Abingdon Abbey is a Medieval Abbey, church and Benedictine Monastery, with a fortified gatehouse. The size of the site developed over time especially as it is located on the borders between Mercia and Wessex were there was regular conflict. The enlargement included the addition of cloisters, a refractory, dormitory and a kitchen.
In 1467 a fortified gatehouse was added to give protection to its inhabitants. The monarch at the time was Edward IV, representing the House of York – this was the of the Wars of the Roses. Where the Houses of York and Lancaster fought over the Crown. The Wars raged from 1455 until 1487, when Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth and the Tudor, Henry VII took the Crown, changing the course of English history.
There are 136 Charters which were granted to the Abbey held in the Cottonian MSS.
Ælfric of Abingdon, was the son of a Kentish Earl whose first appointment in an ecclesiastical office was here at Abingdon Abbey. He later became Bishop of Ramsey from 991/993 to 1005. He was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 995 and held that seat, along with that of Bishop of Ramsey until his death in 1005. He was buried in Abingdon Abbey but later reinterred in Canterbury Cathedral. There is a grey area surrounding his appointment at Abingdon Abbey. Some sources say he was the Abbot however in the official list of Abbots for the Abbey his name does not appear.
Unknown date – Bishop Hrethun, Bishop of Leicester, renounced his title and moved to Abingdon. Later he acquired Privileges from the King and sought Confirmation from the Pope by travelling to Rome.
Legends associated with the site claim
As with all legends, myths and folklore, they all start with an element of truth which then evolves and is woven and changed many times over the years to best fit the thinking of the age or time it was told. The one I am most likely to see more of the truth in relates to the 500 monks living in Bagley Woods. In early times monks did have small cells in which they lived and prayed, so this legend holds greater weight than the others. But that is my personal point of view!
Here is the timeline for Abingdon Abbey:
675 Founded by Hean, or his nephew, or Cyssa, the Viceroy of Kinwine, King of the West Saxons, in the honour of the Virgin Mary, with 12 Benedictine monks.
675 Hean was Abbot.
675 After: The Foundation was confirmed by the Saxon kings Ceadwella and Ina.
c.675 Church on site from this date measured 36.5m long, was furnished with apses on the eastern and western sides, included 12 small monks’ rooms with oratories, and was surrounded by a large wall.
c.680 King Cyssa of Upper Wessex died and was buried at the site.
688 Ceadwella was succeeded by Ina who confirmed the Foundation and built the Precinct walls.
772 Abingdon suffered at the hands of Offa following Cynewulf’s defeat by Offa.
790 Visited by King Offa II. He took one of the islands as a hunting ground and gave the Abbey other lands in exchange.
c.815-821 The monks were annoyed with the Royal Hunting Ground on their island and paid the Crown “120 pounds of gold and silver” to buy the island back. The King accepted the payment. (Preston, 1919).
830 Before: Abbots included, in order of service, Cumma, Hrethun, Aland, and Cynath.
871-899 During the reign of Alfred the Great the site was destroyed by the Danes. The king did not rebuild it but granted the land to others.
c.954 Refounded: King Eadred instructed St. Ethelwold to refound the site after it was destroyed by the Danes. Ethelwolde was Abbot.
963 Osgar was Abbot.
973-975 King Edgar undertook new building work on the site which included a chancel, apse, round tower as well as a bells alter.
977 A porticus chapel was recorded on the north side of the site.
984 Abbot Osgar died
985 Edwin was Abbot.
989 Wulfgar was Abbot.
993 Wulfgar obtained Charters and Privileges from King Ethelred for the Abbey.
999 King Æthelred grants lands in Berkshire, Warwickshire, Gloucestershire and possibly Oxfordshire to the Abbey.
1008 King Æthelred grants lands in Warwickshire to the Abbey.
1017 Ethelwine was Abbot.
1030 Siward was Abbot.
1034 King Canute had a casket made for the Abbey of gold and silver which housed the relics of Spain’s St. Vincent.
1044 Ethelstan was Abbot.
1048 Sparhavoc was Abbot.
1050 Sparhavoc was made Bishop of London and Ralph, a Norwegian relative of King Edward was Abbot.
1050’s The Abbey received three grants of land in Berkshire and Oxfordshire by Edward the Confessor.
