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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

Robbers at Roche


In August 1304, the abbot of Kirkstall embarked on his long journey to the Annual General Chapter at Cîteaux, that was held every September. Robbers, who knew of his plans, hid in the woods by Roche and lay in wait for the abbot to pass. Luckily their wicked intentions were uncovered. The abbot of Kirkstall was alerted of their whereabouts, diverted his route, and arrived safely at Dover, ready to set sail for France. 1

The abbot of Kirkstall’s experience was not unusual. Travel by road could be extremely dangerous, with the threat of robbery and ambush. Woods, such as those at Roche, were a favourite hiding-place for robbers and could be particularly unsafe. The Cistercian abbots travelling to the General Chapter at Cîteaux were easy prey for robbers, who knew when they would be on the roads, and that they would be laden with supplies for the journey; a successful ambush could be extremely lucrative. It was clearly anticipated that some abbots would be attacked on their way to the meeting, for the General Chapter ruled that in such cases victims should be helped by other Cistercian abbeys. To avoid attack, abbots generally sought safety in numbers and travelled to the meeting at Cîteaux in convoy; the English abbots usually congregated at London. As a further precaution, the stablehands or grooms who accompanied the abbots carried arms and were thus ready to ward off attackers.