The site is situated within an area of arable pasture, woodlands and near the Tavy River, where there was a plentiful supply of trout and salmon.
The land was acquired in 1273 by Lady Amicia, Countess of Devon, the widow of Baldwin de Redvers. In 1278 she applied to found a monastery at the site and sought council from Quarr Abbey in the Isle of Wight, which her husband had founded. Plans went ahead that the Abbey at Buckland would be a sister Abbey to Quarr. The Foundation deed was signed in 1280 and the site was dedicated to St. Mary and St. Benedict. However, St. Mary was omitted on the seal of the Abbey, with only the name of St. Benedict being placed on it. Buckland Abbey was the most westerly Cistercian House in England.
The Abbey was served by five granges and owing to the volume of produce a large barn was constructed by the monks in the fifteenth century – which still remains today. It was 20 bays long, 55 meters long, had a central threshing floor and the main entrance was buttressed on either side after a Licence to Crenellate was granted in 1337 following threats of a French attack. The site was also fortified with a surrounding wall and a crenelated entrance.
The monks were not very welcome in the area and two incidents stand out.
The first relates to friction between the parish priest and the monks. The Monks broke the rules of not interfering with the Parish Priest. They celebrated Divine Offices without permission or Licence of the Bishop – they were placed under interdict by Bishop Walter Bronescombe. This was removed the next year.
The second related to a rather naughty forester…..
Abbot of Tavistock…. His forester, one Thomas Gyreband, who complained that, having charge of the wood of Blakemoresham, and coming to a place in it called Ivyoak, he found Robert, the Abbot of Buckland and others felling the wood and oaks there, and that on his attempting to prevent this, the Abbot and the others with darts and hatchets assaulted and beat him, and with a bow and arrow made of ash, headed with iron and steel, wounded him in the right arm and afterwards stole from him an outer garment. The Abbot and Convent of Buckland pleaded firstly their Clergy and denied the assault and robbery. Thomas got the worst of the affair: for he contradicted himself, and the Abbot and his monks were acquitted, and Thomas committed to gaol for making a false accusation. And later in the proceedings we find the whole history…. The Cistercians had on the river a weir and were obliged to keep it in order and had a right to take from this place wood for its repair. Whilst obtaining wood, Thomas assaulted the defendants, and drew blood, and in self defence one of the Buckland men shot Thomas with an arrow in the arm, whereupon he fled, leaving his coat, bow and hatchet, which William Pye and another carried away, not as robbery, but because they were left there. And the jury found that the defendants were rightly in the wood and not trespassers, and they were acquitted. (Rowe 1878).
But the arguing and disagreement was not just from those outside of the Abbey. Internal affairs were full of strife too. (In the following, the word apostate refers to someone who abandons their religion).
Thomas Olyver, monk and later Abbot of Buckland Abbey had seven writs against him – sounds really bad for this monk, until you understand the following,
Between 1467 and 1473 William Breton, the Cistercian Abbot of Buckland Abbey in Devon, seven times petitioned Olyver’s arrest as an apostate, thus making him the most frequently sought after apostate that we know of in Medieval England. What lies behind all this is a particularly nasty struggle over the Abbotship of Buckland Abbey: both Breton and Olyver claimed to have been elected. The matter was brought before the General Chapter of Cîteaux and before the King’s Court. When the dust finally settled, Olyver, the much-called apostate, was accepted as Abbot and ruled Buckland for thirty years.
Olyver was but one of many non-apostates charged with apostacy during the course of a domestic monastic dispute. The fact that England’s most often called apostate was not an apostate at all should serve as a cautionary reminder that the accusation of apostacy is distinct from the fact of apostacy and that they both pertain to the history of the subject. (Logan 2002).
Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Abbot was paid off and another sum distributed between the monks who then left. The site was granted, by Royal Lease, to Sir Richard Grenville. He turned the site into a comfortable residence and turned the nave etc into a large Grand Hall. He and Sir Francis Drake did not like each other. In fact, they really were enemies as the history books tell us. But Sir Francis was a cunning sea dog! Sir Richard Grenville sold the refurbished site to two men, John Hele and Christopher Harris. They obtained it without the official Royal approval, as it was still under lease from the Crown, however…..
John Hele and Christopher Harris were so well known in connection with the Plymouth Water Scheme, [and] were Drake’s agents were affecting the purchase of Buckland Abbey, on 30th October 1582. The estate, being held in capite it was necessary first to obtain the Queen’s Licence to alienate, which step having been omitted, she formally pardoned “any informality heretofore” of Hele and Harris and granted the premises in perpetuity to Sir Francis Drake (Pat 25. Eliz, p.10) (Wright 1882).
Drake had got away with cunningly tricking his enemy out of the property and making use of his favour with Elizabeth I, and also with not obtaining the official request, which would have declared his hand to Grenville.
The Abbey by now included pleasure gardens, a bowling green, a 1.5 acre kitchen garden and a beautifully renovated residence. The property was not enjoyed for long by Sir Francis Drake’s wife, Lady Mary Drake, for she died just one year after moving in.
The property stayed within the Drake family for over 300 years and in 1946 it was sold to Captain Arthur Rodd. He in turn gave it to the National Trust in 1947.
Today the site includes some of Sir Francis Drake’s possessions including a drum which it is said sailed around the world with him, and known to be the oldest military drum in England.
Enjoy the timeline of this site….
1273 Land acquired from Isabelle, Countess of Albermarle.
1278 Amicia, Countess of Devon, received the King’s confirmation to found a monastery at the site.
1280 The Foundation Deed was officially signed.
1280 Date of Interdict for celebrating Divine Offices without permission or Licence of the Bishop
1281 Robert was Abbot.
1288 William was Abbot.
1291 Foundation confirmed.
1304 Galfridus (Geoffrey) was Abbot.
1311 Thomas was Abbot.
1318 Market and fair granted to Buckland Abbey.
1333 William was Abbot.
1336 Licence to Crenellate granted. An enclosing wall was built as well as a crenelated entranceway. The request came due to the large number of stock and grain held at the site, and under threat from a French attack.
1339 The French attacked and burnt Plymouth.
1356 Thomas Wappelegh was Abbot.
1385 John Bryton was Abbot.
1392 Walter was Abbot.
1439 Bampton Church was granted to Buckland Abbey under Act of Parliament.
1442 John was Abbot.
1448 William Rolff was Abbot.
1448 John Durneford, Lord of Stonehouse, set up a pillory and tumbel against the wishes of the Abbey, on their property. He was taken to Court and ordered to take them down, and was fined £
1449 John Spore was Abbot.
1454 John Hylle was Abbot.
1463 Thomas Olyver was Abbot.
1467 Writs against Thomas Olyver were written (see above).
1478 The monks encroached upon the lands of the Duchy of Cornwall, were found guilty and were fined in Court for doing so.
15th C The Tithe Barn was built by the monks.
1508 John Brandon was Abbot.
1511-1528 Thomas Whyte was Abbot.
1528-1539 John Toker/Tucker was Abbot.
1539 Dissolution of the Monasteries. The Abbot was given a pension and a sum of money was distributed amongst the other monks. The site was given to George Pollard from London under a 21 year Lease from the Crown.
1541 Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the site was sold, under Royal Lease, to Sir Richard Grenville, Earl Marshall of Calais. He converted the old Abbey into a luxury residence with his son Sir Roger Grenville, Captain of the Mary Rose.
1545 Sir Roger died when the Mary Rose sank, and he was succeeded by his three year old son.
1575-76 Richard Grenville the younger completed the renovations.
1580 Sir Richard Grenville sold the estate to John Hele and Christopher Harris, who, unbeknown to him, were acting for Sir Francis Drake (see above).
