The Medieval Mortimer Forest – Introduction

“I hope I may encourage readers to work on the many districts and counties that are still unexplored. Time is running out. The  historical flow of change in the countryside – an erratic trickle with spates now and then – has turned since 1950 into a devouring flood, from which little,… is safe” To plan for the future we need to know about the origin and past maintenance of the details we now prize… Even if they fail in their objects, if they do their work properly, they will have the satisfaction of ensuring that the achievements of our past civilisation have not been allowed to perish unrecorded.” Oliver Rackham (1976)[1]



Sunset taken towards Ludlow at Stanton Lacy Church. Author’s own. 

This study aims to discover the medieval history of an area straddling the Herefordshire – Shropshire borders now known as the Mortimer Forest, 1086 and the accession of Henry Tudor in July 1483. This small pocket of woodland was once part of a complex landscape comprising woodland, wood pasture and farmland, some of which was reserved for farming and hunting deer.

Uncovering the medieval history of an area has its challenges. Records are scattered through a plethora of primary sources, some are lost and others incomplete. The Domesday Book, provides details of landholders, tenants and land use in 1086. From this point onwards all the chief Lords of England held their lands of the king, so central records were developed to aid the king in collection taxes, confiscating and allocating lands. The chief lords reserved demesne lands for themselves and rented the rest to minor nobles or knights, in return for knight’s service. Freemen and peasants would rent smaller parcels and have access to common pastures, in exchange for Lord’s service. Many tenants also paid rent either in cash or by token[2].

The Mortimer Forest and its immediate environs were not part of Royal Forest,  uncultivated or heavily wooded districts with poor soil taken by the king as  his private hunting grounds, until the accession of Edward IV in 1461[3]. Although the legal system for implementing Forest Law, was much diminished by then.[4]. However the king forbade private landholders to hunt wild deer, boar, and game or take raptors on their lands, without specific licences, as he had deemed these birds and beasts his property[5]. Forest Law was independent of common and ecclesiastical law, its implementation solely depended on the will of the king and the Justice of the Forests. A network of often corrupt forest officials managed the woodlands and identified miscreants who were presented to the triennial Forest Eyres[6]. Despite the issue of the Charter of the Forest in 1217, and promises of reform made by Henry III and his descendants, medieval kings continued to apply it according to their whims until its slow demise from the mid-14th century onwards.

The Wigmore Surveys of 1325 and 1325, translated by Lovelace, provide an insight into the design and uses of medieval deer parks in the locality[7]. These parks provided wood pasture, common grazing, and oaks, for timber[8]. It is likely that equivalent parks at Burford, Wooferton and Richard’s Castle[9] were similar in design and use. This survey also explored the use of the Chases, Bringewood, Mocktree and Deerfold, private hunting forests with arbitrary borders. It therefore provides valuable information about the relationships between neighbouring Lords and between Lords and their tenants.

The study will be organised on the following themes:

  • Changes to Land Use Over Time
  • The People of the Area and Their Relationships to Each Other
  • Private Deer Parks, Chases, Warrens and Hays
  • The Management of Woodland and Wood Pasture for the Nobility and Wider Community
  • Forest, Ecclesiastical and Common Law and their Application to Private Medieval Woodland, Fauna and Flora
  • Outside Influences


The Study Plan

  • Identify and use appropriate primary and secondary sources including the body of research conducted since the 17th century into the history of Royal Forests, private woodlands and wood pastures including the Forests and Chases of England and Wales c.1000 to c.1850 database[10] and Mapping the Medieval Countryside: Places, People and Properties in the Inquisitions Post Mortem[11]
  • Use Domesday, the Inquisitions Post Mortem and other relevant records, to identify principle landholders and tenants owing knight service and lord’s service. Consult the Books of Knights Fees for additional information.
  • Use the data to plot a map of the proposed study area
  • Examine the royal and national records from William I to Richard III to identify significant land grants and confiscations, licences of free chase and free warren during their respective reigns[12].
  • Use Catalogue of Ancient Letters, Catalogue of Ancient Documents, Foedera, Catalogue of Ancient Deeds, Court of Common Pleas, Inquisitions Miscellaneous, Testamenta Vestusa, Gazetteer of Markets and Fairs, Local Plea Rolls, Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England and relevant chronicles to elicit further relevant information.
  • Explore Feet of Fines and relevant local and manorial records to uncover the details of the ordinary citizens of the area and their lives.

