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Cistercian Abbeys: BOXLEY

Name: BOXLEY Location: nr Maidstone County: Kent
Foundation: 1146 Mother house: Clairvaux
Relocation: None Founder: William de Ypres
Dissolution: 1538 Prominent members:
Access: Private property

The abbey of St. Mary, Boxley, was founded in 1146 by William de Ypres, son of the count of Flanders. It was colonised by monks from Clairvaux, one of the four principle daughter houses of Citeaux. (1) William de Ypres was King Stephen’s military commander during the civil disorder and controlled practically the whole of Kent. It is thought that Queen Matilda placed William de Ypres in power in Kent during the crisis of 1141 and had later given him permission to found a Cistercian abbey at Boxley, which was a royal manor, so that William might build an abbey as a mark of his authority. Apparently the monks of St. Augustine’s, Canterbury, were particularly irked by his power and referred to his rule of Kent as a tyranny, which is a rather exaggerated statement of William’s presence in the county.(2) The abbots of Boxley acquired a prominent place in parliament. In 1171 the abbot was one of those who quickly buried Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, after he was murdered. In 1193 the abbots of Boxley and Robertsbridge were sent abroad to look for Richard I, whom they found in Bavaria on Palm Sunday. During the reign of King Edward I the abbot of Boxley was summoned to parliament several times, but was not called thereafter.

The abbey acquired some fame through its possession of the celebrated Rood of Grace, a cross with an image supposed to be miraculously gifted with movement and speech. More than a century before the Dissolution the abbey was described as ‘the abbey of the Holy Cross of Grace’.(3) But at the abbey’s dissolution in 1538 ‘certain engines and old wire’ were found in the cross which, when operated by the monks, caused the eyes and mouth to move. News of the exposure appears to have been widely spread and was probably staged as a warning to the credulous; indeed, it was probable that nothing was more damaging to the cause of the monasteries.(4) The 1535 assessment put the net value of the house per annum at £208.

Today, only fragmentary remains of the abbey still exist, and these are situated within the grounds of an eighteenth-century private house which takes its name from the abbey.(5)