All abbeys are monasteries, but only those monasteries headed by an abbot are called abbeys. Abingdon Abbey had 46 abbots, from Ethelwold (955–984) until Thomas Pentecost (1511–1538), not counting the early abbots before the Danish destruction. The names and numbers of the earliest monks are uncertain.
Most abbots were elected by the ‘house’, though some were appointed by the bishop or the king. Many abbots elected by the brothers came from within the abbey, but some came from other abbeys where several had previously served as priors. For example, Ingulph (1130–1158) was Prior of Winchester before being elected Abbot of Abingdon, Roger (1175–1185) was Prior of Bermondsey and Alyred (1186–1189) was Prior of Rochester.
All the abbots were appointed and died in office unless otherwise noted. Abbot Hugh, the 21st Abbot of Abingdon (1189–1221), was the longest-serving. Two abbots lived for only a year after being elected.
The Saxon Abbots
|1.||Ethelwold||955–964||Appointed first abbot after the Rededication.|
Abbey granted privilege of electing its abbot by King Edwy.
Appointed Bishop of Winchester and resigned as abbot.
|2.||Osgar||964–984||In 977 Sideman, Bishop of Crediton, was buried at the abbey.|
|3.||Eadwine||985–990||Abbacy purchased for him by his brother Aelfric of Hampshire.|
|4.||Wulfgar||990–1016||Advisor to King Ethelred.|
Paid the Danes to protect the town and abbey.
Aelfric of Abingdon, Archbishop of Canterbury, buried at the abbey (later moved).
Eadfleda, a noble lady, donated land at Winkfield and Wickham. a casket of relics, a copy of the gospels bound in gold and silver, a silver cup, and vestments for a priest to the abbey.
|5.||Aethelsige||1016–1018||No recorded events.|
|6.||Aethelwine||1018–1030||King Canute donated a silver and gold casket with the relics of St Vincent of Spain together with two large statues.|
|7.||Siward||1030–1044||Relics of St Edward, king and martyr, donated.|
Siward appointed Bishop of Rochester and resigned.
|8.||Aethelstan||1034–1047||No recorded events.|
|9.||Spearhafoc||1048–1051||Resigned on becoming Bishop-Elect of London. When his consecration was thwarted he absconded with a large treasure.|
|10.||Rodulf||1051–1052||Relative of Edward the Confessor, the last Saxon king. Previously he was a missionary in Norway and Iceland.|
|11.||Ordric||1052–1066||Appointed from the monks in residence. Died 1066.|
|12.||Ealdred||1066–1071||Appointed from the monks in residence.|
Queen Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror, plundered the abbey of its treasures including a gospel book adorned with gold and jewels.
Deposed for involvement in the conspiracy of Bishop Aethelwine of Durham.
The Norman Abbots
|13.||Adelelm||1071–1083||Appointed by William I (the Conqueror).|
|14.||Rainald||1084–1097||Personal chaplain to William I.|
Extended the east end of the abbey church.
Easter Court of William I in 1084.
Domesday Book: ‘ten merchants dwelling in front of the church gate’; 24 free men employed as servants to the monks; seven manors held by the abbey (Cumnor, Barton, Marcham, Charney, Uffington, Lockinge-Farnborough, and Milton).
Easter Court of Prince Henry (later Henry I) in 1087.
Church tower collapsed during expansion.
Rebuilding of the church.
Total of 28 monks following a time of ‘severe losses’.
|15.||Faritius||1100–1117||Appointed by Henry I.|
Italian monk and physician.
Established a separate ‘abbot’s household’.
Built abbot’s chambers.
Added the nave, two towers, most of the central tower, and the chapel of Mary Magdalene to the church.
The Golden Age
|16.||Vincent||1121–1130||Eighty monks in seven departments known as ‘obediences’ each headed by a monk (obedientar):|
sacristan (treasury, bells, cemetery)
almoner (care of the poor)
cellarer (baking, brewing and mead-making)
refectorer (domestic responsibilities)
chamberlain (clothing, bedding, laundry, baths)
infirmarer (medical care).
Each obedience had a staff of laymen.
|17.||Ingulph||1130–1159||First post-Conquest abbot who did not come from the continent.|
|18.||Walkelin||1159–1164||A monk of Evesham, appointed by Henry II.|
On the death of Walkelin, Bishop Godfrey of St Asaph appointed as procurator. Demoted in 1175.
|19.||Roger||1175–1185||Previously Prior of Bermondsey.|
Built St Nicolas Church for the laymen.
Planted the vineyard.
78 laymen employed at the abbey in 12 obediences.
|20.||Alured||1186–1189||Previously Prior of Rochester.|
|21.||Hugh||1189–1221||Longest serving abbot of Abingdon (31 or 32 years).|
Added transepts, aisles and a bell tower to the church.
Added obedientar positions of kitchener, hostilar, keeper of the works, gardener, pitancer, and lignary.
Began payment of laymen in cash.
