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

Two Kings, A Sheriff and Ninety-Seven Pounds

Three-Men-before-a-Judge- MS Ludwig XIV 6 fol 135v
Three Men and a Judge. Ludwig MS XIV 6, fol, 135v

The Lancashire Pipe Rolls give a snapshot of some of the consequences of falling foul of medieval law or Kings, the creative approaches some Kings used to raise money, and the tricks employed by their subjects trying  to recoup their losses. A particularly interesting set of records cover 1194 – 1196, the two years following the payment of the 100,000 pounds of silver, required to ransom Richard I. England having paid two-thirds, he was freed in February 1194. He then returned to England, put down a rebellion by his brother John, paid the outstanding balance and had set off to campaign in Normandy by mid May. So how did he raise the outstanding 33,333 pounds of silver if England had been bled dry by his ransom as is often claimed?

Richard’s justices travelled England imposing fines for rebellion, imposing fines for seisin of property and infringments of Common and Forest Law. His sheriffs were equally busy collecting them along with a new tax, the carucage, the replacement for the cumbersome Danegeld. A payment of one mark for each carucate or hide of land a man held was levied, each carucate being approximately 120 acres,,the area a plough team of eight oxen could work in a season. Variations in soil type and climate across the country, were taken into account, with smaller plots being located in areas of heavy soil or high rainfall. Richard also removed sheriffs from their posts, and then sold the position to the highest bidder, a risk considering their important role. Sheriffs maintained the peace in their county, disseminated the King’s orders, called up men for the Royal army and provisioned them, collected fines and taxes, tried minor criminal and civil cases, and imprisoned felons awaiting trial by the King’s Justices. At the end of a year he had to give an account of himself to the Exchequer, paying in monies or tally sticks owing to the Crown.

Theobald Walter purchased the role of Sheriff of Lancaster at Easter 1194, a county particularly lucrative for Richard, as his rebellious brother had been Lord in Chief, compelling those who owed him knight’s service to rebel with him or forfeit their property. Now these men faced fines, forfeiture or outlawry, depending on their value to the King or the best approach to guarantee payment of a large fine, to regain seisin or to return within the protection of the law. Theobald fell foul of another of Richard’s schemes, the granting of Royal lands in return for payment, whilst not permitting the Sheriff to claim relief on the half year’s rent of the fee farm, thus placing him in debt to the Exchequer1. However it is possible that Theobald came up with his own scheme to recoup his losses, appealing to the King for a grant of £97 to restock the Royal demense, as Count John had requisitioned most of the livestock prior his rebellion to provide food in case of a siege and increase the supply of horses to his men.

A breakdown in the Pipe Roll gives the overall costs and number of animals required, and the commentary provides the cost per head, as summarised:

5 plough teams to till 15 carucates of the Royal Estate, each ox costs 4s,as does a harrow and 40 oxen and 5 harrows were needed2                                                                                                                                 £15

Annual produce from 15 vaccaries, each requiring 16 cows and 1 bull, for a total of 140 cows, 16 bulls at 4s a beast                                                                                                                                                                     £15

Annual produce of 4 score (80) brood mares, at 4s per head                                                                            £4

Annual produce of a long hundred (120) of breeding ewes, at 6d per head2                                                        £1

However there is no evidence that Theobald spent this money on livestock, or anything else for the benefit of the King’s demense. When John became King, he removed Theobald from office and the Lancashire Pipe Roll for the third year of his reign records that John had ensured he had repaid the £97:

“Theobaldus Walteri reddit compotum de quater xx et xvijl quas ipse recepit ad instaurandas terras in honore de Lancastra quando habuit balliam sicut annotatur in Rotulo Regis Ricardi viij. In thesauro liberavit. Et quietus est.”

Theobald Walter gives account of four lots of £20 and £17 (£97) which was received to restore the lands of the Honour of Lancaster, when he had office as noted in the Roll of 8 King Richard. He had paid it. He is discharged. (my translation).


