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The Great Riot of 1327
Abingdon Men attack Abbey

In 1327 a fierce attack was made upon the Abbey by the townsmen of Abingdon, supported by people from Oxford. Anthony Wood gives the following spirited account of the affair:

"1327. This year I find a most bloody outrage to have been committed by the scholars and townsmen of Oxford, joined with the townsmen of Abingdon, on the monks of the Abbey at that place. The particulars of which being mostly beyond my purpose, yet because the Oxonians had a hand in it, I shall in order set them down.

On Monday next following the Octaves of the Passover, a little after nine of the clock of the night, all the Township of Abingdon, great and small, unanimously met together, at the tolling of the common bell, in St. Helen's Church; and taking counsel together about the ordination of the market and stalls, which time out of mind belonged to the Abbey, concluded among themselves, that by their authority the stalls should be removed, and disposed, as they thought fit. Then the chief speakers among them laying open to the company the unreasonable dealings (as they termed them) of the Abbot and Convent in relation to the said market, they all unanimously thundered out divers menaces of spoil and death to the Abbey and monks thereof: which meeting being broken up, the monks had intelligence of their proceedings by some there present that bore them good will.

The Wednesday following, they all met together at the tolling of the bell in the same church of St. Helen about the middle of the night to counsel together how they might execute their malice on the Monastery. At length having concluded what to do, and each captain with his party appointed what part to act, they went at the breaking of the day to the new house, called the Guild Hall, situated in the middle of the town, which having been lately built by the Abbey because the town and market was theirs, they burnt and totally destroyed. From thence (having intentions to commit an outrage on the Abbey) they went to the church of St. Nicholas, which joineth to the entrance into the said Abbey, and the gate of that church they forthwith burnt. But while they were in doing it, certain seculars, who were deputed for the defence of the Monastery, sallied out of the gate, and violently falling on the said malefactors, killed two of them, and putting the rest to flight took of them John Bolter, John Bishop, William Poeny, Mr. Maurice and others; all which they put in the Abbey prison, as malefactors to be tried by the King's Justices itinerant. Soon after, the monks made proclamation in the King's name in the middle of the town, that if any of the malefactors that had committed the outrage and escaped their hands, would render themselves up, they should be saved harmless etc. with other invitations for stopping of more bloodshed. Soon after, many came in and were with the imprisoned malefactors set free by the Abbot John de Cannings, then newly returned from the country.

But the Abingdonians taking these things very grievously, resolved among themselves to be revenged for this bloodshed committed by them. Wherefore they sending privately to the Commonalty of Oxford their complaints of the matter, with great aggravations tending to the disgrace of the monks, desired their speedy help for satisfaction. This errand the generally of them did willingly receive, and expressed themselves ready to do them service, and the rather because the quarrel was against men of the clergy; for they having to do with such people at home, and fighting continually with them (whereby such an innate hatred was ingendred among them, that it was become natural, and is to this day so, as being transmitted from father to son and from man to man), were very sensible of the condition of the Abingdonians, and did not know to the contrary, but that they might make use of their help at the next quarrel with the Clerks. Wherefore on the Lord's day following, being the morrow after St. Mark's Day the Evangelist, came in the middle of the night the whole Commonalty of Oxford, the Mayor and other Burghers, accompanied (as 'tis said) with a multitude of scholars, such I suppose that were of a desperate condition, and were glad of any diversion, rather than to study, These I say being all armed, and guided in their way with burning torches, came first to the Manor of Northcourt belonging to the Abbey, distant on this [the Oxford] side of Abingdon about half a mile, and all the houses there that were inhabited by the tenants, they straightway burnt and plucked down. Then, entering the town of Abingdon, they made a dismal shout to the terror of all the neighbourhood, and going forthwith to the Abbey gate, insultingly cried aloud, gave base and aggravating language, threw stones, shot arrows, and put fire to the Gate, besides other enormities.

At the same time, another party went to the gate of St. John's Hospital, hoping there to have entrance, but those that were within stoutly resisted them till the rising of the sun. Soon after, they went to the Church of St. Nicholas (while others to the manor of Berton belonging to the said Abbey, which they burnt) through which and the Pietanciary these ministers of Satan entered into the Abbey, and the first thing they did was the freeing of those Malefactors that the Abbot by his authority did detain, then the burning the outer and inner gate of the Abbey, to the end that the diabolical rabble might enter in. These things being done, Edmund de la Beche the captain, favourer and prime ringleader of these malefactors, enters the Church with certain of his followers, and there, finding some of the monks at prayers at the high altar, ready to receive the fatal blow, they dragged them thence, and the head and arm of one of the senior monks he almost cut off, and so that place by the shedding of blood was polluted. In the mean time, the Abbot and rest of the monks consulting flight, venture over the river behind the Abbey, and so (except some that were drowned) escaped.