King John visited the abbey twice (1200 and 1215).
|22.||Robert de Hendred||1121–1234||Resigned.|
No recorded events.
|23.||Luke||1234–1241||Right of monks to elect abbot restored.|
|24.||John de Blosneville||1241–1256||Added a Chapel of St Mary and a chapel of the Holy Trinity at the east end of the church.|
The prior led a ‘sustained attack’ against the abbot, forcing him to prohibit the purchase of lay servants’ offices at the abbey and the reappointment of dismissed laymen without agreement of the prior and a committee of monks. John also agreed to departmental autonomy which prevented him from ordering one to ‘bear the burdens’ of another.
John endowed a school for ’13 poor scholars’.
King Henry III, Queen Eleanor, Prince Edward, and King Alexander III of Scotland visited the abbey in 1255.
|25.||William de Newbury||1256–1260||Started construction of the Checker.|
|26.||Henry de Frilford||1260–1261||No recorded events.|
|27.||Richard de Hendred||1261–1289||First mitred abbot.|
Continued work on building the Checker.
Attended the Council of Lyon.
Accused by the townsfolk of enlarging St John’s Hospital (the abbey guesthouse) into Bridge Street.
First mention of a ‘treasurer’.
Six principal servants of the abbot were employed.
|28.||Nicholas de Culham||1289–1306||Rebuilt St Nicolas Church at the abbey gateway.|
Added a south aisle to the abbey church.
Instituted St Edmund’s Fair (which lasted for eight days) to raise money for building a chapel dedicated to St Edmund of Abingdon. The townspeople objected, as fairs disrupted their trade, and attacked the fair. It was driven over Ock Bridge out of Abingdon and into the Hundred of Sutton.
Dispute between the monks of Abingdon and Eynsham over the ferry at Swinford. Resolved in 1299.
Died on the feast of St Nicholas.
|29.||Richard de Clive||1306–1315||Careful manager.|
No expensive building projects.
By 1215 the monastery was free of debt.
Richard was drowned in 1215 when his boat overturned in the Thames.
Conflict with the Town and Plague
|30.||John de Sutton||1315–1322||Seven years of ‘wanton misrule’ –‘a bad man, the very worst of administrators’.|
Trial of the tolcestrepeny tax (a tax on brewing for sale).
Monks complained to the Bishop of Salisbury and the Pope.
Deposed for poor administrative abilities and dishonesty.
|31.||John de Canynges||1322–1328||Attempted to restore order and repair the damage to the monastery.|
Stocked a new fish pond.
Riots in 1327 – abbey looted and documents burned.
|32.||Robert de Garford||1328–1332||Visit of King Edward III in 1330.|
Abbey given permission to crenellate (add battlements for defence).
Abbot prosecuted the ringleaders of the 1327 riots and retrieved some stolen goods.
Attempted to improve the abbey’s finances.
|33.||William de Cumnor||1332–1335||More peaceful conditions.|
Manor houses built at Sutton Courtenay and Cumnor as retreats.
|34.||Roger de Thame||1335–1361||Upper floor of Checker remodelled with the dividing wall.|
Second treasurer appointed.
Lawsuits with the town.
Outbreak of plague – Black Death.
Princess Margaret of Pembroke, daughter of Edward III, buried at the abbey.
|35.||Peter de Hanney||1361–1399||The town bought lawsuits in an attempt to break the abbot’s control of the market. What was the status of Abingdon – King’s town or monks’ town? In 1363 Peter was accused of ‘conspiracies, confederacies, champerties, extortion, falsities, damages, and excesses’. The jurors were bribed and the case was dismissed.|
In 1368 the town again tried to gain control over its affairs. Peter was impeached for usurpation of royal privileges and the case was heard by the King’s Council. Peter was reprimanded by the crown for extracting dues from the town while his case was pending and after being told not to do so. However, the town lost the battle. In 1372, an Act of Parliament ended the four-year trial and restored the town to the jurisdiction of the abbey.
In 1397 Richard II visited the abbey.
Obedientars during Peter’s abbacy: treasurers, Willelmi Thodenham and Thome de Chilton; kitchener, R. de Flatbury; gardener, Johannis de Eynesham; sacristan, Johannis Shepene.
Rebuilding and Final Flourish
|36.||Richard de Salford||1401–1415||Obedientars during Richard’s abbacy: chapel warden, Roberti Oxn; custodian of St Edmund’s Chapel, Thome Crendon; gardener, Johannis Henreth; Trinity warden, Johannis Dorszete.|
|37.||John Dorset (or Dorszete)||1415–1421||Building of bridge across the Thames at Abingdon started.|
First mention of the Department of the Common Chest (probably a sub-department of the Treasury).