1. An annual rent payable to property owner, but without an obligation for feudal service

2. Oxen were bred on special farms called vaccaries, each vaccary had 16 cows and 1 bull, the aim was to keep a plentiful supply of fit animals to replace any that were worn out, old or sick, to maintain the efficiency of plough teams, each comprising 8 oxen. A village was valued on the number of plough teams it supported, and if there were insufficent teams or lack of supply to meet demand, its prosperity and value to its Lord declined  or ceased. Each plough team yielded a profit of 20s

3. It is difficult to determine the value of wool produced in 1189 due to lack of extant records, so the prices quoted below are a century later, but give an idea of the profitability of sheep farming. By 1194, English wool was in high demand as damp English pastures produce sheep with a long, strong, soft, fine and springy wool. Flemish merchants were paying in advance, exporting the raw wool for processing and weaving in Flanders, the finished cloth then being exported across Europe. Each sack comprised of 240 fleece, weighing approximately 364lb. In 1299 30 adult sheep produced 20s of wool, so a flock of 120 would yield 80s.  (Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages, Christopher Dyer, Cambridge University Press, 1989 )

References and Bibliography

Farrer W (1902) The Lancashire Pipe Rolls and the Early Lancashire Charters Henry Young and Sons Liverpool. [online]



Two Kings, A Sheriff and Ninety-Seven Pounds

Woolly Saints – The Cult of St Blaise 1 – Wool Churches of St Blaise

Role of Saints in Society

Medieval Saints primarily had the role of intercessors, however their veneration was also a major part of religious life. Patron Saints both provided an intercessor for an identified group and generated income for the Church; the group who venerated the Saint would give money in his or her name, to improve their chances of salvation, and as doctrine developed, reduce their time in purgatory. For the wealthy founding a monastic house, church or chantry chapel was therefore common, with the nobility also having private chapels built within their homes. Once built, the founder or his heirs usually chose the Saint the building was designed to venerated, perhaps of links with their birthdate, family, profession or major income source or to favour a monastic order, in return for prayers for the souls of themselves, their family, overlords etc. We can use the cult of St Blaise to explore how this worked in practice, starting with the dedication of churches and private chapels.

Importing St Blaise

From the evidence discovered Blaise’s arrival in England was linked to the Crusades. He was the Patron Saint of the city state of Ragusa, now Dubrovnik and it is thought that the unknown knight who founded St Blasius, Shanklin IOW and a little later, Sir Stephen de Haccombe, founder of St Blaise’s, Haccombe, Devon,  visited his shrine on their return from duties in the Holy Land.

His Cult was  established in Northern England, by Bernard, the deposed Archbishop of Rasuga, who met Richard I, during his return from the 3rd Crusade. Richard  survived a shipwreck and was washed ashore at Lokrum, near Ragusa, in 1192. To give thanks to God for his survival, Richard funded the construction of the great Cathedral of St Mary 7 St Blaise, Ragusa and repairs to the Benedictine Monastery Church in Lokrum (Penman 2011). Bernard later fled to England to seek Richard’s protection, when he fell foul of his flock, eventually becoming part of King John’s court. After the Pope appointed his replacement in Ragusa in 1203, John appointed Bernard as Bishop of Carlisle, a poor and difficult See, previously vacant for sometime (Crosby 1994). It is thought that Bernard talked much of St Blaise, to his flock and members of the Royal Court, encouraging his cult to grow in wool rich England.


The Churches of St Blaise

Three of the four English churches of St Blaise, could be considered “wool churches” , as their construction was partially or wholly founded on fortunes built from wool. The churches were founded between the 12th & 14th Centuries, and surprisingly are all outside the traditionally recognised “Wool Church” areas of East Anglia and the Cotswolds. They are all listed buildings at Grade 2 or above. Unlike the traditional wool churches, founded by merchants or guilds, 3 of the St Blaise churches were all founded by individuals: returning Crusaders, thankful for their survival and  a Bishop, descended from farming stock. The final church, founded by a long forgotten individual, was remodeled by the local Abbey, when it became a Parish church. This last example is similar to the foundation of the great wool churches, by wool merchants or wool related guilds. Building of these ceasing between the Reformation and the English Civil war, due to the decline of the wool trade. The 3 churches founded by local families / Bishop, also provided an opportunity to demonstrate their wealth and status within their community and beyond.

