You can search online for records of monastic houses in The National Archives using Discovery, our catalogue. A keyword search on the name of the house, plus 'abbot' or 'prior' is likely to turn up many records that would previously have taken a long time to find. For example, the equity pleadings in C 1 are searchable online, and turn up over 3,000 suits involving religious houses between about 1377 and 1558. The documents themselves, however, are not available to view online.
Searching our catalogue effectively will require identifying and using variant spellings and titles. It is better not to search for 'Quarr Abbey', for example, as this will miss the documents on 'the convent at Quarr'. However, the catalogue will not find everything, and the types of records you should expect to look at are described below.
2. Printed works
The histories of many religious houses are well covered in printed works, and it is worth investigating these in detail before starting on manuscript sources. D Knowles and R N Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses, England and Wales (Longman 2nd edn, 1971) gives lists of all monasteries, friaries, nunneries, hospitals and colleges together with their dates of foundation and dissolution, an outline of their history and further bibliographical information. D Knowles, C N L Brooke and V C London, The Heads of Religious Houses, England and Wales, 940-1216 (Cambridge University Press, 1972) furnishes information about abbots and priors. The Victoria County History, which covers most English counties, has more detailed histories of religious houses county by county: its footnotes are often a useful way in to record sources. Sir William Dugdale's Monasticon Anglicanum, ed. J Caley, H Ellis and B Bandinel, 6 vols (Record Commission, 1817-30) prints a selection of charters and includes engravings of monastic buildings. To set the religious houses in their context, D Knowles, the Monastic Order in England, 940-1216 (Cambridge University Press, 2nd edn. 1963) and The Religious Orders in England 3 vols (Cambridge University Press, 1948-59) are invaluable. Monographs, articles and archaeological reports have also been produced on many monasteries: a large local reference library is the obvious place to look for these.
Manuscript sources cited in this research guide are, unless otherwise specified, held at The National Archives. Some of the printed books cited may be consulted here.
3. Founders and foundation charters
Original foundation charters for monasteries survive only rarely: most of the texts have been transmitted in later copies. Kings, as well as founding monasteries themselves, often confirmed the foundation charters of others. For the Anglo-Saxons see P H Sawyer, Anglo-Saxon Charters, an Annotated List and Bibliography (Royal Historical Society, Guides and Handbooks No.8, 1968); for the Normans see Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum, vol I, 1066-1154, (Clarendon Press) ed. H W C Davis and J Whitwell (1913); vol II, 1100-1135, ed. C Johnson and H A Cronne, (1956); vol III, 1135-54, ed. H A Cronne and R H C Davis (1968). For Henry II (1154-89), see L Delisle and E Berger, Recueil des Actes de Henri II, 3 vols (Paris, Imprimerie Nationale, 1920) and for Richard I, L Landon, The Itinerary of Richard I (Pipe Roll Society. New Series Vol 13, 1935). J C Holt and R Mortimer, Acta of Henry II and Richard I (List and Index Society, Special Series, XXI, 1986) gives a list of royal charters in British repositories.
From King John's reign, royal charters of foundation and confirmation are enrolled in the Chancery rolls, held in the National Archives. In addition, the Crown issued many inspeximuses validating much earlier grants, some of which are the sole source for the original texts. For the Close Rolls (C 54) see T D Hardy, ed., Rotuli Litterarum Clausarum in Turri Londiniensis Asservati, 1200-1227, 2 vols (Record Commission, 1833-34) continued in Calendars of Close Rolls, 1227-1509, 62 vols (HMSO, 1902-63); for the Patent Rolls (C 66), see T D Hardy, ed., Rotuli Litterarum Patentium in Turri Londiniensis Asservati, 1201-1216 (Record Commission, 1835) continued in Calendars of Patent Rolls, 1216-1509, 55 vols (HMSO, 1901-1916); for the Charter Rolls (C 53), see T D Hardy, ed., Rotuli Chartarum in Turri Londiniensis Asservati, 1199-1216 (Record Commission, 1837), continued in Calendars of Charter Rolls, 1226-1517, 6 vols (HMSO, 1903-27). For grants from 1509 to 1538 see Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, 22 vols in 37 parts (HMSO, 1864-1932). Monastic houses are also perhaps the largest single group found as beneficiaries on the confirmation rolls (C 56, from 1483). These are not calendared, but an Index is available in the reading rooms. Monastic cartularies are another source for foundation charters (see below under Estates).