Number of monks declined (30–40) but number of offices increased to more than 20. Most monks were young, inexperienced or elderly.
|38.||Richard Boxore||1422–1427||Visit by Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury (founder of All Soul’s College, Oxford). He was critical of abbey obedientiaries for holding multiple offices.|
Obedientars during Richard’s abbacy: cosener, lignary, and warden of Trinity Chapel, Ralph Hamme; refrectorer, Thome Doncastre; chapel warden, Thome Enesham.
|39.||Thomas Salford||1427–1428||Resigned as abbot but continued as chamberlain.|
|40.||Ralph Hamme||1428–1435||Twenty members of the abbot’s ‘household’.|
Three priors and 12 obedientiaries (back to 12th century organisation).
In 1431, 20,000 Lollards (led by William Mandeville, also known as Jack Sharpe) attacked the abbey which was defended by the Duke of Gloucester. Mandeville was captured and executed.
Hamme resigned as abbot in December 1435.
|41.||William Asshenden||1436–1468||Elected and installed in January 1436.|
Also served as one of the two treasurers.
Erected the great stone cross in the town market place.
Built the abbey gateway at St Nicolas church.
Outbreak of the Wars of the Roses in 1454.
In 1458 Thomas Courtenay, Earl of Devon, died while visiting the abbey accompanied by Queen Margaret, wife of Henry VI, seeking the abbot’s support for the Lancastrian cause. Suspicion of poisoning, but no proof of this.
Abbot and abbey pardoned by Edward IV in 1467, possibly for supporting the Lancastrian uprising of 1464.
Asshenden resigned in 1468.
|42.||John Santé (Santos)||1468–1496||Doctor of theology and graduate of Oxford. One of the best known abbots, with many extra-monastic activities.|
Known to be a great orator.
English ambassador to the Vatican, owned a house in Rome.
Began building the central tower and a west end tower, and expanded the main body of the church.
Appointed to a diplomatic mission to King Ferdinand of Sicily to discuss an alliance against France.
Made a papal nuncio and commissary in England, Wales, and Ireland.
Empowered to preach the Jubilee Indulgence to raise money for a fleet and army to fight the Turks.
Empowered to grant absolution, dispensation, and rehabilitation for a range of offences in exchange for contributions to the indulgence fund.
Issued the famous indulgence to Henry and Katherine Langley, possibly England’s oldest surviving printed document.
Mandated by the Vatican to visit and reform religious houses in England and Wales, and both secular and regular churches in Ireland.
Granted powers of legate de latere (a papal legate who is appointed especially for a particular mission).
Abbey brought under direct papal protection.
Glastonbury Abbey complained to the pope about Santé, calling him ‘an enemy of the abbot’.
Santé’s indulgence privileges revoked for not accounting for all the money collected.
Abbot of Woburn warned the Abbot of Citeaux that Santé was ‘no friend of the Cistercian order’.
Edward IV appointed Santé ambassador to the Vatican (Pope Sixtus IV).
Vatican granted the Abingdon Abbey abbots the privileges of bishops and the monks the privileges of priests, and lowered the age of ordination to 21.
Santé served as Justice of the Peace for Berkshire and Oxfordshire.
Tenants on three Berkshire manors belonging to the abbey refused to perform the customary services.
Santé appointed to the embassy negotiating peace between France and the Duke of Brittany.
Santé accused in Parliament of assisting the Yorkist rebellion of John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, which attempted to place the pretender Lambert Simnel on the throne.
Abbey incomes plummeted after Santé’s indictment.
Abbey lands restored and Santé pardoned after paying a fine.
The Beginning of the End
|43.||Thomas Rowland||1496–1504||No recorded events.|
|44.||Alexander Shottisbrook||1504–1508||No recorded events.|
|45.||John of Coventry||1508–1511||Death of Henry VII, April 1509.|
Marriage of Henry VIII and Katharine of Aragon, June 1509.
|46.||Thomas Rowland alias Pentecost||1511–1538||Last Abbot of Abingdon.|
The abbot’s annual income was £1876/year (fifth highest paid abbot in England, approximately £2.5 million today).
Henry VIII held the Easter Court of 1518 in Abingdon because of sweating sickness in London. The Court lasted for three weeks. The king and queen had comfortable accommodation in the royal apartments in the abbot’s lodging and the Undercroft was used as the wine cellar. However, there were many complaints from other ‘great personages’ about the lack of suitable accommodation in ‘this small town’. There was also a shortage of fodder for the hundreds of horses.
On 9 February 1538 the abbot, the prior and 24 monks signed the Deed of Surrender of the monastery, and departed to Cumnor Place. The abbey was stripped of all valuable building materials which were removed for use in royal projects.
- Cox, Mieneke (1986). The Story of Abingdon, Part I.
- Cox, Mieneke (1989). The Story of Abingdon, Part II.
- Heale, Martin (2015). John Sante. In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
- Lambrick, Gabrielle (1967). The Impeachment of the Abbot of Abingdon in 1368. English Historical Review, Vol. 82, pp. 250–76.
- Slatter, John (1880–81). A Sketch of the History of the Abbey of Abingdon. Berkshire Archaeological and Architectural Society.