St Blaise, Milton, Berkshire

“St Blaise church, Milton – – 64067” by Dennis Jackson. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons

The Manor of Milton was held by Abingdon Abbey from 956, when the local Thane, gifted lands given to him by King Edwy. Abingdon was a Benedictine monastery and the 6th richest in England at the dissolution. Prior to  The earliest ecclesiastical building was a 10th Century chapel. The community at this time was a chapelry of the parish of Sutton Courtenay (Page & Ditchfield 1924) . A chapelry is a community within the bounds of a larger parish, with a chapel, subsidiary to the Parish Church. This allowed parishoners to worship locally, where the journey, to the Parish Church was long. The Abbey demolished the Saxon church and built the current St Blaise in the 14th Century, some parts have survived the later Victorian improvements.

Abbeys were granted manors by Kings or nobles, to provide an income, they were expected to farm the land themselves, or use lay brothers, bailiffs or tenants-in-chief (lesses) to manage smaller parcels of land, known as Granges. The majority of the work would be undertaken by the local peasantry, who would sublet small parcels of land for crops (heriots) and graze animals on common land; the unfree villein being expected to also work a set number of days on the Lord’s lands. They would then derive income from the land through rents and produce. In return they were  expected to pray for the Royal or Noble family in perpetuity and provide a certain number of knights or their financial equivalent to the King (knight’s fees) as required. So the Manor of Milton would have been managed by lesses on behalf of the monks. Additional income would be obtained from the lesse by charging for the use of the fulling mill to finish cloth woven in the village and to trade at the various markets and fairs (Manco 2013) (Ponstan 1972).

As the area has been noted since Domesday as a rich agricultural area, producing a wide range of crops and having extensive meadowlands, the Abbey was fortunate in its gift.  By the C14th, the meadowlands were used to farm sheep. The main industry of the village became wool, with fleeces washed in the local Ginge Brook (Oxford Diocesian Guild of Bellringers 2009). Abingdon, with its Abbey run markets, fairs and fulling mill, dominated the industry and gave local wool merchants the opportunity to become prosperous. The area was a reasonable distance from Southampton too, which facilitated the export of  finished cloth. Today, the Parish Church is perhaps the only testament to this rich history:

The former woollen industry is commemorated by the dedication of the church to St. Blaise, the patron saint of wool-combers, and also by the Tadpole revel at Milton Hill on the day following the village feast on the third Sunday after Trinity, ‘Tadpole’ being probably a corruption of tod, or cleaned, wool. (A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 4

Photos of the church are few and far between, but for a look inside please visit “My Grave Places”, the blog owner, Bill Nichols has taken some beautiful images

St Blaise Church, St Blazey, Cornwall

St Blaise, St Blazey Source:

Although the site of a pre-existing  settlement, the town adopted the name of its then new church, founded by the Bishop of Exeter, Walter De Stapledon, in 1309. There is disagreement about the prosperity of the wool industry in medieval Cornwall, with the parish history claiming that “by the 15th  Century, when the existing parish church was built, (improving on De Stapledon’s building), the area was the centre of the local woollen industry”. However both Ryder (1964) & the Cornwall County Council historian disagree, claiming that prior to 1600, Cornish Wool was of poor quality, until selective breeding promoted a healthy wool industry.

