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Cistercian Abbeys: BORDESLEY

Name: BORDESLEY Location: Redditch County: Worcestershire
Foundation: 1138 Mother house: Garendon
Relocation: None Founder: Waleran de Beaumont
Dissolution: 1538 Prominent members:
Access: Open to the public

Bordesley was founded by Waleran de Beaumont, count of Meulan (in Normandy) and earl of Worcester, in 1138. This foundation was made in conjunction with the foundation of an Augustinian abbey in Leicester by his twin brother, Robert earl of Leicester. These ‘twin’ foundations can be seen as a political statement made by two of the most powerful magnates in England. Waleran had been made earl of Worcester by King Stephen in 1138 and this project marked his arrival. On being made earl Waleran had received a block grant of all the royal assets in the county and Bordesley Abbey was situated in Feckenham forest, on land of this nature.(1) It was the first daughter house of the abbey of Garendon, which had been founded by Waleran’s twin brother, Robert earl of Leicester.(2) However, first the Empress Matilda and then her son, Henry II, claimed Bordesley as their own foundation.(3) Waleran had been a favoured adherent of Stephen’s party, but after the battle of Lincoln (1141) Waleran defected to the Empress’s party in order to save his lands in Normandy, which were now under the control of the Empress’s husband, Geoffrey of Anjou.

The Empress issued two charters as a consequence of Waleran’s submission to her and they were both directed to the abbey of Bordesley. The charters declare that the Empress was in fact the abbey’s founder; it is thought that the unspoken assumption behind these charters is that Waleran’s earldom was to be suppressed and his grants therefore annulled or transferred (as in the case of Bordesley) to royal patronage.(4) As a royal foundation, it received many privileges from the crown but never attained a position of especial wealth or importance. In 1535, the temporalities reached an annual value of £348 but the monastery was deemed to be £200 in debt.(5) The abbey was dissolved in 1538 and demolition began almost immediately. In 1542, the site was granted to Lord Windsor, whose family, the earls of Plymouth, owned it through to the twentieth century. The chapel survived in use as a church until 1805 and the whole site is now a public park in Needle Lane, Waterside, in the Borough of Redditch. There are substantial earthworks and the eastern parts of the church have been conserved for display.(6) There is a visitor centre and the remains are freely accessible to the public.(7)