The Cartae Antiquae rolls (C 52), medieval transcripts of earlier charters (some spurious), include many foundation and confirmation charters. C 52/1-20 were printed in Cartae Antiquae, Vol 1 -Rolls 1-10 ed. L Landon. Pipe Roll Society New Series Vol.17,1938; Vol 2 -Rolls11-20 ed.J Conway Davies, Pipe Roll Society New Series Vol.33,1960 ).
From 1279 land could be alienated to the Church only after a licence of mortmain had been issued. Before such a grant was made the Crown issued an inquisition ad quod damnum to ensure that its interests would not be prejudiced (C 143, listed in Public Record Office Lists and Indexes, XVII). Inquisitions ad quod damnum from 1485 are filed with Inquisitions post mortem (C 142: a separate list of the inquisitions ad quod damnum in this series is on the open shelves). Mortmain licences are enrolled on the patent rolls (C 66, and see the Calendars listed above); some payments made for them appear on the fine Rolls (C 53), and see T D Hardy, ed., Rotuli de Oblatis et Finibus in Turri Londiniensis Asservati tempore regis Johannis (Rec. Comm., 1835); C Roberts, ed., Excerpta e Rotulis Finium in Turri Londiniensis Asservati, 1216-1272 (2 vols, Rec. Comm., 1835-36); Calendars of Fine Rolls, 1272-1509, 22 vols (HMSO, 1911-63). Once the licence was finished with it was returned into Chancery to be cancelled; many are now among cancelled letters patent (C 266).
Papal Bulls confirming monastic foundations can also be a useful source. For those from 1198 onwards see Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letter, 1198-1492, 14 vols (HMSO, 1894-1961). See also below under Miscellaneous.
4. Royal benefactions to religious houses
Royal charters and monastic cartularies provide information about royal grants of lands, rights, pensions etc (see above under Foundations). Royal pensions to the religious orders paid out by the sheriffs are noted county by county in the elemosina constituta section of the Pipe Rolls (E 372). Alms dispensed by kings and queens on their travels are noted in the wardrobe books in Exchequer Various Accounts (E 101), also containing related material (see Public Record Office Lists and Indexes, XXXV, under 'Wardrobe and Household'). Charters issued by Henry III to the abbey of Le Bec-Hellouin in Normandy are in E 101/152/2. Early Liberate rolls contain numerous orders for royal gifts (C 62) and see T.D. Hardy, ed., Rotuli de Liberate ac de Misis et Praestitis, regnante Johanne (Record Commission, 1844); and Calendars of Liberate Rolls, 1226-1272, 6 vols (1917-64) and grants of wine are noticed in the butlerage accounts in E 101.
5. Estates of the religious orders
Many of the sources described above under Foundations also give useful information about endowments.
- Cartularies, i.e. registers of charters and deeds, are invaluable. There is a fairly comprehensive list in G R C Davis, Medieval Cartularies in Great Britain (Longmans, 1958). The National Archives has a substantial holding of cartularies but they are also widely scattered in other public and private archives and collections. The Record Commission Transcripts, series II, includes a transcript of the 'Cartulaire de la Basse Normandie' (PRO 31/8/140B), a collection of charters granted by English benefactors to the religious houses in Normandy.
- Miscellaneous collections of deeds contain much material generated by or relating to religious houses.