1052 Ordic was Abbot.
1058 Siward was made Bishop of Rochester.
1065 Ealdred was Abbot.
1071 Abbot Ealdred was removed from office and sent as a prisoner to Wallingford Castle. Ethelhelm was made Abbot.
1073 Englewinus, Bishop of Durham, was imprisoned at the Abbey, and apparently starved to death.
1084 Rainold was Abbot.
1087 Domesday: The Abbey held lands in Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Warwickshire.
1087-1097 Between: There was a dispute between the Abbey and a Royal Forester. This was dealt with by William II.
1087 Prince Henry spent Easter at the Abbey.
1091-1120 Abbey church was enlarged.
1091 The tower of the church collapsed.
1091-1538 An ecclesiastical establishment.
1093 Robert D’Oilly, tutor to Henry I, was buried at the Abbey.
1097 Molbert was the Administrator of the Abbey.
1097-1100 The Abbey fell out of favour with William II, therefore no Abbot was appointed until after the King had died.
11th C Late: A porticos chapel was recorded on the east side of the site.
1100 Faricius (a physician) was Abbot. He rebuilt the church nave and other buildings using material bought in from Wales.
1100 Molbert was the Administrator of the Abbey.
1100 The cloister, Chapter House and dormitory were pulled down.
1101 Faricius was called upon by Henry I to attend his wife, Matilda, as she gave birth to her daughter Aethelice.
1117 Vincent was Abbot.
1117-1121 The Abbey lay vacant even though an Abbot had been appointed.
1121 Henry I visited the Abbey
1121-1131 Abbot Vincent obtained a Charter from Henry I.
1100-1135 During: Ansfrida de Seacourt, mistress of Henry I died and was buried at the Abbey.
1121-1130 Between: A Gust Hall was constructed by Abbot Vincent.
1130 Ingulf was Abbot.
1132 Princess Mary, daughter of Edward III and wife of John de Montfort, Duke of Brittany, died and was buried at the Abbey.
1132/35 Fulk FitzRoy, illegitimate son of Henry I and Ansfrida de Seacourt, died and was buried at the Abbey.
1158 Walkelin was Abbot.
1158-1164 During: Privileges of the Abbey were attacked by the local people but later resolved.
1164 Godfrey was Abbot.
1176 Roger was Abbot.
1184 Alfred was Abbot.
1189 Hugh was Abbot.
12th C Matilda, Henry I’s Queen celebrated the Feast of Assumption at the Abbey.
1218-1304 The Chronicle of the Monastery of Abingdon was written.
1219 The Convent was responsible for accepting guests to the Abbey.
1221 Robert de Henreth was Abbot.
1227 The grounds were enclosed with the addition of a hedge and a ditch.
1229 Wood from the Abbeys Forest at Shaw was used for the defences of Oxford including Oxford Castle during riots.
1232 Pope Alexander IV gave the Abbot and Convent permission to wear caps.
1234 Luke was Abbot.
1241 John de Blosmeuil was Abbot.
1245 Following a visit by Robert de Carevill the Abbey was instructed to increase charity given to them by receiving visitors and treating them according to their rank in society.
1255 Henry III stayed at the Abbey
1256 William de Newbury was Abbot.
1258 Henry III visited the Abbey.
1260 Henry de Fryleford was Abbot. Henry III visited the Abbey.
1261 Henry III visited the Abbey.
1262 Richard de Henred was Abbot. Henry III visited the Abbey.
1265 17 May: The Abbey tower was damaged when struck by lightning during a storm.
