cistercian visitation in the late middle ages: the case of hailes abbey

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  • L E P E R S O F W E S T S O M E R T O N 1 03

    sides: the lepers were clearly somewhat violent and difficult to control, while the priors may have been tempted to exploit Somerton for purposes not intended by the founder, thus leaving themselves open to the malice of local enemies. It would hardly be surprising if, faced with such vexatious litigation, the priors felt that the hospital was not worth the trouble of maintaining.

    R I C H A R D M O R T I M E R

    Cistercian Visitation in the Late Middle Ages: the Case OfHades Abbey

    I T H A S LON G been recognized that the historian of late medieval monasticism in England is hampered by the dearth of evidence from the Cistercian houses, and the deplorable lack of any intimate or personal records of the lives and fortunes of the white monks has only been partially remedied by the publication of the valuable correspondence between the English abbots and Citeaux.2 Visitation documents in particular, moderately prolific for the non-exempt houses in bishops registers and long ago collected for the Premonstratensians, are sparse, and it is difficult to reach a fair appreciation of the state of the Cistercian abbeys, since reports to the general chapter were often distorted by internal animosities. In these circumstances it is surprising that more attention has not been paid to the register of Hades abbey, in Gloucestershire.s It has no doubt been neglected because it is conventionally described as a formulary. It is, in fact, more akin to a register or a letter book: the great majority of documents contained in it are authentic, and they provide material not only for the internal history of the house over a period of 150 years, but also for the conduct of the Cistercian visitatorial system in the later middle ages.

    The volume is clearly divided into two parts. The first, compiled in the early fourteenth century, is a formulary, consisting almost entirely of letters appointing proctors to appear in various cases in the courts of Rome, Canterbury and Worcester, and before the archdeacon of Glo~cester .~ The second, larger portion was written towards the end of the fifteenth century. The latest document has the date 1478. Although this later section contains miscellaneous documents relating to the foundation of the Cistercian studium at Oxford, the appropriated churches of the abbey and the appointment of proctors, the bulk of the material is concerned with the internal discipline of the abbey and with visitation procedure. Interspersed with the documentary records of various visitations are tracts dealing with the position of the religious in canon law and with the correct methods of judicial procedure. I t seems likely that this material was accumulated as a series of precedents by Abbot John Crombroke,

    D. Knowles, The Religrous Orders in England (3 vols., Cambridge, 1948-59). iii. 28. I am grateful to the Central Research Fund o f the University o f London for financial assistance to the project from which this article stems.

    2Letter~frwn the English Abbots to the Chapter al Citeawc, 1442--1521, ed. C . H. Talbot (Camden 4th ser., iv, 1967).

    British Library, Royal MS. 1z.E. xiv (hereafter Reg.). The author of the article on Hailes in the Victoria Histov of Gloucester~hire, i i . 96-9 made some use of this source, but did not, inevitably within the space allowed, exploit its full potential. The present study examines all the visitation documents included in the register, which contains much information not to be found in the statutes o f the order.

    Reg. fos. 4-16v.

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    who in 1480 wrote to the abbot of Citeaux suggesting that he should act as his commissary in England, and in the same year was appointed as one of the visitors and reformers of the Welsh house^.^

    The judicial tracts interspersed throughout the collection include summaries of the procedure for conducting an enquiry,6 and for administering the oath of compurgation to one accused and pleading innocence. The reasons for invalidating an election were set forth according to the law of the universal church, and in view of the series of disputed elections in English Cistercian houses in the fifteenth century, this was certainly essential knowledge for any visitor.8 Also bound up in the volume is a longer treatise De statu monachorum et canonicorum regular i~rn :~ this is in fact a compendium of canon law applicable to the religious orders, with references to the Corpus Iuris Canonici and the standard glosses. I t contains a full list of questions concerning the internal life and discipline of the monastery and the relationship of regulars as individuals and as a body with ecclesiastical authority and the society in which they lived. Can monks be excommunicated by a bishop, or ordered to do anything by episcopal authority? May they receive churches or tithes from laymen without episcopal authority, or institute priests to churches without the bishops mandate, or have dealings with known excommunicates? Can a monk act as a ,judge or an advocate or undertake any such legal duties? Can a secular be elected to an abbacy, and can a monastery be converted into a secular church? Can a monk be removed from the rule of a priory without legal judgment against him? Should secular clerks be received into monasteries without letters from their bishops? Are monks permitted to use linen, and how long should their habits be? The treatise provided in a convenient form the basic answer to most problems which might confront the visitor.