The series, with series numbers in brackets, are as follows:
A (E 40); AA (E 41); AS (E 42); B (E 326); BB (E 328); BS (E 329); BX (E 327); C (C 146); CC (C 147); CS (C 148); D (E 210); DD (E 211); DS (E 212); E (LR 14); EE (LR 15); F (WALE 29); FF (WALE 30); G (DURH 21); H (PL 29); L (DL 25); LL (DL 26); LS (DL 27); P (E 354); PP (E 355); RS (E 213); WS (E 43). The several 'B' series being the records of the Augmentations Office, contain the largest corpus of material, but the other series should not be ignored.
Parts of series A, B, C and D are covered by the Descriptive Catalogue of Ancient Deeds, 6 vols (HMSO, 1890-1915); most of the rest are included in the Catalogue. There is a catalogue of Christ Church, Canterbury deeds and charters in E 36/138. Other deeds have been recorded in book form in Augmentation Office Miscellaneous books (E 315/29-54).
- Rentals and surveys (SC 11 and C 12) contain rent rolls, registers and valuations of the lands of many religious houses. They are described in Public Record Office Lists and Indexes, XXV.
- Conventual leases, both originals and copies, are in E 118, E 303, E 311 and LR 1.
- Court Rolls and related documents (SC 2) of manors owned by monastic houses are listed in Public Record Office Lists and Indexes, VI. Similar material is to be found in the Court of Wards Deeds and Evidences (WARD 2) and amongst the Chancery Masters' Exhibits (C 103-116). Of these, the Duchess of Norfolk Deeds (C 115) and the Court Rolls (C 116) are the most easily available.
- Manorial Accounts and related documents of lands owned by religious houses are in SC 6, listed in Public Record Office Lists and Indexes, V, VIII, XXXIV. The supplementary List and Index of the lands of dissolved religious houses provide a comprehensive and easily accessible list of manors held by each monastery before the Reformation.
Most religious houses were liable for taxation and some of the larger ones made valuable contributions to the Exchequer.
From about 1070 many of the larger houses holding their estates by feudal tenure were subject to feudal levies, in particular military service or scutage, along with their lay counterparts. A useful list of quotas in 1166 is provided in the cartae baronum in the Red Book of the Exchequer (E 164/2 with a few original returns in E 198), printed in H Hall, ed., The Red Book of the Exchequer, Vol. I (Rolls Series, HMSO 1897), pp. 186-445. Material about their later contributions is to be found in Exchequer King's Remembrance Subsidy Rolls etc. (E 179, in the lay series; and see Feudal Aids, 1284-1481, 6 vols, HMSO 1899-1921) and in the Testa de Nevill (E 164/5, E 164/6, printed as The Book of Fees, 3 vols, HMSO 1921-31).
In 1253 the clergy, including the religious orders, first paid a subsidy to the Crown on the annual values of their benefices: this was repeated in 1288-91 with the co-operation of Pope Nicholas IV. A record of the levy has been preserved in the 'taxation of Pope Nicholas' (E 164/13 and E 164/14, printed by the Record Commission in 1801), with another copy in C 270/16 and subsidiary documents in E 179. An online database of the taxation is available. From 1294 clerical subsidies became a regular levy, and were raised on the basis of the 1291 figures. Records of payments - which were normally tenths - are preserved in the clerical series of E 179, and are listed by diocese. Enrolled accounts of subsidies are in E 359.
Accounts of the temporalities of vacant or forfeited abbeys and monastic bishoprics taken by the Crown were until c. 1368 recorded on the Pipe Rolls (E 372, with duplicates in the Chancellors' Rolls, E 352), and subsequently on the rolls of Foreign Accounts (E 364). The Pipe Rolls to the 1220s have been published by the Pipe Roll Society, and there is a useful list of the accounts of temporalities in Public Record Office Lists and Indexes, XI, pp. 131-40. Extents and inquisitions of the lands are in E 143 to 1377 and thereafter in E 153 (the Escheators' files); and also in Exchequer Inquisitions post mortem (E 149, calendared to 1418 in 20 vols, 1904-1995, in progress). The accounts of the keepers of the lands are in SC 6.
