Introduction and Preface
Contributors and Acknowledgements
A Brief History
Cistercian History and an Appraisal
 The Abbey A-Z
About the Author
A BRIEF HISTORY OF FURNESS ABBEY

Furness Abbey was founded by Stephen, Count of Boulogne and Mortain (later King of England, 1135-1154), first at Tulketh, near Preston, in Lancashire (1124,) and, in 1127, in the Vale of Beckansgill, a mile south of the 'vill' of Dalton.  It was the first Savigniac monastery to be founded in England. The original grey cowled monks belonged to the Order of Savigny, and came from L’Abbaye de Savigny, the mother house, sited at Savigny in Mortain on the borders of Normandy and Maine in Northern France.

“The Abbey of Savigny was under the direction of Abbot Geoffrey, like a good seed upon which God poured within a very short time, an abundant blessing; for the monastery developed so much in so many fine ways that the holy abbot soon found himself obliged to search for other places where he could establish monks to practise the same observances in which those at Savigny had been trained. Étiénne, Count of Boulogne & Mortain, was the first to have the glory of founding the first abbey born of the foundation at Savigny, & which in turn was to be the mother of many others. This prince was the son of the Count of Blois and of Audoene, or Olétte, the daughter of William the Bastard, & thus sister of Henry I, King of England & Duke of Normandy.

It was Count Étiénne who persuaded Abbot Geoffrey to give him a colony of his monks in order to establish them in England. The area in which he placed them is commonly called Furness, in Latin Furnesium or Furdenesium from which the abbey took its name. If we are to believe the authors of the Monastic History of England 1124, in the Duchy or County of Lancaster in the Diocese of Lincoln. At least they claim that in this year Count Étiénne began to lay the foundations, in a place called Bulket (Tulketh) and that the monks who were sent from Savigny lived there for three years and three days, after which the prince moved them into the Valley of Bekangesgil, a name derived from a plant called “Bekan” which was very common there; but this entire story is based solely upon the report of a historian who said he had found it in an ancient manuscript, in which were these words:  This monastery of Furness was founded in a place called Bulket on the 4th of the Nones 1124.”

(From The History of the Congregation of Savigny)

FOUNDATION CHARTER OF FURNESS ABBEY (Translation).

(All foundation charters relating to monasteries read like insurance policies).

"In the name of the Blessed Trinity and in honour of St. Mary of Furness, I, Stephen, Earl of Boulogne and Moreton, consulting God, and providing for the safety of my own soul, the soul of my wife, the Countess Matilda, the soul of my lord and uncle, Henry, King of England and Duke of Normandy, and for the souls of all the faithful, living as well as dead, in the year of Our Lord 1127 of the Roman Indication, the 5th and 18th of the epact.

Considering every day the uncertainty of life, that roses and flowers of kings, emperors and dukes, and the crowns and palms of all the great wither and decay: and that all things, with an uninterrupted course, tend to dissolution and death: I therefore return, give, and grant to God and St. Mary of Furness, all Furness and Walney (Wagnea,) with the privilege of hunting; with Dalton, and all my lordship in Furness, (Infra Frudernesiam) with the men and everything thereto belonging, that is in woods and in open grounds,  in land and in water; and Ulverston (Ulvestonam) and Rodger Braithwaite with all that belongs to him: my fisheries at Lancaster,  and Little Guoring,  (Guoreum Parvum) with all the land thereof; with sac(1) and soc(2),  tol(3) and team(4),  infangenetheof (5),  and everything within Furness,  except the lands of Michael le Fleming: with this view and upon this condition.  That in Furness an order of regular monks be by Divine permission established: which gift and offering, I, by supreme authority,  appoint to be for ever observed; and, that it may remain firm and inviolate for ever, I subscribe this charter with my hand,  and confirm it with the sign of the Holy Cross".

Signed by : Henry,  King of England,  and Duke of Normandy,  Thurston, Archbishop of York, Audin, Boces (bishops), Robert, keeper of the seal,  Robert,  Earl of Gloster.

1.
saccum- the power of imposing fines upon tenants and vassals within the    
2.
soccum-the power and authority of administering justice,
3.
tollum - a duty paid for buying and selling,
4.
team, theam - a royalty granted for trying bondmen and villans,  with a sovereign power over their villan tenants, their wives, children and goods, to dispose of them at pleasure,
5.
infangthefe - the power of judging of theft committed within the liberty of Furness.


For a community to exist water is necessary and the stream of Beckansgill provided this. The sandstone from which the abbey was built lined the sides of the valley and the wood was obtained from the oak trees and used for ramps, window frames doors and scaffolding and most importantly for the foundation.

From 1127 -1537 the Abbey of St. Mary of Furness came into possession of extensive forests and rich agricultural lands; 55,000 acres were under its rule, making it one of the richest Cistercian Abbeys in the country, second only to Fountains in Yorkshire. However the Golden Age of Cistercian Furness did not last.  Decline in monasticism was due to: great wealth and materialism which caused falling standards and a relaxation of the Benedictine Rule. The Black Death of 1349 greatly reduced numbers. Furness Abbey had gained a fairly poor reputation under the abbacy of the 16th century abbot, Alexander Banke who was taken to court on several occasions for acquiring land and fisheries by fraudulent dealings.  He was also responsible for the destruction of the village of Sellergarth.

There were medieval monks living at Furness for 412 years. During this period most quire monks and lay brothers followed St. Benedict's edict of prayer and work. However all was not all "sweetness and light". The abbey and the whole of the Furness peninsula suffered from the effects of border warfare in the Scottish raids of 1316 and the Great Raid of 1322.

A Coucher Book document tells of the murder of an abbot by three monks.

Further drama occurred when Lambert Simnel landed on Piel Island with 2000 German mercenaries after being crowned "King Edward VI” in Dublin Cathedral. Then there was the monk, Wimund who made his mark on the history of Furness.
Like other abbeys, the Abbey of St. Mary of Furness has its share of legends, myths and ghost stories, but most importantly documented facts.

A major fact is recorded in the 16th century when Furness Abbey was dissolved 9th April 1537 at the command of Henry VIII.  The Deed of Surrender was signed in the Chapter House, in the presence of the last abbot, Roger Pele, the prior and 28 monks and eight other witnesses, including two knights and a priest.

Stephen
Matilda