An investigation of  de Stapledon’s past and the main income source of his diocese indicates a possible reason for dedicating his newly founded church to St Blaise. De Stapledon’s parents were Devon farming stock, from the wool rich lands of East Devon, which supported the greatest number of  sheep  of all the divisions of Devon and Cornwall (Gladwin 2015). His family, were not wealthy but were ambitious and  found a way to send Walter to Oxford. He then became Vicar of Aveton Gifford, Devon, before becoming a Professor of Canon Law at Oxford and Chaplain to Pope Gregory. He entered Royal service as Edward II’s Lord High Treasurer and was also appointed Bishop of Exeter (Britannica Biography). He was one of the wealthiest Bishops in the country, in part due to the income from the production of wool and wool cloth on his many manors. The income from one Manor  – Chudleigh – in 1308, illustrates this:

“Rental of Manor £17, Income from fulling mill 20s to See of Exeter”. (Register of the Bishop of Exeter)

If we assume he could earn this from all his manors in Devon, Cornwall and other counties, then add the percentage owed from the sale of finished cloth and the income of any directly managed granges, we then begin to understand why he was so wealthy

St Blaise, Medieval Stained Glass C1309, East Window Source:

This income was on the whole well spent, greatly improving Exeter Cathedral and founding Exeter College, Oxford, where he endowed a series of places for poor boys of potential, from his manors of Devon and Cornwall (Chudleigh History Society). However he was not sufficiently politically astute to avoid being caught up in the invasion of Queen Isabella and the deposition of Edward II. A London mob took exception to him spying on Isabella during her time in France. He tried to reach the Sanctuary of St Paul’s Cathedral, London and was beheaded with a bread knife on the its steps.

The people of St Blazey still celebrate St Blaise’s day by parading a wicker effigy of the Bishop and a ram through the streets, something to be explored in more depth in a future post about festivals. (Cornish Guardian). Blaise’s stained glass image was saved from the destruction of the Reformation and  is thought to date from de Stapledon’s original church (Mattingly & Swift 2009). Other roundels in the window depict the lamb and woolcomb.


St Blaise, Haccombe, Devon

Haccombe Church St Blaise Church building

This small, 13th century church, in the Exeter Diocese, approximately 15 miles from the Bishop’s Palace in Chudleigh, was remodelled as an Archpresbytery, in the early 14th century.

The original church was built in the C1230, by Sir Stephen De Haccombe, a crusader knight, who died C1243  and his heir Sir John Lercedekne (husband to Sir Stephen’s daughter). The  de Haccombes were Norman French and were granted the manor by William I.  Sir Stephen, who spent 5 years in the Holy Land in the army of the Bishop of Exeter, Walter de Branscombe, swore to build a parish church, should he return safely home (Oliver 1846). His homeward journey, took him to Rugasa where he visited the Cathedral of  Mary & St Blaise and it is thought that he named the church in its honour (Jones 2014). With his manors located in a wool rich area, dedicating a church to the Patron Saint of Wool combers, would have seemed sensible.  The church, is small but has a wealth of tombs and brasses of the de Haccombe family, to view them please visit the ipernity website

The improvement work, to create an Archpresbytery – a chantry of priests overseen by an Archpriest,  was approved and  started before de Stapledon’s death and is modeled on the Archpresbytery at Whitchurch (Stapledon reg folio 165).

Tomb of Sir Stephen de Haccombe, founder

A living was provided for 6, salaried chantry priests plus the archpriest, also the parish priest and 2 lay clerks appointed as assistants and general servants (Stabb 1908 -16). The Archpresbytery  was endowed with the tithes of Haccombe and a couple of Cornish manors, belonging to Sir Stephen (Oliver 1846). The priests were requested to pray for the souls of the late Sir Stephen, John Grandisson – Bishop of Exeter, Sir John and his family and the Earls of Devon. They also assisted the Archpriest in his parish duties.

Today the church is part of the benefice of Shaldon, a parish encompassing 4 villages and hamlets, of which. Haccombe is the smallest, the village having been cleared by a later manorial occupant as it spoiled his view.