Chancery certiorari files (C 269/16/1-12) include returns to an enquiry made in 1371 to establish the number of parishes in the kingdom. There is related material in Ancient Correspondence (SC 1: Indexed in Public Record Office Lists and Index, Supplement, XI). For other records about ecclesiastical taxation see E 135 and C 270/7-15 and C 270/30/3.
Material on matters such as visitations, corrodies, pensions, appropriations, foundation licences for chantries, indulgencies, tithes, etc., is in Exchequer Ecclesiastical Documents (E 135) and Chancery Ecclesiastical Miscellanea (C 270). Many items in these series are connected directly with royal interests - legal, financial and administrative. Others are purely internal to the monasteries. C 269 (Chancery certiorari files, Ecclesiastical) contains writs to ecclesiastical dignitaries requiring information about livings, tithes, litigation etc., and the replies to them. There are household and similar accounts of a number of religious houses in SC 6 and some inventories of the goods and chattels of religious houses are in E 154. Significations of excommunication (C 85) include petitions etc. concerned with elections to headships of religious houses.
There are a number of papal bulls issued to religious houses in England in SC 7.
8. The Knights Templar
Founded in the early 12th century, the military order of the Knights Templar soon came to own considerable possessions in England. A survey of its lands taken in 1185 is in E 164/16 (printed in B A Lees, Records of the Templars in England, British Academy, 1935). The order was suppressed in the reign of Edward II. When its lands were seized by the Crown in 1307 extents were taken, which are now in E 142. The revenues went to the Exchequer: there are accounts in Pipe Office Miscellaneous Accounts (E 358/18-20, with a contemporary repertory in IND 1/7029). Some of the lands were subsequently given to royal favourites, but the bulk was transferred to the Knights Hospitaller (the order of St John of Jerusalem) in 1313, a transaction confirmed by act of Parliament in 1324. The Patent and Close Rolls (see above under Foundations) are valuable sources for these land grants.
9. Alien priories
In 13th-century England there were about 70 priories and numerous cells dependent on abbeys in France and Flanders. Their lands were seized by the Crown during wars with France in 1295, 1324, 1337-60 and from 1369. In 1404 the Crown made its seizure of the revenues permanent, and in 1414 the priories were formally taken into royal hands, although the majority of their lands were used to endow new monasteries and colleges, royal and private.
Extents and inquisitions of the lands of the alien priories, together with documents about their administration on the Crown's behalf, are in Exchequer, Exents of Alien Priories etc (E 106); and there are accounts in SC 6, listed in Public Record Office Lists and Indexes, V. The accounts of the sheriffs for the lands are on the Pipe Rolls (E 372; see list in Public Record Office Lists and Indexes, XI). See also E 135/22/3 and C 47/30/6 and C 47/38/5. In addition there is a plentiful information about alien clergy in C 269/15 and C 270/17, as well as in E 106.
10. Wolsey's Dissolution, 1524-28
Some 30 religious houses were suppressed on the orders of Cardinal Wolsey between 1524 and 1528 (there is a list in Knowles, Religious Orders, III, p.470). Inquisitions into their lands and goods are preserved in the 'Cardinal's bundles', now part of Chancery Inquisitions post mortem, series II (C 142/76 and C 142/77). There is related material in Exchequer Treasury of Receipt, Wolsey's Patents (E 24), which, like Exchequer Treasury of Receipt Miscellaneous Books (E 36) nos. 102-106, 109, also contain grants of the former monastic possessions to Wolsey's colleges in Oxford and Winchester. The last series is described in vol IV of Letters and Papers, Henry VIII.
Monastic seals are to be found in a variety of sources. The National Archives maintains a card catalogue of seals which is kept in the Map and Large Document Reading Room. The Catalogue of Seals in the Public Record Office, Monastic Seals, vol I, ed. R Ellis (HMSO, 1986), describes and illustrates a selection of monastic seals held but does not set out to be comprehensive. There are loose seals in SC 13, described in the card catalogue of seals.