five caracutes of land,
and there were three mills, &c. It was valued then at £10 and was
one and a-half leuca or mile broad.

The monastery of Bury St. Edmund's had its origin from the supposed
martyrdom of King Edmund, who was crowned at Bury, and killed by
the Danes at Hoxne in Suflfolk. The remains of the King which had
been interred at Hoxne were removed to Bury in 903. A new church
was built in honour of St. Edmund, by some secular priests who were
incorporated into a college by King Athelstan, about the year 925.
Sweyii, King of Denmark, having nearly destroyed the town and the
church in 1010, they were restored by Canute who re-built the church and
monastery, endowed them with great possessions and expelling the
secular canons, placed in their stead monks of the Benedictine Order.

In process of time, the monastery became one of the most splendid
establishments in the kingdom, and was only inferior to that at Glaston-^
bury, in grand buildings, costly decorations, valuable immunities, and
rich endowments. It had the royalties or franchises of many separate
Hundreds, and the right of coinage. The abbot had the power of
determining all suits within the franchise or liberty of Bury ; and of
inflicting capital punishment.

These high privileges were frequently the cause of strife and bloodshed,
and in 1327, the townsmen and people of the neighbouring villages,
assembled to the number of 20,000 headed by their chief men, made a
violent attack on the monastery, they demolished the gates, doors, and
windows, and burnt a considerable part of the building ; pillaged the
coffers from which they took the charters, deeds, and other property.
The King having been informed of these outrages, sent a military force
to quell the tumult, when the alderman and twenty-four of the burgesses
were imprisoned, and thirty carts loaded with rioters were sent to Norwich.
Of these, nineteen were executed, and one was pressed to death for
refusing to plead, according to the barbarous custom of the times.

Waltham Abbey was founded by Harold in 1062 before he was King,
and it was at its altar he knelt to offer up his last prayer, before he went
forth to fight with William the Norman. He was buried here when his
body was brought from the field of battle. Edward the Confessor gave
Waltham to Earl Harold, on condition that he should " build a monastery


in the place wliere was a little convent^ subject to the canons and their
rulers^ and furnish it with all necessary relics, dresses, and ornaments, in
memory of Edward and his wife Edith /^ In 1177, Henry II. for the
secular canons, substituted monks of the Order of St. Augr.stine, and
dedicated it to the Holy Cross.

At the dissolution the revenue was valued at £1079 12s. Id. The
bodies of Harold, the last Saxon King, and of his brothers Gurth and
Leofurn, slain at the battle of Hastings, were entombed within the choir
or eastern chapel.

In 1171 the foundation of Butley Priory was laid by Ralph de Glanville,
Chief Justice of England. He was born at Stratford St. Andrew, and
married Bertha, daughter of Theobold de Valoins, lord of Parham. In
1174, when High Sheriff of Yorkshire, during the time Henry was much
pressed in his continental dominions by the alKance of his sons, with
Louis VII. of France, the Scots invaded England, and De Glanville raised
a small but heavily armed force, with which he marched seventy miles,
and coming up with the Scots force attacked and defeated them, who
under Kiug William the Lion, were beleaguering the Castle of Alnwick,
taking the King prisoner. Ralph de Glanville built Butley Priory on the
lands called Brockhouse, which he held by his wife, and the Order of
monks was that of canons regular of St. Augustine. He gave to it, as
of fee, the advowsons of Farnham, Butley, Bawdsey, Wantisden, Capel,
and Benhall, and Henry II. added the rectories of Barston and Win-
farthing. In 1425, Reginald de Grey recovered the latter advowson and
presented a rector, the priory producing no grant from the King and no
appropriation confirmed by the Pope. It is stated that their were many
other gifts of lands to the priory, in Wingfield, Sidebrooke, Isted, and
other places, and that in 1508 Henry VII. endowed it with the cell of
St. Mary-at-Snape (till then belonging to St. John of Colchester) with
the manors of Snape, Scotts, Tastard, Bedingfield, Aldborough, and
Friston. The prior, finding the monks troublesome, resigned the cell in
1509, and it was surpressed in 1524 by Wolsey, who gave it to the great
work of his at Oxford and Ipswich. Fifty-one other manors belonged to
the priory, spreading over East Suffolk, fi'om Ipswich to Debenham,
Parham, Yoxf ord, and stretching as far as Shelley, and thirty-one advow-
sons and moieties of advowsons, most of which were in Suffolk.
The whole rental of the pi'iory in 1291, was £99 17s. Od., and in 1534,
£318 17s. 2|d. per annum, representing £3188 12s. 3^d. of our present
money. The buildings of the monastery covered twenty acres and were
encircled by a stone wall ; the church was large, consisting of three aisles,
with chapels dedicated to St. Anne, St. Peter and St. Paul, St. Sigismund,
and All Saints. The only remaining portions now standing, are the gate


and an arch. The former was a noble structure of decorated architecture
built of freestone, ornamented with chequer and lozenge work in flint.
On one side over the gateway, arranged in five rows, seven in each row,
were the arms of many of the benefactors of the priory. The circle of
flint work on the other side represented the size of the by -bell of the
abbey, which at the dissolution was sold at Hadleigh and made into two.
From 1195 to 1518, there were twenty-four priors, two of whom were
consecrated suffragan bishops of the diocese. In the year 1539, the-
commendator and eight canons regular signed the surrender, and thus
Butley and its fair lauds passed from religious into secular hands. It was
granted in 1540 to Thomas Duke of Norfolk, and in 1544 was purchased
by William Forthe. Since then it has passed through many families, and
at present it is in the possession of Lord Rendlesham.

At Leistou, was an abbey of Premonstratensian canons, built and
endowed by the founder of Butley Priory, Ranulph de Glanville, 1182, to
the honour of the Virgin Mary. This abbey being inconveniently placed,
Robert de UfFord, Earl of Suffolk, about a.d. 1363, built a new one upon
a better situation and about a mile further inland. This was burnt down

Online LibraryA. D BayneRoyal illustrated history of eastern England, civil, military, political, and ecclesiastical .. (Volume 1) → online text (page 50 of 70)