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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

The endowment


Lands acquired by the abbey c.1147
© Cistercians in Yorkshire Project
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Lands acquired by the abbey c.1147

Walter Espec’s initial grant to support his new foundation consisted of nine carucates of land by the River Rye. Four of these were in Griff, some two miles SE of the abbey, the other five in Tilleston, which is today represented by Stilton Farm. His gift included rights of pasture, freedom from secular services (such as the payment of tithes and tolls, the performance of duties) and also the right to collect dead wood and timber which could then be used for building and repair work. Whilst Walter’s endowment may not have been overly generous, especially when compared with Walter’s grant to his Augustinian foundation, Kirkham Priory, it was in keeping with the Cistercian ideal and enabled the new community to pursue a life of simplicity and poverty in this ‘solitary waste.’ [William of Newburgh, twelfth-century canon of Newburgh Priory]

Walter’s foundation grant was soon supplemented by other gifts, most of which are recorded in the ‘Memorial of Benefactors’. This chronological list of the abbey’s benefactors from 1132 to 1188 is included in the cartulary of the house and provides a valuable insight to the community’s accumulation of lands and rights during the twelfth century. It reveals that most of Rievaulx’s benefactors at this time were men and women of middling standing from the locality, who were tenants of the abbey’s founder. They generally gave modest gifts of lands and rights in the near vicinity, which meant that Rievaulx’s holdings were initially concentrated around its immediate surroundings. In 1145 Walter Espec made a second grant to the monks, with the gift of land at Bilsdale and Raisdale, in the North Yorkshire Moors. The community received land here in Stainton from the Mowbrays, a leading baronial family in the North.

This first stage was therefore a period of slow and steady expansion, with the community acquiring mostly modest gifts of land in the locality. The mid-twelfth century marked a change in Rievaulx’s economic fortunes: the number of benefactors increased considerably to include several prominent individuals; the geographical spread of the abbey’s lands widened.

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