The Abbots of Vale Royal
The monastic historian has omitted dates in his account of the
early abbots. The following notes from other parts of the
Ledger-Book and from available records will afford an outline
of the succession:
Walter was the first abbot (of Darnhall, not Vale Royal), as appears
by a pleading cited below. The name is also given as Henry in Harl.
MS. 2072, fo. 50.
John Champneys is named as abbot in 1278 (Cal. Charter Rolls,
1257–1300, p. 207; Cal. Close Rolls, 1272–9, p. 497). He occurs also in
1282 (Deputy-Keeper's Report xxvi, App. (Chester Plea R.) 38). In
1276, as John, abbot of Dernhall, he demised the hey of Langwath in
Yorkshire to the priory of Warter, and this was confirmed by Edward I
(Magnum Registrum Album (York Minster), iii. fo. 24b).
Walter de Hereford (fn. 1) was abbot in 1294 (Harl. MS. 2072, fo. 50)
and in the time of William de Ormsby (about 1306); see p. 121 below. He
is also stated to have been abbot in the time of Edward I in Cal. Patent
Rolls, 1307–13, p. 402. He granted a charter to Over. He was probably
the abbot referred to in 1307–8, when one Richard Payne's claim to be
free and not the abbot's "native" came up for decision. It was alleged
that Richard's ancestor came from Salop in the time of Randle, Earl of
Chester; he was a free man, but took land held in villenage. Hence the
doubt as to his descendant's position. In the pleadings it was stated
that the land was in the time of Henry III given to Walter, abbot of
Darnhall, to whom succeeded John, and next the abbot then ruling
(Chester Plea Roll 20, m. 5).
John de Hoo was abbot as early as 1305 (p. 149). He also occurs
in 1310 (Harl. MS. 2079, fo. 126), in 1311 (p. 91 below), and in 1314–5
(Deputy-Keeper's Report xxxvi, App. (Chester Recog. Rolls), 482).
Richard de Evesham or Eynsham was abbot in 1316 (ibid.) and
in 1320 (p. 84 below).
Peter, one of the most noteworthy of the line, began to rule about
1322, as appears from pp. 37, 74 in the text. In 1326 he was defendant in
a suit (Harl. MS. 2079, fol. 136), and in the same year acknowledged the
receipt of a cask of wine from the Earl of Chester (afterwards Edward III);
p. 117. About the same time he sold the acorns of Bradford Wood to
Richard de Bulkelegh for 40s. (p. 122). In 1328 he attended the parliament at Northampton to claim redress against the justiciar and other
officials who had encroached upon the liberties of the abbey, and succeeded (p. 45). Dealings with the bondmen are recorded in 1329 and
1330 (pp. 28, 31). The list of presents he received at the feast of the
Assumption (15 August), 1330, is printed herein, p. 179; this was the
dedication festival of the abbey. In the same year he acknowledged a
small debt (Deputy-Keeper's Report xxxvi, App. 482). In 1336 he drew
up a brief statement of income and expenditure (see p. 161) for the information of the head of the order. There was then a bare maintenance
for twenty monks instead of the hundred originally intended. In the
same year began his severe struggle with the bondmen of Darnhall,
which lasted a long time and compelled him to make many journeys, in
one of which he was assaulted and carried off, ignominiously enough, by
"the bestial men of Rutland" to Stamford. In the end his resolution
triumphed and the bondmen came to terms. In 1337 he had to encounter
a foe of knightly rank, Sir William de Clifton, who quarrelled with the
monks over the tithes of Kirkham, and conducted the dispute in very
high-handed fashion. Here again the abbot's courage secured the victory, and Sir William and his abettors had to do public penance. The
abbot was himself a defendant in 1337 (Deputy-Keeper's Report xxviii,
App. 32). He received the homage of Thomas de Swettenham in 1338;
below, p. 116. He was still abbot in August, 1339 (Harl. MS. 2072,
fo. 124/177), but soon afterwards, in or before 1340, he came to a violent
end, Thomas de Venables, Alan le Norreys, and others being implicated
in some way (p. 164; Deputy-Keeper's Report xxxvi, App. 429—Shavington,
1341). About the same time (viz. on 4 Jan. 1339–40) an order was
issued to arrest certain men of the district who had burned the houses
and crops of the abbot (not named), stolen his goods, and taken to
flight (Cal. Patent Rolls, 1338–40, p. 485). A dispute which he tried to
avoid was that with the abbot of Shrewsbury concerning the advowson
of Kirkham, as related in the text; the chronicler takes occasion to
describe him as a man of the greatest wisdom and prudence.