Full bibliography and glossary will be available at the end of the study period as PDF documents.


Identifying the Study Area

Using Lovelace’s study[13]  the Domesday Book and Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, an area was identified of the communities closely associated with the modern Mortimer Forest and the remains of the adjacent woodlands of Mocktree, Richard’s Castle, Wigmore Park, Gateley Park and Deerfold. (see fig 1).

 Map 1

The Chief Lords

The majority of lands within the study area were held by the Lords of Wigmore, Richard’s Castle and Stanton Lacy. The Church also held lands, the largest holding belonging to Bromfield Priory. Landholders were identified from Domesday, Calendars of Inquisitions Post Mortem, the Charter Rolls, Inquisitions Miscellaneous, extant cartularies and Dugdale’s Monasticon.


  1. The Mortimers of Wigmore, also held Downton Castle which was tenanted from Domesday[14]
  2. The de Lacys of Stanton Lacy
  3. The de Genvilles of Stanton Lacy and Ludlow
  4. The FitzOsberns of Richard’s Castle, also known as FitzRichard and de Scrob[15]
  5. The de Says of Richard’s Castle
  6. The Mortimers of Richard’s Castle[16]
  7. The de Cornwailes of Richard’s Castle[17]
  8. The Talebots of Richard’s Castle[18]


The Mortimers of Wigmore, held their lands from Domesday to the death of Richard III, a direct descendant of Anne, the last Mortimer heiress who died in 1411.  The Mortimers of Wigmore gained lands by marrying significant heiresses such as Joan de Genville. She was the eldest of three girls. To improve her marriage prospects, her sisters were veiled at Aconbury Priory[19].  Joan brought the Mortimers lands and castles extending across Herefordshire and Shropshire.

Richard’s Castle passed through 4 or 5 families via female inheritances. Hugh Mortimer died in 1304 leaving two under age daughters, Margaret and Joan. His lands were divided equally between them[20]. However Rickard notes that the Talebots then held the Castle, but the IPMs for the de Cornwailes suggest they also held it.[21].

Monastic Lands

  1. Bromfield Priory, pre conquest house, joined with St Peter’s Abbey Gloucester in 1155[22].
  2. The Hospital of St John, Ludford, founded in c1220’s by a local burgess, Peter Undergod[23]
  3. Wigmore Abbey, founded by the Mortimers of Wigmore in 1179, having been moved from Shobdon and then Aymestry[24]
  4. A Nunnery at Lymbroke, 2 miles from Wigmore, founded during the reign of Richard I[25].


Significant Subtenants

The chief lords were supported by a complex web of tenants and sub-tenants, minor nobles, knights and the merchant elite. The extents of IPMs and Feet of Fines are currently being consulted to identify these men. It was common for them to hold lands and owe knight’s service to more than one chief lord. Some eventually were granted their lands in their own right, whilst others purchased land from neighbours and landlords when they fell on hard times.

Identification of Local Peasant and Mercantile Families

The IPMs, Feet of Fines, Muster Rolls and Manorial records will be used to identify significant families who did not have rank. These records will be used to gain an understanding of how these families interacted with their over lords and made use of the land and its resources.

 Please Note: – At the end of the study a paper, with bibliography and glossary will be be made available in PDF format.

