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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

Arable and pastoral land (continued)


The wild outdoors
The threat of bandits and wild beasts near the abbey’s remote grange of Esklet, in Westerdale, meant that in 1185 the shepherds carried horns and set traps for wolves.
[Williams, Cistercians in the Early Middle Ages, p. 248.]

The community also had cows, goats, horses, oxen for ploughing, pigs, deer and rabbits - Rievaulx had a rabbit farm at Newlass.(32) To prevent overgrazing, charters granting pasture rights often stipulate exactly how many animals and indeed which of these, could be pastured on the named piece of land. In the late twelfth century eight oxen (a plough-team), thirty-two cows and issue, four hundred sheep, two bulls, six horses and six sow were allowed to graze at Hasketh grange,(33) and in 1332 Rievaulx had common pasture for twenty-four oxen (three plough-teams), four horses or mares, twenty pigs, twenty cows and a bull, as well as three hundred sheep at Stainborough grange.(34) The community might also be granted grazing rights in woodland. This was particularly suited to cattle and pigs, which could feed on acorns and nuts there. Grants of this kind often prohibited or severely restricted goats since they tended to eat the woody growth and young seedlings, thereby inhibiting regeneration.

Aerial photo of Jervaulx abbey
©Dave Macleod
<click to enlarge>

Horse breeding and trading was evidently a specialism of the Yorkshire Cistercian houses and the White Monks here were renowned for their quality. The superiority of their horses was clearly appreciated in royal circles, for in 1236 Henry III requested two palfreys, stipulating that these should be of northern parts, good and fit – he received one from Rievaulx and one from Jervaulx. The attraction of owning one of these quality horses may have encouraged donors to grant land to the abbey. This was the case at Furness, where a donor requested an honourable horse in return for his generosity to the community.(35)

Whilst horse-trading was evidently an accepted part of Cistercian life, twelfth-century Cistercian legislation stipulated that this should not be conducted at markets or fairs, but at the abbey granges. Moreover, horses were to be sold before they had been broken.(36)

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