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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

QuizThe fate of the monks of Roche after the Dissolution


Roche Abbey as it is today
<click to enlarge>
Roche Abbey as it is today

Abbot Henry Cundall left the abbey with a respectable pension, a ‘golden handshake’, and retired to Tickhill, where he held a living. In his will of 18 October 1554 he left forty shillings to the poor of Tickhill and twenty shillings to the poor of Crowle; Henry had died by 4 May 1555.(2)

Thomas Twell, the sub-prior of the abbey, became a priest in Nottinghamshire, and in his will of 16 November 1558, styled himself ‘Sir Thomas Twelves of Blyth, a Nottinghamshire priest’. Thomas left money and goods to his sister and other relatives, and made bequests to the poor of Blyth and surrounding villages; he also left a vestments and a chalice to Sheffield parish church, in return for a mass for his father and himself.(3)

John Dodsworth, the bursar of Roche, and one of those accused of sodomy by Layton and Legh in 1535/6, may have obtained a chantry in Kirk Bramworth parish church in 1540; he later became rector of Armthorpe, where he remained until his death in May 1574. In his will Dodsworth requested that he be buried in the churchyard of Armthorpe, near his sister.(4) John Dodsworth’s name also crops up in a court case of 1568-9, where he testified on behalf of the eighty-year old Richard Lonsdale, a former friar of Tickhill. Dodsworth was himself seventy at the time, and remembering events of some thirty or forty years earlier; that he is considered an acceptable (and accurate) character witness is in itself significant. Dodsworth’s account of how he came to know Lonsdale is extremely interesting and sheds some light on the nature of the bursar’s role in a sixteenth-century Cistercian house. He explains that for twenty-one years before the Dissolution, the abbot and convent of Roche were proprietors of the church of Tickhill, and as John was the bursar, it was his duty to visit once or twice a week to ensure that the tithes had been gathered, and that those who gathered, led and threshed the tithe were duly paid. It was during these visits to Tickhill over the course of nineteen or twenty years, that John came in contact with the former friar, Richard. Dodsworth’s account is interesting for a number of reasons, not least of all as it shows he was still identified with his former abbey some thirty years after the Dissolution; John was styled ‘former White Monk of Roche and now rector of Armthorpe.’(5)

Thomas Wells, who was a priest at the surrender of Roche, acquired the Stretton Wolfe chantry in Lincoln Cathedral. Thomas never married and died c. 1564.(6)

Henry Wilson was a priest at the time of the Dissolution and became a chantry priest at Heckington, Lincolnshire. It seems that he never married, and died at Braucnewell, 10 April 1573.(7)

John Robinson, the novice who was suspected of treason and imprisoned at York Castle, was released before the surrender of Roche and, like the other monks of his abbey, received a pension, which he was still drawing in 1556 and 1564.(8)

One former monk of Roche compiled a history of the manor of Todwick, from the time of the Conquest in 1066 until Henry III’s reign (1216-72).(9)

There was evidently some lasting sense of community and cohesion amongst former monks of Roche, and amongst former Cistercians in general. In 1555, Henry Cundall summoned five former monks of the abbey, as well as the last abbots of Rievaulx and Rufford, and three former members of Rufford to sign a letter in support of the ordination of a former novice of Roche, Richard Moysley. Significantly, Henry referred to himself as ‘abbot of Roche.’ (10) Several wills testify to this solidarity amongst former monks, and show that there was some contact amongst those who had once shared the monastic life at Roche. Henry Cundall’s will of 1554 mentions a fur gown that had been given to him by a former monk of Roche, Nicholas Colys; on 21 August 1557 Thomas Twell, the former sub-prior of Roche, was left 6s 8d and a short gown in the will of John Thorpe of Blyth who may have been a monk of the abbey.(11)