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Cistercian Abbeys: DIEULACRES

Name: DIEULACRES Location: Abbey Green, nr Leek County: Staffordshire
Foundation: 1214 Mother house: Combermere (via Poulton)
Relocation: None Founder: Ranulf de Blundeville, earl of Chester
Dissolution: 1539 Prominent members:
Access: Private property

This abbey was established in 1214 by Ranulf de Blundeville, earl of Chester and lord of Leek. The origins of Dieulacres lie with the community at Poulton. Poulton Abbey (a daughter-house of Combermere) had been founded between 1146 and 1153 by Robert the Butler, in the name of his master Ranulf de Gernons (who was Ranulf de Blundevilles grandfather). More than half a century later the community at Poulton was moved to the new site at Dieulacres in the valley of the river Churnet, to the north-west of Leek in Staffordshire.(1) The story is that Ranulf de Blundeville had a vision one night in bed. His grandfather, Ranulf de Gernons, appeared and instructed his grandson to go to Cholpesdale, in the territory of Leek, and found a Cistercian abbey there on the site of the former chapel of St. Mary the Virgin there, and to provide it with buildings and ample possessions. Ranulf de Gernons also ordered that in the seventh year of the interdict that would be placed upon England, his grandson should transfer to this new site the Cistercians of Poulton. Apparently, when Ranulf de Blundeville told his wife of this vision she exclaimed in French ‘deux encres’ – ‘may god grant it increase’. Thereupon Ranulf fixed the name as Deulencres.(2) The abbey chronicle relates that the transfer took place primarily because the abbey at Poulton suffered from the attacks of the Welsh; it has also been suggested that the foundation at Dieulacres may have been a condition of the dissolution of Ranulf de Blundeville’s first marriage in 1199.(3)

Patronage of the abbey remained with the earldom of Chester, and royal grants of protection were frequent in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. By the fourteenth century, Dieulacres Abbey had risen to the status of a great landowner in Staffordshire and often behaved as such. In the later Middle Ages the abbot maintained armed bands ‘desiring to perpetrate maintenance in his marshes and oppress the people’, as one contemporary put it.(4) In 1380 a group was indicted for having beheaded John de Warton at Leek at the command of Abbot William, and by the beginning of Henry I’s reign (1100-1135), the county was reportedly in a disturbed state, with bands, including monks from Dieulacres, stealing and breaking the peace.(5) Such a history must have caused the standard of observance to drop and numbers fell: in 1377 there were only seven monks and at the time of the Dissolution there were thirteen. Despite such a reputation the house remained relatively wealthy and it was widely believed that blind monks could travel to Dieulacres to regain their sight.
The house retains considerable importance even today, for the chronicle of Dieulacres Abbey is considered a valuable source for the history of the deposition of Richard II. The assessment of 1535 determined the annual net income of the house to be £227 and the house was dissolved three years later. Very little remains of the abbey and the site has been occupied by a farmhouse since the seventeenth century. Recent work has revealed that there are god remains surviving below the ground. There are also significant earthworks defining areas of the abbey precinct.(6)