St Blasius and St John the Baptist, Shanklin, Isle of Wight

St Blasius Church, Old Shanklin, Isle of Wight Attribution: John Salmon St_Blasius, ‎

This church was founded during the reign of King Stephen (1135 – 54) as the private manorial chapel of Shanklin and dedicated to St John the Baptist. At over 850 years old it is the oldest of the 4 churches dedicated to St Blaise. However, the reason and exact dates for its later dedication to St Blasius (latin form of Blaise) are reported by the church historian as being something of a mystery. It remained in  family ownership until 1835, when it was donated to the community, as the new Parish Church and modernised, stripping away much of the antiquity (Page 1912). It is currently part of the Diocese of Portsmouth. Whilst there is a crypt, the church website reports that access is blocked by the renovations.

It is thought that The Chapel was originally founded by a probable descendent of  a man named Gozelin, who held the manor at Domesday. This later family were possibly known as D’Insula or D’Lisle – both meaning “Of the Island”. The manor, along with others in the vicinity of Southampton, on the mainland, was held in the Honour of Carisbrook (Woodward et al 1861). St Blasius first  enters the records in 1170, when a chapel was endowed that owed fealty to the Mother Church in Brading .This suggests that the theory mooted by the Church History (website), linking St Blasius to Richard I’s shipwreck,  some 22 years later, is unfortunately unlikely to be right. (St Blasius Old Parish Church, Timeline). This mysterious knight, reputed to have carved a Crusaders Cross into the stone doorpost of the church, either joined King Louis VII’s army for the 2nd Crusade of 1144 or served in or supported one of the military orders stationed in the Holy Land e.g, The Knights Hospitaller or the Knights Templar (Wikipedia, Military Orders). There were a variety of land and sea routes to the Holy Land, so its quite possible that he stopped in Rasuga and gave thanks to St Blaise’s but the truth is sadly lost in the mists of time.

St Blasius Church, Shanklin IOW, North Window

We do know that by the early 14th Century, his descendants  the D’Lisle’s of Wootton, who also held the manor of Shanklin, were established as one of the Islands leading families, holding the constableship of Carisbrooke Castle, under Edward II (Davenport Adams 1864).  St Blaise remained in favour, according to the historical timeline of the Church, as by 1367,  he was the  Patron Saint of the Lisle family sanctuary within the church:

1367 was the date of the presentation of the “Chapel of St. Blays of Shanklyng Capella Sancti Johannes Baptisti de Shynling.”

This would confirm a theory in the  Church history suggesting that either an altar in a side chapel or chantry chapel could have been dedicated to St Blaise, his name somehow surviving down the centuries. He is commemorated today in the North Window, a modern depiction, designed by Martin Evans of Glory Art Glass Sandown.


References and Bibliography

Chudleigh History Group (2012) Timeline of the Bishop’s Palace [online] Available Accessed 29.10.15

Cornish Guardian (2015) Celebrating St Blaise in St Blazey [online] Available accessed 30.10.15

Crosby EU (1994) Bishop and Chapter in 12th Century England – A Study of the Mensa Episcopalis, Cambridge University Press 1994 [Online] Available: accessed 2.11.2015

Davenport-Adams WH (1864) Nelson’s Handbook to the Isle of Wight T Nelson and Sons, London [online] Available  Accessed 2.11.2015

English Heritage (1966),  Listing of the Church of St  Blaise, Milton, [online] Available: Accessed 29.10.15

Friends of Abingdon (no date) Abbey Buildings Overview [Online] Available Accessed 29.10.15

Gladwin DD (2015) Average numbers of demesne livestock.  c.1300   (figures all +  or – 5 years.) (collated from Pipe rolls and Manorial Returns) Unpublished.

Jones, N (2014) Haccombe St Blaise Devonshire Magazine (Oct 2014) [Online] Available, accessed 30.10.2015

King, RJ (1903) Handbook to the Cathedral’s of England, Southern Division IN Britannia Biographies [online], accessed 30.10.15

Manco (2013) Medieval Manors and Their Records [Online] Available accessed 3.11.15

Mattingley J & Swift MJ (2009) Pre-Dissolution Stained Glass in Cornwall, Vidimus (vol 31), July / Aug 2009 [online] Available: Accessed 30.10.15

Oxford Diocesian Guild of Bellringers (2009) St Blaise Milton [Online] Available, Accessed 3.11.15

Penmann SK (2011) Richard and Ragusa [online blog] Accessed 2.11.2015

Ponstan MM (1972) The Medieval Economy and Society Pelican (Middlesex)

Oliver G (1846) Monasticon Diocesis Eroneinsis, Being a Collection of Records and Instruments Illustrating Ancient Conventional, Collegiate and Eleemosinary Foundations in the Counties of Cornwall & Devon, pp286 – 289,  Longmans (London) [Online] Available Accessed 2.11.2015

Page WM (ed) (1912) The Victoria History of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight (Vol 5) (pp 195 -7), Constable &Co (London) [online] Available ( accessed 1.11.2015)

William Page and P H Ditchfield (eds) (1924) ‘Parishes: Milton’, in A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 4, ed. (London), pp. 361-365 [accessed 27 October 2015].

Ryder M. L (1964) The history of sheep breeds in Britain. Ag Hist Reviews 12: 65–82. [online] Available Accessed 29.10.15

de Stapledon W (1308) Register of Bishop de Stapledon in Chudleigh History Group (2012) Timeline of the Bishop’s Palace [online] Accessed 29.10.15

Stabb J (author), Peters, Dr R (ed) (1908 -1916) Some Old Devon Churches – A Richly Illustrated Trilogy. Simpkin et Al, London [online] Available Accessed 1.11.2015

St Blasius Old Parish Church (date unspecified) Church History [online] Available accessed 29.10.2015

St Blasius Old Parish Church (date unspecified) Church TImeline [online] Available Accessed 2.11.2015

Wikipedia (2015) Chapelry [online] Available: Accessed 29.10.1

Wikipedia (2015) Milton, Vale of White Horse. [Online],_Vale_of_White_Horse Accessed 27.10.15

Wikipedia (2015) Military Order – Monastic Society [online] Available Accessed 2.11.15

Woodward BB, Wilkes TC & Lockhart C A (1861) General History of Hampshire (pp123), Virtue & Co, London. [online] Available: Accessed 1.10.15

Yates M (2007) Town and Countryside in Western Berkshire, Social and Economic Change C1327 -C1600, Boydell Press, Woodbridge

Woolly Saints – The Cult of St Blaise 1 – Wool Churches of St Blaise

Woolly Saints – Introducing St Blaise


St Blaise, flanked by a seamstress and a woollen mill worker, in memory of the donor’s parents. This is the west window of the Clackmann Parish Church Scotland, founded in C12th. The window is a later addition.

Saintly Summary

Who Was He? Bishop of Sebastea in Armenia
Type of Saint Martyr
Year of Death 316AD
Feast Day 3rd February
Patron Saint Wool workers, throat illnesses
Link to Wool Tortured with wool combs prior to beheading


Who Was Blaise?

Blaise was a Bishop in the Roman Era, who’s background isn’t known. He was martyred when the Emperor decided that all Christians were heretics, only believing in one God and not the Roman pantheon. Prior to formal canonisation beginning 1234 (New Catholic Encyclopedia), martyrdom lead to sainthood, hence Bishop Blaise became Saint Blaise.

It is reported that he lived in a cave for sometime to evade arrest and healed wounded and sick animals that came to him for help. He is the patron saint of throat diseases, due to one of the 2 miracles he is reported to have performed on the way to his imprisonment and martyrdom: the restoration of an elderly woman’s pig that had been savaged by a wolf and healing a child who was choking to death on a fishbone. It is said that the old woman took 2 candles to him to light his cell.

His cult moved into Europe around 8th Century and gained popularity from C11th onwards. His feast day is still marked by an unusual, ancient ceremony: people go forward to have their throat blessed, the old woman’s kindness remembered by  the priest holding 2 unlit candles in the shape of the cross to the throat. The throat is healed of disease or disease or harsh words are prevented.

He is one of the 14 Holy Helpers, a collective of Saints with a responsibility healing which evolved in the Germanic states somewhere between the 11th and 14th C, probably in response to the plague.