Next Post: Will identify communities and landholders at Domesday



[1] Rackham O (1976) Trees and Woodlands in the British Landscape. J.M. Dent and Sons. London p13

[2] Feet of Fines, Shropshire record CP 25/1/194/8, number 8. AND CP 25/2/294/9, number 41 [online]

[3] Lovelace D (2005, 2017) Bringewood Chase and Surrounding Countryside [online] Accessed 1.4.2018

[4] Grant (1991) The Royal Forests of England. Alan Sutton, Stroud P169-171

[5] Grant op cit p31-32. Manwood, J (1665) Manwood’s Treatise of the Forest Laws pp 49-50

[6] Grant op cit .p 4-5

[7] Lovelace op cit

[8] Rackham O (1981) Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape. J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, London. P18-23_

[9] Morris S (2015) Shropshire Deer Parks C1500 – C1914, Recreation, Status and Husbandry. PhD Thesis University of East Anglia

[10]  Forests and Chases of England and Wales, c1000 to c.1850. [Online] accessed 25.6.2018


[12] Includes the Red and Black Books of the Exchequer, Charter, Chancery, Close and Fine Rolls, and  Letters Patent

[13]Lovelace op cit p9.

[14] Palmer JJN. Open Domesday [Online] Accessed 25.6.2018

[15] Palmer JJN. Open Domesday [Online] 25.6.2018

[16] Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem Volume I, Henry III. HMSO 1904. No 439

[17] Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem Volume V, Edward II. HMSO 1908. No 57.

[18]The Talebots held Richard’s Castle from 1305, although in what capacity is unclear.

[19] Cawley, Charles (2010). Medieval Lands, Champagne Nobility, Seigneurs de Joinville. Sourced from Dugdale Monasticon V, Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire V, In Chronicis Abbatiae Tynterne in Wallia. p.270

[20] The Calendar of Close Rolls of Edward I volume V, Mackie & Co Ltd pp 285-6

[21] Rickard J (2002) The Castle Community: The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles 1272 – 1422. Boydell Press. Woodbridge. Pp 249 – 250

[22] M J Angold, G C Baugh, Marjorie M Chibnall, D C Cox, D T W Price, Margaret Tomlinson and B S Trinder. “Houses of Benedictine monks: Priory of Bromfield,” in A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 2, ed. A T Gaydon and R B Pugh (London: Victoria County History, 1973), 27-29. British History Online, accessed June 25, 2018,

[23] Angold et al op cit pp 102-4

[24] Wright T (1852) The History of Ludlow and Its Neighbourhood, Forming a Popular Sketch of the History of the Welsh Border. Longman. p96

[25] Wright op cit p95 – 96

The Medieval Mortimer Forest – Introduction

Why We Should Care About The Mortimer Forest

This is the first in a series of posts about the Mortimer Forest. It is the only post of the series where I will be expressing my personal opinions and explaining why I think this beautiful, historic place deserves to be preserved. Then its back to business as usual, gathering the wool that is our medieval past together, preparing it and weaving it into a narrative that tells the story of the people who lived there.

High Vinnals to Juniper Hill
View from High Vinnals to Juniper Hill


The Mortimer Forest covers an area of approximately 16km2 across the borders of Herefordshire and Shropshire. The remaining land comprises the medieval hunting parks of Bringewood Chase and Norbache Park. In the medieval period, these parks were part of a network of woodlands, other hunting parks and shoots, narrow passages for moving deer. Much of the medieval forest was held by an important March family, the Mortimers of Wigmore. They had a hand in some of the most tumultuous episodes of English history. Yet the history of the Forest which now bears their name appears under explored. David Lovelace, has written an excellent paper focusing on Bringewood Chase[1], which covers the post medieval period in detail. Therefore I plan to investigate and draw on the surviving medieval records to construct a picture of the forest, its people and its communities.

My reasons for embarking on this project are many. I have an interest in Forest Law and had been undertaking related research for a colleague. I was also looking for information about the area in the early 15th century to expand my research into the Poynings family. Finally I had discovered that despite being pretty much undeveloped since Domesday, Juniper Hill within the Mortimer Forest, is threatened with development. Any additional information I could find, may prove useful.