Afterwards, the said malefactors entered into the Treasury of the Church, and there all vestments, copes, chalices, books, and all ornaments of the said church, they sacrilegiously took away. The box also wherein the Holy Eucharist was with great devotion reposed, these devils did not fear to lay hands on, use it scornfully, and to throw it among other things to be conveyed away. Then they went to the Treasury of the Abbot, and there all the muniments, charters, obligations, defeisances, rolls of accounts, and of courts, and other evidences of the monastery which they could find, they consumed them publicly in a fire made for the purpose in the Abbot's court or yard; nay, those ancient muniments or writings of noblemen which were merely reposed there for security and safety sake in the times of war among the Saxons, these confounded varlets did with the rest of the charters most wickedly burn, to the great grief of the Convent, and greater of those that had a respect for venerable antiquity. All the locks in the Dormitory, Infirmary, Kitchen of the Abbot and that of the Convent, with the Larder, Offices of the Obedientiaries, they broke open, and whatsoever they found of any value, they took away, besides the Caxcolae in the Cloister; all their horses also they led away, and whatsoever was moveable, they left not untouched.

The next day being Monday, the Commonalties of Abingdon and Oxford to the number almost of three thousand, for the most part armed, gathered together by the authority of Sir Philip atte Beche, or de la Beche, John and Edmund atte Beche, in Bagley Wood, which is a mile or more distant from Abingdon toward Oxford; and after some consultation had among them, they sent for the Prior and those few monks that remained in the Abbey, to the end that they might treat of peace and concord. After they had received summons for appearance, went to the fatal wood Robert de Haulton the Prior, Reynold de Ock the Chantor, and Thomas de Hagbourne one of the monks, who, being smitten with overmuch fear, were ready to do anything to please the said malefactors, and to answer to those things they should urge or command. At length, several things were demanded of them: viz. first, a release of all right which the Abbot and Convent were wont to hold and possess in the town of Abingdon by the King's donation beyond the memory of man. Secondly, a release and quiet claim of all action, injury, demands or obligation that should arise from their spoiling the said Abbey, with other things that should be performed with a corporal oath.

All which being proposed, or rather demanded, and the malefactors protesting in public, that unless they and the Brethren at home would conclude to these things and confirm them, they would cut off their heads, burn the church, Abbey, and all the Manors belonging thereunto. To these, the Prior and monks humbly answered, that they would grant all these things as much as in them lay, and likewise persuade all the Brethren at home or abroad to do the like, and confirm them. The next day being Tuesday, certain persons of the said Commonalties that were in a special manner deputed for this purpose, came with their public notary into the Chapter House of the said Monastery, and the articles aforesaid with other matters being read before the Prior and rest of the Brethren, whether protest or not protest, did swear to them with their hands laid upon the Holy Bible, that none of them or any in their names "vel procurationem contra dictam conventionem verbo vel facto veniret sea venirent quo vis modo, nec super jure eorum seu injuria in curia regali vel aliunde ad eorum remedium aliquid impetrarent etc." Which being done, a notary then present was required to make a public instrument in perpetual memory of the thing being done, and afterwards having got the common seal of the Abbey forced the Prior to seal with it, and to three bonds of a thousand pounds apiece not to molest, vex or call them in question for what they had done. In the meantime, many affronts and troubles were done by the men of Abingdon and Oxford to the Monastery, monks thereof and their tenants.

Fifteen days after, the Bishop of St. Davids came, at the instance of the Prior, to the Abbey, and there reconciled the Church, and restored it (after many enormities and bloodshed had been committed therein) to its former state. But the Abbot John de Cannings who was forced to fly, as I have before told you, having heard all the passages of this outrage by certain messengers sent for that purpose, made haste to the King, and telling him all the particulars of the desolation of his Abbey, humbly desired that he would provide some course, that the Church, which is subject to his patronage, might be righted for the injuries done thereunto, according to the laws of the Kingdom. Wherefore, the King, in presence of many of his nobles, promised the Abbot that he, by the deliberation of his Council, would fulfil what he desired. Soon after, the King sent letters of protection, to be proclaimed in the counties of Oxford and Berkshire, to the Sheriff of them, and other faithful subjects, that is a protection of those that had been injured, vexed, plundred, beaten, wounded, etc. Which proclamation being made several times at Oxford, and especially at Abingdon by the Sheriff, accompanied with a numerous train, a great terror possessed the hearts of the malefactors, and lessened immediately their malice.