1581 The site was handed over to Sir Francis Drake.
1582 Lady Mary Drake, wife of Sir Francis Drake died.
1581-1596 Home of Sir Francis Drake.
1596 Sir Francis Drake died without issue and the estate went to his brother, Thomas Drake.
16th C New porch and kitchen added.
1645 Civil War: December – The site was stormed and taken.
1793 Estate maps of the site show a bowling green.
1794 Sir Francis Henry Drake, Bart, died and he bequeathed the site to his sister’s son, Lord Heathfield, Defender of Gibraltar.
18th C Alterations. Staircase added.
1813 Lord Heathfield died and the site passed to Thomas Trayton Fuller Elliot Drake, Esq..
19th C Double doors added.
1938 The west side of the property was badly damaged by fire.
1946 Sold to Captain Arthur Rodd.
1947 Captain Arthur Rodd gave it to the National Trust.
1948-1951 Restored by the Pilgrim Trust.
1951 The site opened to the public.
20th C Staircase replaced.
Such a colourful past and one with twists and turns as well. Legends state that Sir Francis Drake still walks the corridors of his home; and that if you beat his drum he will come. Best leave that right there…….
References & Bibliography.
Allom. T., & Bartlett. W. H. 1832. Devonshire and Cornwall: Illustrated from Original Drawings with Historical and Topographical Descriptions. H. Fisher, R. Fischer, and P. Jackson.
Aston. M. 1973. English Ruins and English History: The Dissolution and the Sense of the Past. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 36, 231-255. doi:10.2307/751164.
Cook. H., Stearne. K., & Williamson. T. 2003. The Origins of Water Meadows in England. The Agricultural History Review, 51(2), 155-162. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org.rp.nla.gov.au/stable/40275966.
Ditmas. E. 1974. The Way Legends Grow. Folklore, 85(4), 244-253. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org.rp.nla.gov.au/stable/1259622.
Ede-Borrett. S., Carman. W., & Boyden. P. 1997. Short Notices. Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, 75(303), 214-216. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org.rp.nla.gov.au/stable/44230096.
Gray. T. 1995. The Garden History of Devon: An Illustrated Guide to Sources. University of Exeter Press
Historic England. 2021. Buckland Abbey. Available at https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1163369.
Historic England. 2021. Tithe Barn Directly to East Of Buckland Abbey. Available at https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1105493.
Lach-Szyrma. W. 1880. Folk-Lore Traditions of Historical Events. The Folk-Lore Record, 3(2), 157-168. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org.rp.nla.gov.au/stable/1252387.
Logan. F. D. 2002. Runaway Religious in Medieval England, C.1240-1540. Cambridge University Press.
Meyer. F. W. 1894. Buckland Abbey. The Garden, An Illustrated Weekly Journal of Gardening in All Its Branches · Volume 44, pp. 431-432.
Robjohns. S. 1877. Buckland Abbey and Sir Francis Drake. Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Volume 6, pp 267-297.
Rowe. J. B. 1878. Contributions to a History of the Cistercian Houses of Devon. Brendon.
Russell. W. 1981. Folktales and the Theatre. Folklore, 92(1), 3-24. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org.rp.nla.gov.au/stable/1260247.
Thrower. N. J. W. 1884. Sir Francis Drake and the Famous Voyage, 1577-1580: Essays Commemorating the Quadricentennial of Drake’s Circumnavigation of the Earth. University of California Press.
Woodward. D. 1985. “Swords into Ploughshares”: Recycling in Pre-Industrial England. The Economic History Review, 38(2), 175-191. doi:10.2307/2597142.
Worth. R. N. 1886. A History of Devonshire: With Sketches of Its Leading Worthies. E. Stock.
Wright. W. H. K. 1882. The Western Antiquary: Volume 1. Latimer & Son.
Wright. W. H. K. 1889. The Western Antiquary: Volume 8. Latimer & Son.