St Augustine’s Abbey

A few days away in Kent this Easter holidays gave us the chance to  visit to the wonderfully peaceful and historic St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury.

A Brief History

059 (2)
St Augustine’s Abbey

Situated just outside the city walls, the Abbey was founded around AD 598 by St Augustine of Canterbury. St Augustine had been sent to England by Pope Gregory I the Great, on a mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity.

065 (2)
Stone marking the original site of St Augustine’s grave

A Benedictine monk, St Augustine would become the first ever Archbishop of Canterbury. The king of Kent of the time, Aethelbert, was a pagan but his wife, Bertha, was Christian and, with her encouragement, Aethelbert was converted and gave St Augustine land outside the city walls, in order to build his monastery. Aethelbert allowed St Augustine’s missionaries to preach freely among his people, thus establishing the ‘rebirth’ of Christianity in southern England.

059 (2)
The site of the Abbey’s Cathedral Church

Dedicated to St Peter and St Paul the Abbey thrived, and for two centuries, following its foundation, it was the only important religious house in Kent. When St Dunstan became Archbishop of Canterbury, he enlarged the Abbey’s church and added the name of St Augustine to those of St Peter and St Paul. From then on it has been known as St Augustine’s Abbey.

054 (2)
The arches of the Norman cathedral

With the Norman invasion the Abbey church was rebuilt and enlarged to become a magnificent Romanesque cathedral, of which little remains today but the arches along one side the cathedral wall, and bases of the stone columns which supported the roof. A 2nd church was later added to the site. The Church of St Pancras, was built in red brick, close to the cemetery reserved for the lay brothers. The cloisters included a Scriptorium, where the monks produced their manuscripts, sheltered from the elements, but bathed in sunshine.

099
Church of St Pancras

Within its grounds you can see the tombs of the first four Archbishops of Canterbury, though that of St Augustine is now merely a memorial stone marking his initial resting place. The Abbey was also a burial-place for the Kings of Kent. You can see the modern memorial chests, in a chapel to the side of the nave, of four kings who died between 640 and 725, and were originally buried in the Anglo-Saxon church of St Mary.

081 (2)
Tombs of the 3 Kentish Kings (Eadbald, Hlothhere & Wihtred) and Mulus, who invaded Kent

*

The End of an Era

At the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the shrine of St Augustine was destroyed and his relics lost. After over 940 years of monasticism at the site, the Abbot and monks left the Abbey, peacefully. Parts of the Abbey were dismantled and sold off, whilst other parts were turned into a royal residence, for a short while at least.

069 (2)
View towards the cloisters

It was landscaped in the early Stuart era and laid out with formal gardens; King Charles I and Henrietta Maria stayed in the Abbey gatehouse (Fyndon’s Gate)  following their wedding in Canterbury Cathedral in 1625. Soon after the Abbey passed to the Hales family, who allowed it to fall into decay and ruin,  who using the stones from the Abbey to build a new house at Hales Place. It was eventually bought by Alexander James Beresford Hope, in 1844, who established a missionary college and excavated the Abbey’s remains; the college buildings were destroyed during the Blitz, in 1942.

088
The site of the Abbey Refectory, now looking towards King’s School

*

Visiting Today

A haven of peace and tranquility, and yet so close to the city.

The Abbey has a wonderful little museum within the Visitor’s Centre, telling you its history and displaying artefacts found on the site.

105
View from the Abbey, of Canterbury Cathedral

The audio guide is impressive – it was so good it kept my 9-year-old enthralled. . The Archbishop of Canterbury himself tells St Augustine’s story and explains the significance of the Abbey (it’s a World Heritage Site) to the history of Christianity in Britain. The guide takes you through the life of the Abbey, from its very beginnings to the present day, as you wander around the serene Abbey precincts.

*

My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

*

Article and all pictures are ©Sharon Bennett Connolly, 2015.

