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Fountains Abbey: Location

Fountains Abbey: History
Trials and Tribulations
Strength and Stability
End of Monastic Life

Fountains Abbey: Buildings
Chapter House
Warming House
Day Room
Lay Brothers' Range
Abbots House
Outer Court

Fountains Abbey: Lands

Fountains Abbey: People

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The end of monastic life: the Dissolution of Fountains


Layton and Legh also granted those wishing to leave the monastic life dispensation to do so. They reported that six of the monks requested dismissal, but five of these seemingly remained until the dissolution. Whether they had felt bullied into this decision by the commissioners, or were later encouraged to remain, is not clear.
[See F. D. Logan, ‘Departure from the religious life during the royal visitation’, pp. 219-221.]

In the February of 1535, Doctors Layton and Legh, the royal commissioners notorious for their rigorous visitation of the religious houses in the north of England, conducted an investigation at Fountains. They sought evidence of misconduct, and charged eight members of the community of immorality. Christopher Jenkynson and Thomas Browne were accused of self-abuse; Thomas was also accused of committing sodomy with a boy, and Gavin Byrtleson with five boys. Robert Dodgeson had allegedly conducted an illicit affair with a married woman; Lawrence Benne took this a step further and engaged in two such affairs. Whilst Christopher Lighton and Walter Newark each enjoyed ‘immoral relations’ with single women, John Melsonby had dalliances with two single women.(130) These charges cannot, however, be taken too seriously. Damning reports of a similar nature were almost an inevitability following a visitation by the royal commissioners, and provided the evidence required to justify their next act – the suppression of the monasteries.

Lead plate from Fountains
© Cistercians in Yorkshire Project
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Lead plate from Fountains

On 26 November, 1539, Abbot Marmaduke Bradley gathered in the chapter-house at Fountains with his prior, Thomas Kydde, and the thirty remaining monks, to surrender their abbey and all its property to the royal commissioners. Unfortunately the surrender deed no longer survives, but this would have been similar to those signed at Roche, Rievaulx and Byland. In return for his compliance, each monk of Fountains received a pension, relative to his standing within the community.

A serpent’s tongue?
The inventory mentions a serpent’s tongue, set in silver, that was the custody of the abbot. This was probably a shark’s tooth, brought by a pilgrim from the East who though it was a serpent’s tongue.
[Memorials of Fountains I, p. 293.]

An inventory was taken and a valuation of the abbey and its lands made. Fountains was valued at £1115 18s 2d, making it the wealthiest Cistercian abbey in the country, although this was considerably less than the great Benedictine houses such as the abbeys of Westminster and Glastonbury, which had a net income of £3470 and £3311 respectively; St Mary’s, York, had a net income of £1650.(131) Still, Fountains offered rich pickings for the Crown. There were fine ecclesiastical vestments and vessels - copes, mitres encrusted with silver gilt decoration, silver-headed crosiers and chalices; plate, jewels and relics – including a piece of the True Cross. Another highly prized material was the abbey’s lead, and this was stripped from the roof, pipes and elsewhere, and melted down to form ingots, or ‘pigs’, which were easier to transport. Each pig weighed nine hundredweights.(132)

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