Mortimer Forest is known to be ecologically sensitive and valuable, supporting many rare and endangered species[2]. A recent short research trip to explore the forest and its environs, really helped me to understand the impact of the proposed development of “high end” holiday cabins with hot tubs, by Forest Holidays, a company part owned by the Forestry Commission[3], a government body which manages woodlands throughout the country. To their credit they have been restoring much of the ancient woodland within Bringewood Chase and working hard to conserve the rare and endangered fauna and flora.

From the Mortimer Forest towards Wigmore

The area surrounding Mortimer Forest is a patchwork of fields, some growing crops and others supporting livestock. The hedgerows were in full bloom, with May blossoms, cow parsley and bluebells. Dotted amongst the greenery are small communities full of black and white houses and ancient churches. Mortimer Forest, lying at its heart is the jewel in the crown. Beautiful ancient woodland and pine plantations, are criss-crossed by lanes and pathways that have been present for centuries. Sitting beneath the trees, the only sounds, I heard were a rich mixture of birdsong. The atmosphere is like an ancient church, conveying a depth of history, a sense of all that has gone before, overlaid with a deep peace. Although in truth, the peacefulness belies much of its story.

Mortimer Forest does not fulfill Natural England’s criteria for ancient woodland (8). A complex assessment involving the study of old maps, information about the wood’s name,  shape, internal boundaries, location relative to other features, ground and aerial surveys, shows changes in land use since the 17th century, which are mainly agricultural. Leaving only the  western fringes and a small area in the parish of Richard’s Castle which meet the UK government definition:

“Any area that has been wooded since 1600AD, and includes any ancient semi-natural woodland mainly made up of trees and shrubs native to the site, usually arising from natural regeneration. Any plantations on ancient woodland sites – replanted with conifer and broadleaved trees that retain ancient woodland features, such as undisturbed soil, ground flora and fungi”.[4] *

However the National Planning Framework states that “when designating conservation areas, local planning committees should ensure that an area justifies such status because of its special architectural or historic interest”[5].

I would argue that the complex history and ecology of the area now known as The Mortimer Forest and Juniper Hill is of special interest. Its sensitive ecosystem is protected by laws supporting the conservation of the rare and endangered species found there. The surviving medieval buildings, earth works and ruins in its immediate environment are protected by strict laws, which prevent their destruction.

The changes in the landscape tell an important story. Not just of the immediate area but of England and Wales. Of historic struggles between the peoples of both nations and the complex relationships between them.  The story of the people who lived through  complex and troublesome times. Who knew both security and fear. Plenty and famine. Life and death. People who adapted an ever changing world. The surviving medieval documents allow us to know some of their names. To glimpse the complex social hierarchy many of them navigated on a daily basis. To construct an impression of their families and their lives.

The proposed development will undoubtedly impact on the environment and ecology of the forest and its environs. Juniper Hill, currently a conifer plantation is said to have little conservation value in its own right. However it is a rutting ground for a rare subspecies of fallow deer exclusive to this forest. It is also part of the lands held by the Mortimers of Wigmore, which became Royal Forest by the mid-fifteenth century, with the accession of Edward IV, giving it historical worth.

In addition to the cabins, Forest Holidays, want to create tarmac hard standings for cars, which will impact on land drainage. Locally, there are many homes displaying large red placards calling for the proposed development to be halted. Their objections are not due to NIMBY-ism. They understand the land, their community and its infrastructure. Viewing the area which will be affected by the proposal, an area of high ground overshadowing the ancient woodland of High Vinnals has given me a better insight into its potential problems. The presence of the cabins will affect the rutting deer. The local infrastructure is not designed to support the extra traffic. The only road to the site is a single carriageway A road. Heavily congested in the summer, it is the main route to the nearby historic town of Ludlow.

Developing green spaces also affects quality of life and sense of wellbeing[6]. Many successful mental health programmes include the opportunity to access nature, work on the land and grow things[7]. Exercise is also known to improve physical health and aid weight-loss. As a nation we are facing a health crisis, where demand for services across the board outstrips availability. We should be jealously guarding all beautiful green space that encourages Britons to get outdoors, especially unique areas like the Mortimer Forest. We need its special combination of green space, birdsong, serenity, closeness to the natural world, and history. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to fight for these places. These special wild spaces are our legacy, in a way holiday cabins will never be.

