Swineshead History Montage

Swineshead Abbey


The abbey of Swineshead was founded by Robert de Gresley about the year 1148. The monks who first settled there were a colony from Furness Abbey. The founder and his son Albert endowed the monastery with 240 acres of demesne land and other gifts. Other benefactors were Stephen earl of Brittany, Robert d'Arcy, Alan de Croun, Gilbert of Ghent, Henry de Longchamp, Simon earl of Montfort, and many of less note. Extremely little is known of the history of this house, and yet it must have been a fairly large and important one in early days, as even at the dissolution the bells and lead were worth £274 3s. King John spent a short time there after that disastrous passage of the Wash when he lost the crown jewels. A late tradition also represents him as dying within the precincts of the monastery. There are but few suits recorded of this house, and none of them are important. In 1338 Henry de Beaumont, earl of Bohun, complained that the abbot and others had committed divers trespasses on his free warren, fisheries, and pastures, at Folkingham and elsewhere. 

The revenue of Swineshead Abbey in 1534 was less than £200; it therefore fell under the first Act of Suppression. The abbot, John Haddingham, received a pension of £24 a year. The monks, ten in number, were paid off in the usual way, with 20s apiece and 'capacities.' 

The interior history of Swineshead is as difficult to recover as the exterior. One of its earliest abbots attained considerable literary fame; this was Gilbert of Hoyland, who had evidently been an intimate friend and disciple of St. Bernard. He had the honour of continuing (not unworthily, as they say who are best able to judge) his master's beautiful commentary on the Song of Songs. St. Bernard carried the work nearly to the end of the second chapter. Gilbert went on with it till he also was interrupted by death, before he had reached the end of the fourth chapter. Under his rule we may well believe that the primitive simplicity of the Cistercian ideal was maintained at Swineshead, and his good influence extended beyond the walls of his own monastery. We know that the standard of the whole order became lower afterwards with the increase of its wealth; but there is no evidence that it was conspicuously low in this abbey. The absence of records tells rather in the opposite direction. There were three monks who left the house in 1329, and carried away some of its goods, and another apostate was absolved in 1341:  such cases prove very little. The monastery was doubtless visited from time to time, according to the custom of the order, by the abbot of Furness; we hear of one such visitation in 1401. A certain Ralf de Byker was at that time accused of having laid violent hands upon a former abbot, and of having stolen goods belonging to the monastery; as he failed to clear himself the visitor ordered him to be imprisoned. The discipline of the order seems to have been severe at the time, for Ralf de Byker was so afraid of it that he fled the house early the next morning; but a little later, wearying of the secular habit, he entered the abbey of St. Mary Graces in London, went through a new novitiate there, and was professed a second time. When the facts came to light a little later, he had to get a dispensation from the pope to stay in London instead of returning, as he ought to have done, to the house of his original profession. He was then formally absolved and released from his obedience by the abbot of Swineshead. 

No complaint is recorded against the house at the time of suppression. It was dissolved simply because its revenue was less than £200 a year.

The original endowment of Swineshead Abbey consisted of 240 acres in the same vill, with certain mills and fisheries, and a moiety of the church of Cotgrave, Nottinghamshire. The temporalities of the house were worth £121 16s. 10d. per annum in 1291. The abbot was returned in 1303 and 1346 as holding half a knight's fee of William son of Robert in Casthorpe.  In 1534 the income of Swineshead Abbey was £167 15s. 3½d. clear. At the dissolution the crown bailiff's report gives a total of £184 17s. 8½ d., including the rectory of Cotgrave and the manors of Gosberton and Quadryng, Great and Little Hale, Cotgrave, and Hardwick Grange. 

Abbots Of Swineshead

  • Gilbert of Hoyland, occurs before 1202
  • William, occurs 1202 and 1208
  • Robert Denton, occurs 1203
  • Geoffrey, occurs 1240 Lambert, occurs 1298
  • John, elected 1308, occurs 1338 William, occurs 1401
  • John Haddingham (or Addingham), last abbot, occurs 1529.

The pointed oval fourteenth-century seal represents an abbot full length, in the right hand a pastoral staff, in the left hand a book, with three monks on each side, under a carved cinquefoiled arch or canopy, crocketed. Above an embattled parapet, in a niche with carved ogee arch, having a flying buttress at each side, the Virgin, with crown, seated, the Child on the left knee. In the field, three estoiles; in base, a boar's head.


The seal of Abbot Jordan is also pointed oval, representing the abbot standing on a corbel, in the right hand a pastoral staff, in the left hand a book.

The seal of Abbot Jordan is also pointed oval, representing the abbot standing on a corbel, in the right hand a pastoral staff, in the left hand a book.


Source: A History Of The County Of Lincolnshire, Vol 2 - p 145-146. 1906.

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