What About The Wool?

The martyrdom of St. Blaise (Blasius), Bishop of Sebaste. Hours of Philip of Burgundy The Hague, KB, 76 F 2 fol. 260r, 1450-1460

It seems a strange tradition that Saints who had a particularly grizzly demise become associated with the implements of their death for time immemorial as a Patron Saint. The purpose of Medieval ecclesiastical art was teaching the mainly illiterate congregation about their faith, hence martyrs were traditionally painted holding the item that caused their death. Blaise was flailed with large metal combs, prior to his beheading,  that resembled wool combs. These are implements used to align the fibres in the fleece of long stapled or long wool sheep. As can be seen from the picture on the left, they have very long iron prongs and can obviously do a fair amount of damage!

Wool combing is only a small part of the process of cloth production however so its likely that the wool comber also had other skills such as spinning, weaving, fulling etc and overtime Blaise became the Patron Saint of wool workers in general.

His cult then became involved with the wool guilds and guild halls,  churches and chantries were endowed in his name, his relics were held at Canterbury and his Feast Day became a time of celebration, all of which will be covered in following posts.



References and Bibliography

New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) [online] Available: Accessed 27.10.15

Saunders W, (2003) Blessing Throats on the Feast of St Blaise, Arlington Catholic Herald  [Online} Available: Accessed: 27.10.15

Wikipedia (2015) Fourteen Holy Helpers [Online] Available: Accessed: 27.10.15

Wikipedia (2015) St Blaise [Online] Available:   Accessed: 27.10.15

Williams B (1998) St Blaise’s Well, Bromley [Online], Available Accessed 27.10.15

Woolly Saints – Introducing St Blaise

Addendum to The Pantheon of Woolly Saints

I believe that if people are kind enough to read and give feedback on your writing, then it is only correct to acknowledge this and take their suggestions on board. So I intend to add a short addendum to posts where necessary.

Added to the Table

St Crispin – Feast Day 25th October

Crispin is most famous as the Battle of  Agincourt  was fought on “Crispin’s Day”, with Shakespeare’s Crispin’s Eve speech being particularly well known. He is more commonly associated with leather workers and shoe makers, having been one himself, before his martyrdom.

Not Added to the Table

St Bernard of Clairveaux – Feast Day 20th August

Bernard was the 12thC abbot of Citeaux and held great power both in his native France, via his influence over King Louis VII and the Church. He reformed and developed the Cistercian Order, who founded their first English Abbey at Waverley in Surrey in 1118. They went on to become very successful sheep farmers, breeders and merchants, hence many of their great abbeys are said to be built on wool. Yet,Bernard is not the Patron Saint of Farmers or Shepherds, but of Candlemakers, Bees and Beekeepers and Wax Workers, plus his Cistercian Order.

Therefore, in view of his seminal, if indirect, role in the development of the English Wool Trade, he definitely merits both a mention here and a future series of posts exploring the Cistercian order in the British Isles.

 St Germaine Cousin – Feast Day – 15th June

Germaine was a young French shepherdess who had a very difficult, yet short life, in the late 16th / early 17th Century, ruling her as a medieval saint. I plan to continue the series on saints, and as the Patron Saint of Shepherdesses / Sheep, I will revisit her story.  It is particularly touching and definitely wool orientated.

References and Bibliography

Donkin RA (date not specified) Cistercian Sheep Farming and Wool Sales in the Thirteenth Century, British Agricultural History Society [Online] Available: Accessed 26.10.15

Fletcher, A (2000-2015) British Cistercian Abbeys [online] Available Accessed 26.10.15

Pennington MB,  (1995) St Bernard of Clairveaux IN Glazier M, (1995) The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia, Liturgical Press [Online] Available: Accessed 26.10.15

Wikipedia (2015) Germaine Cousin. Available: Accessed 26.10.15

Wikipedia (2015) St Crispin’s Day Accessed: Accessed 26.10.15


Addendum to The Pantheon of Woolly Saints