Robert de Cheyneston, who was in 1337 one of the chief officials
of the house (p. 27), succeeded. In the present volume he is mentioned
as abbot in 1340 (pp. 29, 163), 1341, 1343, and 1349. In 1344 he acknowledged a debt (Cal. Close Rolls, 1343–6, p. 380).
Thomas, the next abbot, occurs frequently from 1351 to 1366. It
was in his time that the church of Llanbadarnfawr was appropriated to
the abbey. See Rolls of Parliament, iii. 182; Ancient Petitions (P.R.O.),
1349. He died in the summer of 1369 in "the third great pestilence,"
according to an inquisition cited by Helsby in Ormerod's Cheshire,
iii. 384. He is called Thomas Ragon, ibid. ii, 213 note.
Stephen is mentioned in the present volume from 1373 on to 1401.
See also Deputy-Keeper's Report xl, App. 522—abbot in 1384. In
1389 he gave evidence at the Scrope-Grosvenor trial in favour of his
tenant, Robert Grosvenor. He occurs also in 1395 (Cal. Patent Rolls,
1391–5, p. 606). About the same time the abbot was accused of making
waste in the houses and lands belonging to his monastery (Ormerod,
Cheshire, ii, 150). Named in 1400–1 (Dep.-Keeper's Rep. xxxvi, App. 483;
Cal. Patent Rolls, 1399–1401, p. 508; Pal. of Lanc. Plea Roll 1, m. 30b).
He was dead in 1414 (Cal. Patent Rolls, 1413–6, p. 201; p. 147 below).
The abbey appears to have been in the king's hand in November, 1408,
which affords an approximate date for the vacancy (p. 148).
Thomas was abbot in 1414 (Chester Plea Roll 118, m. 10b). The
abbey was vacant in 1428–9 (Deputy-Keeper's Report xxxvii, App. 735).
Henry Warrington seems to have been elected at that time,
occurring 1428–34; see below, pp. 155-6. He is also named as abbot in
1433 and 1436 in Deputy-Keeper's Report xxxvii, App. 735. As stated
in the Introduction, the house was at that time in serious difficulties,
owing to its past misgovernment. Possibly Henry found himself unable
to make headway against them and resigned.
An abbot William is inserted by Ormerod in this place, but erroneously. The date 17 Hen. VI should be 16 Hen. VII, as appears by the
document cited by him and printed below, p. 153.
Thomas Kirkham was abbot in 1438–9 (pp. 157, 170), and also in
1442 (Rolls of Parliament, v, 43; Ancient Petitions (P.R.O.), 7218).
Again in 1445, 1446, and 1451 (Deputy-Keeper's Report xxxvii, App. 735).
In 1446 he obtained a general pardon (Augmentation Office Misc.
Books, xxxiii, No. 63), and in 1451 he visited the Roman Curia (DeputyKeeper's Report). He was plaintiff in various Lancashire cases from
1456 onwards, being styled "Thomas bishop of Sodor and Man and
abbot of Vale Royal" in 1465, and "Thomas Kirkham abbot of Vale
Royal" in 1469 (Pal. of Lancaster Plea Roll 19, m. 2; 27, m. 7; 29,
m. 12; 35, m. 6). He appears to have been promoted to the bishopric
in 1458, holding it till his death about 1475 (Le Neve, Fasti, iii. 326
(no authority cited); A. M. Moore, Sodor and Man (Dioc. Hist.), 95).
In Cheshire pleas he was styled bishop and abbot in April 1475, but
bishop only in the following January (Chester Plea Roll 179, m. 11b,
51b). Nevertheless in the reply to a writ of Quo Warranto in 1500 he
is stated to have held the abbey till his death (Chester Records (P.R.O.),
Quo Warranto, Vale Royal, 5). Richard Oldham, abbot of St. Werburgh's, Chester, succeeded to the bishopric before December, 1478
(Chester Plea Roll 182, m. 25, 32b).
William Stratford, S.T.P., his successor, was abbot in 1476
(p. 150), and from August 1477 appears in the pleadings (Chester Plea
Roll 181, m. 25b, 32). He is mentioned several times from 1486 to 1500
in the text, and also in the Deputy-Keeper's Report xxxvii, App. 735.
In 1486 a general pardon was granted to William abbot of Vale Royal,
&c. (Augmentation Office Misc. Books, xxxix, No. 151). He appears to
have been displaced for a time on two occasions. Thus William was
abbot in 1494, but Thomas in 1495 and 1496 (Chester Plea Rolls 196,
m. 14b, 29, 41; 197, m. 5). William as abbot answered a writ of Quo
Warranto concerning the abbey's rights in Kirkham in 1498 (Pal. of
Lanc. Plea Roll 86, m. 1), and occurs in Cheshire from 1500 onwards
(Chester Plea Roll 205, m. 22b), but a Richard was called abbot in 1505
(Deputy-Keeper's Report, loc. cit.). Then William recurs, and in 1510
and 1515 he secured grants of timber for the repair of the abbey
buildings (ibid. xxxix, App. 268). He was defendant in suits of 1506
onwards (Chester Plea Rolls 207, m. 27; 210, m. 31b; 213, m. 22b;
214, m. 60). He must have resigned about 1516, (fn. 2) for at Easter 1517 he
was described as "William late abbot of Vale Royal, otherwise William
Stratford, S.T.P., brother-monk of John abbot of Vale Royal" (ibid.
218, m. 806).
John Buckley or Butler was abbot 1517, as above; also in 1521
and 1523 (Deputy-Keeper's Report). In 1524 as John "Buttler" he had
a protection for five years (Letters and Papers of Hen. VIII, iv, No. 62).
In Stowe MS. 141 (fol. 12) there is a letter from Oliver, abbot of Cumbe,
in Warwickshire, to the recorder of Coventry, stating that he and the
abbot of Whalley had been joined with Dr. Lee by order of Cardinal
[Wolsey] to inquire into accusations made by the convent of Vale Royal
against the abbot. Dr. Lee wanted the abbot to promise resignation,
but he refused, though he submitted himself to the Cardinal's judgment.
Dr. Lee afterwards alleged that the abbot had subscribed a bill of articles
[of accusation], but the abbot of Cumbe knew nothing of that. This is
no doubt the matter referred to by one of Bonner's correspondents in
May, 1530: "My lord of the Vale Royal is in his possession again with
the king's favour and letters, and some of his brethren [are] in the castle
of Chester—not at all to their pleasure; no thanks to Mr. Lee" (Letters
and Papers, iv, No. 6411). In April 1535 there is mention of " the liberty
of John Boteler, abbot of Vale Royal" (Chester Plea Roll 237, m. 46b).
In June, 1535, it was notified that the abbot of Vale Royal had died
(Letters and Papers, vii, No. 868; corrected in viii, p. 417 note). A paper
of somewhat earlier date names Henry Saxson as abbot of "Vale
Riall" (Letters and Papers, vii, No. 923, xxiv), but the name of the
abbey may have been written down in mistake, for a monk of that name
seems to have been of Vaudey, in Lincolnshire.
John Harwood or Harware, the last abbot, occurs 1535–38
(Deputy-Keeper's Report xxv, App. 28). He had been abbot of the small
house of Hulton in Staffordshire (Letters and Papers, vii, No. 1094). A
surrender of Vale Royal was obtained on 7 September 1538, but the
abbot's signature appears to be a forgery (ibid. xiii (pt. 2), No. 297, 314).
See also Ormerod, who prints various documents (Cheshire, ii, 152).
The abbot had been accused of consent to the slaying of Hugh Chaloner,
one of the monks, (fn. 3) and convicted in the local court; but there can be
little doubt that this was a device to force him to surrender, and Ormerod
is in error in stating that no pension was allowed him. In 1539 a pension of £60 a year was assigned to John Harwood or Harvar the abbot,
and it was paid down to 1546 (Letters and Papers, xiv (pt. 1), p. 599;
xvi, p. 354, &c.).
Abbots Stratford, Buckley, and Harwood are named as the last
abbots in the report about Whitegate parish quoted in Appendix B.