Cirencester Abbey History

The Augustinian Abbey of Saint Mary in Cirencester plays a major role in Templar’s Prophecy, the fourth book in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery Series, set in 1395.  Historically the abbey played a major role in the town of Cirencester for over 400 years until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII in the 16th century.  Cirencester Abbey was founded by King Henry I in the early 12th century and became the largest and wealthiest of the Augustinian abbeys in England.

The abbey church replaced a minster church which had been founded in the 9th or 10th centuries.  The new abbey church and monastery were started in 1117.  Serlo was named abbot and the Augustinian monks took possession in 1131.  The church building was not finished until 1176 when it was consecrated.

Under King Henry II, the manor or feudal lordship of Cirencester was transferred from the Crown to the abbey in 1189.  This gave the abbot considerable power over his manorial tenants in the town.  All townspeople had to do three days’ work a year in making the abbot’s hay and harvesting his grain.  Some tenants had to work a day a week on the abbot’s lands.  Others had to work specific periods on the abbey farms.  Tenants’ own grain had to be ground in the abbot’s mills which meant that the abbey and their millers benefited financially.

The abbot controlled the town market and owned considerable property around the marketplace.  Tenants could only buy and sell at the weekly markets provided they paid a tax to the abbot.  The abbey also controlled the parish church of which the abbot was rector.  Tenants found that they continually owed money to the abbot in matters of inheritance, death, and marriage.

In opposition to the extraordinary abbey control, the citizens or burgesses of Cirencester claimed that they had certain rights dating back to a royal charter they had been granted in 1133.  Every time they challenged the power of the abbey over town matters, the king ruled in favour of the abbey because the abbey declared that the town’s charter was a forgery. 

This constant frustration on the part of the burgesses went on for centuries, well beyond 1395 when my novel was set, so the domination of the abbey over the town and the tension it caused with the townspeople became an important element of my story.  I have set many scenes of my novel in and around the abbey grounds and have woven angry interactions between monks and townspeople into the story.

The picture at the top shows the Spital or Norman Gate to the abbey grounds.  This one gate and some of the abbey wall are the only structures above ground which have survived from the medieval abbey to the present day.

For more information on Cirencester Abbey, click on or on

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