*

For further visitor information see; http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/st-augustines-abbey/

Isabel of Gloucester, the Lost Queen of England

170px-john_of_england_john_lackland
King John

Isabel of Gloucester is a shadow in the pages of history. I could find no pictures of her. Until recently, no one even seemed certain of her name; in the history books she has been called Isabel, Isabella, Hawise, Avice – probably due to different language interpretations and translations. However, Rich Price, who has done extensive research on primary sources from King John’s reign has clarified that The Close Rolls definitely name her as ‘comitissa Isabella’ and ‘Isabella filia Willielmi comitis’, so we’ll stick with Isabel.

Isabel was the youngest daughter, and co-heiress, of William, 2nd Earl of Gloucester and his wife, Hawise, daughter of Robert de Beaumont, 3rd Earl of Leicester; and therefore a great-granddaughter of Isabel de Vermandois. Although her date of birth has been lost to history – most sources say between 1173 and 1176 – she was betrothed in 1176, possibly whilst still in her cradle, to Prince John.

The youngest son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, John was 9 years old at the time of the betrothal. However the wedding did not take place until 1189, when John was 21. Baldwin, the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, opposed the marriage as the couple were related within the prohibited degrees, both being a great-grandchild of Henry I, and ordered that they should not live together as husband and wife.

John promised to seek a papal dispensation, in order to overcome Baldwin’s objections – although it appears this was never obtained. Nonetheless, John and Isabel were married on 29th August, 1189, at Marlborough Castle, Wiltshire. Although they were married for 10 years, it is possible they never, or rarely lived together. They never had any children and it is during this time in his life that John’s illegitimate children were born.

John succeeded to the throne on the death of his older brother Richard I – the Lionheart – on 6th April 1199. He was crowned king on 27th May 1199; the fact that Isabel was not crowned alongside him, suggests that John was already looking for a way out of the marriage. Isabel would never be styled Queen of England.

coat_of_arms_of_geoffrey_de_mandeville_earl_of_essex_and_gloucester
Coat of arms of Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex and Gloucester

Within months of his succession, possibly as early as 30th August 1199, but certainly by 1200, John had obtained a divorce on the grounds of consanguinity; the bishops of Lisieu, Bayeux and Avranches, sitting in Normandy, provided the required judgement.

However, in order to keep his hold on the substantial Gloucester lands, John detained Isabel in ‘honourable confinement’ for the next 14 years. He eventually arranged a new marriage for her, to a man who was over 16 years her junior.

In 1214, although probably past child-bearing age – certainly safe child-bearing age – she was married to Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, who had paid the considerable sum of 20,000 marks to become her second husband and Earl of Gloucester ‘jure uxoris’ (by right of his wife). Just 2 years later, in 1216, de Mandeville died from wounds he’d received in a tournament in London.

One of the Magna Cart sureties, de Mandeville was in a state of rebellion, against the crown, when he died; as a result, all his lands and titles – including the earldom of Gloucester – were forfeit to the crown. It was not until 17th September 1217, almost a year after the death of King John, that Isabel’s lands were returned to her.

220px-Hubert_de_Burgh-Paris
Hubert de burgh

At about the same time – or shortly after – Isabel was married for a third and final time, to Hubert de Burgh. Hubert De Burgh had become Chief Justiciar of England in 1215 and would rise to be Regent during the minority of Henry III. It was only several years after Isabel’s death that he would be created Earl of Kent.

This final marriage was, sadly, very short-lived and Isabel was dead within months – possibly only a few weeks – of her wedding day and almost exactly a year after the death of her first husband, King John.

In spite of 3 marriages, Isabel never had children and was succeeded to the Earldom of Gloucester by her nephew, Gilbert de Clare.

She was laid to rest in Canterbury Cathedral, Kent.

*

©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

  *

Further Reading: Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made England; The Plantagenet Chronicle Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Maurice Ashley The Life and Times of King John; Roy Strong The Story of Britain; Oxford Companion to British History; Mike Ashley British Kings & Queens; David Williamson Brewer’s British Royalty; Rich Price King John’s Letters Facebook page.

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia.

*

My books

Out Now! Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing and Book Depository. It is scheduled for release in the US on 1 March 2019 and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

fave

Coming out in Paperback on 15 March: Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, in the US from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be released in paperback in the UK from 15 March 2019 and in the US on 1 June 2019. It is available for pre-order from both Amazon UK and Amazon US.

*

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly