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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

Cistercian Life






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Strength and stability: Fountains in the later Middle Ages


By the mid-fifteenth century Fountains had recovered from the uproar of earlier years to enjoy a more settled period of consolidation, stability and relatively prosperous times under abbots John Greenwell (1442-1471), Thomas Swinton (1471-8), John Darnton (1478-95) and Marmaduke Huby (1495-1526). Fountains was once more a formidable power in the North of England whose abbots played an active part in political and ecclesiastical affairs within the locality and the realm.

Festivities at York
Abbot Greenwell was amongst those who attended the sumptuous celebration to mark the installation of George Nevillle to the see of York in 1465. Greenwell sat beside the abbot of St Mary’s, York, and was served a sumptuous spread that included meat, soup, poultry and game, pies jellies and custards. The diners worked their way through 300 tuns of ale and 100 of wine, as well as 400 swans and 200 pheasants.
[Memorials of Fountains I, p. 148]

The abbots of Fountains were highly regarded. In 1465 Abbot Greenwell attended the magnificent feast to celebrate the installation of George Neville as archbishop of York; fellow diners included the duke of Lancaster, who later ruled England as later Richard III (see right). Abbot Thomas Swinton was made a brother of the Corpus Christi Guild in 1471. John Darnton and Marmaduke Huby were influential as commissioners for the chapter in England and Wales, and in many ways dominated its activities in the late fifteenth/early sixteenth centuries. Their personality, ability and charisma was noted by contemporaries and helped establish Fountains’ position as the pre-eminent abbey in the North of England.(96) Fountains’ neighbours were clearly impressed by the spirituality of the monks and made benefactions to the abbey in return for prayers, burial and other spiritual services. In 1472 a Ralph Snaith, who was seemingly a tenant of Fountains, bequeathed twenty shillings to the community for a Mass and dirge to be said for him; the following year the community received twenty shillings from the widow of Sir Roger Ward of Givendale (near Ripon). In 1479 the knight, Sir John Pilkington, bequeathed each monk of Fountains six shillings and eight-pence for a requiem mass and £10 for repair work in the church.(97)

Magician and devils
© British Library
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Magician and devils

Still, life at Fountains was not without its problems, and there were allegations of poisoning and soothsaying at this time, and a conspiracy to topple Marmaduke Huby. A particularly damaging and long-drawn out affair was William Downom’s alleged poisoning of his abbot, John Greenwell, in 1448-9. William, a monk of Fountains, was thought to have been provoked to this attack when the sick abbot refused the pottage (broth) he had prepared for him. Correspondence between the English abbots and the abbot of Cîteaux underlines the gravity and expense of this incident.(98) A slightly later scandal involved a William Byg, alias Lech of Wombwall, who was sentenced to do penance for soothsaying. His punishment was to wear a paper scroll on his head with the words ‘Ecce sortilegus’ (‘Behold the soothsayer’); papers inscribed with the words ‘Invocatur spirituum’ (‘Invoker of spirits’) and ‘Sortilegus’ (‘Soothsayer’) were fastened to his chest and back so that his guilt would be known to all.(99)

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