Abbotsbury Abbey

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Abbotsbury Abbey remains and the abbey barn.
The abbey barn

Abbotsbury Abbey, dedicated to Saint Peter, was a Benedictine monastery in the village of Abbotsbury in Dorset, England. The abbey was founded in the eleventh century by King Cnut's thegn Orc and his wife Tola, who handsomely endowed the monastery with lands in the area. The abbey prospered and became a local centre of power, controlling eight manor houses and villages. During the later Middle Ages, the abbey suffered much misfortune. In the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, the last abbot surrendered the abbey and the site was given to Sir Giles Strangways.

Today, the abbey's remains, and those of the nearby St Catherine's chapel, are in the guardianship of English Heritage.


The first reference to the site of Abbotsbury may be in a charter of King Edmund (r. 939-946) recording a grant of five hides of land at Abbedesburi to the thegn Sigewulf.[1] The name (Abbedesburi) may suggest that the land had once belonged to an abbot.[1] During the reign of King Cnut (r. 1016–1035), the Scandinavian thegn Orc (also Urki, Urk) and his wife Tola took up residence in the area, having been granted land at Portesham.[2] Edward the Confessor (r. 1042-1066) also granted him Wootton and it was early in his reign that the couple founded a monastery at Abbotsbury, previously the site of a minor church.[2] Orc and Tola, who had no children, enriched the monastery with a substantial amount of land,[2] some of which was bequeathed after their deaths. By the time of the Domesday survey, Abbotsbury (itself worth 21 hides) was recorded to have held more than 65 hides of land TRE.[3] Orc also established his own guild, which according to the extant statutes, had its hall at Abbotsbury and protected the minster's interests.[2][4]

14th-17th century

During the 14th century the Black Death killed many villagers and the abbot, and the village was repeatedly attacked from the sea, reducing the power of the abbey. In 1538 Henry VIII dissolved the Monasteries and Abbotsbury Abbey was ruined as a condition of its sale so that its stone could be reused. The Great Barn, which at 272 ft by 31 ft is the largest thatched tithe barn in the world,[5] and St Catherine's Chapel were spared, the latter used as a lookout across the sea. Both are Grade I listed buildings and Scheduled Ancient Monuments. The dissolution left the village impoverished.

Sir Giles Strangways, the commissioner who had dissolved Abbotsbury, bought the abbey buildings, manor houses, water mills and Abbotsbury Swannery and much of the abbey's land for £1,906, 10s (£1,140,000 in 2020).[6] Much of the land still belongs to Strangways' descendant, the Earl of Ilchester.

Heads of Abbotsbury

Incumbent In office Comments
Æsuuerdus  ? appears in 1075[7]
[ Roger, bishop of Salisbury ] 1107–1139 [7]
Geoffrey 1140 [7]
Roger  ? appears in 1129 x 1150.[7]
Geoffrey II  ? appears in 1166.[7]
vacant 1175, 1 – 8 July [7]
Ralph?  ? [7]
Roger II  ? appears in 1201.[7]
Hugh  ? appears in 1204 x 1205.[7]
vacant 1213, 15 July [7][8]
Hugh II  ? – 1246? [8]
Roger de Brideton 1246–1258? [8]
Joan of Hilton (Helton) 1258–1284 [8]
Philip of Sherborne 1284–1296 [8]
[William of Kingston] [8]
Benedict of Loders (Lodres) 1297–1320 [8]
Ralph of Sherborne 1320–1321 [8]
Peter of Sherborne 1321–1324 [8]
William le Fauconer 1324–1343 [8]
Walter de Saunford 1343–1348 [8]
Walter de Stokes 1348–1354 [8]
Henry (of) Toller (or Tolre) 1354–1376 [8]
William Cerne 1376–1401 [8]
Robert Bylsay 1401–1426 [9]
Richard Percy 1426–1442 resigned in 1442[9]
Edward Watton 1442–1452 [9]
William Wuller 1452–1468 [9]
Hugh Dorchester 1468–1496 [9]
John Abbotsbury 1496 (elected) [9]
John Portesham 1505 (elected) [9]
Roger Roddon 1534–1539 last abbot, surrendered.[9]

Henry VIII granted the abbey site to Sir Giles Strangways.[9]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Keynes, "The lost cartulary of Abbotsbury", p. 207.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Keynes, "The lost cartulary of Abbotsbury", p. 208.
  3. Keynes, "The lost cartulary of Abbotsbury", p. 209.
  4. Dorothy Whitelock, English Historical Documents, no. 139.
  5. "Abbotsbury". 2012. Retrieved 17 September 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Gregory Clark (2015), "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)" MeasuringWorth.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 7.9 Knowles, Brooke and London (2001), The heads of religious houses: England & Wales, I. 940–1216, p. 23.
  8. 8.00 8.01 8.02 8.03 8.04 8.05 8.06 8.07 8.08 8.09 8.10 8.11 8.12 8.13 Smith and London (2001), The heads of religious houses: England & Wales, II. 1216–1377, pp. 15-6.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 9.8 Page, ed. (1908), The Victoria history of the county of Dorset, pp. 48-53.


  • Keynes, Simon (1989). "The Lost Cartulary of Abbotsbury". Anglo-Saxon England. 18: 207–43.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Knowles, David; C. N. L. Brooke; Vera C. M. London, ed. (2001). The Heads of Religious Houses: England & Wales, I. 940–1216 (2nd ed.). Cambridge: CUP.CS1 maint: multiple names: editors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Page, William, ed. (1908). The Victoria History of the County of Dorset. 2. London.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Online: [1] (PDF) and [2] (pp. 48–53)
  • Pitt-Rivers, Michael (1968). Dorset. London: Faber & Faber.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Smith, David M., and Vera C. M. London, ed. (2001). The Heads of Religious Houses: England & Wales, II. 1216–1377. Cambridge: CUP.CS1 maint: multiple names: editors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

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