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Byland Abbey: Location

Byland Abbey: History
Later Middle Ages

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On the brink of surrender: Byland in the sixteenth century

1526 chartulary from Byland
© British Library
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1526 chartulary from Byland

Little is known of monastic life at Byland on the eve of the Dissolution, but scattered references to the monks offer some insight to the community and their activities at this time. The abbot and monastic officials were extensively involved in administrative affairs relating to the Order and also more generally. For example, both the abbot and prior of Byland attended the election of the abbot of Rievaulx in 1533. In 1525 Thomas Bolton (Poulton), the sacrist of Byland, and Christopher Raner, a monk of the house, witnessed the will of Alice Chaufer of Newstead.(71) Abbot John of Byland was assigned the unpleasant task of presiding over the election of a new abbot at Rievaulx, following the rather unjust and controversial removal of Abbot Kirkby in 1533. Most of the Rievaulx monks objected to the appointment of a new abbot, and Abbot John faced a difficult challenge. John’s attempts to disengage himself from the job resulted in a blunt and pointed letter from Cromwell, ordering him to complete the task to which he had been appointed.(72)
[Read more about Kirkby’s removal]

‘Mr Byland’
The Cistercian college at Oxford had a rather chequered existence and struggled for survival. It lacked support, for Cistercian houses in England and Wales were reluctant to send students there or to contribute resources. Student monks at St Bernard’s College were identified by their home community, thus, there is a reference in 1520 to a ‘Mr Byland’.
[Cross and Vickers, Monks, Friars and Nuns in Sixteenth-Century Yorkshire, p. 102.]
[Read more about the studium at Oxford]

Numbers at Byland were low in the sixteenth century, as elsewhere in the country, yet the monastery had its fair share of miscreants. One such offender may have been John of Cleveland, who was moved from Byland to Roche c. 1532, but had returned by 1535 when he was ordained to the priesthood.(73) It was common for those who had committed misdemeanours to be transferred, temporarily, to another community, in the hope that this short break would effect a transformation of character. It was probably for this reason that Christopher Crombock was moved from Whalley to Byland and it was certainly the reason for the arrival of Gawain Borodall from Holmcultram, who had allegedly poisoned his abbot. Not surprisingly Abbot John of Byland was less than thrilled to receive custody of this miscreant.(74)

Surviving wills can also shed some light on the members of the monastic community at this time. Monks of Byland are sometimes named as beneficiaries or executors of their families’ wills, suggesting that they might retain close links with their kin. Marmaduke Christalowe, a monk of Byland, was named as a supervisor of his brother’s will and was to receive a horse upon his brother, William’s, death.(75)

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