The benefits of preservation significantly outweigh the risk of damaging the forest with development. Once damaged can it truly be restored wholly to its former glory? Can we revive the ancient species its destruction will make extinct? Essentially no. We need to reframe the questions we ask when planning such significant changes. Since the Industrial Revolution reached its zenith, we have expected nature to bend to our will. Progress and new technology are seen as the way forward. Now we are reaping the results and as outlined above, they aren’t great for us as a species.

We have a responsibility to protect a complex environment, that includes ancient woodland, wood pasture, chase, parks, common land and enclosed farmland. This does not make the area any less historically valuable than if it was wholly ancient woodland. On a positive note, the campaign to save Juniper Hill from development has really awakened interest in the history, archaeology, biodiversity, and ecology of this complex landscape, that is still to reveal many secrets. (With thanks to David Lovelace for the additional information and guidance)

 We can build the cabins, that’s a given. But it is better to ask whether we should.

Asking “Should”… provides the opportunity to ask deeper questions and arrive at a more considered response to the idea. Should… encourages us to consider the impact of damaging our environment further. It challenges us to leave a better planet for our descendants. Allows us to learn how this land benefits the local community, the nation and the world at large. Arrives at answers which put both land and communities at the heart of the decision making process.


High Vinnals, Coppicing

All images (c)Bev Newman 2018 unless otherwise stated


[1] Lovelace D (2005, 2017) Bringewood Chase and Surrounding Countryside.

[2] Walling J (ed) (2015) The Life and Times of Mortimer Forest in a Nutshell. West Midlands Butterfly Conservation. accessed 18.5.2018

[3] Forest Holidays (2018) Forest Holidays and the Forestry Commission – A deep rooted partnership. [Online] accessed 25/5/2018

[4] Department of Planning and Development (2018) Ancient Woodland and Veteran Trees: Protecting Them From Development [online] Accessed 16.5.2018

[5] Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (2012) National Planning Policy Framework 12 – Conserving and Enhancing the Historic Environment [online] Accessed 16.5.2018

[6] The James Hutton Institute et al (2014) Green Health Information Note 7 – Contribution of Green and Open Space in Public Health and Wellbeing [online] accessed 25/5/2018

[7] Natural England (2016) Green Space and Health [online]  file:///C:/Users/User/Downloads/POST-PN-0538.pdf  Accessed 25.5.2018

(8) Natural England (2018) Natural Woodland Inventory

(9) Walling J (ed) (2015) The Life and Times of Mortimer Forest in a Nutshell. West Midlands Butterfly Conservation. accessed 30.5.2018




file:///C:/Users/User/Downloads/POST-PN-0538.pdf Accessed 25.5.2018

Why We Should Care About The Mortimer Forest

The Abbots of Abingdon – Introduction

The medieval Abbot had a complex role. He was a spiritual father, Baron and politician. As this is such a large subject, a series of six posts will examine his functions in depth. Along the way we’ll meet some of the more interesting Abbots!

  1. Introduction – A General Overview

  2. Elections, Appointments and Interference

  3. Spiritual Role and Responsibilities

  4. Financial Acumen, Securing Lands, Grants and

  5. The Abbot as Lord of the Manor

  6. The Abbot in the Political Sphere

add_ms_49598_f099v BL Benedict with his Rule
Add MS 49598 f 99v Benedict with his Rule


Abingdon Abbey was founded by the Saxon Kings of Wessex in the seventh century. It had a sometimes turbulent history. The Abbot’s role expanded as the function of the monastery changed over the following nine-hundred years. In excess of fifty men held the Abbacy, some more effective than others. Case studies will be used to explore their roles, abilities and failings.