The Sunday next going before the feast of St. Simon and Jude the same year, the Abbot, by the King's command, returned to his monastery, accompanied with many nobles especially deputed for his protection, besides many esquires of the counties of Berkshire, Oxford and Wiltshire, with a great multitude of archers from the forests of Windsor, Bemwood, Shotover and Chiltern. All which having before met the Abbot at Offuncton, honourably conducted him to his monastery with great solemnity, state and triumph. At whose appearance, many malefactors fled from the town, while others hid themselves in obscure places, but several officers attaching them carried them to Wallingford Castle, and there kept them in safe custody. Soon after, one of the King's Justices sitting there in judgment, he condemned twelve of the said malefactors, and were forthwith hanged. There were also three-score more cast, and being upon the point of condemnation, the Abbot sent Giles de Pagham, his esquire, with a supersedeas to hinder it, and so the matter at that time rested.

As to the losses which the said monastery suffered by the aforesaid malefactors, of which little or nothing I conceive could be recovered for the present, were very great. Among them were an hundred psalters, forty missals, a hundred graduals, twelve codes, ten decretals, ten chalices, twenty white vestments called surplices, sixty copes, forty casulae, or sacred garments, a censer and candlestick of silver, sixty little cups or goblets of gold, forty silver cups, a hundred silver pieces of plate, forty silver spoons, two hundred dishes or platters, a hundred carcasses of beef, a thousand carcasses of mutton, three hundred hogs, linen and woollen cloth to the value of a thousand pound, besides the goods and chattels of the House, Church and Abbot, which amounted to the value of a thousand pound or more, etc. In another place, 'tis said, that all the losses of the Abbey came to ten thousand pounds, and in a certain writ sent from the King to certain Justices to examine this matter at Oxford 'tis said that the losses of the Abbo and Convent amounted to forty thousand pounds.

Soon after, the process was ended at Wallingford, the King commanded John Matravers Junior, John de Stonor, Robert de Aston, John Loveday, and Robert de Hungerford, Justices, to go to Oxford, and that any four, three or two of them make enquiry into the transgressions of Peter de Ewe, William de Wells, etc., of the same place, made against the Abbot and Convent of Abingdon, and determine according to the law of the Kingdom. In obedience to which command, they came and by a jury found very many guilty, but whether they found the Mayor John de Docklington guilty of such crimes, who is said to be present in that grand riot I cannot tell; sure I am that some of the most notorious felons (not Peter de Ewe) suffered. It must also be noted, that before or after the said Justices came, one William de Shareshull was sent to make peace between the Abbot of Abingdon and Commonalty of Oxford, but he, hearing that the scholars lay in wait to do him mischief, was guarded into the town to Mauger Hall, where he lodged during the time of treaty. There was also a strict examination made concerning such scholars that were associates with the Burghers of Abingdon, and many being found guilty, 'tis not to be doubted but that some suffered. Others that were less guilty had their names (if excommunicated) returned to the respective prelates of the Nation, to the end that when any of them were about to obtain rectories, prebendships, or other preferments, might be stopped till such time they were absolved by the Chancellor of the University.

Soon after, John de Cannings, Abbot of Abingdon, a person of a meek spirit, died, and in his place was elected and confirmed one Robert de Garford who, being quite of another temper, bestirred himself much in obtaining reparations of the men of Abingdon for the great losses that the Abbey suffered by them. Those in the first place that he prosecuted were John the son of Richard Bishop and William his brother, Ingelram le Spicer, Hugh de Culham, Roger the son of Gilbert le Chandler, William de Harwell, Cook, John le Spicer, and Robert de Knighton of Oxford. After which he prosecuted others, and at length some of the Laics of Oxford; from most of whom he got reparation, or at least the goods that they took away."

Wood's account is based upon Brian Twyne, the Oxford antiquarian. They had access to documents which we do not possess. The account is supported by state papers of Edward III and by the Calendar of Papal Letters. The Provincial Council at St. Paul's excommunicated those who had robbed Abingdon Abbey or had committed sacrilege. It was not merely an attack upon the Church as such, but also an attempt to secure the control of the Abbot's Monday market, holding the fairs outside the Abbot's jurisdiction in the Hundred of Sutton and Ock, and to secure the right of electing annually the provost and bailiffs, Leland speaks of it as a "ple for Fraunchese."

The troubles did not subside immediately. In May, 1330, a writ of aid was issued to Robert Mary and Richard Pepper in conveying to Windsor Robert le Spicer and five others for felonies at Abingdon Abbey. We naturally reflect on the change that had taken place in a couple of centuries, since the successors of Faricius were the champions of the town against Wallingford and Oxford.

Edited from Townsend's "History of  Abingdon" (1910)

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