    Most interesting, perhaps, is the list of articles of enquiry to be put by a reformer of the Cistercian order in his visitation.I0 He was to investigate whether anything was done by the brethren of the house to the offence of the Christian faith, and specifically whether any of them engaged in sorcery or other frivolous and superstitious arts. He should search for any suspicion of simony in their entr-y into religion, ordination to the priesthood or promotion to any office within the abbey, and should enquire whether any were guilty of conspiracy against their abbot or other superiors, or were backbiters who disturbed the peace and tranquillity of the cloister, and indeed if there were any guilty or suspect of any vice or crime, especially of the unspeakable vice of sodomy. He should ensure that divine office was celebrated by day and night in the conventual church and in the infirmary, and that religious observance was maintained in matters of diet, silence and the exclusion of women from the

    k t t e r r from the English Abbots, pp. 75-6 ; Statuta Capitulorum Generalium Ordznis Cisterciensis ab anno 1 1 1 6 ad annum 1786, ed. J . M . Canivez 18 vols.. Louvain. 1933-41), v. 407: 1480, cap. 30. Crombroke was recommended to the abbot of Citeaux as a potential reformer of the order bu Lionel Woodville, c hanrellor o t Oxford University, and subsequently received the support of 20 superiors against the attacks of the abbot ofWoburn il*lfers/rom tht English Abbofr, pp. 71-2 , 84-6).

    6 Rrg. foj i6v-ig: the tract is headed De officio iudicis circa inquisiriones et forma procedendi, and begins: Videamus qualiter et quando debel iustus iudex procedere. It is part of a longer judicial rrcatise found in z other Cistercian compilations, Brit. Libr., Royal MSS. 8.A.xviii fos. 82-144, i i . A . x i v f o c . 1-61. Reg. fos. .tov-4n.

    Reg. 10. 62v. For Cistercian election disputes, see especially E. F . Jacob, One of Swans cases: the disputed election at Fountains abbey. 1410-16. in >says tn Later Medieval History (Manchester, 19681, 11. 79-97

    Reg. iOs. 48-60. The tract begins: An monachus ab episcopo possit excommunicari vel ab eo dliquid preripi.

    Reg. ~ O S . 43-4.

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    cloister. He should ask whether all the brethren were punished equally according to the scale of their faults, and whether sufficient provision was made to them of food and clothing, according to the customs of the house, and whether favouritism or persecution influenced this distribution. He should establish how many monks there were in the abbey and whether the number had fallen below the norm, how the revenues were administered and expended, whether there had been any alienation of monastic possessions, whether the officials concealed from their abbot the goods of the house that had been committed to them or had been newly acquired by their own efforts and converted them to their own use, whether the monastery was in debt, and if so, by how much and for what reasons. Was the necessary provision made for infirm monks and were the remains of the conventual meals and the other accustomed portions distributed in alms to the poor? Were the monks embroiled with merchants or involved in other secular business, did they indulge in hunting or keep hawks or falcons in the cloister, and did they abuse the privileges of the order? Finally, he should ensure that the statutes of the general chapter and the constitutions of Pope Benedict XI1 for the order were observed in their entirety, and especially that monks were sent to and maintained at the studium, and should investigate whether there were arrears owing in the annual contributions payable to the abbot of Citeaux for the general welfare of the order.

    The implementation of these enquiries is illustrated by the visitation injunctions and analogous documents transcribed in the register. The earliest proceedings relate to the visitation in 13 18 of Abbey Dore by John of Gloucester, abbot of Hailes, acting as commissary of the abbot of Morimond, the father abbot." He noted that large numbers came to venerate the cross in the conventual church, but decreed that women who came to the abbey out of reverence should not b