Monasticism was not a static concept. Originally monks lived solitary lives of prayer and contemplation away from society. The Rule of St Benedict, written in the sixth century, is a blueprint for life within a monastic community. A structured life of prayer, silent contemplation and work, the Opus Dei. Although cloistered, these monasteries dispensed charity to the wider world. Parts of their churches were open to the community. Many monks maintained links with their families1. The Rule provided Abbots with the flexibility to tailor it to the needs and purposes of their communities2.

Monks took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and swore allegiance to their Abbot. However St Benedict did not believe that poverty meant deprivation. The monks were well fed, and their duties not excessively onerous. The Abbot, as Spiritual Father and leader of the House was responsible for their physical and spiritual welfare. His role originally encompassed teaching, preaching, role modelling, discipline and spiritual direction. Changes in medieval society soon required him to become so much more.

As theology, religious practices and politics evolved, Abbeys and Abbots gained importance and became less isolated. The doctrine of purgatory, encouraged royalty and magnates to found and patronise Abbeys, Priories and monastic cells. The monks prayed for the souls of their benefactors and their families, living or dead, in return. Abingdon was twice created a Royal foundation34. Its two dependent priories were founded by noble families. The tiny, short lived cell at Edwardstone, Suffolk, essentially a chantry chapel5. Its monks later transferred to the larger Colne Priory, Essex. A dispute occurred in the early fourteenth century with Colne’s founding family, due the Abbot’s mismanagement.Abingdon lost control of the priory but maintained its financial interests.6

Daughter houses were not the only distant communities the Abbot had responsibility for. Some monks attended university, living in a house owned by the Abbey7. Others oversaw the work of lay brothers on the monastic farms. The Abbot needed to know his senior monks (obedientaries), well, so that men of ability and strong faith were appointed to head up these institutions. Within the Abbey he also needed trusted men to manage its various departments and ensure that the practices of the monks below them were appropriate. Should problems arise, the Abbot also had the right to remove these men from their posts. Abbots however were not autocrats. The Rule required that minor decisions were made in Chapter. Major decisions were to be taken by the Abbot and the obedientaries. Should problems arise these could be taken to the Head of the Order.

Additional 20787 f60v Monks keeping vows
Additional 20787 f 60v Monks Keeping Their Vows

Between the tenth and fourteenth centuries the monasteries grew in size and number. Many diversified,taking advantage of the strengths of the community and its environs. Abingdon operated a hospital, a school, a scriptorium and developed links with the university. Many monks studied for ordaination, allowing them to become chantry priests. The tasks of the Opus Dei shifted away manual labour. Yet across Europe communities had more mouths and were struggling to be self supporting. Monasteries began accepting lay brothers to resolve this situation. They took vows but lacked the health or education required of choir monks. The undertook the manual labour of the monastery. Some working remotely on monastic granges, they became experts on agriculture and animal husbandry.8.

Abingdon, was land rich due to the donations of its patrons9. Much was rented out, in return for rents and fines. Its income was enhanced by financial offerings,churches, gifts of jewels, precious metals, ecclesiastical garments and relics10. The relics encouraged pilgrimage, which brought in further income. The land adjacent to the Abbey was occupied by the town, providing an income from rents, mill charges and the markets and fair the Abbey was licensed to hold. Tithes and offerings provided additional food. Abingdon was refounded and rebuilt in the tenth century and building continued from this point. Its altars and shrines were richly decorated and it was well endowed with the trappings of ecclesiastical life.

The possession of land, whether it belonged to the monastery or The Abbot’s office, required him to function as a secular Baron. The Abbot’s Treasurer deputised. He employed stewards and bailiffs to manage the lands, collect rents, tolls and taxes, and maintain order. He presided over the manorial court, resolving disputes between tenants, dealing with minor crime and committing those charged with serious matters to trial by the King’s justices11. The Abbot was also required to know the law, in order to protect the Abbey’s rights to these lands and prosecute infringements. The Abbey’s relationship with the local community and its neighbouring towns often proved challenging. Especially as it jealously guarded the income from the markets and fairs12.

Another important relationship was between Crown and Abbey. As Royal Foundation, Abingdon held certain privileges. However the complex balance of personalities, benefits and inherent risks could be problematic. The Abbot was required to host the King and Court, which proved costly.13. This provided opportunities for the Abbot to influence the King, and nominate men of ability from the House for Royal service. The King also relied on high ranking church men for advice and guidance, to ensure State and Church worked in harmony.

The relationship between King and Church could be difficult. An avaricious King with little respect for the church could strip its assets. A King in dispute with Pope or either of England’s Archbishop might impose sanctions. Abingdon’s charter gave the King the right to remove the Abbot. Another clause prohibited him from interfering in elections but there are instances where Kings imposed candidates14. Regalian Rights, allowed the Crown to seize a monastery when the Abbacy fell vacant. By refusing permission for election of a new Abbot15, the monastery’s income was diverted to the Royal Treasury. The Abbey also became responsible for knight’s fees or scutage16. In times of civil unrest or dispute, the Abbot did have the option of asking for the King \to take the Abbey under his special protection. This was exercised in the early reign of Edward III17.

add_ms_49598_f118v Aetheldwold Blessing
Add MS49598 f118v.  St Aethelewold Blessing the Congregation

The Abbot also required a good relationship with his diocesan Bishop, in this case Salisbury. Bishops could refuse to consecrate newly elected Abbots. They could also order Visitations to ensure the Abbey was well run18. Abingdon held the rights to several parish churches. The Abbot was responsible for the appointment of priests and their conduct. He also needed to cultivate links with the Pope. Should problems arise with his position or his relationship with fellow senior church men, he had the right to appeal to Rome. Depending on the nature of the case, the Pope could settle matters by letters, or investigation. The Pope could also grant dispensations, these could range from reducing the rights of the Bishop to making life more comfortable for the monks. A working knowledge of canon law was also useful, although there would be specialist knowledge within the community.

In summary a medieval Abbot needed to have a range of skills. He needed to be a spiritual leader, manage the monastery and the lives of the monks within and beyond its walls. A politician with skills in negotiation, pleading cases and managing sometimes fraught relationships. Able to assess the abilities of his subordinate and delegate effectively. Good at building relationships both within and without the cloister. Careful that his personal conduct and relationships did not bring the Abbey into disrepute. He also needed to be a scholar, with an excellent knowledge of scripture. An inspirational teacher and preacher. Confident in dealing with legal matters. A mammoth task in many ways, and as the coming case studies show, difficult to wholly fulfill.

1Kerr J (2009) Life in the Medieval Cloister. Bloomsbury London pp67

2Theisin J (2015) The Rule of St Benedict, Introduction. [online] Accessed 22/08/2017

3Stevenson J (1858) Chronicon Monasterii de Abingdon vol I p 1–14

4Stevenson J (1858) Op cit p255-261

5Heale M (2004) The Dependent Priories of Medieval English Monasteries. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge p46

6Heale M (2004) op cit pp101-2

7Patent Rolls Richard II vol I, membrane 17 p487

8Lay brother (2017) History [online] Accessed 23/8/2017

9Hinde T (ed) (1985) The Domesday Book, England’s Heritage Then and Now. Guild Publishing London p32-3

10Stevenson J (1858) Op cit pp255-261, 344-7

11Straughton E & Winchester A (2017) Cumberland Manorial Records, Manor Courts. [online] Accessed 23/8/2017

12Ditchfield PH & Page W (eds) (1907) Houses of Benedictine Monks, Abingdon Abbey IN A History of the County of Berkshire vol II. Victoria County History, London p51-62

13Patent Rolls 40 Henry III , membrane 12d, in Vol iv, p159

14Stevenson J (1858) Chronicon Monasterii de Abingdon vol I p 463-4

15 Smith DM and London V.C.M. (2001) (Eds) The Heads of Religious Houses of England and Wales II 1216-1377

16 Roberts CJD (2014) The Constitutions of Clarendon – Clause Twelve and the Regalian Rights of the Kings of England. [online] Accessed 22/08/2017

17Calendar of the Close Rolls of Edward III, Vol I p203

18Kerr J (2009) op cit p 127

The Abbots of Abingdon – Introduction

Comparing Monastic and Landed Families as Medieval Wool Producers

I’ve had a bit of a health and family enforced break from blogging but have been reading and writing short posts for Facebook history groups in the interim. I mainly write posts for British Medieval History, The History Geeks Community and The Mysterious and Gory History of the British Isles.  I’ve had the opportunity to think about the focus of this blog and how I can develop it to include the research I’ve been invited to do alongside two historians, David Gladwin and Sara Hanna Black .