1274 Abbot Richard de Henred attended the Council of Lyons, with the Kings permission.
1276 Edward I stayed at the Abbey for a few days.
1281 Edward I stayed at the Abbey for a couple of days.
1289 Nicholas de Coleham was Abbot. He built the church of St. Nicholas just outside of the western Abbey gate.
1290 July: The General Chapter of the Benedictine Monks of England was held at the Abbey.
1292 Nicholas de Tewing was granted sustenance for life at the Abbey by Edward I.
1296 An officer of Edward I was sent to the Abbey to be looked after for the rest of the year. This also included his grooms and 2 horses.
1306 Richard de Clive was Abbot.
1315 John de Sutton was Abbot. The King’s Clerk, Edward de l Beche., was granted a pension at the Abbey.
1318 The Abbey was in financial hardship.
1321 The Nunnery was not happy with the new Abbot, John de Sutton, and they complained to the Pope.
1322 John de Cannynges was Abbot.
1327 The Abbey was attacked. Buildings were set on fire, the monks beaten, servants killed, goods stolen, and prisoners held there were freed.
1327 Late in the year: Edward III appointed Gilbert de Ellesfeld and Thomas de Loudry as custodians of the Abbey.
1329 Robert de Garford was Abbot.
1329-1330 The Abbey granted various old Crown servants life substance from the Abbey.
1332 William de Cumnor was Abbot.
1334 Robert de Thame was Abbot.
1336 The site was inspected and reconfirmed by Edward III.
1361 Peter de Hanney was Abbot.
1361 Princess Margaret, daughter of Edward III and wife of John Hastings, Earl of Pembroke, died and was buried at the Abbey.
1380 The site was inspected and reconfirmed by Richard II.
1390 Visited by the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Courtenay.
1391 Dating to: The painting on the ceiling of the Lady Chapel.
1401 Richard de Salford was Abbot.
1409 Pope Alexander V granted important Privileges to the Abbey.
1415 John Dorset was Abbot.
1421 Richard Boxore was Abbot.
1423 Abbot Richard Boxore was attending a University in order to improve his Christian Knowledge.
1423 Parliament granted formal consent to the site during the minority of Henry VI.
1427 Thomas Salford was Abbot.
1428 Ralph Hamme was Abbot.
1435 William Ashendon was Abbot.
1440 The Market Cross, standing 15.5m tall, was erected in front of the Abbey gate.
1467-1499 Gatehouse dates from.
1468 John Sante was Abbot.
1496 Thomas Rowland was Abbot.
1504 Alexander Shottisbrook was Abbot.
1508 John Coventry was Abbot.
1511-1512 Thomas Pentecast (alias Rowland) was Abbot.
1538 Dissolution of the Monasteries: Thomas Pentecost, the last Abbot, signed the surrender of the Monastery to Henry VIII. It was recorded as being the 6th wealthiest Monastery in the land.
1645 Attacked by the forces of King Charles during the English Civil War.
1644 The Market Cross, which stood in front of the Abbey Gate was destroyed by Parliamentarian forces.
1810 One of the ranges of the Abbey was demolished.
1934 Saxon cemetery discovered at the site.
1963 Field Investigation.
1991 Watching Brief.
1997 Photogrammetric Survey.
1998 Watching Brief.
1998 Management Survey.
1999 Watching Brief.
References and Bibliography.
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Halliwell. J. O (ed). 1844. The Chronicle of the Monastery of Abingdon: From 1218-1304, from the Original MS. in the Public Library at Cambridge. University of Chicago.
Harvey. B. 1993. Living and Dying in England 1100-1540: The Monastic Experience. Clarendon Press.
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Preston. A. E. 1919. Sutton Courtney and Abingdon Abbey. Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Archaeological Journal, 25. Available at https://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/library/browse/issue.xhtml?recordId=1139959&recordType=Journal.
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Stevenson. J. (ed). 1858. Chronicon Monasterii de Abingdon. Longman, Brown, Green.
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