David and I are working on the medieval monastic orders, that had houses in Medieval England and Wales, my focus will be to take an in depth look at four monasteries,  Wigmore, Herefordshire; Strata Florida, Wales; Beaulieu, Hampshire and St Radegunds, Kent and explore how they used the wool trade to fund their activities. Wigmore and St Radegunds also tie into the work I’ll be doing with Sara, who is studying the Mortimer Earls of March. Two minor noble families have come to our attention through their marriages, the Poynings, who held lands in Sussex and Kent and the de Port/ St John family of Basing, Hampshire, who married into the Poynings and Mortimer families. Both families held lands that were particularly suited to farming sheep and through their feudal obligations served in many of the conflicts of the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries.

Wigmore Abbey Grange, Louisa Puller, 1884, via the V&A (please click on image to be taken to V&A website for further information)


Study Plan

This is a plan for a prolonged study, and apart from the research deadlines of my partnering historians, I’m not putting a time limit on it as yet as it may expand. The posts will not necessarily follow the order of the study plan, developed to identify the areas needed to expand my knowledge, and skills, it will be revised as my research develops, to include new areas and exclude superfluous study. I’m optimistic that this will be an interesting journey, and provide a valuable resource for future studies I plan to undertake.

Please note: Some blog posts will be shared with the Mortimer History Society Blog, hosted by Sara Hanna Black.

General History

  • The economy of England under Edward I – III, Richard II and Henry IV, with specific focus on their control of the wool trade with Europe.
  • Feudalism, affinities and knight service
  • Land holdings, both secular and ecclesiastic to include demense lands, moieties and advowsons
  • Religion and medieval lives
  • Textiles and rank – using clothing and decorative fabrics to denote status, sumptuary laws
  • Climate change, murrain and plague


  • A brief history of the monastic orders with Houses in Medieval England
  • The risks and benefits of “alien monasteries” on the South Coast
  • An exploration of the effects of the changing fortunes of supporting families on monastic houses.
  • In depth study of each of the named monastic houses, focusing on their income, the use of their demense lands and the role of sheep farming in supporting their economic activities
  • The impact of laws to control the export of wool, introduced by Edward I and III on the financial stability of monastic houses.

Poynings and St John Families

  • A brief history of each family and their land holdings
  • A focused study on the effects of the somewhat turbulent reigns of Edward I – Henry IV on the fortunes the Poyning and St John families
  • The relationship between the nobility and the Church, through the actions and wills of the Poynings and St John Families and their compatriots, with a focus on Church building, chantries and pilgrimage.
  • The feudal roles of the Poynings and St John families, their relationships with their liege Lords and their role in Parliaments. This will include exploring their military roles in the wars of all three Edwards and the rebellions against Edward III and Richard II.
  • The role of marriage in expanding the land holdings and improving the rank of minor nobility.
  • Factors leading to loss of rank and titles in minor noble families
  • The role of the Poynings and St John wives in managing their husband’s estates when they are absent or deceased.


  • Transcribed primary sources, including Domesday book, Monastic Cartularies, Estate Accounts, Wills, Inquisition Post Mortems, and the various Rolls of the Medieval Kings.
  • Secondary sources including Burke’s Peerage, studies of monastic life, studies of minor nobility, texts on diverse topics including: ecclesiastical history, social history, economic history and military history and Victoria County Histories
  • All posts will include references and bibliographies plus footnotes where required.









Comparing Monastic and Landed Families as Medieval Wool Producers